Geek Month in Review: November 2011

By JB Sanders

Some interesting reading as the snow falls…

Stars over Crater Lake
Another amazing time-lapse video of the star-scape over Crater Lake. Watch for the vault of the heavens view reflected in the smooth surface of the lake about 2/3 of the way into the video. And for the photography geeks out there, details on equipment used at the end of the video.

They Might Be Giants Slashdot Interview
There’s a lot of Geek in this link: pre-eminent indie-rockers They Might Be Giants, Slashdot and Science! For those who might need a reminder, They Might Be Giants are an odd-ball rock band from way back in the 80’s who gave us such songs as “Istanbul (not Constantinople)”, “Particle Man”, “Birdhouse in Your Soul”, and “Boss of Me” (better known as the theme song of the TV show “Malcom in the Middle”). So why are they Geeky (capital G)? Because these guys are HUGE geeks. They used USENET groups in 1992 to send notices to their fans about upcoming gigs. They created Dial-a-Song, basically an answering machine people could call to listen to their new music (and some fake ads). They created one of the first artist-owned online music stores, selling MP3s directly to fans before most record companies knew about this Internet thing. I could go on.

This is a Good Sign
More and more kids are getting into the Maker Movement — which is basically Mad Scientist Training Camp, as far as I can see. There are more kids getting into creating things, buying circuit boards and soldering them together, for instance, or making their own marshmallow cannons. Great trend!

Electric-powered Multi-copter Manned Flight
Some German scientists/hobbyists built and flew the first manned multi-copter. What’s a multi-copter, you say? It’s a vehicle that produces lift (and flight) via multiple helicopter-like rotors. It’s like a hovercraft that flies. Watch the video to see what I mean. Interestingly, this is all done via electric motors. The folks behind it estimate that a one hour flight on the final device would cost about 6 euros of electricity to run.

Extreme Light Infrastructure
Or ELI for short! Scientists want to build a laser to “rip a hole in space-time”. Yeah, it’s another start to a scifi movie. To do this, they want to concentrate 10 lasers wielding 200 petawatts of power into one spot for a trillionth of a second. Fun!

Fake Mars Mission Returns from Fake Mars
Remember that Fake Mars Mission I mentioned a few Geek Reviews ago? Where they finally reached Fake Mars? No? Here’s the link:

Well, the Fake Mars crew is back from Fake Mars. It appears to have been a great success. No murders, for instance. When you consider that 6 guys just spent 520 days in the same space as a bus, stabbing a guy for taking the last pudding cup doesn’t seem that out there. The other great success was that they didn’t leave their fake spacecraft, even though they could at any time — so it’s at least more successful than the Bio-Dome (1 or 2).

288,000 Jelly Beans, One Singer and a Stop-Motion Camera
How to make a music video that’s both simple and amazingly artful. I never imagined that jelly beans could also do surreal sound-scapes, too. The link includes the video, and a behind-the-scenes look at how it was all done. One shocking factoid from the behind-the-scenes video: no green screen was used. The singer lay on top of a glass case over the jelly beans to make the video. Yeah.

3D Volumetric Projection
This is the very early steps towards those cool scifi holograms we’ve seen for 40 years in the theater — only for real! Right now they’re limited to just 10 rotational voxels, but the prof working on it hopes to use over 100 projectors (small ones, I’m guessing) to provide real, crisp resolution.

Global Village Construction Set
This group has created and posted the plans for 50 different industrial machines that they consider crucial for a “small civilization with modern comforts”. It includes a 3D printer, and the ability to build a very modern village.

Video Time Machine
Pick a year, and watch what comes up on the screen. It’s a giant archive of the video culture, organized by year, and randomized for your amusement. Sports clips, commercials, video games, news casts, movies, and music.

It’s a Polaroid! Sort-of
So there’s this camera that gives you an immediate print of what you photographed? Sound familiar? Like 1948 all over again? Well, it’s not. The same company that brought you the instant film camera now is coming out with a digital camera (14MP) that’s tied to an instant printer in the same unit. I’m not sure if this is a genius move or using new technology to do something old-fashioned.

Darwin and Human Emotions
Did you know that Darwin conducted an experiment (over 150 years ago) to see whether the facial expressions of human emotions were recognized or used the same regardless of cultural background. He did! They do! And now there’s an international experiment being conducted to further study this effect, only involving as many people as can get to the online website and take the test.

An Airship That Goes Anywhere
I’m sure I’ve posted about this before, but this is the first real video of a working prototype I’ve seen. This company makes what’s called a Hybrid Airship — the hybrid part is because it’s a little like a plane, a helicopter and a regular (helium-filled, thank you) airship. It can take off and land without the need of a runway (or even land, if you’ve got the water-gear on). It can stay aloft for up to 3 weeks at a time (yes WEEKS), and the full version will be 1000 feet long and be able to carry over 1000 tons. I mean, wow! Sure, you’ve heard that all before. How serious is this? The US military has bought a few.

Acoustic Ruler Using iPhone
This is kind of wild. This guy made an iPhone app that measures distance just using acoustics. It has two modes: two phones or 1 (w/headphones). You put one iPhone where you want to measure to, and the first phone where you want to measure from, they play some tones and calculate the difference. Or the same using the headphones.

Amazing Fly-over of Earth
From the International Space Station. For best results, put on HD, full-screen it, and turn up the volume on the trippy musical score.

Raise the Ice Shields!
The capital city of Mongolia, Ulan Bator, is planning on creating artificial glaciers that will very slowly melt over the course of the summer to help cool the city. Read about how they plan on doing that:

Ghost Mountains Explained
And before you get up on your high-horse about silly paranormal photos and PhotoShop, hush. These are mountains in Antarctica, buried under 4 km of ice. Scientists have finally figured out how mountains exist where everyone thought it was just a barren flat wasteland of ice. The article includes a link to an animated explanation.

New Maps of the Moon
Higher resolution topographic maps of the moon are now available, including false-color images showing detail up to 100 meters.

Giant Robot Snake
Designers have created a giant robot snake 35 feet long (because THAT was necessary), and even better, it’s based on a 50-foot long prehistoric serpent. Watch the video so you can see the very realistic movement of the giant robot snake, and also the guy in the spider-leg car (no, I’m not kidding).

Computer Legends First Computers
Speaking of giants, this article asks several giants of the computer age about their first computer experiences. See what Vint Cerf, William Gibson and others remember.

Building the World’s Largest Tesla Coils
Or how to do man-made lightning. By “world’s largest”, they mean tesla coils 10 stories tall, and 260 feet apart. Yes, there is a video.

The 2,100-Year-Old Wrist Watch
Remember the Antikythera mechanism? So last century, right? Well how about this wrist-watch version? Watchmaker’s Hublot have put together a concept piece that replicates the Antikythera’s inner workings in miniature, with a handy time-keeping circuit to show you the time, too. It can accurately show the motions of the 5 planetary objects the Greeks knew about 2200 years ago and predict eclipses. Full video from the watchmaker’s detailing their work.

Worlds lightest material
Remember aerogel? The stuff that’s super-light and non-conductive? Weighs almost nothing? So last century.

They’re Just Cake Sprinkles
Ever wonder how many cake sprinkles you’d need to make a photo-realistic mosaic? About 221,184.

Flying Robots Build Tower
I know, it sounds soooo 2236, but really, it’s happening today.

Earthscraper Concept Taking Off
Yes, that’s “earth scraper” as opposed to skyscraper. The idea is to build down (which has happened before). In this case, the idea is to build down BIG. Like arcology big.

Not sure what an arcology is? Try this:

Miniatur Wunderland
Think you have a nifty model train set? Think you’ve seen some great miniature setups? Think again. Let’s try 12,000 meters of track (yes, that’s 12 km), 200,000 human figurines or 300,000 lights.

Those pesky time travelers, always trying “fix” things. This guy was caught outside the Large Hadron Collider and admitted to sabotage, claiming to be from the future and intent on stopping it from discovering things and destroying the world.

The priceless quote from the article? “Mr Cole was taken to a secure mental health facility in Geneva but later disappeared from his cell. Police are baffled, but not that bothered.”

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: