Friday, December 28, 2012

Operation Frankenweenie

Let's say that tomorrow, a heartbroken billionaire comes to me with a desperate problem. His beloved elephant, Jumbo, died just ten minutes ago. The massive team of the world's best biotechnology experts tell him that death is permanent, and he should accept this, but he'd given anything to get his elephant back. Sane science has denied him, so now he's turned to me to try something psychotic. And of course, I agree.

The process would be upsetting to watch, being a surgery and all, so we tell him to do his job, while I and his team do ours. I tell the biomedical team to separate Jumbo's various organ systems, and put them into vats of saline to halt the decay. I then review the situation.

All death is brain death primarily. Your body fails to provide the glucose and oxygen that your neurons need, which makes them fail, the way that a hammer strike to the motherboard takes out a computer. If my heart were to abruptly fail while I was in a hospital, the doctors could save my life by immediately hooking me to a cardiopulmonary bypass machine, and find some sort of replacement heart, such as one donated by a person who is too dead to need it anymore, or perhaps a mechanical replacement. Same for my lungs. My digestive system could be replaced by a nutrient IV drip, and my kidneys and bladder by dialysis. However, without a working brain, that's pretty much the end of me. So to fix the whole death situation, I'm going to repair Jumbo's brain. First, a review of the medical team's technology.

I order a cardiopulmonary bypass system and a saline-and-glucose IV for each of the organ systems, and a virtual reality system to keep the brain sane as I repair it. I then use the medical team's deep scanners to record the neuron patterns of which cell are connected to which cell, which is written to the massive RAID array. This takes countless exabytes of data, but I'm not footing the bill on this.

Next, a sample of Jumbo's DNA is taken from his muscle cells, and used to make a huge vat of stem cells. I write a program to check the brain records in the array, and one by one replace the dead neuron with a stem cell. The cell is influenced into becoming a neuron cell, and the program then tries to force it to make the connections that it's predecessor had. This automated process is replacing a hundred thousand cells per second, but will still take several months to complete. I have the VR system keep this growing brain in a delta-wave state -- deep sleep. The IV system is feeding it the nutrition that it needs to survive, the cardiopulmonary bypass system is keeping blood circulating, and the dialysis machine is purifying the waste. When the process is done, a disembodied Jumbo brain will be floating in the tank.

However, since our billionaire donor expects to be able to interact with his pet outside of VR, we will now have to repair the rest of the body as well. This is somewhat simpler. We dissolve the cells from each of Jumbo's organs, then leave the extracellular matrix in a vat of stem cells. These quickly repair into organs, which we keep alive in vats with a cardiopulmonary bypass and a dialysis machine keeping them individually alive and functional. It is here that I learn Jumbo's cause of death -- his heart developed a clot, starving the rest of his body of food and oxygen. Jumbo had died of a heart attack.

I have to periodically monitor the brain's progress. Three months in, the brain is 75% repaired. I adjust the VR system to move from delta, up to gamma, to nearly beta, then back down again, just as in real sleep. Jumbo's brain will now "dream," keeping it healthy.

We then work to recombine Jumbo's organs and muscle systems, minus the skull. This allows us to simplify the life support system, and sell off about half of the equipment. It will also give Jumbo a head start on healing, and at this point he's stitched together like Dr. Frankeinstein's monster. I can now report to our sponsor that Jumbo is alive, mostly. Cold hand of death, release him! However, he will need another six months before he can play with his master again. Our billionaire is tearfully grateful. A month later, I allow the VR system to bring the brain periodically to full beta, allowing Jumbo to "wake." I have programmed a virtual environment of a grassy field with fruit trees, and monitor how Jumbo navigates this environment. Mostly, I want to see that this experience has not rendered him insane or traumatized. So far so good.

Three months later, we need to reattach the brain. We slip the brain into the skull while still in the tank, then I have the surgeons reattach the skull to the rest of the elephant. The blood vessels and nerves are very carefully moved from the cardiopulmonary bypass and other life support machines to the elephant body.

Jumbo is now quite obviously alive, but paralyzed and sore. We keep up a medical treatment of intervenous feeding, and nerve repairing blue dye. It is now for the first time in seven months that our sponsor has seen his pet. At this time, I've done all I can do.

Five months later, I get a postcard from our sponsor. He's playing with Jumbo, who is now biologically a young adult. Jumbo has a renewed vigor, and a zest for life that our sponsor finds deeply inspiring. The biology team has him on a treatment for his blood condition, and Jumbo will easily outlive his master this time around. And I? My research paper on reversing death itself has led to a nomination for the Nobel prize in medicine. I must share credit for this with the biomedical team, but honestly, I'd rather that they take all the credit. Fame is not for me when mad science is on the line.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Bird Bot

Once upon a time, there was a bird-owning engineer with a problem: his African Grey Parrot would, like most of their species, become very upset when away from what they considered the center of action in an area, and would start hooting and screeching for attention. His first solution was a noise-detecting squirt gun. At first this worked, and the spray of water would interrupt the screaming. Then the bird figured out how it worked and started intentionally triggering it for a quick bathtime, which parrots love. (African Greys have the intellectual capacity of a 3 year old on average, but have some skills that human children don't figure out until they're 12.)

It's not safe to let a parrot walk around unattended, one because they are immensely small and light and they will die if you step on them. (A medium sized parrot such as an African Grey weighs about one pound. The heaviest known parrot weighs 8 pounds.) Another reason is that they can chew on things on the floor, or even the floor itself, causing immense property damage. So his next idea was one that allowed the bird to travel around safely: a small motorized bird-controlled cart. The bird stands on a small perch, and pushes around a metal bar to control the cart. This way the bird could follow the humans of the house around without ever being underfoot or in the path of tempting electrical chords, rugs, or floor tiles.

The joystick component appeared to be one of the surprisingly larger engineering challenges. A parrot's beak evolved to crush nuts, is about a strong as a human with a pair of pliers, and they immensely enjoy ripping things to shreds with it. The top part can punch through wood like an awl, and the larger parrots can even destroy a steel cage. The joystick had to be designed in such a way to resist puncture, pressure, and had to endure being pulled on, all of which the bird almost assuredly tried to do.

The most challenging thing though, is that our enterprising engineer did not want to have to put this cart away every day when it's time for the bird to go to bed. The cart is designed with a computerized system that can find its way back to the charger, and slowly scoot the cart into position where it gets plugged in and charged back up for another day of bird-moving. This does so with computer-vision, which is remarkably difficult to do successfully. Also, it begins to do this the moment the parrot leaves the cart.

If I were this engineer, I would look into having this cart mass-produced.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Farm Ship

Oceans cover some 75% of the earth's surface. Most of the oceans are, in biological terms, a vast desert. The nutrition for plant growth to start off the biological cycles has for the most part sunk to the bottom. Near the shores, though the opposite problem happens, as farm runoff arrives in the ocean, triggering a vast bloom of algae, which quickly turns into a suffocating oxygenless muck. The sun shines upon the ocean making rain, some of which powers the land-based photosynthesis with water, but most of which falls back into the ocean again. The availability of sun and water suddenly gave me an interesting idea. We take a discarded cargo ship, and convert the large surface area to a vast farm. Equipment is installed beneath the ship to suck up water and desalinate it, and have it bubble up beneath the dirt at the surface. The ship sails around the world, slowly growing tons and tons of food. Periodically the ship arrives at harbors where food prices are highest to sell the food, buy fertilizer, and change crews. (The laboring farmers would be mostly employees, and this system could hopefully offer some nice wages, enough for a plane ride back home every so often.)

If there's any runoff from this, there would be a temporary bloom running behind the ship's wake, but not severe enough to cause any sort of red tide or harmful eutrophication, and this causes a temporary fish spawning point. The benefits of ocean feeding occur provided the ship remains in motion at all times.

In addition, the ship could remain in constant spring or summer by constantly sailing back and forth between the northern and southern hemispheres, maintaining beneficial conditions for the crops at all times.

This would take on the large scale a considerable amount of energy. For best results, this should be done after fusion power is available, which would allow for the boat to operate pollution free. In practice, though, the boats would probably be coal fired, or diesel driven, with all the problems that attend that.

For feeding an increasingly hungry world, this might make at least a small difference.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Technology Sociology

Yesterday, during my work break, I learned of a cool thing, and a tragic thing. The cool thing is that a young father, wanting to share his love of the Zelda series of video games with his daughter, has been reading the text for her. As the daughter would prefer that her avatar in video games be female, he has been changing the references to the hero, Link, being a boy, to being a girl. To preserve this once she does learn to read, he hex edited the rom and re-burned it with the references all changed. Some awkwardness ensued, as all text had to remain the exact same length, lest all pointers thereafter become wrong, corrupting the entire ROM. Link is ambiguous looking enough so that this works out. At first, the comments that the father received were admiring, especially from young women who wished that they could have enjoyed media in this way. However, after the blog entry had been up for about a day, suddenly a storm of people came in infuriated that he altered the original game, feeling that he was somehow ruining it. A veritable torrent of rants, whines, and complaints that he was infringing Nintendo's copyright ensued. Perhaps these people were trolling, or perhaps they felt that any modification of their favorite thing detracted from it, even hypothetically, but it did make me wonder one thing about the world of technology. Is the world of video games and computers sexist? I do admit that there were only four people in my graduated class who were female...and none of them graduated as a computer scientist. All of them switched to math or other related majors. None of them really explained why, but when I look around, I suspect it's the culture. Computer science has been so male dominated for so long that a fraternity-esque "dudebro" culture that's as disconcerting for an average women as a knitting group consisting primarily of bitterly divorced mothers would be for an average man dominates the scene.

Some pundits posit that this doesn't really matter, but I think it does. Many of the most important pioneers in computer science have been women, such as the very first programmer ever, Ada Lovelace, or the inventor of higher level languages, Admiral Hopper. Other fields also had problems of a sexist culture, such as medicine, and they resolved it by treating sexist behavior as completely unacceptable. I see no reason why computer science can't do the same.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012


Our seventh planet from the sun has been known about since ancient times, but most of the ancients thought it was a star, as only a dim point of light is visible from earth.    In the 1970s, we got our first good look at it, and what we saw was a dull green-grey sphere.   However, this planet has a greater significance.

Uranus is one of the odder planets in the solar system.   It has a much greater axis of rotation, being either 96 or 106 degrees, depending on which of the two definitions you are using.   If you are basing it on the way the planet rotates, and assuming the rightwards based rotation  is the north pole, then it's 106 degrees.  It's the coldest planet in the solar system.  There is one planet further way, Neptune, and the numerous dwarf planets beyond like Pluto, but these have additional internal heat from radioactivity that warm them up.

But soon enough on geological time, Uranus will have to become our home.   In one billion years, our home star will become a red giant star.   The innermost planets will be incinerated, and if we can't move the earth in time, it will be charred into a lifeless glowing rock.   And we too would be baked if we can't move the earth in time.

When the red giant phase is complete, the habitable zone, currently in our orbit, will have moved to the Uranus orbit.   I'd like to believe that we'll move the earth into being a new moon, but in all practicality, we'll probably just abandon the earth and rebuild on the various moons that are already there.

We'll need energy, in greater quantities than I can readily imagine, and technology that I can't even dream of, but we have a billion years to do it.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Holographic Universe

So I've seen in several places that a large group of scientists are talking to the press about the possibility that the entire universe may be some sort of hologram or simulation.   Amateur philosophers quickly run to their armchairs to talk about what this means, so I think I need to weigh in as well.
Holography comes from greek words meaning "whole image."  It's a way of recording something 3 dimensional on a 2d surface.   The typical holograms that we interact with day to day are made by shining a laser off the object to record onto film.   The film then develops a complicated photograph that, when that same laser is shined back on it, reproduces a ghostly 3d image of the original subject.
A similar idea floated in philosophy is that the universe is a simulation, or a dream.   These ideas are hardly new -- most Hindu sects were proposing this well over 3 thousand years ago.   Other religions like Buddhism and Christian Science also are very attached to the idea that the universe is a dream or in some other way not the true objective reality.
So, if the universe is some sort of hologram, what would it mean?

Well, for starters, what is it encoded on?   Could we change this encoding?   More importantly, could we change a small part of this encoding without screwing everything else up?  If planets for everyone!

Suddenly huge amounts of physics would cease to be relevant, as we could screw around with the original medium to travel faster than light, reverse entropy, and other patent nonsense.

If not...well, it's an interesting idea, but with no practical implication to our lives, it's relegated to the realms of philosophy to be endlessly argued about by various bizarre factions.

On a similar note, if the universe was some sort of simulation, I think I'd use my programming knowledge to cheat like crazy:

struct wallet{
   *plasticrectangle creditcards[8];
   *paperrectangles money;
   *plasticrectangle id;
   *foldedpaper carinsurance;

Whereupon my wallet promptly explodes due to Pauli principle violations and I use the proceeds to buy a new wallet, house, car, and secret laboratories in Tahiti, Hawaii, the moon, and Mars.

This could also be used to teleport things and people:

struct location
float x;
float y;
float z;

home.location=self.location(x), self.location(y), self.location(z);

I could now arbitrarily teleport myself home:


I guess what I'm trying to say is that these ideas are interesting, if a little impractical.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Tree Math

I haven't had a lot of time lately, but I ran the math on my plan to solve global warming by planting trees, using Wolfram Alpha, which has access to significantly more figures than I do.  I'm not encouraged.

Taking the most extreme position possible, suppose we covered the entire land surface of the earth with Pawlonia Tormentosa, a fast growing, carbon sucking tree.   These trees are planted every 25 feet across every part of the earth not covered in water.   Homes, businesses, farms, freeways, and anything else we want to do on the earth is buried beneath.  This works out to 1.12 trillion trees.

Each tree sucks, over the course of about 7 years, about 3*106 grams of carbon straight out of the air.   At this point, it can be cut down and it will regrow from its own stump.   The wood would then have to be not burned, but instead either buried or made into objects that we plan to keep for a while, such as houses.  Based on the weight of the wood, the number of trees, Wolfram Alpha found that every seven year cycle would suck, assuming I didn't make a decimal point error here, 74 parts per million of carbon dioxide out of the air.   In this time, human activity would replace another 35 ppm, what with all the coal and oil we've been burning.   To reduce the carbon levels from the current high of 393ppm to the pre-industrial level of 180 ppm would take 7 cycles of this -- 49 years.

This isn't going to happen.   Much of the earth could not sustain a forest so thick that the branches of neighboring trees touch.   There's deserts, where the trees would die from lack of water, mountains where the trees sap would freeze so hard that the tree would literally explode, beaches where the salted earth would drain the moisture back to the soil, killing the tree.   We could not move our farms underground without an explosive increase of our energy use to keep our farms lit and alive, not to mention watered.   And if we're not willing to install solar panels and drive hybrids for the sake of the earth, we certainly aren't willing to live like murlocks in little caves.   We like the sun and the breeze and the other amenities of the surface world.

The best solution is clearly a compromise between these insane extremes.    More solar, less coal, trees where it makes sense, wooden structures where it doesn't.    Slow the change to the point where we can adapt to it as it comes.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Electric Bees

About 75% of our crops today rely on insect-based pollination.   We typically use bees for this purpose.  Bees drink nectar from the plant's flowers, getting pollen all over themselves in the process.  The pollen then fertilizes the plants, which then produce the fruit and seeds that we eat.  Everyone wins.
Except that bee colonies are in trouble.  We're not sure why, but something is killing off all the bee hives.  Some think that it is a disease not yet identified, other think that it is stray insecticidal chemicals from farms.   In any case, without bees, no fruit.
Many of these plants can be manually pollinated with a cotton swab, but that's a waste of human labor.  So instead, I think we should make robot bees.   These would fly around getting and injecting pollen, and occasionally returning to the hive for a recharge.   These robots would be immune to all diseases and chemicals, but unfortunately would not make honey.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Insane in the Chromatophores

Our musical world is transmitted mostly by electricity.   If you use headphones, then you're using electricity to vibrate little magnets to copy the sounds that your favorite rock band made in the recording studio.   If you're using speakers, then you have somewhat larger magnets in a rectangular case, again vibrated by electricity.   Also, the bodies of us and other animals use electricity to transmit signals from our brain to tell our body how to behave.   A biologist realized that a squid's elaborate color-changing skin is controlled by the squid's brain, electrically.   Having a dead squid handy, he hooked it up to a handy iPod to make probably the strangest automated music visualization ever:

Yes, that's seriously the squid's skin's response to the electrical signals made to play the biologist's favorite rap song.

Friday, August 31, 2012

Antarctica Environment

Earth's southernmost continent is not a nice place to be.   There's ice over a kilometer thick at the surface of most of it.  At the hottest point in the summer, the temperature is as cold as it is in the middle of winter where I live, peeking at 15C in the hottest ice-less valleys.   During the winter, temperatures drop as low as -80C.   The gleaming white surface can give explorers and scientists that visit sunburn in a matter of minutes.  There's also altitude issues due to the ice -- Antarctica is high, and with it, thin of air.  And yet, it can save the entire world.
  An elaborate plan to use Antarctican conditions to suck CO2 out of the air has been proposed, using the high winds to create wind power, which would power giant freezers.  In the freezers, pressurized air would press CO2 into a liquid that would then sublimate into snow when ejected.   The wind turbine's power wouldn't be very useful for other things, since maybe 200 scientists live in Antarctica.   As time went on, this freezer and compressor would suck the carbon from the air, and leave it locked forever in the snow.
  Of course, being who I am, I couldn't help but imagine a potential improvement in this plan.  Snow falls very slowly in Antarctica on account of it being technically a desert.   What little snow does fall remains as ice for a millennia, so I could use this to lower the ocean.   To our wind-freezer system, we add a desalinization plant.     Ocean water is pumped through huge pipes up from the ocean, using wind power.   Under intense pressure, fresh water accumulates on the other side of semipermeable membranes.   This fresh water is then sprayed towards the pole.  In the freezing conditions of Antarctica, even boiling water tossed into the air will quickly solidify into snow.   Thousands of years worth of snow will fall every single day, preferably on top of the dry ice snow that we were creating.   As this accumulates, the sea level slowly drops, saving countless low elevation communities around the globe.
Of course, Slashdot poster gman003 found a minor rub with the whole thing:
The only thing I see stopping it is politics. In particular, America and China. Europe seems to at least recognize the need for action, and they're willing to work together to try things. China is generally too selfish and shortsighted to worry about the environment, but you could probably convince them if you could make it somewhat-profitable for them (just have the wind turbines and such made in China, that should satisfy them).
But then it falls on to America. And you're going to need America at least not fighting this plan, because if the US decides to actively fight it, it's not happening. Period. You'd also need them to at least chip in a good chunk of the funding if you're going to do the full plan, make a serious dent in CO2. Problem is, denying the very existence global warming is a political requirement for half the country. They'll fight it just on principle, and I can't see the rest of the country fighting back for a project that doesn't have any immediate gains for the US specifically. While some sort of "compromise" could probably pull it off, or with luck it could be swept under the rug and never become a political issue, that's not guaranteed.
Still, it's the best plan I've seen so far.

 There's no need for it to necessarily be government funded though, and I could definitely see American green charities paying for it, European engineers designing it, and Chinese engineers physically assembling it in place.

Friday, August 24, 2012

3rd World Washing Machine

If you asked demographer Hans Rosling what invention the world's poorest people would like, that I could give from my house right now, he would answer in an instant one thing that personally changed his own family's life: The washing machine. Wait, what?

If for some reason you can't see the video, it's his lecture he gave to TED in which he describes how the washing machine changed his own family in surprising ways. Before, laundry was difficult work, thrust upon women against their will, that sucked up the better part of a day just to get clothing clean and dry. When this was mechanized, time was freed up for more important things, like education. The washing machine liberated women, and freed them up to improve things both for themselves and for the men in their life. Hans personally describes his rise to academia because his mother was freed up to tutor him.
Except, if I were to give the washing machine that I use to someone in the poorest part of the world, it would be a useless cube of steel from their perspective. They don't have running water. They don't have electrical connections, and when they do, those connections cannot be relied upon, as they often go out for weeks at a time. (Sometimes someone steals the copper, cutting the power, or the power gets cut for political reasons, or there's a strike at the power plant, which is then forced to shut down lest something get damaged while not maintained.) So...what to do?
Hack A Day reports that enterprising inventors have two designs for washing machines that can be operated with a bucket of water and hand-power, yet are far less laborous than the traditional fire-heated hand scrubbing. In one, the water, soap, and clothing is put into a barrel that resembles a water cooler. By repeatedly pushing a switch with one's foot, everything inside is spun around like a salad shooter, which causes all the soiled material to stick to the soap instead of the clothing:

The other option is a machine like a stationary bicycle connected to a barrel. The clothing, soap, and water goes into the barrel, the barrel is closed, then you pedal to agitate the clothing. And just like all the other machines, the frothing mixture makes the soiled material bind to the soap, which then comes out of the mixture:
Of the two options, I predict that the bicycle model will be more popular, as stationary bicycles are already a novelty in the poorest regions, where bicycles are an expensive but extremely useful form of transportation. A bicycle is like a walking multiplier -- The same effort makes you go farther and faster. No further investment is required after the bicycle, and what experience these people have shows them that bicycles can be fun.
In either case, an increase in the utility of human labor is surely a good thing.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Radiation Pigeons

When the Chernobyl nuclear plant near Pirpyat, in what is now the Ukraine, melted down in 1986, it was a worldwide disaster.   Radiation spread as far away as Kansas, and Pirpyat is now massively radioactive, and judged uninhabitable.  A few very stubborn people live there, and made an incredible discovery.  A type of yeast there developed the ability to eat gamma radiation.  As food.    This species of yeast is also universally found in pigeon feces.
Gamma radiation is the lowest-mass type of radiation produced from radioactive decay.   It takes several feet of lead to stop it due to its high energy,and it's absolutely hazardous to human health in the same way as touching a red hot stove would be.   Also, outer space is absolutely full of it, which is a hazard to would-be space travelers.  
These two facts can be combined to form two mad inventions, and I'm not sure which one is crazier.
One, we can clean up radioactive spills by spreading bread all over the affected area and then releasing some pigeons, which can easily be caught in most major cities in North America and Europe.   When these pigeons poop all over the place, the yeast will get right to work eating up all the radiation, making the area inhabitable years sooner than it would otherwise.
Two, we can keep a thin layer of pigeon poop in the outer hull of space going vehicles.   In the depths of space, the yeasts will absolutely feast on the radiation, and only very little would reach the astronauts.  Space travel would be lighter, cheaper, and safer.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Hybrid Home Power

Someday I want to have a solar powered home, and I've been gathering supplies for it.  I have about 710 Amp Hours worth of batteries, but I keep shying away from buying the panels, which tend to run in the hundreds of dollars.   Obviously, this dream will have to wait.

Or will it?   An electronics engineer has created a system to automatically switch between a solar-battery system and mains power.   Why?   The solar-battery system is free to you once paid for, but it can run down, especially if there's multiple cloudy days in a row or if your need for electricity is high (especially for air conditioning in hot summer home city is technically a swamp.)

The system periodically takes a read of the battery capacity.  If it's full it swaps the entire house over to battery power.   If it's half full, it starts swapping circuits back to mains.   And if it's empty...mains for you while the system recharges.    Once set up, the user of this system could get the most economical power possible at all times.

One issue -- there is a brief cutoff while it swaps electrical systems.   Users of lamps and refrigerators probably won't notice.   Users of computers would have theirs inexplicably reboot.   A UPS (uninterruptable power supply) would be required for all computers in this house.   Preferably with the alarms turned off, as they by default sound an annoying alarm every time there's any issues with the power whatsoever.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Curing AIDS

Since it first appeared in America in 1985, there has been an intensive amount of interest in a treatment of some sort of the Auto ImmunoDeficiency Syndrome, or AIDS.   Other countries may have been interested when first exposed as well.  And according to Slashdot, we may now have it.   Supposedly, 3 people have been completely cured of the disease, which was previously minimally treatable and guaranteed fatal.
This is still tentative and prone to additional testing, since case #1 apparently has some radical differences with cases #2 and 3, covered in the article.   The theory relies upon bone-marrow transfer immunity.   When you receive a bone-marrow transplant, you inherit with it the donors immune system capabilities, including all vaccinations.   In this case, one of the rare people who was completely immune to AIDS (for genetic reasons mostly) donated bone marrow to these two patients, who inherited the immunity. 
If this can be confirmed, this will mean a radical new hope for the world's suffering.  Still no cure for the common cold or herpes, though.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Heart Jellyfish

Via Slashdot, I have learned of the world's first artificial animal -- a jellyfish made of plastic and rat heart cells.   The benefits are surprising and unexpected.
This jellyfish like thing starts to "swim" when exposed to electric currents, just as hearts beat in time to electric currents.   Put this thing in a tank of sugar water and attach a pacemaker, and you have the perfect environment for testing heart drugs.
Traditionally, heart drugs had to be tested by breeding rats with sick hearts, injecting some rats with the drug and some with a placebo (saline solution to make sure that results aren't just some weird side effect of injections in general), and noting their recovery or death.  Then human clinical trials were required because rats don't respond quite the same as humans.  (Doing the original testing with humans would be condemning some humans to die, which people won't put up with.) All of this was expensive and took a lot of time.
So instead, we could make a human heart cell jellyfish, put it in the tank, and expose it to drugs dissolved in the water.   The effects of the drug become apparently relatively quickly, suggesting which drugs, if any, are good candidates for a successful clinical trial.
The rat version?  Proof of concept.

Monday, July 23, 2012


As an IT expert, I am surrounded at all times by whirring fans, except when I am driving, in which case rumbling motors.   These fans are to keep the electronics cool enough to function.   While there are replacements, such as watercooled systems, that are significantly quieter, such systems are always significantly more expensive.
However, sound is ultimately a waveform, and interferes with itself destructively.   A +1 and a -1 waveform will, when put together, combine to form 0.   You can buy noise cancelling headphones that work using basically such a principle -- a microphone records the current sound, a microchip inverts the signal, and this is played into the headphones, cancelling the current sound.   This gave me an idea to make computers quieter.

Instead of one case fan whirring away, there would be two rotating in opposite directions.   The noise they produce would have opposite waveforms, cancelling each other and making the computer very quiet indeed.   A small bubble of space between them would have higher than normal pressure, and a vent would be requires to shove this air out of the way.   The case would then have negative pressure, and slowly suck air from the room.   Filters would be required in the case to prevent dust buildup on the electronics, which is somewhat of a pain in the neck to clean.  (Dust interferes with thermal transfer.)

Friday, June 22, 2012

In Spite of the Nail

I'm going to give you an opportunity of an imaginary lifetime -- you can take a two-way trip to anywhere in history, spend thirty minutes there, then return.    After this, the time machine breaks.   Also, causality, schmausality, anything you change there is now permanently part of history, even if it undermines your existence.  (After which you never existed.)   So, where in history do we go?  Please keep in mind that this is the only time we can do this, as the unobtainium used to power the time machine is literally the only one I could find in the entire world.
I can immediately hear the most popular response -- Kill Hitler.
  Yes, German dictator Adolf Hitler can personally be blamed for well over 50 million deaths and was a seriously evil guy.   There are worse dictators, (although not many, I can count them on one hand), and he couldn't have done it on his own, so are you sure about this?   With the right nudge to history, he might instead be a relatively unknown painter, or even a real estate agent if we change...okay, I can see I'm changing none of your minds.   For our thirty minutes in the past, I send a strike team to the eastern front of World War I, between the Russian and Austrian lines.    My strike team quickly guns down Corporal Hitler, and returns to the present.   So we prevented World War II then?

June 18th, 1919
The treaty of Versailles ends World War I with the surrender of the Central Powers.   Although the United States lobbies for Wilson's fourteen points, which the central powers would readily agree to, England and France demand harsher teams for the pain they've suffered in the war.  The Central powers feel compelled to sign these terms, as they have rather literally run out of soldiers.   Nationalists of these nations call bullshit, (as none of the national territory of the central powers actually saw any fighting during the war), but are ignored by everyone else.

January 1923
Rampant hyperinflation strikes Germany, and to a lesser degree Austria.   Even the most basic things require entire wheelbarrows full of money.   People become radicalized as they hope for anything that could even possibly relieve their suffering, even for a moment.

November 1923
An ambition member of the exceedingly fascist Nazi party, Erich Ludendorff, attempts to throw a coup.   This fails and he is sentenced to death for treason.  The authorities are alarmed at the way that he had over 3000 helpers providing direct help for his plan, and probably had additional agents waiting in the shadows.

Sometime 1924
The Dawes plan brings some recovery in Germany.   Support for extremist parties such as the Communist part of Germany and the Nazi party decreases sharply.

October 1929
A massive stock crash leads to worldwide economic depression.  Well, shit.   Hyperinflation returns to Germany, and radical parties now account for at least 45% of the vote in that country.

Sometime 1931
Japan conquers Manchuria from the local warlord.   China protests, but is too disorganized and warlord-riddled to manage an effective response.

Sometmime 1933
President of Germany, Hindenberg, strikes a bargain, with Goering, the leader of the Nazi party, to get them to fight off the communists.   This temporarily works well, then badly backfires when...

April 1934
In a series of "emergencies," Goering increases his powers until having total dictatorial power over Germany.  He declares himself to be "Fuerer," or leader, of the entire nation.

Sometime 1935
Germany and Austria combine into one nation.

Sometime 1937
Japan and China go to war, with Japan demanding effectively all of China, and China demanding the return of Manchuria.

Sometime 1938
Goebbles demands the outer portions of Czechoslovakia, the Sudetanland, on the grounds that it's majority German.   An international committee of England, France, and other allied countries agrees to allow this.  Neville Chamberlain declares "Peace in our time."

About a month after that
Germany absorbs the rest of Czechoslovakia, contrary to previous treaty.

October 1939
Germany demands that Poland hand over Gdanz, known in German as Danzig.  Poland notes its alliance with two world powers, the UK and France, and refuses.   War begins in Europe.

June 1940
France is defeated.   The entirety of the French army, and 2/3rds of the British army are captured.   The remaining 1/3rd of the British army manages to escape and fortify the UK.  Denmark and Norway are quickly conquered by Germany.

June 1941
Germany declares war on USSR.

December 1941
Japan attacks Pearl Harbor.  USA declares war on Japan, Germany, and the rest of the axis.

February 1942
Moscow is taken by Germany.   Russian government successfully evacuates to Kalomna.

May 1942
Kalomna is taken.  Russian government successfully evacuates to Novosibirsk.  Considerable help from the USA is required to keep Russia functional and in the war.

Febuary 1943
The battle of Stalingrad is won by Russian forces when the Germans retreat.  The city is effectively destroyed by the battle.

May 1943
Second attack on Stalingrad.   The ruins are now controlled by Germany.

November 1943
Maximum extent of the Axis.  Germany and their various allies controls the entire European continent from the Atlantic to the Urals, minus the neutral countries of Switzerland, Sweden, and Spain.  However, the German high command notes that there are starting to be shortages in manpower, matériel, and armaments.

March 1944
Stalingrad is retaken by Russian forces.   A massive party is thrown in Novosibirsk.

August 1944
Russian forces retake Moscow.   The city is promptly rebuilt, and the Russian command begins to move back.   German forces are in full, perpetual retreat.

September 1944
A British, Canadian, and American army lands on the coasts of France near Normandy.  Allied forces slowly push the Axis out of France, and crush the regime in Vichy.

June 1945
Project Manhattan detonates the first ever atom bomb in a classified test site near Los Alamos, New Mexico.

August 1945
France is liberated.   Charles deGaulle's Free France government assumes control in Paris.    United States bombs the Japanese city of Hiroshima, wiping it off the face of the planet.  Millions die.

September 1945
 Belgium and the Netherlands are liberated.   Their respective governments return from their colonies.    Nagasaki is nuked, and millions more die.

October 1945
Japan surrenders, Korea is liberated.   Italy is conquered and under British control.

November 1945
Russian forces now control Romania, removing it from the axis camp.   The city of Innsbruck is nuked, and millions die.  Chinese civil war resumes.

January 1946
Bulgaria is conquered by Russian forces, removing it from the axis camp.   Greece is liberated.

March 1946
Finland switches the the allied side under intense Russian coercion.    Hamburg is nuked, killing 90% of its population.

April 1946
Hungary is conquered by Russian forces, removing it from the axis camp.   Germany is now the only surviving axis power, and its days are clearly numbered.   Sweden abandons all pro-German sentiment in favor of pro-British, as it is prudent to side with a winner.

June 1946
Russian forces are at the gates of Berlin.   Allied forces liberate the Czech half of Czechoslovakia.

July 1946
German government decapitated when Berlin is nuked and 90% of the German high command, including Goering, are instantly incinerated.

August 1946
Russian forces take the remains of Berlin.   Czechoslovakia and Austria are now fully liberated.

September 1946
Germany surrenders, ending World War II.   8 million people died under German imprisonment, and 5% of the earth's entire population died in battle and/or nuclear incineration.   The world must not forget.  The subsequent party in Russia uses up the country's entire supply of ethanol, starting with vodkas and ending with perfumes.

Huh, that was actually worse.  Since we have no more charges on our time machine, we can only hope that the clock-roaches clean up this alternative timeline.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Voice Controlled Mouse

Computers have made a difference in thousands of people's lives. Partially because of the automation, storage, and processing of information, but partially because it offers an increasing routing around of disabilities, allowing people who used to require an entire fleet of people to function to instead command their computers to do it for them. This seriously reduces the expenses of experiencing a disability.

For example, suppose you lost both your hands in a serious accident. Your life now has serious problems, such as an inability to open doors, dress or wash yourself, and an inability to do huge numbers of jobs out there. But now, you can do some of those things again because you can now control a computer mouse with only your voice.

The program allows you to divide your screen into an arbitrary grid, and then "click" corners of that grid, all by speaking words. Combined with text-to-speech software, a computer can be operated entirely your voice, which would be pretty handy if you for some reason no longer have hands. I can also see this linking up with a domonics system, in which you can command "open door," and it does, "fill the bathtub with 90 degree water," and it happens (this would be the Fahrenheit scale, as 90 degrees Celsius would cause serious burns), "wash my back" and it gets scrubbed down. Within the confines of this type of house, the lack of hands is no longer an obstacle. In the outside world, prosthetics would still be necessary.

This system currently only runs on OSX, but if the applescript component could be ported to Perl, or another openly available language, then this could be ported to other systems as well. Way cool.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Father's day

June 17th is father's day in the United States, so I would like to take a moment to discuss my own father.

Ron the Ruthless was born shortly after World War II to my grandparents, a pilot and a school principal. He was an excellent scholar, quickly working his way through a fully funded scholarship at the Univerity of California, Berkley. While his major was officially Literature, he also studied nuclear physics, programming, civil engineering, and underwater basket-weaving to become generally the world's most ultimate scholar. After graduating, he met my mother, and they got married. He had two children with my mother. At the time of my birth, he was working as a school teacher in Chula Vista school district. He was also taking night classes in psychology, until he obtained a Master's degree about the time that I started elementary school.

He was quickly promoted to district psychologist, which he worked for 20 years. He then retired, and about five years after my brother left the family home, he moved to the South pacific with my mother to achieve his new life's goal, world conquest as overlord of the planet. He now daily wages war against his archrival, the overlord Sinister Steve.

His hobbies now include electronics, debate, reading, prank calling Kim Jong-un, war (usually against Steve), managing his current empire of currently five islands, choir, underwater basket-weaving, guitar, cello, spending time with his wife of 32 years (who is my mother) and opera.

Some aspects of this biography may be slightly inaccurate. Intentionally. Because it's funny, that's why.

I'd like to thank him for raising me to study hard, work hard, and encouraging me through my scientific endeavors through even the hardest of times. Happy father's day, dad.

To my readers, can you discuss your own fathers, and what makes them special?

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

More Automated Farming

I love the idea of automated farming. An ever growing population requires an ever increasing amount of food, and I can easily see the day that sunlit space is at a premium. So when a reader of Hack a day produced a small closet, lit with electric lights, watered by drip, and controlled to optimal conditions by an Arduino, I was all in favor. Specifically, our traditional farming is labor intensive, powered solely by the sun, and we're rapidly running out of arable space. Uncontrollable events like weather, wild animals (both of the mammal and insect varieties), and soil conditions can make or break a farm. If there's no rain, well, no more plants. If insects or deer eat up the crops, then, well, the farmer is starving this year. Or, alternatively, if insects pollinate the plants, then fertility is improved. Worms can aerate soil, mix fertility chemicals into much needed positions, and distribute bacteria. Lightning could burn the crops down...or fix the nitrogen that the soil badly needs. With this closet, everything is under control and certain. It may use more energy and be extra complex to set up, but I'm convinced that projects to produce unmeterably cheap energy are just around the corner, and increasing automation will make this project grow cheaper over time. By the time we need it, the distant descendant of this product will be ensuring that the teaming trillions of hungry humans can still afford food.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012


I got promoted at work today. Yaaaaaaay. Tired.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Water Cloud Jovian

According to astronomers, one of the more commonly discovered planets that we've seen in the universe is the Water cloud Jovian -- imagine Jupiter, but in the earth's orbit. Under higher temperatures, the brown and orange stained ammonia clouds evaporate, and are replaced with fluffy white clouds, the kind seen in the earth's sky. The planet enjoys earth-like temperatures (based on radiation calculations), and if you could somehow visit one, you'd see sky above, and sky below, ending in a blue void. Artists have drawn, from the scientist's description of the conditions, what one would look like from the view of an air vehicle flying through the upper atmosphere, and it is remarkably beautiful.

Jovian planets would also be useful industrially. Although this beautiful air would choke you to death, plants could live in this environment without difficulty, and the strong magnetic field allows light in while shutting out much of the more harmful radiation of a star. A farm in such an environment would be a very useful thing, if you could get it on a floating, balloon hoisted platform. With effectively ten earths of space, you could grow quite a bit of stuff. The planet is also rich in chemicals like methane and ammonia, and hydrocarbon synthesis would also prove valuable as industries. Much of a Jovian planet's hydrogen is actually in the form of pure H2, which is quite chemically valuable (as well as dangerously explosive, so it would have to be kept separate from the breathable air.)

These industries would be able to bootstrap from small balloon-hoisted platforms into larger platforms, into connecting the platforms. While getting the end-products out of the immense gravity well would prove challenging, a successful farm would also be a good place to start a colony -- independence and cheap food would prove a draw to quite a lot of people. The plants would, over time, terraform the planet and increase the industrial usability of the planet's remaining hydrocarbons. Although metal would be in short supply, there being effectively none other than what the colonists bring with them when they arrive, all the plastic you want could be synthesized out of, effectively the planetary air, farming will be super easy, Earth can't attack you, and you can never, ever leave. Anarco-primitivists would love it, as would the more agricultural sectors of French society.

Over time, I think these floating platforms would expand to cover the planet, with each new immigrant group bringing another platform, and extensions being woven from wood and plastic. In a few strategic spots, a hole is deliberately left for the view, but elsewhere, cities spring up, farms grow enough food to literally cover the entire surface of the earth, and people live their lives.

It'd be awesome. Also, impractically distant, as the closest known water cloud Jovian planet is about 41 light-years away, not to mention the usual preposterous costs of any space travel at all.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

The Trolling Tax

According to Slashdot, there's a new game coming out. Depending on how you play, it could be free. Or it could be $60, plus another $100 for the ability to speak to other player with a microphone. This fee depends on if you're a nice guy who helps other players, or a shameless troll. The article doesn't explain the exact mechanics, but I assume that there'll be a fee for the game as usual, but players who are well behaved will collect refunds until they have all their money back.

Left unmoderated, the average Internet community quickly declines in quality, as trolls and other attention seekers make the area significantly more annoying to be around. The attention seekers will go to any length of effort to be the center of attention, and the trolls just like pissing people off for the sake of being obnoxious. This is bad for business, as you now have a community of people who annoy the crap out of you pretty much for the sake of annoying the crap out of you. And players who get insulted, harassed, or intimidated too often will stop playing. There's not enough funds from these obnoxious jerks to pay for the server alone, so clearly they must be punished.

The helpful players, however, tend to encourage additional sales. A community of useful and helpful people is fun to be around, to the point where you'd pay money to stay. And this is what the company is banking on.

Most other games just charge everyone the same price, and then ban players who become excessively obnoxious. And even then, the bar is set rather high, as a banned troll will stop paying on the spot. I'm quite familiar with this model, as my own job revolves around removing the unproductive customers that pay $19.99...and then cost the company $10,000 in bad behavior.

The parent company, Valve, is now quite famous for their unusual payment plans. They recently made one of their games, Team Fortress 2, completely free to play, but made customization options available for extra cash. These customization are super popular, as it differentiates your character from the teaming masses, and players are gleefully paying out the nose for the chance to show some personality.

This is not the first time the Internet confronted these issues either. Cracked's David Wong wrote an article several years ago about the radical moves that would be required to prevent trolls from destroying the Internet. Why? Because people want to make money, and obnoxious people are threatening to ruin that. And if there's one thing I've noticed about America, it's that threatening people's income never goes well.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Crows Vs. Falcons

In Tokyo, feral crows have become a serious problem. They clog traffic with dropped nuts. They poop on practically everything. They steal food from street vendors. They literally snatch candy from small children, then fly away. The city of Tokyo decided that they might fight back.

While most people would have gone on a crow hunt with firearms, or laid elaborate baited traps, Japan's famous for its odd solutions. In this case, they found a teenage falconry expert and had her pet falcon go hunting.

This has been more effective than expected. The falcon killed a bunch of crows, and the vast majority ran away in terror, deciding that if the humans can call up predators like that, they're probably not worth dealing with. Problem, crows?

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Cooling Fountains

Fountains are a common civic decoration, in front of buildings, in parks, and in all sorts of locations because we humans just can't get enough of that flowing water. Both the visual element of water spraying into the air, and the sound it makes as it trickles back to its source evoke some very pleasant instincts for us. Unfortunately, fountains are surprisingly expensive. The water must be pushed against gravity for a surprisingly high energy cost. The water will quickly grow full of slime and clog the machines unless regular cleaning is involved, or poisonous water. However, fountains give me an interesting idea. Cars and computers are often cooled by a flowing liquid. This is an old technology. The liquid flows through the hot areas, taking heat with it. The liquid then flows through a radiator, which has a much larger surface area and can disperse far more heat. The liquid is then cool, and can be sent back to the hot areas. Hence my next idea. In my idea, a large radiator is replaced with a fountain, which spews hot water out of the ground using a pump, producing a fancy geyser. The hot water cools significantly in contact with air, until it hits the small "lake in the fountain, and is sucked back into the system to cool the machinery again. Algae and mildew can't build up in this system, as the water is routinely heated by well over 50C, and potentially up to boiling temperature. Even if it could withstand the hot end of the scale, the repeated heating and cooling would kill any living thing by thermal shock alone. The fountain is pretty, and the machine is using a house-sized piece of atmosphere as a radiator. It's sort of efficient...and artistic!

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Artificial Plant Environment

A coalition of studies between biologists and marijuana junkies have given me something that several of my previous posts have relied upon -- a way to grow plants without the sun. Biologists have the same interests that I do, growing more food and in more places to feed an ever growing population. The marijuana people are mostly trying to conceal the fact that they have any, as it is highly illegal. Either way, the light needs of plants have been discovered, allowing some previously impossible biology feats to occur, and increasing the potential efficiency of farming. Plants need mostly red light, with a small amount of blue. The studies showed that the best ratio is 90% red, 8% blue, and 2% ultraviolet and other colors. Without the blue light, growth becomes misshapen, and seed production also malfunctions. Without red light, the plant starves. Since LEDs can be made to efficiency manufacture light of a certain color, if somewhat dimly, plants can be grown in a box that has a ceiling covered in LEDs, which are mostly red, with an occasional blue or ultraviolet LED. The total electricity use for a square meter is about the same as running an incandescent bulb, but the plant functions so much better. The only way this could get more efficient is if some sort of artificial plant that can directly knit together a nutritious nectar from air and electrical energy could be invented, and I'm pretty sure that if I ever invented that, people would refuse to eat the nectar and constantly protest it as an unnatural abomination.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Pirate Drone

The Pirate Ba has had an ongoing arms race with the media companies that produce the content that they are distributing. The servers are seized by court order, and blocked at the ISP level. To get around this, a new, utterly insane plan has been brought to bear. The new plan is to build servers that operate in aerial drones, reaching the internet through radio link, and periodically alnding to change batteries and other maintenence. To take the drone offline, it wouldn't take a police action. It would require an air force. Due to the current state of international law, the air force would have to be the air force of the local nation (Sweden), or else it's an act of war. Should the authorities convince the Swedish air Force to attack the drones, the drones could quite easily fly to Finland while the planes are taking off. Should the Finnish Air Force then deploy, then the drones would fly to Russia, since Russia doesn't care about electronic piracy. Authorities would have to jam the radio link, which is harder than it sounds.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Skinner's Baby Care

Psychologist P.F. Skinner was famous for studies of birds in little Plexiglas boxes. When he then made a plywood and Plexiglas box for care taking of his then infant daughter, they were heckled by the print equivalent of Internet trolls until significantly after he died. The younger Ms. Skinner reports that contrary to rumor, she did love her father, wasn't traumatized, was never institutionalized, and did not shoot up a restaurant in Wisconsin, a state which she has in fact never been to. I personally think the box was an excellent idea. The box's environment can be controlled for the infant's comfort, care, and intellectual development. If I ever have to care for an infant, I plan to construct one. The box is elevated, allowing a passing parent (or caretaker) to observe the baby at eye level, and retrieve the baby for feeding and changing without bending over. In the parent's absence, a baby monitor transmits all the baby's utterances. The box is heated to 90F (~32C), yet well ventilated, and a recording of the parents voices shows baby both that he or she is well loved, as well, as teaching a new language. Later, baby grows up and graduates to a real bed. I believe this also has major applications for disabled parents, who will have difficulty taking baby out of a crib when they are in a wheelchair. By setting the height exactly so, the parent can open the doors and take baby without having to prop themselves up first, and can put baby back very gently. This allows them far more autonomy in caring for their baby.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

The No Shut Up Gun

Ever been in a business meeting with one guy who just loves the sound of his own voice? Every culture that has business meetings has at least one of this guy, and it gets on everybody's nerves. Most societies chalk it up as a social problem and leave it at that, but Japan thought differently, and came up with a technological solution. The device is a gun-like device that, when the trigger is pulled, reflects all speech back to the speaker after a very short delay. This effect is very jarring, and while it could be worked around if you REALLY want to talk, it's enough to convince the average Japanese person to shut up, at which point you can put the gun down and continue the meeting. So the next time Yoshi won't shut the hell up about his new condo for seven minutes straight, suddenly you can whip out the gun, reflect his yammering back at him, and continue the meeting, as it'll only take a few milliseconds for him to realize what a doofus he sounds like. The effect is apparent to anyone who's had to work with a PA system or a shoddy cell phone. Hearing your voice after a short delay makes your brain not entirely sure if you actually finished what you've said, so you start getting confused, and after a minute or two of mumbling, the average person just gives up on speech entirely. The effect can be completely countered by plugging your ears, or just pushing on through anyway, as your brain can learn to adapt. Of course, if the gun doesn't silence a chronically disruptive person, the average company will likely resort to more extreme measures, like making the disruptive person leave.

Friday, March 2, 2012


A common element in fiction is to have two characters exchange bodies. Guy A and Guy B swap, so now Guy A's body has Guy B's personality and mind, and Guy B's body has Guy A's personality and mind. How does this happen? It's hand waved away as inexplicable magic, usually, and the plot usually revolves around developing a greater respect for each other, with various comedic misunderstandings along the way, as no one seems to recognize the abrupt changes in behavior and knowledge, or any of the other clues that this has happened. Sometime before the end of the story, they get to swap back. The closest real life version of this is a brain transplant, or more pedantically, a body transplant. After millions of attempts, we finally succeeded with monkeys, transferring the brain of one monkey into another, and vice versa. This was significantly harder than it sounded, mostly due to the difficulties in reconnecting the nerves, and both monkeys were thereafter paralyzed below the neck for the rest of their lives due to the insufficient reconnection of nerves. But what if there was a cheap, reversible, reliable, consequence free means of completely seizing another person's body, which most realistically will be done by putting your brain in their skull and reconnecting every single nerve. (Again, way harder than it sounds. Especially because a living brain is about the consistency of a raw egg yolk, and every severed nerve is basically going to stay severed forever.) I'm imagining that this actually has commercial potential for a lot of people. A body builder and I go down to the transplant center, and we swap bodies. I am now a muscular 25 year old man, and he is now a 31 year old fat bespectacled nerdy man. We also have to register this for security and legal purposes, which I will get into later. Surprisingly, we can both get something out of this. My benefit is more obviously immediate. I'm no longer fat, I can run for miles at a time, I have huge muscles and the strength to lift small cars, or at least motorcycles. I can easily climb the stairs to the top of my workplace without breaking a sweat. However, on the downside, our bodybuilder has also heavily into steroids. This has taken a major toll on his body, and he can no longer work out, his favorite pastime, without breaking his arms. He also may have developed hormonal issues, which can lead to such strange issues and gynecomastia, in which he's developed a case of awkward, teen-esque breasts (likely misshapen) and will need to wear a bra. His body has bizarre pimples and random hair growth from a case of puberty that eternally mutates into a worse version. His genitals no longer function, much to the annoyance of him and anyone he's seeing romantically. Since I had neither the inclination to use steroids, nor the knowledge of where to find them, my body does not have these issues. For him, he regains the ability to work out, and while we should probably remain celibate for the duration lest we cause extremely awkward feelings with our respective loves, he can enjoy some alone time, if you know what I mean. I will also care similarly for his body, and while he'll lose muscle mass and probably gain weight, I won't do steroids, and his body will become more fit for exercise over time, and his hormonal issues will subside as his body, under my control, returns to equilibrium. Under my direction, his body will repair injured muscles as well. He will have significantly better gains when he regains it. With my body, he'll have to start over from scratch, exercise wise, but his exercise hobby will lead to him pushing it quite hard. I anticipate easily losing 10 to 20 pounds from his anaerobic exercise alone, and that's assuming that he doesn't also do cardio exercises such as bicycling, swimming, and other sports popular with weightlifters. We'll remain swapped for two weeks to a month. When we trade back, his body is weaker than before the swap, but still very muscular and strong, fully repaired, fed a balanced diet, and ready for some seriously awesome exercise. His hormonal issues are gone, which his girlfriend will surely appreciate. After just two weeks of exercise (which will be both fun and easy for him), he will be able to show off his body proudly, and people will be able to enjoy looking at it. For me, under his direction, my body has lost weight, and gained serious muscle mass. If he hasn't done steroids while using my body, then my body is now looking quite nice. If he has, then I can treat it the way I treated his body, and the issues will fade. I look quite nice, and my girlfriend will surely appreciate it. I imagine other people will also quite cheerfully swap bodies to handle mutual issues. A cancer patient who can't keep weight down can swap bodies with an obese gourmand. A person who loves a food they are allergic to swaps bodies with someone who has no allergies, but doesn't like that food. (or could live without it.) A person who's too ill to leave the house swaps bodies with a shut-in who didn't want to leave the house in the first place. All sorts of benefits could happen. However, on the security angle, this would have to be tightly controlled. Say I, in a fit of nefariousness, swap bodies with a hobo, and use the hobo's body to commit lots and lots of crime. After the end of my crime spree, I then swap back and leave the country. The police swiftly arrest the hobo, who was seen on camera robbing banks, breaking into houses and stealing from them, punching people that I didn't like, and other highly illegal things. If he's particularly illucid or incoherent, he'll find it quite impossible to defend himself, and spend years and years and years behind bars for my evil deeds. I meanwhile live off my ill gotten gains where they'll never find me. The only way I could be caught would be if there was a record of the body swaps, showing that I was the actual identity of the man on camera committing all that crime. They would also have to catch me before I left the jurisdiction in favor of one with no extradition treaty. There's also the issue of property. The hobo now looks like the man in my wallet, and unless my wallet is taken out of my pants and moved to the hobos at the time of the surgery, he could very easily take it and my credit cards to whatever store he felt like, and I'd have a real hard time arguing that it wasn't me. Of course, Neurology is currently way too primitive to pull this off yet, so this is all moot, at least within my lifetime. The possibilities are truly crazy.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Remote Controlled Excavation

In Canada, a man has been excavating his basement. This much is not news. The surprising part is his choice of tools: Remote controlled cars. Every Sunday, he sends down the remote controlled toys, sends them to part of the basement, has them dig, dig, put the dirt into a rock-crushing like machine, in miniature, of course, and haul the dirt to a centralized location for later hauling away. There are two reasons for doing it this way. One, he's a remote-control hobbyist, and has a lot of remote controlled things on hand. Two, the area is not conducive to humans most of the time, reaching temperatures as low as -30C every winter. This system of his gives him an ever-enlarging basement that can be used for storage in his business, all without leaving the heated, comfortable part of his house. Of course, the mad engineering way to do this would be to also automate the direction of the machines, which would then perpetually enlarge the basement according to a central computer's plans. The initial setup would be very very difficult, but thereafter, your basement would slowly grow (downward) with time. Humans might need to occasionally build a floor, stairs, and a ramp for the RC vehicles.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Dark Energy

We know that our universe is expanding. This is contrary to what we know about physics: Gravity pulls all matter together, and the universe has a very large amount of matter, so this matter should be pulling itself together. Not so -- every distant object we can see is moving away from us at an ever-growing rate. One proposed explanation for this is Dark energy -- a hidden energy spread throughout all space that is accelerating everything away, and fills the fabric of the entire universe. If it exists, it represents 73% of all mass-energy of the universe. And I want to use it to power my gadgets. Wait, what? A dark energy to electric converter would gain power from fundamental facts of existence without having to look for external fuel. The only waste product would be heat, and the more you use it, the more you slow down the expansion of the universe. It would be interesting to see if this only slows it down in the area, suggesting an even spread of energy that can be used up, or if it slows down the universe, suggesting some sort of cosmological constant. All other forms of energy would be obsolete, and all of what I previously wrote about unlimited energy sources would come to pass. Of course, if we used too much, we might accidentally trigger a big crunch. In the big crunch, gravity overwhelms the universe's expansion, and the universe starts to pull together again. Some physicists even describe the "arrow of time" reversing, meaning that time goes backwards to the big bang, but they've never offered more than a hand-wave to justify this claim. This big crunch would have some rather inconvenient events when distant stars began interfering with asteroid orbits, leading to more large asteroid collisions. Then when those stars get too close to us, Earth fries. Eventually the entire universe gets mashed into a single point of zero dimensions. It may trigger a second big bang at that point, or it may just sit in near-non-existence for the rest of time. The only reason I'm not holding my breath on this is that we're not even entirely sure that dark energy really exists. It may be a completely different thing that cannot be tapped for energy.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Artificial Plants II

Some time ago, I wrote about the idea of using artificial plants, machines that would strip the carbon from carbon dioxide in closd areas. What if I took this idea one step further, and have complete photosynthesis? The artificial plant would use energy to use carbon dioxide and water into glucose and oxygen. It would then dispense the glucose into a small container for later collection. The energy would not need to be solar, as is for natural plants. Being a machine and not an organism, it would not suffer disease, die when the water supply runs out, or rot. It would just be, sustaining animal life whenever it could. This and a large amount of energy could sustain civilizations to flourish in places where it is currently impossible, like the depths of the ocean, underground, or in space. However, it would also need to add nitrogen from the air to the glucose to make basic proteins, because animals can't live on sugar alone.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Part Names

While shopping a week ago, I finally learned the names of the parts that I use on computers daily: * The screws that hold the outer case of the computer together are #6 - 32. They have a length of 5mm, and threading that rises 1mm per rotation. The outer diameter is defined as 0.1380 inches, which is a little more than 3.5 mm. * The screws that hold the internal components, such as attaching the hard drives to the frame, are M3. They have a length of 5mm, and threading that rises 1/2mm per rotation. * The screws that attach the motherboard to the outer case are, surprisingly, also #6-32, but with an extended head that has an M3 drilled into them. This allows an attaching layer to be attached to the case, then the motherboard to be attached to that layer, so the motherboard can later be removed for replacement. This is also necessary because there are conductive pins on the bottom of the motherboard, and if the motherboard were to physically touch the case, a short circuit may occur. This standardization helps to keep the price of computers down.
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