Happy New Year!

2014 is quickly drawing to a close and aGupieWare's exclusive New Year's Eve Noise Maker app is available from the App Store for just $0.99.  The app plays numerous New Year's Eve sounds and songs. Irritate ears with the sound of a horn. Twist brains with the twirler sound. Perform an ensemble of the instruments above, or play the classic New Year's song "Auld Lang Syne." Bring the noise!

Mars (Salad) Bars: Fresh Greens On The Red Planet

Mars has been an attractive interplanetary target since the dawn of spaceflight, but now that the travel technology is nearly ready, how are we going to fully attend to the human elements of colonization?  Researchers in England have made one small step (well, bite) for mankind by planning to launch a crop of self-initiating lettuce to Mars.

Learn more at #LettuceOnMars.
(Image courtesy bis-space.com.)

The tasty terraforming is planned to work like this:  during the slated Mars One robotic mission in 2018, a self-sustaining greenhouse will be launched from Earth (as part of an array of other science experiments.)  The garden will "hibernate" during the long travel to Mars, with lettuce seeds safely frozen and equipment powered down.

Upon arrival on Mars, the lander will provide a small amount of energy to help power and aid the heating elements of the garden, keeping the temperature between 21C and 24C.  The lettuce seeds will be fed with carbon dioxide extracted from the Martian atmosphere (which is rich with the gas), and given other nutrients via aeroponic sprayers.  This eliminates the need for the plants to be grown in conventional soil, and if successful, could prove to be viable for a host of other food flora to be grown on the red planet.

Image is not scientifically accurate, but you get the idea.
(Image courtesy cdn.studentmoneysaver.co.uk.)

Photographs sent back of the space salad will inform the scientists of success.  As any prospective human colonists on Mars as currently considered to be making a one-way trip, the need for a constant on-planet food supply will be of critical importance.

Project leader Suzanna Lucarotti, from the University of Southhampton, explained the many diverse elements of the idea, telling the Metro, "We have tackled diverse sets of engineering challenges, including aeroponic systems, bio filters, low-power gas pressurisation systems and fail-safe planetary protection systems and then integrated them all into one payload on a tight mass, power and cost budget."

It might not be filet mignon, but it's a good first step in sustaining our next generation of astro-adventurers.

After a while, anything is better than the usual space paste.  Here, two astronauts "enjoy" tubes of beet soup...wrapped in vodka labels.  Maybe if an experiment can grow potatoes, some distilling can take place...
(Image courtesy wikimedia.org.)

New Year's Eve: Apps to Ring in the New Year

People all over the world are putting the final touches on their plans for tomorrow evening, to celebrate the end of the old year and the beginning of the next. Others, of course, are scrambling to get a plan together, and still others don't really give a damn about making plans at all. Whatever your plans might be, we've put together a list of a few apps that can help ring in the New Year:

The Times Square Ball App is the official app for the Times Square New Year's Eve celebrations in New York City. It has a countdown times, a live webcast from Times Square, Twitter integration and various info on the night's festivities.

California has put out a noteworthy app this year called DDVIP (Designated Driver VIP) that provides users with maps and guides to restaurants, bars and other venues that have special deals for all the designated drivers out there. (The designated drinkers already have more than their fair share of apps!)

London's Official City Guide app (on iTunes and Google Play) has tons of info on New Year's Eve celebrations in the city, including the New Year's Eve fireworks display and the New Year's Day parade.

The Sydney New Year's Eve app appears to be growing in popularity, along with the Australian metropolis's massive fireworks display, which is among the first seen around the world every year. The app contains tips and hints for getting the best view of the works, and provides video streams and other content as well.

The Berlin Philharmonic plays a special New Year's Eve concert every year, which they stream live on their website and on their dedicated app.

Finally, also check out aGupieWare's own New Year's Eve Noise Maker app, which is available from the App Store for just $0.99.  The app plays numerous New Year's Eve sounds and songs. Irritate ears with the sound of a horn. Twist brains with the twirler sound. Perform an ensemble of the instruments above, or play the classic New Year's song "Auld Lang Syne." Bring the noise!

The Question Of Invisibility: Google's Yearly Content Removal Request Report

The thing about dealing with information supergiants is that they not only have power over who sees your secrets and how, but they'll also discuss them when comprehensively covering what dirtier deeds than your own were begged to be scrubbed from the internet.

Such is the nature of Google's semiannual transparency report, another installation of which was released today.  For the first time, this report included some 30 examples of material that had been expressly asked (mostly by government operatives) to vanish from the common knowledge, as though what was reported on was really actually bad enough to transcend the public's millisecond-length attention span.

There's a lot of skullduggery out there...removing the evidence is kind of a big job.
(Image courtesy betanews.com.)

According to newsweek.com, some of it really WAS bad enough that it could ruin lives simply by remaining in the public eye.  Prison inmate abuse, serious sexual accusations, and purported "defamation" of numerous police officers were all included in the materials requested for removal.  None of these requests were granted.

By Google's anaylsis, nearly 8,000 requests were made for information removal during 2013.  These covered the e-extraordinary rendition of some 14,367 pieces of information.  Requests were up 60% from 2012 to have one's secrets permanently kept that way (at least from the eyes of the internet.)  The full transparency report including cases and actions taken is available for analysis.

The specific offending material varied, with governments making 1,066 requests for content be removed from blogs, 841 requests for removal from Google searches, and 765 requests to never again grace the screens of YouTube. These requests comprised the time period between July and December 2013 alone.

Unsurprisingly, people said and did a bunch of dumb stuff caught on Twitter too.
(Image courtesy transparency.twitter.com.)

The most cited reason for the prospective purge was explained as "defamation" (36%), with nudity/obscenity (16%) and security (11%) also making excuses. Google was quick to admit that their report is not a full account of possible online censorship, but is a good metric in that "it does provide a lens on the things that governments and courts ask us to remove, underscoring the importance of transparency around the processes governing such requests.”

You can run, and you can rant, and sling all the press and televised mess you want, but you can't hide from the internet. Little Brother has just as many cameras and ears as Big Brother. The "embarrassing" (and maybe appropriately defamatory) results are more than elements of evidence: they are mirrors to our very society. A stark and honest appraisal of that image requires the full picture of our actions, no matter how ugly.

So that's how that works!  Thanks, transparency!
(Image courtesy watchdog.org.)

Auto Layout and UIScrollView: A “Pure Auto Layout Approach” iOS Tutorial in Swift

With the advent of Auto Layout to iOS, more and more of the applications that we write will incorporate this new technology. If you are not using Auto Layout, then you are most likely writing error prone code that does a lot of mathematics that adjust your views for various situations. Auto layout is math but without all the complexities of doing mathematics. It simplifies the mathmatical process by abstracting out the most arduous part of computing view geometries—namely, view geometry dependencies. Solving simultaneous equations is a thing of the past with Auto Layout. We now “simply” specify the relational attributes between view geometric properties and let Auto Layout do the rest! However, as we all know, the introduction of a new framework brings a new set of hurdles to the table. One of the major hurdles that we have encountered is learning how to speak Auto Layout. We need to be very precise when using this new API. Our most recent difficult encounter was learning how to apply Auto Layout to a UIScrollView so that it behaves in a predictable way.

In this tutorial, using a “pure Auto Layout approach,” we will programmatically create a UIScrollView with three subviews of UIView's. (See video below)

These three subviews, colored blue, yellow and green, will comprise the scrollable content area of our scroll view. The size and position of our scroll view will be animated into place by modifying its Auto Layout constraint values. The size of our scroll view (the view port) will be defined as a ratio of the width and height of the device's screen. The width of the scrollable area will be defined as one and a half times that of the scroll view's width. Our scroll view along with its subviews will dynamically resize to support both landscape and portrait view orientations, however, the ratio of the scrollable area to that of the scroll view's width will not change. If you are not familiar or in need of a refresher of these two technologies follow these links: UIScrollView, Auto Layout.

Setting Up
Download and boot-up the latest version of Xcode. From the Welcome screen, press (command+shift+1) if it's not visible, select the “Create a new Xcode project” from the option menu.

Welcome Screen

On the next menu, select "Single View Application" and click on the button labeled "Next."

Select Type of Application

For the following menu fill out all the fields as shown. For the "Organization Name" field you may type in the name of your organization instead.

Project Options

On the final menu for this setup you are prompted to select a location where this project will live. You are also given the option to place this project under source control using git. If you know how to use git then by all means use it! Otherwise uncheck the selection box where it reads "Source Control."

Code Structure
From the "Navigator" window, typically positioned to the left of Xcode, select the "Project Navigator" icon located in the top left corner.


(If you can't see the navigator window as shown in the figure above then you may need to unhide it. To do this, in the top right corner of Xcode you will find a button with three segments, select the left most segment to show or hide the "Navigator" window). Double click on the yellow folder labeled Auto Layout and Scroll View to reveal its contents. Select the file named ViewController.swift. In the text editor you will find the boilerplate source code that defines the subclass of this view controller. Replace all the code for the class definition with the following:

The code above is the entire skeletal code of our project. Code lines 4 and 5 define the height and width of our scroll view as a ratio of its the root view. The root view is the top most parent view in our view hierarchy; it fills the entire devices screen.

View Hierarchy
From the code snippet above, code lines 8 through 12 are the view objects that will comprise our project's complete view hierarchy. The asvContainerView object is a subview, or child view, of the asvScrollView object. The asvLeftView, asvMiddleView and asvRightView are sibling objects and subviews of asvContainerView. The sibling views are the objects that make up the visible contents of the scroll view.

Figure 5. View Hierarchy

Figure 5 is a visual representation of the described view hierarchy. The brown colored view is the asvScrollView object; the parent object of the views that sit in front of it. The cyan colored view is the asvContainerView object. The blue, yellow and green are the asvLeftView, asvMiddleView and asvRightView, respectively.

Meat and Potatoes
(Optioanal) The first function, asvInstallBlogName, that we define sets up a label for our blog's name. In this function, find the comment "// code placeholder tag //" and replace it with the following lines of code:

For the function asvApplyCenteringConstraints locate the comment "// code placeholder tag //" and replace it with the code below:

This function simply centers our scroll view, asvScrollView, object relative to it's root parent view.

Locate the function asvApplyHeightAndWidthConstraints and replace the comment "// code placeholder tag //" with the following lines of code:

In this function we simply install the height and width constraints on our scroll view, asvScrollView, object. As mentioned earlier, the height and width of this scroll view is a fixed ratio to that of its parent root view—the devices visible screen area.

Inside the function asvInstallScrollViewContainerWithConstraints locate the comment "// code placeholder tag //" and replace with the following code:

This function adds a scroll view container, our asvContainerView, as a subview of the root view along with Auto layout constraints so that it resizes proportionately to the various root view sizes.

For the function asvInstallScrollViewWithoutConstraints replace the comment "// code placeholder tag //" with the following lines of code:

In this function we install asvScrollView object as a subview of the root view, without constraints. We delay the installation of the constraints so that we can animate their installation into place later on in this tutorial.

Inside the function viewDidAppear replace the comment "// code placeholder tag //" with the following lines of code:

The first four lines of code sets up our view hierarchy by calling methods that we have stubbed out; we will later define these methods. The last two lines of code call our, stubbed out, custom methods that setup the height, width and centering constraints of our asvScrollView object.

Replace the comment "// code placeholder tag //" inside the function asvInstallSubviewsInsideTheScrollViewContainerWithConstraints with the following lines of code:

The above code installs subviews on our asvContainerView object. As mentioned earlier, these subviews comprise the visible content of our scroll view. We also setup Auto Layout constraints so that these subviews resize proportionately to their container view; a desired behavior when supporting various device screen sizes and device orientations—landscape and portrait modes. We also setup differing colors on these subviews to be able to readily discern between them.

Compile and run the application in any of the iPhone simulators. Once your application is running you should see on your simulators screen something similar to the image depicted in figure 6, while your simulator is in portrait mode.

Figure 6

After rotating you simulator to landscape mode you should see something similar to figure 7. Try to scroll the colored images from left to right.
Figure 7

Brief Animation
For our finishing touches we add a little bit of animation. Locate the following lines of code inside the viewDidAppear function,

and replace it with the following code:

This project can be found on GitHub.

We hope you enjoyed this tutorial. As always, comments, questions, suggestions and critique are welcome below.

Space Station Sunday: Dragon Delayed; CATS Not Prowling Yet

Good evening, space fans!  Here's what's recently been happening on our favorite orbital outpost.

A SpaceX Dragon launch that was supposed to ferry new equipment and supplies to the ISS has been delayed until after January 6th.  The Dragon, an unmanned spacecraft, will include cargo such as a flatworm experiment, external radiation monitors, and a wearable technology experiment that tracks astronauts' bio-statistics as they sleep.  It will later also ferry completed experiments back to earth.  In the meantime, the ISS crew have been making room for their new gear, readying the completed experiments for earthly analysis.

Perhaps the most notable experiment that will be arriving aboard on the SpaceX Dragon is the CATS, or Cloud-Aerosol Transport System, which uses light detection and ranging (LIDAR) to assess particulate matter in the atmosphere.  This will shed light not only on how our atmosphere and climate deals with varying levels of pollutants and natural elements, but will also aid in assessing the safest possible conditions for future space launches.

We know what you're thinking and no, it is not like this at all.
(Image courtesy valarie/imgur.com.)

Another delivery spacecraft, Europe's unmanned Automated Transfer Vehicle, was packed with garbage from the ISS.  The ATV will be released from the space station in February, when it will incinerate both the garbage and itself in "fiery destruction" over the Pacific.

Though science and maintenance continued despite the lack of the Dragon, downtime was also provided for the astronauts to have some room for seasonal celebration.

ESA astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti doesn't need any reindeer to fly.
(Image courtesy NASA.gov.)

However, the holidays don't take precedence over the glory of science, and work continued on a variety of objectives.  One of the notable experiments the astronauts worked on this week included extensive analysis by scientists on the ground.  The Neuromapping study, according to NASA, will help "to assess changes in a crew member’s perception, motor control, memory and attention during a six-month space mission." Previous astronauts' reports have alluded to a possible loss of movement control and cognitive ability taking place in microgravity. Using fMRI and MRI machines, the study seeks to further discern how and why these changes may occur.

Another experiment, Skin-B, involved analyzing possible reasons why human skin ages more rapidly in space than on earth.  Yes (surprise!), the environment of space is not particularly pleasant to human beings across the board, even when one is ensconced in sweet space station surroundings.

No one is going to understand this hard-won homefront more completely than astronaut Scott Kelly, who plans to spend a full year on the ISS beginning in spring 2015.  Along with veteran Russian cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko, the two will spend a year on the ISS, assessing everything from prolonged ocular exposure in microgravity to psychological health issues from living in space.  

NASA astronaut Scott Kelly, pictured in the ISS cupola on October 14, 2010, proved adept from all angles while serving as the Flight Engineer for Expedition 25.
(Image courtesy NASA.gov.)

Particularly of interest are any unforeseen problems that could pose threats to longer-duration missions, such as an expedition to Mars.  John Charles, chief of NASA's Human Research Program’s new International Science Office, noted, “This one-year mission opportunity will show if the trends continue as before or if we are approaching any ‘cliffs’ that will require new treatments while providing new insights.”

And finally, as earth celebrates another orbit around the sun, we can celebrate the continued success of the brave men and women orbiting our earth.  The video below is a composite of 12,500 images captured by German astronaut Alexander Gerst, who recently returned home to earth.  Cheers to our fearless astro-adventurers...it's looking like 2015 will hold more flying fascination than ever!

Amazon Holiday App Giveaway

Amazon is running an app giveaway for Christmas this year, with a free app bundle worth over $200. The bundle includes games, productivity tools, utilities, media applications, and more. One noteworthy app for all the Arduino and Raspberry Pi tinkerers out there is the ElectroDroid Pro which boasts a large collection of electronics-related tools and references.

And, with New Year's Eve coming up, also check out aGupieWare's own New Year's Eve Noise Maker app, which is available from the App Store for just $0.99.  The app plays numerous New Year's Eve sounds and songs. Irritate ears with the sound of a horn. Twist brains with the twirler sound. Perform an ensemble of the instruments above, or play the classic New Year's song "Auld Lang Syne." Bring the noise!

WikiLeaks Publishes CIA Travel Tips: Nervous Travelers Beware

With the holiday travel season in full swing, millions of people around the country and the world are taking to the highways, railways and the skies to visit friends and family (or to escape them!) far and wide. Of course, the romantic notion of the old fashioned family Christmas pilgrimage was long ago replaced by the stresses and strains of modern travel: endless traffic, train and plane delays, and security protocols that border on the absurd. Fortunately for the frantic traveler, Wikileaks has just published two previously secret CIA documents detailing the spy agency’s advice to operatives on how to survive the airport security screening process.

The leaked documents have been put online as part of the anti-secrecy organization’s ongoing “CIA Series,” which is planned to continue into the new year, according to a press release. The two CIA documents published yesterday provide insight on how the spy organization trains agents to navigate the heightened airport security protocols that we have all come to know and love over the last 15 years. The first provides an overview on how to survive the "secondary screening" process in general, while the second provides pointers on how to pass airport security specifically when infiltrating the European Union.

Anyone who's ever traveled at all is familiar with the primary screening process. (If you're not, consider watching this George Carlin bit for a quick overview.) You wait in a series of lines, provide your boarding pass and ID to the relevant official, proceed through the new-fangled Rapiscan nude scanners and so on. A subset of passengers are then taken aside for secondary screening either because of flags raised during the primary screening process, or because they have been selected for random secondary screening.

However, the CIA writes: "Travelers can minimize the possibility of secondary by knowing how to prepare for and navigate the primary inspection and by avoiding to the extent possible the various triggers for secondary." Among these triggers, the document lists: possession of contraband (including weapons, drugs and electronics), irregularities with official identification documents, suspicious behavior (nervousness, anxiety), baggage (with contents that are inconsistent with the passenger's appearance, profession, ticket class, stated reason for travel and so on), country of origin, suspicious past travel patterns, and so on. The agency also notes the following factoids:
  • Inspectors focus on body language.
  • Travelers can legally be held in secondary screening for hours.
  • Officials may telephone travelers' contacts to verify their stories.
  • Officials can access national and international databases on the internet.
  • Officials can collect additional biographic data and biometrics.
  • Officials can examine belongings.
  • Officials can copy or confiscate a traveler's personal electronics.
Read the rest for some interesting anecdotes from airports around the world. The report concludes with some common sense advice: "Consistent, well-rehearsed, and plausible cover is important for avoiding secondary selection and critical for surviving it. A frequent operational CIA traveler to Asia and Europe advises that the most effective prevention of secondary is to have simple and plausible answers to the two most frequently asked questions, “Why are you here,” and “Where are you staying.” Travelers should  also ensure before traveling that everything that offials can use to examine their bona fides—passports, travel history, baggage,  personal electronics, pocket litter, hotel reservations, Web presence—is consistent with" your official reason for travel.

How to Email a Wrench to the International Space Station

From Backchannel:
My colleagues and I just 3D-printed a ratcheting socket wrench on the International Space Station by typing some commands on our computer in California. We had overheard ISS Commander Barry Wilmore (who goes by “Butch”) mention over the radio that he needed one, so we designed one in CAD and sent it up to him faster than a rocket ever could have. This is the first time we’ve ever “emailed” hardware to space.

We founded Made In Space, Inc. to design and build the first 3D printer for space. Our first printer was launched to the space station in September, and it printed its first object in November.

The socket wrench we just manufactured is the first object we designed on the ground and sent digitally to space, on the fly. It also marks the end of our first experiment—a sequence of 21 prints that together make up the first tools and objects ever manufactured off the surface of the Earth. (The other 20 objects were designed before the printer flew to the space station.)

Make Some Noise with Our New Year's Eve Noise Maker App

2014 is quickly drawing to a close with less than two weeks to go until the Gregorian calendar ticks off another year. And aGupieWare's exclusive New Year's Eve Noise Maker app is available from the App Store for just $0.99.  The app plays numerous New Year's Eve sounds and songs. Irritate ears with the sound of a horn. Twist brains with the twirler sound. Perform an ensemble of the instruments above, or play the classic New Year's song "Auld Lang Syne." Bring the noise!

Go To The Dough: "Doughbot" App Finds Donut Shops For You

In such confusing and complex times, it can be difficult to find places in which to take solace.  Which is why it's very important that there is a new app geared exclusively to helping you find donuts.

Full of woe?  Look to the dough.
(Image courtesy mynorth.com.)

Known as (what else?) Doughbot, the pastry-seeking program will provide the nearest donut-slinging shop with a simple swipe.  More thorough directions including GPS, as well as reviews and photos, can be had with merely a tap.  Sweet sugary goodness is closer than you think.

Doughbot is available for iPod and iPad, and is not responsible for any excessive donut-based weight the user acquires.

First mission: locate this donut Valhalla.
(Image courtesy affotd.files.wordpress.com.)

A Shot In The Dark, Or Right On The Mark? DARPA Invents Bullets That Can Hunt You Down

It worked for missiles, and now, it's coming to a .50 caliber...hopefully not anywhere you're on the receiving end of.

According to Business Insider, the United States' Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has created a bullet that is able to change its own path in flight, like a Super Mario villain come to life.  This would not just account for windage and other riflery considerations, but also could be made to seek out a specific target that has moved or taken cover.

Next up:  military-grade raccoon suits?
(Image courtesy reinodocogumelo.com.)

What?  How?  The bullets use optical sensors embedded in their nosecones, which use in-flight information to determine whether their onboard electronically-operated fins should be deployed to change the projectile's course.

Known as EXACTO, for “Extreme Accuracy Tasked Ordinance”, the project's mission will be “developing more accurate military artillery that will enable greater firing range, minimize the time required to engage with targets, and also help reduce missed shots that can give away the troops’ location.”

That's no excuse to slack on your marksmanship, though.  These new bullets should work well for snipers, but you never know when some good old fashioned-style targeting skills will come to your aid.

Curse the thought of losing any of your high-stakes games of Rifle-Tac-Toe.
(Image courtesy theartoftherifleblog.com.)

Snowed In? Bust Out With The New "Plowz & Mowz" App

'Tis the season to be jolly...and that probably means not having to worry about shoveling the piles of snow away from your door/garage/driveway/upstairs windows (if you live in someplace like Canada.)  Now, a new app can help not only with organizing snowplow providers, but also for cutting your lawn on that beautiful, beautiful day when it becomes springtime again.

You tried.  Now leave it to the pros.
(Image courtesy snowplowtalk.com.)

The Plowz & Mowz apps are straightforward and useful.  Simply schedule a plow or mowing appointment for a desired day with the available providers, then securely set up payments to make sure you don't end up looking like Jack Nicholson in "The Shining."  Realtime updates confirm that it's once again safe to navigate the ski slope that your driveway had become.

Nonprofessional snow shoveling is no joke.
(Image courtesy imgarcade.com.)

The Mowz element also includes leaf removal, just in case you never got a chance to get all that dead stuff off your lawn before the layers of snow fell.  No word on if you can act now and be ready for next spring.

Those who would like to lend their services as a provider of the plow/mow trade can learn more about signing up here.  Best of luck in your battle against the forces of nature!

Now doesn't that feel better?
(Image courtesy whyevolutionistrue.files.wordpress.com.)

Multi-Partnered? Handle All Of Your Hookups With New "Poly Life" App

Is one love not enough for your life?  Do you prefer the company of numerous committed partners despite society saying that such relationships are unrealistic, inappropriate, or greedy?  Now, you can navigate the sexy sea of polyamory with a new app designed to provide simple solutions for keeping your complex love life in line.

If you can't even remember all their names, how are you going to remember whose date night it is?
(Image courtesy blogs.westword.com.)

According to fastcodesign.com, an anonymous developer has created the Poly Life app to focus on two important polyamorous goals:  meeting new people and scheduling when you can sleep with them.  Separate calendars can be created for each partner, and the "relationship manager" feature keeps careful tabs on who you deem an emotional partner, a physical partner, and any variations in between.

"No, don't shoot him with a heart-capturing arrow.  Just shoot him with a 'brain and also those hot biceps'-capturing arrow."
(Image courtesy blogs.ctiypages.com.)

The social networking element of the app is designed to allow poly couples or prospective poly enthusiasts to meet each other and discuss the nature of their lifestyle outside of the judgmental (or jealous) conventional social media outlets.  Shareable to-do lists, group texting options, meetup location ideas, and other important organizational elements are also included.  And with more than one lover, you'll likely need all of them.

The Poly Life is available for iOS, though unfortunately it is not polyamorously compatible with Android as well.  But if you need serious planning for your "polycule" circle of special friends, this is much more efficient than wearing name tags at an orgy.

And in a few years, perhaps you'll be able to use Poly Life to sync all of  your sex robots!
(Image courtesy standard.co.uk.)

Strawberry Trees Forever: New Public, Solar-Powered Cell Chargers In Serbia

We all know and hate the feeling...during a busy day on the town, after using maps, apps, and countless texts on your smartphone, the inescapable dread of watching the battery drop to critical levels sets in.  If you're lucky, you have a charger on you, and can beg some power from a local bartender or the rare unoccupied coffee shop outlet.  But this is the future, and now there's a better way to handle these things.

This is what hitting rock bottom as an "Angry Birds" addict looks like.
(Image courtesy edition.cnn.com.)

Behold, the Strawberry Tree.  According to CNN, the Strawberry Tree is solar-powered public charging station that was developed by Serbian student Milos Milisavljevicwho has an eye for clean technology.  After winning the Verge Accelerate startup competition, the invention has now spread to various cities and towns throughout Serbia.

Entirely solar powered and built from recycled/recyclable materials, the Strawberry Trees contain enough power to continue their charge mission even if it hasn't been sunny in twenty days.  Sixteen USB and wi-fi plugs allow for power for the masses.

You never have to boredly keep an eye on your children playing in the park, ever again!
(Image courtesy inhabitat.com.)

The Strawberry Tree, named for the first fruit of summer, also cares about your well-being.  Its chargers indicate local amounts of air pollution, noise levels, and UV radiation.  Plans in the future could include even more localized environmental data.  Plus, it is there for you in an emergency.  As Milisavljevic says, "Strawberry Tree could have an emergency button which would send a signal to emergency services that you are in danger, and in any kind of a disaster, for example if the power grid is down, the Tree would be the place where you could call for help and get in touch with your loved ones."

The future is for everyone, and now its technology has become a little more helpful to the common person. Just try not to spend a whole nice sunny day in the park messing around on your phone.

Old wonders and new can coexist peacefully in this new future.
(Image courtesy 3fficient.com.)

Space Station Sunday: Here There'll Be Dragons

Happy Sunday, space fans!  It was another successful week for spacefaring, let's see what was up!

Anticipating the arrival of another SpaceX resupply vehicle, the crew worked various tasks to assure the visiting cargo craft would be received safely.  After the fiery explosion of a Virgin Galactic space plane in October, as well as that of a Cygnus resupply vehicle, care was taken to make sure nothing would go wrong on the ISS's end with the SpaceX craft.  The next Dragon launch, aboard a Falcon 9 rocket from Cape Canaveral, Florida, is slated for December 19th.

Dragonfire in the sky:  another SpaceX resupply capsule is bound for the ISS.
(Image courtesy NASA.gov.)

While the Dragon launch was originally intended for this Tuesday, it was put on delay without explanation from NASA.  According to wtsp.com,  NASA simply said the delay was "to ensure they do everything possible on the ground to prepare for a successful launch." In their statement, they also readily enthused that, "Both the Falcon 9 rocket and its Dragon spacecraft are in good health."

This launch will be the fifth of the twelve from SpaceX, who are under contract for $12.6 billion to complete missions for NASA to the ISS.

What scientific discoveries await?  Stay tuned!
(Image courtesy NASA.gov.)

As for other day-to-day (orbit-to-orbit?) tasks, Commander Butch Wilmore conducted spacesuit maintenance to make sure the specialized suits were ready for any prospective EVAs (extravehicular activity.)  He was assisted by astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti.  Astronaut Cristoforetti, one of the station's newest arrivals, is adjusting well to space life, despite her sense of wonder getting taken for a ride this week when a "UFO" (apparently just the station changing color in the sunlight) caught her attention for an exciting moment.

"Nope, not this time either, it's just the magnetosphere again, Sam.  Sorry."
(Image courtesy Butch Wilmore/NASA.gov, depicting the aurora over the mountains of Montana.)

Astronaut Terry Virts replaced fuel equipment in the Combustion Integrated Rack, so that the astronauts could continue to study the glory of science by setting stuff on fire in microgravity.  He also did maintenance on the electronics that will enable commands to be sent to the upcoming SpaceX Dragon.

Russian cosmonauts Anton Shkaplerov and Alexander Samokutyaev were hard at work in their nation's Zarya module, adding and disinfecting overlay sheets to the area. Russia's first female cosmonaut, Yelena Serova, is still not answering questions about her hair and makeup, preferring instead to work on experiments examining the effects of space radiation on the station. Serova also studied how the sun affects the Earth's atmosphere.

A plethora of medical experiments were also underway, with Cristoforetti wearing an armband to monitor body core temperature over a 24 hour cycle, and several astronauts participating in Ultrasound eye scans to determine how microgravity affects ocular issues.  Cristoforetti also collected saliva and urine samples to stow in the station's freezer for further experimental analysis.

She also pumped some space iron.  Yes, this is what lifting weights in microgravity looks like.
(Image courtesy NASA.gov.)

That's all for this week, space fans!  Check us out next Sunday for news on the latest Dragon delivery, and more from microgravity!  Watch this space!

And don't think the ISS crew is neglecting the seasonal spirit just because they're in space.  It wouldn't feel like space Christmas without a cool little upside-down tree, and stockings hung by the bulkhead with care.
(Image courtesy NASA.gov.)

Shoot For The Moon Or Pollute The Moon? New Company Leaves Your Stuff On The Lunar Landscape With "MoonMail"

Thanks to a proposed Mars mission as well as various private ventures, human spaceflight seems poised to have another renaissance again over the coming decades.  Yet one of the great goals of our space endeavors always looms up there, staring at us with its giant moony face.  That's right, the moon itself is still a space goal for some, and now, you can't quite go there...but your stuff can.

According to perfscience.com, the Astrobotic company is developing a "MoonMail" service whereby you can send a capsule full of Earth crap up to what Buzz Aldrin called the "magnificent desolation" of the moon.  The company, which is chasing the $30 million Lunar X Prize from Google, plans to launch in the next two years and are currently seeking Earthling donations for small "capsules."

"This is pretty cool, but I feel like I should have brought my lucky Darth Vader figurine to leave as tribute."
(Image courtesy images.nationalgeographic.com.)

Astrobotic's CEO John Thornton proclaimed, "Today marks the beginning of a new kind of participant on the moon: the individual. MoonMail is a new offering allowing anyone in the world to purchase space on our lander and immortalize their important keepsake on the moon forever."

Just don't plan on sending up a ton of stuff...space space comes at a premium.  With a small (.5 inch) capsule space starting at $460, a .75 inch space at $820, and an inch clocking in at $1,660 (plus added fees for height), you're not going to be able to send grandma's whole urn or too many photos of your ex, so pick something really special.

No, you can't buy a capsule large enough to send yourself, sorry.  We all want to go moon cruising, just wait a while longer.
(Image courtesy hometowndumpsterrental.com.)

A free capsule is being offered as a prize to anyone who can come up with the best idea of something to send via MoonMail.  The deadline for these epic ideas is December 23rd.

The Google Lunar X Prize that Astrobotic seeks is part of a campaign to consider the moon as the "eighth continent" and to explore it accordingly.  The $30 million winner will have to get a robot safely to the moon, move around for 500 meters in any direction, and broadcast back their results.  This is all intended to continue the mission set forth by Americans with the Apollo missions, visiting our galactic neighbor in peace for all mankind.

Well, now, with pieces from all mankind.

There's already a few bits of real estate claimed by the family photos of Apollo 16 astronaut Charles Duke, but your cheesy selfies could be next!
(Image courtesy hyperallergic.com.)

Your Smartphone Can Act As Your E-ID In Iowa Starting Next Year

Ever been caught without your driver's license and wished you could have some other critical bit of your physical property to cover for you?  Maybe something that you'd be carrying around every day?  Something like, say, your cellphone?

Seems legit.
(Image courtesy gizmodo.com.)

Now, thanks to new legislation in Iowa, drivers will be able to use their smartphones as credible license identification, starting in 2015.  According to theverge.com, the official license app will make your e-ID acceptable for police stops, airport trips, and other instances of age verification.

While it's not known what would happen if one were to lose the battery power to their "ID", or if other states would accept this app as valid, the idea is one that (if successful) could prove to be the forefront of change for many other states.  It's quick, it's easy, and it's usually right there in your pocket or hand anyway.  The only problem is dealing with who might set up fake license sites for the underage...

"It's okay officer, I'm not drunk, really...I puke all the time."
(Image courtesy party411.com.)

The Truth Is Out There, Maybe Inside The New "Unbiased" App

Do you want answers, but can't trust your family/friends/fellow barflies to be objective?  Don't want to get trolled too much by asking on a major website?  No worries, now there's an app that serves the purpose of telling you (different versions of) the cold, hard truth.

The new "Unbiased" app, currently in beta testing, is simple and possibly very effective (depending on what kind of answers you are looking for.)  Simply type in a question and within 24 hours, a real person will respond with an unbiased answer regarding your predicament.  Bad at making choices?  Let an unbiased stranger handle it for you!

The answers might be blowing in the wind...but they're also somewhere in cyberspace.
(Image courtesy seocopywriting.com.)

Questions can concern any type of issue, and are submitted anonymously.  One can choose from pre-set categories (Sex, Parenting, Family, Health & Fitness, Romance, or Career/Education) or simply designate the topic as "Other."  Then, straight to your inbox, a solution!

Look for Unbiased to arrive soon at the App Store and Google Play, and ponder a problem no more!

But can you handle the truth?
(Image courtesy youtube.com.)

If You Only Have Something Nice To Say, Say It On The Outpour App

Privacy on the internet is an important and valuable commodity, even for those who claim they have "nothing to hide."  Though arguments on privacy frequently focus on the idea of not having to worry if you're not doing anything wrong, what if you're interested in remaining private because you're doing something wildly (and possibly uncharacteristically) nice for someone?

It's not always as hard as you think it might be.  Even if it is, your discovery and notation of it increases its value.
(Image courtesy twitter.com.)

Enter a new app, Outpour.  As reported by wired.com, Outpour abets those who would like to deluge someone in positive comments but can't quite say them to their face or their facebook.  When freedom of expression just needs a new method of expression, Outpour steps in so you can brighten someone's day with a nice note, sans your name.  The idea is to spur people to say something sweet that they might otherwise have left bottled up, like so much maple syrup that could never saturate your mental pancakes.

(Image courtesy redtri.com.)

Yes, it could be used for evil, but the design is based against that.  One would have to specifically seek out their victim's profile and consciously ignore all other nice messages before violating the "social norm" of the site with their message.  For those who would buck that norm, their rantings can be deleted by the user, and the vitriol-spewer's account may be blocked.  Numerous blockings could result in a site-wide ban.  A unique phone number is required for sign-up, to prevent multiple accounts.

Outpour is available for iOS, with web and Android versions arriving next year.  So if you're not near enough to someone to send a drink down the bar, or if you're not close enough to know where to send them a card, Outpour could help bring some small, secret joy with just a few keystrokes.  How sweet.

Anonymous love is still love.
(Image courtesy shinyshiny.tv.)

Commercial Drone Use Takes Off As FAA Allows Four Companies Aerial Access

This Christmas season, Santa and his sleigh team are going to find some more traffic in the skies.  Today, the FAA granted approval for four commercial companies to fly drones for the purposes of conducting aerial surveys as well as observing oil stacks and construction sites.

According to USA Today, the selected companies - Trimble Navigation Limited (TRMB), VDOS Global, Clayco Inc. and Woolpert Inc.- will be among the first to utilize drones for commercial purposes.  The FAA has still got a ways to go concerning the exact rules of operation and regulations for flying drones in commercial airspace, but hopefully this development will shed more light on what will work best for future drone aviation.

This has to be handled well, to avoid aerial traffic jams.
(Image courtesy online-shipping-blog.endicia.com.)

The first commercial drone license was granted this June for a drone to keep watch over BP's Alaskan oil pipeline.  The FAA has received 167 requests for commercial drone flight clearance, including one from Amazon, who seek to use drones for delivery purposes.

Jeff Lovin, senior vice president of Woolpert, Inc., was enthusiastic about his company's new acquirement of air access, which will allow their 5-foot, 15 pound drone to examine parts of rural Ohio and Mississippi from the air. He explained that drones "will change the way we conduct some of our existing business in the not-too-distant future, but more importantly, will create completely new and world-changing applications we haven't even thought of yet."

(Image courtesy boingboing.net.)

Pimp My Corporeal Ride: Smart Skin!

As discussed last week in our electronic tongue article, the human senses are being well replicated in the technological world.  But one particular sense - touch - has been implemented more on the giving than receiving end, up until now.

High five!
(Image courtesy technologyreview.com.)

While many forms of technology respond to a tap or swipe on a screen, the sense of touch has not been reflected electronically for the user like an electronic eye or hearing aid might.  However, now a company has invented prosthetic "smart skin" that can "feel" what it touches, making false limbs seem functionally real again.

As reported by cnet.com, researchers at Seoul National University, South Korea have developed the smart skin by using layers of sensors enabled by ultrathin, single crystalline silicone nanoribbon.  Where formerly only pressure was detected (to allow the user to tell if they were applying too much force with their awesome robot hands), now the sensors can indicate if the "skin" is being stretched too far or is in a humid environment.  The stretchable sensors, which are layered for durability, are connected to a multi-electrode array that targets the body's nerves via platinum nanowires and ceria nanoparticle electrodes.  Combined, this accurately simulates the sense of touch, even down to onboard "heaters" to make the smart skin seem warm.

Just don't try to tattoo anything on it.
(Image courtesy closethegap.humana.com.)

Used all together, the effect is realistic. According to the study's abstract, "This collection of stretchable sensors and actuators facilitate highly localised mechanical and thermal skin-like perception in response to external stimuli, thus providing unique opportunities for emerging classes of prostheses and peripheral nervous system interface technologies."

The fresh flesh allowed for prosthetic hands to discern the sense of touch while performing many routine tasks, such as grasping things, shaking hands, typing, touching wet or dry objects, and other unspecified "human-to-human contact."

(Image courtesy wehuntedthemammmoth.com.)

So if you're in need of a physiological overhaul, or if you're just busy already designing your future brain-download's robot body, now "smart skin" is in.

Even the least intelligent sensors of the smart skin know how to sense a high-five.
(Image courtesy blog.cbtnuggets.com.)