Category Archives: Other Stuff

What If I Had Bought Bitcoins Instead of Backing Kickstarters?

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Bitcoin is red hot right now. Like everyone, I’m full of silly regret for not having put all my savings into it when it was super new and dirt cheap — even a small investment at the start would be worth a fortune now. Instead, I waited a few years and bought 0.1 bitcoin for $100 when its price was at a then-peak of $1000. It promptly plummeted.

Then, years later, it skyrocketed.

With Bitcoin’s price flirting with $20,000 over the past month, I got curious to what could have been in various scenarios, mostly one where, instead of putting money into another platform that launched around the same time, Kickstarter, I had put the same amount of money into buying Bitcoins.

We all know how much Kickstarter has transformed the world for creators and makers since it came out in 2009, allowing people to finance and market their ideas and help bring them to fruition. I’ve been a regular backer since 2011, with a collection of novel, backed items to show for it.

But what if I had put that money into Bitcoin instead? How much would my wallet be worth now if I had bought bitcoins at the corresponding prices to the dates I made my pledges? I wanted to know, so I made the following sheet, based off the value of Bitcoin about now — $14,454:

Date KS Amount BTC Price No. of BTC
3/15/2011 $20.00 $0.88 22.7273
4/21/2011 $5.00 $1.18 4.2373
5/3/2011 $60.00 $3.32 18.0723
12/19/2012 $30.00 $13.60 2.2059
4/19/2013 $27.00 $118.48 0.2279
4/19/2013 $39.00 $118.48 0.3292
8/31/2013 $159.00 $129.46 1.2282
9/2/2013 $45.00 $127.36 0.3533
9/22/2013 $100.00 $122.65 0.8153
12/7/2013 $119.00 $800.57 0.1486
12/19/2013 $40.00 $702.03 0.0570
3/20/2014 $54.00 $583.48 0.0925
10/22/2014 $25.00 $379.96 0.0658
11/3/2014 $5.00 $323.56 0.0155
12/27/2014 $26.00 $315.91 0.0823
2/25/2015 $30.00 $237.99 0.1261
5/7/2015 $59.00 $237.29 0.2486
7/21/2015 $100.00 $275.78 0.3626
9/22/2015 $60.00 $231.27 0.2594
12/9/2015 $36.00 $770.50 0.0467
Total KS pledges $1,003.00 51.6551
 12/21/17  BTC @ $14,454.45  TOTAL


A 74,400% gain — not too shabby, although with the current fervor I thought the final dollar amount would be even higher. You can see the best conversions were the earliest, of course, but would be way more if I had gotten in during mid-2010, when Bitcoin prices sat in the $0.06 – $0.08 range. Just the first $20 pledge done a year earlier would be worth over $4.8 million at today’s prices.

(I’m also surprised to discover I’ve spent over $1000 on Kickstarter at this point.)

This is nothing but a hypothetical exercise, unfortunately. Like all investments, there’s a huge element of chance involved in trying to boost your money through Bitcoin or any other high-risk cryptocurrency. Take it from someone who’s perpetually struggled with the stock market, there are no guarantees!

And I really don’t have regrets backing Kickstarters (except for the Peachy Printer, which evaporated with my money and everyone else’s). Some of these have been friend’s projects that I have been happy to be a backer of, and some of the items I’ve gotten have been useful on a daily basis. Most importantly, it’s good to support the economy of individuals who are pursuing endeavors not as easily possible before the platform existed.

It’d be pretty interesting to make a tool that could automatically calculate your theoretical Kickstarter-to-Bitcoin (or APPL—BTC, GOOG—BTC, etc) wallet value, although I’m not sure Kickstarter has an API that would support the export of that info. Meanwhile, if you want to tally up your own amount, I found this chart to be most useful for finding daily Bitcoin prices, and I’ve put a blank version of my spreadsheet here — just make a copy for yourself and input the data.

Let me know what yours would have been!

Here's some money I wish I hadn't spent.
Here’s some money I wish I hadn’t spent.

How to Shrink Cosmic Bodies into Virtual Scale Miniatures

Horsehead Nebula  Original image & credit: NASA, ESA, and the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA). Assembly and processing by Robert Gendler.
Horsehead Nebula Original image & credit: NASA, ESA, and the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA). Assembly and processing by Robert Gendler.

Galactic structures a billion, billion miles wide look like squirts of food coloring into a bowl of water with these tilt-shift photos.

Typically used for architectural purposes, tilt-shift (or perception-control) lenses move the plane of focus from being parallel to the cameras’s sensor or film, and instead places it at an angle by physically tilting the lens itself.

When applied to a landscape, the photographer can put a long, sweeping area into focus.

But when used the opposite way, the focal plane narrows down into a thin band, horizontally spanning one part of the sensor. The unfocused top and bottom part of the photo are thrown out of focus. It’s a similar look to that of a macro photo, when something small is taken at close proximity and is only in focus in a narrow plane, because of the way lenses tend to work (especially those left at wide apertures). And while the tilt-shift lenses are pricey, a similar result can be created with simple photoshop or smartphone app filters.

We’ve trained our our eyes and brain with these types of photos to the point that tilt-shifted images of large items, especially those taken from above at an angle, appear as though they are a macro photo of a small image. When done really well, the item shrinks from humungous size to that of a model miniature.

These shots of some of the most famous cosmic bodies — Horsehead Nebula, Andromeda, etc — made to look like something you could reach out and wrap your hand around rather than something that spans lightyears of distance, using a faux tilt-shift effect in Photoshop. They come courtesy Imgur user ScienceLlama, and are some of my favorites yet, although I think the top honor still remains with the tilt-shift video below.

Celebrate this Weekend’s Curiosity Mars Landing with a Peek At Mechanix Illustrated’s 1975 Profile of the Viking Mars Landers

One of my favorite magazines to skim through at vintage bookstores is Mechanix Illustrated — a now-defunct Popular Science/Mechanics-style periodical that oozes with charming nostalgia. On a recent store visit, a headline about the Mars Lander caught my eye, as I’ve recently been monitoring the upcoming Curiosity rover’s approach to Mars. I plunked down 50 cents and headed home to read the article.

The write-up is fascinating piece of 37 year old history. It shows our uncertainty about the unknown Martian world that we were preparing to land on for the first time. It also gave an overview of Vikings I and II, stationary research platforms that were highly advanced for their time, but a far cry from the mobility and power that the latest Mars rover, Curiosity, is taking to the red planet.

On Sunday night, 10:31pm PT, Curiosity will enter the Martian atmosphere and begin its descent to the surface. Using a new landing technique called the Sky Crane, it will hover above the surface and lower itself down on a cable hoist. Its array of cameras, digging tools and high powered lasers are unprecedented, but the mission remains largely the same as from our first visit: to look for signs that the planet might have been able to support life at some point.

If you haven’t yet, make sure to immerse yourself in the NASA site about the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) to watch the progress of Curiosity’s approach and attempt to land. I’m thrilled about this, and, I have to brag, I’m thrilled that I will get to be at JPL to watch the scientists track the final descent.

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).

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

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).