Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Finally, we learn how to use Google Glass

There is a lot of buzz around Google Glass, but most of us know surprisingly little about how to use it.  This little video gives you a quick overview.
Now, if I had one, I'd totally know how to use it.  Google, you can send me one anytime you like.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Why don't we make squishy robots?

Most robots are made of metal or plastic.  They are solid, hard devices.  Occasionally someone will make a robot that is covered with a soft skin, but underneath they are all made of rigid components.  What would happen if you made an inflatable robot?  You could use pneumatic power, valves and pumps to make it move.  This is exactly what Saul Griffith is working on and it is quite interesting stuff.  Take a look at the video from the Solve For X conference.

By the way, this is also the guy who wants to use kites to generate power.  Another cool idea - shown in the video below.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Will it float?

Today we are playing the game show "Will it float?"  Given various cans of soda, which will float and which will sink?  Watch the video to find out.

My favorite line, [about ingredients on food] "Why do they list the amount of sugar in grams?  Because we're Americans and it doesn't mean anything to us."

Friday, April 26, 2013

Wearable technology is the next step after mobile gadgets

PBS did a nice little piece on the "future of wearable technology."  My only real problem with this clip is that it is really about present wearable technology, not so much the future.  Everything they show is being done now.  The only think that makes it the future is that I don't have my Google Glass yet.  The technology is today, not tomorrow.  Tomorrow we'll have subcutaneous displays and direct nerve interfaces.
I do believe in the power of ambient technology (as described in the clip), but I think even connected watches are steps in that direction.  Meanwhile, my favorite view of the future of wearable technology is this, now four year old, vision created by the folks at the medialab.

What technology do you want to wear?  ...and more importantly how will we keep all the batteries charged?

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Precision formation kite flying - who knew?

We've brought fancy kite flying to your attention before here at Digital Diner.  This time, instead of indoor flying, we return the kites to their natural state, out in the wind.  However, this time we see teams of precision flyers coordinating to create physics-defying displays of kite flying goodness.  This video was filmed at the 27th Rencontres Internationales de Cerfs-Volants à Berck, a large kite festival in France.

Just makes me want to go fly a kite.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

The BeagleBone Black looks pretty nice!

Many of our readers who like to build their own gadgets enjoyed the article that I wrote last year describing the advantages and reasons to use the Arduino, Raspberry Pi or BeagleBone for your projects (In fact I'm happy to report that it was picked up and reposted by Make Magazine - cool!).  Each of these gadgets has its place, and we use all three here at Digital Diner.
Today things space changed a bit in this space.  The new BeagleBone Black development board was announced.  It is a significant upgrade from the previous BeagleBone for half the price ($45).  In particular, it now includes a 1GHz processor, HDMI video output, 512MB RAM and 2GB of built in flash storage all for $45.  

The addition of video output (HDMI) makes it much more directly comparable to the Raspberry Pi.  From a specifications perspective, it seems to beat the Raspberry Pi on almost all fronts with the exception of price.  Even that is too close to call though since the Raspberry Pi requires that you buy and external SSD card which will eat into the $10 difference in price.  The new BeagleBone includes 2GB of onboard flash storage so no SSD card should be required.  At this point, for pure performance, the BeagleBone Black looks pretty sweet.  Still, the Raspberry Pi has a vibrant community that may be difficult to match for a while if you are looking lots of example code and sample projects.  BOttom line is that its hard to go wrong because both platforms are great, so we all win.

For more info see BagleBone Black web page, or the articles here and here.

I've attempted to update the chart from my original article below.  BeagleBone Black is the last column:

Name Arduino Uno Raspberry Pi Raspberry Pi BeagleBone BeagleBone
Model Tested R3 Model B rev1 Model B rev2 Rev A5 Black
Price $29.95 $35.00 $35.00 $89.00 $45.00
Size 2.95”x2.10” 3.37”x2.125” 3.37”x2.125” 3.4”x2.1” 3.4”x2.1”
Processor ATMega 328 ARM11 ARM11 ARM Cortex-A8 ARM Cortex-A8
Clock Speed 16MHz 700MHz 700MHz 700MHz 1GHz
RAM 2KB 256MB 512MB 256MB 512MB
Flash 32KB (SD Card) (SD Card) 4GB(microSD) 2GB +microSD

Input Voltage 7-12v 5v 5v 5v 5v
3.5W (700mA) 3.5W (700mA) 1.5-2.5W (300-500mA) 1-2.3W (210-460mA)
Digital GPIO 14 8 8 66 65
Analog Input 6 10-bit N/A N/A 6 12-bit 7 12-bit (1.8V)

TWI/I2C 2 1 1
SPI yes 1 1
UART 1 1 1 6 3
OS Arduino Bootloader Linux Linux Angstrom, Ubuntu, Android, QNX Angstrom, Ubuntu, Android, QNX
Dev IDE Arduino Tool IDLE, Scratch, Squeak/Linux IDLE, Scratch, Squeak/Linux Cloud9/Linux Cloud9/Linux
Ethernet N/A 10/100 10/100 10/100 10/100
USB Master 0 2 USB 2.0 2 USB 2.0 1 USB 2.0 1 USB 2.0
GPU N/A VideoCore IV VideoCore IV N/A SGX530
Video Out N/A HDMI, Composite HDMI, Composite N/A HDMI
Audio Output N/A HDMI, Analog HDMI, Analog N/A HDMI

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Flying without fuel is cool!

We got to see the Solar Impulse this weekend, and I must say it is truly inspirational.  This is the solar powered airplane that has already been able to fly for more than 24 hours straight.. meaning aside from the issues of keeping the pilot awake, they can stay up as long as they want.   They will be flying the plane from here to New York City starting next month.
The challenge of building a plane like this is to find just the right combination of strength, weight and power to stay aloft without using traditional fuel.  To do this, they created a plane with the wingspan of a Airbus 340 jumbo jet (over 60 meters), but the weight of a small car.  As you can imagine, some advanced materials were required to pull this off.  The fuselage is made of carbon fibre-honeycomb composite  that is essentially two thin carbon fiber layers with what looks like light weight cardboard between them.  Bix is holding a piece of it in the picture on the right.  It is incredibly light and sturdy.
The wings and the tail are covered on top with solar cells (I'm holding six cells in the picture on the left).  Actually, that isn't quite accurate.  I should say, the tops of the wings and tail are made of solar cells.  The surface of the wing is composed of these solar monocrystalline silicon cells that are a mere 150 microns thick so they can be light weight, flexible, generate a lot of power and provide the necessary structural integrity for these jumbo jet-sized wings.  The cells are efficient enough to generate four electric motors humming along while completely charging the batteries.  This allows them to run down the batteries over night and then recharge them without landing during the day.  

There are four main batteries corresponding to each of the four main engines onboard the Solar Impulse.  Each of these batteries weighs about 90 kg (~200 lbs) and make up about one quarter of the weight of the entire plane.

A part of an incredibly lightweight wing rib
The single seat cockpit of the Solar Impulse
The motors on the Solar Impulse are approximately 10 horsepower each, or about the same as the Wright Flyer had back in 1903.  These motors are able to pull the Solar Impulse to its 22 mph takeoff speed and ultimately to its cruising speed of about 40 mph.  During the day, the power produced by the solar panel is enough to fully charge the batteries while it drives the motors enough to allow the plane to climb.  In the evening when the sun goes down, they plan to have enough altitude to glide.  Over a 5 hour period they are able to lose only 7000 ft.  Unlike traditional gliders, they don't do this by seeking thermals.  The turbulents associated with these up currents in the air don't mix well with such a large and fragile ship as the Solar Impulse.

In 2015, they are hoping to circumnavigate the world without using a drop of fuel.  At 40 mph, you can see that this will take quite a bit of time.  Even though the airplane can fly continuously, there is no real autopilot or automatic way of flying the plane and it only has room for a single pilot, so the human becomes the limiting factor.  They will have to land regularly in order to allow the pilot to sleep.  As you might imagine crossing the ocean will be a significant challenge.  It will take about 5 days and nights to fly across the Atlantic ocean.  In order to stay awake for this period of time, both the pilots, Bertrand Piccard and Andre Borschberg have special techniques they will employ.  They believe that through self-hypnosis and meditation they will be able to fly continuously for over 100 without real sleep.  The ground crew person that we spoke with about this topic said that they will allow them to have 8 - 20 minute cat naps.

Bertrand Piccard and Andre Borschberg

Both Bertrand Piccard and Andre Borschberg were there when we visited.  Mr Piccard gave a rousing speech about the importance of taking risks and trying things.  He should know.  His father was the first person to go to the bottom of  the Challenger Deep, in the Mariana Trench.  Bertrand himself has piloted a balloon around the world.  My favorite part of his speech was when he talked about trying go around the world three times.  He said the failures were learning experiences and that a success is a situation where you tried one more time than the number of times you failed.  Cool!  Mr Borrschberg then talked about the technical details of the plane and its planned flight.

Solar Impulse Specs

63.40m (208 ft)
21.85m (72 ft)
6.40m (21 ft)
Take-off speed
35km/h (22mph)
Average speed
70km/h (43 mph)
Maximum altitude
8,500m (27,900 ft)
Solar cells
4 x 10hp electric engine
1,600kg (~3500 lbs)

"For success, it is only necessary to try one tome more than the number of times you fail"

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Woohoo! Algodoo is free!

A year and a half ago, we wandered into the small town of Umeå, Sweden.  Unannounced, we knocked on the door of a company called Algoryx, just to tell them that we were fans of their program called Algodoo.  Needless to say, they were surprised to have some silly Americans showing up unexpectedly, but they were very gracious and even gave the kids t-shirts (which are still among their favorites today).

Algodoo is a physics simulation program for kids.  No, that description doesn't do it justice.  Really it is an awesome virtual playground of imagination and exploration for anyone and everyone.  It lets you create a world of 2 dimensional objects that interact in a simulated environment on your screen.  You can build wheels, pulleys and motors, all the way up to fairly complex machines.  One very unique element of Algodoo is that it allows you to simulate fluids and light as well.  You can create a tub of water and let it slosh around.  You can create a prism and lenses and watch white light get split into component colors.  Watch the video above to get some idea of what it can do.

The really big news is that this amazing program is now free.  You can download it for your Mac or PC from the Algodoo website.  There is no reason not to get it and amuse yourself for hours (you will).  As if that wasn't enough, Algodoo also announced an iPad version of the program.  It is available for 99¢ (introductory price) on the app store right now.

Trust me on this one.  Download it for your computer or iPad today.  You'll be glad you did! Let us know what you build.

Bix & Widdikay with Emil Ernerfeldt, the creator of Phun, the original version of Algodoo.
from Algodoo

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Kids raising money for causes

In these days of uncertain funding for basic programs in schools and beyond, fundraising is a fact of life. There are so many worthy causes that need money, and it is heartbreaking to see kids missing out because of a lack of funding. Well, as of today there may be a new solution. What happens when you tie together crowd-sourced funding like Kickstarter and Indiegogo (which uses the power of the web to raise money for start-ups) with great causes and the boundless energy of kids? The answer is Piggybackr. We think that many of our readers may find this to be a useful tool.

Piggybackr is a new website that is launching today. It gives kids a straight forward way to use the power of the Internet to raise money for sports teams, field trips, and projects. We gave you a little preview of it last week with the announcement of the Aeroponics for All campaign (thanks for continuing to spread the word on this one).

The way it works is that the kids who are interested in fundraising create a video and a description of their fundraiser and they post it on Piggybackr. They create different levels of donors and may include gifts for them to show their appreciation. Once their campaign is ready to go, Piggybackr creates a custom web page for them, takes payments via credit card and PayPal and allows them to track their fundraising efforts. In team fundraising situations, it can even help keep track of how individuals are doing with their fundraising responsibilities. The kids quickly learn that the website helps collect money, but they still have to do the work to spread the word about their cause and convince people about their cause. It does NOT find donors for them. The whole process helps to empower the kids and maybe even help them to appreciate the resources that are spent on the causes they believe in.

To me one of the exciting side effects is that when kids use this technology to raise money, they are learning skills that will later help them raise money for a business with Kickstarter or Indiegogo. The setup is very similar. You start with a passion and a need. You create a persuasive video explaining your need and provide your supporters with information they need to contribute your cause. These are skills a 21st century entrepreneur needs in order to be successful. There is an interesting article that talks about how we can help prepare young people for jobs that don't even exist yet by one of the founders of Piggybackr. It's worth a look.

Congrats on your launch Piggybackr

A little motivation - Steve Jobs on the meaning of life and asking

I was looking for a little inspiration today to give that extra push.  Somedays you need a little extra motivation to get up and get going.  Steve Jobs to the rescue.

And while we're at it, sometimes good things come to those who ask.  I think that it helps if what you are asking for is at least somewhat reasonable, but no matter what it is, having the courage to ask can sometimes lead to great rewards.

No excuses now, go out and build something.  Make the world a little better tonight than it was when you woke up this morning.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

I love the magnificent magnetic mush

There have been a couple of videos of magnetic putty floating around on the net recently.  I think this is my favorite.  It shows items being devoured by a special putty with magnetic properties in significant detail.  I think of it as four minutes of alien digestion.  Sounds gross I suppose, but it's quite cool actually.  It makes me wonder if, over time, this putty will form itself to match the magnetic field around a strong magnet.  We've played with ferrofluids, but this oozy, gooey putty seems like a whole different kind of fun.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Solar Impulse open house next weekend!

As you know, we are very excited to see that the Solar Impulse, solar powered airplane is here in the SF Bay area.  We are even more excited to see that they have two events planned for next week.   One will be a live streaming educational experience that will be streamed live online.  The other is for the local folks who would like to see this amazing airplane in person at an open house.  The details can be found in their blog post.  Hope to see you there!

Save the date: Friday April 19th
Where: Directly from your personal computer!
What: Stanford University Panel Events & Discussions
How: Simply go to the Solar Impulse website at: www.solarimpulse.com at 9:00 AM (GMT-08:00) Pacific Time (US & Canada)

Save the date: Saturday April 20th
Where: Moffett Airfield at NASA’s Ames Research Center
What: Public visits of Solar Impulse’s HB-SIA solar airplane
How? Just click here and sign-in for a time slot – but beware, spaces are limited for security reasons and only registered people will be able to access the premises.

Friday, April 12, 2013

There was a day when we would have called this a vanity mix...

photo by Rebecca Wilson
Back in the days when I worked in the music industry, there was a type of session we called a vanity mix.  It was something that you did for a client with more money than talent.  Often, a "musician" (who thought they were much better than they actually were) would come into the studio to work on a song.  After a few attempts it would become clear that you were never going to get a clean performance all the way through the song.  At that point, it was the engineer/producer's job to suck enough pieces and parts out of the client that you could piece together a reasonable performance.  A skilled engineer could often edit together a recording that sounded reasonable, but was completely unrepresentative of what the musician was actually capable of producing live.  On one level, these sessions were often painful, difficult and time consuming.  On the other hand, it put more of the artistry into the hands of the engineer, which was often somewhat exciting.  Who doesn't love a good challenge?

Now days, the tools available to the engineer for constructing a performance are incredible.  Very often a recording ends up being a collaboration between the performing artist and the post production engineer.  The videos below celebrate this by creating compelling performances out of mashed up video snippets.  There is no attempt to make it look like a real performance, instead the choppy edits feature the fact that the editing is the performance.  It highlights the artistry of audio/video engineering... oh, and some cute kids too.

I hope you enjoy these two videos of constructed performances: Drums and Oona Rocks.  In many ways this is much like the Human Piano we posted about earlier.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Heere's something creative to do with your iPhone ring tone

No.  I don't mean put a new sound on your phone... I mean use the ring tone as the basis for a song as they did in the video above.  It definitely give me a new perspective on something I've heard a million times...

Well played KizMusique!

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

It may take some time to implement..

Photo: Isabelle Grosjean via Wikipedia

I learned an interesting fact last night.  I was having dinner with members of the Computer Sciences and Technology Board (CSTB).  This group is part fo the National Academy of Sciences which was founded in 1863 (150 years ago!).  The interesting fact was that in 1867, only a few years after their founding, the National Academy of Sciences made a recommendation that the United States should adopt the metric system of weights and measures.  Yes, you heard that right.  We were supposed to go metric system and teach it in schools and the whole nine yards, back in 1867!
They did note that it may take some time to implement, but really folks, 150 years?  I suppose we are inching toward it.  ;-)

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

How 7th Graders Serve Raspberry Pi

What happens when you give a class of 7th grade girls some Raspberry Pis and tell them about the programming system called Scratch?  You get a lot of great projects.  Duh!

It isn't so completely unusual for kids to get classes in engineering and technology these days, although I certainly wish it were more common.  To me, the really interesting thing is that "technology" isn't really "computers" anymore... that is old school.  Now it's all about mobile and social and making physical things.  That is what inspires kids to want to learn about math and engineering.  That is what our education system should be using to inspire and challenge our future engineers, scientists and technical entrepreneurs.  Maker projects for all!

Monday, April 8, 2013

Aeroponics for all! Getting a cause funded.

Help Team "Awesome is What We Totally Are" 
with their PiggyBackr campaign, Aeroponics for All.

Today's post includes a request for your help.  Please read all the way through.

By now many of you have heard of Kickstarter or Indiegogo.  These are the websites that are allowing entrepreneurs to raise money to start a new venture.  The process is called crowd funding.  Rather than going to Sand Hill road and getting money from venture capitalists, these websites allow participants to take their plea directly to the people.  Widdakay and I met a developer who was struggling to get his watch project funded.  6 months later, he had a successful Kickstarter campaign that was able to raise over $10 million.  Needless to say, he isn't struggling with funding any more.

Last week, a new Kickstarter project popped up to build a small hydroponic garden, not unlike the system that Bix and Widdakay (and the "Awesome is What We Totally Are" team) teach about in their classes.  In the first week of this campaign, Click & Grow has raised over $250,000!  While congratulations are in order to them, it was a nice confirmation of the interest that hydroponic systems can generate.

The Click & Grow success is also very timely, because the "Awesome Team," was already busy preparing a crowd funding campaign of their own.  They aren't funding a start-up company, but they would like to raise some money to offset some of the expenses of teaching their aeroponics classes.  Fortunately, a new website is launching that will help people, including kids, raise money for a cause.  The new site is called PiggyBackr, and it is designed to help sports teams and student causes benefit from the same type of crowd funding that Kickstarter and Indiegogo projects enjoy for start-up companies.

The "Awesome Team" put together a campaign called Aeroponics for All.  Watch the brief video above to see how the "Awesome Team" is seeking donations to continue teaching their classes and research on aeroponics.

This is where you come in.  We would really appreciate your help in spreading the word about their campaign.  Please, post, tweet, email or tell your friends about Aeroponics for All.  We would love to spread their  message as far and wide as possible.

Of course, if you can spare any amount (even if not listed on their page) it could help them reach their goal.  And, if you know of some kids who have a fundraising project of their own, tell them to check out PiggyBackr.  You can see other PiggyBackr campaigns here.

Link: Aeroponics for All

Friday, April 5, 2013

Methuselah star is confusing, but really really old....

There is a star floating around out there that appears to be really really old... like older than the whole universe.  Wait a minute... how can it be older than the universe?  Something must be wrong.  According to the original estimates, the star was about 16 billion years old, while the universe is only 13.7 billion.  Well, in fact, it appears that the star, named HD140283 (or Methuselah, depending on who you ask) is travelling very very fast, and was created very soon after the universe was created (not before the universe existed as originally estimated).  Watch the video to get the whole story.

MoMath looks pretty interesting

The National Museum of Mathematics (aka MoMath) opened last December in New York City.  It looks pretty amazing to me.  It may be a reason to go to NYC some time.  The video below is a tour of the place as given by George Hart, who I believe is Vi Hart's dad.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

I love clear explanations of complex things

I like this little video explaining how a differential gear works.  Whether you don't know what a differential gear is or you already know how it works, I recommend watching this little explanation from the 1930s.  I like how it moves through the problem and illustrates each step clearly.  Spend a few minutes watching and you'll understand it for life.

Original video is available here.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

The human piano... a great itdea

I should've thought of this one.  Eran Amir had a great idea to record people on the street singing a single note.  Then, those video clips were set up to be triggered from a keyboard, et voila!  The people sing a little ditty together.  Nicely done!

Vi Hart blows my mind (again)

In this video, at first it seems as if Vi Hart is trying to work through some broken relationship with an existential exploration of self in a poem.  Then she repeats the poem and it turns out that it is indeed about a confusing and sometimes upsetting relationship, but not the kind of relationship you probably imagined the first time through.  This video requires a little bit of advanced math understanding, but wow!  Outstanding Vi... simply outstanding.
Monika suggests that this might need to be made into a country song, while i think it should have been filmed in black and white... very Film Noir-style.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

There's a Museum of PEZ Memoribilia?? Who knew?

You know, it doesn't matter how long I live around here, I'm always finding out about new sites and points of interest.  For example, did you know that nearby is the  Burlingame Museum of PEZ Memorabilia?  Who knew?  It's not large, however, they do have a 7' 10" tall, working  PEZ dispenser replica.  Apparently this has been a point of some contention.  While it does hold the Guiniess Book of World records(as of 2008 anyway) record for the Worlds Working PEZ Candy Dispenser, it also caused PEZ to sue Gary Doss, the owner, and demand that he destroy the replica because it was unauthorized and they didn't want to be responsible if it suddenly started biting people or tipped over onto someone.  A judge dismissed the case in 2010.  Meanwhile Gary Doss has expanded his enterprise to include the Classic Toy Museum and the Banned Toy Museum.
Time Magazine has named this "A Top 50 American Roadside Attraction."  A PEZ museum huh?  Sure.   Why not?

San Francisco Bay from above

I like this view of the SF Bay Area from above.  It was made with a very fancy stabilized camera platform and a Red Epic camera.  AS far as I can tell, both items are carved of unobtainium and unicorn horns.  Sure they are expensive, but they do capture something about the place that reminds me why we like living here.  I hope you enjoy it too.   One of these days, I hope we'll do the poor man's version of this with a quadcopter and a GoPro.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Happy April Fools!

According to Google Analytics, right now there are 41 visitors from the International Space Station looking at the Digital Diner website.  Since there aren't 41 astronauts on the International Space Station,  I presume they have invited some alien friends over for a little internet surfing party... Or maybe it's just another in the long line of April Fools jokes hitting the net today.  In case you've missed any, here are a few that we thing are worth checking out.

Google has been the most busy of everyone...

You Tube - where all the videos submitted up until now have just been entries in a contest...

Google Nose

Google Levity

Of course other folks have a sense of humor too.  Try some of these:

Virgin announced a glass bottom airplane.

ThinkGeek announced the Eye of Sauron Desk Lamp

Sony announced products for pets

BMW apparently introduced the limited edition BMW P.R.A.M. (Postnatal Royal Auto Mobile). Among other things, it comes with N.A.P.P.I.E. (Nanny-Assisting Petrol-Powered Injection Engine).