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18 Jun 14:58

Computers as I used to love them

by Nikita Prokopov
Illustration by Yulia Prokopova

I’ve been struggling with file sync solutions for years. In the beginning, Dropbox was great, but in the last few years, they started to bloat up. I moved to iCloud, but it was even worse. Finally, a few days ago, after iCloud cryptically broke again, I decided it’s time to try something different.

I tried Syncthing, a free and open-source alternative. And you know what? It’s been liberating. The sanity, the simplicity, the reliability, the features. It brings the joy of use and makes you believe the collapse of civilization can be slowed down a bit.

Syncthing is everything I used to love about computers.

It’s amazing how great computer products can be when they don’t need to deal with corporate bullshit, don’t have to promote a brand or to sell its users. Frankly, I almost ceased to believe it’s still possible. But it is.

Installation

You download a single binary executable. You run it. There’s no step three.

No, seriously. It’s so simple I thought I missed something. But no. After you run that binary, you have a fully operational node of Syncthing. It’s ready to sync with any other Syncthing node, no other setup necessary. There’s no installers, no package management (but there are packages if you want to), no registration, no email, no logins, no password creation, no 2FA, no consents, no user agreements. Just download and run. Heck, setting up autostart on Linux server was more complex than just running the app itself!

Homebrew makes it even simpler:

Just to give you the perspective, these are all the steps that Dropbox puts you through when you install it on a new computer:

Aaaaand… that’s not all! You also get this annoying notificaiton to deal with:

Only at this point can you start using Dropbox. Luckily, I already had an account, otherwise, it would be 5 more steps. Ridiculous!

(It goes without saying, that all of these are different windows. It does not happen in a single predictable area, mind you. You have to chase every one of them. And the “Set Up Dropbox” window is always-on-top, so it hides other required steps, which also adds to the fun.)

No artificial limits

Because Synthing is free and doesn’t depend on server-side storage, they don’t need to put weird or unnatural restrictions on you. You can use as much space as you have on disk. You can sync as many folders as you want. You can sync any folder, no matter where it’s located. You can sync with anyone in the world. In fact, you can sync any folder with any number of people. At no point have you to wonder “but will it work with my plan”? If your hardware allows it, it will work. As simple as that.

Folders are the most vivid example of how other cloud storages constantly fuck up the simplest things. Syncthing can sync any folder on your drive, located anywhere. You can sync existing folders. You can sync multiple different folders. Folders are just folders, nothing special about them. Here I’m syncing “system” folders: ~/Desktop and ~/Library/Fonts, and three custom ones. No sweat:

This simplicity lets you use it as a tool you can apply, sometimes creatively, to your task, not as a service you have to put up with. For example, by syncing ~/Library/Fonts, if I install a font on one machine, it automatically installs everywhere.

Contrast this with Dropbox, which requires you to put everything inside ~/Dropbox folder. If you keep your projects under ~/work and want to sync it, well, tough luck. You can’t sync multiple folders either. Well, technically Dropbox can sync anything, of course. Files are files. But branding dictates there MUST be a Dropbox folder somewhere, even if it’s inconvenient for the user.

Sweet, sweet branding...

But the worst offender is the iCloud. Same as Dropbox, it also requires you to put all your stuff into a folder. But that folder is called ~/Library/Mobile Documents/com~apple~CloudDocs!!!

If you are a programmer, it’s unusable. First, you can’t in your right mind type THAT every time you need to cd. Second, it contains spaces! Which breaks all sorts of things, believe me or not, even in 2020. I can’t keep Fira Code in iCloud because of python scripts, I can’t keep Jekyll blog like this one there because of Ruby, I can’t run bazel, etc. Useless.

And if you think symlinking it to ~/icloud helps, believe me, it does not.

No registration

How do you connect two devices, if there’s no registration, accounts, email, etc? Simple! Each device has a unique id, generated automatically when you first run the program. Share this id with another device, let them share their, and you are good to go.

Best news? Those ids are not even secret. They are more like public keys, so you can exchange them freely. But the scheme only works if both devices know ids of each other.

What I like about this scheme is how beautifully simple and down-to-absolute-essentials it is. This is pure mathematics. But it’s also very convenient to use. There’re no emails, no forms, no unresponsive web pages, no invites, no expiring tokens, no failing/outdated/overloaded APIs, no password management, nothing to hold onto or “manage”.

Power mode

There’s power user mode! If you don’t care, there’s always a UI, and most of the things you can configure there. But if you’re a programmer and need more, you can:

  • Install Synthing on a headless Linux server,
  • Control it by editing XML config,
  • Control it via REST API,
  • Configure folder ignores via regular expressions.

All APIs and configs are well-documented:

For example, this is my .stignore for workspace folder:

Configure it once and forget about generated classes, vendored dependencies and other caches syncing unnecessary forever.

In contrast, iCloud has a feature to exclude *.nosync files from syncing, but you know what? I usually don’t have files called *.nosync, that’s the problem:

And Dropbox? Well… I still have nightmares about this Dropbox UI:

It’s kind of funny, how commercial apps have feature bloat but don’t have power mode. You can do more different things, but can’t configure them to your liking.

No upsell

Commercial solutions are interested in keeping users locked in and constantly upselling more features to them. As a result of that, you get notifications, features, popups. For example, on this screenshot, after I just installed Dropbox on a fresh machine:

Top to bottom:

  • I already have an annoying red dot in the menubar,
  • Link to another product (Paper), even though it has nothing to do with file synchronization,
  • A firm suggestion I should enable notifications,
  • A notification that says my Desktop app is ready for use?! I mean, I’m looking at it from the desktop app!
  • Dropbox advertising some sort of trial,
  • Dropbox selling me more space (even though it was 2 years ago and I have >50% free),
  • Large “Upgrade” button,

In the mystic “For you” tab:

we see:

  • Starred items? What is it, a high-school notepad? If I really wanted, I could tag files in the OS, but thank you.
  • Calendar sync? Why on Earth would FILE SYNCHRONIZATION application wants to access my calendar?

Wait, there’s more:

More “features”:

  • Desktop sync,
  • Photos sync,
  • Screenshots sync.

These are at least file-like? I don’t understand why they have to be “special features”, though, if you already have an app whose primary task is to sync files. It already does that. Why are some files more special than others?

The answer is simple: the only way Dropbox can survive is by building and selling more features. You’ll never have peace of mind with them.

iCloud is much younger and doesn’t have feature bloat yet, but they are still interested in selling more Macs and iPhones. So they will always try to isolate you from the rest of the world. Expect weird restrictions and great inconveniences, like iCloud folder location or moving Desktop folder when you enable/disable sync for it.

Syncthing survival, on the other hand, does not depend on making more features. They do one thing, but they do it well. Look, their menu1 looks exactly how Dropbox used to look when it still was good in 2012:

No lock-in

Another ugly thing both iCloud and Dropbox routinely do is trying to scare you from walking away. Those appear every time you move more than one file outside of iCloud folder:

And those are Dropbox versions:

It might seem like they try to explain something, but they do not. They are scared you might be leaving and try to scare you back. The tactic is simple: question your every action, even trivial operations like moving or deleting files, display huge warning signs even for safe operations, long puzzling wording (“documents stored in iCloud will be removed from Mac”) so that you never sure what will happen. That’s some shady shit.

Syncthing, on the other hand, simply doesn’t care. They don’t get any money from you, so they are not interested in creating a need or constantly reminding about themselves. If you are looking for peace of mind, you can’t have it with commercial offerings.

Conclusion

Syncthing has reminded me how great computers can be if they are not made by corporations. It’s simple, predictable, sane, acts no-nonsense. You can configure it however you like and it always keeps you in control. It’s a pure function and it’s good at that. It’s free and open-source, but I’m much more happy to donate them €10/month than e.g. Dropbox. I would be a much happier person if at least half of the programs on my Mac/iPhone were like that.

  1. If you choose to install macOS app

09 Jun 15:12

Topological map of the world

by Minnesotastan
"In cartography and geology, a topological map is a type of diagram that has been simplified so that only vital information remains and unnecessary detail has been removed. These maps lack scale, and distance and direction are subject to change and variation, but the relationship between points is maintained. A good example is the tube map of the London Underground or the map for the New York City Subway."
The discussion thread at the MapPorn source includes comments by the artist regarding the technique he used to generate the map.  When you look at it in detail, it is really quite interesting.
11 Mar 19:41

Scientific Briefing

"I actually came in in the middle so I don't know which topic we're briefing on; the same slides work for like half of them."
03 Mar 22:54

New entry in commercial quantum computing, using entirely different tech

by John Timmer
Image of an I-shaped piece of electronics on a dark background.

Enlarge / Honeywell's ion trap hardware. (credit: Honeywell)

Over the years, academics developed a variety of systems that you could run quantum algorithms on. Most of these had one or two helpful traits—easy to manipulate or able to hold their state for longer—but lacked enough of the others to keep them from being practical computing solutions. Over the last few years, however, a number of companies have figured out how to manufacture significant numbers of solid-state qubits called transmons. Because the fabrication technology for transmons is similar to that of existing chipmaking, lots of the major players in the nascent market—including Google, IBM, and Rigetti—have settled on transmons.

But transmons aren't ideal either. They require extremely cold temperatures, show significant device-to-device variability, and are good but not great at holding their state. A number of people in the field I've talked to have suggested there's still room for another technology to surpass transmons, and Ars' own Chris Lee is putting his money on that happening.

Now, a company new to the quantum computing market is also betting it will. Honeywell, a company better known as a defense contractor and materials supplier, is announcing that it has built a quantum computer using an alternate technology called "ion trap" and will be making it available via Microsoft's Azure cloud service later this year. The company also claims that, by some measures, it's the most powerful quantum computer yet built, but that's a claim that needs to be considered very carefully.

Read 22 remaining paragraphs | Comments

03 Mar 22:37

Seeing This Guy Take Flight is Like Watching a Superhero Movie in Real Life

by twistedsifter

 

On Friday, February 14th, 2020 Jetman Vince Reffet took off, headed south towards Jumeirah Beach Residence, building speed and height.

In 8 seconds he had reached 100 meters in height.. in 12 seconds 200m.. 19 seconds 500m.. and reached 1000m in 30 seconds at an average speed of 130 knots. At the end of a 3-minute flight punctuated by a roll and a loop at 1800m altitude, Jetman Vince Reffet opened his parachute at 1500m before landing back at Skydive Dubai.

It is the first time that a Jetman Dubai pilot could combine hovering safely at a limited altitude and flying aerobatics at high altitude in the same flight.

Controlled from the ground by the human body, the equipment enables Jetman Dubai to reach speeds of 400kmh, as well as hovering, changing direction and performing loops.

 

see more videos button Seeing This Guy Take Flight is Like Watching a Superhero Movie in Real Life

twistedsifter on facebook Seeing This Guy Take Flight is Like Watching a Superhero Movie in Real Life

14 Feb 21:58

New image shows Betelgeuse isn’t dimming evenly

by John Timmer
Two images, the earlier one showing an orange sphere, and the second showing an orange sphere with much of one hemisphere partially eclipsed.

Enlarge (credit: ESO/M. Montargès et al.)

From Earth's perspective, one of the brightest stars in the sky is the red supergiant Betelgeuse. Found in the constellation of Orion, it's large enough and close enough that when it's destroyed in an inevitable supernova, it will put on a spectacular light show for anyone who happens to be on Earth to see it. So when the star started dimming late last year, speculation rose that the show was about to start.

Because Betelgeuse is so large and so close, it's actually possible to resolve some details of its surface rather than simply seeing it as a point source of light. Some astronomers have used the Very Large Telescope at the European Southern Observatory to do just that, and they've found something extremely weird: Betelgeuse's dimming isn't even.

As you can see in the before-and-after images above, Betelgeuse was more or less spherical about a year ago. By December, it was most decidedly not. While the upper hemisphere of the star looked much as it had a year earlier, the lower portion looked diffuse and distorted, with at least two regions of distinct brightnesses.

Read 5 remaining paragraphs | Comments

20 Dec 21:08

New boson appears in nuclear decay, breaks standard model

by Chris Lee
A collision in the LHC's Compact Muon Solenoid (CMS) detector produces a Higgs boson signature.

Enlarge / A collision in the LHC's Compact Muon Solenoid (CMS) detector produces a Higgs boson signature. (credit: Thomas McCauley/Lucas Taylor, CMS)

In the world of physics, nothing gets the blood flowing like the thought that a new particle has been discovered. For decades now, physicists have been hunting for evidence that modern physics isn’t right. But, the smoking gun has remained elusive. In November, people started polishing a Nobel prize for a group of physicists who seemed to have found new boson. And, a new boson means a new force, which is even more exciting. Is that gun smoking yet?

Sometimes the gun just smolders

This result has been cooking for quite some time. The first experimental results date back to 2015, with publication in 2016. Essentially, the scientists took some lithium and shot protons at it. By choosing the energy of the protons correctly, Beryllium in a particular excited state is produced, which quickly decays back to its ground state by emitting an electron and a positron. Now, in these experiments, energy and momentum must be conserved. The lithium nucleus is quite a complicated beast and can rattle around in all sorts of ways, meaning that the electron and positron have a certain amount of freedom in the direction in which they are emitted.

By contrast, the researchers observed that some electrons and positrons seem to be correlated in their emission direction. Computer modeling confirmed that this was not due to their equipment and could not be explained by the nuclear physics of beryllium, lithium, or any known background process. The correlation could, however, be explained by a new boson that decayed by emitting a positron and an electron. As long as the production was reasonably inefficient, and the mass was about 17MeV (million electron volts), then the data was beautifully explained.

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10 Dec 21:27

When your semen carries another man's DNA

by Minnesotastan
Excerpts from an absolutely fascinating report in the New York Times:
Three months after his bone marrow transplant, Chris Long of Reno, Nev., learned that the DNA in his blood had changed. It had all been replaced by the DNA of his donor, a German man he had exchanged just a handful of messages with...

But four years after his lifesaving procedure, it was not only Mr. Long’s blood that was affected. Swabs of his lips and cheeks contained his DNA — but also that of his donor. Even more surprising to Mr. Long and other colleagues at the crime lab, all of the DNA in his semen belonged to his donor. “I thought that it was pretty incredible that I can disappear and someone else can appear,” he said...

Mr. Long had become a chimera, the technical term for the rare person with two sets of DNA. The word takes its name from a fire-breathing creature in Greek mythology composed of lion, goat and serpent parts. Doctors and forensic scientists have long known that certain medical procedures turn people into chimeras, but where exactly a donor’s DNA shows up — beyond blood — has rarely been studied with criminal applications in mind...

He added that patients also sometimes ask him what it means for a man to have a woman’s chromosomes in their bloodstream or vice versa. “It doesn’t matter,” he said.


But for a forensic scientist, it’s a different story. The assumption among criminal investigators as they gather DNA evidence from a crime scene is that each victim and each perpetrator leaves behind a single identifying code — not two...

In 2004, investigators in Alaska uploaded a DNA profile extracted from semen to a criminal DNA database. It matched a potential suspect. But there was a problem: The man had been in prison at the time of the assault. It turned out that he had received a bone marrow transplant. The donor, his brother, was eventually convicted...

In 2008, he was trying to identify the victim of a traffic accident for the National Forensic Service in Seoul, South Korea. Blood showed that the individual was female. But the body appeared to be male, which was confirmed by DNA in a kidney, but not in the spleen or the lung, which contained male and female DNA. Eventually, he figured out that the victim had received a bone marrow transplant from his daughter.
More worth reading at the link.
05 Dec 01:12

AI Hiring Algorithm

So glad Kate over in R&D pushed for using the AlgoMaxAnalyzer to look into this. Hiring her was a great decisio- waaaait.
29 Oct 03:28

Emulation

I laugh at the software as if I'm 100% confident that it's 2019.
25 Oct 00:52

We’ve officially annihilated a second strain of polio. Only one remains

by Beth Mole
A Pakistani health worker administers polio vaccine drops to a child during a vaccination campaign in Karachi on December 10, 2018. Pakistan is one of only two countries in the world where polio remains endemic.

Enlarge / A Pakistani health worker administers polio vaccine drops to a child during a vaccination campaign in Karachi on December 10, 2018. Pakistan is one of only two countries in the world where polio remains endemic. (credit: Getty | RIZWAN TABASSUM )

A crippling strain of polio virus is no more. Officials confirmed Thursday that global health efforts have wiped it out, moving humanity one step closer to completely eradicating the highly infectious virus from the planet.

The obliterated strain—wild poliovirus type 3 (WPV3)—is one of only three wild strains of polio. It is the second to be globally eradicated. Health officials declared WPV2 eradicated in 2015. That leaves only one wild strain remaining: WPV1.

This “historic” announcement falls on World Polio Day and is based on the recent conclusion of the independent Global Commission for the Certification of Poliomyelitis Eradication, set up in part by the World Health Organization. The announcement comes after years of careful and painstaking global surveillance to certify that WPV3 no longer exists anywhere in the world, apart from specimens preserved in secure containment. The last known case of WPV3 occurred in northern Nigeria in 2012.

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01 Oct 02:22

Paper leaks showing a quantum computer doing something a supercomputer can’t

by John Timmer
Artist's impression of quantum supremacy.

Enlarge / Artist's impression of quantum supremacy. (credit: Disney / Marvel Studios)

Mathematically, it's easy to demonstrate that a working general-purpose quantum computer can easily outperform classical computers on some problems. Demonstrating it with an actual quantum computer, however, has been another issue entirely. Most of the quantum computers we've made don't have enough qubits to handle the complex calculations where they would clearly outperform a traditional computer. And scaling up the number of qubits has been complicated by issues of noise, crosstalk, and the tendency of qubits to lose their entanglement with their neighbors. All of which raised questions as to whether the theoretical supremacy of quantum computing can actually make a difference in the real world.

Over the weekend, the Financial Times claimed that Google researchers had demonstrated "quantum supremacy" in a draft research paper that had briefly appeared on a NASA Web server before being pulled. But the details of what Google had achieved were left vague. In the interim Ars has acquired copies of the draft paper, and we can confirm the Financial Times' story. More importantly, we can now describe exactly what Google suggests it has achieved.

In essence, Google is sampling the behavior of a large group of entangled qubits—53 of them—to determine the statistics that describe a quantum system. This took roughly 30 seconds of qubit time, or about 10 minutes of time if you add in communications and control traffic. But determining those statistics—which one would do by solving the equations of quantum mechanics—simply isn't possible on the world's current fastest supercomputer.

Read 12 remaining paragraphs | Comments

29 Sep 21:58

Who needs qubits? Factoring algorithm run on a probabilistic computer

by John Timmer
The correct answer is a matter of probabilities, so some related wrong answers also appear with some frequency.

Enlarge / The correct answer is a matter of probabilities, so some related wrong answers also appear with some frequency.

The phenomenal success of our integrated circuits managed to obscure an awkward fact: they're not always the best way to solve problems. The features of modern computers—binary operations, separated processing and memory, and so on—are extremely good at solving a huge range of computational problems. But there are things they're quite bad at, including factoring large numbers, optimizing complex sets of choices, and running neural networks.

Even before the performance gains of current processors had leveled off, people were considering alternative approaches to computing that are better for some specialized tasks. For example, quantum computers could offer dramatic speed-ups in applications like factoring numbers and database searches. D-Wave's quantum optimizer handles (wait for it) optimization problems well. And neural network computing has been done with everything from light to a specialized form of memory called a memristor.

But the list of alternative computing architectures that have been proposed is actually larger than the list of things that have actually been implemented in functional form. Now, a team of Japanese and American researchers have added an additional entry to the "functional" category: probabilistic computing. Their hardware is somewhere in between a neural network computer and a quantum optimizer, but they've shown it can factor integers using commercial-grade parts at room temperature.

Read 15 remaining paragraphs | Comments

25 Sep 22:37

New comet is our second interstellar visitor

by John Timmer
Image of a fuzzy white object on a dark grey field specked with stars.

Enlarge / Comet C/2019 Q4 (Borisov). Note the fuzzy appearance and faint tail. (credit: Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope)

Due to complicated gravitational interactions from planets and other bodies, it's expected that our Solar System has ejected various small bodies like comets and asteroids. Since exosolar systems are likely to do the same, it's thought that the vast distances of interstellar space are sparsely populated by these small bodies. As such, we should expect one of these objects to wander through our Solar System, an expectation that was confirmed in 2017 with the arrival of 'Oumuamua, an odd, cigar-shaped object that shot through the Solar System at an extreme angle.

Now, just two years later, we seem to have our second. Officially termed C/2019 Q4 (Borisov), the comet is approaching the inner Solar System at an angle that almost certainly indicates it didn't originate here.

Hyperbolic orbits

Right now, there's not much public information about C/2019 Q4 (Borisov). A press release from the Jet Propulsion Lab provides some basic details. Discovered on August 30, it takes its name from Gennady Borisov, who spotted it from an observatory in the Crimea. Since then, observations have firmed up its orbit, indicating that it will make its closest approach to the Sun in December, passing no closer than Mars' orbit.

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24 Sep 20:43

Hydride predicted to be superconductive at room temperature

by Chris Lee
Electrons pair up by exchanging phonons in a superconductor.

Enlarge / Electrons pair up by exchanging phonons in a superconductor.

Superconductivity came with a lot of unfulfilled promises. Power without loss? Sign me up. Superconducting magnetic resonance imaging magnets? They're, ahem, cool. And CERN couldn’t operate without buckets of liquid helium to keep its magnets superconducting.

But those examples highlight the problem: pretty much all practical applications for superconductivity require liquid helium temperatures. The search for high-temperature superconductors has taken us to many weird places, including strange substances that only form at high pressure. Now we can add another of those substances to the list: a hydride that only forms under protest. Once formed, though, it may be a superconductor way above room temperature.

Why are we still looking for superconductors?

The search for superconductors goes on because current superconductors come with a number of challenges. If the magnetic field is too strong, superconductivity vanishes. Likewise, if the current density exceeds a certain limit, the resistance appears, which heats the conductor, leading to rapid—and rapidly expanding—failure. And the liquid helium needed to keep things cool in the first place is expensive.

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22 Aug 20:16

Identical photons generated 150 million kilometers apart

by Chris Lee
Image of a solar flare.

Enlarge / A nearby source of quantum photons. (credit: NOAA)

Up until the mid-20th century, light was pretty ordinary. Yes, it was both a particle and a wave, but it didn’t do anything very weird. Then scientists, under-employed after the end of World War II, started paying more attention to the properties of light. This was, in part, driven by the availability of surplus searchlights, which could be turned into cheap arrays of light detectors to measure the properties of stars.

That began the photon gold rush, with scientists identifying all sorts of interesting potential behaviors. But actually observing them would require having rather special light sources, which didn’t exist. Now, scientists have shown that our own Sun can be turned into one of these light sources.

A herd of identical photons

When two photons are indistinguishable, they can be made to play some unexpected tricks. The diagram below shows an example: two identical photons hit a partially reflective mirror at the same time. We cannot predict where they will go, but wherever it is, they go together. If the world was classical, we would expect that each behaves independently, and half the time, they would choose different directions. But we're in a quantum world, so this doesn't happen.

Read 13 remaining paragraphs | Comments

10 Aug 00:16

Geologic Time

Ok, well, we'll be sure to pay you sometime soon, geologically speaking.
14 May 22:32

Moving Giant Concrete Blocks With Just Your Hands

by twistedsifter

moveable concrete blocks by matter design 4 Moving Giant Concrete Blocks With Just Your Hands

 

Design studio and research lab, Matter Design, partnered with CEMEX Global R&D to explore the idea of moveable concrete assemblages for possible use in hard to reach areas or situations where heavy machinery is not available or accessible.

In a project called Walking Assembly, Matter Design adds:

 

The mysterious knowledge surrounding the transportation and placement of megalithic structures of the past eludes contemporary building practices. Walking Assembly re-introduces the potentials of that ancient knowledge to better inform the transportation and assembly of future architectures. If a brick is designed for a single hand, and a concrete masonry unit (CMU) is designed for two, these massive masonry units (MMU) unshackle the dependency between size and the human body.
 
Intelligence of transportation and assembly is designed into the elements themselves, liberating humans to guide these colossal concrete elements into place. Structures that would otherwise rely on cranes or heavy equipment can now be intelligently assembled and disassembled with little energy. By using variable density concrete, the center of mass of the object is calibrated precisely to control the stable, but easy motion of the elements. This ensures that these massive elements successfully walk and assemble into place, creating the possibility for a crane-less tilt up construction method and turning our building sites into spectacles of play.

 

 

moveable concrete blocks by matter design 2 Moving Giant Concrete Blocks With Just Your Hands

 

moveable concrete blocks by matter design 3 Moving Giant Concrete Blocks With Just Your Hands

 

moveable concrete blocks by matter design 5 Moving Giant Concrete Blocks With Just Your Hands

 

moveable concrete blocks by matter design 7 Moving Giant Concrete Blocks With Just Your Hands

 

moveable concrete blocks by matter design 8 Moving Giant Concrete Blocks With Just Your Hands

 

moveable concrete blocks by matter design 9 Moving Giant Concrete Blocks With Just Your Hands

 

moveable concrete blocks by matter design 11 Moving Giant Concrete Blocks With Just Your Hands

 

moveable concrete blocks by matter design 12 Moving Giant Concrete Blocks With Just Your Hands

 

moveable concrete blocks by matter design 13 Moving Giant Concrete Blocks With Just Your Hands

 

moveable concrete blocks by matter design 14 Moving Giant Concrete Blocks With Just Your Hands

 

moveable concrete blocks by matter design 15 Moving Giant Concrete Blocks With Just Your Hands

 

moveable concrete blocks by matter design 10 Moving Giant Concrete Blocks With Just Your Hands

 

moveable concrete blocks by matter design 6 Moving Giant Concrete Blocks With Just Your Hands

 

26 Mar 20:43

A superposition of possible facts causes quantum conflict

by Chris Lee
Eugene Wigner first came up with the thought experiment this real experiment is based on.

Enlarge / Eugene Wigner first came up with the thought experiment this real experiment is based on. (credit: Denver Post Inc (Photo By David Cupp/The Denver Post via Getty Images))

“More than one reality exists” screams the headline. Cue sighs of tired dread from physicists everywhere as they wonder what otherwise bland result has been spun out of control.

In this case, though, it turns out that the paper and the underlying theory are much more interesting than that takeaway. Essentially, modern physics tells us that two observers of the same event may never agree on the result, even if they have all possible knowledge. This is already accepted as part of special relativity, but now we have experimental proof that it applies to quantum mechanics as well. 

What Galileo and Einstein tell us

Let’s start with the simplest possible example of how we typically resolve conflicting measurements. I am standing on a platform and measure the speed of an approaching train to be 180km/hr. You are on the train and measure the speed of the train to be 0km/hr. We can resolve the difference by making an additional measurement on our relative speeds. Afterward, we both know that we’ve measured the speed correctly relative to our own motion. 

Read 16 remaining paragraphs | Comments

25 Mar 23:35

New Robot

"Some worry that we'll soon have a surplus of search and rescue robots, compared to the number of actual people in situations requiring search and rescue. That's where our other robot project comes in..."
02 Mar 16:14

Forget growing weed—make yeast spit out CBD and THC instead

by WIRED
ROME, ITALY - FEBRUARY 15: Vendors at Canapa Mundi, an international hemp fair, on February 15, 2019 in Rome, Italy

Enlarge / ROME, ITALY - FEBRUARY 15: Vendors at Canapa Mundi, an international hemp fair, on February 15, 2019 in Rome, Italy (credit: Simona Granati - Corbis | Getty Images)

We as a species would be miserable without yeast. Baker's yeast has given us leavened bread for thousands of years. And I don’t even want to begin to imagine a world without beer and wine, which rely on yeast to convert sugar into alcohol.

Now researchers have turned to yeast to do something more improbable: manufacturing the cannabis compounds CBD and THC. By loading brewer’s yeast with genes from the cannabis plant, they’ve turned the miracle microbes into cannabinoid factories. It’s a clever scheme in a larger movement to methodically pick apart and recreate marijuana’s many compounds, to better understand the plant’s true potential.

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21 Feb 20:24

The first private mission to the Moon may launch Thursday night

by Eric Berger
An artist's concept of the Space IL lunar spacecraft on the surface of the Moon.

Enlarge / An artist's concept of the Space IL lunar spacecraft on the surface of the Moon. (credit: SpaceIL)

SpaceX is set to launch a Falcon 9 rocket on Thursday night, and while it may not be the primary payload, a small Israeli lunar lander is by far the mission's most intriguing payload.

The 180kg Beresheet spacecraft, privately developed by SpaceIL in Israel and funded largely through philanthropy, will spend more than six weeks raising its orbit and becoming captured into lunar orbit before finally making the first private attempt to land on the Moon. Until now, only the US, Russian, and Chinese space agencies have ever successfully landed on the Moon.

This means there is a lot of pressure on the small Israeli team leading the mission, both in their native country and among the commercial lunar community, which wants to prove that private ventures can do what only nations have done before. "What it means to me is that the responsibility is very high," said Yoav Landsman, a senior systems engineer for the project, in an interview.

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13 Feb 21:03

Opportunity did not answer NASA’s final call, and it’s now lost to us

by Eric Berger
The Opportunity rover leaves its landing site in Eagle Crater on Mars back in 2004.

Enlarge / The Opportunity rover leaves its landing site in Eagle Crater on Mars back in 2004. (credit: NASA)

Late Tuesday night, scientists at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory sent their final data uplink to the Opportunity rover on Mars. Over this connection, via the Deep Space Network, the American jazz singer Billie Holiday crooned "I'll Be Seeing You," a song that closes with the lines:

I'll find you in the morning sun
And when the night is new
I'll be looking at the moon
But I'll be seeing you

The scientists waited to hear some response from their long-silent rover, which had been engulfed in a global dust storm last June, likely coating its solar panels in a fatal layer of dust. Since then, the team of scientists and engineers has sent more than 835 commands, hoping the rover will wake up from its long slumber—that perhaps winds on Mars might have blown off some of the dust that covered the panels.

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12 Dec 20:26

Watch How Hermit Crabs All Line Up to Exchange Their Shells

by Jason Kottke

Hermit crabs use the scavenged shells of other animals as their homes. As the crabs grow, they periodically need to upgrade their housing to bigger shells. When a new shell appears on the beach, the cramped crabs will form a orderly queue nearby and then change shells all at once, with each crab moving into the next biggest shell just abandoned by its former occupant. This is possibly the most British thing I’ve ever seen an animal do…and the David Attenborough narration is the icing on top.

Tags: David Attenborough   video
29 Nov 10:35

Plot twist: Mitochondrial DNA can come from both parents

by Cathleen O'Grady
Mitochondria (red) and cell nucleus (blue) of two connective tissue cells prepared from mouse embryo.

Enlarge / Mitochondria (red) and cell nucleus (blue) of two connective tissue cells prepared from mouse embryo. (credit: Institute of Molecular Medicine I, University of Düsseldorf)

The vast majority of our DNA—the chromosomes in the nucleus of each cell—is just what you’d expect: a mix of genetic material from both mother and father. But mitochondria are an exception. They contain a relatively tiny amount of DNA, and in nearly all mammals and even unicellular organisms, that DNA comes strictly from the mother. We've even used that fact to trace the spread of humanity around the globe.

But in 2002, researchers in Copenhagen reported a jaw-dropping finding. In an effort to work out why one of their patients had extreme fatigue during exercise despite seeming healthy in many respects, they started examining his mitochondria—the energy-generating power stations living in each cell. What they found floored them: the man had mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) that matched both his father's and his mother's.

Since 2002, no other cases of paternally inherited mtDNA have been reported in humans, despite several research groups actively looking. But a paper in this week’s PNAS reports mtDNA inherited from both parents in 17 different people from three families. This kind of inheritance is still extremely rare and seems potentially linked to mitochondrial disease, but the robust confirmation of it in humans is huge news for biology and medicine.

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21 Nov 20:04

Ion drive meets drone, as small plane flies with no moving parts

by John Timmer
Ion drive meets drone, as small plane flies with no moving parts

Enlarge (credit: Nature)

The Johnson Indoor Track at MIT probably won't go down in history in the same way as Kitty Hawk has, but it was the scene of a first in powered flight. A team of researchers has managed to build the first aircraft powered by an ionic wind, a propulsion system that requires no moving parts. While the flight took place using a small drone, the researchers' calculations suggest that the efficiency of the design would double simply by building a larger craft.

Ionic wind

In conventional aircraft, air is pushed around by moving parts, either propellers or the turbines within jet engines. But we've known for a while that it's also possible to use electrical fields to push air around.

The challenge is that air is largely made of uncharged molecules that don't respond to electric fields. But at sufficiently high voltages, it's possible to ionize the nitrogen and oxygen that make up our atmosphere, just as lightning does all the time. The electrons that are liberated speed away, collide with other molecules, and ionize some of them as well. If this takes place in an electric field, all those ions will start moving to the appropriate electrode. In the process, they'll collide with neutral molecules and push them along. The resulting bulk movement of atmospheric molecules is called an ionic wind.

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17 Sep 21:11

Study: people tend to cluster into four distinct personality “types”

by Jennifer Ouellette
Article intro image

Enlarge / Average, Reserved, Role Model, and Self-centered: not everyone falls into these four categories, but you might. (credit: Northwestern University)

People love taking online quizzes; just ask Buzzfeed and Facebook. A new study has sifted through some of the largest online data sets of personality quizzes and identified four distinct "types" therein. The new methodology used for this study—described in detail in a new paper in Nature Human Behavior—is rigorous and replicable, which could help move personality typing analysis out of the dubious self-help section in your local bookstore and into serious scientific journals.

Frankly, personality "type" is not the ideal nomenclature here; personality "clusters" might be more accurate. Paper co-author William Revelle (Northwestern University) bristles a bit at the very notion of distinct personality types, like those espoused by the hugely popular Myers-Briggs Type Indicator. Revelle is an adamant "anti-fan" of the Myers-Briggs, and he is not alone. Most scientists who study personality prefer to think of it as a set of continuous dimensions, in which people shift where they fall on the spectrum of various traits as they mature.

What's new here is the identification of four dominant clusters in the overall distribution of traits. Revelle prefers to think of them as "lumps in the batter" and suggests that a good analogy would be how people tend to concentrate in cities in the United States.

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16 Aug 01:54

MIT scientists crack the case of breaking spaghetti in two

by Jennifer Ouellette

The trick to breaking spaghetti in half is to bend and twist, new MIT study says. (credit: Tom Smith / EyeEm: Getty Images)

Pasta purists insist on plonking dry spaghetti into the boiling pot whole, but should you rebel against convention and try to break the strands in half, you'll probably end up with a mess of scattered pieces.

Now, two MIT mathematicians have figured out the trick to breaking spaghetti strands neatly in two: add a little twist as you bend. They outlined their findings in a new paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

This isn't the first time scientists have been fascinated by the physics of breaking spaghetti. The ever-curious Richard Feynman famously spent hours in his kitchen one night in a failed attempt to successfully break spaghetti strands neatly in half. It should have worked, he reasoned, because the strand snaps when the curvature becomes too great, and once that happens, the energy release should reduce the curvature. The spaghetti should straighten out and not break any further. But no matter how hard he tried, the spaghetti would break in three or more pieces.

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12 Jul 19:28

Sources of banned CFCs found through their advertising

by Scott K. Johnson

Enlarge / Air pollution in China apparently includes a dash of banned ozone-depleting CFCs. (credit: NASA Earth Observatory)

A couple months ago, an atmospheric study revealed that someone had started producing an ozone-depleting pollutant that had been banned under an international agreement to protect the ozone layer. The new source was preventing the chemical from dissipating on schedule. Although the researchers were careful about what they could conclude from regional measurements, they found that eastern Asia was likely the source.

Now, a UK-based NGO called the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) says that it has uncovered a number of Chinese companies that are responsible. If you’re expecting an elaborate infiltration and undercover sting... adjust your expectations. The investigation seems to have been shockingly easy, with the culprits’ representatives strangely amenable to detailing their illegal operations.

Mystery solved through Google

The EIA started with a simple Internet search, which turned up a few companies that were apparently advertising sales of the banned chemical, known as CFC-11. Like other CFCs, 11 can be used as a refrigerant or a propellant in aerosol spray cans. But it was also widely use to “inflate” foam insulation, and that seems to be the market where at least some of its illicit use has continued.

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30 Jun 00:16

Google researchers created an amazing scene-rendering AI

by Timothy B. Lee

Enlarge (credit: DeepMind)

New research from Google's UK-based DeepMind subsidiary demonstrates that deep neural networks have a remarkable capacity to understand a scene, represent it in a compact format, and then "imagine" what the same scene would look like from a perspective the network hasn't seen before.

Human beings are good at this. If shown a picture of a table with only the front three legs visible, most people know intuitively that the table probably has a fourth leg on the opposite side and that the wall behind the table is probably the same color as the parts they can see. With practice, we can learn to sketch the scene from another angle, taking into account perspective, shadow, and other visual effects.

A DeepMind team led by Ali Eslami and Danilo Rezende has developed software based on deep neural networks with these same capabilities—at least for simplified geometric scenes. Given a handful of "snapshots" of a virtual scene, the software—known as a generative query network (GQN)—uses a neural network to build a compact mathematical representation of that scene. It then uses that representation to render images of the room from new perspectives—perspectives the network hasn't seen before.

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