Sad news for kids and adults alike as Lego announces the end of the Mindstorms line. The much-wish-listed line of robotics construction toys will be discontinued by the end of this year, nearly a quarter-century after its 1998 introduction, while support for the mobile apps will continue for another couple of years. It’s probably fair to say that Mindstorms launched an entire generation of engineering careers, as it provided a way to quickly prototype ideas that would have been difficult to realize without the snap-fit parts and easily programmed controllers. For our money, that ability to rapidly move from idea to working model was perhaps the strongest argument for using Mindstorms, since it prevented that loss of momentum that so often kills projects. That was before the maker movement, though, and now that servos and microcontrollers are only an Amazon order away and custom plastic structural elements can pop off a 3D printer in a couple of hours, we can see how Mindstorms might no longer be profitable. So maybe it’s a good day to drag out the Mindstorms, or even just that big box of Lego parts, and just sit on the carpet and make something.
Have you ever wondered what it sounds like when a solar storm crashes into Earth’s magnetosphere? We’re not sure the question has ever crossed our mind, but having heard the data from three European Space Agency satellites converted to audio, we can’t say it’s what we would have expected. We’d have thought it would be something like the pings, snaps, and whistles of “Earth music”, but it’s something else entirely. There’s a lot in there; at first it sounds like a forest fire, then rattling chains followed by someone dropping a box of screws on the floor, all backed up by the sound of bubbling lava and heavy breathing. It’s truly creepy, so much so that it would make a great soundtrack for that Halloween haunted house. The data are from a solar storm that hit the Earth in 2011, when the Sun was just waking up again for the start of Solar Cycle 24; we can’t help but wonder what it sounds like now that we’re in Solar Cycle 25.
We spotted an alarming headline this week: “New Technique For Decoding People’s Thoughts Can Now Be Done From a Distance.” But as it turns out, the distance in question is approximately the radius of the bore of a functional MRI machine, since that’s where your head needs to be for this “new technique” to work. Previously, decoding the electrical impulses in a person’s brain required electrodes implanted deep within it, an invasive procedure that most people would probably not fail to notice having undergone. The fMRI method, which measures the flow of oxygenated blood in the brain as a proxy for neural activity, is certainly less invasive than the holes-in-the-head method, but again a reasonably alert person might notice the MRI machine jackhammering away around them. And it’s not even like this method actually reads thoughts in real time — the data have to be analyzed after the fact, and then only “decodes the semantic meaning” of what’s
Commodore 64 fans will want to check out this collection of exotic C64s that never were. The past never looked so cool! The 64-TX, which has a standard C64 case with an LCD display and a chunky joystick mounted where the keyboard should be, is our favorite. There’s no build info, so it’s all just eye candy, but it’s pretty tasty and may serve as inspiration for those C64s you’ve got lying around.
If you’re as big a fan of regular expressions as we are, you’ll want to check out The Typing of the RegEx. Chris Johnson’s online game was inspired by The Typing of the Dead, except that instead of killing zombies with your words, you’re knocking out regexes that match ever-changing text prompts. Each round is timed, and there are bonus points for coming up with non-obvious patterns that match the input, so there’s a lot of pressure to perform. We’re a bit rusty with our regexes, so it only took a couple of rounds before tapping out. But it was fun to get back in the groove again.
And finally, what would Halloween be without the potential for your kids to bring home treats laced with foreign objects? We suggest you go through the treat bags carefully and if you see something like this, make sure you get it before the kiddies do.