How NASA Solved a $100 Million Problem for Five Bucks

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How do you read a digital display when you’re an astronaut siting on top of a giant vibrating rocket blazing through the atmosphere at mach 20? Good question and NASA is lucky to have plenty of teams they could consult to solve issues.

A few years ago, back when the Constellation Program was still alive, NASA engineers discovered that the Ares I rocket had a crucial flaw, one that could have jeopardized the entire project. They panicked. They plotted. They steeled themselves for the hundreds of millions of dollars it was going to take to make things right.

And then they found out how to fix it for the cost of an extra value meal.

Great example of lateral thinking here, akin to what happened in the 60’s when astronauts needed pens that could function in zero gravity. The Americans had a company spend a bazillion dollars to develop a pressurized ink ballpoint pen while the Soviets used pencils.

via GIZMODO – How NASA Solved a $100 Million Problem for Five Bucks.

Artist uses PVC tubing to create motion blur sculptures

art

Motion-blur Superman - Link to the 4 Walls gallery

Korean artist KANK Duck-Bong creates sculptures that appear to be in motion using PVC tubing.

via Kottke

Sunflowers inspire improved solar power plant

science, tech

Sunflowers benefit from millions of years of evolution to harvest sunlight. Scientists find out it’s 20% more efficient than the best computer models, so they do the next logical thing: apply the design to a solar plant.

The well-tuned geometry of the florets on the face of the sunflower head has inspired an improved layout for mirrors used to concentrate sunlight and generate electricity, according to new research.

The sunflower-inspired layout could reduce the footprint of concentrating solar power (CSP) plants by about 20 percent, which could be a boon for a technology that’s limited, in part, by its massive land requirements.

“It is very scary that we did all the [numerical optimization] work and then we go back to nature,” Mitsos said.

via   MSNBC – Sunflowers inspire improved solar power plant.

Why History Needs Software Piracy

insightful, links, tech

Cory Doctorow has a good introduction to a very good article that describes the importance of software piracy for data preservation purposes.

A PC World editorial by Benj Edwards recounts the history of “copy protection*” for software, and discusses how the cracks-scene, which busted open these software locks, is the only reason the legacy of old software is available today. There’s a trite story about the persistence of paper and the ephemerality of bits, which goes something like this: “We can still read ancient manuscripts, but we can’t read Letraset Ready, Set, Go! files from the 1980s.”

Software piracy is vital to preservation – Boing Boing.

Software pirates promote data survival through ubiquity and media independence. Like an ant that works as part of a larger system it doesn’t understand, the selfish action of each digital pirate, when taken in aggregate, has created a vast web of redundant data that ensures many digital works will live on.

Or skip to the article directly PCWorld – Why History Needs Software Piracy

Solar-Storm-Fueled Auroras Make for Awesome Backyard Photography

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Wired.com has some beautiful pictures of this week’s massive auroras triggered by a giganormous solar eruption.

I envy those who can see this from their backyards!

via Wired.com – Solar-Storm-Fueled Auroras Make for Awesome Backyard Photography

Was Robert Hooke really the greatest asshole in the history of science?

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Robert Hooke discovered the cell, established experimentation as crucial to scientific research, and did pioneering work in optics, gravitation, paleontology, architecture, and more. Yet history dismissed and forgot him… all because he pissed off Isaac Newton, probably the most revered scientist who ever lived.

Very interesting article that highlights the need for diplomacy and ethics in the scientific establishment. Oh and the importance of not making genius enemies.

To pick a fight with Isaac Newton was one thing, but Robert Hooke made one other huge mistake: he died twenty-four years before Newton did. In 1703, the year of Hooke’s death, Newton became the President of the Royal Society. It was during Newton’s presidency that the only known portrait of Hooke was destroyed — the portrait you see up top is a new work by artist Rita Greer that is based on what few contemporary descriptions of the man survive. The more salacious version of the story says that Newton intentionally had the painting burned, though it’s possible he simply let it be lost or destroyed when the Royal Society moved headquarters.

via io9 -Was Robert Hooke really the greatest asshole in the history of science?.

Hacked Record Player Turns Tree Rings Into Music

art

If you’re a fan of experimental technology, Arduino hacking or post-modern music, this project is going to make you smile. Years is a piece by Bartholomäus Traubeck, and it consists of a record player that plays slices of wood. Yep, you read that right.

As you probably know, you can estimate how old a tree is by counting the rings across its trunk. This record player reads that “ring data” and translates it into music. More specifically, the tree’s year rings are analyzed for strength, thickness and growth rate. All of these details affect the final sound.

via Shareables: Hacked Record Player Turns Tree Rings Into Music.

 

The great food timeline

cool

Ever wonder how the ancient Romans fed their armies? What the pioneers cooked along the Oregon Trail? Who invented the potato chip…and why?

If you answered ‘yes’ to any of those questions, head over to foodtimeline.org for a great timeline of humanity’s food and drinks. Great stuff!

via Food Timeline: food history & vintage recipes.

Why Canadians Should Participate in the SOPA/PIPA Protest

politics, this can't end well

Even if you’re not in Canada or in the US, this is a good read to understand the dangers of the SOPA/PIPA bills.

The bill grants the U.S. “in rem” jurisdiction over any website that does not have a domestic jurisdictional connection. For those sites, the U.S. grants jurisdiction over the property of the site and opens the door to court orders requiring Internet providers to block the site and Internet search engines to stop linking to it. 

Should a Canadian website owner wish to challenge the court order, U.S. law asserts itself in another way, since in order for an owner to file a challenge (described as a “counter notification”), the owner must first consent to the jurisdiction of the U.S. courts.

You can replace “Canadian” by any other country. In short, SOPA will instantly grant the US worldwide censorship powers, in a way that leaves much to be desired in terms of due process.

Seriously, this is important.

Michael Geist – Why Canadians Should Participate in the SOPA/PIPA Protest.

Humanity’s greatest invention

insightful

The greatest invention of all must surely be writing. It is not just one of the foundations of civilisation: it underpins the steady accumulation of intellectual achievement. By capturing ideas in physical form, it allows them to travel across space and time without distortion, and thus slip the bonds of human memory and oral transmission, not to mention the whims of tyrants and the vicissitudes of history.

Tom Standage argues that writing is the greatest invention of all time. I have to agree. Who needs wheels when you have books that can teach you about, well, wheels!

via The Economist – WRITING IS THE GREATEST INVENTION.