The History and Logic Behind Minesweeper

I’m still on vacation for a few more days, so here’s another short and sweet article on Minesweeper, who knew there was so much to reveal in its history and development of the game we love for a quick and dirty fix.

The closest ancestor to Minesweeper is probably Gregory Yob’s Hunt the Wumpus. Although it used an unorthodox grid (the original game used the vertices of a dodecahedron, and a later version used Möbius strips and other unlikely patterns), the Wumpus evolved from its predecessors in many other ways.

The Minesweeper that we all know and love was created by Robert Donner and Curt Johnson while they were working at Microsoft. It was first released as part of the Microsoft Entertainment Pack for Windows in 1990, but in 1992, it replaced Reversi as a pack-in game for Windows 3.1. Minesweeper became a Microsoft staple, and from 3.1 to 95 to XP and beyond, millions upon milions of people across the world turned to Minesweeper when the random chance of Klondike Solitaire became overwhelming.

Humanscale’s Freedom Chair

I’ve posted in the past about a few differnt types of chairs (Supervillian Chair, AK-47 Chair, etc.), now comes the Freedom Chair, created with your custom dynamic body posture in mind.  Humanscale has engineered numerous office and home products which they feel will maximize your effenciency and potential.  The Freedom Chair includes a counterbalance system that adjusts itself like scales to the sitter’s weight as he or she reclines, eliminating the need for recline controls.

Freedom Chair 

The Freedom Chair is designed to provide maximum ergonomic benefit to the sitter with the minimum number of controls. Adjust the fit once, then forget about it. The chair starts at $898 at Design Within Reach.

Wake Up And Diffuse This Bomb

This alarm clock available from GeekStuff4u puts you under pressure to wake you up. It’s called ‘DangerBomb Clock’ (comes from Japan).

The deal is that in order to turn it off you have to disarm the ‘bomb’ by pulling one of the wires, forcing you to do some thinking. Each morning a random color is chosen and indicated by the associated LED, pull the correct wire and the bomb is safe. Miss it and I guess you get what you deserved, a nice loud explosion perhaps?
Dangerbomb clock

How Do You Get Crabs From A Gorilla?

Pubic Lice

Carl Zimmer has a very interesting and lengthy article that covers all aspects of the lice and even touches on the the evolutionary tree of pocket gopher species and how it relates to these little pests.

If pubic lice are not the sort of thing you want to be seen reading about, let me give you the opportunity to close your browser window right now. But if you’re at all curious about the secret that pubic lice have been keeping for over three million years, the tale of a mysterious liaison between our ancestors and the ancestors of gorillas–read on.

Many parasites tend to stick close to their hosts. A parasitic wasp may wander through forests and fields to find a caterpillar from a single species of butterfly in which it will lay its eggs. Blood flukes taste the water of their ponds for molecules from human skin. Wolbachia, a species of bacteria, never even has to leave its hosts, because it is passed down from mothers to their offspring. If a parasite sticks to its host for millions of years, their evolution may run on parallel tracks. As the host species splits in two, its parasite splits as well.

Check it out on Scienceblogs.

Concept Cell Gaming

If gaming on a cellphone type of device is ever going to take off, something like the CompactAnalogThumbstick from Industrial Design is going to be necessary. It sports a nifty design to minimize size while still giving joystick functionality.


It’s in the concept stage right now, but it has all the elements to be picked up in a form very close to what you see here.  If you think about it, holding the cell phone in one hand while operating the joystick with your thumb would seem to be a very comfortable way to play. So, I think it is about time to get some decent screens on cellphones, throw in some memory and a decent processor, and let’s use this joystick to play some good games.  While truly good games are hard to come by via a cell, this unit will definately come in use for a number of current titles available.

Jedi Drinking Song – It’s Filk Music

[I’m in Hollywood for a week meeting with my agent and pitching a script, think Time Bandits meets Smokin’ Aces. Enjoy one of these fine staged articles in my absence]

Here’s the Jedi Drinking Song (links directly to m3u), found on the CD ‘Brobdingnagian Fairy Tales“.

I found that song while surfing for Celtic music for the wife, instead I find geek folk music. Also known as ‘Filk‘. I learned this week that:

Filk is music about Science Fiction and Fantasy topics. It’s kinda folk music for the Sci Fi world. Filk music includes everything from song praodies with Sci Fi themes to original pieces written with Science Fiction and Fantasy themes.

Course, our specialty has been more with the Fantasy themes than the Science Fiction (though Sci Fi often also includes Fantasy). Since I started playing Dungeons & Dragons in Junior High, I was writing Fantasy pieces and listening to “Wierd Al” Yankovic.

Want to hear more about the group or sample their many songs? Here you go, you can thank me in the comments 🙂

Word of the Week: Keybounce

Inside the PC keyboard’s case is an 8042 microcontroller chip that constantly scans the switches on the keyboard to see if any keys are down. (caveat, at least back in the day it was the 8042, i’m not sure if non-PS/2 KBs still utilize it, I need to verify). This processing goes on in parallel with the normal activities of the PC, hence the keyboard never misses a keystroke because the processor in the PC is busy.

A typical keystroke starts with the user pressing a key on the keyboard. This closes an electrical contact in the switch so the microcontroller and sense that you’ve pressed the switch. Alas, switches (being the mechanical things that they are) do not always close (make contact) so cleanly. Often, the contacts bounce off one another several times before coming to rest making a solid contact.

If the microcontroller chip reads the switch constantly, these bouncing contacts will look like a very quick series of key presses and releases. This could generate multiple keystrokes to the PC, a phenomenon known as keybounce which used to be common to many cheap and old keyboards. But even on the most expensive and newest keyboards, keybounce is a problem if you look at the switch a million times a second; mechanical switches simply cannot settle down that quickly. Therefor, most keyboard scanning algorithms control how often they scan the keyboard. A typical inexpensive key will settle down within five milliseconds, so if the keyboard scanning software only looks at the key every ten milliseconds, or so, the controller will effectively miss the keybounce.


With Airbus Against The Ropes, Will China Step Up As #2?

Wow, I had no idea that China was looking to get into the aircraft mfg business to the point where they’d potentially give Airbus a run for its money and provide Boeing with some competition in the large aircraft business. You see, Boeing’s souped up 747’s and its Dreamliner are selling like hotcakes while Airbus’ A-380 is having manufacturing issues.

Douglass McIntyre of 24/7 Wall St. is reporting that China Aviation Industry Corp says it can begin making large aircraft by 2020.

There Is No Decaf Coffee At The South Pole

Kathryn Miknaitis is a Fellow at the Kavli Institute of Cosmological Physics at the Univ. of Chicago.

She’s on rotation in the Antarctic manning the South Pole Telescope. The South Pole Telescope (SPT) is a new 10-meter diameter sub-millimeter wavelength telescope deployed at the NSF South Pole research station in Nov/Dec 2006. Taking advantage of the exceptionally clear, dry and stable atmosphere at the South Pole, the SPT is designed to image large areas of the sky with high sensitivity.

Kathryn’s description of the work rotations and the environment struck me as somewhat similar to working on a submarine. Below is the entry that got me hooked and subscribed to her feed. Here’s Kathryn’s SPT blog.

In the galley, there are two coffee spigots. But instead of the usual “regular” and “decaf”, they’re labeled “regular” and “high-octane”, made extra strong. This suits me just fine. It also suits a station that operates 24 hours of the day, where people often find themselves shifting their schedule back and forth from days to nights or the other way around.

 Dark Sector Lab



10 Fun Facts About Storage

Om Malik has an interesting Tech History article he posted last week called ‘10 Fun Facts About Storage‘. It’s a compiloation of tidbits regarding storage, the past/present/future, that he’s gathered from other sources. Here’s two examples:

– The magnetic HDD is 50 years old. In 1956 IBM introduced 305 RAMAC (random access method of accounting and control), which is like the great-great-great grandfather of today’s disks. It was the size of a refrigerator, and stored a total of 4.4 megabytes on 50 doubled-sided, two-foot-diameter disks.

– Consumers bought 739.7 million gigabytes of hard-drive storage space last year. That is 11 times what they bought in 2003.

The Dirty Details Of MP3 Lics

New York Times tries to sort out the sordid story of who invented MP3 (Reg. Req.) and therefore should be the true holder of the patent in order to license it.

Is it Fraunhofer IIS, Lucent, Bell Labs, Philips? I don’t promise you’ll be able to answer that after reading the article but you will have a much clearer understanding of why this is a problem.

Today, if you pay the wrong company to license it you may end up paying through the nose later.

BumpTop – A Revolutionary new Interface for your PC Desktop

This is simply amazing. A totally new way to manage your files and utilize your desktop space with very interesting results.  BumpTop aims to spruce up the desktop metaphor with expressive, lightweight techniques based on real world items and actions.

BumpTop Interface

Now, I thought this prototype was a pretty cool system.  I don’t keep a lot of icons on my desktop as it is – but if I could interact with my data in this way, I might start letting them accumulate.  Simply for that ability of moving items, the intermediary step of crumpling up a document, and the sorting and stacking of information; for me, this is a nice segway in to what the hecklers crave – the next generation of computer interaction.  I’m for it, because if they get this off the ground it will open up a lot of eyes and get people thinking about the future of their desktops.

World’s First Dynamically Balanced Walking Robot

Walking robotCheck out this Youtube video of the world’s first dynamically balanced walking robot. The company is Anybots and they’ve brought forth Dexter and Monty. These guys are robots just under 6 feet tall and weigh in between 135-160 pounds.

The neat thing about the two is that they are dynamically balanced. Sure Asimo from Honda is also balanced, but his movements are programmed. If you push on him he’ll tip over. Not Dexter and Monty. They actually walk on their own by balancing themselves and falling forward as they take each tentative step. If you push on them they’ll step back and regain their balance so they don’t fall over.

Just like humans.

Here’s much more information on the theory and practice behind these bots, that Youtube video of the walk, a short video of Dexter Jumping and a choice quote from the web site after comparing to Asimo:

Dynamically balancing—the way we walk—is much harder. It looks fairly smooth when we do it, but it’s really a controlled fall. At any given moment you have to think (or at least, your body does) about which direction you’re falling, and put your foot down in exactly the right place to push you in the direction you want to go. Practice makes it seem easy to us, but it’s a very hard problem to solve

[Found on Neatorama]

U.S. Updating Its Nuke Warhead Designs

The military and the Energy Department chose a new design that was developed by the Lawrence Livermore National Lab, the other competing design came from the Los Alamos National Lab. These are the two premier nuclear weapons labs in the government and have had their proposals scrutinized over the past year.

This new design is supposed to eventually replace the aging existing arsenal of weapons, they should be safer and more robust which should increase their reliability compared to the current designs which are a maintenance nightmare when they’re expected to last decades (assuming nuclear war doesn’t break out in the interim).

It’s estimated that as the old warheads are replaced with the newer models, the total number of nukes will likely be reduced from 6,000 today to about 2,000 in the year 2012.

If you’re curious about the ‘why’ of the program you should read this 2 pager from the DOE ‘Reliable Replacement Warhead Program‘ (PDF).

Read the USA Today article on the event as well.

Credit For Getting Creative?

Ever take a test in school, have no clue what the answer is and wonder “should i just leave it blank or take a shot in the dark and hope for the best”?

Well, there’s a third option, it’s write in something you know is going to be wrong, but be clever about the response and hope you might get a point or two from the teacher for ‘creativity’.

Clayton Cramer has some real doozies to show you, i’ve copied two below to give you a taste. Check it out.

Find X Ramp - Elephant

Was the Death Star Attack an Inside Job?

Websurdity has an excellent summary of the uncomfortable questions about the Death Star attack that led to its destruction. Of course the premise is that Luke Skywalker was *not* responsible for blowing up the death star but he had a lot of help, from the inside.

A couple of choice questions posed in the inquiry:

– Why was the rebel pilot who supposedly destroyed the Death Star reported to be on the Death Star days, maybe hours, prior to its destruction? Why was he allowed to escape, and why were several individuals dressed in Stormtrooper uniforms seen helping him?

– Why did Lord Vader decide to break all protocols and personally pilot a lightly armored TIE Fighter? Conveniently, this placed Lord Vader outside of the Death Star when it was destroyed.

    Good stuff.

    LEGO Millennium Falcon

    Okay, so who doesn’t like LEGOs?  If you raised your hand, begone with you!!  No, seriously…I’m kidding 🙂  Well, how about Star Wars?  Yes?  So lets put the two together!  Thats what LEGO has done, producing some very complex and intuitave Star Wars LEGO models that when viewed, spark memories of those stalwart heroes from that galaxy far far away.  By far, the most impressive model yet is the Millennium Falcon, the starship of the famed Han Solo. 

     LEGO Millennium Falcon

    This massive model, when built, is nearly 3ft long, with over 5,000 pieces (some designed specifically for this model) and very closely approximates all the classic details from the YT-1300 Corellian Freighter in the movie.

    Even though I gave all my LEGOs away a long time ago, I still dabble with my son’s collection once in a while.  Seeing this monument to LEGO creation makes me want to reach for my pocket book….but I fall short, once I realize the $500 pricetag ;(  So, no giant spaceship for me!  But I can still dream….

    KTM Reveals “Light-Weight” Concept Car

    Wait….what?  KTM made a car?  When I think of KTM, I conjure up memories of blasting through tight berms and pulling off a trick tabletop over a set of doubles on my old KTM 250 motorcycle at the local dirt track 😉  Well it seems those days continue, but with a new devision that has developed a snazzy new prototype car called “X-Bow“.

    KTM X-Bow Prototype

    KTM jumps into the performance car genre with both feet by revealing this stylish roadster.  Although it sports only a lightweight 700 kilos, it makes it up with its radical sleek design, a powerful 220hp Audi engine, and a finely engineered carbon-fibre frame.

    At first glance, it seems a bit ungraceful, not having the standard full sleek frame one is used to with a performance vehicle.  Yet, after reviewing its specs, and given the full 360 degree view, it kinda grew on me.  I’ll see how it does…KTM says only 100 will be produced through 2007, and see if there is a demand for their new creation.