Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Teflon Sewage System

In low water areas, I am imagining toiletry that instead of using water to move the waste, is made super-slippery with a teflon or other chemical coating, and slides downhill to the sewer with little to no water.
This would save water for washing, bathing, or with some purification, drinking. Yes, water can be recycled and purified, but it does cost money to do so. (Also, people are repelled.)

Sunday, December 27, 2009

By Your Own Power Exercise

Exercise is the deliberate use of your body's chemical energy, which encourages your muscles to be stronger and uses up the fat stores. But usually, the energy from this is thrown away.
I'm imagining an exercise bike (or this could be adapted to a weight-lifting machine, cardio device, or what have you), that charges up a car battery. One would do an hour or two of exercise, charging the battery at 100 watts. Humans generally use about 150 watts, but I imagine that some energy will be lost in the conversion process. After exercising, one could connect the battery to your house, and for a brief time, your appliances would be charged with human power.
Or this could be used in jails, with inmates charging batteries that power the jail, and perhaps ultimately, society at large. Finally paying back what they stole in the first place, in a way both very direct and indirect. (Direct because they're making electricity from their own efforts, but indirect because this energy...would be sold for public benefit to pay for the victim's needs?)

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Swiss Fish Farm

In Switzerland, a supply of warm water that otherwise would have become thermal pollution, endangering the local wildlife, has instead been used to make an unseasonable sturgeon farm, with solar panels, a greenhouse, and many more environmental features.
This would normally be impossible in Switzerland, which is cold and high in the Alp mountains. Sturgeon thrown into a Swiss river would quickly die, the way a tropical monkey wouldn't survive very long in Siberia. The facility's production of Bananas, likewise, is totally unseasonable for Switzerland, as bananas are a tropical crop, here requiring a greenhouse with greatly raised humidity.
I'm impressed because the facility has taken things that would otherwise be pollution, and turned them into a net benefit. A difficult task. Since then, it now has a restaurant, tours of the greenhouse, and makes money independently. If it sells stock, I totally want some.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Tree Psychology

Today is Christmas, a big holiday in the United States. Started as a religious holiday, (it's supposedly Jesus's birthday, but evidence I have suggests he was born closer to mid-March), it has since become a family-togetherness and gift holiday. The United States has taken rituals from many other countries, but this one concerns the one taken from Germany, in which an illuminated tree is kept in the house. The original plan used candles on the tree, which was manifestly unsafe. (Dry tree plus burning candle equals massive fire disaster.) Modern trees use much safer electric lights, but Christmas tree fires are a big concern for fire departments in this season.
You can tell about the Christmas-celebrant's personality by the type of tree they prefer: Natural ceder vs. Artificial aluminum tree. Natural tree people have a love of nature, a better sense of smell (cedar trees have a subtle smell, that artificial trees do not have), and a bigger toleration of mess. Artificial tree people are more worried about mess, perhaps because they are tired, or because they intensely dislike cleaning. They are more technological, prefer indoor life, and dislike shopping. (Artificial trees can be reused year after year, but a cedar will be a dried hunk by January, and is already dangerously flammable by Christmas day.)
I forget where I read this idea, but a Happy Holidays for you.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Tennis Ball Room

As a visualization of liquid flow, I think it would be funny to have a large room into which many tennis balls are emptied. The tennis balls would represent the individual particles, which bounce and jostle against each other to produce the ultimate effect of the liquid. When everything has come to a rest, a large door on one side could be opened to drain the room in a comedic fashion.
Pipe flow is more poorly understood (and of interest to oil companies and other big concerns), but making a pipe-shaped room is a tad impractical, I think. Would be worth filming, though.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Insane Architecture Projects

Worldwide, wealthy people have enjoyed showing off their wealth and power by building unusual buildings. Because nothing says "Look how rich and crazy I am" like building a huge mansion.
Name: Monticello
Location: Virginia, United States
Architect: Thomas Jefferson

Jefferson's Monticello is a large mansion build around Jefferson's love of dinner parties. To engineer the appearance of food magically appearing (and to hide the unfortunate truth behind the food's preparation), Monticello is made with rotating shelves to make food seem to magically pop from the walls. Wine chutes make full bottles of wine shoot into the room, and make empty bottles vanish.
Jefferson went deeply into debt from his parties, but kept his estate due to his prestige. He was a national founder, and collecting from him while he was alive just seemed massively tasteless to everyone involved. Of course, after his death, the collectors swarmed. Monticello is now a museum, run by someone other than Jefferson's family.
Name: Palace of Versailles
Location: Versailles, France
Architect: Louis Le Vau

His majesty Louis XIV wanted to send a message to the world. Namely: "I'm richer and smarter and have better taste than you do, nyah nyah." So he hired Mr. Le Vau to design a place where he and his entourage would enjoy a luxurious life of comfort with no concerns at all. It includes pumping large amounts of a nearby river to supply the numerous fountains and gardens with water, using the river's own flow to power the pump. Entire acres are dedicated to various arts, including painting, gardening, fountains, sculpture, and so on.
Unfortunately, the kind of attitude displayed proved disastrous for the French monarchy a few generations later. The Palace is maintained today as a museum.
Name: Volkshalle
Location: Berlin, Germany
Architect: Albert Speer

This thing was never actually built. Speer planned for it to be the capital of a German empire that covered Europe. It was to be built as a congressional building, in the same classical Greek style as the US's congressional building, but ludicrously larger. He planned it to be 315 meters long, 315 meters tall, and 74 meters tall.
Architects that examined his plans later claimed that while it could be built, it would suffer internal weather from condensing breath from the intended population inside, that the acoustics would either totally mute anyone speaking, or magnify their voice to deafening volume (experts disagree as to which), and that it would likely sink into Berlin's swampy soil from the immense weight.
World war 2 interfered with plans to construct this, obviously.
Name: Twin Towers 2
Location: New York, United States
Architect: Kenneth Gardner

New York's world trade center was destroyed in the 9/11 attacks. This is a proposed project to rebuild the building, taller, slightly wider, and with much larger windows. There are other projects, but this one is notable as being the most similar to the old structure.
Public opinion is that something should be built on the site, but disagreements rage was to exactly what and how to pay for it.

Name: Mile high tower
Location: Jeddah, Saudi Arabia
Architect: Pickard Chilton

This would be a skyscraper a full US mile (5280 feet) tall. But then they had to shorten it a bit, because the local soil couldn't support that much weight. Then they scrapped it altogether, because of the recent economic crisis. (Construction companies do reasonably expect to be paid to do work.)
Name: Burj Dubai
Location: Dubai, United Arab Emerates
Architect: Skidmore, Owings and Merrill (architectural company, presumably collectively)

"Burj" is Arabic for "Tower," so essentially the name means "Dubai Tower." This building was constructed partially to provide more business room and apartments, but mostly to show off the economic power of Dubai. It is now the tallest standing building in the world. Half as tall as the previous proposed entry, it has been finished in a hard time for Dubai, as all the foreign money is drying up in the recession. It was completed in October of this year.

Name: Forbidden City
Location: Beijing, China
Architect: Unnamed architect in the employ of the Ming emperor of China

When the Ming dynasty siezed power from the Song, (the kind of event that happened on a regular basis in China), the new emperor wanted to show off his newfound power, since he controlled more land after the rebellion. (Other powers were subsumed in the war, and assimilated into China). So he ordered a magnificent capital built, using his best architects, craftspeople, and with materials across his entire new empire. It was meant to glorify both the nation and himself, and included a temple to demonstrate piety.
The construction was immensely difficult, and the names of those involved has been lost, or more likely, never recorded in the first place. Sometime later, a lightning storm damaged the complex. Traditional Chinese belief about government is that a just emperor enjoys the "Mandate of Heaven," a contract that allows him absolute authority so long as he is just and fair before his people. Failure of the emperor to be just and fair would lead to the loss of his authority, which would transfer to something else. Successful rebellions indicated a transfer of the mandate, while unsuccessful rebellions indicated a strong warning that the emperor should change his behavior for the better. This lightning storm was seen as another kind of warning, that heaven and his people were angry at him for his extravagance.
Presumably he did solve this problem, as the Ming dynasty lasted for another 200 years.
The modern Chinese government does not use it as a government complex anymore, but maintains it as a museum of Chinese history.
As I said before, the world's greatest architecture was made mostly to brag about wealth and power, but are quite satisfying to tour.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Friction Heating System

There are many ways to heat an enclosed space. Most of them involve either electricity run through resistant wires, or burning something. But what's the strangest one I could come up with?
How about a system that generates heat by rubbing two large steel plates together? It could be powered by anything from electricity to oil to two large children stomping on plates, and would violently rub together. The friction would make heat, and air would be blown over it and into the heating ducts of the house, providing an endless stream of warm air.
Other heating systems are probably a better idea.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Locators and Suicide

In Oregon, there is a controversy raging about mountain climbing. The state park service wants climbers to carry locating devices, so that if they get lost, injured, or otherwise imperiled, the service can find them directly instead of having to mount a search. The service undergoes search and rescue efforts for all the climbers who disappear. Almost always the climber is found, often alive.
Of course, a coalition of mountain climbers finds the proposal completely unacceptable. Risk, they claim, is part of the fun. It's unreasonable to force people to be completely safe.
Very well then. I'm with those who say "No rescue for the beaconless." In fact, if a beacon-less mountain climber gets lost, I say we declare it a suicide. This has social and financial implications. Socially, suicide is prohibited by all religions and most other philosophies. Suicide is "bad." People reason that it's not sane to want to die. Financially, life insurance does not pay out to victims of suicide, on the grounds that it's the victim's own fault. While we don't go as far as the ancient cultures and bury victims of suicide in an insulting manner, society is very much against that kind of thing. And lost hikers require additional effort and risk for the rangers. Risking your own life could be tolerated, but risking somebody else's is asinine.
I say we declare it a suicide for the same reason that playing Russian roulette is suicide -- sure you might not die, it's risky, easily abolished (The article does not describe the weight of the beacon, but I'm assuming it would compare with a walkman), and provides a questionable benefit to the enactor. The extra weight may slightly inconvenience the climber, but not that much), the reasons to forbid it are many and the reasons to allow it are few. I argue that one should have the right to commit suicide, certainly, but not in ways that imperil other people.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

That Plane Treadmill Thing

There's a common internet debate that asks if a plane on a treadmill, where the treadmill moves backwards as the plane moves forwards (thereby canceling its movement), if the plane will successfully take off. Apparently, depending on how the treadmill's actions are conceived, the answer is "yes" or "Eventually."
If the treadmill matches the wheel's speeds, then the push from the engines will accelerate the plane to a speed such that it takes off, relatively quickly. Not as fast as a plane on a cement or asphalt runway, but still relatively quickly.
If, however, you insist that the conveyor belt somehow also matches the engine speed plus the wheel speed, you end up with a paradox where soon neither one can be a real number. Either the conveyor belt jams at some point, at which time the plane takes off instantly, or the wheels tear from the plane due to friction (and the now unhindered plane takes off, albeit in a state that will require a crash landing). In fact, that answer amounts to mathematical nonsense.
Why? Let us say that the plane's wheels are Wb, the conveyor belt is Wc, the plane's engines produce We. The plane's velocity, Wv, is defined by: Wv = Wb + We - Wc. If Wc = Wv, then Wb + We must equal zero. Otherwise, as Cecil Adams puts it, "A + 5 = A." Since the plane is attempting to take off, We is probably greater than zero. Therefore, Wv != Wc.
And even if you reject that, the plane's velocity will reach Aleph-1, the conveyor belt will reach Aleph-0. Aleph-1 is greater, the plane takes off. Also QED.

Saturday, December 19, 2009


In a world with increased bandwidth everywhere, what if our many laptop computers, which are expensive and easily damaged, were replaced with portable terminals that had only a display, keyboard, and wireless connection?
Your terminal would connect to the internet, hook back to your main PC, which you would then operate from afar...wirelessly! It would have only a bare minimum of CPU and memory, and would be useful only for such connections, but could connect from any internet connection, wired or wireless, and it it broke, it would be cheap to replace.
It would by necessity be more complex than a traditional TTY terminal, due to needing to do TCP/IP, and either a forwarding protocol like Go2mypc for Windows users, or X-Forwarding for UNIX ones, but beyond that it would shift almost all the computation expense to the desktop machine, that was sitting idle in the first place. Depending on how it works, it may be extremely cheap, due to specialized and easy to manufacture chips.
On the downside of this, it would use a lot of bandwidth, and may require encryption lest someone snoop the traffic to learn people's passwords and finances. Configuration would confuse the average user. I can easily imagine rent-a-machine services renting CPU cycles to this kind of machine, too.
I can also imagine it cheapening the perceived value of computers. Game go badly? Smash your terminal with a baseball bat. Wife's mad that you're doing spreadsheets instead of taking out the trash? Into the pool it goes. I can imagine at some point the main desktop machine gets trashed instead and I wind up with a "It cost how much now?!?!?!?!" call.
Also, since it'll need independent CPU and memory to even handle a TCP/IP connection with encryption, it probably won't be cheaper than existing netbooks. ...damnit.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Hypothetical Maximum Gas Milage

My car gets between 32 and 24 miles per gallon, depending on how I drive it. Gas milage is a big deal these days, since the price of gas usually goes up, most notably that time in 2008 when it went to $4+ per gallon in most of the US. The entire country was having an apoplexy even though much of the world willingly (or unwillingly) pays more. But it was a reminder that 8MPG big cars like SUV had significant downsides.
I often compute my miles per gallon when I fill the tank. A sudden drop is often sign that I need to refill the tires, change the air filter, or get a tuneup. But I'm left wondering, what's the hypothetical maximum for gas milage, especially when I see commercials bragging about cars whose gas milage is worse than the cheap car I own for myself. (They get 22-24 MPG and brag, several times in the commercial, about how great that is. What?)
I have to make some assumptions. A gallon of gas has 1.3*10^8J of chemical energy in it. Energy can be used to impart acceleration, depending on weight. Let me assume that the car can't be any lighter than mine, since my car is a compact car, the smallest type that Americans are typically willing to drive. (Europe and Japan have some smaller light-duty cars, because gasoline tends to be mind-bogglingly expensive there. That and space is limited.) My car weighs 800kg. Doing the math, I'm left with 162500 m^2/s^2, and left to convert this to a linear distance based on typical driving habits. I can divide by standard city acceleration patterns, which would have units of m/s^2, and be left with meters, which I can convert to miles (the MPG). A study of new york buses suggested that their acceleration was typically 2.77 m/s^2. Mine may be greater, but this seems like a reasonable figure for driving in a city. This gives me 58664.26 meters, or 36.5 MPG.
36.5MPG would, according to this, be the absolute maximum possible efficiency of a car weighing similar to mine. Achieving this level of efficiency would involve an impossible 100% efficient motor, and many other physics contrivances not practical in the real world. Better gas mileage would involve a lighter car, electric hybrid engine (to shift some of the energy to more efficient electric motors), or some other such complete re-design.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Global Warming and Prevention Thereof

The news story I've been forwarded the most this week is a little thing that they call climate-gate. Apparently, some of the global warming researchers have been fudging their research. Anti-warming-activists, who insist that warming is not happening and that if it is it is natural and not man-made, and been continuously crowing about this.
Back in 2003, there was a South Korean researcher claimed to have made a significant number of moves towards human cloning, humiliating his American counterparts who had unsuccessfully attempted the same sort of thing. Suddenly, the South Korean researcher was found to have been faking large amounts of his research. He had not done the things he said he did, and what evidence he did have was faked.
If I go by the logic I've been hearing, the fakery of this one piece of research proves that human cloning is therefore impossible and should be immediately abandoned. This is insane troll logic -- the conclusion is not supported by the premises. One or two scientists faking evidence means that one or two people is a fraudster or an idiot. It does not mean that the entire field, which has thousands of people working in it, is fraudulent.
Even the claims of fraud are based on hacked emails, essentially stolen evidence. Stolen evidence that seems to only be "leaked" only to newsrooms, newsrooms who have suspiciously refused to further leak the raw data in favor of summaries of their supposed contents.
If I seem suspicious of this, I remember that there has been a movement to discredit claims of global warming lurking since I was in junior high school. Back then, their argument revolved around "so if the globe is warming, why it still winter, huh, dumbass?" This movements funding has primarily been heavy industry groups and coal concerns, two groups that would strongly lose out were the public to develop any real concern about this issue. I find their motives, claims, and rhetoric all deeply suspicious. Their only claim that has credibility to me is their claim that action will cause economic damage, and I'll get to that soon.
In any case, here's the evidence I have. The global average temperature is increasing. This increase is very uneven. In fact, increasing the temperature in some places distorts the weather and decreases the temperature elsewhere.
Global temperatures are slowly rising...
Now, any such discovery in science has implications. A change in 3 degrees doesn't sound like much, but it's already causing 6 feet of sea rise, and with it trouble for low-lying countries like the Netherlands, Tuvalu, and Bangladesh. Australian investigators suggest that reducing the CO2 level from its current 390 parts per million (ppm) to 350 ppm would do the trick. Let's figure out how to reduce 50ppm from the atmosphere, with the extra 10ppm for a safety margin. (Since cars and coal burning power plants will continue to operate while we do this.)
Asking Wolfram Alpha do do some math on this. It reports that the atmosphere weighs 2.57*10^21 kg, and therefore the mass of CO^2 that we want to cut is 2.57*10^11 kg. Quite a bit, for sure, but there are things we can do about it.
Besides not making more and allowing existing systems to absorb it, we can increase the absorption of systems. There are chemical processes that turn CO2 and salt into baking soda, which we can then stuff into an abandoned mine and forget about. This would take 1.19*10^12 m^3 of abandoned mine, which would be half the freaking Earth. Clearly, this method is a supplement. Freemanson Dyson, the inventor of the Dyson sphere, proposes that we plant trees. If a tree contains 327 kg of carbon, we will need to plant 785,932,722 trees. This would cover the entire north American continent. The ones planted in the desert regions like Arizona, Nevada, eastern California, and western Texas will require supplemental watering, but better still would be to plant them in non-American areas. Argentina, perhaps, or the grasslands in Eastern Europe.
Or, CO2 can be pumped underground, into enormous sealed pockets, in a practice called sequestering. This should ideally be in a non-inhabited area, because if the seal ever fails, it will suffocate all animals in the area to death, humans included.
In the past, the sea absorbed a lot of carbon, but this is slowing up. We could speed this back up by feeding the unproductive areas of the ocean. (they are marked black on the map). "Feeding" would consist of either pouring a nutrient-rich liquid into the water there from a boat, or stirring up nutrients from the depths below. The nutrients would encourage plankton to grow there, which would increase the mass of fish, which would increase the mass of birds, all of which would get their bodily matter from carbon that the plankton would suck from the water.
Seems to be the equatorial regions that are mostly deficient...
The plankton solution is my favorite, because another problem facing those interested in the ocean is the reduction of fish schools, which can't replenish as fast as they are fished. More fish equals more dinner, less carbon, everybody wins. But best still would be a combination of all of these, plus increased efficiency in energy use. More nuclear, less coal. More electric cars, fewer gasoline ones.
But don't worry, coal mining concern. If we also terraform Mars like I want to, Mars will need a billion tons of coal, both to keep warm and to run their growing steel industry. Mars's colonists would pay a fortune, for sure....
Aaaand I just noticed that a biologist from Alaska has completely beaten me to this. Whoops.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Jobs for the Disabled

Via Slashdot, it has been announced that Wrigley, the gum company, has had new success in getting software testers, because the person they hired was autistic. Autism is a brain disorder that cripples the social abilities of people, although some variants allow a person greater intelligence in other areas, such as math. Essentially, the social part of their brain is replaced with an additional math part.
I'm interested because autism is normally seen as a massive disability when it comes to job seeking. After all, autistic people will almost assuredly botch the social things you expect your employees to do, like look you in the eye, properly greet guests and customers, and hang out at the company social gathering. That said, the article proclaims that the increased math and computers proficiency allows them to do tasks that others would find maddening, like poking at a computer for 12 hours at a time to fully investigate that one problem, and report back in writing.
This made me curious about tasks that other disabled people could do. After all, the disabled in all manner have a significantly higher unemployment rate, and the mentally disabled far more so.
Take the intellectually disabled. Most jobs go right over their heads. But a simple, repetitive, and constant job, like food service, is rewarding and challenging to them, while normal people would be bored out of their skulls and suffer morale problems. And some jobs are boring, repetitive, ongoing, and need to be done.
Or paranoid people, who obsess about a shadowy conspiracy to thwart their every move. Properly trained, they would make excellent security consultants. Just tell them that "they" are out to steal the company secrets to use against them, and have them obsess about a way to prevent that. Suddenly, someone who would otherwise be an annoying obsessive idiot is now a useful employee. (Naive paranoid people would be less useful, because their ideas would likely be wrong, like one guy who sought to prevent poison gas attacks by spreading mayonnaise across the ceiling.)
It's depression, the most common mental disorder to afflict Americans, that poses the most challenge. People who suffer from depression feel tired, listless, and self-critical. Studies have suggested cognitive benefit from this, mostly an increase in analytical ability. A ruminative person that can solve complex problems if left alone. Given a private office, maybe they can surmount that problem that has plagued your company since the beginning.
Schizophrenia is also challenging to work with, because it negatively affects speech, cognition, and almost every aspect employers desire in an employee, but it's good for helping people be creative.
Employees may which to start and stop treatment for the most beneficial effects. It is said that a drummer in a Jazz band who suffers from Tourette's syndrome will stop his treatment before performing, because those twitchy little movements that the disorder gives him helps him better perform a jazzy rhythm. Hollywood depicts Tourette's syndrome as some kind of involuntary potty-mouth disorder, but swearing is only one of many possible compulsions, and not all that common. More likely are having to do strange gestures, grimace, or make odd noises with one's throat. One possible tic is to swear, since swearing is controlled by a different part of the brain than usual speech, and another possible tic is to "do something wildly inappropriate to the situation," but the vast majority of tics are just gestures, facial expressions, or odd noises.
Psychologists may also suggest other systems to help people with other disorders.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Skyscraper Jungle Gym

Remember those play structures when you were a kid, with the swings and bridges and little doodads to play on? Like this one?
A play structure made of wood
I think it would be awesome to design one the size of a small city. It would be eight stories tall, cover an acre, have millions of little doodads to play on, and could contain the playful energy of a million children. Parents from around the city or even state area would take their kids to it to have them play themselves to exhaustion, to be followed by a quiet nap time at home in which the parents work gets done. (Like that novel you wanted to write.)
Safety is a concern by the second story. (A typical "floor" or "story" is every ten feet in most buildings.) A human can usually endure a fall of ten feet okay, but a fall of 20 feet usually breaks a leg, 30 feet breaks both legs and the hips, and 40 feet squashes the unfortunate victim into "street pizza." The higher levels will have to be fenced, but that shouldn't be a problem for the designers. I once played on a structure four stories tall, and the safety precautions there were enough to keep all children entirely inside the structure.
Safety wise I would also want to keep adults out. We can trust a child's parents, but there are other adults that should not have access to the children. Probably a nearby police station to discourage that line of thinking is the correct solution. A park this large may already have one.
The best location for this site is probably a park in a large city, where there is a big demand for family activites for large numbers of people.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Data Center in a Silo

Somewhere out in Quebec:
"Hey Pierre, remember when we turned that old silo into a particle accelerator?"
"Sure, Jean, but the physicists stopped paying us and closed it down. It's been kind of an eyesore lately."
"That may be true, but I can't bring myself to demolish it. After all, we put a lot of effort into it."
"Yes, but it already has an elaborate air condition system, so let's build a massive supercomputer in it and lease the cycles to a big company like Sun."
"That's crazy! You're crazy! Let's do it!"
"Hey, if we're both Québécois and in Quebec, why are we speaking English?"
"Actually, we're speaking French, it's just that this is being reported in an English speaking blog, so there's a translation convention in effect."
"Oh, I see. Long live Quebec!"
"I remember!"

Sunday, December 13, 2009

The Possibilities of Negative Energy

A few days ago, I saw a show featuring Michio Kaku, in which he examined the possibility of science fiction devices, and the best plausible way to actually make such things. In his report about warp drive (a sci-fi method for traversing the immense distance between star systems in the timescale of several months or less), he reported the best way to do such a thing would be Dr. Miguel Alcubierre's bubble system, and while doing so, reported the existence of negative energy, with negative-mass materials being the primary sticking point.
The existence of negative energy suggests the possibility of many side effects, as insane as zero point energy generation. Zero point energy generation would make perpetual motion machines possible. Also, given such a technology, I'm sure I could make a habitat anywhere in the universe. Ex-nilho, even, because E=MC^2, and thus I can conjure matter from my endless supply of energy. All other energy production or mining techniques would instantly be obsolete.
Unfortunately, negative energy is practically impossible to research on google, because that keyword is also used in New Age philosophy for negative feelings, which has nothing to do with the physics concept. Dr. Kaku seems to imply that negative energy is rare, expensive, and difficult to get a hold of, so I'm left with many questions about it. Such as, does it operate in the reverse fashion as the conventional positive energy that I'm more familiar with? If I run anti-electricity through a wire, would it cool off from the resistance? Can it be capacitated, or expelled? (I laser-away the negative energy, leaving the positive energy for my own uses) Could it be used to power devices? And when they come in contact with each other, they destroy each other. Would they both just vanish, or would some effect occur there, like an explosion?
I suppose it doesn't help matters that Dr. Kaku receives loads of cranky letters attempting to influence him one way or another...

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Humans are Now Genetically Redundant

Remember a few years ago when it was announced that biologists can now make sperm from bone marrow cells, and thus men are no longer required to make a child? Remember all the feminist crowing and gloating about that?
Now there are artificial uteruses. You no longer need a woman to make a child, either. You'd still need human parents to raise a child, but now we can make a human being from a dud egg and a collection of genes.
The Guardian of course comes up with all kinds of scenarios that make various people foam at the mouth, but I do see this as a positive development -- it will help the infertile, and will further bolster reengineering extinct animal technology.
I further note that this article is dated 2002. Seven years ago. There may be further advances since then. I'm also looking forward to parenting-bots, which would eliminate the state of "orphan-hood" forever.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Duster Screen

A TV Screen tends to attract dust due to being ionically charged. This is annoying for those who watch -- the more they watch, the more the dust clouds up the picture. This is a slight relief for those who have the dusting, since dust that lands on the TV screen doesn't land on the more irregular, and more difficult to dust, surfaces.
I'm envisioning a strongly ionically charged wand that attracts most of the dust in a house, and is easy to clean with a rag, and an ionically charged duster, that sucks the dust up as if by vacuum. Oh yeah, nice and clean.

Thursday, December 10, 2009


Hack A Day announces an automated system for automated liquid dispensing that they're using to quickly throw together cocktails.
Of course, this would also be useful for laundry (detergent), plant care (feeding and watering), food preparation (add oils, vinegars, and other liquids), and pretty much anywhere where an exact measurement of liquid from a tube would be helpful. Although the use of chopsticks instead of valves is a bit crude....

Wednesday, December 9, 2009


I've been reading an article on military propaganda a few days ago. The term "propaganda" came from an early attempt to do so, the Catholic "propaganda de fe" or "Propagating the faith," hence the name. I note that there's a science part and an art part.
In the science part, you have to deliver the message, intact, to the intended recipient. And in wartime, you do not have access -- your target is usually behind the enemy lines where their government explicitly does not want you handing them fliers! So you have to somehow deliver it, intact, into your target's hands. No one reads destroyed, burned, or damaged leaflets.
On the art part, it has to be in your target's language, preferably with illustrations (because words alone are boring) (Yes, I realize the irony of that statement in a blog that has few pictures) and using your target's symbolisms. This is harder than it sounds. Cartoonists conventions like dialog balloons and thought bubbles are completely unknown in major segments of the world. Puns and wordplay almost never translate and have to be built in the target language from the ground up. Even heroes and villains vary greatly from group to group. PsyWarrior points out an embarrassing failure in an American attempt to influence Iraqis, in which a leaflet attempted to insult Saddam Hussein by comparing him to Hitler. Unfortunately for them, Iraqi knowledge of Hitler is that he was an anti-British and anti-Jewish leader, both of whom are seen as archenemies of Iraq. Whoops, it bolstered him instead.
The site, and others like it, go on to mention some general principles. The target of your propaganda is a hero, of course, or at worst a victim. Avoid playing into your enemy's hands. Try to sell your position. You won't succeed every time, but a good psychological operation wins battles without firing a single shot.
And bad psychological operations can lose a war. Case in point: Vietnam. Even a cursory glance into the propaganda shows that the American effort was scattered and disorganized, while the Vietnamese one managed to sow a continuous stream of fear, uncertainty, and doubt. American efforts were often demonstrably wrong, while the Vietnamese stuck to slightly more plausible claims. America won every battle and it didn't matter in the slightest.
Vietnam's still a touchy subject.
I'm in favor of Psychological warfare, because it leads to better and more productive peace agreements.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Speech Recogition

There are programs out there that allow you to control your computer by dictating into a microphone. That's awesome. You can also use this to dictate lengths of text, saving keyboardists gajillions of keystrokes. As computers get smaller, it's possible that portable computer will need to use this technology, because the computer itself will be smaller than is practical to install a keyboard to. I already own a device one quarter the size of my keyboard, intended for embedded use in, say, a factory to measure probes. This is the good news.
The bad news is that the technology is both expensive, and never exactly sure of what you say. You. Have. To. Talk. Like. This. For. It. To. Understand. You. It eliminates the less likely expressions. "Has he got, uh, a flight to Hamburg" is more likely than "Izzy god hat fight meat barge." It has to remove stammers (such as "uh" and "hmm" and the like.) and deal with some irregularities of pronunciation.
For instance on that, ask an English speaker to say "prime minister." They will usually say "pri minister." The common "m" sound smears together. One of the best speech comprehension tools was invented by a Chinese man who learned English very late in his life, because he had to learn these intricate rules himself, and had more an intellectual than instinctual understanding. It would be nice if I could remember this intrepid researcher's name, or where I read this from.
In any case, some day there will be a computer the size of your fingernail that you operate by talking to, and it will report back by speaking with a mechanical voice (speech synthesis is very sophisticated at this point), causing a massive increase in people who seem to be talking to themselves in public.

Monday, December 7, 2009


The worst thing about poverty isn't the not being able to buy what you want. It's not having to skip a meal because you couldn't afford it this time. It's not constantly repairing your ancient clothes in an effort to remain not a naked barbarian. It's not even constantly having to beg and plead for your continuing existence.
It's the loss of dignity from all of these. A desperate person would sell their body, soul, or mind, to gain a little relief from the suffering. Relief that can be often as little as $10 away. Two hours labor for me (soon to be reduced to 30 minutes or less), but a week's wages or more for many of them.
I have little money, but I was born fortunate in world terms. I ate regularly, had shelter, and even expensive luxuries like computers and education. 10% of the world somehow survives on one dollar per day. I am gobsmacked by this figure. $1/day is enough to provide me food for the day, if I eat the cheapest possible stuff. It would leave nothing left after for shelter, hygiene, or clothing. They only survive because they live where prices are lower, and thus can afford meager food, self-built shelter, and rags. I would need, to replicate their quality of lifestyle for myself, $50 to begin with and then $5 per day every day thereafter. And this would be living in a tent under the high powered electric lines where everyone else refuses to.
There are some projects to try to improve these figures. I can only hope that they work out. Many of them require perquisites that the average $1/day person can't manage.
Another thing to consider is the exponential utility that can be gained. In the tent scenario, I would sleep in a $25 tent, eat three cans of beans for a dollar, brush my teeth if I had a toothbrush, wake up at dawn, spend the daylight hours walking around looking for work, and at dusk, come back to the tent, rub three cents of rubbing alcohol on me for hygiene, then go to sleep. But with a $20,000 house, I can make hardtack with the oven for about $0.20 per meal instead, hygiene is reduced from 3 cents to .2 cents (as well as being more effective), and sleeping is free after the purchase of a bed. Hygiene of clothes is now possible. Labor-saving appliances free up chore time for more work, or what have you.
I seem to remember reading an article that I can no longer find, about an African government producing a welfare program, in which the penniless masses of the country were given $100 per person, to last them to year. The most commonly bought item with this money was clothes, replacing the previous impromptu rags. The recipients reported that this allowed them to feel like they were real actual people (as compared to being an animal, or a peasant before), and that now they could get jobs and maybe earn enough to pay it back, or otherwise develop. However, wealthy farmers who lived in this country were outraged. Their arguments were the usual rabble about welfare: that it was unearned, that it encouraged laziness, that it would be wasted, and that taxes would inevitably go up directly because of that. Never mind that if the recipients of this money became more productive, there might be a bigger market for the crops.
Sometimes I think many economic policies are built on contempt. That people "deserve" to suffer because they are "lazy." If that's the case, then let's implement a new tax: You pay $8000 per month, minus your average daily Calorie burn. Inactive people like me would have to pay $6000 per month (inactive Adult uses 2000 Calories per day), and a hard laborer might not have to pay anything ($8000 - 8000, it's conceivable that a very active person could use 8000 calories per day), and we'll do this for a year. Then we'll see who pays more "laziness tax."

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Windshield Wiper

So my newest follower, Pawl Bearing, says we could replace windshield wipers with something more efficient. Okay. But first, the history.
The first cars ever produced were produced as extensions of the horse-pulled buggy that was the prime long-distance transportation of the day. It had an open top, like modern sports cars, and you could really feel the wind in your face. And the bugs in your teeth. And occasionally something flew into your eye. The manufacturer suggested wearing goggles while driving. I'm not entirely sure what you were expected to do in the event of rain.
So some bright automotive engineer, the Pawl Bearing of his day, gets the idea to enclose the cabin, with glass windows for visibility. That annoying wind went away, unless you specifically asked for it by rolling down the windows. And the windshield was the front-window that allowed you to see where you were going minus all the bugs in your eyes and teeth. It worked well....unless it got wet. You'd have to stop regularly and towel it back off. Annoying.
A cotton towel would obviously do no good, as it would rapidly saturate within the first few minutes of a rain storm, but there was an existing technology, the squeegee, a thin strip of rubber that could endlessly wipe the water off a glass surface. You've probably used one at a gas station to clean your windows. One was mounted on a motorized arm, and voila, the modern windshield wiper. Then it was doubled up, so it could cover the entire windshield.
My first idea of what to do instead comes from my own history of car ownership. My first car was a station wagon, which had a trunk accessible from the back seat, and a wiper on the back window. I now drive a non-station-wagon compact car, and one of the features I miss is that back wiper. Instead, I have a series of wires running through the window. It's made as an anti-frost feature, as running electricity through the wires heats the window, melting any ice accumulated on it. I note in raining weather that it's very effective at keeping the window clear. I'm going to reject this as inefficient, however, because it's less effective than a wiper and uses more power.
No, I think the best technique would be to replace the entire windshield with a large monitor, which shows a composite footage from a number of cameras. As visual recognition technology improves, this overlay could give me the heads-up on things that may be a problem on the road. This can be mounted behind a much tougher surface, making damaged windshields a thing of the past. The cameras would be very small, and specially waterproofed.
The camera system had better be massively redundant in that case, because the loss of even a third of the cameras would be catastrophic.
Alternatively, we could replace the glass with something that somehow retains visibility no matter how wet it gets, but this is an unlikely development in materials science.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Hydroelectric Mania

I heard this one when I was a small child, but it could probably work wonders. There are some enclosed seas with very few inlets, like the Mediterranean, and the gulf of Hormuz. The Mediterranean would be the biggest beneficiary of this. Also, we could dam it off entirely on Spanish territory to prevent nationalistic squabbles about power rights from this.

Anyway, we dam off the Mediterranean with a hydroelectric dam. Then we pump the water out, perhaps by a million people bailing buckets for years, or perhaps we use an electric pump with some spare capacity. Power is generated as the water flows back in through our dam. Occasionally we re-pump out the water.

This will mean extra land. All of south Europe and North Africa will have to divide this new turf by some reasonably logical means. Preferably without the traditional agonizing war.

Downsides: Any wildlife in the Mediterranean will have to be moved out to the Atlantic. It might not survive the journey.

Friday, December 4, 2009

The Abstracted Engineer: Scientists grow meat in a laboratory

The abstracted engineer reports that Scientists grow meat in a laboratory. Big news.
He jokes that "gooey pork with no texture" already exists in the form of hormel's famous potted meat product, but this is different. Spam is made of ground and reconstituted ham, this new meat was never a pig at any point, and thus more acceptable to vegetarian and vegan interests. It may also be more efficient, potentially, or healthier. I'll have to check the original CNN article for details.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Gedanken Manifest Impossibilities

Apparently, there's a new Human Resources technique in which a prospective employee is asked to determine the weight of an airplane, without the use of a scale, but granted omnipotence to pull it off. Apparently the goal is to "creatively" come to as many solutions as possible to this arbitrary problem.
Very well. I psychokinetically lift the plane onto a giant spring and note the deformation of the spring, this being the closest to a scale allowed in the exercise. Or, I dunk it in an enormous tank of water and note the displacement. Or, I grant it the power of self-knowledge and speech, and ask it what it weighs. (And if it's reluctant, I bribe it with some AVGAS.) I push it with an exact number of newtons and note the distance that it is pushed. Hypothetically, with some physics, any of these can give me the airplane's weight, or at least mass. (Weight=mass*pull of gravity.)
But granted omnipotence, I'm not stopping there. I'm not giving the powers back. Any attempt to take them back will result in me going back in time and beating up one of your ancestors until you cease such attempts. (Let's see your ancestor reproduce with a cracked rib and sore gonads.) And I'm not taking the job, either, because I can now create whatever I want ex-nihilo and no longer need money.
Although for fun I may attempt money making problems anyway. I buy a block of aluminum, go back to the 18th century, and sell it for lots of money. Aluminum was expensive back then because refining it from bauxite was very difficult. I then buy a metric insane amount of lobster, which was cheap at the time, and take it to a modern-day fish market. Any leftover 18th century currency can fetch a considerable price from a numanist, I anticipate a profit of at least $1,000,000 per cycle.
I produce for myself a luxurious house with considerable automation, and use my time-travel funding to pay people to do stuff that I think should happen, including a massive expansion of the international space station, and a floating Venus colony. I also pay for a number of software projects. With the last of my money, I operate a shadowy conspiracy for good fortune, paying people to make the world a better place, and when I run out, I manifest a bar of gold which I sell to keep up the funding.
Of course, with any insane enough premise, you can get any insane result, like Bertrand Russel's famous one:

If zero equals one, I am the pope.
Let us add 1 to each side of the equation, producing the equation 2=1. The pope and I are two separate individuals. But since 2=1, we are actually the same person. Therefore, I am the pope.

I guess omnipotence is just too insane a premise.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Historical Chemistry Irony

When one, in the past, wrote a nasty letter, people would describe this as a "pen dipped in vitriol," vitriol being sulfuric acid, an immensely caustic compound that worked well in ink, but burned the hell out of anyone who touched it directly. The chemical burning property led people to connect it directly to the idea of vehemous anger. Older inks amounted to essentially carbon dissolved in water, and lacked the permanence of vitriolic inks. These older inks were the baseline comparison, since they were less offensive to the touch and quicker to fade away.
Vitriolic ink is now very much a thing of the past, with more effective mixes of dyes and pigments providing the same permanent coloration without the risk of chemical burns, and for significantly less money. That and most text these days is no longer on paper, but in electronic signals, like emails, blogs, and webpages.
sulfuric acid, however, has not gone away, and aside from being the primary acid in batteries, a rust remover, an effective pH lowering agent for fertilizers, a laboratory acid for dissolving compounds, part of pharmaceuticals, and it's used with iron to produce ferrous sulfate, a preservation agent in foods. Especially processed foods. In fact, engineers claim that a nation's sulfuric acid production is a good baseline to describe how industrialized it is.
A common stereotype of internet addicts is that they sit around all day eating processed foods, namely "Cheetos," a puffed corn snack with a powdered cheese coating, and, you guessed it, iron sulfate for preservation. Such people are also said to amuse themselves by producing angry messages on the internet about everything they dislike. Their pen may have been replaced by a cursor, but the vitriolic dipping remains.
So going by these assumptions, they've become a vitriol-processing device. Chemical vitriol goes in, information vitriol comes out. I found that hilariously ironic.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009


As a man, shaving is a task that immensely irritates me. My face has many curves, and I have, by virtue of genetics, considerable facial hair. It seems like I always miss at least a little bit of it, and always in the places where it's most inconvenient to leave hair. There's gotta be a better way to shave than pulling a blade over my face.
There are non-razor means of shaving, like depilatory creams. I've tried them. They hurt, quite a bit, and leave quite a lot of hair behind. (Although depilatory plus shaving equals baby smooth face, albeit strawberry red colored from irritation.)
I then consider a robotic mask that, when worn, runs razors across its surface. As convenient as that would be, I would be nervous about sticking my face into it. After all, if one of those blades were happen to slip, the robot isn't going to retract from pain like my own hand would.
Native Americans traditionally did their shaving by plucking, so I could use a sticky wax or high speed tweezers to remove the hair. I don't think I could bear it. They benefited from having relatively thin facial hair to begin with, which makes such a process less painful and time consuming, and like I said before, my hair grows in thick.
I've always like electric shavers, which I can roll over my face, and which definitely doesn't cut it no matter how sloppily I do it. Unfortunately, they don't seem to do as good a job, my face is still vaguely scratchy afterwards.
I guess then that my best option would be the face-mask with electric-shaver heads, and then finishing it off by hand with a razor. Sigh.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Nairobi Robot Fair

Did you know that Nairobi, Kenya, has an annual, university sponsors, robot building competition? Neither did I.
The article doesn't explain what these robots do, but they seem interesting and useful. Most of them seem to be for the purpose of conveying small items from one place to another.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Déformation professionnelle

One day a school psychologist who I know told me, "How much should you tip your school psychologist?" It was a rhetorical question. School psychologists are not traditionally tipped, and earn a salary for their highly educated expertise. This is paid by the school, which has an interest in the well being of their students, who are not expected to pay. A psychologist would, of course, appreciate any additional funding.
The French have a joke about "Déformation professionnelle," a pun on their term for professional training. When all you have is a hammer, the entire world looks like a series of nails. This leads to bias. Most professional people tend to view their profession as the most important one in existence. Things tend to go downhill from there, as people attempt regulatory capture to favor their (naturally all-important and perfect) industry.
Perhaps this is a reason not to listen to me. My specialty is computers, and I try to make my advice as practical as I can, but some of my interests are probably useless to the average person.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Small Item Gathering Device

I'm a slob. I leave things lying around, and am not neat. I was like that since I was a small child, but I'm imagining a device to encourage me not to do that.
The Small Item Gathering Device is a large-dog-sized, very mobile robot, with a container. It runs around the house, and puts all unattended things into a container. By unattended, I mean not on a shelf, drawer, or within my immediate grasp. When the container weighs more than a certain amount, it takes it to a centralized container.
I would then have to look in the container for anything that it took, and resolve that this time, I would put it away where it belongs. Probably not the first time, but it would get real old, real fast, until the motivation was there.
This would be most effective as a social conditioning tool if combined with social engineering as well. Have it patrol your child's room, and if a toy goes in the centralized container more than three times, it goes to charity. (Since many children worldwide live in poverty, and would love a new toy.) This will teach your child to put their toys in the proper place, where the Small Item Gathering Device does not look.
As a side benefit, fewer things are lost. If they're not in their proper place, they're probably in the central container.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Trickle Up Economics

Since the 1980s, conservative forces have argued that wealth "Trickles down" from wealthy people to poorer ones, that because wealthy people and companies are the ones that hire, that any economic action that favors the wealthy will benefit the economy as a whole.
I think the opposite is true: whatever action favors the most impoverished will create more opportunities for the wealthy to earn more money. As an example, let me imagine that two imaginary people, one a indebted janitor, the other, the CEO of the company that the first one works for. Let us say that each one is suddenly granted $1000 by a mysterious shadowy conspiracy of good fortune. (A man wearing dark glasses and a ridiculous hat hands them the money, tells them to "enjoy yourself with this" and then runs away.)
Our janitor will probably first pay off his credit card debt, benefiting the credit card company, then maybe some extra cigarettes, because he smokes, benefiting the tobacco company. Then he'll buy more groceries, because he might have some gruel to sustain himself, but he'd much rather have a risotto instead. (His gruel is kind of boring.) After that, he might either watch a movie (benefiting the theater and the Hollywood studio that made it), or perhaps save it (allowing a bank to lend it out, multiplying its effect further.) At least six companies have additional revenue from this. The janitor also, for a short time, feels his life is more enjoyable. If he is smart, he will invest in things that help him to get more money from this, like interest, or education (allowing him to become an accountant instead, and earn more money).
Our CEO, on the other hand, can maybe buy stocks, or make one payment on a new house or boat. What he wants costs way more than $1000. Most likely, he will buy a few more shares in his company to further cement his power. He doesn't hire anybody, because he already has all the maids, butlers, and gardeners he needs or wants. The company doesn't hire anybody -- it's not their money. The company sees no money from the sale of the stock, and hasn't since it was first issued. The broker liked that, because he got commission, and the seller likes that he got money instead of the shares that he no longer wanted. (Although the stock probably would have been bought by somebody in any case.)
Sure, the economy is now essentially worldwide, and both people are likely to see those dollars return to them at some point, even if the CEO buys a yacht from a foreign company. That company has to pay workers, and at some point they'll probably want something American, like jeans, or a movie, or a copy of Windows.
I still think that the janitor's money scenario provides the most worldwide benefit. More people receive the money, the janitor gets more enjoyment from it, and more cycles can begin from it.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

The Forbidden Experiment

In the ancient world, people speculated that humans had one original language, lost from most people due to being parented in their parent's native tongue. They figured that a baby raised without language used would speak this original language, which could then be compared to existing ones.
So, many people tried it. They would raise sets of babies whose caretakers were forbidden from talking to them. the results were startling.
There was no primal language. Many of the children just plain outright died. While the new-age psychology book that first taught me about the Forbidden experiment claimed that they had felt unloved and willed themselves to die, this seems an unlikely explanation for the phenomenon. More likely, the infant did not manage to communicate its needs well enough and wound up infected or malnourished. The survivors grew up incapable of understanding language, and with it, civilization. The caretakers had handfuls of feral children who had the intellectual capacity of a puppy at best. An embaressingly human-shaped puppy who tended not to grasp ideas like not pooping on the floor, and wearing clothes in front of other people.
This is why it is now called the forbidden experiment -- it has an awful human toll, and proved that the base hypothesis was blatantly wrong. Other developments since that have concerned people who could not learn language for other reasons -- the deaf, and neglected feral children recovered from the wild.
Studies of deaf children confirms the original discovery: there is no natural human language, and we need exposure to it at a young age to understand it at all. Also, children with no language exposed to each other, tend to invent some form of language. This gives me my hypothesis on language.
My hypothesis is that language was invented some ten million times, independently, across the globe, wherever humans gathered. Languages have since been refined by exposure to neighboring languages, by grammatical simplification over time, and mispronunciations and misspellings becoming correct by force of habit. Languages have been abandoned, amalgamated, and mutated since then, to fit the needs of the people who speak them.
A scholar of ancient languages has confirmed to me that older languages are in fact clunkier in nature. Their grammar involves obtuse and excessively complicated rules. They are unreasonably lengthy, and often awkward in construction. So the trend in language is one of improvement.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Obama Encourages Science

Recently science-based snarker Bad Astronomy reports that President Obama is attempting to promote more science education, And Frankly, it's about time.
Unfortunately, I expect a backlash. America's right is in such an angry mood that they'd denounce anything he did. If he praised food, they'd scream about how it violated the rights of anorexics. If he spoke out in favor of driving, they'd all demand trains to everywhere.
It does not help that lately the American right has all but declared itself the archenemy of science lately, what with its love of creationism, and marked hostility towards all things stem cell or climate.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Of Toilets and Hygiene

Did you know that nearly half the world's population has no access to a toilet of any kind and has to relieve themselves of their bowels and bladders by squatting in a field?
I'd laugh, but I'd be a hypocrite. A mere four generations ago, my great grandfather is on record as refusing to allow a toilet in his house, on the grounds that toilets inherently smell (as the outhouse that he used did), and that having it in the house would stink up the entire house.
But, as the article shows, many people lack even that. They have a bucket, that they empty into a field while no one's watching, or worse, have to squat in the field and hope no one bothers them in the process. Not good for hygiene (that field is going to stink) or health (bandits are a problem in these kinds of countries -- it wouldn't surprise me if they learned to harass people in the field, so to speak) or the environment (these fields are often very close to rivers, or even in them). Ick.
Apparently a number of charities are working hard to dig outhouses, the kind my great grandfather used, in these places so that people will have a safe, clean (if unbearably stinky), non-polluting place to do their business, and this makes a major difference.
Bonus if this also somehow fertilizes the nearby farms. (I've heard mixed reviews as to if that would work.)

Monday, November 23, 2009


Japanese blogger Chikirin writes that he would like to see automatic translations of everything on the internet to allow multinational communication, in an article that he kindly translated into English. He believes that this would facilitate world understanding and peace.
I'm more skeptical. I question the logistics of it. Sure, there's babelfish and google translator, but they're often tripped up by slang, idioms, and puns. Running this very page through services like that shows that they trip up on words like "Just" and "Kinda" (slang misspelling for "kind of", meaning "slightly.") Also, they can't do anything for graphics, because computers generally have comparatively poor visual recognition. (OCR can often fail because the page was tilted a mere 2 degrees.) You'd be shocked at how many pages use "navigation buttons" that consist of an image of a word, because the page designer liked it that way.
Secondly because communication doesn't necessarily make peace. How much worse would trolling become when nationalism is added to the mix? I still have memories of when the Beijing Olympics inspired nationalistic Chinese young people to go post puff-pieces about their favorite country and then recoil in horror when these got less than glowing reviews. (or even got outright trolled instead.) How many discussions would bog down to "China sucks" "No, japan sucks" "No, USA sucks" "No, Poland sucks" and so on until the heat death of the universe?
thirdly, Chikirin says that "only the important information is translated, what about the trivial?" The trivial information is typically not translated exactly because it is trivial. Good translation takes effort, and it's not really worth anyone's time to translate quite a bit of the internet. Human time is limited, and machine translations are at best stilted, and like I pointed out above, often just plain wrong.
Worse if you want to translate all the video, too, because Speech recognition has a hidden problem: The computer's never quite sure of what it is that you're saying, but is making the best probable guesses. Thus compounding any possible misunderstandings.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Argument from Authority

Today I'm going to tell you about the Argument from Authority fallacy, what it is, how to recognize it, and why it's a fallacy.
Authority is a useful shortcut in arguing, because it's a cogent sign of expertise, and implies correctness. When a nuclear physicist tells me that all atoms of the same type and isotope-ness have the same weight, I can trust him on this being true, because his expertise has assured me that he has studied about this and isn't just making things up. Even if I don't believe him, verification will only take me tons and tons of time.
However, the fallacy occurs when experts attempt to argue outside of their domain. The nuclear physicist from my example above is no more an expert on, say, Economics, than I am, and if he argues that he is, he's hoping that people will assume that his one area of expertise applies to everything, which it doesn't, or that his expertise proves that he's smart and therefore right about everything, even things he hasn't studied. One may have to be smart to understand nuclear physics, but it doesn't automatically teach you about, in my example, economics.
Or, in some fields, there is no absolute expertise. No one agrees about philosophy, or morality. I would not accept the Ayatollah's ideas about morality, and he would not accept mine. Our beliefs are just too different, and there's no objective way to prove that one is absolutely better. (Watch as I receive three tons of hate mail from the Ayatollah's friends and enemies for saying that.)
And now, if you'll excuse me, I'm back to trying not to flunk out of school.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Overburdened again

And I'm sorry about it.
In the meantime, Cowbirds In Love would like to remind you that most mad scientists are actually mad engineers.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Electrical Unification

Around the world, there are many different types of electric plugs, which makes things hard on the traveler. That gizmo you bought in Hong Kong? Not gonna work in Romania. That shaver you bought in France is useless in Utah. And if you plug an American computer into a Chinese power socket with an adapter, "BOOM!" you have no computer anymore! (Just a fancy smoking paperweight!)
Why? For one, there are four different electrical standards that would cause problems if cross-connected. But also, different countries developed their electrical grids independently of each other, often to fulfill local requirements at the time of construction. England's plugs, for instance, have fuses built into the plug, to account for there being a gross shortage of fuses at the time. They figured that they could put off installing fuses until there were more appliances that needed them. This has so far worked out rather well. It makes power cords more expensive and complicated, true, but it also means that electrical appliances at worst knock themselves off the grid, whereas my circuit breaker would darken the entire section of the house.
Some attempts have been made to combine zones. The UK's 240V and mainland Europe's 220V have been moving towards a combined 230V combined grid, slowly, but surely.
While it would be bad to connect an appliance expecting 110V to a socket that provides 220V, many plug compatibilities persist out of force of habit. A country has a set of plugs because that's the way it's always been for them, and things from out of the country are rare enough that a traveler will just get an adapter.
In the United States, the only country that I have seen extensively, we use what wikipedia describes as "Plug type B," which vaugely resembles the emoticon ":o", and provides 110V at 60 Hz. We also have NEMA 10 connectors providing 220V at 60Hz for washing machines and driers. (And hypothetically other things, but I've never seen this used for anything other than washing machines and driers.)
I think the most interesting idea for a worldwide system is based on the USB standard for computers, which can provide 5V for powering devices. The system would have a USB-style rectangular plug, and when first plugged in, would provide 5V. The device could use the electrical connection to ask for a certain voltage, and the socket could change its voltage to match. This would be immensely more complex than any existing system, but it would be universal, and once implemented, could accommodate essentially any electrical demand, in the same house. On the downside, USB plugs come in all kinds of styles, and all appliances would need voltage-negotiation circuitry so as to get anything other than 5V. (5V selected because it's low enough not to fry even delicate computer parts.)
Alternatively, we could declare one existing standard to be the standard. This would likely be the "Type C" Europlugs at 220V, which is implemented in the most number of countries.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

My New Skill

Last week, I started a virtual machine for the first time. Virtual machines are a technology whereby one large, expensive, powerful computer can pretend to be many smaller, less powerful computers instead. This way, all the expensive redundancies can be implemented in the one powerful computer, automation can be increased, and so on. (For instance, a massive RAID array would be expensive to build in a large network of computers, but one more massive array can be built in the main machine that then pretends to be that large network of computers, and then all the virtual machines get all the RAID benefits.) I consider this essential to my future career, as I understand that this is one of all the rages at the moment. (The others being things like drivers and iPhone apps, which I don't have the money to fully investigate.)
I used Xen, an open source virtualization system. Xen requires a special kernel that comprehends virtualization ideas. (Most have no reason to, and so don't.) Every attempt to build one for myself failed, and on my success I was booted from a livecd. My next step will be to boot off my own hard drive instead.
The server that I ran was to be a dns server, which I set up ahead of time, and it operated admirably. I also have a "buildhost" whose job is to compile and distribute software, but I didn't test that one.
Other virtualization options include VMServer, Qemu, LilyVM, OracleVM, and Parallels.
To my readers, I ask, "What specialty computers would you like to see?" I can make webservers, caching hosts, and nearly anything I can setup on a pc. (Although with virtualized machines, you do not get a keyboard, mouse, or monitor, so "Quake computer" is out. A game server is possible, though.)
Also in computer science news, my previous project has been rendered completely obsolete by the people at the linux kernel project who have multiple bootable images, suitable for all kinds of installs, therefore preempting anything I could have put together. Nice.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Zero G Bed

I remember once a conversation I had about strange bed technology, and the other person proposed a zero-g bed, in which you'd sleep touching nothing but air, as if in free fall, for all eight hours that you are asleep. It'd be real easy on your body, if a tad unsettling at first. It would keep you suspended with a large fan, which would produce a wind tunnel that could lift up to 100kg.
An interesting idea, but I have seen such a chamber in action (for some science program on TV or other), and one thing I remember about it was that the fan was extremely loud. Most people prefer quiet environments for sleeping. But again, I can probably fix this.
Separate the fan, distance wise, from the sleeper. There is a large horizontal tunnel, which has a ludicrously large fan that fills its entire length. A long distance away, it bends upwards, has a mesh covering, and above that is the sleeping chamber. When the fan is activated, it fills the tunnel with a powerful wind, but the noise dissipates over the distance, until the chamber, where only the wind remains. The sleeper will probably still want to wear earplugs, though, because all the howling wind is a bit loud on its own, even without the fan.
Sleepers may also experience rotation until nauseous, vertigo, and stark raving terror from instincts that point out that being in free fall is not conducive to one's survival.
I don't imagine this appealing to more than the "Because I'm so rich that I can" crowd.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Cure for Sleep Apnea -- Digeridoo?!?!

In a sudden announcement that I have no time to understand, Clinical cases and images announces that digeridoos cure sleep apnea. Uh...what?

Saturday, November 7, 2009


Bread is humanity's first food-related invention. It turned blah-tasting seeds into a delicious foodstuff that lasted for a reasonable time before spoiling, was easy to handle and eat (unlike seeds, where you can easily end up dropping large portions of it if you're not careful), and more importantly, could also hold OTHER foods so you would never be bored eating it. (Stuff something into your bread. A filling? A dip?)
What could we do to improve bread? Quite possibly, a number of things.
Vitamin enrichment is a good start. A lot of bread is made of white flour, and much of the nutrition is lost in the refinement. So most of this has an "enrichment" process to put some back. This is why, when you read the ingridents list on your loaf of bread, it says "enriched white flour." Health food fans note that the enrichment is someone less than what was taken out, famously one compared it to being robbed of $25 and being refunded $0.99. So...deeper enriched bread.
Longer lasting bread has been invented hundreds of years ago in the form of hardtack, which I wrote about. Hardtack is typically crunchy, and most recipes of it don't taste very good. Mostly because that's the point: It's an emergency food for planning ahead for when no other food is available, and you eat it because no other food is available.
Also, a very hard bread has been invented by coal miners in New Zealand for not falling apart in the mine, and for being cheap enough that you can throw away the parts that inevitably get covered in coal dust.
I can imagine one improvement: Rapid baking bread. In less than five minutes of oven time, it goes from inedible batter to edible bread. I hope to get it down to less than two minutes, ultimately. The first means of accomplishing this will be a study of leavening agents, to determine the fastest acting one.
As a second idea, a hardtack vault. This would be an extremely large underground storage area, filled to the brim with hardtack. In the event of economic crisis, the vault would be opened, and hardtack passed around to the citizenry, ensuring their survival to better, more gourmet, times.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Edible Algae

I keep hearing about how food is going to be in short supply at some point in the future. It hasn't hit yet -- farmers are still working hard to market all of their crops, and food companies have every interest in getting you to eat as much as possible. Still, the human population is rapidly rising, and farmland isn't infinite.
I can postpone the problem with an edible algae. A green muck that can be processed into an edible foodstuff. It'll grow in the salt water of the ocean, with maybe a bit of fertilization on our part. What we don't harvest will probably be eaten by the ocean biosphere -- winding up as the fish and seabirds that people will want to eat first. Harvesting can be done via a fleet of ships.
The oceans contain large "deserts," regions devoid of life because the nutrition to sustain them just isn't there. Maybe just feeding that is enough to make it "bloom."
But another part of algae is for my space-experiments. Algae can be grown in little tubes of water, making it much easier to keep space-bourne than land-grown equivalents. Growing an orange tree would require an elaborate hydroponics system to keep it fed and watered (and remember, water leaking in zero g is a major problem), while the algae is easily kept within its tube until harvest time. (which we can do while rotating the ship for artificial gravity, or rotating the tube for artificial gravity within the tube.)
Yes, for long trips in space, you'd need to do farming in your shuttle. There's not enough room to store many years worth of food, and you'd choke to death on your own waste within the first year if you weren't actively recycling every last bit of it. Also, farming is one of the least gross ways to recycle. (Plants smell nice, sewage refinement centers, not so much.)

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Active Air Freshener

A Japanese Inventor has a car-bourne device to take the bad odors from an old car out of the compartment, using only water and electricity, both readily replaceable on the road, and neither one expensive.
"So the air is stale, big deal, cars don't smell that bad." I can hear you say. "And besides, car fresheners have existed for over 50 years now."
Smoking is way more common in Japan than in the United States. Half of Japanese adults smoke. Smoke quite a lot at that too. Many of their cars probably smell like an ancient ashtray. On top of that, the workday is really really long in much of Asia, leaving very little time to, you know, clean or freshen it. That special sauce that dripped into the carpet during the lunch rush? It's going to sit around and go bad, and mix with the cigarette funk. The article also mentions pollen.
Most impressively, the device works with 120ml (1/2 cup) of water and 12 volts, endlessly. The water's good for a day, and 12 volt accessories have been around since my father had his first car, they'll hardly be missed by the engine. (Compare this to traditional air fresheners, which work by being a scent infused chunk of fabric that will quickly run dry of perfume and need to be thrown away.)
As far as I'm able to trace with my limited translational tools, the sponsoring company, "Seiwa," is a maker of car accessories. This new product of theirs seems like a logical line extension.
I'm very impressed with Japan's use of environmental technology, and as far as I can tell, so is Japan. Part of the reason that I'm impressed is because they really don't have to. It would not harm their populace in the slightest if they polluted as much as Russia, or even the United States (Japan has about half the population of the United States, crammed into a series of islands about the size of California.) Japan is also deeply industrialized, which in most countries means a lot of pollution.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Australia Sinks Carbon

An Australian farmer has found a way to both completely nullify the carbon output of his tractor, and save himself a metric insane amount of money. Cost effective carbon sink! And it saves him money to the tune of $500,000 (AUS) per year.
Apparently sinking his tractor's emissions also traps with it a great deal of nitrogen and phosphorous, both compounds that farmers usually shell out great deals of money to add to their crops. Nitrogen is necessary for plants to make protein, and phosphorous is necessary in lesser amounts to maintain metabolism. The farmer hopes that this will help keep his farm afloat during these times of worldwide competition, drought, and other headaches for farmers.
Australia, also, benefits greatly from this farmer's discovery. Despite having the best source of uranium in the world, Australia gets most of its electricity from coal power. (Australia also has considerable coal deposits.) The nuclear source is avoided because of environmental fears. This way, the excess carbon from the coal could be plowed into Australia's fields, saving it money and helping the environment, without a singular nuclear action.
The world's two biggest carbon producers, the United States and China, also have considerable farmland that could sink their carbon out of existence. Everyone wins. (Except the fertilizer companies.)

Tuesday, November 3, 2009


Hi, welcome to scan-mart. May I see your last receipt?

Thank you. Would you like the same groceries as last time?

Yes? Okay, your total comes to $118.43, would you like to use the same credit card as you did last time?

Okay, please take your cart. Thank you for shopping at scan-mart. A reminder that you can now shop over the internet and bring in the receipt for even faster customized service.

Or, what if you want a new receipt, and prefer to shop in person? No problem, here's your scan gun, please enjoy our shelves full of sample items. When you reach the checkout, have the scan gun print out a receipt with this button, and we can go from there.

We're working on a new service, in which your groceries are auto-loaded into your car. We hope to have this by next year.

Monday, November 2, 2009


What is wealth?
Is the money I have wealth? Not really. Most of my money is stored in the form of a database entry at my bank, with the occasional bit of green-colored paper in my wallet. It's only useful to me only because I can trade it for what I really need.
Are gadgets wealth? To some degree, but I'm not going to appreciate a stereo much if I can't afford food. Or rent.
Is food wealth? Kinda. Some amount of food I need to sustain my body, but the excess tends to rot without some expensive treatment. I literally can only eat so much.
Is gold wealth? Hell no. I can trade gold for things, I'm sure, but most grocery stores aren't willing to trade a small fleck of gold for the food I need. I'd have to go through intermediaries, selling the gold ingots, then spending the resulting money.
So what is wealth?
Is the knowledge that I'm gaining by attending a university wealth? I could answer either way. It will help me earn money in the future, but it's not going to help me until I have the entire body of knowledge. And in the meantime, I'm kind of poor. Tuition and books and lost time.
Wealth is having your needs and desires met. Basically, a combination of all those things.
I want to increase the amount of wealth worldwide. Probably the best way to do this is labor. Pay people to do things that increase utility for other people.
There's an article out about the beliefs of Adam Smith, the English economist who is cited as the father of modern capitalism. Turns out that he didn't believe what he is attributed to have said. He argued that regulation is necessary for the best possible economies.
How come? When you own a business, the best possible position for you is a monopoly, in which you are the sole source of a need. When you're the sole source, you can demand basically any price you want for it. This is the worst possible position for the rest of us, who are now beholden to you. So a society with anti-monopoly rules, and with it definite competition in all fields, is better off than one with monopolies. Your money buys more when businesses have to compete against each other, either by more quality, or by lower prices. Now, this is not saying that business is inherently evil. Ideally business is win-win, earning money in exchange for something that people want more than money. (In my case, food and shelter to survive and then machines for fun and convenience.) However, allowing them to do anything they please is probably a bad idea, because what they want is to take over the field.
Take the health care issue. Health insurance is wealth -- knowing that a serious medical emergency is already paid for. But universal health care would be more wealth. It would mean care even if I became indigent. (In such troubled times, such a prospect seems almost likely.) The government's interest would be my continued health and well being, because healthy citizens work more, pay more taxes, and are more likely to serve in the armed forces. (I may be a lifelong civilian, but I may have children, and they might join up.) Insurance company's interests are to get me to pay and pay, and then not have to pay for a doctor. I would become unprofitable to them if I lost the ability to pay, or if I required something expensive.
There are two big theories on wealth. One is that wealth is like a pie, and one person having more inherently means another having less, as suggested by rules like entropy, conservation of energy and matter, and the like. The other is that wealth can be created, as operated by entrepreneurs worldwide.
That wealth can be created as can be demonstrated by the computer I'm using being worth considerably more than the sand, metal, and plastic that went into it. However, bad actions can also destroy wealth. If the country sinks in to anarchy, people will need to pay for security guards to prevent violence from the chaos, and trade will collapse. This is a definite major loss of wealth (order is one kind, for sure), and one we should strive hard to avoid.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Most common material on Earth

Quick, what's the most common material on earth?
In terms of atoms, it's oxygen, followed by sillicon, then nickel and iron. In terms of material, sillicon dioxide. Better known as sand.
Sand is industrially useful. It can readily be turned into glass by heating it, and by heating it more in the presence of carbon, one can purify the silicon for use in microchips.
Does this mean that every time you buy a computer, you've contributed to global warming?
In a word, yes.
However, this is reversible. Every time you buy a computer, plant a tree. The tree will suck its own weight of carbon out of the atmosphere.
And if we ever run low on carbon in the atmosphere for some reason?
Dig a huge amount of coal, take it to the Saraha desert in north Africa, and make a gazillion computers. Run them with coal power and yeah that problem is solved.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Quantum Entanglement Network

As an initial disclaimer, physicists have basically outright said that what this project proposes is impossible, on the grounds that no signal can be sent by this means. I'm not sure how much credence to give it, since a) they never include any actual math, and b) I probably wouldn't understand the math anyway. (In fact, most of it just states "well it violates relativity, therefore no.")
Quantum Entanglement is when two atoms are linked, and at all times maintain opposite spin values. (Atom's have a property called "spin," and the two states are arbitrarily called "up" and "down." For computer networking purposes, "up" is "1" and "down" is "0.") They manage to do this even if separated by considerable distance, in violation of relativity. (Relativity asserts that the speed of light, c, is the maximum possible speed for any thing, signal, or event.) Hypothetically, one can read the value of an atom's spin, at the cost of swapping the atom to the opposite state.
I'm seeing a network box with an RJ-45 jack, and an atom entangled with another box. They are then synchronized to read their respective atoms at a periodic rate, both at exactly the same time. There are two spin states, and my teachings in logic teaches that NOT NOT A is equal to A, therefore nullifying the effect of the read.
I'm not sure how writing to the atom would work, but reading it and discarding its state may be one way to do it.
Anyway, I can see a sci-fi galactic empire operating with these. Star ships each have an entanglement box somewhere in their internal network, linked to one in a big closet in the capital of the galactic empire. In the capital closet, the entanglement boxes are networked to both each other and to the national internet, allowing communication throughout the empire. Other nodes would connect to other planet's internets, thereby establishing the galacta-net.
Since quantum entanglement is instantaneous, all of the galactic empire can respond with a ping time of at most 2000ms. (And this assumes from the far side of one planet, to the far side of the capital planet.) The FTL allows the commerce and communication needed to maintain the galactic civilization. (So yes, when I sell three tons of nanocomputers, their credit card payment goes through, and I pay my taxes, and so on.)
As a secondary advantage, quantum entangled communications would be untraceable. Earthly military forces could decide not to bother with encryption, since it's literally impossible for the enemy to intercept the message: it's not there to intercept. Unless they steal the entanglement box itself, and any good soldier would make a point of destroying it if it came to that. A definite advantage over radio and such.
Perhaps this is a good basis in sci-fi, where one must bend certain rules to have an exciting narrative. I shall try to read up why this wouldn't actually work.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Volcano Diversion

It would make me very nervous to live near an active volcano. Sure, I'd probably have some hints to evacuate before anything went seriously wrong, but knowing that at any time, my house would be destroyed in an explosion of flame and earth is a scary thought. (Compare this to my previous two homes that were vulnerable to shaking earth and flying water, respectively.)
Okay, but can I make it safer? I think so.
Pipe jack a pipe of thermal ceramic into the core of the volcano, and connect the other end to either a deep unused valley, or the ocean, whichever you have handy. Angle it at least 10 degrees, with the volcano on the high end. Lava escaping through the pipe is lava that cannot build up pressure enough to erupt, so the volcano erupts much less often, if at all.
Too much work?
Okay, dig a big ditch in the way that you'd prefer lava to travel, all the way up to the top of the volcano's cone. Not all lava will obey it, but it does make the path of least resistance the one that you'd prefer it to follow. (And after the eruption, it'll be full of that rich, fertile, volcano soil that encouraged people to live near the volcano in the first place.)

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Open Source Flight Computer

I think it would be neat if software would be written to control a flying vehicle, such as a plane or a space ship, and released under an open source license.

Aside from the fact that this would mean hobbyist flight, a pundit in the IT field once told me that IT managers look at the freely available things, like open source, as the bare minimum required by the industry. So this would require aerospace companies to write better code.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Ternary Computing

By all that is holy, someone actually made one. Or at least, a decent simulation of one.
All the successful computers ever made used binary, base two, to represent numbers. This is easy to work with, because computers are electrical devices. It either has current (on) or doesn't, and with many cells of this you could represent any number you care to think of, as well as the ideas of True (on) vs False (off).
A Ternary computer would operate on base 3. You'd have "Yes," "no," and "maybe." You could store larger numbers in the same number of cells. You could have one cell that branches based on its value. You'd have greatly increased complexity, because now you have to draw hard lines between what voltages are "Yes" vs which ones are "maybe." ("5V" vs "0V" are way easier to distinguish compared to "5V" vs "2V" vs "0V.")
Thanks to Awesome Geek Blog for pointing this out to me.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

A dare to electronics Majors

I want to buy a device that accepts text, can connect to my network via an RJ-45 connector, and can store text for later. Bonus points if it can also take sound or dictation.
I expect it to have an internal battery with at least 8 hours charge, and also some means of recharging said battery. I expect it to be durable enough such that if I suddenly drop it, it won't break upon hitting the floor. In fact, I expect it to survive a sledgehammer impact.
Video is probably overkill. It need not have better video than, say, a VT100 terminal, but I expect to have some means of perceiving what the hell it is that I enter.
I expect it to be able to connect to the internet if need be. Sure, it's harder in text mode, but it is possible.
I expect it to use very little power. Let's set the maximum to 5 watts. This is very little power -- I could probably generate this by rubbing my hands vigorously and grabbing a cold thermocouple. This sounds impossible to some people, but I don't expect you to use a high powered desktop cpu. If I wanted that, I'd have bought a netbook. In fact, I would adore it if you were to use an exotic architecture to begin with. (Less chance of viruses, acquaintances wanting to use it for games, and so on.)
I would like it to have an exotic charge method, in case I'm away from electricity. Maybe a hand-crank, but bonus points for solar panels, movement-based systems (like what exists on expensive watches, walking with the watch winds it), or even stiller charging. (Warm this end up, and cool this end down to recharge)
I expect to pay no more than $300 for this device. The parts that compose it are not expensive.
Ironically, the perfect one, in fact totally overkill, already exists.... but the company that makes it refuses to actually sell me any. (I wrote to them and got no response whatsoever.)
So, I dare you. Cheap text-only quasi-laptop.
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