Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Pistol Shrimp Bot

The pistol shrimp used to astound scientists: It did...something..., and then fish in front of it abruptly dropped dead. The fishy victim is then pulled inside the pistol shrimp's burrow and devoured. Clearly, this had to be studied.
It was discovered how this works by filming the shrimp firing in slow motion. All the shrimp does is close its claw really really fast. The rapidly increasing pressure causes a cavitation bubble with temperatures rivaling the surface of the sun. This then, surrounded by seawater, explodes slightly as everything condenses back to normal. The heat, pressure, and shock wave all injure the shrimp's prey, usually adding up to a fatality. And knowing all this gave me the idea to weaponize it.
The weaponized pistol shrimp robot would swim up to things we don't like underwater, such as the propellers of an enemy submarine. It would then bring a massive claw as close as possible as close to the propellers as possible, and then very abruptly close it. With a loud banging sound, the propellers are promptly damaged by the ensuing cavitation bubble, as cavitation is the bane of naval propellers everywhere. The submarine is now mobility-killed, and can be finished off with a cleverly placed depth charge if it continues to cause problems. Or if this is done to a surface ship, that ship isn't sailing anywhere anytime soon. If it causes more problems, it'll wind up torpedoed, or we could cavitation attack the hull to sink it.
The robot can then swim to the next target, as an enemy that has one boat probably has a lot more.
Unfortunately, this won't be too useful in modern warfare, as all our battles are mostly against asymmetric enemies who don't have navies, because they aren't nations. Most of our enemies now are insurgents, and stopping them requires a whole different type of fighting than the kind that stops nations.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Printing a brain

Printed organs offer a major step towards immortality. I could take one cell from each of my organs, and use it to grow a brand new spare. I would then be guaranteed a very long life indeed, because disease or damage could be repaired fairly quickly by swapping my organs. Arteriosclerosis? New heart, no problem. Lung virus? New lungs. Cirrhosis? New liver. There'd be no chance of rejection, because they're grown from my own cells, and the cost would rapidly reduce over time from an economy of scale. However, if I had a stroke, or brain damage due to concussion, or became demented, I couldn't exactly swap out my brain. Or could I?
While if my brain were directly swapped out entirely, I would definitely be a different person, suppose only a small amount were changed at any given time. Starting with the moment that my doctor suspects that I'm developing a brain condition, I have a small amount of my brain biopsied and replaced with a printed copy of that section. This is allowed to heal and integrate back into my brain. Then a section a few inches further is biopsied and replaced, and over the course of about five years or so, every single piece is replaced. During the healing time, the neurons reestablish their connections, so at no point do I lose psychological continuity. And when the replacing is done, I have the brain of a twenty year old. If this works, then printing will make everyone immortal eventually. Well, not totally immortal, as you could still die from injuries, or if you have a brain condition that kills you in less time than it takes to replace-and-heal. But unaging and generally free of disease.
Or would you slowly lose your memory and personality over the course of the replacement?

Monday, June 27, 2011

Printing Organs

An interesting innovation of modern times is deposition printers, which can produce any 3 dimensional object by laying it down layer by layer in melted plastic, which rapidly cools and solidifies into a layer of the final object. If an layer can't support itself structurally until complete, the system can also lay down a second type of plastic that washes away when exposed to water. Although the systems tend to be expensive (none cost less than $500), once you own one, you can have all the plastic parts you want for a few cents worth of thermoplastic.
Medical doctors have especially taken note. Human cells can be grown in a lab, but only in flat sheets about one cell thick. The cells know that they shouldn't endlessly grow upon each other, because when they do that, they're typically cancer. Cells in your body grow on a framework, an extracellular matrix. And here's where they have the idea.
Since the 3d printer can print any shape, have it print an extracellular matrix for an organ, wash it, and introduce it to a glucose-and-saline medium. Inject one human cell, and a short time later, you have a fully functional organ. Since extracellular matrix parts are regularly replaced, this new organ will, after being implanted, slowly replace its plastic extracellular matrix with a real one, at which point the organ will be indistinguishable from the original. Other than the new one is fresh and healthy and will last for years longer.
This is giving me an even crazier idea, which I will go into tomorrow.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

The Solar Road

Every summer, America's roadways become miserable hot strips that go on and on for miles, adding to the already hot and miserable condition of the weather. The black asphalt soaks up the sun, producing loads more heat. This of course, has given scientists a genius idea: replace it all with solar panels. Wait, what?
The idea revolves around glass. Glass that can support the weight of all the cars, but is totally transparent. Beneath this glass road is an endless extent of solar panels that turn the light of the sun shining upon them into electric power. Sometimes this is interrupted by a car driving over it, but there would be more sun than not.
Due to the sheer bulk of Americas roads, much of them in rural areas where cars don't drive over them for days at a time, replacing all roads with this new kind would produce enough power to keep the entire country running. Dirtier powers like Oil, Coal, and even Nuclear would be practically obsolete. (China would take note, I'm sure.)

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Heat Power

Lady Ada tells me that there's an interesting new material that's been developed. It is an alloy that develops a magnetic field in proportion to its temperature. There are some immediate implications to this, most startlingly that it is now possible to turn heat into electricity.
This produces electricity because electricity is produced by a varying magnetic field near a loop of copper wire. Traditional power plants use a spinning magnet -- the wire is exposed to different magnetic fields as the magnet turns. This system would instead produce a magnetic field that changed as the temperature did. As it heats up, the field gets stronger, and as it cools off, the field gets weaker. So if you left it in the sun, it would start to heat up starting a little after dawn, until sunset, when it would be quite hot indeed. After dark, it would cool off. Cyclically, this would produce power, over a longer frame than solar cells because there are no moving parts.
However, the sun isn't the only thing that heats this thing up. You could use car exhaust, fire, nuclear waste, or in colder climates, even just grabbing it periodically. (Less than pleasant, though). The possibilities are literally endless, as heat is the most entropic form of energy, therefore almost all energy-using processes will produce heat. And now that heat can give you some of its energy back as electricity.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Ionization Theory

A common theory states that indoor air quality can be greatly improved by electrically charging the air. Air is accelerated over charged plates, imparting a charge to the air, which reportedly improves mood, causes bacteria, viruses, and dust to adhere to surfaces instead of becoming airborne, causes beneficial effects on the health of the people who breathe it, and even helps heal injuries. Some or all of these claims might be complete hogwash. One thing is definitely clear, though. Air ionizers create ozone, an oxygen variant that damages your lungs and is the major component in smog, although more useful in the upper atmosphere due it its tendency to neutralize harmful radiation.
The best evidence for the touted benefits of the theory was a study conducted in Bangkok, which showed that ionized air did improve rates of healing from injuries, and did in fact cause airborne bacteria to cease to be airborne, where it could be easily cleaned off the walls and floors that it stuck to. No mood difference was noted in participants. The data size was not large enough to be significant.
On the other hand, even if I assume this is all true, I would first worry about the ozone exposure. Fortunately, it is possible to filter out ozone using carbon-rich paper filters, and the ozone does kill all bacteria (and some viruses) while it is present.
So if this theory was true, the best air sources would be first ionized, then filtered (removing the dust, bacteria, viruses, and ozone), and then accelerated into the room. This also gives me a plan to experiment with this idea.
Get 3 groups of 30 people each. One group is put into a room in which the air is positively charged, filtered, then blown into the room. One group is put into a room in which the air is negatively charged, filtered, and then blown into the room. The last group is the control, and their air is not charged, but merely filtered. The filtering takes place some distance from the room so that it's not apparent which group you're in. The rooms are otherwise identical, and can support sleep, work, games, and eating. We have the group live there a period of time to be decided later. At the end of the period, we evaluate the groups for changes in health and mood, and we also measure bacteria concentrations in the rooms, walls, and floors.
If the theory is true, then I would expect that the positively charged room would be in better health than the control, which would be in better health than the negatively charged room, but that bacteria levels would be highest in the control room.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

The Hammock Effect

Discovery News reports that if you want a nap in a hurry, the best way to do so is to grab a hammock and rock yourself to sleep.
Apparently, both the gently sagging support and the rocking motion help you get to sleep faster than our traditional fixed bed.
If this can be consistently replicated, you might want to replace your bed with a hammock. Or, alternatively, we could make slightly curved beds on a mobile frame. Push a button and the mattress is gently shifted side to side in a rocking motion. Rocking you quickly to sleep, and then slowly stopping over the course of a few hours.
We especially need this in America, where studies show that the average American really needs 3 more hours or so of sleep per night than they're actually getting.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

History of the Chicken

Which came first, the chicken or the egg, asks a famous riddle. After all, the primary source of chicken eggs are chickens, and the primary source of chickens are those same eggs. To a casual observer, this would seem to be an endless regress, hence the question. The egg came first, and was first laid in India.

In the jungles of Thailand, Cambodia, and Burma lives an animal called the Red Junglefowl. It is a tree dwelling bird, distantly related to the Pheasants that European aristocracy hunted for sport. Animal traders brought captured birds to India, where it was hybridized with the Grey Junglefowl, producing the modern chicken. The ancient Indian birdkeepers noted that the birds were easily cared for, enjoyed eating insects (and so were very useful to farmers), and were delicious with the right spices. Over time, Indians lost interest in eating the eggs, but those not prohibited from eating meat for religious reasons continue to enjoy eating the chickens themselves.

Over the years, the chicken was spread by trade through Persia, eventually reaching Greece and Europe. The ancient Greeks and even Romans thought of the chicken as a very exotic bird, as their only supply was through the Persians, and relations between the Greek city-states and the Persian empire were often frosty. However, centuries of trade quickly populated the bird throughout Europe.

Colonists to "The new world" of North and South America often brought domestic animals with them, and the expansion of the chicken eventually reached the Pacific Islands in the 1800s. Chickens are now found worldwide except Antarctica (where they occasionally arrive dead in the form of food).

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Nuclear Bomb Detector

Via Slashdot, I have heard today that a teenaged engineer has produced a machine that can detect the presence of nuclear bombs. The most surprising thing is that it does so with a fusion reactor. Wait, what?
Apparently this young engineer has been producing fusion reactors for the past three years (although apparently not energy efficient -- more energy is required to contain it than it produces), and they produce neutrinos. Neutrinos are very very small particles. So small, in fact, that when dropped, they can pass through the entire earth without hitting anything, slipping through the tiny space between the nucleus of an atom and the electron shells. His previous fusion reactors discarded the neutrinos as waste.
However, this young engineer also noted that radioactive atoms are unstable, and often disturbed by neutrinos. This makes them far more likely to decay and put out radiation. So he's set up a scanner that detects radiation before and after flooding the cargo container with neutrinos, and noting what type of radiation was produced. If it matches the profile of uranium or plutonium decay, then it's 99% certain that an atom bomb has been concealed in the container.
Before this discovery, the search for smuggled atomic bombs was done by manually searching the containers. This had the minor disadvantage that very few containers actually got searched. Genius.
Our excellent engineer, who has more than four times my intelligence at half my age, expresses an interest in getting a PhD in Nuclear chemistry, and doing government work.

Friday, June 17, 2011

GE's Walking Truck

Hack a day brings to my attention that in the 1960s, General Electric had a project with the military in which they produced Quadrupedal walking armored vehicles, which would be used to transport soldiers and their large amount of very heavy supplies across uneven terrain that trucks and even tanks couldn't cross. The project had mixed results.
Apparently, the vehicle was built, and it did transport people at speeds up to 30 miles per hour for very little fuel, and could deftly walk across surfaces that would flip over a tank. It was even sensitive enough that an operator could gently rest a foot on a lightbulb. (Critics note that the lightbulb was placed on a pillow, rather than a cement floor, which is slightly cheating.)
On the downside, though, the user interface was incredibly poorly conceived, and operators needed WTF breaks every 15 minutes, because everything was controlled with a ludicrious array of levers, which drove people absolutely bonkers. I see an immediate improvement that could be produced.
There are two kinds of quadruped animals whose gaits may prove useful to this machine, and that I could describe. The dog and the horse. I learned the dog's foot habits from my pet dog as a child, which I noticed had two gaits. At slower speeds, a walk, the dog would align feet by sides. So first she would step with her front and rear left feet, then her front and rear right feet. When speeding up, there would be a point at which she would switch gaits to the running gait. With the running gait, the front and rear feet were treated as a set: first the front feet together, then the rear feet together.
In horses, there are three gaits: a walk, a jog, and a run. For the horse's walk, the four feet move completely independent of each other, as if two separate people were walking, one in front of the other. At the jog speed, or trot, legs are moved in diagonal pairs: The left front and right rear, then the right front and left rear. The horse's run resembles the dog's run, except that the feet pairs do not hit the ground at the same time. (There tends to be a slight delay, but the front feet will hit the ground within a half second of each other, while the rear feet will hit the ground a second later, also within a half second of each other.)
With some testing, an embedded computer could be made to copy these gaits in the walking truck, which could allow the operator to move across smoother surfaces in the same manner as driving a truck, taking manual control only when the terrain becomes too rough for automated motion. This would save the driver a lot of WTF breaks.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Continuous flow coffee computer

Electronics make a lot of heat, because heat is entropic energy. The act of flipping the state of electronics irreversibly converts some of the electrical energy powering the chip into heat. This heat then has to be carried away. This entropy can be converted to good use.

One of the most treasured machines at my company is the coffee maker. The company has to keep going at all times, 24/7, and an energized worker is a not sucking at his job worker, usually. The coffee maker deliberately converts electricity to heat, which it applies to water, and runs over ground coffee beans to produce coffee. This is caught in thermal jars so that the workers can enjoy it hours later, still hot. I try and keep this making coffee at all times, as it makes my surlier coworkers far more pleasant to be around.

This also gave me an idea of an interesting cooling system. Start with a water cooled computer, except instead of water, cool it with industrial refrigerant. This is piped to the chamber below, where it is intensely compressed, and water is continuously poured over it from a faucet supply. This water is quickly boiled from the heat, and compressed, slightly below room temperature refrigerant is brought back to the computer. Just before it hits the electronics, the refrigerant goes through an expansion valve. This makes it intensely cold, and better suited to take the heat off the computer components. So far, this is essentially a refrigerator.

Now with the hot water, we pump this up out of the chamber, and over to another area, in which there is a "switch" pipe that allows it to fall into one of four carafe's, each of which below contains a thermal jar. A scale below the thermal jar determines how full the jar is, and when the jar is full, the system instantly switches to the next carafe over. Full jars should be taken away (and distributed with cups, creamer, and sugar) with an empty jar put in its place. Also, the carafe will need fresh grounds and filter on a periodic basis. This would occur in two hour cycles, and could quickly be changed to capacity in a five minute break.

Assuming that this system is kept supplied, it would produce coffee continuously, which would clearly be a good thing for my company, which is constantly growing and getting thirstier for coffee by the day.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011


Forgive me readers, for I have sinned. I have failed to update this blog for over 3 months. For shame.

Working nights is a bad idea for blogging. I come home in the gloom of night exhausted and semi-insane, and I ache too much to think of anything serious. Also, my wrists and back tend to hurt from spending the day sitting and incessantly typing.

I didn't even have any real big ideas during these last three months. I had snatches of an idea here and there, and read of some awesomely insane ideas of engineering past, but by the time I could sit down and write it up, I had forgotten. I'll try and get to what I can remember within this week.

There were also a lot of crisis-es that sucked up a lot of time. Like when a large jug of water tipped over the other day, and the rest of the day was lost to cleaning that mess.

Anyway, I'll try my best to keep up the good work. Will definitely have a new post for tomorrow.

Also, by the time you read this, I will probably be asleep, as working nights means early morning is sleep time.
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