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People Would Rather Shock Themselves Than Do Nothing

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addictIn an age where multitasking is the way of life, and there are more internet-connected devices than people—which many people use even in the bathroom—people have forgotten how to do nothing. Our technology saves us from that sad end—as long as we’ve got smartphones, we’re safe from nothingness. Turns out, that nothingness is now so unappealing that a recent study conducted by scientists at the University of Virginia and Harvard shows that participants would rather shock themselves than be alone with their thoughts.

It sounds like an episode of the Simpsons, doesn’t it? An adaptation of the Milgram Experiment for the digital age. It sounds like it can’t possibly true, although of course it is. Science breaks down the study. Participants were asked to turn over their cellphones, other devices, books, notepads, or anything else they’d use as entertainment while not in the company of others. They then had to sit in a room for a little while—and I’m talking really a little while, only up to 15 minutes. They were simply supposed to sit, undistracted, and engage their thoughts. They could fantasize, or plan what to have for dinner, or think about how crazy science studies are—any and all thoughts were fair game, as long as they were the only means of “entertainment.” Needless to say, people weren’t keen on this endeavor.

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Who’s Up For A Good Old Fashioned Thunderstorm In The Living Room?

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cloudI love a good thunderstorm. Of course, camping during a thunderstorm is generally not super awesome (next time I think I’ll try this treehouse tent), but there’s nothing quite like sitting in a cabin or on a covered porch listening to the rain and thunder, and appreciating being dry. Now, there’s a totally new and unique way to experience a thunderstorm — by triggering it, or at least the lightning and thunder part of it, from inside your own home via a hanging cloud.

cloud

Visual artist and designer Richard Clarkson combines art and technology in furniture and lighting work he does in studios based in New York City and New Zealand. One of his most recent and most impressive pieces is Cloud, a light shaped like a storm cloud that simulates the light and sound of a thunderstorm. Cloud has a light and sound system, but unlike a real storm, it’s interactive and controllable with a wireless remote. Its motion sensors respond to the presence of a human and respond with thunder and lightning, which run via an Arduino. And if the thunder gets a bit old, you can use a Bluetooth device to stream music to the cloud. I guess Garth Brooks is an obvious choice, but I think a storm cloud spewing electronica would be better.

clouds

The cloud can change its color, too, as well as its brightness, or even just double as a nightlight — or rather, “a new discourse for what a nightlight could be.” Clarkson has a few different varieties of clouds in his store. The smart cloud retails for $3,360, but if you only want it to serve as a lamp it’s $960. Satellite clouds can be added on for $240. The cloud itself is comprised of hypoallergenic fibers sewn into a sponge casing, which provides enough structure to contain the speakers and other components.

Clarkson has fully immersed himself in the realm of smart art, and believes that such projects, as well as the components and technology that makes such projects possible, are important both to the future of electronics, as well as the future of interactive art. To that end, he’s made the code for Cloud available for free, so other artists and tech geeks can adapt and improve upon it however they want — like to create hurricanes in the bathroom.

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DNA Analysis Casts Even More Doubt On The Existence Of Bigfoot

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bigfootNever say die, Bigfoot believers! People will try to use this crazy thing called science to disprove the existence of the mythical beast, but what do they know? I’m just telling you about this latest bit of information so you can come up with a plausible explanation that supports the continued belief in Bigfoot, as well as the Loch Ness Monster, and UFOs. Here’s what you’re contending with now: DNA analysis reveals yeti hair samples to have come from dogs, horses, bears, and other common animals.

An international team of scientists collaborated to form the Oxford-Lausanne Collateral Hominid Project for the purposes of gathering and analyzing all of the samples of what could potentially be Bigfoot hair. The samples were collected over the past 50 years by hikers, hunters, and other folks who might have sighted the big B. The scientists focused on 36 samples of an initial group of 57, screening out some that weren’t hair and being sure to include ones with origins that matched other sightings. They extracted viable DNA from 30 of the 36, and sequenced a short segment, which allowed them to identify genus, but not differentiate between similar species (i.e., dogs and coyotes).

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Gravity Lawsuit Targeted For Dismissal By Warner Bros.

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gravityIt’s a general rule of thumb that anytime anyone makes a lot of money doing something, there’s someone else out there scheming on how to get some of that money. James Cameron’s Avatar alone has been hit with multiple lawsuits over the past few years claiming he stole this or that notion for his science fiction epic, but they typically wind up dismissed. Alfonso Cuarón’s Gravity is in the middle of a high-profile lawsuit right now, with acclaimed author Tess Gerritsen claiming the lucrative Warner Bros. release ripped off portions of her 1999 novel of the same name. As you would expect, Warner Bros. is calling bullshit on the whole thing and trying to get the entire case dismissed, and has filed the motion to do so.

Some background info: Gerritsen’s novel was acquired by New Line subsidiary Katja (both of which are now owned by Warner Bros.) around the time it was published, and the author received a $1 million payday, along with $500,000 production bonus and a planned 2.5% of the project’s net earnings, had it ever gotten made. She was also brought in to write some additional script-specific material. Her current stance is that portions of her work were lifted and used in last year’s Gravity, such as the whole “female doctor dealing with space accidents, forced to survive on her own.” Granted, there are other aspects of the novel’s plot that have nothing to do with the movie, and Warner’s lawyers point out the film is free from “aliens, government conspiracy theories, gory medical scenes or tales of lovers reconciling.” But a spade with a different handle is still a spade.

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Robots Use Actual Human Muscles To Move

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biobotI guess DARPA’s not the only agency working on human robots, or robot humans. Usually I think of cyborgs as humans with a machine part or two, rather than the other way around, but that may soon be changing. Researchers at the University of Illinois recently demonstrated the first robot that moves via stimulation of actual living muscle — the aptly named “biobot.”

biobot

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Gravity’s Filming Cost More Than India’s Mars Mission

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gravityHere’s a newsflash: Going to space is expensive. And it should be — second-hand or knock-off rockets seem like a pretty bad idea, no? Still, the cost of space exploration and various missions, from satellite launch contracts to manned missions to Mars, generate constant debate, especially as NASA struggles to amass a budget that will make it possible to push the space frontier. So it blows my mind — and not in a good way — to read that filming Gravity cost more than launching India’s probe to Mars.

First off, let me just say that I loved Gravity. I haven’t been that riveted in a theater for a long time — for 90+ minutes I didn’t think about my job, what I was going to do for the rest of the night, the weather. Gravity is nothing short of completely engrossing, and stunningly beautiful to boot. I also think it’s an important film — despite its factual inconsistencies, it does make audiences aware of some of the bigger truths about space, such as its dangers and its rewards, and the perspective one gets from looking at the Earth from beyond it. The price tag for the film is something around $100 million, which isn’t even all that surprising in the age of Hollywood blockbusters. But when you think about what that $100 million could have been spent on, especially when it comes to research, development, and space exploration, it’s pretty sobering.