Monthly Archives: June 2010


MIT has published a paper entitled Programmable Matter by Folding (full article) that describes paper that can fold itself into a variety of shapes. The paper is covered by is divided into triangular sections that are joined by a network of thin nitinol actuators that contract under voltage. At the center of each section is a magnet that is used to retain the paper’s shape.

While I’m sure MIT had bigger plans for this tech (Well if it was the Media Lab, perhaps not.), I immediately thought that this was the perfect thing for synthetic plants. I’ve been thinking about how nitinol wires, or at least something like them, could deform a paper but thought that the being able to compresses only about 4% was a problem. When I first saw this video, I thought they were using something else besides nitinol, but they’re not. The trick they they used to get 180 degree bending is folding and annealing the 100μm foil so that the nitinol will remember the folded shape. Once it cooled, the foil is manually flattened, and then reheating the foil with electrical current will cause it return to the folded shape.

Guess it’s time to get some nitinol sheets.

Warships in San Francisco Photos

I managed to make my way up to San Francisco and see both the USS Bunker Hill and the Varyag. Unfortunately, there was a mixup about how long Russians were giving tours of the ship. Instead of going to 3 pm, they stopped at 1 pm. However, I did get some decent photos of the ship from the pier. For more detailed shots, I suggest you view the Chronicle’s pictures of ship. I did manage to take a tour of the Bunker Hill. We mainly stayed on the outside of ship, seeing the fore and aft vertical launch systems, the helicopter hanger, and also the bridge. About 350 crew members are on board, and about 40% of those are female. In 2008, the ship was the first Ticonderoga class cruiser to underwent an upgrade to its fire control systems, that allowed (in addition to other things) the ability of both the fore and aft 5 inch guns to be targeted independently. On of the new roles for the Bunker Hill is ballistic missile defense, and the ship is of the same type that recently shot down a satellite.

It was very cool tour, and look forward to the next San Francisco Fleet Week (October 7 – 12).

UPDATE Fri Jun 25 12:23:50 PDT 2010
Flickr user Kyle Mizokami has some great shots from tours of both the Varyag and Japanese ships that were in town.

Warships in San Francisco

Today, five warships from three countries arrived in San Francisco. The Ticonderoga class guided missile cruiser, CG-52 USS Bunker Hill Three Japanese training ships, lead by the Kashima class, TV-3508 JDS Kashima, and the Russian Slava class guided missile cruiser Varyag (formerly the Chervona Ukraina) will be there.

Why mention this? Well you can get photos and tours of all these ships, except the American Bunker Hill.

Updated: Thu Jun 24 09:26:24 PDT 2010: Thanks to some mysterious stranger in the comments, the Bunker Hill is conducting tours. Table updated.

Bunker Hill Pier 17 Thursday, 1 pm – 4 pm
Kashima Pier 27 Monday 9 am – 11 am and 2 pm – 4 pm
Varyag Pier 30-32 Thursday, 10 am – 3 pm

Execution Ribbons

Being a child of the Cold War, I was fascinated with military; both with the weapons and the uniforms. My World Book encyclopedias would fall open to the insignia entries for the Air Force, Army, Navy, and Marines. My interest in medals and insignia continues to this day. I can literally spend hours browsing the Army Institute of Heraldry, or Starfleet uniforms, or Imperial rank insignias.

I was bit surprised (and taken back) by the fact that the Utah Department of Corrections issue ribbons to prison guards that participate in executions. Well, more accurately, the did, now they issue commemorative coins, just like the Super Bowl. (“The staff preferred something a little more modern than the ribbons.”)

Apparently the guards “awarded” these ribbons didn’t actually wear them. I’m thinking more out of fear of retribution rather than decorum. The ribbons weren’t issued to only the firing squad, but to anyone involved. Perhaps it’s my opposition to the death penalty talking, but I find these medals morbid. While the military awards combat ribbons, many of the actions that they’re awarded for involve rescuing someone, or at least holding out against an enemy. It’s rarely for just killing. Even if it was, at least the people being killed at least are fighting back. Shooting a man that’s tied to a chair, is just state sanctioned murder.

Even as I’m repulsed by the notion of these ribbons, I stare at them and try and deduce a schema for them. Do slants represent executions? Do diamonds represent escapes? Does squares represent administrative tasks? Its frustrating not to know. I wish the picture showed them all. I even want one for some macabre reason, just to put on a shelf, or even a Wunderkammer.

Penalty Cards

The World Cup is on. The US played its first match against England, and didn’t lose. I thought England had the “White Pelé.” He must have been hurt, because I didn’t see him out there. I only saw some pudgy bald guy. (Zing!) All I want is for the US will advance. Although, winning a game in the knock out rounds would be wonderful.

I love the idea of FIFA. They’re the anti-NCAA. (Fuck you, and go die in a fire NCAA.) I love the idea of promotion and relegation, where entire teams move up and down.1 I love the idea of having the winners of the different national professional leagues champions play each other.3. I even love, the subject of this post, penalty cards. They just look cool, and I love how they carry over during tournament play.4

I was looking at the history of penalty cards, and learned that they are a relatively recent invention. They date back to only 1970, and were quickly adopted by other sports. What really surprised me though, is that the iconic yellow and red, aren’t the only colors.

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Thomas Allen

When I attended the SF Fine Art Fair one the few artists that really stood out to me as Thomas Allen. His photographs, like “Epilogue” above, consist of cutouts from the covers of pulp novels arranged in such a way to tell a new story. Some of these photos are collected in his book, Thomas Allen: Uncovered.

It’s second tier art, because the real visual oomph comes from simply the wholesale appropriation of the original artists’ works. It’s a collaged diorama, while executed with much more visual skill, it’s still reminiscent of the types of collages people would hack together from magazine cut outs, and turn in for extra credit in high school English I. Still, I do enjoy his work, even if I find its originality ironic.


Number Station UVB-76 Offline

The Russian number station UVB-76 has stopped transmitting.

So what’s the big deal? Well this station has been continuously broadcasting a series of tones 24 hours a day, every day, since 1982. What this station does (or did – as the case may be) has been source of frequent speculation for almost 30 years now. It’s frequency and repetitive nature suggests that it might be used for ionosphere research, but occasionally a live voice has been broadcasted reciting numbers and letters. In light of its deactivation, the most disturbing speculation was its use as part of the Dead Hand. When the signal disappears, launch the nukes. (Given that I’m still alive, that’s obviously not the case now.)

So why did it stop? Probably something mundane, but I’m holding out for the exotic.

Update: Sun Jun 6 00:18:51 PDT 2010
According to “Jimmy Device” on /., UVB-76 is back up. Hopefully I can find another confirmation about this.

Update: Sun Jun 6 11:31:02 PDT 2010
I found a link to Internet shortwave streams: . I’m going to have to check out the frequency after they approve my account. I’ll keep all zero of you updated.

Update: Mon Jun 7 11:55:44 PDT 2010
I tried earlier this weekend and today trying to find the station using Global Tuners. Last night I couldn’t find it. Today, maybe something really weak, but probably not. I just don’t know. The UVB-76 Wikipedia talk page is saying that the cessation was only a rumor because the original post was traced back to a conspiracy site, but that doesn’t mean that the station isn’t broadcasting. This seems trivial to check, and I’m inclined to believe that it has stopped, but in all honesty, I don’t know if I was using the radios correctly when I tried. It appears that the Internet has failed us my friend.

Bletchley Park’s Archives Online

Bletchley Park (aka STATION X), is placing its archives online. Now this will be fun. I’m a big fan of Bletchely Park, and it is one place I would love to visit. As you probably know, Bletchley Park was the site of the Allies effort to break the German “unbreakable” Enigma code during World War II. Here “The Father of Computing,” Alan Turing and friends developed mathematical techniques, along with some of the earliest computers, such as the Bombe and the Colossus, to literally save the world. It’s an amazing place, much like Manhattan Project.

I could go on and on about the Enigma machines, and how I long to own one, but not just any one. As anyone who as ever watchied the Antiques Roadshow knows, provenance is everything. I want Mick Jagger’s Enigma machine.

But back the topic at hand…

The Bletchley Park Trust owns the archives of the decrypted Nazi intercepts and wants to digitize them and put them online. I would love a search engine for this. Sort of like a of the Third Reich. Simon Greenish, CEO of the trust, said that a cursory look through the intercepts showed evidence of heavy traffic between the Nazis and ostensibly neutral countries like Switzerland, Spain, and Sweden. Mysteriously, there’s one intercept talking about shipping 4400 tons of mercury from Germany to Spain. Why this was shipped, hasn’t been determined yet. Hopefully after the archive is digitized, it will be.