Monthly Archives: January 2007

Comet McNaught’s Two Tails

Check out my favorite photo of Comet McNaught taken by Jim Thorpe in Australia (hat tip to

It is so clear, that you can make out the two tails.

“When comets are warmed by sunlight, they spew a mixture of dust and gas into space. Instead of forming a single tail, however, the two substances drift in different directions. Dust lingers behind the comet and traces its curved orbit. Gas is pushed by the solar wind into a straight line pointing away from the sun. Comets, therefore, have two tails, the dust tail and the gas tail. (The gas tail is also known as the “ion tail.”) The two tails of Comet McNaught are obvious in most photos since Jan. 22nd.”


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Filed under Astronomy

More Posts Coming

Hi all,

Sorry for the recent sparseness in postings. Work got crazy for a bit, and now I’m in Davos Switzerland for the World Economic Forum as MobiTV was chosen as one of the Technology Pioneers of 2006.

More to come next week on how we techies got a chance to to rub elbows with the powerful and try to explain how technology could help make the world a better place.

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Filed under Economics, Technology

BEAM Vibrobots

The online Make magazine portal just published a nice article on how to make your very own BEAM vibrobots. For those of you unfamiliar with the BEAM movement, the basic notion is to wire up simple circuits that connect photo-sensors almost directly to motors, so that by shining a light on the simple robot, it will scurry around either towards, or away from, the light thereby mimicking any number of insects. And then, of course, there is all the fun and art in arranging the components to look as insectile as possible.

 Vibrobot Standard
The Vibrobot takes this notion to a minimalist extreme by eliminating wheels, and reducing the number of motors to one tiny pager motor with an eccentric weight attached. When light shines on the photo-cell, the motor vibrates, and with proper sprung leg designs, the robot will scurry along in fine insect fashion. And without the wheels, the vibrobots are ever more insect like in form as well.

Vibrobot Partcallout

Here’s a page from the no-doubt forthcoming print edition showing the simple circuit used for these nifty little critters…

Img413 1582

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Filed under Electronics, Robotics

Comet McNaught Now Visible in Broad Daylight

All you need to do, really, is step outside and look just to the left of the sun any time this weekend. It helps to use your hand, or a tree, or wall to block the direct sunlight, at which point, the comet should be clearly visible all day long (though best viewed around noon).

Photo credit to Giuseppe Menardi, Mont Lagazuoi (2.800 mt) Jan. 10, 2007. The comet is very bright (visual magnitude -3) with a 4-degree long tail. Photo details: Canon EOS D60, 200 mm lens, f/3.5, 200 ISO, 1/80 sec.

Here’s how to find the comet at high noon:

Just step outside and face south.
The comet lies about 5 degrees to the left of the sun.
(Use your closed fist held horizontally at arms length to estimate a 5 degree angle.)
The comet should be obvious as soon as you screen out the sun.

At magnitude -4 to -5, McNaught is the brightest comet since Ikeya-Seki in 1965. So don’t miss seeing one of the brightest comets in the last 30 years! Go out and take pictures! And send me all the images you take so I can post them here!

Hat tip to

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Filed under Astronomy

CES Report: A Roomba for Robot Hackers!

The Mobi team and I have just returned from a hugely successful stint at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. Overall, I’d have to say that CES has now grown to the point of absurdity, far beyond the capacity of the conference centers, and even the city to manage. At one point, it actually took us almost two hours to get out of the trade show parking lot due to the gridlock. Cabs weren’t an option as the lines were over two hours long, and the silly little monorail could only transport 50 people at a time when more than 150,000 of us geeks were trying to arrive and depart from the show. It would have been laughable if it wasn’t so painful.

It ended up being faster to just walk the several mile round trip to the hotel and back. Nonetheless, we endured the orgy of large screen television, mobile technology and jimcrackery that now fills the convention centers beyond capacity, spilling over into all the nearby hotel suites.

I fondly remember a day when there were two more manageable shows, Comdex for the computer stuff, and CES for electronic widgitry and televisions. Well with the demise of Comdex, CES subsumed all, and has acquired a ponderous bulk that must eventually suffocate it. Nobody I knew at the show enjoyed it, and would have avoided the now massive inconvenience of the venue if it weren’t for the show’s unique importance to the industry.

So with all that said, my normal instinct would be to suggest that fringe products (and even some core ones) should get their own individual themed trade shows to make the whole event more manageable. So it is very unusual for me to say something like “…boy am I glad they’ve added this new ______ widget..!” But with this one, I couldn’t resist.

It turned out that the iRobot booth was about 150 feet from the MobiTV booth, and I had a great time catching up with my old MIT buddies who run the company. I was very pleased to note that they had just won an award for the release of the iRobot Create programmable robotics platform for students and hobbyists.

iRobot Create
Based on the same platform as their famous Roomba vacuum cleaner, it stands alone as probably the most polished and refined robotics kit on the market, having endured several generations of industrial design with hundreds of thousands of units scrubbing floors across the world for the past few years.

Rather than tell you about, just look at a few of the early hobby efforts, and your next stop will be the iRobot web page where you can buy a few for the kids in your life, and even find curriculum materials (and educational discounts) for the teachers in your life. My inner child is certainly clamoring for a couple.

Here are some highlights of a few of the early projects.

The RoboMaid

Fridge robot
The Fridge-mate

Hamster bot
And my favorite, the bionic hamster.

Here is an excellent review of the kit from Robot Magazine, and here are links to my earlier posts on iRobot: Making Money Making Robots, and A Great Hackable Robot: Roomba from iRobot.

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Filed under Robotics

Nature and Nanotechnology

Understanding Nanotechnology has a nice chart that compares the scale and complexity of natural structures as compared to artificial ones we can fabricate.

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Filed under Graphics, Technology

A Lego Car Factory

Don’t miss this video of a model car factory line that assembles a tiny LEGO car model. It is absolutely fascinating how they have fabricated all of the automated carriage transport, part feeds, and assembly complete with mechanisms for part registration, and stations to move the work in progress.

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Filed under Models, Robotics, Technology