Brain Candy Live!

brain candy stage
What if you put together MythBusters’ Adam Savage with Vsauce’s Michael Stevens and allowed them to play onstage in a darkened room? It would be like candy! Brain candy! Wait a just a minute….

Adam and Michael onstage
Everything about the show was a nerdgasm! From the lights, and the music, to the 3D printers in the lobby printing out what looked like Galactic stormtroopers.

3D printer of stormtrooper
This is exactly what we got to watch tonight downtown at the Majestic Theatre. Adam and Michael brought along some of their toys and tools and let their curious brains unleash some mind-blowing demonstrations as they discussed how to make the invisible visible.

molecule dance
Namely, how can we explore the air around us? Far from boring, their sense of wonder reminded me of a cross between that crazy uncle everyone barely tolerates and that really cool science teacher you remember from middle school. For example, instead of simply describing molecular vibrations as stretching (symmetrical or asymmetrical) and bending (in-plane or out-of-plane), Adam and Michael called on audience volunteers to scissor, wag, twist, and rock their way through the movements. An interpretive dance of chemistry!

ping pong cannon
The grand finale was awesome! Adam and Michael were blasting hundreds of ping pong balls right into the audience!

Happy Towel Day 2016!

Today is Towel Day. Happy Towel Day!

The Galactic Hitchhikers have tallied the contest votes and have declared a winner!

You sass that hoopy Lisa Orozco? Our very own Lisa has been chosen to represent Earth as our new and shiny Towel Day Ambassador! Lisa will be assisted by Stefan Gemzell, representing Sweden and Norway, and Andrew Pithie, representing the UK and the Commonwealth.

Congratulations, you froods! Don’t Panic!

As Douglas Adams reminds us in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy:

A towel, it says, is about the most massively useful thing an interstellar hitchhiker can have. Partly it has great practical value. You can wrap it around you for warmth as you bound across the cold moons of Jaglan Beta; you can lie on it on the brilliant marble-sanded beaches of Santraginus V, inhaling the heady sea vapours; you can sleep under it beneath the stars which shine so redly on the desert world of Kakrafoon; use it to sail a miniraft down the slow heavy River Moth; wet it for use in hand-to-hand-combat; wrap it round your head to ward off noxious fumes or avoid the gaze of the Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal (such a mind-bogglingly stupid animal, it assumes that if you can’t see it, it can’t see you — daft as a brush, but very very ravenous); you can wave your towel in emergencies as a distress signal, and of course dry yourself off with it if it still seems to be clean enough.

More importantly, a towel has immense psychological value. For some reason, if a strag (strag: non-hitch hiker) discovers that a hitchhiker has his towel with him, he will automatically assume that he is also in possession of a toothbrush, face flannel, soap, tin of biscuits, flask, compass, map, ball of string, gnat spray, wet weather gear, space suit etc., etc. Furthermore, the strag will then happily lend the hitch hiker any of these or a dozen other items that the hitch hiker might accidentally have “lost.” What the strag will think is that any man who can hitch the length and breadth of the galaxy, rough it, slum it, struggle against terrible odds, win through, and still knows where his towel is, is clearly a man to be reckoned with.

My Guide To The Doctors

I made this for my wife

I made this tongue-in-cheek guide for my wife’s amusement.

When I was a new fan of the British science fiction television show Doctor Who, I had a lot of trouble keeping straight all of the incarnations of the Doctor. This was because the Doctor had the annoying habit of regenerating into a different actor every so often as the series progressed over the course of 50 years. So I started giving each one of the incarnations a nickname just for my own personal use.

My conversations with my wife, Tamara, who is far more knowledgeable about all things Whovian than me, would then go something like this:

“Doesn’t the First Doctor look like Franz Liszt?”
“You mean William Hartnell?”
“I guess so. Which doctor is “Patches”?”
“You know, the one that dresses like Patches the Clown.”
“You mean the Sixth Doctor, Colin Baker? And he does not!”

Eventually, like most things that I do in our marriage, her exasperation turned into amusement:

“So “Celery Man’s” daughter actually married “Lord Business” in real life?”
“Ha. Yes, the daughter of Peter Davison, who played the Fifth Doctor, married David Tennant, who played the Tenth Doctor. Her name is Georgia Moffett. You need to write this stuff down.”

She has been bugging me to make an image guide listing all of my nicknames for her Doctor Who Fans Unite fan club, so here it is. Feel free to copy it and share it. My fan-made guide is under a Creative Commons by-nc-sa 3.0 license, so feel free to copy, modify, and share it so long as you give credit and it’s not for commercial gain. After all, I do not own the images and I am using them for fun as a fan.

Whether you are a fan of the older series or of the new, check out the Doctor Who Fans Unite meetup if you want to be a part of a local group who love the Doctor in all of his various forms.

The LEGO Movie

lego movie

I just saw The LEGO Movie with my son Alton and everything is awesome!!! It is The LEGO Group’s first feature-length comedy adventure film, although they have come out with other, shorter LEGO films before this one, covering such subjects as Bionicle, Hero Factory, Clutch Powers, Indiana Jones, and Star Wars. The LEGO Movie is directed and co-written by Phil Lord and Chris Miller and is distributed by Warner Brothers Pictures.

The movie is about Emmet Brickowski, an ordinary construction worker with no special qualities. He builds things with the aid of instruction manuals, and even uses one to manage his daily life. He meets Wyldstyle, a woman who is searching for the Piece of Resistance, an object capable of stopping a doomsday superweapon called the Kragle. Wyldstyle takes Emmet to Vitruvius, a wizard who explains that he and Wyldstyle are Master Builders capable of building anything they need, both with great speed and without instruction manuals.

The ability of these LEGO characters to manipulate their own LEGO universe offers the adult viewer some ontological questions that is in part what makes this movie clever and funny. The conflicting worldviews between conformist building (do not deviate from the instructions) and creative building (construct your desires from anything available) are expressed throughout the movie and remind me of how different people treat LEGO bricks.

Also, several websites come to mind. LEGO Education is the part of The LEGO Group that offers several STEM building kits for students to explore and to work hands-on through practical experience and demonstration.

LEGOengineering is a website developed by the Tufts University Center for Engineering Education and Outreach with the support of LEGO Education to inspire and support teachers in bringing LEGO-based engineering to all students.

Besides the obvious use of using LEGO building materials for design and construction, LEGO bricks can also be used to provide an analogy for atoms, molecules, and their reactions. Scott Halpern at has used LEGO bricks to explain atomic theory.

Texas Tech University’s GK-12 Building Bridges program participants Arla Jo Anderton Gideon, John Como, and Jennifer Hortman (a high school chemistry teacher, a science PhD candidate, and a master’s candidate in math, respectively) developed a lesson module for using LEGO bricks to teach balancing chemical equations.

Along those lines, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Edgerton Center offers a Chemical Reactions lesson that introduces to students molecules, atoms, chemical notation, and chemical compounds through an engaging hands-on wet lab and LEGO brick models of atoms.

Remember, LEGO is not only from the Danish phrase leg godt which means play well, it is also Latin for I study or I put together.

Where’s George?

I heard about this website Where’s George? that tracks the circulation of US dollar bills and other paper currency for fun. Since I am interested in networks and the flow of information, I decided to check it out.

You register a bill at the Where’s George? website by entering the denomination, series year, serial number, and your ZIP code. If you live outside of the United States, you can still participate by using the website’s list of global codes. Once you register a bill then…you spend it! If you want to increase the chance of having your bill being reported by someone, you can stamp the bill with information encouraging participants to visit the website and help track the bill’s journey.

Any person who receives your bill and decides to participate in tracking it enters the series year, serial number, and his or her local ZIP code on the Where’s George? website. This is known as a hit. Once a bill is registered, Where’s George? reports the time and distance traveled between hits, and any comments from the participants. Most bills do not receive any hits, but many bills receive two or more hits. Bills that are double- and triple-hitters are common, and some bills have 4 or 5 hits. After the participant enters the hit, then they, too, place the bill back into circulation by spending it.

Fans of the Where’s George? website often collect interesting patterns of hits such as getting at least one hit in all 50 states or getting hits on bills from all 12 Federal Reserve Banks. Fans can rank themselves for fun with their George Score. Your George Score is automatically calculated when you enter bills and get hits on Where’s George? The more bills you enter, and more importantly, the more hits you get, the higher your George Score. The George Score is a method of rating fans based on how many bills they have entered and also by how many total hits they have had. The formula is as follows:

100\times \left[{\sqrt  {\ln({{\rm {bills\ entered}}})}}+\ln({{\rm {hits}}}+1)\right]\times [1-({{\rm {days\ of\ inactivity}}}/100)]
However, since this formula is logarithmic it means that the more bills you enter and the more hits you receive, the less your score increases for each entered bill or new hit. Thus, your score does not increase as quickly when you enter a lot of bills. My George Score is 622.58 (for comparison, the top user has a George Score of over 1500). This makes my Where’s George? rank 6059 out of 16849. But my rank in my state is 277 out of 734.