Monday, 28 February 2011

Stanley F-16

I don't know about demolition, but this could certainly set robot wars up a notch or two.

Space farming

Salad; why is it always salad?

Radio rockets

Needs more work.
A 1931 report on radio-controlled rockets to save the Free World from the menace of Zeppelins.

Interesting, though they're a bit vague on the technical details.


Still can't make the tea.
The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) awards Boston Dynamics a grant to develop a humanoid robot called ATLAS that can walk and even crawl like a man.  If that isn't enough, they're also tasked to create a second robot called CHEETAH that can run like a... you get the idea.

Just don't give them Genuine People Personalities.

Friday, 25 February 2011

Glorious news!

Attention All Outer Party Members

Glorious news, Comrades!  The Ministry of Plenty announces that the meat ration is increased to 70 grams per day.

Listen to them

We need both and much more.
From the BBC:
Ten retired senior military officers have written to the prime minister to voice their concerns over the loss of the aircraft carrier HMS Ark Royal.
You'd think that the Coalition had learned something after this week's disastrous evacuation of British nationals from Libya spearheaded by a lone Royal Navy frigate already slated for the scrapyard.  Where's Jack Fisher now that we need him? 

Mr Cameron:  Recommission the Ark Royal, bring back the Harriers, stop scrapping ships, increase defence spending, and demonstrate to the world that the ivory knob that you call a head is for more than resting your hat on.

Coral Reef

Welcome to Insta-Slum.
Haiti is the hellhole of the New World, but architect Vincent Callebaut has a solution in his Coral Reef; a "Inspired Carbon Neutral Eco Village".  Replete with all manner of greenery, these modular living units allow a thousand people to (somehow) grow their own food on small plots of land that I can't seem to find anywhere.  At any rate,
Aquaculture farms and grey water recycling plants filter and process the water before sending it into the sea. The entire complex is carbon neutral and powered via a number of different renewable energy sources. Power would be generated from thermal energy conversion under the pier, marine currents, vertical axis wind turbines, and solar photovoltaics.

Of course, seeing as Haiti isn't Hong Kong or Manhattan, you could just build small homes on normal plots of land, hook them up to a decent sanitation system, and then lay in a power grid with an honest-to-Fermi power plant that produces more power than the Haitians need so they can progress rather than never enough so they remain dirt poor, but where's the fun in that?


At last, an honest nature documentary.

Flying carpet car

Paleo Future looks at hovercars, which Tales of Future Past has touched on as well.

Think of this next time you hit a pot hole.

The Ascent of Man Part 12: Generation Upon Generation

Distributeur automatique de Pain

Leave it to the French to come up with a vending machine that bakes bread to order.

No doubt it's located next to the wine machine.

Thursday, 24 February 2011

Compulsory volunteerism: The face of hypocrisy

From the BBC (emphasis added):
Former minister Lord Davies of Abersoch will urge FTSE 350 companies to boost the number of women at the board table to 20% by 2013 and 25% by 2015. But he is expected to stop short of imposing quotas, unless the voluntary measures fail.
Run that by me again. You won't be compelled unless you don't do what the Inner Party tells you to do? I thought we were supposed be shot of this totalitarian mindset, but I must have been mistaken.

What''s the difference between Labour, Conservatives, and Liberal Democrats?  Nothing at all, gentlemen.  Nothing at all.

IQ Alarm

Could be worse.  Could be story problems.
Yanko Design (the DREADCO of the design world) does it again with the IQ Alarm.  What better way to wake up than to the blaring sound an alarm clock that won't turn off until you complete a brain teaser?

I can't even answer questions like "Who are you?" until I've had my tea, so I hope this comes with a large rubber mallet that I can use as a back up.

Do you need limes?

Popular Mechanics describes how to make a laser out of a gin and tonic.

I tried this myself, but I kept running out of gin and then I had to go and have a little lie down.

Commander Stryker, call your service

"Interceptors, immediate launch."
Why colonise the Moon?  According to Mechanix Illustrated in 1948,
The aggressor who sets up the first interplanetary outpost on the moon (sic) can dominate not only the world but the entire solar system.
That statement raised a few eyebrows on Jupiter.

Wednesday, 23 February 2011

Nicholas Courtney (1929-2011)

Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart: Hmmm.... Jenkins!
Jenkins: Sah!
Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart: Chap with wings there. Five rounds rapid.

Actor Mr Nicholas Courtney, best known for playing Brigadier General Alastair Lethbridge Stewart on Doctor Who when it was still Doctor Who and not a jumped-up sex farce, has passed on at the age of 81 after a brief illness.

I understand that at his funeral there will be an honour guard firing five rounds rapid.

Trident saved?

The defence secretary Dr Liam Fox claims that the number of Trident submarines will not be cut.

Good news, but I won't trust Dr Fox unless he provides hostages.

On a related point, notice how the BBC always has time to go running to CND (Scottish branch this time) for a quote whenever the topic is the Independent Deterrent. Funny how they never bring up the inconvenient fact that  CND Scotland's leader Alan Mackinnon is a Communist.  Perhaps airing that he's an adherent to an ideology responsible for the death of upwards of 100 million people and the enslavement of a sixth of the world's population might make his motives seem less than pure.

Great moments in rally driving

Bachelor cusine

From Chicago Boyz:
Never go to Costco hungry. But if you do, a Leatherman tool works really well for cutting up the roast chicken you start eating in the parking lot. And you will be extremely grateful for that roll of paper towels you find in the trunk of your car, trust me on this.

BTW, this is why you always want to buy two chickens, to insure that at least one of them makes it home intact.
This sounds a lot like my standard lunch when I went on walking tours back in England.  I'd collect a rotisserie chicken from the local butchers, a small loaf from the baker, and a bottle of cheap white wine from the offy, find a quiet bit of countryside and tuck in (though I preferred a Swiss Army knife). 

A nap under a convenient tree afterward rounded out the afternoon nicely.

Power of Decision

The US Air Force's 1958 vision of an all-out nuclear confrontation with the Soviets.

Late news on the culinary front

In case it was keeping you awake at night, dinosaurs taste like chicken.

Tuesday, 22 February 2011

Whatever happened to that carrier holiday?

But.. But they promised!
From the Telegraph:
Arab uprising exposes Britain’s naval weakness
What?  You mean the Royal Navy might need to evacuate British nationals or show some firepower to influence events?  A pity we don't have any aircraft carriers!

Update: Solution:  Who needs a navy? Send charter planes!

Mind control

Does it only work with Germans?

Freie Universität Berlin develops an experimental system for driving a car with your mind.

I have that now, but it involves using my mind to make my body work the wheel and pedals.  I believe in off the shelf technology

Art course

Her Majesty's Diamond Jubillee emblem designed by a 10-year old.

Well, it's better than looking as if it was.

Monday, 21 February 2011


The Telegraph reveals that Treasury's plans for the British Army after 2015.  According to one quoted defence source:
When Britain withdraws from Afghanistan in 2015, the Treasury will be knocking on the door of the MoD with a very big hammer – there will be a substantial reduction in troops numbers leaving an Army with a strength of circa 80,000. We will be moving into an era of sharing capabilities with our European allies. The days of being able to do everything are long gone. 
This is the lowest since the reign of George IV–and then we had a navy capable of seeing off any possible combination of forces.  What galls me more is that the Coalition thinks that cooing over how it's time for us to give up our independence to our European masters "allies" is supposed to make things better rather than confirming this treason for what it is.

Welcome to Britain:  Three main political parties, none of whom back their own country.

Gob Bluth, call your service

Introducing the Solowheel.  For the low, low price of only $1500 you can permanently destroy any sense of dignity you once possessed.

President Soetobakh Dunham

The Birther movement is one of the oddities of current American politics that has a kernel of importance at the centre of its madness.  The idea that Mr Barack Hussein Obama is not eligible to hold his office because he isn't really a natural-born citizen doesn't hold water.  For it to be true, Mr Obama would have to be the beneficiary of a combination of coincidence and conspiracy that is staggering when you consider that the subject at the time was a child, not a full-grown politician.

However, the fact that Mr Obama has spent millions keeping his birth records sealed has always suggested to me, and now it turns out the US Supreme Court, that there is something more embarrassing than sinister going on here:  Is his name really Barack Hussein Obama?  Leaving aside the fact that until he got into politics Mr Obama always went by the name of "Barry", Hillbuzz points out that, given his adoption by his stepfather, Mr Obama may not be Mr Obama.  He may be Barry Soetoro, Soetobakh Soetoro, Soetoro Soetobakh, or Soetobakh Dunham.  Where the Supreme Court comes in on all this is that it raises the question; if Mr Obama is using an assumed name, is his signature legal?

That would make things interesting

Going backwards by going forwards

From the BBC:
A "tourism strategy" will include a plan to move the clocks in line with most of Europe, bringing lighter evenings but darker mornings.
"Tourism strategy", my great aunt.  This has far more to do with bringing the province of Britain into line with the rest of the European Empire Union.  It's only an "experiment" and will only be done if the British people want it, but how many unpopular and unsuccessful experiments of recent decades have become permanent fixtures?

How ironic that the land of GMT will no longer observe it.


Via Richard Wiseman.

Friday, 18 February 2011

Service resumes

For those of you who have been trying to visit Tales of Future Past or have been trying to send me e-mails without success, I apologise.  There was a dispute with my hosting service that has now been resolved.

Ascent of Man Part 11: Knowledge or Certainty

Stiff upper rubbish

A dying breed or just out of favour?
"Well, when (Emperor Carelinus) got as far as the coast of Muntab, it was said that he stood on the shore and wept. Some philosopher told him that there were more worlds out there somewhere, and that he'd never be able to conquer them. Er... That reminded me a bit of you"

Cohen strolled along in silence for a moment.

"Yeah," he said at last." Yeah, I can see how that could be. Only not so sissy, obviously."
Terry Pratchett, The Last Hero

The BBC asserts that the emotional incontinence at the death of Princess Diana was not a sign of the decay, but rather Britain's true character because Britain never really had a stiff upper lip to begin with.  Why?  Because Britain mourned the passing of a great hero in 1805 and in 1990 Paul Gascoigne was a big girly blouse.

I've seen paper boats better constructed than this argument.

Bananas of Doom

But they look so innocent!
Interesting little fact:  Bananas are so radioactive that they produce false positives in scans for contraband nuclear shipments.

Great.  Now we have to worry about the dirty banana bomb.

Thursday, 17 February 2011

Tomorrow: 1941

Tea... of the FUTURE!

Lucky find

For those of you who thought that Ray Harryhausen only did monster films, here's a proposal he made for a Lucky Strikes commercial .

Via Lileks.


The Royal Navy and RAF may have taken insane cuts, but at least the Royal Marines haven't been decimated.

Decimation would have reduced them a tenth. They've cut recruitment by a third.

Maybe our enemies won't notice.

Needs debugging

A wife asks her husband, a software engineer: "Could you please go shopping for me and buy one carton of milk, and if they have eggs, get six." A short time later the husband comes back with six cartons of milk. The wife asks him, "Why the hell did you buy six cartons of milk?" He replied, "They had eggs."

Via reddit

Wednesday, 16 February 2011

Mad Men revising

Libertas looks at the hit television series Mad Men and examines its revisionism of the 1960s.  It's an interesting perspective and the links are well worth following, though some of the revision of early 1960s America is less, I suspect, deliberate than the result of soap opera plots revolving around a profession that was already pretty dysfunctional to begin with.

My wife and I have recently been watching the entire series so far on DVD and I've found it both impressive and perplexing. It's impressive because the producers are obviously putting a great deal of effort into recreating New York in the 1960s, but perplexing that they're getting so much attention for doing what the BBC does half a dozen times before lunch.  There are entire antique markets that cater specifically to BBC production companies–and that's just the ones doing remakes of Pride and Prejudice.   As I've said elsewhere, the production values of the show are meticulous, the acting is often, though not always, first rate, and the direction tolerably restrained.  Where it falls down, as in most cases today, is in the writing.  It's not bad, but it isn't good.  As character studies, the episodes work very well.  It's pity that they are nearly devoid of plot.  Events happen, they go away, and I wonder why they even bothered to put them in. I often end up watching the credits and wondering what the point of any of the last hour was.  It is, in many ways, a pretty lifeless series and some of the acting often has a rout feel about it. Still, every now and again they roll out something like Don Draper's carousel speech and I'm willing to hang around a bit longer.

As to the revisionism:  Yes, the producer does have a very large axe to grind and he's admitted that he's a great admirer of the counterculture '60s.  The original idea, as we can see from the very crudely written pilot, was to set up these horribly repressed Eisenhower era types, show how ghastly they were, make us all suitably outraged, and then roll in the Summer of Love to make it all better. It worked for Chocolat and Pleasantville, so why not Mad Men?  So far I'm with David Ross and his assessment, but I differ in that I argue that by choosing the bizarre world of Madison Avenue Mad Men undermines its own argument and by, as Ross says, focusing on the adults the show makes the era attractive by showing the sophistication and maturity that modern society has lost–even if it is the pseudo-sophistication of Manhattan.  This latter is the ultimate irony because even though the producers still hang their straw men in the air, they've made their world so interesting that they've no choice but to treat it with some measure of respect.

One thing I've noticed about the show is that so many of the "outrageous" social attitudes of the time that we're supposed to shake our heads at ring so false. Not that they didn't happen, but that the consequences were in real life very different. Yes, men could be very vulgar to women, for example, but where in  Mad Men it's just part of the milieu, in the real 1960s it would have resulted in the vulgarian being quietly cornered in a broom cupboard by his fellow male coworkers and pounded in the wedding vegetables.  Much more effective than sensitivity sessions.

In the end, I suspect that the producers are in for a bit of a shock.  They may be aiming at, in Ross's words, the way in which "Baby Boomers have always justified their berserk torching of the culture", but I suspect that they will backfire and not invoke smug satisfaction at the conflagration, but a growing anger at what was lost, for all its faults, in exchange for what replaced it.

Hai'ku stairs

Here's something I didn't know existed when my boat was based in Hawaii.  It's a flight of stairs that run up the spine of one of the mountains that bisect the island of Oahu.

It's probably a good thing I didn't know about it because if I did, some silly bugger would have wanted me to climb it.


Messrs Mario Caceres and Cristian Canonico bestow upon Boston, MA and the world the Treepods:  Biomimic constructs that scrub pollutants from the air; making for a healthier, happier community.

Bear in mind that the "pollutant" in question is carbon dioxide, which is actually a perfectly safe gas that is part of the natural respiration cycle, but the High Priests of Blessed Gaia have declared CO2 anathema, so who are we mere mortals to question their divine wisdom?  I imagine that we are also not allowed to question their arithmetic as to how this is in any way superior to those other things... The whatsits... Trees, that's  it.  I understand that they have something of the same function as well without looking like a 1970s table lamp.

Tuesday, 15 February 2011

News you can use

Apparently, the correct way to defend yourself against crocodiles is to stick your thumb in its eye, while for tigers the correct procedure is to use a wooden soup ladle to apply a sound beating about the head and shoulders.

Personally, I prefer to employ solutions that involve large bullets discharged at a very high rate of fire.

Pedal abuse of power

Remember our boys on the Malabar Front.
From the BBC:
Portable pedal machines could be used in every office to improve the health of workers, according to scientists in the US.
It's at this point that I start to wonder why they don't just have us assemble for mandatory calisthenics in front of the telescreen and be done with it.

Coffee consumption

Here's an interesting graphic that charts the per capita coffee consumption around the world.

Two insights:  Finland downs 12 kg of coffee per year and the United States 4.2 kg.  Given how much coffee I've seen consumed in Western Washington, I can only conclude that vast regions of the USA are utterly devoid of the hallowed bean in order to bring down the average.

Monday, 14 February 2011


Jeopardy is getting a lot of publicity over their booking of IBM's Watson as a contestant.

You would think that after that nasty Numberwang incident they'd have learned the folly of mixing computers and game shows.

Cutting away the muscle

From the Telegraph:
A quarter of RAF trainee pilots are to be sacked in a cost-cutting cull that threatens to leave the Armed Forces short of airmen.
If you're going to scrap perfectly good aircraft, build carriers you never intend to use, and retire warships that still have decades of life in them, then sacking pilots a few air hours short of qualification after spending £300 million on their training makes the same sort of perverted sense.

It's a bit like a vending machine I once encountered that would refuse to provide a cup and then dispensed the coffee straight down the drain.

Update:  And if you're sacking pilots, why not get rid of coast guard stations and heavy tugs as well?

This isn't saving money; it's cutting capabilities.

Future cooking

In the early 1990s, AT&T looks at cooking...of the FUTURE!

Road tunes

Cassette car stereos go the way of the 8-track–mainly to get out of the way of the CD car stereos, which are going away in 2015.

Looks like it's time to replace my motor's current audio system.

Friday, 11 February 2011

Lions administered by bureaucratic donkeys

Just another day of public sector work..

From the Telegraph:
The head civil servant at the Ministry of Defence has been given a stern rebuke for likening soldiers fighting on the front line to “public sector workers”
There's one job that no one will miss if she's sacked.


Mr Calin Giubega gives the world the "Munivo"; an ultrasonic sensor that guides the blind by drawing "symbols and directions" on the user's palm.

Just don't ask him why the transceiver isn't mounted like a wristwatch and hooked to a Bluetooth earpiece to provide spoken directions.  That sort of practicality makes for some deep sulks on his part.

Ascent of Man Part 10: World Within World

Thursday, 10 February 2011

A great universal mystery

The future just isn't what it used to be

I was willing to go along with this until the dreaded word "sustainable" appeared, then it veered a hard left and smacked into a sustainable brick wall.

Instant Underpants

How many times have you found yourself desperately in need of a clean pair of pants?  That many?  How unfortunate.

Worry no more. With Instant Underpants you'll never be caught short again.  Just add water and you've got a clean pair ready to go.  It's a wet pair, but you can't have everything.

Missing a tiny detail

Wired is hopping from one foot to another over Mr Barack Hussein Obama's Soviet-style plan to put one million electric cars on the road:
The Obama Administration’s dream of seeing 1 million electric vehicles on the road is laudable and necessary, but it’s going to require a Herculean effort if we’re to pull it off. 
According to the article, it will take innovation, cooperation between industry and government, expanded infrastructure, and high production targets.

They seem to have overlooked one little detail in this plan that is more suited to a 1930s tractor factory in Stalingrad: People don't want ghastly little G-Wizes that can't outrun a moped, make you choose between the windscreen wipers and the headlamps, take hours to recharge and have so small a range that going into town for a loaf of bread becomes a ten-mile walk home.  Apparently, the idea of letting private industry follow the profit motive and produce a practical vehicle that people actually prefer never entered Mr Obama's Olympian mind.

The only question is, how many tables does Mr Obama wish to see built?

Wednesday, 9 February 2011

Pointless immortality

A companion piece celebrates his successful potty training.
If you're interested in the truly pointless, we present this statue of Edgar Hernandez of La Gloria, Velacruz, Mexico; a five-year old boy who in 2009 was the first person to contract swine flu.  Mind you, young Edgar got over it and  is alive and kicking today.  Meanwhile, the swine flu, though it has killed 14,000 people worldwide after several years, pales into insignificance compared to ordinary influenza that kills 36,000 people a year in the United States alone.  With such little details added to the story, one suspects that the artist Bernardo Luis Lopez Artasanchez jumped the gun a bit by immortalising what was essentially a non-event.

Next up:  I create a giant fresco to commemorate the discovery that Carl the Cattle Dog is allergic to fleas.

Toy atom lab

Conclusive proof that kids today are wimps.
 You can keep your Xboxes and your Kinects.  I'll take a 1950s vintage toy atom smasher any day


HMS Invincible sold to a Turkish scrapyard.

I have yet to see a more apt metaphor for what all three main parties have been doing to Britain for the past half century.

Tuesday, 8 February 2011

Beat the retreat

Mr Cameron has no idea what this is for.
From the Guardian
Britain is to abandon its warship patrols of the Caribbean for the first time since the second world war because of the navy's funding crisis, the Guardian has learned.
 Mr David Cameron deserves to be flogged through the fleet for this.  However, considering what the little git has done to the fleet he probably wouldn't suffer anything worse than a paper cut.

Asbos out

The Coalition is considering scrapping the Asbos in favour of a new system to deal with minor offenders on the spot.

Personally, I'd go with giving the police the power to confiscate a yobbo's, shoes, trousers and wallet so that the young hoodlum has a memorable walk home.

Secondhand shuttle

According to USA Today, United Space Alliance, the Boeing/Lockheed Martin consortium that operates the Space Shuttle for NASA, wants to buy two of the retiring spacecraft to use commercially.

Great. Now I'm in a bidding war and I still haven't finished making the payments on the orbital death ray yet.