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Archive for the 'Science Fiction' Category

Shape Shifters

Friday, April 25th, 2008

A while back I messed around with a shape memory alloy. They are pretty hard to work with. Shape memory alloys can change their shape when exposed to heat as in this video. They also contract when heated and the heat can be produced by running electricity down the wire. This is why they are called muscle wire. In this video they demonstrate the effect with an inchworm rocker.

Here is a video of a modular robot which can re-assemble itself after being kicked apart. The funny part is at the end when after all that effort, it stands up only to fall over.

NASA hopes to develop this type of technology so that swarms of robots can be sent to other planets.

This is pretty creepy! Check out this video of a face changing machine.

Seth Goldstein, an associate professor at Carnegie Mellon University talks about taking it to an even more extreme of claytronics. The idea is robots the size of grains of sand would morph into shapes as in Terminator 3. I got a laugh out of his idea of a 3 dimensional representation of your boss. I think a lot of people’s bosses would look more like Megan Fox from the shape shifting robot movie The Transformers.

megan fox

It doesn’t seem like that long ago I’d tell someone they ought to get a computer and they would give me this weird look and say “What would I do with a computer?”. Spam turns 30. The internet was a really cool place before they opened it up for commercial use. I wish they would have just created another one and kept that one like it was.

Here’s a tutorial on how to shoot cool pictures of water drops reflecting their surroundings.

Finally, if I ever go blind, I want a Seeing Eye bear so people won’t mess with me. Here’s a touching story of a Seeing Eye cat.

The World is an Amazing Place

Monday, April 21st, 2008

Have you seen the Discovery channel’s latest commercial? It’s pretty cute. I didn’t catch that was Stephen Hawking at the end until I watched the second time.

When we lived in upstate New York we set out on a camping trip on a Friday night in the dark. We were hiking an old logging road and we came to a body of water which wasn’t on our maps. As we sat trying to figure out where we were, the sky above us lit up with the most amazing display of northern lights. I had seen them before but always on the horizon. These were large shimmering curtains of light covering the sky. Here are 20 Amazing And Unusual Weather Phenomena. I think I’ve only seen 6.

Here are some Amazing Geological Oddities.

This is another one of those videos from TED Talks; David Gallo: Underwater astonishments.

You Can’t Travel Back in Time, Scientists Say; well, some scientists. I tried to watch the video; Can you time travel at the site but the audio goes out a few minutes into it. Maybe I’ll try it with a different browser.

As they point out at the end of that article, traveling to the future is relatively easy, all you have to do is go really fast and time passes more slowly for you relative to everyone on earth. It’s traveling to the past that’s tricky. Ronald Mallet is a physicist at the University of Connecticut who had an idea for a time machine. Here is his homepage. One of the interesting things about his proposal is you couldn’t really go back in time any farther than the point the first time machine was created. Here is a documentary about his idea and all the implications of paradoxes, mutiverses, and so forth in five parts.

Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5

Don’t have time for the documentary? Here is a CNN interview with him.

Of course, both the Live Science site and Ron Mallet’s page list a bunch of time travel movies. After glancing at the Wikipedia article, I guess I never read the original book The Time Machine by H. G. Wells. I always thought the ending of the 1960 movie was silly because he destroys the Morlocks who have knowledge and technology, in order to save the Eloi, who are basically dumb blonds. From the Wikipedia article, it seems Wells had a very different ending.

None of those lists contain a relatively obscure time travel movie called Grand Tour – Disaster in Time, also called Timescape outside the U.S.. It’s about tourists from the future who come back in time to view disasters. Often in time travel films, the traveler can not make any contact with themselves in a previous time because of some rule. One of the things I liked about it was the main character teams up with a copy of himself. I haven’t seen it in years but the ending was a little silly as I recall.

Finally, I had posted a high speed video of a balloon bursting the other day; check out this one where the balloon doesn’t break.

Goodbye Arthur, Hello Ella

Thursday, March 20th, 2008

Arthur C. Clarke died at the age of 90 at his home in Sri Lanka. He was an accomplished writer of both science and science fiction. He was probably best known for writing “2001: A Space Odyssey”. My first memory of him was when I discovered “Childhood’s End” while exploring the science fiction section of my local library. Shortly after, I read “The Nine Billion Names of God“. I was probably 13 years old. The future never seemed so bright. We were going to the moon and surely, my young mind thought, by the time I was grown up regular people would be flying around in spaceships.

Around that time I knew a woman who told me as a child she had seen the Wright brothers at a fair. To me, thinking this woman had lived through a time from the beginnings of flight to common jet aircraft transportation meant similar progress would be made in space travel in my lifetime.

From the New York Times;

But acts of reason and scientific speculation are just the beginning of his imaginings. Reason alone is insufficient. Something else is required. For anyone who read Mr. Clarke in the 1960s and ’70s, when space exploration and scientific research had an extraordinary sheen, his science fiction made that enterprise even more thrilling by taking the longest and broadest view, in which the achievements of a few decades fit into a vision of epic proportions reaching millenniums into the future. It is no wonder that two generations of scientists were affected by his work.

From a different article at the New York Times;

Mr. Clarke’s reputation as a prophet of the space age rests on more than a few accurate predictions. His visions helped bring about the future he longed to see. His contributions to the space program were lauded by Charles Kohlhase, who planned NASA’s Cassini mission to Saturn: “When you dream what is possible, and add a knowledge of physics, you make it happen.”

When I run across spectacular advances in science I often think about his third law;

“Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”

If a person from the past were able to view our present, this would certainly be true. I suppose, if I were to pick one technology I most appreciate I didn’t have as a kid, it wouldn’t be a computer, it would be the microwave oven.

I wish I could tell you who said this. I think I was watching an interview with some science fiction writers.

“The internet is cool and all, but I really would rather had the flying car”

Within hours of learning of Mr. Clarke’s death my new grandniece entered the world. Yesterday, as my sister put her in my arms, I felt a fleeting moment of apprehension. What if she doesn’t like me? What if she cries? She didn’t. She just looked up with those beautiful blue eyes and made happy baby sounds. As I held her, my mind raced into the future.