Hugh Pickens writes "Tricia Romano writes in the NY Times that over the last 10 years, purchasing a hearing aid had become even more difficult and confusing than buying a new car — and almost as expensive. 'I visited Hearx, the national chain where I had bought my previous aids. There, a fastidious young man spread out a brochure for my preferred brand, Siemens, and showed me three models. The cheapest, a Siemens Motion 300, started at $1,600. The top-of-the-line model was more than $2,000 — for one ear. I gasped.' A hearing aid is basically just a microphone and amplifier in your ear so it isn't clear why it costs thousands of dollars while other electronic equipment like cellphones, computers and televisions have gotten cheaper. Russ Apfel, an engineer who designed a technology now found in all hearing aids, says there is no good reason for the high prices. 'The hearing aid industry uses every new thing, like digital or a new algorithm, to raise prices,' says Apfel. 'The semiconductor industry traditionally reduces the cost of products by 10 to 15 percent a year,' he said, but 'hearing aids go up 8 percent a year annually' and have for the last 20 years."
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itwbennett writes "From calcium in cameras and germanium in CPUs to selenium in solar cells. Here's a look at how every single element in the periodic table is used in common tech products. For example: Scandium is used in the bulbs in metal halide lamps, which produce a white light source with a high color rendering index that resembles natural sunlight. These lights are often appropriate for the taping of television shows. ... Yttrium helps CRT televisions produce a red color. When used in a compound, it collects energy and passes it to the phosphor. ... Niobium: Lithium niobate is used in mobile phone production, incorporated into surface acoustic wave filters that convert acoustic waves into electrical signals and make smartphone touchscreens work. SAW filters also provide cell signal enhancement, and are used to produce the Apple iPad 2."
Tator Tot writes with this quote from Chemical & Engineering News: "Using today's technologies and knowledge, a scale-up of fledgling algal biofuel production sufficient to meet even 5% of U.S. transportation fuel demand is unsustainable, says a report released last week by the National Research Council. The report examines the efficiency of producing biofuels from microalgae and cyanobacteria with respect to energy, water, and nutrient requirements and finds that the process falls short. The energy from algal biofuel, the report finds, is less than the energy needed to make it. In terms of water, at least 32.5 billion gal would be needed to produce 10 billion gal of algae-based biofuels, the report states. The study also finds that making enough algal biofuels to replace just 5% of U.S. annual transportation fuel needs would require 44–107% of the total nitrogen and 20–51% of the total phosphorus consumed annually in the U.S."
the_newsbeagle writes "Bottom-dwelling fish that live near the wrecked Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant still show elevated radiation levels 19 months after the accident — and those radiation levels are not declining. Researcher Ken Buesseler says this indicates the seafloor sediments are contaminated (abstract), and will remain so for decades. He said, 'I was struck by how [the radiation levels] really haven’t changed over the last year. Since cesium doesn't bioaccumulate to a significant degree, and in fact is lost when fish move to a less contaminated area, this implies that the cesium source is still there'"
hessian sends this excerpt from The New Republic: "[A] person who scored 100 a century ago would score 70 today; a person who tested as average a century ago would today be declared mentally retarded. This bizarre finding — christened the 'Flynn effect' by Richard Herrnstein and Charles Murray in The Bell Curve — has since snowballed so much supporting evidence that in 2007 Malcolm Gladwell declared in The New Yorker that 'the Flynn effect has moved from theory to fact.' But researchers still cannot agree on why scores are going up. Are we are simply getting better at taking tests? Are the tests themselves a poor measure of intelligence? Or do rising IQ scores really mean we are getting smarter? In spite of his new book's title, Flynn does not suggest a simple yes or no to this last question. It turns out that the greatest gains have taken place in subtests that measure abstract reasoning and pattern recognition, while subtests that depend more on previous knowledge show the lowest score increases. This imbalance may not reflect an increase in general intelligence, Flynn argues, but a shift in particular habits of mind. The question is not, why are we getting smarter, but the much less catchy, why are we getting better at abstract reasoning and little else?"
scibri writes "Once a Tyrannosaurus took down a Triceratops, how did it go about eating it? By looking at the bite marks on Triceratops fossils, a group of paleontologists have pieced together the steps, and created an illustrated guide. Step one? Pull off the head."
concealment writes "State-owned Baotou Steel Rare Earth (Group) Hi-tech Co. said in a statement released through the Shanghai Stock Exchange that it suspended production Tuesday to promote 'healthy development' of rare earths prices. It gave no indication when production would resume and phone calls to the company on Thursday were not answered. Beijing is tightening control over rare earths mining and exports to capture more of the profits that flow to Western makers of lightweight batteries and other products made of rare earths. China has about 30 percent of rare earths deposits but accounts for more than 90 percent of production. Beijing alarmed global manufacturers by imposing export quotas in 2009. It also is trying to force Chinese rare earths miners and processors to consolidate into a handful of government-controlled groups."
coondoggie writes "One of the six giant — 27 feet across, 20 ton — circular mirrors that will be part of the 4,000 sq. ft., Giant Magellan Telescope that ultimately look for stars, galaxies and black holes has been polished and completed — now for the other five. The mirrors will form the heart of the 25-meter Giant Magellan Telescope, and when complete will provide more than 380 square meters, or 4,000 square feet, of light-collecting area." This is a big project, not just a big mirror. From the article: "At the Carnegie Institution for Science's Las Campanas Observatory in northern Chile, earthmovers are completing the removal of 4 million cubic feet of rock to produce a flat platform for the telescope and its supporting buildings. The telescope is scheduled to come online in about 10 years.
Tator Tot writes "Grape pomace, the mashed up skins and stems left over from making wine and grape juice, could serve as a good starting point for ethanol production, according to a new study (from the Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry). Due to growing interest in biofuels, researchers have started looking for cheap and environmentally sustainable ways to produce such fuels, especially ethanol. Biological engineer Jean VanderGheynst at the University of California, Davis, turned to grape pomace, because winemakers in California alone produce over 100,000 tons of the fruit scraps each year, with much of it going to waste."
An anonymous reader writes "Neal Stephenson's 1999 Cryptonomicon was a great yarn. It was also a thoroughly enjoyable (and too short) romp through some mathematics. Where can I find more of that? I should say that I don't want SF — at least none of the classic SF I read voraciously in the 70s; it's just not the same thing, and far too often just a puppet-theatre for an author's philosophical rant. Has any author managed to hit the same vein as Stephenson did? (Good non-fiction math-reads are also gratefully accepted. What have you got?)"
eldavojohn writes "The global warming debate has left much to be desired in the realm of logic and rationale. One particular researcher, Michael E. Mann, has been repeatedly attacked for his now infamous (and peer reviewed/independently verified) hockey stick graph. It has come to the point where he is now suing for defamation over being compared to convicted serial child molester Jerry Sandusky. Articles hosted by defendants and written by defendant Rand Simberg and defendant Mark Steyn utilize questionable logic for implicating Michael E. Mann alongside Jerry Sandusky with the original piece, concluding, 'Michael Mann, like Joe Paterno, was a rock star in the context of Penn State University, bringing in millions in research funding. The same university president who resigned in the wake of the Sandusky scandal was also the president when Mann was being (whitewashed) investigated. We saw what the university administration was willing to do to cover up heinous crimes, and even let them continue, rather than expose them. Should we suppose, in light of what we now know, they would do any less to hide academic and scientific misconduct, with so much at stake?' Additionally, sentences were stylized to blend the two people together: 'He has molested and tortured data in the service of politicized science that could have dire economic consequences for the nation and planet.' One of the defendants admits to removing 'a sentence or two' of questionable wording. Still, as a public figure, Michael E. Mann has an uphill battle to prove defamation in court."
MarkWhittington writes "NASA engineers at the Marshall Spaceflight Center in Huntsville, Ala., are building a mockup of what appears to be a deep space habitat, though it could also be part of an interplanetary spacecraft. The purpose is to do human factors studies to find out how to sustain astronauts on lengthy deep space missions."
Kittenman writes "After 38 years (1974 - 2012) the BBC's CEEFAX service has ceased transmission. The service gave on-line up-to-date textual information (albeit in condensed form) to TV viewers in the pre-Internet era and afterwards. Its final broadcast signed off with, 'Goodbye, cruel world.' '... the real impetus for viewers came when BBC Television decided to use a selection of Ceefax pages, accompanied by music, before the start of programming each day. Initially called Ceefax AM and Ceefax In Vision, the Pages From Ceefax "programme" continued for 30 years, being broadcast overnight on BBC Two until this week. As viewers got a small taste of what Ceefax had to offer, millions of Britons during the 1980s invested in new teletext-enabled TV sets which gave them access to the full Ceefax service, which by now included recipe details for dishes prepared on BBC cookery shows, share prices, music reviews and an annual advent calendar.' An British ex-PM (John Major) said, 'From breaking global news to domestic sports news, Ceefax was speedy, accurate and indispensable. It can be proud of its record.'"
ananyo writes "In this age of social media, innovators eager to develop high-tech products are tapping into the wisdom of crowds to solve problems, with crowdsourcing sites such as Innocentive and Kaggle offering cash prizes for answers to science or data questions. The launch this week of a site called Marblar is turning this model on its head. Marblar gives scientists a space to tout solutions that have yet to find their problem (it's not in beta, despite the redirect). Members, who can come from any background, are invited to publicly discuss potential uses for patented discoveries made in research laboratories that as yet may not have led to real-world applications. Every suggestion at Marblar is posted on a public forum alongside video interviews with the scientists and explanations of their work. Website visitors suggest applications and vote them up and down, and the scientists behind the discovery are encouraged to take part in the discussion. Popular suggestions are recognized with a points system (denoted by marbles — hence the name) and, in some cases, small cash prizes. A trial run seems to have been pretty successful."
CelestialScience writes "A recycling technique has enabled a quantum computer to carry out a quantum calculation known as Shor's algorithm on a larger number than ever before. The benchmark algorithm exploits quantum mechanics to simplify the factorization of numbers into their prime components — a hard task for classical computers when the numbers get large. Until now, the largest number factorized using Shor's algorithm was 15. Now Anthony Laing at the University of Bristol, UK and colleagues report in Nature Photonics that they used a recycled photon to factorize 21 — still far too small and trivial to spook cryptographers, who rely on the difficulty of factorizing large numbers for their widely-used techniques. But a record nonetheless."
Hugh Pickens writes "Maryn McKenna writes in Scientific American that the standard autopsy is becoming increasingly rare for cost reasons, religious objections, and because autopsies reveal medical mistakes, making doctors and hospitals uncomfortable. Researchers in several countries have been exploring the possibility that medical imaging might substitute a 'virtual autopsy' for the more traditional variety. 'So few autopsies are being done now that many medical students get out of school never having seen one,' says Gregory Davis. 'And yet in medicine, autopsy is the most powerful quality-control technique that we have and the reason we know as much as we do about many diseases and injuries.' The process, dubbed 'virtopsy,' combines MRI and CT scanning with computer-aided 3-D reconstruction to prove causes of death for difficult cases, which included drownings, flaming car crashes, and severe injuries to the skull and face. Since 2004 the U.S. military has performed x-rays and CT scans on the bodies of every service member killed where the armed forces have exclusive jurisdiction — that is, not just on battlefields abroad but on U.S. bases as well. 'It allows us to identify any foreign bodies present, such as projectiles,' says Edward Mazuchowski. 'X-rays give you the edge detail of radio-opaque or metallic objects, so you can sort out what the object might be, and CT, because it is three-dimensional, shows you where the object is in the body.' A study conducted among intensive care unit patients in Germany compared diagnoses made before death with the results of both traditional and virtual autopsy in 47 patients and with only virtual autopsy in another 115 whose families refused standard autopsy. Virtual autopsies confirmed 88 percent of diagnoses made before death, not far behind the 93 percent rate for traditional postmortem exams. 'The findings so far are mixed,' says Elizabeth Burton of Johns Hopkins University. Virtual autopsy, she says, 'is better for examining trauma, for wartime injuries, for structural defects. But when you start getting into tumors, infections and chronic conditions, it's not as good, and I doubt it will ever be better.'"
The Bad Astronomer writes "NASA's NuSTAR satellite, designed to detect cosmic X-rays, detected a flare of high-energy emission coming from the Milky Way galaxy's central supermassive black hole. The X-rays were the dying gasp of a small gas cloud being torn apart, heated to a hundred million degrees, and then falling into the black hole itself. Events like this are relatively uncommon, so it's fortunate NuSTAR happened to be observing the black hole when it flared."
menno_h writes "In January 1665, Samuel Pepys wrote in his diary that he stayed up till two in the morning reading a best-selling page-turner, a work that he called 'the most ingenious book I read in my life.' It was not a rousing history of English battles or a proto-bodice ripper. It was filled with images: of fleas, of bark, of the edges of razors. The book was called Micrographia. It provided the reading public with its first look at the world beyond the naked eye. Its author, Robert Hooke, belonged to a brilliant circle of natural philosophers who — among many other things — were the first in England to make serious use of microscopes as scientific instruments. They were great believers in looking at the natural world for themselves rather than relying on what ancient Greek scholars had claimed. Looking under a microscope at the thousands of facets on an insect's compound eye, they saw things at the nanoscale that Aristotle could not have dreamed of. A razor's edge became a mountain range. In the chambers of a piece of bark, Hooke saw the first evidence of cells. Micrographia is is available on Google Books now."
derekmead writes "College students' voracious appetite for study drugs like Adderall is widespread enough that it was one of the main topics of a marquee lecture on neuroethics at Society for Neuroscience's 2012 conference called 'The Impact of Neuroscience on Society: The Neuroethics of "Smart Drugs."' It was excellent stuff by Barbara Sahakian, faculty at Department of Psychicatry at the University of Cambridge. Her focus is on prescription drugs for diseases and conditions like Alzheimer's, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, and depression, with the fundamental goal of understanding the neural basis of dysfunction to develop better drugs. Specifically, she wants to create drugs with no risk for substance abuse which means drugs that have no effect on dopamine. The true goal then of her research, fundamentally and briefly, is to repair the impaired. But doing so brings us to the discussion of how much repair is ethical when the repair can be disseminated to people who don't actually need it. Divisions abound on what is to be done. Some experts say that if people can boost their abilities to make up for what mother nature didn't give them, what's wrong with that? Others say that people shouldn't be using these drugs because they're designed for people with serious problems who really need help. So another question for the ethicists is whether cognitive enhancers will ultimately level the playing field or juice the opposing team."