Links for 25th August 2009

Fresh from the clogged tubes of teh intarwubs…

  1. Schools of robofish may police water pollution

    "The main drawback of traditional robots is that they have way too many parts and are very complex," said mechanical engineer Pablo Alvarado of MIT, who helped design the fish. "Traditional robots may work in the lab, but if you take them into a regular environment, like the ocean, they wouldn't last more than a half hour."

    Alvarado and colleagues wanted to try a simpler approach to robot design. Instead of patching together multiple mechanical parts, they built each fish using a single piece of soft, flexible polymer. After assembling the motor inside a special fish-shaped mould, they poured liquid polymer around the mould and let it solidify. That means there's no chance of water seeping in between separate parts and ruining the motor in the fish's belly, Alvarado said.

    "These materials are very resilient," he said. "Water can't do much to them and they can survive very high temperatures. Unless another fish eats them, they could go on and on."

    Tagged with: robotfishoceanpollutionsensorswarming

  2. Newly theorized active cloaking could achieve broadband invisibility

    "In a recent edition of the journal Optics Express, the mathematicians presented their results explaining how, in a two-dimensional environment, three cloaking devices can effectively generate a 'quiet zone' so that objects placed within the region are virtually invisible to incoming waves for a wide range of frequencies, as illustrated in the video at the end of this article.

    The main advantage of this approach over metamaterials is that it can act on a much wider bandwidth, shielding objects up to ten times the wavelength involved, which raises hope for cloaking larger objects. Metamaterials are by comparison very narrow-banded, as their behavior depends heavily on the frequency being cloaked. "Maybe you'd be invisible to red light, but people would see you in blue light," Graeme Milton, senior author of the research and a distinguished professor of mathematics at the University of Utah, explained."

    Tagged with: scienceinvisibilityopticsactivecloakingtechnology

  3. Placebos Are Getting More Effective. Drugmakers Are Desperate to Know Why.

    "The upshot is fewer new medicines available to ailing patients and more financial woes for the beleaguered pharmaceutical industry. Last November, a new type of gene therapy for Parkinson's disease, championed by the Michael J. Fox Foundation, was abruptly withdrawn from Phase II trials after unexpectedly tanking against placebo. A stem-cell startup called Osiris Therapeutics got a drubbing on Wall Street in March, when it suspended trials of its pill for Crohn's disease, an intestinal ailment, citing an "unusually high" response to placebo. Two days later, Eli Lilly broke off testing of a much-touted new drug for schizophrenia when volunteers showed double the expected level of placebo response." Poor Big Pharma. Maybe they'll get all depressed about it.

    Tagged with: sciencepsychologymedicinedrugspharmacologyplaceboeffectpharmaceuticals

  4. Another Little Ice Age? Solar activity and climate change

    "Overall, the Eos paper suggests that current data is consistent with a decline in the sun's magnetic field activity, which could potentially end in a sunspot-free period. We care about this because sunspot numbers act as a proxy for the amount of radiation sent out by the sun, which can have a significant influence on the Earth's climate. But the sun is one of a large number of factors that influence the climate, and the changes in solar radiance caused by sunspots appear likely to have a smaller impact on the climate than that caused by our ever-increasing levels of greenhouse gasses.

    Still, even a relatively small effect may buy humanity valuable time in coming to grips with the CO2 we're putting into the atmosphere (at least when it comes to temperatures—ocean acidification is a different problem entirely). According to the paper, we may know whether a new solar minimum is occurring as soon as 2015."

    Tagged with: scienceclimatechangesolarcyclesolar-minimum

  5. The KernelCheck Project

    "KernelCheck is a graphical user interface program designed to make the kernel-compiling process as easy as the click of a button. A kernel is the base of any operating system – in our case, the Linux operating system. KernelCheck will fetch the latest information from, which hosts the source packages for the Linux kernel, and ask the user which one they would like to compile into a .deb package (with the option of installing the kernel after the compilation)."

    Tagged with: LinuxUbuntukernelcompileGUI


    "Russia is now a corporate energy monopoly, and not a nation in a traditional sense. The traditional protection racket where nation-states charge corporations for protection (and deliver protected expansion of their business interests) has been reversed due to previous financial crisis. The energy corporation, with Putin as its Chairman, now calls the shots and the nation-state jumps. So, what's the grand strategy of Russia's corporate state?" Because you can guarantee it'll be copied where possible.

    Tagged with: energyRussiacorporationnation-statespolitics

  7. Making Lists: Mindblowing SF by Women and People of Color

    Does what it says on the tin. It's also a damned big list, and justifiably so.

    Tagged with: sciencefictionfantasygenrediversityliteraturelist

  8. High-frequency trading and the persistence of place

    "Today I ran across another example of how place continues to matter in finance, but at a very small scale: high-frequency trading. If the concentration of wealth and financial services in places like New York and London is like gravity, high-frequency trading is like the strong force in particle physics: it operates at very small scales, but at that scale is incredibly powerful. As the New York Times explains in a July article, "in 1998, the Securities and Exchange Commission authorized electronic exchanges to compete with marketplaces like the New York Stock Exchange. The intent was to open markets to anyone with a desktop computer and a fresh idea." But things haven't quite worked out that way… "

    Tagged with: financeHFTtradingalgorithmsgeographyeconomicstechnologynetworks

  9. Everything Everywhere: Thomas Wrobel’s Proposal for an Open Augmented Reality Network

    OK, half the tech stuff here is way over my head, but the other half is all alarmingly plausible. In case no one had noticed, I think I've been bitten by the AR bug pretty badly.

    Tagged with: augmented-realitymetaverseplatformopennetworkstandardsIRCprotocols

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