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Julius P. Azucena

A gripping tale of Science and Survival

“If the oxygenator breaks down, I'll suffocate. If the water reclaimer breaks down, I'll die of thirst. If the Hab breaches, I'll just kind of explode. If none of those things happen, I'll eventually run out of food and starve to death.” These were part of Mark Watney’s initial log entry as he assessed the insurmountable odds against him, all alone in the barren expanse of the red planet, Mars. Watney is the snarky, wise-cracking protagonist of author Andy Weir’s bestselling novel from 2011, The Martian—a phenomenal science fiction story about a man stranded on a desolate planet with nothing but his wits, determination, and scientific expertise to turn what limited resources he had into tools for survival. And I must say, barring a few bent rules in service of the …

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Turning smog into diamonds

Let’s face it; the air in Manila is bad, downright unbreathable at times. It is 80% due to the toxic fumes expelled by over 8 million vehicles according to an article by CNN Philippines last year. Though an overall improvement in air quality (from 166 micrograms in 2010, down to 120 micrograms per cubic meter in 2015) was recorded, we are still 30 micrograms above the standard safe level. Aqicn.org’s real time monitoring tells us that our current Air Quality Index in the Metro levels out as “Unhealthy”, especially during rush hour. Stricter emission standards and cleaner fuel do help control this environmental anomaly, but the issue is bound to worsen as more and more people purchase more and more vehicles. We need to innovate and improve on the design of …

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The world’s smartest tape measure

This innovative product is guaranteed to be something that you never knew you wanted, at least that’s what I thought after learning about Bagel—a one-of-a-kind digital tape measure (not the bread). Rolled-up plastic measuring tapes and their self-retracting counterparts may well be on the way out as we lean more and more into IoT, or the Internet of Things. The goal is to build towards creating a network of physical devices, vehicles, structures, and other items embedded with electronics, software, and a variety of sensors and actuators. These objects would then be able to collect and exchange data to form significantly efficient systems. The guys at Bagel Labs (a young tech start-up from South Korea) had it down to the current IoT initiative when they developed their very own smart …

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Plastic-eating mushrooms

Intriguing right? Who would’ve thought that the answer to some of our most distressing global conundrums may be mushrooms? Industrial Designer, Katharina Unger sure did, sparked by a recent discovery made by students from Yale in the great Amazon Rainforest. The trip was part of the university’s Annual Rainforest Expedition and Laboratory—a unique course where students enrolled are given opportunities to explore diverse ecosystems of various forests, collect plant samples, and engage in full time research of their own design. While working on the samples retrieved from the most bio-diverse place on Earth, researchers at Yale were able to isolate a variety of mushroom (Pestalotiopsismicrospora) that is capable of breaking down a key component of plastic, polyurethane. These mushrooms were also found to survive in anaerobic environments, meaning they do not …

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The all-in-one musical instrument

Those of us who own a smartphone or tablet can virtually play any musical instrument on the go with simple taps and swipes. To that end, there is an ever growing list of apps to choose from like Pocket Guitar, Drum Meister, GarageBand—and uniquely ingenious ones like Ocarina, which prompts users to blow on their iDevice’s microphone while holding fingers on the touch screen. We also have a myriad of electronic instruments and adapters that can be interfaced with computers to make full use of our audio editing software. Technology has indeed come along in helping us express our inner music through new and creative ways, and now we can look forward to the Artiphon INSTRUMENT 1—the musical gizmo that could top them all. As advertised in artiphon.com, “The Artiphon INSTRUMENT …

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A digital upgrade to stethoscopes

It was French physician, René Laennec, who invented the means for our doctors to listen in the delicate internal clockwork of our body. The year was 1816. A woman suffering from symptoms related to heart disease consulted Leannec; but the physician had a hard time assessing her condition by conventional methods at the time.  He felt very uncomfortable placing his ear on women’s chests. Checkup via percussion (a clinical examination done by tapping and taking note of the resulting sound) also proved ineffective due to the patient’s great degree of fatness—as Laennec put it in his classic treatise published in 1819 called “De l'Auscultation Médiate” (On Mediate Auscultation). He was then struck with inspiration on how to proceed and writes, “I rolled a quire of paper into a kind of …

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Venture into the void

The dream may have started back in 1939 when the View-Master was first introduced. Some of you might remember that plastic, binocular-like toy where you insert a special reel containing stills from fan-favorite movies and TV-shows (among others). A switch would have to be nudged on the side of the lens to cycle between picture-slides, leaving the rest to imagination. It would then take another 76 years for technology to allow us that Virtual Reality experience we all hoped for, that seamless immersion into another world. This year marks the release of three promising products that are set to lead the VR revolution, namely Facebook’s Oculus Rift, Valve’s HTC Vive and Sony’s PlayStation VR headsets. While they are powerful pieces of hardware, the amount a middle class gamer would need to …

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Finding the perfect earbuds

There are many people like me who are constantly on their earphones while working out, doing chores or commuting around the city. It has become a sort of lifestyle to pass time with music, radio, podcasts or audiobooks when undertaking a number of routine tasks—especially those that include a lot of standing around and waiting in line. The whole endeavor might even prove enjoyable with the quality of what you are listening to, but the medium being used can make or break the overall experience. Technology had already freed us from the entanglement of wires with different types of Bluetooth headsets and headphones entering the market. There are some who find them very stylish and convenient, yet there are those who consider them too flashy to wear around every day or …

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Thinking out of the bottle

Awareness concerning plastic bottles and their environmental impact vary with different people. Most of us fail to grasp the big picture, that the world at large is continually nudged to an inhospitable place by our society's industrial excesses. The manufacturing of non-biodegradable plastic bottles is among those that contribute to some of our more enduring waste products. TEDed has an interesting video online that narrates the story of 3 disposed bottles; spoiler alert: two of them have bad endings— We start with their origin, these bottles are born through chemically bonding oil and gas molecules to form what are called monomers, which are then bonded into long polymer chains to form plastic pellets. They are then melted in manufacturing plants and injected into molds to form those small, durable containers to …

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How Star Wars changed movies a long time ago

Filmmaker George Lucas’ galaxy far, far away holds a very special place in the hearts of thousands, even millions of fans around the world. Its timeless appeal on the young and old alike cannot be denied; from its intricate set pieces, riveting story arcs, thrilling space battles, action-packed lightsaber duels, eye-popping visual effects, creative sound design, rousing musical score... to its strong cast of unforgettable characters (human or otherwise)—all together weaved one of the most engaging cinematic narratives of our time. Let us look back at how Star Wars greatly influenced one aspect of film making in particular—the modern age of special effects. Image from www.nerdist.com It is widely considered that the original Star Wars trilogy (Episodes IV, V, VI | 1977-1983), with its innovative blend of practical and computer imagery, is …

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