Teaching light to travel around objects

Boston College: Illustration shows light propogating around the East Coast of the US according to instructions from the metamaterial device
Boston College: Illustration shows light propogating around the East Coast of the US according to instructions from the metamaterial device

Looking for an invisibility cloak or a car that blends right into its surroundings? Researchers at Boston College have managed to use what they call ‘metamaterials’ to instruct a beam of light to follow particular pathways.

The researchers accomplished their feat by developing a much more precise set of instructions, which create a grid-like roadmap capable of twisting and turning a beam of light around objects or space. Their discovery is an extension of earlier metamaterial “cloaking” techniques, which have conjured up images of the Harry Potter character disappearing beneath his invisibility cloak.

“Our method combines the novel effects of transformational optics with the practicality of dielectric construction,” Padilla and Landy report. “We show that our structures are capable of guiding light in an almost arbitrary fashion over an unprecedented range of frequencies.”

The process is definitely still in its early stages but the mere thought that such a thing is possible is quite incredible.

[via nanowerk.com]

Drive better, save money and help the environment

(Source eartheasy.com)

With auto makers such as General Motors hesitant to adopt fuel efficient designs and paying dearly for it,  it’s time to start stepping up to do something about the problem.  Though gas prices have dropped down to a pretty reasonable level, the memory of prices greater than $4.00 a gallon is still all too sharp.  Here are a few things each of us can do to save money at the pump.  They really add up with just a little bit of effort.

Driving Habits:

  1. Avoid hard breaking
  2. Avoid quick acceleration 
    • Note: 1 and 2 increases travel time by 4% but can decrease consumption by 40% and reduce emissions to 1/5th.
  3. Keep moving without coming to a complete stop
  4. Drive between 5o and 60 mph when possible for most efficient performance
  5. Anticipate stopping and just glide to a stop with less braking – breaking throws away energy
  6. User higher gears if you have a choice
  7. If stopped for more than 30 seconds, turn off the engine rather than idling
  8. Use cruise control for long flat areas, it smooths out acceleration
  9. Do not use cruise control in hilly areas
  10. At speeds <40mph, crack windows instead of AC, (>10%)
  11. At speeds >40mph, close windows
  12. Draft behind larger vehicles – semis can’t slow down quickly so less following distance isn’t as dangerous

Car Maintenance:

  1. Inflate tires properly
  2. Change air filters regularly (clogged filters use 10% more fuel)
  3. Change oil regularly (clean oil is more efficient)
  4. Tighten gas cap (gas evaporates and escapes)

Trip Planning:

  1. Remove unnecessary items from the car
  2. Park in the shade to reduce need for AC and fuel evaporation
  3. Use a block heater in the winter since fuel is more efficient when warmed up
  4. Combine trips and errands
  5. Telecommute when possible
  6. Carpool or use mass transit
  7. When choosing a route, avoid traffic, hills and construction
  8. If you have a choice about when to go out, save driving for non-windy days

Twitter OAuth for PHP

For anyone writing a PHP Twitter App to interact with the Twitter API, TwitterOAuth is an incredibly helpful piece of open source code.  It handles the secure authentication through OAuth, and then includes function calls for using that authenticated status to carry out any desired GET or POST exchange with the Twitter API.

The project is located at: http://twitter.abrah.am/

The author is pretty careful to remind readers that the library is still in beta, incomplete and likely to change.  Nevertheless, his documentation, comments, and live examples make this library a must use.

Stepping Back

I read a blog post here a few days ago outlining self-imposed ‘internet free zones’ where you choose to disconnect for the sake of focus and freedom from distraction. As I sit on the north shore of Lake Superior at Neys Provincial Park, utterly out of touch with the outside world, I am overwhelmed by the vitality of it all, and the energy of a simpler life. Unfortunately, life does not afford such a regular opportunity to get away.

As an option, though, what about implementing a ‘connectivity-free zone’ now and then to step back and consider the broad scope of a project, a relationship, an important decision, or life itself? Camping for a day, or even taking a day trip by bike without phone, iPod, email or so much as a newspaper might do the trick. Life these days is overwhelmed by the continuous flow of information.

The never-ending barrage is draining and we need ways to turn it off, recognizing and remembering that the world will be okay without us for awhile, and us without it.

Google Chrome AutoRefresh Tabs

There are a number of plugins for Firefox that I use regularly to schedule regular refreshes on pages like Google Finance that I like to keep current throughout the day.  In its infancy, Chrome does not have a built in way of doing this.

I found a nice solution here on a forum, posted by user gl0rfindel.  Create a bookmark pointing to the url:

timeout=prompt("Set timeout [s]");
function reload(){
  fr4me='<frameset cols='*'>n<frame src=''+current+''/>';

Clicking the bookmark will let you specify how regularly (in s) to refresh the current active tab.

DustyTunes Music Collection Visualization

Dusty Tunes Logo


Ever wanted to let a friend look through your iTunes music library remotely?   Dusty Tunes provides a quick and easy way to index and list your library online.  An easy alphabetical listing by Author allows anyone with the proper link to peruse your music collection.  Once there, guests can browse, search, and then preview or purchase  from iTunes individual songs in your collection.

The owner of the library creates a quick account and then points the site to the file iTunes Music Library.xml (typically located at My documents > My music > Itunes > iTunes Music Library.xml)

The owner can then point friends to the url (http://www.dustytunes.com/user/<owner_username&gt;.php).  Mine is located here: http://www.dustytunes.com/user/nmeierpolys.php

Facebook Plugin for Pidgin Chat Client

Pidgin is a fantastic way to connect with AIM, Yahoo, MSN, Google and ICQ contacts.  With the help of this plugin, however, Pidgin can connect with Facebook chat as well.

I’m pretty sick of facebook’s mess of a website as they’ve added on more and more complex features.  I use Pidgin with this plugin to chat with Facebook friends without the hassle of navigating their site.

Facebook Chat Plugin for Pidgin

Planning your next room

Have you ever tried cutting out little paper furniture and laying them out on graph paper to plan a space?  I’ll be moving to Madison, WI in July so I find myself trying to design an entirely new apartment.

Autodesk Project Dragonfly provides a really nice way to lay things out and move them around spacially.  It gives you the same control to physically move things around the room without the hassle of physically doing so.


It’s not the fastest web application since there’s a lot of JavaScript updating to do in the background.  The options for furniture and customization are also somewhat limited at this early stage.  Nevertheless, Dragonfly gives some fantastic 3D views and layout tools for designing a room.

Power Chrome: Keyboard Shortcuts and Omnibar Info Commands

omnibarIn addition to the extensions described in the previous post, Chrome includes functionality for a few helpful keyboard shortcuts and diagnostic/status information about browser operations.

Keyboard Shortcuts: Many of these are well known but they are all incredibly helpful

  • CTRL-F6 or ALT-d: 
    • Select the URL in the address bar
    • New incognito window
  • SHIFT-ESC:  
    • Open Chrome Task Manager
    • Open recently closed browser tab
  • CTRL-Click on a link: 
    • Open this page in a new background tab
  • CTRL-SHIFT-Click on a link: 
    • Open this page in a new tab and switch to this tab
  • CTRL-TAB: 
    • Switch to the next tab
    • Switch to the previous tab
  • CTRL-#: 
    • Switch to this tab

(Full listing available at: Explore Google Chrome Features)

Omnibar commands:

The Omnibar is Chrome’s address bar and search bar rolled into one thing.  Typing a URL goes to that site, typing a search query looks up results in Google Search.

In addition to those operations, Chrome allows access to some valuable information about the browser’s inner workings.

  • ?
    • search the item in Google
  • type a web address then hit TAB+
    • allows searching of the query on that url’s domain
  • about:memory
    • chrome process memory usage
  • about:stats
    • load times for Chrome, Javascript
  • about:network
    • behind-the-scenes network info
  • about:dns
    • dns info, time, stats
  • about:version
    • version, user-agent, etc.
  • about:plugins
    • installed plugins
  • about:cache
    • cached content
  • view-cache:[URL]
  • view-source:[URL]
  • about:crash
    • crash the tab (just for fun!)