Boing Boing 

Huge, 3D printed airplane parts in China

GE isn't the only one getting into the 3D-printed airplane part game. But, instead of little fuel injectors for turbines, the Chinese company AVIC Heavy Machinery and China's Northwestern Polytechnical University are printing off 5-meter-long titanium wing spars and equally long wing beams. (Thanks, Tim Heffernan!)

3-D printed part from an airplane turbine

Yesterday, we posted a tech memoir by Steven Ashley about the slow rise of 3D printing — from sci-fi fantasy, to toy, to creator of real tools. Towards the end of the piece, Ashley mentions how GE is starting manufacture aircraft engine parts using 3D printers. Here's the excerpt:

Rows of industrial 3D-printing units in plants will soon be fabricating turbine engine parts—fuel nozzles—from cobalt-chromium alloy powders. Each one of GE’s new LEAP jet engine will contain nineteen of the fuel nozzles, which are up to 25 percent lighter and five-times more durable than traditionally manufactured fuel nozzles. In airplanes cutting weight saves fuel. The LEAP engine has already amassed more than 4,500 orders, so between it and the new GE9X engine, the corporation could end up making as many as 100,000 additive manufactured components by 2020.

In the picture above, you can see one of those fuel nozzles, in all its 3D-printed glory.

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In which Ye Olde Metadata Network tracks that traitor Paul Revere

Sociologist Kieran Healy does a nice job of explaining how even a data system that doesn't contain the actual content of conversations can be part of a very powerful surveillance state. Part parody and part demonstration, he uses information about organization membership roles in 18th-century Boston to pinpoint Paul Revere as a key player in a network of "traitors".

Anno NTK: 15-year-old tech news just keeps on getting better

It's been just over a year since Anno NTK launched, a kind of Wayback Machine for the wonderful old-school UK tech newsletter Need to Know. Each week, Danny O'Brien will send you a fifteen-year-old edition of NTK, letting you catch up on the tech news of the late 1990s. This week's is especially grand:

Linus "Bigger than Elvis" Torvalds, accompanied by backing singers Alan Cox and Jamie Zawinski, will be fighting off the screaming teenage fans at Duke University's LINUX EXPO '98 this weekend. You're not there, clearly, otherwise you wouldn't be sober enough to read this. You can, however, glean a vicarious buzz by reading the inevitable flurry of announcements on the Website. Not least among them will be the definitive answer to the "Emacs vs Vi" question provided, not by a Magic Eightball, but by a magic *Paintball* face-off. It's the only way.
http://www.linuxexpo.org/
- Linus! Linus! Marry me! MARRY ME! http://www.linuxexpo.org/paintball.html
- looking forward to the cheers:
"H-J-K-L, what can we pipe through ispell? VI!"
"Give us a '(' - Give us another '('! Give us a '('!..."

Anno NTK

Do science: The life you save may be your own

One of the people who developed the pacemaker is now 86. And he has a pacemaker.

The places Soviet tourists could not visit in the 1950s

Apparently, there were some private citizens from the USSR who were allowed into the U.S. for travel during the Cold War. But they couldn't just visit anywhere they wanted.

This map, from a post at Slate's Vault blog, shows the no-go zones, shaded in green. Some of this is quite funny — gee, guys, I wonder what you're keeping hidden out in rural Nevada? Another interesting point: Soviets could visit Kansas City, Kansas, but not Kansas City, Missouri. Which could just be a pretty good joke, on our part. The fun stuff is all on the Missouri side.

EDIT: In the original version of this post, I'd mentioned that Kansas had once been home to many, many missile silos, and speculated that this might be why so much of that state (and the Dakotas) was off-limits to Soviet travelers. But, Cold War historian Audra J. Wolfe contacted me and pointed out that there were no missile silos at the time this map was made, because there were no Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles. So why ban the Ruskies from Kansas? Wolfe isn't entirely sure. She speculated that it might have had something to do with limiting access to public lands managed by the Bureau of Indian Affairs or the Bureau of Land Management. It also could have been tied to the presence of Strategic Air Command bases in the state. And there were tons of Atomic Energy Commission-owned sites scattered all over the U.S. — it's hard to keep track of where they all were.

Of course, Wolfe also said that there wasn't always a clear logic behind the decisions about which parts of the country were made off-limits to Soviet citizens. For instance, much of our coastline was off-limits for no other reason than the fact that much of the Soviet coast was off-limits to Americans. "The main premise is 'strict reciprocity'," she wrote in a message to me. "X% of Soviet coasts are off-limits, therefore x% of US coasts are off-limits, too." So there, one might add.

Watch a caterpillar turn into a butterfly, in 3D

What happens inside a caterpillar's cocoon? Scientists got to watch the whole process with the help of X-ray 3D scanning technology. In the video above, you can watch a caterpillar turn into a butterfly. Over the course of 16 days its breathing tubes (shown in blue) and its digestive system (shown in red) change shape and position within the body, while other structures grow from scratch.

Ed Yong has a great story to go with this, too. All about why it's important to actually watch the process happening in a single caterpillar, instead of just relying on the data scientists have collected from years of dissecting different caterpillars at different stages in the transformation.

The technology that links taxonomy and Star Trek

What made Star Trek’s original tricorder a great piece of fictional technology, writes Maggie Koerth-Baker, wasn’t its sci-fi looks. It was what it did.

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Hackers prepare for first "national holiday" in their honor

“The future of technology will be largely determined by citizens who will design, build, and hack their own”

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Why a grand, unified theory of artificial intelligence may be a pipe dream

A computer scientist and a psychology professor analyze Entropica — the artificial intelligence system that's been getting major buzz in the blogosphere. Quick version: It's a good idea, but it underestimates the complexity of the real world. Sure, you could create an AI that can play chess, but that same bot won't necessarily have the skills it needs to also be capable of understanding grammar and sentence structure.

Technology, business, culture and more ... from a female perspective

Medium just launched Lady Bits, a new collection hosted by former Wired.com editor Arikia Millikan. The goal: Provide a space for the kinds of stories and perspectives that get left out of traditional magazines because of advertising profiles that say tech readers are all dudes. It's a worthy idea and I'm looking forward to seeing how it plays out.

Speed-aging bourbon with the power of technology

When bourbon ages, what's actually happening is that daily fluctuations in temperature are changing the pressure in the barrel, forcing liquid in and out of pores in the oak. At NPR, Alan Greenblatt writes about an entrepreneur who has figured out how to mechanically recreate this process — speeding up the time it takes to age bourbon from months or years, to a matter of days. This may or may not be an appropriate use of technology, depending on your bourbon ideology.

This history of the car in L.A.

After living in L.A. for a year without owning a car — an experiment brought on by a lazy reaction to his car battery dying — Paleofuture's Matt Novak has written a fascinating piece about the history of Los Angeles transportation. It's a history that includes doomed monorails, oil derricks at Venice Beach, and a cameo by Roger Rabbit.

Hear Alexander Graham Bell speak

NewImage

The voice you can hear above is Alexander Graham Bell, inventor of the telephone. Bell's voice, not likely heard anywhere since he died in 1922, was retrieved from a wax-and-cardboard disc recorded on April 15, 1885 and recently "played" for the first time in more than a century. That's the disc above, looking strangely similar to a CD. The recording was identified and digitized by a team including researchers from the National Museum of American History, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, and the Library of Congress. In the clip above, Bell says "Hear my voice, Alexander Graham Bell." You can listen to nearly five minutes more of the recording session below. (via Smithosnian and The Atlantic)

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Buildings built by bacteria

NewImage

Over at Fast Company, our pal Chris Arkenberg wrote about how advances in synthetic biology and biomimicry could someday transform how we build our built environments:

Innovations emerging across the disciplines of additive manufacturing, synthetic biology, swarm robotics, and architecture suggest a future scenario when buildings may be designed using libraries of biological templates and constructed with biosynthetic materials able to sense and adapt to their conditions. Construction itself may be handled by bacterial printers and swarms of mechanical assemblers.

Tools like Project Cyborg make possible a deeper exploration of biomimicry through the precise manipulation of matter. David Benjamin and his Columbia Living Architecture Lab explore ways to integrate biology into architecture. Their recent work investigates bacterial manufacturing--the genetic modification of bacteria to create durable materials. Envisioning a future where bacterial colonies are designed to print novel materials at scale, they see buildings wrapped in seamless, responsive, bio-electronic envelopes.

"Cities Of The Future, Built By Drones, Bacteria, And 3-D Printers"

Why is it so hard to make a phone call in emergency situations?

When bombs exploded at the Boston Marathon on Monday, my Facebook feed was immediately filled with urgent messages. I watched as my friends and family implored their friends and family in Boston to check in, and lamented the fact that nobody could seem to get a solid cell phone connection.

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Ordered list of credible fictions

I love Bruce Sterling's "Design Fiction Slider-Bar of Disbelief," a list of fictions in ascending order of credibility:

9.4 New age crystals, lucky charms, protective pendants, mojo hands, voodoo dolls, magic wands

9.3 Quack devices, medical hoaxes

9.3 Fantasy “objects” in fantasy cinema and computer-games

9.2 Physically impossible sci-fi literary devices: time machines, humanoid robots

9.2 Perpetual motion machines; free-energy gizmos, other physically impossible engineering fantasies

9.0 State libels, black propaganda, military ruses; missile gaps, vengeance weapons, Star Wars SDI

8.9 “Realplay” services, “experiential futurism” encounters, military and emergency training drills, props and immersive set-design, scripted personas

8.8 Online roleplaying scenario games

8.7 Net.art interventions, diegetic performance art, provocative device-art scandals

8.6 Guerrilla street-theater; costumes, puppets, banners, songs, lynchings-in-effigy, mock trials, mass set-designed Nuremberg rallies, propaganda trains

8.5 Fake products, product forgeries, theft-of-services, con-schemes, 419 frauds

Spoiler alert: the list ends with these:

1.0 Engineering specifications, software code

0.5 Historical tech assessment of extinct technologies, the “judgement of history’

0.0 The ideal and unobtainable “objective truth” about objects and services

Design Fiction: The Design Fiction Slider-Bar of Disbelief

Put a GPS on your cat

When one of Caroline Paul's cats disappeared for 5.5 weeks, it inspired her to find out what Tibula (the cat) was really up to when he left home. The process of this is pretty fascinating. The outcome is, well, kind of cat like. What was Tibula doing when he wasn't at home? Avoiding the house and staring at himself in windows, apparently.

4D printing and programmable matter

As part of Institute for the Future's research project on what we're calling "The Coming Age of Networked Matter," we've looked at progress around programmable materials that can morph and self-assemble. MIT professor and TED fellow Skylar Tibbits is pushing on this idea with what he dubbed "4D printing, where the fourth dimension is time," meaning that the printed objects change shape over a certain period. (Thanks, Jake Dunagan!)

Oceans could yield new sources of rare earth elements

Rare earth elements aren't actually rare, but right now the vast majority of them (97%) come from a single place — China. Given how important these elements are to the making of everything from computers to cars, that gives China quite the monopoly. With that context, here's the news: Japan just found a big supply of rare earth elements in mud at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean. Of course, what may be good news for manufacturing is not necessarily good news for the health of oceans.

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.

Return to Antikythera

The Antikythera shipwreck — source of the famous ancient clockwork Antikythera Mechanism — has remained shockingly unexplored in the 100 years or so that we've known about it. In fact, other than a visit by Jacques Cousteau in 1970s, there hadn't been any official, scientific excavations until last year. Turns out, there's a lot of stuff left to find at the site, from a ship's anchor and storage jars to a collection of bronze fragments — which could either turn out to be something mundane, like nails from the boat, or more clues to the Mechanism. According to The Guardian's Jo Marchant, "little bronze fragments" describes what the gears of the Antikythera Mechanism looked like before they were detached from rock and cleaned of rust.

Grandmothers who are brilliant at technology


A wonderful site called "Grandma Got STEM" profiles grandmothers who have accomplished marvellous feats of technology, and aims to drive a stake through the heart of stupid, thoughtless phrases like "How would you explain that to your grandmother?" or "So simple my grandma could do it."

Shown above, Helen Quinn, "particle physicist, PhD from Stanford in 1967, and grandmother of three young girls."

I've never understood why geeks hold their grandmothers in such contempt.

Perhaps you are tired of hearing people say 'how would you explain that to your grandmother?' when they probably mean something like 'How would you explain the idea in a clear, compelling way so that people without a technical background can understand you?'

Here's a similar saying you may have heard: 'That's so easy, my grandmother could understand it.'

Grandma got STEM counters the implication that grannies (gender + maternity + age) might not easily pick up on technical/theoretical ideas by sharing pictures and remembrances from/of Grandmothers who have made contributions in STEM-related fields.

Grandma Got STEM

Tesla vs. Edison vs. The Great Men of History

Whether you think Tesla > Edison or Edison > Tesla, perhaps you’re missing something important. In reality, technology isn’t shaped by one guy who had one great idea and changed the world. Instead, it’s a messy process, full of flat-out failures and not-quite-successes, and populated by many great minds who build off of and are inspired by each other’s work.

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Where old TV screens go to die

Time was, we used to recycle old cathode ray tubes from TVs and computer monitors into new ones. Obviously, though, there's no longer a demand for new CRTs — or the specialized leaded glass they're made of. As a result, the last generation of CRTs is piling up into a "glass tsunami", filling storage units and swiftly becoming a liability to the recyclers who used to make money off them.

Los Angeles is not full of self-driving pod cars (and other disappointments from a 1988 view of 2013)

In April 1988, the LA Times Magazine published a cover article predicting what the spring of 2013 would look like for the typical Angeleno family. In a story that is bound to give you disconcerting flashbacks to Ray Bradbury's "There Will Come Soft Rains", a family of four (and their automated house full of whirring robots) goes about a full day — from mandatory staggered work times beginning at 5:15 am, to 11:00 pm, when the lady of the house sits down with her laser disc of The Collected Works of Jackie Collins. (Creepily, the story ends with the house catching fire. I'm not kidding about the Bradbury shout-outs.) Not all the predictions were totally off base, but, as a whole, it's definitely a neat example of how hard it is to look at current technology trends and correctly extrapolate them out to the future.

Machines that do nothing but switch themselves off

Useless machines are home-built devices that turn themselves off as soon as you turn them on — and that's it. That's all the they do. The more elaborate and gimmicky the method by which they accomplish this job, the better. As a hobby, useless machines have been around since the 1950s, but Abigail Pesta of the Wall Street Journal says they're making a comeback.

Growing up in the future

When Veronique Greenwood went to college in 2004, she took a laptop with her ... and a videophone. In an engaging essay at Aeon Magazine, Greenwood writes about what it was like to grow up with a Futurist for a mom, particularly a futurist who, in retrospect, seemed to be more interested in premature technologies than in the sleek, widely adopted versions that eventually succeeded in the marketplace. Greenwood's mother loved the videophone. When Skype came along, free of dedicated hardware, she lost interest.

Thorium, fusion, and other energy miracles

There are existing solutions to our the energy crises facing us today, but they all suffer from being frustratingly imperfect, complicated, and not particularly easy to implement (at least not quickly). Some even require us to change our behaviors. And, most likely, we'd have have to use lots of these solutions all at once, further adding to the complication involved. It's no wonder then that, in our heart of hearts, most of us are holding out for a miracle — some new technology that could provide all the power we want, with few drawbacks, and few changes to our current infrastructure or social status-quo. But is that a good idea, or a waste of time and resources? In the first edition of a new monthly column for The New York Times, Justin Gillis writes about the allure of energy miracles, what they actually look like in reality, and whether there's really a dichotomy between using what we have and developing something better.

The rise and fall of the personal car

“The replacement of the car is probably out there. We just don’t fully recognize it yet.” — a really interesting story on the historical patterns of technology adoption and decline, and how those patterns might apply to the things we think of as absolute and necessary as much as they applied to the steamship or the landline.