Monday, 31 January 2011

Project Popcorn


I wonder if the MST3K guys know about this.

Walking into a buzzsaw

Forty robbers boarded a train in Bengal and proceeded to loot and attempt to rape the passengers.  Unfortunately, they didn't check first to see if there was a retired Ghurka on board.

There was.  Final score:  Three dead robbers, eight more injured and the rest ran like the clappers.

The political tin ear

When cynicism meets clulessness.
What amazes me is that the editors of Time or Mr Barack Hussein Obaman's staff imagines that anyone will buy this for even the life span of a slice of pepperoni in a room full of dachshunds.

A first step

That's more like it.
Scotland reintroduces manual labour for "low-level" offenders.  It's not a bad start, but the Scots are falling down by having criminals doing useful things like shoveling snow or redoing old peoples' homes.  This smacks a bit too much of labour camps for my tastes and it muddies the waters by blurring the line between punishment and work.  It would be far better if they returned to the Victorian idea that punishment is punishment and set the little darling to breaking rocks, pounding sand, pricking oakum, or filing logs.

Surely there's an old treadmill lying about somewhere.

Friday, 28 January 2011

The Ascent of Man Part 8: The Drive For Power

Der Katzenklavier

There, I Fixed It looks at the Katzenklavier (cat piano), a traditional instrument that employs (as the name suggests) pussycats.

Personally, I prefer the English version


Former Miss Canada finalist Miss Mary-Lu Zahalan-Kennedy is the first person to win an MA in Beatles Studies from Liverpool Hope University.

I hope she knows how to make a dry cappuccino because this is when reality starts to kick in.

Thursday, 27 January 2011

Nimrod scrapping

A perverse example of how not to cut the budget.

3D doomed to fail

In a letter to Mr Roger Ebert, Hollywood sound engineer and editor Walter Murch explains why 3D cinema will never succeed–at least, so long as it's used in screen projection.

The biggest problem with 3D, though, is the "convergence/focus" issue. A couple of the other issues -- darkness and "smallness" -- are at least theoretically solvable. But the deeper problem is that the audience must focus their eyes at the plane of the screen -- say it is 80 feet away. This is constant no matter what.

But their eyes must converge at perhaps 10 feet away, then 60 feet, then 120 feet, and so on, depending on what the illusion is. So 3D films require us to focus at one distance and converge at another. And 600 million years of evolution has never presented this problem before. All living things with eyes have always focussed and converged at the same point.

If we look at the salt shaker on the table, close to us, we focus at six feet and our eyeballs converge (tilt in) at six feet. Imagine the base of a triangle between your eyes and the apex of the triangle resting on the thing you are looking at. But then look out the window and you focus at sixty feet and converge also at sixty feet. That imaginary triangle has now "opened up" so that your lines of sight are almost -- almost -- parallel to each other.

We can do this. 3D films would not work if we couldn't. But it is like tapping your head and rubbing your stomach at the same time, difficult. So the "CPU" of our perceptual brain has to work extra hard, which is why after 20 minutes or so many people get headaches. They are doing something that 600 million years of evolution never prepared them for. This is a deep problem, which no amount of technical tweaking can fix. Nothing will fix it short of producing true "holographic" images.
How tall is it?
I've been saying this ever since I studied perspective at university.  Human beings use the parallax effect between their two eyes to judge distances up to 20 feet.  Beyond that, the eyes are parallel, so depth perception then relies on visual cues such as perspective, the relative height of objects, light, and haze.  This is why forced perspective works.  By, for example, changing the sight lines of a stage set you can make it appear much larger than it actually is.  Since your eyes can't verify the distance, your brain relies on angles and relative sizes, so it thinks that what it sees is larger.  Indeed, this is the trick that Disney uses to make Sleeping Beauty's Caslte look much taller than the 77 feet it actually is.

It's also the reason why 3D films never look convincing, are tiring, and often make people feel sick.  In addition, I don't know about other people, but I can't even see the effect unless I concentrate on it.  As for 3D televisions, I've seen them and I wouldn't take one as a gift.  Since this is the case, I prefer to save the extra couple of quid and stick to the 2D versions.

When they get around to developing stereovision tanks, I'll reconsider.

Update: Broken link repaired.


Part one.

Continuing on yesterday's post, here's a computer documentary from 1969

Part two.

Part three.

Wednesday, 26 January 2011

IBM 5100 (1977)

I remember these; 50 lbs, all the power of a talking greeting card, and incredibly cool.

And here's one we made earlier.

And here's one we made even earlier.

Telephones... of the FUTURE!

Paleo Future looks at the telephones of the future courtesy of Ma Bell and Boy's Life circa 1962

Appease Red China?

Over at the Telegraph Ambrose Evans-Pritchard claims that the only way to deal with Red China is (his word) appeasement.  In a nutshell, give the Communists whatever they want because they're really very harmless.  If we aren't really, really nice to the Celestials  we will alarm the little dears and set the world on the road to a replay of August 1914.

Where have I heard that before?  I remember; during the first thirty years of my life when pundits of a certain stripe were forever banging on about how the Soviets were perfectly harmless, yet at the same time a load of hair-trigger basket cases that we must be very, very careful not to alarm least they do something awful in a moment of panic.  It rang as false as an aluminium penny then and it still does today.

Red China is a dictatorship and Hu Jintao is no humanitarian who just hasn't found the time to close the Gulags.  So long as China remains in the hands of tyrants the policy of the civilised world should be what one would have toward a ravenous tiger in the garden: Keep a close watch on the Middle Kingdom and make it very clear and very public that they will never be given the benefit of the doubt.

It can only improve from here

What the...? I'll be okay in a minute.  Go away.  Just.... Just go away.

Tuesday, 25 January 2011

Hothouse London

Imagine the joy of living in a polycarbonate bubble in the centre of London.  Gaze upon the Palace of Westminster, enjoy the vistas of the Thames, glory in nature's splendor, and discover first hand when the sun comes out why people don't live in glass houses.

We leave your relations with the local pigeons and their effect on your bubble for another day.

Taking out the rubbish

From the Telegraph:
Two-thirds of Russians want Vladimir Lenin to be removed from his Red Square mausoleum in central Moscow, a new poll has shown. 
That's heartening, though the poll doesn't say how many want the old monster dragged from his tomb, put on trial, and then buried in an unmarked grave where his followers can never find him.  Perhaps that would have been a bit too apt for Mr. Putin's tastes.

Low carbon hordes

"We're from Genghis Khan and we're here to help."
I knew it would come to this.  Genghis Khan, one of history's worst tyrants, mass murderers and would-be rulers of the world is now earning grudging (for now) praise from worshipers of Blessed Gaia because heaping the steppes of Asia with the skulls of his 40 million victims was environmentally friendly.

I'm sure that's a great comfort to those he slaughtered.

Next up:  Hitler eases overcrowding in Jewish ghettos.

Put your head between your legs...

Scientists report that the Yellowstone super volcano has bulged ten inches under magma pressure.

Given that if this goes it's predicted to take out most of the western United states, my emergency plan is to stare at the rumbling red glow on the skyline and quote Daffy Duck.

Monday, 24 January 2011

Blair: Don't apoligise

I have no love for Mr Tony Blair. To be blunt, I regard him as a traitor who deliberately aided and abetted an invasion of Britain, violated his oath through his lust to become President of the European Empire Union, and was openly hostile to Britain's institutions and culture.  I also regard his handling of the war against the Jihadists as cack-handed and self-defeating,  I think he did the right thing of going into Afghanistan and Iraq for the wrong reasons, and I wouldn't piss on him if he was on fire.

That being said, I do believe that he has a solid understanding of who our enemies are and their fundamental nature.  We are not going to make the Jihadists love us by grovelling at their feet.  We must bring the war to them.

Man in the plastic bubble

Some early spacesuit designs weren't so much reviewed as quietly slid into the wastepaper basket.

One day in the park

Kangaroos are bastards.

Friday, 21 January 2011

Way more money than sense

I bought that?
To forget where you parked your supercar smacks of carelessness.  Forgetting that you own one indicates that you're a Premier League footballer.


The French develop a nuclear reactor that moors on the seabed to provide sweet, sweet electrical power ashore.

Let's see Greenpeace try to handcuff themselves to this baby.  In fact, I'd rather like to see that–especially when they realise that their air tanks are running low and start to frantically gesture to the Coast Guard divers to make with the bolt cutters.

Lord Vader, call your service

The Mark II
The US Army is looking into new helmet designs to protect soldiers against IED explosions.  The idea is to protect the entire face and head against blast waves and to provide support for the neck to prevent the skull whipping about and lightly shaking the brain.

Anyone else see where this is going?

The Ascent of Man Part 7: The Majestic Clockwork

Thursday, 20 January 2011


Over at Tales of Future Past we've taken a look at Mobot.  Now it's Cyberneticzoo's turn as it looks at all three marks of Mobot.

Moon prospector

Popular Science looks at the state of space law as it pertains to lunar mining.

Personally, I think they're a bit optimistic.  Space law as it stands now is based on nothing but a load of nations without practical space travel indulging in a bit of posturing about places that they couldn't exploit anyway.  The moment someone invents a truly practical rocket engine and finds something really valuable on the Moon that returns a profit on the cost of bringing it back to Earth (and I don't mean water), prepare to watch that 1967 treaty take on all the relevancy of a paper-mâché welcome mat.

Wildlife taser

At last, a Taser that can floor a grizzly bear–or Big Wilf down the Dog & Duck.  Not that there's much difference aside from the fact that Wilf is ginger.

All kidding aside, there's already a load of bilge sloshing about on how this is "controversial", but I've known quite a few game wardens, zookeepers, naturalists, and vets in my time and a weapon that would give them a choice between tasering an escaped half-gone bull gorilla and blowing its brains out would be more than welcome.

Wednesday, 19 January 2011

Lunchtime clock

Diabolical.  I like it.

The End Times are upon us

That's it.  I'm leaving.
And I thought this was bad.  Scottish Spirits, a Panama-based company with offices in Glasgow, plans to market Scotch in... Sit down, please... Cans.

Well, civilisation had a nice run.  I'll miss it, but now that the barbarians have overrun the gates, it's time to grab a gun and flee for the hills.

Stop thinking

The Daily Mash looks at the question of Mr Nicholas Clegg and how to get him to stop having ideas.  I particularly like this quote:
But now cabinet secretary Sir Gus O'Donnell is to conduct a detailed review of the deputy prime minister's private office in a bid to establish whose job it is to hit him as hard as they can in the face with a shovel whenever he tries to call a press conference.

Is graduate school a good idea?

100 Reasons NOT to Go to Graduate School is a blog I recommend for anyone insane enough to consider staying on at university beyond a bachelor's degree.  It's a splash of cold water in the face that I wish I'd received when I was younger and stupider.

I spent nine years of undergraduate and postgraduate work before I got my PhD and I can categorically state that with the exception of one class on logic I would have been better off using my tuition money at a good book shop.  Indeed, I've often argued that university actually held back my education because it cut into my reading time.   If I needed one word to sum up my twenty years in academe, I'd use "disillusionment".  I went in expecting a mind-expanding world of study, argument and hard work pulling back the veils of ignorance and instead I encountered a nightmare of time-wasting, egomania, empire building, totalitarianism, political posturing, featherbedding, corruption, graft, sexual misconduct, intimidation, exploitation, and toadyism.  And that was just among the cafeteria staff.  As for "scholarship", it's a wonder that the shade of Aristotle wasn't howling through the corridors demanding blood  given what utter crap was being passed off as serious work.  The only bright spot was that I spent 14 of those years in field research, so the damage wasn't too bad.

Mind you, I retired from all of this fifteen years ago and from what I've seen, things have got increasingly worse with lives of thousands of graduate students being destroyed as they give years to the locust in exchange for a squandered youth and a blighted adulthood.  Given the cost, the exploitation, the time, and the appalling chances against getting a job, it's a wonder anyone goes for anything beyond a BA these days.

Indeed, I even doubt the value of an undergraduate degree. If things don't improve by the time my daughter is old enough for university, I plan to tell her flat out to forget it unless she plans to go into medicine, engineering or one of the hard sciences.  She currently wants to be a marine biologist, so there's some hope there.  If she plans to go for a liberal arts degree, I will do such things–what they are yet I know not, but they shall be the terrors of the earth!  Or at least I'll tell her to bank her tuition instead of handing it over to a ponzi scheme posing as an institution of higher learning.

Tuesday, 18 January 2011

Biolamp: The candelabrum of Blessed Gaia

The fun you can have when you don't bother to run the numbers.
How to deal with that Devil's gas formally known as CO2?  One way is to install expensive, impractical, impossible to maintain "biolamps" that act as miniature algae farms. Never mind the fact that they would produce only a whiff of "bio-fuel" and employ substandard LED lamps. At least they look ghastly.

Or you could just plant trees like everyone else.

History still flying

Vulcan XH558, a living reminder of what marvels Britain can produce when she tries, is heading back to the skies this April.

Well done.

Shadow play

This is what people used to do for fun before the Internet.

God, how I love the Internet.

Monday, 17 January 2011

Oven bus stop

A Carbious Coffee advert at a Minneapolis bus stop uses real heating elements to broil... Sorry, keep people queuing for the bus warm.

It's clever, but the heating element bit wasn't as much of a stretch of imagination as you might think,  When I was teaching at the University of Minnesota, I noticed that a lot of bus shelters had heating elements installed–not surprising when you might find yourself waiting for the bus at 35 below zero.  I used to walk for blocks looking for one of these because I find hypothermia to be rather uncomfortable.

The Snuggies of Armageddon

It's been an uneventful weekend, so let's start off with this piece about the day to day life of the dwindling ranks of the United State's Missileers; the men who dwell where Death wears bunny slippers.

Friday, 14 January 2011

The Ascent of Man Part 6: The Starry Messenger

Banned in Canada

And this country once had the third most powerful navy on the planet.

Now this is their priority.

Tattletale plastic

The University of Strathclyde claim to have invented a plastic package that can tell you when the food inside has gone off so you don't have to figure it out for yourself.

And yet another of life's little pleasures is denied from us.

The flying cruiser

Gizmag looks at concept art for a flying ocean cruiser:
The more things change, the more they stay the same... Just as readers of science magazines in the 40s and 50s liked to read about how jetpacks and passenger-carrying deep space rockets were right around the corner, so do today’s readers like to believe that car/boat/plane/helicopter hybrids and extensive underwater resorts are something they’ll soon be seeing.
Yes, very good.  The only problem is that in the old science magazines the predictions were, based on the science of the time,  technically feasible, not fantasies born of too many hits on the hookah pipe.


And now, our exclusive preview of Gerry Anderson's relaunch of Thunderbirds.

Or something.

Thursday, 13 January 2011

RoboCop goes viral

The original.
Maybe it's pure ego, but I get a kick when I see some of my work spreading out on the Internet on its own.  One of my favourites is the Radio Police Automaton from 1924, which is featured on Tales of Future Past.  The illustration is quite real, being from the May 1924 issue of Science and Invention, but the copy I scanned it from was heavily damaged with a dirty great hole in it courtesy of some bookworms, so it was hardly in a condition for posting.  Fortunately, the layout of the artwork was fairly obvious and I'd made a close study of a German version of it some years before, so I was able to fill in the gaps quite seamlessly, if I do say so myself.

Since I posted it, the restoration has spread all over the place (usually without a credit, but there you go) and it's amusing to think that it's currently the definitive version.  It's a sort of trivial immortality, I suppose, but it's nice to see all that effort appreciated.

Adapt, adopt, and improve

When I was in archaeology we used to refer to wheelbarrows as "field director's armchairs", but it never went quite as far as this.

Going, going...

Gerry Anderson announces in a BBC interview that he is officially reviving Thunderbirds.

I should be thrilled, but after what I have seen happen with so many reboots in recent years, I think I'll settle for pulling out my DVD collection, thank you.


Wednesday, 12 January 2011

Tuesday, 11 January 2011

Radio living room (1939)

The fax receiver is actually a nice touch.  It's meant to receive newspapers, which would have saved the average reader from many a soggy morning edition (assuming it wasn't deposited on the porch roof, which rarely happens with electronic versions).


Late night, was it?

Armstead snow motor

More successful than you might think. You see a lot of these around Arctic oil rigs.

Monday, 10 January 2011

RoboDummy looks at a 1965 NASA robot used to test how well spacesuits fit.

Existing documents fail to reveal whether Sir dressed to the left or the right.

Anti-pirate laser

Unfortunately, this isn't it.
BAE Systems is developing an anti-pirate laser.  At the moment, it just dazzle's would-be hijackers, but perhaps it will pave the way for something a bit more incendiary.

No doubt along with HMS Illustrated and Arch Regal

HMS "Invisible"
From the Telegraph:
HMS Invisible to become floating leisure centre

Thursday, 6 January 2011

Unfortunately, I've seen worse

Asking for bacon in a halal KFC does not end well.

This is abuse. You want 12A next door.

Stupid git.


This would be worth it just for the entertainment value of seeing what happens when Mr Poirier pulls the trigger.

Wednesday, 5 January 2011

Mark Twain memory holed

How to handle one of the great American novels when it contains a certain word that gives the Chattering Classes the vapours?  Show your respect for literature, freedom of speech, artistic integrity, history, and just plain honesty by bowlderising the hell out of it.

Can anyone play?  I come across things that offend me at a rate of one every twenty minutes.  May I please banish them, too?