5 ways high-tech light bulbs can brighten up your life

The new misfit light bulb. Source: Misfit

The new Misfit light bulb. Source: Misfit

By Simon Hunter

Last week hundreds of technology companies headed to Las Vegas for the biggest nerd-fest of the year – CES 2015 – to tout their wares and show off the latest and greatest gizmos.

From pilotless drones that follow you wherever you go to cars that you can park using a watch, the Jetsons would have felt very much at home at this year’s event.

Interestingly though, it was one of the oldest innovations that featured most prominently – the humble light bulb. In their quest to create smarter homes, companies have been finding new ways to integrate colour, connectivity and music into bulbs.

Here we take a look at five new types of lights bulbs that are bringing the sexy back into lighting:

1. Lightscapes

Misfit showed off its Bolt bulb which allows you to create different colour combinations and lightscapes around your home using an app on your phone.

2. Sound
Sony showed off a prototype of its Symphonic Light Speaker which has a built in speaker. It allows you to wirelessly control the bulb and stream music through it.

3. Security

The Sengled Snap Bulb goes one step further. They contain a speaker, microphone and a motion sensor allowing you to stream video to your phone and use the bulb as a security device.

4. Movies

Phillips showcased its Hue bulb which can integrate with movies and gaming to create different lighting around the TV screen.

5. Work, rest and play

Definity Digital has designed a range of bulbs, which they say could help you sleep better or be more alert depending on the time of day.

We’re turning on to smart light technology, too. Recently we took a look at how new materials like flexible electronics are influencing the way lights are designed:  check out the Plus Pendant, which is both smart and flexible. We’re also working on smarter ways to use energy in homes and buildings, including heating, cooling and through apps like Opticool which help to manage energy use in big buildings.

Bushfires kill, but knowing exactly how might make them less deadly

Whether leaving early or staying to defend, a reliable and adaptable bushfire survival plan is a must. AAP Image/David Mariuz

Whether leaving early or staying to defend, a reliable and adaptable bushfire survival plan is a must. AAP Image/David Mariuz

By Justin Leonard, CSIRO

The latest round of bushfires, which claimed 27 homes in the Adelaide Hills, has once again highlighted the importance of planning for the worst. Mercifully, no human lives were lost, and it will be important to learn whatever lessons we can to avoid future tragedies.

My colleagues and I analysed 825 deaths in 260 Australian bushfires from 1901 to 2011, and our research has revealed some compelling evidence to help guide residents to plan for future bushfires.

Most people (58%) lost their lives when caught out in the open. Strikingly, 72% of those people were within 200 m of their own homes (this statistic is based only on cases where details are accurately known).

I encourage you to imagine what circumstances and decisions might have led to these outcomes. Do a large number of people simply wait to see if the fire is really going to arrive on their doorstep?

Bushfire deaths within a house are most prevalent during our most severe fire events, representing 75% of all fatalities during bushfires that occurred on days with “catastrophic” (code red) fire danger conditions. This is despite them representing only 27% of all bushfire deaths.

Of those who died inside homes, 92% were in rooms that did not have a door that led directly to the exterior of the house (once again, this is based only on cases where circumstances are accurately known). This raises uncomfortable questions: why did these people apparently not try to leave the home as the house fire developed? Were they monitoring the conditions outside as the fire passed? Had they thought about which exit was the safest?

Homes under attack

When a fire arrives at a property, the house will experience “ember attack”. This attack is strongest as the main fire arrives and will persist for a long time after it has passed, and may also start to happen before the fire actually arrives. If the house is close enough to the bush it may also be affected by radiant heat, and if very close then direct flame contact is possible, although most houses are lost without any direct interaction from a bushfire front – which goes some way to account for the seemingly random loss patterns that occur.

Given the timing and intensity of ember attack, it is no surprise that our data show that houses can ignite before, during, and after a fire front’s passage – with the most likely time being during and immediately after the fire front has passed.

For the relatively small number of houses that ignite before the fire front arrives, the occupants may be faced with life-threatening conditions both inside and outside at the same time. There are also a few cases were houses are built so close to the bush or other combustible elements that even the low-level fire that persists after the main fire front has passed is too intense to survive outside.

Nevertheless, for the vast majority of homes that burn in bushfires, it is likely that at any given time, conditions would be survivable either inside or outside the house. That means that, with the right strategy, lives should not be lost.

Designing a lifesaving strategy

It is interesting to note that the current building codes for bushfire-prone areas include specific fire weather severity limits beyond which these standards may no longer be effective. The standards aim to reduce the risk that a building will catch fire, but they also rule out any guarantee that it won’t. The code also doesn’t address the issues of how fast burning homes might succumb, or of how to provide a safe or effective exit path from the building.

So even if your bushland home is fully up to code, you need to plan for a wide range of scenarios. Fire agencies across Australia have stressed the importance for people living in bushfire-prone areas to develop a fire survival plan, and your local fire agency is the best place to start on developing a plan and educating yourself about the specific local fire conditions you might face.

Once a plan has been developed I encourage residents to test their fire plan by checking whether it answers the following questions:

  • At what level of forecast fire weather severity will you retreat to a non-bushfire-prone area for the day?
  • Do you understand the local potential fire severity for weather conditions below this level?
  • For any given circumstances, what are the signs or triggers that indicate that it is no longer safe to evacuate to a non-bushfire prone area? For some isolated communities this will be when fire weather severity passes a certain level; for other, less isolated residents it will be when they are no longer certain that the roads are moving freely and fire will not impact their travel route.
  • What and where is your personal protective equipment and firefighting tools?
  • Is the property free from combustible items under or adjacent to the home?
  • Is the home in an acceptable state of repair to survive a bushfire?
  • Which areas would be the safest external location to move to if it becomes impossible to stay in the house?
  • Does the path leading to this cleared area involve walking over or past combustible elements such as vehicles and decking?
  • How do I monitor all rooms and cavity areas of the home for signs of ignition of fire development inside the house?
  • What do you have on hand to monitor and put out these fires (stored water, ladders to monitor internal roof space, etc.)?
  • If you can’t put them out, which exit path is the most appropriate?

And remember:

A deep understanding of the nature of bushfire threat is your best tool in assessing and managing your own risk.

This article was originally published on The Conversation.
Read the original article.

Viva Parkes-Vegas!

Viva Parkes-Vegas!

When stars collide: Elvis meets The Dish

By Glen Nagle

The town of Parkes, NSW – home of our famous Parkes Radio Telescope – has slipped on its Blue Suede Shoes.

In the second week of January each year, Parkes marks the birthday of Elvis Presley with a massive festival celebrating everything Elvis. It started over 20 years ago as a one-day get together of just a few hundred fans. In 2015, the festival has grown to cover a week of events, shows, parades and exhibits and over 15,000 visitors more than doubling the town’s population.

Along with one of the largest collections of Elvis memorabilia on permanent display at the Henry Parkes Visitor Centre (donated by Wiggles performer, Greg Page), the Parkes Elvis Festival is one of the town’s major icons.

The other great icon of course is the Dish – our very own Parkes radio telescope – so combining these two great icons into one stellar event was always going to be, quite literally, a match made in Heaven.

'Return to sender' took on a new meaning for the Dish last night.

‘Return to sender’ took on a new meaning for the Dish last night.

On Wednesday, 7th January an inaugural concert was held at the Dish to help mark the opening night of the Festival – and to celebrate what would have been the King’s 80th birthday the following day.

Starring popular Elvis tribute artist, Shakin’ Rick Mackaway, and backed by the fabulous rock band, The Wilsonics, the dinner and show night attracted hundreds of people from across the region and as far and wide as Canberra, Wollongong, Sydney, Adelaide and Melbourne.

Storm clouds threatened earlier in the day, but nothing was going to rain on this parade of love for the King and the Dish. The clouds almost magically bypassed the telescope and the brightest stars in heaven came out for an incredible night of songs, dancing and laughter against the impressive backdrop of Australia’s iconic radio telescope.

Shakin' Rick, rockin' in to the night.

Shakin’ Rick, rockin’ in to the night.

Continuing to observe the heavens throughout the show, the Dish even performed during the intermission with several large moves enthralling the audience and provoking  questions about both the science behind, and the history of, the Dish.

As the evening came to a close with a final encore performance and the audience departed, the number one question was, “Are you going to do it again next year?!”

Hmmm? Elvis and the Dish 2! Two icons, exciting audiences everywhere with music and astronomy.

The possibilities are endless. Watch this space.

Dieting in the Digital Age: The Total Wellbeing Diet online program

Mushroom, Ricotta and Herb Omelette from the Total Wellbeing Diet online program.

Mushroom, Ricotta and Herb Omelette from the Total Wellbeing Diet online program.

Our Total Wellbeing Diet (TWD) is always on the move – in fact, you could call it a moveable feast. Since we launched the program in 2005, we’ve refined and improved both the ingredients and the way they’re delivered, with five TWD books released in those nine years.

Now, after a short trial, we’re officially moving the TWD online. In collaboration with the GI (Glycemic Index) Foundation, the new Total Wellbeing Diet online program brings low-GI options to our carbohydrate recipes using a comprehensive, personalised platform.

So how does it work?

Instead of exhaustive calorie counting, the online diet tallies food groups to help the individual move towards healthier eating. The online program also generates personalised shopping lists that change to suit your changing meal preferences. Recipes from all five TWD books are included, bringing over 1,000 meal choices. And of course, the personalised plan can be accessed through any smart device.

We take weight loss seriously, and here’s why:

  • Obesity has doubled in the last 20 years.
  • Over half the Australian population is either overweight or obese.
  • The amount of fat Australians have gained in the last 10 years could feed 656,000 people for a year.
  • In 1995 the average man and woman weighed 82 kg and 67 kg, respectively. Now the average man and woman weighs 85.9 and 71.1 kg, respectively.
  • This amount of extra weight carried by Australian men (3.9 kg) and women (4.1 kg) compared with ‘95, equates to the weight of 150 Boeing 747s.
SMH/Australian Institute of Health and Welfare

Statistics for overweight and obese Australians. SMH/Australian Institute of Health and Welfare

…and on the bright side: CSIRO’s Total Wellbeing Diet online program.

The TWD is flexible and allows for one daily indulgence or a weekend splurge. And to sweeten the deal yet further, the complete membership fee of $149 will be waived if you fill these simple conditions:

  • Record your weight loss every week on-time for the full 12 weeks
  • Upload a photo at the start and end of the program
  • Achieve a net weight loss
  • Complete a program survey
  • Submit your refund request within 14 days of completing the program

For more information, visit: www.totalwellbeingdiet.com

Christmas gift and book ideas for the sci-curious

Protozoan coaster

Your coaster can remind you to contemplate the yeasts that gave their lives to make your drink!

This is our final Christmas-themed post of the year. Promise. The first two can be found here and here.

Thought-provoking gifts are tricky to think up. So to help out, we took a wander around the interwebs to gather some ideas for those science-minded giftees in your life. From the social media team to you, here are our suggestions for science-themed presents – including crafts from Etsy, and pop-science books.

Scientific gifts from Etsy

Etsy is a great place to shop for niche gifts for loved ones. Here is a quick list of scientific present ideas from some e-stallholders on Etsy:

1. Serious Goose Designs

The owner of this stall is an ecologist and Ph. D. Candidate who crafts handmade jewellery and science-themed drink coasters. The coasters are marble and have antique-inspired scientific illustrations such as micro-organisms and cellular division:

Thirstphase, pourphase, sipphase, etc. We're very familiar with our biology already - we're scientists, you know.

Thirstphase, pourphase, sipphase, etc. We’re very familiar with our biology already – we’re scientists, you know.


2. Scientific shirts by Luddite Made and NonFictionTees

Luddite Made is based in Melbourne, and NonFictionTees in Chicago.

Luddite Made. I may or may not be the walrus. Or maybe I'm the mothman, who knows?

Luddite Made. Are you the walrus? Or are you the Mothman?

NonFictionTees. Circuit boards, minerals, and diatoms - it doesn't get better than that, folks.

NonFictionTees. Circuit boards, minerals, and diatoms – it doesn’t get better than that, folks.

3. iPhone and business card cases by T Rowan Design

This stall prints custom or science-themed images onto cases for Samsung and iPhones (generations 4-6) as well as business card cases.

Ever needed to tell your Drosophila from your Bactrocera? Or compare the homology of bats' and peoples' skeletons? T Rowan Design's on the case.

Ever needed to tell your Drosophila from your Bactrocera, or compare the homology of bats’ and humans’ skeletons? T Rowan Design’s on the case.

4. Scientific Prints from Antique Wall Prints, and vintage posters from Lunartics

Antique Wall Prints has more science-themed prints than there is wall space. They are based in Adelaide, too, so the shipping should be snappy.

Antique Wall Prints. Phrenology has no basis in modern science, but it still looks sciencey. Or maybe that’s our optimism-lobe speaking…

These educational scrolls from Lunartics are vintage, so they are more costly than the above prints. But, they look amazing and are in great condition.

Scrolls depicting the insides of Sir Lancelet, some newts 'n salamanders, and a flowering, devouring Drosera.

Scrolls depicting the insides of (sir) lancelet, some newts ‘n salamanders, and a flowering, devouring Drosera.


And of course, we can’t forget our beloved CSIRO shop for all of your microscopy and sticky, tumbling frog needs.

Popular science books of 2014

We at CSIRO love a good read, especially when it’s science material delivered at its most evocative. Here are six of this year’s pop-science books that we highly recommend this Christmas:

1. Night School: Wake up to the power of sleep by Richard Wiseman

Night School

Richard Wiseman is a psychologist, illusionist, and fantastic writer. In this book, Professor Wiseman expounds the latest research on sleep, dreams, nightmares, and other strange night-time phenomena. The book also has interactive elements, including sleep-related surveys, and downloadable, sleep-inducing tracks.


2. The Sense of Style: The Thinking Person’s Guide to Writing in the 21st Century by Steven Pinker


This is not strictly a science read, but it is written by a world-class science writer – Steven Pinker. Pinker is also a psychologist who specialises on the evolution and acquisition of language. In this book he advocates a common-sense use of language over the arbitrary rules of some grammarians. And he should know, Professor Pinker also chairs the Usage Panel of the American Heritage Dictionary. We highly recommend his previous books, too: The Blank Slate and The Better Angels of Our Nature.


3. Gulp: Adventures on the Alimentary Canal by Mary Roach

download (1)

Ever wanted to shrink down and travel through innerspace, all the way through the alimentary canal, from the mouth to the ar…other end? This book by Mary Roach might allow such a journey, albeit a vicarious version. Mary’s books tackle the quirkier and sometimes more vulgar aspects of science, and this book is no exception. The reader is taken on a ride into the mouth, down the oesophagus, into the belly, and then the various tubes that come afterwards, learning all the way how each section contributes to our greater good.


4. An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth by Chris Hadfield

Chris Hadfield is a retired astronaut and a former commander on the International Space Stationdownload (2). He has gained widespread popularity through his use of social media, connecting the public with the processes and experiences of life in space. Last year Colonel Hadfield produced the first music video clip in space, a cover of David Bowie’s Space Oddity, which can be viewed here. His latest book describes the life of an astronaut (how to be the ultimate renaissance man) and his various trials as an astronaut, in space and on Earth.


5. Undeniable: Evolution and the Science of Creation by Bill Nye

download (3)

Here, Bill Nye, host of ‘Bill Nye the Science Guy’, uses his clear and accessible communication skills to explain one of the greatest ideas in all of science: Evolution by means of natural selection. Inspired by a recent debate on the topic, Nye took to writing a description of evolution for a popular audience. If you’re looking for a breezy brush up on biologists’ favourite subject – try this one.


6. The Accidental Universe: The World You Thought You Knew by Alan Lightman

download (4)

Alan Lightman is an MIT physicist and popular science writer. This book travels through space and time, to the beginning, to the smallest scale, and through dimensions – all in under 200 pages. In this pithy travel through physics, you also get a little bit of science-inspired philosophy, what a treat. As well as a genius physicist, Lightman is also a humanitarian, starting up foundations to support women in developing countries. This book is sure to get you thinking about sciences tell on reality and our place in it.

That’s it for our Christmas-themed posts this year. We hope you enjoyed them! In the New Year we’ll be compiling a list of staff-recommended scientific attractions for the holidays, as well as some science-themed apps for your smart machines. Wishing you a merry Christmas and happy New Year!

All I want for Christmas is a good night’s sleep…

Recently emptied bed

Sleep apnoea can be unbearable for all involved. Photo: Elias Quezada.

…A good night’s sleep, a good night sleep.

Sing it with us now, snorers and snorer sufferers of Australia! Because we might be able to help.

Sleep apnoea is just, well, horrible. It’s a condition where the air passage in the throat becomes blocked during sleep and causes people to stop breathing. Ask any of the million or so Australians who suffer from it – or their sleeping partners – and they will tell you it can cause massive damage: not only physically but emotionally.

Severe cases experience hundreds of blockages per night, leading to high blood pressure, stroke, irregular heartbeats, heart attacks and diabetes. Bed partners are affected too, with their chances of getting a good sleep rendered near impossible. It can lead to relationship breakdowns, and worse.

Thankfully, a new CSIRO-made solution may just offer a Christmas miracle: a 3D-printed titanium mouthguard that helps air flow freely for sufferers while they’re sleeping.

Brisbane-based dentist Chris Hart first had the idea for a mouthguard with airways that would assist airflow past the sleep apnoea sufferer’s soft palate. He approached us for help developing a device 3D-printed from titanium, with a soft medical grade plastic mouthguard.

The result is the Oventus Clearway Device. It’s essentially a ‘duckbill’ which extends from the mouth like a whistle and divides into two separate airways. This allows air to flow through to the back of the throat, bypassing obstructions that cause the problems.

The titanium Clearway Device. It's a mouthguard against restless nights.

The titanium Clearway Device (the world’s shortest snorkel?)

For Gold Coast retiree and sleep apnoea sufferer Maurice Hrovat, 57, the new device – which he was lucky enough to trial – has been not just sleep-changing but life-changing. Hrovat was, in an apparently massive understatement, “quite a good snorer”, and had long ago been banished from his and his wife’s bed, to sleep down the hallway.

Hrovat reported immediate benefits from his trial of the device. “I used to need an afternoon nap, I was so exhausted from a bad night’s sleep,” Hrovat says, but they’re now a thing of the past. “I find I am getting up earlier, and exercising more.” And, most importantly, he’s been allowed back into the bedroom.

The Clearway Device is initially only available through the Turbot Street, Brisbane practice of Chris Hart. With practices in Sydney and Melbourne not introducing the product until the New Year, Santa might have to save your device until Christmas 2015. However, interested patients – or dental or medical practices – can find more information on the Oventus website.

NB: Pricing for the device is around $1500 but depends on the patient’s individual requirements, as well as their healthcare funding and insurance cover.

The science to being crowned king of the crackers


Image credit: Flickr/Parlsa. Traditionally crackers contain hilarious jokes such as this one: Where do snowmen go to dance? To a snowball!

With the festive season in full swing, many of us will soon find ourselves sitting around a dinner table, tugging on a Christmas cracker then poring over the goodies found within.

Traditionally, cracker etiquette dictates that the person left holding the larger portion is dubbed the cracker king (with flimsy paper crown to prove it).

However, have you ever wondered what ‘cracker strategy’ you should employ to increase your chance of securing the win and looking like one of the Wise Men?

Naturally, our researchers Emma Huang and David Clifford along with their equally-festive colleague from the University of Queensland Kim-Anh le Cao, were wondering the same thing. So they turned to science to find out.

Firstly, they got cracking on identifying three cracking cracker-pulling techniques:

  1. The ‘angle’ strategy: A firm two handed grip, tilting the cracker between 20 and 55 degrees downwards, and applying a steady force with no torque
  2. The ‘passive aggressive’ strategy: a firm two handed grip at no angle, no pulling at all, and letting the other person do the work
  3. The ‘control’ strategy: typical of Christmas parties around the world, where both participants pull at no particular angle, but roughly parallel to the floor

In this festive study, volunteers were randomly paired, employing different strategies multiple times in order to leave us with robust data about the validity of each technique.

Image credit: Flickr/Sanickels. Just this this gentleman, you too could be crowned King of the Crackers.

Image credit: Flickr/Sanickels. Just like this gentleman, you too could be crowned King of the Crackers.

So, what were the results?

If you’re an angler, we’ve got bad news. With just a 40 per cent win rate, this technique isn’t likely to secure your spot as cracker king anytime soon. The traditional ‘control approach’ produced the results closest to random chance, resulting in a win 53 per cent of the time.

For those saying bah-humbug to the passive aggressive approach, you might want to rethink things. With an impressive 92 per cent success rate, it turns out the key to securing the win is to let your partner do all the hard work.

As our researchers describe in their study, the passivity of this approach could have important implications for future Christmas parties. Aside from the obvious reduction in cracker-related injuries, the strategy has another major benefit – it is easy to employ with subtlety, unlike strategies involving an angle, which must surely arouse suspicions in your pulling partner.

While we wish you well on your cracker journey, we’ll leave you with a word of caution – while the ‘do nothing’ approach does have a high success rate, it only works if you’re the only one who knows about it.  If both you and your partner employ the same strategy, the party could stretch on forever, resulting in a burnt dinner and no paper crown for you.

Want more festivity? Read the full study or check out ‘a statistician’s Christmas party’


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