Living in an Urban Cactus

Article PhotoA Dutch architecture firm called ucx recently presented a new concept for a high-rise apartment building on the waterfront in Rotterdam. The biomorphic tower resembles a tall cactus, with nineteen vertical stories set in a rotating pattern such that all ninety-eight residential units get their fair share of sunlight. The floors extend well beyond the interior spaces, providing ample terraces, which as the rendering shows, lend themselves to plenty of greenery right outside the door.

As Inhabitat points out, it's hard to tell whether the design has fully embraced the potential ecological benefits of succulent gardens running down all sides of the building -- such as rainwater collection and on-site irrigation sources -- but if the architects haven't taken that leap, at least it's a natural one for individual occupants to gravitate towards.


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A Guitar Amp in the Palm of Your Hand

Baby blue and beautiful, Zachary Vex's $460 Nano Head brings
portability somewhere it's rarely expected: tube amplification.
Offering a 1/2 watt of power, just plug in your axe, plug in your
speakers, and yes,
you're live. It even operates from a 12v lead-acid battery. Zachary
talks a lot o' jargon, but promises you'll be stunned by its apparent
This amp is voiced to deliver classic rock tone, with
a very high level of crunch available if it's wanted. Just crank the
volume knob around to the level of distortion you desire, from a very
quiet (one tenth watt) clean mode to a micro-Marshall (TM) blast when
cranked up. I am making myself a little ill (gag!) trying to describe
the tone of my Nano, using the same tired old phrases that all the amp
and distortion box makers use, but I think it's true... it does a great
job of emulating big amps at very reasonable volumes, which makes it
exceptionally nice for recording.

For shame, this box is of no use to me: whatever prior understanding
you may have of musical incompetence, it is no preparation whatsoever
for hearing my abysmal strumming. If you're looking for a portable way
to steal the souls of farty speakers in gloomy Irish pubs, however,
here is your Stormbringer.

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How To: Foil Wiretaps at Home

Think the Feds might be jacked into your home line?
Well, there’s no need to skulk down to the corner pay phone to
conduct your business. All you need is a C note. University of
Pennsylvania computer science professor Matt Blaze ­dissected the
wiretap equipment commonly used by law enforcement and found a few, um,
bugs. Spies, it turns out, don’t like to record dead air, so they
turn the system off by playing a special C-pitched tone when the target
phone is hung up. As a result, anyone with an MP3 player and a recorded
C can prevent eavesdroppers from snooping on their private chatter. It
doesn’t work with all listening devices, though, so there’s
no guarantee the NSA won’t come calling.

1. You’re starting to get the creepy feeling you’re being watched – or rather listened to.

2. Download Blaze’s C tone (www.crypto.com/papers/wiretapping)
and broadcast it continuously during phone calls. You can play the tone
at low volume so it just seems like ambient room noise.

3. Don’t stop there – befuddle your
foes. Play the C for a second in the middle of a call, then without
hanging up, dial another number. Analog wiretap systems will interpret
this as a new call. You may be chatting with a friend, but now the
spooks think you’re talking to Domino’s.

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Drawing like Pollock

Draw like Pollock
Move your mouse and watch what happens!


Paintball minigun in development, paintball BFG still on drawing board

To be honest, we're not that big on paintball except for when robots or tanks are involved, but special effects man Rick Galinson (of Snakes on a Plane
fame, no less) has managed to peak our interest with the sheer
badassness of his latest project. He's currently in the process of
creating a room-clearing paintball minigun and, as the video on his
site shows, he's made some impressive progress. While it can't actually
shoot paintballs yet, its 1200 psi of pressure is more than enough to
provide an effective and, frankly, scary demonstration with nothing but
air. Unfortunately, Rick hasn't given any indication when he expects to
finish the thing, but we're guessing that he's gonna keep it for
himself when he does; lets just hope that whoever has to stare down the
barrel(s) of this thing knows what they're in for.

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Congress Tells Auditor in Iraq to Close Office

November 3, 2006, New York Times

Investigations led by a Republican lawyer named Stuart W. Bowen Jr. in Iraq have sent American occupation officials to jail on bribery and conspiracy charges, exposed disastrously poor construction work by well-connected companies like Halliburton and Parsons, and discovered that the military did not properly track hundreds of thousands of weapons it shipped to Iraqi security forces. And tucked away in a huge military authorization bill that President Bush signed two weeks ago is what some of Mr. Bowen�s supporters believe is his reward for repeatedly embarrassing the administration: a pink slip. An obscure provision...terminates his federal oversight agency, the Office of the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction. The clause was inserted by the Republican side of the House Armed Services Committee. It has generated surprise and some outrage among lawmakers who say they had no idea it was in the final legislation. Susan Collins, a Maine Republican who followed the bill closely as chairwoman of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs, says that she still does not know how the provision made its way into what is called the conference report, which reconciles differences between House and Senate versions of a bill. Neither the House nor the Senate version contained such a termination clause before the conference, all involved agree. Mr. Bowen�s office has 55 auditors and inspectors in Iraq and about 300 reports and investigations already to its credit, far outstripping any other oversight agency in the country.


'Flashy' New Process Turns Soy Oil, Glucose Into Hydrogen

Anyone who's overheated vegetable oil or sweet syrup knows that neither oil nor sugar evaporates--oil smokes and turns brown, sugar turns black, and both leave a nasty film of carbon on the cookware.

Now, a University of Minnesota team has invented a "reactive flash volatilization process" that heats oil and sugar about a million times faster than you can in your kitchen and produces hydrogen and carbon monoxide, a mixture called synthesis gas, or syngas, because it is used to make chemicals and fuels, including gasoline. The new process works 10 to 100 times faster than current technology, with no input of fossil fuels and in reactors at least 10 times smaller than current models. The work could significantly improve the efficiency of fuel production from renewable energy sources. It will be published Nov. 3 in Science.