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Interesting snippets from around the globe

Germany proposes European telecommunications network


German Chancellor Angela Merkel wants to build a European communications network to keep data transmission away from the U.S. and plans to raise the issue with French President Francois Hollande.

In her weekly podcast Merkel said she disapproved of companies such as Google and Facebook basing their operations in countries with low levels of data protection while being active in countries such as Germany with high data protection. She’s going to talk tot he French President about getting European providers to offer security for “our citizens so that one shouldn't have to send emails and other information across the Atlantic.”

Hollande's office confirmed that the governments had been discussing the matter and said Paris agreed with Berlin's proposals.

That will annoy the American’s NSA.


(Feb ‘14)


Vikings secret code cracked


What may look like a bunch of scratches on a piece of wood turned out to be a lot more.

A 900-year-old Viking code known as jötunvillur has been cracked.

The code-cracker, runologist Jonas Nordby from the University of Oslo, deciphered the system after realising he needed to replace the original runic character with the last sound used to pronounce it. For instance, the runic character 'k' is pronounced 'kaun,' so k becomes n. Apparently, one piece of wood reads: 'Kiss me’.

Nordby believes the secret messages were created by the Vikings for entertainment.

It was the Norsemen‘s version of text messaging.


(Feb ‘14)


World’s largest bird-scorching solar power plant


After $US2.2 billion and years of construction and testing, the Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System has lit up in Nevda’s Mojave Desert.

As the biggest solar plant in the world, how big is big?

Well, this thing is going to generate about 392-MW or 30% of all the solar thermal energy that’ll be produced in the entire United States. It’s got three 140-metre towers, surrounded by more than 300,000 mirrors the size of garage doors ready to soak up all that sun. The mirrors all point at a giant water boiler that resides on top of the towers, so that heat is incredibly concentrated on the water, and the resulting steam powers turbines to generate electricity.

Unfortunately, those same mirrors have also been scorching birds that are just out for a little afternoon jaunt around the desert and, as you probably guessed, that raised more than a little controversy around the project. Nevertheless, the bastions of a greener energy source pushed forward anyway. Hopefully, birds will learn from their fallen comrades.

The plant, in total, covers about 14.5 square miles, easily making it the largest solar power plant/panel/idea on Earth and it is expected that the plant will be able to power ~140,000 homes in California.

If you want to visit it to visit the place, I’d suggest you take a pair of shades or a welding mask.


(Feb ‘14)


Fish on Wheels


Fish On Wheels was created by a Dutch design studio called Diip, so that the office goldfish wasn’t forced to look at the same boring view all day.

By putting the fish tank on wheels, the fish has the run of the place, and best of all, it actually gets to steer

The tank sits on a four-wheeled cart which is powered by a small electric motor. A camera connected to a processor looks down through the water and senses the position of the fish against the white base of the tank. This then connects to a computer which controls the drive motor and steering. Wherever the fish swims, the cart heads in that direction.

I’d say it is doubtful if the fish has any idea that they are controlling their moving home. I’ve been told that a goldfish swimming around a tank has a new visual experience with every lap.

There’s a video at the links below.


(Feb ‘14)


Customise your own Monopoly board


While Mayfair, Park Lane and King’s Cross Station are all iconic properties on the world’s most popular board game, what if you could changes the names to places of your choice?

Hasbro, the game and toy company, has now launched “My Monopoly” that lets you create a custom board online – complete with graphics and properties of your choosing – and then delivers it to your door.

The service isn’t cheap at ~$NZ160, but it does have awesome potential. You could, for example, buy boutiques in Britomart, strip clubs on Karangahape Road or take a ride on Len Brown’s Inner-city Rail Loop.

The possibilities are endless.


(Feb ‘14)


Swallow a camera and skip the colonoscopy


The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has recently approved a camera pill made by an Israeli company Given Imaging, and called the PillCam Colon.

The disposable (that’s a relief) camera costs $US500 ($NZ600) which is far cheaper than a single colonoscopy, and a heck of a lot less hassle. Just pop it in your mouth and swallow without chewing (obviously). Then, over the next eight to 10 hours, the Pillcam will transmit either four or 35 frames per second of your gastrointestinal tract to a recording device worn around your waist which will later be reviewed by a doctor.

The capsule has two different colour-video cameras attached to it, one on each end. Your insides get illuminated by a tiny LED light bulb, and the 12mm by 33mm capsule is battery-powered.

There are probably quite a few people out there whose health is affected each year by not getting a colonoscopy, whether it's for a lack of effort, or simply discomfort at the idea of having a camera stuck up your backside. To have a cheaper, less invasive, safer way to screen for colon cancer and other intestinal diseases is to understand how wonderful technology, especially tech in the medical field, can actually be.

If you want to see a video of the Pillcam in action, check out the second link below.


(Feb ‘14)


Siri remembers everything you say


Siri, the personal assistant on iPhone, remembers everything you say… just like a wife.

Any questions you pose are recorded and stored on Apple’s servers for six months and linked to a number key. They are then deposited to a random pool of recordings for up to two years.

But don't worry. Geek.com also reports this data is not linked to any personal information, such as a cellphone number or e-mail address.

Unlike Siri however, a wife doesn’t power down and go away when you stop asking her questions.


(Feb ‘14)

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$NZ800,000 piracy fine for one film

Movie theatre.png

A 28-year-old Swedish man has been fined 4.3 million Swedish krona ($NZ800,000) for uploading one film to a torrent-sharing website. He was also given a suspended jail sentence and 160 hours of community service for uploading 517 other titles.

Film studio Nordisk Film AS, which owns the rights to the title the man uploaded, calculated what it felt was the financial loss of it being shared illegally online. It had asked for double the awarded amount.

Publishers for the other 517 titles did not make an estimation of losses, so no further damages were awarded.



(Jan ‘14)


Plants won’t grow near Wi-Fi routers


Five Swedish students came to the realisation that sleeping near their cell phones at night caused them to have problems concentrating during school the next day. They asked if they could study the effects of cell phone radiation on humans but the school simply didn’t have the resources to make it happen.

Instead, the students opted to perform testing on a Wi-Fi router which is comparable to the radiation levels put out by cell phones. They placed six trays of lepidium sativum seeds (a garden cress grown commercially throughout Europe) in a room with two Wi-Fi routers. In another room, the same number of seeds were placed without routers.

Over the next 12 days, the students witnessed an interesting phenomenon. The seeds in the room without the routers had blossomed into healthy plans while those in the room with the routers were either dead or hadn’t grown at all.

As a result of their research, the students received top honours in a regional science fair but more importantly, a professor of neuroscience at the Karolinska Institute in Sweden was so impressed that he wants to repeat the experiment in a controlled scientific environment.

Makes one wonder about what the real effects of all that radiation around us is.


(Jan ‘14)


Life-sized, drivable, 500,000 piece Lego car


Two guys have made a life-sized Lego car that runs on air.That's right, the 256-piston, air-powered Lego working vehicle built with half a million black and yellow Lego pieces can actually be driven up to 18 mph (30 kph).

It was designed and built by 20-year-old Romanian Raul Oaida in 20 months after he and his partner, Australia-based Steve Sammartino raised "tens of thousands" of crowdfunded dollars with their prospectus entitled quite simply: "Super Awesome Micro Project."

The car was built in Romania and then moved to Melbourne, Australia (presumably not brick-by-brick.)

But why the hot rod design? "Mainly because hot rods are cool", said Sammartino.


(Jan ‘14)


Amazon to send stuff before you buy it


The Wall Street Journal reports that Amazon has obtained a patent for 'anticipatory shipping’ and claims it knows its customers so well it can start shipping even before orders are placed.

The theory is that this technique could cut delivery time and discourage consumers from visiting physical stores.

In the patent document, Amazon says delays between ordering and receiving purchases 'may dissuade customers from buying items from online merchants.' Of course, Amazon's algorithms might sometimes get it wrong prompting costly returns.

To minimise those costs, Amazon said it might consider giving customers discounts, or convert the unwanted delivery into a gift. 'Delivering the package to the given customer as a promotional gift may be used to build goodwill,' the patent said.

It looks like Amazon’s plans for autonomous flying delivery drones are so last year.

An hilarious video at the second link entitled “Amazon Yesterday Shipping”.


(Jan ‘14)


The end of the windscreen wiper?


It looks like the old-school windscreen wiper is about to be replaced by new technology — but not until 2015. British car-maker McLaren is apparently developing a new window cleaning system that is modelled on fighter jet technology.

The company isn't revealing exactly how it will work, but the idea comes from the chief designer simply asking a military source why you don't see wipers on jets as they land. Experts expect McLaren to use constantly active, high-frequency sound waves outside the range of human hearing that will effectively create a force field across a car's windshield to repel water, ice, insects and other debris.

Similar sound waves are used by dentists to remove plaque from teeth.


(Jan ‘14)


DuckDuckGo handled 1 billion searches in 2013


Ever since Edward Snowden pulled back the curtain on the NSA's relentless snooping, the anonymous search engine DuckDuckGo's been breaking traffic records practically everyday. The privacy-friendly site which allows searches to be done anonymously has announced that that it answered a whopping one billion search queries last year.

On January 7, the site had its biggest day ever, handling 4,452,957 queries in a 24-hour period. Of course, one billion isn't much compared to Google's 2,161,530,000,000 queries from 2013, but DuckDuckGo is having an impact as a result of the paranoia of government agencies snooping (like our own GCSB).

This is good news for everyone who wants to preserve the anonymous internet. And as Snowden's leaks taught us, it certainly needs preserving. 


(Jan ‘14)


Get a digital “Mother” to nag you


Need a helpful reminder to brush your teeth, take your morning pills, or water the plants? A new device called “Mother” has been unveiled at this month’s Consumer Electronics Show in Los Vegas.

The device gives everyday objects the ability to nag you just like your mother used to do. It works by having peanut-sized trackers (“cookies”) attached to toothbrushes, medication bottles, backpacks, water glasses and other household items to track if they’re being used correctly or at all.

Inside the cookie, a tiny accelerometer knows whether, for instance, a medicine bottle has been lifted up and turned upside down indicating that you’ve dumped out your morning pills. Cookies can be placed on all sorts of household objects and wirelessly synced with the base station which resembles a Russian doll.

Beginning with mostly household objects, the possible applications for Mother are endless. Imagine any object around the house, car, or office that you’re supposed to use on a regular basis and it, could, in theory, work with Mother’s digital ecosystem. Mother also tracks temperature (for, say, pets) and geo-location (for tracking a child on the way from school).

Sen.se’s Mother device is supposed to launch later this year with a base station and four cookies for about $US222 ($NZ275). Check out more at the link below.


(Jan ‘14)



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