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Saturday, May 24, 2008

Detecting Concussions At Time Of Impact On The Football Field

The University of Minnesota is employing a new sensing device inside the helmets of players to detect forces that are great enough to induce concussions. Known as the Head Impact Telemetry System or HITS, the technology uses sensors in the helmets to page coaches and trainers when a high impact hit occurs, sending the player's jersey number and G-force of the impact. The data is not only being used to alert team staff to potential injury but is being captured and sent to the helmet manufacturer to aid in future design consideration. The system cost about $1000 per helmet. Check out this Discovery Channel video...

Phoenix Mars Lander To Touch Down Sunday

The Phoenix Mars Lander has nearly five million more kilometres to travel but is said to be on track and on time to land on the red planet on Sunday. "All systems are nominal and stable," said Ed Sedivy, program manager for Lockheed Martin Space Systems, which built the spacecraft. "We have plenty of propellant, the temperatures look good and the batteries are fully charged." The craft which has a Canadian made weather station on board, will land in Mars' arctic and dig down into the ice-rich soil, to study the frozen water for evidence of carbon-containing chemicals.

At about 7:45 ET on Sunday, Phoenix will use superheated friction with the atmosphere, a strong parachute and a set of retrorockets to make it's touchdown on the surface, in what NASA officials call "seven minutes of terror," because only 5 of 11 previous attempts to land spacecrafts on Mars have been successful. Let's cross our fingers!

CBC story here.

Friday, May 23, 2008

You've Probably Heard Of Crop Circles, But How About Forest Rings?

The boreal forests of northern Ontario are dotted with as many as 8000 "forest rings". Discovered on aerial photographs about 50 years ago, the rings have baffled biologists, geologists and foresters ever since. Stew Hamilton, a Sudbury-based geochemist with the Sedimentary Geoscience Section of the Ontario Geological Survey says "We have been working on the rings since 1998, and there have been many developments, but there are still many unanswered questions," Speaking to the CBC Hamilton explained that he theorizes "the forest rings are caused by giant, naturally occurring electrochemical cells — big centres of negative charges (called reduced chimneys) that are frequently situated over metal or mineral deposits or methane (a natural gas source)." Check out the CBC story for more detail and a couple of interesting photos of the phenomenon.

Get Rid Of That Old Fridge, Save Money, Save The World

Well, not quite... but CNN and This Old House have some interesting statistics that provide plenty of incentive for tossing that out dated (pre 1993) refrigerator. For instance, "If every American home replaced its pre-1993 fridge with an Energy Star model, we would prevent annual greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to those of more than 8.3 million cars." or how about this amazing fact, "Refrigerators qualified under the new Energy Star guidelines use less energy than a 75-watt light bulb left on full time".

Not convinced? The US Department of Energy has created a site,, to aid you in determining how much your inefficient current fridge is costing you, comparing those costs to an Energy Star appliance, and finding a recycling program in your area. What are you waiting for?

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Astronomers Witness The Death Of A Star

On January 9th of this year, astronomers using a NASA X-ray satellite to spy on a star considered to be near death, observed another star in the same galaxy as it started to explode. "A star exploded right before my eyes," lead author Alicia Soderberg, an astrophysics researcher at Princeton University, said Wednesday in a teleconference. She compared the event to "winning the astronomy lottery. We caught the whole thing from start-to-finish on tape." According to the researchers less than one percent of all stars will end their life in supernova. "As much energy is released in one second by the death of a star as by all of the other stars you can see in the visible universe," said University of California at Berkeley astronomy professor Alex Filippenko. The outburst was 100 billion times brighter than Earth's sun, so bright it flooded the satellite's instrument, giving it a picture akin to "pointing your digital camera at the sun," Soderberg said. CNN has more here.

Microsoft Willing To Pay You To Use It's Searchengine

Microsoft is offering cash in the form of rebates to persuade users to shop online using it's Live Search engine. The scheme has Microsoft paying back to the consumer between 2% and 30% of the purchase price of over 10 million items from over 700 retail partners. Barnes & Noble, Sears,, Home Depot, J&R Electronics and a host of other retailers have signed on to the plan. The cash back will come in the form of a PayPal credit, cheque, or credit to the users bank account. In addition Microsoft is providing advertisers with incentives by implementing what it calls a Cost-Per-Acquisition approach rather than a Cost-Per-Click as used by Google. This approach means that advertisers will only pay when their ad results in a consumer actually buying something rather than clicking on something, that may or may not result in a sale.

CNET's Charles Cooper says: "Truth be told, it's not the worst idea. What's the harm in giving it a shot? In a recession consumers are open to bribes or rebates. But the reason people use Google is because it works better. Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer knows this. That's why he still thinks making a move for some of Yahoo's assets makes sense."

BBC Story Here.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Wall Climbing Robot To Be Unveiled

SRI International has plans to unveil the design of a wall-climbing robot at the International Conference on Robotics and Automation in Pasadena, California later this week. “The principle of operation is similar to electrostatic chucks used to hold silicon wafers, or other specialized grippers for robotic handling of materials,” senior researcher Harsha Prahlad explained to Popular Mechanics in an email last week. “The technology uses a very small amount of power ... and shows the ability to repeatedly clamp to wall substrates that are heavily covered in dust or other debris.” Check out this video!

Twitter Attracting Venture Capital Attention

Gigaom is reporting that micro blogging service, Twitter has ignited a bidding war amongst venture capital firms who are hot to get in on the companies next round of financing. Twitter has been spreading like wild fire amongst the tech savvy but has had it's growing pains too. Some of the companies senior staff members have left, willingly or otherwise, due to difficulties scaling the service and numerous outages as the result. Nevertheless the valuations for Twitter are said to be upwards of $70 million, though there is no clear business model as of yet.

If you are yet to give Twitter a try I'd encourage you to do so, though be warned it is addictive. You can follow this blog by adding GreatBigGeek to the list you are following or message me direct @GreatBigGeek!

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

New iPhone On June 9th?

Gizmodo has posted that Apple will announce the second-generation iPhone at its Worldwide Developer Conference in San Francisco on June 9th, citing the ever popular "someone very, very close to the 3G iPhone launch,". According to this CBC article "Apple has sold more than 5 million iPhones so far and in the year since its U.S. launch has grabbed 28 per cent of the U.S. market in smartphones, or devices that offer data capabilities such as e-mail and web surfing." The launch of a next gen iPhone has long been expected and the rumors have been rampant with the recent news of first gen iPhone's being in short supply. We in Canada have suspected that the 3G iPhone was on it's way since Rogers announced a deal with Apple to finally bring the device north of the border.

Google Health Goes Live

After a year and a half in development and a 2 month trial at the Cleveland Clinic, which quickly attained it's limit of 1600 patients, Google is taking the wraps off Google Health. Available at the service offers patients the ability to control personal health records on the Web. The patient has the ability to login to their record and make updates that they can send to their care giver of choice (doctor, clinic, pharmacy, etc.) or keep completely private if they so choose.

If you have a gmail account simply navigate to Google Health and login using your gmail address and password. You will be presented with a couple of agreements, that upon acceptance, will grant you access to your Google Health account. The site then allows you to import medical records, complete a comprehensive patient profile including known conditions, medications, allergies, procedures, test results, and immunizations. According to the Cleveland Clinic the trial was oversubscribed and C. Martin Harris, the Cleveland Clinic’s chief information officer said “It positioned our personal health record more into an activity that they use every day,” Time will tell whether or not the public is truly going to embrace the idea of personal medical information in the hands of a corporation, but it looks like Google is on to something.

NY Times article here.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Shadow Caddy - Robotic Golfing Assistant

An Australian company has created a robotic caddy that allows you to be free of carrying, pushing, or pulling your golf clubs around the golf course. For those golfers who still enjoy walking the course the Shadow Caddy may just be what they are looking for. The Shadow Caddy is a "hands free", three wheel electronic caddy that precisely follows you, and the clip on transmitter, around the golf course. The companies website indicates that it is currently only available in Australia and is for hire at a number of golf courses in that country. There is no mention of a purchase price and the "for hire" statement leads me to believe that it is purely a rental item at the moment. Check it out at

A Facelift For Facebook

Facebook is set to undergo a facelift, the first major redesign of the social site since it launched. The big problem with facebook is the success of the 3rd party applications and the cluttered affect they have on the user's profile pages. I am often annoyed at the nonsensical messages from applications such as booze mail, that eat up the real estate on my screen. Facebook's answer is to split the main profile into five separate pages, all accessible through tabs at the top of the page. Thankfully, the BBC is reporting that it is likely "Applications like games and quizzes will also be moved on to their own dedicated page." You can read the entire story here.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Microsoft - Yahoo Back On Again?

In the statement on Sunday, Microsoft announced it was “considering and has raised with Yahoo an alternative that would involve a transaction with Yahoo but not an acquisition of all of Yahoo.” According to the New York Times, "The timing of Microsoft’s new approach may seem opportunistic. Yahoo has been racing to complete its own partnership with Google and was expected to announce a formal agreement as early as this week. A Yahoo-Google partnership, which is likely to face antitrust scrutiny, could make Yahoo a less desirable partner or takeover candidate for Microsoft." Yahoo is also said to be facing a great deal of pressure from it's shareholders, some of whom are said to be furious that the board didn't work harder to strike a deal to sell the company to Microsoft.

Google Treasure Hunt Contest Announced

Put your geeky knowledge to the test, Google has announced a treasure hunt on its' Australian site. If you think you have problem-solving skills in computer science, networking, and low-level UNIX trivia you might like to give it a try. There are new puzzles posted every week for three weeks and and if you submit correct answers to every question you will be in the running to receive a prize. Check it out at

The Un-branding of AOL

Time Warner Inc.'s AOL has long been synonymous with dial-up Internet connections, if you where around in the early days of the Internet you probably cursed your mailman every time an AOL disk filled your mail box. The brass at AOL are finally seeing the age of it's brand is not doing them any favors when it comes to eyeballs on websites. The AOL brand is becoming less relevant, particularly with the younger demographic and the company is allowing it's brand to take a back seat on some of it's new properties. According to "AOL figures that to grow its audiences — and draw additional advertising the company crucially needs to offset plunging revenue from its shrinking base of Internet access subscribers — it must break from a one-size-fits-all model and let its specialty sites set their own designs and editorial tone, shedding the AOL brand when necessary." As AOL's parent, Time Warner Inc. has put it in a regulatory filing: “If AOL cannot effectively build a portfolio of alternate brands that are appealing to Internet consumers, AOL may have difficulty in increasing the engagement of Internet consumers on its Web products and services. AOL believes that the ‘AOL' brand is associated in the minds of consumers with its dial-up Internet access service.”

It's interesting to see how those properties that have been around for some time now are adapting to a maturing landscape on the Internet, one where the rules keep rewriting themselves and businesses need to be agile in order to remain relevant...