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Wed, 24 May 2017
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Microsoft thinks the smartphone is 'already dead'

Microsoft believes smartphones are "already dead" and is moving forward to the next big thing, one of the company's senior technical fellows has said. Microsoft intends to progress beyond mobile to a mixed reality future where smartphones are redundant.
© Microsoft
The Microsoft Lumia 650, launched 15/02/2016.
The comments, made by Microsoft's Alex Kipman, were published in a recent Bloomberg report looking in detail at the company's hardware division. Kipman, the mixed reality visionary behind Microsoft HoloLens, (see video below) gave the most obvious indication yet that the company is ready to abandon its current mobile efforts. It is now looking beyond the curve in a bid to beat the competition to technology's next frontier.


What's your brain doing when you process information?

© VCG/Getty Images
Don’t worry – the cold is only a hallucination
What's your brain doing when you process information? Could it be producing a "controlled online hallucination"?

Welcome to one of the more provocative-sounding explanations of how the brain works, outlined in a set of 26 original papers, the second part of a unique online compendium updating us on current thinking in neuroscience and the philosophy of mind.

In 2015, the MIND group founded by philosopher Thomas Metzinger of the Johannes Gutenberg University of Mainz, Germany, set up the Open MIND project to publish papers by leading researchers. Unusually, the papers were published in open access electronic formats, as an experiment in creating a cutting edge online resource - and it was free. The first volume, spanning everything from the nature of consciousness to lucid dreaming, was a qualified success.

The second volume, Philosophy and Predictive Processing, focuses entirely on the influential theory in its title, which argues that our brains are constantly making predictions about what's out there (a flower, a tiger, a person) and these predictions are what we perceive.


First large Chinese-made passenger jet C919 takes flight, seeks to rival Boeing and Airbus

© Aly Song / Reuters
The Chinese COMAC C919 airplane, which seeks to challenge the market dominance of the Boeing 737 and Airbus A320, has made its maiden flight.

The new narrow-body twin-engine passenger jet took to the skies of Shanghai on Friday. The maiden flight had been delayed at least twice since 2014 due to production issues, according to Reuters.

The state-owned producer of the plane, Commercial Aircraft Corporation of China (COMAC), says there is a $2 trillion market for the new plane, which was first revealed last November.

A total of 23 foreign and domestic customers have placed orders for 570 planes, the company says.

Comment: Russia's answer to Boeing and Airbus: MC-21 airliner rolls off assembly room floor


First-ever 'moon' bricks bring 3D printed lunar colony a step closer

© esa.int
Scientists have created bricks from simulated moon dust using the sun's rays in a potential breakthrough for the development of future settlements on the moon - and beyond.

Researchers at the DLR German Aerospace Center facility in Cologne baked the bricks in a solar furnace which harnesses sunlight and exposes them to a high-temperature beam, melting soil grains together. The material - volcanic minerals processed to mimic the look and feel of lunar rock - is then 3D-printed as bricks.

"We took simulated lunar material and cooked it in a solar furnace," said Advenit Makaya, a materials engineer overseeing the project for the European Space Agency (ESA).

"This was done on a 3-D printer table, to bake successive 0.1mm layers of moondust at 1,000 degrees Celsius (1,832 Fahrenheit). We can complete a 20 x 10 x 3 cm brick for building in around five hours."


US Navy launches colossal 46,000 ton Landing Helicopter Assault warship

© AlphaVideo / YouTube
The US Navy launched its second America class amphibious assault ship, the USS Tripoli, from its shipyard in Mississippi this week, months ahead of schedule.

Timelapse video from the shipbuilding facility shows the vessel being transported to the dry dock at Huntington Ingalls Industries' (HII) shipyard before launch.

Designed to carry the F-35B fighter jet, the warship was launched some 13 weeks ahead of the original construction schedule, according to the military shipbuilding company.

The USS Tripoli - officially designated Landing Helicopter Assault (LHA) 7 - was transferred from land to the company's floating dry dock in Pascagoula, Mississippi on April 8.

Comment: Interesting name for this warship as the capital of Libya was destroyed by US and NATO.


Stunning Mars 360 video captures mountains, craters and 'beaches' on Red Planet

Ever wondered how Mars looks through the eyes of the Curiosity rover? NASA has released a new 360-degree video from the robot's point of view so you can virtually explore the Red Planet's rippled surface without leaving Earth.

The car-sized robot is slowly making its way around Gale crater, examining sand dunes as it attempts to figure out if Mars could ever have supported life.

Between February and April, the rover examined four sites near a linear dune for comparison with crescent-shaped dunes it investigated over a year ago. This is the first close-up study of active dunes on any planet other than Earth.


New study suggests meteor showers sparked volcanic eruptions

© Paul Guyett/Trinity College Dublin
An example of a shard formed by the impact of a meteorite near Sudbury, Ontario. A new study connects meteorites to the rise of volcanic eruptions.
The impact of ancient meteorites sparked volcanic eruptions, a team led by Trinity College Dublin geochemists says in a report.

The team studied rocks in a massive crater in Sudbury, Ontario, where a deep basin was formed 1.85 billion years ago by a bolide, a meteor which exploded in the atmosphere.

Small volcanic fragments of the crash remain, each shaped like a crab claw. Their shape indicates they were formed when gas bubbles expanded in molten rock and then suddenly exploded.

The researchers findings indicate that the composition of the volcanic fragments changed over time. Immediately after the impact, volcanism, or the phenomenon of eruption of molten rock, is directly related to melting of the earth's crust. Over time, though, it was fed by magma, underground molten rock, coming from deeper levels within the earth.

"This is an important finding, because it means that the magma sourcing the volcanoes was changing with time," Balz Kamber, a professor of geology and mineralogy at Trinity, said in a press release. "The reason for the excitement is that the effect of large impacts on the early earth could be more serious than previously considered. The intense bombardment of the early earth had destructive effects on the planet's surface but it may also have brought up material from the planet's interior, which shaped the overall structure of the planet."


New research: Scientists measure the mysterious force that makes crystals align

© unknown
Crystals are among the most fascinating structures in the natural world - not only do they have a unique, highly ordered, and repeating lattice structure, they also have all kinds of inherent, interesting properties, including the ability to self-assemble.

When placed next to each other, tiny crystals will twist, snap into alignment, and slam into each other to form larger crystals, and for the first time, scientists have visualised and measured the force that makes this possible.

By using a new visualisation technique, the team showed that the force that governs crystals is a type of van der Waals force, a quantum attraction that's not reliant on any chemical bonds (such as the covalent bonds that hold molecules together). It's the same type of force that allows geckos' feet to stick to walls and ceilings - and now scientists have shown that it also works to twist and fuse crystals together, allowing them to get larger and larger.

Although many crystal structures are shaped like cubes, they usually have several differently shaped sides, some of which match well together, and some that don't.

When the sides do match up, crystals can fuse together seamlessly. And it's long been suspected that crystals can self-align to facilitate this - but no one had ever been able to visualise or measure how that happened, until now. Knowing how this works is important, because this attractive force is key to crystals self-assembling in nature to form everything from rocks and seashells, to our own bones.


China plans to connect regions with 400kph bullet trains by 2020

© Sheng Li / Reuters
Beijing is developing a new generation of trains capable of reaching 400 kilometers per hour, China Daily reported. The high-speed trains will be part of the so-called Belt and Road Initiative to boost economic ties with other countries.

"We will apply new materials in the research and production of the future high-speed trains, such as carbon fiber and aluminum alloy, which will help to reduce weight and enhance energy efficiency," said Qiao Feng, a senior engineer at the CRRC Changchun Railway Vehicles, a subsidiary of China Railway Rolling Stock Corporation.

He added the new trains would be able to reduce energy consumption per passenger by ten percent. They are expected to promote regional connectivity and create new businesses for China and overseas economies.


'Cassini' captures Saturn 'movie' in first Grand Finale dive

© NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory / YouTube
NASA has released an incredible "movie" from Cassini's first Grand Finale dive over Saturn, showing the spacecraft's view as it swooped between the planet and its rings.

The movie comprises of one-hour observations made as the spacecraft passed southward over Saturn on April 26, diving through the narrow gap between Saturn and its rings.

The dive presented scientists with some interesting data - namely that the region appears to be relatively dust-free - and also marked the closest a spacecraft has ever been to Saturn.

The newly released footage shows Cassini's journey, beginning with a swirling vortex at the planet's north pole before moving past the outer boundary of the hexagon-shaped jet stream and beyond.