SciTechBlog
April 30, 2010

Geek Out!: Five picks for Free Comic Book Day

Posted: 03:29 PM ET
Iron Man and Thor, part of Free Comic Book Day
Iron Man and Thor, part of Free Comic Book Day

Editor's note: Geek Out! posts feature the latest and most interesting in nerd-culture news. From sci-fi and fantasy to gadgets and science, if you can geek out over it, you can find it on Geek Out! Look for Geek Out! posts on CNN's SciTech blog.

Tomorrow is a magical day at your local comic book shop. You can walk into the store, load up on some comic books and walk out without paying ... completely legally!

That's right, it's Free Comic Book Day, and many comic book publishers are offering very special issues of some of their hottest titles for fans to enjoy without paying a dime.

This event has taken place since 2002, after retailer Joe Field was inspired by Baskin Robbins' "Free Scoop" night. For an ailing industry, it seemed like just the ticket: If it works for ice cream, why not?

Every year, many comic book stores make Free Comic Book Day a big deal, and with so many major and independent publishers out there, there's a lot to choose from. There's literally something for everyone, from Archie and the Simpsons to a sampling of comics from small publisher Oni Press to a comic book about Lady Gaga. Here are a few suggested titles to check out:

– War of the Supermen #0 is the beginning of what is promised to be one of the biggest Superman events ever, the culmination of a years-long story arc, involving the arrival of 100,000 super-powered Kryptonians living on Earth. The idea behind these free comics is usually to make them accessible to new readers, so if they can pull this off, that will be quite the feat. Younger readers might want to check out the DC Kids Mega Sampler instead. (DC is owned by Time Warner, which also owns CNN.)

– This year, Seth Rogen will star as the Green Hornet in a major motion picture. However, this is hardly the first time Hollywood has tried to bring the Hornet to the big screen. At one point, writer/director Kevin Smith had a script for a big-budget treatment of the classic radio character before dropping out, reportedly due to getting cold feet about such a big undertaking. As Smith told EW.com, he was approached to try a new take on the Hornet and ended up putting his script to the comic page. The Green Hornet #1 is the first part of that effort, and having read it, I can say it's definitely an intriguing story so far, about a Hornet for a new generation.

– For G.I. Joe fans, it doesn't get much better than Larry Hama's treatment of the characters, which started in 1982 for Marvel Comics. After Joe fever died down, the series ended with the 155th issue (now highly sought-after by collectors). G.I. Joe #155 1/2 is Hama's attempt to continue that story after the G.I. Joe team has shut down and Cobra runs rampant. Should be very interesting reading.

– And now for one of the classics. If you watched the Fox Saturday morning lineup back in the 1990s, you should be very familiar with the Tick. You may have even seen the short-lived, critically acclaimed prime-time series in 2001. Now readers can see where it all began with a special reprint of The Tick #1, especially for Free Comic Book Day. Spoon!

– Invariably, Free Comic Book Day is timed to coincide with a major comic book-based motion picture release. This time, it's "Iron Man 2." Marvel has a possible sneak preview of the upcoming "Avengers" movie with Iron Man/Thor, as the two heroes team up for a special free story, promising a "bold new direction" for both characters. Younger readers are encouraged to read old Shellhead's adventures in Iron Man: Supernova.

Like I said, there's more where that came from, but that should get you started. Happy reading!

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Filed under: Geek Out!


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Adobe responds to Apple's Flash snub

Posted: 12:12 PM ET

It was already at reality-show proportions. But the tech feud between Apple and Adobe continues to escalate as Adobe responded Thursday to Apple CEO Steve Jobs' sharp criticism of its Flash player format.

The gist from Adobe: So what? We have other friends to play with.

"... Given the legal terms Apple has imposed on developers, we have already decided to shift our focus away from Apple devices for both Flash Player and AIR. We are working to bring Flash Player and AIR to all the other major participants in the mobile ecosystem, including Google, RIM, Palm (soon to be HP), Microsoft, Nokia and others," Adobe's chief technology officer, Kevin Lynch, posted in a blog on Thursday evening.

Lynch said that he still holds out hope Apple and Adobe can work together on the mobile Web.

"We could provide a terrific experience with Flash on the iPhone, iPad and iPod touch," he wrote.

This comes after Jobs posted a missive about flaws with Adobe's Flash. He said the format leads to crashes, hinders app development and doesn't work well with touch-screen devices. That's why Apple does not support Flash video or games on the iPad, iPhone or iPod, he wrote.

Adobe says it has other plans for Flash.

"We look forward to delivering Flash Player 10.1 for Android smartphones as a public preview at Google I/O in May, and then a general release in June. From that point on, an ever increasing number and variety of powerful, Flash-enabled devices will be arriving which we hope will provide a great landscape of choice," Lynch wrote.

Now that both companies have weighed in - all blog style - who do you side with?

Read the source material for yourself (Apple | Adobe) and let us know in the comments. Several of you posted yesterday that you thought Steve Jobs was right to snub Flash.

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Filed under: Adobe • Apple


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WSJ: Google TV to be announced in May

Posted: 10:41 AM ET

Google is trying to bring the Web to your living room.

The search engine giant plans next month to unveil a new software package to help developers better display the internet on TV sets, according to the Wall Street Journal, which quotes unnamed sources familiar with the announcement.

Google TV, an android-based software platform, has drawn interest from TV makers, the Journal says.

Google is expected to break the news at the Google's I/O conference, which will be held May 19 and 20 in San Francisco, California, the newspaper reports.

At the conference, Sony also will announce a TV that runs an Intel chip and Google's software, Bloomberg reports.

In an e-mail to CNN, a Google spokesman declined to comment, saying, "We don't comment on rumor or speculation."

This comes as the idea of "connected TV," or television sets that let people browse the Web for video, news stories, video conferencing and to stream music, continues to get a push from electronics and internet companies.

A number of companies are developing apps, or software programs, that format the Web for optimal viewing on TV sets. Some are creating hardware to help with the transition, too.

[via Mashable]

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Filed under: Google • television


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Geek Out!: Crochet sculptures teach higher math

Posted: 09:09 AM ET

Editor's note: Geek Out! posts feature the latest and most interesting in nerd-culture news. From scifi and fantasy to gadgets and science, if you can geek out over it, you can find it on Geek Out! Look for Geek Out! posts on CNN's SciTech blog.

This work of art has a logic to its beauty: It was inspired by a branch of mathematics called hyperbolic geometry. Daina Taimina, adjunct professor at Cornell University, has been making these crochet creations since 1997, both for teaching and for aesthetic value.

Taimina remembers that when she was a student of non-Euclidian geometry, her instructor would tell the class to imagine the concepts being studied. “Why should I trust something I can imagine?” Taimina asks. She wanted to be able to construct something that would represent the complex ideas of higher mathematics. When she began teaching non-Euclidian geometry, crochet allowed her to explain concepts not on a blackboard or computer screen but in something tangible.

Most middle school students are taught Euclidian geometry, which puts forth that if you have a line and a point outside of it, there is only one other line you could draw that would could go through the point and also be parallel to it. This is the case for a two-dimensional plane, on a flat piece of paper, for example. But in hyperbolic space, that is no longer true. “This is something you can really can see only after have crocheted it,” Taimina says. This model illustrates the point: In this space, there are three lines going through the point that will not intersect with the fourth line on the bottom.

The models Taimina uses for instructional purposes take about 10 hours to make. Her largest crochet work took eight months to construct. “In some ways I feel like I’m making sculptures with crocheting,” she said. “I’m interested how long you can crochet the same shape over and over.” The image above is an example of a manifold, which can be folded into an infinite number of shapes without distorting the geometry of the surface.

"Hyperbolic geometry" may sound esoteric, but there are plenty of real-world applications. It describes how skin grows on wounds, so plastic surgeons must be aware of it; for example, in reducing the visibility of scarring after surgery, Taimina said. It also plays a role in computer animation. In nature, you can see hyperbolic geometry in nature all the time, from kale to sea kelp to the holly pictured above.

To learn more, visit Taimina's Web site.

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Filed under: Geek Out! • Mathematics


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April 29, 2010

Geek Out!: Dreaming of interplanetary water stations

Posted: 05:32 PM ET
Fueling stations?
Fueling stations?

Editor's note: Geek Out! posts feature the latest and most interesting in nerd-culture news. From scifi and fantasy to gadgets and science, if you can geek out over it you can find it on Geek Out! Look for Geek Out! posts on CNN's SciTech blog.

"This research indicates that not only could asteroids be possible sources of raw materials, but they could be the fueling stations and watering holes for future interplanetary exploration."

That's Don Yeomans, the manager of NASA's Near-Earth Object Program Office at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California, talking about this morning's news in Nature that signs of water ice and organic compounds have been discovered on an asteroid. See Yeomans' full comments.

This is big news for the scientific community. Previously, scientists believed that asteroids within a certain distance of the sun are too close to the energy of our home star to maintain any water ice. That the asteroid 24 Themis, a mere 297 million miles from the sun, boasts the infrared signatures of both organic compounds and water ice lends credibility to theories that say that Earth's water and other organic compounds were delivered to the planet after its initial geological formation.

But what about the space exploration communities? The other parts of NASA, the people concerned with human spaceflight, don't seem to be reacting to 24 Themis' water news. As Yeomans indicates, the discovery of water ice on a near-Earth object could open up some possibilities for human exploration of the solar system. So why the relative silence?

Maybe it's because lately, it doesn't seem like the United States will ever get to a point where interplanetary exploration is a reality. Right now, the space shuttle is set to retire at the end of 2010 with Endeavour's last mission. President Obama's budget, which allocates more money to NASA for the types of research that could reveal other asteroids and near-Earth objects with watering hole capabilities, scraps the still-in-progress Constellation program. Constellation was supposed to be the shuttle's successor: a reusable, modular heavy-lift rocket and crew vehicle that would put the moon and probably Mars back within the reach of U.S. astronauts.

The loss of both the shuttle and Constellation puts the United States astronaut corps completely at the mercy of Russian and other international space agencies. Put another way: The U.S. won't be able to put a person on orbit, on the international space station or otherwise, without paying a significant cost.

Which means that assuming all remaining shuttle flights launch as planned, by 2011, for the first time in 49 years, the United States will no longer be the No. 1 country capable of manned space flight. Instead, we'll cede orbital supremacy to Russia, Japan, China - all countries that either have capabilities at the moment or are on track to have them in the foreseeable future. And we will literally pay them for the privilege of being second-best.

To be fair, Obama's NASA budget allocates funds to the development of private spacecraft for human flight. There's a chance that the United States won't give up that No. 1 slot. But there's also a good deal of skepticism as to whether the private sector will be able to develop the crafts needed to restore U.S. manned spaceflight capability in a timely fashion. As David Waters, reporter for SpaceflightNow.com and former public affairs officer for United Space Alliance, points out, "NASA may have set the ball in motion for commercial companies to start flying astronauts, but let's not lose sight of the fact that we're years away from that happening."

Apollo astronauts Neil Armstrong (Apollo 11), Jim Lovell (Apollo 13) and Gene Cernan (Apollo 17) have all also expressed their thoughts about scrapping Constellation, saying that the U.S.' loss of the ability to get to low-Earth orbit is going to cost this country a lot more than the $50 million to $60 million per seat on a Russian Soyuz. It's also going to cost knowledge, training and experience that space personnel, both NASA and private-sector, gain as machinery is developed and built and as astronauts train and fly.

It's also probably going to cost human space exploration public favor and attention. It's no secret that the general public pays far less attention to spaceflight than it did during Apollo's heyday in the '60s and '70s. So what will happen if the U.S. doesn't launch a person for 10, 20, 30 years? How long will it take before the American public regains its enthusiasm for the costly, risky challenge that is spacefaring? How many potential young scientists, engineers, pilots, astronauts and space geeks will turn their attentions and energies elsewhere without NASA flying?

Someone somewhere is imagining the day that a craft emblazoned with the familiar NASA logo reaches orbit around an asteroid, refills its water tanks and continues on through the solar system. The knowledge humanity would gain from such a flight is the stuff of dreams. But right now, such a day exists only in science fiction. While the data gleaned from 24 Themis will probably continue to inform theories of the Earth's origin and formation, with Obama's new budget and NASA's new plans for the future, it seems unlikely that NASA spacecraft will ever use Yeomans' asteroid pit stops.

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Filed under: Geek Out! • NASA • Uncategorized


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Steve Jobs: Why Apple snubs Flash

Posted: 11:50 AM ET

Apple CEO Steve Jobs on Thursday said 200,000 applications are available in his company's mobile app store - and they all benefit because they're not built in Flash.

In a post on Apple's website, Jobs listed reasons none of those apps support Flash, a format that supports video, animation, games and other content and is made by tech competitor Adobe.

Some tech bloggers have criticized Apple for not supporting Flash on its mobile devices, including the iPad, iPhone and iPod. But Jobs said Adobe Flash is a format for the past.

Performance, not business strategy, guides Apple's decision not to use the format, he said.

"Flash was created during the PC era – for PCs and mice," he wrote in the post. "Flash is a successful business for Adobe, and we can understand why they want to push it beyond PCs. But the mobile era is about low power devices, touch interfaces and open web standards – all areas where Flash falls short."

Adobe has complained its business "could be harmed" by Apple's decision not to use the format.

Jobs listed several specific reasons Apple doesn't use Flash. Some of the more interesting ones:

_ "iPhone, iPod and iPad users aren’t missing much video," he wrote.

_Apple products run more reliably without Flash: "Flash is the number one reason Macs crash."

_Flash isn't made for touch-screen devices: "... Many Flash websites rely on 'rollovers,' which pop up menus or other elements when the mouse arrow hovers over a specific spot." Apple's touch screens don't use rollovers.

_And, most important, Jobs said, is that Flash slows down app development: " We cannot be at the mercy of a third party deciding if and when they will make our enhancements available to our developers."

What do you think? Is Jobs right, or should Apple support Flash on its devices?

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Filed under: Apple • iPad • iPhone • iPod


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50,000 websites 'like' the new Facebook button

Posted: 09:39 AM ET

A week after Facebook announced that it's "Like" button would start percolating around the Internet, the powerful social network says 50,000 websites have adopted the change.

"Already, just one week since launch, more than 50,000 sites across the Web have implemented the new plugins," Sandra Liu Huang writes today on Facebook's blog for application developers.

"We are thrilled by the strong adoption so far as developers realize how easy social plugins are to use and how powerful they are in engaging users in a frictionless experience without requiring them to share any personal information."

People use the "Like" button to recommend websites, news stories, blog posts and music to friends.

Facebook announced the change at its f8 conference on April 21. At the time, only 75 sites had signed up to use the feature, which is Facebook's way of making the entire web a more social experience.

In a keynote address at f8, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said there would be 1 billion "Like" buttons scattered all over the web within 24 hours of his announcement.

Thursday's blog post makes no mention of whether that target was met.

Tech blogs largely have reacted favorably to Facebook's effort to spread itself all over the web. Some have expressed concerns about privacy and the fact that Facebook may want to be a singular, dominant force on the Internet, putting it in competition with search engine giant Google.

On the blog Mashable, which is a CNN partner, Ben Parr writes that the fact that 50,000 websites have adopted Facebook's "Like" plugin is a good sign for the social network, which already has 400 million members.

"Social plugins are just the first step in Facebook’s ambitious plan to become the central nexus of the web," he writes. "With this kind of adoption success, it’s tough to imagine a scenario where Facebook doesn’t take over the web."

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April 28, 2010

Geek Out!: Violin + Wii Remotes = Rock

Posted: 12:48 PM ET
Karyn and the Wiitles
Karyn and the Wiitles

Editor's note: Geek Out! posts feature the latest and most interesting in nerd-culture news. From scifi and fantasy to gadgets and science, if you can geek out over it you can find it on Geek Out! Look for Geek Out! posts on CNN's SciTech blog.

Remember the moment Arnold Poindexter made jaws drop in the 1984 hit "Revenge of the Nerds," when he picked up his electric violin and brought the rock at the Lambda Lambda Lambda/Omega Mu talent show? It was an impressive transformation from "zero" to "hero." Was it possible geeks could be rock stars too?

The answer is yes (of course!), and this Thursday through Saturday, there will be plenty of geeking out over music and technology. Some of the best electronic musicians from all over the country will be converging in Atlanta, Georgia for the Third Annual City Skies Electronic Music Festival, where musical styles will range from “ambient to downtempo chillout to Berlin school to IDM to space music to experimental.” (Full disclosure: I'm one of those musicians getting ready to rock out.)

I’m a classically trained violin player, and I’ll be collaborating on a performance at the festival with The Wiitles, “the world's first and only Wii remote rock band.” It's going to be symphonic, discordant, alternately familiar yet alien, and yes, uber geeky. In fact, every time I plug in my (yep, electric) violin and my collaborators pick up their Wii remotes, I feel like we’re kind of creating a new language.

As a string player, some of my heroes include artists like Andrew Bird, Owen Pallett and Zoe Keating, who hook their instruments up to an array of electronics like loop pedals in order to create layer upon layer of rich, complex patterns in real time. Check out this great Radiolab podcast where Keating describes how she marries cello + laptop + electronics. On the more experimental/performance art side, Laurie Anderson famously invented, in the late 70s, a tape-bow violin using recorded magnetic tape on the bow and a magnetic tape head in the bridge.

The Wiitles sort of take all this to another level by turning Wii remotes into instruments and programming the buttons to trigger samples, loops, scenes and effects in a live setting (check out this animated video intro). They capitalize on the accelerometer and Bluetooth technology that come with every Wii remote, which allow the device to sense acceleration along three axes to detect pitch and roll.

The data obtained from the accelerometers and the different buttons are transmitted via Bluetooth and picked up by a Macbook Pro, where the data is converted for use by software that manipulates audio. Like Pallett and Keating, the Wiitles use Max/MSP (which can convert incoming data to MIDI), and also Osculator to make MIDI conversions and use that data to manipulate Ableton Live, a music sequencing program. Using Ableton Live, the potential for audio manipulation is limitless.

What this means for me is that I can take the familiar sound of my violin to some really strange, ethereal and warped places. For example, knocking against the side of the instrument near the pickup creates a hollow percussive sound. Running my fingers repeatedly over the strings sounds hauntingly like someone sighing. Playing fiddlesticks (adopted from a Cajun fiddle tradition where another band member strikes the strings on the upper fingerboard with thin sticks while I play) triggers a sound like marbles scattering across linoleum. All of this can be manipulated and incorporated into the music in real time during the performance.

Innovative technological appropriations have allowed us to marry classical and experimental music in surprising and wonderful ways. What are some of your favorite examples in this realm? Share your feedback in the comment section – we'd love to hear from you.

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Filed under: gadgets • Geek Out! • technology • Uncategorized


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Cub Scouts to offer video gaming pin

Posted: 12:42 PM ET

Cub Scouts: The term conjures images of kids doing stuff outside – hiking amid nature, tying knots or identifying which leaf will leave you scratching if used for the wrong purpose.

Well, times have changed. In a move that may horrify old-school former Scouts, the Boy Scouts of America has announced it will offer two awards – a pin and a belt loop – to boys who spend hours playing video games.

Yes, that’s right. Just picture a group of 8- to 10-year-olds huddled around not a campfire but a TV, that glowing box of complacency.

Apparently these new awards are geared toward making Scouts understand which games are appropriate for their age group, not just rewarding them for sitting around on their butts playing video games. Scouts also can work towards their pin by playing a video game that "helps you in your schoolwork."

But you still have to wonder if this isn’t a misguided attempt by the Cub Scouts to stay relevant by pandering to boys’ interests. Seems to me the Scouts should be getting kids outside and teaching them practical skills beyond the bubble of their everyday lives instead of how to read the back of a video game box.

It reminds me of some “Star Trek” episode where a civilization has become so reliant on technology that they have no practical know-how and can’t fix it when it breaks - picture Picard MacGyvering a computer with a paper clip so the planet doesn’t explode.

Those of you who were in the Scouts, what’s your take on this? Should today’s Cub Scouts be rewarded for playing video games? What badge or award were you most proud of earning?

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Filed under: Games • Gaming • pop culture • video games


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April 27, 2010

Report: Hugo Chavez is joining Twitter

Posted: 10:04 AM ET

Of course celebrities like singer Britney Spears are on Twitter.

And it even seems expected at this point that Barack Obama, arguably the techiest president in U.S. history, would have a presence on the micro-blogging service.

But Hugo Chavez?

According to Bloomberg, the Venezuelan president - one of the most controversial world leaders– is planning to join Twitter.

Not only that. He wants to dominate it.

“Comandante Chavez is going to open his Twitter account soon to wage the battle online,” Diosdado Cabello, head of the country’s telecommunications regulator, said on state television, according to the news organization.

“I’m sure he’ll break records for numbers of followers.”

Chavez said in March that he plans to use the web to interact with critics, according to Sky News.

"I'm going to have my online trench from the palace to wage the battle. I'll provide information and even respond to my enemies," Chavez said, according to that news site.

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Filed under: Twitter


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Are you a gadgethead? Do you spend hours a day online? Or are you just curious about how technology impacts your life? In this digital age, it's increasingly important to be fluent, or at least familiar, with the big tech trends. From gadgets to Google, smartphones to social media, this blog will help keep you informed.

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