Shared posts

16 Dec 22:52

Rescue Worker Hops Quickly Around on Quicksand to Make It Ripple and Bounce

by Rebecca Escamilla

Funny how quicksand is always depicted as in jungles and swamps, and not the British coast. Via A. Kachmar

Staff of the Bay Search & Rescue captured fascinating footage in 2009 of the surreal rippling effect of walking on quicksand at Morcambe Bay in northwest England. The worker hops around quickly on the well-saturated sand to avoid becoming stuck and the quicksand, being a shear thinning non-Newtonian fluid, ripples and bounces with his movements.

Morecambe Bay in the UK is notorious for its quicksand. Bay Search and Rescue specialise in extracting people, animals and vehicles trapped in quicksand.


GIF via imgur

via reddit

19 Dec 08:00

Family Man Page 353

by Dylan

Dylan's page composition is killer.

Family Man Page 353

16 Dec 05:01

nah bro

by Ian

That bro DEL

nah bro

16 Dec 05:00

December 16, 2014

16 Dec 15:46

Musician Guilhem Desq Gives an Electrifying Hurdy Gurdy Performance

by Christopher Jobson

He got some hurd in my gurd. Via Coop.

On a list of things I most anticipated sitting down to cover on Colossal today, the hurdy gurdy probably wasn’t in the top thousand topics, but then I stumbled onto this video and had to share it. The piece is called Omen, written and performed by Guilhem Desq, who uses an electrified version of the hurdy gurdy along with sampling to create a surprisingly contemporary composition. The first two minutes are more traditional (?) sounding, but around the 2:00 mark things get amazing. If you’re unfamiliar with this obscure instrument, here’s a little background:

The hurdy gurdy is a stringed instrument that produces sound by a crank-turned, rosined wheel rubbing against the strings. The wheel functions much like a violin bow, and single notes played on the instrument sound similar to those of a violin. Melodies are played on a keyboard that presses tangents—small wedges, typically made of wood—against one or more of the strings to change their pitch. Like most other acoustic stringed instruments, it has a sound board to make the vibration of the strings audible.

If you just can’t get enough hurdy gurdy, you can listen to more of Desq’s music on his YouTube channel, and there’s also a great TED talk by Caroline Philips, Hurdy Gurdy for Beginners. (via Colossal Submissions)

16 Dec 09:25

Black Masala, by Black Masala


My friend's other band. He's the sousaphonist, and trouble-causing butt of the band.

One of the hottest new bands to emerge from the Nation’s Capital, Black Masala,, release their self titled debut album! Pulsating Balkan rhythms blend with funky New Orleans horns, creating an original, soulful gypsy party. The vibe is infectious as the Tuba player roams the floor looking for dance partners, dancers on stage back bending to ska beats, while other bandmates are up on tables and chairs calling the crowd into the party!

The 7-track album represents Black Masala's coming out party to the world! Each member adds their own influence to the mix with vocal duties shared by Mike Ounallah and Kristen Long. The fiery horns are Matt Hotez, Kirsten Warfield, and Frank Mitchell Jr. of Thievery Corporation fame. The Tuba low end is none other than Monty Montgomery and the rhythm section is rounded out by Duff Davis on Guitar, Yannick LePage on Accordion, and Mike Ounallah on Drums.

In just over a year’s time, Black Masala have been busy hitting the road, bringing the sweaty dance party to the East Coast as well as to their home base of Washington, DC. All of these great shows are the inspiration for this album, which captures the live sound and feel of the shows.
"Feels the Same" is a ska flavored, horn-rich, upbeat song that leads into the soulful "Knockin’" featuring the funky vocals of singer Kristen Long. "One Last Drink" pops in next with pulsing Tuba and driving drums that sing of that “one last drink” that could carry you down. The vibe takes a little turn with "Bhangra V" seeing the band explore one of their instrumental compositions inspired by their love of Indian Bhangra music. The musical chairs continue with Black Masala's unique take on the famous Gypsy tune "Mesecina." The horn players shine brightly and the track ends with that sort of POP! you'd expect from 300 people getting sweaty in a small club. The somewhat meditative "Round and Around" closes out the record with a dreamy commentary leading into a complete guitar arsenal to take the listener off into another time and place. "Circus / Jeni Jol” follows as a bonus track of yet another original instrumental composition showing the band's effortless fusion of Punk, Gypsy, and Balkan music.

"Reflecting its members diverse musical backgrounds, the unholy love child that is Black Masala is at times equally raw, funky, and sensual as well as menacing and mournful.  Whether you get your kicks from tearing it up at the club or throwing it down in the pit, the band refuses to disappoint."

For Fans of:  Balkan Beat Box, Beats Antique, Gogol Bordello, Leningrad, Slavic Soul Party, DeVotchKa, Beirut, Red Baraat, and Luminescent Orchestrii

16 Dec 09:23

Yamomanem, by yamomanem jazz band


My friend Monty's band. He's moving to Seattle next year.

15 Dec 10:08

We're Underestimating the Risk of Human Extinction


I kind of hate this article.
More concretely, there are parts that I disagree with vehemently.


Unthinkable as it may be, humanity, every last person, could someday be wiped from the face of the Earth. We have learned to worry about asteroids and supervolcanoes, but the more-likely scenario, according to Nick Bostrom, a professor of philosophy at Oxford, is that we humans will destroy ourselves.

Bostrom, who directs Oxford's Future of Humanity Institute, has argued over the course of several papers that human extinction risks are poorly understood and, worse still, severely underestimated by society. Some of these existential risks are fairly well known, especially the natural ones. But others are obscure or even exotic. Most worrying to Bostrom is the subset of existential risks that arise from human technology, a subset that he expects to grow in number and potency over the next century.

Despite his concerns about the risks posed to humans by technological progress, Bostrom is no luddite. In fact, he is a longtime advocate of transhumanism---the effort to improve the human condition, and even human nature itself, through technological means. In the long run he sees technology as a bridge, a bridge we humans must cross with great care, in order to reach new and better modes of being. In his work, Bostrom uses the tools of philosophy and mathematics, in particular probability theory, to try and determine how we as a species might achieve this safe passage. What follows is my conversation with Bostrom about some of the most interesting and worrying existential risks that humanity might encounter in the decades and centuries to come, and about what we can do to make sure we outlast them.

Some have argued that we ought to be directing our resources toward humanity's existing problems, rather than future existential risks, because many of the latter are highly improbable. You have responded by suggesting that existential risk mitigation may in fact be a dominant moral priority over the alleviation of present suffering. Can you explain why? 

Bostrom: Well suppose you have a moral view that counts future people as being worth as much as present people. You might say that fundamentally it doesn't matter whether someone exists at the current time or at some future time, just as many people think that from a fundamental moral point of view, it doesn't matter where somebody is spatially---somebody isn't automatically worth less because you move them to the moon or to Africa or something. A human life is a human life. If you have that moral point of view that future generations matter in proportion to their population numbers, then you get this very stark implication that existential risk mitigation has a much higher utility than pretty much anything else that you could do. There are so many people that could come into existence in the future if humanity survives this critical period of time---we might live for billions of years, our descendants might colonize billions of solar systems, and there could be billions and billions times more people than exist currently. Therefore, even a very small reduction in the probability of realizing this enormous good will tend to outweigh even immense benefits like eliminating poverty or curing malaria, which would be tremendous under ordinary standards.
In the short term you don't seem especially worried about existential risks that originate in nature like asteroid strikes, supervolcanoes and so forth. Instead you have argued that the majority of future existential risks to humanity are anthropogenic, meaning that they arise from human activity.  Nuclear war springs to mind as an obvious example of this kind of risk, but that's been with us for some time now. What are some of the more futuristic or counterintuitive ways that we might bring about our own extinction?

Bostrom: I think the biggest existential risks relate to certain future technological capabilities that we might develop, perhaps later this century. For example, machine intelligence or advanced molecular nanotechnology could lead to the development of certain kinds of weapons systems. You could also have risks associated with certain advancements in synthetic biology.

Of course there are also existential risks that are not extinction risks. The concept of an existential risk certainly includes extinction, but it also includes risks that could permanently destroy our potential for desirable human development. One could imagine certain scenarios where there might be a permanent global totalitarian dystopia. Once again that's related to the possibility of the development of technologies that could make it a lot easier for oppressive regimes to weed out dissidents or to perform surveillance on their populations, so that you could have a permanently stable tyranny, rather than the ones we have seen throughout history, which have eventually been overthrown.

And why shouldn't we be as worried about natural existential risks in the short term?

Bostrom: One way of making that argument is to say that we've survived for over 100 thousand years, so it seems prima facie unlikely that any natural existential risks would do us in here in the short term, in the next hundred years for instance. Whereas, by contrast we are going to introduce entirely new risk factors in this century through our technological innovations and we don't have any track record of surviving those.

Now another way of arriving at this is to look at these particular risks from nature and to notice that the probability of them occurring is small. For instance we can estimate asteroid risks by looking at the distribution of craters that we find on Earth or on the moon in order to give us an idea of how frequent impacts of certain magnitudes are, and they seem to indicate that the risk there is quite small. We can also study asteroids through telescopes and see if any are on a collision course with Earth, and so far we haven't found any large asteroids on a collision course with Earth and we have looked at the majority of the big ones already.

You have argued that we underrate existential risks because of a particular kind of bias called observation selection effect. Can you explain a bit more about that? 
Bostrom: The idea of an observation selection effect is maybe best explained by first considering the simpler concept of a selection effect. Let's say you're trying to estimate how large the largest fish in a given pond is, and you use a net to catch a hundred fish and the biggest fish you find is three inches long. You might be tempted to infer that the biggest fish in this pond is not much bigger than three inches, because you've caught a hundred of them and none of them are bigger than three inches. But if it turns out that your net could only catch fish up to a certain length, then the measuring instrument that you used would introduce a selection effect: it would only select from a subset of the domain you were trying to sample. Now that's a kind of standard fact of statistics, and there are methods for trying to correct for it and you obviously have to take that into account when considering the fish distribution in your pond. An observation selection effect is a selection effect introduced not by limitations in our measurement instrument, but rather by the fact that all observations require the existence of an observer. This becomes important, for instance, in evolutionary biology. For instance, we know that intelligent life evolved on Earth. Naively, one might think that this piece of evidence suggests that life is likely to evolve on most Earth-like planets. But that would be to overlook an observation selection effect.  For no matter how small the proportion of all Earth-like planets that evolve intelligent life, we will find ourselves on a planet that did. Our data point-that intelligent life arose on our planet-is predicted equally well by the hypothesis that intelligent life is very improbable even on Earth-like planets as by the hypothesis that intelligent life is highly probable on Earth-like planets. When it comes to human extinction and existential risk, there are certain controversial ways that observation selection effects might be relevant. 
Bostrom: Well, one principle for how to reason when there are these observation selection effects is called the self-sampling assumption, which says roughly that you should think of yourself as if you were a randomly selected observer of some larger reference class of observers. This assumption has a particular application to thinking about the future through the doomsday argument, which attempts to show that we have systematically underestimated the probability that the human species will perish relatively soon. The basic idea involves comparing two different hypotheses about how long the human species will last in terms of how many total people have existed and will come to exist. You could for instance have two hypothesis: to pick an easy example imagine that one hypothesis is that a total of 200 billion humans will have ever existed at the end of time, and the other hypothesis is that 200 trillion humans will have ever existed.
Let's say that initially you think that each of these hypotheses is equally likely, you then have to take into account the self-sampling assumption and your own birth rank, your position in the sequence of people who have lived and who will ever live. We estimate currently that there have, to date, been 100 billion humans. Taking that into account, you then get a probability shift in favor of the smaller hypothesis, the hypothesis that only 200 billion humans will ever have existed. That's because you have to reason that if you are a random sample of all the people who will ever have existed, the chance that you will come up with a birth rank of 100 billion is much larger if there are only 200 billion in total than if there are 200 trillion in total. If there are going to be 200 billion total human beings, then as the 100 billionth of those human beings, I am somewhere in the middle, which is not so surprising. But if there are going to be 200 trillion people eventually, then you might think that it's sort of surprising that you're among the earliest 0.05% of the people who will ever exist. So you can see how reasoning with an observation selection effect can have these surprising and counterintuitive results. Now I want to emphasize that I'm not at all sure this kind of argument is valid; there are some deep methodological questions about this argument that haven't been resolved, questions that I have written a lot about. See I had understood observation selection effects in this context to work somewhat differently. I had thought that it had more to do with trying to observe the kinds of events that might cause extinction level events, things that by their nature would not be the sort of things that you could have observed before, because you'd cease to exist after the initial observation. Is there a line of thinking to that effect? Bostrom: Well, there's another line of thinking that's very similar to what you're describing that speaks to how much weight we should give to our track record of survival. Human beings have been around for roughly a hundred thousand years on this planet, so how much should that count in determining whether we're going to be around another hundred thousand years? Now there are a number of different factors that come into that discussion, the most important of which is whether there are going to be new kinds of risks that haven't existed to this point in human history---in particular risks of our own making, new technologies that we might develop this century, those that might give us the means to create new kinds of weapons or new kinds of accidents. The fact that we've been around for a hundred thousand years wouldn't give us much confidence with respect to those risks. But, to the extent that one were focusing on risks from nature, from asteroid attacks or risks from say vacuum decay in space itself, or something like that, one might ask what we can infer from this long track record of survival. And one might think that any species anywhere will think of themselves as having survived up to the current time because of this observation selection effect. You don't observe yourself after you've gone extinct, and so that complicates the analysis for certain kinds of risks. A few years ago I wrote a paper together with a physicist at MIT named Max Tegmark, where we looked at particular risks like vacuum decay, which is this hypothetical phenomena where space decays into a lower energy state, which would then cause this bubble propagating at the speed of light that would destroy all structures in its path, and would cause a catastrophe that no observer could ever see because it would come at you at the speed of light, without warning. We were noting that it's somewhat problematic to apply our observations to develop a probability for something like that, given this observation selection effect. But we found an indirect way of looking at evidence having to do with the formation date of our planet, and comparing it to the formation date of other earthlike planets and then using that as a kind of indirect way of putting a bound on that kind of risk. So that's another way in which observation selection effects become important when you're trying to estimate the odds of humanity having a long future.

Nick Bostrom is the director of the Future of Humanity Institute at Oxford.

One possible strategic response to human-created risks is the slowing or halting of our technological evolution, but you have been a critic of that view, arguing that the permanent failure to develop advanced technology would itself constitute an existential risk. Why is that? Bostrom: Well, again I think the definition of an existential risk goes beyond just extinction, in that it also includes the permanent destruction of our potential for desirable future development. Our permanent failure to develop the sort of technologies that would fundamentally improve the quality of human life would count as an existential catastrophe. I think there are vastly better ways of being than we humans can currently reach and experience. We have fundamental biological limitations, which limit the kinds of values that we can instantiate in our life---our lifespans are limited, our cognitive abilities are limited, our emotional constitution is such that even under very good conditions we might not be completely happy. And even at the more mundane level, the world today contains a lot of avoidable misery and suffering and poverty and disease, and I think the world could be a lot better, both in the transhuman way, but also in this more economic way. The failure to ever realize those much better modes of being would count as an existential risk if it were permanent. Another reason I haven't emphasized or advocated the retardation of technological progress as a means of mitigating existential risk is that it's a very hard lever to pull. There are so many strong forces pushing for scientific and technological progress in so many different domains---there are economic pressures, there is curiosity, there are all kinds of institutions and individuals that are invested in technology, so shutting it down is a very hard thing to do. What technology, or potential technology, worries you the most? Bostrom: Well, I can mention a few. In the nearer term I think various developments in biotechnology and synthetic biology are quite disconcerting. We are gaining the ability to create designer pathogens and there are these blueprints of various disease organisms that are in the public domain---you can download the gene sequence for smallpox or the 1918 flu virus from the Internet. So far the ordinary person will only have a digital representation of it on their computer screen, but we're also developing better and better DNA synthesis machines, which are machines that can take one of these digital blueprints as an input, and then print out the actual RNA string or DNA string. Soon they will become powerful enough that they can actually print out these kinds of viruses. So already there you have a kind of predictable risk, and then once you can start modifying these organisms in certain kinds of ways, there is a whole additional frontier of danger that you can foresee. In the longer run, I think artificial intelligence---once it gains human and then superhuman capabilities---will present us with a major risk area. There are also different kinds of population control that worry me, things like surveillance and psychological manipulation pharmaceuticals. In one of your papers on this topic you note that experts have estimated our total existential risk for this century to be somewhere around 10-20%. I know I can't be alone in thinking that is high. What's driving that? Bostrom: I think what's driving it is the sense that humans are developing these very potent capabilities---we are doing unprecedented things, and there is a risk that something could go wrong. Even with nuclear weapons, if you rewind the tape you notice that it turned out that in order to make a nuclear weapon you had to have these very rare raw materials like highly enriched uranium or plutonium, which are very difficult to get. But suppose it had turned out that there was some technological technique that allowed you to make a nuclear weapon by baking sand in a microwave oven or something like that. If it had turned out that way then where would we be now? Presumably once that discovery had been made civilization would have been doomed. Each time we make one of these new discoveries we are putting our hand into a big urn of balls and pulling up a new ball---so far we've pulled up white balls and grey balls, but maybe next time we will pull out a black ball, a discovery that spells disaster. At the moment we have no good way of putting the ball back into the urn if we don't like it. Once a discovery has been published there is no way of un-publishing it. Even with nuclear weapons there were close calls. According to some people we came quite close to all out nuclear war and that was only in the first few decades of having discovered the new technology, and again it's a technology that only a few large states had, and that requires a lot of resources to control---individuals can't really have a nuclear arsenal.

The influenza virus, as viewed through an electron microscope.

Can you explain the simulation argument, and how it presents a very particular existential risk? Bostrom: The simulation argument addresses whether we are in fact living in a simulation as opposed to some basement level physical reality. It tries to show that at least one of three propositions is true, but it doesn't tell us which one. Those three are: 1) Almost all civilizations like ours go extinct before reaching technological maturity.
2) Almost all technologically mature civilizations lose interest in creating ancestor simulations: computer simulations detailed enough that the simulated minds within them would be conscious. 
3) We're almost certainly living in a computer simulation. 
The full argument requires sophisticated probabilistic reasoning, but the basic argument is fairly easy to grasp without resorting to mathematics. Suppose that the first proposition is false, which would mean that some significant portion of civilizations at our stage eventually reach technological maturity. Suppose that the second proposition is also false, which would mean that some significant fraction of those (technologically mature) civilizations retain an interest in using some non-negligible fraction of their resources for the purpose of creating these ancestor simulations. You can then show that it would be possible for a technologically mature civilization to create astronomical numbers of these simulations. So if this significant fraction of civilizations made it through to this stage where they decided to use their capabilities to create these ancestor simulations, then there would be many more simulations created than there are original histories, meaning that almost all observers with our types of experiences would be living in simulations. Going back to the observation selection effect, if almost all kinds of observers with our kinds of experiences are living in simulations, then we should think that we are living in a simulation, that we are one of the typical observers, rather than one of the rare, exceptional basic level reality observers. The connection to existential risk is twofold. First, the first of those three possibilities, that almost all civilizations like ours go extinct before reaching technological maturity obviously bears directly on how much existential risk we face. If proposition 1 is true then the obvious implication is that we will succumb to an existential catastrophe before reaching technological maturity. The other relationship with existential risk has to do with proposition 3: if we are living in a computer simulation then there are certain exotic ways in which we might experience an existential catastrophe which we wouldn't fear if we are living in basement level physical reality. The simulation could be shut off, for instance. Or there might be other kinds of interventions in our simulated reality. Now that does seem to assume that a technologically mature civilization would have an interest in creating these simulations in the first place. To say that these civilizations might "lose interest" implies some interest to begin with. Bostrom: Right now there are certainly a lot of people that, if they could, would be very happy to do this for all kinds of reasons---people might do it as a sort of scientific study, they might do it for entertainment, for art. Already you have people building these virtual worlds in computer games, and the more realistic they can make them the happier they are. You could have people pursuing virtual historical tourism, or people who want to do this just because it could be done. So I think it's safe to say that people today, had they the capabilities, would do it, but perhaps with a certain level of technological maturity people may lose interest in this for one reason or another. Your work reminds me a little bit of the film 'Children of Men,' which depicted a very particular existential risk: species-wide infertility. What are some of the more novel treatments you've seen of this subject in mainstream culture? Bostrom: Well, the Hollywood renditions of existential risk scenarios are usually quite bad. For instance, the artificial intelligence risk is usually represented by an invasion of a robot army that is fought off by some muscular human hero wielding a machine gun or something like that. If we are going to go extinct because of artificial intelligence, it's not going to be because there's this battle between humans and robots with laser eyes. A lot of the stories you see in fiction or in films are subject to the good story bias; there are constraints on what makes for a good story. Usually there has to be a protagonist and the thing you're battling has to be evil, and there are going to be ups and downs, and the humans prevail in the end. So there's a filter for the scenarios that you're going to see in media representations. Aldous Huxley's Brave New World is interesting in that it created a vivid depiction of a scenario in which humans have been biologically and socially engineered to fit into a dystopian social structure, and it shows how that could be very bad. But on the whole I think the general point I would make is that there isn't a lot of good literature on existential risk, and that one needs to think of these things not in terms of vivid scenarios, but rather in more abstract terms. Last week I interviewed Cary Fowler with the Svalbard Global Seed Vault. His project is a technology that might be interpreted as looking to limit existential risk. Are there other technological (as opposed to social or political) solutions that you see on the horizon? Bostrom: Well there are things that one can do, some that would apply to particular risks and others that would apply to a broader spectrum of risk. With particular risks, for instance, one could invest in technologies to hasten the time it takes to develop a new vaccine, which would also be very valuable to have for other reasons unrelated to existential risk. With regard to existential risk stemming from artificial intelligence, there is some work that we are doing now to try and think about different ways of solving the control problem. If one day you have the ability to create a machine intelligence that is greater than human intelligence, how would you control it, how would you make sure it was human-friendly and safe? There is work that can be done there. With asteroids there has been this Spaceguard project that maps out different asteroids and their trajectories, that project is certainly motivated by concerns about existential risks, and it costs only a couple of million dollars per year, with most of the funding coming from NASA. Then there are more general-purpose things you can do. You could imagine building some refuge, some bunker with a very large supply of food, where humans could survive for a decade or several decades if there were a large impact of some kind. It would be a lot cheaper and easier to do that on Earth than it would be to build a space colony, which some people have proposed. But to me the most important thing to do is more analysis, specifically analysis to identify the biggest existential risks and the types of interventions that would be most likely to mitigate those risks. 

A telescope used to track asteroids at the Spaceguard Centre in the United Kingdom.

I noticed that you define an existential risk as potentially bringing about the premature extinction of Earth-originating intelligent life. I wondered what you mean by premature? What would count as a mature extinction? 
Bostrom: Well, you might think that an extinction occurring at the time of the heat death of the universe would be in some sense mature. There might be fundamental physical limits to how long information processing can continue in this universe of ours, and if we reached that level there would be extinction, but it would be the best possible scenario that could have been achieved. I wouldn't count that as an existential catastrophe, rather it would be a kind of success scenario. So it's not necessary to survive infinitely long, which after all might be physically impossible, in order to have successfully avoided existential risk. In considering the long-term development of humanity, do you put much stock in specific schemes like the Kardashev Scale, which plots the advancement of a civilization according to its ability to harness energy, specifically the energy of its planet, its star, and then finally the galaxy? Might there be more to human flourishing than just increasing mastery of energy sources? 
Bostrom: Certainly there would be more to human flourishing. In fact I don't even think that particular scale is very useful. There is a discontinuity between the stage where we are now, where we are harnessing a lot of the energy resources of our home planet, and a stage where we can harness the energy of some increasing fraction of the universe like a galaxy. There is no particular reason to think that we might reach some intermediate stage where we would harness the energy of one star like our sun. By the time we can do that I suspect we'll be able to engage in large-scale space colonization, to spread into the galaxy and then beyond, so I don't think harnessing the single star is a relevant step on the ladder.
If I wanted some sort of scheme that laid out the stages of civilization, the period before machine super intelligence and the period after super machine intelligence would be a more relevant dichotomy. When you look at what's valuable or interesting in examining these stages, it's going to be what is done with these future resources and technologies, as opposed to their structure. It's possible that the long-term future of humanity, if things go well, would from the outside look very simple. You might have Earth at the center, and then you might have a growing sphere of technological infrastructure that expands in all directions at some significant fraction of the speed of light, occupying larger and larger volumes of the universe---first in our galaxy, and then beyond as far as is physically possible. And then all that ever happens is just this continued increase in the spherical volume of matter colonized by human descendants, a growing bubble of infrastructure. Everything would then depend on what was happening inside this infrastructure, what kinds of lives people were being led there, what kinds of experiences people were having. You couldn't infer that from the large-scale structure, so you'd have to sort of zoom in and see what kind of information processing occurred within this infrastructure. 
It's hard to know what that might look like, because our human experience might be just a small little crumb of what's possible. If you think of all the different modes of being, different kinds of feeling and experiencing, different ways of thinking and relating, it might be that human nature constrains us to a very narrow little corner of the space of possible modes of being. If we think of the space of possible modes of being as a large cathedral, then humanity in its current stage might be like a little cowering infant sitting in the corner of that cathedral having only the most limited sense of what is possible.
15 Dec 01:50



This is basically a pornographic British Comedy Show sketch.

14 Dec 02:30

Humans evolving to escape from bacterial iron piracy

12 Dec 09:02

Terror birds


Birb of Fear!

Huge flightless terror birds were South America's top predators for millions of years and at nearly three metres tall certainly lived up to their name. Their modern relatives, the seriemas, kill their prey by smashing it repeatedly against the ground, which may well have been the terror birds' technique too. The terror birds lived between 27 million and 15,000 years ago and spread into North America when the two continents joined. One of these birds boasts the record for the largest bird skull ever found, measuring 71cm long with a wicked, curved 45cm beak.

12 Dec 23:54

The golden quarter


This is a fascinating piece of complaining about the present failing to be like the idealized past.

And really, every single factor the author brings up plays a part, including the low-hanging fruit argument, which he is dismissive of.

We live in a golden age of technological, medical, scientific and social progress. Look at our computers! Look at our phones! Twenty years ago, the internet was a creaky machine for geeks. Now we can’t imagine life without it. We are on the verge of medical breakthroughs that would have seemed like magic only half a century ago: cloned organs, stem-cell therapies to repair our very DNA. Even now, life expectancy in some rich countries is improving by five hours a day. A day! Surely immortality, or something very like it, is just around the corner.

The notion that our 21st-century world is one of accelerating advances is so dominant that it seems churlish to challenge it. Almost every week we read about ‘new hopes’ for cancer sufferers, developments in the lab that might lead to new cures, talk of a new era of space tourism and super-jets that can fly round the world in a few hours. Yet a moment’s thought tells us that this vision of unparalleled innovation can’t be right, that many of these breathless reports of progress are in fact mere hype, speculation – even fantasy.

Yet there once was an age when speculation matched reality. It spluttered to a halt more than 40 years ago. Most of what has happened since has been merely incremental improvements upon what came before. That true age of innovation – I’ll call it the Golden Quarter – ran from approximately 1945 to 1971. Just about everything that defines the modern world either came about, or had its seeds sown, during this time. The Pill. Electronics. Computers and the birth of the internet. Nuclear power. Television. Antibiotics. Space travel. Civil rights.

There is more. Feminism. Teenagers. The Green Revolution in agriculture. Decolonisation. Popular music. Mass aviation. The birth of the gay rights movement. Cheap, reliable and safe automobiles. High-speed trains. We put a man on the Moon, sent a probe to Mars, beat smallpox and discovered the double-spiral key of life. The Golden Quarter was a unique period of less than a single human generation, a time when innovation appeared to be running on a mix of dragster fuel and dilithium crystals.

Today, progress is defined almost entirely by consumer-driven, often banal improvements in information technology. The US economist Tyler Cowen, in his essay The Great Stagnation (2011), argues that, in the US at least, a technological plateau has been reached. Sure, our phones are great, but that’s not the same as being able to fly across the Atlantic in eight hours or eliminating smallpox. As the US technologist Peter Thiel once put it: ‘We wanted flying cars, we got 140 characters.’

Economists describe this extraordinary period in terms of increases in wealth. After the Second World War came a quarter-century boom; GDP-per-head in the US and Europe rocketed. New industrial powerhouses arose from the ashes of Japan. Germany experienced its Wirtschaftswunder. Even the Communist world got richer. This growth has been attributed to massive postwar government stimulus plus a happy nexus of low fuel prices, population growth and high Cold War military spending.

But alongside this was that extraordinary burst of human ingenuity and societal change. This is commented upon less often, perhaps because it is so obvious, or maybe it is seen as a simple consequence of the economics. We saw the biggest advances in science and technology: if you were a biologist, physicist or materials scientist, there was no better time to be working. But we also saw a shift in social attitudes every bit as profound. In even the most enlightened societies before 1945, attitudes to race, sexuality and women’s rights were what we would now consider antediluvian. By 1971, those old prejudices were on the back foot. Simply put, the world had changed.

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But surely progress today is real? Well, take a look around. Look up and the airliners you see are basically updated versions of the ones flying in the 1960s – slightly quieter Tristars with better avionics. In 1971, a regular airliner took eight hours to fly from London to New York; it still does. And in 1971, there was one airliner that could do the trip in three hours. Now, Concorde is dead. Our cars are faster, safer and use less fuel than they did in 1971, but there has been no paradigm shift.

And yes, we are living longer, but this has disappointingly little to do with any recent breakthroughs. Since 1970, the US Federal Government has spent more than $100 billion in what President Richard Nixon dubbed the ‘War on Cancer’. Far more has been spent globally, with most wealthy nations boasting well-funded cancer‑research bodies. Despite these billions of investment, this war has been a spectacular failure. In the US, the death rates for all kinds of cancer dropped by only 5 per cent in the period 1950-2005, according to the National Center for Health Statistics. Even if you strip out confounding variables such as age (more people are living long enough to get cancer) and better diagnosis, the blunt fact is that, with most kinds of cancer, your chances in 2014 are not much better than they were in 1974. In many cases, your treatment will be pretty much the same.

After the dizzying breakthroughs of the 20th century, physics seems to have ground to a halt

For the past 20 years, as a science writer, I have covered such extraordinary medical advances as gene therapy, cloned replacement organs, stem-cell therapy, life-extension technologies, the promised spin-offs from genomics and tailored medicine. None of these new treatments is yet routinely available. The paralyzed still cannot walk, the blind still cannot see. The human genome was decoded (one post-Golden Quarter triumph) nearly 15 years ago and we’re still waiting to see the benefits that, at the time, were confidently asserted to be ‘a decade away’. We still have no real idea how to treat chronic addiction or dementia. The recent history of psychiatric medicine is, according to one eminent British psychiatrist I spoke to, ‘the history of ever-better placebos’. And most recent advances in longevity have come about by the simple expedient of getting people to give up smoking, eat better, and take drugs to control blood pressure.

There has been no new Green Revolution. We still drive steel cars powered by burning petroleum spirit or, worse, diesel. There has been no new materials revolution since the Golden Quarter’s advances in plastics, semi-conductors, new alloys and composite materials. After the dizzying breakthroughs of the early- to mid-20th century, physics seems (Higgs boson aside) to have ground to a halt. String Theory is apparently our best hope of reconciling Albert Einstein with the Quantum world, but as yet, no one has any idea if it is even testable. And nobody has been to the Moon for 42 years.

Why has progress stopped? Why, for that matter, did it start when it did, in the dying embers of the Second World War?

One explanation is that the Golden Age was the simple result of economic growth and technological spinoffs from the Second World War. It is certainly true that the war sped the development of several weaponisable technologies and medical advances. The Apollo space programme probably could not have happened when it did without the aerospace engineer Wernher Von Braun and the V-2 ballistic missile. But penicillin, the jet engine and even the nuclear bomb were on the drawing board before the first shots were fired. They would have happened anyway.

Conflict spurs innovation, and the Cold War played its part – we would never have got to the Moon without it. But someone has to pay for everything. The economic boom came to an end in the 1970s with the collapse of the 1944 Bretton Woods trading agreements and the oil shocks. So did the great age of innovation. Case closed, you might say.

And yet, something doesn’t quite fit. The 1970s recession was temporary: we came out of it soon enough. What’s more, in terms of Gross World Product, the world is between two and three times richer now than it was then. There is more than enough money for a new Apollo, a new Concorde and a new Green Revolution. So if rapid economic growth drove innovation in the 1950s and ’60s, why has it not done so since?

In The Great Stagnation, Cowen argues that progress ground to a halt because the ‘low-hanging fruit’ had been plucked off. These fruits include the cultivation of unused land, mass education, and the capitalisation by technologists of the scientific breakthroughs made in the 19th century. It is possible that the advances we saw in the period 1945-1970 were similarly quick wins, and that further progress is much harder. Going from the prop-airliners of the 1930s to the jets of the 1960s was, perhaps, just easier than going from today’s aircraft to something much better.

But history suggests that this explanation is fanciful. During periods of technological and scientific expansion, it has often seemed that a plateau has been reached, only for a new discovery to shatter old paradigms completely. The most famous example was when, in 1900, Lord Kelvin declared physics to be more or less over, just a few years before Einstein proved him comprehensively wrong. As late as the turn of the 20th century, it was still unclear how powered, heavier-than-air aircraft would develop, with several competing theories left floundering in the wake of the Wright brothers’ triumph (which no one saw coming).

Lack of money, then, is not the reason that innovation has stalled. What we do with our money might be, however. Capitalism was once the great engine of progress. It was capitalism in the 18th and 19th centuries that built roads and railways, steam engines and telegraphs (another golden era). Capital drove the industrial revolution.

Now, wealth is concentrated in the hands of a tiny elite. A report by Credit Suisse this October found that the richest 1 per cent of humans own half the world’s assets. That has consequences. Firstly, there is a lot more for the hyper-rich to spend their money on today than there was in the golden age of philanthropy in the 19th century. The superyachts, fast cars, private jets and other gewgaws of Planet Rich simply did not exist when people such as Andrew Carnegie walked the earth and, though they are no doubt nice to have, these fripperies don’t much advance the frontiers of knowledge. Furthermore, as the French economist Thomas Piketty pointed out in Capital (2014), money now begets money more than at any time in recent history. When wealth accumulates so spectacularly by doing nothing, there is less impetus to invest in genuine innovation.

the new ideal is to render your own products obsolete as fast as possible

During the Golden Quarter, inequality in the world’s economic powerhouses was, remarkably, declining. In the UK, that trend levelled off a few years later, to reach a historic low point in 1977. Is it possible that there could be some relationship between equality and innovation? Here’s a sketch of how that might work.

As success comes to be defined by the amount of money one can generate in the very short term, progress is in turn defined not by making things better, but by rendering them obsolete as rapidly as possible so that the next iteration of phones, cars or operating systems can be sold to a willing market.

In particular, when share prices are almost entirely dependent on growth (as opposed to market share or profit), built-in obsolescence becomes an important driver of ‘innovation’. Half a century ago, makers of telephones, TVs and cars prospered by building products that their buyers knew (or at least believed) would last for many years. No one sells a smartphone on that basis today; the new ideal is to render your own products obsolete as fast as possible. Thus the purpose of the iPhone 6 is not to be better than the iPhone 5, but to make aspirational people buy a new iPhone (and feel better for doing so). In a very unequal society, aspiration becomes a powerful force. This is new, and the paradoxical result is that true innovation, as opposed to its marketing proxy, is stymied. In the 1960s, venture capital was willing to take risks, particularly in the emerging electronic technologies. Now it is more conservative, funding start-ups that offer incremental improvements on what has gone before.

But there is more to it than inequality and the failure of capital.

During the Golden Quarter, we saw a boom in public spending on research and innovation. The taxpayers of Europe, the US and elsewhere replaced the great 19th‑century venture capitalists. And so we find that nearly all the advances of this period came either from tax-funded universities or from popular movements. The first electronic computers came not from the labs of IBM but from the universities of Manchester and Pennsylvania. (Even the 19th-century analytical engine of Charles Babbage was directly funded by the British government.) The early internet came out of the University of California, not Bell or Xerox. Later on, the world wide web arose not from Apple or Microsoft but from CERN, a wholly public institution. In short, the great advances in medicine, materials, aviation and spaceflight were nearly all pump-primed by public investment. But since the 1970s, an assumption has been made that the private sector is the best place to innovate.

The story of the past four decades might seem to cast doubt on that belief. And yet we cannot pin the stagnation of ingenuity on a decline in public funding. Tax spending on research and development has, in general, increased in real and relative terms in most industrialised nations even since the end of the Golden Quarter. There must be another reason why this increased investment is not paying more dividends.

Could it be that the missing part of the jigsaw is our attitude towards risk? Nothing ventured, nothing gained, as the saying goes. Many of the achievements of the Golden Quarter just wouldn’t be attempted now. The assault on smallpox, spearheaded by a worldwide vaccination campaign, probably killed several thousand people, though it saved tens of millions more. In the 1960s, new medicines were rushed to market. Not all of them worked and a few (thalidomide) had disastrous consequences. But the overall result was a medical boom that brought huge benefits to millions. Today, this is impossible.

The time for a new drug candidate to gain approval in the US rose from less than eight years in the 1960s to nearly 13 years by the 1990s. Many promising new treatments now take 20 years or more to reach the market. In 2011, several medical charities and research institutes in the UK accused EU-driven clinical regulations of ‘stifling medical advances’. It would not be an exaggeration to say that people are dying in the cause of making medicine safer.

Risk-aversion has become a potent weapon in the war against progress on other fronts. In 1992, the Swiss genetic engineer Ingo Potrykus developed a variety of rice in which the grain, rather than the leaves, contain a large concentration of Vitamin A. Deficiency in this vitamin causes blindness and death among hundreds of thousands every year in the developing world. And yet, thanks to a well-funded fear-mongering campaign by anti-GM fundamentalists, the world has not seen the benefits of this invention.

Apollo couldn’t happen today, not because we don’t want to go to the Moon, but because the risk would be unacceptable

In the energy sector, civilian nuclear technology was hobbled by a series of mega-profile ‘disasters’, including Three Mile Island (which killed no one) and Chernobyl (which killed only dozens). These incidents caused a global hiatus into research that could, by now, have given us safe, cheap and low-carbon energy. The climate change crisis, which might kill millions, is one of the prices we are paying for 40 years of risk-aversion.

Apollo almost certainly couldn’t happen today. That’s not because people aren’t interested in going to the Moon any more, but because the risk – calculated at a couple-of-per-cent chance of astronauts dying – would be unacceptable. Boeing took a huge risk when it developed the 747, an extraordinary 1960s machine that went from drawing board to flight in under five years. Its modern equivalent, the Airbus A380 (only slightly larger and slightly slower), first flew in 2005 – 15 years after the project go-ahead. Scientists and technologists were generally celebrated 50 years ago, when people remembered what the world was like before penicillin, vaccination, modern dentistry, affordable cars and TV. Now, we are distrustful and suspicious – we have forgotten just how dreadful the world was pre-Golden Quarter.

we could be in a world where Alzheimer’s was treatable, clean nuclear power had ended the threat of climate change, and cancer was on the back foot

Risk played its part, too, in the massive postwar shift in social attitudes. People, often the young, were prepared to take huge, physical risks to right the wrongs of the pre-war world. The early civil rights and anti-war protestors faced tear gas or worse. In the 1960s, feminists faced social ridicule, media approbation and violent hostility. Now, mirroring the incremental changes seen in technology, social progress all too often finds itself down the blind alleyways of political correctness. Student bodies used to be hotbeds of dissent, even revolution; today’s hyper-conformist youth is more interested in the policing of language and stifling debate when it counters the prevailing wisdom. Forty years ago a burgeoning media allowed dissent to flower. Today’s very different social media seems, despite democratic appearances, to be enforcing a climate of timidity and encouraging groupthink.

Does any of this really matter? So what if the white heat of technological progress is cooling off a bit? The world is, in general, far safer, healthier, wealthier and nicer than it has ever been. The recent past was grim; the distant past disgusting. As Steven Pinker and others have argued, levels of violence in most human societies had been declining since well before the Golden Quarter and have continued to decline since.

We are living longer. Civil rights have become so entrenched that gay marriage is being legalised across the world and any old-style racist thinking is met with widespread revulsion. The world is better in 2014 than it was in 1971.

And yes, we have seen some impressive technological advances. The modern internet is a wonder, more impressive in many ways than Apollo. We might have lost Concorde but you can fly across the Atlantic for a couple of days’ wages – remarkable. Sci-fi visions of the future often had improbable spacecraft and flying cars but, even in Blade Runner’s Los Angeles of 2019, Rick Deckard had to use a payphone to call Rachael.

But it could have been so much better. If the pace of change had continued, we could be living in a world where Alzheimer’s was treatable, where clean nuclear power had ended the threat of climate change, where the brilliance of genetics was used to bring the benefits of cheap and healthy food to the bottom billion, and where cancer really was on the back foot. Forget colonies on the Moon; if the Golden Quarter had become the Golden Century, the battery in your magic smartphone might even last more than a day.

3 December 2014

11 Dec 19:16

Bits to Atoms: Testing the Form 1+ SLA Desktop 3D Printer

by Sean Charlesworth

3D printing keeps getting bigger, better and more accessible every day--you can now buy a MakerBot or Dremel 3D printer at Home Depot. Plastic filament printers are, by far, the most common type you will find at makerspaces and home garages, but high-resolution resin printers are slowly creeping into the mainstream. One of the most promising, is the Formlabs Form 1+ SLA printer developed by a team from the MIT Media Lab. I had the chance to put a Form 1+ through it’s paces for two months and here’s how it went.

You will need a dedicated, clean workspace for the Form 1+.

First, a little backstory on the company. Formlabs was founded in 2011 by a group of MIT grads who were frustrated by the fact that there was no economical way for most people to experience the highly-detailed prints that SLA and DLP resin printing offered. Unlike filament printers, which were popping up everywhere at relatively consumer-friendly prices, SLA printers cost tens of thousands of dollars and were simply out of reach of most users. Formlabs set out to make a desktop SLA printer that would rival the big machines and cost only slightly more than many filament printers. At the end of 2012 they successfully completed a $100,000 Kickstarter campaign, eventually bringing in over 2.9 million dollars. Nothing like being too successful--now the pressure was on with a lot of machines to build. Production delays happened and then they got hit by a patent infringement lawsuit from 3D Systems, the inventors of SLA printing. I am happy to hear that the parties have settled, and the case was just dismissed with prejudice on December 1. Formlabs is free to forge ahead.

Photo CREDIT: Formlabs

Having met the Formlabs team a few times at Maker Faire and other events, I have always been impressed. Everyone at the booth knew their stuff, answering in-depth anything I threw at them. One particular staffer was really killing it with thorough and informative answers--turns out she was their material scientist. The machine was sharp looking and all the prints looked great--I really wanted to buy one, almost backed the Kickstarter for an early unit, but chickened out. Recently I contacted Formlabs to request a sample unit to test. So for the past few months, I've had a Form 1+ in my possession and was able to put it through it’s paces!

How It Works

Photo CREDIT: Formlabs

The Form 1+ SLA printer makes a good first impression--sleek and simple design, using quality materials. It just looks cool. It takes up a little more room than a large coffee maker, but it also comes with a cleaning station that you will need to make room for. The on-board interface has one button that does everything with a variety of taps and holds, mostly you use it to simply start and stop prints. PreForm is the easy-to-use model processing software that can be downloaded from the Formlabs website.

The build envelope is 4.9” x 4.9” x 6.5”, which may sound tiny when compared to filament print beds, but prints can be positioned in ways to maximize the space. There are three print resolutions available: 100, 50 and 25 microns (.1, .05, .025mm). As a comparison, 100 microns is typically the finest resolution available with filament printers and a professional printer such as the ProJet 7000 (which I used for the Millenbaugh Motivator) can print at 125-50 microns. “A-ha!” you say--the Form 1+ can do even finer resolution than the pro machine! Yes, it can technically print a finer layer thickness, but you also have to consider feature resolution, which is the smallest detail the printer can accurately reproduce. This is where the pro machine wins out. The ProJet can accurately reproduce details down to 50 microns, where the Form 1+ does 300 microns. Don’t get me wrong, 300 microns is still really small and the Form 1+ can do details just great, but you can start to see what a lot more money will get you.

The Form 1+ uses a laser to ‘draw’ and cure each layer of the print in a UV-curable, liquid resin. An amber acrylic cover encases the print area to keep sunlight out, which would cure the resin and to protect you from the laser. The print adheres to a removable print platform that clamps into the machine, at the top of the z-axis spindle. Below the platform is a removable, acrylic resin tray, which has an optically clear silicone bottom and mounts into a pivot mechanism that rocks the tray up and down, during printing, in order to peel the print off. The trays are also amber and come with a lid so they can be safely stored without curing the resin inside. Upon removing the resin tray, you can see the large mirror mounted at a 45 degree angle which the rear-mounted laser bounces off of and into the bottom of the resin tray.

I was able to get the Form 1+ up and printing in no time--faster setup than a filament printer. With a filament printer there’s a lot more moving parts and the filament has to be loaded, which requires preheating the machine. Typically some kind of covering or coating has to be put on the print bed and it has to be leveled and then the machine has to preheat. With the Form 1+, I filled the resin tray to the line, uploaded the model and printing began immediately. With a filament printer, if you want to change materials, the machine must heat up, the filament extracted, the new filament loaded and then the system needs to be flushed to remove any traces of the prior filament. With the Form 1+, simply remove the tray and insert a new one with a different resin, this is assuming you have an extra tray (more on that later).

Resin comes in a light-tight bottle that needs a good shake, if it’s a pigmented material. It’s poured into the resin tray to the to the ‘max’ fill line, which should be adhered to closely, as the level of the resin rises dramatically as the platform submerges. Carelessly overfilling the tray would result in an overflow that would end up inside the machine. I would let the resin sit for a little to allow bubbles to work their way out. Once a print is initiated, the platform lowers into the resin and sits on the bottom of the tray. The laser immediately starts darting around, curing a thick layer of resin and supports that the entire print hangs from and adheres to the aluminum print bed. When a layer is finished, the resin tray, which is mounted to a hinge, dips down thereby peeling the print off the bottom of the tank. The print platform then moves up slightly for the next layer and the tray moves back into position. It does this for every layer and is the only noise the machine makes and while not silent, it’s far quieter than my MakerBot. Once the print finishes, the platform will move to it’s home position at the top of the z-axis spindle, with the print hanging, bat-like, from the bottom. I would recommend allowing the print to rest for a few minutes, as there is still liquid resin clinging to it that will drip back into the tray.

Like any 3D printer, prints can take a long time. The Form 1+ is the updated version of the original Form 1 and is twice as fast and has a laser four times as powerful. At the medium, 50 micron setting, a 1:64 scale jetcar took around 8 hours and the larger 1:48 scale took around 12 hours. A long time, but not for this type of printing and the wait is worth the details.

8 hours for a small print, 12 hours for the medium sized one.

Once a print is finished, it’s onto the cleaning station where we remove any liquid resin remaining on the print. Formlabs put together a nice vacuum-formed tray that has a place for the platform, two cleaning tanks and an absorbent pad to rest models on while they dry. A squeeze bottle, blunt scraper, flush cutters, tweezers and rubber gloves are also included. You will have to purchase isopropyl alcohol for cleaning the models. I would recommend getting at least a gallon can from your local mega mart as it takes a good bit to fill all the tanks and it will get dirty fairly quick. The print has to be pried off the print platform using the included scraper. It can be a tough job but the PreForm software wisely adds little notches to the base of each print which makes getting the scraper in and under the print much easier.

Cleaning station--it's sticky.

Once removed, the print goes in the first tank with alcohol and gets shaken gently for a minute or two, then it soaks for around 10 minutes. The print is removed, using the convenient basket and moved to the second tank for a repeat shake and soak and then to absorbent pad to dry. At this point, the print is not 100% cured and will be slightly soft and flexible, so be careful not to bend, break or scratch anything. I confirmed with Formlabs that they will usually zap the finished print in a UV oven for a few minutes for a full cure. For the rest of us, the print could be put in the sun for a few minutes or it will cure on it’s own over a few days. I found putting prints in the sun a risky business as I had some thin features severely warp from rapid curing.

Removing supports.

This is a good point to remind everyone that prints are UV-reactant, so you don’t want them sitting in the sun or under a halogen lamp as they will discolor and become brittle. This is not unique to the Form 1+, but true of most resin printers, so prints should be painted or at least clear coated to protect them. You will also need to remove the model from the supports, which attaches the model to the print bed (more on this in the Software section). Supports can be removed with the included flush cutters or an x-acto knife and any remaining marks can be sanded once the model is cured.

Testing the Software

The PreForm software is simple and easy to use, while still giving the user access to some tweaks. Pick the material and layer thickness and have the software orient your model and auto generate supports. Unlike filament printers where it’s ideal to have a nice, flat surface to put on the print bed, the Form 1+ needs models at an angle. Why? Because the peeling process becomes much more difficult and prone to failure with large surfaces. It’s like trying to peel a sticker off in one piece without it ripping. If you were printing a cube with a side directly on the print bed, it has to peel that whole surface versus a square positioned corner-down which would be a much smaller area to peel. By the time the printer gets to the middle of the cube, where there is a lot of surface area, there would be enough supports and mass generated that it would probably peel ok.

I wrecked Winterfell better than the Boltons. Positioning flat on print bed caused failure.

Ideally, the cube would be hollowed-out to both save material, time and making it more likely to print successfully. Since nothing will be laid flat, everything on the Form 1+ will print with supports, unlike filament printers where certain designs can print without supports. It It’s still a good idea to design models to use as few supports as possible to save on resin and post-print clean up. PreForm will automatically generate supports and indicate possible problem areas. There is the option to tweak support settings and even manually add and remove supports, which is nice. In general, the software did a good job but it is ‘dumb’, as it does not know what is the ‘good’ or visible surface of a model. You may want to manually orient models so the downside, or unseen side, faces the supports, this way, any marks the supports may leave will be hidden.

Should have positioned supports under the car, not on side.

Familiar options such as shells (wall thickness) and fill (how solid the interior is) are absent from PreForm (and most resin printing software) since the model will print exactly how it’s modeled. A solid cube will print solid and use up a lot of material, so to save on time and materials, models should be hollowed with escape holes when possible, which will require additional modeling work. The Form 1+ needs to be connected to a computer via USB to upload the model--there is no SD card option. However, once the model is completely loaded into the printer, the computer can be disconnected. Uploading the model can take a few minutes, but nothing unreasonable and the print will start while the rest of the model uploads.

The Materials

Formlabs offers white, gray, black and clear resins which run $149 for a liter. I haven’t crunched the numbers on how this compares to filament, but it’s definitely more expensive. I filled a whole gallon bag, plus some, with prints from one bottle of resin, so it does go quite a long way. I tested the gray, black and clear which all produced nice prints. My favorite was the black which made details really pop. I didn’t like the gray as much since it was slightly translucent on many parts. The clear came out nice and can be polished to transparency, although it is prone to yellowing as it ages or if exposed to too much UV light.

I would describe the fully-cured resin as acrylic-like, as it can get brittle and I have snapped off thin pieces and edges. To confirm my suspicions, I dropped a failed print on the floor and it shattered into pieces, so prints should be handled with care. I don’t know if I would want to use them for mechanical parts, other than mock-ups, as I would feel more comfortable with ABS which has some give. Formlabs just released a castable material that can be used in ‘lost wax’ applications, which is excellent for jewelry makers. They also announced that a clear, flexible material is due anytime now and it looks promising.

I was able to print this bag of failure plus more with one bottle of resin.

The Bad Stuff First

Printer #1 - Laser test shows bad laser with halo.

Let’s get the bad out of the way first. The worst thing I can say is that in the two months I was testing the Form 1+ I went through three printers. Yep. The first one had a bad laser which caused every print to fail. The beam should normally be a pinpoint, but mine had a halo around it which was like painting with a rag versus a fine paint brush. The second had a spectacular fail with the peel motor, which moves the tray up and down. There was a horrible grinding noise and it pulled the tray down so far it rammed into the body of the printer. The tray was stuck in the down position and wouldn’t budge, meaning it couldn’t be removed or emptied easily. I had to let the printer sit open in the sunlight for a few days to cure all the resin left in the tray, so it could be shipped back.

Printer #2 - Tray just kept on going and jammed here.

The third printer worked like a champ and I got great prints on it until a few days after Norm and I shot the Form 1 video when the peel motor stopped working. This was different than the second unit, as I could move the tray up and down and even remove it. Turns out the peel motor uncoupled from the tray mechanism and could be fixed relatively easily, but it was time to send the printer back anyway.

Printer #3 - Peel motor detached from tray mechanism.

I was a bit disappointed by the failures but I will say this - these are the typical things that go wrong with the Form 1+, Formlabs is aware of the problems and have been addressing the issues. I was also getting demo units that have been shipped all over and probably used more than a typical printer. Disappointing, nonetheless. Customer service was very good, prompt and thorough, but that could be biased by the fact that I was reviewing the unit. Although, I don’t think that’s how Formlabs operates, they seem to take customer service seriously and to be doing a pretty good job. I think for a Kickstarter project that wildly outperformed expectations, with a small group of people, they are doing pretty well.

Beautiful failures: resin stuck to bottom of tray.

Aside from the hardware failures, I would have occasional print failures, where the print would not peel properly and get stuck to the tray. When this happens you get a layer of resin baked to the tray bottom, which blocks the laser from adding to the model. The print is ruined and you have to very carefully use the included scraper to remove the baked on resin. This is nerve wracking as the bottom of the tray is a soft silicone and if you gouge or scratch it, your tray is toast. I was surprised that this wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be--I managed to get it clean every time without damaging anything.

Carfully removing failed print from tray.

After scraping off these baked-on bits you have to run a comb through the tank in order to sift out any stray bits that would ruin prints. Formlabs gives you every possible tool you need except for this--I used a regular fine-tooth hair comb. I asked Formlabs why they chose silicone and not glass and it comes down to the stresses that the peeling process causes on the tray. Their answer: glass would break. The biggest bummer concerning the tanks is the silicone will eventually start to cloud due to the laser. The clouding will then cause bad or failed prints and the tray must be replaced. Formlabs recommends moving the position of prints around the print platform to give all surfaces of the tank equal play, but ultimately after about 2 bottles of resin you should think about replacing your tank which costs $60. I don’t like that part at all, and hope to see improvements to extend the life of the resin trays.

Three trays cracked in same spot.

There should be a dedicated tray for each type of resin you plan on using. It is technically possible to clean out and use the same tray for different materials, but it’s unrealistic and messy.

During my tests, I had three resin trays crack, one of which I thought was my fault, but upon further inspection they all cracked at the exact same spot - the back left corner where there’s a molded pour spout. I think this is a weak spot and the stresses of the peeling process may tend to crack the trays.

A look inside reveals how easily dirt can get on optics.

Finally, for a unit that relies on lasers and optics, the open body design is a problem and I feel it should be sealed in some way. Both my apartment and shop were a torture-test for the Form 1+, between NYC dirt, old building dirt, three cats, etc., the mirror would get dirty very easily. When the resin tray is removed, the interior of the printer is completely exposed, with the large mirror directly beneath the opening. As the repair tech at NYU Film and TV, I have a lot of experience and tools for cleaning lenses and sensors, but cleaning the mirror on the Form 1+ and getting it spotless and streak-free was really tough. If dirt gets on the smaller mirrors that direct the laser back inside the machine, cleaning would be particularly difficult. With this layout, it’s relatively easy to accidently get resin on the mirror and even a drop would be very bad and difficult to clean off. I spoke with Formlabs at NYC Maker Faire about this and they indicated that they had always wanted some type of sealed unit, but there’s only so much they could address and still keep costs down and, especially while doing a startup. I hope to see this improved in future units.

While not a bad thing per se, something to keep in mind when using the Form 1+ is that a dedicated workspace is needed for the printer and cleaning station. My MakerBot is crammed into the corner of my desk and that works fine, but the Form 1+ system needs more space. Ideally it would be in a clean area (ie. not your woodshop) and it needs a fair amount of space in the back to open the lid. There needs to be a spot for the cleaning station as well and keep in mind, that no matter how hard you try, resin and alcohol will get on this work area. I was trying to be tidy, but everything around the printer eventually got a little sticky.

The Good Stuff!

Amazing detail!

The prints I produced with the Form 1+ were very, very nice. I was really impressed with the detail on the miniature jetcar and the lightsaber turned out really well. Prints generally had a nice surface finish, supports were relatively easy to remove and sanding and painting is easily done. I felt that print times for this level of detail were totally reasonable and to be expected for SLA printing. Formlabs has a nice range of materials to work with especially with their new additions. I love how the machine looks and that it’s relatively quiet. Formlabs is obviously working on improvements and have been actively listening to feedback.

Every Jedi must forge his lightsaber.

I like the PreForm software and don’t really have any bad things to say about it. It was straightforward and easy to use, it’s auto mode generally worked well, it was fast and gave just the right amount of tweaking options. Getting the printer running was a breeze and is overall easy to use, this is counterbalanced by the routine maintenance that must be done. You have to keep the mirror and bottom of the tray perfectly clean - fingerprints and excessive dust will ruin prints. You have to make sure the inside of the tank is clean and free of stray cured bits of resin. Unused trays and resin must be sealed and kept out of direct sunlight. The cleaning station will need cleaned and the alcohol changed out periodically. If you are a detail-oriented type, this should not be a problem and is worth it for excellent prints. If you run the Mr. or Ms. Messy Workshop, this is probably not the printer for you. I would not recommend this printer for most schools where students have direct access, unless highly supervised. If you are a jewelry maker, craftsman, into miniatures, a sculptor, ZBrush artist, etc, this would be an excellent printer for you.

So would I buy a Form 1+? As much as I like the prints, I personally would like to wait for their next gen machine which I hope would address some of the issues I had. I would also like to see them come out with a material that hits that sweet spot between their standard material and the flexible--something that is rigid with just a bit of give. Despite any problems I ran into, I really liked testing the Form 1+ and look forward to what Formlabs will do next. I think they have a solid foundation to work from and the Form 1+ will keep getting better. I also suspect that they will have a lot more competition down the road, especially from 3D Systems and Stratasys, the big guns in the field of 3D printing. If you would like to learn more about Formlabs (and MakerBot) I would highly recommend the Netflix Print the Legend documentary, which is an excellent behind-the-scenes look at not only 3D printing, but the world of Kickstarter and small startups.

Check out the video of Norm and I discussing the Form 1+.

12 Dec 08:00

Family Man Page 352

by Dylan

I sort of wonder if people who haven't been reading this story for years find this page as unnerving as people who have. Seems unlikely? I mean, y'all don't understand why Luther looking down at Ariana is just WRONG.

Family Man Page 352

12 Dec 10:34

You're Dead! - Flying Lotus FULL 2014


Pretty stupendous record. Need to buy a copy.

00:00:00 Theme 00:01:24 Telsa 00:03:18 Cold Dead 00:04:53 Fkn Dead 00:05:33 Never Catch Me 00:09:28 Dead Man’s Tetris 00:11:53 Turkey Dog Coma 00:15:03 Stirr...
12 Dec 10:29

This is seriously one of the most incredible weather videos I have ever seen.


Not super into the music, but excellent photography. Makes me kind of miss the insanity of the Midwest. I have seen some pretty serious weather over the plains.

Nicolaus Wegner

This story originally appeared in Slate and is republished here as part of the Climate Desk collaboration.

A couple of months ago I posted an amazing time-lapse video called Stormscapes, showing storms and mesocylcones, created by photographer Nicolaus Wegner. It's really worth watching; seeing those swirling, dark clouds forming vortices over the Midwest is terrifying and mesmerizing.

Wegner contacted me recently; after a year of storm chasing he put together another video, Stormscapes2, and it's way, way better than the first one. In fact, I'd say it's seriously one of the most incredible weather videos I have ever seen.

Make this hi-def, full screen, and crank the volume up, because holy yikes.


From the opening sequence to the last frame, that's magnificent. I was also really impressed by how Wegner let the music inspire the editing, and it really adds to the look and feel of the video.

The creepy oncoming storm sets the mood immediately, but then the double rainbow and crepuscular rays (shadows of clouds leaving long, dark shadows in the sky) converging on the horizon provide a brief interlude. Very brief.

Mesocyclones! Lightning! Exploding cumulonimbus clouds! Devil's Tower! And then, at the end, one of my favorite kinds of clouds: bulbs of mammatus clouds hanging down. Those are really peculiar, and it's not at all clear why they form. Their shape gives rise to their name, because they look like mammary glands. Seriously.

I've seen mammatus clouds just once, and it was unearthly. They're harbingers of severe weather, and Wegner mentioned he got that sequence the day a series of tornadoes hit the town of Wessington Springs, South Dakota. The town was devastated, but due to the work of the National Weather Service, not a single person was killed. They predicted the conditions were ripe for tornadoes, issued a warning, and people were able to get to safety in time.

That's amazing, but that's science. We've learned so much about the weather that we can predict with pretty good accuracy where and when tornadoes can form, and get people to safety.

As I watch Stormscapes2, I'm in awe of the beauty of weather, but I'm also uplifted. We understand a lot of these phenomena very well, and the things we don't understand, we learn. And when we learn, we make things better. We save people's lives.

Science saves lives. That's a pretty good thing to learn, too.

12 Dec 04:29

Say His Name


Emily is gloriously in love with her own weirdness.

12 Dec 01:22

Mastodon - Curl Of The Burl [Official Music Video]

Download Maston's latest album "Live at Brixton" and past albums at Visit for tour dates, news and merch. ...
14 Oct 14:21

Strike Student Debt

by Ann

How much is your student debt really worth? Probably less than you think. Most people are not aware that creditors sell off defaulted debt for pennies on the dollar to a shadowy market of debt buyers and collectors who then try to collect the full amount from the debtor. A New York–based activist collective, Strike Debt, created the Rolling Jubilee fund to buy debt on this secondary market just as debt collectors do. Only instead of collecting on that debt, Strike Debt erases it. Rolling Jubilee has now forgiven almost $4 million in student loans for the bargain price of a little more than $100,000.

Since 2012, Strike Debt has bought up almost $15 million in medical debt — obligations that people incur when they are sick or have an accident but can’t pay their medical bills. This is an admittedly minuscule amount in a multibillion dollar market, but the point of the Rolling Jubilee is to illustrate that debts are written off all the time, just not typically in favor of the debtor. Further proof of the power of creditors is that the government guarantees profits on most kinds of student loans, so they are not for sale on the secondary market. However, we found that some forms of private tuition debt are available for purchase.

Once people realize how little student loans are really worth to the creditors who sell them for pennies on the dollar, they might ask why they should pay the full amount.

Our most recent purchase was a portfolio of private student loan debt held by 2,761 people who attended Everest College, a division of the Corinthian Colleges (CCI) for-profit network. There are over 100 Everest campuses and online degree programs in two dozen states. Since the 1990s, Corinthian has enrolled hundreds of thousands of people in pricey vocational programs, encouraged them to take out student loans and then used those dollars to enrich officials and shareholders — a business model that is little more than legalized theft that funnels money from public to private hands. During its heyday, Corinthian received more than $500 million annually from the federal Pell Grant program, more than the entire University of California system.

Earlier this summer, Corinthian was finally pushed off a financial cliff when the Department of Education (DOE), along with more than a dozen other federal and state agencies, launched an investigation into the company’s deceptive tactics, including lying about graduation rates and employment options for degree holders. An official in the California attorney general’s office testified that the company engaged in the “most persistent, egregious and widespread” abuse of students she had ever seen. And when the DOE temporarily cut off Corinthian’s access to federal funds, the college announced that bankruptcy was imminent.

By abolishing the private debt of Everest College students, we hope to illustrate how the federal government, through its support of market-based reforms in higher education, is more interested in protecting for-profit schools than students.

When CCI announced its bankruptcy, rather than rushing to the aid of students, the DOE stepped in to save Corinthian from collapse, appointing a monitor to help the company negotiate the sale of most of its 107 campuses to an unnamed buyer.

The sale is part of the federal government’s ongoing effort to bring market-based reforms to higher education at all levels. The DOE says it is protecting taxpayers from having to reimburse students who would be eligible for a debt discharge if their campus shut down. But why should students have to pay while the company that defrauded them gets a helping hand?

Instead of answering that question, the DOE has been focused on requiring colleges to ensure their value to consumers. Colleges whose graduates don’t find jobs and repay their student loans in a timely fashion would be ineligible for federal funds. The proposed college rating system would treat education as a commercial product and students as customers who simply need better information to choose a college — the way they choose a brand of cereal.

The thinking behind President Barack Obama’s higher education policy is also behind the DOE’s effort to save Corinthian. If Corinthian is just a bad brand in an otherwise healthy education market, then assuring the sale of the campuses is in the best interest of students. Yet according to federal rules, students whose campuses are sold will be rendered ineligible for a discharge of their loans. Those with the most to lose have had no voice in the debate about what happens to Corinthian. Defrauded students are at the mercy of the DOE as it pursues a strategy of weeding out bad brands instead of defending their interests.

The federal government’s response to the Corinthian debacle should push us to ask deeper questions about the role of college in helping people achieve economic security.

In addition to being buried by debt, many people find themselves under- or unemployed even after earning a college degree. The widening gap between the rich and poor is a bigger problem than the gap between those who attended college and those who didn’t. As the Economic Policy Institute recently reported, “Education is not the cure for high unemployment or for income inequality.” Tressie McMillan Cottom has further explained that “for those of us looking for economic security who are not fortunate or able enough to be fast-tracked into the good jobs, there isn’t much college can do.”

Policies that encourage broad access to quality higher education are worth fighting for, but they shouldn’t blind us to the reality that a diploma produces an economic benefit only when access to the resources one needs to thrive, including a fair income, are available.

If one takes a step back and looks at the economy as a whole, it’s clear that Corinthian is not just a bad operator in an education marketplace that provides struggling students and families with a path to dignity and security.

Instead, CCI’s alleged crimes provide a startlingly clear example of a crisis of inequality that can’t be solved by ensuring that colleges operate according to market-based logic. Nor can it be solved by protecting Corinthian from the outcome of its actions, at the expense of students who deserve to have their debts discharged.

People with private loans from for-profit colleges are not the only ones who ought to have their debts canceled. In fact, all students should have the right to learn and prepare for careers without the burden of a lifetime of debt. To offer this kind of real value, public higher education should be free. Current debtors should have the opportunity to negotiate a write off of their debts, just as creditors do. Strike Debt bought student loans for pennies on the dollar. The question student debtors around the country should start asking is, “Why should we pay more?”

- This article originally appeared in Al Jazeera America

15 Apr 14:53

Life After Debt: Why America Needs an Anti-Capitalist Left

by Ann

Does America need a Left? Yes, very much. We need a Left that rejects a vision of politics based on the expansion of an unjust economic system, which is to say that we need a Left that rejects James Livingston’s advice that we “compromise with the world as it actually exists.” This is not a call to reject pragmatism, but rather to acknowledge that the “world as it actually exists” has for too long been defined through reactionary terms. We argue instead for an activist, avowedly anti-capitalist Left, one that seeks to tear away the constraints that have impeded necessary, fundamental change.

The Left, which for too long has capitulated to rules of engagement established by conservatives, needs to work to find alternatives to our present debt-financed society.

Unfortunately, this Left, though it exists in fragments, is overshadowed in the United States. Those who would claim the mantle of the Left have tried for too long to advance their goals by appeasing the Right, hoping, misguidedly, to find common cause and to compromise their way into a better world. The progressive movement—the institutions, think tanks, pundits, and politicians that currently stand in as the serious spokespeople of the Left—speaks of  “good jobs,” “economic growth,” and “regulated markets,” appealing to a mythical middle ground that has never and cannot exist. By capitulating the very terms of engagement to conservatives, progressives have distorted their message and acted against the interests they purport to serve.

America needs a Left that does not, as Michael Lerner noted, approach the question of social change in an “economistic” fashion. The progressives that dominate political discussion and action share in common a vision of change as emerging via market mechanisms. This mainstream Left is beyond rehabilitation. We believe, like Eli Zaretsky, that “progress is blocked by the same internal capitalist dynamic that created progress in the first place.” We must counter capitalism not by appealing to it, but by opening space for people to no longer be dominated by its logics. The demand for such a Left is undeniable. What’s missing is only the political will to see it through.

Read the rest of this article (co-authored with Henry Ostrom) in Tikkun.

11 Dec 16:30

An Australian newspaper congratulates Benedict Cumberbatch on...


Please be real. Please be real.

An Australian newspaper congratulates Benedict Cumberbatch on his recent engagement. -mrsmo

10 Dec 20:20

How To Get Into Hobby RC: A Snapshot of the Multi-Rotor Market

by Terry Dunn

Interesting little article for those interested in flying about with the whirring and the crashing.

Buying a multi-rotor can be a daunting experience. There are so many different models already on the market, with more emerging every day. Those choices represent a wide range of sizes, capabilities and quality, not to mention price points. In an effort to make the candidate pool a little less overwhelming, I have compiled an overview of currently-available multi-rotors. Consider it a snapshot of this ever evolving scene. Obsolescence will come quickly.

To make the list more manageable it has been abridged to include only those aircraft that meet the following criteria:

  • Hobby Grade – Parts can be replaced or upgraded as needed.

  • Ready-to-Fly (RTF) – The multi-rotor is ready to fly, or very nearly so when purchased. A transmitter is included. Smart phone controllers don’t count (sorry Parrot).

  • Available from US retailers – No offense to our foreign readers. This criteria is meant to weed out the clones, and knock-offs of dubious origin.

The multi-rotors shown here have been divided into two categories: small and medium. The primary difference being that medium multi-rotors are capable of carrying an action camera such as a GoPro. Of course there are multi-rotors that would fit into large, X-Large, Jumbo, etc. categories. These ships are intended for hauling high-quality video equipment. Due to their complexity and cost, they should really only be considered by experienced pilots. So they have been omitted from this list.

I have chosen to include only RTF models simply because that is what most people prefer. With small quads, RTF is really the only option. There is nothing wrong with using an unassembled kit for your medium multi-rotor. In fact, there is a strong case to be made that building your own aircraft will provide you with a much better understanding of its inner workings and abilities. You just have to be willing to dedicate the time and effort required to get it assembled, outfitted and tuned.

Please note that this is not a ranking. I have personal experience with only a handful of the listed models. So any type of hierarchy would be disingenuous. Comparing listed features is one thing. Actually flying and exercising those features is quite another.

Small Quads

If you are new to multi-rotors, this is where you should be looking. These quads are ideal for learning the basics of multi-rotor piloting, but without the financial and safety risks associated with larger aircraft. With a few models selling for under $50, there really is no excuse to skip this important step in the learning process.

None of the small quads feature GPS capability. This means that they have no way to hold their position autonomously when the wind tried to blow them away. I think that learning to fly without GPS is a critical skill that will serve you well when you transition to a larger machine. GPS is a fabulous and useful tool, but it’s an unreliable crutch for those who can’t be bothered to learn basic flying skills. Being able to fly the aircraft manually when the GPS link is lost (it happens all the time) can get you out of a jam.

Small quads are perfect vehicles for learning to fly multi-rotors. The inputs are the same as with larger aircraft, there’s just less risk involved. Plus, they’re fun to fly indoors.

Some of the small quads include cameras as built-in or optional equipment. These cameras can be fun to play with, but I have yet to use one that provides high-quality photos or video (regardless of the camera’s advertised specs). If aerial photography is your end-game, you will find much improved results once you step into the medium category.

The larger quads in the small category can be a bit much for flying in confined indoor spaces…especially when you’re just starting out. So if you’re stuck in a cramped apartment, you’re probably better off with one of the “smaller” small quads. If you have access to a large indoor space such as a basketball court, it is a great stress-free training area. Outdoor areas can be useful too. Just be aware that areas close to buildings, trees, walls, can hide turbulent air when the wind is blowing.

In my opinion, the most important features to look for in a small quad are adjustable control sensitivity (via gyro settings, multiple flight modes, and/or dual-rate controls), a reasonably-sized 2-stick transmitter, and a dependable supplier for replacement parts (preferably local). The best way to address the third qualifier is to visit a local hobby shop and choose from the lines they carry. Local prices are often the same as those found at internet stores.

Brand Model Size* Transmitter Size Adjustable Sensitivity Camera FPV Current Street Price
Align M424 240mm diag full FM $110
Ares Ethos PQ 63mm long small FM $50
Ethos QX 130 205mm long full D/R O $100
Ethos HD 292mm long full D/R I O $170
Ethos FPV 292mm long full D/R I I $270
Spectre X 100mm long medium D/R I O $90
Blade Pico QX 92mm long small D/R $50
Nano QX 140mm long medium FM, D/R $90
FPV Nano QX w/goggles 140mm long medium FM, D/R I I $420
180 QX HD 292mm long medium FM, D/R I $190
Dromida Kodo 90mm diag small FM I $60
Ominus 238mm long medium FM, D/R $80
Estes Proto-X 45mm long small $30
Proto-X SLT 45mm long medium FM, D/R $40
Proto-X FPV 115mm long full FM/GR I I $230
Heli-Max 1Si 123mm diag medium FM, GR, D/R I $140
1SQ 123mm diag medium GR, D/R $100
1SQ V-Cam 123mm diag medium GR, D/R I $130
230Si 230mm diag medium FM, GR, D/R $150
230Si w/camera 230mm diag medium FM, GR, D/R I $180
HobbyZone Faze 45mm long small $40
Hubsan H111 45mm long small $60
H107C 70mm long medium GR I $50
H107D FPV 140mm long full GR I I $175
LaTrax Alias 166mm long medium GR, D/R $150
Syma X1 not listed full FM $30
X3 220mm long medium FM $40
X4 140mm long medium FM $35
X5 310mm long medium FM $50
X5C 310mm long medium FM I $75
X6 560mm long full FM $75
X11 152mm long medium FM $30
X12 45mm long medium FM $25
Traxxas QR-1 120mm long medium GR, D/R $70
Walkera Ladybird 85mm long medium D/R $55
Ladybird FPV 85mm long medium D/R I I $255
Infra X 108mm long medium D/R $130
Scorpion (6 motors) 118mm long medium D/R $50

* Not all manufacturers use the sane measurement methods. Some provide the distance between rotor shafts, while others include the blade lengths. The values shown here are taken directly from the manufacturer's specifications.

** FM = Selectable flight modes, GR = Adjustable gyro rates, D/R = Dual rate controls - All are effective means of adjusting a quad's responsiveness

*** I - Included, O - Optional

All efforts have been made to ensure the accuracy of this information, but verify features and specifications with your retailer before making a purchase.

Medium Quads

Once you’ve mastered your small quad, you should be ready to move into a medium multi-rotor. You may choose a tri-rotor or hex-rotor, but all of the units that I found within my criteria are quads. In some cases, the actual size change from a small to medium quad may not be much at all. Regardless of their footprint, medium multi-rotors represent a significant uptick in power, weight, and complexity.

Medium quads can haul around a good quality camera for aerial photography. There multi-rotors represent a significant increase in power over small quads. Threat them with respect.

All of the medium ships utilize brushless motors and lipo batteries with three or more cells. This extra power is what allows them to haul a payload like a GoPro, fight strong winds, and reach impressive speeds. The same level of power can also pose a significant danger if not handled with adequate diligence and competency. At the risk of putting too fine a point on it, I’ll summarize by saying this: Always be smarter than your multi-rotor. In other words, just because you can get great aerial footage of your kid’s soccer game, doesn’t mean you should. In fact, you shouldn’t…it’s an awful idea.

When moving from a small to a medium quad, you will probably find that the larger vehicle is considerably easier to fly, especially in wind.

When moving from a small to a medium quad, you will probably find that the larger vehicle is considerably easier to fly, especially in wind. First of all, the medium ships are typically denser than the smaller quads, so they are less affected by the wind’s ambitions. Furthermore, the medium multi-rotors will often feature a larger and more precise suite of instruments and processors that stabilize it. When all systems are functioning properly, the electronic pixie dust inside a medium multi-rotor will handle most of the piloting workload. You just tell it where you want it to go.

While most people use medium multi-rotors for shooting photos or video, their power and agility also makes them fun sport models (with or without a camera attached). Many of the listed aircraft are capable of basic aerobatics such as flips and rolls.

As with small quads, I suggest that you first check availability at local hobby shops. If you plan to use your multi-rotor for aerial photography, you should definitely consider a model that includes a gimbal. Gimbals provide a huge improvement in the quality of your media by isolating the camera from the inescapable tilts and bobbles of the aircraft. Many gimbals also include the ability to reposition the camera during flight. A 2-axis gimbal provides stabilization in the pitch and roll axes.

A gimbal, such as the 2-axis gimbal shown on the Blade 350QX2 AP Combo is invaluable for capturing smooth video footage in rough flying conditions.

3-axis gimbals add the ability to pan the camera without yawing the multi-rotor. Just keep in mind that the landing gear can obstruct the field of view with 3-axis gimbals unless there is a provision to reposition the camera or gear in flight. Some multi-rotors that do not include gimbals can be outfitted with add-on units whenever you’re ready.

First Person View flying is a fun segment of multi-rotors. Just be sure to learn the basics of flying before you strap on FPV goggles.

You will find that a few of the medium quads come equipped with First Person View (FPV) systems. All of them can be outfitted with add-on FPV systems. Keep in mind that many FPV systems require an amateur radio technician license to operate legally. Legalities aside, FPV should be considered an advanced skill. It is my firm opinion that you should refrain from FPV until you have a solid grasp of the demands of flying a medium multi-rotor. Given the limited situational awareness, potential latency, and risk of video signal loss, FPV can be overwhelming for pilots with little experience.

Brand Model Size* Camera Gimbal Stock FPV Approx Street Price
3D Robotics Iris+ 550mm long GP Hero 3 (not incl.) optional 2-axis $750
Blade 350 QX2 465mm long GP Hero 3 (not incl.) $450
350 QX2 AP Combo 465mm long C-Go1 (1080p/30) 2-axis 5.8GHz Wi-Fi $700
350 QX3 465mm long GP Hero 3 (not incl.) $500
350 QX3 AP Combo 465mm long CGO 2 (1080p/60) 3-axis 5.8GHz Wi-Fi $1000
DJI Phantom 1 350mm long GP Hero 3 (not incl.) optional 2-axis $420
Phantom FC40 350mm long FC40 (720p/30) 2.4GHz Wi-Fi $430
Phantom 2 350mm long GP Hero 3 (not incl.) optional 3-axis $550
Phantom 2 Vision 350mm long Integrated (1080p/30/60i) 1-axis (tilt) 2.4GHz Wi-Fi $760
Phantom 2 Vision+ 350mm long Integrated (1080p/30, 720p/60) 3-axis 2.4GHz Wi-Fi $1100
Inspire 1 438mm long Integrated (4K/30) 3-axis 2.4GHz $2900
Hitec Q-Cop not listed Integrated (1080p/30, 720p/60) 1-axis (tilt) Wi-Fi $800
Walkera QR X350 Pro 289mm long GP Hero 3 (not incl.) $365
QR X350 Pro FPV 289mm long iLook (720p/30) 2-axis 5.8GHz Wi-Fi $900
Scout 335mm long iLook+ (1080p/30) 2-axis 5.8GHz Wi-Fi $1600

* Not all manufacturers use the same measurement method. Some provide the distance between rotor shafts, while other include the blade lengths. The values shown here are taken directly from the manufacturer's specifications.

All efforts have been made to ensure the accuracy of this information, but verify features and specifications with your retailer before making a purchase.


Even with filters applied to create this list, I realize that there are likely a few models that I’ve missed within each category. None of these omissions are an intended slight. The multi-rotor market is just too dynamic and broad to catch them all…which, of course, is the whole reason for this list in the first place. I hope that it will help you narrow your search when you are ready to buy a multi-rotor (or two) for yourself.

Terry spent 15 years as an engineer at the Johnson Space Center. He is now a freelance writer living in Lubbock, Texas. Follow Terry on Twitter: @weirdflight

10 Dec 19:16

LEGO Invisible Lift Contraption is Hypnotizing

by Norman Chan

This thing is SO AMAZING

11 Dec 09:27

What the World Doesn't Need Are Steampunk Luxury Condos



Every so often, circumstances conspire to deliver a perfect send-up of an unfortunate national trend. This is not one of those moments. This is a story where all of us lose.

A new luxury development called 15 Renwick in New York is giving built form to steampunk. That's right, steampunk: that dark, Victoriana-obsessed cousin of Renaissance festivals and Star Trek conventions is now a theme for condos. I'm sorry to report that it gets worse: Steampunk is the entire pitch for the building.


That's right: Those are sloops and frigates parked along Manhattan's West Side. Contrary to the rendering above, 15 Renwick isn't some kind of steam-powered estate floating gayly on the Hudson. It's an 11-story, 31-unit building just off Canal Street in Hudson Square, the neighborhood that the New York Observer called"the last corner of undeveloped Manhattan" in 2012.

The project, which is nearing completion now, looks like the last stop along a tour designed by Jules Verne (Journey to the Center of New York Real Estate). Renderings of the building's condos, townhouses, and penthouses feature residents who all appear to be socially well-adjusted. I'm kidding: They look like people who think New York was better back when it was called New Amsterdam.


Renwick Street and the building alike take their names from 19th-century Columbia University engineer James Renwick, and his better-known son, James Renwick, Jr., the architect who designed such iconic buildings as the Smithsonian Institution's Castle. But 15 Renwick doesn't have anything to do with Romanesque Revival architecture. The building is the work of ODA Architecture, whose lead, Eran Chen, boasts a number of credible multifamily projects in New York.

Left: The Smithsonian American Art Museum's Renwick Gallery (built in 1859), originally as the Corcoran Gallery of Art. Right: The Smithsonian Institution Building (1855), better known as the Smithsonian Castle. Both were designed by James Renwick, Jr. (Smithsonian Institution)

The condos, townhouses, and penthouses—which are still selling, from between $2.4 million to $7.1 million—are tricked out with walnut flooring and bleeding-edge appliances. There's even a Zen garden (designed by the landscape firm HM White Site Architects). Yet whatever the project's merits, the developer didn't advertise them directly, at least not at first. An early marketing push for the units relied entirely on the characters themselves, neglecting things like interior details in favor of a sell that emphasized livin' that Founding Father life.


First as tragedy, then as farce, as the saying goes: Way back in 2008, The Onion ran a feature on the threat of "aristocratization" facing the nation's gentrifying neighborhoods. A sardonic housing report detailed how "the enormous treasure-based wealth of the aristocracy makes it impossible for those living on modest trust funds to hold onto their co-ops and converted factory loft spaces."

Now those aristocrats are a feature, not a flaw. Danielle Tcholakian, who covers west Manhattan for DNAinfo, spoke to 15 Renwick developer Dan Oelsner, who told her that Hudson Square is a "boutique neighborhood" that's "full of rich hipsters."


Let's take stock of what this rich hipster's boutique life entails:

—Tome with quill and ink, for writing one's paper Tumblr
—Vast cape draped over the chair
—There is definitely an airship out the window
—Not just a carafe of cognac, but an artfully spilled goblet
—That hair tho
—Marble bust on an Isamu Noguchi coffee table
—Are those shields?

All that's missing is a tiered cake and the grubby faces of de Blasio orphans pressing against the window, dreaming of affordable housing and warm mittens.

Kitchen and still-life studio. (IGI-USA)

"Our target market is people who are creative, different," 15 Renwick developer Eldad Blaustein told the Observer when the project first launched. "We always joke that it might be a Wall Street trader, but he’s writing songs, he’s writing poems at night."

A Wall Street trader, perhaps, who writes songs and poetry at night. (IGI-USA)

This project should be an opportunity to reexamine the acute fever that has settled over the nation in the early part of this decade. Which goes beyond the obsession with artisanal cocktails and pickles and mayo and toast. And beyond those curly mustaches that a certain stripe of men and women are so taken with. (Why do mustaches need a Pinterest page?) It should be an opportunity for everyone to watch a season or two of Deadwood as a reminder that the 19th century was terrible.

But 15 Renwick is not that opportunity. It's too late for that. The only thing left is to burn it all down.


New York: What happened to you?

10 Dec 08:04

Adam Interviews John Cleese

by Adam Savage

This is unexpected!

I had the incredible opportunity to interview one of my heroes a few weeks past. John Cleese and his five cohorts of Monty Python gave me the first laugh I shared with my parents. Cleese himself is not only in good shape for his 75 years, he’s surpassingly present, curious, generous and yes, funny. We even got to read one of his sketches together! I left for the tour the very next morning and I have to admit I’m still glowing. He brings the number of Pythons I’ve met to three (Gilliam and Jones being the others). I have rarely had such FUN doing an interview. I think I looked at the questions I wrote maybe three or four times total. That’s how far we ranged.

10 Dec 18:00

In Brief: What You Should Know about Police Body Cams

by Norman Chan

An unusually political post from TESTED.

You may have heard about President Obama's recently announced plan to assist local law enforcement's acquisition, education, and use of new equipment. In addition to using Federal funds to help bolster frayed relationships between law enforcement and the communities they serve, the pitch also called for funding of body cameras to be worn by police officers--a $75 million investment for 50,000 cameras. But what does the use of those cameras mean in practice? The Electronic Frontier Foundation has a great breakdown of their concerns for the use of body cameras, and what they and the ACLU think needs to be addressed before implementation. And as for how body cameras have affected police departments already using them, The Atlantic has a report on the police department of Post Falls, Idaho, where body cameras use became mandatory in 2011.

10 Dec 19:31

Adam's Tour Diaries #15: Cleveland Rocks!

by Adam Savage

Featuring Magic Trashcan.

Dec. 5, 2014: Hello, Cleveland! My day here started early. The awesome Len Peralta showed up at 8:30 and took me out to breakfast! [Norm's note: Len's also the co-host of the Creature Geek podcast!]

We talked a lot about kids, which is good because Len has about 37 of them.

I’m amazed Len doesn’t walk with a cane.

Oh, a word about that skillet we're eating off of. I was gobsmacked to find that it’s not real. I mean, it’s real, but it’s not iron -- it’s plastic. Weighs nothing. I find that sort of dissonance hilarious and tried to buy one from the waitress. She went to ask the chef who GAVE ME TWO of them. Now I have two very convincing looking plastic skillets. I must find a proper prank to perform with one … (A nice prank.)

As Len gave me a ride back from breakfast he pointed out that Captain America: Winter Soldier was filmed in and around Cleveland. Like here for instance.

Dammit, Bucky! It’s me! STEVE!

Then Len told me to go to a place called Big Fun. So I did. Wow! How rewarding that trip was!

A word about stores like Big Fun: I’ve been going to them for DECADES. I used to shop at Little Rickie in NYC. In fact I rented a storefront from owner Phillip Retzky in the late ‘80s (the original 1st and 1st location of Little Rickie, before they moved to 1st and 3rd).

Some friends and I ran a cooperative gallery out of that space for a year called Points of Departure. The East Village was only JUST becoming hip around that time. I mean, it was deep hip (Ann Magnuson hip) long before that, but it was getting popular hip (like Williamsburg in the early aughts) around that time.

I even visited the American Science and Surplus MOTHERSHIP in Chicago in the early ‘90s! And their second Chicago store. I didn’t know about their other store in Milwaukee until I was there on tour but I’ve been there too! I’ve also shopped at Archie MacPhee’s in Seattle. Made a special pilgrimage there with Mrs. Donttrythis on our honeymoon in the early aughts.

Anyway, so, kitsch toy stores and I go WAAAY back. And Big Fun is one I didn’t know about. What a great place. I got to talking to the owner and we didn’t stop for about an hour. I took some pix in his photo booth, bought a bunch of Xmas presents for everyone, and gave comps to his staff for the show that night.

This is my new buddy Steve, the owner.

Steve’s business card says “The Big Cheese.” Of COURSE it does. We had a lot to go over. What a great place. Their whole staff was super nice.

Look! An Artoo Unit being used as a trash can!
I find this so comforting ...

Back in NYC, an old girlfriend and I used to do photo booth pix all the time. Every time we saw one. That was one of our “things.”

You can’t pass a photo booth without taking a photo, right?

The theater we’re performing in in Cleveland is called the Connor Palace. It’s one of the best houses I’ve played. So lively and vibrant in terms of sound. We weren’t quite sold out, but it sure sounded like it.

Here’s Cleveland’s “Where’s Jamie? pic.
Backstage during the show.
We had this great assistant on stage during the performance.
My dressing room in Cleveland was beautiful!
Fan-made art. From duct tape!
Frank Ippolito’s MOM!
Our little assistant came backstage and brought her brother.

So all in all, Cleveland was awesome. Next stop: the Windy City.

While on tour for the Behind the Myths stage show, Adam is blogging about his adventures and exploration of each city he visits.

Other Entries:

11 Dec 01:48

Flying Lotus - Never Catch Me (feat. Kendrick Lamar)


watch with caution

Flying Lotus, 'Never Catch Me feat. Kendrick Lamar', a film by Hiro Murai. The song appears on 'You're Dead!', preview the album and learn more at http://fly...
11 Dec 01:45

Kendrick Lamar - i (Official Video)


For all my people struggling, remember that you're the only you there is and the only one that ever will be.

Out now on iTunes: Google Play: Amazon:
10 Dec 14:47

How to Draw Mushrooms on an Oscilloscope with Sound

by Christopher Jobson

This is pretty dang cool. Via Coop.

How to Draw Mushrooms on an Oscilloscope with Sound video sound

In this surprisingly interesting video from Jerobeam Fenderson we watch (and listen) as he explains how to draw images using the visualizations of sound waves on an old analog Tektronix oscilloscope. To be clear: the images you’re seeing here are not being animated through software, instead Fenderson creates waveforms (sounds) using his computer, and those sound waves LOOK LIKE THIS when fed into an oscilloscope. Suffice to say there’s lots of math involved, and it’s all a little bit over my head, but luckily he answers some questions over on his blog about how it all works. Make sure to watch through to the end.