Laser Troubleshooting

So sorry to hear your cheap dollar-store laser pointer gave up mid-way through a presentation, forcing you to rely on armwaving and gesturing for the remainder of the talk. The following questions may help determine the source of the problem.

1) Have you considered that a dollar is far too little to pay for a reliable piece of super-advanced radiation-generating solid-state electronics? (Yes / No)

2) Did the batteries explode and leak acid all over the place, maybe? (Yes / No)

It’s okay… I have plans for this one.

Build Your Own Giant Lego X-Wing

Wired are running an article today about the world’s largest Lego sculpture, a titanic X-Wing displayed in Times Square that’s 41 feet long and weighs 23 tons. (Larger and heavier that some real fighter jets) It’s a doozy!

So I did a bit of back-of-the-napkin math for anyone who wants to build this at home. The X-Wing model is built out of 5,335,200 bricks on a steel frame – assuming they’re all 2×4 bricks, and you’re getting them from the source on the Lego pick-a-brick site, at $0.30USD each you’re looking at $1,600,560 worth of bricks, plus shipping.

I’ve always been kindof dubious about Lego’s brick pricing. I’ve heard Lego defenders claiming the moulds have to be ridiculously precise for the nubs to lock properly, so the bricks are expensive to make. It certainly seems like their little plastic cubes are getting more expensive, but the data says otherwise. The Reality Prose blog examined Lego prices, adjusted for inflation, and found that they’re getting cheaper – the sets are just getting larger. Certainly, if they ever release this x-wing as a set, it’ll bump some of the piece count averages up.


I discovered a new Google Maps mashup game last weekend that Natasha and I have been playing together, called “GeoGuessr“. Fans of Carmen Sandiego and avid travellers will get a kick out of it – the idea is that you’re dropped in some random location on the planet, and need to figure out (by exploring your local environs in google maps) where on earth you are. Points are scored based on the distance between your guess and your actual location.

We’ve had a blast (and feel very worldly) playing a few rounds and will definitely keep coming back for more. Our house rule is to never use Google for hints. A few noteable rounds:

  • We were dropped off on a dusty, featureless highway in Mexico with nothing in view but a solar-powered SOS phone. We managed to find a highway sign after about ten kilometers of clicking and nailed it to within  a couple of feet of our location.
  • We got dropped off on the island of Lampedusa, a Sicilian-owned rock jutting out of the Mediterranean just north of Africa. Flags on the boats gave away the country, and I found a seafood restaurant that  gave away the island name. (Then it took me a while to find the island on the map!)
  • Our worst performance was being lost in Novgorod (Gorky), Russia. There are signs everywhere, but everything is in Cyrillic alphabet and we were completely hopeless. Eventually we got trapped in a military park, and while I managed to figure out we were on the Volga, I put us about 400km downstream.

A few tips if you’re playing along at home:

  • Google blurs out license plates, but look at ads on the sides of trucks, and billboards. Some of them will talk about local establishments and everyone claims to serve the best borscht in Belgium. 🙂
  • Intersections of highways make it easy to nail down where you are. Most countries number their highways North-to-South, East-to-West, so you can figure out proportionally where you might be relative to the borders of the country.
  • Find the fanciest buildings in town, and read the plaques. They’re often public institutions, and have important town names and historical clues on them.
  • I’d like to think that if I knew more about tree species I’d be able to make a pretty solid guess – just based on the forests, a few times I found my self in Brazil thinking I was in Africa, and one time in South Africa I thought I was in the Caribbean. I suck at trees, apparently.

Post any big successes in the comments – I’m curious about how people do in their own wanderings!