Pi Day Is Coming — But Tau Day Is Better 241 241

PerlJedi writes "A few months ago, a Tweet from Randal Schwartz pointed me to a YouTube video about 'Triangle Parties' made by Vi Hart. My nerdiness and my love of math made it my new favorite thing on YouTube. Now, with Pi Day coming up later this week, I thought it would be an appropriate time to point people to another of her YouTube videos: Pi is Wrong. The website she mentions at the end, Tauday, has a full explanation of the benefits of using Tau rather than Pi. Quoting: 'The Tau Manifesto is dedicated to one of the most important numbers in mathematics, perhaps the most important: the circle constant relating the circumference of a circle to its linear dimension. For millennia, the circle has been considered the most perfect of shapes, and the circle constant captures the geometry of the circle in a single number. Of course, the traditional choice for the circle constant is pi — but, as mathematician Bob Palais notes in his delightful article "Pi Is Wrong!", pi is wrong. It's time to set things right.'"

Lawsuit Claims NASA Specialist Was Fired Over Intelligent Design Belief 743 743

New submitter period3 writes "The latest mission of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory is defending itself in a workplace lawsuit filed by a former computer specialist. The man claims he was demoted and then let go for promoting his views on intelligent design, the belief that a higher power must have had a hand in creation because life is too complex to have developed through evolution alone."

Meteorite Crashes Through Cottage In Oslo 122 122

First time submitter Mastiff in Norway writes "Famous (in Norway) Norwegian astrophycisist Knut Jørgen Røed Ødegaard is ecstatic after a meteorite was found in an urban cottage in Oslo this weekend. This is the 14th meteorite that's been found in Norway, and only the second that crashed through a roof. It is not certain when the crash happened, since the cottage hasn't been used all winter, but on the 1st of March a big ball of fire was observed over the southern parts of Norway, and it is thought that this may be one of the pieces from that entry into the atmosphere. Maybe it's time to replace those tin foil hats with helmets?"

MIT Fiber Points To Woven Glasses-Free 3D Displays 52 52

MrSeb writes "Electrical engineers and material scientists at MIT have created a fiber-borne laser that could be woven to form a flexible display that could project different 3D images in any number of directions, to any number of viewers. MIT's fiber is similar to standard telecoms fiber, but it has a tiny droplet of fluid embedded in the core. When laser light hits the fluid, it scatters, effectively creating a 360-degree laser beam. The core is then surrounded by layers of liquid crystal, which can be controlled like 'pixels,' allowing the laser light to escape from specific points anywhere along the length of the fiber. This means that you could have a display that shows one picture on the 'front' and another on the 'back' — or different, glasses-free 3D images for everyone sitting in front and behind. In the short term, the laser fiber is more likely to have a significant application in photodynamic therapy, an area of medicine where drugs are activated using light. Photodynamic therapy is one of the only ways to treat cancer in a relatively non-invasive and non-toxic manner. MIT's laser could be threaded into almost any part of the body, where the ability to produce pixels of laser light at any point along its length would make it a highly accurate device."

Amoeboid Robot Moves Autonomously Without Centralized Brain 38 38

An anonymous reader sends this excerpt from MIT's Technology Review: "A new blob-like robot described in the journal Advanced Robotics uses springs, feet, 'protoplasm' and a distributed nervous system to move in a manner inspired by the slime mold Physarum polycepharum. ... Researcher Takuya Umedachi of Hiroshima University has been perfecting his blob-bot for years, starting with early prototypes that used springs but lacked an air-filled bladder. ... Umedachi modeled his latest version on the 'true' slime mold, which has been shown to achieve a 'human-like' decision-making capacity through properties emerging from the interactions of its individual spores (abstract). Slime molds appear to have general computational abilities, and you've probably heard that they can solve mazes."

When Are You Dead? 516 516

Hugh Pickens writes "Dick Teresi writes in the WSJ that becoming an organ donor seems like a noble act, but what doctors won't tell you is that checking yourself off as an organ donor when you renew your driver's license means you are giving up your right to informed consent, and that you may suffer for it, especially if you happen to become a victim of head trauma. Even though they comprise only 1% of deaths, victims of head trauma are the most likely organ donors. Patients who can be ruled brain dead usually have good organs, while organs from people who die from heart failure, circulation, or breathing deteriorate quickly. But here's the weird part. In at least two studies before the 1981 Uniform Determination of Death Act, some 'brain-dead' patients were found to be emitting brain waves, and at least one doctor has reported a case in which a patient with severe head trauma began breathing spontaneously after being declared brain dead. Organ transplantation — from procurement of organs to transplant to the first year of postoperative care — is a $20 billion per year business, with average recipients charged $750,000 for a transplant. At an average of 3.3 donated organs per donor, that is more than $2 million per body. 'In order to be dead enough to bury but alive enough to be a donor, you must be irreversibly brain dead. If it's reversible, you're no longer dead; you're a patient,' writes David Crippen, M.D. 'And once you start messing around with this definition, you're on a slippery slope, and the question then becomes: How dead do you want patients to be before you start taking their organs?'"

IBM Scientists Measure the Heat Emitted From Erasing a Single Bit 111 111

ananyo writes "In 1961, IBM physicist Rolf Landauer argued that to reset one bit of information — say, to set a binary digit to zero in a computer memory regardless of whether it is initially 1 or 0 — must release a certain minimum amount of heat, proportional to the ambient temperature. New work has now finally confirmed that Landauer was right. To test the principle, the researchers created a simple two-state bit: a single microscopic silica bead held in a 'light trap' by a laser beam. (Abstract) The trap contains two 'valleys' where the particle can rest, one representing a 1 and the other a 0. It could jump between the two if the energy 'hill' separating them is not too high. The researchers could control this height by changing the power of the laser, and could 'tilt' the two valleys to tip the bead into one of them by moving the physical cell containing the bead slightly out of the laser's focus. By monitoring the position and speed of the particle during a cycle of switching and resetting the bit, they could calculate how much energy was dissipated."

LastCalc Is Open Sourced 103 103

Sanity writes "LastCalc is a cross between Google Calculator, a spreadsheet, and a powerful functional programming language, all with a robust and flexible heuristic parser. It even lets you write functions that pull in data from elsewhere on the web. It's all wrapped up in a JQuery-based user interface that does as-you-type syntax highlighting. Today, LastCalc's creator, Ian Clarke (Freenet, Revver), has announced that LastCalc will be open sourced under the GNU Affero General Public License 'to accelerate development, spread the workload, and hopefully foster a vibrant volunteer community around the project.'"

South Africa Wins Science Panel's Backing To Host SKA Telescope 117 117

ananyo writes "A scientific panel has narrowly recommended South Africa over Australia as the best site for the proposed Square Kilometre Array (SKA), an enormous US$2.1-billion radio telescope. While the project's member states have yet to make a final decision on where the telescope will go, the odds are now that the African bid will ultimately win out against the joint bid from Australia and New Zealand to host the project. The SKA radio telescope will be made up of some a 3,000 dishes, each 15 metres in diameter. The project will try to answer big questions about the early Universe: how the first elements heavier than helium formed, for example, and how the first galaxies coalesced. The telescope is so sensitive that it could even pick up television signals from distant worlds — something that might aid in the search for extraterrestrial intelligence."

Nanowire Forests Use Sunlight To Split Water 56 56

An anonymous reader sends this excerpt from IEEE Spectrum's Nanoclast blog: "One of the fundamental problems with fuel cells has been the cost of producing hydrogen. While hydrogen is, of course, the most abundant element, it attaches itself to other elements like nitrogen or fluorine, and perhaps most ubiquitously to oxygen to create the water molecule. ... Now researchers at University of California, San Diego have developed a quite different approach to mimicking photosynthesis for splitting water molecules by using a 3D branched nanowire array that looks like a forest of trees. ... The nanowire forest [uses] the process of photoelectrochemical water-splitting to produce hydrogen gas. The method used by the researchers, which was published in the journal Nanoscale (abstract), found that the forest structure of the nanowires, which has a massive amount of surface area, not only captured more light than flat planar designs, but also produced more hydrogen gas."

Prototype Space Fence Now Tracking Actual Orbital Debris 33 33

coondoggie writes "Lockheed Martin says the prototype system it is developing to track all manner of space debris is now tracking actual orbiting space objects. The Space Fence prototype includes new ground-based radars and other technologies to enhance the way the U.S. detects, tracks, measures and catalogs orbiting objects and space debris with improved accuracy, better timeliness and increased surveillance coverage. 'Space Fence will detect, track and catalog over 200,000 orbiting objects and help transform space situational awareness from being reactive to predictive. The Air Force will have more time to anticipate events potentially impacting space assets and missions. Our net-centric design approach allows Space Fence to be easily integrated into the broader U.S. Space Surveillance Network of sensors already operated by the Air Force.'"

Todd Park Appointed Second U.S. CTO 78 78

redletterdave writes "On Friday, President Barack Obama appointed Todd Park, a 39-year-old former entrepreneur and data scientist, to be the new Chief Technology Officer of the United States. Park takes over for Aneesh Chopra, the first U.S. CTO, who resigned earlier this year. Park was formerly the CTO of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services since 2009, where he helped bring 'big data' to healthcare by helping create an open health care data platform similar to the National Weather Service, which could feed data to commercial websites and applications. Before joining the Obama administration, Park helped co-found AthenaHealth and Castlight Health, and also served as a senior adviser to Ashoka, a global incubator for social entrepreneurs. One of his ventures, Healthpoint Services, won the 2011 Sankalp Award for the 'most innovative and promising health-oriented social enterprise in India.'"

LSD Can Treat Alcoholism 346 346

ananyo writes "LSD has potential as a treatment for alcoholism, according to a comprehensive retrospective analysis of studies published in the late 1960s and early 1970s. The researchers sifted through thousands of records to collect data from randomized, double-blind trials that compared one dose of LSD to a placebo. Of 536 participants in six trials, 59% of people receiving LSD reported lower levels of alcohol misuse (PDF), compared to 38% of people who received a placebo. The study adds to the weight of evidence that hallucinogenic drugs may have important medical uses, including, for example, the alleviation of cluster headaches."

Teaching Robot Learners To Ask Good Questions 93 93

garthsundem writes "I disagree with this article's opening line: 'Within a decade, personal robots could become as common in U.S. homes as any other major appliance.' Haven't we been promised this since the 50s? But I'm fascinated by the rest — how do you teach humans to teach robots? Or, more precisely, how can you teach robots to teach humans to teach robots? The idea that designers can put a flexible platform in a robot, allowing users to determine functionality, is pretty interesting. The lead researcher for this project said, 'People are not so good at teaching robots because they don't understand the robots' learning mechanism. It's like when you try to train a dog, and it's difficult because dogs do not learn like humans do. We wanted to find out the best kinds of questions a robot could ask to make the human-robot relationship as 'human' as it can be.'"

Startram — Maglev Train To Low Earth Orbit 356 356

Zothecula writes "Getting into space is one of the harder tasks to be taken on by humanity. The present cost of inserting a kilogram of cargo by rocket into Low Earth Orbit (LEO) is about US$10,000. A manned launch to LEO costs about $100,000 per kilogram of passenger. But who says we have to reach orbit by means of rocket propulsion alone? Instead, imagine sitting back in a comfortable magnetic levitation train and taking a train ride into orbit."