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Travel App Can Recommend Places by Looking at Them

Mon, 07/14/2014 - 00:00

Software that counts dogs, martini glasses, and mustaches in Instagram photos provides a novel way to rate businesses.

A travel app called Jetpac hopes to tackle two of the most pressing questions of our time: how can machines reliably extract information from images, and what exactly is the definition of a hipster?

Israeli Rocket Defense System Is Failing at Crucial Task, Expert Analysts Say

Thu, 07/10/2014 - 17:04

Although it appears to hit incoming Hamas rockets, Israel’s system could be falling short of detonating the rockets’ warheads.

Even though Israel’s U.S.-funded “Iron Dome” rocket-defense interceptors appear to be hitting Hamas rockets in recent days, they are almost certainly failing in the crucial job of detonating those rockets’ shrapnel-packed explosive warheads, expert analysts say.

Israeli Rocket Defense System Is Failing, Expert Analysts Say

Thu, 07/10/2014 - 17:04

Although it appears to hit incoming Hamas rockets, Israel’s system could be falling short of detonating the rockets’ warheads.

Even though Israel’s U.S.-funded “Iron Dome” rocket-defense interceptors appear to be hitting Hamas rockets in recent days, they are almost certainly failing in the crucial job of detonating those rockets’ shrapnel-packed explosive warheads, expert analysts say.

A Laboratory for Rare Cells Sheds Light on Cancer

Thu, 07/10/2014 - 14:45

A way of capturing cancer cells from the bloodstream opens a new front in personal cancer treatment.

In 1869, the Australian physician Thomas Ashworth put the blood of woman who had died of breast cancer under a microscope. Peering through it, he spotted “cells identical with those of the cancer itself.”

Low-Power, Color Displays

Wed, 07/09/2014 - 15:04

Oxford University researchers demonstrate that materials used in DVDs could make color displays that don’t sap power.

Researchers at Oxford University have used a type of phase-change material to make devices whose color changes instantly in response to a small jolt of power.  The materials, which are used in some types of DVDs, could lead to ultra-low-power, full-color displays, according to an article describing the work in the journal Nature.

Beijing Wants to Understand Its Smog

Tue, 07/08/2014 - 17:59

New effort would pinpoint the source, type, and dispersal patterns of smog across Beijing to drive street-level predictions and targeted remediation.

In a new tactic in Beijing’s growing battle on choking smog, sensors and analytics will pinpoint the source and trajectory of polluting particles and forecast levels three days in advance down to the resolution of individual streets.

How to Clean the Gas and Oil Industries’ Most Contaminated Water

Mon, 07/07/2014 - 13:12

A new process can cheaply clean extremely briny water coming up from oil wells.

In a nondescript site in Midland, Texas, an inexpensive new process is cleaning up some of the most contaminated water around—the extremely salty stuff that comes up with oil at wells. By the end of next month the technology is expected to be chugging 500,000 gallons per day, furnishing water that’s sufficiently clean to use in hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, for oil and natural gas production (see “Natural Gas Changes the Energy Map”).

Will Virtual Reality Reshape Documentary Journalism?

Fri, 07/04/2014 - 00:00

One documentary filmmaker believes an immersive experience will make a more lasting impression on audiences.

Facebook’s acquisition of Oculus VR in March 2014 for $4 billion brought a resurgence of interest in virtual reality to the mainstream, almost 30 years after the technology first entered the public consciousness. And while Oculus VR’s initial focus has been on video games, Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s CEO, has described the hardware as “the next major computing platform that will come after mobile.”

Startup Lets Offices Know Who Just Walked In

Thu, 07/03/2014 - 17:16

A Boston-based startup is helping companies track their employees around the office using wireless sensor beacons, to improve collaboration.

In the office of the future, you may not so much walk into a room as log into it automatically. That’s what Sam Dunn, the CEO and co-founder of Boston-based startup Robin, thinks. The company is using wireless sensors to make rooms in office buildings aware of the people in them and let employees know exactly where their co-workers are.

IBM: Commercial Nanotube Transistors Are Coming Soon

Tue, 07/01/2014 - 00:00

Chips made with nanotube transistors, which could be five times faster, should be ready around 2020, says IBM.

For more than a decade, engineers have been fretting that they are running out of tricks for continuing to shrink silicon transistors. Intel’s latest chips have transistors with features as small as 14 nanometers, but it is unclear how the industry can keep scaling down silicon transistors much further or what might replace them.

Two-Bladed Wind Turbines Make a Comeback

Mon, 06/30/2014 - 12:15

Wind-turbine designers are warming up to an alternative to the three-bladed rotors that have been an industry standard for the past quarter century.

Several major wind-power companies are testing a departure from the industry’s standard three-bladed turbine design by dropping one of the three blades and spinning the rotor 180 degrees to face downwind.

Weed’s Chronic Energy Use Becomes a Concern

Fri, 06/27/2014 - 00:00

Researchers are discovering ways to grow marijuana more efficiently.

The legalization of marijuana in some U.S. states has energy providers worrying that a boom in indoor growing could put a chronic drain on electricity resources.

The Thought Experiment

Tue, 06/17/2014 - 00:28

In a remarkable experiment, a paralyzed woman used her mind to control a robotic arm. If only there were a realistic way to get this technology out of the lab and into real life.

I was about 15 minutes late for my first phone call with Jan Scheuermann. When I tried to apologize for keeping her waiting, she stopped me. “I wasn’t just sitting around waiting for you, you know,” she said, before catching herself. “Well, actually I was sitting around.”

What Am I Thinking About You?

Tue, 06/17/2014 - 00:05

Knowing how the brain deals with other people could lead to smarter computers.

The ability to discern what other people are thinking and feeling is critical to social interaction and a key part of the human experience. So it’s not surprising that the human brain devotes a lot of resources to so-called social cognition. But only recently has neuroscience begun to tease apart which brain regions and processes are devoted to thinking about other people.

The Importance of Feelings

Tue, 06/17/2014 - 00:05

The neuroscientist Antonio Damasio explains how minds emerge from emotions and feelings.

For decades, biologists spurned emotion and feeling as uninteresting. But Antonio Damasio demonstrated that they were central to the life-regulating processes of almost all living creatures.

Malware on the Move

Tue, 06/17/2014 - 00:05

As mobile devices are used to perform more financial transactions, cybercriminals are taking greater interest.

Searching for the "Free Will" Neuron

Tue, 06/17/2014 - 00:05

Gabriel Kreiman’s single-neuron measurements of unconscious decision-making may not topple Descartes, but they could someday point to ways we can learn to control ourselves.

It was an expedition seeking something never caught before: a single human neuron lighting up to create an urge, albeit for the minor task of moving an index finger, before the subject was even aware of feeling anything. Four years ago, Itzhak Fried, a neurosurgeon at the University of California, Los Angeles, slipped several probes, each with eight hairlike electrodes able to record from single neurons, into the brains of epilepsy patients. (The patients were undergoing surgery to diagnose the source of severe seizures and had agreed to participate in experiments during the process.) Probes in place, the patients—who were conscious—were given instructions to press a button at any time of their choosing, but also to report when they’d first felt the urge to do so.

Eavesdropping on Neurons

Tue, 06/17/2014 - 00:05

A new automated version of one of neuroscience’s most important techniques, patch clamping, makes it much easier and faster for scientists to tap into the inner workings of brain cells.

Several new tools for exploring individual neurons allow scientists to probe the workings of the brain in great detail. Optogenetics makes it possible to turn specific neurons on and off in lab animals to determine how those brain cells are affecting activity. Patch clamping lets scientists record the electrical activity of neurons inside a living brain, a process that has now been automated.

The Promise and Perils of Manipulating Memory

Tue, 06/17/2014 - 00:05

Fundamental discoveries about the nature of memory could lead to new treatments for post-traumatic stress disorder, addiction, and anxiety.

When it comes to the study of memory, we might be living in something of a golden age. Researchers are exploring provocative questions about what memory fundamentally isand how it might be manipulated. Some scientists are tweaking the brains of lab rats in order to implant false memories or remove specific memories. Others are looking into how memory might be enhanced. Such research often sounds creepy, but it could lead to ways of staving off dementia, neutralizing post-traumatic stress disorder, reducing anxiety, treating depression, or curbing addiction.

Shining Light on Madness

Tue, 06/17/2014 - 00:05

Drugs for psychiatric illnesses aren’t very effective. But new research is offering renewed hope for better medicines.

At Novartis’s research lab in Cambridge, Massachusetts, a large incubator-like piece of equipment is helping give birth to a new era of psychiatric drug discovery. Inside it, bathed in soft light, lab plates hold living human stem cells; robotic arms systematically squirt nurturing compounds into the plates. Thanks to a series of techniques perfected over the last few years in labs around the world, such stem cells—capable of developing into specialized cell types—can now be created from skin cells. When stem cells derived from people with, say, autism or schizophrenia are grown inside the incubator, Novartis researchers can nudge them to develop into functioning brain cells by precisely varying the chemicals in the cell cultures.