Category Archives: Technology

The 10 Most Controversial Wikipedia Entries

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A group of researchers from Oxford University has measured which articles on Wikipedia are the most controversial around the world. They based their measurement on the frequency with which authors undo each others changes compared to the total number of changes on an article. The list doesn’t really have any surprises…well, maybe one:

1. George W Bush
2. Anarchism
3. Muhammad
4. List of World Wrestling Entertainment, Inc. employees
5. Global Warming
6. Circumcision
7. United States
8. Jesus
9. Race and intelligence
10. Christianity

The 10 Most Controversial Wikipedia Topics Around the World   [Gizmodo]

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The Useless Box

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Chinese DIY Inventions

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The Atlantic has a great photo essay on Chinese homemade inventions. The homemade welders mask above was photographed in Shandong Province. The admittedly more high-tech submersible below was designed and built by Zhang Wuyi in Wuhan, where he uses it to harvest sea cucumbers.

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Chinese DIY Inventions – In Focus   [TheAtlantic]

Ancient Computers

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PC World has a great article about ancient computers still being used today. For example, Sparkler Filters of Conroe, Texas, uses an IBM 402 from 1948 for all of their accounting and billing tasks:

Of course, before the data goes into the 402, it must first be encoded into stacks of cards. A large IBM 029 key-punch machine–which resembles a monstrous typewriter built into a desk–handles that task.

Carl Kracklauer, whose father founded Sparkler Filters in 1927, usually types the data onto the punch cards. The company sticks with the 402 because it’s a known entity: Staffers know how to use it, and they have over 60 years of company accounting records formatted for the device.

The key punch isn’t the only massive accessory in Sparkler’s arsenal. The 402 also links to an IBM 514 Reproducing Punch, which has been broken for three years. When it works properly, the 514 spits out punched “summary cards,” which typically contain the output of the 402’s operation (such as sum totals) for later reuse. Sparkler stores all of its punched data cards–thousands and thousands of them–in stacks of boxes.

The company also possesses dozens of 402 programs in the form of IBM plugboards. Computer programming in the 1940s commonly involved arranging hundreds of individual wires in a way that would likely drive a modern software engineer insane. In the 402’s case, a spaghetti-like pattern of wires attached to hundreds of connectors on each plugboard determines the operation of the machine, and different plugboards can be pulled out and replaced as if they were interchangeable software disks. So you might insert one plugboard for handling, say, accounts receivable, and a different one for inventory management.

If It Ain’t Broke, Don’t Fix It: Ancient Computers in the World Today   [PCWorld]

Optical Calibration Targets

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An interesting bit on BLDGBLOG about optical calibration targets. These cold war relics were used to test the photographic equipment on spy aircraft, and consist of sets of lines of different sizes and spacings painted on the ground, with the resolution of the camera being measured based on the finest set it can resolve.

Although I am truly fascinated by what sorts of optical landmarks might yet be developed for field-testing the optical capabilities of drones, as if the world might soon be peppered with opthalmic infrastructure for self-training autonomous machines, it is also quite intriguing to realize that these calibration targets are, in effect, ruins, obsolete sensory hold-overs from an earlier age of film-based cameras and less-powerful lenses. Calibrating nothing, they are now just curious emblems of a previous generation of surveillance technology, robot-readable hieroglyphs whose machines have all moved on.

Optical Calibration Targets   [BLDGBLOG]

DIY Weapons of the Syrian Rebels

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An interesting photo set on The Atlantic showing the homemade weapons of the Syrian rebels. Pictured below,

A Syrian rebel walks past Sham 2, a homemade armoured vehicle, in Bishqatin, Syria, on December 8, 2012. From a distance it looks rather like a big rusty metal box but closer inspection reveals a homemade armoured vehicle waiting to be deployed. Sham II, named after ancient Syria, is built from the chassis of a car and touted by rebels as “100 percent made in Syria.”

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DIY Weapons of the Syrian Rebels   [The Atlantic]

The End of Plastic

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Materials scientist Debbie Chachra is interviewed in The New Inquiry about the impending end of cheaply available plastic. This part really stuck with me:

But really, this is an opportunity to think about what should be made of plastic, and why. As the price of plastic creeps up, we can start bringing alternative materials online. A good example is switching disposable cutlery to bioderived, compostable plastics — there’s really no reason why something that has a functional life measured in minutes needs to be made of something like polystyrene that essentially lasts forever.

It also means, I hope, that we get better at recycling and it becomes more cost-effective. It’s not just about crunchy-granola save-the-earth stuff; it really offends my sense of efficiency as an engineer that most plastic just ends up sequestered in landfills. From a materials perspective, so many products are massively overengineered. So I’m hoping to see more cradle-to-cradle design with plastic.

The End of Plastic   [The New Inquiry]