Here's a picture of the now-famous improvised bolt cleaner that astronauts on the ISS created out of a toothbrush to use during a recent spacewalk. ABC's Gina Sunseri describes the hack:
A $100 billion space station saved by a simple $3 toothbrush? It was the brainstorm of astronauts Sunita Williams and Akihido Hoshide and NASA engineers on the ground: a tool to clean a bolt that gave them so much trouble during a marathon 8-hour spacewalk last week.
They were trying to replace an electrical switching unit, but on Thursday they couldn't bolt it to the outside of the station.
What to do if there is no hardware store in the neighborhood and the next supply ship is months away? Build it yourself -- so they attached a simple toothbrush to a metal pole and voila! They were able to clean out the bolt's socket today and finish the job. Shades of Apollo 13 -- when engineers threw parts on a table and brainstormed a solution, which saved the crew.
The latest edition of Juice Rap News, "Big Brother is WWWatching You," is a catchy little rap ditty about how the Internet is being remade as a total information awareness panopticon:
September 2012 rocks around with some crucial developments in the ongoing struggle over the future of the internet. Will it remain the one open frequency where humanity can bypass filters and barriers; or become the greatest spying machine ever imagined? The future is being decided as we type. Across Oceania, States have been erecting and installing measures to legalise the watching, tracking and storage of data of party-members and proles alike. If such plans materialize, will this place ever be the same? And what will be the evolutionary consequences for our human journey? Join our plucky host Robert Foster as he conducts an incisive analysis of the situation at hand. Joining him are newly appointed Thought Police General at the Pentopticon, Darth O'Brien Baxter, and a surprisingly lucid Terence Winston Moonseed. Once again, in the midst of this Grand Human Experiment, we are forced to ask tough questions about our future. Will it involve a free internet which will continue to revolutionise the way the world communicates with itself? Or is our picture of the future a Boot stamping on this Human InterFace forever?
I like the guest appearance from George TORwell.
Geoff from BLDGBLOG sez,
I thought I'd send a link to a new and very long post I just put up, describing a visit last month to Nottingham, England, where we explored nearly a dozen artificial cave systems, carved directly from the sandstone, with archaeologist David Strange-Walker.
Nottingham, as few people seem to know, is a bit like a sandstone Cappadocia, in the sense that there are at least 450 caves--and quite possibly more than a thousand--that have been cut into the earth, serving as everything from malting kilns to private basements, from jails to "gentlemen's lounges" for underground sessions of cigar-smoking.
We spent literally all day down there, moving from one cave system to another, from pubs to graveyards, and we saw barely a fraction of what's actually under the city. The post includes some animations, tons of photos, and some laser scans produced by David's organization, the Nottingham Caves Survey. At the very least, their work is well worth checking out, as many of the scans (and the resulting videos) are incredible.
Last month I asked my friends to write about books they loved (you can read all the essays here). This month, I invited them to write about their favorite graphic novels, and they selected some excellent titles. I hope you enjoy them! (Read all the Great Graphic Novel essays here.) -- Mark
It’s A Good Life, If You Don’t Weaken, by Seth
An old fashioned looking guy (wearing a vintage overcoat, a hat and a pair of round eyeglasses) weaves his way through the snow to a second-hand bookshop in Ontario. He is obsessed with comic books, gag cartoons and newspaper strips of the past. Everything he does reminds him of situations and characters conjured up by Charles Schultz, Dr. Seuss, Hergé and other classic cartoonists. Fantasy merges with reality. The past merges with the present. Art merges with life. This artist can’t help himself. He collects the good old stuff.
It’s A Good Life, If You Don’t Weaken by Seth (a.k.a. Gregory Gallant) is dedicated to his mom Violet who repeated those words often. She didn’t invent the phrase; it has been around for a while. In fact, artist Gene Byrnes drew a cartoon called It's a Great Life If You Don't Weaken from 1915 to 1919 for the New York Evening Telegram and the phrase was a rallying cry for American soldiers during the first World War.
The title of the book has an air of melancholy about it, as does the main character’s habit of mulling over things. He thinks too much. Seth drew himself as the protagonist and we are privy to his thoughts (this book is written in the first person). Clearly nostalgic for the comfortable little things of his childhood, he doesn’t like change. Change depresses him. He likes the worn-down look of old things. He is annoyed by change and he is annoyed by people. He lets us know exactly how he feels. Seth’s memories of childhood moments are “sealed in amber” like his mom’s house and feel “safe” to him like the cardboard boxes he used to crawl in as a kid.
As I sit there reading this book (on my front porch under the butternut tree), I flash back to huge stacks of dog-eared Archie and Little Lulu comics. I see myself rocking back and forth on my grandmother’s porch swing, sucking on hard candies and reading those comics. Every so often, I would squint outside at my grandfather, working in his sunny rose garden. Life was good. I never imagined that the scene would ever change or that the house would one day be sold. Golden memories “sealed in amber,” as Seth would say.
Read the rest
The IETF has finished its standardization effort for Opus, a new free/open audio codec that reportedly outperforms all other codecs on all axes. The codec was jointly created by IETF, Mozilla, Microsoft (through Skype), Xiph.Org (maintainers of Ogg), Octasic, Broadcom, and Google and Mozilla promises that a comparable video codec will come next.
One of the pernicious areas for free codecs is patents. The Opus FAQ says, "Opus is also covered by some patents, for which royalty-free usage rights are granted, under conditions that the authors believe are compatible with most (all?) open source licenses, including the GPL (v2 and v3)."
Unlike previous audio codecs, which have typically focused on a narrow set of applications (either voice or music, in a narrow range of bitrates, for either real-time or storage applications), Opus is highly flexible. It can adaptively switch among:
* Bitrates from 6 kb/s to 512 kb/s
* Voice and music
* Mono and stereo
* Narrowband (8 kHz) to Fullband (48 kHz)
* Frame sizes from 2.5 ms to 60 ms
Most importantly, it can adapt seamlessly within these operating points. Doing all of this with proprietary codecs would require at least six different codecs. Opus replaces all of them, with better quality.
On sale and awesome from the good folks at Skepchick, and just in time for the school year: Atomic Dogma Disruptor tees, perfect for those PTA meetings over school prayer!
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Alex Churchill has posted a way to implement a Turing complete computer within a game of Magic: The Gathering ("Turing complete" is a way of classifying a calculating engine that is capable of general-purpose computation). The profound and interesting thing about the recurrence of Turing completeness in many unexpected places -- such as page-layout descriptive engines -- is that it suggests that there's something foundational about the ability to do general computation. It also suggests that attempts to limit general computation will be complicated by the continued discovery of new potential computing engines. That is, even if you lock down all the PCs so that they only play restricted music formats and not Ogg, if you allow a sufficiently speedy and scriptable Magic: The Gathering program to exist, someone may implement the Ogg player using collectible card games.
A series of Ally tokens controlled by Alex represent the tape to the right of the current head: the creature one step to the right of the head is 1 toughness away from dying, the next one over is 2 toughness from dying, etc. A similar chain of Zombie tokens, also controlled by Alex, represent the tape to the left. The colour of each token represents the contents of that space on the tape.
The operation "move one step to the left" is represented in this machine by creating a new Ally token, growing all Allies by 1, and shrinking all Zombies by one. The details are as follows:
When the machine creates a new 2/2 Ally token under Alex's control, four things trigger: Bob's Noxious Ghoul, Cathy's Aether Flash, Denzil's Carnival of Souls, and Alex's Kazuul Warlord. They go on the stack in that order, because it's Bob's turn; so they resolve in reverse order. The Kazuul Warlord adds +1/+1 counters to all Alex's Allies, leaving them one step further away from dying, including making the new one 3/3. Then Carnival of Souls gives Denzil a white mana thanks to False Dawn (he doesn't lose life because of his Platinum Emperion). Then Aether Flash deals 2 damage to the new token, leaving it 1 toughness from dying as desired. And then the Noxious Ghoul, which has been hacked with Artificial Evolution, gives all non-Allies -1/-1, which kills the smallest Zombie. Depending on whether the smallest Zombie was red, green or blue, a different event will trigger. The machine has moved one step to the left.
If the new token had been a Zombie rather than an Ally, a different Kazuul Warlord and a different Noxious Ghoul would have triggered, as well as the same Aether Flash. So the same would have happened except it would be all the Zombies that got +1/+1 and all the Allies that got -1/-1. This would effectively take us one step to the right.
This is the Pygmy Three-toed Sloth that lives on a few islands off Panama. Only a few hundred of these beautiful beasties are alive today. Like the Sumatran rhinoceros, Tonkin Snub-nosed Monkey, and Attenborough's Pitcher Plant, the Pygmy Three-toed Sloth is one of the 100 most critically-endangered species, according to a new report from the Zoological Society of London and the International Union for Conservation of Nature. At this week's IUCN World Conservation Congress in Jeju, South Korea, the two organizations published a book and e-book titled "Priceless or Worthless" that profiles these species. "The 100 most threatened species. Are they priceless or worthless?"
From the Smithsonian, a photograph marking the Sept. 13, 1857, birthday of Milton S. Hershey, American confectioner, philanthropist and founder of the Hershey Chocolate Company. The company was founded by Hershey in 1894, and produced the first Hershey chocolate bar in 1900.
The U.S. Army’s requirements were quite specific. For troops engaged in a global war, they needed a ration bar that weighed about four ounces, would not melt at high temperatures, was high in food energy value, and did not taste so good that soldiers would be tempted to eat it except in an emergency. This last objective in particular was certainly a new one for the Hershey Chocolate Corporation. Nevertheless, its chocolate technologists came up with something that passed all tests. Named “Field Ration D,” it was so successful that by the end of 1945, approximately 24 million bars were being produced every week. More successful still was HERSHEY’S Tropical Chocolate Bar, a heat resistant bar with an improved flavor developed in 1943. Hershey chocolate bars were a standard part of a soldier's C-rations.
Emergency chocolate, indeed! Part of my C-rations whenever life presents challenges.
Tracy King sends us an "animated history of genetics from Nature to celebrate the release of ENCODE. Narrated by Tim Minchin and animated by the team who made Storm. Written by Adam Rutherford (Nature), Andrew Ellard (Red Dwarf, IT Crowd) and Tracy King (TAM London).
Ever since a monk called Mendel started breeding pea plants we've been learning about our genomes. In 1953, Watson, Crick and Franklin described the structure of the molecule that makes up our genomes: the DNA double helix. Then, in 2001, scientists wrote down the entire 3-billion letter code contained in the average human genome. Now they're trying to interpret that code; to work out how it's used to make different types of cells and different people. The ENCODE project, as it's called, is the latest chapter in the story of you.
From the Google Maps blog:
September 12th is 'Space Day' in Japan, and we are celebrating by releasing new, comprehensive Street View imagery for two of Japan’s top scientific institutions: the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) and the National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation (Miraikan). With panoramic imagery in and around these locations now available via the Street View feature of Google Maps, space enthusiasts around the world have a more complete and accurate sense of what it’d be like to virtually swap places with an astronaut.
More here. (Thanks, Nate Tyler!)
Also on October 2, the paperback edition of THAT IS ALL shall also be made available as part of a special COMPLETE WORLD KNOWLEDGE BOXED SET, which set shall also include my previous books of fascinating fake trivia and made up true facts THE AREAS OF MY EXPERTISE and MORE INFORMATION THAN YOU REQUIRE—all wrapped up in a protective, RAGNAROK PROOF box.
This post is sponsored by eBay. From the new to the hard to find, when it’s on your mind, it’s on eBay.
No, that isn't the brand new iPhone in the center there. It's the iPhone 4S. And while the new phone grabs the spotlight, the 4S is hardly obsolete. Just back to school with a limited gadget budget? eBay currently offers the 16GB iPhone 4S used, refurbished, starting at around $300 depending on the carrier and color. New factory unlocked models are also available. Of course, iPhones aren't the only Apple product to be found on eBay at discount. Check out listings for the iPad 3 and Macbook Pro with Retina Display for significant savings.
I'm sitting in on a NASA Jet propulsion laboratory teleconference for science journalists, with an update for the world on the Mars Curiosity rover's mission. Curiosity completes her "checkout" phase today. Including an "intermission" of 13 sols, and one remaining sol to inspect the rover's robotic arm, 26 sols have been devoted to so-called checkout duties. Today is sol 37. Rover is currently facing a Southeast direction. Temperatures on the rover are between 7 and 33 C. She has covered a little over a football field's distance on the surface of Mars. Ability to move the arm has been confirmed, and the ability of the rover to perform sampling is confirmed.
Curiosity has so far driven 109 meters from its original landing site, and engineers are driving her about 40 meters per sol. The first drilling into the surface of Mars is expected to occur about a month from now, following various surface activities (scraping rock surfaces, and so on).
Three speakers in the teleconference: Jennifer Trosper, JPL; Curiosity mission manager. Ralf Gellert, University of Guelph, in Guelph, Ontario, Canada; principal investigator for the Alpha Particle X-Ray Spectrometer instrument (or APXS) on Curiosity. Ken Edgett, Malin Space Science Systems, San Diego; principal investigator for the Mars Hand Lens Imager (or MAHLI) on Curiosity.
At the top of this blog post, the first Mars image of the day (larger size here):