Reach for the sky – the 3.5km lego tower

No, there isn’t really a tower of Lego bricks to rival a mountain – but theoretically there could be. Often these days when you have a question, you check Google and find the answer. Just occasionally though you’ll find a question that nobody has asked before – like how many Lego bricks could you stack on top of each other before the weight of the tower is enough to crush the bottom brick. In essence, what’s the tallest Lego tower you could possibly build?

After realising that nobody knew, BBC show More or Less asked Dr Ian Johnson, lecturer at the Open University, to help them find out. What they found surprised everyone. Testing Lego blocks using equipment usually reserved for stress-testing engineering supplies they discovered that the familiar 2×2 ordinary Lego could withstand a force of nearly 4,240 Newtons – the equivalent of six well built men – bearing down on the brick before it lost structural stability. Imagine that, standing six men on top of one Lego brick to crush it. When you work the maths out from the force of weight it can uphold against the weight of an individual block, factor in the size of a block and scale up… a single Lego piece can support about 375,000 other Legos on top of it. That tower would be 3.5km tall!

Back to the start though, there’s some bad news; it would be impossible to build a tower of lego that tall as the slight deviations in positioning over the sheer number of bricks involved would topple the tower long before 375,000 could be stacked together.

For more on the science behind the question, check out this piece on the BBC’s website.

If you could build a model out of Lego, would would you build?

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Lifelong geek, and now admin at Worlds Beyond.

BitCoin farming to become more difficult

One of the most popular internet currencies, BitCoins, will soon experience a major milestone – and with it, the process of creating the currency will prove less rewarding. The BBC report is pretty comprehensive, so I’ll leave you with that.

People trying to profit via the bitcoin electronic currency will soon have to work harder to mint the digital coins.

Safeguards built into the bitcoin software are about to be triggered as the number of bitcoins in circulation hits a key milestone.

This means bitcoin “miners” will have to work twice as hard to be rewarded with the same number of coins.

The change comes as competition to create the coins gets more intense with the release of custom mining chips.

Since the creation of the bitcoin network in early 2009, bitcoins have grown to become a very widely used digital currency. An increasing number of online shops and businesses accept bitcoins as payments and currently each bitcoin is worth about £8.

As a digital currency, bitcoins are not issued by a central bank or national mint. Instead they are created by the system’s network when a specific amount of computer work, known as a “block” has been completed. Fifty bitcoins are released when that block is done and the work, which involves solving a hard mathematical problem, is completed.

The protocol that defines this block-to-coin ratio reduces the reward given for finding each block every time 210,000 blocks have been found. According to statistics gathered about the bitcoin network, the 210,000 figure looks set to be passed on 28 November. Then, instead of getting 50 bitcoins per block, miners will get only 25.

“The main reason to do this is to control inflation,” said Vitalik Buterin, a journalist at Bitcoin Magazine. Controlling the rate at which coins were created, he said, meant there would never be a surge or shortfall in the number of bitcoins in circulation, either one of which could rapidly change the value of each coin.

It addition, he said, it was a hedge against technological innovation. In the early days of bitcoins, many people used desktop computers to do the hard sums. Then they started to use banks of graphics cards that could do the maths very quickly to speed up the rate at which blocks of work were completed.

Mr Buterin said some miners were now using even more specialised hardware to do the mathematical work and firms were starting to produce custom-made chips that stepped up the pace of work even more.

However, he said, the creators of bitcoins had foreseen these changes and built in controls to keep the numbers of blocks completed relatively constant.

“The protocol always calibrates difficulty to make up for increased mining power,” he told the BBC, “so the speed at which people are finding blocks isn’t going to go up by much no matter what.”

I tried mining BitCoins for a few months in 2010 but didn’t find it to be particularly profitable with my setup. I didn’t keep exact track… but I think I mined just enough to cover the cost of electricity used to power the PC doing the mining. For people attempting to mine now, I can only wonder at the number of machines they must need to use, or the number of calculations they are capable of carrying out by networking banks of cooperating users together. It makes me think that BitCoins may now start to rise in value if creating them becomes more difficult – but the creators seem to have taken this into account already… so we’ll have to see what happens.

Do you use BitCoins? How do you think this change in the algorithm will affect their value and popularity? Is mining still a viable option for obtaining them? Answers in the comments.

[BBC]

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Lifelong geek, and now admin at Worlds Beyond.

Dragon Chasers

The BBC have really been pushing their Welsh fantasy and sci-fi departments over the past few years with Doctor Who, Being Human and Merlin getting prime time coverage. They also work to help promote new talent though and recently launched their Made in Wales mini-series. Each episode is a short film written and directed by Welsh creators (often young) then produced using BBC talent and resources.

One that caught my eye is “Dragon Chasers”.

A game of dungeons and dragons goes badly wrong when a group of misfits manage to bring a Celtic warrior back from the dead!

(The video is only available to UK residents due to BBC terms and conditions)

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Lifelong geek, and now admin at Worlds Beyond.

Doctor Who Christmas Special

Last night, on the BBC’s annual Children In Need telethon, we saw the first glimpse of this year’s Christmas episode. The Doctor has retired and is living in Victorian London… but as ever the end of the world is just around the corner. And who’s that girl bearing a striking resemblance to Oswin from Asylum of the Darleks? We’ll have to wait and find out.

As has become tradition with Children In Need there was also a ‘minisode’, this time giving a little backstory and fleshing out some characters we’ve seen before. My guess is that they’ll be important in the episode itself. Both videos below…

So… snowmen… thoughts? Will you watch the episode this Christmas? Tell us in the comments.

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Lifelong geek, and now admin at Worlds Beyond.