Wednesday, December 19, 2012

End of the calendar or end of the world?

By now I'm sure you've all heard about the Mayan calendar and how it predicts that the world will end in a few days.

We here at Digital Diner have decided to take a stand.  Regardless of what the Mayans say, we are coming down strongly on the side of the world continuing to exist well into next week.  That's right.  The world won't end.  No wishiwashiness here.  With all due respect to our ancient friends, we've thought this through and decided that we must come down hard on the side of the world NOT ending in a few days.  Here's the logic behind this bold move:  If the world does end, nobody who would be around to tell us we were wrong?  

Oh and there is absolutely no scientific evidence that the world will end either... I guess that might have something to do with it too.  Look guys, our calendar ends every year, yet all we do is make a bunch of resolutions that we never keep.  It isn't the end of the world.  Why should the end of the Mayan calendar mark the end of the world?  We made it through Y2k, we'll probably make it through this too.  NASA is sounding pretty confident too.  They released this video to be watched on Dec 22, the day AFTER the world ends.  It's fine with us if you decide to watch it today.  It's only a few days early.  

Still, it's OK with us if you use the possibility of the end of the world as an excuse to call up some old friends.

Oooh swirlflakes!

As with all Vi Hart videos, the fun is in actually trying it for yourself.  Go ahead and make your own hexagonal snowflake.  I don't have a clue about how to fold a paper in fifths, but you can bet I'm going to try.  And the swirlflakes look pretty interesting too.  Holiday craft time!

Liquid pythagorus

A2 + B2 = C2.. see?  I told you.
OK, OK... so this isn't a proof and the liquid takes up a volume (ie it is three dimensional, not two), so this really shouldn't be all that compelling... still it is somehow awesomely appealing isn't it?

From Chart Porn

Monday, December 17, 2012

Is there poop on the Moon?

OK, so we crash spacecraft into the moon.  What other kinds of crap have we left up there?  Is there any poop?  As with all deep and thoughtful questions these days, we turn to the internet for answers.  The video below combines two of our favorites, Smarter Everyday and Minute Physics to get to the bottom of this hard hitting issue.

Ok, maybe some of the stuff they left behind was useful (as described in the video below).

I once hear of someone who was thinking of using those reflectors to store data.  Imagine this.  You pulse a laser pointed at the moon according to the data you want to save.  A little less than three seconds later, it comes back to you.  This means that you could save as much data as you can jam into a laser signal in <3 seconds.  If you take what you receive and resend it, then you don't have to save the data here on Earth.  You will get those photons (bits) back in less than three seconds.  You could have a loop of data that you continually send between here and the moon, thus storing the info as light in space.  It is not very practical, but still its a cool idea.

Watch Ebb and Flow crash into the moon

Ebb and Flow are two satellites that have been orbiting the Moon for some time mapping out lunar gravity with incredible detail.  They are part of NASA's GRAIL (Gravity Recovery And Interior Laboratory) mission.  Now they have completed their mission and NASA is going to let them slam into the Moon.  The space craft will crash intentionally near the moon's north pole at 2:28 p.m. PT (2228 GMT) today.  As if that weren't enough, they are going to live stream it, so you can watch as it happens.  The event will be broadcast on live on NASA TV and the website, beginning at 2 p.m. PT (2200 GMT).  Watch it live here.

Crazy Prestidigitation

This is some amazing slight of hand.  No trick photography here... just mad skills by magician Yann Frisch at the 2012 Beijing International Magic Convention.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Happy Festival of Photons!

Bix in St Lucia garb lighting up this dark morning
Today, here at Digital Diner, we celebrate a tradition that plays out in homes all over Scandinavia.  It is St Lucia Day, or the festival of lights.  In this tradition, on one of the days of the year with the least amount of daylight, the oldest gril of the family wakes up early, dresses all in white with a red sash and a wreath of candles in her hair.  She brings her parents some saffron buns and coffee in bed while singing (or at least playing a recorded version of) the St Lucia song.  It is quite a sight for a dark winter morning to see Bix bringing us yummy homemade baked goods by candle light.
Saffron buns fresh out of the oven.  Yum!
Of course, because of our geek/scientific influence,  rather than the festival of lights, I like to think of it as the festival of photons.  You see, at this time of year, there are fewer photons than ever hitting our hemisphere of this big blue marble that we live on, so each photon is precious.  What better time to honor our little friend who brings us light, than now when it is so rare.  We need to celebrate this quanta of wave-particle goodness that literally brightens our day.  So on this dark winter day, I salute you and thank you dear photon.

Happy Festival of Photons!!

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Imagine the scope of celestial events

Sometimes science gives you an understanding of things that help you to appreciate the context of events that you observe.  In this case, understanding what is happening during an eclipse gives an appreciation of the massive cloud of darkness that passed over the sky in Australia last month.  The video above clearly shows the shadow moving across the sky as the celestial objects do their dance.  We've seen our share of astronomically significant events here at Digital Diner this year, but I really like how this video captures this event on a large scale.  You can almost feel the massiveness of the objects involved in this dramatic deflection of photons occurring at great distances.  We're talking about planets and stars here...

These sorts of events help to put things in perspective and make you realize just how insignificant we are in the grand scheme of the universe.  The video below uses animation and Carl Sagan's words to put things in context.

So, just remember, next time that you look up into the night sky, Steve Jobs, Hitler and the Beatles are all completely unknown just one solar system over.  If you want to do something really important... if you want to think really big... try to impress the universe.  Go ahead, cast a shadow onto another planet!

Monday, December 10, 2012

Build your own Awesome Aeroponic Garden

A few weeks ago, Digital Diner's own Bix and Widdakay (half of the Awesome Is What We Totally Are team) taught a class on Aeroponics at Workshop Weekend (see their presentation here).  It was a smashing success.  In case you missed that, now, thanks to the magic of the web, you can build your own Awesome Aeroponics Garden in your own home.  More on that in a minute.

First, on a personal note, let me say that I am a convert.  When the kids started out on these hydroculture projects I thought it was interesting and I was curious to learn about it, but that was the end of it.  As I've learned more and more about it, it has convinced me this is very important technology and a key to our future on this planet and beyond.  The benefits and efficiencies are really compelling and I encourage anyone with even the slightest interest to learn more.  I'm sold.

Aeroponics (or fogponics in this case) is a form of Hydroculture (growing plants without soil), but rather than delivering nutrients to the plant roots via flowing water, in aeroponics, the nutrients are delivered in the form of a mist.  The process was developed by NASA who hopes to use it to grow plants in space.  Small (5-10 micron) aerosolized droplets of water enriched with nutrients float around in a root chamber where the plant roots dangle freely.  The roots can efficiently absorb the droplets and grow quite quickly producing up to 13 crop turns per year rather than about 5 using traditional techniques.

We have seen this in practice when we planted some lettuce in our traditional garden (geoponics) at the same time as we planted it in one of our hydroponic systems.  The picture below shows two leaves that were harvested at the same time a few weeks later; one from the traditional, geoponic garden and the other from the hydroponic garden.  The results really impressed us.
Geoponic lettuce on the left vs hydroponic lettuce on the right
The hydroponic lettuce is dramatically larger
Hydroponic methods recycle water very efficiently, so it is estimated use up to 98% less water than traditional methods.  These systems generally need no pesticides or herbicides.  They offer incredible control over the environment the plants live in, allowing one to tune it to particular needs of the plants.  For example, we have some strawberries growing in one of our Awesome Aeroponic systems.  We would like them to start producing strawberries, so we have moved the system inside where it is warmer and varied the nutrients in just that system to encourage the production of fruit.  We would never have that kind of control using traditional means.


These systems are really engaging and interesting to watch grow.  We have been experimenting with several different types of systems here at Digital Diner and I'm happy to say that it has turned us into hyperlocavores.  While locavores eat food that is produced locally in order to get seasonal, fresh, produce that is grow to be eaten rather than transported, we have taken that to the extreme of growing our own food.  In a very small bit of space, we are growing enough lettuce to provide our family of four a salad almost every night.  The food we grow at home never has pesticides, spends time on a truck or in a grocery store, was grown in a water efficient way and is always fresh and tasty.

The system that team Awesome Is What We Totally Are has designed is small and portable and capable of growing herbs, lettuce, strawberries and all sorts of great stuff.  Go build one for yourself and try it out.  It isn't very expensive (~$40),  doesn't take up much space, and yet can produce some delicious food for you and your family.

Build your own Awesome Aeroponic Garden here!
Learn more about hydroculture from the Awesome Team here!

Team Awesome Is What We Totally Are
"Make What Matters"

Friday, December 7, 2012

These are some fun Internet of Things projects

The "Internet of Things" is the notion that now the internet is made up mostly of computers, but soon there will be many more gadgets than computers.  You see currently, each of us uses a computer or mobile device to connect to the internet, so there is roughly one device per person.  There are also servers who serve many people, so there are fewer of those than there are people.  As more and more other types of devices are connected to the internet - cars, dishwashers, clothing, keychains - the Internet of Things will emerge.  The number of these devices will swamp the numer of things currently connected to the internet because each of us will have many of these devices.  I've been working in related areas for some time from wireless sensor networks to connected Maker projects.

The folks at Postscapes have announced the nominees for their second annual Internet of Things awards to recognize projects that are moving us closer to the Internet of Things.  In particular, I'm interested in the DIY category.  It is the place where the hobbyists, Makers and Do It Yourselfers get recognized for creating projects that you or I could should have done.  I don't know how much these predict our future world full of connected gadgets, but I find them inspirational.  Here are a few of my favorites:

Tworse Key

The Tworse Key is a morsecode key that lets you send messages to Twitter by tapping out dits and dahs.  The combination of old and new technology is appealing somehow.  This one reminds me very much of a project that I did some time ago... I may have to pull that one out to make a blog post about it some time.

Descriptive Camera

Another is the Descriptive Camera which allows you to take a picture like a normal camera, but instead of getting an image out of the camera you get a text description of the scene.  The way it works is rather ingenious.  The camera takes a picture and submits it to Amazon's Mechanical Turk API.  This system provides a mechanism for Human Intelligence Tasks (HITs) where people from around the world can submit answers to problems posed to them... in this case describing a scene.  Essentially, in 3-6 minutes of "developing" time the image will get transcribed by a human being somewhere on the internet and the result will be sent back to the system and printed out.


Tempescope is an ambient weather display.  It tells you tomorrows weather forecast by actually reproducing the conditions in a clear container for you to see.  It can reproduce rain, clouds, lightning and several other conditions.  Through an interface, you can ask it to step you through the weather for a remote location as well.  Watch the video and see it in action.

Personal Energy Orb

The Personal Energy Orb charges up as you ride your bike.  Once charged, you connect it to your computer.  As you use your computer, the orb runs out of energy (as shown by the color of the orb) and starts to slow down your mouse movements and generally make your computer more sluggish.  If you want it to speed up again, you need to go out for a bike ride to charge it up again.  It is there to remind you not to spend all your time parked at the keyboard.

There are several other great projects, including an aquaponics system, an umbrella stand that reminds you that it is raining outside, an energy monitoring system and several more.  You can read about all of them at the Postscapes site.

Thanks for the pointer Pete!

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Macro snowflakes are gorgeous

Photographer Andrew Osokin has taken some spectacular macro photos of snowflakes. They really show the crystal structure of the flakes in all their geometric beauty.  I think that these photos illustrate the symmetry and balance of the laws of nature/physics.

Most snowflakes have six-way radial symmetry because of the six sided structure of ice molecules.  When one forms there are six convenient places for the next molecules to attach.  While this is occurring the little proto-flake is moving through air of different temperatures and humidities that will encourage new water molecules to freeze to or melt away from the snowflake.  The six arms grow independently, so they usually aren't exactly alike, but since they are all exposed to very similar environmental effects, they usually develop in very similar ways and end up similar enough to produce the appearance of six-way symmetry.  Still, the conditions vary enough that it is highly unlikely that you will ever see two snowflakes that are exactly the same.
Crystal structure of an ice molecule

Another thing that these pictures show is that snowflakes tend to be flat.  Thanks to the structure of the ice molecule, their arms generally develop in a plane.  
Also, although water and ice are clear, the very small facets of the snow crystals tend to cause a diffuse reflection of all colors of light and thus we perceive them as white.

Cool stuff (well cold actually).

Next time you are out in the snow, take a minute to look ate these little guys up close.  You might like what you see!

via buzzfeed

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Reason #572 why I want a high speed camera

You know how awesome high-speed, super slow-motion cameras are?  They are so awesome that even failure is entertaining when you crank up the frames per second enough.  Yep... that awesome.

via Gizmodo

Sometimes art is about balance

Here at Digital Diner, we are big fans of spontaneous public art forms.  Creating art out of what is available locally in a public place for all to see can be quite cool.  A fellow by the name of Michael Grab has been going around the Boulder, Colorado area balancing rocks in precarious ways to make sculptures.  I've seen similar things around here, but his look quite impressive.  He combines a little geometry and physics and the constant pull of gravity to create these amazing looking sculptures.  They seem to be placed in impossible angles, yet, any time you can get the center of gravity directly over the point of contact, it will balance.  Intellectually, I get that, but still, these particular configurations look quite impossible.
The large sphere of rocks seems particularly difficult because it needs all the pieces together in order to balance.  I see how the end result balances, but I just can't figure out the process to get there.  I think I'll have to give it a try.

Of course, around here in California, the slight variations in gravity known as earthquakes might make such sculptures very temporary.

You can see more pictures here.

via This Is Colossal

Monday, December 3, 2012

Would you want to have neighbors like this?

I've been intrigued by this style of music called dubstep and it's associated slow motion dancing.  I also like to see all the lights of this fine holiday season.  The folks in the video above have combined the two into an amazing light show.  Things really get exciting about 1:45 into the video where the dubstep music starts.  It is an impressive show, and it looks pretty fine on video, but I'm pretty sure that I'd fell differently if that house was across the street from mine, and I had to experience the dubstep Christmas 30 times a day.

As a geek, I'd really like to know how all those lights are controlled and how the system is programmed.  It seems like a lot of work, and a kind of abstract exercise until you get to see it actually play out with the lights on the house.  I presume it uses some sort of sequencer and bunch of light controllers.  It seems like all the lights can be dimmed and there must be about 30 channels of control.

I know my techo-curiosity is somewhat misguided.  It reminds me of a brief conversation I had with the extremely awesome performance artist Laurie Anderson back in the 1980s.  She always uses interesting technology in her performances and I asked her what tools she used to conceive of and to preview her work.  As a technologist, I thought this was a perfectly reasonable question.  However, she was a little confused by it and said that the projects usually started with a vision of something that she wanted the audience experience and that she would use whatever tools and technology would get her closest to that vision.  It was an iterative  improvisational process.  So maybe, just maybe, there is a perfect vision of a "dubstep Christmas" and these lights are merely the best way to express it with today's technology.  Still, I want to know about the technology.  Sorry, that's just me.

...and by the way, since Laurie Anderson believes that conversation is a form performance art, and I spoke with her, so I maintain that I jammed with Laurie Anderson... That's my story and I'm sticking to it.

Here is yet another reason that I want a slow motion camera for Xmas

I just love super slow motion video... in this case, combustion of different gasses.  It's cool how the 10% mix of hydrogen makes a mini mushroom cloud that looks almost alive as it crawls up the screen.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Frazil Ice

It's that season again where the weather turns cold and, in many parts of the northern hemisphere, snow and ice begin to show themselves.  Of course here at Digital Diner, we believe in Discretionary Winter, so winter doesn't come to us, rather we go it it.  One of the places where we go to experience winter is Yosemite.  It turns out that they have a very interesting form of ice called Frazil Ice.  Frazil Ice is a unique slushy mixture of not quite solid, not quite liquid water that shows the physical characteristics of lava when it flows.  Cool stuff.  Literally.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Cool Things To Find

OK, so here at Digital Diner recently we've all been walking around singing "Dumb Ways To Die" which we told you about in a previous post.  It's really a catchy tune, but it's, um... well... kind of morose.  I mean, sure it incents you to stay alive or at least not die in an embarrassingly dumb way.  Yes, next time I'm in space I'll be sure to keep my helmet on just so you all don't laugh at me.  But still, wouldn't it be nice to focus on something a little more positive than death?  You know, something like discovery and science and all that sort of stuff that we hold dear here at Digital Diner.  If you are looking for a more uplifting version of this little ditty, try "Cool Things to Find" in the video above.  Stick that in your brain instead and maybe you can have a more positive day.

Of course, there is no way to unsee or unhear certain things... so if you think these parodies, copies and knock-offs are just pale imitations of the original, then maybe you should just give in, embrace the reality of the situation and watch/listen to the hour long version of the original below.

I don't know about you, but it's a bit of a toss-up for me.  Of course, the main tune is totally stolen from David Bowie's Changes... Don't you think "Turn and face the strain..." == "Dumb ways to die."  As we pointed out before, all songs are just copies of other songs these days anyway.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Anamorphic Illusions

This video is a little bit mind bending.  Things are not as they seem.  Several of the items are not real, they are just pictures printed on paper.  The fun part about it is that they are projections designed to look correct and 3 dimensions from a particular point of view.  When the camera looks at the image from that point of view all appears fine, but when you move the image, everything sort of breaks down.  Watch the video then continue reading below.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Lots and lots of birds....

Lots and lots of birds... really lots!
Click on the picture above and examine it a little closer.  Go ahead.  It is not the work of some crazy person with Photoshop.  It is actually a picture we took on Friday, as shot from our camera.  There really were that many birds all flying in close proximity.  It was crazy!
Every now and then, instead of eating a bird (Turkey) on Thanksgiving we head off to central California to watch birds.  There are several wildlife preserves there that have literally millions of birds. Now we are NOT big birders or anything like that, but when you get over a million of just about anything in a small area, it often makes quite a spectacle.  This is the case with these birds, mostly Snow Geese, that winter in central California.  We visited three areas, Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge, Colusa National Wildlife Refuge and Gray Lodge Wildlife Area.  We saw Geese,  Ducks, Cormorants, Egrets, Herons, Vultures, Hawks, Coots, Grebes and plenty more.  The most amazing thing was the pure number of them.  The noise of the geese was a cacophony of sound that is best described as the cross between a large crowd at a football game, and what it might sound like if you could listen to all the telephone connections in the country at once.  Take a look at the (a bit shaky) video below that we shot, for some idea of what it was like.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Will we ever run out of new music?

Why is it that so many songs sound alike?  Is it because we are running out of new combinations of notes?  Michael at VSauce does a nice job of laying it all out for you.  While there is a limit to how many songs we can create with a given length, we aren't likely to run out of possibilities any time soon.  The real issue is that we seem to only like a very small section of the space of all possible songs.  Ah yes, once again, we are our own limiting factor.  There are a lot of good facts in here and I especially liked the link he suggested to the video below that shows how many songs are lyrics are interchangeable because they use the common meter.  Fun stuff!

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Africa for Norway

It is that time of year again when the stars come out to promote their favorite charity or cause for the season of giving.  Many times these culminate in a star studded music video showing stereotypical shots of some poor people in Africa and asking us to give money to help fix it.  They have received their share of aid over the years and now they want to pay it forward.  They are concerned about cold people in Norway.  They can't imagine what it must be like to face those months of dark and cold, so they have started a campaign to send radiators to Norway.  It is called Radi-Aid.  Watch the video and enjoy.

What?  Africa saving Norway?  See what happened there?  I like it when you laugh, but then you have to think about why you are laughing.  Well my friends, Africa is a huge continent with all sorts of different people with a wide range of socio-economic backgrounds.  You see, often these causes are well intentioned, but they play to our stereotypes.  When someone mentions Africa, many people think about poor people living in huts with AIDs.  Part of the reason for this is all these fund raising efforts that propagate this impression.  Africa for Norway is an attempt to turn the tables on the notion that all Africans are poor and in need of help.  They are trying to promote a more balanced view of Africa and developing countries.  Here in the US, we have our share of poor and sick people.  If the media focused solely on them, the world would have a very different view of us.  As it is, Hollywood pumps out movies that promote an equally unrealistic view of the US, but with a very different spin.

Next time you are asked to give to a cause, think about whether they are playing on your stereotypes, or if there is a real need.  Most importantly, don't generalize your beliefs based on a specific instance of a problem.  The world is a big place.

More info at Africa for Norway (which by the way is created by some students in Norway, so it's not even really African)

Inspirational 15-year-old Maker from Sierra Leone

I love this story of a 15-year-old kid, Kelvin Doe, from Sierra Leone who is a extraordinary inventor and tinker.   I also love how his mentor sees that infecting a society with Maker ethic has the potential to change a country.   Kelvin is an engineering whiz kid who has made some amazing things just from parts he finds in the dustbin in Sierra Leone.  He built his own radio station and generator and a host of other very practical gadgets... all self-taught.  He recently was invited to visit MIT for 3 weeks.  It's a moving story.  Sorry about the ad at the end, but it seems like a worthy cause.

Via Boingboing
Thanks Bryan

Lasagna in Your Dishwasher

Here at Digital Diner we don't watch much TV, but we do love the MythBusters.  We also love scientific chef Alton Brown, host of Good Eats.  The combination makes for some great TV worth watching.  Last weekend's episode of MythBusters featured Alton Brown testing a bunch of culinary myths.  It's a great show.  Among other things they test whether or not you can cook a Thanksgiving dinner using the engine of a car (as you drive), and exactly what meats really taste like chicken,  but they didn't have time to include all the myths.  Below is one that didn't make it.  It answers the all important question, can you cook a lasagna in the dishwasher.  Watch and enjoy!

You can watch other segments of the episode here.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Global Warming and the Power of Crowd Sourced Data Collection

I just saw an interesting article at the Grist Mill that shows some of the statistics of global warming.  According to the data they have seen from NOAA, no place on the planet has seen record cold temperatures so far this year.  In fact, October was the 332nd consecutive month with a globally, above-average temperature.  That means that anyone 27 years old or younger has never experienced a globally colder than average month.  Pretty astounding.

Another interesting part of the article comes from Jeff Masters of the Weather Underground. He claims that the drought of 2012 will prove to be ultimately more damaging than superstorm Sandy was both in terms of deaths and financial damage.  That's pretty shocking.  The conjecture is that both the drought and the storm were aided by higher than normal temperatures.

Of course, for some reason global warming is a hot political topic with accusations of faked data and all sorts of nasty conspiracy theories.  Weather Underground helps me justify my stance on this issue... see below.

The Digital Diner Weather Station
Aside from the gloomy news on global warming, I think that it is interesting that they quoted Jeff Masters from Weather Underground as an expert on equal footing with scientists at NOAA.  We have been streaming data from our weather station here at Digital Diner continuously to Weather Underground and HamWeather (a lesser known weather service) since August of 2001 (11+ years!!).   Weather underground is a crowd-sourced sensor network of weather information where people like us contribute data from their personal weather stations.  They are collecting data from 36,000 stations around the world which is very likely more than NOAA is collecting.  This data can help lead to new understanding of really big issues like global climate change.  Let that settle in for a second.  A bunch of random folks can actually contribute to one of the biggest scientific issues of our time.  That may be why this database of weather data from regular folks like us has become valuable enough that the Weather Channel has announced their intention to purchasing Weather Underground.

Little Sister is Watching

I've got an extensive background in the study of sensor technology and I've heard many concerns about what happens when these sensors proliferate and the government can monitor our every move.  Will this technology help move us toward a state where Big Brother is always watching us?  I think we are already seeing some of this, just visit an airport for examples, but I also think we are seeing something else.  It turns out that little sister is watching too.  By "little sister" I mean the rest of us.  It's not just the government monitoring us.  We can often monitor the government, big corporations and any other conspiracy promoting organizations you don't trust using the same type technology.  While there may be people who argue that the government has some particular reason for wanting us to believe their data in support of global climate change, we have a more extensive set of weather data from non-governmental sources - the Weather Underground (incidentally the name Weather Underground a reference to a 1960s militant radical student group the Weather Underground).  I can't vouch for all the data on there, but I can tell you that at least our data from our weather station is accurate.  I think there are many other amateur meteorologists out there who can vouch for their own data on Weather Underground, and in this case it seems to correlate with NOAA data pretty well, so that makes me believe it is all accurate.  The temperature of the Earth is rising.  The bigger point is, so is our ability to understand our world.  Sites like Weather Underground, HamWeather and Cosm are providing a way for us to collect and share data to reach our own conclusions, not those fed to us by those who may have their own agenda.  Just as Wikipedia has become the defacto first source of information (the internet encyclopedia if you will despite the fact that schools are fighting it) there are new sources of information popping up every day that are created by people like you and me.  It is making it harder and harder for anyone to pull off an elaborate hoax.

Please dear readers, go prove to yourself that the world is as you believe.  If you question whether or not the world is round, send up your own balloon to take pictures.  If you want to know what's happening with sea life in the San Francisco Bay, volunteer to help count oysters and see for yourself.  Rather than getting bogged down in political debate, go do some science for yourself!

Now back to your regularly scheduled program.


Photo by Horst Schoenhoff
Actual Fall in Oregon (photo by Horst Schoenhoff)
Original Photo by Horst Schoenhoff
My Rendition of Fall in California
One of the things that we miss here in California it the vibrant colors of fall.  We just don't have so many of those brilliant red leaves that give fall that fiery appearance.  Instead we have a lot of trees that just don't change colors or loose their leaves while the ones that do mostly turn yellow then brown.  Here, fall is mostly the time of year when the rains start and all the oils that have been collecting in the road all summer come to the surface to make it even more dangerous than driving in snow...

Of course the lack of fall leaves has its up side.  This means that we don't have to rake leaves as much as people elsewhere do.  On the downside, this means that we don't get to jump in piles of leaves like the one in the video below.

Warning: Kids - Don't try this at home without the supervision of an adult... especially the math shown in this video.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Alice's Restaurant: the Quiz

About this time every year, my family used to play the Alice's Restaurant Massacree by Arlo Guthrie.  After all, it's a song about Thanksgiving...well, Alice actually.  OK, OK really it is a song about how a US Citizen could avoid the draft by being convicted of a minor crime like littering, but I digress.  The folks over at Mental Floss have put together a fun little quiz for those of you who, like me, have heard the song in all its glory more than once.  Without having heard the song in a couple of years I amazed myself and got 10 out of 12 correct.  (If I could only remember other things as well.)

Give the quiz a try and see if you can beat me.  You can listen to the song in all its 18:34 of glory here, but unless you are new to the song, you should try the quiz first.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

Via Mental Floss

Be Safe Out There

OK kids, remember, don't sell both your kidneys on the internet.  Don't dress up like a moose during hunting  season.  Don't take off you helmet in outer space.  This sage advice and much more is woven into a brilliant little public service announcement called "dumb ways to die."  On top of it, it's a catchy tune.  Watch and tell me if you aren't singing the tune for hours... oh and be safe out there, OK?  I don't want to hear of any Digital Diner readers eating a tube of super glue... and for goodness sake, please DON'T press the red button.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Counting Oysters in the San Francisco Bay

The Watershed Project offices
Yesterday we visited the Watershed Project in Richmond to help them with their study of oysters in the San Francisco Bay.  

The oysters are making a comeback after a problem that started back in the mid-1800s.  Apparently, during the gold rush, the miners used a method called hydraulic mining.  They pointed a high pressure hose at the hillside and sprayed away all the soil to just reveal the gravel and rocks beneath it.  This left them with a much easier task of separating the valuable rocks from the others.  Widespread use of this technique caused a huge amount of mud and silt to be washed down from the Sierra Mountains into the San Francisco Bay.  This was very bad news for the oysters because they require a hard surface to cling to.  As all the rocks became covered in silt, the oysters died off.

Oysters are filter feeders that can each process up to 20 gallons of water per oyster per day.  In that process, they remove nitrogen-containing compounds and plankton from the water.  This tends to help overall water quality and has an impact all the way up the food chain, so they are vital to the ecosystem.

Bricks from around the bay waiting to be counted
The Watershed Project is hoping to create new habitats to promote oyster colonies to help the overall ecosystem of the San Francisco Bay.  As part of this work, they are studying where oysters are likely grow by placing bricks in the water at various candidate sites around the bay on specially designed stands.  The Oysters like the hard surfaces these bricks provide.  They place the bricks in August and in November (now) they re-collect them to see what has grown.  It was our job (and other volunteers) to help with counting the number of oysters that were on the rocks.
A muddy brick ready to be counted
The bricks had been retrieved and carefully organized by other volunteers so that we could tell exactly which brick came from which location, how it was oriented and its depth in the water.  We then proceeded to count and record each oyster on the front, back, top, bottom and sides separately.  With only three months of growth, many of these oysters were very small (as small as 1 mm), but it was our job to count every one on each brick.  We had to differentiate between oysters, barnacles, limpets and other clingy critters.  Differentiating between these different aquatic bivalve, arthropod and gastropod mollusks was a bit daunting at first, but we quickly got the hang of it.

It was messy detailed work, but somehow very satisfying
Bix and Widdakay hard at work

Friday, November 16, 2012

Take Your Show on the Road

I think these guys got a little bit confused when someone said that they should take their band out on the road.  I suppose what better way to go on tour?  ...and the driver has a built in soundtrack.... very nice.  In fact, now that I think about it a little more, this band is really going places.

Via LikeCool

Real Life Superhero Battles

Epic battle with electricity!  Here, have a lightning bolt!  wow!  It's Blue Zeus vs Red Zeus in a Tesla coil induced zapfest.  I have no experience in this area, but it seems to me that this would be really fun.  Just guessing.  I mean, what a feeling of power (literally).  And to be able to steer giant arcs of electricity toward your opponent...   amazing!  This performance was part of the Ulster Bank Belfast Festival @ Queens in Belfast, Northern Ireland.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Human Powered Quadcopters


By now, our readers know that we love quadcopters here at Digital Diner,  We also like riding our bikes.  The combination seems really interesting.  Apparently, several groups are trying to create a human powered helicopter, and the leading contenders are, you guessed it, giant quadcopters.  Take a look at the video and you'll see what amazing machines these are.

Life's Too Short for the Wrong Job

As someone who is actively looking for that elusive perfect job, the ad campaign by this German job search company certainly struck a chord.  We've all had those jobs where we feel that we're stuck in a box doing things that a machine could probably do better... These folks just illustrated it very nicely with large photographs attached to the side of various machines.  The say "Life is too short for the wrong job."  Very true.  Of course, sometimes the right job is just the one that gives you a paycheck.

See the rest of the pictures here.
via Toxel.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Marbles and Monty Hall

A collection of marbles within the permanent collection of The Children's Museum of Indianapolis.

I was confronted with this problem by a kid about 1/4 my age.  He said, "imagine I have a bag with three marbles in it; two white and one black.  If you choose the black marble you win.  You reach into the bag and pull out a marble, but don't look at it.  There are now two marbles in the bag and one in your hand.  I now pull a white marble out of the bag and show it to you.  This leaves only one marble in your hand and one in the bag.  For best probability of picking the black marble, do you keep the one in your hand or pick the one in the bag?"  This is called the Monty Hall problem because it is similar to a dilemma faced by contestants on the TV gameshow, The Price Is Right (with host Monty Hall) every week.

The somewhat counterintuitive answer is that it actually is statistically better to go for the marble in the bag instead of the one in your hand.  It took about 45 minutes for this *$#! young fellow to convince me of this.

Here's why it's true:
When you take the marble from the bag, you have a 1 in 3 chance of choosing the black marble.  That means there is a better chance that it is in the bag (2 in 3 chances) than in your hand.  So far so good.  Well, if this little know-it-all kid, shows you one of the marbles in the bag that ISN'T the black one, there is still a 2 in 3 chance that the black marble is in the bag, but now all that chance is tied up in the one marble that remains in the bag... so you should take it rather than the 1 in 3 chance marble you are holding in your hand.

The video above explains the problem rather nicely, so if my explanation didn't do it for you, try the video.  It might be worth millions the next time you are on a game show.  Just remember to send me my cut of your winnings.

It's all about the teacher

Sometimes a really good teacher can make even a complex topic like chemistry seem clear.  In this case the teachers are some cute and well-behaved dogs that seem to know a thing or two about chemical bonds. All I can say is woof woof.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Ice Fishing Explained

I never really understood the appeal of ice fishing.  It's cold and miserable and you always run the risk of falling through the ice.  Not my idea of fun.  However, this video really puts it all into perspective.  Its very cleverly done.  See how long it takes you to figure it out.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Facial Interpretive Dance

I like the performance this fellow does of Paganini's violin concerto.  I think of it as interpretive dance for your face.  Human's are somehow wired to notice faces - so much that we think we see them on Mars.  We read each other's emotions through our faces and I think this fellow does a fine job matching his facial expression to the music.

Of course, there are a lot of people regularly manipulate their faces to evoke emotion as a profession.  They are called actors.  One of my favorite examples is child actor Henry Thomas.  The video below is his audition for the film ET.  In the beginning you hear the crew giving Thomas the background of the scene, then they start and Henry Thomas nails it.  He said later that he thought about his dog that had died inorder to bring these emotions to the front.  All I know is that it is an amazing performance.  In the end you hear Steven Spielberg say, "you got the job kid."  Yeah... you got the job.  If you haven't seen it before I recommend watching.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Science of Really Tall Trees

I can almost guarantee that if you watch all the videos in this post, it will change the way you look at trees.

A walk in California's giant redwood forest can be a transformative experience just being in proximity to these huge, ancient living things.  Sure tall trees are massively gargantuan biomasses that are awesome in their own right, but have you ever stopped to think about what it takes to allow a tree like that to exist?  The science is pretty interesting.  I mean, how does a tree suck water up hundreds of feet?  It turns out the answer isn't simple.  The video above offers an explanation and gives you some idea of what these giant living things go through every day.  Watch and be amazed!

Of course, once these huge trees exist, they literally change the landscape and the ecosystem around them.  Scientists like Stephen Sillett spend their lives trying to understand these giant beings and the plants and animals that depend on them.  The videos below give an interesting view into the world of giant redwoods and the scientists who climb 300ft up to study them (yes there's some great technical tree climbing action too).