How is it possible that there’s a geek culture? I mean, it’s one thing to assume that all folks of a nerdy enough bent will know a little Ohm’s law, can fake their way through enough quantum mechanics to at least be interesting at a cocktail party, and might even have a favorite mnemonic for the resistor colors or the angles involved in sine, cosine, and tangents. But how is it that we all know the answer to life, the universe, and everything?
Mike and I were podcasting a couple of weeks back, and it came out that he’d never played Starcraft. I was aghast! Especially since he’s into video games in general, to have not played the seminal 3-way-without-being-rock-scissors-paper game! My mind boggled. But then again, there was a time in my life when I hadn’t actually read all of Dune or Cryptonomicon, which would have left Mike’s jaw on the floor.
Whether you prefer Star Trek or Star Wars, the Matrix or the Hobbit, it’s even more surprising that we have so much in common! And thinking about it, I’m pretty sure that exactly our interchange is the reason — it’s a word of mouth culture thing. Some folks at the hackerspace are talking about Cthulu, and chances are you’re going to be reading some Lovecraft. An argument about the plausibility of the hacks in The Martian has sent at least a couple of geeks to the cinema or the library. And so it goes.
So do your part! Share your geek-culture recommendations with us all in the comments. If you were stranded on a desert island, with a decent bookshelf and maybe even a streaming video service, what’s on your top-10 list? What do you still need to see, read, or hear?
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I immediately felt uncomfortable when I realized this thing is called the “Breo iPalm520 Acupressure Hand Massager”. You’re supposed to stick your hand into it, and through unknown machinations it performs some kind of pressure massage complete with heating action. It’s like one of those pain boxes from Dune. It’s all the more disturbing when you realize the red button on the thing is an emergency release. That’s right, once your hand is in this contraption you can’t take it out until the thing has had its way with you or you tap out.
At least once a week I try to get to the local thrift store to look for interesting things. I’d like to be more specific than “interesting things”, but truth be told, I never really know what I’m looking for until I see it. Sure there’s the normal consumer electronics kind of stuff, but I’ve also found some very nice laboratory equipment, computer parts, software, technical books, etc. You just have to go regularly and keep an eye out for the occasional needle amongst the hay.
I want you to know, Dear Readers, that I did briefly summon the courage to put my hand into this thing and turn it on. Now I am not what one might call an overly brave man, and perhaps that might explain my personal experience. But when it started to hum and heat up, constricting around my hand to the point I couldn’t move my fingers, I screamed like a child and mashed the emergency button as if I was a pilot trying to eject from a mortally wounded aircraft. As far as Frank Herbert is concerned, I’m no human at all.
In an effort to better understand this torture device, lets open it up and see what lurks beneath that futuristic exterior.
[Camus] had it all wrong. After a few hundred years of rolling a stone up a mountain, Sisyphus would do what all humans would do: become engrossed in novelty. The stone would never reach the summit, but it could roll off some pretty sweet ramps. That mountain goat that ticked him off a few decades ago? If Sisyphus let go right now, the stone would probably take that goat out. Sisyphus, like all of us, would be consumed in meaningless novelty. One must imagine Sisyphus happy.
The pumpkin spice must flow. It’s the holidays and for a lot of us that means copious amounts of baked goods. How about an edible sandworm? It looks like something close to a cinnamon roll.
This December’s Marie Claire – whatever that is, I have no idea – features haute circuits. These circuit boards are the work of [Saar Drimer] and Boldport, makers of fine circuit board art. We’ve seen his work a number of times featuring squiggly traces and backlit panels. This seems to be the first time Boldport and the entire idea of PCB art has infiltrated the design world. He also does puzzles.
Raspberry Pi cases simply do not look cool. There’s ports coming out everywhere, and plastic really doesn’t look that great. You know what does look great? Walnut. [Karl] made a few of these out of walnut, MDF and solid aluminum. He’s thinking he might bring this to market, you can check out his webzone here.
Self-driving cars being sold right now! That’s an eBay link for a DARPA Grand Challenge vehicle, a heavily modified Isuzu VehiCross loaded up with computers, a laser scanner, camera, and connected to actuators for steering, brake, pedals, and shifter.
A few years ago, a snowboarding company realized they could use YouTube as a marketing device. They made some really cool projects, like a snowboard with battery-powered heaters embedded in the core of the board (yes, it works). There’s only so many different snowboards you can build, so they turned to surfboards. In fact, they turned to cardboard surfboards, and last week they made a cardboard electric guitar in the Fender custom shop. It’s a completely understandable linear progression from A to B to I don’t know what kind of glue they’re using.
In the cult classic Dune, there’s this fictional device called the “Pain Box”. If you touch it, you’ll feel like your hand is burning, but in reality, no tissue is being damaged. In the real world this is called the Thermal Grill Illusion, which was discovered back in 1896. Much to our chagrin, [Adam Davis] has just finished building a working prototype.
Sound familiar? We covered a similar project a few months ago — but unfortunately it didn’t work very well. Luckily, and boy do we love it when this happens, [Adam] saw the post, and got inspired to try it himself. He had actually designed a system years back but never got around to building it. Upon seeing the post — and the difficulties in making it work — he just had to figure it out.
So how does it work? The Thermal Grill Illusion uses alternating warm and cool bars which stimulate the temperature receptors in your skin — and confuse them. Neither the warm or cool bars are extreme enough in temperature to do any harm, but your confused little temperature receptors make it feel like you’re either burning or freezing your skin off!
If you are unfamiliar with Dune, then you may not know what the pain box is. The pain box is a fictional device that produces an excruciating burning sensation without causing any actual damage. [Bryan] has been working on a project to duplicate this effect in the real world. It sounds like he may be on the right path by using the “thermal grill illusion”.
The thermal grill illusion is a sensory trick originally demonstrated back in 1896. The trick is made up of two interlaced grills. One is cool to the touch, and the other is warm. If the user touches a single grill, they won’t experience any pain because neither temperature is very extreme. However if the user places their hand over the interlaced grills simultaneously they will immediately experience a burning heat. This usually causes the person to pull their hand away immediately. It’s a fun trick and you can sometimes see examples of it at science museums.
The thermal grill illusion sounded like the perfect way to make the pain box a reality. [Bryan] has set specific constraints on this build to make it more true to the Dune series. He wants to ensure the entire package fits into a small box, just big enough to place an adult hand inside. He also wants to keep safety in mind, since it has the potential to actually cause harm if it were to overheat.
[Bryan] has so far tried two methods with varying success. The first attempt involved using several thermoelectric coolers (TECs). [Bryan] had seen PCBs etched a certain way allowing them to radiate heat. We’ve seen this before in 3D printer surfaces. He figured if they could become hot, then why couldn’t they become cold too? His idea was very simple. He etched a PCB that had just two large copper pours. Each one branched out into “fingers” making up the grill.
Each side of the grill ultimately lead to a flat surface to which a TEC was mounted. One side was cold and the other was hot. Heat sinks we attached to the open side of the TECs to help with performance. Unfortunately this design didn’t work. The temperature was not conducted down to the fingers at all. The back side of the PCB did get hot and cold directly under the TECs, but that wouldn’t work for this illusion.
The latest version of the project scraps the PCB idea and uses small diameter copper tubing for the grill. [Bryan] is working with two closed loop water systems. One is for warm water and the other is for cold. He’s using an aquarium pump to circulate the water and the TECs to actually heat or cool the water. The idea is that the water will change the temperature of the copper tubing as it flows through.
While the results so far are better than the previous revision, unfortunately this version is having problems of its own. The hot water eventually gets too hot, and it takes over an hour for it to heat up in the first place. On top of that, the cold water never quite gets cold enough. Despite these problems, [Bryan] is hopefully he can get this concept working. He has several ideas for improvements listed on his blog. Maybe some Hackaday readers can come up with some clever solutions to help this project come to fruition.