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.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Salman Khan Interview

Salman Khan recently spoke at the Web 2.0 summit.  His talk is included below, but in addition to that, there is an interview with him above.  I really think its interesting to hear him talk about the directions that education can go and how the learning experience can change.  He always seems to make it clear that our current system is based on assumptions that might not be appropriate anymore.  Good stuff.

Beagle Bone

Arduinos are great, but there are a lot of processors out there with much more computing power.  The BeagleBone is the latest board to try to bring a much more powerful ARM processor, Linux and Ethernet to the hobbyist market.  I still think that the Arduino has an advantage in ease of use for the developer, but these more powerful platforms are pretty compelling.  You can read about it and see a video on Engadget.

Projectors for Augmented Reality

I really like new ways to connect the real and virtual worlds.  Here, Microsoft plays with some fun new ideas for using a projector to interact with a room.

The population

NPR produced a nice video about population growth.  Why is the population growing so fast suddenly?  Will it continue?  Watch and find out.