Saturday, December 31, 2011

Yarn Computer

The computers that I use on a daily basis are made of, effectively, sand and copper. Every computer, every electronic thing I have ever used, or touched, has followed this pattern. The one non-traditional computer I have seen to date was a pure electronic relay computer, which used electrical switches with no silicon. The reason this pattern is not used is that it's inefficient, impossibly loud, slow, and expensive. And then there's today's strange technology: Via Slashdot, an international team of scientists have made circuits out of, surprisingly, yarn wires. The yarn is threaded with electrical conducting materials, such as copper, and woven into various electrical switches. Additional yarn can be added to weave the item into a piece of clothing, thereby achieving the long time goal of wearable computers, in this case, computers that are literally clothing. There are some minor downsides to the current state of technology. No, it won't shock or electrocute you, but it's currently at the inefficient, impractical, slow, and expensive state that the relay computer that I linked at the begining of this article. Much R&D is required before you'll be able to, say, use a sweater as a GPS unit, a sock to monitor your vital signs, or anything of the other wondrous potential of these technologies. Technology sometimes has to crawl before it can walk, and walk before it can run.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Christmas Truce

On this day, 97 years ago, the horrors and violence of the first world war suddenly came to an abrupt end. Soldiers on opposing sides met in the middle, exchanged gifts, sang traditional songs, and for a minute, human nature was shown to be remarkably civilized. An impromptu soccer game was even held. The generals, of course, hated it. Pal-ing around with the enemy did not get them the concessions that they wanted, way better for peace than for war. The more nationalistic, the more they hated it -- Christmas songs weren't bringing in any of the land or glory. Of course, the next day, everyone was back to shooting at each other, since after all, a war was on. The generals worked hard to avoid a repeat in the next four years of the war, until the Central powers finally surrendered. Events like this, the Christmas Truce, make me feel that a better world is definitely possible.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Neurotransmitter Drugs

Caffeine is a commonly used substance in my workplace. It is a stimulant drug that works in humans by interfering with the neurotransmitter adenosine, as illustrated by The Oatmeal Plants that make caffeine do so to retaliate against the insects that eat them. The bugs get overstimulated and panic themselves to death. There are many other mechanisms that could be interfered with. For example, seratonin. Blocking seratonin would interfere with the pleasure of hobbies and activities, but also addiction. Under the influence of seratonin blocking drugs, a person would not be motivated to seek out their addictions. Maybe instead they'd have a nap. Four months later, the drugs are discontinued, and the patient is encouraged to take up a hobby, which is now fun. Other mechanisms could cure anxiety disorders, weight control issues, impulsivity, and a host of other quality-of-life problems.

Monday, December 5, 2011


In Vietnam, rising wealth has lead to a major increase in motor vehicles as a means of transportation, and with the rise of motor vehicles has come a rash of street racers. The police dislike it, as the races run faster than many of the riders can control, often causing property damage and personal injury. The police's first motivation is to stop vehicles who participate in this type of activity, ASAP. In my country, the United States, a fast vehicle that refuses to pull over for the police is herded onto a road with no traffic, and a strip of spikes is laid on the road. As the vehicle approaches, the spikes are activated. The spikes puncture the tire in such a way that the vehicle comes to a halt. The spikes are then quickly retracted so that the chasing police car can run past it without this tire damage. The vehicle's driver is then forced to yield. Vietnam isn't wealthy enough to buy such machinery, nor industrialized enough to make it themselves, so they dipped into their historical engineering and decided to stop the bikes with fishing nets. Apparently, due to Vietnam's long history of fishing, the average Vietnamese person can throw a net very very precisely. This net, thrown into the motorcycle's motor, jams it in such a way that the motorcycle rolls to a controlled halt. Other methods had previously been rejected because the motorcycle lost control, which often resulted in the very crashes that the police were trying to avoid. It's cheap, simple, and effective.
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