Tag Archive: Real Science


Shatner pic   NS18P X

With this morning’s successful launch and return of 90-year-old William Shatner into outer space aboard the Blue Origin New Shepard spacecraft, Shatner gave his fans worldwide perhaps the greatest single moment in the annals of science fiction.  Melding the best of fantasy and reality, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos’ New Shepard NS-18 mission took the most famous fictional character, Star Trek’s Captain James T. Kirk, and made him an actual space traveler, 60 years since the first manned spaceflight, 52 years since the first Moonshot, and 55 years since Shatner first stepped onto the bridge of the Enterprise set.  It’s something no fan of Shatner or Star Trek ever could have dreamed of, a landmark, one-of-a-kind, impossible opportunity that is a giant leap for any writer, actor, or other creator of the ideas behind science fiction, back to all those past dreams of space travel, from the science fiction of Jules Verne’s From the Earth to the Moon, H.G. Wells’ The First Men in the Moon, and George Méliès’ A Trip to the Moon, to crewmembers of the fictional starship Enterprise invited by NASA to the ribbon-cutting for the first space shuttle named for the Enterprise, to actual astronaut Mae Jemison flying aboard the space shuttle Endeavor and returning to be a guest star on Star Trek: The Next Generation.  Does anyone not want Star Trek to be “real”?

Only William Shatner could have done something like this.  If you’ve met the man in person, you know he has unbounded energy like probably nobody else, certainly no one at the age of 90, showing no signs of slowing down, as evidenced again today.  The approximately 10-minute flight took the actor and crewmates above the 62-mile (100 kilometers) Kármán line at 9:53 a.m., which is the most commonly recognized boundary of the edge of space.

Shatner Kirk costumes b

Jeff Bezos’ spaceflight company Blue Origin postponed the flight to today due to forecasted high winds at its launch site (Bezos, a fan of Star Trek, had a cameo as an alien in the movie Star Trek Beyond).  The flight had liftoff at Blue Origin’s Launch Site One near Van Horn, Texas, at 9:49 a.m. (Central Time), returning at 10 a.m. sharp.

shat pinned

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Variator sep

Some people can get excited about science simply by watching an episode of Discovery’s How It’s Made But it often takes only one personal discovery, some object in motion, a curious force of nature, or unthinkable technological improvement, and suddenly a wider world opens up.  For me it was my dad making a simple telegraph machine, and later it was marveling on my first flight on an airplane, at last realizing visually how clouds cast shadows on the earth.  Today we’re featuring the final build in our trials of model maker UGEARS′ Stem Kit series of 3D engineering models (check out our other builds if you missed them: the 2-in-1 Arithmetic Kit (reviewed here), the Gearbox (reviewed here), the Random Generator (reviewed here) and the Tachometer reviewed here).  Today’s build is a fully operational, sturdy plywood 3D study model of inventor Milton Othello Reeves’ 1879 continuously variable transmission (CVT), or Variator, first used in sawmills, woolen mills and other Industrial Revolution mechanics, as part of car engines and any machine requiring a smooth changing of gear ratios.

Variator 11

No glue needed, no sanding required, with everything contained in the box, the Variator is part of UGEARS’ STEM Lab series, educational tools and fun models that aren’t just for kids, a way any family can spark an interest in science, and specifically understanding basic engineering assembly and design.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

One hundred years after surfer Duke Kahanamoku won an Olympic medal in swimming, surfing finally made it to become an official sport at this year’s games.  A new book coming this month is using the sport of surfing to teach kids about science.  Spinning out of writer-artist Kim Dwinell’s series of Surfside Girls fiction books for kids, The Science of Surfing: A Surfside Girls Guide to the Ocean is a practical guide full of science facts every kid should know about the ocean and sea life.  Published by Top Shelf Productions, its available for pre-order now here at Amazon for your favorite youth who was glued to the competition at Tsurigasaki Beach in Japan last week and looking for more.

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Tach main 2

Today we’re building a fully operational, sturdy plywood 3D study model of German engineer Dietrich Uhlhorn’s 1817 invention, the Tachometer, used throughout the 19th century in locomotives and later–and still today–in automobiles.  It’s a mechanism that, when the handle is rotated, movement is transmitted through a reducer, increasing the revolutions per minute (RPMs) and displacing twin weights in a rubber band-powered centrifugal unit.  The higher the RPM, the more centrifugal force separates counter weights, shifting a movable axle with a flywheel.  A dial is fixed to the axle, and the more the axle shifts (the higher the RPM), the more the dial arrow deflects, indicating higher speed rotation.  It’s the UGEARS Tachometer, the fourth model we’re testing after the 2-in-1 Arithmetic Kit (reviewed here), the Gearbox (reviewed here), and the Random Generator (reviewed here).  The Tachometer is part of the model maker’s STEM Lab series, educational tools and fun models that aren’t just for kids.  This kit, like the Gearbox we reviewed, is part of understanding basic engineering assembly design, most apparent in your family automobile.

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Random final main

Random chance can set all kinds of activities into motion.  Remember Abed’s discussion of the dice role and its impact in Community?  Do you recall the potential impending doom as a kid shaking the Magic 8 Ball, one of the toys in the National Toy Hall of Fame?  Sure, you could settle with a coin toss or dice roll, but why?  How about mixing up your next Dungeons & Dragons event with something different?  Today we’re building a study model of a device that generates random numbers and provides different random results based on probability theory, including a 360 degree rotating octahedron that acts like an orrery, triggered by a button, with a rack-and-gear drive, overrunning clutch, and a driven wheel.  It’s the UGEARS Random Generator, the third model we’re testing after the 2-in-1 Arithmetic Kit (reviewed here) and the Gearbox (reviewed here).  The Random Generator is part of the model maker’s STEM Lab series, educational tools and fun models that aren’t just for kids.  This kit is full of surprises, and as it comes together you’ll see how science puts the “magic” in the Magic 8 Ball.

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UGEARS Gearbox final

Today we’re building a study model of German engineer Karl Benz’s gearbox, the same mechanism you’d find in the transmission of any modern automobile, complete with drive shaft, layshaft with gear couplings, reverse idler, and a gear shift.  It’s the UGEARS Gearbox, the second model we’re testing after the 2-in-1 Arithmetic Kit (check out our first UGEARS review here).  The Gearbox is part of the model maker’s STEM Lab series, educational tools and fun models that aren’t just for kids.  Anyone who has ever driven a car should know the fundamentals of how a gearbox works, and this model is an excellent start.

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You may have recently seen advertisements for UGEARS, maker of some incredible moving models made entirely from precision laser-cut plywood parts.  We laid our hands on several STEM Lab kits and are going to feature our builds of each model over the next few weeks.  These are projects that can be made generally in less than a day, and provide multiple avenues of entertainment and education.  Each model improves the maker’s ability to assemble a model, fun in itself, but like LEGO expert builder series models and Erector sets of the past, these models are engineering marvels that replicate machines for mathematics, physics, and engineering study.  More advances models in the catalog include working trains, cars, and a dragon with moving wings, which we’ll work up to.

First, let’s take a look at the Multiplier and Addiator builds, both included in the UGEARS 2-in-1 Arithmetic Kit (available here at Amazon and also via model shops and online game and craft stores) tools students from grade school through college engineering can use and display, featured as one of the starter builds in the UGEARS catalog.

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MAND labs b

Review by C.J. Bunce

RadioShack was founded 100 years ago, and for most of those decades it has been the go-to supplier for anyone interested in electronics.  Not just for professionals, but it’s where students went to make things if they had even a remote interest in electronics.  The new incarnation of RadioShack is little different, less storefronts but an endless online supply of materials and ideas that what was once the exclusive purview of kids in the A/V Club.  It is now something any young person can–and should–become proficient in.  I knew as soon as I saw the Mand Labs kits on the new RadioShack website that this kind of product can and should be part of the future of STEM learning–whether at home or in schools.  So I reviewed the Mand Labs STEM Electronics Kit (KIT-1) to see if it’s as good as it looks. 

It is. 

Not only does the kit have everything you need–all the technological components to create more than 60 educational and fun projects–the even bigger value is the set of two textbook/workbooks, which provide all the theory, math, history, and core science so students understand the how and why.  With the books, digital videos, and online resources that come with the kit, even a young grade schooler can learn the fundamentals of electricity, physics, computer science, robotics, and electrical engineering.  And for adults, say you’re a cosplayer and you want to wire a helmet or chest box with lights and sound, or maybe you want to understand better why you can’t get your electronic fan or doorbell to work, or always wondered how the electric systems of your automobiles work, this kit will help you get started.

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Goodall portrait

Along with plenty of science fiction reviewed here at borg, we’ve covered “science fact” and making the world a better place through natural science and ecology and we love to review new cookbooks that come along, especially if tied to something we’re interested in.  We also love superheroes, and it’s difficult to find a superhero that ranks higher on our list than Jane Goodall, known first and best for her study of wild chimpanzees in Tanzania–now 60-year study–and more recently as a protector and advocate for the planet.  Working with her Jane Goodall Institute she’s released a new environmentally friendly cookbook #EATMEATLESS: Good for Animals, The Earth & All We tried one of the recipes, and you can check out a few for yourself in the below preview of this new cookbook.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

If you’ve been watching Michael Apted’s ground-breaking Up Series from its first installments, you know each new chapter in the real-life time travel journey makes the viewer feel like he or she has also reached some kind of achievement with the arrival of the new episode.  But the series of documentaries is not for the faint-hearted, filled with gut-wrenching views into participants’ lives, participants who feel like family after watching them over 56 years since their first appearance.  So compelling and personal is Apted’s look at this select group of fourteen English boys and girls turned men and women, revisiting them every seven years of their lives since 1964, the documentary series is practically an interactive experience.  With Apted passing away since the UK premiere last year, and the U.S. arrival of the latest installment–the eagerly awaited 63 Up arriving on BritBox via Amazon Prime this weekend–the question is whether this ninth installment is the last.  Key members of the crew since 28 Up have expressed an interest in continuing the series in 2027, but until then expect this to be a bittersweet end for the series, which Roger Ebert called the noblest project in cinema history and among the ten best films ever made.

At last Apted addresses the thesis of the show to each participant, “Give me a child until he is seven and I will give you the man,” and asks whether they agree after decades participating in this unique social experiment.  Apted was a researcher when working on director Paul Almond’s Seven Up! in 1964.  Seven years later the well-known director of Gorillas in the Mist, The World is Not Enough, Coal Miner’s Daughter and Gorky Park, was just out of university, and at 22 he revisited the original Seven Up! project.  He would go on to direct the subsequent eight episodes over 56 years.  The idea was to get a glimpse of England in the future year 2000 when these kids, the future leaders of England, were only seven years old.  It is difficult to surpass the jolts and surprises of 42 Up, but 63 Up holds its own, although sadly viewers will say goodbye to one participant who has died, another is seriously ill, and another decided not to participate.

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