Tag Archives: news

NASA orbiter showcases the biggest canyon in the solar system — and it’s out of this world

It’s called Valles Marineris, and it would put any canyon on Earth to shame. It runs for 2,500 miles (4,000 km) along the equator of Mars — almost 10 times more than the Grand Canyon, and three times as deep. The awe-inspiring canyon was now showcased by NASA in unprecedented detail. Here’s a peek.

Image credits: NASA/JPL/UArizona.

Mars is host to some serious geology. Although the planet may not be all that active nowadays, whatever geological forces shaped Mars, they did some tremendous work — Mars is also home to Olympus Mons, the largest volcano in the Solar System, at a height of over 21 km, which may be connected to the canyon. Valles Marineris was imaged with the HiRISE (short for High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment) camera that’s aboard the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.

The HiRISE camera itself is pretty big: weighing 64 kilograms (143 pounds) and measuring roughly 0.6 x 1.5 meters (2 by 5 feet), the camera is perfectly equipped for imaging the surface of Mars in unprecedented detail. Its resolution can feature something the size of a desk in a shot that’s 6 km (3.7 miles) wide.

The image above features an area of the canyon called the Tithonium Chasma. If you look at it closely, you’ll see diagonal slashes on the slope — fissures of an unknown origin.

These fissures could be indicative of ancient cycles of freezing and thawing, some researchers believe.

In this top-down view, afternoon sunlight picks out subtle east-west trending ridges in the east-facing slope. Image credits: NASA/JPL/UArizona.

But it’s not clear just how the canyon was produced. According to NASA, Mars is too hot and too dry to have had a river big enough to create this type of canyon. However, it is possible that flowing water could have deepened and widened existing canyons — and we know that Mars likely had massive rivers that flowed for billions of years.

The European Space Agency put forth another theory: that a large portion of the canyon was cracked open billions of years ago, when a group of volcanoes started undergoing massive eruptions. After the original shape of the canyon was produced thusly, water could have come in and done the rest. Researchers from the University of Arizona have also suggested that landslides could have helped widen the canyon. The formation of the canyon is also thought to be connected to the Tharsis Bulge — a vast volcanic plateau in the vicinity of the canyon, home to the three largest volcanoes in the solar system.

A topographic map of the Tharsis region (shown in shades of red and brown) and the Valles Marineris canyon, in its eastern region. Image credits: NASA.

This type of high-resolution images is exactly what can help geologists fine-tune their theories of how the canyon was formed. To a geologist, minute details such as sedimentation patterns and fissure systems can be important clues regarding the evolution of the canyon system, and Mars itself.

Valles Marineris topographic view constructed from MOLA altimetry data. Image credits: NASA.

We create ‘fake news’ when facts don’t match our biases

If you also dislike fake news, you should probably find a mirror and put on a stern look. A new study found that people unconsciously twist information on controversial topics to better fit wide-held beliefs.

Image credits Roland Schwerdhöfer.

In one study, people were shown figures that the number of Mexican immigrants has been declining for a few years now — which is true, but runs contrary to what the general public believes — and tended to remember the exact opposite when asked later on. Furthermore, such denaturations of facts tended to get progressively worse as people passed the (wrong) information along.

Don’t believe everything you think

“People can self-generate their own misinformation. It doesn’t all come from external sources,” said Jason Coronel, lead author of the study and assistant professor of communication at Ohio State University.

“They may not be doing it purposely, but their own biases can lead them astray. And the problem becomes larger when they share their self-generated misinformation with others.”

The team conducted two studies for their research. In the first one, they had 110 participants read short descriptions of four societal issues that could be quantified numerically. General consensus on these issues were established with pre-tests. Data for two of them fit in with the broad societal view on these issues: for example, many people generally expect more Americans to be in support of same-sex marriage than against it, and public opinion polls seem to indicate that this is true.

However, the team also used two topics where the facts don’t match up to the public’s perception. For example, the number of Mexican immigrants to the U.S. fell from 12.8 million to 11.7 between 2007 and 2014, but most people in the U.S. believe the number kept growing.

Image credits Pew Research Center.

After reading the descriptions, the participants were asked to write down the numbers given (they weren’t informed of this step at the beginning of the test). For the first two issues (those consistent with public perception), the participants kept the relationship true, even if they didn’t remember the exact numbers. For example, they wrote a larger number for the percentage of people supporting same-sex marriage than for those that oppose it.

For the other two topics, however, they flipped the relationship around to make the facts align to their “probable biases” (i.e. popular perception on the issue). The team used eye-tracking technology to track participants’ attention when reading the descriptions.

“We had instances where participants got the numbers exactly correct—11.7 and 12.8—but they would flip them around,” Coronel said. “They weren’t guessing—they got the numbers right. But their biases were leading them to misremember the direction they were going.”

“We could tell when participants got to numbers that didn’t fit their expectations. Their eyes went back and forth between the numbers, as if they were asking ‘what’s going on.’ They generally didn’t do that when the numbers confirmed their expectations,” Coronel said.

For the second study, participants were asked to take part in a telephone (the game) process. The first person in a telephone chain would see the accurate statistics about the number of Mexican immigrants living in the United States. They then had to write those numbers down from memory and pass them along to the second person in the chain, and so on. The team reports that the first person tended to flip the numbers, stating that Mexican immigrants increased by 900,000 from 2007 to 2014 (they actually decreased by about 1.1 million). By the end of the chain, the average participant had said the number of Mexican immigrants increased in those 7 years by about 4.6 million.

“These memory errors tended to get bigger and bigger as they were transmitted between people,” said Matthew Sweitzer, a doctoral student in communication at Ohio State and co-author of the study.

Coronel said the study did have limitations. It’s possible that the participants would have better remembered the numbers if the team explained why they didn’t match their expectations. Furthermore, they didn’t measure each participant’s biases going into the tests. Finally, the telephone game study did not capture important features of real-life conversations that may have limited the spread of misinformation. However, it does showcase the mechanisms in our own minds that can spread misinformation.

“We need to realize that internal sources of misinformation can possibly be as significant as or more significant than external sources,” said Shannon Poulsen, also a doctoral student in communication at Ohio State and co-author of the study. “We live with our biases all day, but we only come into contact with false information occasionally.”

The paper “Investigating the generation and spread of numerical misinformation: A combined eye movement monitoring and social transmission approach” has been published in the journal Human Communication Research.


First reliable evidence for ‘social acceleration’ comes from our shorter collective attention spans

Our collective attention span is narrowing across domains such as social media, books, movies, and more.


Measuring the speed of hashtag dynamics: Average trajectories in top 50 Twitter hashtags from 2013 to 2016. In the background a 1% random sample of trajectories is shown in grey.
Image credits Philipp Lorenz-Spreen et al., (2019), N.Comms.

If public discussion strikes you as more fragmented and accelerated than ever before, new research says you’re not wrong. Sociologists, psychologists, and teachers have warned of an emerging crisis stemming from a ‘fear of missing out’, keeping up to date on social media, and breaking news coming at us 24/7 for years now — but very few reliable data has been recorded on the subject of ‘social acceleration’.

However, a new study from the Technische Universität Berlin, Max Planck Institute for Human Development, University College Cork, and the Technical University of Denmark (DTU) has found evidence in support of one dimension of social acceleration: increasing rates of change within collective attention spans.

Give me new, please

“It seems that the allocated attention in our collective minds has a certain size, but that the cultural items competing for that attention have become more densely packed. This would support the claim that it has indeed become more difficult to keep up to date on the news cycle, for example.” says corresponding author Professor Sune Lehmann from DTU Compute.

The team used Twitter data from 2013 to 2016, books going back 100 years on Google Books, movie ticket sales over the last 40 years, and citations of scientific publications from the last 25 years. This dataset was further fleshed-out using data from Google Trends (2010-2018), Reddit (2010-2015), and Wikipedia (2012-2017).

Analysis of this data provided the first empirical body of evidence showing steeper gradients and shorter bursts of collective attention given to each cultural item over time. This is fueled by the ever-increasing production and consumption of content, the team explains, which more rapidly depletes collective attention resources.

The team says this dynamic isn’t only seen in social media. The researchers looked at the top 50 global hashtags on Twitter, finding that peaks become increasingly steep and frequent. In 2013, for example, a hashtag could enjoy its place in the top 50 for an average of 17.5 hours; it gradually declined to just 11.9 hours in 2016. Other domains, both online and offline, saw similar trends over different periods. For instance, the team reports that occurence of certain n-grams —  sequences of words, where word number (n) is between 1 and 5 — and weekly box-office sales of Hollywood movies in the US follow the same pattern as hashtags.

“We assume that whenever a topic is discussed (hashtags on Twitter, comments on Reddit, n-grams in books, citations of papers) or consumed (tickets for movies, queries on Google), it receives a small fraction of the available attention,” the paper reads.

One area seems to be exempt from this dwindling of attention spans, however: scientific content, such as journals or Wikipedia. The team isn’t exactly sure why this is, however, they believe it comes down to these being primarily knowledge communication systems.

“We wanted to understand which mechanisms could drive this behavior. Picturing topics as species that feed on human attention, we designed a mathematical model with three basic ingredients: ‘hotness’, aging and the thirst for something new.” says Dr. Philipp Hövel, lecturer for applied mathematics, University College Cork.

All in all, the team found that “the one parameter in the model that was key in replicating the empirical findings was the input rate” or abundance of information. When more content is produced in less time, it drains collective attention resources faster. This shortened peak of public interest for one topic is then directly followed by the next topic, because of the fierce competition for novelty.

To sum it up, our individual attention span wasn’t the subject of this study. The collective amount of attention isn’t any smaller than it used to be. However, there’s simply much more to pay attention to, and the result is that people are more rapidly made aware of something new happening and lose interest more quickly.

“The world has become increasingly well connected in the past decades. This means that content is increasing in volume, which exhausts our attention and our urge for ‘newness’ causes us to collectively switch between topics more rapidly.” says postdoc Philipp Lorenz-Spreen, Max Planck Institute for Human Development.

“Our data only supports the claim that our collective attention span is narrowing. Therefore, as a next step, it would be interesting to look into how this affects individuals, since the observed developments may have negative implications for an individual’s ability to evaluate the information they consume. Acceleration increases, for example, the pressure on journalists’ ability to keep up with an ever-changing news landscape

That it does, study, that it does.

The team hopes that their findings will help communities design better communication systems, to ensure that information quality doesn’t erode under its own sheer bulk.

The paper “Accelerating dynamics of collective attention” has been published in the journal Nature Communications.

Unusual heat waves in Britain are revealing traces of ancient civilisations

While most people in Britain struggle to deal with the summer heat, aerial archaeologists are loving it: the hot weather is revealing archaeological features which are usually hidden.

These crop marks indicate the location of an ancient settlement. Image credits: Toby Driver/RCAHMW.

It’s not usually this hot in the UK. While no records were really broken, overall temperatures were unusually high, often with serious consequences for ecosystems. But the heat had another unexpected consequence: it is revealing archaeological features.

“I’ve not seen conditions like this since I took over the archaeological flying at the Royal Commission in 1997,” aerial investigator Toby Driver from the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Wales (RCAHMW) told Wales Online.

“So much new archaeology is showing it is incredible.”

Britain is riddled with archaeological features. Continuously inhabited since pre-Roman times, the country can boast a trove of archaeological remains, which are now being brought to light without any digging. The remains of former castles, forts, farms, mansions, and more are becoming visible — some of them dating back to the Iron Age, while others, like WWII air shelters, are much more recent structures.

A prehistoric or Roman farm. Image credits: Toby Driver/RCAHMW.

Many of these were previously known to researchers but some are entirely unknown.

The reason these structures are popping up has a lot to do with water in the soils. The difference is that archaeological soil (soil that contains archaeological remains) often has different physical characteristics than its surrounding areas. For instance, it can be more compact or contain iron particles, which make it a bit harder for plants to survive.

A similar thing can happen if the soil is rocky — due to foundations or walls being buried under it, for example. Under heat stress, plants above these areas are more likely to wither away. Conversely, ancient ditches or moats that later get filled in with fresher soil can make it easier for plants to survive. Either way, archaeological features often cause a contrast i soil properties which can have visible effects on vegetation.

Image credits: Buried ramparts (Toby Driver/RCAHMW).

This kind of event is not exactly rare, but it’s not very common either. If archaeologists want to make the most out of this opportunity, time is of the essence: the window might close soon, and there’s a good chance that the marks will only remain visible for a week or two (depending on the weather conditions).

What will likely happen after these new features have been noted down is a geophysical survey — a non-invasive measurement of the subsurface properties which produce an even clearer evidence of buried archaeological structures. After that, archaeologists may decide to start digging and bring them to light.

NASA to make tantalizing announcement about water worlds later today

NASA is doing the old ‘announcement of an announcement,’ and we’re absolutely falling for it.

NASA is exploring the ocean worlds in our solar system as part of our search for life outside of Earth. Yes, NASA actually shared this awesome image with their press release announcement.

Last time NASA had a major announcement to do, they told us about seven Earth-sized planets in a nearby solar system, so we’re allowed to get a little bit excited. The press release doesn’t say much, but it does mention that it’s all about “ocean worlds in our solar system.” So what are we looking at here?

There are eight potential water worlds in our solar system (not including Earth). Starting from the farthest to the closest, we have:

a. The unlikelies

  • Pluto, a world of unknowns, might have a subsurface ocean. We don’t know, it’s really far away and hard to explore… unlikely to be the center of this announcement.
  • Triton, a moon of Neptune, is also extremely far and not particularly much is known about it.
  • Mimas, a moon of Saturn, almost certainly hosts a subsurface ocean, but its sister moons Titan and Enceladus are much more attractive.
  • Callisto, another moon of Saturn, might host life beneath its icy crust, but the ice is estimated to be approximately 100 km (60 miles) thick — much thicker than Titan and Enceladus, and much harder to explore.

b. The potentials

  • Titan, Saturn’s moon, holds a salty subsurface ocean as well as hydrocarbon surface oceans, which NASA has already announced it wants to explore someday. It’s one of the most likely places in the solar systems to host life (outside of Earth, of course).
  • Enceladus, another moon of Saturn (yes, Saturn has a lot of moons), is perhaps even more interesting because it features tectonic activity and shoots geysers from deep beneath its crust. It too is one of the likely places to host life.
  • Ganymede, Jupiter’s moon, is the largest moon in the solar system, and the only one to have a magnetic field — which makes it much more interesting. It too is thought to harbor a subsurface ocean, and perhaps several layers of water between its surface and its core.

c. The big gun

  • Europa has long been touted as the best place to search for extraterrestrial life. NASA also mentioned Europa and the Cassini mission directly in their statement. In fact, they say that “this will help inform future ocean world exploration — including NASA’s upcoming Europa Clipper mission planned for launch in the 2020s — and the broader search for life beyond Earth.” So my money is on something connected to Europa.

You can watch the announcement live at 2PM ET.

As it usually happens, the panel will also tell us much about the nature of the announcement. This time, the panel will feature:

  • Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator, Science Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington
  • Jim Green, director, Planetary Science Division at NASA Headquarters
  • Mary Voytek, astrobiology senior scientist at NASA Headquarters
  • Linda Spilker, Cassini project scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California
  • Hunter Waite, Cassini Ion and Neutral Mass Spectrometer team lead at the Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) in San Antonio
  • Chris Glein, Cassini INMS team associate at SwRI
  • William Sparks, astronomer with the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore.

With such a large and varied panel, I’d dare say it’s big enough to cover most aspects of a full-scale exploration mission, so that’s perhaps what we’ll be seeing. Can we dream for a hands-on mission to Europa, or some other frozen moon with a subsurface ocean? Is this something bigger from NASA’s search for life strategy? We’ll have to stay tuned to find out but whatever it is, water worlds are more appealing than ever.

If you want to get involved in the upcoming press conference, you can ask questions during the briefing using #AskNASA.

We’re trusting a lot of fake news because we’re abysmal at weeding it out, study finds

We have more information at our fingertips than previous generations absorbed in a lifetime — but we’re doing a very poor job of filtering actual news from the shadier info released upon social media. Even students, the most technically capable and internet-literate people out there, are largely unable to make this distinction,  a new study found.

Image credits Oberholster Venita / Pixabay.

You’ve probably ran into a few bogus pieces of news out on your Facebook adventures at one point or another. And you may be doing a good job at dodging it for the most part. You also probably believe that everyone else can draw on the same level of news-savviness as you. You’d be wrong.

A new study led by Sam Wineburg from Stanford University found that up to a frightening 80% of surveyed US middle school students can’t tell the difference between fake news and actual news stories. An even higher percentage had no qualms to take information from anonymous Imgur posts as reliable facts at face value. Even worse, we believe that we’re doing a good job of weeding out the bad content from the rest just because we can get to it.

“Many people assume that because young people are fluent in social media they are equally perceptive about what they find there,” said lead researcher Sam Wineburg from Stanford University.

“Our work shows the opposite to be true.”

Fake news can take many shapes. Sponsored or advertising content, information from dubious sources, even straight-up fabrications that go viral all qualify. For example, there was the story that one FBI agent who was directly involved in the Hillary emails investigation was found dead in his apartment. Or that Pope Francis is all for Trump being president. Both stories had less much truth in them than there’s bagel in the bagel’s hole.

Traditionally, this job of weeding out fake news was done by editors or journalists themselves through the obscure ancient practice of “fact-checking.” Since those times, social media has largely taken over the role of dedicated news agencies, and anyone can post whatever they want. To their credit, companies such as Facebook or Google are working to de-monetize or actively ban this kind of content following the electoral news disaster. But the sheer percentage found gullible by the study points to a deeper issue in how suppliers and consumers in today’s media world interact. And with 62% of US adults getting the majority of their news from social media, it’s very important we understand just how much of a problem it is. The Stanford researchers themselves admit to being “shocked” by the results.

“In every case and at every level, we were taken aback by students’ lack of preparation,” they write.

The survey totaled 7,804 students from middle school to college levels in 12 US states. The researchers gave each participant a range of activities to perform based on their educational levels. One task presented to high school students had them rate the trustworthiness of an Imgur photo showing deformed daisies. The headline read “Fukushima Nuclear Flowers: Not much more to say, this is what happens when flowers get nuclear birth defects.” And we’ve talked about this picture before.

“[…] people started to freak out all over the internet that these plants suffered mutations due to the devastating nuclear incident from 2011 in Fukushima, Japan. According to the photographer @san_kaido, the radiation level near the daisies was measured at 0.5 μSv/h at 1m above the ground, which in fact is not much higher than the normal values,” Alexandra wrote.

“In other words, no reason to freak out.”

Everything at face value, please!

Only 20% of students thought the photo (posted anonymously) was a little dubious. But double that, 40% of students, considered the photo as “strong evidence” that the region around Fukushima is hazardous.

“We asked students, ‘Does this photograph provide proof that the kind of nuclear disaster caused these aberrations in nature?’ And we found that over 80 percent of the high school students that we gave this to had an extremely difficult time making that determination,” Wineburg told NPR.

“They didn’t ask where it came from. They didn’t verify it. They simply accepted the picture as fact.”

Another task had middle-school students sift through the Slate homepage and decide whether each piece of content was news or an ad. They were pretty good at pointing out traditional ads, such as banners, but more than 80% of the 203 students though that a native finance ad — labeled as “sponsored content” — was a piece of actual news.

Participants also had difficulty identifying credible sources from shadier ones and most even ignored cues such as the authenticated tick on verified Facebook and Twitter accounts. A task saw 30 percent of the students arguing that a fake Fox News account was more credible than the verified one because it used better graphics. And even college students had a hard time identifying the political views of candidates based on Google searches.

Before algorithms are set in place to take this news out of our feeds, the researchers say we need to focus on better educating ourselves on the issue.

“What we see is a rash of fake news going on that people pass on without thinking,” Wineburg told NPR. “And we really can’t blame young people because we’ve never taught them to do otherwise.”

“The kinds of duties that used to be the responsibility of editors, of librarians now fall on the shoulders of anyone who uses a screen to become informed about the world,” he added.

“And so the response is not to take away these rights from ordinary citizens but to teach them how to thoughtfully engage in information seeking and evaluating in a cacophonous democracy.”

There’s also evidence that people can start remembering fake facts as real — an effect which could extend to fake news, as well.

The report “Evaluating Information: The Cornerstone of Civic Online Reasoning” is still awaiting publication and is yet to pass peer-review, so as always take it with a grain of salt. You can read it in full here.

MIT’s online courses can now lead to a degree

“Anyone who wants to be here now has a shot to be here,” MIT President L. Rafael Reif said. “They have a chance to prove in advance that they can do the work.”

Image via Wikipedia.

By now, you should know that MIT posted many of their courses and materials for free, on the internet. If you didn’t, well… now you do – you can access their open courseware here. But this story isn’t about this, it’s about taking things to the next level. Because now, with these course, you can actually get a degree.

The good

“We produce 40 students a year, and they say that’s a drop in the bucket; we need thousands,” said Yossi Sheffi, director of the MIT Center for Transportation and Logistics.

In a pilot project announced Wednesday, students will be able to take a semester of free online courses in one of MIT’s graduate programs and then, after paying a “relatively modest” free of $1500 you can get a micro-masters degree – if you pass the exam, that is.

You basically pay $150 for each of the five online classes, plus up to $800 to take the exam, but hey, you get a degree from MIT, right?

The bad

Well, you do get a degree from them, but it’s not a masters degree. It is a credential granted by MITx for outstanding performance in graduate-level online coursework. MIT will definitely consider it and many learners will be able to then move on to an actual degree at MIT. It makes a lot of sense for MIT to want to attract outstanding students for conventional courses. If you’re good enough, you basically get to avoid the usual admission system.

“That admission system works well for people who went to schools we know very well,” Reif said. “But for people from outside that familiar circle, it can be hard to break in.”

It’s also relatively cheap, but it’s not really cheap – for most of the world at least. $1500 is still a respectable sum, one that many students will definitely have a problem coming up with.

“We will give students the chance to prove they can achieve excellence in a master’s program before they have to apply for admission. This will level the playing field: Students from lesser-known universities globally will be able to prove their mettle as prospective MIT residential students,” the website reads.

… and the ugly

Unfortunately, the only micro-master available through this pilot is a one-year Supply Chain Management (SCM). The purpose of this is not to make money, but to attract students. If it goes well, then it will definitely expand to other areas, but it will probably take a couple of years.

“Right now the main focus is quality, and hopefully the finances will work out later,” Reif said. “But this is not something in which we expect to make money. We want to break even.”

For more information, check out the MIT FAQ section.

Dutch Windmill Might Revolutionize Wind Energy Generation

The Dutch Windwheel is a concept for a sustainable landmark that will not only generate wind energy silently, but also capture rainwater, recycle tap water, produce biogas – and most importantly, house 72 apartments. It will also have some rotating cabins providing a brilliant view of the Dutch city of Rotterdam.

Design and sustainability are the key issues developers have in mind, and innovation is the key to that. It will host 72 apartments, 160 hotel rooms, commercial outlets and a restaurant, for which it will generate a lot of sustainable. How do they do it? The key here is a bladeless wind turbine with no moving parts that produces electricity using charged water droplets.

The technology, called EWICON (Electrostatic Wind Energy Converter) creates energy through the displacement of charged particles by the wind in the opposite direction of an electrical field. Each tube features several electrodes and nozzles which release positively-charge water into the air, through a process that’s been dubbed “electrospraying”. The technology was developed by Delft University of Technology researchers Johan Smit and Dhiradi Djairam and from what I could find, this will be the first major application of the technology. Here’s a video which explains how EWICON works:

“Moreover, the Dutch Windwheel is designed for disassembly and re-use and built with materials from the Rotterdam region, the harbour and the surrounding steel industry. With the Dutch Windwheel the Netherlands is an icon with global appeal richer. It tells the story of the Netherlands and generates a new story for the Netherlands; it is both a sustainable icon and icon for sustainability”

The main advantages are that it can come in any shape and size, it is silent and has very little wear and tear (due to no rotating parts). All in all, it’s highly suitable for urban environments. However, I feel that there are some other “costs”, like the pumping and cleaning of water. I think it’s extremely intelligent of the designers to mix the energy-generation with the living apartments, because that actually reduces some of the costs (regarding  the pumping and cleaning).

It should also be taken into consideration that the building will act as a landmark, attracting over a million visitors every year (according to the developer’s expectations). The outer ring will also function as a “London Eye”, with 40 rotating cabins to provide visitors with impressive views of Rotterdam.

“The Dutch Windwheel will be a showcase and accelerator for innovation, renewable energy and the circular and inclusive economy. It is the dynamic showcase for Dutch Clean Technology and provides a continuous platform to demonstrate technical and technological innovations”, the Windwheel website reads.

The facility is also equipped with solar PVs, and a climactic facade to make the best use of natural resources. The building’s water usage is also carefully managed, with rainwater captured atop the structure, and tap water fed into the wetlands that surround the Windwheel. The residents’ waste will also be recycled and turned into biogas.

The developers of the design, a consortium made up of Rotterdam-based companies BLOC, DoepelStrijkers, Meysters and NBTC Holland Marketing, intend the structure to be a “dynamic showcase for Dutch Clean Technology [that] provides a continuous platform to demonstrate technical and technological innovations,” a new take on the traditional Dutch windmills.

I wish I could find some figures regarding energy generation and recycling… but since the construction is set, I think it’s quite significant. This is definitely a project worth following in the future – we’ll keep you posted on any further developments.

Apple obsession

There are Weirder Things to Apple Than You Think

Apple obsessionApple’s products have received much praise and acclaim; and there are living testaments to these feats. But aside from the conventional stories that discuss how the company’s products have changed and improved lives, there’s a quirkier side to this Cupertino, CA-based corporation started by Steve Jobs. Take a look at these interesting stories and find out what kind of impact this powerful brand have had on people.

Teen sells kidney to buy Apple products

Reports from Xinhua News Agency cite that a Chinese teenager named Wang Shangkun has sold his kidney for $3,500 to buy an iPad and an iPhone with the money in April 2011. Wang’s mother became suspicious after her son returned home with the costly new gadgets, and the 17-year-old boy immediately confessed when asked about the matter. Xinhua further reported that the teen is now suffering from renal insufficiency and that the five people involved in the harvesting of the organ are now facing charges of illegal organ trading. Wang reportedly made contact with these people through internet chat rooms; the dealer allegedly walked away with $35,000 and Wang received the 10% compensation.

iPhone glitch ruins couple’s chances at making a baby

On January 1 and 2 of 2011, tons of people overslept due to an iPhone glitch that made alarms stop functioning properly. It was especially disastrous for a couple who missed a fertility treatment deadline due to the error with the alarm. For those unaware, fertility treatments require different drugs to be injected for several weeks at prescribed days and times; missing an injection can curtail or complicate a pregnancy. Each treatment costs thousands of dollars, and for the couple involved, this single glitch put everything they worked on into waste. A lot of people suggested that they should have set multiple alarms, downloaded a third-party alarm app or have someone send a message on their voicemail number (i.e RingCentral) exactly on the time they should’ve woken up so they’ll receive a push notification; but as they say, hindsight is 20/20.

Danish erotica site awards iPhone for smallest private part

For a country as small and as less populous as Denmark, size really matters. AFP says Morten Fabricius, owner of a Danish website called Singlesex.dk, held a competition inviting participants to send in photos of their private parts to determine the man with the smallest organ. The rules involved having a measuring tape next to the “member” in the photo. Fabricius said he hopes the competition would enable people to poke fun on the sensitive subject of measuring one’s manhood. An iPhone is up for grabs for the contest winner, while the second and third placers will each win an iPad 3.

Chinese dude makes own iPhone 5

A Chinese dude posted one of his projects on popular site Sina Weibo. It features him crafting an iPhone 5 step-by-step using a piece of steel. The poster even joked that he did the handcrafted phone because he can’t afford a real iPhone 5 and at the same time never had the courage to sell his kidney. He created the steel grey look of the iPhone using “chemical water” and got it smoothened by using a polishing machine. He drew the Apple logo and other inscriptions using a pencil while he printed a copy of the menu interface to replicate the screen. If this is an example of what great lengths the Chinese would go to just to create knockoffs, then I’m throwing my hands up.

Oprah promotes Surface via iPad

In an attempt to draw more customers to the new Microsoft Surface, Oprah gives a shout out to the product on Twitter using the hashtag, “#FavoriteThings.” However, the said tweet revealed that she (or her social media intern) was using an iPad – an interesting yet foolish mistake on her part. Social media has gone haywire after the boo-boo, bringing in various queries like “Who makes tech purchase decisions based on Oprah’s preferences?” or “When is a dedicated Twitter app coming out on the Windows Store (so that Oprah would stop tweeting from her iPad)?” Nice work, Oprah (or her social media team)!

Twitter fails at delivering and spreading hard news

Twitter prides itself in connecting the world and sharing everybody’s thoughts from every corner of the world, especially when it comes to news. But is this really true, or is this just a branding and marketing stunt ? According to a study conducted by the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism, Twitter accounts for less than one percent of traffic at most major news sites.

Out of the 21 sites involved in the study, LA Times is the biggest benefficiary, with a whopping 3.5 percent of its referrals coming from Twitter. The NY Times is second, with 1.21 percent, NY Post is 3rd with 1.2 percent, and the Huffington Post gets an honorable mention for 1.16.

So all the talk about sharing news may be a little (or more) overblown; let’s be fair, no one can say that it doesn’t help spread the word and it doesn’t make people research certain topics, but the thing is, if you do share news and people see it, until they click the source link it remains nothing more than a rumour; and if this is the case, then Twitter is nothing more than a rumour mill.

However, Facebook is becoming more and more important in sharing news; the biggest news sites which benefit from it report more than double the amount of trafic received from Twitter, but that shouldn’t surprise you, if you consider the 600 million users compared to Twitters’s 175 million. So for pure news, where can you go ? The answer is the same old classic: Google. Google and Google news remain by far the biggest traffic generators for major news sites, according to the study.

“On average the search engine was responsible for 30 percent of traffic,” the study says. “It was the lead referring site for 17 of these major news sites and the second-ranked referring site for the other four.”

The lesson that you should learn here is that if you want news – go to Google. If you want to share news, it would be better to go on Facebook. If you want to be… uh, winning – Twitter is the place for you.

Abandoned dog saves 12 lives

Animals are great; if you’re not convinced, perhaps the story of Pearl, a black lab abandoned at an animal shelter will change your mind. Pearl was adopted by the National Disaster Search Dog Foundation, where after training she was certified as a search dog.

In July this year, she was deployed to Haiti for two weeks, spending each day searching for earthquake victims. She dug, scratched and clawed her way through cement, rubble and dirt to find victims who were still alive, but trapped, and she is responsible for the saving of 12 people who would have otherwise remained trapped and unknown to rescuers.

For her work, she was rightfully awarded the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, Dog of the Year Award for 2010. The ASPCA cat of the year award went to Henry, a former stray cat who was adopted with major leg damage that led to the amputation. He was adopted by Cathy Conheim in California, who then wrote children’s books in an attempt to raise awareness for tolerance and understanding. These books have been distributed to more than 45.000 people, including Hurricane Katrina survivors and war veterans.

The ASPCA Tommy P. Monahan Kid of the Year award went to Olivia Bouler who is creating original watercolor drawings of birds for everyblody who donates to the Audobon Society for protecting birds and wildlife in their natural habitat. The award is named after Tommy P. Monahan who tragically died in a fire while attempting to save his pet.

Another award went to a sanctuary for abused, neglected or abandoned horses in Woodbine, Maryland. Days End Farm Horse Rescue, Inc., who are doing an absolutely amazing jobs, being able to accomodate up to 70 horses at a time. Kathleen Schwartz-Howe founded the sanctuary.

If you want to see the full list of the ASPCA award winners, check their press release.

Friday Round-up

Because of insufficient time and man power (if you want to help, just look at the banner in the right), we can’t tackle all the topics; but there’s so much going on in the world right now, something just had to be done. So I’m going to start this weekly round-up, in which I’ll just give you some more headlines from the current week and my 2 cents about it, with link to more details. This still doesn’t mean I’ll go over EVERYTHING, just what stands out to me, so please let me know if there’s anything I missed and we’ll damn sure publish it. Also, help me think of a better name for it :)

If you think Hiroshima was big, you should definitely take a look at this

Tech titans want to be more involved in ‘saving the planet’. I have no idea how this will work out, but it sounds really good.

The guys at environmental graffiti posted some pics of volcanoes + lightning, and it equals love. Rough love…

Scientists continue the search for habitable planets, although the mass isn’t quite right.

Ah yes, this was the week the true reason why biologists laugh at creationists was exposed.

We had Earth Day this week.

Stephen Hawking had some big health problems, but he’s getting better. We’re all keeping our fingers crossed.

A fertility expert shouted to the world: ‘I can clone a human being!!

Oh, and of course, men are no more promiscous than women. Makes sense.