Hail Iseb!

February 16th, 2015

The story of the hunt for Iseb, the toughest of all the machines:

This is a story that must be told. Perhaps it is still the influence of HER strength that makes me write now. Fuck knows when all this madness started. You like tunnels huh? If you are a true tunnel fan, maybe a true fanatic, then when you hear about boring machines (the mothers of all tunnels) then it makes you want to see them. Good. So that's what happened to us. Like grimey servants we followed every new trace that could lead us to her, the aim of our two year quest was always to see the toughest of all the machines. A dormant juggernaut that lies underground. Her name? Iseb, the worm maiden. It is for her love that we've done everything.


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December 5th, 2012

How tall can a Lego tower get?

I'll admit to being just a tad disappointed that this wasn't discovered by actually building a Lego tower until it collapsed under the weight of 375,000 bricks.

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July 3rd, 2012

New York's Roosevelt Island is home to a large-scale Swedish-built pneumatic garbage disposal system. The company that maintains the Roosevelt Island system is also responsible for running a similar system at Disney World:

[Repairman Frederik Olsson], a tall blond man in work boots and loose overalls, coughed politely. "Magic Kingdom can be problematic," he said. "I visit it often. It usually breaks because so many sticky things run through it. This one usually breaks down because New Yorkers throw too many big things away."

"The machine doesn't break down that much," Marli said. "But, you know, you get a rainy weekend and people clean out their closets. They throw away the weirdest stuff. Stereos, old computers, steel pipes." The unwieldy objects sometimes clog the works. One time, a piece of rebar backed up the machine for several hours. Another time, it was a skillet. Envac workers have also recovered geometry textbooks, tape players, window frames, lumber, and old clothes. On a third-floor window ledge, there is an array of houseplants in industrial buckets, rescued from the trash.

Let's face it, if your apartment building contained a central garbage disposal chute that emptied periodically by sucking the waste away at 60mph, would you be particularly choosy about what you were dropping down the chute? Or would you be calling 'Bombs away!' as you tried to time the drop to coincide with the trapdoor opening?

[Via MetaFilter]

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The Mu

February 19th, 2012

The Folding Plug design I posted about in 2009 has finally come to market, having morphed along the way into a USB charger, as The Mu.

My first reaction was that at £25 a time it'll be right at home sharing a bag with the expensive ultralight laptops which inspired the designer to create the original design. On second thoughts, when I contemplate the size of the clunky old1 mains USB adapter I have stashed in my desk drawer at work in case my iPod Touch needs a mid-day charge, I can clearly see the appeal. £25 is a wee bit pricey, though; at £10 it'd be well worth the money.

I hope they sell them by the thousand, so they can go on to expand the range. I especially want to see the compact 3-way adapter that featured in the original video.

[Via, once again, The Null Device]

  1. How old? I think I may have got it with my first iPod, an iPod Colour 60GB model. Mid/late 2005, maybe?

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Tick, Tock, Tick, Tock, Tick, Toc…

February 16th, 2012

Building a clock that will run for 10,000 years requires you to try to anticipate problems other clocks just don't face:

Notes taken during [a colloquium on the Long Now Foundation's plans to ensure that the 10,000-Year Clock keeps time despite long-term variations in the length of a day] show that, while the technical success of the Clock's durability is yet to be determined, its ability to inspire long-term thinking is already taking hold:

Neil deGrasse Tyson jested that the Long Now should put some signage on the 10,000 Year Clock so that a post-apocalyptic Earth will not think that the world will end when the clock stops working.

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Does It Move?

December 21st, 2011

Neil deGrasse Tyson brings us An Engineering Flowchart:


[Via Signal vs. Noise]

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November 1st, 2011

Gustav Hoegen's animatronics are so much more fun to watch than creatures produced using CGI.

[Via MetaFilter]

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September 14th, 2011

Consider Alexis Madrigal's thought experiment:1

Imagine you've got a shiny computer that is identical to a Macbook Air, except that it has the energy efficiency of a machine from 20 years ago. That computer would use so much power that you'd get [Redacted] of battery life out of the Air's 50 watt-hour battery […]

Try guessing the number that I removed from that passage before clicking through to the article itself.

[Via kottke.org]

  1. NB: for the first – and only – time on this site I've used a URL shortener to obscure the original URL of a link, because the original link's URL gives away the answer to the question. In the event that Bit.ly ever goes away, the original URL is here.

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33 years, 10.8 billion miles

January 19th, 2011

With Voyager 1 crossing the (somewhat fuzzy) border between the solar system and interstellar space over the next few years, here's another way to grasp the scale of the mission. Not by the immense number of miles Voyager has travelled, nor by the number of megabytes of data it has sent back to Earth, but by the age of the scientists who worked on the project as young men:

[Voyagers 1 and 2…], now 33 years into their mission, continue to explore new territory as far as 11 billion miles from Earth. And they still make global news. Scientists announced last month that Voyager 1 had outrun the solar wind, the first manmade object to reach the doorstep to interstellar space.

It's amazing even to Stamatios "Tom" Krimigis, of the Johns Hopkins University's Applied Physics Lab near Laurel. He's one of just two principal investigators of the mission's original 11 still on the job 40 years after Voyager was approved by NASA.

"Needless to say, none of us expected it was going to be operating for so long," said Krimigis, now 72. "We were all praying to get to Neptune [in 1989]. But after that? Who thought we could be with this 33 years [after launch]?"

Here's hoping that Krimigis and his colleagues (and the Voyager probes themselves) are still active for years to come.

[Via Ghost in the Machine]

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The Berlin Reunion

October 8th, 2009

Royal De Luxe, the people who brought The Sultan's Elephant to London in 2006, have just helped Berliners celebrate the 20th anniversary of reunification by presenting The Berlin Reunion.

That last link is to my favourite picture from the event, but do check out all the photos on that page: the whole extravaganza looks to have been another remarkable feat of art and engineering at play.

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June 28th, 2009


[Via Blood & Treasure]

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Folding Plug

June 24th, 2009

A neat design for a collapsible plug to use with the standard UK 3-pin electrical socket.

I hope the designer has a patent pending and some funding lined up.

[Via the null device]

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April 25th, 2009

Once again, the internet brings me an answer to a question I'd never thought to ask: how do they test the arresting cables and barricades used on aircraft carriers to bring landing aircraft to a sharp stop?

The photo above shows an F/A-18 airframe sitting on a sled. On the back of that sled are 4 jet engines which, when fired up, will produce 42,000lbs of thrust and ultimately send the jet down the 2.8km track at a speed of 460km/h, into an arresting cable or barricade. If the plane stops: great. If not, the plane usually ends up in the clearing behind the track or amongst the trees. Either way, an enormous, expensive amount of fun.

I'd dearly love to see film footage from those testing sessions.

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On Toast

February 13th, 2009

Tim Bray, On Toast:

It's important. If I had to list things that differentiate us from Neolithic club-wielders or fundamentalist Scripture-wielders or videospud remote-wielders, good hot morning toast would be right up there. It seems simple and it is, but not easy. […]

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Going underground

December 4th, 2008

One hell of a leak:

Easily one the best stories we encountered last month came from The New York Times, and it concerned about a leak in one of the tunnels that bring water to New York City. It's no ordinary leak, we read.

For most of the last two decades, the Rondout-West Branch tunnel — 45 miles long, 13.5 feet wide, up to 1,200 feet below ground and responsible for ferrying half of New York City’s water supply from reservoirs in the Catskill Mountains — has been leaking some 20 million gallons a day. Except recently, when on some days it has lost up to 36 million gallons.

Using previously posted news items for comparison, in May, Barcelona imported via ship cargo some 6 million gallons of emergency drinking water in the first of 6 shiploads per month for three months. Then in June, drought-hit Cyprus started importing from Greece some 14 million gallons of water per day until, presumably, this past November.

It's such a huge leak that the city has a team of half a dozen deep sea divers who are working a month of 12-hour shifts 700 feet down, trying to gain access to a malfunctioning valve.

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June 30th, 2008

The Taipei 101 skyscraper deploys a huge pendulum to ameliorate the effects of earthquakes:

Taipei 101 includes a 728-ton sphere locked in a net of thick steel cables hung way up toward the top of the building. This secret, Piranesian moment of inner geometry effectively acts as a pendulum or counterweight – a damper – for the motions of earthquakes.

I suppose that if the building should collapse the prospect of a 782-ton ball escaping the confines of the tower and bouncing down the street will be the least of anyone's worries…

[Via The Morning News]

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Les Machines de l'Ile

June 15th, 2008

Les Machines de l'Ile: quite possibly the coolest tourist attraction in the history of the world.1

[Via MetaFilter]

  1. It's not clear to me whether there's some formal link between the creators of Les Machines de l'Ile and the street theatre group who brought The Sultan's Elephant to London a couple of years ago, or whether it's just that the French really, really love the combination of Jules Verne and giant mechanical creatures. Either way, Vive La France!

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