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Once upon a time—up until the late 1990s, in fact--we were pretty certain we knew one key thing about the expansion of the Universe: that the gravity of celestial objects was certain to slow the expansion as time went on. Then, around 1998, observations of very distant supernovae from the Hubble Space Telescope (HST), which were intended to be used by scientists to measure the rate of deceleration, instead showed that long ago the Universe was expanding more slowly than it is today. So not only was the expansion of the Universe not slowing down due to gravity, as everyone thought, it actually is accelerating.

 

Oopsie!

 

After much theoretical study, which included looking at the possibility there was something wrong with Einstein's theory of gravity, astrophysicists decided maybe there was some new, strange kind of energy that filled space and could be blamed for this cosmic acceleration. They gave their solution a name: Dark energy, using the adjective “dark” to describe the invisible nature of the theoretical property that is giving the Universe the energy to expand.


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It turns out that most of the Universe is made of stuff that researchers are pretty sure exists but have not been able to see or directly measure. Looking at how mystery ingredients affect the Universe's expansion theorists have calculated that roughly 68% of the Universe is dark energy and 27% is dark matter (clouds of matter we cannot see that distort and magnify light from distant galaxies). That leaves about 5% for normal matter, which we can see.

 

To find out the nature of the dark stuff scientists want to obtain wide field-of-view images and spectroscopic surveys of the near infrared (NIR) sky. To do so NASA has come up with WFIRST-AFTA (deep breath now: Wide Field Infrared Survey Telescope- Astrophysics Focused Telescope Assets) a project selected by the National Research Council committee as the top priority for the next decade of astronomy. WFIRST-AFTA will address many of the most profound questions in astrophysics and is expected to be a key part of NASA’s mission portfolio for launch by 2024.


The current design of the mission makes use of an existing 2.4m telescope to enhance sensitivity and imaging performance. With the 2.4m telescope, a coronagraph instrument has been added to the payload for direct imaging of exoplanets (planets that orbit a star other than the Sun) and what are called debris disks (disks of dust and other matter in orbit around a star).

 

WFIRST-AFTA will use three independent techniques to probe dark energy:

 

Baryon acoustic oscillations (BAO), which are regular, periodic fluctuations in the density of the visible (baryonic) matter of the universe. Baryonic matter is the ordinary stuff made up of protons, neutrons and electronics bundled together into atoms.


Observing distant supernovae, the explosion of star, during which the star's luminosity increases by as much as 20 magnitudes and most of the star's mass is blown away at very high velocity. These explosions can be used as cosmic distance indicators. Basically, the further away an object is located in space, the further back in time it is, allowing researchers to measure cosmic expansion throughout the history of the universe.

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Weak gravitational lensing. Strong gravitational lensing (distortion) in the presence of a mass is the large scale bending of the path of light passing near an object. Most lines of sight in the universe, however, are in the weak lensing regime, in which the deflection is impossible to detect for a single background source such as a galaxy. Which is to say we don’t have the necessary alignment between a foreground mass and a background galaxy. However, using statistical measurements to determine the masses of astronomical objects without requiring assumptions about their composition or state, scientists can, we are told, provide a way to map the distribution of dark matter around galaxies and clusters of galaxies (it is estimated that approximately 80% of cluster content is in the form of dark matter).


The Federal Government’s FY 2015 budget provides $56M for WFIRST; the President’s current FY ’16 budget request provides $36 million less than last year's appropriation but most observers expect the final appropriated amount for FY 2016 to end up close to or above last year's appropriation. Behind this optimism is the fact that over the past two years significant WFIRST-AFTA funding was added to the NASA budget by Congress for FY14 and FY15 for a total of $106.5M.

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In developing countermeasures for biological, chemical and radiological warfare you can’t, for obvious reasons, expose humans to nasty germs or high levels of radiation. You don’t want to expose animals to these pathogens either, if you can avoid it.

 

The same can be said for pharmaceutical research and testing. Until recently, during drug development animal subjects were the only way of obtaining data from inside a living organism (“in vivo”) to predict human pharmacological responses. It has been estimated that more than 100 million mice, cats, rabbits, dogs, etc. are used for different experiments each year. But besides the ethical issues involved, using animals is not necessarily a good predictor of human responses to new drugs because of fundamental differences in biology between species.

 

So let’s say you want to know—as the US Department of Homeland Security does-- how many anthrax spores are necessary to cause disease in the body. Or you want to know the effectiveness of a proposed drug while reducing some of the up-front costs—which can reach into the billions—during the research and development phase.

 

What do you do?

 

As an alternative, researchers around the country at Harvard University's Wyss Institute, the University of California at Berkeley, the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory and elsewhere are developing miniature organ-on-a-chip devices to test biological and radiological defense measures as well as new pharmaceuticals.

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Lung-on-a-chip (above) can be used to study drug toxicity and potential new therapies. Source: Harvard's Wyss Institute

 

Wyss researchers are engineering microchips that model the microarchitecture and functions of living organs, such as the lung, heart, and intestine. These organs-on-a-chip devices could result in an accurate alternative to traditional animal testing. Each individual organ-on-a-chip is a cell culture device composed of a clear flexible polymer that contains microfluidic channels (to feed the cells with a nutrient-rich fluid to mimic blood) lined by living human cells and tissues. The goal is to create functional units that accurately model tissue- and organ-level functions, thus permitting real-time analysis of biochemical, genetic and metabolic activities within individual cells.

 

Since their initial publication in 2010 of a paper in the journal Science on a human, breathing lung-on-a-chip, and with grant support from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the Wyss team has developed more than ten different Organs-on-a-Chip models including chips for liver, kidney and intestinal functions.

 

Bioengineers at the University of California, Berkeley also are combining human cells with computer chips, in this case to eliminate the need to test new heart medicines on animals and to reduce the associated unpredictability of these medicines when given to humans. The latter obstacle exists in part because of biological variables; the ion channels through which heart cells conduct electrical currents, for example, can vary in both number and type between humans and other animals. The pulsating cardiac muscle cells are housed in an inch-long silicone device that effectively models human heart tissue, and the researchers have demonstrated the viability of this system as a drug-screening tool by testing it with cardiovascular medications. Researchers reported on their study this week in the journal Scientific Reports. It is being funded by the Tissue Chip for Drug Screening Initiative, an interagency collaboration launched by the National Institutes of Health to develop three-dimensional human tissue chips that model the structure and function of human organs.

 

Similar research is being conducted at other facilities.  At a meeting of the American Society for Microbiology (ASM) last week in Washington, DC, for example, researchers from the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in Richland, Washington presented the results of their experiments to determine the ability of anthrax spores to infect a three-dimensional lung-on-a-chip which they developed using rabbit lung cells.

 

Can these devices make animal (and human) testing obsolete? Post your thoughts in the comments below.

Hi Guys.

 

I was watching The Conversation starring Gene Hackman a few nights ago and came across a nice exchange between two of the main characters discussing the design of (then) advanced surveillance equipment:

 

Bernie: That's very nice, Harry. What did you use?

 

Harry: A three-stage directional microphone. MOSFET amplifier of my own design.

 

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It's always nice when a serious attempt is made by filmmakers to include accurate depictions of technology. It made me wonder: what other cool references to electronic engineering have you come across in popular film or TV? Post them below in the comments!

 

And if you haven't seen The Conversation, it's an amazing film that's just as timely today as when it first came out in 1974.

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Apple CarPlay goes well beyond Bluetooth pairing for playing music or making a hands-free call


Maybe you’ve heard this one before. A big, well-known technology company with billions of dollars to spend and a palpable fear of missing out on the “Next Big Thing” decides to venture far from its comfort zone and launches itself--full speed ahead and damn the torpedoes—into a high-risk venture against well-entrenched competitors.


No, the proper noun that fills in the blank this time is not Google, but Apple.


Rumors suggesting that Apple is developing an electric and possibly driverless iCar to rival Google and Tesla are proliferating like jackrabbits on a fertility drug. As evidence, media reports have cited Apple supposedly poaching Tesla employees and Apple also being sued by battery-maker A123 Systems for allegedly stealing car battery experts. The Wall Street Journal on  Feb. 13 cited unidentified sources in reporting that Apple’s top secret electric car efforts exist under the code name “Titan” and that there are “several hundred” Apple employees working on the project. Apple hasn't commented on the report.


We’ve heard some of these musings before. In 2012, speaking at Fast Company’s Innovation Uncensored event former Apple board member and J.Crew CEO Mickey Drexler revealed that before he died Apple co-founder Steve Jobs dreamed of designing an iCar.


OK, but sentimentality aside why would Apple want to do this?  Elon Musk’s Tesla Motors, which is considered to be a big success by everyone who doesn’t care about financial reporting, sold 35,000 cars last year but the company saw its bottom line shrink from a loss of $74.0M to an even larger loss of $294.0M despite an increase in revenues from $2.0B to $3.2B. What’s more, the auto industry runs on a 5% or 6% margin (at best) so it requires bigtime volume to make a go of it.


Admittedly, automobiles seem to be mesmerizing Silicon Valley these days. People’s exhibit number one: Google has created a working prototype of a self-driving car. Using lasers, cameras, radar and GPS to decipher the world around it--all of which sit in a module directly on the roof--a prototype driverless car has been built and will soon undergo formal road testing. The car, according to Google, will comply fully with California DMV rules during testing. Still, Google has stated all along that when the car is ready for market it does not intend to produce the car itself. Rather, it is looking to partner with auto manufacturers to bring self-driving cars to market within the next five years.


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Prototype of Google’s self-driving car. Is Apple jealous?


As in playing poker, when one tries to determine Apple’s next play it is necessary to figure out what the guy holding the cards is likely to do. In this case the player is Apple head-honcho Tim Cook, who, since taking the reins from Steve Jobs in August 2011 has guided the company with a slow but steady, conservative hand. There is no indication whatsoever that Cook is a big time gambler, someone who might go all-in into the car business while hoping to draw a winning card ‘on the river’.


The notion that Cook will turn radical and allow Apple to build a vehicle from scratch seems really unlikely given the low margins, high risks and intense capital requirements of the automobile business.  It’s even more unlikely since the head of the most profitable mobile device maker in the world really doesn’t have to take the full plunge to stake out a nice, profitable niche in the automotive sector. Like Google, Apple has thrown its hat into the connected car arena with Apple CarPlay, a system designed to bring iPhone functionality into cars and trucks and compete directly with Google’s Android Auto; both dashboard system are meant to bring touch-screen and voice-activated entertainment and navigation to cars via a user’s smartphone, which will power the car’s main information screen. Connect a smart phone and icons appear on the car’s display for phone calls, maps, music, etc.



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Apple has no need to join the list of less-than-successful car makers (above, a De Lorean).


So, even though Apple is a $700 billion personal tech company with tons of cash on hand (an estimated $178 billion), even though Apple works on many future-looking projects that may never see the light of day, and even though this is the season for unbridled optimism (as one baseball pundit put it, the  pop of a baseball into a catcher’s mitt in the spring is the most hope-inspiring sound in the world for fans, especially in Major League Baseball cities with losing teams) I just don’t see Apple jumping in and becoming a carmaker.


Apple will find its ‘paradise by the dashboard light’, but it will come in the form of vehicles interacting with the millions of iPhones out there. And I think staying out of the car business will in the end be an easy decision for Tim Cook. He won’t have to sleep on it and give us an answer in the morning.



As a new parent I found a debate in our society about how to approach vaccinations, which is especially hot here in Colorado. There are now even court battles addressing if vaccinations should be a requirement for anyone wanting to attend public schools. The majority of parents and doctors support vaccinating their children based on the CDC’s immunization schedule, but there are a growing number of parents who elect to forego vaccinations. Parents worry about the effectiveness of the vaccine, the toxins that are included in the vaccine, and find the natural immune system to be a sufficient or even better solution.

CDC Vaccine sched.pngFor the complete CDC vaccine recommendations, visit CDC - Vaccines - Immunization Schedules for Children in Easy-to-read Formats

 

Needless to say the wellbeing of young, innocent children makes this an extremely emotional topic, and is irresistible fodder for the likes of celebrities, media, and social networks. People on either side of the issue cast broad generalizations and strong judgments.

 

I have a great deal of respect for those that challenge scientific methods and findings. Science’s strength is built on being constantly revised and improved. It took the separate careers of both Faraday and Maxwell to disprove electricity and magnetism’s ‘force at a distance’ theory in favor of our current ‘Lines of Force’ theory. Those who take today’s knowledge as an irrevocable, universal truth are overdue for a humility lesson.

 

With science being a work in progress, how does an engineer with a newborn approach the black and white decision to vaccinate their child? There is so much information to consider, all of which needs to be balanced on the amorphous emotional blob of, ‘I love my kid more than life itself and want to do right by him/her in every way.’ I can see a few approaches that would work for an engineer that needs to make the call for their kid and feel good about it.

 

Approach 1: Trust in Your Expert

Trust your doctor? Believe in what has worked in your family for generations? Know an expert researcher in the field? Accept that you don’t have the time or knowledge to make an informed call yourself and trust the knowledge and experience of those who know more than you.

This is the same as finding an IC that will meet your specs and copying their reference design. You may not have experience in the technology the chip uses but trust that the IC manufacturer has done a good job in coming up with the best solution possible.

The benefit is gaining confidence from the person who is the best person to make the call. Of course the result is only as good as your expert makes it.

 

Approach 2: Become an Expert

It is possible to gain access to the same information that doctors and researchers have and make a decision yourself.

This would be like an average person on the street designing a circuit from the transistor level up. It involves research, design, simulations, loop analysis, relying on assumptions, etc… While it takes a ton of time and effort, the benefit is being able to use your own knowledge to eclipse the confidence that you have in others.

The danger is that it is possible to spend a ton of time gaining understanding and confidence but not doing a good enough job to beat the results offered by approach #1. Or that your research proves that you don’t have the tools (like an education or semiconductor fab) to produce a result that beats approach #1. Remember that getting an MD or PhD is a non-trivial task, similar to gaining an education in circuit design.

 

Approach 3: Trust but Verify

This approach is a combination of the other two. Get the recommendations of your trusted expert discussed in approach #1 but understand why they make their suggestion. Then follow their references and contradictory references in order to see if you agree or disagree with the recommendation.

This would be similar to ordering the demo board of the manufacturer’s reference design and running a test suite strong enough to satisfy your concerns over its usefulness in your particular application. If you find a need to make adjustments, discuss your ideas with the professionals.

The risk with this approach is undoing some of the best work done by the expert and landing at a suboptimal end result.

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All three of these approaches look at the problem as one without a certain ‘solution.’ Without the benefit of hindsight, it is impossible to know what is ‘best’ in both the case of child rearing and product development. All parents make mistakes just like all companies release bad products. Parents, like engineers, have to use the best information and tools available to make decisions and get to an optimal end point.

We are a clever lot!  This week we have won three supplier awards across product, sales and marketing.

 

Firstly, on Tuesday we were recognised by Elektron Technology as its EMEA Distributor of the Year for 2014/2015. The inaugural award is in recognition of our outstanding achievements over the past year, combining strong sales growth for Elektron Technology’s connectivity brands with exceptional customer support.

 

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Tuesday was a great day for us with another award coming from Tektronix for our marketing efforts.   Tektronix recognised us for excelling in all areas of Digital Marketing and accelerating its growth as a result.

Nigel Bentley, EMEA High Service Distribution Channel Manager, Tektronix, said:  “Digital marketing is at the forefront of our marketing strategy moving forward and we need the experts in this complicated field to help drive awareness of our brands especially with all the recently introduced Keithley Power Supplies. We need Farnell element14 to promote these recent new products to a broader customer base.” 

 

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I personally celebrated these two award wins with pancakes on Tuesday night for Shrove Tuesday here in the UK.  I am a lemon, sugar and syrup fan!  Anyway, I digress ...

 

Finally on Thursday, rounding off the successful week, we were named Phoenix Contacts’ distribution partner of the year 2014 for Device Connections based on exceptional sales growth.

 

The award is in recognition of our outstanding performance and commitment which led to exceptional sales growth results in 2014.

 

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Well done us!

 

Learn More about the Raspberry Pi 2 Here

Written by Paul Klein


Newark element14 is making its presence known throughout California with the help of billboards, branded bus shelters, customer appreciation events and a wrapped van. Have you seen any of them? They’re all part of a wider Tech Tour which promotes our products and services to the region’s engineering community. If you see our van or an advertisement, take a picture and tweet it using #Ne14TechTour.


This week we’ve got several exciting events taking place including six SBC Master Class Technology Days. They’re two-hour workshops where engineers can learn from experts about the latest single board computers (SBCs) and applications they support. Attendees can also get their hands on the devices and components. Four of the Master Class Tech Days are already full (in San Diego and Orange County), but there are a few spots remaining in the LA events. There will be an afternoon session Thursday, Oct. 30 and a morning session on Friday, Oct. 31. They will both take place at the Marriott Woodland Hills (21850 Oxnard St., Woodland Hills, CA).

 

Morning sessions will include breakfast for attendees and cocktails will be provided in the afternoon sessions. Products featured will include the RIoTboard, along with power supply, WiFi adapter and Xtrinsic Sensor Board. Five attendees will get to take their RIoTboard and components with them, and all attendees will get a 20% off voucher (expires Nov. 30).

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Register here:


Last week brought more exciting developments on tour. Wednesday we co-sponsored an open house and luncheon for Visual Communications Company, LLC (VCC). Engineering Manager Chris Schroeder presented a seminar on “What to Look for in Light Pipe Design.”

 

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Written by Paul Klein


Newark element14 is making its presence known throughout California with the help of billboards, branded bus shelters, customer appreciation events and a wrapped van. Have you seen any of them? They’re all part of a wider Tech Tour which promotes our products and services to the region’s engineering community. If you see our van or an advertisement, take a picture and tweet it using #Ne14TechTour.

 

Here’s one of several billboards currently up in Southern California:

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Our wrapped Newark element14 van:

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A recent customer appreciation event with Veris:

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As part of Newark element14’s activity, on Tuesday I attended TI’s Tech day in Anaheim, California. The event’s purpose was to have factory resources come in and present solutions to the attendees. We displayed our evaluation boards and talked about the solutions we offer our customers.

 

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More than 300 people came, including TI partners and other distributors, to attend various educational sessions. They were grouped into six categories including:

 

  • Sensors and Solutions
  • Signal Chain Design Considerations
  • Power Supply Design
  • C2000/Protection/Analog
  • Embedded Processing
  • Wireless Connectivity
  • Topics included:

 

The individual sessions included the following, among many others:

 

  • Temperature Sensing Solutions from TI
  • Current Sensing Solutions from TI
  • C2000™ Developments in Digital Power Control
  • Getting the most out of your power supply with the right FET Technology
  • RF Basics, Tools, Design Overview and Demo
  • Internet of Things: TI’s Wireless Connectivity Solutions
  • Capacitive Sensing
  • High Performance Signal Integrity Issues and Solutions

 

TI Tech Day 3.JPG

 

Wednesday TI hosts another Tech Day event – this time in Santa Barbara. If you’d like to follow along or catch up after the events have taken place, search the hashtag #techdayTI.

 

For more information on Newark element14’s Tech Tour, check out the company’s Facebook and Twitter profiles.

Pico Technology have released a beta version of PicoScope for Apple Mac owners who want to use PicoScope oscilloscopes under OS X.

 

To get your copy, go to our "Labs" section: http://labs.picotech.com/#mac and download the archive provided. Once downloaded it can be expanded in Finder and moved to the desired location (usually "Application").

 

There is a required dependency: Mono runtime environment (Mono MRE). To get it go to http://www.go-mono.com/mono-downloads/download.html and download the latest version (3.4 onwards). It comes with its own installer to be used on your system.

 

We are working to get features of the PicoScope Mac version in line with the Linux version that we released earlier this year.  From there we'll bring features of both versions in line with PicoScope for Windows version - version 6.9 - we'll be doing that in the second half of 2014.


As this is a Beta release users may experience some issues with the user interface and/or device communication - please let us know if you encounter any problems so we can resolve them as they arise.  The installation procedure is at an early stage so please bear with that at this stage of the deployment.  We look forward to receiving your reports on how the software behaves, so please don't keep it for yourself, share it on the Pico forum on the Mac version board

 

The Beta version also provides drivers and an SDK for Mac, which have been common requests from users.  Linux examples are provided that use autotools for configuration. Mac users should use brew or macports to get those on your system. Libraries are compiled to universal format including x86_64 and i386 binaries.

 

The PicoScope Mac OS X version means you no longer need to boot Windows or 3rd party emulation tools to use your PicoScope on a Mac :-)


Trevor J. Smith

Business Development Manager

Pico Technology Ltd.

Net Neutrality in 2014: Filtered and Censored Communication


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                Net neutrality is a topic that many users of the Internet know little about. With the recent announcement by the FCC regarding their new drafted legislation “Open Internet Rules”, the topic has been on the minds of many involved with Internet regulation, including lobbyists and net neutrality advocates. The FCC has looked at this topic before; four years ago, they introduced the FCC Open Internet Order, which, in part, forced Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to provide access to content from their competitors, and also to high-bandwidth content such as Netflix. This ruling did not, however, prevent ISPs from charging more for faster access and more bandwidth.              

                This led to the FCC releasing a final copy of the 2010 Order, entitled “Preserving a Free and Open Internet”. Importantly, the FCC focused on keeping ISPs transparent in their management of Internet services – specifically ruling that they “… must not block lawful content, nor unreasonably discriminate in transmitting lawful network traffic.” This, of course, opens up the debate on the meaning of “unreasonably discriminate”.

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                Earlier this year, in a case called Verizon Communications v. Federal Communications Commission, the FCC was determined to have no authority to enforce the Open Internet Rules they

                 The comic at the top dates from 2006 but is still appropriate -- bandwidth limit could be restricted at will by the ISPs, and companies who pay ISPs for special access will get faster connection speeds and possibly even the removal of bandwidth limits. For example, YouTube could pay Comcast to make sure their website had the fastest 'lane' of traffic available. Also, Comcast users would be able to access YouTube without it counting towards their monthly bandwidth limit. Keep in mind this is a hypothetical -- but without net neutrality rules in place, there will be little to stop the cable companies from acting this way. An excellent resource to learn more about Net Neutrality and the “Open Internet” is http://www.theopeninter.net/ (an excellent URL!). Their front page defines the concept of net neutrality very well: created in 2010. This had resounding impacts as two of the important clauses in the Rules -- no blocking of legal content and no discrimination of network traffic -- were vacated entirely. In the few months since then, many of the large ISPs have been finding ways to take advantage of the FCCs limited authority. AT&T and Verizon have been accused of intentionally ‘shaping’ their network traffic, slowing access to bandwidth-heavy services like Netflix and Amazon’s Cloud Services. The companies deny these allegations, but it is activities like these that should have average Internet users like you and I concerned.

 

“Network neutrality is the idea that your cellular, cable, or phone Internet connection should treat all websites and services the same. Big companies like AT&T, Verizon, and Comcast want to treat them differently so they can charge you more depending on what you use.

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is currently debating legislation to define limits for Internet service providers (ISPs). The hope is that they will keep the Internet open and prevent companies from discriminating against different kinds of websites and services.”

 

                This highlights the importance of voicing your opinion. It is almost certain that we will see changes; what is not certain is how these changes will affect our lives. The important thing to think about is how you use the Internet in your daily life. What is it that you value about access to the Internet? Do you use it for entertainment, research, or just social media? All Internet usage is on the rise, and no one government or authority can control the Internet as a whole. And as the Internet is so pervasive in our daily lives, we should care about what happens to it. China has been censoring their citizens’ Internet access for years. Anything related to Tiananmen Square protests (known as the June Fourth Incident in China) and subsequent massacre is blocked. Some see this as an extreme example, but left unchecked ISPs will do whatever makes them the most money.

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                So what does this all mean for us? Well, the debate has been going on for as long as the Internet has been around. Changes can come quickly, as opposed to other mediums such as television or radio, where sweeping changes took years to implement. Though changes to content might take a while, ISPs have the power to block, censor or shape their network traffic. As explained on the Open Internet website, ISPs have a financial motive to do this, and this is why consumers need to be aware of the concept of net neutrality.

                One of the issues at the forefront is whether or not ISPs have the authority to artificially create  'fast-lane' and 'slow-lane' types of connections. The ISPs have argued that they would, in fact, create 'fast-lane' and 'hyper-fast-lane' variants for more money, but these arguments have been met with skepticism -- as noted in the John Oliver video below, Comcast recently decreased their connection speeds to Netflix in order to get themselves a better deal -- they wanted Netflix to pay them for faster network speeds for Comcast subscribers. During the negotiations, Comcast's service

speeds to Netflix took a dramatic drop -- and were immediately reversed upon signing the agreement.

                 Even more concerning is smaller companies such as start-ups would be at a huge disadvantage online -- larger companies with deep pockets would ensure they get the best connections, leaving new companies little room to breathe. Google and Netflix are both in a position to benefit, but both have in the past spoken in favor of net neutrality. With the new rule changes, however, it is unclear if they will continue to support the idea.

                The new, re-drafted “Open Internet Rules” are summed up by Tom Wheeler, chairman of the FCC, in a recent blog post on the FCC website:             

“To be clear, this is what the Notice will propose:

  1. That all ISPs must transparently disclose to their subscribers and users all relevant information as to the policies that govern their network;
  2. That no legal content may be blocked; and
  3. That ISPs may not act in a commercially unreasonable manner to harm the Internet, including favoring the traffic from an affiliated entity.”

    In response to the FCC’s comments on the issue, net neutrality activists protested outside FCC headquarters for over a week, drawing comparisons to the Occupy protests.

fcc-chairman.jpgMore importantly – the Chairman of the FCC, Tom Wheeler (left), was recently compared to a dingo by comedian John Oliver. His hilarious segment after the initial announcement was followed up by his viewers crashing the FCC website on June 2nd, after he encouraged Internet commenters to “channel [their] anger, that badly spelled bile that [they] normally reserve for unforgivable attacks on actresses you seem to think have put on weight… Seize your moment, my lovely trolls. Turn on caps lock and fly my pretties, fly! Fly! Fly!"

                The entire segment can be viewed on YouTube here.

                We all value the Internet -- as John Oliver pointed out, the FCC is inviting comment on their website. I would encourage you to voice your opinion – the Internet is such a large part of our daily lives that if limits were placed on the content we access, the value we get from being connected would be greatly diminished. An encouraging sign is that the FCC is accepting input from the public on the proposed legislation, and so far at least 47 000 people have commented, more than any other topic on the FCC website. The email is openInternet@fcc.gov – just remember that sending comments to that email counts as filing a document into an official FCC proceeding. This is usually a good thing – there is record of all comments entered. However, your name and your full statement will be available on the web. The FCC also offers a page called the “Open Internet Explainer”, available here. It contains links to a lot more information.

 

 

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SMI RED-oem Remote Eye Tracking platform render. (via SMI)


Law enforcement and federal agencies have been using polygraph machines to detect lies since Cesare Lombroso introduced his blood pressure device back in 1895. Before that? Torture was used as the best method to detect fibs (still is to some extent). Just ask any witch that was present at the Salem Trials and they could probably tell it didn’t work that well. Some analysts will tell you that the eyes are the gateway in detecting if someone is telling the truth or not. They claim the rate a person blinks is a telltale sign of lying as well as not making eye contact or even looking up and to the left or right may be an indication of false pretenses. Some of the early pioneers of computerized polygraph have banded together to form a company, known as Converus, which is developing a new platform that tracks eye movement to detect deception.


The soon-to-be-released EyeDetect device is outfitted with German-based SMI’s (SensoMotoric Instruments) RED-oem Eye Tracking 3D camera system that tracks gaze, eye movement and pupil dilation down to 1/10 of a millimeter. According to Converus, lying causes minute changes in the eye’s behavior because it induces ‘cognitive load’ (psychology- load related to executive control of working memory), which has an effect on eye movement. Think of it like computer RAM that holds on to pieces of data before being replaced by different programs. EyeDetect captures that ocular data and analyses it to assess the ‘likelihood’ of deception while ‘suspects’ answer a series of true or false questions. The company claims the system has an accuracy rate of 85%, which is pretty high in terms of reliability but most courts in the US still don’t allow polygraph tests submitted as evidence. Converus is set to launch their device in April of this year, with Mexico as its first test subject. Businesses will use it for pre-employment screening as well as using it for random testing on employees to weed-out those individuals that accept bribes or are involved in other nefarious activities (there goes police officers and government officials).


C

See more news at:

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Menu projection at Eggcellent (via Advanced Technology Labs)


Japan is the land of technology and this week that innovation has made its way to the restaurant industry, which, according to the Recruit Advanced Technology Lab, is trying to redefine customer service.

 

A restaurant in Tokyo called Eggcellent (which, of course, specializes in all things egg) is expected to be one of the first restaurants in the world to feature an almost human-free dining experience. The facility is expected to incorporate smart glasses, gesture interfaces, customer face identification, completely wireless payments, avatars, augmented reality, iPad-based food ordering and tracking and more.

 

Is it too good to be true? Well, probably. Recruit said the infrastructure is based on iBeacon, allowing a customer to enter the restaurant, view the menu, get food recommendations, order, wait for their food, select what they’d like to watch on TV and pay – all without interacting with a human wait staff.

There are a few other unique tech features offered at the café that attempt to solve the drawbacks of fine dining. For one thing, when a customer sits down at a booth, the iPad at the table will wirelessly sync with their social media accounts, giving them their friends’ favorite dishes at that establishment. With this, the software also keeps a running toll of the order in which each customer’s dish come out of the kitchen, so no one wonders when their food is going to make it to their table.

 

The dining technology features a Kinect sensor, PC assists, Wii remote, projector and microphone to give users an interactive experience. TV screens in the restaurant are equipped with the technologies, enabling customers to change the station, order food from a virtual server and more, all wirelessly. While there was no talk of incorporating gaming into the restaurant, the possibility certainly isn’t far off.

 

A virtual dining experience may sound like something off in the distant future, but incorporating the technology into the everyday dining experience makes a lot of sense. For one thing, the technology pays for itself because restaurants can downsize their wait staff. Secondly, the customer will never have to wait for a busy waiter to take their order, or wonder when their food will arrive. There is certainly a very relevant place for human waiters in the restaurant industry, but incorporating both man and machine can produce the optimum dining experience of the future.


 

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Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have taken household plants and paired them with nanomaterials to create bionic plants that can do everything from monitoring environmental pollutants to detecting chemical weapons.

 

Researchers Michael Strano, a Carbon P. Dubbs Professor of Chemical Engineering and Juan Pablo Giraldo, plant biologist, worked together to harness plant power as a new kind of technology platform. The research team chose plants because of their ability to repair themselves, survive harsh outdoor environments and be self-reliant for power and distribution of water. The emerging field is nicknamed “plant nanobiotics” and combines plant biology with chemical engineering nanotechnology to create ‘super plants.’ The potential for plant nanobiotics is relatively untapped and the possibilities are endless. For this reason, Strano and Giraldo set out to discover what an average plant can really do.

 

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Professor Michael Strano (left) and postdoc fellow Juan Giraldo (right) in lab at MIT (courtesy of Bryce Vickmark of MIT)

 

The Process

 

To create bionic plants, researchers rely on embedding cholorplasts with cerium oxide nanoparticles, or nanoceria. Nanoceria is delivered to the plan through lipid exchange envelope penetration, which allows the substance to penetrate the protective membrane of the chloroplasts, without damaging molecules.

 

Through this process, researchers began installing semiconducting carbon nanotubes, covered in negatively-charged DNA, into the choloroplasts as well. This had a positive effect on the plant’s ability to absorb light, including the absorption of light wavelengths that are typically not within a plant’s range, such as near-infrared, ultraviolet and green light. Through this process, plants exhibited a 49 percent increase in photosynthetic activity.

 

The researchers then used vascular infusion to inject nanoparticles into the plants through nanotubes, making the plants “bionic.” While researchers are still unsure of how the process affects the plant’s glucose production, they were able to create a variety of plants with potentially practical uses in the field of biochemistry.

 

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Researchers using near-infrared microscope to detect output of carbon nanotube sensor in Arabidopsis Thaliana plant (Courtesy of Bryce Vickmark of MIT)

 

Practical Uses

 

The research team used the Arabidopsis Thaliana plant in its study as a plant model and installed a carbon nanotube, designed to detect the presence of a common environmental pollutant, nitric oxide, which is produced through combustion. In the experiment, the team successfully gave the plant supernatural properties and when presented with the toxin, its luminescence changed, telling the researchers that it indeed detected the toxin’s presence.

Giraldo and Stano created a number of nanotubes that could sense various chemicals, including the explosive TNT, chemical agent nerve gas sarin and hydrogen peroxide. The target molecule is detected when it encounters the polymer encasing the nanotube. When it is detected, the florescence of the plant changes, revealing the presence of the threat.

 

The team has plans to enhance its carbon nanotubes to create an army of plants that can detect various biochemical threats in real time, at very low concentrations. The team is also working on developing bionic plants that rely on electronic nanomaterials, such as graphene.

 

Giraldo said the field of plant nanobiotics is still in the developing stages. He considers it a great opportunity for the communities of plant biologists and chemical engineering nanotechnologists to work together towards a world of technology powered by plants.


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Cortana in action (via WPC)


One of the biggest features of Apple's mobile OS is its voice recognition tool, Siri. Siri allows users to ask questions such as “are there any taco restaurants around” and will process the question and give the user an appropriate answer - we know the deal. Most impressively, Siri is good at understanding people's everyday language. Users can speak how they normally would to another person and Siri can interpret the meaning correctly or will ask questions to get a better understanding of what was asked. This is a demonstration of the recent technological advances in the area of speech recognition.

 

Since Siri has been so successful it is only natural for Apple's competitors to come with their own versions of personal assistants for their mobile products. The latest versions of Android software now comes equipped with Google Now, Google's very own intelligent personal assistant. Google Now comes as part of the Google Search application and can learn and adapt over time to a user's search habits. Now, Microsoft is set to soon join the voice recognition competition by releasing its  own personal assistant, currently known as Cortana.

 

The name Cortana stems from the popular Halo series on Microsoft's Xbox consoles. Cortana is a fictional AI character who feeds information to the main character. With Window's newest phone update Cortana will take the form of an animated circular icon which will change shape when speaking or processing information. Additionally, much like Google Now, Cortana will be capable of keeping track of user's previous search requests and use this information to better process requests in the future. Cortana will also attempt to learn a user's schedule and goals. Using this information it will then find and offer useful information to the user.

 

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