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Yeah! Let’s make a flying robot that responds to light and heat! How about a Butterfly-ornithopter with a large wings, a slow wingbeat, and muscle wires instead of a rotary motor? I say, heck yeah!

Or at least that’s the plan. It involves muscle wire–wire that contracts when current is applied to it (technically a shape memory alloy – SMA). This combined with what I learned while making an office supply ornithopter (see "The Flying Scrooge") made me think I could make a robotic butterfly that responds to light and temperature.

Now there is already a non-flying muscle wire kit that flaps it’s wings, but I think the wing surface area is much too small. When I was creating the Flying Scrooge, I found this neat video of a butterfly-like ornithopter that flew with a surprisingly slow wingbeat, because it had two pairs of wings.

Looking at the following video of a Japanese ornithopter, I can avoid actual aeronautical math and just estimate the size and weight of the Jap ornithopter.

Hmm, looks like maybe two wingbeats per second and a wing size of about 36 inches square. That’s doable. Probably weighs less than a pound.

Now if I can get the muscle wire to quickly respond, this might work. I’d use a Lithium Polymer battery (currently the battery with the highest strength to weight ratio), or perhaps an ultra capacitor, and a chip to oscillate the output from one set of wires to the other.

Time to do some napkin math.

During my playful experiments with Fourier Transforms, I discovered that you can overlay an image on top of a Fourier transformed image, and freely convert back and forth from Fourier to regular space. Each transform would descramble the previously FFT’d image. So in short, you can hide the FFT of one image in another image.

Here’s the message I want to hide:

The Secret Message!

The Secret Message!

I’ve put it in the bottom half of the picture so it will still be intelligible after being transformed. Here’s the FFT of my secret message:

The Fourier Transform of My Secret Message

The Fourier Transform of My Secret Message

My first test overlaid the FFT over a color wheel, but it’s still a bit obvious:

The Secret Message overlaid on a test image.

The Secret Message overlaid on a test image.

If we scroll the FFT over to the corners and scale down the brightness, it’s much harder to spot when overlaid with the zucchini-in-a-bottle image:

The secret message offset to hide it better, overlaid on a normal photo.

The secret message offset to hide it better, overlaid on a normal photo.

You can barely spot it. Some information is lost when the image is saved in the .tif format, but after we scale the brightness back up, we get this:

The actual use decoded message (rescued from a zucchini-in-a-bottle)

The actual use decoded message (rescued from a zucchini-in-a-bottle)

Here’s my whole shake tree for both the test image and the final masterfully masterfool zucchini-hiding-a-secret image. Cheers!

Lossless Shake Message Tree

Lossless Shake Message Tree

Masterfool Zucchini Secret Message Shake Tree

Masterfool Zucchini Secret Message Shake Tree

Four-month-old toothbrush

Four-month-old toothbrush

Recently, I discovered a way to make my toothbrush last several times longer than usual. I think the recommended retirement age for a toothbrush is 3 months, but my current brush is going on 4 months and looks almost new. Yes, the end is nowhere in sight for this toothbrush!
I’ve found two things that help achieve a longevous toothbrush:

1) Rinse your toothbrush thoroughly (for about ten seconds) after brushing.

2) Hold your toothbrush with only two fingers in a light grip.

I discovered these longevity techniques by accident about seven months ago. That’s when I decided I didn’t like the natural buildup of tooth-pasty residue on my toothbrush handles. To combat that, I started rinsing it much longer after brushing. This not only kept the residue away, but I noticed the bristles stayed together (meaning they didn’t splay outwards) for much, much longer! Then I discoverd the second important aspect of toothbrush longevity: light pressure. After my wife borrowed my toothbrush for a week and scrubbed the enamel off her teeth, my toothbrush looked completely worn out. I hadn’t realized pressure was important before, because I was already brushing lightly (after an oral hygenist chastised me for brushing too hard, resulting in my early onset receding gumlines). So brush lightly!

Simulated Infrared Image of My Face

Simulated Infrared Image of My Face


Simulated IR Facepaint

Simulated IR Facepaint


Rondofo wrote about his efforts to make himself unrecognizeable to infrared (IR) security cameras with bright IR LEDs sewn into his hoodie. That project failed miserably. But it got me thinking . . . it occurred to me that makeup absorbent of IR would appear black to IR cameras. It could be makeup, facepaint, lotion, or even some kind of bug spray that just happens to be IR absorbent. It would be even better if the facepaint or whatever were transparent or skin colored in normal light. Just as long as the your features are obscured enough to make you unrecognizeable to night security cameras. Now to find such an IR absorbant substance. There is some IR facepaint available to the military and law enforcement. But I think if we dig around enough we could find some other product that just happens to have IR characteristics.

What to do:
1. Get an IR filter for your digital camera, or remove one that is already present on most digital cameras and get a visible light filter.
2. Go to the store and film the various makeups, lotions, bug sprays, etc. to see which (if any) are black to IR.
OR
Research natural chemicals that are absorptive of near IR.
3. Obtain makeup, natural substances, or other chemicals you’ve researched.
4. Apply substance to your face.
5. Test with IR filtered camera.

Email me pics if you try this!

P.S. It occurred to me that you wouldn’t have to paint your entire face to obscure your features; you could make patterns if you like! So I made a few “artist’s renderings” in Photoshop.

Simulated IR Camoflage Facepaint

Simulated IR Camoflage Facepaint


Simulated IR Facepaint Clown

Simulated IR Facepaint Clown

Messier Object 68

Messier Object 68

I was reading through my Digital Image Processing book (2nd edition) about something called Fourier transforms. Without explaining the math, suffice it to say that any 2d image can be transformed into the Fourier domain. When you do a Fourier transform on a normal image, you get what looks like a cluster of stars. So me being me, I thought, what do you get if you do a Fourier transform on a picture of stars? SECRET MESSAGES FROM SPACE!?

How to decode messages from space.
1. Find a good candidate photo from space. Should have a bright spot in the very center and be 512×512 pixels.
2. Convert the photo to floating point precision.
3. Perform an inverse Fourier transform (I used a shake plugin from pixelmaina), using the same image as both the real and mathematical “imaginary” portion (you know, the square root of -1) of the Fourier transform.
4. Center, Scroll, or otherwise (Filter>Other>Offset in Photoshop) the resulting image so that the brightest part is in the center.
5. Interpret the results.

Messier Object 68 in Fourier space

Messier Object 68 in Fourier space


Messier Object 68 in Fourier space after recentering

Messier Object 68 in Fourier space after recentering



Results:*
Messier Object 5 in Fourier Space

Messier Object 5 in Fourier Space


Messier object 5 (M5) clearly shows that somewhere in the universe, a noisy television exists.
Messier Object 30 in Fourier Space

Messier Object 30 in Fourier Space


M30 likewise.
Messier Object 68 in Fourier space after recentering

Messier Object 68 in Fourier space after recentering


M68 shows a planet with 50 moons and a race of sentient dogs.

*Final interpretations will be subjected to peer review as of Aug 2090.

Areas for Further Research:
The three Messier objects I have thus far decoded clearly show a low signal-to-noise ratio. In analyzing other Fourier images, I note that bright pixel clusters are extremely rare. Rather, the image is comprised of individual pixels of varying brightnesses(eses). Thus, my photos of stars are not true Fourier images. For better results, I must use a diagram of the stars instead of a photo, with each star being a maximum of one pixel in diameter.


Last year I was introduced to “The Immortal Molded Gourds of Mr. Zhang Cairi” and was amazed. This man has single-handedly revived a centuries old art form that was outlawed for decades. My clumsy words do his artwork injustice. Seriously, check him out! He inspired me to think I could mold any relative of the gourd into any shape I wanted. I was already trying my hand at watermelons, but they would be so expensive that only a few people would buy them after coming to gawk. What I needed was a plant that was a smaller, cheaper alternative to watermelons that could be an impulse buy. After a bit of search I decided on Zucchini. They grow fast, take little maintenance, and what I learned with them could be applied to my more labor intensive watermelon efforts. For molds I decided on used plastic soda and water bottles from work. (now THAT’S recycling!) Zucchini in a bottle!
My first problem was finding a Zucchini small enough to stuff in the bottle. Either they were too small, with the flower still firmly attached, or they were far too big to fit down a 20 oz. neck. I tried squeezing in a zucchini that was a just little too large, but I damaged the tender skin, and it stopped growing. I had to check the Zucchini plants every day, or they would quickly get too large. For airflow, I poked holes in the bottle sides and bottoms with a thumbtack. Eventually, this became tiresome, so I tried using a few bottles without air holes. After baking in the sun for a week, all that was left of those doomed zukes was a smelly, liquid mush. So, the zucchini need airholes. When it rained, I had to check the plants morning and night to catch my window of opportunity. So I had several zucchini growing in bottles. All good. How long should I let them grow in the bottles? AND THE ANSWER IS . . . until the zucchini neck starts expanding wider than the bottleneck. If there is a little unfilled air space left near the bottom or the top of the bottle, that’s ok. Only the rare zucchini will completely fill the bottle. Pull them from the stalk to harvest, but fight the temptation to cut them flush with the bottle opening. They’ll keep longer if they stay intact; cut they’ll last at least week in the fridge. One thing that shocked me was how hard it was to peel the bottles off the zucchini. The next time I grow them, I plan to pre-cut the bottles to make removal easier. So my plan was to call these novelties ‘Cchini in a Bottle and hope that people would pay $2-$5 for each bottle. One last note, Zucchini will never grow to fill a 2-liter bottle. They’ll get as long as a club, but never thicken enough. My Amish neighbors down the road discovered that.

Square Watermelons

Square Watermelons

Japan is crazy, man!  I stumbled onto a video of Japanese grown square watermelons  a year or so ago; it was so cool, I gave it a try.  I thought if it worked, I would sell my square watermelons at the local fall festival.  From studying the videos,  and pictures of polycarbonate boxes sold online for this purpose, I figured I would need a transparent, sturdy box.  Sounded like plexiglass to me.  But it would take a sheet thicker than dragon skin to withstand the Xtreme pressure of growing melons.  Thicker means costlier.  I poured out my woes to my landlord, and he told me of a super cheap plastic supply warehouse that catered to farmers.  I was there the next day.  They cut enough dragon skin plexiglass scraps for three boxes. If I used expensive metal hinges and screws to fabricate the boxes, they would surely be sturdy, but I wouldn’t be able to sell the watermelons for a profit.  So instead I wrapped the boxes with packing tape and wire and hoped they would stay together.  Each box cost about $8 to make, and held about 3 gallons–plenty of room for growth.  I gently enclosed my baby watermelons in them and waited.  Week after week, the  watermelons grew, and I watched with excited eyes.  But as harvest time drew closer, their growth stunted.  I watered them.  They rolled over and laughed.  I cajoled them.  They turned a deaf leaf to me.  By the end of the summer, they didn’t come close to filling out the boxes. Only flat on two sides, they looked like a Surrealist painting.  What had gone wrong?  Looking back, I suppose that making a box big enough to park a car in was a mistake.  And possibly growing “Mighty Midget” Moon and Stars heirloom watermelons.  Next time, I’m growing those Supa-giant, crush-your-kid-if-you-drop-it-on-them striped watermelons you can buy at the grocery store.  And those boxes WILL be filled to the brim with watermelon.  I hope.

Moon and Stars Watermelons.  The inset is one of my Square Watermelons growing.

Moon and Stars Watermelons. The inset is one of my Square Watermelons growing.

Square Watermelon Box

Square Watermelon Box

BoxHoles

BoxHoles