Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Google Earth


Recently, Google released a new map system to allow for a 3D Earth view. The new maps depict Earth as a 3D planet, and allow users to explore mountains and cities in 3D.  At first, Google Earth could be downloaded and installed on a computer, but now it is available at maps.google.com for Google users to use without downloading it.

To try the new maps, sign in to your Google account and go to maps.google.com. In the tab on the left, click "Get it now" where it describes the new Google maps. If you do not see the button, try  typing "new maps" into the search bar and pressing Enter. The "Get it now" button should appear above the results.

My photograph of the Grand Canyon on left, Google Earth's Grand Canyon on right
(same location)

I really like the new maps. Besides being able to explore the Grand Canyon or Mount Everest, I especially like what happens when I zoom out all the way: Earth becomes visible with a lit side and a shadowed side, and the blackness around the planet is filled with stars that correspond to the actual positions of stars in the sky. The dark side of the planet is filled with city lights, just as the real planet would have, and both the light and dark sides of the planet contain clouds in the actual positions of clouds on the real planet. It is amazing.

The lighting of the planet, as well as the position of the sun relative to the other stars, is beautifully accurate. I was very impressed that Google even included the planets in the starry sky.

When I start to zoom in on the planet (using the mouse scroll-wheel), all this changes. The clouds are still there, but the stars disappear and the planet no longer has a dark side. This allows for easier navigation of the globe. The clouds fade away after zooming in further.

At closer zoom levels, finer details are visible. In most places, only the terrain is 3D, and the houses are steam-rolled flat to the ground. In other places, however, Google used a special algorithm using visual data to detect 3D structures such as houses or trees. In these areas, the scenery is much more impressive. It may look like a cheap video game, but when you realize that the houses and trees were built using computer software and photographs, it is very amazing.

Racine, WI, near Lake Michigan; notice the 3D structures
The main problems I found are the following:
1. Sometimes, adjacent satellite images are tinted differently, resulting in a striped landscape
2. The bumps on the ocean floor are treated as mountains, so when viewing the ocean at an angle, it looks bumpy and unrealistic
3. There's no way to hide the labels
4. Countries look the same in Summer as in Winter, even when zoomed out completely

So that's what I have to say about Google Earth. Have anything you'd like to add? Leave a comment!

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Art Maker Pro

On Khan Academy, a while ago, I wrote a program that would allow users to draw a picture, and then the program would generate another program which they could copy and paste and save. The new program would animate the drawing of the same picture. The program was named "Art Maker".

Recently, I created a new version of my program. The original only allowed for black and white; the new version includes color, as well as a dialog box system which I designed. The program uses only my own code - I didn't borrow anybody else's (as far as I can remember).

To embed the program on my blog, I had to use Khan Academy's script; unfortunately, their script isn't working very well here, so the program is cut off at the edge. You can access the program itself here: https://www.khanacademy.org/cs/art-maker-pro/5733417664643072

I finished the program before Christmas so I could release it for everybody to use on that day... so Merry Christmas!

To use:
* Click Generate to generate a JavaScript with Processing program in the pop-up console. You can copy the program and paste it in the New Program window on Khan Academy.
* Click Undo to undo the last stroke. Click Edit to change the palette.
* Pick a color by clicking the palette.
* Hide the top bar by clicking in the upper-right corner of the canvas; show the bar by clicking in the
* upper-left corner.
* Draw by clicking and dragging. This intentionally does work when the Generate Code dialog window is open. White doubles as an eraser.
* To get past the opening screen, either wait or click somewhere on the canvas.

Keyboard shortcuts:
* Enter: Generate code
* Z: Undo
* E: Edit Palette


Art Maker Pro

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Apfelkuchen

Apfelkuchen is an apple pie baked German style. The word literally translates to "apple cake", but is used in Germany to mean apple pie. Apfelkuchen has many variations. One variation involves baking apples inside a sweet, sugary crust in a tube pan. My mom had a recipe for apfelkuchen which she got from a German woman she knew, but she lost it. The following recipe is my imitation of that recipe. If you try it, let me know how it turned out!

Crust:
1 1/2 cups (3 sticks) butter, softened
1 1/2 cups sugar
3 medium eggs
1 tablespoon vanilla
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
4 cups flour

Filling:
8 - 10 apples, sliced (peeling is optional) 1/2 cup sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla
                                                   
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cream butter and sugar. Add eggs one at a time, beating thoroughly after each addition. Add vanilla and salt. Mix well. Add baking soda and flour, and stir until combined. Pat about half of the mixture in the bottom and up the sides of a tube pan.

For the filling, combine the sugar and vanilla. Add the mixture to the apples and mix evenly. Place the apples into the pan with the dough, and carefully place the remaining dough on top. The apples should be completely covered with the dough. If you have any dough left over, you can core an apple or two and cover it with the remaining dough.

Place the apfelkuchen in the oven on the middle rack. Bake for 35 to 40 minutes, or until the apples are soft and the crust is golden-brown (check the apples by piercing with a fork). Remove from oven and let cool for about 15 minutes before flipping onto a platter and removing pan. Serve warm with slightly sweetened whipped cream. Apfelkuchen is also good plain or cold.

Note: Vanilla-sugar can be used instead of sugar, if the vanilla is omitted.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Winter in the Rockies

Blowing snow lit up by the sun, which recently set behind those two peaks
A couple of days ago I went skiing. That's not unusual, because I love to ski. Every year I go skiing quite a few times - usually starting in November, when Arapahoe Basin opens, and ending in June, when the snow melts and they have to close.

When I went skiing, I brought my camera to the ski resort and took a few pictures. I didn't take any videos or photos of the skiing, but I did take some photos of the moon above the mountains.

If I come up to the mountains from Denver, there are two options to get to Arapahoe Basin. One option is to  take the I-70 through the Eisenhower tunnel, continue past Arapahoe Basin until the next exit, drive through Dillon, and then backtrack to the resort. When I go through the tunnel (which I don't very often), I like to hold my breath until I get to the other side. This is especially difficult when I run into a traffic jam halfway through.

A quicker route is to get off the I-70 onto Loveland Pass Road, which is a curvy road that winds over a mountain pass and is much more direct. This road is rather narrow and has a very steep slope on one side of it, so in snowy conditions it can be closed and I have to take the route through the tunnel.


When I was on Loveland Pass Road, I saw some flashing lights up ahead and a scrape-mark in the snow on the cliff. I immediately suspected that somebody had slid off the edge. Sure enough, when I got to the lights, I could see an autorack truck that had fallen off the edge and smashed into the trees below. There were some men climbing up to the road, and some cables connecting the fallen truck to another one which would probably pull it back up. I didn't get a chance to take a photograph, but I knew I'd be coming back that way later, so I decided to take a photo then.

View of Loveland Pass Road from the I-70, with the trucks circled
Unfortunately, the road was closed by the time I got back - probably because they were trying to pull the truck back up - so I had to take the longer route that passed through the tunnel. Then, on the highway, I took some photos of the truck accident from below. You can see my photos in this post. The trucks are on Loveland Pass Road, and the mark is where the truck slid down the cliff. I'm not sure whether the truck got back on the road - it could still be hiding in the trees, or it could be that autorack on the right in the picture.

That day must have been marked for trouble, because on the same road, only a couple of miles from the truck accident, there was another accident that involved two cars that had collided. Glass and chunks of metal were all over the road. And then there was also a 1.5 hour backup on the I-70 because of construction on one of the Twin Tunnels. I wouldn't be surprised if there were a lot of other accidents that I missed. Well, at least I made it home safe!

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Orange Candle

This candle was leaning over too far, so I propped it up with a folded piece of paper.
In the cold, dark months of the year, candles are more than welcome. Not only do they give off a cozy light, but they also give off heat and warmth. The trouble is that candles cost money - not only for the candle itself, but also for the candle holder. So is there an alternative to buying candles?