Play the World's Geekiest Musical Instrument
Popularized in video games and movies involving mad scientists, Tesla coils give off interesting lightning effects and with the appropriate controls, can even be used as musical instruments. The group Arc Attack has demonstrated this at a number of geek-friendly events (such as technology-related and anime conventions). Now they've taken things one step further: they've put the power of the lightning in your hands.
Specifically, they've built an online emulator of their singing Tesla coil. The original has been described by Dan Terdiman as an 8-foot-tall mash of circuitry and electronics that matches firing lightning bolts to the beat of DJ music. You can play the coil by clicking on the small onscreen musical keyboard with your mouse, or you can use your own computer's keyboard, matching up the list of letters they give that work to make music.
The sounds and visual effects are satisfyingly electric, though if you're a real musician you'll definitely want to use your keyboard; I found plunking out a tune with the mouse to go too slowly. The emulator will sustain notes if you keep your key or mouse pressed. Also, just as in real life, if you go too crazy you can cause the emulator to heat up too much and overload. The simulated singing Tesla coil will then explode, blowing a transistor, and you'll get the message Replacing IGBT (which is supposed to be an inside joke to Tesla coil makers).
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Now That's a Big Telescope
Conceived in 2003 and with a projected completion date in 2018, the Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT) will help astronomers solve some major mysteries, perhaps even answering the question of whether or not there is intelligent life outside our solar system. A combined project of US and Canadian organizations, the research tool will cost $700 million to build and dwarf previous holders of the title to world's biggest telescope, including the W.M. Keck Observatory's 10-meter telescope. It will even boast more than 100 times the collecting power of the Hubble Space Telescope.
The increased light gathering ability will let astronomers observe the most distant objects in the universe. Since light takes time to travel that distance, observing something that far away is akin to traveling in time; you see it as it looked when the light first left the object. So TMT will be able to look back 13 billion years in time to see what our universe was like when it first formed, before stars and galaxies came into existence.
The modified reflecting telescope itself will be as large as a football stadium and use a three-mirror system to collect and concentrate light. It will also feature adaptive optics to filter out the thermal turbulence of Earth's atmosphere. The engineers face a number of challenges in bringing the design to life. For example, the large mirror can't be made as a single piece, because it would sag under its own weight; rather, like Keck, it will be made up of smaller mirror segments, individually controlled to emulate one large mirror. Where Keck comprises 36 smaller mirrors, however, TMT will possess 492 segments, each one more than a meter across. Creating and controlling that many mirrors is just one of many challenges TMT faces on its way to becoming a reality. Once completed, however, it will make discoveries that, in the words of one scientist, will be absolutely staggering.
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Crowd Sourcing Translation Tasks
The online videos from the talks held at the yearly Technology, Entertainment and Design conference might not be quite as popular as YouTube videos, but they're up there; they've been viewed more than 100 million times. This $6,000 invitation-only conference aimed at the elite digerati set features fascinating talks by presenters guaranteed to hold your interest and change the way you view the world. The free videos do a great job of reaching those who can't make it to the conferences, but there's one problem: they're all in English.
Since the Internet reaches everyone around the world, viewers of TED videos frequently urge the organization to translate them into other languages. TED has responded by turning the request back on itself, in a sense: they've started the Open Translation Project. Based on the same volunteer focus that birthed Wikipedia, the project aims to harness crowd sourcing to get its videos transcribed and translated into multiple languages.
Already, the project's more than 200 volunteers have translated 300 videos into 40 languages. Another 450 translations are coming. Video viewers can now use a drop-down menu to sort videos by available languages. The videos are still in English, but now feature subtitles. Viewers can also follow along with a transcript displayed in a window next to the video. One very cool feature lets users click a phrase in the transcript to jump ahead to the point in the video when that phrase is used. The transcripts make the videos more accessible to outside search engines; they may start showing up more frequently in Google results now.
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