Posts Tagged ‘fun science’

As Radio Shack Lays Dying — A Love Letter

March 5, 2014

Once the go-to shop for American geekdom, Radio Shack is closing another 1000 retail outlets. Some blame Amazon, the internet, a dumbed-down consumer even, but Radio Shack really has no-one to blame but themselves.

Radio Shack, we were once friends, lovers even, so take this as friendly advice: abandon your current, worthless PR efforts (after the firing squads are done, anyway) and re-engage with your core market. Or… just die. Preferably quickly.

That sounds harsh, but that’s how things are now.

Regarding your PR: does Toys’R’Us buy ad-space in the ‘Journal of Injection Moulded Plastics’? Of course not.
So why does
 Radio Shack buy ads in magazines catering to electrical engineers? A smiting is warranted by this abject idiocy.

Also, is this lame ‘Do It Together’ campaign the best you can do, a shitty logo with nothing to back it up? How does this engage anyone that doesn’t already shop at Radio Shack? ‘We’re Doing Ourselves’ would have been a more appropriate slogan. Those behind this wasted effort should be fired, and I’m not just talking about the ad agency. All it takes is one glance to see that somebody at Radio Shack didn’t have their thinking cap on… or just quit trying. 

Your core market:  the DIY folks — the enthusiasts, tinkerers and crackpot inventors. You know, like those ne’er-do-wells named Wozniak and Jobs? The polite term is ‘Maker’ now and if you can bring yourself to become a useful resource to them, the Makers can save your feckless corporate ass. 

Drop the appliances and cellphones and all that other crap that every other retailer kicks your butt at and focus on the Makers that nobody else is serving. This market is yours to lose.

Cast your minds back to the Tandy Leather stores, the sister shops to the old Radio Shack. The joke used to be that fetishists were keeping them in business. But if you drop over to their website, take a look at their in-store class schedules.  Hmmm, that’s a tool of engagement that Radio Shack never offered. Interesting. And predictive. 

I know you’ve tried carrying a few fun products like Arduinos and Basic Stamps (hidden between the mountains of bullshit, toys and iPhone cases), but there is a big difference between putting a product on your shelf and actually engaging potential customers for that product. You already know this, right? Well, do something about it!

Everything wrong at Radio Shack can be fixed. If you need some ideas (and you really-really do, old chum!), here’s a few freebies:

  • Sponsor local school Chess Clubs and Science Fairs. This is where Makers and geeks come from!
  • Hold some kind of in-store intro classes. If they don’t know how to use it, they won’t buy it! Of course, you’ll need someone with a clue to teach these classes, so…
  • Get to know your local Makers, maybe even hire a few of them: think ‘seed crystals’! These folks network and scheme and organize. Use them!
  • Make ‘The Shack’ a meeting place for those techie losers… just like in the old days. Knowledgeable staff and espresso would help.
  • Sponsor your local hackerspace(s)! A few resistors and some soldering irons would make a big splash for little cash!
  • Quit doing everything you are doing now that doesn’t work and THINK for a change!

Regarding your stupid Super Bowl ad: Makers don’t give a fuck about your shitty store fixtures… but I’d bet they would compete to design and fabricate some very sweet custom fixtures for their local ‘Rat Shat’. Just sayin’.

Amazon and other online sellers are slaughtering small retailers. They used to say the same thing about big box stores. But guess what? You can’t stream a hands-on experience. I had a coffee seller tell me that they didn’t bother with an on-line presence because that’s not what sells coffee. Same thing with Makers and their tactile, muscle-memory, wiggle-that-wire meatspace. You cannot put that experience or that face-to-face learning down a wire, not even a coaxial one. That’s what Radio Shack has to stick to if it wants to survive.

Do you get it, old friend?
We don’t like watching you die from self-inflicted wounds.
You can fix this… and your shareholders and the Makers would be thankful if you did.


They Live, We Sleep

October 30, 2013




I rewatched the 1988 John Carpenter classic “They Live” for what must be the Nth time last night, and I’m amazed at how well it has retained its relevance. The social satire works as well against the backdrop of the voodoo economics of the Reagan-Bush years as it would in the midst of the Occupy Wall Street protests. This is partly because the issues remain the same (increasing income inequality, an economy cratered by the untouchable & uncaring rich, relentless mass-media manipulation) and partly because, well, John Carpenter just plain makes damned good movies.


The script for “They Live” was based on “Eight O’Clock in the Morning”, a short story written by Ray Nelson almost a half century ago. Ray had a very interesting and multi-faceted career, not only as a writer and cartoonist, but as a smuggler of pornography: according to his IMDB bio, in the 1950s he helped Michael Moorcock sneak the works of Henry Miller out of France.

Ray has another claim to cultural fame as well: he has the singular distinction of having been the inventor of the propeller beanie in 1947. While still in high school, he and some friends were goofing around at a science fiction convention and put some together from plastic scraps. The rest is history. He once remarked, “Centuries after all my writings have been forgotten, in some far corner of the galaxy, a Beany-Copter will still be spinning.”

I’m going to install a propeller on my bike helmet and then go read some dirty books in Ray Nelson’s honor, and I hope you’ll all do something along the same lines.

Seventy-five years ago, on Oct. 30, 1938, mere hours before Halloween began, millions of Americans got the fright of a lifetime: Orson Welles, 23 at the time, performed a radio dramatization of H.G. Wells’ War of the Worlds…without reveling that it was a play. The morning after press conference was a classic.

Radiolab contrasts the aftermath of the original broadcast in 1938 with the repeat performance in Quito, Ecuador in 1949. Let’s just say there was a strong public reaction. And mayhem.

Christianity may have appropriated the honoring of the dead into the Christian calendar with All Saints (All Hallows) on November 1st, followed by All Souls on November 2nd, but Samhain is what got this party started.

Okay, the link-bait got me, but in a good way: “What is a walipini?”. Turns out it’s a low-tech in-ground greenhouse that uses the thermal mass of the soil to keep it growing things all year round. There’s more on them here.

We humans are “Narrative Machines“, constantly rewriting the stories of our lives. It’s how we make sense of things, pinning the chaos down to a single perspective.

I agree, this church does rather resemble a penis when seen from the air. And it’s not even thinking about butt-sex with Westboro!

The Gift That Keeps On Giving!

October 1, 2013

That Time GE Made a One-Man, Rocket-Propelled Reentry Vehicle/Body Bag

Judge Takes On Patent Troll With ‘Sham Employee’; Forces Troll To Defend Practice Before A Jury. This is going to be good!

Just a few holes transforms the fried chicken-peddling Colonel Sanders into a blood-vomiting demon.

Should Kratom Use Be Legal? The leaves of the herb kratom (Mitragyna speciosa), a native of Southeast Asia in the coffee family, are used to relieve pain and improve mood as an opiate substitute and stimulant.

Another form of wireless charging: Harnessing the power of lightning to charge a mobile phone. Ben Franklin on line two!

Naked mole rats live long lives—about 30 years—and stay healthy until the very end. Now biologists at the University of Rochester have new insights into the animal’s longevity—better-constructed proteins.

The Once and Future Tantrum

Happy 123rd anniversary, Yosemite National Park! It’s too bad the congressional Pubes & Goobs decided to shut down the government to celebrate!

Of course the Oklahoma delegation played its part as faux-populist Tea Party lick-spittles, but what do you expect from the likes of Markwayne “Lying Tradesman” Mullin or Jimbo “Unambiguous Tea Party-Doll” Bridenstein or the rest of the mouth-breathers that the rural base here seems to love? Calling attention to the Okie voters’ lack of critical reasoning skills would be to state the self-evident, judging from the type of pathetic douche-bags they keep sending to Washington.

And that brings us back to the current round of “Amateur Hour” at it’s most garish: the Goobs can barely muster the coordination required to drag all the furniture into a pile for the self-serving, cynical Pubes (like Ted Cruz) to apply their rudimentary fire-making skills to. There will follow much hooting and howling around the bonfire, some spirited poo-flinging and Piggy may be hunted for a time. Meanwhile, the nation’s business is put on hold. Surely this is what the Founding Fathers intended!

Eventually, the adults will show up (as they always do), kiss their little boo-boos and send them off to their warm, corruption-funded beds again. What passes for Tea Party ‘honor’ will have been served: they’ll have held their breath till they turn blue as Smurfs and thrown their tantrums for the cameras, given the global economy a limp, forced up the cost of borrowing for everyone, screwed workers out of timely paychecks, maybe even triggered some evictions… and call it ‘striking a blow for FREEDOM!” Most of these ass-clowns will probably be re-elected because Americans just aren’t very good at thinking any more. Too much kool-aid will stunt your brain.

The reality is that there are no principled positions advanced by the Right, which can only dish out a wilted word-salad of nihilistic platitudes and strategies for kicking people already laid low by the banksters and vulture capitalists that own the GOP body and soul. Their idiotic base will applaud their fraudulent malfeasance in office… and we can do this all over again in a few months! Blather, rinse, repeat!

Dead Parrots and Mind-Controlled Flamethrowers

September 25, 2013

I recently had the pleasure of watching “A Liar’s Autobiography: The Untrue Story of Monty Python’s Graham Chapman“. It is certainly an interesting and entertaining film.

Remember that time back in the 1990s when Walt Disney was awakened from his cryogenic sleep, started building artificial islands off the coast of Massachusetts, and then privatized the U.S. military to protect his new capitalist paradise from an evil, one-world government?

Why do people want to eat babies? Admit it: When presented with a baby, you’ve experienced a fleeting desire to eat it. Now science has an explanation.

Evaluation of transformative hermeneutic heuristics for processing random data” has been published in the magazine Metalurgia International. It cites ground-breaking research by Ron Jeremy, Michael Jackson and the noted Kazakh polymath B. Sagdiyev (AKA Borat).

Speaking of scholarly research, the folks at Pornhub have mapped the the most common porn search terms (and site visit duration statistics) for the lower 48 states.

In a new Playboy interview, actor Samuel L. Jackson, who has made an art of the f-bomb, says Barack Obama should “be fucking presidential,” and, on GOP obstruction, “there was a time we would be in the streets about this shit.”

Top Nevada GOPer Brags 2014 Will Be ‘A Great Year For Republicans’ Because Minorities Won’t Vote.

i3 Detroit, a collaborative workspace just north of the city, brings people together to build cool things… like mind-controlled flamethrowers.

A first: Stanford engineers build computer using carbon nanotube technology.

A scanning electron microscopy image of a section of the first ever carbon nanotube computer. Credit: Butch Colyear

Behold the glory of Goat Week

September 17, 2013

You didn’t miss it this year: GOAT WEEK is finally here! It’s like Shark Week only safer but… beware the Maryland Goatman!

Kitchen Time Machine: A Culinary Romp Through Soviet History. Very good interview about memory, food and the struggle of the urban proletariat!

Though the scientific conclusions of the study remain valid, Tufts University announced on Tuesday that one of its researchers broke ethical rules while carrying out a study of genetically modified “Golden Rice” in China.

Excerpts from The Mad Scientist’s Handbook: The Human Recipe.

“Will it fly?”: yet another skeptical overview of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program. ‘Build a plane, fly a plane, find a flaw, design a fix, retrofit the plane, rinse, repeat’.

So size does matter! Research suggests perception of time is linked to size, explaining why insects find it easy to avoid being smooshed.

Traditional aboriginal interpretations of the Aurora Australis: the Sky Deity’s anger or the campfires in the Land of the Dead?

Deny them your Essence!! Conservative noise chamber declares ‘water’ a commie plot.

Crazy Caucus gives ‘Science Laureate’ notion the kibosh because Science is their enemy!

Wait, book-learning ain’t nuthin’ to fear! Science confirms: Politics wrecks your ability to do math.

Annual Pre-Samhain freakout!

We are ‘GO’ for the Tulsa Mini Maker Faire!

August 16, 2013


(Update: This Saturday, 28 September is the big day. I’ve been nervously watching the weather forecasts and trying to optimize my load-out for the possibility of clouds and/or rain. Since my original plans were for solar, electrical and chemical manipulations of matter, rain is decidedly counter to my plans, so I’m hoping it won’t be happening.  If it’s overcast, maybe I won’t be able to cook hot dogs with the Fresnel spiral solar concentrator, but the electro-etching and stove-top brass making demo can still happen. A full downpour will put a damper on pretty much everything. Keep your fingers crossed!)  

My theme is “Make It: Cheap and Dirty” – or – How to do stuff you shouldn’t be able to do… for next to nothing!”  I’m placing a heavy emphasis on re-use, re-purposing and the “it isn’t junk unless you don’t use it” principle.

I’m going with more an “open play” format than a fixed spiel. Sure, I’ll have some handouts of the how-tos that ran in Steampunk Magazine, some basic “Ohm’s Law” level electronics theory, some link-lists of fun/educational stuff and I’ll have some of my cheap/dirty projects on hand to show how little refinement is required to get usable results. Mostly I’ll be demonstrating simple methods of making-tweaking-hacking things and generally trying to get people used to the idea that tinkering is rewarding! 

My updated agenda:

  • Fire up the ‘Eurosealer’ and clothes iron to illustrate plastic fusing techniques to improvise a rain-shelter from plastic grocery bags and drop-cloths (and possibly floatation devices, as required)
  • Turn dull, everyday bronze pennies into golden BRASS pennies for the kids (and others), just to break the ice
  • Talk about the cheap tools I just can’t live without, the beauty of pawn shops, garage sales and why “cheap” can be “best”
  • Give a quick rundown of some of my favorite household chemicals and the amazing things you can do with them (with demos), applied dumpster-diving, constructive cannibalism, why you should never throw away a “wall-wart”, general Q&A and other cheap-simple-dirty topics, tips and tricks
  • Etch some printed circuit boards with cheap, simple and surprisingly “green” chemicals, demonstrate electro-cleaning and galvanic etching
  • Provide a hands-on soldering tutorial and demo ‘surface mount’ soldering without special tools (you got a hot air gun, toaster oven or electric skillet?)
  • Share a couple of really cheap/simple solar concentrator designs (Update: no sun, no point- information only)
  • Assure you that you can take on that ‘Wild Blue Project’ you’ve been putting off, extoll on the value of creative failure and the benefits of a ‘Stop Planning and Just Do It, Already!‘ attitude

More than this I cannot say at this time.  If you’ve got any ‘idears’ to add (I’ve got eight hours, 8!) let me know early so I can be prepared!

I’m certain that this will be a whole lot of fun and I hope you’ll all come by to say howdy, and be sure to visit Dana Swift@Swift Science (he explained digital electronics to me the only time it ever stuck, back when I still fit my Star Trek uniform), the Tulsa Garden Railroad Club (my very oldest friends!) and all the other fine presenters at this, the very first Tulsa Mini Maker Faire!

Well put: “I don’t care what the [expletive] Americans think!”

July 12, 2013


Taiwan has disguised the command and control vehicles for its newest cruise missiles as delivery trucks. Seriously! Defense News’ Asia bureau chief Wendell Minnick got a Taiwanese military official to acknowledge that the missile trucks have been disguised as delivery trucks — an “idiotic” and “embarrassing” move, according to the official. The Hsiung Feng 2E land-attack cruise missiles reportedly have a range of 745 miles and race toward their targets at Mach 3.

When asked if Taipei was concerned the U.S. would object to the new missiles because they violate the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) — which limits missile payloads to 500 kilograms and ranges of no more than 300 kilometers — one government source replied, “This is a 1,000 percent violation of the MTCR, and I don’t care what the [expletive] Americans think“. Former vice minister of defense for policy, Lin Chong Pin, said China has more than one way to take Taiwan. “China these days does not rely on military instruments as such to achieve its ultimate goal of unification,” he said. All that China has to do, with the opening of direct Chinese investment into Taiwan, is “to buy Taiwan.” This is “cheaper than to attack Taiwan,” Lin said.

A robotic X-47B  landed, took off and landed again on an aircraft carrier off the Virginia coast Wednesday, catapulting the Navy into the next generation of autonomous aviation. However, after two successful landings (and after the first group of reporters left the Bush on the Osprey to return to Washington), the third and final approach by ‘Salty Dog 502’ failed. The aircraft “self-detected a navigation computer anomaly” and opted to land itself at Wallops Island Air Field, for safety.  “X-47B navigated to and landed without incident,” according to a statement from the Navy. So, technically, the X-47B program isn’t over – it must complete the third landing before the ‘fat lady sings’. Then Navy officials will determine what more to do with the twin prototypes before ultimately retiring them (I’d suggest a ‘demonstration flight’ over the Presidential Palace in Syria as one possible option).

Egypt’s new military-led government broadened its crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood on Wednesday, issuing arrest warrants for nine top Brotherhood officials, including Mohamed Badie, the group’s spiritual leader. Meanwhile, the restoration of power, disappearance of gas lines, and immediate deployment of police forces after the last week’s military takeover suggest that remnants of Hosni Mubarak’s regime played a significant role in undermining Morsy prior to his ouster. “This was preparing for the coup,” Naser el-Farash, a spokesman for the Ministry of Supply and Internal Trade under Mr. Morsy told the New York Times.

The head of Japan’s Nuclear Regulation Authority said Wednesday that the damaged nuclear facility in Fukushima has most likely been leaking contaminated water since 2011. In unusually candid comments, Shunichi Tanaka, the head of the Nuclear Regulation Authority, also said that neither his staff nor the plant’s operator knew exactly where the leaks were coming from, or how to stop them.

Down with Drones, self-defense tactics against the menace from above, is sort of a free-association laundry list on what looks like an orphaned domain. Still, some giggles/ideas.

I am really looking forward to sharing my DIY “Lawnhenge” project, but Indian Territory is under this wave of oppressive 100°F heat lately, so I’ve been making like a Morlock of late, hiding from the sun and trying to stay cool.  Look for it in the next few days.

Another milestone whizzes past: blog post #250

July 6, 2013

Soldiers’ Stories: The ‘Rock Ape’ – an excerpt from “Strange but True Stories of the Vietnam War” by Kregg P. J. Jorgenson.

NSA recruitment drive  at the University of Wisconsin goes horribly wrong. Staff from the National Security Agency got more than they bargained for when they attempted to recruit students to their organisation earlier this week. It can be very hard to argue around the truth.

Both Venezuela and Nicaragua have come through with an asylum offers for Edward Snowden. While legislators and journalists alike have been cavalier in their condemnations of the man responsible for the NSA leaks, Snowden remains a whistleblower, not a spy.

Lots of fear, dear! “Do-it-yourself brain stimulation has scientists worried as healthy people try to make their minds work better“. Can’t have people making their brains work better, can we? Especially when you can really do it yourself?

How to Master Secret Work, an apartheid era guide from the South African Communist Party.

Thomas Edison’s Beautiful Failure: his patented single-pour concrete homes. Here’s one of the few prototypes still standing.

UNLEASH the robot weedkillers! A drone zipping over fields in Denmark can spot the tiny color variations that give away the presence of weeds amongst the crops. Logging the coordinates, it can then send a ground vehicle in to spray the densest patches, reducing the need to spray whole fields.

What do you get when you mix sharks and tornadoes? Just ask Syfy! “Imagine better!”

If Earth Were Hosting An Alien Species, This Is What It Would Look Like

A Tuesday Cornucopia

June 19, 2013

Behold: robo-cat! Just the thing to catch those computer mice.

Afghan lessons for arming the Syrian rebels from the CIA’s mujahideen point man. “People have criticized the CIA effort in Afghanistan because we gave weapons to Islamic fundamentalists,” he said. “The implication is that if only some history professor could have told us who to give the weapons to, we would have found the Methodists and the Presbyterians”.

Discuss this among yourselves: Can We Just Pretend We Already Invaded Syria? How about requiring our congress-critters to find a country on a map before they get to invade it?

And here’s just the thing for baking a cake for your elected mis-representative or soulless plutocrat. I’d suggest a hand-squeezed cream filling.

Drill, baby, KILL: Massive toxic spill  from an oil and gas operation in northern Alberta is being called one of the largest recent environmental disasters in North America. “Every plant and tree died” in the area touched by the spill, said James Ahnassay, chief of the Dene First Nations. First reported on June 1, the Texas-based Apache Corp didn’t reveal the size of the spill until June 12, which is said to cover more than 1,000 acres. The leak follows a pair of other major spills in the region, including 800,000 litres of an oil-water mixture from Pace Oil and Gas Ltd., and nearly 3.5 million litres of oil from a pipeline run by Plains Midstream Canada.

The best surprise is no surprise at all: J.M. Berger wrote in Foreign Policy of his experiment in applying Big Data to extremist networks online, with an eye toward measuring influence and engagement among Twitter users following well-known white nationalists. He found the number 1 hashtag used by people following white nationalists online was #tcot — “top conservatives on Twitter.” Number 3 was #teaparty, and number 5 was #gop.

The latest in anti-pervert accessories for girls: hairy-leg stockings.

More drone adventures of the totally beneficial kind:  video of a drone rescuing another drone. Flier A got distracted and his iFly-4 got flipped over and stuck on top of Hadleigh Castle. Flier B pulled off a daring rescue mission with his home-built  copter and super-modified controller.  England prevails.

A spy-bird in a guilded cage: a fresh, rugged,  minimalist design for a land & air drone.

What a great idea, I’m just sorry I didn’t know about it earlier. Trollthensa  proposed giving the NSA a little stress test, with thousands sending each other innocuous emails containing keywords that should trigger a security response. The date for the mass action has passed, but that doesn’t mean it’s too late to contribute a few red herrings in the name of the Fourth Amendment.

TGIF linkstew: the Best and the Not-So-Brightest

June 14, 2013

It could be that Issa’s investigators have some surprise witness who’s sitting on emails between Barack Obama and Lois Lerner plotting to destroy the tea party movement. But anything like this seems a pretty remote possibility at this point—and showing once again how conservatives refuse to sort fact from fiction.

Isn’t it funny the way Libertarians try to sound like anarchists but end up acting like Republicans? It almost looks like a some kind of a sham that’s used to split the vote or something.

This Darth Vader TIE-fighter wheelchair is totally bitchin’!

Only in England: Pot farm busted because of cop’s farts. That’s why we can’t have nice things.

There’s a reason I cringe when I see “Oklahoma” in a headline: Appeals court says Christian can sue Oklahoma over Native American license plate (instead of the more sensible “Go away and quit whining!” response), and Mysterious monster-like creature spotted in Oklahoma. Yeah, it could be a monster… if you are a pecan, maybe.

Some interesting musings on  the Man of Steel, Myostatin, and Super Strength.

An instrument aboard NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) found that plastics and other lightweight materials are pound-for-pound more effective for shielding against cosmic radiation than aluminum.

Researchers have sequenced the surprisingly well-preserved genome of the leprosy bacterium from medieval graves and found the modern strain has changed very little over the years.

In other old news, Gene Wilder turned 80 the other day, and he really hates Tim Burton’s recycling of Willie Wonka.

What’s the first thing you do when you find an unexploded bomb in your garden? A quick wash-up in the kitchen sink, right? The lemony scent will protect you.

When a thought experiment just isn’t enough. Engineers in the Czech Republic have successfully tested their flying bicycle project, F-bike.

Scientists say they have solved the mystery of how marine mammals can hold their breath for up to an hour.

“I think that he’s a moron and he proves that stupid has no specific political affiliation”…“I have no idea what goes into the mind of a moron like that” – Gabriel Gomez, Republican candidate for the open Massachusetts Senate seat, on GOP Rep. Trent Franks, who channeled Todd Akin when he said that the rate of pregnancies resulting from rape is “very low.”

Six months after: From Santa Monica to Philadelphia, thousands have been killed since the Sandy Hook Elementary massacre. Those opposed to the on-going death toll aren’t convinced that we’ve done all we can to keep guns out of the hands of murderers.

It has already been more than 24 hours since Beck promised to “take down pretty much the whole power structure”. It could be the agents of Agenda 21, or the Common Core conspirators, or the UN’s gun confiscation squad, or even the {gasp} IRS, we just don’t know, but someone has obviously gotten to him. Maybe his paralyzed vocal cords were a warning. What other explanation could there be for his not making even a single reference to his shocking announcement yesterday? Besides his obvious mental and ethical problems, I mean?