Monday, October 31, 2011

The Arduino Story

This looks pretty interesting.  Its the story of how Arduinos came to be.  Did you ever wonder where that name came from?  Well, that and plenty of other things are revealed in this story.

Steve Jobs Eulogy

There has been a lot about Steve Jobs in the news since his death.  He certainly had an impact on our world.  So far the most interesting and touching view into his world comes from his sister's Eulogy.  It gives more insight into the kind of person he was than most anything else I've read.

Read it in its entirety here.


I've said it before.  High-speed photography is very cool.  Take a look at what this guy did...  He took a whole bunch of pictures of splashes (I've talked about them before too, but this is different) with some food coloring and fancy lighting.  He got some really cool shots.

Click for more Splashes they amazing!

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Sleep Tracking

So I just finished night one with the new Zeo sleep tracker.  Its not much data yet, but I think its interesting to compare with the FitBit data from the same night.  Since Zeo is tracking brainwaves and FitBit is tracking arm motion, I was curious to see how they compare.  See the graphs below:
Zeo Sleep Data

FitBit Sleep Data
My first impression is that they are pretty similar.  Clearly the Zeo shows more data, breaking my sleep time up into Awake, Light Sleep, REM Sleep and Deep Sleep.  Both show the awake time at 1:30am and again at around 2am when Monika got up to move the laundry to the dryer.  It is interesting to see that the FitBit shows that I was moving around at a little before midnight, and a couple times between 3 and 4 am.  During these times, the Zeo shows that I am in deep sleep.  The FitBit interprets any movement as an indication that you are awake.  If we believe the Zeo data, I was certainly not awake at that time.  I certainly don't remember being awake at that time.  This makes me think that the combination of the two devices may give more information than either one on its own.  The FitBit can tell whether or not I'm having a restless sleep while the Zeo can help me interpret which motion on the FitBit was due to being awake or just to restless sleep.
Another interesting bit of data the Zeo gives you is a chart showing the percentage of time you spend in the various modes of sleep.  With only one night's sleep, I don't have much of an interpretation yet to tell me if this is interesting information yet, but that may come later when I start using the weekly summaries and other data analysis tools.

So far my biggest complaint with the Zeo is that it isn't all that comfortable to wear.  I definitely know it is there.  Additionally, it leaves marks on my forehead that take hours to go away.  I'm hoping that I can adjust the headband to fix this problem.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

VW Factory

This video shows the factory where they make the Phaeton, a very expensive Volkswagen.  It looks pretty impressive to me.  It really doesn't look anything like what I would expect a car factory to look like.

What is your vision of the future?

This is Microsoft's vision of the future.  What do you think the future will look like?  What technologies will it take to get us there?

I'm number 3,239,716,956. What is your number?

This web site is interesting.  You put in your birthday and it tells you what number person you were on the earth.  I'm roughly the 77 billionth person to have lived and the 3.2 billionth person alive when I was born.  If you follow through the pages you learn a little bit about the population growth and its implications.  One of the more telling quotes was:

  • It is estimated that your group of the richest countries consumes double the resources used by the rest of the world. The UN estimates that if current population and consumption trends continue, by the 2030s we will need the equivalent of two Earths to support us.


take a look for yourself.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Daylight Savings Time

Soon we move the clocks back and go off of daylight savings time.  Did you ever wonder why we do this?  This video gives some background.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Printable Circuits

It looks like the guys at Xerox have something cool working.  Its a printing system that can cheaply and reliably print circuits.  This should allow simple circuits, RFIDs and NFC circuits to be printed onto almost anything.

The Holodesk

Get Microsoft Silverlight

Microsoft has done something kind of interesting here.  They have connected a display and face tracking up with a beam splitter (half silvered mirror) and a physics engine so that they can combine your real hands with virtual objects.  Its pretty neat.  Can you think of any interesting uses for this technology?

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Book Review-Enna Burning

Enna Burning

Enna's brother has found something, a scroll.  He seems to be  developing powers, with fire.  Soon the scroll is Enna's, and she can feel the heat pushing in on her.  Now, fires appear on her will.  The book Enna Burning by Shannon Hale has a heated mystery in it, what is the scroll and how will it affect her life?

Poop splashes

This is real practical science...


In the next couple of weeks I should receive my Zeo.  It is an EEG device for monitoring sleep.  In my research, I found this video that I really like.  It packs a lot of information in a short video.  Take a look and let me know if you have ideas for experiments we should do with the Zeo.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Poem- With One Hundred Rooms

Here is a poem I wrote:

With One Hundred Rooms

With one hundred rooms,
Secrets unfold,
Some locked away,
But others are bold,
If you cry in the night,
Someone might hear,
Far away through the fear,
Is it life,
Or is it the wind,
Or it might just be my dream.

- Bix

Circles Are Unreasonable

I was thinking last night about natural numbers, whole number, integers, rationals and irrational numbers. In particular it was rational and irrational numbers that made me think.

According to rational means "agreeable to reason" while irrational means "without the facility of reason; deprived of reason."  So what we are saying is that some numbers are "reasonable" and some numbers aren't.  The more I thought about it, the less I liked it.  What is so unreasonable about pi?

OK, in mathematical terms the meaning must be slightly different.  Rational numbers, according to Wikipedia, are "any number that can be expressed as the quotient or fraction a/b of two integers, with the denominator b not equal to zero."  Well, I guess that does sound reasonable.  If you can express it as a fraction, its rational.  In fact, Wiktionary tells me that "ratio" is related to the word "rational."  They both come from the latin word "rat," which means thought.  I get it.  Rational numbers are numbers that make sense, where as irrational numbers dont.

Lets take a look at some "irrational numbers."  The most famous of these is pi.  As we all know, pi is the ratio of a circle's circumference to its diameter.  Hey!  Wait a minute! pi is a ratio!  pi is diameter/circumference.  Isn't that a fraction?  Didn't we just say that rational numbers are numbers that can be expressed as a fraction?  Shouldn't this imply that pi is rational?  

What is so "unreasonable" about pi?  If we look closer, we see that the ratio must be a ratio of integers.  So, its not the ratio part that makes pi irrational.  Instead, this is saying that there is no unit of measurement, meters, feet, or angstroms, in which you can exactly measure both the circumference and the diameter of a circle and have it come out in even integers.  This isn't like a 3, 4, 5 triangle where the ratios of dimensions is exact integers.  No circles are just different.  Hmmm... I have to think about that one.

OK so you are thinking, "circles are weird, but there aren't so many other weird irrational numbers are there?  I mean there's pi, e square root of 2... but that's about it right?"  The answer is a resounding no.  In fact, a fellow named Cantor back in 1891 published something that is now known as Cantor's Diagonal Argument that shows that there are many MORE irrational numbers than rational ones.  They are all over the place.  So here's the thing.  By calling these numbers irrational, it implies that they don't make sense.  In fact, all it really is saying is that our number system isn't able to represent these numbers.  Just the way the ancient Roman's didn't have a way to represent zero, our number system can't represent pi.  Its not the fault of the numbers themselves, its the fault of our system for representing the numbers.

Our system for representing numbers - the one that all of our science and engineering is based on - is not able to represent most of the numbers out there.  I don't know about you, but I think this sucks.  Can you come up with a new way to represent quantities that can represent more than our current system?

Lytro Camera

This is a really interesting new camera from a company named Lytro.  They have developed a technology that allows you to focus your picture after you take it.   You can see some examples of what is possible here.  Instead of just taking a picture with a standard camera sensor, their camera records what they call the light field. The image they save is not a standard JPEG or RAW file like you get out of most cameras, instead it is a new format that must be processed into a standard, focused image before it can be used in existing applications.  Still, I find it pretty amazing to think that you can focus your image after the fact.  They have been working on this technology for a while, and its really exciting to see that they have produced a product that they are selling starting at $399.  This is one of the first really different kinds of cameras to come along in a while.  Engadget has a hands-on first impression here, and CNET talks about it here.

Some of the implications of this technology are kind of interesting.  For example, it should mean that there is no shutter lag.  Right now, the time between when you press the button and the time the camera takes the picture is mostly spent with the camera trying to figure out where to focus.  Take away the focusing time, and pictures should be instantaneous.  Also, if may be possible to construct a sort of 3D image of a scene by applying some of the math they use to focus the pictures after the fact they should be able to tell how far away different parts of the picture are.  This should allow you to create a simple 3D model of the scene.  Pretty interesting stuff.

Book Review-The Secret Garden

The Secret Garden

Can you keep a secret?  Mary has found the garden, Colin might live!  Mary, Dickon and Colin  could make the garden alive again and make it stronger.  With one hundred rooms secrets unfold, one being Colin a sick and hiding cousin.  The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett is a book with new beginnings.  Hush, someone may be near, don't tell anyone!

Cycling Dangers...

Around here we tell you to watch out for cars while your ride your bike.  In other places cyclists have to worry about other types of hazards.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Camping in style

This is a really nice looking camping trailer.  Check out the info nice pictures of it here.

Here is how you set it up

Here is how you tear it down

Book Review-Princess Academy

Princess Academy

Miri feels useless.  Everyone else works at the quarry and she only takes care of the animals.  Soon the prince is going to get married and every girl must go to an academy to learn.  Miri must fight off bandets, lowlanders, and bullies to survive.  Like all of Shannon Hale's books, Princess Academy by Shannon Hale has drama, tense moments and relief.

Book Review-River Secrets

River Secrets

Razo isn't the best solider. He gets laughed at and beat up, but he has a feature that others don't, very, very good memory.  He gets chosen to go on a trip, and be a spy.  The book River Secrets by Shannon Hale is awesome, but the first two books in the series are better.

Book Review-The Goose Girl

The Goose Girl

Crown Princess Anidori-Kiladra Talianna Isilee  is a sweet girl who can talk to birds, her horse and the wind.  She rides off with some others on an adventure to Bayern, a far off city, not knowing that her best friend and hand maiden will turn against her.  Her travels take her to Bayern where she experiences hunger and work, taking care of geese.  The book The Goose Girl by Shannon Hale is a book you need to read, but really you should read all of Shannon Hale's books. They are books you can’t put down.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Quantum Levitation

You just gotta love these superconducting magnets.  Too much fun!

For the record, this would make a fine christmas present too :-)

Just in case...

Just in case you haven't figured out what to get me for Christmas yet, Canon has something new.  Its called the EOS-1Dx and it seems really amazing.
It shoots 12 frames per second RAW 18 Megapixel images.  The pixels are 6.95 microns, which is huge.  It has a 61 point focus system and can shoot up to ISO 204,800!  It even has built-in gigabit ethernet and runs an FTP server.
If you get me one of these, I wouldn't even mind waiting until March (when it will be available) for my present.

Physical Education

According to this article, California requires 200 minutes of physical education every 10 days (two weeks).  So this means that you should be averaging 20 minutes a day of good physical activity.  Check your Fitbit and see how many minutes of active time you have on average.  If its below 20 minutes per day, we should come up with some new activities to get you moving.

Calculating Dessert Percentages

The Fitbit is nice because it gives you some idea of how active you've been. Among other things it tells you your progress toward your weekly goal. The percentage on the upper right of the window tells how much progress you've made toward your goal. Right now, your goal should be set to 40,000 steps per week. Mine is a little bit higher and I hope you guys increase your goals soon.
It seems to me that we ought to only be eligible for dessert only if we are on track to make our weekly goal. The problem is that I don't know what the percentages mean. It is different for every day of the week, so here is your problem. Can you calculate what percentages mean that we are on track for the week?

Since dinner is at the end of the day, and we aren't likely to get many more steps before the next morning, I'd like to know what percentage we need to be at in order to be on track at 8am the next morning. For example, at dinner on Sunday, we need to have enough steps to be on track for our goal for Monday morning at 8am. In order to be eligible for dessert at Wednesday dinner, we would need to have enough steps to be up to date for Thursday morning at 8am. The week starts at 12:01am on Sunday morning.  What percentages do these correspond to for each day of the week?


As a side question, at your current goal rate, how many steps does it take to get one percentage point toward your weekly goal?

FYI: Being on goal is required in order to have dessert, but does not guarantee dessert...

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Circle Drawing

This is pretty cool.  This guy draws pictures by just making a big spiral.  It looks like he never lifts his pen.

Faber Castell from eric yeo on Vimeo.

I wish I could do stuff like that.

Friday, October 14, 2011

The Mysterious Case of Allbright Academy Review

The Mysterious Case of Allbright Academy Review 
Franny is going to a private boarding school, everyone there was smart, neat, and pretty.  At first she is surprised, but soon she is feeling smart for the first time in her life!  Soon it becomes erie, all so perfect.  Sit beside Franny in the classes surrounded  by her friends, while they work on the mystery of Allbright Academy.  I love the book The Mysterious Case of Allbright Academy by Diane Stanley but I would like it better if it had a sequel.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Poem- The Friendship Rose

The Friendship Rose

( )
( (@) )
( )
Bright and cheery,
Flowers grow,
Then they fall,
Low and low,
Darken, darken,
Is all they do,
Until one stands,
The friendship rose,
As long as you plant,
The others will grow,
Up into the sky.


Throwable Panoramic Camera

I like this idea.  It doesn't look like they did such a good job... the pictures aren't very good, but the concept is great!

New Equations

Thanks to the folks at UC Santa Barabara, now we can tell just exactly how much water and oil don't like to mix with each other.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011


A sticky note memorial outside the Palo Alto Apple Store

Steve Jobs is dead.  I've met and known a lot of influential, rich, famous people in my day, but I'm sorry to say I never met Steve Jobs.  Today, I stopped by the Apple store and found an incredible sight. There is a makeshift memorial at the store where people are placing sticky notes with remembrances.  Its an amazing thing to see.  The mood is somber, but strangely friendly.  Several strangers came up to me just started talking about Steve Jobs.  None of them had met him either, but they all had their stories.  They all had been touched by him and by Apple.
As I read through the notes that people had written, I was amazed by how personal and artistic may of them were.  Steve certainly affected a lot of people.  You'll find more of my pictures if you "read more."

It's like I can read your mind...

This is wild.  These folks at UC Berkeley and ATR Computational Neuroscience Laboratories in Kyoto, Japan, have discovered a way to analyze fancy MRI images of your brain and extract the image that you saw.

The article, The Brain Records, Scientists Retrieve What the Eye Sees , is short on details, but it claims that the image on the left is what the test subject was looking at, while the image on the right is derived from the subject's brain activity.

A couple of thoughts... First, wow!  This is really amazing.  This is a close as I've seen to reading someone's mind.

Second, if you look at the example picture, it seems that the picture in the mind is very different from the source image.  Is this a mistake in the publication?  Is it that this person really sees something different than the image he is presented?  Just look at the background.  All the detail is gone.  What about the hat?  Its missing and there is clearly someone else's hair there.  Is this a memory being mixed with the image?

Third, what would happen if you mixed the images they are getting from the fMRI with the de-blurring algorithm from my last post?  The answer is that you wouldn't get much.  The de-blurring algorithm makes many assumptions about how the image got blurred (like that it was a result of camera motion) in order to do its magic.  There is no similar basis for this blurring, so the algorithm will likely not be able to do much of anything.... still its an interesting concept for a science fiction story, dont you think?

UPDATE:  There is more information in this article.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Deblurring Images...

This is pretty amazing.  Adobe is working on filters that can clear up blurry images.  It analyzes the image to see how it was blurred, then it computes an inverse function to make the image crisp.  If I understand this, it only works with images that are blurry because of a shaky camera, not because it is out of focus.  I'm not sure about that, but I am sure that it looks really amazing and useful.  Check it out!

Makes me think that maybe we should never throw away any pictures.  Some day they can all be cleaned up and turned into something great.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Don't Break Your Garage Door Opener

A few days ago we had an accident.  We tried to open one of our garage doors while it was locked and it broke.  When we took it apart we found this:

Guess what this is.  

Those are shredded bits of gear from the gear shown below.  

The broken gear that is preventing the garage door from working properly.

The worm drive gear that broke the other gear.  

 Here are a few things that we found by looking around inside the garage door opener:

This is the whole garage door opener.

A system that lets the opener know where the garage door is and when to stop opening it.  
This is an rpm sensor on the motor.  

The circuit board that controls the system.  

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Book: The Code Book By Simon Sing

This is a pretty good book about cryptography.  It starts at mono-alphabetic substitution and ends at quantum cryptography.  The book is slow moving at some points, but in general it is fine.  It covers all the subjects in great detail.  It covers a lot of history on what provided the motivation to have the code created, and how it was created.  For every single code besides quantum cryptography, the book demonstrates a way to crack it (including public key cryptography).  Another few codes it explains are the enigma machine, vigenĂ©re square, and the Lorenz cipher.  If you like codes, this is a great book that you should read.  I had fun learning about all the different codes and I hope you do too. 
If you want to, you can get the book from Amazon here:

Friday, October 7, 2011

Graphene for power generation

This is cool.  It looks like Graphene (that single molecule thick graphite stuff) can generate power when exposed to a temperature differential.
This could have implications for solar panels and all sorts of stuff.

Artificial Intelligence Class

Shall we all take Stanford's online Introduction to Artificial Intelligence class?  It is being taught by two guys from Google.  One of them is Peter Norvig who I know from BARD.  It is Stanford's experiment into teaching online classes.  I expect it will be good.

Today is Ada Lovelace Day

Ada Lovelace was the worlds first programmer back in the 1800s - before there were computers.  There is a nice description of what she did and why it is important here.

Another Arduino-base Bicycle Clothing Project

This speed vest uses an Arduino to control some electroluminescent wire to display a cyclist's speed while riding down the street at night.  Its cool, but I don't know that its a good idea to promote riding your bike in the dark.

More info here

A Little Binary Humor

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Data Collecting Rocket Payload

A few weeks ago, I found out that my sister was going to launch a rocket.  She asked me if I could make a device that can measure the height of her rocket's apogy.  I decided that I would build the device.  It would have measure the air pressure (for altitude), acceleration in all 3 dimensions, magnetic fields in all 3 dimensions (what way is north), and how fast it is spinning around all 3 dimensions (gyroscope), light level, air temperature, and humidity.  That is a lot of sensors that all have to work together, so I have been working on it for a couple weeks now.  The when I finish, I will make it easily downloadable by other people who might want to use it for something similar.

Right now, I have ordered the parts and am developing the code needed to collect all of the data.

I took a few pictures of the parts and labeled them.

Light Sensor

Sensor board with a 3D accelerometer, 3D gyro, and 3D magnetometer.  aka 9DOF

Boost Converter

Sht 15 (Temperature and humidity sensor)

Open Log (logging device that logs serial data to a micro sd card)

Pressure Sensor

Everything all in one picture

I am looking forward to collecting some cool data from this project. 

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Casa Academy Blog Goes International

So I just noticed that our statistics page showed something new today.  If you look on the right side near the bottom, you'll see that there is a map of the world.  The colored countries are the ones that have looked at the blog.  Do you see it?  We have a second country accessing our blog!  Canada is now light green!
hee hee hee!

Apple's Announcements

FYI - Today Apple announced the iPhone 4S.  Its faster and has a better camera.  It also runs a program called Siri that is a digital assistant that you can talk to and ask questions of.

Its good stuff, but I think that people were hoping for a little more.