Monthly Archives: May 2014

Inside The New Dragon Spacecraft

The Dragon V2 Capsule can carry humans, dock with the ISS, and land on its own.

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Thought-controlled planes are in our future

Thought-controlled planes are in our future

Why pilot a plane with your hands and feet when you can do it with your brain? Thought-controlled flight could be arriving soon, according to the EU-funded “BrainFlight” project.

A team of scientists from the Institute for Flight System Dynamics and the Berlin Institute of Technology says it has translated brain impulses into control commands, enabling pilots in a plane simulator to achieve a range of remarkably precise maneuvers without touching the controls or pedals.

Wearing a cap with lots of cables attached, pilots in the simulator were able to land a plane simply by looking at the screen and moving the control stick with their thoughts, correcting the plane’s position repeatedly until it landed.

To achieve the breakthrough, the researchers connected electroencephalography (EEG) electrodes to a cap to measure the pilot’s brain waves. An algorithm created by Berlin Institute of Technology scientists enabled a program to decipher the brain waves and convert them into commands fed into the plane’s control system.

Once it’s perfected, brain-controlled flight could reduce pilot workload and increase safety. Freeing up pilots’ hands would give them freedom of movement to manage other manual tasks in the cockpit.

The German team conducted its experiment using seven test subjects with a range of flight experience, including one who had no experience whatsoever.

The team reported that all seven, flying the plane only with their thoughts, managed to achieve accuracy that would meet some flying license requirements. Astonishingly, even the participants with little or no prior training succeeded in landing the planes.

One participant was able to follow eight out of 10 target headings with only an incredibly small 10-degree deviation. Another was able to land within only a few meters of the runway’s center line.

Some even managed their approach in poor visibility conditions.

Imagine what trained military pilots might be able to do with this technology.

In 2010, British researchers revealed that fighter pilots, despite being more sensitive to irrelevant and distracting information, have significantly greater accuracy on cognitive tasks. When scientists looked at MRI scans, they found that pilots have a white matter microstructure in the right hemisphere of their brains that is different from non-pilots’.

The German team’s achievement isn’t the first of its kind.

Last year, a team from the University of Minnesota announced that it had flown a model helicopter through an obstacle course using thought alone. As in the German system, electrodes were attached to the pilot’s scalp, and his brain waves were used to guide the aircraft.

Creating a mental image altered brain activity in the motor cortex, which was recorded by the electrodes. A computer program deciphered the signals and translated the pilot’s intent.

To move the helicopter in a particular direction, a user imagined clenching his or her hands. To go left, for example, the pilot pictured clenching the left hand. To go up, he clenched both hands.

Ultimately, the developers of the mind-controlled helicopter hope to adapt their technology to direct artificial limbs and other medical devices.

In another example, in 2010, a team at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign announced it had flown an unmanned aircraft at a fixed altitude with the ability to adjust headings in response to the pilot’s thoughts.

What’s next?
The TU München scientists are now researching how control systems and flight dynamics must be altered to accommodate brain control.

For example, pilots flying with their hands feel resistance in steering. But this sort of feedback doesn’t happen in brain-controlled flying.

The next step is to find ways to provide this sort of critical feedback without physical contact.

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Cosplay Pictures for Your Saturday Fun!

Cosplay Pictures for Your Saturday Fun!

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Random Humor for your Friday

Random humor to end your work week with a laugh or two…

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1888: Balloon wedding

The September 27, 1888, wedding of Margaret Buckley and Edward T. Davis was held at the Rhode Island State Fair at Narrangansett Park in Providence. An article in Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper estimates that 40,000 watched as Davis and Buckley entered the “specially prepared ‘bridal car’ of the mammoth balloon Commonwealth, held down by 24 men at the guy ropes.”  After the ceremony, aeronauts James Allen and his son James K. directed the balloon skyward.At dusk, the balloon landed in a swamp near Easton, Massachusetts, about thirty miles away from Providence.  The wedding party was “obliged to cling to the ropes above the basket to keep out of the water.”  Finally rescued, the balloon tied safely to a tree, the couple completed their trip by rail.  Afterwards, Allen and the Davises reenacted their wedding for a photographer in a studio.Balloon Wedding 1 Balloon Wedding 2

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11 Terrifying Images of Old Soviet Playgrounds

11 Terrifying Images of Old Soviet Playgrounds

 Ransom Riggs

 Actually, they’re playgrounds from the former Soviet Union, where people were good at making a lot of things — tanks, rifles, factories to make tanks and rifles — but cheerful playground statuary clearly wasn’t one of them. The following playgrounds give me nightmares as an adult; I can’t imagine the many ways they might warp the imaginations of children.

Perhaps this play sculpture from Moscow is meant to impart a lesson: never crawl into a hungry dragon’s mouth.

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Cute Dogs for the Start of Your Week

Here in the United States most of us had yesterday as Memorial Day Holiday.  As a result, my cute dogs for a Monday was delayed until today.  Enjoy!

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Cosplay Pictures for Your Saturday

Fun cosplay pictures for your Saturday.  (I get these pictures primarily off my own Facebook account and from pictures I take at events at which I am a vendor or guest.  However, if you see yourself or work here, please email me at and either 1) give me your photo, model, make-up, fanpage, etc so I can post it with the pictures; or 2) ask me to take it down and I will.  I do not profit from this site and my only goal is to share cosplay I think is well done and cool.  Enjoy!


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Astronomers Have Found the First Earth-Sized, Habitable Zone Planet

Astronomers Have Found the First Earth-Sized, Habitable Zone Planet

Robert T. Gonzalez

4/17/14 12:05pm

Scientists today announced the discovery of Kepler-186f, a faraway planet that’s perhaps the most Earth-like yet discovered. It’s the same size as our home world, and at the right distance from its parent star to have liquid water. So, have we at last discovered Earth 2?


Above: An artist’s conception of Kepler-186f Credit: NASA Ames/SETI Institute/JPL-CalTech

“The ultimate goal of all this searching for exoplanets – the real reason we’re doing this – is to answer the question ‘are we alone?'” So says Tom Barclay, a research scientist working with NASA’s planet-hunting Kepler mission, and co-author of the paper recounting the discovery of Kepler-186f, published in today’s issue of Science.

Barclay says that the answer to that big, ultimate question is almost certainly contained in the answers to a host of smaller ones, starting with: Are there other places out there like Earth? Today, Barclay tells us, it’s clearer than ever that “the answer to that question is ‘Yes.'”

A Habitable World

Kepler-186f shares a number of key characteristics with our home planet. For starters, it’s roughly the same size. Size is important when it comes to planets. Astronomers suspect that smaller bodies tend to be more rocky, and less gaseous, than larger worlds. How does Kepler-186f rank relative to the exoplanets we’ve discovered to date? When Kepler scientists announced a year ago the discovery of Kepler-62f, a planet roughly 40% bigger than Earth, they called it one of the most similar objects to Earth yet discovered. Kepler-186f, by comparison, is a mere 10% bigger than Earth. In fact, of the five planets that make up the Kepler-186 system, not a single one of them possesses a radius more than 1.5-times that of our home planet.

But planets that are Earth-sized (and smaller) have been detected before. What really sets Kepler-186f apart is its distance from its parent star. The outermost planet in its solar neighborhood, Kepler-186f orbits at the edges of what astronomers call the “habitable zone” of its star, i.e. the region around a star within which planets can potentially host liquid water and, scientists believe, life.

For a planet to be habitable, it must engage in something of a balancing act. It needs enough solar radiation to keep its water in a liquid state, while still remaining distant enough to keep that water from vaporizing outright. There are other things that can dictate whether a planet can host water – how much radiation its atmosphere lets through, for example – but it’s this not-too-much, not-too-little business that astronomers see as the biggest key to habitability (and why the habitable zone is known colloquially as the “Goldilocks Zone”).

A Very Different Sun

Barclay says there’s one major characteristic Kepler-186f doesn’t share with Earth. In Kepler-186’s size and orbital distance, he says, “we have two things that we would need to call it an Earth twin,” but a true twin, Barclay says, would orbit a Sun-like star. Kepler-186f orbits an M-dwarf, a class of star cooler and dimmer than our own. If you want to get technical, Barclay says, Kepler-186f “isn’t so much an Earth-twin as it is an Earth cousin.”

But these two cousins could still look an awful lot alike. Barclay says that because Kepler-186f receives roughly one-third the energy that we do on Earth, the light it receives would appear redder, its sun a few shades oranger than our own. We don’t know if the planet has an atmosphere, but, assuming the gases surrounding it are similar to those enveloping Earth, its skies would appear slightly duller than what we’re used to here at home. A sunny day on Kepler-186f, he says, would look similar to a day here on Earth about an hour before sunset.

Two Out of Three Isn’t Bad

Kepler’s mission is to find planets that meet three criteria: they must be rocky, Earth-like worlds; they must be within habitable zones; and they must have stars like our own Sun. A find like Kepler-186f, which meets two of those three criteria, suggests the search for Earth 2.0 could be nearing its end. “What we’re seeing more and more is that there are places that do look like Earth out there, that remind us of home,” says Barclay.

So what’s the holdup on that third criterion? According to Barclay, Earth-like planets orbiting Sun-like stars take longer to identify and confirm than those orbiting relatively wimpy stars like M-dwarfs. There are two big reasons for this. The first is that Kepler detects exoplanets by measuring how much light they block when they orbit in front of their parent stars. Astronomers call this a “transit.”

When a planet transits its parent star, Kepler detects a brief dip in the star’s light – but the ratio of planet size to star size affects how obvious that signal is. Imagine a tennis ball flying across the face of one of those big, honking prison spotlights. Now imagine that same tennis ball flying across the face of a cheapo, handheld flashlight. Bigger, brighter stars are like the prison light, while smaller, cooler ones (like M-dwarfs) are more like the handheld; if you fix the size of the planet and shrink the the size of the star, the signal goes up, making its orbiting planets easier for Kepler to detect.

The second reason is that cooler stars tend to have planets with smaller orbits. A smaller orbit means you can spot more transits in a smaller window of time, and say with greater certainty that the signals you’re picking up are, in fact, attributable to orbiting planets. Kepler might expect to see an Earth-like planet transit a Sun-like star roughly once every 365 days. The scientists observing Kepler-186f saw it pass before its parent star at more than twice that frequency. Remember: Kepler’s only been in orbit since 2009. In a few years, we could be up to our ears in planets that meet all three of the criteria laid out above. In fact, astronomers have made it clear that they expect this. It’s really just a matter of time.

All that being said, it’s unlikely anyone reading this will ever set foot on Kepler-186f. At 500 light years away, it’s not exactly in our backyard, cosmically speaking. But it is a landmark discovery, nonetheless – and there’s no telling what we’ll find tomorrow.

Read the full details on Kepler-186f, and the rest of the Kepler-186 system, in today’s issue of Science.


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Publishing Campaigns Grow On Kickstarter

Publishing Campaigns Grow On Kickstarter


By Calvin Reid |

May 16, 2014

Crowdfunding, and Kickstarter in particular, continue to make inroads in book publishing, providing financing for everything from one-off projects to support for entire lists.

Kickstarter’s general publishing category is managed by Maris Kreizman, who’s been on the job just a few months, along with Margot Atwell, while the comics category is managed by Jamie Tanner, a published cartoonist. PW recently spoke with Kreizman and Tanner, who outlined how they work to assist campaign organizers; they also discussed the growth and impact of crowdfunding on publishing.

Kreizman is a former editor at the Free Press and is the former editorial director at Nook Press, B&N’s self-publishing channel. She’s also got a book coming from Macmillan’s Flatiron Books imprint in 2014. While she has not personally run a Kickstarter campaign, she said, “I have a lot of ideas about how to do it; a publishing Kickstarter campaign doesn’t have to be a book, it can be an author’s tour or an event.” She added, “People are really empowered now to try self-publishing and create their own stuff.”

She’s right. In 2013, there were just under 6,000 publishing projects launched on Kickstarter, with $22.2 million pledged (compared to 5,634 such projects with $15.3 million in pledges in 2012). Overall, the publishing category has a 32% success rate. In comics, which is treated as a separate Kickstarter category, 1,401 projects launched and the category generated $12.5 million in pledges in 2013. The prior year, there were 1,170 comics projects launched and $9.2 million in pledges. Comics projects on Kickstarter have a success rate of nearly 50%.

Kreizman said her job is “to look at every publishing campaign, magazine, and book.” Indeed, she noted that, because the platform is so automated, it’s important to let creators know that “a human being looks over every project” and to “reach out to the publishing community.” Kreizman will attend BookExpo America in New York in late May and the Brooklyn Book Festival in the fall, and she has other speaking engagements slated for the year, at which she will offer tips and encouragement to campaign organizers and receive feedback directly from the publishing and self-publishing communities.

“Everyone has a different idea about how to use [Kickstarter] in publishing,” Kreisman said. She pointed to Fantagraphics Books, an indie comics publisher that launched a successful campaign at the end of 2013 and raised $220,000 to fund its entire spring 2014 list of nearly 40 titles—an unprecedented use of the platform. “I’d love to see more small presses and literary magazines do the same thing,” Kreisman said.

Tanner, whose graphic novel The Aviary (AdHouse Books) was nominated for an Eisner Award in 2008, has managed a successful Kickstarter campaign (raising $7,555 in 2009 to self-publish a new graphic novel), and, much like Kreizman, he said his job is “to be a resource, to help creators with their campaigns.” He also noted that a big part of his job is outreach (he was heading to the Toronto Comic Arts Festival earlier this month).


Photo: Calvin Reid

Jamie Tanner, community manager for comics on Kickstarter.

The comics category has the fourth highest success rate on Kickstarter, behind dance (70%), theater (64%), and music (55%). “The comics community got [Kickstarter] right away,” Tanner said, also citing the Fantagraphics campaign. “The broader publishing community is catching up. Kickstarter is a tool.” He added that the high success rate of comics projects also “demonstrates that people still love print.” Indeed, “setting up a [Kickstarter comics] project, offering rewards and a delivery date, is very much like any conventional comics publishing project,” he explained.

This year, Kickstarter has introduced more subcategories to help connect users with projects that interest them—publishing added YA and academic subcategories, among others; comics added anthologies, graphic novels, and Web comics. Kreizman and Tanner both urged organizers to keep their rewards simple: “You don’t need T-shirts and tote bags; people just want what you’re making,” Kreizman said. And while there are “best practices” for launching a Kickstarter campaign, Tanner encourages organizers “to do some weird dream project that they may not believe has an audience,” asking, “Why not?”

Kreizman said Kickstarter is working on “new tools for organizers” and she urges them to “create books they wouldn’t have done otherwise.” She added, “I love to talk about people who want to start their own presses. Consolidation [in the book industry] has led to people looking for new ways to publish. We’ve only scratched the surface of what we can do here at Kickstarter.”

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