Digital waves are not stair steps

April 16th, 2014 § 2 comments § permalink

I’ve always understood that a digital representation of an analog wave form looks like this:

Stair step wave formBecause you know, ones and zeros and all that. Well it turns out that the stair step wave form is simply an incorrect representation of a sample. We should actually be using a lollipop graph because there are no values between the points.
Most importantly if you convert that sample back to analog you get the original smooth wave form. I learned this and so much more in a nerdtastic video all about analog to digital conversion the noise it generates and how to use dithering to reduce it. I probably only understood half of what he said and did not expect to finish the full video but I got enough to keep me engaged through the end. You should at least watch the first 8 minutes.

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New Sensor Paves the Way for Night Vision Contact Lenses

April 11th, 2014 § 0 comments § permalink

While we are years away from a shippable product this graphene based night vision sensor is a huge advancement.

Night vision, presently, is a rather clunky technology … To see in the dark, a person dons a set of binocular-shaped goggles strapped to the head. The devices also produce a lot of heat, so they need to be cooled, adding to the overall volume of mechanics required.

Now, researchers from the University of Michigan are close to packing night vision’s clumsiness into technology that fits on your fingertip. They built a super-thin infrared light sensor using graphene — a material that’s a single carbon atom in thickness — that could be stacked on contact lenses or integrated into smart phone cameras for handy night vision.

Should this technology make it all the way to market I suspect night vision will come standard on all devices that have a camera. It may even be included in everything from sunglasses to the peephole on your front door.

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The founding fathers would approve this remix

March 13th, 2014 § 2 comments § permalink

There are a thousand hacking at the branches of evil to one who is striking at the root.

- Henry David Thoreau

Rootstrikers TED Talk remix from Jordan Harrison on Vimeo.

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If the Moon Were Only 1 Pixel – A tediously accurate map of the solar system

March 5th, 2014 § 0 comments § permalink

A fun way to put our solar system in perspective. While many such things focus how tiny our planet is compared to other bodies in the universe this page focuses more on the space between heavenly bodies. Be sure to read the blurbs between planets for an added sense of scale and a little humor.

Warning, not for the faint of horizontal scrolling.

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Space Station Instrument Will Be the Coldest Thing in the Universe

February 25th, 2014 § 0 comments § permalink

It’s impossible to know what kind of impact this will have on physics and ultimately technology, but the potential is huge. What we do know, however, is that this Cold Atom Laboratory is pretty freaking amazing.

In 2016, a new instrument due to be added to the ISS — NASA’s Cold Atom Laboratory — will become the coldest location in the known universe. The instrument is capable of achieving a temperature of 100 Pico-kelvin, or one ten-billionth of a degree above absolute zero. For perspective, the average temperature of space is a balmy 2.7 Kelvin, or -454.81 degrees Fahrenheit.

Back in 1995 researchers discovered that if you combine a few million rubidium-87 atoms and cool them to near zero kelvin they will form into a single wave of matter. Known as a Bose–Einstein condensate this is essential quantum phenomena happening at the macroscopic scale. The wave patterns generated by the CAL will be about as thick as a human hair; with that a creature of quantum physics will have entered the observable realm.

More from NASA in this video:

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Why you could soon be buying your electricity from Elon Musk

February 25th, 2014 § 0 comments § permalink

Having a fleet of electric cars plugged into the power grid is tremendously valuable. Power plants make up for their inability to store energy by ramping up their output at peak usage hours. Since wind and solar plants don’t have that luxury they are left at a disadvantage to coal and gas power plants. If, however, we stick a large battery in every driveway and hook it up to the gird we can level the playing field by drawing power from the idle cars during peak hours and charging them back up during off peak.

John McDuling over at Quartz points out that Tesla is poised to do just that.

Tesla doesn’t just make high-performance automobiles, Morgan Stanley analyst Adam Jonas argues, it’s also producing a mobile fleet of electrical grid storage.  The 40,000 Tesla vehicles already on the US roads contain about 3.3 gigawatts of storage capacity, roughly 0.3% of US electrical production capacity and 14% of US grid storage, he estimates. 

I’m not sure if it’s impressive for Tesla or pitiful for our electrical grid that the nascent car maker already makes up 14% of the electrical grid. Either way the potential upside for renewable energy is huge.

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When movies are made for VR instead of a silver screen, everything changes

February 19th, 2014 § 0 comments § permalink

Interesting article over at Fast Company talking about what happens when Virtual Reality moves beyond a video game pipe dream and becomes so common place that movies are made specifically for VR.

Everything you learned in Film 101 — the frame, the cut — is essentially useless.

Not only will this change the way movies are made on a technical level but on an emotional level as well. We will no longer be watching events unfold from afar and instead experience them as a bystander; if shot in the first person you will be the character. And that is, of course, just the tip of the iceberg. Before we had the Internet or the iPhone it was difficult to imagine how things would change and I expect it will be the same for VR movies. Once the future has arrived it always seems obvious, inevitable even, but trying to read the tea leaves and predict what the future holds and when it will happen is fraught with error.

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World’s largest solar plant in pictures

February 13th, 2014 § 2 comments § permalink

The Verge has a nice collection of photos of the Ivanpah solar plant that officially started operations today in the Mojave Desert. Ironic that the latest high-tech power plant is really just a steam engine; technology that has been around for over 2000 years.

The mirrors on the ground reflect sunlight onto the tower to heat water which turns to steam and powers a turbine.

High tech steam engine: the mirrors on the ground reflect sunlight onto the tower to heat water which turns to steam and powers a turbine.

The rest of the photos can be found here.

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Saturn As You’ve Never Seen It Before

October 20th, 2013 § 0 comments § permalink

When I first saw this amazing picture of Saturn my nerd brain screamed “CG! FAKE-ZORZZZ!” and this was probably because my rational brain was still scrambling to pick its jaw up off the ground.

Lest you think I’m alone in being awestruck by this image lets turn to the preeminent astronomy blogger Phil Plait who is covering this Incredible mosaic by Gordon Ugarkovic over at Slate.

Saturn is so beautiful that it would be next to impossible to pick what would be my favorite picture of it ever.

Impossible until now.

Saturn seen from

I highly recommend reading Phil’s entire post as he highlights some of the more fascinating aspects of this photo. It’s worth zooming in to check out the hexagonal storm at Saturn’s north pole as well as the dark size of Saturn that is being lit up by sunlight reflected off the rings. Like moonlight but 1000 times cooler.

It’s also worth noting that while this image was taken by Nasa’s Cassini spacecraft it was a Croatian “amateur” astronomer named Gordon Ugarkovic that took the time to splice a couple dozen pictures together to make this breathtaking image. Then he posted it to a forum with a short and unassuming message.

On October 10th, Cassini wide-angle camera captured a set of 12 RGB footprints covering Saturn and the rings. Here’s an attempt at compositing that data into a mosaic. It’s not geometrically accurate, but I tried coaxing the data into at least looking nice.

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Winners of the Red Bull Illume Photo Contest 2013

August 30th, 2013 § 0 comments § permalink

The Red Bull Illume Photo Contest has been a fantastic source for sports photography for the past couple years and 2013 is the best I’ve seen yet. There is no way I can pick a favorite so I’ll just a few here and insist that you check out the selection put together by the talented folks at The Atlantic’s In Focus photo blog.

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