Wednesday, July 1, 2015


10 Potential Alternatives To The Conventional Capitalist System
By David Tormsen,
Listverse, 28 June 2015.

Some believe our current system of economic organization is starting to fail us, but other than the horrors of Communist collectivism, what alternatives do we really have? As it turns out, there are quite a few. Here are 10 systems of economic organization that go against the grain of conventional thinking.

10. Islamic Finance


The first Islamic banks emerged in the mid-20th century, but have since become one of the fastest-growing forms of financial institution in the world. Islamic banks differ from conventional banks in the non-existence of interest, considered a form of usury allowing the rich to exploit to poor without creating value themselves. The Quran has very strict rules against collecting interest, as is evident in Al-Baqarah 2:275:

Those who consume interest cannot stand [on the Day of Resurrection] except as one stands who is being beaten by Satan into insanity. That is because they say, “Trade is [just] like interest.” But Allah has permitted trade and has forbidden interest. So whoever has received an admonition from his Lord and desists may have what is past, and his affair rests with Allah. But whoever returns to [dealing in interest or usury] - those are the companions of the Fire; they will abide eternally therein.

While many Muslims still use the standard banking system, including interest, Islamic banking provides an alternative for the more devout. Islamic financial institutions work according to a profit-and-loss system known as musharaka, by which the bank and the borrower form a joint venture to share profits and losses from an enterprise. It is thus the norm for Islamic banks to assess the potential profitability of a venture before making a loan. For proponents of the system, Islamic finance recognizes private ownership, the profit motive, and the power of the market, but puts restrictions on activities to reduce exploitation and selfishness, based on their belief in sharia law.

There are a number of other ways that Islamic banks can provide financial services in accordance with sharia law. In ijara, banks can buy items for customers and lease them back to them, with customers sometimes paying for the final purchase with instalments. Murabaha is where the bank supplies goods for resale to the customer including a margin above costs, paid back in instalments. Wakala has the bank acting as a customer’s agent and investing their money in profitable and sharia-compliant trading activities. The global Islamic financial system is now worth US$2 trillion, held mostly in banks but also in Islamic investment funds, as well sukuk and takaful, the Islamic equivalents of bonds and insurance, respectively.

9. Firewall Economics


Social worker J.D. Phillips developed this idiosyncratic economic system based on the idea that while the best economies are mixed economies, socialism and capitalism do not mix well, as they cancel out each others’ benefits. His proposed alternative is called Firewall Economics, a system in which markets exist, but they are separated from the production of desperate human necessities - food, water, clothing, shelter, utilities, medical care, and so on. His logic states that classical economics assumed the price of such necessities would only go as high as people were willing to pay but didn’t take into account predatory lending forcing people into debt in order to survive. In the current capitalist system, the fact that necessary items are distributed through a market capitalist system has led to income inequality and spiralling debt.

As a layperson and non-economist, Phillips’s ideas have been given short shrift in serious academia. He presents many of them in a fictionalized form with a self-published Amazon novel entitled The Firewall Sedition, about a brilliant economics professor whose ideas are rejected by conservative economic thinkers and suffers mysterious harassment. Then, he somehow gets involved with Colombian drug dealers at a biker bar. He has a more serious version, a 155-page manifesto entitled BLUE COLLAR FIREWALL ECONOMICS: POLITICAL LITERACY FOR DEMOCRATS, most of which is dedicated to describing his own views about both sides of the political spectrum before he even gets into his economic theory, which is ultimately dispensed in a few pages at the end of the manifesto.

8. Economic Democracy


The central idea behind economic democracy is extending the principles of popular sovereignty, by which power is constrained by accountability, to the economy. In the modern world, economic power is exercised in workplaces by bosses and managers, by financial organizations such as banks and money markets, and through investment, where business owners have imbalanced levels of power. This economic power allows for control and subordination, and so is, by definition, political power, which means that it should be subject to public accountability. If capitalism is leading to unequal and unaccountable political power in democratic societies, then new economic arrangements accountable to the citizenry should be developed, or at least so goes the argument.

There have been different proposals to expand economic democracy. The three key ideas are creating workers’ cooperative firms, where worker-owners make decisions collectively or through an elective structure, public banks serving a broader social purpose, replacing profit-driven private banks, and participatory budgeting, in which the state devolves a significant amount of public funds to cities or neighbourhood assemblies to ensure a more democratic allocation of funds.

Economic democracy can be traced back to socialist and anarchist thinking in the 19th century but has only come into greater prominence over the last few years in the wake of the collapse of state socialism. One practical and successful application of the ideas of economic democracy has been Mondragon Corporation, based in the city of Arrasate-Mondragon, Spain. Most of the corporation is dominated by self-managing cooperatives in four sectors - industry, finance, retail, and knowledge. A managing director is chosen through an annual general assembly. Now the largest corporation in the region, Mondragon is known for its income equity between workers, high job security, and even improved gender roles within the company.

7. Reputation Economy


Also known as the sharing economy, this system is the idea that the rise of peer-to-peer marketplaces has been changing the way consumption is organized. Through websites like Airbnb, Craigslist, and SnapGoods, more and more people are finding ways to borrow or rent someone’s apartment, bike, car, parking spot, or random household good. The most important aspect of this developing economy is the reputation you develop on the networks, as safety and trustworthiness are of highest value in an economy where strangers essentially share goods and services for mutual benefit.

One of the biggest proponents of this form of economic organization is the author Cory Doctorow, whose mind-bending science fiction novel Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom featured the Whuffie, a currency based solely on reputation. In 2009, a non-profit organization calling themselves the Whuffie Bank tried to make the Whuffie a reality in the form of a karma-like digital currency where you would be rewarded for positive comments and posts on social media sites, and “you lose them when you do something that the organization deems to be detrimental.” This would raise some serious questions about accountability and how the organization would determine if a comment on social media is positive or negative. Needless to say, the Whuffie Bank went offline in early 2013.

6. Slow Money


The Slow Money movement is based on a number of key principles. It holds that modern finance is too fast and complex and needs to be brought down to a slower speed, with more focus on food security and agriculture. The movement seeks to induce investors to focus on areas close to where they live. The Slow Money system sees the economy as resting on the health of the soil, with investors as seeds and money as potentially harmful or helpful water, depending on how it’s used. They focus to a large extent on helping small food enterprises and cooperatives get connected with investors willing to accept slow and low returns.

Based out of Boulder, Colorado, Slow Money is a non-profit organization that intends to build up local economies by helping people to put money into tangible, local agricultural enterprises. Founder Woody Tasch describes the ideology: “Food is the place to start. Food is ground zero - the place where the economy meets the soil, where profitability meets fertility. It is where our efforts to build a restorative economy are grounded.” Some conservative thinkers are sceptical, accusing the Slow Money movement of hiding the fact it is essentially a charity organization looking for “angel investors.”

5. TEQs


Tradable Energy Quotas (TEQs) are a proposed method of reduced carbon-intensive energy use on a national level, in a way that ensures a fair and equitable distribution of energy while also meeting carbon-energy-reduction goals. Each adult is given a set amount of TEQs per week for free, which are deducted when buying energy or fuel along with the monetary cost. The costs of fuel and electricity supplies vary depending on how carbon-efficient the fuel is. One unit represents 1 kilogram (2.2 lb) of carbon dioxide or other greenhouse gases generated in the production and use of the fuel. If you end up with extra units, you can sell them; if you need more, you can buy them. Mass energy users like governments and corporations must bid for their units at weekly auctions. A Committee on Climate Change, independent of government, sets a yearly budget for energy use, declining year by year, allowing consumer demand to set prices while giving incentive to develop more carbon-efficient energy sources.

TEQs were first proposed by David Fleming in 1996. Since then, they have been proposed to the United Nations and British Parliament. Two applications for research grants from the European Union were rejected in 1999 and 2000. A UK government review in 2008 called it “an idea ahead of its time” and politically unpalatable. The concept of personal carbon allowances strikes many as reminiscent of a strange totalitarian regime. TEQs supporters blame resistance on the elite, claiming that the introduction of TEQs would reveal the existing huge inequalities in carbon usage between the rich and the poor.

4. Participatory Economics


Stemming from anarchist philosophy, participatory economics, or PARECON, is touted as a system that produces fair and equitable economic outcomes, solidarity among the people, diversity of outcomes benefiting all, self-management, efficient use of resources, and environmental sustainability. Michael Albert and Robin Hahnel believe that neither market capitalism nor central planning can deliver on those values. They propose social ownership of the means of production, while markets are replaced by a system of non-hierarchical democratic or participatory planning committees. Members participate in consumer and workplace councils, developing plans for consumption and production respectively, or in Iteration Facilitation Boards, councils bridging the gap between the two others through research and recommendations.

In order to make sure that every worker is on the same page and no one gets an unfair advantage by claiming rewarding positions, they propose a system of balanced job complexes (BJCs), in which rewarding and rote tasks are distributed and shared equally. So, one worker might spend some time in a management or creative position and other time on a dull but necessary task like sweeping the floor. Sharing the drudgery is meant to ensure there isn’t a division between alienated manual labourers and accomplished conceptual workers. Remuneration is based on effort and sacrifice, so those who work harder are paid more, based on the assessment of one’s work colleagues.

David Schweickart argues that the Participatory Economics model proposed by Albert and Hahnel would be unwieldy and burdensome in practice, particularly in the application of reasonable BJCs over groups. He is also sceptical of peer evaluation as the basis for remuneration. Workers are more likely to give each other high evaluations to keep each other happy; they would lose motivation to work hard as a result because there would be little benefit in it. He also argues that replacing the market with a system of asking people what they want to consume and produce and working it out from there in committees would be an endless, nightmarish headache and far less efficient than the current market system.

3. Community Capitalism


In the 1980s, the state socialist countries realized that their systems of communist central planning were failing badly. Russia and Eastern Europe took a plunge into market capitalism and liberal democracy with what some call “shock therapy,” with mixed results, while China took a more gradualist approach to the problem. The Soviet-Leninist mechanisms of the Chinese Communist Party remained intact, maintaining control of national policy while introducing democratic reforms at the village level and with so-called “intra-party democracy.” Economic reform was achieved at different rates in different sectors of the economy, with many state-owned enterprises surviving long into the reform era. Radical reform strategies were experimented with on small scales before being scaled up to the national level. St. Lawrence University’s Hou Xiaoshuo argues that these policies led to the development of a unique system he calls “community capitalism.”

Community capitalism works through collective shareholding of enterprises in villages. It is a coercive system, but collective wealth is shared, and an incentive system combines collective and individual interest. He bases much of his study on the Huaxi village in Jiangsu Province, widely known as China’s richest village. In Huaxi, there are three forms of financial distribution: The first is communist, providing villagers with basic subsistence fees. Then there is the socialist component, where villagers work in a factory or service area for a salary. Finally, the capitalist component is received in dividend, based on factory shares and village shares owned by individuals.

Hou believes the hybrid system used in China, which shows remarkable variety from region to region, is likely to stay for a long time and may represent a sustainable alternative to the standard capitalist system promoted by the West. He points to the importance of guanxi, or kinship and pseudo-kinship ties within society, as an important factor. This allows for the development of the so-called East Asia model, characterized by an authoritarian government supervising market reforms and economic development and a society characterized by collective solidarity, social relationships, achievement-oriented work ethic, and the prestige of education.

2. Objectivism


Ayn Rand’s philosophy of Objectivism is the philosophy of bare self-interest. The ideal Objectivist political system is laissez-faire capitalism, where people interact as equal traders, freely and voluntarily exchanging goods and services for mutual benefit. No one may use physical force to coerce others, and indeed, the only real role of the government in an Objectivist economy is the prevention of illegal force used by criminals and foreign invaders.

Objectivists believe that the main purpose of life is life, which means freedom, which means by extension economic freedom and therefore laissez-faire capitalism. The current mixed system of capitalism with governmental controls is not free and is unduly influenced by the Objectivist mortal sin of altruism. Objectivists believe that altruism is the idea that a person must live for the sake of others, sacrificing their lives and freedom. This is the road to statism and collectivism and therefore against freedom. They believe the ideal economic system would abandon these false ideals of altruism and build a system of economics based entirely on rational self-interest.

Objectivists believe that if the government focused only on a role of preventing the use of force and coercion in society, people would be free to produce and innovate freely. They believe capitalism is the only system in which the dissatisfied are free to form their own communities and associations, if they so choose. The only stricture against the choices is being unable to initiate force against others to force your will on them, which is not really something you should be doing anyway. The position that the government is a necessary safeguard in capitalist society to prevent people from using physical force to coerce others is one of the main distinctions between Objectivism and Anarcho-Capitalist Libertarianism.

1. Resource-Based Economy And The Collaborative Commons


The hollowing-out of the middle class as wealth becomes more unequal is dangerous for a capitalist economy, which relies on middle-class consumption to survive as a viable system, at least as far as Marxist theory goes. However, according to the concepts of Resource-Based Economic thinking, technological improvements are a more important factor. The old systems of profit-driven competition and debt-based investment will be undermined and ultimately rendered void through the proliferation of technology such as 3-D printers and the rise of crypto-currencies like Bitcoin.

The argument goes that we now have the technology to access a tremendous amount of potential energy from wind, wave and tidal action, ocean currents, temperature differentials, falling water, geothermal, electrostatic, hydrogen, natural gas, algae, biomass, bacteria, phase transformation, Fresnel lenses, and thermionics. There is no reason that we couldn’t see a complete automation of the work force over the next four decades, as artificial intelligence and autonomous machines take over the drudge work entirely. A resource-based economy, it is argued, would be more appropriate in a post-scarcity world.

This theory states that the capitalist structures of companies and industries will be washed away as marginal costs of producing things (and therefore profit) begins to approach zero. This will lead to the rise of the Collaborative Commons. Aspects of this system include the “Internet of Things,” connecting billions of consumer devices to a vast global network, an Energy Internet, by which renewable energy is distributed, and consumers becoming “prosumers,” producing their own energy and releasing surplus onto the grid. This vision sees the manufacturing industry replaced by distributed 3-D printing, the financial system replaced by digital currencies, wage labour replaced by automation, and intellectual property replaced by the Creative Commons. It is a utopian ideal making more than a few assumptions, but considering that we were all riding horses and bowing to feudal lords not too long ago, it might not be as crazy as it sounds.

Top image credit: Frank Vincentz/Wikimedia Commons.

[Source: Listverse. Edited. Top image added.]


8 Hoaxes that Fooled the Internet
By KeriLynn Engel,
Who Is Hosting This, 30 June 2015.

“The greatest thing about the Internet is that you can quote something and totally make up the source,” George Washington once famously said.

(And if you believe that, we’ve got eight more absolutely true stories for you below.)

The Internet has completely revolutionized the way the world communicates - and that includes how we lie to each other.

Ever since chatting online first became popular, you could never trust that the person you were talking to really was who they said they were. Kids might believe they’re chatting with someone their own age, but actually be chatting with a much older online predator, and hopeful singles who hook up with someone they met on an online dating site might soon have their own horror stories to share.

The truth is, it’s easy to get away with lying online. When speaking to a stranger in a chat room or on social media, there’s no quick and easy way for the average person to verify what they’re saying.

And while the anonymity of the web sometimes encourages people to be more genuine, it can also encourage bad behaviour in others due to a lack of accountability.

You’d think that knowing this, the average person would be sceptical of everything they see online, but it seems that’s not the case. In many of the cases below, a hoax spread quickly because of the power of trust, or going along with the crowd. If a trusted public figure makes a believable claim, most people are likely to believe them without trying to verify the facts, which may be why American football player Manti Te’o got away with his lie for so long (see the details in the graphic below). And if most people believe something to be true, the average person will go along with the crowd, which probably had a factor in the number of reputable news organizations that reprinted high school student Mohammed Islam’s hoax without verifying it first.

What made the general public believe all the other hoaxes below? Check out the details and decide for yourself. Would you fall for their lies?

8 Hoaxes that Fooled the Internet

Infographic Sources:
New York Mag’s Boy Genius Investor Made It All Up
2. High School Student Scores $72M Playing the Stock Market
3. How This 17-Year-Old Trader Built A Rumour That Fooled New York’s Media Giants
4. Because a Stuyvesant Senior Made Millions Picking Stocks, His Hedge Fund Opens As Soon As He Turns 18
5. Top 15 Web Hoaxes of All Time
6. How to Charge an iPod Using Electrolytes and an Onion
7. Charge Your iPod with Gatorade and an Onion?
8. How to Power an iPod with an Onion (Not Really)
9. DIY Drinking Glasses from a Beer Bottle
10. Can You Power an iPod with an Onion?
11. 7 Ways to Open a Wine Bottle Without a Corkscrew!
12. Charge an iPod with an Onion
13. Strange Ways to Unlock Car Doors
14. Unlock Your Vehicle with a Tennis Ball
15. Unlock a Car Door with a Tennis Ball
16. How to Unlock Your Car with a Tennis Ball
17. Unlock Your Car Door with Tennis Ball
18. Tennis Ball Car Unlock MiniMyth
19. Huge Dog With Horse Photograph
20. Hercules, World’s Biggest Dog?
21. Hercules English Mastiff
22. Irish Firm’s Display of ‘Free-Energy’ Machine Delayed
23. Scientists Flock to Test ‘Free Energy’ Discovery
24. Steorn Shows Revolving Orbo to the Public
25. Steorn Finalises Contracts for Jury to Test Its Free Energy Technology
26. Steorn Free Energy
27. Steorn CEO Posts Video of New Device
28. Steorn Jury Issues Verdict: No Excess Energy
29. 2013: The Web’s Year of the Hoax
30. Manti Te’o’s Dead Girlfriend, The Most Heartbreaking And Inspirational Story Of The College Football Season, Is A Hoax
31. Manti Te’o Hoax
32. Hoaxer Was in Love with Manti Te’o
33. iOS 7 Doesn’t Make Your Phone Waterproof (but That Doesn’t Stop People from Trying)
34. ‘iOS 7 Makes Your IPhone Waterproof’ Ad a Scam Dunk
35. 4chan’s Fake iOS 7 Ads Convince Users to Dunk Phones in Water
36. 10 Internet Hoaxes That Fooled the World
37. Dead Fairy
38. Do Fairies Live at the Bottom of Your Garden

[Source: Who Is Hosting This. Edited.]

Monday, June 29, 2015


10 Crazy Ideas From The World Of Space Exploration
By Radu Alexander,
Listverse, 29 June 2015.

If, 100 years ago, you told people that a machine we made would land on Mars and send us back photos, many of them would have thought you insane. That’s the thing about space exploration. It is such a new concept with innovations made every day that it’s hard to distinguish science fact from science fiction. All space-related ideas sounded crazy at one point or another. Some of them worked and don’t sound as crazy anymore. Others are still pretty out there.

10. The Squid Rover


Jupiter’s moon Europa has long been seen as a great candidate for extraterrestrial life due to the high likelihood of the moon having oceans under an icy crust. We have been itching to send something there to see exactly what Europa has to offer. A proposed joint venture between NASA, ESA, and the Japanese and Russian space agencies to schedule a mission to Europa in 2020 was cancelled due to NASA’s budget problems. Currently, an ESA-led mission named JUpiter ICy moons Explorer (JUICE) is scheduled for a 2022 launch. The probe would arrive on Europa in 2030. When it does, it might carry a very peculiar rover.

The device in question is a soft-robotic rover with electrodynamic power scavenging. We call it a squid rover due to its unique architecture clearly based on that particular cephalopod. The concept was created at Cornell University and was approved by NASA for further research. It’s part of the new NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) program, which, in its own words, “aims to turn science fiction into science fact.”

The rover is still very much in its early stages. It would feature tentacle-like structures that would harvest local magnetic fields as a source of energy, as well as electroluminescent “skin” that would illuminate the underwater environment.

9. Project HARP

Photo via Wikimedia

From the world of sci-fi, we move on to the world of Looney Tunes. At least, that’s what Project HARP would appear to be at first glance. Short for High-Altitude Research Project, this was a joint venture between the US Department of Defense and the Canadian Department of National Defense to send projectiles into space using a giant gun.

The project was started in 1961 mostly due to Canadian ballistics engineer Gerald Bull. He had gotten the idea a decade earlier while working on ICBM missiles at the Canadian Armaments and Research Development Establishment (CARDE). The project was set up on an airport in Barbados so projectiles could be fired in the Atlantic Ocean. At first, a 20-meter-long gun (65 ft) was used, but it was upgraded to 40 meters (130 ft) pretty quickly. The whole installation was ready in 1962, but the Cuban Missile Crisis postponed the operation until the next year.

Initial results were promising, and another test site was set up in Yuma, Arizona. In 1966, this gun shot a 180-kilogram (400 lb) projectile at a speed of 3,600 meters (12,000 ft) per second at a record altitude of 180 kilometres (590,000 ft). As time passed, more and more backers lost interest in the project and pulled funding. Eventually, the Vietnam War and worsening relationships between the USA and Canada forced the project to shut down. The gun in Barbados is still there today, a relic overlooking the Caribbean Sea.

8. The Titan Submarine

Like Europa, Saturn’s moon Titan is seen as the Holy Grail for space explorers. It has above-surface methane lakes and oceans that we are just itching to investigate. In 2004, the Cassini spacecraft mapped out the moon extensively and gave us a pretty good idea of its geography. In 2005, the Huygens probe landed on the moon and sent back the first photos from its surface. The next step would be to create something that could explore the depths of Titan’s waters, and for that, we are going to build a space submarine.

The submarine design was proposed by Dr. Ralph Lorenz at the Lunar and Planetary Science Convention and was approved by NASA. If launched, it would head for the Kraken Mare, Titan’s largest sea. On the outside, the drone would resemble a regular submarine, apart from a large antenna that would be necessary to transmit the data over a billion miles back to Earth. However, the conditions on Titan would require the submarine to deal with unique problems. For starters, temperatures on the moon can reach -180 degrees Celsius (-290 °F).

Furthermore, we have no idea what depths the sub will have to deal with. The depth, as well as the sea’s composition, will make design elements like a traditional ballast tank unfeasible. The sub will even require a special delivery system using a variant of the military X-37B mini shuttle due to its size and shape.

7. Project Horizon


The space race between the United States and the Soviet Union triggered the most productive era of space exploration. Even so, this was a whole new world, still in its infancy, so a lot of trial and error was required to figure out what worked and what didn’t. Before the Apollo program finally put a man on the Moon in 1969, many other plans were made and scrapped.

Project Horizon is a recently declassified plan of the US Army to build a military base on the Moon. That project would be overly ambitious even today, but the program was developed in 1959. The army considered it feasible to complete the base and equip it with soldiers and astronauts within the following decade.

Maybe this was incredibly optimistic of the army, or maybe it just shows how eager both sides were to gain the upper hand in the Cold War. The report stressed how critical it was to establish a military presence on the Moon, considering it only a matter of time before the Soviets attempted the same.

The project never went further than the planning stage. It if had, it would have called for almost 150 Saturn rockets to be launched to carry the cargo. When it was finished, the base would have housed 10–20 people. Until then, the astronauts could have used natural “holes” found on the Moon, covered and sealed with pressure bags, to create living areas.

6. The Wrangler

Photo credit: NASA

The universe can be a dangerous place. Many things can snuff out life on our entire planet without too much effort: gamma-ray bursts, supernovas, colliding galaxies, and more. And, of course, one threat already struck our planet in the past - asteroids. The Earth has been hit by asteroids during its 4.5 billion years of existence, and it is likely that it will be hit again in the future. It might happen tomorrow (it won’t) or in a billion years, but people at NASA are already looking into solutions for this problem.

One solution is called the Weightless Rendezvous And Net Grapple to Limit Excess Rotation (WRANGLER) system, courtesy of Tethers Unlimited, Inc. This net and tether system could be deployed by a satellite to capture and de-spin an asteroid, rendering it (mostly) harmless. The program has already been accepted to the NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts Program, and it is being developed as a simpler, more cost-effective alternative to NASA’s own Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM).

There are two main components to the system. One is the GRASP net capture device, and the other is the SpinCASTER tether/winch mechanism. By using the leverage of a tether, a small satellite would be able to reduce the angular momentum of a much larger object. The WRANGLER has already proven successful in a microenvironment and is currently being developed to full scale.

5. Zvezda Moon Base

Photo credit: Alexey Leonov

The Americans weren’t the only ones keen to put an inhabitable base on the Moon. The Soviets were just as eager. They started their lunar program in secret with two goals: first, to do a manned lunar flyby and then to actually land cosmonauts on the Moon. However, the US beat them on both counts, so the projects were scrapped and kept hidden until the ’90s.

Next up came the idea of constructing a permanent base on the Moon, known as Zvezda (Russian for “star”) or the DLB Lunar Base. The project started in 1962 and was headed by lead Soviet space engineer Sergei Korolev. The moon base would have been made out of nine separate modules, each one with a specific purpose, such as living quarters, dining, medical, or a laboratory. Together, they would have weighed 18 tons, so they needed to be delivered separately. Additionally, the cosmonauts would have had access to Lunokhod robotic rovers to help them get around on the Moon.

The project received considerably more attention and funding after 1969, bolstered by the Americans’ efforts. However, its success relied on the effectiveness of the N1 rocket (the Russian equivalent of the Saturn V rocket) used to deliver heavy payloads beyond low-Earth orbit. When the N1 failed to work properly, the rocket and all projects dependent on it were cancelled.

4. The Stanford Torus

Photo credit: Don Davis

The International Space Station has housed inhabitants for almost 15 years. Mir was operational from 1986 until 2001. However, while massive in size, these stations are not really intended to house a lot of people. Mir had a crew of three. The ISS has a capacity to support six residents, although it now currently has three people aboard. The Stanford torus was a bit more ambitious than that. It was an idea for a space habitat meant to support 10,000 people.

The plan for this design came in 1975 as the result of a summer study organized by NASA and Stanford University. It consisted of a torus (a donut-shaped ring), which was 1.5 kilometres (1 mi) in diameter and was capable of performing a full rotation every minute to replicate Earth’s gravity.

The Stanford torus never advanced past the idea stage. The design for the torus required 10 million tons of material, most of it extracted from the Moon and from asteroids. Only materials unavailable there would have been brought over from Earth. The space station would have been located at the Earth-Moon L5 Lagrangian point - a point where a small object between two large bodies is affected by their gravity so that it can maintain a stable position.

3. Printable Spacecraft


3-D printing seems to be the technology of the future, with almost no limit to what it can accomplish. We are already capable of printing flexible electronics that work on common consumer goods like cell phones. These are not only cheaper and easier to make but also smaller and lighter. One ambitious idea coming out of NASA’s own Jet Propulsion Lab (JPL) suggests that, in the future, we might be able to print entire spacecraft.

The Printable Spacecraft is another plan coming out of the NIAC. It is currently in Phase 2, so it has already gone through and succeeded in its original objective, which was to see if it was possible to print all the electronics necessary for a functional spacecraft. The second phase has several new objectives, including actually printing a bench-top model spacecraft. NASA also needs to determine how practical it is to create a printed spacecraft for just a single mission.

If everything works, NASA believes that cheap and effective printed spacecraft will revolutionize space exploration. It estimates that some kind of working prototype is about 10 years away, but it also imagines how, in the distant future, you could just carry a printer with you and create whatever probes or crafts you might need onsite.

2. Venus Landsailing Rover

Photo credit: NASA

Venus is not a very friendly place. Due to temperatures that reach 450 degrees Celsius (840 °F) and a corrosive atmosphere, exploring our neighbouring planet has proven to be quite difficult. So far, the best we could do was land a stationary rover on the surface of Venus that remained operational for a whopping two hours. Compare that to the rovers that function for years and years on Mars, and we see that exploring Venus is still one of our most ambitious goals despite its close proximity.

Now, we have a new approach thanks to the NASA Glenn Research Centre - the Venus Landsailing Rover. Dubbed the Zephyr, this new rover goes back to basics and seeks to harness the power of the wind for propulsion, just like a typical sail. Even though Venus doesn’t have very strong winds (they only reach around 3 kilometres [2 mi] per hour), the pressure on the planet would ensure that even a small breeze was capable of generating significant power.

The Zephyr would be built out of materials more than capable of withstanding the high temperatures. It would mostly remain stationary, only deploying its sail when it needs to move to a new spot. This is helped by Venus’s flat landscape, which has very few obstructions. Using such a conservative approach to energy consumption, NASA estimates that Zephyr would be able to survive a whole month on the planet.

1. Project Orion

Photo credit: NASA

Space travel requires a lot of resources, so we are always on the lookout for new potential sources of energy better than what we already have. Back in the 1950s, it seemed like nothing was more powerful than the atomic bomb. An on-going effort sought new uses for this incredible source of energy that weren’t as destructive as its main purpose. Maybe it could be used to power a spacecraft?

The idea of nuclear pulse propulsion was developed by physicists Ted Taylor and Freeman Dyson. They worked on their plan, named Project Orion, to develop a way of propelling a spacecraft using a series of atomic bomb detonations behind it. The concept of a nuclear drive was not a new one. This idea had been previously explored by Stanislaw Ulam, a Polish-American mathematician who took part in the Manhattan Project.

Work on the project started in 1958. Back then, NASA didn’t exist yet, so Project Orion was funded by the Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA) of the Department of Defense, which only had a passing interest. When NASA was established, it and the Air Force divided up ARPA’s projects, with Orion left out in the cold, as nobody saw it as an asset. It would be a few years before NASA got involved, but by then, the Limited Test Ban Treaty of 1963 on nuclear weapons made it impossible for Orion to develop, given the large amounts of potential nuclear fallout.

Top image: An artist's rendering of a soft-robotic lamprey-like rover. Credit: NASA/National Science Foundation via Cornell University.

[Source: Listverse. Edited. Top image added.]


6 Problems Facing Driverless Cars
By Jake Mellett,
Click Mechanic, 2 June 2015.

A staple of science fiction, autonomous cars are often the most visible technology of imagined futures. But unlike lightsabers and teleportation, the autonomous vehicles is close to becoming a reality. With tech giants Google already having made great strides in developing prototype cars - which are currently being tested on roads across the USA - car manufacturers have also begun pushing for an autonomous revolution.

But before that can happen, there’s a number of major hurdles that developers and governments will need to overcome before driverless cars make it to your local dealership. This infographic, brought to you by Click Mechanic, explains what these roadblocks are.


Infographic Sources:
1. Davies, A (2014). Avoiding squirrels and other things Google’s robot car can’t do.
2. Davies, A (2015). This is big: A robo-car just drove across the country.
3. Esnor, J (2015). The 7 kings that need to be worked out before driverless cars go global.
The Telegraph.
European Commission. (2015). eCall: time saved = lives saved.
Ford. (2015). Fusion hybrid SE.
General Motors. (2013). Emerging technology: Driving safety, efficiency and independence.
7. Gomes, L. (2014). Hidden obstacles for Google’s self-driving cars.
MIT Technology Review.
Greater London Authority. (2014). Smart London Plan.
9. Hodson, H. (2015). The four main roadblocks holding up self-driving cars.
New Scientist.
10. Lazzaro, S. (2015). Self-driving cars will be in in 30 U.S. cities by the end of next year.
11. Sorokanich, R. (2014). 6 Simple things Google’s self driving car still can’t handle.
12. Wakefield, J. (2015). Driverless car review launched by UK government.
BBC News.

[Post Source: Click Mechanic. Edited. Top image added.]


Tasty Tech Eye Candy Of The Week (June 28)
By Tracy Staedter,
Discovery News, 28 June 2015.

Throwable cameras, 3D-printed hearts and cars and magnetically levitating hoverboards right out of the 80s movie 'Back to the Future' round out this week's Tasty Tech gallery.

1. Throwable Camera


In July, you'll be able to purchase the new throwable camera from the Boston start-up company Bounce Imaging. Developed by MIT alums, the camera gives rescue personnel and law enforcement a way to see and image an environment that may be inaccessible or even hazardous. The so-called "tactical sphere" comes equipped with cameras and sensors that transmit panoramic images to a smartphone.

2. Audi Moon Rover


Car maker Audi is getting into the Moon Race. They've announced that they're supporting the Part-Time Scientists group and entering the Google Lunar XPRIZE competition with a quattro all-wheel drive vehicle. The company plans to develop an aluminium vehicle that will launch into space in 2017. Once on the moon, solar panels will harness sunlight, save it to a lithium-ion battery, and use it to power four electric wheel hub motors. Winners of the XPRIZE will receive US$30 million to develop their vehicle.

3. Flexible Nanostructured Display


A new lightweight display changes colour on demand, not with light or traditional technologies used in LCD displays, but by applying a specific voltage to an ultrathin nanostructured surface. The display is only a few microns thick - much thinner than a human hair - and could be made into displays as flexible as clothing that change colour on demand.

4. 3-D Dino Tracks


Five dinosaur tracks salvaged from a quarry near Goslar in Lower Saxony, Germany, have been used to create three-dimensional digital models that show how the individual footprints were positioned in relation to one another. That evidence, pieced together by palaeontologists from the University of Bonn, working with Dinosaur Park M√ľnchehagen and the State Museum of Hanover, suggests that 154 million years ago, carnivorous dinosaurs immigrated to an island via a land bridge to hunt herbivorous.

5. 3D-Printed Car


For an emission-free car to be totally clean, it needs to be manufactured without the use of fossil fuels. Designer Kevin Czinger who founded San Francisco-based Divergent Microfactories has developed a 3D-printing technology to print the world's first supercar, he's dubbed Blade. The car's frame is made from pieces of carbon fibre tubing connected by 3D-printed aluminium joints. Because Blade requires less manufacturing space and can be created faster, it uses less materials and energy to produce, greatly reducing emissions.

6. 3D-Printed Heart


Experts from Spectrum Health Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital have used computed tomography (CT) and three-dimensional transesophageal echocardiography (3DTEE) to create an accurate 3D-printed prototype of a heart. Because the three-dimensional model is based on images of a real heart, it gives doctors a better way to diagnose and ultimately treat heart disease.

7. Rooftop Park


A new building going up in Brooklyn's Bushwick neighbourhood will not only be the largest residential building in the area, but will also sport a green roof with some fantastic outdoor amenities. Residents will have access to an urban farm, a cross-training circuit and bocce ball court, among other features.

8. Ford's Electric Bicycle


Ford CEO and President Mark Fields spoke at a media event this past week in San Francisco about Ford's role in the future of urban mobility. The company's Smart Mobility program is three-pronged, involving lightweight, folding electric bicycles for commuters that take trains into the city from the suburbs. The second prong is an app for drivers looking for parking spaces in the city. And the third prong involves ride-sharing vans that can be hailed like Uber cabs with an app.

9. Organ on a Chip


This tiny chip has won a big prize. The organ-on-a-chip mimics real human organs, such as lungs and stomachs and allows researchers to quickly test drug combinations. It was developed by Donald Ingber and Dan Dongeun Huh at Harvard University’s Wyss Institute and won the overall prize for the Design Museum's Design of the Year Award for 2015. [Video]

10. Maglev Hoverboard


Toyota's luxury car brand Lexus has created a prototype hoverboard called Slide that uses the same technology used for maglev trains. The device requires magnets to be embedded in the ground in order to repel those embedded in the board, limiting its range to special tracks. But to anyone who ever fantasized about riding a hoverboard, ala 'Back to the Future,' they'll take it.

Top image: Audi Lunar quattro all-wheel drive vehicle. Credit: Volkswagen Group.

[Source: Discovery News. Edited. Top image and links added.]