Nobel Prizes 2013: Computer models that can mimic life

We talk about computer modeling a lot in the context of climate science — powerful algorithms that help scientists get a better idea of how climate systems work, how they spin off into weather, and how the systems and the weather are altered by both nature and humans. But modeling plays a huge role in other sciences, as well. In fact, on the flip side of the climate change coin, modeling is an essential part of designing better solar cells to turn energy from the Sun into useable electricity. If we ever do master the art of artificial photosynthesis, we'll have the three men who just won this year's Nobel Prize for Chemistry to thank.

Back in the 1970s, Martin Karplus of Université de Strasbourg, France and Harvard University, Michael Levitt of Stanford, and Arieh Warshel of USC, were instrumental in constructing the first computer models capable of predicting the effects of chemical reactions — including ones that happen far too quickly to be observed. Today, their work touches the daily lives of chemists all over the world, doing research from solar cell design to drug development.

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Dewalt DW920K-2 Two-Postion Screw Driver Kit

I have used this for 2 years. It is very effective in narrow spaces such as IDF (Intermediate Distribution Frame) closets, where I have to add switches or UPS units to rack units. The wand shape makes using this screw driver very effective since it gives me the additional length from the chuck to the screw that a normal electric drill configuration fails to achieve.

I wish it also had a LED illumination adjacent to the chuck, which Dewalt is adding to its newer electric product line. -- Stephen S. Wizowski

Dewalt DW920K-2 1/4-Inch 7.2-Volt Cordless Two-Position Screwdriver Kit $70

Surprisingly handy small crowbar

As a locksmith, holding open a door while working on it (or preventing it from relocking) is a daily event at least, for me. This little bar will jam neatly under most, holding it solid. (In one direction at least. I also carry a 160mm version which will jam it in the other direction too, if needed, or, of course, a second door.)

It turns out it has many other uses, many of them things I’d either not have bothered with or would have (ab)used something else to do the same task. Now I miss it whenever I misplace it. -- Nigel K Tolley

Vaughan Mini Pry Bar 5-½" $6

Help ocean scientists build open-source research tools

CTD units are incredibly important to ocean research, measuring three basic factors of sea water — conductivity, temperature, and depth. Almost every major research vessel has one. But the units are part of what ensures that it's expensive to get started doing ocean science. Each one can cost between $5000-$25,000. Now, a group of ocean scientists are trying to finance the design of an open-source CTD that could be built by anyone for less than $200. You can help fund their efforts at Rockethub.

A smart knife for surgeons

Researchers at Imperial College London have invented an electric surgical knife that comes equipped with a built-in mass spectrometer. Electric knives cauterize wounds as they cut, which produces smoke. The iKnife will be able to analyze the chemistry of that smoke to determine, for instance, whether the tissue that was just cut was cancerous or not — allowing doctors to make decisions in the OR that would, today, require them to take samples, send those samples to a lab, and maybe schedule a second surgery.

Kickstarter for a multifunction wrecking bar with crowbar/hammer/angle measuring tool

The Cole-Bar Hammer is a multifunction wrecking bar on Kickster ($65 gets you an earlybird tool, with shipping). It unfolds and locks into place to serve as a crowbar; it also can be used as a hammer and as an angle-measurement tool, and it has a lovely, brutal elegance:

The Cole-Bar Hammer is essentially a hammer... ...with a full crow bar built in! Using it's patented locking gear mechanism, the Cole-Bar can be opened and extended from 0-180 degrees and locked in place at 15 degree increments. The only hammer in the world that turns into a full crow-bar! A patented gear/ratchet system that locks into place at every click! Further more, the Cole-Bar can be separated with a button release turning it into a demolition tool.

As mentioned previously, I love multifunction wrecking bars -- they're just the right blend of apocalyptic and functional. This looks like a promising addition to the genre.

The project looks exciting, but as with all Kickstarter projects, you should be prepared to get nothing for your money; the project founders' bios don't list any directly applicable manufacturing experience.

The Cole-Bar Hammer (via Core 77)

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.

Champions of wood planing

In woodworking, planing is the process of using a very sharp blade to shave off pieces of wood. The people in the video above are some of the best at it in the world. The shavings they skim off are less than 10 microns thick. For comparison, the thickness of a sheet of standard copy paper is about 100 microns. (via @colossal)

The bug killing tool preferred by mosquito researchers

Meet The Executioner.

Earlier today, I got a tour of the mosquito breeding facility at North Carolina State University. Basically, it's a small room — about the size of my bathroom at home — where scientists breed and grow the mosquitoes they use in scientific research. The downside: Mosquito enclosures are somewhat less than foolproof. Which means the mosquito breeding facility has a significant number of loose mosquitoes. That's where The Executioner comes in. There were multiple Executioners in that one small room. Then entire time I was talking with the scientists, they were simultaneously swinging around these electrified tennis racquets to zap any mosquito that blundered into their personal space.

Personally, I consider this a hell of an endorsement for any bug killing tool.

Why put magnetic paint on ants?

It seems like a weird past-time, magnetizing ants, but it has some practical purposes. At his blog, media engineer Andrew Quitmeyer explains how he mixed magnetic powder into insect-safe enamel paint, and what he was able to do with it.

The big benefit to something like this is that it could allow scientists to easily alter the populations of social insect groups. Each colony of ants functions, in many ways, like a single organism. So what happens to that hive mind if you remove all the ants doing one particular type of task? Instead of painstakingly picking out each worker with a pair of tweezers every time you want to try this, you could create a colony in which all the workers have had magnetic paint daubed onto their abdomens. Then, you could quickly and easily collect some of them, or all of them, using a magnet. Hunting ants with a tweezer once > hunting ants with a tweezer over and over and over.

Another, possibly less legitimate, use of the paint is demonstrated by Quitmeyer in this video. (Quitmeyer, for the record, is not a social insects researcher.) Using single painted ants in a population of unpainted ants, he plays around with the way colonies remove unhealthy members of their own community. When a magnetized ant starts flopping around erratically in response to a nearby magnet, nearby ants quickly react.

As Quitmeyer says in the video, this demonstration quickly passes from science into mad science (or, at least, YouTube science).

Thanks to Leah Shaffer!

Pedal-powered scroll saw

My little brother and I went to the Blue Ridge Parkway Folk Art Center in Asheville, NC, today and ran across this very cool piece of maker history — a scroll saw operated by a pulley powered contraption resembling a stationary bicycle. Pedal punk?

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Science proves that you should wear glittens

They're the mullet of cold-protective clothing. Half glove, half mitten — really, fingerless gloves with a handy mitten flip-top.

They are also fantastic.

Now, partly, this is a matter of personal opinion. But partly, it's just good science.

Before you spend your weekend outdoors, or take your next chilly commute, let's talk briefly about glittens — and the science that makes them superior hand covering.

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Leatherman multi-scissors for medics

Leatherman has announced the Raptor, a set of folding multi-scissors for medics, which include "a carbide glass breaker, a ring cutter, a ruler, an oxygen tank wrench and strap cutters that can be deployed one-handed." It'll be out in May 2013.

Leatherman Raptor For Medics

Dremel's EZ Drum sander mandrel -- about damn time


I have the Dremel tool drum sander mandrel on the left. I don't think the design has changed since 1962, and it sucks mightily. Sanding drums get stuck on it and new ones don't fit on it (at least not for me). I just read Stuart Deutsch's post on Make about the EZ Drum Sanding Mandrel, which sounds like a game-changing improvement on the black rubber mandrel.

Dremel has introduced a couple of new “EZ Lock” rotary tool accessories in recent years that allow for tool-free bit/disc/pad changes. The newest EZ-change addition, a sanding mandrel, has quickly become one of my favorites. With the old-style sanding mandrel, you must toil with a small screw before and after swapping in a fresh sanding sleeve, but with this one you just push and pull.

I have been quite pleased with the direction Dremel has been headed. They dominate the rotary tool and accessories market, so they don’t really need to upgrade little things like mandrels, but they have been doing it anyways. Recent models, such as the 3000 and updated 4000 series rotary tools, feature a built-on collet wrench, and it looks like the upcoming Dremel 4200 will feature a new completely tool-free collet-lock mechanism.

Tool Review: Dremel EZ-Change Sanding Mandrel

Beautifully made tiny miniature 18th century toolchest with tiny, working tools


On The Toolchest Site, an astounding miniature replica of the 18th century Hewitt chest at Colonial Williamsburg, created by miniaturist William Robertson. Robertson's work is mind-boggling in its detail and virtuosity. The article notes that this was a 1,000-hour project.

There are also cast brass Rococo drop handles as well as beaded backplates. It should also be noted that the miniscule lock actually works, and the label on the underside of the lid is printed on 18th century paper — in lettering to perfect scale of course.

As you would expect from something so masterfully created, the tool chest was made with the same construction as the original chest. Tool trays and drawers are fully dovetailed with hand-sawn dust boards. The dividers are v-notched and crosslapped and the lid sides are tongue and groove.

Robertson’s tool chest contains all the same tools that were found in the original. All the tools work, even the plane’s tote (handle) is set a scale 1/8″ to one side as the original. The saw has 160 teeth to the inch. Robinson says that the hardest tool to make was the folding rule with 5 leaf hinge. It is about .030″ thick and hand engraved on boxwood. Things like the shears and dividers also have nice little joints.

William Robertson Miniature Tool Chest (via Make)