Tomorrow in Brief
iGrammar: Mobile Language Lessons
Proper English will no longer be a secret between he and I. Thanks to a new iPhone app developed at University College London, we’ll all know it’s a secret between him and me, and it won’t be a secret.
The iGE (interactive Grammar of English) application allows students and other users to download lessons and exercises to learn at their own pace. Instructors can change examples used in the apps to keep lessons more current or customized to the user’s locality.
The developers see a potential global market worth hundreds of millions of dollars a year and are working on similar apps for punctuation and spelling instruction.
Source: University College London, www.ucl.ac.uk.
Robotic Aides for Children with Autism
Personal-assistant robots may help children across the autism spectrum to cope better in social situations.
Acting as a social mediator, KASPAR (Kinesics and Synchronization in Personal Assistant Robotics) robots have flexible arms that can produce realistic gestures, and can play drumming and computer games using Wii game remote controls. Their faces can show expression via robotic skin with sensors and blinking eyes.
Field tests by University of Hertfordshire researchers show that children with autism will make eye contact or mimic actions while playing with the KASPAR robots—behaviors that represent major breakthroughs for the children.
Source: University of Hertfordshire, www.herts.ac.uk.
Glass as Waste Cleaner
Discarded glass bottles may one day help clean up contaminated rivers.
University of Greenwich chemist Nichola Coleman has developed a method of pulverizing colored glass and mixing it with lime and caustic soda to create tobermorite, a mineral that can absorb toxic heavy metals in water.
The technique also creates a demand for brown and green glass bottles, which are typically less desirable to recyclers.
“The novelty of the research is that the glass can be recycled into something useful,” says Coleman. “Nobody has previously thought to use waste glass in this way.”
Source: University of Greenwich, www.gre.ac.uk.
Building Stronger Skyscrapers, Faster
Future skyscrapers could be built faster and made safer using a new construction process championed by Purdue University civil engineering professors Mark Bowman and Michael Kreger.
The technique involves building around a core wall, or vertical spine, which also enhances structural resistance to earthquakes and high winds.
Traditional core walls are made from reinforced concrete and are produced one floor at a time. The new technique sandwiches concrete between steel plates; the hollow structure is strong enough to allow the surrounding construction to proceed on several floors at once.
On a 40- to 50-story building, the core wall system could save three to four months of construction time—and, hence, offer significant dollar savings, according to Bowman.
Source: Purdue University, www.purdue.edu.
Remote-Controlled Telescopes for Citizen Astronomers
A worldwide network of Internet-connected robotic telescopes will help citizen astronomers do research and contribute their data and discoveries to the rest of the world.
Dubbed Gloria (GLObal Robotic telescopes Intelligent Array), the project is managed by the Computer Faculty of the Polytechnic University of Madrid and uses the Montegancedo Observatory’s remote-controlled telescope, camera, and dome.
The project will offer citizen astronomers access to the organization’s public databases to facilitate analysis and scenario building.
Source: Facultad de Informática, Universidad Politécnica de Madrid, www.fi.upm.es.
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Star Trek Into Darkness: Eye candy for the amygdala. Yes, this is another Hollywood blockbuster depicting a dystopian future with big explosions and small innovations. However, the first ten minutes are worth the price of the ticket. I was pleasantly surprised to see J.J. Abrams using the Ancient Aliens theory and a huge wink to author Zecharia Sitchin's work in the opening scene located on the fictional (depending on who you ask) world of Nibiru.
Spray-on skin. Lab-grown ears. Human tissue grown in a petri dish. We're going deep into sci-fi territory (and it is already happening).
“Extropy” is celebrating its first quarter of a century. The idea was formally introduced as a philosophy of the future in 1988, and many things have happened from the end of the 20th century to the beginning of the 21st century. A new millennium has been born and the philosophy of extropy is well-suited for these new times of accelerating change, full of challenges and opportunities.
One definition of resilience is “the ability to cope with shocks and keep functioning in a satisfying way”. Resilience is about the self organizing capacity of systems. This means the ability to bounce back after disaster, or the ability to transform if a bad stage has happened.
This is my last posting for the next few days. I will be taking my office apart so that we can move to our new apartment downtown next Tuesday. I will be unplugged and disconnected except by tablet. Expect me to be back in the saddle before the end of next week probably in time to provide you with some more headlines. In the interim these are the stories I share with you this week:
Today, literally thousands of alternative transportation vehicles are coming out of the woodwork and they nearly all have the same problem – no place to drive them. Most are banned from biking and hiking trails, and they are neither licensed, nor licensable, for use on the streets. I’d like to discuss some new possible solutions and why Colorado is poised to take the lead in the alternative transportation marketplace.
In a recent conference promoting not only their latest gizmos but their company's animating vision as well, Google executives declared they were working toward a future in which technology "disappears," "fades into the background," becomes more "intuitive and anticipatory." Commenting on this apparently "bizarre mission for a tech company," Bianca Bosker warns that their genial and enthusiastic promotional language masks Google's aspiration to omnipresence via invisibility, an effort to render us dependent and uncritical of their prevalence through its marketing as easy, intuitive, companionable.