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Ready, Set, Launch! Meet The Fish Cannon

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SalmonHere’s another one of those awesome devices that merges nature and technology, and the result is something like an amusement park ride for fish.

Remember the pneumatic tubes that companies used to use for mail systems back in the day, or that we used to put our bank deposit slips in back when we actually drove to the bank for transactions? These are the same tubes that might someday enable a Futurama-style transport system or even the ambitious Hyperloop. But I think launching salmon from these tubes might be their best use yet.

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Robot Uses Cloud Shapes To Play Piano

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cloud pianoToday’s goal: get my mind and yours off Robin Williams. A daunting task, but if anything’s up to it, it’s science and tech. But no aliens, not today. But how about a piano-playing robot? We’ve featured musically inclined robots before, like these headbangers, these Brooklyn hipsters, and this awesome Lego machine. But this robot’s approach to tunes is a bit different — it uses the shapes of clouds to dictate what it plays. That even sounds like something a real musician would do.

Artist David Bowen specializes in kinetic, robotic, and interactive sculpture. He’s made all kinds of awesome stuff, such as a revolver that follows the movement of houseflies and fires at them (it beats using chopsticks), and a device that uses leaves to collect and draw wind. “Cloud Piano” is a more elaborate version of an idea he debuted in a project called “Cloud Tweets” that converts video of clouds to the pressing of keys on a keyboard, up to 140 characters. Bowen is very interested in the union of nature and technology, and often invents devices and machines that either mimic or receive input from natural processes.

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Watch Footage Of NASA’s Flying Saucer, The Low-Density Supersonic Decelerator

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A few months ago we reported on the NASA’s new Low-Density Supersonic Decelerator (LDSD), which looks like a flying saucer and is designed to land large payloads on places such as Mars. The first flight test of the LDSD happened in June at the Kauai Pacific Missile Range Facility, and NASA has just released footage of that flight as recorded by cameras on the craft.

Many aspects of this test flight were unusual. Because the parachute on the LDSD is so large, NASA can’t conduct any testing in a wind tunnel. So this time, they launched the craft with a gigantic, 34-million-cubic-foot balloon, which pulled the it to approximately 120,000 feet. The device’s thrusters then started it spinning, which, while somewhat nausea-inducing, actually improves stability. Then a rocket took over, catapulting the craft to over 180,000 feet in just over a minute. When everything was ready, the decelerator deployed (which looks totally awesome in the high-resolution, high-definition footage).

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Amazon VS. Hachette, Now With More Poorly Quoted George Orwell

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Amazon-vs.-HachetteAmazon’s spot in the news over the last few months has nothing to do with their potentially forthcoming drone delivery service, their robotic warehouse workers, or even their TV adaptation of one of my favorite Philip K. Dick books, The Man in the High Castle. It has to do with their months-long war against the publishing company Hachette, which Amazon claims is charging too much for e-books. When giant web retailer asked for concessions (while the exact terms are unknown, there’s been speculation that Amazon asked for a raise from 30 to 50% of the revenue per e-book), Hachette was unwilling to budge, so they have been holding Hachette-published books hostage, delaying their shipping times by weeks, slashing print inventory, and cutting off pre-orders, costing both authors and the company quite a bit of money (and a lot of goodwill).

Amazon argues that publishers walk away with too much cash for e-books, given that they don’t really have a production cost and given that their roles as publicists are waning in the era of social media. They claim they want writers to get higher royalties—for print books, most authors get 15%, and for e-books they average 25%. Amazon pays people who publish with them 35%, and writers who self-publish and use them for selling and promotion get even more. At the same time, they think that e-books should simply cost less. Hachette wants to charge more than Amazon’s standard $9.99 for e-books.

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Your Cat Can Help You Hack That Wi-Fi

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cat hackOf all the recent stories about hacking and the invasion of people’s privacy by the good ol’ government, I’m a bit turned off by news of stolen passwords these days. But this is the best hacking story I’ve ever read, so I’m making an exception. Who doesn’t want to know how to hack Wi-Fi with a cat?

When we were little, my brother tied a transistor radio to our cat’s tail. The idea was that the cat would walk around from room to room, filling the house with music. A lovely idea, in theory. In reality, the cat freaked out and took off running down the stairs, smashing the radio to bits. But a cat collar containing a chip with firmware, Wi-Fi card, GPS, and battery could function much the same way. A cat wears this stuff and moseys around the neighborhood, mapping residents’ Wi-Fi networks and gathering information about any routers that either lack encryption entirely, or would be easy to infiltrate.

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Curiosity Celebrates Its Two-Year Anniversary On Mars

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going to mt sharpHow time flies. Can you believe the Curiosity Rover has been on Mars for two years already? Sure, Opportunity’s got more than eight years on the younger probe, but age isn’t everything. Curiosity has provided us with information about water on Mars as well as a dramatic landing. And now it’s getting ready to climb Mount Sharp, its main destination.

Mount Sharp is no joke—at 3.4 miles high, it makes Mount Rainier look small. The peak is so massive that the bedrock at its base extends for miles, forming an area called Pahrump Hills. What a great name. Curiosity is less than a mile away from this area, which will give the probe, as well as scientists, the first glimpse at whatever kind of geological structures form the mountain. Curiosity is approximately 2 miles from the mountain itself.