Month: April, 2018

Meet ELIA, A New Tactile Reading System

The top row shows a standard alphabet. The middle row shows ELIA. And the bottom row depicts braille.

In 1829, Louis Braille published the first book introducing the braille system—and while the applications of braille have been immense, the system still relies on the outdated technologies of the 1800s.

This company created a modern, efficient alternative that’s incredibly easy to learn for people who have a visual impairment.




ELIA letters—known as ELIA Frames—leverage modern printing technology and design principles to optimize each letter’s design and create easily identifiable characters.

According to this company, ELIA Frames on the standard Roman alphabet, since roughly 70% of the world’s population uses it to read and write.

ELIA emerging from a specialized printer.

 

Each ELIA Frame features an outer frame (circle, square, house) and interior elements that combine to form the main characteristics of standard alphabet letters.

Currently, the employment rate among individuals with visual impairment is at an estimated 43%. For those who read braille, that rate soars to 85%. ELIA can have the same benefit for the 99% who can’t read braille.

A tactile ELIA skin on top of a standard keyboard.

ELIA Frames can be learned tactilely in as little as 3 hours—and visually in a few minutes—since the font leverages a previously established alphabet.

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Pass it on: Popular Science

Prehistoric Humans May Have Practiced Brain Surgery On Cows

Marks on the cow skull (a, b, c) as compared to a human skull that underwent trepanation (d, e)

Humans have been performing brain surgery—or at least drilling holes in one others’ skulls—for thousands of years. But how did they get their practice?

A new study analyzing an exquisitely bored hole in the skull of a 5000-year-old cow (above) suggests they may have honed their skills on animals.

The bovine cranium in question was found in Vendée, France, a Neolithic site that was a trade hub for salt and cattle between 3400 and 3000 B.C.E.




Scientists originally thought the cranial hole came from a traumatic blow by another cow, but others suspected a human hand at work.

To find out if early human surgeons were responsible, scientists compared the hole in the cow’s skull to holes in two human skulls from France dated to the same period.

It was clear from the long straight lacerations that the human skulls had undergone some sort of primitive brain surgery.

Using a combination of powerful microscopes, hand lenses, and 3D reconstructions, the researchers looked for tell-tale signs of deliberate cutting on the cow skull.

Long, parallel marks surrounding the hole and traces of scraping motions matched those found around the openings in the human skulls, leading researchers to conclude that the cow’s gape came courtesy of human surgeons, they reveal today in Scientific Reports.

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Here’s How To Purge Your Browsing History — No Questions Asked

Your online privacy is just as important as your offline privacy — if not more so. However, it’s not always easy to maintain.

Although surfing the internet in incognito mode is a great way to do so, it’s a good idea to know how to clear browsing history too. In this guide, we’ll walk you through it, no matter what browser you’re running.

If you want to go a step beyond this and keep your browsing history secret from remote services (and anyone who might be snooping on your connection), these are the best VPNs for both Windows and MacOSPCs.




Google Chrome

As the most popular web browser in the world, most of you are probably using Chrome. For the rest of you, scroll down, but if Chrome is your main browser, here’s how to clear your browsing history.

Step 1: Click the button represented by three vertical dots — it is located in the upper-right corner of your browser — to open a drop-down menu. Then select “Settings”.

Step 2: Scroll down and click the “Advanced” link next to the down-arrow.

Step 3: Scroll down until you see “Clear browsing data” and click it.

Step 4: This will open a window in which you can select the specific data you want to clear, including download history, passwords, and cookies. For our purposes, you should select Browsing history. You can also select the window of time you want to delete data from, whether it be the past hour or since the start of your browsing history.

Once you have decided how much data you want to delete, click “Clear browsing data.”

It’s a similar process for Chrome in MacOS, except that the three-dot button doesn’t exist. Instead, just click on Chrome in the menu bar and select on “Clear browsing data…” to get the screen options above.

Safari

The most common browser choice on Apple platforms, Safari, and its browsing history, is just as easy to clean out as Chrome’s.

Step 1: Find the “History” tab at the top of your screen and click “Clear History…

This will open a window that includes a drop-down menu, allowing you to decide what window of time you want to delete.

Once you select the time frame you want to delete, simply click the button labeled “Clear History.”

Firefox

Firefox’s new Quantum release could help return the browser to the popularity it once enjoyed. Here’s how to clear browsing history in Mozilla’s latest major release.

Step 1: Click the three-line button in the top right-hand corner and select “Options” from the resulting drop-down menu.

Step 2: Click the “Privacy and Security” tab and click “clear your recent history” under the “History” heading.

Step 3: A window will open, along with a drop-down menu where you can choose the amount of data you want to clear out. Click the “Details” arrow for more in-depth options if you prefer. Once you’ve made your decision, click “Clear Now.”

Opera

A long-running alternative to the big name browsers, Opera has remained competitive for more than two decades with good reason. Here’s how to clear its browsing history.

Step 1: Click the History icon in the left-hand menu. It looks like a small clock face.

Step 2: Click the “Clear browsing data” button on the right-hand side of the screen.

Step 3: Select the information you want to clear and the specific timeframe you want to be deleted, then click the blue “Clear browsing data” button.

Edge

The true successor to Microsoft’s Internet Explorer, Edge has proved to be a very capable modern browser. This is how to clear out your browsing history in it.

Step 1: Click the Hub button — it looks like unequal lines — then click the History button, which looks like a clock with an arrow running counter-clockwise.

Step 2:  select “Clear All History.” This will provide you with options outlining the types of data you can delete. Be sure to select “Browsing History.”

Step 3: Click the gray “Clear” button.

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Pass it on: Popular Science

SpaceX Blasts Off NASA’s New Spacecraft On Quest To Find New Planets

NASA’s TESS spacecraft embarked Wednesday on a quest to find new worlds around neighboring stars that could support life.

TESS rode a SpaceX Falcon rocket through the evening sky, aiming for an orbit stretching all the way to the moon.

The satellite — the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite, or Tess — will scan almost the entire sky for at least two years, starting at the closest, brightest stars in an effort to find and identify any planets around them.

Hundreds of thousands of stars will be scrutinized, with the expectation that thousands of exoplanets — planets outside our own solar system — will be revealed right in our cosmic backyard.

Rocky and icy planets, hot gas giants and, possibly, water worlds. Super-Earths between the sizes of Earth and Neptune. Maybe even an Earth twin.

Discoveries by Tess and other missions, he noted, will bring us closer to answering questions that have lingered for thousands of years.




Does life exist beyond Earth? If so, is it microbial or more advanced? But Tess won’t look for life.

It’s not designed for that. Rather, it will scout for planets of all sorts, but especially those in the so-called Goldilocks or habitable zone of a star: an orbit where temperatures are neither too cold nor too hot, but just right for life-nourishing water.

The most promising candidates will be studied by bigger, more powerful observatories of the future, including NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope, due to launch in another few years as the heir to Hubble.

These telescopes will scour the planets’ atmospheres for any of the ingredients of life: water vapor, oxygen, methane, carbon dioxide.

TESS is the successor to NASA’s Kepler Space Telescope, on its last legs after discovering a few thousand exoplanets over the past nine years.

Astronomers anticipate more than doubling Kepler’s confirmed planetary count of more than 2,600, once Tess’ four wide-view cameras begin scientific observations in early summer.

Unlike Tess, Kepler could only scour a sliver of the sky.

The total exoplanet census currently stands at more than 3,700 confirmed, with another 4,500 on the not-yet-verified list. That’s a lot considering the first one popped up barely two decades ago.

Until about 25 years ago, the only known planets were in our own solar system, noted NASA’s director of astrophysics, Paul Hertz.

While Kepler has focused on stars thousands of light-years away, Tess will concentrate on our stellar neighbors, dozens or hundreds of light-years away.

Most of TESS’ targets will be cool, common red dwarf stars, thought to be rich breeding grounds for planets.

To find the planets, Tess will use the same transit method employed by Kepler, watching for regular, fleeting dips in stellar brightness that would indicate a planet passing in front of its star. That’s the best astronomers can do for now.

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Pass it on: Popular Science

Endangered Shark Not Seen For Decades Discovered In Mumbai Fish Market

Little is known about the elusive Ganges river shark (Glyphis gangeticus), and what is known is mostly gathered from just three 19th-century museum specimens.

Listed as critically endangered, the rare freshwater fish hasn’t been spotted in more than a decade. That is, until now.

Recently released photographs show a 2.6-meter (8.7-foot) female shark at a Mumbai fish market.

The pictures were gathered as part of a study conducted under a Save Our Seas Foundation grant.




The findings, published in the Journal of Fish Biology, are a result of nearly two years’ worth of weekly shark landing sampling, in which researchers recorded, interviewed, and measured sharks fished and traded at the Sassoon Docks.

Photographed in February 2016, the female shark was identified by researchers based on her round snout, small eyes, and fin characteristics specific to the species.

However, researchers weren’t able to collect morphological measurements or tissue samples because of “rapid processing of fishers and traders at the site.

They’re also not sure where the shark was caught, but speculate it could have been somewhere along the northeast coast of the Arabian Sea.

It’s not only the first confirmed sighting in more than a decade, but it’s also the first field observation of a whole species – the other available accounts come from just six jaws collected by Pakistani fishermen and traders.

The “highly threatened, rare and elusive” shark’s distribution and status have been difficult to determine both globally and locally due to a lack of specimens.

Much of what scientists know about the shark is extrapolated from its Australian cousin.

Scientists do believe that the shark relies both on river and marine environments, both of which are heavily impacted by human development and habitat degradation.

One of 10 species of cartilaginous fish called Chondrichthyes that are protected under the Indian Wildlife (Protection) Act, the IUCN is not sure to what extent protection is enforced and cites concerns with compliance.

Researchers say overfishing is likely an area of concern; in the last 30 years, India has consistently been among the top three largest catchers of sharks and rays in the world.

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Pass it on: New Scientist

After The Facebook Scandal It’s Time To Base The Digital Economy On Private Ownership Of Data

The continuing collapse of public trust in Facebook is welcome news to those of us who have been warning about the perils of “data extractivism” for years.

It’s reassuring to have final, definitive proof that beneath Facebook’s highfalutin rhetoric of “building a global community that works for all of us” lies a cynical, aggressive project – of building a global data vacuum cleaner that sucks from all of us.

Like others in this industry, Facebook makes money by drilling deep into our data selves – pokes and likes is simply how our data comes to the surface – much like energy firms drill deep into the oil wells: profits first, social and individual consequences later.




Furthermore, the rosy digital future – where cleverly customized ads subsidize the provision of what even Mark Zuckerberg calls “social infrastructure” – is no longer something that many of us will be taking for granted.

While the monetary costs of building and operating this “social infrastructure” might be zero – for taxpayers anyway – its social and political costs are, perhaps, even harder to account for than the costs of cheap petroleum in the 1970’s.

Such realizations, as sudden and shocking as they might be, are not enough. Facebook is a symptom, not a cause of our problems.

In the long run, blaming its corporate culture is likely to prove as futile as blaming ourselves.

Thus, instead of debating whether to send Zuckerberg into the corporate equivalent of exile, we should do our best to understand how to reorganize the digital economy to benefit citizens.

And not just a handful of multi-billion-dollar firms that view their users as passive consumers with no political or economic ideas or aspirations of their own.

The obstacles standing in the way of this transformative agenda are many and, worse, they are structural – not likely to be solved with a clever app.

These obstacles stem primarily from the disquieting dynamics of contemporary capitalism – which is more stagnant than our obsession with innovation and disruption betrays.

Rather than from our supposed addiction to social networking or tech companies’ abuse of that addiction.

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Pass it on: New Scientist

Scientists Accidentally Produce An Enzyme That Devours Plastic

There are research teams around the world dedicated to finding a remedy for the growing plastic pollution crisis, but now it seems that one group of scientists have found a feasible answer — and they stumbled upon it by accident.

Researchers studying a newly-discovered bacterium found that with a few tweaks, the bug can be turned into a mutant enzyme that starts eating plastic in a matter of days, compared to the centuries it takes for plastic to break down in the ocean.

The surprise discovery was made when scientists began investigating the structure of a bacterium found in a waste dump in Japan.




The bug produced an enzyme, which the team studied using the Diamond Light Source, an intense beam of X-rays 10 billion times brighter than the sun.

At first, the enzyme looked similar to one evolved by many kinds of bacteria to break down cutin, a natural polymer used by plants as a protective layer.

But after some gentle manipulation, the team actually improved its ability to eat PET (polyethylene terephthalate), the type of plastic used in drinks bottles.

Existing examples of industrial enzymes, such as those used in detergents and biofuels, have been manipulated to work up to 1,000 times faster in just a few years.

McGeehan believes the same could be possible with the new enzyme: “It gives us scope to use all the technology used in other enzyme development for years and years and make a super-fast enzyme.

According to the team, potential future uses for the enzyme could include spraying it on the huge islands of floating plastic in oceans to break down the material.

Plastic pollution has seen renewed focus in recent times, thanks largely to attention drawn by David Attenborough’s Blue Planet II series, and through a number of legislative proposals.

Science has examined a huge range of solutions, from plastic-plucking robots to infrared identification from space, but the discovery of this mutant enzyme could herald an entirely new way of dealing with the issue.

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Pass it on: Popular Science

‘Diamonds From The Sky’ Approach Turns CO2 Into Valuable Products

Finding a technology to shift carbon dioxide (CO2), the most abundant anthropogenic greenhouse gas, from a climate change problem to a valuable commodity has long been a dream of many scientists and government officials.

Now, a team of chemists says they have developed a technology to economically convert atmospheric COdirectly into highly valued carbon nanofibers for industrial and consumer products.

The team will present brand-new research on this new CO2 capture and utilization technology at the 250th National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society (ACS). ACS is the world’s largest scientific society.

The national meeting, which takes place here through Thursday, features more than 9,000 presentations on a wide range of science topics.




We have found a way to use atmospheric CO2 to produce high-yield carbon nanofibers,” says Stuart Licht, Ph.D., who leads a research team at George Washington University.

“Such nanofibers are used to make strong carbon composites, such as those used in the Boeing Dreamliner, as well as in high-end sports equipment, wind turbine blades and a host of other products.”

Previously, the researchers had made fertilizer and cement without emitting CO2, which they reported.

Now, the team, which includes postdoctoral fellow Jiawen Ren, Ph.D., and graduate student Jessica Stuart, says their research could shift CO2from a global-warming problem to a feed stock for the manufacture of in-demand carbon nanofibers.

Licht calls his approach “diamonds from the sky.”

That refers to carbon being the material that diamonds are made of, and also hints at the high value of the products, such as the carbon nanofibers that can be made from atmospheric carbon and oxygen.

Because of its efficiency, this low-energy process can be run using only a few volts of electricity, sunlight and a whole lot of carbon dioxide.

At its root, the system uses electrolytic syntheses to make the nanofibers.

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Pass it on: Popular Science

Fruit Bat’s Echolocation May Work Like Sophisticated Surveillance Sonar

The new open-access paper in PLoS Biology shows how the animals are able to navigate using a different system from other bats.

Before people thought that this bat was not really good at echolocation, and just made these simple clicks,” said lead author Wu-Jung Lee, a researcher at the UW’s Applied Physics Laboratory.

“But this bat species is actually very special — it may be using a similar technique that engineers have perfected for sensing remotely.”

While most other bats emit high-pitched squeals, the fruit bat simply clicks its tongue and produces signals that are more like dolphin clicks than other bats’ calls.

Fruit bats can also see quite well, and the animals switch and combine sensory modes between bright and dark environments.

An earlier study showed that Egyptian fruit bats send clicks in different directions without moving their head or mouth, and suggested that the animals can perform echolocation, the form of navigation that uses sound, better than previously suspected.




Lee and colleagues measured the animals in the “bat lab” at Johns Hopkins University by capturing high-speed video and ultrasonic audio of bats during flight to study the mechanism of their behavior and navigation.

In measuring echolocation signals from fruit bats with a three-dimensional array of microphones, Lee did not solve the mystery of the seemingly motionless tongue clicks, but she did notice something strange.

The beam of different frequencies of sound waves emitted by the bats do not align at the center and form a bullseye, as one would expect from a simple sound source, but instead the beam of sound is off-center at higher frequencies.

Lee recognized the pattern as a common one in radar and sonar surveillance systems.

Invented in the early 20th century and now used throughout civil and military applications, airplanes, ships and submarines emit pulses of radio waves in the air, or sound underwater, and then analyze the returning waves to detect objects or hazards.

While a simple single-frequency sonar has a tradeoff between the angular coverage and image sharpness, a “frequency-scanning sonar” solves this problem by pointing different frequencies of sound at slightly different angles to get fine-grained acoustic images over a large area.

Lee wondered if the fruit bats could be using the same technique when echolocating. She created a computer model of what might happen when the tongue click from the front of the mouth travels out and passes between the bat’s lips.

The elongated shape of the bat’s mouth creates varying distances between the sound source and the gaps between its teeth, and this creates positive or negative interference between sound waves of different frequencies.

The result, Lee’s model shows, is that different frequencies point in different directions — just as a frequency-scanning sonar would act.

For me, what’s exciting is the idea that you almost have a convergence between a system that was evolved, and the effects are very similar to what we have invented as humans,” Lee said.

“This is not the classic case where we learn from nature — we found out that the bat may be doing the same thing as a system we invented many years ago.”

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Pass it on: Popular Science