Robots get even more amazing

December 30, 2020 • 11:15 am

Reader Bryan called my attention to the latest robot production of Boston Dynamics. Their robots just keep getting more and more amazing. These four, dancing to a classic rock song, are almost unbelievable. Now what we see here is completely programmed—the robots are not of course making “decisions” from a network programmed into them. But that’s coming!

A new way of visualizing cells

December 13, 2020 • 2:30 pm

This is a lovely video showing a new way of visualizing cells as they are living and operating. The “microscope” that does this is extremely large and complex. I don’t know much about it, and don’t fully understand the principles, but this video probably tells you all you need to know. The images are stunning, and I love the enthusiasm of the researchers.

A 130-year-old old bird-call machine

December 2, 2020 • 2:30 pm

There’s an article on this 130-year-old device at bOINGbOING, though the text adds almost nothing to the YouTube notes about this mechanical bird-song-maker:

This wind-up mechanism has a tiny bellows and several gears that produce a remarkably lifelike bird call.

Szymon Pawelec, the collector and demonstrator who consulted on the Scorsese film Hugo, says:

A mechanical singing bird mechanism. Made around 120 years ago in Paris, probably by Bontems. In the film I hope you can identify all the major parts and see them working together to make the sound. The mechanism was in a rusted and seized state and has been restored. Surpisingly [sic] the bellows are in good original condition. See our channel for more, much more.

Here’s another one. I’m still not sure how the damn things work, producing a rather complex bird call, but I have no mechanical talent for discerning these things. It’s enough to marvel at it.

h/t: Barry

Excreting on the ISS

November 28, 2020 • 2:00 pm

Don’t deny that you’ve wondered “How do astronauts go to the bathroom?”  Well, this official NASA video gives you the answer, at least for the International Space Station, and it all looks like a pretty dire job. That toilet is scary.

The narration and demonstration (no real excretions were filmed) is done by Expedition 63 Commander Chris Cassidy, who does his descriptions straight-up, without a touch of humor.  There are also videos online videos about how to keep your body clean in space (see this one about hair washing), but Lord, these astronauts must be pretty rank after a six-month stint!

A marvelous instrument

September 3, 2020 • 3:00 pm

Swedish musician Martin Molin, a member of the band Wintergatan, is also a prolific creator of bizarre instruments that the band uses in their performance.  This one, the Marble Machine, uses 2000 ball bearings that hit chimes, and also has percussion and a bass. The Wikipedia section about the machine says this:

The machine is powered by a hand-crank, and works by raising steel marbles through the machine into multiple feeder tubes, where they are then released from height via programmable release gates, falling and striking a musical instrument below. Instruments played by marbles striking them include a vibraphone, bass guitar, cymbal, and emulated kick drum, high hat and snare drum sounds using contact microphones. The music score is stored on two programmable wheels that utilize Lego Technic beams and stud connectors to trigger armatures to release the marbles. A final music video showing the machine in use was released in 2016, and has been viewed over 147 million times. [JAC: it’s now over 151,000,000!]

Ten months after the debut of the original Marble Machine, the band disassembled it and announced their plans to make a new marble machine for the purpose of touring. The new machine, to be called “Marble Machine X”, would solve a multitude of mechanical functionality problems with the original Marble Machine. Martin Molin, the builder of the original Marble Machine, is collaborating with a team of engineers and designers as well as fans for the design and build of the Marble Machine X. The original Marble Machine is now back in his possession after being exhibited in Museum Speelklok in Utrecht, the Netherlands.

You can see the live, conventional-instrument performance of this song here.

But wait! There’s more! Here’s Marble Machine X in a test demonstration. There’s an ad in the middle, and then more demonstration in the second half.

Go to SolidSmack to see two other videos of two other machines: a Paper pulling music box and a “modulin”

h/t: Vidya

Mars Rover starts its mission today (launch 7:50 a.m. EDT); watch launch now

July 30, 2020 • 6:30 am

Reader Jon Mummaw alerted me, and I’m alerting you, that the new Mars rover is being launched today. In fact, in about 20 minutes from when this post goes up, the rocket will take off.  You can watch it live at the links below. Perseverance will not only collect soil samples from the bed of an ancient Martian lake, hoping to find evidence of any form of life (the samples will someday be returned to Earth, they say), but also has its own drone called Ingenuity.  CNN describes several of the technological features of the rover and drone. And below I’ve reproduced Jon’s words with links.

Perseverance, an updated version of the mars rover Curiosity, is scheduled for liftoff at 7:50 a.m. EDT on Thursday, July 30, at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. Perseverance will be launched atop a United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket. Live coverage begins on NASA TV at 7:00 a.m. EDT.  You can watch the launch live on NASA’s YouTube Channel or on NASA TV. Although the weather forecast looks favorable for a Thursday launch, the launch window runs from 30 July to 15 August 2020. If the 30 July launch is successful, Perseverance is scheduled to land at Jezero crater on 18 February 2021. Entry, decent and landing (EDL) will be similar to Curiosity’s harrowing Seven Minutes of Terror, although Perseverance is equipped with HD video cameras to record the landing. The HD video, however, will take weeks to transmit to earth.

The Perseverance rover has improved wheels, carries 23 cameras, two microphones and will seek signs of ancient life and collect rock, soil, and drill core samples for possible return to Earth during a later mission. Perseverance also carries an experimental autonomous helicopter called Ingenuity, which will be deployed to take close up photographs of the surrounding Martian landscape.

“The Mars 2020 Perseverance rover mission’s disk-shaped cruise stage sits atop the bell-shaped back shell, which contains the powered descent stage and Perseverance rover. Below is the brass-colored heat shield that is about to be attached to the back shell.”

JAC: Here’s a photo of the rover. What an ingenioous species we are! Pity we keep hating and killing each other. . . .

The complex cockpit of an F-15 fighter jet

July 19, 2020 • 2:30 pm

If you think computer-assisted and computer-display modern cars are complicated (I do; I have a low-tech 2000 Honda), then you’re going to be blown away by this new 14-minute video about now the McDonnell Douglas F-15 Eagle jet fighter is controlled.  Col. Themely, who has flown these things in extenso, tells us what all the buttons are displays are for, though some of the displays aren’t activated because they’re classified. The amount of redundancy and safety features is impressive. Though the plane has been around since 1967, with continual upgrades, it remains a marvel of human ingenuity. And remember, every bit of this plane was made out of material wrested from the Earth, and designed by a mess of neurons in our heads.

Now guess what all this costs? After you’ve watched the video, click below the fold to find out, but guess first.  Oh, and the top speech is Mach 2.7, or 2071 miles per hour (3346 km/hr).

Today Ars Technica brings you inside the pilot’s seat of an F-15C Eagle fighter jet to break down every button in the cockpit. Join retired United States Air Force pilot Col. Andrea Themely as she walks you through everything at your disposal, from emergency features and communication controls to navigation features and weapons and defense. With 1100 hours of experience piloting F-15’s, Col. Themely expert eye is ready to guide you each step of the way.

Click “read more” to see what one of these bad boys costs. Continue reading “The complex cockpit of an F-15 fighter jet”

The biggest plane ever built takes off

June 16, 2020 • 1:30 pm

Lookie! Here’s a mesmerizing video of the world’s heaviest aircraft, the Russian Ukrainian Antonov An-225 Mriya, taking off from Toronto.  It’s the heaviest aircraft ever built (640 tonnes fully loaded, where a tonne is 1000 kg), and only a single plane was ever built—in 1985.

This fairly new video from Ross’ Aviation World will probably have you glued to the screen until the end, for once you see this hefty behemoth painfully trundling down the taxiway, accompanied by fire engines and other vehicles, you’re gonna ask, “Can that damn thing actually get airborne?”  And you’ll want to satisfy yourself that it can.

Another video, which is longer, gives details about this plane, which was designed to carry heavy loads, in particular this one:

With the six powerful engines, loads of up to 250 tons are no problem for the Antonov An-225. The plane was originally intended to take the Soviet Buran space shuttle back from its landing site to the Baikonur spaceport in Kazakhstan. After the end of the space program, Antonov Airlines converted the An-225 into a cargo plane. The next order: the transport of twelve electrical transformers from Chile across the Andes to Bolivia with twelve flights in just four weeks.

It also appears to have a gazillion wheels!

Here are the YouTube notes from Ross:

I am absolutely lost for words. In my opinion, I think that this was the best video I ever filmed in my 11 years of spotting (as of date of upload).

Here is the world’s heaviest aircraft, the mighty Antonov An-225 rocketing off of RWY 06L on a beautiful morning. The aircraft was flying back to China via Anchorage. The An-225 flew in the day before to bring in medical supplies related to COVID-19. Something really good came out of this awful pandemic.


0:59 – Antonov An-225 taxiing

1:20 – Head-on with the An-225, taxiing on Delta

4:25 – Engine run-up

5:38 – Takeoff roll on 06L

6:15 – Liftoff

Vatican launches smart “e-rosary” that connects to an app and tracks your “bead progress”

October 24, 2019 • 1:00 pm

No, this e-rosary is not a joke, but a real item launched by the Vatican, during the Month of the Rosary, clearly in a desperate attempt to keep young people wedded to Catholicism. You can read about this remarkable religious innovation at the two sites below (click on screenshot):

From Fox 35 Orlando:

Verification via the Vatican News:

Here it is!

And how it works (my emphasis):

In an effort to get more young people to pray for world peace, the Vatican has launched a $110 wearable digital rosary, called the “Click To Pray eRosary.

The “Click to Pray” eRosary can be worn as a bracelet and links to a mobile app that becomes activated when the user makes the sign of the cross. The beads of the bracelet are made of black agate and hematite, and the digital device is in the shape of a cross.

. . . Aimed at the peripheral frontiers of the digital world where the young people dwell, the Click To Pray eRosary serves as a technology-based teaching tool to help young people pray the Rosary for peace and to contemplate the Gospel,” the Vatican explained.

The smart rosary links to the official player app of the Pope’s Worldwide Prayer Network, called “Click To Pray,” that connects thousands of praying people worldwide daily.

Once the device is activated, users can choose whether they want to pray a standard rosary, a contemplative rosary or one of the thematic rosaries, which are updated annually. The smart rosary keeps track of and displays the user’s progress and tracks when each rosary is completed.

The part that needs fixing here is that apparently users still have to do manual work, moving the beads through their hands. If the Vatican were really savvy, they’d have the e-rosary move itself at preset times, making it even easier to use than the Buddhist prayer wheels that you can twirl in your hands, sending a prayer each which each revolution.

Package thief owned by tech geek

December 19, 2018 • 11:30 am

UPDATE (2019): Reader Bryan writes me that at least 2 of the 5 packages may not represent real thefts, but favors done by friends of the people who left the packages on their porch. This tweet tells the tale:


From C|Net and other sources, we hear of the cleverness of Mark Rober, a former NASA engineer who devised a clever (and diabolical) way to foil package thieves. In America, at least, this is the time of year when people steal packages left by delivery services on people’s porches: these thefts are almost a fixture of the nightly news. The thieves are hard to catch, even with porch camera video, as they often cover their heads.

Well, Rober developed a way to foil them by making fake packages that explode with glitter, emit fart smells and noises, and have phones in them to not only photograph the perpetrators, but send the video to a cloud. The phones also have GPS sensor that enabled Rober to recover the discarded packages and the phones.

Here’s what he did, and it’s way cool. Sadly, there’s no information about whether any of these thieves were caught; I suspect not.