Skip navigation

Lasers can now be used to transfer data across long distances. They can do this – very quickly!

Computer users who despair over slow internet connections should take heart – German scientists have broken a speed record, sending data contained on 700 DVDs over a single laser beam, in one second.

The Sydney Morning Herald article makes sure to cover the exciting result in terms relevant to the average reader. Everyone knows what a DVD is, and everyone knows that 700 is a big number. And certainly, everyone knows that one second is a very short amount of time.

So all put together, we know that this laser transferred a heck load of data extremely quickly.

The scientists at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) said they had broken the world record by sending data at a speed of 26 terabits per second.

What we now also know is that it was a world record speed. Therefore, quicker than anything else … anywhere … ever.

But just in case 700 DVD’s didn’t sound impressive enough, Professor Juerg Leuthold said:

“With 26 terabits per second, you can simultaneously transmit up to 400 million telephone calls per second.”

Which is at least 57 million calls from your overbearing mother, 22 million from your grandmother who still can’t get your name right, 16 million from your boss telling you that you are late, 9 million wrong numbers, 5 million prank calls … which should leave about 291 million telemarketing calls.

In short, a lot of calls.

Not the laser in question, but a big, pretty laser that I'm sure could transmit a lot of DVD's if it really wanted to. PHOTO: SMH

The article does the best job it can to translate technical jargon like ‘terabites’ into language both relevant and digestible to readers, in order to emphasise the significance of the story. Without a clear understanding of the enormity of information transferred during this one second, the article would have little to no meaning to its average reader.

From this we see the Sydney Morning Herald doing a good job on the old ‘KISS’ theory.

Keeping It Simple, Stupid.

Advertisements

Was there a Star Trek marathon on China State TV recently? Cloaking devices, tractor beams… if I see a story about transporters in the next week, I’m going to start asking questions.

… the question asked by the author of a Gearfuse article following reports that Chinese researchers had been working on ‘tractor-beam’ technology.

This comes on the back of news of scientists working on developing a supposed ‘invisibility cloak’. The article takes not of this, fantasising the possibilities within the realms of pop-culture science-fiction. It even goes as far as stating that “the concept of a ‘tractor beam’ kind of flies in the face of conventional physics”. This however, only serves to add to the intrigue.

A Popsci article takes not of this same absurdity.

There’s no escaping it: though the tractor beam is a staple of sci-fi space-faring scenarios, it’s also extremely counter-intuitive. How does one pull something in via an outward propagating beam?

Though conceding that the beam so far only works at a nano-level, the article describes the process “tuning” and “scattering” the beam to achieve the desired “pulling” effect.

This article also does not hesitate to bring the story back within the realms of Star Trek canon.

The Fudan University team won’t be capturing rebel tranports with their beam any time soon

Regardless, the idea of being able to pull 1000-ton spaceship to your disposal with nothing but a beam is surely exciting. Perhaps, one day, something this big?

Life onboard the USS Enterprise may not be so farfetched after all - 'Star Trek Enterprise' finale CGI

Or perhaps not for a while …

In a world where the average person has become so heavily reliant on Google for everyday information, we now find our online professor claiming to bring us another saving grace.

A solution to the ‘broken’ computer.

… or so how current Mac’s and PC’s are referred to in a Sydney Morning Herald article.

Upon releasing a new series of laptops, Google is claiming to have developed a “completely new model of computing”, one that is not reliant on anti-virus software, firewalls, back-ups or constant intall updates.

As the article states it:

In throwing down the gauntlet to Apple and Microsoft, Google argues that the world of computers today is “broken” and that it’s come up with the solution.

With a core focus on web-activity, the Chromebook – as it’s being called – is being released by both Samsung and Acer later this year.

The article makes clear reference to Google’s strong reputation, as well as supporting the idea of a ‘revolution’ in the world of computing and internet activity.

The search giant’s Chrome operating system marks Google’s latest attempt to change how consumers use their computers and analysts say it poses a threat to the dominance of Microsoft’s Windows.

Acer's model of the Chromebook, to be released in June - IMAGE: The Daily Telegraph

The company’s director for product management, Caeser Sengupta, criticised the current way in which computers are operated.

“Users have to manage their computers, they have to deal with updates, they have to worry about viruses and security. This is something that we feel can be made much, much better.”

However, this supposed innovation was not received as warmly by all parties. PC analyst Michael Gartenberg says:

“While Google is moving the computing paradigm forward, it’s not clear that consumers will trade the functionality of a laptop (or tablet) for a device that looks like a laptop, has the cost of a laptop but can only run a web browser and web based applications.”

An article in The Daily Telegraph also covered the annoucement. Here, the product was labelled as “unusual” in its design and functionality, but ultimately advertises the concept of storing information on a web-server as opposed to a hard-drive.

“Everything can be saved to the web since it has more space than any computer.”

It is evident between these two articles that innovation, an essential requirement in the IT industry, is the main focus of the Chromebook announcement. Google’s reputation as a bold entrant into the operating system world is also upheld.

However, the most important picture painted is that of the ‘broken’ computer. No doubt, everybody who uses computers has experienced numerous frustrations dealing with viruses, losing data, and crashing systems. A product whose primary claim is to completely overhaul this idea and provide us with a more secure, comfortable way of doing things, is no doubt appealing.

Invisibility.

The ultimate concealment.

According to an article in the Sydney Morning Herald, this fantasy is apparently not as far-fetched as we may think.

More than a decade ago, the notion of being able to curve light around an object – in the way water flows around a smooth stone – so it disappears from view was pure science fiction. But then theoreticians worked out that it would be possible to make artificial materials with tiny internal structures that would force light or other electromagnetic waves to travel along a desired, curved path rather than bounce off an object.

The article doesn’t hesitate to play upon our imaginations. References are made to The Invisible Man, Star Trek, The Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter and The Fantastic Four. Not only are these mentioned as pop-culture reference, but analogy is drawn between the way the Invisible Woman (The Fantastic Four) conceals herself and current studies by scientists.

Once again, religious connotations are brought into the mix, evident in the title “Invisibility: seeing is believing”. Funnily enough though, that in this case, seeing would be the exact opposite of believing.

Attempting to remove the concept from being stuck solely in the realms of public fantasy, practical applications for the potential technology are mentioned. Professor Benjamin Eggleton of the University of Sydney gives some examples:

Although an invisibility cloak captures people’s imaginations, it  is just one of the many areas where metamaterial science could have a huge impact, he says. Light-controlling materials would help revolutionise telecommunications, allowing the secure, fast and energy-efficient transmission of vast amounts of data.

High-resolution microscopes and the detection of medically essential molecules are other important potential applications.

The only problem at the moment though, is they haven’t been able to conceal anything larger than a paperclip – and even then it had to be viewed under special lighting to be effective. Here is a video with Dr. Zhang from the University of Birmingham.

 

The article remains positive, exercising the idea of an Invisibility Cloak – akin to that in Harry Potter – being able to conceal a whole person. The article does concede that this is a long way off, saying that “no Muggles are going to be fooled by the device just yet.”

Luckily, amidst both biblical and pop-culture references, actual hard science actually does manage to squeeze into a significant portion of the article. Comparisons between using metamaterials against natural crystals to ‘bend’ light around objects is signified. Avoiding the confusion of technical jargon, the article does attempt to explain the process in simple terms, likening the process of bending light to looking at a fish in a tank.

While the science is legit, and the research is definitely interesting, the narrative takes the route of public appeal by playing along both the fantasy of invisibility as well as numerous references to well-known films. This sensationalisation of the facts is actually directly referenced to in the article itself. Sir John Pendry of the Imperial College London recalls that:

The organisers wanted him to ”spice things up” and he wondered how he could best convey his enthusiasm. ”People don’t usually get excited about materials,” he told the Herald on a later visit to Sydney.

So at the end of the talk, Pendry mentioned the prospect of an invisibility cloak and threw in a reference to Harry Potter. It worked. ”Guys in the audience went back to Duke University and built the darn thing and the rest is history.”

It seems that smart phones just keep getting smarter. New features. New apps. Now, IK Multimedia seem to have found the ultimate gadget appealing to any head-banging metal-head.

With AmpliTube iRig, you can plug your guitar into your iPhone/iPod touch/iPad and jam anywhere with world class guitar and bass tone right in the palm of your hand.

Essentially, the adapter and corresponding app function together as a portable amplifier – a HUGE appeal to any daring shredder not wishing to lug his huge Marshall around.

The iRig - the latest and greatest amp - IMAGE: IK Multimedia

However, it doesn’t end there, with the iRig capable of performing the functions of numerous different types of both guitar and bass amps – even allowing for pre-settings of four different amps at once … on the one app!

The IK multimedia site makes certain to emphasise the portability of the product – which is probably is biggest and most appealing asset.

A Guitar Rig — Always in Your Pocket

… A Recording Studio — Always in Your Pocket

… A Learning Tool — Always in Your Pocket

A review on MacLife, however, takes a more balanced approach towards the iRig. While saying that …

the realm of digital amp emulation comes to Apple’s handhelds with AmpliTube, aided and abetted by the iRig adapter, and the results are rocktacular.

… it goes on to state:

While the AmpliTube iRig combo does more than we expected, the system doesn’t do everything we’d hoped. You can upload MP3s to jam along with, but you still can’t access iTunes directly, so the fact that the Songs icon is an iPod is a naughty tease.

The review does maintain a largely positive tone toward the iRig though. Throughout the review, the benefits of it’s portability – as well as its versatility – are the main focus. In fact, the review goes as far as saying that iRig has added a new dimension to ‘identity crisis’ of amplifiers in the wake of developing digital technology.

Here we see the constant evolution of digital technology against a more traditional approach to music. The review brings this together, highlighting the benefits that such innovations bring to real music-lovers, encouraging them to embrace change and progress.

In conclusion, the review praises the iRig, saying:

The best praise we can offer is that we quickly forgot we were playing guitar through a phone.

It’s worth the money … We haven’t seen anything else this feature-rich. AmpliTube is like a private playground for guitar geeks, and the iRig is the key that opens it.

Here is an IK Multimedia video review of the AmpliTube iRig, featuring Guns N’ Roses rhythm guitarist Richard Fortus.

My previous post addressed the Sydney Morning Herald’s coverage of the record-breaking “atom-smasher”, and scientist’s hopes that it would lead to the discovery of the Higgs boson, also known affectionately as the ‘God particle”.

Well, the Sydney Morning Herald has now come out with news of a leak that the particle has indeed been found. The title however warns:

Sighting of God particle just a rumour

The leak apparently spread internally from the researchers at the Large Hadron Collider working to discover the subatomic particle in question. Speculation is surrounding the supposed discovery however, with its validity in question.

Brain Cox of the University of Manchester remarked on his Twitter page:

Very bad science to leak it. Many mistakes are made in unreviewed papers.

The article definitely continues to draw upon allusions to God, as well as human discovery. The idea of a ‘sighting’ of God, as well as the concept of speculation and the conflict against what is considered ‘good-science’, ties in very heavily with contemporary questions around Christian doctrine as well as religion as an entity.

The article does, however, give significance to this particle as well as the potential discovery of it, saying that:

… it is a missing piece – the last of the many particles predicted to exist by the standard model of particle physics that has not yet been detected. It is thought to give all the other particles their mass.

This once again ties in with the idea of man’s search for meaning, as well as alluding to religious theories of creation.

An illustration by Cathy Wilcox makes certain mockery of the situation.

A potential argument that ensued following the leak - ILLUSTRATION: Cathy Wilcox/SMH

An article on Live Science also covered the controversial issue. While also addressing the doubt surrounding the discovery, it goes further in explaining plausible reasons as to why the possibility of discovery was leaked.

Some physicists say the note may be a hoax, while others believe the “detection” is likely a statistical anomaly that will disappear upon further study. But the find would be a huge particle-physics breakthrough, if it holds up.

One physicist – Tommaso Dorigo of Fermilab – said he’d be willing to “bet $1,000 with whomever has a name and a reputation in particle physics” that the discovery is false.

A fair amount of conviction there, further highlighting the age-old divide between the scientific community and theology.

The world’s biggest atom smasher has set a new world record for beam intensity, a key measure of performance and power, the European Organisation for Nuclear Research (CERN) says.

The Sydney Morning Herald article draws upon the idea of man’s thirst for knowledge referenced in an earlier post, by referring to the breakthrough as part of a “quest to unlock some of the Universe’s deepest secrets”.

Amidst a series of jargon and technical terms, the article fantasises the new record:

At full throttle, the collisions should create powerful but microscopic bursts of energy that mimic conditions close to the Big Bang.

Though “sub-atomic particles” and “cryogenically-cooled machines” won’t mean much to your everyday reader, it would be safe to assume that everyone has at the very least heard of the Big Bang. And to go one step further, it would also be safe to assume that everyone knows that the Big Bang, was…well…very big! Therefore, we know that these collisions should also be – once again – very big.

The Times Of India also took note of the breakthrough. Following is the modest title chosen:

Has the world’s largest atom smasher detective the elusive ‘God particle’?

The aforementioned particle – whose correct name is the Higg’s boson – is utilised here in the form of its affectionate vernacular, to magnify the scope and impact of the record.

The use of the word ‘elusive’ also brings forth several connotations of man’s desire to ascertain and obtain, and – when used in conjunction with the word ‘God’ – draws upon the idea of man’s never-ending search for meaning and salvation. This not only brings colour, but also emotional validity to an article that would otherwise seem irrelevant to most readers.

Transforming houses. Quite comfortably a first. According to Wired:

The Safe House is something of a paradox: — a house that is light, airy and open to the outside thanks to windows both numerous and large, and yet almost impossible to break into. How is this done? By the magic power of Transformers.

Magic power you say? Transformers you say? Do tell…

The home, designed by Polish architects KWK Promes, exists in two states. When you are at home and feeling safe, you leave it open in “vulnerable” mode.

Safehouse in regular mode - PHOTO: Supplied to Wired

BUT

But at the first sign of trouble — over aggressive trick-or-treaters, for example — you hit a button and the house goes into lockdown, turning from home into fortress. A shutter slams down, protecting the front of the house, huge concrete slabs swing in to plug up the windows …

Secure mode - PHOTO: Supplied to Wired

SOLD!

Through the article’s allusions to non-biological extra-terrestrials. However, the question begs to be asked – and one that the article does not hesitate to:

Who on earth would want such a home?

Overkill, perhaps, is what is being suggested here. It goes on to call the whole idea s little ridiculous by saying “I would spend the entire time worrying about losing my keys.”

But inhabitat.com seems a little more convinced, referring to the structure as a “transforming fortress of sustainable solitude”, and an “impenetrable concrete cube”. The article goes on to mention the multiple advantages of the unique house, playing on the now prominent issue of the environment:

… the modern day fortress also features a hybrid heat system (with most of the energy harvested from from renewable sources) …

Environmental impacts are a very significant concern within the contemporary mindframe, and the article does well to address this. Relevance to the everyday, suburban family is also given:

… the outer walls remain securely shut so that there is no risk of children running into the street while playing in the front yard.

Regardless, a clear distinction between the two posts is once again highlighted, with Wired again tending to scrutinise the item at hand. The second article instead chooses to highlight the item’s benefits and capabilities, and ‘sell’ it to its readers by making it relevant to modern-day concerns.

The Blink Helmet, the winning design at the 2010 Seoul Cycle Design Competition, hasn’t found fans at wired.com, shows their description in a recent article:

To signal, you reach up and touch the lamp, whereupon it starts to flash. Then, once you have completed your turn, you need to reach up again to switch it off. This, remember, takes the place of a traditional hand-signal which only requires you to remove your hand from the bar once.

Safe? Or redundant? - IMAGE: Supplied to Wired

Critical of the supposed safety-advantages this would serve to nighttime bike-riders, the article takes note of the fact that the kind of person who would purchase such a helmet is likely the kind of person who would already indicate using hand signals.

For which reflective cuffs were designed, effectively rendering the Blink Helmet redundant.

The helmet is placed by the article in the view of being a sales gimmick, with ‘flashy’, supposed safety benefits that in actuality aren’t so fantastic.

However, a Design Buzz article seemed to hold the item in a significantly higher esteem:

Ever wondered what could be the next innovation in a bicycle helmet?

Selling the reader with the word ‘innovation’, it notes that along with its featured abilities, the helmet retains all the standard safety functions of a regular bike helmet.

While the helmet itself serves the basic purpose of protecting the rider’s head, there is more to this special helmet which increases the safety of the rider, especially at night.

Safety is a major concern for all bike riders, particular those who ride often at nighttime. The article makes sure to address this, and bring it back to relevance with the Blink Helmet.

The distinctions between these two examples prove quite interesting, with the former clearly expressing criticism, while the latter solely demonstrates support.

This goes to show the role of opinion in such reviews.

Different angels of the Blink Helmet - IMAGE: Supplied to Gadjitz

Scientists in Canberra are in the process of developing an advanced telescope system which will hopefully enable them to look into the sky and back in time. As the Sydney Morning Herald reports:

The Australian National University’s Mount Stromlo Observatory is the home of the Advanced Instrument and Technology Centre, where researchers will design a number of parts for the Giant Magellan Telescope.

Expected to cost $700 million dollars, it will become the largest telescope ever built, and will be capable of providing images “up to 10 times sharper than the Hubble telescope.”

Artist's rendering of the Giant Magellan Telescope. Photo: Supplied to SMH

Though the idea of being able to see ‘back in time’ sounds very exciting, in accordance with the method that this device shall be doing it – that is what is going on all the time in astronomy. Professor Harvey Butcher of the Research School of Astronomy and Astrophysics explains:

”The very first objects formed about 12.5 billion years ago, and we would like to see them, so we are designing the [Giant Magellan Telescope] that will be able to see objects so far away that the light has taken the whole history of the universe to come to us.”

Playing upon the fantasy of time travel, the article disguises the fact that the telescope will merely be doing the same job that telescopes already do – just better. Every time we look into the stars, we are seeing them as they were when the light left them however long ago it took to travel to us. All this telescope will do is grant us the ability to see further than we have ever been able to before, and therefore look further back. Very impressive? Yes. But not ‘time-travel’.

An article in the overseas Indian Express plays along similar lines.

Scientists in Australia are claiming to reveal the secrets of the early universe through their technologies that are being developed in Canberra.

However, this article correctly refers to the process as a ‘revealing’ of the past, as opposed to the fantasised ‘traveling’ into the past.

An article in Cosmos Magazine words the giant telescope’s powers:

With up to 30 times the resolving power of current telescopes, the Giant Magellan Telescope promises to answer some of astronomy’s most fascinating questions.

It further praises the development as a “technological leap” – which is exactly what it deserves to be hailed as. Here we see the telescope still being fantasised, but correctly so and within the realms of its purpose and capabilities.

Another artist's rendering of the Giant Magellan Telescope. Photo: Supplied to SMH

It is evident here that coverage of the development through Australian newspaper took the route of finding the most captivating headline. Domestic involvement is also made the focus, with Canberra’s contributions centered in the article, with the telescope’s proposed location to be in Chile overlooked.