Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Happy Leap Day (Extraday)

Happy Leap Day!  Don't forget to set your watches back a day for that funny funky February 29.  This only happens every 4 years, so do something unusual to celebrate.
It always seemed like we could make so much more of Leap Day.  It could be sort of like Daylight Savings Time in the Fall; you know, when you get to set your clock back an hour and you get to sleep in an extra little bit.  Sweet!  Why don't we count Feb 29 as an extra, unaccounted for day? It shouldn't be just just like every other day of the week.  No, we should really add an extra day for this event... We would call it Extraday and just shut everything off.  It only happens once every 4 years, so why not?  Think of it.  Tuesday, Feb 28, followed by Extraday, Feb 29, followed by Wed, Mar 1.  The whole world could sleep in.  Everyone could catch up on all those chores around the house that have been piling up.  I bet you on Mar 1, everyone would be rested and in a better mood.  Who can we contact about this?  Unfortunately, Leap Day is Wednesday this year, and not Extraday... but we can dream, can't we?

Of course, these sorts of things are always more complicated than they seem.   Even the definition of a year is pretty complex, but as always, the Minute Physics guy does a great job explaining it in the video above.  If you are looking for a simple explanation of leap year, check out the video below.  Unfortunately, I haven't found any videos on "Extraday."

Pauli Exclusion Principle

I had never heard of the Pauli Exclusion Principle before in the way this fellow, physicist Brian Cox, describes it, but it sort of freaks me out.  It basically says that every atom in the world is instantaneously affected by every other atom.  Watch the video and you'll see.  I mean it's not like he's saying that an atom in my thumb could totally be like a solar system for some really little dudes, or that Schroedinger's Cat might appear in my bathtub.  No, he's saying that by definition, if I scratch my bottom, I change the entire universe.  You know, at first this seems real cool, like I'm some sort of all-powerful god or something, but then the responsibility sets in.  Just think about it.  If anything you do necessarily changes the universe, it seems like you should be really careful about what you do.  Then of course, the reality of the situation takes over.  Everybody is continually changing the universe.  So, basically, every atom of my being is continually jerked around because you don't think before you scratch your bottom.  I mean, come on... Think a little people.  Please.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Carl Sagan - 'A Glorious Dawn'

This isn't new, but it is a favorite here at Digital Diner and for some reason it is going through my head today.  It is a little pitch shifted remix of Carl Sagan doing his thing.  Watch and enjoy!

There are more of these available here

Friday, February 24, 2012

Ira Glass on Creative Work

Ira Glass does some amazing work on his radio program, This American Life.  I really like the way that draws compelling and interesting stories out of people.  That's why I really like this little video of him talking about what it takes to be good at something.  It certainly applies well beyond his form of story telling.  First, you have to have taste.  You need to recognize what you think is good.  The problem is that when you are a beginner, your own work wont live up to your standards. The key is to keep working...  Create a lot.  Keep producing.  And slowly, your work will catch up to your standards.
Good advice Ira.

If you'd like to listen to This American Life, you can do so here.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Keck Observatory

As our loyal readers may recall, a few months ago we stopped by Lick Observatory to see some really big and impressive telescopes.  These big machines are so powerful that they actually able to look back in time - truly amazing.  This video shows the Keck Observatory on Hawaii in operation.
Of particular interest is the laser beams that you see coming out of the telescopes.  Normally you think of a telescope gathering light, not creating it.. but modern telescopes actually shine lasers into the sky.
It wasn't that long ago astronomers thought that land based telescopes would never be as useful as space based ones because they have to look through the atmosphere.  The air around us has a tendency to cause distortion as the turbulence of different temperatures and motions of air masses cause the light to refract or bend slightly.  At very high magnification, these effects are exaggerated to the point that the images are often unusable.  Some bright folks at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory invented something called the laser guide star - the laser beams you see in the video.  These super powerful lasers excite the sodium atoms in the upper levels of the atmosphere and create a bright spot at the very edge of our atmosphere.  With some fancy computers and something called adaptive optics, they are able to observe the artificial star made with the laser and see how much it is affected by the atmosphere.  They use this information to correct their images for whatever distortion the atmosphere may have created.  Cool stuff.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Shadow Dance

This post if for Bix who loves dance and is interested in learning to play the violin.  It is a fun little piece where musician Lindsey Stirling dances with her shadow while she plays her violin.

Its kind of reminiscent of some other famous people who have done their own shadow dances, like Fred Astaire below.

The Effects of Music on Short-Term Memory Recall

This is my 2012 Science Fair Project.  Thank you to all the Digital Diner readers who participated in this study.  I could not have done it with out you.  If anyone has any questions, just post a comment or send me an email.


The Effects of Music on Short-Term Memory Recall


Music has been found to have positive effects on short term memory recall. I wanted to see if playing music during memorization and then playing the same music during the recall would increase the items that a person can remember. There have been many studies on music and its effect on memory, but I have not found one where they repeat the same music during the recall period.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Two-wheeled, Self Balancing Robot Platform with OpenCV Path Finding: Phase I

This year my science fair project was a part of a much bigger project.  You can read about the project below.  I hope you like it.
Two-wheeled, Self Balancing Robot Platform with OpenCV Path Finding: Phase I
The purpose of this project is to create a two wheeled balancing robot platform. This is the first phase of a project to build a robot which can autonomously follow hiking trails while recording its position, and taking 360º photos to create Google Street View-style immersive photos of hiking trails.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Giant Rope Swing

Here at Digital Diner, we are fans of the National Parks.  We have been to many of them and enjoyed them all.  I only have one question after seeing this video.  Do you think this is what Theodore Roosevelt had in mind when he created the National Parks?

Saturday, February 18, 2012

How Long is Your Ideal Day?

Many studies have been done to help understand whether or not the 24 hour cycle of daily light and dark lines up with our bodies internal clock/schedule (known as a circadian rhythm).  In the video below, Joe Betts-LaCroix discusses an experiment he where he stayed up 4 hours later each day.  In doing so, he created a 6 day week of 28 hour days.  He used a Zeo to monitor his sleep and a Withings blood pressure monitor to measure the effects of the experiment.  It seems that it worked well for him, but it isn't clear thta his family liked it very much.  Still it seems like an interesting experiment.

Joe Betts-LaCroix - 28 Hour Day from Gary Wolf on Vimeo.

If you want to try it yourself, you can find instructions here.

Thursday, February 16, 2012


Here at Digital Diner we have a saying that goes something like this.  "Too much butter will probably kill you, but it might just be worth it."  We thought that the same kinda goes for bacon.  ...of course buttered bacon - fagitaboutit!  Well, this fine infographic tries to convince us that bacon is actually good for you.  Do you believe it?

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

How to take a Close up Photo of a Gorilla

I like this trick.  This fellow was able to take amazing close up photos of various primates at the zoo with just his cellphone camera and a mirror.  It's really quite creative.  If you want to try it yourself, check out the "how-to" video below.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Would you eat at this restaurant?

I guess this is what you get if you go into this restaurant and ask for a "light meal."

Happy Valentine's Day

y = sqrt(cos(x))*cos(300x)+sqrt(abs(x))-0.7

Happy Valentine's Day!

The details are left as an exercise to the reader.
(hint - plot it! - we are interested in the range -2, 2)

Monday, February 13, 2012

Poem- Waiting

This poem is inspired by the book: The Secret of Sarah Revere by Ann Rinaldi.  The poem takes place in 1775, form Sarah Revere's (Paul Revere's 2nd daughter and 3rd child) point of view.

From Sarah Revere’s point of view.
By Bix
February 2012
Waiting for the knowledge,
Is father quite dead?
We ponder in our sewing,
Feeling much dread,
Others come to visit,
But what can they do?

We walk about the house,
And do our daily chores,
Trying to not have time to think,
For what will our brains do?
Put dampeners on our heads,
Keep our thoughts contained,
Waiting to know,

Sunday, February 12, 2012

200 Digital Diner Posts!

Thank you!

Thanks to everyone for reading.  We started this blog back in September 10 of last year and in the 5 months since then we've produced 200 posts.  We really hope that you enjoy reading them.

As with any milestones, this is a chance for a bit of reflection.  Looking over our statistics, I'm pleased to find that our top three most popular posts are all original content:

1) Poem- The Friendship Rose
2) Nice View
3) Media Fair Use: What do you think?

We also have a few statistics about you, our readers:

We've had readers from the US, UK, Canada, Germany, France, Netherlands, India, Italy, Lithuania, Ukraine and Australia.  They have viewed our blog on Macs, Windows, iPad, Android, PlayBook, iPhone, Linux, Blackberry, Ubuntu and BeOS using Safari, Chrome, Internet Explorer, Firefox, Mobile Safari, Opera, Apple-PubSub, Nook Browser and Adobe Air.

Very few people have left comments.  I believe this is at least partially because the comment system is a bit complicated.  You should know, however, that we really do love to get your feedback.  One simple thing you can do to let us know you like a particular posts is to check off on of the check boxes at the end of each post labelled "Funny", "Interesting", and "Cool".  That is a simple way for you tell us know which posts you like.  Also, comments are always welcome via email at digitaldiner at anegada.com.

There are a few things you may not know about Digital Diner.  There are four authors of this blog.  You can see who wrote a particular post by checking at the bottom where it says "Posted by."  Note that for some reason, the email articles don't list the author.  We have a Digital Diner Resource Page here which can help you subscribe to Digital Diner via email or RSS, and gives you some pointers to our calendar.  Our calendar includes upcoming events that we think may be of interest to our readers.  Many calendar programs allow you to add/subscribe to Google calendars, so you may be able to just have these event appear on your existing calendar.  Check the resources page for more info.   If you have an item that you think should be posted on our calendar, please email it to digitaldiner at anegada.com.

Gung Hay Fat Choy

Last night we attended what is billed as the largest Chinese New Year celebration outside of Asia.  It was a three hour long parade in San Francisco.  As you might imagine, since we are welcoming the year of the dragon, there were a LOT of fantastic dragons running through the streets of San Fran last night.  The sites and sounds and smells were intense.  It was truly an amazing spectacle.

There were all sorts of incredible floats and costumes, but my favorite float really had nothing to do with Chinese New Year.  It was a giant hot rod, shopping cart from Lucky's supermarkets - Very surrealistic.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

The Analog Google Street View

I don't know about you, but I'm impressed by Google Street View pretty much every day.  It lets me know what my destination looks like before i go there.  It lets me vicariously travel to far away places.  Recently, it even let me look around inside a restaurant where I was planning to meet someone.  Pretty cutting edge stuff.  Can you imagine what it would have seemed like to people 30 years ago?  Well, a colleague of mine actually built a very similar system back in 1978.  Michael Naimark and friends used mostly analog technology to create a very similar system.
They rigged up a vehicle with several film cameras on the roof and made them take a picture every time the vehicle moved 10 feet.  The results were put onto a video laserdisc (remember those) and tied into a system that let you navigate through the town of Aspen Colorado.  You could wander down streets of your choosing, see your location on an overhead map view and even, in some cases, navigate to an interior view of certain buildings.  Of course, the power of Street View comes from the fact that it has world wide coverage, is available to everyone and updated continuously.  Still, this was quite an interesting glimpse into the future back in 1978.
I recommend reading this short article, which Michael claims is pretty accurate other than the fact that he says it gives him too much credit.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Rejecting The Rejection Letter

If you haven't received a rejection letter, then you really haven't been trying hard enough.  It is part of life.  Well, it appears that Chris Jensen received one too many rejection letters and decided to write one of his own.  Well done!

via Neatorama

Thursday, February 9, 2012

How Maker Faire Changed One Kid's Life

Ben Hylak, one of the young scientists/inventors honored at the White House yesterday, wrote an inspiring story for the CNN website about how the Maker Faire changed his life.  There is a teaser video above, but you really need to read Ben's story here.
This weekend, on “The Next List” on CNN they will have a 30-minute profile of MAKE founder Dale Dougherty and cover MAKE, Maker Faire, and the maker movement. Check it out on CNN, Sunday, February 12th, 2pm EST.
Also, don't forget that the Maker Faire will be here in the Bay Area on May 19 & 20.  Come.  Be inspired.  Change your life.

Ben Hylak at the White House

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Netflix Art

If you subscribe to Netflix, you are undoubtably familiar with their iconic red envelopes.  I have a friend who works at Netflix.  Once, just for giggles, I wrote, "Hi Poorna!" on my envelope when I sent it back.  I knew that it was really unlikely that he would see my message, but it was a sort of performance art on my part.  Well, it turns out that there is a whole meme of Netflix envelope art.  Who knew?  People with far more talent than I have, draw complex artworks on their envelopes and then send them in to Netflix to return their DVDs.  There is a whole collection of them posted at Doodleflix.   Sadly, this artform is likely to die soon as we all transition to streaming movies...

A few of my favorites are posted after the break.


A while back I posted about the interesting process of "gamification" (yes, people are actually wordifying gamification), or using gaming techniques to help solve complex problems.  I even posted specifically about the game for protein folding that has resulted in scientific discovery and a paper in the journal Nature.
What I failed to mention is that this work continues on and you can participate.  If you go to the FoldIt web site, you can download an app and start contributing.  Most interesting is the description of the science behind FoldIt.  They describe what protein folding is, and why it can help us understand diseases like HIV/AIDS, Cancer and Alzheimer's.  They say:

  • Protein structure prediction: As described above, knowing the structure of a protein is key to understanding how it works and to targeting it with drugs. A small proteins can consist of 100 amino acids, while some human proteins can be huge (1000 amino acids). The number of different ways even a small protein can fold is astronomical because there are so many degrees of freedom. Figuring out which of the many, many possible structures is the best one is regarded as one of the hardest problems in biology today and current methods take a lot of money and time, even for computers. Foldit attempts to predict the structure of a protein by taking advantage of humans' puzzle-solving intuitions and having people play competitively to fold the best proteins.

We’re collecting data to find out if humans' pattern-recognition and puzzle-solving abilities make them more efficient than existing computer programs at pattern-folding tasks. If this turns out to be true, we can then teach human strategies to computers and fold proteins faster than ever!

To learn more about FoldIt and even download the program and try it out, click here.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Alternate reality

How many of you remember the 80's pop band Aha, and their hit song, "Take on me?"  Well, it appears that the 80s have finally reached North Korea, but I'm not quite clear what contorted path they took to get there.  The video about shows accordion players from KUM SONG School, in Pyongyang, North Korea playing this very same song (quite well I must add).  I'm really not quite sure else to say about it.

For reference, the original 80s video is below.

Fun Art Piece

I rather like this art piece by Leandro Erlich's called Bâtiment Building currently on exhibit in Paris.  It consists of the face of a building lying on the ground which you may crawl all over as you see fit, and a giant mirror suspended at a 45 degree angle that makes the reflection look like an upright building with people crawling all over its face.  The concept is quite simple, but the effect seems compelling to me.

via Who Designed It

Friday, February 3, 2012

Science Fair Results!

Tonight we attended the awards ceremony for the 2012 San Mateo County Science, Technology and Math Fair.  We are pleased to announce that in 5th grade, Bix was named a finalist, receiving the highest honor possible for a 5th grader.  Widdakay, in 7th grade, received a special engineering award from the IEEE as well as first place in his category.  Essentially they both received the highest accolades possible in this science fair.
Congratulations to both of our 
Digital Diner Science Fair winners!!

Their project titles can be found here.  Look forward to descriptions of their projects in upcoming posts.

See more photos below:

Technology and Tweeting in Morse Code

Well this is fun.  Someone has built a gadget to send Twitter messages via Morse Code.  Just imagine how useful that is!  Well, ok, maybe you should look at it as art instead.  You can read all about this Arduino-based project here.
I kind of like these sorts of technology-for-art's-sake projects.  I especially like the mixing of old and new.  It makes you ask some basic questions about exactly what "technology" is.  Clearly the telegraph key was high tech at one time or another, but it is far from it now.  Alan Kay once said (I'm paraphrasing) that technology is stuff that was invented during your life time.  Danny Hillis said that technology is everything that doesn't work.  An interesting implication of this definition is that once things work they get sucked into our lives, become invisible, and we stop seeing them as technology.  Douglas Adams saw three categories of things:

  1. Things that are already in the world when you are born.  This is "normal" stuff
  2. Things that are invented between then and the time you turn 30.  This stuff is all incredibly exciting and fun.
  3. Things that are invented after you turn 30.  These tend to be against the natural order of things and generally indicate the end of civilization as we know it.
What does technology mean to you?

Fifth Grader Creates a New Molecule

Clara Lazen, 10, managed to create a novel combination of oxygen, hydrogen and carbon atoms with a molecule modeling kit - you know the things with the balls and sticks that you put together to show molecule structures.  It seems that her science teacher had never seen the particular combination of molecules before, so he contacted a professor at Humbolt State who confirmed that it was a previously unrecorded molecule.  So now, 10 year old Lazen is listed as a co-author on a scientific paper that has been submitted to the Computational and Theoretical Chemistry.  Read the full story here.

Thursday, February 2, 2012


This is a nice video of the Lake Tahoe area here in California. In particular, I like the use fo the tilt-shift lens combined with time lapse in the early parts of the film that make everything look like a a very tiny model.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Happy Groundhog Day!

A little something for you to think about tomorrow morning.

Happy Groundhog Day!

Delays and Overdubs

It was about 50 years ago that the Beatles changed music significantly.  It wasn't just the backbeat, twangy guitars and mopish hairdos.  They were pioneers in the studio using multitrack recording techniques.  They were among the early adopters of technology that let them play multiple parts in a single song by overdubbing.  It was all made possible by a design of a tape head that could simultaneously playback and record on different tracks, but that isn't important right now.  The key thing is that that technology has evolved since those days.  Now there are digital delay lines that let you record multiple tracks and then layer more sound on top of them as they loop.  You may recall my friend Fabio's foray into the use of delay lines to perform with himself.  Here are two more fine examples of one-man-bands who play complex songs by overlaying multiple tracks.  Nice job guys!

Swarms of Quadcopters

We've talked about quadcopters before multiple times before here at Digital Diner.  This time, those folks at U Penn have really gone crazy.  They have swarms of tiny quadcopters that can fly in formation.  Its very impressive.

via Gizmodo