Daily TIPs: Capturing Carbon, Signing on Cells, Wireless Power, & More

8/25/08

Technique Lets the Deaf Sign Through Cell Phones

Voice communications don’t work for deaf people, and the quality of video carried by American cellular networks is generally too low to carry images of people signing. Now researchers at the University of Washington have overcome this problem by coming up with video-encoding algorithms that enhances only the important parts of a video feed, Ars Technica reports. Since speakers of American Sign Language rely mostly on hand gestures and facial expressions, the algorithm raises the image quality of hands and faces and lowers it in the rest of the video so the video doesn’t overrun the cellular network’s bandwidth limitations.

Municipal Wireless Could Still Be Coming

A few years ago, several cities around the country announced plans for wireless networks that would allow anyone in the city, especially those with lower incomes, to connect to the Internet. Many of those plans have fizzled and service providers have started to pull out. But the Progressive argues that projects in many small and medium-sized cities are thriving, and the larger cities should not give up just yet.

Intel Transmits Energy Wirelessly

Intel has demonstrated an ability to transmit energy without the use of wires or any other contact by lighting up a 60-watt bulb from a power source three feet away. Scientific American says the company appears to be using a technique similar to that described two years ago by researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. If Intel successfully develops this technique, it could lead to laptops that can be recharged without any pesky cables.

Low-Tech Method Breaks Anti-Spam Defense

Software to automatically sign up for thousands of free email addresses is often thwarted by the use of CAPTCHAs, those little squiggly words you have to type in to register for a new account. The Washington Post’s Security Fix blog says that, while some spammers have made great strides in defeating the method, the quickest and easiest way is to hire humans to do the work. There are now websites that pay $1 for every thousand retyped CAPTCHAs sent in.

Could Multi-Fuel Cars Be in Your Future?

Lots of people are working on developing the best new fuel to power automobiles. At IEEE Spectrum one writer asks, why not design cars that can run on whatever fuel happens to be available at the moment? In Brazil, the magazine says, Fiat has already created its Siena Tetrafuel, which can run on pure gasoline, pure ethanol, any blend of gasoline and ethanol, or natural gas. That gives drivers the option to purchase the cheapest fuel, or use a better fuel that’s only available some of the time.

Obama May Have Social Media Advantage

The presidential campaigns of both Barack Obama and John McCain have learned to use the Internet to target potential voters and contributors. But the CEO of Rapleaf, a San Francisco company that analyzes data about people available on the Internet, says in BusinessWeek that Obama has the lead when it comes to using technology to his advantage. He says the Obama campaign is drawing on social networking concepts to build an army of volunteers, each of whom is asked to do only a small amount of work.

Bill Would Deal with Quiet Hybrids

Drivers of hybrid-electric vehicles love the fact that the vehicles are so quiet when they’re using electric motors instead of the gasoline engine, but the lack of noise raises the possibility that pedestrians crossing the street won’t hear them coming and get out of the way. So California lawmakers are calling for a committee to study the problem and make recommendations, according to Earth2Tech. One solution may be to add noisemakers to the cars.

Technique Could Make Carbon Capture Affordable

A chemical engineer at Penn State has come up with a way to capture the carbon dioxide coming out of industrial smokestacks and turn it into sand and magnesium carbonate, a chalk-like material. Science News reports that mixing the carbon dioxide with the mineral serpentine would allow industry to convert carbon on a large scale at a relatively low cost. The resulting materials could be buried for long-term carbon storage or used, for instance, to make cement.

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