Wot Nxt?
Interesting snippets from around the globe

Google Maps and disputed territories


Back in 2010, Google Maps almost caused a war between Nicaragua and Costa Rica, so there’s no doubt that border disputes are a sensitive issue.

Earlier this year, the Washington Post wrote about Google’s unique way of appeasing all sides – it shows alternative versions of disputed borders to different sides depending upon where you are – and now there’s a website that visualises the differences.

Disputed Territories, at the first link below, shows the various iterations of sensitive borders, such as Crimea, by comparing them side-by-side.

If you’re a maps or politics geek, or simply just curious, it’s well worth a look.

(July ‘14)


Alcatel-Lucent pushes 10,000Mbps over copper lines


The Bell Labs R&D division of Alcatel-Lucent claims to have set a new world record after they successfully pushed “ultra-broadband” speeds of 10 Gigabits per second (Gbps) down a traditional copper telephone line using XG-FAST technology, which is an extension of G.fast (ITU G.9700).
G.fast is a hybrid-fibre technology, which is designed to deliver Internet speeds of up to 1000Mbps (1Gbps) over runs of copper cable (up to around 250 metres via 106MHz+ radio spectrum). The idea is that a fibre optic cable is taken closer to homes and then G.fast works to deliver the last few metres of service (up to 30 metres), which saves money because the operator doesn't have to dig up your garden to lay new cables.

XG-FAST works in a similar way but via an even shorter run of copper and using frequencies of up to 500MHz.

(July ‘14)


Smartphone controlled cremation


No one likes to think too much about what happens when we pass away, but you probably imagine crematoriums to pretty much remain the same as they have for the last century.

It turns out though, that even those who dispose of our earthly remains have a hankering to use their smartphone to control the process.

A firm in the Netherlands, DFW Europe, has revealed that its latest installation, a crematorium in Denmark, can be run by an operator carrying around a HTC One smartphone.

Now, all someone has to do is scan a barcode (to ensure it's the right body being cremated), push a single button on their smartphone and the process is handled automatically from there. And, as morbid as it sounds, the new cremation ovens are even environmentally friendly, since the heat generated is recycled and used in nearby homes and schools.

Ah, the wonders of technology.

(July ‘14)

A robot valet to park your car


In Germany, high tech has come to airport parking. Dusseldorf Airport(DUS) has introduced robot valets to take the hassle out of parking for business travellers.

Travellers can leave their cars at the arrival level of the airport’s parking structure. As they leave, they confirm on a touch-screen that no one is in the car.

The robot, nicknamed “Ray” takes it from there. It measures the vehicle, picks it up with a forklift-like system, and takes it to the parking area where it will position it in one of the 249 parking spots reserved for the automated valets.

The machine is capable of carrying standard cars weighing up to 3 tonnes.

(July ‘14)


SelfieCop alerts parents to underage sexts


SelfieCop is an app that automatically forwards photos taken on a child or teen's phone to his or her parents. The aim is to make young people think more carefully about what they are snapping and sharing.

The app simply needs to be downloaded to a child's phone – currently it only works on Android – and then locked with a password so that it is (a bit more) difficult to uninstall. After that, the app will capture any images taken with the phone's camera (whether it's for SnapChat, WhatsApp, Instagram, Facebook or Twitter), encrypt them and email a copy to the parent's email account.

This could certainly make for some very awkward conversations all round.

The aim of the app isn't for parents to spy on their kids, but to get children to stop and think before taking a picture. The very fact that it's installed should act as a deterrent from taking nudie selfies.

The app does raise some interesting questions around the legalities of receiving pictures of underage kids, even if you are the parent. As a result, parents are advised to never use a work email or general access email address to receive these pictures and, of course, never save or forward them.

The app is available at Google Play for $US2.99.

(July ‘14)


Great White devours sites servers


Katharine, a 4.3 metre, 1,040kg. Great White Shark, has become so popular with visitors to a research site tracking her daily movements that the sites servers continue to crash.

The shark, one of dozens tagged for research by the non-profit global shark tracking project OCEARCH, typically cruises very close to shore up and down the Eastern Seaboard of the U.S. That has attracted a lot interest from the swimming public.

OCEARCH tags sharks with four different technologies to create a three-dimensional image of a shark's activities. They collect, on average, 100 data points every second, or 8.5 million data points per day.

(July ‘14)


Pharmacy robber tracked by GPS and killed


The New York Times published a story about a thief in New York City who was tracked and located using a GPS device inside a decoy pill bottle he had stolen (along with other pill bottles) from a pharmacy. When police confronted the thief, he raised a gun to shoot at an officer, and was killed.

The decoy bottles were introduced last year by the police commissioner at the time, who announced that the department would begin to stock pharmacy shelves with decoy bottles of painkillers containing GPS devices. The initiative was in response to a sharp increase of armed and often deadly pharmacy robberies across the state, frequently by people addicted to painkillers.

The bottles are designed to be weighted and to rattle when shaken, so a thief does not initially realise they do not contain pills. Each of the decoy bottles sits atop a special base, and when the bottle is lifted from the base, it begins to emit a tracking signal.

(July ‘14)


Earth’s changing magnetic field


When the Earth's magnetic field switches some strange things happen. Now, the European Space Agency's Swarm satellite system has revealed exactly how our planets magnetism is changing.

Launched in 2013, Swarm is made up of three, 9-metre satellites orbiting the planet at altitudes of 300-530 km which are measuring the strength of the Earth's magnetic field. These new results are based on changes in the magnetic signals stemming from Earth's core. In the graphic above, blue means the field is decreasing, magenta means it's increasing.

Measurements made over the past six months confirm the general trend that we expect to see: a gradual weakening of the planet's field. In fact, the most dramatic declines are over the Western Hemisphere, especially over Northern America.

But there are quirks. For example, the magnetic field over the southern Indian Ocean has strengthened since January. And the results also show that magnetic North continues to move towards Siberia.

Over the coming months, researchers will further probe the data to understand how magnetic contributions from other sources – the mantle, crust, oceans, ionosphere and magnetosphere – affect our field, too.

(July ‘14)

Back to top


Darwin’s library from the HMS Beagle


For all five years of the 1831-1836 scientific voyage of HMS Beagle, young Charles Darwin worked and slept in the same cabin as the ship's library. The 404-volume, multi-language collection was the cream of late 18th and early 19th century science literature including the era's top works on natural science, geology, travel and exploration and history. 

Although the physical collection was scattered after Beagle returned to England, and no single record of its contents remains, the Beagle catalogue and library have been reconstructed by a team at the University of Singapore and they are searchable at the second link below.

(July ‘14)


Generating power by playing football


Kids can now give the energy crisis a swift kick, enjoying the world’s most popular sport while generating electricity that can power a light to read or do homework. 

Soccket is a soccer ball and rolling power plant all in one from a New York-based company named Uncharted Play. The ball was launched last November with a focus on getting it into the hands (and onto the feet) of kids in underdeveloped countries and so far it has rolled into 62 countries.

The ball uses electromagnetic induction to transform kinetic energy, produced from rolling or striking the ball, into electricity. It’s a process much like that of a self-winding watch. Just as the watch is wound with movement, Soccket converts every corner kick or header into battery-stored power via an internal DC generator.

After a budding Maradona or Messi takes the ball home, small appliances can be plugged into it (such as the LED lamp included with each ball) using a typical USB adapter. A 30-minute session of play produces about three hours of power, with a full charge of 72 hours possible from six to eight hours of activity.

Unlike a regulation air-filled soccer ball, the Soccket is constructed with a foam layer surrounding the inner workings. While the foam is a necessity for protection of the mechanical bits inside, it also provides durability without adding much weight. The Soccket is only about 50 grams heavier than a standard ball.

(July ‘14)


Police dog sniffs out hard drives


The recent arrival of a golden Labrador named Thoreau makes Rhode Island the second state in the U.S to have a police dog trained to sniff out hard drives, thumbsticks and other techie devices that could contain child pornography.

Thoreau has been trained to identify scents such as metals and other components found in these gadgets. The dog can then help the authorities find concealed digital storage materials at residences of those suspected of possessing child pornography.

Dogs can be trained to find a variety of odours, including the smell of optical discs. The Motion Picture Association of America, for example, has deployed K-9s that can smell polycarbonates used in DVDs to help bust locations where huge caches of copyrighted content are being stored or produced.

Thoreau received 22 weeks of training in how to detect devices in exchange for food at the Connecticut State Police Training Academy. Given to the Rhode Island State Police by the Connecticut State Police, the dog assisted in its first bust in June pinpointing a thumb drive containing child pornography hidden four layers deep in a tin box inside a metal cabinet. That discovery led the police to secure an arrest warrant.

According to the dog’s handler, “This is how he eats every day.”

(July ‘14)


Solar powered benches charge phones


MIT's Media Lab is at it again. The latest company to spin-out from the hugely inventive department of the Boston-based university, Changing Environments, is making the world a greener place while providing its citizens with a free device-charging station.

The company has developed Soofa, a solar-powered public bench with two USB ports where members of the public can sit down, plug in and charge up. On top of providing this free service, the company is fitting the benches out with sensors that will pick up urban environmental data such as air quality and noise pollution. All of this will be scooped up and mapped on a public platform, so interested city planners or concerned citizens can peruse their home's green credentials.

Currently, three of the Soofas have been installed in Boston - named Franklin, Mia and Nan - but there are plans for more and the company has an open invitation for universities and city planners to get involved. The project is sponsored by Cisco.

(July ‘14)


Kids with operators manual hack an ATM


Two 14-year-olds hacked a Bank of Montreal ATM after finding an operators manual online that showed them how to gain administrative privileges.

 Matthew Hewlett and Caleb Turon alerted bank employees after testing the instructions on an ATM at a nearby supermarket. They managed to crack the password on the first try, a result of BMO’s machine using one of the factory default passwords that had apparently never been changed.

When they went to report their caper to the bank, the bank employees thought the boys had the PIN numbers of customers. 'I said: "No, no, no. We hacked your ATM. We got into the operator mode,” ’ Hewlett was quoted as saying.

Then, the bank asked for proof so the lads went back to the ATM, got into operator mode again and printed off documentation showing how much money was currently in the machine, how many withdrawals had happened that day, how much it had made off surcharges. Hewlett even changed the machine’s greeting from “Welcome to the BMO ATM” to “Go away. This ATM has been hacked.” and he also found the way to change the surcharge amount, so he changed it to one cent.

Good security…for a bank!

(June ‘14)


Chicago robber caught by facial recognition


The first man to be arrested in Chicago based on facial recognition analysis was recently sentenced to 22 years in prison for armed robbery.

In February 2013, Pierre Martin robbed a man at gunpoint while on a Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) train. After taking the man's phone, Martin jumped off the train. However, his image was captured by CTA surveillance cameras and was then compared to the Chicago Police Department’s database of 4.5 million booking images. Martin, who already had prior arrests, had a mugshot in the database. He was later positively identified by witnesses.

At trial, Martin also admitted to committing a similar robbery in January 2013. His face was captured during both robberies.

(June ‘14)


The exorbitant cost of smartphone patents


We all know there have been an awful lot of patent lawsuits in the past few years concerning smartphones and various pieces of software and hardware associated with them.

A U.S. law firm, WilmerHale has recently released a paper, which conservatively (and thoroughly) estimates that the patent royalties that need to be paid by smartphone manufacturers currently exceed $US120 per device which they note is about the same price as the components themselves.

The paper also notes that their estimates are very conservative and that the costs might actually be much higher.

Basically, more than half the cost of making a smartphone these days is in paying off patent holders, many of whom are just trolls.

And you and I pay the price.

(June ‘14)



Page  1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  10  11  12  13  14  15  16  17  18  19  20