Category Archives: Technology

New WISE Web Site Launched

Hi all,

We just launched the new web site for the Westminster Institute for Science Education [W.I.S.E.]. Click on the logo below to check it out, including the links to the student and teacher blogs. Comments and suggestions welcome!

Oh yes, and for any of you wealthy philanthropists or corporate titans with a hankering to invest in nationwide science, math, or technology education reform, donations are encouraged! Just email or message me, or post a comment here on “All the Best Bits.”

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Filed under Education, Math, Science, Technology

I Want Half!

An important milestone was reached today. Roughly half of the human race has a cellphone account. It’s actually somewhat less, since many countries average more than one mobile phone per person, over 3.3 BILLION mobile phone accounts across the globe….but still. Wow. Now to outfit them all with live TV!

Read more here.

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Filed under Technology

International Broadband Pricing

Here’s an interesting chart via Ohm Malik’s blog on the OECD telecommunications outlook report on the cost of broadband Internet in different countries. It’s an interesting metric on industrialization. Sadly, we’re not looking so good.


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Filed under Economics, Technology

More Rooms With a View on the Space Station

From APOD,

See Explanation.  Clicking on the picture will download  the highest resolution version available.

The International Space Station Expands Again
Credit: STS-117 Shuttle Crew, NASA

Explanation: The developing International Space Station (ISS) has changed its appearance again. During the past week, the Space Shuttle Atlantis visited the ISS and added pieces of the Integrated Truss Structure that mirrored those added in September 2006, including a second impressively long array of solar panels. The entire array of expansive solar panels are visible at the edges of the above image taken by the Shuttle Atlantis Crew after leaving the ISS to return to Earth. The world’s foremost space outpost can be seen developing over the past several years by comparing the above image to past images. Also visible above are many different types of modules, a robotic arm, another impressive set of solar panels, and a supply ship. Construction began on the ISS in 1998.

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Filed under Astronomy, Technology

A Mechanical Marble Computer

Matthias Wandel has developed a fantastic mechanical binary adding machine using a simple series of cascaded chutes to store numbers and perform carries through mechanical toggles. Don’t miss the video embedded below to see it in operations.

Marble Adder


More details can be found on his web site: along with all manner of interesting contraptions.

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Filed under Computer Science, Technology, Toys

Maker Faire This Weekend: Don’t Miss It!

This has become one of my favorite events anywhere, anytime. You’ll find a great collection of art, technology, science projects and demonstrations, contests (like the “King of Fling” catapult contest) kits for sale, tools…and of course the people that make and use them! It is a completely unique collection of interesting things and people.

I strongly recommend the Faire to any family that can make it to the San Francisco Bay Area this weekend, not just the nerds among you. There really is something for everyone. Even my one-and-a-half-year-old daughter was enthralled last time around, so don’t miss it!

Click on the picture link above for more info and tickets!

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Filed under Art, Education, Electronics, Technology

Smartfish: A Hydrogen Fuel Cell Powered Airplane

With declining budgets at NASA and an airline industry beset with growth pains, soaring fuel costs, and bankrupt carriers it has been some time since I have seen true innovation in the aerospace industry. For decades, airplanes have advanced very little despite tremendous strides in tools, materials, and engines. Incremental tweaks on 20+ year-old designs comprise the bulk of the commercial and military complement. But I now have new hope of a resurgent industry.
Check out the Smartfish personal aircraft design project that has been the ongoing masterwork of a rock-star design team from Germany and Switzerland since 2003. Smartfish might seem like an odd name for an airplane until you get a look at it’s profile; it is very piranha-like indeed.

The basic concept is to design and build a new generation of personal aircraft using the latest software design and simulation tool, aerodynamics, composite materials, and jet engine technologies. When aggregated into one cohesive design demonstrating unprecedented efficiencies, the initial results promise a tiny craft whose entire body provides lift rather just relying on the wings. The svelte profile of the composite material lifting body introduces less drag with modest wings, and requires less thrust to power. It requires so much less thrust that a tiny engine powered by a hydrogen fuel cell drove the first 1-meter model craft at full speed for 15 minutes.

There are so many interesting aspects to this design project that I almost don’t know where to start. Thankfully, their web site nicely documents the project’s evolution from initial concept, to computer modeling and optimization, to wind-tunnel tests and model flights. Truly amazing start-to-finish. Here is a short photo summary of the amazing project to-date.

Here is the original CAD drawing for the design concept.

This is a rendering of the simulated air flow around the CAD model which shows the vortex-lift generated by the novel lifting body shape that makes the craft so efficient.

This is an image of the numerically-controlled milling machine carving the mold for the single-piece carbon-composite body.

An image of the completed top-panel mold.

The completed 1 meter scale model.

A Trade-show booth highlighting the completed model and the simple hydrogen fuel cell powered jet engine.

The engineers installing the model in the big wind tunnel for stability and control testing and design optimization.

Making the last pre-test connections.

The post-test flow patterns painted on the model by the test fluids.

And see the model in flight in this short promo video.

This project is a complete tour-de-force of modern design, and demonstrates what it takes to change an industry: several years of monomaniacal focus in a small elite team. I believe these folks are really going to succeed in changing the industry where multi-billion dollar multinational aerospace conglomerates have been stalled for decades. It is really the silicon valley start-up model applied to aerospace, much like Tesla is changing the automotive world.

And oh yes, I definitely want one. I’d even take a MODEL of one.


Filed under Science, Technology

A Great Book for the Kids

Always on the lookout for more science education resources, I stumbled across a real gem last week. There are any number of “kids science experiment” style books, but precious few articulate fundamental engineering principles in such a way that elementary students can get their hands dirty and build something at little or no expense.

Check out “How Things Work” by Neil Ardley. You can purchase it here from Amazon.

The book guides readers through an introduction to a broad range of foundational engineering challenges from structural design, to aerodynamics of birds and planes, to hydraulic valves and pumps, and almost everything in between. Each chapter includes clear directions on how to build prototypes with paper, cardboard, straw types of materials. They are FANTASTIC.

The demo projects are by-and-large rather simple and short, but do a great job demonstrating fundamental principles and techniques. They then become the perfect platform to ask, “so how would you make your widget ______ [Stronger, Faster, Lighter, etc…]?” Then you just give ’em a bucket of parts and watch them go.

The cover touts a target demographic of ages 8-14 but I already have my 4 1/2 year-old daughter working on a couple of projects. Takes after her ‘ol Dad she does!

Every school (and parent) should have one! Go forth and engineer!

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Filed under Education, Science, Technology

A Call For More K-12 Science Resources

In the spirit of leading our nation to technological greatness, I hereby issue a call for your favorite science and technology resources, comprised of either online or traditional media. Please post comments here with links, stories, pictures to your hidden, or not so hidden gems!

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Filed under Education, Science, Technology

K-12 Science Resources, Part 2

The MIT alumni association just hosted a panel with some of the luminaries in the battle to improve elementary and high school science education, and the archive along with several great resource links were posted on the web log.

You can watch an online broadcast of the panel here, if you first download and install the free RealPlayer from here.

Here is the list of speakers:

  • Catherine Drennan, Associate Professor, Chemistry – Chemistry and Beyond
  • Woodie Flowers ME ’73, Pappalardo Professor of Mechanical Engineering, Mechanical Engineering – FIRST Competition
  • Mitch Resnick EE ’88, LEGO Papert Professor of Learning Research, MIT Media Lab – Lifelong Kindergarten Research Group
  • Isaac Colbert HM, Dean for Graduate Students – Introductory Remarks
  • Dedric Carter ’99, Executive Director, Office of Engineering Outreach Programs – Moderator
It is a great panel, where each told of anecdotes and learnings from the K-12 science innovation efforts. Here are some of the comments from attendees:

“Very impressed by all of the speakers. I am a physics teacher so it energized me to hear great ideas and wonderful stories.” Kelly Forest CE ’92

“Great speakers, very timely topic in both my personal life and the world at large.” Megan Brewster, PhD student

“Very significant and important topic. Personally interested for both my own children and our nation. Very creative programs have shown practical tools/links to find more info-Thanks!” Scott Brazina GM ’89

Here are some links to a few of the individual web sites chronicling their respective missions.

Kid Tech 2004
MIT’s K-12 education outreach initiatives for students and teachers. This one is a real treasure trove with dozens of programs throughout the year for students and teachers to come to MIT and learn to do their own science research and undertake their own creative efforts at technical innovation. Every school should make strong efforts to find and attend services like this one, even if it would require extra fund raising efforts to make it happen. (I would very much like to hear from anyone, student, teacher, administrator or otherwise that would like to attend such a program but is having difficulty for any reason, be it finance, distance, or time that is the barrier. I would also like to receive links to other programs in other cities that support similar notion of hands-on, unguided exploration and innovation.)

MIT Alumni Discussion on K-12 science education.

Go forth, crusaders, and banish the ignorance!

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Filed under Education, Science, Technology