Thursday, January 29, 2009

The Moaster

What happens when you mix a toaster, an arduino, some pressurized CO2, and the same English ingenuity that brought the world the steam engine, the power loom, and the sandwich? You get the Moaster, the world's highest popping toaster.

While I didn't realize the need for such a device before, upon reflection there is no doubt that it serves a crucial need. And it leads to a glorious vision of other amplified, modified appliances. Work must begin immediately upon the world's loudest kitchen timer, built from a series of air powered klaxon horns and kettle drums. Or perhaps the world's most powerful stove burner, an oxyacetylene powered hob with integrated scram-jet technology to boil water faster than you can say "the rural juror's brewery*."

* John Edgar Park (or "Eggy" as he prefers to be called on the set of Make: Television) and I have decided that of all possible lines in an actor's script, this is the most hellish to say.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

The Airborne Laser - World's Largest Hunk of Titanium

Titanium alloy is extraordinarily strong, stiff, and light, all qualities coveted by people interested in cramming in as much horsepower into the lightest, strongest package possible. On the flip side, it is extraordinarily expensive, and a real pain in the neck to cut and weld. It is close to impossible to cut with a hacksaw, all but requiring the use of fancy water jet cutters or electrical discharge machining.

Titanium is such a cool material that its has developed its own mystique, even crossing over to non engineers, conjuring up, for many, the promise of a real space age materials – rare, expensive, and high performance. Even though it is one of the more common elements in the earth’s crust, it is so hard to work with that items made from it are necessarily, expensive.

Marketing types have pounced on the metal’s cachet, and it is used as a come-on in sorts of marketing campaigns that seek to project of an image of high tech strength. There are titanium golf balls, titanium coffee cups, titanium rain coats, titanium computers, titanium sunglasses, and titanium condoms. There may actually be some rationalization for including a fleck or two of titanium in a golf ball, but the need to include it in the others doesn’t seem apparent, and in fact most of these items don’t actually contain a lick of it.

One item that does contain titanium, in fact quite a lot of it, is the “ABL”, a gigantic US Air Force airplane-mounted laser, one of the linchpins of U.S. Ballistic Missile Defense system which is the successor to Ronald Reagan’s Cold War Era “Star Wars” Strategic Defense Initiative. The ABL is a very large oxygen-iodine laser that is powerful enough, or so its Pentagon designers claim, to destroy a missile during its “boost phase”, the first few minutes after it lifts off and is thrust into the sky by its powerful chemical rocket engines.

Large parts of the missile killing light beam are encased in an approximately 25 foot by 10 foot protruding titanium “belly skin” affixed to the bottom of a heavily modified Boeing 747. This skin, or panel, has 36 holes arranged in eight neat rows of four holes, each hole being slightly larger than one foot in diameter. Through these holes, the jet of steam exhaust generated by the laser’s firing system will be ejected after it locks on and destroys an ascending missile.

When the laser operates, great quantities of hot, highly pressurized steam will rapidly exit the aircraft and extreme measures to protect the airplane and crew are required. The project engineers designed a massive hunk of robot-fabricated titanium, the world’s largest titanium part, for the laser shell because only titanium met the thermal, material strength and chemical requirements of the project.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

How to be Interviewed on Live TV

So, maybe you've been trying to figure out how to be interviewed on live television without crashing and burning. Well, don't worry, I can help.

I decided to write this post after I did a live tv spot plugging Make:television on Almanac.

Almanac is the live, weekly public affairs television program produced by Twin Cities Public Television and I was asked to come on the show and talk about Make:Television.

Personally, I've done interviews on over 100 radio and tv stations. I've never died on stage, and actually, they've typically been a lot of fun. Good time, and the interview went just fine.

And, as Andy Warhol said, everybody gets their own fifteen minutes of fame eventually. So, odds are you'll get your time on TV as well. (Hopefully not on Fox Network's COPS.)

When your time comes up, it pays to be prepared.

How to be Interviewed on Live TV
1. Make a personal connection with the person interviewing you. The better the connection, the better the interview. At a minimum learn, memorize, and use that person's name. Sound easy, but a lot of people all of sudden can't remember the name of the interviewer when the lights go on.
2. Know where to look and where not to look. Usually, just look a the person interviewing you and not at the camera.
3. Take it easy with hand gestures. The camera operator will have a hard time tracking if you constantly wave your hands around.
4. Easy to say and hard to do, but: try and relax and have a good time.
5. Dress in solid colors. Bright white shirts and those with patterns make strange moire patterns and should be avoided.
6. Talking about your product or book is great but avoid over plugging it. Hopefully, the interviewer will take care of that for you. But if you get to the end of the interview and your product, book, video, etc hasn't been mentioned then by all means plug away. But do it with restraint and succinctness.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Potato Cannon Instructions - NOW RENDERED IN 3D!!!

This is way, way cool.

In 2006 I wrote an article for Make Magazine which describes in detail how to make a potato cannon. I called it the Night Lighter 36 and it was quite fine piece of work. It was constructed from clear PVC plastic (the better to see the what goes on inside the combustion chamber) and uses a high voltage taser to supply the spark required to ignite the fuel that propels the potato. (Note to the the taser-averse crowd, you could subsitute a flint and steel lantern lighter in the end cap for the the taser. But, it wouldn't be nearly as interesting (or expensive))

As far as spud guns go, it was pretty high tech. Speaking of high tech, the Make magazine website made an interactive 3D rendering of the device available. I didn't know about that until I read Make website editor Phil Torrone's comments on a recent newsgroup post called the Foo Camp Digest.

The technology is exceedingly interesting and interactive 3d rendering of tech projects shows great potential. Check out the 3D PDF for yourself on the Make Mag web site. 

(A bit of self promotion here: this and many other wonderful projects are brilliantly rendered and explained in my book Whoosh Boom Splat. There is a link to to the right -->)

I'm not sure how complicated the software is that makes such interesting drawings. I've doodled around with SolidWorks and AutoCad and, well, I just don't have the patience to learn it. Maybe this one is easier.

Friday, January 09, 2009

Make: Television is on the air!

Make: Television comes to the airwaves!

This is a shot of me, John Edgar Park (who I think I'll start called Eggy for short), and the television show crew working on one of the projects we describe on the show.

As I've mentioned before, I'm one of the producers and on air presenters for the new national television series, Make: Television. It will be carried by roughly 75% of all public television stations in the USA. Many stations including those in the Minneapolis, Washington DC, New York, Miami, and San Francisco areas have already scheduled it into their programming while many others are waiting until later in the year to slot it.

It's a terrific show, if I do say so myself. It's (as the name implies) a show about making things. We feature the inventors artists, musicians, tinkerers, and other folks who mix up art, technology, tools, and imagination to build some of the coolest stuff you could ever imagine.

Truly, it's a show for the times. It's green and clean, as it shows how to make use of things that otherwise might be discarded or junked. The projects we describe are typically low cost and rely more on creativity and imagination than on dollars. Plus it's about coming to terms and feeling comfortable with the technology that permeates modern life.

That might sound high-falutin, but it's true. Visit to find out where and when it's on in your town. Episodes will also be made available on the web for those who don't have broadcast access. Use the form on my website to comment and make suggestions.