Mind-Boggling Miniature Painting Contest

A few years back, I got obsessed with sci-fi tabletop wargamming (namely, Warhammer 4000). I even ran a popular sci-fi game modeling site for a time. As part of covering the hobby (at least that’s what I told the taxman), I attended several Games Day conventions in Baltimore. I thought my painting and modeling were pretty damn good. And then I saw the Golden Demon Awards, the model conversions/painting contests held at these cons. The conversions were incredible, the paint jobs were absurd. Keep in mind as you look at these images that these figures are 28mm scale (that’s about 1.1 inches!). You start with bare metal, and after hours sometimes counted in the hundreds, you end up with results like these. An eyeball on one of these models is like the point of a pin, and yet, these painters manage several levels of highlights, reflections, and glints. A current trend is painting lighting effects, torch light or laser blasts reflected on models and scenery. Crazy.

Pictured above is Natalya Melnik’s Gold-winning “Dark Angels Company Master” and Bennett Blalock-Doane’s Sisters of Battle Canoness which took Silver, both in the WH40K Single Miniature category. Bennett also took Gold in Warhammer Regiments, with his Beastlord and Retinue (seen below). Natalya, who’s sort of a rock star/goddess in the miniature painting world, took home the grand prize, the coveted Slayer Sword, also for her Company Master.

For all the coverage of this year’s Baltimore Games Day and the Golden Demon Awards, check out Games Workshop’s website.


Herr von Slatt Profiled on Wired News

Our pal Jake von Slatt gets the front n’ center star treatment on Wired today, with an interview and a gallery of some of his work. Congrats, Jake!

In the slideshow of projects, he includes the above pic of an old radio he’s currently converting to a digital music machine. Here’s what he says about it:

“There are a million ‘MP3 player in old radio case’ mods, but with this one I intend to entangle the very DNA of these two devices The filament supply of the radio will be tapped and regulated to power the MP3 player and the output of the MP3 player will be spliced directly into the audio output stage of the radio’s vacuum-tube amplifier. I’ll then load it with a bunch of period music and radio plays.”

We like the way this guy thinks! Make him Fabricator General and Minister of the Manufactorum!

BTW: If you haven’t seen my Wired News steampunk piece from a few weeks back, it’s here.


The Balls to Think

We were talking about this project at… oh nevermind… just check out this awe-inspiring 4-bit computer built entirely out of K’Nex. Here’s the description from the site:

“The K’NEX calculator stands over 10 feet tall, and can perform 4 bit addition and subtraction operations in about 30 seconds. The slowest part of the operation is the user entering the balls. From there the balls trickle down, computing the result of the operation, and then sending that through a 4 bit decoder, which flips a flag that tells the user the answer. Since it is 4 bit, we can add and subtract numbers from 0 to 15.”

Read the Ball Theory page for a succinct and graphical description of how this system can be used to create the various logic gates needed in computing (and some of the design challenges involved). The videos explain a lot, too.

[Via Make]


Drew Endy’s Synthetic Biology (and My Adventures Therein)

On the way home from the location I dare no longer speak about, I was “suitcase raped,” as my son dubbed it. TSA officials took an uncommon interest in me and my baggage. As I looked on in horror, they paraded the entire contents of my luggage in front of everyone, including my dirty underwear, painstakingly swabbing each and every item, right down to my toothbrush handle, looking for… what? Explosives residue, I assume. Anyway, it was seriously NOT fun, surprisingly humiliating, and really did feel like a personal violation which took me days to get over. (And yes, I understand that the word “rape” is an over-statement and probably ill-advised in this instance.)

As part of this ordeal, they went through my journal, notebooks, papers, etc., sometimes snickering at what they found there. They took particular interest in a COMIC BOOK called “Adventures in Synthetic Biology,” by Drew Endy, something I picked up at said unspeakable location.

Drew is a Professor of Biological Engineering at MIT and one of the people behind The BioBricks Foundation, a not-for-profit org of engineers and scientists from MIT, Harvard, UCSF, and elsewhere, “encouraging the development and responsible use of technologies based on the BioBrick standard of DNA parts that encode basic biological functions. You can read more about Drew’s work here, and more about BioBricks here. And if you want to see the comic book that entertained my new best pals at the TSA, an online version can be found here.


Jeff Han’s Perceptive Pixel

Yeah, I know. At this point you’re probably thinking Foo Camp/Schmoo Camp. I’ll stop with the Foo Camp postings soon. But not just yet…

I love when you’re at a conference, or otherwise meet someone, and then you go home, google them, and the true import of who you were talking to becomes apparent. Such was the case with Jeff Han. He and I got a lift from Camp to SF/SFO with Erin McKean (thanks for the lift, Erin!). We chatted about this and that over burgers and double-frieds at In-N-Out Burger. He said he was a multi-touch interface designer. He talked a little bit about the finer points of finer points (e.g. how multi-touch can also read degrees of pressure as an input variable). Nice guy, cool job, great lunch. And he was off. I got home and wanted to find out more. I ended up at this mesmerizing video and had my mind suitably blown. Yes, you’ve already seen this in Minority Report, but this is real-world tech (and there’s no need for the Michael Jackson glitter gloves). Coming soon to a Pre-Crime Sector Station near you (or hopefully some less ominous, more human-beneficial application). Also, check out Jeff’s TED presentation for a more nuts and bolts look at the tech involved.


Devastaingly Devilish Frank Zappa Comeback

My friend Ron Anteroinen just sent me this infamous Frank Zappa anecdote:

“I was reading about Joe Pyne, the conservative talk show ancestor to Morton Downey and Bill O’Reilly. The Wikipedia article on him includes this account of a Frank Zappa interview:

“Joseph Pyne was born in Chester, Pennsylvania. He earned three service stars but lost a leg while serving in the Marine Corps during World War II…

“Pyne was generally a conservative and supported the Vietnam War and ridiculed hippies (a favorite target) and the women’s movement…

“Pyne was confrontational with guests on his show and often attempted to throw them off-balance by opening the conversation with an insult. One occasion when this backfired was when he began a dialogue with Frank Zappa by saying, ‘So I guess your long hair makes you a woman.’ Zappa responded with ‘So I guess your wooden leg makes you a table.'”

I think I’ve heard this story before. I did a search and found no video footage of it and I don’t know whether it’s apocryphal or not. It’s widely reported online as actually happening. Seems hard to imagine that anyone can be that quick, but if anyone can, it would’ve been Frank. Does anybody know more about it?


Bill Gurstelle, In Search of Thrills, At Foo Camp

Bill Gurstelle is someone associated with Make and the Maker community to whom, through various circumstances, I’m drawn ever-closer. Bill is the author of Backyard Ballistics and Whoosh, Boom, Splat. He is a mad genius, a scholar, and a gentleman (at least he’s gentlemanly enough to warn you that he’s about to tell you something dirty or disgusting before he proceeds to do so). I spent a bunch of time with him at Foo Camp and had a blast (and no, that’s not an attempt at bad pyro punnage).

Bill, seen above in a Brian Jepson photo, gave a talk on “Living Dangerously in a Risk-Obsessed World.” It was a fun, sort of think-out-loud session for his next book, which looks at risk and thrill-seeking and its role in human evolution.

Here, Eric Wilhelm (foreground), of Instructables, tells us about the time he boxed a kangaroo. No, seriously. Also in the photo (L to R): Charles Platt, moi, Mark Atwood (standing), Mark Frauenfelder (behind Eric), and Avi Geiger (by a nose).

Brian has a few other photos of Foo in his Flickr sets.


Giant Slug-Like Biomass Machine at Burning Man

One of the more interesting people I had the pleasure of meeting at Foo Camp was Jim Mason of The Shipyard, the brilliantly-mad Berkeley art and alternative energy space/community (which was recently forced to vacate their premises and is now looking for donations to re-emerge bigger and more bad-ass, outside of Berkeley. Help out!).

Anyhoo, at Camp, Jim was drumming up interest for The Mechabolic, a crazy-ass bio-fuel slug/digestive system sculpture thingy that he and his cohort plan to build at ’07 Burning Man. It’s “human anatomy meets hot rod fetishism,” er… or something like that. If you want to know more about “Team Metabolic” and their “burlesque of synthetic metabolism,” check out the project’s website.

BTW: The wonderful Neverwas Haul, featured in my recent Wired.com steampunk piece, was built at The Shipyard.


Asshole Driven Development

One of my favorite sessions at Foo Camp was run by Scott Berkun, author of Myths of Innovation (which is what his Foo Camp talk was about). On his blog, he’s composed a short, hysterical (and spot-on) glossary of real-world software development methodologies. Take “Asshole Driven Development:”

Asshole Driven Development (ADD) – Any team where the biggest jerk makes all the big decisions. All wisdom, logic or process goes out the window when Mr. Asshole is in the room, doing whatever idiotic, selfish thing he thinks is best. There may be rules and processes, but Mr. A breaks them and people follow anyway.

Or, what’s found in most corporate structures, regardless of what they do:

Cover Your Ass Engineering (CYAE) – The driving force behind most individual efforts is to make sure than when the shit hits the fan, they are not to blame.

If you want to see a video clip of Scott’s “Myths of Innovation” talk (not from Foo Camp), here ya go.


Use C-Cell Batts for D-Cells using Coins

Here’s a cool, quick hack. I just went to buy some D-cell batteries and found two displays in the store with every battery type BUT D. They seem to be getting rarer. I already had a bunch of Cs on hand. Using four (or five, or six) quarters, you can make up the difference in the battery holder and adapt C-batteries where Ds are called for.

[Via Lifehacker]