How Social Learning through Implied Networks will change the Travel Experience

Smart phones even more than tablets are the perfect all-in-one purpose devices. And as we are using them a bit more every day in a multitude of situations that just a couple of years ago demanded dedicated devices each, we are being trained to adopt new patterns of convenience increasingly quickly. 


Not that long ago you probably looked like going on a Safari when doing a city trip. The mere basics included a map of the city center, a tourist guide book, a photo camera, a video camera, spare films and so on. All of this and more now fits now into your pocket and with mobile payments on the horizon the smart phone might even replace your wallet with foreign currency and the good old travellers cheques.

Even though I am known for being nostalgic once in a while, printed paper only got you so far. When you were standing in front of a monument and wanted to learn more about it, all you had was what was written in the book. Today you have apps like Wikitude World Browser. Simply point your camera on the landmark you would like to learn more about and you get an overlay with detailed information about it on your display (augmented reality). Not enough? Get more information with the tap of a finger on Wikipedia, YouTube or any other place on the Internet. 

With the different options Google maps or Bing are offering you cannot get lost anymore. Plan your route beforehand and when on the street simply switch to street view and follow along the marks on the screen. 

The most exciting part for me in all of this is that those platforms are building not only an interactive environment but they also help connect people based on common interests. Yesterday, I learned about a very interesting use of local check-ins on the BBC and although the app aims at bars and restaurants at the moment, I see many use cases beyond that. 

Localmind is based on Foursquare, Gowalla and other check-in services. If you are planning to visit a certain place you can search for it within the app and ask questions like “How crowded is the place right now?” and receive a short message from someone who is at that place right now. If you have ever been to Paris to go to a special exhibition at the Louvre or Musée d’Orsay you know where this is going. You could ask the question “How long is the waiting line?” or “Is it worth to get in line?” and get an answer from a person inside the exhibition. Besides saving time it is also a great way to meet interesting new people with common interests as the city is becoming an interactive platform for new, implied social networks. 

With more and more people, visitors as well as locals adding information to the different platforms, cities become a more accessible place that you can enjoy and focus on the things you’re really interested in. You don’t have to wear down the stones unless you absolutely want to see the landmarks and anyone can enjoy an individual experience from the first minute on.

Picture: Wikitude World Browser

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Why "nuclear pasta" is the strongest material in the universe

Through computationally intensive computer simulations, researchers have discovered that "nuclear pasta," found in the crusts of neutron stars, is the strongest material in the universe.

Accretion disk surrounding a neutron star. Credit: NASA
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  • The strongest material in the universe may be the whimsically named "nuclear pasta."
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Superman is known as the "Man of Steel" for his strength and indestructibility. But the discovery of a new material that's 10 billion times harder to break than steel begs the question—is it time for a new superhero known as "Nuclear Pasta"? That's the name of the substance that a team of researchers thinks is the strongest known material in the universe.

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The competition between forces from protons and neutrons inside a neutron star create super-dense shapes that look like long cylinders or flat planes, referred to as "spaghetti" and "lasagna," respectively. That's also where we get the overall name of nuclear pasta.

Caplan & Horowitz/arXiv

Diagrams illustrating the different types of so-called nuclear pasta.

The researchers' computer simulations needed 2 million hours of processor time before completion, which would be, according to a press release from McGill University, "the equivalent of 250 years on a laptop with a single good GPU." Fortunately, the researchers had access to a supercomputer, although it still took a couple of years. The scientists' simulations consisted of stretching and deforming the nuclear pasta to see how it behaved and what it would take to break it.

While they were able to discover just how strong nuclear pasta seems to be, no one is holding their breath that we'll be sending out missions to mine this substance any time soon. Instead, the discovery has other significant applications.

One of the study's co-authors, Matthew Caplan, a postdoctoral research fellow at McGill University, said the neutron stars would be "a hundred trillion times denser than anything on earth." Understanding what's inside them would be valuable for astronomers because now only the outer layer of such starts can be observed.

"A lot of interesting physics is going on here under extreme conditions and so understanding the physical properties of a neutron star is a way for scientists to test their theories and models," Caplan added. "With this result, many problems need to be revisited. How large a mountain can you build on a neutron star before the crust breaks and it collapses? What will it look like? And most importantly, how can astronomers observe it?"

Another possibility worth studying is that, due to its instability, nuclear pasta might generate gravitational waves. It may be possible to observe them at some point here on Earth by utilizing very sensitive equipment.

The team of scientists also included A. S. Schneider from California Institute of Technology and C. J. Horowitz from Indiana University.

Check out the study "The elasticity of nuclear pasta," published in Physical Review Letters.


How a huge, underwater wall could save melting Antarctic glaciers

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Image: NASA
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An "unthinkable" engineering project

"If [glacial geoengineering] works there then we would expect it to work on less challenging glaciers as well," the authors wrote in the study.

One approach involves using sand or gravel to build artificial mounds on the seafloor that would help support the glacier and hopefully allow it to regrow. In another strategy, an underwater wall would be built to prevent warm waters from eating away at the glacier's base.

The most effective design, according to the team's computer simulations, would be a miles-long and very tall wall, or "artificial sill," that serves as a "continuous barrier" across the length of the glacier, providing it both physical support and protection from warm waters. Although the study authors suggested this option is currently beyond any engineering feat humans have attempted, it was shown to be the most effective solution in preventing the glacier from collapsing.

Source: Wolovick et al.

An example of the proposed geoengineering project. By blocking off the warm water that would otherwise eat away at the glacier's base, further sea level rise might be preventable.

But other, more feasible options could also be effective. For example, building a smaller wall that blocks about 50% of warm water from reaching the glacier would have about a 70% chance of preventing a runaway collapse, while constructing a series of isolated, 1,000-foot-tall columns on the seafloor as supports had about a 30% chance of success.

Still, the authors note that the frigid waters of the Antarctica present unprecedently challenging conditions for such an ambitious geoengineering project. They were also sure to caution that their encouraging results shouldn't be seen as reasons to neglect other measures that would cut global emissions or otherwise combat climate change.

"There are dishonest elements of society that will try to use our research to argue against the necessity of emissions' reductions. Our research does not in any way support that interpretation," they wrote.

"The more carbon we emit, the less likely it becomes that the ice sheets will survive in the long term at anything close to their present volume."

A 2015 report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine illustrates the potentially devastating effects of ice-shelf melting in western Antarctica.

"As the oceans and atmosphere warm, melting of ice shelves in key areas around the edges of the Antarctic ice sheet could trigger a runaway collapse process known as Marine Ice Sheet Instability. If this were to occur, the collapse of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet (WAIS) could potentially contribute 2 to 4 meters (6.5 to 13 feet) of global sea level rise within just a few centuries."