Greenscreen Fluffer Ninjas (BoingBoing.net)

This is just all kinds of awesome. I had no idea this was even a thing! That must provide the most awkward facial responses at dinner parties once you share what you’ve been up to in your day (or night) job. Thanks BoingBoing.


An actual job is to be a greenscreen fluffer, dressed in a chromakey gimpsuit, hidden in the background for shampoo commercials, tasked with artfully flicking models’ hair. If you’re very good at that job, you can level up to gimpsuited Superman cape-puppeteer.

Google Adds Quantum Physics To Minecraft (PopSci.com)

This is the climax of nerdgasms everywhere: Minecraft + Google + Quantum Physics.


It’s as trippy as you suspect.

Minecraft,” the Lego-style, build-your-own-game game, has been the canvas for some awesome projects. (For just one example: this gigantic scientific graphing calculator.) Now Google’s Quantum A.I. Lab is taking it in an even weirder direction: quantum physics.

The team created a modified version of the game, called qCraft, that lets players explore the fundamentals of the field by playing in a world based on quantum principles. From a post on Google+ announcing the game:

We talked to our friends at MinecraftEdu and Caltech’s Institute for Quantum Information and Matter and came up with a fun idea: a Minecraft modpack called qCraft. It lets players experiment with quantum behaviors inside Minecraft’s world, with new blocks that exhibit quantum entanglement, superposition, and observer dependency.

Is it a true simulacrum of a blocky quantum universe? Ha, no. But considering just how strange the field is, that probably wouldn’t make for a fun game. Instead, it’s just a way of teaching the basics, and Google admits as much:

Of course, qCraft isn’t a perfect scientific simulation, but it’s a fun way for players to experience a few parts of quantum mechanics outside of thought experiments or dense textbook examples.

You can download the game here.

How to Walk Like a Ninja: An Illustrated Guide (ArtOfManliness.com)

Just in time for Halloween. Now your walk can match your talk!


Walk Like a Ninja 3

With Halloween just around the corner, there’s no better time to learn how to walk silently through the night like a ninja. It’s an incredibly useful skill, allowing you not only to stealthily assassinate your archenemy, but also steal cookies from coworkers, check to see if toddlers are still sleeping without waking them, or sneak across your creaky wood floors to scare the bejeezus out of your roommate.

Inspired by Secrets of the Ninja by Ashida Kim. I stumbled upon this book back when I was in middle school. Definitely a fun read.

World’s First Quantum Metamaterial Unveiled (TechnologyReview.com)

Quantum isn’t just for abstract theories anymore. It’s now comes in a working “metamaterial” variety.


German researchers have designed, built, and tested the first metamaterial made out of superconducting quantum resonators.

In recent years, physicists have been excitedly exploring the potential of an entirely new class of materials known as metamaterials. This stuff is built from repeating patterns of sub-wavelength-sized structures that interact with photons, steering them in ways that are impossible with naturally occuring materials.

The first metamaterials were made from split-ring resonators (C-shaped pieces of metal) the size of dimes that were designed to interact with microwaves with a wavelength of a few centimetres. These metamaterials had exotic properties such as a negative refractive index that could bend light “the wrong way”.

But they were far from perfect, not least because the split-ring resonators introduced losses because of their internal resistance.

It doesn’t take much imagination to think of a solution to this problem: use superconducting resonators that have zero internal resistance.

And that’s a good idea in theory. In practice, however, it is hugely challenging. Apart from the obvious difficulty of operating at superconducting temperatures just above absolute zero, the main problem is that superconducting resonators are quantum devices with strange  quantum properties that are fragile and difficult to handle.

In particular, these properties are exponentially sensitive to the physical shape of the resonator. So tiny differences between one resonator and another can lead to huge differences in their resonant frequency.

And since metamaterials are periodic arrays of structures with identical properties,  that’s a problem. Indeed, nobody has ever made a quantum metamaterial for precisely this reason.

Today that changes thanks to the work of Pascal Macha at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology in Germany and a few pals. These guys have built and tested the first quantum metamaterial, which they constructed as an array of 20 superconducting quantum circuits embedded in a microwave resonator.

This experiment is a significant challenge. These guys fabricated their quantum circuits out of aluminium in a niobium resonator, which they operated below 20 milliKelvin.

Their success comes from two factors. The first was in minimising the differences between each quantum circuit  so there was less than a 5 per cent difference in the current passing through each.

The second was in clever design. A quantum circuit influences an incoming photon by interacting with it. To do this as a group, the quantum circuits must also interact with each other.

The problem in the past is that physicists had arranged the circuits in series so that the combined state must be a superposition of the states of all the circuits. So if a single circuit was out of kilter, the entire experiment failed.

Macha and co got around this by embedding the quantum circuits inside a microwave resonator – a chamber about a wavelength long in which the microwaves become trapped.

To interact with a photon, each quantum circuit need only couple with the resonator itself and its nearest neighbours. That’s much easier to do with a large ensemble of quantum circuits.

And the results  show that it worked, at least in part.

The interaction with the quantum circuits changes the phase of the outgoing photons in subtle but measurable ways. So by studying this change, Macha and co were able to work out exactly what kind of interaction was occurring.

What they saw was that eight of the circuits formed a coherent group that influenced the photons. But over time, this dissociated into two separate groups of four quantum circuits.

That raises the tantalising question of why the large ensemble dissociated into two smaller ones, something that Macha and co will surely be investigating in future work.

It also raises the prospect of a new generation of devices. “Quantum circuits…based on this proof-of-principle experiment offer a wide range of prospects, from detecting single microwave photons to phase switching, quantum birefringence and superradiant phase transitions,” say Macha and co.

All in all, a significant first step for quantum metamaterials.

Spaceship Sizes From Across The Galaxy (Massively.com)

This chart is a massive undertaking. I’m not even sure how he found “specs” for the majority of these, but major kudos to Dirk (and Dan Carlson) on this effort! Super nerdy in the best way possible.


Sci-fi ship chart compares size of ships from EVE, Star Wars, and more

Have you ever been curious about the size comparisons between an Amarr Avatar-Class Titan from EVE Online and a Universe-Class Mass Conveyor from Warhammer 40K? You have?! Well, you’re in luck because DeviantArt user ~DirkLoechel has been assembling one of the largest and most comprehensive size-comparison charts for sci-fi ships.

The chart, which is still an ongoing project, spotlights the ship sizes from many of the most popular sci-fi universes out there, including Star Wars, Star Trek, Babylon 5, Battlestar Galactica, and more than a dozen more. Heck, it even has the Red Dwarf on there.

Head over the ~DirkLoechel’s page to see more from this monstrous chart.

[Massively Editor’s note: Dirk Loechel has expanded on the original done by Dan Carlson.]

S.H.I.E.L.D. 101: Everything You Need To Know About Marvel’s Spy Agency (Wired.com)

Any good nerd probably already knows everything there is to know about S.H.I.E.L.D., but alas, my Nerd Card was taken away this round. I didn’t know most of this. Hopefully the series will help educate me as well so I can get my credentials back.

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Image: Marvel Comics

There’s a scene in the pilot episode of Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. where someone asks one of the agents what the acronym “S.H.I.E.L.D.” stands for. His answer? “Someone really wanted our initials to spell out ‘SHIELD.’” Sure enough, the acronym has changed throughout the years at Marvel Comics, where the espionage agencies originated before appearing in films like Avengers and its TV spinoff, premiering tonight on ABC.

These days, S.H.I.E.L.D. stands for “Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement and Logistics Division,” but it previously also stood for “Strategic Hazard Intervention Espionage Logistics Directorate” and, originally, “Supreme Headquarters, International Espionage, Law-Enforcement Division.” But most of all, it stands for the fact that spy agencies with acronym names were really cool in the mid-1960s when S.H.I.E.L.D. made its comic book debut.

At the time, Marvel’s core audience was already enjoying the weekly exploits of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. on television and watching James Bond foil the plans of S.P.E.C.T.R.E. in movie theaters, so the idea of reviving the abandoned war comic character Nick Fury as a slick super-spy working for an agency with a similar name seemed like it might sell. Created by the famous comics team of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby in a 1965 issue of Strange Tales, S.H.I.E.L.D. was originally less an organization than a collection of spy cliches, gimmicks and plot contrivances. Need some generic government organization to hunt the Hulk/get their asses kicked by a new villain/stand around threateningly while frowning at the Avengers? Like AllState, S.H.I.E.L.D. would be there in their tight body suits complete with shoulder-holstered laser blasters.

The comic book version of S.H.I.E.L.D. has a particularly tortured history, even by superhero comic standards. Originally an international peace-keeping organization founded by Fury in the aftermath of World War II, it was later revealed that the organization has actually been under the control of its sworn enemy, the evil spy organization HYDRA, since the very start. Of course, that was before it was retconned again into the latest incarnation of a secret society dedicated to defending humanity, founded by the Egyptian Imhotep with members that included Leonardo da Vinci, Galileo Galilei and Nikola Tesla.

Whatever its origins, S.H.I.E.L.D. has multiple sister organizations — A.R.M.O.R. (Altered-Reality Monitoring and Operational Response), S.W.O.R.D. (Sentient World Observation and Response Department) and S.T.R.I.K.E. (Special Tactical Response for International Key Emergencies) being foremost amongst them — and was, for a short period, replaced by another organization called H.A.M.M.E.R. (this acronym did not stand for anything). As the movies introduced S.H.I.E.L.D. to a larger audience, however, the organization made a return in the comic book universe, and now employs a number of high-profile characters including its own team of Avengers as well as the Hulk.

The success of the movies also changed another element of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s comic book tradition. Samuel L. Jackson is now the most high-profile version of Nick Fury, and while there’s an alternate universe version of Nick Fury that specifically modeled after the actor, the Nick Fury of the primary Marvel Universe still looks like the same white superspy that first appeared in Strange Tales. Instead of accepting this and moving on — or allowing the alternate world version of the character to cross over — the publisher choose a third option: introducing Fury’s previously-unknown mixed-race bastard son and pushing him through a series of adventures that caused him take his father’s name, lose the same eye as his father, and join S.H.I.E.L.D. Comics, everybody.

The highpoint of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s comic book incarnation is undoubtedly the short run of writer/artist Jim Steranko. These days enjoying a renaissance as Twitter-based raconteur, the Steranko who took over the series with 1967′s Strange Tales #155 — continuing through #168, before the strip continued in its own series (Steranko created #1-3 and #5 of that series, as well) — brought a cinematic sleekness to mainstream superhero comics that the genre hadn’t seen before, and a contemporary attitude miles away from the soap operatic bombast of other books in Marvel’s line. Sexy, smart and unlike anything else on the stands at the time, it managed to end Nick Fury’s days as a leading man for almost two decades, with S.H.I.E.L.D. returning to the background of the Marvel universe and an existence as generic government goons with great outfits.

Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., then, is a strange thing indeed for comic fans. How will it translate to the small screen? Tune in tonight and judge for yourself.

Fully Functioning Iron Man Laser Glove Created (BitRebels.com)

Even though this is well beyond my skills of reinvention, this Iron Man glove is pretty awesome. It even blows stuff up!

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It’s amazing how new technology can mesmerize people. When Star Wars was first released, people started toying with the thought of inventing the science fiction gadgets they saw on the screen. Today people are mesmerized by the fantasy gadgets and user interfaces that some of the heroes we see on the silver screen use. Tony Stark and his Iron Man gear are great examples. What would it feel like to have one of those Iron Man laser glove devices stuck on your arm?

Iron Man Laser Glove

For Patrick Priebe, a quite impressive Iron Man fan, it was a dream too great not to be realized. He managed to somewhat recreate the Iron Man laser glove in a way that would make most Iron Man fans drool. Sure, it might not have the impressive jet boosters, the incredible weaponry or even the insane mechanics of the Iron Man laser glove itself, but it does have the laser, and it’s pretty darn powerful as well. Well, maybe not compared to the real deal perhaps, but compared to what we are all used to seeing.

Patrick’s full metal gauntlet, or Iron Man laser glove, runs on 1x 18650 plus 2x 14500 Li Ion cells. It also has 2 blue lasers on board, 1.2W each, plus 2 4mW for aiming. The power might not be equivalent to that of Iron Man’s laser glove, but it is impressive enough, and with a second of aim, it will blast balloons from a respectable range.

If Patrick kept modifying his glove and added more cool technology to it, and maybe if he builds the whole suit, this Iron Man laser glove could become quite a kick starter (and of course I don’t mean the crowdfunding website Kickstarter). Innovative approaches to recreate and realize on-screen technologies (like the Iron Man laser glove) are not only on the edge of geek, but they also push technology forward because people see that it can, if only slightly, be done. When a lot of people start to innovate individually on the same draft technology, it’s a huge leap forward for the overall field of technology.

Patrick Priebe’s Working Iron Man Laser Glove

Japanese Player Earns $10K Playing ArcheAge (Massively.com)

Massively has at once given hope to every nerdy gamer wishing they could play games full-time AND crushed everyone’s dreams because this already happened for a lucky man in Japan.

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Japanese player earns $10K playing ArcheAge

There’s that dream out there of getting paid to simply play games. You know you have it. We even have it. Well, a married Japanese man who goes by “Moru-chan” grabbed that dream and looted it to its fullest, as he earned over $10,000 (one million yen) in three months for playing the MMORPG ArcheAge.

The money’s on the up-and-up, in case you were thinking otherwise. Moru-chan was selected by ArcheAge’s project management team to live in a one-room apartment and stream the game for 12 hours a day. He’d wake up at noon and start playing in the afternoon until the wee hours of the morning, streaming ArcheAge for all to see. Moru-chan also blogged about his experience and organized large-scale activities using his new-found fame.

Harry Potter Franchise Creates “Fantastic Beasts” Spin-Off (Nerdist.com)

This week brought with it a decision by Harry Potter’s author, J.K. Rowling, and Warner Bros. Entertainment that’s been met with a fairly polarized reply. Do we really need a Harry Potter spin-off? And yet, how could we NOT enjoy a Harry Potter spin-off?

Overall, the Harry Potter blockbuster franchise has earned $8 billion in its first decade. And that’s just the movies! With most early 20-somethings literally having grown up with the Harry Potter cast, it’s no wonder the studio and author are looking to strike with lightning a second time.

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He’s not just the Boy Who Lived; Harry Potter is also the Franchise That Wouldn’t Die as news broke today that author J.K. Rowling will be returning to the Harry Potter universe by penning Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, a spin-off film based on the magizoology textbook of the same name that all first-year Hogwarts students were required to purchase, for Warner Bros.. In 2001, Rowling also wrote and published a physical version of the book to serve as a magical bestiary and companion to the multi-billion dollar-grossing film and book franchise.

magicalbeasts

Here’s the full press release:

“Warner Bros. Entertainment today announced an expanded creative partnership with world-renowned, best-selling author J.K. Rowling. At the center of the partnership is a new film series from Rowling’s world of witches and wizards, inspired by Harry Potter’s Hogwarts textbook “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” and the adventures of the book’s fictitious author, Newt Scamander. The announcement was made by Kevin Tsujihara, Chief Executive Officer, Warner Bros. Entertainment.

“Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” will be an original story and will mark Rowling’s screenwriting debut. It is planned as the first picture in a new film series. Set in the wizarding world, the story will feature magical creatures and characters, some of which will be familiar to devoted Harry Potter fans.

“Although it will be set in the worldwide community of witches and wizards where I was so happy for seventeen years, ‘Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them’ is neither a prequel nor a sequel to the Harry Potter series, but an extension of the wizarding world,” said Rowling. “The laws and customs of the hidden magical society will be familiar to anyone who has read the Harry Potter books or seen the films, but Newt’s story will start in New York, seventy years before Harry’s gets underway.”

“We are incredibly honored that Jo has chosen to partner with Warner Bros. on this exciting new exploration of the world of wizardry which has been tremendously successful across all of our businesses,” said Tsujihara. “She is an extraordinary writer, who ignited a reading revolution around the world, which then became an unprecedented film phenomenon. We know that audiences will be as excited as we are to see what her brilliant and boundless imagination conjures up for us.”

In addition to the film series, “Fantastic Beasts” will also be developed across the Studio’s video game, consumer products and digital initiatives businesses, including enhanced links with Pottermore.com, Rowling’s digital online experience built around the Harry Potter stories.

The Studio’s expanded partnership with Rowling also covers the continued expansion of its Harry Potter activities, including the wonderful Wizarding World of Harry Potter theme parks in conjunction with partner Universal Parks and Resorts (currently in Orlando, FL; opening in Hollywood, CA and Osaka, Japan), digital initiatives (including Pottermore), video games, consumer products and visitor attractions.

In addition, Warner Bros. will serve as the worldwide TV distributor (excluding the U.K.) of J.K. Rowling’s upcoming television adaptation for the BBC of “The Casual Vacancy,” her best-selling first novel aimed at adult audiences. This miniseries begins production in 2014.

The relationship will be managed in London by Neil Blair of The Blair Partnership, Rowling’s literary agency, and Josh Berger, President & Managing Director, Warner Bros. UK, Ireland and Spain, who will serve as Warner Bros.’ chief business contact for all J.K. Rowling initiatives going forward.

Rowling’s expanded quote regarding “Fantastic Beasts” is below:

“It all started when Warner Bros. came to me with the suggestion of turning ‘Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them’ into a film. I thought it was a fun idea, but the idea of seeing Newt Scamander, the supposed author of ‘Fantastic Beasts,’ realized by another writer was difficult. Having lived for so long in my fictional universe, I feel very protective of it and I already knew a lot about Newt. As hard-core Harry Potter fans will know, I liked him so much that I even married his grandson, Rolf, to one of my favourite characters from the Harry Potter series, Luna Lovegood.

As I considered Warners’ proposal, an idea took shape that I couldn’t dislodge. That is how I ended up pitching my own idea for a film to Warner Bros.

Although it will be set in the worldwide community of witches and wizards where I was so happy for seventeen years, ‘Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them’ is neither a prequel nor a sequel to the Harry Potter series, but an extension of the wizarding world. The laws and customs of the hidden magical society will be familiar to anyone who has read the Harry Potter books or seen the films, but Newt’s story will start in New York, seventy years before Harry’s gets underway.

I particularly want to thank Kevin Tsujihara of Warner Bros. for his support in this project, which would not have happened without him. I always said that I would only revisit the wizarding world if I had an idea that I was really excited about and this is it.”

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What is most intriguing about this news is what it means for J.K. Rowling and Warner Bros. going forward. It’s no small secret that Disney and Marvel have been giving Warner Bros. and DC a sound thrashing at the box office when it comes to superhero films. Plus, Disney’s acquisition of Star Wars and its plan to churn out a new
SW picture each year means that they’ll be in a prime position to dominate the market on all things fanboy-related. Clearly, Warner Bros. is trying to step up its superhero game, but harnessing the potential of the expanded Harry Potter universe is one of the smartest decisions the studio could make right now, especially as tentpole franchises like The Hobbit will come to an end in the next few years. That isn’t to say that Rowling and WB will churn out a new Potter film every year, but it does open up a whole wizarding world of possibilities

This isn’t just Rowling stepping back into Harry’s world with WB; this is a full-scale media blitz that can touch on everything from films to video games to theme parks. The phrase “expanded creative partnership” should be of particular note as it implies that Rowling and WB won’t just be putting out a new Potter-verse film, but they’ll also be producing video games and “other digital initiatives” like apps and web-based campaigns that can leverage Rowling’s official Harry Potter fan hub Pottermore.com’s 5.53 million users for forthcoming content. Who knows? This could be the Golden Snitch that Warner Bros. needs to win the studio system House Cup.

It’s never been a better time to be a Muggle. What do you make of all this Potter news? Let us know in the comments below or hit me up on Twitter.

Star Trek Returns To Pinball After 20 Year Absence (ArsTechnica.com)

As a kid, I’d play pinball at a local sports community center and wished I had my own machine at home. Unfortunately, the steep price tag of $5k-$8k means that wish will have to come true at a much later date.

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Enlarge / From left to right, the new Star Trek Pro, Premium, and Limited Edition pinball models.

Last time on Pinball Technica we covered the announcement of the Metallica pinball machine. Reader response was pretty positive, even if the band theme was a little polarizing for some, so we’ve decided to occasionally check in on the world of pinball. In this age of 64-bit smartphones, there’s still something magical about knocking around a 1-1/16″ steel ball with a lot of high-voltage electricity.

This time around, pinball machine manufacturer Stern is ditching the band and comic book licenses for a tried-and-true pinball theme: a Star Trek table. For those keeping score, this is the fourth time the franchise has graced the silver ball, with the 1978 Bally original series pin, Data East’s 25th Anniversary version in 1991, and the wide-bodied Star Trek: The Next Generation table Williams released in 1993. The cast from the series reboot is taking center stage this time around, with elements from both of the J.J. Abrams-directed films making the game.

Acclaimed pinball designer Steve Ritchie is handling the layout this time around. Ritchie was also the designer on the last Star Trek table in 1993, and there are more than a few similarities between their layouts. It’s too early to say how closely the gameplay will match. The older Trek pin was a wide body, which generally leads to a slower playing style; it also used dual cannons that would load and fire the pinball around the playfield, something this new design appears to be missing.

Stern is following its current business model by releasing the table in three flavors: the cheaper Pro model ($5,395), a more expensive Premium ($7,495), and an $8,795 Limited Edition model. Keep in mind that those aren’t street prices, which will be lower, but pinball is not a cheap hobby! The Premium and LE have nicer packages and more toys, as well as wire ramps in place of plastic on the Pro, but this time all three models will use color-changing LEDs on the playfield, marking the first time the Pro model hasn’t been saddled with incandescent bulbs.

Modern pinballs have deep rule sets, with lots of ways to send multiple balls flying around the playfield, rack up combos by hitting different shot sequences, or combine different strategies and shot selections to score big points. Stern’s Star Trek appears to be no exception, but the company seems to be aiming at a balance between new and more advanced players. For the casual player, there are nine missions you can light up on the bottom of the playfield. Complete any three in a row on the grid and you start a “mini wizard mode,” a bit of bonus gameplay. For the more advanced player, there are another nine missions that aren’t as obviously called out on the playfield. The true wizard mode presumably comes after finishing all 18. The rules for the various missions will use color-coded paths to help players see what shots they need to make next, making the color-changing abilities of the LEDs more than just eye candy.

Details on how the new table will actually play are scarce at the moment, though in the image gallery below we’ve included a shot of the rules card that gives some clues. A little digging through the images does reveal that the USS Vengeance at the top of the playfield is mounted on a spring, leading to speculation that it will rock back and forth when you destroy it, much like the saucer in Attack from Mars.

We’ll report back if we can get some hands-on time with the game. In the meantime, check out some images of the various options and the playfield. Whether you’re opening your wallet (wide) for a new Star Trek table or not, if you have a passion for pinball, speak up in the comments!

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