Archive for the science & tech Category

New Video surveillance cameras

Posted in sci-fi, science & tech with tags , , , , , , , on January 8, 2008 by ph1at1ine

Popular mechanics – In the era of computer-controlled surveillance, your every move could be captured by cameras, whether you’re shopping in the grocery store or driving on the freeway. Proponents say it will keep us safe, but at what cost?

The ferry arrived, the gangway went down and 7-year-old Emma Powell rushed toward the Statue of Liberty. She climbed onto the grass around the star-shaped foundation. She put on a green foam crown with seven protruding rays. Turning so that her body was oriented just like Lady Liberty’s, Emma extended her right arm skyward with an imaginary torch. I snapped a picture. Then I took my niece’s hand, and we went off to buy some pretzels.

Other people were taking pictures, too, and not just the other tourists—Liberty Island, name notwithstanding, is one of the most heavily surveilled places in America. Dozens of cameras record hundreds of hours of video daily, a volume that strains the monitoring capability of guards. The National Park Service has enlisted extra help, and as Emma and I strolled around, we weren’t just being watched by people. We were being watched by machines.

Liberty Island’s video cameras all feed into a computer system. The park doesn’t disclose details, but fully equipped, the system is capable of running software that analyzes the imagery and automatically alerts human overseers to any suspicious events. The software can spot when somebody abandons a bag or backpack. It has the ability to discern between ferryboats, which are allowed to approach the island, and private vessels, which are not. And it can count bodies, detecting if somebody is trying to stay on the island after closing, or assessing when people are grouped too tightly together, which might indicate a fight or gang activity. “A camera with artificial intelligence can be there 24/7, doesn’t need a bathroom break, doesn’t need a lunch break and doesn’t go on vacation,” says Ian Ehrenberg, former vice president of Nice Systems, the program’s developer.

Most Americans would probably welcome such technology at what clearly is a marquee terrorist target. An ABC News/Washington Post poll in July 2007 found that 71 percent of Americans favor increased video surveillance. What people may not realize, however, is that advanced monitoring systems such as the one at the Statue of Liberty are proliferating around the country. High-profile national security efforts make the news—wiretapping phone conversations, Internet moni­toring—but state-of-the-art surveillance is increasingly being used in more every-day settings. By local police and businesses. In banks, schools and stores. There are an estimated 30 million surveillance cameras now deployed in the United States shooting 4 billion hours of footage a week. Americans are being watched, all of us, almost everywhere.

We have arrived at a unique moment in the history of surveillance. The price of both megapixels and gigabytes has plummeted, making it possible to collect a previously unimaginable quantity and quality of data. Advances in processing power and software, meanwhile, are beginning to allow computers to surmount the greatest limitation of traditional surveillance—the ability of eyeballs to effectively observe the activity on dozens of video screens simultaneously. Computers can’t do all the work by themselves, but they can expand the capabilities of humans exponentially.

Security expert Bruce Schneier says that it is naive to think that we can stop these technological advances, especially as they become more affordable and are hard-wired into everyday businesses. (I know of a local pizzeria that warns customers with a posted sign: “Stop stealing the spice shakers! We know who you are, we have 24-hour surveillance!”) But it is also reckless to let the advances proceed without a discussion of safeguards against privacy abuses. “Society is fundamentally changing and we aren’t having a conversation about it,” Schneier says. “We are entering the era of wholesale surveillance.”

Read the whole article at Popular mechanics website.

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Special effects in 2008 will all involve gases and fluids

Posted in sci-fi, science & tech with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on January 7, 2008 by ph1at1ine

io9 – The Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences handed out their “sci-tech” achievement awards today, you know the ones that they blur through during Oscar night with someone like Jennifer Garner saying “I was forced… er, had lunch with these amazing people last month, and here are the highlights” and so forth. We noticed that there are a heck of a lot of awards for fluids and gases being given out here. Does that mean every single visual effects shot in 2008 is going to involve water or billowing clouds? After all, we’ve already seen The Mist. Check out the slippery winners below.

  • Victor Gonzalez, Ignacio Vargas and Angel Tena for the creation of the RealFlow software application. “RealFlow was the first widely adopted, commercially available, easy-to-use system for the simulation of realistic liquids in motion picture visual effects.”
  • Jonathan Cohen, Dr. Jerry Tessendorf, Dr. Jeroen Molemaker and Michael Kowalski for the development of the system of fluid dynamics tools at Rhythm & Hues. “This system allows artists to create realistic animation of liquids and gases, using novel simulation techniques for accuracy and speed, as well as a unique scripting language for working with volumetric data.”
  • Duncan Brinsmead, Jos Stam, Julia Pakalns and Martin Werner for the design and implementation of the Maya Fluid Effects system. “This system is used to create simulations of gaseous phenomena integrated into the widely available Maya tool suite, using an unconditionally stable semi-Lagrangian solver.”
  • Stephan Trojansky, Thomas Ganshorn and Oliver Pilarski for the development of the Flowline fluid effects system. “Flowline is a flexible system that incorporates highly parallel computation, allowing rapid iteration and resulting in detailed, realistic fluid effects.”
  • Dr. Doug Roble, Nafees Bin Zafar and Ryo Sakaguchi for the development of the fluid simulation system at Digital Domain. “This influential and flexible production-proven system incorporates innovative algorithms and refined adaptations of published methods to achieve large-scale water effects.”
  • Nick Rasmussen, Ron Fedkiw and Frank Losasso Petterson for the development of the Industrial Light & Magic (ILM) fluid simulation system. “This production-proven simulation system achieves large-scale water effects within ILM’s Zeno framework. It includes integrating particle level sets, parallel computation, and tools that enable the artistic direction of the results.”

The Science of Science Fiction

Posted in sci-fi, science & tech, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , on December 28, 2007 by ph1at1ine

Slice of sci-fi Written by: Emilio D’alise (SoSF Staff Journalist)

Science Fiction involves buying into the premise of a scientific “reality” that often pushes, even shatters, the boundaries of what we know. As fans we accept this. As fans, we realize the vehicle need not be 100% feasible to transport us to good entertainment, with believable characters, and viable plots. I can buy into some things I know are not yet possible within our current understanding of science, and go with it for the sake of a well-told story.

What I find increasingly objectionable is the outright violation of science, as we know it. Humanity stands on the shoulders of countless individuals who painstakingly built the foundation for understanding the world around us. We owe them respect, not dismissal. Whatever premise we are asked to accept should build on this foundation, extrapolate it, even stretch it, but not tear it down for the sake of a “cool” visual.

Sci-fi movies should transport the viewer into new worlds of possibilities. Maybe one day we will know how to “warp” space, tap the energy of a star to create wormholes, or even “shift” in time and space. One can certainly hope so for the sake of the survival of our species. It is clear to me we are living on the eventual target of a passing celestial body, and it is just as clear humanity’s survival depends on our ability to leave this particular piece of cosmic real estate. Plus, I still hold hope for a visit from a “future me” bearing a gift of near-future winning lotto numbers.

So for instance, I’ll buy into the idea that in some none-too-distant future we will have mastered space travel. I will accept the premise that a space spore threatens to use humans as unwilling hosts. I’ll even entertain the apocalyptic view of a future Earth. And I’d be happy to explore each of those scenarios through the eyes of a flawed hero, or heroine, searching for a meaning of life, and a purpose to their existence.

But I get a Camaro that transforms into a mechanical being three stories tall, and I’m thinking, “Where is all that extra mass coming from?” Watching The Thing revert to human, and back again, also sets me to ponder on the transmutation of flesh to rock, back to flesh, and back to rock. Again, extra mass, lots of energy, and cells changing their chemical composition in milliseconds. Watching The Flame burn “hotter than the sun” makes me wonder if we could tap him to create wormholes . . . before I remember there is no such thing as a free lunch. Where’s all that fuel coming from?

My wonder and awe is considerably reduced when, after showing hook-like hairs sprouting from his skin, thus allowing Spiderman to cling to any surface, he covers them by putting on gloves; gloves that also cover the area of his wrists oozing “spider-web”. I could go on, but some may call me “picky”. Others may call me “kill-joy”. Those with a good vocabulary might accuse me of being pedantic. Others will then have to go look that up.

What is the point of this short piece? Just this; I see it as a duty of the science fiction fan to hold sci-fi vehicles to a higher standard. Science is an important part of our lives, and reasonably good science should be the first requisite of “Science” Fiction. Instead, I see science casually tossed aside for the sake of a plot point, or worse, for the sake of presenting a special effect in lieu of a plot. The unintended consequence is that it makes “real” science seem mundane, boring, and lame.

Sputnik inspired many kids to pursue careers in space science. All it did was beep, but it lit a spark in people who went on to help change our world. Science Fiction had, in no small part, primed those same people by stimulating their imagination. It’s hard to imagine the recent comics-based spate of movies doing much more than help sales of yellow Camaros.

Top 10 news stories of 2007

Posted in sci-fi, science & tech, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 26, 2007 by ph1at1ine

Cosmos magazine – SYDNEY: From duck genitals to missing planets these are the Cosmos Online news stories that rocked your world in 2007.BABIES ‘SEE’ LANGUAGES
At just four months, babies can tell the difference between two languages spoken to them using only the expressions on a speaker’s face, according to a new Canadian study.

NANO-LAYERED PLASTIC SHEET IS STRONG AS STEEL
A new transparent, composite plastic as strong as steel and as thin as a sheet of paper has been developed by materials scientists.

SKIM MILK STRAIGHT FROM THE COW
A new breed of cow that produces skim milk naturally – straight from the teat – has been discovered by New Zealand scientists.

EARTH IS SMALLER THAN WE THOUGHT
In this high-tech age, you’d think we’d have the know-how to accurately measure the width of our planet, but researchers now reveal it’s smaller than we thought.

DARK MATTER AND ‘GOD PARTICLE’ WITHIN REACH
The boundaries of knowledge in particle physics look set to be broken soon with scientists around the globe locked in a multi-billion-dollar race to solve two great mysteries.

LIGHT CAN BEND LIQUID
ust the gentle pressure of a beam of light is enough to bend and direct streams of a special liquid, according to a study to be published this week.

DID OUR SOLAR SYSTEM ONCE HAVE ANOTHER PLANET?
The fiery demise of a fifth rocky planet in our Solar System might have led to a flurry of asteroid impacts that pockmarked the Moon and Earth billions of years ago.

MOST BABIES WATCH TV, DESPITE WARNINGS
Most parents let their babies watch television despite warnings that it can negatively affect brain development, according to a new study.

DUCK GENITALS LOCKED IN ARMS RACE
Female ducks have evolved “maze-like” genitals with many twists, pouches and dead ends, in a bid to prevent rape and retain control of who fathers their offspring – while male ducks have evolved equally convoluted penises to keep up.

SELF-SUFFICIENT SPACE HABITAT DESIGNED
Australian-led scientists have designed a new space habitat that might one day allow astronauts on the Moon or Mars to be 90 to 95 per cent self-sufficient.

9 awsome gadgets from Battlestar Galactica

Posted in movies & series, sci-fi, science & tech with tags , , , , , , , on December 26, 2007 by ph1at1ine

Dvice – When most people think of the SCI FI series Battlestar Galactica, they think of super-sophisticated synthetic lifeforms (a.k.a. Cylons) and starships that travel faster than light. But those aren’t the show’s only high-tech wonders; check out these mind-blowing futuristic devices that make this show a paragon of cutting-edge science fiction.

1. Ultra-Durable Phones
The phones on the Galactica are built to last. Forget your RAZR or your iPhone, these are the next step in telecommunications: armored, indestructible handsets. And note the wire connecting it to a network: no dropped calls with these babies! Best part? They’re sound-activated, so you never run out of battery power.

2. Radio Detection and Ranging
Forget those losers on Star Trek or Stargate who have ships with big-screen plasma TVs as their window on the universe. The battlestar Galactica detects nearby objects by bouncing radio waves off of them via a system called DRADIS. If Roddenberry were alive, we bet he would’ve wished he’d thought of that!

3. Hard Projectiles
Talk about tactical brilliance. Instead of shooting big, slow pulses of energy, or charged plasma, or whatever it is that goons on other sci-fi series use to miss their targets, the troops and fighter aircraft on the Galactica use slugs of metal propelled by chemical combustion. For every glowing tracer round you actually see, you’re probably getting hit by 10 you didn’t. We predict this will be the badass weapon of the future.

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Asteroid threat to Mars

Posted in sci-fi, science & tech with tags , , , , , on December 23, 2007 by ph1at1ine

NASA WASHINGTON – Astronomers funded by NASA are monitoring the trajectory of an asteroid estimated to be 50 meters (164 feet) wide that is expected to cross Mars’ orbital path early next year. Observations provided by the astronomers and analyzed by NASA’s Near-Earth Object Office at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., indicate the object may pass within 30,000 miles of Mars at about 6 a.m. EST (3 a.m. PST) on Jan. 30, 2008.

“Right now asteroid 2007 WD5 is about half-way between Earth and Mars and closing the distance at a speed of about 27,900 miles per hour,” said Don Yeomans, manager of the Near Earth Object Office at JPL. “Over the next five weeks, we hope to gather more information from observatories so we can further refine the asteroid’s trajectory.”

NASA detects and tracks asteroids and comets passing close to Earth. The Near Earth Object Observation Program, commonly called “Spaceguard,” plots the orbits of these objects to determine if any could be potentially hazardous to our planet.

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Christmas sky

Posted in sci-fi, science & tech with tags , , , , , , on December 21, 2007 by ph1at1ine

NASA
Dec. 24, 2007: It’s Christmas Eve, and you’re snuggled cozily in your den. A glowing fire gently crackles and pops in the fireplace, and your head starts to droop as you nod off. Just then, something cold and wet nudges your cheek. You open your eyes to stare directly into a large black nose. It’s time to take the dog for his walk.

Grumbling in vain, you put on your coat, snap the leash onto the wiggling dog’s collar, open the door to a rush of cold air. You step outside and enter a magical landscape.

The night isn’t dark, it’s glowing with a silvery-white light. Up above, the 98% full moon looks huge and clear in the azure sky. It just might be the brightest moon you’ve ever seen. That’s because it’s the highest-riding full moon until the year 2023.

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