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12 Mar 16:02

RSVP = Really Fast Reading

by Aaron Goldman


A colleague at Lab49 just informed me of the existence of Rapid Serial Visual Presentation/RSVP speed reading apps. They’re amazing. Basically, the words of your reading selection are displayed in place one after another. With this interface, 300 words per minute seems slow to me and I can easily read news articles at 600 wpm.

imageThese apps are available on web and mobile.  On the web I’m using spreeder which has a website and chrome extension.  Just highlight web page text, right click and choose so spreed it. Using the spreeder bookmarklet may be the best choice here since it has keyboard control for increasing and decreasing the speed while reading.  Using the Shortcut Manager extension, you can make a shortcut for the bookmarklet and just highlight and hotkey.

For my Android phone there are a few apps: Rapid Read, fast reader, Speed Reader, Speed Reader Lite, Speed Reading HD. I haven’t decided which one I like best. They use copy/paste and open file to get text. Luckily on my phone, there is a select all button when copying. Unfortunately none of these can handle PDFs yet. So I’m converting all my PDFs to text with Free PDF to Text Converter in Windows and PDF Image & Text Extractor on my phone. The phone app actually fixed some errors the Windows app had with one file.

Fast reader is the best app for reading text files since it save your place and has a history of files read and shows the full text when you pause, the only app with this featur. imageUnfortunately, it tends to crash when switching imageback and forth and pasting text from web pages. No matter, the Rapid Read is quite capable with pasted text and its on screen controls are pleasing.  Its scroller is decent for navigating shorter text.

These Android and Web apps are good, but not as great as they could be. The best features I’ve used so far are in the Spreed Web Reader which has keyboard controls for increasing and decreasing speed while you read and an option to slow down for big words. I’ve used Spreed a lot and its so much better than regular reading though the layout, options and hotkey choices could be improved. There’s an option to change speed while reading with +/- but it only works if your keyboard has a number pad. Also, the play/pause hotkey is p, but spacebar would be easier and more intuitive. A speed reading app should really consider hotkey speed and use keys that are close enough to work with one hand without moving.

The original app Rob pointed out is Spritz. It looks like it could be the best judging from the demo on their website. I feel like such a vaporware victim since its not available yet. Its coming on the Samsung Gear2 and S5, and I can’t wait for general release Android apps using their technology. Spritz has one thing none of the others have: “Optimal Recognition Point” or ORP. That explains the red letter in the middle and the vertical lines. Its pleasing and functional. And so far unavailable.

12 Mar 09:29

ODA – Online Web Based Disassembler

by Darknet
ODA stands for Online DisAssembler. ODA is a general purpose machine code disassembler that supports a myriad of machine architectures. Built on the shoulders of libbfd and libopcodes (part of binutils), ODA allows you to explore an executable by dissecting its sections, strings, symbols, raw hex, and machine level instructions. ODA is an online...

Read the full post at
12 Mar 09:25

The British Invasion in Space

by Hyperspace
Originally Published: Feb 7 2014 - 10:00am on Inside Science News Service
By: Inside Science News Service and Amanda Page

Last month, our friends over at Inside Science put together this fantastic infographic about the "evolution" of the Beatles' first television broadcast in 1964. Upon the initial broadcast, the video recording of the Beatles' tunes was sent outward at the speed of light, and those high frequency waves are still traveling through space.

Below you can see a timeline of events on Earth coupled with the position of those waves in space. Check it out!


Amanda Page is a multimedia guru specializing in web content ranging from animations to infographics. Follow her publications on Twitter: @AmandaPage_. Thank you to Seth Shostak from the SETI Institute and Rick Fienberg from the American Astronomical Society for lending their astronomical expertise to this project.
12 Mar 09:20

ISSE-3: We Get Signal

by Brian Benchoff


Out in the depths of space, more than 100 times the distance from the Earth to the moon, there’s a lonely spacecraft gracefully spinning towards an August encounter with our planet. It’s ICE/ISEE-3, a probe long-forgotten by official space agencies. Now, the team dedicated to repurposing this satellite has made contact with this probe using a 20-meter satellite dish in Germany.

When we first heard about the planned communication by volunteers, no one was certain the probe was still alive. It shouldn’t be a surprise this satellite was still functioning; it was launched in 1978, and most of the instruments were still functioning in 2008. Still, this is the first time amateurs – not NASA – had received a signal from the probe

ICEteam, the group of volunteers dedicated to reviving this spacecraft used the huge dish at Boshum observatory to detect the 5 Watt carrier signal coming from the spacecraft. That’s all the probe is sending out right now – no data was received – but this is a huge accomplishment and the first step towards directing ICE/ISSE-3 into an orbit around one of the Earth-Sun Lagrange points.

Side note: Looking at the ephemeris data (target -111) I *think* ICE/ISSE-3 will be above the night side of Earth at closest approach. Can anyone confirm that, and does that mean a future mission at L2?

Video from the ICEteam below.

Filed under: radio hacks
12 Mar 09:16

Mary’s Monday Metazoan: the worthy sponge

by PZ Myers
HHMI The image shows approximately 16 choanocyte chambers, each about 30 micrometers in diameter—about the size of a pollen grain. The green color marks the flagella—hair-like structures that pump the water. The red color marks the cytoskeleton, which includes a structure called the collar (not visible here) that captures the prey. The light-blue regions mark the nuclei of individual choanocytes.


The image shows approximately 16 choanocyte chambers, each about 30 micrometers in diameter—about the size of a pollen grain. The green color marks the flagella—hair-like structures that pump the water. The red color marks the cytoskeleton, which includes a structure called the collar (not visible here) that captures the prey. The light-blue regions mark the nuclei of individual choanocytes.

12 Mar 09:15

A Little Intel Cable That Moves Data at a Staggering 800Gbps

by Jamie Condliffe

A Little Intel Cable That Moves Data at a Staggering 800Gbps

This cute little green cable may look innocuous, but it can carry data along its core at a breathtaking 800Gbps.



12 Mar 09:09

Two New Ideas in Wave and Tidal Power

by Dave Levitan

M3 Wave

Waves and tides offer some of the most predictable, consistent, and just generally big energy resources available. Rollouts of actual wave and tidal power installations, however, have been slow and generally limited to pilot projects so far. Part of the reason for this—along with straightforward but difficult problems like transmission—is that there is no consensus at all on what represents the best device designs to actually harness waves and tides. A couple of interesting ideas—one wave, one tidal—were on display this week at the ARPA-E Innovation Summit in Washington, D.C., that offer some clear advantages over many of the other attempts at drawing energy from the oceans.

The wave power idea is closer than the tidal energy one to rollout, with a planned open-water test for this summer. M3 Wave dispenses with all the problems that come with buoys or other above-and-below-the-surface designs by mooring a simple device to the ocean floor. The device, pictured above, involves two air chambers: as a wave passes over the top of the first chamber, the pressure inside increases, forcing air through a passageway to the second chamber. Inside the passageway is a turbine, so the passing air is actually what generates the electricity. As the wave continues on, it raises the pressure inside the second chamber, pushing the air back through the turbine—importantly, it is a bidirectional turbine—and back into the first chamber. Another wave, another cycle. Repeat.

The primary selling point here is its simple and small footprint. There is no impact on ocean view, on shipping or fishing traffic, and rough seas above won't endanger the system in any way. M3 is selling it as "expeditionary" wave power, meaning it might be brought along on a ship and deployed for things like disaster relief; the company suggests such a deployment could produce 150 to 500 kilowatts. The system will undergo open-water testing at a U.S. National Guard facility, Camp Rilea in Oregon, in August.

On the other side of the country, a group at Brown University has developed what they call an oscillating hydrofoil, intended to minimize some of the impacts of tidal power devices and increase efficiency. The hydrofoil is mounted on to the sea floor—it resembles a car's spoiler attached to a pole, essentially. As the water flows past that spoiler it oscillates, generating electricity. It is designed so that the pole can actually fold down and out of the way if necessary, allowing for ships or even wildlife (detected with sensors on the device) to pass by without incident. The team received US $750 000 in funding from ARPA-E in 2012, and will soon move to a phase II involving a medium-scale, 10-kw prototype. They have calculated that the device can achieve much better energy conversion efficiencies in tides flowing very slowly than any of the devices that are on or close to market.

The National Renewable Energy Laboratory has estimated that in the United States alone there are wave power resources totaling 252 terawatt-hours/year, with tidal power adding another 17 Twh/year. Those are big numbers, and they come without the intermittency complaints that plague wind and solar power. Any new way to catch the ocean's energy is worth a look.

12 Mar 09:08

Earth’s Infrared Radiation: New Renewable Energy Frontier?

by Prachi Patel

Image: Goddard Space Flight Center/NASA

This is how the Earth might appear if your eyes were sensitive to infrared light.

The Earth continuously emits 100 million gigawatts of infrared heat into outer space. That’s enough to power all of humanity many thousands of times over. Capturing even a fraction of that would mean an end to our energy woes. Harvard University researchers are now proposing a way to harvest this untapped source of renewable energy.

They have come up with two designs for a device they call an “emissive energy harvester” that would convert IR radiation into usable power. Today's technology isn't sufficient for an efficient, affordable harvester, the researchers say. But they've laid out a few different paths towards such devices in the journal  Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences .

It seems counterintuitive, but the devices generate power by emitting infrared radiation. "The [device] is emitting much more radiation than it receives," says Steven Byrnes, a postdoctoral researcher working in applied physicist Frederico Capasso’s laboratory at Harvard. "This is the imbalance that we can take advantage of to create DC power."

The first design, which they admit is not the most promising, is a heat engine running between the Earth’s surface and a cold plate. The heat flowing from the ambient surface air to the cold plate, which radiates it out into the atmosphere, would be used to do mechanical work. The concept is simple, but cooling the plate efficiently to a low enough temperature is tough, Byrnes says.

As a case study the researchers looked at how much power such a device would generate in Lamont, Oklahoma, where a facility has been measuring IR radiation intensity. They found that they would get an average of 2.7 Watts from the IR radiation emitted by a square meter of Oklahoma over 24 hours, which is pretty low for large-scale power generation.

So the researchers turn to rectifying antennas, or rectennas, devices that absorb electromagnetic radiation and convert it into direct current electricity. A rectenna is an antenna coupled with a diode. Radiation induces an AC voltage across the antenna, which the diode rectifies to DC.

The researchers argue that rectennas can be run in reverse, generating DC power while emitting radiation, rather than absorbing it. In their design, a nanoscale antenna very efficiently emits Earth's infrared radiation into the sky, cooling the electrons only in that part of the circuit. Because the diode is at a higher temperature than the antenna, current only flows from the diode to the antenna. And because the antenna acts as a resistor, this results in a voltage.

Rectennas are traditionally used to generate power from microwaves, but can be used for higher frequency radiation, all the way up to visible light. Infrared frequency rectennas are a developing technology and the proof-of-principle devices demonstrated so far would generate very little power. But technological advances could improve their efficiency, Byrnes says.

Applying solar-cooking techniques such as reflectors to heat up the rectennas could also increase efficiency. For example, in the Lamont, Oklahoma case study, raising the temperature of a rectenna-based harvester from 20° C to 100° C using solar-cooking techniques would increase the power density of a rectenna from 1.2 W/m2 to 20 W/m2. “Solar panels for heating and cooking are already used in much of the world,” he says. “You could easily couple that to the (infrared) harvester.”

The researchers say that IR antennas should be easy to make on large areas at a reasonable cost. The critical challenge will be making diodes that would work well at the low voltages that would be expected in the harvester. The researchers suggest a few options to get around this problem. One is to use specially designed low-voltage diodes such as tunnel diodes and ballistic diodes.

Needless to say, this vision of IR energy harvesters for renewable power rests on engineers overcoming several technical challenges. But Byrnes says that this is a new energy frontier to tackle. He imagines one day a sheet printed with thousands of tiny infrared-harvesting rectennas that could be laminated on a solar panel or integrated into a solar water heater.

12 Mar 09:05

Light on Boron Nitride Creates Tunable Ripples

by Dexter Johnson

Illustration: Siyuan Dai

Researchers at the University of California San Diego (UCSD) have discovered that light can cause a ripple effect on the two-dimensional (2-D) material, hexagonal boron nitride, that can be maintained long enough for the waves to be usable for practical applications. This discovery could lead to the transmission of information in computer chips, better management of heat flow in nanoscale devices, or the creation higher resolution images than is possible with light, the researchers say.

The waves in this rippling effect that the researchers observed are called phonon polaritons. Polaritons are the quasiparticles produced when any type of photon strikes an object. Specifically, phonon polaritons occur when an infrared photon strikes a material.

The UCSD researchers discovered that phonon polaritons are far smaller than light waves and can be tuned to particular frequencies and amplitudes by varying the number of layers of the boron nitride. This is the feature that makes it conceivable to use them for producing images with a higher resolution than is possible with light, say the scientists.

The research, which was published in the journal Science (“Tunable Phonon Polaritons in Atomically Thin van der Waals Crystals of Boron Nitride”), involved focusing a laser on to the tip of an atomic force microscope as it scanned across the boron nitride. The AFM was taking measurements as infrared light from the laser struck the material.  An interference patterns were created as the phonon polariton waves traveled to the edge of the material and then reflected back.

"A wave on the surface of water is the closest analogy," said Dimitri Basov, professor of physics at the University of California, San Diego, who led the project, in a press release. "You throw a stone and you launch concentric waves that move outward. This is similar. Atoms are moving. The triggering event is illumination with light."

Basov added: "You can bounce these waves off edges. You can bounce them off defects. You can play all sorts of cool tricks with them. And of course, you can design the wavelength and amplitude of these oscillations in a way that suits your purpose."

The discovery was somewhat of a surprise. It stemmed from continuing research Basov and his colleagues have been conducting with 2-D materials, such as 2012 work in which they were experimenting with focusing infrared light on the surface of graphene to control the ripples of electrons that this caused across the surface of the material.

In this case, they were working with the insulator hexagonal boron nitride, which when combined with the conductor graphene, could make complex circuits.

In their similar work with graphene, the researchers were able to generate these phonon polaritons as well, but the waves would dissipate quickly. When using the boron nitride, the waves could be maintained for a long period of time.

"Because these materials are insulators, there is no electronic dissipation. So these waves travel further," Basov said. "We didn't expect them to be long-lived, but we are pleased that they are. It's becoming kind of practical."

12 Mar 09:03

Incredible New Trading Software Only Lost Money One Day In Four Years

by Jamie Condliffe

Incredible New Trading Software Only Lost Money One Day In Four Years

If you think the stock market can be a gamble, you'd now be wrong. The latest trading software developed by Virtu—a company specializing in high-frequency trading—has had only one day of loss in the past four years.



12 Mar 09:01

Build Your Own DIY Solar Panel Rig

by Walter Glenn

Build Your Own DIY Solar Panel Rig

A solar power rig strong enough for powering a laptop and a few other gadgets is useful whether you need it during emergencies or just want to save some power. You can build your own rig for around $100.



12 Mar 08:58

Beyond Immersion: Learn a New Language with Better Listening Skills

by Melanie Pinola

Get on the fast track to accomplishing one of your bucket list items, learning another language. Chris Lonsdale's TEDx talk offers five principles and seven actions that will help anyone learn to speak a new language fluently within just six months. The most important of these is perhaps to become better at observing and listening.



12 Mar 08:58

Tungsten Diselenide Is New 2-D Optoelectronic Wonder Material

by Dexter Johnson

Image: TU Vienna

Researchers at the University of WashingtonMassachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), and Vienna University of Technology (TU) in Austria  have all shown interesting optoelectronics results with a new two-dimensional (2-D) material called tungsten diselenide (WSe2).

The main page of the journal Nature Nanotechnology this week looks almost as though some mistake had been made with three of the top four stories highlighting “2D crystals.” But it was no mistake and foretells of a near future in which new 2-D materials are developed that will show either improved or complementary properties to that of graphene, the granddad of 2-D materials.

Tungsten diselenide belongs to a larger group of transition metal dichalcogenides that also includes molybdenum disulfide (MoS2). This family consists of materials that combine one of 15 transition metals with one of three members of the chalcogen family: sulfur, selenium, or tellurium. With only a few of these transition metals having been experimented upon, it’s likely we should see more coming down the pike.

The three research groups focused on optoelectronics applications of tungsten diselenide, but each with a slightly different emphasis.

The University of Washington scientists highlighted applications of the material for a light emitting diode (LED). The Vienna University of Technology group focused on the material’s photovoltaic applications. And, finally, the MIT group looked at all of the optoelectronic applications for the material that would result from the way it can be switched from being a p-type to a n-type semiconductor.

The MIT research, which produced diodes, bears some explaining. Diodes are typically made by doping two adjacent parts of a semiconductor, one so it has excess electrons (n-type) the other so it has excess positive charge (p-type). The doping determines which way current flows through the device. Once the semiconductor is doped, that’s it; its direction is set for life. However, what is intriguing about WSe2 is that if the researchers brought the material into close proximity with a metal electrode and tuned the voltage on that electrode from positive to negative, then the WSe2 could be switched between p-type and n-type.

When the 2-D material is made into LEDs, as the University of Washington researchers have done, it becomes the thinnest-known LED. Standard LEDs used in electronics today are at least 10 to 20 times thicker than the device developed by the Washington researchers.

The Vienna researchers showed that a WSe2 photovoltaic cell  is so thin that it lets 95 percent of incident light to pass through it, but it will capture a tenth of the remaining 5 percent and convert it to electricity, resulting in a high, internal conversion efficiency. This could translate to a material that would be put in the windows of buildings, allowing light through but also capable of collecting energy.

We are likely to see more potential applications for this material outside of optoelectronics. But what may be even more intriguing is what will be the next transition metal that looks to have promising properties.

12 Mar 08:53

How The FBI Has Been Working Hard To Deport Friends Of Guy They Killed During Interview About Boston Bombing

by Mike Masnick
This week's This American Life is an entire hour devoted to investigating the FBI's killing of Ibragim Todashev along with a companion piece in Boston Magazine. You probably heard about the basics of the Todashev story. Todashev was a friend of Tamerlan Tsarnaev, the older of the two brothers implicated in the Boston Marathon bombings (and the one who was killed when law enforcement tried to capture them), who was being interviewed by the FBI and was then shot multiple times and killed -- with a whole variety of conflicting stories coming out soon after as to what he did to lead to his death. One of the key stories was that Todashev had just admitted to participating, with Tsarnaev, in a grisly triple homicide outside of Boston a year and half earlier, and then supposedly lunged at the FBI agents (there were a variety of different reports, each claiming he had some kind of weapon, but each time the report differed on what kind of weapon). But reporter Susan Zalkind, who had been friendly with one of the 3 men killed back in 2011, which Todashev supposedly confessed to taking part in, decided to explore the story more deeply, and found a variety of oddities at every turn, nearly all of which involve strange moves by the FBI.

It's also impossible to listen to this story, without connecting it to some of the recent Snowden revelations concerning how the NSA and FBI act. While the various chapters of the story are all interesting (including Todashev's girlfriend who agreed to be interviewed by Zalkind, and a month or so later was deported, almost certainly because of the interview), perhaps the most striking is the story of Ashurmamad Miraliev, profiled in Act 2 of This American Life and written up in more detail by Zalkind last fall.

Miraliev was someone who lived in Florida and had become an acquaintance, but not a close friend, of Todashev. Months after Todashev was killed, Miraliev was pulled over and arrested, supposedly for having an expired license (it had expired a week or so earlier). He was then interrogated for six hours by the FBI (without a lawyer) -- almost all about Todashev, asking specific questions about the triple homicide and Todashev's involvement (remember, this is supposedly well after the FBI claims Todashev confessed to those murders). Miraliev pointed out that he wasn't that close to Todashev, that he'd never been to Massachusetts, and that all of that happened well before he'd ever met Todashev. He then asked to be let go, and was told that he was being thrown in jail based on absolutely ridiculous trumped up charges that are way too convoluted to fully cover here, but the short version is that a year earlier, Miraliev had apparently gotten into a yelling altercation with a guy who Todashev had fought with, and the feds (a year later) had pressured the guy Todashev fought with to press charges, and then claimed that Miraliev was "witness tampering" for that screaming match. The charges were later dropped after a judge pointed out how ridiculous they were -- but the whole thing still got Miraliev put on a terrorist watch list, caused him to miss a court date for his student visa, and got him kicked out of the country:
So the FBI had been matchmaking: They had helped the sheriff’s department go fishing on a long-closed case to find a victim and a charge with which they could pressure or detain first Ibragim, and later Ashurmamad. The witness-tampering charge the FBI brought against Ashurmamad was so flimsy that it was dropped in just a month.

And yet it didn’t matter. Although he had never been to Boston and never met the Tsarnaevs, Ashurmamad was nonetheless flagged—according to a note on the booking sheet—“ON TERRORIST WATCH LIST/PLACED PROTECTIVE CUSTODY AND HIGH RISK. HOUSE ALONE.” Ashurmamad was taken from the Orlando Police Department to the Osceola County jail, where he was kept alone in an 8-by-10 room. To meet with his lawyers, he had to have his hands and wrists shackled and be chained to the ground. Ashurmamad told me there were no windows, the light was always on, and he was always cold. He was there for a month until the tampering case was dropped. But he wasn’t released. His student visa had expired, and he’d missed a court date while he was in jail. So he was moved directly to an immigration detention facility, and on November 4, he was ordered to be deported back to Tajikistan.
Hearing the original story, and reading through the details, I'm further reminded of the stories of how the NSA, FBI and others in the federal government use "parallel construction" to build questionable cases against individuals they want dealt with.

The whole story highlights, yet again, why anyone who claims "if you've done nothing wrong, you have nothing to fear," are simply wrong. Miraliev did not appear to do anything "wrong" other than failing to reregister his driver's license on time. But, because the FBI wanted to pressure and then punish him, to give them information they didn't have supposedly to confirm a murder which the FBI itself claims they had already solved, suddenly he got kicked out of the country entirely, losing everything he had (he lost his home, his money and car, which were all left in the US when he got sent back to Tajikistan).

While Zalkind presents a plausible theory on what may have happened with the FBI and Todashev, the hiding of information, the coverup and the continued efforts to bully, threaten, harass and (eventually) deport a number of his friends is quite shocking. One former law enforcement official quoted in the show, notes that when your job is to stop terrorism, these kinds of actions seem perfectly reasonable. Even if you have no proof, you just want anyone who knew anyone to be gone, so they're not your problem. It's entirely possible that's what's going on, and no one seems to care about punishing perfectly innocent people.

But if you actually believed the crap that the NSA and FBI have been saying about only targeting real threats to national security, and not putting innocent people at risk, take a listen or read the writeup. It presents a very different picture than one of an FBI protecting the country. It suggests a bunch of thuggish bullies who went too far, and are now doing everything possible to cover their tracks.

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12 Mar 08:49

DailyDirt: Learning How To Do Math Like A Boss

by Michael Ho
Some people claim that they are not "math people" -- that their brains just don't understand mathematics that way "normal" people are supposed to learn it. Perhaps that's true for some, but the subject of math seems to be taught in a way that tends to weed people out as concepts get more abstract. Educators are trying to figure out how to avoid making math lessons as painful as they might have been in the past (and hopefully not create any further torture with "new math" or even "newer new math"). Here are just a few links on changing the way these skills are taught. If you'd like to read more awesome and interesting stuff, check out this unrelated (but not entirely random!) Techdirt post via StumbleUpon.

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12 Mar 08:46

Watch an arrow change directions in this simple water optical illusion

by Casey Chan on Sploid, shared by Casey Chan to Gizmodo

Watch an arrow change directions in this simple water optical illusion

Here's a fun old trick anyone can do: draw arrows on a piece of paper, put a glass in front of those arrows and pour water into the glass. Watch as the arrows you drew magically change directions right before your eyes. Refraction is a mind bending thing.



24 Feb 14:28

Fishing Line Makes for Superhuman Artificial Muscles

by Jeremy Hsu

Image: Seyed Mohammad Mirvakili

Ordinary fishing line and sewing thread have joined forces in the lab to create incredibly strong artificial muscles. The new artificial muscles could someday lend superhuman strength to robots and wearable exoskeletons for humans.

The twisted, coiled combinations of polymer fishing line and sewing thread can lift 100 times more weight and have 100 times greater mechanical power than the same length and weight of human muscle. U.S. researchers at the University of Texas at Dallas worked with colleagues from Australia, Canada, China, South Korea and Turkey on the breakthrough detailed in the 21 February 2014 issue of the journal Science .

"The application opportunities for these polymer muscles are vast," said Ray Baughman, the Robert A. Welch Distinguished Chair in Chemistry at UT Dallas and director of the NanoTech Institute, in a news release. "Today's most advanced humanoid robots, prosthetic limbs, and wearable exoskeletons are limited by motors and hydraulic systems, whose size and weight restrict dexterity, force generation, and work capability."

A bundle of fishing lines with a total diameter just 10 times wider than a human hair can create an artificial muscle capable of lifting over 7 kilograms, Baughman said. If combined in parallel like biological muscles, 100 of the artificial muscles could lift about 0.7 tonnes. The muscles can also generate about 7.1 horsepower per kilogram, or the equivalent mechanical power of a jet engine.

Photo: Eli Paster

The twisted polymer fibers have enough torsional power to spin a heavy rotor more than 10 000 revolutions per minute when heated. Additional "extreme" twisting creates coiled artificial muscles that can either contract or expand along their length when heated, depending on the direction of the twist. These coils can contract by about 50 percent of their length—much more than biological muscles, which can contract by about 20 percent. 

Such artificial muscles are usually electrically powered by resistive heating, said Carter Haines, a doctoral student in materials science and engineering at UT Dallas and lead author on the new study. The resistive heating can come from the metal coating of commercial sewing thread or from metal wires twisted together within the coiled muscles. But the muscles can also draw power from environmental temperature changes.

The new muscles could benefit technologies beyond enhancing the strength of future robots or robotic exoskeletons. Smaller bundles of the polymer muscles with a diameter thinner than a human hair could give life to more nuanced facial expressions in humanoid robots, or lend a precise touch to robotic microsurgery on the tiniest levels.

Researchers also envision the new muscles replacing typical motors in smart buildings with windows that automatically open and close in response to temperature changes, or powering tiny lab-on-a-chip devices.

The UT Dallas team led by Baughman previously experimented with artificial muscles based on carbon nanotubes twisted into bundles and infused with paraffin wax. But their latest work with the fishing line and sewing thread shows that even relatively mundane materials may have a lot to offer.

Image: Seyed Mohammad Mirvakili; Photo: Eli Paster

24 Feb 14:09

The Next Yota Dual-Screen E-Ink Phone Will Make It to the U.S.

by Jamie Condliffe

The Next Yota Dual-Screen E-Ink Phone Will Make It to the U.S.

This particularly sleek-looking, dual-screened Android is the second iteration of the Russian Yota Phone—and, unlike its predecessor, it will actually arrive on U.S. shores.



23 Feb 19:12

Witness the Birth of a Snowflake

by Robert T. Gonzalez on io9, shared by Robert Sorokanich to Gizmodo

Witness the Birth of a Snowflake

One of the more technically creative time lapses we've seen in a long while, Snowtime is a 2-minute "microscopic time-lapse" by Vyacheslav Ivanov that captures the mesmerizing bloom of budding ice crystals in all their hexagonal glory.


23 Feb 19:11

Wheelchair-Bound Woman Walks Again With a 3D Printed Exoskeleton

by Robert Sorokanich

Wheelchair-Bound Woman Walks Again With a 3D Printed Exoskeleton

In 1992, Amanda Boxtel suffered a vicious skiing accident that left her paralyzed from the waist down. Doctors said she would never walk again. This week, she proved them wrong, with the help of the world's first 3D printed exoskeleton that gives her the ability to climb out of her wheelchair and walk once again.



22 Feb 10:46

Hacking the Linksys WRT120N Part 2

by Adam Fabio


[Craig Heffner] has been busy with his Linksys WRT120N router. When we last checked in on [Craig] he had reverse engineered the obfuscation techniques used in the router’s firmware. Since then, he’s re-enabled JTAG, cracked the “encryption” used for saving configuration backups, and now he’s devised a simple attack to change the admin password.  With the firmware unlocked, [Craig] went after the hardware JTAG. His first hurdle was a missing jumper connecting the TDI pin to the processor. With a solder blob making the connection, he then found the router would connect to his JTAG debugger, and immediately reset. TDI had been re-used as a GPIO in software, and assigned to the reset button on the back of the router. [Craig's] JTAG pod was pulling the pin low and causing the reset. To make matters worse, the bootloader also redefined and checked for the reset button. If the button were pressed it would boot into a recovery mode. [Craig] patched the bootloader with a little help from IDA pro. He then desoldered the router’s flash and programmed it outside the system. The firmware required a similar patch. Rather than desolder the flash chip again, [Craig] created a firmware update the router would accept and flashed it via the router’s web interface.

Since he already was deep into the Linksys Firmware, [Craig] looked for any obvious attack vectors. He found a big one in the /cgi/tmUnBlock.cgi. Inside the firmware, the URL sent to the CGI would be sent through sprintf().  In plain english, it means that no input length checking was happening – so a URL longer than the firmware engineers expected (in this case 256 bytes) would overflow into areas of memory it wasn’t supposed to – in this case, the stack. For an astute attacker, that’s a wide open door.  [Craig] was able to use find some Return Oriented Programming (ROP) gadgets and created an input value that would cause the router to reset its own administrator password. After running the exploit, a quick trip to the router’s webpage proved his attack was successful.

If that wasn’t enough, [Craig] also spent some time looking at the patches to the router’s firmware. The release notes of one of the patches mentioned encrypting configuration files. The WRT120N, like many routers, allows the owner to download and save the configuration as a file. It turned out that the “encryption” scheme was nothing more than an exclusive OR with 0xFF. A pretty weak encryption scheme by any standards. To [Craig] we send our congratulations. To the WRT120N software engineers, we’d suggest taking one of [Craig's] embedded device exploitation classes.

Filed under: peripherals hacks
21 Feb 07:41

Muscle Made From Fishing Wire Is 100x Stronger Than Yours

by Robert Sorokanich

Muscle Made From Fishing Wire Is 100x Stronger Than Yours

Synthetic muscles are generally expensive, weak, and not very durable—not exactly a welcome replacement for natural muscle. Thankfully, a research team led by University of Texas at Dallas Professor Ray Baughman just turned all of that around, making wickedly strong artificial muscle fibers from nothing more than fishing wire.



20 Feb 09:16

Quantum Microscope May Be Able to See Inside Living Cells

by Adam Mann
Quantum Microscope May Be Able to See Inside Living Cells
By combining quantum mechanical quirks of light with a technique called photonic force microscopy, scientists can now probe detailed structures inside living cells like never before. This ability could bring into focus previously invisible processes and help biologists better understand ...

19 Feb 09:06

Researchers Build the First Stretchy, Bendy Light Circuit

by Robert Sorokanich

Researchers Build the First Stretchy, Bendy Light Circuit

Stretchable circuits are going to enable our wearable tech future, but they're super finicky to create. It was just under two years ago that scientists nailed stretchable electronic circuitry; now, Belgian researchers have come up with a flexible light circuit that carries light signals even when stretched.



19 Feb 09:05

The First Supersonic Private Jet Has Huge Screens Instead of Windows

by Adam Clark Estes

The First Supersonic Private Jet Has Huge Screens Instead of Windows

Windows are kind of a drag for airplanes—literally. They add extra weight, weaken the body, and generally slow the aircraft down. That's why the new Spike S-512 Supersonic Jet won't have any. Instead, passengers get to enjoy their sky-high surroundings on real-time, panoramic video screens.



19 Feb 09:05

This Tiny Chip Could Give Doctors a 3D View From Inside The Heart

by Robert Sorokanich

This Tiny Chip Could Give Doctors a 3D View From Inside The Heart

Remember that great episode of The Magic Schoolbus, where the class took a field trip through the human body? This little chip could be as close as we ever need to get to that dream, by providing a real-time 3D view from within the heart and blood vessels.



18 Feb 18:18

WIRED Space Photo of the Day: Ancient Impact and Flood

by Wired Science Staff
WIRED Space Photo of the Day: Ancient Impact and Flood
Large and small, hundreds of thousands of craters scar the surface of Mars, hollowed out by a multitude of asteroids and comets that impacted the Red Planet throughout its history. This image shows a region of the planet’s northern hemisphere known ...

18 Feb 07:24

Pomegranate-Inspired Batteries Hold 10x The Juice

by Adam Clark Estes

Pomegranate-Inspired Batteries Hold 10x The Juice

A team of Stanford scientists recently made a breakthrough. After years of trying to create a new generation of lithium-ion batteries that use energy-efficient silicon to hold a charge, they found the secret to the winning design in an unlikely place: pomegranates.



18 Feb 07:22

This Perpetual Plotter Clock Is More Relaxing Than a Zen Garden

by Andrew Liszewski

This Perpetual Plotter Clock Is More Relaxing Than a Zen Garden

There's a certain charm to old-school analog clocks, unless you're part of the generation that never learned how to properly decipher a bunch of numbers laid out in a circle. So Thingiverse user 'joo' has created a happy medium for those more comfortable with a digital clock, but like seeing a bunch of moving parts, with this contraption that writes out the time, erases it, and then starts all over again minute after minute.



18 Feb 07:20

MOSS kits let you build the robot of your dreams with color-coded cubes

by Terrence O'Brien
The big story at this year's Toy Fair was definitely STEM. That stands for science, technology, engineering and mathematics -- four areas of study that educational companies and bureaucracies have been pushing more students to get involved with. So...