Monthly Archives: February 2006

Rocket Man

If you haven’t heard about Juan Manuel Lozano perhaps you should. Lozano has devoted most of his life to building a personal jetpack at his home 50 miles south of Mexico City. Along the way he has invented and sold a distiller for 90% pure Hydrogen Peroxide (which he uses to fuel his jetpack) and a super efficient “Penta M” catalyst pack which converts the fuel into steam. He has no formal education beyond high school and only standard aerobatic pilot training. Popularized in the 1960s by Wendell Moore of the Bell Aerospace company the devices have been featured in everything from James Bond films to the 1984 Summer Olympics. Lozano has successfully completed a series of tethered test flights with his rocket pack and hopes to perfect and begin selling his design for $350,000 each. Considering that only 12 people have ever flown untethered rocket packs that’s no small feat. It’s also one that has earned Lozano and his company, Technologia Aerospacial Mexicana, a prime article by Larry Smith in the March 2006 Popular Mechanics magazine entitled “Ready for Takeoff?“. It’s a great article and I encourage you to read up on this amazing tinkerer and backyard rocket scientist.

A Real Scanner

While it’s prohibtively expensive to build the Equinox radio scanner probably represents the pinnacle of radio scanning equipment today. A fully remote controllable PC based radio (RF) scanner this is truly the Cadillac monitor.

From its home in the Seattle, Washington area, the Equinox receiver provides continuous, remotely-accessible coverage of the DC-1 GHz spectrum on a 24-hour basis.

While it would be a bit much for individual hobbiests to build one of these it would be cool to see scanning clubs such as Minnesota based ScanFan get together and buid one for community use. The internet provides a great way of participating in this increasingly expensive hobby (as more systems go digital) if we could allow for some remote control and data from the reciever(s).

Controversial Internet Humor

If you’re not upset with raw language and enjoy quirky internet humor be sure to check out “The Best Page In The Universe“. This website run by self-congratulatory webmaster George Ouzounian (Maddox) is full of satire bound to upset and offend just about everyone. At least he offers equal opportunity offense. Originating from a 1997 list of 50 things he hates the site has grown to include such diatribes as “The most expensive $94 Orbitz will ever make” or “Star Wars Episode III: a steaming pile of Sith”.

The site is so popular it has spawned a fan page, aptly named “The Second Best Page In The Universe“, a Mothers Against Maddox hate site and even a Wikipedia entry. Controversy surrounding the site has led to it being blocked by several countries and the Websense filtering program. Of course Maddox takes this all in stride. A true internet ledgend. Now, if only I could find a folk song about Maddox and his site.

Photography in Minnesota

The Minnesota Center for Photography is the “leading center for photography in the upper Midwest” and regularly showcases photographic exhibits. They have recently re-launched their website and hope to start offering members access to darkrooms at their Minneapolis location later this winter. In addition, members have the ability to display their work in rotating “spotlight exhibitions” and can access a library of photography related information.

Open Source City

LinCity looks like a great Linux clone of the traditional Maxis game, SimCity. Now in an updated form LinCity-NG now has an isometric 3D view similar to that found in SimCity 2000, arguably the best version of the classic game.

Hands-on Science Activities

The San Francisco Exploratorium has a great website with a number of hands-on science activites you can do at home. These projects and experiments have the potential to become great science fair projects with a little research and polishing. Check out the Exploratorium Hands-on Activites section for learning about everything from food to buliding your own telescope.

GPS Maps

I’ve had a bluetooth GPS for a few months now and have really enjoyed it. One of the more fun things I like to do is create virtual tracks of where I’ve been. One website that can help you do just that is GPS Visualizer.

GPS Visualizer allows you to upload NMEA GPS logs to their site and export maps in a variety of formats. One of the most compatible formats uses a Google Maps overlay. They also support the Google Earth overlay and KML formats and several static formats such as SVG and JPEG/PNG using a variety of map sources.

A Slimmer Real Player

Those of us who have been on the ‘net for a while can remember the heyday of Real Player. One of the first ways to squeeze passable audio and video down narrow dialup connections Real Player was a boon to the then emerging streaming media market. Somewhere along the way Real Media lost this focus and tried to enter the media library/management/player category with the RealOne product. Ever since then it seems the amount of advertising and junk that comes with the player has discouraged many from installing it. There have been some alternatives available (RealAlternative comes to mind) but these enjoy limited success as they don’t support the latest features and are rejected by some sites. For several years I ran an old copy of Real Player G2 which was about the last unbloated version of the software but that no longer works at many sites. It has even become hard to find the free version of the standard Real Player and it still comes with bloatware and advertising.

One alternaitve that I’ve been using for a while and seems to work well is the “Real Player Enterprise” edition of the software. Designed for companies who revolted against installing Real Player becasue of all these problems, this client is ad-free and you can turn off all of the annoying features. It also is based on the current version of Real Player so it should be accepted anywhere with Real Media files. Good luck trying to find a link to this from the homepage though!

You can learn more about this program on the Real Player Enterprise website and download a free copy from the download page. Stream on.

Speedy Reader

By now most netizens are familiar with the ubiquitous Portable Document Format (PDF) file. Commonly used to distribute printed material online PDF files have been traditionally opened with Adobe’s Acrobat Reader (now just Adobe Reader) but that has become quite a slow and bloated program over the years. I don’t know about you but I would rather it not take two minutes just for a program to load so I can read a simple one page document. While it may not have all the bells and whistles associated with the Adobe Reader I’ve found that the free Foxit Reader is a great Microsoft Windows compatible alternative viewer for PDF files. Taking just a second to load and coming in at less than 1 MB this is a splendid example of putting bloatware on a diet. You may want to keep a copy of Adobe Reader handy for filling out PDF forms or in case you have a particularly complex file to open but for the average PDF Foxit Reader certainly is a speedy alternative.

Snowflake Preservation

Have you ever wanted to save a snowflake for photography or just to look at it later. In 1931 Wilson A. Bentley published “Snow Crystals” which contains over 2,400 photographs of snowflakes taken over 47 winters. When Bentley took his photographs he had to work quickly before heat from his body melted the subject. Since that time we have developed a number of ways to preserve snow crystals.

In 1951 Vincent J. Schaeffer pioneered a method using a coating of polyvinyl formal in ethylene dichloride, but ethylene dichloride is now classed as toxic and a suspected carcinogen making it much more difficult for the average hobbyist to obtain. Other chemists have suggesting using chloroform instead but it is also quite difficult to obtain. Still others have tried plastic, hair or workable fixative spray with only limited success. I have also learned of a method that uses clear nail polish to preserve the snowflake.

In 1979 chemist Tryggvi Emilsson developed a process using cyanoacrylate, commonly referred to as “super glue”. Cynoacrylate works best on objects that have some moisture in them, because snowflakes are made from water they are fanstastic candidates for superglue preservation. Start by placing microscope slides, coverslips and superglue (the runny type, not the gel type) outside on a day when it is 20 degrees Farenheit or colder out. The materials will need time to cool down to the ambient temperature. Catch snowflakes on the slides or carefully pick them up and place them on a slide with a cold tweezers. Place a drop of superglue over a snowflake on the slide and carefully drop a coverslip over the top. Be carful not to press down hard and keep the heat from your hands away from the flake. Keep the slide in a freezer for a week or two until the glue completely hardens before allowing the slide to warm up.

This information is based on an article by Theodore Gray in the March 2006 volume of Popular Mechanics. Check out his “Gray Matter” article there for more information on the Emilsson method.