SMART DUST: People and computers living in perfect harmony?

COMPUTERS have advanced so splendidly in the past few years that electricians are now able to make micro-computers the size of pinheads. The proposed applications for computers of this size range from modifying the weather to controlling the electrical infrastructure of large cities. Of course, it is wise to be wary of anything that is powerful and to analyse critically the potential of such technology before it involuntarily becomes an integral part of our lives.

SmartdustSmart dust is one particular brand of microcomputers that has been hailed as a society-changing element that will greatly improve and change the way we live our daily lives. Devised by Dr Kristofer Pister from the University of California in 2001, smart dust is able to gather information from its surrounding environment and send this to people or other computers.

Pictured right: Dr Kristofer Pister demonstrating the size of smart dust particles (Images: newilluminati.blog-city.com)

A smart dust particle or mote is a wireless sensor that has four basic functions — sensing, computation, communication and power — all built into one tiny package. With smart dust being so low powered and inexpensive, the idea is to spread it everywhere — in every building, on every street, in every electrical device and ultimately, in or on every human being.

What smart dust is able to do is create a large invisible network that, in theory, would be able to manage the infrastructure of even the largest city in the world. Streets and buildings would be able to recognise people and respond accordingly. Workplaces would recognise employees and buzz you into the building. Smart dust could even send a lift to your floor and boot up your PC.

Of course the major concern involves privacy. If all of this information about you is available and gathered by smart dust, who else has access to it? Smart dust would also allow certain people to know exactly where you are at all times and could quite easily turn on you and deny you freedom of movement and access. It may sound like something from a movie, but the amount of control that powerful people could have on the masses via smart dust is certainly something to be cautious of.

What is a good idea is having smart dust monitor our roadways and transport systems. Smart dust scattered on the roads would be able to report potholes and traffic jams to commuters, and smart dust on the railways would be able to accurately report late trains in an instant. Bridges coated in smart dust would be able to report stress fractures, helping to avoid collapse and prevent disaster.

Smartdust

The first smart dust particles created in 2001, which were about the size of a deck of playing cards.

But do we want such fabric dispersed everywhere? Smart dust may be evolving to the microscopic level, but it is by no means undeniably safe. Several news reports were released in the past decade about a similar substance known as global environmental sensors (GEMS) that had been released into the atmosphere to monitor weather conditions. There was very little thought given to these electrical particles being inhaled once they descended to Earth, nor any given to the fact that several micro-organisms could ingest smart dust and die as a result.

It almost seems worth having to boot up your work PC manually and save a termite population in the process.

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JONATHAN VAN STADEN

WHY not spoil yourself or someone who you know who has everything with an electronic gadget that will be sure to make a statement this Christmas. The statement might be that you have lost your mind, but it just may make life a little more interesting. There are plenty of devices out there that have been born out of an active imagination. Here is a sampling of some that you will want to have and others you may prefer to give away. Enjoy.

Want Remote

Want Remote

CHRISTMAS GIFT IDEAS: Wand Remote

Do you want things to instantly change with the wave of your hand? Now you can with the wand remote. It will learn commands from your existing remotes and map them to particular hand motions. Flick the wand from side to side to change channels or twist it to turn up the volume. A beam of light will even shoot out as you become the conductor of your electronic symphony from the comfort of your couch.

CHRISTMAS GIFT IDEAS: Popcorn Machine

You just know how much this would make you feel as if you are at the movies or back at the fun fair. No more boring microwave bags. Here you can have salted, hot buttered popcorn until your lips start to wrinkle!

CHRISTMAS GIFT IDEAS: Guitar T-shirt

Guitar t-shirtPlaying air guitar is so last year. Put this shirt on and plug it into the clip on speaker/amp and start playing your favourite music. All the major chords are recorded from a real electric guitar and the magnetic pick allows you to strum like you would a normal guitar. The amp has a tone knob that lets you adjust the sound just like a real guitar. In case you were wondering the volume knob goes up to 11.

Outdoor subwooferCHRISTMAS GIFT IDEAS: Outdoor Sub-woofer

Now you can enjoy a full bass sound outdoors. It can support up to 90 kg, so you can use it as a plant stand or a side table. Its durable terracotta finish is paintable to match your outdoor décor. Your plants will be amazed to actually hear the sound of a tuba.

CHRISTMAS GIFT IDEAS: Dog Speakers

Talking of woofers, how about something for the the dog lover. Well, a pair headless dogs sitting at your side may be too weird for you to live with. But on the positive side they do come fully house trained.

CHRISTMAS GIFT IDEAS: Self Stirring Mug

Self stirring mugObviously you are going to be so busy waving your remote around and tucking into your popcorn that you cannot be expected to stop and stir your favourite hot drink you have just prepared. You don’t have to. With this mug all you need is one hand to press the button on the handle and all the ingredients will be stirred to perfection.

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PRAISE THE RAYS: Higher electricity bills power a surge of interest in solar

The sun is possibly the most untapped resource we have. The amount of solar energy produced by our bright, burning star is enough theoretically to power the planet forever; or until it decides to give up on us and fizzle out entirely.

The total solar energy absorbed by Earth’s atmosphere, oceans and land masses is about 3 850 000 Exajoules (EJ) per annum. In layman’s terms, the amount of solar energy reaching the surface of the planet is so vast that in one year it could produce roughly twice as much power as that which could ever be obtained from all of the Earth’s non-renewable resources (coal, oil, natural gas and uranium) combined.

Solar power can be harnessed at different levels around the world depending on geographical location. Basically, the closer a place is to the equator, the more potential­ solar energy is available. Unfortunately, the erection of entire solar power plants is not cheap, but there are ways that we can all do a little better to harness this clean, renewable energy­ source.

I always imagine my future home as a green embodiment of eco-friendliness - a home with a rooftop covered in solar panels. These would be used to heat water, power lights and store excess energy in batteries. Solar geysers are great for water heating and can save a lot on your electricity bill — especially­ if you like taking long, hot baths.

Unfortunately, a solar geyser will set you back about R17 000, but it can cut your monthly electricity bill by up to 40%. More importantly, a solar geyser could cut your carbon emissions by three tons per year. This is according to SolarTech, one of South Africa’s major­ solar businesses that specialises in solar-powered geysers.

The Sun Ray Cooker

Sun Ray Cooker

The average household electricity consumption, according to Eskom, is 1100 kWh per month, with an estimated eight percent of consumption ascribed to the stove in your kitchen. The Sun Ray Cooker offers an alternative to using a conventional oven.

THE SUN RAY COOKER

If you like the idea of using solar power and are interested in testing the rays, the Sun Ray Cooker is a great affordable start. This solar-powered oven consists of a couple of pots and a reflective box. Simply placing food inside the box and leaving it in the sun for a few hours, slow cooks food to perfection. It is said to be great for stews and can even bake bread.

Natural temperature build-up cooks the food and the cooker can feed up to six people. Generally, a slow solar cooker takes twice the time to cook a meal that a conventional stove does, but the Sun Ray Cooker can save you up to 8% on your electricity bill.

November is the perfect time to make use of such solar-powered devices as we’ll be getting an average of 10 hours of sunlight a day here in sunny South Africa. Even winter sunshine is sufficient for perfect cooking results, says Herman Warren, chief executive of Sun Ray Cooker. The Solar Cooker combo sells for R900.

Prices on solar-powered devices are gradually dropping, yet solar power for individual homes is not nearly as cheap as it should be in this country. But it is certainly a great investment if you wish to go green in 2011.

What should really happen is that solar power be made compulsory for homes of a certain size. Like the power-saving light bulbs we got previously, this Christmas we should get solar panels — freely installed by power-hungry Eskom.

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POST PROMO: Blogger’s Greatest Hits attempt to make a comeback

EACH post I’ve ever written is like a digital child of mine - each given due attention and updated when necessary. However, as a parent, I naturally grow concerned over how some of my digital offspring are more popular than others.

They each have their own unique talents and personalities, and although popularity is a fickle thing, I can’t help feel that it is my fault as a parent that some of my children get more attention than others. Perhaps they weren’t labeled properly at birth, or their dad simply lacked the know-how of how to get them ahead in life at the time.

I have therefore made it my parental duty to promote some talented children of mine that still have much to offer and are yearning for your attention. Below are a few of my personal favourites from each category – my greatest hits trying to make a comeback. I’m certain that you will find yourself willing to adopt some of the following:

From Quite Interesting:

"Staring blankly at my keyboard the other day (as one does) I began pondering over the arrangement of the keys. “What’s up with that?” I heard the comedian within me say. I set forth on a cyber-galactic journey to discovery why my keyboard’s layout looks the way it does…" (Read more)

Santa Claus“So just who is that fat, old jolly guy in the red suit that parades around shopping malls at Christmas time – entertaining kids and scaring adults with his “ho ho hos”? It’s usually someone’s dad – the one (in any community of close friends) with the biggest beer boep…” (Read more)

"Do you ever use sayings such as “saved by the bell” or hear your grandmother squawk something like, “Heavens, it raining cats and dogs outside!” A lot of people still do yet have no idea where such phrases originate from. I got a little history lesson the other day which explained the dark truth behind some of these popular figures of speech..." (Read more)

From Web 2.0:

"Digital Blasphemy is by far one of the best places on the web to find incredible pc wallpapers. Ryan Bliss has made a career of creating digital desktop backgrounds that are simply amazing. He is also quite the generous type and offers a few of his digital artworks for free. I have collected several of these over the years and wanted to share my top 10 with anyone who appreciates such talent..."
(Read more)

Photofunia"There are some great digital photography websites out there that allow you to do some wondrous things with your own (possibly dull) collection of pics. Such sites also make you look really smart when your family and friends don’t know about them and ask, “how in the name of Luke Skywalker did you make your facebook profile pic like that!?”
(Read more)

"If you feel that you missed out on an opportunity to be pasted in your fellow matriculants’ yearbooks and be remembered forever, you can now do it online. With a little imagination and creativity, you could digitally create an entire yearbook of all your former classmates, whether you matriculated in the ’50s or the ’90s..." (Read more)

From Happy Friday:

"The video “Where the Hell is Matt?” has seen over 21 million views to date, so you’re likely to have seen it before, but if you haven’t, you should give it a watch. It takes you to a place of magic and joy and wonder – a place where all the bad in the world is forgotten for 4mins 29secs. It is one of the most viewed viral videos of its time and one of my top dancing videos..." (Read more)

chip-n-dale"There are no cartoons better than the hand-crafted animations of the 80s, which make today’s cartoons look rather crappy by comparison. The following make me slip into a nostalgic state and give me the urge to run around the garden naked climbing trees again. What? That’s not weird. It’s called my “inner-child” – eveyone has it… don’t they?" (Read more)

"Here you'll find a collection of humorous and memorable South African Facebook statuses I’ve come across over the past two weeks to illustrate my point that South Africans are pretty, funny people..." (Read more)

From Online tips & tricks:

"The video-web is an exciting place to be involved in these days, particularly because it is constantly evolving and simply brimming with potential. If you have untapped creative juices, or any original video-related ideas, there is nothing stopping you from making a contribution to the growing videosphere..." (Read more)

blogging 101"If the idea of blogging excites you, there is nothing preventing you from starting one today. There are several ways to go about this, but in the spirit of keeping things simple, there are two blogging sites I would recommend..."
(Read more)

"... here’s a much more controversial-friendly, and very easy way to learn the SA anthem if you don’t know it already. You’ll see that it’s as easy as ABC" (Read more)

From Gadgets & tech:

"Specifically since the introduction of Windows XP to Japan, more and more consumers have been taking their laptops and electronic devices to Shinto priests to be blessed against system crashes and technical failures..." (Read more)

"Our traffic nightmares may soon come to an end thanks to an invention known as the Shweeb. And this is not just some fancy new swear word, but the world’s first human-powered monorail" (Read more)

"I wrote a hand-written letter the other day and found that my hand-writing looked like barbed wire. I realised that it had been a good while since I had used any hand-writing skills due to my increasing reliance on typing everything. It seems obvious to me that the archaic technology of hand-writing is being slowly killed by digital technologies. Yet just when the patriotic hand-writers thought things couldn’t get worse, society unleashed something called “digital paper” or iPaper..." (Read more)

Reviews:

"The gaming chair came in attachable parts with a set of tools, a spider diagram, some Chinese instructions, and a note of encouragement. I half expected to find a small key, some coded message, a strange map and an enchan­ted ring" (Read more)

Aibo"I’ve been thinking of getting a puppy; one that’s potty-trained. Or perhaps a streetwise cat that can take care of itself. The thought that I could never find the time to raise a pup made me consider robot pets. Several of these can learn skills and tricks, recognise faces, voices, and colour; but they won’t pee on your carpet..." (Read more)

"Twisp is not a real cigarette, but a personal and portable vapouriser, that uses micro-electronics and a lithium polymer cell to evaporate nicotine in ‘smoke’ from a replaceable cartridge. The vapour does not smell nor does it contain tar, carcinogens or smoke particulate found in first and second- hand cigarette smoke, but it feels, tastes and looks just like the real thing..." (Read more)

Gaming & virtual reality

"It has been said that Wannado has redefined child entertainment by simulating a dream world where children are encouraged to take on and experience one or several adult professions. It features 60 Real-play venues and over 120 career possibilities – ranging from archaeologists, doctors, attorneys and TV hosts to fashion models, pizza makers, DJs and clowns..." (Read more)

VisionDome 5"As computer-processing power increases and even more realistic graphics are developed, the simulated environments produced by virtual reality systems will become even more believable than some already are. At the cutting edge of vitual reality is the VisionDome..." (Read more)

"Known as the godfather of modern videogame systems, the Atari 2600 (originally called the Atari VCS) helped spawn a multi-billion dollar gaming industry. Released in 1977, the Atari 2600 was the first successful console to use game cartridges and its influence can still be felt today in the Xbox, PlayStation, and GameCube..."
(Read more)

Cellphones & cellular technology:

"The Samsung Jet has opened up a whole new world of mobile web browsing with its high performance Dolfin web browser and revolutionary 3D cubic interface, allowing super-fast surfing. The device also supports the option of multi-window browsing – allowing one to surf up to five pages simultaneously..." (Read more)

iphone art"Some of the latest hype arriving in the wake of the new iPhone 3G S is an Apple application for the device called Brushes, which allows users to do more than just doodle on their iPhones. The images are “painted” freehand, using fingers and thumbs..." (Read more)

"The Health Concept Phone (pictured) is equipped with eNose technology, which effectively allows it to electronically “smell” what you eat and keep track of your food intake. It is able to ‘recognise’ food (and other things) by its unique chemical signature. Recommended for people who have a habit of eating with their eyes closed. Similar phones have the ability to emit a whiff of your significant other’s scent every time he or she phones..." (Read more)

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REVIEW: The Vodafone Mobile Connect USB Stick

Monique Tyrer

ALTHOUGH I missed my monthly phone fix from Vodashop Midlands this month, the outlet provided something different to satisfy my techno cravings that was just as fun to review — the Vodafone Mobile Connect USB Stick.

Slightly longer than your average USB flash drive, this handy Internet stick gives you a mobile Internet connection via your phone’s sim-card for either your laptop or desktop computer, allowing you to work from anywhere through a speedy Internet connection.

The “plug and play” capabilities of this nifty device work on both Windows and Mac computers through three different network connections — HSDPA, 3G and GPRS. The light on the stick also flashes a different colour to let you know which signal you are connected to, although all the connections are faster on average than a normal dial-up.

Vodafone Mobile Connect USB StickThe installation data is stored on the actual USB stick itself, so there is no need to worry about installing the software with a CD, which means you can take your Vodafone Mobile Connect USB Stick with you anywhere and install it on a number of computers — a truly mobile solution for business and pleasure on the go.

The installation process was painless, and within a few minutes, the stick was ready for use. The stick also doubles as a flash drive to store information, with an additional microSD card slot available that can hold cards of up to 4GB.

Once the programme was installed, Internet browsing was quick and painless, and viewing websites such as YouTube was no problem for this small, but powerful, device. Downloading information was also really fast, and I was impressed with how this broadband USB stick had no problem handling the data.

With the programmes that come with the device, I was able to send and receive smses from my laptop, as well as view information such as signal strength, length of connectivity and the volume of data being received or sent. This is really handy to monitor your usage, as you are charged according to how much data you use.

  • Monique Tyrer writes for the Natal Witness newspaper and other publications in Pietermaritzburg, South Africa. Article supplied by Mall Talk.

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