Space Shuttle Launch With Skywalker-Designed Sound

You may have seen footage like this before, but what really matters here is the sound. It was purportedly mixed by sound engineers at Skywalker Sound from the camera microphone audio. It literally sounds too good to be true (how can those parachutes at the end not be foley sound?) but I’ll take their word for it. Because it’s amazing.

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Designing a 3D-Printed Phone Camera Lens Mount

I’ve long wanted to order a 3D print from Shapeways or Sculpteo, but wasn’t interested in buying a meaningless trinket designed by a stranger. The novelty of 3D printing lies in the physical manifestation your own idea.

So before I had an idea, I needed a problem to solve. Luckily I have a lot of those. I have a small, cheap fisheye lens that’s designed for smartphone cameras, but it’s suggested method of mounting the lens to the camera is decidedly less than smart. The kit came with a small metal ring, like a washer, that you are supposed to glue to your phone, and the lens itself has a magnet that holds it to the ring. I actually did stick the ring to my iPhone 4 with its provided sticky goop, but then the phone had a slight protuberance and thus wouldn’t sit flat on a table (which really doesn’t matter, but annoyed me). Soon the ring fell off the glass-backed iPhone, so I just used the lens by holding it up to the camera. That works but it’s pretty cumbersome.

More expensive kits come with a nice mount that slides onto the corner of the phone, holding the wide angle lens in place. They also cost over fifty bucks while the lens itself only costs around eight bucks. So I decided to invent a solution. Or rather, to make my own knockoff of the expensive solution.

I’m already a bit familiar with modeling and design software as I’ve always had a cursory interest in 3D modeling and animation, and I was lucky enough to take a brief AutoCAD course in high school. For the most part I taught myself when I was a teenager by pirating high-end software. I didn’t really want to sail the high seas of The Pirate Bay anymore, so after a quick googlin’ I found that Autodesk has a suite of cool, free design apps that are oriented towards amateurs.

And so I measured my phone with a ruler, sketched my design on a post-it note, and went to work. Ninety percent of modelling in 3D is simply trying to figure out how to get the software to do what you want it to do and 123D has a very approachable interface. I do wish it allowed for a multiple window view to see top/side/front elevations of your object simultaneously.
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Anywho, I designed my widget to the best of my abilities, uploaded it to Shapeways, and ordered. Tada!

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It took about a week to manufacture for about $9 bucks before it shipped. And it fits!

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The mount snugly slides onto the iPhone and holds the lens without any glue or magnets. It’s a hair too tight on the phone itself, as I made the gap exactly the same thickness as the phone at 9.3mm without any leeway, but it has a strong grip. I’m a little concerned it’ll scratch the camera’s lens when sliding on and off. Then again, it’s already scratched up from riding around in my pocket for a couple years.

What no one tells you is that 3D printing is addictive, and designing practical solutions like this are a gateway drug towards making inane silly things.

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While looking around for free modelling software I found that Pixologic has a free version of its Zbrush software called Sculptris. Zbrush is different from most modelers in that it emulates sculpting in clay.  The resulting high-polygon meshes are very messy and complicated, which is problematic for animation and video games, but not for stationary figures. And Shapeways’ algorithms when you send them a 3D model are surprisingly forgiving when it comes to messy meshes.

That matters, because polygons by themselves are impossible objects; they are 2D objects suspended in 3D space.  Polygons have no thickness unto themselves (think papercraft but the paper is infinitely thin), so the 3D object only makes sense to the printers if the figure is completely closed, or “watertight,” thus simulating a solid object. Some of the models I uploaded to Shapeways were messy, but their robots are evidently smart enough to ignore and fix minor problems. Anyway, Sculptris is a lot of fun to tinker around with even if you have no background in modeling. It’s just digital Play-Doh.

The ultimate goal for me? An original, 3D printed tiki mug. So far I’m just experimenting and learning, but I’ll get there.

Higgs Gabboson

The press coverage of the Higgs boson findings has been fascinating. Something that couldn’t be more esoteric has become a big media story, despite so few people fundamentally understanding it. And those of us who don’t really understand it still recognize it as an important news event, simply because we’ve been told it is, and because so many news outlets have discussed it.

It reminds me of that Gabbo episode of The Simpsons, where advertisements for Gabbo fill the town with excitement and anticipation culminating in a great fervor of interest at Gabbo’s debut, despite no one knowing what Gabbo was (he was a ventriloquist act). Higgs boson!

I don’t mean to downplay the significance of their research; what it means is that those nice physicist folks have found strong evidence to support a fifty year old theory of everything, relating to why different subatomic particles have different mass, and ultimately why anything has mass at all. It’s really fascinating, and despite having read a few of books that discuss such things in layman’s terms, I can’t say that I really, truly understand that stuff. The real mystery is why my Facebook friends suddenly have a budding interest in theoretical particle physics. The answer is Gabbo.

Dreams

Dreams are interesting. I’ve had countless dreams in which I fly like Magneto, levitating vertically in the air rather than soaring like Superman; I’ve had bad dreams; I was recently listening to the Ricky Gervais podcast and had trouble sleeping because the voice of Karl Pilkington kept rambling on in my head. Later I had an odd dream in which I was relaxing with a sitcom actress and watching Batman cartoons, having quite a good time. It seems like I can only remember the dream if I wake up during it.

Point being: here’s an interesting video about dreams:

Autodesk Photofly

Autodesk’s Project Photofly, or Photo Scene Editor, allows anyone with a digital camera to create a 3D model of an object simply by taking a series of photographs from multiple angles. This sort of interpolation has been around for a while; in fact, when you see people wearing those spandex suits covered in ping pong balls, their 3D motion is recorded by having multiple cameras track the data points. That’s essentially the same way we have depth perception, by using two mushy eyeballs.

This isn’t about motion, though. The significance of this Autodesk project is that it allows anyone with a camera to capture 3D models, and it’s free until the end of 2012.

Myself, I’m trying to make a good quality 3D coconut:


If I had a clean enough mesh, I could order 3D printed coconut from Shapeways. They could even make a sterling silver coconut, or perhaps steel, with bronze finish.

UPDATE: Behold, an interactive 3D coconut viewer courtesy of Sculpteo.

And here’s a quick attempt to capture Buzz Lightyear. Of course the layers of irony of creating a 3D model by photographing a toy based on a 3D model are delicious.

Or perhaps I should work on this:

Adventures in Waking Dreams

Sleep paralysis is very interesting.

You should read about it on Wikipedia. Sleep paralysis is the strange sensation of being awake while dreaming, unable to move, and often accompanied with the belief that there is someone else standing over you, possibly holding you down.

You can attribute pretty much all stories about alien abduction and ghostly visits to the natural occurrence of sleep paralysis.

I’ve experienced a handful of incidents over the past few years. Once, immediately after my cat died, I felt a warm presence pressing down on my chest while I slept.  If I were a different sort of person, I would have thought, “Oh me oh my, my dead cat is visiting me from beyond the grave!” In my dream state that is what I surmised, but as I came closer to consciousness, I realized it was all in my imagination. I was oddly paralyzed by this warm force, but I knew it wasn’t real.

Other times there are nightmares, like the legends of yore. It has been very rare for me. However, there are few things as terrifying as waking in the dim blue light of the deepest night under the sensation that some dark force is holding you down against your will. The feeling is definite, immediate, and real. When you wake, you search desperately around your bed to assure yourself that you are alone but are never convinced, until you once again descend into slumber. According to this Guardian article, many people seem to talk about the presence trying to suffocate them.  There is hardly anything more terrifying than your own imagination.

Sometimes in my half-conscious state I’ve felt it creeping up and managed to wiggle away from it, shifting my position in bed like some telekinetic act requiring great force of will. It’s a strange thing. If I feel it coming on, I try to avoid it because of the potential nightmares. Most recently I recall feeling dark bands of cold winter air, sentient wisps of winter wind, holding me down in my bed in my drafty, chilly apartment. Maybe that was a normal dream.

I also dream frequently about plane crashes. Oddly, they aren’t nightmares! But that is a story for another day.

Toothpaste Under Pressure

I was curious how this bottle of toothpaste worked. You squeeze it, and toothpaste come out of the top. However, the plastic container is more rigid than a normal toothpaste tube, and the rigidity of the container doesn’t allow you to feel or manipulate the viscous goo within. I had a theory. I couldn’t wait for the toothpaste to run out so I could cut the bottle open.

In fact, I couldn’t wait for the toothpaste to run out. I stabbed the plasticine beastie, and a satisfying goosh of air was released.

It was pressurized! Just as I suspected. The bottle contains a flexible bladder of toothpaste, and is then sealed with pressurized air. Just a bit, really.

Thus, even when there is only a bit of paste left, squeezing the bottle still forces some out through the head nozzle, but it gradually requires more force as the paste diminishes.

Riveting!

It’s not a very efficient toothpaste delivery system if you are concerned with maximizing toothpaste excretion. It is novel, though, and is no doubt a bit more profitable than old fashioned toothpaste tubes.

Next, I’ll be investigating dental floss. Floss never runs out. Does it contain a singularity? Maybe!