Welcome to Red Slime, the personal journal of Orange Claymore. This site contains work I have done over the years, audio and video. Things i like to do are as followed; skateboarding, computers, video games, listening to bad music, guns and creating music (check noise section). I also pass live feeds of interesting and related topics. Explore and have fun.
UPDATE: Redslime has now branched off into a recording studio named “The Loft”. New updates and posts coming soon.
I didn’t watch that new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie with Megan Fox because I was pretty sure it was going to suck. Anytime adult me makes an informed decision like that, I imagine childhood version of me shaking his head in disappointment and howling in sadness. Growing up is lame.
Anyways, CineFix’s 8-bit version of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles looks like it would be much for fun to play than to watch the new movie. It reminds of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle’s arcade game Turtles in Time (a game that adult me just gleefully played last week with adult friends).
Given how ubiquitous smart devices are, one might think that, overall, people would have a pretty comprehensive knowledge of tech. That isn’t exactly the case. According to a recent Pew Research survey, 60 percent of the representative sample knew that tweets are limited to 140 characters, but only 42 percent knew that Harvard is where Facebook originated. And despite how much new iPhone announcements dominate the news cycle, only some 36 percent correctly picked 2007 as the year Apple unveiled its first smartphone. Even fewer were able to accurately identify the first “widely popular graphical web browser.” Hint: it wasn’t Netscape Navigator. As The Washington Post points out, a vast majority of people happen to think that “World Wide Web” and “internet” are interchangeable too.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, younger respondents and college graduates scored higher than older, non-degree-holders. All this is to say that while technology use itself has grown by leaps and bounds, knowledge of where it came from seemingly hasn’t followed the same trajectory. Want to to see how you stack up for yourself? That’s doable. In case you’re wondering how an Engadget editor fared, I got two questions wrong. And no, I’m not telling which ones.
Launched in 1978, the International Sun/Earth Explorer 3 was sent on a mission to explore the Earth’s interaction with the sun. Several years later, the spacecraft changed its name to the International Cometary Explorer, sent off to explore orbiting ice balls, and return to Earth earlier this year. Talking to that spacecraft was a huge undertaking, with crowdfunding campaigns, excursions to Arecibo, and mountains of work from a team spanning the globe. Commanding the thrusters onboard the satellite didn’t work – there was no pressure in the tanks – but still the ICE mission continues, and one of the lead radio gurus on the team has put up the telemetry parser/display crafted for the reboot project up on Github.
The ICE/ISEE-3 telemetry parser/display allows anyone to listen to the recorded telemetry frames from the satellite, check out what was actually going on, and learn how to communicate with a device without a computer that’s rapidly approaching from millions of miles away. He’s even put some telemetry recordings up on the Internet to practice.
Although the ICE/ISEE-3 reboot project will have to wait another decade or two until the probe makes its way back to our neck of the woods, [Balint] is taking it in stride an organizing a few Software Defined Radio meetups in the San Fransisco area. He just had the first meetup (Video below) where talks ranging from creating a stereo FM transmitter in GNU radio, a visual introduction to DSP for SDR and SETI signals from the Allen Telescope Array were discussed. There will be another meetup in a few weeks at Noisbridge, with some very cool subjects on the roster.
Can the way hospitals are designed improve the experiences of staff and visitors, and even the recovery of patients? Lucy Maddox finds out.
“If one room can alter how we feel, if our happiness can hang on the colour of the walls or the shape of a door, what will happen to us in most of the places we are forced to look at and inhabit? What will we experience in a house with prison-like windows, stained carpet tiles and plastic curtains?” — Alain de Botton
This summer, Laura gave birth to twins. Five weeks early.
Laura’s girls were looked after in the Dyson Centre for Neonatal Care at the Royal United Hospital in Bath, England. Laura arrived there after a caesarean section, having lost more blood than expected and with a dangerously low temperature. Despite her condition, she remembers being wheeled through the double doors of the Centre for the first time: “It’s kind of a blur,” she says. “But I do remember the light just really hitting me.”
To reach the Dyson Centre you have to walk, or be wheeled, through the old corridors of the main hospital. It feels hot, that particularly uncomfortable hospital warmth that amplifies the medical smell. Your shoes click on the lino floors and the sound echoes off the plain walls.
As soon as you go through the doors to the Centre, things change. It is light, airy and spacious. Natural wood and soothing greens make it feel more like a Scandinavian spa than part of a hospital. You’re greeted by a wooden reception desk, and to the left, French windows open onto a Zen-like pebbled garden. It smells slightly of chlorine, like a posh swimming pool.
The Dyson Centre, finished in 2011 and funded in part by Sir James Dyson, of vacuum cleaner fame, is an example of a new and different type of healthcare design. Deliberately distancing itself from the traditional hospital look, feel and smell, this and other places like it are drawing on a growing body of research that shows that buildings themselves can speed the recovery of patients, as well as boosting the health and happiness of the staff who work in them.
The Dyson Centre is eight decibels quieter than the old Neonatal Intensive Care Unit that it replaced, and has both more natural and more controllable light. A central corridor loops round in a horseshoe shape with smaller rooms coming off it. The ceiling of the corridor is high, with skylights running its whole length, bright blue sky visible throughout. The upper walls are painted moss green. The floor below is a sandstone colour and the walls and the ceiling beams are whitewashed wood, not unlike a sauna.
The babies who need most care are in the high-dependency room. It’s dark as you enter, but the room still feels spacious, and the size of the tiny babies makes it seem even bigger. Born before they were quite ready, the babies are a disconcertingly dark red colour and lie in futuristic white cots with plastic bubbles protecting them. Further round the corridor the rooms progressively become lighter, with fewer machines, and bigger, healthier-looking babies.
The ward was designed to give parents a sense of progress as their newborns move from the high-dependency room to regular neonatal rooms. Laura, mum of the twin girls, noticed this sense of flow: “It’s like a horseshoe really. You have to make your way around.”
Looking at the original sketches for the Centre, one of them stands out. The architect has drawn the building like a hug, its arms enveloping a baby. “The whole point… was to provide a secure base,” says clinical psychologist Dr Mike Osborn, who was part of the team consulted about the design. “Secure base” is a term from attachment theory. It explains how as infants we attach to our primary caregivers, using them as a secure base from which to explore the world, and returning to them when we are afraid, ill or in need of care and reassurance. “Essentially we want the building to be a great big nurse. A really good nurse,” he says.
The design principles in typical healthcare environments inadvertently make patients and staff more stressed, Osborn says. “Ceilings are low, the lights are glaring, the floors are noisy, the privacy is non-existent,” he says. “It all accumulates to push us towards hyperarousal… it’s not soothing at all.”
For a building to be therapeutic, it should have spaces that flex to allow both sociability and privacy. Social spaces with comfortable, movable furniture encourage people to speak to other patients. Places that encourage family and friends to visit, like single-bed rooms or private areas which can be screened off, increase visiting, reduce patient stress and speed up recovery.
The Centre has been designed to allow families to get a balance between socialising with other patients and privacy. For example, relatives are free to rearrange the chairs, which are different heights: tall ones for looking in the incubators and lower, more comfortable ones for holding the babies.
“It’s very different,” says Debbie Grant, nurse specialist at the Centre. “I can honestly say I fell in love with this building.”
James Dyson, who enjoys living in the Wiltshire countryside, believes that good hospital design can make people get better more quickly. “Well-considered design and the inventive use of technology at the Dyson Centre for Neonatal Care is improving the health of premature babies,” he says. “New research, comparing the old and the new building, has proved that the building is a treatment in itself.”
Clinicians from the Centre were involved in the research to measure the impact. Unable, for obvious reasons, to ask the babies themselves how they felt, the team devised new and ingenious ways of measuring the activity of babies, staff and parents.
Ten families using the old unit and ten families using the new Centre took part in the research, along with over 40 staff members. Staff movement was tracked using wifi and infrared receivers. The result? Staff in the new Centre spent nearly twice as much time in clinical rooms with the babies as the staff in the old unit did.
The tricky problem of how to measure the babies’ activity was solved by designing special baby accelerometers that fix on to their nappies. Usually used to measure the speed and movement of aircraft and sportspeople, the accelerometers were repurposed to monitor the breathing patterns of the sleeping babies, without any need for invasive tubing and tangled wires. “We had to colour-code them because initially people started throwing them away with the nappy,” says Professor Mark Tooley, a consultant clinical scientist who co-led the research.
The babies in the new Centre slept for 20 per cent longer than those in the old unit. Dr Bernie Marden, a consultant neonatologist who co-led the research, explains that this is crucial for premature babies, because sleep is “when all the brain development gets done”.
Parents visited the new Centre for an average of 30 minutes longer a day. Parents and staff reported feeling less cramped and less stressed than those in the old unit. Ninety per cent of babies observed in the new Centre were breastfed, compared with 64 per cent of those studied in the old unit.
Now, Osborn and colleagues are hoping to employ the principles used in the Centre to create a new cancer centre. Dyson has agreed to fund part of it, and they are fundraising to cover the rest. Osborn explains that in a cancer centre the cure is also sometimes part of the stress. He thinks that the gruelling nature of chemotherapy and radiotherapy shouldn’t be underestimated: “It’s all relative because however nice the place is, it’s still the scene of the crime.”
Research into buildings that make us recover better goes back to the 1980s, and has gathered momentum in recent years. Roger Ulrich, Professor of Architecture at Chalmers University of Technology in Sweden, was one of the first to research how hospital buildings can affect patients.
In 1984, Ulrich took advantage of a natural experiment created by a long hospital corridor, in which half the patients had a view of a brick wall and half a view of trees. The patients facing the natural view got better more quickly and reported less pain than those facing the wall. They asked for fewer painkillers and reported fewer minor complications like headaches or sickness. “Reducing stress, and distracting patients from their internal focus or their obsession on their own pain, reduces the pain,” says Ulrich.
Other studies have shown similar results. In one experiment, bedridden heart-surgery patients were given colour pictures to look at after their operations. Patients looking at an open, well-lit and natural image of trees and water needed fewer painkillers than patients who had no picture or an abstract image. Another study found that healthy volunteers sat in a hospital had a higher pain threshold and better pain tolerance when they were watching a video of nature scenery than when they were watching a blank static screen.
Healthcare design has been improving in the USA, western Europe, Australia and parts of Asia, says Ulrich. The USA, in particular, is leading the way with design initiatives that aim to reduce the spread of infection, such as single-occupancy rooms. In one study, at McGill University in Canada, a move to only single bedrooms in an intensive care unit resulted in 10 per cent shorter stays than in another unit in a local hospital where not all the rooms were single.
Sleep is important. Poor quantity and quality of sleep can lead to increased stress, impaired immune function and difficulties with temperature regulation. Perhaps unsurprisingly, patients in quieter hospitals report that they sleep better. A quieter environment is also associated with fewer patients returning to hospital after discharge, perhaps because of the additional benefits that sleep brings.
The impact of noise on staff has been less widely researched, but this is changing. Studies show that working in quieter hospitals can buffer against stress at work, possibly also helping clinicians to sleep better when they go home. Less noise and better-lit environments also reduce clinician error.
Naturally lit rooms, which allow patients to see whether it’s day or night, have been linked to better sleep, less pain and less stress. In one study patients in naturally lit rooms took fewer painkillers than those in darker rooms, leading to a 21 per cent reduction in medication costs.
The Maggie’s Centre at Newcastle looks a bit like a Teletubby building as you view it across the car park, from the entrance of the main cancer ward. Surrounded by wild flowers and vibrant green grasses, it is topped off, mushroom-like, with a flattened solar panel. As you approach, the head of a tall statue becomes visible over the fence.
Inside, the building exudes a heavy feeling of calm, like a very expensive, modern house. The building faces south and light floods in through the windows. You can see flowers or grass from every room. Nature is reflected on the inside too, where most of the surfaces are wood. In the kitchen, there’s a long wooden table in front of the doors that lead out to the garden. Outside, people are sitting at another table, chatting and drinking tea out of nice mugs. There is nothing clinical about this space. It feels more like somewhere you’d spend a weekend away in the country.
Maggie’s centres are built in hospital grounds specifically for people affected by cancer. There are 15 centres around the UK and one in Hong Kong, with more in development. The centres were the idea of Maggie Keswick Jencks, a designer married to the architect and designer Charles Jencks. After being diagnosed with cancer, from which she died in 1995, Maggie worked to create a blueprint for a place for people affected by cancer that was different from the traditional hospital. Each Maggie’s centre is designed differently, following the blueprint of essentials which Maggie and her husband drew up.
The Newcastle Maggie’s was finished in 2013 and designed by architects fromCullinan Studio in London. One of them, Lucy Brittain, explains how the centres began: “Maggie got her diagnosis [of cancer]… in her 20-minute slot with her consultant, who then said ‘I’m really sorry, I know it’s terrible news, but I’ve got another patient to see.’ And she was in shock. She got put out into one of these stereotypical corridors with nowhere to sit, and all she wanted was to go and have a cry and take it all in.”
Maggie wanted to have a more human place to absorb what was happening, and thought about what patients and families need during cancer diagnosis and treatment. The brief she came up with is hard to categorise.
“Charles Jenks writes that [the Maggie’s Centres] are like a balance between all these typologies,” says Brittain. “So it’s a bit more than a house, but it’s not a house, and it’s into art, but it’s not an art gallery, and it’s kind of spiritual, but it’s not a church, and it’s like a hospital, but it’s not medical.”
“I came to look around… walked in, and had this amazing feeling, like never before,” says Karen Verrill, Head of the Newcastle Maggie’s, remembering her first visit, made while she was deciding whether to accept the job.
People often arrive at the Maggie’s Centre when they’ve just been given a diagnosis. “A lot of it doesn’t register properly,” says Verrill. “It’s not unusual to see someone walk across the threshold for the first time and burst into tears. I think it’s that they’ve found somewhere safe to come to.”
Cancer treatment often requires a lot of sitting around and waiting. “When somebody’s very ill and they need to be rushed in, they don’t care where they’re going as long as it makes them feel less ill,” says Verrill. “But when you’re having routine treatment for a life-threatening illness like cancer, that’s when the environment makes more of a difference.”
Verrill thinks the building also makes it easier for the staff to cope with their sometimes difficult jobs. “Treating people every day, all day, can take its toll… [But here], if I’ve got a few people waiting for me, which I often do have, I don’t feel as stressed as I used to… For me it’s an amazing place to be, to work.”
JJ was a young Royal Navy submariner when he found out that he had cancer. He is still in his early 20s, but looks older. JJ hated to eat in the hospital so Verrill used to pick him up some tea to have on days when he was due for treatment. “I can’t really remember the first time I came. I wasn’t in the best place,” says JJ. “They thought I wasn’t going to survive.”
At Maggie’s, JJ likes to spend time in the kitchen, “in the centre of it all”. But he also appreciates the flexibility of the space. “There’s places you can disappear to as well. I used to go and have a little sleep. I don’t do much here, I like to soak it all in. I’ll sit and talk to people, sit in the garden and absorb the weather. It’s therapeutic.”
Simone, 46, speaks of her experience in hospitals: “Some of those corridors really give you the creeps. They’re those sort of beige magnolia colours, the sort of slightly sick vomity colour… and that feeling of being really claustrophobic. And the waiting rooms… you were all sitting almost like on a bus.”
When Simone had to decide whether to have chemotherapy, coming to Maggie’s really helped: “the light, the kitchen table, everything is so welcoming and so inclusive,” she says. “Somebody just made me a cup of tea and I waited for Karen… That sense of being really valued at a time when you are really struggling is very important…
“People can walk in here and come in anonymously… if you just want to sneak in and make a cup of tea you can do that. Usually somebody will smile at you but no one will force you to do anything.”
Most of us have been lost in a hospital. The corridors all look the same, the signs for the department you want are there one minute and then gone the next. Everybody seems too busy for you to bother them asking for directions.
Getting lost is not only a cause of stress to patients and their families, but, when staff have to give directions, it is also a waste of clinical time. One study in a 600-bed hospital estimated that poor wayfaring cost over $220,000 a year. Much of this was due to the 4,500 hours of clinical time a year – approximately two full-time positions – that was spent giving directions to lost patients and even staff.
Signs at every junction and clear demarcations of different areas with visual cues such as different-coloured floors or walls can help. Some of these principles have also been used for making wards dementia-friendly.
While clear wayfinding is crucial, the research suggests, weirdly, that we also do better in buildings that are not totally straightforward. Therapeutic spaces need to take into account not only the balance of sociability versus privacy, but also the tension between simplicity and complexity. Layouts need to be coherent enough for us to feel we that understand where we are and can interact easily and safely, but complex enough to give us a sense of exploration and mystery, a feeling that not all the space has been revealed at once.
The idea of mystery as a therapeutic element in hospital spaces seems counter-intuitive: why would we want to make environments more complex? The idea comes partly from evolutionary theories that suggest we will stay interested and alert if we have a sense that there are elements of our environment left to discover. But we also need to be able to feel that we have somewhere safe we can retreat to or hide if necessary.
There are many places in the Newcastle Maggie’s Centre where you could slip off and curl up in a corner if you wanted to, without bothering anyone, then wake up and continue with whatever was going on. There are no signs, and areas reveal themselves to you as you explore, like the mezzanine and roof garden that you see only when you walk up the stairs.
It feels like a building that holds a lot of emotion, one where it is possible to sit still and realise what you are feeling. The kitchen, garden and living room are shared spaces that promote sociability, but the smaller rooms provide easily accessible aloneness. Even the toilets contain a comfy chair, in case you want to sit and take a moment on your own.
Oslo’s landscape is a fairytale from above. Clouds give way to dark green forests, which are interrupted by smaller lakes, then larger lakes, then ragged-edged fjords joining the sea. Sandy-coloured roads wind through the trees and rock breaks through in rough textured patches on the hillsides. The pools scattered everywhere make established forests seem like they are growing up from temporary swampland. There is a sprinkling of houses, gathering mass nearer the airport.
The colours are all natural: the dark blue-greens of trees, the blue-black of the water, the misty blue-greys of the mountains receding into the far distance. White clouds hang still above, with purple, rain-bruised underbellies. This is a country where nature is all around you, even in the city, seeping up from the ground, on all sides and above. It is hardly surprising that nature is reflected in Norwegian building design.
Oslo’s Akershus Hospital, completed in 2008, won the coveted Better Building Healthcare Award for Best International Design in 2009 and is widely recognised as anexcellent example of modern health-promoting architecture. In contrast to its backdrop of fir trees and hills, the hospital looks imposingly modern, all straight lines and white. As you follow the path round to the main doors, piano music pipes out of embedded speakers. A pregnant woman and her partner are on their way out, crying, and a sick-looking man in a dressing gown is having a cigarette. The entrance has two sets of revolving doors, one then another, in an effort to keep heat loss to a minimum.
Inside, the ceiling is high and pale wood is everywhere. To the left are some cosy lamps attached to wooden sofa-shaped benches. It is light, modern and noticeably quiet. If you walk a few metres further in, the ceiling suddenly opens up even more, stretching up several storeys and drawing the eye towards the sky, which is visible through the huge glass roof. Bridge-like open corridors traverse the atrium connecting one side of the hospital to the other.
Architect Anne Underhaug, from CF Møller, was involved in designing the hospital, along with other architects, doctors and nurses. For her, the wood and light are not particularly linked to the research on their value, but more to the experience of living in Scandinavia. “Daylight means a lot in Scandinavia because half the year you don’t have very much,” she says. “Regulations are very very strict on daylight. Unlike in the US where you don’t have any daylight regulations at all, where you can have an office with no windows… Here the operating theatres have windows in as well, everything, even the X-ray rooms and CT rooms, MRI rooms, all of them have daylight.”
As for the materials: “Have you seen the houses in Norway?” she laughs. “We build everything out of wood.”
One side of the hospital houses the wards, the other the treatment buildings. Through the middle runs the large glass-covered atrium, with shops, cafés and a hairdresser. The central ‘street’ is a principle copied from other Scandinavian hospitals and allows more normal social interaction in a central fluid space. Smaller, more private places come off the main street, and all areas are built with flexibility in mind. The different parts of the hospital are built so that wards are near other wards with similar functions.
The wards at Akershus have a cluster design, where equipment and nurses are shared between a certain number of patients. There are no closed nursing offices – instead the nurses sit at exposed desks in the middle of the ward corridors. This was a major change. One of the hospital’s nursing team leaders says: “It’s a good thing but also a challenge… You need to be very flexible.”
This wasn’t the only change that took adjustment. “The vision was to make a very technically advanced hospital,” says Underhaug. “It was actually too technically advanced. The people couldn’t use it when they moved over.” The electronic dosage system for prescribing and giving out medication had to be put on hold for a year so staff could get used to it. Clinicians at the hospital are now used to seeing the robots that deliver items gliding about, but for me they were a source of delight.
Within the building, hidden conduits transport waste and resources. Equipment is stored locally and can be ordered to clinical areas or dispatched to the sterilisation system via pneumatic delivery tubes. The containers used to carry equipment and clinical samples around the hospital are opened by another robot, Roberta. She lives in the basement and exists to stop the staff from getting wrist strain.
Akershus was built with the newest technologies at the forefront of its design. But has this made a difference? The majority of the hospital’s heating is provided renewably by heat-pump plants from specially drilled wells, 200 metres underground, on a neighbouring farmer’s land.
Looking at the length of time that patients stay there, it’s hard to draw comparisons as the new hospital serves more elderly patients than the one it replaced did. However, even with an older and more medically complex population, the average bed stay is now four days: approximately one day less than in the old hospital.
The impressive modernity of Akershus and the beauty of the building as you move around it seem to speak for the principles of evidence-based design. But Underhaug doesn’t agree. “I think evidence-based design came afterwards… People need to look out, they need the daylight. You don’t need a book on evidence-based design to know that.”
She thinks that the economic and social climate is more relevant than the research in Norway’s hospital design; that architectural judgement and human instinct play as much a part in good design as the research and textbooks. “Of course I would like to say that it’s our thinking that we like to be light and concerned about material,” she says. “I think it actually has more to do with the fact that hospital buildings in Norway go in cycles.”
While in neighbouring Denmark a large programme of hospital building was carried out at once, in Norway hospitals have been built in phases, each learning from the last. Akershus follows in the wake of Rikshospital, also in Oslo, and St Olav’s in Trondheim, and it uses similar principles of light, space and nature. Publicly funded, the hospital received about £700 million from the Norwegian government. “I think it was the right time,” said Underhaug. “Because also the economy was quite good and you could start to think about what you really wanted… and a kind of public discussion, what should a hospital be?”
Despite the available evidence, hospitals and clinics vary hugely in how much they take into account the design factors that we know are better for patient health. Many healthcare services are housed in buildings that do the exact opposite of what research suggests is helpful.
So, what should a hospital be? Are we treating patients and making staff work in places that are likely to make them feel worse? Shouldn’t the buildings where healthcare is given themselves have health-promoting properties?
The King’s Fund, an independent charity working to improve health and healthcare in England, has collated research on healthcare design. Sarah Waller, its Programme Director for Enhancing the Healing Environment, acknowledges the financial tensions that many services face. “It depends totally on what the service is going to provide and what’s affordable,” she says.
“There are still some big builds but more often it’s refurbishment… We have a better understanding than we did have, and there are some beautiful examples, for instance, some beautiful hospital gardens, but a lot of it still gets forgotten. And a lot of architects say they challenge their clients but the client says there’s not enough money.”
Roger Ulrich, the researcher who first compared natural and non-natural views in hospitals, firmly believes that good hospital design can save money. “It’s clear that hospital design can help reduce pain and stress,” he says. “By carefully selecting, in evidence-based ways, certain important design upgrades when creating a new hospital, the design upgrades will cost more, e.g., single rooms, measures to reduce noise, but they pay back rather quickly by shortening stays and reducing other costs.”
Ulrich also links better-designed buildings with staff who are happier and more effective, and who spend more time with patients while coping better with the demands of their jobs.
It’s not just cost that gets in the way of better buildings. “The timeline in designing, creating and building a hospital is at least five years, often ten,” says Ulrich. “So any hospital that opens its doors today is at a minimum five years out of date. The edge of knowledge moves on.”
An estimated 40,000 people are hospitalised every day in the UK alone, and even more work in healthcare services. As the world’s population continues to expand, and the proportion of those who are elderly grows, medical care – especially for the very young and very old – is more important than ever.
It might be expensive to invest in better design now, but the alternative means leaving patients and staff in buildings that make them feel sicker and more stressed. While the ferocious financial pressures on healthcare services make investment difficult, the research suggests that putting short-term costs ahead of the evidence on health-promoting buildings could cost us all dear.
Traveling isn’t only for the rich these days, you know, what with more and more budget airlines and services like Airbnb and Couchsurfing popping up. But if you’d rather do some armchair exploration at this point in time, and you’ve already seen most of what Street View can offer, then this Indiegogo campaign might tickle your virtual wanderlust. The Barcelona-based project, called Omnipresenz, wants to give you the power to control a human avatar wearing a camera-equipped helmet that feeds you real-time video and audio as he walks around town. You can instruct the avatar to complete tasks as he explores locations for you through the interface you can see below the fold. If you ask him to do something nice for others, which takes money to accomplish (buy food for a stray or give a stranger some flowers, for instance), the service’s users will have to vote on it first and raise funds to get it done.
Pledging €10 ($12) on Indiegogo will give you two hours of access to the system per week for a month, while €30 ($37) will give you four hours per week, assuming you’re not too late to nab one of those limited edition reward tiers. There are special, slightly more expensive options that come with something extra, such as the €40 ($49) one that sends you on a treasure hunt, solving riddles and finding clues while your avatar does all the footwork.
It’s the most expensive tiers that caught our eye, though, because by the looks of it, Omnipresenz is also selling virtual boyfriend-girlfriend experiences for a price. A €100 ($124) pledge promises you a romantic two-hour dinner with your avatar, while for €220 ($273), you can get the “deepest possible experience” with him/her wherein “you can be a little kinky” — whatever being “a little kinky” means.
That said, since you’re dealing with a real human being and not a robot or an RPG character, your avatar can decline requests he finds highly inappropriate. Some avatars could be more open-minded than others, but you absolutely cannot ask them to do anything against the law — the administrators will wield their banhammer if you persist. The Omnipresenz team hopes to raise €33,000 ($41,000) to launch the project’s beta phase in February 2015. Take note that while only Barcelona-based avatars will be available during beta, you can sign up as a customer wherever you are. If successful, or if the campaign raises more money, the team plans to place avatars in other metropolises around the globe, including New York, Paris, Tokyo and Hong Kong.
Who should chip in the most to restock the community coffee supply at work is a common point of contention at some offices. This RFID infused coffee brewer called Juraduino by [Oliver Krohn] solves the issue at his workplace once and for all by logging how much is being consumed by each person and how often; quite the diplomatic hack.
[Oliver] donated his old Jura Coffee maker to his office with some added hardware cleverly hidden underneath the faceplate of the machine. An Arduino mounted within runs the show, powered through mini USB from the logic unit of the coffee maker itself. Once a co-worker swipes their RFID card over the front of the machine, a real-time clock module stamps when the coffee was requested, and then logs the amount selected by that person on a mini SD card. The data stored is sent via an additional bluetooth module to a custom app [Oliver] created with MIT App Inventor for his phone which displays the information. These details can then be exported in the form of an email addressed to everyone in the office at the end of the week, announcing definitively who can be counted on to restock the bulk of the community supplies.
Though there isn’t a link available with further documentation, [Oliver] mentions in the ‘details’ portion of his video that he’d be happy to share that information with anyone who contacts him regarding the project. You can see the Jura at work below:
The Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) in Carlsbad, New Mexico is now shut down, awaiting a $500 million recovery plan that could take years. WIPP is made of up salt caverns, which are supposed to safety entomb barrels of radioactive waste for thousands of years. The barrels contain gloves, equipment, and other waste products contaminated by nuclear weapons research, and they’re often packed with kitty litter to absorb extra liquids before being sealed, hopefully for eons.
Waste Drum 68660, the one that burst, was packed at Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL), the Manhattan Project site that is 300 miles north in New Mexico. According to the New Mexican, the LANL and its contractors made a number of missteps, including using an organic wheat-based kitty litter instead of a clay-base inorganic kitty litter. Thanks to that switcheroo, the drum ultimately contained the ingredients of a bomb. On February, the drum blasted open. Temperatures rose to 1600 F in WIPP’s underground cavern, and 20 workers were exposed to low levels of radiation.
Officials tell the New Mexican the exact conditions of the explosion have not been recreated in a lab. But the organic kitty litter has been under suspicion because it can release heat as it decomposes. Waste Drum 68660 also contained nitrate salts, trace metals from a glove, and acid neutralizer to deal with its high acidity, which altogether provided the other components needed for an explosion.
LANL has never explained why it switched to organic kitty litter, though emails obtained by the New Mexicansuggest it originated with a dumb typo in a LANL policy manual that had gone unnoticed by higher ups for over a year:
The revision, approved by LANL, took effect Aug. 1, 2012….explicitly directed waste packagers at the lab to “ENSURE an organic absorbent (kitty litter) is added to the waste” when packaging drums of nitrate salt.
“Does it seem strange that the procedure was revised to specifically require organic kitty litter to process nitrate salt drums?” [David] Freeman, Nuclear Waste Partnership’s chief nuclear engineer at WIPP, asked a colleague in a May 28 email.
Freeman went on to echo some of the possible reasons for the change bandied about in earlier emails, such as the off-putting dust or perfumed scents characteristic of clay litter. But his colleague, Mark Pearcy, a member of the team that reviews waste to ensure it is acceptable to be stored at WIPP, offered a surprising explanation.
“General consensus is that the ‘organic’ designation was a typo that wasn’t caught,” he wrote, implying that the directions should have called for inorganic litter.
Since September 2012, in fact, the LANL packed up to 5,565 barrels of radioactive waste with organic kitty litter but mislabeled it as inorganic kitty litter—16 of these barrels are also highly acidic and contain nitrate salts like the one that burst. It took an explosion before anyone noticed the mistake.
In addition to being horrifying on its own, the February explosion raises serious question about the safety of nuclear waste storage, especially when you consider how “comically simplistic,” to use the New Mexican‘s words, the explosion’s origins seems to be. There are many more worrying details in the New Mexican story, including how LANL took other shortcuts in packing the drum and failed to inform WIPP. It certainly doesn’t inspire confidence in our nation’s handling of radioactive waste.
It was gaming’s hot topic for 2013: Steam Machines. Otherwise known as Valve’s plan to take on the living room. The project had my attention for months, with Valve teasing a revolutionary controller, a custom operating system and even an army of hardware partners at CES 2014. Now, almost a year later, those PC manufacturers are ready to unleash their products on the world, with or without Valve. But what happens when you launch a Steam Machine without the project’s progenitor? You get the iBuyPower SBX: a $549 Windows 8 desktop ($399 without the OS or accessories) designed to be an entertainment hub. So can Steam’s Big Picture mode survive without the backbone of Steam OS or the company’s oddball touch controller? Let’s find out.
The iBuyPower SBX will look at home in your entertainment center, but it won’t survive there without a mouse and keyboard.
Let’s set aside all the PC parts used inside the SBX, and instead take in the machine’s facade: a thick, stylized box that looks a lot like a modern video game console. It’s a visual marriage of the Xbox One and PlayStation 4, combining the bold size and hard corners of the former with the split-level chassis of the latter. A multicolored LED strip pulses around the device’s perimeter, too — a design flourish often found in PC gaming peripherals. It’s a clean, simple design, but it’s also symbolic of everything the product wants to be: a media center that bridges the gap between consoles and PC games.
Overall, the SBX errs on the console side, with very few bells and whistles. The front of the device features just two buttons: power and an LED control that cycles through an assortment of animated, static, rotating or pulsating colors (including a “rainbow dance party” mode, my personal favorite). The LED strip can also be disabled if you find it distracting. Two USB (2.0) ports live on the machine’s right side, but most of the action is on the SBX’s back: two more USB (3.0) ports, HDMI, DVI, VGA, Ethernet, a power supply and a small collection of analog audio plugs.
Although there are four USB ports on the chassis, one is already spoken for: The SBX ships with an Xbox 360 controller and an Xbox 360 controller wireless adapter. Installing it is as easy as plugging it in and starting up the system (iBuyPower has preinstalled the dongle’s drivers). When you do turn the SBX on, it automatically boots into Steam Big Picture mode too, completing the illusion that iBuyPower’s new media center PC is really a game console. Unfortunately, that illusion isn’t perfect.
The ‘console’ problem
For all of its efforts to look like a modern game console, it’s hard to forget that the SBX is a PC — one that was never intended to reach the market in its current state. That isn’t to say it’s half-baked or poorly made, but the product was designed to coincide with Valve’s Steam Machine Initiative, a program that would have equipped the SBX with a dual-touchpad game controller and a special build of Linux designed specifically for televisions. Despite making quite a lot of noise at CES 2014, the program hasn’t launched, which means the SBX (and every other pre-Steam Machine) has to make do without it.
This leaves us with Windows 8 and the aforementioned Xbox 360 gamepad: both great options for PC gamers, but neither suited to a “PC console” wedged into your entertainment center. It’s not that the setup can’t work; it’s just that it doesn’t always work. The console-like illusion of Steam’s Big Picture mode is easily broken by game launchers, Windows errors or games that aren’t configured to launch in full-screen mode by default. It’s true that some games (like Borderlands 2 and TheWitcher 2) feature some rudimentary gamepad support in their launchers, but most titles with pre-game prompts will break the experience.
A careful user can attempt to avoid these kinds of situations by choosing to play games that feature a solid controller icon — Steam’s indication that a title features full gamepad support. Most of the time, this works, but it’s not always accurate: Final Fantasy IV, for instance, claims to be 100 percent controller compatible, but still brings Big Picture mode to a screeching halt with an obtrusive, mouse-only launcher. All you have to do is click “play” to load a full, controller-friendly experience, but this seemingly simple task is impossible without a mouse.
This isn’t a new problem (anyone who’s ever tried to use Steam on a TV has faced it), but it’s particularly nagging on a PC that wants to be seen as a game console. The SBX boots up in the vain hope that its user will only ever need the Xbox 360 gamepad that ships with it, and that just isn’t the case.
It may be impossible to forget that the SBX is a PC that merely masquerades as a game console, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t still pretty darn fun. Despite needing occasional prodding from a mouse cursor, Steam’s Big Picture mode does a good job of translating the PC’s basic functions into a gamepad-manageable format. I integrated it into my normal gaming setup for several weeks, and thoroughly enjoyed having easy, lazy access to my favorite PC games from my couch. In fact, if I didn’t see the Windows desktop pop up during the SBX boot sequence, I’d almost be ready to believe that the SBX is a real console, at least initially.
The 10-foot interface not only offers simple, clear menus for navigating the Steam store, buying and installing games and managing basic social functions, but it also provides access to basic settings: screen resolution, microphone audio settings and even the ability to restart, sleep or shut down the machine without touching Windows. If all you want to do with your PC console is play controller-compatible Steam games, it’s perfect. Want to do more? Be prepared to run into some more “mouse and keyboard” problems.
Steam’s TV interface has menus that allow you to add non-Steam programs to the 10-foot-display, but it doesn’t do anything to help you navigate those programs once they’ve launched. This is problematic because Steam isn’t the only PC game marketplace out there, and it doesn’t have everything. Want to play popular shooters like Titanfall or anything from the Battlefield series? You need to download EA’s Origin — a desktop content-delivery platform without controller support. In theory, you could use a mouse and keyboard to download games on other platforms, set them up to launch through Steam and never worry about it again, but this breaks down on a game-to-game basis. Battlefield 3 and 4, for instance, launch through a clunky web-browser interface. No mouse input, no game.
Although the SBX is built with gaming in mind, it does take up residence in your entertainment center. Can it be used as a media player? Sort of. Steam has a built-in music player, but you’ll still need a mouse and keyboard to load the PC up with your files. The interface’s web browser seems to play nice with most video-streaming services (YouTube, Hulu and network sites like ABC all worked fine), but Netflix’s website asked me to download the Windows 8 app, forcing me to reach for traditional computer peripherals yet again.
Can it be fixed?
Okay, you probably get it by now: the iBuypower SBX isn’t a Steam Machine, and it suffers for it. But what if it were? By borrowing a first-generation Steam Controller from an industry friend, I was able to find out. The truth is, using the SBX as a “real” Steam Machine is kind of a mixed bag, but that isn’t iBuyPower’s fault.
Without a doubt, Valve’s dual-touch gamepad is a much better way to handle Windows 8 from a couch. In the Steam Interface, it acts a lot like the Xbox 360 controller, navigating the menu with basic up, down, left and right directions and selecting items with the buttons — but as soon as a Windows 8 element pops up, things change. The right touchpad immediately becomes a sort of emulated trackball, “rolling” under the thumb with a (surprisingly loud) haptic vibration. It feels familiar and almost natural. With few exceptions, I failed to find a single hiccup that couldn’t be dealt with using the Steam Controller’s mouse mode. I could even use it to call up the Windows 8 virtual keyboard, which allowed me to enter text and manage passwords in programs outside the influence of Steam’s gamepad interface.
The Steam UI changed as soon as I plugged the controller in, too — new icons representative of the prototype’s odd button layout appeared on the screen, and a new option for tweaking the controller’s configuration showed up in Steam’s in-game overlay menu. Having an option to customize the controller’s output on a game-by-game basis was nice, but usually I didn’t have to use it: Most games seemed to already have default Steam Controller layouts assigned to them. Some of these layouts are sourced from the community, while others simply emulate the Xbox 360 gamepad. Either way, it almost always worked.
While the Steam Controller was clearly superior for piloting a PC from my couch, it wasn’t always the better gamepad. Some games (like FPS and action titles) just didn’t feel right under the prototype’s pressure pads, and not all of the controller-customization options in the Steam interface worked correctly. There were also times when I wanted to switch the controller from gamepad to “mouse mode,” and wasn’t able to. That’s all fine — the Steam Controller is a prototype and it’s not under review here — but the fact that I preferred to use it as a companion device for navigating Windows over an all-in-one gamepad shows that Valve’s Steam Machine project just isn’t ready to launch. Which is probably why it hasn’t.
Using both the Steam Controller and Xbox 360 gamepad simultaneously worked out as the best compromise for me, but that’s not an option for general consumers. The folks at iBuyPower tell me that an app is coming that will allow users to control the mouse and keyboard from their smartphone, but it won’t be available until early December — and the first version will only be able to tweak the SBX’s LED lightshow. Peripheral emulation won’t come until later. This could conceivably be a tolerable solution to the machine’s mouse and keyboard woes, but launching without the functionality feels like a misstep.
Let’s assume you’ve worked out how to handle pop-up game launchers, Windows errors and any other half-measure the SBX can throw at you, and you’re ready to play some games. How do they run? That depends on your perspective. As a PC, the SBX performs on par with what you’d expect from its spec list: With a 3.1GHz AMD Athlon X4 840 CPU, 4GB of RAM and a Radeon R7 250X GPU, the SBX is a haven for middling graphics settings.
I found most games ran best on their respective “medium” graphics presets, and indeed, this is what most games defaulted to as their “optimal configurations.” Battlefield 4, for instance, averaged 48 frames per second on medium, with Crysis 3 and Titanfall clocking in at 35 and 30 fps, respectively. Some games did a little better, of course: Tomb Raider ran at 66 fps on medium settings, and sustained a cool 45 fps on high. Other titles could even manage Ultra configurations: both BioShock Infinite and Alien: Isolation maintained a respectable 34 fps on maximum settings — but this was typically the exception, not the rule.
Objectively, I didn’t expect anything more from the SBX — I knew its technical specifications going in, and I knew it wasn’t designed as a graphical powerhouse. Still, the machine falls into a category of media PCs that competes directly with contemporary game consoles, and that forces me to think about its performance in a completely different way. Pitted against the same games on a console, the SBX usually fared worse. Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare, for instance, ran noticeably smoother on my PlayStation 4 than it did on the SBX, featuring higher-resolution textures (vs. the “optimal” settings on the SBX) and faster loading times. Ryse, a game that debuted on the Xbox One, stuttered heavily on the SBX, and failed to break 30 fps even on its lowest settings.
While that assessment might not be completely fair (after all, consoles often run games at a lower resolution than their PC counterparts), it’s still important. By and large, I tried to treat the SBX as the kind of device it’s being marketed as: a game console. This means I accepted the default resolution and graphics settings it gave me when I first started a game, and in the above cases, it was a notably worse experience than I found on consoles. That said, a savvy user can easily trade frame rate and texture quality for resolution and indeed, I was able to score higher frame rates and better texture resolution by running games below my TV’s native 1080p resolution.
Even if you discard the above direct comparison to the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One, be warned that the SBX still isn’t a game console. It’s a weird PC. That’s okay, but that classification comes with a lot of caveats. In addition to constantly needing to tweak settings, grab keyboards and wrestle with game launchers, I had the SBX freeze up on me multiple times in games, forcing me to manually reset the device using the power button. This didn’t happen frequently, but even one total system lockup is too many.
Even with all of these problems, however, I have to admit that I had genuine fun playing with the SBX. It couldn’t keep pace with my current-gen consoles, but it did outclass my Xbox 360’s older games. It’s also a window to the wonderful world of Steam sales and the general trend of PC games simply costing less than their console counterparts. If you’re willing to juggle a mouse and keyboard, hurdle a few errors and occasionally mutter frustrated profanities at your television, the SBX can still be a worthwhile addition to your entertainment center — but its joys will often be hard won.
In many ways, the iBuyPower SBX is a product ahead of its time — but not in a revolutionary way. Behind its attractive custom case, colorful lights and the facade of Steam’s Big Picture mode, the SBX is still just a desktop PC in a living room-friendly chassis. At $549, it’s not a bad value for what it is (I parted-out a similar system to the tune of $553), but it feels like an incomplete package: Valve’s 10-foot interface isn’t enough to take on the living room by itself, and iBuyPower offers nothing to bridge the gap between Steam and Windows 8. If so-called Steam Machines are going to succeed without Valve, they need to offer more than just Big Picture mode.
The SBX is trying to take on a market that hasn’t emerged yet, and it feels woefully unprepared for the task. It’s a shame, too: The potential of a home theater gaming PC shines behind the SBX’s faults, but not brightly enough to make up for them. At the end of my time with the SBX, I was left wishing it was just a little better, and I’m genuinely sad that it isn’t.
[Martin] grew up in the days of computer magazines, and originally wanted to build his own computer. That plan didn’t work out, but his parents did get him a Speccy in 1986, but the love of old hardware is still there. Over the years, this evolved into computer collecting, with the old ZX Spectrum, an Commodore 64, ORICs, and Acorns rounding out his collection. As we learned at the Computeum, there the middle of Europe had computers that just aren’t seen on the English-speaking Internet, and [Martin]‘s collection is no exception.
In addition to doing some very cool stuff for some very old computers, [Martin] also donated something to the Hackaday Hackaspace. It’s a PMI-80, a single board computer made for university computer science students, and basically a KIM-1, but based on a Czechoslovak clone of the Intel 8080 made by Tesla. There is 1k of RAM and 1k of ROM on this board, a calculator keypad, and a few seven segment displays. For the time, it was a great ‘student’ computer, and not really rare in Europe, but this is the first one I’ve seen on my side of the Atlantic.
You can see some pics of the PMI-80 below with [Martin]‘s interview. [Martin] also promised to write-up a short history of classic central european computers, a subject there isn’t much written about in the anglosphere. We’ll post a link to that when he finishes that up.
“The book was soooo much better” is a phrase that screams to me “let’s not be friends.” It is almost a given at this point, that whenever one thing is adapted from another thing, the original thing is always vastly superior—except when it’s not.
One bit of big movie news this week is Chris Pratt signing on for another comic book adaptation, this time A.J. Lieberman’s Cowboy Ninja Viking. This news got me wondering when was the last time I saw a movie that was actually better than the comic it was based on. Immediately this film came to mind.
A History of Violence began as a graphic novel by John Wagner and Vince Locke. A nice little comic but by no means an Alan Moore-level epic that aimed to change the medium or even mob fiction for that matter. It simply was nothing spectacular, but Cronenberg turned mediocrity into cinema perfection.
Any movie with the word “violence” in the title is bound to have plenty of it, and this one definitely does. In case you didn’t already know, the film follows Viggo Mortensen (Tom Stall), an owner of a small-town diner whose violent past (get it?) catches up with him. Where the first half has some resemblance of the OGN, Cronenberg takes several liberties in the film second half and thrusts A History of Violence into the “must watch” category of the expansive mob film genre.
A History of Violence is a film in defiance of the “book is better” cliché, and giving me the rare respite from that phrase makes me love this movie even more. [Amazon]
Welcome to Movie Night, where Gizmodo staffers tell you what you should be streaming tonight.