Friday, April 30, 2010

Saving the Kakapo

The Kakapo is a very large, heavy parrot from New Zealand. They are herbivorous, quiet, gentle, and rare. There are only 123 of them left, due to hunting by cats, rats, stoats, and humans. The nature conservancy societies of New Zealand are attempting to encourage them to recover these numbers.
Unfortunately, easier said than done. Kakapo in the wild breed rarely based on the growth of certain plants, and otherwise show about as little interest in reproduction as Pandas. (Namely, extremely little.) Also, Kakapo have a polygamous breeding system, but now have more males than females. This further limits the options for keeping their species going.
I propose we create "genetic reproductions" of some of the females. The "reproduced" females will have shorter lives than their naturally conceived sisters, but can be artificially inseminated and have perfectly normal offspring, in very large numbers. Existing conservationists have collected large amounts of semen. This was quite helpful of them, but it will do precisely nothing if not enough females are available. And yet it would be very helpful with a large cache of females available.
Offspring of the "Reproduced Kakapos" would be indistinguishable from other Kakapos, but would suffer from the same problem as the rest of the Kakapos: a shallow genetic pool, leading to excessive recessive traits.
I can further help the problem with a second set of "reproduced Kakapos", these would be subject to "Genetic insertion technique." There is a simpler form of life with a unique ability to rewrite our own DNA, and this technique is used in agriculture and animal husbandry to insert new genes. We would insert many new genes and inspect the health of the newborn kakapo. Healthy ones would be introduced to the kakapo population as a whole. Unhealthy ones would live their lives under human supervision.
I propose that I could multiply, at least twelve-fold, the kakapo numbers given just a local biology lab, a million eggs of similar size to Kakapo eggs (possible turkey?), and blood sample from a Kakapo female.
Lastly, I think I should try to sequence, if possible, genetic samples from taxidermied Kakapos in museums.
The Kakapo faces numerous challenges to survival, but I believe that they can be made to thrive. Maybe even thrive so well that people buy them as pets.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Control it with your mind

I think the trend in communication is towards concealment of technology. Same abilities, less footprint. Electrical wires are hidden in my walls, powering my devices. Plumbing, also hidden in the walls, brings me water and takes it away again. And phones are a little box that lets me talk to people that are thousands of miles away.
Back in the day, I remember, phones were larger. The size of my head, practically. The trend has been for smaller and smaller phones. I currently have a mobile phone about the size of two of my phlanges, which is way smaller than was seen as even possible when I was born.
Discovery is reporting that phones and remote controls may soon be replaced with a small unobtrusive hat that you wear and impose your will on your living room by your thoughts. It's another EEG project.
Or possibly more in the future. We may have cybernetic implants that let us think our way through a phone call, so you can reach the office by closing your eyes and concentrating. No more speaking aloud, which used to be necessary but will now just make you look like a tool. And controlling the TV? It already knows what you want to see and has tuned itself to the right station.
Okay, maybe no implants. Drunk calling is trouble enough on cell-phones, I don't wanna wake up tomorrow to find that I called Amenijad on my brain-implant and insulted him for several hours and now have a phone bill that costs more than a house.
But the possibilities are endless and amazing.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Boobquake -- results are in!

Science blogger Blag Hag performed a scientific experiment on April 26th, regarding an Iranian cleric's assertion that immodestly dressed women cause Earthquakes. So she, to challenge this, asked as many women as possible to dress as scantily as they felt comfortable doing on April 26ths, and measured earthquake frequency worldwide before, during, and after the event, which she has joking dubbed the "Boobquake," and has been reported even in mainstream media like CNN.
She now reports that statistically, immodest dressing prevents Earthquakes. Specifically, the maximum, mean, and median values were down. The minimum was up, possibly due to the small sample size. The null hypothesis, that immodest dress has nothing to do with earthquakes, has been upheld.
Blag hag's author, an advanced student and future PhD holder, named Jennifer McCreight, rightly points out flaws in the experiment, as all good scientists would. For one, she notes that having a control was impossible, as we don't have a second earth where everyone dressed perfectly modestly to compare to. She also notes small sample size, numerous possible sources of interference, and a possible error in tactic (based on the cleric's remarks, it may have been ogling, rather than low-cut shirts per say, that sets of the earthquake, and ogling was strictly avoided.)
In any case, an excellent study from Ms. McCreight, who we can expect great things from in the future. Ms. McCreight is a biologist by training.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Voice Control

You can buy a number of programs to control your computer by speaking to it. Star trek style. Awesome. I'm told Windows 7 even includes one standard, one capable of arbitrary dictation, so you can write out your entire thesis by speaking into notepad.
This is not perfect, such programs are easily confused by words that sound close to alike, but I wanted to try it for myself, so I installed a program called CVoiceControl, and began to work it.
First, it requires microphone calibration. A program tells you to record silence, speaking, screaming, and other things until it's confident in the way that the microphone works.
Then, it requires you to train it. You enter a command for it to register, like "firefox," and then you record something to activate it, like "I want to surf the web." The longer the better, the instructions say. You need at least four recordings of yourself, and the more the better.
Then, it's testing time. When it came time for me to test, I could not get it to trigger. I think I messed up on the microphone stage or something. It just couldn't figure out what I was saying.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Tree Cooling

There's a tree that could singlehandedly end global warming forever. The princess tree, Paulownia Tomentosa, has a number of remarkable traits that make it perfect for sucking tons and tons of carbon out of the air. For one, it grows exceptionally fast. It grows as tall as I am in the first three months of its life. This growth is made of carbon that it sucks from the air, with a little nitrogen from the soil.
For another, it's very tolerant of climate and pollution. It can grow from 60 degrees north latitude to 60 degrees south latitude. It grows in all soil types, and grows thick and strong roots, stabilizing soil.
Most remarkably at all, it can regenerate from a stump. Every seven years, you can cut it down, harvest the wood, (which can be made into everything from houses to guitars), and it'll regrow from the stump. An economical carbon sink.
Each seven year cycle, about 2 tons of carbon are sucked out of the air and made into wood. Wood that can be sold to a number of industries. Or just stacked in a warehouse. Unless you burn it, or it rots, it's out of the atmosphere.
Earlier, I calculated the amount of carbon that would have to be sunk to end the problem, and it would take a forest of some 100 billion trees to do the trick. Which woulds like a lot, certainly, but 100 billion trees worldwide. The earth is fairly big, and I'm sure that the room for 100 billion trees is there somewhere. Perhaps on the grasslands of Africa. Perhaps on the great plains of the central US. Perhaps on the dry and dusty Australian outback. Perhaps in the less-inhabited west of China. Perhaps the steppes of the central Asian countries and southeastern Russia. Perhaps all of these together.
We're pretty much insisting on using carbon-based fuels. It would be best if we did a little something to clean it up.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Working Around the Volcanoes

A volcanic eruption in Iceland has made air travel to northern and western Europe mostly inaccessible. It is not safe to fly planes through the cloud of volcanic ash, as the ash clogs the airplane's air intake and fouls the engine.
So, if you really wanted to go there, how would you do it?
You could, as an immediate alternative, fly to southern Europe, and take trains to your final destination. Europe is quite interconnected with trains, even going to the UK, an island, via a tunnel.
But let's say you really really needed to fly directly to, say, Finland, and you lose a billion dollars for every moment after 8 hours from now. How could you fly directly?
You'd have to modify the plane. It would have to accept air not directly, but through a series of filters. It would need thick and tough hulls and windows. Or, alternatively, instead of gasoline it would have a non-breathing nuclear reactor. The filters would be in layers, and would have to be changed in mid-flight.
And when the plane landed, it would need to be instantly stripped for maintence. Flying through the ash and debris would have eroded every surface on the outside, and many clogged filters would need to be thrown away.
But it would be possible. And if you needed it that badly, you could do it.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Alternative Shower

Every day, I take a shower to get clean. Sometimes two if I'm working hard. This uses a surprising amount of water. With more and more of the country facing drought, there must be another way.
Well, one way would be to recycle and purify the water. It's been done, so I'm off to the crazier methods.
How about I copy the space program, and have a cleansing foam sprayed onto me, and then vacuumed off? It would use no water at all, and in theory the foam should be recyclable. Waste that it pulls off of me could go straight into a garbage can for easy disposal. Or, alternatively to that, an incinerator. Easy fuel source.

Friday, April 23, 2010


I believe I've mentioned this concept before, but I didn't define it. Autarky is an economic system in which the system is completely self sufficient. Imports and exports are not allowed.
In any big economy like ours, this would be a disaster. We count on imports to buy from the cheapest available sources worldwide, and we count on exports to not be wiped out by all that importing. But there are economies who would benefit from such a scheme.
Very small economies, newly started, would benefit, as start-ups would not have to face competition from deep-pocketed multinational corporations. Forced to rely on their own talents and skills for survival, people would build the resources to supply needs, and unfilled needs would be obvious to would-be entrepreneurs.
Of course, once founded companies become large enough, autarky becomes impractical. When you've reached a national economy of trillions of dollars, as the top 8 or so nations have, then going multinational is your only hope of the continuing expansion that economy requires. To forbid that expansion is to suffocate that company. Autarkies are price inefficient, which is tolerable for a small commune, but intolerable for the trillion-dollar economies. Once everyone's working, paying $8 for dinner is insufferable when you can easily see that your neighbor(ing country) eats that same dinner for 75 cents.
Only one country is pursuing such a strategy, albeit a slightly modified one. North Korea's "Juche" system is an Autarky plus a tourism industry to take foreign money. It's not working well -- it wants to be a command economy, but isn't investing enough research for that to work properly. The power goes off regularly. Reports of starvation escape. I think North Korea has reached the point where dropping autarky is recommended, but they wish not to do that for political reasons.
I would recommend autarky for, at this point, only the impoverished nations of central Africa, and then only long enough for the big startups to get off the ground level. Everyone else clearly benefits from international trade.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Embedded Storage Computer

Embedded computers exist that draw only 2 watts or less for their operation. As a trade of for this, they are slow, often 10 times slower than a desktop computer. They are meant to be on all the time, recording probe information to send to computers that are only on 9-5.
RAID is a system to combine hard drives in various ways to gain various useful effects. The most common ones are mode 0, which has two (or more) hard drives act like one large combined drive, gaining extra space at the cost of reliability, as the entire array is destroyed if one drive fails, mode 1, in which two (or more) drives copy each other, so the information survives the failure of one of them, and mode 5, in which the information is split between at least 2 drives, with a third one keeping a parity checksum. The advantage of mode 5 being that if one uses hot-swappable drives, the array can run 100% of the time. (This being because if one drive fails, the computer can still determine the information with the checksum. One should swap out the defective drive for a new one as soon as possible, as a second failure will cost you the information.) RAID can also be stacked, most popularly 0 and 1 together for the combined advantages of both.
I think we should combine these technologies for an embedded RAID device that specializes in storing information for the rest of the computers on the network, which can be diskless terminals. The CPU of the RAID device doesn't need to be very powerful, but it does need to run all the time. Probably it will still end up using as much power as a desktop computer, since the savings from the low-power CPU are canceled out by the need for many many many hard drives, but one does get bigger and more reliable storage that's infinitely mobile.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Organic Packing

Discover reports that a company now sells a packing material that is cheap, biodegradable, environmentally friendly, and grows in the dark. Namely mushrooms.
Technically, it's reshaped mushroom roots. The caps are too valuable as food, but the roots used to be composted or thrown away. They're very squishy, and after reshaping, can have any arbitrary shape, the way Styrofoam does.
Consumers receiving packages packed in mushroom-root can compost the packing material after they unload their goods. Or they can throw it away, and it'll rot in a landfill instead. In either case, the resources that went into it will return to the environment, while Styrofoam just sits around for all eternity.
It's the ultimate in recycling -- one need not actually participate to pull it off. And the best benefit is that the company is fairly sure they can do it at lower cost than Styrofoam. Lower costs means everyone wins.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010


I'm thinking of a laptop-like device with a pluggable ROM socket. And you could buy various ROMs for it, which would specialize in various things, and BAM, instant computer ready to go, immune to viruses, perfectly configured, and you could save things to a flash drive or something. Deep banks of RAM would ensure that one would never run low, and a solar panel would ensure that it could run for as long as you're in a bright room, which you probably are. If we used a power-efficient CPU, we'd never need to plug it in, ever. For safety, ROMs would be locked in place while the computer was on, and could be ejected after shutting it down. In the absence of a ROM, the computer would have a built-in ROM with basic computing environment.
Being a computer-science major, I can also speculate on the layout of the ROMs. Each would contain a XIP kernel with built-in filesystem, so extra RAM would not be needed to run anything on it. And each ROM would specialize in one task. There would be a writer's ROM, that had word processing programs, spell checking (in every language currently known), maybe idea generators. There would a be a sound-editor's ROM, with all kinds of audio-editing goodness, MIDI, real-time capability with JACK and the like.
There would be a science ROM with chemical analysis tools and biology computing tools and everything a lab could want a computer to do.
There would be an art ROM with tons and tons of 3d rendering and graphical editing tools.
There would be a programmer's ROM with development tools and hundreds of compilers and analyzers.
Almost any subject available would have a ROM that could be popped in and quickly run. It would be faster than a traditional computer, and need less maintenance. Although, on the downside, the software probably wouldn't be upgradeable. When new versions of the software are written, you'd have to replace the ROM.
There are three kinds of ROMs that could be used for this. Mask ROM is the cheapest, in which the chip is etched at the factory. This also means that once made, it can't be changed. Ever. The second kind are EPROMS, (Erasable Programmable Read Only Memory) in which the ROM can be blanked out by shining ultraviolet light on them and then re-written at the factory. This allows old ROMs to be recycled when returned, though it is beyond the customer's ability to do so. For the most money, EEPROMS are like EPROMS, but can be blanked with higher voltage, which can be done in the customer's computer. If the customer can do it, this eliminates the need to bring obsoleted ROMs back to the factory. (Though it may raise the risk of a poorly done upgrade that leaves the ROM useless, requiring a trip to the factory.)

Monday, April 19, 2010

Language Learning

Learning languages is both easier and harder than most people think. I know two: English and Spanish. My knowledge of Spanish is rapidly rusting from lack of use, so I won't trust my own capabilities to translate it.
On the easy part, it's about learning new labels for things, aka "Vocabulary," and the way the words fit together, or "grammar." Unless it has some odd features, like a different relationship to time, or something along those lines, but most of the top twenty I listed don't suffer that.
If you take a class, they start off with some handy phrases to introduce yourself.
Hello, my name is [my name].
Hola, me llamo [my name]. (Ola, may yamo [my name].
Hallo, ist mein Name [My name]. (Hallo, ist mine na-me [my name].)
你好,我的名字是 [My name]. (Ni Hao, Wo Jiao [my name].)
こんにちは、私の名前は[My name]ある. (Konichiwa, watashi wa [My name] des.)
Здравствулте!, Меня зовут [my name]. (ZDRASt-vooy-te. menya zavoot [my name].)
Having managed that much, research into vocabulary and grammar can begin.
On the hard end of this, sometimes the grammar or other features can be really strange. Or, sometimes in slightly related languages there are "false friends" that seem like one word, but would be understood completely differently in the new language.
As an example of grammatical weirdness, (at least from the perspective of English speakers), Russian, the last language on that list I just gave you, has noun declension. One can actually arbitrarily rearrange the words in a sentence and still be understood, if maybe a little odd sounding, but one must modify nouns to explain how they fit in the sentence. Like "The cat ate the rat" would have a modification to "cat" to show that it's doing the eating, and "rat" to show that it's being eaten. Presumably Russian speakers find it equally baffling to not have to do this. (Or perhaps some other feature of English is equally confusing?)
Or tonal languages. The third language I listed there, Chinese, is tonal, and words must be spoken at the correct pitch or they become completely different ones. The syllable "ma" is "horse," "Mother" or "?" depending on what tone it's said at. Baffling for English speakers, though not terrible to adjust to. Meanwhile, Chinese speakers tend to be baffled by English's overcomplicated grammar.
Mad Engineering proposes language tapes that drill a person on phrases, using recordings from native speakers. At least, to start with. Vocabulary must be drilled, grammar studied, and common pitfalls avoided.
Common pitfalls include:
* Translating everything back to your own native language before responding, which will be obvious because you will be 5 minutes late in all responses. You learned your native language by attaching labels to ideas. Your second language should be attached to those ideas as well, not your first language.
* Trying to relate it to your native language, because it isn't. Your native language's grammar doesn't apply. Mnemonics are a phenomenally bad idea. One language teaching book had the example of a (fake and invented for demonstration) foreign word of "patsa." One should not substitute "pasta" to remember it. (That being a real word in English.) Because the substitute is wrong. (I hear many many stories of English teachers in Japan who say they always has a student who does this, and winds up with a barely understandable "katakana English." And then whines when teacher refuses to do the same.)
* Not practicing. What you don't keep fresh, rots and rusts.
* Trying to do too much too soon. You'll have to spend a lot of time fumbling before you can be fluent.
As hard as I've painted learning another language, it is a rewarding procedure. It opens new worlds of thoughts and people to you that were inaccessible before. And if you gain nothing else, a profitable life of a translator could serve you well, I suppose.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Cheapest Terraforming Mars

A youtube video suggests a really, really, cheap way to terraform Mars.

Bacteria. Little bacteria genetically engineered to endure the high radiation, low temperature nightmare that Mars is now, slowly pushing it warmer, wetter, gassier, and more able to help us.
The cost? He estimates it to be about "two shuttle launches," which would add up to $120 million USD at lowest and $2.6 billion USD at highest. Both are astronomical sums, but well within the reach of multiple nations, and even a few corporations.
The bacteria would work slowly, but would operate in conjunction with any other project undertaken. Warming Mars with lasers would speed it up. Adding CO2 would speed it up. Dropping resource-rich meteors would speed it up. A coal-burning remote base would speed it up.
He points out that a common objection to this kind of thing is "but we have problems here on Earth!" Which we do. For $2.6 billion, apartment complexes could be built in such numbers that rent prices would collapse nationwide, ending homelessness for the foreseeable future. Or, a comprehensive medical anti-drug program could end narcotic addiction. Or any number of other worthy projects.
However, another big benefit to this project is that it can be piggybacked on a scientific mission, the kind we were planning to do anyway, for only marginally more money. An extra $500 on a billion dollar project. And that makes it a little harder to argue.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Togolese Recycled Robots

The Lady Ada reports that in Togo, a young man is building robots....out of old TVs.

Why? For inspiration, he says. He's demonstrating that this kind of thing is indeed possible, contrary to the expectations of the local Africans who feel that building robots is not possible in their country, which lacks the financial resources of countries where robots are more common.
Why TV's? The video doesn't say, but I'm going to guess that A) It's a complicated device with many of the necessary parts, B) When they stop working, they're thrown away in favor of buying a newer, more capable model over being repaired, C) The parts that break aren't the ones that interest him, and D) They are immensely popular, so broken TVs can be found in immense quantities.
Nice going Sam. I'd totally buy one.

Friday, April 16, 2010

How would you weld a tank of inflammable liquid?

A search that lead to my blog asked how one would weld a tank of an inflammable liquid. English being what it is, "inflammable" means that it does, indeed, catch fire easily, this being the exact opposite of what most English speakers think it does. ("In-" as a prefix usually meaning "not.")
Anyway, metal parts are generally fused together with welding techniques, either by a blowtorch melting a metal that seals the two together, or an electrical flow that melts a metal that seals the two together. Either one would make a inflammable liquid explode, so how?
The traditional engineering way is to drain the tank, vent it out carefully, weld, allow to cool, inspect, and then return the liquid. After all, unncessary risk is something engineers try to avoid.
But this is MAD engineering, so we do things the insane way. We arrange a robot with a blowtorch that...
Damn it all to hell. At least we used a robot so no one was hurt.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Money Strategy

Nations that print currency have two strategies for using their currency to maximize their economy. I'm going to call them Strong Currency Strategy and Weak Currency Strategy.
In Strong Currency Strategy, effort is applied to keep the value of the currency high. This makes your currency an excellent hedge choice for investors fearful of falling value, and your citizens love it because foreign goods are now, to them, super cheap. It works best for postmodern economies with lots of services. Germany is famous for using this strategy.
In Weak Currency Strategy, the currency is deliberately allowed to inflate until it trades very poorly. Traveling people with weak currencies are unhappy at the exchange rate, but it serves to make your country attractive to industry. After all, if a company can pay all expenses in weak currency, but be paid in strong currency, they make out like bandits, and the foreign spending replenishes the lost value. The constant printing of money lowers the tax burden, further pleasing manufacturers. Traditionally, France, Spain, and Italy have opted for this strategy.
There are other strategies like North Korea's autarkic "Juche," but I'll leave discussions of those to professional economists.
So, let us imagine a world with two countries, and two currencies. I'll call the currencies the "Deutschemark" and "Lira" after Germany and Italy's traditional currencies. Let us say that the "Deutschemark's" issuer is perusing strong currency strategy and the "Lira's" issuer is pursuing weak currency strategy. Each country has certain industries, both have a strong tourism industry that appeals to each other, and industries that work more strongly in one than the other. Probably the Deutschemark's issuer will have more banking, and the Lira's issuer will have more farming.
Deutschemark holders will love buying food from the other country, since even 1 mark will buy them a huge amount of food. Likewise, Lira-holding farmers will love borrowing money from the other country, because they can do a lot on relatively little. Lira-land also gets a huge boost from Deutschemark-land's tourists. There's also huge incentives to borrow money from Deutschemark-land's banks and run factories in Lira-land. Everybody wins. Well, not everybody. Lira-land tourists will find visiting the other country to be a massively expensive proposition. And running a factory in Deutschemark-land is a losing proposition too.
My country, the United States, has been pursuing a strong currency strategy for most of its existence. Traditionally it was backed by gold for strength, but that's been done away with in favor of controlled inflation instead. There are many who'd like to switch to weak currency strategy, but I think that's a bad idea.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Lightning Mushrooms

Japanese farmers have long believed that lightning strikes are great for mushroom farming. They said it made the mushrooms multiply. The world scoffed dismissively and went back to what they were doing.
And yet, a recent study shows that this is actually correct. A very short burst of extremely high voltage electricity improved yields by 80%.
This is of interest to mushroom farmers, who can inexpensively boost yields (since the burst need not be high amperage), and mushroom eaters, who can expect cheaper and more abundant mushrooms in the future. More mushrooms on my pizza, please.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

In which I predict the 2012 Election

I'm no professional analyst, and predicting the future exactly is almost a manifestly impossible task, but I'm going to take a stab at it.
I'm predicting a 1996-style election with a spoiler, with the results coming up as follows:
Democrats, Barack Obama: 270 electoral votes
Republicans, Michael Huckabee, 140 electoral votes
Tea Party, Sarah Palin, 118 electoral votes

A prediction site, 270 to win helped me draw up a nice map of this.

A number of things would upset this model. The tea party cooperating with the Republicans, for instance, would combine their votes. A few other states flipping to their favor might tip the election to them. Most notably California, which is deeply divided between its large, mostly liberal cities and it's periphery, mostly conservative.
As for worldwide opinion, some Icelandic fans put up If the World could Vote for the 2008 election, gathering worldwide opinion on the subject. In 2008, the world was mostly pro-Obama, with a handful of McCain-favoring countries, primarily Macedonia, Albania, and the island nation of Nuie. The poll did not ask for reasons or arguments for their votes, so I can't be sure why people favored one over the other. The biggest change in 2012 is likely Israel now preferring the Republicans, having elected a conservative government themselves and being angry with Obama and his running mate Biden. As of this writing, they only cover 2008.

Monday, April 12, 2010


Google, my blog's sponsor, has an advertising program. It's where their money comes from, after all. And they're good at it.
I think I would like to advertise my blog. Two problems. One, financing, which I think I'll take care of reasonably soon.
But two, and probably more important, is keyword decisions. I literally have no idea what people want. Analytics tells me that people's favorite article is the philosophy one, and I can hardly claim to be a philosophy blog.
I could have a banner. Except I'm terrible at drawing. So this would amount to paying someone else to draw a banner, which would be more expensive.
And where? On certain search results? On similar blogs? Something else that I haven't thought of?
Marketing's hard. How do you convince people of things, most importantly paying attention to you in the first place?
Google, can you have a "suggest advertising" program of some kind, that maybe people pay for or something?

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Farming Afar via Game

In both the US and China, farming simulators are increasingly popular. Possibly in other countries too, I just haven't heard news reports about it. Such games involve pretending to farm by digging plots in a big grid, click for seed, click for water, click for harvest, and so on. It gives me an idea.
The games are popular because of their abstraction. What if there was a robot, able to do those various mundane tasks, with a supply of seeds and the ability to gather and distribute water? It would scan its environment, and report it to a game interface. People playing the game would indicate to "dig" various plots, water them, and which seeds to plant. The robot would receive instructions from the game, dig, water, and plant at the coordinates.
Each day it would report back to the game about the conditions. When the seeds sprouted, ground moisture and chemistry (reported as percentages of USDA recommended, "Nitrogen is at 53%, add more fertilizer!"), and the like. And players could resolve problems with a click.
At some point, the robot would report the plant ready for harvest. The player clicks. The robot slices off parts of the plant of commercial interest (like fruits, corn cobs, lettuce leaves), or if inapplicable, pulls the entire plant (carrots would be yanked, not cut), and puts it in a bin. The remainder of the plant is plowed under for fertilizer. Post-harvest, the robot reports the area as fallow, ready for another planting.
It'd be slow, compared to online farm games. There, crops are ready in as little as 2 hours, with the slowest crops taking maybe 7 days. Real crops would take at least 40 days, which may leave players feeling like they're lacking in accomplishment.
But unlike farm games, one would receive more than virtual money for this. The harvest bins would have a sale-able product, the profits from which could be split between the robot owner, the game producer, and the player. Playing the game could net you real actual money, possibly.
....nah, this is too insane.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Automated Data Tunnel

Excavators already have elaborate machines for making large holes through the earth, adaptable to many soil conditions. The machine cuts through rock and soil with a rotating head, and builds a cement tunnel as it goes, ultimately leaving a seamless tunnel. How about a modification to lay cables, which are needed for electricity, telecom (phone, Internet, or other data), or some other means?
Cable installers already have a technique for laying cable in low-accessibility areas in which a rope is tied to the cable, then the rope is pulled through the inaccessible area. The rope can withstand being tugged around more than a cable can, and once it's in place, it's tied to the cable on one end, pulled until the cable is in place, then untied.
So I'm thinking a microtunnel boring machine (with a radius of maybe 500 cm), which tows a rope behind it. When it reaches its destination, tie cables to one end, and yank it on the other. Voila, instant cabling. Cable in a tunnel often lasts longer than overhead, with less chance of being damaged by trees, helicopters, vandals, lightning strikes, or any of the other things that typically damage overhead cables. It's also more sightly. Locations with underground cable have an unobstructed view of the sky.
For best results, I recommend a copper electrical cable, an optical data cable, and a carbon-fiber support cable (to insulate and reenforce the strand) all woven together. This allows all cable-based services in a way that are least likely to interfere with each other.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Natural Lightning

Homeowners love natural lighting. Keep your house bright and cheery, without expensive electricity or candles. Like windows, but those can compromise privacy, or skylights, which only work on the topmost floor (for fairly obvious reasons).
A Sweedish design firm, Paras, has a means of transporting it in fiber-optic cables down to any room, even the lower floors and/or basement. The light is unchanged in any way, including color temperature, from the time that it's collected until it shines upon your room, satisfying fans of the sun's color temperature and so on.
The cables alone aren't the interesting part. The interesting part is the collection devices on the roof. They use a parabolic array, like a tiny satellite dish, to collect the maximum amount of light and focus it into the cable, allowing one dish the light two rooms.
Ah, the power of the sun.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Most effective battery

I'm probably mistaken, but a lithium-gold battery would be the most effective.
I get this idea from the reactivity series, in which Lithium is the most reactive, and gold the least. A lithium-gold battery, then, would have the most energy possible. The series also implies the possibility of electroplating, with low reaction things being easiest to electroplate, with gold plating the easiest and lithium plating being impossible.
On the impractical side of this, gold is a rare material enjoying great demand for its non-corrosive nature, electrical conductivity, and good looks for jewlry. Gold is expensive, making such a battery impractical.
Ah well, it was probably a stupid idea to begin with.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Tank Bed

Sci-fi shows have the ultimate water-bed: a large water filled tank in which floats the subject, probably for medical regeneration or such.
It sounds comfortable to me, bringing back all kinds of memories of swimming pools, and floating in them. However, breathing is an issue. We humans cannot breathe under water. A null issue in Sci-fi, since it's always implied there that they have extra-corporeal breathing and circulation: basically their blood is being oxygenated outside the tank and then re-injected. (A tad extreme for a bed, ya think?)
So for a bed version, I would have a strapped-on oxygen mask attached to a tube, attached to an air-pump, a-la a CPAP machine. This is dependent on power, so in case of power failure, there will be an uninterruptible power supply, and instructions to drain the tank should the power fail. We can refill it if the failure proves temporary.
The tank fills from above, adding a certain amount of sea-salt for buoyancy. The user is put in from above (I guess you climb stairs to go to bed?), deploys the mask, and starts the air pump. The pump shoves air into your lungs through the mask, and exhalings bubble out of the mask into the water, where they rise to the surface. After eight hours of sleep, the tank drains from an openable vent at the bottom, into the sewer, the user climbs out through hand-rails or a cord, and the tank is cleaned, perhaps through a water-spray.
A relaxing, if extremely weird, way to sleep.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

The Rambling Blog

*gets out guitar*
*plays folks-ish tune*

Oh hey, the rambling blog
it's ranting on the internet
oh hell, the rambling blog
it's ranting on the internet

Now On this blog, there was a post
a real post, a ranty post
a post on the blog
that rambled on the internet


And to that post, was a reply
a real retort, a ranty retort
a retort to the post
and the post on the blog
that rambled on the internet


And to that reply, there was a troll
a real troll, a ranty troll
a troll at the retort
a retort to the post
and a post on the blog
that rambled on the internet


And to that troll, there was a flame
a real flame, a ranty flame
a flame at the troll
a troll at the retort
a retort to the post
and a post on the blog
that rambled on the internet


and to that flame there was a war
a real war, a holy war
holy war at the flame
a flame at the troll
a troll at the retort
a retort to the post
and a post on the blog
that rambled on the internet


And to that war, there were some bans
some real bans, some ranty bans
bans to the war
holy war at the flame
a flame at the troll
a troll at the retort
a retort to the post
and a post on the blog
that rambled on the internet


And to those bans, there was a whine
a real whine, a ranty whine
whines at the bans
bans to the war
holy war at the flame
a flame at the troll
a troll at the retort
a retort to the post
and a post on the blog
that rambled on the internet


And to those whines, there was a taunt
a real taunt, a ranty taunt
taunts at the whines
whines at the bans
bans to the war
holy war at the flame
a flame at the troll
a troll at the retort
a retort to the post
and a post on the blog
that rambled on the internet


And to that taunt, there was a pwn
a real pwn, a ranty pwn
a pwn to the taunt
taunts at the whines
whines at the bans
bans to the war
holy war at the flame
a flame at the troll
a troll at the retort
a retort to the post
and a post on the blog
that rambled on the internet


Monday, April 5, 2010


EEG, or Electro-Encephelo-Graph, (literally: the reading of brains electrically) is a means of scanning the electrical activity in the brain, usually for medical purposes. Devices can do it, but as medical devices, they come at a premium. After all, you only get one brain, and it's not like you can go out and buy another if you fry it. So the device is built to very exacting specifications.
A group called Open EEG has an EEG hardware and software system for scanning your brain electricity that you can build yourself, or, alternatively, order from Bulgaria. The hardware connects your brain to your computer, and the software analyzes the output. Having this knowledge, most people are then able to control their brain output via a biofeedback process.
Hypothetically, one could go on to do Mindtyping, therapy, or something else, but that hasn't been written yet.

Sunday, April 4, 2010


The first ingredient in common toothpaste, an important part of many people's dental hygiene, is silica gel. Basically, sand. It rubs away on the various things stuck to your teeth so that bacteria cannot establish a hold.
But hey, this is 2010. How about a more sophisticated solution?
A new kind of toothpaste would contain short-lived nanobots that would seek out and destroy bacteria, and collect sucrose and loose fats and proteins. That and a small amount of "wintergreen oil" to give the user's breath minty fresh.
I'm not sure how it would distinguish between a chunk of meat stuck between the user's teeth and their gums, other than not making it strong enough to lift something more than a gram. If it's too heavy, it's probably part of you.
I also specify short-lived just in case the programming malfunctions and it tries to do something strange to your mouth. If it's short lived, one can wait until they die off. Otherwise, you'd have to send more nano to stop the original nano, and the same problem recurses its way to absolute ludicrousness.

Saturday, April 3, 2010


Solanum tuberosum is quite an amazing plant for agriculture. It's native to Chile/Peru (Inca lands), but can be grown in the wet marshlands of east Texas, the dry deserts of California, the high mountains of Japan, the hot African savannah, the freezing tundra of Siberia, and the grasslands of Ireland. Most other plants couldn't withstand that kind of climatic variation. It is nutritious and the natives describe its origins as a gift from their very gods. You could live for two weeks on it and a minor protein source like a swig of milk, albeit not well. And all but one part of it is utter poison.
I'm speaking, of course, of the common potato. Between it and milk, one would only be deficient in molybdenum, which can be supplemented back with a bit of oatmeal.
I think we should grow potatoes in space. Why? Practice. If we want to send a mission to Mars or farther, we'd either need three months of food packed and weighing down the whole mission (More weight needs more fuel), or we can grow our own en-route. And plants are an excellent absorber of carbon dioxide and other things we humans need filtered from the air.
I also think we should experiment with potato genetics. Potato blights have ruined many-a-harvest because the farmer was growing a monoculture that was all equally susceptible to the disease.

Friday, April 2, 2010

It's a Small World

Having monitored this blog for a year, Google's analytical tools reports that I have hits from a very large percentage of the world's countries.

The map is a little deceptive, because it's grouped by countries. My hits from Russia, for instance, were entirely in the densely populated western end, with nothing east of Moscow. Some countries only provided hits from one particular city, while others had reach all over.
I am amazed that I have hits from every continent. Sure, Africa's a little light, but no continent goes unrepresented, with the possible exception of Antarctica, which has no permanent residents anyway. Quite a few of these hits came only once, stayed for only a few seconds, and then left, but wow was the entire world listening.
Some of the absences are obvious. North Korea, for instance, has few operating computers, a sporadically functioning power grid, regards my country as their mortal enemy, and cares not about the opinions of outsiders. Others, less so. Central Africa and Asia, for instance, are strange little holes.
Looking forward to another year of crazy inventions and rants.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Magnet Morality Manipulation

Discovery reports that a neurologist can manipulate a person's feelings about morality, to a rough degree, by putting their head into a strong magnetic field. Within the field, people evaluating the morality in a story concentrated slightly more on bad outcomes, and outside the field, people concentrated more on the intentions of the characters.
This could lead to, at best, a cure for sociopathy, a personality trait that leads to the indifference to the rights of others. Socipathy may be experienced in as many of 5% of the population, and is a major factor in many crimes.
Or, at worst, the Orwellian implications are staggering. The evil conspiracy doesn't like the way you think, so it straps a magnetic helmet to you and suddenly it's actions don't seem bad to you anymore.
EDIT: I just noticed that this will be published on April first. IT IS NOT A JOKE.
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