Music for Oscilloscopes

First, a story:

Many moons ago, before laser pointers were things you could get at your local convenience store for the cost of a few packs of gum, back when lasers were expensive and cool, my friend got a laser. I’m pretty sure it was discarded by some lab. It was a tube about 5 cm in diameter and about 30 cm long and had a large brick-sized power supply. It was fun to play with, but ultimately it’s just a laser making a red dot on the wall. So Phil, for that was my friend’s name, took a speaker from his stereo, and taped a small mirror to the cone. Then, with the lights out, aimed the laser at the mirror and played music. Suddenly, the music came alive on the ceiling where the laser was being reflected. We called it Philsarium, after Laserium, which had been shown in the 1970s at planetariums.

That’s it for the story. Not much of a moral, I admit, but it was more of a trip down memory-lane. Anyway, the reason I bring it up is this week I saw a certain Smarter Every Day video. This video immediately brought that experience back to mind, except this time the laser is replaced by an oscilloscope. Oh, and instead of using regular music, awesome people in Austria craft music specifically to show different things on the oscilloscope. What normally shows sine waves or square waves (or RS-232 signals that Phil and I had to reverse engineer at one point) now shows everything from Tetris blocks to Tyrannosaurus Rexes.

Like Phil’s laser, the oscilloscope also shows a dot. Normally it shows various waveforms for analysis, but really it just shows voltage visually. By splitting the music’s stereo signal into 2 lines (one for the left speaker, the other for the right) and connecting these 2 voltages to the oscilloscope’s two inputs, the oscilloscope’s dot can be moved around the screen based on what the music does. One input (say the left audio channel) controls the horizontal, and the other input controls the vertical, moving the dot around the screen. By adjusting the voltage for the two channels carefully, you can turn the oscilloscope into an Etch-a-Sketch. And by having the sound change the drawing changes, and you can move and change the image. OK, it may be a long way to go for what is today considered mere music visualization, but doing it on a ‘scope is brilliant.

Those wacky Austrians have made albums of music based on this. The music is constrained by it’s primary audience, the oscilloscope, so it sounds somewhat like raw old school synthesizer music.

There’s a lot of trigonometry involved in this, so the next time a student asks a math teacher “when will we use this”, the answer may be “when you form a band.”

Supercomputer model of galaxy formation

The Illustris project¬†at MIT has used supercomputers to model the universe in unprecedented detail. Their model shows the universe from 12¬†million years old to present day. It shows how regular matter and dark matter created early stars and galaxies. There are some places where the model doesn’t match what we observe, and this is where some interesting science will be done in the future.

Large scale projection through the Illustris volume at z=0, centered on the most massive cluster, 15 Mpc/h deep. Shows dark matter density (left) transitioning to gas density (right).

8 bit computers floating around inside living things?

Scientists have made DNA based robotsnanobots – to carry medicine to diseases and release drugs when the diseases are reached. By using DNA folding, drugs can be stored inside cages of DNA molecules. The DNA will unfold when it touches the right protein. They have made the DNA unfold when it touches certain disease molecules. These have been injected into cockroaches. These robots can behave like nanocomputers, and while we will soon be making them about as powerful as a Commodore 64 from the 1980s, how long until we have 64 bit computers traveling our bloodstreams, repairing damaged cells, transmitting information on our health at a cellular level?

Book Administration

Book Administration? How could books need administration? Are you becoming a librarian?

Well, no. We use online textbooks, and the students need access to them. Someone has to create the accounts, etc. After my first year with online books, I needed to get rid of the old students and enter in new ones. I suddenly needed an administrator to do this for me. I knew that getting someone else to do it was the slow way, so I managed to get my principal to sign off on my becoming the administrator.

This required putting all the students in a spreadsheet. Everything had to be just so or the online system would reject it. It took a bit of fiddling, but I got it all in.

That was back in 2008.

Enter 2013. Other classes have started to use online textbooks, and I’ve been the one to get all the students in. This year I put in the 5th grade for the first time. But, now the elementary schools are using online textbooks. I can’t create their student IDs because it’s a different school. I only have permission to add Valley View students. So I’m now trying to get approval to be the district administrator (OK, it’s a small district of only 2 schools). Hopefully this can happen quickly.