The Generalist

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HOW TO MAKE EXTRA-EFFICIENT SOLAR PANELS USING OLD BLU-RAY DISCS

You probably don’t think of them that way, but Blu-ray discs have a gorgeous color. In fact, the same physics that gives butterfly wings and housefly eyes their iridescent shine are also at work on Blu-ray. All are examples of what physicists call structural color, which are colors created not...

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BIO-ELECTRIC-SOLAR HYBRID TRIPLANE SEEKS BACKERS

If completed, the crowdfunded BEHA plane will pair two battery-powered electric turbines with solar panels, wind turbines, and a separate biodiesel engine, to fly through the sky with as small an environmental footprint as possible. BEHA stands for “Bio Electric Hybrid Airplane,” and it joins the growing ranks of new...

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NASA IS ABOUT TO BLAST SOME ROCKETS THROUGH ALASKA’S NORTHERN LIGHTS

The lights of the aurora borealis are often described as “dancing,” since they fluctuate in shape and brightness. Inside, the charged particles that generate the aurora dance too, and scientists are still trying to figure out exactly how that movement is structured. Swenson is the lead scientist on the Auroral...

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DARK SNOW DOESN’T BODE WELL FOR NORTH AMERICA

The snow in the America’s Heartland isn’t as “snow white” as one might hope. That’s because pollution trapped in the snow is making it darker. Dark snow often contains black carbon—a particle emitted by burning wood, diesel and coal—it heats up faster, just like when you go outside in the...

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GOOGLE GETTING CLOSER TO UNIVERSAL, REAL-TIME TRANSLATOR

Google’s making it easier to understand languages that you might not know, thanks to an update to its Translate app on Android and iOS. Two updated features improve your ability to navigate unfamiliar languages, whether they’re in printed form or being spoken aloud—and while they may be modest changes for...

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SHOULD ANIMALS HAVE THE SAME RIGHTS AS PEOPLE?

In December 2013, four captive chimpanzees in the state of New York became the first nonhuman primates in history to sue their human captors in an attempt to gain their freedom. The chimps’ lawyers, members of a recently formed organization known as the Nonhuman Rights Project (NhRP), were asking a...

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AIR FORCE SAYS ROBOT WARRIORS EXHAUSTED

A leaked internal memo says the Air Force’s drone division is not only unmanned, but understaffed and overworked. Coming shortly before a major defense budget battle, the memo is a fascinating window into the strange bureaucratic politics of drones within the Air Force. Drones are largely how the Air Force...

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CES 2015: YES, MONSTER STILL THROWS REALLY BIZARRE PRESS CONFERENCES

Headphone company Monster Inc. seems to have adopted a new motto: If it’s weird, don’t fix it. Or at least that’s their mentality behind Consumer Electronics Show press conferences. Last year at CES, they held a bizarre spectacle with celebrity guests Nick Cannon and Shaquille O’Neal. This year, they staged...

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SCIENTISTS SPEND ARCTIC WINTER ADRIFT ON AN ICE FLOE

When it comes to travel, the Arctic is not a typical destination, especially in the depths of winter. And even the most hardy travelers will tend to stick to the land. But for two Norwegians, home for the next several months is the moving sea ice of the Arctic. As...