Thursday, December 18, 2014

My Favorite Tools?

The right tool makes so much difference.  Sometimes things I've been stuck for hours on a problem... until I find just the right tool... and voila!  As good as done.  Sometimes, just the thought of the right tool can make you want to... well... sing!  Enjoy the video.

I just kinda liked this, so I thought I'd share.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Is agriculture the new high tech?

Tribe Awesome - now they are movie stars too

Kirsten Dirksen is a filmmaker living in Spain who makes some really great films about interesting things people are doing to change the world.  Our own Tribe Awesome was fortunate to get her attention and she has just released a short film about them and their work.  She visited them here at Digital Diner over the summer and spent a little time with the kids talking about their work to create new ways to grow plants. The results are the 15 minutes of YouTube brilliance below.  While it may be difficult to mess up with such compelling stars :-), Kirsten weaves together a really nice story just from spending an afternoon with the kids and letting them talk.  Please find 15 minutes to give it a look.

Just a few key points that the kids bring up, which I really love:
  • California is in a serious drought.  80% of our water goes to agriculture.  The techniques Tribe Awesome uses take as little as 2% of the water that traditional agriculture takes.
  • Aeroponic plants grow much faster than traditional plants.
  • When you control the nutrients you control the lifecycle of the plants.  You can promote blooming at just the right time to produce fruit when you want it
  • Weeds don't grow in these buckets because there is nowhere for them to take root.
Great job Kirsten and congrats Tribe Awesome!

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Interesting use for a drone

Here at Digital Diner, we love our quadcopter.  It's just so darned much fun to play with.  Still, drones are getting such a bad name these days, its hard to say what the future of this amazing technology will be.  That is why, I'm really pleased to see a positive use of the technology that really makes good sense.  I don't know how realistic this is, but I think the scenario is very interesting.

Imagine that you are walking through the city when your friend collapses from an apparent heart attack.  What do you do?  Well, first you dial the emergency number to get help.  As it stands now, they talk will you through the process of doing CPR on the victim while you wait for an ambulance to wind its way through traffic.  This can be quite a daunting task to someone who is watching a friend or family member suffer.   What if, instead, a drone could fly to your location much faster and give you instructions and tools that could save your companion's life?  Check out the video and see what you think.

Full story from TU Delft

Via Neatorama

Geeky pumpkin carving contest

Pumpkins with lasers!  Now we're talking!

Tis the season for the pumpkin carving contest.  Of course, we at Digital Diner think that the best way to observe traditions is often to geek them out a bit.  NASA agrees with us, and when the folks at JPL have a pumpkin carving contest, they go all in.  Check out the video below to see what I mean.  Woohoo!  Lasers!

via LaughingSquid
Thanks Todd

Thursday, October 30, 2014

The Lab Notebook - a questionnaire

The lab notebook

Ah, the good old fashion lab notebook.  At the beginning of the semester it was the picture of order with its sharp corners and that new paper smell - blank, empty and ready to accept all my new ideas.  By the end of the semester, it was dogeared, stained with some combinations of chemicals and pizza grease and full of the realizations and insights that made me who I am now.  When I was in school it was an elemental tool in the pursuit of scientific truth.  Experimentation without a lab notebook was unthinkable.  It was elemental for anyone considering a technical field.

The thing is that was then; before computers and tablets and smartphones and sensors were everywhere... back when math was hard because you had to do the calculations yourself - by hand.  Now we have tools that have profoundly changed the way that we approach science and technology.  Computers record and graph data for us.  Tablets and phones are in our pockets at all times to record notes and even take pictures.  With all these changes, what has become of the venerable lab notebook?  Is it still a staple?  Is it gone completely?  Has it evolved?

We at Digital Diner have decided that we would like to find out what you think of the role of the good old lab notebook.  If you are in a scientific or technical field, we'd love it if you would take just a few minutes (probably < 10 min) to fill out our questionnaire and also to ask your friends to do the same.  It would be a huge help for us in our pursuit knowledge and an understanding of the state of the lab notebook.

Pass it on - Please ask your friends to fill out the questionnaire too... 
It's quick.  It's easy.  It's for the good of citizen science!

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Commercialism and Art

You've probably had a conversation with a friend at one time or another about a band that went something like this:

"I liked their old stuff better... before they got discovered."
"Yeah, they used to be great, but now they are all pop... they really sold out."

I always wondered about that term "selling out."  It is like we as a culture have decided that coolness is lost when something gets too popular.  It is cool to like things before they get popular, but rather than just reveling in saying "I told you they were great!" we insist on saying that once they get popular they aren't as cool any more.  It isn't just art.  Yes kids, even Microsoft was cool until they got big.  Apple and Google are reaching that point now.  We seem to always want to root for the underdog.  We want to support those who have a clear mission... not about making money, but about changing the world.  If they get too big and successful, we question that mission.  Art is corrupted by money.  Commercial interests dilute art.... or so we believe.

Sekou Andrews

Yesterday I was at the Quickbooks Connect conference (which was surprisingly good).  It started off on an incredible note, which is why I decided to tell all of you.  The lights went down and the pre-music faded and a face appeared on the large screen.  It said "it starts with poetry."  The face belonged to a fellow named Sekou Andrews.  What followed was an amazing performance by Sekou of a poem about how people follow their passions and find an entrepreneurial spirit and courage and make things happen and create a web of connected, like-minded souls who together make a difference in the world.  It was poetry about small business.  And it was amazingly great.  Who'd a thunk it?  He is one of the most engaging and energetic speakers I've ever seen.  It was like an incredible slam poetry reading that was beautiful and insightful and thought provoking and... it was about small business.  It was an amazing work of art about the beauty of commmerce.  The thing is, it was amazingly great and powerful and intense and inspirational.  It was as moving as any poetry reading I've heard in years... and it was about... business.... and it was cool.  How did he do that?  That isn't supposed to work is it?   I was there and I have no idea.  But, it was amazing enough that I thought I should introduce you to Mr Sekou Andrews with the video below doing his thing that a he calls Poetic Voice.  Watch and enjoy.

...and to Sekou Andrews, yes you are awesome (and we are sort of experts on awesome).  Thanks for the performance.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Makin' Chocolate!

Digital Diner Chocolate!

If you walk into Digital Diner and ask, "Whatcha doin?" you are liable to get the response, "Eatin' chocolate!"  It isn't because we are running a confection shop in the back room.  It's because of the follow little rhyme that became popular here.  It's a fictional discussion between a parent and young child.  To properly recite this, the participants must use a bouncy light voice in order for the rhythm to come through.

"Whatcha doin?"
"Eatin' chocolate"
"Where'd you get it?"
"Doggy dropped it"
"Where's the doggy?"
"By the door."
"What's he doing?"
"Makin' more."


That leads us to today's topic.  Making Chocolate!  No, not the doggy kind.  The delicious kind that makes you fat.  Chocolate is awesome and pretty universally loved, yet very few people make their own.  As you know, we encourage and support DIY around here.  Tribe Awesome is spreading the word that anyone can make chocolate, and while the results may not be the most refined you've ever had on your first try, I can testify to the fact that it is quite yummy... and if it isn't perfect the first time, that is just an excuse to try again.

In true Tribe Awesome style, they not only describe how to make chocolate, they have a paper describing the history of chocolate... all the way back to the big bang!  It is worth a read.
So, get some cacao beans and make your own chocolate!   Fun and delicious - what's not to like?

Cacao beans ready to be made into glorious chocolate
via TribeAwesome

Friday, September 5, 2014

Wacky Sports

Hello everyone!
We hope you had a great summer. Ours was quite busy, but now we are getting back into the swing of the school year.  With the fall semester comes fall sports. Here at Digital Diner, we believe there is a lot more to sports than the traditional football, baseball, basketball sorts of sports that are so popular in America.  Instead, we are preparing for a semester of cross country running and crew (rowing).  As fans we follow the Tour de France and the America's Cup.  Still there are so many other interesting sports out there, and I'm not just talking about the X Games.  In the past we've told you about a few good ones like indoor kite flying, planing and synchronized walking just to name a few.  Well, apparently there are still plenty more good ones out there.  Here are two more for you: Cycle ball, which is essentially soccer played on bicycles, and Combat juggling, which is... well... competitive juggling where players try to disrupt each other's juggling.  Take a look at the videos below to see what it is all about.  No, really, you need to see this.   I think you'll be impressed.

(via Neatorama)
Apparently Cycle Ball was an exhibition sport during the Coors Classic bicycle race back in 1984.  At the time, I believe that the Coors Classic was the largest bicycle stage race in the US and there was a big push to make cycling a more popular sport, so these side show events were part of the act.  Unfortunately, entertaining as it might be, Cycle Ball didn't catch on here, and the Coors Classic wasn't really around long enough to warrant the moniker "classic."

Combat juggling

(via HolyKaw)

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Digital Diner takes to the sky!

We've been talking about it for so long -

Finally, we have slipped the surly bonds of Earth
And danced the skies on laughter-white rotating blades;
Sunward we’ve climbed, and joined the 3D stabilized mirth
of multi-rotor drones, — and done a hundred things
You have not dreamed of — wheeled and soared and swung
High in the GoProed silence. Hov’ring there,
We’ve chased the shouting wind along, and flung
Our eager craft through footless halls of air....
- Appologies to John Gillespie Magee

Widdakay does ground prep for the first flight

We got ourselves a quadcopter (a DJI Phantom 2 with Zenmuse H3-3D, thanks for asking), strapped a GoPro to it and sent it up.  It was a very windy day today, so we were very pleasantly surprised to find that despite the wind, the quadcopter was easy to control and fly for over 20 minutes on a single charge. We are just learning, so we have a lot to learn, but so far the video looks quite promising.  So far we've only made one flight, so there is still a lot to learn, but we have a first video to show you.  Really it is just a fancy selfie (for best results watch in HD).

What you are seeing is the video from the GoPro camera mounted underneath the quadcopter.  We got this gadget to help us make some dramatic aerial footage for our home movies, but I expect it to be a great platform for all sorts of experiments too.  The aircraft is being controlled from a radio control unit and a bunch of onboard electronics.  For instance, this quadcopter has a GPS on board that allows it to hover exactly where you leave it in the air, even in a strong wind like we had today.  If for any reason the craft looses contact with the remote control, if flies back to its home location (usually where it took off) and lands.  Kind of incredible.  The camera is mounted to a 3D stabilize platform that keeps the camera steady while the quadcopter bounces around in the wind.  We'll tell you more about this as we get more experience.

Getting good video:  For those of you who are interested in this sort of stuff, you may notice a slight jello effect on the video. That is due to the vibration of the quadcopter as it flies, causing the camera to move as it scans the picture.  This can be fixed with a little neutral density filter to slow down the shutter enough to counteract the vibration of the camera.  Also, we had the camera set to auto white balance, which turned out to be a bad idea we will keep it on manual in the future.  On top of that, we need to learn the best angles to steer the camera...

Sunday, May 11, 2014

One tough interview for a very tough job... Watch this today!

These folks decided to conduct job interviews for the world's most difficult job over Skype.  The job requirements sound ridiculous, but it is for a real job, and that is just what it takes for this Director of Operations position.   After crazy, unreasonable, insane requirements, you find out there is NO pay.  Wow!   Definitely something that is relevant today.

Watch the video and see what you think.

Monday, May 5, 2014

SAMi Sleep Activity Monitor - a gadget for detecting epileptic seizures

I like to see projects that solve real life problems.  It is design thinking at it's best.  Here is a cool Indiegogo project from a friend and former housemate of mine.  It is called SAMi - the Sleep Activity Monitor.  He and his wife had a son who was having epileptic seizures.  They created a night vision camera with motion detection specifically designed to alert parents when a child is having a seizure.  Apparently epileptic seizures can be dangerous and can happen while sleeping.  For a parent, the options are mostly pretty grim.  You can get a baby monitor and be woken up every time your child makes noise, and yet it can miss quiet events.  You can get a bed motion sensor, which works pretty well, but it only captures rhythmic motion and it doesn't go with you when you travel.
The SAMi Sleep Activity Monitor gives a live video feed in complete darkness so you can check in on your child, senses motion and triggers an alarm if it detects what looks like a seizure and, it will make a recording of the motion events which can be reviewed with your doctor.  It helps that Charles is a digital signal processing guru, so he was able to tune an algorithm to detect likely seizures.  See the video of the demo.  Nice work!

Please help Charles and Cynthia by supporting the project on Indiegogo, and consider telling your friends about the project.  This is the kind of thing that should be spread wide and far to help as many people as possible.  More information is available at the SAMi website.

Charles and Cynthia's story is here:

Friday, April 11, 2014

Learn to build an autonomous quadcopter

Quadcopters for all!

A while back, Widdikay and I took a class from Udacity on how to build a self-driving car.  It wasn't really about how to build a car, that is the easy part.  The class focused on the self-driving part.  Sure enough, in seven weeks we learned the basic principles required to build a self driving car that can navigate the streets around us.  In the process, not only did I learn about some really cool artificial intelligence techniques, I gained an appreciation for self-driving cars.  I'm pretty convinced at this point that the roads will be much safer when the self-driving cars dominate our highways.

Shelly - the Stanford/Audi self-driving car as it drove past me the other day
As our readers know we have an affinity for quadcopters around here.  So I was very excited to find that Technische Universit√§t M√ľnchen is teaching an online class on autonomous navigation of quad rotors.  I realize this isn't for everyone, but for those of you who are interested (and you know who you are) this could be really great.  And did I mention it's free?  This looks like a lot of fun.  Take a look at the video for some idea of what they will cover.

Class starts on May 6.  It will last for 8 weeks and is expected to take about 4 hours per week.  It is free to audit, so just do it!
More information can be found here, and the syllabus is available here.  

Visible sound

If asked what a sound looks like, some people immediately imagine a waveform.  This however is really a graphical representation of the compression and ratification of the air as the sound passes by a microphone.  It is not really what the sound looks like in space if we could see it.  I've seen people use something called cymatics to visualize sounds.  It is super cool (see the video below) and can map out where the nodes and antinodes of a sound are with vibrating particles.  The thing is that it is fairly static. It doesn't show sound propagating through the air.

However, the video below shows what sounds really looks like.  It uses a technique called Schlieren flow visualization to make minute changes in the density of the air visible.  By capturing minute changes in the density of the air and making them visible to your eye, we can actually see sound waves propagating.  Very cool!

Of course, the really cool version of this would be in 3D so that you could see sounds propagate out in all directions and bounce off of objects in the room.... Maybe some day.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

The Expert

Have you ever been called on because you are an "expert?"  It is a great feeling.  At least for a little while. The feeling rarely lasts.  Sometimes you realize just how much of an expert your are... as in, no one else has a clue what they are talking about.  Or is it me?  No, I'm the expert.  I'm here because I'm supposed to know what I'm talking about, right?  Right?  Somebody?  Help!
The short film below captures the feeling perfectly.  I think I've attended this meeting... more than once.  Here's to the "experts."

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Arduino-based farming

We have a bit of a water crisis here in California.  We have gotten a little bit of rain recently, but we are still hovering near the minimum rainfall that we've had in recorded history.  About 80% of our water goes to agriculture.  Unfortunately, that water is not used efficiently.  Most of it just soaks into the soil and is gone.  Hydroponic systems, on the other hand grow crops with recycled water.  In fact the Aeroponic system they use at Tribe Awesome uses as little as 2% as much water as traditional farming.  If we could convert large crops over to these systems it dramatically help reduce our water needs.

Another interesting part of hydroponic systems is the nutrients they use.  They can be managed to optimize for different parts of a plant's lifecycle.  They are also much more efficient because they have very little run-off - all the nutrients go to the plants.  One type of system, aquaponics, uses fish to generate the nutrients for the plants.  The entire system is closed.  The fish muck up the water and fill it with nutrients for the plants.  The plants then filter the water and clean it up for the fish.  The result is a recirculating system that is extremely efficient.

The guy in the video below has a lot of plans for starting to scale up some hydroponic systems.  He makes a compelling case and he looks to be making great progress, just using pieces and parts that anyone can get.  He uses Arduinos to sense and control the system.  The whole system connects to the net so he can monitor and control it over the web.  It is quite impressive.

Spring is coming up, so its time to make the plans for your hydroponic garden.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Maker Mission Control Center

I'm clearly a bad father because I didn't build a mission control panel for either of my children.  I only hope they can forgive me.  I don't know who this guy is, but he's definitely raising the bar for all the other dads on the planet.  This is a great piece of work.  Watch the video and enjoy.

You can read about the project at Make.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Draw your hand in 3D

The folks at Handmania have come up with a clever little trick that shows how easy it is to create a 3D drawing of your hand.  The process is quite clever and the result is pretty impressive.  It surprises me that a simple curved line can be so effective at creating a 3D illusion.  Go ahead.  Try it.  Amaze you're friends!

For all the details, see the instructions here.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Where have you been?

Hello dear readers. I know... I know... It's been a month.  Sorry.  I've been busy.  So where have you been, you ask?  I'm going to divert you from that question.  It brings up an interesting point.  What if you could see where people have been?  What if positions had history?  What if when you see someone sitting in a chair, you also saw where they came from before they came to that chair?  That would be pretty cool eh?  I suppose slugs leave a trail when they slide along, but I was hoping for something a little less slimy.  Thanks to the wonders of digital technology, we can create these trails.

Dennis Hiynsky, professor at the Rhode Island School of Design, has made a set of videos that are really cool.  He set up a stationary camera and recorded as birds flew around.  Then, in post processing, he was able to show the paths of the birds movements through the sky.  I think it is brilliant and beautiful myself.  I think we need to try this effect on everything that moves... So, where was I?  Check it out.