Geek Month in Review: February 2011

By JB Sanders

In between the snow, some links.

Mars500 Crew Reaches Mars
Ok, yeah, simulated Mars, but still.

Into Eternity
Review of a documentary film about Finland’s building of a nuclear waste repository — one designed to contain the waste and prevent entry for 100,000 years. Which is about how long that nuclear waste crap needs before it’s safe. Building a house that’ll last 300 years seems pretty tame by comparison, doesn’t it?

Snowpocalypse From Space!
Specifically the January 31st to February 2nd (2011) snow storm. Video of what the weather looked like from orbit, which is about the only place in North America you didn’t have to shovel snow.

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

Play That City!*
What would happen if you crossed SimCity and a sound synthesizer? This Flash game.

Foxy Graveyard
No, this isn’t some weird erotic thing. It’s about the oldest known graveyard (16,500 years old) which shows evidence that before dogs became domesticated, foxes were all the rage.

Behold the Power of Steam!
Look, it’s a steam-powered vehicle! Now I know you’re expecting a link with pretty Victorian illustrations and gentlemen in top-hats, but you’re wrong. This is New Steam. These guys are trying to break the steam-driven land speed record (currently 148MPH!), and the getup they’ve developed may also be something you see in a production car sometime in the future. No, really!

Older Than Stonehenge and Still Accurate
It’s called Wurdi Youang, and it’s possibly the oldest human-made astronomical structure (known). The aboriginal-built stone “circle” (it’s sort of ovoid) hasn’t been fully officially dated yet, but it looks to be around 10,000 years old.

Because it’s fun to say. Also, Pixar has built a real life zoetrope to show how animation works. It’s … wild. You’ll think it’s stop-motion animation, but nope, just a clever use of a strobe light and some awesome sculptures.

Get Your Decoder Ring
Now without waiting, box tops, the post office, or cheesy TV shows from the 60’s. It’s a website. You pick a Master Key (numbered 1 thru 10) and give them your message (up to 133 characters) and it gives you the coded output. It’s a decoder ring on the web.

Link to a Specific Part of a YouTube Video
So, you just want to show someone that scene in that movie with that guy when he does that thing? Only it’s like 18 minutes into the video? Well, worry no more! For now we have a way to add some text on the end of the URL and it goes right to that bit.

My Trilogy Kicks Your Trilogy’s Ass
And if you can’t tell what trilogy by looking at the URL, don’t bother clicking on it:

I, For One, Welcome Our New Robotic Overlords
Scientists in Britain are developing a system to allow robots to share learned information with all other robots. Let the robot apocalypse begin! (You know, as soon as they actually have robots that can use the system they haven’t finished developing yet.)

WWII’s Top Secret Rosies
The War Department employed women to calculate ballistic trajectories, both by hand and as the first programmers of the ENIAC. Instead of Rosie the Riveter, it was Rosie the Programmer. Not sure what the poster would look like.

Pothole Detector
You’re picturing some kind of specialty camera mounted under a special city vehicle, right? No. When they say “there’s an app for that”, they just aren’t whistling dixie anymore. The city of Boston has developed an app (iPhone, Android) that uses the accelerometer in your smartphone to detect when you go over a pothole. Pretty nifty.

Blood Wars!
And already, you’re thinking the wrong thing. In this case, Blood Wars refers to an art piece that takes “audience participation” to a whole new level. Kathy High (the artist) has the white blood cells from two people put into a petri dish, dyed for better visibility and then filmed in time-lapse. She then plays the video as an art piece. Who’s blood is tougher?

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 unintelligable diagrams? Yeah, well, they know how old it is now, anyway: about the 15th century. Or 100 years older than everyone thought it was.

When Britain Became an Island
Thought it always was? Nope. And it wasn’t some tectonic event millions of years ago, either. The current theory is that a massive Norwegian landslide caused a tsunami that broke the land-bridge from Europe to Britain, drowning vast plains in what is now the North Sea. Kind of makes you wonder what lost cities lie beneath the waves, huh?

Buy a Tube Station!
There’s an abandoned tube station for sale in London. How awesome would that be? “Why yes, we do have our own tube stop.”

Interview with Mike Mignola
Yes, you know who that is. He created a few little comics, you know, like Hellboy (I hear it was also turned into a movie). The interview is particularly odd/interesting because it’s conducted by an architecture geek.

Immortal Hobbits!
Ok, first, that’s a horrible title. And second, they’re not immortal, just “completely free of normal age-related diseases”. But they are short. Plenty of technical bio-medical stuff in the article, too, just for you biology geeks.

Physicists have built a light-absorbing laser. Make your brain hurt? Try reading the article.

Lost Stories of the Odyssey
Premise of this book is tales that got left out of Odyssey when Homer wrote it down. It’s widely believed to be the case that Homer didn’t create the stories he wrote out of whole cloth — they had been circulating in some form or another orally in the Ancient World for centuries before his time. In this case, he’s more like the Brothers Grimm than an originator, although much like the Grimms, he’s taken his place among the pantheon of literary foundation works of Western Civilization. Anyway, here’s an interview with the book author. As with all BLDBLOG articles, there is a heavy focus on architecture, but plenty of other weirdness to delight the mind.

Flight of the Bumblebees on Bottles
Because if you have enough time and a talent for music, this is what results.

Time-lapsed Starry Skies Rule
Tip of the hat to the Bad Astronomer for this exceptional time-lapse movie of the starry Chilean sky. Be sure to set the resolution to 720p, put it full screen and have some appropriately chill-inducing music on (no sound for the movie clip).

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”. All that stuff I just mentioned? That’s the stuff that’s already there right now. With a video tour.

Not another quantum computing post. Really! It’s about snap-together robotics, where each cube imparts a certain behavior or ability. Link them together to form auto-driving robots, or ones that sense distance and graph it for you. Very cool. Be sure to watch the video.

The Brigadier Has Passed Away**
The actor who played Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart (in Dr Who) passed away in February. He was 81. The man played his iconic character in 107 episodes of the series. 107!

How Far Away is the Moon?
Ever wonder how far away the moon is from the Earth? No? I see you astronomers in the audience going “250,000 miles or so, on average”. Yeah, whatever. Here’s a great YouTube video showing in relative scale the distances involved. It’s good.

* I steal a lot of links from Alex, and this is the credit he gets.
** I got this from Rebecca.

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: