Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Auto-Watering...even cheaper

Hack A Day brings my attention to a system to water your lawn from gathered rainwater...and if it runs dry, to refill with city water, so your lawn doesn't die. (It prefers rainwater because rainwater is free.)
And having set that up, you have, as I previously wrote, a number of options....

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

The great replanting

Discovery reports that China is now the only region on Earth that has more forest in 2010 than 2000. Everywhere else, more forest is being cleared than planted.
Why? For one, it's a restoration of the ancient condition. The area from inner Mongolia to about Chongching was once an immense forest that got cleared over the years to make way for farms and towns and cities and so on over the course of Chinese civilization. The more it got cleared away, the more Asia suffered from dust storms and the region suffered from drought and erosion as the soil literally blows off to the east.
For two, China is an industrializing country, and kind of ashamed at the way that it's the biggest producer of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere. Wanting a green record, they have commanded every citizen in China to plant 3 trees per year, which I imagine is somewhat tricky for the urban dwellers, who'd have to take time off work and go far far away to even have the room to do it. Still, success. The central forests are back in a way that they haven't for some 2000 years now.
In any case, the Chinese government believes that this will improve the environment in central China, not just for wildlife, but for people and cities, as water supplies become protected and dust is held firmly in the earth by root networks. And it would look better aesthetically too.
I feel so out-engineered.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Household cleaner

There's a chemical I can buy at a number of stores that kills 99% of bacteria, dissolves stains out of existence, and yet is safe to eat and rated to do so. I speak of C2H6O, better known as Ethanol, and readily purchasable as "Vodka," a mixture of 40% ethanol and 60% water.
Vodka works well as a cleanser, spraying on clear, removing the stain without corroding the underlying surface, and leaving a reasonably pleasant grain-like scent behind. Since I have yet to hear of anyone having an ethanol allergy, I recommend it as a hypoallergenic cleaner.
Or, if you'd rather drink it, then you'll be pleased by one university student's experiment performed years ago. He taste-tested expensive vodka and cheap vodka that had been filtered through a commercially available water-filter, and reported that there was little perceivable difference. Though the filter is itself expensive, later chemists reported having the same effect with activated charcoal filters, which are far, far, far cheaper.
Were I selling it commercially as a cleanser, though, I would have to denature the alcohol to make sure it didn't feed some hobo's drinking habit, as people who are hard up have been known to drink aftershave, or worse, Sterno, to get their buzz on. Probably a quick blending with methanol and isopropyl alcohol would do the trick.

Sunday, March 28, 2010


I think that the word "addiction" is overused these days. Typically, it's thrown around over any sort of unnecessary dependency. A person who cannot stop injecting themselves with heroin, for instance, is addicted. I hear people talk about being addicted to such things as TV, running, Farmville, chocolate, or sex. I think that's insane. Yes, you're psychologically habituated, and you'd feel bad if I took those things away from you. I doubt you'd go into convulsions and require medical intervention, the way an alcohol or heroin addict would.
Now while these lesser, psychological addictions, are bad if they interfere with your life, work, or relationships, I doubt I need to keep you in a bathtub with a drip IV and monitor you constantly in case you try to sneak some TV in a flask.
I think balance is the issue. Enjoying a TV show is okay. Watching 16 hours of TV per day suggests that maybe you should cut back a little bit. Especially if you get fired because you wouldn't stop watching from a portable TV you insisted on bringing to your cubical.

Saturday, March 27, 2010


XKCD brings my attention to a mathematical conjecture called the Collatz Conjecture that claims that for a particular operation, all numbers have a chain that eventually leads back to one. Read the Wikipedia article for details.
While a definite proof would win one a cool $500, computer verification only suggests that the claim is true. No proof has actually been written. Mathematical proofs via computer are beyond me, but I did, for practice, write a verifying program, as they are very very short. Mine is 32 lines long, written in C.

#include <stdio.h>
void collatz(int);
int main(int argc, char *argv[])
int num=argv[1];
printf("USAGE: collatz number\n");
return 0;
void collatz(int num)
int count=0;
printf("Returned to 1 after %d cycles.\n",count);

The program accepts one number from you, the user, and runs a collatz chain until it reaches one. It then reports the length of this chain.
A trivial change to the main would produce a program that would report the length of ALL integers until it overflowed:

int main()
int num;
return 0;

The variable MAX_INT would be preset with a #define command according to the nature of the computer. Mine would be 2^64, as integers are 64-bits long on my computer.

Friday, March 26, 2010


You can now type things with just your mind. And a cap stuffed full of electronics.
The new device takes EEGs, and compares them with known notes about word formation. When it's sure, it sends a signal along the lines of a keystroke.
This could be a very positive development, granting additional power and mobility to the physically disabled (who can't move their fingers, but can now operate a computer...), or a very negative development as Orwellian figures gain the power to read your very mind. (Unlikely.)

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Burning Money Theory

If I had one million dollars, and in a fit of insanity piled them up and set them on fire, how would it affect the economy?
Well, in the immediate short term, I have one million fewer dollars, and am poorer. The money supply has been reduced by one million, so all remaining dollars are slightly more valuable. (Not much, there are a lot of dollars. What previously cost $1 now costs 99 cents.)
But in the long term, if a lot of people do that, the expense of printing dollars will start to add up. It costs about 2 cents to print every bill, for a total of $200 destroyed in my hypothetical bonfire. Pennies actually cost more than a penny to produce (currently 1.4 cents and rising), but the government mints them at a loss because of the need of exact change. The government will not be pleased at having to repeatedly print money.
Although, again, in the short term, they would benefit, as they would own each freshly printed dollar and could use it to their own ends.
It's the long term where this sort of thing catches up to you. An economy that has to constantly throw wealth creating new paper is an unproductive one. The mounting expense eventually bites you in the ass. This is why deliberately mutilating money is illegal, but you're unlikely to be caught unless you're really blatant about it.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Birds and Cars

Car owners everywhere curse wild birds. Why? Because birds never invented the toilet, having a habit of living in trees and allowing gravity to take their poop away. Where it hits things down below, like cars.
The biggest threat to cars is the ammonia, which damages the paint. This can be prevented in the first place with waxing and/or covering the car while it's parked. But let's say you didn't do that and there's a splat. Now what?
A rub with soapy water will remove it, and many guides swear by peroxide. Perhaps a car with a pH detector that squirts a vinegar-peroxide mix at any region with rising pH (though pores in the paint)? Nah, that's crazy.
Just clean it more than this guy, who I think left his car there for months. (Perhaps out of state on business?)

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Air quality monitoring gadget

These days, one can attach all kinds of devices to computers, both desktop and embedded, mostly along the lines of USB-attatched gadgetry. So I'm thinking a device to monitor air quality.
Indoor air quality is mostly threatened by a few particular chemicals, which we can develop probes for. Namely: Carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, a few volatile organic chemicals, radon, mold spores, Legonella bacteria, and ozone. Probes for detecting these chemicals will be attached to a small embedded computer, capable of reporting in to a desktop machine via wired or wireless network. Or, if the level of any particular chemical gets beyond a certain threshold, the device would sound an alarm.
People wanting to improve their indoor air quality should invest in filtering systems, increase ventilation, or plant plants. Many people are greatly surprised at a house plant's ability to absorb airborne pollution, partially because the plant typically gets some symbiotic help from friendly bacteria.
BREAKING UPDATE: Xinxin Wang and Zhi Chai have beaten me to it. Excellent work, designers.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Silicon Production

I just learned that one of the many ways that silicon is purified (for use in microchips and such) is to combine sand (silicon dioxide, a very common form to mine silicon on earth) and hydrochloric acid (HCl, available in your local chemical store and in your stomach). You then get a SiCl compound that decays into pure silicon (and chlorine gas) when heated. Be careful when opening that oven!
So I'm left with the hilarious thought that if civilization ends and you desperately need to make a CPU for some reason, you can dig some sand from the beach, avoid eating for 24 hours, and then barf into the container. Bake in a wood oven, and there's your silicon.
However, if civilization ends, you'll have bigger problems than CPU shortages, and while it still exists, chemical supply stores are assuredly a better source of HCL.
This also reminds me that the northern African countries are probably an excellent source of silicon, since their composition, as I can see it by satellite, are 99% sand. Just bring a bottle of HCl and crank out the ingots by the millions....

Sunday, March 21, 2010


Many marvels of engineering have been around a problem that only exists in oxygen-type environments that we require: Fire. Combustion reactions are high-energy chemistry resulting in materials combining with an "oxidant," the most obvious one being oxygen itself. Since we can't just remove all the oxygen from our atmosphere (because we'd certainly die), we instead concentrate on making the things around us less likely to burst into flames.
The quest for fireproof technology almost certainly began with the observation that stone and metal did not catch fire, even when held in direct contact with flame. This worked well for buildings, one big reason why banks today are made largely of stones like granite and marble. It provides a sense of permanence. This worked less well for toys and clothing. I don't want to wear metal overalls. Not comfortable.
There have been some options abandoned for other reasons. Asbestos, for instance, is a miracle for fireproofing. It's as flexible as cloth, but as fireproof as stone. So it was installed in all kinds of things, but proved a problem when it was time to remove it: if it breaks even slightly, it breaks into little fibers that rip apart your lungs like hell. Also, it greatly increases your risk for lung cancer. Asbestos is no longer allowed in construction in any country I can name. (Some countries don't regulate construction at all, so I suppose you could build with asbestos there.)
Most of the advances lately have been through organic chemistry. Complex molecules with carbon that don't combine well with oxygen are layered over anything that could catch fire (cotton, polyester, wood, etc) thereby making it impossible for fire to reach the inflammable interior. This is important when the "interior" is your young child's cotton pajamas. While you should keep young children away from fire generally, when one does break out, you want to give your child as much protection as possible.
Largely, buildings aren't as inflammable as they used to be. In larger cities, metal construction is largely replacing wood, carpets and hardwood floors are increasingly coated with fireproof organic chemicals, and electrical codes are increasingly requiring electrical setups that are less likely to burst into flame, and easier to extinguish when they do.
However, this is no reason to be complacent. It would be wise for everyone to have a fire extinguisher on hand, to not do patently stupid things with fire (like smoking while in bed or asleep), and to be ready to evacuate in the event of a fire. Most of the advances have made fire less likely, but not impossible. "Fire resistant" clothing that is exposed to direct flame won't laugh it off indefinitely, but will hold off for a while before catching fire. Clothing that does catch fire should be immediately removed.
I also caution people to value lives before property. Insurance can buy you a new home. It cannot recover your life if you lose it.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Turbulance Cancellation

Discovery News reports that liquid-flow engineers now have a technique to cancel turbulence in a liquid as if it were sound: an equal and opposite turbulence defeats it.
This is actually a surprisingly big deal because it allows pipes to instantly unclog themselves, improving flow and speed of the liquid within, and in fuel-transfer environments can actually result in a marked increase in efficiency.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Supercritical Laundry

Decaffeinated coffee works due to a discovery of phase changes in chemistry. Namely, very hot and very high pressure gases reach a state in which it no longer behaves as a liquid or a gas, but as a strange combination of both, capable of oozing through even solid materials. This phase is called "supercritical," because it occurs when a material is pressured and heated beyond a "critical point" that all materials have.
To decaffeinate coffee, the beans have supercritical carbon dioxide poured on them. The carbon dioxide can seep through the solid beans, and leeches the caffeine from within. After this, the pressure is removed, and the carbon dioxide evaporates as a gas. The caffeine is left at the bottom of the container as crystals, and the beans are ground into coffee. Coffee that has very little caffeine. More than none, but not enough to give a drinker even a slight buzz.
So, I was thinking, how about doing this with laundry? First a supercritical carbon dioxide bath, then a supercritical steam bath. Any oils, dirt, dust, or stains would be leeched from the clothes, and be deposited at the bottom of the container. Neither component pollutes when released (beyond how it came to be in the first place, but that's another story), and fewer resources are required than traditional washing. Also, the clothes are dried within 30 seconds, an advantage for quick turnaround. Sure, one would periodically have to clean the container, lest the oils build up until they immediately re-soil the clothes, but this should be a fairly trivial task if done regularly.
Unfortunately for me, somebody came up with this idea first, and patented it. So if I, or you, or someone else, were to build this, you would have to pay the holder money. Up until it expires in October of 2012.
In the meantime, I'll just have to supercritically clean other things, like perhaps my car, or my dishware, or bottles at the factory.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Cleaning Algae

Last night I got an idea. Red tides are a nuisance caused by an excess of nutrients in water, often coastal because of farm runoff. The color is not the problem -- the problem is the neurotoxins and out-of-control growth. But what if a plankton were engineered to deal with it?
We would engineer a plankton to eat harmful algal blooms, and breed them to have enzymes to neutralize the various poisons contained within. Then, when an algal bloom gets out of control, we drop a vial of the plankton in, and the algae disappears in a massive "Om nom nom nom nom nom." The engineered plankton would likely die off when the algae was all consumed, or more likely, a homeostasis would develop with a certain level of algae and plankton.
This would result in a carbon sink too, and we all know we could use more of those.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Are animals intelligent?

As a high school literature assignment, I was put on a team and asked to write a group paper about the intelligence of animals. We had to have an argument that they were, but also an argument that they were not. The other three members of the team strongly wanted to argue that they were, leaving me to write the argument that they were not. I mostly accomplished this by discussing some of the least intelligent animals, the ones that barely have a nervous system. But now that I've graduated, I'd like to discuss the topic in more detail. (The paper, like most of my other academic works, has largely been lost to the ages.)
First, I'm going to have to define terms. Humans are animals, and at least some are intelligent, but usually when this question is asked, it is referring to non-human animals, so I will work with this restriction. Intelligence is also poorly defined when this comes up. Let us define intelligence as the ability to comprehend abstractions, and adapt behavior to better prosper in the environment. This is slightly different from "the ability to score high on an IQ test," but there's enough overlap for our purposes.
Animals have a deep range of intelligence levels. On the lowest rungs are largely invertebrate animals that barely have a nervous system, and react to their environment primarily with a very limited number of pre-programmed instincts. Jellyfish and lobsters are good examples of this. For all their otherwise complexity, lobsters have about 4 responses to any stimulus. Hide from it, eat it, pee on it, and during the mating season, hurl gametes at it. Lobsters exposed to each other usually pick the "eat it" option, and are cannibalistic, much to the frustration of would-be lobster farmers. This is why lobsters in tanks have restraints (like rubber bands) put on their claws.
On the high end are some forest animals, often in the psittacine or primate families, who develop extremely complex, even cultural, behavior. They must learn from others in their social group, around an ever shifting environment, if they want to survive. They also need to fit cooperative social roles, as a lone parrot or ape is a dead parrot or ape. They are born helpless, and require rearing by parents, unlike the lobsters or jellyfish who are born self-sufficient. The record holders in this regard would be African Greys for the parrot group, and Chimpanzees and Bonobos in the apes, with strong progress shown by Gorillas. All four species have a noted habit of tool use, attempts at communication, complex social behavior, and very strangely enough, all are native to Africa.
I should also put in a bit about Dolphins. Dolphins have a complex society, and show many signs of intelligence. They have no tool-using ability due to their limb configuration, and live in a very different environment than us humans, which does frustrate communication attempts. Nonetheless, complex ideas have been conveyed to them and sometimes even understood.
Now, limitations. When testing the intelligence of animals, one must be on guard against cueing. Most of these animals are social animals that take cues from each other. When one finds food, it indicates to the others so that they can all share it, for instance. In the 1800s, there was a horse, "clever Hans," said to know mathematics. Later testing revealed the horse was actually taking cues from its owner, and didn't really understand mathematics at all. (It would indicate numbers by stomping its hoof, and later testing showed that Hans would just stomp his hoof until his owner nodded in agreement.) Similarly, a lot of parrots learn by imitation, as their social behavior does often involve mimicking each other's noises. Parrots will say a lot of words that they are unaware have any meaning, and owners of pet parrots often report that theirs will copy noises from the television, the telephone, ambient video games, the doorbell, and so on. Why? Because it's there. A parrot that has learned to say "Hello" or "I love you" may only think of this as a "human noise" to be imitated in the presence of humans. Similarly, the "signing apes" that have been taught sign language do spend quite a lot of time ignoring questions posed by their handlers in favor of pestering them for toys and candy, which speaks badly about their understanding of the language they're using.
Psychologists report on communication and language that some signs of intelligence in language use are re-combining words in novel contexts not spoken to them, "kenning" new ideas from old ones (such as Alex's description of an apple as a "banerry," from his known fruits of "Banana" and "cherry"), lying (which shows that one understands that other people do not have the same ideas that you do, an idea that human children do not understand until they are 2 or 3), and context appropriate grammar (respond to a "you" question with "I", instead of repeating "you.") Alex and his immediate successor Griffin may show these signs, but the average pet African Grey does not.
And after saying all of these facts, even the smartest non-human animal is rather dumb compared with an average human. Alex lived to be age 31, but his most advanced skill was one achieved by human child at about age 12, the ability to identify material composition. ("What matter, alex?") He was on average as intelligent as a 6 year old child, which in an IQ test would give him an IQ of 20. For comparison, IQ tests are weighted so that the human average is 100, and the standard deviation is 15 points, putting Alex, an exceptional parrot, as our most stupid of human beings, the ones barely able to talk and needing caretakers to change diapers and wipe away the drool. (An IQ of 20 qualifies a person as "cretinous," the lowest category.) Lobsters would be lucky to make a single IQ point at all if tested.
So, why the immense difference? Humans have specialized in being intelligent over the traits that animals use. Humans are very weak for our size, slow, more easily tire, are more easily damaged or sickened, and unlike the average animal, run the risk of choking every time we swallow. An animal the same size as a human is an immense physical threat if encountered without tools or weapons. Our only physical advantage is our heat distribution, which allows us to run immense distances without having to lay down and swelter for an hour after every mile.
But even at the beginning of human techology, this proved an overwhelming advantage. Early humans would construct elaborate traps and herd animals straight into them. With curiosity came experimentation, which lead to more technology, which has only exponentially increased our power.
So are animals intelligent? Not very. Some of them are slightly intelligent. Most are stupid in ways we humans can barely imagine.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

It's Alive!

My strange creation , a boot cd, lives! Now available for your download!

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Common Topics

I've checked Google's analysis of this blog again. I notice the popularity of some articles. And sometimes I'm totally confused.
The Forbidden Experiment
baby experiment, language spoken, 1 search
results of a forbidden experiment, 1 search
the forbidden experiment, 1 search
In medieval times, it was commonly thought that humankind had one original language, and that if children were raised without ever hearing speech, that they would therefore speak this language. Furious debates emerged about if this would be Latin, Greek, Hebrew, or Egyptian, all languages with a religion-based significance and high prestige to medieval people. The experiment was run from children taken from orphanages to finally settle the argument once and for all.
To everyone's surprise, none of these languages were spoken. Instead, children raised in the absence of speech learned no language at all, and grew up massively intellectually crippled, when they survived at all. The experiment is now "forbidden" on the grounds that it is hideously evil, but is sometimes accidentally re-run when a child is abandoned in the wild (sometimes due to the abrupt death of their parents, sometimes because their parents evilly abandon them there). See feral children for more information about this.
Jungle Gyms
jungle gym structure, 1 search
architecture based on jungle gym, 1 search
A "Jungle Gym" is a playground structure consisting of many metal bars arranged in a pattern. Children exercise by climbing it, swinging across the bars, and so on. The metal parts are typically attached by welding, the entire structure is embedded in cement on the site, and a rubber mat is cut and laid across the ground to minimize falling injuries.
I once proposed a very very large one.
Genetic Algorithms
Genetic Algorithm music, 1 search
Genetic Algorithm number theory, 1 search
Genetic Algorithms are a use in Computer Science for the biological principles of evolution, to produce a data structure that has traits you're certain of, but the fine details you are not. It works by having a pool of structures, eliminating the ones least like the goal structure, combining the ones most like the goal structure to refill the pool, and giving a few some random alterations, and repeating until the goal structure emerges. The program thus "evolves" like biological life does, reaching the goal in small incremental steps. (The "goal" of biological life is to "survive and multiply under the currently prevailing conditions.") Genetic algorithms are useless if one does not have a fitness criteria to explain which structures are better adapted. Biological life's criteria is "the ability to survive and reproduce under the current circumstances."
A genetic algorithm for music would require listening to quite a lot of bad music before it would ever produce good music. Unless you could mathematically define what good music would be.
I'm not entirely sure how it would be applied to number theory.
have some recurring searches.
Materialism vs. Idealism
Materialism vs. Idealism, 6 searches
Materialist vs. idealist, 4 searches
materialism vs, 2 searches
Materialism and idealism are philosophical positions about the nature of the universe. Materialism says that only things that have mass, and in theory can be touched, are real. So the sun, Mars, your computer, the grass, are all real because they can be touched, and things like ghosts and spirits are not real because they cannot be touched. Idealism says that the physical world is unreal, it is ideas that are real. In idealist situations, the world you know may very well be imagined by you and have no reality whatsoever.
Emotional Computing
Emotional computing, 8 searches
People and animals have emotions about things. This helped animals to survive, by running from threats, taking pleasure in things that helped them survive, fighting irritations in rage, and so on. Machines like computers do not have emotions, but can be programmed to anticipate the emotional state of the user. With this information, it can adapt to be more helpful, like noting a confused or frustrated state and observing that maybe it needs to offer an easier interface, if available.
Algae and Food
how to grow edible algae, 1 search
grow edible algae, 1 search
There's some 18 species of algae that you can eat, and that readily grow in certain types of water. A helpful note if we ever run out of farmland.
Mispelled Things
a pole of how many people would want domotics, 1 search
materialist, 1 search
materalist, 1 search
mad engginering, 1 search
A pole is a long cylinder, this guy wanted a "poll." Everyone could use domotics, but for many, it's not worth the effort. It's of most interest to engineers, who like the challenge, the physically disabled, who can accomplish more that way, and the very busy, who get more spare time from it.
Materialism's root word is "material." Physical stuff.
Engineering has two "g"s, not three.
deformation professionalle, 1 search
cognitive dissonance global warming denialism, 1 search
negative opinions of exploited cognitive dissonance, 1 search
"Deformation Professionalle" is seeing the world with a bias due to your profession. It's a pun in French from "Formation Professionalle," with translates to "Professional Training."
Cognitive dissonance is the uncomfortable feeling one gets when one realizes that two ideas of yours conflict, and therefore one must be discarded as wrong. It's speculated to fuel denial of climate change with the following chain of thought: "Economic activity is always good. Economic activity produces carbon dioxide. Climate change theory says that carbon dioxide is harmful. The only way to reduce carbon dioxide is via reduced carbon dioxide, or tax-paid sequestering, either of which would slow economic activity. This would mean some economic activity is not good. Since all economic activity is good, therefore climate change must be incorrect." (See how the two ideas conflicted, so one was discarded?)
As for people not liking to be manipulated, no, they don't. Yes, they probably would be annoyed if you intentionally gave them cognitive dissonance.
Bizarre Nanoscale Ideas
gender altering nanites transgender fiction, 1 search
nanite gender change, 1 search
Nanobots, or "nanites" as common sci-fi has taken to calling them, are nanometer-scale mechanical devices, small enough to manipulate individual atoms. Very crude ones have recently been invented, but when this technology matures, it would revolutionize manufacturing, medicine, and engineering forever, because it could very cheaply manipulate materials and gather energy from all kinds of cheap sources. The field is slowed in progress by the fact that at this small scale, the rules are totally different. Large engines need lubrication from motor oil to continue to run, but this would only terminally clog a motor on this scale.
The medical uses revolve around the fact that they could completely redesign your body, power themselves on your excess blood sugar, which you could recover by just eating more. They could close any open wounds, repair any of your failing organs, re-engineer your bones to multiple times their original strength, give you superhuman musculature without exercise, arbitrarily change almost any trait imaginable, and help you survive in the most hostile environments available. If you wanted to reshape yourself into a giant bird with hydrogen filled bones, they could do it.
...but the internet being what it is, there's more interest for some reason in recreating Rumiko Takahashi's famous transformation tale. Why?
Things my blog mentioned and I'm not sure why people followed
Schlock Mercenary, 1 search
water system engineer webcomic, 1 search
xkcd mad engineering, 1 search
how to drive for maximum mileage, 1 search
human survival in space webcomic, 1 search
quantum vector collector..., 2 searches
Schlock Mercenary is Howard Taylor's tale of a company in the deep future, the overly complicated machine is from Andy Weir's Casey and Andy, the only comic I know with water system engineering is Angela Melnick's Wasted Talent, and XKCD is Randall Monroe's stick-figure bits of math and science ideas. I'm not sure if by "human survival in space" they meant inside a space ship (likely, see Schlock) or outside one (manifestly impossible).
As for driving for maximum gas milage, accelerate slowly, coast as often as possible, slow down if a stop is threatening, and brake slowly ahead of time. Avoid braking if possible.
Things that I have no idea what the hell
meat barge, 1 search
brownian engine gas, 1 search
fictional things to do on venus, 1 search
fusion 1911 slab longside, 1 search
google famous composers 1400-1800 classical music, 2 searches
conclusion in prevention of global warming, 1 search
Is a meat barge a small ship that carries meat, in which case a train or a plane would probably bring it to market faster, or a small ship made of meat, which is as crazy as it is stupid?
Is a brownian gas engine one that uses the brownian motion in a gas, like air? Or did they mean from gasoline?
Fictionally on Venus, one could hypothetically do anything you could on Earth. Practically, though, you'd want to cool it and reduce its atmosphere to a level that didn't instantly crush you.
As for famous composers, I'm aware of: Bach, Handel, Mozart, Beethoven. Probably many more that I'm not aware of.
As for the fusion slab, I just can't make any sense of that at all.
And the global warming guy, he wants a conclusion? A conclusion to prevent? I don't see how these two words fit together.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Bacteria Power

The most common form of life, pound for pound, on Earth isn't humans, or ants, or any of the other multitudes of life we're all familiar with. It's bacteria. So tiny as to be invisible to the naked eye, bacteria swarm across every inch of every surface. Trillions of pounds of bacteria float through the air. The growth of plants is only possible due to the innumerate bacteria in the soil that fix nitrogen in the air into nitrogen compounds in the soil that plants can use.
I can tell many of you are already frantically reaching for sanitizing compounds, but that isn't necessary. Most bacteria will not make you sick. In fact, all of us have bacteria in our guts that helps us to digest food, a symbiotic relationship that runs back hundreds of thousands of years.
Since all life requires energy to live, and these nonillions of bacteria are obviously getting their energy from somewhere, I propose a system to collect bacteria, perhaps with a "sticky" surface, or perhaps by vacuum and filter, and seize their energy for our own purposes. We can power them by food waste, or some other such thing, and have lots of green power.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010


Sorry I'm behind again. Been distracted. But I did get some things done.
Remember my install cd device? Didn't work. I've since made a lesser version that I've confirmed the function of in simulation, weighing in at 159MB, but only worth using to load in a full install environment from elsewhere. I'm trying to get the full thing updated and functional. I'll compare sizes, and if they can both fit on a CD, then hey hey, install CD. (I need to check of my stash of CDRs are 650MB or 700 MB. The extra 50MB could make a big difference. Even if my full environment doesn't work, I've made big progress.
I also got very distracted with a massive novel online, called The Salvation Wars. It started with a discussion asking about the change in religion that would result in it being announced that Christianity was demonstrably true, and all humans currently living were condemned to hell upon their deaths. The author, Stuart Slade, then came up with a very strange solution indeed: war. (After all, that which can be met and interacted with can also be shot.) Mr. Slade being a military consultant with an excellent imagination for determining consequences, then went on a binge research of demonology, and produced an 86-chapter narrative pitting the various nations of the Earth against Hell, with surprising results, twists and turns, occasional funny stuff, and some schemes that made me break out into maniacal laughter. He also has a half-finished sequel, and is apparently planning a book deal.
Now, news for you, my readers. A study shows that, as the Netherlands has long suspected, pornography cuts sexual violence. The study was statistical in nature (and therefore subject to various correlation and confirmation biases), but interesting nonetheless.
Also, China is switching to Methane Hydrate, the fuel predicted to replace oil when oil gets too expensive. Methane hydrate is interesting because it looks like ice, but you can set it on fire.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Computer Aided Fashion Design

Fashion is a big industry. Billions of dollars are thrown around to get just the right look. And for now, they all have to be designed by hand. Computers and sewing technology may help assemble the final product, but it starts with a hand drawn sketch.
But, an important invention in Computer Science and Biology will, if applied here, assist the fashion designer greatly. I speak, of course, of genetic algorithms.
Evolution is an important principle in modern biology, and the subject is frankly impossible to understand without it. Evolutionary biology states that genes drift over time, and successful ones predominate over unsuccessful. Therefore, life adjusts to current conditions, whatever they may be.
Genetic algorithms adjust computer code, or abstract computerized representations, according to a fitness function. When the genetic algorithm is trying to design something, the fitness function works according to the qualities of the thing trying to be designed. When the genetic algorithm is designing an algorithm, the fitness function determines how efficiently the target runs.
The algorithm starts with a pool of different designs. Each are tested. A fraction of the ones that perform the least well are removed from the pool, and are now "dead." The same proprtion of those that perform the most well are combined with each other to produce new designs to take their place. A different fraction gets "mutated" with small variations on their design. Then the entire process runs again.
The genetic fashion design algorithm will start with a representation of a person (almost assuredly a woman, due to stereotyping in the industry and culture), and 25 clothing designs, copied from previous years fashions.. The fashion designer will be asked to click the one that appeals to him (or her) the most. One design would randomly be removed. Designs would have to retain a number of clicks every round to "survive." After 7 rounds, all designs that had not received at least one click would "die." After 15 rounds, two clicks. The mutation rate shouldn't exceed two mutations per round.
A good genetic algorithm typically requires thousands of rounds, but I don't anticipate this taking more than two hours. And after it's done, one design will prevail that the fashion designer absolutely adores. He (or she) will probably put a personal touch on top when he (or she) draws it, producing something probably better than would be made either by computer or human alone.
Alternatively, this could be made into a Flash application that random samples of the Internet could mess with, the results being statistically tallied and sent to the design room, as a "random sample" of what people think about fashion. Fashion designers probably shouldn't rely on this, as people have been known to crash online polls "for the lulz" or to push some point that the public at large doesn't agree with.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Terraforming Mars Slowly

Long ago, I described a plan for terraforming Mars, a plan that would vastly increase the territory available to Earthly life, including our own. It would be slow and agonizingly expensive, but worth it. Now, here's a second means of doing it, far more slowly, but in more affordable bites.
We start with a robotic probe, steel pieces, a tank of compressed air, and plexiglass. The probe lands, finds the steel, and assembles it into a frame. It then slides the plexiglass between the steel, and seals it airtight. This structure should also have an airlock. On the inside, leave the air tank, preferably opened. When the pressure is earthly pressure, (760 Torr, or one "atmosphere"), then we have something very valuable indeed: a base of operations on Mars that could sustain a small group of people. The first group to use this should be with them a collection of plants, or at least seeds. This will keep the air breathable by humans. They should also attempt to farm to reduce the amount of supplies needed, and dig an underground complex for when radiation levels come high.
One of the missions of human visitors to Mars should be to build additional complexes. This will allow expansion of the number of missions, and will cost less than the original, robotic one. Some of these may even be sold as exotic living space, which I'm sure a few people can not only afford, but want to buy.
When we have a number of these, we can attempt megaprojects to reactivate the Martian core, resupply the Martian atmosphere, and melt the ice on Mars. A few meteor supplements can fill out the Martian sea, and when an atmosphere is established, then plants can be planted outside to make it human breathable. In the end, Mars would be as friendly to Earthly life, humans included, as the Earth itself.
This project would run for millions of years in total, but at no point would more than $1 billion be needed. Mars would slowly gain value as the project progressed, as it gained industry, agriculture, and sustained more and more people. Ownership is an issue, as a treaty in place forbids national ownership of the turf in question. All space powers, including the United States, have signed this treaty.
I think that within the next thousand years, this slow method or the fast method, will become necessary for the sustaining of our collective economic systems, which demand perpetual growth. This requires an ever-growing population, and an ever-growing amount of factories, mines, and so on, and the Earth is only so big. As it grows, we increasingly have to make some hard choices. We can spend trillions growing Mars, or we could sacrifice wild lands, or we could expensively build under the sea. Any of these options have some painful drawbacks, but we must persue one.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Replanting the Sahara

The Sahara desert is a very large desert covering almost the entirely of North Africa, broken by only a few rivers and oasis. Did you know that in prehistory, it was a forest? It's true.
Did you also know that there's a plan to re-covert it to it's original forest state. The plan is to use solar panels and greenhouses to desalinate seawater, use the water to raise trees, and under the cover of trees, the area cools (because trees are absorbing the sunlight to run their metabolism), the soil enriches in rotting tree litter, and the lower temperature can even encourage overhead clouds to drop rain.
Most ecosystems tend towards stabilization, in which the plants encourage the very conditions that allow them to thrive. The plants do need quite a bit of help to become strong enough to pull this off, but once firmly established, it becomes self-sustaining.
This would be a major benefit to the governments in the region, Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia, Chad, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Egypt, Sudan, and the Western Sahara region (which may or may not be an independent state depending on who you ask). Presumably these governments would want to help this project along.
And carbon wise, this would be an incredible sink, sucking millions of tons into lumber. Sweet sweet lumber some of which the local countries might wish to sell for sweet sweet money.

Thursday, March 4, 2010


Pushing sixteen wires into sixteen slots that they really don't want to do with only a hand-powered plastic tool really really hurts my fingers. Note to self: Buy the spring powered one next time.
Still, I now have a cable with RJ-45 jacks on the end, all ready to extend a network. I believe I can now build a network. Actually, I did this two days ago, but now my fingers feel well enough to type again. Ow.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010


Today I'm trying to teach myself wiring. When a system administrator wants networking supplied to an area, it must have a cable to run the electronic signals through. The most convenient and least obtrusive way to do this is to have jacks in the wall on either end that a short cable can be connected to. I'm learning to hook up the jacks, as demonstrated in this video.
The good news is, the jack's internal components are color coded. The bad news is, it's way trickier than it looks. The damned wires don't want to fit into their ports, and there's two color schemes, contradictory with each other, and I'm not sure which is the "right" one. Also, it occurs to me now that I forgot to get a punchdown tool, which I'll need to secure the cable once placed.
I don't just want this for professional reasons, I also intend to someday have a house with this kind of thing in it.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Cognitive Collison Equals Creative

According to Wired Magazine, the best thing the boss of a creative team (like advertising, programming, engineering, or so on) can do to promote their creative talents is to let them goof off on facebook or twitter for a while. Wait, what?
It seems that creative works are caused by a sort of cognitive collision, when two of your ideas ram headfirst into each other, leaving the debris of a new idea behind. People notice things, incorporate them into their existing ideas, and when two of them collide, bam, awesome new idea.
This explains why it's so much harder for me to come up with new ideas to write about now that I've graduated. College did involve going to a different environment, with shiny new ideas constantly inserted into my conciousness where they collided with existing ones. The constant need for task switching helped too. Now that it's over, thinking "Hmm, need job, find find find okay now tired watch television" all day isn't as helpful a mode.
The article warns that it's not sufficient to just goof off. A game of solitaire might help you feel better after a hard day, but it's not going to give you any new ideas. You need novel stimulation of brand new information for this to work. Even if this information is completely irrelevant to your problem.
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