Geek Month in Review: December 2011

Deck the geek-halls…

The Oldest Businesses Still in Business
So there are two hotels in Japan, founded twelve years apart. The oldest is Nisiyama Onsen Keiunkan, founded in (get this) 705 CE. Seriously. It’s had 52 operators since it was founded.

More interesting to me was the one founded just twelve years later: Hoshi Ryokan. This place has been run by the same family, for 46 generations. Let that sink in a moment. Forty-six generations.

Robot Hummingbirds
They fly (more or less) just like real hummingbirds — no propellers, just wings. They’ve been developed for DARPA for surveillance work.

Ice Hotel — Now with Tron Suite
So if you’re an uber-fan of the movie(s) Tron, here’s a great place to take a vacation: the TRON suite, in an ice-hotel. Featuring lights embedded in the ice.

Survive the Apocolypse Home for Sale
Worried about zombies? Don’t be, with this modest ranch-style home built over a converted missile silo and bunker. Shotguns sold separately.

Sometimes Writing Letters Works
So this guy sent a bunch of published authors and critics a survey, asking them about their use of symbolism in their work, or perceived symbols in the work of others. Dry, right? Well, the guy sent the survey to people like Fritz Leiber, Lloyd Biggle Jr., Judith Merril, A. J. Budrys, Jack Kerouac, Ayn Rand, Ralph Ellison, Ray Bradbury, John Updike, Saul Bellow, and Norman Mailer. Why did he do it? Mostly to settle an argument he was having with his high school English teacher — the guy in question (Bruce McAllister) was 16 at the time. Click on the article for the fascinating replies. More than half the people he mailed wrote back.

Visualization of a Magnetic Storm
Slap on your space boots, we’re going some place super-geeky. Scientists created a visualization of a magnetic storm interacting with the upper atmosphere. As Phil Plait said it, anyone else reminded of Forbidden Planet? Full screen it for best effect.

Methane Fountains
There’s a term I didn’t expect to hear about someplace on Earth. You’d think that’d be about some icey moon orbiting Jupiter or something. But no, apparently there are plumes of methane gas bubbling up from the Arctic ocean. Lovely!

Newton’s Marked-Up Copy
Sometimes a marked-up book can be worth more than a pristine one. Like in the case of Isaac Newton’s own first-printing copy of Principa Mathematica, where he made notes about the corrections he wanted to make for the second printing. See the full digitized copy.

Hidden Pools
Because every house should have one of these. Seriously, watch the video. It’s a Bond villain’s swimming pool.

Kinda Big
A consortium of 40 universities and institutes will embark on a project to build the second largest human-built structure in the world (after the Great Wall of China). What’s it do? Detect neutrinos. Yeah, I know, not very exciting. But it does cool science things. The giant detector will be a stand of vertically-tethered towers, with highly sensitive optical receptors at even intervals along it’s length. Then these things will be tied to the sea floor in the Mediterranean.

In case you have trouble visualizing what this thing will look like, here’s the money shot:

Carved Books
You won’t believe how cool these look until you see the pictures. Yes, sculptures made from books.

20 Best Visualizations of 2011
I know, lists are cheap and charts are the worst. Well, consider this the best of the worst. Actually, they’re better than that sounds. These are some cool ways of visualizing information, sometimes very complex information (like an overview of the US military or every country that has every participated in the Space Race and what they did).

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: