Watch this amazing K’Nex pinball machine

Tyler’s a K’Nex pinball wizard. Or something!

I featured a K’Nex rollercoaster a while back and it brought back memories of the K’Nex toys I had. Well, now someone has built a K’Nex pinball machine. That “someone” is Tyler Bower and the machine is a beast:

Where do we even start? This is a full-size pinball machine, as in 7′ tall, 5′ long, and 3′ wide. [Tyler] estimates that it’s made from about 16,000 pieces, or around 73 pounds of plastic, much of which was obtained locally and is secondhand. Many of those pieces make up the ten drill motor-driven chain lifts in the back — these move the ball through the machine after it goes through one of the track triggers and return it to the playfield in various delightful ways.

Speaking of ways to score, there are nine of them total, and some are harder to get to than others. They all involve some really amazing K’nex movement, and each one uses aluminum foil switches to trigger scoring through a MaKey MaKey.

In some ways, it reminds me of Mouse Trap (the board game) but with a lot more engineering.

Stream a video demo of the pinball machine below.

(via Hackaday)

Half-Asleep Chris’s incredible LEGO railway

All aboard the Half-Asleep Express!

YouTuber Half-Asleep Chris built an immense LEGO railway that went up the stairs of his house, through a light tunnel, a rainforest dome, out into his garden and underwater at one stage. The incredible engineering was only matched by his ingenuity and determination as he overcame an obstacle or two.

Stream it below.

A new study suggests that whales and hippos had a common ancestor that was likely a land mammal

Hippos, whales, dolphins, and porpoises are all related but their skin evolution isn’t because of a shared ancestor…

In April, the American Museum of Natural History published a remarkable study in Current Biology about the “aquatic skin adaptations of whales and hippos” and how they actually evolved independently rather than through a “shared amphibious ancestor”.

Titled “Genomic and anatomical comparisons of skin support independent adaptation to life in water by cetaceans and hippos“, the paper analysed both cetaceans (whales, dolphins, and porpoises) and hippos’ skin and discovered 8 inactivated genes but none of them shared inactivating mutations. This suggests their adaptations to aquatic life were independent of each other.

“When you look at the molecular signatures, there is a striking and clear answer,” said study co-corresponding author and evolutionary genomicist Michael Hiller, from the Max Planck Institute of Molecular Cell Biology and Genetics and the LOEWE-Centre for Translational Biodiversity Genomics in Germany. “Our results strongly support the idea that ‘aquatic’ skin traits found in both hippos and cetaceans evolved independently. And not only that, we can see that the gene losses in the hippo lineage happened much later than in the cetacean lineage.”

This throws out the idea that hippos and cetaceans had an ancestor that gave them skin that helped them live in the water completely (cetaceans) and semiaquatically (hippos).

The mysterious migrations of North Pacific loggerhead turtles

A marine biology unknown has been revealed.

SchTechDaily investigated the migrations of loggerhead turtles from the North Pacific in April:

North Pacific loggerhead turtles’ years-long oceanic journeys remain poorly understood. Using data from satellite tracking and other techniques, scientists reveal a unique phenomenon that may explain the endangered migrants’ pathway.

Known as “the lost years,” it is a little-understood journey that unfolds over thousands of miles and as much as two decades or more. Now, a Stanford-led study illuminates secrets of the North Pacific loggerhead turtles’ epic migration between their birthplace on the beaches of Japan and reemergence years later in foraging grounds off the coast of Baja California. The study, published April 8 in Frontiers in Marine Science, provides evidence for intermittent passages of warm water that allow sea turtles to cross otherwise inhospitably cold ocean barriers. The findings could help inform the design of conservation measures to protect sea turtles and other migratory sea creatures amid climatic changes that are altering their movements.

Loggerhead turtles are the most abundant species of sea turtle in the United States but globally, they are otherwise threatened or endangered. They can live between 70 to 80 years with female loggerheads reaching maturity at about 35.

NOAA Fisheries has a great page on loggerhead turtles and how you can help to conserve their species.

Congrats to Vanessa E. Wyche: the first Black female director of NASA’s Johnson Space Center

Wyche is also a strong proponent of innovation and inclusion and STEM education.

Shout out to Vanessa E. Wyche on her promotion from deputy director to director of NASA’s Johnson Space Center, the first Black woman to hold the position.

[…] She is responsible for overseeing a broad range of human spaceflight activities, including development and operation of human spacecraft, commercialization of low-Earth orbit and Johnson’s role in landing the first woman and first person of color on the surface of the Moon.

Wyche was most recently deputy director at Johnson, a position she held since 2018. Other key leadership positions Wyche has held at NASA include: assistant and deputy director of Johnson; director of the Exploration Integration and Science Directorate, flight manager of several missions of the retired Space Shuttle Program, executive officer in the Office of the NASA Administrator, and led additional center-level technical and program organizations. Before joining NASA in 1989, Wyche worked for the Food and Drug Administration in Washington D.C.

via her NASA page

The radioactive boar-pigs of Fukushima

Piggin’ hell!

I think the best word to describe this is “wild”. There are radioactive boar-pig hybrids living and thriving on the island of Fukushima.

ON MARCH 11, 2011, a magnitude 9.0 earthquake — the largest ever recorded in Japan — generated a tsunami that devastated the island nation. The tsunami also triggered an accident at a nuclear reactor in the Fukushima region of Japan, leading to the evacuation of 164,000 residents within a 20-kilometer radius of the reactor.

Among the evacuees were pig farmers who left their swine behind — fleeing from the threat of nuclear radiation.

According to research published Wednesday in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B, the absence of humans and the sudden release of pigs into the wild led to new boar-pig hybrids that are now reclaiming Fukushima — though researchers don’t know if these hybrids will last in the long run.

A similar thing has happened in Chernobyl where wolves and elk are living in the radioactive zone and new plants are growing where people can no longer live. This goes to show how resilient nature can be despite humanity’s best efforts to destroy it. But there’s a catch: what happens when people go back to Fukushima?

The eventual return of humans to Fukushima will likely challenge the boars’ ability to roam freely as well, potentially putting an end to the boars’ free reign over the land.

“We do not expect these adaption changes in boar, likely caused from the absence of people, to maintain in populations especially as [human] disturbance returns,” Anderson says.

For now, this sounder will continue to pillage and roam — as humans consider whether or not they are ready to return to the region they were forced to abandon.

Reminds a little of the cocaine hippos of Colombia.

A good explainer on how the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines won’t alter your DNA

And, no, you won’t turn into Spider-Man either.

In a thorough article by Archa Fox, Jen Martin and Traude Beilharz, the trio broke down the myths about the Pfizer and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines altering people’s DNA and explained why this would be extremely rare. And those rare cases?

There are some extremely rare exceptions. One is where genetic elements, known as retro-transposons, hijack cellular mRNA, convert it into DNA and insert that DNA back into your genetic material.

This has occurred sporadically throughout evolution, producing some ancient copies of mRNAs scattered throughout our genome, to form so-called pseudogenes.

Some retroviruses, such as HIV, also insert their RNA into our DNA, using similar methods to retro-transposons.

However, there is a vanishingly small chance of a naturally occurring retro-transposon becoming active in a cell that has just received a mRNA vaccine. There’s also a vanishingly small chance of being infected with HIV at precisely the same time as receiving the mRNA vaccine.

So, yeah, it’s not impossible but it’s so significantly less likely to have it happen to you compare to, say, contracting the virus and becoming seriously ill and/or dying? I’m no gambler but I’d go all-in on “get the vaccine”.

A mathematician explains infinity in 5 minutes

Buzz Lightyear would have enjoyed this episode.

Dr. Sophie Calabretto of Macquarie University explained the complex idea of infinity in ABC Science’s Elevator Pitch series, hosted by Angharad Yeo.

Infinity is this concept we use to describe something that doesn’t have a bound… we think of the natural numbers, which are just the counting numbers like 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, etc. It’s something bigger than that. So it’s not actually a number, but it’s something a number can tend towards. Nothing ever reaches infinity, it can just get closer to infinity.

She also explained the opposite of infinity. Ironically, all of this was done in a definite amount of time in a confined space and maybe that demonstrates both concepts in their own way.

Stream the video below.

A Sony flip phone from 2000 running Android 9

State of the art. Kinda.

A remarkable feat:

Of course whatever processor and electronics the phone came with are long gone, and instead the phone sports the internals of a modern Chinese watch-smartphone grafted in in place of the original. The whole electronics package fits in the screen opening, and though it required some wiring for the USB-C socket and a few other parts it looks for all the world from the outside as though it was meant to run Android. You can take a look in the video below the break.

Makes me miss my old rooted Nexus One.

(via Hackaday)

Awareness of climate change disproportionately affecting Black people isn’t enough

‘The Black climate agenda is about more than just representation.’

Vox wrote a piece on the Black climate agenda:

Tamara Toles O’Laughlin is one of the best-known advocates for what she calls the “Black climate agenda”: a movement that seeks to correct the failures of the climate movement to include Black people and that wants to see racial justice at the center of climate policy conversations.

A lifelong environmental activist, Toles O’Laughlin is the former director of the North American region of 350.org,an international environmental organization founded in 2007 that uses a grassroots approach to build support for ending fossil fuels.

The Black climate agenda is about more than just representation. It’s about equity and righting the wrongs that have been done in the past to make a just future possible. In her vision, the agenda should include policies like climate reparations that address the disproportionate impact climate change has had on Black communities, as well as Indigenous people and other communities of color.

Craig Mod on code as therapy

There’s healing power in those curly brackets and semicolons.

I’m slightly averse to JavaScript for reasons but I appreciate it’s one of the most popular programming languages around and a significant element of the Web. For Craig Mod, it is also a component of healing as he wrote for Wired:

Like many other writers and artists, I maintain a personal website. My current one has been active for nearly 20 years. Code in mind, I brushed off my rusty JavaScript skills and started to poke around for fuzzy-search libraries I could bolt onto my homepage, to make it easy to find specific essays from my collection.

Break the problem into pieces. Put them into a to-do app (I use and love Things). This is how a creative universe is made. Each day, I’d brush aside the general collapse of society that seemed to be happening outside of the frame of my life, and dive into search work, picking off a to-do. Covid was large; my to-do list was reasonable.

The real joy of this project wasn’t just in getting the search working but the refinement, the polish, the edge bits. Getting lost for hours in a world of my own construction. Even though I couldn’t control the looming pandemic, I could control this tiny cluster of bits.

The whole process was an escape, but an escape with forward momentum. Getting the keyboard navigation styled just right, shifting the moment the search payload was delivered, finding a balance of index size and search usefulness. And most important, keeping it all light, delightfully light. And then writing it up, making it a tiny “gist” on GitHub, sharing with the community. It’s like an alley-oop to others: Go ahead, now you use it on your website. Super fast, keyboard-optimized, client side Hugo search.

You had me at search, Craig (I’m an SEO). For me, coding in HTML, CSS, and Python—with the odd but of PHP tinkering on WordPress—has helped me through the pandemic and having my own online plot of land to maintain.

This part spoke to me too:

It’s not perfect, but it’s darn good enough.

The point being that a habit of reaching for code is not only healing for the self, but a trick to transmute a sense of dread into something: A function that seems to add, however trivially, a small bit of value to the greater whole in a troubling moment.

The world has been shit and you have a choice: wallow in it indefinitely or turn some of that negativity (and it’s realm relative, valid, and not to compare with anyone else’s) into something positive for each of us. Code is that playground for me and it seems to be the same for Craig.

(featured image credit: Christopher Hiller, shared via CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 licence)