Did Variable Technologies Invent the Tricorder? Like, for Realzies?

For those of you under 20, or for those of you who have been living inside an anti-Star-Trek protective cloth and plastic diaper, in Star Trek the officers and technicians had these things called “tricorders.”  They looked like this:

tricorder-star-trek1

This little handheld piece of imaginary engineering could do everything — it could detect life forms, it could do video and audio, images, it could record stuff, it could take medical analysis and readings…  it was like some kind of crazy high-tech iPhone for the USS Enterprise.  You can actually get the toy Tricorder on Amazon for ten bucks.  Hell, I always wanted one of these when I was of the age where you could still run around the neighborhood with toy guns and not get shot by the cops.  Remember those days?

Fast forward to the beginning of January of this year, 2013 — there is a company called Variable Technologies in Chattanooga, TN that makes this little device called the Node.  It’s a handheld sensor that connects with several apps for iPhone et al via Bluetooth 4 to do exactly what the original tricorder was supposed to do — take readings, scan things, record things, and analyze.  Node is made to have these little interchangeable sensors that attach to the home unit, which is handheld:

node-and-sensors

Node has all kinds of awesome modules:

  • NODE, an IMU (Inertial Measurement Unit) which is built-in to the device
  • CHROMA, a colorimeter
  • THERMA, a thermometer for surface temperature
  • CLIMA, for weather conditions
  • LUMA, a flashlight attachment
  • OXA, a gas sensor module

node-sensorsAll in all, this is a pretty cool little gadget!  I really hope this isn’t small-minded out of existence by people who think that anything useful that is also handheld must only come from the iPhone itself, including its sensors.  From the Node site, specifications on the Node handheld unit itself:

Highlights:

9 degrees-of-freedom motion engine
2 interchangeable module ports
Open API with all modules
long-range Bluetooth 4.0 Smart

Directly useful for:

Motion mapping for animation or physical therapy
Motion-based cues like telling when the washer stops or the door opens
Impact testing
Use as a gesture-based remote control
Multiple, simultaneous data streams…

…and some specifications — the IMU inside has 9 degrees of tracking!

Dimensions:
Diameter: 1 inch (25.4mm)
Length: 3.27 inch (83 mm)
Weight: 45gPower:
Battery Life: 12 hr continuous use, 30+ days standby Rechargeable Li-Polymor Battery
Micro-USB ChargingCommunications:
Bluetooth 4.0 SmartUSB data communications256-bit encryption engine
Sensor Capabilities
3-axis accelerometer: up to +/-8g range, 0.061mg resolution3-axis magnetometer: up to +/-8 gauss range, 0.04 milli-gauss resolution
3-axis gyroscope: up to +/-2000 degrees-per-sec, 0.061 degrees-per-sec resolution
9-degrees-of-freedom orientation engine

Awesome.  Handheld sensing, here we come!  And stylish, too!  It certainly looks as though we won’t be disappointed by the Node, especially the price — it’s only $150 for the base Node with IMU and each sensor kit is only $75 bucks.  All of Node’s apps (Node is definitely app-driven) are all available in the App Store!

node-explained

Thanks to MedGadget, an awesome blog, for the initial story!

 

Taser Not Good Enough? How About the Taser Sword?!

taser-sword

So the story generally goes like this — guy takes a taser and a sword, guy makes a creation that is way cooler than either of those two parts on their own.  Don’t believe me?  Watch:

As of me writing this post, the maker of this video had over 1,120,000 views on his YouTube video.  That is crazy!  User jonathonj9969 on YouTube posted the video of his lethal/non-lethal combo on Reddit, and that obviously went batsh*t crazy, too.

As you would expect, though.  Right?

Thanks, Viral Videos!

 

Nixie Tubes – Old But Awesome Technology

Have you ever seen the trademark amber glow of the Nixie Tube?

Nixie tubes have made a bit of a comeback by Makers and tinkerers of today’s tech — an old-school look with old-school innards using pretty simple technology to create some pretty spectacular results.  Nixie tube clocks, signs, and even Nixie tube wrist watches, as worn by Steve Wozniak:

For those of you nerds out there like me who HAVE TO KNOW MORE ABOUT WOZ’S NIXIE WATCH RIGHT NOW OMFG OCD LALALALAAAAAA, please check this video out!  Here’s Woz talking about scaring the crap out of his seatmates on flights as he changes the time zone!  The maker of this watch is Cathode Corner, and they are pretty freaking cool!

Ok, ok, enough about the watch.  Now as I was saying…  NIXIE TUBES!  In short, a Nixie tube is a little illuminator/signal tube that looks a lot like a vacuum tube but is actually a cold cathode discharge device with either digits in it or symbols.  If you’ve ever seen the very popular hacker device called a Nixie Clock (or Nixie Tube Clock), then you know what a Nixie tube looks like.  They’re pretty unmistakeable – a lot of vintage Russian gear from the 1960’s and 1970’s are filled with Nixie tubes for some reason.  They make such a beautiful display, it’s essentially a kind of neon discharge tube, but not really:

A side note – this entire article came from me wanting to know the origin of the term “Nixie” in reference to these tubes.  Nixie comes from a name that the draftsman working on the tube signal wrote down on his drafting plate – “NIX1,” for Numeric Indicator eXperimental #1.  As you can imagine, the nickname “Nixie” stuck, and the guy who owned the patent also patented the name “Nixie.”  WHY do I love this kind of knowledge?!

Nixie tubes are pretty simple technology that relies on cold cathode glow discharge technology, which is actually pretty cool!  I’m sure you’ve heard of cathodes (the place where electrons come from) and anodes (the place where electrons flow to) – this is extremely important in understanding how these Nixie tubes work.  The difference between a “hot” cathode and a “cold” cathode is basically in how the electrons move from the cathode to the anode.  Instead of using heat to release electrons from something in a vacuum (like in fluorescent tubes and HID lamps), in the case of cold cathode devices the electrons are released by manipulating the electrical field in a vacuum.  Now before this gets really crazy into field emissions and the Zener Effect (not to mention the Aston Dark Space and Positive Columns and Faraday’s Space and whatnot), it’s probably a good idea to simplify this a bit for brevity’s sake.

So, are you familiar with the way that tungsten-halogen lamps work?  Basically, the gas inside them is from the halogen group (I can still remember the mnemonic – ‘F, Cl, Br, I!!‘) at a high pressure vacuum, and the filaments are tungsten.  Gasses from the halogen group loves them some tungsten vapor fo sho, actually, which is why we use them together.  As the filament burns at incandescence, atoms of tungsten evaporate from the filament into gas (think of it as a metal gas because, well, it is) and they float around in this halogen family gas.  As the atoms of tungsten get near the considerably yet minutely cooler glass envelope of the lamp, they also cool down and are re-deposited on the envelope.  Consequently, this is why and how we are able to make T-H lamps last longer and put out higher amounts of light; the redepositing of the atoms back onto the filament helps lengthen its life by re-coating the filament with “fresh” atoms of tungsten.  This is called the T-H life cycle.

I didn’t explain the tungsten-halogen lamp because the Nixie and the T-H lamp are similar; I wanted to put a picture in your head about how atoms (and smaller subatomics) travel inside of a vacuum environment.  In a really simplified explanation of how the Nixie tubes work, look at this great image of a discombobulated Nixie lamp, courtesy of the awesome people at the Evil Mad Scientist Laboratories:

Nixie Tube

See the mesh?  That’s the anode, or the positively charged part.  The numbers themselves, each one in the stack there, is an individual cathode, or the negatively charged part.  Electrons and ions travel from the cathode to the anode (remember ACID and CCD to remember current flow – Anode Current Into Device and Cathode Current Departs).  Inside the Nixie tube, there is a gas – typically one of the Noble gasses group of elemental gasses – that exists in low pressure inside the tube.  When the anode and cathode are given a potential difference in charge, the gas atoms get all angry and split up into negatively charged electrons and positively charged ions.  The ions are attracted to the negative cathode, and the electrons are attracted of course to the positively charged anode.  As these ions go slamming into the cathode, something really interesting takes place — atoms of metal from the cathode are basically knocked out of the cathode in a process called sputtering.  This sputtering of the metal atoms is literally caused by these ions slamming into the cathode.  Imagine breaking a rack of billiard balls with a cue ball — make sense now?

Once the sputtered metal atoms are knocked loose and are flying around, there are also some electrons flying around, too.  The electrons don’t have enough speed or energy to do much with the metal atoms floating close to the cathode (the number itself), so this weird little dark space called the Aston Dark Space (aka the Cathode Dark Space) takes place close to the cathode.  It’s weird, but you can actually see it – look closely at this Crookes Dark Space Tube:

See the dark spaces right at the center?  There is a small round cathode at the middle of that tube, and the dark space occurs right around it.  The larger dark spaces on either side of the bright “ball” of light at the center of the Crookes tube is something else, called the Faraday Dark Space.  Here’s another example, this one a diagram:

What’s cool about this glow outside of the Cathode Dark Space is what happens to make the glow happen — the electrons gain some speed and energy as they travel towards the positively charged anode (the mesh cage in the case of the Nixie Tube), and at a point outside of the Aston (or Cathode) dark space, they have enough energy and speed to cause a strong collision with the metal atoms sputtered away from the cathode.  When this happens, *PRESTO* — we have the release of a photon which causes light!

I think these Nixie Tubes are quite awesome.  Some history on the Nixie Tube’s patent and development:

The early Nixie displays were made by a small vacuum tube manufacturer called Haydu Brothers Laboratories, and introduced in 1955 by Burroughs Corporation, who purchased Haydu and owned the name Nixie as a trademark.  […] Similar devices that functioned in the same way were patented in the 1930s, and the first mass-produced display tubes were introduced in 1954 by National Union Co. under the brand name Inditron. However, their construction was cruder, their average lifetime was shorter, and they failed to find many applications due to their complex periphery.

Burroughs even had another Haydu tube that could operate as a digital counter and directly drive a Nixie tube for display. This was called a “Trochotron”, in later form known as the “Beam-X Switch” counter tube; another name was “magnetron beam-switching tube”, referring to their similarity to a cavity magnetron. Trochotrons were used in the UNIVAC 1101 computer, as well as in clocks and frequency counters.

The first trochotrons were surrounded by a hollow cylindrical magnet, with poles at the ends. The field inside the magnet had essentially-parallel lines of force, parallel to the axis of the tube. It was a thermionic vacuum tube; inside were a central cathode, ten anodes, and ten “spade” electrodes. The magnetic field and voltages applied to the electrodes made the electrons form a thick sheet (as in a cavity magnetron) that went to only one anode. Applying a pulse with specified width and voltages to the spades made the sheet advance to the next anode, where it stayed until the next advance pulse. Count direction was not reversible. A later form of trochotron called a Beam-X Switch replaced the large, heavy external cylindrical magnet with ten small internal metal-alloy rod magnets which also served as electrodes.

I found a lot of really amazing resources on the Nixie tube.  I had to post some of it, this stuff is amazing, and there are a LOT of really big fans!

American Nixies from Sphere Research:

Russian Nixies from Sphere Research:

Thanks to Nature, Dribble, Wikipedia (ions), Wikipedia (electrostatic discharge), Wikipedia (field electron emission), TeslaTech, and Steve Wozniak for being awesome.  

Mac Millan’s Amazing DIY Raygun Props

I am so excited to bring this to the web!  I’m even more excited to put the work of a true DIY artisan out there to the world.  All I know is that you need to hire this guy if you have something that needs done like he can do.

I want you to meet Mac Millan – I met Mac at SETC 2011 in Atlanta this year when I was judging the Student Design competition.  I was so taken with Mac’s inventions that I asked for images and video so that the JimOnLight.com Community and the world could see the skill and mastery put into these devices that Mac built.

You might see these and say STEAMPUNK – I see them and say awesome.  Makers and DIY’ers, take notice!  These raygun props are electrified, illuminated, special effect pieces of genius.  Congratulations on a great project, Mac!

From the creator’s mouth:

Ok, let’s get this out of the way.

Steampunk.

Yes, these are steampunk as hell, and while I love the aesthetics of a lot of what comes out of the steampunk culture I don’t wake up in the morning thinking about zeppelins (unless we’re talking about the sandwich, I’m always thinking about the sandwich).

Anyway, back to the matter at hand: three steampunk-as-hell rayguns. These were all built almost entirely out of found objects I had already accumulated in my apartment (I’m a packrat with expensive taste). The initial inspiration came from the silver Thor power drill seen in the smallest of the three rayguns; I inherited a similar drill from my Grandfather, and from the second I saw it I couldn’t help envisioning an art deco pistol of some sort. I purchased a duplicate to avoid destroying an heirloom, glued a photo enlarger I found on the street to the end and filled it with LEDs and flash cannons.

The second model is the orange and brown number, built on a Thor-Nado electric jackhammer purchased off Ebay in high school paired with a photo enlarger. The third is an ellipsoidal stage light and a photo enlarger salvaged from my high school. See a pattern yet? Again, the major structural components for all three were things I had lying around, I just glued and bolted them together and added blinky lights.

On the how and why: I’m a very hands-on learner, and working with my hands is how I clear my head. I wanted to learn more about motors, LEDs, lights and mechanics, so I started making rayguns. A desire to actually use some of the hundreds of pounds of industrial detritus filling my apartment may also have been involved. Specifics are for another day, but let me just say there was a lot of wire and glue involved. A LOT of glue. And let me just say, gluing a nonporous material to a nonporous material SUCKS.

Check out this video – Mac’s rayguns light up, they have smoke effects built in, and one of them fires a magic flash!

Mac Millan’s Steampunk Rayguns from Jim Hutchison on Vimeo.

Here’s a gallery of all of Mac’s three rayguns.  Click on a thumbnail and a gallery view will open up for you!

DIY 8 X 8 X 8 LED Display – You Bet Your Tukus I’m Building One of These

One of the Duluth Crew, Alex Rugowski from Twitter, posted a tweet about this crazy 8x8x8 LED display this morning.  This thing is driven with MatLab – remember that crazy thing?!  You have to see this video – the fades are pretty smooth for an 8 pixel square 3D display!  The engineer of this awesome project is a guy named Nick Schulze, and he runs a blog called How Not to Engineer.  I highly recommend taking a look around Nick’s site, he is a true nerd in every sense of the world.  So glad to hear of you, Nick!

Check out the video of Nick’s monster in action:

Barbizon’s Electrician’s Handbook App is Awesome

When I started out in this business, I was a lighting tech for a few years before getting on the bigger gigs as a designer.  I always, always had four things in my tool bag (other than tools) – a copy of Ugly‘s, a copy of the little card that High End Systems made for the Studio Color, a PowerBar, and a copy of the Barbizon Electrician’s Handbook.  When Tobin at Barbizon told me about the Electrician’s Handbook APP, I was so excited to get my hands on it, for old time’s sake!  Old time’s sake became regular reality again when I can now have that little bugger on my iPhone.  It’s also available for Droid, too.

There is one addition that makes me giggle – if you have an iOS 4 phone, your LED flash on the back of the phone now works as a flashlight!

That tickles me in a way that if it were actually tickling me, I’d probably say something like “yeah, that’s the spot, that feels goooood.”

Check out some screen grabs of the handbook app, and WHY DO YOU NOT HAVE THIS YET?!  It’s FREE!

Nice.  Thanks, Barbizon!

A Programmable LED Vodka Bottle?! WITH VODKA?!

It seems like the first and last things I need in the world are a programmable Vodka bottle full of vodka.  However, I am for some reason drawn to this bottle of Medea Vodka, complete with a programmable LED display on the bottle.  Now I will be able to program TWIIIIIILIIIIIIIIIIGHT on a bottle of vodka and offend imaginary vampire lovers worldwide.

Check out this video:

How to program your bottle of vodka – something that lighting designers have been wondering for years on the tourbusses of the world:

How to Program a Message on Your MEDEA Bottle from Medea Spirits on Vimeo.

Shameless cross-posting, because you’re damned right I’ll be getting one of these:

Step 1: Press the ON/OFF button

Step 2: Press the ENTER button to enter programming mode

Step 3: Press the P-U (UP) to select line (1-6) to save message in

Step 4: Press ENTER to confirm the line where the message will appear

Step 5: Press the P-U and P-D buttons to find the first character of your message, and pressENTER to save after each character selection. Note: space can be found after the letter Z.

Step 6: To finish, after you have selected the last character, wait until you see a blinking “A”, then press the ON/OFF to save the entire message.

You’re all set! Your message will now begin to scroll on the ticker.

Note: Do not leave the display on in the programming mode. Press either the P-U(DOWN) or the ON/OFF button to exit the programming mode.

Thanks, Engadget and @ARugowski on Twitter!

Jax’s Link-O-Rama: Mercy Street Edition

I’ve been laid up with a back injury (yup: incurred in the theatre!) for the past few days and am not getting out much.  And so this is the Mercy Street edition, because that’s what happens to be on Pandora right now.

Extremely cool rehearsal photos are from Mr. Gabriel’s website.

Jax’s Link-O-Rama: Daft Punk Edition

It’s geektastic and rave-a-licious up in here, y’all.

Hooray for Daft Punk.

12X Blu-Ray Star Trek Phaser That Actually – Um, Phases

Okay, for super nerd-dom I have to hand this one to Jay Rob from the Laser Pointer Forums.  Jay took a 12X Blu-Ray laser (from that great supplier AixiZ) and stuffed it into one of those old Star Trek phaser toys.  So now, instead of being on stun, it’s set on “I’ll Burn You, Mofo.”

That’s right.  Check out this video – Jay opens up a can of ButtKick on some balloons from across the room:

That is freaking awesome.  Jay posted the entire how-to on the Laser Pointer Forums – definitely check it out!  He’s even added a safety to his modification!

CAVEAT:
If you’re gonna be playing around with lasers, especially this kind of laser project, you need to cough up some bread and get a pair of laser filter glasses so you don’t burn your eyes out.  Here’s a pair from OEM LAser Systems, Inc that will do the job fine, and here is a bunch from Amazon. Don’t mess around with this, you need them.  Playing with lasers isn’t worth your sight.  Oh, and also – you’re not gonna blame it on me if you screw up.  Play smart.