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    Photographing All of the World's Coral Reefs

    How do you understand global change of a system that’s underwater and impossible to photograph from above? Build a giant submersible camera system controlled by expert dive photographers, of course.

    The world’s reef systems are deteriorating. Corals are going away at a rate of about 1 - 2 percent every year. Some areas are harder hit than others. In the last 27 years, the Great Barrier Reef has lost 53 percent of its corals and the Caribbean has lost 80 percent. That’s a big deal because reef systems are basically cities for fish. One quarter of all the ocean’s life makes their home there. If the ocean’s corals disappear then much of the life in the ocean disappears too. For humans, that means we can no longer depend on reef systems for food, protection from weather, tourism, and medicine.

    So, we know reefs are important. And we know they’re deteriorating. What we don’t have is a visual understanding of how these reef systems are changing and any capability to compare changes to themselves or each other over time. To change that, professional underwater photographers have gotten together with ocean scientists to create the Global Reef Record -- a world-wide Google Maps-like photographic index of all of the coral systems in the entire world.

    “We’re creating a global baseline,” says Richard Vevers, executive director of the survey. “We’ve been travelling around the world using a standard protocol for collection imagery, which allows us to do a global comparison.”

    In order to accurately capture every reef on earth with consistency and 360-degree panoramic views, Vevers, who has a background in professional underwater photography, had to engineer and build a special camera. “Initially it came from an understanding of underwater photography, which is very different. We looked at taking the Google Streetview camera underwater, but we needed much wider angle lenses and we needed to be able to take shots in low visibility and low light. We also needed change exposure as we were moving without having to access the camera.”

    The solution was to build the camera completely from scratch and then mount it on an underwater scooter. The entire $50,000 system is manipulated by a waterproofed tablet, with specially designed apps, that can be controlled by divers who move a magnetic mouse that operates a button inside the tablet’s glass box.

    Tested: Grinding Coffee at 2000 Frames Per Second

    We're testing high-speed cameras this week, and to kick things off, here's a test of the Edgertronic camera, shooting coffee being ground at 2000 frames per second. That turns a ten-second clip into 10 minutes of awesome slow-mo goodness. So grab a cup of coffee, put on your favorite adult contemporary album, and enjoy action.

    Our Favorite Photos Taken by Astronauts

    Most of us will likely never have the opportunity to go into space. But we can all live vicariously through the experiences of astronauts, made all the more accessible with Skype calls and high-definition video journals. Watching Chris Hadfield show us how he cuts his nails in the micro-gravity environment of the International Space Station is enthralling, and it's easy to forget that these astronauts are scientists carrying out important research on these missions. That makes it even more impressive to consider that they also have to document their journeys in their downtime; they're astronauts first, photographers second. But what photographers they are. NASA makes publicly available thousands of photos taken by astronauts, from the first Mercury flights to the trips to the ISS. Here's my pick for a few of the ones I think are the most impressive.

    The Science of Sleep Paralysis

    An oldie but a goodie. Educator Ami Angelowicz explains in this TED-Ed video why some people feel the sensation of sleep paralysis. Turns out it's a pretty common phenomenon caused by an overlap in your REM and waking stages of the sleep cycle. It's a likely explanation for alien abduction stories.

    The Magnified World, Up Close

    The human eye is an incredible biological machine, but it has its limits. One of them is scale. There’s a whole world of beauty and surprises lurking underneath our eyes, and all we have to do is blow it up a little. In this feature, we’ll share amazing looks at ten common and not so common substances magnified hundreds of times.

    In Brief: Uploading Our Brains

    The trailer for Wally Pfister's upcoming movie, Transcendence, worries me. It's not just because despite a prestigious cast of Christopher Nolan collaborators (Pfister was Nolan's cinematographer for years and this is directorial debut), the film looks pretty derivative. It's because of how the film portrays and sensationalizes the idea of artificial intelligence singularity, a concept popularized by current Google engineering director and A.I pioneer Ray Kurzweil. Since 2008, Kurzweil's notion of a computing singularity has been creeping into the public consciousness, with a high-profile Hollywood movie being a potential tipping point for awareness. It either becomes something the public starts to take seriously or brushes off as science-fiction fantasy. The former can be a slippery slope to controversy. But the concept of uploading our consciousness is not new at all, even in pop culture. Star Trek has explored the idea numerous times, notably in the original series episode The Ultimate Computer. The idea has its own TV Tropes page. In real life, neuroscientists are investigating the idea of a "Connectome"--a complete mapping of a single brain's synaptic connections. A snapshot of the brain, if you will. There's even a startup that wants to develop a non-invasive and cost-effective procedure to do it, lowering its cost to that of gene mapping. This Motherboard interview explores some of those concepts with Brain Backups' founder. One interesting assertion: mapping all the connections in a single brain would take between 1,000 and 10,000 terabytes of storage. Seems appropriate for the Petabyte age.

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    Adam Savage's Mercury Spacesuit Replica

    A double dose of space awesomeness! Adam shares with us two prized possessions: a perfect replica of the coveted NASA-issued blue flight jacket worn by Apollo astronauts, and a recreated silver full-body pressure suit used in NASA's Mercury missions. Yep, it's the iconic U.S. Navy Mark IV suit designed by B.F. Goodrich Company and worn by astronauts like John Glenn. Watch the unedited suit test here!

    Science Friday: Wine Tricks of the Trade

    In case you didn't believe us when we first told you that putting your wine through a blender makes it taste better. "Dr. Gavin Sacks of Cornell University's Viticulture and Enology Program translates popular wine jargon such as "breathing," "corked," and "wine tears" into chemistry you can understand. He also explains some tricks you can use to experience the versatility of wine."

    In Brief: Life of a Crash Test Dummy

    You guys may know Buster from Jamie and Adam's day job, but what about the other test mannequins that are used in car crash tests? Reuters photographer Michael Dalder visited Germany's ADAC test facility, one organization certified by the European Road Assessment Program to conduct car crashes for safety assessment. Dalder's blog post about his visit--accompanied by fantastic photos--tells how the "routine" of crashing dummies is a complex procedure, requiring a full day of preparation for a 15-second test. I especially liked his anecdote about one technician applying make-up to the dummies--of which there are both adult and children versions--to show where the bodies make contact with the vehicle interior after impact. I've been fascinated by anthropomorphic test mannequins of late, and this Wikipedia page has a good primer on the history of their use. A tease as well: we have a really cool video about training mannequins coming up next week.

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    Collapsing Soda Can at 4500 FPS

    Youtuber Grant Thompson, who runs the King of Random channel, demonstrates a soda can immediately collapsing on contact with ice water. The trick is that the soda can was filled with a small amount of boiling-water-turned-steam, which cools so fast when the can hits the ice that it creates a vacuum that crushes the can. It's a neat demo, which also makes a good time to remind you that we're soliciting ideas for high-speed video ideas as well to test a new high-speed camera. Post what you'd like to see filmed at high-speed (~1000fps) in the comments below!

    In Brief: The Origin of Sherlock's Mind Palace

    Series three of the BBC's Sherlock has come and gone, and yes, it was fantastic. (Despite an uneasy relationship with fandom). This season of the show leaned heavily on the concept of Sherlock's "mind palace," which while ripe for pop culture adoption as a novel symbol of the titular character's quirkiness, also turns out to be a real memory technique. The Smithsonian explores the Greek origins of the memory palace, which was used by orators to recall long speeches. Cognitive psychologists have historically pegged human working memory as able to store around 7 (plus or minus two) objects. This TED talk by a winner of a US Memory Championship (a real thing!) covers similar ground, and offers more practical advice. Videos from these competitions is intense. I learned about the memory palace concept as part of my cognitive science studies in school, but have never found it personally effective. My preferred memorization technique: chunking.

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    Surprising Things Scientists are Learning about Memory

    The human body is relatively well-understood. The human mind? Not so much. That lump of gray matter sitting in our skulls has millions of mysteries waiting to be unlocked, and one of the biggest is memory. We have a general idea of how memory works on a macro level – individual neurons get connections strengthened or weakened – but there’s a lot going on under the hood. Today, we’ll examine ten fascinating new discoveries and theories in memory science.

    Inside Adam Savage's Cave: Space Glove Vacuum Chamber

    For a friend's birthday present, Adam recently made this mock vacuum chamber and airtight space glove from scratch, and shows us how it works. The vacuum box is part prop and part puzzle--the user has to manipulate a set of nuts and bolts to complete a circuit and activate a sign. Best birthday present ever!

    Jamie and Adam's Gates Foundation Video

    As we talked about on this week's episode of Still Untitled, Jamie and Adam visited the Gates Foundation to help Bill and Melinda Gates with a video to promote the 2014 Gates Annual Letter. The theme of this year's letter was exposing three myths that block progress for the poor, and it's an important read. Bill Gates, Bill Nye, and doctor Hans Rosling also starred in videos explaining each of the myths. You can find some behind-the-scenes photos from Jamie and Adam's trip here.

    Visualizing The Infinite Hotel Paradox

    "The Infinite Hotel, a thought experiment created by German mathematician David Hilbert, is a hotel with an infinite number of rooms. Easy to comprehend, right? Wrong. What if it's completely booked but one person wants to check in? What about 40? Or an infinitely full bus of people?" A fun thought experiment to visualize the concept of infinity. Your brain starts to hurt at the two-and-a-half-minute mark. The full TED-Ed lesson is here.

    If Wall-E Was a Farmer: Teaching a Robot to Herd Cows

    What was most surprising about the cows last April in Camden, Australia was that they didn’t seem to care that what could have been a distant cousin to the Mars rover had strolled in from the lab and claimed authority in the paddock like it was the 4th rock from the sun. Apparently without allegiance to the humans who gave two hours a day moving them toward the milk barn or to the dogs who were cow-wranglers by trade, the robot that assumed the herding duties was simply accepted as a regular fixture in the daily routine of foraging, ambling, and evacuating milk.

    The cows’ blasé response was the best possible outcome for University of Sydney researchers from both the Australian Centre for Field Robotics and the department of Veterinary Science, who had spent months considering how to mod the general purpose bot for interaction with the slow-moving livestock. Rounding up cows to for milking isn’t a particularly difficult chore for farmers, but it occupies an hour in the morning and another in the afternoon during an already jam-packed day. And in Australia, the task is often carried out on a quad bike, which is one of the leading causes of injury on a farm.

    Kendra Kerrisk, an associate professor of veterinary science, whose work focuses the future of dairy farming, identified the cow-wrangling as ripe for automation: “In winter, it’s freezing and in summer it’s really hot and dusty. Farmers try to do the milking as quickly as possible and get the cows home faster than they’d go on their own, which is not a good situation.” See, a cow’s impressive 330-degree vision has a blind spot: the terrain just about to be explored with their hoof. Herded too quickly, and missteps could lead to stone bruises and lameness.

    A day’s most admired quality, according to a heifer, is predictability. If programed to herd at a slow, consistent pace, thought Kerrisk, a robot could give cows the time they need to change locations, while also freeing up man-hours. So Kerrisk asked the Australian Centre for Field Robotics if they’d help her use their “perception research platform” for a test run.

    Although the robot had been in agricultural service before, its previous post was in the orchard, surveying fruit trees to make judgements about ripeness and disease. Apart from getting one of its four wheels stuck in lumpy terrain or misjudging its proximity to a tree trunk (both unlikely), it was pretty low risk work. Working with cows would introduce new challenges.

    10 Genes We Would Want from Animals

    Genetic medicine is the bold new world that we’re just starting to explore, and people are pushing all kinds of boundaries within it. One of the most fascinating is transgenics – taking genes from one organism and putting them in another. It’s already been done with vegetables and simpler animals, but the time may come when humans will be getting genes from the entire animal kingdom. Here are the ten that we most crave.