Author: Adamson Rust

Scientists convince people they've got three arms

One of the most irritating things about you Earthlings is that you’re never happy with what you’ve got. We gave you two arms for a bloody good reason – and sometimes, quite frankly, it seems like too many.

Grafting on extra limbs is a very messy business, and most budding Frankensteins have tended to focus on other parts of the anatomy. We’ve got a couple of confiscated prototypes in the post-room, and, let me tell you, they make for a good way of passing the afternoon on a slow news day.

But scientists at Sweden’s Karolinska Institutet wanted research results that they could publish in a family scientific journal – PLoS One, since you ask. So they played it a bit safe, and successfully persuaded a bunch of test subjects that they had three arms.

They sat them at a table with a realistic prosthetic right arm next to their own. Then, in a bit of head-messing that you really have to admire, they touched the subjects’ right hands and
rubber hands with two small brushes in the same spot, synchronising the strokes as perfectly as possible.

“What happens then is that a conflict arises in the brain concerning which of the right hands belongs to the participant’s body. What one could expect is that only one of the hands is experienced as one’s own – presumably the real arm,” says researcher Arvid Guterstam.

“But what we found, surprisingly, is that the brain solves this conflict by accepting both right hands as part of the body image, and the subjects experience having an extra third arm.”

To make sure their victims weren’t just being polite, the team  threatened them with a kitchen knife, holding it near either the prosthetic hand or the real hand.

Rather than calling the police, the subjects simply dripped with sweat – they’re a bit timid in Sweden, you see. They showed exactly the same stress response when the prosthetic hand was threatened as when the real hand was. This only happened while they were experiencing the third arm illusion, and not, for instance, when the prosthetic right arm was replaced with a left arm or a prosthetic foot.

You’d have thought that Swedes would be really quite imaginative when it comes to putting a third arm to use. But this lot must be born-again Christians or something.

“It may be possible in the future to offer a stroke patient, who has become paralysed on one side of the body, a prosthetic arm that can be used and experienced as his own, while the paralysed arm remains within the patient’s body image,” says study leader Henrik Ehrsson.

“It is also conceivable that people with demanding work situations could benefit of an extra arm, such as firemen during rescue operations, or paramedics in the field.”

Largest antimatter 'bottle' under construction

While scientists have long been fascinated by antimatter, there’s just one little problem in studying it – the moment it comes into contact with ordinary matter, it’s annihilated in a burst of gamma radiation.

But a new ‘trap’ is under construction in San Diego which could allow trillions of positrons, the antimatter equivalent of electrons, and store them for hours.

It’s now become routine to produce antimatter – the ‘mirror image’ of the ordinary matter in the observable universe – with radioisotopes and particle colliders.

Physicists can slow positrons from radioactive sources to low energy and accumulate and store them for days in specially designed ‘bottles’, whichm have walls made of magnetic and electric fields, rather than matter. They can cool them to temperatures as low as that of liquid helium, and compress them to high densities.

“One can then carefully push them out of the bottle in a thin stream, a beam, much like squeezing a tube of toothpaste,” says Clifford Surko, a professor of physics at UC San Diego.

He and his colleagues are now building the world’s largest trap for low-energy positrons, capable of storing vastly more antimatter than ever before.

“We are now working to accumulate trillions of positrons or more in a novel ‘multi-cell’ trap – an array of magnetic bottles akin to a hotel with many rooms, with each room containing tens of billions of antiparticles,” he says.

He says that the creation of much larger bursts of positrons could enabling scientific research into substances such as antihydrogen and electron-positron plasmas like those believed to be present at the magnetic poles of neutron stars.

On a less pleasant note, it could eventually enable the creation of an annihilation gamma ray laser, says Surko.

Facebook adds new relationship statuses

That convenient tool for one-click dumping, Facebook’s relationship status button, now has new options aimed at lesbian and gay people.

The company’s added ‘in a civil union’ and ‘in a domestic partnership’ to the list – although only in the US, Canada, the UK, France and Australia.

One concedes that the move might be seen as a step too far in Saudi Arabia, perhaps, but one wonders what Dorothy’s Dutch friends have done wrong.

The move’s been welcomed by gay campaign group GLAAD, which has been nagging Facebook for some time. And, given that ‘in an open relationship’ and the intriguing ‘it’s complicated’ are already on the list, it’s surprising it’s taken this long.

“By acknowledging the relationships of countless loving and committed same-sex couples in the US and abroad, Facebook has set a new standard of inclusion for social media,” says GLAAD president Jarrett Barrios.

“As public support for marriage equality continues to grow, we will continue to work for the day when all couples have the opportunity to marry and have their relationship recognised by their community, both online and off.”

Unfortunately, the move has angered those with other domestic arrangements, who now feel even more left out.

“My younger husband is deeply upset that his status still isn’t recognised,” a Tibetan polyandrist told TechEye. “He hasn’t had a fight this bad with his brother since they were children, and Jigme threw him in the yak-dung heap.”

It’s caused ructions here in the office, too. The trainee reporter’s boyfriend just phoned, querying whether their partnership could really be described as ‘civil’, given the tenor of the conversation at breakfast. The sub-editor thinks there should be an entry for ‘sub’, while the secretary wants ‘married but secretive’.

And the editor’s on the phone to Mark Zuckerberg right now, demanding an entry for ‘pasha’.

Radio jammed by massive solar flare

The cloud of supercharged particles emitted by a series of three solar flares is, as feared, disturbing radio communications.

The China Meteorological Administration (CMA) reports that shortwave communications have been disrupted by the flares, of which the third, on Tuesday, was the biggest in over four years. With flares categorised as C Class, M Class and X Class, it’s well into the X Class range.

And while there’s some debate about how much disruption the flare will cause, a similar coronal mass ejection (CME) cut the power to millions of people in Canada in 1973.

And the current storm is set to continue, according to space weather forecasters.

“An increase to unsettled to active conditions, with a chance for minor storm periods is expected late on day one into day two (18 February),” reads a forecast from the US’ NOAA Space Weather Prediction Center.

“The increased activity is forecast due to the expected arrival of the CME associated with the X2 flare that occurred on 15/02/11. Day three (19 February) is expected to be quiet to active as the disturbance subsides.”

Personally, we prefer the Radio 4 Shipping Forecast.

And more flares are likely to be on the way. Region 1158 – where this week’s biggest originated – is expected to produce more M-class flares over the next few days, and could produce an M5 or greater x-ray event. There’s also a chance of isolated M-class activity from Region 1161.

There’s a danger to astronauts on the International Space Station, says NASA, and even to air passengers and crew.

But, hey, those of us in reasonably northerly or southerly latitudes could at least be in for a pretty light show – especially if the lights do indeed go out.

“Further Northern Lights (aurora) displays are possible some time over the next two nights if skies are clear and the activity peaks in your local night-time,” says the British Geological Survey.

Glowing microworms under the skin could monitor diabetes

They sound more unpleasant than the diseases they’re meant to monitor – tiny, glowing ‘microworms’ implanted under the skin.

But researchers at MIT and Northeastern say they could be used to give blood sugar readings for diabetics, or other biomedical information.

Their tube-shaped microparticles, unlike existing spherical versions, won’t be swept away from the initial site over time, they say. The tubes’ narrow width keeps their contents close to blood or body tissue, while their length keeps them anchored for months on end.

The nanoparticles are created by using chemical vapor deposition (CVD) to coat an aluminum oxide layer that’s been etched to contain tiny pores. Then, the coated material is dissolved away, leaving a series of hollow tubes where the pores used to be.

Before that, though, another material can be added that fluoresces in the presence of a specific chemical such as glucose. This means that when the ‘microworms’ are injected under the skin, they form a glowing tattoo that could be used to monitor diabetic patients.

“Tight control over glucose levels can help individuals stave off the devastating side-effects of diabetes – the number-one cause of kidney failure, blindness in adults, nervous system damage, and amputations,” says MIT chemical engineering professor Karen Gleason.

“In principle, this could open the way for avoiding blood tests, which need a central lab, expert nurses, extra time and extra costs. It could be done in a doctor’s office, or even at home,” says Professor Raoul Kopelman of the the University of Michigan. “It will also avoid complications for patients with ‘difficult’, or ‘used-up’ veins, patients on blood thinners, et cetera.”

However, he warns that there could be concerns about long-term toxicity and bio-elimination, as well as complications such as blood clots.

Tablet NAND Flash to grow fivefold in 2011

Use of NAND Flash memory in tablet computers is expected to increase nearly fivefold this year, according to a report by IHS iSuppli.

Current consumption of NAND Flash in tablets for 2010 was at 476.8 million gigabytes, but that figure is set to grow a whopping 382.4 percent to 2.3 billion gigabytes in 2011, a 4.8 times increase.

That figure will increase even further over the next few years, reaching 12.3 billion gigabytes by 2014 as the tablet craze continues to drive high demand for NAND.

The market share of NAND Flash used for tablets will more than double to 11.8 percent this year, compared to 4.3 percent last year. That’s expected to increase further to 16 percent by 2014.

The average memory density will be around 27.1 gigabytes for non-Apple tablets and 41.5 gigabytes for the iPad

Windows-based models, which are more like the old form of tablet before Apple’s consumer success, will come with between 32GB and 64GB of SSD storage, but IHS iSuppli believes that there is more value to be found in the Apple and Android models, which have lower density requirements for their tablets.

Three quarters of Europeans don't know EU emergency number

As part of the European Union’s Digital Agenda, the EU is attempting to highlight a universal emergency telephone number, one that most Europeans haven’t a clue about.

The number, 112, unlike 118, won’t fetch you a camp double act in shorts and a vest. Nor will it charge you £7.00 a minute to book a nearby cab when you’re stranded in Peckham. It actually works throughout the 27 member states and will either put the caller into direct contact with emergency services or with an operator who will transfer them to the appropriate service.

The number has been in place for 20 years, but a Eurobarometer report showed that only 26 percent of Europeans were aware of it and the fact that they could call it from anywhere in the EU. In Greece, Italy and the UK awareness of the number was less than 10 percent, while citizens of Belgium, Hungary, Latvia, Poland and Slovakia were more up to date with the number.

112 does not replace national emergency numbers for most countries, but Denmark, Finland, Malta, the Netherlands, Portugal, Romania and Sweden have adopted it as their national emergency number. 

New laws were brought in for 112 in 2003, which requires EU member states to provide access to the 112 service free of charge from any phone, including payphones and mobile phones. These calls must be answered and dealt with promptly and countries must inform their citizens of the number. Further rules are set to come into force in May of this year, which are intended to improve the service and awareness of it.

The fact that nearly three quarters of Europeans don’t know the number is worrying and prompted the EC to launch European 112 Day, which is today, February 11. It’s clever because it’s the 11th of the second month. Get it? 11/2.

This was first launched in 2009, but despite the effort awareness has only grown marginally. Laws this year may force governments to better inform their citizens, probably not depending on a vote from inmates at Belmarsh.

Power Supply Units, OCZ RAM, Thermaltake gaming case

TweakTown reviewed the Super Flower Golden Green SF-800P14XE 800W power supply unit, which earned a rating of 90 percent and a Best Value Award. It packs strong performance and great efficiency, but there were some issues with confusion over SLI Ready and ATI CrossFireX logos, as well as difficulty sourcing the PSU in the US. However, the low price of $130, $30 cheaper than similar models, makes it a bargain product.

Tom’s Hardware also tried out some PSUs, comparing three 1000W 80 Plus Gold certified units, the OCZ Z-Series Z1000M, the Rosewill Lightning-1000 and the Sparkle GW-EPS1250DA. The OCZ model was the cheapest at $205, while the Sparkle model was significantly more expensive at $300. They all delivered high performance and power output, but none of them fully lived up to the 80 Plus Gold standard. The OCZ model had problems with ripple/noise measurement, the Rosewill had  energy efficiency issues at low loads and the Sparkle build quality was a bit on the shoddy side. Overall the OCZ version won out, thanks primarily to its lower price, which is still capable of boring a hole in your wallet.

The OCZ Platinum XTE DDR3-2000 4GB RAM Kit was tested by PureOC. It packs some good overclocking ability, which can bump up speeds from 2000MHz to 2133MHz, with healthy performance, up to 3.6 percent faster than the rated specification. Its sleek design and low price of $75 also secured additional brownie points.

HardwareBistro brings news of the Thermaltake Level 10 GT gaming case, which is now available. It was first announced at CES 2011 and one look at its unusual design is enough to make you stop and think, as the strange form is designed to produce better airflow. It packs plenty of features, including 200mm and 140mm fans, USB 3.0 ports, hot swap drive bays, fan speed control and removable fan filters.

The Roccat Kova Plus gaming mouse was reviewed at HardwareHeaven, rating nine out of ten and earning a Silver Award. It’s incredibly light and features a soft coated palm grip that allows use by right-handed or left-handed players. It also packs plenty of buttons for gamers, though they are better positioned for right-handed players. A software suite with EasyShift helps unlock the potential of the device.

Marvell announces dual-band MIMO Wi-Fi System-on-Chip

Marvell has announced a new dual-band Wi-Fi System-on-Chip called Avastar 88W8797, which it claims is the first mobile multiple input, multiple output (MIMO) Wi-Fi product on the market.

The Avastar 88W8797 comes with Wi-Fi Tx beamforming technology, which allows for a larger network range than older 11n 2×2 devices.  

It also features Bluetooth 4.0 low energy capability and FM Tx/Rs, making it a higher performing device with a strong power efficiency offering.

It supports the IEEE 802.11n standard and features 2×2 dual-band MIMO technology, which allows data transfer rates of up to 300Mb/s, double the speeds that are currently available, making it suitable for the increasingly data-hungry smartphone and tablet markets.

The use of two transceivers will also solve some problems with interference, according to Marvell, since the blocking of one antenna means there’s still a backup one for no signal loss.

While the product is mainly aimed at mobile devices, Marvell believes it’s also suitable for home media servers, laptops, set-top-boxes and digital TVs.

The Avastar 88W8797 will be demonstrated at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona next week.

Apple rumoured to be working on entry-level iPhone 5

Rumours are abound that Apple is working on a budget version of the iPhone 5, which would have the potential for some serious competition to the lower end of the Android market.

Unnamed sources, cited by Bloomberg, suggested that a “nano” version of the next iPhone is in the works and that a prototype is already available.

The model is said to be a third smaller than the current iPhone 4 and lacks a Home button, a move which is widely expected for Apple’s next iteration of devices.

The device is expected to retail for around $200, significantly less than the the $600 or $700 you’d pay for a contract-free iPhone 4. Consumers can get the price of the current iPhone down to around this level, but only if they sign a two-year contract and part with their soul.

The entry-level iPhone 5 may never see the light of day, however, as the sources indicated that the plans may be delayed or scrapped altogether. They also suggested that very few people in the company know about the intention to hit the lower end of the market.

Smartphones are a relatively new craze, taking off big time within the last year or two, but the sharp rise of Android has allowed for a wide range of devices that tackle all price ranges, with dozens of cheap models out there or on the way.

Juniper Research previously indicated that by 2015 smartphone prices should drop to $80, with the technology becoming standard in place of old-fashioned mobiles. ZTE and Huawei are leading the charge in China for the cheap smartphone market, but it appears that no one can rest on their laurels in this battle.

Apple has always had high prices on its products and that has not impacted on sales, but with Android stealing its market share and offering phones that are often packing more under the bonnet for a cheaper price, it may be time that Apple pushes out a budget phone.