Category Archives: Just geeky

Space Shuttle Computers May Not Gracefully Handle New Year Transition?

Wow, seems that as the shuttle Discovery is being hauled out to the launching pad to prepare for an early December launch, we learn that NASA has no idea what the on-board computers will do during a new year transition from Dec 31-Jan1.

They can not say with a high level of confidence that the computers will handle that transition gracefully, in fact there is enough worry that they are mitigating it by trying to ensure they land on New Year’s Eve. Or in case something happens and they need to remain in space ’till the new year, NASA is devising a strategy to hack together some procedures to work around the problem though they don’t indicate they know yet how they’ll do it. Here’s a quote to inspire confidence from a Discovery astronaut:

“We’ve just never had the computers up and going when we’ve transitioned from one year to another,” said Discovery astronaut Joan Higginbotham. “We’re not really sure how they’re going to operate.”

 

Billion Tree Campaign

Professor Wangari Maathai, Nobel Peace Prize laureate for 2004 and founder of Kenya’s Green Belt Movement, has planted more than 30 million trees in 12 African countries since 1977.  When a corporate group in the United States told Professor Maathai it was planning to plant a million trees, her response was: “That’s great, but what we really need is to plant a billion trees.

treesOut of that idea comes the Plant for the Planet: Billion Tree Campaign with a goal of combating global warming (assuming there really is global warming 🙂 ).

I have to be honest with you, I’m no tree hugger, but I really like this idea!

Happy Birthday Intel 4004

The chip that started it all is approaching middle age. Back in November of 1971, Intel publicly announced the world’s first customer-programmable microprocessor and started an electronics revolution that changed our world. For more details, here’s the wikipedia page on the i4004.

i4004

Produced: From late 1971 to 1974
Manufacturer: Intel
CPU Speeds: 740 kHz
Architecture: pre x86
Socket: 16 pin

Cup Communicator, A High Tech Throwback to String and Can

I found this interesting review on ‘we make money not art’ about combining the form and function of an old children’s toy with modern day walkie talkies. The site has a short interview with the creator of the Cup Communicator.

Its creator Duncan Wilson starts with a pair of small and simple walkie talkies, adapts them to his needs by disabling some of its functions, attaching custom controls and switches, reducing the battery size and finally changing the the configuration of everything else like the antennas, speakers and mics.

You lightly squeeze the polyurethane cup to activate the push to talk function and speak into the cup. The end of the rope (antenna) has a red LED that lights up to show you when you’re receiving an incoming signal from the other cup.

Cup1  Cup2

Ten Greatest Lego Creations

Working off of Andy’s earlier Halloween Lego submission, I came across this article on OddPeak about the ten best Lego creations they’ve come across.

 Legos

Being a past Lego enthusiast myself, I find these creations very intuitave and enlightening.  Most of the constructions use or depict current technology, and are most impressive; considering they are built from what are mostly considered children’s toys!

Makes me wish I still had all my Legos from my childhood…

[found via OddPeak]

Fry’s online, finally

If you know about Fry’s you probably also know that to take part in the “Costco of the electronics stores”, you had to be lucky enough to live near one because the online presense was basically nill. No more, now Fry’s appears to have their complete store online and joining the ranks of other e-tailers.

My favorite online electronics store for everything from software to building out a new PC from scratch is NewEgg, now i have Fry’s to look to just in time for the holidays.

Check out the ExtremeTech article for details.

The Not So Random Coin Toss

NPR has a great audio segment on the randomness of the coin toss. They also interview statistician Persi Diaconis who asked Harvard University engineers to build him a mechanical coin flipper (seen below) that can always make the perfect coin flip. It appears that the randomness in a coin toss is introduced by sloppy humans.

They also bring up the issue of American Football games that are started with a coin flip. Listen to the segment in Real or Windows Media formats.

Coin Tosser

Nachos, anyone?

Follow the interesting tale of a U.S. library researcher for the Oxford English Dictionary play detective decades ago in tracking down the antedate and etymology for the word ‘Nachos’.

As the largest city influenced by Tex-Mex trends, San Antonio might possibly yield a clue to nacho…

…how could anyone who has looked at and eaten nachos see any relationship between one of these and the adjective flat-nosed?…

[found via geekpress]

Physics Nobel for First Baby Picture of the Universe

Two scientists, George Smoot and John Mather, have been selected to receive the 2006 Nobel for Physics for their detection and analysis of evidence that gives us a ‘shapshot’ of the universe approx 380,000 years after the big bang. The big bang occurred over 13 Billion years ago.

They leveraged NASA’s Cosmic Background Explorer satellite to detect cosmic microwave background that is widely believed to be a remnant of the Big Bang.

How to disarm an atomic bomb

Wired has a funny and only vaguely helpful article on how to disarm an atomic bomb. At a high level the steps include:

  1. Disconnect the wires
  2. Remove the neutron trigger
  3. Remove the conventional explosive
  4. Seperate the U-235 mass

And if you’re interested, we have ‘How to Make an Atomic Bomb” from The Journal of Irreproducible Results. You know it’s gonna be fun when Step 1 starts with
   “First, obtain about 50 pounds (110 kg) of weapons grade Plutonium at your local supplier”

How to beat traffic

Traffic is the bane of all commuters. This article on OmniNerd by Brandon U. Hansen analyzes a year of data to determine if minor tweaks to departure times can significantly impact commute length – or if it is all out of the driver’s control. For a full year he kept track of the departure and arrival times both to and from work & home, the results are very interesting.