The Big Think

January 30, 2009

Model Man

Filed under: Computing,Mad Science,Technology — jasony @ 5:04 pm

I’ve always been a big modeler. From as far back as I can remember I’ve enjoyed building with my hands and creating something out of a kit, or out of raw materials. As a kid I built dozens of spaceships (mainly Apollo-era “real” spacecraft) as well as airplanes and ships. Never built any science fiction stuff, simply because recreating the real world was somehow interesting enough.

I would have thought that somewhere along the way I would grow out of this phase, but instead I simply graduated to building bigger things (furniture and other woodworking stuff, mainly). I’m really happy that I never outgrew the desire to create. I’m currently working on a small gothic church done with Hirst Blocks. It’s this one, in fact:


I spent about a week casting the individual stones in hydrostone (a special dental plaster that’s much stronger than plaster of paris) and then glued it all together. I then painted it and now I’m onto the roofing stage. I made up a miniature roof subassembly last night and cut out a few hundred shingles that I’ll hand apply over the coming days. It’s slow going but really rewarding.

Still, I look forward to the day when creating something from my imagination is even easier. It looks like that day is closer than we may think. Rapid Prototyping (RP) technology has gotten much more available lately, and while the $10,000+ machines are still not what you’d call “desktop”, I think it’s only a few years until we start to see them get really small and high quality. The first laser printers were clunky, big, and low quality and cost $20,000. I bought my current color laser printer for less than $250. Give it a decade and you will be able to print up any common object on your desktop, or use Sketchup to design whatever you want and have the machine spit it out. Cadspan already has a free (!!) plugin for Sketchup that will take a Sketchup model and prep it for an RP machine.

The results now are rather small and simple looking (but not too simple!). Here’s an example:


Pretty good, but not quite to the replicator stage yet.

An open source organization called RepRap has created a machine (also called “a RepRap”) that is designed to create simple prototypes. Being open source, this organization has released its plans into the wild with the intention of constantly improving the technology. Their first goal was to design a desktop replicator with enough flexibility that it could, given the correct plans, recreate itself. They recently succeeded. The initial machine cost about $500 to create, but the second machine (the one that the first one made) cost only a few dollars. Currently, the RepRap can’t do a heck of a lot. Its output is limited to simple objects like flyswatters:


door handles:


or shoes:


In fact, it’s currently limited to making things that can be extruded from a plastic polymer much like toothpaste coming from a tube. However, even with this simple set of limitations, there are literally hundreds of useful things that it can create, and the open source community is working on getting the RepRap to be able to work in soft metals. The step past basic structural forming is going to be really big. They’re trying to enable a RepRap to extrude thin conductive material and be able to embed the metal in their creations. Why is this big? Because if they’re able to do this, RepRaps will be able to start constructing common consumer electronic devices. We’re still a ways from replicating your own iPod, but making a basic light switch or doorbell-level device would be utterly simple.

So here’s my dream: I would love to be able to design something on Sketchup, send the file through an RP machine, and have whatever I can imagine pop out the other end, complete with wiring all set to take lights or other electrical components. Far from just a tool to create models of my own design, this little tool would open up whole new worlds of creativity. And the fact that I could make you a RepRap of your own in an afternoon means that these things will be all over the place.

It’s now 2009. I am going to say that within 5 years the RepRap will be able to create a simple and useful household device: a hairdryer. That’s my guess. It’ll be interesting to see if they get there. I’ll also say that it makes, oh, 90% of the thing and you only have to add a small motor or maybe a cord you can buy at the hardware store. Let’s see what can happen before January of 2014.

What would you make?


Filed under: Technology — jasony @ 12:03 pm

I, for one, welcome our self-assembling robot overlords.

January 28, 2009

25 Things About Sean

Filed under: Friends — jasony @ 3:17 pm

Interesting stuff. Even I learned something about him, though I’m disappointed he left out the ones about secretly wanting to join the Blue Man Group, and that time he helped dispose of “a little tax problem” out in the desert.


Filed under: Politics — jasony @ 7:13 am

The Hysterical Style

If anyone wished to know what the baby-boomer generation would do when, in its full maturity, it hit its first self-created, big-time recession, I think we are seeing the hysterical results. After two decades of unprecedented economic growth, rampant consumer spending, and unimaginable borrowing to satisfy our insatiable appetites, we are suddenly going into even larger debt and printing trillions of dollars in paper money to ensure that someone else after we are gone pays the debt. As if the permanent solution to a financial panic and years of spending wealth we didn’t create were a government take-over of the economy in the manner we currently witness in Spain, Italy, and Greece—or the high-tax, high-spend ethos of a bankrupt California.

The reaction to the economic panic was sort of analogous to the call to ‘charge it!’ after 9/11 (cf. Ike’s fights about the surtax to pay for Korea), or to the Iraq 2006 upsurge in violence, when suddenly our leaders declared the war lost, blamed the nebulous “they” for tricking them into voting for the war, and calling for immediate withdrawals and retreats. Ditto the Stalag-Gulag Guantanamo that, by January 19, had ruined the Constitution, shredded the Bill of Rights, and forever tarnished our reputation. Yet, on the 20th, it was suddenly complex and problematic, and required a “task force” to do a year-long inquiry into the bad and worse choices confronting us. At some point in all this serial hysteria, we are beginning to see the problem is not in the stars of the economy or of the war, but in ourselves—a weird generation that, when it finally came of age, proved to be just about what we could expect of it from what we saw in its youth.

And this:

“Having been a target of commercial opportunity during its entire sentient existence, the Baby Boomer generation’s lasting legacy may well be to have been the first American generation to have consumed more, or at least as much, as it has produced. . . . If generations actually had their own moral legacy, we Boomers would be the dependent loser — the one kid who could never hold a job and never save a nickel and was always asking for a ‘loan’ — of the American family. If we had a generational sense of duty (which we do not, obviously), we would realize that we need to surrender the long-tail entitlement benefits that bear down on the American economy.”

This is not, of course, to imply that then entire Boomer generation has gone sour, just the ones drawn to political power. My parents (and a great many of my friends’ parents) are models of foresight and smart planning. Wisdom seems to be antithetical to the attributes you would have found in a participant at, say, Woodstock. So while 90% of the post-greatest-generation deserves a lot of credit for responsible living, it’s the other 10% that will trash the place before handing the keys over to the young-uns.

My biggest concern is that the generational pendulum will swing back far enough when Gen X holds the reigns to undo some of the massive damage being done now. I hope my generation is wise enough to resist squandering whatever is left from this current debacle on short term pleasure.

Days to Remember

Filed under: Space — jasony @ 12:16 am

January 27, 1967

January 26, 2009

Calling Malcolm Reynolds

Filed under: Politics — jasony @ 11:59 pm

Here we stand, facing the worst economy since the Great Depression, and Americans no longer feel free to do anything about it. We have lost the idea, at every level of social life, that people can grab hold of a problem and fix it. Defensiveness has swept across the country like a cold wave. We have become a culture of rule followers, trained to frame every solution in terms of existing law or possible legal risk. The person of responsibility is replaced by the person of caution. When in doubt, don’t.

How Modern Law Makes Us Powerless.

I’m very tired of politicians overusing words like “freedom” and “liberty” as if they are somehow newly-discovered concepts instead of catch-all applause lines that don’t really mean anything. Come to think of it, they have kind of become meaningless through predictable repetition, haven’t they?

Many would say the current administration is on the road to massive curtailing of individual rights in the name of some grand Common Right. Others would say the previous administration was guilty of same. What I have noticed is a disquieting acceleration of governmental influence and presence in our everyday lives (seen a red light camera today? How about a surveillance sign?). I agree with this writer that the legal system needs to be massively pruned and some semblance of sanity reinstituted in our common legal discourse.

January 23, 2009


Filed under: Music — jasony @ 11:39 am

I reached a milestone today when I finished all charting for Sing 2009!

Interesting chart stats:

Total Measures: 11290 (“active frames”- not including empty measures)

Master Scores: 156 pages

Parts: 230 pages

Total pages: 386

Length of show: approx 4 hours with intermissions and time between acts. If you played it straight through with no breaks, it’s almost exactly 2 hours of music.


I still have to assemble the musician folders, which means copying and dealing with 600+ pages, and I also have to mix and master the final tracks for those acts that have additional music, but finishing the charts represents a major milestone in the months long process of creating the show.

I’m taking a few days off!


Filed under: Telescope — jasony @ 10:29 am

Stunning Dorpat telescope scale model.


I’ve come to a more or less final design decision on my own handmade telescope (yes, it’s a long, long term project). I have to decide on the tripod/mount now. Options are a simple alt/azimuth mount (basically a tripod), or a no-holds-barred full outequatorial mount. The latter would be much more useful but it scares the bejeebers out of me to think about building it, especially out of breakable wood. The telescope won’t be particularly heavy, but when the mounts are not machined you do have to worry about weight.

Anyway, check out the link for the amazing Dorpat model.

January 21, 2009

Old is Beautiful

Filed under: Disclosure — jasony @ 5:14 pm

The virtues of driving an old car. I currently drive a 1992 Chevy pickup truck, and while it’s not the most beautiful thing in the world, when I look at it I see the fact that I haven’t made a car payment in well over a decade. Alas, the Chevy will probably be replaced sometime soon (with a late model one of these), but I’ve gotten my use out of it. The list of things broken/breaking on it are too numerous to mention, and repairing them all would comprise a pretty significant chunk of the “new” used car, so it’s off to pasture with her soon.

Still, according to this article’s calculations, I’ve saved something like twenty grand by being happy with the old bucket. That’ll make getting the next one significantly less painful.

Anyone got an older car?

January 20, 2009


Filed under: Humor and Fun — jasony @ 10:39 am

How many Homer Simpson’s can fit on the head of a pin?

Microscopic Art

January 19, 2009

The Sound of Green Places

Filed under: Music — jasony @ 1:00 am

Ever since returning from our three week long Ireland trip this past summer, friends and family have asked us what it was like. I can show them the pictures and them the stories, but I’ve never been able to adequately capture the feeling of being there. As beautiful as the place was to the eye, for me the smell of peat fires and the sound of Gaelic being sung to traditional instruments will remain the very definition of Ireland. I think I may have found something that can explain it to you.

For four minutes and forty five seconds, I’d like for you to close your eyes and listen to this. I humbly suggest you give it some time and appreciate it without distractions, because it will be the most beautiful thing you hear today. And if it’s not, you’re a lucky, lucky person. Let yourself get lost in it.

I have no idea what she’s singing about, but it doesn’t matter. Some things transcend translation.

That was Ireland.

(Update: I adore this piece and have listened to it a half dozen times this morning alone. I’m more and more impressed by Muireann Nic Amhlaoibh’s musicianship each time I hear it. Pay special attention to what she does with her voice at 3:48, and the way she trails off the last note. Exquisite)

January 18, 2009


Filed under: Music — jasony @ 3:37 pm

(h/t Scott)

January 16, 2009


Filed under: Disclosure,Friends — jasony @ 11:54 pm

Erin and I went out to dinner not long ago with some friends we don’t see very often. They’re the kind of people that we always leave thinking “WHY don’t we see them more!?”. It’s great to talk and connect with them and we really enjoy their company. We’ve known them for a few years now and have been navigating the self-employed route together, sharing stories and tribulations from walking the road less travelled.

It was inspiring to hear of their recent success and how they’re so much happier for having made the choices they did. Erin and I were both extremely thrilled that things have turned out so well for them, and we were grateful that they were willing to share their joy. It made me really happy to look across the table at them both and see a couple who had chosen to do things their way. To see them rewarded for their decision (as should happen in a capitalistic society) felt like a giant justifying YES in favor of this oddball, scary, risky, rewarding career choice called self employment.

At some point one of us remarked that many employees of a company will never understand the ownership mindset that goes with taking risks and starting something yourself. To many of them, the security of a steady paycheck is worth more than the potential rewards of building something themselves. But as we’ve all discovered the past few months, putting your security in a “boss” is illusory: the economy can sour and suddenly you’re unemployed again. I’m always at a loss to explain how people think that any kind of job is secure, and if they’re all risky, why not at least take the risk while doing something you’re passionate about?

I came away from the dinner still wondering why more people don’t want to feel the thrill of being their own boss and taking a bigger responsibility for their own long term success. You never get over that feeling of being a phony, and the terror of “where is the next client coming from?” never goes away, but it’s worth it. Utterly.

Conversations like these remind me of that, and I’m grateful.

Mazel Tov, friends.


Filed under: Quoth — jasony @ 8:48 am

“The challenge for most people in connecting the dots is not the connecting part but the dots. You have to diversify the input– read more, talk to more and different kinds of people, listen to different music. Once you start adding more dots, you start naturally seeing the connections.” -Daniel Pink

lifted from friend Allison White’s blog:

January 15, 2009

Morning Person

Filed under: Audio,Music — jasony @ 7:05 am

I’m normally not much of a morning person, unless my insomnia decrees Thou Shalt Wake at Five AM, which it did this morning at 5:22. I think my insomnia slept in for twenty extra minutes.

Anyway, when it’s cold and early and I have a pile of enjoyable work to get through I really don’t mind getting up early. Got a cup of Tea, Earl Grey, Hot, right in front of me and I’m off to edit audio all day.

I’m glad I’m making use of the time. Erin and I postponed a well anticipated camping trip this weekend (brr!) with some seldom-seen friends so I could get the current stuff out the door. Looking forward to it sometime soon.

My Name is Inigo Montoya

Filed under: Movies — jasony @ 7:00 am

Princess Bride trivia. Not that it’s ever really gone away, but this film is enjoying somewhat of a resurgence lately. Maybe it’s time we see it again.

January 12, 2009

Don’t You Hate it When

Filed under: Movies — jasony @ 10:06 pm

So I went to burn 30 DVD’s today for a project. Added the closing text, re-exported the video, re-rendered everything. Then set it all up in a new DVD Studio Pro document and burned 14 of the DVD’s. I was halfway through the 15th and Erin came into the studio (from just having watched it).

Did you mean to misspell that word in the closing text?


Sound of 15 DVD’s (and $20) hitting the trash.

Sound of entire day’s work hitting the trash.


January 10, 2009

Joe Shrugged

Filed under: Current Reading,Politics — jasony @ 12:17 pm

Why the current economic climate is like Atlas Shrugged.

January 7, 2009


Filed under: Quoth — jasony @ 11:40 am

Hear Hear! via johncoxart

Mystery Flash

Filed under: Space — jasony @ 11:37 am

A big bright flash in the night sky. Science is befuddled.
I love it when Science gets befuddled.

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