wind-walking machines

bizarre machines that walk when powered by gusts of wind

Ten years ago, Dutch scientist-turned-artist Theo Jansen had a vision: art that evolved. The evolution of his bizarre machines that walk when powered by gusts of wind took place on a computer. Trained as a physicist (he was a doctoral student but did not finish), Jansen designed a program that simulated pairs of legs of different lengths. He then created virtual creatures and raced them against each other to find the ones that moved most efficiently. These he built, and he hopes one day to find a way to let them evolve on their own. In the meantime, he is working on ways to keep them moving even after the wind dies down. Their legs are comprised of pistons inside a tube, connected to a crankshaft. Once a gust of wind gets the sculpture going (most have polystyrene windmill blades or sails to give them a boost) and the pistons start moving, the legs could function as pumps and store compressed air. The critter could then burn that stored energy to keep puttering along regardless of the weather. "It's like giving it muscles," says Jansen with delight.
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a day for disappointment

First, Cecil says that J. Edgar Hoover was probably not a crossdresser; then kingmob says that the Big Black song "Jordan Minnesota" is bullshit.

Next someone's gonna claim that Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone.

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DNA Lounge: Wherein a scanner is whined about, and photos are presented.

I've posted an assload of new pictures to the gallery, and boy is my ass tired.

Those pictures:

This took forever, because we've been having a total nightmare of a time getting photos scanned in any reasonable way. When you're sitting there with 18 or 19 undeveloped rolls of film in your lap, you find yourself really not looking forward to manually loading prints into a flatbet scanner...

We had been getting photo CDs from Wolf Photo. Their prints always look great: they do a fine job with color, which is where 1-hour places generally screw up. But their photo CDs have, on the whole, sucked ass. The most common problem is that the images on the CD are mis-cropped! Like, on the print (the print that they made) the image looks fine, but on the CD, what got scanned was 2/3 of one picture, and 1/3 of the next picture, plus the black stripe between them. Apparently whatever negative scanner they use is just awful at figuring out where the pictures begin and end, though their photo printer does a fine job of it.

This seems to only happen on pictures that are really dark, or have a lot of black in them around the edges. But guess what, these are photos taken in a nightclub: that's like. All of them.

So, about a month ago, Angela bought herself a film scanner, a Kodak RFS 3600. It sounded pretty nice: it can batch-scan whole rolls of negatives, sucking them in the slot and spitting them out on USB. It can also scan individual slides.

Well, it sucks ass too.

She's got a Mac, and to use this thing she had to downgrade to OS9, since it doesn't work with OSX. Well, she tried to run it under OSX in the OS9 emulator dingus, and it scorched her computer bad: like, kernel panics at boot, time to reinstall. So she downgraded to OS9. There are apparently only two pieces of software in the world that can talk to this thing (it's not just the predictable TWAIN pain): the package that came with it, which is awful, and Silverfast, which is also awful. In fact, both are completely incomprehensible garbage. Even figuring out how to set the scan resolution took days. This was not helped by the Silverfast manual, which is written in Deutchlish (3rd grade English written by a German.)

Sometimes it would stretch the scanned images (repeating a scanline, as if the slide had moved.) This sounds like a hardware problem, except that it only happened with one of the software packages and not the other! Sometimes it would decide to only scan the first picture on the strip, and pretend the rest of the strip didn't exist. Sometimes it would decide to scan everything as if through a blue filter. Sometimes it would roll through the whole strip, sounding like it was scanning, but not writing any files.

Then on top of that, sometimes it would dig a long scratch along the negatives as they passed through. Joy.

So after Angela finally gave up on trying to get the scanner to work, we took the negatives back in and had photo CDs made. They were asstacular, as usual, plus this time the black levels were too high on lots of images. Plus, due to their repeated trips through the scanner, the negatives were kind of dirty by now (plus the aforementioned scratching) so there was lots of manual de-speckling to be done on the scans. It so would have been faster to have just scanned the prints by hand (not to mention about $100 cheaper...)

Things are a lot easier when just using a digital camera from the start, but to get a digital camera of comparable quality to a film camera costs more than $3000. I've got a Nikon CoolPix 990, and it's pretty good as digital cameras go, but it's just not fast enough. The biggest problem is that it takes forever to get a focus lock in low light (sometimes you press the button, and it decides to actually take the picture a full three seconds later.) Plus the delay after you've shot when it transfers the image to the card. It's also not high enough resolution for print work, which we occasionally need.

Don't we live in the future yet? What's taking so long?


welcome to mars, here's your accordion

Scalding Rains, Flash Floods and Worse Plagued Ancient Mars

Mars in the popular imagination is a planet that was once warm and wet, a place that might have fostered life. But new research shows how these imagined pleasant periods were brief, hellish, and punctuated by utter catastrophe.

[...] Roughly 25 space rocks between 60 and 150 miles in diameter (100-250 kilometers) gouged the Martian surface every 10-20 million years back then. An impact of this size would rock the planet, fueling quakes and volcanic activity. But that would not be the end of it. A typical impact, Segura said, would have generated enough water in the ensuing years to bury the entire planet under "tens of meters" of water, or more than the height of a two-story building.

[...] Segura described the details of a typical large impact, one roughly ten times bigger than the 6-mile-wide (10-kilometer) asteroid suspected of killing off the dinosaurs. Vaporized rock and ice from the incoming object and the impact site expands ballistically in a huge cloud, she said, filling the global atmosphere.

Eventually, the atmosphere cools enough to condense the water. Heavy rains ensue -- up to six feet of scalding rain every year -- lasting for perhaps hundreds of years. Meanwhile, the hot rock layer melts ice in the soil of Mars. [...] "We find that globally, Mars will be above the freezing point of water -- all water will be in the liquid phase -- for years to millennia for the largest objects."

[...] While some scientists have theorized that the wet periods on Mars fueled longer lasting, greenhouse-like climates that would have been kind to evolution, Segura and her team think otherwise. They envision a cold and dry planet, "an almost endless winter, broken by episodes of scalding rains followed by flash floods."