Hugh Pickens writes "Alasdair Wilkins writes that when a squirrel encounters a rattlesnake in the wild, it does something very peculiar to survive its brush with the predator — something is so peculiar that scientists are building robotic squirrels just to try to understand the behavior. A live squirrel does two things when it sees a rattlesnake. It starts moving its tail in a flagging motion and actually heats up the temperature of its tail. Because rattlesnakes can see in the infrared wavelengths, they should be able to see both the tail move and heat up. The question is which of these two signals is important and just what message it's supposed to send to the rattlesnake. To that end, engineers at UC Davis have built robosquirrels, which allow the biologists to simulate the two squirrel behaviors one a time and the research so far suggests it's the heated tail, not the flagging motion, that the snake responds to, making it one of the first known examples of infrared communication between two distinct species. 'Snakes will rarely strike at a flagging adult squirrel — and if they do they almost always miss,' says Rulon Clark, assistant professor of biology at San Diego State University and an expert on snake behavior. 'In some cases, it seems the rattlesnakes just decide it's best to cut their losses after dealing with these confusing critters,' adds Wilkins, 'as sometimes the snakes just leave the area completely after encountering these flagging, tail-heating squirrels.'"
If you're working at home or from a coffee shop or, really, anyplace outside your company's offices, they need to hear you when you talk, and you need to hear them. The same goes for dealing with clients via VOIP or video, the two communications techologies that seem to be driving POTS into obsolescence faster than we thought possible just a few years ago. In this video, Plantronics PR person Karen Auby -- who works remotely most of the time herself -- explains how Plantronics products help make work easier in a world of "unified communications."
MrSeb writes "A team at Manchester Royal Infirmary hospital, England, claim to be the first surgeons to perform keyhole surgery using 3D cameras and monitors — and embarrassingly clunky spectacles. Furthermore, if that wasn't high-tech enough, the lead surgeon also used a hand-held robotic claw. 3D vision during surgery makes perfect sense: After all, your anatomy is three-dimensional, and when you're making minute incisions with a foot-long instrument, through an entry hole that's just an inch long, depth perception is obviously a huge boon. According to spokeswoman from the hospital, the 3D approach provides much better accuracy, 'therefore reducing the risks of muscle and nerve damage.' The same spokesperson also said that the 3D projection would reduce surgeon fatigue, presumably because trying to make sense of a 2D image for hours on end is incredibly strenuous."
MrSeb writes "Ken Schweller, a computer scientist and psychologist, and also the chairman of the Great Ape Trust in Des Moines, Iowa, has a vision: He wants to put wireless Android tablets in the hands of bonobo apes. The Great Ape Trust Sanctuary is home to seven bonobos, including the world-famous Kanzi, and two orangutans. So far the Sanctuary has focused almost exclusively on language, with the bonobos and their keepers communicating through lexigrams on a touch-screen TV. Now Schweller wants to go one step further and outfit the bonobos with wireless tablets running custom Bonobo Chat software, allowing the apes to communicate with their keepers (and other bonobos!) from anywhere in the Sanctuary, and to remotely control devices such as vending machines, doors, and the RoboBonobo. If all this wasn't weird (cool?) enough, the RoboBonobo is even outfitted with a water cannon (so the telepresent apes can play "chase games" with humans) and Schweller is trying to fund the whole thing with Kickstarter. If you're a big fan of apes (or Darwinism), be sure to donate."
novenator writes "Today the Denver Zoo has unveiled the world's first poo/trash-powered motorized tuk tuk. The vehicle also boast a gasification system designed by the zoo itself. From the article: 'The tuk tuk was purchased from Thailand and then re-designed to run on gasified pellets made from animal droppings and waste generated by the zoo's staff and human visitors, according to The Denver Post. The poo-powered tuk tuk is the second prototype The Denver Zoo has put together to show off their sustainable energy system -- the first? A blender used to mix margaritas at a zoo event.'"
Alfred Poor's website is called HDTV Almanac. That's where he talks about the latest HDTV industry news and changes. He also writes about HDTVs and monitors for a variety of industry publications and does some marketing consulting for manufacturers in the field. In this 17 minute video, Alfred tells us what features we should look for in our next TV buy and which ones aren't worth spending extra money on. He also says that for a variety of non-technical reasons, you might want to consider buying your next TV between now and June -- and says you should think about getting a 3D TV even if there aren't many 3D TV shows you want to watch right now.
The L.A. Times reports that 12-year-old Arturo Valdenegro's winning entry in a paper-airplane contest got upscaled to slightly larger dimensions, courtesy of Pima Air & Space Museum's Giant Paper Airplane Project, and flown, via helicopter assistance, in the Arizona desert. Slightly larger, in this case, means the plane based on Valdenegro's designs "was 45 feet long with a 24-foot wingspan and weighed in at a whopping 800 pounds," constructed of a tough, corrugated material called falcon board. Unfortunately, the tow didn't take the plane as high as planned (only 2,703 feet, instead of four or five thousand) so the resulting flight was brief and destructive — which doesn't make the accompanying launch video any less fun to watch, though I wish it showed more of the flight, including its end. (I tend to always make the same kind of acrobatic glider; do you have any good paper-airplane hints?)
Wo-wo-wee-wah! It looks like the Kuwaiti officials at an international shooting event never got the memo that the film Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan wasn't an actual documentary. Gold medalist Maria Dmitrienko stood stoically while the offensive national anthem from the film was played during the awards ceremony. From the article: "Coach Anvar Yunusmetov told Kazakh news agency Tengrinews that the tournament's organizers had also got the Serbian national anthem wrong." Nice!
itwbennett writes "High demand, high prices, and nearly identical cheaper alternatives is a recipe for fraud. Eel fraud, that is. This has led Japanese researchers to develop a method to cheaply and quickly batch-test DNA by taking small tissue samples from thousands of eels. 'If a non-local eel is found in a batch, more tests will be performed to find the guilty foreigner.'"
Steve Jackson Games occupies a special place in the history of gaming, not only for publishing some of the best-known tabletop games ever published, especially their distinctive microgames, but the company's failure to roll over in the aftermath of an FBI raid more than 20 years ago led to the creation of the Electronic Frontier Foundation. Since 1980, Steve Jackson and company have been publishing games -- and a magazine, and even a book. The company is based in Austin, Texas, so while I was at SXSW, I had a chance to meet up with SJG's Chief Operating Officer and Managing Editor, Philip Reed, who gave a quick overview of what's new on the table. (Har har.)
itwbennett writes "If you're of a certain generation, the screech of a modem, the stuttering song of the dot matrix printer, and the wet slap of a mimeograph machine can transport you to simpler (or at least slower) times. JR Raphael has rounded up 20 tech sounds on the brink of extinction for your listening torture. We're only sorry we don't have smell-o-vision to bring you that sweet mimeograph scent."
sciencehabit writes "Researchers have long hypothesized that objects weigh less at Earth's equator because the planet's spin and shape lessen gravity's pull there versus at the poles. Satellite accelerometers have confirmed this, but a digital scale manufacturer decided to test things the old-fashioned way. Enter the Kern garden gnome. When placed on a scale at the South Pole, the intrepid ornament weighed 309.82 grams versus 307.86 grams at the equator, a difference of 0.6%."
New submitter CanHasDIY writes "Tired of waiting for the Pip-Boy or Omni-Tool to be invented? Never fear! Nokia is developing the basic technology needed to make your dreams a reality: haptic-feedback tattoos. According to the patent application, Nokia is proposing 'a material attachable to skin, the material capable of detecting a magnetic field and transferring a perceivable stimulus to the skin, wherein the perceivable stimulus relates to the magnetic field.' Basically, the process is the same as for normal tattooing; the difference is in the ferromagnetic ink. Kind of brings new meaning to the term 'embedded device,' doesn't it?"
As a nexus of both computer programmers and other creative builder and maker types, SXSW (and Austin generally) is a great place to witness the overlap. John Zitterkopf and his pal Red, while helping to run the giant (and charitable!) LANFest at this year's event, had on hand for display a few of their own modded computer cases. John and Red are both part of Austin Modders, which helps Austinites swap tools and ideas (in-person, and via forums) for creating the kind of enclosures that computer makers simply can't — they're too time-intensive and too personalized for that. It's especially fun to see the effects that the newly widespread availability of laser cutters makes possible. (C'mon, O'Reilly, isn't it time for another Austin Maker Faire?)