Posts Tagged ‘hardcore nerdiness’

Virginia Women Pwn Record for All-Female Head-down Formation Skydive

December 19th, 2010 1 comment

Image from the Fredricksburg Free-Lance Star (uncredited on that site, so...photographer unknown).

Lindley Estes at the Fredricksburg (Virginia) Free Lance Star reports that a team from tandem skydiving outfit Skydive Orange set a new world record for an all-female head-down formation skydive, with 41 women jumping and joining hands in midair. This is quite a feat, given that only 15% of the members of the US Parachute Association are women.

The largest all-female formation skydive, period, was accomplished in 2009 and featured 181 women — but they didn’t have their heads down.

Taking off in three aircraft, the Virginia group jumped at a height of three miles and grabbed each others’ paws in a massive show of skydiving force, reaching 200 miles an hour before they pulled their cords.

Fredricksburg resident Nancy Koreen, in taking part in the skydive, helped skunk her own record — which was set five years ago with an 18-woman group.

Co-organized by Arizonan Melanie Curtis, this group trained in a wind tunnel and had to make ten attempts before they were able to pull off the tricky hand-joining feat. They’d done five jumps the day before; this was the last jump on the second day. On the previous jump, they’d missed the join-up by a single person. The event was designed to encourage female skydivers in the male-dominated sport, and drew participation from those who weren’t up for jumping:

According to Curtis, there were nearly 60 women involved in the event. And even though not all of them had the skill level to participate in the record jump, they were there for support.

“One girl who wasn’t quite ready showed up in a cheerleading outfit,” Curtis said. “There was a huge surge of female participation during the jump.”


Bedford, England’s Forgotten Airship Legacy

October 22nd, 2010 No comments

The R101. Public domain UK government photo.

When German experimental psychologist Dr. Hugo Eckener set the first of his major airship records with the first intercontinental lighter-than-air voyage in the Graf Zeppelin in 1928, the Germans weren’t the only ones in the airship biz. The British Imperial Airship Scheme, aimed at providing lighter-than-air travel to the furthest reaches of the Empire,  had established a burgeoning operation at Bedford, about 90 minutes north of London. There, the Royal Airship Works operated out of the city of Cardington and giant airship sheds graced the village of Shortstown.

But by the time Eckener made the last of his record-setting voyages in the Graf Zeppelin, the 1931 Arctic flight, the Brits were pretty much getting out of the industry. Why? The disaster of the R101, which crashed in a field in France while on its way to India, killing 49 people (including 48 of the 55 crew). That essentially ended the British airship industry of the 1930s, until World War II revived it — not with airships, but with barrage balloons. Bedford became an important hub when Britain fielded 1,400 barrage balloons by mid-1940, designed to protect against dive bombers. London was then bombed for 76 consecutive nights starting in September, 1940, in what’s now known as “The Blitz,” in which Bedford’s barrage balloons made a lasting imprint on British visual history. And provided a later backdrop for a truly amazing Doctor Who episode.

A new exhibition at the Bedford Museum, in partnership with the Airship Heritage Trust, shows off Bedford’s airship history, including the R101 disaster. There’s an airship-nerd’s cornucopia of lectures through December 15, 2010, including including “Cardington – Behind Closed Doors” (saucy!), “The R101″ (spicy!) “The R100″ (also spicy!) and a particularly interesting-looking one, Hybrid Air Vehicles, which no doubt is inspired by the fact that U.S. military airships bound for Afghanistan are based at Bedford. These are the same aerostats (“blimps,” to the punters) that perform surveillance duties over U.S. war zones, as we here at Techyum got all hopped up about earlier this month, and Jane’s did a few days later.

If you’re an airship nerd who can’t get to Bedford, you’ll be disappointed to hear that the exhibition’s photo gallery is sparse. But in that event, you simply must (and I mean must) check out the Airship Heritage Trust’s amazing historical catalog of British airships, which has thoroughly engrossing articles on each ship, with photos, and their reference area, which has an FAQ, a bibliography, and even an airship crew organization chart.

Unlogo Removes Corporate Logos and Signage From Videos

October 11th, 2010 No comments

If you look at Adbusters’ Corporate Flag, you’ll be able to name more companies than you’d expect. That’s the effect of seeing logos in repetition, put in places you may not want — or may not even remember seeing. It’s creepy. Unlogo is a web service that aims to help undo the way you’ve been programmed to pledge allegiance to Nike by helping you remove corporate logos and signage from videos you watch.

Not that we don’t want to see who’s paying our favorite rapper’s child support these days by spotting the logos in his newest video… But much in the same way Subliminal Guy drops suggestive words under his breath into sentences during conversation to influence the listener into doing his will — mostly in hopes of getting laid, or hookers, or both — ad and marketing firms like to do the same thing with logos in videos. In the hopes that you will make sex with their client’s products, logos are scattered everywhere, unsettlingly relying on our unconscious memory to instantly recognize and associate their logo with the brand. Advertisers like it when you have no choice but to see their brands, much like that guy who flashed your mom on the bus. Some people call this “business” — while others might call it nonconsensual.

Unlogo might fall into the latter category — or they want to give viewers a choice. It’s a participatory project that uses a combination of new OpenCV and FFMPEG functionality so users can upload a video, have corporate logos scrubbed from the videos, and have the logos replaced with a solid color (or whimsically, a South Park style disembodied head of the company’s CEO). It would be extra neat if the logos could be replaced with user-generated content, such as a LOLcat, but hey — Unlogo is in the early stages. In fact, they just announced their Kickstarter page to help with funding. Looking at their long-term goals, we even might be able to LOL-ify Starbucks and Coke out of our lives, and our own videos, even if just a little bit.

Twitter Meme Tracker “Truthy” Targets Political Astroturfing, Is Delightful Data Pr0n

September 30th, 2010 No comments

truthySay hello to Truthy, and data nerds say goodbye to the next few hours of your life. This meme tracker is a lovely timesuck, endlessly fascinating, a political junkie geek’s new drug, and has me eager to see new meme topics added ASAP.

There is a hell of a lot of bullshit on Twitter, and yet it’s also probably the top source for breaking (and unreported) news. Everyone with an agenda has been gaming Twitter in a billion different ways to do everything from sell shit (including themselves), and astroturf political opinion. The latter is what got researchers at Indiana University — “the Truthy Team” — interested in using Twitter’s API to not only track political memes, but to analyze them for truthiness. And emotion, and more: to deal with the inevitable gaming of their own system, they’ve even crated and automated form called the Profile of Mood States test to evaluate the “mood” of the data being sent. This test scans word use to look for indications of mood, including signs of Tension-Anxiety, Anger-Hostility, and Depression-Dejection. They make neat diffusion networks, like this one for @LadyGaga, and #DADT (Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell) neat videos, too:

I found this item on Fast Comapny’s Stephen Colbert-Inspired Site “Truthy” Is a Swift Boat Torpedo for Twitter Users, but I prefer the Ars Technica article Twitter, algorithms, crowdsourcing used to spot truthiness. Snip:

(…) Now, a bunch of academics at Indiana are attempting to use a combination of crowd-sourcing, Twitter, and automated text and network analysis to bring instances of political truthiness out into the open.

The team has set up a site,, to show off and explain the system. Their focus is on Twitter, due to some recent election results; apparently, an organization called the American Future Fund set up a bunch of Twitter accounts to spread some truthy statements on election day, and managed to spam about 60,000 people before the company shut the accounts down. Other political controversies, like Governor Scwarzenegger’s ability to see Russia from Anchorage, have played out on the service.

Twitter also offers APIs for access to the content flowing through its system, and the Truthy site will be using this feed to obtain raw material for its analysis. As a first pass to winnow down the flood of tweets, the system will focus on what its creators define as memes. These include @-mentions, hash tags, and URLs that are either experiencing significant growth or account for a substantial proportion of the total traffic on the site. A filter will then classify these using a set of keywords to determine whether they’re likely to be political discussions.

The system will track basic features that are accessible through either the API or by mining the data. This will include things like the number of retweets, the rate of spreading, number of unique users involved, etc.

So far, however, there’s probably no system that can identify the actual accuracy of a tweet, so that’s where the crowd-sourcing comes in. (…read more,

High Pressure Experiments Duplicate Conditions 1,800 Miles Underground

September 29th, 2010 No comments

Earth's Interior

Public domain image from Wikipedia.

As a dedicated Hollow Earth Nerd, I’m always fascinated by the idea of structures hundreds or thousands of miles beneath the surface of the Earth, especially if they involve bright lights and colors, not to mention bad acting. Unfortunately for dinosaurs and Victorian explorers alike, Earth ain’t hollow, but every time I hear about something a few thousand miles underground, my mind bends.

This latest gem (!) is that UC Berkeley and Yale Scientists are doing research into the unusual phase of magnesium silicate perovskite in the extreme reaches of the Earth’s mantle. The mantle is the layer between the crust (think “dirt”) and the outer core, made of nickel and iron. Perovskite, which forms most of the mantle, is compressed at the bottom of that layer into a 125-mile thick boundary, about 1,800 miles down, of “post-perovskite,” a phase of the substance that only exists at extreme pressure and depth.

As reported in this week’s issue of the journal Science (the abstract is public — full text requires a subscription) and summarized on Indian website, The Yale-UCB team compressed perovskite glass to a pressure of two million atmospheres (two million times the air pressure on the surface) and a temperature of 3,500 Kelvin or 6,000 Farenheit to create post-perovskite, then hit it with X-rays at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.

What they’re trying to find out is why different kinds of seismic waves propagate differently between the mantle and the core. The answer is anisotropy — polarization of the waves parallel with or in opposition to the crystal structures of the ultra-compressed post-perovskite.

This is the seismic wave equivalent of light the old polarized-filter trick, where two polarized filters will form a transparent surface when the polarization is lined up. Turn them at a slight angle and the pair of filters becomes opaque. That’s because light travels in waves like seismic energy, and polarized filters (or post-perovskite) block waves along a single orientation. This affects the propagation of seismic waves through the mantle.

Plus, of course, the Lava Men are skeet-shooting our seismic waves with Negatroid Rays. But they’re really lousy aim.

If you’re a geology nerd, you may already know that while the core-mantle boundary is called the CMB, the boundary between the mantle and crust is known as the Moho, for Mohorovičić Discontinuity.

New Words AGAIN!?!?!?!? WTF!?!?!?!?!?

September 21st, 2010 1 comment

Frederick James Furnival finds your lively patois invigorating. Now STFU.

Yes, it’s about that time of year. The WTF? New Words!!! time of year. Making the rounds of blogs and the mainstream media are sure to be the amused observations that the Oxford American Dictionary has added X word or Y expression or Z piece of trendy teenspeak to its pages, reportedly giving schoolteachers agita and providing children and adolescents (who are the only people using the dictionary, right?) with new ways to abuse the American language and claim that they, not bland-ass adults with IQs of 103, are the arbiters of culture. Weird, huh!?!? New words added to the language, almost like it was, like, a living thing or something, huh!?!?

I think we can all agree to bawl and shout and jump up and down and wear party hats and dance some sort of goddamn jig or something about the arrival of such internet- and text-friendly terms as “BFF,” “hashtag,” “defriend,” “LMAO” and “TTYL” into the Oxford American Dictionary.

In fact I, personally, am so unbelievably excited to drone on with faux-hipness and thinly-disguised self-important pseudo-intellectual snootiness about how fascinating it is to see these new terms enter the dictionary that I’m considering applying for a job at a newspaper.

But I’m just so damned busy puzzling over the complete list of additions at the Oxford University Press blog that I’d prefer to keep writing for Techyum, which doesn’t have deadlines. I mean, like, dude. “Bromance?” “Hashtag?” “Hater?” “LBD,” “Paywall?” “Social networking?” Okay. “Steampunk?” “Lipstick lesbian”? Um, all right. “Tag cloud?” Sure. “Tramp stamp?” Like, NSS.

But “gal pal”? “wardrobe malfunction”? “waterboarding”? “webisode?” “the new black?” “my bad”? “what’s not to like?” “like herding cats”? “made man”? Were these things, like, queued up since 1986 or something? Or did I actually become very slightly ahead of the curve on language while I was busy trying to sleep through the press conference on the latest Hollywood remake of Cat on a Roomba Slapping a Pit Bull?

And when it comes to single-source words like “hockey mom” and “truthiness,” or obvious marketing tags like “staycation” — are these honestly new words or clever ideas intended to hawk a political, sales or satirical agenda? In the era of social media, does a large enough number of hits on Google entitle any stumbling Memeasaurus to add whatever crap to the dictionary gets a round of applause at a rally in Knoxville?

Because y’know, Oxford…I kinda feel an attack of Slapsgiving coming on.

Carnegie Mellon’s Robot Census

September 21st, 2010 2 comments

Photo by Celia Ludwinski, Carnegie Mellon Tartan Photo Editor.

Meanwhile, in other robot news today, a PhD student at Carnegie Mellon’s Robotic Institute is taking time off from her interactive robot theater projects to perform a “robot census” of every ‘bot at her institution.

Student Heather Knight, whom the Carnegie Mellon Tartan says “is interested in making interactive theater productions featuring people and acting robots, in which an audience can teach robots how to be more like humans,” was inspired to undertake this offering after wrestling with the complicated grad student problem of choosing a research adviser. “It’s like, how can you choose your adviser if you don’t know what robots they have?” she told the Tartan. I remember asking myself the same question in my undergrad days — and I was a History major. Knight launched the “Carnegie Mellon 2010 Robot Census” to correspond with this year’s US Census, perhaps in hopes of creating a Harmonic Robot Convergence that will soon have us bowing to our future Robot Overlords.

So how many damn robots roam the halls at Carnegie Mellon, anyhoo? The answer might surprise you. Knight found 460 ‘bots “and counting” at Carnegie Mellon, a tentative number for the in-progress survey that, at press time, is thirty-eight-point-three times the number of followers at the Robot Census Twitter Account. Hell’s bells, why is it so hard to get ‘bots motivated to join social networks? It’s your education, geniuses. Get off your lazy alloy cans, will ya?

The robots documented by Knight range from “a single spinning wheel that can traverse rough terrain” to “artbots, like artist Golan Levin’s interactive eye,” and “snakebots…some of which can climb tree trunks.” One computer science professor, Manuela Veloso, gets the Robot Gold Star, with a total of 116 robots listed. But the Tartan readers’ fave robot is sure to be the one we all know best (“we” being all Carnegie-Mellon students, of course): “Marion ‘Tank’ LeFleur, roboceptionist of Newell-Simon Hall.”

Those Pittsburgh cats have robo-freakin’-ceptionists?

All right, then, smartasses. Where’s my flying car?

Java Forever: Nominated for Techyum’s Best Geek Drama of the Year

September 15th, 2010 1 comment

I love this. Reader Daniel D sends me this video to brighten up the darkness of a life that might be lived without Java… Apparently, that would be what life in Sweden is like. You may have already seen Java Forever (it’s another JavaZone viral promo video), but if you haven’t and even if you’re not a programming geek, watch and enjoy just how funny and clever this high-production value fake trailer came out. Like a faux Steven Spielberg film, if the ‘berg ever used programming languages as allegory for sexual orientation, and made subtle porn and masturbation jokes — the trailer is all about winning hearts and minds.

I think D sent this to me for Tiny Nibbles (thank you!), but I feel as though you’re all mature enough to see it. Okay, maybe not mature, mature. You know what I mean.

Sweden is weird. There is a helpful translation of the terms in the video here (not the Swedish ones, the programming ones).

“You Get Woody Playing With Software Like It’s a Sex Doll” – a MySQL vs NoSQL Funny Video

September 6th, 2010 No comments

If you are fairly tech-nerdy, and enjoyed the “iPhone 4 vs HTC EVO” and “Social Media Guru” XtraNormal videos, you’ll love this MySQL vs NoSQL video.

Scroll down to -4:00 if you want to jump straight to the funnies.

Labor Day Gun Pr0n

September 6th, 2010 No comments

Hello Kitty AR-15

Hello Kitty AR-15, customized by Drew at Armory Airbrush. Via

Does anybody know what Labor Day really celebrates? Guns! Weapons! America! The Second Amendment! The Can-Do Spirit of Heavily-Armed American Workers! The God-given right, written by Aaron Burr into the Constitution, to mutter obscenities under your breath in your cubicle secure in the knowledge that even if the beancounters in Accounting confiscated your stapler, they can’t take your Baby Eagle!

And if Jim one cubicle over is stockpiling shotgun ammo for his workplace flip-out? When he finally cracks he’s going to find himself facing a well-armed workforce of equally disgruntled workers who haven’t gone postal yet — but, oh nellie, Jim just gave ‘em an excuse — and a target! Ooops! Sorry, Jim!

So as you laze about recovering from whatever life-affirming Labor Day ritual you spent last night involved in (no, don’t tell me! I don’t want to know), do your friendly neighborhood blogger a favor and indulge in some holiday gun pr0n. What could be more laborious than a Glock modified to shoot in fully automatic mode, its double thirty-round drum looking oddly like a pair of…look, I’ll let you work it out on your own.

But as you know if you’ve ever looked for gun videos on YouTube, just one is never enough. You can find more fully automatic Glocks if you want, like the same guy endeavoring to run 298 rounds through his Glock in full auto, presumably by way of proving that the things don’t jam — a pretty major accomplishment if you’ve ever fired a Thompson. (The first comment on that Thompson clip, by the way is “lol tommy gun, don’t smoke blunts and shoot tommy guns” — really good advice, I’d say. It’s hard to clear the Thompson’s frequent jams when you’re baked off your shizzle, fer realz.)

While we’re in on the Glock mania, check out this video of a Glock shooting full-auto with a 33-round straight magazine, and this talented Chow Yun Fat fan. And furthering our journey into the Glock Circus Acts Department, This audacious shooter also proves once and for all that you can shoot a Glock 19 underwater.

All you Glock-lovers and 9mm snobs aren’t the only ones who can enjoy a fine drum magazine. Unfortunately, purveyors of the Ruger P90 .45 ACP are apparently not quite as trigger-happy as the Glocksters, but just like to fondle. On the other hands, non-Hello-Kitty-loving AR-15 owners apparently love to abuse their weapons, as seen in this video where an AR-15 is fired at full auto until the gas tube catches fire (get comfortable — it takes about 3 minutes).

Happy Labor Day!