Call the engine room and get Scotty to the bridge: When the long-lost words of Star Trekcreator Gene Roddenberry were found on 5.25-inch floppies—yes, floppy disks—it would take a Starfleet-level engineering effort to recover them.
Roddenberry, who died in 1991, apparently left behind a couple of shoebox-sized containers of those big floppy disks.
The problem? As any techie knows, floppy drives went out off fashion around the turn of the 21st century. Even if you bought a used 5.25-inch floppy drive off of Cyrano Jones on space station K7, you wouldn’t be able to read the files on a modern computer, let alone plug in the drive.
Roddenberry’s estate knew of two possible computers the author had used to write those final words. One had been sold off in a charity auction and the second wouldn’t boot when plugged in.
The computer’s dead Jim
Rather than accept that no-win scenario, Roddenberry’s estate turned to DriveSavers Data Recovery. The lack of an operative computer was less than ideal, but Mike Cobb, director of engineering of DriveSavers, was optimistic, considering the company’s ability to recover data from most forms of computer media known today.
According to Cobb, the majority of the disks were 1980s-era 5.25-inch double-density disks capable of storing a whopping 160KB—that’s kilobytes—or about one-tenth the capacity you can get on a $1 USB thumb drive today. Cobb said a few of the disks were formatted in DOS, but most of them were from an older operating system called CP/M.
CP/M, or Control Program for Microcomputers, was a popular operating system of the 1970s and early 1980s that ultimately lost out to Microsoft’s DOS. In the 1970s and 1980s it was the wild west of disk formats and track layouts, Cobb said. The DOS recoveries were easy once a drive was located, but the CP/M disks were far more work.
“The older disks, we had to actually figure out how to physically read them,” Cobb told PCWorld. “The difficult part was CP/M and the file system itself and how it was written.”
As the data recovery firm couldn’t get Roddenberry’s old computer to power on, it had to sleuth the physical layout of the tracks on the disk. That alone took three months to reverse engineer; Cobb credits his own “Scotty,” Jim Wilhelmsen, with figuring it out.
To make matters worse, about 30 of the disks were damaged, with deep gouges in the magnetic surface. As luck would have it, Cobb said most of the physical damage was over empty portions of the disks and he believes about 95 percent of the data was recovered.
Besides seeking the technical expertise required for the task, the estate also wanted high security, according to Cobb. The estate wasn’t going to just drop all 200 disks in a FedEx box and pray to the shipping gods they wouldn’t get lost. No, only small batches of the disks were doled out at a time, and each batch was hand-delivered to DriveSavers’ secure facility in Novato beginning in 2012.
Once DriveSavers had recovered the data, the data had to be converted into a format the estate could open. It’s not like you can feed a 1980s-era CP/M word processor format into Microsoft Word, so Cobb personally converted each file to a readable text file.
The big reveal
All told, Cobb said when the operating system files were excluded, about 2-3MB of data was recovered from the 200 floppies. That may seem like a minuscule amount by today’s standards, but in the 1980s, document files were small. Roddenberry’s lost words were substantial.
So what’s actually on the disks? Lost episodes of Star Trek? The secret script for a new show? Or as Popular Science once speculated, a patent for a transporter?
Unfortunately, we don’t know.
Cobb ain’t saying. Understandably, when DriverSavers is contracted to recover data, it’s also bound by rules of confidentiality. PCWorld reached out to the Roddenberry estate but was told it had no comment on the data or its plans for the newly discovered writing of Gene Roddenberry.
You probably wouldn’t consider 6th century Scandinavia a hotbed of anything, much less technological and artistic innovation, but that’s precisely what was happening in that region of the world as a result of increased migration in an era that’s actually called “the Migration Period.” From around 400 to 550 CE (Common Era), the northern migration of Germanic tribes, following earlier encroachment by the Romans, brought a great deal of change to Scandinavia–now Denmark, Norway, and Sweden–a region that was predominantly tribal and populated with small farms and settlements. This is the epoch that gave birth to the Vikings and it began with an influx of ideas from the south.
One modern-day Norwegian paid homage to that long-ago period of awakening in his home country by replicating an artifact from that era of burgeoning technology and artistic mastery: Teacher, game developer, and 3D design- and printing enthusiast, Nils Anderssen used his expertise to produce a stunningly accurate reproduction of a 6th-century, double-edged, iron sword with a bronze hilt, which was originally crafted in Snartemo in Southern Norway. Anderssen used the cutting-edge technology of today to recreate a symbol of his country’s ancient, expert craftsmanship.
It has certainly been possible before 3D printing to undertake a project like Anderssen’s, but it has been more expensive and far more time-consuming. Also, Anderssen, who has many talents, is not a professional goldsmith, so he was willingly heading into uncharted territory when he began his Snartemo Sword project. What he did possess was an enthusiasm for history and historical artifacts and, of course, a maker’s curiosity and ingenuity, so he began his project, spending a couple of years figuring out how to go about using 3D printing to create a believable replica.
Eventually, Anderssen uploaded the results of his ongoing project on his website, which prompted the National Museum of Art in Oslo, Norway to approach him about creating a replica of the sword as a companion display to the real sword (which, as we understand it, is part of the permanent collection of the Museum of Cultural History in Oslo). The museum insisted, quite reasonably, that the copy should resemble the original as closely as possible. Visitors would be able to handle the replica, so it needed to feel like the original sword as well.
Equipped with photos and measurements of the sword, Anderssen used 3D Studio Max to create his 3D design. “In Studio Max,” he explained, “I have good control over the thickness and size of the patterns and therefore avoided problems in printing.” The sword’s sharp edges were easily modeled in 3D Studio Max. His secret was to use “almost exclusively…the basic features of the polygon modeling tools…”
Without the capacity to 3D print in bronze himself, Anderssen needed to find a 3D printing service to help him undertake this major part of the sword project. He did his research and opted to enlist i.materialize, whom, he found, could print larger sizes than most other companies. Not unlike the original process of crafting the sword, Anderssen’s replica was created in parts. After he received the 3D-printed bronze pieces from i.materialize, he smoothed them and then had them gilded. He did make one important change: With his design, the hilt was hollow and later filled with wood to make the finished piece more stable and to facilitate easier assembly.
It isn’t clear how and where the blade was produced, but the various pieces of the sword were assembled by Anderssen and the results were spectacular. He had the pleasure after completing the project of seeing his replica placed next to the original sword, by far the greatest test of his success. As the photo emphasizes, the similarities between the reproduction and the original really are remarkable. What a brilliant means of both preserving history without compromising the physical state of an ancient artifact and allowing those of us who want to appreciate such objects to do so in a more interactive way! We hope that this becomes a trend with museums and archives; 3D printing certainly makes it plausible and far more budget-friendly.
A projector combined with a Web-based tabletop role playing game tool make for a new and really cool way to play Dungeons and Dragons.
Reddit user Silverlight is a developer for Roll20, an online tool for virtual tabletop role playing game sessions, so he knows a thing or two about blending technology into traditional RPG play. By pairing Roll20 with a projector mounted on the ceiling, Silverlight is able to display digital maps on the tabletop for a home session of D&D.
And the coolest thing about these digital maps is the ability to show characters’ actual line of sight as they explore. Discussing the setup on Reddit, Silverlight says that this functionality is built into Roll20, and he made the cones of vision possible by manually revealing portions of the map to the players.
This isn’t really a practical setup to replicate. Silverlight used an Epson brand projector to make the digital maps, and a cheap Epson projector should run you about $300 on Amazon. Still, it demonstrates new possibilities for playing tabletop role playing games. Roll20 runs in a Web browser. Maybe someone can figure out how to make this setup work using a much more affordable smartphone projector.
Below is the new spell I would create using these Improvised Exploding Dice. Well, the sketch notes for when I actually create the parameters for the spell itself, anyway.
GAMEOFDICESPELL (aka, Game of Chance Spell)
I was thinking that characters could carry with them small clusters of gaming dice, as if they carried their own gaming dice for games of chance. Though technically it could be any small, easily potable object. But the gaming dice, and dice games go back thousands of years, would be both easily portable and a splendidly innocuous cover-device so the targets do not suspect the users intentions.
(Of course you could always just use a version of the spell to create IEDs out of other people’s dice, ad hoc.)
The spell could then be exercised in such a way that the dice explode upon contact, explode when thrown or rolled, after a certain number of rolls, or set to explode after a certain period of time has elapsed.
The dice could then be used at a dice game (say you encounter a Thieves’ Guild or group of assassins and as an infiltration method you play a game of dice with them or give the dice as a gift), as a pre-set trap, or simply thrown like small hand-grenades. You could also just leave them lying around and when someone touches them to investigate you have a cheap but effective improvised explosive.
They could also be set to glow, to smell attractive, or to make unusual noises, so as to attract attention or to encourage theft.
More advanced versions of the spell might allow the dice to be used as tracking locators or beacons before they detonate. And the most advanced version of IED spell would allow the user to create his own dice, and depending on how the faces are decorated, carved, or painted (or maybe due to the numerical value expressed on the various faces) that would determine detonation force and how big of an explosion they would create.
Some dice might even explode by dispensing magical shrapnel or by a ejecting gas or other toxins – like snake venom, or even dissolve into or explode as a corrosive acid.
Anyway those are my initial sketches for an IED spell.
As for more modern or futuristic games you could simply create technological/Real World versions of such dice (or such small objects) useful for everything from espionage to weaponry, and I have some ideas where that is concerned too.
When I get the details worked out I’ll post the completed spell here.
Egyptian blue was one of the famous pigments of the ancient world. Not only was it a scientific achievement, it has become an important historical signifier because it only came from contact with Egypt. It’s now being used in advanced technology that see right through your skin.
Egyptian Blue in the Ancient World
What do you get when you toss calcium carbonate, copper-containing metal, and a lot of sand in a very hot fire? Probably nothing. That’s why it was so impressive that Egyptians were able to turn those ingredients into something thousands of years ago. The three ingredients together can form calcium copper silicate, or Egyptian blue pigment -but the process is arduous and exact. First of all, a flux is needed. A flux is an ingredient added to a firing process that lowers the melting point of the other ingredients. Potash or calcium carbonate are common fluxes. Even with the flux, the fire used to melt the substances has to get up to about 950 degrees celsius. That’s tough to make today, let alone 4,500 years ago.
Once the Egyptians started making the compound, it was enormously popular. Egyptian blue was a vivid pigment that resisted fading. It started appearing along trade-routes, spreading to other civilizations. These days, it’s used to determine whether an ancient civilization was in contact with Egypt, giving us an economic and political picture of the ancient world. It colored the classical world for over five thousand years, and didn’t lose popularity until the end of the first millennium AD.
Egyptian Blue in the Hospital
Egyptian blue, after a long spell of obscurity, may become very popular again. It has a special property. Hit it with visible red light, and it will give off infrared. It will give off infrared for a prolonged period of time. This is helpful if you’re an archaeologist and you want to determine what kind of pigment coated a statue a long time ago. Expose the statue, the painting, or anything else, to a concentrated beam of red light, then take a picture with a camera sensitive to infrared. While most of the art piece will be dark, anything painted with Egyptian blue will shine like animal eyes in the dark.
It’s even better if you’re a doctor. The frequency of infrared that Egyptian blue emits penetrates flesh more deeply than most other frequencies, without doing any damage. Incorporating Egyptian blue into medical technology will be a cheap way to scan a person’s body. It won’t take much Egyptian blue, either. Egyptian blue can be separated into sheets one thousandth the width of a human hair. How do get this advanced nanotechnology? Stirring the pigment gently in warm water for a few days. Which means that, it’s possible to get a very cheap, very accurate medical technology out of a five-thousand-year-old pigment, some water, and a spoon.
The concept of “digital metamaterials” – a simple way of designing metamaterials with bizarre optical properties that could hasten the development of devices such as invisibility cloaks and superlenses – is reported in a paper published today in Nature Materials…
A friend posted this article earlier today on his Facebook page and I have enough personal interest in the subject and the idea occurs often enough in my own inventions, business projects, and writings that I thought I would comment here on the Launch Port.
The iron could have been inserted later, but my general supposition is that Iron, and possibly even Steel development occurred long before what is historically accounted, in certain isolated areas or as a result of individual experiments by certain particularly gifted smiths.
The “Ages” we attribute to history are really just generalizations on wide-spread (what we would call today industrial and/or historical) development. History implies within the very term that there must be an historical record of a thing, and that this record must be available for recognition and study. Without an historical record of some kind there is no history, but whether any particular thing actually exited or not sans an historical record, that is an entirely separate matter…