Wednesday, January 30, 2013

It's time for the Google Science Fair

We like Science Fairs here at Digital Diner.  When done correctly they help kids get excited about science and engineering.  One of the big ones starts today.  The Google Science Fair for 2013 is open to anyone around the world from 13-18 years old.  There are three steps for contestants: Enter, Experiment, Change the World.  It sounds simple. The grand prize winner will get to go on a 10 day adventure to the Galapagos Islands with National Geographic and win a $50,000 scholarship.  Most of the competition occurs online via Google Hangouts and YouTube videos.
If you are between 13 and 18 years old, I recommend that you go to the Google Science Fair website now and get working on your entry.  Good Luck!

Monday, January 28, 2013

Broken smart phone screens

We had an incident this weekend where one of our cell phones broke.  During a momentary change in the Earth's gravitational field, the phone came in untimely and forceful contact with a fireplace hearth.  As a result, the screen of said phone cracked.  Fortunately, and incredibly, we had another phone of the same type that had died of another cause earlier which still had a good screen.  We were able to take the phone apart and swap the screen and all is good.  Still it was a reminder of the dangers that our poor cell phones face every day.  We were very lucky to be able to replace it.  
You see these smart phones are substantially made of glass.  Glass is very strong, but also quite brittle.  They can withstand incredible impacts, but if they get a bonk a just the wrong angle - sproing - broken glass.
Of course, if you are PK Hunder and you are doing a totally rad ski jump for the X Games when your phone falls out of your pocket in mid air, you may be surprised to find it sliding down the icy hill behind you until it actually smacks into your ski boot at the bottom.  PK was really lucky.  Apparently his phone worked just fine after the episode.  No cracks!  See the video below.

On a related note, the number one cause of physical trauma to cell phones is water damage due to them being dropped in the toilet... so kids, remember, don't poop and text!

The wonder of flock behavior

We've seen our share of birds and they can certainly be amazing, but I've never seen anything like this in real life.  I'd certainly like to.  It seems surrealistic.  I think it is amazing how each individual bird makes local decisions about where to go next, yet the overall behavior of the herd swarm flock really looks as if it is being directed globally.
What you are seeing is a bunch of starlings performing a dance called murmuration.  Apparently scientists haven't been able to fully explain this behavior yet.  All I know is that it is very cool and I'm glad that filmmaker Neels Castillon was there to capture it for us to watch.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Now we know which came first...

I'm so glad we can finally put this issue to rest.  ASAP Physics has decisively settled the age old chicken vs egg controversy.  The video above explains the issue and its resolution in gory detail.  While I'm convinced (and always have been on this topic), I'm sure there will be doubters.  I suspect they will give scholarly presentations much like the one below.

I like these dry ice bubbles

If you have some dry ice, come on over this weekend... We really must try this.  I'll get the GoPro ready.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

This is a fun card trick

I know, I know... If I tell you all about this card trick, then you'll all know it and you wont be able to fool each other.  Well, I understand that there are still a few people out there who don't read Digital Diner, so this is your chance to fool them.  It is a cute trick.  Watch the video.

Now, for extra credit, can you explain WHY this trick works?  If you understand it, you can make variations on it that will amaze even your friends who have seen this video.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Iodine Clock

Reason number 472 to have a high speed video camera: You can capture chemical reactions in sloooow motion.  Check out this video of the Iodine Clock reaction in slow motion and then hear the mind boggling explanation of the chemistry to see why what you see is awesomely amazing.

via itsoktobesmart

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Audi's self parking car

The technology of self driving cars is evolving quickly.  It wasn't that long ago that the DARPA Grand Challenge was created to encourage the development of autonomous cars.  Now Sebastian Thrun, whose team won the DARPA Grand Challenge, works for Google where his team has been creating self driving car technology (as well as Udacity, but that is a different story).  The technology is amazing, but when will we actually get to use it?  When will we have our own self driving cars?  As is often the case, I expect that the technology will be well ahead of legal and social acceptance of the technology.  It is moving quickly, however, as California and Nevada have made it legal for self driving cars to roam the streets under certain conditions.  Still, it will be 2040 before you'll be able to get by without a driver's license.

In the mean time, there are places where the self driving technology may show up.  In the video above, Audi show's their concept of a car that parks itself.  This makes a lot of sense.  All the self driving happens on private property under very controlled circumstances.

We may see this well before 2040.  Of course, my question is what does the car do if there are no parking places?

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Connected Learning

There is an interesting new report out on something called Connected Learning by The Digital Media and Learning Research Hub.
This report is a synthesis of ongoing research, design, and implementation of an approach to education called “connected learning.” It advocates for broadened access to learning that is socially embedded, interest-driven, and oriented toward educational, economic, or political opportunity. Connected learning is realized when a young person is able to pursue a personal interest or passion with the support of friends and caring adults, and is in turn able to link this learning and interest to academic achievement, career success or civic engagement.
I'm not sure why they restrict the definition to a "young person," but other than that it presents a compelling view of an approach to education.  The authors say that by combining the plethora of resources available today with the intersections of academics, interests and peer groups, you get a new kind of engagement in learning.  They also conclude that this style of learning has societal benefits as well as individual benefits.  This sounds to me like the same thing that attracts us to the Maker culture and homeschooling.  The table below summarizes some of the principles.

The report includes a plethora of videos from education professionals discussing Connected Learning, how it works and generally singing its praises.  If you are interested in directions in education for the 21st century, it is worth taking a look at these.

A summary report is available here
The entire publication is available here
Videos of educators involved in the study are here

Bad lip reading

I'm not a big football fan, but I must admit that I was pretty amused by this bad lip reading video.  If you haven't seen it yet, whether your a football fan or not, its worth taking a look.

Monday, January 14, 2013

I don't believe in genius

When I was growing up, our family had these friends named the Grobes.  I don't remember a lot of the circumstances around our connection because I was just a kid, but I remember the summer we house sat for them in Maine. I remember playing with the kids on the occasions where we got together, and  I certainly remember us driving my TotRod around in their driveway.  Back then there wasn't an Internet and there certainly wasn't a concept of viral videos, so that never really came up in conversation.  We actually ran around outside, skinned out knees and didn't worry about getting abducted... but I digress.  Despite that lack of childhood preparation, Fritz Grobe and his partner in EepyBird have gone on to produce one of the greatest viral videos of all time, the Coke and Mentos fountains (see below).

I've seen Fritz at Maker Faires for the past few years soaking with Diet Coke (not the sugary stuff, 'cause that is too sticky) after a demo of his fountains.  He's done some cool stuff, and now he has a nice TED talk (above) to add to his list of accomplishments.  Watch, be inspired, and then go do some hard work.  Congratulations Fritz!

Thanks for the link Mom!

Friday, January 11, 2013

Stanford's new Bing Concert Hall

What is the best way to show off a new building?  Well using a quadcopter with a camera isn't a bad idea.  It looks pretty awesome to me.  Here's a chance to see the new Bing Concert Hall before it opens.  It is designed to provide an intimate experience for about 850 spectators with outstanding acoustics.  It certainly looks pretty impressive to me.  

The concert hall opens tonight and series of concerts and events including some free events.


Vi Hart is at it again.  This time she is playing with different types of symmetry in snow flakes.  We don't have a bunch of beach balls to cut up, so we haven't tried these yet, but the ideas seem good... Before watching the video, you may want to rotate a few things around in your mind as a warm up.

3D symmetry is fun and all, but it's hard to compare to the Mex Hexaflexagon.  If you don't know what we're talking about, check out these posts...

If you don't know Vi Hart, check out this post:
Doodling in Math Class

For hexaflexagons read these:

More Hexaflexagons
Tex Mex Hexa Flex
Tasty Mex Hexaflexagons at Digital Diner

You wont be disappointed.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

New gadgets for the quantified self

The Consumer Electronics Show (CES) is going on in Las Vegas right now and many companies are introducing new gadgets.  Unfortunately, I'm not at the show this year, but we try to keep up on the announcements as they come.  Of particular interest are the gadgets for monitoring your health, and there are plenty of them.

Here at Digital Diner, we have talked about our use of Fitbits, the little gadgets that measure your steps.  We have now collectively logged over 10 million steps!  We also have a WiThings bathroom scale that connect to the network to log one's weight, as well as a blood pressure monitor that helps you track the changes in your blood pressure over time.  We also have a Zeo sleep monitor that can tell you whether or not you are getting enough REM sleep and correlate things you do during the day with your quality of sleep.  The technology available to consumers to allow us to monitor ourselves is pretty astounding.  Currently it is mostly used by athletes, people with chronic illnesses and data geeks, but I expect that these device will continue to grow in popularity.  These devices will help us to notice changes in our bodies long before any doctor who sees us for 15 minutes a year could diagnose anything.

So with that in mind, here is what is new as of CES 2013:
The WiThings folks have added a Smart Activity Tracker to add to their bathroom scale and blood pressure monitor line-up.  In addition to monitoring your steps (like the Fitbit) it can also be used to track your pulse.

They have also upgraded their bathroom scale to read your pulse and also to measure carbon dioxide.  I didn't see that last feature coming.  Of course, it still connects via WiFi to wirelessly record your data to help convince to stop eating those doughnuts.

Fitbit isn't standing idly by.  They have added a a new activity tracker called the Fitbit Flex that you wear on your wrist.  We have had several issues with Fitbits that fall off or go missing.  Perhaps having it on your wrist will make it less likely to disappear.  Also, unlike the old Fitbits, these sync your data with the Fitbit severs through your smart phone.  This is direct competition for the Nike FuelBand which works in a similar way.  The  Jawbone Up and BodyMedia Fitness Tracker give you even more wrist mounted activity trackers to choose from.

A company called Hapilabs has come up with a novel way to help you manage your food input.  They announced a specially instrumented device called the HapiFork that alerts you through flashing LEDs or gentle vibrations if you are eating too fast and need to take a rest.

A company named Masimo has a blood oxygen sensor just like the ones they use in the hospitals, but this one connects to your iPhone or iPad.

The upshot of all this is that their are more and more gadgets to give us regular folks information that used to be strictly available to doctors and hospitals is now available to you directly.  In fact, you can now record information about your health that doctors have only dreamed of.  It opens the door to a new kind of partnership with your doctor.  They have the training and background to diagnose issues, but you have more tools than ever to help show what is happening with your body.  I'm convinced that continuous monitoring will open up all sorts of new doors to diagnosing occasional issues.  Some of this information will be useful to you and some of it will be useful to your doctor.  The biggest problem in the short term is that we are likely to be able to record much more data than is useful and this information glut will likely only serve to obfuscate real issues.  Still, I'm convinced that in the long run, the benefits of being able to quantitatively observe yourself will lead to big changes in how we care for ourselves.

Express yourself

Here at Digital Diner we are fans of public displays of spontaneous art.  However, I have to admit that I hadn't really considered using a sign as a dance partner...

And since we are talking about dancing, why not just dance as if nobody is watching... go ahead... we promise not to look...

I love how the people in the crowd just ignore her.  At this airport I guess this happens all the time...

Monday, January 7, 2013

Electrostatic discharge gone wrong - Zap!

Static electricity can kill electronics.  Walking across that high pile carpet in your socks and then grabbing your favorite gadget can deliver a 20,000 volt zap to your device and in some cases render the  electronics inside worthless.  In order to get UL listed, products often must go through static electricity tests where they are mercilessly zapped to see if it affects their performance.  Good electrical design can minimize the effects of these little lightning bolts.  To test their designs, rather than running around in their socks, electrical engineers sometimes use an Electrostatic Discharge (ESD) gun that can produce zaps on command to test their circuits.  These very high voltages try to find their way to ground.  If you provide the path to ground, it will have no problems going right through you.  In the video below, an engineer demonstrates several ways to use and ESD gun to accidentally zap yourself.  Don't try this at home kids!

While the gun produces 25,000 volts, it is relatively low amperage, so while it is painful, thankfully there are no permanent effects.  Also, the electricity takes the most direct path to ground which thankfully never goes through his heart  That is where it would get really dangerous.  Still, the video is pretty effective in motivating me to avoid these situations.  How about you?

From ElectroBOOM

Thanks David!

Still reading?  Well, there are a few more hints below...

Friday, January 4, 2013

Root Two

As we've commented on before in this blog, irrational numbers aren't really all that irrational.  It is our representation of them that is irrational.  The fact that we can't really write them down using normal numeric notation doesn't really mean there is anything complicated or nonsensical about the number itself.  The most popular "irrational" number, π (even though we know that it really should be tau not pi that is popular), is nothing more than the ratio of the diameter of a circle to its circumference.  That is a fairly simple concept, yet one that our numerical notation system can't really represent. 

Well one of the unsung heros of the "irrational" number world is the square root of two.  The video below shows both that this is a very useful number and that paper sizes in Europe are a lot more "rational" than paper sizes here in the US.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Drivin' Home

Hi everyone!  Welcome to 2013.  Ready or not, it's a new year.  We had a good holiday here at Digital Diner and hope that you did also... but the holiday is over and now it's time to get back to the grind.

My New Year's Resolution is 4k!

Over the holiday, we got a new camera, the GoPro Hero 3 Black Edition.  It is a tiny little device, only slightly larger than a box of matches, but it is capable of taking amazing, cinema quality video (If you don't want to hear technical details, just skip to the video below and enjoy our little time lapse creation).  GoPros are the cameras that extreme skiers and surfers connect to their helmets and surfboards to get those amazing shots that make you want to go out and try all sorts of risky sports.  This new version of the camera is able to record 12 megapixel stills and video at up to 4K resolution.  You see, while you may hear about high definition 1080p video, the next big thing is 4K video, with four times as many pixels.  In 1080p (pronounced "ten-eighty pee") each frame of video is 1920x1080 pixels or 2 megapixels per frame.  In 4k format, each frame of video is 3840x2160, or roughly 8 megapixels.  You can't buy a TV that will show this high quality video yet, but it will likely be coming this year.  Right now the only way to see it is on a very high resolution computer screen or a preproduction TV set, however, I can tell you it looks spectacular.  There are also a very few theaters around the country that show movies in this format, but they are difficult to find.  
The GoPro camera can record some slow motion (720p @ 120 fps and WVG @ 240 fps)  Woohoo! It's not a $10k Phantom, but it's slow motion!  In the other direction, it does a fine job capturing time lapse photography, which you already know we enjoy.  It also comes with a waterproof housing and all sorts of ways to mount it to various things.  You can expect fun films from us in the coming months.

So, as a trial, I stuck the suction cup mount to the windshield as we drove home from Oregon and took a little time lapse of out trip across the Siskiyou mountains at the Oregon/California border.  Add a little dub step music et viola!  It's a movie.  I hope you enjoy it.  (BTW, this particular video is NOT in 4k since it isn't a cinematic masterpiece and not many people would be able to see it in its full glory anyway)