News Briefs Archive 2011

  

 

December

Heads-Up For Hot Hardware

Over the years you may have noticed a fair number of reports in the press concerning Lithium Ion batteries catching fire and even exploding. It’s due to a condition known as thermal runaway; its precise cause is not fully understood but when it happens, it happens very quickly Thankfully it’s a rare event but now, with so many of our gadgets, cars and vehicles being powered by Lithium Ion cells it is bound to occur more frequently. The good news is that researchers at Johns Hopkins University have come up with a cheap sensor that can give an early warning of thermal runaway, well before conventional sensors mounted on the surface of the cells. Hopefully this will alert the user and battery management systems, well before the cell fails or catches fire.

2512 

 

Google, it’s Snow Joke…

Normally we don’t bother too much with Easter Eggs, those little jokes and fripperies that programmers like to hide inside applications and web pages, but in the spirit of the season, here’s a good one from Google. Simply type ‘let it snow’ in the Search box and it starts falling, big time, all across your browser screen. You can wipe it away with your mouse and a left click, or make it disappear by clicking the blue Defrost button.

1912

 

Lap Cat Trap

Cat owners with PCs beware. The Consumerist website reports that the owner of a HP Elitebook had his request for a repair under warranty rejected, because he has a cat. The cat, a long-haired variety, was responsible for furring up the machine’s cooling system. However the excuse got even better; it seems there was so much fur clogging the system that HP considered it a biological hazard. Despite much too-in and froing, not to mention photos and a PowerPoint presentation slideshow purporting to show the furry contamination Chris, the owner still hasn’t managed to persuade HP to fix his machine, so you have been warned!

1212 

 

W8 Beta for February?

Sources close to TheNextWeb report that sources close to Microsoft reckon that the public beta release of Windows 8 will happen some time in February. We always take stories like these with a small pinch of salt, in case they turn out to be mere rumour. But even if it’s not February, it won’t be long after as it follows hard on the heels of the W8 Developer Preview, released back in September, the pattern set by previous versions of Windows, and the scheduled Release To Manufacturers (RTM) date set for June/July time. RTM is the penultimate stage in the launch process, with the final, final public version usually available a few months afterwards – almost certainly well in time for Christmas 2012.

 

The final feature list of the public beta remains cloudy, probably because Microsoft are still tinkering with it, but this will be the first opportunity to have a proper play with the new OS, so now is the time to start thinking about those processor and memory upgrades and clearing some space on your hard drive.

0512

 

November

Personal Jetpack in 18 Months?

I have been living on the promise of owning a personal jetpack since the 1960s, when they actually existed (alas it could only stay aloft for a few seconds…). Once again I am naively excited by news from New Zealand based firm Martin Jetpack, that its model, which we have been reporting on for the past three years, could finally go on sale within the next 18 months. Actually it’s not really a jetpack but a wearable twin ducted fan jobby. I don’t care, it does all the things jetpacks are supposed to do, most recently climb to over 5000 feet; check out the videos on the on the Martin Jetpack website. According to their sales blurb they’ve been getting a lot of interest from emergency and rescue services, as well as private aviation enthusiasts, and with a projected price of only $86,000 it’s not beyond the reach of well off individuals. Working on the premise that once they get into production the price will plummet I reckon I’ll be able to afford one in around 20 years time… Keep watching the skies.

2811

 

DIY 'Air' Geiger Counter Kit

One of the unexpected consequences of the catastrophic failures at the Fukishima nuclear plant in Japan was huge increase in demand by a worried public for Geiger Counters. The small number of companies making these instruments simply wasn’t prepared and there were overnight shortages of key components, including Geiger Müller tubes, which are used to detect radioactivity. Geiger tubes are actually fairly simple in design – usually metal or glass tubes filled with an exotic mixture of gasses at low pressure -- but normally they’re produced in fairly small numbers, and it takes time to ramp up production. This inspired a small Japanese company called Bit Trade One to look for alternative way to detect radiation and to cut a long story short they came up with the Air Geiger Müller Counter, now being sold in kit form. DIY Geiger Counters are not exactly new, but what makes this one different is that you get to construct the actual Geiger Müller tube, using nothing more complicated than a plastic tube – similar to a 35mm film canister -- some copier paper, aluminium foil, cling film, glue and a disposable gas lighter. It’s a truly ingenious design that requires no special skills, tools or equipment, a real kitchen table job, though builders will need some soldering skills in order to assemble the electronic circuit. Build time is in the order of 4 – 6 hours and the finished unit is surprisingly sensitive for a home build instrument. It is able to detect alpha, beta and gamma radiation. In fact it is so sensitive that it will respond to natural background radiation and the very low levels of radioactivity coming from ordinary household products like Low Salt, salt substitute (the potassium it contains is mildly radioactive). The kit is now available in the UK for just under £160.00, including shipping from our sister site anythingradioactive.

2111

 

Apple Turnover

Apple has been having a tough time lately with the batteries that power its gadgets. The most recent issue has been the poor running times on iPhone 4, launched a few weeks ago. A software update designed to address them has received a very mixed reception. It’s not just its new products that are causing problems though. Apple is now recalling first generation iPod Nanos. Apparently as the batteries age they can dangerously overheat. Only models made between September 20065 and December 2006 are affected and they’re the ones with black or white plastic fronts and a silver metal back; models with all metal cases are not included in the recall. So here’s the good news, if you have one kicking around, probably by now gathering dust in the back of a drawer, you may qualify for a shiny new replacement. All you have to do is pop along to the Apple website tap in your iPod’s serial number and you’ll be told straight away. Don’t forget to save your iTunes library before you send it back, which should take around 6 weeks.

1411

 

October

Light and Flexible Twist

Flexible displays are going to be all the rage in the next year or so, mark my words, but Auo Optronics are setting a high benchmark with it’s newly developed flexible e-paper display, backed by a photovoltaic (PV) panel. E-paper and e-ink, the display technology used by the likes of Kindle and other e-readers, is an ideal partner for PV power because of its very frugal demands. This innovative combination of technologies brings flexible – fold up or roll up – newspapers and books one step closer. There’s still an issue over the rest of the electronics required to manage the display, store data, and communicate with the outside world, not to mention any controls but assuming it’s going to be touch-sensitive as well all of the circuitry could, theoretically, be incorporated into the thin film display without creating more than a few small bumps. The only other wrinkle that needs to be ironed out is that without a battery or other form of power storage it’s only going to work in sunlight or very bright light, so no reading in bed. The prototype display is 15 cm (around 6 inches) with an 800 x 600 display and the panel thickness is just 0.127mm.

3110

 

iPad 2 Hack Uncovered

As hacks and cracks go, this one isn’t going to set too many alarm bells ringing, but for those of you with a shiny new iPad2, you might like to be aware of a simple security flaw, revealed by 9to5Mac, that can leave your home screen and apps open to abuse. It concerns the Smart Cover, and once you know the trick you can bypass the passcode lock. It works like this, on a iPad 2 with its passcode enabled simply hold down the power button until the shutoff slider appears, close the Smart Cover, then immediately open the Smart Cover and press Cancel.  Open the Smart Cover. At this point you don’t have full system access, but you can delete apps, and if the user left a the browser window or email open before they switched off then they can be read. The solution is simple, just disable the Smart Cover unlocking in the General section of the Settings menu, and hopefully Apple will come up with a more elegant fix at some point.

2410

 

Windows 7 Overtakes XP

It has taken a while but according to web analyser StatCounter, Windows 7 now accounts for just over 40 percent of the operating system market, from its launch in October 2009. XP is now in a steady decline, down from 70 percent two years ago it now holds around 38.6 percent. Windows Vista is down too, though it never really got off the ground and when W7 was released it only managed around 23 percent, but now it’s down to just 11 percent. Mac OS is showing a small but steady rise since October 2009, up from 4.7 percent to 7.2 percent. Linux continues to bump along the bottom of the graph with a 0.8 percent share, up from 0.6 percent a couple of years ago.

1711

 

The Smell of Gaming

If my son’s bedroom after an all night gaming session is anything to go by it’s pretty bad but help may be at hand, according to Oh Gizmo, in the shape of a device called Smellit. It’s a smell generator for video games and it promises to take video game players into what the manufacturers describe as the fourth dimension. As ever there’s nothing new under the sun and there have been numerous failed attempts to introduce smells, relevant to the plot into movies and TV programs. This has either been by injecting niffy chemicals into the cinemas air condition or providing the audience with scratch-n-sniff cards (I still have one that came with a video called Polyester, and the less said about that the better…). Details of this system are still a little sketchy but a prototype is promised for the Lisbon Design Show, later this month. From the looks of the concept drawings it comprises a bunch of fans, designed to blow smells into the gamer’s face, so presumably games will now have to have embedded smell tracks. It sounds like fun, except that the majority of games these days seem to involve sweaty men fighting equally unsavoury looking adversaries, so maybe teenage boy’s bedrooms won’t smell so different after all…

1010

 

Flying Carpet Takes Off

Don’t get too excited, the carpet in question is actually a thin piece of plastic sheet embedded with piezoelectric actuators connected by flexible conductive fibres. Researchers at Princetown University in New Jersey have developed a working prototype and when a current is applied to the actuators a propulsive force is generated and controlled, by applying waveforms of varying amplitude. The only problem is the carpet sheet can only achieve an altitude of a few millimetres above a perfectly flat surface and being only 4-inches in length, it’s has a way to go before it can be transport a human cargo. Well, it’s a start and whilst a flying carpet may take a while, maybe they can come up with something a little less ambitious, how about something like Marty McFly’s hoverboard in Back to the Future?

0310

 

September

Stealthy Shiny Shirt

Memo to would be terrorists;  shiny shirts from Banana Republic have been found to defeat those fancy new airport body scanners, now being deployed in the US and around the world. According to the Washington Post, the scanners, which cost around a gazillion dollars, can’t see through the fabric. Before the bad guys get too excited, it won’t do you any good, in fact quite the opposite and the chances are if you’re found to be wearing one of these shirts you’ll be subjected to an even more thorough hand search, and that may well include the places that involve the use of rubber gloves. For the rest of us, it’s enough to say hat air travel is bad enough, so if you don’t want to make it any worse, avoid wearing shiny shirts…

2609

 

Windows 8 Preview Download

Those of you interested in what the next version of Windows will be like should head over to Microsoft and download the Windows Developer Preview Package. It’s a pre-beta release of W8, so there are lots of disclaimers about stability and warnings about the inevitable changes that will occur between now and the official release (probably next year) but it does give a pretty good idea of what the new operating system will look, and feel like. First impressions are good and it is very clear that it’s designed, from the ground up, for a touch-screen display and to appeal to smart-phone users. It looks like it’s going to be a very different experience, from the opening screen and desktop, dubbed Metro, with it’s app like icons, to the new tricks we’re going to have to learn, like using the Start button to close an app. Most of the familiar stuff is there, under the bonnet, but from this very tantalising glimpse it is clear that the future of computing lies in the fingers and this may well turn out to be the first nail in the coffin for keyboards and mice.

1909

 

Your Last Warning!

Regular visitors will be aware of our long running campaign to alert everyone to the danger of robots crushing humanity by enslaving or wiping us out. Here’s more proof, if it were needed, and it’s called SkyNet, and yes, fans of Terminator know exactly what we’re talking about. It’s a small drone quadcopter and it carries a lightweight Linux based PC, two wi-fi modules, GPS and a cellphone and it’s job is to hunt down and attack wi-fi networks. It’s the work of a shady sounding organisation called the Stevens Institute of Technology – a cover for a sinister world dominating crime syndicate if every there was one – although they convincingly masquerade as a research institute. Anyway, the SkyNet drone fly around hunting Wi-Fi networks (how long before it’s hunting humans…?) with the potential to hijack wireless connections and use them as botnets, for hacking or denial of service (DOS) attacks. The hardware is mostly off the shelf and costs around $600 to put together, so keep your eyes peeled, and if you see one of these pesky things buzzing your home you have our permission to lob something hard and heavy at it!

1209

 

Wood You Get Caught?

This is an old story and warning to us all! News reaches us of two cautionary tales from the US involving people buying what they thought were iPads and laptops from characters in garages and burger restaurant car parks in South Carolina. The first case involved a woman being offered an iPad for a very reasonable $180 (around £120. It must have appeared authentic, but it wasn’t until she got it home and discovered that it was just a block of wood.  Same town, different woman, this time parting with $250 for a laptop. This one was made up of a stack of papers, held together with duct tape; apparently it wasn’t a complete loss, though, as the box came with a genuine mains cable.

 

Fake gadgets are not a new and around 20 years ago there was a brief flurry of holidaymakers returning home from Spain with carved wooden camcorders.  Making the things was allegedly a local cottage industry, and they looked very convincing, right down to genuine boxes. Clearly, with so many freshly liberated gadgets and gizmos circulating in the underworld there’s a increased risk of ending up either with stolen property, or lumps of wood in genuine boxes, so it goes without saying -- but we’ll say it anyway – if it sounds too cheap to be true, it almost certainly is, and car parks and dark alleys are not the places to buy your electronics goods.

0509

August

Footing the Energy Bill

As regular visitors will know we are big fans of renewable energy, so this clever sounding idea from InStep NanoPower ticked all of our eco-friendly boxes. Basically it’s a micro-generation plant that fit inside a pair of shoes, theoretically producing up to 20 watts of electrical power whilst you pound the pavements. Of course it’s not a new idea, and we have seen all sorts of weird and wonderful contraptions that attempt to harness leg power, but this one is different. To begin with it should fit any shoe, just pop it in inside your shoe and plug it in. Needless to say it can also be built into shoes. Second, according to the blurb you probably won’t even know it’s there, no straps, levers or cogs to worry about. So how does it work? Well, the basic idea seems to be that pads or fluidic chambers positioned beneath the heels and toes pump a special non-toxic liquid through a ‘harvester’, which uses a process called electrowetting to convert the movement of the liquid into electrical energy, that’s stored in a rechargeable battery. So far so good, but where can you buy a pair, we hear you ask? Well, you can’t not yet, and as with so many of these developments it’s still some way from being a marketable product. Nevertheless, it all sounds quite plausible, and assuming it gets off the ground, the next time you get a flat battery, instead of reaching for the charger, you just go for a walk.

2908

 

Shortchanged Solar Hero

It must have been a strange couple of weeks for 13-year old Aidan Dwyer. It began with news of his apparent breakthrough in solar power technology spreading across the media and Internet. As part of the young American’s school science fair project he did some calculations and carried out experiments that seemed to show solar cells performed better when arranged in a spiral, based on the Fibonacci sequence. That’s the number series that appears a lot in nature, its what determines the spirals in snail shells and the position of seeds in sunflower heads. Anyway, his tests suggested that cells arranged in a spiral – in a tree-like structure -- outperformed an identical set of solar cells in the traditional flat inclined arrangement, by an impressive 50 percent in fact. The blogosphere and popular press picked up the story, hailing the young scientist as a genius. Unfortunately it didn’t last very long and wiser heads quickly spotted the flaws in his experiments. Basically he was measuring the voltage output from the cells, without a load, which gives a misleading result.  The point of all this is not to mock young Aidan, far from it and we hope he hasn’t been discouraged by all the fuss, but to question his school science teachers. They should have spotted the flaws and not allowed this story out of the bag, but the real blame goes to the over-excited press and websites which carried the story without checking some simple facts. It wouldn’t have been difficult, the solar industry has been squeezing solar cell design until the pips squeak, trying to extract the last fraction of a percent out of their panels. It would have been obvious to even the least scientific mind that cells facing away form the sun are not going to work as well as those pointing directly at it.

22/08

 

Google+ Cracks Down on Names

If you are one of those eager beavers that have signed up for Google+, the fancy new challenger to Facebook, then you should make sure that you are who you say you are and are using your own name. Google has imposed a strict set of rules on users, and those who cross the line, or get it wrong, have a week to sort themselves out, or have your account suspended. In summary the new rules are that users must use their full name, in one language. You are not allowed to use initials in the first name field – Dr and Rev are not allowed for example – nicknames can only be used in the ‘Other’ name box, no unusual characters are permitted – e.g. no K@ties or D@ves. Names must represent individuals, no couples or groups will be accepted and you mustn’t pretend to be someone else. For a service hoping to become the popular and friendly new kid on the block they're in danger of coming across a bit starchy. 

1508

 

Smaller, Faster, Dearer…

Solid state Derives or SSD, which are basically super fat flash memories that can replace conventional hard disc drives (HDDs) are now rapidly coming of age and the latest release from Smart Modular sets an impressive new benchmark. To date SSDs are mostly used in netbooks and laptops and the Smart Modular Optimus follows the trend with a 2.5-inch form factor but it’s the capacity and speed that steals the headlines. To begin with it holds a whopping 1.6TB of data, more than enough for even the most dedicated downloader, and if you need to get at your files in a hurry that’s no problem with a claimed read speed of up to 1 gigabyte a second. It’s no slouch when it comes to writing data either, with speeds of around 500Mb per second. The catch, well you might like to hang on a while for the price to drop, various estimates put the drive at between £1000 and £4000 at launch later this year, though inevitably that will come down, but the biggest problems is that you will probably need a new PC, able to handle the data throughput, and that can support the drive’s non-standard SAS (Serial Attached SCSI) interface.

0808

 

Printed Plane Takes to the Skies

We are going to be hearing a lot more about 3D printers over the next few years. We’ve already reported on a Bio Printer that can print biological structures, and printers that replicate themselves by printing the parts to make a new printer – clearly it’s only a matter of time before they start churning out cyborgs... Spooky, and here’s something else to worry about, they can now fly. New Scientist reports on a plane made from printed parts and it only took a week from design concept to first flight. The team behind the plane was led by Andy Kane and Jim Scanlan of the University of Southampton, used a laser 3D machine to fabricate the metal and plastic parts. Dubbed Sulsa (Southampton University Laser Sintered Aircraft) it has a 1.5 metre wingspan and is powered by an electric motor. Pop in a couple of rocket launchers and a link to Skynet and one more ingredient of the Terminator scenario comes true. People, you have been warned, its happening now…

0108

 

July

Later for Lion

Mac users eager to download the latest version of OSX, codename Lion, might like to wait a while, as there appears to be a few wrinkles that need sorting out. Following a huge 1 million downloads the web is awash with grumbling Mac owners complaining that the new OS seems to have a few glitches. There are reports of it scrambling Windows partitions, there may be problems with NAS support for Time Machine, guest accounts can crash and several users have complained of compatibility issues with Microsoft Office. Of course this is nothing new and the kafuffle surrounding operating system updates and service packs are all to familiar to Windows users, and it’s not the first time Mac users have suffered either. No doubt some of the problems will turn out to be false alarms or confined to particular combinations of software so as always the best advice is not to be an early adopter (guinea pig…), wait for the inevitable updates and fixes to be issues and let the dust settle especially if you use your Mac for business or mission critical applications.

2507

 

Netflix Heading for the UK?

While we already a number of on-line, on-demand movie and TV services here in the UK (iPlayer, ITV/Sky Player, Lovefilm to name but just a few), it looks like there’s room for more and one of the really big guns, the US company Netflix, is eyeing up the UK. According to reports in the showbiz mag Variety it could be coming to these shores, and Spain, early next year. This follows a series of highly successful launches in Canada, South America and the Caribbean. It’s a controversial move, considering the well established competition but the one-price, all you can eat deal has proved very popular with users, even after several recent price rises, so expect some fireworks as newcomer tries to muscle in.

1807

 

Bye Bye MiniDisc?

It may not be the end, but Sony’s recent announcement that it is to stop making MiniDisc Walkmans in September almost certainly marks the beginning of the end for the ingenious magneto-optical format. MD first appeared in 1992 and was meant to be the all-singing digital replacement for Compact Cassette, which by the early 1990s was way past its sell-by date.  After a brief tussle with Philips and it’s rival Digital Compact Cassette (DCC) it went on to enjoy modest popularity as a portable playback and recording system. It made some inroads into professional recording and broadcast and there was even a Data MD variant. Sadly MD’s success was fairly short-lived, though and Sony (and others, it has to be said) failed to anticipate the dramatic rise and rise of solid-state recording media and the MP3 recording format. Together they transformed the portable music market almost overnight, leaving MD, for all of its clever technology, looking decidedly old-fashioned. Farewells are still a little premature but the writing is on the wall so if you want to grab a little piece of consumer electronic history to show your grandchildren now is the time to track down some hardware, and blank discs, while you still can.

1107

 

Sun Dots

Paint that converts sunshine into electricity… Now where have we heard that before? Several times in fact but as usual, we’ll note the fact that a new development may one day turn into a game-changing commercial product, but with the usual disclaimer of not to hold your breath. This one is based on Quantum Dots, which we have mentioned before, and according to the report in Technologyreview, these nano-sized particles, developed by researchers at Toronto University, produce electricity when exposed to sunlight. The problem is that they don’t make very much of it and the breakthrough has been to produce dots of different sizes, so they absorb different wavelengths of light, making them more efficient. So called tandem-junction cells have a theoretical efficiency of 42 percent, compared with the current best performers, which can only manage around 20-25 percent. The dots are small enough to be incorporated in paint, though there doesn’t seem to be much information about how they’ll all be connected together – very, very fine wires maybe…  Anyway if anything comes of it, and we’re still here, we’ll let you know.

0407

June

 

Green Heat

Converting heat into electricity is nothing new and devices that can do just that have been around since the year dot, but what is new is a multiferroic alloy so far known only by it’s chemical makeup of Ni45Co5Mn40Sn10.. It has been developed by researchers at the University of Minnesota and the way it works is rather clever. According to the report in Engadget the material has the ability to turn from magnetic, to non-magnetic as it heats up and cools down even a small increase in temperature will do this, and when that so-called phase change happens the absorbed heat is converted directly into electricity. It’s still at the development stage but work is underway to construct thin film versions of the material that could be used to charge car batteries, for example, from waste exhaust heat and on a grander scale, converting heat from industrial processes and plants into useful eco-friendly energy

2706

 

Double Dutch

QR Codes are everywhere these days. As anyone who has a smart phone with a bar-code reader app knows, scanning the square-shaped code takes you to a website which may either have some useful information about whatever the code is on, or more likely it will try and sell you something. So what are the Dutch up to, putting QR codes on the back of specially minted 5 euro coins? Apparently it’s for no good reason that we can see because all the code does is tell your smart phone’s browser to go to the Dutch royal mint website (http://www.q5g.nl). Although this application for the technology doesn’t make a lot of sense, maybe one day it will be put to good use, though quite what that might be we can’t say…

1306

 

Crashing Bore

Please make sure all cellphones are switched off, your tray tables are in the upright position, blah, blah…etc. You know the drill by now, and the argument, that cellphones can affect an aircraft’s sensitive instruments has been going on for years.  Urban legend has it that the real (and I have to say more plausible) reason is to stop passengers blocking cellphone networks. As few as a dozen cellphones at 10,000 feet over a city can potentially log on to dozens of cell-sites, causing the network to collapse. But now ABC Word News has got hold of a confidential report from the International Air Transport Association that details 75 incidents from 2003 to 2009 where aircrew believe that interference may have been caused by cellphones. Twenty-six reports cite problems with flight controls and 15 claim it affected communications. It seems that these incidents are mainly anecdotal, and 75 incidents in 6 years, (how many million flying hours does that cover?) doesn’t seem many. More interestingly, if there really was a problem it would be inconceivable to allow a growing number of airlines to install in-flight systems that allow passengers to use their phones, albeit through the plane’s own expensive cellsite gateway, so draw your own conclusions, but continue to switch off your phones, just in case…

1306

 

Silicon Sun Bag

Handbags for men never really caught on, which is a bit of a shame as us guys are now missing out on the very smart Solar Handbag from Swiss Embroidery company Forster Rohner. The surface of the bag is smothered in solar cells, which are used to charge a small but powerful lithium ion battery, built into the bag. The battery has two jobs, first it can charge up your mobile phone and second, it powers a low level fibre-optic lighting system that comes on automatically when the bag is opened. The idea is can now find their purse keys and the other vital lady stuff that, I’m told, always ends up at the bottom of large bags like these. The PR guff, which I am grateful to Engadget for bringing to my attention, over eggs the pudding: ‘the shape of the bag resembles the story between the relationship between the sun and moon – between light source and enlightened. Therefore the shape mimics an eclipse where the moon – the enlightened – interfere or interact with the sun – the light source’, but you get the drift, and if you have to ask the price, well, you know the answer to that too…

3005

May

Windows 8 Rumour Mill 

We are still at least a year away from the official launch of Windows 8, codename Windows Next, but various leaks and rumours are giving us a possible glimpse into what we have to look forward to. Thanks goes to Gizmodo for sorting wheat from the chaff and it seems that W8 won’t look significantly different to W7. Under the bonnet, though there could be some big changes in the way Windows 8 stores data. Most of the developments appear to be designed to appeal to business and corporate customers, with improvements that will help with standardisation and software deployment but we can expect to hear a lot more about Cloud Storage. Of more immediate interest is a beefed up Disc Cleanup utility that helps reclaim disc space and identifies space hogs. Portable Workspace looks like an interesting feature that lets you create a clone of your desktop, settings and favourite applications on a USB drive, so it can be plugged into any other PC, effectively turning it into a copy of your own computer. Face recognition is another likely contender and this will be used in conjunction with other changes to the way users log on to their machines. Optimisation for tablet PCs is high on the agenda and this should include improved touch screen features. Other possibilities include faster boot up, built in support for pdf and increased security, designed to prevent piracy.

2305

 

Creasless Foldable Display

Thin and flexible Active Matrix Organic Light Emitting Diode or AMOLED displays have been around for a while but Samsung have now gone one better with one that can actually be folded, and not leave a crease, according to Engadget. The display comes from Samsung’s Advanced Institute of Technology division and the prototype can allegedly be folded more than 100,000 times without breaking or visible creasing. There is a 6 percent decrease in brightness along the fold line but apparently is so slight as to be virtually unnoticeable. The foldability is actually a bit of a trick and is thanks to there actually being two panels joined and hinged by a flexible ‘hyperlastic’ material, based on a silicone rubber compound. The screen can be made touch-sensitive and obvious applications include e-books, twin screen games consoles and maybe even laptops. No timeline and it’s one of those things that may or may not make it into production but if it does, we’ll doubtless let you know.

1605 

 

In Space no one can hear you go

You know you want to know, just how to astronauts go to the loo in space? Without the help of gravity it has the potential to turn into a really messy business, so how do they do it? Well, who better to answer that tricky question than a real astronaut, in the shape of Leyroy Ciao, blogging for Gizmodo on that very topic, there’s even a video, but don’t worry, no actual doings occur. If you just want the potted, or should that be the potty version, then it’s all down to suction, good aim and for gentlemen space persons being very, very careful not to touch the sides, at least not if you want to hang on to your precious…

0905

 

More Efficient Solar Cells, pt 23

Yes, I know you’ve heard it all before and like many developments in this area they disappear without trace but who knows, this could be the big one. It comes from the Oak Ridge National Laboratory (yes, the same outfit that helped develop the A-bomb back in the 1940s), but nowadays they’re keen to promote their green credentials. This development boosts the normally puny efficiency of photovoltaic to convert light into electricity by almost 80 percent. The trick is to overcome the transport of charges through the various regions of the cell, and the solution, is nanocones. These are three-dimensional cone- shaped n-type semiconductors, made from a zinc oxide compound, and surrounded by a p-type semiconductor matrix made from polycrystalline cadmium telluride. This layer absorbs the incoming photons, and because of the cons-shaped structure, more of the resulting charge is passed into the n-layer. In a conventional cell this conversion process has an efficiency of around 1.8 percent, in the new cell it’s around 3.2 percent. The bottom line is that more of the good stuff comes out of each cell, and if they can figure out a way to produce them cheaply enough solar power will be one more step closer to saving the planet.

0205

April

Leaf It Out

Artificial leaves that replicate the process of photosynthesis – turning light, water and air into energy – have been around for a while but to date they’ve been little more than laboratory curiosities. Not any more, according to Popsci. Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have developed the first practical artificial leaf that one day could be as efficient as the real thing. It’s made of silicon, various chemical catalysts and some electronics, so mimicking nature is still quite a business, but it has the potential to do something useful one day, like powering homes, producing electricity in the third world or contributing to the much-vaulted Hydrogen Economy. Previous attempts at artificial leaves have had short lives, been unstable, unfeasibly large or have involved very expensive or rather nasty chemicals. The stuff used by MIT is based on nickel and cobalt, and the prototype is not much larger than a playing card. Needles to say Mother Nature still has the edge when it comes to making leaves, but they’re working on it…

1804

 

Reach For the Stars

How would you like to help America be awesome once again? Well, you can by signing up for this appeal from Kickstarter. They’re looking for money and volunteers to build a working life-size AT-AT. In case you’ve been living in a cave for the last 30 years or have never seen Star Wars, and in particular The Empire Strikes Back here’s what you need to know The AT-AT or All-Terrain Armoured-Transport is a giant walking tank, driven by the bad guys, that goes around blasting the good guys. Ultimately it falls prey to the old trick with the snowspeeder grappling hook canon, but the point is. These guys want to show that America still has that can-do spirit that put a man on the moon, so building a 22.5 metre (50 foot) tall walking machine should be a doddle. They’re looking for mechanical engineers, project managers and contactors, legal people, accountants, welders, electricians and specialists of all types. So come on, there must be loads of budding AT-AT designers out there, and I’m willing to bet that everyone involved will get to ride in it when it’s finished.  

1404

 

Nuclear Fallout on ebay

Vintage Geiger Counters and radiation monitors, which previously sold for a few pounds or dollars on ebay have now been fetching astronomical prices on the auction website ebay. The nuclear accident in Japan, fanned by media misinformation understandably scared a lot of people and the supply of ancient Cold War monitors, produced in the 1960s quickly dried up and the relatively small number of companies now making these devices have been experiencing shortages of key components and have been unable to meet demand.

 

The real problem, though, is that most of the devices on sale are no use whatsoever for detecting fallout and contamination from the stricken Japanese nuclear plant – unless you happen to be right next to one of the leaky reactors. They stand absolutely no chance of picking up the miniscule amounts of contamination in air and water 25 miles away, let alone in the US or Europe. But even highly sensitive monitors are useless to untrained users who won’t know how to interpret the results. Worse still are the claims being made for devices that cannot even detect low to medium levels of radioactivity. So called Survey meters, like the American CDV 715 (pictured above) or Plessey PDRM 82, used by the British, were designed to only respond to highly radioactive fallout following a nuclear detonation. If anyone using one of these devices ever sees the needle twitch or the display show any sort of reading, they are already dead. And as if that wasn’t bad enough, devices that are totally incapable of detecting nuclear (ionising) radiation are also being misleadingly flogged on ebay for ridiculous amounts. Billed as ‘radiation’ monitors, they are actually designed to respond to non-ionising electromagnetic radiation from cellphones and radio transmitters, or ultraviolet radiation from the Sun.

1104

 

Olympic Giveaway, Taken Away

A few weeks ago the media was abuzz with news that the London Underground system was to be fitted out for cellular coverage, in time for the 2012 Olympics. Hooray, just what the capital’s commuters and visitors have been waiting for. It was all thanks to a very generous offer by dongle makers Huawei, who agreed to stump up £50 worth of hardware. Now, it transpires, the deal has bitten the dust. Mayor Boris was insistent that no public money would be involved and the entire cost would have to be met by interested parties, like the mobile phone companies. It seems they weren’t so keen on the idea, moreover a number of unexpected technical problems have arisen, making it increasingly unlikely that it could be up and running by next summer. The only very small piece of good news is that plans to equip more than 100 stations with Wi-Fi will still go ahead  

0404

 

IE9 Greenest Browser…

The newly unleashed Internet Explorer 9 is okay, nothing too dramatic in the way of features or facilities but Microsoft has managed to pull a rather unexpected rabbit out of it’s hat by claiming that it’s the most energy efficient browser around. Hmmm, it’s probably not something you’ve ever considered but according to Microsoft, its own tests have shown that basically because it’s quicker it uses less energy. Quite how they came to this conclusion, and the methodology used looks convincing, and it is explained at great length, with lots of impressive looking graphs and photographs but quite honestly we can’t be bothered to waste the electricity to pick it part. For the record, it seems there’s not much to choose between IE9, Chrome and Firefox but if you really want to blow some watts the bad boys are Opera 11 and Safari 5.

3103

 

March

True Blue?

OLED or organic Light Emitting Diode displays have been making steady inroads into the cellphone and MP3 player market and indeed a multitude of other pocket sized gadgets but the much promised transition to larger display formats has yet to materialise. To be fair there have been a number of prototypes and demos, and Sony has put super thin OLED display into production but we’re still waiting for the big breakthrough that will oust plasma and LCD in the consumer market and pave the way for mega displays and OLED wallpaper. Well, maybe it’s one small step close with news from the University of Michigan that they’ve come up with a way of doubling the efficiency of fluorescent OLED display elements. Traditionally blue LEDs have always been difficult to make, and it seems that fluorescent OLEDs are no different. However, don’t get too excited, existing fluorescent blue OLEDs have an efficiency of around 5 percent, the new Michigan OLEDs are 10 percent efficient, so there’s still a way to go, but the signs are good.

2803

 

Spec-Less 3D 10 Still Years Away?

If you are holding back on buying into 3D TV in the hope that someone is going to do away with those horrible glasses, you may have a bit if a wait on your hands. According to Slashgear, Samsung, who are one of the leading lights in 3D TV technology, say that there’s little chance of a glasses-less system making it onto the market inside 10 years. It can be done, and Toshiba, amongst others, have demonstrated prototype displays, but the big problem is that there are just a few ‘sweet spots’ so only a few people can watch the screen, and see the 3D effect, at the same time, and they have to hold their heads still, everyone else sees a nasty blurry mush. Clearly this isn’t much use for family, let alone communal viewing. So far the best demo screen has only been able to manage around 9 viewing positions, and this was on a big 55-incher that probably wouldn’t fit in with most people living rooms, let alone pockets. Samsung reckons workable prototypes may be developed within 5 years, but it will take another 5 yeas to get them into production, at a price the likes of you and me can afford.  

2403

 

3D Overload

Some of us are already getting fed up with 3D; the term is being bandied about all over the place and rapidly heading the same way as the word digital ten years ago, being applied to everything from pencil sharpeners to cat litter, well, maybe not cat litter, but you know what I mean. Back now to 3D and its latest outing is on cell phones, and no, we’re not talking about the screen, this time it’s being applied to the antennas.   Our thanks to Engadget for news of the development form the University of Illinois where researchers have come up with a way of printing nanoparticle ink onto a curved surface. Why you may ask, well, the theory goes that the 3D shape increases efficiency, which basically means more bars, better signals and crisper conversations in poor signal areas. We shall see…

2103

 

Chattering Teeth?

Having ever only experienced mild and temporary deafness I cannot begin to imagine what it is like to be totally deaf in one ear, but help may be at hand for some sufferers with a new type of hearing aid. The Sonitus SoundBite fits in the users mouth and uses the well-established principle of bone conduction to transmit sound through the wearer’s teeth to auditory organs deep in the inner ear. This, it is claimed, allows the user to regain spatial hearing ability, delivering clear, high quality sound captured by a microphone that fits in and around the wearer’s ear canal. It’s non-surgical, easy to fit and remove and invisible in use. The ITM (In The Mouth) device is custom made to fit on to the users upper or lower back teeth – no dental work required – and both the ITM and mike modules are powered by batteries that are charged using a cordless induction system.

1703

 

Salt Sized Spy

We’ve seen some really titchy digital cameras over the years but this one is going to take some beating. This microscopic camera has been designed to look deep inside the human body, seeking out tumours, blockages and that sort of thing, which means getting into some very small spaces. It was developed by the Berlin Fraunhofer Institute for Reliability and Microintegration (IZM), and apparently it’s so cheap – thanks to a new manufacturing process -- it’s disposable. The trick has been to reorganise the wiring on the sensor chip. Normally the contacts come out of the side of the chip, in this design they run through the chip, which is integrated with the lens. Usually each chip has to be individually sawed out of the wafer, mounted and wired, which is a slow and laborious business. That step is bypassed in this case and the finished result is a sensor and lens assembly that’s not much larger than a grain of coarse salt, but still able to manage a resolution of 62,500 pixels. Needless to say others, outside of the medical profession are showing interest in the camera and there’s talk of it being used to monitor driver’s eye movements, to trigger an alarm if the camera indicates that he or she is about to nod off. No doubt there are others busily thinking up even more devious ways to use it; the trouble is, unless you are very suspicious and carry a magnifying glass around with you, you’ll never know…

1403

 

Light Damage

From the ‘he’s only gone and done it…’ department, here’s news of a genuine blast your socks off 1 megawatt pulse laser gun, and it’s home made. The home in question belongs to one Patrick Priebe, who built it in around 70 hours. It’s fully self contained and powered by a pack of lithium ion cells. One megawatt sounds a quite lot but it’s not quite into Star Trek Phaser territory, nevertheless it can pop balloons, burn holes in thin plastic, scorch wood and almost certainly blind anyone daft enough to look down the barrel. Patrick has since sold his prototype but he’s open to offers to build more, though be warned it’s not going to be cheap. Be warned also that it almost certainly qualifies as an offensive weapon and probably illegal to wave around in public, but we can all dream. There’s more information and a short video of it in action on the Hacked Gadgets website.

1003

 

My First Stun Gun

It seems to me that toys these days are not much fun, thanks to the PC brigade. When I were a lad we had airguns, catapults, sheath knives and chemistry sets that you could do real damage with. Well maybe things are looking up for the younger generation, and by way of preparation for the horrors of the real world we have news from the far east of an electric shock ‘stun gun’, specially designed for kids. The CN Police Electric Shock Baton is billed as an ideal joke, reusable and not dangerous ‘if used properly’. But bizarrely the blurb adds, ‘not for children or elders’. Sadly it’s not going to give your kids the opportunity to deliver the full 50,000 volt belt of the real McCoy, the claimed output of just 3.6 volts is only going to bother small insects, in fact we seriously doubt that it’s going to have any effect whatsoever – unless applied to the victim’s tongue, but it does have a built-in torch, and once again there’s the reassurance that ‘it is safe to use if you don’t touch the shock button’.

0703

 

February

 

Hair Today…?

Hair loss worries a lot of people and that can sometimes make them prey to snake oil salespersons and do daft things. The tiny handful of treatments that have been medically proven to actually work are all expensive, sometimes painful and mostly only temporary, so what are we to make of the Apira iGrow? Well we’ll leave that up to you, but the device is basically a helmet, with built in headphones so you can listen to your favourite tunes whilst your scalp is bathed in light coming from a set of lasers and red LEDs. Whether or not it’ll make your hair grow is open to debate but it will definitely shrink your wallet, to the tune of £500 or so, but it comes with a six-month money back guarantee, so what could possibly go wrong?

2402

 

Disposable Flash on the Cards

USB flash drives are now so cheap they are virtually disposable but Art Lebedev design studio has taken it to its logical conclusion. It has come up with a range of drives, called Flashkus, they’re made out of cardboard, and sold on perforated strips. Of course the actual memory chips are not made of card, that would just be silly, but when you think about it there’s no good reason why the rest of it can’t be made from something so cheap and recyclable as pressed paper. Apart from anything else there’s a significant weight and space saving, and the lower cost should make it more attractive to companies giving them away for promotional purposes. It is still a work in progress and there’s no news yet when they’ll be available but if and when they do, the word on the street is that they’ll be available in 4, 8 and 16Gb capacities.

2102

 

Wheely Clever Idea?

Still hankering after a Segway? Well, at £3000 a pop and virtually nowhere you can legally ride the thing in public, here in the UK at least, this particular form of personal motorised human transport is not looking so attractive. So how about the Solowheel? It’s a motorised gyroscopically self-balancing unicycle that can propel you along at around 12mph; the battery should be good for around 12 miles on he flat. No doubt the authorities will have something to say about it, and insist it’s fitted with indicators and stop lights before it’s allowed on the road, let alone the pavement, but here’s the thing. It’s really small and it has an integral carrying handle, so if you see the old Bill coming just hop off, pick it up and walk nonchalantly away, whistling innocently as you go. Expect it to cost the thick end of £1000 when it goes on sale later this year. First reports suggest it’s fairly easy to ride, but getting on and starting off takes a bit of practice, and someone (or something) to lean on.

1602

 

Windows Update Helps Beat USB Viruses

Windows XP and Vista allows executable programs to run from USB drives the moment they are plugged in. It was supposed to be a helpful feature – and it can be -- but it has also allowed viruses and a good deal of malware to spread. In one well-documented instance a nefarious visitor to an army base left a number of USB drives lying about on a lavatory floor and within hours dozens of highly sensitive military computers had been infected. To be fair to Microsoft such dastardly uses for USB AutoRun couldn’t have been foreseen back in the mid 90s but it was put right in Windows 7, and now a new security update that disables the feature is about to be rolled old for older versions of Windows. By the way, it’s not compulsory and if you install the patch it can still be undone.

1402

 

iPlayer App Mixed Blessing

This is one of those good news, bad news items, so lets begin with the very welcome announcement from the BBC, via Engadget, that it will be launching an official iPlayer app for both iPad and Android, probably in the next day or so. The facility to watch BBC programs, old and new on your phone or tablet is long overdue and there’s even a hint the iPad app may work for overseas users, though we wouldn’t be surprised if there’s a subscription sting in the tail. And now for the bad news, it has been suggested that the Android app only works on the recently released Froyo Android 2.2, and tablets and phones will also need Flash Player 1.0. This will be a huge disappointment for all those early adopters who have first generation and mostly non-upgradeable tablets and phones running Android 2.1 or earlier, and we’re guessing they still make up the bulk of Android users.  

1002

 

Watch This

Telling the time, if you are visually impaired, can be a bit of a problem. Over the years numerous solutions have been devised, with varying degrees of success. Specially designed Braille watches, with a lift-up face revealing a dial with raised dots and tough hands – so the wearer can ‘feel’ the time have been around for decades. There have also been vibrating watches, and in the 1980s talking watches, which remain one of the most popular options to this day, though obviously they are of limited use in noisy environments. Now we have a new take on the Braille watch in the shape of the Haptica, by David Chavez. It’s an ingenious design with a row or rotating dials, each with it’s own set of raised pips that can be read with the fingertips. It’s still at the concept stage and funding is being sought to continue its devolvement so if you are interested head over to Kickstarter, which is helping to promote the project. 

0702

 

Are You Ready For IPV6?

You’ll probably be reading and hearing a lot about how, in the next few weeks, the Internet is going to dry up and run out of IP addresses. Whatever the media say, don’t panic, just make note in your diary for June 8th because that’s World IPV6 Day. Time for an explanation, IP or Internet Protocol addresses are the four blocks of numbers that uniquely identify every website, computer and device connected to the Internet. (You rarely need to worry about them as DNS or Domain Name Servers translate website names into numbers when you type them into your browser). The present numbering system, known as Ipv4 is such that there are around 4.3 billion combinations and one way or another they’ve all, or are about to be allocated. That doesn’t actually mean they’ve been used up and there can be no more websites or users, but it does make life tricky for the people who operate the web and over the next few years something is going to have to be done about it. In fact they’ve known it’s going to happen for some time and back in 1998 they came up with a new standard, called IPV6, which allows for 340 gazillion web addresses (actually 3.4 x 1038 addresses), which is more than enough for everyone on the planet to have several dozen websites. It’s a big change, though and a lot of work has to be done to the web’s infrastructure to make it work and the first big test will be on June 8th when a large number of web companies will be trying it out.

 

But, you’re probably asking, where does that leave me? You can check your own level of readiness by visiting the test site at http://test-ipv6.com/. The good news is that the answer is probably that you need do nothing and it’s down to your ISP and web techs to sort things out. Windows from XP onwards can handle IPV6 and most recent routers are fine with the new protocols but even if you are using vintage equipment no websites are going to disappear. The two systems will run alongside each other for the foreseeable. The worst that will happen is you won’t be able to access IPV6 only sites, and there’s not likely to be many of those anytime soon.

0302

 

January

Pullover for Pads

Saints preserve us. Hang on, a quick check to make sure it’s not April 1st. No, still January so this must be for real; it’s the PadX-1 Ledge Wearcom, a sort of pullover designed to hold your iPad. As you can see from the photo, it opens up and holds it in position so you can keep both hands free to use it. Now don’t your get any ideas and try copying it, it has been patented; and be warned, a version for the Samsung Galaxy is also in the pipeline. It’s made from advanced waterproof thermal Polartec softshell and the ‘load bearing’ pocket harness built into the chest protects your tablet from impacts (which may come in handy if you wear one of these things in some parts of town…). Available now in small, medium, large and extra large sizes, and any colour you like, as long as it’s black.

3101

 

Cold Fusion For Real Again?

Cold Fusion stories pop up every now and again, only to disappear without trace a few weeks or months later. In case you need reminding Cold Fusion is the holy grail of energy production, effectively harnessing the power of he Sun but in a controlled and relatively low temperature environment in the hope that more energy comes out than goes in. This latest breakthrough come from Italy where two scientists, Andrea Rossi and Sergio Focardi, have demonstrated a low energy nuclear reactor that appears to generate 12 kw of energy from an input of just 400w. What makes this one a little unusual is that the experts who routinely dismiss the idea haven’t been quite so vociferous. The usual explanations are that the excess energy is coming from a chemical reaction, or is a simple miscalculation, but these seem to have been effectively countered by the two scientists very thorough demonstration. The group is planning to build a prototype commercial reactor within a few months, so we will just have to wait and see.

2701

 

Hang Onto Your Maps

Here’s a cautionary tale from the US, and a warning to anyone who has come to depend on GPS navigation – don’t throw away your maps and atlases just yet! In what serves as a stern reminder that the GPS system is owned and operated by the US Military, and they can switch it on and off at will; news reaches us that they are planning to do just that between now and February 22nd in a series of ‘tests’. The good news for us in the UK is that it’s only going to affect reception in the southeastern US. The warning comes from the Federal Aviation Authority FAA and so far only pilots have been alerted and given 24 hours notice. Apparently the tests last approximately 45 minutes and are followed by a 15-minute shutdown. No one is saying exactly what these tests are for but it is well known that the US military have long been concerned that GPS can be used by terrorists, for missile guidance and so on. The system available to civilians is deliberately downgraded to reduce accuracy, however, improvements in GPS receivers and processing mean that the GPS in your car or smart phone is capable of pinpointing a location to within a few metres, so it would be at all surprising to learn that ways are being sought to rapidly jam or misroute GPS signals if a threat was detected, or just remind everyone that it’s always wise to have a fallback, just in case they decide to tinker with it over here.

2401

 

First Map of the Internet

Maps of the Internet tend to be colourful but unfathomable patterns of fine lines criss-crossing and connecting with one another, but it wasn’t always like that. This is the first Internet, or Arpanet as it was known, back in 1972. It was a computer network, set up by the Pentagon and linking researchers a number of key universities. Its original purpose was to provide a secure communication system that would continue to operate, even if parts of it were destroyed or failed. This was of course at the height of the cold war with fear of the atomic bomb at its height and such scenarios seemed not only possible but virtually inevitable. Anyway, needless to say it was a success and rapidly expanded, beyond the universities and into the public domain and evolved into something really useful, or as evil and destructive and just as likely to bring about the end of civilisation as the nuclear war it was designed to survive, depending of course on your point of view 

2001

 

Cycle Logical Warfare

And it is war out there, as any cyclist will tell you. Riding a bike in some parts of the country can be a high risk enterprise and any health benefits are more than offset by the likelihood that some idiot will clip you, squeeze you or open their door in your path. But it’s the ones that you can’t see, that creep up behind you that you really have to watch out for. The Cervellum Hindsight is dubbed a ‘digital bicycle mirror’ and it is based around a rear-facing camera that fixes to the saddle or seat post. The image is shown on a handlebar mounted 3-inch LCD screen, so you can see who’s about to wallop you, but here’s the really clever bit, it has a recording capability. If you take a tumble it stores the recording so you’ll have some hard evidence that could bring the dangerous clown to book. No word on price but expect it to be a bit dearer than a regular mirror when it goes on sale in the next few months.

1701

 

Cutting Edge Flash Memory

Victorinox are at it again with the latest update of its Swissbit Swiss Army Knife (SAK) with flip out flash drive. You may remember when they first came out, two or three years ago, the drives, which sat alongside the ubiquitous scissors, multi-role nail file/screwdriver and blade came with a measly 256Mb capacity, though if you were filthy rich you could opt for the 512Mb version. The range has been upgraded to include models with lasers, fingerprint recognition and capacities up to 32Gb but now they’ve gone and stuffed in what’s claimed to be the world’s smallest 256Gb drive into it’s latest model. The drive is a SAK in it its own right, with an on-board 32-bit processor, hardware error correction, encryption and an e-ink display that shows filenames and drive usage. No prices yet but we understand for lesser mortals there will also be 128 and 64gig versions, and a 512Gb model is already in the pipeline for later in the year. Fantastically useful, especially for travellers but if you plan to fly make sure you get one of the bladeless (and sadly near useless) ‘Flight’ versions, or remember to pack it in your hold luggage.

1301

 

A Vision of the Future?

As a lifelong specs wearer, with a brief foray into contact lenses, I heartily welcome any development that’s going to make it easy to see better. Pixel Optics sounds very promising indeed and these smart glasses used a composite LCD element to automatically enable change the lens’s focus, using an accelerometer to detect when the wearer’s head tips down, whilst reading for example.

 

It’s not a new idea and glasses with variable focal length lenses have been around for a while.  One of the first appeared back in the 1960s and was a purely mechanical device based around a hollow lens made of a flexible material; its shape or curvature was altered with a small piston built into the glasses frame, that injected a clear liquid into the flexible lens. The idea later resurfaced with a Canon camcorder autofocus system, which used tiny servos to change the shape of a flexible lens. This one, though, is all electronic and the LCD part works by changing the refraction index of what’s called an ‘electro-active’ layer within the lens. All clever stuff but it’s not necessary to know how it works, just that it does, in a fraction of a second, so the wearer isn’t aware that it’s happening. Now it’s all up to you Specsavers…

1001

 

Geriatric Battery

Thanks to Gizmodo for news of a battery that has been quietly working uninterrupted for sixty years. It’s called Karpen’s Pile and it was made by a Romanian chap called Vasile Karpen back in the 1950s. This story turns up every now and again and it was recently re-visited by a newspaper doing research in the country’s National Technical Museum where Karpen’s work is housed. Details of how this battery works remain sketchy, and some say it isn’t even a battery but some sort of thermodynamic generator, producing power from temperature changes but however it does it, it’s showing no signs of running out of puff and it’s the closest we’ve got to a perpetual motion machine. The cells consist of two sealed ‘piles’ connected in series – it has been suggested it uses electrodes made of gold and platinum immersed in highly purified sulphuric acid. The output is used to drive a small galvanic motor that flips a blade operated switch back and forth. Measurements taken every few years indicate that the batteries produce exactly one volt and this hasn’t changed in the past 6 decades. It seems very unlikely that this could ever be developed for commercial use – the energy it produces is miniscule -- but it’s an intriguing novelty and here’s hoping it will keep confounding the experts and run for another 60 years.

00601

 

Cunning Crimebusting Cane

Bad guys beware. Think twice about mugging old folks with walking sticks, they could have a Zap Cane stun baton, in which case you’ll be on the wrong end of a one million volt belt that’s claimed to be enough to know down any attacker. The length of the Zap Cane is fully adjustable and it’ll support up to around 20 stone or 113kg so almost anyone can use it. There’s a super bright LED torch built into the handle, it comes with its own custom carry case, the stun gun module is rechargeable and it costs a little under £70. Sadly it’s only available in the US and not in all states either. You’re unlikely to see it this side of the pond anytime soon as under UK law stun guns are classified as offensive weapons. On the other hand any walking stick makes a formidable weapon and old people are famously willing to have a go, so the best advice we can give to would be robbers is don’t do it!

0301

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