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Getting There, One Piece at a Time January 24, 2017

Posted by stuffilikenet in Awesome, Geek Stuff, Star Trek Technology, Toys.
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Open the Alexa app on your phone.

Use the More icon (the hamburger) in the upper left corner.

Select Settings.

Select the device whose wake word you wish to change.

Tap the Wake Word setting.

Select Computer from the drop-down.

You are done.

I would like to point out that Star Trek has so influenced culture that the United Federation of Planets is likely to happen any time now…we just need more planets.  We already have Majel Barret’s voice phonemes.  Now we need Google to sync up, a bit better response to voice meaning (the voice vector thing should help), a truthiness evaluator and bingo! Star Trek in your phone/home/office/laboratory/dungeon/whatever.

Amazon Moto G Play Phone January 19, 2017

Posted by stuffilikenet in Applications, Geek Stuff, Science, Star Trek Technology, Toys.
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People in the know (i. e., my readers) are aware that I take my phones seriously, and have for three smart phones now. Well, smart-enough phones, I guess.  I mean I had an HTC 8125 ancient creaking phone with one of Microsoft’s many, many failed phone operating systems (are they really up to FOUR commercially-failed systems, and about to go for FIVE?), which did some things I needed in a phone: calculator (never used it, but could have), texting (would have used it but did not…not sure that it could, now that I think on it), took [execrable] photographs (look back in this blog far enough and you will find them, along with scathing reviews of the image quality) but at least ran the flash card app I wrote for it, among others (my writing them would not have been necessary if MS has anything like an app store.  Just sayin’), and played my beloved audio books during my [endless] commute.1

Still, it was not the optimum device.  My next phone (Samsung Galaxy S3 i9250) was a considerable improvement, in that the camera focused closely enough to copy text.  It ran Android apps mostly without complaint (even ones I had written myself), texted my children and played Bluetooth music and audio books without complaint, even after having survived several cracked glass incidents (to be fair, I never did repair the glass.  It looked like a vandalized cathedral when it finally died). It was a vast improvement, and I cried bitter tears indeed2 when it suddenly stopped letting me make telephone calls.

Now I have the aforementioned Amazon Moto G Play phone, and I must say it is an improvement on my previous experiences (except for the annoying notifications.  How the #$%^&* do I turn them off?) in speed, in reception and in sound clarity (although not volume).  The camera is much better (see recent postings about the weather, blue jay invasion, etc.) and the Android version is 6.0, which is 1.7 better than previous.  And it was cheap: $99 for the phone with advertising, $149 without.  I have been unable to figure out how to replace the bootloader to get rid of the advertisements (which would violate my agreement and would be Bad And Wrong), but it works so well I don’t care at all.


1Not sure that’s the longest run-on sentence I have ever written, but Baron Bulwer-Lytton must feel somewhat threatened in his cozy grave.

2Mostly because I had spent a fortune on it.  Don’t fear; this story DOES have a happy ending.

Too Much Science to Read, Let Alone Review November 15, 2016

Posted by stuffilikenet in Awesome, Brain, Brilliant words, Geek Stuff, Science, Star Trek Technology, Toys, Uncategorizable.
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It’s been a banner week for science geeks, nerds, and squints. The locked-in lady gets to at least shout from her prison quietlyGoogle has radar sensitive enough to not only find objects but identify them by their radar signature and perovskite is once again breaking solar-conversion efficiency records.

Ordinarily I would give you a breakdown of each of these nifty developments, but more are coming and I may want to return to these later when I am not pressed for time.  Follow the links above; there are others as well that you will find more well constructed than my chicken scratchings, I’m sure.

Brain-Computer Interface Now in Use at Home!!! November 15, 2016

Posted by stuffilikenet in Applications, Awesome, Brain, Geek Stuff, Science, Star Trek Technology, Toys, Uncategorizable.
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A 58-year-old woman (“HB”) with ALS has had a functioning brain-computer interface (BCI) for a while now, and is able to communicate (slowly) with the outside world. She was facing total lock-in Real Soon Now, so any device which offers communication ability is welcome.

What it is:

A diagram illustrating the setup and use of the ECoG implant.

Electrode strips at the top laid across her brain like band-aids read faint electrical signals.  With training HB was able to “type” fairly quickly (words per minute, but still).  More work remains to be done on the interfacing software (I am imagining more inputs and a neural network to interpret her thoughts more and more efficiently), and HB is ecstatic to have a way t live in the world.  She would like to use the interface to control a wheelchair, for example, but that is a ways off.


Homework:  Vansteensel, Mariska J. et. al., Fully Implanted Brain–Computer Interface in a Locked-In Patient with ALS, New England Journal of Medicine November 12, 2016 DOI: 10.1056/NEJMoa1608085

Update: New Scientist has an excellent writeup as well.

Brain-Computer Interface Restores Locomotion November 9, 2016

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You heard me. Watch the video and be amazed.

The researchers think it could be ready for human trials by the end of the decade.

If it sounds familiar, it might be because Star Trek thought of it first:

Image result for spock's brain

Homework: Capogrosso, Marco, Milekovic, Tomislav, et. al, A brain–spine interface alleviating gait deficits after spinal cord injury in primates, Nature

The Homemade Muon Detector October 15, 2016

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Dazzling in complexity, the little chart above details the fate of cosmic rays (high-energy protons hurtled from the sun) which impact our atmosphere, leaving a byzantine collection of particles and EM emissions.  Some of these suckers are relatively easy to detect; the muon possibly the easiest.  Scientists studying the output of our sun can use more information about cosmic ray bombardment and an array of muon detectors would be really useful for this as muons (and other particles) are generated within a cone-shaped shower, with all particles staying within about 1 degree of the primary particle’s path.

Enter Spencer Axani, doctoral student at Massachusetts Institute of Technology who has whomped one up for a mere hundred bucks, and published a paper with detailed construction plans (no Instructables project yet, however.  I checked):


Straightforward as heck, a plastic brick and a photomultiplier tube are locked up in a light-tight box.  Muons hit the brick, generate a photon on decay and the photomultiplier generates enough juice to tell there’s been an event. An Arduino is used (yes, an Arduino) as a peak detector and a Python script crunches the time-stamped data for delivery to a PC.

He took it around Fermilab to test it out in Real Life:


Neat-o, right?


Homework:  The Desktop Muon Detector: A simple, physics-motivated machine- and electronics-shop project for university students , S.N. Axani, J.M. Conrad, and C. Kirby, Physics Department, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, Mass.

Extra credit:  http://www2.fisica.unlp.edu.ar/~veiga/experiments.html

Universal Molecular Diagnostics by Affinity October 10, 2016

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Rice University researchers have invented a technology that could potentially identify hundreds of bacterial pathogens simply, quickly and at low cost using a single set of random DNA probes. Richard Baraniuk, Amirali Aghazadeh and Rebekah Drezek whomped up a batch of five random probes and used them to identify 11 known strains of bacteria, providing a genomic-based test for identity of pathogens.  This is a big deal because usually each species required its own DNA probe.

Their new study includes several computer simulations, including one that shows how a random selection of five probes can identify 40 different strains of bacteria, and another that demonstrates how the system can accurately differentiate between 24 different species of Staphylococcus.

Rather than identifying a target strain based on a 100 percent match with a specific probe, Rice’s system tests how well the target DNA binds with several different random segments of complementary DNA. UMD uses a mathematical technique called compressive sensing, which was pioneered in the field of digital signal processing. With compressive sensing, the disease DNA need not bind with 100 percent of the probes. Instead, the new system measures how well the disease DNA binds with each of the random probes and creates a specific binding profile for the test organism. It then uses deductive reasoning to determine whether that profile matches the profile of any known pathogens.

With larger numbers of probes, it works even better:

No special hardware is required for this approach, other than the tried and true PCR with which we have become familiar over the last twenty years (thank you, Kary Mullis and LSD). The special sauce is the computer code which figures out the relative affinities.  This can be made available everywhere pretty cheaply, versus specialized DNA probes which require expensive facilities and a lot more regulatory testing.

Homework: Universal microbial diagnostics using random DNA probes, Amirali Aghazadeh1,*, Adam Y. Lin1,*, Mona A. Sheikh1,*, Allen L. Chen1, Lisa M. Atkins2, Coreen L. Johnson2, Joseph F. Petrosino2, Rebekah A. Drezek1 and Richard G. Baraniuk1, Science Advances  28 Sep 2016:Vol. 2, no. 9, e1600025 DOI:10.1126/sciadv.1600025

You Would be Smug, Too October 10, 2016

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Jeff Bezos tweeted this picture of his boots and booze after completing a bucket of milestones in space exploration:

  1. Five flights of the same, reusable Blue Origin spacecraft within a year
  2. Separation of booster rocket and capsule with safe return for both
  3. Restart of booster rocket at only 3300 feet and safe return
  4. Safe return of capsule with one deliberately failed parachute.

The boots say “step by step, ferociously” in Latin. 

Smug and pretentious.  And well deserved.

Surface Chemistry Weekly Review September 19, 2016

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Things are happening in the thrilling world of surface chemistry (which I know you all care about deeply), so I will attempt to translate from Science to Normal and explain the usefulness of each advance (as I see it. I am never wrong).

First, and array of carbon nanotubes was created by drawing up a substrate from a solution of high-purity nanotubes, causing them to string out nicely.

Abstract Image

The resulting array of CNTs were etched with electrons scoring a resist coating, the remainder of which was washed off with acetone.  Not sure how they got the palladium contacts attached, but that may be just standard solution chemistry.  I can think of two ways to do it, if the CNTs can take it.

The upshot of all this is an array of CNT FETs (50 per micrometer!) with “quasi-ballistic conduction” (meaning really fast, almost effortless electron flow). As reported in Science “The saturated on-state current density is as high as 900 μA μm−1 and is similar to or exceeds that of Si FETs when compared at and equivalent gate oxide thickness and at the same off-state current density. The on-state current density exceeds that of GaAs FETs as well. This breakthrough in CNT array performance is a critical advance toward the exploitation of CNTs in logic, high-speed communications, and other semiconductor electronics technologies“, that last bit being a trifle understated.  This is equivalent to Silicon-based FETs, and more advances are coming.  This technology will most likely supplant silicon-base transistors in the not-too-distant future, giving you and me the ever-increasing computation speed and lower power demands that we associate with The Future of Computing.

Homework: Quasi-ballistic carbon nanotube array transistors with current density exceeding Si and GaAs, Science Advances  02 Sep 2016:Vol. 2, no. 9, Gerald J. Brady1, Austin J. Way, Nathaniel S. Safron1, Harold T. Evensen, Padma Gopalan and Michael S. Arnold


Next, Kiel University (Germany; it’s OK, I had to look it up, too) materials scientists found a way to microscopically etch metals so that they could be strongly joined by glue.  Their etching process results in a water- and grease-repellent metal surface which takes glue beautifully: “…the here described novel nanoscale-surface sculpturing based on semiconductor etching knowledge turns surfaces of everyday metals into their most stable configuration, but leaves the bulk properties unaffected.” Possible improvements to everyday life include surface prep for painting, aluminum removal from titanium implants and of course, using glue for metal parts assembly, which will save buckets of time and money, as welding is expensive and often impractical.

Not exactly surface chemistry, but I include it because I feel it’s a fundamental advance in materials science techniques.

Homework:  Making metal surfaces strong, resistant, and multifunctional by nanoscale-sculpturing, M. Baytekin-Gerngross et al, Nanoscale Horiz. (2016)


Materials researchers at North Carolina State University have developed a technique that allows them to integrate graphene, graphene oxide (GO) and reduced graphene oxide (rGO) on silicon at room temperature by using a nanosecond-pulsed laser.  They have foolishly tried to insist that this is to be used for medical sensors (and it may well be), but the reduced form of graphene oxide is a semiconducting material.  This could be an alternate route to large-scale manufacturing of graphene-based semiconductors, which means (once again) low-power, small devices for The Future of Computing.

Homework: Wafer scale integration of reduced graphene oxide by novel laser processing at room temperature in air, Anagh Bhaumik1 and Jagdish Narayan, J. Appl. Phys. 120, 105304 (2016)

That’s all for now.  Thanks for reading this far; you are very brave.

A Theory of High-temperature Superconductivity August 18, 2016

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Scientists at Brookhaven National Laboratory have a potential  explanation for high-temperature superconductivity of cuprates, the superconducting breakthrough of the 1980s. They theorize that a certain density of electron pairs is required and when the density is too small or too great, superconductivity disappears.

They painstakingly created many different cuprates with different amounts of doping to create cuprates (actually, 2500 different compounds of lanthanum, strontium copper and oxygen) with differing number of electron pairs using an amazing beam epitaxy system to create each compound layer by layer. Because cuprates have 50 atoms per unit cell, it’s very easy to get a mixture of compounds, so it’s hard to know what kind of result you are seeing. They fixed that problem with this:


This beam epitaxy system builds compounds layer by layer and has some awesome built-in surface chemistry tools, like an absorption spectrometer and an electron diffraction gizmo to monitor surface morphology, thickness, chemical composition, and crystal structure of the resulting thin films in real time.

This is exceptionally elegant work, and points to potential understanding of  a general theory which may help in finding room-temperature superconductors.

Homework: Dependence of the critical temperature in overdoped copper oxides on superfluid density , I. Božović, X. He, J. Wu & A. T. Bollinger

Science News Roundup August 12, 2016

Posted by stuffilikenet in Awesome, Brain, Geek Stuff, Science, Star Trek Technology, Uncategorizable.
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I haven’t had a lot of free time for stuff I like lately, but I didn’t want a few items from my science newsfeeds to go unnoticed by you, my adoring public. I expect most people don’t follow this kind of stuff closely, so pay attention:

First off, a team from the UK has found that a commonly available drug Fenamate can reduce the inflammation in a particular pathway to protect against a Alzheimer’s disease model in rodents. A mouse is not a man, but the results are intriguing enough (protected all rats in the study) that trials with humans are being strongly considered.  Because the drug is already approved for pain relief, the difficulty in getting into trials in the first place is enormously reduced. “In the USA, wholesale price of a week’s supply of generic mefenamic acid has been quoted as $426.90 in 2014. Brand-name Ponstel is $571.70. In contrast, in the UK, a weeks supply is £1.66, or £8.17 for branded Ponstan. In the Philippines, 10 tablets of 500 mg generic mefenamic acid cost PHP39.00 (or the equivalent of $0.88USD) as of October 25, 2014.”—Wikipedia.

Evil bastards? Well, sure. What do you expect from companies who can buy or sell legislators?

Next, paraplegic patients have had nerve and muscle function partially restored using a three-step training regimen in Brazil. Starting with VR to give them the sensation of walking through haptic feedback during brain-controlled maneuvering through a VR landscape, the patients then proceeded to move using a robotic walker on a treadmill with full support, also run through the brain-machine interface. Finally, they practiced walking with the robosuit used in that World Cup game a couple of years ago.  This took months, but the eight fully paralyzed patients who completed (one moved away) ALL showed some improvement.

This is a big deal.  None of these guys were ever supposed to get any sensation or control back.

This program is on-going, so we don’t know how much improvement will ultimately result from this innovative program, but I for one am pretty excited. Isn’t this why we work in computer science in the first place?

Nexus, Crux and Apex, by Ramez Naam July 1, 2016

Posted by stuffilikenet in Awesome, Books, Brilliant words, Geek Stuff, Star Trek Technology.
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These three novels are among the most interesting science fiction novels I have come across in some time..Lovingly detailed descriptions of the brain-nanoparticle operating system (Nexus) that allow people to hack their own brains, regulating mood, compelling actions and desires and enabling communication mind-to-mind seem plausible (after you swallow the sufficiently-advanced-technology bits) enough to support a tale of personal discovery by the author of the OS as he winds between the US government, Chinese spies, Thai drug lords and showdowns with the US government and a singularity’s intelligence. A good actioner, the story will compel your attention through all three books and make you wish for a different ending to the last one, for sure.

Highly recommended.  The links above go to Amazon, but are available at sfpl.org.

Housewife Replacement June 23, 2016

Posted by stuffilikenet in Applications, Awesome, Geek Stuff, Star Trek Technology, Toys.
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This is SpotMini from Boston Dynamics.  Usually BD makes enormous, noisy hulking robot mules to haul stuff around for the military…but the military said they were too loud and nixed the program.  So, here’s Spot, tidying up after breakfast.  All Spot needs now is the correct voice-activated response to “Get me a beer, will ya?” I see an enormous market for that.

Exciting update:

Told you so.

Silicon Valley Robotics Meetup June 17, 2016

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I went a Meetup named Beer and Bots as part of Silicon Valley Robotics  in San Francisco (held at Comet Labs on Mission Street; thank you for your generosity) for a meeting featuring, well, beer and bots. 
It was almost all schmoozing, though there were three demos: An EE, who demonstrated a $150 black box robot platform (I have his card and will report more on this later);  Tap Interface guys tapwithus.com showing a Bluetooth gizmo for one-handed typing without a keyboard; and a robot gripper guy with a robust gripper that is fairly cheap, can hoist beer bottles despite guys trying to remove them by hand, but gentle enough to not wreck a tortilla chip (my test for gentleness).  Also met a recruiter from a contract robotics engineering firm, from whom I might get a little work here and there. Among other things I learned that Andra (boss of this little show) doesn’t have time to arrange any more robotics job fairs and is looking for someone to help with that kind of thing.  Could be me, maybe; I have some bandwidth coming available soon.

What It’s All For June 10, 2016

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Exciting update:


OctoTranslator May 11, 2015

Posted by stuffilikenet in Applications, Awesome, Brilliant words, Geek Stuff, Star Trek Technology.
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is my latest app in the Google Play store (in fact my second). It is intended to help language learners create custom flash cards for use with Anki, which is possibly the best free flashcard program for Android phones (also available on iPhones, but who has those?).

Octotranslator - screenshot

OctoTranslator can take input from your microphone in any language your phone recognizes and can translate it to any language your phone can pronounce (this is called OctoTranslator because I used to have seven languages choices other than English…but I got upgrades, and so did OctoTranslator), by sending it to Microsoft Bing for translation (the same algorithm used in Skype).  It can return a text-only translation or it can read it to you using your Android phone’s TTS, which is pretty robust these days.  The real fun is saving to a data card to be mailed to you all zipped up in a single file, suitable for importing into Anki.

This is free. I would like reviews and testing, so feel free to take it and play with it, especially you Anki users, and lovers of foreign tongues (“My name is Inigo Montoya.  You killed my father. Prepare to die.”).

I must say I had fun testing this (I seem to have a macabre sense of humor when it comes to test phrases.  People overhearing me say things like “Spanish eyes is not really a casserole” and “Is your Mexican food made with real Mexicans?” make for real headturning fun in line at the bank.  Takes the shine off it when they realize I’m joking, more’s the pity.

Get it here. (Offer not good after curfew in sectors R or M).

This is the Virtual Keyboard/Monitor I Want March 19, 2015

Posted by stuffilikenet in Applications, Awesome, Geek Stuff, Star Trek Technology, Toys.
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The Singularity Started With the Wheel March 16, 2015

Posted by stuffilikenet in 3D Printing, Applications, Awesome, Brain, Brilliant words, Mutants, Science, Star Trek Technology.
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As difficult as it may be to comprehend, the wheel is the basic unit of technology. It made the repetitive business of carrying stuff easier. When tasks can be easily repeated (preferably automated), they can also be tweaked to do them better, maybe each time.

With computer controls, these tweaking steps can be automated, and the results don’t even have to be seen by a human.  These results can be used to produce new methods to experiment, ad infinitum. This is precisely why we should not allow AIs any autonomy whatever in creating new AIs.

But I digress.

The tools of automation are now cheaply available, giving everyone who wants it access to finely-controlled stepper motors which can be used in the trial and error methods heretofore mentioned.  Cheap microcontroller systems to run them combined with said stepper motors give us robotic assemblers, 3D printers and molecular assemblers.

Yeah, you heard me.

Usually, small-molecule synthesis usually relies on procedures that are highly customized for each target. Martin Burke, a Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) early career scientist at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, used a single, fully-automated process to synthesize fourteen distinct classes of small molecules from a common set of building blocks.

A broadly applicable automated process could greatly increase the accessibility of [this class of compounds] to enable investigations of their practical potential. More broadly, these findings illuminate an actionable roadmap to a more general and automated approach for small-molecule synthesis (he used Csp3-rich polycyclic natural product frameworks and developed a catch-and-release chromatographic purification method).

As a former chemist, I must say this is plenty difficult and detailed…but it only has to be done once and this genie is not going back into the bottle.  This will step up the pace of novel moiety experimentation, especially now that we have computational chemistry on a sound footing.  Picture this: computer cranks out theoretical molecule families for research.  Magic chemistry machine makes them.  Another automated machine tests them.  Potential drug candidates can be screened without human intervention, for conditions that currently have no treatment, but do have a good theoretical model.

Honestly, I have been thinking of this for thirty-five years, when one of my classmates described the room-temperature chemistry that was just being used for automated peptide synthesis, a hot subject in my college years1.

Now, with  automated synthesis producing testable quantities of continuously-varying drugs, we can start continuously comparing them with standard drugs for, say, antibiotic activity in a Petri-like environment (I hope it is no surprise that this technology exists already, although it is not in concert with the aforementioned molecular assembler), quickly finding optimal candidates in what could be an entirely automated process.  Promising candidates’ structures can be continuously varied by the molecular assembler under the watchful eye of an expert system (it is fun to imagine the expert system eventually deciding that chlorine bleach is the optimal antibiotic; obviously safety trials against mammalian cell lines need to run in parallel).

Aha, I hear you cry, what about diagnosis?  I’m pretty sure I covered this already2, when I  talked about brute-force cracking the human medical condition through big data: thousands of tests administered cheaply, regularly through millions of peoples’ lifetimes.  This data would be trawled for correlations between medical conditions and test results, telling us things clinicians would miss just because human heads can’t hold that kind of data well enough to draw statistical conclusions, or even reasonable inferences…but computers can.  Frustratingly, the legal problems here are beyond human comprehension as well; the intellectual property costs to create this many tests would be astronomical, although once acquired it could be quite cheap to administer (this is already possible, just not done for greed’s sake).  This will require a revolution in thinking which is not, alas, forthcoming soon3.

Other science can be brute-forced in a similar fashion by automation in other chemical reactions; I picked drug discovery for illustration since that’s where the most money can be found currently.

These are delightful speculations and become even more possible as long as things continue the way they are going, at least in terms of physical possibility.  Cheaper, faster processors make it possible to control all manner of laboratory  and industrial devices, not just your toaster, son.

It all makes me wish I were a better writer, because these ideas deserve better advocacy than I can bring to bear.



Synthesis of many different types of organic small molecules using one automated process Junqi Li, Steven G. Ballmer, Eric P. Gillis, Seiko Fujii, Michael J. Schmidt, Andrea M. E. Palazzolo, Jonathan W. Lehmann, Greg F. Morehouse, Martin D. Burke


1 We’re getting there, fellas.  Keep up the good work.

2 Please try to keep up.

3 If ever.

Because it’s Beautiful March 16, 2015

Posted by stuffilikenet in 3D Printing, Awesome, Geek Stuff, Science, Star Trek Technology, Toys, Video.
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This Lego-Modded Glue Gun is A Handheld 3D Printer

This hand-held 3D printer is made of LEGO and a hot glue gun, just the way God intended it to make bespoke hats and whatever else you can’t be bothered to scan, convert to pointcloud, convert that to STL, put in your (horrendously expensive) 3D printer and wait.  Like this tasty video (with cheery music) shows:

My Next Car January 19, 2015

Posted by stuffilikenet in Awesome, Geek Stuff, Hello Kitty, Japan, Mutants, Science, Star Trek Technology, Toys, Uncategorizable.
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It only travels 10 mph, but it DOES have twin BB Gatling guns (6000rpm), which ought to be enough to get me through traffic slower than that.  Traffic faster than that can just bite me.