Magic goop scoop


[Video Link] The age old problem of picking up a blob of liquid without altering its shape has been solved!

Details about the technology are not available on Furukawa Kikou’s website (perhaps because the patent is pending), but the tool appears to incorporate a conveyor belt design. According to the company, the magic goop scoop was originally developed for use in bakery production lines, but its unique ability to cleanly handle semi-liquids makes it suitable for a wide range of applications.

Magic goop scoop

Canadian Tories’ campaign pledge: We will spy on the Internet

Michael Geist has timely analysis of the Canadian Conservative party’s campaign promise to pass a massive “crime and justice” bill within 100 days, if re-elected. The bill — which has never been debated or had hearings or public consultation — includes massive, extrajudicial bulk surveillance over Canadians’ use of the Internet.

More important than process is the substance of the proposals that have the potential to fundamentally reshape the Internet in Canada. The bills contain a three-pronged approach focused on information disclosure, mandated surveillance technologies, and new police powers.

The first prong mandates the disclosure of Internet provider customer information without court oversight.

The second prong requires Internet providers to dramatically re-work their networks to allow for real-time surveillance. The bill sets out detailed capability requirements that will eventually apply to all Canadian Internet providers. These include the power to intercept communications, to isolate the communications to a particular individual, and to engage in multiple simultaneous interceptions.

Having obtained customer information without court oversight and mandated Internet surveillance capabilities, the third prong creates a several new police powers designed to obtain access to the surveillance data.

The Conservatives Commitment to Internet Surveillance

(Image: big brother, a Creative Commons Attribution (2.0) image from 59744536@N00’s photostream)

Robots inspired by nature: the “DelFly” bionic robot (photo)

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Engineering school students look at the DelFly bionic robot during a demonstration at the International Workshop on Bio-Inspired Robots in Nantes April 7, 2011. Some 200 bio-robot technicians from 17 countries participate in the three-day event to show the latest developments in robots inspired from the animal world. (REUTERS/Stephane Mahe)

The DelFly micro is only 10 centimeters from wing to wing, and weighs just a little over 3 grams. Its developers call it “the smallest flying ornithopter carrying a camera in the world.” Below, more photos of the little guy in action, including the 0.4 gram camera it carries.

(courtesy delfly.nl)

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Software pioneer and ENIAC programmer Jean Bartik dies at 86

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The New York Times has published an obituary for Jean Jennings Bartik, “one of the first computer programmers and a pioneering forerunner in a technology that came to be known as software.” She died on March 23 at a nursing home in Poughkeepsie, NY, at age 86. She was the last surviving member of the group of women who programmed the Eniac, or Electronic Numerical Integrator and Computer, regarded as the first all-electronic digital computer. (via Jim Roberts)

Photo, via Wikipedia: “Two women operating the ENIAC’s main control panel while the machine was still located at the Moore School. ‘U.S. Army Photo’ from the archives of the ARL Technical Library. Left: Betty Jennings (Mrs. Bartik) Right: Frances Bilas (Mrs. Spence)

US government shutdown could mean Space Shuttle launch delay

Here’s one odd effect a government shutdown would have: NASA would likely have to scrub the launch of space shuttle Endeavour’s STS-134 mission, currently scheduled for April 29. If Republicans and Democrats cannot agree to budget terms by midnight tonight, Washington will effectively run out of money and the government will close. If that happens, according to a NASA memo distributed today, only operations critical to protect life and assets would continue. So, operations to support the astronauts on the International Space Station would go on during a shutdown, as would any operations critical to prevent the loss or damage of NASA assets. And if a launch were in progress when the shutdown went into effect, that launch would continue. But for new shuttle launches, and other new projects: an indefinite delay.

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Memo (PDF) and NASA furlough plan here (thanks, Miles O’Brien!).

Worldreader: ebooks for kids in the developing world

I’ve recently lent my support to Worldreader, an innovative nonprofit program that distributes ebook readers to children in the developing world and then exposes them to a large library of donated texts from writers from across the world, as well as newspapers and other materials. I was delighted to give them access to all my books (of course), and put them in touch with a large group of other kids’ and young adult writers who were happy to do the same (including my hero Daniel Pinkwater, who travelled in and wrote about Kenya and has a real love of Africa).

WR: What advice do you have for kids in developing countries who are just beginning to read and only have recently gotten access to books because of technology advancements?

Cory: I have a couple of pieces of advice about reading. One is that the most dangerous thing in the world is someone who has only read one book. The great thing about reading is that you can triangulate your ideas among lots of different authors, different times, or different place. When you read widely and broadly it shows you that everything is relative. It shows that there is a lot of ways of looking at things, and often times, problems can become solutions if looked at creatively.

The other piece of advice I would give them about reading electronically is to not allow their collections to be tied to one device or platform. Devices come and go, but data can live forever. The only way you can maintain access to them is if you insist on the ability and the right to move the books into any format or any platform you want to.

Writers Changing Lives: A Chat With Cory Doctorow

Fake-make: counterfeit handmade objects from big manufacturers

Make Magazine has started to publish my old “Make Free” columns online; today, they’ve posted “Untouched By Human Hands,” in which I speculate about whether (and when) big manufacturing companies will start to produce fake “hand-made” objects, and what makers might do in response.

Will the 21st-century equivalent of an offshore call-center worker who insists he is “Bob from Des Moines” be the Guangzhou assembly-line worker who carefully “hand-wraps” a cellphone sleeve and inserts a homespun anti-corporate manifesto (produced by Markov chains fed on angry blog posts from online maker forums) into the envelope?

I wouldn’t be surprised. Our species’ capacity to commodify everything — even the anti-commodification movement — has yet to meet its match. I’m sure we’ll adapt, though.

We could start a magazine for hobbyists who want to set up nostalgic mass-production assembly lines that use old-fashioned injection molders to stamp out stubbornly identical objects in reaction to the corporate machine’s insistence on individualized, 3D-printed, fake artisanship.

Untouched By Human Hands

(Image: Weaving by the Pool, a Creative Commons Attribution (2.0) image from 87739302@N00’s photostream)

Marketplace for hijacked computers


Brian Krebs went browsing in an underground proxy marketplace, where criminals rent time on hijacked computers to other criminals who want to use the compromised machines as launching-grounds for untraceable networked attacks. Krebs traced down some of the people whose computers were up for rent and let them know that they were being bought and sold on the underground.

Michelle Trammell, associate director of Kirby Pines and president of TSG, said she was unaware that her computer systems were being sold to cyber crooks when I first contacted her this week. I later heard from Steve Cunningham from ProTech Talent & Technology, an IT services firm in Memphis that was recently called in to help secure the network.

Cunningham said an anti-virus scan of the TSG and retirement community machines showed that one of the machines was hijacked by a spam bot that was removed about two weeks before I contacted him, but he said he had no idea the network was still being exploited by cyber crooks. “Some malware was found that was sending out spam,” Cunningham said, “It looks like they didn’t have a very comprehensive security system in place, but we’re going to be updating [PCs] and installing some anti-virus software on all of the servers over the next week or so.”

Is Your Computer Listed “For Rent”?

Mars Science Laboratory + Curiosity Rover: Interview with NASA JPL’s Ashwin Vasavada

Video link: An artist’s animation of how MSL and Curiosity Rover will land on Mars. Courtesy NASA JPL.

This week, Boing Boing visited NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory for a peek inside the clean room where NASA’s next Mars rover, Curiosity, and other components of the Mars Science Laboratory spacecraft (MSL) have been built for launch in late 2011 from Florida. Our big photo gallery with first-ever media access for “hands-on” images is here. Spacecraft assembly and testing specialists showed Boing Boing the rover and the other spacecraft components, including the descent stage “sky crane.” Shipment from the clean room to Florida is scheduled to begin within the next two months, with launch scheduled for late 2011 and landing on Mars in mid-2012.

Xeni spoke with Ashwin Vasavada, Deputy Project Scientist at JPL for the MSL mission, to understand more about how MSL works and what its creators hope to accomplish, how one scores a job designing interplanetary explorer robots, and how this updated Mars rover is (or is not) like an iPad.

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Xeni Jardin, Boing Boing: So, the MSL and Curiosity unveiling this week represents a big milestone for you folks.

people-645.jpg Ashwin Vasavada, NASA JPL: Right. The rover is almost complete. We’ve been working on for several years now, it has all come together and works great and we’re putting the final touches on.

BB: So as I understand it, Curiosity will have a lot more science gathering capability than either Spirit or Opportunity.

Ashwin Vasavada: Yes. You can think of it as having nearly everything that Spirit and Opportunity had in the sense that it’s a rover capable of driving over some pretty rough terrain, have cameras to look around at the landscape, had some instruments on the end of a robotic arm to look at rocks up-close and do some chemical analysis up-close on the rock. But in addition to that, it has a major new capability of being able to take samples of rocks and soils, and analyze those samples in instruments on board the rover itself.

BB: So much of the science and the public interest around Mars expeditions has been — is there water on Mars, with the thought being that this would mean life on Mars. How does this change that question?

Ashwin Vasavada: Well, that definitely is the kind of overarching question in Mars exploration, is there life on Mars today? Was there ever life on Mars in the past? As we’ve tried to answer that question over the past two decades, we realized it’s a pretty difficult question to answer. Not only do you need very sophisticated instruments to be able to detect microbial life, but that may not be the kind of life that we’re used to on Earth.

But you also have to know a lot about Mars itself as a planet and where you might want to look for life, where the sort of environmental niches are on Mars. What the Mars Science Laboratory aims to do is not detect life directly, but ask those questions about the environment on Mars, and specifically early Mars, a period for which there’s a lot of evidence that there were rivers and lakes and a much more kind of a life-friendly environment. So we’re going to go to a place that dates back from Mars’ early history, maybe three billion, four billion years ago and try to detect whether that environment at that time was an environment that could have supported life.

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