Friday, March 29, 2013

Solar Impulse hits the US

I've always thought that it is a shame that we waste our precious fossil fuels on driving because we have other methods of moving around here on the ground, like electric cars.  We should save our fossil fuels for really important things like flying.  After all, we really don't have any other practical way to move around in the skies.  The Solar Impulse is a project to change show that solar powered flight is possible.

For some time we've been watching the progress of the Solar Impulse, a Swiss-based, solar powered airplane.  This incredible device has a 208' wingspan, is 72' in length and cruises through the air at 43 mph just on solar power alone.  They've already got a long list of accomplishments like an intercontinental flight from Switzerland to Morocco and staying aloft over a continuous 26 hour period.  (just think about that one for a moment... a solar powered plane that can fly through the night!)  Their ultimate goal is to fly around the world in 20 days by 2015.

The exciting news is that the Solar Impulse is currently in the United States for the first time.  It is at Moffett Airfield/NASA AIMES here in the SF Bay area right now.  Soon it will be taking off on a cross country mission with stopovers in Phoenix, Dallas, Atlanta or St. Louis on its way to Washington D.C. and New York City. The exact dates and locations are dependent on local weather conditions.

I've been tracking the progress of this project for several years and I find it very inspirational.  The meer idea that we can conquer flight with just solar power is fantastic.  I think it can spur further light weight solar panels and batteries that will ultimately be useful in electric cars and other areas.  I wish them good luck on their mission and I will definitely plan to see them before they leave the area.  I really hope that, like the space shuttle, they fly over our house while they wander around the bay.  I'll have my camera at the ready just in case.

Follow the Solar Impulse on Twitter, Facebook, Google+, Instagram and/or YouTube.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Is it magic or is it math? I dunno.

This one is a bit of a head scratcher. Watch this video.  You can stop it wherever you like and count the squares however you like.  Still, if you are like me, in the end you will find yourself being confused.  How does it work?

I think it is a version of Curry's Paradox.  In this case they have cleverly put it together in a way that divides up the squares in a way that allows them to change size without changing the number of squares.  If you look closely, you'll see that part way through there is a video edit and the squares don't quite fit together as they did in the beginning.  In fact some of them aren't squares at all.  The fact that the illusion relies on some video editing is a  little disappointing, but still, it's well done... I must say.  Take a look at the videos below to see what is going on.

Bill Nye wonders where we come from

In this little interview, Bill Nye tells us why it is so important that we are curious and how wondering where we came from helps make us who we are.  I especially like the implication that curiosity (like prune fingers) may be an evolutionary advantage.  As always, Bill Nye rocks.

Ever wonder why your fingers wrinkle when they get wet? Wonder no more.

I think this is one of those nagging questions that has plagued mankind for eons.  Why do your fingers turn to prunes if you sit in a bathtub for too long?  It turns out that the answer is because it's good for you... well, in an evolutionary sense.  The process is a very deliberate step that your body goes through to make you better adapted to wet situations.  It's just one more reason to be impressed with what evolution has provided to us.  Enjoy the video.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Nice time lapse of comet Panstarrs over Boulder

When I moved away from Boulder, Colorado some years ago, I learned about Chief Niwot's curse (he was a native American leader in the Boulder area back in the day).  As told to me, it was that anyone who left Boulder would always want to return.  Actually, it is a little more complex than that.  He said that Boulder is so beautiful that people will always want to live there and in doing so, they will ultimately be the undoing of that very beauty.  It's more of a paradox really.  I can say that I really enjoyed living in Boulder and certainly miss its beauty from time to time.  
The video above captures a little bit of the landscape and the signature flatirons, but it also captures the comet Panstarrs quite spectacularly.  I hope somewhere Chief Niwot has as nice a view.
Well captured Patrick Cullis.  Watch and enjoy.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

An exploding Prince Rupert Drop is pretty awesome... who knew?

Smarter Every Day has given us plenty of cool and entertaining video lessons in physics and stuff.  I think my favorite was the one about poop splashes.  This is another great example of something that I've certainly never seen before.  A Prince Rupert Drop is what is formed when you drop some molten glass into cold water.  Because of the way that it cools (from the outside in) it creates a structure that is under significant stress.  Destin from Smarter Every Day shows what happens when you upset that stressed structure.  Of course he does it with a totally awesome super slow motion camera which makes me totally jealous.  Pretty cool stuff.

via Smarter Every Day

A mysterious mouse door appears in Golden Gate Park

Richmondsfblog is reporting that someone has mysteriously crafted a rather lovely mouse door and placed it on a tree in Golden Gate park.  If a mouse did it, it either has some amazing skills, or at least money and taste.  The workmanship looks quite impressive, and it is custom fit to the hole in the tree.  Maybe it was a hobbit, although it must be a very small one.  Of course, it could be a portal to another dimension... one that is much much smaller.  At the moment, no one seems to know who made it or how it got there.  Ooh, I love a mystery!

As you know, we here at Digital Diner encourage and support anonymous public art.  Go make some of your own!

via Richmondsfblog
Thanks Inna!

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Ivory soap may be the new Mentos and Coke

Did you know that Ivory soap floats when it is put in water?  Apparently that is because it is filled with little air bubbles.  I suppose in a sense this may appear to imply that you are getting less for your money, but in fact you are getting so much more.  You are getting a vehicle for science experimentation and artistic creative expression.  Watch the video and learn.

SparkFun National Education Tour

Our friends at SparkFun (a great place to get Maker supplies of all sorts) bought an RV and are traveling around the country spreading the Maker excitement to schools and kids in all parts of the country.  The basic idea is to get more hands-on, discovery based learning back into the classroom.  It's easy to get the kids excited, the harder part is changing schools.  However, this sentiment of change seems to be growing in the mainstream world, for example this article from CNN steps through the argument nicely in the article here.  I was recently tapped to help raise money for this type of work for my high school back in Ohio (see my ugly mug about 1:15 into the video).  Even the President mentioned elements of this idea in his State of the Union address.  Clearly there is growing interest in incorporating some of the great features of the Maker movement in our education system, and I'm all for it.  SparkFun has embraced this idea and it taking steps to help promote it in their national tour.  I say to Nate and all the folks at SparkFun, keep up the good work!

Read more about the SparkFun Nation Tour here.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

New America's Cup boats literally fly through the water

The new big America's Cup boats fly through the water.  As they get up to speed, they lift themselves up until they are zipping through the water balanced on a submerged wing.  The speeds are pretty ridiculous compared to the sailing that I'm used to.
A few months ago we got to see the smaller America's Cup boats racing and it was great (you may even remember the dramatic shots we got of the Oracle boat flipping).  I can't wait to see these new bigger boats this summer.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Comet PANSTARRS is visible tonight

There is a frozen ball of dirt zipping by the Sun right now.  It is the comet  Pan-STARRS.  In a dark spot you may be able to catch a glimpse of it with your naked eye as described in the video below.

 Astrophotographer Dan Finnerty caught the comet in the very nice time lapse below.

I've played with photography through telescopes and it can be a lot of fun.  It can also be very frustrating.  The video below does a great job of layout many of the issues of astrophotography.  Watching it is a half hour commitment, but it can start you down the road to a many hours in a rewarding hobby.

What color is the number 7?

What color is the letter 'M'?  I don't mean what color is it on the screen.  I mean what color is the ideal, proto, conceptual letter 'M'? How about the number 7?  What does a musical fifth taste like?  I remember as a child, when I was memorizing the alphabet, that certain letters early in the alphabet were bright and colorful and full of daylight.  I, J and K were like trees in a jungle.  As I got past the middle of the alphabet the letters had more of a nighttime feeling; some blue, some black, some with stars.  Saying the alphabet aloud told a sort of visual story that helped me to remember.  By the time I got out to X, Y and Z, we were in outer space.  I didn't feel like I made up this visual story, it was just something I observed.  I can't remember the details now, just the impression... I guess I grew out of it.  I suppose that is the closest I'll ever come to experiencing synesthesia, a condition that connects senses like color and taste to letters, numbers or sounds.  It is a cross-sensory connection in the brain of synesthete.  It seems really interesting to me, but also a bit difficult and confusing.  I imagine when letters are colored differently than their inherent, synesthetic color, it must feel much the way that the Stroop Effect feels to the rest of us.
Take a look at these videos and tell me what colors you see.

Irrational Exuberance: Happy Pi Day 2013 Everyone!
Happy Pi Day everyone!  In the video below, Vi Hart (yay Vi!) sings pi for you to ring in the day.

While we believe in most any excuse for celebration, we'd just like to remind you that, however much you celebrate today, you should celebrate twice as much on Tau Day.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Temporal aliasing and bendy water - nice!

I remember as a kid watching a western movie and being amazed to see the stage coach wheels appear to rotate backwards as the coach moved forwards.  The wheels weren't actually moving backward.  It was an illusion caused by a combination of the speed of the wheel spinning, the wheel's symmetry  the movie making process and my brain.  As you know, movies are a collection of still pictures shown in rapid succession.  Your brain puts these images together and essentially fills in what must be going on between the frames.  For movies, these frames are coming at you 24 times per second.  In the case of the wagon wheels imagine that during that 1/24th of a second, the wagon wheel moves forward just slightly.  In that case, your brain fills to assume that the wheel moved forward a little bit.  Now imagine that the wagon moves at a speed such that, between each frame of the movie, the wheel rotates one eighth of a rotation.  And, lets suppose that the wheel has eight spokes in it.  Then, from one frame to the next, the spokes of the wheel would line up.  That would mean that the wheel would appear to not rotate at all from one frame to the next.  If it moved just less than 1/8 of a rotation, from one frame to the next, your brain will assume that the wheel has moved backwards slightly.  Putting these together caused the effect that I noticed as a kid; a forward moving coach with backward moving wheels.  This effect is called temporal aliasing.  The video above shows this effect with varying camera shutter speeds.  The faster shutters speeds more effectively freeze the movement and give a stronger effect.

The amazing video below uses this temporal aliasing to make water appear to do crazy things.  By connecting a hose to a speaker, it can be wiggled at a speed that matches up with the speed of the frames of the video.  This effectively freezes the water in mid vibration at the same point each frame.  If you were on location, you would see the water spraying out in fan shape away from the end of the hose, not what we see on the video.  Since the video is in phase with the vibrations, the water appears frozen in mid stream (literally), and the effect is really cool.  Of course as they speed up and slow down the vibrations, the water appears to move up or down accordingly.  What fun!

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

OREO separator machines vs the Oreo constructing machine

Recently we showed you the application of science engineering to the very real and complex problem of autonomously separating the cookie from the cream filling in an Oreo cookie.  Well, it appears to be an advertising scheme sponsored by Oreo.  I know... I know...  It kind of takes away the fun when you find out it's an advertisement, but you know something, in a capitalist society many many things are advertisements of one sort or another and given all the options, I must say I like Oreo's approach.  Rather than pushing the ads on you, they create something that you might actually like to see.  I say well done Nabisco/Oreo.

There are now a total of four different videos of machines created to separate the cookies from the creamy filling.  Some seem more effective than others, but none seem at all practical... Maybe that is why I like them.  [for contrast there is a slightly different take on these videos at the bottom]

OREO Separator Machine #2 — Creators: Toy Scientists Bill and Barry

OREO Separator Machine #3 — Creator: Conceptual Artist Collective DENTAKU

OREO Separator Machine #4 — Creator: Robotic Butler HERB

Of course, you can still see the original one here.

Now for karmic alignment, balance and avoiding koyaanisqatsi, rather than taking these cookies apart, lets take a look at how they are put together.  'Turns out some very elaborate machines do that too... In fact, these machines are much more amazing than the ones above if you think about it...  I'm pretty sure that the Oreo constructing machine could take all four Oreo destructing machines with no problem if it ever came down to a robot fight.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Every day is a good day - well at least today should be good

The world is far from perfect, but right now the stock market is up and unemployment is down.  It's light in the evening when I get home from work.  Spring is in the air.  I'm sorry, but it's time for a little unbridled optimism and raw inspiration.  Any time you aren't sure what the day will bring, just watch the video above and all will be well.  I'd like each of you to start off the week with a good attitude.  Pass it on.

If you watch the video every morning, eventually you will either be so filled with optimism and positive thinking that you will change to world, or you will end up in the insane asylum crying like a baby (but a good baby, not a bad baby).

If you need a little inspiration to get off your behind and be awesome, just watch Kid President below.  Either way, you are gonna have a good week, so get out there and do something great.  I've got high hopes for us all, people.  Let's go!

How to start a fire with water - cool!

I like this little video that shows how to start a fire using a water bottle.  You never know when a skill like this might come in handy.  Watch, learn and file away in your brain somewhere where you might be able to access it when you are out in survival mode.

Friday, March 8, 2013

What can we learn from Minecraft?

The blocky, Minecraft world of Happitopia

Bix and Widdikay host Happitopia, an on-line, virtual world where they and their friends explore and create.  This world runs on a computer/server we have hosted for the last year and a half running a program called Minecraft.  In this vast, planet sized, Lego-like virtual world, there are two modes - survival mode and creative mode.  In survival mode, you have to worry about getting enough food to eat and finding enough resources to build shelter.  You may need to trade with other players to get the things you need.  By contrast, in creative mode, you can never starve, and you can have any kind of raw materials you want.  There are no limits.  You are all-powerful and god-like in this mode.  You might think that kids would be drawn to the mode where they can be omnipotent, but the interesting thing is that, at least in Happitopia, the kids don't always choose creative mode.  Both modes are popular.  They enjoy the challenge of dealing with finite resources and a realistic constraints sometimes, while other times, they want the god-like powers that let them express themselves creatively with very few constraints.

The kids created this short promotional video about their server to attract more members

For our kids, this game has been an interesting combination of open ended exploration, creative expression, civics, leadership, socialization and technical challenge.  They and their friends have dedicated countless hours of time to build an environment for themselves where they socialize and create creative challenges for themselves and each other.  In addition to the technical work that Widdakay does to host the server, keep it up and running 24/7, keep it backed-up, build the supporting website with associated wiki and bulletin board and write Java code for customization; the environment has been a place for other types of learning.  Although the environment is completely operated and managed by the kids, they've managed to keep this from becoming a "Lord of the Flies" world.  Happitopia, this virtual world, has forced them to deal with some real world issues.  How do you attract friends to the server and keep them challenged, entertained and coming back for more?  How do you create a "society" that encourages the type of behavior you would like?  How do you punish "bad" behavior?  What types of rules should govern your world?  What form of justice should be enforced?  These are not the types of questions that you wrestle with in the classroom or on a standardized test, where your job is to follow the rules, not to create them.  Yet learning the skills to successfully manage these issues can translate directly the workplace and society in general.    It has made me wonder how Minecraft can be used as a teaching tool.  Apparently I'm not the only one wondering about this.  Below are two videos, from PBS's Idea Channel, about potential uses of Minecraft in education, and a little bit about what Minecraft may be able to tell us about the future of the world around us.  Watch and enjoy.

To space and back

A fellow named David WindestÃ¥l, from Sweden, has attempted a project that I always wanted to do.  We've hooked sensors and radios to a balloon and sent it up to the edge of space, which is incredibly cool.  At around 100,000 ft up, the balloon bursts and our payload came back down to earth on a parachute.  I always thought it would be cool to fly back down from up there instead of just floating down on a parachute.  Well, David hung a remote controlled glider to the balloon when he sent it up.  The glider was equipped with a live video feed so that he could remotely pilot it on the way back down.  Unfortunately, things didn't go quite according to plan, and he wasn't able to get the plane back to his location, however, he did recover it and has some incredible GoPro footage to prove it.  Well done!

I don't know about you, but I think it is incredibly cool that we have gotten to the point where individuals can send gadgets up to the edge of space.  We aren't talking NASA here guys.  We are talking about hobbyists who do this stuff because its fun.  That's right.  It's not motivated national pride or a space race against Sputnik.  It's not funded by a bottomless pit of tax payer money and an endless supply of PhDs from the best schools.  This was accomplished by a smart guy who lives near a big lake in Sweden with the courage to go try something cool... just because...  Something about that is truly awesome and inspiring.

The technical details of the project are spelled on out David's web site,

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Adults can learn from kids

Adora Svitak is a 15 year old author and speaker.  In her TED talk, I think she does a fine job explaining why adults should spend at least as much time learning from kids as they do trying to teach them.  Well played Adora.

Time lapse freezing water droplet

What happens when you put a drop of water onto a liquid-nitrogen cooled plate?  Spoiler: it freezes.  Still, watching the process at 5 times normal speed is pretty awesome.  As I watch, I'm thinking it's a  NASA planet fly-by that turns into ice cream which somehow evolves into a Chia Pet.  I'm pretty sure it goes through the Frazil Ice stage in there somewhere too.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Now that's punny

I'll apologize in advance for this one.  You see my dad has always been a prolific punster.  He can make a pun out of anything, anytime, anywhere.  So puns, mostly really bad groaners, are near and dear to me.  Just as I had no idea that they have competitions for flying kites without wind, planing and synchronized walking, I had no idea that there is a world championship punoff.
So, in honor of my dad's birthday, I present this video from the pun world championships.  In the head-to-head competition, the competitors have 5 seconds to come up with a pun related to a topic chosen by the audience.  If they repeat a pun, they get a strike... three strikes and you're out.  They continue until one of them strikes out, or can't think of a new pun in 5 seconds.  Dad, I'm pretty sure you could take these guys!

If you managed to watch that video and you still are looking for more, you may enjoy the jokes here or the video below.

Happy Birthday Dad!

A little marine science for you

Edith Widder gives a TED talk about how they took pictures of the giant squid.  It is a pretty interesting story.  Apparently, if you act like a distressed jelly fish, you can attract giant squid, not because the squid are interested in you, but because they are interested in what might be eating you.

Once, when we were sailing in the Indian Ocean, Monika and I found a school of ~2' squid under our sailboat.  It was pretty spectacular and spooky at the same time.  They have a very alien look.. In fact, they kind of make me think of the movie Alien, but maybe that is just me.  I really can't imagine what it would be like to encounter one on the scale of the one in the video above.

Mike deGruy: Hooked by an octopus

Mike deGruy had a bid hand in making the expedition above possible, but unfortunately he died in a helicopter crash before the project got its results.  His TED talk about octopi is quite inspirational.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

This Wave Pendulum is Compelling

For some reason I really like this wave pendulum.  Some of the patterns it gets into are really cool.  It kind of makes me want to build one of my own.  Why don't they make these for your desk, kind of like a Newton's cradle?  Probably because if I had one on my desk I wouldn't get any work done.

Tall Ships are coming to Redwood City

This is local news for those of you in the Bay Area.

Redwood City is the only deep water port in the south San Francisco Bay.  As such, it occasionally hosts interesting maritime events.  One such event is the arrival of the replicas of historic tall ships, Lady Wachington and Hawaiin Cheiftan.  The Lady Washington is a wood hulled brig which set sail in 1989 and has been named Washington State's official tall ship.  She has appeared in numerous movies including the 2003 movie Pirates of the Carribean: the Curse of the Black Pearl.  The Hawaiian Cheiftan is a steel-hulled topsail ketch replica of a 19th century coastal trader.  They will be in the port from March 7-19 and will offer public tours, sailing excursions and educational programs for K-12 students and groups.

One of the fun things about this visit is that they have adventure and battle sails where you can actually  sail in these amazing ships and imagine what it must have been like to head out to sea in the olden days.


3/8: Walk-on tours, 4 5 p.m. No reservation required, but $3 donation requested.
3/9-10: tours, 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. No reservation required, but $3 donation requested.
3/9-10: Battle Sails, 2p.m. to 5 p.m., $40-$60.
3/10: Adventure Sail (Lady Washington only), 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. $39 all ages.
3/l2-15: Walk-on tours, 4 p.m. to 5 p.m. No reservation required, but $3 donation requested.
3/16-17: Walk-on tows, 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. No reservation required, but $3 donation requested.
3/16: BattIe Sail, 2p.m. to 5 p.m., $40-$60

More information from the Port of Redwood City

Synchronized Walking - really?

We've featured a few interesting competitions here on Digital Diner recently.  Planing and Windless Kite Flying both were pretty unusual, but how about this one?  Synchronized Walking.  I can see that it requires some skill and incredible amounts of practice (see the move at about 2:00), but at the end of the day, it's just walking.  That's pretty weird, I've got to say.