The Daily Flash -Eco, Space, Tech (7/14)

Brown-Dwarf Death Star Off the Hook for Mass Extinctions

A massive extinction like the one that claimed the dinosaurs has hit the Earth like clockwork every 27 million years, a new fossil analysis confirms. But the study claims to rule out one controversial explanation: a dark stellar companion called Nemesis that sends a regular rain of deadly comets toward Earth. “The main astronomical ideas you can come up with that could cause something like this just don’t work,” said physicist Adrian Melott of the University of Kansas, a co-author of the new study. Nemesis was first suggested in 1984 as a way to explain an alarmingly regular series of extinctions in the marine fossil record, which was discovered by paleontologists David Raup and Jack Sepkoski. In light of the suggestion in 1980 that the dinosaurs were killed by a catastrophic impact, an invisible cosmic sniper lobbing comets at the inner solar system seemed like a plausible culprit.

Landing-close-to-a-Casulty-Dummy-2-660x366 First, Full-Sized Robo-Copter Flies With No Human Help

In mid-June, a single-turbine helicopter took off from a test field in Mesa, Arizona, avoided obstacles in-flight, scoped out a landing site and landed safely. It’s the kind of flight choppers have made tens of thousands of times before. Except this time, the helicopter did it entirely on its own — with no humans involved. It was the first fully-autonomous flight of a full-sized chopper, ever. The trial, overseen by Army-funded research team from Carnegie Mellon and the Piasecki Aircraft Coporation, has sent robo-choppers into the sky before (see the video, after the jump). And this Boeing-modified MD530F helicopter, known as the Unmanned Little Bird has been making flights since 2004. But this was its first test without a pre-programmed flight path.

GE BLOOM context city street small c GE's WattStation Electric Vehicle Charger Streets in 2011

If the electric car is to succeed, it needs charging stations that are both easy-to-use and well designed–a clunky infrastructure will quickly turn off potential drivers. That's why GE brought in fuseproject's Yves Behar to design its upcoming WattStation, a sleek EV charger for city streets that can juice vehicles in just four to eight hours. Today's standard "level 1" chargers take 12 to 18 hours to fully charge a car. Behar factored in a number of considerations when designing the WattStation: visibility from the street, ability to withstand various weather conditions, and general attractiveness. The WattStation's status can quickly be seen by passing cars. A green LED ring around the top of the charger indicates that it is available, a red ring signals that the charger is out of service, and a blue ring indicates that it is in use. The plastic and aluminum charger is easy to clean, too–the sloped top allows rain and snow to quickly slide off.

Reader_albums_1a Best Album Art of All Time

When it comes to album cover art, beauty is in the eyes, and ears, of its beholders. Wired.com marked the recent anniversary of the microgroove LP with a gallery of what we vainly proclaimed the best album art of all time. While many readers agreed with the more-obvious choices, others thought we left some real stunners out of the mix.

2010-07-12iphonerecp-1 Yes, the iPhone 4 is broken / No, the iPhone 4 is not broken

The controversy over the iPhone 4's antenna issues continues to grow, particularly after Consumer Reports confirmed yesterday that every iPhone 4 suffers from signal attenuation when the phone is held with the lower left corner covered — a report that we confirmed with results from our own custom signal metering app. At this point, there's no longer any question in our minds that the iPhone 4's antenna can be made to lose signal by holding it "wrong" — and we definitely think it's more than a little silly that simply holding the phone in your left hand has been nicknamed the "death grip." That said, however, it's not at all clear what the real-world effects of the antenna issue actually are for most people — as we've repeatedly said, several iPhone 4s owned by the Engadget staff (including our review unit) have never experienced so much as a single dropped call, while others suffer from signal issues that results in lost calls and unresponsive data in a dramatic way. What's more, at this point Apple's sold well over two million iPhone 4s, and we simply haven't heard the sort of outcry from users that we'd normally hear if a product this high-profile and this popular had a showstopping defect. Honestly, it's puzzling — we know that the phone has an antenna-related problem, but we're simply not able to say what that issue actually means for everyday users.

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