Monday, 29 February 2016


10 Intriguing Discoveries At Famed Ancient Sites
By Ivan Farkas,
Listverse, 29 February 2016.

Even with limited technologies, the ancients engineered incredible acts of creation and destruction. The landmarks and sacred sites of their design are continually combed over by eager archaeologists, and each piece recovered inspires us, if only for a moment, to dwell on the ingenuity of our predecessors.

10. Cappadocia’s Vast Underground City

Photo via Wikimedia

With over 200 underground cities and villages as well as hand-carved caves which sheltered some of the earliest Christians, Turkey’s Cappadocia region is historically one-of-a-kind. Long ago, researchers unearthed a large subterranean settlement known as Derinkuyu. Recently, they dug up another multilevel settlement that served as the world’s biggest safe room.

Its total size is unknown, but to call it sprawling is an understatement. Archaeologists estimate its area at approximately 5 million square feet, and it goes as deep as 113 meters (371 ft). Further exploration is a priority, but it’s slow going, as the surrounding rock is fluffy and prone to collapse.

This crumbly, marshmallow-soft volcanic landscape is what allowed the Cappadocians to carve such an intricate network of tunnels so deep into the ground. The complex was fully furnished, in a manner of speaking, with a healthy water supply and ventilation system. Impressively, some of the 5,000-year-old tunnels are wide enough to accommodate a family sedan. Furthermore, the settlement housed siege-resistant luxuries like wineries, chapels, and even a “refinery” for producing lamp oil.

9. The Legendary City Of Gath

Photo credit: Ori~

Archaeologists have located the legendary city of Gath after a 20-year excavation effort led by Israel’s Bar-Ilan University.

One of the five Philistine city-states, Gath is the reported home of the Biblical giant Goliath, who “relinquished” his seat to David, future king of Israel and first in a procession of great rulers. Separate expeditions have been carried out since 1899, turning up some smaller items, but researchers have only recently been able to confirm the Biblical city’s existence.

Researchers unearthed a mammoth gate, the largest ever discovered in Israel, which they believe to be the very same gate referenced in the Book of Samuel. It’s a fitting entrance for one of the region’s major cities in the 9th or 10th century BC. Israelite-style Philistine pottery was also recovered, suggesting at least a partial meshing of cultures between the two enemies.

Gath was an Iron Age city of industry. Archaeologists also discovered a prominent foundry within its confines, painting Gath as a bustling urban center that supplied nearby communities with varied metalwork.

8. Wealthy Urbanite Fresco


The Museum of London Archaeology has discovered a wonderfully preserved, nearly 2,000-year-old fresco owned by ultra-wealthy urbanites.

On this same site once stood London’s Roman basilica and forum, a two-hectare complex erected in 70 AD. Larger than St. Paul’s Cathedral, the island nation’s grandest building served both as a civic center and London’s party central. At least, it did for a few centuries; the Romans tore it down in 300 AD to punish Londoners for their support of Emperor Carausius.

Commissioned by an affluent family, the fancy fresco was painted by a supremely skilled artisan and depicts natural scenes, replete with nibbling deer and flitting birds. Its patrons spared no expense, importing rare, expensive pigments like cinnabar, a ridiculously toxic mercuric sulfide mined in Spain.

In the days before sports cars, the rich flaunted paintings to advertise their importance. As in modern times, families jostled to one-up each other with grander artworks crafted from luxurious materials that were inaccessible to the poor.

The fresco also records an ancient OSHA violation. Researchers found it face-down, suggesting that subsequent builders simply stacked new materials on top of rubble after the original structure had been razed.

7. Jamestown’s First Settlers

Researchers have uncovered four skeletons that belonged to some of the first settlers at Jamestown, Virginia, the first permanent colonial outpost in what would become the United States.

The men, aged 24–39, died between 1608 and 1610 and were buried in the chancel of the very same church that wed of Pocahontas and John Smith. The skeletons were in poor condition, and only about a third of each one remained. Ascertaining the men’s identities required a few years of high-tech sleuthing.

The church burial offered the first clue, since only prominent figures or clergymen could be interred in such a plot. Eventually, after chemical analyses, genealogical mapping, CT scanning, and even a touch of 3-D printing, the dead finally relinquished their secrets.

They were elite members of society - Captain William West and Reverend Robert Hunt (who arrived with the first wave of settlers in 1607) and their grave mates, Captain Gabriel Archer and Sir Ferdinando Wainman (both of whom arrived a few years later).

Several other curios hinted at their status. Traces of lead, from pewter dining utensils, were found in their bones. There was also a captain’s sash made of silk and embroidered with silver finery. Oddly enough, archaeologists also found a small silver box - a Catholic reliquary, an unexpected burial relic in a Protestant settlement and the New World’s first Protestant church.

6. Tenochtitlan Sacrifices

Photo via Wikimedia

The Aztec (aka Mexica) rulers were a bloodthirsty bunch. They sacrificed thousands of captured warriors upon the pedestal at the Great Temple of Tenochtitlan to feed the heart-hungry god of war, Huitzilopochtli. So say historical sources, though a study conducted by archaeologist Alan Barrera tells a different story.

Apparently, the Aztecs were far less discriminating than previously assumed, and sacrifices were not limited to soldiers and able men. Women, the elderly, and even children were forced to take their places atop the Great Temple.

Barrera and colleagues sampled pieces of bone and teeth extracted from sacrificial victims to ascertain the abundance of strontium isotopes to reveal where the sacrificed ones had lived. Surprisingly, these unlucky individuals were locals and residents, not foreign prisoners as previously assumed. Some poor souls had even lived among the Aztecs for years, possibly as slaves to those of high status, before they were rewarded for their toil with an obsidian dagger to the chest.

5. Genghis Khan’s Wall


Apparently, the Great Wall of China may be a slight misnomer. In 2012, British researcher William Lindesay stumbled upon a still standing, long forgotten Mongolia.

Lindesay literally walked alongside the Great Wall, tracing its path on an epic, 2,460-kilometer (1,530 mi) walking journey that began in 1986. Well over a decade later, Lindesay’s persistence was rewarded with the rediscovery of what’s been called “Genghis Khan’s Wall,” though it wasn’t built by the fearsome ruler and appears to be a lost portion of the Chinese Great Wall.

Previously, researchers had only glimpsed its skeletal remains, a faint 100-kilometer (60 mi) outline stretching across the Gobi, but the portion found by Lindesay stands shoulder height and was at least 2 meters (6 ft) higher in its heyday.

It was completed between AD 1040 and 1160, after about 100 years of effort. However, its purpose is unknown. The absence of tools, weapons, and outposts suggest that it was never manned, possibly because its builders scrapped the project to build elsewhere. Ancient texts claim that Ogedei Khan, son of Genghis, commissioned this “ghost wall” to rein in gazelle. But researchers disagree, claiming this area of desert to be notoriously sparse.

4. Maya Animal Survey

Photo credit: Sebastian Homberger

Knowledge of Mayan culture is disproportionately top-heavy, and our purview is mostly limited to the upper classes. Fortunately, a recent survey of 22,000 animal remains from three Guatemalan city-states, including the well-fortified ancient capital of Aguateca, has finally revealed the lives of the Maya’s 99 percent.

Researchers found a surprisingly intricate trading network between the city-states, based on availability of animal food sources. Unlike their contemporaries in the Old World, Central Americans did not have the convenience of pack animals and were unable to carry large quantities of goods.

What they did pilfer from the sea and woods they hauled on their backs through unforgiving jungle terrain, so trade became especially important and each region gained fame for its signature export. For example, Aguatecan city-slickers enjoyed an abundance of marine species and produced exquisite seashell jewelry, while their compatriots in Yaxchilan were limited to forest-dwelling ungulates like deer.

In culinary terms, the social classes did not intermingle. Each class had access to different types of animals, which provided not only food but social status. Jaguars and crocodiles considered the most sacred of creatures and only associated with the upper echelon. The remains also suggest that the Maya regulated hunting and fishing, showing great respect for natural supply and demand.

3. Stonehenge Builders’ Diet


Researchers have unearthed a variety of crusty pots and animal bones at a large settlement adjacent to Stonehenge called Durrington Walls, glimpsing the ancient diets of Neolithic workmen.

It turns out that they really loved milk. The 4,500-year-old residues scraped from containers show an abundance of dairy products, possibly in the form of cottage cheese. The affinity for curdled goods was downright mystical, with traces of the stuff found on ceremonial monuments.

The builders enjoyed plenty of meat as well, and old cookware shows that they dined on the boiled meats that have become so famous in England. The site apparently had a supply of livestock, and animals were slaughtered on-site, powering the builders’ workload with mass amounts of pork and beef. The patterns on the bones themselves show that the builders liked to shake things up and sometimes orchestrated large communal cookouts.

The only thing missing - vegetables. There were no signs that any greens were prepared at the site, with non-animal food sources limited to a trail mix of hazelnuts, crab apples, and wild berries.

2. ‘New’ Nazca Lines

Several hundred miles south of Lima, the fantastic Nazca Lines are etched across nearly 500 square kilometers (200 mi2) of Peru’s coastal plain. Now, researchers from Japan’s University of Yamagata have found an even older set of glyphs that predate the famed UNESCO animals by hundreds of years.

The team used 3-D scanning to reveal the dusted-over outlines of 41 images, emblazoned by the avid headhunters who inhabited the region between the first century BC and the fifth century AD. This batch was more carefully made, as the pebbles within the body of each image have been removed, revealing the white, chalky ground beneath. The more well-known Nazca Lines, on the other hand, are merely outlined. The figures, some of which represent the llama, a South American spirit animal, are usually inscribed on hillsides for proper visibility and reach heights of 20 meters (66 ft).

Researchers believe that at least some of these lines traced the routes of long-ago pilgrimages. The Yamagata group also unearthed the remnants of nearby temples, and it appears that the lines led ancient processions between Peru’s ancient holy sites, like a modern Hollywood star map. Unfortunately, one ancient ritual consisted of smashing clay pots upon the lines, destroying parts of the original artwork.

1. Shakespeare’s Fancy Digs

Stafford University’s Centre of Archaeology, in collaboration with the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, has dug up the Bard’s kitchen. This most recent discovery has allowed for a reconstruction of the home, known as New Place, in which Shakespeare spent his most fruitful years.

Based on his sprawling home, Shakespeare was doing quite well for himself. It was the largest residence in the Borough of Statford-upon-Avon, with 20 rooms, a gallery, a cavernous chamber, and 10 fireplaces. The unearthed kitchen was equipped with a hearth, an interior fridge (basically a cold pit), and most impressively of all, an in-home brewery. So, how much did such a magnificent structure cost in 1597? £120!

The dig was part of a £5.25 million restoration project with the ultimate goal of displaying the historic home in honor of the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death, like an ancient version of Cribs. New Place will open to the public circa July 2016 and will also feature recreations of plates, utensils, and other items unearthed at New Place.

Top image: Derinkuyu underground city in Cappadocia, Turkey. Credit: Nevit Dilmen.

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


Eureka: Incredible Solar Powered Inventions
By Hannah,
Solar Centre, 25 February 2016.

Solar power is an important source of renewable energy that can be used to fuel a multitude of items, including our lights. Over recent years solar power has become an increasingly popular source of energy and has been at the forefront of some rather interesting inventions. Nowadays, scientists and manufacturers are beginning to harness the sun’s energy and using it to power all sorts of wonderful creations, including wheelchairs, cars and hearing aids.

Have you ever been out when your phone has died and you desperately need to charge it? Well there’s now a solar plug socket so that you can charge your phone wherever you are, without the need for electricity. After all, solar energy is the power of the future, and so it’s about time that our normal day-to-day electricity powered items started to use cleaner solar energy. Our new infographic explores the most incredible inventions that run on solar energy, including homeless shelters and ferries; take a look below!


[Source: Solar Centre.]

Sunday, 28 February 2016


10 Proposed Airliners Of The Future
By Zachery Brasier,
Listverse, 28 February 2016.

Air travel is a common occurrence in our modern society. When most people imagine commercial airliners, they imagine the standard tube-and-wing configuration. However, aerospace engineers across the world are developing concepts for future airliners that would revolutionize air travel.

10. Aether Airship

Airships were a big part of commercial aviation before they slowly died off in the mid-20th century. However, some intrepid aerospace designers are now developing designs to bring airships back into use.

One of the more interesting ideas is the Aether airship. Designer Mac Byers realized that his airship needed to look different than old airships so that people did not associate it with disasters like the Hindenburg explosion. Thus, the Aether airship has a long, shark-like appearance that communicates both safety and futurism.

This airship is more like a cruise ship than a normal airliner. Conceptually, the Aether airship would travel to different locations while offering enough amenities so that passengers wouldn’t need to leave the airship if they didn’t want to.

Passengers would have access to a large variety of dining options and comfortable rooms to stay in. Byers’s design takes advantage of the scenic sky with large windows for the passengers.

Although the design is only a concept, it offers a glimpse into the future. Other companies are also investigating airship concepts. They are more economical, have a large payload capacity, and offer an entirely new travel experience for modern tourists. Within a few years, airships could make a return.

9. Boeing Blended-Wing Airliners

Although Boeing recently started production of its 787 airliner, its engineers are already working on their next airliner. This time, Boeing is planning to do something radically different from its standard designs.

Instead of the same fuselage-and-wing design, Boeing engineers are looking at creating a blended-wing airliner. In blended-wing designs, the wings and fuselage flow into each other, removing the distinction between the two parts.

Both NASA and Boeing are currently experimenting with blended wings for both commercial and military purposes. To explore the aerodynamic possibilities, the two groups worked together to build the X-48, an unmanned jet airplane built with a blended-wing design.

The X-48 tests were successful, showing that the airplane had a high payload, was quieter than expected, and had extremely good fuel efficiency. Based on this, it is obvious that blended-wing bodies are the future of aerospace.

NASA is considering civilian applications of the concept, hoping to develop prototypes for airliners within 20 years. On the other hand, Boeing is looking at military applications for the design, mostly for airlift and aerial refuelling purposes.

Lockheed Martin is also looking into a future airlift design using blended-wing technology. The company hopes to design an airplane with a huge payload.

Since these companies are investing in blended-wing bodies, it is extremely likely that the next generation of airliners will use the concepts pioneered by the X-48.

8. Reaction Engines A2

Another big push in aerospace is hypersonic airliners. While the Concorde and the TU-144 made history as the first commercially operated supersonic airliners, modern engineers are now looking to design airliners that are capable of speeds in excess of Mach 5.

On the cutting edge is UK company Reaction Engines Limited, which designed a concept for an airliner called the A2. This futuristic-looking airplane would travel at hypersonic speeds and be environmentally friendly.

The A2 uses the Scimitar engine, another design from Reaction Engines. The Scimitar uses technology that is derived from the SABRE engine. Both engines are hybrid engines. But while the SABRE uses rocket engines, the Scimitar uses a hybrid ramjet and normal air-breathing jet engine design.

When the Scimitar is flying at high speed, it uses the ramjet. But during take-off and landing, it engages a high bypass mode that operates like a normal jet engine. The Scimitar uses liquid hydrogen for fuel, which also cools the engine right before ignition. This type of engine is known as a pre-cooled engine and is used for long-range endurance at hypersonic speeds.

Due to concerns over sonic boom noise, the A2 would only fly hypersonically over the ocean or unpopulated areas. When flying over populated regions, it would fly just under the speed of sound.

At top speed, the A2 can fly from Australia to northern Europe in just five hours. One big concern with the A2 is passenger comfort. Due to concerns over stress on the airframe, the A2 does not have windows. Claustrophobic customers might find the flight uncomfortable.

7. Bombardier Antipode

Not content to let the UK take the lead with hypersonic aerospace designs, Canadian company Bombardier recently got in the game with the Antipode, their concept business jet. They designed a small airplane that only carries a few people but can fly at Mach 24. At that speed, the Antipode can travel from New York to London in 11 minutes.

The Antipode concept makes use of a scramjet engine, a rather straightforward improvement on the normal ramjet engine. Scramjets have no moving parts such as fans or compressors. Instead, they rely on the speed of the airplane to force air through the engine.

As the scramjet travels at high Mach numbers, hypersonic air enters the engine and slows down to supersonic speeds. Then more hypersonic air enters the engine after the slowed air, forcing it through the engine and producing thrust with combustion.

To get to the speeds required for the scramjet to work, the Antipode would use rocket boosters to launch off the ground. Once the airplane gets to cruising altitude and speed, the scramjet would kick in, accelerating the vehicle to Mach 24.

However, a big concern is that the body of the airplane would get too hot at those speeds from air friction. Bombardier proposes a solution called long penetration mode. The system uses vents in the nose of the airplane to blow chilled supersonic air over the fuselage, cooling it while also reducing the sonic boom noise.

Whether the Antipode will ever be put into service is up for debate, but the concepts designed for it may be used in the next generation of airliners.

6. Boeing Pelican

In the early 2000s, Boeing investigated the construction of a new transoceanic airplane called the Pelican. Although designed primarily to carry cargo, the ideas behind the Pelican are applicable for commercial airliners. In concept, the Pelican was a huge airplane which used the ground effect to fly.

The ground effect is an aerodynamic phenomenon in which low-flying objects with specially shaped wings can trap air beneath them and use the cushion to glide quickly and efficiently across water. The Pelican would take advantage of the ground effect over the ocean, flying only 6 meters (20 ft) above the water.

During overland flight, the Pelican would fly at normal altitudes. By using the ground effect, Boeing hoped that the Pelican would be extremely fuel efficient, which was important for the gigantic airplane. With a wingspan of 150 kilometres (500 ft), the Pelican would be the largest airplane in the world.

Although the design was promising, Boeing has not revisited the concept since the early 2000s for unknown reasons. However, the concept of a ground-effect transport will likely reappear in civilian aviation because it can carry loads comparable to ships at higher speeds with minimal fuel cost.

5. SAX-40


Even when airplanes are traveling as subsonic speeds, their engine noise is annoying to people living around airports and can cause adverse health effects for people working around airplanes. To combat the problem, a group from MIT and Cambridge University developed the SAX-40, a super-quiet airplane concept.

Airplanes are noisy mainly because of irregularities in their bodies, so the SAX-40 is highly streamlined. Due to its body shape, the SAX-40 has far more lift than a normal airplane. As a result, it would not need to use flaps to get enough lift during take-off and landing, reducing the noisiness of the engines.

The engine intakes are on top of the airplane, letting the fuselage shield people on the ground from engine noise. To cut the noise of the engine exhaust, the SAX-40 uses variable exhausts that would change shape during flight for minimal noise.

These are the major design features of the SAX-40. With its lifting body design and special wings, the airplane would only generate 63 decibels of noise on take-off and landing outside the airport perimeter. For comparison, normal jets take off at 100 decibels. The SAX-40 would generate as much noise as an air-conditioning unit.

4. SpaceLiner

The German Aerospace Centre (GAC) is currently developing its own design for high-speed travel. However, instead of just relying on standard airplane ideas, the GAC is developing a space plane called the SpaceLiner.

In concept, the SpaceLiner combines the best characteristics of a rocket and an airplane. Like the US space shuttle, the SpaceLiner uses a two-stage concept. The space plane rides up to high orbit on a cryogenic rocket booster, which then drops away.

To make the concept reusable, the Germans are developing special planes to capture the falling booster in mid-air. At extremely high altitudes, the SpaceLiner accelerates to Mach 25, which would enable it to fly from Australia to Europe in under 90 minutes.

At the end of the trip, the space plane lands like any normal airplane. The project has many advantages, including speed and reusability. But the SpaceLiner is also environmentally friendly. Since it uses liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen as rocket propellant, the only by-product of its engines is water vapour. The GAC hopes to see the SpaceLiner in operation by 2050.

3. AWWA-QG Progress Eagle

The AWWA-QG Progress Eagle is one of the most complex concept airplanes floating around. At first glance, it seems like somebody just combined every cool future technology into one airplane, but the Progress Eagle is a valid proposal for a large, environmentally friendly passenger airplane.

The Progress Eagle is huge, dwarfing every other airliner with its triple-deck design and 800-passenger payload. Due to its huge size, the Progress Eagle has folding wings so that current airports would not have to go through big renovations.

For power, the Progress Eagle uses six hydrogen-powered engines, which also provide electricity during the flight. However, most of the electricity would come from the solar panels in the wings. These panels use quantum dot material to boost efficiency.

The Progress Eagle would also sport a CO2 cleaner to actively clean the air through which it travels. Designer Oscar Vinals is optimistic that his airplane will enter service in 2030.

2. Concorde 2

Although the Concorde, the first supersonic airliner, was eventually retired, its legacy lives on with the next generation of proposed airliners. Last year, Airbus won patent rights for their design of a new airplane called the Concorde 2. Following in the original plane’s footsteps, this second version would push the boundaries of flight to become the first hypersonic airliner.

The key selling point of the new plane would be its Mach 4.5 cruising speed. But the plane has a variety of other strange features, most notably its propulsion system. The Concorde 2 would use three types of engines.

For take-off, the plane would use lift jets for a vertical take-off, similar to a Harrier jump jet. Once the Concorde 2 is in the air, a rocket engine would shoot the passenger jet to its altitude and supersonic speeds. Finally, ramjets on the wings would accelerate the plane to its Mach 4.5 cruising speed.

To cut down on sonic booms, the Concorde 2 has an odd-looking wing that also provides high lift. Although the Concorde 2 would be faster than the original plane, it also has a smaller passenger complement - only 20 people compared to original Concorde’s 120.

1. Mobula

Photo credit: Chris Cooke via

The Mobula, designed by Chris Cooke from Coventry University, is one of the strangest new concepts for an airliner. This breathtaking design bridges the gap between airplanes and ocean liners. Capable of carrying over 1,000 passengers on five decks, the Mobula is about more than getting to the destination. It is also about the experience.

Like the Pelican, the Mobula is an ekranoplan. Flying just a few meters above the ocean, the Mobula can use the ground effect for lift and rapid travel. For water operations, the Mobula also has floating capabilities and can easily rest on the surface on the water.

After studying the shape of animals, Cooke designed the Mobula with its organic look. But the design is not meant for pure aesthetics. In wind tunnel tests, the Mobula proved ideal for low-altitude flying with minimal drag.

Although the Mobula will probably remain a concept vehicle, it gives a glimpse into the future of air travel. Large, fast-moving ekranoplans would change the way that people travel across the ocean. Even if the Mobula is never built, it could become an important precursor to a revolution in air travel.

Top image: The Mobula. Credit: Chris Cooke via

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


5 DIY Home Automation Projects to Get Started With Your Smart Home
By Matthew Hughes,
Make Use Of, 26 February 2016.

With more and more smart home devices hitting the market, the idea of automating our houses seems less left-field than it once did. Despite that, only a small minority of people have chosen to take the plunge.

Perhaps that’s because prospective smart home owners just don’t know where to start. If that sounds you, read on. We’re going to talk about five basic beginners smart home projects you can build right now.

1. Protect Your Pipes With An Automated Smart Valve


This is a smart home project that anyone with a bit of plumbing know-how could do in an evening. If not, you could just hire a plumber.

Smart valves essentially replace dumb, mechanical valves on your plumbing system. You can use your smartphone to shut off your water, without having to go on all-fours. This is handy if you’re about to go on a long road trip, and you’re worried about pipes bursting.

Some smart valves allow you to couple them with a water sensor, which will actively sense when a pipe has burst and shut off the water. No interaction required.

Although smart valves can be expensive, you might find that long term they’ll save you money, as your insurance premiums may go down. Plus, the risk of a burst pipe flooding your home will drop significantly.

There are a few to try. One I recommend is the LeakSMART Smart Home Kit [pictured above], which costs US$399.00 on Amazon. This includes the valve and the water sensor, and a central hub to tie it together.

For the same price, you could also get the FortrezZ Z-Wave Water Valve (US$439.99 at Amazon), which costs a little bit more, but has great reviews and is built in the USA.

It also works with the Z-Wave protocol, which means you can easily connect it to other smart home products, through a compatible Z-Wave hub.

2. Level Up Your Lighting With Philips Hue

LED lights are just better than their halogen counterparts in all areas, except perhaps in their initial price. They’re way more energy efficient. They last longer. They’re also significantly brighter than old-school halogen bulbs.

Some bulbs, like the Philips Hue ones, can be controlled through your smartphone, via a central hub.

So, what’s the point? Well, there’s a lot you can do with Philips Hue. You can group lights together, and turn them on ensemble. You can set moods and zones, and you can even control them through Siri, thanks to Apple’s HomeKit!

As an introductory experiment in home automation, Philips Hue is as easy as you can get. You literally just need to screw in some bulbs, connect the hub to your network, and define the behaviour of the bulbs through a convenient smartphone app.

You can get a starter kit from most good DIY stores, as well as from Amazon, where it will cost you around US$200 for the latest generation kit.

Older versions are slightly cheaper, but should be avoided as they lack features like Siri integration.

3. Build Your Own Smart Security System

One of the great things about smart home tech is that it can ultimately make you safer. There are a great many products in this sphere, which range from smart smoke detectors, to smart home locks.

There are also smart home security systems, which allow you to remotely monitor your home, track intruders, and take action if you need to.

You’ve got a lot of choice in this space. There are out-of-the-box solutions, like Google’s Nest Cam, and newcomer Canary, which James Bruce reviewed last year. These, like the Canary all-in-one home security system, tend to be on the expensive side of things, but work rather well.

If you want to increase the difficulty level just a little bit, you can also create your own DIY security system by cobbling together individual components.

Dann Albright wrote a piece on how to do that late last year, which featured projects from the likes of Lowes, Honeywell, and Belkin. The overall cost will be slightly cheaper, too, with the cheapest DIY security system costing a paltry US$60.

4. Automate Your Heating and Save Money

One of the biggest costs involved with owning a home is actually heating it. Fuel is expensive, and it’s not unusual for a heating bill to stretch in the hundreds of dollars, especially in winter.

But are we heating our homes efficiently? Quite often, homes are overheated past what would be adequately comfortable. Another problem is that we often heat rooms which we don’t occupy. But this can be fixed with a quick weekend project, by installing a smart thermostat, and doing some clever automation tricks.

The most widely known is the Nest Thermostat. In addition to allowing you to remotely set your home’s temperature, it will also automatically adjust it as required. The Nest actually uses machine learning algorithms to learn how you use it.

The device itself should cost around US$250 (US$213 at Amazon), and you can install it yourself as a weekend project.

Although, if you’re not feeling confident, there are a number of Nest-approved plumbers who’ll be glad to fit it for you.

5. Automate Your Garden

The final frontier of home automation is undoubtedly the garden. It’s a field that’s bustling with interest right now, and there are an increasing number of smart garden devices on the market. It’s now possible to build a mostly automated garden. Here’s what you’ll need.

You’re probably familiar with the Roomba robotic vacuum cleaners. These wander your home sucking up dust and debris as they go. Wouldn’t it be awesome if you could get one that cuts grass?

Well, the Husqvarna [shown above] fits that bill, and more. It’s a true, set-and-forget lawn mowing solution. As you’d expect, at US$2,399.95, it’s a little bit more expensive than your bog-standard mower. But it’ll save you time and effort.

But it doesn’t stop there. Some products, like GreenIQ, fully automate the process of watering your lawn and your plants by tracking the weather in your local area. If you feel your lawn needs a bit of a top-up, there’s a web app which allows you to manually turn it on.

There’s also Edyn, which continuously monitors the quality of your soil. Once installed, Edyn will provide you the information you need to keep your plants looking green. It also allows you to control the irrigation of your garden.

Another product I’ve been impressed with is the Parrot Flower Power. This, like the Edyn, monitors the aridity and quality of your soil. But it also works with the GreenIQ system.

Although it has the potential to be eye-waveringly expensive, one fun weekend project would be to see how much of your garden maintenance you can automate. From hydration to lawn trimming, there’s a lot you can do.

If you want to augment your house, these five projects are a great place to start. Dann Albright has four other suggestions, too.

Top image: The Canary all-in-one home security system. Credit: Canary.

[Source: Make Use Of. Edited. Some links added.]

Saturday, 27 February 2016


How to Stay Calm When you Know You’ll be Stressed
By Elizabeth King,
Pound Place, 25 January 2016.

We are all guilty of succumbing to stress. Whether induced by next weekend’s party or an important presentation at work, its effects can be debilitating. Everyone needs a certain amount of stress to survive - it’s what gets us out of bed in the morning and gives us the adrenaline to succeed. As noted psychotherapist and writer, Adam Phillips puts it, stress and worry serve an important function in our favour: “If worrying can persecute us, it can also work for us, as self-preparation. No stage fright, no performance.” However, stress can become a problem when our bodies experience too much of it, compromising our health and leaving us at our wits end.

So what exactly is going on inside your mind when you feel overwhelmed? When your body detects stress, the hypothalamus - an area of the brain important to the nervous and endocrine systems - reacts by stimulating the body to produce adrenaline and cortisol. These two hormones increase your heart rate, raise your blood pressure and temporarily increase energy to help you ‘fight’ or ‘take flight’. With these chemicals running through your brain, you’ll probably feel as though your thinking is cloudy, and consequently it’s no wonder that your judgement might be in some way compromised. When your body recognises it’s no longer in danger, your hormone levels fall and your heart rate and blood pressure return to normal. But, more often than not, stress can leave you feeling angry, anxious and scared.

In so many aspects of life, the ability to stay calm in a difficult situation can mean the difference between success and failure. Whether you’re a fire-fighter, a teacher or you just want to get a reign on your worrisome tendencies, there’s no shortage of ways to help you stay calm in stressful situations. In our new infographic, we bring you 7 simple, actionable techniques that you can implement when you next find yourself face-to-face with stress. What’s more, these are all tips and coping strategies that you can carry forward and internalise to help overcome the negativity that often sits alongside anxiety and stress, assisting you to live and succeed without their shadow hanging over you. Read the rest of our infographic below to learn how to keep your head even while everyone around you is losing theirs, and how to trust yourself even when others doubt you.

How to Stay Calm When You Know You'll Be Stressed

Article Sources:
Healthline. (2015). Hypothalamus.
2. Phillips, A. (1996). What, Me Not Worry?
The New York Times.
University of Utah. (2015). How cells communicate during fight or flight.

Infographic Sources:
American Psychological Association. (2015). Stress in America: Paying With Our Health.
BBC. (2013). What is stress?
3. Bradberry, T. (2015). How Successful People Stay Calm.
4. Hensley, S. and Hurt, A. (2014). Stressed Out: Americans Tell Us About Stress In Their Lives.
5. Hoque, F. (2015). 10 Ways To Stay Calm In The Face Of Daily Stress.
Fast Company.
6. Levitin, D. (2015). How to stay calm when you know you'll be stressed.
TED Talks.
7. Sakurai, C. (2015). 22 Power-Actions Effective People Use to Stay Calm in Times of Stress.
Statistic Brain Research Institute. (2015). Stress Statistics.
9. Whitmore, J. (2014). 8 Ways to Stay Calm During a Crisis.

[Post Source: Pound Place.]