Saturday, December 31, 2011

Lick Observatory

Today, for the last day of 2011, we went to the Lick Observatory.  It is about 45 minutes up twisty-turny roads from San Jose to Mt Hamilton where the multiple telescopes and their domes reside.  There must have been about 6 different domes housing everything from the massive 120 inch spectrograph Shane Telescope to the new 2.4 meter Automatic Planet Finder.

Air Swimmers

These look like a lot of fun.  Radio controlled fish the swim through the air!

Friday, December 30, 2011

Nice View

Over the holiday we made a little film called "Nice View."  Its nothing complicated, but we hope you all enjoy the result.   Be sure to watch it in high resolution (720p or 1080p) for best effect by clicking near the bottom of the video where it says 360p.  Also click on the full screen button in the lower right corner.

The movie was created with a Sony NEX-5 camera and iMovie.  The music was created with GarageBand.  With these simple, consumer tools, we were able to follow a process very much like a big budget Hollywood movie.  We shot multiple takes with different camera angles.  We were able to write the music, then edit the video to fit the music (and edit the music to fit the video too).  We edited dialog, music and effects.  We even did dialog replacement for the one and only line of dialog (is it a line of monolog then?).

The whole idea was to make a movie of the simplest concept that would allow us to follow all the steps that the big guys do.  From that perspective the project was a success.  I also must say that its pretty amazing what quality you can get from consumer grade tools.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Digital Devices can Ruin Your Health

OK, we definitely like our gadgets here at the Digital Diner, but, as with anything, one has to watch out for the signs of overuse.  This infographic has some good points about all the ways that mobile devices are bad for you.  There are certainly a few things to think about.  It probably wont stop me from using anything, but it may help influence my behavior a bit.

via holykaw

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Bikes and Design

Yesterday we went for a ride on our bikes since Bix got a fancy new mountain bike for Christmas.  It was certainly fun.  Bicycles are amazing machines.  As we rode along, it reminded me of young Steve Jobs' concept that Apple was building "bicycles for the mind."  The reason that this analogy captivated Steve Jobs was that he read a Scientific American article that talked about the efficiency of locomotion of various animals.  Condors were most efficient and humans finished somewhere in the middle of the pack.  However, someone at Scientific American had the brilliant idea to compare the efficiency of a human riding a bicycle to the other animals and the cycling human was off the charts.  To Steve, the bicycle symbolized man's ability to use tools to gain an advantage.  He felt (rightly so, I think) that computers would ultimately be this type of tool for our minds.

That's fun and all, but not why I choose to write about this topic today.  Bix and Widdikay both have fancy new-fangled bikes compared to the old school bikes that Monika and I ride.  Seeing how dated our bikes were looking started me thinking.  While they did look old, it was intriguing to me that the actual design of the  bicycle hasn't changed much in a long time (certainly nothing like the changes that computers have gone through, but that is a different story).  Sure, we've come a long way since the high-wheeler of yesteryear, but the modern chain-drive, diamond-frame design has been around for over 100 years.  The geometry of the frame has been tweaked a bit over the years and specialized for different purposes, but the overall design has remained stable - possibly because we have hit on a very efficient design.

Bike Concept from Yanko Design

When I saw the new bike concept above, I was immediately captivated.  It really does look like something different.  It's beautiful.  The lines are not those of a standard bike, but the human still fits on it in the same old fashion way.  Of course, this design is completely impractical.  The wheelbase is so short that it would likely be difficult to control at high speeds.  That wouldn't be too much of problem since it would be very difficult to get any speed since it would take several rotations of the pedals to get the wheel to turn a single revolution.  Actually, there is so much rake (angle) on the front head tube that it is likely difficult to control at any speed.  Still the design is a thing of beauty from an artistic perspective.  I find it interesting how some designers get caught up in the art of their creations and lose track of the usefulness and practicality.   To me, the most beautiful designs are those that are artistic and functional.

The bike above is designed by Yanko designs who recently published their top designs of 2011.  Their collection includes several interesting designs; some practical, some not so much.  Which is your favorite?

Monday, December 26, 2011

Why is Saffron so expensive?

Recently we celebrated St. Lucia Day (The Festival of Lights).  A part of this tradition is the always yummy saffron buns.  The distinctive taste of saffron is a key part of the flavor of these buns, but saffron is alway expensive and hard to come by.  Apparently it can run up to $1000/pound.  The folks over at put this into perspective with their article that explains why.  You see saffron comes from the crocus flowers (Crocus sativus).  Apparently each plant produces four flowers per year and each flower produces three saffron threads.   That means that you can get a maximum of 12 threads per year, per plant if all goes well.  One pound of saffron is usually 50,000 - 75,000 threads, so that can be up to 25,000 flowers.  As you can imagine, with each thread being manually picked, it's a labor intensive process, not to mention that it takes a football field sized area to produce a pound of saffron.  To me, knowing this will just make those saffron buns taste all the more unique.

via Nomilicious

Wednesday, December 21, 2011


Murmuration from Sophie Windsor Clive on Vimeo.

A collection of starlings is called a murmuration.  The video is a chance encounter with a murmuration.  Quite a spectacle.

Thanks for the link Annemarie.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

The Modern Woman

A very cute video entitled "The Modern Woman"  

The video shows a "work day" for this young woman.  I think the video is well done, funny, and thoughtful.  Watch and enjoy!

More Earth-like Planets Discovered

It was exciting enough that the planet Kepler-22B was discovered right around the time that we got to see Frank Drake talk just over a week ago, but today NASA announced the discovery of two new earth-size planets.  Kepler-22B has just the right orbit to be a good temperature for life, but they believe it may not be able to support a rocky surface because of its size (about 2.5 times Earth's diameter).  The newest planets are more earth-like in size, but they are very close to their sun, so they are unlikely to have water in liquid form.  Also, obvious to all of you who know Kepler's laws of motion, if these planets are very close to their sun, they will have very short orbits, so a year there is is between 6 and 20 days here.  I just had a birthday, and while I can see that it would be nice to have a lot more birthdays, I'm really glad that I don't live on Kepler-20f because I would be 2872 years old!  Since this system is about 1000 light years away, its unlikely that I'll get to visit there anyway.

None of these planets are outstanding candidates for life as we know it on Earth, but its really exciting that the Kepler spacecraft is finding so many interesting planets so quickly.  It really is starting to seem quite likely there are many Earth-like planets out there.

Read more about the Kepler-20 star system here.

The History of Santa

I remember as a child being a little confused about why it was that nobody seemed to know all the details about Santa.  Well, now I see that its completely understandable since what we know of him has come from so many places...


I really like the little Minute Physics videos.  They are entertaining and informative.  This episode tells you everything you need to know about Neutrinos in two minutes.  Watch and then impress your friends with your deep physics knowledge.

If you like it, watch more here.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Beautiful Exploding Ornaments

We've talked before about high speed photography, and seen some amazing examples of the incredible results you can get.  Now, in keeping with the season, a fellow Alan Sailer has a few interesting shots of exploding Christmas tree ornaments.  

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Another Youngster TED talk

I'm really starting to like these TED talks by relative youngsters.  This time its 11 year old, homeschooler, Birk Baehr talking about the food system.  Go get em Birk.

Friday, December 16, 2011

New Amateur Balloon Record

Some time back, we were involved in a weather balloon experiment and I must say, it was a lot of fun.  Our balloon went up to nearly 100,000 ft (considered "near space") and covered almost 100 miles in its flight.  The flight ended, as most of these do, with the planned popping of the balloon.  You see, our weather balloon that started at about 6 feet in diameter ended up about three times that size in the thin atmosphere at those high altitudes. As the balloon ascends, eventually it's too much for it to take and it pops.  This allows us to recover our payload which we track with ham radios using a system called APRS.
At the time I remember thinking that if we could control the altitude properly, we could keep the balloon from rising all the way to its bursting altitude and thus keep it drifting with the winds to cover a really long distance.  Well, the folks at the California Near Space Project have done just that in a rather spectacular way.  They launched from San Jose, CA (not far from where we launched our own balloon) and three days later it landed in the Mediterranean Sea near Spain after crossing the entire US and then the Atlantic Ocean.
I suppose the next goal should be to go all the way around the world.  Anyone want to try?

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Reindeer Facts

We saw quite a few reindeer this summer in northern Norway.  Around this time of year, even here in California people start to think about reindeer.  After all, Rudolph has to be in top form to get Santa around to all those homes on Christmas night.  I don't know about what populations of reindeers can fly, but for covering a lot of ground, reindeer are a good choice.  Some populations are known to migrate over 3100 miles a year.   That's an average of 23 miles [~46,000 human steps for you FitBit wearers] per day!  Its more than any other known terrestrial animal.  They can run at 50 miles per hour and swim at 6.2 mph.

They are fascinating animals and there are plenty more interesting facts in 11 Things You Might Like to Know About Reindeer.


I just learned about a game that has apparently been around for some time, but somehow I missed it.  It's called Wikiraces and it sounds like a lot of fun.

Here's how it works.
First, get a group of  players together in the same room each with their own web browser.
Pick a web page from Wikipedia as your starting point.
Pick another unrelated or random Wikipedia page as a goal.
Everyone loads up the start page on their web browser.
At the signal, each player starts clicking on links trying to find a path to the goal page.
Players are not allowed to type (no searches), use the back button or any other browser navigation features (just click on links)
First player to the goal page wins!

Of course the official rules are available on Wikipedia.

I think we might need to try this tonight.  If you've played, let us know how it went.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Isaac Newton Doodled in His Notebook!

Isaac Newton is arguably one of the most influential scientist/mathematicians in the history of civilization.  His contributions (Gravitational Theory, Calculus etc) have gone further to change how we think than just about anyone.  University of Cambridge has just scanned some books of his and made them available on the web, so now you can look at the actual pages he wrote for yourself.  

I find it fascinating to see the pages he wrote 350 years ago, before he was famous.  Most impressive to me is that if you look at page 5 of his Trinity College Notebook, you see what looks to me like a doodle!  Newton doodles?  I hadn't really thought much about what he must have been like as a young man in college.  Did his mind wander?  Did he think visually?  To me, his handwriting looks organized, but not overly neat or orderly.  It is clear that before computers and calculators, mathematics involved a lot of calculations.   For some reason, I'm particularly pleased to see the places where he scribbles things out and makes corrections.  

See for yourself here.

A New Way to Get to Space

Now that the shuttle is retired, its time to figure out a new, cost effective, safe way to get things and people into space.  Paul Allen seems to have his mind set on a combination airplane and rocket that can fly from an airport and then launch the rocket in mid air.

Tis the Season

I'm used to hearing music from the Nutcracker around this time of year, but I must say, I've never heard it on a glass harp... wine glasses really.  Its a nice performance with a very unique sound.

Happy Festival of Lights

Every year on Dec 13 we celebrate St Lucia Day.  It's a Swedish tradition that the oldest girl in the family dresses in a white gown with a red sash then brings coffee and saffron buns to the parents in bed at first light.  Well, last night we were up late making these saffron buns, and we have a busy day today, but still, it's still nice to take a few moments out to celebrate light here on one of the darkest days of the year.  So Happy Festival of Lights to all of you.

Monday, December 12, 2011

The Secret Cure

It turns out that there is a miracle treatment for many diseases and ailments that face us these days.  It's astoundingly powerful, inexpensive and easily attainable, yet so many people who need it don't get it.  You may want to watch to find out whether or not you could benefit from it.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Frank Drake Talk

Here is Frank Drake pointing up at aliens.  

On Friday my family went to a talk by Dr. Frank Drake at Foothill College.  He talked about the possible ways to communicate with intelligent beings on Kepler 22b,  probably an Earthlike planet that is 600 light years away.  He told us how SETI (Search for ExtraTerrestrial Intelligence) gets its data.  Also he talked about how we are transmitting less total radio power out from our planet and how it will change the likelihood of aliens finding us.  Of course, he explained the Drake Equation.  It was a little bit inspiring for me to start running things like SETI@home on my computer.

Here is a cool video that shows all the planets that the Kepler telescope has confirmed as of February.

This is what the electrical radiation looks like coming from Earth over time.  

This is how we can communicate with aliens using a gravitational lens.  

Here me and my sister are with Frank Drake

Lunar Eclipse

On Saturday December 10 at 6 am, the earth started to cross the path of the sun's light.  Our family had gone outside, in the cold darkness.  Then we saw a glowing red object, the moon.  The light from the sun is scattered by the Earth's atmosphere causing the moon to turn red.  A lunar eclipse occurred. The moon was covered by the shadow of the Earth.  Here are some pictures we took:

Friday, December 9, 2011


There is a new hardware prototyping platform out called TinkerForge.  It looks like they are trying to create an Arduino-like development platform that is easier to use.  You build things out of special function 4x4cm bricks and bricklets (parts that connect to the bricks).  The hardware components snap together and software allows you to perform basic functions without even programming.  However, if you do want to program it supports C, C++, C#, Java and Python.  Before you knowThis looks like it might be a fun new platform.

via Engadget

Lunar Eclipse Tonight!

If you happen to be up at 3:30am tonight (here in California anyway 11:33 GMT, Dec 10, 2011), look up into the sky and you may see an interesting site as the shadow of the Earth passes across the moon.  The entire event will last almost 6 hours, with the greatest coverage occurring between 6:06am and 6:57am (14:06 - 14:57 GMT) just about the time the moon sets here.  As you might expect, NASA has a plethora of information available for you to read here.
Durring a lunar eclipse the moon changes from a bright, full moon to a dim, often reddish, disc in the sky.

Disaster in Norway

We had a good time in Norway this summer, but I'm sorry to report that conditions have changed since we were there.  There is a serious disaster underway.  Of course, I'm talking about the butter shortage. According to Reuters, a new low-carb diet in Norway has got people there eating much more fatty food, mostly butter.  Sales were up 20% in October, then 30% in November.  Apparently a wet summer means that milk supplies were already low, and now, just in time for holiday cooking, Norway is out of butter! Read more in the Reuters article.

I've said it before.  Butter may kill you, but its probably worth it.  Be sure you spell my name right when you quote me on that one.

via Gizmodo

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Flying the way you do in dreams

Here's something that we didn't do on our recent trip to Norway.  Maybe next time...

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Mythbusters Oops

We're Mythbuster fans here at Digital Diner.  I've met with the Mythbusters on several occasions and I can tell you from experience that they are very safety conscious.  In fact, it was Jamie who showed me how to handle big magnets.  If I would have listened, perhaps I would have avoided the scar on my thumb.
Anyway, despite their attention to safety, accidents happen.  Explosions and firearms are dangerous even in the most careful hands.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Have you ever seen whales sleeping?

I never really thought about it, but I suppose it makes sense that whales need to sleep.  They also need to breathe.  So how do they do it while they are out there in the middle of the ocean?  Watch the video to find out.

Note, the second video is one about the sleeping whales.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Participatory Science

These are exciting times for the amateur scientist.  Thanks to the web and the power of crowdsourcing, many scientists are turning to us regular folks to help them with their big problems Mechanical Turk-style.  Last week at NASA, Brian Day told me about a web site called Zooniverse that pulls together several of these projects into a single place where you can go to add your contribution to science.  There are several projects going on that are looking for volunteers to do what humans do best, find patterns and similarities between things.  Most of these projects are astronomical in nature, but they are branching out to do more.  After the break, I describe few of  the 11 current projects which need your help.

Learn to Speak Whale

You know the scene in Finding Nemo where Dory says, "I know how to speak whale!" and then proceeds to speak in long droning whale tones.  Well, this is your chance to learn to speak whale and advance science at the same time.  A group of scientists has put together a web site called whaleFM to help identify similarities between whale calls.  They want you to help.  By going to this site and listening to the different whale songs, they hope that you can identify similarities that they can study in further detail.  So, you actually help marine researchers understand what the whales are saying by going through the site and choosing matches.  Its fun, and its science.  Try it out!

The site is sponsored by Scientific American and Zooniverse.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

37-Best Ever Science Photos

Life magazine has been around for over 75 years and they have always been know for amazing photography, so when they produce something called the 37-Best Ever Science Photos, you know its going to be good.  Take a look for yourself here.

Face Swapping

I always think it is interesting to see the evolution of technology.  Some tasks seem impossible.  Then someone figures out how to do it and for a little while only scientists can do it.  Then it finds a business case and only people with a lot of money can do it.  Then eventually it gets to the point where everyone can do it and what was once magic becomes common place.
This seems to be what is happening with some video manipulation technology, in the case of the video here, face swapping.  Yes, the ability to put one person's face on another person's head in a video.  It turns out that for some time, Hollywood has been able to do this.  Soon, you will be able to do it too.  Check it out.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Dancing Science

Now here is an idea I haven't seen before:  No more PowerPoint presentations to explain complex ideas.  Instead, use dance!

John Bohannon at TEDx Brussels.

Minecraft and Game Boy Super Mario

If you don't know Minecraft or Game Boy, you should probably skip this post.

Ok, we have a little fun with Minecraft here at Digital Diner, and there is certainly some Game Boy playing in our history.  This puts me in a position to appreciate what has been done here, but I must admit, it seems more than a little bit excessive.

A little insight into how this was created after the break

A Warning to Parents

It may already be too late for our children.

via tek1now

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Extreme Modelling

This is a really extreme model train set up.  How long do you think it will take them to build the whole world in miniature?  It definitely looks like something to check out next time you're in Hamburg.

Slow Motion

We have already seen some of the interesting things that one can do with a slow motion camera.  The problem is that those camera's are expensive.  The Phantom that takes some gorgeous pictures, is over $10k.  The good news is that, while it doesn't always work, software can achieve much the same effect.  Take a look at the video below that was created with 60 frames/second video and interpolated into 4000 frames/second art.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Talks and Events and Other Features

We've added a few new features to the Digital Diner Blog.  You may have noticed that on the right hand side of this blog is an area with links to old posts to help you navigate around.  What you might NOT have noticed is a couple of new features just below that navigation area.

1 - You can now subscribe to this blog via email.  If you sign up on the right side, you will be notified by email whenever new posts appear here.

2 - We now have a calendar of upcoming events and talks.  Most of them are here in the bay area, but some are more broadly available via webcasts, etc.  You can also subscribe to this calendar directly here.


Monday, November 28, 2011

Stanford vs. Berkeley Volleyball

On Friday, we went to a women's volleyball game at Stanford.  It was Stanford vs. Berkeley.  The match was intense, Stanford won the first game, by two points.  The second game Berkeley won by three points and the 3rd and last game Berkeley won by 10 points.  It was amazing!  The teams were evenly matched, so the crowd went wild.  All of the players were very tall, the shortest person was 5' 10".  Outstanding!

Here are some pictures:

Book: Your Life, Uploaded by Gordon Bell and Jim Gemmell

Imagine that everyone has cameras, microphones and other sensors recording their every move.  They would be able to remember everything, identify health trends and enhance their education.  The technology to do this is becoming available right now.  This book by Gordon Bell and Jim Gemmell of Microsoft Research explains some of the ways we can get there and some of the challenges along the way.  It is about automatically digitally recording everything you do into one database.

I read the book and I thought it was just OK.  It has a lot of good ideas in it, and it is a good guide for helping you to start lifelogging.  I liked all the ideas that are presented, but I got the main idea in the first 50-100 pages.  After that it seemed repetitive and i did not get any new good ideas.  It seems like you could start the book anywhere and it will be interesting for the first 50-100 pages that you read.  My main complaint was that it did not go into how you could search and categorize all the data.  All this information is useless if you can't search it.

This book has previously been published under the name Total Recall.
You can get it here:

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Periodic Table of Videos

QR Code Periodic Table of Elements

So you've seen those strange 2D bar code-like things that are appearing all over the place.  As you may know, they are called QR codes.  With the proper application on your smart phone you can read the codes and get information such as a web site, location, phone number or message.
Well, these folks took the QR codes and created a pretty interesting periodic table with them.  There is a QR code for each element or the periodic table, and each QR code encodes a URL to a video about that element.  I've only looked at a couple so far, but they look pretty interesting.  (See their whole site here)
To try it out, click on the image above to view it in full size and point your smartphone camera at it while running a QR decoding program and you should be taken to a different element's video for each one you decode.  Try it out.  Its fun!

Bonus Question:
Who can tell me what is encoded in this QR code?  Answer in the comments.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Ham Radio

Back in the days before Skype and Twitter and Facebook and all of this so-called social media, there were geeks who connected to geeks on all around the world and talked about geeky stuff using a completely different technology.  Its called Amateur Radio (or Ham Radio).  You may not know much about it, but apparently there are more of you than ever who do.  The latest report FCC and the American Radio Relay League (ARRL) says that there are over 700,000 Hams in the US.  That is an all time high.

You may think that ham radio isn't so important these days.  After all, you can talk to people on the other side of the world through your computer, so what's the thrill of doing that with some old fashion radio?  Well, I can tell you that radio technology is becoming more and more important to us with our cellphones, WiFi, BlueTooth, cordless phones etc.  Many of these technologies are direct descendants of technology created by ham radio hobbyists, and I can tell you that they are still pushing the envelope and making new inventions that will change our lives in the future.  It takes a little bit of work to learn, but it can open doors to a wide array of interesting pursuits, from helping with emergency communication, to talking to extra terrestrials (well astronauts anyway) or even building your own satellite.  There are plenty of classes to help you get started in ham radio, and it doesn't have to cost very much to get started either.  Used radios can be very inexpensive and a wire tossed in a tree can be enough antenna to get around world.

If I sound biased, it may be because all of us here at Digital Diner have our ham licenses - Bix & Monika - Technician class,  Widdakay & Roger - General class.

Congrats hams!  It is your time!  Stand up and let your geek show!

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Quantum Camp Rocks!

I'm a star!
Quantum Camp, the place where I take a few awesome classes, posted a video of me reviewing them:

A-mazing Robot

For a long time there have been contests where robots find their way through a mazes.  The performance of some of these little gadgets has gotten to be very impressive.  Just take a look at the video.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Hacking Siri

Well, it was just a matter of time.  Some folks in France have started doing a bit of hacking to understand Apple's speech-based digital assistant, Siri.  Now that there is a basic understanding of the protocol, someone else has created a proxy server that basically acts as a man in the middle to intercept and process certain commands, and thus extend and personalize Siri's functions.

He used this to control his thermostat, but I think that the framework itself is pretty interesting.  It means that you could extend Siri to do custom actions that  you define.

He's posted the code on GitHub, but its still pretty early and there's a long way to go before it will be generally useful, still I could imagine some scenarios where it would be fun to control the house or other local devices via voice commands.

This is not what Apple intended, because they like to keep very tight control, so it's likely to cause a response from Apple.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

100 Posts

This is our 100th post on the blog.  Thanks for reading.

Are You Smarter Than a Computer?

Watson playing Jeopardy against 2 sad, insufficiently smart humans
I will start off with NO, you are not smarter than a computer - at least at Jeopardy.

I went to a talk about a computer called Watson made by IBM at the computer history museum.  It is a computer that plays Jeopardy.  It has over 2000 cores running at 3.25Ghz and 15Tb of ram.  The actual database of all the information it uses for it's choices is only about 100Gb. It includes all all sorts of documents including a full copy of Wikipedia and several dictionaries and thesauruses. 

Afterwards Watson played against some Jeopardy contestants.  It is really cool and annoying to watch it trounce the human competition including the 500 people in the audience.  After Waston got in the lead, whenever a human contestant would buzz in incorrectly, the host would let them have a second chance.  The contestants even started listening to the crowd's answers.  The crowd could see a display that showed what Watson thought of as the top answers.  It became 500+ people against a computer, and even while cheating off of Waston's display we lost by a significant amount. 

It was sort of scary watching a computer dominate this game of human trivia questions.  This computer does not even "know" what a TV is and still can answer the questions about TV shows better than any human who has watched those shows.  This is rather depressing, but maybe the technology will eventually help us get better medical diagnosis, and legal advice. 

Wikipedia has a good article on IBM Watson:

The Connected Car

Time for another future concept video.  I think its kind of interesting to see how waves technology drift through different industries.  Areas like the auto industry are always looking to adopt new technologies that might revolutionize their business.  How will the internet connectivity change cars?  For some its all about cars that can talk to each other and easily route you around traffic.  For Ford, its about connecting to the cloud and managing your music, health and power consumption.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Be positive, specific and AWESOME

The Awesome is What We Totally Are Team

Humans, in order to be successful, should try to make a good impression on others.  In order to do that, you need to be positive.  Being positive means changing the world around you to be better.  Point out the good things people do and thank them.  While being positive, be specific.  Don't generalize.

Think about how you sound to others.  Do you sound spoiled?  Does it seem like you're bragging?  Do you sound unintelligent and say um and ah?

Doing these things is hard work, so don't be disappointed if it's difficult.  The important thing is to try.  If you succeed, it will make you awesome!

One more thing.  Remember that there's a difference between knowing and doing.  Knowing how to be awesome is not the same as being awesome.  So, get out there and do something!

Here's a site a few friends and I made:


Friday, November 18, 2011

A Fun Thanksgiving Video

This very creative and entertaining math teacher has done several of these videos that play with real and virtual in a fun way.  Today's topic is Thanksgiving.  Enjoy.

He's done several other holidays including Halloween and April Fools.  Very creative and fun stuff.  I've included a few more of my favorites here.

Health and Wealth - Visualizing Data

Hans Rosling is a master of using data and graphics to show the health and wealth of the world.  By animating the data he shows how things have changed over time.  I really like his approach to make it very clear what is happening.  There is a definite trend towards health and wealth in the world...  That's a reassuring thing.  I also think its really interesting to see the effect of wars and disease on populations and how it makes their bubbles bounce around.  Take a look for yourself.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Hydrophobic Spray

Never Wet is a soon to be product that allows you to cover things with an extremely hydrophobic substance so that they essentially don't get wet.


A 17 year old in Honduras has designed a low cost system (<$300) for eye tracking built into a pair of glasses.  It is accurate enough that disabled people who don't have use of their limbs can use it to spell out words on a computer just by looking at the letters.

Systems like this exist, but usually are much more expensive.  He is releasing the code as open source in hopes of speeding up development.  You can read more about the method he used, called Electroculogram, or see his rather impressive documentation.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Robot Cyclist

This robot can ride a bicycle!  It actually balances and rides just like we do.
There are a couple of things that I think are interesting beyond the fact that a robot is riding a bicycle.  The first is that if you look closely at the first few frames of the video, you'll see that the robot starts with his foot down.  He actually lifts it up to start just the way you or I would.  Very nice.
Second is the comment the designer makes about how he thinks that skills are just as important as intelligence in AI.  To me, this sounded very much like what Jim Wiltens says about the difference between "knowing" and "doing."  His point is that in general what you do is much more important than what you know.  It made me think that the same may be true in artificial intelligence.
Regardless, a little foot tall humanoid robot that can ride a bicycle is pretty cute.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Optical Illusion

Ok, this one bugs me a little bit.  Nothing in this image is moving.  It's your brain hallucinating.  Really.  See how wherever you  look, everything is still, but in your peripheral vision its moving?  Now look somewhere else in the image... that part seems to stop moving and other parts will appear to start moving.  If I stare really hard and don't move for a few seconds I can get it to stop moving, but its only for a second.


Its that time of year... the holidays!  Its the time when we eat till we pop.  Still, no matter how much we eat, there are always leftovers.  Some foods improve with a little time in the fridge - like yummy leftover turkey sandwiches, and I believe cheesecake tastes better on the second day.  Others just quickly turn to a shadow of their former selves.  According to the article below, there is a bit of science to what happens to leftovers to change the taste.

...and here I thought all you had to do was make sure your food doesn't get puffy...

Monday, November 14, 2011

You're Never Too Young to Give a TED Talk

I love TED Talks.  There are so many great ones and they always make you think.  This one made me think, not so much because of the content, but because of how well it was presented.  A 6th grader talks about how he develops iPad and iPhone apps.

If you could give a TED Talk, what would it be about?

How to Tell a Story Visually

For some reason, humans love stories.  It's what most entertainment is based on.  So what makes a good story?  It's not just flowery language or fancy grammar.  It's how all the elements of the story come together to make you feel and how it makes you wonder what is going to happen next.   It's about how the story is told.  I've noticed that some of my favorite stories are ones that are written simply and leave some room for me to fill in the gaps with my imagination.  What they don't say is almost as important as what they do say.  I think this is why some great books just don't translate to plays or movies.  Its hard to translate the parts you do tell and those that you don't tell across different media.  We've already seen a great example of how visual images can augument a story, but telling a complete story visually (without words) is a different challenge.  Still, just as with written stories, its not always great cinematography or dialog that makes a story entertaining.  It is the story itself and how it unfolds.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Space Station Time Lapse

This is a really cool time lapse video taken from the Space Station.  It shows the northern lights from above - which looks really quite amazing.  Take a look for yourself.

Public Silliness

If you could plan a fun public prank, what would it be?

Did You Know Elephants Play Soccer?

Haven't seen this before...

Friday, November 11, 2011

123d Catch

Autodesk introduced a new program today that stitches together a set of photos that you take into a 3D model.

This lets you do things like take pictures of something and then use the model to print a 3D replica of it.  Once you can do that, can the 3D fax machine be far behind?

Happy 11/11/11 11:11!

Its all ones right now!
11/11/11 11:11

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Mini Quadcopter

I found this video showing a mini quadcopter that is very cool.

This is another group who is trying to build another one.

Cool Video

This is a really cool animation that goes with Sir Ken Robinson's talk about education.

The place that does other videos like this is called

The Hands Have it

This is an interesting article about the vision of the future video that I posted earlier.  Basically, it says that the video is NOT very visionary at all.  Instead, from an interaction design point of view, its all about touch screens... and there is so much more to the world than just touch screens.  I must say, I think its a compelling argument.  Follow the link to see what I mean.

um, uh, yeah...

We all do it.  Instead of saying what we really mean, we say "um" and "uh" until our audience is pretty sure we have no idea what we are talking about.  This guy has some ideas for how to eliminate that when you are giving a talk... I don't necessarily agree with everything he says, but I think his techniques are probably worth a try.

Monday, November 7, 2011


Words mean different things to different people.  For most people, "routine" means customary or run of the mill.  My routine involves getting up, showering, eating breakfast and going to work.
For performers, "routine" means a self-contained part of a performance that is well rehearsed and ready to be shown to an audience.  Here are some fun examples.

These news anchors do a little "routine" during the comercial break.

Here are some musicians doing a really nice and well practiced "routine."

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Fun Theory

At the BlackBerry developer conference I saw a talk by a person named Jane McGonigal.  She is a game developer who is trying to use the positive aspects of gaming to make the world a better place.  Her idea is basically quite simple.  If you make a goal fun, people will work harder to achieve it.  She has a TED talk here:

I recently came across a web site where VW is trying to do exactly the same thing.  They are encouraging people to use game theory to make the world a better place.  One of my favorites is the place in Sweden where they turned a speed trap into a game.  Normally, those cameras that take pictures of people who are speeding and send them a speeding ticket are a real nuisance.  In this case they made it into a lottery.  Just as before, if you speed, the camera takes you picture and sends you a ticket with a hefty fine that you need to pay.  However, if you don't speed, the camera also takes your picture.  Its just that in this case it enters you into a lottery.  If you are chosen, you get a share of the money from the people who paid the fines.  Apparently, speeding at the intersection in question was reduced significantly.

They also turned a bottle recycling bin into a game

Even a trash bin can be made fun
(notice that all these videos take place in Sweden)

I suppose even our FitBits are making exercise more fun.  Do you think you could make it fun for people to do things that help the world and each other?

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Happy Palindrome Day!

Today is 11-02-2011!

Quadcopters are old hat

Sure, quadcopters are fun, but these guys built a giant hexidecicopter multi-copter and then sat on it and flew it!  That's pretty exciting and at least a little bit crazy!

I just can't wait until they are able to do some of the other multi-copter maneuvers like the ones below with a person on board.