Sight: The Next Revolution in Human Vision

Augmented reality is all the rage for futurists these days, especially since the announcement about Google Glasses. From the pictures it looks like a fashion accessory that also doubles as a virtual dashboard that brings necessary and relevant information in front of the wearer of the said glasses and as long as the person is ok with constantly distracting visuals with bright colors and big numbers swiping across his or her field of view, this gizmo can be an important piece in our evolving puzzle of exceeding the human limitations with technologies. By now I am sure we are all convinced that the commodity economy has faded and the knowledge based economy is in full swing. The next wave of instruments would not necessarily be about essential comforts and needs of the population, but will be devices whose whole purpose will be to place the right information at the right time in front of the right person. In the future, everyone knows nearly everything so only those who can create and manage the meta data (data about all the other data) would be different from the common population. They will control information and there by they will control everything. I hope Google releases those glasses in multiple styles of frames because that will probably be the one of few sets of choices we would have. (You are free to conjure even more dire and tyrannical future whose bleakness is only limited by your sick and twisted imagination.)

From all the sci-fi movies and books, we can make a decent guess that somehow these revolutionary devices would be used to control and manipulate people to the personal gains of a powerful few. Eran May-raz and Daniel Lazo have imagined such a future world of augmented reality where glasses are replaced by contact lens and … I don’t want to spoil it.

Can’t wait for the future!

via Flowing Data

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How Big is Our Solar System

Ahh, the Universe. It is so freaking huge. The smartypants at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) managed to land the one ton SUV-sized rover called Curiosity, that doubles as minerals lab, on the surface of Mars, with exacting accuracy in the early earth-hours of this monday and it marks yet another step in our species’ centuries long marathon to find out if there are life forms outside our rapidly warming blue planet. Mars, which is 54.6 million kms (36 million miles) when it is nearest to earth, is only a short hop away if you consider the vast size of our solar system which, along with the universe, is constantly expanding. Let’s see what we’ve got. There is land where we live, then there is lower atmosphere where birds fly, then the upper atmosphere where clouds and airplanes cruise, then as you move farther out, you have your low, medium, and high orbit satellites, the International Space Station, the f*cking moon and that’s only about 238 thousand miles – barely an inch as far as the universe is concerned. Just consider what an insignificant speck of carbon molecules we are from the perspective of the planets and the stars, comets and asteroids, galaxies and constellations, vast gobbles gas and dust. It is scientifically impossible for our human brain to visualize and comprehend distances of such scale and it is for circumstances precisely such as this we have information design.
Behold the expertly designed infographic from the BBC. (I did steal borrow it from the BBC, but I am linking to their website, so its cool.)

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Seven Minutes of Terror

The week is over and we have the weekend now. As hard-working professionals, we like to spend the weekend in leisure, doing relaxing things like lying on the couch, watching TV or lying on the bed reading some magazine or lying on the floor, for no particular reason, not really doing anything. As you are lying on something, pondering about nothingness, think of what is happening in the world around you. Athletes are trainings, artists are creating, geeks are coding and somewhere between the coasts, at least two men are clamoring to become the President of US of A, at least once or one more time depending on the person. Think of what is happening outside the world around you. The International Space Station is circling the world at lower orbit, largely unnoticed by the Peoples of the planet it is so vigilantly observing. Lest we forget Curiosity, the Mars Rover from NASA  which is zapping across the outer space towards the surface of Mars. (Whew, that was a long introduction!)

As you, like the rest of us, tell yourself reassuringly that you have done impressive work throughout  the week and you deserve this remarkably sloth-like downtime, see  what the smartest minds of American space research have been dealing with. All they wanted was to put an ultra-sophisticated, prohibitively expensive robot on the surface of a planet that is at the very least 54.6 million kilometers away from earth with conditions nothing like or even close to earth. It takes seven minutes for the rover to reach the surface of the planet after it enters martian atmosphere and it takes fourteen minutes for the signal from the rover to reach earth, which means by the time the signal that the rover has entered Mars’ atmosphere reaches earth, the rover would have already completed its descent. At this point, all the hard work and science stuff the NASA engineers did worked and the rover had safely landed and functional or all of their research, meticulous preparation and billions of dollars are transformed into a scattered rubble on the surface of Mars. Its crazy if you compare that to what we, normal folks, do every day, like road rage, sexting and campaigning for elections. Anyway, here is a heart-beat raising video by the people of NASA, explaining the intricate sequence of the events that need to happen precisely at the right moments for the rover to make it intact to Mars, with a background music that is much like the  theme music from Inception.

Like the video says,  ‘Dare Mighty Things’.

[Post: 310 of 365] [Days Missed: growing like a beanstalk]
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The Tale of Dark Matter

After their illuminating comic-strip video about the Higgs Boson particle, I found out today that, the geniuses behind PhD Comics have also created a similar video explaining the Dark Matter. These are mysterious substances that occupy a large portion of our universe, completely invisible to us outside research papers and they are heavy. They are heavier than the weight of the entire set of celestial objects like planets and stars and galaxies, that we know of, put together.

I was discussing space travel with one of my colleagues at office – yeah, that’s our idea of goofing off at work – and he was lamenting about the fact that the primary component of space travel technology has not changed since the 70s. We fill up massive tanks with liquid fuel and rapidly burn it through a funnel to push the spacecraft up and outside the earth’s atmosphere and we have been doing that for more than four decades now. And we spend billions of dollars to build those rockets. This is the same principle employed with the festival rockets used for fireworks.

The same stagnation of idea can be seen in energy sector, especially in the way we produce electricity. In the beginning we burned coal to boil water to produce vapor which turned huge turbines to produce electric current. Then we used big dams to boil water and turn those turbines. Then came along nuclear technology that enabled us to do what ? Exactly! Boil water to turn the turbines. Even the more recent technologies follow the same principle. Solar power uses hectares of photosensitive panels to boil the water and turn the turbines and natural gas does the same thing. Windpower – does not boil the water, but uses huge metal fans that turn the same freaking turbines. These turbines were invented more than a century ago in 1884 and , to me, it is incredible that we have not moved past this mode of electricity generation. And don’t even get me started with power cables that transmit the electricity from power plants to people’s homes.

Understanding the advanced stuff around us like the anti-matter, higgs boson particle and the dark matter could be our ticket to move past these old ways and into the future technologies which can truly advance our species. Sure, Siri and Kinect are awesome, but these are peanuts compared to the inventions and discoveries we need to solve our real needs like energy, climate and global food supplies.

Good thing is that more and more super smart people are choosing to work at science and research labs instead of going to Wall Street.

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Higgs Boson Explained in Comics

For the past week or so, the world media is ablaze with news about the Higgs Boson particle. News channels, Radio stations, Social networks and the Internets in the general are buzzing with that name, almost non-stop. No doubt, it is a major breakthrough in particle physics and all the research involved in finding the basic elements of our Universe, but I wonder if this wide-ranging interest from the media and general public would have occurred if not for the Higgs Boson’s more colloquial name – The God Particle. Take a look at any printed article or a broadcast segment on a popular news media and you will find the phrase ‘the so called God Particle’ within in the first couple of sentences. Not sure if a purely scientific discovery that debunks the myth of God concept being promoted because its nickname has God in it, qualifies as irony.

Past the humorless observation, the discovery of Higgs Boson particle does represent a major leap in our understanding of the basic building blocks of matter. This particle is said to be responsible for giving mass to other particles, therefore, can be considered to have a far-ranging impact in our ongoing quest for ever greater technology to solve our problems like long distance space travel and super small robotics and the like. Although many of us, the average brained people, won’t be doing anything more substantial about the Higgs Boson, perhaps not more than some authentic astonishment, there really is no reason to not know about this hard to find particle that is possibly existing in everything we see.

Check out this great illustrated video about the origins and the properties of Higgs Boson from PhD Comics.

via Flowing Data

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What Do Colors Mean ?

Branding is an essential part in any business, be it for profit or non-profit. Governments, businesses and individuals who want to promote their stuff/ideas do it through the multi-billion dollar industry called professional advertising. This involves getting a eye-catchy logo, a memorable caption and, of course, signature typography. These three elements form the basic pieces of any advertising campaign and in all three of them, colors play the most crucial part.
Colors have meaning and essence. They invoke a variety of emotions from its viewers and when the right ones are chosen, they can uplift an otherwise normal run-of-the-mill branding. Knowing what colors mean and what emotions they induce will help us understand their subtle but sure influence on us and how we respond to those colorful billboards and TV commercials.

Blatantly stolen and reproduced here from Visual News. (An excellent website. You should check them out regularly if you are not doing it already)

[Post: 303 of 365] [Days Missed: just too many bro!]

An Infinitely Long Short Piece of String

Nothing makes people resist science more than the times when science defies common sense. A lifetime of experiences have taught us that reality is a solid structure built based on cause and effect. Drop a ball and it falls to the ground because of gravity and we are smart enough to figure out that that is the same reason why a crashing plane falls back to the ground. But what if the ball you dropped not only falls to the ground directly beneath it, but also a bit further from that point ? What if the ball drops to different places every time you drop it ? What if, when you drop the ball, it falls to two different places at the same time ? Now, that defies common sense.

Quantum mechanics is that area of science that deals with phenomenon that a lot of us would call magic. Studies in quantum physics involve working, not with large molecules of elements, but tiny sub-divisions of a molecule, called particles. Particles are little packets of energy which form such small units of matter that their properties and behavior exceed anything that was previously thought possible in our physical world. The implications of the ways these particles behave question our basic understanding of reality and the universe. These sub-atomic entities are so bizzarre that they even frustrated Einstein.

[I can’t accept quantum mechanics because] “I like to think the moon is there even if I am not looking at it.”
– Albert Einstein

Take the case of standup-comic-turned-physics-enthusiast Alan Davies who, in this BBC documentary, tried to find out the accurate length of a piece of string.

Of course, to measure a string you pick up a measuring tape or a ruler and measure it. That is the common sense way of doing it. But when you want to measure it accurately, you have to be more precise. You have to get closer, include every contour of the individual fabric of the string. You can get even more closer down to the molecular level to measure the length and then you end up at the particle level and that is where things get a little out of this world.

Your string does not actually possess a length. Somehow, by measuring it, we create a length for the string.

If you ever thought that reality is just a mirage then this documentary will show you things you probably did not even imagine. Rules of our physical world – rules that define and dictate our understanding of our lives – get thrown out of the window pretty quickly and a new world of possibilities become the norm.

A dead cat is not really dead because it is dead only within our observable reality….Reality, in some sense, does not exist unless we’re actually observing it. And it’s our act of observation that makes things real.

Drop this on the bombastic egomaniac in the office next time he or she tries to tell you how sure they are of what they know. It is a humbling experience to realize that many of the beliefs that we take for granted, something even as concrete and tangible as a piece of string, are not as simple as they appear to be. Truth is that we have no idea what reality really is.

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