Saturday, December 1, 2012

Where does the Mass of a Tree come from?

This was a recent interesting topic of conversation.  In addition, the answer led to talk about nano-technology.  The wood of a tree is comprised mostly of carbon -- with the cellulose of wood also containing some hydrogen, oxygen, and nitrogen.  The mass of wood also includes water.

Photosynthesis: Transforms Carbon Dioxide into Oxygen and a bit of Water -- AND CARBON!   

The answer is actually really simple: Carbon.  Photosynthesis is the act of converting CO2 from the air into O2 and a bit of H2O. 
It turns out that if you ask new Harvard graduates this question, the vast majority of them answer some variant of "It comes from the soil".  When people think of photosynthesis, they don't think about the carbon that's left behind.  They'll usually be puzzled as they answer, because in their hearts, they realize that "the soil" doesn't actually work as an answer, but they can't quite put all the pieces together.
If you ask 7th graders the same question right after they've finished their photosynthesis unit, they end up coming up with a variant of the same answer.  Or they say it comes from the water the plant absorbs. Soil and water have mass, and that seems to the determining factor in their answer.
Read more here:

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Raspberry Pi -- Teaching Kids to Hack / Program

Here are some notes:

Some highlights of the article:  
First, let me go on the record as saying I'm a huge Raspberry Pi fan. If you haven't heard already, a Raspberry Pi is a small but complete $35 computer (or $25 without Ethernet). It's a complete 700 MHz ARM CPU with a GPU and 256MB of RAM. It has two USB ports, Ethernet, Audio as well as video out over RCA (Composite) or HDMI at 1080p. It uses an SD Card for its hard drive and takes 5V at >700mA of power over a mini USB.

It's a complete Linux machine - It really is. You don't need to use it for anything they expect you to use it for. If you want to install Fedora Remix and make it a little NAS with an attached USB hard drive, feel free. You can make it a tiny web server or use it as a little VNC client while you VNC into your work at 1080p from your 42" HDTV. 

  • It is great for learning to code - It not only runs Python but it will run anything that a tiny ARM machine can run, even Mono and .NET! The Raspian default distro of Linux includes Python 2 and Python 3 IDEs and is easy to script.
  • It's a fun educational PC for little kids - With the addition of the GCompris software suite you've got dozens of games and activities that cover everything from math to reading, science to geography.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Mars Discovery?

It looks like NASA's Mars rover Curiosity has discovered something interesting on Mars.  It will take weeks for the data to be checked and re-checked, but here is what Fox reports:

NASA's Mars rover Curiosity has apparently made a discovery "for the history books," but we'll have to wait a few weeks to find out what the new Red Planet find may be, media reports suggest.

The discovery was made by Curiosity's Sample Analysis at Mars instrument, NPR reported Tuesday, Nov. 20. SAM is the rover's onboard chemistry lab, and it's capable of identifying organic compounds — the carbon-containing building blocks of life as we know it.
SAM apparently spotted something interesting in a soil sample Curiosity's huge robotic arm delivered to the instrument recently.

- Curiosity chief scientist John Grotzinger
"This data is gonna be one for the history books," Curiosity chief scientist John Grotzinger, of Caltech in Pasadena, told NPR. "It's looking really good."

Read more:

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Holiday Gift? Muse Magazine

MUSE magazine is one of our favorite educational magazines for children aged 7-15.  Check it out!

Monday, November 19, 2012

The Current Tablet Market

The NY Times had a nice article on the tablet market.  In our own experience, tablets are very useful -- and factors include:

  • The "It" factor:  Apple has built "it" -- and most people love the "it" and "cool" factor.  
  • Size:  Many people love the 7" size of the Amazon Kindle -- and especially how the shorter size fits in your hand!  

  • Price: Very good, name-quality, tablets can be bought from the $150 range up to $700!  
Tablets - Popular & New Arrivals

From the NY Times:

By keeping its tablet prices so high, he said, Apple could lose its place as the biggest tablet seller, just as it did with smartphones when it lost the first-place position to Samsung, which makes less expensive phones using Google’s Android software. The iPad still dominates the market with a 50 percent share, according to third-quarter figures from the research firm IDC, but that is down from 60 percent a year ago. Samsung is in second place with an 18 percent share, Amazon is third with 9 percent, and Asus, which makes Google’s Nexus 7 tablet, is in fourth with 8.6 percent of the market.

Complicating the decision on hardware, different tablets connect to different online stores for apps, music and video. If you have built your music and app collection on Apple devices, an Android tablet may mean starting from scratch, and vice versa.

Read more here:

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Apple TV

The Apple TV is a nice little gadget that helps you to stream content from your iPhones, IPod Touches, and computers (via iTunes).  The Apple TV looks like it will be growing part of Apple's strategy -- of moving into our living rooms!

Here's an excerpt from a good article:

Here are a few numbers for you to toss around in your brain: 1.3 million. 663 million. 2 billion. They're all crucial to what we may be watching unfold.
  • 1.3 million: That's how many Apple TVs the company sold in the last quarter alone. Want a jaw-dropping frame of reference? Apple sold more Apple TVs in the last nine months than it did iMacs and Mac Pros. Combined.
  • 663 million: That's how many dollars in revenue Apple gobbled up in that same quarter from the combined sales of Apple TV, its AirPort and Time Capsule devices, and displays. It's by far the company's lowest-revenue product category.
  • 2 billion: Apple's dollars in revenue—again, just last quarter—from iTunes, App Store, and iBookstore sales, with the odd iPod accessory tossed in. It's the fastest-growing source of cash for Apple behind the iPad. Because it's almost entirely composed of 30% bites out of content sales or in-app purchases, the overhead is practically nonexistent. More bluntly: It's a cash cow.
  • Why would Apple concede a large chunk of that content cash by allowing competitive products into the fold? Because it knows it's chasing bigger game.
    Four million Apple TVs have been purchased in the last nine months. That's with zero promotional effort for a product with no apps and only a handful of partners. 

Read more here:

Another good article on the Apple TV (which has no storage, but instead streams the content from your device or computer via your wireless router to your TV):

Monday, September 10, 2012 Attacked 9/10/12

A malicious flood of network traffic has knocked Internet registrar GoDaddy’s servers offline -- taking with it the site, its email, and thousands, potentially millions of websites registered through one of the Internet’s most popular services.

a DDoS attack involves an overwhelming flood of communication that a server can't keep up with, but it can be orchestrated with as few as 50 computers.

That an Internet service which hosts more than 5 million websites wasn’t protected reveals a surprising truth: The Internet is still startlingly vulnerable to such an attack.

“Anyone can be hacked, the size of the company has no bearing on it all,” Ghosh said.

Twitter user Anonymous Own3r claimed credit for the attack, and was quick to distance himself from the hacking collective that goes by a similar name.

GoDaddy Girl Danica Patrick

Read more:

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Beyond Khan Academy

Many of us have heard about the good work being done at Khan Academy.

Here is another good site (Class-Central) -- that compiles some of the best online courses from MIT, Harvard, Stanford, and more.  These online courses are a great addition (more advance, additional subjects, college level) to the basics reviewed at Khan Academy.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Blade Runner (The Movie)

Blade Runner is one of our favorite movies -- and has been rated by some as one of the best science fiction movies of all-time.  Blade Runner was recently on the Sci Fi channel -- and it reminded us of some interesting facts about the movie.

Blade Runner is much more than your typical science fiction movie.  Based on the book, "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?" -- it is a story about humanity and life -- of science & technology -- and the future of mankind.

There are interesting facts about the movie:

  • The movie is based on the book, by one of the greatest sci-fi authors of all time, Philip K. Dick.  Dick also wrote stories that eventually led to movies such as Total Recall and Minority Report.
  • Casting for Blade Runner was a long process, with many actors considered for the role of Deckard, before Harrison Ford was ultimately chosen.  On the other hand, the chose of Rutger Hauer for Roy Batty was made almost instantaneously by director Ridley Scott.  
  • Hauer's portrayal of Batty was regarded by Philip K. Dick as, "the perfect Batty—cold, Aryan, flawless..." 
Over the years, there has been much talk about different variations of the movie, including:
  • Voiceovers: many debate whether the voiceovers were necessary.  Some feel that it made the deep messages of the movie easier to understand.  Others, including Harrison Ford, argue that it ruins the movie...
  • Director's cut: there are various versions of the movie -- including the original, a director's cut (that includes a unicorn dream sequence), and broadcast versions that reduce violence and nudity.  
There has also been talk about whether or not Deckard himself is a replicant.  Here is a great article on this topic, based on various versions of the screenplay.  

For more on the movie, check out:

There are great messages and quotes from the movie:
  •  "The candle that burns twice as bright burns half as long..."
  • Message: about the importance of every moment; and that we should enjoy these moments.
  • On technology and humanity: that we should try to stay human -- and avoid the cold and impersonal path that technology can lead us...

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Water Bears: These are Real, Microscopic, Beings!

Water bear (Paramacrobiotus craterlaki). Coloured scanning electron micrograph (SEM).

In 2007, a little known creature called a tardigrade became the first animal to survive exposure to space.
It prevailed over sub-zero temperatures, unrelenting solar winds and an oxygen-deprived space vacuum.
Its mission: to help scientists understand more about how this so-called "hardiest animal on Earth" can survive for short periods off it.
Tardigrades join other microscopic organisms selected to be part of a project into extreme survival.

Read more here:

Monday, August 6, 2012

NASA lands on Mars Again!

Check out the videos of NASA's Rover named "Curiosity" -- successfully landing on Mars to start two years of research in search of ingredients for life, such as water, energy, and carbon.  Some good animated videos of the expected landing....

Here's the direct YouTube link:

Another good link:

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Science: New Particle Discovered

Here are some excerpts from a BBC article on a so-called "God" Particle -- that might explain how matter attains mass.

Cern scientists reporting from the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) have claimed the discovery of a new particle consistent with the Higgs boson.

The particle has been the subject of a 45-year hunt to explain how matter attains its mass.

Both of the Higgs boson-hunting experiments at the LHC see a level of certainty in their data worthy of a "discovery".

They claimed that by combining two data sets, they had attained a confidence level just at the "five-sigma" point - about a one-in-3.5 million chance that the signal they see would appear if there were no Higgs particle.

However, a full combination of the CMS data brings that number just back to 4.9 sigma - a one-in-two million chance. 

Read more here:

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Venus: "Transit of Venus"

In case you missed the "Transit of Venus" (which took about 18 minutes for Venus to pass the face of the sun) -- here are some great pictures (credit: and Yahoo News).  This won't happen again for more than 100 years!

Read more here:

Click image to see more photos

Monday, May 7, 2012

"Supermoon" Photos

On May 5th, the moon had its closest approach to the earth as a full moon -- of the year.  This is called a "supermoon."  Here are some beautiful pictures...

A "supermoon" is seen behind the Christ the Redeemer statue in Rio de Janeiro, Sunday, May 6, 2012. A supermoon is the coincidence of a full moon (or a new moon) with the closest approach the moon mak

Photo by Victor Caivano / AP.

See more here:

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Google Drive... Arrives!

At long last, Google Drive is here.  Note, that currently, Google is rolling Google Drive out slowly, for users who are interested.  For Google Gmail users, you can go to:

... and Google will inform you when they are all set for you to install the Google Drive software.

Here's a great comparison between Google Drive and Dropbox, the current leader in cloud syncing.  We love both -- and if you haven't signed up for Dropbox, check it out!

Note that if you have multiple google/gmail accounts, only one Google Drive account may be used on one computer at a time.  (You may disconnect one account to sync another google account -- but it is not recommended that you do this frequently).

Dropbox - Google Drive comparison:

Monday, April 16, 2012

Drive Specs: Hard-Drives -- and Introducing Solid State Drives

When you buy PCs or hard drives, one of the overlooked specs is the speed of data read/writes.  Most often, we see specs on the size of the hard drive (for instance, 500 GBs of space).  However, with increasingly larger file sizes from digital cameras, and high-definition videos, the speed of data access is becoming increasingly important.  

Hard drives come in a range of rotational speed.  The most common speed is 5400-rpm, but 7200-rpm is a popular choice to improve performance.  You'll see a corresponding improvement in transfer speeds if you copy a lot of data -- say HD videos from a full 8 GB memory card -- to your hard drive, so pay attention to these specs.  

If this is an important factor -- you may want to look into Solid State Drives.  These drives have no moving parts, so data transfer speeds are very quick.  Some estimate that the speed is 30 - 100x faster than hard drives!

Speeding Up 

With the very fast paced lifestyle these days, most businesses are time-bound and cannot afford a slowing down in their transactions. This makes speed of HDDs a crucial point in technological purchases. The typical access time for a Flash based SSD is about 35 - 100 micro-seconds, whereas that of a rotating disk is around 5,000 - 10,000 micro-seconds. That makes a Flash-based SSD approximately 100 times faster than a rotating disk. 

This however raises another point - what's the benefit of a high-speed SSD when the entire system cannot support it? The evolution of CPUs in terms of performance has far surpassed the development of the data storage system. The HDD is actually limiting the potential of a computer system when they are not able to keep up with the performance of the other components, particularly the CPU. If an HDD is replaced by a high-speed SSD, the performance would significantly improve.

Read more on SSDs here:

On Flash Drives and SD Cards

Thumb drives and SD cards are slower than HDDs.  They use less battery than an SSD because they don't have as many chips that operate in parallel or a sophisticated controller with RAM caching. And they'll definitely use much less battery than an HDD. But they're also a lot slower for the same reasons. 

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Cloud Computing... As we wait for GDRIVE...

As we wait for Google's GDrive, we have been seeing articles about GDrive being a Dropbox killer.  We LOVE Dropbox as a way of syncing folders and files on multiple computers and the cloud.

We have been using Dropbox for more than a year.  It works great, is easy to set up -- and 2GB of synced space is free.  Check it out:

Always have your stuff when you need it with Dropbox. 2GB account is free!


Microsoft's Skydrive offers 25GB, with 5GB of synced files.  

Thursday, April 5, 2012

A Loaded Laptop (April 2012)

On our blog, we regularly talk about the "sweet spot" in terms of laptop performance vs. price.  In this blog post, we discuss laptops that are loaded with features.  This may come in handy for people performing computer-intensive research or working with large datasets -- where the increased specs would come into play.

  • Second Generation Intel Core i7 (We prefer the quad-core i7's)
  • Note that the i7-2640M is a Dual Core CPU (4064 benchmark rating).  
  • i7-2670QM is a Quad Core CPU (6808 rating)
  • i7-2760QM is Quad Core (7558, $378)
  • i7-2860QM is Quad Core (7977, $693)
  • CPU Links & Benchmarks for common CPUs, thanks to PassMark/  
  • 8GB Ram
  • Windows 7 - 64bit 
  • We prefer a 14" screen for portability and battery life, but we'd also go for 15" depending on the rest of the specs.
  • Hard-drive: most specs call for 5400RPM, and for accessing large files, 7200RPM will be that much faster...  
  • A hot item nowadays is the Solid State Drive (SSD), but it is expensive relative to to Price/GB.  We'll price this laptop with a 256GB SSD.
And what will these goodies cost?
  • $1350-$1500 is a decent price for these specs.  
  • Can also find refurbished laptops for about $1150-$1200 with these specs.
Solid State Drives (SSD)
  • The Solid State Drive is roughly a $500 premium, but for accessing the hard drive faster, the SSD can be 30-100x faster than a regular hard-drive.  

Without the SSD feature, a loaded laptop with the Second Generation i7 chip is starting to fall into our "sweet spot" of laptops (into the $600 range).  A good price for these laptops are usually in the $750-$900 range, but if you shop carefully, you may find some in the $650-$700 range.  Refurbished laptops might be in the $600-$650 range (10%-15% savings).

We expect prices to fall further, with the introduction of the Intel Ivy Bridge chip sets.  

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Intel Ivy Bridge Chips - Launch Date is 4/29/12

From CPU-World:

The original launch date for Ivy Bridge was to be April 8th, but that has had to be adjusted, not least because of surplus stocks of Sandy Bridge wafers that need to be used up. It seems that the 7 series desktop chipsets - Z77, Z75, H77 and B75 - will be available from retailers on April 8, but Ivy Bridge processors will start rolling out 3 weeks later, on April 29.

There are ten i5 and i7 processors due for release on April 29. These include i7-3770, i7-3770K, i7-3770S and i7-3770T from the i7 range. For the i5 range, we will see i5-3570K, i5-3550, i5-3550S, i5-3570T, i5-3450 and i5-3450S processors.

Five weeks later, on June 3, Intel will launch several more i5 processors, as well as the mobile chipsets. The processors to be launched at this stage include i5-3470, i5-3470S, i5-3475S, i5-3570 and i5-3570S. Core i3 and Pentium processors with the new core will not be available until the holiday season.

Read more here:

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Google Gdrive -- coming at last?

The fabled Gdrive might finally be coming out.  Rumors are flying that at long last, Google will finally release its version of a useful cloud computing application.  Dropbox has been growing in popularity; and Apple has released its iCloud.  We look forward to Google's version, which is expected to be released the first week in April.  

According to Om Malik at GigaOm’s sources, we should see the long-awaited Google cloud storage service, Google Drive, next month.

He says that “sources familiar with the company’s plans” have marked the first week of April as the release period. Google Drive (or possibly GDrive) has been rumored for over half a decade, but has yet to materialize while services like Dropbox and Apple’s iCloud have flourished. A Google cloud storage service wouldn’t be anything revolutionary, it’s just surprising to many that it hasn’t happened yet.
Read more here:

Other links:

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Your eyes can trick you!

In this video below, miniature balls roll up the slopes just as if they were pulled by a magnet. This behavior seems impossible as it defies gravity, and the magnetic forces can’t help, as the balls are made of wood! I can assure you there are no fancy computer graphics. Just cardboard, glue, and some wooden balls. It’s a real scene, indeed!
Check this out:

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Intel 2nd Gen (Sandy Bridge) i7 vs. i5

The Intel Second Generation i5 chip -- also known as the Sandy Bridge i5 -- has been in our sweet spot in terms of price versus performance for quite a while.  You can purchase a powerful laptop with this chip -- for about $550-$600 (and get your favorite combination of RAM, hard-drive, and other specs).  That is a great value.

However, laptops with the more powerful 2nd generation i7 chip have stayed stubbornly in the $700-$900 range.  We expect prices to drop, however, with an improvement in specs due to Intel's new Ivy Bridge chip set, due out in April 2012.  If you had to get a laptop now, is the i7 really worth the extra bucks?  When prices drop, how much better is the i7 versus the i5?

We decided to investigate:

  • If you are a "light" laptop user (browse the net, read news, check email), the 2nd generation i3 will be a great value and serve your purposes.
  • However, if you are interested in performance, the i7 is definitely more powerful than the i5, which is more powerful than the i3.  The number / name of the chips i3 (***), i5 (****), and i7 (*****) -- as well as the star ratings -- are indicative of processor power.  Below are some details.
  • Number of Cores:  i3 chips are dual core, while most i5 and i7 chips are quad core.  NOTE that for laptop chips, i7 Quad Core CPUs are indicated by a Q (for example, i7-2630QM)
  • Hyper-Threading: normally, one core can serve only one thread.  Thus, a dual core chip can normally only have two threads.  However, Intel introduced hyper-threading, which allows cores to serve multiple threads.  Many i3 dual core chips use this technology, so the two cores can have four threads.  Note that some i5 quad core chip sets do not support hyper-threading, which means that four cores could be served, the same number of many i3 dual core chip sets that allowed two threads to be served!  The i7 chip set benefits from both the quad core technology and hyper-threading -- so this is one area where the i7 particularly shines (8 threads!).  
  • Cache Size:  Many computer enthusiasts know that RAM is an important feature to study when purchasing a new computer.  Computers store data in RAM, which it is able to access faster than reading data from the hard-drive.  Cache is similar to RAM, except that it is even faster because the cache is built into the processor.  (RAM minimizes hard-drive access time and Cache minimizes RAM time by storing frequently used data in cache).  The i3 has 3MB of cache, while the i5 has 6MB, and i7 has 8MB.   
  •   Intel Turbo Boost:  when the pc recognizes the need for additional computing power, the i5 and i7 chips are equipped with this turbo boost technology that allows it to dynamically increase its clock speed (as a function of the number of cores, processor temperature, and estimated power consumption).  

We will be saving our money for an i7 laptop -- and will be keeping an eye on the Intel Ivy Bridge chip -- which looks very promising!

Some good sources:

And introducing the Intel Ivy Bridge chip set:,14144.html

Ivy Bridge -- said to cost the same as Sandy Bridge and perform about 10% better...


Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Record-Setting Paper Airplane

...a viral video spread across the Web (see below) featuring former Cal quarterback Joe Ayoob throwing a paper airplane across an entire warehouse, breaking the world record for longest flight with a distance of 226 feet, 10 inches. The man behind the plane is John Collins, the self-described “Paper Airplane Guy.” Here, he tells PM the secrets of his design.

Read more: The Secrets of the World-Record-Setting Paper Plane - John Collins, Paper Airplane Guy - Popular Mechanics 

Read more: The Secrets of the World-Record-Setting Paper Plane - John Collins, Paper Airplane Guy - Popular Mechanics

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Coming Soon: Google's Heads-Up Display Glasses

People who constantly reach into a pocket to check a smartphone for bits of information will soon have another option: a pair of Google-made glasses that will be able to stream information to the wearer’s eyeballs in real time.
According to several Google employees familiar with the project who asked not to be named, the glasses will go on sale to the public by the end of the year. These people said they are expected “to cost around the price of current smartphones,” or $250 to $600.

Read more here:

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Facebook & Marketing

Here is some great insight on how to best use Facebook.

1. Track ”People Talking About This”

People Talking About This is one of the new metrics for Facebook Pages. Unlike other metrics on your Insights dashboard, it’s also the only one visible to the public.

This number represents the total number of people who, over the past seven days, have engaged with your Page in any way — by Liking it, commenting on or sharing a post, answering a question, tagging your Page, or responding to an event. In your Insights dashboard, you’ll also see a percentage increase or decrease next to the current number, so you can compare this week’s engagement against last week’s stats.

If you want to build a thriving community on Facebook — or if you want to turn existing fans into raving superfans — engagement is the most critical metric you can track. And People Talking About This is a good measure of overall engagement.

Luckily, the best way to increase engagement is easy: Just ask.

Ask your fans questions, request their opinions, and ask people to click. Don’t post, “I’m excited about the Superbowl this year!” Instead, write, “Click Like if you’re excited about the Superbowl this year!” You can also ask people to share your content. I might write, “If you found this tip useful, make sure to share it with your friends.” Inserting mini calls-to-action reminds your audiences to act, not just read.

Tip: Never let a post go unattended — meaning, when someone does comment, Like or share your post, reach out to him personally and acknowledge his action with a thank you, or use it as an opportunity to expand the conversation. But whatever you do, don’t leave fans hanging.

2. Track “Engaged Users”


3. Track “External Referrers”


Read more here:

Friday, January 20, 2012

Learning Programming? Scratch & Java

Are you interested in learning to program? Here are some quick notes on programming languages for new programmers.

Scratch is a fun, interactive, programming language that can be used to create and share your own interactive art, games, and music. This is very cute and may encourage new and young programmers -- to get into programming. Scratch is developed by MIT.

If you are interested in some mainstream languages, Java is a great first language to learn. Here are some links and tutorials.