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Snail mail gets interactive

Posted: 09/07/10 06:00 AM

British stamp enthusiasts should be lining up with their smart phones at Royal Mail post offices by now. The nearly 500-year-old Royal Mail is the first post office to embed a readable code into one of its stamps. Of course, post offices have been using bar codes and more sophisticated data-matrix codes to help them deliver the mail for years, but no one has linked them to online content via smart phones. Til now.

Once you download the right app, you point your phone’s camera at the stamp to see, among other things, a video of actor Bernard Cribbins reading W.H. Auden’s poem “The Night Mail.” It’s full-circle for the poem, since Auden wrote it in 1936 for this short film produced by the Royal Mail. We found it via an old-fashioned process called clicking around YouTube.

Comments | Filed Under: stamps mail data matrix code jb

Want users to tell all??? Have an ugly site.

Posted: 09/03/10 12:18 PM

The scuzzier-looking the site, the more users may reveal about themselves. That’s the finding of researchers at Carnegie Mellon University. They set up identical questionnaires at differently designed sites.

The naughty devil won the day.  Volunteers responding on that site were almost twice as likely to admit to having engaged in “illicit” or “socially questionable” activities. And they were also more likely to type in their e-mail addresses.

Watch for more red-on-blue flashing fonts and smiley icons at a marketing site near you.

Comments | Filed Under: marketing privacy research web design jb

Listen to my iHeartbeat...

Posted: 09/01/10 06:00 AM

iPhone’s all over hearts these days. First, we had the iPhone Heart Monitor app for exercise buffs (sweating optional). Then the news that Apple applied for a patent on technology that could, someday, biometrically link phones to individual heartbeats. And last week, British researcher Peter J. Bentley unveiled a free version of iStethoscope, an app that threatens to turn us all into amateur cardiologists with its fascinating array of robot-like blips and swooshes being emanated by our own tickers.

Or as the London Times put it, “A wonderful instrument called the stethoscope … is now in complete vogue…” In 1824.



Comments | Filed Under: iPhone apps stethoscope jb

No more paper OED

Posted: 08/31/10 11:33 AM

The days of the150-lb, 20-volume Oxford English Dictionary are numbered. This week, Oxford University Press announced it’s just too expensive to print.

By Cofrin Library

The next complete edition of the dictionary, dubbed OED3, will only be available online. The dictionary was first published in 1928, after 71 years of exhaustive research on all the conceivable words in the English language, including Scrabble-lovers “zyxt.” An online edition of the OED has been around since the 1980s.

Comments | Filed Under: OED jb books

Play tech's Great Game

Posted: 08/31/10 06:00 AM

So we read lots and lots of tech headlines at this show. Facebook’s after Foursquare’s market; Apple’s after Microsoft; Google’s after everyone—the constant maneuvering and strategizing feels sometimes like a giant game of Risk. Now it is, literally.

This map belongs to the folks at Web 2.0 Summit, an invitation-only conference on the Internet economy. Even to them, it can be hard to see the big picture with so many players jostling for position. As Web 2.0 blogger John Battelle puts it:

The narrative is so rich, it struck us that it lends itself to a visualization – a map outlining these points of control, replete with incumbents and insurgents – those companies who hold great swaths of strategic territory, and those who are attempting to gain ground, whether they be startups or large companies moving into new ground.

You can make comments on the map, and pretty soon, the mapmakers promise, you’ll be able to play the game. Let’s hope the rules are not too complicated.

Comments | Filed Under: maps games economy web 2.0 jb

Spray-on batteries grown by...viruses?

Posted: 08/27/10 06:00 AM

The American Chemical Society just wrapped up its national meeting in Boston, and among the presentations, a lot of interesting work on batteries.

We love battery news here at Future Tense.

And actually, judging from the papers presented, there’s a battery revolution brewing right now. Scientists are envisioning batteries as something light and flexible, something you could spray onto surfaces or even weave into clothing. All with the chemical help of creatures we usually don’t find so helpful: viruses.

But the researchers are quick to note these are not viruses that attack humans. They’re specialized strains that usually latch onto bacteria or plants. In the lab, they can be used to grow tiny cathodes and anodes, the building blocks of battery cells. These new kinds of batteries could replace bulky battery packs of the sort soldiers have to carry in the field.

And if that’s not wild enough, other scientists presented their research on using mitochondria to power fuel cells. As an ACS press release describes it

The device consists of a thin layer of mitochondria sandwiched between two electrodes, including a gas-permeable electrode. Tests showed that it produced electricity using sugar or cooking oil byproducts as fuel.

Because what cyborg-like tiny fuel cell doesn’t like an occasional chip and soda?

Comments | Filed Under: batteries chemistry nanotechnology jb

Mystery Russian shortwave signal comes to life

Posted: 08/26/10 06:00 AM

The blogosphere—well, OK, a select subsection—is abuzz about “The Buzzer,” the nickname for a mysterious Russian shortwave signal that’s been broadcasting continuously since 1982. The Soviet, and now the Russian government won’t say what it’s for, though it seems to be connected to the military. UVB-76, the signal’s actual name, has mostly featured a monotonous repetition of pipping or buzzing sounds. But devoted listeners (trying to imagine…never mind) have heard a few voice transmissions over the years, and even people having conversations off-mike. Then earlier this week, UVB-76 fans were rewarded with a sudden burst of activity, the gist of which you can hear in this clip:

UVB-76 audio clip (MP3)

It’s a series of numbers in Russian, followed by the nonsense word NAIMINA, some names, more numbers, and more nonsense words that native speakers say sound like they should be Russian words, but in fact are not. What’s it all about? UVB-76 devotees on Wikipedia have speculated everything from communications with spies, to a more mundane explanation—the signal helps Russian scientists research the behavior of the ionosphere./jb

Comments | Filed Under: Russia shortwave spies ionosphere code jb

E-cigarettes headed to court

Posted: 08/25/10 05:59 PM

A federal appellate court in Washington DC will consider the fate of so-called e-cigarettes next month. E-cigarettes use batteries to turn nicotine into vapor. The Food and Drug Administration says it needs to approve the devices before they go to market. But online vendors and even some Seven-Eleven chain stores are defying the agency and selling the product anyway. E-cigarette makers say they can’t afford the costs of clinical tests, and FDA regulations would drive their industry underground. Some public health advocates say e-cigarettes may actually be a good way to help smokers wean themselves from the habit. But no one really knows the side effects of the product since they haven’t been subjected to rigorous testing.

Comments | Filed Under: cigarettes device fda regulation jb

today's show

What will we do with all this "white space"?

09/26/10 11:15 AM

There’s a vote coming up this week in Washington that will have a big impact on how you use the internet, what’s available to you, how much faster you’ll be able to get things online. On Thursday, the FCC is expected to open up unused parts of the broadcast spectrum, a lot of people call it “white space”. This is space that was positioned to be something of a buffer between television stations but such padding is proving less essential since the conversion to digital TV.

On today’s show, we talk to Glenn Fleishman from Wi-Fi Networking News and The Economist about how the spectrum works and what kind of new space we’re talking about. We also check in with Tim Wu from Columbia Law School about the companies that will look to use the space and what it all might mean for you and me as internet consumers.

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