Generating Electricity from the Ocean

Posted on September 18, 2007  Comments (3)

British Wave Hub Gets The Go Ahead

The innovative (and controversial) UK “wave hub“, in essence a giant plug on the ocean floor, has received approval. The UK government has will install this plug to allow wave power companies to feed energy back into the grid. The £28 million ($56.5 million) project has cleared the last major regulatory hurdle and will begin construction soon.

Wave and tidal power could provide 3 percent of Britain’s electricity by 2020, according to the government-backed Carbon Trust.
The installation is expected to generate up to 20 megawatts of energy, enough to power 7,500 homes and eliminate 300,000 tonnes of CO2 over 25 years. Four companies have already been selected to build projects at the hub.

Related: Ocean Power PlantWave EnergyWorld’s First Commercial-Scale Subsea TurbineWind Power

The Engineer That Made Your Cat a Photographer

Posted on September 14, 2007  Comments (21)

photo by Binky the cat or another catThis article is the result of the first Curious Cat engineer interview. My favorite post detailed the great engineering project Jürgen Perthold undertook to engineer a camera that his cat could wear and take photos. So I decided to interview him.

The Engineer That Made Your Cat a Photographer by John Hunter:

This time I thought about our cat who is the whole day out, returning sometimes hungry sometimes not, sometimes with traces of fights, sometimes he stay also the night out. When he finally returns, I wonder where he was and what he did during his day. This brought me to the idea to equip the cat with a camera. The plan was to put a little camera around his neck which takes every few minutes a picture. After he is returning, the camera would show his day.

The Amazing CatCam is not only a great product but a wonderful engineering story. See our past post for some background on how an engineer allowed you to help your cat become a photographer. On the development of the CatCam Jürgen Perthold says, “More or less it was just a joke, born with a crazy idea.” Such a great sentiment and with wonderful results.

What path led him to the desire and ability to pursue the crazy idea and become the Curious Cat engineer of the year? He was born in Aalen, Germany. He started playing with electronics as he was 13. At 15 he added computer programming and with a friend they programmed games, applications and hardware control over the years. He studied Optoelectronics at the University of Aalen, Germany extending his knowledge further.

For the last few years he has worked for Bosch, an international manufacturing company, in the automotive hardware section. Last summer, he transfered from Germany to Anderson, South Carolina as a resident engineer for transmission control unit in a production plant for automobile parts. On a side note, the United States is still by far the largest manufacturer in the world.
photo by Binkey the cat, from under a car
The demand for the cameras is still higher than his capability to produce the cameras. He has raised the price, to limit the demand. When I first saw the prices I couldn’t believe how inexpensive it was. And, in my opinion, they are still a incredible deal. Order your CatCam now: it is a great gadget for yourself or it makes a great unique, gift. Most orders have been from the UK, Germany and the USA.

Most people don’t have technical background so they buy the full unit. But he reports that some brave souls order a kit because of price or availability although they have not done anything similar before. What a great way to challenge yourself and, if you succeed, end up with a wonderful creation when you finish.

He is in discussion with several different groups to ramp up production. The main problem is that producing the device requires electronics, optics, software, mechanics and logistics expertise. So, for the time being, he continues to modify the cameras by hand because no investments are necessary and the production can be scaled according to the demand. The required soldering, electronics and system knowledge makes it a challenge to outsource. So, for now, CatCam production is adding to the USA manufacturing output total. He is also planning to produce more products.
photo of Jacquie the cat wearing a CatCam
Jürgen believes that getting the cat camera working was not that challenging. You can take a look at his explanation of how he did so to decide for yourself. He does admit that challenges do arise if you want to produce cameras for others. To do that you must create a product that is foolproof, reliable, and easy to use and manufacture.

“I was surprised how famous one can get with ‘boring’ technical engineering stuff. I like this not only for me but for all other engineers out there who daily work hard on challenges which others don’t even understand. We as engineers make the world moving but usually we are not recognized.” Everyone enjoys the products of the labors of engineers (such as cell phones, MP3 players, cars, planes, bridges, internet connections) but few see the required knowledge, work and the people that bring those products into being.
photo by Jacquie the cat of a vine
Jürgen “hopes that I made ‘engineering’ a bit more visible to people who did not think about it before, for example, female cat owners who never had a solder iron in the hand and bought plain SOIC chips because they wanted the cat camera…”

I think he has done a great job illustrating the engineering behind the CatCam and making engineering fun. And in so doing hopefully is making more people aware of the engineers that make so many wonderful modern gadgets. Go buy a CatCam now (and if you are adventurous buy the parts and create your own – you will learn a lot about what makes all your modern gadgets work). And then send in the pictures your cat takes so everyone can see the wonderful things engineers make possible.

The photos here show the results of several new cat photographers (Binky the cat [first 2 photos] and Jacquie the cat [last 2]). Only a small percentage of CatCam owners have shared there pictures so far.

Over the next few years he would like to learn to sail, visit Yellowstone national park, walk the Camino de Santiago again, move on to other international assignment (maybe far east) and continuing raising his two children.

The Curious Cat Science and Engineering Blog is written by John Hunter and tracks a wide variety of developments, happenings, interesting under-publicized facts, and cool aspects of science and engineering.

Google Lunar X Prize

Posted on September 14, 2007  Comments (2)

The Google Lunar Xprize

seeks to create a global private race to the Moon that excites and involves people around the world and, accelerates space exploration for the benefit of all humanity. The use of space has dramatically enhanced the quality of life and may ultimately lead to solutions to some of the most pressing environmental problems that we face on earth – energy independence and climate change.

we hope to usher in an era of commercial exploration and development, in which small companies, groups of individuals and universities can build, launch and explore the Moon and beyond.

Sergey Brin: “So now, we are here today embarking upon this great adventure of having a nongovernmental, commercial organization return to the Moon and explore. And I’m very excited that Google can play a part in it.”

Related: $10 Million for Science SolutionsLunar Landers X-PrizeDARPA Grand Challenge

Thousands of Spiders Build Huge Web

Posted on September 13, 2007  Comments (1)

Thousands of spiders worked together to build huge web (site broke link so I removed it) by Anna Tinsley:

But Tuesday afternoon, thousands of Texas spiders were back at it, working to rebuild an immense spider web at Lake Tawakoni State Park that at one time stretched about 200 yards, covering bushes and trees to create a creepy canopy.

Researchers say they now believe thousands of spiders from different species worked together to make one huge web — much different from the traditional individual webs that would normally be woven. Together, they’ve built and rebuilt a web that has caught countless bugs and the attention of people nationwide. “These spiders seem to be working together to build it back,” said Zach Lewis, an office clerk at the park. “It’s really something to see.

“It looked just like a spider would have jumped from tree to tree with a can of silly string.” Researchers say it likely took 1 1/2 to two months to weave such a large web.

He found spiders from 12 families, with the most prevalent being from the Tetragnathidae family. Identified spiders were funnel web weavers, sac spiders, orb weavers, mesh web weavers, wolf spiders, pirate spiders, jumping spiders and long-jawed orb weavers, according to the researchers’ report.

“With the amount of rain that has occurred this year and the huge food supply available, it just created the right condition for all of this,” he said. “It’s possible we’ll see it again. But this happened to be a year where the conditions were right.”

Related: 60 Acre (24 hectare) Spider WebSpider ThreadGiant Wasp Nests

Herr wins $250,000 Heinz Award

Posted on September 13, 2007  Comments (2)

Herr wins $250,000 Heinz Award

Professor Hugh Herr, a double amputee whose work has led to the development of new prosthetic innovations that merge body and machine, has won the 13th annual Heinz Award for Technology, the Economy and Employment. The award is among the largest individual achievement prizes in the world. Herr, of the Media Lab, was recognized for “breakthrough innovations in prosthetics and orthotics.” He is among six distinguished Americans to receive one of the $250,000 awards presented in five categories by the Heinz Family Foundation.

At age 17, Herr lost both legs below the knee in a mountain climbing accident, but returned to the classroom after a few years to earn an undergraduate degree in physics, a master’s degree in mechanical engineering from MIT and a Ph.D. in biophysics from Harvard. Today, his work at the Media Lab focuses on human amplification and rehabilitation systems – technologies that interact with human limbs, mimicking biological performance and amplifying function. Herr predicts that in 5 to 10 years, leg amputees will be able to run faster and move with a lower metabolic rate than people with biological limbs.

Related: The Heinz Award for Technology, Economy and Employment2007 Draper Prize to Berners-LeeMillennium Technology Prize to Dr. Shuji Nakamura

Google 3D Campus Competition

Posted on September 12, 2007  Comments (0)

The seven winning teams
Purdue University – Depts of Computer Graphics Technology and Education, Concordia University
Loyola Campus – Dept of Civil Engineering
Stanford University – Dept of Architectural Design
Indiana University Purdue University Fort Wayne – Depts of Engineering and Computer Science
Franklin W. Olin College of Engineering – Dept of Engineering
Dartmouth College – Depts of Computer Science and Digital Art
University of Minnesota – Dept of Architecture
of Google’s Build Your Campus in 3D Competition will get to visit Google’s Mountain View Headquarters. It is nice to see Google continue to provide opportunities for students.

Stanford team puts campus on map; wins Google Earth 3-D modeling contest – view the Standford buildings:

In addition to having their entries displayed on Google Earth, the winners were invited to the Google headquarters for four days, Aug. 6-9. They attended workshops, met with professional 3-D modelers, got a grand tour of the compound and enjoyed the famous free lunch.

We’d initially planned to do nearly all the buildings on campus,” Lehrburger said. “But we underestimated the time it was going to take. I think we thought the learning curve was going to be a little bit better than it actually was, so we had to readjust our plans.”

Though they were proud of their final outcome and hard work—Lehrburger and Bergen worked late into the night as they got closer to deadline—neither of the team leaders was overly optimistic. They had modeled 94 out of the 300 or so buildings on campus and worried their model of Stanford would be considered incomplete.

Google contest motivates students to ‘rebuild’ WMU (Western Michigan University designs):

A group of seven WMU students answered an invitation by the Internet giant Google to participate in its Build Your Campus in 3-D Competition. The teams’ submission placed among the top 30 out of some 350 entries from across the United States and Canada and will be incorporated on Google Earth, the company’s popular geographic information feature.

Related: posts on Google management practicesOlin Engineering Education ExperimentGoogle Summer of Code 2007Page: Marketing ScienceGoogle Technology Talks

Programming Grads Meet a Skills Gap in the Real World

Posted on September 10, 2007  Comments (5)

Programming Grads Meet a Skills Gap in the Real World

Ari Zilka, chief technology officer at Terracotta, in San Francisco, said he knows very well about the skills gap, as he worked his way through college in the high-tech business while attending the University of California, Berkeley. “I found that UC Berkeley had an excellent curriculum but not only was my schooling lagging behind work, it became very hard to even go to school because work had me learning the concepts and their applicability and nuances that teachers didn’t even seem to know.”

Zilka noted that many of the new hires he’s seen during his career continue to echo the same sentiments as he did. Some of the things the school didn’t teach Zilka and many who are now entering the work force include issues around communication, development skills, and business and product design. On the communication front, Zilka said, “Presentation skills are critical, and selling and influencing peers is critical.”

“When graduates join organizations [after college] they are often shocked to realize they are dealing with limited resources, deadlines, fuzz requirements, requirements that change weekly, applications that scale, the use of frameworks and libraries, existing code—that may be bad code with bad design decisions, issues of interaction within and among teams, and having to develop code that is secure,” Scherlis said.

via: Sean Stickle. Related: High School Students Interest in Computer ProgramingA Career in Computer ProgrammingHiring Software Developerssoftware programming posts on our management blog

Scientists Discover How Our Eyes Focus When We Read

Posted on September 10, 2007  Comments (0)

Images of how eyes focus when reading

Hidden method of reading revealed

Previously, researchers thought that, when reading, both eyes focused on the same letter of a word. But a UK team has found this is not always the case. In fact, almost 50% of the time, each of our eyes locks on to different letters simultaneously.

At the BA Festival of Science in York, the researchers also revealed that our brain can fuse two separate images to obtain a clear view of a page. Sophisticated eye-tracking equipment allowed the team to pinpoint which letter a volunteer’s eyes focused on, when reading 14-point font from one metre away.

The team’s results demonstrated that both eyes lock on to the same letter 53% of the time; for 39% of the time they see different letters with uncrossed eyes; and for 8% of the time the eyes are crossing to focus on different letters. A follow-up experiment with the eye-tracking equipment showed that we only see one clear image when reading because our brain fuses the different images from our eyes together.

Pretty cool. Related: Professor Simon P. Liversedge3-D Images of EyesHow the Brain Resolves Sight

Fun in Nature: Polar Bear and Wolves

Posted on September 10, 2007  Comments (2)

Fun slides on American Public Media: Stuart Brown describes Norbert Rosing’s striking images of a wild polar bear playing with sled dogs in the wilds of Canada’s Hudson Bay.

Related: The Cat and a Black BearWater Buffaloes, Lions and Crocodiles Oh MyAwesome Cat Photographer

Virus Found to be One Likely Factor in Bee Colony Collapse Disorder

Posted on September 8, 2007  Comments (4)

Photo of a bee bu Justin Hunter

Scientists say a virus appears to be a factor in honeybee colony collapse by Andrew C. Revkin:

Scientists sifting genetic material from thriving and ailing bee colonies say a virus appears to be a prime suspect – but is unlikely to be the only culprit – in the mass die-offs of honeybees reported last autumn and winter.

Very well stated. The virus while seeming to be a factor in the deaths appears to cause death in colonies that are stressed which seem to be highly correlated with colonies that are moved from place to place by commercial beekeepers to pollinate various crops. Bees that are kept by hobbiest, wild bees… don’t seem to be dying off. The impact of CCD is growing economically as prices for renting bees to pollinate crops increases and in some cases there are not enough bees available. Honey prices are increasing and prices for food pollinated by bees are too.

The Department of Agriculture states: The only pathogen found in almost all samples from honey bee colonies with CCD, but not in non-CCD colonies, was the Israeli acute paralysis virus (IAPV), a dicistrovirus that can be transmitted by the varroa mite. It was found in 96.1 percent of the CCD-bee samples. This does not identify IAPV as the cause of CCD,” said Pettis. “What we have found is strictly a strong correlation of the appearance of IAPV and CCD together. We have not proven a cause-and-effect connection.”

Related: Bee researchers close in on Colony Collapse Disorder, Penn State (Penn State broke the link so it was removed) – Bye Bye BeesBee Colony Collapse Disorder CCDMore on Disappearing HoneybeesColony Collapse Disorder and Pollinator Decline

Science Blogging Conference

Posted on September 7, 2007  Comments (0)

The second annual Science Blogging Conference will be held Saturday, January 19, 2008 at the Sigma Xi Center in Research Triangle Park, North Carolina.

Earlier this year—almost in time for the inaugural conference—we edited and published the first-ever science blogging anthology, The Open Laboratory: The Best Writing on Science Blogs 2006, which was an instant hit. We’re already collecting nominations for the next edition of the anthology. Send your best posts of the year (or nominate posts written by others) by using this submission form

Related: The Science Blogging Anthology – the Great Unveiling!Science Blogging Conference in NC 2007