Friday, July 25, 2008

I have only one ball, but it's momentous!

As a fallback to the gyroscopic hard disc idea, several people have suggested I try using a PowerBall gyroscopic hand exerciser.  I got one of these little torture tools too see how it works.  Basically, it's a caged gyro that is free to rotate in two of the three axes; the proper hand motion pumps momentum into the ball and spins it up.

My initial idea was to spin up the ball and then restrict the gyro to one rotational axis to see if it would generate enough force to precess the operator (me).  Unfortunately, the ball requires constant energy input or it quickly slows down, and the time needed  to cage one axis (using a couple of threaded bolts) is enough for it to lose a good deal of its momentum.  So that idea is out.

However, the forces and motions involved are sufficiently interesting that it's probably worth taking it onto the flight and seeing what happens when you spin it up in freefall.  So it's going on the list of experiments I'm trying to get approved.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Mentos... in... Space!

Everyone loves the Diet Coke&Mentos demonstration.  But how would it work in Zero-G.

Obviously, a major consideration would be the mess factor.  The experiment would have to be self-contained so as not to splatter everything in the cabin.  Here's my idea:

Take a standard 16-oz bottle of Diet Coke (available after security!) and use a modified Spangler Geyser Tube with a clear plastic bag on the other end to catch the spray.  The release mechanism would use a magnet to hold the mentos in place, then a quick shake should start things going.

This would look particularly cool if there's enough light for high-speed photography.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Attractive ideas

My slightly demented australian friend Nick Martin, builder of nasty robots (and fortunately for the world, relatively small ones), has given me two suggestions that appear promising:

1) Play with some of the rare-earth magnetic building toy sticks; their interactions as they approach each other should be visually interesting.  I also have some spherical rare-earth magnets lying around somewhere, but they are insanely strong, and if I recall correctly, the force between two of these little bastards is inverse 4th power -- but what about one of them along with a ball-bearing?  Is that going to approximate inverse-squared?  If so, they might orbit each other!

2) Fun with a plastic slinky.  Nick suggests stretching out the slinky, releasing one end, and then releasing the other just as the slinky approaches full compression.  The dynamics might be very interesting.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Your Space-Fu is Not Good Enough! Now suffer the wrath of my Mutant Star Goat style!

As part of our plans for World Domination, both James and Alex have trained in the Martial Arts for many years (I should point out that this is simply so they can defend their dear old dad from those misguided fools who oppose us).

So it has occurred to us to see if some simple self-defense techniques work in free-fall, where you don't usually have leverage, except that which you can apply through the body of your opponent.  It would also be interesting to see what happens when you try and do some simple Kata.

We're working with the boys' Sensei (a 6th-dan) to develop some routines that (a) might actually work and (b) will not impinge upon the other passengers (who might, at least for a brief time, be annoyed if they are on the receiving end of a Vulcan Death Grip)

Revolutionary Demonstrations

Some of the most interesting demonstrations that you can do in ZeroG revolve around conservation of angular momentum.  If you've got a spinning mass, you can do all sorts of cool things.

The trick is to get a really good spinning mass on the airplane within the rules.

Fortunately, there is a really good angular momentum source within reach of just about everyone reading this entry -- the hard disc in your computer.

So the plan is simple: stick an old (preferably high-rpm) disc drive into a cheap USB enclosure, and replace the wall-wart with a 12v battery.

Planned demonstrations: conservation of angular momentum (turn on drive, it spins one way, operator spins the other) and gyroscopic precession (spin up before we hit zero-g, then tilt the drive enclosure)

As always, your suggestions for improvements and additional demonstrations are appreciated.

Liquids in Space

The ZeroG folks have told me that they are a bit leery of experiments with liquids, except those done by their staff, because of the mess factor.

However, I've been thinking about ways to deal with that, by coming up with a simple liquid deployment and recovery device.

Here's the idea: take a 3oz bottle (the max allowed by the TSA past the checkpoint), and stuff it full of sponge material, so that it extends a bit past the neck.  Then soak the sponge to capacity, and squeeze out about 10% of the liquid.  This should result in a device that can deploy small amounts of water and also recover it (squeeze until there is a film of water on the neck, touch to water globe, release pressure).

Of course, if water bottles are available after the checkpoint, one could use a larger bottle purchased on site.

Also, after seeing this video, I'm itching to figure out something interesting to do with non-newtonian fluids.  The downside here will be what happens when someone sees us dumping cornstarch into a water bottle inside a secure area...

Some good news: the Casio Exilim EX-F1 high-speed camera has been approved for flight.  Now the only question is whether there will be enough light to get high-speed footage.  Oh well, it can also do HD.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

The Entire Family is going Ballistic -- Literally!

So anyway, since the final stages of my plans for World Domination may (or may not) include deploying Orbital Mind Control Lasers, it occurred to me that I should get some free-fall training, if for no other reason than it's hard to convince people you're serious if you're busy barfing at the time (ie: "One... Trillion.. Bleeaaaaagggghhhh... uh, Dollars!")

Fortunately, there is a company called Space Adventures that runs zero-gravity parabolic flights at a price that's within the reach of even the most budget-minded Overlord -- and realistically, if you can't get your wife to cough up $4k for a project like this, you aren't worthy of ruling the World!

Of course, it wasn't that easy. As soon as I announced my intention to do this, She Who Must Be Obeyed declared that she wanted to do it as well. And, of course, our sons insisted that they be included, on the grounds that this would make for the coolest "What I did during my summer vacation" essays ever. My protests that the extra $12k would be better spent on health insurance for my minions fell on deaf ears.

So we're all going ballistic in August in Vegas.

However, being as how my love of science is second only to my love of conquest, I have insisted that James and Alex do some experiments during the flight.

This is where you come in.

Your mission (and don't even think of not accepting it): come up with science experiments that demonstrate some physical principle, or some interesting difference between a 1G and 0G environment, that can be done by my kids during the flight. There are, however, some restrictions that must be adhered to:
  • The experimental materials must be small, pocket-sized if at all possible.
  • The flight operates under FAA rules, and therefore, nothing may be carried onboard that cannot be carried on to a regular airline flight.  Here is the list of restrictions.
  • The experiment must not inconvenience or injury to the other passengers, or cause a mess.
  • Given that each weightless period is only about 20 seconds, the experiment has to be pretty quick.
Also, if at all possible, it should be an experiment that would look interesting when filmed at 300fps using my Casio Exilim EX-F1 camera, which has been the source of much fun for me recently. I am not sure at this point whether I'll be allowed to take the camera with me, or whether there will be sufficient light for high-speed photography, but it would certainly be cool if that works out.

Obviously, these constraints make the obvious experiments we immediately thought of, such as popping a water balloon (it's been done, and it's messy, though as you can see in this video, you can mitigate the mess using a garbage bag), and seeing whether or not a yo-yo works in microgravity (might hurt someone).  Interestingly, there may be a loophole regarding electric screwdrivers; drills are not permitted, but an electric screwdriver 7" or less in length might be OK, which would permit some conservation of angular momentum demonstrations.

That said, we have come up with a couple of interesting ideas, which I will disclose in a subsequent proclamation. In the meantime, to encourage you to come up with other ideas, I will grant minor positions in the New World Order (something like, for example, Viscount of Fayetteville) to anyone who comes up with an idea we end up using.

You, for one, should welcome your new Overlord

My name is Robert Woodhead, and back in the dark ages, I co-wrote the first four installments of the Wizardry RPG game series on Apple II, PC, and Macintosh with Andrew Greenberg. As a joke, we put ourselves into the game, I as "Trebor the Mad Overlord", and he as "Werdna the Evil Wizard". Some may claim that declaring that I was insane was perhaps not the smartest of moves, but I would venture to point out that the goal of the game was to kill Werdna.

In any case, this got me thinking, and it occurred to me that the whole World Domination thing could actually be fun to do, as long as it was done for benevolent reasons, and as long as one took pains to avoid the classic mistakes. So, when I haven't been doing weird things with computers, helping people promote their websites, importing Anime and other Japanese films, and fighting robots, I've been devoting myself to this noble goal.

Of course, it should be obvious that this is all in good fun, and I don't really intend to take over the world.

Or perhaps, that's what I want you to think....