SciTechBlog
May 4, 2010

Geek Out!: Scruffy looking nerf herders party on May 4th

Posted: 11:09 AM ET
Star Wars cake
Star Wars cake

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.

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away it was decided that May 4th would be Star Wars Day. And if you're lucky, the festivities will include themed cakes or "Wookie Cookies."

The turn of phrase “May the 4th be with you” may seem like a hokey way to celebrate the legacy of such a ground-breaking film series, but many fans enjoy the idea of having a day dedicated to the franchise.

Everything from large collectible houses giveaways to students encouraged to dress up as their favorite Star Wars characters will mark this years festivities. Local conventions and cosplay groups will have viewing parties planned where they watch all six films back to back. A Lego fan community focused on Star Wars is giving away limited edition Lego figures. There’s even a Jedi Church that fans can attend to commemorate the day.

This year overall is pretty big for any Star Wars fan. Celebration V is August of this year in Orlando, Florida. Then there’s the yearly Star Wars Weekends at Disneyworld and of course the 30th anniversary of the release of "The Empire Strikes Back" this month.

So while some Star Wars fans may not necessarily embrace the phrase, we all enjoy celebrating the movies we love. Got any Star Wars memories to share today? Comment below or visit iReport to discuss "Empire" specifically.

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May 3, 2010

Geek Out!: Wearing your geek cred

Posted: 12:18 PM ET
Science Is A Verb Now
Science Is A Verb Now

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.

As the old saying goes, "clothing makes the man." In the geek culture, what is said on the clothing is more important than the clothing itself.

Geeks, gamers and nerds have been showing their cred by the logos, designs and saying on their T-shirts. It is considered a badge of honor and a way to connect with others of like minds.

Shirt designers say people use T-shirts as a quick visual way to tell the world something about themselves. While the core audience for these shirts used to be hardcore geeks, some companies say the appeal has broadened in recent years.

Shane Peterman from Think Geek said buyers of their products include gamers, college students, scientists and NASA employees. "It is more of an open secret now," he said. "Your shirt helps you identify who is 'in the know'."

Brian Sunter, merchandise manager of Penny Arcade, agrees. "Geeks–and gamers especially–relate to that stuff as well, I think, because gaming has a huge pool of shared experiences," Sunter said. "Maybe it is a little awkward, but we’ve kind of all rescued the same princesses and saved the same worlds."

Chris Hastings, creator of "The Adventures of Dr. McNinja", takes a different view. He thinks T-shirts can connect people who wouldn't normally say a word to each other.

"If one is wearing a T-shirt that says 'Ninjas Can't Catch You If You're On Fire", the other sees it, immediately gets the joke and thinks "Wow! This person has the same weird sense of humor that I do," Hastings said.

Designers say that a good shirt goes a little further than just a logo and one level deeper to make that connection. But it all starts with a creative look on the t-shirt that sometimes has different meanings for different people.

TopatoCo has been working as an online store for many web comics artists for about 8 years. Supreme Commander of Promotions David Malki! said the best shirts get an idea out that is reflective of the comic's tone. He also thinks a good shirt speaks on behalf of the wearer.

"The shirt shows the exclusivity and uniqueness of the wearer," Malki! said. "It makes them seem super cool."

Ryan North, creator of "Dinosaur Comics", aims for shirts that target people who are familiar with his comic, but also works well with someone who has never heard of it.

"That way, the person buying it knows it's rad, and knows that people who see it will think it's rad too," North explained.

Sean Gailey, the Creative Overlord at Jinx, takes another route to designing their geek T-shirts. Gailey said they keep a close eye on trends and user comments.

"Our customer core is shameless and passionate about their interests," Gailey said. "The design message has to mean something and you're in on it."

Peterman also says the popularization of geek culture on television shows and movies influences who buys geek T-shirts.

"'The Big Bang Theory' is a big part of it," he said. "Older geeks are tapping back into the culture and they are the ones who can make buying decisions."

These companies are trying to harness that older audience by offering a wider selection beyond just T-shirts. Polo shirts, button down shirts, jackets, and even baby items are getting the geek treatment in an effort to spread the geek chic.

"It is more subtle," Gailey explained. "It is another option to still maintain and express your geek cred."

"I think what is next for geek chic is apparel that acknowledges the identity of modern geeks as responsible adults who grew up as gamers," Sunter said about their new First Party line of clothes. "There is a place, now, for classy clothing that gamers can identify with."

Malki! said TopatoCo is expanding their selections with more colors and organically produced shirts in response to customer requests. Peterman said Think Geek is offering interactive shirts, like a shirt recently seen on "The Big Bang Theory" that plays music when you press buttons on the shirt.

Perhaps the geek cred can be summed up in the mantra at Jinx – "Get into it."

"Whatever you like, get into it," Gailey said. "Don't take a casual interest."

Never let it be said that geeks aren't into what ever "it" is. And as this geek will tell you, wearing your heart on your sleeve – or emblazoned across your chest – is a matter of pride.

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Filed under: Gaming • Geek Out! • Mathematics • NASA • pop culture • science • web comics


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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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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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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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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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April 23, 2010

Geek Out!: The 'Fett' is back!

Posted: 04:14 PM 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.

With the 30th anniversary of “The Empire Strikes Back” only weeks away [May 21, mark your calendars!] I was happy to see that “Star Wars: The Clone Wars” [on Cartoon Network, which, like CNN, is a division of TimeWarner] was about to start a three-episode season finale arc this Friday called “Death Trap.”

Why? Because one of the Star Wars universe's biggest fan favorites - Boba Fett! - will make his first appearance.

I, like many Star Wars fans, love “Empire,” and believe it's the best in the original trilogy. And, by far, my favorite character from the movie is "The Fett."

To be completely accurate, Boba Fett was first introduced to us in an animated section of the ill-fated 1978 “Star Wars Holliday Special” [You know ... the one that inspired Lucas to say he would like to "... track down every copy of that show and smash it."] .

Also, Kenner released a Boba Fett action figure before "The Empire Strikes Back" was released.

And if we want to get *really* deep into Star Wars geekdom, I'll point out that his first "public" appearance was at the San Anselmo's County Fair parade on September 24, 1978, in a parade alongside Darth Vader.

But when the largest group of us saw him first was on the bridge of the Star Destroyer being briefed by Darth Vader.

We loved him from the get-go.

He wore that cool Mandalorian armor [not that we knew what it was called when we saw the movie]. He hid what he looked like. He said only 29 words in the entire original trilogy.

His ship, Slave I, was so whacked-out looking. He was just ... cool.

It was even cooler that he was hunting down the heroes of the movie and we were never 100 percent sure of his motives. Was he just in it for the money? Or did he have another reason he wanted to get his hands on Han Solo?

For me, he was the second coolest of all the characters we meet in the Star Wars universe [I'm a Vader guy]. He is also one of the characters that we meet in the Star Wars universe that gets their back-story fully fleshed out later in the movies (Ep II, Ep III, Ep V, Ep VI), video games and comics books.

I can't think of a part of the Star Wars world that does not have at least a mention of him.

Are you a Boba Fett Fan? What went through your mind when you first saw him in the Star Wars universe? Let us know in the comments.

Also, what are your favorite “Empire Strikes Back” memories, especially if you saw the movie when it first came out? Share your story and photos on CNN iReport.

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Filed under: Geek Out! • Movies • pop culture • television


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'Geek Out!': Madden Curse vs. Bayou voodoo

Posted: 12:12 PM ET
Is that fear in his eyes?
Is that fear in his eyes?

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.

New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees will be featured on the cover of "Madden 11" (EA Sports) – an honor that should make him feel proud and scared at the same time.

Brees, who lead the Saints to a Super Bowl victory last year, was selected by fans to grace the cover of the premier football video game. Football players have been on the games's box art since the 1999-2000 season, but this was the first time that fans could determine who would be featured.

This, however, may have been an attempt to sabotage Brees by fans of other teams. You see, many players who have appeared on the cover have been beset by injury, extremely poor play, or decided to retire - giving birth to the so-called "Madden Curse."

The first cover to feature a player was for "Madden 2000." Detroit Lions star running back Barry Sanders was to appear with John Madden on the box, but Sanders abruptly retired before the beginning of the season.

Electronic Arts rushed out a new box with a new player, Green Bay Packers running back Dorsey Levins, who was bothered by a bad knee all season and then demoted to a reserve role.

In 2002, Minnesota Vikings quarterback Dante Culpepper struggled throughout the season before injuring his knee and missing the last 5 games of the year.

St. Louis Rams running back Marshall Faulk was honored in 2003, but a bad ankle held him under 1,000 yards for the first time in his career and the Rams missed the playoffs.

Michael Vick, quarterback for the Atlanta Falcons in 2004, was struck quickly by the "curse." One day after the game hit the shelves, Vick broke his leg in a pre-season game and only played 5 games that year.

Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb openly taunted the curse after his selection for the "Madden 2006" cover. It was perhaps not a wise choice - McNabb suffered a sports hernia during the first game of the year, struggled through the pain, then ended up tearing ligaments in his knee and missing the last seven games of the year.

Three weeks into the 2006-2007 season, 2007 cover boy Shaun Alexander, running back for the Seattle Seahawks, broke his foot and missed 6 games.

For the "Madden 2009" cover, EA chose Green Bay Packers quarterback Brett Favre. However, the Curse hit twice – once when Favre left the Packers before the season started and signed with the New York Jets, and then later when Favre suffered a torn biceps injury during the season.

Two athletes were featured on the "Madden 2010" cover and "The Curse" hit each in due time.

Pittsburgh Steelers safety Troy Polamalu sprained knee ligaments in the first game of the season, rested, returned and sprained different knee ligaments which forced more missed regular season games.

Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald was able to play all the games in the regular season, but missed out on the playoffs after injuring his ribs.

Some, of course, say the physical nature of football takes its toll on all players and there is no curse. Others take the curse very seriously.

San Diego Chargers running back LaDainian Tomlinson was reportedly to be selected for the 2008 cover, but Chargers fans pleaded with EA to change their mind.

Tomlinson did not appear on the cover, but it was reported that he turned down the honor due to contract negotiations and not the curse.

It may boil down to a battle between the Madden Curse and bayou voodoo to keep Brees healthy and successful for New Orleans this season. For his part, Brees seems unconcerned, saying on Twitter, "Destiny is more powerful than a curse."

Which sounds vaguely like a dark-helmeted figure from geek lore. And we all know how that turned out.

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Filed under: Games • Gaming • Geek Out! • video games


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April 21, 2010

Geek Out!: Considering the lost iPhone

Posted: 03:14 PM ET
Gizmodo got the iPhone
Gizmodo got the iPhone

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.

When it comes to shiny gadgets, there are some constants that geeks should all be aware of:

1. Your new thing will be outdated in months when the next new thing comes out, and it will be faster, sexier and cheaper than your current thing.

2. There will always be rumors of the next new thing from Apple.

The rumors begin months, sometimes years, before Apple announces an actual device. There were rumors of an Apple phone years before it came out. An Apple tablet device like the iPad is a similarly old rumor.

With each announcement, speculation about the next version begins before the freshly removed cellophane on the current model has had time to float to the floor.

Some prognosticators are better than others, because they have a better idea of what is most likely - usually not because of any real secret insight from within Apple. Apple is notorious for their tight security (the KGB and CIA could take lessons).

So it was utterly unbelievable that not only had a new Apple device been spotted in the wild, but that a site as well known as Gizmodo had their hands all over it.

It was amazing that Gizmodo was talking about it and had even torn the thing apart for the morbid amusement of many a fanboy.

In the meantime, the revelations about the device weren't too shocking for those already speculating about the device:

  • A flash for the camera on the back of the phone was an obvious inclusion (it's lack has been a major oversight in many opinions).
  • A larger battery is a surprise to almost no one. And it'll probably last even longer than its increase in size would imply.
  • A higher resolution display would also be an obvious addition. And might foretell HD video capture for the camera (putting the iPhone as a stronger competitor for devices like the Flip Cam).
  • But the overall design was somewhat surprising. The iconic iPhone has evolved into a sleek, less curved, device with a metal band around the perimeter. Solid metal buttons for volume. The SIM card slot has been moved to the side, and now apparently uses the same micro-SIM used in the iPad 3G being released at the end of this month.

    Will the micro-SIMs be swappable between the iPad and the new iPhone? The iPad offers 250MB or unlimited data monthly plans with no contract from AT&T. I suspect it will be locked down somehow.

    The back of the device seems to be different as well. Speculation seems to point to an Apple patent for a ceramic case, which is transparent to electromagnetic waves used by WiFi and cellular devices.

    Probably the biggest surprise is a forward-facing camera in addition to the standard rear camera. The only obvious purpose for this will be for video chatting. but just as the accelerometer was applied to unforeseen applications, don't be surprised at the uses some developers may put the new camera (control apps with the wave of your hand).

    Apple requested, and received, the device back, which all but proves that it is a legitimate Apple produced device. But is it a final design? Many companies produce several different designs for new products. Is this the final configuration for the device?

    The iPad has a space for a forward facing camera, but one wasn't included in the released product. Will this delay the release of the new product? Doubtful as Apple likes to keep to their timetables.

    And more importantly, will the poor engineer who lost the phone in the first place ever be released from Apple purgatory? Will his career ever advance beyond mop-pusher? Will he be re-located to Apple’s secret research facility at the South Pole?

    What do you think, fellow Apple geeks?

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    April 20, 2010

    'Geek Out!:' Technology and the supernatural on 'Lost' island

    Posted: 02:17 PM ET
    Miles can hear dead people
    Miles can hear dead people

    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.

    When "Lost" began, Charlie, after encountering just a few of the many strange things about the island where the passengers of Oceanic Flight 815 crash-landed, asked one of the series' central questions: "Where are we?"

    Now, with just a few episodes to go, we're a lot closer to figuring out the answer and getting explanations for some of the bizarre occurrences on the island.

    So let's talk bizarre occurrences. "Lost" characters experience walking, talking dead people in a few different ways - they can see them, feel their presence, hear them in a flurry of whispers and sometimes have long conversations with them.

    At this point, we know that a lot of that can be attributed to the Smoke Monster, or the Man in Black... but not all of it.

    One character often visited by friends who are no longer living is Hurley. Whether on or off the island, deceased people from his past visit and usually have very strong opinions on what he should do next.

    Then there's Miles, who in a flashback from Season Four, was seen working as a medium for hire, exorcising spirits or getting them in touch with dead loved ones. He even uses a strange vacuum-like device at one point, though his abilities have more to do with getting information from dead bodies.

    How do these portrayals of ghosts compare to the beliefs of those with interest in the supernatural - and who are using high-tech means to try to prove (or disprove) its existence?

    "Lost" fan Dan Bernstein of Roswell, Georgia Paranormal Investigations (a "family member" of The Atlantic Paranormal Society or TAPS, made famous by the TV series "Ghost Hunters"), said the two are different kinds of mediums: "Hurley has what would be described as having a 'clairvoyance' ability – which allows him to see and communicate directly with the spirit as if they were there with him."

    As for Miles, he has a "clairsentience" ability, according to Bernstein, meaning he can sense them, instead of communicate with them directly.

    "You often see him touching something belonging to or close to the body of the deceased and he then senses their last thoughts before death."

    Their cases would certainly be seen as out of the ordinary to the real-world paranormal investigations community. Bernstein says that most people don't have such abilities.

    He does maintain, though, that ghosts can be observed as sounds, disembodied voices or, on rare occasions, as full-body apparitions or "shadow people."

    Paranormal investigators often use electromagnetic field (EMF) detectors to look for evidence of ghosts.

    "With EMFs, the thought is that in order for paranormal activity to occur, the entity needs to draw energy in order to manifest itself," said Bernstein.

    He said sensors are normalized in an area and that their readings spike when there's paranormal activity.

    Skeptics say there is no evidence that such instruments can be used to detect supernatural phenomena.

    Bernstein's response: "Our team never relies solely on EMF readings as evidence of the paranormal," instead taking other occurences into account as well.

    Electromagnetic phenomena should be very familiar to fans of “Lost.” The island’s special electromagnetic qualities are the main reason for the Dharma Initiative that Charles Widmore and others are so interested in it.

    In the scientific community, however, real studies of electromagnetism are not fraught with peril, danger and mystery as portrayed on the show.

    Gregory Durgin, an associate professor at the School of Electrical Computer Engineering at Georgia Tech, researches electromagnetism, often using an electromagnetic spectrum analyzer to chart activity.

    "It has a lot of interesting applications: is the area safe for people to be in? Every company that has an electronic device has to look at that," he said.

    "Lost's" island has extremely high levels of electromagnetism, which must be contained - the Dharma Initiative worked tirelessly to do so when they were there performing experiments.

    When it was unleashed, the magnetism was so strong it caused a plane to crash.

    How dangerous can electromagnetism actually be?

    “The government regulations are pretty conservative... some frequencies are more dangerous than others," said Durgin. "You would be a lot more concerned about a watt of ultraviolet light coming down on you than a watt of radio frequency… once you surpass those exposure limits you still need some pretty prolonged exposure to get into a danger zone."

    What about when unusually high levels are found somewhere? Is this seen as something unexplained - supernatural or otherwise?

    “Usually when you see a lot of electromagnetic strength, you’ve gotta find out what piece of equipment is causing it and fix what is causing it. If it’s more of a mysterious source, you have to grab your equipment and drive around and ferret out that source," he said.

    He said the "unexplained" sources often end up being unlicensed radiators used for pirate radio stations and the like. Then, the FCC gets contacted instead of, say, entering a set of numbers into a computer every 108 minutes.

    As for electromagnetism behaving the way it does on "Lost?" "Magnetism in nature has a diverse and complicated physics, but there is always one universal property that we observe: it’s extremely weak," Durgin said.

    He does, however, hold out the possibility of the existence of "magnetic charges," a purely hypothetical particle in physics: "If magnetic charges existed, many of the island phenomena would be plausible."

    So why is electromagnetism portrayed in such a way on "Lost" and other movies and TV shows? According to Durgin, “If people can't see it in their mind it takes on a more mysterious or dangerous quality."

    Whether you choose to believe or not, it certainly seems that “Lost” executive producers Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse have done their homework when it comes to modern day thought about the paranormal.

    As for scientific studies into electromagnetism, however, a lot of what we see on the show still exists only in the realm of theory.

    Join us every Tuesday as “Geek Out!” dwells on the geekiest aspects of one of our favorite television shows. In the meantime, we invite you to sound off on ghosts and the supernatural on “Lost” in the comments below, and share your wish list for the series finale on video.

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