Tag Archives: technology

The World’s Tallest Waterslide Just Opened- Here’s How It Looks to Ride It (Video)

“Verrückt” is the German word for “insane”. It is a fitting name for the world’s tallest waterslide, which was just opened to the public at the Schlitterbahn Water Park in Kansas City.

At 168 feet and 7 inches, the Verrückt is taller than Niagara Falls. To get the top you have to climb 268 stairs.

Click to enlarge
That “Faster than a cheetah!” claim is a bit exaggerated- top speeds are around 50mph. Click to enlarge

John Schooley was the engineer who designed the slide. Here he is talking about when he and park founder Jeff Henry came up with the idea:

“Basically, we were crazy enough to try anything. We decided to design something entirely new, because we decided to put a three or four man boat down it, and we wanted not only the fastest and steepest water slide going downhill, but we wanted to take it uphill over a hump, to give people a weightless experience going down the other side.”

Schooley was also the first to test out the slide, along with another one of the slide’s engineers. Speaking later about the experience he said, “I was terrified.” Check out video of that first test run below:

That second hill is one of the coolest features of the slide. Because of the speed and momentum you build up going down the first slope (you drop 17 stories in 4 seconds), G-force can feel up to 5 times greater than normal as you travel up the second hump.

G-force is defined as a measurement of acceleration felt as weight. Basically, it’s the perceived increase in gravity you feel because of the fact that you’re accelerating. G-force is what pushes you back into your seat as a plane takes off, for example.

A picture of the slide during construction. Click to enlarge

So, when you reach the top of that hump and begin the second drop, you go from feeling like gravity is 5x stronger than normal (5 Gs) to feeling weightless in a split-second. It’s not unlike what astronauts experience when they leave Earth’s atmosphere (although the G-force they feel is many times higher).

The slide was opened to the public this past Friday. Here’s what it looks like to to ride the Verrückt as a member of the public. Garmin VIRB sports camera technology allows you to track speed and heart-rate as you watch:

(h/t Gizmodo and USA Today)

Why Students Chose to Shock Themselves Rather Than Sit Alone With Their Thoughts

We live in a world saturated with sensory stimulations. From our cell phones to our laptops and TVs, almost our entire day is a marathon of sights and sounds, all competing for our increasingly short attention spans.

So you would think most people would enjoy the opportunity to get away from it all and gather their thoughts. But a recent study from the University of Virginia found quite the opposite.

In fact, many of the participants even started giving themselves electric shocks as their time alone dragged on.

Psychologist Timothy Wilson led the study, which was recently published in the journal Science. He had this to say about the results:

“I think many of them were trying to shock themselves out of boredom… It’s just a sign of how difficult (being alone with one’s thoughts) can be for people…. This isn’t something that most people find really enjoyable.”

Timothy Wilson, professor of psychology at the University of Virginia

For the study, 55 college students agreed to give up all distractions (like cell phones, tablets and mp3 players) and spend between six and 15 minutes in a sparsely furnished room on UVA’s campus. Afterwards they were asked to rate their enjoyment on a scale of 1-9.

The average rating was pretty much right in the middle. In other words, the average student was pretty much indifferent to the idea of  spending a few minutes alone.

The results also meant that half of the students rated the experience as unpleasant. But the most unsettling findings involved the electric shock.

Before entering the room, participants were given an electric shock on their ankle so that they could gauge how painful it was. They were then told that they could shock themselves again during their time alone if they wanted to.

Of the 55 participants, 42 said that they would be willing to pay to avoid being shocked again. But shockingly (pun intended), 18 of these 42 students (~43%) ended up shocking themselves anyways.

It seems that the students decided that even a jolt of pain was worth it to break the boredom of their seclusion.

Wilson was definitely surprised by the results. It baffled him that it was so difficult for the students to use their brains to entertain themselves:

“All of us have pleasant memories we can call upon, we can construct stories and fantasies.”

But he thinks that the unfamiliar environment (ie. an empty room) throws off our normal thought processes:

“I think it’s an issue of mental control. The mind is built to engage in the world and when you give it nothing to engage it, it’s hard to keep one train of thought going for very long.”

Wilson added that he didn’t think the phenomenon was a modern one, because there were complaints of people not taking the time to sit and contemplate as far back as ancient Roman times.

Personally, I think this is a pretty weak justification for his hypothesis. Ancient Rome was a very advanced society for its time, but it was a far cry from our modern world technologically.

The average Roman had to spend a much larger portion of their time doing typically grueling physical labor, leaving them physically exhausted at the end of the day.

In our modern world, many of us still come home from work exhausted, but it’s more a result of brain exhaustion than the overworking our bodies.

Also, we have become extremely dependent on our mobile devices in the last decade or so. It’s become instinct for young people to check Twitter/Facebook/Instagram any time we get bored, and I think the students in the study experienced some withdrawals when they no longer had access to this digital crutch.

Whatever the case may be, the results of the study should make all of us take a look at our own lives and see where we can find time to reflect and make sense of all the information we process in this fast-paced world.

The average brain is only able to process seven pieces of information at a time (this is why phone numbers are an area code plus seven numbers). Our smartphones alone constantly take up a significant portion of these seven slots (thinking about your texts, a picture you just Instagrammed and a Tweet you just read is already 3 of those 7 slots).

This is why it’s so important to make time to sort through your thoughts, free of any other distractions. You may be surprised at what you find in your own mind when you take the time to listen.

Read more from CTV here.

Facebook Just Manipulated the Emotions of 700,000 Users Without Informing Them

When you sign up for Facebook, you have to agree to a whole laundry list of fine-print terms and conditions (which almost nobody ever reads). One of the things you consent to is Facebook’s Data Use Policy, which gives Facebook the right to use your info for, “…troubleshooting, data analysis, testing, research and service improvement.”

Well, it seems that Facebook has taken full advantage of the “research” portion of that agreement. A study published two weeks ago in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) revealed that Facebook recently carried out an experiment that involved manipulating user’s emotions.

Basically, Faceobook wanted to know if removing sad, angry or otherwise negative terms from a user’s News Feed would affect how happy or sad the statuses they posted were.

So they randomly selected 689,003 users and tweaked the computer algorithms that determine what pops up on your News Feed. Some of the users were fed primarily neutral to happy information and stories, while others were fed primarily neutral to sad or depressing information.

It probably comes as a surprise to nobody that the users who were fed more negative information tended to post more gloomy statuses.

Congratulations Facebook, you proved something that 99% of 5th graders could have probably just told you.

But what about all of the users who Facebook intentionally made sad? Some serious questions have been raised about the ethics of the experiment.

Any experiment that receives federal funding has to abide abide by a code of rules known as the Common Rule for human subjects. The Common Rule’s definition of consent requires the researchers to give the test subjects, “a description of any foreseeable risks or discomforts to the subject.”

Facebook clearly didn’t abide by that standard, but since the test wasn’t federally funded, they are technically exempt. However, the PNAS also has its own set of rules for publication. Unfortunately, they seem to have bent or broken a few of them to publish the Facebook study.

Most notably, PNAS‘s guidelines for publishing require that a study abide the principles of the Helsinki Declaration, which states that test subjects must be,

“…adequately informed of the aims, methods, sources of funding, any possible conflicts of interest, institutional affiliations of the researcher, the anticipated benefits and potential risks of the study and the discomfort it may entail.”

Clearly, manipulating the emotions of 700,000 oblivious users is a blatant violation of this principle. With most people getting the bulk of their news and information on Facebook, it’s pretty unsettling to find out that they’re doing mass psychological testing on us.

Read the original story from Slate here.

The First “Scent Message” Has Been Sent Over the Internet

Last Tuesday, the first “scent message” was delivered via e-mail from New York to Paris. The scent: champagne and macaroons.

The new technology was invented by David Edwards and Rachel Field, who showcased their invention, known as the oPhone, last Tuesday at Manhattan’s American Museum of Natural History.

Here’s Edwards, Harvard professor and CEO of Vapor Communications, the company which created the oPhone.

“OPhone introduces a new kind of sensory experience into mobile messaging, a form of communication that until now has remained consigned to our immediate local experience of the world.”

The oPhone is paired with a smartphone app called oSnap. The app allows you to mix and match 32 basic scents which are contained inside small cartridges in the oPhone. The combination of these scents can produce up to 300,000 distinct aromas, according to Edwards.

When sending a message, the user can electronically tag it with any number of scents. This tag is then deciphered by the receiving oPhone, which reproduces the smell for about 10 seconds.

You can pre-order the oPhone for $149 via the company’s Indiegogo campaign.

Check out the full story from NBC here.

This College Just Became the First to Offer Athletic Scholarships to Video Gamers

Don’t forget to let us know how you feel about this by taking the poll at the end of the article!

League of Legends (or LoL as its fans call it) is one of the most popular video games in the world. 67 million people play the game at least one a month, and a whopping 27 million play the game every day.

And as strange as it sounds, millions of people log on to the  LoL servers just to watch other people playing, in hopes that they can learn tactics and strategy.

The game already has a number of international tournaments, which bring together hundreds of LoL players to battle it out for substantial cash prizes. The tournaments even attracts thousands of spectators who just want to watch the digital action live.

A picture from the League of Legends World Championships

Now, a private university in Chicago is offering athletic scholarships to the best high-school aged LoL players out there.

Kurt Melcher is associate athletic direct at Robert Morris College. A former gamer himself, Melcher defends the school’s decision, calling LoL a,

“competitive, challenging game which requires significant amount of teamwork to be successful.”

Kurt Melcher, Associate Athletic Director at Robert Morris

The online multiplayer game is played 5 vs 5, with each player on the team playing a specific role. To win, all of the team members must work together, utilizing each individual player’s strengths and weaknesses to become victorious.

Robert Morris is offering scholarships worth $19,000 (about half the school’s tuition and living costs). They plan on recruiting 27 players to form three varsity teams (each with 9 players). The players will be competing in the North American Collegiate Championship, which has a prize of $100,000 in scholarships.

David Williamson Shaffer is a professor of educational psychology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He’s a fan of the idea, saying,

“It seems to me this fulfills the goals of the university as much as any varsity sport does… It provides support for students who have a passion and want to develop it toward mastery and excellence. It attracts students with talent to the university, and promotes the university through the achievements of those students.”

The LoL North American Championship Series (Photo: Robyn Beck, AFP/Getty Images)

I’m not sure how I feel about this yet. On the one hand, as a former collegiate athlete, I feel like adding video games to the athletic department is almost sacrilegious.

On the other hand however, I recognize that the future of our country (and the world) is in computers and technology, so trying to attract students who are already heavily immersed in these fields makes a lot of sense.

If we’re being totally fair here, does it make any more sense for an academic institution to reward kids for being really good at running, jumping and/or putting a ball in a net than it does to reward them for being good at a computer game which involves lots of strategy and collaboration?

Read more from NPR here.

This Guy’s Mind-Twisting Artwork Is Incredible (Photo Gallery)

Martin de Pasquale is a photographer and digital artist from Buenos Aires, Argentina. He combines amazing photography with photo-manipulating programs like Photoshop, Poser and 3DS Max to create amazing surreal images.

But computer programs alone aren’t enough to make these incredible images- they require meticulous planning ahead of time, like making sure the lighting is consistent. It’s also important that the angles at which images are taken is precise. You can read more about the process from Gizmodo.

Check out some of Pasquale’s best work below. Click an image to enlarge.

You can check out more of Pasquale’s work here.

Japan’s Prime Minister Is Planning to Host the World’s First Robotic Olympics in 2020

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe wants his country to be on the cutting edge of the robotics industry. During a recent visit to a number of Japanese factories that build robots for industrial and care-giving purposes, Abe revealed his plans to bring about a “robotic revolution” in Japan.

These plans include tripling Japan’s robotics budget to 2.4 trillion yen (~$23.5 billion USD) to make robotics a “major pillar” of Japan’s economic growth in the future. Abe also revealed his intention to host the world’s first robotic olympics.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe examining a robot working on an assembly line at a factory in suburban Tokyo (Photo: AFP)

“In 2020, I would like to gather all of the world’s robots and aim to hold an Olympics where they compete in technical skills,”

he told reporters from Japan’s Jiji Press agency. Abe hopes that the robotics industry can help revitalize Japan’s economy, which has been stagnating under the pressures of deflation for decades now.

He believes that robotics will be particularly important for Japan’s future because of the country’s aging population and declining workforce.

Population pyramids for Japan show how its population is aging whil the size of its younger workforce is shrinking

Abe’s announcement comes during a time of major robot launches in Japan. One of these is a robotic suit which can be controlled just by thinking. It was designed by the company Cyberdyne.

The suit picks up the weak electrical impulses that our brains send to our limbs when we start to move. The robot is then able to move perfectly in sync with that motion, providing extra strength and stability to the movement. It’s hoped that it will drastically improve the lives of people living with ailments that effect movement, like muscular dystrophy or serious arthritis.

A humanoid robot, named “Pepper” was also revealed earlier this month, by major cell phone company SoftBank. Pepper’s creators claim the robot can understand human emotions as well as 70-80% of spontaneous conversation.

The field of robotics is making huge advancements, maybe none more impressive than the robotic suit that allowed Juliano Pinto to kick-off the World Cup back on June 12.

The suit was designed by the Walk Again Project, a project headed by  Miguel Nicolelis, a Brazilian neuroscientist based at Duke University. Nicoleleis hopes the project will make relatively normal movement a real possibility for people left paralyzed by spinal injuries.

Read the original story from the Telegraph here.

70% of Young Children Can Use A Computer Mouse. Only 11% Can Tie Their Own Shoes (Infographic)

With the rise of modern technology, the look of the classroom has been changing rapidly. Computers are replacing workbooks, iPads are replacing notebook paper, and teachers are increasingly using social media to communicate with their students.

Check out the awesome infographic below to learn more about how modern technology has been changing our education system (click the image to see the full size version):

The NSA Just Admitted That Their Data Collection Systems Are Too Complex for Even Them to Control

If you weren’t aware, the NSA is facing a bunch of lawsuits over their overzealous surveillance programs, which were revealed last summer by Edward Snowden.

One of these lawsuits, Jewel v. NSA, was actually filed before the revelations. The class-action lawsuit, filed on behalf of novelist Carolyn Jewel and a number of other ATT customers, challenges the constitutionality of the NSA programs which were collecting data on American’s telephone and internet activity.

Carolyn Jewel, lead plaintiff in the case against the NSA, outside her home (Photo: Beth Schlanker / The Press Democrat)

As part of the lawsuit, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (who represents the plaintiffs) filed a number of motions to prevent the NSA from destroying data that the EFF planned to use as evidence.

This past Friday, during a hearing over the issue, NSA Deputy Director Richard Ledgett argued that holding on to the info would be too burdensome for the NSA, saying,

“A requirement to preserve all data acquired under section 702 presents significant operational problems, only one of which is that the NSA may have to shut down all systems and databases that contain Section 702 information.”

NSA Deputy Director Richard Ledgett

Ledgett continued by arguing that the complexity of the NSA’s surveillance programs meant that efforts by the NSA to preserve their own data might not even work. Not surprisingly, he also tried to get his way using scare tactics, saying that trying to preserve the data would cause,

“an immediate, specific, and harmful impact on the national security of the United States.”

The EFF was surprised by Ledgett’s argument, since the NSA had already been ordered to preserve the data back in 2009. On top of that, a second restraining order was filed in March to prevent destruction of data.

Either way, the EFF’s legal advisor, Cindy Cohn, isn’t buying Ledgett’s arguments. In a recent interview she had this to say about the concerns he raised:

“To me, it demonstrates that once the government has custody of this information even they can’t keep track of it anymore even for purposes of what they don’t want to destroy… With the huge amounts of data that they’re gathering it’s not surprising to me that it’s difficult to keep track– that’s why I think it’s so dangerous for them to be collecting all this data en masse.”

The EFF has said that there is “no doubt” that the NSA has already destroyed some of the information they requested for the lawsuit, but the actual amount data that has been destroyed thus far is unclear.

Read the full story from The Washington Post here.

A New WikiLeaks-Style Website Is Taking Some Huge Bites Out of Wildlife Crime

WildLeaks is a new website using the internet to target and investigate the kingpins of illegal wildlife activities, such as poaching, the illegal trafficking of tropical pets and deforestation, among other things. The website utilizes Tor technology to ensure anonymity.

WildLeaks’s first major revelation was the story of how Somalian terrorist group Al-Shabaab had been smuggling ivory to fund their operations.

Founder of WildLeaks Andrea Crosta

“We had our first tip within 24 hours and the response has been beyond our wildest imagination,”

says founder Andrea Crosta, who is also the director of the Elephant Action League. Crosta explains that since many of the major wildlife crime operations rely on corrupt law enforcement officials, the site provides whistleblowers a safe avenue to report the crimes:

“You can’t, for example, export containers full of ivory from Mombasa without bribing people left, right and centre… We definitely feel we are filling a gap.”

In the three months it has been operating so far, the site has yielded 24 major tip-offs of wildlife crime, including:

• elephant poaching in Africa and illicit ivory trading in Hong Kong;

• killing of Sumatran tigers, of which there are just 400 left in the wild;

• illegal lion and leopard hunting in South Africa;

• chimpanzee trafficking in Liberia;

• illegal fishing activities in Alaska, including alleged mafia involvement;

• importing of illegal African wildlife products into the US;

• illegal logging in Mexico, Malawi and Siberia

According to Interpol, the illicit wildlife trade makes $10-$20 billion dollars every year. Read the full story from The Guardian here.