In this episode we feature five interviews conducted at the Digital Experience! computer and electronics expo that took place in New York City in June. Plus, we'll test your knowledge of some recent science in the news. Web sites related to this episode include: www.eye.fi; www.skype.net; www.synaptics.com; www.jakkspacific.com; www.m-audio.com
Steve: Welcome to Science Talk, the weekly podcast of Scientific American for the seven days starting July 23, 2008, I'm Steve Mirsky. Something different this week: I will take you inside a technology expo, plus we'll test your knowledge about some recent science in the news. Back on June 25, 2008, I attended an event here in New York City called Digital Experience, which showcased innovations in computers and consumer electronics—lots of nifty toys for the gadget freaks out there. There were dozens of exhibits to check out in only a couple of hours, so I just, kind of, wandered around until something grabbed my attention. Using that careful procedure, I wound up recording interviews with five of the folks showing their high-tech wares. The place was lousy with journalists, because there was free food, so I just want you to know it was a rather challenging audio environment, but everybody is intelligible. First up, Yuval Koren, he is an M.I.T. grad and the chief product officer and one of the founders of Eye-Fi. They make these nifty media cards that can do a lot more than just store your photos.
Steve: Yuval—so, I don't need to even hook my camera up to a computer anymore to upload photographs.
Koren: That's right. the Eye-Fi card is a wireless memory card for your digital camera. Plug it into your existing camera if it takes SD cards and set it up to send photos to your PC or Mac or to any one of our 25 online photo sharing partners. Folks like SnapFish, ShutterFly, Flickr, social networks like Facebook are all part of the platform that we have got available today; and as I guess our customers have told us, they'll be out going about their daily business taking photos, having a good time at a party or picnic and all they need to do when they get home and in range of their home wireless network is turn their camera on and then the system takes care of everything else.
Steve: And if I am a journalist in the field, I can zap it right over to my editor if it's important enough to do so.
Koren: That's right. So we've got a new product that we actually announced last month and it's just recently started shipping that we call the Eye-Fi Explore;and it has got two really great features in addition to really the basic packets that I described. One is hotspot access at 10,000 locations across the U.S. with the Wayport network. So, if you can find a McDonald's you can upload your photos. They are also available at IHOP, at Marriott Hotels, a whole series of locations, and we've got a new technology also that we are debuting with the Eye-Fi Explore and that's automatic geo-tagging of your photos. So if you're in a populated area with Wi-Fi network surround, we work with the third-party data provider, and we can actually map those Wi-Fi networks to a GPS location and to a, kind of, city-state level metadata, or tags on your photos and so you can then upload those photos to sites like Google's Picasa, Yahoo's Flickr or SmugMug and get a really nice map-based visualization of your travels or of your professional work if you're a photo journalist.
Steve: And forensically you have data about exactly where that photo was taken and at what time?
Koren: That's right.
Steve: Very cool. Thanks very much.
Koren: Thank you, Steve.
Steve: I'm a Skype fan, so when I saw that they were there, I wandered over to talk with Brianna Reynaud. I think a lot of our listeners probably have used Skype. I know whenever I have to do an Australian call, I wind up using Skype, but tell us about some of the new things you now have; really, pretty decent-quality video conferencing with Skype or video calling with Skype.
Reynaud: Yes, we've actually worked with Logitech to offer high-quality video on Skype, which is at 30 frames per second, so it's like broadcast-quality video, and it's really exciting. You can use three different kinds of Logitech Web cams and Skype 3.8 or higher and a dual core processor, laptop, desktop and you can make high-quality video calls.
Steve: Anywhere in the world?
Reynaud: Yes for free, Skype ...
Steve: Free for nothing.
Reynaud: Exactly—Skype to Skype video and audio calls are free.
Steve: And you were just telling me before we started to record about PSP connectivity.
Reynaud: Exactly. So, one of the exciting things is
that [the] PSP handheld entertainment system and so users of the PSP can now download Skype software [and] see when their friends are online; they also have the presence indicators and can make and receive Skype phone calls.
Steve: In their classrooms instead of studying.
Reynaud: We won't tell anyone that.
Steve: Yeah, you didn't hear that.
Steve: Anything else going on?
Reynaud: Well, we are actually showcasing some of the other things you can use [with] Skype On the Go, like the Nokia N810. It's an Internet tablet, so anytime you're in a Wi-Fi zone, you can use it to check your e-mail or make and receive Skype phone calls. So there are lot of options. Sometimes people think you can only use Skype when you are at home or in your office at your desk, but really there's some really cool devices out there, where you can take Skype On the Go with you.
Steve: So, an Internet tablet—it looks like an Etch-a-Sketch or something.
Reynaud: Yeah, it's a really slick and slim device; [it] actually can fit in your pocket and has a slide-out keyboard and a touch-screen as well, so whatever you prefer; and you are good to go
on[in] a Wi-Fi zone.
Steve: And you're sitting in Starbucks for like hour number seven and you want to make a Skype call to Australia from New York—you can do it with your tablet.
Reynaud: Exactly, so you don't have to carry around your laptop.
Steve: It's awesome, especially since, you know, with connectivity and worldwide access, one of your friends is always going to be awake. So you can hassle somebody 24-hours a day.
Reynaud: Absolutely, and in fact we have over 309 million users around the world.
Steve: Wow ... !!!
Reynaud: You're bound to know someone on Skype.
Steve: Excellent; thanks very much.
Reynaud: Thank you.
Steve: Neave Conlan talked about some of Synaptics' new touch-screen technology.
Conlan: Our goal is to make better human interface products to enable the consumer electronics to interact better with the user. So, one of our
technology [technologies] is this, you know, the touchpad for notebook PCs; and we have taken that same type of technology into touch screens for phones and MP3 players.
Steve: And what's the problem with the existing ones, and why are the ones that you are making going to be better?
Conlan: So, most cell phones have—or smart phones have—a resistive touch screen and resistive touch screen has two layers of material with [an] air gap in between; and the user has to use their finger or stylus to activate this. So gestures would be hard with the resistive touch screens. And also they recess normally like in a Palm. The touch screen is recessed to protect it. So you can't have something that is going to be completely flush. Also the phones that are out now, the Samsung Instinct or the LG Venus or Voyagers, they are also resistive, so you have to press very hard to activate it. It won't just touch with your finger. Synaptics is trying to make capacitive sensing easier, so you connect the circuit with just your finger and you can do different gestures like dragging and dropping, tapping, all you need is your finger and you won't ever have to lose your stylus again; and we're really just trying to, you know, make these things easier for the consumer.
Steve: So, the other ones work on electrical resistance but yours work on electrical capacitance?
Conlan: Yes, so it measures the finger
just and it connects the complete circuit. So all you need is your finger to operate our touch screens or our touch pads on our notebooks. We can also do gestures on there, so like a pinch to zoom or a scrolling into circular motion, something that you can't do with resistive.
Steve: One of the top toys last year was the EyeClops Bionic Eye, from JAKKS Pacific. The EyeClops is basically an electronic magnifying glass; Genevieve Ralph told me more.
Ralph: This year instead of having one magnification of 200 times, we have done three different magnifications. There is one at 100 times,
a [one at] 200 times and [one at] a 400 times. Now we have more advanced technology but we are leaving [it] at the same exact retail [price of] $49.99. The product this year will be available in August, so we will be able to back the schools, for any teachers who want to use it in the classroom or any moms who want to use it. The other great aspect of the EyeClops, you can just plug it right into your television and you don't need any type of counsel [console] for it; it only requires 5 AA batteries and then you are set and ready to go. You can use it to look at anything from money to small objects such as salt; we can look at Petri dishes, so you can look at liquid as well. You can go and look at your dad's head, go look at your own skin, you can look at different fabrics. It's great to see everything that normally you wouldn't see. That's the beauty of it.
Steve: Little insects as well.
Ralph: Yes, you can see insects. You can see all of the different colors that have magnified inside like a dragonfly's wing; you can see the hair dancing in the actual veins
means inside of it. It's very beautiful. You can also look at just bugs like grasshopper[s] and just see all those tiny little hairs on their legs. It's a lot of fun and things come more to life and you understand things a lot easier.
Steve: And you also have this new version that doesn't need to be connected directly to the television.
Ralph: Yes, the Bionic Cam comes with a battery pack so that you can go wherever you want to and take pictures with it. It has a built-in screen right on it, so that you can see everything you're looking at. It has also three
timing zoom[s] of 100, 200 and 400 [times] magnifications. As you do that, it comes with a camera. So you can take pictures of anything that you look at and then it comes with a jump drive, so you can go and take all the pictures that you want and upload them on to your computer, share them with your friends, use it for a class project. The world has a million possibilities that they can do of [use] it [for].
Steve: So, the photos that you take, let's say you're out in a field and you take photos of a grasshopper that are at huge magnification, those photos get saved directly to the internal
the built-in flash drive and then you just unhook that, put it in your own computer at home and you have the photos easily there for upload.
Ralph: Yes, that's correct.
Steve: And the new one is called again?
Ralph: It is Bionic Cam
Steve: Bionic Cam. I'm sure every little kid is going to want one of these, because I want one.
Ralph: I'm sure they will do, I want one myself personally. In fact I have gotten some from my mom's classroom at home. Her kids absolutely, positively love them. It's a great toy. Even my boyfriend's dad wants one for his, he works and he is an ex-terminator and he wants to use it to check for bedbugs. It's a great item.
Steve: That's a great idea. Well, thanks a lot, Genie.
Ralph: Yes. Thank you very much.
Steve: Finally, if you want to do some podcasting yourself, here is [are] some ideas for some of the equipment you could use. I spoke with John Snedigar about a couple of M-audio's product[s].
Steve: So, if somebody is considering starting up their own podcast, what kind of devices [do] you have out there that they might find useful, and what are some of your new things that maybe you'll get me interested into use [using] on our podcast?
Snedigar: Well, it's interesting that you ask that, because podcasting is something that is being done very much at the consumer level now. It used to be something that was only done by professionals, and now people with equipment like ours are finding the podcast something that they can do very simply on their own, and very affordably, as well. One product that we have that lends itself very well to podcasting is called a Session Music Producer and what that is it's a $99 USB microphone; and it's essentially a microphone kit that will enable somebody to make their own podcast. So for that $99 people get a condenser microphone, which in itself is a pretty good deal; and something that's unique about the microphone is you'll notice there's an onboard headphone jack on the microphone itself and that's very important because if you're doing a podcast and you have your headphones hooked up to your headphone jack in your computer, you'll notice that there will be a delay from when you speak
something and when you hear it in the headphones. So with our USB microphone, when you're recording something, you're able to monitor that recording in real time.
Steve: And you also have field
reporters,[recorders] that would be useful for doing podcasts.
Snedigar: We do, yes, we have the MicroTrack, which is something that was originally created for use by professional musicians and we found that a lot of journalists are using the MicroTrack for working in the field; and we actually recently introduced the newest version of our MicroTrack, the MicroTrack 2 which has been receiving very positive reviews.
Steve: And you can report record directly as WAV files.
Snedigar: Yes, you can.
Steve: You know people have just a few hundred dollars to spend and they want to start a podcast—it's really doable?
Snedigar: Absolutely. Chances are with the home computer setup that somebody has,
and all they need to do is add some simple software and buy a microphone like our Producer USB microphone and they are all set.
Steve: Yeah, I know that a lot of people use the M-audio; I will put in a plug for the Handy H4, which I use, and it is a competing brand and it works really well, too. The key point being that for very little money, you can really do some stuff that's of very high quality.
Snedigar: Yeah and that's what [it's]
straight about. You know, the playing field has been leveled in many cases where it used to be professionals could only do this kind of thing; and the point is really anybody with an average home setup can spend $100 or $200 dollars on equipment and they can have a very professional-quality set up for themselves.
Steve: I use the
reporter [recorder] and I have a team of trained monkeys that helps me with all the production. Do the monkeys come with your M-audio equipment as well?
Snedigar: They are sold separately.
Steve: Now it's time to play TOTALL....... Y BOGUS. Here are four science stories; only three are true. See if you know which story is TOTALL....... Y BOGUS
Story number 1: Researchers are hopeful that they can create new super-strong, lightweight materials based on the jaws of a worm.
Story number 2: Researchers have figured out how one of the chemicals gets produced that makes freshly tilled earth smell so good.
Story number 3: Anthropologists have found
the indigenous people in the Amazon region who have no words for individual numbers like one or two.
And story number 4: Because of workplace pressures more men than women get tattoos removed.
Time is up.
Story number 1 is true. It's called the ragworm, or sandworm. It makes its living burrowing under the North Atlantic. By the way they can be four feet long, these worms. The worm also has a blue head which includes incredibly hard jaws or teeth depending on what you want to call them. The researchers found that the choppers are made of a unique protein very rich in the amino acid histidine. They hope that they can learn how the light, strong material functions and put that knowledge to use in construction applications or in space craft or airplanes. The work appeared in the journal Biomacromolecules.
Story number 2 is true. You can thank soil bacteria for making earth smell so earthy. Brown University researchers publishing in the Journal of the American Chemical Society found the secret to the synthesis of one of the chemical compounds that the bacteria produce; it's called methyl isoborneol and the only way to make it, it turns out, is to get two genes to work together to produce an 11-carbon terpene which right away is weird because most terpenes have either 10 or 15 carbons; which just shows you that the best chemists on Earth often can be found in the earth.
Story number 3 is true. The Piraha people use the same word for two, three, four, five or six and they used another word for anything less than the first sum; so whatever that word is it could mean one, or it could mean two, or it could mean five. For more check out the July 18th edition of the daily podcast, 60-Second Science.
All of which means that story number 4, about more men than women getting tattoos removed is TOTALL....... Y BOGUS. Because what is true is that about 6 percent of people with tattoos eventually get them removed and two thirds of them are women. The study was published in the journal Archives of Dermatology. About a quarter of Americans between 18 and 30 have a tattoo and researchers project the number to soon reach 40 percent. So, two occupations with lots of potential would seem to be tattoo artist and tattoo remover.
Well that's it for this edition of the weekly SciAm podcast. Visit www.SciAm.com for the latest science news, blogs, videos, and slide shows. For Science Talk, the weekly podcast of Scientific American, I'm Steve Mirsky. Thanks for clicking on us.