The very fact that you are reading this sentence, contemplating whether you want to listen to this podcast, means that you are living out a fantasy from a previous generation's cyberpunk novel.
However you made it here, however you got these words into your brain, you did so by diving through data streams first cooked up by delirious engineers downing late-night coffees, wandering deep within rows of data tape unspooling from jerky, spinning platters.
We've been dreaming of this life for a long time, since before the vacuum tubes and punchcards of the '40s, and now that we are here, some people are worried that the tech will, at best, make us lazy, and at worst make us stupid.
Terry Pratchett's Raising Steam is the 40th (!) novel in the Discworld series. It's just come out in the UK (the US edition comes out in March) and it's a tremendous synthesis of everything that makes Pratchett one of the world's most delightful writers. It's a curious thing: a fantasy novel about modernity and reactionaries, a synthesis of technological optimism and a curious sort of romantic mysticism.
Here you can see a lump of rock with embedded fossils of bird bones trapped in the matrix. Below the rock are 3D printed models of those same fossils, created by paleontologist Brett Nachman. Other scientists captured the fossils inside the rock using CT scans that can see through the stone with the help of x-rays.
inFORM is a "Dynamic Shape Display" that lowers and raises pegs in a matrix to display digital 3D information in a physical way. The effect is quite magical. It's a prototype from MIT's Tangible Media Group that embodies their concept of "Radical Atoms," materials that can dynamically shift form to generate a kind of blended reality that merges the virtual and physical. (Thanks, Syd Garon!)
Pneumatic tube systems — little canisters shot through a series of tubes via the power of compressed air — have been around since the 19th century when they were briefly popular as a way to quickly deliver mail in big cities. Today, they're probably most familiar from their use in drive-through banking, but the tubes also turn up at libraries (the one at the main branch of the New York Public Library is particularly steampunky), in scientific laboratories, and in hospitals.
Last month, I spent an inordinate amount of time in one Minneapolis area hospital, waiting for an induced labor to kick in. How do you entertain yourself between the insertion of the IV line and the beginning of serious contractions? Turns out, you go on a lot of short walks, you watch some TV, and (if you're lucky) you convince the nurses to let your husband "mail" his cell phone from the labor/delivery department to the post-natal department, using the hospital's pneumatic tube system.
San Francisco's public television station KQED produced a half-hour documentary on the private efforts to commercialize space. The program focuses on Silicon Valley-based concerns like reusable rocket maker Masten Space Systems (image of their Xaero spacecraft above) and microsatellite developer Skybox Imaging. Also appearing is BB pal Steve Jurvetson, happy mutant venture capitalist and a board member at space transport company SpaceX. In fact, I ran into Steve at a model rocketry meet on Saturday -- the man really digs rockets! You can watch the KQED documentary, "Silicon Valley Goes To Space," in full below.
How does Google Maps account for plate tectonics? That's the seemingly simple question that led George Musser to unearth some fascinating facts about map-making, history, and the accuracy of modern GPS systems. Turns out, not only does the crust of the Earth, itself, move, but so do the locations of lines of latitude and longitude. Both those things contribute to small errors when your GPS tries to pinpoint exactly where you are. — Maggie
There's a mysterious barge docked at Treasure Island, the former Navy base in the San Francisco Bay. The barge contains a structure built from shipping containers. According to CNET, whatever is inside those containers is related to a secret project underway inside Hangar 3 on the island, a former military base. CNET managed to trace the project back to Google. It seems likely that Google is either reverse-engineering a crashed alien spacecraft or prototyping a floating data center. CNET suggests the latter but my bets (and hopes) are on the former.
As you may have heard, in addition to my duties manning the engine room here at Boing Boing, I've recently begun a stint as Wikimedia's Director of Tech Ops.
We're in the process of choosing an additional datacenter partner and location, and as you would expect, we are trying to make the process as transparent as possible. We have a Request for Proposals posted, and we'd be happy to take on any bids that meet our criteria.
If you (or someone you know) is involved in the datacenter business, here's a great opportunity to help an awesome non-profit change the world, and support our mission of bringing the sum of all knowledge to every human being.
Computer scientist Katia Vega has developed conductive eye shadow and false eyelashes that can be used to control wearable computers. For example, an extended blink could trigger your phone's camera. "We use voluntary movements to amplify intentions – using our body as a new input device," Vega, a researcher at Rio de Janeiro's Pontifical Catholic University, told New Scientist.
Jeremy sez, "To celebrate Ada Lovelace day, celebrating women in science and technology (Tuesday, Oct 15th this year) I've put together a collection of t-shirts featuring women in science and technology. Since I know that despite their contributions many of these women are not household names I've also added a brief writeup of each woman's best known accomplishments when you mouse over each 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.
NOVA's Tim De Chant posted this awesome photo of the Kilby Solid Circuit, the first working example of a miniaturized electric circuit that combined all the necessary structures onto a single chip. Back in 2000, when he won the Nobel Prize for this achievement, inventor Jack Kilby gave a really nice talk about the history of electronics and the context that lead to his creation. It's definitely worth a read.
The Manhattan Project was a secret, but it wasn't as secret a secret as you've been lead to believe, writes Rebecca Rosen at The Atlantic. Not only was the construction of an atomic weapon a topic of Washington gossip, but the entire "secret city in the desert" thing got blown open in 1944 when a columnist for a Midwestern newspaper ran across Los Alamos while on vacation. In light of our current debates about state secrets and security, it's probably less interesting that columnist Jack Raper found Los Alamos, and more interesting that he, and his paper, chose to buck the self-enforced system of silence that characterized World War II media. — Maggie