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!

Big Data’s Other Dangerous Video


Source: Big Data

Big Data is an American electropop music project of Brooklyn-based producer Alan Wilkis and friends. Big Data explores contemporary themes involving humans and their growing dependence on and general distrust of technology, especially the Internet.

Big Data is best known for its single “Dangerous”, from the debut 2013 EP 1.0 and the debut 2015 studio album 2.0. The single features Rochester, New York indie band Joywave, with vocals being performed by the band’s lead singer Daniel Armbruster.

Watching the music video below reminded me of Kansas State University professor Michael Wesch’s video from eight years ago. My previous post mentions Dr. Wesch and his ideas about emergent Web 2.0 technologies. Now, here was a music video that illustrated just how far our use of those technologies has progressed in a timeframe of less than a decade!

While it’s not the most famous version of the “Dangerous” single, the Internet is the subject of the music video below. It is a lyric video created by SCANTRON and Greg Yagolnitzer. It’s vaguely NSFW.

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.


ChemSpider screenshot

ChemSpider entry for caffeine

ChemSpider is a chemical structure database by the Royal Society of Chemistry (RSC) that provides access to over 50 million molecules, properties, and associated information from over 500 data sources including US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), Kyoto Encyclopedia of Genes and Genomes (KEGG), Molecular Diversity Preservation International (MDPI), US National Institutes of Health (NIH), US National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), Structural Genomics Consortium, Thomson Pharma, and Web of Science. By integrating and linking compounds from these data sources, ChemSpider provides a comprehensive view of freely available chemical data in a single online search.

A number of available search modules are provided, including the use of mobile devices via free apps for iOS and Android, allowing for querying systematic names, trade names, synonyms, and registry numbers. The advanced search allows interactive searching by chemical structure, chemical substructure, using also molecular formulas and molecular weight ranges, Chemical Abstracts Service (CAS) registry numbers, and suppliers.

interactive 3D model of caffeine 1
interactive 3D model of caffeine 2

This can be done because each chemical is given a unique identifier, which forms part of a corresponding URL, e.g., caffeine (1,3,7-Trimethyl-3,7-dihydro-1H-purine-2,6-dione) is 2424 and thus has the ChemSpider URL

Besides offering a static, two-dimensional structural formula of the molecule, ChemSpider also offers an interactive three-dimensional model which can be viewed via Jmol (using a Java applet) or JSmol (a JavaScript framework for Jmol to display on devices that do not have Java installed or for which Java is not available, e.g., smart phones and some tablet computers).

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.