JAKE HARVEY IS MY HERO this month. Jake is a football-obsessed 14-year-old who suffers from eczema so severe that he often has to sleep with his legs raised at a 90-degree angle to his mattress, the more convenient to scratch them during the night.
Our January cover story asked, Are we giving our robots too much power? Readers answered: It certainly sounds like it. Meanwhile, Headlines opened with news of a frog-killing fungus, and a biologist responded with a warning about another disturbing animal plague.
A cyborg captures photos to highlight how surveillance has permeated our society
RENA MARIE PACELLA
Last December, New York University art professor and technophile Wafaa Bilal had a magnetic camera mount installed in his head in a painful two-hour procedure. The device is held in place by three titanium posts and a subdermal plate placed one fifth of an inch beneath his skin.
Scientists revive ancient bacteria trapped in crystals
Inside this salt crystal, which weighs just two tenths of a gram, is an ancient ecosystem: 30,000-year-old bacteria and the genetic material of long-dead algae and fungi. Such evidence is crucial to understanding how organisms evolve, explains J. Koji Lum of Binghamton University.
TECH THAT PUTS THE FUTURE IN THE PALM OF YOUR HAND
RECON INSTRUMENTS DIRECT-TO-EYE COMMUNICATION
A matchbook-size computer creates your own in-goggle display
Never look down at your GPS again; instead, glance at a dashboard inside your goggles. Recon Instruments’s second-gen micro computer snaps into goggles and shows vitals— directions, text messages, nearby friends—on an internal display.
The iTwin dongle shares docs between any two PCs connected to the Web. With one half plugged into your home computer, its drive becomes a secure network folder. Plugged in elsewhere, the other half can read the folder’s contents via an authentication key the pair sets up when coupled, so you can edit files from anywhere.
The Nissan Juke is less a family hauler than it is a quick, efficient, gizmo-rich city car
The crossover SUV has reached a crossroads. Models like the Toyota RAV4 and Honda CR-V have grown so large and homogenized that they’ve become the new family SUV. Bite-sized boxes such as the Scions, Kia Souls and Nissan Cubes have plenty of attitude, but they’ve never been sporty enough to be taken seriously.
A club that tweaks shots three ways makes missing the fairway inexcusable
IN RELATED NEWS: STRAIGHT SHOOTER
THREE STEPS TO A CUSTOM CLUB
For decades, pro golfers have customized their clubs to help them straighten shots. TaylorMade’s new R11 driver lets amateurs tweak their club in seconds and more accurately adjust shots than with previous models. The company’s last driver had a moveable shaft to increase loft; each half-degree shift, though, also rotated the face in two-degree chunks, which could send drives adrift.
The next wave of 3-D specs look more like everyday glasses
Gunnar Midnight Onyx
Gunnar's lenses have an antireflective coating used in military binoculars to prevent flashes from revealing soldiers to enemies. They lose fewer rays to reflection, letting in 10 percent more light than most lenses for brighter, more vivid images. Gunnar Midnight Onyx $150; gunnars.com
Polaroid Premium 3-D glasses
To create its wraparound lenses, which help viewers perceive shapes and distances more clearly, Polaroid uses heat and pressure to shape a lens (embedded with 3-D-enabling polarized film) into a curve. Polaroid Premium 3-D glasses $30; polaroideyewear.com
Keeping you from looking like a dweeb on a movie date, Marchon's new EX3D line also works in the 2-D world. The circularly polarized lenses won't distort linear outdoor light and are 100 percent UVA/B protective, so they can double as sunglasses. Marchon EX3D $30-$35; marchon.com
Vizio Theater 3-D Glasses
A leader in “active-shutter” 3-D, in which lenses flicker, Vizio (along with other TV makers) is trying something new: passive circularly polarized specs. Built to the same standard used in most 3-D cinemas, they work at the movies or at home. Vizio Theater 3-D Glasses From $30; vizio.com
Today’s high-def 3-D looks amazing, but those movie-theater glasses are dull, dirty and wasteful. Every year, tens of millions of theater-provided pairs are used. Now, makers of 3-D glasses are letting you swap those frames for reusable polarized specs that look and feel more like sunglasses.
A 2.4-ounce device keeps your eyes on the road by handicapping your cellphone
Mobile phones that vie for drivers’ attention accounted for 25,000 injuries and deaths in 2009. And new drivers are common culprits—at least 60 percent of teenagers admit to fiddling with their phones when their hands should be at 10 and 2.
Speed through security checks in the blink of an eye. Last month, Spain’s Madrid-Barajas Airport became the first to use eye scans to identify passengers at boarding and security. At check-in, an eye scanner, invented by Hoyos Corporation, captures 2,000 data points in each iris and saves them to a central server.
Finally, a network powerful enough for our enormous media appetite
HOW YOU’LL BENEFIT
A Mobile Home Network
The Most Portable TV
Novatel Wireless 4G LTE MiFi 4510
Share the speed of LTE. Novatel Wireless’s palm-sized hotspot sends Wi-Fi to five devices 10 times as quickly as 3G, so your companions’ laptops can download a movie to watch on the flight home in four minutes instead of 40. Novatel Wireless 4G LTE MiFi 4510 Price not set; novatelwireless.com
Motorola Droid Bionic 4G
Having the bandwidth to trade live feeds allows real multiplayer gaming on mobile devices for the first time. Powered by Nvidia’s dual-core processor, the Bionic’s graphics-processing unit handles high-def rendering without hiccups. Motorola Droid Bionic 4G Price not set; motorola.com
Samsung 4G-Enabled Galaxy Tab
LTE’s heaping bandwidth lets SlingPlayer Mobile mirror your TV, sans Wi-Fi. With the app loaded, Samsung’s 4G tablet will be able to pull live TV from a SlingBox at home, so you can watch your local news and sports from across the country. Samsung 4G-Enabled Galaxy Tab Price not set; samsung.com
Until now, bandwidth-hungry mobile apps often needed Wi-Fi to back up their connection. Now Verizon’s Long-Term Evolution (LTE) is setting devices free. Verizon is broadcasting its new 4G network at 700 megahertz, its own segment of the wireless spectrum.
A climate scientist digs up data by mining the news
In 1896, Swedish scientist Svante Arrhenius theorized that adding carbon dioxide to the atmosphere by burning coal would create a "greenhouse effect" and raise the planet’s average temperature. Most scientists scoffed. How could the puny actions of humans ever seriously alter the natural climate cycles?
A revolutionary robot-sub drifts while tracking microscopic organisms
HOW THE SUBS STUDY MARINE LIFE
Phytoplankton are essential for almost all life on Earth; the minuscule photosynthetic marine organisms anchor the oceans’ food chain while also producing about half the oxygen on the planet. We know very little about them, though, in part because studying phytoplankton blooms as they drift across the sea is difficult.
Marijuana’s fibrous cousin hemp has a long history with automakers. In 1941 Henry Ford unveiled a car body made primarily out of organic material, hemp included. Seventy years later, the world's first production-ready biocomposite electric car will finally hit the streets.
How do you deal with a house packed full of explosives? Burn it to the ground
Last November, Mario Garcia was walking toward the backyard of the Escondido, California, home where he worked as a gardener when he stepped on what looked like white powder and heard a boom. The substance, it turned out, was hexamethylene triperoxide diamine (HMTD), a compound that reacts violently when exposed to heat and friction.
A new interface for bionic limbs uses light to bridge the communication gap between mind and machine
The Six Million Dollar Man’s robotic arm worked as seamlessly as his natural one. But in the real world, robotic limbs have limited motions and the user can’t feel what he or she is “touching.” A new approach using optical fibers implanted around nerves could transmit more data and let prosthetics speak to the brain.
Earth won't always be fit for occupation. We know that in two billion years or so, an expanding sun will boil away our oceans, leaving our home in the universe uninhabitable—unless, that is, we haven't already been wiped out by the Andromeda galaxy, which is on a multibillion-year collision course with our Milky Way.
Even a healthy human body is teeming with bacteria. Studying the subtle interplay between man and microbe could help doctors understand diseases that affect millions. It could also one day help eczema patients from ever itching again
THE SKIN IS AN ECOSYSTEM.
WHEN JAKE HARVEY VISITS the clinical center at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland, he is usually dirty, itchy and wheezing—not the happiest state of affairs for a 14-year-old boy. But his doctors require that for 24 hours prior to each visit, he refrain from bathing, or using the inhaler that soothes his asthma, or applying the ointment that softens his eczema.
The human genome was just the start. Now scientists are reconstructing four more biosystems from the outside in
IN 2003, SCIENTISTS with the Human Genome Project announced the completion of their 13-year effort to identify the three billion base pairs that form the chemical rungs in DNA's signature twisted-ladder shape. This first attempt to create a comprehensive map of a human biological system was more than just a breakthrough for geneticists, though.
On the Labrador Sea, the scientific crew of the research vessel Knorr hunts for underwater storms, sinks a two-mile mooring—and gathers clues to the planet’s fate
AS WE PASS THROUGH the Strait of Belle Isle and emerge from the shelter of Newfoundland's lee, the first mate pipes instructions from the bridge: Lash down or stow all belongings. Rough weather ahead. Two decks below in the main lab, Amy Bower loads onto her extra-large monitor what appear to be abstract paintings, giant red and orange blobs in a field of yellow, as her computer reads text aloud in a robotic voice.
A nitrous-injected dining table is the world's speediest piece of furniture
ALSO FOUND IN PERRY WATKINS’S GARAGE...
Why would a man construct a dining-room table that can cruise down a racetrack at 130 miles an hour and shoot flames into the air? Sheer competitiveness. A record for the world's fastest furniture existed—92 mph on a sofa—and Perry Watkins wanted to beat it.
5 WAYS To TAKE PRO-LOOKING PHOTOS WITH A SMARTPHONE
1 EXERCISE CONTROL
2 GO FOR EFFECT
3 FIX YOUR PICS
4 COLOR IT OUT
5 MAKE YOUR MARK
Command your cam. Snap Photo Pro ($1; Android Marketplace) prevents blurry pictures by letting you press the screen to focus and by waiting to take a shot until the phone’s accelerometer detects that your hand is steady. PRO Zoom Camera 5X for Android ($1) offers control over flash settings and 5x digital zoom.
What everyone should have in their rec room: a slot machine that pays out in mixed drinks
TWO MORE REC-ROOM PROJECTS
Gambling just to win silver coins can get boring. Instead, play for a perfectly crafted cocktail. The BarBot was built by a team from the hacker collective NYC Resistor as part of a hacking competition co-sponsored by the videocontent company VIMBY and the carmaker Scion.
You can't see them, but other gases can collect in places where we expect there to be air
PREPARING THE SEA OF GAS
On July 2,2007, Scott Showalter climbed into a manure pit on his Virginia farm to clear a blocked pipe. Moments later, he fainted and died. An employee of his went in to save him but was quickly overcome as well. One by one, his two daughters and wife followed, only to die trying to save the people who went before them.
According to some estimates, smartphones—packed with personal data, always connected, and largely unsecured—are now being infected with viruses at twice the rate of PCs. Malware disguised as a legitimate app can steal account information and direct your phone to call or text expensive premium-rate numbers or to send spam texts to your contacts.
What it is: A cover for your Kindle or other e-reader made from an old hardbound book.
WEBSITE OF THE MONTH
1. Cut out the pages from a large book, and glue a strip of felt to the inside of its spine. 2. Cut two pieces of cardboard to the size of the book’s covers. Snip off the corners of the cardboard, and glue pieces of felt over the cardboard pieces. 3. Trace the outline of your e-reader on of one of the cardboard pieces.
Q IF I FELL THROUGH THE EARTH, WHAT WOULD HAPPEN IN THE CENTER?
A Just getting to the center of the Earth and surviving is impossible. The Earth's core is about 9,000°F—as hot as the sun's surface—and would instantly roast anyone who found himself there. Then there's the pressure, which can reach roughly three million times that on the Earth’s surface and would crush you.
At the height of the post-Sputnik space race, the scramble to put people in space was so frenzied that even the makers of the Goodyear blimp were inspired to design a space station. So in 1962, Goodyear Aircraft revealed a prototype of the craft you see here: an inflatable orbital live-work facility, complete with inflatable furniture, designed to be packed into a rocket and launched 200 to 500 miles into orbit.