Monthly Archives: October 2015

Russian University Creates Eerily Realistic Cockroach Robot

roachbotIf real cockroaches can survive an apocalypse, like many believe, then robot cockroaches must be the most invincible thing on the planet.

According to Geek.com, researchers at the Immanuel Kant Baltic Federal University in Kaliningrad, Russia have developed a tiny cockroach robot that looks and acts exactly like an actual cockroach.

While the experiment may creep a lot of people out, the goal of the project was to invent something small enough to search for accident victims trapped under heaps of debris.

The research team was challenged to develop something that would mimic the exact movements of a real cockroach, while still fitting all of the necessary technology into a bug-shaped device.

Eventually, they settled on the Blaberus craniifer to model their robot after, also known as “The Death’s Head Cockroack.”

The scientific community has had a lengthy history of using cockroaches to aid humanity in a number of different fields.

According to The Guardian, biologists from the University of Manchester once used the fertility habits of female cockroaches to study age-related infertility among human women.

Fertility starts to decline for women from about the age of 30, dropping down even more steeply when they reach 35. Cockroaches, who have an average lifespan of one year, typically reach full sexual maturity at six days old.

Researchers found that delaying their mating process by just two weeks had a major impact on their ability to reproduce. They correlated this to women who reproduce before the age of 25, noting that these women have a much higher rate of delayed menopause, increasing their odds to remain fertile into their later years.

As for the roach-bot, it was developed from scratch on a tight budget, which made it more difficult for researchers to complete the project. They could have purchased the gears for its legs from an Austrian company for $9,000, but their total budget was just $22,500.

Considering the hard work and money that went into this invention, one can only hope that an unknowing lab worker doesn’t see it scurry across the floor and instinctively step on it.

Oklahoma Student Forced to Miss School After Dyeing Her Hair Red

Pretty red-haired girWith all the tragic things that happen in schools around the nation, one would think administrators would be strictly focused on actual security concerns. Instead, one Oklahoma high school seems more intent on dictating their students’ fashion decisions.

According to local Oklahoma news affiliate News on 6, Emerson High School student Sarah Bonacci was sent home by her vice principal after arriving to school with a bright-red hairdo.

“[They said] she can’t come to school because her hair is a Ronald McDonald red, and it’s not,” said Vanessa Tucker, the student’s mother.

Administrators said that Bonacci’s new look violated the school’s dress code policy, which does explicitly mention hair color.

“Hair must be of natural color. NO RED, BLUE, PINK, PURPLE, etc.,” the Emerson dress code boldly states.

Tucker thinks the school is being foolish, and considers her daughter’s hairstyle to be natural-looking, thus excusing her from the dress code’s hair color regulations.

“[The vice president] had told her that she could come back in six months when she could color it back to her natural color,” said Tucker.

“If her hair was blue, green, purple, orange, like a clown, I can understand, or red like he thinks her hair is,” she added. “I don’t feel that her hair color is an unnatural hair color.”

About 38% of people change their hair color to feel more confident, though it seems like the young teen was innocuously trying to fit in with the new trend of colorful hairstyles among celebrities.

According to Hollywood Life, global superstar Katy Perry is known for her ever-changing hair color. She says that her favorite dye colors are “grunge green” and “shocking blue,” two colors that would surely be frowned upon by Emerson administrators.

Tucker said that she was told her daughter would either have to re-dye her hair or wear a wig to school, which upset the teen even more.

“She was in tears,” said Tucker.

A spokesperson for Oklahoma City Schools said that “the district has conducted a preliminary investigation into the incident and determined that Emerson’s policy regarding dyed hair will be administratively reviewed.”

Tucker wants every day her daughter is being forced to miss to be excused from her absentee record.

Video: Whoa, Watch This Concrete Absorb Water Like a Sponge

concreteYou never know what kind of video will become a viral sensation, but a video about concrete seems particularly unlikely. Yet that’s exactly what’s happening to a video from the British manufacturer Tarmac, which has developed a new permeable concrete.

Tarmac calls their new porous concrete Topmix, and the company says it can absorb 1,056 gallons of water every 60 seconds. In the viral video, a concrete mixing truck dumps large quantities of water onto a parking lot paved with Topmix, and the concrete absorbs the water like a sponge.

Back in 2007, the United Kingdom experienced heavy flooding, which caused about $4.8 billion in damage. But unlike most flood events, the rising floodwaters didn’t come from a storm surge or overflow from rivers. Instead, 88% of the flood damage was caused by surface water runoff from inadequate drainage.

In undeveloped areas, 80-90% of rainwater is absorbed into the ground. But in cities, paving materials like concrete cause that re-absorption rate to drop as low as just 10%. Some builders believe permeable paving materials could play an important role in protecting human habitations from stormwater and flooding.

Despite the sensation caused by the new video, permeable concrete has been used by builders for more than a century. Permeable concrete is not only more expensive than other paving materials, it can’t bear as much weight. And even though concrete is the second-most used product in the world (after water), asphalt is more commonly used for paving. In the United States, there are 2.4 million miles of roads covered in asphalt, or 94% of all road surfaces.

According to Tarmac, their new porous concrete is capable of being used in streets and parking lots. The company claims it’s one of the first permeable pavements that can be practically used in a similar way to regular concrete or asphalt pavements. And with extreme weather events becoming more common with each passing year, building experts say that new materials like this could play an important role in the urban planning of the future.

“Permeable paving sources are extremely important. Otherwise, water gets concentrated into systems that were designed in ways that are becoming increasingly expensive,” said Dana Buntrock, an architecture professor at the University of California, Berkeley. “These days, storms are breaking records…With the volume of water that’s coming out of the sky, [dealing with stormwater] is going to be even more critical.”

DeKalb County School Buses Face Overcrowding, Driver Shortages

Row of yellow school buses against autumn treesStudents in DeKalb County, Georgia, could be facing more crowded commutes to school if their district can’t hire more bus drivers.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports that the Atlanta-area district is having trouble filling the vacancies for drivers who have quit over complaints of pay and work conditions.

DeKalb Superintendent Steven Green said that the complaints raised at a recent school board meeting were the first he’d heard of these issues.

Drivers also complained of crowding on buses, and ironically, the problem may only get worse with all of the vacancies.

Although 118 drivers have been hired since June, another 69 have resigned since then, according to Green. Overall, the district has around 847 drivers for 817 routes, and they still need at least 30 more to cover them.

But if that doesn’t happen, students could be crowded in four to a seat and may even have to stand. That’s something that the district and parents fear for safety reasons.

DeKalb isn’t the only Atlanta-area county that need more drivers, though. Clayton County started out the school year with a shortage, which led to buses filled to capacity and some drivers handling multiple routes. According to a spokesperson for the district, they’re still about 15 drivers short.

Cobb County schools face a similar problem; full staff for bus drivers is at about 935, but they’re still short by about 40 drivers. The district has opted for a second run with pickups and dropoffs rather than overcrowding school buses.

Buses have been popular for regular travel in and between cities since the 1830s, when the first steam-powered buses were created in England. Since then, they’ve evolved to produce fewer emissions, and millions of people in inner-city areas rely on public, school, and charter bus lines to get where they need to go.

Yet oftentimes the shortages with the number of buses or bus drivers goes back to budget concerns. Fortunately, some districts have taken creative approaches to solving that problem.

Gwinnett County, also just outside of Atlanta, hasn’t faced any shortages, but instead has found new ways to make money and support the district’s transportation department. They’ve added cameras to their buses and now ticket drivers who don’t stop for students crossing the road.

Around 100 drivers are ticketed each day for that offense, according to a report from BizJournals.com, leading to more than $573,000 in funds due to fines collected. The county expects the district to collect around $1.5 million in such fines this year.

Although the fines have angered drivers, who say they’ve received tickets if they failed to stop a second or two after the sign came out, they have provided steady revenue for the district.

That could help districts like DeKalb hire more drivers, who get paid $15.55 per hour.

Green, however, says that the drivers are actually paid more than paraprofessionals in classrooms, despite claims that drivers are paid less. The district gave drivers a 2% raise for this year, and they should receive the same pay hike next year, as well.

Mom Glad Teen Hit by Train, Says It May Have Saved His Life

FishingOn October 4, Indiana teens 14-year-old Charlie Pease and his older brother 17-year-old Skyler Robertson were fishing near some train tracks. After about 20 minutes, they found themselves in danger.

“We didn’t hear the train, we didn’t see any lights, we didn’t even feel it shaking on the track,” Robertson said.

The older brother safely got to a cement slab, but knew time was running out for Pease, and told his younger brother to jump. As Pease got ready to leap, he looked back, and the train clipped his left side, sending him flying into the water.

Robertson then jumped into the river after his brother, and pulled him up. Rescue crews arrived shortly, and airlifted Charlie to a nearby hospital. The accident fractured his left leg, broke several ribs, and injured his spleen.

“He was able to make it to the hospital and get treatment before anything got worse on him,” said Eaton Police Department Assistant Chief Kevin Roberts.

Amber Trammell, the boys’ mother, felt relieved after wrapping her head around the situation, believing that if Charlie had jumped, he might have been hurt even worse than he had been.

“I’m thinking if the train wouldn’t have hit him he wouldn’t have made it because the way of how he flew over the river was so shallow that he would’ve landed on rocks,” she said.

Trammell also knows just how lucky her children were, and that they’ve learned a lesson they won’t forget soon.

“It’s a miracle, an absolute miracle,” said Trammell. “God had a hand in this.”
Kids and teens love to go fishing, as data shows that in 2013, 10 million youths between the ages of six and 17 went fishing. Though incidents like this are rare, it nevertheless demonstrates the importance of teaching kids to be safe when they go fishing.

The Recreational Boating and Fishing Foundation offers several safety tips, such as:

  • When out on a fishing boat, wear a life jacket
  • Pay attention to the weather
  • Bring along extra safety items such as water, flashlights, maps, and a cell phone or radio
  • Always wear appropriate foot gear
  • Stay dry, and stay warm
  • Use appropriate sunscreens and insect repellent
  • Keep fishing knives sharp
  • Handle fish carefully
  • Use caution when baiting and removing hooks
  • Lastly, the RBFF also advises against fishing in areas where it’s not permitted. When choosing a place to go fishing, the RBFF urges considering all safety factors, such as the possibility of a train coming.

New Roofing Technology Uses Solar Panels

Roof Mounted Solar PanelsMany people believe that the more sunlight there is, the better their solar panels will work, but that isn’t generally the case. In fact, for most solar panels, photovoltaic cells heating up causes their efficiency to decrease. But new technology has now been developed by a team at Brunel University London, which captures the heat for use through a hybrid system that basically converts the roof into a solar generator.

This patented technology generates electricity and heats water using flat heat pipes with PV cells. The pipes are there to transfer the heat away from places it isn’t needed, like computers, space, and data centers. They measure 4mm (0.4cm) x 400mm (40cm), in order to maximize their solar radiation collection.

The pipes take the heat away from the photovoltaic cells, where efficiency is lost, and transfer it to heating water and generating electricity where it is actually needed. This severely cuts the decreased efficiency caused by the heated cells. While they tested the product, researchers also found that the pipe technology helped those cells cool 15% more than the standard.

“Currently the panels would get hottest in the summer and roofs need to be designed to dissipate that heat,” says Dr. Hussam Jouhara, who specializes in heat pipe technology and led the scientific team. “Simply insulating the house below is not a good solution as that simply traps it driving up the PV panel temperature and further lowering its performance. With our system there is no waste heat.”

This technology is also much easier to install than the standard solar panels.

“Our solar panels are PV coated for the most southerly-facing aspect of the roof and are designed to clip together as a weather-tight roof as simply as clicking together laminate flooring,” says Dr. Jouhara.

They are currently testing a prototype, which will be tested using a standard, detached home by the Building Research Establishment (BRE) in Watford, England. Already, the team is noticing that the system is doing better than they predicted.

“Our flat heat pipes are so efficient that they can actually capture the energy from early morning dew evaporating off the trial roof,” Dr. Jouhara says.

Roofing is essential to any home, as a new roof adds a 75% return on investment. Those considering their roofing options just may want to hold off and take advantage of the amazing capabilities of this new technology.

El Faro Update: Hurricane Joaquin Caused Cargo Ship To Sink; No Survivors Found Yet

Cargo ship underwayMany Americans breathed a sigh of relief this week as Hurricane Joaquin skirted the East Coast without causing widespread damage, and the crew members of the cargo ship El Faro almost shared that relief, but the latest updates on the missing cargo ship suggest that a mechanical failure caused the 790-foot vessel to drift in the hurricane’s path.

El Faro disappeared five days ago and was last heard from on Thursday morning. According to the Associated Press, the ship was sailing from Jacksonville, Florida to San Juan, Puerto Rico when Hurricane Joaquin came barreling through.

The captain had found a way to bypass the storm and protect the ship’s 33 crew members (28 from the U.S., five from Poland), but a mechanical failure caused the ship to run through the middle of the hurricane.

All crew members would have had survival suits to keep them afloat and to provide warmth, but hypothermia would have set in — despite the water temperature being around 85 degrees F — due to the high winds (around 140 mph) and high waves (over 50 feet) caused by the hurricane.

CNN reported that the U.S. Coast Guard has encountered plenty of debris from the ship, which was carrying cars and other large cargo, spanning approximately 225 square miles.

One body has been found and a severely damaged lifeboat has been found as well, but rescue crews have not found any signs of survivors.

As The Atlantic noted, it’s very rare for a cargo ship like El Faro to sink and disappear without leaving any traces behind.

Citing the insurance firm Allianz, The Atlantic said only six large cargo ships during the past 10 years (2005 through 2014) were reported as “missing/overdue.” Within the past four years (2011 through 2014), there have been no large cargo ships missing at sea.

Ships always run the risk of sinking or submerging, Allianz’s data shows, but the large majority of cases involve some sort of warning, which gives rescue crews plenty of time to save everyone on board. In many cases, the ships themselves are actually salvaged before they sink.

For these reasons, large cargo ships like El Faro are still used to transport around 60% of the world’s cargo; the most recent data shows that over 55,000 cargo ships are responsible for moving nearly 10,000 million tons of freight each year.

That being said, even the most experienced crew members face plenty of risks at sea, even when the ships are fitted with more than enough safety equipment, as El Faro had been.

“These are trained mariners. They know how to abandon ship,” said Coast Guard Capt. Mark Fedor. “[But] those are challenging conditions to survive.”

Phil Greene, president and CEO of ship owner Tote Services Inc., has stated that rescue crews are still looking for signs of life, and that the company is still investigating the cause of the engine failure.

Facebook Under Fire for Refusing to Remove Page Offensive to Autistic People

dislikefacebookFacebook is in some hot water after a bizarre situation in which the social media giant declined to remove a group page that stereotypes autistic people as mass murderers.

According to Forbes, the popular social media website is under attack after failing to take down a controversial user-constructed page despite widespread protest over the weekend.

The page claims it exists for “families united against autistic shooters.”

It is assumed to have been created in response to the tragic mass shooting at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, OR, in which nine people lost their lives.

The shooter’s family confirmed that he has had mental health issues in the past, which compounds the narrative of mental health being a factor in most mass murders that have occurred in the U.S.

It remains unclear whether the page was created in jest or as a serious endeavor, though the aggressive language used in its posts suggests that its content is sincere.

About 70% of Internet users engage with Facebook daily (and 45% do so several times a day), so it’s not surprising that the page has gained so much momentum. However, the exposure works both ways, and Facebook was inundated with requests to remove the page within hours of its creation.

The website initially declined to remove the page, citing that it did not violate their Community Standards. After further backlash, Facebook acquiesced, and took the page down. However, as of Monday morning, the page is fully functional again.

This isn’t the first time that Facebook has come under fire for allowing controversial pages to remain on the site.

According to the Huffington Post, there were a number of offensive pages on the website in 2011 that Facebook refused to taken down until a Change.org petition garnered over 180,000 signatures, forcing the company to back off of its original stance.

Pages from the 2011 controversy include: “What’s 10 inches and gets girls to have sex with me? My knife.” and “Kicking sluts in the vagina because its [sic] funny watching your foot disappear”

As for their current faux pas, many feel as if Facebook is only adding to the stigma of autism that is constantly perpetuated throughout America by refusing to remove the page.

Their Community Standards page says that their goal is to “make people to feel safe when they use Facebook,” which many feel is being contradicted by the website’s persistence in keeping the page.

Facebook has yet to release an official statement on the incident.

Mobile Devices Have Changed the Way People Shop For Cars

Family with keys of new carIf you’re looking at new cars online, then there’s a 50-50 chance that you’ve looked a few things up on your smartphone or tablet. According to a new J.D. Power 2015 New Autoshopper Study, more than half of all new vehicle shoppers looking online are using a mobile device to research before buying.

Based on a survey of 18,900 buyers and lessees of new vehicles who used the Internet for research, the report found that 51% of participants said they’d used a smartphone or tablet to help them find a make, model, price, and dealership that suited their needs.

These findings should come as no surprise. Almost 28% of all web traffic nowadays come from mobile users; about 79% of mobile owners have used their device for shopping-related activities; and 94% of respondents in a recent survey said they used their mobile phones to find local businesses. Given these trends, it’s only natural that car shoppers would also do research via their devices.

And thanks to how easy mobile devices have made car research, 49% of online, new vehicle shoppers already know the make and model of the vehicle they want before they even set foot into a dealership.

What is most interesting, though, is that it seems these shoppers aren’t idly looking around. When outside of their homes, they’re using their mobile devices to compare makes, models, prices, and competitors when they’re out at auto dealerships looking at vehicles.

“Nearly half (48 percent) of new-vehicle buyers that shop on a mobile device use their smartphone and 13 percent use a tablet for information gathering while at the dealership, primarily to access vehicle pricing as well as model information, inventory searches and special offers and incentives,” said J.D. Power’s senior director of automotive media and marketing Arianne Walker in a statement.

These shoppers aren’t going to the dealership cold, either, as many of them are making initial contact digitally. The study found that 24% of survey respondents reported making first contact via email, text, Facebook, or the dealership’s website.

So if you’re in the market for a new car or truck, see what the fuss is about, and consider doing some market research on your smartphone.