Saturday, July 31, 2010

Cloning Blood

Ever since doctors have had the ability to transfuse blood, we've needed a basically unlimited supply of the stuff. There's nothing worse for a person than running out of blood, since it kind of starves your organs of the nutrients and oxygen that they need to survive, and there's a distinct risk of this in severe injuries and intensive surgery. Even a single donor can save several lives. Discovering blood-types and how they deal with combinations was a major breakthough here. In the absense of properly available blood, a saline solution can still keep the circulatory system's volume up, making the remaining available blood more useful to the body.
But the need for blood is tempered by the risk of blood-bourne disease. Severe diseases like Hepatitus and AIDS can be transmitted through blood transfusions. The ideal donor would be an O- virgin, 12 years old or younger, who subsisted on a pure vegan diet of sunshine, water, and unicorn farts, and was proven to be free of all known diseases. Since the pool would be extremely limited if doctors actually held out for this, compromises have been made to remove the most likely carriers of disease, and to categorize blood to make the most use of the available supply. Blood donors can give up to a pint at a time, which the donor will slowly re-grow over a period of about 56 days. Blood donors typically get a snack of punch and cookies to replenish lost fluid and blood sugars, minimizing any negative effect that losing blood could have on them. Though many milions of people worldiwde heroically donate, people still die from lack of access to blood, because the need is far bigger than the supply.
Discovery news reports today that a biotech firm is now cloning blood from umbilical cords, producing massive amounts of disease-free blood from even one. Even better, the process is extremely fast. The blood is produced in far less time than the natural version, so in case of a massive emergency, a large supply of blood could be quickly made available.
A better process still would be completely artificial blood, as that could be made without limit. Blood is made of things that aren't very expensive: Carbon, Oxygen, Hydrogen, and a small amount of Iron. Though the chemistry is complex, once a process could be set up, machines could crank out gallon after gallon after gallon of the stuff and rush it to hospitals worldwide. The volume would be so great that pipe-based transport would be a worthwhile investment. Unlimited transfusable blood would have all sorts of insane implications. For one, poisoning could be cured by blood flushing, in which your blood would be replaced until no trace of the poison remained. For another, hemodialysis would become a very different, and probably much cheaper, process. Bacterial or viral diseases could also probably be flushed away. The waste blood could be used to grow flowers or something.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Amazing Blogathon

I hear amazing news: Blag Hag is holding a massive posting-for-charity tomorrow. The author will be posting every half-hour for the entire day. 48 massive, interesting posts, without ceasing.
This is quite a feat. I struggle to keep up one post per day. So I hope she raises a lot for her charity.
I had to spend a lot of today rewriting my resume, since my only copy was on Google's document service, and they lost it. Argle-bargle-bargle-bargle.

Anti-Malarial Mosquitos

Malaria used to be a big killer in tropical areas. The virus was borne on the ubiquitous mosquitos, who transferred it from person to person by biting them for some blood, to help lay their eggs. After the mosquito bit one infected person, they would spread the infection to hundreds of others. This majorly slowed European exploration of Africa, Oceania, and South America, because exploration parties almost inevitably developed severe malaria, and medical treatment was unavailable. Large amounts of exploration parties died in the jungle. Often the survivors were so sick that they had to unceremoneously leave their collegues where they fell.
But Malaria is a virus, not an inherent result of mosquito bites. Mosquito bites in North America, where I live, almost never spread malaria. And this gave a biologist a big idea. Discovery news reports that biologists are breeding mosquitos that kill the virus in their guts, thus changing from a disease-spreading vector to the remedy for that very disease. The idea began by noting that even in wild mosquitos, their immune system fights the virus. The mosquito is not a sadist. It doesn't bite you to irritate you, it bites you because a dash of your blood allows it to lay way way more eggs. (Mammals like humans are like fertility clinics to mosquitos, and the virus is like radical social darwinists who burn down fertility clinics.) So the genetically engineered mosquito has beefed up immune and digestive systems. The virus is more likely to be ground up to serve as a free protein for the mosquito, and if it survives that, a powerful immune system will likely tear it apart before it comes within a mile of a human. This will make malaria much less present, and save millions of humans from malaria misery.
As is in the tropics, it's necessary to have a cache of malaria-treating medicine on hand, and an insect-proof screen to sleep under at night, because without one, one will be bitten perpetually, and infection is inevitable. With these new mosquitos in the pool, mosquito bites will only mean itchiness, not horrible disease with a risk of death.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Counterfactual belief

One morning, I successfully convinced myself that I did not exist. To be fair, it was early morning, I was tired, and I didn't want to get up. So I thought, "Oh, don't worry, you don't have to get up, because you don't really exist." In my tired state, this seemed perfectly reasonable for about five minutes. (After a short snooze, I did remember that ignoring reality doesn't make it go away, and I had to get up anyway.)
An earlier morning, I forgot that movement was possible. The alarm went off, and all I could think about it was "That noise is so annoying." It took me ten minutes to remember that I could reach over and turn it off, and another 30 seconds to remember that I had set it deliberately, because I had to get up at that time.
We, as people, like to think that we're reasonable and rational all the time, but sometimes we're clearly not. Psychologists point to a long list of cognitive biases discovered over the years. We're self-serving, seeing ourselves as better than can be warranted by the facts, we're prone to believing in consistency, ignoring all evidence that we've changed over the years, and we hate to admit it when we don't know something, preferring to just make something up and claim it to be true. A psychology student made an entertaining song describing many of the cognitive biases discovered over the years.
On top of this, we experience altered-states in which our thinking is way different than normal. Sleep and tiredness, as we began with. Drinking. Meditation. And we need to sleep, or our brain deteriorates and we die.
Often, altered states leads people to accept strange ideas, and then the various cognitive biases prevent them from ever rejecting these ideas again. Like UFO-abduction belief. There are many altered states in which other people seem distorted, most notably temporal lobe epilepsy. People experiencing temporal lobe epilepsy often experience profound religious experiences, or, if not particularly religious, perceive people around them to be aliens. Having recovered, self-consistency bias (with a slight touch of self-serving) leads them to conclude that they really were abducted by aliens and that anyone who says otherwise is a filthy liar. (Or that they really did speak with God, and what he really wants is for them to open a taco stand or whatever. And again, anyone who claims otherwise is Satan's puppet.)
I'm not sure what to do about this, but even knowing that it exists and is possible is a big defense. Just because you hear weird noises in your house at night, it doesn't make it haunted. Your vivid experience in which you teleported to Mars and learned the true nature of the universe may have just been a totally kickass dream. (Though, even if it didn't happen, that may make an entertaining novel for you to write.) I probably have some false beliefs, but I don't readily know what they are.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Bee-based Intelligence

I think we could all use a little more intelligence. Nootropics, drugs that improve a person's cognitive function, have been really trendy lately. And now, an all natural, easily harvested substance has been found that works excellently. Namely, bee venom. Wait, what?
Discovery News reports that a study held in Belgium and England reveals that a component of bee venom, Apamin, excites neurons, and injecting onesself with a large amount of this drastically improves neuron efficiency.
Bees probably developed this as a way of magnifying the pain of a sting, to tell the various pesky animals that strive to steal their honey that this is a bad idea for them, and they should persue a different source of food.
Of course, chemical sythesis will probably develop something more effective at this, and cheaper. Milking bee venom is a slow, expensive, and incredibly boring task, but a chemically synthesized version will be saleable by the ton.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Optical Computer

A computer really is a marvel of electromagnetic engineering, using electromagnetism to handle every single aspect of it. The control signals are electric. The short term storage is an electric pattern in the RAM. The long term storage is a magnetic pattern on the hard drive. (Or a floppy, or, very rarely now, a pattern blown into a Flash ROM.) Power comes from readily available electric sockets, and portable computers can operate for a few hours on battery, and can be charged reasonably quickly.
However, there are places where electrical computers work poorly, like in high magnetic or radiation areas. Strong magnetic fields can "flip" bits from one to zero or back, distorting and corrupting the information until the computer can no longer function. Similarly, ionizing radiation wrecks hell upon computers, even when they're off. (The radiation causes electric currents to flow, self powering, and often overwhelming the circuitry.)
However, it would still be possible to operate a computer there if need be, because electromagnetism is not the only force able to send a control signal, as we learned when laying undersea cables, which tended to attenuate when electricity flowed through them, reducing the signal quality. The substitute force was optic fiber. Signals would be sent by light.
Similarly, a computer could be made that had optical channels, that flipped around physical storage mediums when the light shined upon them. The computer would have fiber optic channels instead of copper wires, mirrored gates that could be moved into one of two positions, laser emitters to produce the light, and sensors to detect it. It would still take electric power, but the signals would be stored in light, and transmitted via fiber optic cables for permenant storage away from the danger zone. In a strong magnetic gets free power and the signals aren't affected. In a radiation gets free power and the signals aren't affected.
This could be useful in medicine, for deep scanners that work via powerful magnets, for radiation-recovery robots, who can be effectively infinitely hardened against radiation, and for deep space, where radiation is a constant threat.
There is a downside too: the optical computer would be bigger and more expensive, and likely slower at first. It would be like downgrading to a 386, which would be painful in this six-core world.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Green Haiti

Haiti doesn't have a lot of wealth. Or, after the recent earthquake, infrastructure. As it is, the locals survive with kerosene stoves, and candles for lighting.
But what the locals really want, according to Discovery news, is a solar panel, because they only have to buy that once. Candles wear down and have to be bought again, but a solar and battery powered light will work day after day after day.
The article reports that even before the earthquake, 70% of Haiti had no electricity. This had negative implications on all sorts of things. Darkness proved hostile to security. (Sociopathic people interpret darkness as a lack of ability for other people to identify them, and thus license to commit crimes.) A knocked over candle is a fire hazard. Manual labor ruled the day, while electricity promises automation. There's not much you can do in the dark, in a tent.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Autonomous Battery Exchanger

Hack a day has a fascinating system for exchanging a robot's battery, to extend its useful life. The main advantage of this is that the robot has basically no downtime, remaining on duty almost continuously. Useful, when shutting down your robot would start costing you money, as in some factories.
The mobile robot probably has a battery for a power source. Batteries are portable chemical cells that can provide energy with no cords or cables, which a robot could easily trip over. The main limitation of batteries has been that they only have so much power. Some batteries are rechargeable, and can be provided with an energy source to charge them back up again. (When provided electricity, the chemical reaction that powered them reverses, setting it back to its original state.) Non-rechargeable batteries must be thrown away when they are out of power.
This station removes the old battery with an extractor arm, and replaces it with a new one. The entire process takes 30 seconds. If the robot has a capacitor bank, it doesn't even shut down. The robot is also held in place during the process to ensure that it doesn't roll away or tip over, which would confuse its systems.
I remember a similar system described for electric cars, in which the car would drive to a station, the owner would pay with credit card, and robotic systems in the station would extract the old battery, put in a new one, and go recharge the old battery to sell it again. The batteries would, of course, have to be rechargeable and identical in shape, but car batteries already are.
So if you have a system like this with rechargeable batteries, you have the continuousness of a wall-socket, and the mobility of a battery, at the same time. A major plus for any robotics system.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Safety Twitter

To some degree, crime is a communication problem. Crime used to happen mostly in the gloom of night, or otherwise when no one was looking. See, responsible social people dislike it when people are victimized, and have formed organizations that punish offenders. In modern times, this is the police and courts. Police halt offenders in their tracks, and turn them over to the court system for punishment. So to successfully commit a crime, one must keep the police unaware of it.
So Discovery news reports that a think-tank imagines a Twitter-like interface (possibly even twitter itself), in which people can anonymously report the locations of crimes, which will rapidly attract police attention. If enough people keep this up, crime will effectively be impossible. Fairies dance and unicorns sing in Utopia.
Of course, a big rub that Discovery points out is that humans are not cyborgs that can magically connect to the internet. Crime is most common in neighborhoods where people can't afford expensive electronics, and the obvious answer of public terminals attracts vandalism. (There are some people out there who just love to ruin things for other people, even if they get no direct benefit from doing something like that. Give a street a public terminal and inevitably someone will doodle on it, someone else will pee on it, and someone will use it to look up porn, even if 95% of the other people use it responsibly.)
Another approach has been the UK's plastering of ubiquitous cameras. From what British people have told me, that did not work. People resented the cameras, especially because the government took an obnoxiously paternal approach to objections. (Namely, "It's for your own good, now STFU.") Crime did not noticeably reduce, as the local thugs took to wearing face-obscuring garments like hoods, and the cameras got endlessly vandalized by angry citizens.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Flu Simulation

XIAN, CHINA - NOVEMBER 9:  A medical worker pr...Image by Getty Images via @daylife

It's tricky to make a good flu vaccine. Influenza is a family of viruses, which has relatively few parts needed to function, and a vaccine needs to be a reasonably good simulacrum of a bacteria or virus to work right, and yet the vaccine must be weakened or killed, otherwise it's just an infection. What's a virologist to do?
Discovery news reports that computer simulations of viral biology, plus gene-sequencing and cloning, have produced a really really wussy version of the flu. Injected with it, your body overcomes it easily, and learns from the experience how to beat much tougher wild flus. Kind of like smacking around Colonel Klink to learn to fight Nazi Germany. (Biology is strange like that.)
This is a welcome relief, as in recent years flu vaccines have been hard to come by, as researchers would need to prepare huge volumes of live viruses and kill them. Now, they need only breed a smaller amount of wuss-flu, and parcel it out. People in desperate need of flu vaccines breathe a sigh of relief.
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Thursday, July 22, 2010

Sharpen the Saw

Productivity experts advise other people, and me too if I ever asked, to "sharpen the saw." It is a metaphor.
If I had eight hours to chop down a tree, I'd spend six sharpening my axe. - Abraham Lincoln
In other words, you need to spend time on things that make the other things you do more efficient. And you need to do this even while other emergencies are constantly creeping up. The deadline is approaching, but you still have to do the things that let you do the things...faster.
Now in literal terms, I don't know how to sharpen a saw. I know how to sharpen a knife, or other smooth-bladed implement. A saw is probably similar, but I don't know that for sure.
The metaphor is essentially that when you have a large task, represented by the tree, you have to do things that seem to be unrelated (the saw sharpening) in order to cut down the tree. The saw works well as a metaphor because a dull saw WILL cut down a tree, but a sharp one will cut down the tree faster and with less effort on the lumberjack's part.
As an example, for homecare. Let's say you have a washing machine. It's kind of old, so it breaks down. You now face a choice. You can spend three hours fixing it. Or, alternatively, you can wash your clothes in the bathtub, taking 30 minutes per time. (Whereas before you needed maybe 2.) The productivity experts are urging you to fix the washing machine as soon as possible, because there will always be emergencies, and the extra 28 minutes add up pretty quickly.
This doesn't, however, mean that you can avoid tasks you need to do. Not washing the laundry at all in my previous metaphor could probably last a while if you have a big wardrobe, but while you're not washing, you have less and less to wear and more and more sweaty-old clothing, and if you ignore it enough, it does become an emergency. (If for no other reason than you either have nothing clean to wear, or because the massive pile of laundry now blocks access to what you need.)
I now wonder: In your trade or field, how can you "sharpen" your "saw"?

Nuclear Trucking

Pebble bed reactor scheme (italiano)Image via Wikipedia

I have received several reports about how the price of gasoline will likely soon increase, if for no other reason than because the oil that BP was expected to produce wound up in the ocean instead. This affects more than just the cost of driving your car to the next city. Quite a lot of commerce is shipped by diesel powered trucks and trains. They, too, must pay it or run out of gas.
But gasoline, be it traditional or diesel, is not the only way to power a vehicle. Trains have the option of running electrically from either an overhead line, or a third rail. Electricity is pretty cheap, and is far less subject to these sudden price swings. (Most US electricity comes from coal, which is cheap and steady.) Trucks don't really have that option. (Roads can not be retrofitted to supply the vehicles that travel over them with electricity.)
Since we're unlikely to massively overhaul our collective rail system, I propose a nuclear-powered truck. Cargo trucks are huge. So huge that they can have a small CANDU-esque pebble-bed reactor. The reactor is foolproof. Pebble-bed style nuclear reactors literally cannot melt down. The reactor powers large banks of batteries, which run an electric engine. With a supplemental solar-panel on the truck's roof, I think the truck could run for most of the day, with no gas-ups. Trucks must regularly stop for the driver's sake, as drivers get hungry and tired, and safety regulations require regular food breaks and sleep breaks, noted in the truck's log. (The truck would charge the batteries while halted.)
When not shipping, trucks should be taken in for maintenance, which would include removing the old fuel pellets and replacing them with new ones. The old ones would contain plutonium, and would have to be sequestered as nuclear waste, given to Idaho's nuclear laboratory, or fed into a breeder reactor. Maintenance would also tune-up the electric engine, and likely replace the batteries as well. (Batteries have a limited useful-life.)
This system would, unlike our current petroleum infrastructure, be maintainable with only national resources. Yes, the US has oil, both on land and underneath the coastal waters. We literally cannot extract it fast enough. Anyone claiming that we can is severely underestimating the number of vehicles on the road.
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Wednesday, July 21, 2010


A photo of a cup of coffee.Image via Wikipedia

A few days ago, I read a complaint that a man had about his boss. This is not unusual, work is all about having to do things that you do not want to do, and the boss is the person who makes you do them on pain of firing. The complaint had to do with the office coffee machine. Everyone likes coffee, but no one likes to take the time to refill the damned thing. In more egalitarian offices, this duty falls upon the person who takes the last of the coffee. In this office, the boss took the last of the coffee, then required his underlings to handle the refill.
This gives me an idea. A more automated coffee-maker, capable of refilling itself. It would have an embedded computer, and connect to the office network. A small interface would allow people to replace grounds, refill the pot, and report on quantities of coffee available. It would need a number of sensors, like a scale beneath the hot plate to determine how full the pot is.
Now, if a number of offices had this device, I could justify the businesses pooling together to have a coffee maintenance worker travel from office to office, maintaining each machine in turn. Maintenance would consist of refilling the supply of coffee powder, and checks of the mechanics. Any subsystem that fails would be replaced. This way, the machine is always in good working order and full of coffee. Morale is high, as no worker in the office need worry about having to refill the coffee machine. The cost to the business is low, perhaps only $1/day if enough businesses participate in this program, but the pool is large enough to pay at least minimum wage to the coffee maintainer.
I can also talk about the scale calibrations. If the scale reports zero, then the pot is not in the coffee maker, and the device should report that someone is currently taking coffee. (It should suggest checking back in about a minute.) If the scale reports the weight of the empty pot, then the device should report that the supply of coffee is exhausted, and suggest ordering a refill. (Which would be done with one click.) If the scale reports the weight of the pot plus the weight of a full supply of coffee, the device should report a 100% supply of coffee, and a suggestion to come have a pot. If the weight is between full and empty, it should calculate a percentage, and offer the refill button between a certain percentage and zero.
I should have an artist draw a picture of this, if an artist can be found.
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Jean Power

A pair of Blue Blood jeansImage via Wikipedia

What does fashionable, but worn out, denim pants like blue jeans have to do with energy? Plenty, says discovery news, who now reports that a chemical extracted from them is making more efficient solar cells.
The chemical in question is part of the blue dye, which can be chemically rearranged to form an excellent solar-catalyst. Properly arranged, one would have a fairly efficient, flexible, and cheap, solar cell that could be arbitrarily deployed, would be difficult to damage, and would provide more power than traditional silicon solar cells.
Thanks to the researchers at Cornell university.

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Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Categorical Imperative

Emmanuel Kant was a German philosopher primarily interested in ethics. Ethics is the philosophy of how to be a good person, and conduct your life in the best possible way. He proposed a series of ideas called the Categorical Imperative, which had three parts.
First, the principle of Universality, which proclaimed that one should only undertake an action if you'd be okay with everyone doing it all the time. So while one could technically get away with taking a $10 tip off a restaurant table while no one was looking, one should not do that unless you'd be okay with people stealing everything not nailed down. (Since most people wouldn't want that, you should not take the money.) I like this idea. (There are other ideas of why not to take the money, from divine command theory, to value theory that proclaims that taking the money would make you a worthless person, to empathy, social contracts, and so on.)
Second, he proposes that other people should be an end, not a means to an end. While these words mean something quite different to philosophers, it's not terribly complex in meaning. Primarily, you cannot ever manipulate people, even for the greater good. No using people, and no lying.
Thirdly, morality is logical in nature, and being evil is irrational. It may be tempting to do evil things, but it will hurt you sooner rather than later, if for no other reason than the reduction of society encourages other people to victimize you. And strength doesn't protect you, because everyone has to sleep sometime. The best implication of this is that morality is empirical, and could be determined by experiment. The most moral behavior would be self-evident when measured.
This comes to some strange combinations, but Kant stuck to his guns in the face of some extremely odd conclusions. He was certain that everyone following his rules would lead to a better universe.
In the face of a number of the crisises occurring now, quite a few of them would not have happened if people had better ethics. It therefore profits us to analyze as many theories as possible.

Wine Recycling

Wine makers worldwide don't sell all the wine they make. Some of it is defective. The taste is off, or it has prematurely produced vinegar, or it fermented unevenly and is all sugar in one part and way too strong in the other. Also, even good wine produces a whole bunch of wastewater, which is currently dumped and wasted.
Discovery news reports that a multinational coalition of biologists can recycle bad wine and wastewater into electricity. How? Bacteria. They get energy from sugar, and vinegar, and we already know how to steal that energy to make electricity. A bacteria tank could provide enough power to power the winery's machines and lights. (Not much more than that, though.)
Before this, bad wine and wastewater would be thrown away, usually by pouring it into the field.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Chinese correlation

China has some 5000 or so years of history, most of which have very detailed records. The current government took censuses, recorded astrological events, described major issues, and stored a massive library of literature that grew over time. And periodically, it collapsed and was replaced with a different one, the details of the rebellion also being added to the records. A historian reports that the records all had something in common, namely, they all occured during periods of local climate cooling.
Now, correlation isn't causation. Ice cream sales are linked to riots, but to claim that ice cream causes riots is insane. There's a common factor in those, namely the hot weather. (People buy ice cream during hot weather to enjoy the cool sensation, but the hot weather also makes them way crankier.) The historian believes that the colder weather caused more crop failures, which lead to social instability ("I'm starving! Why's that jackass eating?!?!") which lead to revolution. And conquest, as China's neighbors became more interested in conquest when their own positions were undermined.
If the historian's findings were correct, then threatened dynasties could have saved themselves with some sort of food relief program. Tragically for them, this never occured to them, and they now reside in the dustbin of history.

Old Computers are Poisoning Asia

Uh oh. Why are old computers poisoning Asia? Economic reasons. They're taking apart old, unwanted computers for their valuable minerals, which they sell.
Discovery news is reporting on the dismantling in India, and Worldwatch reports on the Chinese Conditions. They're both frantically unsoldering components as fast as they can, as the components contain valuable copper, gold, and aluminum. Worthless components, like silicon and lead, are discarded. Some of it vaporizes, and the local air is contaminated with smoke. People in the area have traces of many metals in their blood, some of which are poisonous.
As much as this leads to suffering, the local people are encouraging it, as it's paying them more than traditional area jobs, and this allows them to send their children to school, so that they earn far more money. In a little bit of time, India and China will be so rich as to not bother with this, and will likely send on their e-waste to poorer countries like Cambodia, or Somolia. (Both China and India have massive electronics industries, and an increasing demand for electronics as they industrialize.)

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Carbon Nozzle

Carbon sequestering is tricky business. As carbon dioxide, it has a tendency to mix with all the other air, making it incredibly hard to keep under control. Keeping it capped is an expensive proposition. Not anymore, says Discovery news.
Carbon dioxide sublimates far earlier than nitrogen or oxygen liquefies, temperature wise. So just chilling out emissions separates the carbon, which can be quickly buried before it evaporates again. A refrigerator would be too expensive, though. The new method is to use rockets to cool the emissions, shoot off the nitrogen, oxygen, and other useful gasses, and then grab the dry ice before the next batch arrives.
The company that invented this technique estimates that this will reduce the cost of sequestering to a little less than half it's current costs, which responsible businesses should approve of.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Brain in a Jar

A common sight in science fiction that features mad scientists is a brain in a jar. The mad scientist has extracted some poor sap's brain in order to do some demented experiment on a person who now cannot move or communicate in any possible fashion. But what would it take to actually extract a person's brain from their head and keep it alive?
Well, in the immediate physiological category, the brain needs glucose and oxygen from a blood supply, or it quickly will die. It also needs support -- a live human brain has about the tensile strength of a raw egg yolk. Hence the jar, it provides a supporting saline environment. The arteries and veins of the lower brainstem would be connected to an extracorporeal circulatory machine, to keep the blood oxygenated and circulating, and another machine would drip glucose into the blood. Not too fast, or we'll be giving our brain diabetes. Not too slow, or we'll starve it.
We will also, within a week or so of connecting the brain, also need to provide a dialysis machine to remove the metabolic waste. It'll be an easy duty-cycle for it, as it only must support the brain alone, which accounts for about a quarter of the body's entire metabolic activity.
We'll inevitably need some sort of electrical-communication system to keep the brain stimulated. Experiments show that sensory deprevation makes everyone eventually go totally insane, and lowers the person's IQ to boot. This will be connected to the brain-stem at the place where the spinal cord was formerly connected, and a computer can provide a virtual-reality of our choosing to the brain. This would probably form the bulk of useful experiments, too, as you expose your subject to all kinds of scenarios of varying degrees of plausibility.
We'll need blood-cell generation within 120 days, and some sort of dead-blood-cell removal system to go with it. The dialysis machine may be able to help with this. Possibly.
The brain will have to sleep between 7 and 9 hours every 24, and prefers to do this regularly. This will have to be factored into our brainstem-tap-device, because if it wakes up the brain frequently, that will be bad for its health.
All of these machines together will be considerably larger than the original human being was, and will consume far more energy. Putting the brain back into its original body will be impossible, plus the ethics of this situation are horrible, so I can't see sane science doing this anytime soon. Or, for that matter, ever.

Self-Tying Shoes

I was a very clumsy child, and it took me until I was 10, in the 4th grade, to learn to tie my shoes. Mostly out of necessity, as shoes in my larger size were only available with laces.
The lady Ada invented something that I would have killed for back then: shoes that tie themselves, using motors and pulleys of her own invention. An electronic switch ties, or unties, the shoes as needed.
Although now that I'm an adult, I'd gain less benefit from this, as I can now tie my laces perfectly fine, and having a motor strapped to the back of my shoes at all times would kind of grate.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Flying Brain Games

I hate flying. I have severe motion sickness unless I specifically take medications to counteract that. I hate the crowding, the security nonsense, and the sitting in a seat with nothing useful to do for hours and hours. In the past, I've slept (a side effect of the medicine), looked out the window, and read that stupid catalog and all the magazines I was able to bring aboard. Going anywhere in the country in a few hours is nice, and air travel is still the only way to go to the other side of the world in a mere 12 hours.
Well, the boredom problem may soon be going away, says Discovery news, because a Canadian company is making a sysem where you neurologically control a computer, which has a screen on the back of the seat in front of you. You could use it to help meditate. Or practice golfing. (The virtual golf performs best when the system reads brainwaves associated with successful real-world golfing.) Or...the possibilities are limitless, at least in theory.
Probably about as useful as issuing everyone on the plane a laptop for the duration of the flight.

Robot Leg Research

What does a three legged dog have to do with a walking robot? Plenty, says Discovery news. Both need to learn to walk all over again.
See, a dog knows how to walk with four legs, in a variety of gaits. If the dog then loses one leg (say, to an accident, injury, or whatever), the regular style of walking or running doesn't work anymore, but they can learn to limp in short order. Apparently, this encouraged a German scientist to see if this can be applied to robots, who also need to learn to walk from scratch.
Apparently, every animal on earth has an even number of legs, arranged in pairs, and roboticists have been trying to shoehorn their patterns into robots that have odd numbers of legs, and this works out rather poorly, balance wise. A pattern for an odd number of limbs would be completely different.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Hybrid Construction Vehicles

I'd love a hybrid car if I had the money. They're more fuel efficient, have longer ranges, and are generally cheaper to operate. Also, the electrical components can be charged at home for super-cheap, but you can rely on the gas tank for long trips. More expensive to buy, which is why most cars out there are pure gasoline operated.
Discovery News is now reporting that construction vehicles are increasingly hybrids, both for their efficiency, as gas prices soar, but also for their quietness, as more quiet vehicles means fewer noise complaints on construction sites.
I confess I never thought of making hybrid bulldozers, earthmovers, mechanical shovels, or dump trucks, but that it's making such a big difference is awesome news indeed.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Style Analysis

A writing analysis tool that I gave a sample of my writing to said I write most like Douglas Adams.
Mr. Adams was primarily famous for his "Hitchhiker's guide to the galaxy" series of books, which depicted a surrealistic universe, full of manifestly insane and capricious rules, and that actively mocked people's attempts to make sense of anything. His protagonists tried as best they could, but were frequently forced to succumb to the madness around them.
Mr. Adams supposedly had a great and incredible end to his series planned, but the world will never know because he rather abruptly died of a heart attack back in 2001.

What's a fan worth?

Social networks have long had the ability for people to point out what they like, and to pester their friends with this information. Why? Partially for social reasons, people like to be with people that enjoy the same things that they do. But now, Business magazine Forbes reveals that there's a cash value associated with this.
Someone clicking an "I like this" button on a social network is worth $136.37 to a marketer. This number comes from estimations on how much more of something a fan buys vs. a non-fan, how often they tell their friends (the ever famous "viral marketing" that has many marketing firms violently salivating), how loyal they are (so that they don't switch to the competition just because the competition gave a minor discount), and how likely they are to buy again. All of these are factors that marketers pay out the nose for.
Of course, the only difference since social networking is that now this is obvious, even blatant, and public. Before, companies might have noticed that some people were more vigorously pleased with the brand, bought it more often, and so on, but now people are practically putting a little badge indicating their fan-dom.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

A Cure for Diabetes

Discovery News reports that a cure for diabetes is just around the corner.
Apparently the biologists can now arbitrarily induce, or cure, diabetes in rats by using pig cells. The factor is rapidly being isolated, and after extensive testing, a human version is planned in which a person can receive an injection, and thereafter not have diabetes.
I'm pleased with what science hath wrought today.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Moral Strength

Psychology Central, and many other publications, are reporting today that one way to make yourself at least temporarily stronger is to be extremely moral.
Participants who first either did or imagined something extremely good, like volunteering at a soup kitchen, were able to lift heavier weights, and keep them up for a longer period of time.
Equally curious was the fact that people who imagined themselves doing extremely evil things, (like setting a puppy on fire) also gained this same boost in strength and stamina.
Not sure what to make of this.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Automated Mushroom Care

Cultivated mushrooms actually need a lot of attention. They grow best when the humidity is just so and the temperature is just right. So mushroom farmers have to spend a lot of time measuring and adjusting.
Hack a day brings my attention to one guy who automated the entire process. Computer sensors monitor the mushroom's environment, and turn on or off heaters, humidifiers, air pumps, and vents, to make the mushroom's growing environment exactly perfect. The mushroom farmer need only plant the mushrooms, and harvest them when they're ready to go.
I'm hoping this means more and cheaper mushrooms on the market, since no part of this is particularly expensive, and saves loads and loads of time and effort....

Saturday, July 10, 2010

The Tooth Harvest

A third molar.Image via Wikipedia

Japanese scientists now report an easy, plentiful, if slightly strange, source of stem-cells, from which all kinds of amazing medical breakthroughs are possible. Namely, the pulp inside human teeth. As reported by Discovery news.
Millions of people require surgery when their "wisdom teeth," an extra set of molars that grow in people's mid-20s, grows in improperly and requires removal. These are thrown away. In the past, people would have found those teeth useful, as it would have replaced one that had fallen out. Now, we tend to keep all our teeth, and the extra ones just don't fit in our jaws. Now, these extracted teeth will be the source of massive lines of stem cells, ready to help medicine in a big way.
The scientists claim that a tooth extracted from a Japanese person will produce cells compatible with 20% of the Japanese population. (The compatibility is probably higher because of the unusual homogeneity in the Japanese population.) They seek to raise this percentage through biological reverse-engineering.
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Friday, July 9, 2010

Bone Glue

Repairing broken bones is a tricky proposition. They have to be kept exactly in place until they heal. If they heal wrong, the only remedy is to break them again and this time keep them in place. Simple fractures can be held together by keeping the area rigid, using a cast. More complex fractures have to be held together with a series of pins and screws, which will be removed after the bone has healed. And if the bone is totally shattered? Surgeons would like to use glue, but since the inside of the human body is like seawater, glue would never dry. Only wash away.
Discovery news reports that a species of worm that lives in the ocean makes a glue like substance that it uses to stick sand into complex structures. This glue somehow applies in a liquid state, evaporates something to "dry," and hardens to permanently bond structures together. All while underwater.
Biochemists are frantically working to reverse-engineer this sea-glue. The final compound would be applicable as a liquid, but would solidify on short order, holding bones together until the body re-absorbed the glue proteins, which it would do after the bone successfully healed. This would be a miracle in bone-fracture treatment, allowing treatment of injures that were previously inoperable.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Install CD V2

Long ago I put out a cd for installing linux, which would load itself into memory, thus allowing you to eject the disk, and get about on your installation. It had bugs. The graphics didn't work, it required a bloated 900MB of RAM, at least, to run, and the options were confusing.
I have fixed it. The second version requires 600MB to run, has leaner, more efficient versions of everything, and has proven to work in simulation. Better compression makes for a much shorter download, and it's just all around better. It also comes with DHCP, which may automatically configure the computer for networking the instant you turn it on. (DHCP requires a certain amount of infrastructure, namely a dedicated server. If not, you can configure networking manually.)
You can download it now, if you know how to use Linux....

Water Touch

A Japanese computer scientist has come up with an interesting, soft, 3d touch screen that one can happily poke all day with no chance of sore fingers. Namely, a tank of water. Wait, what?
It works with a tank of water, and a webcam. The screen is projected to the bottom, and the camera can detect distortions in the water, and infer from them how the water was touched. From there, simple multitouch-screen software can send the input back to the computer, translating it into the manipulation of information.
While you'll never develop sore fingers, or carpal tunnel syndrome, from this setup, it does have the disadvantage of only working in one orientation (namely, the screen straight down from your perspective), and I can't imagine it's easy to type on. Still, Hack a Day described it as the most relaxing interface ever, which it effectively is.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Plastic bag recycling

Paper, or plastic? When people in America buy groceries, they tend to buy about a week's worth at a time, and this is more than can readily be carried by hand. So markets typically provide bags for easy carrying. Almost all of these are immediately thrown away once the groceries are safely in the refrigerator or pantry. Those that are kept are reused once, again to hold something.
This wouldn't be a problem, except that stores go through thousands of bags per hour, and the plastic bags will remain in their current form for geological periods of time. Should they blow loose, they clutter up (and ugly up) the nearby environment, and harm turtles when they blow into the ocean, and the turtle confuses them with a tasty jellyfish.
The bag can be recycled, by melting it down and running it through an extruder to give it a new shape. But Discovery news reports that a laboratory in Illinois can turn them into fuel. For not much more energy than recycling them would take.
The lab heats them in an airless environment, until the atoms dissociate from each other. The hydrogen is siphoned off for the many uses of loose hydrogen, and the carbon forms into "microspheres," (which sound a lot like buckyballs), which have a thousand-and-one uses. The lab hopes that this will change the economics of plastic bags, such that hobos will cheerfully gather waste bags for money. Quickly, the landfills would empty, and no more would a turtle choke to death on something that existed only for hauling a bunch of food for a few hours at most.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Prosethetics for Animals

Today I have two stories about animals with prosthetic limbs. The first is old, about five years ago. A cockatoo was viscously attacked in her cage by her own mate, which sometimes happens due to their instincts to chase off a mate while in danger. Feet are very important to parrots, seeing as they function as both foot and hand. So most birds with injured feet wind up euthanized.
But "Candy's" owner had prosthetic feet build for her so that she could at least walk, even if holding things was no longer an option. And walk she did. She has gone off to a good life as a pet, and her mate has wound up in a triple-locked cage.
Now, this year, hack a day reports that a cat who lost all four feet in an industrial accident is getting a new set. Complete with video. The cat understandably now walks a little awkwardly, but is now walking and doing all the normal cat things.
Prosthetics for humans is more advanced because people care more about their own. Compassion is a remarkable thing, and people's love for pets is impressive. Hopefully, the two fields will benefit from each other.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Recycled Antibiotics

LCD screens are pretty cool. They use less power than the old cathode ray tube monitors, take up far less space on a desk, and remain razor-sharp for years at a time. (Remember having to "degauss?") Too bad they're full of poisonous stuff that will surely leak into the ground when the screen goes bad and you throw it away.
Discovery news reports that one of the ingredients in LCD screens can be made into a very powerful antibacterial substance, one that utterly destroys bacteria, yet is perfectly safe for human use.
The discovery comes from the chemistry department of the University of York, United Kingdom. Apparently Polyvinyl alcohol, found in the electronics, can be treated inexpensively to produce a powerful antiseptic. This will cause broken LCD screens to no longer be thrown away -- you'll be gleefully selling them to chemistry labs, who'll be remaking them into useful things for hospitals.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

A/C for America's Birthday

Happy birthday, America.
July is a hot month here in the northern hemisphere of earth, being mid-summer. Much of my region, the southwest, would be uninhabitable without good air conditioning, and in fact in the past before air conditioning, commerce and life came to a screeching halt during daytime summer hours. It was just so hot that no one could be bothered.
This comes at a price. Summer at noon is one of the highest demand-load times for our power plants, which strain as hard as they can to keep the uncountably many air conditioning pumping, so that the residents don't all suffer heat-stroke. In fact, if the power system ever fails, a few people will die of heat stroke. (Mostly the very old and very young.)
Discovery News is reporting that a more ecological air conditioning, combining older technology like evaporative cooling (which provided most of the cooling before air conditioning was invented), with modern desiccants and membranes, so that the moisture stays within the unit, rather than affecting the building's environment. (Humid air feels warmer, as it prevents our natural cooling method, sweating, from working properly.)
The new system is claimed to use 50% electricity, up to 90% less. (The 90% claim is iffy. Probably best-possible-conditions, plus a little fudging and rounding up.) Still, even a 50% reduction in electrical use will be a big relief on the power systems, and will be welcomed by building owners due to lower bills. We can all get behind lower bills.
The system will be sold by a company called "Coolerado." Rimshots sold seperately.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Homemade Fusion Reactor

When I was first entering college, I heard of a young man who had a fusion reactor on his desk. He built it himself, and it did fuse hydrogen and helium. He had to plug it in -- it used more power than it produced. He made it more as a bragging thing -- he personally built it -- rather than any practical reason. And then I stopped hearing anything about it.
Discovery News reports that now many other people are following in his footsteps. They, too, are building reactors and plugging them in, owning their own personal stars that they keep contained on their desk. It costs loads of money, people are reported to spend as much as $35,000, and none of them can really get anything useful from it yet.
Humankind's best and brightest are struggling with fusion because it's so immensely valuable. It could be powered with water, which covers 75% of our planet's surface, it produces only helium gas as waste. And we know it works. The article points out that the sun is powered by fusion. The expensive part is keeping it contained so that it stays on your desk, and doesn't burn a hole to the center of the earth. (Which, needless to say, would really piss off your landlord and/or neighbors.)
If we ever really, truly, succeed at creating a fusion reactor, it will be the only form of power we'd be interested in from now on. The fuel is so cheap as to be nearly free, the waste products are things we use anyway and are in no way poisonous, and the potential production is huge. As a fusion-capable species, we would have easily petawatts of power, if not exawatts. Cheap energy would fuel all kinds of economic developments, in both the literal and figurative sense of the word.
I can only hope that some of our intensive research bears fruit.

Friday, July 2, 2010

New Battery Technology

Much of the modern world depends upon batteries. We have more and more portable gadgets that require batteries for the electrical power they consume. (Since requiring a wall-plug would make them significantly less portable.) Good batteries could also free us from the tyranny of gasoline, having cars powered by electricity made by whatever fuel source is cheapest this week.
Discovery News is reporting that a new battery technology would make batteries with ten times the capacity of the previous lithium-ion batteries, thus allowing your gadgets to run ten times as long. Hallelujah.
The new discovery isn't all rainbows and sunshine, though. It's difficult and expensive, involving carbon nanotubes laid exactly-so, so these miracle batteries would cost an order of magnitude more than the ones you have now. You may gain huge benefits, but you'll pay through the nose to achieve them. At least until the technology improves, and the batteries get so commonplace, that they get cheaper and cheaper.
Still, one step closer to decent electric cars, laptops that run for days at a time, and pacemakers that require much less maintenance. Everybody wins.
(Also, this is post #500. Woot.)

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Regrowing Teeth

We humans grow two sets of teeth in our lifetimes. The first, as small children, are very small, but help us to eat solid food. Then, as adolescents, the first set falls out and are replaced with the larger set of teeth that we have as adults, and these are meant to last for our entire lifetime. We also, in our mid-twenties, grow a third set of molars, the so-called "wisdom teeth," because you're supposed to be wise by the time you get them.
Unfortunately, our teeth don't always last a lifetime. Sometimes people lose them due to trauma, as a blow to their face damages their teeth sufficiently to make some of them fall out. Others lose teeth to neglect, as tooth decay rots them until they fall out. Dentists have a few material options to replace lost teeth, from increasingly realistic-looking ceramic implants to dentures in extreme cases.
However, these are not the only options. Sharks are very hard on their teeth, and as a result, are constantly losing them. Like an adolescent human, a shark's teeth are constantly falling out and being replaced with new ones. Unlike an adolescent human, this process in sharks never stops.
I doubt we'll be able to have ever-regenerating teeth in the near future. However, I do see it as possible to extract a small piece of bone, and encourage it to grow into a tooth-like shape, which can subsequently be implanted, as a damaged tooth that fell out can often be re-implanted if preserved well enough. The bone-section should be grown in an intracellular-medium-like substance, and should be supplemented with adult stem cells, taken at the same time as the bone section. They should be fed with glucose and calcium, and the tank kept sterile. (Sugar alone doesn't rot your teeth, it's sugar plus mouth bacteria that are harmful.)
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