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Odd Lots

  • Jim Strickland and I will be attending MileHiCon in Denver this weekend. Anybody else listening gonna be there?
  • I’m on a panel about robots, and here’s a megatrivia question for you: What was the first film depiction of a robot that was not a mechanical man; i.e., not things on two legs like Robbie, Gort, or Tobor the Great? The oldest one I can think of is the 1954 Gog. (Writeup.) This was a rare form factor back then (because humanoid robots were actors in robot suits) and the only other one from the Fifties I can recall is the 1957 Kronos.
  • Pertinent to that question: There was a serious and reasonably big-budget Japanese SF movie in the early 60s (not a let’s-stomp-on-Tokyo thing) depicting a spaceship with a small robot named Omega that ran on tracks. The other vehicles on the starship were also given Greek letters as names. Can anybody remember what that film was? All I get on Google for “Omega the Robot” are Sonic the Hedgehog references.
  • Having flown the X-37B into space twice, Boeing is now officially looking into doubling the size of the vehicle and making it a sort of people-only space shuttle. Alas, it would probably kill all hope for anything like the sexy li’l X-38–but I’ll take what we can get.
  • Red tide algae glows blue after dark, if you shake it up enough. Pete Albrecht has seen this, and it’s real; nay, surreal.
  • Boston Dynamics’ uncanny and brilliant Big Dog quadriped robot now has a big brother, AlphaDog. Watch both videos; the second is a demo of Big Dog doing stuff I wouldn’t have imagined a robot doing when I was in high school. BTW, that tube sticking out of Alpha Dog’s front panel isn’t artillery…yet.
  • These guys will sell you a 144-core CPU–and then make you program it in FORTH. Not x86; each core is an 18-bit F18A processor executing the colorForth instruction set. FORTH ties my head in knots and yes, I’ve tried it–on the CDP1802 processor, no less. (Thanks to Frank Glover for the link.)
  • Gotta love Google Books. I recently found a Popular Science article I had read in 1967 summarizing various rotary engines under discussion at that time. Nobody answered the obvious question: How do you machine a piston in the shape of a piece of kielbasa?
  • A short 1963 book on rotary engines by Felix Wankel himself can be found here. (Multiple PDFs; not an easy read.) Thanks to Pete Albrecht for spotting it.
  • From Henry Law comes a pointer to the most boggling piece of amateur rocketry I’ve ever seen. High power? Heh. One doesn’t get to 121,000 feet on vinegar and baking soda.
  • You don’t have to speak or read German to appreciate this photo tour of Vienna’s sewers. Why do they get such cool sewers in Europe? (I’ve seen a few Stateside, and they just…stink.)
  • Sure, and while you’re at it, grab his beach towel.


  1. Gary Mugford says:


    Don’t quite go back as far as you. My earliest non-man in a suit memory of a robot was the Bruce Dern pic, Silent Running. Later I found out, it WAS a man in a suit, a fellow that had had his legs amputated years earlier. Actually, four actors, all of whom only have this movie as their sole acting credit in IMDB, played drones. Mark Persons, Steven Brown, Cheryl Sparks and Larry Whisenhunt.

    A great movie for all kinds of reasons.


    1. Well, I was in college then–and only 2 years old when Gog appeared. I only know of it because it was run endlessly in the 4PM monster movie slot on Channel 7, along with a lot of other mostly-stupid monster movies of olden tymes.

      The effects in Silent Running were damned good for the time. I recall reading that the matte paintings of Saturn were left over from an earlier version of 2001, before they moved the locale to Jupiter.

      1. Erbo says:

        That would make sense, because Doug Trumbull, who did the visual effects for 2001, went on to do Silent Running.

        And, of course, the model of the Valley Forge from that movie was reused as the “agro-ships” in the original Battlestar Galactica series. But you probably already knew that.

  2. Mike Brown says:

    I think the movie with the robot Omega you’re thinking about is First Spaceship on Venus, a 1960 Polish production which featured on Mystery Science Theater 3000 at one point.

    1. Sure ’nuff, Omega is mentioned in that writeup. I was pretty certain it was a Japanese cast, but keep in mind that I doubt I’ve watched it since 1966 or 1967. There are some snippets on YouTube that I will watch as time allows.

  3. Andy Kowalczyk says:

    Do self-directing mag-lev transportation modules count as robots? A mainstay of SF films going back to at least the Buster Crabbe Flash Gordon serials.

    1. I dunno. Where’s the borderline between a smart car and a robot? That’s worth keeping in mind, though I remember very little from those old serials apart from the backward-talking rock men, the lobster monster, and the underwater city that floods.

      1. 90 seconds of googling revealed that the lobster monster was a “gocko,” which was a sort of dragon with lobster claws. And there’s a page devoted to the rock men which includes an MP3 snippet of their backwards talk, reversed to normal. It is just ordinary dialog run backwards, and not nonsense, either, but completely appropriate words and sentences from the script. See:

  4. Rich Rostrom says:

    “rotary engines”: I saw on Instapundit that Mazda is going to stop making rotary-engine cars.

    I guess the Wankel was really just a long dead end.

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