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Industrial Equipment Noise

Tech Wake-Up: Somewhat Lighter Edition

By Mark Devlin

March 19, 2012

Finally, a Gecko That Doesn’t Sell Insurance

Am I the only one who hits the Last button on the remote upon seeing the Geico Gecko? Everyone seems to love the thing. Even though it’s virtual, the Geico gecko reminds me of a boss that I had, for a thankfully short time. Both had that British accent, both were reptilian, and both were annoying to a makes-my-teeth-itch level.

But ANYway, Geckos can, in fact, be useful—as can many creatures when studied from an engineering perspective.


Clever, smart, and observant researchers at the University of Massachusetts Amherst focused on the gecko’s ‘properties and attributes: high capacity, easy release, reliability, and the ability to stick to a variety of surfaces,’ according to this article at PhysOrg.

Here’s a bit more on the technical side…

Scientists have long recognized that so-called van der Waals forces, which produce weak electrical attraction among molecules, cause adhesion between tiny hairs in geckos' toes, known as setae, and vertical surfaces on which the geckos climb.

Beyond studying just the point of contact, however, these researchers looked at the gecko’s tendons, which stretch from bone into skin.

The result of such study?

"Our 'Geckskin' device is about the size of an index card and can hold a maximum force of about 700 pounds while adhering to a smooth surface such as glass," said Alfred Crosby, associate professor of polymer science and engineering.

In real, everyday terms, the Geckskin—about the size of an index card—adheres to smooth surfaces while holding, get this, about 700 lbs. Also interesting is that such strength doesn’t apply in all directions. So, it can be easily easily removed with a ‘gentle peel’ and stuck onto another surface, sans residue or loss of strength.

NOTE TO INDUSTRY: PLEASE FUND THIS. Industry could use it.

Now, if I could only gently peel that annoying, former ‘boss’ from my head and stick him somewhere else, such as on the nose of a locomotive, for instance.

Thanks to Microsoft, Universal Translator Possible

There are those who believe that aliens are coming. There are those who believe that the 2012 End of the World won’t be due to polar shifts or Earth Crust Displacement, but because aliens will land (or, come back), thus ending the world as we know it. There are those who believe they’re already here. There are those who believe the Mayan calendar just wrapped up one phase, heading into the next.

Then, there are those who believe all of those other, aforementioned people are, completely, utterly, and insanely out of their freakin’ minds. (If you want the facts, again, from NASA re: why the world will not, I repeat, not, end in 2012, hit this link at Forbes. Why is NASA so intent on reassuring the public? Sounds like a conspiracy.)

Whether related to Chris Carter-esque EBE’s (Chris. Man, you look way too happy in the IMDB shot.) or just trying to communicate with another human from (or in) a foreign land, we’re going to need a Universal Translator. You know, something like that depicted in Mars Attacks…

Wait for it. It’s on the right, at about the 1-minute mark.)

According to a piece at PopSci, Microsoft is ‘not to be outdone’ in this whole beta Apple Siri thing, and has created a device through which people speaking different languages can communicate with one language being instantly flipped to another and back again…

Shown off by Microsoft’s chief research officer Rick Rashid at TechFest 2012, the technology preserves the speakers timbre, accent, and intonation while translating between 26 languages supported by Microsoft speech. While it leaves a trace of digitized robot voice on some syllables (you can hear some samples via the Extremetech link below), it does a remarkably good job of maintaining the speaker’s own nuances of speech while swapping in the proper words and conjugations.

(Here’s the ExtremeTech link.)

We come in peace.


Flight Sim is Back—as Microsoft Flight

Between Doom, (the earlier iterations of) Gran Turismo, and Microsoft Flight Simulator, I’ve logged a lot of time with video games. Matter of fact, I was there—in high school—when they delivered the Pong console and set it up in the lobby outside the cafeteria. (Now, got offa my lawn.) Today, it’s mainly Forza and Call of Duty: MW3. Why am I still playing video games at my age? a) Mostly, it’s fun, and b) It helps keep a fairly good connection between brain and fingers.

(As an aside, people take this video gaming thing very seriously. Consider, for instance, this MW3-themed PC case mod…


…awesome, but I think someone has a bit too much time on their hands. But, seriously? You’re an engineer. You’re creative. Run design and simulation on that in your office just to confuse the boss.)

Flight Sim was unique in that it could make one believe, after hundreds of hours, that he or she probably could fly a real plane. (It also enabled you to do the seemingly impossible, like landing a 747 at Meigs Field. Was it really possible? Reader pilots, please jump in.) It was also, well, real. It connected with planes and their engineering, their systems, their technology, and even expose players to the Bernoulli principle.


(Yes, that’s Meigs Field in the foreground, with Chicago in the background.)

Finally, finally—there is a flight simulator God—there’s a new version available from Microsoft, simply called Flight.

The download is free, but more places and regions will cost you, to the tune of (for example), an Orion cargo place for $14.99, and the Hawaiian Islands for $19.99.

I’ve tried it. Despite Flight’s apparent dislike of my dual-widescreen setup (It loads and plays on the left, and black-blanks the right), oh man. It felt so, so good to be flying again—if even virtually.

Check out this very good, fairly detailed review at VentureBeat.

Enjoy your weekend…



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