Monday, September 30, 2013

The Leidenfrost effect: More proof that science is cool

I had never heard of the Leidenfrost effect before, but I must say it is kind of cool (well hot actually).  It is basically this, when a liquid comes in contact with something that is significantly hotter than its boiling point, it produces an insulating vapor.  This vapor barrier keeps the liquid from getting hot and boiling.  Usually as a liquid boils it bubbles off in all directions.  However, because of the Leidenfrost effect and surface tension, the liquid can stay on (actually floating just above) the hot surface for much longer than usual.  The folks at the University of Bath used this effect and a set of etched saw tooth patterns to make water move in a certain direction.  Using this, they can get water droplets to actually move up hill.  They created a track that uses this effect to guide water droplets around a course.  It makes me think the whole thing is a sort of Escher drawing where water magically circulates around a closed track.  Check out the video below.

The same effect was used by the Mythbusters to allow them to do something really crazy in the video below.  They dunked their hand into molten lead.  No, really... molten lead.  Quite bizarre and interesting.

oh... and kids... this probably isn't something to try at home.   

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Popular Science shuts off comments - a sad day for the internet and our species

We are breaking the Internet.  I'm not talking about some technical problem that will cause the volume of data to keep us from being able to download Netflix videos in HD.  I'm not talking about the fact that there are millions of new iPhones clogging up the cell towers.  No, I'm talking about us -- you, me and everyone -- ruining the ideal of the Internet.  We are breaking the very value proposition that makes the Internet the awesome thing that it could be.  The Internet has feet of clay.

For me, the big letdown started with filter bubbles.  In the early 90s, I was completely bought in to the idea that the Internet would bring us together.  It would become this great democratizing force that would give everyone a voice.  Free flowing information would break down barriers across societal boundaries.  It was going to be awesome.  Well, it has had some of that effect, but more recently it has also had a segregating effect.  Filter bubbles allow people to live in a world on the internet created just for them.  The Internet is adapting to show them only the information that is relevant to them, and in the process limiting the free flow of information.  Instead of hear about a lot of diverse opinions, complex analytics engines on far away servers whir away to make sure that I only get server content that is "relevant" to me.  My data is filtered to assure, among other things, that I will see information that I agree with.  I will tend to find more people who have the same opinion as me.  Rather than exposing me to more new ideas, it will reinforce my current beliefs.  I can live in a filter bubble with other people like me (who I can find now much more easily than in the pre-Internet world) and we can go on happily reinforcing our views and ignoring anything that might challenge us.  A TED talk on this topic by Eli Pariser explains the problem.

Today, the Internet took the next step down a long, lonely road of self destruction.  Popular Science announced that they were shutting off the user comments on their web site.  In a well written piece published today entitled "Why We're Shutting Off Our Comments," they explain why they feel compelled to stop allowing the general public to comment on their articles.  It basically boils down to trolls; people who post derogatory or inflammatory comments for whatever reason.  Rather than sane discourse, people post comments to sway or influence in spite of contrary facts.
Everything, from evolution to the origins of climate change, is mistakenly up for grabs again. Scientific certainty is just another thing for two people to "debate" on television. 
They quote Brossard and Scheufele who wrote an op-ed piece in the New York Times claiming that comments on web stories influence people's interpretation of the validity of the original story.  They want the scientific merits of their stories to stand on their own, not be influenced by any crazy person with a keyboard.  Rather than getting into a potentially biased process of editing users comments, they've taken the difficult decision to shut down all comments for everyone.

Really?  Seriously?

Lets just think about this for a second folks.  This is Popular Science, not some high brow scientific journal.  It is stories about flying cars and Mars colonies.  They bring interesting scientific trends and their implications to all of us.  They exist to inspire us, not to provide a platform for debate.  Yet, they find themselves so besieged with spam and misinformation that they feel compelled to cut off comments.  Do people really think that they can change facts by ignoring them or denying them?  This seems to me like a rather short term strategy because ultimately the truth will come out.  This isn't the democratization that the Internet was supposed to bring us, is it?  Please, can we focus on educating each other rather than fighting?  Can we reason with each other instead of arguing without evidence?  I feel sorry for the people at Popular Science.  And I feel sorry for us all.

Come on folks we're better than this.  I know we are smart enough to handle the power of this Internet thing, after all, we were smart enough to invent it (or was that just Al Gore?  I forget).  It is a very powerful tool and we really need to use it to make ourselves smarter, not misinform and obfuscate.  If you can't play nice, I'm going to pull the car over and come back there.  Don't tempt me because I will!  Right now I need everyone to take a deep breath and count to ten.  Now more than ever, it is up to you.  To counteract this ugliness in the world, I need all of you Digital Diner readers to redouble your efforts to build cool stuff, inspire each other and make the Internet a great place for us all.  It's the only way to keep the world safe for awesomeness.  It's up to you!  Let's go!

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Making the Wizard of Oz 3D

Back a 10+ years ago, I spent some time at Warner Brothers studios trying to convince them that they should convert to all digital.  The idea of storing images on film seems so arcane.  After seeing how they worked and thinking about it, I changed my mind.  While production and post processing/editing make sense in digital, film is a wonderful archiving medium.  As we talked about recently, digital is not the best way to store something for an unspecified length of time because it isn't clear what format will be most compatible with future systems.  You can always pick up a piece of film and look at it.  There will always be a way to view it.
I'm really glad that they had the Wizard of Oz on film because Warner Brothers has been busy restoring it and converting it to 3D.  They have a rather manual process for converting from 2D to 3D (not like the system we recently talked about), but the results will certainly impress.  They had over 1300 people working on it by hand for 14 months.  The movie itself is a little over 100 minutes long.  At 24 per frames per second, that works out to less than 150,000 frames or a little over 100 frames per person.  I'm pretty sure that I could make 100 frames look pretty good in 14 months.  No news about whether or not they listened to Pink Floyd while working on it (you should try this).
The video below gives a hint about how the 3D process worked.

More information available here and here.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Bohemian Gravity

This song is really geeky and quite epic.  Science and music in package that is destined to become a classic.  Very impressive.  As one of the comments says, this is like Graduate Schoolhouse Rock.  I mean... it's like one unified theory of everything all wrapped up in a song.  Awesome!  Listen and learn.


Monday, September 16, 2013

Revisiting Fibonacci in nature

Lots of our readers enjoy Vi Hart and her amazing videos on the beauty of mathematics.  One particular favorite was the video on Fibonacci numbers.  She has since followed up with a few more on the topic that attempt to explain why it is that we find Fibonacci in nature.  I find this video from Vi Hart especially fascinating when combined with the second video from Etérea studios.  The world is quite an amazing place, don't you think?

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Extracting 3D objects from images

If this is for real, it is very impressive.  It is from a presentation at the SIGGRAPH conference, so I presume it is real...  In the video below, some folks have come up with a technique for extracting 3D objects from 2D images.  Not worrying about the fact that it is impossible (since there is no way to know what is on the far side of an object in a 2D image), they appear to have used a set of techniques from photo editing programs like Photoshop, combined with modeling techniques from programs like Blender to allow you to create three dimensional computer models of objects from two dimensional images.  This technique is limited to symmetrical objects, but it certainly opens up exciting possibilities.  The future is sure to be an exciting and interesting place.

America's Cup - Catch it before it ends

Last weekend we went to see the America's Cup.  It was a beautiful day, and it was amazing to watch the boats fly across the water.  It is one of those things that I've wanted to do since I was a kid.  Oracle Team USA is defending the title they won three years ago.  The winner of the recent Louis Vuitton Cup, Emirates Team New Zealand race series is the challenger for oldest continuously contested trophy in sports.  Unfortunately the races were a little underwhelming.  New Zealand led from the first mark to the end on both races Saturday.  Sunday was quite a bit more exciting with New Zealand and USA splitting the two races.  Today New Zealand won another race.  The Kiwis are looking very strong.  I still think that the Red Bull Youth America's Cup series with ten boats racing at a time was much more impressive to watch.  That was exciting racing!  

While it is amazing to see the America's Cup spectacle in real life, the television coverage is quite outstanding.  The video below shows the technology involved in TV coverage which is available on YouTube.  They are able to track incredible amounts of live telemetry and turn it into things like overlays on the screen that show a grid, not unlike a football field, in the San Francisco Bay.  When you watch in person, you have to interpret all of this yourself.  In some ways, the TV coverage is much easier to follow.