Geek Month in Review: June 2012

By J.B. Sanders


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: