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.

Monday, October 26, 2009

"Brick" House

When I was a kid, I loved toy bricks. (Think "Lego" and it's knockoffs.) I'm thinking of a construction prototype tool, consisting of a scaled-up version. They can quickly be arranged, attached to each other, and shaped into the end-shape of the building (which will be kind of weak due to the light weight construction, and the fact that they're hollow), and then modified to provide the forms to fill with a better construction material, like cement. (The modification will probably consist of drilling a hole in the side.)
Hopefully it will also come in multiple sizes, to allow non-rectangular forms of architecture as well. Also, window kits are essential. Same for doors and other common features.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Seven Machines

As another crazy idea, seven sins themed machines. The "Seven sins" was an idea from Christian religion of a list of attitudes that are bad (because showing such an attitude enrages God). There were seven of them because of a numerological interest in the number seven.
My readers have probably read these from other sources, but a quick reminder.
Pride is thinking too highly of yourself, to the point where one considers oneself significantly better than other people. This one is seen as the root of the others.
Wrath is being pointlessly angry with other people, and harboring conflict for no good reason.
Envy is about wanting what other people had, be it object, character trait, or relationship, and jealously hating them for having it.
Sloth is thought of as laziness, but it also traditionally included despair, apathy, and being gloomy for no good reason.
Greed is about having money and stuff, but it also traditionally included the desire to spend money pointlessly and/or wastefully.
Gluttony is wanting food, service, and generally just MORE of stuff until you've had way too much.
Lust, today, means wanting sex. Traditionally, it also included desires for luxury and comfort to unreasonable extremes.
So generally, these "seven sins" were problems of excess, and therefore perfect things to create crazy machines about. Here's my work.
A shirt that comes with what looks to be a label pin, but has a spring-loaded mechanism behind it. A wire runs down the user's pants into their shoe, and when a button in the shoe is tapped with the user's foot, the lapel pin shoots forward like a cartoonish boxing-glove-on-springs.
Bonus points if you spring it on people unexpectedly.
A chair with a mechanical arm and a weight detector. When the seat is pushed down (by a person sitting in it), it spoon feeds the person. Put it in front of a table with a bowl, sit, and be fed until the bowl is empty. When the bowl is empty, you'll have to get up to refill it, but you're not lazy, right?
We take my Skinner-esque bed, add feeding tubes, watering tubes, a television, a video game set, and waste-removal tubes. We hook you up and now all you ever need will come to you. Your entire life will consist of watching whatever you want on television, a video game when you're bored of that, a nap when you're tired. Everything you need to stay alive will be pumped into you, and anything you need to get rid of will be pumped out of you. You need not move, ever.
A pointlessly luxurious leather couch, with heating, and massage. A large button is on the side, along with a switch with two settings, "Male" and "Female." The button provides what I'll delicately call an "intimate massage."
A small stand by the couch can hold mood enhancing "reading material," and maybe an extra mp3 player for mood music.
A picture frame, with a bunch of switches to describe the subject. Put a picture of someone you dislike in the frame, set the switches to briefly describe them, and the frame will heartlessly mock the living crap out of the subject, using a speaker and pre-recorded taunts. The user will likely experience a powerful (and evil) schadenfreude.
A bill-counting machine that transmits a boastful message bragging about how much money it counts to an entire list of people. Occasionally it destroys a bill after counting it, but still records accurately, and taunts the recipients of the message for not having that kind of money on hand. (To all recipients: I have $4,213 today, AND YOU DON'T NYAH NYAH.)
I'm still debating to myself if a cumulative model is eviler, or a daily model.
A mirror with a heat-detector. When it senses the presence of a human in front of it via the heat-detector, it starts making obnoxious cat-calls, hooting, and other insinuations that the person is immensely attractive.
If possible, the voice should select male or female as appropriate. (Probably user selected.)

Saturday, October 24, 2009


Today, the 24th, is my birthday. This is my 29th. To celebrate, an automated cake slicer.

Produce a circle of metal, with 8 interlocking "spokes." Sharpen the bottom end. Lower the mechanism over the circular cake, thus slicing it into 8 equal sections. Serve with cake knife.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Boredom Insurance

There was, a long time ago, a commercial for car insurance that showed a bunch of young men launching random things into a plastic pool and lamenting that there was no such thing as "Boredom insurance." That idea has been grinding in my head, and I think I've come up with a way to do it.
Have a collection of at least 730 activities and/or toys. When the insured calls up claiming to be bored, rush over a randomly chosen toy or activity, therefore ending the boredom of the insured. Charge the insured four times all expenses per month.
Hopefully, the insured will not notice that for the amount he or she is paying for this "boredom insurance," he or she could easily buy their own toys and activities. (Well, the young men in the commercial hardly seemed like the brightest bulbs in the drawer.)

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Rotating Closet: Part 2

So it seems that my readers really loved my thing about making my closet have a rotating hook system for increased accessability. I just thought of another use of "rotating closet" that would allow larger storage in the space than would otherwise be allowed. I got the idea by thinking the words "rotating closet" and remembering a kitchen storage system that uses similar principles.
The closet is divided into four sections, with a circular area. Only one area is accessible to the front at once. Each area is full of hooks to hang things on. On a trigger (say, a button), the "floor" rotates, bringing another section into view. So one would fill one section, rotate, fill the next, rotate, and so on until it was full. How you organize it would be up to you. Seasonal clothes, rotating once per season? Fashion cycle?
In any case, it would save space because only a small area would need to be accessable to the viewer, and the unused areas would face the wall. compare this with existing closets where if you can't reach it, it's useless to you.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Automatic Window Washer

Downtown in many cities consists of buildings with innumerate glass windows, all of which slowly collect dust and must be regularly cleaned. Generally, this is done by a suspended crew, which is attached to the roof via a long rope. Various companies to do this exist in various cities. They charge a fee for this, a fee that I do not know.
If one wanted to not pay this fee, I can design a building which would wash its own windows, automatically. Each window will contain, in its sill, a mechanical squeegee, and a pipe to a supply of soapy water. Periodically, the soapy water would run over the squeegee, and the squeegee would slide to the bottom of the window with an elaborate system of gears in the cracked. It would then be worked up, and rinsed. The squeegee would be repositioned within the sill to have the rubber side face the window, and a jet of fresh water would run behind it. The rubber end would be brought down to the bottom of the window, and then back to the top. The window is now clean.
Alternatively, the soap and water solution can be replaced with ammonia, which does an excellent job at cleaning windows.
I predict few buildings will incorporate this system, which is a tad impractical.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Awesome Fictional Things: Webcomic Edition

Comics have often depicted fantastic worlds of their author's imagination. Some of them are sci-fi worlds with semi-plausible concepts, some of which I'd love to have, and I'll explain why.
A note that this contains major spoilers for those who have not read the series I discuss. If you hate spoilers, feel free to come back tomorrow.
Also, I'm going to try to limit this to Sci-Fi type strips. Fantasy strips with outright magic are awesome, but a bit too far from actual reality to have anything to do with this blog.

Idea: Dimensional Door
Taken from: Real Life
The Dimensional door is, in the comic, the invention of Tony, a mad scientist, who also makes various other impossible things, like a huge space station with artificial gravity, an instantaneous, conservation-of-matter-defying, cloner, and a trans-dimensional portal.
The dimensional door is wrapped around a regular door frame, after which it connects two very separate points in space as if they were together. This is Tony's favorite means of transportation, and he tends to show up frequently in places that he logically shouldn't be using this technique. He has, however, since the construction of his space station, cut down on this, citing security concerns. (He doesn't want government forces to just waltz into his space station and start telling him what to do.)
The main character, Greg, seems ignorant of the implications of this invention. Greg lives in a modest San Franciscan apartment. If I had access to dimensional doors, I would live in a glorious mansion, most of which would be in states with cheap land, and with a few tiny rooms in expensive places like San Francisco. I would utilize climate disparities to minimize heating and cooling expenses

Idea: Robots
Taken from: FreeFall
In Free Fall, set in the distant future on a far-away terraformed planet, robots outnumber humans and perform all the cheap labor. The robots are built with Isaac Azamov's three laws: Non-injury to humans, obedience to humans, and self preservation. I rather like the robot's personalities for the most part, who tend to be inquisitive, polite, even charming. And if one is a jerk, I can order him to pull his own head off.
However, it is cited that the robots are built cheaply, of cheap plastic, and are flimsier than humans on average (because they're made of low quality plastic), and some of their mental quirks sound a tad frustrating to deal with. For one, they have a conversation once about how it's more important to get the job done than to preserve their own lives. (I would argue that dying mid-job has a way of making it hard to get the job done.)

Idea: Terraport
Taken from: Schlock Mercenary
In the strip, the Terraport system is the big invention of one of the main characters. It teleports things up to 200 light years by sucking them through countless tiny wormholes, and powers the entire system by destroying a small amount of the item's mass. I image that this would cause injury to a person, but somehow it manages not to in the strip. (People are terraported all the time in the strip without injury.)
During the course of the strip, the system is refined four times, developing denial systems (that stop terraports from occurring,) authentication systems (to allow denial systems to decide to allow certain teleports, but not others), and a few other improvements.
Aside from the obvious things to do with teleportation, I think I could terraform Mars and Venus for cheap with something along these lines. Teleport airtight buildings to Mars, teleport Venereal atmosphere into them, and teleport plants into that. Periodically teleport over wearing a space suit and carrying a watering can, and water the plants. Buildings should be human-habitable within a year. From there, I can start importing water from outer-solar system ice, or Venereal sulpheric acid. I could teleport the Martian core around until I have a rotating molten one like the earth does. I could teleport Venus's atmosphere to where it would be the most useful, teleport asteroids into it until it spins fast enough for a 24 hour day, and teleport cities onto it's surface. The terraforming cost is reduced by a factor of at least a thousand. (Maybe even a million...) Governments could afford a billion dollars, and probably would be willing to pay to have it terraformed at that cost.

Idea: Death Ray
Taken from: Narbonic
Narbonic is a strip about a mad scientist. There is a death ray that kills things with a "ZOT" sound. Since everyone is involved is evil, it gets used on people.
I think I'd primarily use it on household pests (cockroaches, moths, wasps), although I imagine if I had one, defense contractors would be drooling down my neck for a copy.

Idea: Bowman's Animals
Taken from: FreeFall
Dr. Bowman is never directly shown in FreeFall, but one does get to meet one of his creations. The main character Florence is Dr. Bowman's modification of a red wolf, producing an anthropomorphic canine. Florence is trained as an engineer. She also has medical and biological knowledge, and is able to explain Dr. Bowman's modifications.
The modifications are described as a "sentient bolt on brain addition." That is, add it to any existing brain and one gets a self-aware person that "threads" from a basic survival brain. The resulting anthropomorphic being has instincts from the lower brain, but sophisticated thoughts from the upper one. It is later revealed that many robots have a Bowman brain, threaded onto a badly functioning neural net. (The initial neural nets were faulty, and Bowman's work was used to "fix" it, with strange results.)
Only Bowman's wolves are actually depicted, but a chimp variant is also discussed. The chimps have rather nasty personality defects, having a poor temper control and a tendency to have poop-flinging tantrums. (There's a one shot joke about them making excellent executives in spite of, or perhaps because of, these flaws.)
Bowman's animals do seem like reliable beings, for the most part, even if they are kludgy in nature (Modifications to their life-cycle to ensure that they live to human-length lifetimes has resulted in Florence growing winter fur every 5 years, instead of every year, which sounds inconvenient) and have mental "safeguards" that would drive almost anyone insane. I'd want to have a collection of certain animals just to see how their instincts and thoughts interact. (Would Bowman's cats be aloof loners, Bowman's cockatoos be emotionally needy dancers, and Bowman's budgies be perpetually happy playful people?)

Idea: Antimatter
Taken from: Schlock Mercenary
In the world of Schlock Mercenary, antimatter is used casually. Many systems are powered by matter-antimatter annihilation reactors, antimatter grenades are commonly carried as weapons, and it seems as easy to buy antimatter in that world as buying gum would be in this one. Since it's set at least a thousand years in the future, presumably some means has been discovered to produce antimatter at less than a trillion dollars per nanogram.
Antimatter would mean clean energy production, easy disposal of toxic waste, and cheap energy for trillions of years. The only downside is that in a world where antimatter grenades are easy to get a hold of, terrorists and other ner-do-wells also have easy access to such weapons as well.

Idea: Biologically embedded USB port
Taken from: XKCD
While when posed, this was not a serious suggestion, but instead the author's satire on the attitude Linux has about device drivers. Nonetheless, I love it.
If I were trying to interface myself with a computer, I would probably have an internal computer, with a USB or RJ-45 connector, and use that to interface with outside computers. The internal computer would be designed by a cybernetic expert, like Dr. Warwick. Computer-to-computer interaction is well understood, computer-to-brain might have some side effects. Also, I sincerely doubt I could structure my thoughts to match any USB protocol, even if I were reading the white paper at the time.

Idea: Gravity Mesh
Taken from: Real Life
In the strip Real Life, Tony the mad scientist has a space station. One with artificial gravity. As cool as floating in space would be, it could get old fast. Also, studies by NASA have revealed that we humans need gravity, and without it our bones turn to mush.
Aside from space travel, this would be handy in gyms. Double the gravity, double the intensity of the workout. It could also be useful to transportation, by reversing the gravity in storage, which would presumably make it way easier to haul.

Idea: Gender Change Liquid
Taken from: Narbonic
In the strip Narbonic, the main character's gerbil invents a drug that changes the user's gender. (The gerbil is intelligent, if not very dexterous. The main character is an insane biologist. Long story.) It's primarily used as a prank, again because everyone involved is a tad evil.
If I could synthesize such a thing for less than $10,000 per dose, I think I would retire a billionaire. There are a lot of transsexual people in the world, and they're limited to a surgical gender change that costs as much as the world's best sports cars, requires a lot of very invasive, painful surgery, and leaves them sterile because we can't synthesize certain parts of the reproductive system. The fictional drug converts them in 2 wet and uncomfortable minutes. (Fertility is not addressed, although it is implied, a male character converted to female is explicitly described as menstruating in one scene.)
However, I'm pretty sure this is impossible. On a genetic level, converting a female person to male is impossible. In us humans, we have two "sex" chromosomes. There are two extant models, "X" and "Y". The male pattern is "XY", the female pattern is "XX." The X chromosome explains how to build certain proteins required to live, the Y chromosome makes you male. You inherit one from each parent, and if you get "XX", you turn out female, if you get "XY" you turn out male. If you converted a female person into a male with the drug, where would they get their "Y" chromosome traits? Also, two minutes to absorb a complete reproductive tract and synthesize another one?

Idea: NanoRobots
Taken from: Schlock Mercenary
Robots, the size of molecules. This would revolutionize manufacturing, medicine, and engineering. In the strip, nanorobots, or nanites, can regenerate people from as little as a severed head, can construct all manner of goods, can repair damaged infrastructure, can give people superhuman powers by reengineering their body, and produces infrastructure that heals itself.
Since nanites are described as self-manufacturing (you make one, and it makes a gajillion more of itself), many experts worry about the "Grey goo" scenario in which one out of control nanite consumes the entire biosphere of the earth to make more of itself, until the entire planet consists of nothing but nanites. Somehow in the world of Schlock Mercenary, this hasn't happened, and people live on thousands of worlds, so the loss of one planet would be merely a tragic disaster, not the end of life as we know it.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Higgs Boson Madness

A Dr. Nielson of CERN seems to be worried that nature abhors a Higgs Boson particle and will go to insane lengths to prevent one from forming, up to and including causality violation. This means that suddenly, the whole apparatus exploded last week, erasing the time period in which it was previously fine, and all events retroactively obey the new timeline. He also speculates that effects are proportional to their chance of actually producing particles, and to existing probabilistic events, so speculates that it is only safe to attempt to generate particles when exceedingly unlikely events occur.
Now from what I know of physics, this entire thing sounds like it's composed entirely of insane troll logic, but I'm reading about this secondhand, filtered through a journalist and my own perception. (Also, Dr. Nielson might or might not be trolling the reporter about the slowness to activate the HBSC.)

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Trolling Box

Ever since the invention of motors, switches, and actuators, a common for-fun invention has been a machine they call the "leave me alone box." It's a box with a switch, and the main purpose of the machine is to turn itself off. Here's a video:

I thought of an improvement to the machine that I dub "The Trolling Box." Like the "leave me alone" box, it would, when turned on, turn itself off. However, the simple field-programmable gate array would be replaced with a more sophisticated computer, one that could track how often the switch was flipped, and as the frequency increases, going from slowly and silently flipping the switch, to making annoyed comments via a speaker as it flips the switch, to cursing the switch flipper (generically though, the box doesn't even know so much as the gender of the switch flipper) culminating with a five-minute rant with language that would make George Carlin blush. Flipping the switch one more time results in the switch retracting into the box and a metal cover preventing its retreval. The box would after a period of about two hours reset itself. If the switch was retracted, the resetting would bring the switch back to the surface. In essence, the box gets "annoyed" when you flip the switch.
I predict this box would be popular among a certain crowd, who would enjoy taunting it until the switch retracted. Unfortunately, this suggests a Hobbesian view of human nature, that all people were created assholish trolls, requiring a strong authority to force them to behave like decent human beings. (Therefore, a country like America is doomed.) I hope Hobbes is wrong.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

I return, sarcastic.

Hurp Durp Life is dumb. Do you ever feel like life is making fun of you sometimes? As if life's variables were chosen specifically to annoy the crap out of you, and to laugh at your response? If you can see it, take the graph on your left. It doesn't label what it's measuring, One of those lines is not a function. (A mathematical function cannot have a line perpendicular to its measurement axis cross the trace twice. In this case, the X-axis, so no vertical lines allowed.) I've been reading all week about how any professional career I take will inevitably involve measuring things about as meaningfully as that. Yay.
It's a good thing I took the week off, because everything I've thought of at best belonged on There, I fixed it. Having done so, I'll come up with something brilliant. Something brilliant on built-up crazy.
Thanks to Ted Dziuba for the graph.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Waterproof Home

As a retrofuture thing pointed out by Reddit, a 1950's production depicts a house where all surfaces are waterproofed, thereby allowing easy cleaning with a hose. This would be easy, fun, and hopefully would have good drainage.
Existing houses are sensitive to water damage. Wet carpet tends to develop mold spores, wet wood tends to rot. Water encourages vermin, fungus, and bacteria, none of which is great for your health. Mold tends to further damage infected surfaces.
And as easy as a jet of water is, to really clean one would have to provide some sort of soap or detergent, and then rinse it away. That would easily double the complexity of such a system.
...waaaaaiiiiitttt a minute.....

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Midterm Week

While I recover from midterm week (in which I could write no new articles and used up my buffer), I think I'll tell you the best way to study.
Read in stretches of fifteen minutes several days in advance of any big test. Take breaks every fifteen minutes -- psychology studies have shown that if you try to focus longer, your mind wanders and your efficiency at remembering goes way down. Schedule this at the end of your day, and go to bed at the end of it. As you sleep, your brain shifts the information into your long term memory, helping you to remember this before test time. Ideally, do this several days in a row.
Sometimes go back and read something you've already read. It feels stupid, but yes, sometimes you miss a thing or two, and the repetition, while boring, helps your brain remember.
On the day of the test, wake up early and have a big breakfast. Starved brains don't work very well. Try to exercise before the test as well.
If any of you are in school, good luck with your tests. If you are out of school, be glad that it is over.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Disposable Car

Sometimes, you need to make a one way trip. Like to the airport. In most cities, I would suggest mass transit, but that wouldn't work for me, because the city that I live in has some kind of weird hatred of mass transit.
But cars that kinda drive themselves are getting pretty good. How about a car that I can call, it would drive itself to my house, I'd get in, and drive it to the airport. When I leave it, it drives itself back to its home base.
Charge what you need for this service, because I think it would make a pretty penny. As a bonus, the self-driving can be done at low speed, to reduce complexity.

Friday, October 9, 2009


In operating systems, the kernel is the OS core. The thing that manages the entire system. With no kernel, your system sits around and stares blankly in to space, metaphorically drooling on itself. If you use windows, your kernel is a file called C:\windows\ntkrnl.dll, and chances are you've never looked at or touched this file directly. Still, without it, there would be trouble.
On Linux, the kernel includes device drivers, sometimes built into the kernel itself, sometimes in attachable "modules" that can be loaded and unloaded as need be. The modules are an advantage because if you're not using that driver, you can temporarily unload it to save memory. The main kernel must remain in memory at all times, and the most recent ones are often 900k or more. Certain drivers must be built in, like the disk driver. (Otherwise it'll never find the disk module to load it!)
So with Linux, every time one upgrades the kernel, one has to rebuild it, and before one can build it, one must configure it for what drivers one wishes to support, and which drivers one wishes to ignore. For drivers that are supported, one must decide whether to build it into the kernel, or to have a module to be loaded in later. One can use the previous configuration as a baseline, which is helpful on old installations, but configuring for a brand new installation is often a frustrating process.
Thankfully, there are tools to help you, like 'lspci' that tells you what devices you have (which does suggest what drivers you need to support, naturally), /proc/cpuinfo tells you about the CPU, and so on, but ultimately, the correct interpretation is up to you.
What if there was a utility, that could read all this kind of information, and automatically configure the kernel for you. You could double-check its work before compiling, but I predict that quickly such a system could allow for automatically compiling the best possible kernel for any given computer.
This would bring it up to the ease of use of windows, which uses a plug and play system to figure out the right drivers, installs them, and does so without any intervention on the user's part.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Talking Piano

Vocoders are a sound-engineering technology that allows arbitrary musical instruments to "talk," using a splitting technology made for sending phone converstaions with less bandwidth.
So, messing around with it, one guy invented a talking piano. Well, why not?

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Tunnel Complex

Most geekier people wouldn't mind living underground in a maze of tunnels, so long as they had power, air, food, and water. After all, electric light is enough to see by, fresh air need not come blown in from a meadow, so long as it's carbon dioxide level is below 300 ppm and it has at least 18% oxygen. And so long as the gadgets function, entertainment can be had, and phones and digital communication fulfills social needs.
If we were to build a deep-underground apartment complex along those lines, we would gain two useful things out of it. One, it's good practice for space-based works. Two, in crowded areas, this allows more people to fit in less space. (The geeks won't mind if more nature-oriented people live over them.)
It's good practice for space based works because ironically for outer space, space is unlimited, but livable space is incredibly scarce and expensive, so one must keep systems in as efficient a space as possible. Two, life support. Humans don't by default live deep underground, and so elaborate systems are needed to keep them going. At the minimum, pumping the carbon dioxide back to the surface, and the oxygen back into the underground, fresh water in, waste water out, and electricity that arrives in lines that can't merely be walked to. (So you've got to do them right the FIRST time.)

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Materialism vs. Idealism

Materialism and Idealism are two competing schools of philosophy with opposite premises. Materialism teaches that only the physical universe exists, and that if you can't hypothetically touch it, it's not real. Idealism teaches that the physical universe is not real (but instead some kind of elaborate fraud, or dream) and that non-tangible ideas are what's real.
Now, these are not the only two big ideas, and many philosophies exist between the two, such as Cartesian Dualism that teaches that both physical and idea things are real, and have some degree of interaction with each other. However, many other schools of philosophy are strongly connected to one or the other, which is why I bring them up.
See, science, the primary motivation I have for writing this, is strongly materialist, because idealist science would make no sense. In science, one makes a hypothesis, makes observations and experiments, then compares the hypothesis with the observations. If the hypothesis fails to conform to the observations, then it's wrong and needs to be discarded. If science were idealist, one would make a hypothesis, and then flail around helplessly with it because you'd have no way of verifying it other than your own thoughts and the thoughts of others. (Oh, and some of those thoughts would be wrong, but good luck figuring out which ones.)
So what's the big mover of idealism, then? Surely an unsupported idealism would have gone extinct? No, it has a very very large backer: religion. Most religions I can name at least strongly lean idealist (like Christianity), and a few are the very avatar of idealism (such as Buddhism). Believers are given a mental framework that gives them purpose, meaning, an explanation of the physical world, and a goal. Under a more materialist framework, they would be denied most of those things. The materialist universe has no clear purpose, and answers as to its nature will not be handed down on high, but one must work to understand them. If idealism was Wikipedia, materialism would be a dusty and long forgotten tome buried in the library that the librarian kinda half remembers putting there about 30 years ago.
I am not as materialist as I would like to be. As a computer science major, I already work several layers of indirection from the actual operation of a computer: I enter programming as text on a keyboard, it's translated several times before becoming the final machine code which I only loosely understand, and it's stored as a complex series of magnetic fields before being translated into the series of electrical impulses that actually do the work. The electrical impulses aren't very helpful to understanding what the computer is doing. So I think about programming in high level language.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Smart Carpet

Already you can buy carpet that repels water. This is useful because many carpet stains are born from a spilled drink. With such a carpet, one merely need collect the drink with, say, a paper towel, and the liquid does not have the time to absorb into the carpet.
Of course, this gives me the silly idea, of a house completely covered with such carpet, which one cleans with a firehose and a mop. But that's ridiculous.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Install CD

Last Friday, I made a bootable liveCD for setting up new computers. I can, from the CD, load it into memory, partition my disks, retrieve and run my restoration scripts, and have it reboot into the new system without my constant babysitting. I like that. In the past, when I wanted to install, I would have to constantly twattle around with things, in between long stretches of absolutely nothing. It also has a web browser, sound-playing files, and a game, just in case I have nothing else to do while it grinds away. Also, if I load it into RAM, that frees up the CD drive for other tasks, such as grabbing files from backup cds. It has tools to partition, create filesystems, recover damaged drives, send or receive files from other computers, and handle various archival formats. I also included some things that I don't think I'll ever use, like RAID-building software, both because it might more useful to other people that way, and because maybe in the future I might need to set up a RAID array.
It's built on a Knoppix-like framework, for x86_64 based computers. (Making other architectures would be trivial, if I can get my hands on an example of them on which to work.)
I plan on testing this after I finish my homework, cleaning, and all those other chores. Does this sound like the kind of thing anyone else would want? I can put it up the sources and directions for making it, or just an ISO image.
Also, a windows based such cd is technically possible. I didn't bother: I can maintain my windows files from the Linux-based framework, and to install windows requires a windows CD anyway.
LATER NOTICE: It failed, it won't boot. I'm researching why.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Artificial Heart Recipient

I love it when my whackjob ideas are vindicated. In Singapore, a woman now has a non-beating artificial heart similar to the one I described.
Well, actually, no. The design she got was different, according to sources at MIT. Hers is a continuously pumping bar, my design calls for a heart-shaped pump that speeds up and slows down. Still, proof that a beat isn't strictly necessary does leave me encouraged.
Our best wishes to Ms. So'ot, I hope her new heart allows her to live a long life.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Pet Treat Dispensor

I, like many other people, have pets. I want to train them to do things, and the best way to do this is to offer them a treat when they do something that pleases me. Unfortunately, you have to offer the treat immediately, or the pet will get confused as to what it's for. This has meant for me carrying around a bag of treats. I imagine a better option.
It would be a small, gumball-machine-ish device, which would connect via radio to a small clicker. I would set down the gumball-machine, and keep the clicker in pocket or hand. When the pet pleases me, I click the device. This both makes a clicking sound and activates the machine to drop a treat for the pet to consume. The clicking also makes the pet associate the click with "You did a good job -- you'll be getting a treat very soon."
Maintenance wise, I will need a way to refill the treat-supply, and it is important to avoid jamming the device. I'm sure gumball and toy vendors will have a legion of advice on that topic. Also, low battery (or other power sources) warnings so that I know to change them. I want the click to be loud enough so that my pet can obviously hear it, but not so loud that it bothers people around me.
Training would go faster if there was also a "no, that was bad" indicator, but I don't know any universal enough. I expect this to work with dogs, cats, parrots, ferrets, and lizards, provided that the animal can hear, is capable of living outside a cage (the way that a dog can and a chimpanzee cannot), and is motivated by food. (I don't anticipate this would work well for, say, a panda.)

Thursday, October 1, 2009

The Windmill Genius of Malawi

In the small African country of Malawi, a young man, William Kamkwamba, had to teach himself when his parents ran out of scholarship money. He taught himself electricity, mechanical engineering, and then built the first windmill in the country. At first even his family thought he had gone crazy, until he proved that it did in fact produce power. It made 12 watts, and soon he was charging people to charge their phones.
Since then, he's massively upgraded everything, and now is attending a university in South Africa on full scholarship. I'm amazed, because when I was 22 I had pretty much no useful skills whatsoever. He says he would like to bring power to all Malawians, which is a tough task, since only 2% have electricity now.
Now if he can do all that he did with just some old books from a local library, imagine what he'll manage now that he has computers and the internet on his hands. (He says they boggle his mind right now, which means he's gaining a lot from them.)
I think the greatest aspect of this is proof to Africans that they can do amazing things on only a little education. (And that even a little knowledge is power.) I predict that all of Africa's fortunes will rise because of this.

Operational Security

If I were to somehow announce the location of every ship in the US Navy, the Navy would do two things about it. One, they would shoot me in the face until I was unable to repeat such a feat. Two, they would move every ship in the fleet to somewhere else. Why? Because knowledge is power.
The first step to defeating a ship, after all, is knowing where it is. After that, defeating it is a mere engineering problem. Puncture it enough, and down it goes. For this reason alone, the locations of such things are a dead-serious secret.
Of course, this is a much harder task now adays, since most people my generation and younger are used to Twitter and blogging, and revealing their location to the world at large at all times. And the more it is emphasized to them how secret their task is, the more they're tempted to think, "Well, now I gotta tell my friends. Secret mission, awesome!"
Unfortunately for them, it's not just their friends who are listening. Recently, a congressman had to be rapidly evacuated from a speaking engagement in Iraq because he just had to tell Twitter first. Ba'athist forces were listening and very nearly assassinated him.
I do not envy those working in Operational Security now. In the past, you just had to watch people's conversations and phone calls, but now you have to watch email, twitter, blogs, and a dozen other data sources. Sounds like a real headache.
I'd also like to tell the navy at this point that I have no idea how many ships it has, nor where they are, and ask that they please not destroy my house.
However, I'm going to assume that my readers are mostly not military. (Most Americans are not -- military is financed by taxes, and no civilians would mean no taxes.) What does this mean for you? Simply put: When you post things to the internet, people are watching. Your boss. Your friends. Your enemies. It gets to be like a small town, where everyone knows everything about you, and if they're nice, they might overlook a few indiscretions. (Still, you'd be a fool to rely on the kindness of strangers.) I can't how many times I've seen in the news where police catch a suspect because they posted details of a crime they committed onto Twitter, Facebook, or the like, and the police just show up with a printout and remind them that (drunk driving, bank robbing, face punching, insert as appropriate) isn't legal, please come with them.
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