posted aug 22nd 2007 11:05pm by will o'brien
filed under: misc hacks
Wednesday, August 29, 2007
Wednesday, August 08, 2007
SCIENCE IN THE NEWS
from Sigma Xi, The Scientific Research Society (these guys are good)
British Outbreak May Be Linked to Human Action
(a story on the latest H&M disease outbreak being caused directly by
Team Finds Largest Exoplanet Yet
'Baby Einstein': A Bright Idea?
(an article that finds that kids who watch this stuff have lower
vocabularies than kids who don't.... another US generation down the
G Whiz! Craft Identifies Source of Faint Saturnian Ring
Cooking Up More Uses for the Leftovers of Biofuel Production
Yangtze River Dolphin Driven to Extinction
(first major vertebrate killed off in 50 years, all due to human
Scientists, Executive Clash Over Quake
(did the quake cause the cave-in, or the other way around? Either
way, people died due to risky mining practices.... all for coal)
Breast Implants Linked to Suicide Risk
(again, no causality, but bad either way)
Coral Reefs Vanishing Faster Than Rain Forests
(likely human caused.... )
Ancient Ape Was an Early Swinger
So apparently you have to be in outer space, fighting big oil or an
ape from the past to get the cool factor. 6 to 4 on the side of oh-
Not what I would call heartening news.... then again, we did it to
ourselves AND at least this will sell science publications (not).
Tuesday, August 07, 2007
Caregivers unite at Care.com
"Arek combines a wireless router, NAS, and a USB Bit Whacker to take control of his sprinkler system. Reflash the router and NAS with linux, add some PHP and USB controlled phototriacs to the sprinkler controller and control it all from the comfort of your PC. I wanted to have a way of controlling both systems from my PC. The idea was to create something that would allow me to remotely turn on and off the sprinklers for each zone without going down to the basement to set it up on the Hunter controller or without going down to the garage to open the faucet. I have a wireless access point set up in the house for my wife's laptop and this is what I also used in this project. The project involved hardware, software and a little bit of plumbing work. Below I will describe what I did to get this all working."
* colored drawings of your design along with an explanation, if needed
* description of where you plan to install your creation and how you plan on using it
* the winning design is solely up to John's artistic discretion
* final design may be modified slightly at John's discretion, with the winner's permission
* He'll complete your design within 4-5 weeks
* the base will be the raw metal (steel) RedPost/Kit frame
* you can integrate any (almost) materials into the design: plastic, wood, bolts/screws, metal (welding certain metals to other metals isn't possible, for example, steel and aluminum)
* John will favor designs that fit best with his artistic style (check out his website/artists statement for more info), simplicity - no more than 3 paint colors
* the frame is 18-1/8″ wide x 15-1/4″ high x 2-5/8″ deep with a 1-3/4″ border around the screen (PDF diagram)"
Thursday, August 02, 2007
Impossible Illustration Brought to Life
What happens when you try to take an 2D illustration of an impossible 3D construction and turn it into a real-world sculpture? We figured that it would create a dangerous rift in the space time continuum bringing about an endless solar winter that would engulf our planet in darkness. Luckily in the case of this unusual Escher Waterfall Sculpture none of that occurred.
Instead we discovered that by closing one eye, and viewing this sculpture from just the right angle we could bring the amazing work of M.C. Escher to life. Of course a casual glance with binocular vision destroys the entire illusion... but hey it's still a very cool little sculpture that really captures the detail of the original Waterfall woodcut.
Wednesday, August 01, 2007
So, if your cell phone has no other numbers stored in its memory, make sure it has these numbers:
- Local Fire Department - Because you may need them and it may not be enough of an emergency to call 911. Very good for those pesky cat-stuck-in-tree situations
- Local Police Department or Law Enforcement - Same reason as above.
- Nearby Hospital(s) - These are great when a loved one isn't home hours after they said they'd be. A lot easier to have them preloaded into your phone instead of sifting frantically through the yellow pages!
- ICE (In Case of Emergency) - If you're ever in an accident and are incapacitated or killed, the authorities who find you will likely look for this entry in your cell phone numbers (and call it). A spouse or relative capable of making decisions on your behalf would be best here.
- Taxi Company Dispatch - Just in case you find yourself stuck on the side of the road (or maybe you've had a few drinks). This is especially helpful in the latter situation since you won't have to sheepishly ask the bartender to call you a cab.
- Water and Power Department - In case your water or power ever get shut off and you'd like to know why (especially if it's the power and your regular phones don't work).
- Doctor and/or Pediatrician - Another one for you parents. When little Junior suddenly breaks out in hives and you'd like to speak to somebody (but don't want to spend the cheddar on the emergency room just yet), this is another one that's good to have. Also, these can be very difficult to locate in a time of stress, so record it next time you have the chance.
- Poison Control - So, you think you little Timmy might've just ingested two big mouthfuls of Pine-Sol? Not sure if you should take him to the hospital or use his sweat to clean the floor? These people generally answer very quickly and are very helpful - a must for the parents.
- Animal Control - This isn't just for mountain lions and wild bore who show up on your back stoop. Maybe your neighbor's dog's brain made a wrong turn at Albuquerque and now he thinks little Maddy is a kabob of some sort. You'll obviously want the tranquilizer-toting folks in coats to come down and diffuse the situation, pronto.
- Coworker or Boss - Because you don't want to call the company switchboard to tell them you ran out of gas on the Interstate and managed to wet your pants in the process. Shoot for a direct line or cell phone.
- Your Next-Door Neighbor - Hear about a house fire on the news? Give old Ted next door a ring and have him poke his head out to make sure your house is still standing (and offer to return the favor).
- Tow Truck Company - Preferably one that will drive long distances if need be. Other than that, this one needs no explanation.
- Car Insurance Carrier/Broker - The first people you should call if you're in an accident (unless somebody is hurt, then you call them second). They'll tell you want to write down and if you need the police. Another number you don't want to go fishing through your Costanza Wallet for if you can help it.
- Pizza/Chinese/All-Night Take-out Food - Because once you find a good place that's open late, that's a number you keep and call often.
The Viewtainer is an inexpensive, flexible plastic tube with a rubbery cap at both ends. Originally, they were intended to hold small parts (screws, nuts, bolts, etc.). On one end the rubber cap has a slash in it, so when you squeeze the tube, you can dump the parts out. Although these Viewtainers may work well for storing parts, I've found that one of the larger Viewtainers, which is about 8" x 3", is an awesome mini-toolkit container that's easy to access and stash. It's amazing how many different useful (and in some cases, full-size) tools, you can fit into such a tiny container: screwdrivers, sockets, specialty bits, pliers, mini-saws, tire irons, flashlights, and on. I keep one in my car, one in my bike bag, and one in my study on the second floor so I don't have to run out to the garage every time I need a screwdriver. -- Sam Mapadatha Viewtainer $4 (8" x 2.75") Available from and manufactured by Viewtainer
And in it I would include:
One of these:
The beauty of these tools is they feel like a fetish item in your hand and, due to their size, you can always have them with you. They're handmade by Peter Atwood and have incredible strength because he uses a specialty stainless steel made via a powder metallurgy process ("The powder is compressed under significant force to a homogenous, solid state and the steel is rolled to required stock size. Molecules are uniform, inclusions of impurities are insignificant"). Both of my EDC knives -- a Swiss Army Cybertool and a SOG Multi Tool -- have slightly bent tips on the main blades because I tried to open or pry something I shouldn't have. That will never happen with the Mini Son of Prything I carry in my pocket or my Prybaby. The trend in tools is to include more and more features. An Atwood piece - and there are a variety of them worth checking out -- is generally designed to do a couple of things really well, and it does: open a package, pull a nail, cut some tape, strip a wire, etc. There are obviously other discovered tasks -- like propping up a new power supply in my computer while I get a couple of screws in -- but it's calling on that intended purpose that is most gratifying. -- Greg Needham Atwood Mini Tools $35+ Available from Atwood Knife & Tools
And one of these:
I have two friends who've been carrying these slim, multi-tools for a few years now and swear by them. I've only used the mini-screwdriver and bottle opener, but those functions alone seem worth it. It's stainless steel and will add some weight to your load, but no more than the average metal beverage pop-top. Why junk up your keychain when you can slip another "card" into your wallet? Added bonus: can opener, straight edge, knife edge, et al. -- Steven Leckart
And next to that would be one of these:
This disposable fiberboard container folds flat and has a bladder that can hold a gallon of gas (about 14" by 6" by 2"). I've yet to have a car emergency, but I've used it for a prosaic fill up on a lawn mower. No leaks, easy to carry and cheap to replace. Keeping one around is handy and comforting, and it's way better than the bulky plastic ones that have bounced around in the back of my car for years. -- Vincent Gas-O-Haul $9 Available from Genuine Hot Rod
ANd an empty one of these:
These bottles are a great solution for anyone looking to get away from plastic. In the last few years, studies have suggested that using plastic bottles may be harmful to your health. For instance, plastic bottles made of polycarbonate (#7 recycle code) contain a substance called bisphenol-A (BPA), which acts as an endocrine disrupter that mimics estrogen and has been linked to aneuploidy, adipogenesis, and other scary problems with funny names. Found in plastics with recycle codes 1-5, phthalates (the chemical that softens plastic) can be carcinogenic and act as endocrine disrupters, too. Even water standing at room temperature in a plastic bottle can leach phthalates from a bottle, not to mention a bottle that goes through temperature changes throughout a day. Granted there's been great debate over all these studies and whether the levels of leached phthalates in the average plastic bottle are really high enough to merit health concerns. Either way, just think about the toxic byproducts of plastic production: dioxin (a carcinogen) and plastic waste. Enormous amounts of plastic waste from all those bottles that aren't recycled create equally enormous vortexes of plastic garbage in various oceans, where they wreak havoc on marine life. Moving away from plastic is healthier for the planet. The Sigg bottles are just a tad heavier than their plastic counterparts. The water-based, polymer coating is taste-neutral and acid-resistant (think fruit juices), and guaranteed for the life of the bottle (5 years according to the manufacturer). They come in a variety of eye-catching designs and sizes. You can also purchase a variety of caps (i.e. the sport top) that increase the utility of the bottle for your specific needs. -- Ari Cohn Sigg Aluminum Water Bottles $16 Available from Amazon (1 liter, in blue)
And this seems very useful:
Stanley Tripod Flashlight Portable, hands-free LED lighting
I replaced my D battery Mag-Light with this small LED light that only needs AA batteries. I get whiter light, longer life, and more intensity. Tripod lights have always been great tools (I work at Amazon, so I see a lot of gear). The problem with the traditional ones is they get very hot, use lot of battery power, and burn out fast. Stanley's tripod light - the first LED version - takes all the advantages of LED and combines it with the convenience of a fold up stand.
I have already used it for a variety of household projects since I bought it last year. The best use has been to install dimmers. Usually I'd have to do this during the day or ask my wife to hold the flashlight. With the tripod light, I can now do it by myself at any time. -- Jason Goldberger Stanley Tripod Flashlight $24 Available from Amazon Manufactured by Stanley
Meant primarily for chidren's rooms, the Airplane light has a nice satin silver and frosted glass look to it. Not that you adults can't have one also, I mean we all deserve a little bit of fun in our lives. But single people may have some trouble with dates if this were a primary feature in the living room, and I can't believe most spouses would be any more interested. The choice is still yours.
Product Page (£74.00, about $150)
Make Your Own Wooden Automaton
No glue, no tools, and no microprocessors are required to assemble your own simple robot using The Designing Automata Kit, available in the west thanks to the MAKE Store. See it as a complex mechanical puzzle, perhaps, where you get to win every time!
Crafted from Thai rubberwood by the Cabaret Mechanical Theatre in London, the set is $60.
Product Page [Make]
Teq AV/IT's WID110 makes any display wireless
Twinkling coffee table
There's been fun buzz around Microsoft's $10K Surface table, but if you're truly in the market for interactive furniture there are other less expensive (though still expensive) pieces out there for you to consider. Among them is this interactive LED table created in partnership between Evilmadscientist.com and Becausewecan.org.
LEDs inside the table are only activated by motion (setting a glass on the table, reaching for something, or the swishing of the cat's tail). Whatever the action, areas of this table light up when something moves over the top of it. Without motion the lights quiet to a slight enchanting twinkle.
When fully active, the entire pool of 480 super-bright white LEDs uses a total of 35 watts, which is less energy than a single common household light bulb. Using a network of 32 active and passive near-infrared optical sensors, it detects motion above the table and changes in ambient light. Made of fully analog circuits, the light patterns move outwards from your motion, glowing stronger the closer the movement is. It works in full sunlight or total darkness.
The table is made of 100% sustainable wood and water-based finishes, is 62" long by 31" wide by 18" high, and comes with either a glass or plastic top. Well-crafted wood lattice underneath, spanning the side waves, forms a sturdy shelf for storage.
Price: $2,800 at Becausewecan.org
We have all seen the Popsicle stick bridges that can hold some heavy weights. This cardboard tube bridge takes bridge building to the next level!
"Weighing 7.5 tonnes, the bridge is made from 281 cardboard tubes, each 11.5 centimetres (four inches) across and 11.9 millimetres thick. The steps are recycled paper and plastic and the foundations wooden boxes packed with sand. Balloons filled with 1.5 tonnes of water were used to test its resistance, said Ban's assistant Marc Ferrand. "
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All-Electric Mini Cooper Ready for Consumer Market
Hybrid Technologies, known for their Smart Car and sponsoring UC Berkeley's sophisticated Cal Sol Project, announced today that their all-electric, Lithium-Ion powered BMW AG Mini Cooper has moved into production. The car is reported to have a range of 120+ miles on a single charge, speeds up to 80 miles per hour, and acceleration of 0-60 in 6.0 seconds. According to the press release, "The Mini Cooper Frame is produced by Mini Cooper in Oxford England, and the conversion to all-lithium currently takes place in North Carolina at Hybrid's Mooresville plant."
I love announcements like this. I think fun and sexy cars like the Mini and the Tesla are just what the auto industry needs to get people excited about the potential of electric cars. No word about the cost, though. Hopefully it will be affordable...
The Mini is incredibly fun to drive as it is...I can only imagine what an electric engine will do for its performance. You can currently rent a non-electric one from ZipCar, it will be interesting to see if car sharing companies hop on this as a great way to introduce people to these cars.
On a related note, check out Jay Leno's review of the Tesla.
The MINI family is getting a new big brother. The MINI Clubman ($TBA) retains the trademark styling and agile handling, but gains new proportions, split-rear doors and a passenger-side suicide door. The 5-door Clubman has 9.45 more inches of body length and a wheelbase that's extended by 3.15 inches, offering more leg and storage room. The Clubman will go on sale in the U.S. early next year with two models — the MINI Cooper Clubman (120-hp, 1.6-litre 4-cylinder) and the MINI Cooper S Clubman (175-hp, 1.6-litre 4-cylinder with twin-scroll turbocharger).