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March 20, 2009

RoboCarp

Long story short: British scientists and engineers have built a shoal of robot fish like that above to be released off the Spanish port of Gijon to monitor water quality.

Here's Fiona Harvey's March 19, 2009 Financial Times story with the details.

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Robot fish to hunt down pollution

Something fishy is going on in northern Spain. The waters of the port of Gijon are shortly to be invaded – by robots.

Scientists are building a shoal of robot fish to be let loose in the port to check on the quality of the water. Modelled on carp and costing about £20,000 ($29,000) each to make, the fish are to be lifelike in appearance and swimming behaviour so they will not alarm their fellow marine inhabitants.

The robots, the first of their kind, are equipped with tiny chemical sensors capable of detecting pollutants in the water. These let the fish home in on the sources of hazardous pollutants, such as leaks from vessels or undersea pipelines.

The fish were developed by the University of Essex in Britain and UK-based engineering consultancy BMT Group. They are the result of a three-year research project funded by the European Commission.

“Using shoals of robotic fish for pollution detection in harbours might appear like something straight out of science fiction [but] there are very practical reasons for choosing this form,” said Rory Doyle, senior research scientist at BMT Group. “In using robotic fish we are building on a design created by hundreds of millions of years’ worth of evolution which is incredibly energy efficient.

“This efficiency is something we need to ensure that our pollution detection sensors can navigate in the underwater environment for hours on end.”

Each robotic fish is about 1.5 metres long and can swim at a maximum speed of about one metre per second. Whenever they find traces of pollutants, the fish can relay the information to the shore.

The robots are autonomous, rather than remote-controlled, and run on batteries that are recharged every eight hours or so when the fish return automatically to a charging point.

The final touches are still being made to the design of the fish, which are scheduled to be released into the port’s waters next year.

Professor Huosheng Hu of Essex university said: “[The fish] will be able to detect changes in environmental conditions in the port and pick up on early signs of pollution spreading, for example by locating a small leak in a vessel. The hope is that this will prevent potentially hazardous discharges at sea, as the leak would undoubtedly get worse over time if not located.”

March 20, 2009 at 04:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Razorblade Mirror

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Made of glass, 70cm x 38cm (28" x 15").

£100.

[via Milena]

March 20, 2009 at 03:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

PolarClock

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It's No.1 on Wired magazine's current Playlist which makes it plenty good enough for me.

"At last — a screensaver that trumps the Ken Burns-effect slide show of that hike to Waimea Falls! Flash and Flex developer Gabriel Bucknall's after-hours project gives us a new reason to sit idly at our computers, literally watching time pass. PolarClock, available for Mac and Windows, represents month, date, day, hour, minute and second in concentric arcs that lengthen as time goes by. Download the screensaver at  blog.pixelbreaker.com/polarclock and the iPhone app from iTunes."

March 20, 2009 at 02:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Soap Chair

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"Soap

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exaggerated

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to the

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scale of a chair."

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Created by

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Nancy Wu.

March 20, 2009 at 01:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Blu-ray — The good, the bad and the just plain ugly

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First off, the good:

1. The picture, especially on a professionally calibrated 1080p set, is drop dead sensational. Much better than anything you've seen before even on HDTV and also superior to what you'll see in a movie theater — even if for a change the picture's in perfect focus.

2. The sound, especially on a calibrated 5.1 (or better) system, is blow-you-away awesomely crisp, even cranked up to roomshaking levels.

3. Best of all, no black bars above, below or to the sides of the picture. Watching most regular DVDs on a flatscreen TV, you invariably get black bars above and below the properly displayed picture since the aspect ratio of the film on disc is never 16:9 like your screen. Every single Blu-ray movie I've watched at home has filled my screen, employing every single pixel. Very nice.

Now the bad:

1. They've made Blu-ray players almost impossible to use without driving yourself mad. Just turning it on and getting to where it will open up so you can put a disc in takes forever as the machine starts going through its idiotic paces, opening with a "Hello" greeting on the Blu-ray player screen, followed by message after message before the darn disc holder finally emerges.

2. Then it's time for your TV to start displaying screen after screen of stuff in one corner, including the resolution, frames per second, type of disc (Blu-ray or regular DVD), etc. This takes about 15 seconds but it seems to go on forever since you're already annoyed that it took this long to get to this point (see 1. above).

3. Then the real fun begins. Either some encomium for Blu-ray begins showing or a series of trailers for other movies. The frustrating thing is that there're no on-screen icons to click on to stop the visual spam. Instead, you're forced to confront the real horror, namely, the unbelievably complicated and incomprehensible remote.

Herein begins the really ugly:

1. My (Panasonic) remote (top) has separate buttons for "Sub Menu," "Top Menu," "Pop-Up Menu" and "Display." Next to the "Top Menu" button, on the remote itself, it says "Direct Navigator." When I try these during the previews, usually a box appears on the TV screen that says something like "Button disabled during current function."

2. After trying them all, eventually I get a screen with a number of options, one of which is "Main Menu." When I scroll down to it and press, then — and only then — does the preview stop and icons appear among which is the Holy Grail: "Play." Click on that and the movie starts.

3. Oh, yeah, I almost forgot: The fancy-shmancy remote's buttons aren't automatically illuminated in the dark nor does it have a "Light" option to make the buttons visible — you have to turn on a light to do anything with the remote.

4. And don't get me started on the impossibility of fast forwarding or rewinding. The buttons that might do this have double arrowheads on them; above the buttons are the words "Slow/Search." When you press these buttons a menu pops up offering a range of five Forward or Reverse speeds, requiring you to move a cursor along a bar. I stopped bothering with these functions after spending about 10 minutes one night trying to replay a scene and completely losing the thread of the story.

Bottom line: There's plenty of opportunity for someone (Apple?) to come in and fix this mess.

March 20, 2009 at 12:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

What is it?

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Answer here this time tomorrow.

March 20, 2009 at 11:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Does Bahloul Younes make the best shawarma in Baghdad?

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Younes, pictured above manning his cart in Baghdad's Adhamiyah neighborhood, is said by his customers to make the best there is to be had in the city.

He meekly told Anthony Shadid, in a story that appeared in Wednesday's Washington Post, "I cannot praise myself, but some people say so."

Here's the article.

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Ordinary Moments in a Once-Unpredictable Place

Two Hours at a Baghdad Shawarma Stand

The cart teetered out at 4 p.m.

Unique, its owner, Bahloul Younes, called it. Admiringly, he pointed to its steel ornaments, wrought in curves like the letter S. He looked fondly at the rickety wheels that carry it each day to the neighborhood of Adhamiyah, once one of Baghdad's most dangerous.

"A proper place would be too expensive," Younes admitted.

Soon after, he hung three lights on it, rigging electricity from a spider's web of necessity and ingenuity that hovered over the street. They flickered on, tentative and hesitant, like so much in Baghdad these days. So black it bore a sheen, charcoal was poured into the cart, and Younes's helper, an Egyptian named Hisham Gilal, lighted a wad of paper.

The fire caught, turning black to red, then a gray fit for Younes's skewers of shawarma, considered the best in Baghdad by his customers. "I cannot praise myself," Younes said meekly, "but some people say so."

Younes's shawarma stand straddles a street in this ardently Sunni Muslim neighborhood between the venerated Abu Hanifa mosque and Antar Square, named for an Arab warrior and poet of antiquity who waxed eloquent about his love for a woman named Abla. For six years or so, the street and its neighborhood lacked the poet's grace.

"The disaster of the occupation," read leaflets handed out at Abu Hanifa in the months after the United States invaded and occupied Iraq. They echoed the graffiti. "Long live Saddam," declared a slogan, scrawled in black. "Jihad is our way," proclaimed another. Soon, what Iraqis call the taifiya, the sectarian war, began, and after nightfall, Antar Square looked like it might an hour before dawn: dark, abandoned and menacing.

The street beyond it was called Sharia al-Mawt, or the Street of Death.

"If someone went inside, they wouldn't come out again," said Mohammed Abu Mais, doing brisk business in a square now filled with a plethora of baby strollers and tricycles, some emblazoned with Spider-Man logos and others shaped like baby elephants.

Baghdad is still a dangerous city. On this day, bombs blew up two cars. Two mines detonated along the curb. A rocket hit an oil refinery on the capital's outskirts, and another crashed into the Green Zone. Insurgent weapons caches were uncovered.

But on a spring day, as the sunlight softens and the coals of Younes's cart warm the street, there are times that feel like any evening in a hardscrabble stretch of Beirut or Cairo. There are moments that are ordinary.

An Iraqi soldier in camouflage held a radio to his ear, singing a pop song, "There's no use." Near Abu Hanifa, vendors sold key chains with miniature dolls that looked like American soldiers, complete with night-vision equipment. In Antar Square, the real-life version of those soldiers sit once a week at a fish restaurant, near an oven burning the wood of mulberry, pomegranate, apricot and apple trees.

"Criminals and mercenaries," Abu Mais called the soldiers.

But such sentiments are no longer monochromatic, even in Adhamiyah.

"Let's speak the truth," said Maan al-Wizan, a furniture vendor. "What would you prefer? To have an oppressive father or to be an orphan and have no father at all?"

As eager as he is cheerful, Younes returned a few months before, pulling his 12-year-old cart back to the street in Adhamiyah, which he had left in 2003.

"It felt right," he said simply.

At 5:20 p.m., his brother helped bring out the shawarma, a giant skewer laden with 65 pounds of chicken, another with 45 pounds of beef, each flavored with lemon, vinegar, pepper, spices, tahini and yogurt. But, Younes nodded knowingly, it's the fat that counts. There is plenty of it, enough to drip over the coals and scent the smoke.

Younes's business has more than doubled since he started. His customers range from "doctors to the illiterate." They hail from all over the capital -- Dora, Zayouna and New Baghdad. But more than half, he estimated, arrive from Kadhimiyah, a Shiite Muslim neighborhood across the Tigris River and over a bridge that the war had long closed.

"They all come for the same food," said Younes, a Sunni. "Mine."

As the sun set, the chicken and beef turned brown, Younes's Egyptian helper turning the skewer. The call to prayer rose from Abu Hanifa, barely audible over the whir of the generator, an occasional siren and ubiquitous horns. Boys rode bicycles, one flying an Iraqi flag. A youth lurched down the road, revving his motorcycle. An old man with a cane wandered down a dilapidated street that looked like the casualty of war it was.

For so long here, so little was predictable. No two days seemed the same. The feeling of uncertainty and the dread of the unknown meant there was never a sense of time.

Younes knows what he will do next. He plans to clean the trash from the street corner, near a faded slogan that reads, "Raise your head, you're a Sunni!" He plans to open a restaurant across the street with a Shiite partner from Kadhimiyah. He plans to come again, tomorrow, at the same time, like he has every evening for four months.

By 6 p.m., his fire was blazing.

Ten minutes later, electricity returned and the generator shut down. A song by Dalli, an Iraqi pop singer, blared from a car. Young men walked by in tight jeans and tighter shirts. Clanging cymbals, two vendors hawked a licorice-flavored drink known as sous, walking through smoke wafting from Younes's cart toward the street lights.

A battered orange-and-white taxi pulled up with his first customer.

"I know his shawarma by its taste," Abdel-Rahman Abdel-Wahab declared.

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The photo up top, which accompanied the Post story, is by Andrea Bruce Woodall.

March 20, 2009 at 10:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Edge Brownie Pan — Episode 2: Cheaper, faster and simpler

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When the original Brownie Edge Pan (below)

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appeared three years ago it swept the nation of crunchy edge lovers with its guarantee of a crispy edge piece for everyone.

Now comes a lower tech iteration.

Sure, it seems obvious now but where was it back in the day?

"Durable aluminum with non-stick coating and rounded corners helps prevent overbaking and makes cleanup easier too.

$19.98.

March 20, 2009 at 09:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (5) | TrackBack

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