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28 December 2011

Seeing and naming color

Robert Kosara wrote a  post on EagerEyes not long ago about the interaction/interface between color and language.  More specifically, "While color is a purely visual phenomenon, the way we see color is not only a matter of our visual systems. It is well known that we are faster in telling colors apart that have different names, but do the names determine the colors or the colors the names? Recent work shows that language has a stronger influence than previously thought."

He reviews research and litterature on this subject, including " Russian blues reveal effects of language on color discrimination".

This BBC video is also embedded in the post.

I'm posting this here, because our Middle Primary Class is investigating poetry in a unit of inquiry titled "The Eye and Voice of the Poet".  That means they're thinking about language, and choosing words, and enlarging their vocabulary.  If they were to consider poems about colors, would it matter what language the poem had been written in originally?  How would one translate a Russian poem about shades of blue into English, which might not have those words? Or a Japanese poem about willows into English without words for shades of green?

From http://thedoghousediaries.com/1406 Shared under CC: A N-C S license.
I urge you to click through and read the whole blog post on EagerEyes.

I investigated this a little further and found a fascinating page on Wikipedia:
"The English language makes a distinction between blue and green, but some languages do not. Of these, quite a number, mostly in Africa, do not distinguish blue from black either, while there are a handful of languages that do not distinguish blue from black but have a separate term for green.[1] Also, some languages treat light (often greenish) blue and dark blue as separate colors, rather than different variations of blue, while English does not." (Read the rest of this interesting article.)

You might want to explore the  user-named colors on this web site, ColourLovers.

I'll leave you with Ludwig von Drake -

Read more about this song at Wikipedia.

18 December 2011

Let it snow

Here's a chance for you to make the inside of your computer look just like it does outside your window, if you live in a place where it's been snowing.

A few weeks ago I wrote about a Google "Easter egg"* - Gravity - for you to play with.  Today, you can make it snow on your computer screen.   Open Google.com, type "let it snow" into the search bar, click the search button, and watch it start to snow on your screen.  And steam over....soon you can't see the search results...but, hmmm, just like on a real steamy window, you can use your mouse to rub away the steam and see the search results.  Or you can press the "Defrost" button.  Fortunately, the effect ends when you close the window, or type in a new search request.

This Easter egg also works on my iPad - it was more fun using my finger to wipe away the frost - just like a real window.
Screen shot

Thanks to Mashable for the heads up.

*"A virtual Easter egg is an intentional hidden message or an in-joke in a work such as a computer programweb pagevideo gamemovie,book or crossword... It draws a parallel with the custom of the Easter egg hunt observed in many Western nations as well as the last Russian imperial family's tradition of giving elaborately jeweled egg-shaped creations by Carl Fabergé which contained hidden surprises.[2]"(link)

16 December 2011

Capturing video at the speed of light — one trillion frames per second

More in our "Seeing the Unseeable" series 

Uploaded by on Dec 12, 2011
MIT Media Lab researchers have created a new imaging system that can acquire visual data at a rate of one trillion frames per second. That's fast enough to produce a slow-motion video of light traveling through objects. Video: Melanie Gonick.
Read more: http://web.mit.edu/newsoffice/2011/trillion-fps-camera-1213.html
Project website: http://www.media.mit.edu/~raskar/trillionfps/

On the Project's web page, you'll find this video, and more explanations.

Uploaded by on Dec 11, 2011
We have built an imaging solution that allows us to visualize propagation of light at an effective rate of one trillion frames per second. Direct recording of light at such a frame rate with sufficient brightness is nearly impossible. We use an indirect 'stroboscopic' method that combines millions of repeated measurements by careful scanning in time and viewpoints.
The device has been developed by the MIT Media Lab's Camera Culture group in collaboration with Bawendi Lab in the Department of Chemistry at MIT. A laser pulse that lasts less than one trillionth of a second is used as a flash and the light returning from the scene is collected by a camera at a rate equivalent to roughly 1 trillion frames per second. However, due to very short exposure times (roughly one trillionth of a second) and a narrow field of view of the camera, the video is captured over several minutes by repeated and periodic sampling.
For more info visit http://raskar.info/trillionfps
Music: "Rising" by Kevin MacLeod (http://music.incompetech.com/royaltyfree2/Rising.mp3)

In a story in the New York Times about this project, John Markoff writes

"More than 70 years ago, the M.I.T. electrical engineer Harold (Doc) Edgerton began using strobe lights to create remarkable photographs: a bullet stopped in flight as it pierced an apple, the coronet created by the splash of a drop of milk...

"(In this current project) To create a movie of the event, the researchers record about 500 frames in just under a nanosecond, or a billionth of a second. Because each individual movie has a very narrow field of view, they repeat the process a number of times, scanning it vertically to build a complete scene that shows the beam moving from one end of the bottle, bouncing off the cap and then scattering back through the fluid. If a bullet were tracked in the same fashion moving through the same fluid, the resulting movie would last three years. 

" “You can think of it as slow motion,” Andreas Velten, a postdoctoral researcher who is a member of the design team, said during a recent technical presentation. “It is so much slow motion you can see the light itself move. This is the speed of light: there’s nothing in the universe that moves faster.”"

Read the whole story on the New York Times web page, and then watch the video below, pretending that each little sequence (egg, milk, apple, ketchup, water bottle, mellon, takes 3 years to watch...that's 18 years you're about to spend here....if you had started watching the day you were born, you would be out of secondary school (high school, gymnasium) before your the video had ended.


Thanks to Open Culture for the heads-up.

15 December 2011

Smashing mugs

Another in our series of "watching the un-see-able"

Several tea mugs get smashed in this video,  and there's good explanation about what fps means.  You'll be able to judge for yourself which speed you think is the most effective.  Be sure to watch until the very end - when the cat gets in the window.

I'm not sure I endorse his movie recommendation at the end for Primary students - but there are probably many other instances of slow motion in movies and TV that you see.  Do you notice them?  After watching this video, can you gauge how slow they are, or guess their fps?

And for the Middle Primary Class: what are the laws of motion in action in this video? Why do the mugs fall?  Why do they stop falling?  Why do they break? What kinds of energy do you see here?

12 December 2011

Europe’s dry autumn soils

This post is for ISOCS Junior Primary Class, which is investigating Water.  This year's unit will be different from last year's of course - different teacher, different children, and different weather.  There just isn't as much water around this year as there was last year.

I saw this post this morning from the European Space Agency, highlighting the lack of rain fall all across Europe this summer.
"7 December 2011
Dry soil resulting from Europe’s exceptionally warm and dry autumn is being monitored by ESA’s SMOS water mission. The images here show the stark comparison between soil moisture in November 2010 and November 2011.
Like the most of the year, this autumn has been particularly dry. In the Netherlands, for example, just 9 mm of rain fell in November, compared to the average of 82 mm. According to the Royal Netherlands Meteorological Institute KNMI, November was the driest since records began in 1906.
Prolonged dry weather in Germany is not only disrupting shipping in the Rhine and Elbe rivers, but has also recently sparked a forest fire in Bavaria.
The UK Environment Agency says that even if England experiences average rainfall over winter and spring, parts of the country are unlikely to see a full recovery from drought conditions in 2012...While these maps offer an interesting snapshot, the information is important for a better understanding of the water cycle and, in particular, the exchange processes between Earth’s surface and the atmosphere." Click here to read the whole story.  

I explored a little further for more about water, water levels, weather in Switzerland, and found these news stories (I'm focusing on Switzerland here, because that is where our Junior Primary Class is doing its first-hand research):
In April, there was already concern about the low levels of Swiss lakes:
"According to a report by the Swiss Federal Environment Office, the levels of the lakes in Biel, Murten and Neuchâtel are far lower than they should be for April. Lake Biel, for example, is about 40 centimetres shallower than normal, and ten centimetres lower than it was at its previous all-time low for an April 3rd, which was recorded in 1993." (link)

After the summer, the lack of water continues to be news:
"The extraordinary autumn dry spell is having a significant impact on transport, power generation, tourism and aquatic life in Switzerland.
"It’s not just the autumn, the beginning of the year was also historically dry, leading to a dramatic roll-on effect.

"Figures compiled by the national weather service MeteoSwiss show precipitation levels in western Switzerland and the Rhone valley for 2011 so far (January 1 to November 19) are the lowest since records began in 1864." (link)

Vowels Control Your Brain

This post is for the Middle Primary Class at ISOCS, which is investigating poetry.  Poetry is made of words and sounds, so I thought the class might be interested in the thoughts expressed in a blog post I read this morning:

A few days ago, Robert Kulrich of National Public Radio in the USA wrote a column titled "Vowels Control Your Brain". "Here's something you should know about yourself. Vowels control your brain...OK, here's the weird part.  When comparing words across language groups, says Stanford linguistics professor Dan Jurafsky, a curious pattern shows up: Words with front vowels ("I" and "E") tend to represent small, thin, light things.  Back vowels ("O" "U" and some "A"s ) show up in fat, heavy things...."  The post explores research about this idea, and gives some interesting examples. Click here to go to read the full story.  I think it's especially interesting when thinking about poetry.  What words would we choose to write about "thin light things"?  about "fat heavy things"?  Do your choices support the research described in Mr. Kulrich's blog post?

Screen shot from http://n.pr/rrLsj6

11 December 2011


This morning on  a Flowing Data blog post, I found this video:
Baroque.me: J.S. Bach - Cello Suite No. 1 - Prelude from Alexander Chen on Vimeo.
Baroque.me (2011) by Alexander Chen. Video capture. http://www.baroque.me visualizes the first Prelude from Bach's Cello Suites. Using the math behind string length and pitch, it came from a simple idea: what if all the notes were drawn as strings? Instead of a stream of classical notation on a page, this interactive project highlights the music's underlying structure and subtle shifts.

Grab and interact: http://www.baroque.me
More details at: http://blog.chenalexander.com/2011/baroque-bach-cello/

Built in: HTML5 Canvas, Javascript, SoundManager
Made while a resident at Eyebeam (http://eyebeam.org)


Of course, I clicked through to http://www.baroque.me  to see what "interact" means here.  As the page loads, it looks just like the video.  But if you grab one of the little white dots with your mouse you can drag it around, ruin the beautiful circle patterns the white dots are making, and totally mess up Bach's music.

Give it a try!

05 December 2011


The Senior Primary class at ISOCS is concentrating on learning to keyboard with 10 fingers, not much looking at the keyboard, and few errors...
I added a new typing game (Typing Tidepool) to the Keyboarding page on our Netvibes ICT site, and have grouped all the other posts about keyboarding on this blog at this link for you.

In our PC laptops at school, we're working with KeyBlaze Typing Tutor, a no-frills, serious sort of free software. Serious as in no story line, no songs, no animation.  Just keyboarding. Read the CNET review here.

Image from NCH Software 
My advice to the Seniors is:

  • Practice for a short time every day (10-15 min is enough)
  • Don't cheat yourself by looking at your fingers.  Learn the home position, and then use it.
  • Take as long as you need to perfect this skill.  It's like riding a bicycle:  once you've trained your fingers and your brain to work together, you will never forget how to do it.
  • Concentrate on the vowels and consonants.  Punctuation will vary from computer to computer, depending on where you live, where you bought it, what language you have it set on, etc.  Numbers will always need to be verified. Vowels and consonants are your basic writing tools.