Steve Hoefer is one of my favorite makers (check out his other projects for MAKE here). He writes: "I built this mini blind minder to open and close [my window blinds] automatically. It’s powered by an Arduino microcontroller, which uses a temperature sensor to read the room temperature and then activates a servomotor to open the slats when it’s too cool and close them when it’s too warm. It has an adjustable thermostat and it can also be operated manually to open or close your blinds with a push of a button."
I invented the Monkey Couch Guardian, and wrote a how-to so you can build one, too.
Combine an Arduino with a proximity sensor, and make an obnoxious device to discourage cats and other fur-shedding pets from jumping on beds and couches. This project will also introduce you to the SPDT relay, a fundamental component of hobbyist electronics projects.
Abstracts are summaries — the short paragraph that usually explains the question a study was asking and the answers it found, plus a brief overview of what methods the researchers used. Because most peer-reviewed scientific research papers sit behind big, awkward pay walls, abstracts are often the only part of the paper that you, the general public, can easily read. That's why it's important to know what to look for in an abstract and how to interpret the information you read there. Noah Gray, a senior editor at the journal Nature, put together an introduction to abstracts. It's online at The Huffington Post. — Maggie
[Video Link] I like using Instagram when I'm traveling (see my photos here). David also is an Instagram user. I picked up some good tips on this video, "Casey Neistat's guide to not sucking so bad on Instragram." I especially liked the part where he compares Ricky Rozay's Instagram feed (very good) with Justin Beiber's (bo-ring).
But do I really have to go easy on the tilt-shift filter, Casey?
A couple of years ago I was on The Colbert Report showing some fun projects from MAKE, and Stephen fell in love with a project called "The Most Useless Machine." (Watch the episode here.) The Most Useless Machine is a box that shuts itself off when you turn it on. (After the show Stephen hinted that he wanted to keep it, so I gave it to him and he was really happy.)
Make:Projects just posted complete instructions for making your own Most Useless Machine. It's the simplest version yet, and is sure to bring a smile to the face of anyone who tries it.
Last year I saw a video of the "Leave Me Alone Box" built by Michael Seedman. Flip its switch on, and an arm reaches out of a door to turn the switch back off. To paraphrase The Terminator, that's what it does, that's all it does, and it will not stop until its circuit is dead.
I had to have one of my own, so I made one. Seedman's design uses a microcontroller to run two servomotors: one to open the lid, and another to push the switch. This makes for an impressive performance, but seemed too complicated, and actually, his circuit remains powered even when the box is idle.
For existential purity, I wanted a super-simple machine that really turned itself off. So I came up with a single-motor design controlled by a 555 timer chip, with a curved arm that both lifts the lid and flips off the switch. I called it the "Most Useless Machine" and posted it on Instructables along with a YouTube video of the box in action. The project soon went viral, attracting millions of viewers, thousands of comments, and many builds and design variations. Whew!
Along the way, Instructables member Compukidmike came up with an even simpler version that dispenses with the 555 circuitry entirely by using a gearmotor and two switches. The resulting project, presented here, is the ultimate in technology for its own sake, a minimal assemblage of parts that, through its one meaningless act of defiance, speaks volumes.
In 2007, my husband and I were privileged enough to take a month off and travel around Europe. Given that we spent most of our time in Western Europe, there really wasn't a whole lot of cultural confusion, with a few notable exceptions*. Chief among them, the squat toilets we stumbled across at a very inconvenient moment in Italy. "Inconvenient moment" here defined as "actually having to use the bathroom."
My friend Frank Bures is a travel writer and he understands the squat toilet problem all too well. Frank is, after all, somebody who has traveled extensively in places where squat is all you got. In a piece from 2006, he shares some hard-earned advice on squat toilets. How I wish I had read this before my venturing into small towns in coastal Italy.
Dr. Jane Wilson-Howarth is probably the world’s foremost expert on excretion, a real Buddha of Bowel Movements, and she’s not afraid to get into the details. “My technique when I’m teaching volunteers about to go abroad,” said the author of How to Shit Around the World from her UK office, “is that when you’re learning, you need to take everything off below your waist: socks, shoes, pants, underwear. Then squat over the toilet. Pour water over your bum, and with your left hand, just whittle away with your fingers and try to dislodge any lumpy bits while pouring water. And that’s actually not too unaesthetic, because any mess that goes onto your fingers comes off in the water.”
What to do: Most important: Cultivate the right mindset. Relax, pretend like you’ve been doing this for years. Remember, using your hand is (according Wilson-Howarth) actually more hygienic, not less, than using toilet paper. “You get good bacteriological cleaning with just rubbing your hands together with soap under running water four times,” she says, and cites a study which says you don’t even need soap. “It can be ash or mud, just rubbing your hands together under water with some kind of washing agent. Even dirt from the river bank will give you good bacteriological cleaning.”
I spent last weekend in the Harvard Forest, participating in hands-on science experiments as part of the Marine Biological Laboratory's science journalism fellowship. The goal was to give us an inside look at what, exactly, scientists actually do. When you're reading a peer-reviewed scientific research paper, where did all that data come from?
Sometimes, it comes from a swamp.
On Saturday, we walked into the Forest's Blackgum Swamp to take core samples out of the muck. There was no standing water in this swamp, at least not when we visited. But I wouldn't call the ground "solid", either. Instead, it was more like a moss-covered sponge. With every step, the ground beneath me would sink and smoosh. In some of the lower patches, that meant a shoe-full of water. In other spots, it was just a disconcerting sensation.
Taking core samples involves a little machine that's like a cross between a shovel and a straw. Made of heavy, solid metal, it has an extendable handle on one end. At the other, there's a hollow, cylindrical chamber that can be opened and closed by turning the handle counterclockwise. You drive the chamber into the ground, turn the handle, and then pull it back out. Once everything is back on the surface, you can open the chamber and see a perfect cylinder of earth, pulled up from below. That cylinder is removed from the chamber, wrapped in plastic wrap, labeled, and put in a long wooden box. Then you do all of that again, in 50 centimeter increments, until you hit stone. We got to about 475 centimeters—15 feet deep. By that point, you'll have collected 1000s of years of layered sediment.