Xenophilia (True Strange Stuff)

Blog of the real Xenophilius Lovegood, a slightly mad scientist

Archive for February 17th, 2010

VW Redefines “Car” With a 170 MPG Diesel Hybrid

Posted by Anonymous on February 17, 2010

Volkswagen L1 Concept CarVolkswagen L1 Concept Car

Volkswagen had quite a number of tricks up its sleeve at this year’s Frankfurt Auto Show, and the announcement that has undoubtedly received the most attention is the unveiling of the new “L1.” A car that, as Wired.com so eloquently put it, “redefines ‘car.’” This beautifully futuristic car is not only one of the most aerodynamic concept cars ever built, it’s shockingly efficient, achieving over 170 MPG, with a fuel tank that holds a mere 1.7 gallons. Numbers like these are likely to induce a double-take or two, but then again, so do the pictures. This would be one of the few moments when it’s absolutely okay to stare.

via Wired.com: VW Redefines “Car” With a 170 MPG Diesel Hybrid – VW TDI.

This is an older article but someone just told me about it so it must be getting some new advertising.

Posted in Technology, Travel | Leave a Comment »

One of the world’s oldest shipwrecks has been discovered off the coast of Devon

Posted by Anonymous on February 17, 2010

One of the world’s oldest shipwrecks has been discovered off the coast of Devon after lying on the sea bed for almost 3000 years.

The trading vessel was carrying an extremely valuable cargo of tin and hundreds of copper ingots from the Continent when it sank.

Experts say the ”incredibly exciting” discovery provides new evidence about the extent and sophistication of Britain’s links with Europe in the Bronze Age, and reveals the remarkable seafaring abilities of the people during the period.

Archaeologists have described the vessel, which is thought to date back to about 900BC, as being a ”bulk carrier” of its age. The copper and tin would have been used for making bronze, the primary product of the period which was used in the manufacture of weapons, tools, jewellery, ornaments and other items.

It is believed that the copper – and possibly the tin – were being imported into Britain and originated in a number of different countries throughout Europe, rather than from a single source, demonstrating the existence of a complex network of trade routes across the Continent. It is the first time tin ingots from this period have ever been found in Britain, a discovery which may support theories that the metal was being mined in the south-west at this time. If the tin was not produced in Britain, it is likely it would have come from the Iberian Peninsula or Germany.

The wreck was found in between eight and 10 metres of water in a bay near Salcombe, south Devon, by a team of amateur marine archaeologists from the South West Maritime Archaeological Group. In total, 295 artefacts have so far been recovered, weighing more than 84 kilograms.

The cargo recovered includes 259 copper ingots and 27 tin ingots. Also found was a bronze leaf sword, two stone artefacts that could have been slingshots, and three gold wrist torcs, or bracelets.

The team has yet to uncover any of the vessel’s structure, which is likely to have eroded away. But experts believe it would have been up to 12 metres long and up to 1.8 metres wide.

The artefacts are to be handed over to the British Museum next week. They will be independently valued and the museum will pay the team for the items.

via One of the world’s oldest shipwrecks has been discovered off the coast of Devon.

Posted in Archaeology | Leave a Comment »

Humobots in space

Posted by Anonymous on February 17, 2010

Despite the cancellation of NASA’s back-to-the-moon program, the next steps on the moon will likely be taken sometime in the next decade under human control. It’s just that the humans will be using a robot to take them. The space agency’s paradigm shift just might bring a shift to robotic telepresence as the next-best thing to walking on the moon.

Yes, they’ll be robots – but if current trends in robotics hold true, the robots could work like humans with superpowers, responding to the movements of a virtual-reality operator and sending back streams of video and data in near real time. Such “humobots” would represent one giant leap beyond the current generation of interplanetary rovers.

The small steps can already be seen in this month’s budget proposal for NASA: Among the robotic initiatives suggested to replace the canceled Constellation program is a mission to send out a lunar robot that “can be tele-operated from Earth and can transmit near-live video.”

X Prize synergy

That mission sounds very similar to the challenge posed by the Google Lunar X Prize, a program that sets aside $30 million in prizes for teams that develop video-capable lunar landers. And that’s music to the ears of Peter Diamandis, chairman and chief executive officer of the X Prize Foundation.

“The president’s budget is directly in line with what we’re trying to do with Google Lunar X Prize,” Diamandis told me over the weekend.

One of the X Prize teams, Odyssey Moon, is already partnering with NASA’s Ames Research Center to develop a lunar lander that could win the prize. Diamandis said the X Prize rules have been written to let teams earn revenue from NASA or other quarters, even during the prize-winning flight.

“We’re very open to working with NASA,” Diamandis said.

Months ago, NASA Watch’s Keith Cowing reported on rumblings that NASA might add millions of dollars to the Google Lunar X Prize kitty. Diamandis wouldn’t comment on how the space agency might participate, but he pointed out there was ample precedent for other funders to piggyback on the X Prize purse. Virgin Galactic, for example, paid to have its logo painted on the SpaceShipOne rocket plane for the flight that won the $10 million Ansari X Prize in 2004. “That is completely within the rules,” Diamandis said.

via Humobots in space – Cosmic Log – msnbc.com.

Nice helmet.

Posted in Space, Technology | 1 Comment »

Mysterious Origin of Cosmic Rays Pinned Down

Posted by Anonymous on February 17, 2010

Superfast protons sometimes slam into the Earth from space flying at close to the speed of light.

Where these particles, called cosmic rays, come from has been a scientific mystery. But new evidence helps confirm the leading explanation – that they originate in the distant remnants of dead stars.

Such a so called supernova remnants contains shells of gas that were ejected from a star before it collapsed in a supernova explosion. They harbor strong magnetic fields that are thought to behave like giant particle accelerators, speeding up particles that become cosmic rays.

New observations from NASA’s Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope reveal supernova remnants that are emitting radiation a billion times more energetic than visible light. This radiation, which is the short-wavelength gamma ray light, could be a signature of cosmic rays, which are thought to produce gamma rays when they collide with gas.

“Understanding the sources of cosmic rays is one of Fermi’s key goals,” said Stefan Funk, an astrophysicist at the Kavli Institute for Particle Astrophysics and Cosmology at Stanford University and the SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory in Menlo Park, Calif. “Fermi now allows us to compare emission from remnants of different ages and in different environments.”

Funk presented the findings Monday at a meeting of the American Physical Society in Washington, D.C.

Fermi’s Large Area Telescope (LAT) observed gamma ray light from three supernova remnants called W51C, W44, and IC 443, whose stars died between 4,000 and 30,000 years ago. The telescope also spied a much younger remnant, called Cassiopeia A, which is only about 330 years old.

“Older remnants are extremely bright in GeV gamma rays, but relatively faint at higher energies. Younger remnants show a different behavior,” said Yasunobu Uchiyama, a Panofsky Fellow at SLAC. “Perhaps the highest-energy cosmic rays have left older remnants, and Fermi sees emission from trapped particles at lower energies.”

Scientists think that the younger supernova remnants have stronger magnetic fields, which are able to hold on to particles long enough to accelerate them to the highest speeds, creating the highest-energy cosmic rays.

via SPACE.com — Mysterious Origin of Cosmic Rays Pinned Down.

Posted in Physics, Space | Leave a Comment »

Descartes was ‘poisoned by Catholic priest’

Posted by Anonymous on February 17, 2010

DescartesFrench philosopher was killed by arsenic-laced holy communion wafer after airing ‘heretic’ views, says academic

For more than three and a half centuries, the death of René Descartes one winter’s day in Stockholm has been attributed to the ravages of pneumonia on a body unused to the Scandinavian chill. But in a book released after years spent combing the archives of Paris and the Swedish capital, one Cartesian expert has a more sinister theory about how the French philosopher came to his end.

According to Theodor Ebert, an academic at the University of Erlangen, Descartes died not through natural causes but from an arsenic-laced communion wafer given to him by a Catholic priest.

Ebert believes that Jacques Viogué, a missionary working in Stockholm, administered the poison because he feared Descartes’s radical theological ideas would derail an expected conversion to Catholicism by the monarch of protestant Sweden. “Viogué knew of Queen Christina’s Catholic tendencies. It is very likely that he saw in Descartes an obstacle to the Queen’s conversion to the Catholic faith,” Ebert told Le Nouvel Observateur newspaper.

Though raised as a Catholic, Descartes, who had been summoned in 1649 to tutor Queen Christina, was regarded with suspicion by many of his theological coreligionists. His theories were viewed as incompatible with the belief of transubstantiation, in which the bread and wine served during the Eucharist become the flesh and blood of Christ. “Viogué was convinced that … his metaphysics were more in line with Calvinist ‘heresy’,” said Ebert. The theory of foul play has been greeted with caution by scholars. Since Descartes’s death on 11 February 1650, pneumonia has been blamed for robbing the world of the so-called father of modern philosophy.

Ebert rejects this as incompatible with the facts. In a letter written after his patient’s death, Descartes’s doctor, Van Wullen, described having found something wrong – which Ebert believes to be blood – in the philosopher’s urine. “That is not a symptom of pneumonia; it is a symptom of poisoning, chiefly of arsenic,” said Ebert, adding that Descartes asked his doctor to prescribe an emetic. “What conclusion is to be drawn other than the philosopher, who was well-acquainted with the medicine of his day, believed he had been poisoned?”

via Descartes was ‘poisoned by Catholic priest’ | World news | guardian.co.uk.

Posted in History, Religion | Leave a Comment »

A Radical New Autism / Asperger’s Theory

Posted by Anonymous on February 17, 2010

http://autism.lovetoknow.com/images/Autism/thumb/7/75/Life_with_aspergers.jpg/300px-Life_with_aspergers.jpgA groundbreaking study suggests people with autism-spectrum disorders such as Asperger’s do not lack empathy—rather they feel others’ emotions too intensely to cope.

People with Asperger’s syndrome, a high functioning form of autism, are often stereotyped as distant loners or robotic geeks. But what if what looks like coldness to the outside world is in fact a response to being overwhelmed by emotion—an excess of empathy, not a lack of it?

This idea resonates with many people suffering from autism-spectrum disorders and their families. It also jibes with new thinking about the nature of autism called the “intense world” theory. As posited by Henry and Kamila Markram of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne, suggests that the fundamental problem in autism-spectrum disorders is not a social deficiency, but rather an hypersensitivity to experience, which includes an overwhelming fear response.

“There are those who say autistic people don’t feel enough,” says Kamila Markram. “We’re saying exactly the opposite: They feel too much.” Virtually all people with ASD report various types of oversensitivity and intense fear. The Markrams argue that social difficulties of those with ASDs stem from trying to cope with a world where someone has turned the volume on all the senses and feelings up past 10. If hearing your parents’ voices while sitting in your crib felt like listening to Lou Reed’s Metal Machine Music on acid, you, too, might prefer to curl in a corner and rock.

But of course, this sort of withdrawal and self-soothing behavior—repetitive movements, echoing words or actions and failing to make eye contact—interferes with normal social development. Without the experience other kids get through ordinary social interactions, children on the spectrum never learn to understand subtle signals.

Phil Schwarz, a software developer from Massachusetts, is vice president of the Asperger’s Associaton of New England and has a child with the condition.

“I think that it’s a stereotype or a misconception that folks on spectrum lack empathy,” he says. Schwarz notes that autism is not a unitary condition—“if you’ve seen one Aspie, you’ve seen one Aspie,” he says, using the colloquial term. But he adds, “I think most people with ASD feel emotional empathy and care about the welfare of others very deeply.” …

Studies have found that when people are overwhelmed by empathetic feelings, they tend to pull back. When someone else’s pain affects you deeply, it can be hard to reach out rather than turn away. For people with ASD, these empathetic feelings might be so intense that they withdraw in a way that appears cold or uncaring.

“These children are really not unemotional, they do want to interact, it’s just difficult for them,” says Markram, “It’s quite sad because these are quite capable people but the world is just too intense, so they have to withdraw.” …

via A Radical New Autism Theory – Page 1 – The Daily Beast.

Posted in Health, Mind | 4 Comments »

Atheist billboard vandalized

Posted by Anonymous on February 17, 2010

A billboard near Sacramento promoting atheism was vandalized by someone depicting atheists as lost, one of the billboard’s sponsor said.

The billboard — one of several posted in the Sacramento area — originally read: “Are you good without God? Millions are.” Someone spray-painted the words “also lost?” beneath “millions are,” CBS13 reported Tuesday.

Rachael Harrington of the Sacramento Area Coalition of Reason — which paid to have the billboards put up — said the ads are intended to let atheists and agnostics know they are not alone, the TV station said.

“This shows loud and clear just how necessary our message is, because prejudice against people who don’t believe in a god remains very real in America,” Harrington said.

The organization has asked Clear Channel, the company that owns the billboard, to file a police report. The company offered to replace the sign free of charge, Harrington told the TV station.

via Atheist billboard vandalized – UPI.com.

Posted in Religion | Leave a Comment »

Indonesian teenager convicted for Facebook insult

Posted by Anonymous on February 17, 2010

http://www.webdoctus.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/08/facebookTheft.jpgA teenager received a suspended jail sentence for posting insulting comments on a romantic rival’s Facebook page, the latest case bringing Indonesia’s tough defamation laws under criticism.

Farah Nur Arafah, 18, was convicted Tuesday by three District Court judges in the town of Bogor, 35 miles (60 kilometers) south of Jakarta, of defaming her 18-year-old Facebook friend Felly Fandini. Arafah feared Fandini was attempting to sour the relationship with her boyfriend.

Arahaf’s posting in July last year called Fandini a pig and a dog, as well as saying she was promiscuous and overweight.

Presiding judge Ekofa Rahayu sentenced her to 75 days in prison, but suspended the sentence because Arafah cooperated during her trial. She must serve the sentence if she breaks the law in the next five months.

Arafah said her brush with the law had not put her off Facebook. “But I’ll be more careful about what comments I post,” she told The Jakarta Post newspaper.

Arafah’s defamation case was the latest involving social networking Web sites.

A group of reporters recently complained to police when Indonesian actress Luna Maya Twittered that tabloid journalists were worse than prostitutes and murderers. Police did not press charges.

via Indonesian teenager convicted for Facebook insult  | ajc.com.

Posted in Technology | Leave a Comment »

Vacuum Cleaner-Man!

Posted by Anonymous on February 17, 2010

Jem Stansfield scales the side of a school

how he does it

In the Spider-Man comics and movies, mild-mannered Peter Parker finds himself able to climb up the side of buildings after being bitten by a radioactive spider.

In real life, enterprising scientist Jem Stansfield got the same effect from two vacuum cleaners he bought at Tesco.

He adapted the household appliances’ motors into giant sucker pads, then used them to crawl up a 30ft wall. …

Festival organiser Richard Robinson admitted he thought the stunt would flop when he was told about it.

He said: ‘We all laughed. We didn’t think it would ever work, then we turned around and he was climbing a wall.’

Before becoming a TV presenter, Mr Stansfield created special effects for films including Lost In Space and Van Helsing, and produced exhibits for the Science Museum and Royal Observatory.

He invented the world’s first air-powered motorbike, and won a New Scientist prize for boots that walk on water.

More recently he succeeded in making a rocket run on toffee by filling a tube with the sweet and firing nitrous oxide down a hole in the middle of it.

It was capable of powering a bicycle ridden by Mr Stansfield at a test base.

For his next trick, he hopes to drive a car all the way from London to Manchester, powered only by coffee beans.

via  dailymail

Posted in - Video, Strange, Technology | 5 Comments »

Researchers demonstrate mosquito laser in action

Posted by Anonymous on February 17, 2010

… The device originated from a challenge by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation seeking a way to reduce the one million deaths caused each year from malaria. As Myrhvold noted at the conference, a child dies of malaria every 43 seconds.Although early prototypes of the mosquito laser worked, they were too expensive for use in developing countries. In the latest version, the mosquito laser is assembled from commonly availably technology. In fact, Myhrvold and his team found all the components on Ebay, which included parts from printers and projectors, and the zoom lenses from digital cameras. He estimates that the new version could cost as little as $50 to manufacture, depending on volume.

During his demonstration, Myhrvold released hundreds of mosquitoes into a glass tank. A laser tracked their movements and shot them down one by one, leaving their carcasses on the bottom of the tank. Myhrvold said that the lasers could shoot between 50 and 100 mosquitoes per second.

Besides being fast, the laser is accurate, too; it can distinguish butterflies from mosquitoes, and can also tell the difference between male and female mosquitoes. Only female mosquitoes, whose wings beat at lower frequencies, bite humans.

“You could kill billions of mosquitoes a night and you could do so without harming butterflies,” Myhrvold said.

Ultimately, the goal is to use the lasers to create protective fences around homes and clinics, as well as in agricultural fields as a substitute for pesticides. …

via physorg

Posted in Health, Technology | Leave a Comment »


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