Evaluating NASA’s Futuristic EM Drive (updated)

UPDATE: Wired’s Katie M. Palmer has weighed in, explaining in very clear terms why this project is pure fantasy. I’m still a dreamer, and thoughts of hard-to-explain advancements still get my heart racing… but in the end, it’s about the science, and dreaming alone isn’t enough to get us to the stars: The reason the…

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Realistic artificial gravity in science fiction (video)

PBS Space Time host Gabe Perez-Giz examines several beloved sci-fi ships (and other constructions) to find out which might provide the most realistic feeling of gravity. 2001: A Space Odyssey introduced a lot of people to the idea of rotation based artificial gravity, but in sci-fi, it’s far from the only one to implement the idea! Babylon…

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Connecting places geographically causes mental maps to merge

UCL News: Realising how places connect geographically causes local maps in the brain to join, forming one big map which helps with planning future journeys, finds a new UCL study. Changes like this can occur when people vary their route to work during a tube strike, for example. Commuters may be familiar with the location…

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Tinnitus mapped inside human brain (also: eeeeeeeeeeeee…)

Jonathan Webb, for BBC News: In many cases it begins with partial hearing loss, sometimes due to loud noise wearing out the hair cells that convert sound waves into neural signals, inside the inner ear. The brain adjusts to that loss of input by boosting certain types of activity, creating the impression of a noise…

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“Artistic activity” helps to stave off cognitive decline in old age

Tom Jacobs, for Pacific Standard: The behavior that had the greatest protective effect, at least in this relatively small study, was “artistic activity,” such as painting, drawing, and sculpting. “Long ago, ‘an apple a day keeps the doctor away’ was a common expression,” Dr. James Galvin writes in a comment accompanying the study, which is published…

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Invisibility study looks at new ways to treat anxiety, and more

JLister, for Geeks are Sexy: The invisibility study stems from work on phantom limb syndrome in which amputees still perceive pain and other feelings from the missing limb. Neuroscientists at the Karolinska Institute have previously found it possible to create a form of phantom limb syndrome in non-amputees by placing the subject’s arm out of sight behind…

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Artificial photosynthesis advance seen as a breakthrough

Chris Chang, at at Berkeley Lab and UC Berkeley: “In our system, nanowires harvest solar energy and deliver electrons to bacteria, where carbon dioxide is reduced and combined with water for the synthesis of a variety of targeted, value-added chemical products.” Lynn Yarris-Berkeley, at Futurity, elucidates: By combining biocompatible light-capturing nanowire arrays with select bacterial populations, the…

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Project Elysium promises a “personalized afterlife experience”

Mark Walton, for Ars Technica: Where do we draw the line between what’s ethically acceptable in the real world and what’s ethically acceptable in the virtual world? One of the developers putting this question to the test is Australia-based Paranormal Games. Project Elysium, its entry into the upcoming Oculus VR Jam 2015, treads some shaky…

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NASA’s NExSS Coalition to Lead Search for Life on Distant Worlds

JPL News: The key to this effort is understanding how biology interacts with the atmosphere, geology, oceans, and interior of a planet, and how these interactions are affected by the host star. This “system science” approach will help scientists better understand how to look for life on exoplanets. NExSS will tap into the collective expertise…

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An oral history of Airplane!

Will Harris, for The A.V. Club: We spoke with as many people involved in Airplane! as we possibly could—including the Zuckers, Jim Abrahams, and cast members Robert Hays, Frank Ashmore, Al White, Lee Bryant, Ross Harris, Jill Whelan, Maureen McGovern, David Leisure, Gregory Itzin, Marcy Goldman, and Jimmie Walker—and asked them to reflect on their experiences while…

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Lonni Sue Johnson’s amnesia leaves her marooned in the present

Daniel Zalewski, for The New Yorker: [Lonni Sue Johnson’s] “temporal window”—the period of time that she can reliably keep track of—slams shut after only a minute or two. If something distracts Johnson, her mental continuity can last a few seconds. As Aline put it, Johnson “flosses her teeth, washes her hands, and says, ‘What do you…

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Cruise control for pedestrians — there’s an app for that!

Michael Rundle, for Wired UK: “Actuated navigation” is a new concept proposed by a team from the universities of Hannover, Stuttgart and Munich to combine GPS and electrical stimulation of the muscles and literally drive you around an unfamiliar location, without having to consult a map. The paper (“Cruise Control for Pedestrians: Controlling Walking Direction Using…

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The scale of the universe, in 11 images

A little context can be a good thing. Joseph Stromberg, writing for Vox, provides some examples to remind you how there’s always something larger. Of note are some excellent examples collected from enthusiast astronomer John Brady, founder of Astronomy Central, some of which aren’t in this list. Still it’s nice to have all of these in one place. Sample:…

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“Placebo buttons” are everywhere, to make us feel good

Chris Baraniuk, for BBC Future: It turns out that there are plentiful examples of buttons which do nothing and indeed other technologies which are purposefully designed to deceive us. But here’s the really surprising thing. Many increasingly argue that we actually benefit from the illusion that we are in control of something – even when,…

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Research confirms that games can provide meaningful experiences

To a gamer, the title above might sound somewhat snide. But I’m sure there are people out there — non-gamers, I’d imagine — who would be surprised to read such a thing. Matt Swayne, for Penn State News: In a study of people’s experiences with video games, players indicated that they not only enjoyed playing games,…

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Star Wars: The Force Awakens Official Teaser #2 (video)

From the description: Lucasfilm and visionary director J.J. Abrams join forces to take you back again to a galaxy far, far away as “Star Wars” returns to the big screen with “Star Wars: The Force Awakens.” I can’t help it — this is just cool as hell. The three prequels were such a massive letdown…

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Teens used cheap gadget to break into car

Damon Lavrinc, for Jalopnik: There are two kinds of keyless entry systems: The ones where you have to press a button on the key fob to unlock the door and the proximity-based systems that broadcasts a low frequency signal to recognize when the key is in your pocket, and then unlocks the doors when you’re…

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Preparing for the journey to Mars

Tom Kizzia, for The New Yorker: Beyond a rocky parapet near the eight-thousand-foot elevation, a two-story white vinyl geodesic dome came into view, perched on the mountainside like a gigantic golf ball sliced high into the rocks from a Kona resort. Multicolored lava fields fell toward the valley, where a thread of highway could barely…

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Probabilistic programming: machine learning via inference algorithms

Larry Hardesty, writing for Phys.org, speaks with Tejas Kulkarni, contributor to a new paper about probabilistic programming for scene perception: In a probabilistic programming language, the heavy lifting is done by the inference algorithm—the algorithm that continuously readjusts probabilities on the basis of new pieces of training data. In that respect, Kulkarni and his colleagues had the…

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First results: a map of the dark matter of the universe

Jonathan Webb, for BBC News: Once the DES team has finished its map of dark matter, spreading its massive tendrils across the cosmos, they will be in a position to measure just how fast those tendrils, along with all the matter we can see, are flying apart. This expansion of the universe is happening at…

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Researchers compute trillion particle “dark sky” simulation

Michael Byrne, for Motherboard: Particle-based simulations, in which large-scale cosmic features like gas clouds and stars (and the interactions between them) are represented by simple points, are a crucial tool for both connecting the realm of particle physics and cosmology and for studying the structural development of the universe since the Big Bang. As can…

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