Archive for January, 2010

Find Your Blind Spot

Thursday, January 28th, 2010

Here’s a cool illustration from Optical Illusions – Planet Perplex.

Our eyes have a weakness – a blind spot, so to speak.  The “optic nerve” displaces the light sensitive cells at a certain spot in the back of your eye.  Wikipedia summarizes it thus:

The optic disc or optic nerve head is the location where ganglion cell axons exit the eye to form the optic nerve. There are no light sensitive rods or cones to respond to a light stimulus at this point. This causes a break in the visual field called “the blind spot” or the “physiological blind spot”. The optic nerve head in a normal human eye carries from 1 to 1.2 million neurons from the eye towards the brain.

Planet Perplex has a neat demonstration of the blind spot (and a lot of other cool stuff):

Let me know in the comments if this works for you!


Find your blind spot

So I just said your eyes are not perfect. Allow me to demonstrate. Look at the image below. Since the squirrel doesn’t trust the all-too-friendly smile of the boy, he wants to get out. Let’s make him disappear ! Close your left eye, then look at the boy (probably with your right eye). Slowly decrease (or increase) the distance to the screen until … the squirrel is gone ! Blind spot

Whoa ! Seems you DO have a blind spot, and it’s large, too ! There is a certain spot in the back of your eye where you can’t see. It’s where the optical nerves (“wiring and cables”) enter the eye.
This is also a brain illusion. Think about this : do you see a huge floating gap everywhere you look ? No ? But you just learned you have a blind spot so … your mind just guesses what should be there and shows it to you !

 Your mind “guesses what should be there”, but it also blends the information from both eyes…


Obama sings ‘Tax Man’

Wednesday, January 27th, 2010

This guy is an editing genius.
Obama sings the Beatles’ “Tax Man”

Via I Hate The Media.

The Stand-up Economist

Tuesday, January 26th, 2010

I may not be ahem completely normal, but I really enjoyed this video.

Yoram Bauman, the stand-up economist translates Mankiw’s ten principles of economics into English.


“Microeconomists are people who are wrong about specific things.  Macroeconomists are wrong about things in general”

If you liked that one, you might also enjoy this one.

My favorite line: “One of the challenges of being an economics comedian is that it’s very difficult to find places to practice.”  No kidding.
At about 3:30, he compares the current economy to a hamster.

On this topic, I highly recommend several economics books I scored when my wife got them from the library.  All make excellent in-the-car listening.  No really.

I never managed to take Econ in college.Basic Economics was clear, concise, well read (in audio), and fascinating.
The Housing Boom and Bust The Housing Boom and Bust.

More on economics, but using the 2009 housing bust as a framework.  Again, really interesting.

Applied Economcs: Thinking Beyond Stage One

I’m cheating to put this one up because I haven’t finished it yet.  I listened to parts of several CDs of the audio version, and so far it sounds just as riveting as the others.

It should be required reading for all voters.

The Artist’s Sketch

Tuesday, January 26th, 2010

I got this story today from GCFL, who got it from ArcaMax Jokes.

picasso.jpgArtist Pablo Picasso surprised a burglar at work in his new chateau. The intruder got away, but Picasso told the police he could do a rough sketch of what he looked like. On the basis of his drawing, the police arrested a mother superior, the minister of finance, a washing machine, and the Eiffel tower.

Rubens Tube – “Still Alive”

Friday, January 15th, 2010

still-alive.PNG “A Rubens Tube is a classic physics demonstration. The device is simply a tube with a source of propane on one side, a speaker on the other, and a bunch of holes along the length. When the speaker outputs certain tones, the sound waves bouncing around the inside of the tube set up standing waves with areas of high and low pressure. The higher pressure areas force propane out faster and makes a larger flame.”

This is a video of a Rubens Tube in action, playing the theme from a very cool computer game (now available in flash).

Watch the Quotes

Thursday, January 14th, 2010

I’m reading A Mathematician Reads the Newspaper, by John Allen Paulos.

I’ll write something more on the actual book later.  Right now I have to comment on one of his quotations.  Paulos quotes Thomas Jefferson as saying

“Were it left to me to decide whether we should  have a government without newspapers, or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate to choose the latter.”

This statement is made in a chapter in favor on newspapers in general.  However, I believe Jefferson’s quote is more about government than it is about newspapers, as he also said:

“The man who reads nothing at all is better educated than the man who reads nothing but newspapers.”

Quotations add some spice to writing, but you have to take them with a grain of salt, as they are generally used without context.

Deliberately creating worry

Monday, January 11th, 2010

 I found a blog on Architecture.  It’s a really interesting colossal time-sink.  I bookmarked the site years ago because of an article about park benches designed primarily to keep vagrants from sleeping on them.  This is even creepier.

Design with Intent | Deliberately creating worry
One of the cafés in an international European airport was often full. The problem was that people sat nursing their coffees for a long time as they waited for their planes to depart. The café asked itself: How can we encourage our customers to vacate the tables more quickly?

Their first ideas were probably along the lines of uncomfortable chairs, a seat charge, clear the tables immediately and so forth. However, the idea they finally decided upon was this: to turn off the flight monitors in the café! This made people worry about missing their flights, which led to them looking for monitors that worked, thus leaving empty tables. When the café had enough empty tables, the flight monitors suddenly started working again to attract new customers.

I think turning the monitors back on is the icing on the creepy-cake.

An ambitious road trip

Monday, January 11th, 2010

 Would you like to see the Harbin International Ice and Snow Festival?

One of my coworkers got driving directions from Google (click the link to see).

Check out the driving directions Google Maps provides to get to the Harbin International Ice and Snow festival. If you decide to go make sure you’re ready for turns 21, 37, and 97. Oh, and take money for the tolls.

How To Remove a Stuck Light Bulb

Friday, January 8th, 2010

I have a bulb that won’t come out.  To make it worse, it’s in a fixture over the stairs and I need a special ladder to get any leverage.

Lot’s of people have this problem, and you can find Many solutions.

Unfortunately, most of these solutions are about getting  more leverage on the bulb (I had enough leverage on the bulb to break the fixture, thanks) and many talk about what to do if the bulb breaks.

I ended up breaking the bulb, and using a needle nose pliers to mangle, then extract many small bits of lightbulb base.
Here’s my lesson.  Maybe somebody will find it.
If you have to break the bulb on purpose, wrap it in duct tape first.

That makes it kinda hard to break,  but it transforms a huge mess into a little gray bag-o-glass.  Neat.

3-D at Home Redux

Thursday, January 7th, 2010

I jumped the gun with the last post.  It appears that 3D got lots of attention at the recent Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.  3-D in the home has been possible for a few years now, and manufacturers are finally ready to test the market.

Of course, 3-D television is no secret, so if one manufacturer is going to make a 3-D set, they are all going to try.   But what will we watch?

According to a MSNBC article, 3-D gets ready for its close-up,

  • ESPN and Discovery plan to launch 3-D networks this year.
  • DirectTV plans to start America’s first 3-D HDTV channel.
  • The NFL has been experimenting with 3-D coverage.
  • Blu-ray Disc Association has approved a technical standard for 3-D Blu-ray.
  • Several manufacturers are working on a way to convert 2-D programming to 3-D on the fly.

And it’s not just for movies and television programming – video games want a piece of the action too.  Acer released a 3-D gaming laptop several months ago.

3M has a 3-D optical film to offer “true stereoscopic 3-D viewing” without the need for glasses.  This is supposed to give you a 3-D experience on your cell phone, gameboy, or iPod.

Panasonic has announced the “World’s first integrated twin-lens Full HD 3D camcorder“.

stereo camcorder

And what about the glasses?

Most of the new TVs use special glasses to produce the 3-D effect.  It is necessary to deliver distinct images to each eye. This generally means glasses,though the quality has improved.

Tim Alessi, director of product development for LG Electronics USA, says “We use the ‘active (shutter) type,’ which alternately shut on and off the left and right eye in sync with the picture,” he said. “That’s how it splits up the image so that’s how you get the 3-D effect.”

This particular technology has existed for at least two decade in research labs.

“There are other types of glasses, and manufacturers will vary on which they choose to work with their sets. Costs of the glasses range from under $1 apiece for some polarized lenses to more than $100 for those by XpanD, a company whose glasses incorporate battery-powered shutters.”
TV makers ready to test depths of market for 3-D is less enthusiastic.

This is supposedly the year 3-D television becomes the hot new thing: Updated sets and disc players are coming out, and 3-D cable channels are in the works. But it’s not clear the idea will reach out and grab mainstream viewers.

Besides having to spring for expensive new TVs, people would have to put on awkward special glasses to give the picture the illusion of depth. That limits 3-D viewing to times when viewers can sit down and focus on a movie or show.

It’s one thing to put on 3-D glasses in a theater, but “at home, you’re with other people in the living room, running to the kitchen and doing other things,” said Greg Ireland of the research firm IDC.

Your glasses will limit how you watch TV (though I’m sure you will always have the option of viewing in 2-D mode).

You’ll have to buy a pair of glasses for as many people as you expect to attend your Super Bowl party.

… and watch out for the “3-D ready” sets (meaning you have to buy separate devices and glasses for 3-D viewing.