LED Bugs are a fun and simple electronics craft project for lower elementary and kindergarten aged children.

When I first heard about “Blinky Bugs,” I thought they’d make a perfect craft project for my twin girls’ sixth birthday party. Then I took a closer look at the complexity and delicacy of the assembly and realized it was beyond the skill level I could expect of my girls and their five to six year old friends.

So I set out to design a more simple and easier-to-build version of the Blinky Bug. I call them “LED Bugs.” This post describes their construction, provides a parts list along with links to order parts, and describes the experience of guiding a dozen five- and six-year-olds through the construction process in less than 45 minutes.

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Oct 052010

The Czarina and I are on vacation this week with our two girls – her folks are looking after the boys while we’re gone. New Orleans is really quite kid friendly. I’ll do a post or two when we get back.


Radioactive decay rates are generally thought to be invariant constants of nature. Some minor temperature dependent effects have been observed, but even those remain elusive. Now however, researchers at Purdue and elsewhere argue that they have detected solar influences on radioactive decay rates. They claim the decay rates of certain isotopes of radon (226Ra) and silicon (32Si) vary according to the distance of the Earth from the Sun.  They hypothesize that the flux of solar neutrinos from the Sun may influence certain radioisotope decay rates. Further, during a solar flare in 2006, the researchers claim to have observed a variation in decay rates. In fact, they also claim to have spotted variations in decay rate on about a 33 day long cycle – just slower than the 22 day rate at which the Sun rotates. Other researchers are skeptical.

One of the leading proponents of the idea is Purdue physics professor, Ephraim Fischbach. I did not have the pleasure of taking a class from Professor Fischbach during my undergraduate tenure at the Purdue Physics Department [BS (Honors Physics) 1990], but I did attend a couple of his lectures and found them fascinating. I was at Purdue when Prof. Fischbach was a leading proponent of a supposed “fifth force” that acts counter to conventional gravity. My suspicion is that this solar link to radioactive decay will again turn out to be “experimental noise,” difficult to reliably replicate and probably a statistical anomaly or other subtle perturbation or variation in the measurement equipment. But I applaud Prof. Fischbach for being willing to stick his neck out in pursuit of novel physical phenomena. Taking chances and drawing attention to curious results such as these is what enables physics  to advance.

Hat Tip: Watt’s Up With That?


Blog Analysis

 Posted by Hans at 05:12  No Responses »
Sep 132010

A number of web sites promote their ability to analyze the gender, personality, and background of blog authors. I thought I’d try them out and see what they had to say about ÆtherCzar.

  • URL AI says aetherczar.com is probably written by a male somewhere between 66-100 years old. The writing style is academic and happy most of the time.
  • Genderanalyzer is 87% certain aetherczar.com is written by a male.
  • The Typealyzer claims the author of aetherczar.com is of Myers-Briggs Type ENTJ. I tried on a couple of earlier pages also and it came up INTJ.
  • Here’s a readability analysis:
Reading Level Results
Summary Value
Total sentences 312
Total words 2312
Average words per Sentence 7.41
Words with 1 Syllable 1337
Words with 2 Syllables 510
Words with 3 Syllables 334
Words with 4 or more Syllables 131
Percentage of word with three or more syllables 20.11%
Average Syllables per Word 1.68
Gunning Fog Index 11.01
Flesch Reading Ease 57.23
Flesch-Kincaid Grade 7.12
Sep 112010

The Czarina and I worked hard to select appropriate names for our children, and with both twin boys and twin girls, we had a lot of practice. Our name selection followed a few simple rules:

  • Avoid highly popular names. Pick a top ten name and you pretty much guarantee your son or daughter will be in class with another kid who has the same name. While there are certainly worse fates to spare your child, we aimed to find unique names – but not too unique, which brings me to our second rule:
  • Avoid obscure names. If it can’t be reliably pronounced, or the gender is ambiguous, or a typical person has no clue that particular collection of phonemes is a name – it’s probably not a good idea.
  • Avoid trendy names. Names go into and out of fashion, and it seems the more rapidly a name zooms into popularity, the faster it falls back into obscurity. We found the Baby Name Wizard was a great resource for assessing name trends, avoiding names that might be skyrocketing today but will be forgotten tomorrow.
  • Pick classic names. Classic names have been around for a while. They are recognizably names. Although their popularity might wax and wane,  if you pick one that’s out of favor now (out of the Top 100), it will probably come back eventually.

We settled on Cora and Greta for the names of our twin girls.  Cora was a popular girl name – in the 1880s (the Czarina’s great-grandmother was named Cora). In 2004, it was the 434th most popular girl name. Since then, “Cora” has been trending upward in popularity to 303rd in 2009. Greta 387th in the 1930s (think Greta Garbo); in 2004 it was the 704th most popular name. Last year it was around 692nd most popular.

I think boy names are more difficult. But that’s a topic I’ll pick up again some other time.

My Atari Adventure

 Posted by Hans at 05:12  No Responses »
Aug 192010

A dead dragon lies at my character's feet, having been impaled on my character's mighty sword (that arrow thing) in the classic low-res Atari game "Adventure." Yes, dragons actually are related to chickens.

Last week, Wil Wheaton tweeted about a great post at “Roll 3d6 Six Times for Stats” from a father introducing his ten-year-old daughter to Atari Adventure. “What a great idea,” I thought. “My favorite Atari game! And I have two five year old daughters – five plus five equals ten.”

Not exactly.

Atari Adventure was the very first action-adventure video game. Your character is a square icon. You wander around a low-res dungeon landscape of castles and mazes seeking a glowing chalice. You may carry only one item at a time – a key to unlock one of the castles, a magnet that attracts other objects, a bridge to travel through walls, or a sword. Find the chalice and return it to your home castle to win. But beware the dragons. If you have a sword, you can kill them. Otherwise they will attack and eat you. And there’s an annoying bat who randomly steals whatever you are carrying and rearranges the objects in the dungeon. I never had an Atari system growing up, but whenever I got a chance to visit a friend who did, Adventure was the game I wanted to play.

There are a number of Flash Adventure emulators if you’d like to try it out:

  • Dwedit’s Atari Adventure. Seemed to be the best and most comprehensive emulation.
  • Scott Pehnke’s Atari Adventure. I like the graphics, but couldn’t figure out the other levels/games.
  • The official Atari version of Adventure. A little clunkier I thought, but it has a nice set of best times, if you’re feeling competitive.

I started off with Scott Pehnke’s version (from which I captured the screenshots). Here’s what happened.

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Some good news from my one-time home town of Pocatello, Idaho. The Princess Theater, “birthplace” of Judy Garland in the 1954 movie, “A Star is Born,” has been renovated and restored.

Jul 132010

Cave Mountain Cave is shown as "Salt Petre Cave" northwest of Guntersville, AL in this 1894 Geological Survey Map of Alabama.

A couple of weeks ago, a team from Q-Track Corporation traveled to Cave Mountain Cave, south of Huntsville, AL (near Guntersville Dam), to conduct underground radio frequency propagation testing. The results of the testing will be presented elsewhere – this post will describe Cave Mountain Cave.

The Huntsville Grotto of the National Speleological Society was kind enough to bring Cave Mountain Cave to Q-Track’s attention. During the Civil War, the Long Hollow Nitre Works mined 1000 pounds per day of salt peter (potassium nitrate) from the accumulated bat droppings in the cave. For those who have never successfully fought a Gorn, salt peter (along with charcoal and sulfur) is a principal ingredient of gun powder. The “improved” section of the cave is readily accessible for the first 700 feet or so. A helmet is helpful to avoid bumping one’s head on some of the few sections with clearance below six feet. Then a 150 foot or so long three foot high crawl section leads to additional sections of the cave that quickly require some speleological expertise to get through – some vertical climbs and a section that is often flooded. The cave is perhaps too accessible, since it has been heavily vandalized with spray paint.

Continue reading »

Jul 052010

Note: Blogging will be a bit light this week because I’m on travel. If time permits, I’ll provide some details.

The Washington Post featured AetherCzar’s hometown – Huntsville, AL – in their travel section last week. The U.S. Space and Rocket Center, home of “Space Camp,” has tended to eclipse Huntsville’s other attractions. The Washington Post article spotlights the Huntsville Botanical Garden as well as Huntsville’s open-air historical museum: Burritt on the Mountain.

Huntsville has also become a hot spot for technology start-ups. CNN/Money and Kiplinger have both ranked Huntsville as a top center for technical entrepreneurship. Sometimes known as “Rocket City,” Huntsville is home to NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center and the U.S. Army Space and Missile Defense Command. These installations have helped create a critical mass of talented engineering, scientific, and technical professionals who have developed technology start-ups in areas beyond space and defense applications.

Jul 032010

Clara is a special needs five-year-old girl. Although she has learned to feed herself with a fork, her fine-motor-control difficulties have made spoon-feeding elusive. Until now. The ergonomic design of the Baby Dipper bowl and feeding set have helped this little girl learn to feed herself. Here’s what her Mom had to say:

It’s rare to find a true “magic bullet” solution to her delays, but the Baby Dipper Bowl was exactly what she needed to increase self-feeding confidence. Frustration is no longer holding her back! Now that she can feed herself with a spoon she is eating more and learning to regulate how much food she scoops up. She’s usually a leftie, but when she wants to eat with her right hand she will turn the bowl so her spoon follows the slope. She feels the difference in the unique design and is using it to her advantage. The little girl who would go hungry rather than use a spoon is even gaining weight!

The heartwarming story is available from Clara’s Mom at her blog. And congratulations to the Czarina for conceiving of such a great product.

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