Category Archive 'Technology'
25 May 2017

This is India — The Place You Call When You Have Technical Problems

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12 Apr 2017

When Humans First Daubed Arrows With Poison

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The Conversation:

When did human beings start tipping their weapons with poison to hunt prey? This is a question at the forefront of recent archaeological research.

In southern Africa San (or Bushman) hunter-gatherer groups, such as the /Xam of the Western Cape and the Ju/wasi and Hei//om of Namibia, used poisoned arrows for hunting during the 19th and 20th centuries. The origins of this technology, though, may be far older than we thought.

Recently, traces of the poison ricin were found on a 24 000 year-old wooden poison applicator at Border Cave in South Africa’s Lebombo mountains. If this identification is correct it would mean that people in southern Africa were among the first in the world to harness the potential of plant-based poisons.

RTWT

Hat tip to Karen L. Myers.

27 Jan 2017

Harvard Guys Make Metallic Hydrogen

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The Independent reports:

For nearly 100 years, scientists have dreamed of turning the lightest of all the elements, hydrogen, into a metal.

Now, in a stunning act of modern-day alchemy, scientists at Harvard University have finally succeeded in creating a tiny amount of what is the rarest, and possibly most valuable, material on the planet, they reported in the journal Science.

For metallic hydrogen could theoretically revolutionise technology, enabling the creation of super-fast computers, high-speed levitating trains and ultra-efficient vehicles and dramatically improving almost anything involving electricity.

And it could also allow humanity to explore outer space as never before.

But the prospect of this bright future could be at risk if the scientists’ next step – to establish whether the metal is stable at normal pressures and temperatures – fails to go as hoped.

Professor Isaac Silvera, who made the breakthrough with Dr Ranga Dias, said: “This is the holy grail of high-pressure physics.

“It’s the first-ever sample of metallic hydrogen on Earth, so when you’re looking at it, you’re looking at something that’s never existed before.”

At the moment the tiny piece of metal can only be seen through two diamonds that were used to crush liquid hydrogen at a temperature far below freezing.

The amount of pressure needed was immense – more than is found at the centre of the Earth.

The sample has remained trapped in this astonishing grip, but sometime in the next few weeks, the researchers plan to carefully ease the pressure.

According to one theory, metallic hydrogen will be stable at room temperature – a prediction that Professor Silvera said was “very important”.

“That means if you take the pressure off, it will stay metallic, similar to the way diamonds form from graphite under intense heat and pressure, but remains a diamond when that pressure and heat is removed,” he said.

If this is true, then its properties a super-conductor could dramatically improve anything that uses electricity.

“As much as 15 per cent of energy is lost to dissipation during transmission, so if you could make wires from this material and use them in the electrical grid, it could change that story,” the scientist said.

And metallic hydrogen could also transform humanity’s efforts to explore our solar system by providing a form of rocket fuel nearly four times more powerful than the best available today.

“It takes a tremendous amount of energy to make metallic hydrogen,” Professor Silvera said.

“And if you convert it back to molecular hydrogen, all that energy is released, so it would make it the most powerful rocket propellant known to man, and could revolutionize rocketry.

“That would easily allow you to explore the outer planets.

“We would be able to put rockets into orbit with only one stage, versus two, and could send up larger payloads, so it could be very important.”

However some scientists have theorised that metallic hydrogen will be unstable on its surface and so would gradually decay.

Asked what he thought would happen, Professor Silvera said: “I don’t want to guess, I want to do the experiment.”

Complete story.

03 Jan 2017

System Updates

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21 Sep 2016

You Know How Kids Get a Kick Out of It When Older People Can’t Handle Technology?

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27 Aug 2016

World’s Oldest Revolver, 1636 not 1597

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You are thinking “the Colt Patterson of 1836,” aren’t you?

This video and stories all over the Internet attribute this 8-shot very early flintlock revolver on the basis of the maker’s mark to Hans Stopler of Nuremburg, who apparently began working in 1597. They then date the weapon to 1597, despite the plaque listing its owner as Georg von Reichwein dated 1636.

1636 is early enough for me, making the date of the production of the first revolver an even 200 years before Samuel Colt’s Patterson model.

Hat tip to Guns America.

10 Jul 2016

The Intentional Obsolescence Trap

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My wife and I bought a new BMW in the early 1980s (Our first new car!). It was terrific, fun to drive, luxurious and reliable. We sold it about ten years later. It had over 350,000 miles on the original engine.

We bought another new Beemer more recently. I discovered, too late, that it came with run-flat tires (no traction at all on gravel roads –Virginia Horse Country is full of gravel roads, and we lived on one–, accompanied by constant false electronic warnings of low tire pressure) which proved good for 10,000 miles. The run-flat tires were used because BMW (encouraged by government bureaucrats to save energy by reducing weight) had chosen to eliminate the spare tire.

What really burned my cork, though, was the discovery that the engine had no dipstick, no way to check the oil. The owner is intended to rely entirely on the dashboard computer, the same computer that issues “The World Is Ending! The Sky Is Falling! Your Engine Has Blown Up!” warnings in very cold weather, or anytime (easily) blocked engine or trunk compartment drains cause wiring to get wet.

I’ve recognized myself the same characteristics of modern consumer products Oilman2 inveighs against. I agree with him. I’ve been swearing lately that my next automobile is going to have been made on the other side of 1960, back when cars were made out of steel, not plastic, and had distributors and carburetors you could adjust yourself and no goddamned computers or emissions crap.

When you buy a car, it is designed for a maximum lifespan of about 10 years, but many are designed with even less. This gives the “design engineer” a window of materials within which he can operate. As an example, cars from the 1950’s used metal dashboards. Now, many reasons are given for why plastic and foam dashboards are currently used, including safety. But I will posit here that the safety was secondary and a great sales driver for using a lower cost material. …

Have you ever owned a car you wanted to keep, only to have the dashboard crack? The air conditioning vents crack? The control knobs crack? That is UV light doing what it does, breaking things down by shattering chemical bonds. …

As a long term material, plastic… well, it just sucks. …

My buddy George was lamenting to me just the other day that the starter on his tractor has a plastic gear that contacts and spins the flywheel. Yep – it goes out very regularly. He asked them why they no longer made a metal one, and was told that the plastic design “put less stress and wear on the flywheel”. Seriously? Really? A part that is truly designed to fail regularly, to protect another metal part that rarely, if ever, fails? I have replaced ONE (1) flywheel in my almost 60 years, and it was damaged by an idiot that just kept cranking a worn out starter. …

In a world where things cost what they are actually worth, it is nuts to knowingly buy anything you will be forced to purchase again in a few years. Today, things do not cost what they are worth – they are cheap, built cheaply with minimal cost materials and minimal standards. They are built in what I term ‘justenuf’ style – justenuf to work for a job or two. They are cheap in America due to the strong dollar as well, further fueling this morass of planned obsolescence, cheap plastic junk and ‘justenuf construction’. …

So my advice is pretty simple:

Buy items that you can repair

This may mean buying older things and restoring them to service. A 1960’s or earlier vehicle will be restorable for a cost of around $10-20,000. What does a new vehicle cost? Can you work on it yourself? Nope, so how much does a trip to the shop cost you? Minimum $500 for the easy things – easily 2x or 3x that for more difficult parts replacement.

What about a lawn mower? Easily $500 or more for something reliable like a Honda or a Husqvarna. A rebuilt one with fresh motor can be had for $300 or less – I see them at the same shops I used to take my mower to for service.

Buy items that have simple, reliable designs

Anything with an ECU (electronic control unit or computer control) is not normally fixable by a guy with some tools. This is intentional, to force you back to the dealer system for service. Anything with computer or digital controls is likely designed in similar vein. Is it really necessary to have touchpad controls and a logic board on a washing machine? To have a refrigerator that has a grocery list linked to your I-phone?

Every time digital is added to a device, the cost goes up for the initial purchase, but the maintenance and repair costs skyrocket. There is little difference in the mechanics internally – freon and compressor for a fridge or freezer and timing circuits and solenoids for the washer. The ‘digital’ end is another level of complexity tacked on to make a common item appear more “tech-ish” and new again.

Buy new items with fewer tech features – reduce points of failure.

Read the whole thing.

Hat tip to Vanderleun.

18 Jun 2016

Criticism

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XKCD1

Hat tip to Karen L. Myers.

05 Jun 2016

Artificial Following Nature

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HypodermicNeedle
CobraFang
Above: the tip of a hypodermic syringe needle.
Below: the tip of a fang from the Monocled cobra (Naja kaouthia).

Both are designed to pierce the skin and admit fluids into the bloodstream, although it is often the case that the intended effects are polar opposites.

Artificial designs frequently imitate those of nature; in this case, mankind was approximately 25 million years late.

27 May 2016

Recipe For Disaster

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Voice Recognition Elevator… in Scotland!

14 May 2016

Why Are So Many Techies Lefties?

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Techie

Ulysses768 speculates on why his fellow millennial tech workers are so commonly left-wing politically.

I know there appears to be an easy answer for this question, demographics. Of course they are liberal, you may say. Their workers are mostly young and urban. They reside in Northern California, Boston, and New York. How could they be anything but liberal?

That is true, but they also consist of engineers and highly skilled immigrants. They are people who have worked hard and are well compensated. While many of their peers were “studying” sociology and women’s studies they were taking computer science and engineering courses. What they learned was rooted in logic and the physical world, not rehashed Marxism and utopian fantasies.

When I was growing up in Massachusetts, it made sense that my teachers were predominantly leftist. They belonged to a union and their pay was determined by how well they could scare the town into approving ever increasing school budgets and not by how well they did their jobs. I recall a great anticipation of reaching the working world where market forces would determine success and thus people would see the inherent benefits of individual liberty and classical liberal values.

Since graduating college I’ve been a naval officer, nuclear engineer, software engineer at an older tech company, and now one that is based in the Bay Area. Until now most of my fellow employees have appeared right of center, thus confirming my expectations. That’s not to say it isn’t a great place to work, it most certainly is. However, I am at a total loss to explain its culture or the cultures of other companies of its ilk.

I have a few theories, but I am not very confident in any of them. My definition of “new tech companies” are those that have been created or risen to prominence in the last 15 years, such as Twitter or Facebook.

The people are the same but the companies are more authoritarian. Motivated by a very competitive job market and empowered by financial success, these companies seek to engage with their employees at a new level. They encourage their employees to basically live at work, breaking down the professional and personal divide. This fosters an environment not unlike a university. Everyone must be careful not to offend and the needs of all must be accommodated at the expense of the few. The cultures of victimhood and blind acceptance find fertile soil, and people who disagree learn to keep quiet.

Newer tech companies are more software- and web-based than their predecessors. Therefore aesthetically pleasing design is more important to the success of their products. Therefore more creatives are required and creatives trend left of center.

College indoctrination has become so successful that it has bled into the hard sciences and engineering spaces. My fellow employees seem more liberal because they actually are more liberal.

Read the whole thing.

09 Feb 2016

Chrysler/Fiat Had a Really Bad Idea

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ChryslergearShift

Evidently they hired the Japanese firm that designs the controls of all the new automobile radio-CD-players to come up with a nifty new electronic automatic transmission gear shift selection system.

The Globe and Mail:

Electronic gear shifters on some newer Fiat Chrysler SUVs and cars are so confusing that drivers have exited the vehicles with the engines running and while they are still in gear, causing crashes and serious injuries, U.S. safety investigators have determined.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, in documents posted during the weekend, has doubled the number of vehicles involved in an investigation of the problem, but it stopped short of seeking a recall. The agency found more than 100 crashes and over a dozen injuries, mostly in Jeep Grand Cherokees.

Agency tests found that operating the centre console shift lever “is not intuitive and provides poor tactile and visual feedback to the driver, increasing the potential for unintended gear selection,” investigators wrote in the documents. They upgraded the probe to an engineering analysis, which is a step closer to a recall. NHTSA will continue to gather information and seek a recall if necessary, a spokesman said. …

Jake Fisher, director of auto testing for Consumer Reports, expects more problems and investigations as auto makers continue to roll out new electronic controls that are unfamiliar to drivers. “I think the manufacturers need to be much more responsible as they try these new technologies,” he said.

The government’s probe now covers more than 856,000 vehicles including the popular Jeep Grand Cherokee SUV from the 2014 and 2015 model years and the 2012 through 2014 Dodge Charger and Chrysler 300 sedans with 3.6-litre V-6 engines.

In the vehicles, drivers pull the shift lever forward or backward to select gears and the shifter doesn’t move along a track like in most cars. A light shows which gear is selected, but to get from Drive to Park, drivers must push the lever forward three times. The gearshift does not have notches that match up with the gear you want to shift into, and it moves back to a centred position after the driver picks a gear.

The vehicles sound a chime and issue a dashboard warning if the driver’s door is opened while they are not in Park. But investigators found that the push-button start-stop feature doesn’t shut off the engine if the vehicles aren’t in Park, increasing the risk of the vehicles rolling away after drivers have exited.

“This function does not protect drivers who intentionally leave the engine running or drivers who do not recognize that the engine continues to run after an attempted shut-off,” investigators wrote.

Thus far, the investigation has found 314 complaints, 121 crashes and 30 injuries from the problem. Three drivers reported fractured pelvic bones, while four others needed to be hospitalized with a ruptured bladder, fractured kneecap, or severe leg trauma.

Fiat Chrysler says it is co-operating in the probe. The company changed the shifters in the 2016 Grand Cherokee and 2015 Charger and 300 sedans so they function more like people are used to. But FCA said it did so to increase customer satisfaction and not for safety concerns.

26 Oct 2015

Tyranny of the PC

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SlowPC

My wife Karen blogs infrequently, but today she posted a very excellent rant all about the inescapable personal time cost of using your computer.

Remember sub-second response time? That was the promise that any computer that can react quickly enough will come to seem like an internal mental reaction. You would be able to treat the computer like a psychologically immersive responsive tool, the same way a musical instrument feels.

Back in the green-screen days, before Windows and its ilk, it was possible to interact with computers at maximum human speed — as fast as you could type commands, they could be implemented, and keyboard buffers allowed you to control what command went to what program. That was sub-second response time — it felt like the computer was an extension of your body.

Ever since, computers have settled for becoming an extension of your intellect, instead. The more powerful the response, the more we expect it to be delayed by internet and other network latency delays, by software complexity, by the loss of keyboard type-ahead. We are grateful for the more flexible and powerful results, but we have lost the ability to treat the machine as a direct tool, one that convinces us it is an extension of our body by its immediacy. The required sub-second response time is an ever-receding goal, and I don’t see that changing any time soon.

Read the whole thing.

24 Sep 2015

Thoreau Would Be Impressed

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