The Space Station at Night is Totally Creepy

Post 5502        Mika McKinnon                                                                                                                                                                                          

The Space Station at Night is Totally Creepy


The Space Station at Night is Totally Creepy

The Destiny Laboratory after the astronauts go to sleep is a weird, creepy world straight out of science fiction. The dots on the hatch pointing to the docked Soyuz module in case the need for an emergency escape arises does nothing to ease the sense of impending doom.

“Day” and “Night” on the space station are relative terms, not dictated by the sun but instead regularly-spaced artificial periods when the lights are flipped off and astronauts are supposed to be sleeping. But occasionally, they go prowling on a photography-spree instead, revealing a creepy world just waiting for a hostile alien to bust out, stalk our astronauts, and devour them in a grisly splatter of visual effects.

The top photograph is taken from the Unity module, node 1, into the Destiny Laboratory, with the Harmony module, node 2, in the background. The green glow in the laboratory is the perfect setting for an alien to burst out, while bright purple light in the background is just eerie enough to make it clear this scene is literally out-of-this-world.

The Space Station at Night is Totally Creepy

I’m sorry, astronaut Alex, you’re about to be eaten by a half-seen flurry of alien teeth, a dismembered limb pinwheeling past the escape hatch.

The Unity module was the first American-supplied portion of the space station. With more than 50,000 mechanical items, 216 lines to carry fluids and gases, and 121 internal and external electrical cables using six miles of wire, it’d be a devastating location for an alien rampage.


The Harmony module is a utility hub, connecting port, and passageway, providing essential life support systems like air, electrical, power, and water. It’s also where the Canadarm is controlled, the giant robotic arm and last-hope for plucking an invader out of the station and flinging it away in space.

The Space Station at Night is Totally Creepy

Grow, my pretties! A pillow of vegetables grown in eerie purple light will only provide a brief respite from an alien’s shrieks of hunger, but that respite may be all they need to escape.

Nestled in between the two modules is the Destiny laboratory, the main focus of the photograph. The single porthole-window is ideal for providing a limited glimpse of some gangly creature crawling over the waffle-textured exterior of the cylinder, claws hooking into the tightly-woven debris shield blanket. The racks upon racks of experiments are a snackbar for a hungry alien: from captive mice squeaking in their enclosures to fresh produce in the newvegetable garden. The independent video feeds provide fleeting glimpses of alien limbs, claws, and teeth, tantalizing snippets enhancing the fear-factor prior to the big reveal.

Is this life mimicking art, where sadistic engineers plotted how best to shape our space station into the set of a monster horror-movie, or is art mimicking life where photographs like this inspired the creation of the alien-stalking-humans-in-confined-isolation trope? Either way, I hope our astronauts can sleep tight knowing they’re bait in a perfectly-lit set with integrated video feeds for the first-ever alien-attack reality show. Sweet dreams, Expedition 40! Because in space, no one can hear you scream.

Image credits: NASA




Why Was the Computer Never Patented?

Post 5501      Madeleine Monson-Rosen

Why Was the Computer Never Patented?                                                                          

Given all the rampant gadget patenting that goes on in the computer industry, it’s peculiar that computers themselves never got patented. But it wasn’t for lack of trying. Here’s the twisted tale of one of the longest patent battles in recent history.

When we think of the computer’s inventor, we most often probably think of Charles Babbage and Ada Lovelace’s Difference and Analytical Engines, or even the ancient Antikythera. Yet there is little or no direct connection between those early calculating machines and the antecedents of the modern computer developed in the 1940s.

Historian I.B. Cohen identifies three types of devices that converged in the first general-purpose computers: “early calculating machines, statistical machines, and logical automata.” The first of the general purpose machines is assumed, by most people, to be the ENIAC.

Why Was the Computer Never Patented?

ENIAC with programmers Glen Beck and Becky Snyder

The ENIAC, for “Electronic Numerical Integrator and Computer” was constructed at the University of Pennsylvania’s Moore School of Engineering, under a contract from the U.S. Army, signed in 1943.

During and immediately after the war, the Army requested additional machines and the EDVAC (Electronic Discrete Variable Automatic Computer) was begun, also at the Moore School, based on a “logical design” (pdf) by John von Neumann. Within this design was the idea for the stored program. Von Neumann “suggested that the instructions for the computer—always before entered on punched paper tape, or by plugboards—could be stored in the computer’s electronic memory and treated in exactly the same manner as numerical data.”

Why Was the Computer Never Patented?

John von Neumann with the Institute for Advanced Study Computer

Developed for calculating artillery firing tables, the ENIAC was, almost incidentally, the first general-purpose automatic computer, and was used in the 1940s for weather prediction, atomic energy calculations, cosmic ray studies, thermal ignition, random-number studies, and wind-tunnel design. With the addition of the capacity to store programs, a capacity articulated by von Neumann, and the utilization of binary logic rather than decimal, the computer “architecture” attributed to von Neumann was widely disseminated in the late 1940s and reproduced in different iterations by institutions and corporations. This dissemination produced the familiar acronymed machines associated with this first generation of modern computers: ENIAC, EDVAC, EDSAC, ILLIAC, MANIAC, and UNIVAC.

The Longest Patent Trial in History

After the war, J. Presper Eckert and John W. Mauchly, who had supervised the ENIAC’s construction, applied for a patent and formed their own computer company. Filed in 1947, the patent was not granted until 1964. Bell Labs, among others, challenged Eckert and Mauchly, whose company had been acquired by Sperry Rand after barely escaping bankruptcy due to intense competition from other early computer companies, especially IBM.

Sperry Rand, meanwhile, began pressuring competitors to license the ENIAC design at a fee of 1.5% of sale, or be charged with violation of the patent. IBM settled with Sperry Rand for $10 million, but Honeywell and others sued.

After what was the longest trial in the federal court to date, beginning in 1967 and concluding in 1973, during which 77 witnesses testified, and in which almost 33,000 objects were entered into evidence, including Charles Babbage’s autobiography, Judge Earl Larson invalidated Eckert and Mauchly’s patent on four grounds:

First, that the patent had been filed more than a year after the machine had been put to use. Second, that von Neumann’s “First Draft of a Report on the EDVAC” constituted prior publication. Third, that Eckert and Mauchly’s attorneys had engaged in misconduct by deliberately delaying the patenting process, hoping to put off the day the patent took effect and thus increasing its financial value to Sperry Rand. And fourth, and most damaging of all, that Eckert and Mauchly “did not themselves first invent the automatic electronic digital computer, but instead derived that subject matter from one Dr. John Vincent Atanasoff.”

Mauchly had, Larson concluded, adopted some ideas from the ABC, the Atanasoff-Berry Computer, which Mauchly had viewed on a trip to Iowa State University in 1941.

The ABC (a title which was designated as part of the judicial proceedings, which the device had not had before) was electronic, although a special-purpose device with unreliable operation, and not automatic. It was also not “Turing complete.” It was reconstruced in the courtroom as part of the proceedings, a presentation which might have served to convince Judge Larson of its priority, as he was not, himself, familiar with computers.

Why Was the Computer Never Patented?


Furthermore, at the time of the trial, Atanasoff had long since given up his efforts to construct a computer, leaving Iowa State for work with the Navy during World War II. It was only during the preparation for Honeywell v. Sperry Rand that lawyers contacted Atanasoff and requested he reconstruct his computer.

Recognizing Atanasoff

So while the consensus tends to be that Eckert and Mauchly, along with von Neumann, were responsible for the genesis of modern computing, Atanasoff maintains a few enthusiastic proponents. John Burks, who worked on the ENIAC, and his wife Alice Rowe Burks, who was a “computer” (when that term meant a human, often female, person performing calculations) in the early 1940s, have argued passionately for Atanasoff’s recognition, and they have enlistedGödel, Escher, Bach author Douglas Hoftadter. Novelist Jane Smiley is also an Atanasoff partisan and has written a biography, The Man Who Invented the Computer.

In fact, most accounts agree that the ENIAC and its successor the EDVAC are the first modern computers, that they combined the capacity to store programs with general purpose use and digital technology for the first time. This combination represents the modern epoch of the computer. And as little as Atanasoff is known, Eckert and Mauchly also receive very little recognition. The ones who history remembers have tended to be those responsible for the theory: Alan Turing and John von Neumann are the most significant innovators of the modern computer, while Babbage and Lovelace remain its grandparents. The modern computer, the ENIAC demonstrates, is the product of several inventions and ideas, which were circulating widely among scientists during and after WWII.

A consequence of the trial is that the computer began and remained a device within the public domain. Because the von Neumann architecture had been widely disseminated so early, the seeds of modern computer design were planted all over, on both sides of the Atlantic.

So, finally, nobody owns the intellectual property of the computer.

Why Was the Computer Never Patented?

Further Reading:

A Computer Perspective


Why Narcissism Is a Profoundly Misunderstood Psychological Disorder

Post 5500    George Dvorsky

Why Narcissism Is a Profoundly Misunderstood Psychological DisorderWhy Narcissism Is a Profoundly Misunderstood Psychological Disorder

The word ‘narcissist’ is used so much these days that you might think we’re in the midst of an epidemic. But pathological narcissism is not just about having an inflated ego — it’s a very serious psychological disorder. Here’s why certain people are obsessed with themselves, and the gnawing fear that drives them.

As a phenomenon, narcissism has been recognized since the time of the ancient Greeks. It was Narcissus, after all, who fell in love with his own reflection. Unable to pull away, he withered away and died.

But it wouldn’t be until 1980 when the American Psychological Association finally acknowledged it as a true pathology. Today, it’s estimated that 1% of the population suffers from narcissistic personality disorder (NPD), as it’s formally called, though experts believe many people go undiagnosed. Indeed, psychologists have struggled to describe, diagnose, comprehend, and treat it — which is a problem given that it’s a mental condition that appears to be increasing over time.

Thankfully, neuroscience is finally shedding some light on this largely neglected condition and its causes. It now appears that, in addition to socialization, an exaggerated fear-response is involved. What’s more, it also appears to be closely related to another interpersonal disorder: psychopathy.

More Than Just A “Big Ego” Problem

When viewed from a certain perspective, narcissism can actually be seen as a positive thing. Narcissists, are often huge performers in their professional field. As BrainBlogger


Best $20 Special Effect Ever: Make Metal That Tears Like Paper

Post 5499   Esther Inglis-Arkell

Best $20 Special Effect Ever: Make Metal That Tears Like Paper                              Best $20 Special Effect Ever: Make Metal That Tears Like Paper

Want to make everyone think you have super strength? Or maybe you want to do a short film where it looks like the fabric of reality is breaking down? All you need is some aluminum, some gallium, and some patience.

If you want it to look like you’re hulking out in front of your friends, or have weird powers over matter (or at least metal), it won’t cost you more than twenty dollars to do it. There’s a really cheap special effect that you can do, and involves a little element called gallium. Gallium is a metal that’s famous for melting at around room temperature. It’s rarely found on its own in nature, but you can find pure gallium online. It will only run you about twenty bucks for fifteen grams of the stuff.

Gallium isn’t dangerous to humans. Plenty of people order it in order to play with it a little, letting it melt in their hands, then pouring it back into its container and letting it re-solidify. As long as you don’t eat it, it’s not dangerous.

Perhaps a better way to phrase that is, it’s not toxic. It can be quite dangerous if you were to spill it on a plane, or a bike, or any other aluminum structure that you hoped would provide you (or anyone else) with structural support. Gallium, when placed on aluminum, will slowly diffuse into it. As gallium spreads through the aluminum, it lends the aluminum some of its malleability. Give gallium enough time to move through an aluminum structure, and you can tear into the aluminum with your bare hands.

For large structures, you’ll need more gallium than fifteen grams, but fifteen grams is a good start for a fun effect. Put gallium on an empty soda can. Scratch the can a bit with a coin or a knife just before the gallium is on it. (Aluminum would be a very reactive metal if, in an oxygen-rich environment, it didn’t cover itself with a layer of nonreactive oxide very quickly. Scratching the can will speed the gallium’s entry into the aluminum.) Leave it for a few hours or even a few days. The bead of gallium will slowly disappear as the gallium atoms move into the can to create a soft alloy. When you come back, you should be able to push a finger through the sides of the can with almost no effort.

The same thing happens with larger objects. Enough gallium added to an aluminum bike or any other piece of aluminum will make it relatively easy to tear the metal apart. So get some gallium and a camera, and impress your friends.

[Via GalliumLenntech Gallium.]