Saturday, January 31, 2004
Something else to worry about #5[See previous]
Everyone knows that X-rays and CT scans can be beneficial, but they also have a downside. According to this article, about 0.9% of new cancers discovered in the U.S. are caused by X-rays. There are two amazing statistics in the article:
- 5,695 of the new cancers discovered in the U.S. every year can be linked to diagnostic X-rays.
- This means that there are about 630,000 new cancers diagnosed in the U.S. every year.
This page has some interesting stories about the "x-ray martyrs" in the early 1900s.
The next time the dentist says, "Hey, it's time to take take your annual X-rays", perhaps the question to be asked is, "Is that really necessary?"
This page predicts that the Panthers will beat the Patriots, based on the performance of a video game duel held Wednesday. It will be interesting to see if this prediction technique can maintain its perfect record for 9 straight years.
As video game simulations of sports get more and more realistic, can the video games amass enough data to start accurately predicting how real games will play out? I would tend to think not, because the games would have trouble handling things like injuries to key players during a game. But maybe that kind of thing washes out statistically.
Friday, January 30, 2004
The Worst cars
This article from Forbes chronicles the Worst cars of all time. It's especially funny since I owned one of these cars as a teenager... and at the time I was so grateful to have a car that it really did not matter. "Freedom" is better than "immobility" no matter how bad the car is...
A new low-power computer running Linux will help with the design of hand held devices and robots. It's called the GumStix, and it is based on the Intel PXA255 processor. The PXA255 is a high-performance, low-power processor designed to be used in handheld devices. The computer, with the processor and 64MB of RAM, draws only 200 milliamps.
Wednesday, January 28, 2004
Something else to worry about #4[See previous]
It's not clear where they come from, but someone is manufacturing a cell phone gun. From the outside it looks like a cell phone, but inside it contains four short gun barrels, four firing pins and four .22-calibre bullets. This movie shows you how it works.
The MER's brain
This is a nice article on the computers that are powering the Spirit and Opportunity rovers on Mars: The Brains of NASA's Red Planet Rovers
Places to go for gadget news
Tuesday, January 27, 2004
Another advanced transportation system
Wired featured another transportation system similar to SkyWeb Express and SkyTran (see previous post). It is called ULTra:
The ULTra web site says: "A personal automatic taxi providing on demand driverless travel - using its own guideway network. Effective, low cost and sustainable transport for cities, airports and special applications worldwide." It's max speed is 25 MPH, so SkyTran (at 100 MPH) seems more interesting in larger cities where it is 30 miles or more from one side to the other.
Something else to worry about #3[See previous]
In San Jose, students were recently caught using a KeyKatcher to capture teacher passwords, break into the school's computer system and download tests:
The Key Katcher device contains a microcontroller and 64K of flash memory. You plug it into the keyboard cable of any desktop PC. It stores every keystroke typed on the keyboard -- more than 60,000 of them (a slightly larger version can store more than 130,000 keystrokes). Later you unplug the Key Katcher, take it home and look at the characters it captured. It only takes about 10 seconds to plug one in or unplug it, and it gets its power from the keyboard cable.
The Key Katcher is so small that it is almost undetectable, but the paranoid among us will probably start checking publicly available PCs before typing anything.
Saturday, January 24, 2004
Cutting Edge Transportation Systems
A friend who read about the transportation system in Manna sent in a link to SkyWeb Express:
The opening sentence is: "Taxi 2000 Corporation introduces SkyWeb Express, a system that will be faster, safer, more flexible and less expensive than any other mode of transportation." There's a nice video explaining the system architecture and its advantages at the bottom of the home page.
A quick search of the web offers a similar idea called SkyTran:
It's opening sentence is: "SkyTran is non-stop, 100 mph personal transit that can totally eliminate commuter congestion in any city, for the same costs of one linear line of light rail."
Here in the RTP area where I live, we have been hearing for years about a light rail system that will install something like 35 miles of track and 16 or so stations for $725 million. Therefore, this sentence on the SkyTran web site is of interest: "People are still being conned into voting yes to be taxed to have archaic, hideously poor performing light rail systems built. Time to properly utilize the microprocessors, sensors and controllers that didn't exist in 1950 to cut costs and move people fast anywhere in a city."
The site goes on:
- In many cities all over the USA, the bureaucrats are trying to get the area residents to vote to tax themselves an additional billions of dollars to build Light Rail systems. All of these systems would consume millions in studies before construction would begin. When eventually completed in typically 6 to 10 years, the bureaucrats typically claim Light Rail will carry 30,000 to 60,000 people per day. (They never mention that auto traffic will have grown by 10 times those daily amounts in the same period of time.)
Phoenix, Arizona is an interesting example. They want to build a 35 mile Light Rail system at a cost of $1.35 billion ($38.6 million dollars per mile). If the average trip in Phoenix was 10 miles long this would represent 600,000 passenger miles per day. This number is 2.4% of the current (not the year 2010) Greater Phoenix Area's daily commuter traffic of 25 million passenger miles (600,000/25,000,000 = 2.4%).
Newspaper articles brag that even with stops every mile that the Light Rail would average "almost 20" miles per hour (17 mph in reality). This is barely a healthy bicyclist's cruise speed. Definitely not something to brag about.
Sounds pretty useless, doesn't it? Can we use our brains to come up with a simpler, much lower cost, faster system?
Friday, January 23, 2004
Electric bike #2
The previously mentioned Electric Blade is a ~$5,000 electric bike with fantastic performance, but you can't pedal it.
The M-750 is an electric mountain bike that costs about half as much, and you have a choice of pedaling or motoring.
The motor is in the back wheel, and the batteries are in the front. It weighs about 65 pounds, folds in half, can go about 20MPH and has a 15 mile range.
Why sleeping on it just might work
From the article:
- From Coleridge's epic Kubla Khan to Mendeleyev's periodic table of elements, many artistic and scientific milestones seem to have sprung into being when their creators fell asleep.
A recent experiment designed by German neurologists at the University of Lubeck now provides scientific proof for the phenomenon.
Study may offer new clue to good memory. "A reduction in the level of a chemical during certain types of sleep allows the brain to replay activities, which helps fix memories, German researchers report."
Thursday, January 22, 2004
Please let this happen...
Intel Pursuing Much Faster Home Internet Access
According to the article:
- Intel, the world's largest computer chip maker, is pushing forward with a new wireless technology that it says it believes can bring extremely high-speed Internet access to American homes, a promise once offered by fiber optic networks.
Wednesday, January 21, 2004
The challenge of long-term space flight
This is a good article on the problems that come with long-term space flight -- Surviving Space: Risks to Humans on the Moon and Mars. From the article:
- "Charles, who works at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, offered up his danger list yesterday:
- Lack of a medical facility could turn a mundane injury into a life-threatening situation;
- 'Psychosocial' pressure will be high in a small group isolated for months or years;
- Zero or reduced gravity causes bone and muscle loss;
- Dangerous radiation particles are abundant beyond Earth orbit."
Tuesday, January 20, 2004
On Friday, January 16, CNN published its polling results for the Iowa caucuses in this article. Here's what the polls indicated:
- Kerry 21.6 percent
- Dean 20.9 percent
- Gephardt 20.9 percent
- Edwards 17.1 percent
- Kerry 38 percent
- Edwards 32 percent
- Dean 18 percent
- Gephardt 11 percent
It is interesting to speculate on why the polls could be that far off just one weekend before the event. Some possibilities:
- Even with all the modern statistical science backing them up, polls really are that inaccurate.
- People intentionally lie to pollsters.
- Some new peice of information about one or more of the candidates came up over the weekend and drastically altered the landscape (seems unlikely since it was never reported)
- People wait until the last minute to make up their minds, and/or a whole lot of people changed their minds over the weekend.
- The caucus process allows people to be persuaded into changing their votes once they arrive at the caucus.
Monday, January 19, 2004
Online porn in a new light
This week's issue of Time is all about sex. One of the articles is entitled The Porn factor, and it contains this amazing statistic:
- According to a 2001 online survey of 7,037 adults, two-thirds of those who visit websites with sexual content say their Internet activities haven't affected their level of sexual activity with their partners, though three-quarters report masturbating while online.
The article Addicted to online porn from MSNBC contains this quote:
- A recent MSNBC.com survey found that as many as 80 percent of visitors to sex sites were spending so much time tracking down erotica on the computer that they were putting their real-life relationships and/or jobs at risk.
CNN pegged the number of Internet porn users at 34 million per month (August 2003) in the article Sex sells, especially to Web surfers:
- "It's an enormous business ... There's a lot of money to be made," said Sean Kaldor, an analyst with Nielsen/NetRatings, which estimated that 34 million visited porn sites in August -- about one in four Internet users in the United States.
All of this helps to explain something that is happening in Las Vegas. I was there last week, and on many street corners you find people handing out little cards the size of baseball cards that look like this:
This is one of the tame ones. On the back of the card it says:
24 HOURS 7 DAYS
DIRECT TO YOU IN YOUR ROOM
IN 20 MINUTES OR LESS
1 GIRL FOR $40 - 2 GIRLS FOR $80
OR 3 GIRLS FOR $99
These cards are literally everywhere along The Strip in Las Vegas -- Not only are people handing them out, but you find them stuck in the holes of chain links fences, arrayed along the tops of bushes, littering the streets, etc.
The men and women handing these cards out look like normal people. One woman was handing them out at a crosswalk at noon with several cops nearby directing traffic. She looked to be in her 50s or 60s. Her comment was, "Hey, it's a job."
At another corner I had to wait for the light to change, and several guys were handing out cards. I asked one of them, "How does this work?" He said, "You want one girl, forty dollars. You want two girls, 80 dollars. You want pussy pussy, maybe 100 dollars. They come right to your room. Only takes 20 minutes."
So... if you want to consider online porn to be the "gateway drug", then this is one place where the gateway leads. It will be interesting to see if this "house call" phenomenon spreads outside of Las Vegas.
The conclusion of the Time article is: "As such incidents multiply, more Americans -- parents especially -- may come to Chandler's conclusion: We have to turn off the porn."
Something else to worry about[See previous]
This photo published in Popular Science should be enough to get most people to start using headsets for their cell phones:
The article is entitled A Swedish study links mobile phones to brain damage. In rats, anyway.
Back to the Moon #2The article Bush's New Space Plan Excites Russia contains this fascinating section:
- "Mikhailichenko said Russia's giant Energiya booster rocket, with a payload of about 100 metric tons (110 tons), could be useful for moon and interpleanetary missions. The Energiya program has been dormant in recent years due to the money crunch and the lack of suitable mission.
Mikhailichenko said Energiya launching facilities have been preserved at Baikonur, Russia's launching base for manned space flights.
Meanwhile, Russian space designers said they could quickly develop spacecraft for both moon and Mars missions if they have money.
Roald Kremnev, a deputy head of NPO Lavochkin company which built the Soviet Lunokhod rover that traipsed across the moon in 1970, said it could build its successor in mere two or three years for just 600 million rubles (US$21 million), ITAR-Tass reported.
Kremnev said that his company could make spacecraft capable of flying automatic missions to the moon, including robots capable of building temporary housing on the Moon.
Another space designer, Leonid Gorshkov of the RKK Energiya company that builds Soyuz and Progress spacecraft, says it has designed a spacecraft which can carry a crew to Mars as early as 2014 for US$15 billion.
Gorshkov told ITAR-Tass that the 70-metric ton (77-ton) spacecraft modelled on the Russian Zvezda module for the ISS could be assembled in orbit from components delivered by Proton booster rockets."
One thing this quote implies is that we can think of Russia as a freelance space contractor. With prices like these, there are wealthy individuals who could consider funding their own space programs. It also puts the X-Prize in a different light. If the rules allowed it, someone with a few million dollars could win the X-Prize in a cakewalk using Russian technology as the foundation.
This quote also implies that any other country that has the will and the money can use Russia's skills to get to the moon or to Mars.
Thursday, January 15, 2004
Going back to the moon
President Bush has announced his plan to return to the Moon, with an eventual goal of going to Mars. CNN reported the plan this way:
- The plan, disclosed by the president in a speech at NASA headquarters on Wednesday, shifts the long-term focus from the space shuttle and the international space station to the creation of a new manned space vehicle that will be flying with a crew in 10 years and will return humans to the moon within 16 years.
- January 31, 1958 - Explorer 1 is the first U.S. satellite in orbit.
- October 8, 1958 - NASA opens its doors.
- January 31, 1961 - Ham the chimp successfully rehearses first manned flight
- May 5, 1961 - First manned Mercury flight (first American in space)
- July 21, 1961 - Second Mercury flight
- Feburary 20, 1962 - Third Mercury flight (first American orbital flight)
- May 24, 1962 - Fourth Mercury flight
- October 3, 1962 - Fifth Mercury flight
- May 15-16, 1963 - Sixth Mercury flight (first full day in space)
- March 23, 1965 - Gemini 3
- June 3-7, 1965 - Gemini 4 (first EVA by an American)
- August 21-29, 1965 - Gemini 5
- December 4-18, 1965 - Gemini 7
- December 16-17, 1965 - Gemini 6A (first space rendezvous with Gemini 7)
- March 16, 1966 - Gemini 8 (first space docking)
- June 3-6, 1966 - Gemini 9A
- July 18-21, 1966 - Gemini 10
- September 12-15, 1966 - Gemini 11
- November 11-15, 1966 -Gemini 12
- October 11-22, 1968 - Apollo 7 (first live telecast from space)
- December 21-27, 1968 - Apollo 8 (first lunar orbit)
- March 3-13, 1969 - Apollo 9 (first crewed lunar module flight)
- May 18-26, 1969 - Apollo 10 (lunar module orbits moon but does not land)
- July 16-24, 1969 - Apollo 11 (men land on moon for first time and return safely)
- November 14-24, 1969 - Apollo 12
- April 11-17, 1970 - Apollo 13 (first space rescue)
- Jan 31 - Feb 9, 1971 - Apollo 14
- July 26-Aug 7, 1971 - Apollo 15 (first car on the moon)
- April 16-27, 1972 - Apollo 16
- December 7-19, 1972 - Apollo 17 (last man on the moon)
How in the world did we accomplish all of that? Think about it -- At the start of 1958, America had never had anything in orbit and NASA did not even exist. We knew NOTHING. We had never tried to keep a person alive in the vacuum and weightlessness of space, had never used ablative heat shields to handle re-entry, had never fired a retrorocket in space, had never created a space suit, had never "walked in space", had never fired maneuvering rockets in space, had never stopped and restarted an engine in space, had never docked two spacecraft in space, had never left earth orbit, had never orbited another object in space, had never landed on another object, had never taken back off from another object. We truly knew nothing in 1958. We did not even know what the moon was like -- there was some concern that it would be too soft to walk on. We had never sent a probe to the moon in 1958.
Not only did we know nothing, but the computer technology we had available in the 1960s was pathetic. Most of the design work on these space missions was done with pencil and paper and slide rules. Slide rules! We did not have computer-aided design, computer controlled machine tools, or PCs/Workstations. There was no NASA, no Internet, no microprocessors, no graphite composites, no cell phones, no Microsoft, no space stations....
Yet, despite our total ignorance and lack of technology, we went from NOTHING all the way to man on the moon in just 11 years. It is unbelievable when you think about it.
Now we are talking about going back to the moon. Look at where we stand today compared to 1958. In 2004:
- We've already been to the moon six times.
- We have 45 years of experience in space.
- We now have tons of technology, amazing computers, hyper-realistic flight simulators, unbelievable virtual design tools, highly automated computer-controlled factories, a huge space station already in orbit and a space shuttle able to lift 65,000 pounds of cargo per mission.
- NASA is already fully staffed with thousands of employees who have hundreds of successful missions under their belts.
How do we get back to the kind of energy, drive and passion -- and the kind of creativity, skill and talent -- that America had in the 1960's? How is it that with all the advancements we've made in the last 45 years, we are actually slower now than we once were? What is that telling us?
We should elevate our expectations. Americans should be living on the moon in 2010 and walking on Mars in 2020. If not, it would be very interesting to see China leapfrog us and beat us to Mars in spite of America's substantial head start.
A Terabyte for $1,200
Need a Terabyte of disk space? You can now add it to your computer in about 15 seconds! Click Here:
- "The LaCie Bigger Disk, with the largest hard drive capacity available, is a unique innovation that packs an amazing 1 terabyte of storage space in a manageable 5.25' form factor. With this unsurpassed storage capacity, the LaCie Bigger Disk allows users to store nearly two years of continuous music and up to one month of non-stop MPEG-2 video1. Truly plug and play, this device requires no driver or software installation for Windows XP and Mac OS X users."
Wednesday, January 14, 2004
The world does not yet have the movie equivalent of iTunes. But there is some evidence that Movielink is heading in that direction, and it is getting a fair amount of press right now. The deal at MovieLink is that you pay $3 or so to download a movie. The movie can live on your hard disk for up to 30 days (as long as you don't play it), and then deletes itself automatically. As soon as you play the movie, a 24-hour clock starts. You can watch the film as much as you want in the 24-hour window, and then it deletes itself.
The MovieLink model is trying to emulate the Blockbluster rental model, but it is a far cry from what you'ld like -- a cheap way to buy and own forever an electronic copy of a movie. If that's what you want, the only easy way to do it right now is to buy a DVD and use a piece of software from a place like 321 Studios to copy the DVD onto your hard disk.
Another place that is doing the same thing as MovieLink is CinemaNow.
If you are interested in "alternative" films (older stuff, documentaries, B-films, etc.) you can try MovieFlix.
Thursday, January 08, 2004
Something else to worry about[See previous]
Warming to doom many species
- Global warming could doom hundreds of land plants and animals to extinction over the next 50 years by marooning them in harsh, changed surroundings, scientists warn.
A sweeping new analysis enlisting scientists from 14 laboratories around the globe found that more than one-third of 1,103 native species they studied could vanish or plunge to near extinction by 2050 as climate change turns plains into deserts or alters forests.
Tuesday, January 06, 2004
Links from Friends
Over the last couple of weeks, here are some interesting links that friends have sent me:
- 360-degree panoramas - If you like 360-degree panorama shots of exotic places, this is the site for you. Some of these are just amazing. If you need a place to start, look at the "Top 10 fullscreens of 2003".
- World's smallest flying robot - Sent in because of the Dragaflyer post. The Gizmodo site in general is a neat place.
- More - The Story - A short film nominated for an Academy Award. The whole film is available online.
- Since I use Google constantly, a friend sent this: Better search results than Google? because of the mention of Grokker. See also this and this.
- My observatory - It is amazing what an independent person can do these days. See his home page for details. At the other end of the spectrum is Astronomy’s New Grail: The $1 Billion Telescope.
- Peeling Apple Reportedly Stimulates Brain - Who would have thought?
- CNN.com - A few online games can be priceless - List of some free online game sites. The one from the Army was unexpected. This one came in because of the Stylish Games post.
- Japan SAQ - A variety of random questions about Japan answered. I've never been to Japan, but would love to go there one day.
- Solar Impulse - a human, scientific and ecological adventure - Solar-powered plane attempting a round-the-world flight.
This article -- Mars rover’s color postcard reveals a new world -- has a very nice free video attached to it. In the video, NASA goes through the first hi-res color images coming back from Mars and explains what they are seeing.
The official site where NASA releases the latest photos is here.
Monday, January 05, 2004
New zero-calorie snacks
I used some Pam cooking spray the other day to bake a cake for Irena. I happened to notice the "Nutrition facts" panel, and it is extremely interesting. It looks like this:
What's interesting about it is the fact that the folks at Pam Headquarters have found a way to make calories disappear.
Look at the ingredient label. The first ingredient is canola oil, and the second is grain alcohol. The can contains 6 ounces (170 grams). At a minimum, that means that 3 ounces (85 grams) of the can's contents should be oil and alcohol. Oil contains 9 calories per gram and alcohol contains 7 calories per gram [ref]. Taking the average -- 8 calories per gram -- it seems that there should be at least 8 * 85 = 680 calories in the can. Yet, on a per-serving basis, there are zero calories. The 680 calories vanish when you use the product.
What this means is that, simply by subdividing any snack food, we can eliminate all the calories. For example, a normal Snickers candy bar weighs 2.07 ounces (58.7 grams) and contains 280 calories. That's because a normal snickers bar contains only one serving. If the Snickers bar is re-labeled as having 400 servings (each serving approximately 3 x 3 x 3 mm), each serving would have zero calories and we could eat a Snickers bar without gaining any weight. These new zero-calorie snacks should revolutionize the industry. And at any meal you can control your caloric intake by taking very small bites. Using Pam technology, you can now indulge in that big piece of chocolate cake at a restaurant. Simply take 500 nibbles of it...
Sunday, January 04, 2004
Prepare to Upgrade!
It would appear that, about a year from now, it will be time to upgrade in a big way. Some of the things coming down the pipe and converging in 2005 include:
- 64-bit chips for the masses - About a year from now, inexpensive 64-bit chips and motherboards should be commonplace. AMD and Intel will be fighting for dominance. The performance boost should be impressive. The last time we had a major change like this, it was when we moved from the 16-bit 8088 and 80286 chips of the old IBM PC and AT to the 32-bit Pentium.
- 64-bit Windows XP - Windows XP will be available in a 64-bit version in late 2004 or early 2005, opening the doors for software that can really take advantage of the 64-bit platform..
- High speed RAM - RAM will see a major (factor of 5 to 10) speed boost in 2005. For example, Toshiba plans to ship XDR memory running at 3.2GHz in about a year. Attach 2 gigabytes of it to a 64-bit processor and that should be an impressive gaming and video editing platform.
- New DVD format - The new DVD format will be appearing, able to put 20GB or so on a single disk. See also this.
- Terabyte hard drives - 2005 will probably be the year of the terabyte hard drive. Running on the high-speed buses of the new 64-bit motherboards, performance should be improved as well.
Saturday, January 03, 2004
Tree Protection Area
About a mile away from my house in Cary, NC...
Friday, January 02, 2004
2004 Wish List
There are lots of people out there making their predictions for 2004. For example:
- One thing that would be nice to see is repulsorlift technology. This is the technology that allows vehicles to float in the Star Wars movies. Land speeders float a few inches off the ground:
Repulsorlifts allow droids and speeder bikes to float several feet off the ground, and allow spacecraft to float into low earth orbit. Cheap repulsorlift technology would solve lots of urban transportation problems, and also make it easy to win the X-prize.
- Of course, to really solve urban transportation problems we need the transporter room to finish its development cycle:
The idea has been around for 40 years, and there's realistic mockups that have gotten widespread media coverage. How much longer is it going to take?
- If you want to talk about things with long development cycles, there's fusion power:
In this case, there's even a working prototype 8 lightminutes away. We just need to take the prototype and miniaturize it a bit. How hard can it be?
- Assuming that repulsorlifts and transporter rooms will take several years of further development before commercial devices are available, then the automatic/self-driving car would be nice :
Eliminate the steering wheel please, so we can lie down and sleep, or work on the laptop, on the morning commute.
- Using the laptop from a car assumes an easy-to-use high speed wireless service. The 3G version of cell phones is supposed to solve this problem, or we could tweak 802.11, or invent something else. I don't think anyone really cares as long as it is free and ubiquitous -- like oxygen.
- To have real self-piloting cars you need vision systems, and once you have them you might as well create humanoid robots and get it over with. And while we're at it let's redesign the economy so we can all go on perpetual vacation.
- Burt Rutan (known for his round-the-world-non-stop Voyager airplane and his X-prize entry) recently had this to say about the growth of virtual reality:
- "The ability to go out and buy an orgasm with a beautiful woman with no risk of disease will also create the kinds of things that you will need to truly make it so that you don't have to take a business trip -- the feel of that handshake, all the senses you have of knowing that you are there. Phenomenal amounts of money will be dumped into phenomenally good virtual reality, so we won't have to go to the damn airport in the first place."
- Of course, for true virtual reality without compromise you need the Vertebrane system, and it would be nice to see that pop out in 2004 as well.
- With all of these new diseases like SARS floating around, along with old ones like the flu and TB getting worse and worse, it would be nice to have a way to know if people are contagious. We take the glowing fish idea and extend it so that everyone who has a communicable disease glows in the dark. It might be nice if they beeped too. That way you could steer clear until they get better. Better yet, it would be nice to have a device that can detect medical problems and actually heal them with "healing rays" of some sort:
- Then there's the old favorites -- the ability to read minds (a definitive end to terrorism), the ability to predict the future (ditto), the ability to manipulate things with your thoughts (get rid of all those remotes) and so on.
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