From The Far Side to The Flintstones to The New Yorker, the popular imagination puts the invention of the wheel back when dinosaurs roamed the earth. (Uphill both ways, in the snow, same 3rd grade teacher as your parents, etc.) The Paleolithic Era, the actual stone age, starts rougly 63 million years after the last of the Cretaceous dinosaurs. It spans 2.6 million years from when early hominids began to use stone tools to the end of the last ice age. But stone tools are not good for precise stone work, and did not advance much beyond hammers, axes or spears, and needles during this period. Stone wheels are out. The earliest wheels were almost definitely wood.
Continue reading Stone Age Thinking
My employer makes a nifty little 12-volt LED light that contains separate RGB (red/green/blue) diodes. It’s 3/4-inch in diameter and intended for rugged, outdoor environments — specifically decorative use on carnival rides. The cool thing is that it can change color on command. It has four separate wires — one power plus three separate ground leads — so that the three colors are independently controllable. The result is that the unit can display the eight colors of the 3-Bit RGB palette by powering the diodes alone and in combination.
I began thinking about taking the technology for driving LED matrices and scaling it up to use this light. I thought an LED monitor of sorts made from the company’s products might be an intersting promotional tool, such as at trade shows. The larger lens size and greater viewing angle would make it more akin to an incandescent scoreboard than a desktop circuit board. That would be fairly well suited to scoreboard-style scrolling text and simple animations, but what if you want to display video?
Continue reading 3-Bit Video Abstraction Project
It’s appropriate to roll a movie preview first. Grim Fandango is deeply influenced by classic films. From a structure in multiple acts, to the characters, to the title cards, the story and settings have references and influences coming out of the woodwork. But that’s the only reverence found in the Land of the Dead. The plot unfolds like a free-wheeling conversation that leaps from the Aztec afterlife to Art Deco to film noir to hotrodding to carrier pigeons to beatnik poetry and riffs on all of them with wry criticism, jokes, and fine threads.
Continue reading Slow Dance – Grim Fandango Retrospective
“Way back on the 2nd of January, 2012 AD, we asked you to try and predict what technologies would find their final resting place
this that year.” As far as I can tell from a few minutes of thorough research, that 2012 Death Pool posted by engineerd™ was the last time we asked for technology prognostications. Many of the predictions from that year actually have yet to die, perhaps most notably BlackBerry, who is still hanging on. So much so that we can even recycle the text from that year!
“Blackberry remains on life support this year. RIM, despite a failed tablet, has managed to stay afloat and is currently touting
Blackberry 10 the Priv running Android as a company saving platform. Is it really going to save the company, or is it just another Palm 2.0 final gasp of air? Unfortunately for our little morbid game, we have to wait until 2013 the rest of 2016 to see if the coffin gets closed.”
Other than our favorite Canadian “smart”-phone maker, other predictions from that year included wristwatches, standalone GPS units, network TV, Kodak, point-and-shoot cameras, SiriusXM, and netbooks.
Now let’s fast forward to 4 years later. Will this be the year any of those previous guesses finally give up the ghost? Is it finally RIM’s year, for real this time? Or is there a technology secretly hanging on that you think will finally depart the land of the living this year, much like Sony’s scheduled blow to BetaMax–yes, that Beta, who knew?
Fire up the old What If Machine, and let us know what technology will meet its doom in the upcoming year!
Did you know that calendar reform was seriously considered at the beginning of the 20th century? Proposals similar to the one above were were actually getting traction in the interest of efficiency during the Industrial Revolution. There were many combinations of proposed changes endorsed by various groups and individuals, but the one above — the most radical overhaul — was the most logically elegant.
Ideally, as this line of thought goes, the year should be divided into 12 equal months of exactly 30 days. Each date would fall on the same day of the week every year, and every quarter would start on a Sunday and end on a Friday. There would then be a special holiday at the end of each quarter, which would be designated as a Saturday, but not part of any month. Immediately after the June holiday, there would be an additional holiday (usually called “World Day”), which would be neither a day of the week nor of any month. In leap years, Leap Day would be in essence an extra World Day at the end of the year. The one quarterly calendar above would be sufficient for the whole year, year after year. These extra dates could be written and accounted for with “Holiday” as the month, and numbered 1-5 (1-6 in a leap year). Sure it would be odd to have extramonthly and extraweekly days, but would having a birthday on 6/Hol/56 really be any more awkward than 29/Feb/56?
Unfortunately, the momentum for international cooperation was somewhat deflated by a little thing called the First World War. Furthermore, conservative Jews and fundamentalist Christians were among the biggest opponents of these proposals, because they felt that having days that fell outside of a 7-day week was in opposition to the 7-day sabbatical cycle God laid out in Genesis.
In any case, it’s all water under the bridge. Nowadays, so much automated computer software has been coded around the existing Gregorian calendar that the idea of a new system is neither practical nor as desired.
Aside from the radio, I don’t even know where to start.
The greatest spectacles in sports and competition have the most talented people doing the most extraordinary things. Part of the delight is relating back to games we played as children. We know the goals, but professional players show us what we didn’t know was possible. 
Continue reading Like A Duck Taking To Baseball
Huron 4A Cosworth DAF Variomatic, by Wouter Melissen, via UltimateCarPage
It was a rainy Tuesday when I got a tip from Monkey10is that DAF had a history of racing. A machine I’d never heard of called the Huron 4A Cosworth DAF Variomatic. A quick search turned up an article by Wouter Melissen. Real enough. That’s where I found the first picture. Seems DAF already had some experience in Formula 3. Never mind their reputation for making innocent-looking two-cylinders named Daffodil. Wikipedia noted, quote ‘interesting’ low speed behavior when ice was around. And it’s an open secret that at top speed, slowly releasing the gas will make Daffodil go faster instead of slowing down. But I was more interested when Wouter mentioned an AWD DAF 555 prototype in passing. As if such a thing can be mentioned in passing.
Continue reading The badge says DAF Variomatic. It’s a racing transmission.
Image cribbed from Time Tapestry, although I have no idea if it is originally theirs.
Today’s launch of Spectre in theatres marks the end of the Daniel Craig era of James Bond movies. One distinctive trait of these series of movies was their habit of moving away from the traditionally over-the-top gadgets and gizmos. In the interests of realism, and in maintaining the audience’s suspension of disbelief in this post-iPhone, post-Google-Glass, post-Nest-thermostat world. Let’s face it, we now have most of the gadgets that Bond was so proud of in his previous movies. The amazing things that he could do with his cellular phone in the early Pierce Brosnan Bond movies are fairly common-place today. In-car video calling? So common, most jurisdictions have outlawed it as a safety hazard.
So there’s something refreshing about the James Blonde movies taking such a huge, dramatic step away from the gadgets, and focusing more on the characters, their motivations, and those feeling-things that you humans have.
Now, I think it’s safe to say that the Aston Martin above was the greatest Bond gadget of all time. Not only was it a gorgeous car, but all of the spy gadgets shown in the movie are actually built-in to the car, with the exception of the ejector seat. Okay, yes, the machine guns are just flash-bang replicas, but… they are still there.
So other than the obvious answer, what James Bond gadget from the 50 years of movies would you most want in your life?
Hang around on this planet long enough and some pretty strange tales are bound to come your way. A while back, one strange tale was sent in by reader Batshitbox. It’s the strange tale of the very first measurable sample of Plutonium 239 and how it was lost, then found again. All thanks to some quick thinking by a University of California employee that saved it from potential destruction.
Continue reading Forgotten History – The Strange Tale of Seaborg’s Plutonium
[Editor’s Note: Nuclear Science Week was pointed out to us on the tips line by Elizabeth Eckhart, along with a commitment to contribute. If you’d like to see AtomicToasters come back from its Chernobyl-like radioactive slumber, you should follow Elizabeth’s lead, and send in stuff for the rest of us to discuss. You can also follow Elizabeth’s Twitter account at @elizeckhart]
Continue reading Why The World Needs Nuclear Power