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.

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: