Retiring on Mars

In 2010 SpaceX became the first private company to launch, orbit, and recover a spacecraft. This rocket is an original design they created after their founding in 2002. SpaceX is now the cheapest way to put a satellite into geosynchronous orbit (costs about $60 million). They have more than $2.5 billion in revenue under contract.

It’s given this context that hearing Elon Musk talk about his plans to terraform Mars and retire there that you have to pause a listen. Mentioned in this article.

Shadow Sculpture

Sculptures whose intention is only evident when they cast a shadow. More sculptures here

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XBox Kinect – Depth of field camera

Apparently the Microsoft XBox Kinect just came out. This is a device you put on top of your TV and then it watches the movements of your whole body to let you control a game.

I just saw an article about a few people who have been tinkering with it and it was fascinating how this device works. I haven’t found a good explanation, but best I can tell is this:

Imagine if I held two laser points side-by-side in my hands and I pointed them across the room, but instead of the beams behing parallel I angle them slightly apart.

Now if you put your hand near the laser points, you’ll see two red dots about an inch apart. As you pull your hand back the dots will get further apart. This is the key part (as far as I can tell) about how it works. It projects a whole infrared dot pattern onto your body, and another infrared camera watches this dot pattern. Based on the spacing of the dots on various parts of your body it can tell how close that part of your body is to the camera–and likewise it can pick you out of the background of the room because your whole body is closer than the stuff behind you.

There are a series of videos in the article linked to above that show the camera in action, but even in the picture right here you can see his hand (which is closer to the camera) is lighter red. Here is a video of the camera in action:

And the invisible infrared matrix being projected in the room:

Homemade space craft!

We live in amazing times when, for a few hundred bucks in off-the-shelf components, and a little planning, you can build a toy in your backyard that goes into space. [ Thx to Larry Salzman for posting ]

Homemade Spacecraft from Luke Geissbuhler on Vimeo.

Handy Power Strip Prevents Mistakes

More than once I’ve unplugged my computer when I meant to unplug something else. I just saw this handy power strip that solves the problem.

Outstanding Augmented Reality – Blending digital and physical

This is an unbelievable illusion projected onto the side of the building. Watch the whole video, it’s better than this picture. Who wouldn’t freak out if they randomly walked by and saw this happening.

This would be great on the interior of a room as well. I just bought a new apartment, how cool would it be if I could shop for furniture online and I could see what they’d look like in my living room if I had a projector setup.

You can walk on water! How Jesus did it…

Here’s a quick lesson about fluids and a demonstration of how you can walk on water! You know that different fluids have different viscosities, some are runny whereas others are thick and flow slowly. But did you know that fluids can have variable viscosities? This is key to walking on water.

Here’s one example. Paint that you’d apply to your wall is a shear-thinning liquid. When it’s sitting in the paint can or on your brush it’s about as thick as syrup, but when it’s being applied to your wall it’s about as thin as water. The liquid gets runnier when you apply force to it (i.e. pressing it against the wall) but as soon as you remove the force it thickens up. This allows it to spread easily, but not just drip down the wall like water would; you want it to hold in place until it dries.

Likewise, there are shear-thickening fluids. Silly Putty is the most well known example. It’s normally soft and pliable, it will even drip between your fingers if you spread them out, but as soon as you exert pressure it becomes very thick. This is why you can roll it up in a ball and smash it at the ground, it bounces with barely a dent. But once you’ve caught it again you can effortlessly push your finger through it.

A mixture of cornstarch and water is a shear-thickening fluid. Fill a pool with it and you can run across it!

HT to Richard Yoo for this video

One practical application of shear-thickening fluids is in protective equipment. Take soccer shin guards as an example. Typically you have a plastic plate in the shin guard to protect you. Instead, if you fill it with shear-thickening fluid, then it’s soft and pliable most of the time so it’s much more comfortable, but at the moment of impact it hardens up to protect you right when you need it. I found a company, d3o, that creates this material for use in a wide variety of products.

This is a video of shear-thickening fluid placed on a vibrating surface so it’s alternating between being thin and thick, it does weird stuff!

You can read more about non-Netonian fluids on wikipedia.

17 years ago AT&T made predictions for 2010…

17 years ago AT&T made predictions for 2010, watch the video below to see how right they were. It’s amazing how eerily familiar these technologies are, it’s hard to believe this was actually made in 1993.

To be fair they didn’t actually make these predictions for 2010, these were just predictions for “some day…” but still, gotta give them a lot of credit. I’d love to figure out who the advertising & creative people were behind these concepts.

Wooden mirror

A reflection of yourself appearing on sheet of wood. As the camera “sees” you the computer scans the image quickly to determine the darkness of each pixel of the image. It maps each pixel to a rod on the plane of wood and rotates the rod so it appears the correct shade of light or darkness.

The rods of wood appear to change color just by virtue of the overhead lighting. They’re cut on an angle such that they cast a shadow when rotated to a certain position. Ingenious. It has the interesting property that electric power is required to change the picture, but not to hold it. Once the rods are rotated it could be turned off and you’d still see the face.

What’s the practicality of something like this? Large outdoor signs where you want to be able to update the message; maybe the principle could be applied to flooring (cover with a sheet) so you could update the pattern of a floor; it would be a neat attention piece in a window display of a retail store.

Augmented reality toy

I picked up this toy a few years ago when I was in Tokyo. It’s a clever blend of real and virtual.

It’s made the rounds on the internet but most people I show it to have still never seen it. It’s a favorite.