Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Finite Films

This is a lot of fun.  The folks at Finite Films ask for ideas/constraints from you.  Visitors to their website vote on them, and then they put them together into a Hollywood-style short film.  The one below is a science fiction film called Stealing Time, made with the following constraints:

  • Cannot take place entirely in one location.
  • Someone must say the words “time travel.”
  • Two characters must have a long-standing rivalry.
  • When one character was a kid, he/she used to wish he/she could travel back in time to see real-life dinosaurs.
  • One character is a wine lover and is very picky/elitist about their wine.
  • One character prefers bubble baths to showers.
  • Someone has to say: “I have to go back.”

Watch and see how they wove these constraints into the story line.

You can find more on the making of Stealing Time here, and of course other moives at the Finite Films website.


A little more about how technology is changing education...

Monday, January 30, 2012

Science Fair 2012

Its that time of year again.  Of course, I'm talking about the anual Science Fair.  Widdakay and Bix turned in their science fair posters tonight.  They both did a lot of excellent work and have some great looking posters to show for it.

This is Bix's first Science Fair and her project is entitled, "The Effects of Music on Short Term Memory Recall."  Many thanks to those of our readers who participated in her experiment.

Widdakay is a veteran of several science fairs.  His project is entitled, "Two-wheeled, Self Balancing Robot Platform with OpenCV:Phase One."  I'm hopeful that they will both provide you with details of their projects in upcoming blog posts.

If you are in the neighborhood and would like to see the science fair, there is public viewing on Wed 6:30-7:30 Feb 1st at Hiller Aviation Museum.

Matthew Broderick's Day Off

I don't care if it is just a television commercial.  Ferris Beuller's Day off is a favorite around here at Digital Diner and this remake is really nice.  It brings back a lot of memories of the original movie in a short two minute film.  Well done Honda.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

More Public Snow Art

Loved this one.  Of course it's one of those things that probably just looks like a few lines from down on the ground, but from here at this vantage point it makes you want to yell, "Don't put them down like that!  You're gonna scratch 'em!"

via Inspire Me Now

Friday, January 27, 2012

Super Cool 4K Video Editing

Do you know what 4k is?  Well, it is super high resolution video that is about 4 times the resolution of current HD video known as 1080P.  It is so new and expensive that even most theaters do not have it.  So pretty much it is really cool and looks really good.  This guy got a MacBookAir playing and editing 4k video over Thunderbolt (a new super high speed way to connect things to new Apple computers).  The amount of data moving over the cable is ginormous.  He used a "Thunderbolt expansion chassis" to hook up a Red Rocket GPU to do the fancy graphics needed to play the video.  You can really add just about any pci express card to a computer with that.

via Gizmodo

Aurora Borealis

Here are some beautiful pictures of the Northern Lights taken during the past few days.  The photos were posted by National Geographic.  This one was taken in Lyngen which is where we visited last summer. The solar flare activity is supposed to peak in 2013, so it  seems like we need to visit the North in the winter next time!

via National Geographic


I recently had the opportunity to take the Stanford University Artificial Intelligence class online.  It was pretty amazing to take a college level computer science class from Stanford for free online.  Most amazingly, over 100,000 people signed up for the class.  It was taught by a colleague from Google, Peter Norvig and Sebastian Thrun from Google and Stanford.

Well, apparently Sebastian Thrun has decided to teach more online classes.  He and David Evans have started udacity.com, a new, free,  online education resource for learning about computer science, so you you can add this to your list of resources.

Additionally, Stanford is offering several free online classes in Entrepreneurship, Medicine, Civil Engineering, Electrical Engineering, Complex Systems, and of course Computer Science.

You can also check out Google Code University for classes on thing like the programming language Python or developing applications for Android devices.

You may recall that in a recent post I told you about a few resources for learning to program.  
You now have now excuses.  Get out there and learn to program.

This kind of makes my head hurt

I have seen optical illusions before, but never one quite like this.  Shake your head an an image appears.  Focus back on the lines and its gone.  Does anyone have an explanation for what is going on here?

via Gizmodo

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Just sittin on the bench

This week I traveled to a colder part of the world where I found these two fellows sitting on a bench in the park.  They look as if they've been sitting there for a while, and maybe they aren't in the best of shape, but still they managed to bring a smile to my face.  I must say, enjoy spontaneous public expressions of art  .

Monday, January 23, 2012

Don't Believe Anything You See

I always enjoy the "behind the scenes" looks at how movie special effects are made.  In this case, the special effects are for an HBO show called Boardwalk Empire (which I have never seen).  I must say, however, that they look pretty realistic.  ...And to think its all based on computer graphics.  You'll have to watch the scenes closely to see what is real and what isn't.  Even the actor's makeup is computer generated.  They just paint a few dots on his face so that the computer can track his face movements easier.  I can just hear the discussion that must happen in hollywood these days.
"We need a big ship at the dock for the scene we're shooting tomorrow."
"Sir, I checked and there is a two week lead for the permits to shoot at the harbor and the insurance company wants an extra 25% if we are going to shoot near water."
"I didn't say we needed to shoot the scene near water, I just said we need a big ship for the scene.  They can add that and the water in post production."
Pretty amazing stuff.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Discretionary Winter

Well, the first significant winter storm of the year has just rolled through the San Francisco Bay Area.  It meant some wind and rain for us, but it also means some much needed snow for the Sierras (the mountains along the eastern side of California).  You see, in much of California, we experience something I call "Discretionary Winter."  Don't get us wrong, we love snow and winter fun.  The thing is, you should go to it, not the other way around.  The way it works here, during this very civilized season, if we choose, we can drive a few hours into the mountains to experience as much snow and winter fun as we like.  Then, once we've had our fill, we can drive home, or maybe to the beach... very civilized.
Unfortunately, this year, there has been no snow in the mountains.  Precipitation has been down 80-90%.   In addition to robbing us of our discretionary winter experience and ruining the season for many ski resorts, it could threaten the amount of water that will be available to feed our water supply in the spring.  That is why we are particularly happy about this winter storm coming through.

Thinking about the mountains made me appreciate this gorgeous time lapse film of Yosemite even more.  Watch this movie in full screen and tell me if it doesn't impress you.

For more information on Project Yosemite and story of the making of this video, click here.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Erosion Simulator in a Web Browser

I was browsing the web and I came across this webpage.  It is a giant erosion simulator that models rivers and lakes.  It is a very complex computer model of erosion and water flow that runs in just a web browser.  The video above shows a demo of what it looks like.  You can try the interactive simulation on your own computer at home by clicking on the link below.  It is not just a video, it is a interactive simulation.  You can change the landscape by moving your mouse and pressing the spacebar to add or subtract soil from the simulation.  There are instructions at the bottom of the screen if you get stuck.  

You can try it out here:

I recommend that you use the Google Chrome web browser.
It will not work in Safari because it does not support WebGL.

Or look at the webpage for it here:

This simulation sucks your computer's whole GPU, so it may run very slowly.  Even our Mac Pro could barely handle it!

Tetragami Kids

Tetragami is an art of folding I came across lately, due to my aunt sending some of the special paper.  Tetragami is a fun version of origami based on Tetrahedrons.  There are many things to make and fold using Tetragami.  Some of the basic shapes are Tetrahedrons, Double Tetrahedrons, Octahedrons, and Double Octahedrons.

Here is a site that has the basic shapes:

Here is a site with some students' creations:

Outstanding photography

We had a lot of fun making our movie recently, and we tried to come up with a few interesting camera angles, but we still have a lot to learn.  The folks at the BBC are masters, as you can see in the video above.  Apparently they are now employing birds as camera men for their feature Earthflight.  Truly outstanding.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Media Fair Use: What do you think?

Here at Digital Diner, we had a great discussion about yesterday's post about SOPA and PIPA.  We talked a little bit about the issues of pirating and reuse of media, although we veered away from the effects of the pending legislation.  Still, it was a really interesting discussion, and we'd like to hear what you think.  In particular, the second video in that post (reposted here) is an interesting mash-up of a whole bunch of movies.  We'd like to hear your opinion about it.  Please read through this post and then add your comments here on the blog.

Please watch the following video:

Hello from ant1mat3rie on Vimeo.

If you aren't familiar with it, watch the original Lionel Richie song:

Observations:  The first video above contains almost no original content.  Visually it is made of short snippets of other (mostly well-known) movies.  It clearly couldn't have been made without borrowing liberally from all those movie scenes.  The music is taken directly from Lionel Richie.  It is unlikely that the creator of this work got permission from any of the original content producers.  Posting this video to the internet essentially constitues a public performance.  It is unlikely that the creator of this video makes any money directly from this video, although it could be argued that it builds their reputation.

So, what do you think?  Is this stealing?  Should the original content producers be compensated for the use of their material?  It takes a lot of time and resources to make a movie, and in fact this video seems to be using the fact that these are popular/famous movies.  It wouldn't be the same if it were made of cut together snippets of home movies without famous actors.  Is the person who created this video doing something ethically or legally questionable?  Is this fair use?

Now look at it from another angle.  Did you enjoy the video?  Does it stand on its own as a piece of art?  Would this video substitute in any way for any of the original movies or music?  I certainly don't think there is a case where I would want to listen to the original music or watch one of the original films, but now I'd just watch this video instead.

Or taking it even further, were any of original content creators harmed by this video?  What did you feel about the old movie clips as you saw them?  It reminded me of some of those movies and actors and made me think that maybe I should go back and watch them.  In a sense it was promoting that body of work.

If you think that the original content producers should be compensated for their material, how far do you push that?  Should the clothing manufacturers be compensated every time their clothes appear on screen?  Should Arnold Schwarzenegger's hair dresser get paid every time he appears in public?

Finally, how do we make laws that allow artists to be fairly compensated for their work, cut down on blatant piracy and still not stifle creative expression?

Please post your opinion in the comments or email us.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012


A lot of websites are down today in protest of SOPA and PIPA.  The blackout of Wikipedia alone is causing students around the world to panic uncontrollably.  "When was the war of 1812 again??  I NEED Wikipedia!"  By now you've probably heard that SOPA and PIPA are the names of the pending legislation to help protect against stealing of intellectual property such as music and movies.  That sounds fine, but the problem is that many people think that the proposed laws go too far and give certain companies too much control over the internet.  In the US, we have something called fair use that allows certain uses of art, music, videos etc in the creating of new art, music and video.  The general sentiment among many on the internet, including myself, is that while piracy may be an issue, this particular solution does more harm than good.  That is certainly the opinion of the video above.

You can decide for yourself by looking at the actual proposed bills which are SOPA and PIPA.

What do you think?  Are videos like the one below new works of art, or just copies of existing material?

Hello from ant1mat3rie on Vimeo.

Fotoshop by Adobé

Monika Travels to Machu Picchu via Photoshop
Monika is still not in Machu Picchu
There is something honest about artists like Caleb Charland from yesterday's post, who chose not to use Photoshop to create their art.  I love Photoshop, but I think everyone knows that tools like this are used to deceive people everyday.  For example, Monika has never been to Machu Picchu, but thanks to Photoshop, we can still show you the photos from a trip she never took, above.  (For fun, check out the originals here and here)

I don't think it would surprise anyone to see this deception in use by the press in places like North Korea where the above photo of Kim Jong Il's funeral is clearly altered to remove the photographers.  The scary thing is that it isn't just the domain of oppressive regimes.  It happens here too.  And the tools are good enough that we only really notice it when they make obvious mistakes.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Art and Science in Photography

I just discovered a fellow named Caleb Charland who creates photographic art by playing with science.  Everyone remember the potato clock?  Well, in the picture above, the lamp you see is being powered by the apples in the orchard.  Apparently the lamp holds 30 small LED lights and each LED is powered by ten apples in series.  It took him twelve hours to set up and a four hour exposure to get the shot just right.
He's got several other shots that look equally interesting...  Many of them involve long exposures, but none of them rely on photoshop trickery.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Doodling in Math Class

Regular readers of Digital Diner may recall that we previously posted a video by Vi Hart about doodling in math class.  It's fantastic stuff.  Well we have more news about Vi.  In addition to being way cool just because she has the same name as my grandmother, Vi, she has a blog that is just full of brilliant video doodles about math.  It is great stuff, but the big news is that her work is now sponsored by the Khan Academy.  I'm pretty excited about the possibilities.  Just take a look at the two videos below and see if you get excited too.

See more at vihart.com

Saturday, January 14, 2012


From the "why didn't I think of that" department:

I have to tell you about gadget that I saw at CES for protecting your tablet computer.  It's basically some rubber balls and a rubberband to hold them on the four corners of the tablet.  If you drop your tablet it will likely hit the rubber balls before it hits (and breaks) your tablet.  It is deceptively simple and yet brilliantly effective.  It really seemed to work pretty well.  And then, just to add to the brilliance of the whole thing, they called it iBallz.  Pretty funny.  Innovation is still alive.

Thursday, January 12, 2012


We like quadcopters here at Digital Diner.  They are these truly amazing flying machines that are essentially 4 rotor helicopters.  The AR Drone from Parrot is interesting because it it the first attempt at a mass market toy based on this technology.  It has some very advanced features like the ability to hoover autonomously, and stream video to an Android or iOS device.  It is sold through standard retailers like Brookstone.
I just saw the new version at CES and took the above video of the AR Drones "dancing" to some music.  The new version has some nice features like more efficient motors and a 720p front facing video camera.  perhaps most impressive is the ability to do acrobatics like the rolls that you see in this video.  watch and enjoy.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Learning to Program

I recently came across a few resources that I thought I'd pass along to those of you who may be interested in learning to program.

First is Code Academy, a new website that is designed to quickly and gently introduce you to JavaScript programming (a common way to write programs for the web).  It really lowers the barrier to entry by presenting you with your first exercise right on the front page of their site.  They have created a movement called Code Year to teach as many people as possible how to program in 2012.  They will be adding exercises and lessons every week, all year long.  Its a great opportunity to get the basics of how programming works right in your web browser.

Learn to program with Code Academy here.

Second is a personal favorite, Khan Academy.  If you don't know about Salman Khan and his academy, you are really missing out.  He has over 2700 short videos on topics ranging from addition to diabetes to hedge funds that are useful to school age children and adults alike.  It is a truly amazing resource.  Right now, though, I just want to mention that he has a few new videos on Computer Science.  In his usual disembodied voice, screencast format, he teaches you about the programming language Python, which is a great interactive language for learning and is used in many websites you use every day.
One item of note is that Khan Academy uses a free Python programming environment that is PC based.  If you happen to have a Mac, you'll need to find something else.  I just started playing with a nice environment called PyCharm which is a paid program, but it does include a 30 day trial which would probably be enough to get you through the Khan Academy classes.  I'll keep my eyes open for a free alternative.

Learn to program with Khan Academy here.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Muir Woods

A Tree Pose in The Trees 
This weekend we went hiking in Muir Woods National Monument, the famed grove named for the naturalist John Muir.  It has become a rather crowded tourist destination, but the big redwoods tend to dwarf even these crowds.  There is something about walking through these giant trees that is just puts us all into perspective.  Despite the large crowd, everything felt peaceful. High up in the canopy, the leaves rustled in the breeze, but down below it was eerily calm and quiet.   The 1000 year old gentle giants seemed to be willing everyone to relax and enjoy.   We walked in for a couple miles only to find that we had wandered beyond the park limits.  The trees clearly had no idea where the park boundaries were.  When we decided to head back, it became clear that the canopy shuts out quite a bit of light.  It was dark in the forest significantly sooner than it did back out on the road as we drove home.  While it wasn't exactly a deep dive into the back woods of nature because of the crowds, it was a beautiful place on a beautiful day and lovely hike.

The San Francisco Bay Model

Saturday we stopped by the San Francisco Bay Model.  The Bay Model was built in the 1950s by the Army Corps of Engineers and is one of the largets physical simulations ever built.  It is a scale model of the entire San Francisco bay.  It was used for scientific purposes for nearly 50 years.  It also was used to help in policy decisions when, after world war two, there was a significant proposal to dam up the Bay.  The model was used to help show just how bad this idea was.
The model itself is incredibly sophisticated.  It uses a 1:1000 horizontal scale, a 1:100 vertical scale and a 1:100 time scale.  It is a marvel of engineering.  This huge (over an acre) model was designed to be accurate to a level that engineers could accurately predict tidal changes, mixing of saline from the ocean and fresh water from the rivers that feed the bay, as well as a variety of other things.
No single picture could capture the entire facility

Sunday, January 8, 2012

More Edgewood Park Wildlife

This time it was not a rabbit that we spotted, we found a gopher tunneling away in its tunnel.  It peeked out of its hole a couple of times.  My mom is glad that it was there and not in our backyard.

Friday, January 6, 2012

New Camera Form Factor?

Yesterday Nikon announced their new D4 DSLR camera.  It looks really nice, but in addition to the fact that I have a significant investment in Canon lenses (not Nikon), at $6000, this camera might as well be made of unobtainium.  I'm not likely to own one.  However, in all the hoopla about the specs of the camera itself, some have overlooked a nifty new little accessory.  It is called the WT-5 and it is a remote control for the camera.  It seems to be a WiFi interface and a web server that run on the camera.  It lets you completely control the camera from an iPad or iPhone as well as  compose shots and preview images.  I think this could be a move in an interesting direction toward a sort of decomposition of the camera into two parts.  Your camera can be a combination of a remote imager and your phone or tablet.  See the video below for info.

Already, many people find they are using their phone for photography most of the time, but because of size constraints, the camera function often suffers.  For example, I don't know of any phone that has a decent optical zoom, and even the iPhone 4s (current best of breed in phone cameras) can't hold a candle to any of my dedicated cameras in low light.  But the combination of the mobile device and the dedicated imaging device is exciting.  Your next fancy camera may just be a high quality imaging device for your tablet or phone.  There are a lot of details to work through with the form factor, but I think its a quite interesting direction.  Right now this is a $500 accessory for a $6000 camera, but you know how these things go... the technology will just drop in price until we all have one in our pocket.

If you are interested in getting a glimpse of what this future might be like, you can get an Eye-Fi card.  It is a SD flash card that you put in your existing camera, and it will automatically download your pictures over WiFi.  I've used one for some time and would recommend it.  It doesn't quite give you a complete tablet or phone interface, but it does wirelessly copy your pictures to your phone or your computer as you take them.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Be Your Own Band

My friend Fabio Katz made a couple of fun little videos that I thought were worth sharing.  In both of them he uses electronics to accompany himself musically.  In the first, "Aint She Sweet", he uses an electronic delay line to layer parts on top of each other.  In the second, he uses video tricks to perform with himself.  In both cases the results are a lot of fun.  Nicely done Fabio!

Wintertime Scenes

Here in Northern California we've had a very mild winter so far.  In fact, we are way behind on our rainfall totals and it is looking like it may be a dry winter, so we really need a storm or two to catch us up.  With this kind of weather its easy to forget that winter is indeed in full effect in the rest of the northern hemisphere right now.  These pictures published in the Atlantic helped me to remember the season.

One of these things is not like the other..

We had a surprise this morning for breakfast, a one in a thousand chance!

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Sniffles Saga Seems Set

Many of you may be wondering what has happened to the rabbit that we found in the park and rescued a few days ago.  I'll give you an update.  We really do think we saved him from immanent doom.  Edgewood Park, where we found him, is home to coyotes and mountain lions.
We dropped the bunny off at a friend's house.  We emailed and called many friends, neighbors and coworkers to try to find someone to adopt the cute little bunny.  The next day our friends with the rabbit called to say that they were allergic and there was entirely too much sneezing going on in their house.  The rabbit had to go.  We have the same problem in our house, so we understood.  So we decided to take the rabbit to the Peninsula Humane Society(PHS) for a looking over.  At the PHS they told us that the he was a male rabbit (we wondered) and that they would be happy to run some tests on him and make sure he was healthy and ready for someone to adopt.  In the mean time, our friends called us back to say that they knew someone who would adopt "Sniffles" as he was now called.  Yay!

So, as it stands right now, the PHS will likely keep Sniffles though the weekend and then he will be adopted by friends of the family that took him over the first night.

Bottom line - Its looking like a happy ending for Mr Sniffles.  Everyone can rest easy now.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012


NASA announced that their two GRAIL spacecraft are in orbit around the Moon as planned.  The two spacecraft will measure small changes in distance between them as they orbit.  These small changes will correspond to slight changes in speed as they are affected by very small changes in Moon's gravitational field.  
Additionally and potentially more exciting to the kids here on Earth is the GRAIL MoonKAM, or Moon Knowledge Acquired by Middle school students.  The MoonKAM project, headed by astronaut Sally Ride in cooperation with UC San Diego, will allow 5th to 8th graders to select areas on the Lunar surface to aim a small camera.  They will then receive their photos from the spacecraft for further study.  Sounds like a lot of fun.

Read more here.

Fit Bit Variability

As you may know, we all wear FitBits as part of our physical education program here at Digital Diner.  They are pretty cool pedometers that keep track of how active we are.  In fact, when we are being good, we don't eat dessert unless we are all on track to make our goal steps for the week.

Yesterday we did a little experiment.  We put all for of our FitBits on one person and went for a hike.  This allowed us to compare the different FitBits under the same conditions and see how much their readings vary.  After walking about a mile and a half in about 25 minutes, we compared the results.  They came out with pretty similar readings; 2967, 2951, 2964 and 2961 steps.  After a mile and a half the readings varied by only 10 steps out of about 3000, so this seems to tell us that the FitBits are pretty consistent in their measurement of steps.  The variability is only about 1/3 of a percent.  Pretty good actually!

Monday, January 2, 2012

Lunch or Pet?

Today, we were on a walk, in a park,when we saw a white blob. As we got closer we realized what it was, a rabbit.  There are many rabbits in the park, but this one was different.  It wasn't running and it was much chubbier.  It was quite clear that it was a domestic rabbit.  Soon we found some carrots and realized that either this bunny had run away or someone had dumped it there.  We went out of the park to get a box and some carrots and in a few minutes we were at a friends house, to have them take care of it for a short while.  So, if you know anyone who lost a rabbit in Edgewood Park (in Northern California or that area) or wants a new pet please leave a comment.