Friday, December 17, 2010

Custer's Last Flag Sold at Auction

The Seatle Times reports that the only flag (actually a guidon) recovered from Custer's Last Stand has been sold at auction for $2.2 million.

Thursday, December 02, 2010

Stormcell over Montana

Astronomy Picture of the Day has an amazing picture of a stormcell in Montana.  I'm not sure what the scale is but I think it is probably a good thing it is far away.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Singapore Streetview

I've just discovered that Google now have streetview for Singapore.  Some highlights for my curious readers:

This is the pedestrian gate to the condo complex I used to live in.

I used to work in this building. In my day what is now the Singapura Financial was an actual Royal Bank of Canada branch. I worked in the trading room which was up on, I think, the 15th floor.

If you walk down the street from the old RBC building and turn on MacCallum street you get to the hawker centre where we used to get lunch most days.  Unfortunately you can't go inside and see if the fried rice man is still there.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

An Astronaut at the Window of the Spacestation

Astronomy Picture of the Day has a great photo of an astronaut looking out the new bay window on the International Space Station.

A Giant Clothespeg in the Park

I can't really describe it more than that.  Check out the picture.

Strangely Shaped Coins and Wheels that aren't Round

When I lived in the UK I used to sometimes wonder about the strange shape of the 50 pence coin.  It seemed to be half way between round and hexagonal (actually it has 7 sides).  According to this blog post the shape of the coin means that it has constant width even though it isn't round.  The post shows how this works and even demos using them as wheels.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Aerial Footage of WWI Aftermath

The BBC has an article with a short video taken from a blimp flying over First World War battlefields in 1919.  The devastation is amazing.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Ancient Roman Multi-tool

Make has an article, with picture, about an ancient(ish) Roman pocket knife.  It's not exactly a Swiss Army knife but, given that it would have been made by hand, it looks pretty good.

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Astronauts Can See Cosmic Rays

According to this article in the Guardian about life on the International Space Station, astronauts sometimes see cosmic rays when they pass through their eyeballs.
The lights don't go out completely, though. People dozing in orbit see streaks and bursts of bright colour caused by high-energy cosmic rays painlessly slamming into their retinas.

Friday, November 05, 2010

Love Locks

I have never heard of this before but apparently there is a trend for couples in love to fasten a padlock to certain large objects and then throw away the key.  Some of the pictures in the article have a heck of a lot of locks.

Obit: Dennis Rendell, WWII Escaper

The Telegraph has the obituary of Dennis Rendell who served in the British Parachute Regiment and Royal Military Police.  The most amazing thing about the article is the picture at the top.  It shows Rendell, on the run after escaping from a German prison camp, playing a carnival game in between two German soldiers.

Follow up:  I had never heard of those shooting games mentioned in the obituary that take a picture when you hit the target but then came across this article about a woman who visited such a shooting gallery from 1936 until the present day. 
follow up via

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

The Bowl is the Scale

I quite like the first item on this page.  The bowl that becomes a scale when it floats, is one of those ideas that designers have that probably will never become a real product but are cool nonetheless. 

Monday, November 01, 2010

Lightning over a Volcano

National Geographic Photo of the Day has an awesome shot of lightning in the smoke plume of an erupting volcano.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Stars over a Wreck

A nice picture from Astronomy Picture of the Day.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Walt Disney's Mind Map

Peter Duke has a blog post linking to a mind map done in 1957 by Walt Disney (the person not the company) detailing his plans for his future empire and how the parts would relate to, and help each other.

Friday, October 29, 2010

You can't say that in English

I think I blogged about this sort of thing ages ago but here is another list of words that can't be directly translated into English.

I do like:
Tartle - Scottish – The act of hestitating while introducing someone because you’ve forgotten their name.
Ilunga - Tshiluba (Southwest Congo) – A word famous for its untranslatability, most professional translators pinpoint it as the stature of a person “who is ready to forgive and forget any first abuse, tolerate it the second time, but never forgive nor tolerate on the third offense.”
as well as the somewhat more modern
Prozvonit - Czech – This word means to call a mobile phone and let it ring once so that the other person will call back, saving the first caller money. In Spanish, the phrase for this is “Dar un toque,” or, “To give a touch.”

Friday, October 22, 2010

Facebook Now Lets You Download All Your Data

According to Lifehacker, Facebook now lets you download a copy of all of your information - including all of your pictures.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

How Much Exploring Did Apollo 11 Do?

Chart Porn has some images that show just how little of the Moon's surface was explored during the first lunar mission.  They have superimposed the routes followed by the astronauts onto a baseball diamond and a football field.

As a bonus, this site from the BBC will let you superimpose the moon landing area on your own address.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

An Abandoned Lego House

Here is an awesome Lego model built using only black and white bricks.

Google's Self Driving Car

The New York Times has an article with Google's experiments with self driving cars.  Their seven test cars have already driven over a thousand miles without human intervention.
Robot drivers react faster than humans, have 360-degree perception and do not get distracted, sleepy or intoxicated, the engineers argue. They speak in terms of lives saved and injuries avoided — more than 37,000 people died in car accidents in the United States in 2008. The engineers say the technology could double the capacity of roads by allowing cars to drive more safely while closer together. Because the robot cars would eventually be less likely to crash, they could be built lighter, reducing fuel consumption.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Royal Navy Field Gun Competition

This video is worth checking out especially if you've never seen such a thing before.  A field gun competition involves two teams racing to each pull an old fashioned field gun around a course and over and through various obstacles.  As you are watching, try to think about how heavy the various bits are.

Factoid: Great Pyramid was second tallest building until 1874

According to Wikipedia, the Great Pyramid of Giza was the second tallest building in the world until 1874.  It was the tallest until 1311 when Lincoln Cathedral was built.  The pyramid had been knocked out of the top three for a while but clawed its way back in in 1625 when the spire on St. Olaf's church in Tallinn burned down.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

How to Escape from a Sinking Car

Lifehacker has a post with videos from Rick Mercer and the Mythbusters to teach you how to escape from a car sinking in water.  There's nothing really earth shattering in there but I did learn that if you have to kick it is better to kick near the hinge side of the door windows.  Also the demonstration of the centre punch in the Rick Mercer video was pretty impressive.

Monday, October 11, 2010

They Make Their Own Ladders

Make has an article, with a video, about the San Francisco Fire Department's ladder factory.  For various reasons they still use wooden ladders and they make and repair their own.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Factoid: Carrots used to be purple

The blog Today I Found Out has a post that explains that carrots were purple until the late 16th century.

Saturday, October 09, 2010

New Model of Raytheon Exoskeleton

Tech&Gadgets has a post about the latest version of the Raytheon Exoskeleton.  There is a video with a demonstration involving, for some reason, one of the actors from Iron Man 2.  It is looking very cool but is still tethered to a base station, presumably for power.

Friday, October 08, 2010

Beer Chart

World Famous Design Junkies has a great chart that shows the interrelationship of the various types of beer - with examples of each type.

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Getting People to Return Your Digital Camera If They Find It

Andrew MacDonald has a blog post with a series of photos that he always puts as the first pictures on his digital cameras.  The pictures form a funny story that lets him ask that anyone who finds the camera to get in touch with him.

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

The First World War is over for Germany

The Telegraph has an article about Germany making its last reparation payment imposed under the treaty that ended the Great War.

Followup: Time has an article with a bit more information.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Make Your Own Google Map Envelope lets you enter a location and a comment and will then generate a page you can print to make your own envelope with a google map of the specified location right in the centre.  (This will be a lot clearer if you look at the example.)

Sunday, September 26, 2010

The Universal Packing List

Packing for a trip?  This website will generate a packing list for you.  The site has been on the net since 1993 so is presumably well tested.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Flash Rations

The New York Times has a flash slide show of various countries' military rations.  If you click on the package it will show you the contents.  I had always thought that French ration packs had wine in them but apparently not.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Factoid: Studying in Multiple Places is Better

According to this article in the New York Times:
In one classic 1978 experiment, psychologists found that college students who studied a list of 40 vocabulary words in two different rooms — one windowless and cluttered, the other modern, with a view on a courtyard — did far better on a test than students who studied the words twice, in the same room. Later studies have confirmed the finding, for a variety of topics.

Sunday, September 05, 2010

Control Panels

Dark Roasted Blend has another of their mega roundups. This one showcases control panels from various vehicles including fighter aircraft and the Hindenburg airship.

Friday, September 03, 2010

A Paper Map That Zooms In

Here is another real world paper folding product. It is a pocket sized map of London that unfolds to let you zoom in on a given area.

Thursday, September 02, 2010

Labels Help Make Beer Bottles Musical

Make has a post about a brand of beer bottles that are printed with levels that show what note you would make by blowing across the top of the bottle.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Video: Ride the Trans-Siberian Railway

Here is a Google Map / video mash up that lets you ride the 9230 km length of the Trans-Siberian Railway. Note that I have only actually tested the first few kilometres leaving Moscow.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Tour de France

National Geographic Photo of the Day has an excellent action shot of the Tour de France pack of riders passing by.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Obit: Piper William Millin

The Telegraph has the obituary of William Millin. Millin was a piper who actually piped troops ashore under heavy fire during the D-day landings.

The pipes were damaged by shrapnel later that day, but remained playable. Millin was surprised not to have been shot, and he mentioned this to some Germans who had been taken prisoner.

They said that they had not shot at him because they thought he had gone off his head.

There are other obituaries in the Wall Street Journal, and The Scotsman.

Post-It Prevents Mess When Drilling

via LifeHacker

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Obit: Rear-Admiral Bob Welland

The Telegraph has the obituary of Canadian Rear-Admiral Bob Welland. Worth a quick read and has several amusing points:
In 1943, when Welland took command of the destroyer Assiniboine, his mother wrote to him: “Bobby, aren’t you a bit young at 25 to be a destroyer captain?” He replied: “Aren’t you a bit young at 39 to be my mother?”
I also found this interesting about events during the Korean War:
When wounded civilians were brought to Athabaskan by local fishermen, the ship’s doctor operated on Welland’s dining room table. One patient was a six-year-old girl who had been shot in the chest ; during the two weeks it took her to recuperate, her mother stayed on board and helped in the galley.

Thursday, August 05, 2010

How Many Tabs is Too Many?

You know how in Firefox when you accidentally hit the close window button a dialog pops up that basically says: "Dude you are about to close 5 tabs! Do you really want to do this?"

Well the other day I accidentally hit the close window button and a dialog popped up that said (and I'm not making this up) "You are about to close 198 tabs! Do you really want to do this?"

This may explain why I had to go out and by more RAM yesterday.

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Computer Hardware Chart

Ever wondered what all of those connectors and sockets on your computer are? Well check out this page, it will probably have your answer.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Apollo Astronauts Insurance has an article about an unusual form of life insurance used by the Apollo astronauts. Since they were unable to get normal life insurance what they did was sign postcards that would be posted (and hence postmarked) when the rockets took off. The theory was that if the rockets crashed the cards would be worth a fortune.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Lego: Castle in the Sky

I love the fake perspective in this model.

Camel on a sand dune

I'm not sure why but I like this photo from National Geographic of a camel on a sand dune.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Factoid: There are two ATMs in Antarctica

According to this article there are two Wells Fargo banking machines at McMurdo Station in Antarctica. Interestingly they don't have to send new money to the continent as the cash just circulates around on the base.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Real Life Superheroes

Wired Danger Room has an article about the sub-culture of real life superheroes. These are people who dress up in costumes and go out to do good deeds.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Factoid: Bomber Costs

According to this Danger Room post:
Every time the Air Force sends a B-1B bomber on a mission over Afghanistan, it spends costs $720,000 in fuel, repair, and other costs. And when the plane comes back, it has to spend 48 hours being repaired for every hour it was in the air.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

First Flight of Full Sized Robot Helicopter

Wired has an article about a US Army test of a fully autonomous flight of a full sized helicopter.
While on-the-fly autonomous navigation is a first for a full-sized helicopter, the technology developed by Sanjiv Singh and his team from Carnegie Mellon is not so different from what they used to outfit a Chevy Tahoe to win Darpa’s 2007 Urban Challenge. “It’s not as if we started from scratch,” says Singh. “A lot of the technology was there already.”

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Time Usage Graphic

Information is Beautiful has an amusing graphic that compares TV watching with writing wikipedia. (Note that one is per year and the other is total.) This is an example of the so called cognitive surplus.

Monday, July 19, 2010

More Scripts of the World

If you liked the earlier post on Scripts of the World, Smashing Magazine has the second part of the article.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Eclipse over the Andes

Another cool eclipse photo, this time over the Andes.

Eclipse Over Easter Island

I always like those giant stone heads they have on Easter Island. Astronomy Photo of the Day has this great shot of the recent solar eclipse behind some of those heads.

Friday, July 09, 2010

Webcomic: Rupert and Hubert

I've only just started reading the Dresden Codak web comic but I really liked this one.

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Lego Fireworks

A bit late for Canada Day but here we are.

Video: A Tiny Cannon

Make has a post with a video demonstrating an extremely small (1 inch maybe) black powder cannon. It is amazing how destructive such a small thing can be.

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Special Forces Powerline Tap

Here is a cool gadget. It is designed to let special forces teams tap into power lines to get electricity.

Sunday, July 04, 2010

How Long Will You Live

Wolfram Alpha will show you how long you have to live and what the chances are of you living to various ages. For example, I have a 98.7% chance of living past age 50 but a 98.8% chance of dieing before age 100.

Thursday, July 01, 2010

An Escalator for Bikes

This is an interesting idea, an escalator for bicycles. It runs along the side of a set of stairs and lets people walk their bikes up more easily.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Ninite: Easy PC Installs

I haven't actually tried this but looks very cool if you need to install software on a new Windows PC. You go to the page, select the software you want and it gives you an installer to download. You do the one install and all your apps will be there.
via lifehacker

Monday, June 28, 2010

Ancient British Sites on Google Maps

The Megalithic Portal has a Google Map showing locations of various pre-historic sites in Britain. You can even filter them in case you like stone circles but can't stand hill forts.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Lego Ship in Bottle

This is not a trick. This Lego ship was built inside the bottle through the neck.

What do those badges mean

The Daily Telegraph has an article with a diagram that explains all the badges on US General David Petraeus's uniform (and he has a lot of them).

Saturday, June 12, 2010

The Second World War on Facebook

College Humor presents: OMG WWII on FACEBOOK! a modern adaptation of world war II for the american teenager.

Friday, June 04, 2010

Scripts of the World

Smashing Magazine has a very interesting article about various writing systems in use around the world. Lots of cool pictures and interesting information.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Which Colour Means What Where

Information is Beautiful has a post with a very cool chart showing what various colours mean in various cultures.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

A Flat Piggy Bank

Make has a post (with pictures) of an amusing piggy bank. It basically sandwiches your coins between two panes of glass.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Lego: Radio Controlled Sailing

Love this little vignette especially the gun-smoke / cannonball.

Friday, May 07, 2010

Video: Dutch Marines Capture Pirates

This is the sort of thing that will probably become much more common in the future. It is combat footage of Dutch Marines storming a hijacked cargo ship and capturing the pirates. The video was taken by a helmet camera worn by one of the marines.

The commentary is in dutch but it is pretty easy to follow what is going on. I liked it when the fellow with the helmet cam slid down the rope from the helicopter.

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Who puts an OED in a blue box?

Several strange things happened to me the other day. I got up early because the electrician came to fiddle around with the electrical outlet for our new stove. (It had been installed where it blocked the stove from being pushed all the way back.)

The first weird thing is that I went for a run at about 8 AM. I was amazed at the number of people who were out that early. I kept having to slow down or dodge around groups of school kids. It was also garbage / blue box day so I kept having to dodge around them on the sidewalk.

The second weird thing happened a few minutes into the run. I encountered a gaggle of school kids and a row of garbage cans while I was beside a large truck parked in the road. Because I couldn't pass I slowed down. As I did so, I glanced over at the blue box. Sitting on top of it was an Oxford English Dictionary.

I'm not talking about one of those largish books that you keep on your desk for essay writing. I'm talking about one of these (that's the best picture I could find). This is a two volume set that collects all the content from the full 20 volume OED. In order to accomplish this, each page has the contents of 9 pages from the full set. Because the print is so small, the box that holds the two volumes has a little drawer that holds a magnifying glass.

The magnifying glass was missing but then I guess no one would throw a magnifying glass in a blue box.

Friday, April 30, 2010

Roman Ingots for Modern Physicists

Nature has an article about some ancient roman lead ingots that have been recovered from a shipwreck. Italian physicists plan to use the lead to line part of an experiment as the lead was refined so long ago that all of its own natural radioactivity has completely faded away.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Photo: Rocks off Scotland

National Geographic has a great photo of some huge rocks in the sea off the Scottish coast.

Friday, April 09, 2010

April Smashing Desktop Wallpaper

I'm a bit late here once again but Smashing Magazine's April desktop wallpaper post is out. I'm leaning towards the shot of English Bay.

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Lego: Mini Chess Set

Make has a post with some nice shots of a usable, miniature chess set made entirely with Lego. The set is 12 studs by 12 studs and has drawers for holding the pieces.

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

How Many Cousins How Far Removed? has a chart showing what the various degrees of cousins (and other relatives) are and how they relate to you. I always wondered what the difference was between an nth cousin and a cousin n-times removed.

Monday, April 05, 2010

Handpowered Record Player

Make has a post about a hand powered record player made as a freebie by an ad agency. They provide a link to instructions on how to make your own.

Saturday, April 03, 2010

International Space Sation Over Time

USA Today has a great animation showing how the International Space Station grew over time.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Origami with a Hoodie

Conceptual Devices has a post showing different useful things you can make by refolding your hoodie. You can make a laptop sleeve, a shoulder bag, a backpack or a baby carrier. Obviously you may want to do some testing before you run around with your laptop in an improvised bag.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Capturing a Satellite by Hand

Astronomy Photo of the Day has a great photo from 1984 that shows an astronaut who has flown out from the Space Shuttle to a satellite to manually attach a recovery device.

Monday, March 08, 2010

Lego: The gun is bigger than the ship

Who can resist a Lego steampunk model where the gun is almost as big as the ship.

Friday, March 05, 2010

$1 Million Comics

Two big sales recently in the world of comic books. Yahoo reports that a copy of Superman # 1 sold for $1 million.

"The fact that this book is completely un-restored and still has an 8.0 grade, it's kind of like a diamond or a precious stone. It's very rare," he said.

There are only about 100 copies of Action Comics No. 1 believed to be in existence, and only a handful have been rated so highly. It's rarer still for those copies to be made available for sale.

Also, the BBC reports that a copy of Detective Comics #27, the first appearance of Batman, sold for $1.075m. Apparently the seller bought the comic for $100 during the 1960s.

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

The POW who broke into Auschwitz

The Times has an article about Denis Avey a British POW who actually broke into Auschwitz concentration camp to gather information that he thought might be needed after the war.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

What They Took to War

Ptak Science Books has a post, with photos, about what First World War British soldiers were issued to carry with them to the front. There doesn't seem to be a lot of it but I would imagine it would be rather heavy.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Best Drives on Earth

National Geographic Traveller has a large article about the 50 best drives in the world.

As an added bonus, someone has created google maps of all of the routes.

Have any of you ever driven any of them?

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Reflected Liftoff

Astronomy Photo of the Day has a great shot of the trail of a launching Space Shuttle reflected in a canal.

Friday, February 12, 2010

How to fall from 35,000 feet

Popular Mechanics has a how to article about a potentially very useful skill, how to survive a fall from 35,000 feet.

Monday, February 08, 2010

Origami High Chair

Here is an interesting origami idea - a baby's high chair made our of cardboard. This might be a bit tricky to make on your own and possibly a bit noisy if your design fails during user testing.

Friday, February 05, 2010

An Illuminated Frog

National Geographic has a photo of a small frog in the process of swallowing a lit Christmas light. Don't worry, it all works out in the end.

Thursday, February 04, 2010

Stars over the Himalayas

Astronomy Photo of the Day has an excellent photo of the night sky over the Himalayas.

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

A Wordy Clock

Make has a post about a clock that uses words rather than number or hands.

Photo: Desert in House

National Geographic has a photo of the desert reclaiming the inside of a house in Namibia.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

A box that will only open in one location

Make has a post about an interesting wooden puzzle box. The box can only be opened in one place on earth. Personally I think you should be able to change the batteries without opening the box but that is a minor quibble.

Google Chart API

This is a bit of a geeky one but it might be useful for people who need to get graphs into their webpages / blogs but don't want to learn how to create images in a spreadsheet.

The Google Chart API lets you draw quick little graphs (and other graphics) using just a URL.

For example the url:,30&chs=250x100&chl=Chris|World

will create the following image:

You can change the image just by editing the URL. So, for instance, if you don't like the division in the above graph you can change the 70:30 ratio in the URL. So,90&chs=250x100&chl=Chris|World would give you:

The other parts of the URL are the type of chart (p3 for pie chart), the size of the chart (250 by 100 pixels) and the labels for the two sections (Chris and World).

There are lots of other charts available as well:

bar charts:

Venn diagrams:

A stranger example is maps. For example, this url:,FF0000,FFFF00,00FF00&chld=CAGBSGUS&chd=t:0,0,0,0&chs=440x220
creates a map showing all the countries I've lived in:

Friday, January 15, 2010

A Home Grown Chair

Atlas Obscura has an article, with a picture, of a chair that was grown from a specifically planted stand of trees.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Million Dollar Murray

Malcolm Gladwell has an article about Million-dollar Murray. Murray was a homeless man who lived in Reno, Nevada. Because he was poor he got all of his medical treatment at the hospital emergency room. Because he was an elderly alcoholic who lived on the streets he ended up in the emergency room a lot. The local social services estimate that they had paid over $1 million for Murray's medical care.

The article raises an interesting point. Obviously it would be cheaper to just rent Murray an apartment and find him a job and a regular doctor. The problem of course is moral hazard, ie if you help everyone who ends up on the streets then people have no incentive to not end up on the streets.

The article, which is from 2006, discusses several other similar situations.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Life Magazine on line

Google Books now has the entire run of Life Magazine on line for free.

The interface makes it pretty easy to find, for example, the issue from the week you were born. The cover of mine shows Martin Luther King Jr and proclaims "A Historic Turning Point for the Negro's Cause".

You can see the whole list of magazines on Google Books here.

One of our intrepid correspondents has reported that they have the entire run of the World Weekly News for those of you researching the history of Bat Boy.

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

How People Spend Their Day

The New York Times has a nice interactive graphic that shows how people in various groups spend their time over the course of a day. It is interesting to click on the buttons and see what people are up to.

Monday, January 04, 2010

Going for the Paper Airplane Record

WTOP has an article about a recent attempt to break the record for keeping a paper airplane aloft from a throw from the ground. Amazingly the record is 27.9 seconds.

Saturday, January 02, 2010

An Eclipsed Blue Moon

Astronomy Picture of the day has a nice shot of a partially eclipsed blue moon.