Archive for the ‘Read’ Category

X-ray camera for lightning

In Read on March 15, 2011 at 7:24 am

Scientists have known for a while that lightning emits radiation but they haven’t known how, or from where.  To study the phenomenon researchers in Florida built an x-ray camera capable of taking ten million images per second:

Making a camera capable of taking such quick images was an achievement in and of itself, Dwyer emphasized.

“You can’t just go buy a camera and point it at lightning,” he said. “We had to make it.”

Because lightning moves blindingly fast, the camera was required to take ten million images per second.

One challenge in taking such fast pictures is storing the data. To do so, the x-ray detector had to take pictures at a relatively low resolution of 30 pixels, which produced images on a crude, hexagonal grid.

Lightning tower.  Photo courtesty Dustin Hill.

Lightning tower. Photo courtesty Dustin Hill.

Turns out almost all of the radiation is in the tip of the bolt.

Edible giant ants

In Read, View on March 14, 2011 at 7:16 am

Ants are great, but this is gross:

Nutty Bacon-like Taste!
Nutty Bacon-like Taste!

Giant Toasted Leafcutter Ants hold two secrets. One, they are very high in protein and low in saturated fat. Two, they have a very unique taste. And C, they are commonly called (by those in the know): “hormigas culonas.” That roughly translates into “big ass ants” – so named for the size of their abdomen, but also appropriate for today’s slang. Giant Toasted Leafcutter Ants – get ’em now, while the gettin’ is good.

Via:  The Presurfer

Screens under a microscope update

In Read, View on March 8, 2011 at 7:03 am

Last August, Keith Peters took a look at the Kindle and iPad screens under a microscope.  I’m only getting to it now, but a month later when the Kindle 3 came out he gave it the same treatment:


Kindle 2.  Photo by Keith Peters.
Kindle 2. Photo by Keith Peters.
Kindle 3.  Photo by Keith Peters.
Kindle 3. Photo by Keith Peters.

“Pretty easy to see that the K3 is darker and crisper. But to the naked eye, I feel the effect is even more stunning. The screensaver photos themselves are rendered beautifully. I’d still like some new ones, but even as bored as I am with the, the first few times I saw them, I had to stare a while.”

My friend Ryan loves his Kindle, but he found a drawback on a recent plane flight:

“sir please turn off your book for take off.” Never thought I’d hear that. The only downside of a Kindle.

Ants as ecosystem engineers

In Read on March 7, 2011 at 7:25 am

Just a reminder that every day is Monday for an ant.  Work, work, work.  No weekends.

Today’s EDIMA post harkens back to our first ant post, which looked at the ways ants play surprising roles in the larger world around them.

Research at the University of Exeter has begun to describe how ants act as ecosystem engineers:

Through moving of soil by nest building activity and by collecting food they affect the level of nutrients in the soil. This can indirectly impact the local populations of many animal groups, from decomposers such as Collembola, to species much higher up the food chain.

UPDATE:  This just in from my photographer:

Ant farm. Week 2.

Ant farm. Week 2.


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.”

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?

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.

Ants of the Trailhead Colony

In Read on February 14, 2011 at 7:14 am

Happy Valentine’s Day!  It’s probably a bit much to say that ants feel love, but here’s a piece from the New Yorker examining the devotion they nonetheless have for their colony:

The Queen may not have been the leader of this miniature civilization, but she was the fountainhead of all its energies and growth, the key to its success or failure. The metronomic pumping out of fertilized eggs from her twenty ovaries was the heartbeat of the colony. The ultimate purpose of all the workers’ labor—their careful construction of the nest, their readiness to risk their lives in daily searches for food, their suicidal defense of the nest entrance—was that she continue to create more altruistic workers like themselves. One worker, or a thousand workers, could die and the colony would go on, repairing itself as needed. But the failure of the Queen would be fatal.

A quick heads-up: the full story is around 11 printed pages.

Typewriter repairmen

In Read, View on February 4, 2011 at 7:01 am

Wired Raw highlights a unique profession in today’s modern age:

Despite these inefficiencies, there are a few places where typewriters still clack away. New York City police stations, the desks of a few stubborn hangers-on, and, increasingly, the apartments of hip young people who have a fetish for the retro. Mechanical devices with a lot of moving parts, typewriters require maintenance by technicians with specialized knowledge and years of experience. A surprising number of people still make their living meeting that demand.


Berkeley Typewriter co-owner Jesse Banuelos.  Photo by Jon Snyder/

Berkeley Typewriter co-owner Jesse Banuelos. Photo by Jon Snyder/

The piece takes a look at three unique shops located in the San Francisco Bay area.  I know I’ve passed Berkeley Typewriter, which is right down the street from where I’ve stayed with friends at Cal.

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