Boing Boing 

Dueling Banjos on Tesla coils

What better use for a pair of musical Tesla coils than FONentertainment's rousing 2010 chorous of "Dueling Banjos?"

Dueling Banjos on musical Tesla Coils (via Geekologie)

Tesla coil hat: "a really bad idea"

MIT student Tyler Christensen created a musical Tesla coil hat for his Hallowe'en costume (it played the Mortal Kombat theme and the Harry Potter theme while discharging semi-tame lightning). While freely stipulating that this is "a really bad idea," Tyler is still generous enough to document his project for others who might follow in his bad footsteps.

Really, it’s just a DRSSTC. Nothing less, nothing more, nothing fancy. It was a bit tricky to make a bridge appropriately sized, and even harder to make a boost converter for it. In fact, the boost never truly worked. If I play a mid to high note for a few seconds, the boost can’t keep up and it fades away. I think this is due to saturation of my boost core, but I haven’t really taken the time to do much on this since now I’m back in the gate driver world and also have to throw together my 6.131 power electronics final project. I’ll fix hatcoil in February.

Hat Coil (via Engadget)

Lloyd Kahn (age 76) on skateboarding

I love this video of my friend Lloyd Kahn (founder of Shelter Publications) talking about his joy of skateboarding. He's 76, and started boarding as a wee lad of 65.

Lloyd in 1½ min skateboarding video

Toby Morse's One Life One Chance


Toby Morse, singer for the NYC Hardcore band H20 has spent the better part of the last year or so building up his One Life One Chance project. Inspired by the creativity and positivity he experienced in the punk / hardcore scene over so many years, Toby decided to create a vehicle to share that message with school age children across the country. Adopting the Bad Brains' PMA (positive mental attitude) as his slogan, he spoke at schools and spread the word in 2010, and plans to do the same and more in 2011.

His message is largely his own story about being straight edge and being in the band H2O. While he does talk about the upside of sober living, the bigger point seems to be the power of positive thinking and accepting people even when they are different than you. I think this is such a better approach than the old "Just Say No" or DARE campaigns. If you work at or with a school, check this out and consider having him come speak to your kids!


It looks as if this guy filmed this whole crazy clip himself with no one else around. (via The Awesomer)

Awfully awesome dance moves

Watch out, Mosh Girl and Napoleon Dynamite... a challenger appears. The world would be a better place if everyone felt as uninhibited and expressive as Happiness.

Remarkable unicycle riding (video)

Video link. This footage prepared for the North American Unicycling Championships and Convention contains some pretty unbelievable footage, including jumping over a picnic table, up a flight of 7 stairs in one hop, and the you-gotta-see-it-to believe-it "maxwhip." Also some amazing Kris Holm vids here and here.

OMG Cat Rave!!1

Link (Thanks, Susannah Breslin!)

Mechanical computer uses matchboxes and beans to learn Tic-Tac-Toe

James sez, "I just completed a working build of Donald Michie's MENACE (Matchbox Educable Noughts And Crosses Engine), an early (1960) example of machine learning. MENACE uses 304 matchboxes to play Noughts and Crosses (or Tic Tac Toe in the US) - and learns over time to play it better. I built it for a talk at the UK games conference Playful, about Awesomeness and Miracles, particularly focussing on the work of Charles Babbage - and culminating in a surprisingly large version for playing Go..."

MENACE is a machine that plays noughts and crosses, built out of 304 matchboxes. Each matchbox corresponds to one of the 304 board layouts that the opening player might face (there are actually 19,683 possible board layouts, but we only need to calculate the opening player's first four moves, and many are rotationally or reflectively identical). In turn, each matchbox contains a number of glass beads corresponding to each possible next move. When it is MENACE's turn to play, the operator simply selects the matchbox corresponding to the current state of play, shakes it, and opens it to see which move has been chosen. Each matchbox contains a small nook into which one bead falls--and MENACE plays in the square corresponding to that bead.

But what's really clever is that MENACE learns. Every time it wins a game, an additional bead is added to each matchbox played, corresponding to each winning move. Likewise, every time it loses, a bead corresponding to each losing move is removed. As a result, over time, MENACE becomes more likely to play moves that have previously resulted in wins and less likely to play moves that have resulted in losses.


MENACE Flickr set

Long-lost video of John Philips' lunar-themed musical play produced by Andy Warhol (1975)

BB pal and periodic guestblogger Richard Metzger has an amazing blog post up about the off-Broadway musical Man on the Moon. The play was conceived by John Phillips of the Mamas and the Papas and his third wife, South African actress, Genevieve Waite, as a potential film or stage production originally entitled "Space."

The stage performance was produced by Andy Warhol. Long-lost video footage of the play is embedded above. More video over at Metzger's blog, too, amazing stuff.

The following text was written by Chris Campion and Jeffrey A. Greenberg from the liner notes of the CD release of Andy Warhol Presents Man on the Moon.

I'll post a snip here, but you have to read the whole thing to hear about the part Philips wrote for Elvis, and all the weird little factoids about Warhol's work, and allegations that George Lucas stole the idea for Star Wars from this offbeat project. Snip:

Space was born the day Neil Armstrong first set foot on the moon. Like millions of other people, John watched the 1969 moon landing on TV. He was living, at the time, on the Malibu property rented by British film director Michael Sarne, who was under contract at Fox to direct the adaptation of Gore Vidal's novel, Myra Breckenridge, with Rex Harrison, Raquel Welch and Mae West. Sarne had commissioned John to write songs for the film.

The Apollo 11 moon landing became an obsession. John would watch a recording of the TV transmission made on an early video tape machine over and over. The idea of exploring this new frontier - and particularly Neil Armstrong's scripted aside as he stepped onto the lunar surface that it was, "One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind" - fired John's imagination, and he began to piece together ideas for a mythical space opera set to music. "He loved myths," says Genevieve, who was first introduced to John by Sarne that summer. "He liked Homer - The Iliad and The Odyssey."

(...) Genevieve bemoaned the fate of the show to her friend, Andy Warhol, who offered to find a backer, and did. Warhol also agreed to serve as a producer, and provided a director in the form of Paul Morrissey, who had made a series of avant-garde exploitation films under Warhol's aegis (Flesh, Trash, Heat, Chelsea Girls, etc.). John expressed his bemusement about Warhol's involvement in the song, "Oh Andy My Assistant": "Oh Andy, my assistant/your mind is so consistently blank/that I'm banking on you now/so please so don't try to comprehend/the reason why I have to send/ you up or else, I'm sure that we, shall have a terrible row/It's either you or I must save the race/ So bye-bye Andy and off you're goin' to Space."

LONG LOST FOOTAGE OF MUSICAL PLAY BY JOHN PHILLIPS, PRODUCED BY ANDY WARHOL (1975) (Dangerous Minds, photo courtesy Ken Regan / Camera S)

Music CD: Andy Warhol Presents "Man on the Moon" (

Creepy Russian high-voltage towers

These beautiful high-voltage towers in Istra, Russia, near Moscow are the Experimental Grounds for High-Voltage Generation. They still light up and fire streaks of lightning into the night.

Creepy High Voltage Installations (Thanks, Bill!)

(Image: Master Z Great)

Design kick-ass multimedia, win a paid internship at CERN

Joao sez, "I work for the ATLAS experiment at CERN, the biggest and most complex of the devices within the Large Hadron Collider. We are organizing a multimedia contest for artsy-geeky people, offering the winner a paid internship at CERN, where she/he will have the opportunity to show off her/his science communication skills, documenting the experiment and producing more awesome multimedia. We'll spread it around with full credit to the author. Alternatively, if the winner prefers, we'll offer instead an Adobe Production Suite package."

CERN, the world's largest particle physics laboratory, birthplace of the World Wide Web and home of the famous Large Hadron Collider (LHC) has a great opportunity for you. We are about to kick-start the most complex scientific project ever conceived by mankind, and would like you to witness and record its unveiling, and help us spread the news.

We want you to start by showing us your communication and creative skills by producing an original short film or multimedia piece, incorporating material about ATLAS, the biggest experiment on the LHC. The best submissions will be posted on the ATLAS website and YouTube page with full credit to the author, and enter a competition for a paid internship at CERN or alternatively win a Adobe Production Suite package. The winner will be offered a trip to CERN in Geneva, Switzerland, and given exclusive access to scientists working on the project as well as all the equipment and expertise in CERN's audiovisual lab.

What we want from you is your unbridled creativity. In return, we offer a chance to experience history in the making, and a global platform for your work as the world's eyes look towards CERN this fall. To apply, read the official rules and register below. What are you waiting for?

The deadline is July 31, so lights, Camera, Action!

ATLAS/CERN Multimedia Contest and Intern Program: (Thanks, Joao!)

BB Video: Omega Recoil, Mad Electro-Makers Who Craft Giant Tesla coils

(Download / YouTube) Boing Boing Video today peeks inside the electrified world of Omega Recoil, a group of engineers and "makers" who craft giant Tesla Coils, and stage humorous and thrilling performances with those large electrical devices. What's a Tesla Coil? From the Tesla Society website:

[It] is one of Nikola Tesla's most famous inventions -- essentially a high-frequency air-core transformer. It takes the output from a 120vAC to several kilovolt transformer & driver circuit and steps it up to an extremely high voltage. Voltages can get to be well above 1,000,000 volts and are discharged in the form of electrical arcs. Tesla himself got arcs up to 100,000,000 volts (...) [They] are unique in the fact that they create extremely powerful electrical fields. Large coils have been known to wirelessly light up florescent lights up to 50 feet away, and because of the fact that it is an electric field that goes directly into the light and doesn't use the electrodes, even burned-out florescent lights will glow.

For viewers in San Francisco -- Omega Recoil members will be giving a talk at the 7th anniversary Dorkbot event, which features other cool "maker mutants" we've featured on Boing Boing Video before, like Jon Sarriugarte and the Boiler Bar folks. Organizer Karen Marcelo says,

...and to think this all started because i was bored seven years ago and decided to call Douglas and start the SF one in Marc Powell's garage! Pesco was a speaker at the first one! We had Brian Normanly talk about how to 'liberate' electricity from PG&E. I dont think anyone has the guts to do that now! :) Here's that first event from 2002.
More on Jon Sarriugarte's blog.

Sponsor shout-out: This week's Boing Boing Video episodes are brought to you in part by, in partnership with Intel and Asus. is a site where users come together to "share ideas, images and inspiration about the ideal PC." Participants' designs, feature ideas and community feedback will be evaluated by ASUS and "will influence the blueprint for an actual notebook PC built by ASUS with Intel inside."

DIY electric VW goes 82MPH

Aaron sez, "An engineer gutted an old Volkswagen that he bought on Craigslist and designed a custom electric motor for it. It can hit 82 MPH!"

Tischer converted a '91 VW Passat with a blown engine. He found it on Craigslist for $1,800. The Passat is a bit big for a conversion, he says, but it's aerodynamic and attractive. That counts for a lot. "It's just a professional looking car with a beautiful interior, and something I enjoy having as a daily driver," he said.
Tischer's EV project

VW Owner Shifts Gears, Goes From Gas to Electric (Thanks, Aaron)

Singing Tesla Coil emulator

High voltage hackers ArcAttack of Austin, Texas, are known to BB readers for their Singing Tesla Coils that they use to perform music. For example, here, a pair of coils delight us with an, er, energized rendition of the Doctor Who theme. Sadly, it's unlikely that most of us will get a chance to try our hand at conducting this Tesla orchestra so ArcAttack has enhanced their Web site with a simple yet fantastically fun Tesla Coil Emulator. My first number was the familiar tune from Close Encounters of the Third Kind. What song would you like to hear the coils sing? From the ArcAttack site:
 3573 3439572435 818Cbda087 ArcAttack employs a unique DJ set up of their own creation (an HVDJ set up) to generate an 'electrifying' audio visual performance. The HVDJ pumps music through a PA System while two specially designed DRSSTC's (Dual-Resonant Solid State Tesla Coils) act as separate synchronized instruments.

These high tech machines produce an electrical arc similar to a continuous lightning bolt which put out a crisply distorted square wave sound reminiscent of the early days of synthesizers. The music consists of original highly dance-able electronic compositions that sometimes incorporates themes or dub of popular songs.

Joe DiPrima and Oliver Greaves are the masterminds behind the design and construction of the Tesla Coils while the music is developed by John DiPrima and Tony Smith.
Tesla Coil Emulator

Rubber snake harvests wave energy

Seen in the video above is Anaconda, a new system for harvesting energy from the ocean's waves. The 8-meter long, water-filled rubber "snake" is a prototype of a 200 meter version that the developers, Atkins Global, hopes will generate the energy required to power 1000 homes. The device is currently under testing in Gosport, UK and Checkmate Seaenergy hopes to bring it to market by 2014. I was surprised to learn that one of the big challenges to harvesting tidal wave energy is that the mechanical devices don't tend to last long because they get so abused by the ocean. From New Scientist:
(As the Anaconda moves, it forms "bulge waves") similar to those that pass through the human circulatory system and can be felt as the pulse in the wrist and neck, says Rod Rainey of Atkins Global, co-inventor of the Anaconda. When each bulge wave reaches the end of the snake it keeps a turbine spinning to generate electricity.

The snake is made from a rubber-based material similar to that used to make dracones – flexible containers that are filled with diesel or water and towed behind ships for quick and cheap transportation.

Other than the turbine, Anaconda has no moving parts and unlike other wave power devices it needs only one tether to the ocean floor. That lowers construction costs and reduces the need for maintenance – an expensive undertaking in offshore settings where corrosion and accessibility are problems, explains Rainey.
"Sea 'snake' generates electricity with every wave"

Microwaving a cellphone is surprisingly cool

Although I won't sacrifice my own microwave to replicate this experiment showing the surprising effects of nuking a mobile phone, I'm glad that one of the web's many amateur scientists did so and recorded the outcome.

My Cell phone company is evil! (Thanks, Fipi Lele!

Make Vol. 18 -- building a sustainable future at home


The theme for MAKE Vol. 18 (on newsstands and in bookstores on May 18) is about building a sustainable future at home. The articles include geeked-out gardening tips (like an Arduino-controlled automatic indoor garden called the Garduino, micro-irrigation, and worm composting) and lots of energy related projects (like how to make a Tweet-a-Watt so you can twitter your electricity usage, and other ways to measure and reduced power usage in your home).

Img 2024 One of the projects in the magazine I'm looking forward to making myself is the solar powered hot tub heater. Eric Muhs, the author, built a 3' x 3' plywood box, painted it black, drilled a couple of holes in a corner, and dropped a 100 foot coil of cheap black vinyl hose inside. The ends of the hoses go into the water, and a solar-powered pump moves water through the coils. The cool thing Eric's design is that the pump stays off when it's dark or cloudy, preventing the system from cooling the hot tub water.

Eric says, "On a sunny day, it works great, and the water returns to the tub 2 or 3 degrees hotter than it left. That may not sound like much, but it adds up. The basic rule of thumb of this system: if it's the kind of day when your parked car is hotter than the outside air when you get in, you'll get heat."

Make Vol. 18 -- building a sustainable future at home

HOWTO make edible circuit diagrams out of candy

Another gem from the Evil Mad Scientist lab: edible circuit diagrams that help you visualize the delicious results of your electronic experiments: "Any number of chocolate-bar-like foods can be made into edible versions of integrated circuits. Kit Kat, Twix, and Mini Charleston Chews are small components that make good models of integrated circuits in long, skinny packages. Chocolate covered graham crackers are another good option. The aspect ratio is good for doing large-scale models of (e.g.) 8-pin DIP packages; These are the ones that we made into 555s."

Circuitry Snacks (via IZ Reloaded)

Pedal powered electricity generator

The Professor would be proud of David Butcher of San Jose, California. He built his first pedal generator prototype in 1976. Every morning, he spends 45 minutes on the stationary bicycle generator to charge up a bank of salvaged batteries. Having mastered the machine, Butcher now sells plans so you can build your own. The cost of the parts is around $230, he says, or much less if you recycle an old bike. If you're interested in learning more, Butcher hangs out in a videochat room when he's pedaling away every morning. Apparently, he cranks out 1.8 kilowatt-hours a month. Of course, er, YMMV. Butcher has videos demonstrating the generator directly powering a blender (video above), washing machine, and breadmaker. His bike blender was even featured on a recent episode of MAKE: TV. From Butcher's site:
Pedalgenennn-1 My pedal generator is in the garage, hooked up through the Trace C12 controller in my Micro Solar Energy System to a recycled battery pack from my Sparrow Electric Car. I work out in the early morning, and it's dark. It would be pointless to use as much energy to light the workout area as I generated with the workout, so I light the area with the 12 volt LED Bar Light I put together several years ago. It uses white LED's to light the workout area. They require almost no power, so virtually everything I generate ends up in the batteries.
The San Francisco Chronicle profiled Butcher last year. Butcher digs alternative power tech in general, having installed solar panels on his roof and X10 modules throughout his house for intelligent control of appliances and other devices. From the SF Chronicle:
Butcher, who lives alone after a divorce, traces his environmental leanings to the 1969 Santa Barbara oil spill, which marred miles of coastline with 200,000 gallons of crude oil. Butcher was 14 at the time and witnessed it firsthand. He built his first pedal generator when he was in his early 20s.

"I was always interested in alternative energy and solar in particular," he says. "I was living in Portland, Ore., where solar is not as much of an option. So I thought, 'What else could I do?'

"I'd been on a swim team for years and I was in pretty good shape, and I thought there must be a way to get some power going."

Butcher's prototype bicycle was chain-driven and featured a welded steel frame. Today's version, with its simplified drivetrain and bolted frame, can be assembled with basic hand tools.

When he took up his pedaling regimen two years ago, Butcher tipped the scales at 180 pounds. Today, at age 53, he weighs a lean 150 and possesses a pair of legs that wouldn't look out of place on the Olympic cycling squad. Butcher's pedaling has become so efficient that he has pretty much abandoned his car (electric, incidentally) in favor of bicycling, reducing his carbon footprint still further.
David Butcher: Pedal Powered Generator (via BB Gadgets)

"Stationary bike designed to create electricity" (San Francisco Chronicle)

Solar cells that imitate plants

Every year, approximately 2.5 million exajoules of solar energy reach the Earth. That's about 5,000 times the amount of energy consumed by people each year. The trick is collecting it and converting it into electricity cheaply and efficiently. Plants do a good job of that. Turns out scientists have been working on ways to imitate nature's photosynthesis since 1912. And they're still at it. This week, the scientific journal Chemical & Engineering News posted two deep articles on the subject. The first is about the molecular mysteries of photosynthesis, including whether it's as efficient as one would expect from a process that has more than a couple billion years of evolution behind it. From the article, "Harnessing Light":
Water-splitting is key to the renewable production of hydrogen gas and other energy fuels, and doing so with inexpensive catalysts, as plants do a billion times per day, would be a huge step forward for solar power research. But the photosynthetic process has some other secrets, too, that scientists are only just figuring out, such as how photosynthetic organisms can tame light without suffering too much radiation damage, the plant equivalent of a sunburn...

(One) contentious area is the question of how efficient photosynthesis actually is..

One reason that plants don't store fuel efficiently is that "plants' goals are different than our goals," says (Devens Gust, a photochemist at Arizona State University). "The plant's goal is to live and reproduce, not to store energy for humans."

Even so, many researchers turn to photosynthesis for inspiration on how to achieve humanity's energy needs. They hope to mimic the early, energy-efficient light-harvesting steps of photosynthesis, but then direct the harnessed light energy entirely toward producing fuel instead of growing a plant.

"When we think about ways to harvest sunlight," Gust says, "it seems natural to look to photosynthesis for ideas. It has been around for the longest time, and it works on the largest scale."
That's where biomimicry comes in. The companion article in C&EN describes research by Gust and others to build small molecular systems that imitate what plants do using a biological "machine" consisting of 20 proteins. From the second article:
The overall efficiency of photosynthesis for making sugar fuels is low--only about 2-3%--because plants' primary goal is to live and reproduce, not store fuel. But the first steps performed by (the plant's photosynthesis system) are much more energy efficient, about 30%. So researchers want to "take the basic chemistry and the basic physics of the photosynthetic reaction center" and build a molecular version in the lab, says Devens Gust, a photochemist at Arizona State University. In effect, they want to produce a molecular photovoltaic that, like (the plant's version), produces a current of electrons that could be used to split water and thus drive the production of a fuel such as hydrogen gas.
Harnessing Light
Attempts To Mimic A Plant's Light-Harvesting And Water-Splitting Megamachinery

Neil Young's latest album is about his electric car


Neil Young's latest album, Fork in the Road, is entirely about his electric car, which he calls the Lincvolt.

The songs on the album are an emotional response to the current social and ecological questions facing the world’s population. Young has been an activist his entire career, and over the past few years has become involved in developing different fuel possibilities. Along with Johnathan Goodwin, their LINCVOLT project using alternative energy to power Young’s 1959 Lincoln Continental is now finished.

Steam powered iPod generator


Thomas built a steam powered iPod generator. From Jake von Slatt's Steampunk Workshop:

I coupled a Lego Technic Motor to a Jensen #75 steam engine to make a crude generator. From there I built a 5V regulator circuit and soldered in a female USB connection to power any USB device. Since I wanted to use it to charge my iPod, I put in a diode and a .5 amp fuse to provide some circuit protection. Attached are some pictures of it and here are some links to videos of it in action. Unfortunately you can't see the charge light on the ipod, But as you can hear, the iPod really loads the engine. I was somewhat surprise it could hack it.
What a cool idea. Just think if they could scale up this idea and use steam to generate electricity for entire cities!

Sustainable Energy Without the Hot Air: the Freakonomics of conservation, climate and energy

David JC MacKay's "Sustainable Energy -- Without the Hot Air" may be the best technical book about the environment that I've ever read. In fact, if I have any complaint about this book, it's in how it's presented, with its austere cover and spartan title, I assumed it would be a somewhat dry look at energy, climate, conservation and so on.

It's not. This is to energy and climate what Freakonomics is to economics: an accessible, meaty, by-the-numbers look at the physics and practicalities of energy. MacKay, a Cambridge Physics prof, approaches the subject of carbon and sustainability with a scientific, numeric eye. First, in a section called "Numbers, not adjectives," he looks at all the energy and carbon inputs and outputs in Britain and the rest of the world: this is how many kWh of energy are needed to power all of Britain's vehicles. This is how many kWh you would get if you covered the entire British shore with windmills, or wave-farms. This is Britain's geothermal potential. Here's how much carbon vegetarianism offsets. Here's how much carbon unplugging your idle appliances saves (0.25%, making the campaign to switch off energy vampires into a largely pointless exercise -- as MacKay says, "If everyone does a little bit, we'll get a little bit done"). This is the carbon-footprint of all of Britain's imports, gadgets, office towers, and so on.

Using a charming, educational style that teaches how to think about this kind of number, how to estimate with it, and what it means, MacKay explains these concepts beautifully, with accompanying charts that make them vivid and clear, and with exhaustive endnotes that are as interesting as the text they refer to (probably the best use of end-notes I've encountered in technical writing -- they act like hyperlinks, giving good background on the subjects that the reader wants to find out more about while allowing the main text to move forward without getting bogged down by details).

Next, in "Making a Difference," looks at what it would take to balance Britain's (and, eventually, the world's) energy budget so that the consumption is sustainable (that is, so that it uses only renewables or fuels that would last for 1000 years -- and emits so little carbon that we avert a 2C' rise in global temperature). He looks realistically at conservation, considering the theoretical limits on efficiency for rail, electric cars, air, as well as factories, home design and so forth, giving examples ranging from better insulation to tearing down all the housing in Britain and rebuilding it for maximum efficiency (factoring in the energy and carbon costs of the new building, of course).

This chapter also has a lot of sensible personal advice for things you can do to reduce your energy consumption -- especially identifying those few badly designed devices in your home whose idle power-draw really is punitive and replacing them (one Ikea lamp he cites draws nearly as much switched off as running, because of a transformer design that was one penny cheaper to manufacture than a more efficient one would have been).

Finally, in a long technical appendix, MacKay delves into the physics of maximal performance in transport, manufacturing, housing and energy generation, explaining it in a way that I -- who have not studied physics since I was 18 -- was able to follow.

This reminded me of nothing so much as Saul Griffith's wonderful talk on climate change as an engineering problem. Add up all the energy we can make if we harness every erg, every photon. Subtract all the energy we want to use. Examine this difference and come up with strategies for bringing the two into balance. Once you get this approach, it becomes a lot simpler to figure out what is and isn't worth doing.

My only complaint about this book is its packaging: if it were tarted up to look like the transformative, important popular science book that it really is, I think it would be at the center of the environmental debate today.

The entire book is available as a free 10MB PDF download so you can start reading immediately

Sustainable Energy - Without the Hot Air (US)

Sustainable Energy - Without the Hot Air (UK)

Without Hot Air -- MacKay's site for the book, including the whole book as a free download

Segway and GM's "car"

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The PUMA is a Segway/car combination prototyped by Dean Kamen's company in collaboration with General Motors. More details and video at Boing Boing Gadgets.

Puma: GM and Segway take a swing at a small car (Thanks, Jim Leftwich!)

Tesla coils sing the Doctor Who theme in orgy of electric awesomesauce

All I can say is, it's about goddamned time:

Creators of the original Singing Tesla Coils, the crew of ArcAttack uses high tech wizardry to present music in a whole new light.

ArcAttack employs a unique DJ set up of their own creation (an HVDJ set up) to generate an 'electrifying' audio visual performance. The HVDJ pumps music through a PA System while two specially designed DRSSTC's (Dual-Resonant Solid State Tesla Coils) act as separate synchronized instruments.

These high tech machines produce an electrical arc similar to a continuous lightning bolt which put out a crisply distorted square wave sound reminiscent of the early days of synthesizers. The music consists of original highly dance-able electronic compositions that sometimes incorporates themes or dub of popular songs.

Joe DiPrima and Oliver Greaves are the masterminds behind the design and construction of the Tesla Coils while the music is developed by John DiPrima and Tony Smith.

ArcAttack! (Thanks, Mary!)

Solar cells inspired by moth eyes

Philips Research Laboratories engineers have taken inspiration from moth eyes to develop a coating for solar cells that increases their efficiency. Nanostructures, comparable to the tapered structures on the insects' eyes, reduce the amount of light that's reflected off the photovoltaic material. From Physics World:
 Objects Physicsweb News Thumb 13 2 8 Moth To maximize the amount of light entering (moths') eyes, to help them see at night, the insects' eyes are covered in tapered nanostructures. This creates an "effective medium" where the refractive index gradually increases as light travels from air through to the insects' optical nerve. The resulting effective index is close to one, which means that very little light is reflected out of the eye.

Inspired by these biostructures, Gomez Rivas and colleagues have mimicked the effect by growing nanowires of different lengths - creating a metamaterial with optical properties that change gradually as a function of distance.
"Moth eyes inspire more efficient solar cell" (via Daily Grail)

Stupid light switch can't be opened

Light Switch (click image for big)

In MAKE, Vol. 4, Mister Jalopy wrote a "Maker's Bill of Rights." In the introduction, he stated "If you can't open it, you don't own it."

Well, here's a light switch that I paid full price for, but don't really own. I learned this when the block plastic strap (the part attached to the chain you pull to turn the light off and on) broke off inside the housing. There was a screw on the housing, but when I removed it, the housing wouldn't come apart. That's because the metal socket (the part with the threads in it) has a dimple pressed into it, preventing its removal from the plastic housing.

In addition, the seam between the two halves of the plastic housing seem to be glued or melted together, violating one of Mr. Jalopy's tenets: "Screws better than glues."

So I had to throw it away instead of repairing it. Yes, I know it's dangerous to play with electricity, but I would have liked to have been able to peek inside, at least!

Here's an attractive PDF version of the Maker's Bill of Rights.

TED2009: Electric Fault Circuit Interrupter

200902051456 A description of Electric Fault Circuit Interrupter (EFCI) on stage at TED2009.

Smoke alarms are great -- they detect fires but don't prevent them. One of main causes of fires is electricity.

How does electricity ignite fires? Faulty, overloaded or misused outlets. 83% of all fires start at loads below circuit breakers (invented by Edison) trip.

By putting a 10-cent data tag (like RFID) in an appliance plug and a reader in the electrical outlet, you can prevent fires. The appliance's safe operating parameters are embedded in the plug. If there's an overload, the power shuts off. Also, outlets are off unless the appliance with the chip is plugged in. That means a kid can stick a fork in the outlet and not get shocked.

Can save thousands of lives and conserve energy.

HOWTO Convert your car to run on garbage

Stef sez, "Here's an Instructable explaining in 25 simple steps how to convert your car to run on household trash using a process called Gasification. As the site sez: 'Gasification is the use of heat to tranform solid biomass, or other carbonaceous solids, into a synthetic "natural gas like" flammable fuel.' Not only that, but as a benefit it pimps your car out with a fantastic steampunky contraption to impress your fellow road users with!"

Convert your Honda Accord to run on trash (Thanks, Stef!)