Saturday, April 28, 2012

Internet Resources

We all know the internet is a treasure trove of resources.  Google is amazing and very convenient, but many people are getting concerned about privacy issues and using other search engines like Duck Duck Go instead.  However, people seem to forget that there are many many other amazing resources for more specific search requests.  I just came across this incredible list of 100 time saving search engines for serious scholars organized by area of interest.  Its quite amazing.

Friday, April 27, 2012


As a fan of both TED Talks and Education in general, I was pleased to hear about the new TED Ed initiative which allows you to make online educational resources out of any TED talk and in fact any YouTube Video.  One of the nice features is the ability to "flip the classroom" which is the trendy term for making the lecture homework so that class time can be spent in more interactive pursuits.

While I'm all for flipping the classroom and any other fancy tricks that will get kids to think a little more about their classes, I firmly believe that education is far too important to be restricted to schools.  One of the really exciting trends that I've seen growing immensely in the last year or two, is a broader definition of schools and students.  We are all in school and we are all student.  I for one am happy to admit that I have plenty more to learn.  I find it really exciting that the resources that are becoming available are open to all... whether we are "students" or not.  To me this is a great step forward from our traditional concept of schools that, much like jail, the reward for good behavior is getting out.  No people, education isn't just for kids.

To that end, I've decided to "flip the post" here and use the new TED Ed tools to create a little class for you.  I put together an example, and I like you to try it out.  Watch the video, answer the questions and experience it for yourself.

Try it out here.

If you enjoy that, take a look here.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Futures Past

Lets see.  What happened in the early 1970s?  Carly Simon was singing about anticipation while Harry Nilson put the lime in the coconut.  The movie the Godfather hit the theaters.  The Watergate scandal erupted.  Atari was founded and introduced the first video game, Pong. Telephones were analog devices with dials (remember those?) that attached to the wall via a wire.  An HP-35 calculator would set you back $395 (that's about $2100 in 2012 dollars).
Cell phones, iPods, Personal computers and Apple didn't yet exist.

Meanwhile, Xerox released this video promoting their Alto computer.  Pretty impressively modern looking considering it was ~40 years ago.

Just as a little reality check.  The Xerox Alto had a whopping 128k of RAM and a 2.5MB hard drive.  That is 0.000016 time the RAM and 0.000005 times the disk space of the computer that I'm writing this post on.  Sure, we have color screens and a few other advancements, but they had the mouse, windows, networking, WYSIWYG printing, etc.  Somehow they made it all work.  It wasn't just a vision of the future, it was an incredible feat of engineering.  So, I really don't want to hear people whining about how their computer only has 4GB of RAM or that with 20GB of disk available they are almost out of room.  Come on...

I was fortunate enough to use these machines and their descendants at the University of Rochester (some years later) and they formed an important part of my view of what technology can do.  Now, although I have to go to the computer history museum to see an Alto, I'm sort of surprised by how much things are still the same.  The mobile revolution we are seeing now is the first real change to this vision in nearly 40 years.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

SmallTalk on the BeagleBone

Non-technical folks may want to skip this post, but for those of you who are, you know about my affinity for Smalltalk (Squeak in particular) as a great environment for learning and prototyping.  You may also recall that we got excited when we learned about the development board called the BeagleBone (which we are still quite excited about).  Well, like chocolate and peanut butter, two great tastes only taste better when you put them together.  Well, someone shows off how to use Squeak on the BeagleBone to read values from the analog inputs.  Very nice.  Full instructions are here.

Slow Jammin the News

When the POTUS slow jams the news with Jimmy Fallon, suddenly the interest rates on students loans seems a lot more important to me...  I suppose this isn't anything new since Bill Clinton used to sit in with the band on late night TV.  Still I find it all entertaining.

How To succeed at almost anything

It turns out that success can be a habit.  I had no idea.  I guess I need to look at things a little differently.

via Bustr

Historical Misconceptions

Have you ever wondered about where our versions of history comes from?  Apparently quite a few of them just aren't based in facts at all.  Five of them are debunked in the video above.  Kind of makes you wonder about everything else we learn, historical or otherwise eh? 

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

RC Plane + Camera

Sure, we like our quadcopters, but radio control airplanes aren't so bad either, especially if you put a GoPro video camera on it.  Be sure that you watch all the way to the fun scenes at the end.

Thanks Glenn

Sparkfun Education

SparkFun has been a source for parts for a lot of our projects here at Digital Diner.  We are fans.  That is why we are excited to tell you about something new that was announced today.  They have launched a new education website at  They have tutorials and classes for a variety of Maker related topics including basica electronics, soldering and Arduinos.  It looks like a great place to get started if you need to learn a thing or two before you get started on building that next great gadget.

Take a look.  It wont bite.

What's in the Darkroom?

The video above is not very exciting unless you take a camera set to F4.5 and 1 sec exposure and take pictures at the appropriate times in the video.  Basically, by using a long exposure, the camera is able to add up a set of frames that together form an image.  Only by looking at these summed up pixels can you see the image hidden inside.  I tried it and it works pretty well.  I think it is an interesting form of encryption.

Welcome to the Anthropocene

The Anthropocene is a new era.  Literally, like the Paleozoic and Mesozoic.  Scientists are starting to look at the span of influence that humans are having on the planet and see that it is getting to be the comparable to the geologic effects that define time periods of the past.  The video above shows (in a nicely artistic way) Earth as defined human influence.

More info here

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Buildings of Shape

There are many buildings in the world with a strange shape, but here are some of my favorites. The one above is in Chile and is called Magic Mountain.  It is a hotel shaped like a volcano (though made of grass) and even has water blasting out the top of it. Read more about it here.

This building, shaped like a fish lives in Hyderabad, India and serves as a National Fisheries Development Board building.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Perfect Presentation

With some recent presentations here at Digital Diner, we've been doing research to try to understand the perfect presentation.  It reminded me of one of our favorites.  It doesn't distract with irrelevant content but allows the form of the presentation to shine through.  Besides, who doesn't like chicken?  Enjoy.

Pizza Delivery

Listen carefully to the sound of this Scooter that is delivering Domino's Pizza.  Awesomeness!  If I could be guaranteed that they would deliver it with this scooter, I think I would order a pizza from them now.

Thursday, April 19, 2012


One of the classes that is just starting up at Udacity is on cryptography - you know, encryption and secret computer codes.  While at Sun Labs I had the pleasure of working with Whit Diffie, co-inventor of the Diffie-Hellman algorithm that makes public key cryptography possible.  What in the heck is that? you say.  It is a mechanism that allows two parties to share secrets across a public communication channel.  The video above tries to explain this process in simple terms and, for the most part, does a reasonable job.

Size and Time

Sometimes its hard to get a good grip on just how big or small things are - especially when we can't observe them directly in relationship to something whose size we understand.  Just how big is the Sun, or an atom, or the universe?  One of the first attempts I ever saw to put sizes into perspective was the 1977 movie called Powers of Ten (shown below).

Now with our interactive technologies, you can be in control exploration yourself instead of watching a movie thanks to the work of someone named Cary Huang.  Check it out.  Its great fun.

Try it here (Adobe Flash required - thanks for the link Nicole)

Unfortunately, no mater how you play with the controls, sizes haven't really changed much since 1977.  ...and of course the relationship between size and time is pretty constant as we understand it now.  The nearest stars are still a LONG way away, so its not really clear how we'll ever be able to visit them (as explained by NASA in the video below).

BTW, Minute Physics does a nice job of explaining the relationship between distance and time in the video How Far is  a Second (below)

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Slow Motion

Our regular readers know that we love ultra slow motion video and are really hoping that some day a generous read donates a Phantom Flex camera to us.  In the mean time, we'll just have to be entertained by the things others do with their high speed cameras.  In this case its a collection of silly things from the Danish TV show Dumt & Farligt.  Very nice.  BTW, you can see the whole waterbed scene here.

Angry Birds in Space

You've all seen/played angry birds, but how would the physics change if you played in space with zero gravity?

Thanks Blake

Stairway to Heaven - Backwards!

Back in the 1970s there were a lot of claims that rock-n-roll was evil because it allegedly contained backwards masked messages.  Basically the claim was that music contained voice messages recorded backwards and hidden in songs that would subconsciously find their way into your brain and virally infect America's youth thus leading to the breakdown of society as we know it... or something like that.  Well this fellow, Jeroen Offerman, was inspired enough by this to spend 3 months learning the classic rock-n-roll song Stairway to Heaven backwards.  He recorded himself singing it backwards with a reversed Karaoke track, then reversed the whole thing and the result is the video you see above.
Very impressive Jeroen, but seriously dude, you have too much time on your hands.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Testing Toilet Paper?


If I were asked to systematically test toilet paper, I'm not sure exactly what sorts of test I would run.  This video shows what Consumer Reports does to create its ratings.  I feel secure knowing that someone has my bottom in mind.

via Gizmodo

New Udacity Classes

Widdakay and I took an online class in Programming a Robotic Car that was quite impressive.  It basically taught us the techniques/technology used to create the cars that competed in the DARPA Grand Challenge and the Google self-driving car.  We took this class through a new online school called Udacity, which we've mentioned here before.  They teach classes in a style that I find very compelling where they use short videos, interactive quizes and an online programming environment.  These classes are about 7 weeks long, are college level and quite technical, but still (aside from a bit of math here and there) accessible.

Today, they are starting a new set of courses, so I wanted to pass on the information in case any of our readers are interested in trying them out.  Its all completely free, so all that it takes is a little bit of your time.  What have you got to lose?

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Kitty Ennui

I think film noir is the only proper way to truly express a cat's feelings.

Thanks Glenn

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Groovy Guitar

This is a video of 15(?) year old guitar player Ben Lapps, who must have been heavily influenced by one of my favorites, Michael Hedges.  That video was taken in 2010.  He started playing at age 12 and had recorded his first album by the age of 14.  Ben is now an 18 year old high school student in Cincinnati and is better than ever (see below).

Pay attention when you text

The video is a little reminder of the dangers of being distracted while testing.  You never know what you'll run into out there. 

Thanks Mercy

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Don't Press the Button!

Remind me never to press any big red buttons that happen to be sitting in the middle of the street.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Can your cup of coffee predict the weather?

Coffee has yet another benefit!  Weather prediction!


Try this.  Pour a cup of coffee into your cup tomorrow morning.  Do the bubbles go to the edge quickly? If so, you will have clear skies for the next 12 hours.  If the bubbles hang out in the middle of the cup, bring your umbrella.  If the bubbles slowly migrate to the edge, then there may be weather, but it will clear after a few hours.  (From the craftzine article here.)

Here's the theory:  high pressure pushes the bubbles to the edge, indicating clear skies.   Low pressure doesn't move the bubbles, which means unsettled weather, see this post.

I am definitely having a cup of coffee in the morning!

Monday, April 9, 2012

After Easter


Tulips! Tulips! Tulips!

Tulips, tulips, everywhere!

It is the season of tulips.  One billion tulips are grown each year.  Our climate is too warm for them to thrive here, but thankfully they appear in the stores at this time of year.   According to this UK article from MailOnline, there are 60 million tulips in the top photograph from the Netherlands.  Amazing!

You can see the original article here.

Talk Reminder

Digital Diner ALERT!!!  This is NOT a drill!!!  

Tomorrow Tuesday April 10, 2012 at 1:30 pm PT, at Carnegie Mellon Silicon Valley, our own Widdakay will be giving a talk.  If you can't make it in person, you can tune in live on the web at the time of the talk.  

Exclusive Preview:  We were able to obtain exclusive inside information on this talk just for you, our readers.  Our sources tell us, it will be a very technical talk, but there will be a little something in there for everyone.  It will include adorable childhood pictures as well as complex algorithms and demonstrations of truly cutting edge robotics techniques.  

To view on the web, follow this link at talk time and then "enter as a guest."
This talk will describe a 13 year old’s experiences and path as a maker. I will talk about my explorations of power electronics, sensors and computers leading up to my current two-wheeled balancing robot. The two wheeled platform is being designed for autonomously taking 360 ̊, panoramic photos on walking paths. I will demonstrate the current prototype components and discuss future plans. As background, I will also give you a glimpse of my world. As a young maker, I have access to the wide range of software technologies, hardware parts and educational resources that make my projects possible. This hardware and software, such as the Arduino platform, are amazing resources for the home hobbyist. I will tell you where I find these tools, how to start using them and, I hope, inspire you to build gadgets of your own.
Widdakay is a 13 year old homeschooler who is fascinated by hardware and software and loves to create things. He has always been fascinated with how things worked. His first interest was plumbing, then came vacuums, four stroke engines, electronics and programming. By the time he was 6 years old, he had created his first simple electronic circuit, etched a circuit board and soldered components on to make it function. In the years since then, he has gone on to design and build systems such as a 13 gram device, which measures and logs 12 different sensors, to record the flight of a model rocket. He has earned his General class amateur radio license. He has won his category in the San Mateo Science Fair three times, received the IEEE award at the San Mateo County Science Fair 2012, the National Society of Professional Engineers and Professional Engineers in Industry Award at the San Francisco Bay Area Science Fair 2012, the Silicon Boule Award at the California State Science Fair 2011, and has shown his projects at the Maker Faire on multiple occasions. In 2007, he and two friends won the North Star Academy Invention Showcase for their built from scratch, electric car that was capable of carrying a driver and passenger at speeds that made his parents quite nervous.

Friday, April 6, 2012

A Funny Way to Dance

This is a very funny video of dancing.  It seems strange that a dog would be able to dance for that long a time but, very strange things can be found here at Digital Diner.

Thanks Opa =-)

ZIp Line Roller Coaster

I don't know.  Sure, I'll go skydiving indoors, but this looks a little scary to me.  The whole thing shakes around so much and those drops look pretty crazy.  What would it take for that to jump off its track and send you plummeting?
If you can't judge from that video, you can try this one that shows you several other zipline rides from Florida Eco Safaris.

from the Orlando Sentinel

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Take the stairs

Take the Stairs

Via LikeCool.

Monsters Inc Remix

Here at Digital Diner, we watched the movie Monsters Inc quite a few times while Bix and Widdakay were growing up.  Its definitely a classic.  This remix takes sounds and images from the movie and turns them into a quirky, but catchy tune that I hope you enjoy.

Of course, if you like that one there are several others remixes to chose from including The Wizard OZ and many more, but I'll warn you now that if you listen to too many in a row, your brain will turn to mush.

Tips on writing great short stories

This video was made based on a recording of Kurt Vonnegut explaining how to write a short story in 8 straight forward steps.  I especially like the part about what to do just in case cockroaches eat the last pages.

Memorizing the Periodic Table

I've never memorized the periodic table of elements, but now I think I just might.  All I have to do is learn the song in this video and I'll be home free.  Now that's a catchy mnemonic device.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Project Glass

Today Google let out a little bit of information about their Project Glass.  The idea seems to be that the current form factor for a mobile phone may not be optimal.  Google thinks you should be wearing glasses that you talk to instead of carrying around a bar of soap.  Take a look at the video to get an idea of what is is like to wear funky, glass-free glasses and talk to yourself all day.  Rumor has it that these may be out by the end of the year.  What do you think?  Would you wear these glasses?

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Flying Car

It's 2012, where is my flying car??  I'm pretty sure that I was assured as a child that by now we would all be buzzing around in some sort of personal air vehicle.  But there has been nothing... until now.  Well, OK.  Its really more of a flying motorcycle than a flying car, but still... a vehicle that works both on the road and in the air.  It is the PAL-V ONE, a gyrocopter/motorcycle hybrid vehicle that leans into corners like a motorcycle on the ground and, with a few minutes of conversion, can fly through the air above those same roads.  I don't know that its really practical for anything, but that isn't the point.  Just look at it.  Think about how jealous your friends will be as you buzz their house.  Dude!  If you watch the video below, you'll see that it lands really slowly, which seems like a plus on the safety side, but that it also looks like it might be sort of fun to drive.  It has a top speed of 112 mph on the ground or in the air.

Earlier this week there was news of another flying car, Terrafugia's Transition.  It is a more traditional flying car design (if there is such a thing).  Who knows, maybe we'll soon have to choose between multiple flying vehicles.

The video below shows a day in the life of the Transition.

So, which would you choose?

Monday, April 2, 2012

Arthur C. Clarke Predicts the Internet & PC in 1974

Since I'm sort of in the business of predicting the future, I always get impressed when I see someone who gets it right.  Take a look at what Arthur C Clarke said about computers back in 1974.  For those of you who weren't around then, in 1974 the word "computer" meant that thing that was filling up the room behind him.  This was a pretty good leap.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

April Fools Roundup

Here is our round-up of the best gags for today.

Google has been busy.  
  • We fully endorse Gmail Tap - the new morse code interface to Gmail since all of us here at Digital Diner are hame radio operators.

  • YouTube announced the YouTube collection DVD.  You can now order all of YouTube on DVD.  

There is plenty out there.  Let us know if you find any good ones..