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Tech-Op-ed July, 2017 SOUNDING OFF

By Walter Salm Editor Emeritus

most powerful on the planet. But it was so huge, it took two years to simply cool down from the casting process. A previously attempted mirror had been cooled down too quickly and had cracked. This was all happening shortly after the end of WWII, about 100 miles

Wear Dark Goggles W

hen I was in grammar school, the ongoing “big” science story was about a new 200-inch reflector destined for California’s Mt. Palomar observatory. The new mirror would make the Palomar telescope the

from where I lived in Upstate New York, when companies like Corning Glass Works were finally able to turn their attention away from war production and concentrate instead on stuff for civilians (and astronomers) to enjoy. In later years, still bigger optical telescopes have been made, but instead of casting a huge single-piece mirror, reflectors were cast in slices like a pizza pie, and the boundaries were “stitched together” electronically. And now we have space telescopes like the Hubble in orbit which have enabled astronomers to make a myriad of astonishing new discoveries. Wars are often excellent incubators for scientific achievement — nuclear

energy (and bombs) in WWII, and Armstrong’s development of the super- heterodyne receiver during the First World War. But wars can also obstruct scientific advances. When Albert Einstein wanted concrete proof for his pos- tulated theory that gravity could bend light waves, he sent a group of fellow scientists on a mission to photograph a total solar eclipse in the Crimea in 1914. Unhappily for the expedition, war broke out between Germany and Rus- sia while the scientists were en route. Once in Russia, they were arrested as spies and their equipment confiscat-

ed. The scientists were later expatriated in a prisoner of war exchange. Einstein and the world had to wait for another solar eclipse in 1919 to prove that he was right, that light waves were indeed bent by strong gravitational fields. Early in his career, Einstein came up with his all-encompassing energy

formula: E = mc2, which tells us that when mass is converted to energy, the energy (in joules) is equal to the mass being annihilated (in kilograms) multi- plied by the speed of light (in m/s) squared. The resulting number is incredi- bly huge, which tells us exactly why a nuclear bomb is so productive, and so destructive. The fact that Einstein came up with this transformative formula as ear-

ly as 1905 — 30 years before the first “atom smasher” (yes, that’s what they were called in the 1930s) successfully split an atom for the first time — speaks volumes for the man’s incredible genius. Now we are looking forward to a brand new total solar eclipse that will

take place August 21 of this year. The path of the totality will cast a 70-mile- wide (112.7 km) shadow that will cross the United States from ocean to ocean, the first total solar eclipse to be seen in the U.S.A. in many years. Usually sci- entists have to travel to many exotic destinations around the world to see such an eclipse, such as Crimea, but this year, it’s a domestic light show — or should I say “non-light show?” It is being billed as the most watched solar eclipse in history. One specif-

ic target location is Makanda, Illinois, population 600, where locals have gone all-out to prepare for the eclipse. They have painted a colorful guide line through buildings, across streets, and everywhere in town where the center of the shadow will pass. This presumably will make it easier for tourists, and thousands of them are expected. Incredibly, Makanda will see another total solar eclipse on April 8, 2024, one that will follow a much different path. While the totality shadow is only 70 miles wide, starting its continental

crossing at 9:05 a.m. Pacific time in Lincoln Beach, Oregon, it will leave the U.S. at 2:48 p.m. Eastern time in Charleston, South Carolina. A not-quite-but-almost total eclipse will be visible in most of the lower 48 states. There will be many scientific experiments conducted worldwide that rely on totality in order to make specific observations. There will undoubtedly be some disappointments in areas where the sun will not be visible because of cloud cover or inclement weather. In any event, Makanda is the place to be, weather permitting. r


By Jacob Fattal Publisher

Wearables Are Coming Into Their Own

introduced its HugShirt, a sensor-laden garment that records the strength and duration of touch and transmits the sensation to a fellow HugShirt wear- er. The same company has had a number of other notably quirky projects, in- cluding most recently, an haute couture dress with mini LEDs that receives and displays Tweets in real time. At the moment, the most common wearable technologies seem to be in


wrist watch or bracelet form. From digital attempts to replace the mechanical watch altogether, such as the Apple Watch, to the gym-focused Fitbit, wear- ables are gaining ground. The advent of the smartphone brought sweeping changes to how we com-

municate with each other. Early cellular phones were barely usable as simple phones; the smartphone is hardly a phone at all. Packing processing power in- to ever-smaller chips has enabled a wealth of creativity, with there being an app for just about anything imaginable. The smartphone screen has become a stage for anyone with a good idea and some software development chops to play. In the same way, wearable technology is reaching a point where applica-

tions are jumping from the smartphone to the human body. Instead of the user experience being restricted to a five-inch display screen, wearers are finding themselves the host of the apps they create. A researcher at Dart- mouth has come up with a system that uses two inexpensive sensors to track the caloric intake of a user in real time. Other similar ideas include a device that claims to measure caloric intake through the skin by studying concentra- tions of glucose, and a watch-like device that accomplishes this through spec- troscopic analysis. Deficiencies in battery storage are still an obstacle for wearables. Also, most

wearable applications are still tethered to the user’s smartphone, allowing him or her to interface with the technology. It’s not hard to imagine a future where elements of the smartphone are broken down and distributed through a single piece of clothing, perhaps accessed by a speech or haptic interface. This month, U.S. Tech heads to SEMICON West in San Francisco. The

wearable industry depends entirely on the processing power of ICs, and the form that they take. The semiconductor industry will be the driver of wear- able tech — a sort of mobile IoT. The show’s 2017 logo includes the message “Smart Starts Here.” And, for wearables, smart starts as near as our clothing. r

earable technology has been a forward-looking concept that has had a hard time finding a home in the day-to-day life of consumers. In 2004, at the CyberArt Festival in Bilbao, Spain, fashion house CuteCircuit

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