Friday, July 31, 2009

Irish Mail

The Irish Mail is an arm powered device that you can build yourself. Like a bicycle, it uses only your own power to move you around, but is much more powerful than walking on your own two feet. Unlike a bicycle, operating an Irish Mail builds your arm muscles, especially your biceps and triceps.
Most ordering kits tend to be child-sized. Adults will want to build theirs larger, and perhaps attach a cart to the back for storing items. Both would benefit from the addition of rear-view mirrors, reflectors, and other such safety features.
Adults who replace one short drive with a car with a short trip with the irish mail can expect to lose up to 20 pounds per year. Take that, obesity.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

On Gambling

I'm going to tell you a long personal and philosophical story today, instead of a crazy invention. The inventions will return tomorrow, or such. Bear with me here.
Many people love to gamble, and many others think it's wrong. Many people do it with various degrees of success in cities like Las Vegas, but others have it control their lives, and have to be kept away from the poker tables by force, over their continuous and forceful objection.
Meanwhile, I learned not to gamble from a video game from my childhood, Legend of Zelda.
For my readers who are unfamiliar with video games, a video game is a computer that provides a game for televisions, and commonly amused people of my generation and later. There is some sort of goal, generally involving moving a little pixelated person around the screen, across a virtual world, avoiding things that kill off this person, and accomplishing goals until one big goal is met. There are complications, like a virtual money system, obstacles, even minor puzzles.
In the world of Zelda, there are some little sub-areas hidden in things like trees and rocks. Many of them are beneficial, providing the player some of the virtual money, because "It's a secret to everyone." (Presumably this person didn't want you telling others where he lived.) Others were shops, provided tools, or even penalized the player. ("Pay me for the door repair charge." Apparently this person has obnoxiously disguised his front door as part of the rock wall and then gets all pissy when it's blasted open? Man, what a jerk.)
And others include a gambling operation, with the phrase "Let's play money making game." A website called Sydlexia was kind enough to provide a screenshot:

Anyway, I was playing as a boy, and my father came in and once again bemoaned the fact that I was playing this and not outside playing baseball, or reading, or whatever the hell else he wanted me to be doing. And I came across a money making game and passed it up. My father noted that. "Why didn't you take it up?" he asked.
"Feh, it's more like money losing game." the young me complained. "Bastard cheats."
My father marveled that by experience I had learned that yes, one may occasionally get free money out of gambling, but more often would wind up having lost hard-earned money for nothing. That work was a more worthwhile way of collecting wealth than an easy gamble is a surprising lesson for a ten-year old boy to learn.
Then he again started complaining about how video games didn't exist when he was a boy, and why couldn't I go play outside like he used to, and your homework better be done young man. As parents are wont to do, I suppose.
In any case, I haven't completely avoided gambling since then, but I have approached it cautiously. For gambling is basically paying to daydream. You daydream that an improbable event will happen in which you get money without working. Most likely, you will get nothing out of it. And certainly one can be allowed to daydream, but it's unhealthy to pretend that it's anything more than that.
Now a game like Zelda is unlikely to impress a child of the millennium. It was the product of an earlier time, when computers weren't as powerful, and simplistic graphics were the norm. However, I believe that a trivial sample of gambling will show children the dangers of getting to deep into it. Perhaps one of Zelda's newer sequels also covers this, I haven't kept up.
Similarly, my dad offering me a beer when I was eleven, an act inspired by his regular reading of Calvin and Hobbes, kept me away from alcohol until about my junior year of college.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Rotating Shifts

In big cities like New York and Los Angeles and Houston and Dallas and Chicago and New Orleans, there are two periods per day called "rush hours." During these times, traffic slows to a crawl because of the high volume of cars on the streets. Where are they going? To and from work.
See, most American businesses operate from 8am to 5pm. Workers clog the roads from 7am to 9am rushing in (some of them are a tad late), and then clog the roads again from 4pm - 7pm as they leave. (The 4pm people are leaving early, and are probably not the people driving from 8 - 9 am.) This trouble with traffic aggrivates everyone in it, as the rising statistics on "road rage" can tell you. It is also slow, hard on the engines, and wastes gasoline. But if you run a business, you can help.
Just start your business at an unusual time, like 6am, or 10am. You can operate nonstop by using three shifts, each with eight hours of work. Let's say 6am - 2pm, 2pm - 10pm, and 10pm - 6am. Workers on such shifts will experience a smooth ride in, productive time at the office, and then a smooth ride back home. They may even be more productive than usual, if they have a shift that works well with their sleep/wake cycle.
And if everybody takes up this plan? Shift your hours back or forth 2 hours.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Edible Yardscape

All of us want to have a nice looking yard, and to look different. How about a yard...that feeds you?
Many plants produce edible parts and look pretty good too. Apricot, peach, and apple are all beautiful trees, as are bananas (although bananas will not grow fruit in the continental united states without the intervention of you and a plastic bag.)
If shrubs are more the need if your household, blueberry, cranberry, and gooseberry are all excellent choices.
If you'd prefer a small flowering plant in a little space, you can't go wrong with strawberries, and potatoes look pretty interesting too.
Aside from looking nice, if you can't get to the store for whatever reason (hurricane, civil collapse, car will not start), you can still get food. Also, it offsets carbon, since your food is in walking distance.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Cleaning my keyboard

One of the things I love the best about my keyboard is the way that the interior parts are connected, allowing me to dismantle it for cleaning. Keyboards tend to get nasty over time, as they are constantly touched, and have lots of crevices where spilled things remain until cleaned. Also, pets find them fascinating. A strange object! And the boss keeps messing with it! I should mess with it too! Which results in "pet typing." It looks like this:


Also, the pets are responsible for many of the spills. Knock the boss's drinking glass over? Sure, why not? Maybe you'll get a sip of soda out of it.
So, my keyboard. I can take it apart like so:

Then I can take the outer shell and just chuck it in the bathtub with some soap. I used washing detergent.

Soap, swishing, and flipping, done repeatedly, knocks all the hair and dirt and cola and whatnot from the keyboard. Once it's clean, drain the bathtub, and take it somewhere to dry. I used my bed.

You have to let it dry totally, as water is a polar molecule and will interfere with the proper functioning of electronics. Once it's totally dry, put the keyboard back together.

The best part of doing this is that if I mess up, keyboards are $5 to replace. I suggest against doing this with any other part of your computer.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Hospital Animals

It's been proved in a number of studies that pets lower blood pressure, relieve stress, and generally promote good health in their owners. The studies didn't make it clear if this was the result of petting the animal, simple psychology, or some other reason. This is all well and good, but the people that need it most, in hospitals, are the people who can get it the least. Animals tend to be un-sterile, which is bad for the patients. Animals do things like poop, eat the food (which throws off calculations and spreads bacteria), lick, fight with each other, and hide infections. Not good things to do around someone already fighting an infection. In addition, animal dander allergies may be triggered in people if the animal is so much as in the same room as a shedding animal. A hospital cannot risk it.
Pink Tentacle reports that the Japanese company Paro is donating utterly cute Harp Seal robots to a Danish hospital. The robots are reported to be very lifelike, and don't have the same problems most animals have, because they're robots. The seals have soft white "fur," shiny black eyes, and tiny eyelashes. Tiny whiskers even emerge from the seal's face. These seals will provide companionship, petting opportunities, and are presumably cleanable. I hope they work.
If the seals are successful, perhaps other robot animals may be deployed. Fake dogs, fake cats, even fake birds. All providing comfort to the sick and injured. All being tickled and tickled, then their fur washed when their "master" is asleep. People will recover in comfort and happiness, and have someone to confide in when visiting hours are over. Also, if prices drop low enough, the patients will be able to keep the robot animal after their stay is over.
One last advantage of this is autistic children. It is quite common for autistic people to absolutely adore animals, and they often benefit from the association.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Toxic Assets

Perhaps you've heard about Toxic Assets in the news. During the housing boom of 2005, the global economy invested in the US housing environment, which seemed absolutely risk free to everyone involved. Yes, sometimes people fail to pay their mortgages, but if they did, you could foreclose, get a house, and sell it really easy, because the financial markets were flooded with cheap credit. A Los Angeles area graphic designer has a two part series with an excellent demonstration of the details.
So now there's the crisis of everyone with the financial ability to owning a home, banks being stuck with legions of homes that they cannot sell, and people walking away from their homes because they're not as insanely valued as they thought they were, which worsens the "legions of homes" thing.
These useless mortgages are called "toxic assets" because the bank has invested huge amounts of money in them and cannot do anything whatsoever with it. To use a Thai expression, they're a "white elephant." (This was based on the old Thai custom of ruining a nobleman you hated by giving him a pretty white elephant. The elephant sucked money, but it was blasphemy to sell it, use it for work, or do anything productive with it. So they were stuck feeding something that they could not recoup in any way.)
I think I, or someone like me, should buy a few of these (at a standard "loan buying" rate.) It can go two ways, and either way I win. If the homeowner pays off his mortgage, I get more money, so I win. If the homeowner defaults, I get the house. I want a house, so I win.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Outdoor Mall

In Southern California, where I came from, there are a lot of malls and storefronts, where people like to shop. They park outdoors, go inside a building to shop, and then go back to their car.

This is a reasonable arrangement, but in Southern California's hot desert weather, cars exhibit a greenhouse-like effect, as sunlight penetrates the interior, becomes infrared as it strikes the seats, and then is trapped. Cars quickly reach ludicrous temperatures, and anything left behind, like a pet or a baby, gets cooked alive inside. Inside, people enjoy cool air via air conditioning, but it seems like every mall's the same.

I propose one mall that works the opposite way. Park indoors in a large parking structure. For convinience, it should have an addressing system to help you find your car again, because searching for your car is annoying. Then, go outside, where vendors have an open-air market. Tents protect merchandise from the hot sun, and other tents can help cool off the wandering customer. Also, an ice-cream or other cold food tent is a must. Tents must be waterproof in the winter, for that is the rainy season. (Although the mall should probably close for that. You want the inside mall when it's raining.)

While people may dislike the heat during the summer, the novelty will be pleasant during the other three seasons. The fresh air will be pleasant (except in Los Angeles proper), the exercise will be good for the shopper, and the car will be at a reasonable temperature when the shopping is done. Also, lots of nature, people love lots of nature.

Thursday, July 23, 2009


Bureaucracy is now thought of as a maligned system of obsessive rules, pointless procedures, and entire forests worth of forms which must be filled out in triplicate.

However, it will surprise everyone to learn that it was implemented as a reform over the previous system, nepotism. In the previous system, the boss would hire and promote first his brothers, nephews, uncles, and friends, and only then would he start looking to the general public to fulfill his empty positions. Employment was entirely at his whim, and to firings there was no appeal. If your family wasn't powerful, well, too bad for you. Beg for the crap jobs and hope the hiring man is feeling merciful.

So the idea in Bureaucracy was that such matters must be handled by merit rather than family or relation. One's performance would be at all times monitored, and hiring and promotions would be based on measured tests and other performance metrics. It would be fair, scientific, and just. This fairness would make the company not only better thought of in the eyes of the world, but stronger economically, as all people would be justified in the position they held.

Of course, now is a few hundred years after that, and we can see the flaws. The constant measuring aggravates our animal instincts of predator avoidance, and leaves people ill at ease. The constant paperwork is both boring and irritating. Worst of all, the ideas of merit are ill-enforced, leading to systems that are half nepotic and half bureaucratic and with the worst of both systems. Blargh.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Maintenence Dock

Many people bring in computers for repair each year. The problem is often on the software level, with the hard drives clogged with viruses, spyware, and fragmentation for the computer to continue to function.

I'd like to invent a dock that, when a hard drive is plugged into it, scans and removes all spyware and viruses, backs up all remaining data to a RAID-0 storage, reformats and restores, and then defragments. The drive would then be returned to the original computer, fresh and maximally functional.

In the time it takes to do this, we can treat the rest of the computer to dust-removing treatment, thereby making an old computer good as new in maybe just half an hour. We also reduce the costs, allowing more people to have a cleaned computer.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Weird Climate Device

This is distinctly impractical, but I can't get it out of my head.

Have two buildings, one in Alaska, one in Nevada. Alaska is a polar area, and very very cold. Almost all of Nevada is a really hot desert. Have two long, insulated pipes between them.

In the Alaska building, compress some freon, which heats it up, and allow it to dissipate its heat into the house. Aaah, feels good. When it has cooled, send it down one of the pipes. This pipe ends in the Nevada house, with an expander. As it expands, the temperature plummets, air conditioning the Nevada House. Aaah, feels good.

Meanwhile in the Nevada house, send uncompressed freon up the unused pipe to Alaska, which arrives vaguely tepid. (It will lose some heat no matter how well the pipes are insulated.) Feed this pipe into the compressor, making this an endless heat exchange.

Problems with this system are numerous. One, that much pipe is insanely expensive, and two, it crosses an international boarder in Canada, or is an undersea pipe at some point. Either will exponentially increase the expense. Two, the energy burden is in Alaska, which has fewer options for electricity. Three, I'm not sure that much freon exists on earth. Four, if the freon leaks at any point, it will be hard to detect and a major environmental disaster.

I'm not even completely sure that it would be more energy efficient than just a heater in Alaska and air conditioning in Nevada.

International readers are encouraged to substitute closer cold-and-hot locations for this, like European readers substituting "Alaska" with "Finland" and "Nevada" with "Italy."

Monday, July 20, 2009

Watering the Lawn

The most popular housing in America is the suburban house. It's close enough to the city to have a reasonably short commute for work, shopping, or emergency assistance, but far away enough to be reasonably priced and to offer considerable privacy from one's neighbors.
Almost all houses are surrounded by a grass lawn, which is nice to walk or play on and looks reasonably good too. But the lawn gets thirsty, and must be watered, or it will die. Thankfully, all houses also come with a water system, which pretty much always has a nozzle outside to work with. We have many options.

* Hose
A flexible tube of rubber-like material bought in any hardware store. Connects to outside faucet, and is able to deliver water around the yard.
+ No extra infrastructure required
+ Cheap
- Not Automatic
- Slow
- Requires your personal presence, even on really hot days
- Very high evaporation losses

* Sprinkler system
A series of pipes is dug in the yard, leading to sprinkler heads. The heads spray the water about, and if well positioned, are able to water everything. Larger yards may require several "circuits," as water pressure is limited.
+ Waters entire yard
+ Can be automated if a timer and rain sensor is added
+ Can be operated from indoors on hot days
- Extensive digging required
- Timer and rain sensors expensive
- Sprinkler heads can be damaged by mowing
- High evaporation losses

* Drip system
Black hoses with little holes in them are distributed through the yard. When water is run through the black hoses, it gently leaks out the hose and into the grass.
+ Waters entire yard
+ Can be automated if a timer and rain sensor is added
+ Can be operated from indoors on hot days
+ Lower evaporation losses
- Timer and rain sensors expensive
- Hoses easily damaged by mowing or animals, and difficult to repair
- Costs more than hose or sprinkler system

* Underground drip pipe
Pipes with holes in them are laid in trenches and covered. The pipes lead to an open pipe on the surface, above which a water spigot is able to introduce water to the system. The system waters the lawn from beneath. This is the system that I personally endorse.

+ Waters entire yard
+ Can be automated if a timer and rain sensor is added
+ Can be operated from indoors on hot days
+ Smallest evaporation losses
+ Encourages deep roots
- Absurd amount of digging and plumbing work required
- Timer and rain sensors expensive
- Most expensive option
- Plants will try to insert their roots into the pipes to monopolize the water supply

* Watering Blimp
A helium balloon suspends a water tank above the yard. A small fan is able to propel the system about, and a small inboard computer such as an Arduino tracks GPS coordinates and notes what spots are watered and what spots need more watering. A nozzle in the tank allows it to water the sections that it's floating over. When the tank is empty, it can return to a predetermined spot for you to refill it. Tank should be large enough for at least one day's worth of watering, because I really don't want to spend my day running over to refill the damn thing. Also, must have knowledge of the GPS coordinates of your property lines, otherwise it would water your neighbor's lawns too at your expense.
+ Hillarious
+ Major conversation piece
+ Waters entire yard with no intervention after initial setup
- Needs hose refilling
- Excessively crazy
- Very high evaporation losses
- Hard to set up. (Do YOU know the GPS coordinates of your property lines?)

* Weather Control
Using some as yet of undetermined means, control the weather such that your lawn receives exactly as much rain as it needs. Preferably in the pre-dawn morning so that it doesn't inconvenience you personally.
+ Automatic
+ Free after setup
+ No wasted water, ever
+ Much easier on city utility system
- Not sure how you're going to do this, chief.
- Possible detrimental effect on rest of ecosystem
- Almost assuredly extremely expensive to set up
- Excessively crazy

Farms can also use any of these systems to water the crops, and most of them seem to prefer the sprinkler technique, using a very large framework of mobile pipes and a very long hose.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

The Power of Libraries

When the United States became independent from the UK, there was a massive surge in scientific progress. Why? Because many libraries were built, and the new US refused to recognize UK Copyright. This gave the US a flood of cheap books, and free reading in the library. People had a glut of information available to them, and they put it to great use.
Things have changed since then. The US is now very into international copyright, and many libraries find themselves too short on cash to expand their collection of books, and their funding gets cut over and over. The big source of information is now the internet.
The Internet has more flaws than the library system, even if it does provide information faster. One is that the information on the internet is often very low utility. For a good example of this, see articles on WikiGroaning, in which people note how much useless trivia has accumulated in Wikipedia simply because the contributors like it. Likewise, the internet has loads of funny pictures like LOLcats which contribute little to people's development or understanding.
For another, much of the information on the internet is increasingly wrong. As in, incorrect. Many people get their news from blogs such as this one. While this isn't a problem by itself, blog writers have no inherent qualification. Some have been known to fabricate things, which later get repeated as true. (Sometimes they do this as a prank, other times it is a pious fraud on their part, and other motivations also exist.) Many serious news organizations have repeated stories from satirical papers like The Onion, because they didn't know that everything in The Onion is a spoof. All the information in the world is useless if it's incorrect.
The increasing loss of information to trivial and wrong information threatens the further development of humankind. We have only so many hours per day, and the more distracted and suspicious we wind up, the less productive we can be.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Web Mirroring for Australia

In Australia, using the internet is pretty bad, because most of the computers you want to access are in other countries, like America (because running a computer in Australia is hard. It's hot.) but there's a limited number of undersea cables to actually reach these other countries. So everything is super super slow.
Australia has a lot of empty space, mostly in its interior. I can do something to help.
In the interior, build a cement shack with many solar panels, and air conditioning. Connect the solar panels to deep cycle batteries, and that to the shack power supply. We are now independent, power wise.
Now we build a big fancy computer in the shack. We use RAID-0 to give us lots and lots and lots of disk space. We install server software, and a web caching software to use the space in the RAID.
We get a fast internet connection, and register a handy domain. Say, ""
If we convince Australians to use this, popular websites will load from the cache, which is fast, instead of the cable, which is agonizingly slow. So only the first new access in a day uses the cable, and after that, it can pass it around all day.
If all Australians used this, Australians would enjoy a hundredfold increase in experienced Internet speed.
Using the cache would be as easy as entering "" in the "proxy" field of one's web browser.
Questions, who would pay for the domain registration and hardware? If a drive fails, who will pay to replace it? Who will pay for the internet connection? Would a fee be charged to use it?

Friday, July 17, 2009

If It's All Simulated

What if, asks philosophy students everywhere, the real world isn't actually real? If it's a dream, a simulation, or otherwise entirely imagined? What consequences should this have? How would it affect your lives?
Well, this completely destroys the very concept of consequences. Any mess of any kind I leave behind can be deleted from the situation, declared invalid, or forgotten until it ceases to exist. Cleaning? Why bother, leave the area and it gets done for you when the simulation or dream forgets it existed. Insult someone? It can be erased from their memories, or otherwise deus-ex-machina'd out of existence. Or, if you control the simulation, the very person can be removed. And if you don't, avoid them until whatever's controlling the simulation forgets that they should be mad at you.
As a simulated person, your goal is to entertain whatever's operating the simulation. You should do things that are interesting to it as often as possible, so as not to be ... stopped. All simulations have a cost, computer simulations have a processing-power requirement, dreams need brain and time, and other simulations, too, require resources. Whatever's paying the bills had better be satisfied with your behavior, or everything you know ends abruptly.
Of course, if you're wrong about this, this means that you'll behaving like an insufferable bastard for no good reason, and while amusing to watch from a distance, will enrage your entire family and friends and suffer numerous consequences in the name of comedy.
Although many philosophers speculate that it is quite likely that we live in a simulation now, on the grounds that computing power is continuing to increase all the time, and simulations of past events are becoming increasingly common, therefore it is likely that you are actually a simulation, run thousands of years in the future for historical purposes.
However, as a counterpart to this, I note that I "live in the future" as it were (my computer would have been thought of as massively impossible even 100 years ago), and I do not bother to simulate the lives of my medieval ancestors. Just because I have the power to, doesn't mean I necessarily do it. I'm more likely to simulate something that never was, or even never could be, than the actual factual past.
Since I believe that the amount of computing power to simulate my life exactly won't exist until 2500 at least, and because I think 1980 - 2009 will not be the most interesting set of years from now until then, I sincerely doubt that my life is simulated. So no wild goofball behavior for me.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Automatic House Construction

Building a house in America is pretty straightforward process once you have the plans. The plans specify everything. Where the walls are, where the pipes are, where the electricity goes. The foundation type is predicted by the climate. Wait a minute, this is technically automatable. Let me assume a warm climate, like the kind I live in. In this, the house is constructed on a cement slab, onto which are mounted the walls via metal brackets, onto which the roof is mounted. The cold-climate American house has an excavated basement with a cement floor, cinder block walls, and the first floor is built on top of that. Building the wrong type of house for a climate leads to certain....inconveniences.
Given a DXF file of the house plans, the robots should be placed on the plot, and first arrange a coordinate system. This shows them where things are at all times to avoid incidents of robots trampling each other's work, or each other. Robots should also establish where their supplies are, because they are not good at seeing.
Now the work begins as a robot first arranges an area of flattened soil, then builds a wood frame around it. Pipes are arranged in it, according to the placement of bathrooms, laundry rooms, and other heavy water use. The main water line and sewer lines are connected. (In rural areas, the sewer line goes to a leech field and septic tank, but in either case, gotta make the conenctions first. The wood frame is then filled with cement, leaving exposed pipes. This is the foundation.
Now the outer walls are hammered together. The walls are made of wood frames. These wood frames have an upper wood beam and a lower wood beam, each the length of the wall, and support beams at a fixed, periodic distance. The support beams are specified in the local building code, which are laws that specify how buildings must be built so that they don't fall apart. Windows, (the placement of which is in the plan), have shorter support beams up to a four-sided wood box that contains the window. Given standard lengths of wood, the robots can cut and hammer this together. If there are front steps, strong boards should be placed on them to form a temporary ramp, as almost all existing robots move about with treads. (Bipedal motion is insanely difficult for robots.)
The walls are rotated to vertical and metal brackets are placed on strategic places. A masonry nail is driven through the bracket, firmly and permanently attaching the walls to the slab. The corner walls should be attached to each other as well with additional nails, for support. Rectangular slab-boards are nailed into the frame to form solid walls. Inner walls are built similarly, but they are directly nailed with masonry nails without the bracket. Also, no slab-board on the inner walls, as their material comes later.
The roof is made of triangular frames at specified distances, nailed to a rectangular slab-board. The difference between the ceiling and the roof is the attic, a typically unused portion of the house that has the ceiling insulation, and allows the roof to be shaped to repel rain and snow. The roof is, after being firmly constructed, attached to the ceiling with more metal brackets. The house resembles the final house in shape now, and could be lived in if one enjoys living like a medieval peasant. (In that it will keep the rain out and stop the wind, anyway.) The roof will need work to remain water tight, and this is a major priority in regions with frequent rain. In regions with rare rain, we can do this later, so I'll discuss it later.
Now the plumbing needs work. Pipes must be connected to where water-using appliances will need them, and also must have a P-Trap and a roof connection, to avoid sewer gas escaping into the appliances. (Without P-Traps and roof connecting pipes, sewer gas would escape your sink and stink up your house.)
Next, venting. Ducts for air conditioning and/or heating should be installed in the ceiling, and run to where specified in, yes, the plan. Also, any bathroom without a window must have a duct with a fan leading to the outside. Any laundry room will require a duct for the drier to vent steam to the outside. Now is a good time to place these things.
Next, electricity. Electricity flows in wires, which should be run through drilled holes in the support beams. The holes must be placed and sized in ways that do not compromise the structural strength of the beams. The building code specifies where outlets and switches must be, the best place for junction boxes, and so on. Cable should be run in little pipes to protect it, and should meet other cable with a cabling pigtail, in which the ends of the insulation are stripped from the two cables, the exposed ends are twisted together, and a plastic cap is twisted over the bare cable.
At this point, plumbing and electricity inspectors should be sent in for verification. It is best to have this done while the two are both exposed, as any mistakes require us to pull out the defecting parts and replace them. This is easier to do when one does not have to rip through the wall to do so. The robots should line insulation at this point around the edges of the house, and install the windows, two tasks that will not interfere with the human inspectors.
When the plumbing and electricity are approved. it's time to make the inner walls more...solid. Sheets of drywall are nailed to both sides of the inner wall, then a spackle covers the nails, and is allowed to dry. These walls are ugly, so they should be painted. Robots should only paint the priming layer, which is typically white, because I'm not about to trust a robot's sense of color. If a color is already specified, they can paint that after the primer dries.
Now, flooring. The floor currently is just a cement slab, irregularly grey in color. Most people find it drab. We can, depending on the room, install carpet, wood, or tile, to make it more pleasant to look at and walk upon. For carpet, a "tack strip" of sharp hooks is nailed to the edges of the room, carpet is unrolled from sheets and pulled tight. Cut excess carpet. Robots can do this because the specification shows the exact size and shape of the room.
For wood, robots must pick an arbitrary starting point, lay out a plastic "underlayer," and then nail wood to one edge until it is full. Now further boards attach to the boards on this edge, filling out until the room is covered in wood. Flooring wood typically comes stained, treated, and so on, which is a good thing because those steps would be a major pain in the ass.
For tile, robots pick an arbitrary starting point, and cut any tile that would not fit in its assigned space. They then obtain a mortar mix, and slather the back of a tile with mortar. The tile is placed in its assigned place. Regular small gaps are placed in the tile, as we humans like it that way. When all tiles are placed, a gritty grout is rubbed over the tiles, most of which fit between the regular gaps. When this is all half-dry, the surface is wiped, removing excess grout.
Kitchens and bathroom sinks require some cabinetry. Robots know the required shape from the plans, and cabinets are made of wooden boxes, held together by nails. Bathroom cabinets and the kitchen sink cabinet need holes drilled for the sinks, which the robots should have on reference. Countertop in both room has two options. A solid slab, precut and lifted into place, or tiles, which are made exactly like floor tiles. Countertop should be in place before cutting. The sink is attached to the cabinet via a silicon goo.
Some standard appliances like toilets, bathtubs, and maybe refrigerators should also be installed now. They are lifted into place, attached with bolts, and connected to the water supply with connectors laid down on the plumbing stage. (I'll trust the humans to plug the refrigerator in. Robots could do it, but it's less urgent.)
Now, roofing. This should be done before attaching the roof in a rain-risky climate, and is probably easier for the robots before attaching it to the ceiling anyway. First, a water-proof plasticy layer is stapled to the wood sheet. Then, tiles made of asphalt or ceramic are stapled to the plastic, starting at the bottom of the roof and working upwards. The tiles must overlap each other, and they are the main defense against rain. At points where a pipe sticks up, such as the ones for the plumbing or roof venting or air conditioner, metal flashing should be placed around the pipe, and roofing tile layed over that. (Cut the tiles as needed.)
Houses need a facade now, because the exposed insulation looks vaugely ridiculous to the average home buyer. Many options are available, but robots should select one (perhaps specified in pre-construction specifications?) and install it on the exterior of the house. There is aluminum siding, wood siding, vinyl siding, and fake brick siding. All of them install in strips.
All of the construction has probably damaged any plants in the area beyond repair. Wood-hammering robots should construct a fence, and other robots should lay down strips of grass sod. When watered, the grass lays down roots and becomes a lawn. The house looks complete at this point.
At this point, the robot's work is done. They should return to their packed state and be ready to be shipped off for the next house to construct. Two more humans must see to this house before we sell it. One, an interior decorator will want to place things like attractive curtains, and choose colors for yet unpainted surface. (The decorator will not do the painting, but will describe the proper color, which can be done by robot or human painters.) Also, local government will want to send down a tax assessor, to determine what property taxes the owner of this building needs to pay. The temporary ramp should now be removed.
We then put this house up for sale, and hopefully get a buyer fairly quickly.

Now of course, this post is so vague that it would drive any real engineer insane, but I think this is a good starting point for this sort of idea.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Deep Subway

Beneath many of America's largest cities is a subway system, an underground train that takes people places at high speed. Most of them were built to relieve surface traffic, which in large cities quickly grows to unbearable levels. Unfortunately, they also tend to be extremely expensive, mostly because the city waited until traffic was unbearable to install them, at which point the land was crowded, difficult to work with, and expensive.
I think we should install a high speed national subway system that can quickly haul people between large cities, with further nodes installed in likely to grow areas. The advantages of this are numerous: people can be evacuated in case of a disaster, troops can be moved in a literally undetectable way, and subways use far less energy than planes or above-ground trains. If we do this now, while much of the country has not yet been developed, we can do it for far less than if we had waited. In addition, the additional stops will lead to the growth of new cities, and with it, high tax bases.
We can also build this in levels, so there would be a deep level that would transport people from city to city, a shallower level that would take people around within cities, so that neither could collide with the other. The deeper one would move at much much higher speed, taking people anywhere in the country within hours. Possibly even to Hawaii and Alaska, although I predict these hubs will be the last ones built because undersea tunnels are mind-bogglingly expensive.
For safety, engineers should consider possibilities of security issues, such as biological or gas attack.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Reverse Keyboard

Carpel tunnel syndrome is a disorder affecting people who make repetitive movements. While many of the earlier, industrial age, causes like incessant hand-sewing, have been eliminated, the most common modern form is from typing. The repetitive movement compresses the median nerve in the wrist, causing pain in the hands, loss of hand strength, inability to sleep at night, and so on. Billions of dollars of worker's compensation claims are filed every year.
Some experts think that changing motions may make a considerable difference. Every ten minutes while typing, stop, flex your wrists, and flick your fingers upwards. They claim that this will prevent the syndrome. While others disagree, this has given me a tech idea.
Instead of a keyboard, we would have a tube, wide as a keyboard, and tall enough that a person's hands could be comfortably fit inside. Keys line the upper surface of the tube, and one can type by flicking your fingers upwards to the keys. (People with carpal tunnel from typing are most assuredly touch typists -- a hunt-and-peck typist could not make enough keystrokes in a day to injure themselves.) The device would come in USB and PS/2 styles, just like existing keyboards, and one would daily switch back and forth between the tube keyboard and the traditional kind.
Since the tube keyboard and traditional keyboard would require opposite finger-movements to type, this would allow people to type day after day with no repetitive injury.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Greenhouse Airfilter

We, as humans, require an atmosphere containing .2 atmospheres of oxygen, or we die. Less, and you asphyxiate. Much more and you also die. We evolved on a planet whose atmosphere contained 20% oxygen and 79% nitrogen, and its pressure of 760 torr has become our standard "atmosphere" unit.
But let's say that you're in a fixed environment. Maybe this is because you're in space. Maybe this is because you're so insufferably paranoid about a gas attack that you seal your living quarters airtight. Maybe you have been bricked up in a forgotten cellar somewhere, for the love of God, Montresor!!
Okay, what normally happens is that the air in your closed environment begins to collect carbon dioxide from your exhalations until it reaches a level poisonous to you, at which time you die of it. If you somehow scrub the air of carbon dioxide, then you very slowly use up the oxygen until it's all carbon dioxide in your scrubber, and you asphyxiate.
However, the oxygen we breathe is not the original atmosphere of the Earth. When the earth was formed, its atmosphere was made of nitrogen, methane, and carbon dioxide. The first life used the methane and carbon dioxide, and produced oxygen. As pollution. The environment absorbed the first production, until the concentration exceeded the environment's ability to absorb it, until it poisoned the atmosphere, nearly killing everything. Worse for the first type of life, a new type of life developed in this environment that ate that first type of life for food and metabolized it with oxygen. We are the descendants of this second type of life which we call "animals." The first type, "plants," are still around, but have gained considerable complexity since those early days.
Okay, we could then, if we provide the plants light, use plants to keep us alive, but let's say we don't want to do that directly. Plants live in dirt. They need watering, and can spill. They make pollen, which many people are allergic to.
Okay, so we keep the plants in a separate greenhouse, where if we spill a little when watering, no big deal. Also, if they spew pollen, no biggie. We can filter this out of the air when we return it. Your living area is in one place with a HVAC system that blows air about, and it moves old air into the greenhouse. In the greenhouse, air is blown about over the plants (who will enjoy human-breathed air, rich in CO2 and water vapor), and who produce oxygen. Plant-breathed oxygen can be blown back into the HVAC system, heated or cooled to a good temperature for humans, and brought back to the human-living area. There should be a HEPA filter in the input -- we've separated the plants from the humans for a reason. Dust, pollen, and dirt might be great for plants, but we don't want them in the human-living areas. NASA has found that the average human uses the same amount of oxygen as produced by 400 plants. Since plants produce no oxygen at night, we should double this to 800 plants per human. This sounds like a lot, but it can be achieved with 12 liters of algae.
So now I have the perfect setup for a human-carrying space ship (or bunker for an absolutely crazy person), but I want to go farther: I want to ensure that the human quarters gets only oxygen, and the greenhouse gets only carbon dioxide. I can think of a few ways to accomplish this.
Carbon dioxide turns to liquid if compressed to 10 atmospheres of pressure (at "room temperature.") The liquid can be drained off and reexpanded in the greenhouse. Or, it can be cooled to -78, which will deposit it as a solid material, which I can put in the greenhouse to warm up. If I take a great deal of air from the greenhouse into a tank first, then seal off the greenhouse after a major load, I can maintain an oxygen gradient. Of course, I would want to have at least two greenhouses in use for this kind of system. When one is "filled," we start pumping the carbon into the other one. At no time is a greenhouse exhausted of carbon, or the living quarters below 18% oxygen.
Oh, and it is important to immediately remove dead plants from any of these setups. Dead plants use up oxygen as they decay.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Swords to Plowshares

According to wikipedia, there are 23335 nuclear weapons in existence. This is enough to sterilize the entire surface of the Earth several times over. These bombs are typically made of highly enriched uranium, with various mechanisms to set off the runaway chain-reaction that becomes nuclear meltdown.
However, uranium also has a peaceful use as nuclear reactor fuel. In addition, there is a way to use it for space flight at remarkable speeds, allowing robotic-probe colonization of the galaxy. For the first, the bomb must be dismantled, and its fuel carried to the reactor. U-235, the "fuel" of most of these bombs, is warm with radioactivity. Thankfully, it is the weakest, alpha, type. Alpha radiation is stopped by your skin, but the safety-concious can wear gloves to eliminate the risk. The daring are urged not to place it in their mouths. Newer bombs use Plutonium, which is warmer but still only an alpha emitter. Both these materials are a grey metal, and not glowing green as depicted in cartoons. Uranium is dull grey, like iron, Plutonium is shiny grey, like silver.
If we seek the reactor solution, we would take the bombs apart, ship the fuel to the reactors, and generate electricity for commercial use with them. This would have a problem of increasing the amount of spent nuclear fuel in the environment, which I will cover in a later essay.
If we seek the space propulsion solution, we need to construct very large ships, get them safely into orbit, find interesting destinations for them, and send enough equipment to do something useful upon their arrival. This would be expensive, but probably worthwhile. (Second home in case of doom of the earth, for instance.)
If we do nothing, then we have all these nuclear weapons sitting around. While most of them are too heavy to steal, there is always the chance that the host nation will sell the weapon, or elect someone insane enough to attack with them.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Toy Car to Defeat Unexploded Ordinance

Unexploded ordinance is a major problem in many former warzones. Various land-mines, grenades, and dud ammunition litter the area, and continue to menace people, especially small children, farmers, the inquisitive, and people who dig or run. The mine, unfortunately, is not aware that the war ended, and explodes just the same, killing and maiming everyone within a certain radius. The mine also cannot distinguish between a small child running about and an enemy soldier.
Mine clearing equipment exists, but is bulky, expensive, and is either frequently destroyed, or tricky to operate. Sometimes it only locates the mines, and defusing is another problem altogether.
However, for $50, one can buy a radio-controlled toy car. This is simple enough to operate, even a child can do it. To this we attach a steel rope, and the rope to a 65kg weight. We then drive the car across the minefield. Sometimes, the weight goes over a mine -- BOOM! The weight and rope should be replaced. If the car gets excessively damaged, it, too, can be replaced.
I would rather a billion r/c cars got destroyed this way than one child. After all, the factory will happily build another r/c car. Furthermore, if this pans out, one can donate used and unwanted r/c cars to the cause of global peace.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Your toilet is now your gas tank

The words "Hydrogen Economy" have been banted around for years now by journalists enjoying the idea of replacing existing fuels with hydrogen gas, because the product of burning it is water. Perfectly clean water. No carbon dioxide. No noxious smoke. Just water.
Okay, but the planet earth doesn't have hydrogen spewing out of the ground. All our hydrogen is locked up in more complicated molecules, which are more stable than the gas itself. Rending them apart would cost energy, not release it. So hydrogen is more a store of energy than a source. Energy journalists sulk for a bit before looking again at solar panels and sighing wistfully.
Then, a week ago, a scientist found a more efficient, if infinitely grosser source. Pee. Human urine's urea and other dissolved acids produce hydrogen with a quarter the voltage required to break down pure water, if a nickel electrode is used. The waste products of this are nitrogen gas and potassium carbonate (aka "Pearl Ash"), both harmless to the environment and other humans.
This is not only useful as an energy source. Raw sewage is a major threat to the health of everything in its vicinity. Bacterial breakdown often includes toxic amounts of ammonia, poisonous nitrogen-based compounds, and horrible horrible smells. Anyone or anything breathing this becomes terribly sick. In addition, the waste products of this are industrially useful. Especially the phosphorus, whose deposits in nature are becoming rarer and more scattered as industry and agriculture demand more and more tons of it.
Of course, this leaves me with the silly thought of driving about, noticing I'm low on fuel, and stopping in for a big gulp and a curtain to fill up. Or a drunken frat boy peeing in my gas tank as revenge for a perceived slight, and me appreciating the free fuel instead. And the most ridiculous part would be soap and glass companies sweeping the streets of pearl ash, which falls out of the exhaust pipe of these cars.
Actually the inevitable jokes are probably worse than any of the real consequences. At least trucker bombs are a thing of the past.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Ultimate Computer Setup

One of my friends asked me what kind of computer setup I'd go for if I had an unlimited budget. Interesting idea, but "unlimited budget" is kind of a ridiculous term. Check out how ludicrously impractical this is:

One Backhoe (rent)
Gentoo OS CD (My personal favorite, array can also use SUSE, or Redhat, but Windows would be impractical with this kind of setup.)
220 identical AM3-slot motherboards with four CPU slots and 8 RAM slots
880 AMD Phenom CPUs
1760 sticks of 4GB RAM
220 SSD Hard drives, 500GB
5 Mass DC Power Converters
2000 m^2 of solar panels
5 trucks asphalt (rent trucks)
One steamroller (rent)
16700 liters Fluorinert
2 motherboards
2 sticks RAM
1 16 GB USB Stick
16 Hard drives, 1TB
2 Computer Cases
5 19 inch racks
6 23 inch racks
220 rack cases, 1U
2 high capacity diodes
220 Uninterruptible power supplies (accepting D/C power)
4000 Deep Cycle Batteries
1 40 inch LCD Monitor
1440 Steel I-Beams
14 m^3 Concrete
200 m PVC Straight Pipe
144 PVC Elbow
144 PVC Tees
1 Compressor
144 m^2 Drywall
Cheap keyboards
100 liters expanding foam insulation
4 Air Conditioning Units
30 m duct
20 radioisotope power units
12 chairs
10 beds
22 liters titanium dioxide paint
15 m Copper Pipe
1 pump
300 m electrical wire (Size 14).
400 m^2 Steel plate.
96 routers
100 RJ-45 ports
Crane hook
20 m steel rope
In the summer, take steam roller and asphalt to Fairbanks, Alaska.
Build road into wilderness using asphalt and steamroller until convenient site is found. Return steam roller and all unused asphalt.
Using backhoe, dig 3.2 m hole measuring 15 m x 12 m. This is the basement. Dig extra on one side to produce sloped edge.
Drive backhoe into hole (using sloped edge). Dig 3.2m hole measuring 2m x 1.5m.
Drive backhoe out of hole, return backhoe to Fairbanks.
Reinforce lower hole with steel I-Beams.
At the bottom of the hole, deploy small copper pipe, 7 cm off the ground. Pipe attaches to pump, which attaches to pipes going up to the surface. Make pump remote activated.
Deploy 5cm concrete to lowest hole
Stack DC Power device, one every 1.8 meters if DC Power Device is less than 1.8 meters tall. Make sure wires lead back to surface.
Stack 19 inch racks vertically, and weld together.
Stack 23 inch racks vertically, except one, and weld together.
Dry fit 19 inch racks in front of DC Power stack, and 23 inch racks. When satisfied, remove with crane hook and steel rope.
Barrier off deeper hole. Pour concrete around shallower hole to 13 cm deep. This forms the basement. Wait until concrete dries.
Build basement out of I-beams, and weld steel plate to form the walls. Build steel stairs out of basement with I-beams. Deploy foam insulation to 20cm thickness.
Construct main floor from I-beams and steel plate. Cut holes for plumbing, and for electrical wiring.
Fit pipes in basement ceiling. Attach with proper plumbing adhesives.
Weld floor I-beams and plate, for stability.
Deploy track floor on ground level to build walls.
Walls made of i-beam, and steel plate. Weld outside walls. I-beam-roof, because I'm planning a second floor. Cut section for stairs, and attach steel plate.
Build stairs to second floor. With I-beams.
Construct second floor walls, and roof. First I-beams, then steel plate.
Build bathrooms with sink and toilet. (Will likely appreciate it at this point.)
To each rack-mount case, put in one motherboard, 4 cpus, 8 sticks of 4GB RAM, and DC-Power connector port. Attach all screw connections, and close case.
Build 2 PCs from remaining computer parts (CPU, motherboard, RAM, case.)
Have electrician build building power system with 14 gage wire. Outlet positions determined by building code.
Cover outside with solar panels. Lead wires in, connect to diode.
Build shelves for batteries. Connect in parallel to 110V, then in series.
Connect diode to batteries. Then connect the other side to, yes, another diode. Connect that to building power system.
Connect building power system to DC Power supplies.
Plug in one PC, install linux via CD. This is the buildhost. Build a basic OS image, including kernel, for the rack-mount computers. Transfer basic OS image and kernel to USB stick. MAKE SURE OS IMAGE HAS SSH SUPPORT. Power down buildhost.
One by one, use the monitor and USB stick to install OS on rack-mount computers. Increment each one's IP by 1, and name them.
Put 42 rackmount machines in each 19 inch rack.
Put 16 routers, evenly spaced, in each 23 inch rack. Fill the other rows with RJ45 ports.
Lift DC-power unit out of the hole with the crane hook, and place the 19 and 23 inch racks. Connect the Ethernet of the rack mounted machines to routers on the 23 inch racks, and DC-power port to the DC-power unit. Power everything on. Verify that it works. have RJ45 ports lead to wires in the walls, and connect them to routers too. Lower the entire contraption into the hole.
Attach compressor to surface end of lower pipes. Compressor should then have pipes to a holding tank, and the holding tank should have a pipe back to the hole, ending with an expander.
Fill hole with florinert.
Remote activate the pump, and turn on compressor.
Holding tank should return cold, nearly solid fluorinert, due to the expansion.
Place protective barrier around hole. Don't want anyone falling in, now.
Build second computer out of remaining parts. This is the access host. (Which I'll use to operate the computer array.) Install OS.
Put access host in quiet room on first floor, and put the last 23 inch rack there. Connect this to the building network.
Connect access host to network, and verify access with ping and ssh.
Have optical connection to ISP in Fairbanks dug, and an OC-3 connection deployed. Connect to access host room 23 inch rack.
Install interesting software from internet connection, hopefully money-making.
Enjoy high speed Internet access, lots of storage on the buildhost, lots of CPU power to operate any computation, and heating from the fluorinert tank and electronics.
Build ducts in ceiling, and place air conditioning units for summer. Hook up to power, thermostat.
Put the radioisotope generators into a closet, wire them to the main building supply, and lock the closet.

If I have yet more money? Second site.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Pet and Lawn Watering Device

If you have a cat or a dog, perhaps you've wondered why they seem to prefer the water in your toilet to the water in their water-dish. Political statement on your water quality, you think? A preference for strongly scented drinking materials? Actually, none of these.
See, I'm pretty sure you don't change the pet's water dish until it's empty, but you flush the toilet on a regular basis. This means the water in the toilet is fresh and cold, like a running river, and the dish gets tepid and stale, like a stagnant pond. Running river water is cool and nice, stagnant ponds are associated in your pet's instincts with disease.
Also, you have to water your lawn or garden, and it's a pain.
So I got an idea to kill two birds with one stone as it were. The pet's water dish is connected to two pipes. One pipe drains the unconsumed water to water your lawn. The other refills from your municipal water supply. The pet likes it, as it reminds the instincts of a running river, and your lawn likes it, because it gets water on a regular basis. And you like it, because you don't have to bother with moving the sprinklers around, yet again. The grass doesn't mind that the water is a little stale, because, hey, free water.
Or, instead of timing, it could be set to be reset by pet. The pet would press a button, flushing the old water out to the grass and producing new water. Lap lap lap lap.
Oh, and for efficiency's sake, the grass watering part should be below ground, trickling up. Less water lost to evaporation that way.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Direct DC for Servers

Computers are electrical appliances that require a steady stream of 5V DC to operate. Just one problem: Electricity is supplied in a very different format to your home. In the United States, this is 110V A/C. (Other countries offer 220V A/C. Wikipedia has more on this.)
So every computer has a part called a "power supply" that converts the household current into the type the computer needs to run. It also provides 12 volts for hard drives, and 3 volts for other accessories. All in the direct current format that the electronics need.
There is some inefficiency in all transformation. Some of the electricity's energy is lost to heat when slowing the voltage and switching the style. Powering one personal computer, this is no big deal.
This becomes a big deal when operating a datacenter. In datacenters, you have thousands of computers, consuming megawatts of energy, and each has its own power supply to switch current. The heat is immense, and air conditioning is required if you live in a milder climate than Canada in the winter. (Canadian data centers can forgo air conditioning between September and April.)
So for datacenters, I think we need to move from individual power supplies to a collective DC converter that provides hundreds of strands of 5V, 3V, and 12V, each with the proper cabling, and each bundled so that we can shut down one particular computer without shutting down the others. Sometimes we have to do that. This one unit will convert the power more efficiently than individual power supplies by economy of scale. Less energy is lost to heat, and less heat needs to be pumped outside the datacenter. Considering that the average datacenter uses 10MW of electricity, this should provide considerable savings. Moreso because air conditioning uses lots of electricity.
The only reason that this isn't being done now is economy of scale. Lots of people have personal computers, so individual computer power supplies are cheap. Getting a collective power supply now would be expensive because it would have to be custom made, but if enough people put them in their datacenters, the price would plummet.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Net Censorship Organization

The internet can be a filthy, filthy place sometimes. Parents want to let their children go online, but are afraid of awkward conversations. Conversations like "Mommy what is that lady doing with that wrench?" So they would like a cleaner, safer version of the net. They buy software to censor the stream, only to have problems when the censor software's authors get into a fight with, say, the Encyclopedia Britanica and now little Johnny can't use it.
I propose we have a group of people classifying all parts of the internet. We can then use these classifications to allow parents to block things at their digression. Parents can block "porn," "extremism," or "violence." Or maybe "cursing" or "stupidity." As children age, the categories can be adjusted. Maybe a 16-year old is okay to look at, say, bikini-pictures and essays about adultier issues, which were previously denied to him or her at the age of 6.
This can also be used in reverse for adult perverts, who can have an all-dirty version of the web. All innocent sites are blocked. They can be allowed to see the list of sites, which they'll probably want.
Since sites are listed by classification, no longer will schoolchildren be blocked from information about cockfights because it contains the same word as used in naughty stories. Right wing people who want to pretend liberals don't exist can now use the same software as left wing people who want to pretend that everyone right of Michael Dukakis is a Nazi. (They would just use different settings.)
As much as I dislike censorship, it's probably okay if you choose your own, to your own standards, and are not beholden to anyone else for your standards. We could also pre-fab to existing organization standards for convenience (a "corporate" mode that blocks all NSFW, a "Catholic" mode that blocks everything disapproved by the Pope, and so on.) This way, people who are part of organizations can quickly stay within their organizational standards.
So we would need, to pull this off, an organization of volunteers who surf the web and classify things into a database, and a software program that reads the database, and blocks sites that meet disapproved categories. It would need to refresh this information very regularly: new sites appear every day, and many are the disapproved of type. We will need a handy manual to show people how to set it up. And we will need funding to keep the database server online, and the volunteers with continuing internet connections.
Anyone want to volunteer, or install it?

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Dismounting at speed

An interesting idea that I've seen several people write up about is the idea of a non-stop train that one would leave by getting onto another train that would stop. The stopping train would then either pull into a station immediately, or cruise about town to lower-traffic destinations.
The primary advantage of this is that the main-line train does not have to stop, ever. This saves energy and runs faster. People going to destinations further down the line are not slowed by people getting off on the station where the train is now, and the train can be refuled and repaired at the end of the line.
The primary disadvantages are space and safety. If someone should be a little too slow in disembarking, suddenly the stopping train pulls away, dropping the slow passenger onto the tracks at speed. Ouch. Space-wise, this means all train stations need to have an extra set of tracks that moves next and paralell to the main trains, for a fairly long distance. (However long it takes to disembark the train, reembark the new passengers, plus two extra minutes for safety's sake all times speed to produce a distance.) This distance can be reduced if the main train slows down, but that lessens the advantages given above. (Only a little bit.)
This probably won't happen for safety's sake. That one slow person getting dropped on the tracks would probably die, and most societies aren't willing to kill for efficiency's sake. (Also, I'm pretty sure at least one person would fall out per trip. Some people are very clumsy.)

Saturday, July 4, 2009

America's Birthday Special

America is now 233 years old, and still doesn't have a driver's license. (Ha ha, thanks for that joke, Mr. Brenaman.) The usual celebration is to eat a big picnic lunch outdoors, and at nightfall, shoot off a metric crap load of fireworks.
I say today we pool our fireworks and launch them all at once from a thousand-tube launcher in each city. The resulting display will explode with enough intensity to bring the illusion of daylight, and we can, if we operate in shifts, operate until dawn. Also, Canada and Mexico will tell us to get off their collective lawns, damn kids, which will be hilarious.

Friday, July 3, 2009


The newest product from Mad Engineering Industries, NutritionBuddy is a small screen that, 3 times a day, beeps and displays what you should be eating. We calibrate it to your size, weight, gender, activity level, and so on upon ordering, so if you follow NutritionBuddy's advice, you will obtain a healthy weight within a year's time.
Look forward to exciting recipes, and if you sync it to your PC and use our handy CD, it will also print up handy recipes to help you fulfill your daily requirements. NutritionBuddy obtains most of its power through the innovative active-quartz movement electrical generation system, but can be plugged in at night, and retains 12 hours of charge.
Warning: NutritionBuddy will not help you lose weight should you ignore its advice or binge. Do not get NutritionBuddy wet. Do not throw NutritionBuddy on the floor, as while NutritionBuddy is durable, it is not infinitely so. NutritionBuddy cannot hear you cursing, so feel free to taunt NutritionBuddy. Do not feed NutritionBuddy, as it is not alive. If NutritionBuddy recommends a patently unreasonable meal, please consult the help line.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

In which I persue a Baccalauréat

According to blogger SandWalk, all French university students must pass a philosophical test that they call Baccalauréat , which probably shares the same linguistic roots as the "Bachelor's" degree I'm pursuing.
Sandwalk says that the student has four hours to put together a comprehensive paper on one question. I'm going to try to answer both:

If you were one of the science students the questions were ....

1. Is it absurd to desire the impossible?
2. Are there questions which no science can answer?

Is it absurd to desire the impossible? This depends on the scope of impossible. The grossly unfeasible, the limited by reality, and the manifestly logically impossible all are dismissed under this one umbrella term. If we limited ourselves by feasibility, science would stagnate. After all, this computer I'm using now was grotesquely unfeasible a mere hundred years ago, yet here it is. And what is impossible now due to technological limits may be overcome in the future. If I did not butt my head against these things, I would be unworthy of the title of my blog.
However, some things are genuinely impossible, and cannot be overcome no matter how many resources are brought to bare. There are the logically impossible things, in which all results are disqualified. A four-sided triangle, for instance. Any figure you draw with four sides cannot be a triangle, so the task is a waste of time. Tasks which violate the universe's laws of physics, also, are futile. Since one never gets fruit from one's labors this way, wanting a logically impossible thing is absurd. The physically impossible is also absurd to desire, because your every attempt will be a failure. It is like trying to stand in mid-air, you get no result at best and at worst hurt yourself in the process. (By the way, just because we think it's physically impossible, that doesn't make it so, but thousands of failures with nothing approximating success tends to be a big hint.)
Since I see science as understanding the world in order to better enjoy it, pursuing unfeasible, unusual things is actually sane and rational, but pursuing the logically and physically impossible is an insane waste of time.
Are there questions no science can answer? Yes. Absolutely. Scientific ideas must be testable and falsifiable. "Falsifiable" means that there are in fact ways of proving that the idea is actually wrong. "What is the meaning of life?" is a non-falsifiable question, if I answer it in a ridiculous way, it can't be proven that my idea is wrong. If someone was to claim that the meaning of life was to collect 34 of all possible objects, I could not disprove that.
Other questions science cannot answer include "How should I live my life?" "Do deities exist?" "Why is there something instead of nothing?" and "What if none of this is real, it's all a simulation or just in my head?"

Okay, I think I just flunked out of French college, but in American college, I'm doing fine.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Carnivorous Clock

Engadget has a device that looks like the kind of thing I invent. A clock...that eats things.
The clock catches flies and other insects, and digests them for energy. Presumably it has an initial charge so that you don't have to feed it the first fly yourself. It continuously recharges its battery by throwing all the flies it catches into a pit of bacteria, which produce electricity from the dead flies.
This is convenient because all houses have a few flies and they are incredibly annoying. In the absence of flies, moths, wasps, and other pests also work, but may not be attracted to the built-in flypaper.
Other carnivorous devices are also possible in theory, but most homes don't have the volume of flies required to support, say, a refrigerator or a computer, unless they are some kind of garbage dump. (Perhaps not intentionally, some people are really really slovenly.)
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...