technology

Thre’s a few cool things going on in the animal world. The first is a new study about spiders that shows some of them decorate their webs with life-sized replicas of themselves!

“I don’t know of any animal that actively builds a decoy of itself. Our study seems to be the first to empirically demonstrate the function of animal-made decoys,” says Tso.

The decoys worked, too. More often than not, a wasp would attack a decoy rather than the spider, thinking it to be a tasty meal.

But all wasp strikes on spiders living on undecorated webs were directed straight at the spider.

“Decorations built by Cyclosa spiders function as a conspicuous anti-predator device instead of a camouflaging device. The benefit of successful escape from predator attack seems to outweigh the cost of increased detection,” says Tso.

This next is actually old news, but it’s the first I’d heard of it. Rats laugh. That’s right…rats can actually express delight through laughter!

ASCii art!

I’m old enough to almost sort of remember when :-) first came on the scene. That cute sideways little guy has gone through a lot of changes, to the point where now he’s a flashy graphic that might actually laugh at you, or even stick out his tongue! :P

It occurred to me tonight that there’s an entire generation out there who probably never handed someone a —-`–,—@ or a [_]) and would probably never even think to ( * )( * ) someone! o_0

I find I’m a little saddened by that. It’s not that it’s great art. In fact, some of that really early simple ASCii art is…well…pathetic insofar as art goes. But it showed a creativity on the part of the typist in getting their point, and their emotions, across. And while walking down memory lane, not only did I come across lots of history, from ancient (you know, around 1980-mumble) to modern, I found a couple of really nifty websites dedicated to ASCii art.

And we’re talking some REAL art here, not pathetic boob shaking emoticons. First have a look at Joan Stark’s outstanding ASCii cartoon art. Afr

After that, have a go at turning your face (or any other photo you like) into an ASCii portrait. When you’re done playing with that, you can peruse numerous ASCii art galleries out there, of which this is just one.

So, take a moment to reflect on the humble little :-)
He’s come a long way, baby.

I’m still percolating this Washington Post article about telekinetic toys (free reg) and the possible future applications.

You slip the wireless headset on. It looks like something a telemarketer would wear, except the earpieces are actually sensors, and what looks like a microphone is a brain wave detector. You place its tip against your forehead, above your left eyebrow.

A few feet away is a ping-pong ball in a clear tube called the Force Trainer. The idea is to use your thoughts alone, as recognized by the wand on your forehead, to lift the ball. Your brain’s electrical activity is translated into a signal understood by a little computer that controls a fan that blows the ball up the tube. Levitates it. As if by magic. It’s mind over matter.

All you have to do is concentrate. On anything, it doesn’t matter. The harder you concentrate, the higher the ball goes.

First instinct is “I want one of these for Christmas!!!”
More thoughts to follow after I have some time to ponder the imponderables.

For those who are fans of SF (and by that I mean speculative fiction, not just SciFi), this is going to sound like a speed. It is…and then again, it isn’t. The Galaxy Zoo offered a challenge the middle of last week: Try to reach a goal of 1 million clicks in 100 hours as part of the 100 hours of astronomy. They put a nifty counter on the homepage and everything, but it under-reported the number of classifications. The final total was 2,617,570 classifications in 100 hours. Hence the title of this post. It’s just another example of the extreme popularity of citizen science. Many people will go out of their way to feel like they’re really, honestly contributing in a meaningful way to better understanding the universe we live in.

On a related note, I’m close enough to one of the top 10 Zooite locations to feel like I’ve been mentioned specifically, which is cool. Since I went to KSC last weekend, I feel as though I can assure Chris that NASA is keeping on with the business of building and launching space craft. While I’m disappointed that they’ve gone back to a rocket delivery system rather than a new orbiter like what we’re currently using, I’m pretty jazzed by the plans for the Constellation program and Orion. I hear they’re planning test launches of the Aries rockets next year and I, for one, will be right there watching them happen.

KSC is perhaps one of the coolest places I’ve been to. They’ve really made some awesome improvements to it in the last few years, but the best reason to go is from 40 years ago.

On the bus tour, you stop at an Apollo/Saturn V exhibit. After a brief history of the trials and tribulations faced by NASA as they tried to figure out how to get to the moon, you’re ushered into a gallery behind the original launch control room and experience a re-enactment of the countdown and launch of Apollo VIII. This was not the first mission to land on the moon, but it was the first mission to orbit the moon and get a good close-up look of our ultimate destination.

We were there today and, despite the fact that this is the 4th or 5th time I’ve seen this “show”, it never fails to bring a lump to my throat, a tear to my eye, and a pitter-patter to my heartbeat. There is no way that a video can adequately convey the nearly heartstopping moment when the overwhelming sound of a Saturn V begins to rock the launch control room. And I do mean rock – the whole place shakes and the windows rattle until you’re certain they’re only moments away from complete failure. Even the rosy glow of the rocket as it lifts off is simulated.

After the show, you have a few moments to get a close look at the control panels. Everything in the room is original. It’s hard to remember for those of us old enough (and would seem completely alien to the rest) that all the equipment used to first send our men into space was analog: rotary dial phones, plain steel flip switches, status lights with actual bulbs in them. LED bulbs didn’t come into common use until that same year! Yet, despite all this, we managed to cobble together an extremely sophisticated launch and landing vehicle and escape earth’s gravity entirely.

If you ever find yourself within reasonable driving distance of KSC, I can’t recommend it strongly enough. And be sure to block out time for the bus tour!

Google is at it again. They’ve taken GrandCentral, which was a pretty nifty service that allowed you to give out one phone number and have that one number ring your landline, cell phone, and your work phone and made it one better. You can now use GrandCentral (which has recently been upgraded and named GoogleVoice) in conjunction with a Gizmo account to use your computer to call regular phones for no charge!

I’ll be completely honest and admit that I really don’t understand exactly how all this works. I know you have to have a GoogleVoice account and a Gizmo account. Here’s some instructions on getting them to play nicely with each other.

I used this service to call my mom over the weekend, mostly as a test, and it worked flawlessly. I think I’m in love.

Why didn’t I think of that?

Proving that you don’t need Google’s billions or the BBC weather centre’s resources, the four Spanish students managed to send a camera-operated weather balloon into the stratosphere.

Taking atmospheric readings and photographs 20 miles above the ground, the Meteotek team of IES La Bisbal school in Catalonia completed their incredible experiment at the end of February this year.

[…]

Team leader Gerard Marull, 18, said: “We were overwhelmed at our results, especially the photographs, to send our handmade craft to the edge of space is incredible.”