Congratulations to the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Lab on this week’s successful launch of the Parker Solar Probe, which TTI/Vanguard participants in the Sep 2017 field trip to APL observed both in simulation and actuality. As Jeff Chavis puts it, “Folks can now say they saw the first manmade object sent to the Sun!”
Meanwhile, JPL staff have developed a playlist it hopes will inspire the Mars rover Opportunity to awaken from its dust-induced deep sleep. (Daniel Clancy, Phoenix, Dec 2003)
Speaking of Mars, University of Colorado researchers have developed a highly insulating and transparent aerogel that could be used for high-efficiency windows here on Earth or for greenhouse or habitat components on the red planet. Adding to the cool factor is its provenance: wort—the liquid waste from brewing beer.
Speaking of windows, how about ones made of transparent wood? That’s just one of the topics at next month’s Less Is More. Register here or contact Claudia.
Cleaving to the theme of outcast food, a pair of (former) MIT undergrads revisited a question posed by Richard Feynman and Danny Hillis (Los Angeles, Sep 2004; Marina del Rey, Jan 1997) decades ago: Is it possible to break dry spaghetti rods neatly in two, instead of generating a mess of shards all over the kitchen? Their answer: Yes, with a 360-degree twist and a slow bend.
Scientists can now track an organism’s development cell by cell—tracing, for example, a mammal’s development from egg cell to embryo—with CRISPR, instead of tedious and unreliable dyes. (Anthony Zador, Brooklyn, Jun 2018)
It seems machine learning is driving everything these days, including now Samsung’s Wi-Fi routers, for better whole-home coverage.
Amidst all the competition between voice assistants, an island of cooperation: A Microsoft–Amazon entente means you can talk to Cortana on Echo devices and to Alexa on Windows 10 devices. (Kyle Roche, San Francisco, May 2016; Sunil Vemuri, Miami, Dec 2011; Jo Lernout, Phoenix, Oct 1999)
And can a virtual assistant—complete with voice recognition—work offline, without access to the cloud? Amazon’s Alexa group is making progress.
In a set of tweets that the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission is looking into, Elon Musk controversially speculated last week that he may take Tesla private. The deal—if it goes through—would be one of biggest leveraged buyouts ever, and in any event has already revived the debate of whether tech companies are best served by private investors (and debt payments) or capital markets (and quarterly earnings statements).
Meanwhile, also according to the New York Times, Tesla’s board of directors is seemingly working to rein Musk in—and not just for his possible violation of SEC regulations. Roger McNamee (Los Angeles, Mar 2018) was quoted as saying, “The market has been remarkably patient as Tesla struggles to scale its manufacturing.”
Google’s broadband initiatives have slowed to a crawl, but, undeterred, the company is ready to redesign entire neighborhoods, beginning in Toronto. (Adam Drobot, Jennifer Mathieu, and Zabe Bent, McLean, Va., Sep 2017; João Barros, John Tolva, San Francisco, May 2016; Beth Coleman, London, Jul 2014)
Rod Brooks (Atlanta, Dec 2004) on prediction, AI, robotics, and Amara’s Law.
The June breach of user data at Reddit didn’t expose much information; how it happened is much more significant: intercepted 2-factor authentication. (Andrew Bud, Washington, D.C., Sep 2017; Srdjan Capkun, Ingo Deutschmann, Washington, D.C., Sep 2017; Munir Cochinwala, Dallas, Feb 2007)
IBM Watson (David Barnes, Pittsburgh, Oct 2012), is—shockingly—not living up to its marketing hype. What’s interesting is how: In its flagship application, cancer diagnosis and treatment (Eric Brown, Washington, D.C., Sep 2015), Watson doesn’t have enough data for rare cancers, and it can’t keep up with the latest developments in cancer therapies for some others.
Technology can be used for good or ill, Part I: If you’re going to deliver packages by drone, where should they get picked up from? Why not a blimp-based (Dan Nachbar, Seattle, Dec 2006) warehouse-in-the-sky, as depicted in a new patent granted to Amazon?
Technology can be used for good or ill, Part II: Did Venezuelan exiles in Columbia and Florida plot to kill Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro by attaching explosives to a drone and flying it into a rally he was giving last Saturday? (Ian Glenn, Brooklyn, Jul 2016; Eric Cheng and Mike Hawley, San Francisco, Dec 2014)
Blue LEDs impair sleep. But are they also killing our retinal cells while we’re awake? (Cun-Zheng Ning, San Francisco, Dec 2015)
“Not all readers become leaders, but all leaders must be readers.”
The TTI/Vanguard Team