Robots that Ride the Elevator

Your boss tells you to deliver a package from your building’s first floor up to the fifth floor. You pick up the package from the receptionist, and to save time, take the elevator. You then press a button to call the elevator, squeeze in with other riders, push the fifth floor button, and hand the package over in no time. But would this be as easy if you were a robot?

“Courier robots” that securely and inexpensively deliver parcels are gaining popularity. Elevators are much safer than stairs, but some tasks involved in using an elevator that are easy for most people can be challenging for a robot.
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The First Hack

Around the world today, hackers are working hard to find vulnerabilities in the information technology systems our lives rely on.  They hack these systems by intercepting supposedly secure communication, altering messages, and using that information for personal gain.  There are white hat hackers, hacking for good and working for places like Apple and the Pentagon to find weaknesses in their technology and fix it.  There are black hat hackers, hacking for bad and doing things like accessing email accounts or stealing credit card information.  Some hackers just do it because they can and have no real agenda.  But try to imagine for a second who the first hacker was, the first ever person to intercept a secure message and change it or alter it.  Are you a picturing a Soviet KGB agent figuring out a way to read communiqués from the Kennedy white house during the Cuban Missile Crisis?  Maybe you have in mind a teenager in their parents’ garage figuring out a way into the Department of Defense’s “secure” network in the mid-1980s?

What if I told you that the first hacker was a stage magician?

What if I told you this magician did it to call someone a “diddler of the public”?

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How Sustainable is Science in Practice? Labs go Green.

They may do good science, but research labs produce lots of garbage. By some estimate, the plastic waste generated by biology labs in one year weighs the same as 67-cruise ships.

Laboratory waste may not be the biggest contributor to the global garbage mountain, but many scientists are reevaluating common research practices because of climate change. As a result, a growing “green labs” movement has emerged that works to improve sustainability in research laboratories.

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On Popular Mechanics: How the 404 Error Created the World Wide Web

Another SNF-workshopped article on the Popular Mechanics blog:

It’s the bane of every web surfer, the internet’s version of fingernails on the chalkboard. Click almost any link that dates back to pre-2005 and brace for the inevitable: “HTTP 404 Not Found.”

Anyone who’s spent time near an internet connection is familiar with the 404 error, a webserver’s way of saying you’ve reached a dead end. What’s less well known is that this very error is what allowed the World Wide Web to exist in the first place.

Read the whole article on the Popular Mechanics website.

Billion Dollar Meme

Do you remember this piece of shoddy math from when the Powerball made it to more than a billion dollars back in early 2016?

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The creator suggested that instead of only giving the winnings of the lottery to the winners of the lottery, we should divide it evenly to everyone in the country.  If everyone in the U.S. received 4.33 million dollars, poverty in this country certainly would be solved! Continue reading

Fantastic Beasts and the Science Behind Them

Growing up reading Harry Potter, my favorite parts of the series weren’t the coming of age stories, nor the magical spells, nor the combat and adventure. Instead I obsessed over the mythical science, potions, and creatures. I was captivated by the Harry Potter companion book Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, and wondered, did such fantastic creatures exist in our world?

We tend to think that all parts of the map that were once labelled “Here be dragons” are free from mysteries. True magic may not exist, but there are still beasts at the corners of the world with abilities so magical that scientists have not yet entirely figured them out. Let’s take a look at five entries in a modern-day muggle edition of Newt Scamander’s encyclopedia.

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On SciAm guest blogs: The Unexpected Dangers of Recreational Counting

Magician with cards

Image by Flickr user jin.thai, CC BY 2.0

From an article reviewed by SNF and posted yesterday on Scientific American’s guest blog:

The cleverest card trick I’ve ever seen was performed not by a magician, but by a math professor.

A teaching assistant (let’s call him Nick), acting as magician’s assistant, recruited five student participants. Each student picked a card from a 52-card deck and handed it back to Nick, face up but invisible to Tom, the professor. Nick laid out four of these cards in front of Tom. To our astonishment, Tom immediately identified the missing fifth card.

The professor revealed the trick at the end of class. But when I came back to my dorm, bursting with excitement, my suitemate Benjamin refused to let me explain it; he had to figure this out on his own. He wandered off to his room muttering to himself, blissfully unaware that within twenty-four hours, this puzzle would prove disastrous to his dignity.

Read the whole article on the Scientific American website.