Category Archives: science

Soda as a dietary supplement

Last year I signed up for Arivale’s beta program. They’re attempting to quantify participants’ state of health through DNA sequencing, gut microbiome sequencing, FitBit tracking, interviews, and periodic saliva and blood tests. I’m enjoying the experience so far, and very much looking forward to analyzing my own whole genome (just as soon as my BAM is finally available…)

So far I’ve had two blood tests: one last November, and one a last month. There’s not enough data to establish a real trend yet (particularly since they switched lab service companies between samples). But it’s still fun to see extensive blood work results mapped out on a nice easy-to-read chart.

This month my personal coach pointed out that my homocysteine and overall cholesterol levels look a little high. Previously my homocysteine level appeared quite low, which might be due to a bunch of factors.

homocysteine levels

Changing labs between samples means that direct comparisons are less meaningful. My coach wanted to know if my diet or habits have changed significantly since the last draw. Six months is a long time to account for, but I really couldn’t think of a significant change on my part.

She recommended taking a B12 supplement to help offset the rise in homocysteine.

That’s when it hit me: there was a subtle shift in my diet since last winter. I may have been inadvertently supplementing my diet with B vitamins after all.


One of my shop mates sprung for a case of Red Bull last year. It had been sitting around the shop for a while, and after a few long nights slaving over a hot SEM power supply, I started drinking the stuff. And eventually bought a second case.

Red Bull is, of course, quite high in B6 and B12.

About halfway through the second case I was starting to have trouble sleeping and generally felt overcaffeinated, so I completely quit drinking the stuff.

Neither I nor my counselor (a nutritionist) are doctors, but the Mayo Clinic indicates there is some scientific basis for lowering homocysteine by increasing intake of B vitamins. The overall affect on cardiovascular health seems to be an open question leaning toward “probably not relevant”.

I’m still not sure whether the amount I got from a Red Bull or two every other day would account for the shift in levels, but it’s a fun theory. It’s the first time I’ve ever had the thought that soda might be good for me.

But don’t worry, I’m switching from Red Bull to a B12 supplement with significantly less sodium, sugar, and caffeine.

Bullet time lightning

A while back, I took some photos of my spark gap Tesla coil running.

Although I did get some nice shots, I couldn’t help but feel that they don’t quite capture the full experience of a real live lightning machine. While I can’t do much to recreate the visceral smell of ozone and nitrogen compounds formed by the ionizing sparks, or the reverberating whine of the beautiful but deadly spark gap, I did have an idea for bringing another aspect of the lightning show to the interwebs.

3-D lightning! (Be sure to watch it in HD if you have the bandwidth.)

I made a ten-camera array of Canon A470s, and configured them to work as a single 70-megapixel 10-angle camera.


Why that particular camera? Partly because I found someone dumping a bunch of them on eBay for cheap, but also because they run CHDK, the infamous scriptable firmware for Canon cameras. This let me write some code to streamline the process of taking ten photos all at once, and then get them off of the cameras in a reasonable manner. By wiring all of them to the same 10-port USB hub, and using CHDK’s syncable USB remote feature, I was able to wire up a single button to make all of the cameras fire at once. Collect all the photos, find all of the good ones that are actually in focus, get them aligned and color balanced and scaled, and away you go. Bullet time lightning.

bullet time lightning

This was one of the more challenging projects I’ve taken on in a while. I had to build a physical mount to hold all of the cameras, wire them together to a repurposed PC power supply, recompile CHDK to eliminate as many unnecessary camera keystrokes as possible, write some scripts to facilitate taking and retrieving the photos, then shoot the actual photos without accidentally frying the whole rig. And, of course, build and operate the Tesla coil itself, edit together the stills, and compile the whole thing into a possibly entertaining vid.

I want to take a lot more footage with this camera, but I also wanted to release the results as soon as I could. So here you are.

Aside from Tesla shots, what would you shoot if you had a bullet-time style camera?


First-ever live birth inside an MRI

Philips designed an open MRI that allows enough room for the mother to actually give birth while inside the machine.

Via Medgadget:

This operation was the culmination of two years of research and development work by the “open high-field MRI” task force specialising in radiology. “We had to develop a new type of foetal surveillance monitor whose measuring technology is not adversely affected by the extremely strong magnetic field of the MRI scanner,” says project manager Felix Güttler in explaining one of the challenges the team faced.