Thursday, August 4, 2016

Friday Thinking 5 Aug 2016

Hello all – Friday Thinking is a humble curation of my foraging in the digital environment. My purpose is to pick interesting pieces, based on my own curiosity (and the curiosity of the many interesting people I follow), about developments in some key domains (work, organization, social-economy, intelligence, domestication of DNA, energy, etc.)  that suggest we are in the midst of a change in the conditions of change - a phase-transition. That tomorrow will be radically unlike yesterday.

Many thanks to those who enjoy this.
In the 21st Century curiosity will SKILL the cat.
Jobs are dying - but work is just beginning.

“Be careful what you ‘insta-google-tweet-face’”
Woody Harrelson - Triple 9



Australia plans new co-ordinates to fix sat-nav gap

... It took nearly a year of back and forth, but eventually the Copyright Office decided that farmers and car owners could indeed break digital locks and access the code in their vehicles for the purpose of repair.
That was a victory. But it’s not enough. This stuff has implications beyond tractors and cars.

Every day, thousands of products are released onto the market. More and more of them come equipped with embedded software. Inevitably, some of them are going to break and people will need to fix them. Like this guy, who needed to fix a bad microphone on his wife’s speech therapy system. Or these people, who are trying to replace the DVD drives on their Xboxes. Or these owners of glitchy Samsung smart fridges. Under Section 1201, repairs that require access to a product’s programming could be against the law.

How Copyright Law Stifles Your Right to Tinker with Tech

A respected Swiss scientist, Conrad Gessner, might have been the first to raise the alarm about the effects of information overload. In a landmark book, he described how the modern world overwhelmed people with data and that this overabundance was both "confusing and harmful" to the mind. The media now echo his concerns with reports on the unprecedented risks of living in an "always on" digital environment. It's worth noting that Gessner, for his part, never once used e-mail and was completely ignorant about computers. That's not because he was a technophobe but because he died in 1565. His warnings referred to the seemingly unmanageable flood of information unleashed by the printing press.

These concerns stretch back to the birth of literacy itself. In parallel with modern concerns about children's overuse of technology, Socrates famously warned against writing because it would "create forgetfulness in the learners' souls, because they will not use their memories." He also advised that children can't distinguish fantasy from reality, so parents should only allow them to hear wholesome allegories and not "improper" tales, lest their development go astray. The Socratic warning has been repeated many times since: The older generation warns against a new technology and bemoans that society is abandoning the "wholesome" media it grew up with, seemingly unaware that this same technology was considered to be harmful when first introduced.

Gessner's anxieties over psychological strain arose when he set about the task of compiling an index of every available book in the 16th century, eventually published as the Bibliotheca universalis. Similar concerns arose in the 18th century, when newspapers became more common.

The French statesman Malesherbes railed against the fashion for getting news from the printed page, arguing that it socially isolated readers and detracted from the spiritually uplifting group practice of getting news from the pulpit. A hundred years later, as literacy became essential and schools were widely introduced, the curmudgeons turned against education for being unnatural and a risk to mental health. An 1883 article in the weekly medical journal the Sanitarian argued that schools "exhaust the children's brains and nervous systems with complex and multiple studies, and ruin their bodies by protracted imprisonment." Meanwhile, excessive study was considered a leading cause of madness by the medical community.

Don't Touch That Dial!

A history of media technology scares, from the printing press to Facebook.

This is a very long article - and is itself not a truly scientific article - but it should be a Must Read for anyone interested in the future of knowledge access, innovation, and making better science. Anyone who is a knowledge seeker or practicing scientist shouldn’t be too surprised with these problems. The article also examines a range of possible fixes to each of the problems.
"Science, I had come to learn, is as political, competitive, and fierce a career as you can find, full of the temptation to find easy paths." — Paul Kalanithi, neurosurgeon and writer (1977–2015)

The 7 biggest problems facing science, according to 270 scientists

In the past several years, many scientists have become afflicted with a serious case of doubt — doubt in the very institution of science.
As reporters covering medicine, psychology, climate change, and other areas of research, we wanted to understand this epidemic of doubt. So we sent scientists a survey asking this simple question: If you could change one thing about how science works today, what would it be and why?

We heard back from 270 scientists all over the world, including graduate students, senior professors, laboratory heads, and Fields Medalists. They told us that, in a variety of ways, their careers are being hijacked by perverse incentives. The result is bad science.

The scientific process, in its ideal form, is elegant: Ask a question, set up an objective test, and get an answer. Repeat. Science is rarely practiced to that ideal. But Copernicus believed in that ideal. So did the rocket scientists behind the moon landing.

But nowadays, our respondents told us, the process is riddled with conflict. Scientists say they’re forced to prioritize self-preservation over pursuing the best questions and uncovering meaningful truths.
Explore the biggest challenges facing science, and how we can fix them:
Academia has a huge money problem
Too many studies are poorly designed
Replicating results is crucial — and rare
Peer review is broken
Too much science is locked behind paywalls
Science is poorly communicated
Life as a young academic is incredibly stressful
Science is not doomed

What about work? With the acceleration of change it is increasingly difficult for people to adapt - and scaling learning is part of the inevitable trajectory we must all face. To scale learning we need to harness motivation - especially intrinsic motivation - much more effectively. And one way to do this is to enable people to engage in meaningful work.
This is a long but worthwhile article.
….we found that, unlike these other attitudes, meaningfulness tended to be intensely personal and individual; it was often revealed to employees as they reflected on their work and its wider contribution to society in ways that mattered to them as individuals. People tended to speak of their work as meaningful in relation to thoughts or memories of significant family members such as parents or children, bridging the gap between work and the personal realm. We also expected meaningfulness to be a relatively enduring state of mind experienced by individuals toward their work; instead, our interviewees talked of unplanned or unexpected moments during which they found their work deeply meaningful.

...we discovered that if employers want to destroy that sense of meaningfulness, that was far more easily achieved. The feeling of “Why am I bothering to do this?” strikes people the instant a meaningless moment arises, and it strikes people hard. If meaningfulness is a delicate flower that requires careful nurturing, think of someone trampling over that flower in a pair of steel-toed boots. Avoiding the destruction of meaning while nurturing an ecosystem generative of feelings of meaningfulness emerged as the key leadership challenge.

What Makes Work Meaningful — Or Meaningless

New research offers insights into what gives work meaning — as well as into common management mistakes that can leave employees feeling that their work is meaningless.
Meaningful work is something we all want. The psychiatrist Viktor Frankl famously described how the innate human quest for meaning is so strong that, even in the direst circumstances, people seek out their purpose in life. More recently, researchers have shown meaningfulness to be more important to employees than any other aspect of work, including pay and rewards, opportunities for promotion, or working conditions. Meaningful work can be highly motivational, leading to improved performance, commitment, and satisfaction. But, so far, surprisingly little research has explored where and how people find their work meaningful and the role that leaders can play in this process.
The Five Qualities of Meaningful Work
  • Self-Transcendent
  • Poignant
  • Episodic
  • Reflective
  • Personal
Meaninglessness: The Seven Deadly Sins
  • Disconnect people from their values
  • Take your employees for granted
  • Give people pointless work to do
  • Treat people unfairly
  • Override people’s better judgment
  • Disconnect people from supportive relationships
  • Put people at risk of physical or emotional harm

This is a key development - that demonstrates the concerns of water shortage may well be overblown - especially as we enter the age of ubiquitous energy at near zero marginal cost.
Bar-Zeev believes that Israel’s solutions can help its parched neighbors, too — and in the process, bring together old enemies in common cause.The institute’s original mission was to improve life in Israel’s bone-dry Negev Desert, but the lessons look increasingly applicable to the entire Fertile Crescent. “The Middle East is drying up,” says Osnat Gillor, a professor at the Zuckerberg Institute who studies the use of recycled wastewater on crops. “The only country that isn’t suffering acute water stress is Israel.
...I believe water can be a bridge, through joint ventures,” he says. “And one of those ventures is desalination.”
Desalination used to be an expensive energy hog, but the kind of advanced technologies being employed at Sorek have been a game changer. Water produced by desalination costs just a third of what it did in the 1990s. Sorek can produce a thousand liters of drinking water for 58 cents. Israeli households pay about US$30 a month for their water — similar to households in most U.S. cities, and far less than Las Vegas (US$47) or Los Angeles (US$58).

Israel Proves the Desalination Era is Here

One of the driest countries on earth now makes more freshwater than it needs
Bar-Zeev, who recently joined Israel’s Zuckerberg Institute for Water Research after completing his postdoc work at Yale University, is an expert on biofouling, which has always been an Achilles’ heel of desalination and one of the reasons it has been considered a last resort. Desal works by pushing saltwater into membranes containing microscopic pores. The water gets through, while the larger salt molecules are left behind. But microorganisms in seawater quickly colonize the membranes and block the pores, and controlling them requires periodic costly and chemical-intensive cleaning. But Bar-Zeev and colleagues developed a chemical-free system using porous lava stone to capture the microorganisms before they reach the membranes. It’s just one of many breakthroughs in membrane technology that have made desalination much more efficient. Israel now gets 55 percent of its domestic water from desalination, and that has helped to turn one of the world’s driest countries into the unlikeliest of water giants.

Driven by necessity, Israel is learning to squeeze more out of a drop of water than any country on Earth, and much of that learning is happening at the Zuckerberg Institute, where researchers have pioneered new techniques in drip irrigation, water treatment and desalination. They have developed resilient well systems for African villages and biological digesters than can halve the water usage of most homes.

Except Israel. Amazingly, Israel has more water than it needs. The turnaround started in 2007, when low-flow toilets and showerheads were installed nationwide and the national water authority built innovative water treatment systems that recapture 86 percent of the water that goes down the drain and use it for irrigation — vastly more than the second-most-efficient country in the world, Spain, which recycles 19 percent.

Here’s another way to reclaim - reuse our water - domesticating DNA to enable bio-computing.
BioVolt uses strains of Geobacter and another microbe called Shewanella oneidensis to process the sludge. Its proprietary mix of organisms has one key advantage – the bacteria liberate some electrons as they respire, effectively turning the whole set-up into a battery. This has the added benefit of slowing bacterial growth, so that at the end of the process you have electricity and no microbe cake.

Bacteria made to turn sewage into clean water – and electricity

A self-powered waste water treatment plant using microbes has just passed its biggest test, bringing household-level water recycling a step closer
Personal water treatment plants could soon be recycling our waste water and producing energy on the side.

Last month, Boston-based Cambrian Innovation began field tests of what’s known as a microbial fuel cell at the Naval Surface Warfare Center in Maryland. Called BioVolt, in one day it can convert 2250 litres of sewage into enough clean water for at least 15 people. Not only that, it generates the electricity to power itself – plus a bit left over.

This is a big deal, as conventional treatment plants guzzle energy – typically consuming 1.5 kilowatt-hours for every kilogram of pollutants removed. In the US, this amounts to a whopping 3 per cent of the total energy demand. If the plants could be self-powered, recycling our own waste water could become as commonplace as putting a solar panel on a roof.

Existing treatment plants use bacteria to metabolise the organic material in waste water. “There’s lots of food for them, so they reproduce fast,” says Cambrian chief technology officer Justin Buck. At the end of the process, the microbes can make up a third by weight of the leftovers to be disposed of. Before being put in landfill, this “microbe cake” itself needs to be heat-sterilised and chemically treated, which uses a lot of energy.

Bio-computing - bio-hacking as the ‘gardening’ future of domesticated DNA may be stranger than we can imagine.
Billions of dollars change hands in the biomaterials sector each year, replacing skin, cartilage, bone, and whole organs. The industry attracts talented researchers ready to profit from their intellectual property, but it also prices out most of the world. For example, few people can spend $800 per cubic centimeter of human decellularized dermal allograft tissue to reconstruct a badly torn rotator cuff in the shoulder, but at less than 1 cent, the same amount of apple is well within reach.
The tiny capillaries in asparagus stalks happen to be the right size and shape for spinal cord repairs.

Growing Organs on Apples

The future of regenerative medicine may be plants.
In the high-ceilinged basement lab, the ear lies flat, encapsulated in a dish on a sheet-metal cabinet. It’s actually a piece of apple carved to look like an ear, yet it’s not really an apple either; the cellulose has been washed of its apple cells and populated instead with human ones. They are HeLa cells, the infamously ubiquitous cultured offspring of a long-ago cervical cancer. I am looking at an ear made of cervix, held together by apple.

“Biohacking is the new gardening,” says Andrew Pelling, who leads the Pelling Laboratory for Biophysical Manipulation at the University of Ottawa. Pelling eschews the current vogue for genetic and chemical biological manipulation, investigating instead the ways in which cells behave when their physical surroundings change.

The apple ear was created as an artistic statement, referring to a famous case of a human ear that was grafted onto a mouse’s back, and its choice of HeLa cells was intentionally provocative. But the fusion of plant and animal it represents holds promise for regenerative medicine, in which defective body parts may be replaced by engineered alternatives.

Biomaterials engineers, who create stand-ins for our own body tissues, historically focus on animal species, like pigs, with organs similar to ours. Until now, the plant kingdom has been largely neglected, but it offers a vast variety of architectures, many of which can serve the needs of human physiology. It also offers an escape route from expensive, proprietary biomaterials: an open-source approach.

It’s been a long time since Dolly was in the news - this is an interesting article about her siblings.

Dolly the Sheep’s cloned sisters aging gracefully

Technique to create nearly identical copies of animals doesn’t harm health
Clones don’t age prematurely, new research on Dolly the Sheep’s sisters suggests.
Researchers and animal welfare activists have been concerned that cloning, or somatic cell nuclear transfer, could cause health problems in cloned animals. Instead, a study of 13 cloned sheep found no signs of early aging or other health problems, researchers report July 26 in Nature Communications.

“These animals were remarkably healthy and fall within the normal range that we’d expect in animals of this age,” said developmental biologist Kevin Sinclair of the University of Nottingham in Leicestershire, England. Sinclair spoke July 25 during a news conference at the EuroScience Open Forum in Manchester, England.

This is just the beginning of understanding where we as individuals and as nations come from. This is very interesting - especially as we understand how long immigration has been going on. The data and graphs are worth the view. This is also interesting in light of the recent Brexit vote.
‘At a time when the concept of British identity is at the forefront of many people’s minds, it’s interesting to see that when it comes to our ancestry, we’re not as British or Irish as we may think,’ AncestryDNA spokesman Brad Argent said.
‘The UK has been a cultural and ethnic melting pot for not just generations, but centuries, and our DNA data provides a fascinating glimpse into our ancestors, including hints of immigration and emigration.’

It’s more than likely you’re not ‘ethnically British’

A massive study conducted by Ancestry looked at the home DNA test results of two million people around the world.
It found that, despite the pervasive myth among some people of the ‘real’ Brit, the average UK resident is actually mixed ethnicity – 36.9% Anglo Saxon, 21.6% Celtic, and 19.9% Western (continental) European.

The next three most common ethnicities in the average British resident are Scandinavian (9.2%), Spanish and Portuguese (3.05%), and Italian and Greek (1.98%).

Ancestry also broke down the data by country within the UK. So, for example, English people have the highest amount of French and German (20.45%) and Scandinavian (9.39%) ancestry.
Here’s a fascinating 5 min video.

momondo – The DNA Journey

Let’s Open Our World is an invitation to cross boundaries, embrace our differences and open our world. At momondo we believe that everybody should be able to travel the world, to meet other people, and experience other cultures and religions. Travel opens our minds: when we experience something different, we begin to see things differently.

To celebrate diversity in the world momondo presents The DNA Journey: a journey into who we are and how we are all connected as a global family. We asked 67 people from all over the world to take a DNA test, and it turns out they have much more in common with other nationalities than they would ever have thought.

The technology of renewable energy has the promise to provide more than just electricity - here’s one possibility.
"The new solar cell is not photovoltaic—it's photosynthetic," says Amin Salehi-Khojin, assistant professor of mechanical and industrial engineering at UIC and senior author on the study.
"Instead of producing energy in an unsustainable one-way route from fossil fuels to greenhouse gas, we can now reverse the process and recycle atmospheric carbon into fuel using sunlight," he said.

Breakthrough solar cell captures carbon dioxide and sunlight, produces burnable fuel

Researchers at the University of Illinois at Chicago have engineered a potentially game-changing solar cell that cheaply and efficiently converts atmospheric carbon dioxide directly into usable hydrocarbon fuel, using only sunlight for energy.

The finding is reported in the July 29 issue of Science and was funded by the National Science Foundation and the U.S. Department of Energy. A provisional patent application has been filed.

Unlike conventional solar cells, which convert sunlight into electricity that must be stored in heavy batteries, the new device essentially does the work of plants, converting atmospheric carbon dioxide into fuel, solving two crucial problems at once. A solar farm of such "artificial leaves" could remove significant amounts of carbon from the atmosphere and produce energy-dense fuel efficiently.

And here’s some more good news …. And bad news.
"We believe this process is going to operate in response to carbon emissions related to human activity," Penman said. "But if the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum (PETM) is any guide, it will take tens of thousands of years."

New evidence of a long-term planetary thermostat to remove excess CO2

Scientists working in the North Atlantic have found the clearest geologic evidence yet of a planetary thermostat that counteracts the warming cause by massive amounts of greenhouse gas by absorbing CO2 into the rocky sediments of the Earth itself.

The researchers said they analyzed ocean floor sediment off the coast of Newfoundland to confirm a sudden release and subsequent removal of CO2 that occurred 56 million years ago during the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum (PETM). That event, in which thousands of petagrams of carbon were released into the atmosphere and ocean in just a few thousand years, is considered by many researchers to be the closest ancient analogue to today's rise in atmospheric carbon levels.

"It's long been thought that when the planet warms, as it did during the PETM, the rate of rock weathering on land, which absorbs CO2 from the atmosphere, increases. This draws down CO2 and cools the planet back down again," said Yale University geologist Donald E. Penman, a postdoctoral fellow in the lab of Pincelli Hull and first author of a paper reporting the findings in the journal Nature Geoscience.

This is both very cute and provides a very good glimpse at the possibilities of robotic delivery capabilities in the near future. Worth the view.
“It’s like having a personal courier service,” says Ahti Heinla, CEO of Starship Technologies, and one of the co-founders of Skype. The Starship prototype was described in February at Mobile World Congress, in Barcelona.
Heinla is not concerned about theft. “As with the trunk of a car, people can’t see what’s inside the compartment,” he notes, “and half the time it’s empty, because Starship is returning from making a delivery. The incentive is just not there to break in.” What’s more, an alarm goes off if anyone should pick up the robot and try to carry it off. And the robots are connected to the Internet, so Starship Technologies can track their location.

Robots Could Fulfill Online Orders in Minutes

Want lunch from a nearby restaurant or to have a prescription delivered? Starship is on its way
Pedestrians in several small cities and suburban towns could find themselves sharing the sidewalk with Starship, a self-driving vehicle that’s about knee-high. The little robot would be delivering online orders such as groceries or a book. Starship can carry up to 12 kilograms of goods within a 5-kilometer radius. So far, the robotic vehicles have been tested in 40 localities in a dozen countries. They are scheduled to be in operation by the end of the year, with several commercial partners.

Supermarkets, liquor stores, pharmacies, and restaurants are among the businesses expected to take advantage of Starship’s services.  The idea is to eliminate the need for delivery vehicles and their drivers, and by offering fast, reliable service, the businesses could also increase sales.

Orders could be made via Starship’s mobile app, which will have the customer’s name and address. After the order is placed in the robot’s secure compartment, off it goes. Deliveries are guaranteed to arrive in 30 minutes or less, depending on the customer’s location. And, through the Starship app, a customer can track the robot’s progress.

Here’s another vision - possibilities that can fall under the Moore’s Law is Dead - Long Live Moore’s law category - imagine wall coverings as our computers? This is a longish article but provides a worthwhile glimpse of near zero-marginal cost ubiquitous computing and more.

On a roll

Printing with conventional rotary presses will create cheaper electronics
MAKING things with 3D printers is an idea that is being adopted by manufacturers to produce goods ranging from false teeth to jet engines. Conventional printing, though, has not remained idle. Machines that have their origins in the high-speed rotary presses that apply words and images to large reels of paper, like the ones which turn out the physical versions of this newspaper, have started making other things as well.

The extent of this transformation can be seen at a factory in Accrington, a town in one of Britain’s former industrial heartlands, Lancashire. Here, Emerson & Renwick, founded in 1918, has expanded beyond its formative business of making wallpaper-printing equipment. The latest piece of kit to which the finishing touches are being added is part of the firm’s Genesis range. It is about the size of a shipping container and is designed to coat and print electrical devices. Like a conventional printer it does so on long rolls of material, called webs. Then, just as printed pages are cut by guillotines from such webs for binding into newspapers, magazines or books, these printed items are cut out and used in products ranging from solar cells to display screens to batteries. One customer wants to print some of the main components of a new generation of smartphones.

Roll-to-roll printing of this sort is quick and efficient. Some of the fastest web-offset presses, in which an inked image is transferred to another roller and thence to the surface being printed, can churn out more than 20 newspapers a second. Flexographic presses, which use a flexible relief image on a cylinder to print things such as packaging, can belt along at 500 metres a minute. These methods have already been adapted to print basic electronic circuits, by replacing conventional graphic inks with conductive inks that can carry an electric current. Scientists and engineers, however, have loftier ambitions than these. They are developing ways to print not just circuits but also sophisticated electronic devices, such as thin-film transistors, using the mass-production capabilities of roll-to-roll processes.

Here is an amazing advance related to our understanding of how the brain works - this is only the beginning. There is a 2 min video as well.
"We are seeing things that have never been seen before. This is a totally new area of investigation," said Thomas Blanpied, PhD, Associate Professor in the Department of Physiology, and leader of the group that performed the work. "For many years, we've had a list of the many types of molecules that are found at synapses, but that didn't get us very far in understanding how these molecules fit together, or how the process really works structurally. Now by using single-molecule imaging to map where many of the key proteins are, we have finally been able to reveal the core architectural structure of the synapse."

For the first time, researchers see structure that allows brain cells to communicate

...beyond this basic outline, the details of how this crucial aspect of brain function occurs have remained elusive. Now, new research by scientists at the University of Maryland School of Medicine (UM SOM) has for the first time elucidated details about the architecture of this process. The paper was published today in the journal Nature.

Synapses are very complicated molecular machines. They are also tiny: only a few millionths of an inch across. They have to be incredibly small, since we need a lot of them; the brain has around 100 trillion of them, and each is individually and precisely tuned to convey stronger or weaker signals between cells.

To visualize features on this sub-microscopic scale, the researchers turned to an innovative technology known as single-molecule imaging, which can locate and track the movement of individual protein molecules within the confines of a single synapse, even in living cells. Using this approach, the scientists identified an unexpected and precise pattern in the process of neurotransmission. The researchers looked at cultured rat synapses, which in terms of overall structure are very similar to human synapses.

I’m a bit torn about including this article - but it highlights the difference between open-source approaches and the creation of closed platform proprietary approaches - It seems that Microsoft is up to its old monopoly tricks. The interesting thing about these types of robots is the data from their movement and efforts to deliver, immediately help to enrich and update our maps.
"Slowly, over the next five years, they will force-patch Windows 10 to make Steam progressively worse and more broken. They'll never completely break it, but will continue to break it until, in five years, people are so fed up that Steam is buggy that the Windows Store seem like an ideal alternative. That's exactly what they did to their previous competitors in other areas. Now they're doing it to Steam. It's only just starting to become visible. Microsoft might not be competent enough to succeed with their plan but they are certainly trying," Sweeney said in an interview with Edge Magazine (via NeoGAF).

Steam on Windows 10 Will Get 'Progressively Worse': Gears of War Developer

A few months ago, Tim Sweeney, co-founder of Epic Games, the studio behind the Gears of War and Unreal franchises, was in the news for criticising Microsoft's Universal Windows Platform (UWP).

UWP is a programming application for Windows 10 developers that lets them create a single version of software to run across all Windows devices including PCs, smartphones, tablets, and the Xbox One.

"Microsoft has launched new PC Windows features exclusively in UWP, and is effectively telling developers you can use these Windows features only if you submit to the control of our locked-down UWP ecosystem," he wrote in the Guardian at the time. "They're curtailing users' freedom to install full-featured PC software, and subverting the rights of developers and publishers to maintain a direct relationship with their customers."

If Sweeney's allegations are true, it means that PC gaming as we know it, in its current form will cease to exist over time, giving Microsoft a monopoly in terms of digital distribution and commerce much like how Apple's App Store operates. This would mean flexibility and choice - two of the biggest reasons for gamers to flock to the PC as a gaming platform, as well user generated content or mods as they're known would have no place in Microsoft's scheme of things.

This is a great innovation in energy generation - still not quite primetime - but could be used anywhere for smaller scale applications. There is a short video that is worth the view.
“With this, we can go as high as 2 kilometers above the ground. At that altitude, the wind energy is 8 times stronger, and the air streams more steady. So we can get more energy with this system”.


Old flying machines gobble up fuel and pollute the atmosphere. But could we construct an airborne device that would itself produce green energy? At a former military airbase near Lisbon, Portuguese engineers are testing their latest prototype.

This balloon may resemble an airship much more than a wind turbine, but this European research project is meant to produce wind power. Filled with 180 cubic metres of inert gas, this flying cylinder is lighter than air.

Pedro Silva is a mechanical engineer at Omnidea:
“The aim of this aerial platform is to capture winds at high altitudes. It should be able to extract the wind energy, and send it down to the ground station. This structure is filled with helium. When the balloon spins, it generates a huge aerodynamic lift force. As you can see, it’s well pressurised!”

Unlike the usual windmills, this prototype has no tower, so it can be deployed wherever necessary. While wind turbines have to make use of relatively weak wind at ground level, this balloon reaches the much stronger air streams high in the sky.

For fun
Everything changes even continents apparently.

Australia plans new co-ordinates to fix sat-nav gap

Australia is to shift its longitude and latitude to address a gap between local co-ordinates and those from global navigation satellite systems (GNSS).
Local co-ordinates, used to produce maps and measurements, and global ones differ by more than 1m.

The body responsible for the change said it would help the development of self-driving cars, which need accurate location data to navigate.
Australia moves about 7cm north annually because of tectonic movements.
The Geocentric Datum of Australia, the country's local co-ordinate system, was last updated in 1994. Since then, Australia has moved about 1.5 metres north.

So on 1 January 2017, the country's local co-ordinates will also be shifted further north - by 1.8m.
The over-correction means Australia's local co-ordinates and the Earth's global co-ordinates will align in 2020.

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