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Interesting Facts

Friday, October 26th, 2012

I knew I was probably the last person on earth to sign up for facebook but the day after I did I saw a news article saying the one billionth person had signed up. It was probably me. Here is my link. Also here is the link to our page for Bash the Bankers. Hope I did that right as I am a total facebook noob. I closed comments on the blog a long time ago because I got tired of all the spam. I was thinking I would eventually put them back with a better spam filter but have never gotten to it. So at least you can comment on my FB page now.

If you are a regular reader and I imagine there are some from my stats, you know I normally finish up with a cute picture. Also since as one friend of mine put it “It’s so sciencey!” and another one recently said “I would describe your writing style as a high-tech Andy Rooney.” often the subjects I write about are well, not necessarily light reading. According to this, cute images make you sharper, perhaps I should put a cute picture at the beginning instead of the end of my blog.

Suddenly I’ve found myself with a little time on my hands and I’ve been thinking about starting some sort of project. I’ve written about the Raspberry Pi $25 ARM based computer before and thought about getting one to play with. Although it seems like an interesting platform to build some sort of sensor/controller, the more I read about it, it does seem kind of weak in terms of processing power. Yesterday I saw an article about this kickstarter project called Parallella where these people are trying to build an open source parallel computing platform. It’s $100 but it does look like it would be considerably more powerful. Yesterday it didn’t look like they were going to make  their goal but with 24 hours to go, today I noticed it might be close. I think they should have come up with a better name.

Speaking of open source,

The Global Village Construction Set (GVCS) is a modular, DIY, low-cost, high-performance platform that allows for the easy fabrication of the 50 different Industrial Machines that it takes to build a small, sustainable civilization with modern comforts.

There have been a lot of articles like this one about 3D printers lately and also the legal implications. I’ve always wanted to get a 3D printer but other than 3D art or maybe some odd connectors for some sort of PVC structure I want to build, I’m not sure what I would do with one. Unless of course I had one like this which is so large I could make furniture with it.

I mentioned I bought a graphics tablet recently and I’m really enjoying using it. Although it supports gestures like my iPhone and Android, I don’t use them that much. Occasionally my computer starts doing odd things and I realize my cat Kelly is leaning up against it. I like using the pressure sensitive pen though. Unfortunately my abilities to use a pen peaked when I was in college and spent most days trying to scribble down notes in a hurry which would actually be readable later on, or being bored in class and spent my time doodling.  When I built my first machine back in the 80’s all I could think about was how cool it would be to have some sort of sophisticated way of controlling it. This article from the BBC talks about the range of new technologies that will change the way you interface with machines.

Here is an interesting fact

Over 3 million people globally every month search for something online with the words interesting facts in it according to the most popular search engine.

I got that from this list of interesting facts. One of them I was already familiar with. If you want to bring a computer to it’s knees, try rendering a human head with 85,000 to 150,000 hairs.

And finally, something to make you say awww…


Tuesday, February 10th, 2009

We are finally getting a nice break from winter here in the Midwest. It’s funny how just not having to bundle up or watch your footing can seem so nice.

We spent part of the weekend playing this physics game called Perfect Balance. I can’t say I cared much for the sound track so I just turned off the audio but it was a good example of how a simple balancing game can get your puzzle solving skills fired up. We also played a game at the BBC called CDX. It’s the second game we have played from the BBC and in both cases they were terribly disappointing. It’s painful to see a game with a lot of professional video production but such terrible game play.

Speaking of the Brits, the following interview is actually from Australia and it’s a real interview but if you have ever seen Monty Python you’d swear it was one of their skits.

I have Matt to thank for that little gem; he also sent me this rather amazing video of dolphins.

Last week I created my first hand draw animation in years. I can’t say it was very good. It was just a stick figure walking and I’m just trying to learn some tools. While searching the web for animation resources I ran across this page on claymation. Most of what it says is pretty obvious but one of the tricks it mentioned was putting magnets in the feet of the characters and placing them on a cookie sheet. Years ago when we did a very short claymation, we did have problems with the characters falling over and that would have helped.

Speaking of stop action, here is a simple stop action video done by a couple kids.

I got a laugh out of this.

This is another one of those street painting perspective illusions. This one is of a glacial type ice age scene. I wonder how large the painting was.

Ever wonder how cats purr? Skip down towards the bottom for the simpler explanation.

I have seen fractal zooms before. This one is just a lot longer than most.

Darpa is funding a project to reverse engineer the brain.

A company called Jovion Corporation has been issue a patent for a zero point energy device. I’m a little skeptical useful energy can be extracted from the Casimir effect but I hope the thing works.

The RepRap 3D printer can finally make a copy of itself!

Here are some pretty cool pictures of an Alaskan ice festival.

If I saw one of these crossing the road, I would definitely stop.

I have seen pictures of these monkeys in a hot spring before. I think this is in Japan.

This is a funny bear cub shot.

Here is a cute story about a hot koala.

And finally, here are some very cute pictures of a kitten and a bird.

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.

The Mad Scientists’ Club

Friday, August 8th, 2008

This article about a “dinosaur-like’ creature being spotted in Papua New Guinea reminded me of a book I read as a kid called The Mad Scientists’ Club. I Googled the title and was surprised to find the author’s son had a web site and the book is still in print. The publisher Purple House Press was apparently created to publish books people enjoyed as children which were out of print. Anyway, the story was The Strange Sea Monster of Strawberry Lake in which a bunch of kids build a monster and mount it on a boat. My wife said she remembered seeing a movie about it and according to this article at Wikipedia it was a two part story on the Wonderful World of Disney entitled “The Strange Monster of Strawberry Cove”.

It also reminded me to visit a site I hadn’t been to in a while called Evil Mad Scientist Laboratories where they have instruction on how to build some strange things like a cardboard cat chaise and a 3D printer that fuses sugar. That persistence of vision thing they had on there reminded me of something I built with a friend of mine when we were kids. It was a florescent string on a motor and it gave the appearance of a semi-solid object you could deform with your hands under a black light.

Speaking of mad scientists, I’ve been reading all these weird things about the Large Hadron Collider causing the end of the world by creating black holes or something. Never mind cosmic rays hit the upper atmosphere with the same amount of power every day. Anyway, here is one that I really found amusing. The LHC will be shutdown before it starts by ripples from the future.

I thought this picture of a bridge that becomes a tunnel was kind of interesting.

Here is another photo I liked of fire and water.

How about a house made out of Styrofoam? I was thinking at least if it fell on you it wouldn’t hurt but according to the article, the panels are 175 lbs each, so maybe not.

How about a mirror made out of wood? You really have to watch the video on this one to appreciate it. It also gives you a close up so you can see how it works. Very cool!

And finally, oh you know I always end with a cute animal picture.

Breaking Up Is Hard To Do

Thursday, July 31st, 2008

I didn’t realize the main bottleneck in splitting water into oxygen and hydrogen efficiently are the catalysts used in the design of the electrodes. One of the problems with using solar power has been storing the energy for night use. If you could efficiently generate hydrogen during the day, then you could use a fuel cell to turn the hydrogen back into electricity at night. Apparently researchers at MIT have solved this problem. It’s pretty interesting how the catalyst works.

The new catalyst marks a radical departure from earlier attempts. Researchers, including Nocera, have tried to design molecular catalysts in which the location of each atom is precisely known and the catalyst is made to last as long as possible. The new catalyst, however, is amorphous–it doesn’t have a regular structure–and it’s relatively unstable, breaking down as it does its work. But the catalyst is able to constantly repair itself, so it can continue working.

If you didn’t catch it there was also an apparent breakthrough in the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease recently. I can’t imagine how frightening it would be to be diagnosed with that affliction. Read more here.

This was an interesting article. Couch potatoes can rejoice as researchers have found taking a pill can provide some of the benefits of exercising. We aren’t really go-to-the-gym kind of people. In the summer, we get most of our exercise gardening, playing golf, or camping. In the winter, there isn’t much to do outside. Especially for the last 5 years or so when there isn’t enough snow to do anything snow related.

The other day I linked to an article about someone who clipped a portrait of the Mona Lisa into their yard. This takes that to an extreme, where people actually exposed plots of grass to light through a photographic plate to produce a picture using grass.

I’ll probably never make it to Norway but Trolltunga looks like a really nice place to visit.

A trick to traveling faster than light? Make the ship stand still and have space move underneath it instead.

I’ve been making 3D objects on the computer for many years. I have yet to actually have one turned into a real physical object. Shapeways uses a 3D printing process to create 3D objects out of plastic for consumers. I’m going to have to try it.

And finally, check out this picture of a dog who adopted tiger cubs at a Kansas zoo.

More Storms

Friday, June 6th, 2008

Sorry this post is so short but we have another big storm coming and I need to run some errands. Here are just a handful of links.

Speaking of storms, here are some storm photos shot in Nebraska.

Scroll down a bit to see two subjects on this blog dealing with printing buildings. According to them it would be five times cheaper. With all the fancy things they can do with concrete these days, I wouldn’t be surprised if they could make them look like traditional houses for not much more.

One time I built a 3D scanner using a video camera, an aquarium, and some food coloring. We also experimented with moving lights around an object and averaging the pictures together. This is much cooler! By sending light though grids and doing a lot of processing, scientists have managed to build a microscope which can get around the limitation of light microscopy. The fact that you can’t resolve objects smaller than the wavelength of the light you are using. Check out the video.

O.K. this is just silly fun. Cornstarch is strange stuff. Mixed with the right amount of water it’s a non-Newtonian fluid. You can roll it into a ball in your hand and when you stop applying pressure it melts. Here someone decided to make a video where they pour it into a speaker and vibrate it at different frequencies.

And finally, in Japan they decided watermelons would fit in the fridge better if they were square.

Inflatable Cars?

Thursday, June 5th, 2008

Yeah, you read that right. Just recently I joked about the nerf car of the future. A company called XP vehicles is planning on selling a car made from the same materials used to protect the Mars rovers when they landed. They also have a power system which would allow the car to travel an astonishing 2,500 miles on a single charge. Here is an article about it. Here is the link to the company.

We went car shopping yesterday. What a disappointment! My legs are so long there was only one I would have even thought about driving, and it had adjustable pedals, and a telescoping steering wheel. I’ve been doing some research and the cars with the most leg room are the Nissan Maxima (44.8 inches), the Scion XB (45.3 inches), and a Lexus which I can’t afford. The Scion XB is a really boxy looking thing but it gets good mileage.

I thought this was kind of interesting. It’s a list of the top ten scientists killed or injured by their experiments. Even a long time ago you would have thought a chemist would know not to taste his experiments.

In the first steps to us becoming cyborgs London scientists are developing artificial veins and arteries.

It seems like 3D displays are finally starting to become reality. I wonder how long before they are affordable? Here is one called the HoloVizio.

The Casimir effect is an attraction between two plates that essentially arises from nothing. It really only takes place at extremely close distances but is a problem for people working in nanotechnology. Now a group of scientist claim to have the ability to reverse that force allowing for levitation. Here is the article although it doesn’t explain it much. When do we get our flying skateboards?

Quite some time ago I posted about a machine called RepRap. It’s a 3D printing machine which could duplicate itself. Well it finally has and you can now buy the electronics for it. Apparently if you want to buy the parts for the whole thing you will have to wait until Christmas.

Here is a cool picture of water droplets.

Green housing is finally going prefab.

There is a narrow space between my garage and our privacy fence. On cool days we sometimes sit on a wooden table back there when the sun is just right. Last fall I was back there and I saw one of these creatures. I took some pictures of it but I just didn’t have the lens to capture it. Here are some more photos of crab and other interesting spiders. This one is blue.

Dan sent me this link; Inconvenient Truths: Get Ready to Rethink What It Means to Be Green. I think it’s ironic the Chinese are doing so much to advance sustainable living. But when you hear about all the major pollution disasters they have, it makes sense. I suppose if I had kids it would make sense to try to buy up cheap land somewhere where it’s very cold (for now). New nuclear plant designs are really much safer than the old ones in terms of melting down. As far as the waste, maybe we will just have to deal with it. I still think solar power will become so cheap so fast no one will bother generating power any other way.

Check out this amazing picture of sting ray migration.

And finally, I will leave you with this nice collection of flower pictures.

Fine Print

Monday, February 25th, 2008

I’d like to thank everyone who has submitted a comment. In my previous web site, I only had images with no way of leaving comments. It’s fun to get feedback and ideas from other people.

Over the weekend I heard from a blogger at Fabbaloo:

The 3D printing thing will be a really big deal. When people can punch out items at home instead of heading out to the store, a lot of things will be very, very different. The digital rights issue will become important not just for the RIAA/MPAA and their songs/movies, but for *any* manufacturer! I wouldn’t want to be a freight carrier in 10 years….

While I do believe this technology is becoming more and more powerful, there are a lot of issues to solve. We have a long way to go before someone says “Hey can I borrow your couch? I’d like to make a copy”. However, it does seem like it is following the 2D print market example. One post on their blog discussed regional fabbing centers. I used to go to print and copy places until the equipment became so cheap and common I had everything I needed to do it myself. I can see this happening in 3D as well. Having constructed many virtual 3D objects, I would really enjoy being able to get one of them made for real at a reasonable price.

Here’s a do-it-yourself 3D printer at Evil Mad Scientists that fuses sugar to make an object. Not only can you make something cool, you can eat it afterward.

Talking about 3D printing gave me the thought to see what has been happening in robotic house building. Here is another article. I know people in the construction business I would not like to see unemployed. On the other hand, half the cost of a house is in the construction. Here is a video of how a system might work.

Grancrete was originally developed to store nuclear waste. A year or so ago I went to their site and they were just getting started. The idea was, you would just create a shell out of Styrofoam and spray this stuff on. It does seem a lot simpler than having a robot print your house. Looking at their site today though, it seems they are pushing the material more as a coating than as the primary building material.

The links above bring up the vision of a stark, bleak concrete home but in reality I’m sure you could make it normal looking. You could also put this stuff on the outside and make it blend in with the surroundings. I find it surprising it took a subprime mortgage meltdown to lower housing prices, when I expected technology to do it in the same way as many of the things we buy. Personally I wouldn’t mind living in a bleak structure if it cost a fraction of a normal house and I didn’t have to cower in the basement during threatening weather. Not to mention how easy it would be to clean. O.K., that’s silly but I still think you could have a bathroom similar to a dishwasher. Just put soap in the door and twist the knob on your way out.

When I got my first photo printer, it was a dye sublimation printer. I tried things like putting foil in it and I bought a silver cartridge intending to see if it was conductive enough to make circuits. It just seemed like something so accurate could surely be used for all kinds of things. Now they are trying to use ink jet printers to make human organs, but a truly ‘here today’ cool application of printing technology is solar energy.

Nanosolar began producing solar cells using print technology in December. I wasn’t able to get the CNN video at their site to play but the other two seem to have been made before they actually started producing product. I was struck by the phrase ‘cheaper than coal’ used here and here. I guess I was wondering whether it was still cheaper if you included storing the electricity for nighttime use. In one of the videos an engineer says you could sell your excess electricity back to the grid in the daytime but in fact if this technology were truly embraced by the masses you couldn’t sell your ‘excess power’ so what would you do with it? You could have some robot making cool things or you could be nice and power some device to remove CO2 from the air. People can argue all they want about global warming but when it comes down to it, we are tired of external entities like OPEC having control over our lives. Just taking that first joy ride in an electric car powered by sunshine is going to be a liberating experience.

This article discusses how much environmental damage is done making solar cells and according to it, they are still cleaner than other means of producing power. The other thing they mention is what happens when you use solar power to make solar cells. I suppose every solar manufacturer wants to do that.

According to this, the United States is finally willing to accept binding reductions of greenhouse gases. Whether you believe in global warming or not, there is no question we are changing the earth’s atmosphere and acidifying the oceans. I personally feel, altering the earth’s ecosystem and seeing what happens, is not a good experiment. There is an expression, you don’t go the bathroom in your kitchen. I may be paraphrasing here but the future will likely be somewhere between Mad Max and Star Trek. At some point, we will probably reach some point of sustainability. It would just be nice if there was something left besides humans and whatever soylent green we are eating.

While I was looking for stuff on ‘house printing’ I came across Zipblocks. Zipblocks are a kind of Legos for adults. It doesn’t look like they have a manufacturer, funding, or much of a company really, but I like the concept. Here’s a youtube video. The video at their site on building a kid’s playhouse is cool too.

Finally, on a lighter note, here is an article about a kid who crashes computers simply by being near them. My friend Matt runs a consulting business and on more than one occasion has mentioned there are some people who should not go near computers. I can’t say I put much stock in this stuff but I have to confess street lights often malfunction around me. Maybe there are a lot of faulty street lights out there and maybe it’s just one of those things like cold reading where you remember the ‘correct stuff’ and gloss over the incorrect, but it still gives me the creeps when it happens.