Thursday, September 29. 2011
Scientists devise a trick to make a material absorb 99 percent of the light that strikes it.
Copyright Technology Review 2011.
I'm already thinking about what kind of new projects and spaces we could do with a material that absorbs 99% of light. Sounds exciting.
Thursday, September 22. 2011
Could Abraham Lincoln have become president of the United States in a world in which poor children lack access to physical books?
By Christopher Mims
Andrew Carnegie's decision to fund free libraries at the turn of the last century -- like this one in Houston -- was inspired by the belief that knowledge and education are public goods
Today Amazon announced that it is finally rolling out Kindle-compatible ebooks to public libraries in the U.S., a much-needed evolution of the dominant e-reading platform. But there's a larger problem that this development fails to address, and it's an issue exacerbated by every part of Amazon's business model.
Access to knowledge has long been seen as vital to the public interest -- literally, in economic parlance, a "public good" -- which is why libraries have always been supported through taxes and philanthropy. (Carnegie's decision to fund 2,509 of them around the turn of the century being an especially notable example of this.)
I challenge anyone reading this to recall his or her earliest experiences with books -- nearly all of which, I'm willing to bet, were second-hand, passed on by family members or purchased in that condition. Now consider that the eBook completely eliminates both the secondary book market and any control that libraries -- i.e. the public -- has over the copies of a text it has purchased.
Except under limited circumstances, eBooks cannot be loaned or resold. They cannot be gifted, nor discovered on a trip through the shelves of a friend or the local library. They cannot be re-bound and, unlike all the rediscovered works that literally gave birth to the Renaissance, they will not last for centuries. Indeed, publishers are already limiting the number of times a library can loan out an eBook to 26.
If the transition to eBooks is complete -- and with libraries being among the most significant buyers of books, it now seems inevitable -- the flexibility of book ownership will be gone forever. Knowledge, in as much as books represent it, will belong to someone else.
Worse yet, there is the problem of the e-reader itself. This issue may be resolved by falling prices of e-readers, but there remains the possibility that the demands of profitability will drive makers of e-readers to simply set a floor on the price they're willing to charge for one and attempt to continually innovate toward tablet-like functionality in order to justify that price.
Unlike books, which are one of the few media that do not require a secondary external device for playback, e-books put additional barriers between readers and knowledge. Some of those barriers, as I've mentioned, consist of Digital Rights Management and other attempts to use intellectual property laws as a kind of rent-seeking, but others are more subtle.
One in five children in the U.S. lives below the poverty line, and those numbers are likely to increase as the world economy continues to work through a painful de-leveraging of accrued debt. In the past, the only thing a child needed to read a book was basic literacy, something that our public education system in theory still provides.
Imagine Abraham Lincoln, born in a log cabin, raised in poverty, self-taught from a small cache of books, being stymied in his early education by the lack of an e-reader. And there are countless other examples -- in his biography, Bob Dylan recounts spending his first, penniless days in New York City lost in a friend's library of classics, reading and re-reading the greatest poets of history as he found his own voice.
Sure, these are extreme examples, but it is undeniable that books have a democratizing effect on learning. They are inherently amenable to the frictionless dissemination of information. Durable and cheap to produce, to the point of disposability, their abundance, which we currently take for granted, has been a constant and invisible force for the creation of an informed citizenry.
So the question becomes: Do we want books to become subject to the 'digital divide?' Is that really wise, given the trajectory of the 21st century?
Copyright Technology Review 2011.
Monday, September 12. 2011
Researchers are developing hacking drones that could build a wireless botnet or track someone via cell phone.
By Robert Lemos
The buzz starts low and quickly gets louder as a toy quadricopter flies in low over the buildings. It might look like flight enthusiasts having fun, but it could be a future threat to computer networks.
In two separate presentations last month, researchers showed off remote-controlled aerial vehicles loaded with technology designed to automatically detect and compromise wireless networks. The projects demonstrated that such drones could be used to create an airborne botnet controller for a few hundred dollars.
Attackers bent on espionage could use such drones to find a weak spot in corporate and home Internet connections, says Sven Dietrich, an assistant professor in computer science at the Stevens Institute of Technology who led development of one of the drones.
"You can bring the targeted attack to the location," says Dietrich. "[Our] drone can land close to the target and sit there—and if it has solar power, it can recharge—and continue to attack all the networks around it."
The Web giant reveals its energy use for the first time.
By Kristina Grifantini
Google is the first major Web company to reveal exactly how much energy it uses—information that will help researchers and policy makers understand how the massive explosion of Internet usage and cloud computing is contributing to global energy consumption.
Google uses 260 million watts continuously across the globe, the company reported on Wednesday. This is equivalent to the power used by all the homes in Richmond, Virginia, or Irvine, California (around 200,000 homes), and roughly a quarter of the output of a standard nuclear power plant.
By far, the majority of Google's energy use is tied up in its data storage centers, according to Jonathan Koomey, a professor at Stanford University and a researcher who focuses on energy and IT. He says that roughly 220 million of those watts are used solely by the company's data centers, based on figures Google showed him. Most of this energy is used in cooling data center systems. Google custom builds many data centers, such as a new one in Finland that uses a seawater cooling system, to cut down on electricity.
This has enabled Google to be relatively energy efficient, says Koomey, who estimates that the company owns about 3 percent of servers worldwide and uses only 1 percent of electricity for data centers worldwide. "They're operating more efficiently than other data centers," he says.
Other Web giants, including Amazon and Facebook, probably operate their data centers with similar efficiency due to hardware and software customization, and innovative cooling equipment, Koomey says. However, the majority of data center power use comes from non-IT companies running their own data centers less efficiently.
In its report, Google compares the energy usage of companies' in-house computer systems to the energy used by its cloud servers. It estimates that running Gmail instead of an in-house e-mail system can be almost 80 times more energy efficient. Google says that 25 percent of its energy was supplied by renewable fuels—such as from wind farms—in 2011, and plan to increase that to 30 percent this year.
Sherif Akoush, a researcher at the University of Cambridge who studies IT energy consumption, points out that Google could be even more energy efficient, and notes that the company's environmental footprint will continue to rise. "Google tackles this problem mainly by using power purchase agreements from green sources, which offset basically the emissions from its data centers," says Akoush. Instead, "it should just try to implement more radical solutions like green energy and be a zero-carbon company instead of pumping waste then trying to clean it up."
Bruce Nordman, a researcher at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, notes that most IT-related energy usage occurs from homes and offices, and not major data centers.
Google says that an average search uses .3 watt-hours of electricity. But Nordman points out that cutting back on Google searches is not going to save a significant amount of energy. "Something like having your display go to sleep a little faster would probably save more energy," he says.
He adds, "since there's more consumption [in homes and offices], there's potentially more savings and yet that's not what gets the attention."
Copyright Technology Review 2011.
Thursday, September 08. 2011
by email@example.com (Geoff Manaugh)
[Image: An otherwise unrelated photo of Playas, New Mexico—a different kind of "test city"—taken by Steve Rowell for CLUI].
A private consulting firm in Washington D.C. is developing a "test city"—one "with no permanent population"—in the New Mexico desert, according to the Albuquerque Journal. It will be "a privately financed, small city on 20 square miles in New Mexico for testing and evaluation of new and emerging technologies," run from afar by Pegasus Global Holdings.
This as yet unnamed location will be devoted to the "'real world' testing of smart grids, renewable energy integration, next-gen wireless, smart grid cyber security and terrorism vulnerability," making it a life-size trial for private sector urban management—Cisco's city-in-a-box and IBM urbanism wrapped in one.
I'm inclined to ask what it might look like if other corporations were to launch their own "test cities" in the desert somewhere—an REI city, complete with artificial whitewater rapids, campfires, and outdoor climbing walls; a Playboy city, complete with unlockable shared doors between neighboring bedrooms; an AMC city, with screens and streetside auditoriums, and massive projectors on cranes like new constellations in the sky.
What if the city you live in is simply an immersive product demonstration for a group of private companies? Or is that what cars did to the American city long ago?
(Thanks to Chris Kannen for the tip!)
I'm particularly impressed by the image of the test city. It looks like two images taken of the same site in different temporalities and light conditions. Did they set up a giant mirror on a moutain facing de valley?
Field test by British academics marks first step towards recreating an artificial volcano that would inject particles into the stratosphere and cool the planet
It sounds barmy, audacious or sci-fi: a tethered balloon the size of Wembley stadium suspended 20km above Earth, linked to the ground by a giant garden hose pumping hundreds of tonnes of minute chemical particles a day into the thin stratospheric air to reflect sunlight and cool the planet.
But a team of British academics will next month formally announce the first step towards creating an artificial volcano by going ahead with the world's first major "geo-engineering" field-test in the next few months. The ultimate aim is to mimic the cooling effect that volcanoes have when they inject particles into the stratosphere that bounce some of the Sun's energy back into space, so preventing it from warming the Earth and mitigating the effects of man-made climate change.
and also, in the same article:
Hacking the planet - potential geo-engineering solutions
Billions of iron filings are deposited in the ocean to stimulate a phytoplankton bloom. The aim is to enhance biological productivity to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Many experiments have been conducted, including fertilisation of 900 square kilometers (350 sq miles) of the Atlantic. Results so far are disappointing.
Giant "mirrors", made of wire mesh, could be sent into in orbit to deflect sunlight back into space. But the scale needed, the expense and the potential unintended consequences are so great that it is widely considered unrealistic. In the same league as the idea to mine the moon to create a shielding cloud of dust.
The idea is to increase the water content in low clouds by spraying sea water at them. This makes them reflect more sunlight. It would be pretty harmless, and cheap but would have to be done on an immense scale to have any global effect. Backed by Bill Gates.
Proposed by climate scientist Wallace Broecker who imagines 60m artificial "trees" dotted around the world, "scrubbing" the air by capturing CO2 in a filter and then storing it underground. The trees could remove more carbon dioxide than an equivalent-sized real tree.
Painting roofs and roads white, covering deserts in reflective plastic sheeting, dropping pale-coloured litter into the ocean and genetically engineering crops to be paler have all been proposed to reflect sunlight back into space.
Carbon capture and storage (CCS)
Carbon dioxide is collected from coal or other fossil fuel power plants and is then pumped underground. Works in principle but it is expensive and increases the fuel needs of a coal-fired plant by 25%-40%. More than 40 plants have been built with many others planned.
Read also the scientific article on MIT Technology Review.
Friday, September 02. 2011
by Dominic Basulto
At the Black Hat security conference in Las Vegas, researchers from Carnegie Mellon demonstrated how the same facial recognition technology used to tag Facebook photos could be used to identify random people on the street. This facial recognition technology, when combined with geo-location, could fundamentally change our notions of personal privacy. In Europe, facial recognition technology has already stirred up its share of controversy, with German regulators threatening to sue Facebook up to half-a-million dollars for violating European privacy rules. But it's not only Facebook - both Google (with PittPatt) and Apple (with Polar Rose) are also putting the finishing touches on new facial recognition technologies that could make it easier than ever before to connect our online and offline identities. If the eyes are the window to the soul, then your face is the window to your personal identity.
And it's for that reason that privacy advocates in both Europe and the USA are up in arms about the new facial recognition technology. What seems harmless at first - the ability to identify your friends in photos - could be something much more dangerous in the hands of anyone else other than your friends for one simple reason: your face is the key to linking your online and offline identities. It's one thing for law enforcement officials to have access to this technology, but what if your neighbor suddenly has the ability to snoop on you?
The researchers at Carnegie Mellon showed how a combination of simple technologies - a smart phone, a webcam and a Facebook account - were enough to identify people after only a three-second visual search. Hackers - once they can put together a face and the basics of a personal profile - like a birthday and hometown - they can start piecing together details like your Social Security Number and bank account information.
And the Carnegie Mellon technology used to show this? You guessed it - it's based on PittPatt (for Pittsburgh Pattern Recognition Technology), which was acquired by Google, meaning that you may soon be hearing the Pitter Patter of small facial recogntion bots following you around any of Google's Web properties. The photo in your Google+ Profile, connected seamlessly to video clips of you from YouTube, effortlessly linked to photos of your family and friends in a Picasa album - all of these could be used to identify you and uncover your private identity. Thankfully, Google is not evil.
Forget being fingerprinted, it could be far worse to be Faceprinted. It's like the scene from The Terminator, where Arnold Schwarzenegger is able to identify his targets by employing a futuristic form of facial recognition technology. Well, the future is here.
Imagine a complete stranger taking a photo of you and immediately connecting that photo to every element of your personal identity and using that to stalk you (or your wife or your daughter). It happened to reality TV star Adam Savage - when he uploaded a photo to his Twitter page of his SUV parked outside his home, he didn't realize that it included geo-tagging meta-data. Within hours, people knew the exact location of his home. Or, imagine walking into a store, and the sales floor staff doing a quick visual search using a smart phone camera, finding out what your likes and interests are via Facebook or Google, and then tailoring their sales pitch accordingly. It's targeted advertising, taken to the extreme.
Which is not to say that everything about facial recognition technology is scary and creepy. Gizmodo ran a great piece explaining all the "advantages" of being recognize onlined. (Yet, two days later, Gizmodo also ran a piece explaining how military spies could track you down almost instantly with facial recognition technology, no matter where you are in the world).
Which raises the important question: Is Privacy a Right or a Privilege? Now that we're all celebrities in the Internet age, it doesn't take much to extrapolate that soon we'll all have the equivalent of Internet paparazzi incessantly snapping photos of us and intruding into our daily lives. Cookies, spiders, bots and spyware will seem positively Old School by then. The people with money and privilege and clout will be the people who will be able to erect barriers around their personal lives, living behind the digital equivalent of a gated community. The rest of us? We'll live our lives in public.
Again, this reminds me of this previous "| rblg" post concerning "publicy". And as I mentioned at that time, it could also be useful in the context of a new work we are working on, Paranoid Shelter. There are .
Powering Gadgets a Step at a Time &&& MicroGen Chips to Power Wireless Sensors Through Environmental Vibrations
A microfluidic approach could be ideal for harnessing electricity from footsteps.
By Prachi Patel
A new way to harvest footfall energy could someday let shoes generate enough power to keep cell phones and laptops topped up.
University of Wisconsin-Madison researchers have come up with a microfluidics technique that scavenges considerably more energy from human footfalls and converts it into electric power. Previous attempts to make energy-harvesting shoes have yielded less than a watt of power, but the new approach could lead to a shoe-mounted generator that produces up to 10 watts, says Tom Krupenkin, a mechanical engineering professor who led the work.
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fabric | rblg
fabric | rblg is the survey website of fabric | ch -- studio for architecture, interaction and research. We curate and re-blog articles, researches, exhibitions and projects that we notice during our everyday practice.