Scotchmobile To The Rescue! UK Funds Booze-Byproduct Biofuel Company

Drinking and driving is bad...unless you're the car. Then it's a revolutionary new eco-friendly fuel idea.

Celtic Renewables, an Edinburgh-based biofuel company, has recently been granted £1.2 million (including £800,000 from the British government) to build a facility where byproducts from the distillation of scotch will be turned into biobutanol, a form of fuel that can power automobiles that run on gas or diesel. The funding will also allow Celtic Renewables to further their scientific testing on the processes and possibilities of what they do.

The biobutanol is derived from draff (sugary barley kernels soaked in water which act as a fermentation aid) as well as pot ale, the remaining yeast-filled liquid heated during the distillation process.

Celtic Renewables will be working in conjunction with Belgium's BioBase Europe Pilot Plant (BBEPP) to achieve their biofuel goals. According to, Professor Wim Soetaert, CEO of the BBEPP, said, “The transition from the current fossil-based economy towards a biobased economy is essential for industrial sustainability throughout Europe...Biobased production is already transforming a broad range of industries around the world and Celtic Renewables, making advanced biofuel and sustainable chemicals from whisky by-products, is exactly the kind of inspired innovation that our BBEPP is designed to support.” Celtic Renewables, the first company to deal in booze-based biofuel, will be working with BBEPP to replicate their results on an industrial scale.

So drink's helping to fuel the future, and not just your next terrible drunken phone message/love song.

Scotch 'n science.  Neat.

Tesla And Panasonic Team Up To Bring The (Environmentally Friendly) Power To The People

The idea of a clean-energy car is a great and necessary one, but the challenge of creating non-cost-prohibitive EV batteries to run them was until recently still an issue. Now, clean-car pioneers Tesla, along with electronics giant Panasonic, have teamed up to take matters into their own hands.

According to, Tesla and Panasonic announced that a major deal has been struck where the two companies will work together to mass-produce EV batteries at a new American factory (location to be determined.) The projected scale of the batteries' production will be large enough to eventually enable EV battery prices to drop.

The battery plant itself will take up between 500 and 1000 acres, and will employ 6,500 people. Current location speculations include Nevada, Texas, Arizona and New Mexico.

The terms of the deal state that Tesla will build and maintain the plant, while Panasonic will provide construction materials, lithium cells and manufacturing equipment. By 2020, Tesla is expecting to create 35GWh of cells and 50GWh of power packs to fuel some 500,000 of their cars.

While still pricey, Tesla cars will usher in a new era of transportation in a post-fossil-fuel world. Another golden age of American road travel could theoretically follow once it becomes inexpensive (and much more environmentally friendly) to drive cars again.  

Tesla automobiles being assembled.  Batteries definitely included.

3-D Bombs Away! U.S. Army Eyes "Printable" Explosives

The science of detonation physics is one that requires accuracy. The science of 3-D printing allows layers of material to be carefully plotted and strategically placed. The confluence of these two disciplines may soon literally be the bomb.

The U.S. Army is currently investigating how to create a new type of warhead using the technology of 3-D printing. This would theoretically allow them to have more control over precise design elements required to achieve a desired blast radius or to hit an extremely specific target, all in the same size as a conventional warhead. In a report from Army Technology magazine reprinted by, U.S. Army Armament Research, Development and Engineering Center materials engineer James Zunino explained, “The real value you get is you can get more safety, lethality or operational capability from the same space."

Forward-placed 3-D printers could also expedite the testing processes for warheads in the field, a critical component of the design process. Soldiers could possibly print and test the weapons to discover the most desirable traits for a specialized mission within just a few days.

Peace remains unfit for print.

Something Is Awesome In The State Of Denmark: Wind Power Soon To Be Half As Expensive As Fossil Fuels

The world is warming up to the idea of alternative energy becoming the new norm, and now, Denmark believes it can augment the argument in a big way. Scientists claim that in two years, wind power in Denmark will be half the price of fossil fuels.

With other nations working to achieve parity between sustainable energy and fossil fuels, already developments have been made (for instance, in some parts of America, wind power is the same price as natural gas.) However Denmark is boldly blowing past parity, with Yale 360 reporting that two onshore wind power facilities launching in 2016 will provide electricity for as little as 5 Euro cents per kilowatt hour.

According to, Denmark is already operating with a 43% clean energy mix for their entire nation, and plan to have 50% of their power needs met by wind power by 2050. The framework is already in place. Denmark's energy minister Rasmus Peterson said, "Wind power today is cheaper than other forms of energy, not least because of a big commitment and professionalism in the field...This is true for researchers, companies and politicians. We need a long-term and stable energy policy to ensure that renewable energy, both today and in the future, is the obvious choice.”

With costs of turbine technology decreasing and the technology constantly improving, perhaps even more of the world will soon have windmills churning up clean energy.

The answer may, in fact, be blowin' in the wind.

iWomb: Microchip Birth Control From Bill Gates

Whether you plan to help give birth to one of the impending fresh several billions of people that will grace the world over the next decade (or especially if you're not), there is some interesting news, oddly from the technology field.  The Bill Gates Foundation has announced plans for a microchip that, when embedded under the skin, would work as an active contraceptive for up to sixteen years.

The chip, speculated on by Gates at MIT and now in development phases thanks to the Massachusetts company MicroCHIPS, holds reservoirs of birth control hormone which it would evenly time-release to be effective over a long duration.  Implanted in the arm, abdomen, or buttock, the chip is an unobtrusive 20mm x 20 mm x 7mm.  It would activate by a small electric reaction heating a seal to melt 30 microgram reserves of anti-baby hormone daily.

Much as the electric vibrator preceded the arrival of the electric iron, vacuum cleaner, and toaster, could this healthily sexual, simple and useful device lead the way for even more great discoveries for the common person?  Perhaps this could be the first wave of acceptable tech for regular humans to begin digitally augmenting their bodies.

Sexy science.

The Electricity Diet: Meet Bacterial "Biowires"

The mysteries of electricity can be fascinating in their omnipresent yet mysterious ways. A recent discovery of electricity-eating bacteria has raised questions about how these organisms may use their need for electricity to power nanobots and other technologies of the future.

As reports, eight different types of electricity-chomping bacteria have been identified, shedding an entirely new light on the microbial world. UCLA scientists experiment on these creatures by running a current through seafloor sediment and observing the "biowires" that the bacteria form as they feed.

The bacteria can share their charge all along the wires they construct, and only require scant other trace elements (like sulphur, nitrogen and phosphorous) to survive.

Chief scientist Kenneth Nealson explained, “In the same way that photosynthetic bacteria or algae need only sunlight—they use the energy of the photons to reduce carbon dioxide to sugars, and go from there—our bacteria use the energy of electrons from the electrode to power the reduction of CO2 to sugar.”

The bacteria, once harnessed for power, may be able to create and fuel independent nano-machines that will fuel themselves from their environment to accomplish tasks too difficult, dangerous, or small-scale for humans.
The electricity diet is not recommended for humans.  Image courtesy

ACLU and Human Rights Watch To NSA: Stop Spying On Journalists, Sources

Two human rights groups have come forward to voice their worries over hyper-invasive government monitoring derailing the efforts of many assiduous journalists.  As reported by the Washington Post, the ever-encroaching surveillance network that spies on emails, phone calls, and other digital data is making journalists' jobs harder and those willing to tell their stories more paranoid.

Both Human Rights Watch and the American Civil Liberties Union came forward today to support a report decrying both the NSA's broad scope of operations as well as Obama's policy of locking up whistleblowers.  This combination, they say, is infringing on confidentiality not just between reporters and their subjects but even up to lawyers and their criminal defendants.  Both activist groups called for greater transparency regarding the methods of collecting, storing, and analyzing citizens' data.

ABC reporter Brian Ross, one of the 46 journalists, 42 lawyers, and assorted security professionals who presented the anti-surveillance report, mentioned that he now begins phone conversations with the phrase, "I'm a U.S. citizen, are you?"  This is due to laws (though many are currently up for debate) restricting the unfettered surveillance of Americans.  However the government maintains all of their watchdoggery is for "national security", and their constant worries about letting classified information leak have grown undeniably overbearing.  Hopefully thanks to this report, those that monitor our calls will soon be getting called out.

Image courtesy

Students Create $350 3-D Printed Prosthetic Arm

The future will be full of 3-D printed materials, and as this progresses we will recognize more and more that these creations will not just be helpful in daily life, but may also save astounding amount of money and effort for specialized fields and devices. Such was the case this week when Albert Manero, a Ph.d student in engineering at the University of Central Florida, helped outfit Alex, a 6-year-old boy, with a 3-D printed arm that cost only $350. Alex had been born missing part of his right arm, and that's where science stepped in.

Manero had teamed up with Alex's mom via the e-NABLE project, which seeks to create 3-D printed hands via online efforts, and after seven weeks of tests with an engineering team, finally created a working prototype. As reported by, Alex quickly learned how to use the technology in conjunction with his upper arm strength. Manero noted, "The first thing he did when he could actually control it a little bit was hug his mother."

Since Alex is young and will require upgrades as he grows, additional parts for the arm mechanism can be printed out, at a cost of $20-$50. A conventional prosthetic arm could run up to $40,000.

High five for 3-D printed arms!

Alex Pring and his innovative, inexpensive new arm.

Space Station Sunday: Kick The Tires And Light The Fires

This week, activities on the ISS included a diverse array of scientific tests as well as the arrival of a Russian cargo ship bearing supplies. The Russian ship Progress 55, which had been docked aboard the ISS since April, was filled with trash and set free to de-orbit on Monday. Its successor Progress 56 launched from Baikonur Cosmodrome, Kazahkstan on Wednesday, arriving at the ISS only six hours later with a payload of food and other supplies.

As reported by NASA, scientific tests of note on the ISS this week included:

-analysis of intra-ocular pressure of astronauts' eyes to determine and improve how long-duration spaceflight affects astronauts' vision (microgravity forces bodily fluids upwards towards the skull, often applying unwanted pressure to ocular nerves.)

-the Aquatic Habitat for Zebrafish Muscle Study environment was tended to by German astronaut Alexander Gerst. This experiment examines at a molecular level the atrophy of muscles in microgravity by using zebrafish (small freshwater vertebrates) as test subjects. The fish live in two aquariums with a closed-loop water supply, and analysis of their muscles as well as those of the astronauts may help prevent the loss of muscle mass in space.

-the BASS (Burning And Suppression of Solids)-II Experiment was worked on by flight engineer Reid Wiseman. The experiment, which has a special Combustion Integrated Rack equipped with a combustion glovebox, 100 fuel samples, fuel and oxidizer controls as well as five cameras, aims to assess which materials may be MORE flammable in space than on earth, and how the reactions studied can aid fire detection and prevention on both Earth and the ISS. As stated by NASA, "BASS-II tests the hypothesis that materials in microgravity, with adequate ventilation, burn as well if not better than the same material in normal gravity with other conditions being identical (pressure, oxygen concentration, temperature, etc.). The main variables being tested are the effects of ambient oxygen concentration, ventilation flow velocity, and fuel type, thickness, and geometry." The spherical shape in which flames burn in space allows for more thorough analysis of the combustion's possible effects.

The ISS astronauts also took time to respect the history of their institution, citing the Apollo missions as early inspirations as they spoke via radio with Apollo 11 astronauts Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins as well as Apollo 13 astronaut (and Apollo 11 backup commander) Jim Lovell. The vintage astronauts had gathered for the renaming of the Kennedy Space Center's Operations and Checkout Building in honor of Neil Armstrong as part of the moon landing's 45th anniversary celebrations.
A  customs form from our early astral immigrants, celebrating 45 years of repatriation to Earth.

Unit Testing and Test-Driven Development in Python

There are both advantages and disadvantages to being self-taught in any given discipline. In certain cases, the advantages and disadvantages can overlap or even coincide. For example, when you are self-taught, you are not confined by institutional structures and courses of study. On the one hand, this allows for a distinct measure of freedom to pursue one’s own interests in the field, which would not necessarily be afforded to a person following a traditional disciplinary curriculum. On the other hand, this also means that it can be quite easy to develop gaps in one’s basic knowledge of the discipline, for the simple reason that these areas of study did not fall within your area of interest.

I discovered one such gap in my study of programming in general, and Python in particular, a number of months ago when I came across a quote online that went something like this: “Code that is not tested is broken by definition.”  Testing? “You mean running the code to see if it works?” I thought to myself. Within the next hour I had my first exposure to the method of test-driven development and the Python unittest module.

This was literally the exact opposite of how I had approached my own programming projects up until then, which might be termed “error-driven development”: write some code; run it; see if it works; if it doesn’t work, tinker at random until it does; write some more code and repeat. I quickly realized that, according to the above quote, all my code was broken, by definition. 

The test-driven development model is the reverse of this: write a test, run it and watch it fail; write some code to make the test pass; refactor; write another test and repeat. It was an enlightening experience to attempt writing even a simple program under a test-driven model, as it was immediately obvious that I had only the vaguest notions about things that I thought I knew fairly well.

Since then, I’ve re-written a number of programs I’d created for myself under a completely test-driven developmental model, and have integrated testing into my everyday coding practice. I’ve also collected a bunch of resources that I've found helpful along the way, which you can find below. Also, as you may know, of late there has been something of a controversy brewing on the merit and value of test driven software development. Some links on this are supplied at the end. As always, further recommendations are welcome in the comments!

Overview of Test-Driven Development (Video Lectures)

Unit Testing in Python (Video Lectures)

Python Unittest Module Docs

Python Unittest Intro Tutorials

Test Driven Development in Python

Unit Testing Today

Congressional Vandals Blocked from Wikipedia

As the old saying goes, there is no distinctly criminal class in the United States, except for the Congress.  BBC reports that the US Congress IP address space has been banned from making edits on Wikipedia for repeated acts of intellectual dishonesty and digital vandalism.  Perhaps they should be arrested under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act and sentenced to decades in prison.  Excerpt:
Wikipedia administrators have imposed a ban on page edits from computers at the US House of Representatives, following "persistent disruptive editing".
The 10-day block comes after anonymous changes were made to entries on politicians and businesses, as well as events like the Kennedy assassination . . .

Edits from computers using the IP address belonging to the House of Representatives have been banned before, following similar acts of vandalism . . . Jimmy Wales, the founder of Wikipedia, told the BBC that the incident did not surprise him, and vandalism has "always gone on and it always will".

Apple Responds to Claims of Backdoor in iOS Devices

 Just in case you were still wondering if your devices are secure.  From The Next Web:
Apple has published new information about the diagnostic capabilities of iOS, in what appears to be a response to suggestions that it includes a ‘backdoor’ that could enable governments and other third-parties to access user data.

The controversy arose after security consultant Jonathan Zdziarski documented a vulnerability that could leave usage data on iOS device exposed. Rebutting subsequent reports that linked the vulnerability with government data collection, Apple told iMore that it has “has never worked with any government agency from any country to create a backdoor in any of our products or services.” . . .

Following his initial findings, Zdziarski has been in contact with Apple. Citing the company’s response to his claims, he said that he “doesn’t buy for a minute that these services are intended solely for diagnostics.” That’s to say that he found the type of data available to the diagnostics services to be “of an extreme personal nature,” which seemed out of place given the focus.
For all you folks out there who "have nothing to hide", I suppose you have nothing to be afraid of.  But in that case, feel free to leave your bank account information in the comments!

Cryptography vs. Cryptanalysis: Black Hat Talk on Hacking Tor Pulled from Conference

Historians of cryptology often describe the development of the discipline of "secret writing" in terms of a dialectic between cryptography and cryptanalysis, that is, between code makers and code breakers.  Cryptographers seek to create ever more indecipherable encryption schemes and cryptanalysts seek to break them.  An article on the cancellation of a Black Hat conference talk on the Tor privacy service from Reuters provides us with an interesting glimpse of how this tension is currently playing out among hackers and security researchers within the US government.  From Reuters, on the cancelled talk:

A highly anticipated talk on how to identify users of the Internet privacy service Tor was withdrawn from the upcoming Black Hat security conference, a spokeswoman for the event said on Monday.

The talk was canceled at the request of attorneys for Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, where the speakers work as researchers, the spokeswoman, Meredith Corley, told Reuters . . . a Carnegie Mellon attorney informed Black Hat that one of the speakers could not give the Tor talk because the materials he would discuss have not been approved for public release by the university or the Software Engineering Institute (SEI). . . .

Its abstract, titled "You don't have to be the NSA to Break Tor: De-Anonymizing Users on a Budget," had attracted attention within the security and privacy communities. The abstract had been published on Black Hat's website but has since been removed.
While the media often identify Tor as the preferred browser of child pornographers, criminal cartels and terrorist groups they often fail to note that it was actually originally developed by US government researchers. Or perhaps their implication is that the US government naturally falls under one of those umbrella terms? Whatever the case may be in that regard, the Reuters article hints at the state of the arms race between US government cryptographers and cryptanalysts. Another excerpt:
The U.S. government funded the creation and much of the operation of Tor as a communications tool for dissidents in repressive countries. But Tor has frustrated the U.S. National Security Agency for years, according to documents released by former agency contractor Edward Snowden.
That revelation has helped increase adoption by those seeking privacy for political reasons, as well as criminals, researchers say. 
Some criminal suspects on Tor have been unmasked by the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation and other law enforcement or intelligence agencies using a variety of techniques, including tampering with software often used alongside Tor.

Check out the EFF for more information on Tor.

Space Station Sunday: Apollo 11 Anniversary Salute

***No Roses On The Moon Haiku***

RE: human life:
Planet Earth is Number One!
Let's start acting it.

Before the Space Station, there was the Eagle.  Happy 45th anniversary Apollo 11!

Freedom claims another victory.

Clutch! MIT Researchers Craft Extra Robotic Fingers (Even If You're Not Missing Any)

We may not be able to add more hours to our day or more nice days to summer, but now, we can add more digits to our hands.  MIT researchers have recently developed a system that allows even five-fingered folks to up their dexterity...with a little help from robotics.

Created by researcher Faye Wu, the "SR" or "supernumerary robotic" fingers are controlled by glove-embedded sensors which apply the same amount of grip and force as the rest of your hand.  The possibilities are intriguing...from folding laundry faster to executing literally unheard-of piano solos.  And the practical uses for those who need a little extra everyday help are diverse and ever-expanding.

As Wu said in a video interview posted on, "The fingers are quite long, so the user can grab things that are usually much larger or much heavier than they can do with a single hand.  With the assistance of the SR fingers, users can grasp objects that are too difficult for them to do with a single hand.  For example, objects that are too large, too heavy, or the surface of the object is too hot or too cold.

You can also perform tasks that usually require two hands, for example, a single hand taking a cap off of a bottle, or opening a letter.  For elderly, or people with disabilities, these fingers can help them enjoy a living much more independently."

High, high SEVEN to the researchers who continue to develop this project.

This is how the robot baristas are going to take over.

Can We Call It "Moonhattan"? Moon Caves Eyed For Astro-Living Arrangements

The moon is known for being a harsh mistress...desolate, pitted, and unforgiving to human life. However, NASA now believes that the many underground caves of our nearest astro-neighbor may be suitable for establishing space settlements.

The 200-odd "lunar pits", identified by NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, range from 5 to 900 meters in diameter. Possibly formed by ancient lava flows on the moon (and the subsequent collapse of the terrain from the surface), the mooncaves will require a probe to fully analyse them for possible habitability.

As reports, moon researcher Robert Wagner explained, "A habitat placed in a pit — ideally several dozen meters back under an overhang — would provide a very safe location for astronauts: no radiation, no micrometeorites, possibly very little dust, and no wild day-night temperature swings."

Even with more thorough assessment by NASA, the first years of moon colonization would be difficult, much as the early conquest of America was. Initially, it could be the wild west of space...maybe we should call it "Moontana."

Artist's rendering of NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, which is currently swooping around the moon and checking out real estate.

I Can Haz Automatic Cheezeburger? Facial-Recognition Cat Feeder In The Works

For all of you cat owners, your overlords are now more easily appeased. A new type of facial recognition software allows your feline to get food just by imaging its face at a sensor.

According to, a Taiwanese-based company has "racked up more than $25,000 in funding from crowdsourcing sites" to create an automatic cat-food dispenser that will save you all the usual trouble of getting mewled at or punched in the nose with a clawed paw at an ungodly hour of the morning.

The device, called the Bistro, is initiated by the cat sticking its head into a clear sensor box, which scans your critter's furry face, verifies that it is not an impostor cat, and deposits food directly into a bowl.

The Bistro also sends alerts to the owner's smartphone if Garfield goes on a bender and empties his entire kibble supply.

NSA: Naked Snaps Agency

The famous Edward Snowden NSA leaks provided a shocking amount of disclosure to a nation that is still trying to chalk up the agency's egregious misconduct to "national security." Now, in a new interview, Snowden admits the dirt they were digging up on people is a little more lascivious than previously thought.

In an interview with The Guardian as reported by Ars Technica, Snowden said in no uncertain terms that NSA agents commonly obtained and distributed nude and sexually illicit private photos from the people they are sworn to protect. Snowden described the chain of events where young agents would find an appealing photo during the course of their work, then share and compare it with pornographic pics found by their coworkers.

In Snowden's own words, he said, "It's never reported. Nobody ever knows about it because the auditing of these systems is incredibly weak. The fact that your private images, records of your private lives, records of your intimate moments have been taken from your private communications stream from the intended recipient and given to the government without any specific authorization without any specific need is itself a violation of your rights. Why is that in a government database?”

The interview also included Snowden categorically denying attacks that he is a Russian spy, calling such allegations, "Bullshit." Just because he's trying to shut off the NSA's abundant amateur porn supply doesn't mean he hates America.

Drone Riders In The Sky: New Aerial Highway In The Works

The futuristic visions of flying cars or at least drone-delivery burritos need a place to begin. That place, claims scientist Dr. Parimal Kopardekar, is a well-defined aerial highway for drone traffic, aka the UTM (Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Traffic Management System.)

Dr. Kopardekar, a rocket scientist who was NASA Ames Engineer of the Year 2003, is the principal investigator for this project, where low-level Class G airspace (anything up to 1,200 feet about ground level) will be organized to suit our little flying robot friends. As Dr. Kopardekar told, "We are basically creating this UAS traffic management system that allows you to accommodate the number of vehicles that will operate in the low altitude airspace. The analogy is ‘just because we have a car, whether it’s an autonomous car or someone is driving, does not negate the need for a road or stop signs or rules of the road.’ The same thing happens in the airspace. We need to have a structure."

Using GPS and geofencing, the drones will be hopefully be kept in line despite whatever their mission may be. Aerial photography, delivery services, weather reporting, and other elements will be made easier with this technology. The program is intended to be operational within five years.

Pizza's here!

Apollo 11 Adventurers' Anniversary: Launch Time

Today marks the 45th anniversary of the launch of the Apollo 11 mission, man's first journey to the moon. In celebration of this event, here is the original footage from the launch at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida.

The mission, comprised of astronauts Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins, was fraught with danger (an eerie speech in possibility of their failure had already been drafted for President Richard Nixon) but the promise of a new era for mankind was too strong to deny.

The technical elements involved in the mission were massive. According to, the Saturn V rocket itself stood 364 feet tall (over twice the height of the Statue of Liberty) and weighed 6,100,000 lbs when filled with fuel. That fuel was 4,325,132 lbs liquid oxygen, 1,432,662 lbs jet fuel (kerosene), and 202,851 lbs liquid hydrogen. This allowed the massive craft to eventually attain the required speed to enter orbit (a.k.a "escape velocity"), ultimately thrusting at 7 miles per second (or Mach 32.4.)

The liftoff shown in the video was successful thanks to a comprehensive 7.5 million pounds of thrust, or more than that of forty 747 planes.

More Apollo 11 facts to follow this week in celebration of the 45th anniversary!

You Keep It, They Peep It: No Fourth Amendment For Foreign Data Storage?

The United States government is actively opposing Microsoft's endeavors to protect users' electronic information. Contesting a ruling from earlier this year that demanded warrants for online data, the government cited the Stored Communications Act to attempt to retrieve data from a server in Ireland, saying,"Overseas records must be disclosed domestically when a valid subpoena, order, or warrant compels their production. The disclosure of records under such circumstances has never been considered tantamount to a physical search under Fourth Amendment principles, and Microsoft is mistaken to argue that the SCA provides for an overseas search here. As there is no overseas search or seizure, Microsoft’s reliance on principles of extra-territoriality and comity falls wide of the mark."

According to, the case was in regards to information stored by drug traffickers and was a target for extensive search, but the principle remains the same. Better get your own external hard drive to store those terabytes of homemade furry videos, because if they're stored offshore, the government can enjoy them to their hearts' content.

Just assume your data's not safe anywhere.

Old McDonald Had A Robot: New Machines Pick Plants; Prune

If Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers, how many pickled peppers did his robot counterpart pick?  Soon enough, science may have the answer.

Automated farm machinery is using technological developments to expand mechanizing the farm industry in many interesting ways.  As reports, pepper-picking, plant-pruning, soil-testing, and crop-health-monitoring robotics are now entering the farming field.  Much as industrialization occurred in factories last century, now difficult and dangerous farm jobs can soon be outsourced to mechanical farmhands.

Thanks to telepresence aided by affordable sensors and computerized vision, machines like the pepper-picking WP5 robot can autonomously select and harvest ripe pepper plants.  Other tools like ground-based transponders and radar (with a bit of pre-programming by driving the perimeter) can allow for self-driving tractors to tend to fields.  Yet another bot, the Wall-Ye, is capable of caring for vineyards by pruning vines and testing soil.  Even drones are in on the action, monitoring large fields from above for irrigation problems and threats to plant health.

The farms of the future may just allow humans to sit back and enjoy the fruits of the long as the robot workers haven't risen up to usurp it from us by then.

Wall-Ye the wine-bot does everything except bartend.  Maybe that'll be in Model 2.0.

A Mule With Fuel: New Cargo Robot Aids Marine Missions

The United States Marines now have a whole new definition for the term "hauling ass." Their tests on a sturdy, cargo-toting robotic mule have been moving along successfully.

As reported by the BBC, the USMC is currently testing the new robo-creature during the Rim Of The Pacific (RIMPAC) international joint exercises in Oahu, Hawaii. The motorized mule is known as the "Legged Squad Support System (LS3)" but has been nicknamed "Cujo."  It operates by following a sensor strapped to a human operator's foot.

Created by Boston Dynamics as a corollary to their projects creating robotic dog-type critters, Cujo can carry 400 pounds of gear for missions up to 20 miles. According to, its attendant humans were impressed with its skills.

Marine Lance Cpl. Brandon Dieckmann said, "I was surprised how well it works. I thought it was going to be stumbling around and lose its footing, but it’s actually proven to be pretty reliable and pretty rugged...

"There are times when it is going to fall over, but most of the time it can self-right and get back up on its own. Even if it doesn’t, it can take one person to roll it back over. The way it is designed is that you can easily roll it back over.”

While Cujo is impressive, one wonders if they're trying to work their way up to full-sized mechanical battle elephants, like a futuristic Alexander The Great.

Kick ass!  The majestic LS3 mules romp in a pasture.


From Tech Plant To Tech For Plants: Old Sony Factory Becomes High-Yield Hydroponics Farm

Meeting the world's growing nutrition needs is an important challenge of the future. Now, using techniques catered to plants' specific growing needs while concurrently saving space and increasingly yield, hydroponic farms might be a wave of the future.

In Japan, as reported by Gizmodo, an old Sony factory has been converted into a highly efficient and productive hydroponic greenhouse. At 25,000 square feet (half the size of an American football field), this factory produces 10,000 heads of lettuce a day thanks to its innovative design and well-regulated environment. 17,500 special LED lights made by GE improve the growth time of the resident lettuce plants by 250 percent.

Plant physiologist Shigeharu Shimamura explained, "We want to achieve the best combination of photosynthesis during the day and breathing at night by controlling the lighting and the environment."

The 18 plant cultivation racks rise 16 levels high, improving productivity per square foot by 100 percent as compared to outdoor farms. Thanks to tightly regulated temperature and humidity controls, the farm uses only 1 percent of water compared to traditional farms. The business model is so successful, it is already attempting to expand into Hong Kong, Russia, and maybe someday to a futuristic farm near you!

Salad just got much more interesting.

Space Station Sunday: 5,000 Days Of Orbital Colonization (Now With Fresh T-Shirts!)

In an anniversary that beautifully showcases the enduring greatness of man's progress in space, yesterday marked the 5,000th day of continuous human habitation aboard the one and only International Space Station.  

And today they'll get some fresh outfits!  As ABC news reports, The Cygnus spacecraft, designed by Orbital Sciences (a private company contracted by NASA for the delivery), launched today from Wallops Island, Virginia.  The launch had been delayed thanks to engine troubles, then poor weather conditions, but went up without a hitch.  Some 3,000 pounds of cargo were aboard, including food, clothing, and science supplies, which will be transferred to the ISS after docking.  

The Cygnus will then be loaded up with garbage accrued from the ISS.  The non-reusable spacecraft will be sent back to Earth to burn up in the atmosphere, like a futuristic trash incinerator. 

An interesting item on the delivery list is a shipment of antibacterial workout clothes that are supposed to be resistant to unpleasant odors, which allows for fewer changes of clothing (even after the two hours a day of exercise that is required to keep the micro-gravity dwellers fit.)  Because when living in an enclosed place with six other people and no way to crack a window for air, smelling nice is important.

Beautiful day for a blastoff!

From The Lone Star State To The Stars: Elon Musk Building Spaceport In Texas

Elon Musk is not just ushering in the future, he's building the stage one of its most exciting stories will play out on. Musk is currently in the process of turning a 56.5-acre parcel of land in Texas into a spaceport.

A spaceport. The origin from which people (regular, if extremely wealthy, civilians!) will be launched into space. The FAA has cleared the site for 12 commercial launches per year. Musk is adding this flagship site to augment his homegrown SpaceX program, which also has sole access to launchpad 39A at Florida's Kennedy Space Center. As reported by Bloomberg Business Weekly, Musk has been working on updating current systems to suit his futuristic desires.

“We need to install dedicated equipment for us that has an autonomous safety system that doesn’t depend on someone pushing a button to do the tracking,” Musk stated. “You install a set of redundant avionics on the rocket that monitor its position, and if it flies outside of an agreed-upon path, it initiates a destruct sequence.”

SpaceX's own Falcon 9 and soon-to-be-seen Falcon Heavy rockets will provide the lift. SpaceX is also in bids to provide rocketry for the military. Across the U.S., Musk has also been heavily involved in creating and promoting electric Tesla automobiles, and has recently begun construction on a major solar panel factory in New York.

Musk's stated goal with SpaceX is to eventually bring human beings to Mars. That's a rodeo we want to ride in. 

Soon to be a spaceport!

Bright Lights, Big Toilets, And Ostrich-Caliber Climate Control: The GOP Annihilates Environmental Programs

The GOP, in an unsurprising move, is now overtly making decisions that benefit themselves and detract from environmental legislation. Their recent decisions, passed Thursday night in the Energy and Water Development and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, tear up environmental initiatives and replace them with fossil-fuel-dependent alternatives.

The Huffington Post reported this laundry list of Republican bad ideas. Included in the vote were measures that up funding for coal and fossil fuels (while cutting Energy Department funds for renewable energy by more than $100 million.) The new legislation also bars the enforcement of energy efficiency standards for light bulbs, cuts funding incentives for installment of low-flow toilets, and forbids spending on climate change model development.

This ensures we'll still pay lots of money for coal to keep the wasteful lightbulbs glowing and for more water than the average toilet user needs, and forget about analysis of the state of the climate.

Most shockingly, an amendment made by David McKinley (R-West Virginia) bans spending to "design, implement, administer or carry out specified assessments regarding climate change," because apparently burying our heads in the sand is a viable means of regulating one of humanity's biggest environmental challenges.

With decision makers like these, who needs enemies?

If only.

30+ Resources for Linux Beginners

I'm a relative newcomer to Linux, having installed my first distribution on an old desktop computer just over a year ago to see if I could give it some new life.  It was an eye-opening experience coming from Windows/Mac environments where so much is hidden or locked away from the system's ostensible owner.  Perhaps it may sound absurd to some ears, but without exaggeration I can say this was the first time I experienced something like freedom while working at a computer. And that is no coincidence.  From the Free Software Foundation:
“Free software” means software that respects users' freedom and community. Roughly, it means that the users have the freedom to run, copy, distribute, study, change and improve the software. Thus, “free software” is a matter of liberty, not price. To understand the concept, you should think of “free” as in “free speech,” not as in “free beer”.
When I think about why I hadn't begun exploring the GNU/Linux space five, ten or even twenty years ago (yes, I'm old), I'm often reminded of a classic work by philosopher Eric Fromm from 1941: The Fear of Freedom. Fromm argues that individuals seek out authoritarian systems precisely in order to avoid the disorienting and potentially traumatic experience of actual freedom and the responsibilities that come along with it.  It is much easier to let others tell you what to think and how to act than it is to think and act for oneself.  Anyway, philosophical digressions aside, I've collected a fair number of resources on GNU/Linux since that first install, and thought I'd share some of them here to help orient others who are interested in exploring alternatives to the Microsoft/Apple digital duopoly.  Below, you'll find resources on Linux distributions, installation, the command line, as well as how to set up a file server, a development server and conduct remote management. Feel free to leave your own recommendations in the comments!

There is a wide variety of GNU/Linux distributions to choose from in the wild. Wikipedia's list of Linux distributions reaches into the hundreds. DistroWatch lists even  more.  How-to Geek has a helpful article on what a distribution is and how they are different from one another.  For beginners, it likely makes the most sense to choose from among those that are the most popular, since it will be easier to find answers to everyday questions. 

Once you've decided to check out a distribution or three, the next step is to install it.  There are many options here too: 1) a full install to a specific machine (overwriting the current operating system), 2) a dual boot install that allows you to run a second operating system alongside your primary one on a given machine, 3) a virtual install that allows you to run a second, third, fourth, or fifth operating system on top of your primary one, 4) or even so-called live versions that boot from a CD or USB drive and which you don't install on your machine at all! All the necessary information should be available from the official website and related forums of the distribution(s) you've chosen to explore. For the present post, we'll take Ubuntu as an example:

Perhaps the simplest way to test out and experiment with a new distribution is to create a virtual instance of the system on your current machine.  For example, I currently have twelve virtual instances of nine different distributions on my main laptop using the VirtualBox free software package. VirtualBox is an application that allows you to create a virtual environment on your host computer in which you can install a so-called guest operating system that runs on top of your host's system the same way any other software application would.
Note: unless you're running a server without a graphical interface, once you've installed a guest operating system on your machine, you'll very likely also want to install the so-called VirtualBox Guest Additions, which provide a full screen "seamless" mode, file sharing between host and guest systems and other amenities. I have found this process to be a bit tricky in the past, but recently I came across this post on a CrunchBang forum which provided instructions that have worked flawlessly on every single Debian-based distribution I've installed on VirtualBox since (specifically: Crunchbang, Ubuntu Desktop, Ubuntu Server, Kali and Backbox).

Command Line
Despite it's name, the command line terminal is the beginning, not the end! Finding your way around the command line can be intimidating at first, especially for those of us who have only ever used Windows Explorer or Mac Finder to navigate a computer's file system. But I guarantee that after a bit of experience you'll soon be asking yourself how you ever went without it! Would you rather copy and rename 300 pictures from your camera onto your computer one by one in a graphical interface, or with one relatively simple command from the terminal?

File Server
Linux distributions are great for re-purposing old computers. Lots of people have old laptops or desktop machines gathering dust in the closet. These can easily be transformed into file and media servers for your home network.

LAMP Stack Development Server
A LAMP stack is a software bundle used for running services like web sites, databases and the like. LAMP stands for: Linux (operating system), Apache (web server), MYSQL (database server), and PHP (server side scripting language).  Setting up a full fledged LAMP stack is actually ridiculously easy once you get the hang of it.

Open SSH Server
Once you've set up a dedicated home server of some kind, you don't really want to have to keep it hooked up to a monitor, keyboard and mouse. You want to put it in a closet and forget about it, but you still need to be able to dial into it for updates or maintenance. And that's what the Open SSH Server is for.  Basically, Open SSH allows for secure login to a remote machine over a given network. 

Well, that's all folks! I hope you've found some of these resources helpful.  As always, recommendations of your own favorite resources are welcome in the comments, as are suggestions, criticism and angry tirades! 

Vibrator Video Camera: Go Low With The New GoPro

Do you love the action captured when strapping on your GoPro camera and going for an adventure?  Do you pore over the diverse array of videos where the hardy little device braves heat, snow, water, flight, and more?  Get ready for an all new, ultra-immersive version of these videos.

According to, the Chinese/Thai company Svakom has recently released a video-enabling vibrator called the Gaga.  Using a GoPro camera mounted in a straightforward, ergonomic "personal massager", you are now able to create and/or view incredibly intimate footage of yourself or your partner's interior.

The artistic opportunities that will arise from this venture are sure to be stimulating.

Inner intrigue:  Svakom's new "Gaga" vibrator/videocam.

Renewable, Sustainable, And Affordable: Clean Energy Is Cheaper Than Fossil Fuel

It appears that fuel-fiending folks will soon be able to leave energy sources that are literally dead and buried (oil, coal, etc.) where they belong, underground. Thanks to breakthroughs in energy technology, it is now possible for clean energy to be more affordable than fossil fuels.

In an article by former Sierra Club director and executive chairman Carl Pope for the Huffington Post, it is stated in no uncertain terms that fossil fuels will soon become too expensive to extract, maintain, and use for any sort of extended productive lifespan. Comparatively, elements like solar, wind, hydro, and other readily available resources will become the new driving - and lighting, and otherwise electrifying - forces. Entire governments, such as India and Germany, are making strides to help their people use more sustainable sources of energy.

While fossil fuels still command a high market share, even the banks know that their time is limited. The Bloomberg New Energy Finance projection claims that over the next 15 years, 2/3 of incremental global power generation will be renewably generated. They are also quick to note, however, that the energy business infrastructure still spends big money ($674 billion was spent last year by the oil industry seeking new reserves despite them being increasingly more expensive) due to the nature of the "quasi-cartel"-style industry wanting to get all their profits before the party is over. They are dying dinosaurs staring at the solar rock hurtling towards them, but they will still eat those smaller than them.

Yet the numbers can't be denied any longer. As the Pope article notes, "Fossil fuels generate 63 percent of the world's power, renewables less than 5 percent, but 1/3 of fossil electricity now costs more than competing wind and solar." While the transition to more renewable energy will require a lot of adaptation (retrofitting homes, reworking transportation ideas, weaning off our oil dependence, and most of all changing our overall mindsets on the issue), it will be worth it to live in a world that we're not destroying just to keep it moving.
Image courtesy

E-Autopsy: Surgical Students Practice On Virtual Cadaver

Medical science has come a long way from stealing executed convicts' corpses in the middle of the night for purposes of anatomical study. Now, prospective scalpel-slingers can practice on a life-sized virtual replica of a human, intricately detailed in 3-D.

The Anamotage table is a composite of CAT scans taken from every conceivable angle and position. Currently in use at the University of Edinburgh, the Anamotage allows student to both remove and replace all of a human being's bones, muscles, organs, veins, arteries, and nerves. A corresponding life-sized, 3-D hologram also joins the state-of-the-art surgery simulation. Bodies can be rotated and viewed along 3 planes for optimum operation.

Professor Gordon Findlater claimed the device had good feedback from students and staff at the university, noting, "Although it will never, I believe, replace the experience of dissecting and handling a real cadaver, it will allow students to handle a virtual cadaver without all the legislation that accompanies the use of a real one."

Let's have a hand for surgical science!
Actual image from the Anamotage.

Politics And Pay: "Greenhouse" App Turns Up The Heat On Lobbyist Loot

Our system of capitalism now allows the flow of money as a means of free speech, and some of our politicians have been hearing it loud and clear. With lobbyists spending devastatingly large amounts to get their way with politicians (and the overall system widely unchecked by their constituents), it is a great breakthrough that now, thanks to an app by 16-year-old Nick Rubin, we can monitor the money.

The app, called Greenhouse, was conceptualized when Rubin was doing a class project on corporate personhood. This was Rubin's entrance to the rabbit hole of American oligarchy. "What concerns me is the sheer amount of money being pumped into the system because there really is a lot," Rubin told "During the development of Greenhouse and looking over these numbers and seeing how much is being donated—it’s really scary."

Rubin maintains that he simply wants "a system that works", and that Greenhouse is a nonpartisan resource. Bickering over individual parties' perceived superiority doesn't change the fact that both sides take massive money to enact legislature. As the Greenhouse motto states, "Some are red. Some are blue. All are green."

Greenhouse is designed to be simple enough for people of all ages to use, and Rubin hopes the information it offers will compel more involvement and positive change in the world we are allowing to be shaped. He wisely states that, "I really do believe that increased transparency will help fix the problem. Easy access to data empowers voters to make better decisions. Once people are informed, they will reject elected officials who are motived by money instead of principles."

The first step to fixing problems is identifying them, and the moral morass of Washington likes to make that difficult. The Greenhouse app should hopefully spread some light on the problems, making informed opinions grow to help nourish our sometimes-sickly political system.

Fuel, food, pills and bills:  some of the notably lucrative crossovers between industry and politics.

Monty Python App Enables Silly Walking In Game Form

The iconic sketch comedy troupe Monty Python has experimented in many fields of comedy, raising hell and hilarity on television, film, songs, and stage.  Now, they're silly-walking into the gaming world.

In honor of the group's upcoming new stage performance (which will be broadcast on television and in theaters worldwide), they are premiering the "silliest, most ridiculous, inexplicably outrageous, flabbergastingly addictive silly walk game" for their fans.  Available as an app, one navigates John Cleese's famously footloose character through various obstacles in London.

One suspects that dead parrots and other classic Python bits may also make an appearance.

The Ministry Of Silly Walks app is available through the official website here.

Headed for the Cheese Shop?

Solar Rock 'n Roller: More Jobs In Sun Power Than Coal Mining Says Senator, Statistics

When U.S. senators make extraordinary claims, the public often takes them with a grain of salt, if not outright disbelief (particularly when science is involved.) However the statement that there are more jobs in solar power than coal mining, postulated by Senator Sheldon Whitehouse and verified as true by, is a breath of sunshine-saturated fresh air.

Regarding solar jobs, The Solar Foundation’s "National Solar Jobs Census 2013" states that the solar industry, "employs 142,698 Americans as of November 2013."

According to statistics from a 2013 U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics report, issued in May 2013, an estimated 80,030 jobs existed in the coal-mining industry, a faction of the overall coal industry.  The 2013 U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration cited 123,227 jobs, also fewer than the number of solar jobs cited by Whitehouse. This number also includes contractors who may work in the surveyed mines.

A contrary view from the National Mining Association, numbering the coal jobs at 195,494, counted "coal" jobs that included off-site transportation workers (such as railroad operators and coal barge or freighter sailors.)

Whitehouse's excellent observations inspire hope in our sustainable energy and long-term job infrastructure. He continues to crusade for clean energy, stating in a May 2014 Providence Journal article that, "there is more economic security in our own American know-how than in corrupt foreign fossil fuel countries." Shine on!

Space Station Sunday: Robonaut Is Not Just A Droid In The Void

As of 2011, the International Space Station has had a unique onboard automaton: the humanoid helper Robonaut. Currently comprised of a torso, a head, and two surprisingly dexterous arms, Robonaut has inspired developments on Earth as well as being a portable pioneer in space.

Some facts from show that Robonaut has recently inspired the X1 exoskeleton, which could enable humans to rebuild strength in damaged limbs and aid in personal mobility. The X1 has motorized joints at the hips and knees which would aid paraplegics on Earth, but could be used as resistance training when strapped to an astronaut (they need lots of exercise to keep bones from getting brittle in micro-gravity.)

Another development is the RoboGlove, a dexterity aid which would be particularly useful during EVAs (extravehicular activities, aka spacewalks) so that astronauts could manually perform tasks that require more range of motion than the current bulky spacesuit gloves allow. No losing wrenches in orbit now!

Eventually Robonaut may even practice "medicine." Though he's not sentient (yet?), Robonaut may someday in the future be trained to perform simple caregiving operations via the telepresent aid of a doctor on Earth. "The robot could stabilize an injured individual or do nursing-level work, even on Earth," Robonaut's project manager Ron Diftler speculated. "That essentially transports a doctor's skill and presence to somewhere the doctor can't go or, in an emergency situation, where it would be dangerous for a person to go."

Astronaut, nurse, mechanic, coach, and all-around badass 'bot...Robonaut rocks!

Robonaut also serves as the space station's bouncer, in case of rowdy alien invaders.

And The Rockets' Red Glare: Drone Flown Through Fireworks

Did the Fourth of July fireworks get rained/hurricaned out in your town? No worries, videographer Jos Stiglingh took his drone and GoPro camera for a spin through the sparks.

As reported by, Stiglingh used a DJI Phantom II drone mounted with a GoPro Hero 3 Silver camera to capture the fireworks in West Palm Beach, Florida.

Nice to see an alternative (but still patriotic) use for drone technology!

Signal-Free Sipping At The Faraday Cafe

Ever wish you had a good excuse to turn off and tune out? Now, at one Canadian coffeeshop, the opportunity has presented itself through the truncation of technology. Welcome to the Faraday Cafe.

Designed by Vancouver artist Julien Thomas, the idea is a socially-minded art project that aims to see how people can allow themselves to react when unencumbered by their technological tethers. The cafe features a Faraday Cage, which blocks all cellphone and wifi signals inside its 8' by 16' perimeter.

“I’m interested in the interactions that can take place in certain scenarios,” Thomas told "There might be a sense of anxiety…but that’s not a bad thing.”

The Vancouver cafe will be open until July 16th for those who would fancy their coffee with a side of e-silence.
The effectiveness of an unrelated one-man Faraday Cage.  At Faraday Cafe, the only jolt you will get is from the caffeine.

Chicago Serves Up Deep-Dish Big Brother With New Downtown Multi-Sensors

Urban engineering requires a lot of data to help cities and their denizens improve. However, the city of Chicago may have taken it into creepy territory with their new, discreet, downtown multi-sensors.

Ostensibly created to track data on climate, pedestrian movement patterns, environmental pollutants, light intensity, sound volume, and (of course, in Chicago) wind, the sensors are an interesting idea to monitor city elements in real time. The worrisome bit is that they also record the cellphone connectivity of passersby. Advocates are quick to point out that the sensors only monitor connectivity to wireless networks, not actual device signatures, but the element of privacy invasion remains.

Computer scientist Charlie Catlett, who has led the team working on this "Array Of Things" project, told the Chicago Tribune that, "We don't collect things that can identify people. There are no cameras or recording devices...sensors will be collecting sound levels but not recording actual sound. The only imaging will be infrared."

However, Gary King, Harvard University's director of the Institute for Quantitative Social Science, astutely pointed out that, "If they do a good job they'll collect identifiable data. You can (gather) identifiable data with remarkably little have to be careful. Good things can produce bad things."

The data grab is being promoted in part as a means to understand urban environments more thoroughly, and to make cities run more cleanly and efficiently. Hopefully this won't include raids from the Thought Police.

Will you be e-raided by the Array?  Image courtesy the Chicago Tribune.