Oct 202013
 

Dragon_Stalker_Drone

It’s a troubling image, one that some fear might not be limited to works of fiction.

Consider this scene in “The Circle,” Dave Eggers’s new novel that imagines a dystopian future dominated by an omnipotent social networking company: Mae, the young protagonist, tries to unplug from her hypernetworked life to go on a covert, solitary kayaking trip. But when she returns to shore, she is greeted by police officers who have been alerted to her excursion by several hidden cameras. She quickly realizes that very little in her life isn’t recorded, tracked and analyzed.

It’s a troubling image, one that some fear might not be limited to works of fiction. In fact, some elements of Mae’s scenario have emerged recently in the news. There was the report that the National Security Agency can create sophisticated maps of some people’s personal information and social connections. There were the recent changes to Facebook’s privacy settings that will no longer allow users to hide their profiles from public searches. In addition, Google recently revealed that it was considering using anonymous identifiers to track browsing habits online, raising hackles among privacy advocates who have described it as “the new way they will identify you 24/7.”

And, at the same time, drones are becoming commonplace — used by the government in counterterrorism efforts and by hobbyists — prompting discussions about the long-term impact on privacy.

These developments, among others, have spurred the creation of a handful of applications and services intended to give people respite and refuge from surveillance, both online and off. They have a simple and common goal: to create ways for people to use the Internet and to communicate online without surveillance.

Nadim Kobeissi, a security adviser in Montreal who works on an encrypted-message service called Cryptocat, said the security and hacker circles of which he is a part have long suspected that the government is listening in on online conversations and exchanges but “have never been able to prove it.” He added: “It’s been a worst-case-scenario prediction that all turned out to be true, to a worrying extent.”

If nothing else, the N.S.A. leaks and disclosures have brought these issues front and center for many people, myself included, who are troubled by how much of our daily and online interaction is concentrated in and around a handful of companies that have funneled data to the N.S.A.

“It’s sad that this is the proverbial kick in the butt that needs to bring awareness to this concept,” said Harlo Holmes, who works for the Guardian Project, a group that is building several anti-surveillance and privacy applications.

Read more . . .

via The New York Times  - JENNA WORTHAM
 

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Jun 012013
 
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“This technology could have a payback period of less than one year.”

All chefs know that “you have to break some eggs to make an omelet,” and that includes engineers at Iowa State University who are using high-frequency sound waves to break down plant materials in order to cook up a better batch of biofuel. Research by David Grewell, associate professor of agricultural and biosystems engineering, and his colleagues Melissa Montalbo-Lomboy and Priyanka Chand, has shown that “pretreating” a wide variety of feedstocks (including switch grass, corn stover, and soft wood) with ultrasound consistently enhances the chemical reactions necessary to convert the biomass into high-value fuels and chemicals.

The team will present its findings at the 21st International Congress on Acoustics (ICA 2013), held June 2-7 in Montreal.

In one example of ultrasound’s positive impact on biofuel production, the Iowa State researchers found that they could significantly increase the efficiency of removing lignin from biomass in solution. Lignin is the chemical compound that binds cellulose and hemicellulose together in plant cell walls. Commonly, enzymes or chemicals are used to remove it from biomass and allow the freed sugars to be dissolved for further processing into biofuel. Grewell and his colleagues found that pretreating instead with ultrasound makes lignin removal so efficient that sugar dissolution occurs in minutes rather than the hours needed with traditional mixing systems.

Grewell’s team also found that hydrolysis of corn starch could be greatly accelerated using ultrasonics. In a conventional ethanol plant, ground corn is steamed with jet cookers at boiling point temperatures. This breaks down the corn, leaving a starch mash that is then cooled and treated with enzymes in a process known as hydrolysis to release glucose for fermentation. The Iowa State team replaced the initial steaming with ultrasound, sonically smashing the corn into tiny particles in the same way physicians use ultrasound to shatter kidney stones. The smaller corn fragments provided more surface area for enzymatic action, and therefore, resulted in fermentation yields comparable to jet cooking.

The potential cost savings for this method, says Grewell, are very encouraging. “Economic models,” he explains, “have shown that once implemented, this technology could have a payback period of less than one year.”

Read more . . .

via Acoustical Society of America & Newswire
 

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May 312013
 

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The new design could be used in applications ranging from hearing aids and cell phones to surveillance and acoustic noise control systems

Using the sensitive ears of a parasitic fly for inspiration, a group of researchers has created a new type of microphone that achieves better acoustical performance than what is currently available in hearing aids.

The scientists will present their results at the 21st International Congress on Acoustics, held June 2-7 in Montreal.

Ronald Miles, Distinguished Professor of Mechanical Engineering at Binghamton University, studies the hearing of Ormia ochracea, a house fly-sized insect that is native to the southeast United States and Central America. Unlike most other flies, Ormia ochracea has eardrums that sense sound pressure, as do our ears, and they can hear “quite well,” says Miles. The female flies use their “remarkable” directional hearing to locate singing male crickets, on which they deposit their larvae.

Previously, Miles and colleagues Daniel Robert and Ronald Hoy described the mechanism by which the fly achieves its directional hearing, despite its small size. Now Miles and his group have designed a new microphone inspired by the fly’s ears.

The new design uses a microelectromechanical microphone with a 1 mm by 3 mm diaphragm that is designed to rotate about a central pivot in response to sound pressure gradients. The motion of the diaphragm is detected using optical sensors. To minimize the adverse effects of resonances on the response, Miles and his colleagues used a feedback system to achieve so-called active Q control.

“Q control basically is an electronic feedback control system to introduce electronic damping,” Miles explains. “You don’t want a microphone diaphragm to ring like a bell. It turns out that in order to achieve a very low noise floor – which is the quietest sound that can be detected without the signal being buried in the microphone’s noise – it is important to minimize any passive damping in these sensors. If you do that, the diaphragm will resonate at its natural frequency. We are the first group to show that you can use this sort of electronic damping in a microphone without adversely affecting the noise floor of the microphone.”

Indeed, the noise floor of the fly-inspired microphone is about 17 decibels lower than what can be achieved using a pair of low-noise hearing aid microphones to create a directional hearing aid. The new design could be used in applications ranging from hearing aids and cell phones to surveillance and acoustic noise control systems, Miles says, and “could easily be made as small as the fly’s ear.”

Read more . . .

via Acoustical Society of America & Newswise
 

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Apr 022013
 
Anxiety
Music boosts the body’s immune system and is more effective than prescription drugs in reducing anxiety before a surgery, a research review from two psychologists at Montreal’s McGill University suggests.

“I think the promise of music as medicine is that it’s natural and it’s cheap and it doesn’t have the unwanted side effects that many pharmaceutical products do,” said Daniel Levitin, who co-authored the review recently published in the journal Trends in Cognitive Science.

Levitin and post-doctoral researcher Mona Lisa Chanda reviewed 400 published scientific papers, trying to find patterns among the results.

They found that music had documented effects on brain chemistry and associated mental and physical health benefits in four areas:

  • Management of mood.
  • Stress reduction.
  • Boosting immunity.
  • As an aid to social bonding.

The review found 15 studies showing that people’s levels of a stress hormone called cortisol dropped after they listened to relaxing music, indicating a reduction in stress. One paper even compared patients at a hospital before surgery who were randomly assigned to either listen to music or take an anti-anxiety drug such as Valium.

“People who received the music had lower anxiety levels than people who had the drugs and without side effects,” Levitin said.

Drumming reverses effects of aging

Another group of studies found that older adults can boost their immune function, reversing age-related declines, by making music as participants in drumming circles, Levitin said.

Read more . . .

via CBC
 

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Dec 202012
 
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New Nature Communications paper shows yields have plateaued or dropped in many places for world’s most important crops

The Green Revolution has stagnated for key food crops in many regions of the world, according to a study published in the Dec. 18 issue ofNature Communications by scientists with the University of Minnesota’s Institute on the Environment and McGill University in Montreal, Canada.

Led by IonE research fellow Deepak Ray, the study team developed geographically detailed maps of annual crop harvested areas and yields of maize (corn), rice, wheat and soybeans from 1961 to 2008. It found that although virtually all regions showed a yield increase sometime during that period, in 24 to 39 percent of the harvested areas (depending on the crop) yield plateaued or outright declined in recent years. Among the top crop-producing nations, vast areas of two of the most populous – China and India – are witnessing especially concerning stagnation or decline in yield.

“This study clearly delineates areas where yields for important food crops are stagnating, declining, or never improved, as well areas where yields are still rapidly improving,” Ray says. “As a result, it both sounds the alert for where we must shift our course if we are to feed a growing population in the decades to come, and points to positive examples to emulate.”

Interestingly, the researchers found that yields of wheat and rice – two crops that are largely used as food crops, and which supply roughly half of the world’s dietary calories – are declining across a higher percentage of cropland than those of corn and soybean, which are used largely to produce meat or biofuels.

“This finding is particularly troubling because it suggests that we have preferentially focused our crop improvement efforts on feeding animals and cars, as we have largely ignored investments in wheat and rice, crops that feed people and are the basis of food security in much of the world,” said study co-author and IonE director Jonathan Foley, professor and McKnight Presidential Chair in the College of Biological Sciences. “How can we meet the growing needs of feeding people in the future if one-third of our cropland areas, in our most important crops, are not improving in yield any more?”

The paper suggests two actions based on its findings. First, it recommends working to maintain the positive trajectory for the 61 to 76 percent of croplands where yield is still climbing. Second, it encourages crop-producing regions around the world to look at their yield trends and those of others to identify what’s working and what might be improved.

Read more . . .

via University of Minnesota

 

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Feb 032012
 

Multimedia entertainment at it’s finest – from Montreal . . .

 
Moment Factory’s Super Bowl team is now in Indianapolis to get ready for the Bridgestone 46th Super Bowl Halftime Show, in collaboration with Madonna. The creative team for the show, comprising Madonna, Jamie KingCirque du Soleil and Moment Factory, will create a signature performance for the Halftime Show, the most-watched musical event of the year, an NFL Network Production set to air on NBC February 5th, 2012.

Moment Factory is a new media and entertainment studio specialized in the conception and production of multimedia environments combining video, lighting, architecture, sound and special effects to create remarkable experiences.

Since its beginnings in 2001, Moment Factory achieved more than 300 events, shows and installations in Canada, Latin America, Europe and the Middle East for such clients as the Cirque du Soleil, Disney, Céline Dion, Microsoft, the National Capital Commission in Ottawa and the City of Lyon.

Our team of 60 talented individuals occupies a dynamic, multifunctional 20 000 square-foot space in Montreal, Canada. In our industrial studios we develop, design and produce the groundbreaking—often interactive—new media installations for which we have earned our reputation as industry leader, building mockups and testing prototypes prior to executing our vision.

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Thanks to Karen Fraser for the tip!
 
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