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Stanford researchers create genetic transistors, make biologic computing possible

When constructing computer circuits, most folks start with silicon and metal, but not the researchers at Stanford. The boffins in Palo Alto want to build computers out of living tissue, and to that end they've created a biological transistor, called the transcriptor. Transcriptors substitute DNA for semiconductors and RNA for the electrons in traditional transistors -- essentially, the transcriptor controls the flow of a specific RNA protein along a DNA strand using tailored combinations of enzymes. Using these transcriptors, researchers built logic gates to derive true/false answers to biochemical questions posed within living cells. Using these bio-transistors, researchers gain access to data not previously available (like whether an individual cell has been exposed to certain external stimuli), in addition to allowing them to control basic functions like cellular reproduction.

This new breakthrough -- when combined with the DNA-based data storage and a method to transmit DNA between cells the school's already working on -- means that Stanford has created all the necessary components of a biologic computer. Such computers would allow man to actually reprogram how living systems operate. Of course, they haven't built a living genetic PC just yet, but to speed up its development, the team has contributed all the transcriptor-based logic gates to the public domain. Looking to build your own biologic computer? A full explanation of the transcriptor awaits below.

Article source: http://www.engadget.com/2013/03/31/stanford-genetic-transistor-transcriptor/

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Insert Coin: Dash charts your car data live, with gauges and a dashcam (video)

In Insert Coin, we look at an exciting new tech project that requires funding before it can hit production. If you'd like to pitch a project, please send us a tip with "Insert Coin" as the subject line.

We've seen a few stabs at smartphone-enhanced car diagnostics as of late, but many good solutions like Automatic Link and Delphi's Vehicle Diagnostics are primarily useful after you've parked. The upcoming Dash OBD-II adapter is certainly up to that side of the job, telling a Bluetooth-connected iOS device (and eventually, Android) about your car's problems and estimating fuel costs based on the gas tank's levels. Where it stands out is its usefulness while on the road: the custom app offers custom live gauges, including a Green-Meter for ideal fuel economy that you won't usually find in a real instrument cluster. There's even a dashcam mode that overlays travel details on captured video, whether it's to support insurance claims or just to immortalize a drive through the back country.

If the Dash approach sounds intriguing, you'll be glad to hear that the contribution tiers are simple. Drivers who want their own Dash can pledge $69 if they live in the US, or $20 more if they're in Canada; adding another $51 to either pledge bundles a second model for two-car households. Both the mobile app and a web-based logging service will be free. Those who donate should get their units in October if Dash makes its $750,000 goal, although eager adopters willing to spend $150 on a beta tester's tier should get a not-quite-finished example in July. Hit the source link if you'd like your car's data to be more of a constant companion.

Previous project update: Although it's been just a few days since we looked at the Duo 3D motion sensor, it's been making solid progress: there's over $36,300 raised with more than three weeks left. It still has to meet a $110,000 target before becoming a reality, however, so please consider a pledge if you'd like to see a DIY alternative in motion control.

Article source: http://www.engadget.com/2013/03/31/insert-coin-dash-charts-your-car-data-live-with-gauges-and-dashcam/

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Engadget Podcast 337

Missed us live at our new weekly livestream home on YouTube at 3PM ET last Thursday? Fret not, because we've got you covered here with the video and audio recordings as usual. So, listen on your own time as Tim, Brian and Peter talk everything from OUYA to Angry Birds hand sanitizer. Stream it below, or catch the subscription links and video embed after the break. Happy weekend!

Hosts: Tim Stevens, Peter Rojas, Brian Heater

Producers: James Trew, Joe Pollicino

Hear the podcast

00:48 - T-Mobile UnCarrier Event
18:15 - ATT Galaxy S 4
21:24 - HTC slogan change
29:02 - BlackBerry Q4 2014 earnings
38:43 - Games Developers Conference
51:20 - New York Intl. Auto Show
53:21 - OUYA shipping to backers

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Contact the podcast

Follow the hosts on Twitter: @bheater @Tim_Stevens @Engadget
Send your questions to @Tim_Stevens
Leave us a voicemail: (423) 438-3005 (GADGET-3005)
E-mail us: podcast at engadget [dot] com

Article source: http://www.engadget.com/2013/03/31/engadget-podcast-337-03-28-13/

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Inhabitat’s Week in Green: TORQ Roadster, quantum-dot solar cells and an invisibility cloak

Each week our friends at Inhabitat recap the week's most interesting green developments and clean tech news for us -- it's the Week in Green.

This week, Team Inhabitat traveled to Mountain View, Calif., to get a look at the 100 percent sun-powered Solar Impulse airplane before it embarks on its first flight across the United States. Inhabitat editors also braved the crowds at the 2013 New York International Auto Show to report on the hottest new hybrids and electric cars. Some of the green cars unveiled at this year's show were the compact Mercedes-Benz 2014 B-Class Electric Drive and BMW's sexy new Active Tourer plug-in hybrid. The Tesla Model S was named the 2013 World Green Car of the Year, beating out the Renault Zoe and the Volvo V60. And speaking of new auto unveils, Epic EV unveiled its new all-electric TORQ Roadster, which looks like a roofless Batmobile and can go from 0-60 MPH in just four seconds.

In green design news, a 19-year-old unveiled plans for an amazing Ocean Cleanup Array that could remove 7.25 million tons of plastic waste from the world's oceans using an anchored network of floating booms and processing platforms. A Mexico City hospital features an innovative screen that can actually eat smog, purifying the air around it. Paris-based Sitbon Architectes designed Bloom, a futuristic floating phytoplankton farm that could absorb CO2 and monitor rising sea levels. And the folks behind FarmedHere recently opened up the country's largest vertical farm in a 90,000-square-foot post-industrial building, providing fresh organic veggies to the Chicago area.

It was also a big week for clean energy as Israeli start-up Phinergy developed a recyclable aluminum-air battery that could power electric vehicles for thousands of miles. Meanwhile US researchers unveiled a new recyclable organic solar cell that is made from trees. Scientists at the University of Georgia announced that they discovered a new microbe that can turn carbon emissions in the atmosphere into biofuel, and a team of MIT scientists created a more efficient solar cell using quantum dots that are embedded in a forest of nanowires.

On the green technology front, flying drones are on the rise -- but not for defense. California-based startup Matternet, Inc. has created a battery-powered quadcopter drone that could be used to deliver supplies and disaster relief to remote areas. A team from China's Zhejiang University created Graphene Aerogel, which weighs just 16 milligrams per cubic centimeter and is now officially the world's lightest material. New York's New Museum hijacked local pay phones to turn them into time machines that let you listen in on conversations from 20 years ago. Finally, in wearable technology news, Google announced that its Glass headsets will be made and assembled in the USA, University of Texas researchers devised an invisibility cloak that can hide 3D objects from microwaves and Chaotic Moon created a "Helmet of Justice" bike helmet that can record video evidence in case of a hit-and-run incident.

Article source: http://www.engadget.com/2013/03/31/torq-roadster-quantum-dot-solar-cell-invisibility/

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It’s World Backup Day: no time like the present to protect the past

There are two kinds of computer owners: those that backup their data, and those who will backup after they lose something irreplaceable. It's that last group for whom World Backup Day exists, and the special occasion has returned for a third year to make sure we all wind up in that first, very responsible camp. Thankfully, it's easier than ever to have at least some kind of safety net. Along with ridiculously high-capacity external hard drives, both Mac and Windows users have simple built-in software to make backup a set-it-and-forget-it affair. No money or room for an extra drive on the desk? No problem: cloud storage is ubiquitous, and even includes unlimited options. Mobile users have it a little easier with a myriad of Apple, Google and Microsoft cloud services, although there's third-party options in that space, too. In short, you've got few excuses to skimp out when it comes to safeguards, and enough choices to seriously consider using two or more -- which might be wise in this dangerous era of meteorite showers and brick-tossing robots.

Article source: http://www.engadget.com/2013/03/31/world-backup-day-2013/

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PBS shows how hacking is reclaiming its good name after a bad rap (video)

Hacking is still a loaded concept for many, often conjuring negative images of corporate espionage, fraudsters and prank-minded script kiddies. PBS' Off Book wants to remind us that hacking wasn't always seen this way -- and, thanks to modern developments, is mending its reputation. Its latest episode shows that hacking began simply as a desire to advance devices and software beyond their original roles, but was co-opted by a sometimes misunderstanding press that associated the word only with malicious intrusions. Today, hacking has regained more of its original meaning: hackathons, a resurgence of DIY culture and digital protests prove that hacks can improve our gadgets, our security and even our political landscape. We still have a long way to go before we completely escape movie stereotypes, but the mini-documentary may offer food for thought the next time you're installing a custom ROM or building your own VR helmet.

Article source: http://www.engadget.com/2013/03/31/pbs-explains-how-hacking-is-reclaiming-its-good-name/

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IRL: IOGEAR GearPower GMP10K, SteelSeries Free Mobile Gaming Controller and the Metabones Speed Booster


External battery chargers are a dime a dozen. In fact, we've covered quite a few of them in past IRLs, and for good reason: since we travel so much and often find ourselves without a nearby charger, nearly everyone on the team relies on one to get us through trade shows.

I had the opportunity to take IOGEAR's GearPower GMP10K for a spin while traveling in Spain and California, and the external cell came in extremely handy. While your mileage will vary depending on the size of the devices you're charging, its 11,000mAh capacity got me through no less than eight charge cycles with some juice left over. As you can imagine, it's not the smallest external battery charger out there, but at least it fits in my backpack without taking up much room. The $80 pack may be overkill for the casual phone user, but it's definitely worth consideration if you have a packed travel schedule throughout the year.

-- Brad Molen

SteelSeries Free Mobile Wireless Gaming Controller

I just spent an idyllic afternoon with my 2-year-old daughter. We didn't go to the park because it was snowing. We didn't read books because, well, we just didn't fancy it. Instead, we sat on bean bags in the living room and played Proteus on my PC. It's a simple and beautiful game with no goal other than to wander around a magical island. It was the first time the kid ever played a computer game and the first time she held a controller. The one for my Xbox 360 was too big, so we tried a SteelSeries Free Mobile Gaming Controller instead. It was a perfect fit and she quickly got the hang of looking and moving using the analog sticks -- fortunately the game doesn't require any buttons, otherwise things might have gotten too tricky. It was 30 minutes of pure fun and I know she'll want to try it again soon.

From a parenting perspective, I don't know if this is a good idea. Our kindergarten deliberately keeps toddlers away from computers until they get older, on the basis that their real-world coordination should fully develop first. On the other hand, I remember playing 4D Sports Racing and Commander Keen with my little sisters, and I'm convinced it helped our coordination to develop, giving us all a head start when it came to learning to drive, ski and sail. My sisters weren't quite this young, though -- they were 7 or 8 years old at the time, not 2, which means this is uncharted territory in my family. But it's beautiful territory -- an island of falling blossoms and shooting stars -- and I can't think of a good reason to mark it off limits.

-- Sharif Sakr

Metabones Speed Booster

Which Sony NEX user hasn't gazed longingly from time to time at Canon shooters and their collection of sublime L series glass? Sure, there are some excellent E-mount lenses on the market, such as Sony's f/1.8 24mm Carl Zeiss Sonnar. But none of them sets one's heart aflutter like Canon's EF 50mm f/1.2L USM, a pricey lens that brings near-night-vision speed and ultra-fine selective focus. On the other hand, there are many reasons to eschew all things Canon in favor of Sony's E-mount models, like the NEX-C3. By chucking the mirror, these models are much lighter and cheaper than Canon's bulky full-frame DSLRs like the 5D Mark III, have easier-to-use video and seem to take still or moving images just as well as their more upmarket Japanese brethren, optics notwithstanding.

Now, though, there's a way to live in both worlds at once: Metabones' new Speed Booster. It adapts Canon full-frame EF lenses (not EF-S) to Sony's E-mount NEX cameras, with the added benefits of full image stabilization, limited autofocus capability and EXIF data, among others. Amazingly, by working as a so-called focal reducer, the definitely-not-endorsed-by-Canon Speed Booster also ekes out a full extra aperture stop from each lens, turning an f/2 model into f/1.4 for instance, while also increasing the FOV by a factor of 0.71x -- meaning a normal lens stays, well, normal. Finally, the designer of the lens, Caldwell Photographic, claims that the device actually makes attached lenses sharper and has the white paper to prove it.

All that sounds great, but how does it work? I've been using it with that 50mm Canon glass along with a 24mm f/1.4L USM lens and a NEX-5N, and the answer is: very well indeed -- provided you keep your autofocus expectations in check. Metabones says up front that "the autofocus speed is unfit for professional use for sure, and it would disappoint most enthusiasts." And that's true: it's absolutely not suited for action photography. However, for landscapes, still subjects and portraits, once it locks on after a bit of programmed hunting, focus is razor-sharp.

For video work, there's no continuous AF as with native lenses, but it's possible to focus while shooting by pressing the shutter button -- though any hunting will ruin the shot, of course, making manual focus the best option for most. Apart from that, the Speed Booster is one of the few photographic accessories I couldn't wait to use: the fit and finish were impeccable, optical quality appeared excellent, functions like auto-bracketing worked perfectly and changing settings like the f-stop in-camera worked just as it would with a NEX lens. At wide apertures like f/0.9 (!) on the 50L, there was some vignetting, but you would also see that on any full-frame camera, especially on an aperture setting that ridiculously wide open. Otherwise, it gave my Sony shooter much more artistic capability and flexibility while turning it into a low-light monster, literally -- as those L-lenses also dwarfed the wee NEX-5N.

-- Steve Dent

Article source: http://www.engadget.com/2013/03/31/irl-iogear-gearpower-gmp10k-steelseries-free-mobile-gaming-controller-metabones-speedbooster/

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IBM Roadrunner retires from the supercomputer race

For all the money and effort poured into supercomputers, their lifespans can be brutally short. See IBM's Roadrunner as a textbook example: the 116,640-core cluster was smashing records just five years ago, and yet it's already considered so behind the times that Los Alamos National Laboratory is taking it out of action today. Don't mourn too much for the one-time legend, however. The blend of Opteron and Cell processors proved instrumental to understanding energy flow in weapons while also advancing the studies of HIV, nanowires and the known universe. Roadrunner should even be useful in its last gasps, as researchers will have a month to experiment with the system's data routing and OS memory compression before it's dismantled in earnest. It's true that the supercomputer has been eclipsed by cheaper, faster or greener competitors, including its reborn Cray arch-nemesis -- but there's no question that we'll have learned from Roadrunner's brief moment in the spotlight.

Article source: http://www.engadget.com/2013/03/31/ibm-roadrunner-retires-from-the-supercomputer-race/

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Cowon D20 launches in Japan, keeps MP3 players alive 90 hours at a time

There's no denying it: the MP3 player market is in free fall, and competitors often have to either go big or go home if they want to justify their work over the many smartphone alternatives. Cowon is still kicking, and the extreme battery life of its new D20 player may be a good explanation as to why. Along with 13 hours of video, it can play 90 hours of music on a charge -- enough that the tunes could blast non-stop through a long weekend. Not that the player will otherwise rock the boat, as it's still carrying a 2.5-inch, 320 x 240 resistive touchscreen, 8GB to 32GB of built-in storage, an SD card slot and Cowon's familiar (if hyper-stylized) interface. The company is partly counting on a low cost to get its foot in the door. Following a tease earlier this month in Russia, the D20 is launching in Japan at prices between ¥11,800 ($125) and ¥16,800 ($178) -- not a bad deal, so long as endurance rules your world.

Article source: http://www.engadget.com/2013/03/31/cowon-d20-launches-in-japan-keeps-mp3-players-alive/

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Skype for Windows 8 gains contact blocking and performance improvements

Those of you using Skype in Windows 8 will be happy to know that Microsoft's just bumped the app to version 1.6. It's been a few months since the last update, and this revision brings more features to the table, including contact blocking and a slew of performance tweaks. You're now able to block users, with an option to remove or report the offending party. Speed and reliability have been improved, especially when loading contacts, and a number of bugs have been fixed, including one where the outgoing video was not always displayed after switching cameras. The update's available in Windows Store, so what are you waiting for

Article source: http://www.engadget.com/2013/03/30/skype-for-windows-8-gains-contact-blocking-and-performances-impr/

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