Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Catching Sun in a Jar

It's damn hot here! 80 degrees at 9am this morning, and we're expecting highs from 110 to 115. These are the days when I long for Seattle's moderate weather (although I hear it's hot there too this week). People are staying indoors lately - let's pray that the power stays on...

I've been doing some Instructables projects lately. If you're a tinkerer then you're familiar with Make magazine, and the instructables site - a shrine to all things DIY. I made a couple of "Sun Jars" built with off the shelf solar LED yard lights, some old school canning jars, and frosted glass spray paint. Lifehacker had a more simple version of Make's sun jar, so I used their instructions. These are pretty easy to build, the only step that I changed was to glue the solar cell and the electronics into the lid of the jar using some silicone based caulking. Here are some pics:

They work great! If, like me, you believe the white light that LEDs provide is too harsh you can simply tape a clear bottle label over them (we used a Aquafina bottle label for the blue one pictured above). The kids have been using them as night lights in their rooms. We just set them out in the sun for the day and they last all night.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Google Moon Rocks My Inner Spaceman... Man...

It's the 40th anniversary of our nations first steps on the moon! I was four years old when this occurred, but I can still remember it vividly. Thanks Mom, for plopping us kids down in front of our TV to watch this historic event.

Google Earth 5.0 now has the ability to explore our tiny orbiting friend... just select "Moon" from the top toolbar and you're set to explore. There's archival pictures and footage, 3D models of the landing craft, tours, and much much more. The Apollo 11 mission really spurred my interest in all things space. It's cool to go back to it in such an interactive way. Landing on the moon was a pivotal moments in American history, so I'm happy that NASA and Google paired up to capture these missions. The moon is incredibly relevant to modern society, culture, art and literature. Take a moment this week to stare at it from your yard - still fascinating.

Somewhere Major Matt Mason is slowly deteriorating in his rubberized flight suit, sipping a martini and toasting the Apollo 11 crew...

Friday, July 10, 2009

Happy Birthday, Tesla

Do you like remote controls, radio, wireless devices, and motors? Do you like having outlets throughout your house? Then you need to thank Nikola Tesla - America's most under appreciated inventor. Today is his birthday, and you wouldn't know it except for the custom logo on Google's search page. Tesla was equal parts Bill Gates, DaVinci, Nostradamus, and Dr. Frankenstein. The more you know about him the more unreal he gets - as if he was a visitor from the future who brought back enabling technology to the early part of the twentieth century. He was an early pioneer in the field of electricity and magnetism. Here are just a few of his inventions:
  • Alternating Current (AC power systems) - in the war of currents, Tesla's AC power which was backed by George Westinghouse beat out Thomas Edison's Direct Current or DC system as the backbone for power distribution in the U.S.
  • Polyphase Power Distribution (a.k.a. 3 phase power). Look up at most power poles and you'll see three lines.
  • AC Motors - which is also a polyphase system. Induction motors have an electromagnetic case which creates a rotating output shaft. These motors were one of the key ingredients of the Second Industrial Revolution in the United States.
  • Radio Transmission - Marconi gets the credit for inventing radio, but Tesla was the true inventor.
Edison spent a lot of time and energy trying to discredit Tesla's ideas and inventions. Matter of fact, Tesla worked for Edison initially but their relationship soured when Tesla was not paid for his work as they originally agreed. Tesla was a genius, but unlike Edison, he was a poor business man. Later in his life, Tesla dedicated his work towards wireless power transmission. As part of these studies he discovered that the resonant frequency of the Earth was approximately 8 Hertz (Hz). In the 1950s, researchers confirmed that the resonant frequency of the Earth's ionospheric cavity was in this range (later named the Schumann resonance). People thought he lost his mind at the end, where he lived penniless in a hotel and had a fondness for birds. He even claimed that he had the ability to create a death ray - which raised the eyebrows of U.S. military personnel leading up to World War II.

Regardless of his far reaching ideas, Tesla was one of the greatest inventors to ever grace our planet. It's my hope that other people learn and appreciate this great man. If you ever get the chance check out PBS' excellent documentary titled, "Tesla - Master of Lightning" you'll be amazed at the breadth and depth of his genius. PBS also has a companion web site which covers his life. I was happy to hear recently that there is a movement afoot to save his Wardenclyffe lab site in Long Island. Spread the word about this talented American!

Sunday, July 5, 2009

The Gods Were Angry

This is the "Tiki Mon". Last night in the middle of our fireworks show he decided to be difficult, tipped over and shot his guts in the wrong direction - namely toward the spectators. Luckily no one was injured, but it made for a memorable fourth. I haven't seen Christy move that fast since she found a raccoon lurking in the backyard.

We got the last laugh, though... We ended up using his carcass as a launch pad for several other fireworks. I threw in some strobes and bloomers, and his eyes lit up with fire! I am a little nervous about retribution. This is kind of like that Brady Bunch episode from Hawaii where they found the tiki god necklace and were cursed. I'm sure Alice will step in if I'm in danger...

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Fourth of July, Yo!

I like this holiday. Any day that combines parades, old cars, fighter planes, a lot of noise and explosives is my kind of day. Although I'm definitely a cynic, my heart swells a little on the fourth and I'm really proud to be an American. Christy's still in recovery mode, so the kids and I attended the Ashland Fourth of July parade this morning. We're just spectators this year (literacy will not be celebrated with our local library). Ashland's a small town, so this parade is a big deal around here.

I like to do fireworks (for the kids, of course - wink, wink) and we're having the Inadacheks over tonight for a little BBQ and show. It's not likely to match last year's Tiki Punch Festival and Yard Fire, but I've got some tricks up my sleeve. Happy fourth everybody!

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Live Hospital Blogging!

11:23am - I'm hanging out with Christy at Ashland Community Hospital - she's having carpal tunnel surgery today. I'm blogging from my iPhone. Texting is hard for an old guy like me! Anyways, Christy is excited for the procedure. Typing is next to breathing for her, so today should bring some relief. I'm actually looking forward to spending some time with her around the house during recovery. More news as it happens!

8:42pm - A long day. Christy's surgery went well although she won't admit that the painkillers are affecting her at all (methinks otherwise). The sad truth is that she has to hold her hand above her heart for the next week. When she sleeps we tape two pillows around her forearm so that the hand stays up in the air. Its like she's constantly trying to get the attention of a waiter... and I am her Jeeve's.