Turkey Tracker: What to Watch (Online) This Thanksgiving

Turkey Tracker is a bold experiment in social networking and turkey-smoking technology. Turkey Tracker combines a live video stream of a turkey smoking (at an undisclosed location, but I might as well tell you it's in Portland, Oregon), a live Q&A session and other events throughout the day (see the Broadcast Schedule at the bottom of this post for details), a live temperature graph of the bird gathered using high-tech components (again, see below for the ridiculously awesome details), Twitter updates, Flickr updates, a chat room, and more. It's a wonderfully geeky thing to check out on your Thanksgiving -- just stick the laptop in the corner of your kitchen and tune in!

In addition to the main turkey action, the Turkey Tracker folks are asking viewers to pledge money to the Oregon Food Bank in a style similar to a walkathon, where you pledge a small amount per Turkey Tracker viewer. (Don't worry, you can limit the pledge total amount in case this thing goes nuts and there are a million visitors.) The money goes directly to the charity, there's nothing fishy going on here. (Also, they're giving away an iPod touch to people who donate.)

Here's a video of Michael Weinberg (the Turkey Master) on "Thanksgiving 2.0," explaining the Turkey Tracker 2009 project. This is really fun, and includes some shots of "technical difficulties" (involving fire) from last year's event.

Here's an example of awesome geekiness from the Turkey Tracker 2009 FAQ (emphasis added):

8. How do you track the temperature?

This year, we're using Type-K thermocouples from Omega Engineering in Connecticut--they're a provider of industrial sensors and process control equipment. Our ambient and smoker temperature sensors are bolt-on thermocouples with glass-insulated wire rated to 480degC (900degF). The probe for the turkey itself is a custom ordered probe that has a advanced ceramic insulation made by 3M that's rated to 1200degC (2200degF). The thermocouples generate a current proportional to the temperature, which we amplify with an Analog Devices AD595 chip. The AD595 is then connected to an Arduino microcontroller board that is programmed to output the temperature, in Celsius, over USB. We have a ruby script that collects the data on the serial line and converts it to Fahrenheit. For graphing, we use RRDTool. The data is polled every minute. The steps you see in the graph also depict minute intervals.

Our obsession with high-temperature rated materials is due to events last year that caused us to lose sensors twice during the cooking process in a very dramatic fashion. Besides, we haven't had a chance to buy export-restricted thermally-insulated sensors before.

How to Track the Turkey

First off, follow @turkeytracker on Twitter. Next, check out the Turkey Tracker website (where you can watch live video, view a temperature graph, check out user-contributed turkey photos from around the world, and chat with other visitors). If you want to pledge to help Oregon Food Bank, there's a convenient form to help out. Finally, check out the Turkey Tracker Blog which includes this important schedule (times are Pacific Standard Time):

Broadcast Schedule

9 "“ 9:30 AM: Turkey in the smoker, broadcast starts.
10 AM: Gobble Gobble Hey? "“ We answer your questions.
11 AM: Turkey Toast & Technocrati Talk "“ A Discussion of the Technology Behind Turkey Tracker. This hour is sponsored by New Seasons Market.
12 PM: Kevin Ludwig from Beaker and Flask presents a cocktail in honor of Turkey Tracker. (pre-taped)
1 PM: Beers to compliment your Thanksgiving meal. Q&A.
2 PM : Kevin Ludwig from Beaker and Flask presents a cocktail in honor of Turkey Tracker. (pre-taped) followed by dedications.
3 PM: Wines to compliment your Thanksgiving meal. Q&A.
4 PM: Kevin Ludwig from Beaker and Flask presents a cocktail in honor of Turkey Tracker. (pre-taped) followed by more Gobble Gobble, Hey?
5 PM: Parade of Appetizers
6 PM: Kevin Ludwig from Beaker and Flask presents a cocktail in honor of Turkey Tracker. (pre-taped) followed by Prize Drawing.
6:30 "“ 7 PM: Turkey is done!

See also: coverage of Turkey Tracker from 2008.

Apple Wants to Patent a Keyboard You’re Allowed to Spill Coffee On

In the future, eating and drinking near your computer keyboard might not be such a dangerous game. On March 8, Apple filed a patent application for a keyboard designed to prevent liquids, crumbs, dust, and other “contaminants” from getting inside, Dezeen reports.

Apple has previously filed several patents—including one announced on March 15—surrounding the idea of a keyless keyboard that would work more like a trackpad or a touchscreen, using force-sensitive technology instead of mechanical keys. The new anti-crumb keyboard patent that Apple filed, however, doesn't get into the specifics of how the anti-contamination keyboard would work. It isn’t a patent for a specific product the company is going to debut anytime soon, necessarily, but a patent for a future product the company hopes to develop. So it’s hard to say how this extra-clean keyboard might work—possibly because Apple hasn’t fully figured that out yet. It’s just trying to lay down the legal groundwork for it.

Here’s how the patent describes the techniques the company might use in an anti-contaminant keyboard:

"These mechanisms may include membranes or gaskets that block contaminant ingress, structures such as brushes, wipers, or flaps that block gaps around key caps; funnels, skirts, bands, or other guard structures coupled to key caps that block contaminant ingress into and/or direct containments away from areas under the key caps; bellows that blast contaminants with forced gas out from around the key caps, into cavities in a substrate of the keyboard, and so on; and/or various active or passive mechanisms that drive containments away from the keyboard and/or prevent and/or alleviate containment ingress into and/or through the keyboard."

Thanks to a change in copyright law in 2011, the U.S. now gives ownership of an idea to the person who first files for a patent, not the person with the first working prototype. Apple is especially dogged about applying for patents, filing plenty of patents each year that never amount to much.

Still, they do reveal what the company is focusing on, like foldable phones (the subject of multiple patents in recent years) and even pizza boxes for its corporate cafeteria. Filing a lot of patents allows companies like Apple to claim the rights to intellectual property for technology the company is working on, even when there's no specific invention yet.

As The New York Times explained in 2012, “patent applications often try to encompass every potential aspect of a new technology,” rather than a specific approach. (This allows brands to sue competitors if they come out with something similar, as Apple has done with Samsung, HTC, and other companies over designs the company views as ripping off iPhone technology.)

That means it could be a while before we see a coffee-proof keyboard from Apple, if the company comes out with one at all. But we can dream.

[h/t Dezeen]

Google Adds 'Wheelchair Accessible' Option to Its Transit Maps

Google Maps is more than just a tool for getting from Point A to Point B. The app can highlight the traffic congestion on your route, show you restaurants and attractions nearby, and even estimate how crowded your destination is in real time. But until recently, people who use wheelchairs to get around had to look elsewhere to find routes that fit their needs. Now, Google is changing that: As Mashable reports, the company's Maps app now offers a wheelchair accessible option to users.

Anyone with the latest version of Google Maps can access the new feature. After opening the app, just enter your starting point and destination and select the public transit choices for your trip. Maps will automatically show you the quickest routes, but the stations it suggests aren't necessarily wheelchair accessible.

To narrow down your choices, hit "Options" in the blue bar above the recommended routes then scroll down to the bottom of the page to find "Wheelchair accessible." When that filter is checked, your list of routes will update to only show you bus stops and subways that are also accessible by ramp or elevator where there are stairs.

While it's a step in the right direction, the new accessibility feature isn't a perfect navigation tool for people using wheelchairs. Google Maps may be able to tell you if a station has an elevator, but it won't tell you if that elevator is out of service, an issue that's unfortunately common in major cities.

The wheelchair-accessible option launched in London, New York, Tokyo, Mexico City, Boston, and Sydney on March 15, and Google plans to expand it to more transit systems down the road.

[h/t Mashable]


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