Sunday, December 28, 2008

obama magazines

I was walking in Jewel / Safeway the other day, and this sight was enough to stop me in my tracks. the entire first row of magazines were filled with Obama covers. It's like he is one part hope, one part president, and one part celebrity. I look forward to seeing what the country can accomplish under his leadership.

Friday, December 12, 2008

edible brides?!

I am cleaning out my inbox, and discovered an old link that I never posted. Apparently, Chidi Ogbuta of Allen, Texas always dreamed of having a doll designed in her likeness. (Wouldn't it have been easier just to order one online? )

Anyway, for her September 22, 2007 wedding, she had a cake made in her likeness!

Not my style, but she gets points for creativity! But I have a lot of questions. When the groom ct the cake, where did he stick the knife? Did they cut up the cake in plain sight? Or come back with plates of body parts for dessert? Did she save the head to eat on their one year anniversary?

Speaking of strange food-related weddding dresses... in 2006, a Ukrainian pastry chef, Valentyn Shtefano, made HIS bride's dress out of cream puffs - 1,500 of them combined in a dress that weighed 20 pounds!

Monday, November 10, 2008

another sf costume experience - critical mass

San Francisco has no shortage of opportunities for craziness. 2008 heralded the intersection of two of SF's traditions - Halloween and Critical Mass - on the same night!

Halloween in the Castro was a tradition until last year, when the city made a grand effort to squash the celebration. (And check out this weird PSA from this year.) I've only heard the stories from previous years before I moved here, but the Castro knows how to party.... It was the place to be on Halloween until 2006, when some people were shot as the party was ending.

With the intense hills in San Francisco, Critical Mass is still something I have yet to try. (I can barely handle my regular commute sometimes!) The first Critical Mass was on Friday, September 25, 1992 at 6 p.m. in San Francisco. At that time, the event was known as Commute Clot. It has grown quite a bit, and now over 1000 riders take to the streets, generally on the last Friday of the month. Critical Mass is meant to be a celebration, and not a protest, however it remains controversial as it completely blocks vehicular traffic in the streets.

This StreetFilm captures this year's zany Oct. 31 event.

In case you are interested... there's Critical Mass in Chicago! Brrrr.....

Friday, November 7, 2008

bad idea for show and tell

So, apparently a kindergartner in Akron, Ohio made a bad decision in choosing his show and tell item. Teachers at Seiberling Elementary say children have to guess what classmates bring in. The boy gave a clue Friday that his item was something that blows things up.

The teacher looked in his book bag and wasn't sure if what she was a real grenade or a toy. Apparently the school called an emergency "fire drill" while the bomb squad arrived and discovered it was a "dummy" grenade.


Sunday, October 19, 2008

wacky races in the bay area this month!

The Bay Area never disappoints me with its randomness. San Francisco, in particular, has more opportunities to dress up than any other city I have known. There's Halloween, of course, which in my neighborhood lasts at least a week. There is at least one formal opportunity a month to dress up around here, and that doesn't stop people inbetween... yesterday, I was walking to Walgreens, and this woman was covered entirely in blue face paint (head to foot), just standing there smoking a cigarette and chatting casually with her (regularly dressed) companions.


Last week, Escape from Berkeley race began on October 11th. Contestants had 3 days to reach Las Vegas in "a kind of mini Cannonball Run to Las Vegas for drivers of vehicles that run on anything but petroleum." According to the news reports, "mechanical difficulties delayed the three-day journey. Of the 10 teams that signed up, only seven made it to Berkeley able to actually race, and just five got off the starting line." One guy's car ran on wood chips. A few ran on vegetable oil. One ran on alcohol; another on steam. The youngest driver was just 16!

Next, and my favorite, was the Red Bull Soapbox Derby, held yesterday at Dolores Park. (One of my favorite places in SF.) The website has team bios and sketches of all the entries. Soon, the winners of this year's race will be posted as well.

My two favorite videos posted on YouTube so far:

Video #1 is the best so far. It includes interviews with the drivers, and great footage of the race. Also includes what I thought was the most spectacular crash of the craziest car (see 2:18).

Video #2 shows some of the 30 second skits up near the starting line. Some were weak, but others were side-splitting hilarious. (I'm still waiting to find video of the guys who danced to "Who let the dogs out?" and the Thick and Thin pizza skit...) Plus, this user captured most of the teams I missed.

Video #3 has some great still shots. My favorite, the mutant hamster one, is at 2:14! (As an interesting side note, this user has video embedding "disabled by request." I didn't even know you could do that!)

And of course, my video... I am working on a Garageband soundtrack. I'm trying to break the habit of using other people's music. :)

Saturday, October 4, 2008

$700 billion bailout

As you have heard, President Bush recently signed the bailout plan in hopes of bolstering the economy. I enjoyed the SF Chronicle "article" putting it all into perspective...

For $700 billion, you could...
  • hire approximately 9,226,551 San Francisco police officers (based on $75,868, the lowest entry-level salary listed on the city's Website)
  • hire approximately 16,062,414 U.S. teachers (based on $43,580, the lowest number in the range of median annual earnings of kindergarten, elementary, middle and secondary school teachers in May 2006, listed on the Bureau of Labor Statistics' Website)
  • build approximately 1,434 new California Academy of Science buildings (based on the $488 million price tag listed in a Chronicle story)
  • buy approximately 3,467,063 homes based on $201,900, the median price of a single family home in the United States in August, according to the National Association of Realtors.
  • buy 70 Hubble-type space telescopes, or about 7 international space stations.
That's a lot of money. Seven hundred billion dollars is a lot of dollars.

In a great book by David M. Schwartz, How much is a million?, he says:

How big is a billion? If a billion kids made a human tower, they would stand up past the moon. If you sat down to count from one to one billion, you would be counting for 95 years. If you found a goldfish bowl large enough hold a billion goldfish, it would be as big as a stadium.
One website proclaims,

A billion seconds ago it was 1959.

A billion minutes ago Jesus was alive.

A billion hours ago our ancestors were living in the Stone Age

A billion dollars ago was only 8 hours and 20 minutes, at the rate Washington spends.

Oh, yeah, and the U.S. already has a national debt of 10 TRILLION dollars. The site links to a number of news articles concerning the national debt, including one that claims the bailout will increase the national debt ceiling to $11.315 trillion to cover the $700 billion the Treasury Department needs in order to buy bad loans.

That's a lot of money. Eleven trillion dollars is a lot of dollars.

More statistics show just how big these numbers are:

A million seconds is 12 days.
A billion seconds is 31 years.
A trillion seconds is 31,688 years.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

chicago's "greenest" person

So, there was a contest sponsored by the Chicago Tribune to find the "greenest person in Chicago."

Ken Dunn, 65, of Hyde Park, is so green that he beat out 11 other finalists, identified with the help of local sustainability groups, to be named the greenest person in Chicago by the Tribune. He beat:
  • the Chicagoan who commuted 16 miles a day by bike... year round!
  • the Chicagoan who composts his own urine and excrement

From the article:

Dunn produces only 3,800 pounds of carbon dioxide a year, as compared with the 44,000 pounds produced by the average American.

Stated another way, Dunn is already living at roughly the level of carbon emissions that scientists at the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change say the average human must achieve by 2100 if we are to avoid dangerous effects of global warming.

But check out this second-place finisher, Sayre Vickers, 32!

Dunn could share his home heating bill—and split the associated carbon emissions—with three people who live beneath him. However, Vickers lives alone in Garfield Park. Vickers grows tomatoes, basil, wild spinach, kale and peppers in front of the sunny windows of his apartment and makes his own furniture from discarded wood. With no running water, he hauls his 3 gallons a day from the bathroom one floor below.

The toilet is a bucket, with a 30-gallon garbage can nearby for storing human waste layered with sawdust. Vickers has a friend in the suburbs who allows him to park the cans when they fill up. The contents decompose, forming compost.

In keeping with the claims of the Humanure movement, which promotes composting as an alternative to waste-generating flush toilets, the smell is undetectable from even a foot away.

UPDATE: As of 2009, another Chicago resident is trying to help composting toilets catch on in Chicago.

Monday, September 22, 2008

josh groban singing a tv theme medley?

Now, if you live under a TV-free rock like I do, it is possible that you didn't know (or didn't care) that the 60th Annual Emmy Awards were on TV last night. However, when I read in the online news that Josh Groban sang a TV theme medley, I had to check it out.

If you aren't familiar with Josh Groban, he's a singer-songwriter who focuses on classics and generally can be found on the adult contemporary charts. He has an amazing tenor voice. Here's an example of his music.

A fan site is quick to point out, however, that although Josh seems serious, he really is a typical 20-something.
Because of the classical influences in his music (which in the beginning appealed mostly to an older audience), some people have the mistaken impression that Josh is a suit-and-tie, pristine guy who acts more like a 50 year old than a 27 year old. Wrong! While Josh definitely has a maturity beyond his years and a load of discipline for someone his age, he enjoys the same things most 20-somethings do; He listens to Radiohead, Bjork, Depeche Mode, and the Afro-Celts, he likes Monty Python and South Park. He likes to hang out with his friends, surf the Internet, and play video games.
I was VERY entertained to see his Emmy performance!

This is the epitome of randomness. I'm used to seeing him sing soulfully into sunsets, and now he's rapping to the Fresh Prince? I wonder if this was fun for him, or if it made him roll his eyes.

Monday, September 15, 2008

giant rabbits

A link from the Chicago Tribune...

Karl Szmolinsky, who raises a breed of rabbits called giant grays, shows Robert, an 8.5kg giant gray who is 74cm long and has ears 25.5cm long, in the backyard of his house in Eberswalde, Germany in 2006. Szmolinsky sold eight giant grays to a delegation from North Korea that wanted to raise the breed as a source of meat for the North Korean population. Szmolinsky said his rabbits reach a maximum weight of 10.5 kg (23.1lbs.).

Friday, September 5, 2008

deluxe treehouse in wisconsin

Wow. Check out THIS treehouse. It's nicer than most of the apartment's I've lived in! It has doors, windows, electricity and a spiral staircase! Wisconsin father John Peterson drew the line at running water, however, even though "he thought about it."

Not everyone is celebrating. The TreeHugger blog writes, "That icon of American childhood, the treehouse, has succumbed to the McMansion phenomenon."

I think it's kinda cool. And impressive that the guy built it himself!

Sunday, August 3, 2008

cool globes in san francisco?!

Whoa. The globes are following me.

As you know, in 2007, Chicago displayed 5-foot diameter decorated globes as part of the Hot Ideas for a Cooler Planet. (See all 124 globes online!)

Now the globes are coming to San Francisco! From August 5 to October 13, 35 Cool Globes will be displayed along the Crissy Field Promenade.

The globes also came BACK to Chicago for an encore presentation! And they appeared in Washington D.C. And the exhibit will be coming soon to London!

Check out the main CoolGlobes site for more details (and lesson plans!)

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

midwest vs. bay area

In March, I stumbled upon a noteworthy license plate in San Francisco, CA.

Shall we contrast this (plate / vehicle make & model) with the one I recently saw in Evanston, IL? You're not going to find many of these in the Bay Area.

Monday, June 16, 2008

kill ur TV

A license plate in Berkeley, CA....

I'm guessing they support TV Turn-Off Week...?

Monday, May 26, 2008

pleo - part pet, part robot

There is a new toy in town, Pleo brought to you by Ugobe. This company's inventor and co-founder is Caleb Chung, the same guy who co-invented the Furby 1n 1998. Pleo has 14 motors and six processors (Furby had one of each), a nose-mounted camera and 30 sensors. It's sensitive to touch, noise, movement, and even other Pleos.

Pleo is a lovable one week old baby Camarasaurus, a gentle and loving plant eating dinosaur from the late Jurassic Period of our planet’s history. Ugobe used and researched actual Camarasaurus fossil records to help them model Pleo’s appearance and behavior. (source)

The news releases started in 2005, with its much-delayed release happening on December 18, 2007. This robotic pet costs $349, but current owners seem to think its worth it. People are obsessed with these! There are Pleo videos, songs, skits.... owners can even keep a Plog about their robotic pet.

In this March 13th, 2008 Nightline episode, newscasters describe Pleo as "straddl[ing] the line between pet and product."

You can get a tour of the Ugobe labs, in this first webisode in the Ugobe series of videos titled "Behind The Scenes: The Making of Pleo."

You can see the rest of the videos in this 6 video series by visiting the website.

Pleo is based on the three laws of Ugobe life forms.

The life form should...
1. ... feel and convey emotions
2. ... become aware of itself and its environment
3. ... learn and develop over time

Isaac Asimov, who is credited for coining the term robotics in his short story Runaround published in 1942, also had his famous 3 laws of robotics (which Pleo appears to follow):

1. A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
2. A robot must obey orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law
3. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.

(He later added a Law Zero: A robot may not injure humanity, or, through inaction, allow humanity to come to harm.)

Besides the amazing advances in robotics that Pleo displays, it is just plain cute. In fact, you could waste hours surfing YouTube for Pleo videos. Here are a few to get you started:

Pleo (without skin) at the Maker's Faire
Pleo making other animal noises
Synchronized Pleos?
Pleo riding on a Roomba

You'll notice that the people obsessed with these toys are adults. In fact, techies everywhere can rejoice in knowing that you can program Pleo using the Pleo PDK as well as a variety of 3rd party tools. "Complex Pleo programming will require a knowledge of the C programming language and a comprehensive understanding of Pawn scripting and the UGOBE Life OS." (source) Umm... that doesn't sound like the skills of your average 4 year old.

Where else would you expect this toy to be developed but California? In Emeryville, CA to be more exact. I drive through the town every morning on my way to work!

Monday, May 19, 2008

Talk about losing your cookies...

No, I refuse to title my blog post "Got Milk?" Although it is tempting. This morning, a tractor trailer loaded with 14 tons of double-stuffed Oreos slammed into the median and overturned. The driver was driving down Interstate 80 around 4 am from Chicago to Morris and may have fallen asleep at the wheel. I can relate. That is one long, boring drive.

Though I'd like to image otherwise, the video shows a rather tame scene. Apparently, all of the cookies stayed inside their plastic wrappers.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Sunday, April 20, 2008

hippopotamus art car

I read a funny article in the SF Chronicle the other day. Apparently, this clown in Houston is obsessed with hippopotami and wanted to turn her Toyota Rav4 into something more hippopotam-ish. Eight years after she first got his name, Tom Kennedy finished her SECOND hippo-mobile!

You can check out Tom Kennedy's website for more pictures, plus the story of the upside-down school bus built for Ben Cohen of Ben & Jerry's ice cream!

Friday, March 28, 2008

gummy banana slugs and real slug weirdness

"The banana slug is a bright yellow to olive green-ish, slimy mollusk found in the northwest redwood forests and can grow up to 12". It the official school mascot for UC Santa Cruz."

I love banana slugs. And now, out in California, I actually see them. So imagine my glee when I discovered these gems of randomness.

You can buy a gummy banana slug from Candy Warehouse for $5.90. These sugary wonders are 5.5 inches long and weigh 45 grams. Or get a similarly sized candy mollusk for only $4.75.

But if we are talking random fabulous, buy your gummy slug from McPhee. While you're there, you may want to pick up some meat trinkets including a bacon placemat and assorted meat pencil toppers?! Or pick up an avenging narwhal play set or other bizarre types of candy!

Lake Quinault Lodge even has a stuffed slug?!

As strange as these fake banana slugs may seem, the reality of these mollusks is much, much stranger. Banana slugs,
Ariolimax columbianus, are hermaphroditic, which means they have both male and female parts. This is not all that strange in the animal kingdom, especially among invertebrates. However, it's what they do after they mate that is unusual. Slugs generally fertilize each other at the same time, but because they can have rather large reproductive organs, one of the slugs can get stuck. The other slug then does an activity scientifically referred to as apophallation, where they... ahem... gnaw off the other slug's penis to get the slug loose from its mate. While this may sound crazy to us, scientists believe this may serve an important purpose. They slug who loses their male organ is forced to become female and offer up eggs.

Still need more banana slug science? Here's a coloring page.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

chicago and san francisco go dark for earth hour

The Chicago Tribune reports that there will be dark spots in the Chicago skyline for an hour Saturday night when more than 160 downtown buildings switch off their lights. The Sears Tower, John Hancock Center, the Navy Pier Ferris Wheel, 485 area McDonald's and Chicago's theaters (Oriental Theatre, Cadillac Palace and the LaSalle Bank Theatre) all plan on participating by switching off as many "non-essential" lights as possible as part of the Earth Hour global campaign to raise awareness about climate change. The Allerton Hotel will even be turning off its historic "Tip-Top-Tap" sign during the night-time hours for the first time since the 1940s.

The World Wildlife Fund
’s (WWF) Earth Hour climate change campaign is largely symbolic in an effort to get the word out about reducing energy consumption and carbon emissions.

Although it can be a little more than symbolic. At the first Earth Hour in Sydney, Australia, on March 31. 2007, the site claims, "Over 2.2 million Sydney residents and over 2,100 businesses switched off, leading to a 10.2% energy reduction across the city." But organizers stress that Earth Hour is more than cutting back for one hour. It's about "taking a stand and thinking ahead about what you, your neighbors and your city can do to slow climate change."
Chicago will serve as the U.S. flagship city for Earth Hour in 2008, with Atlanta, Phoenix and San Francisco joining as leading partner cities. But everyone throughout the US and around the world is invited and encouraged to turn off their lights for an hour on March 29 at 8 p.m. local time--whether at home or at work, with friends and family or solo, in a big city or a small town. (main site)
Interstingly enough, San Francisco was so inspired by last year's Sydney event, that they created Lights Out San Francisco and held a citywide energy conservation event on October 20, 2007. For that hour, such icons as the TransAmerica Building, Alcatraz, the Golden Gate and Bay bridges and City Hall turned off their lights. To promote long-lasting energy saving, organizers distributed free compact fluorescent light bulbs throughout the city. They were planning the second Lights Out event for March 29, 2008, but out of solidarity, Lights Out has chosen to support the Earth Hour campaign instead.

Both of my favorite cities offer suggestions to promote energy consciousnes after the event - check out both San Francisco's and Chicago's energy saving tips.

According to NBC News, Earth Hour will "literally be a worldwide event. It will start in Christchurch, New Zealand, and then roll through 14 time zones and 25 cities in 10 countries, including Brisbane, Bangkok, Tel Aviv, Copenhagen, Dublin and Toronto. It will be the largest worldwide voluntary power down in history, according to WWF officials." Pretty good for an event that only happened in Sydney last year!

Some of the international cities choosing to participate in the 2008 event include Atlanta, San Francisco, Phoenix, Bangkok, Ottawa, Vancouver, Montreal, Dublin, Brisbane, Sydney, Perth, Melbourne, Canberra, Adelaide, Copenhagen, Aarhus, Aalborg, Odense, Manila, Suva, Chicago, Tel Aviv, Toronto and Christchurch.

Will you participate?

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

use less oil

License plate in San Francisco, CA. Not surprisingly, on a hybrid Toyota Prius.

Using the United States Environmental Protection Agency's ratings, the Prius was ranked the most fuel efficient car in 2007.

Monday, March 24, 2008

bring your own big wheel race in sf

Wow! I haven't laughed this hard in a while. For the last 7 years on Easter Sunday, people have gathered along Lombard St (said to be the "most crookedest street in the world" in San Francisco - pictured to the left). They come wearing a wide variety of gear and carrying a equally bizarre collection of plastic children's bicycles, most of which are destined to break when supporting more than 80 pounds.

This year, the event was held down Vermont St., which could be considered even more crooked, with much sharper and steeper switchbacks, though not quite as many (or as well landscaped) as Lombard St.

Anyway, it inspired my second YouTube video. (Shhh... I didn't get the musician's permission for the soundtrack...)

And, here's a great video from the 2007 race:

Saturday, March 22, 2008

nokia morph nanotechnology

A student alerted me to a video on YouTube demonstrating the Nokia Morph concept phone.

This phone might be capable of being flexible, having a self-cleaning surface, detecting environmental factors, and harvesting solar energy. It is a two piece design that would use nanotechnology to accomplish these feats.
(image from

One nanometer is a billionth of a meter or about the width of three atoms lined up next to each other. When scientists talk about the nanoscale, they are talking really, really small. Apparently, when everyday materials get down to the nanoscale, they start to do really unusual things.

Scientists hope to one day use nanotechnology to do things like build the Morph, clean up the environment, design drug-carrying nanoparticles for targeted medical treatment, design more effective cleaners, coat implants (like hip replacements) to help the body better accept the foreign material, design food that indicates when it is spoiling, improve car materials... the list goes on. The truth is, no one really knows yet just what nanotechnology may help us develop in the future.

It sounds like science fiction, but some of this technology is already in use. You can check out a list of consumer products that currently use nanotechnology. Antibacterial doorknobs, kodak photopaper, lots of clothing (including pants from L.L. Bean!), even a teddy bear that allegedly resists bacteria, mold, and mites!
Serious nanotechnology runs the gamut from things we can't do yet--so-called “spooky” nanotechnology like build-anything molecular assemblers and bacterium-size supercomputers--to things we are beginning to be able to do like diagnostic nanosensors and superstrong carbon nanotube materials. Then, there are things that are barely nanotechnology at all. Nano-Tex is a company that uses nanoparticles to make stain-resistant fabric found in pants and shirts from Eddie Bauer and others. (These clothes really work, as my potentially disastrous gravy incident last Thanksgiving proved, but they're not the sort of thing that most people mean when they talk about nanotechnology.) - Popular Mechanics

If you want to learn more, there are many kid-friendly sites about nanotechnology, including a free BRAINPOP video on nanotechnology, the Lawrence Hall of Science site, kids introduction to the nanoworld, and

Or you might want to watch this great 30 minute video on nanotechnology basics from UCTV: UC San Diego. These goofy scientists do a good job breaking down a very difficult subject.

The Nokia Morph was featured in the MoMA online exhibition "Design and the Elastic Mind". It has been a project of Nokia Research Center and Cambridge Nanoscience Center.

Friday, March 21, 2008

google logos for the holidays

Ever see one of those great Google doodles on a holiday or special occasion (like the first day of Spring?) If so, thank Dennis Hwang, who has been designing these logos since 2000. (Although this is not his only job at Google.)

I really wanted to post a few here, but the site does ask nicely - "We have a variety of logos commemorating holidays and events. We've put them in this online museum for your amusement. Please do not use them elsewhere. And please, don't feed the kangaroo." (Ummm... the kangaroo?!) On another page, it asks again,"Please don't use them elsewhere as each has a special history at Google and we'd like them to enjoy their well-deserved retirement."

OK, OK. I won't use them on my blog. But I encourage you all to check them out on the Google site. You can search back to 1999.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

boston dynamic's military robot dog!

Boston Dynamics, an engineering company that specializes in robotics and human simulation, has created one of the most fascinatingly creepy things I have ever seen - BigDog.

This robot has a strikingly animal-like walk, due to its many sensors that help it judge its position, force and load. In fact, this robot can't be knocked down, although engineers gave it a good kick during the demo video.

BigDog trots at about 4 mph, climbs slopes up to 35 degrees, walks across rough terrain, snow and ice, and carries a 340 lb load. And it is noisy... it sounds like a hive of buzzing bees. BUT - it can carry packs where humans can't or shouldn't go, and won't get spooked by gunfire. And it's come a long way since the 2006 model.

BigDog is being developed with the goal of creating robots that can go anywhere on Earth that people and animals can go. The program is funded by the Defense Advanced Research Project Agency (DARPA). (DARPA is also funding a project to develop a robot that climbs trees?!)

The thing sort of creeps me out, but I strongly suggest you watch the video on the Boston Dynamics site, or catch it on YouTube.

And, of course, as with anything new, somebody's got to make a parody.

UPDATE (Dec 2010): Also very cool is the climbing robot - RISE.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

marshmallow peeps contest?!

Now, I believe there are degrees of randomness.... and this contest is pure random. Apparently, the Chicago Tribune Q section held an International Peeps Diorama contest! (You may need to log in to view. I am not sure how long the contest link will be active.) As I write this, there are 224 entries so far - raging from whimsical to political to downright scary. (Peep guts?)

Here are some highlights:

I love the caption on this next one: "Harry Peeper and Sorcerer's Stone. After getting past Fluffy the three headed Peepdog, Harry is looking in the mirror sees the stone in his pocket."

Why didn't I think of that? :)

UPDATE 3.22.08: Here are the Top 10 Finalists and the 6 Grand Prize winners! Here's the first place winner:

"The Pampered Peep Spa"
Submitted by Noreen Czosnyka
Chicago, IL

Sunday, March 16, 2008

julian beever's amazing chalk drawings

Now, hopefully you all have heard of this guy, but if not, check out Julian Beever's work.
My favorite drawings of his are anamorphic art, or art that seems very distorted until you see it from a very particular spot. (The first anamorphic art can be traced back to a drawing by Leonardo Da Vinci in 1485!) For example, when viewed from the proper vantage point, Beevers art looks like this:
But, viewed from a different point of view, the drawing doesn't make much sense at all! (Do you see the camera from across the drawing?)

Here are just a few of the most amazing Julian Beever drawings, including his self-portrait. Check out the sites above for more!

Saturday, March 15, 2008

giant gulping whales

Scientists at the University of British Columbia and the University of California, Berkeley have discovered some amazing things while studying fin whales. First, the gulps of some of these baleen whales can take in a volume of water equal to the size of a school bus. These are no small gulps, especially with jaws that can be up to one-fifth their 88 feet body length!

Baleen whale generally have 200-400 overlapping plates hanging from each side of the upper jaw, where you might expect to find teeth. These plates, called baleen, are made of a fingernail-like material called keratin. "During feeding, large volumes of water and food can be taken into the mouth because the pleated grooves in the throat expand. As the mouth closes water is expelled through the baleen plates, which trap the food on the inside near the tongue to be swallowed." (Info from the American Cetacean Society)

This picture (from the UC Berkeley article) illustrates the "feeding lunge of a fin whale, which can carry the whale some 35 feet and collect as much as 25 pounds of shrimp-like krill." (And these krill, averaging just 1-2 cm in length, are what feeds this 88-foot cetacean.) These whales eat using a series of 6 - 10 second lunges. Perhaps most incredibly, these lunges result the whale taking in enough water that, for those few seconds before the water is filtered out, the whale can be more than twice its normal body weight.

This process take a lot of energy for an animal swimming in the sea. Although each lunge takes them up to 35 feet through the water, there is a tremendous amount of drag on the animal.

Luckily, some whales can get their daily requirement of kill in just four hours of hunting. Pretty amazing when you consider that many whales can consume 2 tons (4000) pounds of krill each day!

Friday, March 14, 2008

more pi songs

OK, so it's time for my yearly pi post. (See 2007's post for some pi history and trivia.) This year, I'm all about the music.

Old favorites:

New hits:
  • Piano Pi - Pi transformed into "sweet piano melodies" using this translation: 1-C 2-D 3-E 4-F 5-G 6-A 7-H 8-C´ 9-D´ 0-E´
  • Pi, Pi, Mathematical Pi - by Stephen Toner, Mathematics Instructor at Victor Valley College
  • And, though it is not a song, a link to my favorite science museum's pi day festivities!

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

harbin international ice and snow festival

In honor of all the snow in the Midwest lately, I thought I would pass on some information about an even colder place. Harbin, in China's Heilongjiang province, has temperatures that average 21.2 degrees Celcius (about 70 degrees F) in the summer and -16.8 degrees C (about 2 degrees F) in the winter. The temperatures can get as low as -38.1 degrees C (about -37 degrees F).

Harbin is also famous for its annual International Ice and Snow Festival. (Check out these pictures! You can also visit the official website, but it is written in Chinese.) The festival has been celebrated since 1985. It begins on January 5 and is scheduled at the same time as the nearby Harbin Ice and Snow World Exhibition of Ice Sculptures (whose 2008 theme is the Olympics), the Snow Sculptures Fair and the Ice Lanterns Fair.

Now, these folks know how to enjoy the cold weather!

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

the eyes of nye

Bill Nye, the science guy. Bill! Bill! Bill! Bill!

Bill Nye is back. And this time he is making a science show for teens and adults! Go to the website and click "Menu" and "Episodes" to see clips and more. Each clip has some tabs - the best one, in my opinion, is called "the flip side." Here, he provides links to information about alternate viewpoints on that topic.

The entire 13 episode set can be purchased for $499. Apparently the first shows aired in 2005, but according to the website, if you are in Chicago, WTTW (Channel 11?) is still airing the show! (No shows in San Francisco.) There are also a few examples on YouTube (here's one on Cloning)... at least until Bill Nye pulls them off for copyright infringement.

Episode list:

1. Astrobiology
2. Psuedoscience
3. Addiction
4. Cloning
5. Nuclear Energy
6. Sports
7. Population
8. Race
9. Antibiotics
10. Genetically Modified Foods
11. Transportation
12. Global Climate Change
13. Evolution of Sex

Random Bill Nye Trivia: He has a degree in Mechanical Engineering from Cornell University. He won a Steve Martin look-alike contest in Seattle. "Bill Nye the Science Guy" was first played on a Seattle comedy show called "Almost Live." He was married for 7 weeks in 2006, before he found out the marriage license was invalid. Which might be a good thing, since he filed a restraining order against the woman a year later. He also loves sundials. (from his website and other sources)

Monday, January 14, 2008

how fast is your internet?

There is a cool site that measures your uploading and downloading speed on any computer that you are using. is a free broadband speed test with servers located all over the world.

All you have to do is click on the "pyramid" nearest you!

Saturday, January 12, 2008

precycling and the 5 r's

We are all familiar with the 3 R's of recycling: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. However, I have been hearing more about the interesting idea called precycling: the idea of supporting responsible packaging and consciousness of waste before you even use the product. It just makes sense.

I was surprised to find an article using this term that was posted back in 1994. Reading more about the history of precycling, I found out one of the first communities to focus on precycling was Berkeley, CA all the way back in 1989!

Refuse what you don't need
Reduce what you do need
Reuse what you can't reduce
Recycle what you can't reuse
Rebuy (buy recycled) whenever possible.

Here are just some of the many 5R suggestions:
  • Avoid the paper vs. plastic dilemma.

  • Buy large single containers.

  • Pass on styrofoam.

  • Don't buy plastic razors, throwaway cleansing pads and cigarette lighters, non-refillable pens and foil baking pans. Reduce or eliminate your use of disposable plastic diapers, which make up 2% of the total U.S. landfill volume. Gr-oss!

  • Compare the size of the package to the size of the product.

This mom's blog post offers more ideas on being eco-responsible.

Friday, January 4, 2008

dna music

Back in October, I had an opportunity to go to Wonderfest held at Stanford University. There I heard David Deamer, Professor of Chemistry at UC Santa Cruz, talk about and play his DNA music.

Remember that DNA stores the instructions for making you! DNA forms a "double helix" - a kind of twisted ladder in which the "rungs" are made up of nitrogenous bases (A, T, G, or C). A group of 3 of these base pairs is called a codon. Codons tell a cell what amino acid to build. Amino acids are the building blocks of proteins, and proteins are what make the body grow and do a lot of things.

We have a huge amount of DNA in each of our cells. If the DNA from just one of your cells was typed in books, a list of the 3 billion base pairs would fill 200 telephone books. That is from just one cell - and we have trillions of cells in our bodies, and most cells have a complete set of DNA! (kids genetics)
(Want to review more about DNA? Check out this really great animation watch this VERY weird DNA music video.)

Anyway, in his presentation, Deamer says, "If melodies are a sequence of notes, and DNA is a sequence of bases, maybe we can turn DNA into music." He went on to compose pieces with the following translation.

  • C (cytosine) = C on the musical scale
  • A (adenine) = A on the musical scale
  • G (guanine) = G on the musical scale
  • T (thymine) = E on the musical scale

For example, the insulin gene is coded "TTT GTG AAC CAA..." and so on. The DNA code dictates the notes played, but he does have some freedom with the timing.

You can hear the music if you watch the Wonderfest presentations online. Not surprisingly, it is also posted on YouTube. Fast forward to 16:00 if you would like to hear the part about insulin.

David Deamer also partnered with
Susan Alexjander, to create a far-out sounding CD called Sequencia.
In SEQUENCIA, raw data derived from the light absorption spectra of the four bases (adenine, cytosine, thymine, guanine) that make up the DNA molecule is converted into sonic frequencies. These are programmed to a Macintosh computer and sent to a synthesizer, and then arranged into four pitch collections (or four 'scales' based on the individual base molecules). These synthesized notes mixed with vocals, cello, tabla, and violin become the palettes for Alexjander's compositions, which range from somber and zen-like to fanciful and improvisational.
Another link gives specifics on the physics involved in this process.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

yahoo user agreement

I am having WAY too much fun with these signs.

OK, this one really isn't a sign, or even a joke. As I was installing my cousin's Yahoo DSL internet, I ran across this passage in the user agreement. Seriously. So I CAN'T use my Yahoo DSL software to operate my nuclear facility OR life support? Sheesh.

(click to enlarge image. It is worth reading...)