The Electric Company’s “Sign Song”

From my earliest TV-watching years, I remember we had a movable antenna on the roof that you could orient based on which channel you wanted to watch. You had your pick of three or four channels, depending on your appetite for static and snow.

By the time we got cable TV, thereby enabling our local PBS affiliate, I was already past the Mister Rogers and Sesame Street years. But I was in the demographic sweet spot for The Electric Company. And because nothing ever goes away anymore, I now have the pleasure of sitting in front of YouTube with my daughter and dredging up my favorite bits of 1970s educational TV.

For example, I was trying to remember all the words to the Sign Song that starts off like this: I like fish food, you do too. Don’t look now your hair is blue. Doesn’t sound so clever, eh? Well, here it is. Judge for yourself.

Just you try not humming that later on today.

In fact, looking back years later, I’m amazed at the talent they drummed up for that show. Morgan Freeman was a regular on the show. And although I knew that Tom Lehrer wrote the LY song for The Electric Company, I was surprised to learn via YouTube that he actually wrote a handful of other tunes, including the Silent E and the charming N Apostrophe T number that I only just discovered.

It’s amusing to think that my daughter is watching this on a small screen with low quality video, just like I did in the 70s, only for her it’s a TCP/IP feed to a small corner of my computer monitor.

Animal-like robots

We’re definitely entering a new realm with robotics. Before robotic motion was always painfully awkward and stilted, not something you would ever mistake for the smooth motion of an animal. But these days you can find plenty of examples of remarkably fluid “un-robotic” behavior. Things will progress very rapidly from here. The YouTube video below shows human-controlled robots. They’re being driven by remote control, but they’re still a treat to watch.

This next example is a video of a robotic eel, and it truly has to be seen to be believed. Again, it’s radio-controlled, but still, LOOK AT THAT FELLER SWIM! Straight out of a Bond movie.

They’re called “rockdots”

Jon Udell’s Heavy Metal Umlaut video is being passed around a lot these days, and with good reason. He took a quirky page out of Wikipedia, coupled it with some quick and dirty video manipulation from Camtasia, and made a compelling illustration of how the Wikipedia actually works.

Here’s the current Wikipedia entry that initially tickled Udell. This odd little article started out two years ago with this inauspicious note about the spandex and umlaut circuit. Over time it morphed into a richly detailed socialogical digression. But how did that transformation come about? Udell decided to make a movie about that process: here it is.

Udell is on a roll these days, putting new and consistently interesting commentary into his InfoWorld columns and his weblog. In addition, he writes the occasional column for O’Reilly. If you’re so inclined, you can read a detailed account of how he created the umlaut video here.

Come fly with me

More joys of the Astronomy Picture of the Day, a.k.a. APOD. I think this must be one of the best (and most cost effective) public relations efforts ever managed by NASA. I used to work at NASA Ames Research Center, and I remember how important PR was, given their steady diet of taxpayer’s cash. It’s a good arrangement… I want to see cool space pictures, and NASA wants to show them to me for free. Last week APOD featured this: Liftoff With the Space Shuttle, which led me to a bonanza of online video here: STS – 112 Video Index (which is to say, videos from space shuttle mission 112, the most recent one). I really must insist that you take the time to download the movie that shows the view looking down from the external fuel tank as the shuttle takes off. You get an unbroken visual record as the shuttle moves steadily from one world to the next. First there is the familiar view as from an airplane of grasslands, beach, and ocean. Then after only 90 seconds (17 miles high! 2800 miles per hour!) the scene has become a view from space, with tiny clotted splotches of cloud painted flat against a dim Florida coastline. The last frame seen from this camera shows the soft curvature of the earth clearly highlighted against the black void beyond.

Before I leave the topic of APOD, I have to mention another title that caught my eye: October 24 – Gullies on Mars. Since my last name is Gulley, you can imagine I looked long and hard for a peek at my Martian cousins, but to no avail. Still, if their house is somewhere in the picture, they must have a marvelous view from their back yard.