Month: July, 2018

Why Are 2″ x 4″s Not Two Inches by Four Inches?

Many do-it-yourselfers have discovered that the two by fours (or 2 x 4s) they bring home from the lumber supply store are not actually 2 inches (5.08 cm) thick or 4 inches (10.16 cm) wide.

The actual dimensions of this lumber can vary somewhat, but a true measurement of 1.5 inches (3.81 cm) by 3.5 inches (8.89 cm) is not unusual. Still, the designation is not necessarily a misnomer.

The lumber industry is nothing if not consistent with its measuring system. When harvested trees are brought to commercial sawmills for processing, the first cuts can be rough.

Many of the irregular outer planks are discarded immediately. The usable lumber is often cut into easily divisible multiples of two, such as 24-foot (7.3-m), 12-foot (3.6-m), and 6-foot (1.8-m) lengths.

Indeed, at one point in the milling process, two by fours actually do measure 2 inches by 4 inches. This is the measurement of the planks just before they are run through a machine called a planer.

A planer uses sharp blades to shave off all of the imperfect edges left behind by the rough sawing process.

Commercial lumber mills may have to plane off as much as 0.5 inch (1.27 cm) of length and width from two by fours to provide a quality product for carpenters, roofers, and homeowners.

Older boards recovered from 100-year-old homes and other buildings may actually be true two by fours, however. Carpenters routinely planed their own lumber onsite to create a better fit between individual boards.

Sawmills did not always use planers to create perfect boards — framers and carpenters were accustomed to working with rough-sawn planks of variable thickness and appearance.

Planks were generally cut to standard measurements such as eight by eights, two by eights, and one by twos. The measuring terms still remain a popular reference, even if the actual dimensions are not entirely accurate.

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Pass it on: Popular Science

Nerf’s New Laser Tag Guns Hook Up To Your Smartphone

If the only thing missing from your summer is the ability to play laser tag at home without a vest, then Hasbro has got you covered.

Today, the company announced its Nerf Laser Ops Pro blaster line, which shoot IR bursts and allow you to keep track of ammo, health and how your team is doing right from the device. Batteries are, of course, not included.

Each blaster comes with an armband that can hold a smartphone, which signals that this product isn’t aimed at children.

Using an app, players can customize their Nerf blaster, track performance, access real-time battle stats, get power-ups and locate opponents.

But there’s more! If your friends are too busy to come over to play, the Alphapoint version of the blaster allows you to play in solo mode using the app.

All you have to do is take advantage of the solo attachment, which comes with the Alphapoint blaster.

There will be two different types of blasters available. The Pro Deltaburst model fires a three-shot AR burst with an included LCD screen to keep track of how you’re doing.

The Laser Pro Ops blasters will be available starting in August 2018 at most major retailers and

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Pass it on: Popular Science

Google’s AI Sounds Like A Human On The Phone

It came as a total surprise: the most impressive demonstration at Google’s I/O conference yesterday was a phone call to book a haircut. Of course, this was a phone call with a difference.

It wasn’t made by a human, but by the Google Assistant, which did an uncannily good job of asking the right questions, pausing in the right places, and even throwing in the odd “mmhmm” for realism.

The crowd was shocked, but the most impressive thing was that the person on the receiving end of the call didn’t seem to suspect they were talking to an AI.

It’s a huge technological achievement for Google, but it also opens up a Pandora’s box of ethical and social challenges.

For example, does Google have an obligation to tell people they’re talking to a machine? Does technology that mimics humans erode our trust in what we see and hear?

And is this another example of tech privilege, where those in the know can offload boring conversations they don’t want to have to a machine, while those receiving the calls have to deal with some idiot robot?

In other words, it was a typical Google demo: equal parts wonder and worry.

Many experts working in this area agree, although how exactly you would tell someone they’re speaking to an AI is a tricky question.

If the Assistant starts its calls by saying “hello, I’m a robot” then the receiver is likely to hang up. More subtle indicators could mean limiting the realism of the AI’s voice or including a special tone during calls.

Google tells The Verge it hopes a set of social norms will organically evolve that make it clear when the caller is an AI.

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A Brief History Of The Future

The history of the universe is mind-blowing. But the future of the universe – and how it ends – is even more so.

From the end of the human race to the fate of planet Earth, the solar system, the Milky Way, and beyond, in today’s video, we talk about the far, far future and what it holds for everything.

Meteor, Comet Or Asteroid? How To Tell Them Apart.

Here’s how to tell a meteor from an asteroid from a comet.

Meteoroid: A small rocky or metal object, usually between the size of a grain of sand or a boulder, that orbits the sun. It originates from a comet or asteroid.

Meteor: A meteoroid that enters the earth’s atmosphere and vaporizes. Also called a “shooting star.”

Meteorite: A meteor that hits earth without burning up in the atmosphere.

Meteor shower: A collection of meteors visible when earth passes through a trail of debris left by a comet.

Asteroid: An object larger than a meteoroid that orbits the sun and is made of rock or metal. Historically, objects larger than 10 meters across have been called asteroids; smaller than that they’ve been called meteoroids.

Comet: A body of ice, rock and dust that can be several miles in diameter and orbits the sun. Debris from comets is the source of many meteoroids.

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Pass it on: Popular Science

Nuro’s Self-Driving Vehicle Is A Grocery-Getter And Errand-Runner

Not every self-driving car has to be able to move passengers from point A to point B.

Take, for example, Nuro: The startup just revealed their unique autonomous vehicle platform, which is more of a mobile small logistics platform than a self-driving car.

The company, which has been working away in stealth mode in Mountain View until now, has raised a $92 million Series A round led by Banyan Capital and Greylock Partners to help make its unique vision of autonomous transport take shape.

Nuro’s vehicle is a small, narrow box on wheels, which is about half the width of a regular car, and which is designed to be a lightweight way to get goods from a local business to a customer, or from one person to another within a neighborhood or city.

The platform is just one example of what Nuro wants to do, however; the startup bills itself as a product company focused on bringing “the benefits of robotics” to everyday use and ordinary people.

Nuro’s AV also operates completely autonomously, and looks like something you’d see on a Moon base in a retro-futuristic sci-fi show.

There’s a pin pad for user interaction, so that only the right customer can access the contents stored within, and a top-mounted sensor array that includes LiDAR, optical cameras and radar.

The young startup’s goal is to partner with businesses to set up transportation services.

You can easily imagine this slotting in nicely to something like Uber Eats, and bringing food from the local lunch spot to offices around where people are hungry but can’t make the trip out to their usual places in person.

Or, these could support Amazon’s last mile needs for in-city delivery, for example. Nuro isn’t yet talking about specific partnerships, however.

This fit-for-purpose vehicle and dedicated focus could help Nuro accomplish some of the vision that Ford has for its AV program, for instance, with potentially fewer barriers to deployment in limited markets and specifically bounded environments.

It’s still early days for the startup, however, and it’s also competing in some ways with more established young companies like Starship Robotics. Still, it’s a neat first product and an interesting vision.

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Pass it on: Popular Science

Exoplanet Kepler-186f: Earth-Size World Could Support Oceans And Life (Infographic)

Astronomers have discovered a planet about the size of Earth, orbiting its star in the zone where oceans of liquid water would be possible.

A study of the newly-found planet indicates it could have an Earth-like atmosphere and water at its surface. The planet Kepler-186f is the fifth planet of the star Kepler-186, 490 light-years away.

The planet has 1.11 times the Earth’s mass. Its radius is 1.1 times that of Earth. Kepler-186f orbits at 32.5 million miles (52.4 million kilometers) from its parent star. Its year is 130 Earth days.

The planet orbits Kepler-186, an M-type dwarf star less than half as massive as the sun.

Because the star is cooler than the sun, the planet receives solar energy less intense than that received by Mars in our solar system, despite the fact that Kepler-186f orbits much closer to its star.

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Pass it on: Popular Science