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Friday, September 19th, 2008

Hello On-liners

I’m beginning the long overdue process of painting my living room. I watched Iron Man last night and I could sure use one of those exoskeletons. Grabbing a large speaker I hadn’t lifted in years, I wondered if I could still lift it. It was up high and once I started there was no going back. Luckily it didn’t flatten me. Why doesn’t someone invent wall paper that just peels off and has another layer underneath? So instead of painting you just peel off the dirty sheet to reveal a clean one. You could have fresh walls in minutes without having to move everything.

Our house is pretty small so having to do without our largest room even for a short time is pretty painful. I guess one thing I like is now I have the computer I use for blogging next to the one I use for rendering so it’s easier to post while I have the other one making pictures. Check out these computer generated pictures by 33 different artists.

I have a picture in the 2D art section where I created a 2D fractal and then reflected it on a 3D object.  I’ve thought about this issue before; how would you create a true 3D fractal?

I’ve linked to musical roads before. The idea is you put a pattern of grooves in the road so they play a tune as you drive over them. I’ve always thought the ones they have on the side of the road, which my wife calls slumber bumps, should say “Wake Up!”

These cloud pictures reminded me of one time when we had a bunch of Mammatus clouds. Some of the others are very cool and scary.

Here are some interesting and very innovative photographic techniques.

Speaking of clever pictures, here is one I like.

Oh my, scroll down to the section on reproduction. I sure wouldn’t want to be an Anglerfish.

With all the political news, I keep seeing a lot of studies on why people vote the way they do in the science sites. Do conservatives scare more easily than liberals?

I’ve written about Bisphenol A before. Here is how to avoid eating it.

And finally, check out this collection of tiny animals.

Ball Lightning

Monday, September 15th, 2008

I read a post today about generating power from ball lightning. I tracked down the site belonging to Dr. Kiril Chukanov here. Dr. Chukanov claims to have developed Quantum Free Energy generators capable of generating clean energy without fuel. There are some interview videos at the site but his accent is pretty heavy so it can be hard to follow at times.

It seems like I saw a movie or TV show recently where someone wanted to fire a gun in space and they ended up putting it in something so it would shoot. Turns out you don’t need oxygen to fire a gun in space.

This is just strange. It’s an article you might expect in the Enquirer but it’s from the Discovery Channel and it is about a girl with X-ray eyes.

Here is a pretty nice animation of how the Large Hadron Collider works.

Speaking of the LHC they are having a contest to give it a better name. I don’t suppose they would go for ‘Smash-o-matic’?

Binaural recording isn’t just using two microphones. It actually models the human head and ears. It’s pretty amazing to hear when you are used to just stereo. Here is an interesting demonstration.

Check out these dramatic pictures of tornadoes. We had the remains of hurricane Ike pass over us yesterday. When the house was creaking and you could hear debris hitting it, you just can’t believe some people would attempt to ride out the real thing.

From the violent to the serene, here is a nice collection of photos of reflections.

This was kind of funny. Someone used photo editing to just remove some elements from different scenes.

No photo editing here. I was just pleased on how our garden has done this year so I took a picture of what I harvested in one day.

A Nice Harvest

A Nice Harvest

I was joking my old van would make a nice tree house if you could get it up in a tree. These guys made a deer stand out of a trailer.

And finally, who would have thought hedge hogs could be so cute?

Paint Ball Ink Jet Printer

Tuesday, September 2nd, 2008

Years ago it occurred to me you could make an ink jet printer out of a paint ball gun. Sure, the pixels would be big but if you had a large enough canvas, say the side of a barn, it would work. Well it was just one of those ideas I never got around to pursuing because well, it’s not very practical. What would you do with it? Thank goodness the guys at Mythbusters don’t need a practical reason to do something. They built a printer that not only makes a picture using paint balls, but fires all the balls off at the same time. Check out the video. The really cool stuff starts about half way through.

Speaking of the impractical, even if I’d thought of this one, I never would suspect enough people would buy it to make a successful product. It’s an aquarium toilet. I think you might hesitate to flush if you saw this.

This is one of those things you read and just wonder about the government. They point out in the article, most beef in the U.S. is too young to test for Mad Cow disease but what is the harm in testing?

Refrigeration is a very old and not-too-efficient technology. This article is about a plastic that could cool things using an electric field. They mention computer electronics and refrigeration but can you imagine if you could make clothing or a tent out the stuff?

The sun has been acting kind of strange lately. Last month it was spotless. According to this article, it was the first time in either 50 or 100 years. When it has happened in the past, it was followed by a period of global cooling. I’ve mentioned before in this blog whether you believe in global warming or not, pumping large amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere has all kinds of repercussions including acidifying the oceans. If we are about to enter a cold phase, maybe it will give us some time to get our act together. On the other hand, it really doesn’t look like we are cooling off. For the first time in human history it is now possible to sail all the way around the Arctic. Also look at this data for the temperature of the last decade.

Speaking of the sun, check out these pictures of a nice sun dog, and a break in the clouds.

And finally, I have a couple of funny animal pictures for you. I got a chuckle out of this one, but this one is even better.

Spore Creature Creator

Monday, August 25th, 2008

Some time ago I posted this link where you can download a free trial version of software to create creatures for the soon-to-be-released game Spore from Electronic Arts. Spore is produced by Maxis which is now a brand under Electronic Arts best known for the Sim City series. I finally got around to playing with the Creature Creator this weekend.

The installation was fairly straight forward. I had to update my version of Direct X from Microsoft. In short order I was creating critters. The user interface seems fairly intuitive. I suppose to me that means it’s like a lot of other programs I have used. I’m hardly a novice at 3D programs having used a great number of them over the last 20 plus years. I’ve also developed 3D software and written some games.

The program is divided in three sections.  There is a section where you build your creature, there is a section where you paint or add color to it, and finally there is a ‘test drive’ section where you can make your creation dance, roar, express emotions and so forth.

packlephosidus (now extinct)

Packlephosidus (now extinct)

I was able to create my first creature (shown above) in about an hour. The building process amounts to picking items such as a hand from a list and dragging it onto your creature. You can manipulate the various parts by rotating or enlarging them in each dimension.

One of the really cute and entertaining things about the software is while you are adding parts; the creature is animated and reacts by staring at its new hands for instance. It expresses happiness as you add each part. It shakes and laughs when you color it. There seemed to be inconsistencies in the interface. When you are in the build section, you drag with the left mouse button to rotate the camera while in the test drive section; you use the right mouse button to do the same thing.  However I discovered the right button works in both cases so I just adjusted to always using it.

My wife has never used a 3D creation program, but I suppose she has watched me use them for years. She was able to create this guy on her first try in half an hour after watching me use the program.



We did have a problem with the audio. There was a very annoying buzzing sound in the test drive area. My wife discovered it would go away if you selected the black background instead of the default one. We ran into a much bigger flaw after exiting the program and trying to restart it. The EA logo would appear and then the game would just shut down. At first I thought it might have been because I had changed some of the rendering settings on the game. I found a preferences.prop file and tried to edit it to what it had been originally. When that didn’t work, I made sure my drivers were up to date although since the game had been running that didn’t make much sense. Finally we tried to uninstall and then reinstall the game. Unfortunately I didn’t locate and back up my first critter so it became extinct in the process. Finally we came upon this link at Electronic Arts where we had to replace the file called DMCmdPortalClient.dll. That solved the problem but it took hours to figure out.

One of the problems when trying to design an easy to use 3D authoring tool is it is inherently a complex thing. If you look at any of the major full blown software packages there are tons of controls. For the sake of simplicity, the Creature Creator leaves a lot of these out but as a consequence there are things you can not do. However they are trying to make something to easily create critters for the game not a total 3D authoring tool.

I thought the way they handled the paint area was interesting. In a full blown 3D package you have to supply a picture which is mapped onto your object. It just gets more complex from there as you can add bump mapping, specular maps and so on and so on. Creature Creator  gives you a choice between just choosing a basic ‘skin’ or three layers of color where you can choose the colors for spots or stripes for instance. The software makes some assumptions as well. For instance, it assumes the ‘front’ of the creature faces a certain way. So if you create a two-headed beast, such as the one below, and then animate it, there are collision problems.

Two headed beast

Two headed beast

Here is what happens when you make it roar.

self intersecting issue

Self intersecting issue

All in all the Creator is fun to play with and the price is certainly right for the free version. The test drive area has some cute features such as buttons to create baby versions of your critter. It also has buttons to create an animated avatar, shoot pictures, and shoot movies. You can send picture postcards to your friends and after you shoot a movie it gives you the opportunity to upload it directly to YouTube.

Below is an example of a video I shot and you can hear the audio buzzing bug.

The full version of the Creature Creator costs $9.95. The full Spore game will cost $49.95 and is due to be released September 7th in the United States.

And finally, I always end with a funny animal picture but this time check out this rather surreal attempt to make something that looks like Garfield the cat in Creature Creator.



No Comment

Thursday, August 21st, 2008

I’ve changed the settings on this blog so you have to log in to post a comment. Sorry, I’ve been overrun by spammers lately and I’m tired of dealing with it. You people aren’t real talkative anyway. Maybe I’ll figure out another way to deal with it, but in the meantime, the comments are disabled.

The other day I mentioned Shapeways where you can get 3D models printed into real plastic objects. I spent some time looking over their site recently trying to figure out how it works and coming up with ideas on things to make. There is a gallery of models people have submitted. They are also coming up with simple objects you can modify through their interface and have made but 3D modeling is somewhat complex so I imagine this is difficult for them. Right now the objects you can make that way are pretty limited.

This article at Wired pointed out the plastic isn’t for kids. I hadn’t thought about that. While reading through the forums I ran across this link where a guy made a mold for chocolate monkey heads. He was working in a lab that had a 3D printer and didn’t use Shapeways, but the process would be about the same. I just recently bought one of those FoodSaver systems to preserve the heaping loads of vegetables we are getting and it had occurred to me the vacuum system might come in handy for molding something. He uses it to remove the bubbles from the silicone prior to pouring the mold.

The FoodSaver thing is kind of cool but a little more difficult to operate than I expected. I liked some of the unusual suggestions people had for using it. One was to seal your paint brush instead of cleaning it if you were going to continue painting the same color anyway. They also give you a covered dish which you can use to marinate meat using the vacuum. That didn’t occur to me either.

I was reading about the water cube at the Olympics and how it’s made of this amazing material called ETFE (Ethylene Tetrafluoroethylene). This article talks about how strong, lightweight, and transparent it is. It sounds really great and then at the end they say it’s unlikely to be used in residential projects because the engineering is too sophisticated. It sounds like the perfect material for a home greenhouse. How bad can the engineering be?

I liked this article about building things by shaping trees. I wish I had more room in my yard to try something like it. Plants are really remarkable in their ability to self assemble into useful things. With all the genetic engineering going on you wonder how extreme it could get. I mean you could possibly encode the genes for these things to shape themselves without human guidance.

Imagine two dollar a gallon carbon neutral gasoline produced from garbage and non-food biomass. Given the military is the largest consumer of fuel in the U.S. and the security gains from being able to produce it domestically, I would think they would be highly interested in seeing this technology pushed forward as quickly as possible.

Type a command and this dog will do tricks. Besides the basic stuff I couldn’t think of much to make it do. Be sure to try “kiss”.

And finally, yes another silly cat picture.


Tuesday, August 19th, 2008

This animation is pretty good but something about her mouth still seems off. Maybe it’s just the video compression. One thing that is clear is total realism at video game speeds is not far off. Also it will be extremely cheap not long after it’s achieved. I haven’t done any animation for a while and one of these days I’m going to upgrade my equipment and get back into it.

Speaking of digital art, here is a nice collection. I particularly like the landscapes.

Here is more strange art by an artist named Frank Uyttenhove.

I’ve linked to articles about Valcent before. They are one of the companies planning on producing fuel from algae. Here is a short video about the process. They point out we could meet the energy needs of America by turning one tenth of the state of New Mexico into algae production. It sounds nice but one tenth of New Mexico is still a big area.

Here is yet another story about progress on using sunlight to produce hydrogen.

My mystery story of the day is this one about five strange skulls.

Here is a pair of very nice lightning at sunset pictures.

Check out these pictures of more elaborate sand sculptures.

Here are some pictures of cats in water and includes video of a cat riding the front of a surf board. My cats would never get in water but they seem to be fascinated by it. I suppose it’s the only liquid they experience in their daily life so maybe that has to do with it.

And finally, yes it’s another silly kitten picture.

Perseids And Peaches

Monday, August 11th, 2008

The Perseid meteor shower peaks tonight so if you are up really late or really early, go out and look up. We always try to see them but there is so much light pollution around here, it makes it difficult. Someday we are going to travel somewhere this time of year where we can see them.

Here is a nice photo of a meteor and an aurora.

It probably has too many lights around it but this would be a good setup for meteor watching. It’s a house with a bedroom that extends out like a desk drawer.

They are finally ready to pick

They are finally ready to pick

This would be really cool if it works. How to get to Mars in 8 weeks.

I was thinking about how movies are sometimes re-released after being digitally cleaned up. I wonder if some of the films that have been computer generated might be re-rendered as the technology improves. One example is The Polar Express where the humans look rather strange, especially the eyes. Check out this impressive demo of software to produce facial emotions in computer generated characters.

This is a pretty cute video of someone singing puppies to sleep.

Shooting a 3D Picture

Thursday, July 3rd, 2008

There are a number of ways to shoot a pair of pictures which can be viewed in 3D. The best way is to have a 3D camera or a special lens that shoots both images simultaneously. I have a special lens but it’s cheap. I don’t have the ability to control the focus and the plastic optics don’t yield a very clear picture. By the time you tweak them in a graphics program and size them for the internet they can look alright.

Another way to do it is to shoot a picture and then slide the camera to the side and shoot another picture. The problem is nothing can change over the time between shots, so this is limited to objects that don’t move. Also if you are using a flash, it has to stay in the same spot so it can’t be attached to the camera.

I have never used the technique outside because even the slightest breeze can mess up the shot. The other day was an extremely calm day. We have a striking yellow lily blooming in the yard so I decided to give it a shot.

Here is my set up.

a camera set up for taking a 3D picture

Note the high tech tilt control. A pair of bricks for more tilt and a pair of plant pot bottoms for less tilt. I have built a sliding track with a camera mount on it. That is a clamp slightly out of view to hold the track to the ladder. It’s a cheap set up but not very portable.

a sliding track

This track is much longer than you really need. Typically you would only move the camera about the distance between your eyes but its fun to experiment with different distances. When you move it farther it can make it harder to view but it does emphasize the depth.

This camera has a manual setting so I can make sure the exposure is exactly the same in the two pictures. Some graphics programs can make up for a small difference in exposures.

With no breeze it was ideal for shooting but really hot for the photographer. After you get your two shots, you can format them in a graphics program side by side. I usually format them for cross viewing. But I also have different sets of 3D glasses and for viewing that way you swap the two images.

You can learn to cross view at my tutorial here. I have more 3D pictures in my gallery. And finally, you were probably expecting my lily picture but I also shot this.

A Raspberry

To see it in 3D click here.

Future Carpet

Monday, June 16th, 2008

Wouldn’t it be cool to have self-cleaning carpet? You spill something on it and it just grows a little, so you have to trim it. You just would have to be careful not to pass out on it. Here are some pictures of all the nasty critters that live in carpeting.

Firefox 3 is to be released tomorrow. They are hoping to set a new Guinness World Record for the most software downloaded on a single day. From what I have read, it sounds like it will have a very useful zoom feature.

Pretty much everyone has seen the reaction between Mentos and Diet Coke resulting in a gushing fountain. This article explains the science behind it.

I guess I figured they would eventually be able to somehow bring woolly mammoths back to life because they died out relatively recently. I didn’t think they would ever be able to bring back dinosaurs. After reading this article I think a Jurassic park is probably going to happen even if it’s just mutant chickens.

I got a laugh out of this sign.

I often wonder if the people living on Easter Island saw their fate coming. It seems like it must have been obvious. In this ABC documentary scientists discuss whether this will be the last century for humans on the earth.

It seems like there are a zillion ways to make oil. Here is yet another one which is carbon neutral.

How about new gas that gives you better mileage, less emissions, and it’s cheap!

Nvidea’s latest offering has 240 cores. Absolutely realistic real-time rendering can’t be far away.

I used to drink a lot of coffee. Now I just drink it in the morning. Who’d of guessed I may not be drinking enough to get all the health benefits?

I thought this photo sequence of a geyser erupting was pretty cool.

Check out this plane with folding wings.

And finally, here is another cute photo of puppies.

Going Way Too Fast

Wednesday, May 21st, 2008

Jet-Powered Bicycle Makes 50 MPH Feel Waaaaay Too Fast

When I was 15 I rode my bicycle from Ohio to Maine. It was with an organized group. We had a truck carrying our personal gear and cooking our meals. We rode about 100 miles a day. I remember feeling like I just couldn’t eat enough. Outside of Battleborough Vermont, we spent most of a morning working our way up a mountain. When we reached the top, we went down in pairs. I think terminal velocity on a bicycle is somewhere in the upper 50 mph range. By going down in pairs though, you can get in the slipstream of your partner. By leap-frogging each other you can get near 60 mph. It was about 9 miles as I recall and I remember passing cars. I also remember getting the feeling I was on a fragile machine that probably wasn’t designed to go that fast. It was quite a thrill!

Here is an interview with a blind skateboarder.

I almost didn’t check out this link because I thought I had already seen it, but this is a different climbing robot. Amazingly enough, this one clings to the wall using electrostatic force.

Here is a grasshopper sized hopping robot.

This is a story about a guy who built his own electric car which costs him $7 dollars for every 300 miles he drives.

I’m always finding those really useful bits of information for my readers. Here are 9 ways to open a beer bottle without an opener.

Here is the best picture of a dandelion I have ever seen.

These pictures of Mars are so stunning; some of them look computer generated.

I never realized one of the reasons there is no cure for the common cold was because there was no animal model to test drugs on. It turns out a smallpox drug might do the trick.

I’m not sure if this is the same process I wrote about before or it’s a new cheap way to capture carbon emissions from smokestacks. Solar energy technology is advancing rapidly but in the meantime, China is building a new coal fired plant every week.

Next time you tell a bad joke at the office, finish it with this instant rimshot.

Here is a list of 30 web-based image editing applications.

And finally, check out this cute video of a whistling puppy.