Tech Thursday


Using bacteria to test for toxins in water.  Put a bunch of E. coli in a view glass, dye them so they are visible, then add a spot of suspect water.  If all the bacteria flee from the water, there is bad juju, don’t drink it.

Requirement One, engineer bacteria to produce medicine inside a human body.  Requirement Two, once no longer needed, get the bacteria out of that body.  Solution: Give the bacteria a two position thermostat.  At one temperature, they make medicine, at another, they self destruct.

Leveraging worms to figure out how we can cause the human body to regenerate lost tissues (like arms, legs).

Why are scars ugly?  Two reasons, no fat, and no hair follicles.  Looks like that is another problem solved.

Wound closure has gone from stitches, to staples, to steristrips, to super glue, and now this.


That is a very, very, very, … very tiny amount of time.


A common mineral shows promise in boosting the efficiency of solar cells that are designed to use more of the spectrum of light.  First generation, 21.7% efficiency.  Also, this kind of solar cell can be made by essentially wet printing, so the cells can be printed on flexible sheets, which makes them a hell of a lot cheaper.  So an efficiency on par with the best cells in production, and a very cheap production process means this could flip the solar PV cost equation on it’s ear.

Wind turbines make noise because big airfoils create big turbulence..  That noise annoys people who live close to the turbines.  Owls have big airfoils and are next to silent.  Now we know why owls are so quiet, and the bet is that we can use that to make turbines much quieter.  See also.

Using bio-waste to make fuel for airliners.

Turning old tires into fuel.

Turning sewage into energy.  Obama probably isn’t wrong, given all the ways we are playing around with producing energy.


And yet another application for carbon molecules.

Using metamaterials to replace semi-conductors in micro-electronics, etc.  Result is cooler devices that can handle more power flow.

It’s not technically a hologram, but the effect is the same.

As if men needed a legitimate reason to watch porn on their phones…

Portable, room temperature hydrogen storage.  Ummm, this is kind of a bigger deal than it’s being made out to be.


I’ve said before that one of the problems with climate models is that there is an awful lot of variables that the models can’t account for, because we just flat out don’t know about them.  Case in point.  This doesn’t mean we can drill and dig for dead dinosaurs with renewed vigor, but it is another example of why you should always be a little wary of trusting computer models of poorly understood systems.


Mars Adobe hut!  The dirt is a great way to shield from radiation.  If you can’t bind it into a concrete to coat the exterior of your habitat walls, then you dig a hole and have a habitat that reminds you of Uncle Owen and Aunt Beru (but sadly, no T-16).

I love the idea, but it’s still a concept for travel over oceans, unless they can do something about the boom.

Cool space photos.  That is all.

I wonder if Trump will shut this down in favor of a small telescope on the roof of Trump tower and a claim that he is the best at spotting dangerous asteroids.

A fun, seven part series about space weather.  Credit to Aaron, who found it for me.


Seems a little bit of skin pigment goes a long way.

This is interesting, but I’m not exactly sure how it would stay on the wing of a transonic airliner.  That would have to be one hell of a strong magnet.

When it comes to safety gear, I usually have no problem shelling out money for good gear, because it’s my life on the line.  But at the same time, the fact that each piece of gear is a single use item does make the cost a bit unpalatable.  So if a bike helmet can be made of paper, and still do the job…

A glue that works no matter the temperature.  And helps you save 15% or more on your car insurance.

Nuclear Diamond Batteries.  Admit it, that right there is enough to make you want to click that link.  And it’s not even clickbait, but it might result in a strange union between Greenpeace and DeBeers.

Game changing process for making cheap, non-toxic hydrogels.  Sounds like they might be biodegradable, or at least inert enough that it could make diapers less of an environmental burden.

Suddenly silk becomes a lot more interesting for things other than comfy clothes.


Remember the NYC staircase as public art?  I said before this is silly because it doesn’t go anywhere.  This is how you do public staircases as art.  See, it not only goes somewhere, it’s being useful at the same time (crossing busy roads).

The general idea is good (houses that rise up in the event of a flood), but why a mechanical system to jack it up?  Just design the house to float and anchor it like a floating dock.

Again, looks good and is useful.  I’m curious as to the cost, though.

A floating community.  Of course it’s the Dutch.

I love dome houses, they appeal to an aesthetic I have.  I also understand I am in the minority.  I do think that, if we are going to continue to publicly insure people who live in hurricane prone areas, they should be required to live in something like this.  With armor glass panels.  Seriously, why do we subsidize their choices?

Our changing world, courtesy of Google.

Something For The Lawyers

Star Trek and Copyright Law.  See, I do love you!

Image by r3v || cls Tech Thursday

Staff Writer

A Navy Turbine Tech who learned to spin wrenches on old cars, Oscar has since been trained as an Engineer & Software Developer & now writes tools for other engineers. When not in his shop or at work, he can be found spending time with his family, gardening, hiking, kayaking, gaming, or whatever strikes his fancy & fits in the budget. ...more →

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57 thoughts on “Tech Thursday

  1. Re: the staircase

    It’s privately funded which I think makes a big difference. But how is it different then the Eiffel Tower? If they didn’t call it a staircase, would that change your response?


    • Eiffel Tower was built for a purpose (entrance to the World’s Fair), it broke new engineering ground, it houses two restaurants, and, most importantly, it showcases the city of Paris because it is the tallest structure (so not only can it be seen from anywhere, but from the top you can see everything).

      The staircase has none of that.


        • I always look at public art a bit sideways, especially large (read, expensive) installations. Not because there isn’t a public good in art itself, but because a lot of times, large installations strike me as more political patronage of a connected artist with taxpayer money.

          Now the Vessel, as you say, is (was, is it still being built?) privately funded and thus my objection is strictly on aesthetic grounds. If you are going to build an attractive staircase, have it go somewhere.

          Or at least put a McDonalds at the top…


  2. Why are scars ugly? Two reasons, no fat, and no hair follicles. Looks like that is another problem solved.

    That sounds like it could have applications for hair loss as well. I believe that loss of subcutaneous fat is implicated as a factor in male pattern baldness.

    That is a very, very, very, … very tiny amount of time.

    Prior to clicking the link, I was briefly very, very worried that my ex-girlfriend had been talking to the press.


  3. Biology #1 made me chuckle….isn’t there an old Twilight Episode about some guy who supposedly dies at the same time as his dog, they show up at a place that looks like the Pearly Gates, and the dog refuses to go in? And of course it turns out that that place was actually The Other Place all along?

    Bacteria fleeing bad water makes me think of that.


  4. Many of the busy and wide streets in Tokyo had pedestrian bridges to enable people to cross the street without getting hit by cars. They weren’t even close to being artistic but they worked. New York City has some bridges like this but not a lot. Most Western cities seem not to have them at all even if they have some very wide roads with a lot of car traffic. I never understood why. They seem to be a great way to help pedestrians and you can make them aesthetically pleasing if your willing to spend the money.


  5. Portable, room temperature hydrogen storage

    Well, technically, we had that with Hindenburg. Hopefully, this invention gives us *safe*, portable, room temperature hydrogen storage. ;)


    • Cherenkov radiation is a lovely blue, not a sickly green.

      Funny story: A Chief Machinist Mate I once knew was nuclear rated and spent his career on nuke ships, especially carriers. It’s very common for nuke ships, when they make port in some countries, to be met with protestors. When this would happen, he’d wait until nightfall, then, right before leaving the ship, he’d crack a bunch of green light sticks, cut them open, and spread the glowing goo on his coat, while running away from the ship, shouting “Breach! Breach! Breach!”.

      His claim is the protesters would freak and run away, and he’d get a good laugh out of it. Probably a sea story, but the mental image it invokes still makes me smile.


            • A&M, at least back in the 90s (things might have changed post 9/11) used to give tours of the place, let you stare into the pool. They took lots of high school seniors interested in science careers through there.

              “We have our own nuclear reactor” is a pretty good selling point. I also think they have (or had at the time) a pretty good particle accelerator, but that might have been University of Texas.


              • Oddly enough in Virginia in the early 90s, UVA still had a research reactor, but Virginia Tech did not by that time. The internet says that the UVA reactor was decommed in 1998 and now the building (and former pool) is used by the solar power research peeps.


              • When I was in graduate school at UT-Austin in the 1970s, the operations research grad student bullpen was on the other side of a concrete wall from the upper parts of the University’s pulsed fusion reactor. Fixed to that wall were a number of film radiation exposure widgets, which were collected and replaced the first of every month. For years I had daydreams of someone in a white lab coat showing up at my front door: “I understand you were an OR graduate student at UTA in 1977. Do you have kids? Do they glow in the dark?”

                Electrical power for the reactor “pulses” were part of the campus engineering folklore. One story told about how the people who operated the campus generating station assured the reactor folks they could handle the surge, and fried a generator that shut the campus down for a week when they couldn’t. Another told about the first time the massive electromagnetically braked flywheel down in the sub-sub-sub-basement was used to generate the pulse, and they vaporized a section of a several-inch-thick copper cable. Rumor had it that the copper was replaced with several hundred pounds of pure silver.

                The flywheel was supposedly at that depth because if forces are even the least bit unbalanced when you take a couple thousand pounds of flywheel, spinning in a vacuum chamber on magnetic bearings, from 10,000 rpm to nothing in ten milliseconds, Bad Things happen. They posted a schedule showing when they were going to pulse the reactor. I tried to be somewhere else at those times.

                At some point I was watching Real Genius with a non-engineer and we got to the scene where the graduate students in the movie burn a hole through the steel blocks, the concrete wall, a statue, and one or more trees on campus. When asked if engineering graduate students would ever have access to something that dangerous, I just said, “Yes.”


                • from 10,000 rpm to nothing in ten milliseconds, Bad Things happen

                  When I would do rotor burst analysis on the engine nacelles, we considered the rotor fragments would travel at high velocity with infinite energy. I imagine it would be like that, times 10000.

                  In my life, I’ve seen one rotor burst, happen live on the other side of tarmac. Small APU, very impressive. I saw the aftermath of a larger GT generator burst. It was housed in a cinder block building. The walls looked like they had taken a canister load from an Abrahams.

                  No causalities in other case, luckily.


  6. In other news, there is Nissan’s solution to its fully autonomous cars finding themselves in situations they can’t interpret: connect the car to a human in a call center to tell it what to do. Note that this means the cars are in fact not fully autonomous. I take it that the idea is that this is a temporary situation, and the instructions from the call centers will be part of the AI learning. We all know who will pay for the call center, of course. One wonders whether they will get an understaffed and underpaid call center for their money, and if not, how soon before some genius at the company realizes that this is a way to cut expenses. In the meantime, they are describing a system specifically designed so that the car can be controlled remotely. Nope: not a chance any wackiness would ensue from that!


    • It is possible that I’m suffering from Trump PTSD, but all I could see was that the Smug Liberal Nissan Engineers didn’t even trust me to make a better decision in my own car than some Front Seat College kid in a windowless call center.

      {Ah, the bright future of knowledge workers in our post industrial future :-) }

      Maybe its time to disconnect for a while.


      • It’s something bigger than that: marketing. If the solution to getting the car through that situation is for the person in the car to take control, then it is harder to market as fully autonomous. The vision of our brave new world is one where the cars don’t even have controls inside. As soon as you put controls in, the game is up. You are admitting that this isn’t really fully autonomous.


      • Another likely factor in that design decision – allowing the passenger to control the car requires not only trust, but money.

        Steering wheels, pedals, gear shifts, signal light arms – those things cost money. If they’re only there to be used when the autonomous car gets irretrievably confused, that’s a lot of money to (ask your customers to) spend on controls that 99.5% of them will never end up using.

        The controls would also make one of the front seats meaningfully less comfortable, with a bunch of things intruding on that passenger’s space where they could otherwise put meal trays or TV screens or whatever.


        • Assuming that the human is only in control for a brief period, performing limited actions, there’s no reason that a joystick couldn’t be used to tell the software that actually runs the brakes, transmission, throttle, steering, etc what needs to be done. A joystick is a lot easier to tuck away during the (presumably very very large) majority of the time when the software is doing things on its own.


        • Once I see an autonomous car navigate a random dirt road successfully, or navigate in a snow covered road situation then I would consider no steering wheel and the like.
          To much of the autonomous car work is thinking of freeways and city streets which are in one sense simpler than a dirt road in the country, with no striping and a ditch to run into. Of course you could do like vehicles for leg paraplegics and put a throttle and brake on the steering wheel in that case, keeping the floor area clear.


  7. Re: foldable / semi-disposable bike helmets for bike share users.

    Apparently bike share users are already considerably safer than bike owners (which, given that bicycling without a helmet is already pretty much as safe as walking without a helmet, means riding a bike share bike might be the safest way to get around). Various theories exist as to why this is, probably many of them containing some part of the overall reason.

    Certainly nothing wrong with offering them for sale for bike share users who would feel happier having access to a helmet.


      • It seems to me that the linked article touches on the real issue here. This argument is being made by outside counsel, who presumably is billing by the hour. There is no mystery why they are willing to make a hopeless argument: the billables are the the same whether the argument is any good or not. But why is the county willing to pay them to make this hopeless argument. Isn’t there a county attorney’s office that oversees litigation, even when outside counsel is hired? Are they signing off on the invoices no matter what? My guess is that a decision has been made, probably on the political level rather than the civil service level, to drag this out as long as possible, no matter what. Why? On the political level, the persons making this decision are only going to be around a few years. Kick the can down the road and it will become somebody else’s problem. This won’t work forever, but in the meantime paying the legal fees is cheaper than paying the judgment. And for the lawyers, anything short of being personally sanctioned by the court is a win.


  8. Re: the Star Trek fanfic movie.

    1. Plaintiff (Paramount) claims defendants’ use of substantial elements of its intellectual property (concepts of the Star Trek universe like the Federation, warp drive, Klingon empire, etc.) will dilute demand for plaintiff’s own entertainment products. I see the theory, and grant that it’s intellectually viable — but my goodness how will they quantify this? Who is an expert in science fiction fandom dilution? If anything it seems to me that fans are insatiable and the more of the product that’s on offer, the more of it they’ll consume.

    2. Once upon a time, there were two guys. Let’s call them “Gary Gygax” and “Dave Arneson” because those were their actual names. They created a role playing game known as Dungeons and Dragons which liberally borrowed elements from a number of fantasy stories they had enjoyed. Perhaps most prominently among these were elements from J.R.R. Tolkein’s The Lord of the Rings. Tolkein’s estate threatened to sue them so they changed (for instance) the “Hobbits” in Dungeons and Dragons to “Halflings” but they kept their short stature, hairy feet, pastoral origins, and mischievous naïveté. Tolkein’s Ents became “treants” and his Balrog creature became a kind of demon monster titled a “balon.” I mean, Gygax and Arneson didn’t try all that hard to conceal what these things really were. But Tolkein’s estate backed off with these changes and the role playing game went on to achieve at least a middling level of commercial success. I just thought I’d tell that story and maybe the defendant’s movie could feature “Spacefleet” officers from the “Federal Republic of Planets” clashing in space battles against the “Kingom Imperium.”


    • I get why Paramount is trying to protect their property and all. But the trailer for Axanar was fantastic. Granted i’m a trek nerd so it’s right in my wheel house but i believe it would play to far more than just trek nerds like a lot of the other fan fic movies do. It doesn’t make sense that an exciting Trek movie, even for free, wouldn’t add to the glamor and excitement of the property. A few hundred thousand or million views would help Trek especially since the recent movies have been entirely well received. Cripes if Axanar dropped a couple months before the new series it would only generate more excitement.

      Really the trailer/prequel thingee is killer.


      • I’m not sure about the timing, but I suspect that this was a later turn to Jesus, as D&D became prominent enough to attraction legal attention to any intellectual property violations. The stuff with Tolkien was early on, in the late 1970s.


    • (1) My guess is that the actual economic effects are just the opposite. Paramount has a history of getting bored and letting its attention wander from the Trek franchise. The fans keep the flame lit, so that once Paramount remembers what it has, it is still valuable. This is entirely distinct from the corporate decision-making process.

      (2) Gygax then turned around and complained about other companies publishing RPGs for stealing the idea. I don’t think this ever got into the courts. The money at stake wasn’t high enough to justify litigation. But through the late 1970s into the early 1980s there was a steady stream of propaganda coming out of TSR to the effect that (A)D&D was the One True Role Playing Game. In the meantime other publishers were improving on the idea, putting out second and third generation versions, while TSR locked its system into the early ideas, both good and bad.

      Disclaimer: I haven’t played an RPG in about a quarter century, and haven’t tried to keep up with the field. I can’t speak to how these early events played out.


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