The ABCs of Science

24. September 2015 13:57 by Steve Leigh in Technology News  //  Tags: , , ,   //   Comments

The contradictory nature of language makes it fascinating. The nuances and inflections found in various languages seem to separate us. Meanwhile, the widespread use of language brings us together. Language is one of the hallmarks of human evolution. It's a diverse, evolving system that represents our inherent need to connect with one another.

Although the importance of language can’t be overestimated, its prolific use is often taken for granted. Varying dialects and physical disabilities create even more difficulties in communication, even among those who speak the same language. Whether or not it's a matter of life or death, people need to be able to get their message across as clearly as possible. Fortunately, when regular words fail us, technology lends some assistance.

Hands-On Speech

Since its creation in 1824, the Braille writing system has been an invaluable resource for the visually impaired. Braille readers are able to decipher literature physically by moving their hands across deep impressions in paper. Unfortunately, the process by which Braille pages are printed is both costly and time-consuming. In the fast-paced Digital Age, this puts the blind at risk for not getting crucial information in a timely fashion. One young inventor is hoping to change that.

Shubham Banerjee
Image via Smithsonian Mag

Although twelve-year-old Shubham Banerjee has full use of his sight, he is well aware of the statistics regarding the drop-off in modern Braille usage. With the prohibitive cost of printing and the popularity of voice-to-text technology, he saw that people were missing out on access to an important literary tool. It was then that the young engineering student used a LEGO Mindstorms EV3 robotics kit to build a prototype Braille printer that he named Braigo. The printer expedites the printing process while using materials that significantly lower the cost. Banerjee, now a high school freshman, has founded his own company, Braigo Labs, which has already begun crafting the new model of his invaluable printing device.

Living Language

Biochemist Linden Gledhill was growing and cultivating live coral when his internet research led him to information on ferrofluids. Ferrofluids are created when fluids are infused with magnetic particles that allow them to be controlled and manipulated. The unique patterns fascinated Gledhill and he soon found that he could recreate specific patterns over and over again. That’s when he informed his friend Craig Ward, a former advertising executive, and the two of them began to form a series of random blobs into a specific language.

meaningful blobs
Image via Wired.

The collaboration led to the creation of the Fe203 Glyphs alphabet. It consists of 138 individual designs, which resemble Rorschach-style ink blots. Although the glyphs were created for no specific purpose, the creators say they’ve gotten many interesting suggestions. They say the system has been suggested as an alternative to Braille, cryptography, and even QR codes.

Whether these newly invented writing styles become the new norm or become ancient history remains to be seen. What's certain is that technology has increased the number of ways people can communicate with one another. Linguistic barriers are no longer as imposing as they once were.

Autumn Activities for Kids

As the leaves begin to turn brown, and kids head back to school, it becomes clear that summer is over. But you can still help your kids to make the most of their after-school hours. Here are some creative projects specially designed to help you and your children get the most out of the fall season.

Pages and Petals

Your little ones may not have finished their summer reading list, but they’ll certainly be hitting the books now. One way to make sure those books aren’t left behind in lockers or desks is to personalize them. With a few household items, you and your kids can create these floral bookmarks.

floral bookmark
Image via PBS

Friend-finder

One of the most admirable traits of children is their ability to make friends easily. One classic schoolyard method is trading friendship bracelets. If your children are a bit too young for the complex embroidery of a traditional bracelet, you might want to try a simplified glow-worm bracelet. Just think, your children could have their own googly-eyed companions to follow them wherever they go.

glow-worm bracelet
Image via PBS

For the Birds

A typical autumn school day is a lot like a typical day for a bird. Birds fly off early to learn about the world, only to fly back to the nest for food and rest. With all the care you put into your own home, why not make a separate home—or even just a feeder—for your
feathered friends

bird feeder
Image via PBS

All of the above projects and more can be found on PBS Parents. Do you have any favorite fall crafts? Share them with us in the comments!

Social Skills

10. September 2015 09:37 by Steve Leigh in Business News  //  Tags: ,   //   Comments

With more than half of American adults using social media on a daily basis, it goes without saying that the process of using it should be made as simple as possible. We’ve mentioned before that ease of use and design appeal can make or break a site. Web designers continue to experiment with minor tweaks while sticking to their winning formulas. The Web’s most-trafficked sites continue to evolve their logos, their interactive capabilities, and even their basic functions.

Success by Design

We recently saw that Facebook went through its first major logo change. While this may be a new thing for the world’s largest social network, Facebook's sleek new design is right in line with the simplified designs of its Silicon Valley colleague companies.


Spotify design
Image via Wired.

A typical rebranding will minimize or eliminate the text while emphasizing the actual function of the service. As shown by the Spotify logo above, the company’s name was removed in favor of an illustrated transmission signal. It also switched to a brighter shade of green and removed the dark borders along the text. Spotify currently being the No. 3 streaming music service, it’s hard to say how much of their success was due to their logo. Still, it doesn’t seem to have hurt.

All Thumbs

For more than a decade, Facebook has changed the way we think of invitations, family photos, and even the word “poke." Possibly the most recognizable and oft-used part of Facebook’s service is the ubiquitous Like button, a one-click option that allows you to show your approval of a friend’s posting with an illustrated “thumbs up." The message it sends is clear, and for years users have campaigned for the icon’s antithesis. Finally, the icon is getting a diametrically opposed counterpart.


thumbs-down logo
Image via Wired.

Facebook's CEO and co-founder generally neither confirms nor denies the eventual presence of a Dislike icon, despite acknowledging frequent user requests for it. At a recent Q&A session, however, he didn't beat around the bush. “People have asked about the Dislike button for many years,” he said. “We’ve finally heard you and we’re working on this and we will deliver something that meets the needs of the larger community.”

It remains to be seen how this oft-requested function will actually work in practice. Knowing Facebook users, it won’t take long for them to Like or Dislike the idea.

One-Click Consumers

For decades, science fiction authors and technical visionaries looked toward a future where shopping is done from great distances at the touch of a button. The Digital Age has made online shopping easier than ever, but it’s only recently that the idea of one-button buying has become a reality.


point and click
Image via Wired.

A recent article for "Wired" highlighted the rise of the Buy button, starting with the proliferation of the personal computer in the late '90s. From Amazon’s filing for a one-button patent in 1997 to Facebook’s purchase programming, the simplification of online shopping cannot be underestimated.

Looking Ahead

With such bold strides in design, function, and interactivity, it’s hard to see where else these companies can go to improve their users' experience. But, then, the defining attribute of innovation is creating something people didn’t know they needed. 

The Future of Preserving Prints

Collecting and recreating images is a practice as old as humanity itself. From cave-wall paintings to Snapchat updates, our species has always found creative ways to preserve moments that would otherwise have faded from memory. As we advance the tools we use to preserve these images, the question arises: How long will a new format last until it must be replaced?

From Print to Pixels

London’s Cambridge University Library is home to some of the most important literary works in the history of the world. One such piece, The Manual of Calligraphy and Painting, is renowned not only for what it contains, but for being something only a few people have seen. The original 17th century Chinese tome, containing over 138 paintings and poems, is a rare book indeed. The Cambridge copy, considered too delicate to open, remains closed within its display. Fortunately, the book has been reprinted many times over the centuries, and those reprints paved the way for the new digital incarnation.

landscape painting
Image via MentalFloss

Since the book holds such historical significance, the library explored several options for making its pages available when the book itself couldn’t be opened. Using one of the older reprints, the library made digital copies of the pages that scholars and the public would be able to view at their leisure. Now everyone can see inside the book that helped revolutionize printing technology.

In a Snap

It may be hard to believe, but most of today’s youth have no idea what it’s like to hold an actual photograph in their hands. These days, posting a photo to a “wall” usually means sharing it on social media. Yet there’s a growing movement looking to bring back printed photographs in the digital age. The company leading the charge is one whose name is synonymous with “point and shoot.”

camera and snapshot
Image via Wired.

The Polaroid camera brought a much-needed simplicity to consumer photography. A camera that took and instantly printed photos, it did away with the need for professional development. Later, with the advent of digital photography, most people went without physical prints altogether.

Yet Polaroid has seen a revival in the Digital Age. Last year saw the introduction of the company’s Cube mini-camera and Zip instant mobile printer. This year will see an addition to their new digital line with the introduction of the Snap (see above). Although the Snap doesn’t have the extensive editing features of smartphone cameras and photo sites like Instagram, it does come with flash, timer, and instant ink-free printing.

The camera is scheduled to hit store shelves this winter for $99.

See what Develops

If the history of technology has taught us anything, it’s that no format is perfect or permanent. Even digital images are subject to degradation. But with each new advance comes the ability to preserve images for generations to come. We’ve come a long way from cave-wall paintings. Now we just need to make sure they're preserved for future tribes!

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