Vol. 1 / No. 10 — Stuck in the Ice, Buying New Lights, and What Goes Thump-Thump in the Night


Lighting Up

With the January 1st end to the importing or production of 60- and 40-Watt incandescent lightbulbs in the US, consumers are now being forced to at least think about their choices a little harder. It isn’t as though you won’t be able to buy incandescent light bulbs any more — as with the 100-watt and 80-watt bulbs before them, you can now buy more energy-efficient incandescents (look for new numbers: 29W is the new 40W and 43W is the new 60W) — but many people will be switching over to compact fluorescents and LED bulbs, whose prices are coming down every year. Meanwhile at least one writer’s parents are stockpiling the old ones while they can: Dina Fine Maron has the story over at Scientific American.

Meanwhile at New Scientist, Michael Marshall comments on the UK passing “peak light bulb.”


“It’s a royal f— up and it’s being treated as something heroic… If I were in that situation, I would retreat with my tail between my legs instead of singing songs about the penguins,” 

This time last week, researchers from the Australasian Antarctic Expedition aboard the Russian ship Akademik Shokalskiy were determining the logistics of an air rescue, after being stranded in ice after a combination of stormy weather and tidal surges pinned it in ice near Commonwealth Bay on Christmas Eve. Today the members of the expedition are headed safely home aboard an Australian ship, the Aurora Australis, with help from a third ship, the Chinese icebreaker Xuelong, which itself is currently pinned down by ice (though they maintain that they are in no need of assistance, and are merely waiting for more favourable weather). Now, while accusations are tossed around, a US ship is on its way, and requests for compensation are being filed, National Geographic has a piece on five lessons we can learn from the incident. Most importantly: have a plan C.

Whoops, let me try that again…

You probably never thought you’d hear those words from your operating system, but it’s starting to look like it’s the way of the future in the computing world. In a piece on the recent developments in the field of neuromorphic computing (computers modeled on biological brains), John Markoff over at NYT science, explains what it all means for the future of computers: hopefully less “crashing” and more “working around” the errors.

Meanwhile over at io9, Annalee Newitz ponders why Google (whose image search makes use of new “learning” computers) might want to build a robot army. (Short answer: “the city-state corporation”).

“Dead and Buried” Redux

A week ago we looked at the news that Facebook was “dead and buried” to teens, and that Snapchat should be more concerned about its users’ privacy. This week we got more to both stories. Over at Slate, Will Oremus clarifies the first:

The story was a big hit for the Guardian and others. Too bad it’s wrong. As the researcher in question later clarified, his claims were not based on an “extensive European study.” They were based on door-to-door interviews with people living in a cluster of villages north of London. 

And over at Gizmodo, Brian Barrett fills us in on the second:

Oh dear. In an inauspicious start to 2014 for both Snapchat and its users, a website appears to have published user name and phone number information for 4.6 million accounts. The leaked user info from SnapchatDB matches phone numbers to user names, and was in retrospect probably inevitable.

Check out their posts for more details.

The Still-Beating Heart (Or What Goes Thump-Thump in the Night)

Until recently, the best a heart patient in need of a transplant could hope for (other than, of course, a transplant) was a recirculation pump, like the Jarvik 2000. Mostly being used to augment or temporarily take over heart duties while the organ repairs itself, the tiny pumps leave the user with a vague sense of unease, as rather than the familiar whub-whub of a pulse, they instead have the whir of a pump. In mid-December, the first beating artificial heart designed to fully replace the original organ was successfully implanted into a patient at a hospital in Paris. It’s not for everyone: at three times the size of the original organ, it doesn’t fit in all patients, but all signs point to its being a good temporary holdover until a new heart is found for those it fits. Niall Firth has the complete story over at New Scientist.

Using the Force (of sound)

Drawing probably more Star Wars references than it probably deserves, this week we saw researchers in Japan using ultrasound to levitate small particles and manipulate their motions in midair. Ultrasonic levitation isn’t totally new (in fact, you might be able to do it yourself), but this is the first time anyone has done it with such a degree of control, as well as, dare I say it, such panache. RT has the story (and a really cool video, which I’ve shamelessly embedded here too).

Walking Off the Christmas Weight

After one hour and just 3,282 steps, I had to stop — and I typically work at a standing desk. But I couldn’t bear it any longer. My knees and back were killing me. I was lightheaded. I felt a little vertigo. It sucked. LifeSpan told me I needed to work on the desk for about two weeks before I could really get a sense of it. If the next seven days go anything like the last three, I thought, I wonder if I’ll make it.

It’s that time of year again: when regular gym-goers stay home for two weeks waiting for the yearly crush of “resolutioners” to admit defeat and leave them in peace. If the gym isn’t your thing, then going can be tough. Instead, why not try a walking desk? You can stroll at a leisurely pace while getting your daily deskwork done. In an interesting piece over at Wired by the always-entertaining Matt Honan, he explores what it’s like to commit to the walking desk lifestyle.

Meanwhile over at TechHive, Jon Phillips has a rundown on the wearable tech likely to be showcased at CES 2014. (Hot tip: some of it may help you lose weight, but as always, your mileage may vary).

VP9 vs. H.264

In what will probably mystify most of my readership here, I think the biggest story this week has been the general assent among manufacturers to adopt Google’s new VP9 video compression codec. Because Google owns YouTube, they’ve been dying to make it easier to share better quality video for some time, and this new codec allows for truly stunning video that uses about half the bandwidth of its current (and might I add, unlike VP9, not free) rival H.264. This means longer battery life and lower data usage, and in turn (Google hopes) more YouTube clicks. Frederic Lardinois over at TechCrunch has the full story.

(Other) Things We Saw

There were too many stories this week to give each its own heading, so here are the best of the rest: we found out that dinosaurs were mostly scaly, that the NSA wants a quantum computer so they can break the internet, that “jumping genes” have been linked to schizophrenia, and that so far the internet shows no evidence of time travellers visiting us from the future. Oh, and what did we learn from keeping Einstein’s brain? Not a heck of a lot (yet).

Have a great week.