Thermal Camera is Thermal!

I call this one "Teenager, Thermal".

My colleague Max Whitby wanted me to get him a Seek Thermal XR camera for complicated reasons of international trade and finance (cheaper to ship to Illinois and have me bring it to London in my suitcase). It looked like a cool thing so I decided to get one for myself too. Best $299 I've spend in a long time!

It's a true thermal imaging camera, completely insensitive to visible light and able to quantitatively measure the temperature of each pixel in its sensor (206x156 pixels). And it's about the size of two dominoes, connects to the bottom of your phone (iPhone or Android), and opens your eyes to a world of fun.

The first time I tried it out I thought, hey, it would be a cool premise for a horror movie if some guy was lying in bed in a pitch dark room playing with his thermal imaging camera, when suddenly he saw a bright glowing shape in the corner of the room! AAAAAHHH! Instant terror! Then I thought, hm, I happen to be lying in bed in a pitch dark room playing with a thermal camera, maybe I'd better check out the corners of the room. (The package had been waiting for me when I arrived late last Friday night, so the first real chance I had to play with it was when I was already in bed checking email one last time....)

AAAAAHHH! Ohhh! I have hot water radiators for heat. One of them is in the corner of the room.

It is a gateway to the lava pit we keep in the basement.

The camera does videos too! Here is one of my son eating a sausage. I'm not sure he will forgive me for posting this.

Here are two videos of a stream of warm water entering a pool of cold water. I deny all knowledge of how these were made or what the liquid is.

Ha! take that Hennig Brandt! (And if you get that reference, I still deny everything.)

It also works on cats (notice the incredibly cold nose!):

And girlfriends who want proof that their feet are super-cold:

Most glass and plastic does not transmit deep infrared light very well, so glasses are cold. That means people wearing glasses look like they are wearing cool shades. And have cold noses.

About the only problem with it is that if you leave the very nice plastic storage case it comes with on a table that's being used to prepare a periodic table quilt, and it accidentally gets left in between the layers of fabric and batting when the quilt is loaded into your quilting robot, the machine will stitch around the case, trapping it inside the beryllium square and jamming the machine. I hate when that happens.

Supercooled Soda Right Here in River City!

I never expected to see this with my own eyes! It's a bit chilly here, about 10F (-12C), and I'd left a 2-liter bottle of Clear brand black cherry sugar free soda outdoors (so it would be cold). I brought it inside and went to pour a glass when BAM! it turned to ice as it was being poured! Don't believe me? Here's the video, taken less than an hour ago.

The "weird stuff we had when we were kids" referred to by the kid in the video (that would be Emma) was sodium acetate, which is known for being easy to get into a supersaturated state. (I did a Popular Science column about it and it's in my Mad Science book, so we had a couple gallons at one point.)

But this isn't a supersaturated solution, it's a supercooled liquid, which is much harder to achieve and keep stable. The fact that this soda was able to stay in this state at such a low temperature (probably not actually 10F/-12C, but definitely a long way below freezing) indicates that it was very pure (in the sense of free from particulate contamination) and that the plastic bottle had a very smooth inner surface.

I've heard of water bottles getting into this state when left absolutely still in cold weather, but they generally freeze solid as soon as they are disturbed. This stuff stayed liquid as I carried it in and poured several glasses full of it! In fact you'll notice there's a little pile of ice in the bottom of the glass at the start of the video. I didn't know it would happen when I poured the first glass, so of course I wasn't recording it. When I got out my camera and poured a second glass, it didn't freeze even as it was being poured (which is pretty astonishing, I think). So for the third glass I put in those seed crystals, which worked, and proved that it really was very much supercooled in the bottle.

Then we proceeded with dinner. The instant-ice was very spongy, kind of like marshmallow except it melted as you ate it.

A few days later Nick and I re-flimed it under better conditions:

WSJ Best Seller List!

Sorry for another gloating self-congratulatory blog post, but if they'd stop putting my book on best-seller lists, I'd stop feeling smug. (Actually, as long as my girlfriend is still my girlfriend I'll stay fairly smug just on that count alone.)

Anyway, today I learned that The Elements in static ebook format is #8 on the Wall Street Journal non-fiction ebook best-seller list.

This is largely due to the one-day $1.99 price promotion that ran last week, so it's kind of cheating. But then again, half the people on the list are probably cheating in a similar way, so I don't feel too bad about it.

Here are all the places you can get this static ebook edition (back at the regular price):




Google Play:

PLEASE NOTE: This is the static ebook edition, not the iPad App! Basically it's the same thing as the print edition, same words, same pictures, just on a screen instead of on paper. The iPap App lets you spin all the elements around with your finger, listen to Tom Leher's elements song (in English and Japanese), and do other such app-like things. The App also includes the full text in over a dozen languages, while the static ebook is English-only.

And of course it's always available in print from any bookseller.

Molecules Quilt

It's rare that my worlds of science writing and quilting collide quite as directly as yesterday, when I made a Molecules quilt.

This started last year when, on a whim, I made a simpler, less purple version as I was finishing up my Molecules book. I ended up giving that one to a bookstore that had been selling my books at a big science festival thing I gave a talk at. My publisher asked if I could make another one as a prize for a "Best Theodore Gray Bookstore Display" contest they were holding, and with typical disregard for the value of my future self's time, of course I said yes.

The molecule rendering is based on the way I show molecules in the book, with a gradient glow that sorta-kinda represents the diffuse electron cloud that surrounds all molecules. Here is the same molecule, theobromine, as it appears in the book:

To represent the glow in quilt form, I made a contour plot of its density and stitched each contour line. I think it's an interesting, rather sculptural effect, though somewhat backwards since the strongest, boldest appearance is where the contour lines are most widely spaced, which is of course where the glow and electron density is weakest. (And yes, it would look better if there were appliqués of different colored fabric for each atom and for the bonds. But life is short.)

For your (or at least someone's) amusement, here is a time-lapse video of the making of this quilt (elapsed time about an hour, not counting interruptions that have been edited out):

The quilt is meant to be stretched on a frame, as shown in the photo at the top. The recipient will be a guinea pig for my quilt framing system. It will be the first time I've tried to send someone a disassembled frame and have them assemble it and stretch a quilt over it. Wish them luck.

When I find out who actually won this thing, I'll post pictures of their Theodore Gray display, and hopefully a picture of this quilt on display in their bookstore, if they manage to get it together and think it's worth putting up!

Today Only! The Elements Static eBook for $1.99 at All Major Stores

Amazon has selected the static ebook edition of The Elements as today's non-fiction digital Daily Deal, which means that for today only its $1.99 (instead of $10-$15 or something in that range). To celebrate, my publisher has made it $1.99 everywhere ebooks are sold. Here are direct links to the book at each of the major ebook stores:




Google Play:

So if you've been wanting The Elements on whatever device it is you have, today is your day!

PLEASE NOTE: This is the static ebook edition, not the iPad App! Basically it's the same thing as the print edition, same words, same pictures, just on a screen instead of on paper. The iPap App lets you spin all the elements around with your finger, listen to Tom Leher's elements song (in English and Japanese), and do other such app-like things. The App also includes the full text in over a dozen languages, while the static ebook is English-only. However, the app is not on sale: It's $13.99 as usual.

Both are nice, both have their strengths and weaknesses, but today, the static ebook is $1.99, so it's got an edge for the time being.

The Elements book and app on Japanese television

Gotta love Japanese TV! It's just so...wacky. Case in point, this show, which I know absolutely nothing about other than that they talk about my book and app The Elements. The relevant bit starts at the 34:00 minute mark. (If the embedded video doesn't start automatically at the right point, try this link to youtube.)

No idea what they are saying, but it sounds like they are having fun! (And if you understand Japanese and can tell me what they are saying, that would be great.)

We saw a significant bump in sales of the app in Japan a couple days ago, so I'm guessing it's a popular show.

Me on an NPR Podcast talking about something I don't know much about

A few years ago a radio show asked me what is the modern equivalent of Fahrenheit 451? In other words, at what temperature would an ebook reader ignite? I made up some stuff that mainly consisted of telling them how cool it is to grill laptop batteries. (They go off like rockets if you do it right. I've ignited the tops of tall trees this way.)

Anyway, the same people called me a few days ago to talk about another thing I'm not really an expert on: How to stop an email you didn't mean to send before it gets to the other end and destroys your life, career, or chance of getting any tonight.

Here's the podcast:

We talked for about 20 minutes and they edited it down to about two, which means they left out all the sensible suggestions and went for the more dramatic ones. But that's fine, because really the answer is "your screwed, it's too late" and none of the sensible, or dramatic, answers work anyway, unless you've prepared ahead of time for this eventuality, which removes all the fun from the question.

Public Appearance in Houston on Jan 27th, with 4K Projection

I'm giving a talk at the Houston Museum of Natural Science at 6:30PM on January 27th. (That's 2015, in case you're reading this blog post when it's really old. I mention this only because I once showed up to an event exactly a year late.)

The interesting possibility at this talk is that we will be projecting my images on their giant screen with what is claimed to be a very fancy 4K projector (i.e. IMAX-like resolution). I've never done that before, and it should be pretty cool since all the images I'll be using, including lots of rotating objects and some video, were shot at at least 4K resolution, or better. It should look really good, if all the technology works out.

I will be talking primarily about my Molecules book. Apparently they charge $18 for tickets ($12 for members of the museum). I can't really say whether I'm worth $18 for the hour, given that you can buy the whole book for about that much in print form, or less in app form. On the other hand, if you come to the talk you get to ask awkward questions, and/or get your book signed.