Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Clean the fan

Today's Wednesday fun comes from what seems like a terribly mundane task: cleaning the computer fan. Unfortunately, it seems that cleaning a laptop fan can be a bit of an epic quest...

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Smartphone stunt: random acts of public music

This was originally posted on my personal blog but Gail suggested it'd make a good Wednesday fun post, so here you go!

Techcrunch has this great little post, Just Four Dudes Jamming On The Subway — With Their iPhones As Instruments.

You know what I find most astounding about it? Not so much that they're using phones (I've been to multiple concerts which used phones as instruments [1]), but that they conceived this stunt, brought the equipment on a train, and were able to just do this. No one called security, freaking out when they brought speakers on board, even though the person quoted there said that was her first thought.

Here's the video:

Amazing what a real band can do with what's on hand, eh? Now I want to perform random acts of music using all that computing power that fits in my pocket. The phone's a whole lot easier to carry around than my guitar, and a lot easier on my fingertips... Anyone want to work on some tunes?

[1] My personal favourite was Danny Michel at Westfest a few years back. He performs by himself using a loopback device and often doesn't make much deal of it (in fact, I've been with folk who didn't notice) but for one song he laid down the intro using the beeps of an older cell phone, and worked that into the mix that was repeating throughout. It fit incredibly well with the fact that he was singing a song heavy with nostalgia ("In Full Effect").

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Bacteria in a petri dish

The recent (excellent) Green Energy Symposium put together by the Sustainable and Renewable Energy Engineering Society of Carleton University got me wondering about the issue of sustainability. Everyone has heard this buzz word by now. Sustainable energy is generally being taken to mean an environmentally benign renewable energy source capable of satisfying energy demands of the entire world population now and in the future. If you have ever been to any green energy talks you have certainly seen the graph of standard of living vs energy consumption

and the increase in energy consumption worldwide over the the past couple of centuries

Both undoubtedly seem to imply that to live well more energy is needed. Here is where the awful truth comes out that we don't really have a large enough supply of the conventional energy sources left to sustain our standard of living much longer and especially to improve it in the developing countries. And the general theme of any such green talk will surely be that of tightening our energy belts and thinking hard about alternative energy sources like wind and solar. Though the is no simple answer, if we conserve energy and learn to rely on solar power we are sure to arrive at a sustainable solution, right?

(The theme of energy conservation always revolves around the need for us to change our mentality and behaviour when it comes to energy use. We have to change the way we think! Communism tried and failed at restructuring the human mind, so why should the sustainable movement succeed?)

Certainly there is some room for power usage improvement, but is Iceland really that energy-greedy or is it just cold? And have we really been getting increasingly power-hungry since the industrial revolution or are there simply more of us now? For some reason no one seems to ever show the population growth data to go with the energy consumption graph. And the world population exploded after world war II just as the power consumption did. Could there be a connection?

People have certainly gotten crafty at exploiting the Earth to the max, making the most of the available resources such that an ever increasing population can be sustained. Thus if we include solar and wind and biomass into our energy arsenal we are bound to push the envelope even further. But when the population doubles again will that be enough? Ultimately, we are not that different from bacteria in a petri dish. No matter how far we can push our resource envelope, we will eventually hit the resource ceiling and the population will level off in the stationary phase where the birth rate equals the death rate.

So perhaps it's not our resource management that's not sustainable. Perhaps it our population growth?

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Peggy Seeger - I'm gonna be an engineer

Sometimes, listening to an old feminist anthem makes me feel like we've come so far. Even if there's still some things I'd like to see fixed (see the end of the song) it's kind of neat to think that many young women won't ever be told that they can't or shouldn't be an engineer. So that's why I think this video is perfectly good for a little Wednesday video fun!

When I was a little girl I wished I was a boy
I tagged along behind the gang and wore my corduroys
Everybody said I only did it to annoy
But I was gonna be an engineer

Momma told me, Can't you be a lady
Your duty is to make me the mother of a pearl
Wait until you're older, dear, and maybe
You'll be glad that you're a girl

You can read the rest of the lyrics here if you're curious.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Amazing fuel sources

I thinks it’s really cool how the search for fuel sources that replace petroleum has evolved in the last decade. There are so many researches to find ways to sustain our ever growing need for energy. Some of these are almost unreal. For example it’s really hard to believe that algae can be good for anything yet research has shown that a lot of oil can be gotten from algae. An article in the IEEE spectrum talks about "Green gold". It talks about using algae as a biofuel in the coming years. An article in the London times talked about a bug that excreted oil.

IEEE spectrum Article

The video shows how algae is used to power a toy car.

Sunday Times article

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Miniature kinetic sculptures (small enough to send by post!)

I love kinetic sculptures. They often blend the open-ended near-ridiculousness of public sculpture with more accessible motion to get even non art-lovers to stop and stare and go "hey, that's pretty cool." Even more fun is when you're allowed to interact with them. So these little card-sized sculptures are pretty amazing, in my books. Check out the video for a little Wednesday fun!

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

CU-WISE talk - Prashant Shukle

Tonight, Prashant Shukle came to give us a talk entitled "Careers in the Geo-spatial World." Here's a few photos from the event:

More here:

CU-WISE talk - Prashant Shukle

CU-WISE talk - Prashant Shukle (1 of 13)CU-WISE talk - Prashant Shukle (2 of 13)CU-WISE talk - Prashant Shukle (3 of 13)CU-WISE talk - Prashant Shukle (4 of 13)CU-WISE talk - Prashant Shukle (5 of 13)CU-WISE talk - Prashant Shukle (6 of 13)
CU-WISE talk - Prashant Shukle (7 of 13)CU-WISE talk - Prashant Shukle (8 of 13)CU-WISE talk - Prashant Shukle (9 of 13)CU-WISE talk - Prashant Shukle (10 of 13)CU-WISE talk - Prashant Shukle (11 of 13)CU-WISE talk - Prashant Shukle (12 of 13)
CU-WISE talk - Prashant Shukle (13 of 13)

And remember that our flickr group contains photos from previous events! Feel free to contribute your own!

Santa's Dirty Socks

CS Unplugged is a series of activities designed to teach computer science without a computer.  I've used them many times for outreach activities and even in an undergraduate course I taught.  The creators have been uploading some great videos relating to computer science topics, and I wanted to share this one:

This original story introduces the idea of a divide-and-conquer algorithm using a narrated picture-book verse about the serious problem of finding a pair of dirty socks that have been accidentally wrapped with a child's present. The idea is that this can be played or read to students, and then can be used as the basis for a follow-up discussion. A set of discussion starter questions is available (­) to encourage students to engage in computational thinking and think about algorithm analysis in the story 1024 presents are searched in 10 steps, and students can be asked to extend this to other cases, and generally think about the implications of having an algorithm with logarithmic complexity.
 Check out all the videos.