Monday, August 29, 2011

Load Bearing Backpack Machine

In the poorer nations of the world, hundreds of millions of people earn their living moving things. Moving luggage. Moving cargo. Moving the harvest to the market. Moving water. Moving bricks to the construction yard You name it, they'll haul it. It makes them enough to get by. In rich nations like mine, vehicles usually perform this function.
An Indian inventor has come up with a machine that attaches to the porter's body and allows him or her to more comfortable haul of the load like a backpack. Postures improve, and the load the porter can carry increases, which in theory could mean higher profits. The invention also removes much of the medical risks of portering, which will hopefully mean far fewer ruined lives.
The best thing is that this invention is exceptionally cheap. It can be made for a few cents of bamboo...or plastic. It can also readily be reconfigured to a luggage carrier for the airport crowd, or an over-the-head carrier for small but fragile cargo like eggs. (which it will keep perfectly balanced so there's no chance of an expensive spill)

Sunday, August 28, 2011


There is only one thing that I expect from a filesystem -- I expect it to store my files. If a hard drive is like a storage warehouse, a filesystem is like installing filing cabinets in that warehouse. While it is possible to just keep papers in a large pile on the floor, this is not recommended.
When it's totally unacceptable to lose data, the current orthodox solution is to use RAID-1, a system in which all data is copied to two hard drives. If one drive fails, it can be replaced and the data copied from the other drive. My new idea is an imprcatical way of achieving this on only one hard drive. (Because your company has a bizarre policy of not ordering new hardware and a crippling hard drive shortage.)
ParanoidFS would store data in five clusters for each item. At read time, the five clusters would be read and compared. A Quorum of three would decide if any blocks were defective. (That is, the blocks "vote" what the correct value is, and if one or two of them have a different value than the others, then they are wrong and are marked as defective.) This could even be done in the background after loading a fifth of the file from each cluster for performance. The filesystem would allow itself to only work in a read-only mode after a certain number of blocks were declared bad, and a warning message would tell you to buy a new hard drive. One you can take to the accounting department.
On the downside, you would get at best 1/5th of the capacity of the hard drive. A typical 1TB drive on the market, for instance, would only provide 200GB of paranoidFS, but it would be a totally immortal 200GB.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

The Ugandan Space Program

Slashdot informs me today that a small group of Ugandans have an impressive dream: They intend to create their own space program with no help from the Ugandan government, and using only the local resources.
This is a big deal because Uganda is not the wealthiest country on earth, and so far space exploration has been the domain of large nations doing this for billion dollar science grants and military-industrial-complex testing of rocketry and other technology. Uganda has pretty much none of those things. At the moment, the team are designing airplanes, but they intend to move upwards as they gain more capability. (None of the team are professional engineers.)
Ideally, discoveries that this team makes will make space travel an order of magnitude less expensive, and thus more available to more people.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Hypertime and the Electric Plants

In a lot of media, there's places where time flows at a different rate than normal. The amount of time in and the amount of time out don't match. The closest real equivalent to this is special relativity time dilation, and that usually works in the opposite way. (The person accelerating experiences less time than everyone else.)
Anyway, this got me thinking about the movie "Clockstoppers" and their central mcGuffin, the "Hypertime". In the movie, the protagonist's scientist father invented a device that shifted him into a paralell time axis, ("Hypertime"), in which one could do time-like things and yet no time would have passed. After a long sequence of teenage boy antics and showing off for a girlfriend, the device is stolen by the movie's villain to set the center stage for the plot. And this gave me ideas.
I'd sleep in hypertime. I'd arrange for a hypertime room at work, and breaks there. When some problem has be absolutely screaming in irritation, I'd punch out, go to the hypertime room, take an eight hour nap under sedation, goof off for another four, and then return to work as no objective time had actually passed. I'd write this blog in hypertime and have two or three posts a day. Except, nags the nerdy part of me, some of this is just plain implausible.
No time means no outside electricity and no airflow. I'd suffocate while asleep. While there are existing solutions to this, such as chemical rebreathers (they have caustic solutions that absorb the carbon from your breath), my mind was already at work for alternatives, which could be useful in the real world.
The electric plant would, given electricity, strip carbon off of carbon dioxide, thus keeping air breathable in sealed environments. And provide a large source of carbon powder, which can later be sold as fuel, recovering some of the cost of the electricity. Extra bonus in solar-heavy rural areas like eastern California and Arizona, where you could have entire ranches of solar panels plus electric plants, sucking the carbon out of the air and gathering it for sale. Both to the coal plant to burn as fuel and to the pencil factory to stuff into pencils.
Portable power systems are a little more practical. Car battery, basically, that would be charged in a time environment.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Engineering Apotheosis

Take what U need (leave the rest)   HD on VimeoImage by Ralph Buckley via Flickr

There are three inventions that might not even be possible, but given them in conjunction, would grant engineers absolute omnipotence. Given all three of these things, it's only a matter of time before I'm creating entire universes.
First, a zero point energy generator. This might not even be possible. Energy is like the money of physics, and there have been a few clues that it might be possible to have negative energy as well as the positive kind that we're familiar with. If so, then from a "zero point" of no energy, you could draw off and separate arbitrary amounts of negative and positive energy, which would have to be shuttled off in opposite directions, as they would nullify each other on contact. However, negative energy hasn't been shown to really exist, and might make about as much sense as making money by sending out checks for negative amounts of money and somehow collecting when the checks are cashed in.
The first thing I'd do with zero point energy would be the mundane energy use, running the air conditioning, refrigerator, and lights with the energy, and do experiments with the negative energy. Could I run my computer on anti-electricity, and if so, would it absorb heat instead of producing it?
The next thing would be a matter condenser, that would change energy into hydrogen. Since E=MC^2, this would ensure an unlimited supply of materials. Of course, this would not be worthwhile without the unlimited energy from the zero point system.
The third thing would be some sort of teleportation system to make arbitrary manufacturing. It would have to teleport together raw materials to make things, such as combining a few grams of carbon from charcoal, hydrogen and oxygen from water, and nitrogen from air to form a hot dog. It would also need to be able to scan new patterns and store them in a computer. This also might not be possible due to the Heisenberg uncertainty principle, in which knowing the exact position of an atom requires unpredictably altering its velocity and vice versa.
My power with these things would grow exponentially. First I'd use the teleporter/replicator to scan the three inventions and be able to arbitrarily produce more. Then I'd start scanning useful tools, which I now have in arbitrary amounts. Then, having proven its safety, I'll start handing them out because other people deserve this too. And next, I'd start designing entire star systems, which I teleport into existence. If I want to visit them, a matter-condenser rocket will take me there, accelerating to preposterous speeds with a zero-point-energy plus matter condenser, producing a stream of supercompressed hydrogen gas.
I'd send probes to go deep into the void, make a ring of trillions of matter condensers that was several AU in diameter, and spray hydrogen into the center to create stars. When the star grows enough, the welding on the ring fails and the matter condensers go flying outward into the universe. I'd recharge the sun by swapping out large amounts of it for a fresh cube of hydrogen. The heat death of the universe would never occur, because we would continuously rebuild it from scratch.
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Saturday, August 13, 2011

The Accidental Spammer

One of the strangest facts about fighting spam is that most spam comes from people who aren't even aware that they are doing it.
There are eight types of problems I deal with at work, and the top two are people spamming without even being aware that they are. See, the spammer lost access to audiences with his own accounts long ago. Either his ISP doesn't tolerate it and booted him, or does tolerate it and was blacklisted, so all his emails fall into the ether before reaching his customers. So instead, he infects people with a virus that gives him the passwords to their accounts, and spams in their name. When this doesn't work, the spammer resorts to guessing passwords, just in case someone decides to use "password," "123456" or their username as a password, because a shockingly high number of people do.
Alternatively, botnets can hack a number of popular installations with remote file injection, and the spammers love to insert mailer scripts into these. mailer scripts that send out hundreds of thousands of emails before being noticed.
The best protection against the first kind is to regularly scan your computer for viruses, using any one of the anti-virus products in the market, most of which you can at least try for free. Use a strong password, such as the first letter in the lines of your favorite poem or song in random capitalization, with a number or punctuation mark, and at least 12 letters long.
To prevent the second one, make sure your content software is up to date. Many packages even allow auto-upgrading, informing you if they are out of date and providing a handy upgrading button so that you can order it if you wish.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Artificial Immune System

Many simple lifeforms see our body as a plentiful sack of resources -- bacteria desire our proteins, carbohydrates, and iron and viruses seek to turn our cells into viral factories. Since these thefts hurt us and can even kill us, we have developed immune systems that destroy these on "sight," along with malfunctioning cells a la cancer.
While our immune system is strong, we benefit from helping it out, especiallyin medical situations where all tools must be absolutely sterile. Our existing plans for this involve high pressure steam, which heats the tool to temperatures that denature the bacteria and virus's proteins so that they cannot survive. We also have chemical attacks such as alcohols that have the same effect. This is also required to a lesser degree in other fields like restaurants, in which it would be bad if a client caught a disease from another.
Suppose one made a nanobot that dismantles known bacteria and viral proteins and uses them as raw materials to make additional nanobots. If one kept tools in this environment, the tool would stay sterile for cheap. (Presumably there is a means to prevent the nanobots from escaping, such as requiring them to stay within a power field not provided outside the toolbox.) In addition, if these nanobots could be taught not to attack human cells, and could be powered in a human body, then this would restore immune function to the immunocompromised. This would greatly increase their quality of life. In addition, immunocompromising diseases attack immune cells through attachments to their cell membrane. These nano-immune system devices do not have one of those.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Up and Down

I'm not sure if I mentioned it, but in May I was promoted to a different department, mail enforcement. Since then, my job has been to basically destroy spammers and make the world a better place. You probably have two or three less spams in your mailbox on average because I've what I've done. It also means that I have to constantly bug people about their email usage, which gets really depressing, really fast. I'm not fond of having to troll.
I also understand that I'm on the verge of another promotion, site security, which would mean that I would unhack all the hacked webpages, as well as explain how to avoid that happening to you in the future.
This has been good for me, and bad for you. Good for me because I make more, and have growing responsibility and a stronger, more awesome resume. Bad for you because I come home every night tired, sick, and soon whacked out on cough medicine. This state of affairs does not bode well for creativity. I'll be trying to strain through my every thought for the last few months to try and get an interesting idea going.
In the meantime, an interesting look at ludicriously dangerous chemistry in Sand Won't Save You This Time.
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