- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 7, 2000

Two orbs, each less than an inch in diameter, work with a 3-pound mass of gray matter to offer a window to the universe. The eyes and brain let people distinguish color, identify shapes, drive a vehicle and even perform delicate surgery.
These incredible structures can be fooled, however. For centuries, cognitive scientists, mathematicians, philosophers and psychologists have worked on ways to skew human senses. The optical illusion frustrates as well as delights, and it is the mission of one Web site to stretch the boundaries of perceived reality.


Site address: www.sandlotscience.com.


SandlotScience.com was developed by two men, Bob Ausbourne and Tony Azevedo. Mr. Ausbourne works as an art director in Los Angeles and handles the site's day-to-day maintenance. Mr. Azevedo, an electronics worker in Maringo, Iowa, does all the site's programming and helps with research and exhibit concepts.

Creator quotable:

"We created this site several years ago because we simply thought it would be neat to put a collection of optical illusions on the Internet," Mr. Ausbourne says.
"Later, as the site gained in popularity, we began to see a real need for our content. As educators, students, researchers and teachers began to rely on us to post more interactive demonstrations and exhibits, we waded into the task with both feet. We now spend most evenings and weekends working on the site and love every minute of it."

Word from the Webwise:

The many visual illusions found at SandlotScience.com encourage students or casual surfers to look at and think about objects in a different light.
Through 11 sections featuring a total of 83 visual experiments, visitors will find illustrations, animated diagrams, active images and typography to fascinate while perplexing the peepers.
A good place to begin this magical journey is the "Giants of Illusion" section, which highlights the work of Jerry Andrus, M.C. Escher and Sandro del Prete. Visitors will gain perspective through these visionary illusionists' stories and will see some of their greatest works. These include Mr. Andrus' "Spiral Aftereffect," which has its roots with Greek scholar Aristotle, and Mr. Escher's impossible triangle lithograph "Waterval."
While thinking about triangles, stop by the "Impossible Objects" section to consider 16 geometrically challenging designs. The site explains that an impossible object is "a collection of reasonable parts put together in an impossible way."
An example of the impossible can be found in a colorful triangle made of boxes, with each box showing one blue, one red and one yellow side.
As the boxes move into the pattern of a triangle, the inside of the triangle, made up of the blue side of the boxes, appears to transform into the outside. Or follow the outside of the triangle and watch the yellow boxes become the top. Or follow the red side of the triangle as it moves forward. Somebody get me an aspirin.
One well-researched scientific anomaly, the "Moon Illusion," also can be found at the site. Accessible through a front-page link, the page explains a situation most of us take for granted. Why does the moon look bigger when it's near the horizon and smaller when it's higher in the sky?
Remember, the moon's height above the earth stays relatively constant, and its size is fixed. The site delves into the mystery with an interactive demonstration and a good explanation.
Another component to SandlotScience.com, which has nothing to do with illusions, involves links to outside classrooms and teachers' sites. These links give a great perspective on the Internet's reach to schools around the country. Teacher Barbara Lane's home page (https://web54.sd54.k12.il.us/schools/einstein/blane) from School District 54 in Schaumburg, Ill., contains everything from lists of upcoming field trips to homework assignments.

Ease of use:

SandlotScience.com works best within a PC environment using any Java-enabled browser. Macintosh users may be in for a bit of a hairy experience as most of the experiments do not work without a bit of tinkering.
My biggest complaint with the site is the shallowness of the scientific explanations for many of the illusions. It would have been nice to see the deeper reporting found at the "Moon Illusion" area throughout the site.

Family activity:

The site uses Adobe Acrobat's portable document format to allow the entire clan to download projects for use away from the computer. Try the "Aftereffect Illusions" section, which explains and demonstrates the concept behind the afterimage an effect in which the eye sees color opposites after staring intently at an object and then looking at a white surface.
The section offers three projects to reproduce the effect. Print several copies of the line-art versions of a tiger, flag and beach scene and get everyone involved in coloring the images. Then experiment to find out which intensities of colors achieve the best images.

Don't miss:

Visitors can give their overworked eyes a rest and get a quick chuckle with a stop at the "spot check" section. With a tip of the hat to Gary Larson's "The Far Side," philosopher and cartoonist Charles Moore exhibits five of his silliest works.

Cyber-sitter synopsis:

SandlotScience.com will bring out the curious child in even the most curmudgeonly individual. Parents should be aware the site offers an on-line shopping area and has a bit of banner advertising. However, children will enter a "Twilight Zone" of fun and will not be disappointed.

Information grade: B-

Have a cool site for the family? Write to Joseph Szadkowski at Webwise, The Washington Times, 3600 New York Ave. NE, Washington, D.C. 20002, call 202/636-3016 or send an e-mail message ([email protected]).

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