Saturday, 30 November 2013


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10 Techs For Happier Holiday Travel: Photos
By Alyssa Danigelis,
Discovery News, 26 November 2013.

Don't Stress

Flight delays, bad weather, traffic jams and frazzled nerves: Welcome to holiday travel. Sadly there is no app guaranteed to lull screaming babies on a plane or a teleportation device to prevent waiting in endless lines on the ground. But there is tech that could help prevent headaches en route to holiday destinations. This subjective list was gleaned from frequent travellers who used this tech to find some relief in the rush.

1. Portable Backup Power

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No need to search for an outlet at the airport.

Nabbing an electrical outlet in an airport on a normal day can feel like finding Waldo. Skip it with backup power. One frequent traveller swears by the ZAGGsparq 6000, a portable power source for USB-charged mobile devices. It contains a lithium polymer battery that provides up to four charges, depending on the device. When you do find an outlet, the ZAGGsparq doubles as a wall charger for multiple devices. Other options: the Mophie Powerstation Pro and the IOGEAR GearPower High Capacity Portable Battery.

2. Kickstand Case

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Prop up your media.

If you're packing extra light and want distraction during a long layover or flight, you might find yourself relying on a smartphone. Sleek smartphone cases that come equipped with their own little stands allow you to watch a show or movie without having to hold it in your hand or prop it up against an empty food container. Seido makes a Surface smartphone case with an unobtrusive metal kickstand, but there are numerous options out there.

3. Tablet Keyboard Case

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A bluetooth keyboard that doubles as a cover makes everything easier.

Seat space is crunched enough as it is so why not give your hands a break, too. Whether drafting the annual holiday letter to family and friends or working on that novel, a keyboard is easier than composing on a tiny screen. Sharkk makes highly rated wireless backlit keyboards for tablets, including Apple, Windows and Android devices. But Sharkk isn't the only fish in the sea. Several other electronics companies make helpful Bluetooth keyboard cases, including Anker and Zagg.

4. Rest Area Locator

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Locate a rest stop lickety-split.

When you've gotta go, you've gotta go. Avoid having to take a whiz in the woods by using a rest area locator app. The Google play app USA Rest Stop Locator by Innovative Software Technology will help users find the nearest rest stops, welcome centres and service plazas along U.S. Interstates and highways. Browse by state, highway or an exact map location. For iPhones the free Rest Area Locator Lite by O Mecha Online gets positive reviews, including one that called it "indispensable when traveling with kids."

5. Avoid Traffic Jams

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Real-time traffic apps let you avoid congestion.

Millions of people already use the free navigation app Waze on Apple and Android phones. Pronounced "ways," the app draws from an enormous amount of community-based traffic info to provide real-time driving directions. The app can help you reroute mid-trip to avoid jams. If navigating holiday traffic still makes you stressed, Waze recently added an option to get comedian Kevin Hart's voice directions. Maybe you can laugh through your tears.

6. Noise Cancelling Headphones

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Block out crying babies, loud phone conversations and cheesy holiday music.

When there's a screaming baby on the plane, don't risk hearing loss by cranking up music in a pair of disposable headphones. Come prepared with noise-cancelling ones. Usually noise cancelling is synonymous with giant headphones that take up as much room as two old-school Discmen, but the Bose QuietComfort 20i headphones are essentially high-tech, highly packable ear buds. For budget-conscious travellers, Sony sells decent noise-cancelling ear buds at a fraction of the price.

7. USB-Heated Gloves

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Keep the digits warm.

Handling metal devices while in transit can leave travellers' digits ice cold. Add some unwelcome drafts and even the funniest YouTube videos aren't going to warm your hands. This has turned into a known problem because, much like touchscreen compatible winter gloves, there's now a proliferation of USB-heated gloves sold on Sadly for those with poor circulation, the options for USB-heated socks aren't as good.

8. Luggage Tracker

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Locate your lost luggage, fast!

There's that sinking moment at the baggage carousel when you realize yours didn't make it. Better GPS and tracking tech makes it easier for baggage handlers to get suitcases back to their rightful owners. While no tech can prevent luggage from getting lost or stolen, travellers have had some success using traceable tags. Each kind on the market has limitations, though, so check details and reviews before buying. In the United States, Dynotag and Soren make Web and GPS-enabled smart luggage tags that can be customized to only display certain contact info. And if you're just trying to find your bag on the carousel, there are remote-controlled luggage locators that beep and flash when the remote is less than 60 feet away.

9. Home Monitor

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Keep an eye on your home when you're away.

There are so many things we can't control: weather, traffic, flight cancelations. But knowing that all is well at home can bring great peace of mind. An array of tech now makes it easier to keep an eye on your home remotely. Dropcam's wireless camera has a a 107-degree field of view, and includes motion and sound alerts. Y-cam Solutions' HomeMonitor lets you see live views from in-home cameras, including infrared at night. Cloud-based monitoring abounds, and might be that rare case when a serious cloud overhead is actually helpful.

10. Transport Fragile Souvenirs

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A padded, zip-sealed bag protects breakable items.

How many times have you wanted to pack a bottle of liquid, but decided against it for fear that it would shatter inside your luggage? Lightweight JetBags are padded, absorbent bags that protect the bottle and your clothes. Use it for just about any liquid, including perfume, olive oil or beverage. JetBag also makes bags that protect electronic devices and cigars.

[Source: Discovery News. Edited.]


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5 Awesome Kitchen Tech Upgrades for Connected Cooking
By Mike Payne,
Life Scoop, 22 November 2013.

Since the days of the first recorded recipe, there has been no greater cookbook than the Internet at large. From food blogs to recipe sites and all the cooking videos you can consume, the Internet has revolutionized the way we prepare our food and learn about the process. However, you can’t use this resource without access, and these kitchen-optimized gadgets are the best way to interact with the virtual kitchen online. These are my five favourites, from kitchen-focused tablets to Android-powered appliances.

1. iGrill Bluetooth Meat Thermometer

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This iGrill wireless digital thermometer keeps track of your dinner’s internal temperature. It can sync to your smartphone or tablet to give you wireless updates on the temperature of your meat. Fear not - while you’re entertaining your guests, your meat will not be burned.

2. Google Glass with Kitchme

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One issue hampering the kitchen computer experience is the wear and tear that gadgets receive in the kitchen. If it isn’t a boiling sauce spilling onto its keyboard, its a nick or two from a nearby knife. However, Google Glass promises to take that out of the equation by offering a hands-free cooking experience. The Kitchme app, as covered in our exploration of 5 revolutionary Google Glass Apps of the future, features heads-up display and voice commands for recipe navigation. “Glass, show me how to make beef bourguignon” - and you’re cooking.

3. Samsung Refrigerator with LCD Display and Apps

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Beyond these next-gen mobile devices, new connected technologies are working their way into old kitchen appliances. Take this new Samsung refrigerator, for example, which features an 8-inch LCD Display that comes loaded with kitchen-related apps. Recipe ideas (and weather, calendars and more) are ever-present on the front of your refrigerator, just waiting for a quick glance while you prepare your meal.

4. Lenovo IdeaPad Yoga UltrabookTM

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If you’d like the power of a full-fledged Ultrabook in your cooking environment, you really can’t beat one as flexible as this. The Lenovo Ideapad Yoga Ultrabook has a swivel-style display section that can be arranged in a variety of settings, including a simple a-frame tablet layout. Just tap, type and swype between recipes as you would on a tablet, but with the full power of Intel’s Core i7 processors. After all, cooking has always been about multi-tasking, so it’s important for your kitchen computer to keep up.


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The QOOQ app is a dedicated kitchen app packed with recipes and custom-created cooking videos and tutorials in several languages. It’s available direct from QOOQ’s website and can stream to your computer, tablet or phone. And expect demand to be high - QOOQ was voted as one of Oprah’s “favourite things of 2013.”

[Source: Life Scoop via The Coolist. Edited.]


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10 Incredible Advances In Biomimicry
By Andrew Handley,
Listverse, 30 November 2013.

Biomimetics is the science of looking to nature for answers to our technological problems. You use biomimetic technologies every single day. Velcro, for example, was invented after George de Mestral noticed how burrs used tiny hooks to stick to his dog’s fur. And while Velcro is too commonplace to blow anybody’s mind, in recent years, we’ve used the exact same process to build technologies that are nothing short of incredible.

10. UltraCane

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In nature, ultrasound is most famously used by bats to find prey. The science behind it’s pretty simple: You shoot out a sound wave and record the amount of time it takes for the echo to return after bouncing off something. If you know how fast the sonic wave is traveling, you can measure how far away the obstacle is. Bats do it naturally. Humans don’t.

So researchers at the University of Leeds in the UK looked to bats for inspiration to build an ultrasonic cane for blind people. The idea was simple enough, but what they didn’t foresee was the way the human brain became so receptive to the new sense. The cane works by sending out ultrasonic signals, measuring the response time of the echoes, and converting that data into vibrations in the handle of the cane. As an object gets closer, the vibrations get stronger.

When the cane was tested, they found that the brains of the test subjects readily accepted the input and began building a new type of spatial awareness based solely on vibrations coming in through their palms. Over time, they stopped consciously feeling the vibrations and built an instant mental map of their surroundings - their minds cut out the middle man in favour of a more efficient interpretation of the sensation.

9. Swarm Robotics

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Harvard isn’t the only research organization intent on giving robots the ability to communicate and learn from each other. The New Jersey Institute of Technology is also developing a swarm of robots with a hive mentality, and they’ve already succeeded. Modelled after the colony behaviour of ants, a robot is able to pick up on the decisions of the other robots and follow their behaviour - without any programming.

The robots themselves don’t look like ants - more like futuristic ice cubes - but each one has two light sensors that act like an ant’s antennae picking up a trail of pheromones. Individually stupid, the robots can only move forward and sense light. Each robot was being tracked by a projector that left spots of light along their path, sort of like a trail of breadcrumbs, and each time a robot stumbled across another robot’s path, the lights got brighter.

At the beginning of the experiment, all the robots were moving randomly and chaotically. At the end, they converged into a train following a single path. Like ants, they don’t make a “choice” when they do something different; it’s all based on a core program that tells them to follow a specific signal. With ants, that signal is a pheromone trail left by other ants. With swarm robots, it’s light.

8. Self-Cleaning Paint

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Not all advances in biomimicry have to do with robots. In fact, the majority don’t; robots are just more interesting to talk about. That said, one of the most interesting biomimetic inventions in recent years is a paint that’s modelled after the leaves of the lotus flower.

Lotus leaves may look smooth, but at the microscopic level, they’re covered in millions of tiny spikes. The spikes repel dirt and water by minimizing the surface area of the leaf - water just rolls off because there’s not enough contact to build an attraction. With that as a model, a German company developed a paint that uses a complex microstructure on the outside to prevent things from sticking to the paint. Under a microscope, the dried paint looks like a surreal landscape covered with sculptures.

Dirt particles can still get caught on the protrusions, but the smallest splash of water will dislodge them. In other words, the paint is essentially self-cleaning. And like the lotus leaves, water itself slides right off. NASA is also using the lotus idea to build a coating for spacesuits and rovers to prevent bacteria from hitchhiking into space.

7. Multifaceted Cameras

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If you had a microscope, a lot of time, and a lazy fly, you could count all the individual facets in the eye of a housefly. There are about 28,000 - each with its own lens and light-sensing nerve. Compound eyes are one of the marvels of nature: They allow insects to see up to 180 degrees around them and offer a sense of depth that humans can only dream about.

Using that idea, researchers at the University of Illinois built a multifaceted camera that consists of 180 lenses, each connected to an individual photo detector. The array was built onto a flexible rubber mat which was then curved into a hemispherical shape. The input from all the lenses is combined into a single image, so you’re looking at a regular picture as opposed to, say, a bank of monitors. And the whole thing - lenses and electronics included - is only a centimetre (.4 in) in diameter.

The team’s goal is to use the cameras for aerial surveillance on robotic drones. But even a stationary camera would be a massive improvement over current cameras. Put two of these “bug eyes” back to back, and you have a 360 degree view. Currently, they’re working on a new model that doubles the number of lenses.

6. Shark Skin Coatings

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When Michael Phelps won six gold medals in the 2004 Olympics, he was wearing a swimsuit called Fastskin, developed by Speedo. Fastskin is covered in tiny bumps that emulate the skin of a shark. Even though the swimsuits have been simultaneously banned and declared ineffective, the idea of using shark skin as a model for hi-tech materials is far from dead.

A shark’s skin is covered in a layer of overlapping pieces called denticles. They look like microscopic teeth and point toward the back of the shark. When a shark swims, the leading edges of the denticles create micro vortices that essentially pull the shark forward, allowing it to swim faster. And due to the way they flex, other organisms - like algae and barnacles - can’t grab onto it. That’s why whales are often found encrusted with barnacles, but sharks never are.

The US Navy is researching applications to use shark skin-inspired coatings on the outside of their submarines, which would both make them faster and prevent mussels and barnacles from piling up on their hulls, the clean-up of which is a US$50 million-per-year job. Hospitals are also getting in on the game: A material known as Sharklet is already being used on door handles in California’s hospitals to stop pathogens like E. coli from forming colonies. The best part is, since it’s not a chemical repellent, there’s no way for bacteria to build a resistance.


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The search for new ways to experience the world has always been rooted in the animal world. By building a robot that looks and acts like a rat, the scientists at the University of Sheffield have delved into a means of sensing that humans will never experience: whiskers. Dubbed SCRATCHBot, the robot’s sole purpose is to act as a vehicle for state-of-the-art synthetic whiskers - and a brain that can interpret the data and put it to use.

Since rats are mostly nocturnal, they often use their whiskers to navigate more than their eyesight. In recreating a set of functional whiskers, the researchers used fiberglass rods that contained Hall effect sensors (sensors that measure differences in voltage based on a current and a magnetic field). Small magnets in the whiskers provide the magnetic field, and when the whiskers brush against something, the sensors catch the voltage change from the movement of the magnets. This allows the SCRATCHBot to “see” objects through the whiskers.

The “brain” of the rat is a PC-based neural model that receives information from the whiskers, processes it, and sends a command to the legs (turn left, turn right, etc.). The entire design is based on an incredibly stupid rat - it has no high level cortex, but can still operate basic motor functions.

4. Organic Solar Cells

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Dye-sensitized solar cells are a type of solar cell that use a special form of dye to capture solar energy. When sunlight hits the dye, it’s molecules react and produce electricity. These solar cells are cheaper than their silicon counterparts, but they have one problem: The dye tends to break down after a short amount of time, essentially leaving you with a useless square of plastic.

But the mechanism of the dye isn’t much different from what you find in natural photosynthesis when a plant converts sunlight into energy. So researchers at North Carolina State University started looking at houseplants to see what made them different. The result was a solar cell with an internal vascular system that cycles dye through a branched network of veins. When the dye degrades to the point that it’s no longer producing any electricity, it’s cycled out and replaced with a fresh stream of dye, like a plant delivering nutrients to its leaves.

3. The T8 SpiderBot

If spiders are the stuff from which nightmares are born, the T8 Octopod Robot is a nightmare with a price tag. Roboticists have been trying for years to mimic the architecture of a spider. With eight legs, you get an unprecedented level of stability, which is perfect for search-and-rescue robots in disaster areas. And while we’ve had other versions of spiderlike robots, it’s always been difficult to design one with enough internal control for all eight legs to move in unison, while still retaining the ability to move separately when needed.

The T8 Octopod Robot uses a unique movement engine designed specifically to overcome that obstacle. It’s remote-controlled, and with a simple command the on-board processor will calculate leg trajectory, motor control, and inverse kinematics to coordinate its 26 individual motors. The result is almost too life-like.

2. Self-Healing Circuits

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Integrated circuit chips are used in virtually every electronic device created today, and despite their small size, most chips have millions of transistors spread across a surface no wider than the head of a nail. If one tiny piece breaks, the entire thing becomes useless. But what if your cell phone or your computer could repair itself like an immune system fighting off an infection? That might be a very real possibility in the near future.

Engineers at the California Institute of Technology have created what they call “indestructible circuits.” To demonstrate, they stuck one under a microscope, melted it with a laser, and watched it figure out a way to keep working. The chips are microscopic; it would take about 75 to cover the face of a penny. In addition to all the circuitry needed for the chip’s main purpose, each chip also contains a variety of sensors and an on-board central processor that detects damage and figures out the most efficient way to get everything back up and running again.

They’ve tested dozens of chips outfitted with the self-healing capability, and no matter what part of the chip is destroyed, it always finds a way to reroute the circuit’s processes in less than a second. And it’s not pre-programmed for any specific threats, like the body’s immune system, it assesses the damage on its own and figures out what actions it needs to take. The only thing remaining for us to do is locate John Connor.

1. Parasitic Skin Grafts

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There is a parasite called the Pomphorhynchus laevis that uses spikes in its head to rip a hole in an animal’s intestines, after which, it shove its head inside and inflates its body to hold itself in place. It’s this unlikely monstrosity that has inspired medical researchers to develop a new type of skin graft. Skin grafts are patches of skin that are transplanted from one part of the body to another, usually to cover a severe burn.

Until now, skin grafts were usually held in place with staples, which carry a high risk of infection. This new biomimetic skin graft, on the other hand, copies almost everything from the most terrifying parasite you’re likely to read about today. The graft has a cluster of micro-needles that swell when they’re exposed to water. The needles go into the skin fairly easily, and once inside, they puff out like a balloon to hold the graft in place. Another advantage over staples, which actually end up tearing the tissue around them, is that the micro-needles push tissue to the side, rather than damaging it.

[Source: Listverse. Edited.]


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10 Deserted Places and Why They Were Abandoned
By DeAnna Kerley,
Mental Floss, 29 November 2013.

With a total population of over 7 billion people, it's hard to imagine that any place in the world could be abandoned. And yet, they exist, each one with an eerie past and an uncertain future. Here are the tales of 10 abandoned places and how they came to be deserted.

1. I.M. Cooling Tower, Belgium

The I.M. Cooling Tower is part of an abandoned power plant located in Monceau, Belgium. While in use, the tower cooled incoming hot water by using wind. The wind would enter the opening at the bottom of the tower and rise up, cooling the hot water. The air would then become warm and leave the tower. During its prime, the I.M. Cooling Tower could cool up to 480,000 gallons of water per minute.

2. Kolmanskop, Namibia

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Image credit: Wikimedia Commons

Kolmanskop, a ghost town in Sperrgebiet of Namibia, was built during the burgeoning diamond trade in the early 1900s. In 1908, a railway worker named Zhacarias Lewala was shovelling sand away from the railroad tracks when he spotted a diamond. The news spread quickly, and many Germans poured into the area to hunt for the precious gems. A bustling town soon developed, complete with a hospital, ballroom, school, factory, and casino. However, by the end of the first World War, the town declined. Later, richer diamond deposits were found farther south and operations moved to Oranjemund. Kolmanskop became a ghost town. In 1980, the De Beers mining company restored many of its buildings and turned Kolmanskop into a tourist attraction.

3. Michigan Central Station, Detroit, USA

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Image credit: Wikimedia Commons

In the early 1900s, Detroit was a bustling epicentre for factory jobs and industrialization. The city’s railroad business was quickly expanding, and the company decided that a much larger depot should be built. By 1910, Michigan Central had purchased 50 acres of property in the Corktown neighbourhood outside of downtown Detroit. The station was comprised of a 3-story train depot and an 18-story office tower; the final price for the building was about US$2.5 million (around US$55 million today). Once built and in use, the station inspired awe in all of its passengers: “The grandeur of the interior is something that will be lasting, for it is of marble, brick and bronze, all of this is set off by one of the best lighting schemes ever installed in a building,” wrote the Free Press in 1913.

But a busy future for the station wasn't meant to be. The railroad industry fell into decline as the government began constructing highways and subsidized intercity airline traffic. Over the years, railroad companies tried to sell the station, and train lines began to abandon the station because of the upkeep. On January 5, 1988, Train No. 353 became the last train to leave the station. During the 1990s, the station fell into disrepair and became vulnerable to trespassing and looting. Today, the battle between demolition and restoration continues.

4. Underwater City in Shicheng, China

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Image credit: Wikimedia Commons

Shicheng City - which translates to Lion City - was submerged under Qiandao Lake in China in 1959 during the construction of the Xin’an River Hydropower Station. Now that the city, which is approximately 1400 years old, is underwater, it's protected from erosion by wind, rain, and sun and remains in a relatively stable condition. Today, international archaeologists refer to Shicheng City as a time capsule of ancient China; its arches, gates, and towers are so well preserved that they give archaeologists an almost perfect view of what the city looked like hundreds of years ago. Back then, Shicheng City was the centre of politics, economics, and culture of Sui’an County.

5. Salto Hotel, Colombia

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Image credit: Wikimedia Commons

Situated near a 515-foot waterfall outside of Bogotá, Colombia, the Hotel del Salto first opened in 1928. It was a building that welcomed many travellers visiting the area. Over the next few decades, the Bogotá River became contaminated, and the tourism industry waned. The hotel finally closed in the 1990s and was left abandoned. Some believe the hotel is haunted, mostly because of the prevalence of suicides around the waterfall. In 2012, the hotel was renovated and converted to a museum.

6. Abandoned Military Hospital in Beelitz, Germany

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Image credit: Wikimedia Commons

This abandoned sanatorium in Beelitz, Germany has an eerie past. The German National Insurance Institute constructed the military hospital in 1898 to house tuberculosis patients. Later on, the sanatorium played host to a recuperating Adolf Hitler, who was injured in the 1916 Battle of the Somme during World War I. During the 1920s, the hospital quickly expanded to accommodate thousands of patients. The building was even equipped with a butcher’s shop, bakery, beer garden, and restaurant. As World War II enveloped the globe, Beelitz Sanatorium was once again a haven for the German military. After the war, the Soviets took control of Beelitz-Heilstätten and used it to treat Soviet soldiers stationed in the area. After the Soviets withdrew in 1994, the building was left empty and abandoned.

7. Craco, Basilicata, Italy

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Image credit: Wikimedia Commons

Craco is an abandoned medieval village located in the Region of Basilicata and the Province of Matera. Greeks settled the town in 540 AD when they originally moved into the area. After its settlement, a university, prison, and four large plazas were constructed. But the town was also subject to various calamities, including plagues, poor agricultural conditions, and earthquakes. Between 1959 and 1972, destructive landslides damaged the area and made the town uninhabitable. In 1963, the last 1800 citizens were transferred to a valley in a different area. Today, the town is empty and abandoned, although it has played the backdrop of films like King David, Quantum of Solace, and The Passion of the Christ.

8. San-Zhi, Taiwan

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Image credit: Wikimedia Commons

In 1978, the Taiwanese government began subsidizing an architectural project that involved building futuristic pods for the rich to use as summer villas. However, the investment capital disappeared in 1980 before the project was completed, and the architecture company went bankrupt. One major reason that San-Zhi failed was because of intense local superstitions. Several fatal accidents occurred during construction, and as the number of fatalities increased, the government withdrew its support. Many believed that the land was cursed, and the construction company eventually destroyed all of its records regarding the project.

9. Angkor Wat in Cambodia

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Image credit: Wikimedia Commons

Between the 9th and 13th centuries, Angkor was the powerful capital of the Khmer Empire in northwestern Cambodia. Armies from Thailand captured the city in 1431, and Angkor’s citizens fled. Angkor Wat was the city’s monastery, and it was built by King Suryavarman II to honour the Hindu gods. However, as Buddhism was prevalent in the surrounding area, the temple’s Hindu decorations were replaced by Buddhist carvings, and Angkor Wat became a Buddhist shrine. From its abandonment in 1431 to the late 19th century, Theravada Buddhist monks preserved Angkor. Today, it is known as one of the most important pilgrimage sites in Southeast Asia.

10. 1984 Winter Olympics bobsleigh track in Sarajevo

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Image credit: Wikimedia Commons

In 1977, the city of Sarajevo, Bosnia was chosen as the host city for the 1984 Winter Olympics. That same year, Bosnia proposed the construction of the bobsleigh and luge track and, by 1982, had completed its construction. During the 1984 Winter Olympics, the track had a total of 30,000 bobsleigh spectators and 20,000 luge spectators. After the Olympics, the track was used by world cup competitors. In 1991, the Yugoslav wars shook the region, and the Siege of Sarajevo caused damage to the track since Bosnian Serb forces used the track as an artillery position. Today, the bobsleigh and luge tracks have fallen into disrepair and have been tagged with graffiti.

Top image: Sunrise at Angkor Wat. Credit: Magentic Manifestations/Wikimedia Commons.

[Source: Mental Floss. Edited. Top image added.]


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E-Volo Electric Helicopter
The Coolist, 27 November 2013.

Decades ago, the vision for the future had us riding flying cars by now. While we’re still waiting for a family vehicle to take to the skies, a related milestone in private air transit has been surpassed. The E-Volo Electric Helicopter - dubbed the Volocopter - has achieved flight, the first of its kind to sustain lift from electric power. An array of eighteen rotors spin in unison to lift the E-Volo VC200 to 22 meters above the ground for a sustained period. Sure, that might not get you to your Jetson house in the sky yet, but it’s a welcome start.

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The E-Volo Electric Helicopter is to designed to carry two passengers up to 6500 feet into the sky for over 60 miles per charge. An E-Volo VC200 pilot can cruise at comfortable speeds while watching traffic jams below on a typical commuter circuit. Sure, you can’t parallel park the E-Volo on a side street, but if you’re amongst those who may be able to afford the eventual production model of the VC200, we imagine you can afford a landing pad. How much will it cost? It’s tough to say at this point. The E-Volo Electric Helicopter is still just a prototype, but the concept has been proven and its development team is working hard on making this product a reality. Chances are, electric helicopters like this will be available to the public long before that oft-promised flying car will…

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Video: Volocopter VC200 First Flight

[Source: The Coolist. Edited.]


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6 Business Models Killed By the Internet
By Tom Herrmann,
Laptop, 25 November 2013.

Recently, Dish Network Corporation announced that Blockbuster will be ending its DVD rental service and closing all of its remaining stores. Come January 2014, the once prominent chain of video stores will be a faint memory, thanks to online video services. Blockbuster isn’t the first business to be taken down by new technology and it won’t be the last. Here are six prominent business models that are already or soon will be completely gone, thanks to the Internet.

1. Blockbuster and Video Stores

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Blockbuster’s demise has loomed over the out-dated business for about ten years. Netflix started to make strides with its mail rental system in the early 2000s, but Blockbuster passed on the opportunity to buy the competitor for US$50 million, according to Variety. About a decade later, Netflix is valued at US$19.7 billion, and former Blockbuster executives can rest easy knowing it’s nearly impossible that they’ll ever make a mistake that severe again.

It wasn’t the mailing service that took Blockbuster out of business, though. It was Netflix’s video streaming service, which offers customers a wide selection of movies and shows to watch instantly. Other brands like Amazon, Hulu and even HBO followed suit, leaving no need for consumers to take that long trip to the video store, find out the new release they want is out of stock and rent “Armageddon” for the tenth time.

2. Borders Books and Bookstores

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Borders Books closed its doors in 2011 after a decade-long battle with online competitors Amazon and Barnes & Noble. A store like Borders doesn’t have a place in the modern retail sphere when everything you can buy there - books music, and movies - has moved to digital downloads.

The real death blow was when Amazon introduce the Kindle, an eReader that gave readers the convenience of holding a seemingly endless number of books in one ultra-portable device. You could also download any title you wanted in about 60 seconds. Borders competitor Barnes and Nobile has clung to life with its own eReader, the Nook, but Amazon is still leading the eReader market.

3. Record Stores

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Listing all the specific record stores that have gone out of business would take too long. The reason for their demise is a simple one; downloading songs online (pirated or legal) is just easier - and you don’t have to don a pair of dirty headphones hundreds of other people have worn to figure out if buying that album is worth it. There is something to be said about the vibe of records stores, but I’m only 24 and base most of that idea on the movie “Empire Records.”

The truth is that record stores would be in trouble even without the advances of the Internet. Megastores like Wal-Mart have been pulling sales away from dedicated record stores for a long time, and the web delivered the final blow. iTunes and other legal means of downloading music - coupled with piracy - torpedoed record stores a long time ago, and they’re not coming back.

4. Travel Agencies

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Who needs a travel agent when you have William Shatner? Seriously, it’s hard to think of a time when travellers couldn’t book their own flights and hotel rooms, and conduct research on destinations they’re traveling to own their own.

Let’s say you want to take a trip to New York City; you can book your flight and make hotel reservations with ease - without a middle man. Then you look up tourist activities in the city, or get advice from Yelp and other apps on lesser known spots to check out. It doesn’t make sense to go through an agency.

5. The U.S. Post Office

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Not quite federal, not quite private; post offices are having trouble staying afloat these days. With services like FedEx and UPS that make shipments easier, it’s hard for the post office to stay relevant. If you’re in your twenties, odds are that you haven’t bought stamps in your lifetime.

The post office hasn’t gone under, yet, but the odds of it happening have never been higher. The problem is that crucial services, like keeping track of where people live, is done by the post office. Otherwise, there’s really no reason for the post office to still exist. Even postcards and greeting cards have gone digital, and you can send them right from your phone using a wide range of apps.

6. Payphones

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Remember what it was like before everyone had cell phones? Me neither. Luckily we have films and television to give us a glimpse into the past. People used pay phones to keep in touch when they were out of the house. You can still find payphones across the country, and as a New Yorker I can say confidently that they look disgusting.

As of 2012, the U.S. had 305,000 working payphones, as noted in our piece on obsolete technologies still in use, but it’s not much of a leap to say that the business model of collecting change to let people have conversations is mostly dead. Odds are you won’t see new payphones popping up, and that’s fine.

Top image: A Blockbuster store in Moncton, Canada. Credit: Stu pendousmat/Wikimedia Commons.

[Source: Laptop. Edited. Top image and links added.]