Love at first sight

April 25, 2011

How else can I describe my discovery of Google Patents? This has got to be like nirvana to a dedicated cyberslacker. Access to over 7 million patents. Why, I may never leave my desk once I get into reading all of them.

OK so here are a few fun ones to be getting on with.

Hat simulating a fried egg.


Toy gun convertible into robotic-humanoid form.


Space Vehicle propelled by the pressure of inflationary vacuum state


Combined scarecrow and advertising device


Method for concealing partial baldness



Device for cooling infant’s brain



Hmm. I wonder if it also protects against alien abductions


Mixed media

April 19, 2011


Sometime back in the last century (1972 actually), a friend and I made a computer generated film where the image was created by the soundtrack.

For the technical minded, that is a EMS Synthi A synthesiser running via an analog-to-digital converter to a PDP8. A 16mm film camera with servo controlled coloured filters recorded the output on the large circular cathode ray tube.

Unfortunately, I don’t know where the film is now but my memory is that it somewhat resembled the coloured patterns that media players show when playing music files. Unremarkable now, but at the time it was novel. I think the doing of it was worthier than the result.

I was prompted to recall this by seeing this music machine shown at the design academy Eindhoven’s exhibition at Milan design week 2011.


It consists of a scale model of the city of Eindhoven wrapped around a cylinder which when rotated plays a piano keyboard.

How successful this mixed-media work is is open to question as the accompanying video is so poor that you can’t really hear the sound.

Still, like my 1972 film, I applaud the effort.

Slow posting

April 18, 2011

Yes it is true. I have not posted anything for a very long time.

It is possible that I have taken the ‘slack’ part of Cyberslacker too literally, but I think not. What is more likely is that the online world of sharing ideas has changed. There once was a time when I used newsgroups to share thoughts, and before that I posted things on bulletin boards. Blogging is so much easier and so much more accessible, especially for someone who wants to share images publicly, so I have been doing that for a few years. Though sometime it does feel a bit like throwing ideas and images out there and hoping someone is listening. Writing a blog doesn’t automatically make one feel like part of a community. I wrote in my first blog “yes I do like the sound of my own voice”.  A bit indulgent you might think. And with good reason.  Maybe blogging has to give way to the next technology, whatever that might turn out to be, that connects more. Although I do post videos on Facebook, I don’t think that it a long-term replacement for a blog. Perhaps I’ll stick to this for the moment. 

In the meantime … more of the same from a collection of wonderfully whimsical oddities at

Wow. How?

and via meme-meme there is Like Cool who describe themselves as a gadget magazine.

The music player bed



The digital measuring tool (though its range is limited!)


or the folding keyboard


Alien Abductions

January 27, 2010


Do not be fooled. This picture is not a fake.

How do I know this? Because according to the Stop Alien Abductions website - 

  • The photo was found by the wife of a special operations officer in the Air Force after he died. She did not know he had it until she had permission to review his papers. The photo was obtained from another investigator.

  • There is an area 51 tag on the alien which may be hardly visible on the screen but can be seen better in the original photo.

  • The photo is cropped but the real background is steel sheets and a chain link fence which look hastily erected, the kind that would be found in a military facility outpost.

  • There is a dent in the plastic shroud around the alien which is not faked, indicating some kind of accident in transporting the creature.

If that doesn’t convince you of the veracity of the photograph, nothing will.

I had not realised that abduction and sexual assaults by aliens was such a huge problem until alerted to the issue by my daughter. She was clearly worried that I was not fully protecting myself from alien abduction with a Thought Screen Helmet


It appears that any hat will do as long as it looks silly, but the key ingredient is lining which is a volume-conductive, carbon-impregnated polyolefin called Velostat. (Don’t ask me what that means – ask 3M)

Apparently it works very well according to the anonymous testimonies on the website. A man in Kentucky has not been bothered by alien thought control since he has been wearing his helmet and women pictured below in the very fetching bonnet is quoted as saying  – "I have been abducted by aliens  for years and found by a happy coincidence. The Thought Screen Helmet, invented by an expert, has stopped the unwelcome visitations and has raised me  and my family’s quality of life. Therefore I highly recommend it."


According to the website, there have only been four recorded failures of the helmet and in two of those cases the abductors were alien-human hybrids for which the helmet is ineffective. It appears that these hybrids can pull the helmets off!

We know quite a lot about aliens and their evil motives thanks to Sean Casteel who describes himself, on the world’s worst designed website, as the world’s most respected UFO journalist. I am slightly confused by this epitaph, given that on his website Sean Casteel describes Budd Hopkins as the world’s foremost expert on UFO abduction. Which is better – respected or expert? Anyway, if you can find your way around the site you will discover many stories of alien abduction.

For anyone crazy enough to want to read more, there are the fabulously po-faced International Centre for Abduction Research, Alien Abduction Experience and Research, and The Intruder Foundation, as well as the slightly disturbing Aliens and Children which bases almost all its evidence for alien abduction on some crude drawings by a child.


There is a great deal of wonderfully colourful testimony on these websites but so far I have been unable to find any information on the fundamental questions – who are these aliens, where do they come from, and how do they manage to disregard the basic principles of science? Oh and the other question – why are aliens almost singularly only interested in Americans?

From Hero to Zero

January 13, 2010



Consider the case of Thomas Midgley Jr. An obviously brilliant engineer turned chemist, Midgley was awarded a number of prestigious medals for his work as a chemist and was president and chairman of the American Chemical Society and held over 100 patents. And yet, Midgely may be regarded in some way as the greatest single enemy of the environment.


Midgely’s two greatest claims to fame as a chemist are the introduction of lead to petrol and the invention of Freon, an ozone-depleting CFC used in refrigerants and aerosol propellants. Both of these are regarded as prime culprits in the destruction of the earth’s atmosphere. How should history remember him? One could forgive the CFCs as their effect has only recently become known, but lead was still used in petrol over 70 years after Midgley poisoned himself in a ‘safety demonstration’ of tetra-ethyl lead. One could blame the petrol industry for that, but I can find no record of Midgley speaking out against the continued use of leaded petrol.

imageThere is another quirky aspect to Midgley that appeals to my warped mind. He is listed as one of the ‘10 Inventors Killed By Their Inventions’ on the wonderfully instructive website Listverse. Not only did Midgley manage to give himself lead poisoning, but after contracting polio he managed to kill himself by becoming entangled in the ropes of the pulley system he built to help him be lifted from his bed.

Listverse contains hundreds of top 10 lists of varying quality from the fascinating Top 10 Common Faults In Human Thought to the trivial Top 10 Filmable Batman Villains via the odd Top 10 Interesting Facts about the Scythians

There are too many fabulous lists to include here. Go and have a look for yourself. Here is one to get you started – 10 Urban Legends that Caused a Moral Panic



Pastimes are just that. Things to do to pass the time. In addition some pastimes require some thinking skills, with the added attraction of exercising your brain and maybe giving you a sense of satisfaction in achieving something. That is why I do cryptic crosswords and hard sudokus.  Although I failed to get any satisfaction from the Rubik Cube (as I was never much good at solving it), I did enjoy the challenge. There is less fun in doing these things if you have to seek external help. Particularly if that help is mechanical. Yes you can use various software to solve sudoku or help with crosswords, but the pleasure is much reduced.

So what to make of these two little devices from a boffin in Sweden – Hans Andersson? image image 

Using Lego Mindstorms, he has designed and built robots for solving Sudoku and Rubik’s Cube. There are videos and building instructions (including the software) on his website. And whilst I think it all very clever, I wonder what the point is. I don’t get much satisfaction from watching other people solve sudoku or crosswords or play patience, if I am not contributing myself. So why this?

Don’t answer that. It is not a serious question. A disclaimer here. When I first decided to teach myself to program in Basic, I wrote a noughts-and-crosses solving program. Of course I understand that the exercise in designing and building these is the point. Nonetheless, I do wonder. Perhaps Hans Andersson should be turning his mind to solving bigger problems. He clearly is capable.

Maybe someone said that of Edwin Votey when he demonstrated the first player piano in 1895? What pleasure is there in having a machine play your music for you? Don’t answer that either.


I love a good hoax

June 18, 2009

Last year, there were reports of a man giving birth to a healthy female child.

image  (Kristian Dowling/Getty Images)

Except that the story wasn’t completely true. The man concerned was in fact a transgender person who still retained his/her female reproductive organs.

More interesting were reports of a man, Lee Mingwei who was carrying a child despite having no female organs.


This one really was a hoax. Going to the website leads you to the elaborate world of the fictional RYT Hospital and the Dwayne Medical Centre at the non-existent Dwayne University.

Here you have links to a wonderful selection of medical research marvels – nanotechnology robots which operate within blood and tissue.


Genochoice, which enabled prospective parents to create their own genetically healthy child online

Clyven, the mouse engineered with the same intelligence as a human by implanting human brain cells

And of course the pregnant man.


This very professionally produced site is full of pseudo-science and appears very credible. Except it is not. It is a wonderfully carried off hoax.

Two questions remains though. Why and who is paying? Unlike the April Fool’s jokes I wrote about in April (when else?) which were advertising stunts, there seems no obvious commercial return for the RYT pages. Perhaps I have become cynical and assume that there must be a financial component for everything on the web. Clearly that is not true. I do this for the fun of it. But the RYT site is so elaborate and clearly a great deal of time went into it. It is reasonable to ask why.  

Incidentally, UK Internet consultant Phil Bradley has a wonderful list of other hoaxes on his website.