All posts by mike

Westwood Village – The Mos Eisley of the 1940s?


Domes, towers and spires – something felt familiar about the above photo of Westwood, circa 1940. And then it hit me: Mos Eisley, the wild spaceport that hides some of the biggest scourges in the galaxy. Twin cities, separated at birth.

Let’s make a quick comparison:

Westwood Village
Situated next to UCLA, this affluent section of Los Angeles was established in the mid-late 1920’s, with many of its most distinct buildings built between 1929 and 1937. It was designed with a deliberate Mediterranean style, and at the time was considered one of the most beautiful planed urban areas in the country. Towers, spires and domes. Tile roofs and winding walkways. It’s an area unlike most other cities, and although now overshadowed by towering glass buildings of a more modern vintage, it is still a very enjoyable and unique center, especially when compared to the sea of mundanity that comprises most of Los Angeles.

Mos Eisley
A city of 40,000 – 60,000 inhabitants, most living underground to avoid the ravages of Tattoine’s twin suns. Like Westwood, the city streets are a criss-cross of various angles, moving around landmarks rather than a strict grid. In the original Star Wars movie, scenes set here were filmed on the Tunisian island Djerba; in later films, much of the city’s footage was built digitally. Fans still travel there to scout out the leftovers from

Of course, there are some major differences between these two centers of commerce – especially in the preponderance of crime. But regardless, it’s fun to see how a timeless Mediterranean/Middle Eastern style can make its way into real life and imaginary cities alike.
You can explore a good deal of Mos Eisley in the map from Inside The Worlds of Star Wars Trilogy – it’s posted on the fantastic Wookiepedia Star Wars site, but you can also explore it in printed book format along with many other pages of illustrated Star Wars map candy  (and the book is crazy cheap if bought used on Amazon).

Video Fun: V8 Engine Block Machined From Solid Aluminum on a 5-Axis CNC Mill

Just a little something to fall asleep to tonight.

Best comment on the video:

9:46 wish i could get the wife to move like that

You’ll get it when you’re older.

And if you still want more, here’s another good one — 5-axis CNC milled aluminum motocross helmet:

These machines are awesome — and the ones you’re watching here are as expensive as a house. I can’t even bring myself to write how much the lower-cost “big” models are.

Fortunately, as my Wired Tormach 770 review revealed, the prices for smaller, serviceable CNC mills is starting to drop to attainable prices. Attainable for those who already bought their Sunday Porsche, perhaps, but still…

Five Years Ago: The Dramatic and Devastating Oakland Freeway Tanker Fire And Collapse

Hard to believe that it’s been half a decade since the early-morning tanker crash and ensuing fire on the Macarthur freeway exchange in Oakland. The devastation was fast and intense — the entire overpass melted into a Dali-esque mess of withered steel and draping asphalt. Amazingly, builders were able to repair the overpass in just 26 days.

From Wikinews:

Tanker truck fire causes collapse on Oakland Freeway

Sunday, April 29, 2007
tanker truck carrying approximately 8,600 gallons of unleaded gasoline caught on fire on the Interstate 80/880 interchange in Oakland, California early Sunday morning around 3:40 AM. The fire resulted in the collapse of at least two sections of bridges at the interchange, including one carrying I-580. The multi-level freeway interchange known as the MacArthur Maze connects the Bay Bridge (Interstate 80) to Interstates 580, 880, and 980 and California State Highway 24, and as such it connects several major cities in California, including San Francisco, Oakland, and Berkeley.
The driver, James Mosqueda, 51, of Woodland, California, escaped from his truck before the fire. He was the only person reported to be hurt, suffering second-degree burns. No other vehicles were involved in the crash.
The driver was believed to be speeding, resulting in a loss of control of the truck, causing it to flip over and subsequently burst into flames. As the truck was traveling on the interchange of I-80 eastbound to I-880 southbound near the San Francisco Bay Bridge, it is speculated to have hit a guard rail or column during a turn. Shortly thereafter, it exploded into a fire that lasted several hours.
Caltrans officials have announced that repairs will be fast-tracked, but will still take several weeks. Public transit has responded with plans to increase service and re-route buses that used the destroyed interchange.
Gov. Schwarzenegger has declared a state of emergency that in addition to expediting repairs will suspend restrictions on truck traffic hours and provide free use of area public transportation on Monday, April 30.


Continue reading Five Years Ago: The Dramatic and Devastating Oakland Freeway Tanker Fire And Collapse

Darth Vader, Sans Cape and Helmet, Looks Like a Leather Gimp Slave From the Local Goth Club

What’s this? A beat-up old Star Wars toy

Why is it cool? It’s the large-size model (15″), not as common as the small figurines, and because of missing pieces it looks more like C3P0’s dad than Luke’s.

What’s the story? In 1977, people had no idea what a massive mark Star Wars would leave on their generation. Sci-fi was a bit of a niche area in film, and the concept of a summer blockbuster didn’t even exist yet. But the movie’s small, 32-theater opening created a massive buzz, and led to a nationwide unrolling. Crowds of people lined up to spend a couple hours in a galaxy far, far away — a tradition they’ve been doing at every theatrical release of the franchise ever since.

They also monetized every possible aspect of the film. Lunch boxes, pillowcases, storybook records, and toys. There’s no one alive today who isn’t familiar with the standard 3.75″ Star Wars figures. But when the movie came out, they made various other types of figures — including a ~12″ figure (the height varied depending on the character) that matched pretty closely with Barbie dolls in size and lack of articulation. All the major players were made — Luke, Han, Leia, Chewie, Storm Troopers, etc.

I was doing some Star Wars-related research based on my Gizmodo article (How To Make Ice Cubes Shaped Like Tiny Baby Heads) and found a Craigslist posting for this partially complete Darth Vader doll from 1978. Sans cape and top of mask, the tyrant has a less imposing look.

Continue reading Darth Vader, Sans Cape and Helmet, Looks Like a Leather Gimp Slave From the Local Goth Club

17 Photos From Caine’s Arcade, his Cardboard Games and his $150,000 Cardboard Check

What is this? A genius-level DIY game arcade that will make you start hoarding cardboard boxes

Who made it? Nine year old Caine Monroy from East LA

Awesome element: The brilliance of the Fun Pass — a representation of a child’s game-play dreams, and a shrewd business move all in one.

What’s the story? Caine Monroy is a nine year old with a passion for carnival-style games so deep that he built his own arcade using the resources around him: cardboard boxes from his dad’s used auto parts business. Set in a tougher part of Los Angeles, his fully-operational/fully-adorable arcade got no customers until the day Nirvan Mullick stopped by while looking for a car part and spotted the genius that this kid radiates. Nirvan subsequently produced a 10 minute documentary about Caine and  his arcade, and built a website to help raise funds for Caine’s college tuition fund. A very warmly told tale, the story made the news on every major outlet by the end fo the week it was launched. I highly recommend you watch his video if you haven’t yet.

The scenes in the video looked familiar to me, and for good reason — it turns out that Caine’s Arcade is seven miles from where I live, on a street I’ve cut through various times as a shortcut to Union Station. The arcade is only open on the weekends (don’t forget, Caine is in school), so I headed there on the Saturday after the film was released. Here are my photos and notes from that experience.

It seemed that everyone in LA (and even some from over 7 hours away) had come to check out the cleverly devised arcade. Downside: no parking -- we found a spot a few blocks away and hiked to the store, crossing the intersection of Interstates 10 and 101.
The line of people waiting in front of "Smart Parts," Caine's dad's used auto parts store.

Continue reading 17 Photos From Caine’s Arcade, his Cardboard Games and his $150,000 Cardboard Check

DIY Motorized Router Table Lift Mechanism and Two Other Innovative Router Tables

A router is a versatile and useful tool, although a pretty crazy one too. It’s a compact, high-powered motor that holds a narrow cylindrical blade (“bit”), spinning at ultra-high speeds with massive force. Routers are used for ornamental design work (look at the recessed borders cut into your cabinet doors — that’s routed) and cutting material. A variety of bit shapes allow for different contours of cuts — straight, angled, curved, curved with a protruding angle, etc.

Most commonly, routers are handheld with the bit extending downwards into the material being carved out. They’re guided over a piece of material to make freehand cuts, or with a guide to help ensure straight lines. The gyroscopic effect makes them a bit funky to control, and the power of the motor can send some serious fragments flying — including the router or user if things get hung up.

Sometimes, however, the router will be flipped upside-down and mounted underneath a table, with the bit extending upwards — combined like this, it’s called a router table. Keeping the router stable and moving just the material allows for more precise control of the cuts, especially if combined with a fence to guide straight movement.

One downside of the router table setup is that the router controls are not as accessible once placed in a cabinet space under the work surface — this is especially true for bit depth adjustments, a very crucial part of routing. Some manufacturers have devised a through-the-table screw adjustment that lets you move things up and down, but this can still be hard to do if you’re in the middle of a project or cut.

This video shows a very innovative approach to this situation–a mechanized router lift built by workshop mastermind Bill Price. Using a car window motor and a few very innovative ideas, he’s got a system that allows for easy access adjustments on the fly. And he’s even incorporated a system that allows for automatic height measurement and adjustment based on the item you’re routing. Awesome.

Here are two other router table systems that incorporate novel solutions — the first, a highly configurable router table that uses simple folding components and a bungee strap for the elastic resistance needed. The video is mesmerizing in its lack of vocalized description, instead relying on a very effective demonstration of the table’s various setups, while set in what appears to be an abandoned industrial workshop somewhere in Russia.

The second is Matthias Wendel’s wooden-geared router table mechanism. Matthias, of the site, builds some mind blowing projects entirely from wood (I’ll post about his homemade all-wood bandsaw soon). This lift, like all his projects, is super accurate and extremely useful.

The thought of building one of these for yourself can be a bit daunting; fortunately there are plenty of commercial options available (although usually without the innovations seen here — I suspect they’ll get added soon though). Check out this Bosch router table for something that is compact but affordable, and includes a wide range of options.

These two great books will also get you up to speed on routing and router tables: “Taunton’s Complete Guide to Routers” and “Bill Hylton’s Ultimate Guide to the Router Table

Succulent Planter Made From A Wooden Carpenter’s Toolbox

I’ve had a countertop of succulents that needed a permanent home for some time now, and had been hoping to put them in a wooden box with rustic charm. Last weekend I stopped at my local Orchard Supply for supplies and saw a cheap tool set that included a wooden box with the classic OSH logo on it. For $20, it included a hammer, flathead and phillips screw drivers, tape measure, small level, and kids-sized safety goggles. Handy stuff for a kitchen drawer, but I had other thoughts for small carpenter’s tool box.

I took it home, added a few scoops of potting soil, and repurposed it to hold my succulents in an easy-to-transport but cool-to-display way.

Succulents don’t require much water so I didn’t drill out the bottom, but if I determine it needs better draining, a couple rows of 1/8″ holes through the thin bottom wood should do the trick. I may also reinforce the stapled construction by tapping some holes and adding screws. And with hopes, the wood will age and darken nicely to give it that cool weathered look.

Want to do this too? Easily make your own tool box using plans available online, but if you’re short on time, you can get a pre-cut kit — just needs assembly.

With Respect to The Terrifying, Truck-Throwing Texas Tornado, Here’s a Video of a Moving Train Being Toppled By a Twister


Earlier this week a batch of giant tornados criss-crossed the Dallas-Ft. Worth region, making news for the startling footage of 30,000 pound big rig trailers getting flung through the air like pieces of paper. Shocking photos and images, and a reminder of how intense the power of nature can be. Fortunately, no deaths have been reported.

As scary as the footage is, it’s not the first time large cargo transportation has been affected by a twister. I’ve previously posted the video at the top of this post, a frightening first-person-view shot of a moving freight train getting toppled by a passing tornado. Make sure to watch the end of it–just when you think it’s over, things look like they might just get worse. This occurred in January 2008, in Illinois. More details of the tornado are available here, and some cleanup pics here.

The video of the trailers getting flung by the high winds is posted below, as well as a raw video feed from the helicopter tracking the tornado and its damage. Who is crazy enough to fly a helicopter near a tornado? I wonder how well the special “tornado-proof” truck from Storm Chasers would fare in this situation.


Want to See a Half-Mile High Dust Devil on Mars?

Interesting video on Weather Channel’s website that shows an aerial image of a 1/2 mile tall, 100 foot wide dust devil sweeping the sandy martian plains. The resolution of the satellite image is pretty amazing, and allows researchers the ability to calculate the twister’s dimensions based on the length of the shadow it cast (and knowing the angle of the sun at the moment the shot was taken.)

Martian dust devils aren’t a new discovery — we’ve known about them for quite some time, and even have recorded images of them from the surface of the planet. One fascinating and unexpected element they’ve added to human exploration of that planet is periodically cleaning the dust from the solar panels of the martian rovers we’ve sent there.

If you want to find the height of a tall object on Earth and can measure the length of its shadow (easier around noon than in the early morning or late afternoon, when shadows stretch pretty long), you can use this height-by-shadow-length calculator to get the result (clicking the image will take you to the calculator page).

Six of the Geekiest RC Quadrotor and Flying Designs: “Back to the Future” Flying DeLorean, X-Wing Fighter, and More

RC quadrotors (or quadcopters) have so much awesome potential because they are basically stable, powerful floating platforms, capable of a variety flight-enabled projects. You can mount a camera on one to capture amazing aerial video, or create a menacing autonomous surveillance system. Or — on the far end of geekiness — you can dress one up in costume, and fly your nerdiest world of fandom through the sky for all to see, like these following guys have done:

“Back to the Future” flying DeLorean (check out the blue, glowing LED lights under the wheels):

Continue reading Six of the Geekiest RC Quadrotor and Flying Designs: “Back to the Future” Flying DeLorean, X-Wing Fighter, and More