Super Nano-Paper Stronger than Iron

Creative Commons License photo: code poet

Science and nanotechnology never fails to amaze me. From New Scientist comes news that scientists have created nano-paper which is almost as strong as steel. Similarly to normal paper, it’s made from celluose.

Celluose nanofibres are the main structural reinforcement material in plant structures. Normally, paper is made through a mechanical process which damages these fibres, reducing the strength of the paper. The new method of producing paper involves breaking down the pulp with enzymes and fragmenting them with a mechanical beater. When water is drained away, the fibres join together through hydrogen bonds giving “nano-paper”.

According to New Scientist:

Mechanical testing shows it has a tensile strength of 214 megapascals, making it stronger than cast iron (130 MPa) and almost as strong as structural steel (250 MPa). Normal paper has a tensile strength less than 1 MPa.

Wow. I wonder what novel uses could come from this.

Emotion Visualisation: We Feel Fine and Moodstream

Two fantastic visualisations of emotion today which may serve as inspiration for some of art, writing or perhaps even webpage designs.

We Feel Fine

We Feel Fine

We Feel Fine scours the internet for human feelings every ten minutes. According to their website, they use sources “including LiveJournal, MSN Spaces, MySpace, Blogger, Flickr, Technorati, Feedster, Ice Rocket, and Google”. They then analysewhat is written in the blogs for “I feel” or “I am feeling” and do further analysis/crawling around the website to pick up information on the type of feeling which is being felt as well as the age and geographical location of the author.

The applet on the website then generates a “emotion cloud”. Try it out.

Getty Images Moodstream


Moodstream is a visual brainstorming tool. Choose from 6 presets or select your own from various parameters such as happy/sad, calm/lively, humourous/serious, nostalgic/contemporary, warm/cool. The applet finds music, images and videos and combines them to deliver that image. It’s designed to be a take you in inspired and unexpected directions.

The Mystery White Box of MSN/Windows Live Messenger

Mystery White Box

I’ve noticed that this evening some mystery white boxes have begun to appear in Windows Live Messenger beneath display pictures. It’s just a strange white square which doesn’t seem to do anything.

Why am I making a post about such a seemingly banal thing you ask? Well…

It’s not in all conversation windows. And I’ve heard that certain people using Windows Live Messenger 9 see a Microsoft Office icon rather than a blank square.

The reason why this is possibly significant is because it could hint that Microsoft is launching a way for people to collaborate on Microsoft Office documents through Windows Live Messenger. A way to collaborate on work through WLM and Office certainly seems a lot more natural than using Google Docs.

I had a phase where I developed a few small applications which integrated with Windows Live Messenger and there was definitely a hint of future Office integration in there. In the “What am I listening to?” music feature, changing one argument in the API function call would give you the Office logo instead in the message

My prediction is that Microsoft is just about to launch a feature where you can collaborate on documents. The only thing is there doesn’t seem to be any logic in which contacts the white box appears with. I thought it might have been visible for people who used Office 2007 but that doesn’t seem to be the case, nor does it seem to matter whether the other person has a copy of Office running.

Watch this space…

Nintendo Wii Remote Hacks

If you guys haven’t seen this video of Johnny Lee’s Wii Remote hacks, it’ll blow you away. What he has done is taken an inexpensive $40 (or £30) Wii Remote and hacked it to do some extraordinary things. In order to track the position of the Wii remote, there is an infrared sensor on the top. Your Wii sensor bar emits beams of infrared light which the remote picks up and uses to track where it is. (find out how I took the following photo)

Anyway, he hacked it so it could be connected as a computer and would work in reverse: the wii remote is laid stationary (like a webcam) and then it tracks the movement of an infrared dot.

There is a fantastic interactive whiteboard built on the cheap and I think the headtracking program is just stunning.

Electronic Arts have released a game called Boomblox for the Wii which uses this head tracking technology.

Firefox 3 Victory, Release on June 17

Mozilla Developer News announces that Firefox 3 will be released on Tuesday June 17. Take part in the Download Day to break a world record (the server admin for Mozilla must be pretty brave to encourage everybody to download all at once).

To celebrate, the guys at Mozilla have created an absolutely awesome movie-style Victory poster:

Firefox 3 Victory

See a larger version. Apparently there will be a limited edition 18×24″ poster at the Mozilla Store soon.

I absolutely love the Firefox 3 robot branding!

Blogging, Health and Work-Life Balance

Writing words..
Creative Commons License photo: _StaR_DusT_

Theres some really interesting research In May’s Scientific American about the possible health benefits of blogging.

Self-medication may be the reason the blogosphere has taken off. Scientists (and writers) have long known about the therapeutic benefits of writing about personal experiences, thoughts and feelings. But besides serving as a stress-coping mechanism, expressive writing produces many physiological benefits. Research shows that it improves memory and sleep, boosts immune cell activity and reduces viral load in AIDS patients, and even speeds healing after surgery.

This comes just a month after the New York Times published an article talking about the poor working conditions often enjoyed by bloggers and the stress that bloggers could be put under.

Other bloggers complain of weight loss or gain, sleep disorders, exhaustion and other maladies born of the nonstop strain of producing for a news and information cycle that is as always-on as the Internet.

“I haven’t died yet,” said Michael Arrington, the founder and co-editor of TechCrunch, a popular technology blog. The site has brought in millions in advertising revenue, but there has been a hefty cost. Mr. Arrington says he has gained 30 pounds in the last three years, developed a severe sleeping disorder and turned his home into an office for him and four employees. “At some point, I’ll have a nervous breakdown and be admitted to the hospital, or something else will happen.”

Creative Commons License photo: flattop341

Two seemingly contradicting articles perhaps? To me, the two articles seem to describe different types of blogging. I believe the first article argues that blogging for yourself and for fun is beneficial. It’s therapeutic and you’re not worrying about the number of posts you need to make in a day or how many readers each post gets.

The second article argues that blogging for profit is very stressful and damaging to your lifestyle. I think it makes sense: as a technology blogger you’re essentially competiting with all the big tech websites such as Cnet and Gizmodo and worrying whether you’ll get your article to Digg before everyone else. And of course everything moves really quickly on the internet.

In the end, I think it all comes down to a work-life balance. If you want to blog for profit, there is a certain point where you must let go and employ somebody else to contribute to your blog: perhaps from a different part of the world or a different time zone. One blogger is never going to be able to match the large technology companies for size or speed. It’s not easy to earn money from blogging: otherwise everyone would be doing it.

| apple-command |
Creative Commons License photo: arquera

I’d personally hate to be a professional blogger. The whole idea of having to spend a lot of time submitting to Digg and having to spend excessive amounts of time on the internet just doesn’t appeal to me. The very nature of blogging means it tends to happen at home making it very hard to get that correct work-life balance.

Saying that, I’ve recently introduced Google AdSense onto my blog archives. As a cash strapped student, any additional money I earn and which can go towards tuition fees is very welcome and very needed. It’s certainly not a huge amount of money and I’d be lying if I said it took no work to achieve even that. The way I see it: I’ve been blogging for 3 years and my blog income is very unremarkable. I couldn’t even begin to wonder how much work it would take to earn a living from it.

A Utopian Star Trek Society – Making Economics Redundant

les années sans lumiere
Creative Commons License photo: izarbeltza

The society of Star Trek invented by Gene Roddenberry is sometimes held up by fans as something we should strive towards. In the Star Trek universe, they don’t use money: people strive towards bettering themselves and humanity. Doesn’t that sound like communism to you?

If we tried to apply these principles in our world today, it certainly wouldn’t work. That’s been demonstrated in communism. Money is a much better way to carry out transactions than bartering: with bartering there needs to be a double-coincidence of wants. A baker may barter a few loaves of bread in exchange for a haircut with a hairdresser. Now, the baker only needs his hair cut once every month or two. Between haircuts, the hairdresser has nothing to barter and thus cannot have any bread on the table.

As for striving towards bettering ourselves and humanity? It doesn’t work in communism: communism gives people incentives to do as little as possible as they aren’t individually rewarded. Free-market economics (or capitalism) works simply because it gives people individual incentives to work and perform better: wages for workers, profits for companies and dividends for shareholders. Economics uses the fact that people act in their own self-interest to lead to an optimal outcome for society. I’d argue that economics is the single most important invention ever: one which paved the way for science, technology and pretty much every single aspect of life we experience today.

I was watching Visions of the Future on the BBC the other day and it did lead me to wonder whether we might be on the verge of this Star Trek age where we might be able to do without money. There are two bits of technology which I believe would allow this to happen.

totality bites
Creative Commons License photo: mugley

First of all, nuclear fusion. Nuclear fusion promises to be an abundant source of energy which is inexhaustible. Limitless and pollution-free, nuclear fusion could render the assumption of scarcity in economics out of date (that society doesn’t have enough resources to meet human wants). With an infinite amount of energy, we could do anything: mitigate global warming, travel to other planets, whatever we like.

Secondly, molecular assemblers or “replicators” as they are known in Star Trek. The development of replicators depends on further research into nanotechnology but the promise is that they can produce more or less anything at the touch of a button by constructing objects atom by atom. The only limitations would be the amount of energy required to replicate the objects and knowing what we want to produce with them.

Many scientists believe that nuclear fusion and molecular assemblers are both viable technologies and may only be about 50 years away.

In a world with limitless energy and the means to create anything that we wanted, nothing is scarce. We could immediately create anything that we want in order to fulfill our wants and needs. And it’s that fact which would render economics redundant. If everything costs nothing to make, why would you need money?

Creative Commons License photo: fdecomite

So what would be the effect of such technologies on society? Wealth is more or less meaningless and there is no reason for money to exist, so there will be no such things as city stock traders or economists. In fact, anyone working in the primary and secondary sectors would be made redundant by replicators. The important people in such a society would be the scientists and engineers: in a world where we aren’t limited by resources, we are only limited by our ideas. Scientists and engineers are the people who will come up with those new ideas.

At first glance, the utopian society as described in ‘Star Trek’ can seem like a communist society which would never function in the real world. I believe that today we are beginning to see the glimpses of technology which would bring society into a new age where we are no longer constrained by resources, scarcity and economics. The only constraints would be our ideas and dreams. Gene Roddenberry’s dream of our futuristic society might not seem so farfetched afterall.

AVG8 deleted all my e-mail

365-223 TUE MAY 29
Creative Commons License photo: Nils Geylen

Grr… I allowed AVG 8 to run a computer scan for viruses earlier. When it came back, it said it had detected 96 threats and automatically removed them all; I didn’t think anything of it because they were just attachments in e-mails in my inbox. Unfortunately, Mozilla Thunderbird stores all of it’s e-mail in one file and some of my spam e-mails had contained viruses inside them. So AVG decided to the entire Inbox file meaning I’ve now essentially lost 4 years of e-mail. Included in those e-mails were all kinds of things including invoices, essays, important e-mails, website login details, letters and university administrative documents. Deleted by AVG, not moved to the Virus Vault.

I’m really annoyed with AVG at the moment. I am very lucky in the fact that I use Google Mail and it archives all e-mail which has been downloaded via POP3 rather than throwing them away as most e-mail services would. So I’ve probably still got copies of most of those e-mails lying around somewhere.

There’s probably a month worth of e-mail in several accounts I need to trawl through to find the ones which I’ve not yet attended to or had previously marked as “to be read”. I have several e-mail accounts for different purposes and Thunderbird downloaded e-mail from them all to compile a big inbox of all new e-mail.

It’s not a catastrophic data loss. I can only thank Google for having a backup. But it could easily have been one. It’s very frustrating: trawling through backups is really the last thing I really want to do right now with exams coming up.

Says Mozillazine:

Some antivirus software unfortunately isn’t familiar with Thunderbird, so when it detects a virus in your Inbox, it takes action on the whole file (your entire Inbox) instead of taking action on just one e-mail. For instance, if your antivirus software is set to automatically delete infected messages, it might delete your entire Inbox! This problem is due to a design flaw in certain AV programs, not in Thunderbird, and it is known to occur with Outlook Express and other e-mail programs too.

Apparently AVG7 worked fine with Thunderbird too: it’s AVG8 which introduces the problem where the entire inbox is deleted. I’ve disabled “Automatically heal/remove infections” so in the future hopefully AVG will ask before deleting my inbox. Well, now you know. Safeguard your inbox from AVG8 before you upgrade.

Probability Brain Teaser II

A few days ago I posted a probability brain teaser which was getting me in a spin.

A family has 2 children. When you knock on the door one of the children, a boy, opens the door. What is the probability that the other child is a boy?

There were many interesting responses and as I expected, I had a mixture of two answers: a third and a half.

That which gives an answer of a third

When I first told this problem over dinner, I was told the answer was a third. The explanation is as follows:

You know that a boy opened the door. That means there is at least one boy. So out of the four possible permutations: boy-boy, boy-girl, girl-boy, girl-girl only the first three are possible. You could essentially rephrase the question as “There are two children in the family and it is not the case that both are girls”.

In the three of the permutations which are now possible (boy-boy, boy-girl, girl-boy), only one gives two boys. So the likelyhood of there being two boys is 1/3rd. Hence, the probability of the other child being a boy is a third.

That which gives an answer of a half

My immediate response was that the gender of the two children are independent and that the gender of one has no bearing on the other.

I also pursued a different technique which also lead to the answer of a half. There are two children in the family: giving the possible combinations of boy-boy, boy-girl, girl-boy and girl-girl. The probability of each is 25% or 1/4.

There are three possible ways that could lead to a boy opening the door. If there are two boys in the family then a boy will most definitely open the door. If there is one boy and one girl in the family, the chance that the boy will open the door in each case is only a half.

I’ve illustrated this information in a probability tree diagram where the probabilities shown are cumulative.

Tree Diagram

The total probability of a boy-boy combination with a boy opening the door is 25%. The total probability of there being one boy and one girl, and a boy opening the door is also 25%.

The probability of a 1 boy, 1 girl combination is hence the same as the probability of 2 boys.

After thinking both of these arguments through, I can’t actually see the logical fallacy which exists in either. They can’t both be right however. It would be great to hear your thoughts once again!


Bomomo is a unique and very original technique to create a work of art. It’s hard to describe it – just give it a try! It uses <canvas> so works fantastically in Firefox and reportedly fairly well, in Safari and Opera 9.5 too. It’s been described as an “interesting mix of Spirograph, Etch-a-Sketch, and MS Paint”.

See an example of a Bomomo drawing.