In 2000, when the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory wanted to design a telescope whose football-field sized lens could be folded into a small rocket, they approached an expert in a discipline not traditionally associated with aerospace and engineering: origami.
To be sure, Robert Lang, who has published 13 books on origami, also has degrees in engineering and physics and an extensive background in optics, but it was his expertise in folding paper that inspired the Eyeglass Telescope, whose thin plastic lens, designed to be forty times larger than that of the Hubble Space Telescope, would open like an umbrella in space.
Funding for the Eyeglass Telescope was discontinued before a full-scale version could be built, but the prototypes worked as predicted, showing that the Japanese art of paper folding has applications that go well beyond making paper cranes.
As noted on Google's home page, Wednesday marks the 101st birthday of Akira Yoshizawa, who is widely considered the grandfather of origami. He did not invent the practice – origami emerged as a pastime during Japan's Heian period (794-1185). But in his lifetime, Yoshizawa did more than anyone else to elevate it into an art form. Equally important, Yoshizawa created a wordless notation consisting of lines, dashes, arrows, and diagrams that allowed people all over the world, regardless of their native language, to learn origami.
And in doing so, he inspired generations of scientists and engineers to use origami principles for everything from noodle containers to domed stadium roofs. Look into the folds and creases of objects all around you and you'll see origami everywhere.
Paper folding has long been of interest to mathematicians, who found that geometric problems that are impossible to solve with a compass and straightedge, such as trisecting the angle, can be easily solved by folding paper. Origami has also introduced new puzzles for mathematicians to solve, such as the famous napkin folding problem, which explores whether it is possible to fold a square napkin in such a way that the perimeter of the resulting shape, when flattened, is greater than that of the original square (it turns out that it is possible using classical origami techniques).
These mathematical insights have led to a host of applications. In 2003, the Nissan Motor company asked Japanese scientist and origami aficionado Ichiro Hagiwara to design "crumple zones" that absorb impacts more efficiently. Similarly, Robert Lang has helped design airbags that pack tighter and deploy faster, using algorithms originally developed by origamists to make paper insects.
Another origami-inspired scientist, Taketoshi Nojima of Kyoto University, has worked on structures and furniture designed to gently collapse during earthquakes.
The principles of origami can also work on a small scale. Scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology are working on techniques to fold DNA into microscopic structures that can serve as scaffolding for other nanoscale objects.
Not all of origami's applications are in the high-tech realm. Japanese astrophysicist and origamist Koryo Miura, who designed a collapsible solar array for a Japanese satellite that flew in 1995, has invented techniques that have been used on everything from beverage cans to those diamond-shaped tourist maps that fold and unfold easily.
Lang, who designed Wednesdays Google doodle, decorated the letters in the logo with Yoshizawa's iconic butterflies. Said Lang of Yoshizawa's design for the insects:
"It is deceptive in its simplicity, but can express great subtlety in its shaping and attitude. The combination of simplicity and depth is part of the essence of origami, and is key to Yoshizawa's work and legacy."
But good luck getting your hands on one anytime soon. In a statement today, Apple cautioned that pre-order stock of the new iPad, which hits shelves on Friday morning, is already depleted. "Customer response to the new iPad has been off the charts and the quantity available for pre-order has been purchased," Apple reps told USA Today. "Customers can continue to order online and receive an estimated delivery date."
Which is not to say that it is impossible to purchase an iPad on launch day. Without a pre-order – and providing you've got sharp elbows – you can still march to the local Apple store, and line up with the local scrum of Apple fanatics, and hope the store has enough iPad stock to go around. But you better start lining up soon: According to Slashgear, over in London, a few die-hards have already set up camp.
If you prefer to do your waiting indoors, in front of the television set, you can still pre-order the new iPad. Shipping is free, although Apple says the device may not begin to ship until March 19 – Monday of next week, in other words. At the very earliest.
The new iPad, which ships with a Retina display, a 5-megapixel camera, and the super-snappy A5X chip, is expected to be a big hit for Apple. Today, a pair of Canaccord Genuity analysts estimated that Apple would unload 65 million iPad computers in 2012, and a whopping 90 million in 2013.
And a second iPad – this one a little more portable – could follow close behind. Speaking to the Korea Times this week, an official with Samsung, which supplies some parts to Apple, claimed an iPad with a 7.85-inch screen is set to hit shelves by the end of 2012. (Hat tip to the Washington Post for the link.) Samsung and Apple are currently locked in a legal battle over patents, but the official said Samsung would continue to work with Apple through 2014.
Standard caveats apply: Apple has said nothing about an "iPad Mini," and the Korea Times article has no substantiation. That said, rumors of a smaller iPad have been circulating for a while now: In December, for instance, the Korean paper DigiTimes also reported on the existence of an iPad with a 7.85-inch screen, and placed the release window in the fourth quarter of this year.
Moreover, it makes sense that Apple would want to sell tablet computers in a variety of sizes. The current iPad – the one shipping on Friday – is equipped with a 9.7-inch display, making the machine perfect for movie watching, but difficult to stuff in a purse or jacket pocket. The Amazon Kindle Fire, on the other hand, has a 7-inch display and a smaller frame and a whole lot of portability.
The Kindle Fire is reportedly selling very well indeed. Apple isn't stupid. Faced with a challenge from Amazon, the logical response would be to box out its competition, and the best way to box out the competition is to create a device that goes head-to-head with the Fire on price and size. (Nothing has been said about the price on this as-of-yet-imaginary iPad Mini, but presumably the thing would be cheaper than the new iPad.)
The Google homepage today depicts the familiar blue, red, yellow and green logo in delicately folded origami shapes – an homage to a Japanese artist named Akira Yoshizawa, who would have turned 101 today.
So who was Yoshizawa, exactly? Only the grandfather of modern origami.
"Folders the world over acknowledge Akira Yoshizawa, a gentle and rather impoverished but contented origami artist, as the greatest now living," the New York Times noted in 1958, when Yoshizawa was in his forties. Born in 1911, Yoshizawa worked in a factory as a young man, helping to draft machined tools. When it came time to teach geometry to a crop of new recruits, Yoshizawa turned to origami, an art he remembered fondly from his childhood.
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That teaching experience seems to have had a profound effect on Yoshizawa. He spent the next few decades devoted to origami, although life often got in the way: he temporarily trained to be a buddhist monk, and during World War II, he served in the medical corp of the Japanese Army. (The Guardian reports that even there, he was making origami for wounded soldiers.)
Yoshizawa's contributions to the field of origami were manifold: He prized simplicity, typically working from a single piece of paper, and without scissors. He invented "wet folding," a method whereby damp paper is layered onto an origami sculpture, allowing artists to add a rumpled texture to the piece.
And, according to the Times, he "pioneered a system of origami notation that allows readers of any language to follow a set of printed instructions. Using dotted lines to indicate the folds and arrows to indicate the directions of the folds, the system is widely used today."
Yoshizawa passed away in 2005, at the age of 94.
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Now, three months later, Samsung will begin introducing Ice Cream Sandwich on a range of additional devices, including the Galaxy Note, the Galaxy S II, and the Galaxy Tab 8.9 tablet computer. In an announcement on Facebook, Samsung reps said the Galaxy S II – a highly-acclaimed phone which originally ran the Android 2.3 Gingerbread software – would be the first to receive the update.
But there's a catch: Only consumers in Europe and Korea can currently access the software; the UK will see the update next week. Users in other markets, such as the United States and Canada, will have to wait to get their hands on Ice Cream Sandwich. (Samsung says a wider roll-out will occur "gradually"; no precise date was given.)
Android 4.0 has been received rapturously by critics, who have praised the speed and "cohesiveness" of the OS. "Ice Cream Sandwich is clearly the best version of the Android operating system," wrote a reviewer at ZDNet, way back in December. Among the improvements over past iterations of Android are drag-and-drop folders, a tabbed Web browser, and the Android Beam NFC functionality.
Under normal circumstances, news of a hacker breaching a secure system and pocketing $60,000 would make us shudder and batten down our own online hatches. But in this case, a Russian teenager's exploit of Google's Chrome browser actually makes us all a little bit safer.
The hack took place during the Google-sponsored Pwnium contest this week, held at the CanSecWest security conference in Vancouver. The contest is designed to allow hackers to identify security holes in Chrome, so that these exploits can be patched before they're used for nefarious purposes. Sergey Glaznov won the top prize by breaching Chrome to gain full control of the test machine, allowing him to execute code remotely.
And true to their reputation for blazing-fast updates, Google developers released an over-the-air patch removing the security threat within 24 hours of the hack.
Chrome's main claim as a secure browser comes from a technique called "sandboxing," which keeps browser code away from the rest of the computer's operating system. In other words, even if a hacker gains access to Chrome, he or she won't (in theory) be able to access the whole computer. But Glaznov was able to chain three separate bugs in Chrome's programming to get around the sandboxing.
This was the first time that Chrome has been hacked publicly, but it wasn't the last: a French security company used a different exploit to bring the browser to its knees at the Pwn2Own competition, a separate hacking contest being held simultaneously at CanSecWest. Google says it hasn't received details about that hack yet, but users can undoubtedly expect another swift Chrome update once developers are able to plug that security hole as well.
Chrome's open-sourced code base is what enables Google developers to patch vulnerabilities and release patches to users so quickly. (A fix for a vulnerability in, say, Microsoft's Internet Explorer would likely have to go through weeks or months of quality-assurance tests before being pushed out to users.)
Now that the holes Glaznov discovered have been plugged, Google will spend some time studying the hack in-depth, to better understand how to prevent similar exploits in the future. The Chrome Release blog notes that details about the hack won't be published until users have a chance to install the patch. Google wants to use Glaznov's hack to help patch other vulnerabilities -- but it doesn't want to give too much information to hackers who have less benevolent motives for wanting to cripple Chrome.
March 8 marks International Women's Day. The century-old holiday grew out of the communist movement, but since then has become many different things depending on where you live. For some, it's a somber reminder of the lingering inequality for women. Elsewhere, it's practically Valentine's Day.
How did a day of socialist protest become represented by the vernal splash of color in Thursday's Google doodle? The answer leads us back to the early 1900s.
People forget that women could not vote for president in the US until 1920, two years after World War I. Several states allowed women to vote in local elections. (New Jersey actually extended the right in 1776 – same year as the Declaration of Independence – but then took it away thirty years later.) It took a lot of convincing before Congress drafted the 19th Amendment, which now allows all Americans to vote.
A decade before the 19th Amendment, 15,000 women marched through New York City. This garment workers' strike demanded better pay, shorter working days (eight-hour days were a luxury back then), the right to vote, and an end to child labor. "They adopted the slogan 'Bread and Roses,' with bread symbolizing economic security and roses a better quality of life," writes the United Nations in its history of International Women's Day.
In 1909, the Socialist Party of America wanted to honor the March 8 strike. It created the first National Woman's Day, a time to rally against women's unfair position in American life.
Eventually, thanks to the Socialist Party and other suffrage movements, Washington got the message. Congress passed the 19th Amendment in 1919, but, as you may remember from high school, at least 36 states needed to ratify the bill before it became law. Collecting the necessary states took an extra year. In fact, four states did not ratify the 19th Amendment until the 1970s. Mississippi waited until 1984. Of course, Mississippi women could still vote. Ratifying it after 1920 was simply a symbolic gesture.
But the Socialist Party's National Woman's Day had further reverberations.
In 1910, an international group called the Socialist International met in Copenhagen. There, German socialist Clara Zetkin suggested an international version of the American holiday. "The proposal was greeted with unanimous approval by the conference of over 100 women from 17 countries, which included the first three women elected to the Finnish Parliament," writes the UN.
The next year, four European countries celebrated International Women's Day. More than 1 million people across Austria, Denmark, Germany, and Switzerland rallied for women's rights. Observance spread year after year, eventually losing its overt socialist spin. International Women's Day is now an official holiday in 30 countries and widely observed in several others. InternationalWomensDay.com lists hundreds of events from around the world.
But the spirit of the day has taken on many forms. As the Monitor's Whitney Eulich writes, "Many women in China will have a half-day off of work in honor of IWD, and some employers even shower their female employees with gifts." Meanwhile, the "Turkmenistan government will honor mothers by awarding a special title and badge to women with eight or more children. Ireland will hold "a brunch for survivors of domestic abuse and violence."
The United Nations took a similarly serious tone. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon recognized the considerable progress made since the first International Women's Day. “But, despite this momentum, there is a long way to go before women and girls can be said to enjoy the fundamental rights, freedom and dignity that are their birthright and that will guarantee their well-being,” said the Secretary-General on Wednesday.
Mr. Ban focused on rural women, but you can see room for improvement here in the US, where women make 77.4 cents for every dollar earned by a man, according to 2010 numbers from the National Committee on Pay Equality.
Google, for its part, took the opportunity for a commemorative doodle. The spring-themed illustration swapped out the Google G with the Roman symbol for Venus – a circle with a cross underneath. The emblem has become a universal emblem for women.
For more on how technology intersect daily life, follow Chris on Twitter @venturenaut.
The app store formerly known as the Android Marketplace was transformed today into Google Play. Play is a high-design site that offers not just apps, as the marketplace of yore did, but also folds in Google's eBookstore and Google Music to offer movies, books, and songs.
Taking a page from the Amazon playbook, Google has grown out its specialty shops into a digital mall. And taking another page, this one from Apple’s iCloud, Play will allow for synching across multiple devices, as the store and your files reside in the cloud.
Play will allow you to store up to 20,000 music files, including songs that you did not purchase through Play – the same limit set by Google Music. It does not allow you to store movies, however.
“Entertainment is supposed to be fun," writes Jamie Rosenberg, Director of Digital Content, on Google’s blog. "But in reality, getting everything to work can be the exact opposite… Today we’re eliminating all that hassle with Google Play, a digital entertainment destination where you can find, enjoy and share your favorite music, movies, books and apps on the web and on your Android phone or tablet.”
The Android Marketplace website changes over today. But it will take some time for Google to change the Marketplace app on phones and tablets running the Android OS into the Google Play store app. Movies, books, and other media customers have purchased will be available via the new app.
Earlier this year, AT&T announced it would begin to throttle – or slow – the service of its hungriest data users, once they passed an unspecified limit. The problem: Since the limit was unspecified, users had no way of knowing when their service was about to get throttled. Unsurprisingly, AT&T was pelted with complaints.
This week, the company backpedaled, saying unlimited data subscribers would only experience slowed service if they hit 3GB of usage in a single cycle. "Our unlimited plan customers have told us they want more clarity around how the program works and what they can expect," AT&T said in a statement yesterday, according to Computerworld. "[And] for context, less than 5% of smartphone customers use more than 3GB per month."
As the Associated Press notes, citing a recent Nielsen report, the average smart-phone user chews through 435 megabytes of data each month. You'd have to use seven times that amount to come near the AT&T limit. Not that the whole data limit flap is going to go away anytime soon: Expect carriers such as AT&T to continue to find ways to manage the data speeds of American smart-phone users.
"[O]n the bright side, we have a major company buckling under pressure from its customers. It’s not often you see a well-established, non-startup company actively respond to requests from its user base," writes Zach Whittaker of ZDNet. "Whether or not you think it’s fair, AT&T has at least – at last – been transparent about its opaque and hazy data caps. It’s far from an 'unlimited' service to what the public would expect, but it’s a lot of space to maneuver."
Almost no one likes those gabbers who chatter loudly into their cell phones on trains and buses.
And few people like 'em less than a Philadelphia resident named Eric, who has apparently been using a cell phone jammer to disrupt the conversations of the other riders on his SEPTA bus route. According to an NBC affiliate in Philly, Eric knows he is "taking the law into his own hands" – but he's "proud" of his work.
"A lot of people are extremely loud, no sense of just privacy or anything. When it becomes a bother, that’s when I screw on the antenna and flip the switch," Eric said. Listening to people talk is "pretty irritating, and quite frankly, it’s pretty rude," he added.
Clearly, he has a good deal of support: His story was picked up today by dozens of tech sites, and for a brief moment on Friday, "cell phone jammer" topped the Google Trends list.
A couple things to note here: Cell phone jamming is illegal. It carries a substantial fine. Legally speaking, you shouldn't do it. Morally speaking, you shouldn't do it, either: while it's easy to sympathize with Eric's plight – listening to other people talk on their phones is annoying! – going all smart-phone vigilante is not the best way to handle the situation.
The best way is to turn around and ask the person to stop talking.
Because, as the NBC news affiliate was quick to point out, people talk on their phones for many reasons: They might have an emergency, for instance.
"[S]houldn’t this guy mind his own business?" asks Shawn Hess of WebProNews. "Go somewhere where you can be alone if you need peace. I realize that probably means leaving the city, but the city has never been for those who enjoy peace and quiet, has it?"