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August 24, 2008

Mentos and Diet Coke

Last night I saw Mamma Mia. In my review I said it was kind of like a 2-hour Mentos commercial (if you remember the cheesy commercials from the early 90's). I did a search to see if anyone else had made this comparison and came up with all of these results about Mentos and Diet Coke, including experiments done on Mythbusters. There is some pretty amazing stuff done with Mentos and Diet Coke and I highly recommend going to YouTube and searching for Mentos and Coke. I especially like the rockets where they dump Mentos in the bottle, put the cap back on about 90%, and then throw the bottle on the ground. But there is also a website called eepybird.com where they have made chain reactions and displays using hundreds of bottles of Diet Coke.

This is one of my favorites because it shows the whole development process (a little bad language):

These two are good, showing rockets backfiring:



Here are some of the more elaborate ones by the people at eepybird.com:

One and Two

Millions of people have seen these already, but it was new to me. There is also an article about this on Wikipedia of course.


Yesterday Susan and I went to Circuit City and found a DVD/VCR combo player for $80. She wanted it for her old TV in the sewing room (she calls it her studio). When we got it home and went to hook it up, we found that the TV had only Coax input (the threaded nubbin that you connect cable to; also called an F connector) and that the DVD/VCR had only more modern outputs like composite (red, white, and yellow) and S-video. Worse still, it had no coax input at all so we couldn't even connect it to the cable coming out of the wall. I said we should take it back, but she called Zenith (now apparently owned by LG) and they said she should get an RF converter from Radio Shack.

We looked up other VCR/DVD combos on Amazon and discovered that you can't buy one with coax input anymore. This is because of the switch to high definition and the only combo players with coax are high-end players that are converting HD signals. Nobody makes analog tuners (the pre-HD signal we've always had is called NTSC). From what it looks like, recording TV shows onto VHS tapes won't be possible anymore and these combo players are really only meant to play tapes and DVD's and record DVD's on to tapes.

I wonder if an HD converter box would help at all with this, but I'm thinking it would not. The converters require a separate antenna and only convert the broadcast channels plus the broadcast HD channels. I don't know what they would do with the cable signal.

Even if you get an RF modulator, I still don't think it would be tuning in any particular station. It would just be a physical adapter so that the combo player could send a signal over coax to the TV (on Channel 3 or 4). There still wouldn't be a way to connect the combo player to the wall. Even if you got some other kind of adapter, I don't know that the combo player could differentiate the cable signal containing all of those channels.

Meanwhile, Susan also bought a 22-inch HDTV last night by Toshiba for her bedroom. We connected the coax cable to it and it recognized all of the regular channels she was seeing before (without a cable box) as well as a number of digital channels that her old TV wouldn't recognize and some HD channels including at least a few of the local HD channels (though these have numbers like 800-01 instead of just 21). The TV includes a DVD player and is amazingly lightweight. We had also been thinking about a 24-inch Samsung TV that can be used as a computer monitor as well, but Susan liked the DVD player being incorporated (just a slot in the side) and Circuit City didn't carry the 24-inch Samsung in their stores, only online.

August 20, 2008

Self-Adjusting Timer

Bill at work told me about a timer switch he installed at his neighbor's house. Purchased at Lowe's, the timer has a microchip that allows you to enter the time and date and the time the sun sets that day. From then on the timer will calculate sunset and turn on the light at the correct time each day. You can also program the switch to turn off at sunrise or at a certain time in the middle of the night (or put it on a 7-day timer with several on/off cycles). I have four indoor lights on timer that I adjust a few times each year as the length of the day changes. A switch like this could eliminate those adjustments. I did a search and found another brand where you actually enter your latitude and longitude so that it can calculate sunset, but entering the current time and sunset also gives you a point on the curve that can be used. I believe the one he installed was an Intermatic EJ500C. They call this an "astronomic" timer. I will check to see if I can get it locally, but found a couple of places online to buy as well:

1000bulbs.com $18.34 free shipping

Amazon $20.49

This device fits in a switch plate so that it could control the outdoor lamp which is on that switch and there is also a battery inside so that it won't forget the time and date when the power goes off. They also make a plug-in version that I could use with my indoor lamps. These also have a "random" feature that will turn the lights on and off randomly to make it look like someone is home turning the lights on and off. But since my lights are on timer all the time my house always looks like nobody is home.

The downside, I realized later, is that these timers are not supposed to be used with compact fluorescent bulbs and all of the lights I want to control are CF bulbs.

August 10, 2008


Besides Panoramas, the camera also has a movie mode. I was taking a bunch of pictures of windmills while I was in Ireland, and the still pictures (mostly taken from a bus or car window) just didn't do justice to the slowly churning windmills. We pulled over and I tried out my first movie. It turned out really well, but it's probably too large to put here (37 MB). A little later I did another movie of windmills but it came out low resolution. While the first movie was 640x480, the second came out at 160x120, which is pretty tiny. The camera has two settings for resolution and somehow I had changed to the lower resolution setting. This is unfortunate because later on I took a great move of the owner of the Bed and Breakfast we stayed at in Tralee with his dog who can open the back of a van, get in, and close the door.



I finished my Ireland Gallery today, but I left off the panoramas I had created because they don't shrink down to thumbnails very well. The new camera has a Stitch Assist mode that lets me take panoramas consisting of several pictures to give one wide picture. The assist mode just shows you the last picture so that you can overlap the current picture on it. Once you get home, you use Canon PhotoStitch to open all the pictures at once and have the software stitch them together.

It doesn't work perfectly. If you don't pan in a straight line, the horizon will be crooked. Worse, you get voids along the top and bottom of the picture and wind up cropping out a lot of the top and bottom of the picture as the software distorts pictures to make everything line up. Plus if one picture is a little too high and one is a little too low, you have a gap along the top or bottom. So you crop all of that out and end up with a wide picture.

The wide picture is hard to do anything with too. You can't really print it and to see the full resolution, you have to scroll sideways on your computer screen. Still, I like the results in some cases. I took maybe ten or so panorama shots in Ireland and here are the best ones.

This was taken from the top of the Guinness Brewery Storehouse. They have a glassed in tasting area (like a bar) that gives a nearly 360-degree view of Dublin. There is some distortion of the horizon, which at first I thought might be the curvature of the earth, but I got better at this later.


The next panorama was taken in front of Fota House around sunset.

fota panorama.jpg

One thing I realized quickly was that because the panorama consists of several individual picture, you could potentially have the same person appear several times in the panorama. I didn't do that here at the Cliffs of Moher, but I'm saving that idea.

south cliffs.jpg

This one was taken at Connor Pass on the Dingle Peninsula looking back towards Tralee and this flat valley which had lakes and traces of ruins at the bottom. The Slieve Mish mountain range is on the left and right, with the right being the road we came up. You can see an artifact of the stitching about two-thirds of the way over along the bottom of this picture, but I didn't want to crop out that much of the bottom of the picture. Also, with the panoaramas you can get a better view of cloud formations including this one that is creeping over the pass.

connor pass.jpg

This is one that Susan took from the car near Slea Head on Dingle Peninsula. We were stuck in traffic and had this great view of the ocean and a string of rocky islands. However, by the end, the viewfinder ran into the car mirror and the windshield post.

slea head.jpg

Here is another Dingle picture of a rocky point on the shoreline.


This was such a nice area, I decided to do a 360-degree panorama. While most of the shots above are 3 or 4 pictures, this one is made from 13 individual pictures. The rocky point above is just part of this picture. When you do a 360, you catch all the things you would normally avoid, like in this case, a bus and some people.

360 panorama.jpg

Because each panorama consists of several 7-megapixel images, the file size gets pretty large. Therefore the images these thumbs link to are 25% of the original size. The panoramas lend themselves pretty well to blog banner images, so a few have showed up there already.