Saturday, July 28, 2007

Peel an Egg in 5 Seconds, Updated

Update September 8, 2007:

I happened to walk into our kitchen the other morning to discover my wife and a friend chatting over a late breakfast. I said my normal hellos and good mornings but really intellectually engaged at the time. But as I was turning around to go back to my home office, our friend picked up a hard-boiled egg (the first hard-boiled egg I had seen since originally posting the video below) and was preparing to start peeling it.

I have to admit that she dealt with it rather well when I leaped across the kitchen to snatch the egg from her grip before she could begin to break the shell. When everyone had recovered from my surprise leap, largely I suspect in allowance of my somewhat regular odd (nerdly) behaviors, I asked her "how long do you think it would take you to peel this egg?"

"A few minutes," she responded.

I then asked, "what would you say if I told you I could to do it in under 5 seconds?"

"No. Way."

"Time me." I used the technique pictured below. It took 3.5 seconds.

10 seconds of stunned silence followed, whereupon she shouted, "That was TOTALLY COOL!"

Ah yes. Nerd pride.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

4th Grade Math Genius Calculates High Probability of Getting Beat Up

The title says it all. I almost couldn't stop laughing and crying at the same time.

“First, I computed my annoyance ratio to determine the probability that each student would want to beat me up,” said Mosley. “Then I gauged that against the Beatings to Hand Raises Theory along with past historical data from my previous physical assaults.”

“The probability of me remaining this smart, let alone becoming slightly smarter, is very high,” said Mosley. “Given that, getting beat up within the month is an expected result. Furthermore, when taking into account my small stature proportional to the most likely inflictors of given beating, I’m estimating a 30 percent chance of a broken bone.”
Hat tip to The Giant Napkin.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Rocketcar Day

Usually when one of our model rockets went sideways in the teen years, it was a problem and we were diving for cover. Here's to making a problem an opportunity! Rocketcar day!

Sunday, July 22, 2007

i-Limb Bionic Hand Video

Just in time for NBC's new series reprise of "The Bionic Woman," reality has caught up with science fiction. Watch this incredible video of the first commercial bionic hand which operates entirely using nerve impulses.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Photoshop at Work

Apparently, all you need to really look your hottest is Photoshop. Check out this post from Jezebel.


And don't miss the annotated step-by-step by-the-numbers summary of all the retouching that was necessary to make Faith hot.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Make a Jet Engine in an Hour

As most of you loyal readers are aware, one of my ongoing crusades is to transform k-12 science education from boring rote cookbook style exercises in contrived tedium into the interesting explorations they SHOULD be.

So I constantly have science teachers asking me, "...but what sort of experiments should I have the kids do, and how much would the materials cost? Those Pasco kits are just so convenient."

Yes, the pre-fab shrink-wrapped curriculum materials make it easy on the overloaded teacher, but there ensues no opportunity for student innovation or creativity. An example, you ask?

Well here is an example for any class discussing fuel, or energy, or Newton's laws of action and reaction. And it involves fire, which tends to keenly engage the teenage mind.

Have your middle or high school science students make jet engines and test them.

  • Sounds dangerous? That's what protective glasses and gloves are for.
  • Sounds expensive? Try almost free with a recycled jar.
  • Sounds out of reach of most secondary students? Pah! Let them try and they will surprise you.
Make Magazine has a great podcast and written directions on how to make a Pulse-jet engine out of a used jam jar. The parts are very low cost to the point where each student can make their own.

Better yet, the operational principles of the pulse jet are simple enough that this project could be part of a broader series of experiments where the students figure out how to measure, and then optimize the engine thrust by varying the jar materials and shape, exit aperture position and diameter, heat exchanger configuration and so on. They could even go on to explore alternative fuel delivery methods with external tanks and combustion chambers of alternative (more stable) materials.

Get the full written guide here, (the images in this post were excerpt from the article.) or watch the step-by-step video.

A Robot That Walks on Water

Yun Seong Song and Metin Sitti from Carnegie Mellon University have created a water-strider robot based on the insect, which uses surface tension to literally walk on water.

(Left) Photo of the water strider insect. (Right) Photo of the 1-gram robot on the surface of the water. A B C D: supporting legs E and F: actuating legs G: body with on-board electronics and power source H: middle actuator I and J: right and left ac ...
(Left) Photo of the water strider insect. (Right) Photo of the 1-gram robot on the surface of the water. A, B, C, D: supporting legs; E and F: actuating legs; G: body with on-board electronics and power source; H: middle actuator; I and J: right and left actuators. Image credit: Yun Seong Song and Metin Sitti. ©IEEE 2007

"For locomotion, the water strider insect creates a sculling motion with specialized sculling legs. The robot functions the same way. Three piezoelectric actuators, when attached to the legs in a T shape, create both vertical and horizontal motion to cause the elliptical sculling motion required to move.

Because the piezoelectric actuators provided only a small deflection, an amplifier was needed to create large strokes. To achieve this, the researchers used a resonant frequency with a vibration mode favorable to generating the sculling motion to drive the actuators. While a water strider insect can move at speeds of up to 1.5 m/s, the first robot still achieved a forward speed of 3 cm/s, and could also turn, rotate and move backwards."

More details here.

35 Years of HP Calculators

Here's the HP nostalgia piece.

International Broadband Pricing

Here's an interesting chart via Ohm Malik's blog on the OECD telecommunications outlook report on the cost of broadband Internet in different countries. It's an interesting metric on industrialization. Sadly, we're not looking so good.


Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Robocup 2007 in Atlanta

All you Atlanta natives have no excuse for missing the 2007 Robocup competition, currently ongoing (July 1st-10th) at Georgia Tech. The official competition just began yesterday (Tuesday, July 3rd), but the event continues through finals on July 10th.

It's so cool I don't think I need to even say anything more about it other than check out these images and videos. And get over to GaTech and check it out!

How Nerds Cook Hotdogs

Another honorary 4th of July post I just can't resist. Normally, I'd say, ", don't try this at home." All appropriate burn-your-house-down type disclaimers are hereby offered. But hey, if you can figure out a cooler way to cook a dog, let me know.

All you need area couple of forks, matching alligator clips and an old power cord. Plug that sucker into the wall, perhaps via a power strip and viola...smoking dogs in a couple of minutes.

Power CordClip endsAlligatorsOn the plateLED 1Catsup

AND you can demonstrate the voltage gradient across the dog by just sticking LEDs into the dog (with the leads in line with the forks.) You can even have fun adjusting the lead spacing and trying to explain why the LEDs don't burn out or why the brightness changes.

But PLEASE. REMEMBER. THIS. IS. NOT. SAFE. If you are crazy enough to try this even under adult supervision (my wife says I don't qualify here) Don't touch anything when it is plugged in.

Happy 4th!

For the 4th: Make Your Own Sparklers

The image “” cannot be displayed, because it contains errors.

In honor of our nation's anniversary, I urge all you innovators to go forth and make your own sparklers!


What You Need:
- iron wires or wooden sticks
- 300 parts potassium chlorate
- 60 parts aluminum fines, flitter, or granules
- 2 parts charcoal
- 10% dextrin in water solution
- 500 parts strontium nitrate (optional, for red color)
- 60 parts barium nitrate (optional, for green color)

All these ingredients are legal and can be ordered or bought at a chemical supply store like Science Stuff or Chem Bargains.

Mix the dry ingredients with enough dextrin solution to make a moist slurry. Include the strontium nitrate if you want a red sparkler or the barium nitrate if you want a green sparkler. Dip the wires or sticks in the sparkler mixture. Be sure to leave enough uncoated space at one end to safely grasp the finished sparkler. Allow the mixture to dry completely before igniting the sparkler. Store sparklers away from heat or flame, and protected from high humidity.

Airline Vortex Image

Here's a very nice image from Steve Morris' site showing the extent of the wingtip vortex generated by a wide-body jetliner (a Boeing 767 in this case).

Next time I am frustrated at taxi and runway delays, I'll try and remember this photo. Even though you can't ordinarily SEE the churning air behind a jumbo jet, it's still a good idea to wait a bit between take-offs.