Month: November, 2017

What’s It Like To Drink A Virtual Cocktail?

VR headset strapped in place, I scan the terrain like a cocktail-seeking Terminator.

Heather rolls towards me under heavy Scottish skies. As music swells, I leave the Highlands and sweep south through Britain, towards the bustling crowds of London’s Covent Garden theater district.

Meanwhile, in the bricks-and-mortar world of London’s One Aldwych hotel, Portuguese bar manager Pedro Paulo named Best International Bartender at the Lisbon Bar Show 2016 is busy mixing Dalmore12-year-old whisky.




Merlet cherry liqueur, cherry puree, grapefruit juice, chocolate bitters and Lallier Champagne.

When the two-minute video comes to a close and I peel off the goggles and headphones, The Origin is waiting — the world’s first Virtual Reality cocktail.

Let’s get a few things straight. The Origin cocktail? It’s 100% real.

A whisky base improbably and deliciously stretched into a long drink by the genius addition of Champagne, making it a delightful 130ml of sweet, smoky, cherry and chocolate flavors.

We wanted the drink to be quite honestly a crowd-pleaser,” says Paulo, who at 30 years old already has 12 years of high-level bartending experience, including at London’s award-winning Connaught Bar.

And if you think a $23 Virtual Reality cocktail sounds like smoke and mirrors, you’re right. Sherry wood chip smoke, to be precise, sealed in a glass hip flask with the remainder of the cocktail so you can top up at your leisure with another hit of deep, woodsy flavor.

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This Is An Underwater Robotic Excavation System For Flooded Open-Cut Mines

The ¡VAMOS! Project (Viable Alternative Mine Operating System) is developing a novel underwater excavation system to test the technological and economic viability of the mining of inland mineral deposits in flooded open-cut mines, currently uneconomic using conventional methods.

A floating launch and recovery vessel has been built, and in July 2017, work will be completed on a remotely-operated underwater roadheader and robotic assistance vehicle.




After completion, the first of two European trials will commence.

During these trials, the road-transportable system will be tested on a range of rock-types and its technological and economic viability and socio-environmental impact will be analysed.

By demonstration of a safe, silent, clean and low-visibility system, the project hopes to encourage investment in abandoned and prospective EU mines by providing an alternative and more cost-effective excavation technique, ultimately aiming to reduce the EU’s reliance on strategically important raw materials imports.

Following a design freeze in October 2016, work is set to be completed on all system components and software by July 2017, shortly before the first European field trial in 2017 in England.

Post-trial microeconomic, environmental andstrategic foresight analyses will guide the future development of the technology vision.

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Mars May Have ‘Levitating Sand’

Mars’ sand can walk on water.

During summers on Mars, the combination of warm temperatures, deposits of ice and the planet’s thin atmosphere could be causing sand to levitate.

Mars can get as hot as 70 degrees Fahrenheit in the summer which melts some of the planet’s ice deposits. But Mars’ atmosphere, which has just one-hundredth of the pressure of Earth’s, doesn’t let surface water last long before boiling it up.




These small pockets of water vapor can lift up sediments and send them floating across the ground – as if they’re levitating – according to a new study that recreated Mars’ conditions in a laboratory.

The results were recently published in Nature Communications. “We saw in our experiments that wet sand pellets were somewhat ‘floating’ over the sediment,” Jan Raack, one of the authors of the study, said.

But if floating sand is a real thing, it probably only occurs in a few areas, it at all.

Bruce Jakosky, another scientist who was not involved in this study, said he wasn’t sure if there’s any place on Mars that has enough water to make the sand levitate.

Unfortunately, it’ll be a while if ever before scientists can confirm whether or not this phenomenon happens.

The handful of satellites that orbit Mars don’t have a high enough resolution to take such detailed photos and the Mars rovers avoid spots that might have water for fear of contamination.

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Mars 2020 Rover Will Take High-Resolution Colored Photos Of The Red Planet For The First Time

The Mars 2020 rover will be able to show us more of the red planet than any of its predecessors ever did. NASA says the extraterrestrial vehicle will be equipped with 23 cameras, six more than curiosity’s and all a lot more capable.

Seven of those “eyes” are tasked with collecting data for scientific experiments, nine are engineering cameras that will keep an eye on its surroundings for navigation and the last seven will capture the rover’s descent and landing.

Its main camera, however, is Mastcam-Z, an upgraded version of Curiosity’s Mastcam with a 3:1 zoom (hence, “Z”) lens the original didn’t have.




Mastcam-Z will have the capability to take more 3D images than the first Mastcam and will give NASA scientists more info on the planet’s geological features.

Meanwhile, the engineering/navigation cameras will be able to capture high-resolution, 20-megapixel colored images for the first time.

Previous Navcams were only able to take one-megapixel black-and-white photos, so they have to capture several and stitch them together to be able to get a clear view of the surroundings.

Since these new cameras have a wider field of view as well, they don’t have to waste time and processing power stitching photos together.

The rover can spend that time collecting more samples and snapping more pictures instead. All those cameras will help the Mars 2020 rover achieve its goal to search for signs of past life on the red planet.

Earlier this year, the agency picked three potential sites to drill, all of which have elements that could have supported life.

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The Everyday Creatures Celebrated In The Museum Of Ordinary Animals

When it comes to natural history museums, it’s probably safe to say that most people would rather see the remains of dodos and dinosaurs than those of more familiar animals such as rodents, dogs, cats and cows.

But at The Grant Museum of Zoology at University College London, which houses around 68,000 natural history specimens covering the whole Animal Kingdom.

They are telling the story of the world’s more mundane creatures the seemingly boring beasts in our daily lives, including dogs, pigeons, cats, cows, chickens and mice – and how they have changed the world.




The Museum of Ordinary Animals investigates some of the profound impacts these everyday creatures have had on humanity and the natural world, looking at how they were created, and the extraordinary things we have learned from them.

Exhibits include a wall of 4,000 mice skeletons hand-collected from islands across the planet; famous animal-based artworks from UCL Art Museum’s collection; Egyptian cat mummies and what may be the world’s oldest veterinary text, both on loan from The Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology.

One of the things that emerges from these everyday creatures is the way their natural history is not the same as the rest of the animal kingdom’s and, says Curator and Grant Museum Manager Jack Ashby.

Lab strain mice skins (c.1960s) © UCL Grant Museum of Zoology & Oliver Siddons

The more ordinary species, which are often the product of human intervention as much as evolution, also have incredible stories to tell us. Before humans, there were “no ordinary animals,” he says.

We created them, either physically, through the process of domestication; or conceptually, through the ways we consider common wild species. The Museum of Ordinary Animals gives these commonplace creatures a chance to tell their stories.

These stories emerge courtesy of the work of a team of 18 researchers who have been delving into the cultural and scientific lives of everything from cats to chickens.

Frogs legs. © UCL Grant Museum of Zoology & Oliver Siddons

The latter were thought to have been first domesticated around 4,000-6,000 years ago from Asian red jungle fowl which are thought to have been attracted to human villages in the Indus Valley in South Asia by waste from crop-processing and animal dung.

Since their domestication our relationship with these birds has been complicated, with their cultural significance being more than just a source of Sunday roasts and Kentucky Fried Chicken.

The exhibition explores everything from the Chinese zodiac and Christian iconography through to a Papal decree in the sixth century and the Victorian ‘entertainment’ of cock-fighting.

Domestic dog skulls. © UCL Grant Museum of Zoology & Oliver Siddons

The exhibition also sees the debut of a brand new specimen from this humble food source and animal, which ranks as the most ubiquitous on the planet.

A recent death in the astounding 19 billion worldwide chicken population, Chickerina, the Grant’s ‘ethically sourced’ taxidermy chicken specimen, was until recently living out her old age at a free range poultry rescue farm in Brighton with other chickens and ducks – many of whom were rescued from battery farms.

When she died she was donated to ethical taxidermist Jazmine Miles-Long, who the Grant commissioned to create the new taxidermy for the exhibition.

Taxidermy chicken. © UCL Grant Museum of Zoology Jazmine Miles-Long

Chickerina joins an array of ordinary taxidermied specimens – including a domestic tabby cat preserved in specimen jar.

These ordinary animals may be everywhere but, adds Ashby, “the ways they interact with our lives are endless and varied”.

We have invited them into our homes as pets; their role in our diets has changed us biologically; they are critical to modern medicine and they hold huge symbolic value in many cultures.”

Preserved domestic cat. © UCL Grant Museum of Zoology & Oliver Siddons

This exhibition aims to shed light on the profound ways that these familiar creatures have changed both the human and natural worlds”.

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Razer’s First Smartphone Won’t Have A Headphone Jack

Razer has unveiled its first smartphone, the Razer Phone, designed to handle high performance games and stream high resolution movies.

The company revealed the phone during an event in London, which it had previously teased last Oct. 11.




The Razer Phone boasts a few remarkable specs, including:

  • 120 Hz UltraMotion screen, Dolby ATMOS
  • THX certified audio
  • Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 processor
  • 8GB RAM
  • 12MP dual cameras
  • 4,000 mAh battery for all-day power.

The one thing Razer’s Phone doesn’t have, however, is a 3.5mm headphone jack.

CNET reports that a USB-C to 3.5mm headphone adapter dongle will be come with the phone. The phone will also only be available through a GSM network, like AT&T or T-Mobile.

Razer’s foray into the smartphone business shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise considering that in January, the company purchased Nextbit, maker of the storage-focused, cloud-based phone, the Nextbit Robin.

Production on the Robin came to a halt following the acquisition.

The Razer Phone will be released on Nov. 17 for $700. The Phone can be purchased directly from Razer or Amazon.

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How To Get Internet To Isolated Puerto Rico? With Balloons.

More than one month after Hurricane Maria decimated Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, cell phone communication and connection to the internet remain sorely lacking.

Enter Project Loon, the internet-beaming balloons from X, the “moonshot factory” run by Google’s parent company, Alphabet, which have provided a huge boost to getting the affected U.S. territories back online.

The balloons launched from the Nevada desert over the weekend and traveled the 3,500 miles by sky to reach the stratosphere over Puerto Rico. Algorithms are keeping them in position where the need is greatest.




At least 66 percent of cellular sites were out of service in Puerto Rico and 55.4 percent are out of service on the U.S. Virgin Islands, according to a status report released on Monday by the FCC.

This is the first time we have used our new machine learning powered algorithms to keep balloons clustered over Puerto Rico, so we’re still learning how best to do this,” a blog post from X said.

As we get more familiar with the constantly shifting winds in this region, we hope to keep the balloons over areas where connectivity is needed for as long as possible.”

X received permission from the FCC earlier this month to deploy the balloons 12.5 miles over the ground in Puerto Rico. However, deploying them and bringing connectivity wasn’t exactly simple.

Earlier this year, the moonshot factory had success connecting people in Peru during a time of torrential rain and flooding.

In that case, X had an advantage in rapidly getting Peruvians connected because it had already been working with a local carrier on testing the technology.

But this time, X had to quickly work with partners to integrate Loon into their networks, ensuring the system would work once it was deployed. X is working with AT&T in Puerto Rico to deploy internet to the hardest hit parts of the island.

That means some people on the ground with LTE-enabled devices will get basic connectivity, enough to send texts and emails and get some internet access.

Loon is still a work in progress, but having it up and running in Puerto Rico could potentially allow X to work out any potential snags.

Project Loon is still an experimental technology and we’re not quite sure how well it will work,” X freely acknowledged in its blog post.

But we hope it helps get people the information and communication they need to get through this unimaginably difficult time.

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Antarctic Ozone Hole Is The Smallest It’s Been Since 1988

The ozone hole over Antarctica shrank to its smallest peak since 1988, NASA said Thursday.

The huge hole in Earth’s protective ozone layer reached its maximum this year in September, and this year NASA said it was 19.6 million square kilometres (7.6 million square miles) wide. The hole size shrinks after mid-September.

This year’s maximum hole is more than twice as big as the United States, but it’s 3.4 million square kilometres less than last year and 8.5 million square kilometres smaller than 2015.




Paul Newman, chief Earth scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, said stormy conditions in the upper atmosphere warmed the air and kept chemicals chlorine and bromine from eating ozone.

He said scientists haven’t quite figured out why some years are stormier and have smaller ozone holes than others. “It’s really small this year. That’s a good thing,” Newman said.

Newman said this year’s drop is mostly natural but is on top of a trend of smaller steady improvements likely from the banning of ozone-eating chemicals in a 1987 international treaty.

The ozone hole hit its highest in 2000 at 29.86 million square kilometres (11.5 million square miles).

Ozone is a colorless combination of three oxygen atoms. High in the atmosphere, about 11 to 40 kilometres above the Earth, ozone shields Earth from ultraviolet rays that cause skin cancer, crop damage and other problems.

Scientists at the United Nation a few years ago determined that without the 1987 treaty by 2030 there would have been an extra 2 million skin cancer cases.

They said overall the ozone layer is beginning to recover because of the phase-out of chemicals used in refrigerants and aerosol cans.

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The Quantum Computer That Could Spell The End Of Encryption

The researchers from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Austria’s University of Innsbruck call it “the beginning of the end for encryption schemes“.

Most encryption used today uses integer factorisation, or “the factoring problem“, and its security comes from the difficulty of factoring large numbers.

For example, finding the prime factors, or multipliers, for the number 15 is fairly easy as it’s a small number.

However, a larger number such as 91, may take some pen and paper.

An even larger number, say with 232 digits, has taken scientists two years to factor, using hundreds of classical computers operating in parallel.

In encryption, two different, but intimately related numbers, are used for the encryption and decryption, making it easy to calculate but hard to reverse.




However, a quantum computer is expected to outperform traditional computers and crack this problem by using hundreds of atoms, essentially in parallel, to quickly factor huge numbers because data is encoded in the ‘spin’ of individual electrons.

Unlike standard computers, quantum bits, or qubits can exist in multiple states at once rather than the binary 1 or 0 of conventional bits.

This means they can perform multiple calculations in parallel and hold far more information than normal bits.

For example, a computer with just 1,000 qubits could easily crack modern encryption keys while smartphone games like Angry Birds typically use 40,000 conventional bits to run.

It typically takes about 12 qubits to factor the number 15, but researchers at MIT and the University of Innsbruck in Austria have found a way to pare that down to five qubits, each represented by a single atom.

This has been designed and built by a quantum computer from five atoms in an ion trap. The computer uses laser pulses to carry out algorithms on each atom, to correctly factor the number 15.

The approach thus provides the potential for designing a powerful quantum computer, but with fewer resources,” said the research paper.

We factor the number 15 by effectively employing and controlling seven qubits and four ‘cache qubits’ and by implementing generalised arithmetic operations, known as modular multipliers.

The system is designed in a way that more atoms and lasers can be added to build a bigger and faster quantum computer, able to factor much larger numbers.

The scientists said the results represent the first scalable implementation of Shor’s algorithm, a quantum algorithm named after mathematician Peter Shor in 1994 to solve the factorisation problem.

We show that Shor’s algorithm, the most complex quantum algorithm known to date, is realisable in a way where, yes, all you have to do is go in the lab, apply more technology, and you should be able to make a bigger quantum computer,” said Isaac Chuang, professor of physics and professor of electrical engineering and computer science at MIT.

It might still cost an enormous amount of money to build – you won’t be building a quantum computer and putting it on your desktop anytime soon – but now it’s much more an engineering effort, and not a basic physics question.

The researchers claimed the ion-trap quantum computer returns the correct factors with a confidence level exceeding 99 per cent.

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Scientists Identify A Third Orangutan Species

By the time they got to the orangutan, it was already dying.

In the Batang Toru forest, on the western flank of Sumatra, orangutans will often venture from the jungle to pick fruit from nearby gardens—a habit that puts them in conflict with villagers.

In November 2013, the conservationist Matthew Nowak got word of one such conflict, and his veterinary colleagues went to investigate.

They arrived to find a male orangutan, badly beaten, his face and hands riddled with cuts. Despite the team’s efforts, he died from his injuries eight days later.

With just 120,000 orangutans left in the wild, the loss of any one is a tragedy. But this particular ape has a significance that will transcend his death.

Based on a close analysis of his skeleton, and a study of several orangutan genomes, Nowak and his colleagues think that the dead individual belongs to a different species of orangutan than those that we’re familiar with.




If they’re right, there are actually three species of these orange-haired apes. And the newly described one would be the most endangered great ape alive.

When I was a child, an orangutan was an orangutan was an orangutan. But in 2001, after years of debate, scientists formally agreed that there actually two species one from the Indonesian island of Borneo, and the other from neighboring Sumatra.

The Sumatran species is slimmer and paler, with fur that’s closer to cinnamon than maroon. It spends more time in trees. And it’s rarer, with about 14,000 remaining individuals, compared with 105,000 in Borneo.

Most of the Sumatran orangutans live on the northern part of the island. But there’s another small group that lives in Batang Toru—100 kilometers to the south, on the other side of the sizable Lake Toba.

A few obscure reports from the 1930s hinted at the existence of this splinter cell, but the group was only formally described in 1997, by a team led by the conservationist Erik Meijaard.

These orangutans always seemed a little unusual. They live in more mountainous forests, and they eat different kinds of food.  Their genes are also distinct.

In 2013, Michael Krützen, from the University of Zurich, analyzed the DNA of 123 Sumatran orangutans, and found that, in at least one part of their genome, the Batang Toru (or Tapanuli) orangutans were distinct.

If anything, they seemed more closely related to the Bornean orangutans on a different island than the Sumatran ones just a day’s walk to the north. “We didn’t expect that,” says Krützen. “It was peculiar, but we needed more data.”

He later mentioned this peculiarity while giving a talk at a conference, where both Meijaard and Nowak happened to be in the audience.

The three talked, and, suspecting that these orangutans might belong to their own distinct species, they teamed up to test that idea.

Krützen’s team analyzed the entire genomes of 37 orangutans, including two from Batang Toru.

This more thorough analysis confirmed that these animals are indeed genetically distinct from both the Bornean and Sumatran species—and closer to the former than the latter.

They think that the ancestors of all modern orangutans traveled from mainland Asia into Sundaland—a continuous landmass that includes what is now Sumatra, Borneo, and other islands.

Around 3.4 million years ago, these ancestral apes split into two populations, one of which gave rise to the current Batang Toru lineage.

The other group spread throughout Sundaland; around 670,000 years ago, they split again into two new lineages, which we now know as the Bornean and Sumatran orangutans.

The Batang Toru population occasionally crossbred with their Sumatran cousins, but those interspecies shenanigans stopped almost completely 100,000 years ago, when an erupting volcano cut them off.

The apes might not have 10 years, though. The Sumatran orangutans were already critically endangered, and now their population might be even smaller than anyone suspected.

The newly identified Batang Toru orangutan is rarer still, with an estimated 800 individuals left. Like the other two species, they are killed as agricultural pests, hunted for the pet trade, and rendered homeless as their forests are felled.

The good news is that since 2006, biologist Gabriella Fredriksson from the Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Program has been pushing the local government to spare the Batang Toru forest from logging.

Thanks to her efforts, around 85 percent of the forest is now at least partially protected. The bad news is that the unprotected 15 percent includes land that’s being set aside for a hydroelectric dam.

If built, the dam would cut off two large chunks of forest where the Batang Toru orangutans live, splitting this already small population into even smaller factions.

That would be devastating. “It’s probably one of the most endangered great apes we know,” says Krützen. “With just 800 individuals, there’s not much leeway for any mistakes.”

Marc Arcenaz, co-director of the Kinabatangan Orangutan Conservation Project, is hopeful, though.

I hope that this new status will foster conservation efforts to make sure that the population doesn’t go extinct shortly after being described,” he says.

It’s definitely good news in these times where conservation is more often than not gloom and doom.

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