Category Archives: Cool Stuff

Blender 2.66

One of my favorite applications is sadly one for which I have no capacity to master. I’m speaking of the outstanding, open-source modeling tool Blender. Version 2.66 of this fantastic tool has just been announced. And while I’m sure almost everyone who uses the tool already knows about it, I mention it just in case someone drops by here and isn’t familiar with the tool but possesses the skills necessary to create something great with it.

Laptop 64 – Ben Heck strikes again

Commodore-64 portablized

Commodore-64 portablized

Is there anyone else out there capable of pulling off the work Ben Heck does? Honestly, I’ve seen a few people do similar mods to portablize game consoles or vintage computers, but no one with the breadth of neat hacks that Ben has done. The latest bit from him is the rejiggering of “Classic” computer the Commodore 64.

While I can’t say I personally would want one, this really is a pretty cool project for folks who have to get their retro on. (via MAKEZine)

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World’s Biggesterest laser – pew pew pew

There are some things in the world that never get old. Zombies. Pirates. Ninja. Sharks. Dinosaurs. All these things we can count on to be perpetually cool. Top of the list for me, however, (and you already know this if you hang around the Blahg or me very much) is the topic of lasers. Sure, sure, sure – the previous things are great. But put sharks together with lasers and you far exceed the awesomesauce held by the mere category of sharks. Everyone likes the idea of pirates versus ninja. Suppose, however, you got a pirate and a ninja fighting on top of a laser beam? Only pirates and ninja could pull off a fight carried on completely on a beam of focused light, and they are way more fantastic for doing so. I think, by this point, that you get my point.

So with lasers consuming the position as awesomerest of awesome everything, just what could I want to talk about to impress even the laser fan? Well, how about the most powerful laser EVAR? Could this thing lift a squirrel into orbit? I don’t know. But it is a shit-ton of power:

Scientists working at the National Ignition Facility of the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California, have built the most powerful laser in the world, capable of simulating the energy force of a hydrogen bomb and the sun itself.

“The system already has produced 25 times more energy than any other laser system,” said NIF Director Ed Moses.

These scientists worked more than a decade to come to this. They generate this power by combining 192 laser beams. And the whole facility is contained within a ten-story building that’s roughly the size of three football fields (American football, for my dear foreign readers). So just how much is 25 time more energy than any other laser, exactly?

NIF’s 192 laser beams, housed in a ten-story building the size of three football fields, travel a long path, about 1,000 feet, from their birth at one of the two master oscillators to the center of the target chamber. As the beams move through NIF’s amplifiers, their energy increases exponentially. From beginning to end, the beams’ total energy grows from one-billionth of a joule (a joule is the energy needed to lift a small apple one meter against the Earth’s gravity) to four million joules, a factor of more than a quadrillion – and it all happens in less than 25 billionths of a second.

Yep – fully focused and powered up, this laser could lift 4 million apples one meter off the ground. Hmmmm. That doesn’t sound nearly as cool as it should. Let’s try again – this laser could lift 1 apple 4 million meters off the ground! Might need more exclamation points, but I think you get the idea. And that estimate of the value of a joule isn’t quite accurate, but it does simplify it and still leave us close enough.

Of course, that assumes the laser wouldn’t instantly vaporize the apple. But maybe if it’s a zombie dinosaur apple, it will survive the trip.

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OSSTMM version 3 coming soon?

In a previous life, I was a computer security specialist.  I had a really cool job, and worked with really, really damn cool people (hi Gerald, Doug, Jon, et al).  I read (a tiny fraction of) all the cool security news.  I kept up to date on as many security topics as I could.  I read security books.  I studied a lot of security web sites.  I took training from SANS.  I subscribed to a few security mailing lists, although much of the detail in many vulnerability announcements messages was above my understanding.

But in all that reading, research, study, training, and other learning, one of the coolest things I ever consumed was the OSSTMM project. Rather than try to explain this project, I’ll just snag the introductory text from the project home site:

The Open Source Security Testing Methodology Manual (OSSTMM) is a peer-reviewed methodology for performing security tests and metrics. The OSSTMM test cases are divided into five channels (sections) which collectively test: information and data controls, personnel security awareness levels, fraud and social engineering control levels, computer and telecommunications networks, wireless devices, mobile devices, physical security access controls, security processes, and physical locations such as buildings, perimeters, and military bases.

The OSSTMM focuses on the technical details of exactly which items need to be tested, what to do before, during, and after a security test, and how to measure the results. New tests for international best practices, laws, regulations, and ethical concerns are regularly added and updated.

The version I read when I first found this was 2.2.  It has been years since I used it, and I periodically check in for updates on the version 3.0 release.  I haven’t seen an update on the web site, and I’m not a team member/subscriber to the service, so I didn’t expect I would know unless I checked in on my own.  Well tonight, while catching up on email, I get this message from the project:

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Cool new type of laser?

Since we haven’t covered any really cool laser news in a while, it’s time to throw out our shark-powered story-hounds (and yes, I recognize the incongruity of that analogy) and see what pops up.

Looks here like there is a story out on a new type of laser. While studying laser generation from a device called a quantum cascade laser, scientists noticed that a secondary laser with some unusual properties was generated.

ScienceDaily (Dec. 22, 2008) — A Princeton-led team of researchers has discovered an entirely new mechanism for making common electronic materials emit laser beams. The finding could lead to lasers that operate more efficiently and at higher temperatures than existing devices, and find applications in environmental monitoring and medical diagnostics.

In particular, this new type of laser apparently requires less energy to produce than a traditional laser. While the story in question makes no mention of strapping these frikkin’ lasers to frikkin’ sharks’ heads, I suspect a lower power draw would come in quite handy in any world take-over attempts based on such a premise. Assuming the scientists in question can figure out how to create this secondary laser without the primary laser still being there, of course.

The new laser phenomenon has some interesting features. For instance, in a conventional laser relying on low momentum electrons, electrons often reabsorb the emitted photons, and this reduces overall efficiency. In the new type of laser, however, this absorption is reduced by 90%, said Franz. This could potentially allow the device to run at lower currents, and also makes it less vulnerable to temperature changes. “It should let us dramatically improve laser performance,” he said.

The device used in the study does not fully attain this level of performance, because the conventional, low-efficiency laser mechanism dominates. To take full advantage of the new discovery, therefore, the conventional mechanism would need to be turned off. The researchers have started to work on methods to achieve this outcome, said Franz.

So work is still underway. And has been for a while, in fact. Word from the brains behind this work is they actually discovered this effect sometime last year, but have been working on perfecting or improving it since then. My current suspicions are if this doesn’t end up in shark-based warfare, it will be part of the coming robot uprising. And I, for one, welcome our new robot overlords (unless the zombies take over first).

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Global Warming and the World Wide Pirate Shortage

It seems that piracy is returning to favor in parts of the world. We hear more stories about pirates taking massive tankers and cargo ships in certain parts of the world, and the ransom demands for the return of these ships is growing ever greater. After decades of global warming, there is talk that we are now heading for another ice age.

It has plagued scientists and politicians for decades, but scientists now say global warming is not the problem.

We are actually heading for the next Ice Age, they claim.

British and Canadian experts warned the big freeze could bury the east of Britain in 6,000ft of ice.

There can be little doubt, given the inverse relationship between global warming and worldwide number of pirates (read beginning just above the graph half-way down the article) that these events, the increase in piracy and the return to an ice age, are related. This is simply the environmental impact of a poor world economy, I suspect. As it gets harder for people to earn a few dollars by working, they’ll look to earn a few hundred million dollars from stealing massive tankers. That’s just forward-thinking economics, really.

In response to the multiple looming crises, several world governments have taken to combating piracy. For example, an Indian warship has recently sunk a pirate “mother ship” to fight piracy.

An Indian naval vessel sank a suspected pirate “mother ship” Wednesday in the Gulf of Aden and chased two attack boats into the night, officials said, as separate bands of brigands seized Thai and Iranian ships in the lawless seas.

A multinational naval force has increased patrols in the region, and scored a rare success Tuesday when the Indian warship, operating off the coast of Oman, stopped a ship similar to a pirate vessel described in numerous bulletins. The Indian navy said the pirates fired on the INS Tabar after the officers asked to search it.

If the global temperature goes up next week, you’ll know why. Besides, the Indian government is apparently forgetting the trickle-down effect that the $100 million ransom will have on the global economy is the Somali pirates get the money they are asking for. I’m betting it could show up as early as next month in your pay check. If you get a little pay bump or a Christman bonus, remember to thank a Somali pirate.

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