Friday, July 31, 2009

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Kangoo Jumps: Intervel Training

Video and suggestion for doing an simple interval workout with Kangoo Boots.

EarthTaniner: Self watering tomato planter

My wife and I are planning a small kitchen in our yard where we can grow a few tomatoes and other vegetables next year. We wanted to build in some self-watering pots so we wouldn't have to worry about the vegetables if we went on a short trip. She found the plans to this planter through TomatoFest and after looking over the diagrams and watching the video's I was impressed. Ray Newstead, the inventor of the system, put a lot of thought into the construction, including that every part is easily available to the average person. You can get everything you need at Lowes. (Buckminster Fuller would be proud!)

The plans are freely available for download. Ray only asks that you make a donation to Feed The Children organization. It's a little late in the season to be planting tomatoes here in Colorado and I don't quite have the area ready for the planter but I want to get a head start on next year. If I get one built, I'll post the results.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Cockroach Heart Design

This artificial heart is based on a cockroach heart. Seems that a cockroach has a twelve chambered heart compared to our four chambered heart. This built in redundancy helps to protect them from keeling over with angina as they are about to invade my pantry.

I was trying to figure out how this worked from the picture and it made no sense to me. The picture looks like a tennis ball with an aquarium pump inside of it. So, I went looking on the web for a diagram of a cockroach heart. I was unable to find a clear picture or diagram of the little critters ticker. I did eventually find this diagram of a insect heart that I think is similar to what you might find inside a cockroach. Still not clear to me how they can survive the failure of one chamber when they are in sequence like this?

Shoot me a note if anybody knows of a better diagram, picture or explanation.


[Image of artifical heart captured from dvice:] [Two images of insect heart captured from]

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Bacteria Based Computer

This interesting piece appeared recently in the Guardian Science Blog. Bacteria were used to create a working computer. They gave it the Hamiltonian Path Program which very simply is finding the best route that goes through a specific number of cities.

"[The] problem is surprisingly difficult to solve. There are over 3.5 million possible routes to choose from, and a regular computer must try them out one at a time to find the one that visits each city only once. Alternatively, a computer made from millions of bacteria can look at every route simultaneously."

The scientists did mention that programing the bacteria is pretty difficult.

An interesting side note to this story was the mention of a database of the basic biological designs for these types of machines called the Registery of Standard Biological Parts. I looked around this site for a while and it was facinating. It quickly went over my head, but all the parts and concepts that have already been developed was mind boggling. It's kind of like looking through an electronics catalog. You don't know what all the parts are for or how they are made, but you still look and wonder.

Link to the original article in the Journal of Biological Engineering.

[Image captured from]

Monday, July 27, 2009

What is a browser?

What is a Browser?

When I ask my high school students this question, the number one answer I get is "Google". Somewhere in the past six years or so most ordinary folks have stopped thinking about the browser. Firefox, Safari, Chrome, Opera and Internet Explorer don't mean much to most of my students.

This short film asks the same question "man on the street" style and gets pretty much the same answers I get in the classroom. I think this reflects better designed browsers. We are more concerned with the results. Like a good tool, they start to fade into the background. Unless they stop working.

[Image captured from the video: What is a browser?]

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Government's Cash for Clunkers

I posted an idea I had for helping to jump start the auto industry and help the environment last November. I sent a copy off to my congressmen and one to the President where I'm sure they all said,
"'s a note from Al. We must stop what we're doing and consider it."
Or it got filed in the crackpot folder. Or possibly just deleted. I was OK with that as I knew it was a little radical. I was just trying to think outside the box a little. My idea: I suggested the government buy up all the old cars over a ten year period. Pay better than Blue Book with the condition that the money was used to buy a newer, greener car.

So, yesterday I see this article about the Car Allowance Rebate. Under this plan consumers can get a rebate off the cost of a new car if they trade in their old gas guzzler for a more gas efficient vehicle. The official website for the Car Allowance Rebate System says the dealers must scrap the cars that are traded in. Not quite as radical as my idea, but still a good start.

So, today in my little fantasy land I refer to as "Al World", I am thinking that some aide to some government aide glanced at my email and at some pre-meeting brainstorming it got shuffled onto a long list of ideas that eventually ended up on the long list of stimulus ideas. So, if this saves the auto industry, I will be taking credit at all family gatherings from now on. A big bronze medal would have been nice, but I'll be happy with a cleaner environment. And saving the planet.

I'm humble that way!

[Image captured from

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Other Kangoo Boot Drills?

After seeing the young woman jumping rope wearing a pair of Kangoos, I got to thinking that maybe there are other exercises you could do while wearing the boots. I know that there are aerobics type routines available on DVD and offered through some clubs. I was wondering in particular if there was any information on using the boots in a dot drill or something similar.

Found this one video from the official Kangoo site called power training. It's given me some ideas to explore.

[Image captured from video: Power Training Video:]

Ray Bradubury and the Internet

I credit Ray Bradbury with helping me become the reader I am today. I read everything I could get my hands on of his when I was a kid. Usually through our local public library.

His recent quote, "To hell with the internet" has been on several web sites I frequent.

I much prefer what he says about libraries in this quote from the New York Times:
“Libraries raised me,” Mr. Bradbury said. “I don’t believe in colleges and universities. I believe in libraries because most students don’t have any money. When I graduated from high school, it was during the Depression and we had no money. I couldn’t go to college, so I went to the library three days a week for 10 years.”
My childhood would have been very different if I hadn't had access to a local library. Yet I am fully engaged in the digital world and dabble in electronic books. I have a reader on my iPhone that I use occasionally. It still doesn't have the appeal to me of a hard copy book. But I find I am using it more often.

I've also noticed that it is getting harder and harder to get the books I want at our library. I often have to use inter-library loan. I wanted a copy of Thomas Paine's Common Sense recently and our library didn't have a copy. They could get it for me in a couple of days. I was able to download a free copy to my iPhone in several minutes. Our library tends to spend their very limited resources on the most popular titles. The more obscure titles and authors tend to be under represented. I go to the library with a list of ten books that I've jotted down from articles or interviews I've seen or from the citations inside other books I've recently read. I run about 10% on the immediate availabilty of those books in our library. My librarians have always been able to get me a book if I am willing to wait. Sometimes I am. Sometimes I'm not.

When I was a boy, our local library had a great science fiction section because one of the librarians was a SF fan. She made sure there was a good selection and often recommended books to me as I was growing up. (Thank you unknown library lady...I wish I could remember your name.) If we lose libraries, we also lose librarians, and I am very fond of librarians! A group of people whose job is to maintain collections of books and help me find what I want or need.

So where do I sit on the idea of spending tax dollars on libraries. I support it. I also support the idea that libraries need to be a flexible, changing entity. Many of the librarians I've talked to recently realize that their world is in a state of change. It's hard to predict what a library will look like in 10 years. But, we still need a place where information is easily accessible and free. I also think we need librarians in some shape or form?

I had a conversation with a parent a while back. She felt libraries wern't as important because she "could get whatever book she wanted, when she needed it, on". Of course, she came from a two income family that spent money on books for their kids. I'm not too worried about those kids. It's the ones who have never received a book as a gift. Who don't have a bookshelf at home because there is no need. Who would never have access to information and knowledge were it not for the local library.

Libraries are for all of us. They are a democratic institution in their thinking and intent. A strong democracy needs a strong system of libraries. I'm just not sure what they will look like in the near future?

[Image captured from Sci Fi Wire:]

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

We're done...lets take a breather

How often and in how many situations do we have this conversation with ourselves? Which one usually wins?

"Every worthwhile accomplishment, big or little, has its stages of drudgery and triumph; a beginning, a struggle and a victory." ---Ghandi

[via Ross Training]

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Kangoo Jump Rope

After I put my simple Kangoo video up last week, I did a some searching to see if there was anything new on YouTube related to my favorite bouncy boots. Found this one of a young woman jumping rope in her Kangoos. I am going to try this. Maybe not in slow-mo, but soon. I'll let you know how it turns out.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Human Skateboard Animation

I've posted several things from PES before. They do some wonderful stop motion stuff. This particular one will have some of my kids coming up with all kinds of animation plans.

It will probably lead us into a little talk about trying to do this out in the field. All kinds of issues come up. But, if they want to try long as I'm not the skateboard...I say go for it.

Previous links about PES:

[via Neatarama]

[Image captured from the video]

Friday, July 17, 2009

Funny: United Breaks Guitars

Link to Dave Carroll's website gives the story behind the video he posted last week. By the time I post this, it will probably be old news, but it is still such a good song. Check out some of his other music. He has a new album out called Perfect Blue. Also available on iTunes.

Dave was on the CBS Morning Show because of his video. As I write this his video has already had over a million hits and over 8000 comments. If you do a search on Google for "united breaks guitars"'ll get over 13 million hits. Pretty sure United is wishing they had handled this differently by now. The CBS interview is embedded below. I wouldn't be surprised to see him performing this on one of the talk shows in the very near future.

Watch CBS Videos Online

United has made one statement that I could find quoted in this July 9th Yahoo article:
"While we mutually agree that this should have been fixed much sooner, Dave Carroll's excellent video provides United with a unique learning opportunity that we would like to use for training purposes to ensure all customers receive better service from us."

Short video put up on July 10th by Dave Carroll. United has offered to compensate him and his reply to that.

How about a video of Mr. Carroll singing something besides United Breaks Guitars. Here is a little ditty called, A Woman Like You.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Compressed Air Fire Starter

This Maker Faire project facinates me. I had never heard of a "fire piston" before. A device which uses the rapid compression of air to create fire. A device which is based on a tool used by indigenous people in Malaysia and elsewhere. It was introduced into Europe in the early 1800's and was a common household item until the match became widely available.

Watch the video to see how you can make your own.

As a former social studies teacher, I wondered how I had never heard of this device before. I went out and bought a flint to try mimic early mountain men. (A success). I also tried to build a fire-bow once. (Not so successful). So I went on line and did a little research. Turns out there are lots of videos an info out there on the subject. Here are a few if you are curious.

Detailed article about the fire piston. And of course a link to wikipedia.

This little video is a quick demo from a site where a guy makes them out of Buffalo horn and bamboo.

Another video of a traditional Malaysia fire piston. This one also uses materials that could be found in the wild including a strand of thread as the seal. I read somewhere in my browsing that the natives could also use saliva to wet the thread around the piston. (When I first watched this, I thought it might be a hassle to find water to soak the thread.)

If you are a teacher, this could be an engaging activity for students. I am thinking it might be fun to look at some of the different ways man has been able to create fire and let the kids try a few. Children and fire....sounds like a winner to me!

[via Make] [Image captured from Make:]

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

kangoo update

I've been sick a lot this past six months. Lots of colds and a particularly nasty sinus infection that just wouldn't go away. This is my excuse for not completely testing my Kangoo boots that I bought in February. I'd get a run in and then be laid up for a while. Summer came on with me being in terrible shape.

So I started off with the plan of bouncing a few times a week. Travel, another cold and a unrelated back injury have kept me from doing that consistently. But, now I am back on track. I bounced yesterday even though my back isn't a hundred percent yet, it was not noticeable while I was exercising. My workouts are currently about thirty minutes. I've worked up to about half running and half walking. I expect that to be mostly running by end of the month.

What I've noticed so far.
  • Able to exercise even when my back is bothering me. I also am able to get out on the road even if my knees are tender. I wish I had tried just walking daily with the boots when I first hurt my back. I think that would have been helpful. Although, if I went down for any reason, I'd of been like a turtle on it's back until helped arrived.
  • Short run is a good workout. Remember I am overweight and out of shape. With that in mind, I feel like I get my heart pumping and give my legs a good workout for the short time I'm on the boots.
  • When I first started bouncing, I'd feel it in my hips and thighs after a workout. Now as I increase my time running, I feel some soreness in my shins. No soreness anywhere else. Wonder if this is related to the gait you are forced into when running in the Kangoos?
  • As I increase my time running I am beginning to notice some hot spots developing. I am wearing heavy hiking socks but I may need to experiment with some lube on my feet or buckling the boots differently. More on this as I build up my time.
I love running again. It has been years since I could get out and do this. If I can do no more than go out a couple times of week and run in the boots for a half hour or so, I'd be a happy camper. If these boots help me work back into a modified running program again, I'd be ecstatic. Either way, I'm still happy with the purchase.

The video below shows the buckle mechanisms a little closer than you may have seen elsewhere. I made this shortly after I got the boots which is why I am dressed for the cold. I also try to demonstrate how to stop. Tried to show some things that I never saw when I was thinking about buying the boots. Hope it helps.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Snake Camera

I've seen a couple of these robotic snakes on the web before, but this is the first time I've seen them demonstrated in a real world situation.

Is there any kind of terrain a snake can't maneuver through? (I even saw a little bit on snakes that can glide the other day...ewwwwh!)

Beyond delivering a military payload, I think they could be extremely useful in searching/mapping environments that are difficult to navigate. For example, a collapsed building or a pipe/drainage system.

[via BotJunkie]

[Image captured from video]

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Claymation and Comics 2009

I've enjoyed following the progress of this Claymation and Comic summer camp. Some good links to resources. Some great pictures. Lots of ideas if you are planning on doing something like this in your own classroom.

Wish I could remember how I discovered this? I had it set up in my RSS feed and it just started popping up this month. I don't remember putting it there. Must have been a late-nite find.

Anyway, worth a look if you are into this kind of thing.

[Image: Captured from]

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

StopMotion: Deadline

Yet another example of stop motion animation. This was a senior project at Savannah College of Art and Design for Bang-yao Liu. Below is also embedded a "making of" video. Enjoy.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Capturing sound energy

In a sci-fi story I once read, their was a carthat was almost totally silent. The characters in the story believed sound was reflective of bad design. Any noise from a device, like a car, represented poor components and lost energy. Don't know if that is a true engineering concept or not, but I've always remembered that silent car. (If anybody remembers the name of this story, shoot me a note.)

This award winner from the 2008 International Design Competition got me thinking about noise. The SONEA is a device that captures sound and turns it into energy. Pretty much the opposite of what a microphone does. Place a bunch of these along a busy highway, a train station, a crashing surf.......a high school gymnasium, and you could gather some of that wasted noise and feed it back into the electrical grid.

Fascinating concept! I foresee a day when my lectures could power my students iPods. They would beg me to lecture longer......or at least until the charge bar is in the green!

[Image captured from JDF:]

Thursday, July 2, 2009

button design

My web design students love to make buttons for their pages. They often don't put much thought into them, but they like to make them. The prettier. The flashier. All the better.

They hate modifying a button after it's been made. I suspect the same complaint is made by English teachers about getting students to revise/edit their work. The attitude seems to be do it once and it's done. Already done that once. Why do it again?

One of the questions I often ask when I'm looking at a design is "What does this button do?". Too many times I hear, "You click it to find out." (Which means in kid talk....I forget.) I then state that if I have to start clicking buttons just to see what they do, I'm probably going to move on to another web site. I then try to guide the discussion towards what is the best design for a button; an icon, text or both?

Here is a short article that gives the advantages of each choice. The bottom line according to this article: Text and image combination work best.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Tree shaped air conditioner

This air conditioner would be a lot more attractive on the side of my house the the current square box. Won Grand Prize in the 2005 International Design Competition in Osaka. The designer is Ryuichi Tabu. It is a modified heat exchange type unit. I wasn't able to find any updated information on Tabu or his design. If anybody knows if he followed up on this design, let me know.

[via] [Image captured from JDF:]