Designer Dirt – A $400 Million Industry

Shelling out $4 or so for a bag of soil might seem lunacy, but in this age of bottled water and boutique coffees, the green industry is counting on dirt becoming the next product fad. Designer dirt, that is.

The hunch seems to be paying off: The largest player in this field, the Scotts Company of Marysville, Ohio, reports a vigorous consumer response to its national brands of potting mixes, garden soil mixes and mixes to repair lawns.

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Beijing Conference Argues SpaceWar

Space Daily reports: Participants of an international conference on disarmament in Beijing called for the international community to act immediately to prevent the potential danger of arms being used in outer space.

Participants from 20 countries had in-depth discussions on major topics including the role of the UN in the sphere of disarmament, the prevention of the arms race in outer space, missile proliferation, nuclear disarmament, military revolution and conventional arms disarmament
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Osmium – The World’s Stiffest Substance

According to a report published in the current issue of Physical Review Letters, osmium can withstand compression better than any known material. The results provide a potentially new lead in the search for superhard materials.

Diamond’s ability to resist scratches, dents and chipping–in short, its hardness–makes it an ideal choice for tips in industrial strength machines. A related quality that is easier to calculate than hardness is an element’s resistance to compression. The properties are interrelated because the stiffest materials also tend to be the hardest ones. But even though osmium is much softer than diamond, initial estimates of its bulk modulus indicated a similar value to that of diamond.

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Smart Drinking Glass Orders Its Own Beer

It is one of the marks of a classy restaurant that the waiter turns up and discreetly refills your glass the moment you empty it. Now a Japanese electronics company has found a way to guarantee that kind of service – and you do not have to catch anyone’s eye.

The intelligent glass is fitted with a radio-frequency coil in its base and emits a signal to a receiver set in the table when it’s empty, New Scientist magazine reported Thursday.

The iGlassware system works by coating each glass with a clear, conducting material, enabling it to measure exactly how much liquid has been sipped or guzzled.

When empty, the glass sends an electronic cry for more beer from the table to waiters equipped with hand-held computers on frequencies similar to those used by mobile phones.

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Betting on Our Future

Will a computer ever successfully impersonate a human? Ray Kurzweil thinks so. In fact, the prominent technologist placed $20,000 on a bet that predicts a machine will pass the “Turing Test” by 2029.

Microsoft’s Craig Mundie has bet $2,000 that by 2030, commercial passengers will routinely fly in pilotless planes.

Supercomputer pioneer Danny Hillis has wagered $2,000 that the universe will eventually stop expanding.

These are just some of the bets put down by high-profile technologists, futurists and entrepreneurs on a new nonprofit website, The Long Bets Foundation.

Long Bets is a spinoff of the Long Now Foundation, which is undertaking a variety of very long-term projects such as the 10,000-year clock and the Rosetta Project.

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Producing Antibiotics in Space

When Atlantis takes off for the International Space Station today, it will carry a research project scientists hope may increase the productivity of antibiotics on Earth. The experiment on the ISS will help solve the puzzle of why bacteria seem to grow better in space.

Engineers at BioServe Space Technologies, a NASA Commercial Space Center (CSC) at the University of Colorado have developed a system known as MOBIAS: the Multiple Orbital Bioreactor with Instrumentation and Automated Sampling. MOBIAS, which provides bacteria with roughly the same environment whether they are in space or on the ground. More here.

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Selling Wisdom on eBay

Dan Baber is so proud of his mother he offered bidders on eBay a chance to buy one day of her attention, to “make you feel like you are the most special person on the Earth.”

eBay didn’t go for the idea, so Baber decided to put Sue Hamilton’s wisdom up for sale instead.

As of Saturday afternoon, 40 bids on eBay item No. 1527369622 had pushed the price up to $165. The auction page was headed: “Best Mother in the World — Her Thoughts.”

“All I know is I have the best mother in the world. … All proceeds will go to her so she can spoil her grandchildren and teach me how to be as good of a father as she was a mother,” the new listing reads.

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Painless Needle Copies Mosquito’s Stinger

A needle which mimics the mosquito’s unique “stinger”, making injections painless, has been developed by a team of Japanese microengineers.

Seiji Aoyagi at Kansai University in Osaka and his colleagues concluded that the initial bite is painless because the mosquito’s proboscis is highly serrated. Unlike the smooth surface of a syringe needle, which leaves a lot of metal in contact with skin tissue, the jagged edge of the proboscis leaves only small points in contact. This greatly reduces stimulation of the nerves, says Aoyagi, causing far less pain.

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Silent Noise

There may be a cure for those of you with loud computers, or perhaps those who spend time living under the flight path to an airport. has an article about a “Silence Machine” that gets rid of unwanted noise. These are also being tested in cars, to make the car quieter. Many have worn a pair of the headphones that the article alludes to – they make airplane travel much nicer, and having something like this to cancel machine noise would be excellent.
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Biotech’s Next Wave: Soon You’ll Be Wearing It

From spider-silk jackets to corn-based plastic, the future of biotech will be as useful as it is weird.

In mid-January, a Canadian startup called Nexia Biotechnologies announced that its researchers had genetically engineered “dragline” spider silk in the laboratory. An amazing material, dragline silk is used in nature in the radiating spokes of a spiderweb, and is stronger than steel, lighter than cotton, and harder to tear than Kevlar. More here.
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‘Transparent Society’ Explained By Helsinki Futurist

Meet Risto Linturi, an influential futurist, consultant, and venture capitalist with a unique vision for the future.

“It used to be that we only saw what was near us,” Linturi notes. “In the future, with global positioning, augmented-reality glasses, and other such technologies, we will possess entirely new capabilities. We will see things that are not near us and see properties of things that we could not see before.” More on Linturi here.
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