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.


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: