Category Archives: Miscellaneous

Electricity-generating kites? Google’s “Makani” moonshot takes off

“Days of miracles & wonder,” part 9,277:

We’re working to advance the global adoption of renewable energy by creating kites that efficiently harness energy from the wind. After more than a decade developing our energy kite technology on land, I’m thrilled to share that we’re now partnering with Shell to bring Makani to offshore environments. As we take this next step towards commercialization, we’ll also be moving on from the Moonshot Factory, our home for the last five years, to become an independent business within Alphabet.

Watch it soar:



New microdrones can lift 40x their body weight

As we know of velociraptors, things tend to go awesome once creatures learn how to open doors. The Verge writes,

The key to the design is the use of interchangeable adhesives on the drone’s base: microspines for digging into rough materials like stucco, carpet, or rubble, and ridged silicone (inspired by the morphology of gecko feet) for grabbing onto glass. Both microspines and silicone ridges only cling to surfaces in one direction, meaning they can be easily detached. With these in place, the micro-drones can pull well above their 100-gram weight, exerting 40 newtons of force or enough to lift four kilograms (about eight pounds).

Grid-swarming nanocopters, coming soon to a dream/nightmare near you

I, for one, welcome our new cubic overlords:

We present GridDrones, a self-levitating programmable matter platform that can be used for representing 2.5D voxel grid relief maps capable of rendering unsupported structures and 3D transformations. GridDrones consists of cube-shaped nanocopters that can be placed in a volumetric 1xnxn mid-air grid, which is demonstrated here with 15 voxels. The number of voxels and scale is only limited by the size of the room and budget. Grid deformations can be applied interactively to this voxel lattice by manually selecting a set of voxels, then assigning a continuous topological relationship between voxel sets that determines how voxels move in relation to each other and manually drawing out selected voxels from the lattice structure. Using this simple technique, it is possible to create unsupported structures that can be translated and oriented freely in 3D. Shape transformations can also be recorded to allow for simple physical shape morphing animations. This work extends previous work on selection and editing techniques for 3D user interfaces.

[YouTube] [Via]

Google’s using AI to help predict floods

I love the mix of high & low tech in this use of AI for social good:

A team of engineers from Google’s Crisis Response team is using machine learning to develop a more accurate and reliable flood forecasting system for countries that need it most.

Learn more about how AI and other technology is being used to help provide people with more accurate crisis alerts.


Tangentially related if at all, but what the heck: How great are these 3D renderings of vintage topographical maps?



Impressive Animoji-powered music videos

I am not, you may have noticed, curing cancer with my limited time on this planet. Having said that, I love working on the continued democratization of creative tech. These example videos show off an incredible leap in one kind of expressivity, letting one person with a telephone create animation that would’ve previously required huge amounts of effort in complex software:

Kanye/Daft Punk:

Nickelback (sorry)


Great long(ish) reads about computer science badasses

  •  The Yoda of Silicon Valley discusses the life & work of computer-science OG Don Knuth. The whole article & the accompanying reader comments are fascinating. (Side bonus for me: I ended up learning the names of various people in my extended team (!), who are quoted in the article.) I love that Don’s defiantly 1997-looking personal site includes a list of Infrequently Asked Questions.
  • The New Yorker profiles Google coding duprass Jeff Dean (who leads our org) and Sanjay Ghemawat. They “seem like two halves of a single mind,” and their work enabled planet-scale data infrastructure (among many other things). Retaining as I do the most unimportant details, I now really want to see Jeff’s bespoke basement trampoline. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ Oh, and you should definitely read Chuck Norris-style Jeff Dean Facts (“Jeff Dean’s PIN is the last 4 digits of pi,” etc.).


Treat yourself to “Everything Is Alive”

The Nack fam is in the midst of a somewhat fraught roadtrip (busted Westfalia, freezing temperatures, etc.)—hence the light blogging—but this reminds me to recommend the brilliant podcast “Everything Is Alive.” This description doesn’t do it justice…

Everything is Alive is an unscripted interview show in which all the subjects are inanimate objects. In each episode, a different thing tells us its life story–and everything it says is true.

 …so please just trust me & try an episode (e.g. Louis the soda can or Sean the subway seat). Our kids are enthralled, as are we, and we end up learning a bunch of random facts (from radioactive beverages to ghost-attracting soda to Ukrainian rejection pumpkins) that are now firm parts of family banter.