Sci/tech

Smart Phones and Fuel Efficiency
August 25, 2011 03:25 PM - Andy Soos, ENN

In July, at the Association for Computing Machinery’s MobiSys conference, researchers from MIT and Princeton University took the best-paper award for a system that uses a network of smartphones mounted on car dashboards to collect information about traffic signals and tell drivers when slowing down could help them avoid waiting at lights. By reducing the need to idle and accelerate from a standstill, the system saves gas: In tests conducted in Cambridge, Mass., it helped drivers cut fuel consumption by 20 percent. Cars are responsible for 28 percent of the energy consumption and 32 percent of the carbon dioxide emissions in the United States, says Emmanouil Koukoumidis, a visiting researcher at MIT who led the project. "If you can save even a small percentage of that, then you can have a large effect on the energy that the U.S. consumes," Koukoumidis says.

Hybrid Midsize Sedan?
August 25, 2011 12:43 PM - Kathleen Neil, Contributing Editor, ENN

There seem to be a lot of people looking for a quality, affordable, and safe midsize sedan, but a hybrid midsize sedan? Mingling with everyone at the Toyota 2012 Camry event at Paramount Studios Hollywood yesterday I’d have to say, the mainstream car world just isn’t that concerned about how green their drive is at this point. The economy isn't helping, nor is the way most people are experiencing the modern electronic world as a bad case of button overload; and general interest in iconic brands like a Prius Hybrid or a Chevy Volt is limited. In the last two years my automotive interest has been focused on hybrids and electric vehicles. Yesterday in Hollywood I drove both the hybrid 2012 Camry and the non-hybrid 2012 Camry and I got to look more closely at the interface between the car most people are looking for and the dream of a greener driving world. The comparison was great fun. I admit I'm still more excited about the Plug-in Prius, which is now looking like it will be available starting around spring 2012 in 15 launch states: Arizona, California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia and Washington. Availability is planned to open up to all other states in 2013. Much of the innovation in the development of the Prius appears to be showing up in the 2012 Camry Hybrid

The Great Virginia Earthquake
August 24, 2011 10:30 AM - Andy Soos, ENN

Nowadays when a disaster strikes the cell phones react. A magnitude 5.8 earthquake struck the National Capital Area on Tuesday, August 23, at 1:51p.m. (EDT), causing moderate shaking and potentially significant damage, and was felt throughout Northern Virginia and neighboring areas. No casualties are expected. Immediately cell phones throughout the area were jammed as everybody called out checking on friends and loved ones as well as what happened. The earthquake occurred near Louisa and Mineral, Va., approximately 100 miles southwest of Washington, DC. It was a shallow earthquake, and shaking was recorded all along the Appalachians, from Georgia to New England. There have been several aftershocks. Such an earthquake is unusual but not unprecedented for the east coast.

Traveling Microbes
August 23, 2011 02:50 PM - Andy Soos, ENN

Microbes live in all parts of the biosphere where there is liquid water, including soil, hot springs, on the ocean floor, high in the atmosphere and deep inside rocks within the Earth's crust. Some recent studies indicate that airborne microbes may play a role in precipitation and weather. Eos, published by the American Geophysical Union, last month reported that bio-aerosols are "leading the high life." In the Eos article, David Smith of the University of Washington and colleagues argue that microbes are “the most successful types of life on Earth” and are the unacknowledged players in many planetary processes, particularly in the atmosphere.

Are Mermaids real? Vampires?
August 23, 2011 12:09 PM - BBC Earth

1. Vampires Tales of vampires which have been the inspiration for horror movies the world over originate from a small flying mammal that weighs less than two ounces. Of the three species of vampire bat the one that has contributed to the misunderstanding and fear of bats more than any other is the infamous common vampire bat. Perhaps an unfair reputation considering that they rarely kill their prey, in fact they can feed without their incision even being noticed due to specially adapted blade like incisors. They are found in the deserts and rainforest of the tropical and subtropical regions of Central and South America, making their homes in caves, mines and tree hollows. If they are unlucky in their night-time search for sustenance for two consecutive nights they will die. Luckily for nursing mothers other bats will regurgitate blood meals to them. So how has this inconspicuous creature become the stuff of nightmares? When explorers returned to Europe from the Americas in the 16th century, news of the bloodsucking creatures augmented the ancient myths of human vampires. Myths which had come about to explain blood dribbling from the mouths of semi-decomposed corpses. These South American night feeders carry and spread the deadly rabies virus and are considered an agricultural pest due to their paralytic affect on cattle herds. While bats may prefer bovine blood they have been known to attack humans. So beware the reality of the vampire myth! 2. Dragons With a reputation reaching back over 1,000 years, the stories that surround this outsized reptile are recalled by cultures all over the world. For instance, in England, St George’s day is celebrated in honour of the man who saved his town - and a princess - by slaying a dragon. As a result of this story, dragons are now considered to be a key part of England's heritage. Portraying one in bold colours across its national flag, Wales makes it clear that dragons are a part of the country's national heritage. It is believed that the ferocious, red dragon that appears on the flag symbolises the strength and courage of the Welsh people. With such an iconic position within the heritage of two cultures, it is not surprising that the dragon is not as mythical as some may think. At three metres long (9.8ft) and weighing around 70kg (150lb), the Komodo dragon is a living, breathing representative of this family of creatures which many think are only found in fairytales. A member of the monitor group, it is the largest living species of lizard. Although populations are now only found on a few volcanic Indonesian islands, fossil evidence suggests that they evolved in Australia and dispersed westward to Indonesia. Whether we celebrate its strength or revel in man's ability to overcome its fearsome spirit, the dragon has burst forth from the story books and is still alive and well in the 21st century.

Life in a World without Oxygen
August 22, 2011 12:59 PM - Andy Soos, ENN

The Earth’s oldest fossils have been found in Australia by a team from the University of Western Australia and Oxford University. The microscopic fossils show convincing evidence for cells and bacteria living in an oxygen-free world over 3.4 billion years ago. The earliest identified organisms were minute and relatively featureless, and their fossils look like small rods, which are very difficult to tell apart from structures that arise through abiotic physical processes. The oldest undisputed evidence of life on Earth, interpreted as fossilized bacteria, dates to over 3 billion years ago. Other finds in rocks dated to about 3.5 billion years ago have been interpreted as bacteria, with geochemical evidence also seeming to show the presence of life 3,800 million years ago. The new research team, led by Dr David Wacey of the University of Western Australia and including Professor Martin Brasier of Oxford University, report the finding in the journal Nature Geoscience.

The Age of the Moon and the Earth
August 19, 2011 05:02 PM - Andy Soos, ENN

Man lives the traditional 3 score and ten. How old the Moon and Earth? New research using a technique that measures the isotopes of lead and neodymium in lunar crustal rocks shows that the moon and Earth may be millions of years younger than originally thought. The common estimate of the moon's age is as old as 4.5 billion years old (roughly the same age as the solar system) as determined by mineralogy and chemical analysis of moon rocks gathered during the Apollo missions. However, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory scientist Lars Borg and international collaborators have analyzed three isotopic systems, including the elements lead, samarium and neodymium found in ancient lunar rocks, and determined that the moon could be much younger than originally estimated. In fact, its age may be 4.36 billion years old.

The most painful sting in the world
August 19, 2011 11:39 AM - BBC Earth

Steve Backshall and the Deadly 60 team trek deep into the hot and muddy jungle to seek out one of the world’s most elusive birds of prey. But no Deadly 60 trip is without its surprises, and when Steve meets an old enemy his nerves truly are put to the test. What's the most painful sting in the insect world? In the jungles of Panama Steve faced his fear and handled a mind blowingly painful stinger – the bullet ant. A sting from most ants is nothing more than a painful nip, often with a bit of formic acid thrown in. But not the bullet ant. As its name suggests, a sting from one of these is like being shot! In 1984, a man named Justin Schmidt published a paper in the journal Archives of Insect Biochemistry and Physiology. He subjected himself to the stings of 78 different insects which resulted in the Schmidt Pain Index with stings rated from 0 (no effect) to a maximum of 4 (most painful). Here are some of his pain ratings and his amusingly vivid descriptions. 1.0 - Sweat Bee: Light, ephemeral, almost fruity. As if a tiny spark has singed a single hair on your arm.

The Shrinking/Expanding Earth
August 18, 2011 05:48 PM - Andy Soos, ENN

Is the Earth growing or shrinking? The change may be small but the effects large long term. Since Charles Darwin's time, scientists have speculated that the solid Earth might be expanding or contracting. That was the prevailing belief, until scientists developed the theory of plate tectonics, which explained the large-scale motions of Earth's lithosphere, or outermost shell. Even with the acceptance of plate tectonics half a century ago, some Earth and space scientists have continued to speculate on Earth's possible expansion or contraction on various scientific grounds. Now a new NASA study, published recently in Geophysical Research Letters, has essentially laid those speculations to rest. Using a cadre of space measurement tools and a new data calculation technique, the team detected no statistically significant expansion of the solid Earth.

Smart Grids for Traffic
August 18, 2011 07:48 AM - Green Economy, Green Economy Post

EZpass and signs announcing traffic patterns: that’s just a start on what we could be doing. "Every year there are 40,000 to 50,000 fatalities on the roads. We’ve gotten used to it, and think it’s part of what we do and how we live. But we could prevent that", says Sajjad Alam of Parson’s Transportation division. Patrick McGowan, President of Telvent North America added, "We look at out of the box solutions" to optimize traffic flow and facilitate movement of emergency vehicles.

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