Geek Month in Review: October 2010

By JB Sanders

Everything “geek” from October:

Ptolemy Code Broken
Historians have figured out some maps of ancient Germany that hadn’t made sense until recently. Penned in 150 AD by Ptolemy, the map of what is now Germany was always believed to have wild inaccuracies, owing partly to the fact that Ptolemy never left Alexandria, Egypt. Well, it appears that when Ptolemy was wrong, he was wrong in a consistent and accurate fashion. Scientists have figured out a mathematical match-up system to correct the errors, and now the origin date of quite a few German cities has been made older by about a thousand years.

Ten Years of Smart Phones
From mega-bricks you could commit murder with to tiny plaques that we’ve long seen in scifi books and movies, the smart phone has come a LONG way in just a decade. Ars Technica has a great gallery of pictures.

Ninjas and Cowboys
Really, what more could you ask for in your epic action movie? Just watch the trailer.

Periodic Table of Swearing
A graph of all the naughty words and their relative weights. Obviously, this is so NSFW. In fact, it’s probably NSFMP (Not Safe For Most People), as they really don’t spare any of the circus of vulgarity available. Extra bonus: it’s UK English swear-words, so some of them are extra funny (to American ears).

Zombie Head Cookie Jar
Has to be seen to really get the full effect. It’s VERY cool. I think some kind of salmon-pink cookies would be best.

Remote Control Wand
This is not your standard goofy remote control redo, it’s a wand. A not-quite-real, use-gestures-to-control-things wand. For your TV. Or whatever. Watch the video at the bottom of the blurb to see it in action. Buy it, then change the channel with a mere flick.

Not Quite Dead Languages
According to the website, every 14 days a language dies. The Enduring Voices Project, a National Geographic program, is documenting as many languages as they can as quickly as they can. It has a nice interactive graphic showing the “hotspots” around the world, with info on each. Interesting if you’re into languages. Or intensely useful if you need some esoteric background stuff for a novel or gaming adventure.

And here’s a nice trivia bit: “Di’nisbaas” means ‘I’m in the process of driving a vehicle into something and getting stuck’ in Navajo.

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.

Do you need more than that? You do? Ok, how about is has two built-in cameras, runs a Linux flavor on-board and you can control it via iPhone software? Ok, yes, it’s $300, but it comes with games you can play through the cameras — like first person shooters where the real world is your “level”. No real guns included though. (Article includes video of the quadrocopter in action.)

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:

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.

Danny Elfman & Tim Burton Music Box
Do I need to say more? Ok, it’s the 25th anniversary music box, collecting CDs from all their wonderful collaborations over the years. It’s a limited series of 1000 and it sells for $500. Perfect gift except for that last part. But it looks cool.

Dresden Codak
It’s even fun to say! Wait, I should begin at the beginning. It’s the usual thing to do, I guess. This is a webcomic that not only has really great art, but robots, esoterica built into the narrative and funny bits. Enjoy!

Oh, and a related link that I just can’t help sharing. This is 42 Essential 3rd Act Twists (by category).

The Alternate World of Marty McFly
What if Eric Stoltz had played Marty instead of Michael J Fox? Wonder no more! Actual mind-bending Eric Stoltz / Marty McFly footage!

700 Hobos
That’s it, just 700 hobos. With names and quirky illustrations. Would I make this up? Look at the URL!

Number 4!
No, not a Prisoner remake or anything. Some kind of superhero movie, maybe? Who cares, it looks cool.

Got Coal?
This is a computer that requires a handy turn of the coal shovel to operate! Mr Babbage’s Analytical Engine, not to be confused with his Difference Engine (which was little more than a calculator by comparison), is the true first computer. It’s reprogrammable, has a printer, a CPU, expandable memory and a plotter. In Babbage’s time, the Analytical Engine was never built (partly because it would be the size of a friggin’ locomotive), but all that’s about to change. Now someone is raising money to really build one. Steam Power!

Now That’s Bling
How about a phone that costs millions of dollars? I’d love for this to be some kind of super-phone that works absolutely anywhere, but no, it’s just encrusted with gems. Still, how great a job is “phone jeweler”?

This Cable Isn’t Wireless!
And other priceless quotes this Retail Hell escapee jotted down in the course of over 3 years.

Water from Water
As in, de-salination. MIT has developed a prototype for a portable, solar-powered de-salination plant capable of converting 80 gallons of water in all sorts of weather conditions. Can you say “better disaster relief”?

From the Earth to Orbit
I know, infographics are all the rage now. Well, this one is especially cool. It shows the various layers the atmosphere in scale (which means it’s TALL) and all the various phenomena that happen at each level.

Fun With Gummi Bears
What happens when you put a gummi bear (red) into a solution of potassium chlorate (with a drop of sulfuric acid)? Fun! Fun is what happens.

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.)

And Speaking of Flow Charts
Here’s one for Every RPG Ever Made. It’s pretty accurate, and funny.

Spaceport Open for Business
Really. Virgin Galactic officially opened it’s spaceport. I believe this would be the very first commercial spaceport.

Drive Your Own Spaceship
Speaking of spaceports, behold Artemis, the multi-player (Windows-based) computer game, where each person (up to 6) takes one station of a simulated starship. Another person sits back, and as the game so amusingly puts it, “tells everyone else what to do”. It’s like Star Trek on your laptop! (No, not the movie, you buffoon, like YOU driving the ship around, or firing the weapons.)

Update: apparently the interface isn’t that fantastic (usability-wise), but I’m holding out hope that future versions will be better.

You are standing in an open field, west of a white house.
Ever wanted to write your own interactive fiction? You know what I’m talking about, right? Stuff like Zork, or Planetfall, or the Lurking Horror (with real screams!), or Leather Goddesses of Phobos [cough!]. Well, it’s the Modern Age, and you no longer have to know crazy complicated programming language stuff to pull it off. You just have to know mildly complicated, word-problem style stuff. No really, it’s cool.

Watch the screencast and you’ll see what I mean. If you can write fan-fiction or a blog post, you can write yourself a game.

From Dust
Did you know that “god games” is a category of simulation game now? I didn’t. This new one allows you to control terrain in a direct and interesting way, allowing you to change the course of rivers, pull up lava and form the rock like clay. It looks spectacular.

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: