Archive for January, 2012



A Raging Solar Storm Is Hitting the Earth Right Now

The largest solar storm since 2005 is now in progress, causing fluctuations on the power grid and disruptions to the Global Positioning System. The ongoing strong proton storm is in full fury. And it’s getting stronger; a Coronal Mass Ejection (CME) impact also impacting us, traveling at 1,400 miles per second.

The radiation and geomagnetic storm caused by this CME are normal—about 2,000 geomagnetic storms happen in every 11-year solar cycle—but proton storms are very rare. Only a couple of dozen happen per solar cycle. This one—ranking S3 on a 5-level scale—is dangerous.

The storm has already affected air traffic and may affect satellites. On a telephone interview, NOAA’s Space Weather Prediction Center physicist Doug Biesecker told me that, fortunately, there are measures to avoid most dangers.


The Feds put the smackdown on Megaupload and its whole executive team last week, charging them with criminal charges for copyright infringement and racketeering in addition to conspiracy to commit copyright infringement and money laundering. As a result, it appears that several other cloud locker companies have curbed their sharing ways to avoid similar DOJ entanglements. FileSonic and Fileserve have eliminated file sharing from their service menus, and is no longer available to those of us in the US. Naturally, none of these companies have said that Megaupload’s legal problems are the reason for the changes, but the timing suggests it’s more than mere coincidence. Disagree? Feel free to speculate about the possibilities in the comments below, and let us know if any other online storage services have made similar moves while you’re at it.

In the wake of Megaupload crackdown, fear forces similar sites to shutter sharing services? originally appeared on Engadget on Mon, 23 Jan 2012 19:42:00 EDT. Please see our terms for use of feeds.

Permalink Techdirt | sourceDigital Trends | Email this | Comments

Instead of spending millions upon millions to clean up the next oil spill, why don’t we just all pitch in and buy some soap? That’s basically what researchers at the University of Bristol are proposing, with a new kind of soap that’s apparently like no other. This soap, you see, is magnetic, which means it could be easily removed from water without leaving behind any hazardous chemicals — a potentially major selling point for cleanup crews and environmentalists alike. To create it, the team collected water with chlorine and bromine ions, and used it to dissolve iron particles, creating a metallic core. They proceeded to test their creation by placing the soapy particles within a test tube, underneath layers of water and oil. Much to their delight, they were able to remove the particles with only a magnet, ostensibly providing a template upon which disaster response crews may build.

Magnetic soap could make your next oil spill less oily originally appeared on Engadget on Tue, 24 Jan 2012 16:24:00 EDT. Please see our terms for use of feeds.

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Optogenetics might be a relatively unknown area of neuroscience, but it’s one that, thanks to some new research, could soon find itself (and its rodental subjects) in the spotlight. For the uninitiated, it’s the practice of manipulating animal cells using light (with a little help from gene therapy). Until now, optogenetic equipment has been large and unwieldy, making testing on subjects (read: rats) painstaking. Startup, Kendall Research, has changed all this, creating wireless prototypes that weigh just three grams (0.11 ounces). By eschewing bulky Lasers for LEDs and Laser diodes, the equipment is small enough that it can be attached to the rodents. At that point, their brain function can be manipulated with the touch of a button, and different parts can be stimulated without breeding mutant variants — a controversial practice that doesn’t even yield results in real time. The “router” is powered wirelessly by super capacitors below test area, and researchers can conduct experiments remotely, even automatically. Human applications for this are still some way off, but we’re sure our future overlords will make good use of it.

Researchers develop ‘wireless optical brain router’ to manipulate brain cells originally appeared on Engadget on Tue, 24 Jan 2012 18:58:00 EDT. Please see our terms for use of feeds.

Permalink ExtremeTech | sourceTechnology Review | Email this | Comments

Evolution Is the Greatest Show On Earth—And This Video Is Pretty Cool Too.

Creating The Annotated Sword of Shannara: Part I « Del Rey and Spectra – Science Fiction and Fantasy Books, Graphic Novels, and More.


April 1977 saw publication of The Sword of Shannara by Terry Brooks.

It was an important book in the fantasy genre, maybe one of the most important. Before The Sword of Shannara, epic/high fantasy did not exist beyond Lord of the Rings. Publishers did not think readers wanted more of what J.R.R. Tolkien offered in his opus. The quest. The dark lord bent on conquering the world. The everyman going up against the gravest of evils. The hero’s journey. The magic. The talismans. The races. All of it.

Those publishers were wrong, of course. But in the mid-1970s, Lester del Rey and his wife Judy-Lynn were willing to take a chance. They knew readers wanted more epic/high fantasy. They looked for a great debut novel to launch a new imprint at Random House called Del Rey Books. It didn’t take long. They found The Sword of Shannara by Terry Brooks.

Thirty-five years have passed since Sword’s publication. Thirty-five years is an important anniversary. Don’t tell Terry. He’s in denial about the passage of time. Ha! But seriously, this is a significant moment because Sword—whether for good or bad—influenced the genre for decades to come and gave dozens of writers the platform to break into the industry.

In November 2011, Del Rey Books asked me if I’d be interested in contributing annotations to a 35th anniversary hardcover edition of The Sword of Shannara. Terry is in the middle of arguably the busiest writing year of his career and adding one more project—no matter its significance—would put him over the edge for deadlines. Therefore, he suggested I help annotate Sword. I’ve been Terry’s webmaster and continuity editor for almost thirteen years and know his first book better than most. And over the years, I’ve heard him talk about Sword more times than I can remember, and each time I absorb a little tidbit that the fans don’t know.

As of last week, I finished my initial draft of annotations I’ll be contributing. I’ve also asked Terry dozens of written questions in relation to those annotations which should lead to at least 100 additional comments from Terry that the fans will be interested in knowing.

Here is the first, unedited annotation:

Here begins The Sword of Shannara, which took Terry more than seven years to write. Terry drew on inspiration from the European adventure storytellers Sir Walter Scott, Arthur Conan Doyle, Robert Louis Stevenson, and Alexander Dumas, but it was only after reading The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien that Terry realized the fantasy genre held the grand tapestry he needed to tell the tale of The Sword of Shannara.

More on this throughout the year. I’ll be writing several posts like this one, highlighting the various steps we are taking to publish this book. Next up? Terry and I sit down to edit the first draft and he gives me his annotations.

Needless to say, it has been a fun project to tackle. The Sword of Shannara is the reason I am able to do what I do for a living. Without Terry and the Del Reys, I would likely be a bio-chemist or a doctor.

With hard drives and storage devices growing bigger by the year, it is only natural that computer users start to put more data on their computer systems. The shift from highly compressed movie formats to high definition formats takes its toll as well, as movies may now need Gigabytes of storage space instead of Megabytes.

If you have lots of movies on your computer you’d probably want a tool that provides you with an overview of your collection. Some of you may store all their movies in a neatly nested directory structure, while others have them stored on multiple drives and maybe even external hard drives or optical discs.

Movie Explorer is a new software that is currently under heavy development. The developers have just released a beta version of the program that offers only some of the functionality that its developers intent to ship the first stable version with.

When you first start the program – installation is not required – you will notice that it automatically crawls the My Videos folders on your hard drive. If you are storing your movies there you do not need to do anything else. The program takes care of everything, from identifying movies to retrieving movie covers and information from movie databases such as IMDB.

If you do not store your movies there, you need to point Movie Explorer into the right direction. Click on the wrench in the upper right corner of the screen and select options from the menu.

Switch to Categories here and add your custom folders to the program. Categories allow you to categorize movies. This may be useful if you want to create different movie groups, for instance movies appropriate for children and all other movies.

movie explorer

You may notice that some movies have not been identified correctly. The program will notify you about it with an error message in your movie listing. The beta version has no user interface options to select movies manually from one of the connected databases. The only option right now is to edit the database XML file in the program folder. Just hop over to IMDB, locate your movie manually and take note of the unique ID displayed in the title on the site. Copy the ID and paste it into the IMDB line of the XML file.

This is not the most comfortable option, and future versions will support those capabilities natively.

A search at the top allows you to search for a specific movie in various ways. You can naturally search for a specific title, but also for a director, year or genre among other things.

Movies can be played directly from the program interface. All you need to do is to click on the file name to play it in the default media player.

Movie Explorer is a promising program that could really simplify things for users who want to put order into their movie collection. The program is only available for Windows. Interested users can download the latest version from the official program website. (via Instant Fundas)

When the next national census arrives on your doormat you now have another option to enter for religion other than Jedi, at least that is if you live in Sweden. On its third attempt the church of “kopyacting” has been officially recognised as a religion by the Swedish government.

The church is founded on the belief of sharing information and holds CTRL+C and CTRL+V as sacred symbols. They say they do not promote or condone illegal file-sharing but are pleased that file-sharing generally has now been given “religious protection”.

In a statement the leader of the church, a 19 year old philosophy student, Isak Gerson said “For the Church of Kopimism, information is holy and copying is a sacrament. Information holds a value, in itself and in what it contains and the value multiplies through copying. Therefore copying is central for the organisation and its members.”

Despite this unexpected turn of events the Swedish government said that it wouldn’t mean illegal file-sharing was about to be legalised and music analyst Mark Mulligan told the BBC ”It doesn’t mean that illegal file-sharing will become legal, any more than if ‘Jedi’ was recognised as a religion everyone would be walking around with light sabres. In some ways these guys are looking outdated. File-sharing as a means to pirate content is becoming yesterday’s technology.”

Whatever you might think of this new religion its recognition does at least help provide encouragement for those people who believe freedom of expression and freedoms to worship are being stifled. In this respect it has to be a good thing.

File sharing generally is a “religious ceremony” according to the church and it comes at a time when the US government’s controversial Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) is causing concern and argument across the pond.

The Disk Cleanup tool offers a great way to quickly free up some disk space by deleting temporary files that are no longer needed. It is in no way as complete or thorough as third party tools like CCleaner, but it gets the job done and does not require you to install another software on the system for that operation.

Most users do not know that Microsoft has integrated an advanced version of the cleanup tool in the Windows operating system. The core reason for that is that it can only be started from the command prompt, and not from menus or by clicking on a program icon on the desktop.

Lets first take a look at the standard version of Disk Cleanup. One of the easiest ways to start the Disk Cleanup is to use the shortcut Windows-r to bring up the run box, enter cleanmgr in there and tap on the enter key afterwards. This opens the program right away. There are other ways to launch it, for instance by entering disk cleanup in the start menu search form.

The standard Disk Cleanup tool can delete the following temporary files on the system. Included in the deletion are temporary files, thumbnails, or downloaded programs.

standard disk cleanup

Check out How To Clean Hard Drives In Windows 7 for general information about the cleanup software.

Compare that to the options the advanced cleanup tool offers.

advanced disk cleanup

Included now are debug dump files, system and user queued error reporting files, files discarded by Windows upgrade or setup and windows upgrade log files.

Here is how you can load the advanced Disk Cleanup Tool in Windows. Open the run prompt again with Windows-r. Now run the following command to bring up the advanced version.

Cleanmgr /sageset:65535 & /sagerun:65535

Just click ok afterwards to load the advanced Disk Cleanup Tool interface.


Note that not all items are selected by default, which means that you need to look through the options to enable and disable items until you are satisfied with the selection.

Sometimes you may want to make sure that an e-mail address exists before you start sending out messages to that address. While you could simply send a test message to the address and see if it bounces off the mail server, you’d may want to try a sneakier solution so that the recipient does not know about it. It should be clear that the recipient will receive the test message if the e-mail address exist.

Before we look at a tool that allows you to verify e-mail addresses, we should for a moment look at reasons for verifying addresses. A common reason is a mailing list that you want to clean up, another if you can only remember part of the e-mail address and not all of it.

EToolz is a free portable program for the Windows operating system that can verify if e-mail addresses exist. While it does not work for all messages, it works fine for many including Google E-Mail addresses (Gmail that is), and not for others like Microsoft’s Hotmail.

Switch to the Mail-Check tab of the program once you have started it. Here you need to key in the e-mail address you want to test, and optionally sender and server information as well as a timeout for the connection.

verify email address

Click the start button once you have entered and modified all parameters to your liking. The program will then try to establish a connection with the selected e-mail address which may or may not work. Gmail will for instance let you know if sender and recipient are accepted. Even better, you will sometimes get information why it is not accepted, for instance if the email account is over quota like in the example on the screenshot above.

Not being able to test multiple e-mail addresses at once is one of the downsides of the program. You can download it from the developer website. Please note that the initial interface language is set to German. Click on Extras > Sprache / Language to change it to English or another of the supported languages.

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