I have previously written about Harry Eng’s Impossible Bottles but there is another style of beautiful engineering which is not so much impossible but involves painstaking dedication, ingenuity, and sometimes a touch of insanity.
Claude Pilliard enjoys creating vacuum tube amplifiers from scratch, as seen in this step-by-step video.
An elegant adding machine made of wood and using marbles to represent numbers in binary, complete with correct handling of numeric overflow.
More information and other wooden marble contraptions here.
Beautifully engineered Enigma-like "coding machine" hand made by Tatjana van Vark.
“Each wheel has 509 parts.” Incredible!
I have previously written about Ron Patrick’s rather unique home-modified WV Beetle, and I remain impressed with his engineering skills.
It is street legal and technically a “hybrid”, since it has two methods of propulsion.
What a nutcase!
Therefore: There are patterns everywhere in nature.
Jesse Schell gives a brief walkthrough of what the world would be like if everything was somehow interconnected as part of one giant game, where you get points for waking up on time and for brushing your teeth, and changeable e-ink tattoos that earn you points through the “Tatoogle AdSense” programme, and a new high-score on your daughter’s piano practice earns her points for her Arts Council funded music scholarship...
It’s only 10 minutes long; hang around for the finale, it’s good.
“Anyway, I’m not sure about all that, but I do know this stuff is coming. Man, it’s got to come; what’s going to stop it?”
[Via TED: Best of the Web]
Happy Holidays from the Straight No Chaser men’s a capella, Indiana University.
My current digital camera is one I bought in New York City a few years ago, at a spectacular store called B&H Photo Video. I was reminded of B&H by Joel Spolsky's recent article highlighting the fact that Circuit City went out of business yet B&H Photo Video still thrives. The reason for this is that B&H is an awesome place to go shopping for photo and video equipment.
I was visiting the USA and on the look-out for a digital camera. I visited all the usual big-name consumer electronics stores and the technology counters in department stores, but was continually disappointed by the apparent lack of sales expertise in the products. When I ended up in New York and met up with Zack, he recommended B&H to me, he said it was the place to go for a camera. It turned out I had walked past the store earlier that very day, without so much as noticing. I'm observant like that. (Maybe it was because they didn't have a shiny store-front with lots of eye-catching technology right in the window, like all the other over-priced tourist-trap camera stores in New York City.)
Zack was right. This store was huge, and had all sorts of photo/video related stuff inside. I went in and started looking at cameras. The nearest salesperson closed a sale and then asked me if I needed assistance so I started talking to him about the cameras I was considering. He clearly knew what he was talking about when he started talking about comparative CCD sensor sizes between the models, then breifly paused to help another customer change the language on a camera from Japanese — he seemed to know the menu structure on that particular model off by heart, since I'm pretty sure he wasn't fluent in Japanese.
Most of the employees were Jewish and the store ran to military precision. The workflow was like this:
I'm not sure why their system is so arcane, but I expect it's to deal with high demand situations. I was there at closing time on a weekday, and people were buying cameras at the rate of one every few minutes. At peak times I expect their system deals admirably. (Joel postulates that the system is an anti-theft measure, by involving multiple staff in each sale, but I doubt that's the reason.)
Each of the "counters" I mentioned above have an airport-check-in-style zig-zag queue cordoned off in front and room for about 5-10 staff members at the counter.
They also have an elaborate roof-mounted transport system for moving orders out of the stock rooms.
If you're looking for a camera and happen to be in or near New York City, go to B&H. Heck, go there even if you're not looking for a camera, just for the cultural experience!
After participating in a couple of Gumball 3000 events (a 3000 mile rally where nice cars race through the streets of numerous countries for a week or so) Alex Roy decided to drive across the USA, nonstop, in a record time of 31 hours 7 minutes, in a largely modified BMW M3. 90.1mph average speed; top speeds of 160mph+.
If you think that’s a little bit reckless, think again… he spent 5 years planning for this with a full team of dedicated people. Did a couple of "low speed" trial runs of the full route, then watched the video footage non-stop in real-time (when's the last time you watched a 30 hour movie non-stop?) to fully learn from the mistakes they made. They had GPS devices, radio scanners, laser jammers, real-time traffic and weather reports, something like seven cameras mounted on the car (including a thermal imaging camera in the front grill feeding a 7-inch dashboard-mounted display… you know, for night driving), and also (now get this) a spotter plane flying overhead.
It all sounds a bit gung ho but it's exactly the opposite. They reviewed driver transcripts from similar things that had been done previously so they could learn everything they could. Analysed fuel economies in Excel spreadsheets. Looked up potential speed-trap locations, reviewed low-angle air photographs of the areas, marked them up on their GPS guidance. Looked at traffic laws and maximal jail sentences in each state so they could set the cruise control 1mph below the relevant thresholds. They developed threat analyses and operational protocols that dictated what should be done in various situations.
These people are, basically, insane.
Here's an informative presentation Alex did at Google to promote his book.
Alex Roy clearly subscribes to the policy that "If you're gonna do it right you've gotta do it hard-core."
How do commercial aircraft stop after landing? Apparently it's a combination of disc brakes, spoilers, and engine thrust reversal.
In extreme circumstances the brakes alone can be used, but this is best avoided. To find out why, take a look at this video of a Boeing 777 performing a "Rejected Take Off" test, stopping from 210mph, fully laden, using the brakes alone:
Result: Carbon brake discs and pads glowing at 3,000ºC, melting the tires, and destroying the wheels. (The success criteria for the test was that the entire plane didn't catch fire!)
I just viewed this TED presentation by Dan Gilbert where he mashes up psychology, economics, and a little bit of comedy to deliver a fairly awesome half-hour of educational entertainment.
Just watch the first 5 minutes, you'll see...
Seam Carving is a technique for intelligent image resizing that allows images to be automagically re-sized to fit different spaces (for example, different devices, with different amounts of screen real-estate).
This is the magic of Seam Carving, as presented at the SIGGRAPH 2007 conference by Shai Avidan and Ariel Shamir.
What's more, is that the algorithm can easily be run in reverse, to artificially widen an image.
Take a look at this short demonstration video:
All the geeky details are available in their academic paper, available from www.seamcarving.com.
I found out about this technique when I came across Mike Swanson's proof-of-concept implementation.
(Sample images for this blog post were taken from here.)
"Chess boxing is a hybrid sport which combines the sport of boxing with games of chess in alternating rounds."
Who said chess isn't a real sport?
"Competitors may win by knockout, checkmate, a judge's decision or if their opponent's twelve minutes of chess time elapses."
In the interest of violating cultural constraints, 207 people conspire to freeze in suspended animation for five minutes amidst the hustle and bustle of New York's Grand Central Station.
It's amusing to see the onlookers who aren't in on the joke hypothesising about what is going on and why they are doing this.
Apparently they did another one of these tonight at Liverpool St. Station.
The Microsoft Surface recently had its commercial debut when AT&T fitted Microsoft Surface units to five concept stores around the country. The Surface lets you browse mobile network coverage on an interactive map, pick up phones and set them down on the Surface to view specifications, browse accessories, or compare with other devices.
Here's a three minute demo of the features:
Tim Ferriss, author of The 4-Hour Work Week (still on my reading list) presents an unusual public-speaker's dilemma:
What happens when you say “laugh at all my jokes and I’ll breakdance for you at the end”—and someone calls you on it?
Somehow I must have missed this popular science initiative from Rob Bryanton. It's been around since at least 2006, backed by a book, videos, website, blog, video blog, interactive media chat-room, and even cheesy songs written and performed by Rob.
Here's an introductory video that walks through imagining ten dimensions:
This animation illustrates the concepts presented in chapter one of the book "Imagining the Tenth Dimension" by Rob Bryanton.
Shouldn't this be classed as child abuse, and therefore be illegal?
Update: Here's a clarifying article on religion as a form of Child Abuse.
Weird Al's White & Nerdy music video:
I can't wait to hear this song played out in a nightclub.
(Discovered via the Freakonomics Blog.)