Saturday, March 31, 2012

Thames & Kosmos Science Project Kits

Thames & Kosmos Fuel Cell X7 Car Kit
We made a trip to our local Barnes & Noble bookstore today, hadn't been in there for a month or so, and saw something new they are doing: There was this substantial floorspace setup with aisles and open displays of all sorts of educational toys, science project kits, Lego kits, and high-tech model kits. It was very cool, lots of great, creative play stuff their for kids... well, plenty of stuff there that grownups would enjoy, too.

For example, they had a good stock of these amazing science project kits from a company called Thames & Kosmos. What really amazed me is the breadth of subjects covered: electronics, earth sciences, energy, chemistry.. there's even a kit for creating perfumes!
They've got kits in categories tailored to kids from the age of five and up. The first one on the shelf that really caught my eye was the fuel cell powered car kit you see pictured here. I would have died for educational science and technology stuff that was this good when I was a kid... check it out.


The Qualcomm X-Prize Tricorder Design Competition

Spock with Tricorder
Speaking of Star Trek technology... Peter Diamandis of the X Prize Foundation is probably best-known for the Ansari X-Prize space competition, which offered a $10million prize for the first non-governmental entity to put a man in space. (That competition was won by Burt Rutan and Scaled Composites with SpaceShipOne in 2004.) Now he has teamed up with Qualcomm, the cellphone tech company, on a new $10million X-Prize design competition for a medical diagnosis device that will function something like Dr. McCoy's "Tricorder" scanner. Here's how they describe it:

"Imagine a portable, wireless device in the palm of your hand that monitors and diagnoses your health conditions. That’s the technology envisioned by this competition, and it will allow unprecedented access to personal health metrics. The end result: Radical innovation in healthcare that will give individuals far greater choices in when, where, and how they receive care."

An overview of the competition --- the general concept of the device,  and the need for such a device --- are given here.

The X Prize Foundation has started a Tricorder Design Competition blog where you can follow news and progress of the competition as it develops.  

Chappell Customs XS650 Cafe Racer

Chappell Customs XS650 Cafe Racer
Here's another one for you Yamaha XS650 fans... The Chappell brothers created this gorgeously detailed and beautifully finished XS650 cafe racer.

Check at the blog at their website... they've got a lot of great photos and descriptions of projects in progress. You can get a feel from those of how they work and how they solve design and fabrication challenges.

Honda CR-250 Cafe Racer!

Honda CR-250 Cafe Racer
Amazing... this freestyle rider guy, Drake McElroy, teamed up with Roland Sands to transform a Honda CR-250 motocross bike to the cafe racer you see here. You can read more about it at the Return of the Cafe Racers blog.

What a hotrod... cool.

"Spirit of the Seventies" Motorcycles

Spirit of the Seventies Yamaha Triple Cafe Racer
Just got back from a trip to the local supermarket where I saw this most unlikely of customs in a Brit classic bike mag... It's a 1979 Yamaha shaft-drive triple that's been pumped up to 850cc and transformed into a ballsy looking cafe racer by the boys at Spirit of the Seventies motorcycle company in the UK.

A friend of mine had one of the originals back in the day... He let me take it out for a spin once... talk about sedate and boring. Sure, it was a decent bike, but pretty bland, at least in my humble opinion. So, you ask me, the guys at  Spirit of the Seventies have to be credited with a lot of creative imagination... Who else would envision the possibilities of coolness latent in such an easily forgotten bike?

Spirit of the Seventies Triumph Scrambler
Check out the bikes here, and read their story here. You'll see that besides their transformative work on Seventies era bikes, they also build retro-looking customs based on the modern Triumph twins.

The Art of Steampunk

Art Donovan Steampunk Lamp
I just read through this cool book of steampunk art, costumes, and kinetic sculpture last night. It's written by "steampunk lighting master" Art Donovan. It gives some of the history and origins of the steampunk subculture in science fiction and art, and features photo essays on the work of seventeen prominent steampunk artists, costume makers, and craftsmen from around the world, including the lamps designed and fabricated by the author.

The idea of steampunk originated in imaginative literature in the Eighties (though some will argue that famous/notorious sci-fi writer Michael Moorcock was ahead of everyone there in the Seventies). I'd say it really got its start with the Sixties TV show, The Wild, Wild West, which I watched regularly when I was a kid.

Well, I could write a lot more on the subject, but want to focus here on the book... it's beautiful, printed on great stock, and the photographs are excellent. The works featured are products of fertile imagination and top-notch craftsmanship.

Huaro Suekichi Watch & Bottle Carrier
The essential steampunk fabrication materials are brass, copper, wood, and leather, so everything has this Victorian era look and feel about it... by design. I especially like the custom laptops of Richard Nagy, the "Datamancer," and the copper, brass, and leather gizmos of Japanese artisan Haruo Suekichi.

Check it out, and maybe take in an old episode of The Wild, Wild West while you're at it... the TV show, not the Will Smith and Kevin Kline movie (can't recommend that!).


Cool Concept Bikes at the Motosketches Blog

Motosketches Dick Mann Honda Roadracer Concept Bike
We just found Motosketches,  this cool Italian blog where this moto designer posts beautifully realized drawings of his concept bikes. It's an Italian, which I can't speak or read, so I go there just for the pictures!

The pic at left is his concept of a Dick "Bugsy" Mann Honda repli-racer. Cool.

Mule Motorcycles New "Brighton" Triumph Cafe Racer

The Brighton Triumph Cafe Racer
Richard Pollock of Mule Motorcycles has created this new cafe racer with classic looks, based on a modern Triumph Bonneville. Note the drum brakes, front and rear. See more shots of it from all angles at the Mule picture gallery.

This is the second Mule bike based on the new Triumph that we've featured here... In an earlier post, we highlighted one of Richard's Triumph streetrackers.

Keep up the great work, Richard.

3D Printing Technology for Everyone

Star Trek Replicator Makes Coffee
Remember how the Star Trek crew could order dinner from the console of a wall-mounted "replicator" that would conjure up a four-star meal from the base elements?  Assembled from the ground up from the rawest of raw ingredients: carbon, hydrogen, etc? Today we refer to this kind of device as a "matter assembler," a concept popularized by Eric Drexler in his book, Engines of Creation. (For a really cool fictional treatment of the profound, world-changing impact such capability would have, see one of my all-time favorites, Neal Stephenson's awesome sci-fi novel, The Diamond Age.)

There are a lot of brilliant people working on realizing Drexler's concept of manufacturing essentially anything from the base elements of which it is composed... we call this "molecular assembly" or, more generally,  nanotechnology. Very ambitious, indeed, and probably not something you can do at home... Well then, for the rest of us, there is something a bit more modest but incredibly useful and fun called "3D printing"... and you can do it at home!

MakerBot "Replicator" Low-Cost 3D Printer
The first 3D printers that started coming to market a decade or so ago are very much like inkjet printers, but instead of printing ink on paper, they print three-dimensional objects in layers of extruded or liquid plastics. At first, these printers, from companies like ZCorp, Objet, and Stratasys, were targeted at engineering teams that wanted to quickly build product prototypes to check form, fit, and function (a process known as "rapid prototyping," or RP). The technology was new, so it was expensive ($50,000 or so) and hence out of reach of the home user. That's changing now... affordable printers are on the market now from companies like MakerBot Industries and Bits From Bytes.

The basic concept involves the creation of a 3D model in a computer-aided design (CAD) software system, such as Google SketchUP (which is free!), AutoCAD, or Rhino3D (one of my favorites). The software then translates the completed 3D model into a profile of the device in layered cross-sections... that is, horizontal slices through the model. A 3D printer uses that output file to build up the model in layers that are printed from the bottom-up. You can see this process in action here.

What if you don't want to invest in a MakerBot or RapMan for yourself? Well, now you can use an online 3D printing service, such as the popular Shapeways company. Download yourself a copy of the immensely popular Google SketchUP software, draw a model of the thing you want --- a toy, jewelry piece, whatever --- and upload the output file to Shapeways. Select the material you want it made from --- even metals, such as sterling silver and stainless steel! --- upload the model and get an instant quote on your design, then if you are happy with the price, put it on order.

3D printing is advancing now by leaps and bounds. It is moving beyond prototyping into "digital manufacturing," the creation of one-off, personalized products on demand. For example, you can get eyeglasses on demand from Make Eyewear.

UPDATE: This is incredible... 3D sculptures the size of a grain of sand, created in minutes by a laser printer at the University of Vienna!

Meanwhile, check out the possibilities of nanotech as Neal Stephenson envisions them in The Diamond Age

The Art of the Bobber

Billy Lane "Gangsta" Bobber
"Before choppers, there was the bobber."

The Art of the Bobber is a great "coffee table" photo book of bobbers that hit the market a few years ago. I've spent a lot of hours drooling over the awesome machines pictured in it. Unfortunately, it seems to have gone out of print now, though new and used copies are still available on Amazon.

Bikes from many of the great designer-builders, such as the late, great Indian Larry (of course!), and Von Dutch Kustoms are featured. Get a copy while you can.

Power Generating Soccer Ball!

Soccket Power Generating Soccer Ball
Through the website of one of our readers, a product designer from the Bay Area industrial design group Focus PDM, we found out about this very ingenious power-generating soccer ball, the Soccket.The Soccket is an "energy-harvesting" device... by means of an internal electricity-generating mechanism, it converts the kinetic energy imparted to it when kicked or thrown into electricity that is used to charge an internal battery. A socket under a flap on the ball is provided for connection of the battery  to a cellphone, an LED lamp, a water purifier, etc.

So, you have some fun playing soccer, and then recover some of the energy you expended in the form of electricity... cool.

The Soccket started life as a class project of Jessica Matthews and Julia Silverman in 2008 when they were Harvard undergrads. They realized that a product like this would be both fun and useful for people in the developing world who don't have easy access to an electrical grid. So, after graduation, they set up shop in New York City and put together a team to form Uncharted Play, with a mission to design and develop what they call "FUNctional" products that bridge the worlds of play and need. You can read about the genesis of the Soccket and Uncharted Play here.

The design team at Focus PDM worked with Uncharted Play to redesign the Soccket for improved performance and greater efficiency, and durability. Check out this excellent interview with Julia Silverman at Popular Mechanics about Uncharted Play's plans to distribute the Soccket globally, while you are at it. And do visit the Uncharted Play website... it is beautifully designed, has some info about how the Soccket works, and news about more FUNctional products that are in the pipeline.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

MAKE Magazine, the Maker Faire, and the Maker DIY Subculture

Beagle Board Multimedia Processor
Don't believe it when anyone tells you that Yankee ingenuity is dead... There is a growing subculture of creative people doing all sorts of homebrew tech projects, and it's spreading out from America to circle the globe. These folks have been dubbed "Makers" because they do hands-on crafting, construction, and fabrication of all sorts of gizmos and gadgets, mostly for fun, sometimes for profit. Some of the things they dream up and create are really useful, others are just cool fun.

The Maker movement has been driven to a large extent by the advent of open source software.  In a very real sense, I believe, the Maker movement is an outgrowth of the OSS community, and shares its spirit in the desire to share technology innovations at the grassroots level. In fact, there is a growing open source hardware community now. The Beagle Board multimedia processor board you see pictured here is a popular example of open source hardware. It is a very sophisticated, high-performance unit that can be used in all sorts of home-brewed audio, music, video, and wireless gizmos.

O'Reilly Media of Sebastopol, CA (otherwise well-known as home to the late, great cartoonist Charlie "Peanuts" Schultz) has taken a big leadership role in this movement through their quarterly publication, MAKE magazine, the MAKE website and blog, and the Maker Faire. They also have a lot of books that can help anyone get started as a maker... see our Amazon links below.

Makers aren't just about electronics and software, not by a long shot... maker projects seem to cover anything and everything under sun: automotive, robotics, rocketry, musical instruments, home remodeling, metals fabrication, affordable 3D printing... Go to this projects page at the MAKE website and see the categories in the upper right corner, there are currently 16 listed. 

The "Hennepin Crawler"
The Maker Faire is an annual event, or I should say, events, where hundreds of makers exhibit their work to thousands of attendees. For some years now there has been an annual Maker Faire in San Mateo, CA, just south of San Francisco, this May 19 & 20. This year the World Maker Faire will be held in Queens this Sept. 29 & 30. Additional Faires are being held in Detroit and Kansas City. Independent community-based "Mini-Maker Faires"  in other cities across the United States and in Europe, Egypt, Dubai, India, and others.

For kids, becoming a Do-It-Yourself maker can be a gateway to a career in science or engineering. If you or one of your kids wants to get a start as a Maker with electronic gizmos, a really great place to start is with the immensely popular Arduino board. 

Friday, March 23, 2012

Classic Ron Wood Norton Dirt Tracker

Just because it's beautiful... and a little piece of racing history: It's the only Norton to ever win an AMA mile.

This bike was piloted by two AMA greats, Dave Aldana and Alex Jorgenson. See it sideways at speed here.

Many more Norton racing machines here.


Thursday, March 22, 2012

Sucker Punch Sallys Triumph Thruxton Cafe Racer

SPS Thruxton Cafe Racer for Fender Guitars
We recently featured a post about Sucker Punch Sallys and their classic bobbers. Well, here's an excellent cafe racer that they built for Fender Guitars last year. We found this one, and the photo here, at the BIKEEXIF site, so head on over there, they've got more pictures.

This bike was actually commissioned by the folks at Fender guitar.You can see the matching Fender Telecaster here.

The gorgeous paint job was designed and executed by famous hot rod artist, Sara Ray.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

"The Cafe Racer Phenomenon" by Alastiar Walker

We found this history of cafe racers -- the bikes, the builders, and the riders -- at Amazon. Haven't had a chance to get a copy yet, but it looks pretty cool. The author is veteran British bike journalist, Alastair Walker. He lays out the history of the "ton-up" Rocker boys and girls, starting back in the Fifties.

The book is part social history, part personalities (the bike builders like Paul Dunstall and Norman Hyde), and part technical. Included at the back of the book is a guide to resources for the cafe racer builder, whether you want to do some mods to your existing bike or build a cafe racer from the ground up.

If you get a copy, write us back in the comments and let us all know what you think.

Colorado Norton Works Cafe Racer Coming to Market

Norton ace Matt Rambow at Colorado Norton Works designed and built the beautiful, award-winning Norton cafe racer you see here. This baby has been so well-received that Rambow and company have decided to use it as the basis of a limited production run special (12 bikes), with some high-tech upgrades...

The new bike will feature fuel injection, a new CNC'ed head, belt drive, hydraulic clutch, Brembo disk brakes front and back, and modern electronics (no Lucas "Prince of Darkness" stuff). An electric start conversion is optional. The announced base price is $44,500. You can go here to read all about it.

Do take a look at the the page for the bike above, there is a great gallery of pics documenting all stages of the build.


Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Cool Triumph Bobbers Blog

Vintage Triumph Thunderbird Bobber
Just stumbled onto this great blog dedicated to Triumph bobbers and flattrackers. Lots of photos of cool customs. Check it out.

New Prometheus Trailer from Ridley Scott

Ridley Scott opens the Prometheus kimono a great deal more in the newest trailer... two-and-a-half minutes long! Actually gives us quite a bit of new information about the backstory. Scary!

Also check out our post of the Guy Pearce Peter Weyland "TED Talk" teaser trailer for Prometheus below. 

Darwin Motorcycles Brass Balls Bobbers

Brass Balls w. Indian Powerplus 100 Motor
Like Sucker Punch Sallys, Darwin Motors is another innovate, small custom cycle outfit that's made an international reputation designing and selling high-quality retro-styled bobbers based on Harley-Davidson style 45degree v-twin mills. Last year they branched out into another style theme and won the 2011 AMD championship with their RLX cafe racer based on the new S&S 56degree X-Wedge v-twin motor.

They've got a great Old Skool design sense. Visit their site if you love bobbers.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

core77 Design Blog & Website

Jeff Tiedeken's "Gravity Bike" featured at core77
core77 is a popular, long-running site dedicated to the needs and interests of industrial and graphics designers. If you are an industrial designer or graphics designer, definitely bookmark this site, and check in  on their blog from time to time... lots of useful information there about industry events, design schools, and job openings. Lots of feature articles and blog posts about cool products and concepts from around the world.

A core77 blog post about this very minimalist downhill street bike by California aerospace welder and craftsman, Jeff Tiedeken really caught our eye. It's a coaster in the real sense of the word... no crank and gear set, strictly gravity-powered! While you're at it, check out Jeff's blog about his adventures in design and fabrication, Monkey Likes Shiny.

Update:  We just did another design-related post feature the Derestricted website and blog. Some really great content there.

T. Jefferson Parker's Charlie Hood Series

T. Jefferson Parker is a crime novelist who's definitely a cut above most other popular writers in the genre. We especially like his series featuring LA Country Sheriff Charlie Hood. He's just released the fifth in the series, The Jaguar.

The increasingly crazy and violent borderlands of Mexico and the American Southwest, especially Los Angeles, provide the setting. American desperadoes, Mexican drug lords and their henchmen in SoCal, and American lawmen battle for supremacy in this volatile landscape.

An especially fascinating character is the mysterious Mike Flynn, who lends something of a supernatural air to things. Flynn seems to turn up everywhere Charlie goes... at first he appears to be just a fringe character hanging around on the edge of things, but as time goes by he looks more and more like a cunning and subtle agent of chaos who manipulates people and events to keep the pot boiling. He knows things he shouldn't know... he speaks familiarly of people who have been dead and gone for a century and more, and of times and places long since forgotten. Is he a man, a devil, or an angel?

Check out Parker and Charlie Hood.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Sucker Punch Sallys Bobbers

Sucker Punch Sallys "Love" Bobber
Sucker Punch Sallys got its start making bobbers and bobber bike kits back in 2002. Ten years later they are still going strong, even after the tragic death of founder Christian Clayton at the age of 40 a couple of years ago.

Their bikes range from really clean stripped down Old School bobbers like The Traditional to some with what I'd call a more contemporary flash, such as the "Love" model pictured. Yeah, there is a companion bike in a vivid red called "Hate" that features a leaf-spring front end.

Don't need a bike right now? They've also got a line-up of cool apparel (the founders were actually in the motorcycle apparel biz before the started SPS). 

Back Alley Bobbers

Back Alley Bobbers Honda Spirit 750
The folks at Back Alley Bobbers specialize in converting modern Metric Cruisers from Honda, Kawasaki, Yamaha, and Suzuki into Old School bobbers.

They currently offer nine build conversions for everything from 250cc Honda Rebels to the Yamaha V-Star 1100.

My personal favorites are those based on the Honda Spirit 750s.

Check 'em out, especially if you've got a Metric Cruiser that you're lookin' to customize. They are in Salt Lake City, but will ship anywhere in the world, they say.

Cafe Racer Magazine

Cafe Racer Mag
Here's one of my favorite motorcycle magazines, Cafe Racer.

I fell in love with cafe racers when I was a kid... still love those old vintage Triumphs, Nortons, Beezers with their clip-ons and solo saddles. I once had the opportunity to ride a borrowed Yamaha RD350-based cafe racer up and down the twisty backroads above Silicon Valley back in the Seventies... that was a hoot, but I still favored the Brit Bikes.

Well, I gotta say, however that this Yamaha Virago-based cafe racer featured on the cover of the latest edition is awesome. It was created by Greg Hageman at his Docs Chops shop in Tampa, FL, though Greg has announced that he's heading back to his native Iowa next year. Take a look at his work, he's got a great talent for making beautiful cafe racers out of the most unlikely bikes, like this Virago here.

Cafe Racer also has Cafe Racer TV on the Discovery Velocity Network. They recently interviewed cafe racer fan Billy Joel.

Update: We just posted about another favorite bike mag you might like, Cycle Source.


"Big Ned" Monster V-Twin Total Custom Bike

Mark Walker & Big Ned
Saw this ground-up custom in one of the classic motorcycle mags on the rack at our local supermarket this morning. Phenomenal, mind-boggling. Designed and built from scratch by Australian mechanical genius, Mark Walker. It's called Big Ned. You can see a lot more of Big Ned at the website of Australian blogger "Computech," who's a friend of Mark Walker.

From what I can tell, virtually every bit of this monster was designed, built, and assembled by Walker, especially the engine. This is unlike anything I've ever seen.

How is another entry Computech that includes some early pictures chronicling the birth of Big Ned.

Trophy Queen Automotive-Themed Retro Handbags

GTO Themed Handbag
 Jenny Tanner is a SoCal gal who designs and makes custom handbags, baby bags, and wallets with vintage/retro automotive and motorcycle themes for lovers of rockabilly and Kustom Kulture. She founded Trophy Queen in 2000. We love the themes and the materials, especially the metalflake stuff, like the silver and purple clutch bag shown below.

Jenny also designs and makes one-off custom handbags to order... she's got a pretty cool Evel Knievel-themed one in --- what else? --- red, white and blue shown on her website.

The two bags pictured here a just a small taste of her work... lots of cool stuff there with a tuck-n-roll look, diamond tuck, and other really great retro-cool look. 

 Jenny rides a 1946 Harley, and is working on getting her '34 Ford pickup truck on the road now.

Cool Metalflake Clutch Bag

Alien Prequel "Prometheus" TED Talk Trailer with Guy Pearce

Ridley Scott created this teaser trailer for his upcoming Alien prequel, Prometheus, which is due in theaters in early June. We understand that this is not actually a clip from the movie itself, but a kind of backgrounder to the movie. It features Guy Pearce as "Ted Weyland," CEO of the fictional Weyland Corporation that was responsible for the disastrous mission to the alien spaceship in Alien. It's chilling and fascinating, with Weyland boasting of the glorious future of mankind that Weyland Corp. is designing. Very much a tale of that "pride goeth before a fall," or what the Greeks called hubris, that overreaching pride that calls forth Nemesis... you just know it's not going to end well.

The setting here is a TED Talk in the year 2023. Enjoy...

March 22 Update: We've posted the new Prometheus trailer here

The Porsche 911 Design Challenge

1972 Porsche 911E
Porsche and Co.Design magazine have just announced a new design competition that qualifies as cool: Design a product that is "bigger than a purse and smaller than a living room" incorporating three design elements of the classic Porsche 911 and you could win a one-year lease on a brand-new 911 or $20,000, your choice (that's a tough one...). And by the way, it can be anything but a car.

Three gurus of industrial design will judge the entries. Are you game? Check it out:

 Co.Design Porsche 911 Design Challenge

UPDATE: F.A. Porsche, designer of the original 911 of 1963, has just passed away at the age of 76.
Real Time Analytics