Saturday, September 29, 2012

Thinking About a New Hairstyle

Stylish - yes.  Practical - probably not.  Still, I'm thinking that I could grow something like one of the beard styles above.  It's probably easier than growing tomatoes.  Any favorites in here?  These are from the European Beard and Moustache Championships for 2012.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Robots Paint Your Sleep

While there are those who say that androids dream of electronic sleep, the truth is that they don't need to sleep at all.  Humans on the other hand do need sleep.  This brings up the question of what should we have the robots do while we sleep... I'm thinking that if we don't keep them busy, they may get bored... and then one morning we'll wake up to find we have new overlords.  No no... I say, let keep them busy.  How about if we ask them to paint while we sleep.  Yeah. That's it.  They can paint our sleep.  Brilliant!  I'm glad to see that someone is working on this as evidenced by the video above.  Nicely done!

Throwing and Catching Quadcopter Goodness

We love the quadcopters here at Digital Diner.  They are so maneuverable and able to lift so much that they make a very interesting platform for research.  It is amazing to see the pace they are evolving.  This latest video shows some work by the folks at ETH in Switzerland where they have gotten three quadcopters to cooperate to throw and catch balls.  I know, I know.  You are saying, "I can can throw a ball!  What's the big deal?"  Well, can you throw a ball accurately with two other people using a net?  Oh yeah, and remember as you watch this that in addition to throwing and catching they are also FLYING!

More info here.

Extreme Fishing

This video shows some extreme fishing.  I'm not sure what is going on here, but it appears to be part of a show airing this weekend on the Discovery Channel.  All I know is that I certainly haven't ever done any fishing that required a helmet, but I can see why they would call this "sport" fishing.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Finally! Smart Socks!

Funny thing about this video is that here at Digital Diner, we designed a very similar system several years ago.  At the time, the RFID tags and readers were too big and expensive to be practical, so we've adopted another approach.  When we buy socks we buy several identical pairs of socks.  That way pairing goes faster, sorting whose socks are whose is much easier and if one goes missing, you still have plenty of ways to pair up the remaining ones until more of them goes missing.

Still, I like the smart socks form and especially the feature (which is another one of the ideas we had too) that lets you monitor the number of wash cycles your socks have been through.  Also, we assumed that there is no need to stop with socks.  It should help you track the rest of your clothes.  It could help you decide on what tops that match your pants are clean and available right now.  It could even lead to a machine that sorts your laundry for you.  The possibilities are endless.

If the concept of smart socks thrills you, they are available here.

Self Synchronizing Metronomes

The video above is pretty mesmerizing. In it 32 metronomes are set to the same tempo, and started randomly.  Basically they are all ticking away at the same speed, but they are out of phase with each other.  Over time, miraculously, they all align with each other.

OK, it isn't really a miracle at all.  It turns out that the blue foam that they are all sitting on is set up to be able to move left and right.  As the pendulums swing back and forth, they cause the whole platform to move slightly.  It wiggles in opposition to the average of all the swinging arms (equally and oppositely to the sum of their motions).  This motion, in turn, affects the pendulums.  Those that are moving opposite to the platform's motion find themselves getting a little bost, while those moving with the platform slow down slightly.  Over time, this causes them all to line up.  Pretty darned cool if you ask me.  Physics rocks.

via ItsOKToBeSmart

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Seat Post Bike Pump

Riding a bike off road brings with it some risks.  One of them is flat tires.  On my mountain bike, I carry a patch kit and a set of tire irons which I can use to repair a flat tire.  The one issue with this (that I discovered very quickly when I did get a flat tire) is that there is no place on my bike to carry a pump.  I could repair my flat, but I couldn't pump it up.
The folks at BioLogic seem to have come up with a solution to this problem.  They have embedded a pump in the seat post, which is pretty long on folding bikes and mountain bikes, so it ends up being much like a floor pump.  I think it could be a pretty good solution.  Why didn't I think of that?  See the video above for details.

via GizMag

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Underwater Street View!

Google Street View is pretty amazing.  Just a few years ago it would have been unthinkable, and now we take it for granted.  Well, just to push it even further, Google is now going underwater with their cameras.  That's right.  Now you can explore the waters of the Great Barrier Reef, or Hawaii without getting Scuba certified or even getting wet.  Just as with the above water version of Street View, you can explore a 360 degree view and move around, but this time you see reefs and sea turtles instead of roads and cars.  It is pretty spectacular both in concept and execution.
Take a few minutes to explore.  Below are the current areas they have photographed:

Below is a video that shows a little bit of the process used to make the images.  You can briefly see the fancy 3D cameras they use to take the pictures.  Impressive!

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Remind me not to Drive in Vietnam

This time lapse film by Rob Whitworth beautifully and very artistically shows why I would never drive in Vietnam, at least not in Ho Chi Minh City.

This is a bus I would ride...

I get the feeling there is something special about this bus...

Friday, September 21, 2012

The Popinator

I think this could be this year's big Christmas gift.  I know I'd like one!  I bet even my friend who have everything don't have a Popinator.

Bacon Slam Poetry

Now we're talking!  Slam poetry about bacon.  Bacon is a poem for the tastebuds, so it makes complete sense to me.  Watch the video and enjoy.

BTW, some people are too embarrassed to declare their interest in bacon with others.  Should I Tweet it?  Should I friend it?  For your benefit, below is a guide to how you can share your interest in bacon on various social media -

Sustainable Food Production

This is a pretty cool hydroponics system on a barge in New York.  It uses the Nutrient Film Technique (NFT) and a recirculating water system to create an incredibly efficient little farm.  The crops can be more dense and ultimately more productive as well because of the control they have over the artificial environment.  They can control temperature, humidity and exactly how much nutrients the plants get as well as when they get them.  They are also experimenting with aquaponics, where fish grow in the recirculating water system so that the fish's waste provides the nutrients.  On top of all this, the system is powered by solar panels, wind turbines and occasionally a biodiesel generator.  Nice.  Watch the video to get the details.

The system is called the NY Sunworks Science Barge which is now owned by Groundwork Hudson Valley in Yonkers.

Lego Contraption

Somehow I find this lego contraption very compelling.  I don't think it qualifies as a Rube Goldberg machine, because those machines have some sort of goal that they are trying achieve.  This machine is really just about all the awesome, cool moving parts... and there are a lot of them.  Watch for yourself and see.

For extra fun, mute the audio on the above video and play the music from this one repeatedly while you watch.  It's great.

Endeavor Flyover

The Space Shuttle Endeavor just passed by Digital Diner on its final flight heading to Los Angeles.  It passed by just to the north of us - a once in a lifetime view right off of our balcony.

We've seen other spectacular views from this deck, but this one was pretty outstanding.  A spaceship, almost within reach.

 Thanks for flyby and the years of great service Endeavor.  And Enjoy your retirement!

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Geothermal Powered Flight

For a long time I've had a line of reasoning in my head that goes like this:  It seems to me that it is a waste to use up gasoline on cars.  There is a limited amount of oil on the planet, so we should keep it for applications really need it, like flying which can only be done with fossil fuels, not driving where we have alternatives to oil (electric cars come to mind).  Meanwhile commercial flight is really dependent on fossil fuels.  It if we couldn't fly anymore, that would be a bad thing.

It turns out that there is a significant push to make electric flight practical.  The CAFE Foundation has created the Green Flight Challenge where participants fly across the country with aircraft that use renewable fuel.  A really cool feature of this contest is that the aircraft batteries were charged at the first ever Electric Aircraft Charging Station in Sonoma where the electricity is supplied entirely by geothermal electricity.  So these airplanes flew completely without the use of fossil fuels.  I think that is pretty awesome.  The charging station simultaneously provides 9600 watts of power to each of 12 aircraft all from geothermally generated power... and electric powered human flight is pretty cool too.

Lets hear it for Fossil Fuel Free Flight!!!

The video below shows you what these aircraft look like.

Below is a video of a short TED Talk about the event.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

New Free Online Education Options

No matter how much you know, there's always more to learn.  The good news is that learning is getting more and more accessible.
Today Coursera announced partnering with 17 new universities for their online classes.  This brings the total to 33 Universities that are offering free online classes through Coursera.  This list is pretty impressive (see below).  What is even more impressive is the list of courses that they are offering.  They have everything from Modern & Contemporary American Poetry (University of Pennsylvania) to Securing Digital Democracy (University of Michigan) to History of the World Since 1300 (Princeton University) to Human Computer Interaction (Stanford University).

Take a look at the catalog of current courses here.  You might just find something that sparks your interest.

You may also want to read this story on Stanford's approach to online learning.

Below is the list of universities that are offering free online courses through Coursera:

Shuttle Flyover

The SF Bay area Space Shuttle flyover mentioned previously here on Digital Diner has been rescheduled for Friday.  If you were planning to go to NASA tomorrow, plan to go on Friday instead.

If you can't make it in person, you can follow along online.  NASA plans a live stream on its UStream channel from 8-10 a.m:

Monday, September 17, 2012

SF Bay Area Shuttle Flyover

Image courtesy of NASA

Update: This event has been delayed till Friday.
Update 2: Endeavor was here and we saw it right from our balcony.  Fantastic!

On this Thursday Friday, September 20 21, sometime between 9am and 9:30am the Space Shuttle Endeavor will make a low altitude (approximately 1500 ft) flyover of Moffett field.  The shuttle is on its way to the California Science Center in LA (which we know well from our visits the California state science fair).  NASA Ames, which is located at Moffett field, will be hosting an event.  Incidentally NASA Ames contributed several important elements to the shuttle program including the foundational aerodynamics work for the overall design, windtunnel testing, the heat resistant tiles and pilot testing.

If you plan to attend you should consider bringing ear protection and taking public transportation.  If you plan to drive, you'll have to register for a parking pass ahead of time.

More information is here.

You can also find this event in the Digital Diner Calendar which includes both local and web events of interest to our readers.

The Ideal Fridge

I think this makes a lot of sense.

via xkcd

Friday, September 14, 2012

Watch an Author as she Writes

Here at Digital Diner, we use Google Docs a lot.  Some of the collaborative features are quite impressive.  It always amazes me that you can remotely watch other people editing documents.  There is something fun about the process.  Well, Silvia Hartmann, who calls herself the Naked Writer, has invited us all to watch her as she writes her novel Dragon Lords (note - the "Naked Writer" is naked as in vulnerable and exposed.  There is no way to tell from the Google Doc what she is wearing while she is typing - just fyi).  It is an interesting experiment in performance art.

Tune in to watch Silvia writing live on this Google Doc.

How about a live software development competition?

I have to admit, this is the closest I've seen to a little fantasy I had many years ago wherein software programming became a spectator sport.  I imagined that crowds would watch as coders would compete to produce effective and efficient code.  There would be a rumble in the crowd when one competitor forgets to close a curly brace producing an obvious syntax error that will cause problems at compile time.... Another might draw boos by using an unnecessary global variable.  Others would draw cheers as with a creative algorithm.  Who knows?  Maybe that is possible now.  I'm sure it would end up being  prime time TV material.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Impressive Program can Guess What You are Drawing

Some folks at Brown University and the Technical University of Berlin have developed an interactive sketch recognition program that looks like it can even identify things that I draw.  It can apparently recognize over 250 different categories of objects as you draw them.  Given that most of our drawings don't really look like the real objects at all, this is pretty impressive.  The video below shows just how well the program works.  They have also made a free app for iPhones and iPads.

The original paper is here.

How to Make a Bike out of Cardboard

I love hearing stories of people who have a crazy idea and somehow they just can't let it go until they push it as far as it can go.  Izhar Gafni was that way about building a cardboard bike.  He heard a story about someone who built a boat out of cardboard and somehow, from there, he got obsessed with the idea of building a bike of cardboard.  I'd love to see the technical details of how the hubs, headset, pedals and bottom bracket work.  Those moving parts pare probably quite tricky.  The nicely shot video below give you a little insight into his process (although without the technical details).

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Mysterious Skywriting over San Francisco

Just a few minutes ago I looked outside to see a mysterious sight in the sky.  There was skywriting going on that was unlike any that I had seen before.  5 airplanes were flying at high altitude in perfect formation - wing to wing.  They would occasionally send out poofs of smoke.  The result was printing in the sky something like a dot matrix printer would make.  They were spewing out a long list of numbers.  It didn't look like a phone number, but rather a really long line of digits that must have been some sort of code.

Does anyone have any idea what this is?  It certainly is intriguing and I'd love to learn more about it.

Update:  This was an art exhibit called Pi in the Sky that was part of 2012 Zero1 Biennial.  They were spelling out the digits of Pi!  Pretty cool!  Apparently it was a Kickstarter project.  Read all about Pi in the Sky here.  

A close up of the 5 planes generating smoke trails

A single character "8"

A string of numbers

The Bed that Makes Itself

I could definitely use one of these; a bed that makes itself.  I would love to just kick off the sheets and come back to find a perfectly made bed every day.  Oh, and it would be great if it picked up dirty clothes off the floor too... oh yes, and maybe if it just made lunch.  You know, something light but tasty.  Yup, I really need one of these.

Duck Bill Muzzle for Dogs

If we had a dog, I'm pretty sure we'd use a muzzle like this.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Piano Prodigy

This little 5 year old is amazing.  When I watched the video, I was really impressed with his enthusiasm and passion.  Watch and be amazed!

Hammer and Feather Drop

When Apollo 15 was on the moon, the astronauts performed a physics experiment to show Galileo's conjecture that a feather and a hammer, two objects with very different densities and weights, would fall to the ground at the same rate in the absence of an atmosphere and air resistance.  Check out the video to see if it worked.

Stacking Liquids

Stacking liquids!  If you choose liquids with different densities, they tend not to mix, and thus stack instead.  This looks pretty fun.  We'll definitely have to try this.

Monday, September 10, 2012

New School System in Sweden Gets Rid of Classrooms

A new school system in Sweden has thrown out the old ideas of what a school building should be entirely.  They have gotten rid of the traditional classrooms and created a space that is not defined by parallel walls.  Their classes are not held in boxes.  Students can lounge around and move in ways that are not normally appropriate at a traditional school.  The theory is that it will encourage students to work independently, engage in conversations and think more creatively.  I don't know about any of that, but it sure looks fun to me.

Read about it here, and take a virtual tour here.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Great Reno Balloon Race

This weekend we went to Reno to see the Great Reno Balloon Race.  It is a hot air balloon race that attracts over 100 balloons and about 150,000 spectators.  This was a visually spectacular event, and we took plenty of pictures as well as a timelapse video of the balloons inflating and taking off (which you can see below).

Here is the little timelapse video we made of the balloons taking off.

The event began before sunrise with the glow show, where several balloons light up the predawn sky by simultaneously producing bright flames that light up the entire balloon.
Glow show balloons light up the night
Then the racers began to inflate their balloons.  Nearly one hundred of them!  The spectators were mixed in with all the balloons so pretty much everyone was surrounded by balloons.  The crews inflate the envelope first with high power fans, and then they heat the air with giant flame throwing heaters.  As the air becomes significantly warmer than the air around it, these giant skywhales sit upright and then begin to pull skyward.  It is really impressive to see these massive objects suddenly pull skyward.

As they inflate, you can see the vents on the top which the pilots use to release hot air when they want to descend quickly or when they have landed and want to be sure that they wont accidentally take off again.

In less than an hour, the sky was literally filled with balloons.  It was a glorious sight.

See more pictures (including the specialty balloons) below.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Quadcopters by Night

Our devoted readers know about our love of quadcopters here at Digital Diner.  Well, here's a new one for you.  Some folks in Germany took 49 of them and attached lights to them and flew them in formation at night.  The result is something that I'm sure caused a few calls to authorities about UFOs.  I mean, you must admit that it looks a lot like the alien invasion that appears to be taking place in Cancun last week.  In addition to simulating aliens, I can certainly see that if they were to apply some of University of Pennsylvania's precision flying techniques, this could, at the very least, make for an interesting art project.  Fun stuff!

FYI, here are a few of our past quadcopter posts:

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Canadians are Just Friendly

Since I had the chance to spend a bit of time in Canada over the last year, I find this quite humorous, eh?

Curiosity about Curiosity's Trip

We recently had not-so-great travel experience, but I know it is nothing compared to what others have experienced.  For example, suppose you are the Curiosity rover and you have been looking forward to a relaxing vacation on Mars, but when you show up there's nothing but a vast desert wasteland.  No room service.  No restaurants.  No pool.  It apparently prompted the following post on Trip Advisor.  Sounds rustic at best. You might want to think twice before booking your own vacation there.

And to think that that came after a 9 month trip capped off by 7 minutes of terror.  Jeez.  Time for a new travel agent.  On the other hand, the pictures that Curiosity is sending back look quite outstanding.  For example there is an amazing video of the descent.

And there is also a stunning 360 degree panorama here.  Be sure to make it full screen and scroll around.  See more photos here.

Of course, interplanetary travel has its own risks.  You have to hope that you aren't out there when a giant coronal mass ejection (CME) occurs, like the big one last week.  See the video below, and just think about how big this is...  I wouldn't want my spacecraft caught up in that.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Presidential Candidates on Science

The folks at Scientific American worked with a group named to come up with a list of 14 questions about innovation, science and technology for the two main presidential candidates (Barack Obama and Mitt Romney) to respond to.  The results are in and published in Nature.  It is worth your while to check it out.

Read the questions and answers here.

Drawing Challeneges

Mark Crilley is a Michigan-based artist who has an incredible eye for detail.  He has set out a series of challenges for himself to draw very realistic images, and do the whole thing on YouTube.  My favorite is his latest, Challenge #3: Playing Card (in the video above).  Challenges #1 and #2 are in the videos below.  I'm really impressed by his ability to see and draw what things look like rather than what they are.  I would be busy drawing a playing card, but he sees a line here and a curve of red there, etc.  Very well done.  You can follow his future challenges on his YouTube channel or at his website.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Where does the time go?

Everyday for the last 12.5 years, Noah Kalina took a picture of himself - over 4500 photos.  Now he has stitched them all together and you can watch him age 12.5 years in just a few minutes.  I was thinking of doing something similar, but I'm sort of glad I didn't... I mean I already know I look older than I did 12 years ago.  I don't really need a movie to do that for me...  But hey Noah, it looks good on you... really.

Painting with Sand

This Egyptian street artist builds a scene in a bottle using sand.  Very nice.  I wonder if I could do it.  It sort of makes me want to try.

Since we're on the subject of sand art; below is a different variety, but truly amazing and I'm certain I couldn't do anything like this.  It is from SICAF in Korea in 2003.  I think it is an amazing piece of performance art by Ferenc Cakó (who is not Korean BTW).  I love how the whole performance is synchronized to the music.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Things you don't want happening when you travel

You really don't want to see "water" running out of the lavatory on your airplane.  Trust me on this...
This is the view from my seat on UA 229 on Saturday.

This weekend the Digital Diner crew returned from a trip to Michigan (Thanks G'ma & G'pa!).  These days air travel has gotten to be a pretty stressful process.  However, sometimes you have those trips where you know it just isn't going to go as smoothly as it should.  This was one of those trips.
On the flight from Grand Rapids to Chicago, the weather was too rough for the flight attendants to distribute service items.  This was not a big set back since it was a short flight and they want money for everything anyway, so this just saved us some money.
Things got a bit more interesting on the flight from Chicago to San Francisco.  As we pulled away from the gate there was a loud thud and then all the power went out in the plane.  It was actually quite timely since the safety video was playing and it had just told us about the lighting that would lead us out in the event of a power failure.  There it was!
We sat in the dark for a few minutes and watched as the flaps on the wings drooped down.  Shortly the pilot came on the PA to tell us we were going to pull back into the gate and have a technical crew check out the problem.  It appears that an auxiliary power unit failed as we were disconnected from shore power...  OK.  After about a 45 minute wait, they came on the PA again to announce that everything was ship shape and we were ready to leave (again).  That is when the fun began.  While the announcement was still announcing how ready to go we were, I saw a passenger jump up and run to the lavatory in front of us.  He was followed by a flight attendant.  It was then that I noticed a river of "water" running down the isle toward us.  I told everyone to get their personal items up off the floor immediately!!  We still aren't sure what the liquid was, where it came from, or why it was coming out of the lavatory, but frankly we weren't so interested in that.  Mostly we just wanted to avoid contact with it.
They told everyone to get off the plane.  We took that opportunity to try to get on another flight.  One minor setback is fine, but this plane was looking pretty old when we got on and two significant mechanical failures had lowered our trust in its airworthiness significantly.  After another bout of waiting, then running through O'hare airport, then waiting, then being told that we would have to go back to our original flight... and then arguing and being as obnoxious as necessary in these situations, we got onto another flight on a much newer plane.  The gate agents, of course, were particularly unhelpful and slow and in general the experience sucked.  Our bags actually did get reunited with us the next day so in the end, we just lost a little sleep in the deal.  It could have been worse.
Still, there is something inside me that wonders what that liquid was.  Was it water?  Was it from the toilet?  The sink?  Who was that brave passenger who jumped in there when he saw the leak?  Didn't travelling used to be fun?