Tuesday, July 31, 2012

How to Tie a Bow Tie

Bill Nye the Science Guy teaches you how to tie a bow tie.  Awesome.

Seven Minutes of Terror

This video had been floating around the internet for a while, but with less than one week to go to the Curiosity Mars rover's landing on the red planet, its a great time to take a second look (or first if you haven't seen it yet).  The events of the video should take place next week, Aug 5 at 10:31pm PT (Aug 6 @ 1:31am ET).  We'll definitely have our fingers crossed here at Digital Diner.

Lakes on Titan

In this fascinating video, physicist Brian Cox describes some interesting features discovered on Titan, one of the moons of Saturn.  Very inspiring stuff and worth your time to watch.

Friday, July 27, 2012

How Brave Are You?

This is pretty impressive.  Some folks were apparently kept up a significant portion of the night by the sound of some bear cubs whining because they got stuck in a dumpster.  Apparently they were able to climb in by finding footholds on the outside of the dumpster, but the inside didn't have anything to step on.  Mama bear waited all night beside them.  This brilliant and brave camping couple came up with quite a plan.  They backed up their dump truck and stuck a ladder in the dumpster so that the bears could climb out.  Watch the video and see how well it worked.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Squirrel Feeder

Ok, so it seems to me that squirrels just sort of spontaneously generate and there is really no need to encourage them by feeding them, but if I ever did want a squirrel feeder, I would definitely try this hanging "big head" one.  Classic!

via LikeCool

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Google Science Fair

    Here at Digital Dinner we participate in science fairs every year and and have strong positive opinions about increasing the quality of science education.
      The google science fair has gotten entries from 400 countries in 14 different languages, from all the continents (excluding Antarctica).  Thousands of entries were submitted, and only 4 winners, the grand prize winner (also an age group winner), winners from each age group, and the science in action award winner.
On Monday July 23rd, the 15 finallists displayed their projects with knowledge and passion in their voices.  The finallists were inspired to answer a question, solve a problem.  All that inspiration is contagious.  Here at Digital Dinner, we were inspired too.

Click here for more information:


Mobile Trash Can

This seems to me to be a great way to make cleaning up more fun - a trash can that helps to make sure your garbage goes where it belongs!

Tuesday, July 24, 2012


Vi Hart is always fun.  Rather than talking about relationship between mathematics and music or symmetry, she just does it.  Repeating graphical patterns like this are called a frieze group while these repeated patterns in music are called canons.  The combination is lovely.

Loopadupa Loopadupa.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Fruits vs Vegetables

The simple tomato.  Is it a fruit or a vegetable?
We all know we are supposed to eat our fruits and vegetables, and kids prefer fruits to vegetables by a wide margin.  But, have you ever stopped to think about what a fruit and/or vegetable really is?  I'm pretty sure an apple is a fruit and broccoli is a vegetable.  Many of you probably know that scientifically the tomato is a fruit, even though many people consider it a vegetable.  But did you know that the supreme court ruled in the Nix vs Hedden case that the tomato should legally be considered a vegetable.  You may even have heard of the government counting a packet of ketchup as a serving of vegetables in school lunches.   So what is the deal here?  Science says the tomato is a fruit, but the government seems to have no trouble calling it a vegetable.  How can this be??  We are here to set the record straight for all of you.

A squash flower from our garden.
A squash will grow here - a good indication that it is a fruit
First lets talk about what a fruit actually is.  By botanical definition it is the ovaries of a plant.  What this means is that it comes from the flower and carries the seeds of the plant.  In a symbiotic relationship, the plant makes a good tasting tissue around the seed which animals eat and help the plant to spread its seed.  This means that squash, pumpkin, cucumbers, peas, beans, corn, wheat grains and tomatoes, botanically-speaking, are fruits.  In culinary terms though, most of these would be considered vegetables.  
Even nuts are dry, single seeded fruits.  Well, ok, some nuts are two seeded, however, and in botanical terms really only fruit in the order Fagales are true nuts.  In culinary terms, however, the term nut applies to any large, oily kernel found in a shell.  This allows us to call peanuts, nuts, even though they really are botanically fruits and in culinary terms, vegetables.  Anyone confused yet?
As a side note from the "some things are hard to categorize" department, a few years back Monika and I saw the Coco de Mer trees on the island of Praslin in the Seychelles.  It is the largest seed in the plant kingdom with a single seed growing to 40-50 cm in diameter and 15-30 kg.  The largest one on record weighed 42kg.  You don't want to be under these "fruit" when they fall.  So here is a "nut" that is much bigger than most vegetables.  Go figure.  The Coco de Mer looks sort of like a giant, two lobed coconut; which reminds me, a coconut is botanically a drupe, NOT a nut.  I'm starting to get the feeling that this isn't going to be so easy to clear up... 

A haul of tomatoes from the Digital Diner garden

OK, then what is a vegetable?  Well here is where the real problem arises.  A vegetable is an edible plant or part of a plant but not seeds and most fruit.  Do you see the problem here?  A vegetable is any part of a plant you eat as long as we don't consider it a fruit.  This is just the kind of opening that allows the legal system to step in a make a judgement as to what is legally a vegetable.  Of course, it can still get even more complicated.  Think about mushrooms.  No they aren't fruit.  They aren't even plants.  They are fungi.  Still many people consider them vegetables.  Oy!  Wikipedia sums it up with this:

There are at least four definitions relating to fruits and vegetables:
  • Fruit (botany): the ovary of a flowering plant (sometimes including accessory structures),
  • Fruit (culinary): any edible part of a plant with a sweet flavor,
  • Vegetable (culinary): any edible part of a plant with a savory flavor.
  • Vegetable (legal): commodities that are taxed as vegetables in a particular jurisdiction

So, the final answer as to whether something is a fruit or vegetable is, "it depends."  The definitions of nuts, fruits and vegetables seems to be quite vague.  It seems there is enough leeway that you can call any fruit or vegetable just about anything you want.  Here is our suggestion to help clear up the problems at least a little bit.  Let's call any edible plant or part of a plant a vegetable.  By this definition any fruit would also be a vegetable, but suppose we don't require fruits and vegetables to be mutually exclusive.  Then fruits are a subset of vegetables.  You would be correct to call a  tomato a fruit or a vegetable as you please.  It is both! I think we could even make room for the fungi in there too.  Vegetable could be a sort of catchall word for edible stuff that is grown.  Sure the tomato is a vegetable... and by the way, Pluto should still be a planet if I feel like it too.  Sorry that just slipped out. Anyway, lets try this on.  All grown (non-animal) food is vegetable.  Does that work for you?  What do you think?  

Now go eat your vegetables!

We grow lots of heirloom tomatoes at Digital Diner.
We expect this year's crop to start appearing in another  month or two.
This year we had a bumper crop of plums,
so we should be able to make it through the winter on our plum jam.
A bucket of lingonberries we picked in Sweden

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

The Laptop Design

I always find the history of technology is intriguing.  Understanding how some of the technologies that we take for granted today came to be is fascinating.
Time magazine just did a released little story called "Clamshell! The Story of the Greatest Computing Form Factor of All Time."  It is about the laptop design that dominates the world of computing today.  It tells the story of how Bill Moggridge came up with the design of the screen that folded over the keyboard back in the eighties at a company called GRiD Systems.  The part that they miss, is that a patent search shows that 1982 patent number 280511 for the design of the "portable computer"actually has 4 inventors including Dave Paulson, Steve Hobson and, good friend of Digital Diner, Glenn Edens (Bill, Dave and Glenn were three of the four founders of GRiD).   Bill Moggridge was the industrial designer behind this form factor, but I believe the other three deserve some credit as well.  So it is with much joy that we recommend this little celebration of the clamshell design that we all know and love.  Quirky, I know, but with the tablet computers comping on so hot and heavy, it is important to pay homage to the design that has served us so well.

Read the story at Time Magazine

Photography Extends our Vision

This little video reminds you beautifully just how much the camera is a lever for our eyes.  It allows us to see things that would otherwise be invisible.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Northern Lights in Michigan

Did any of our Michigan/Canada readers catch the Northern Lights last night?  It looks like they were impressive, although you had to be up in the middle of the night to catch them.

Explore the Antarctic

Google's Blog today ran the following snippet:

In the winter of 1913, a British newspaper ran an advertisement to promote the latest imperial expedition to Antarctica, apparently placed by polar explorer Ernest Shackleton. It read, "Men wanted for hazardous journey. Low wages, bitter cold, long hours of complete darkness. Safe return doubtful. Honour and recognition in event of success." While the ad appears apocryphal, the dangerous nature of the journey to the South Pole is certainly not—as explorers like Roald Amundsen, Robert Falcon Scott and Shackleton himself discovered as they tried to become the first men to reach it.

Now Google Street View allows you to explore Antarctica from the comfort of your own home via Street View.  You can explore around some interesting sites such as the South Pole TelescopeShackleton's hutScott’s hutCape Royds Adélie Penguin Rookery and the Ceremonial South Pole.  Just click on the links about and poke around a bit.  It's fun.  

Via Google Official Blog

Meet Our New Overlords

Yes, I know that it is inevitable that some Terminator-style robots will eventually take over and that our squishy little bioforms will be rendered obsolete.  However, seeing the above video from the RoboCup soccer matches makes me think that day may still be a little way out.  Maybe we still have a few good years to look forward to.  Granted, those are the bloopers, still, I think that even with my rusty soccer skills, we I could take these guys - at least in soccer.

The RoboCup is an initiative including an anual competition with autonomous, soccer playing robots like those in the video above and other areas including search and rescue and home assistants.

You can see more videos of the competition here.
Learn more info about the RoboCup is here.

Monday, July 16, 2012

What if you could swim through the air?

Loyal readers will remember that some time ago, the Digital Diner crew did a bit of indoor skydiving.  It was great fun, but it was clear that with some work, you could develop this skill and have a lot of fun.  The folks in this video have taken this idea to an extreme that I'm starting to think could make an interesting Olympic sport.  What do you think?

San Francisco on a Rubber Band

Animated gifs are computer images that are actually little motion picture snippets (if the pictures on this page aren't moving, wait a minute until they download completely). These clever ones from around San Francisco make me feel like I'm seeing the city on a rubber band.  First I bounce over and then back.  Zing.  Zang.  

These little snippets are part of the music video called Waterfall by Kalle Mattson (directed by Kevin Parry).  Its a clever use of zooming and animation techniques.  More snippets and the film are below.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Coded Message

In case you need to stretch your brain today, try to read this.  Brains are pretty interesting/amazing things for sure.

Friday, July 13, 2012

I put a spell on you

This is a humorous creepy video to end your week - a lip-sync version of "I put a spell on you."
Have a good weekend everyone!

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Marking 1 Year with the FitBit - 2 Million Steps!

How many steps do you take in a year?  I just found out I took about 2 million steps last year.
I've previously mentioned that I use a FitBit; that cool high tech pedometer.  Yesterday I passed a milestone.  I took my 2 millionth step since getting a FitBit back on July 14th of 2011. This milestone came in just a few days less than a year.  Sure there were a couple of weeks missing in there when I lost my first FitBit, and I suppose there are a few times I forgot it etc, but generally it appears that I took about 2,000,000 steps in the last year.  I thought this would be a good time to give you some impressions of the device after 2 million steps of use.

The FitBit is a pedometer, but with a bit of a modern twist.  It uses an accelerometer to measure your steps, and then it uploads this data to their servers where they give you all sorts of analysis of your activities.  In addition to the accelerometer, the latest version can measure barometric pressure, which allows it to track whether or not you are going up or down steps.   Seeing this data is quite fun.  It is compelling enough that I've worn mine almost everyday for a year now.  We've also gotten FitBits for the rest of the family.  I think its great when we get toward the end of the day and see that we haven't gotten enough steps yet, so we decide to go for a walk.

10,000 steps

There are several studies that show that people who take 10,000 steps per day are generally healthier.  It is correlated with everything from lowering the risk of diabetes, or maintaining bone density not to mention that too much sitting still can apparently cause cancer.  For the average person, a mile is about 2000 steps, so 10,000 steps means walking the equivalent of about 5 miles a day.  It appears that there is nothing magical about 10,000 steps, but that it is a good stretch goal for many people.  With my desk job, I get 2000-4000 steps a day unless I make an effort to go and get some extra steps.  My goal is still less than 10,000 steps per day, but I'm getting significantly more steps than I did before I had my FitBit.

How it works (& some technical details)

To use a FitBit, you clip it to your clothing and it uses the accelerometer to sense periodic motion consistent with walking.  Based on your height and weight it makes some estimates as to your stride length and other factors which allow it to figure out how many steps you took, how far you walked and how many calories you burned to do so.  Its pretty good at telling the difference between walking and driving on a bumpy road, so overall it does a pretty good job.  Generally, it seems to be detecting periodic motion that is in the range of about 1Hz to 4Hz.  I don't know their exact algorithm, but if I were designing this device, I might use data about the overall force on the accelerometer in addition to the pace to determine just how fast the person is walking/running.  In other words,  I suspect that the amount of time a pedometer spends in free fall and the intensity of the impact on landing, may be good clues about the nature of your movement just as the cadence is.
In our tests, we've found the FitBit to be surprisingly accurate.  At first I wondered how well it would do estimating things like distance based on steps, so we did a few experiments.  Whenever we've tested it in real situations, its always been easily within 10% of the measurements that we have gotten by other means (GPS, map measurements etc) or others with FitBits.  We got pretty good results in our experiment to find out the variability of FitBits.  Going up and down hills throws it off a bit because you take shorter steps going up than down, but these tend to even out if you end at the same altitude that you started from.  I haven't had a chance to test this with the newer FitBit with and altimeter.  It may be able to use this extra information to get more accurate results.
The battery life is pretty amazing for such a small device.  You need to charge it about every 10 days, by leaving it on the base station for a couple hours.  The long battery life and automatic syncing make the hassle factor very low on this device.  All you need to do is remember to clip it to your clothes and you are good to go.
Whenever you get within range (~15 feet) of a base station (A USB dongle) the FitBit automatically syncs itself to the FitBit cloud.    This system works quite well and the syncing seems to happen without me paying any attention to it at all.  The wireless component is based on ANT+, a very low power RF protocol heavily used in fitness equipment.  This is a major factor in keeping power consumption down.  It is much simpler and more low power than Bluetooth.  The new Bluetooth Low Energy (BTLE) standard may challenge this some day, but for now ANT+ is the wireless protocol of choice for low-power, short-range fitness devices.
The newer version has an altimeter that uses minute changes in barometric pressure to detect stair climbing.  My first FitBit did not have an altimeter, but I lost that one and the replacement was a newer one that did have it.  This means that for the last 6 months or so I've been able to track the number of flights of stairs I climb in a day.  Because the altimeter is detecting actual air pressure changes, this means that, because your altitude doesn't actually change, you can climb all day on a stair machine at the gym and not get any credit for it on your FitBit.

The Data

As you walk around wearing the FitBit, you are generating data.  All this data ends up on a private area of the FitBit website, where you can monitor your activities.  By pressing a button on the FitBit, you can identify special activities whose stats can be tracked separately so that you know just how you are doing with your workout at the gym.

To me, the most interesting thing about the FitBit is that it monitors you continuously, so your data can be divided up into 5 minute chunks that tell you a lot about how you spend your day.  This is the real secret of this device and provides a lesson that other sensors can learn from.   Taking my pulse or blood pressure is interesting, but if I could see a graph of it over the course of a day/week/month, it gets much more compelling.  In the case of FitBit, it measures every step I take (within a margin of error).  This is how I know that nearly 1000 miles last year.  Who knew?  For each day I can see how much time I spend sitting around and how much time I spend moving.  It puts this data together for me into weekly goals and badges that I earn as I reach certain milestones.

In addition to number of steps you get estimates of calories burned and if you are good about manually entering data, you can also put in information about how many calories you consume in order to see if you are balancing your input to your output.

What does this data tell you?  A few month ago I moved to a new office building.  It turns out that at this new building I get significantly fewer steps.  I might not have noticed this, but it makes sense since my parking spot is closer to my office, I don't have to walk as far to lunch and the bathroom and kitchen are nearby.  Because I have my FitBit I saw my total number of steps each day drop significantly and realized quickly that I needed to do a little more extra work to burn those calories that I used to burn without thinking about it. 

Here are some badges I have received.
This particular gadget is compelling enough that we've gotten them for the whole family.  I get a pretty good sense of just how active the kids are during the course of the day - which is really useful as they enter the occasionally slothful teenage years.  It works out pretty well.  

Another interesting thing you can do with the FitBit is monitor your sleep.  You wear the FItBit on an wrist band as you sleep and it tracks your movements over the course of the night.  I have been playing with other gadgets for monitoring sleep, but the FitBit actually does give you a basic idea of how restful your sleep was.  It can also help you to determine, for example, if there is a clock chime or other regular sound that affects your sleep.  If you move every hour on the hour, or every night at exactly the same time, maybe you should check to find out what external influence is that is affecting your sleep at that time.
Of course, this function is fairly limited.  Just because I'm lying still does not mean that I'm sleeping.  Conversely, motion does not always mean that I'm awake.  Overall, I do find that the FitBit is a reasonable indicator of how soundly I slept.  It is especially useful when I look at the trends over time.  I can see if I'm not getting behind on sleep and need to make an effort to catch up, before it affects my performance significantly.  I have another device that is able to correlate your sleep patterns with other data, like whether or not you crank caffeine the evening before.  With the FitBit, you have the data, but you must do the correlation manually.  A much better tool for monitoring sleep is the Zeo which I may talk about in another post some other time.


We really like our FitBits, for some reason, they keep getting lost or broken.  My original FitBit somehow jumped off my belt while I was at CES this year.  Both the kid's devices are being help together with tape because they have been damaged (granted kids aren't easy on these sorts of things) to the point where they are no longer working.  Monika's FitBit has been missing for two weeks now.  I think having a mode where you can make them beep would be great for finding them and figuring out a new style for the clip might make them a little less exposed and subject to damage.  These things are NOT cheap, so replacing broken/damaged ones for a family of four is a significant investment.  The people at FitBit are very helpful and have a decent replacement/discount policy, but this is an area that could use improvement.

Who owns the data?

One major annoyance with the FitBit is that you have to pay for a premium service ($50/yr) in order to be able to download your data.  You can look at the data on their website for free, but to download it you need a pro account.  With health data that I generate, I feel strongly that I own the data.  If they want  me to pay for some additional value that they add in convenience or in analytics, that is fine, but don't charge me for access to my own raw data!  In particular I want to be able to correlate this data with other data that I collect through other means, but with FitBit, that is impossible without using their service.  This is a significant failing of the FitBit business model from my perspective.

The FitBit also integrates with some other health devices.  We have a WiThings bathroom scale that logs our weight.  I have set that up to forward its data to the FitBit website so that I can see my weight changes on the FitBit website along with my step data.  This is useful, but there are other devices, such as the Zeo, that do a much better job of showing correlations.  Of course, while FitBit will import data from others, they wont export, so you can't get those other sites better analytical information about your step data.

Overall I really like these devices, but I do hope that they work on these issues.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

How Vi hart Makes Videos

We love Vi Hart here at Digital Diner. She is the one who does all those cool math videos.  They have a certain style to them.  She talks very quickly, without ever taking a breath while the images speed by in a sort of jerky sped up fashion.  Well, in the video above, she explains how to make a video in her style - which of course she does in her own style.  It is dripping with recursion.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Books that can't wait

Disappearing ink makes a comeback

There is a problem for new authors...  They need readers quickly so that they can find out whether the should start working on their next book or find another career.  It can take years for a book from a new author to catch on.  How do you incent people to read books quickly, so that these authors can get the feedback they need?  Its easy, you print the book on disappearing ink.  That kind of brings the whole issue to the forefront.

Fancy Driving

If it weren't for the traffic in San Francisco, I could drive like this too.

Cliff Bar Bikes

Its the 20th anniversary of your company.  You've created a very successful brand and series of projects thanks to the hard work of your 300+ employees.  You want to do something special to thanks them.  What do you do?  It should be something substantial.  It should represent the values of the company - sustainability & community.  If you're Cliff Bar (the snack food company), and the concept for the company was born during a bike ride, then the answer is clear.  You buy custom bikes for each employee.  You even inscribe each bike with the name of the employee and the date they started at Cliff Bar.  You would call it project "kickstand" and, you would keep it a secret from everyone so that you can have a big unveiling and surprise everyone.  Well done!

via PublicBikes Blog

Monday, July 9, 2012

200 Year Old Android

If you haven't seen the movie Hugo, you should.  It's a very nice film that features a humanoid automaton that is able to use pen and ink.  I had no idea that mechanical devices this complex really existed back in the 18th century, but apparently they did.  The one in the video above is able to write.  It is one of three automatons that still exist built by watchmaker Jaquet Droz and his family.  The mechanical wonder is based on a clock mechanism that moves the hand with the pen and the paper to spell out words.  There is another one that draws and a third that plays the piano.  I can't imagine what it would have been like to plan and build such a device without the aid of computers.

via TechCrunch

Soda vs Pop

I grew up in the midwest, went to college in upstate New York with a bunch of folks from the city, lived in cowboy country and now reside in California.  I almost exclusively drink water these days.  I wonder if part of the reason for my choice is that as I moved around to different places in the country I found it difficult to figure out what word to use to request a soft drink.  You see for some it's "soda."  For others it's "pop."  For still others, the generic term is "coke."  The preference seems to vary geographically.

To track down this phenomenon, a fellow named Edwin Chen did an analysis of geotagged Twitter posts that seemed to be referring to soft drinks and correlated the word to the location.  You see public Twitter messages are interesting (and short) examples of language that can often be tied to a particular location.  So by looking for Twitter messages that refer to "soda", "pop" and "coke" in the appropriate context (ie as referring to a generic soft drink) he was able to find geographical correlations.  The results are in the map above.  It is pretty clear that the upper midwest prefers "pop" (green) while the south (especially around Atlanta) seems to prefer "coke" (red).  The coasts seem to prefer "soda" (blue).
I can say from experience that this is consistent with my observations.  It's "soda" here in California, but "pop" if I visit the Great Lakes area (Michigan or parts of Canada).

I advocate drinking water rather than soda (especially no soda for breakfast), but if you are interested in language as it applies to soft drinks, you might want to check out this article.

via Edwin Chen's Blog

Friday, July 6, 2012

Looking for readers in Montana, Kentucky, Vermont and Maine

Digital Diner Web visitors by state as of July 6, 2012
A few statistics from the department of shameless self-promotion:
The US map above is a state-by-state map of where the US readers of Digital Diner come from.  I don't believe this includes stats for people reading in email... its just web accesses.  The darker the color, the more traffic.  As you can see, most of our readers are in California (not too surprising).  Second is Michigan (thanks guys!) and so on for 46 states!!  What I just noticed is that we have NO access from Montana, Kentucky, Vermont or Maine.  We even have Alaska and Hawaii.  If we can just get these four states, we will have all 50!  This blog is only 8 months old, so this would be a great achievement.

Can you help us?
Please tell your friends in those four states to check out our blog at http://digitaldiner.blogspot.com so that we can complete our stats.

  • Kentucky
  • Vermont
  • Maine
  • Montana

Just for the record, you are allowed encouraged to tell people in other states or countries about the blog too if you like.  We won't complain a bit.

We can work on world domination later.

Its the Higgs, Bozo!

There has been a lot of news about the Higgs boson recently.  CERN's recent discovery of a new particle that seems very Higgs boson-like is indeed big news.  It gives a lot of support to the current "standard model" in which this particle is responsible for much of the mass of the universe.  

It has inspired Vi Hart (a Digital Diner favorite) to produce the sonnet in the video above.  The funny thing is that they didn't really need to build a multi-billion dollar large hadron collider to find it.  They could have just looked on eBay to find it in a peanut butter jar.

For me, I'm pretty sure that I found the "God particle" a few years back in a piece of cheesecake.  Eating it certainly seemed to make me feel heavier anyway.

In case you missed them:

A Higgs boson walks into a bar, the bartender asks "What's the matter? You look like you've got the weight of the world on your shoulders"

A Higgs boson walks into a catholic church. Priest says "What are you doing here?" Higgs boson says "You can't have mass without me"

Darth Vader was heard to say, "The force is weak in this one."

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Interview yourself 20 years later

If you could talk to yourself in 20 years, what would you ask?  What would you want to tell yourself?  Apparently this fellow had a chance to do exactly that.  He recorded a video tape for an older him to watch 20 years in the future... and now here it is, 20 years later.

Lego Bridge

This Lego Bridge really makes me want to go to Germany just to drive underneath it.  Street artist Megx painted this bridge in Wuppertal, Germany to create the illusion that the bridge is built of giant Lego bricks.  Nicely done!

The bridge before the paint job

Final product

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

What to Cook for a President

I love the scene in the movie Ratatouille where the food critic takes a bite of the Ratatouille and is immediately transported back to his childhood.  It beautifully illustrates the power that food has to affect us.

The New York Times ran an interesting article today about how food is used in diplomacy.  Apparently Secretary of State Hillary Clinton sees the food that is served to foreign dignitaries as an opportunity to both show-off American cuisine and culinary talent, while demonstrating understanding of the visitor's traditions.  Mrs Clinton uses food as part of the process of diplomacy.

The article goes on to describe the soy-marinated black cod and eight treasured rice packet with dried fruit and pork sausage served to Chinese vice president Xi Jinping.  That meal was cooked by non-other than Ming Tsai, a friend of mine from high school who has managed to become a celebrity chef.  Its pretty fun to think of that guy on my soccer team now influencing international relations.  Well done Ming!  

You can read the NYT article here.

My question to you is if you could influence someone with a meal, who would it be, what would you cook, and what affect would you like it to have?  (please no poisonings) 

The 100,000 Person Classroom

Last fall, I took an online class in Artificial Intelligence from my colleage Peter Norvig and Sebastian Thrun.    It turned out that I was one of over 150,000 students who signed up for that class.  It was the beginning of what has now become Udacity.  In this short video, Peter Norvig talks briefly about the experience of teaching 100,000 students.

We talk about this a lot here at Digital Diner.  I think this is a very exciting time for education.  We are in the midst of a significant change.  Among other things, we a separating the concept of education from what happens to kids in school.  Sure, there is concentrated learning going on in school, but as education resources become more widely available, I think we'll find that what once was the domain of matriculated students is now open to everyone everywhere who is willing to put in the time and effort to learn.  Education can truly become a life long process instead of something that you look forward to finishing so that you can get into the real world.
If you have the time and interest, you may want to watch the following 45 minute video of a Google+ Hangout with Peter Norvig, Sebastian Thrun and Salman Khan.

Hot Wheels

As a kid I had some Hot Wheels tracks that I would set up in our basement.  I used to run cars and marbles down those tracks for hours.  I was a very basic set up, but still worthy of a lot of fun.  I didn't have all the fancy parts, like my friend who had a loop for his track.  I don't know about my friend, but I learned a lot about physics from that loop in his track.  How high did the start of the track have to be for the cars or marbles to make it around the loop without falling?  How fast did they have to go in order to keep from falling?  We would adjust the track until the cars were going just fast enough to make it around without leaving the track.  And for the record, the start needed to be just a bit higher than the top of the loop.  
Well, it seems that now we can make it around these loops in real cars.  Pretty impressive.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Who Creates Jobs?

Nick Hanauer has an interesting view on what is required to create jobs... No matter what your political persuasion, watching this video will be worthy of six minutes of your life.

Fast Food Photo Shoot

Have you ever wondered why it is that the food in the picture doesn't look like the food you actually get?  This video shows you the process they use to deceive you show their product in the best light possible.