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July 22, 2014

Video shows Spacex did soft land the Falcon 9 first stage last week

Following last week's successful launch of six ORBCOMM satellites, the Falcon 9 rocket’s first stage reentered Earth’s atmosphere and soft landed in the Atlantic Ocean. This test confirms that the Falcon 9 booster is able consistently to reenter from space at hypersonic velocity, restart main engines twice, deploy landing legs and touch down at near zero velocity.




Carnival of Nuclear Energy 218

The Carnival of Nuclear Energy 218 is up at Yes Vermont Yankee

NEI Nuclear Notes - Higher and Higher: EEI Uncovers The Cost of Electricity in Germany

Ever since Germany decided to phase out nuclear energy in the wake of Fukushima, local activists have been touting the results of the shift, known in German as the "Energiewende." But what has the cost been to the nation's economy. NEI's Mark Flanagan looks at a recent EEI report that's full of interesting details.

Household electricity prices in Germany have more than doubled, increasing from €0.14/kilowatt hour (kWh) ($0.18) in 2000 to more than €0.29/kWh ($0.38) in 2013.

This outcome has occurred with many of the nuclear plants still operating, so these costs presumably will only go higher after the plants close in 2021. (The cost for household electricity in the U.S. is about $0.13/kWh , for comparison).

The rapid introduction of renewable energy sources has caused in wholesale prices in Germany for baseload to fall dramatically from €90-95/megawatt hour (MWh) in 2008 to €37/MWh in 2013. This has created a large amount of load and margin destruction for utilities that built and financed thermal plants. Many new gas-fired power plants have been rendered uneconomical, leaving owners to shore up their balance sheets by undertaking large divestitures of some of their holdings, as well as by reducing their operational costs.

Wait – shouldn’t household prices go down if wholesale costs decline?

This is being caused by subsidies granted to renewable energy sources and a provision of Germany’s renewable energy law that mandates electric companies buy renewable energy ahead of thermal-powered energy regardless of need.

Patent troll patent invalidated and ordered to pay costs of the legal case

When Santa Barbara startup FindTheBest was sued by a patent troll called Lumen View last year, it vowed to fight back rather than pay up the $50,000 licensing fee Lumen was asking for. Company CEO Kevin O'Connor made it personal, pledging $1 million of his own money to fight the legal battle.

Once FindTheBest pursued the case, the company dismantled the troll in short order. In November, the judge invalidated Lumen's patent, finding it was nothing more than a description of computer-oriented "matchmaking."

Patent troll ordered to pay the legal costs

The judge overseeing the case has ruled that it's Lumen View, not FindTheBest, that should have to pay the defendants $200,000 in legal expenses. In a first-of-its-kind implementation of new fee-shifting rules mandated by the Supreme Court, US District Judge Denise Cote found that the Lumen View lawsuit was a "prototypical exceptional case."

Mall of the World, a temperature-controlled pedestrian city in Dubai that will be the largest domed city

Dubai has a project to develop the world’s largest mall (8 million square feet or 183 acres), largest indoor park, cultural theatres and wellness resorts with a capacity to host over 180 million visitors annually.

Dubai Holding plans to build the world’s largest domed city: Mall of the World, in Dubai. The temperature-controlled city (also a first) will occupy a total area of 48 million square feet — the largest indoor theme park in the world. It will be covered by a glass dome that will be open during the winter months.

The project will also house the largest shopping mall in the world, with an area of 8 million sq. ft. in the form of a temperature-controlled covered retail street network spreading over 7 kilometers. It will also include 20,000 hotel rooms catering to all types of tourists, and a cultural district with theaters built around New York’s Broadway, Ramblas Street in Barcelona, and London’s Oxford Street.



New Era of rapid Brain Imaging allows brain imaging and understanding of interactions at the cellular level across the brain

Detailed high resolution brain imaging has been made one hundred times faster. Stanford University researchers who developed the new method CLARITY to see the brain in greater detail said that it could mark a new era of rapid brain imaging, allowing researchers to see in much greater detail not only how parts of the brain interact on a cellular level but also to better understand those interactions across the entire brain.

Cellular structure and neuron firing

It allows for three-dimensional visualization that is both granular and wide enough to encompass the entire brain. Said Sanchez, “Traditionally, with the optogenetic technique, you really don’t have the structure to go along with the activation. That’s why the Neuro-FAST program is so exciting.”

DARPA Neuro-FAST project builds off of the recently developed CLARITY process, as well as recent discoveries in genetics, optical recordings, and brain-computer interfaces. By combining all four areas, Neuro-FAST seeks to allow researchers to individually identify specific cell types, register the connections between organizations of neurons, and track their firing activity using optical methods in awake, behaving subjects. Neuro-FAST researchers must overcome the dual challenges of achieving single-neuron resolution while simultaneously being able to analyze activity from large numbers of neurons to acquire detailed modeling of the dynamic wiring of neural circuits that cause behavior. Such models would then be coupled with brain activity in real-time to better understand how brain processes work. Neuro-FAST envisions development of novel optical methods to enable the necessary recording.

The data generated by this process would be unlike any previously produced by the neuroscience community and would feed a growing body of knowledge about brain function and form. In addition to fundamental rodent research already underway, Neuro-FAST will expand the processes to non-human primate brains and whole-organ human tissue samples from existing repositories to create a deep understanding across higher-order mammals.

If successful, Neuro-FAST will support pioneering research into brain function over a wide range of spatial and temporal scales to better characterize and mitigate threats to the human brain and facilitate development of brain-in-the loop systems to accelerate and improve functional behaviors.

Nature Protocols - Advanced CLARITY for rapid and high-resolution imaging of intact tissues.



July 21, 2014

Neuroscience biofeedback improved novice sniper shooting by 100% by helping soldiers get into the right mental zone

A previous DARPA program yielded some remarkable insight into the potential for better soldier performance through focused brain states. Amy Kraus, a former DARPA program manager, on Monday told a group at the Potomac Institute for Policy Studies, the work that she presided over succeeded in finding the secret mental secret that preceded good marksmanship. “It turns out the expert marksman has a brain state,” she said, “a state that they enter before they take the perfect shot. Can I teach a novice to create this brain state? The answer was yes.”

She said that by recognizing that state, researchers were able to improve the ability of regular people to improve their marksmanship by 100 percent. “These are recordable, measurable, algortyhmical,” Kraus said.

Neuroscience-based assessments can be used to accelerate military skill acquisition and provide quantitative evidence of successful training by detecting, in real-time, cognitive and physiological states of the trainee under various conditions.

The research focuses on:
(a) integrating brain monitoring capabilities into rifle marksmanship training;
(b) identifying psychophysiological characteristics of expertise using expert marksman as a model population;
(c) developing a sensor-based feedback system—information that would not be available under current training conditions—to accelerate novices in the acquisition of marksmanship skills, and
(d) identifying neurocognitive factors that predict marksmanship skill acquisition.

Plastic to Pavement

India has 15000 tons of plastic waste every day. This amount should double in 5 years.

5,000 kilometers (3,000 miles) of plastic roads have been laid in India in at least 11 states.

Solving India’s garbage problem requires more than a technological solution. In a country where throwing garbage onto the roads and littering in public areas are acceptable behaviors, it’s going to require a social transformation. “With respect to the technology it has been proven already,” Vasudevan says. “Culture is now the most important part.”

Gurusamy Bodhilakshmi, secretary of Naganakulam Panchayat-Level Federation of the SHGs (self-help groups), explains how the women buy plastic from a network of local businesses and homes and how they conduct awareness drives in schools and colleges. They are trying to build a local market around plastic, so it is treated as a commodity rather than as garbage. The group has had some success. It collects plastic from about 8,000 households. It buys plastic at 7 rupees a kilo (12¢ per 2.2 pounds) and sells about 1,000 kilos a month, at 30 rupees a kilo, to government agencies that use it for roads. Many of the group’s members make a modest living off the enterprise.