All the World’s Glaciers, Mapped  MAY 7 2014, 12:20 PM ET


The first statistical analysis of the world’s glacier distribution offers insight into melting ice.

There are, at the moment, nearly 200,000 glaciers on Earth. They have a volume of nearly 106,000 miles cubed, and cover an area of about 453,000 miles squared. This means they cover an area roughly equivalent to that of Germany, Poland, and Switzerland combined.

We know this in large part because of satellite data. But we know it more specifically because of a new survey, just published by an international collection of scientists in the Journal of Glaciology, that uses sent-from-space data to provide a comprehensive view of the world’s glaciers. The new inventory is based on information compiled by the Randolph Glacier Inventory in New Hampshire. It’s the first statistical analysis of the world’s glacier distribution.  click to read more



Mini-satellites send high-definition views of Earth  


WATCH: See some of the videos and images sent back by the budget satellites
WATCH: See some of the videos and images sent back by the budget satellites

Imagine being able to monitor deforestation tree by tree – and act accordingly.

Or, as a farmer, remotely monitoring the health and yield of crops on a daily basis over huge swathes of land.

Perhaps as an aid agency, effortlessly estimating the flow of human traffic across borders over the course of a week.

And for business retail analysts, estimating the footfall of a retail chain by counting the sheer number of vehicles in its car parking lots across a region.

These are just some of the countless possibilities conceivable when our world is observed from on-high every day or week, rather than the years it can currently take to completely update our planet’s imagery on services such as Google Earth.

Soon these possibilities will translate into reality, as a new image-focused space race is steadily gathering pace.

Rather than being conducted by nation-states or mega-corps, it is being played out by Silicon Valley tech start-ups doing what they do best – defying conventional thinking to disrupt an entire industry.

Their goal is to reveal an unprecedented understanding of activity conducted on Earth by taking and analysing pictures of our planet in its entirety.  click to read more


The Trick That Makes Google’s Self-Driving Cars Work MAY 15 2014, 12:26 PM ET

A snapshot of how a Google car sees the world around it. (Alexis Madrigal)
A snapshot of how a Google car sees the world around it. (Alexis Madrigal)

Google’s self-driving cars can tour you around the streets of Mountain View, California.

I know this. I rode in one this week. I saw the car’s human operator take his hands from the wheel and the computer assume control. “Autodriving,” said a woman’s voice, and just like that, the car was operating autonomously, changing lanes, obeying traffic lights, monitoring cyclists and pedestrians, making lefts. Even the way the car accelerated out of turns felt right.

It works so well that it is, as The New York Times‘ John Markoff put it, “boring.” The implications, however, are breathtaking.

Perfect, or near-perfect, robotic drivers could cut traffic accidents, expand the carrying capacity of the nation’s road infrastructure, and free up commuters to stare at their phones, presumably using Google’s many services.

But there’s a catch.   click to read more



Google Ventures-Backed Startup Develops Mobile Games to Ease Urban Congestion  by James Temple  May 15, 2014  8AM PDT


People are pouring into cities as the world continues to shift away from an agrarian economy, putting ever greater strains on transportation systems, including roads, highways, buses and trains.

It’s a familiar problem for anyone commuting along Highway 101 in Silicon Valley or waiting on buses in San Francisco, but the region doesn’t even rate among the most congested metropolitan areas worldwide.

A startup emerging from stealth mode on Thursday aims to ease these urban growing pains using a combination of big data, behavioral economics, gamification techniques and good old lotteries.

Urban Engines of Los Altos, Calif., created an online and mobile game that resembles Snakes and Ladders, a virtual version of an Indian board game on which (the suddenly wimpier sounding) Chutes and Ladders was modeled. Commuters can earn points for shifting their travel to off-peak hours, which in turn can add up to real dollars and prizes.  Click to continue

MoD creates ‘coldest object in the universe’ to trump GPS By  11:57AM BST 15 May 2014



The MoD is pouring millions of pounds into research on a “quantum compass” that will be far more accurate than GPS and immune to jammers or hackers, with potential applications in everything from nuclear submarines to your next smartphone.

Quantum technology is already being explored in universities and companies worldwide for potential applications in communications and computation, but several UK academic projects backed by cash from the MoD are focusing on how it can be used in sensing and precision timing – both of which could lead to a “game-changing” navigation device. It could also give birth to the most precise clock ever created.

The whole field hinges upon an unusual field of physics called quantum mechanics which explores how particles on a sub-atomic level can act as both a physical particle and an electromagnetic wave at the same time.

Quantum TNS (timing, navigation and sensing) involves cooling atoms down to temperatures a billion times colder than outer space. Unlike GPS, which relies on triangulation from a network of satellites, it very accurately measures movements from a known position to keep track of location.

With the first products expected in the next five years, its potential impact on the electronics, defence and telecommunications could be huge.

The Clever Way a Web Guru Is Protesting Net Neutrality

The Clever Way a Web Guru Is Protesting Net Neutrality
The Clever Way a Web Guru Is Protesting Net Neutrality

Lesson one in How to Drive Your Technology Enemies Crazy: downgrade their Internet to turtle-like, dial-up speeds.

A Portland, Oregon-based software developer came up with the protest against the Federal Communication Commission’s proposed net neutrality rules.

“Various companies and organizations have added code to their websites that kicks in whenever there’s a visit from someone who works at the FCC,” Wired reported. “While everyone else is enjoying these websites at ordinary broadband speeds, this code ensures that FCC staffers view them at dial-up speeds reminiscent of the 1990s.”  Click here to read more.


Penn State Starting a MOOC on Coursera – “Geodesign: Change Your World”  May 15th, 2014 by Sanjay Gang


What happens when creativity and science come together? The power to design our world is unleashed, providing tools to inform choices about how we live! Geodesign is the glue—it’s a process that deploys creativity to connect information to people, using collaboration to better inform how we design our world.

You can register for the course at

About the Course

Our world is awash in facts and information, which are now easily accessible.  So why are so many bad decisions being made?  What is needed is creativity and design that brings those facts to life – to create a vision and choices as well as an understanding about the potential impacts of those choices.  The geodesign process has evolved over nearly 40 years and now combines the core concepts of design thinking with the latest in geo-spatial technologies. 

Geodesign is a proven form of design that uses techniques and practices from a multitude of professions to determine optimal ways to design for complex land use challenges. It is a collaborative process that capitalizes on the strengths of people with a variety of expertise to create and implement unique models to aid in the design decision-making process.

Our MOOC will introduce the average person to the core concepts of geodesign through real-world examples which showcase how geodesign has worked across the globe.  People from all walks of life with interests in science, design, sustainability and environmental stewardship will want to learn about geodesign.  Together we will explore how anyone can use the geodesign process to work with others to effect change in their world.



Nearly 25 state-specific fact sheets are now available to understand 3DEP applications

14 May 2014 —- Want to know how elevation will benefit your state? The USGS National Geospatial Program is advancing the 3D Elevation Program, known as 3DEP, in response to the growing need for high-quality three-dimensional representations of the Nation’s natural and constructed features. 3DEP uses modern technology to systematically collect high-density light detection and ranging ( lidar) elevation data over the U.S. and interferometric synthetic aperture radar ( ifsar) data above Alaska where cloud cover and remote locations preclude the use of lidar for much of the State.

“Looking at lidar is like looking at the world through 3D glasses” said Kevin Gallagher, the USGS Associate Director for Core Science Systems. “Phenomena that were once obscured are suddenly fully evident in rich color and detail. As you might expect, the applications of such new and transformational data are growing rapidly, from civil engineering, precision agriculture and flood inundation modeling, to forest management, intelligent vehicle navigation and emergency response. A national dataset of such data will drive innovation, transform government and industry, and stimulate the economy.”

Elevation data are essential to a broad range of applications and support a large range of business uses including national security, wildlife and habitat management, water resource management, and geologic hazards mitigation, to name a few.

Examples of how each state benefits from current high accuracy elevation data are explained in the 24 3DEP state fact sheets available on the 3DEP or The National Map websites. Those states include:

Remaining state-specific fact sheets will continue to be released in the near future.

The use of 3DEP technology has been recommended and endorsed by National Digital Elevation Program Committee and its 12 member agencies, the National States Geographic Information Council, the Management Association for Private Photogrametric Surveyors and the National Geospatial Advisory Committee.

Since 1990, USGS has collected National Elevation Data and has the Federal lead responsibility for terrestrial elevation data. The 3DEP project is designed to fulfill that coordination responsibility and to assure the Nation receives the essential high quality coverage.

This Tiny Drone Can Climb Walls

And it’s only the size of a softball

Fun–but Thought-provoking: Moneyball 2.0: The New, Team-Oriented Study of Baseball  MAY 15 2014, 8:15 AM

Baseball is a team sport, but it sure gets lonely at times.

The pitcher stands at the center, for example, spitting and pacing before thousands. The infield stays lively, but there’s stoicism in the faces of outfielders whose involvement in the game is either nil or total. When a fly ball isn’t plummeting towards the outfielder’s glove, he simply waits. Basketball has the free throw, and football the field goal, but no other team sport is so composed of discrete events whose outcome is solely on the shoulders of individual players. In baseball, if the ball’s on its way, it’s up to you (and no one else) to do with it what you will.  click to continue.