Book Preview: The Boy Who Played with Fusion

This June, Harcourt releases The Boy Who Played with Fusion: Extreme Science, Extreme Parenting, and How to Make a Star. Written by journalist Tom Clynes, the book got its start as a 2012 Popular Science story of the same name. I've been reading an early galley and love the way Clynes weaves tales of a precocious youngster, his wise parents, and his baffled teachers. It’s an inside look at raising a typical, angsty teen, except one who gives Ted talks on the weekends and hangs with world-class physicists.

Taylor hadn’t realized that his biggest challenge, by far, would be to create a workable vacuum. He needed enough negative pressure to create an almost empty space for his subatomic particles to travel. If any gas or air molecules were left inside the tube, the high-energy particles would collide with them and lose energy. “Imagine a freeway in Los Angeles and you want to go 100 miles an hour,” Taylor explains. “If you try that at rush hour you’re going to hit other cars. But in the middle of the night it’s wide open and you can go fast.”

To pump out the tube, Taylor used a refrigerator compressor and wired it to run backward. Then, Taylor loaded the deuterium gas he’d generated. “I was so excited,” he says. “Me and Tom got the Van de Graaff up to 200,000 volts, and with the Model-T arc we tried to get plasma going.”

But even though they used higher-tech fasteners than Lawrence did in the 1930s, they had trouble creating enough vacuum to get a sustained plasma field, and a clear enough path to accelerate particles to any measurable degree.

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Coffee table book documents goofy collision of sex and 60s psychedelia

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Publisher Taschen will release Psychedelic Sex (NSFW) later in March, written by Eric Godtland and Paul Krassner. Photos are lifted from posters, comics, and men's magazines between 1967 and 1972, and together form a fascinating cultural capsule proving: a) Austin Powers was real and b) any potentially liberating cultural trend is eventually subsumed by the same old shit.

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It's back: looping water slide returns to New Jersey

The Cannonball Loop originally opened at New Jersey's Action Park in 1985, but then shuttered after a week amid safety concerns (caution trolling more likely). This image is of a 90-foot prototype in testing in Missouri.

"The central challenge facing any vertical looping water slide design is friction - caused by skin, bathing suits or riders who slow themselves down with their hands or feet. Without enough speed, you won’t make it through the loop.

Sky Turtle solved the friction problem by eliminating the human variable. Riders are enclosed inside an aluminum alloy-framed capsule that maintains constant contact with the flume via replaceable foam runners."

The 1985 loop:

Vertical looping water slide, long thought impossible, in test phase [LA Times]

via Seth Porges (@sethporges) Read the rest

Proposed 1913 highway system separates cars and trucks

An early proposal for the US highway system came from the National Highways Association. That wasn't a government office and didn't have much influence on congress, but as an evangelizer of "good roads," the NHA presented citizens with one of the first visions of interstate travel. Its 1913 maps advocate for three types of highways: main roads, truck roads, and links. Such infrastructure was not only important for national defense, but also for moral turpitude:

The precedent for our current roadmap, below, came from the American Association of State Highway Officials in 1926. A huge version of the map, with routes you're likely familiar with, is available by clicking on the image at the bottom of the io9 story.

A Map Of The First Proposed U.S. Highway Network [io9] Read the rest

Tonka criminals attempt to crack ATM with backhoe

It takes certain hubris to commit a crime with a 7-ton, 20 mph max speed vehicle. On January 4 in Lake Wylie, South Carolina, unknown suspects tried to smash open a Bank of America ATM with a Caterpillar 420D. A similar incident happened a few days prior in Bessemer City, NC. (They should probably design the ATMs to look like giant pigs.)

In late February, a Rochester, New York, man was arrested after he dug a 40-foot-long, 12-foot-deep hole in a rural road at night using an excavator, apparently for fun. Read the rest

Siberian Crater Watch: More giant holes found

Following news reports last summer of Arctic craters, a February 23 report in the Siberian Times documents several more depressions as shown in photos and satellite images.

Scientists believe the craters are caused by global warming, as underground methane is allowed to escape through warming permafrost. However, even though the craters look ominously like the inverse of Devils Tower, according to a reassuring Washington Post article, the methane from such formations is nowhere near enough to impact the atmosphere.

"Why you shouldn’t freak out about those mysterious Siberian craters" [Washington Post] Read the rest

Map pins pop songs that mention cities

Map maker Javier Arce created a world map locating 212 cities referenced in 7,681 pop songs. Click on a city and you can instantly play the related songs through Spotify.

To create this map Javier extracted a list of the cities with their respective countries and created a table. Then he geocoded that table to get the position of each city on the map.

Next, he extracted all the song information in the main article using regular expressions and infinite amounts of patience. It generated a CSV file that he imported into his CartoDB account. Javier ended up having a table that contained the name of the song, the author, and the city.

Music Map Mashup [CartoDB Blog] Read the rest

Mezmerizing slo-mo of young praying mantises in action

A University of Cambridge zoologist analyzed almost 400 videos of juvenile mantises jumping onto a pole for a March 5 study in the journal Current Biology. Malcolm Burrows concluded that the bugs spin their bodies to help them land on target.

The actual video from the study is soundless, but for my money, the footage from New Scientist (that linked above) benefits from its Blue Danube soundtrack. The music lends the sequences an air of a very classy insect pole dance.

"Watch a praying mantis perform acrobatic jumps" [New Scientist] Read the rest

Artist keeps vigil on a bed of nails to protest frenetic culture

Billy X. Curmano, from Winona, Minnesota, plans to spend 24 hours on a bed of nails (and a pillow of tacks) later in March. To prepare for the big sleep, the painter, sculptor, and performance artist pounded hundreds of nails into plywood in his workshop. (It actually looks more comfortable than a few Airbnb's I've booked.)

"It’s always a good time for a nap, Curmano believes, but our frenetic society doesn’t see it that way. That’s too bad, because it could save serious energy in the form of switched-off electronics."

"Winona artist Billy X. Curmano challenges boundaries in art, life" [Winona Daily News] Read the rest

Subscription box service for role-playing gamers

Likely offering more immediate gratification than subscription boxes for fishing tackle, vitamins, or hypoallergenic makeup, Mythoard sends a box of tabletop game materials to your door each month for $25 ($139 for six months). Goodies include dice, maps, buttons, and creature decks.

Reviewer Christopher Helton noted that he was pleased with his haul for both January and February.

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Machine Era's multitool is reduced to the essentials

Machine Era, a workshop in Richmond, VA, is pre-selling its Titanium Multi-Tool right now on Kickstarter. The campaign has already met its goal, but there are a few tools still be had for $32. The tool combines a Phillips head screwdriver, flathead, bottle opener, pry wedge, and ruler with markings on a 2.5-centimeter rule and a 1-inch one (front and back).

Even if you don't pick up Machine Era's tool as an everyday carry, it's worth watching the video to see how they make them from a single block of 6al-4v titanium.

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Wooden boats and other structures transform into skate ramps

Not since the Amphicar has a boat led such an interesting double life. The short film Skate Heads shows a number of wooden structures that transform into skate ramps and accessories (including a cooktop for snacks). Directed by Vancouver-based Zenga Bros, the film is a collaboration between blog Booooooom and hat manufacturer Flexfit.

Skateboarding is inherently about adapting and repurposing the urban landscape, but somehow even skateboarding can settle into a complacent state, where certain approaches become the norm. When street skating first started it was weird and abrasive, and that’ll always be there with wheels rattling down the sidewalk, but it’s good to remind ourselves to maintain a sense of foolishness, exploration and wonder; that is skateboarding.

"Portable Skateboard Ramps Double as Train Car, Boat" [Make] Read the rest

ISIS vs Twitter: A cautionary tale told through data visualization

A report by the Brookings Institution analyzed a sample 20,000 ISIS-supporting Twitter accounts, and sought to answer the question of how suspending accounts impacts the community. The data visualizations, included in the report, bring the message home. According to the authors, suspensions serve to focus ISIS supporters into a dense cloud: on the lower right of the image above.

The node-link diagram describes ISIS supporters from February 2015. The darker cloud shows the increased concentration of interactions after the suspensions, while the lighter cloud at the top left shows more scattered peripheral relationships at the same time. "As suspensions contract the network, members increasingly talk to each other rather than to outsiders," the report states. The upshot? Suspensions, of which Twitter made more than a thousand by December, may have unintended consequences, including cutting off ISIS supporters from beneficial social pressures on Twitter.

The report was written by author and analyst J.M. Berger (@intelwire) and data scientist and podcaster Jonathon Morgan (@jonathonmorgan), and commissioned by Google. Read the rest

A Wisconsin grain silo renovated into three-story fort

In a great reuse of old infrastructure, a carpenter in West Bend, Wisconsin is turning his family's vacant grain silo into a play room. He started the project last summer and expects to finish in the new few weeks.

West Bend man builds ultimate “tree house” [Fox6Now] Read the rest

Apple Watch will have to nail heart rate

When Apple releases Apple Watch and Apple Watch Sport in April, expectations will be high. Today, over a dozen watches attempt to monitor heart rate through the wrist, using optical sensors to judge changes in blood flow, but only a few actually work well. It's a tricky engineering problem. Comb the reports of the most thorough gadget reviewers, and you'll see that many of Apple's competitors simply don't have their sensors quite working. The watches stop monitoring if the user is cold or moving around (which can sometimes happen in sports.)

Imagine getting to work Monday morning and a project manager demands that you reverse-engineer a difficult technology in a newly minted field. Optical heart rate feels a little like light-bulb filaments in the 1870s: everyone's trying to find a long-lasting one, only a few have the answer. In wearable products, the pulse is an important data stream to power a lot of advanced features.

To date, several companies have completely figured out optical heart rate monitoring for wearables, including Mio and Valencell. Will Apple join them in April, or will its users discover a finicky and imperfect version?

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Lego cell phone dock spins 360

User Toulouse shows off a fairly slammin' cell phone dock on the OnePlus One Android smartphone forum. Even though it's for the new OnePlus One phone, the build can be recreated for any handset.

(Side note: I do hate his use of the word "ghetto" in the description, common among some makers. Does he honestly live in a poor neighborhood where improvisation and thoughtful use of materials reign? If not, what's it saying?)

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Hose clamps are a billion-dollar business

One of the most versatile tools and fasteners is the humble hose clamp, invented in 1921 and marketed as the Jubilee Clip. Besides their intended uses in plumbing and automotive, they can be used to fix an exhaust, fasten parts on a bike, and make DIY camera parts. I've used them in prototyping: for instance, quickly holding together parts for a rainwater pump.

Who knew that hose clamps were such big business? Not one, but two reports recently came out on this growing segment: "Global Hose Clamps Market Size, Trends, Forecasts, Market Research Report 2015" and "Global Hose Clamps Industry Report 2015". They both make for exciting reading, through of course, not as gratifying as the masterwork, "The 2009-2014 Outlook for Wood Toilet Seats in Greater China". Read the rest

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