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Slow-motion Lightning March 29, 2011

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See how the first piece of the initial strike to touch down forms a complete circuit to the heavens and the earth’s charge all runs into it. 

Science is so much cooler than religion, and so much more true.

Everybody Watch This (Seriously) March 29, 2011

Posted by stuffilikenet in Awesome, Video.
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The Aurora from Terje Sorgjerd on Vimeo.

I Couldn’t Resist March 29, 2011

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Dam Goats March 28, 2011

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DaVinci’s Dream Realized…For a Bird, Anyway March 25, 2011

Posted by stuffilikenet in Awesome, Toys.
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The SmartBird is an ultralight but powerful flight model from Festo.

Inspired by the herring gull, it can start, fly and land autonomously – with no additional drive mechanism. Its wings flap up and down, and can twist at specific angles using an articulated torsional drive unit.   Completely awesome technology, based on nature original aerodynamics.

Festo makes other robotic devices based on natural models.  I found their pneumatic muscle pretty fascinating, based on pulling against fibers rather than pressing against a piston.

Fluidic muscle

It’s a hollow elastomer cylinder embedded with aramid(?) fibers. When it fills with air, it increases in diameter and contracts in length.
The use of the fluidic muscle enables motion sequences which approach human movement in terms of kinematics, speed, strength and sensitivity.  The fluidic muscle can exert ten times the force of a comparably sized cylinder, is very sturdy, and can even be used under extreme conditions such as in sand or dust.

OK, now watch the video.  That thing is the ultimate spy tool.

Ben Krasnow, Boy Genius March 24, 2011

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You may remember Ben as the guy behind the DIY LN2 generator, but here he has done a wonderful job in a considerably different field—then I checked his YouTube page and realized he does this all the time!


I feel like such an underachiever.

Flashcards on the Phone March 23, 2011

Posted by stuffilikenet in Awesome, Brilliant words.
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Old-fashioned flashcards written on index cards have some disadvantages. You have to remember to keep the cards with you so that you can use them whenever you have some free time. And making copies to share is awkward. So, I finally found a JAVA flashcard application for Spanish vocabulary for my phone.  It’s called StudyME, and I found it on Studystack (a free site dedicated to flashcardness for a bunch of different subjects.  They have a lot more than Spanish language flashcards, and a bunch of different ways to use them, like games and quizzes).

To install the main program, copy studyme.jar to your MIDlets folder on your phone (using Activesync->Explore->My MIDlets). Download the flashcards (a filename ending in .jad) you want to study from http://www.studystack.com/Spanish.  Select one from the list, go to the webpage containing it, click the icon "Apps" and go to that page.  Click the StudyMe link which takes you down that same page to the StudyME description.  In that section there is a button labeled "Get.JAD file" which will download that stack.

It will always be labeled "StudyME.jad", so save it with a name that describes the content, like "House words.jad", then put it in the same directory as studyme.jar.  Open the .jad file in Notepad and change the line "MIDlet-Jar-URL: http://www.studystack.com/java-studysta/StudyME.jar" to read "MIDlet-Jar-URL: StudyME.jar".  It should stop looking for a webpage when you do this, and use the copy in the MIDlets directory instead.

Things to know before you go further:

When you start the app for the first time, it will try to connect to the studystack webpage with the internet connection you have.  Since we don’t pay for an internet connection this is not recommended.  You will have one opportunity to tell it not to do this, so do it when it asks. You will have to tell it that you like this setting (referred to as "Keep the Application data and security settings?"" or something) next time the app is started.

Using the app itself is real straightforward.  Follow the directions and you should be just fine.

Single-page News Feeder March 14, 2011

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Google Reader aggregates RSS feeds and Yahoo makes one too (the example is for 3D printing, which I Care About), but you can roll your own at Yahoo Pipes Aggregator (that link goes to the quick video tutorial) or at http://www.planetplanet.org/, which does about the same thing, but for RDF, RSS and Atom feeds, and there’s support for templating of any other kind of file formatting you can think of (if you are a programmer 😦 –but I digress).

Horse Badorties Goes Out March 14, 2011

Posted by stuffilikenet in Brilliant words, Uncategorizable.
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Now he would never write the things that he had saved to write until he knew enough to write them well. —Ernest Hemingway, "The Snows of Kilimanjaro," 1936

We decided to spend a few minutes analyzing our motives–something we often do when there’s nothing good on television. —Calvin Trillin, "A Day at the Spaces," 1977

But wait!  there’s more at Esquire’s 70 Greatest Sentences, which I stumbled upon looking for that immortal epic “Horse Badorties Goes Out”, by William Kotzwinkle.  He penned the immortal lines

I am all alone in my pad, man, my piled-up-to-the-ceiling-with-junk pad. Piled with sheet music, piled with. garbage bags bursting with rubbish, piled with unnameable flecks of putrified wretchedness in grease. My pad, my own little Lower East Side Horse Badorties pad.

I just woke up, man. Horse Badorties just woke up and is crawling around in the sea of abominated filth, man, which he calls home. Walking through the rooms of my pad. man, from which. I shall select my wardrobe for the day. Here, stuffed in a trash basket, is a pair of incredibly wrinkled-up muck-pants. And here, man, beneath a pile of wet newspapers is a shirt, man, with one sleeve. All I need now, man, is a tie, and here is a perfectly good rubber Japanese toy snake, man, which I can easily form into an acceptable knot.

SPAGHETTI! MAN! Now I remember. That is why I have arisen from my cesspool bed, man, because of the growlings of my stomach. It is time for breakfast, man. But first I rnust make a telephone call to Alaska,

Must find telephone. Important deal in the making. Looking around for telephone, man. And here is án electric extension cord, man, which will serve perfectly as a belt to hold up my falling-down Horse Badorties pants, simply by running the cord through the belt loops and plugging it together.”

That, and so much more.  Go read it.  Remember, it was funny as hell when I read it in 1973—but then again, I was sixteen.

Text “redcross” to 90999 to Donate $10 March 13, 2011

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It’s necessary right now.  It’s the cost of a few lattes.

The Most Useful Tool March 9, 2011

Posted by stuffilikenet in 3D Printing, Awesome, Brilliant words, Toys.
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Consider for a moment the lowly inkjet printer.  Nowadays, a lonely inkjet printer can be found, fully functional but slightly used at your local thrift store for about $6.  I myself found (yes, found) maybe ten of the suckers on street corners waiting to be scavenged by industrious mendicants and bindlestiffs of our fair city.  I yanked the motors and sundry other useful bits and discarded the dismembered corpses, but I think these noble devices should have better treatment than this.

What are we talking about here?  An inkjet printer usually consists of a shaft-encoded pinch roller to move paper (hereinafter referred to as "substrate") in one direction very accurately, while thermospray print heads glide across the paper (sorry, "substrate") in a perpendicular direction depositing ink very accurately in desirable patterns.

Imagine what happens when additions are made to this device, like changing "ink" to "acid" and "paper" to "copper-clad boards"

Lots of hackers have had the same thought.  One fellow has tried printing etchant-resistant wax on printed circuit boards, to pretty good success. 

Others may try other, more tractable substances, but you get the idea. Another idea is adding a Dremel rotary cutting tool to scrape off the copper in the correct pattern.  This hasn’t been done yet for some reason, but people have thought about it.  They also have thought about a laser, but cooler heads apparently prevailed.

Imagine what happens if you substitute plastic for ink, and add a third dimension to add multiple layers.

Imagine what happens when you can fabricate enough parts to make another printer, and it makes another printer, and it makes another printer, etc.  This is already happening.


Imagine what happens when you add that third dimension and just change the ink to something more fabric friendly?

Direct-to-fabric printing apparently is already taking off in a small way.

Perhaps changing the substrate alone would be enough.  This fellow printed some small parts in WeldWood, a kind of wood and plastic powder and a bit of putty.  The “ink” in this case is dihydrogen monoxide, a nearly ubiquitous chemical known for causing drowning:

Except for the Reprap, these little hacks use only slightly-modified inkjet printers and slightly-modified software to drive them.  That’s a lot of potential for a humble $6 printer.

Victory Cupcakes March 9, 2011

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One of my beloved cow-orkers (hyphenation intentional) produced lovely cupcakes for each aspect of completed features on one of our software projects.  They were too good to eat, and still reside on my desktop six months and one project later.

delicious cupcakes

Beautiful, aren’t they?

Highway One March 9, 2011

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The missus and I went to Agate Beach at low tide (well, a little after low tide), a lovely place for tidepool observation.  It’s lovely there, just from the parking lot in Bolinas (by the way, the Bolinas sign is still missing):


Here’s the panorama of Agate Beach with the tide out (almost). 

pano of Agate Beach tide out 400 pixels wide

Click on it to get the nice widget that lets you pan, scroll and crawl on your belly like a reptile.

Interesting Electronics Developments March 7, 2011

Posted by stuffilikenet in Awesome, Geek Stuff, Science, Star Trek Technology, Toys.
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It is no shock to any reader of this august journal that what’s here is pretty eclectic, and mostly interesting to me.  I am, however, gifted with the ability to see the future, usually because it’s so beautifully obvious.  In one of my more unusually generous moments I will now share my vision of a tiny part of your future, which is implantable sensors to monitor your health and warn you of glaucoma, wrong blood sugar levels, heart problems and stress.  These sensors will (eventually) be cheap and ubiquitous, because they will be much, much cheaper than emergency-room visits.

Why am I so confident?  Because the technology already exists (at least in prototype form) scattered across a few disciplines.  A prototype implantable eye pressure monitor for glaucoma patients developed by three faculty members in the U-M Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science: professors Dennis Sylvester and David Blaauw, and assistant professor David Wentzloff are believed to have created the first complete millimeter-scale computing system.  This sucker can be modified for glucose monitoring, heart-rate reading and probably other blood-content monitoring as well (using receptor protein assays that are already developed and in use elsewhere).

It’s one cubic millimeter, containing a microprocessor, a pressure sensor, memory, a thin-film battery, a solar cell and a radio.  A bunch of similar sensors could be injected into various trouble spots in the body where they could be read with a wand-type antenna.  Sounds, I dunno, familiar.


Or, you could wear a suit with built-in antennas to keep you monitored all the time.

Part of the problem is, what’s going to power these little sensors?  How can they make a radio that small? Well, part of the answer is the tiny solar cell built into the sensor (remember, this one is installed on in the eye to check glaucoma, the buildup of intraocular pressure within the eye; causes blindness eventually and is relieved by cannabis and not much else).  This works well for the eye sensor, but what about the other sensors NOT close to the light?

Currently energy-harvesting devices have been built (italics to emphasize that it’s been done already) by Dr. Yong Shi, a professor in the Mechanical Engineering Department at Stevens Institute of Technology which extract electricity from motion in tiny amounts, enough to power these small sensors and their radio transmitters. This one is pretty tiny, too:


The power out is significant: 1.63 V and 0.03 microwatts.  Not bad, and probably enough to recharge the little battery in the sensor, yes?  Dr. Shi has a patent on piezoelectric nanofibers for his trouble and is no doubt improving his materials and methods.

P.S.: Since I posted this rant, newscientist.com has written up a little article about a ~5mm tumor tracker with monoclonal antibody-tagged magnetic nanoparticles which will respond to tumor growth (growing or shrinking).  This would let the clinicians know whether or not to vary the dosage or entire cancer treatment.  Once again, read by a radio wand just like Star Trek, the inspiration of all modern technology from the cellphone to the iPad to the voice-responsive computer that knows everything…wait, do we have that yet?

P.P.S.: Look what I found while looking for the magic wand graphic above:


See?  Google Images is an endless font of inspiration.  I love that guy’s antennas, and this guys implants.


Tank Hill Panorama March 3, 2011

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pano of the city from Tank Hill(icon) is a panorama of San Francisco, taken from Tank Hill.  Where is Tank Hill, you ask?  Centrally located, says I.  I just wish it had been a clearer day when I took these shots, but it was already freezing and near sunset and the fog was bracing and the wind…oh, gods, don’t make me think about the biting, bitter wind.

Ahem.  Sorry about that.  This is a roughly 270-degree panorama, from nearly the center of the city, and shows a lot more than you can see from Twin Peaks.

Optical Microscopy’s 20X Improvement March 1, 2011

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A standard optical microscope can only resolve items around one micrometer across (0.001 millimeter) clearly. But now, by depositing a transparent microsphere (2 μm<diameter<9 μm) on the surface of an object and focusing a standard optical microscope on the microsphere, dubbed the ‘microsphere nanoscope’, Manchester School of Mechanical, Aerospace and Civil Engineering researchers can see features 20 times smaller – 50 nanometers (5 x 10-8m) – under normal lights. This is beyond the optical resolution of microscopy.  This gizmo is called the “microsphere nanoscope”, and the inventors Professor Lin Li and Dr Zengbo Wang could potentially look inside live human cells, examine live viruses for the first time to potentially see how they function in vitro.