Yearly Archives: 2011

Mutants Aren’t Human

The always entertaining and informative show Radiolab, brings us the strange case that according to Marvel Comics, mutants aren’t human. Which is ironic because the entire undercurrent of the X-Men universe is the bigotry and right of mutants to be seen as equals.

Why did Marvel do this? Tariffs. “Dolls representing only human beings and parts and accessories thereof: Dolls whether or not dressed: Other: Not over 33 cm in height” are taxed at 12%, while “Toys representing animals or other non-human creatures (for example, robots and monsters) and parts and accessories thereof” are taxed at 6.8%. Toy Biz, the company manufacturing the toys for Marvel, argued in court that since some of the X-Men were blue, they weren’t human, and therefore the “action figures” were “toys” and not “dolls.” Yglesias is right, in pointing out that there is absolutely no logical reason why there would be this discrepancy, but there it is.

When I heard this, I immediately thought of customs agents thumbing through containers and putting Wolverine in the 6.8% “toy” pile, putting Nick Fury in the 12% “doll” pile, and woe to the agent that puts Juggernaut in the “toy” pile. Cain Marko’s powers are magical, so he’s not a mutant. (However, Ultimate Juggernaut is a muttie.) Alas, I suspect customs just throws everything marked “Marvel” in the 6.8 pile.

A Path in a Forest

Architecture firm Tetuo Kondo, installed A Path in a Forest, elevated walkway through part of the Kadriorg forest located inside Tallinn, Estonia. 95 meters long, it is supported solely through straps fastened to the trees. It was created as part of LIFT 11, a “festival of urban installations.”

At first I thought this was a wooden walkway, but it looks like it’s entirely metal, which is kind of disappointing, but probably inevitable because of weight restrictions. It is also very reminiscent of their 2010 Venice installation, Cloudscapes, only outdoors.

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Now this is interesting.

Supermechanical has created a Kickstarter project to manufacture very simple wireless sensors such as sensor, temperature, moisture and switches, people to monitor their surroundings by using a web interface to define rules for when each sensor should alert via SMS, Twitter, or email. Want to know when the dryer shuts off? Put a vibration sensor on it, and you’ll get an email when it’s done.

For decades now, we’ve been promised the smart home, where appliances would interact with each other, but those visions always seemed to involve homeowners replacing all their belonging with new smart appliances that have never arrived. Also, if my experiences with digital home entertainment is any guide, I strongly suspect that homeowners would be left with a selection of mutually incompatible, or barely compatible devices that make me just want to cry. (DLNA, I’m looking at you.)

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The winner of this year’s James Dyson Award, Edward Linnacre’s Airdrop is a device that extracts water from air for use as in irrigation. If this sounds, like a Tatooine moisture farm, it should. However, unlike Uncle Owen’s GX-8 water vaporator, the Airdrop doesn’t use refrigerant, but rather the temperature differential from air to soil.

The Airdrop consists of a small reservoir buried about two meters in soil. Rising out of the tank and up to the surface is a cylinder containing a copper coil filled with copper ball bearings used in home distilleries. The copper tubing continues up to a turbine like those used on attic vents, but with the vanes turned around so that air is driven into the tubing instead of out of it. Also in cylinder is a submersible pump that transfers water from the tank to a drip irrigation line. The pump is controlled by an embedded microcontroller and solar powered. In times of little wind, the turbine can be powered by an electric motor.

Cloud Mirror

Daniel Burnham, Anuj Patel, and Sam Bell created for their embedded systems class at Georgia Tech a bathroom mirror / information display. Dubbed Cloud Mirror, it is essentially a partially silvered mirror placed in front of an LCD television, hooked up to a WinCE box with some Phidget sensors.

The User controls the display by waving his/her hand across eight infrared sensors (four across the top, and four down the side). Swiping across the top. the display is toggled on and off, while various modes (weather, news, traffic, and calendar) are controlled through the sensors on the right side. (Video after the jump.) Obviously, it is prototype level technology, but is a bit interesting. Basically, they were thinking about how to integrate typical morning information gathering into daily grooming rituals.

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