The Geek Handbook and The Unofficial Hobbit Handbook

By JB Sanders

Reviewing these two books together is kind of fun. Although their covers would lead you to believe two very different things about them, they’re actually quite similar.

The Unofficial Hobbit Handbook purports to be a humor/trivia book, though it veers quietly towards a kind of hobbit-ish self-help book. The Geek Handbook, on the other hand, is very upfront about being a self-help book, but is also chock-full of great quotes and trivia about a wide variety of geek culture tidbits.

Together the books are a lot of fun.

My take away? Embrace being a geek, and setup your home like a Hobbit.*

The Unofficial Hobbit Handbook
Let’s start with what I feel is the weaker of the two: the Hobbit Handbook. It’s pretty fun, don’t get me wrong, but as either a humor/trivia book or a subtle self-help book, it feels a bit flat. The book includes an exhaustive discussion of the ways of Hobbits, and includes some amusing trivia. For example, just about every riddle from the books (including the Hobbit, of course) is reproduced, and a bunch more besides.

There’s a lot, I mean a LOT, of detail on food. As you’d expect. There are even some recipes, both humorous (Lembas pie crust! Savory garlic dragon!) and straight up (e.g. Waybread Blueberry Tart). There’s extensive advice on what to keep in the larder, and what to serve at every meal. Yes, all the meals are listed, along with when you should have them.

Where the self-help bits come in (besides keeping a well-stocked larder, which really everyone should know) is when it gets to discussing things like how to treat guests and how to talk to trolls. It’s terribly important to know how to talk to trolls, let me assure you.

On the trivia front, there’s quite a bit, but a diehard Tolkien fan probably won’t find much to sate them. Though knowing that Rivendell’s checkout time is 11am is terribly useful on those longer trips.

Look, if you’re going to cosplay a hobbit at a con — you have to buy this book. No question. There’s just every possible relevant detail in there, though the discussion on clothing (pg 130) is pretty darn light. But for everything else — pipe-smoking, travel tips, riddling — it’s a must.

The Geek Handbook
Although this is a self-help book, it’s really, really funny. It was worth reading just for the humor, good advice or not.

The Geek Handbook is a soup-to-nuts guide to being a geek, dealing with a geek or raising a geek. Really, all three! And it gives all this great advice using the “spoonful of sugar” method — and in this analogy humor is the sweet, sweet sugar. I had several laugh out loud moments, and I’m sure anyone familiar with geekiness will, too.

“Much like ice cream and Christopher Walken, geeks come in many different flavors.”

Sure, the discussion of stereotypical geeks is — you know, a stereotypical. But even when doing the cliche “type” discussion, Alex Langley (the author) does it with humor and a certain sensitivity. He both mocks the stereotype and discusses the valid bits at the same time. He uses this same technique on all sorts of topics throughout the book, too. On college majors, D&D gamer types, internet personas and the perennial Trek vs Wars camps.

I especially like the chapter on social interaction, and his advice for socially awkward people. Particularly the part on social cues, which was very well done.

There’s even a section on what to and what NOT to wear, with this priceless footnote on sweatpants:

“The only exception to this are guys who are so well endowed that sweatpants are pretty much the only pants that fit them comfortably, or people who are getting laid so much that pants are almost an afterthought. However, unless you’re Jason Stackhouse, you may not need to worry about such things, and if you are Jason Stackhouse, I feel it’s my duty to let you know that your sister has porked a lot of vampires.”

Then there are things like the hairstyles discussion. I swear, this part is practically worth the price of the book by itself.

The styles are in the section on grooming, named for the fictional character they resemble most. Some examples:

The Tony Stark: heavy on bangs and don’t forget the goatee.

The Rogue: longish hair, with that front-facing dual strips of grey.

The Professor X: bald, of course.

There are more, and each is rated on Complexity, Coolness if Done Right and Likelihood You’ll Look Like a Jackass.

For all the humor and advice, there’s also some great stuff to explore on your own, like his picks for best webcomics (broken into several categories), and the ten movies every geek should see.

I heartily recommend it, although obviously you should buy the e-book version, for maximum geekiness. (You might want to slip your favorite clueless relative a paper copy for Holiday X.)

* Though you may also want to invest in a gym membership, if you’re going to seriously eat like a Hobbit.

About John:
John’s a geek from way back. He’s been floating between various computer-related jobs for years, until he settled into doing tech support in higher ed. Now he rules the Macs on campus with an iron hand (really, it’s on his desk).

Geek Credentials:
RPG: Blue box D&D, lead minis, been to GenCon in Milwaukee.
Computer: TRS-80 Color Computer, Amiga 1000, UNIX system w/reel-to-reel backup tape
Card games: bought Magic cards at GenCon in 1993
Science: Met Phil Plait, got time on a mainframe for astronomy project in 1983
His Blog: http://glenandtyler.blogspot.com

Geek Month in Review: October 2012

By JB Sanders

Onwards to Halloween!

What’s Invisible? More Than You Think.
Great educational (but fun!) animated TED talk about what you can’t see and other random weird things.

How to Survive a Plane Crash
Watch news footage (and some commentary) of safety experts crashing a big jet into the ground, and see what effect where you sit and what you do to prepare for the crash can do for you.

Molotov Cocktail in Slow Motion
Very cool flame blossom on this super-slo-mo video of a molotov cocktail thrown against the side of a house.
Obviously, don’t try this at home without a company of firefighters and an ambulance handy.

And for reference, the Molotov Cocktail got its name during Winter War between the Soviet Union and Finland. It was not complimentary to Mr Molotov.

Stop-Motion LEGO Dr Strangelove
And you’ve already clicked on the link, haven’t you? If you haven’t, it’s part of the war-room scene.

Safest Country in Europe?
Albania: home of 750,000 bunkers. Seriously. That’s one bunker for every 4 Albanians. Apparently the paranoid dictator who ruled there had them built between 1967 and 1986. They’re being repurposed as restaurants, nightclubs, tattoo parlors, and storage facilities.

Dr Who a Religion?
Video posits whether Dr Who fans constitute a religion. Interesting discussion, and no spoilers.

Enjoy Rain Without the Wet
A new 3D art installation at London’s Barbican Centre fills a room with rain — except where each visitor is standing. No running, though, or the detection systems that prevent rain from falling on you won’t be able to keep up.

Behind the Scenes Photos: Raiders of the Lost Ark
See Lucas and Spielberg before the billionaire years. See laughs. See the way they did the melting faces.

How to Control Your Own Dreams
Ever wondered how to control your own dreams? To perform Lucid Dreaming? Wonder know more!
(Controlling the dreams of others is covered in a different video.)

Does D&D Make You More Successful?
This question posed by the IDEA channel guy and then discussed. LOTS of geeky gaming references contained within!

Underwater Atomic Explosion for Your Files
Apparently a lot of the footage taken of the early atomic experiments has been declassified and put up on YouTube. This one is an underwater explosion, with a ship in the foreground for scale.

Are We All in a Computer Sim? Ask Physicists!
It is all really just the matrix/system/virtual world? Cosmologists and particle physicists are looking for the answers in some high energy cosmic rays. Extreme science geekiness within.

Two Suns? Pshaw!
How about 4 suns? There’s a planet out there, just discovered, which has four suns: two in it’s own binary system (which it orbits) and another binary star pair that orbits the first binary pair. Woo!

Alpha Centauri Has an Earth-like Planet
The nearest solar system to ours apparently also has a planet Earth-sized. That is SUPER handy, and not just for all the scifi that now becomes possible.

The Science of Blushing
Ever wonder why people blush? I mean, besides putting their foot in their mouth or when someone makes a rude suggestion. Here’s the science.

You’ve Never Seen Lightning Like This
Watch a video of lightning capture at 7,207 frames per second. Yes, you can see just about everywhere it goes. No sound, so feel free to watch it anywhere.

And Speaking of Lightning
Here’s a great article on various lightning safety tips and myths, with some great links (including that previous video of a slo-mo lightning strike).

What You Know About Galaxy Formation is Wrong
Astronomers are discovering that what everyone generally thought about how galaxies form and change over time is wrong.

Original Star Trek Goodness
So here’s a poster-sized picture of practically every major character to have appeared in the original Star Trek series, plus tons of bad guys and ships, too. Enjoy!

70’s Scifi and Superheroes of Television
While we’re on the subject of giant posters of scifi, here’s a character and ship from every scifi or superhero thing made in the 1970’s (same artist). See how many you can identify.

About John:
John’s a geek from way back. He’s been floating between various computer-related jobs for years, until he settled into doing tech support in higher ed. Now he rules the Macs on campus with an iron hand (really, it’s on his desk).

Geek Credentials:
RPG: Blue box D&D, lead minis, been to GenCon in Milwaukee.
Computer: TRS-80 Color Computer, Amiga 1000, UNIX system w/reel-to-reel backup tape
Card games: bought Magic cards at GenCon in 1993
Science: Met Phil Plait, got time on a mainframe for astronomy project in 1983
His Blog: http://glenandtyler.blogspot.com

Geek Month in Review: July 2012

By JB Sanders

Is it hot yet? I can’t tell…

Higgs-Bosun Explained
Confused as to what the Higgs-Boson is all about? Here’s a handy animation explaining everything. More or less.

The “British Atlantis” Found
So really what they mean is some underwater archaeologists have found remains of the civilization that existed on the land bridge between Britain and Europe 6500 years ago. Which is still really cool.

Light-Speed Baseballs
What would happen if you tried to hit a ball traveling at 90% the speed of light?

Self-Destructing Poem by William Gibson
More than 20 years ago, William Gibson helped create a poem called “Agrippa (a book of the dead)”, and it was included on a floppy disk (along with some art). After you viewed the poem, the contents of the disk, including the poem itself, were scrambled and unreadable. Now a PhD student is working on the problem, and before he could even work on the disk, he: compiled a disk image of the floppy, a System 7 emulator (Mac OS 7, that is), and most of the source code of the application which displays the poem. Now he’s sharing it online and offering a copy of every book Gibson wrote (NOT including the Agrippa poem) if you can figure out how Gibson did it. You have to show your work!

Movie Posters As If They’d Been Done 1000 Years Ago
You know, Medieval.
Warning: these will seriously warp your brain in amusing and baroque ways.

A Lamp Grown From Salt
Interesting idea in making new light fixtures.

Behind-the-Scenes Photos from Godzilla 1954-65
Because nothing gets your geek juices flowing like Godzilla pics. I’ll reserve the comments about guys in rubber suits.

Star Wars Figures Do the Movies
I know that sounds redundant, but in this case it’s Star Wars minis posed and shot mimicking famous pictures or movie posters.

Trojan Power Strip
It’s a power strip that hides a small computer inside, designed to “test” network vulnerability. Basically, you walk this thing into a company, plug stuff into it, and hack away.

Minecraft and 3D Printing
What’s not to like? It’s a six-minute video on the post-scarcity economy. And it’s way cooler than that makes it sound.

LEGO™ Robots and Wargaming
You probably already clicked on the link, but here’s the deal: it’s a slew of pictures of LEGO™ robots, which are being used to play a war-game. Anyone can play, they just need LEGO ™ robots.
Here are the rules:

About John:
John’s a geek from way back. He’s been floating between various computer-related jobs for years, until he settled into doing tech support in higher ed. Now he rules the Macs on campus with an iron hand (really, it’s on his desk).

Geek Credentials:
RPG: Blue box D&D, lead minis, been to GenCon in Milwaukee.
Computer: TRS-80 Color Computer, Amiga 1000, UNIX system w/reel-to-reel backup tape
Card games: bought Magic cards at GenCon in 1993
Science: Met Phil Plait, got time on a mainframe for astronomy project in 1983
His Blog: http://glenandtyler.blogspot.com

25 Years of Graceland

What can I say about Paul Simon? First and most importantly, don’t come to my website and bad mouth the man’s music because I will cut you. I. Will. Cut. You. I used to entertain the whimsical notion that somehow we were related because I’m a Simon and he’s a Simon and we both have roots in the Eastern region of the U.S. There’s absolutely no way we are, but I’d still joke about “Uncle Paul”. One of my friends in school called me, and in fact still does, Pauley to reference that my last name at the time was Simon and that I was such a big fan of Paul Simon’s music. I can’t remember when I first heard Paul Simon, that’s how long his music has been a part of my life. Musically speaking, just about the only thing my father and I can agree on is Paul Simon. In fact, at my wedding the father daughter dance was to the song “Still Crazy After All These Years”. (That’s right brides, read this and despair for my father daughter song was SO much cooler than yours.)

It’s hard for me to pick an absolute favorite Paul Simon, but like so many people, his album “Graceland” is damn close to perfection. That is why I was pretty excited for the release of the 25th anniversary edition. It’s amusing. I had put it on my Amazon wish list with the intention of buying a copy for myself and another one for my father for Father’s Day. However, instead my aunt bought a copy for me from my wish list for my birthday leaving us to just purchase one copy for my father. Zany Amazon.com shenanigans. Here’s the deal though, for a really reasonable price, like under $20, you can get the 25th anniversary “Graceland” album which includes 6 bonus tracks and Simon telling the story of “Graceland” AND you’ll get the DVD documentary “Under African Skies” which isn’t some shoddy piece o’ crap thing, it’s done by Joe Berlinger, the guy who did the Metallica documentary “Some Kind of Monster” and a handful of music videos. That’s a hell of a lot of “Graceland” going on, so what’s the big deal?

Paul Simon’s “Graceland” is generally credited with introducing African music and musicians to the West. The biggest being Ladysmith Black Mambazo. Many point out that during a time when most American’s experience with Africans was seeing starving children in television ads, “Graceland” introduced America to a jubilant, celebratory people. It’s true that much of the music on “Graceland” is mid or up tempo, although to be honest with you all, I always found the songs on “Graceland” haunting. Lyrically I found they lingered in my mind and the songs still do. Unlike much of the other music I listened to in 1986, Paul Simon’s “Graceland” still speaks as relevantly today as it did the day it was released. A pretty impressive hat trick. Of course, he is Paul Simon. Oh, and if you watch the documentary and hear Simon talk about the level of work he put into writing the lyrics your mind will be blown. I once heard comedian Louis CK talk on Marc Maron’s WTF podcast about when he develops a real strong closing 5 minutes to his routine, the kind that drives the audience wild, he’ll cut it so he’ll be forced to make the rest of the act stronger. Paul Simon kind of worked like that writing the lyrics for “Graceland”. The stuff that survived, whoa.

So obviously I love the album, and was tickled to have the few extra demos and alternative versions that the 25th anniversary version of “Graceland” offered. Here’s the thing though, the documentary “Under African Skies” was a really big deal for me. First, it was incredibly exciting as a fan to see so much footage of the actual recording sessions of Simon in South Africa with all the artists. And the documentary is loaded with interviews, some with unexpected people such as; David Byrne, Oprah, Quincy Jones, Philip Glass, Paul McCartney, and Vampire Weekend. The biggest thing with “Under African Skies” was it opening my eyes to the before now unknown to me controversy that surrounded Paul Simon’s “Graceland”. I was 10 years old when “Graceland” released. I didn’t know about apartheid in South Africa, I didn’t know who Nelson Mandela was or that he was in prison, and I didn’t know there was a cultural boycott that Simon essentially broke when he made “Graceland”. I didn’t know there was a situation. As if that wasn’t enough drama, certain segments of the African American community looked at “Graceland” as Simon basically using Africans. There was a particularly brutal exchange when Simon was doing a Q&A at Howard University and a student was accusing Simon of simply stealing music from African artists. Simon asked the student something like, don’t you think we can share ideas? And the student’s answer was in effect, if it’s with you, no. You think I will cut you? No one talks to my Uncle Paul like that! Forget I will cut you, I will take a sledgehammer straight to the crotch of those parachute pants! There were bomb threats called in to venues Paul Simon was scheduled to perform at while touring with “Graceland”. Bomb threats to Paul Simon shows.

Watching “Under African Skies” gave me a new appreciation of “Graceland” and its role in music, and cultural, history. It’s easy now that we’re on the other side of apartheid to say, well, it worked out so how Simon went about making “Graceland” was okey dokey. I don’t know how 10 year-old Rebecca would have reacted at the time. I suspect in extremes. Either “Everyone leave Uncle Paul alone, he’s the greatest and he knows what he’s doing” or “Oh no! Uncle Paul condones apartheid!’ Adult Rebecca knows that apartheid was absolutely bad, bad, bad, but who am I tell artists in America or Africa how to react in the face of injustice and cruelty. If Simon and his band of truly merry, wonderful South African artists hadn’t thrown caution to the wind, the world may never have known “Graceland”, and in my opinion, that would be a terrible world to live in.

Here’s Paul Simon performing the title track “Graceland” live in Zimbabwe. Back in ’87 Zimbabwe was a more stable location to perform than South Africa. How times have changed, right gang?

And here’s another favorite of mine, “The Boy in the Bubble”. It’s amazing how the lyrics could very well be about today. Even the sound is modern. Uncle Paul is pretty cool.

Geek Month in Review: June 2012

By J.B. Sanders

June!

Vacuum trains
Leave New York City, be in Europe in an hour. How? With technology first proposed by Goddard (yes, that rocket guy) over 100 years ago: vacuum trains. Evacuate a tube to create an airless vacuum, and then shoot trains through it. The technique, with some modern modifications, is surprisingly effective.

Private Colonization of Mars
There’s this company, Mars One, that plans to put people permanently on Mars in 11 years (2023). They’re going to fund the expedition by making the whole thing into a giant media event, including cameras on the selection of the crew, the feed from their rovers and from the Mars-orbiting satellite.

More details on their website:

Over the Weekend, Half of Germany Was Powered by Solar
Apparently the Germans are doing something right. At peak times (mid-day), they’re producing 22 Gigawatt/hours of electricity from their combined solar panels. That’s the equivalent of 20 nuclear power plants.

Alternate Universe Slippage
Scientists postulate that some neutrons are slipping into an alternate universe. Seriously.

Companies That Build Castles
Really. Modern day construction companies that build castles to order.

Just Print That Organ
Screw transplants, these days people who need replacement organs can just print what they need using their own cells and an “ink-jet printer”. No, not in “5 years”, not in “10 years”, this is today, and it’s new enough that airport security doesn’t really understand it.

Holy Levitating Slinky!
And sometimes, these tidbits just write themselves. Slow-motion shots of what it looks like when you drop an extended slinky. Spoiler: it visually makes no sense.

Vertical Ship Goes into Construction Phase
Two-thirds of this beast stays below water to keep the other 170-feet of it buoyant. Anyone else thinking of a James Bond villain hideout?

xkcd Infographic: All Known Exoplanets, To Scale
You know it’s going to be a fun visual when it starts with xkcd. Thems a lot of planets!

Very Neutral
When they say that Switzerland is aggressively neutral, this is what they mean. The article discusses the Swiss redesign of their natural landscape into a country-sized fortress. Bridges designed to blow and take out the railroad beneath it. Artificial landslides which will wipe away important roads. Hidden shelters deep inside their many mountains. Fascinating stuff.

Extreme Planetary Closeness
Astronomers have discovered two planets in a system 1200 light years away that are so close in their solar orbits that they will appear in their respective skies larger than our moon. Scifi authors, start your engines.

Starry Night in Dominoes
Some guy does a pixelated rendition of Van Gogh’s Starry Night using dominoes, and then pushes one over. Time-lapse movie of him setting it up (with some incidental failures along the way) and the final setup. The final collapse visual is amazing.

Brave New Hair
Detailed discussion of how the good folks at Pixar got all that great hair to bounce around in 3D animation the way it does in the movie Brave. Some plot spoilers, though.
[Thanks for the tip, Alex.]

Fanless Heatsink
It’s silent, cools your computer bits and should be here soon. Plus there’s video and Science!
[Thanks for the tip, Alex.]

Human Powered Helicopter
Vertical liftoff has been achieved by an entirely human-powered helicopter. Spoiler: 50 seconds of flight. Still damned amazing.
[Thanks for the tip, Alex.]

New Mineral Found in Meteorite
Not a prelude to a bad scifi movie (that I’m aware of, anyway). A scientist has been probing meteorites for years, and has discovered 9 new minerals as a result. This time, it’s something “primordial”.

About John:
John’s a geek from way back. He’s been floating between various computer-related jobs for years, until he settled into doing tech support in higher ed. Now he rules the Macs on campus with an iron hand (really, it’s on his desk).

Geek Credentials:
RPG: Blue box D&D, lead minis, been to GenCon in Milwaukee.
Computer: TRS-80 Color Computer, Amiga 1000, UNIX system w/reel-to-reel backup tape
Card games: bought Magic cards at GenCon in 1993
Science: Met Phil Plait, got time on a mainframe for astronomy project in 1983
His Blog: http://glenandtyler.blogspot.com

Sneak Peek at “The Hobbit”

“The Hobbit Tarot” that is. Come on, stick around, the tarot is totally worth reading a few minutes more.

Now let’s get to the main event, “The Hobbit Tarot” by Peter Pracownik and Terry Donaldson. Readers may remember that all the way back in 2010 I was fortunate enough to review the “Imperial Dragon Oracle” that was done by Peter Pracownik and Andy Baggot. I spent some serious time lavishing praise on the art done by Peter Pracownik and mentioning that he did all the fantastic art for the collectible card game “Wyvern”. (You know, like I just mentioned here.) That trend of praise will continue.

Pracownik’s art is so enchanting that I had difficulty picking just a few cards that he illustrated to share. Believe me, it look serious work to narrow it down to five, which may be the most cards I’ve ever scanned to share for a tarot deck ever! I couldn’t help myself! Look at “The Sun”. What a beautiful, darling landscape.

The Sun

Or what about the battle scene depicted on “Judgment”? It looks like it is right out of an ancient book of tales. I mean, if you imagined opening up an old, weathered, leather bound book of ancient tales of yore, that’s absolutely the illustration you would expect to see. Am I right, or am I right?

Judgment

Along those same lines, say hello to the “Knight of Swords”. He would be the hero in the before mentioned illustrated book of ancient tales.

Knight of Swords

Now you can’t have Pracownik do art for you without there being a dragon! Thankfully “The Hobbit” has one.

The Tower

My repeated commenting on how the artist could be illustrating a book of old tales leads me to believe that obviously this is why Pracownik is the perfect choice to do the art for “The Hobbit Tarot”. Tolkien’s work is essentially ancient tales.

Terry Donaldson drew on the rich mythology of “The Hobbit” when writing the accompanying booklet for “The Hobbit Tarot”. For instance “The Sun” isn’t just some random scene, here’s Donaldson’s thoughts on the card:

The road of life leads each of us through our respective Wilderlands. We see Mirkwood in the distance. The forest is where our Companions receive their initiations, teachings, and new skills; where they all become heroes of a sort, by confronting their fears and limitations. On the surface, everything looks so peaceful and welcoming. But we must be ready for the challenges and contradictions that life may throw at us as we move along the road that is our life journey!

Donaldson finds spiritual insight in “The Hobbit” that tarot lovers and Tolkien fans alike should appreciate.

Speaking of fans, I happen to love Wargs, the oversized wolves that appear in Tolkien’s work. So I couldn’t help sharing/boasting that there are two cards featuring Wargs in “The Hobbit Tarot”.

Seven of Wands

And just to prove I’m not a liar, here is a sneak peak at the movie “The Hobbit”.

Geek Month in Review: March 2012

By JB Sanders

Is winter over yet?

There is No Pink
Seriously — the color doesn’t actually exist. It’s not in the light spectrum. What we perceive as pink is actually a gap color. Watch the video in this article for the explanation. It’s Sciency!

Headless Cheetah Robot
It’s faster than you!

Icy Finger of Death
See ice descend into the ocean and freeze creatures in ice. Also, the word “brinecle” (that’s brine and icicle mushed together). This is real nature footage, not scifi.

Noah’s Ark Island
Floating island-city for the future.

Titanic Map
I didn’t realize this, but apparently there’s never been a full, comprehensive map of the full Titanic wreck site. Previous efforts concentrated on specific bits, like the bow or the stern. This all-new map shows everything, including what looks like debris from when it hit.

Las Vegas Sprawl
A time-lapse view of Las Vegas from 1972 to the present, from the perspective of an orbiting satellite. Watch the sprawl happen like it’s some kind of giant fungus.

Darth Vader Bagpipe Unicycle
You already clicked on the video link, didn’t you?

Let the Cloning Begin!
South Korean and Russian scientists are setting their sights on cloning the wooly mammoth.

Abandoned Places
Cities without people. These are places all over the world where humanity was once a vibrant presence, but now lie abandoned. Picture essay.

Connect It ALL!
It’s the “Free Universal Construction Kit”. This set of 82 pieces can connect any construction kit toy with any other construction kit toy. Want to make something out of Tinker Toys™ and an Erector Set™? No problem! LEGOs™ and Lincoln Logs™ ? Got it! Best of all, the “Free Universal Construction Kit” is a set of downloadable plans you can plug into your 3D printer — which doesn’t make them terribly free, since you have to have your own 3D printer, but hey — there you are.

The Jamesburg Earth Station
Long, fascinating article about the ground relay station that hooked up the Apollo 11 broadcast, countless other telephone calls and TV broadcasts, and is now for sale for $3M. It has a few amenities. It’s own backup batteries. It’s own giant satellite dish (90 fee across). Fourteen T-1 lines. Two-foot thick solid concrete walls. It’s own orchard. Oh, and it’s zombie-proof, of course.

Mysterious Booms
It’s never good when everyone in a town hears strange booming sounds, feels the ground shake and yet no one can figure out what’s causing the noise. Town officials are going to pay a company to put 4 seismometers around town to find the epicenter of the disturbances. It all sounds like the start of a great movie.

Behind the Scenes Photos: Metropolis
See some photos on the making of the first scifi movie.

It’s Dr Who Crochet!
You just can’t make up stuff like this. Some of it is even disgustingly cute.

I’ll Take Two
How would you like a bottle of Champagne from 1829? Sparkling wine goes bad after that much time you say? Not if it’s stored at a constant temperature of between 39 and 43 degrees Fahrenheit — 150 feet under the Baltic Sea. That’s right, it’s Shipwreck Champagne. And it’s going for around $40k a pop.

Wind Map
Want to see an active map of the current winds all across the lower 48 states? Got that. Also, it’s pretty.

Archaeology From Space
Scientists have come up with an analysis technique that looks at pictures of the ground taken by satellites, and figures out where there were ancient cities. So far they have about 14,000 sites covering over 8,000 years of human history.

About John:
John’s a geek from way back. He’s been floating between various computer-related jobs for years, until he settled into doing tech support in higher ed. Now he rules the Macs on campus with an iron hand (really, it’s on his desk).

Geek Credentials:
RPG: Blue box D&D, lead minis, been to GenCon in Milwaukee.
Computer: TRS-80 Color Computer, Amiga 1000, UNIX system w/reel-to-reel backup tape
Card games: bought Magic cards at GenCon in 1993
Science: Met Phil Plait, got time on a mainframe for astronomy project in 1983
His Blog: http://glenandtyler.blogspot.com

Geek Month in Review: October 2011

by JB Sanders

Victorian Lego mansions

And because this is Halloween Month, they’re haunted and abandoned. Yeah, that’s right — haunted LEGO houses.

Suburban life, 4000 years ago

See computer reconstructions of a town from the Bronze Age, which looks remarkably suburban to our modern eyes.

Chocolate Like You’ve Never Tasted

I don’t mean that euphemistically, because these are varieties of the cocoa bean that have been discovered in the Amazonian jungles of Peru. One of the varieties was recently developed by a Swiss chocolatier who sold them for $60/pound. And the reason it’s on the Geeky News? Scientists are sequencing the plant DNA and plotting the mineral contents of the soil where the varieties grow to figure out what makes them taste different.

Megavirus

That’s something you want see in a headline, isn’t it? Real news story, thankfully not as movie-of-the-week as that sounds.

Black Death Decoded

Speaking of tiny malicious organisms, scientists have sequenced the genome of the strain of the Black Death (y-pestis) that killed 50 million people back in the 1300’s. Hopefully to better understand it, and not to ransom the world for 1 billion dollars.

Things Science Fiction Films Have Ruined for John Scalzi

Always an amusing author, this time about things scifi films have ruined for him.

The Aurora Borealis Never Looked Better

So there’s this hotel in Finland that will rent you this cute little cabin specially designed for star-gazing and seeing the Aurora Borealis. Why are they perfect for it? Because they’re geodesic domed “cabins” made of thermal glass (remember, this is Finland, it’s a wee chill).

It’s Back to the, er, Past?

The DeLorean Car Company is releasing an electric car in 2013. Yes, a gull-winged, all-electric vehicle. No, it’s not powered by fusion. Not yet, anyway.

Actual Hobbit House, Minus Hobbits

It’s an off-the-grid, semi-buried, earth-friendly house in Wales. Not exactly a hobbit house, but strongly similar. Looks pretty cool, too.

It’s a Game AND Science!

Protein folding is part of bimolecular science trying to figure out the ideal structures of proteins, and it has possible applications to all sorts of things — HIV/AIDs research, cancer cures, Alzheimer’s. So instead of throwing a fancy screensaver at the problem (ala SETI@home), some clever bunch have come up with a game, and are letting smart-ass gamers find the best folding strategies. That’s right, it’s a video game where winning means curing cancer!
Details and science here:

Inserting Synthetic Objects Into Real Photographs

Prosaic title; amazing results. Science fiction means never believing what you see ever again. These guys have come up with a method for inserting computer-generated objects into a real photographic scene, either statically, or as part of an animation, so that they look real. Seriously real. Watch the video if you don’t believe me.

Solar-Powered Airships

Who doesn’t love airships? All the fun of flying without the jet-fuel headaches. Plus a HECK of a lot more room in the vehicle. Well, now there’s a company working on airships (actual heavier-than-air models) that are powered entirely by photovoltaic panels on the hull. They call them SolarShips. Watch the video to see what the giant-sized cargo hauler looks like.

Only Two Hands!

So this guy is juggling three Rubik’s Cubes. Not that interesting, right? Just juggling. But he’s also solving one of them at the same time as juggling the other two. See for yourself:

From SciFi to Your Wall

There have been a few scifi novels that used bioluminescence for lighting, but no one has really brought the concept to … er … light. Until now! Phillips, yes, the other light-bulb folks, have a working prototype. They power it methane and compost drawn from their concept-home microbial loop system (food waste from the kitchen, basically).

About John:
John’s a geek from way back. He’s been floating between various computer-related jobs for years, until he settled into doing tech support in higher ed. Now he rules the Macs on campus with an iron hand (really, it’s on his desk).

Geek Credentials:
RPG: Blue box D&D, lead minis, been to GenCon in Milwaukee.
Computer: TRS-80 Color Computer, Amiga 1000, UNIX system w/reel-to-reel backup tape
Card games: bought Magic cards at GenCon in 1993
Science: Met Phil Plait, got time on a mainframe for astronomy project in 1983
His Blog: http://glenandtyler.blogspot.com

Geek Month in Review: August 2011

By JB Sanders

Geeky in the heat…

Bubble Universes

More possible proof of parallel universes, now in the Cosmic Microwave Background (CMB). It’s more than just math theory! Probably.

Fields of Light

Not an alien landscape on some distant planet, but an art installation using fiber optic lights.

Bavarian Tunnels

More than 700 odd tunnel networks have been discovered in Bavaria, most dating back to Medieval times. Almost nothing has been found in them, “almost as if they were swept clean”. Weird, huh?

A City Frozen in Time

For 37 years — since 1974. It’s the city of Nicosia in Cyprus, abandoned when the island was divided between Greek and Turkish parts. Wild photographs worth the stop-over.

Shadowrun, Anyone?

So some clever hackers have pieced together an interface to various cracking tools via the Microsoft Kinect — so that you can see the computer like a first-person shooter, and move around by simply waving your arms.

Mad About Metered Billing?

Welcome to 1886! Yes, back then people complained about telephone company shenanigans. Read up on the amusing details:

Smart Cast

For when you break a bone, and want the hi-tech treatment. The cast monitors the situation with your muscles, the bone’s healing progress and let’s doctors monitor everything in real-time (or later over a martini, if they want).

New Blade Runner Movie?

It could be good. They’ve got Ridley Scott directing it. What’s up in the air is whether it’ll be a prequel (blah), a sequel or just set in the same universe.

This Isn’t the Start of SciFi Movie

It really isn’t — it’s a real live news report. Here’s the headline: “Orange Goo at Alaskan Village Found to be Fungal Spores, Not Eggs”. I just can’t make up stuff that good.

Supra-Genius

So this 13-year-old kid uses the Fibonacci sequence and the pattern of leaves on trees to create a solar-panel array that is 20-50% more efficient than conventionally arranged arrays. I’m sure we’ll be seeing more of this kid in the future — hopefully not as he ambles down main street in his death-ray equipped juggernaut armor.

All Pop-Culture Robots

Can you name them all? Not a quiz, just a giant picture of them all in one place.

Best Wedding Photos Ever!

Really, I’m not kidding. It’s a slow build, though. Scroll down the page slowly for best effect. (Alex, this one’s for you.)

Copper Man!

Ok, so not as exciting as it sounds, Copper Man is the name of the all-copper mannequin that US Army researchers used to gauge how well the standard flight gear insulated the crews of airplanes during WWII. Wacky, huh?

Weather Report from 1965

Or 1984, or 1384, or whatever floats your boat. Historical weather reports. Handy for those of you writing novels set in the past, rather than the future.

The Geek Zodiac

How could I not link to this? I’m apparently a Daikaiju (e.g. Godzilla, King Kong, etc).

Video Brings Portal to Life

I know, it sounds like I’m describing some kind of Lovecraft-inspired horror movie which is just a remake of a better Japanese horror movie, but no. We’re talking about Portal, the video game, and some fan’s amazing conversion of the portal gun idea into a tiny cinematic romp.

The Trans-siberian to Alaska Railway

Yes, this means a tunnel under the Bering Strait. Hooboy! Russia has set aside $65 Billion dollars for the project. Seriously.

Mindset of the Class of 1915

You may, or may not, be familiar with the Beloit College Mindset list, which is a big list of things the incoming freshman class has either always had, always known or never known in their lifetimes. Depending on your age, it’s a frightening and hilarious list. In answer to that, here’s a list of what the class of 1915 (the freshman class from 100 years ago) thought or knew:

About John:
John’s a geek from way back. He’s been floating between various computer-related jobs for years, until he settled into doing tech support in higher ed. Now he rules the Macs on campus with an iron hand (really, it’s on his desk).

Geek Credentials:
RPG: Blue box D&D, lead minis, been to GenCon in Milwaukee.
Computer: TRS-80 Color Computer, Amiga 1000, UNIX system w/reel-to-reel backup tape
Card games: bought Magic cards at GenCon in 1993
Science: Met Phil Plait, got time on a mainframe for astronomy project in 1983
His Blog: http://glenandtyler.blogspot.com

Geek Year in Review: Year One

Guess what folks? It has been one year of the “Geek Month in Review”! I’m so pleased that at least once a month there is a place for comics, science, games, technology, and other geeky things to live here on The Magical Buffet. And if the comments and website views are to be believed, many of you have been amused by this now one year old tradition here on the site too. Sure, I poke fun at the volume of 3D printer or Doctor Who stories John opts to include most months, but at the end of the day….I knew a whole heck of a lot about 3D printers before they showed up on The Colbert Report…..and doesn’t everyone love Doctor Who?

So happy birthday to the “Geek Month in Review”!

By JB Sanders

Writing the Geek Review article has been a lot like sharing links with my friends — with less “seen it” than real life. I read a lot, and frequently come across the oddest little news items. Putting them together into one article has been really a lot of fun — it’s much different than blasting one link across FaceBook. When you see them all pushed up into one place like that, grouped together, it’s a far more surreal and yet somehow pleasant experience.

I think I’m going to call it my Museum of the Geeky Weird. I’ve found some really interesting Curiosities (to me, anyway) and glommed them together into my own Cabinet*. So, please, wander the exhibits, press your nose against the glass, and whatever you do, don’t feed the monkeys.
Below are the best of the best, or what I thought were the most endurably interesting of this past year.

* If you want to know what I mean, a link.

Behind the Scenes Photos
From little movies like Fritz Lang’s Metropolis and Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining. Other shots:
• How they did the Empire Strikes Back text crawl (you’ll be surprised).
• A shot of Alfred Hitchcock, Tippi Hedren and some birds.
• A shot inside the giant alien spacecraft in Alien.
• A picture of Max Schreck lounging creepily. (Bonus geek points if you know the Other Movie this ties into, all too eerily.)
• Really, why are you still reading this blurb? Click on the link already!

This is How Science-Fiction Becomes Reality
Austrian scientists have developed a new way to do what rotors on helicopters and airplanes have done before now. Heck, their flying machines don’t even need wings. They produce thrust by using rotating turbine-like blades, and because those blades can be adjusted, the D-Dalus can produce thrust in any direction, 360 degrees. It’s also fine with rough weather and nearly silent.

The Amazing Transforming Apartment
Anyone else reminded of Bruce Willis’ guy from Fifth Element? Watch what this guy packs into 24 square meters:

Concrete Tent
Brilliant, simple idea. Ship a canvas tent that’s been impregnated with concrete, put it up with an air blower, dose it with water and in 24 hours, you have a permanent concrete structure. Awesome!

Lost Pyramids Found
It’s not really news that infrared satellite imaging will reveal hidden structures. It’s certainly not news that Egypt has pyramids. What is news is that these researchers found 17 pyramids, over 1,000 tombs and over 3,000 ancient settlements, all previously unknown. Oh, and the city of Tanis. You remember that one, right? From the first Indiana Jones movie? Buried in the sands thousands of years ago, Ark of the Covenant? Yeah, that Tanis.

Squishy Circuits
Ever wanted to teach your 4-year-old about electrical engineering and circuitry? No? Why not!? How about you show them about battery packs, LED lights and play-dough. Yeah, did you know that regular commercial play-dough can conduct electricity? Or that with a little work, you can make your own play-dough? With a slight variation of the recipe, you can even make a resistive play-dough to help create play-dough circuits. Very cool stuff.

How Much is Smaug Worth, Anyway?
And of course, look no further than Forbes magazine for that answer. The article is a behind-the-scenes (“showing a little ankle” as the author amusingly puts it) look at how Forbes goes about evaluating the “Fictional 15”, or the 15 richest fictional characters. It’s humorous and a little surreal seeing a mainstream discussion of what I would have thought was just a fan-boy discussion of relative fictional fortunes. Possibly the geekiest article I’ve ever linked to.

Who Stole My Volcano?
A blog article about an interview with the man who was the production designer for such movies as “Chitty-Chitty Bang-Bang”, “Dr Strangelove” and numerous Bond movies. The subtitle of the blog post is “Or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Dematerialisation of Supervillain Architecture.” Totally worth a read.

All of Doctor Who in 6 Minutes
A light, and lightning-fast, overview of all of Doctor Who’s 47 years on television in 6 minutes. Fun!

Spacewar, 50 Years On
The venerable first video game, originally coded on a PDP-1, has been ported up to the web. It’s using the original Spacewar code, running on a PDP-1 emulator. Originally the emulator was running in Java; in the latest version it’s been ported to HTML5 tools. Enjoy!

In case you’re not sure what a PDP-1 is: Link

You’re Playing With Them Wrong
Because nothing you did as a kid was as awesome as these Star Wars Lego(tm) action shots. Seriously.

How Much Radiation?
Ever wonder how much radiation you can suck up and not have a problem? Want to see that comparison visually, with solid science behind it? Well, look no further than xkcd, not only a great comic, but purveyors of fine graphs and maps.

Analogies Can Be Graphs
Or is it metaphors. Anyway, great take on the graph.

Teenager Builds Solar Death Ray
And oddly, doesn’t burn down school. See the sun’s concentrated rays burn through concrete! Steel! Other stuff!

It’s Old, But Still Indecipherable
Remember the Voynich manuscript? That seemingly-old document written in a language no one can understand, and filled with unintelligble diagrams? Yeah, well, they know how old it is now, anyway: about the 15th century. Or 100 years older than everyone thought it was.

Underground Master Plan
And no, I don’t mean mole people invaders. The folks of Helsinki Finland are planning on expanding their city below-ground, forming a master plan that encompasses subterranean sea-water-cooled data centers, municipal swimming pools, coal storage, 60km of tunnels, the city-wide heating system, factories and whatever else “doesn’t need to be seen”.

Once Forgotten Caves Laser-mapped
A series of caves, now thought to be a sand-mine, were recently laser-mapped, providing smoke-like maps of their winding, twisty corridors. It’s thought the “caves” were a working sand mind in the 1700’s and were re-discovered in 1892. Some basements in Nottingham actually open onto the caves. Be sure to watch the movies — there’s a virtual fly-through.

Make It Better
Fun little typographic animation perfectly showcasing the geek’s need to fidget with things until they’re “perfect”. Plus it’s cool.

Voxels Make It More Fun
THere’s a new shoot-em-up video game coming to the Mac/PC world, and it looks like a game that escaped from 1984 and then was hit with the 3D wand. But cooler than I just made that sound.

Watch the demo video:

And read more details about it here.

Avoiding data charges in 1906
Text messages are hardly new to communications — just ask anyone who remembers 1906. Back then, it was called the telegram, and this farming equipment company came up with a great way for their customers to avoid additional charges for ordering: codes.

Fly-over of New York City
You’re expecting this to be some footage from 1982 or something, right? I mean, come on! Who can do a fly-over of NYC in this day and age? These guys, that’s who. In an RC airplane at 7am in the morning (when regular air traffic is light). And sure, the TSA and NYC police talked to them — but no arrests or nasty exchanges. Amazing!

Oh, and for the RC enthusiasts out there, a link to the setup they used:

Burning Liquid Sulfur: Blue Flames!
Ever wonder what a sulphur mine inside a volcano might look like? Wonder no more — awesome photos ahead!

Lego Antikythera Mechanism*
That’s right, you read that correctly. Combine the worlds best make-it-yourself toy (Legos!) with an ancient device discovered in clay jars in a shipwreck. What’s the result? Pure concentrated awesome! (thanks to Alex for the heads-up)

Twenty Thousand Terabytes Under the Mountain
Want the ultimate in data security? How about a Swiss nuclear-proof bunker in the Alps? Take a tour of the facility with Wired:

Here There Be RPG’ers
I just love me some maps. This is a beauty sent in by a faithful reader (Hi, Matt!). It shows all the RPG-related forums online, in good-old-fashioned hex-map format, where 1 hex equals 1000 members, and then organized into vaguely related islands. My favorite RPG country? The Sunken Ruins of Usenet (an ancient empire).

Read by the Light of the … Trees?
Scientists have found a way to use gold nano-particles to make tree leaves bioluminescent. Interesting, but what if you turned that into a large-scale civic project to replace street lights with trees that GLOW?

The science.

The mind-bending thought experiment.

Fishing in a Manhattan Basement
It’s a surrealist picture of an actual life event: in a stream bubbling through the basement of a building in Manhattan, this guy caught a fish. It’s a bit like a scene from an unlikely urban fantasy novel.

Map of Online Communities
What if there was a map, like you get at the front of your better fantasy books, that showed the online communities sized to their relative daily bandwidth? That would be one of xkcd’s wonderful virtual maps. I should have one of these things in every monthly article.

It’s All Tommy Westphall’s Fault
This isn’t new, and it isn’t terribly October-y, but BOY is it geeky. If you’re just about to watch St Elsewhere on DVD for the first time or something, look away now, because I’m going to ruin it all for you. Follow along with the crazy, will you? At the end of the TV series St Elsewhere, the last scene has an autistic boy (Tommy Westphall) shaking a snow globe with a miniature version of the hospital in it. The scene right before that had snow falling on the hospital. And the two other characters in the room with Tommy idly wonder what the boy sees in that snow globe. So the obvious interpretation from this is that the WHOLE series has just been inside Tommy’s head, kind of like a giant “and then she woke up” moment.
Weird, but that’s not the Crazy part. See, several characters from St Elsewhere made cross-over and/or cameo appearances on other TV shows (e.g. Homicide). So that means, by some Law of Contagion, that those series are ALSO all in Tommy’s head, or meta-fictional (fiction within fiction). Cross-eyed yet? Wait, there’s more. If you assume that:

A) St Elsewhere was all in Tommy’s head, and
B) any TV series where a St Elsewhere character also appeared is ALSO in Tommy’s head

Then it logically follows that

C) any characters on a B tv show who themselves appear on another tv show is … yes, you guessed it, in Tommy Westphall’s head.

Which makes like 90% of TV shows in the same damned virtual imagined autistic universe.

Don’t believe me? Take a look here.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tommy_Westphall
or
http://home.vicnet.net.au/~kwgow/crossovers.html

The big picture, for those who need the visual
And download the PDF for the full explanation of all the crazy connections.

It’s like a Unified Conspiracy Theory for TV.

Evolution of the Geek
How could I pass this up? It’s a biological evolution flowchart showing how the “geek” has evolved over time, from head-biting to Elite Geekdom.
(For those of you opposed to evolution, just assume that the first geek sprang forth from the forehead of the chicken-biting guy and leave it at that.)

How Good is Your Geek Movie-Fu?
No, not another mindless multiple choice quiz-of-the-week. Not a quiz at all. Just a seriously great bunch of t-shirts with extraordinarily obscure references to some great movies. Man, wish I was getting a cut from these guys. Note: mouse-over the t-shirt to see where the reference comes from, then smack yourself in the head for not remembering it.

Making Stop Motion Animation With Light
Take an iPad, add some custom software to generate animation frames for you, and then a custom app on the iPad to show the frames as you move around. Result? This:

When Computer Keyboards Were Made Like 1950’s Cars
You know, with steel. There are people who swear by their ancient, clunky keyboards and will get violent if someone tries to take them away. And when your keyboard is, in fact, made of steel (NOT plastic), that’s a problem.
But there are different brands of “my favorite keyboard”.

There’s Ancient Apple

The Intentionally Retro

And the King of Keyboards, the IBM Model M Thunkmaster. So you KNOW when you’re typing:

The SciFi Airshow
So, it’s like an air show, only all the “planes” are scifi space vehicles. (It’s not real, though.)

Gore Factor Five!
I know, Dragon Age: Origins has been out, like, forever. The review I’m linking to is even months old. But it’s so damn funny, who cares?!

Best. Map. Ever.
Or even, all maps ever made of the earth, the stars and the universe in general, smushed together. Found out about this amazing map by seeing it on TED, and if you don’t know about the TED talks, I’m sorry. You’re about to have a lot of your free time sucked away by amazing speakers and mind-blowing technology.

See the talk about it at TEDTalks:

And then see the software that makes up the map:

About John:
John’s a geek from way back. He’s been floating between various computer-related jobs for years, until he settled into doing tech support in higher ed. Now he rules the Macs on campus with an iron hand (really, it’s on his desk).

Geek Credentials:
RPG: Blue box D&D, lead minis, been to GenCon in Milwaukee.
Computer: TRS-80 Color Computer, Amiga 1000, UNIX system w/reel-to-reel backup tape
Card games: bought Magic cards at GenCon in 1993
Science: Met Phil Plait, got time on a mainframe for astronomy project in 1983
His Blog: http://glenandtyler.blogspot.com