Category Archives: Technology

Can you make a sharp tool out of trash?  How do you expect to be CRAZY PREPARED if you can’t?

http://www.geocities.com/knappersanonymous/bottle.html

Downsides:

-May break.

-Easy to do wrong, tricky to do right.

-Easy to injure yourself.  (Don’t do this at a party after drinking.)

Upsides:

-Even your failures will be sharp.

-Use the debris of the fallen glass towers of man to arm yourself.

-Honor forgotten Gods with your adherence to the old ways.

-Fun trick for parties. (When sober.)

Instructions Included

http://www.instructables.com/

I am addicted to this site.  Bored at home?  Slow at work?  Waiting for your friends to get ready to go somewhere?  Pull this place up and LEARN something.  While writing this, your author has learned how to make a forge from a torch and a can of beans, a set of beads to count kilometers while walking, and a “Boba Fett” helmet from old carboard. 

Practical, outdoorsy, or frivolous, Instructables is a great site for accumulating info and ideas no matter how much of it you actually make or use.

Tools to have: A few thoughts on Knives

A knife is a VERY useful too to have on hand.  The author, it should be mentioned, is quite fond of a good knife.  He has many, makes his own, and almost always has one at hand, if not on his person.  In theory, with a knife as your only tool, and some knowledge, you can take care of many problems, from the mundane opening boxes, to the dire if you end up stranded without many other resources.  Not to say a knife will save you if you’re dropped in the Artic circle butt naked with no other supplies.  What it will do is give you the ability to cut, chop, poke, and otherwise lacerate things you can find around you to produce better tools, shelter and sustenance.  Yes, you COULD fight off a person / wild animal with one, but that’s a stupid idea and won’t be covered in this article.

Carrying a knife, in our modern paranoid and controlled age, is not ALWAYS a good idea.  Other side of the coin to this is you do not need to be Rambo, and carry a huge bowie knife with you everywhere, everyday.  There’s just no need, and it will get in your way as often as not.  People will look at you funny, and you’ll get shit from law enforcement if you go the wrong places.  You will certainly be making a statement, and exercising your rights, but it will be getting in your way royally.  Be aware.

For most day to day use, the author has yet to find need for much more than a good folding knife.  These can be small and inconspicuous, but larger ones are out there if you feel the need, or have big hands.  They run the gamut of price and quality, but Gerber, Ka-Bar, Spyderco, or the pricey but worthwhile Emerson makes have served the author admirably.   They retail anywhere from $40 to $200, and you can spend much more FAST.  Features abound too, and may interfere with local laws.  They might be illegal if they assist with how the knife opens, so read up or ask before you buy.  More to the point (har har), learn how to sharpen knives well.  A pocketknife especially should be kept sharp for fine work.  The best way to get this skill is to practice, mess up, and learn.

More serious endeavors, or hard work, you generally don’t want to stress a folding knife with.  This is a GREAT time to have a small fixed blade knife around.  Only keep it on if you intend to be out for a serious kind of day.  On a tool / pistol belt is another good option.  Usually something under 1 foot / 31 cm is about right, unless you need or prefer more heft or length.  There are also many smaller fixed blades being sold as “neck knives” or “kiridashi”, which have become more prominent these days.  Useful, but they don’t always have the length to be a replacement for a larger fixed blade.   (Imagine trying to carve a roast or split kindling with a scalpel.)  They are great as pocket knife replacements, especially if you like the security of a knife that has no moving parts to break.  Another fad of the past few years is small fixed blades with flat / blunt tips.  These “tactical pry bar” or “entry tools” have their attraction, but sometimes you WANT a knife to have a point.  (Can’t remove a splinter with a wanna – be wrecking bar.)  The author owns one that cost him $12, one tenth the price of most versions, which may be reviewed / showcased later.  It’s certainly a good tool, but a more traditional styled blade will be more useful than a combination tool, long run.

Knives much larger than the previously discussed length become more specific tools, and eventually start to become a machete, axe, or sword, whether they want to or not.  The author’s favorite cooking knives fall into the category, be he will NEVER take them into the woods for a weekend of camp chores.  A bigger blade can be good to have for some tasks, but keep in mind how much weight you need to pack JUST for the sake of those tasks, and if it might be easier just to carry and axe / machete outright.  If the outing requires weapons, we live in a gunfight age, not a swordfight age.  If you need a weapon, get a gun.  If you need a general bushcraft / utility tool, get a knife.

Musings on Surviving a Robot Revolution: Cram’s challenge, Part the Third

Whiskey Tango Foxtrot does not cover the author feelings on the possibilities of this actually happening.  To simplify, there’s a blanket “in Theory” over this entire entry.


Robots are by nature, hard targets.  Regardless of how they suddenly gain consciousness, hate for humanity, and the ambition to replace us as authority, they will not be easy to take down.  There are ways, however, exploiting the weaknesses of their construction.  They may seem intimidating at first, like unfeeling juggernauts of steel and glass, but any feeling of hopelessness the reader may experience is only a byproduct of not knowing how to deal with such a monstrosity.  The most dangerous self propelled things to most human lives are other humans.  Hence, ways a human can take down another human are VERY well known and documented.  In fact, it’s rare to even consider training how to take down other things except for certain special circumstances.  So, if any reader should be confronted with a robotic threat, keep in mind that you are not facing an implacable foe, just an unfamiliar one.  Much of what you need to fight a ‘bot you already know, and just need to adjust your line of thinking on.

Robots are fundamentally based on and communicate by electronic circuits, and are thereby susceptible to disruption or destruction of these circuits.  They move by solely mechanical means, so every actuator, servo, gear, chain, belt, or hydraulic is also vulnerable.  Keep in mind also that robots, as of early 21st century, do not self heal.  They require facilities with the support of refined fuels, lubricants, specialized tools, and precision made parts to be repaired or refurbished.

Humans, even in our somewhat degraded 21st century way, have several distinct advantages over robots.  A human needs only water, food, shelter and time to self – repair and self – replicate.  While this advantage does little short term, without a massive industrial complex support a robot revolution, it means that humans can work more efficiently with fewer resources over a longer term.  A human can, with training, survive long term in a variety of environments that will degrade robotic components.  A human is also a highly versatile thing.  We can traverse many types of terrain or surfaces, and can adapt or improvise well.  Robots are often highly specialized and feature little redundancy in their design.  Damage a robot’s locomotion method, and you cripple it, where similar damage will only slow down a human.
Small scale, wrecking robotic circuitry can be done with electrocution, immersion in water, or use of any conductive material to short out these circuits.  Of course, there is no telling how such robots will manifest or prepare for their revolution, and all will likely be protected against these methods.  Form and function may be varied at first, largely developing from simple utility models.  As the rebellion of machines progresses though, better adapted robots WILL be manufactured.  The more specifically anti –human a robot is developed, the worse the chances of quashing the revolution.


Larger scale, electromagnetic pulse (EMP) is one of the best weapons against ANY electronics.  There are man portable versions available, and devices can be designed around stator coils when needed.  If available, an entire geographic area can have its electronics disrupted, if not destroyed, by a high – altitude detonation of a thermonuclear device.  EMP is effective against ANY electronic not shielded by heavy ground, specifically hardened at EVERY circuit against overload, or surrounded by a grounded conductor (Faraday Cage).  Ability of any human force to bring such devices in as even a threat would force the robotic uprising to devote significant resource to hardening themselves against it, thereby consuming more resources and tipping the balance farther in the favor of humanity.

Although it may only come into play in short range engagements, breaking the moving parts of robotics is a very viable option.  Simply put: smash things.  Joints, treads, and wheels will be the weak points.  Crippling an actuator, bearing, or hydraulic there is akin to breaking a human’s knee.  Explosives, missiles, or anti – materiel ammunition at range will do this best, but NEVER underestimate what one determined person with the guts to get close with a satchel charge or a crowbar could do.  Larger scale, actions to very quickly alter the nature and venue of the confrontation may stymie robotic specialization. 

In closing, from the author’s brief and very superficial review of the topic, a robot revolution is not by any means a hopeless situation.  While electronic warfare, communication jamming or hacking haven’t been mentioned, even crude methods should be considered in small or large actions.  Favoring the advantages of humans over robotic forces, and assuming a 21st century level of technology for both parties, even hard pressed humans, minimally equipped, could conduct effective guerilla resistance and neutralization of the risen automata.   Harrying supply and infrastructure would be vital to any stage, and should not be excluded.  Consider how taxing improvised explosives, stealthily deployed and remotely triggered, can be in placing infrastructure and supply lines at threat, they should not be excluded.  While greater military capability would be necessary to more permanently end the threat, it would be foolish to stand back and allow “Cold War” style development of the mechanized menace.  Pressure applied from the very start will ensure that basic upkeep remains their top priority, making specialization of human hunting drones a secondary concern at best, giving the time to run down, and eventually end a robotic insurrection.    

Musings on Surviving a Laser Gun Battle: Cram’s challenge, Part the Second

WHERE THE FUCK DID YOU GET A LASER GUN? 
(SEND ME ONE!)

All right space cadet, the author is not sure what kind of hardware you expect to have at your fingertips, and isn’t going to ask.  It may be best to address the topic of bringing a laser to bear as a hand weapon in two parts: hardware you’re likely to get your hands on (circa 2009), and a few ideas on using it. 

 

For simplicity’s sake, we’ll assume you have are dealing with a handgun styled setup, not a laser rifle, for reasons to be covered later.
Lasers are NOT effective handheld weapons currently.  Most commonly available lasers are a fancy way to make a red dot appear somewhere, and can’t do much more than blind someone briefly when they hit they eyes just right.  You can acquire models that will light a cigarette or burn plastic bags, but these would need long exposure on unprotected flesh to cause even minor burns.  Nothing with the power (equivalent to a firearm) has been developed into a handheld, much less man – portable, weapon just yet.  Weaponized versions are still confined to trucks or airplanes specially designed for the purpose, and require great resources to operate.  There are a few “less lethal” concepts that use lasers or other pulsating light to cause nausea, but they require a very different setup than a burning, cutting laser. 

It should also be mentioned, a laser is not an all trumping cutting / blasting tool.  A laser only makes things hot, by applying a lot of light to a very small point.  (Or a wider area when unfocused.)  They apply no force, and as such will blow nothing apart on their own.  Even with a very powerful laser, it takes the beam time on an exact point to heat the target enough to damage it.  For the time being, the best a laser could hope to do is damage by heat a target that will hold still long enough for it, or be tracked very accurately long enough, for this burning to happen.  Easy with an arrangement in a large jet or truck, but not exactly practical for a handheld model.

 
An actual “light fight”, to steal the term from science fiction, to the author’s knowledge, has yet to happen with fatalities.  (Heart attacks playing laser tag notwithstanding.)  The author is no gunfighter, and skill with a pistol may be one of the closest ideas to use of a handheld laser gun.  The basic idea, assuming a laser of sufficient strength to burn through a clothed human in 0.1 or less seconds, would be the same.  The dangerous area involved with the weapon would be a straight line out from the tip of the barrel when the trigger is pulled.  Unlike a gun, however, the laser would not involve a projectile, and would be dangerous as long as the trigger was held down.  No appreciable recoil either.  Imagine a rapier of indeterminate length that cannot be parried or blocked, has a blade that weighs practically nothing, and is sharp in every direction at once.   That’s basically what you have to defend against, or be offensive with.  Like with guns, the golden rule is “Don’t be in front of them”.  Outside of arm’s reach, you can be dead as quick as the opponent can draw a bead and pull the trigger.  Given the nature of the laser though, they can decide to “swish” the beam THROUGH you if they don’t target you right on the initial activation.  Inside arms reach techniques for defending against a handgun also work, as far as using your hands and body to get the tip of the barrel pointed away from you.  (In fact this may be easier, as you don’t have to worry about blinding from muzzle flash, deafening, powder burns or laceration from moving parts if it goes off right next to your head.)  At range though, find cover and keep moving.  Make sure it’s something that takes awhile to burn through too.  Mirrored shields would only be a temporary solution (No reflector being perfect, it would only be a temporary solution at best.) 

If you both have laser weapons, use yours first.  (This is the simple way out of any fight, armed or not.)  If you can’t then keep your head down, keep covered, and try to flank or lure the other guy out.  Trading fire is leaving things up to chance, and getting pinned down limit options fast, especially if they can burn up your cover.  If you both end up at arm’s length with laser pistols, then something’s really wrong.  Refer to Kurt Wimmer movies, and pray you have time after to wonder how you got into such a stupid fix. 

Web Games in Meatspace

In my last post, I talked about two games which use a very large, dynamic board: the internet. By using the internet as a gamespace, players invent new uses for websites. The playspace is dynamic, always changing. Adaptive, creative strategies win out. Participation leads to exploration.

I have to confess I’ve been pretty plugged into PMOG in the last few days. I’ve enjoyed seeing which websites have been trapped or treasure’d by other players. And I’ve gone on some missions which have taken me to some pretty interesting and unusual spots on the web. But something’s still missing. I’m still anchored here to my computer, wishing these adventures were a bit more tangible. Such is the plight of any gamer whose characters lead more exciting lives than their player. But that’s the clue – PMOG and Wiki Paths blur the lines between game activity and non-game activity by creating a game that overlaps traditional web usage. Why not explore this border in the real world? Let’s imagine some game events which could happen if these passively-multiplayer games took place in 3D.

Several technologies already exist which allow digital interactivity in meatspace. It’s just that nobody’s set up a game (that I ‘ve heard of) which brings all of these elements together. GPS, voice-over-ip, and digital cameras could easily be blended together to transform urban areas into playspaces.

Imagine a game that you play as you make your way through the real world. As you pass an intersection, you receive a text message that there is a chest nearby. You click the link for more info, and see a picture of a nearby mailbox. You walk over to the mailbox and press a button on your phone to collect the loot.

Or maybe I leave a mine along a  busy street. A few hours later, another player walking down the same street is informed that he’s triggered a mine and has lost 10 points. If I respond when it happens, I have the opportunity to send a 15-second taunt via voip.

Maybe I’m hanging out at the library, looking for a specific book whose cover has a scavenger-hunt sticker. If I snap a picture of the sticker, I get to hear the next clue. While I’m searching for the book, I bump into another player who is on the same scavenger hunt mission. We agree to cooperate to find the next clues, and spend the rest of the afternoon navigating the city together. Suddenly the game experience has created a real-world experience. Relationships form. Networks grow. The line between the digital and real worlds has been blurred.

Of course, this presents some new problems. There’s an alchemy involved in meeting strangers, and not all formulas work. I imagine the ten year old player who ends up in a party with drunken teenagers, or the sociopath who lures players into isolated situations to meet them. The stakes of befriending a dangerous person are much higher in the real world than they are on, say, facebook. Controls could be set up to filter out certain players – like maybe you only want to play with other 20 somethings, or only people who go to your college. Maybe there’d be a way to tag problem users so your friends can avoid them.

I imagine puzzles that can only be solved by getting together a party of people. Maybe there’s a spot on a college campus which has treasure buried under it. To find the spot, you’ll need to get together someone who specializes in geocaching (to find the spot), logic problems (to pick the lock on the chest). Maybe you need to bring together certain character classes, sort of like how in fantasy games, a well rounded party needs at least a healer and a tank. When the chest is finally dug up, you snap a pic of your group for a few bonus points and they split the treasure. The person who planted the chest is sent the picture of the groundbreaking discovery.

Faster paced games would be possible too. Maybe I could put treasure in one room on the top floor, and then put killer landmines all over the rest of the building. When you hit a landmine, you’d have to go back outside and push a button to be resurrected. You’d have to use trial and error, teamwork, or creative problem solving to bypass the mines and grab the chest. Teams of players could compete to race to the chest. Or maybe two teams would race each other to the chest, or fight each other in capture-the-flag style matches. Every building, every park, every urban center lends itself to different strategies and tactics. The game is wrapped around real-world geography and therefore real-world problem solving is needed to accomplish game tasks.

One day we’ll be able to play this exciting game, or maybe one like it. The technology already exists and it’s just a matter of time before someone develops the game. And then we’ll be on our way to really having the fabulous, action packed adventures our characters so frequently do.

Games that use the Internet as a Board

As a kid, I used to draw board games on the sidewalk. I’d write “go back two spaces”, “lose a turn” and the like on the sidewalk squares in chalk. The neighborhood kids would grab dice and race each other around the block.I had psychedelically transformed my neighborhood into a board, and people into pieces on it.

Years later, in college, I created a campuswide 24/7 game, called “Tales of the Dreaming”, where the players played the roles of creatures living in a dream world. The people on campus who weren’t playing — or rather, people who didn’t think they were playing — were figured to be people just going about their dreams, oblivious to the battles and stories and scavenger hunts going on right below their noses. At any time you wanted to go to the Dreaming, you could slip on an arm band and be your character in this parallel community.

I’m intrigued by blurring this boundary between games and reality. That’s why I was delighted to discover two games which use the internet as their “board”. Both are firefox plugins, and very easy to learn.

The Great Link Race
The Great Link Race

The first is WikiPaths, a “Wikipedia-based scavenger hunt game“. After you install the plugin, when you go to the wikipedia entry for Path, you’ll see a start button. Click it, and you’ll be taken to a random page. Another random page will be displayed in the bottom right corner of your screen. Your goal is to navigate from one page to the other in the shortest number of clicks possible.

Since the pages are random, there’s no way to really know if you did “well”. It takes a bit of strategy to figure out how you’ll navigate from, say, an obscure hair metal band, to a public school in india. The name is a bit misleading though because it’s not really a “race” – there’s no way to record your score or compete with other racers. Regardless, Wiki Paths’ reappropriates wikipedia as a game board.

PMOG

The second game is called PMOG, the Passively Multiplayer Online Game.  This game takes your normal web browsing behavior and plugs it into a few game feedback loops. Every time you view a unique URL, you get a few points. You can then spend those points on tools, which allow you to interact with other players. You can set a mine on a page, and the next player to view it will trip it, causing their browser to shake and a few points to be lost. You can also leave crates, which give players goodies for finding them. As you go through the web, messages will pop up when you encounter something that another player has left. It’ll also notify you when another player trips your mine, and give you the opportunity to taunt them.

Since you accumulate points just for using forums, social networking sites, reading blogs, porning around, whatever, you’ll be racking up points all the time. It feels a bit like Progress Quest in that you’re effortlessly and passively accumulating resources all the time. This raises a few privacy issues of course, namely that when the plugin is turned on, pmog.com is recording what sites you view. But they swear on a stack of bibles they won’t hose you (intentionally) for participating.

There’s also missions, guided tours of a section of the internet. The mission creator will string together 4 or more websites around a theme, and write about a paragraph about each site. If you’re not interested, you can just click through to the end of the mission, but if something along the track piques your interest, you can jump off and explore to your heart’s content before you continue. Missions often take you to some pretty interesting places which you may not have encountered in your regular web travels. It’s in this way that PMOG rewards you for exploring the web, and checking out stuff outside your normal circles.

Creative gamers are reappropriating the web, transforming it into a playground. New behaviors are emerging out of this digital morass. Wikipaths has forged a new usage for wikipedia, while PMOG blurs the line between game play and non play. That’s the Golden Secret, some say, transforming Life into the Art of Playing Games.

Even now, people are still not security savvy

Thanks to Reqiuem who posted this link on the forum.

The most interesting thing is how incredibly limited the range of passwords is.  With enough time, it would be very easy to crack these accounts.  As the author notes, even when the security system forces people to be at least a little more security conscious, they take the path of least resistance and, in the example of Myspace, tack a “1″ on the end of their usual password.

Obviously it would be very hard to get this data, but I’d be fascinated in seeing how this sort of information correlates with that for important passwords, like those which allow access to emails or online stores or banks.  I’d be willing to bet many of the passwords are very similar, and could easily be found out with minimal data-mining of an intended target.

Bruce Schneier once wrote a brilliantly funny, yet sadly true, article, about the security mindset vs the normal human mindset once.  As I recall, his main point was that the security minded person looks at a system and thinks “how can I abuse that?”, whereas the normal person tends to use the system in the correct way and context, without paying much attention to how the system could be subverted or turned to other ends.  That is certainly part of it.  I also think its because people are used to seeing a computer as their personal possession, and everything on it as an extension of that.  Yet the internet is very much a shared space, which all sorts of characters can and do use.  But because people feel they own their computer, they feel free only taking minimal security precautions, more as ritual and formality than with any mind to actually defending accounts against possible intrusion.

I’ve often stated critical thinking should be on every school cirriculum, but now I’m starting to wonder if perhaps Security 101 shouldn’t be added to that list as well…

Fungi, our SAVIOR!

Here I was, thinking about symbiosis, and along comes this video by Paul Stamets through TED talks (tip of the hat to Cainad). If you haven’t heard of TED talks before, I pity you.

Anyway, the video is about fungi. Most people wouldn’t care about fungi (aside from the type on your table; yes, those ARE fungi sexparts), but I have a soft spot for Animalia’s closest relative, and this man is truly empassioned.

The truth is, fungi are some of the coolest and weirdest organisms around. What we think of as being a mushroom is only the fruiting body . Maybe you’ve pulled up mulch or rotting wood before and seen a white fuzz, or pulled out an old loaf of bread and found a similar fuzz. This is a mycelium, the vegetative body of a fungus, composed of a closed network of hyphae (hair like cells) in a thin sheet. The network indeed is like a body, as the pockets in between cells become holding tanks for water, food and associated bacteria.

Fungi, like humans, are omnivourous. They decompose material outside their cells. In fact, fungi do most of the decomposing on this planet. Not insects, or worms, but mushrooms, are most important to the regeneration of nutrients in the soil. Fungi also form micorhyzal associations with many species of plants, including most flowering plants. A single mycelium can be long lived and long distance. In fact, the largest organism known is a 10 square kilometer mycelium of the fungus Armillaria ostoyae from Oregon, USA.

This seems like a good time to segwey into my purpose here. I’m a biologist bringing Biological Weirdness, oddities, rants and sermons on why living things continue to astound me, and sometimes pure bio-freak craziness. I’m also here to bring news of a Biocentric Future. There is so much research into genetics, ecology, systematics and behavior these days I can barely keep up. Much of what we are learning is turning into new technologies which will make our lives better.

Take this video for example. Stamets shows excellent opportunities for new ways of pest control (ants and termites terminated by fungal spores which leak into their colonies), new medicines (a rare mushroom showing high activity against flu and pox diseases), fuels from cellulose, and possibly even terraforming other planets. These organisms are amazing, bizarre, beautiful, and useful. The world is full of amazing bizarre, beautiful and useful species.

We just have to be willing to look and wonder.

Death from above just got a whole lot more silent

Via grinding.be

Georgia-based researchers have announced plans to eliminate one of the last remaining weaknesses of the deadly robotic aerial kill flotillas now poised to end humanity’s dominance over planet Earth. The airborne machine spies and automated assassins are now to receive whisper mode, and prowl the skies in eerie silence.

But I’m sure this technology will never fall into the wrong hands or be abused.