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The physics behind how fire ants band together into robust floating “rafts”

Ars Technica - December 8, 2019 - 10:29pm

Enlarge / A spinning fire ant raft in David Hu's biolocomotion lab at Georgia Tech is an example of collective behavior. (credit: Hungtang Ko)

Fire ants can survive floods by linking their bodies together to form large floating rafts. Now researchers at Georgia Tech have demonstrated that fire ants can actively sense changes in forces acting upon the raft under different fluid conditions and adapt their behavior accordingly to preserve the raft's stability. Hungtang Ko described their work at a meeting of the American Physical Society's Division of Fluid Dynamics, held in Seattle just before the Thanksgiving holiday.

Fire ants (and ants in general) provide a textbook example of collective behavior. A few ants spaced well apart behave like individual ants. But pack enough of them closely together, and they behave more like a single unit, exhibiting both solid and liquid properties. You can pour them from a teapot like a fluid, or they can link together to build towers or floating rafts—a handy survival skill when, say, a hurricane floods Houston. They also excel at regulating their own traffic flow.

Any single ant has a certain amount of hydrophobia—the ability to repel water—and this property is intensified when they link together, weaving their bodies much like a waterproof fabric. They gather up any eggs, make their way to the surface via their tunnels in the nest, and as the flood waters rise, they’ll chomp down on each other’s bodies with their mandibles and claws, until a flat raft-like structure forms, with each ant behaving like an individual molecule in a material—say, grains of sand in a sand pile. And they can do this in less than 100 seconds. Plus, the ant-raft is “self-healing”: it’s robust enough that if it loses an ant here and there, the overall structure can stay stable and intact, even for months at a time. In short, the ant raft is a super-organism.

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Remembering Star Trek Writer DC Fontana, 1939-2019

Slashdot - December 8, 2019 - 9:45pm
Categories: Geek, Opinion

General Election 2019: Has your local Facebook group been hijacked by politics?

BBC Technology News - December 8, 2019 - 5:45pm
Up and down the UK, moderators are grappling with an upsurge in political debate.

3D printing can keep aging Air Force aircraft flying

Ars Technica - December 8, 2019 - 5:10pm

Enlarge / USAF Boeing B-52H Stratofortress taking-off with undercarriage retracting and trailing-edge wing flaps lowered at the 1998 Fairford Royal International Air Tattoo RIAT. (credit: aviationimages.com | Getty)

Glenn House and his colleagues spent more than four years making a new toilet for the B-1 Lancer. The challenge wasn't fitting the john into the cockpit (it went behind the front left seat) but ensuring that every part could handle life aboard a plane that can pull five Gs, break the sound barrier, and spend hours in wildly fluctuating temperatures. The end result didn't just have to work. It had to work without rattling, leaking, or revealing itself to enemy radar. Getting it OK'd for use aboard the bomber was just as complex as making it. "Getting a part approved can take years," says House, the cofounder and president of Walpole, Massachusetts-based 2Is Inc.

Until last year, 2Is was in the military parts business, furnishing replacement bits for assorted defense equipment. (Pronounced "two eyes," it sold off the parts business and now focuses on defense-related supply-chain software.) Providing spare parts for the military is a peculiar niche of the economy. Things like aircraft and submarines spend decades in service, and the companies that made them or supplied their myriad parts often disappear long before their products retire. So when something needs a new knob, seat, or potty, the military often turns to companies that specialize in making them anew.

These outfits must work from dusty two-dimensional drawings or recreate long-lost molds that exactly match the standards of the original parts. Working on very small orders—sometimes for just two or three of a given item—they don't enjoy the economies of scale that make it reasonable to spend five figures on tooling. A fussy approval process can mean waiting years to recoup an investment. And so, in many cases, they don't bid on these military contracts, preferring steadier, more reliable jobs.

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20 VPS providers to shut down on Monday, giving customers two days to save their data

ZDnet Blogs - December 8, 2019 - 5:15am
No explanation given for the sudden shutdown. Customers suspect an exit scam.
Categories: Opinion

Comic for December 07, 2019

Dilbert - December 8, 2019 - 12:59am
Categories: Geek

A nebbishy bank teller discovers he’s trapped in a video game in Free Guy

Ars Technica - December 7, 2019 - 11:47pm

Ryan Reynolds stars in Free Guy.

A lowly bank teller discovers he's actually a non playable character in an open-world video game in Free Guy, a forthcoming film from 20th Century Fox. Director Shawn Levy debuted the first trailer this weekend at the 2019 Comic Con Experience (CCXP) in Sao Paulo, Brazil, describing it as "a superhero origin story except without the tights, powers, or pre-existing IP," according to Deadline Hollywood. Stars Ryan Reynolds and Joe Keery (Steve Harrington on Stranger Things) were also on hand for the event.

Per the official synopsis, Free Guy is about "a bank teller who discovers he is actually a background player in an open-world video game, decides to become the hero of his own story…one he rewrites himself. Now in a world where there are no limits, he is determined to be the guy who saves his world his way…before it is too late."

The trailer opens with cheery bank teller Guy (Reynolds) waking up and heading to work. He remains completely unfazed as he encounters all manner of bizarre occurrences en route: shootouts, explosions, a guy with a flame-thrower, and his pal Joe getting thrown through a storefront window. ("Whoa-ho! Mondays! Amirite, Joe?")

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