Tech to keep you safe from hurricanes
By Doug Gross, CNN
(CNN) — For East Coast residents keeping a worried eye on Hurricane Irene, there’s a host of mobile apps, Twitter feeds and other digital tools available to help.
Here are a few of them, including suggestions for how to stay plugged in if weather knocks out power in your area.
HurricaneHD provides exclusive video, blog posts from weather experts and other tools for folks watching Irene and other future storms.
It has a tracking map that can display multiple storms at the same time, sends active storm bulletins and contains an archive of information about past hurricanes.
It can also use GPS to tell you how far away you are from various points of a nearing storm.
Weather Channel (free for Apple and Android devices)
Weather Channel Max, free for the iPad, adds full-screen, customizable weather maps, in-motion radar and real-time Twitter feeds from Weather Channel meteorologists.
Based on Google Maps, Hurricane Hound tracks storms in the Atlantic and east Pacific, as well as passing along National Weather Service advisories and warnings.
StormPulse is a website that uses date from the National Hurricane Center, cloud imagery from the NERC Satellite Station and basic imagery from NASA.
Users can click back and forth to show radar, cloud cover, watches and warnings and other features on a real-time map.
In the face of emergency situations, the fast-paced, minute-by-minute updates you can get from Twitter are handy. Whether you’re a Twitter user or not, you can pull up and read individual feeds as long as you have Web access.
The ocean service from NOAA, the federal government’s science agency for oceans and coasts, has a Twitter feed to follow.
Of course, we’re also inclined to suggest you follow CNN’s huge team of folks following the storm. Here is a curated list of Twitter accounts for the CNN team dedicated to Irene.
Assuming mobile networks are up and running, folks in areas hit by a storm like Irene could be affected anyway by persisting power outages.
To stay plugged-in, it will be important to have a power source to recharge your mobile devices that doesn’t depend on plugging into the wall or desktop.
The gadget reviewers at CNET are fans of the Solio Universal and CPS Cellboost chargers. Battery companies like Energizer offer multiple chargers, and the store where you bought your phone (or tablet) very likely sells batter-powered or solar chargers from the phone-maker or a third party.
The Axis is a multi-purpose device sanctioned by the American Red Cross. In addition to a USB charger for mobile phones and other devices, the $70, hand-crank-powered device has an AM/FM/NOAA radio and flashlight.
Think of it as the techie Swiss Army Knife for power-out disasters.
A couple of things to keep in mind: solar chargers will need sunlight, so will probably be more useful in the aftermath of a storm than during the heart of it.
And, obviously, battery-powered models are most handy with a backup supply of dry batteries.
Our Social Nature: The Surprising Science of Smiles
All hail the powerful smile. The right smile, at the right time, wins friends and calms enemies. The smile held for too long, not long enough, flashed too intensively or too dimly, arouses suspicion, fear or anger.
Far from being a straightforward show of joy, the language of smiles is filled with subtlety: a meld of our inner state, surroundings, social training, conscious and unconscious.
The new book Lip Service: Smiles in Life, Death, Trust, Lies, Work, Memory, Sex, and Politics, published August 8, explores the nuances and effects of an expression we use often, but rarely think about. Wired.com spoke with author, Marianne LaFrance, an experimental psychologist at Yale University, about why we smile, how we do it, and the rise of the emoticon.
Wired.com: Are we able to intuitively tell when someone is faking a smile?
Marianne LaFrance: Yes, often, but not always. When experimental studies are done in which fake and apparently spontaneous smiles are shown in pictures or brief videos, to both adults and kids, and the only thing they have to do is mark a smile as genuine or not, people are pretty good at telling the difference.
On the other hand, in more complicated real-world settings most people are not very good.
Wired.com: Why the difference?
LaFrance: In many interactions we’re not paying very close attention. Details that we might catch as not exactly right if we paid attention, we miss because we’re not looking. Also there are a lot of theories about what a real smile looks like. Some of those are patently wrong.
People think they can tell by looking at what the overall face looks like, but in fact there is one muscle [that shows sincerity]. It’s a muscle, called the obicularis occuli, that encircles the eye socket. Most people don’t pay very close attention to and it’s very hard to deliberately adopt. So when people genuinely smile, in a true burst of positive emotion, not only to the corners of the mouth, controlled by the zygomaticus major, but this muscle around the eye also contracts. This causes the crows feet wrinkles that fan out from the outer corners of the eyes and its also responsible for folds in the upper eyelid. Most people can’t do that deliberately.
Wired.com: What about actors and con men?
LaFrance: The muscle doesn’t seem to be under voluntary control normally, but with training and practice, people can learn to use it, some better than others. And of course your garden variety psychopath or Machiavellian personality tends to be better at it. A characteristic of con men is that they somehow manage to exude a positive, good feeling to get themselves into your good graces, only to exploit it.
Wired.com: Are many muscles involved in smiling?
LaFrance: Two, the obicularis occuli and zygomaticus major, are the primary muscles involved in the so-called genuine smile. But the so-called mouth smile can co-occur with a number of other muscles on the face at the same time. So the mouth may be smiling but the brows could be showing anger, the eyes could be showing surprise or fear, the upper lip could be showing contempt, the nose could be showing some disgust. So the smile is interesting to those of us who study it because it’s not just one thing. It’s multiple and complicated.
Even the temporal pattern is important. Genuine smiles tend to come on the face relatively languidly and go off the face in the same kind of way. Fake smiles often seem to snap on the face and snap off.
Wired.com: Humans have always been captivated by smiles. When did smile science get its real start?
LaFrance: In the late 1800s Charles Darwin published his famous book The Expression of Emotions in Man and Animals. He devoted some time to smiling, but was more interested in other facial expressions. His colleague across the channel, Guillaume-Benjamin Duchenne, was doing experiments where he would zap single muscles on the face with electricity and then look at the changes. His primary distinction was between smiles that came from the soul, non-deliberate smiles, and the ones put there consciously. That’s why people who study smiles call the spontaneous smile the Duchenne smile.
Wired.com: What does a person’s tendency to smile tell us about them?
LaFrance: Some people are inclined to smile more, and that tends to indicate they are a more upbeat personality. But it’s not a perfect correlation. Some people don’t smile often and are quite content. Others smile a lot of the time, but it is out of anxiety.
Most smiling is social. There are a kazillion situations that, as we become socialized, we learn that many situations call for a smile. Kids learn early on — girls learn much faster than boys — that it is good to fake a smile in some circumstances. Imagine you are given a tacky or disappointing gift; it is a mature behavior to smile and thank the person, because that is the socially appropriate thing to do.
When people are by themselves, believing they are not being observed, there isn’t a lot of smiling. We might think that if we’re reading a book by ourselves and we come across a funny passage we’d break into a smile, but it’s actually pretty rare. But if that same passage is being read to us, or other people are in the room, we’re more likely to smile.
Wired.com: Are there differences in the way males and females smile?
LaFrance: On average girls and women smile more. This appears to be a function of two things. Boys are encouraged not to smile very much. Expressivity is taken by some as sign of emotionality, of femininity, something many men, wouldn’t be caught dead being associated with.
Now women, even when they are not feeling much, are strongly encouraged to look and sound as though they are. Spend some time around young teenage girls and you hear a lot of, “Ooh! Oh, that’s wonderful! Love it! That’s fabulous! Fabulous!” Women who are not very expressive are regarded with some suspicion. They seem cold, withholding, depressed. Acquiring the rules of how expressive one should be with their face is a very socialized process.
Wired.com: Are there differences in the way men and women interpret smiles?
LaFrance: Yes, in general women are more accurate than men in detecting what is really going on with someone by looking at their face and listening to their voice. Women are more likely to tell the difference between a felt and a fake smile.
But there’s another big difference between the perception of smiles. When a woman smiles, men tend to see it as flirtatiousness, even when it has nothing to do with flirtatiousness. Whereas when a woman sees a smile on anybody’s face, man or another woman, she is much more likely to make differentiated judgments and see it as a happy, nervous, embarrassed or fake smile.
Wired.com: Smiles have two ways of getting to our faces, a voluntary and an involuntary way. Why is that?
LaFrance: We don’t really know. Some things we do intentionally, other things spontaneously. Some facial expressions can probably be taken at face value. However, we are also great con artists. It makes evolutionary sense to show expressions that we don’t always feel, and not to show expressions that we do feel. If we always showed exactly what we felt then others could potentially see through to our souls and take advantage of us. But we also occasionally reveal our emotions spontaneously and genuinely, that keeps us on our toes.
Wired.com: Do animals smile?
LaFrance: People often ask me if dogs smile and I have to answer, not exactly endearingly, that dogs don’t smile. Now sometimes it looks like the outer corners of their mouth go up, and it looks like a human smile so it’s interpreted as one. But if smiles are meant to be a display of positive emotion, or a gesture of social recognition, then no. Now, non-human primates do show facial expressions, similar to what we call a smile, that are associated with greetings and camaraderie.
Wired.com: Some medical conditions erase a person’s ability to smile. What do they go through when that happens?
LaFrance: It can be just traumatic. Smiling is so central to our feeling of comfort in the world that, when you’re unable to smile, we are made uncomfortable by that. Or, if you’re with someone who adopts an impassive persona and doesn’t smile, it can be really unnerving.
Recently a woman whose face and eyes had been torn off by a 200-pound chimpanzee had a face transplant. Doctors are now reporting that the transplant seems to be taking hold, because she is able to smell and smile. This woman will be blind for the rest of her life, but it’s remarkable that she’s able to smile. It’ll be important for her life.
Wired.com: What is it about unsmiling people that is unnerving?
LaFrance: People convey by their faces that they acknowledge us, that we’re alive, that we matter, that we are not just objects to be dispensed with.
Wired.com: Why can smiles mean such different things in different cultures?
LaFrance: We acquire ways of knowing who is us and who is them. There have been fascinating studies where Australians and Americans were shown a bunch of face shots of other Australians and Americans. Their task was to identify which nationality, Australian or American, the person was. Shown neutral expressions, accuracy was no better than chance. But shown smiles, they were very good at guessing a person’s nationality. Subtle difference in a person’s smile are detectable, even if we can’t describe why.
Now there are also vast cross-cultural differences in the rules for smiling. Who is it OK to smile at, who not? For how long? For example, often when New Englanders go to the South, they wonder why Southerners are smiling all the time. Sometimes they feel everyone is charming. Sometimes the difference is met with dismay.
Rarely do we think, “Isn’t it interesting that another culture has different smiling rules?” We view them as being a different type of person. Now, at home, judgments based on a person’s smiling habits might be warranted. But when you’re talking about cross-cultural boundaries, those judgments can be really off-base.
Wired.com: Did you come across anything surprising while researching this book?
LaFrance: I found that in obituaries people often, more than any other attribute, mentioned their loved one’s smile. Why is it that, after a person is dead, they are described as someone with a smile? It is one more indicator that smiling is a way we connect with other people, in a way that can be easy to underestimate, but in fact I don’t think its importance can be underestimated.
Wired.com: What do you think about emoticons?
By Helena Merriman
BBC World Service
Renowned physicist Dr Michio Kaku says that the world of science fiction may be closer to reality than fantasy.
So if you thought that invisibility cloaks, time travel and teleportation were for the silver screen only, think again.
Dr Kaku is a theoretical physicist and the co-founder of string field theory, a branch of string theory, often referred to as “the theory of everything”.
A lot of the predictions made by science fiction writers have been replaced by the march of science
Dr Michio Kaku
In his recent published book, Physics of the Impossible, he considers the phenomena of science fiction, including time travel and invisibility.
He was shocked to find that almost all of them were consistent with the known laws of physics.
According to Dr Kaku, most of what we see on the silver screen is possible – it is just a question of time.
“A lot of the predictions made by science fiction writers have been replaced by the march of science,” he told BBC World Service.
Invisibility has long been a hallmark of science fiction or fantasy.
Star Trek spacecraft use invisibility shields, and Harry Potter would have struggled in his battle against Lord Voldemort without his invisibility cloak.
But could invisibility really be future science fact rather than science fiction?
Fiction to fact
Physics optics books used to teach that invisibility was impossible. But Dr Kaku says this is wrong; it is possible.
But he concedes that there are currently technical obstacles with the Harry Potter invisibility cloak that may hold it back from wide uptake.
For example, to be able to see out of the cloak, he says, you would need to drill two holes.
But then you would see a pair of disembodied eyes floating in mid-air, which might ruin the look. Or lack of a look.
And what about teleportation?
Stupid cockroaches are smarter than our robots
Dr Michio Kaku
Dr Kaku points out, this has already been done on an atomic scale.
The world record for teleportation is 600m.
Properties of photons – particles of light – have already been teleported across the River Danube and he predicts that we will be teleporting molecules within the decade, and eventually to the moon.
But he stresses that this is only on the atomic scale – no Captain Kirks have been beamed up.
“Remember Captain Kirk consists of 50 trillion cells, so a human being will take many centuries.”
But Star Trek takes place in the 23rd Century. “That’s enough time for us to teleport a human,” he says.
So far, the silver screen has been quite accurate, except when it comes to robots, says Dr Kaku.
In fact, he says Hollywood has misled us into thinking that smart robots are just around the corner.
Fans of the emotional Sonny from I-Robot, or the depressed and bored Marvin from The Hitchiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, may be disappointed to hear that they are more likely to find a cockroach composing a symphony or writing a poem than a robot.
“Stupid cockroaches are smarter than our robots,” says Dr Kaku.
“Robots are nothing but tape-recorders, pre-scripted moves ahead of time.
“Digital computers have a hard time learning and that’s the fundamental problem. They don’t learn new skills.”
And finally, what about time travel, a concept which has spawned hundreds of films, novels and plays after HG Wells first conjured the world of time machines and fourth dimensions in 1895.
“Time travel is definitely on the table, and in principle it may be possible to build a time machine,” Dr Kaku says.
“So, if one day somebody knocks on your door and claims to be your great-great-great-grand-daughter, don’t slam the door.”
FROM THE BBC WORLD SERVICE
There is a logical problem though with time travel, one that offers rich pickings for films and books.
It is known as the “grandfather paradox” and asks what would happen if a time traveller were to kill their grandfather and therefore prevent themselves from being born.
If the time traveller was not born, how would they travel back in time?
Dr Kaku has a solution.
While he agrees with Einstein that time is a river, he says we now realise that the river of time can have whirlpools and fork into two rivers.
In one of these forks, in another parallel universe, a different history can exist, but the past can never be altered.
“You cannot alter your own past. You cannot go back in time and kill your own parents before you were born. Your timeline is intact.”
While these inventions may be scientifically possible, Dr Kaku laments that not enough young people are being trained to become scientists of the future.
But he warns against defeatism.
“It’s always dangerous to say the word impossible,” he muses.
“The word impossible is a challenge to the physicist.”
Braille iPad case concept could make tablets usable for the blind
The iPad is the best-selling consumer tablet, but it — and every other entry into the slate market — is rendered unusable to those without the ability to see. That could change if the Omnifer Braille iPad case ever moves from concept to store shelves. The unique folding case isn’t just protective, it also features a high-tech raised Braille technology that could be used with special apps, opening a whole new world to those with vision impairments.
The case covers roughly half of the iPad’s screen with a special Braille section that responds to changes in light. The glow of the tablet’s 9.7″ display would activate a special light-reactive chemical, and raise portions of the Braille section to be readable. Custom apps would be created to utilize this unique feature. As the area of the screen behind the Braille section changes, so would the raised bumps, opening the door to apps like digital magazines designed specifically for the blind.
By Andrew Norris
A 21-year-old design student in Detroit redesigned the winter coat to help homeless people suffering from relentlessly cold winters. The ankle-length “Element S” is hooded, self-heated and waterproof, but it also transforms into a sleeping bag at night.
Not only that, her Detroit Empowerment Plan envisioned that the coat be made by a group of homeless women who are paid minimum wage, and fed and housed while creating the coats. The plan now creates jobs for those who desire them and coats for those who need them at no cost.
“The goal is to empower, employ, educate, and instill pride,” writes Veronika Scott, the coat’s creator. “The importance is not with the product but with the people.”
Donations to the project are tax-deductible. Visit Veronika’s wonderful blog to find out more ways you can help, like donating hot glue guns or thread.
Human echolocation activates visual parts of the brain
Very little research has been done on human echolocation, and nothing is known about the underlying brain mechanisms. In the first study of its kind, Canadian researchers used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to monitor the brain activity of two blind echolocation experts. Their findings, published today in the open access journal PLoS ONE, show that echolocation engages regions of the brain that normally process vision.