Boing Boing 

It's back: looping water slide returns to New Jersey

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The Cannonball Loop originally opened at New Jersey's Action Park in 1985, but then shuttered after a week amid safety concerns (caution trolling more likely). This image is of a 90-foot prototype in testing in Missouri.

"The central challenge facing any vertical looping water slide design is friction - caused by skin, bathing suits or riders who slow themselves down with their hands or feet. Without enough speed, you won’t make it through the loop.

Sky Turtle solved the friction problem by eliminating the human variable. Riders are enclosed inside an aluminum alloy-framed capsule that maintains constant contact with the flume via replaceable foam runners."

The 1985 loop:

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Vertical looping water slide, long thought impossible, in test phase [LA Times]

via Seth Porges (@sethporges)

Watch Beachbot make large-scale sand drawings

Disney Research teamed with ETH Zürich students to create Beachbot, a robot that creates pre-programmed sand drawing.

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Giant underwater plug


This humongous power-plug is a MacArtney Wet Mate Connector that allows undersea cables for floating windmills to be connected below the water's surface.

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Build your own working tabletop V8 engine


The Haynes Build Your Own V8 Engine ($65.62) sounds fantastic -- the lengthy selection of positive reviews confirm the manufacturer's claim that a "talented 10 year old" could assemble it, and it can be disassembled and reassembled, which makes it great for classrooms, camps and studios. (via Red Ferret)

New kind of rotary engine - hypnotic!

Duke Engines demonstrate a new kind of internal combustion engine, based on a crazy, hypnotic, rotary system. I lack the mechanical engineering chops to know whether this is any good, but it's fun to watch. (via Sploid)

Newly declassified documents reveal flaws in nuclear weapon design

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This is a thermonuclear weapon, lodged in a field in North Carolina where it landed after falling from crashing B-52 on January 24, 1961. Some new documents detailing the history of the Goldsboro Incident were declassified this week.

Besides information the history of Goldsboro and several other near-disaster, the documents focus on problems with nuclear arsenal safety during the Cold War. The documents particularly focus on issues with weapons design. At Goldsboro, for instance, the weapons ended up armed (increasing the risk of an actual detonation) because the manual arming switch was designed in such a way as to allow it to turn itself on in response to the force of the plane crash.

The documents also discuss the risks of "sealed-pit" weapons, which were designed with the plutonium or uranium core already sealed into the warhead — unlike earlier designs that required operators to insert the nuclear material when the bombs were ready to be used. The sealed-pit design greatly increased the risks associated with lost or accidentally dropped bombs, as in the case of Goldsboro.

Rube Goldberg Machine Contest winners

The winners of Purdue University's Rube Goldberg Machine Contest show off their creations on Jimmy Kimmel Live.

The crazy CIA ship that became an engineering historical landmark

This is the Hughes Glomar Explorer, a ship that's as important to the history of engineering as it is to the history of insanely crazy Cold War CIA schemes.

In 1970s, the CIA used this ship to capture a sunken Russian nuclear submarine — i.e., lifting a 2000-ton object from a depth of three miles to the surface. It was the most expensive intelligence operation ever and it only kind of worked.

Robot cheetah demonstrates efficient new motors

MIT researchers built a 70-pound robot "cheetah" meant to demonstrate the high efficiency of a new electric motor design. Among other improvements, the design enables the impact energy of the robot's leg hitting the ground to be captured and fed into the robot's battery. Soon, they expect the motors to enable the cheetah-bot to gallop at 35 mph which, of course, is still just half the speed of a real cheetah. However, it will hit those speeds much more efficiently than other running robots.

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What Einstein and Szilard did in their spare time

Did you know that Albert Einstein and Leó Szilárd once invented a refrigerator? And a life-saving refrigerator, at that.

The tools of cocktail science and engineering

Popular Science has a great slideshow of tools used to make the sort of fancy, $15 cocktails that are served to you by gentlemen wearing handlebar mustaches. From CNC routers that carve ice, to drinks aged in sous-vide machines, to repurposed lab equipment like centrifuges and rotary evaporators, it's a cool behind-the-scenes view of the gadgets used by the modernist bartender. (Random shout-out to Peder at Marvel Bar!)

Empathy is a core engineering value

Bryan Cantrill from Joyent explains why the company expects engineers not to use gendered pronouns in documentation: "empathy is a core engineering value—and that an engineer that has so little empathy as to not understand why the use of gendered pronouns is a concern almost certainly makes poor technical decisions as well."

How engineers freeze soil to create structurally sound solid walls of earth

In Japan, engineers are attempting to contain radioactive contamination from the Fukushima power plant by freezing the ground around it into "ice walls" that will remain frozen for years. At Nova, Jessica Morrison writes about this weird technique, which has been around for over half a century and is more commonly used as part of massive construction projects with large underground components, including Boston's Big Dig.

Gonzo essay on the limits of chip design

The term "gonzo journalism" gets thrown around pretty loosely, generally referring to stuff that's kind of shouty or over-the-top, but really gonzo stuff is completely, totally bananas. Case in point is James Mickens's The Slow Winter [PDF], a wonderfully lunatic account of the limitations of chip-design that will almost certainly delight you as much as it did me.

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How physics sunk the Titanic

The iceberg wasn't the only thing that took down the Titanic, explains Yale University materials scientist Anissa Ramirez. Instead, cold temperatures in the icy North Atlantic changed the behavior of the materials that made up the boat — changes that reduced the ocean liner's ability to withstand a head-on iceberg collision.

Video Link

Check out more Anissa Ramirez science videos

Ancient nanotechnology

How the ancient Romans created color-changing glass goblets that shifted colors based on what you put in them.

507 Mechanical Movements, with animations

507 Movements brings to life Henry T Brown's 1868 treatise "Five Hundred and Seven Mechanical Movements, Embracing All Those Which Are Most Important in Dynamics, Hydraulics, Hydrostatics, Pneumatics, Steam Engines, Mill and Other Gearing, Presses, Horology, and Miscellaneous Machinery; and Including Many Movements Never Before Published and Several Which Have Only Recently Come Into Use," and includes selected animations of the mechanisms. Hypnotic and educational!

507 Mechanical Movements (via O'Reilly Radar)

How ants always land on their feet

As they move through tunnels dug in a wide variety of soils, ants do sometimes slip and fall down their own shafts. But they catch themselves, with their limbs and even with their antenna. Scientists are studying the ways ants brace against a fall to help design better robotos for search-and-rescue missions.

Life of astronaut Sally Ride honored in Kennedy Center tribute


American astronaut Sally Ride monitors control panels from the pilot's chair on the flight deck in 1983. Photo by Apic/Getty Images, via PBS NewsHour.

Tonight, PBS NewsHour science correspondent Miles O'Brien will serve as master of ceremonies in a Kennedy Center gala honoring the life and legacy of astronaut Sally Ride. The tribute will highlight her impact on the space program and her lifelong commitment to promoting youth science literacy.

Her Sally Ride Science organization reached out to girls, encouraging them to pursue careers in the Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) fields, where a gender gap persists.

At the PBS NewsHour website, read the column Miles wrote immediately following Ride's death in July 2012, 17 months after she was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.

How to: Build a better sand castle

Geoscientist Matt Kuchta explains why wet sand makes a better castle than dry sand — and what you can do to make your sand fortress even more impenetrable. Hint: The secret ingredient is window screens.

A spaceship that tastes like Grape-Nuts

This morning, Marketplace Tech Report had a story on a new cellulose-based building material that could be made by genetically engineered bacteria — altered versions of the bacteria that naturally make stuff like kombucha. This tech sounds like it's got a long way to go from laboratory to the real world, but if they can perfect the process and make it large enough quantities, what you'd end up with a strong, inexpensive goop that could be used to build everything from medical dressings, to digital paper, to spaceships. Yes, you could theoretically use this stuff to make rocket casings, according to R. Malcolm Brown, Jr., a professor of cell biology at UT Austin. And if you can build a rocket from this stuff, you could also break the same material back down into an edible, high-fiber foodstuff.

Why do trains stay on the track as they go around a curve?

The other night, Joshua Foer posed this question was posed to a table full of science journalists. Most of us started talking about friction, and/or possibly something to do with the little flanges on either side of a train wheel.

We were all wrong.

This is a Richard Feynman video, yes, but it's more about mechanics than physics. Turns out, you can learn a lot about how trains stay on the track by looking under your own car.

World's largest tunnel boring machine lands in Seattle

Known affectionately as Bertha, this tunnel boring machine has the widest diameter of any boring machine ever built; 57.5 feet. It's being used to dig a highway tunnel under downtown Seattle and it just arrived there today after being shipped from Japan.

I feel this warrants your attention for two reasons:
1) If you live near Seattle, you can actually go get a look at this massive beast before it starts chewing its way through the city. If you like looking at giant machines (or know someone who does) now's your chance. She's coming into the Port of Seattle, Terminal 46, as you read this and there will be ample opportunities to get a look as the pieces are assembled and moved into the nearby launch pit. The Washington State Department of Transportation has suggestions on places to go to get a good view.
2) If, for some reason, you were looking for a new way to lose massive amounts of time on YouTube, Bertha (and boring machines, in general) can help with that. Here's a cutaway animation explaining how boring machines work. Here's a video of Big Becky, another boring machine, breaking through to the other side of a tunnel at Niagara Falls, Canada. (In fact, boring machine breakthrough videos are, in and of themselves, a mesmerizing genre.) And in this video, you can watch the massively long line of support equipment go by in the wake of a boring machine.

Photos from on top of the Great Pyramid

The Pyramids of Giza close to tourists at 4:00 pm. Recently, a group of Russians managed to hide out at the site after closing time and scramble up the Great Pyramid of Cheops in the fading light. Naturally, they took photos. (Because if there is one thing the Internet has taught me about Russians, it's that they like to climb to dangerous heights and then take photos.)

These shots are kind of fabulous, not just for the thrill of "yeah, somebody broke the rules!", but because of the perspective you get from on high that isn't visible in the many ground-level shots I've seen. From on top of the Pyramid, you can see how the stone is pockmarked and carved — it really looks like something humans cut out of the Earth. You can also see the graffiti left by generations of tourists in multiple languages; English, Arabic, French, and more. And you can see the edge of the modern city, shimmering just at the horizon. I don't think I'd previously had such a profound sense of how closely modern Egyptians lived and worked to the Great Pyramid, before. What a fascinating view!

Thanks to Steve Silberman for the link!

How to: Demolish a truss bridge

Like the people cheering at about :25 into this video, I'm a sucker for dramatic explosions. This one comes from Texas, where the transportation department blew up an old bridge in the city of Marble Falls on March 17th. Also, apparently, it's warm enough in Texas that multiple gentlemen could watch a bridge explode from the comfort of their jet skis.

Building a better Bay Bridge

San Francisco will get a new Bay Bridge this summer. The New York Daily News has an interesting story about that bridge's creation — and the earthquake-resistant engineering behind it.

The secrets of elevator design

Making a high-quality elevator isn't just about designing something that can safely go from one floor to another. Elevators are service items. That means that when you design an elevator, you also have to design for people — both individual desires and needs, and the desires and needs of a variety of cultures.

If engineering is really about designing socio-technical systems, then elevators are big, fat, obvious reminder of that dynamic in play. In a profile written for the Wall Street Journal, author Kate Linebaugh describes the work of Theresa Christy, a mathematician and Otis Elevator research fellow.

You press a button and wait for your elevator. How long before you get impatient and agitated? Theresa Christy says 20 seconds.

As a mathematician steeped in the theories of vertical transportation at Otis Elevator Co., Ms. Christy, 55, has spent a quarter-century developing systems that make elevators run as perfectly as possible—which means getting most riders into a car in less than 20 seconds. "Traditionally, the wait time is the most important factor," she says. "The thing people hate the most is waiting."

... The challenges she deals with depend on the place. At a hotel in the holy city of Mecca in Saudi Arabia, she has to make sure that the elevators can clear a building quickly enough to get most people out five times a day for prayer.

Read the full story at The Wall Street Journal

Via Maria Konnikova

Image: Elevator, a Creative Commons Attribution (2.0) image from 25103209@N06's photostream

In post-Sandy "dewatering" mission, Army engineers drain one Olympic-sized pool's worth of water per minute

In an Army Corps of Engineers press release, details on the astounding rate at which workers are draining water from New York's subway and transit tunnels: "To date, the USACE has used about 50 pumps of various sizes to remove 64 million gallons of water from the New York City mass transit system. Operations are ongoing at six sites, with pumps removing about 116,000 gallons per minute. The 696,000 gallons the pumps are draining each minute exceeds the amount of water in one Olympic-size swimming pool (660,000 gallons). There were roughly 600 million gallons in the tunnels when pumping operations began on Thursday, Nov. 1." (via Noah Shachtman).

Meet the National Unwatering Swat Team

As I post this, the National Unwatering Swat Team should be reaching New York City, where it will do what the National Unwatering Swat Team does best — remove water from places it shouldn't ever be. This is a different mandate than dewatering, in which water is removed from places where it's sometimes okay to have water. (Via Philip Bump)

Entropy versus warranty: how companies figure out how breakable their products are


The current Wired has a long feature by Robert Capps on the significant changes in product testing and warranty service brought about by the combination of highly accurate computer modelling and disclosure laws that force firms to publish details of the costs of their warranty plans. The latter was most interesting to me, as it offers insight into what had formerly been a black box for gadget-watchers.

One of the world’s foremost experts on the cost of product failure lives and works in a fifth-floor apartment on a modest block in Forest Hills, Queens. His name is Eric Arnum, and he runs a one-man newsletter titled Warranty Week. Tall and soft-spoken, he can (and often does) talk about warranty accruals, payment rates, and reimbursement policies for hours without stopping. Most of his days are spent in his small office, working on a vast array of spreadsheets and PowerPoint slides—files that contain detailed warranty information for 1,107 companies. Collectively, these sheets hold perhaps the most comprehensive accounting of product failures on the planet.

Warranty information is one of the most closely guarded secrets in corporate America. Companies are loath to share how much they spend on warranties and why. It’s understandable, as talking about warranties is the same as talking about the fact that your products break when they’re not supposed to. Because of this, nobody just gives data to Arnum. He has to dig it out, one company at a time.

Arnum owes his livelihood to Enron. In the wake of the scandal that took down the energy juggernaut, the Financial Accounting Standards Board made changes to the Generally Accepted Accounting Principals—the rules that, among other things, govern how companies write financial statements. As of November 2002, companies were required to provide a detailed reckoning of their guarantees, including their warranty reserves and payments, in quarterly and yearly filings. The result was that, for the first time in history, someone could look at, and compare, how US public companies handle claims—how much they pay out, how much they hold aside for future payments.

Why Things Fail: From Tires to Helicopter Blades, Everything Breaks Eventually