Monday, August 23, 2010

Breaking: Hybrid Bike Wheel Wins U.S. Dyson Award

An ingenious wheel that could turn any bike into an electric hybrid has won the U.S. round of the James Dyson Award, an event that's become the world's premier student-design competition. Tonight, the winner will be formally announced, at a Designer Pages event discussing the bright, bold future of design.
The so-called Copenhagen Wheel now joins other national-competition winners in the global competition, along with nine other designs. The grand-prize winner will then be announced on October 5th. They'll get $15,000 for themselves or their team, and another $15,000 for their school department. (It won't get your name on a building, but hey!)
The Copenhagen wheel, which was developed by a team at MIT led by Christine Outram--in the same lab that created the City Car--has already attracted plenty of buzz. As the name suggests, the idea began in Copenhagen, after the city tasked the design team with creating simple interventions that dramatically improve the already robust use of bikes there.

What they came up with is a hybrid wheel, which generates electricity during braking (similar to the regenerative braking you find in many car hybrids). It then offers that electricity as a power boost up hills or over long distances. That power is controlled by an iPhone interface. (Shades of Apple's Smart Bike!) Why's all this groundbreaking? The hope is that hybrid power, by making previously difficult bike commutes easy, could make bikes a viable option for countless more commuters.
But in selecting it, the Dyson jurors also prized the fact that it's a full-on, working prototype. The team that developed the wheel believes that with the right funding, it could be in production within a year, at a retail cost of around $600--not cheap, but well within reach.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Eggs came after chickens... and that's a fact

'The chicken came first, not the egg', scientists prove
It’s an age-old puzzle that’s stumped generations of scientists.
But now they believe they have cracked the conundrum of what came first: the chicken or the egg.
British researchers say the chicken must have come first as the formation of eggs is only possible thanks to a protein found in the chicken’s ovaries.
‘It had long been suspected that the egg came first but now we have the scientific proof that shows that in fact the chicken came first,’ said Dr Colin Freeman, from Sheffield University, who worked with counterparts at Warwick University.
‘The protein had been identified before and it was linked to egg formation but by examining it closely we have been able to see how it controls the process,’ he added.
The protein – called ovocledidin-17 (OC-17) – acts as a catalyst to speed up the development of the shell. Scientists used a super computer called HECToR, based in Edinburgh, to ‘zoom in’ on the formation of an egg.
It showed OC-17 was crucial in kick-starting crystallisation – the early stages of forming a shell. The protein coverts calcium carbonate into calcite crystals which makes up the egg shell, creating six grammes of shell every 24 hours. Prof John Harding, also of Sheffield University, said the discovery could have other uses.
‘Understanding how chickens make shells is fascinating in itself but can also give clues towards designing new materials,’ he said.
Next challenge: Why did the chicken cross the road?

Monday, July 19, 2010

Porsche GT3 RS Ferdinand Bicycle - Engineer gone MAD!!

The 2010 Porsche 911 GT3 RS, basically a race car gone street legal, could be bit hard to get your hands on, with the $150,000 price tag and all. But when you really want one and you find yourself with too much time and colored paper on your hands, you can apply a little bit of them home engineering skills and build your own almost functional model. It may look like it’s made of pancake dough and it certainly doesn’t drive very well on a rainy day, but it’ll still get some ladies to turn their heads and check it out, mostly because they’re easy to fool.

It’s the knotty problem wrestled with by cyclists everywhere: You like the idea of owning a £140,000 Porsche GT3 RS, but worry it would mean less time on the bike.
Luckily a team of designers has produced the greenest Porsche to date; a zero-emissions version of the GT3 RS built around a pedal car.
A spokesperson for the Environmental Transport Association (ETA) said: “Everyone should have a pedal-powered supercar in their garage.”
“Sportscar builders such as Porsche and Ferrari make much of their plans to introduce hybrid technology, but these have as much to do with tough CO2 emissions targets and the threat of inner city bans on highly-polluting vehicles as they do a desire to produce environmentally-friendly cars.”


Friday, July 2, 2010

Michelangelo's secret message in the Sistine Chapel: A juxtaposition of God and the human brain

By R. Douglas Fields

At the age of 17 he began dissecting corpses from the church graveyard. Between the years 1508 and 1512 he painted the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel in Rome. Michelangelo Buonarroti—known by his first name the world over as the singular artistic genius, sculptor and architect—was also an anatomist, a secret he concealed by destroying almost all of his anatomical sketches and notes. Now, 500 years after he drew them, his hidden anatomical illustrations have been found—painted on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, cleverly concealed from the eyes of Pope Julius II and countless religious worshipers, historians, and art lovers for centuries—inside the body of God.

This is the conclusion of Ian Suk and Rafael Tamargo, in their paper in the May 2010 issue of the scientific journal Neurosurgery
Is the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel a 500 year-old puzzle that is only now beginning to be solved? What was Michelangelo saying by construction the voice box of God out of the brain stem of man? Is it a sacrilege or homage? . Suk and Tamargo are experts in neuroanatomy at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore, Maryland. In 1990, physician Frank Meshberger published a paper in the Journal of the American Medical Association deciphering Michelangelo’s imagery with the stunning recognition that the depiction in God Creating Adam in the central panel on the ceiling was a perfect anatomical illustration of the human brain in cross section. Meshberger speculates that Michelangelo surrounded God with a shroud representing the human brain to suggest that God was endowing Adam not only with life, but also with supreme human intelligence. Now in another panel. The Separation of Light from Darkness (shown at left), Suk and Tamargo have found more. Leading up the center of God’s chest and forming his throat, the researchers have found a precise depiction of the human spinal cord and brain stem

Is the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel a 500 year-old puzzle that is only now beginning to be solved? What was Michelangelo saying by construction the voice box of God out of the brain stem of man? Is it a sacrilege or homage? .

It took Michelangelo four years to complete the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. He proceeded from east to west, starting from the entrance of the Chapel to finish above the altar. The last panel he painted depicts God separating light from darkness. This is where the researchers report that Michelangelo hid the human brain stem, eyes and optic nerve of man inside the figure of God directly above the altar.

Art critics and historians have long puzzled over the odd anatomical irregularities in Michelangelo’s depiction of God’s neck in this panel, and by the discordant lighting in the region. The figures in the fresco are illuminated diagonally from the lower left, but God’s neck, highlighted as if in a spotlight, is illuminated straight-on and slightly from the right. How does one reconcile such clumsiness by the world’s master of human anatomy and skilled portrayer of light with bungling the image of God above the altar? Suk and Tamargo propose that the hideous goiter-disfigured neck of God is not a mistake, but rather a hidden message. They argue that nowhere else in any of the other figures did

Michelangelo foul up his anatomically correct rendering of the human neck. They show that if one superimposes a detail of God’s odd lumpy neck in the Separation of Light and Darkness on a photograph of the human brain as seen from below, the lines of God’s neck trace precisely the features of the human brain [see images below].

There is something else odd about this picture. A role of fabric extends up the center of God’s robe in a peculiar manner. The clothing is bunched up here as is seen nowhere else, and the fold clashes with what would be the natural drape of fabric over God’s torso. In fact, they observe, it is the human spinal cord, ascending to the brain stem in God’s neck. At God’s waist, the robe twists again in a peculiar crumpled manner, revealing the optic nerves from two eyes, precisely as Leonardo Da Vinci had shown them in his illustration of 1487. Da Vinci and Michelangelo were contemporaries and acquainted with each other’s work.

The mystery is whether these neuroanatomical features are hidden messages or whether the Sistine Chapel a Rorshach tests upon which anyone can extract an image that is meaningful to themselves. The authors of the paper are, after all, neuroanatomists. The neuroanatomy they see on the ceiling may be nothing more than the man on the moon.

But Michelangelo also depicted other anatomical features elsewhere in the ceiling, according to other scholars; notably the kidney, which was familiar to Michelangelo and was of special interest to him as he suffered from kidney stones.

If the hidden figures are intentional, what do they mean? The authors resist speculation, but a great artist does not merely reproduce an object in a work of art, he or she evokes meaning through symbolism. Is Separation of Light from Darkness an artistic comment on the enduring clash between science and religion? Recall that this was the age when the monk Copernicus was denounced by the Church for theorizing that the Earth revolved around the sun. It was a period of struggle between scientific observation and the authority of the Church, and a time of intense conflict between Protestants and Catholics.

It is no secret that Michelangelo’s relationship with the Catholic Church became strained. The artist was a simple man, but he grew to detest the opulence and corruption of the Church. In two places in the masterpiece, Michelangelo left self portraits—both of them depicting himself in torture. He gave his own face to Saint Bartholomew’s body martyred by being skinned alive, and to the severed head of Holofernes, who was seduced and beheaded by Judith.

Michelangelo was a devout person, but later in life he developed a belief in Spiritualism, for which he was condemned by Pope Paul IV. The fundamental tenet of Spiritualism is that the path to God can be found not exclusively through the Church, but through direct communication with God. Pope Paul IV interpreted Michelangelo’s Last Judgment, painted on the wall of the Sistine Chapel 20 years after completing the ceiling, as defaming the church by suggesting that Jesus and those around him communicated with God directly without need of Church. He suspended Michelangelo’s pension and
had fig leaves painted over the nudes in the fresco. According to the artist’s wishes, Michelangelo’s body is not buried on the grounds of the Vatican, but is instead interred in a tomb in Florence.

Perhaps the meaning in the Sistine Chapel is not of God giving intelligence to Adam, but rather that intelligence and observation and the bodily organ that makes them possible lead without the necessity of Church directly to God. The material is rich for speculation and the new findings will doubtlessly spark endless interpretation. We may never know the truth, but in Separation of Light from Darkness, Michelangelo’s masterpiece combines the worlds of art, religion, science, and faith in a provocative and awe inspiring work of art, which may also be a mirror.

Images from "Concealed Neuroanatomy in Michelangelo’s Separation of Light From Darkness in the Sistine Chapel," by Ian Suk and Rafael J. Tamargo in Neurosurgery, Vol. 66, No. 5, pp. 851-861

Sunday, June 6, 2010

James Bond's Aston Martin up for sale

The James Bond Aston Martin DB5 from Goldfinger is expected to fetch NZ$7.4m at auction.

LONDON - The Aston Martin driven by Sean Connery in the James Bond movies is going on sale at a London auction in October.
The silver 1964 Aston Martin DB5, dubbed by car auctioneers RM Auctions as "the world's most famous car," is expected to fetch at least $5 million (NZ$7.4m).
The car is one of only two of the original Aston Martins that featured on screen with Sean Connery behind the wheel in Goldfinger" and Thunderball.
It comes with Bond gadgets including fake machine guns, revolving number plates and smoke screen.
The model is being sold by US radio broadcaster Jerry Lee, who bought it for $12,000 in 1969. It has remained in his home since then and has rarely been seen publicly.
RM Auctions says the car is going under the hammer in London on Oct. 27.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Yawning revs up your brain

According to psychologists and researchers who study such things, yawning has nothing to do with boredom, rudeness, or even fatigue.

Quite the contrary. Yawning helps cool down our brains so they function better, explains Andrew Gallup, a researcher who specialises in yawning at New York's University of Binghamton. "Our brains are like computers," says Gallup, who conducted yawning studies in 2007 with his father, Gordon Gallup, of the State University of New York at Albany. "They operate most efficiently when cool. Our research indicates that we yawn in response to increased brain or body temperature."

Despite a 1987 study that disproved yawning as a response to reduced oxygen levels, the younger Gallup says some people still believe that's why we yawn. It's not. In fact, he adds, comparative support shows that yawning provides a means for achieving increased alertness and arousal, especially when changing from one mental state to another (activity to inactivity or sleeping to waking).

So, if anything, it's a mechanism to recharge so you can better absorb information. But try explaining that to a friend or colleague. When Sharon Sorscher is talking to someone and feels a yawn coming on, she closes her mouth to stifle it. "If I'm conscious of it, I'll keep my mouth closed and try to do an internal yawn in the back of my throat," says Sorscher, a 22-year-old student. "It doesn't always work."

Therapist and educator Patt Lind-Kyle isn't concerned with the social stigmas attached to yawning. In fact, Lind-Kyle, a former health education professor at Foothill College in Los Altos, is such a believer that she encourages clients to induce yawning.
In her work, Lind-Kyle uses neuro-monitoring tools such as yawning to help increase health and manage stress. Slowing down your breath, flaring your nostrils while inhaling, or watching someone else do it are all ways to induce yawning, she says.
"Yawning helps us relax," says Lind-Kyle, author of Heal Your Mind, Rewire Your Brain. "It lifts our moods. It's good stuff. And it's free."
Andrew Gallup doesn't believe yawning is beneficial enough to induce, because if you're not yawning, your brain temperature is probably where it needs to be, he says. However, he does believe that yawning has important direct applications in the medical field as it relates to thermoregulatory dysfunction, he says. And it tends to be commonly overlooked.

Certain methods, like applying a cold wash cloth to your forehead or breathing through your nose, can be effective in cooling down the brain and body and warding off excessive yawning, which is a symptom of epilepsy and multiple sclerosis, for instance. Both diseases have degrees of thermoregulatory dysfunction,

Andrew Gallup says. Yawning has also been linked to blocking the reuptake of serotonin,
much like antidepressants do, so that more of the brain chemical is available to act on receptors in the brain, Gordon Gallup says.
And how's this for trivia: the reason yawning is so common before sleep and upon waking is because those are the times when body temperature is at its highest, according to Andrew Gallup.
"Sleep and body temperature vary inversely," he explains. "So, extended sleep deprivation significantly increases brain and body temperature." Think of it this way - if you're suffering from chronic insomnia and yawning every 10 minutes, you need to catch up on sleep. But, you may also try taking a cold shower or jumping in a pool, the younger Gallup says.
You'll be glad to know that one of the most commonly held beliefs about yawning - its contagiousness - is fact.
"We believe contagious yawning is a byproduct of primitive empathic mechanisms," says Gordon Gallup, a psychology professor at SUNY Albany. "In a group situation, we evolved to yawn as a way to raise our overall mental processing and collective vigilance, say, against predators."

While all vertebrates yawn, only humans, chimps and baboons are contagious yawners, Andrew Gallup notes. Domesticated dogs are as well, but only when they see humans yawn, he adds. Surprisingly, reading about or thinking about yawning or even hearing someone yawn is all it takes, Gordon Gallup says.

"It's a very ubiquitous phenomenon," he says. "Yawning begins in the womb, probably because it's going to become a very important behaviour later in life."

Tell that to your boss.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Breed and Retreat Hen House by Frederik Roije

This project named Breed and Retreat, houses hens in a more architecturally‐savvy home than most people can claim to live in. By Dutch designer Frederik Roije and made from wood with a durable coating, it's been designed to encourage breeding and resting for our feathered friends. Roije believes that in order 'to eliminate the estrangement from our origin respecting nature will be necessary [and that by] designing a special place it will give nature its space, even in urban society'. This project is currently on display at the Ventura Lambrate gallery in Milan.