Legos Advance Scientific Understanding
If you're trying to understand how nano-particles behave, you run
up against an obvious barrier: you can't see them, except perhaps
under a very powerful microscope. Is there a way to increase the
size of the interactions while preserving the quality? Researchers
at John Hopkins University think they found the answer in a common
children's toy: Legos.
The team took a large Lego base and attached small, one-peg blocks
to it in a grid pattern. They then submerged their Lego construction
vertically in a aquarium tank full of glycerin, and dropped ball
bearings of different sizes into their creation to see how they
behaved. The glycerin, being more viscous than water, slowed down
the descent of the ball bearings so that their paths could be clearly
Researchers noted that, despite the increase in size, ball bearings
passing through their construction behave basically the same way
as nano-particles moving through a nano-device. They found that
smaller ball bearings followed a zig-zagging path, while larger
ones traveled in a straight line. This information may be helpful
in predicting the behavior of nano-particles moving through microfluidic
arrays. Such arrays could find uses in the future in everything
from medical testing equipment to the computer industry.
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Build Your Own Storage on the Cheap
When you're a backup company, you need to store a lot of data,
and you need to keep your costs down. So when Backblaze found out
how much companies such as Amazon, Dell, and others were charging
for storage solutions – especially when compared to the price of
the raw hard drives – they decided to build their own. That in itself
may not be so remarkable, but they took it one step further: they
posted the full instructions for how they did it, for anyone to
copy, on the Internet.
According to their site, their motive is simple: “Our hope is that
by sharing, others can benefit and, ultimately, refine the concept
and send improvements back to us.” The instructions show how to
build a storage pod containing 67 terabyte 4U servers for $7,867.
At that price, a petabyte of storage would cost less than $120,000.
It's an illustration of how far we've come in the area of computer
storage; back in 1980 you could buy a 10 MB hard drive for a little
Backblaze's directions include a downloadable 3-D model of the
storage pod, a price comparison chart with the major storage vendors,
a detailed parts list that includes prices of components, a wiring
diagram, and complete assembly instructions. The company explains
the choices they made as well; for example, “We use two power supplies
in the pod because 45 drives draw a lot of 5V power, yet high wattage
ATX PSUs provide most of their power on 12V...We could have switched
to a power supply designed for servers, but two ATX PSUs are cheaper.”
Factors such as cooling and vibration are also taken into consideration.
Naturally, the pod runs free software (64-bit Debian 4 Linux).
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Modern Tech Decodes Old Texts
Pattern recognition programs, among other things, can help catch
criminals; now they're being used to decipher ancient texts. Since
such documents were written long before the advent of the printing
press, scholars must struggle not only with different languages,
but widely varying handwriting styles, text that has faded over
time, and other issues.
Italy Bar-Yosef, a researcher from Ben-Gurion University of the
Negev, notes that the program can even recreate portions of text
that have been written over by later scholars. “The more texts the
program analyzes, the smarter and more accurate it gets,” he said.
The program handles digital copies of the texts, determining where
the writing is by rating the darkness of each pixel.
While the team working with the program has so far used it mainly
on ancient Hebrew texts, they say it will work with other languages
as well. A program for all academics could be out in two years.
Eventually, it could lead to a digital database of handwritten historical
documents that could be searched by a search engine in much the
same way web surfers now use Google to find sites online. One scholar
notes that such a database could allow research that would take
years today to be conducted in a matter of minutes.
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