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Archive for July, 2008

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.

That DNS Bug

Monday, July 28th, 2008

If you haven’t heard, there is a nasty flaw in the internet that can redirect you to a page which may look like the place you thought you were going but isn’t. Here is an article at Wired and here is a follow up article. I don’t think I’ll be browsing to any financial institutions for a while. If you read the article, there was supposed to be a month for service providers to patch their software before the details of the exploit were released. Unfortunately the details were leaked.

Here is an interesting article about an aging study done at Stanford.

Some tortoises lay eggs at the age of 100, he points out. There are whales that live to be 200, and clams that make it past 400. Those species use the same building blocks for their DNA, proteins and fats as humans, mice and nematode worms. The chemistry of the wear-and-tear process, including damage from oxygen free-radicals, should be the same in all cells, which makes it hard to explain why species have dramatically different life spans.

I guess I wouldn’t mind being young again but without all the restlessness and drama. I suppose one goes with the other.

I’ve linked to video of non-Newtonian fluids before but this one is really creepy. It looks like cornstarch and water which is what is most commonly used. In this case, someone is holding down a pan which is placed on a vibrating surface. When they poke a hole in the fluid, it looks like a scene from the remake of The Thing.

Here is a funny article from the New York Times. A passenger whose last name was Gay was supposed to give up his seat on a plane but there was a misunderstanding.

I had heard some of these stories before. I knew penicillin was discovered by accident and how microwaves were invented. I had not heard the one about Saccharin but it amazes me any chemist would not wash his hands before eating. Here is an interesting article about serendipity.

This is a pretty elaborate piece of art. I noticed while it is scrolling by, the perspective changes slightly making me wonder how it is done.

Speaking of art, someone clipped a picture of the Mona Lisa into their yard. I have a vague memory of coming home from vacation when i was a kid and the neighbor had used a lawnmower to write something in our long grass.

They call it the world’s highest swing but actually at first it looks more like bungee jumping. I didn’t listen to the sound but when I showed it to my wife, she did, and there is some adult language, so turn off the sound if you need to. I noticed most of the people didn’t jump but were pushed off. I suppose if you were running it you wouldn’t want people to hesitate. I’m pretty sure I’d have to be pushed too. Here is the link.

This is another collection of high speed photographs. I’ve never really tried doing this and it doesn’t seem like it would be difficult. I guess I do have some pictures of my nephew playing with a garden hose where the water looks cool.

Speaking of photography, here are more aurora pictures, rock balancing pictures, and a really creepy thing on a guy’s arm.

As a guy who took enough math classes I probably could of had a degree in that too, I’m embarrassed to admit I have played the lottery. This is an interesting study on why people play the lottery, and in particular, poor people.

This is bizarre. It’s a robotic elephant. I wonder what kind of mileage it gets?

And finally, check out tigers are just cute big cats.

ET Is Out There

Wednesday, July 23rd, 2008

The company my wife works for encrypts her computer now. She has been having problems with it since she got back from Denver. Normally I would just fix it for her but now I just have to put up with the fact that she isn’t getting much done and she is not a happy camper. Here another one of those lists of tools to help troubleshoot a PC. Also when I went to try to work on her computer, my friend Matt told me about Knoppix. It’s a version of Linix which fits on a CD and is bootable. My spell checker is complaining about the word bootable. Anyway even if you have never run Linix or Unix, the desktop is pretty much windows-like and easily figured out. It comes with a browser, text editor, and a lot of basic tools you would need. It’s free and can be downloaded from a number of sources so just Google it.

I was pretty amazed to read this article about 6000 new species being found in the Smokey Mountains. It’s not like the Smokey Mountains are some distant unexplored area. Speaking of strange critters, check this thing out.

This article about a cancer vaccine reminds me of a Star Trek episode where they come up with a cure for something in a day or so. Talk about personalized medicine! They take the patients tumor and clone it and then grow proteins on tobacco. The irony here is tobacco providing a cure for cancer.

I thought this piece on light phenomena was kind of interesting. Some of the pictures are pretty nice.

Who doesn’t enjoy a good pirate story? Here is a list of 5 treasure islands. It makes a good story but I have a problem with the idea a guy discovered treasure because his compass started spinning when he stood over chests of gold.

It’s one thing when someone claims aliens are out there but when it’s Dr Edgar Mitchell Apollo 14 astronaut, it makes you wonder. I suppose there would be a number of reasons governments would want to keep that information from the public but seeing as though it would be one of the greatest discoveries ever, I hope they would tell us. I liked this line in the article.

Chillingly, he claimed our technology is ‘not nearly as sophisticated’ as theirs and “had they been hostile”, he warned ‘we would be been gone by now’.

Really, Captain Obvious, they are capable of interstellar travel and have more sophisticated technology?

And finally, I have a cat who tries to drink beer. We stop her but it can be embarrassing if you have a guest over and they set a beer where she can get to it, which is just about anywhere. Check out this beer drinking weasel.

Put On Your Thinking Cap

Monday, July 21st, 2008

It’s time to put on your thinking caps. Amazingly, exposing your brain to infra-red light could reverse the effects of aging. I think I needed one of those today.

T Boone Pickens is an oil man who is building a huge wind farm in Texas. As he points out on his website we are sending 700 billion dollars a year to other countries for oil. His suggestion is we replaced the portion of electricity generated using natural gas with renewable resources and then burn the natural gas in transportation.

I had never heard of Shelby Super Cars. They claim to have the world’s fastest production car. Now they are getting into electric vehicles. I read this on their website today.

Other automakers have sacrificed aesthetics and performance in exchange for hybrid power plants, but the Ultimate Aero EV will deliver a pollution-free, engineering marvel with an exotic Supercar exterior. The drive train under development will feature a revolutionary power source allowing for extended time between charging intervals with the possibility of several years between charging.

I’m not sure what they are saying. It’s a hybrid so presumably there is some kind of fuel. Then again, I knew right after I spent money on a new gasoline powered car, someone would make it obsolete.

As long as I’m talking about fuels here is another article about a breakthrough in converting biomass into biofuel.

This is one of those sites that explains science in the context of everyday life.

It’s not available yet, but they have created a robot that can take a whole bunch of pictures and then knit them into a huge panorama shot.

I got a chuckle out of this.

And finally, check out this talented dog.

Can’t Find A Title

Wednesday, July 16th, 2008

I’m pretty mad at myself today. We are supposed to finally get a new car tomorrow. I decided to trade in my old van because it’s running rough and pretty much shot. I don’t have a lot of important papers. I keep them in a briefcase so when it looks like we are going to be hit by a tornado I grab it and go to the basement. The title isn’t in the briefcase. It’s not like there is a second place to look because that is where it should be. I looked anyway. We have mountains of paper around this house. It’s hopeless.

Dan wrote: “I assume you will be going with a Prius or some other Hybrid? ”

I plan on writing a post about the whole car buying ordeal after we finally have it. Dan and I used to work together. He knows I’m 6 foot 6 inches tall and would never fit in a Prius.

Here is a link about a car that runs on compressed air and I’m guessing I would never fit in it either. I know it’s silly but you just picture a car making flatulence sounds while zooming down the road like an untied balloon. I remember seeing something on TV once where a guy in a very cold country built a motorcycle that ran on compressed air. He put water in propane tanks and when it froze, it expanded and pressurized the tanks.

My wife is in Denver again. From her description, her flight out was filled with screaming young children and crying babies. I guess it took a really long time to pick up her rental car. When she finally got a chance to relax and get some food, she went to a Mexican restaurant. They had a live band walking around and the horn section stood right behind her.

She saw a local story about Bishop Castle and told me I should look it up. Here is the home page. I was expecting something more traditional but it is quite stunning.

This is a pretty funny video. It’s supposed to be what happens when you put a cell phone in a microwave but actually it’s some well done special effects.

I didn’t realize there were poisonous caterpillars. Here is a story about a woman who died after stepping on several of them while barefoot. If I ever go to Peru, I think I’ll keep my shoes on.

Check out these pictures of canyons on Mars.

And finally, here are some pictures of three cute white lion cubs.

The End Of The World As We Know It?

Tuesday, July 15th, 2008

You have to wonder what the mood would be like at a Global Catastrophic Risk Conference. I suppose mostly somber with a few people partying like it’s the end of the world. This article at CNN quotes some of the things Ray Kurzweil said I’ve linked to before. Some of the comments are interesting. I have often thought people will infuse themselves with artificial blood just because it makes them feel better. The idea you could spend hours under water hadn’t occurred to me. I don’t see how the economy could function once an intelligent machine could surpass a human. Companies wouldn’t bother paying enhanced people if they could get the same work done without the brain part. You would end up with some tiny enhanced rich part of humanity and a whole lot of poor people. I suppose it’s possible everything would become really cheap but if you have no income it wouldn’t matter.

Speaking of the future, this article about fusion is encouraging. If we are all going to be super humans we are going to need a whole lot of energy.

I’ve always thought we should have cars that can travel short distances where we could then link up to a rail system which not only guides the car but also provides the power. Finally someone is building something which is like that. It’s not surprising a guy who worked in the roller coaster industry had the idea.

I’m curious about the game Spore. I would really like to see what the code looks like for the game. Here is an article about it. You can download a free version of the creature creator here.

Living in a garbage truck doesn’t strike you as pleasant, unless it was this one.

Some of these houses made from bottles look pretty cool. I wonder what you do if you break one.

After reading this article about exotic fruits I was really wishing I could taste them.

And finally, this isn’t normally what you think of when you hear the term ‘food fight‘.

Yellow Lily

Saturday, July 12th, 2008

The other day I posted about how I take 3D pictures. I mentioned I had gone out to shoot a yellow lily but I just now got it formatted and uploaded. Check it out.

Click here to see it in 3D.

Click here for a tutorial on how to view 3D pictures at this site.

Click here for more 3D pictures.

A Yellow Lily

From Feral to Sweet

Friday, July 11th, 2008

This is a continuation of a post I started early in the week. Scroll down to Lion Taming to read it from the beginning.

On Wednesday I decided I needed to get the kittens to voluntarily touch me. I took a stick and rubbed in along a cardboard box. They started playing with it. I inched my finger farther and farther down the stick until they were comfortable. Then finally I just used my finger expecting to get nailed. Surprisingly, when they went for it, they were very gentle. I spent some time playing with the black one with my finger around the poles of a camping chair. Later when I was playing with them with a string I got a few pets in before they ran away. It was difficult to do anything they would enjoy because it was so short.

On Thursday Blackie talked to me when I came out to see them. It was barely audible. I was getting attached to them and thinking it was time to just catch them and send them off to their new life. Later in the day I went out and opened the big door. Blondie was off sleeping and Blackie was up but kind of sleepy. I got it to attack my finger and this time it was a little more comfortable and a little more aggressive but still didn’t actually break my skin. It also tried to bite me but in a playful way. I wiggled a nylon cable tie to bring it in close and reached down to try to pet it. I was completely unprepared for what happened next.

Suddenly it laid down and started purring. I was able to pet it in a way that would feel good. It got up and stood on my shoe, put its paw on my sock and looked me straight in the eyes. Then it started meowing. At that point, the blond one came running to me purring and talking too. I started petting it and the two of them were all over me. They started nibbling on my fingers and the skin between my thumb and finger and I realized they were looking for milk. It was if they suddenly realized I was their mom and they just hadn’t recognized me. It turned out, the blond one, who had been the most skittish all along, was in fact the most affectionate and even let me pick it up and set it in my lap. It was the most amazing transition. I went inside and asked my wife if she would like to pet them. They let her pet them too. In hindsight perhaps they would have warmed up to us earlier if I had figured out a way to produce a purring sound.

Petting a blond kitten

After a while they went back to chasing each other and wrestling. Occasionally they would tackle each other so hard you would think it had to hurt. I think my favorite move is when they both run at each other and then leap, colliding in mid air. We have a pot of chives out there. They were wrestling in it and the air was filled with the scent of chives. We joked their new family would wonder why they smelled like onions. At one point I realized the blond one was stalking a bumblebee and stepped in to stop it before it pounced. The other day my wife said she barely missed getting a picture of a hawk that swooped low over the garage when they were out. It’s a dangerous world. Sometimes you don’t even see it coming. Even though there is only about two inches clearance under the gate Blackie decided to try to go under. It managed to get its head under before I grabbed its body and coaxed it back out.

petting a black kitten

I’ve been feeling guilty about spending so much time with the kittens and have been playing with my own cats more. Amy is somewhat laid back about it but Kelly is amazing. I usually have a string on a fishing rod but since that is kept in the garage, the kittens have been playing with it. Yesterday I was just using a string and Kelly was on it so powerfully I stepped back a bit in case she accidentally hit me. She gets on top of our screened-in patio by climbing the vertical screen hand over hand using her claws. It’s like watching a person in their late nineties gracefully scale a skyscraper. It would be great to age that way. Sleep a little more but have moments where you act like a teenager. It’s depressing when we go to the vet. They have a chart on the wall on how old your cat is in human years. They are 17 and the chart only goes to 15. They seem healthy though and have a pretty good life.

Kittens playing near chives

Today it only took about five minutes for the kittens to warm up to me. Before they started playing with each other, they spent a good amount of time getting petted and purring. The blond one, who had been so shy, was almost demanding attention at times and sat in my lap again. We plan to hand them over to their new family this evening. It’s time they went to the vet and got checked out. Besides now they are pet-able we are getting even more attached to them.

kittens and flowers

At this point we think the blond one is a boy and the black one is a girl. I hope the transition is not too traumatic for them having lost their original family only a week ago. It was an interesting experience. I would never have guessed they would go from wild to tame in only a week. I doubt we have prepared them for two 7 year old kids but I’m glad we saved them from death or a very rough life in the wild. I’m going to miss seeing their little faces when I open the garage.

Violating the Laws of Physics

Thursday, July 10th, 2008

I’ve linked to the BlackLight web page before. For those of you who don’t know who they are, they are a company who claims to have found an endless source of cheap power using water. Here is a story about the company which seems, well, unbelievable. I’ve looked at their theory and it appears to be pure BS to me. That’s not to say they haven’t stumbled upon something important and just haven’t figured out how it works. I’ve got to say they are my new favorite mystery. I mean EEStor claims some amazing things but only amazing in the technical sense, not the ‘violate the laws of physics’ sense.

Speaking of the impossible, I thought this was interesting. Michio Kaku divides impossible stuff into three categories; impossible now but maybe we can do it in 100 years, stuff that will take 1000 years, and stuff which appears to be truly impossible. Read the article to see what he puts in which category.

Here is a nice flash movie with a lot of scenes from space.

Check out these computer generated landscapes.

I’ve seen some of these before but never heard the term coincidence photography.

Our galaxy makes about 10 stars a year. They just found one that makes 4000 a year! Maybe aliens are taking orders for custom stars.

I hope this dog didn’t get hurt but I like this picture.

And finally, I almost didn’t click on this but it made me laugh. It’s the world’s cutest letter opener.

Lion Taming

Tuesday, July 8th, 2008

On Thursday evening my wife ask me to come outside. There were two small kittens under our cars. They looked about 4 or 5 weeks old. We have a barrier across our driveway to keep the neighbor cat from annoying our two 17 year old cats. Our cat Maggie used to keep the neighbor cat in check but she passed away last spring. Maggie would have never tolerated the barrier as she lived to hunt but our cat Kelly seems to be content to stay inside it as long as we take her out for an occasional walk around the yard. Walking with Kelly reminds me of the character Monk from the TV series by the same name. She has to stop and rub against every stick she passes. The barrier consists of six 4 foot by 4 foot PVC pipe frames with deer netting on it. Because it is flimsy, cats don’t try to climb it and although they could rip through it, they don’t seem to try.

a sleeping kitten

My cat Amy rarely goes outside but she was out at the time and was hissing and growling at the kittens. Kelly was a little more restrained but obviously irritated. The kittens were trying to find a way through the barrier so I initially thought they were tame and someone had dumped them. After ranting about people not being responsible with their animals, we decided we needed to catch them. This town is pretty overrun with wild cats. While I have never looked out the window and discovered a pile of puppies in my yard, kittens seem to show up semi-regularly. We put our cats inside and opened the barrier. The kittens backed off under the cars and seemed pretty shy. By then the neighbors were out and said they had seen them the night before. They seemed healthy and we wondered what happened to their mom and other siblings. We set out some food and they ate but when we approached, they dashed back under the car. We got some string and the urge to chase overcame their fear of us. Once they were in a corner of the barrier I grabbed them. They went crazy trying to defend themselves. It’s amazing how tough the little things are at such a young age. I managed to get the black one into a box suffering only a couple scratches but the blond one bit through a leather glove and into my finger.

kittens and flowers

Now that we had them in a box we needed to give them food and water. We decided to put them in a larger box. When we went to give them food, they showed us we haven’t had kittens for quite a while and had forgotten how high they can jump. Blackie took off for our garage which is full of places to hide. My wife managed to grab Blondie but she was wearing the gloves and my hands took some more damage. After realizing the futility of trying to get the black one at that point, we decided we would leave the barrier and the garage open for the night. I just let the blond one go figuring the two siblings would reunite under the cars where they had been living.

two playing kittens

The next day I discovered I was right about the reuniting but wrong about the location. Now I had two kittens living in my garage. In the mean time, our neighbor had been on the phone and had surprisingly found someone to take the kittens. I went off to the hardware store and purchased a box trap. At least this time I won’t be spending money getting the Humane Society to take the kittens, but I’m still spending money. We set the trap up in the garage but it was getting late. We ended up just setting out food because we didn’t want a kitten to spend the night in the trap.

a kitten with a silly look on its face

By Saturday I was pretty sure Kelly knew there were kittens in the garage. It’s starting to smell. Amy seems pretty much oblivious but as I said she doesn’t spend much time outside. We set up the trap and within minutes we heard the sound of it going off. We had practiced a mock transfer into a cat carrier. Unfortunately the trap is just slightly larger than the opening of the carrier. We went into the garage and the black one was trapped. It was understandably scared and throwing itself against the doors. We put the trap against the carrier, opened one door and the kitten ran into the carrier. So far so good, but when we tried to remove the trap and close the door the little creature once again showed us how hard this was going to be and squirmed out to once again disappear into the garage.

more kittens playing

We reset the trap and a few minutes later it went off again but this time there was nothing in it. Two more times it went off and again nothing. They were learning fast. It was a hot day and Kelly decided to sleep inside so we sat out with the garage door open. The black one wanted to play string while the blond one was off sleeping somewhere. I was amazed that within an hour or so I had the little guy (girl) playing right at my feet. After a really long nap, the blond one got up and although it seems a little shyer, we eventually had them both playing within reach. By then it had cooled off and our cats wanted out so we decided to just close up the garage.

a cute blond kitten

Sunday I went out to find them using the litter box I had given them. As the momentary sense of pride passed over me I realized this bonding process was going both ways. By now I was starting to really think about their future. What kind of life are they going to have? Will they be indoor or outdoor cats? I figured since we have found a home for them we might as well enjoy having kittens for a while. We played string a good part of the day. The kittens began to relax in their environment and explore. We sat there looking at all the dangerous, precariously stacked stuff in our garage, the pitch fork hanging from a couple of nails, the trimmers, and the sledge hammer. Suddenly my garage reminded me of that scene from Twister when they look for refuge from a tornado in a barn full of cutting tools. This is no environment for babies.

A black kitten on a ladder

While we worried, the kittens showed us how much fun lawn mowers can be as cat toys. They climbed on a leaning snow shovel to the ladder to body slam each other. They also wandered outside. I had forgotten how entertaining they could be and shot video of them leaping, pouncing, and playing with each other.

two kittens on a mower

Watching them play I had the thought they are so cute but also this was preparation for serious business. Amy is a domesticated cat. She mostly wants to be in your lap. She doesn’t hunt much and what she catches she lets go. One night she caught a mouse, brought it to bed with us and dropped it, quite unharmed, on my wife’s head. On the other hand, Maggie was sweet to us but deep down she was a cold blooded killer. I calculated after she died, she was probably responsible for the death of over ten thousand critters. In summer, she had a 5 or 6 mouse a day habit and still begged for food all the time. If you have ever watched a cat eviscerate a rabbit, you never look at them the same way again.

a kitten hunting a bug

Sunday, toward evening, I really thought they were getting close to letting us touch them. I held my hand out and the black one started to come to me. It came close but at the last minute scampered away.

two kittens sleeping

Yesterday I finally pushed the issue and tried touching them when they chased the string near me. We seemed to make progress as each time they ran away but less far away and came back quicker. We had a feral cat come live with us when I was young. I remember it took a long time but eventually it was pet-able. I’ve never worked with wild kittens and I’m thinking this is going to take longer than I hoped. Maybe we should just grab them and send them off to their new life. I suspect they will be indoor cats from the neighborhood but the family has a screened in porch. I hear they have two 7 year old kids, an older cat, and the father said the kids will learn or get scratched. I guess that means they will keep their claws. If I had retractable claws, i sure wouldn’t want to give them up.

three kittens sleeping

I hope their lives turn out to be as good as it was for these three kittens. That’s Amy on the left, Maggie on the right, and Kelly in the back.