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Archive for March, 2008

Something Fishy

Monday, March 31st, 2008

According to this, just looking at the Apple logo can make you more creative. Maybe I should try it. Being a Monday I’m not feeling particularly creative today.

Here are some good pictures of nuclear powered Russian icebreakers. It would be really strange to be that isolated from humanity in such a hostile environment and yet be traveling in something the size of a 5 story building. I was disappointed they didn’t have more pictures of the inside of the ships.

Speaking of ships, the University of Michigan has a design for ballast free ships. The idea was to eliminate the water ships take on after unloading cargo. The Great Lakes have had a lot of invasive non-native species introduced from dumping ballast water. Their design results in a large fuel savings as well.

This article is about training fish released into the sea to come back and jump into nets. How long before some predator fish learns to make that sound?

While we are on the subject of fish training; check out this video of a guy who has trained goldfish to swim in formation.

Ok, that may be real but I have my doubts about this elephant who paints video. At least it’s convincingly done. It’s not like I haven’t seen trained elephants before, so who knows.

This is one of those articles that explain why things are as they are. The top part is why woman wear high heels. I think that’s kind of obvious. I did find their explanation interesting of why men’s clothes have the buttons on the opposite side than women’s.

Here is another link to High Dynamic Range (HDR) pictures. Some of them are repeats from another link I posted but there are some stunning new ones as well.

Finally, I’m pretty sure this is photo editing, but I got a kick out of this shark picture.

Cats Will Fly

Friday, March 28th, 2008

371 cities are going to turn off the lights for an hour on March 29th. It’s called Earth hour and it’s supposed to raise awareness for global warming. Since it’s at 0900 GMT I don’t think I’ll be up for it. Isn’t that 5am here? Too bad they don’t do it during a meteor shower.

I’ve been reading about some interesting advances in hydrogen storage lately but it still seems to have a long way to go to be practical for automobiles. Innovatek has developed a one pound hydrogen generator. It sounds like it can run on a lot of different fuels.

Shell and Virent Energy Systems have teamed up to make gasoline from plant sugars instead of ethanol.

MIT has completed a test of a fusion reactor which has a very different method of containing the plasma. Instead of trying to push the plasma away from the container they levitate a simple magnet which pulls the plasma in away from the walls. Because the magnet is superconducting, it has to be supercooled. Talk about fire and ice!

I used to joke they would come up with a pill that keeps you young but wouldn’t make you young. So there would be a single generation of old people living in a world full of young ones. At least it appears they are finally finding some drugs that can keep your brain younger.

This site has a video of a road in Japan where they attempted to make music by putting grooves in the road. I can’t say I was too impressed by the sound. Years ago we used to joke that the grooves they put on the side of the road (my wife calls them slumber bumps), should say ‘wake up’ when you drive on them.

This is a little strange. When you go to this site, it takes a few minutes to load then a woman looks where ever you put your cursor on the screen.

I’ve seen art before where people place objects based on a fractal pattern. I have even seen it based on spam. This art is based on worms viruses and spam. There isn’t much explanation of the algorithm they used.

Finally, this strikes me as a photo editing trick, but check out this cat with wings.

This Is Your Brain On Magnets

Thursday, March 27th, 2008

I guess I can see the point of having a rug that lights up when you step on it. On the other hand, there are probably simpler solutions to finding your way to the bathroom in the middle of the night. It would be cooler if it generated the energy it uses from your footsteps.

I had never heard of the Boskops, an extinct human species who had brains 30 percent larger than ours. A quick search of the web revealed very little about them other than this book description.

Speaking of brains, Does the Human Brain Possess Potential “Super Powers”? Savants are individuals who have amazing capabilities. I remember watching a video about Daniel Tammet learning to speak Icelandic in 7 days. That would be great, but remembering every detail about your life doesn’t sound pleasant. Some things are best forgotten. It’s strange some of these individuals only gained their extraordinary abilities after some kind of trauma to the head. Also, that last bit about the Australian researcher switching off peoples frontal lobes with magnets is just bizarre.

This is one of those long lists of useful free stuff on the web. I can’t say I recognize much on the list except for Spyware Doctor and Stellarium. Stellarium is a pretty cool astronomy simulation. I have used it to determine when and where I should be looking for meteors. Unfortunately local lights and weather have pretty much limited my ability to see them. Right before the last Perseid shower I mentioned it was going to happen to the guy who manages the car repair shop I go to. I didn’t see any, but he said he had spent the night on a lake fishing and it was spectacular. Here is a good list of showers. Here is one at Wikipedia.

Speaking of astronomical objects, the Astronomy Picture of the Day Archive is full of stunningly beautiful space pictures. Today’s picture is no exception.

Adobe launched a free scaled down version of Photoshop on the web today. Here is an article from the AP. Here is the actual site. Ultimately I gave up writing paint programs but back in the day I was amazed that a tiny company like mine could produce something which could do most of what Photoshop did. Because we took a completely different approach to the user interface, I still prefer to use my software for photo retouching.

Here is a video on how to make a bristlebot. What’s a bristlebot? It’s basically a vibrating toothbrush that scoots around on a table. I couldn’t help but think about those old electric football games we played as kids.

There is a crater near Darvaza, Turkmenistan that has been burning for 35 years. Apparently it was caused by an accident while dilling for natural gas. There were some nice pictures here, but now the site seems to be down. Here is another site.

Finally check out these pictures of trees growing around and absorbing things.

Frozen and Softer Things

Tuesday, March 25th, 2008

Sunday night I was asked to take a look at a computer which was having some slow network issues. What at first seemed to be a very clever piece of malicious software turned out to be several unrelated problems. Spyware Doctor is another good piece of software for keeping your machine running smoothly. It’s now available for free as part of Google Pack.

The other day I caught the end of this show on PBS about the use of phthalates in plastic toys for children. It’s used to make the products softer. Apparently the U.S. is one of the few countries who has not banned them. And you thought toxic toys came from China.

Here are a bunch of pictures of cars sinking into a lake which was not as frozen as it should have been for ice fishing. The thing I found surprising was that so many people would make this mistake.

What would you get if you strapped a camera to an elephant’s trunk? The answer is some pretty good pictures. I wondered how many they went through to get these shots.

Speaking of cool pictures, this is an iceberg that has colored stripes from algae and sediment.

An aerogel is an extremely low density solid which has amazing insulating properties. Looking at the pictures you can see why it’s called frozen smoke. Here is a Wikipedia article. Also this is a nice compilation of links about it. I read somewhere someone had made jackets using it but people complained they were too warm. There are recipes on how to make it here and here.

A while back I posted a link to a video of people freezing in place at Grand Central Station. The name of the group that did it is Improv Everywhere. Here is a site with a lot of their videos. I didn’t watch a lot of them but I liked the MP3 experiment the most.

YouTube announced their 2007 video awards. I was not impressed by the comedy winner but the laughing baby in the adorable category was pretty good.

I found this article about nail polish which turns clear indoors amusing. Apparently the idea was to get around bans on makeup in school.

We have been wasting time playing this game where you make hot dogs. It’s kind of a classic older style game. We played it for a while before we realized you can click on people who try to walk away without paying and get them to pay. Like most games of the style it starts out easy but we are having a hard time finishing the last few levels.

Finally check out this picture of a silly cat spread out across a notebook computer.

Potholes and Marbles

Friday, March 21st, 2008

I missed it, but the other day there was a cosmic blast strong enough to be seen with the naked eye from 7.5 billion light years away. That’s more than halfway across the visible universe!

Many years ago I came up with the idea of using an inkjet printer to print a cake with frosting. We called it the frostjet and everybody pretty much laughed it off as a stupid idea. Of course, now you can get a cake with a picture on it just about anywhere. Here is a video of a device that can place a picture on the foam of a cup of coffee. My thought was, while you are waiting, your coffee is getting cold.

It seems like spring is coming late here in the Midwest, but I suppose I’ve just gotten used to earlier springs. The AP had this article on global warming the other day. I remember reading something a while back about the sun being slow to begin it’s latest cycle which could result in global cooling. I was hoping to find something recent on the subject, but there is one link here, and here.

Speaking of global warming or cooling, anyone who reads my blog knows I feel CO2 causes damage to the environment regardless of whether global warming is real. Here is an article pointing out reducing carbon emissions could help the economy.

Turns out the area of solar panels required to power the U.S. is about the same as the area covered by the interstate system. A company called Solar Roadways is developing a system of photovoltaic solar collectors you can drive on. On one hand it’s hard to imagine it being tough enough to stand up to the rigors of the road. On the other hand, maybe if they built them tough enough we wouldn’t have to deal with all those construction zones. I remember my uncle telling me in Germany they build the roads so much better, they rarely have to repair them.

Speaking of potholes, I need some of these fake potholes to slow down people in the narrow alley next to my house. Be sure to scroll down to the last picture.

I didn’t realize auroras had seasons. Here is an article explaining why they are stronger in the spring and fall.

Apple appears to be getting serious about 3D display hardware. This is the future and we are supposed to have those along with the flying car.

It’s difficult to grasp how computers work without understanding binary. In decimal the number 111 is 1 or ten to the zero, plus 10 or ten to the one, plus 100 or ten to the two. In binary the number 111 is 2 to the zero plus 2 to the one, plus two to the two. So in binary the number 111 is 7 or 1 plus 2, plus 4. Anyway, all this is leading up to is this video of an adding machine which uses marbles to do calculations. The video is at the bottom of the page and this is a pretty good demonstration of how electronic logic works.

One of the blogs I try to catch on a regular basis is Clicked written by Will Femia at MSNBC. The other day he had this link to an animated gif showing how a sewing machine works. I always wondered about that.

Finally, check out how colorful this fish is.

Goodbye Arthur, Hello Ella

Thursday, March 20th, 2008

Arthur C. Clarke died at the age of 90 at his home in Sri Lanka. He was an accomplished writer of both science and science fiction. He was probably best known for writing “2001: A Space Odyssey”. My first memory of him was when I discovered “Childhood’s End” while exploring the science fiction section of my local library. Shortly after, I read “The Nine Billion Names of God“. I was probably 13 years old. The future never seemed so bright. We were going to the moon and surely, my young mind thought, by the time I was grown up regular people would be flying around in spaceships.

Around that time I knew a woman who told me as a child she had seen the Wright brothers at a fair. To me, thinking this woman had lived through a time from the beginnings of flight to common jet aircraft transportation meant similar progress would be made in space travel in my lifetime.

From the New York Times;

But acts of reason and scientific speculation are just the beginning of his imaginings. Reason alone is insufficient. Something else is required. For anyone who read Mr. Clarke in the 1960s and ’70s, when space exploration and scientific research had an extraordinary sheen, his science fiction made that enterprise even more thrilling by taking the longest and broadest view, in which the achievements of a few decades fit into a vision of epic proportions reaching millenniums into the future. It is no wonder that two generations of scientists were affected by his work.

From a different article at the New York Times;

Mr. Clarke’s reputation as a prophet of the space age rests on more than a few accurate predictions. His visions helped bring about the future he longed to see. His contributions to the space program were lauded by Charles Kohlhase, who planned NASA’s Cassini mission to Saturn: “When you dream what is possible, and add a knowledge of physics, you make it happen.”

When I run across spectacular advances in science I often think about his third law;

“Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”

If a person from the past were able to view our present, this would certainly be true. I suppose, if I were to pick one technology I most appreciate I didn’t have as a kid, it wouldn’t be a computer, it would be the microwave oven.

I wish I could tell you who said this. I think I was watching an interview with some science fiction writers.

“The internet is cool and all, but I really would rather had the flying car”

Within hours of learning of Mr. Clarke’s death my new grandniece entered the world. Yesterday, as my sister put her in my arms, I felt a fleeting moment of apprehension. What if she doesn’t like me? What if she cries? She didn’t. She just looked up with those beautiful blue eyes and made happy baby sounds. As I held her, my mind raced into the future.

What’s that strange glow?

Tuesday, March 18th, 2008

I’ve seen this robot before, but here is a new video of the BigDog quadruped robot. It sounds like a bunch of leaf blowers. I wonder if they are planning a quieter fuel cell version. As in the other video, it’s eerie to have an emotional response when they kick it, or when it’s struggling on the ice. I recently read an article on robot pets comforting the elderly and really wondered how attached you could get to a robot. After watching the video, I realized perhaps being life-like is enough to fool you into having emotions for the thing. This article on robots and the elderly brings up some interesting ethical questions.

”If all the robot does is take old people and give them the feeling there’s somebody home [inside the robot], when really there’s nobody home, I think that’s not good,” Turkle said. ”We’re setting up a situation that’s based upon a fundamental deception. Would you like to be talking to something that really doesn’t understand you?”

Well, I’m not sure. I have one cat that although I’m sure doesn’t understand English, often does something remarkably coincidental after being spoken to. I also have one who has gone quite deaf but I still find myself speaking to her. It’s a force of habit I suppose.

”We all do that,” as when watching a movie with full awareness that the actors aren’t really falling in love or risking their lives, Beck said. ”It allows us to have the whole emotional experience.”

I got a chuckle from this strange measuring cup. It’s hard to tell how big the cup is, but ‘half the human brain’ is surprisingly close to ‘the volume of body cells that die on a good day’.

New nuclear reactor designs are really a lot safer than the old plants. Here is an article on a uranium pebble bed design. Also Toshiba is apparently coming out with a very small reactor. This article says it uses lithium reservoirs where as this one says it uses liquid sodium. Both are extremely reactive metals that explode on contact with water. What could go wrong with that? I’ve often thought it’s too bad radioactive stuff is so dangerous. Strontium 90 produces heat when it decays at the rate of nearly one watt per gram with a half life of nearly 29 years. Think about all the things you could do with it.

I’ve been sitting on this link for a while hoping to find a better description but since I’m on the topic of radiation, these glow panels are cheap, relatively strong and emit light for over 12 years. This link says they are powered using tritium gas. Here is the site of the company. If you scroll down you’ll find a link to the Nasa brief on what they call Litroenergy. You can’t help but wonder if you could pair this stuff up with a solar cell for some kind of battery.

Speaking of glowing things, I just love a good UFO story.

I have often thought a lot of the Flash based games out there could be a lot better if they just used better graphics. I realize a lot of the ones I play are simple because they are free. Last night I played this game called Samorost. It’s interesting because the graphics are very detailed. Also, it’s kind of an adventure game format but without an inventory so you don’t have to go back to pick up whatever you missed that you realize you now need.

Finally, in the silly animal category, check out this photo of a squirrel getting ready for a snowball fight.

Harrassed by Machines

Monday, March 17th, 2008

We have been waiting for a joyous family event to occur any day now. So, when the phone rang this morning my momentary excitement quickly faded as a machine informed us our car warrantee was about to expire. The irony is, our cars are so old the warrantees expired many years ago. Someone typed in a wrong number and now a machine is nagging us.

As I cleaned up the spam on my blog this morning, my wife asked why anyone would bother to do it. The problem is, it’s not anyone, it’s probably a bot. The comments are moderated and any human would realize such efforts are futile. It reminded me I am paying a small monthly fee for call blocking because some Fax machine kept calling my voice line. I got the number and tried to reverse lookup the call with no luck. The phone company said I could contact the sheriff’s office and file a complaint but I signed up for the blocking service. I wonder if that Fax has given up.

If you are not familiar with bots; check out this article from USA Today. Also, here are two good free software tools to check your machine for spyware. One is called Adaware and the other one is Spybot.

My friend Matt sent me this link and comment on global warming;

Researcher: Basic Greenhouse Equations “Totally Wrong”
Very interesting. Politics is always involved in science.

Also I received this from my friend Dan;

Here are a couple of interesting articles you may want to discuss in your BLOG as a contrasting opinion:

washingtontimes

Weather Channel Founder Blasts Network; Claims It Is ‘Telling Us What to Think’

The Founder of The Weather Channel Says Global Warming Is The “Greatest Scam in History”

Also, I found those questions asked to park rangers hilarious!

I find it interesting when the Weather Channel guy says he is not opposed to environmentalism yet seems to be defending the ‘right’ to spew tons of CO2 into the air. As I have mentioned before, it is very clear and measurable CO2 is acidifying the oceans. There really isn’t a ‘debate’ about it. I think this guy has a problem with Al Gore. I also find it strange when people defend pollution. I mean it’s not like it’s good for anything. Hopefully those guys are right and global warming isn’t a problem, but it’s not like we aren’t impacting the oceans and the atmosphere. At best these guys are saying we are changing the atmosphere and the good news is it’s not going to kill us, so far. So who wants to see how far we can push it?

I still think solar energy is going to quickly become so much cheaper than other forms of power people will use it for that reason. It’s a blog for another day but sunlight really has a very high energy density. Also, there is no ‘bottom’ on how cheap solar can get. You can’t sell electricity from coal any cheaper than the coal costs, but sunlight is free. It’s possible you could pay one tenth or one hundredth what you are paying today.

Also, check out this article from Next Energy News on ethanol from non-food sources. Ethanol does give less mileage than gasoline but if it cost $1.20 at the pump and it has a relatively stable price, no one is going to buy it because it’s carbon neutral. They will buy it because it’s a $1.20 a gallon and that price could go down.

One thing organic chemistry taught me is oil is just too valuable to burn. Most of chemical solvents used in modern chemistry, plus pharmaceuticals, and plastics are made from oil. If we ever use it up, it will affect a lot more than just transportation.

According to this raw eggs are good to use on burns. We always have an aloe plant on hand, but I might try the an egg next time just to see if it works.

I ran across this article on foods that are poisonous unless they are prepared properly. I agree with the author; someone must of been awfully hungry or strangely curious to try various cooking methods on food to make it non-poisonous.

These are billed as pictures of frozen waves but in reality I believe they are pictures of a glacier. They are quite stunning none the less.

Arrrg, and shiver me timbers, I wasted a whole lot of time yesterday playing this Flash game where you control a pirate ship. It made me wonder how much Flash is optimized to use video hardware. The game got pretty slow with a lot of cannon balls in the air. I suppose it’s from tracking the particles more than running the graphics.

Also from Dan, this link on the origins of domestic cats, and this video where two guys build a record player out of a bicycle.

Finally, another silly video of a dog named Jerry and his robotic ball throwing playmate.

It’s all in your mind

Saturday, March 15th, 2008

This is one of those collections of odd pictures. I have seen some of them before, but they are entertaining.

I pretty much knew what to expect before watching this video on attention. Then again, it didn’t make any difference.

A few professors I had were so entertaining; I would have taken any class they taught. Unfortunately, I had a lot more who were terribly boring. I had one who was so funny I could hardly eat lunch after his class because my sides hurt so bad from laughing. Walter Lewin is a physics professor at MIT. I had heard of him but just recently watched a video of him in action. The article includes links to his lectures.

Speaking of online education, here is a large list of places you can learn a foreign language online.

Are all those mental challenges leaving you soft in the body? This article from New Scientist says you can increase your muscle strength by merely imagining you are exercising!

And finally, actual questions asked to Park Rangers.

Swimming in Light

Thursday, March 13th, 2008

Bill Foster is a physicist who won a special election to the U.S. House of Representatives. Politics are so strange I guess it’s not surprising that few scientists want to run for Congress. I suppose there is no reason to assume someone trained in math and logic would be a better Congressman than one who is not. On the other hand, it would be reassuring if people voting on important issues demonstrated some ability to think logically. Also, many issues are extremely technical in nature and having some skills in those areas can only help.

Strangely enough, adding red light cameras to intersections actually increases the number of crashes.

It’s finally warming up around here. It’s not clear where these pictures of snow were taken, but I wouldn’t want to live there.

Here is a cute story about a dolphin guiding two confused whales to safety.

It’s way out of my price range, but you can have dinner while being suspended 150 feet in the air by a crane. The one picture shooting down at their feet is enough to make me lose my appetite.

Vieques Bay in Puerto Rico contains a microorganism which glows when disturbed. When I originally found this site, there were some better pictures of this natural glow in the dark water. I managed to find some pictures at this site. This one has some tourism info, and also has some tips on taking pictures of the glow.