Archive for February, 2011|Monthly archive page

Ant farm update

In View on February 28, 2011 at 11:16 pm

I got the ants for my Christmas ant farm in the mail last week.  Here’s their first week’s progress:

Ant farm.  Week 1.

Ant farm. Week 1.

The blue-green stuff is gel that serves as both their food source and their habitat.  Sort of like a gingerbread house.  I made the three starter holes, and they’ve begun expanding the right one.

It took them a while to get cranking, mostly because the temperature has been sub-optimal.  If it’s too cold they get lethargic.

Hot air balloon pilot

In View on February 25, 2011 at 7:08 am

This is sort of like Goodyear Blimp pilots, but on a smaller scale.  Brooke Owen is a chief hot air balloon pilot for Rainbow Ryders, a balloon company in New Mexico.


Brooke Owen with his gear.  Photo by Popular Mechanics.

Brooke Owen with his gear. Photo by Popular Mechanics.

What Owen enjoys most are the tranquility and unpredictability of the journey. “Wherever the wind blows, that’s where you’re going,” he says.

Click through for the info on the gear shown in the picture, including a good ol’ Garmin GPS that Owen uses to help with navigation.

Johnny Knoxville does Detroit

In Read, Watch on February 24, 2011 at 9:43 am

Palladium is a French boot manufacturing company.  Johnny Knoxville is best known for his MTV series “Jackass” and its subsequent movie iterations.

Put this unlikely pair together and you get a remarkable 3-part documentary on the current state of Detroit.  From the Palladium website:

Once the fourth-largest metropolis in America—some have called it the Death of the American Dream. Today, the young people of the Motor City are making it their own DIY paradise where rules are second to passion and creativity. They are creating the new Detroit on their own terms, against real adversity. We put our boots on and went exploring.

Part 1 of Detroit Lives is embedded here above.  You can find Parts 2 and 3 on the project’s website.

The documentary is unexpected in a few ways.  Johnny Knoxville doing something serious?  Detroit isn’t a complete disaster?  A city actually going with lack of regulation and/or structure to help with rebirth?

One of the most grabbing things for me was at 3:00 in Part 1 (above).  Ko Melina is a Detroit musician who describes an instance of “pick-and-choose journalism” about Cass Tech high school.  The news story talked about the old dilapidated abandoned school campus without mentioning the brand new campus right across the street.  The video is striking.

It is good to see evidence of the city’s rebirth, even in the face of an American public and a press that only want to tell one story.

Via:  GOOD

UDPATE:  Another noteworthy Detroit video would be the Superbowl commercial for the Chrysler 200.  (Watch here.)  After the game, Fast Company did a piece talking about the impact the ad had on the city:

But a Super Bowl ad from the company that is now 25%-owned by foreigners has the whole city buzzing today. Chrysler, which is run by Fiat chief Sergio Marchionne, delivered a rousing two-minute spot last night that summed up the hopes of everyone who believes the city can come back strong. The ad made the front page of today’s Detroit Free Press, with the headline “Motor City Pride.”

LAX landing cockpit view

In Watch on February 23, 2011 at 7:29 am

This is a gorgeous video of the approach into LAX from the cockpit on a southbound flight:

I just flew this again on Monday, and the thing that always surprises me is how low you are already when you pass downtown/the 110 freeway/USC on the last little leg before landing.  In the video this is right at 2:00 when the screen flashes “Watts.”  That’s the 110 below at that point, and if you’re sitting on the right side of the plane you have a great view of downtown.


Construction of the Empire State Building

In Watch on February 22, 2011 at 7:19 am

Ken Burns has a younger brother named Ric who also makes documentaries.  His film New York: A Documentary Film aired on PBS from 1999 to 2003, and includes a segment on the building of the Empire State Building:

This video is Part 1 of 3 that cover the Empire State Building. has the other two parts embedded in one easy-to-view page here.  Jason Kottke also calls out some highlights, including this one:

At the peak of construction, the workers were adding 4-5 stories a week. During one 22-day stretch, 22 new floors were erected. From start to finish, the entire building took an astonishing 13 months to build, about the same amount of time recently taken by the MTA to fix the right side of the stairs of the Christopher Street subway station entrance.

Two years ago when they were building the Ritz Tower in downtown L.A., there was a stretch where they were putting up a floor every five days.  I remember that seeming like a screaming pace.  These guys were going 4-5 per week!?

Army ant pothole patching

In Read on February 21, 2011 at 7:28 am

Researchers at the University of Bristol have discovered that some species of ants will increase the efficiency of their pathways by using their bodies to plug holes or smooth out uneven terrain:

Certain workers stretch their bodies over gaps in the forest floor, allowing their food-carrying sisters to march over them.The ants carefully size-match to the holes that they plug. [Researchers] Powell and Franks stuck planks with different sizes of hole in the path of the ant column, and found perfect matches between ant and hole.

By smoothing the trail home, they ensure that other workers can return food to the colony as fast as possible.


Army ant plugging a hole in the road.
Army ant plugging a hole in the road.

The article notes that these specialist ants improve the performance of the colony as a whole even though they are not directly carrying food or other supplies.

White holes in the kitchen sink

In Read on February 18, 2011 at 7:23 am

Scientist Gil Jannes recently demonstrated that white holes exist directly below your kitchen tap:

Hydraulic jump with a mach cone.

Hydraulic jump with a mach cone.

Turn on your kitchen tap and the steady stream of water will spread out into a thin circular disc when it hits the sink. This disc has an unusual property: it is surrounded by a circular “lip”, where the height of the water changes suddenly.

This so-called hydraulic jump has puzzled physicists for at least a hundred years (John Strutt, otherwise known as Lord Rayleigh, published the first mathematical description of the phenomenon in 1914). These kinds of hydrodynamic problems are notoriously difficult to tackle.

In recent years, the study of hydraulic jumps has intensified. That’s because various physicists have pointed out that hydraulic jumps are examples of much more exotic objects: white holes, the time-reversed equivalent of black holes. (A white hole is a region that can emit waves and particles but which waves and particles cannot enter.)

This article has a bunch of things I didn’t know existed… the opposite of a black hole?  a hydraulic jump?  a mach cone?

Superhydrophobic carbon nanotube array

In Watch on February 17, 2011 at 7:23 am

Via Popular Science, here is a video from two researchers at Cal Tech.  It shows water droplets bouncing off a surface made of carbon nanotubes:

The surface is superhydrophobic, which is to say that it repels water to an extreme degree.  From the PopSci page:

Hydrophobic materials have all kinds of practical applications, from creating surfaces that never have to be cleaned to making supertankers and container ships glide more efficiently through the water.

Wildfire pilots

In Read on February 16, 2011 at 7:03 am

During southern California’s 2009 wildfire season, Popular Mechanics did a profile on the pilots who fly the tanker planes used to aid firefighting efforts:

Their mission: Stop the fire’s advance by laying down lines of retardant. The flying is aggressive and dangerous–since 1958 more than 130 crew members in large tankers have died. Until recently, aerial firefighting was the last vestige of a seat-of-your-pants aviation culture of tinkerers and pilots who ruled wildfire attacks for 50 years.

The flying, says [pilot Joe] Satrapa, was always “right on the edge.” He’s tall and broad-chested, 66, with a ruddy face, a gray mustache and 17 years of tanker flying since retiring from the Navy in 1991. “No two drops are the same. You’re close to the ground; you’re looking out for trees and poles. You’ve got wind shears and crosswinds and convection columns that can flip you right on your back, and smoke and pieces of ember the size of grapefruits. You’ve gotta plan your escape route every time.”

There’s lots of history and detail at the link, including a video from the cockpit of an air tanker.

Macro photos of insects

In View on February 15, 2011 at 7:23 am

Macro photography is ultra-close-up photography of things that are very small.  Here are some macro photos of insects by Dutch photographer Leon Baas:

Ladybug.  Photo by Leon Baas.

Ladybug. Photo by Leon Baas.

Ant. Photo by Leon Baas.

Ant. Photo by Leon Baas.

Telegraph has a gallery of more images, as well as descriptions and some comments from Baas.  “The shot of the flying ladybug [above] was a once in a lifetime photograph,” he says.  “I am very happy with it and do not think it will ever happen again.”

You can also see more at Baas’s personal website.

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