Month: December 2014

A brighter tomorrow

For any amputee comes the life changing adaption to the use of prosthetic limbs. Be it legs or arms prognostics are becoming increasingly modernized and user friendly which will hopefully lead to the ability of easier adaption to the user. I would imagine that prosthetic arms are the harder to use. While there are grabber type arms that can be controlled through muscle movements in order to make a grasping hand stance, the extent to which these can be utilized in everyday life is limited. However new tests of prosthetic controlled via brain waves give hope to amputees in gaining their mobility back. This is shown in tests done at the John Hopkins University on a double arm amputee named Les Baugh. After losing both arms from the shoulder down in an electrical accident, Baugh thought he would never again be able to operate in the same way. However tests that hooked Baugh up to a brain scaner showed that he was able to accurately preform tests using a prosthetic arm. These tests ranged in complexity and fine tuning from dropping balls in cups to other tasks involving both arms.

The team tasked with developing the prosthetic say they want to have these affordable and without a doubt life changing prosthetics on the market within the next 10 years. The changes this could bring to amputees would be incredible. It could mean the ability to be self reliant again for many. In a sense these researches are developing a device that can give someone their freedom back.

Although the device looks promising, the software and hardware in use is incredibly expensive, so although they may be on the market soon, they may not be widely available to amputees due to their cost. This always happens with technology though, and given some time the price will go down while the quality increases. Personally, I believe this type of research and development is one of the most important and interesting. What other species of animal has devised a way to use their surrounding to fix themselves? We are arguably on a breakthrough in prosthetic technology that will mirror that of the advent of penicillin in medicine. Soon enough losing a limb will not be such a life changing event, and will hopefully allow for the regained independence of injured military and law enforcement and for civilians. Surely the future is looking bright for amputees as increased technology will further help them.

Who needs Gas?

The craze with alternative energy especially in the automotive market is one I can get behind. Why use a century old resource that is running out and only causes problems for the environment? Gasoline is of course what I’m talking about. The real answer is that it’s readily available and the infrastructure for it is already there. However if we could create the infrastructure required for alternative power sources especially for cars. Gasoline would become obsolete. There are of course plenty of alternatives being invested in by large car brands. Electric, Solar, etc. are all viable choices. However these won’t get anywhere unless fueling stations for them are implemented. Another worthy solution brought to the plate recently by Toyota is Hydrogen Fuel Cells. Essentially the car runs on the most abundant element in the universe, and creates heat and water as a byproduct. The Mirai, the hydrogen car, is expected to hit U.S. markets in late 2015 boasting a driving range of 300 miles, and the ability to power an average sized home for a week on a full charge.

Arguably the era of using cars as means for transportation only is over. By and large they are becoming devices for entertainment, sustainability, and common use. To meet this standard a new form of car must emerge, one that isn’t restricted by the global price of crude oil or the smog levels in your city. While the hydrogen fuel cell based car may not be the answer, the fact that automotive companies are willing to invest money and research into alternative methods is a compelling thought. I hope that these intrigues into alternative fuels will produce something that can change our dependency on oil in the near future. Without a doubt the dependency will end, but the question becomes when and after how much damage has already been done. We constantly see in the news the effects of global warming arguably caused by the emissions of vehicles, however the fact that no one wants to make an immediate change is scary. I, for one, can attest to this. I still drive a gasoline car, partly because I don’t have 30+ thousand dollars to spend on a new electric car. However the down sizing from a SUV to a small sedan is all that I could do, but it affects the overall outcome of the future. If you can get a new shiny one, get a new rusty one?

 

Aquapods, Aquaculture, and Other Aqua things!

Without a doubt you’ve had seafood before. Whether you like it or not is a different question. While eating it though the last thing on your mind is the way that fish made it onto your plate. Was it caught in the wild? Raised on an aqua-farm? Who cares? It’s delicious either way. However, if you are in the group that loves seafood, you’d be sad to find out that unless things change you won’t be eating any more Tuna. Seafood accounts for  a large portion of many diets across the globe. From a pure nutritional standpoint to the yum factor, seafood is incredibly important in a number of cultures. It stands to reason then, that a lot of fishing is taking place. You’d be correct in thinking this, a lot of fishing is taking place. So much so that ecosystems cannot keep up. We’ve long past the point of sustainable commercial fishing. To combat this, many companies have ditched the rod and hook and went instead for the net and wire. These aqua-farms are incredibly useful from a food standpoint, but incredibly detrimental from an ecological standpoint. These farms contribute to poor water circulation, disease spreading and environmental stress. How do we fix this though? We can’t stop it, we need the food. The answer, some think, comes in the form of an “aquapod”. Essentially it’s a ball you through in the ocean, put some fish in it, let them grow and thrive, then find it when they are ready to be harvested. This alleviates many of the ecological concerns due to it’s ability to free float and therefore follow currents. While it may be a hassle going out and finding your fish ark, it is arguably worth the sustainability of our water ecosystems.

More than likely this idea will be slow to catch on. From a business standpoint is becomes much more expensive and a lot less efficient than just having a standstill farm based program. I feel that unless governmental pressure is put on these large fishing corporations this idea will not take hold. Unfortunately this may mean the destruction of our oceans ecosystems and the end to sweet sweet sushi, but whatever makes a buck is fair game in the eyes of many. More and more it is becoming increasingly apparent that aquatic based food sources are going to be more useful as time goes on, but what will we do if we destroy them before we need them?

Spy Fish Drone, Yep.

The world of drones is becoming increasingly larger. Through obvious military use to incredibly useful consumer and business use, these unmanned small child sized flying terrors are here to stay, and are only going to get bigger and more diverse. In what seems to be the building of a drone tree of life, the Navy unveiled their spy fish drone… That’s what they’re calling it, “Spy.. Fish.. Drone”. What’s even better is the name of the program to develop it. Silent Nemo… That’s a big middle finger to children everywhere. What’s revolutionary about the drone and what sets it apart from your average pool toy is the way in which the device moves, and of course it’s purpose. Instead of using a motor propelled system to move the 5 foot long mechanical fish, is uses a system akin to the Blue Finned Tuna. What this essentially means is that little Spy Fish Drone will be able to patrol U.S. and enemy waters undetected. Sweet! Despite the obvious military application the drone has, I still want one. I don’t even have a pool. I just want it., and when I get one, I’ll name it something cooler than Spy Fish Drone.

Visions of the Future: A 19th Century Prediction of the 2000s

It’s always fun to look back at predictions of the future, especially when living in the time “the future” is set in. For instance, according to Back to the Future Part II, in twenty odd days we all need be dressed like this. While I’m sure the directors didn’t actually think the future would look like that, the comedic value of the prediction still stands. Other predictions into the future are less comedic and more surprisingly accurate though. This is most apparent in a series of postcards from the 19th century, which give an insight on what peoples of those times though the future would be like.

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1) Displayed is an automated floor cleaning contraption. While the picture certainly represents the time periods mechanics, the idea wasn’t too far off what we have today. What I find incredibly interesting about this particular image, is that it still reflects societal values of the time. One would think that the purpose of an automated cleaning device would be to cut the human portion out, but the fact it’s being pulled by a woman, who’s primary duty in the 19th century was house-keeping, plays into the societal roles of the period.

 

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2) This prediction also wasn’t too far off modern day capabilities and arguably is more advanced than what we have now. While the idea of assisted farming is not new, the extent to which it is growing is increasing each year. In this depiction of the future, we see a man operating a harvesting like piece of farm equipment that is guided by a rail wiring system. The products in the works in assisted farming are much more involved than this however. Wireless farm equipment is becoming more and more widespread due to increases in GPS and wireless technologies and availability.

All of the predictions have been pretty accurate and not too far-fetched right? Right? Yea, it gets weird from here.

 

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3) It seems the authors and illustrators of these postcards threw their good predictions out the window and went more fantasy with the next few. This picture shows divers on seahorse back. What isn’t exactly apparent is whether these were giant seahorses or if they were machines designed to look like Seahorses. Either option provide it’s own set of questions. If you choose the huge seahorse option you have to question what happened to these majestic deep sea creatures, but if you choose the seahorse looking machines you’re left with one question, but why? While the strange seahorse mounts kind of throws the whole prediction thing on a strange tangent, at least the helmets look kind of similar to modern diving equipment.

 

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4) This one is creepy. The entire picture, the idea, everything about it is weird. It’s not a new idea though, every kid dreamed of not having to be mentally present during school. I know I did. Why can’t I just show up, get what I need, and leave without hanging out there for 8 hours? Essentially what’s being shown in the picture is a “teacher” dumping books into a machine that will essentially give the knowledge of those books to the students. Without even going into the strange existential questions of this picture, it’s still off putting. An extent to his has been reached though, I feel, in modern society. The rigidity of education that this picture suggests is arguably present in our education system, and that coupled with the obvious physical similarities to the internet makes me wonder to what extent this is true.

Looking back on previous generations thoughts of the future is incredible. It allows you the ability to think how far we’ve come in such a short time. It’s amazing to think that the people who thought these ideas up are either your great or great-great grandparents. It’s astonishing to think about what the future will be like today, and how our depictions of it will fit the actual thing.

Funding of Space Programs

A topic that was recently in the news and one that I’ve strong feelings toward is the role of space exploration and research programs in national budgets. While normally, NASA gets very little funding compared to other United States programs, it seems this bleak outlook may be getting better, however slow it is. When congress passes the new budget bill for the coming year, each individual government funded program petitions the government for money. NASA’s budget is in the range of $20 billion. This year they asked for around $17.5 billion dollars, but is set to receive nearly $18 billion dollars. Under the new financial plan congress would actually give NASA more money than they asked for. While the amount is minuscule, nearly a 2% increase, it’s still a step in the right direction. The way I see it is that although it’s a 2% increase this year, maybe next year it’s a 4% increase. How far this will go is the real question though.

To me, this is one of the most important programs to put money into. Things that will without a doubt will affect the future of not only the country, but of the world. More and more often we’re hearing about how we’re using up resources faster than they can replenish, or that air and water quality is decreasing. While the answers to these problems are solvable, the methods are not always simple. While I’m not saying it’s time to pack up and go to some other planet on some Interstellar type plot, our options need to be weighed still. If this means investing more money into the possibility of space exploration, then we should be doing that. If it means putting more money into renewable energy and programs like it, then we should be doing that. However, at this moment in time we are doing neither at the level they need to be done. While these programs are slowly gaining the traction they deserve, the rate at which it is happening is not fast enough.

Surely we’re at an important time in history. While it may not be the climax it is without a doubt the rising action. The choices and policies we adopt today will affect everything in the future. I feel there are few people making the decisions who realize this, and that can only lead to bad things unless it is corrected quickly. This new economic legislature is a step in the right direction, but not a long enough stride.

The Probe Awakens

No, this isn’t a Star Wars trailer review. It does have to do with space though, so there’s that.

In a galaxy not so far away (Our own in fact), a probe has been travelling for nine years over 4.8 billion kilometers on its way to the ginger step-child planet, Pluto. NASA’s New Horizons probe’s alarm clock went off today signaling the alarm clock watcher that the probe has entered the proximity of Pluto and it’s celestial sisters in the Kuiper Belt. While the scientific observation of the area doesn’t begin until January 15th, the probe was woken from it’s electronic slumber just to check everything out. The little guy had enough rest since 2003 when he was launched, and needs to stretch his little probe legs before the big day. New Horizons is the first probe to study the area, and the first real study of the area at all. Since it’s discovery in 1930 Pluto has remained a mystery. Science, however, is not Sherlock Holmes and does not like mysteries, so we’re sending a few tonnes of metal to explore the area.

The data New Horizons transmits will give researches insight into the formation of Pluto and the Kuiper Belt as well as current conditions of the area. It’s funny that the planet everyone seems to know of is one of the most obscure in our Solar System. By July, when New Horizons’ closest approach of Pluto will be, we will have some of these answers.

I’m excited, and you should be too, to finally explore the last place in our Solar System we haven’t. Space travel and accomplishments are becoming shorter in between and the New Horizons mission attests to this exciting fact. It’s interesting to think about what the next big spaceflight story will be, but for now we wait for New Horizons to reach Pluto.