Friday, September 30, 2011

IgNobel prizes

This IgNobel awards were given out this week.  They are annual awards given out by the people at Improbable Research for work that makes you laugh then makes you think.  This year there were a couple of winners that I liked:

CHEMISTRY PRIZE: Makoto Imai, Naoki Urushihata, Hideki Tanemura, Yukinobu Tajima, Hideaki Goto, Koichiro Mizoguchi and Junichi Murakami of JAPAN, for determining the ideal density of airborne wasabi (pungent horseradish) to awaken sleeping people in case of a fire or other emergency, and for applying this knowledge to invent the wasabi alarm.
REFERENCE: US patent application 2010/0308995 A1. Filing date: Feb 5, 2009.

LITERATURE PRIZE: John Perry of Stanford University, USA, for his Theory of Structured Procrastination, which says: To be a high achiever, always work on something important, using it as a way to avoid doing something that's even more important.
REFERENCE: "How to Procrastinate and Still Get Things Done," John Perry, Chronicle of Higher Education, February 23, 1996. Later republished elsewhere under the title "Structured Procrastination."
ATTENDING THE CEREMONY: Colleague Deborah Wilkes accepted the prize on behalf of Professor Perry.

PHYSIOLOGY PRIZE: Anna Wilkinson (of the UK), Natalie Sebanz (of THE NETHERLANDS, HUNGARY, and AUSTRIA), Isabella Mandl (of AUSTRIA) and Ludwig Huber (of AUSTRIA) for their study "No Evidence of Contagious Yawning in the Red-Footed Tortoise."
REFERENCE: 'No Evidence Of Contagious Yawning in the Red-Footed Tortoise Geochelone carbonaria," Anna Wilkinson, Natalie Sebanz, Isabella Mandl, Ludwig Huber, Current Zoology, vol. 57, no. 4, 2011. pp. 477-84.

A really long webcast of the entire event is here... but you have to have a lot of time to watch it.

Monday, September 26, 2011

QR Cookies

How about a QR code of cookies?
If we wanted to make a QR code of something, what should it be and what should the QR code say?

Slinky Physics

This is pretty fun.  The question is, what does the bottom of a slinky do when you let go of the top?  Watch the video and find out.  One thing that I find kind of weird is some of the words they use.  They talk about moving "information" and when the bottom of the slinky "knows" that is is no longer supported.  What do you think of that?

Book Review- The Throne of Fire

A dwarf god, their driver? A girl locked in a sarcophagus made of water? Join Carter and Sadie on a quest to rescue and find a god who has gone out of his mind.  The Throne of Fire by  Rick Riordan  is a book that you will love, if you like mysteries and myths.

Book Review- Forest Born

People speaking, fire speaking, tree speaking, water speaking, and wind speaking.  Are they wonders or curses?  Forest Born by Shannon Hale is a book that will fill up you mind with new ideas.  Venture out of your home forest with Rin. Learn about the world, powers and curses.  If somebody is trying to kidnap the prince, should you run or fight?  Someone can control you with her voice, making you do things you dread.  Read this book to get sucked into the world of Rin and her family.

Book Review- The Red Pyramid

The Red Pyramid   By Rick Riordan is an fun filled book, that I would recommend to people who like mythical fiction.  Learn about the Egyptian gods along with Sadie and Carter, practice spells next to the family.  Learn about hosts and what you are hosting.   The Red Pyramid is a wonderful book that you can't put down.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Book Review- Wings


Every night on a full moon, Tamsin dances a particular dance. Tamsin has sparkling freckles, and pointed ears. Very different from most humans. What is she? I would recommend the book Wings by E.D. Baker to people who want a fairy tale with an exciting twist. Getting trapped in the fey, is it for you?

Protein Folding Games

Sometimes solving difficult problems really comes down to being able to ask the right question in the right way.  Once you've done that the answer emerges.  These folks took a complex problem, protein folding, and made a video game of it.   Then many game players were able to do what gamers do... optimize (usually for points of some sort).  They were able to put together a better solution than the scientists have been able to so far.

It makes me think that if we could come up with a good problem to throw at something like the Mechanical Turk, where people compete to solve problems for money, maybe we could solve some really big problems.

10,000 steps

There seem to be a lot of people saying that we should aim for 10,000 steps every day.,9171,588911,00.html

Do you think you can get there?

Fame and Talent

What do you guys think of this article?  Its about a famous musician who plays in a subway station to see if anyone notices.  I found it pretty interesting.

Thursday, September 22, 2011


I saw this on my walk today. It must have been almost 5 feet long

Learning Morse Code

Here's a pretty interesting way to learn Morse Code. Its pretty cool.  You just put your pencil at the START mark.  If you hear a "dah" move down and left.  If you hear a "dit" move down and right.  Keep doing this until you hear the space between the letters.  At that point, your pencil is on the letter that has been sent.  This sure seems like a really good way to get started and quickly get reasonable results.  I'm going to have to try it.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

High Speed Photography

I've always liked those pictures that freeze a fleeting instant of time; a breaking glass, a popping balloon.  In this project, they use an Arduino to sense a loud sound (the breaking glass or popping balloon) and then triggers a flash to capture the action.  It seems to work pretty well.  I suppose you could make all sorts of other types of triggers too, like when something breaks a beam of light or something like that.  It does require taking the picture in a dark room, so just to go over the top, they control the room lights too.
It looks like a really fun Arduino project.  I think we should build it sometime.

Aeronautical Engineering Class

I am taking an aeronautical engineering class from this retired aeronautical engineer named Norm Stein.  One of the helicopters he designed is in the Hiller Aviation Museum.  He knows everything that has to do with airplanes and helicopters.  In the first half of class he would teach basic plane theory.  For the second half we all would work on our own balsa wood and tissue paper model airplanes.  So far we have learned about wing load, three types of drag and ways to calculate them.  One of the kids is designing his own plane during class.

The teacher has a homemade glider in his side yard.  It is set up on a cable system so that it can be raised and flown down the cable.  He lets his students fly it after class.  I got to fly it yesterday and recorded acceleration data on my phone.  It was fun because it had all of the controls of normal airplanes (for example, elevator, ailerons, and rudder)  It did not go fast enough for the controls to make too much of a difference (eg. you could not hit a tree because you turned too far). 

Here I am on the glider. 

Here is a graph of the acceleration data.  In the beginning I put my phone into my pocket.  The other kids in the class pulled the glider back.  And then they let go of the glider (with me in it).  The phone was supposed to be recording data the whole time.  For some reason it stopped recording data and then resumed recording at the end.  There is about 10 seconds of missing data.  I am going to fly on it again and try to get better data.

Recording Rocket Data

With the data from the rocket launch, do you think there is a way to feed the data into an animation package and generate a video like this?

Monday, September 19, 2011

Homeschooling Advantages

Looks like Homeschoolers in Canada perform better than their public school counterparts...

Open Rocket

There is a really cool program for designing and simulating model rockets called OpenRocket.  You can input the dimensions and specs of your rocket in great detail, then you can run simulations of it.  Its pretty amazing.

Bix, you should consider inputing your rocket design and running some simulations.  It might give you ideas for design features you'd like to try.

Note: Be careful when downloading this app.  It goes to a page that asks you to put in a bunch of information, but if you read carefully, you don't have to enter anything at all and the download has already started.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Computer Take Apart

In order to keep cool, computers need to blow air through them.  The dust in the air that gets blown through your computer gets stuck on heatsinks and other obstructions.  When they get clogged up, the airflow will decrease, causing the computer to heat up.  This decreases the life span of the computer.  After time the dust can get into the fan's bearings causing it to make noise.

My computer's left fan started making loud noise and vibrating my computer yesterday.  I took my computer apart and found that it was so full of dust that the heatsinks were blocked.  After cleaning, the fan was still making noise.  That meant it was ruined.  Luckily I found one in another computer I could use.

Here I am taking my computer apart.

This is a picture of the inside of my computer.

The dust on the heatsink.

Now, the heatsink after being cleaned. 

This simple cleanup and replacement resulted in a useable Mac. 

Learning About Arduinos

Here is an interesting new source for learning about Arduinos!

Check it out here, and make sure that you see the PDF comic.

Thinking About Cameras

Every year cameras are getting higher resolution.  More pixels.  More detail.  At some point it will change what pictures mean and can be used for.

What happens when all images look like this?

Do you think a structural engineer can tell things about this building by examining the cracks in the ceiling? 

Do you think that if someone ran an optical character recognition software on the image, that they get the names of all the books in the library and tell you exactly where they were?  Could a library use a camera like this to tell instantly if books are misfiled or checked out or missing or where they are?  Could it be tied to a live digital card catalog?

What else can you do with such hig resolution images?

Bizarre Tape Video

This is kind of weird and fun... How'd they do that?

Tape Generations from johan rijpma on Vimeo.

Fun Fountain

I like these fountains...

Can anyone tell me why the words get stratched out as they fall??

From YouTube:

Saturday, September 10, 2011


A bag I made out of a old tee shirt:

Intro to the Digital Diner Blog

This blog started as an internal blog for our family of four.  We used it as a place to share interesting things that we found on the web and to document our projects.  We decided that there was enough content here that we should make it available to our family and friends, but this is still mostly just for ourselves.

If you don't know us, welcome!  We live in the Silicon Valley area of California where we homeschool our two kids (here known as Widdakay -12 and Bix - 10).  We would love to hear from you if you find any of our posts interesting.