Tuesday, October 21, 2014


10 Architectural Icons That Could Have Been Vastly Different
By Laura Kiniry,
Popular Mechanics, 20 October 2014.

Picture the Paris skyline with a giant sprinkler in place of the Eiffel Tower, or London’s Tower Bridge being an underwater tunnel instead. It could have happened.

1. Gateway Arch, St. Louis

Photo: Daniel Schwen/Wikimedia Commons

Today its shape is an American icon. But, had the votes gone another way, St. Louis’s Gateway Arch could easily have been a rectangular stone gate or a series of pylons representing historical events. Architect Eero Saarinen’s award-winning design, a combined landscape and monument that is a lasting testament to Thomas Jefferson’s westward expansion from the banks of the Mississippi River, was only one of 172 designs considered.

Saarinen’s 630-foot-tall freestanding steel arch is shaped in a catenary curve - the same curve a free-hanging chain takes when supported on both sides. However, his original design had the curve at a much less pronounced 590-foot height, with its bases being square rather than their current triangular form. In the years between winning the contest in 1948 and the beginning of construction in 1963, Saarinen reimagined his monument to become the sleeker, more modern structure we know today.

2. Guggenheim Museum, Bilbao

Photo: MykReeve/Wikimedia Commons

Bilbao’s Guggenheim Museum, built in 1997, is one of the world’s most photographed and unusual structures. Architect Frank Gehry, famed for his fragmented and non-rectilinear style, changed the face of this northern Spanish city with his design: a titanium-clad structure made of limestone and glass that ebbs and flows with no apparent rhyme or reason.

Bilbao’s Guggenheim is eye-catching to say the least. However, it wasn’t the only design considered. In fact, Gehry was one of three architects invited to submit a design for the new museum; the others being Japan’s Arata Isozaki and Austria’s Coop Himmelb(l)au. Today visitors could be pouring into Isozaki’s four-story, ellipse-shaped structure, or seeing Bilbao through Himmelb(l)au’s vision, which included lighting the building’s exterior from the inside with a series of illuminated translucent boxes.

3. Eiffel Tower, Paris

Photo: Nicolas Halftermeyer/Wikimedia Commons

Imagine the Paris skyline as if, instead of the Eiffel Tower, there were a 1,000-foot-tall sprinkler overlooking the city, or a monument dotted with parabolic or curved mirrors. Either of these might have been the case if Gustave Eiffel’s iron-lattice tower hadn’t won the design contest set forth in May 1886 for a temporary structure to serve as centrepiece for the Exposition Universelle of 1889 - a World’s Fair held in Paris. Eiffel and his team had the contest pretty much won before it was even announced, beating out more than 100 other hopefuls with a design that more than met the competition’s requirements: an iron tower with a 3,280-square-foot base and a height of 980 feet that could be easily dismantled (though it never was). The tower also had to be self-financing, meaning it would sell enough tickets to cover its building costs. Well, that part was a piece of cake. Since its opening, nearly 250 million people have visited the iconic tower.

4. U.S. Capitol, Washington D.C.

Photo: Martin Falbisoner/Wikimedia Commons

Perhaps the most famous feature of the U.S. Capitol is its enormous cast-iron dome, something that came to be thanks to an artistic eye and a bit of luck.

The building itself was the result of a design competition won by Scottish-trained physician William Thornton and his sandstone building with three sections: two rectangular wings on either side and a dome-topped centre. Construction began in 1793 and took decades. The structure’s original (and mostly ill-received) copper-covered wood dome was finally completed in the 1820s.

However, the country’s rapid expansion meant America needed a bigger building, and a new competition was held. Philadelphia architect Thomas U. Walter’s depiction of a cast-iron dome atop the Capitol - as well as a marble exterior for the building itself - caught the eyes of several congressman and senators. Walter enlarged the building to twice its length and decreased the size of his planned double dome (a smaller dome placed inside a larger dome) to accommodate the 19-1/2-foot Statue of Freedom placed on top.

5. Leaning Tower of Pisa, Italy

Photo: Alkarex/Wikimedia Commons

The Pisa Cathedral’s freestanding bell tower is a stunning work of architecture and an irreplaceable piece of history. But it wasn’t supposed to lean, of course, and it wouldn’t be the iconic structure it is today without a hiccup from nature and a bit of clever thinking.

The tower took almost two centuries to build, beginning in 1173. It stood upright until builders reached the third floor (it has eight) and suddenly realized they were constructing a tower atop clay. The project was abandoned until architect Giovanni di Simone took up the cause in 1272, making the upper floors taller on one side of the tower than the other to compensate for the lean. As a result, the leaning tower - whose modern height varies between 183 and 186 feet - would look like a lopsided wedding cake if stood perfectly upright.

6. Beijing National Stadium (The Bird’s Nest), China

Photo: Peter23/Wikimedia Commons

China’s Beijing National Stadium is a site to behold: It’s a bowl crafted of grey mining steel that resembles a bird’s nest, hence its nickname. Despite an uncertain future (finding events to fill an 80,000-seat stadium now that the Olympics are long gone has proved difficult), the structure remains one of the world’s most recognizable buildings.

Swiss architecture firm Herzog & de Meuron came up with the design, which was one of 13 contenders for a stadium to serve as centrepiece for the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing. While the Bird’s Nest was always a frontrunner, some critics say this is because the other entries focused too much on the stadium’s retractable roof. For example, one imagined the roof as a series of free-flowing forms that would close over the stadium like a series of petals. Another envisioned the roof as a flower that blooms open on command.

7. Canberra, Australia

Photo: Bidgee/Wikimedia Commons

Australia’s capital city didn’t appear organically. In 1908, the Australian government chose what’s now Canberra as its capital and a few years later selected American architect Walter Burley Griffin to design it. Griffin’s design is the Canberra known today: a planned city with an artificial lake running through its centre, two principal thoroughfares, and a series of wheel-and-spoke patterns making up its other major streets, and the incorporation of existing natural elements.

But what would have happened if Griffin’s design hadn’t made the contest deadline? Finnish architect Eliel Saarinen (whose son would later design the St. Louis Gateway Arch) submitted the runner-up entry, which consisted of curved streets, a winding, artificially configured river, and nearly a dozen bridges connecting it all.

8. Central Railway Station, Helsinki

Photo: Marcela/Wikimedia Commons

Recognized today by many as one of the world’s most beautiful railway stations, Helsinki’s Central Railway Station is a Finnish Art Nouveau structure designed by Eliel Saarinen - yes, the same architect whose plans for Australia’s capital city Canberra won second place. In this case, Saarinen trumped 20 other entries for the chance to reconstruct the old station in 1904. His winning design featured numerous elements of National Romanticism, a style reminiscent of early medieval architecture used to express Scandinavian ideals. However, his entry stirred a debate among colleagues, some of whom felt that Saarinen’s proposed architecture overshadowed the building’s purpose. Saarinen eventually changed his original design into something more modern and forward-thinking: the mostly pink granite structure with its arch-shaped entry and copper-topped clock tower that still stands today.

9. Tower Bridge, London

Photo: Kashif.h/Wikimedia Commons

Tower Bridge is as synonymous with London as Big Ben or Westminster Abbey, but the Victorian Gothic masterpiece easily could have been something completely different. Architect Sir Horace Jones’s winning design for a river crossing to assist road traffic without impeding river traffic was one of 50 proposals submitted.

Jones won with the bridge that now spans the Thames River: a work of steel and stone with two Gothic towers and a bascule bridge, which splits down the middle so that both sides can be raised, allowing boats to pass beneath unencumbered. Other ideas considered? An underwater tunnel, and a towering bridge span that would sit so high it wouldn’t have to be raised at all.

10. Tribune Tower, Chicago

Photo: Stuart Seeger/Flickr

Chicago’s Tribune Tower may be an icon today, but it wasn’t everyone’s first choice in 1922, when the Chicago Tribune newspaper hosted an international design competition for what it said would be “the most beautiful and distinctive office building in the world.” The contest attracted more than 260 entries, with New York architects John Mead Howells and Raymond Hood submitting the winning design. Their 463-foot-tall neo-Gothic tower with its decorative buttresses was a little too dated for some. If the sceptics had their way, Eliel Saarinen’s second-place design - a more modernized, simplified tower that went on to influence later buildings, such as New York City’s Rockefeller Centre - would have been the one to grace the Windy City skyline.

Related Links:

[Source: Popular Mechanics. Edited.]


5 Ways to Hide From Common Surveillance Tech
By Ashley Feinberg,
Gizmodo, 20 October 2014.

We may not be in a total surveillance state yet, but thanks to the FBI's insane new facial recognition system, a 1984-esque reality doesn't seem quite so far away. Fortunately, scientists and designers alike are hard at work building counter surveillance solutions to ease (and hide) our worried minds.

Some are complex, others wildly simple, but all of them manage to stick it to Big Brother in one way or another. Here are some of the most interesting solutions to our soon-to-be surveillance problem. Tinfoil hats excluded.

1. Anti-Facial Recognition Glasses


Designed by Japan's National Institute of Informatics, these relatively(-ish?) discreet specs keep you hidden from inquiring video cameras by essentially covering your face with a curtain of near-infrared light. So even though the glow will be mostly invisible to the naked eye, the 11 LEDs can still confuse facial recognition systems by messing with the nose and eye shadows it would otherwise lock onto. Of course, not all cameras are affected by infrared, so the more dedicated tinfoil hatters amongst us will need to think bigger.

2. Urme Personal Surveillance Identity Prosthetic


If rendering the cameras ineffective doesn't do it for you, you might as well go straight the source: Your face. No, that's not a botched plastic surgery option you're looking at (although, you know, also an option), it's creator Leo Selvaggio's face in the form of a 3D-printed resin mask. So any time you do get picked up by facial tracking software, it won't technically be you they're picking up.

There is a rub: Some states have anti-mask laws that would make actually using Selvaggio's project illegal. But if you live in one of the mask-friendlier states, you're in the clear. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for Selvaggio.

3. Stealth Wear


Artist Adam Harvey seems to have come to terms with the fact that a total surveillance state may very well be in our future, and he's already designing the fashion to match. The anti-drone hoodie (as well as the matching scarf) are, as the name suggests, meant to trick the thermal imaging tech common to UAVs.
The metalized material also comes with a signal-attenuating cell phone pouch, blocking any prying ears from intercepting your data. Plus, it means no one can give you a call either. Everyone wins.

4. CV Dazzle


Another one of Adam Harvey's paranoia-soothing ventures, CV Dazzale (i.e. computer vision dazzle) takes its cues from the World War-era camo paint meant to hide ships on the open seas. In this case, though, the hair and makeup stylings turn you into something more akin to a Picasso than a warship. Black and white (the most effective colours at confusing shadows) smudges on your cheeks trick cameras into seeing too many eyes, cheekbones, etc., and hanging hair is meant to cover at least one other major facial landmark. Just don't expect to be quite as inconspicuous off camera as you are on.

5. ZXX: The Unreadable Typeface


Terrified at the thought that the NSA/hackers/absolutely anyone at all could be swiping your thoughts with text-scanning software? Then you're going to love ZXX, a free-to-download typeface meant to confuse curious computers beyond repair. The font actually comes in six different styles (Sans, Bold, Camo, False, Noise, and Xed), and each is supposed to hinder computer readability in its own special way.

Of course, any sufficiently advanced computer won't have too hard a time eventually decrypting your words, but hey - whatever helps you sleep at night.

[Source: Gizmodo. Edited.]

Monday, October 20, 2014


10 Of The World’s Deadliest Tourist Destinations
By Debra Kelly,
Listverse, 20 October 2014.

When most people go on vacation, they do it to relax. Others, however, like a little less relaxation and a little more courting death. Fortunately, there are a variety of death-defying tourist destinations scattered around the world, so no matter how you’d like to stare death in the face, you’ve got a choice.

10. Yosemite National Park’s Half Dome


In total, around 60 people have died on Half Dome and the trail leading up to it. Hiking up Half Dome takes an entire day, during which you’ll climb over 1,500 meters (5,000 ft), burn anywhere from 4,000 to 9,800 calories, and climb the last 120 meters (400 ft) nearly vertical with the assistance of metal cables. And that’s where many of the problems start to occur.

Hikers are discouraged from undertaking the climb when conditions are wet, because the combination of slippery cables and slippery rocks can be deadly - so deadly, in fact, that the bottom part of the cliff on the same side as Mirror Lake is known as the Death Slabs. Even when it’s not wet and slippery, accidents are still well documented.

In 2012, a man slipped from the cables and had to be rescued after trying to grab a radio dropped by a person above him. Deaths of 2011 include three hikers who ignored guardrails and fell into Vernal Falls, another man who slipped and fell onto the Mist Trail (ultimately swept away and killed by the same river), and a 26-year-old who slipped on the cables and fell 180 meters (600 ft).

Falls and drowning aren’t the only dangers. There are also records of hikers being struck by lightning while attempting to make the climb. The Yosemite Search and Rescue team estimates that about 60 percent of their duties involve rescuing hikers in distress. They rely not just on helicopters for rescues and preparedness for medical emergencies, but also on canine search and rescue and swiftwater rescue teams.

9. Alnwick Gardens

Photo credit: Steve F.

Because regular, non-deadly gardens lack a certain sense of adventure, Jane Percy, the Duchess of Northumberland, decided to make the gardens of Alnwick Castle something extra special. When she found herself at the head of the Alnwick household, she also inherited gardens that had long been neglected.

Originally thinking that she was going to include a section of plants known for their healing properties, she realized that wasn’t as much fun as plants that were poisonous. The result is a gated area on the grounds known as The Poison Garden, and it’s full of warnings and plants that can cause certain death. Even though visitors are a relatively safe distance from the plants and can’t actively smell or touch them, some have fainted from the toxic fumes that are released into the air.

While some of the plants have a bizarre, unsettling history - like the angel’s trumpet, which acts as an aphrodisiac before its poisonous effects kick in - other plants that the duchess has included in her garden have another meaning. She’s included plants like the coca plant and cannabis, seeing the garden as a valuable teaching tool for the schoolchildren that come through. While many of them might be bored by a trip to regular gardens, she sees her poison garden as a great way to get kids intrigued by plants and their properties.

8. Hawaii’s Volcano Tours


If you’re the type that thinks checking out an active volcano is the way to go for a vacation, you’re in luck, as you have a couple of different choices in Hawaii. Both have track records of death and the National Park Service actually temporarily shut down the bicycle tour (mentioned below) in 2007 after there were three deaths and a number of serious injuries within the space of a year.

For a fee - about US$100 - tourists are driven up to the top of an active volcano and they then ride a bicycle down. Deaths came when people lost control of their bicycles on the downgrade, but that’s not the only way taking a volcano tour can kill you. In the decade between 1992–2002, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park reported 40 deaths and 45 major injuries.

The volcanoes - including Kilauea, which has been erupting almost non-stop since 1938 - are a major tourist attraction for the islands. Called geotourism, the trend exposes people to a number of risks aside from the potentially deadly lava. Just as dangerous as the obvious lava flows are the gases that are released into the air. A number of the deaths are of park staff as well as tourists and are attributed to the presence of lava haze. The haze, which looks like a harmless white vapour cloud, is actually a deadly mix of hydrochloric acid, hydrogen sulphide, and carbon dioxide.

The gases, while deadly on their own, can also increase the problems caused by asthma and heart conditions. Add in the scalding ocean water, the potential for flying rocks, and a chronic lack of preparation on the part of hikers, and the potential for death - or at least serious complications - from checking out Hawaii’s volcanoes is high.

7. Skellig Michael

Photo credit: mym

Skellig Michael most recently made the news as one of the filming locations for Star Wars, but it’s been a beautiful, remote, and integral part of Irish culture for centuries. The site of a monastic settlement, it was chosen by the monks because of its inaccessibility and difficult terrain, something that hasn’t changed since its establishment sometime between the sixth and eighth centuries. It is now a World Heritage site.

Visit Greater Skellig’s website and you will be greeted with a safety video for visitors. It stresses that there are 600 ancient steps that wind their way up the side of the mountain, and there are absolutely no safety features whatsoever. There’s also no food or water, visitor centres, toilets, or shelter.

Getting to the island means an hour-long boat ride across potentially troublesome open ocean, and it’s not uncommon for landing on the island to become impossible because of high waves and choppy water. The area is particularly prone to falling rocks, but that’s not the only problem. The stone stairs, more than 1,000 years old, are rough, uneven, and meandering.

Two deaths only months apart in 2009 sparked a review of the safety conditions on the island. It was determined that the addition of railings would not only destroy the natural beauty and authenticity of the site, but also, according to the Irish Office of Public Works, the presence of a railing would do nothing but lure people into becoming complacent with “a false sense of security.”

In spite of public outcry, the only real safety measures taken include signage and a handout that specifies the dangers of slippery, wet stairs, falling rocks, a steep climb, and a reminder to be courteous to others sharing the potentially deadly pathway with you.

6. Praia De Boa Viagem

Photo credit: Juniorpetjua

Wide, sandy beaches, breathtaking sunsets, perfect weather, close proximity to urban nightlife, and warm, clear, ocean waters. Sounds like the perfect vacation, right? Possibly, if it wasn’t for the sharks. Praia de Boa Viagem has long been one of Brazil’s premiere destination spots for tourists from all over the world, but since 1992, the picturesque beach has been plagued by shark attacks.

Between 1992 and 2012, there were 56 shark attacks at the beach. You might say, “Sure, but that’s still less than Australia!” But people have a better chance of walking away from a shark attack in Australia than they do at Praia de Boa Viagem. There, one-third of all attacks end in fatality. The sharks in question are bull sharks, problematic because they tend to like the shallow, coastal waters that they end up sharing with swimmers and surfers - and they’re not really the ones at fault.

Porto Suape was built on breeding grounds for the sharks. When it opened in 1984, it also sealed off several estuaries that were once used by female sharks as a safe, sheltered place to bear their young. Tiger sharks are also thought to be a huge part of the problem, though less proof has been found of their attacks than of bull sharks.

They’re attracted to the area for a different reason - they also prefer coastal areas, but that’s because they have a tendency to follow ships and eat the garbage that gets thrown overboard. When they run into tourists paddling around in the shallows, that’s an even better meal. And although there are a number of lifeguards patrolling the beach, they don’t always recognize that there’s a problem developing in waist-high water until it’s too late.

5. The Colorado River System


White-water rafting can be fun for the whole family, but the Colorado River system has been plagued with accidents, injuries, and fatalities. In 2014, part of the problem has been due in large part to an increase in the melting snowpack from higher up in Colorado’s mountain ranges. Heavy rains can potentially add to the problem, but according to the Colorado Parks and Wildlife department, it’s the huge increase in melting snows that’s pushing them to issue high-water advisories for areas throughout the river system.

In 2007, the river system saw 12 fatalities and 176 serious injuries, and according to the state’s Division of Boating and Waterways, part of the problem is not just inexperience and neglect when it comes to wearing the proper safety equipment, but the atmosphere and attitude that goes along with boating and rafting on the river system.

Alcohol figures heavily into many accidents on the rivers, and with their Class V rapids, faster-than-usual currents, and high-running waters, it all adds up to making 2014 one of the deadliest years ever on the river system. During the first seven months of 2014, 15 deaths occurred on the waterways, tying the record high from 2009.

4. The Beaches Of Acapulco


Acapulco is a name that’s been synonymous with one of the most relaxing, luxurious vacation spots that Americans can easily get to. Beaches, nice weather, huge city blocks built with the comfort of tourists in mind - unfortunately, those city blocks are in a city that has a crime rate that’s almost 30 times higher than the American average.

As recently as 2013, the murder rate was 142 per 100,000 citizens, and even though the city is quick to point out that it’s mostly drug-related and not tourist-centric at all, 200 murders in January and February of 2013 alone isn’t a great track record. There’s also no public information that details just where there’s the highest concentration of law enforcement patrols, or just where the murders happen.

In spite of assurances, stories still pepper the press with some pretty dark happenings on the beachfront paradise - including an incident in 2013 which saw the rape of six women on vacation. Afterward, Acapulco’s mayor stated that “it happens anywhere in the world,” which is a pretty cold statement to make - anywhere in the world.

According to the US Department of State’s Mexico Travel Warning, they recommend that if you do go to Acapulco, stay in specially designated tourist areas, plan rest stops carefully, make sure you have enough fuel to get you through the shady areas outside the tourist spots (if you absolutely need to travel through them), and travel by air when possible. In fact, when it comes to booking a place to stay for its employees, the US government will only book between the Hotel Avalon Excalibur Acapulco and Puerto Marquez, and it also forbids leaving the hotel after the Sun goes down.

3. Cliffs Of Moher


The Cliffs of Moher have one of the most breathtaking views in Ireland, looking out over the rough Atlantic Ocean. Its rugged beauty is unobstructed by things such as safety rails, but the potential dangers are much greater than that. Not far from the parking lot is the Cliffs of Moher Visitor Centre, with their paved walkways, regular stone steps, and waist-high stone walls covered with signs warning people to stay off the walls.

But the walking trail extends out along the top of the cliffs, where it becomes something much more deadly. High, unpredictable winds, relentless and equally unpredictable rains coupled with steep sections of the path, loose gravel, and smooth stone mean that it’s not your normal walk in the park.

In 2006, one woman was walking along the top of the cliffs when winds swept her to her death at the bottom, while other deaths happen quite on purpose. In 2007, a 26-year-old mother took her four-year-old son with her when she jumped off the 180 meter (600 ft) cliff. This led to discussions over the implementation of policies directed not only toward warning people of the dangers of the site, but also putting plans in place to help those who go to the cliffs with intentions of jumping. And 2010 brought the focus onto the natural dangers presented by the cliffs, when a huge chunk of an upper ledge fell into the ocean.

2. El Caminito Del Rey

Photo credit: Gabirulo

The Caminito del Rey is so named because the now-deadly path was once walked by Spain’s King Alfonso XIII, shortly after its installation between two power plants in the Gaitanes Gorge. The man-made pathway is only about 1 meter (3 ft) wide (in the places that it still exists) and runs along a sheer cliff face about 100 meters (330 ft) tall. It’s technically closed to the public - and has been since five deaths between 1999–2000 - but that doesn’t stop countless people from making the hike every year.

The pathway has fallen into disrepair over the years - and that’s something of an understatement. In many places, all that remains of the pathway are rusted metal rails, leaving the most daring no choice but to look straight down at the rocks below rather than at a nice, secure, wooden path. Many of the support beams are rusted through, and in some places, there’s no choice but to climb - carefully - along the side of the mountain.

Even where the path remains, holes are common, and even without a fear of heights, the view is dizzying. Although it’s technically illegal to walk there and trespassers face a hefty fine, it’s remained a popular destination - so popular that money is being sunk into extensive repairs, with the hopes that when the walkway reopens, it’s not only still popular but much, much safer.

1. The Kokoda And Black Cat Trails

Photo credit: Luke Brindley

The Kokoda Trail is nearly 100 kilometres (60 mi) of hot, humid, treacherous, leech-infested territory running between the northern and southern coasts of Papua New Guinea. Its rainforests have exotic animals, jungles, clean water, and villages of native peoples who have lived off the land for generations. It is also the site of numerous World War II battles, fought between the Australians and the Japanese.

And every year, thousands of visitors make the trek, amid the threat of everything from trench foot to death. Walking the entire trail means six 10-hour days of walking, climbing, and swimming. Everything you need, you have to carry with you. Mountains make the miles seem even longer, and all the while you’re swatting mosquitoes that may or may not be carrying malaria. Walkers are escorted by guides, and along the way, many learn about the stories of the soldiers who fought and died in the old foxholes and amid the abandoned machinery. Dehydration, broken bones, and illness are the biggest threats, but there are others.

In September 2013, a group hiking the neighbouring Black Cat Trail was attacked by a group of locals made up of villagers and escaped convicts. Two porters died after the machete attacks, and seven others were severely wounded - including one Australian who took a spear in the leg. Passports and personal belongings were stolen, and the whole thing was thought to be spurred by an on-going battle between local tribes and villages - a battle to capitalize on the lucrative tourist trade acting as guides to those who come to walk the trails.

Top image: El Caminito Del Rey. Credit: Javier M. de Lucas Cruz/Wikimedia Commons.

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


7 Genius Hacks Improving Lives in Poor Countries
By Jessica Dollin,
Take Part, 30 September 2014.

New ideas to spread what we consider basic to the less advantaged.

1. Gravity-Suspended Lamp


Kerosene lamps, widely used in developing countries, present dangers such as severe burns, eye infections and cataracts, and deadly fumes - inhaling kerosene fumes is the equivalent of smoking two packs of cigarettes a day, causing more than 1.5 million premature deaths among African women and children each year, according to the World Bank. The cost of fuel can swallow 10- to 20 percent of people’s incomes in developing countries. A single kerosene lamp used for four hours every day emits 100 kg of carbon dioxide per year. The GravityLight, a low-cost ambient light, could become a new standard light source in areas not connected to the electric grid. It works by harnessing the energy in low levels of gravity. Two bags filled with dirt or rocks weigh down the light. The tension generates enough kinetic energy to power the light for 28 minutes. GravityLights hit the market in 2015 and will cost US$10.

2. Dumbphone Hardware, Smartphone Software


Smartphones are not widespread in developing countries. FrontlineSMSCloud allows users of older-model phones to send and receive SMS messages and data from anywhere in the world. The open-source software enables instant communication by connecting software installed on a computer to a mobile phone. Even with limited service, Frontline modules have been used to build systems that keep patient records at hospitals, and to connect people after natural disasters.

3. Mosquito Death Ray


Although insecticides and bed nets are effective at reducing malaria transmission, more sophisticated technology might have the power to zap it entirely. The malaria parasite is transmitted through mosquitos, so limiting the insects’ contact with humans is crucial to stopping the spread of the deadly disease. The Photonic Fence, developed by Intellectual Ventures, creates a force field that kills mosquitos carrying the parasite before they can bite humans. The fences can protect large areas when set around the perimeter of villages, buildings, schools, and fields. The technology is still in the early stages; Intellectual Ventures is working on adapting it for implementation, although it won’t be available commercially.

4. Khan Academy for Farmers


Knowledge sharing might be the key to bridging the gap between farmers and their peers in places such as India and the rest of South Asia. Outsiders are often not trusted for agricultural advice, so Digital Green came up with a platform for farmers to create and upload informational videos for information exchange about best practices. By partnering with local NGOs, Digital Green distributes battery-operated cameras and pico projectors to farmers. They shoot their own videos and share them with other farmers. The response has been positive among both those making and those watching the videos, according to founder Rikin Gandhi.

5. Exposing Counterfeit Drugs


Nearly 2,000 people die annually from substandard or bogus medicines - a US$700 billion-a-year market. Using mobile technology, mPedigree detects fake drugs by allowing users to text a 12-digit code printed on the back of prescription labels to a designated phone number. Patients receive a response verifying whether or not the medication is fake, benefiting both consumers and manufacturers. The free-to-use mPedrigree system ensures that security codes cannot be duplicated and is available in Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, and India.

6. Spinning Electronics Into Gold


Only 13 percent of the world’s fastest-growing waste stream, electronic waste, is recycled. This causes particularly grim effects in places like Guiyu, China, that receive much of this waste: More than 88 percent of the population there suffers from neurological or physiological orders linked to materials in e-waste. BlueOak Resources, a Bay Area–based start-up, is trying to help countries such as China mine valuable metals such as gold, silver, and copper from e-scraps. One ton of circuit boards contains from 40 to 800 times the amount of gold that’s in the same amount of mined gold ore, providing communities with income that can be reinvested to fight illegal dumping or for education and medical treatment.

7. Solar-Powered Charging Kiosk on Wheels


The ARED (Africa Renewable Energy Distributor) Mobile Solar Kiosk enables owners of the kiosk to sell mobile phone charges, money transfers, and mobile phone and electronic airtime, powered by renewable energy. Up to 10 people can power up their phones at the same time using the kiosk, which is equipped with photovoltaic panels providing the electricity. Henri Nyakarundi, a native Rwandan now living in Atlanta, invented it; eventually a Wi-Fi hotspot location will be added on.

Top image: Illustration of Photonic Fence. Credit: Intellectual Ventures.

[Source: Take Part. Edited. Top image and links added.]


10 Seemingly Impossible Things Made Possible By Science
By Himanshu Sharma,
Listverse, 20 October 2014.

We know science does amazing things all the time, but as we move into the future, scientific achievement is starting to border on magic. Science is constantly trying to do the impossible and is definitely succeeding at it, too.

10. Teleportation


Humanity has been searching for a method of true teleportation for a long time, but it’s always felt like asking too much of science. And then science went ahead and proved it was possible. We’ve explained the phenomenon of quantum entanglement before. Researchers from Delft University of Technology were able to teleport information across the room and prove the quantum entanglement theory in practice.

They isolated a pair of electrons in two diamonds at a distance from each other. According to theoretical entanglement, changes to the spin in one should have resulted in the second one changing its spin accordingly. That is exactly what happened - the change in one diamond affected the other over a distance of 10 meters (32 ft). The experiment worked 100 percent of the time. The researchers are now working on increasing the distance, which should still work if the theory is correct. If experiments over larger distances are successful, we will very soon be able to securely teleport information through quantum particles without any vulnerable pathways in between.

9. Tying Light In Knots


According to everything we know, light is supposed to move in straight lines. Apparently, someone wanted to change that. Scientists from the Universities of Glasgow, Bristol, and Southampton were the first ones to tie light into knots, something that was only thought of as an abstract mathematical concept before. These knots were created using holograms, which directed the flow of light around areas of darkness using knot theory, a branch of math inspired by knots in real life.

One of the lead researchers explains light as a river that can go straight as well as in whirlpools. The holograms were specially constructed and controlled by computers. Apparently, you can also bend your own light beam into a knot if you have their hologram. The findings go a long way in demonstrating that the future of optics will be anything but boring.

8. Objects That Evolve Themselves

There’s still some time before everyone starts using 3-D printing technology, but science’s eyes are already fixed on the next step: 4-D printing. While it may sound too complex to most of us, the fourth dimension is time, which means that the next generation of printers won’t just be able to print anything you want, but the printed objects will also be able to change and adapt on their own. Researchers have already unveiled a 4-D printer capable of producing strands of materials that can fold themselves into simple shapes like cubes over time. That may not sound like much, but it has the potential to change science forever.

We will soon be able to manufacture machines that can reach inaccessible areas - deep wells, for example - to carry out maintenance. Medical operations could be independently carried out by machines made with these materials. These machines are essentially robots that are printed rather than manufactured. Water pipes would be able sense what to do during an overflow on their own. Since 4-D printing essentially enables us to make materials that can transform themselves in any way we like, the possibilities are endless. It’s safe to say that it’s going to take some time to move on to printing bigger objects that can evolve themselves in more complex ways. But looking at how quickly 3-D technology has caught on, it probably won’t take too long.

7. Black Holes In Labs


Black holes have been a staple of popular fiction for a long time, yet making an artificial one has never been possible. At least not until researchers from Southeast University of Nanjing, China figured out a way to approximately mimic a black hole in the lab. They created a circuit with a kind of material used to change the passage of electromagnetic waves. It is similar to the material used to attain invisibility, but instead of altering light, this setup is done with microwaves. These “meta-materials” absorb electromagnetic radiation and convert it to heat in a manner similar to a black hole.

This has a number of useful applications, particularly in energy production. One of the things science needs to figure out is how to replicate this success using light, because the wavelength of light is much smaller than that of a microwave. Nonetheless, this is the first time a black hole has been emulated in controlled conditions. It may only be a matter of time before black holes are a part of our day-to-day lives.

6. Stopping Light In Its Tracks

Einstein was the first one to realize that nothing can go faster than the speed of light, but he didn’t really say anything about making light go slower. In an experiment conducted at Harvard University, scientists were able to slow down light to about 20 kilometres per hour (12.4 mph). As if that wasn’t enough, they went ahead to bring it to a complete stop. The scientists used a supercooled material known as the “Bose-Einstein condensate” to achieve this. The condensate is produced at temperatures of just some billionth of a degree hotter than absolute zero, so that atoms have the least amount of energy to function. Keep in mind that absolute zero is an abstract concept that can’t actually be reached. This is probably the closest we’ve ever come to it.

While scientists have previously slowed light down to as little as 61 kilometres per hour (38 mph), this was the first time it has been brought to a complete halt. The light particle even left a hologram where it had stopped, for once looking like stable matter instead of the traveling wave that it usually is. Because it’s more constant in that form, the halted particle of light can even be put on a shelf, for example. What’s more, now that people have proven that light can be stopped, some researchers are even working on reversing its direction.

5. Producing Antimatter In The Lab

Antimatter is possibly the answer to all our future energy needs. Yet, for all their efforts, scientists have not been able to find as much of it in the universe as matter, which happens to be a big mystery in itself. While this particular mystery may not be getting solved for a while, scientists have been able to successfully create and keep antimatter in the lab. A super team of scientists from different countries, known as ALPHA, has previously discovered a method of keeping antimatter for a fraction of a second.

Even though its production has been around for about a decade now, trapping antimatter has always proven to be impossible, since everything we know is made of matter, and antimatter just sort of burns up as soon as it comes into contact with it. Now, scientists from CERN have found a way to store antimatter for a longer period of time inside a strong magnetic field, but one of the problems is that this field interferes with measurements and doesn’t let us study the antimatter properly. Nonetheless, it won’t be wrong to assume that matter/antimatter reactors may possibly be our backup once the world runs out of natural fuel.

4. Telepathy

We have previously shown you how science has found a way to connect a human’s brain to that of a rat and remotely command it to move its tail. While that was no ordinary feat, it seems science has now one-upped itself. In an experiment conducted by a scientist from Duke University with the help of scientists in the International Institute for Neuroscience of Natal, Brazil, two rats thousands of miles apart were made to telepathically communicate with each other, paving the way for similar technology for humans in the near future.

The rats were connected via brain implants, and one of them was made to choose one of two levers, depending on which coloured light bulb was lit. The other rat couldn’t see the bulb but pressed the right lever nonetheless, acting on electric impulses from the brain of the other rat. The follower rat didn’t really know that it was acting on another rat’s brain impulses, only that it got rewarded for doing so.

The scientists believe that not only can this experiment be replicated with humans but that we’ll also be able to interpret the signals more efficiently than with rats. They sound confident that a human-scale telepathy mechanism won’t be too difficult to achieve and that commands from senses like vision and touch could also be transferred to other humans or machines.

3. Crossing The Speed Of Light


It is a seemingly well-known fact that the speed of light cannot be breached in our universe, but that has been outright proven wrong by researchers from NEC Research Institute in Princeton, US. They passed a laser beam through a chamber of specially prepared gas and clocked its time. As it turned out, the beam was observed to be 300 times faster than the speed of light. Incredibly, the beam exited the chamber before it had entered it, which appears to violate the law of cause and effect as theorized by Einstein. It is like seeing the TV turn on before you press the switch on your remote. But then again, as the researchers explain, that law is not technically being broken, as the beam of the future has no means to affect the conditions in the past, which proves that Einstein wasn’t wrong, after all. Wrong or not, the experiment still managed to prove that the light speed barrier can in fact be broken and that effect can precede cause.

2. Hiding Things From Time Itself

We have previously talked about how far science has come in its quest for discovering true invisibility, but as if that wasn’t enough, scientists have already taken the next leap and figured out how to hide things from time itself. Researchers from Cornell University have made a device which splits a light beam into two components, transports it through a medium, and puts it back together at the other end with the help of a time lens, without any record of what happened in that duration. The lens slows down the faster part of the beam and speeds up the slower one, creating a temporary vacuum in time that hides the events during transmission.

So where we would have gotten a combined wave full of interference, this device skips whatever happens on the way and hides it from time itself. As of now, the event can only be hidden for an extremely short interval, but it’s only a matter of time before someone figures out how to do it for a longer period. Temporal cloaking has useful applications in a lot of fields, primarily in secure data transfer.

1. Objects Doing Two Things At The Same Time

We have countless theories on how particles on the quantum level do the impossible, but it wasn’t until scientists from UC Santa Barbara made an actual quantum machine that we were able to witness this in the real world. The scientists cooled a really tiny piece of metal to the lowest temperature it can have, also known as its “ground state.” When they applied it to the quantum circuit and plucked it like a string, what they noticed was that it moved and didn’t move at the same time, which was only theoretically possible until that point.

If it doesn’t sound amazing, just think of it as an experiment wherein a man is found to be relaxing at home and backpacking across Europe at the same time, albeit on a much smaller scale. The discovery has enormous consequences for science, because quantum mechanics may have the means to fulfill our wildest dreams. Science magazine called it the most important scientific advance of 2010. Some people even went on to quote the experiment as proof of multiverses, but the community is divided on whether that leap could be made, since we are still some way away from replicating the results on a larger scale. Still, the discovery proves that quantum science works and that maybe, just maybe, being in two places at the same time and hopping between universes for fun is a reality not too far away in the future.

Top image: The quantum machine. Credit: Erik Lucero/Wikimedia Commons.

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