Science And Technology Links 4/6/17

Another Thursday, another round of tech links! Enjoy!

Aerospace

From Will: Translating the lingo here, what they are talking about is having modular avionics (AVIation electrONICS) systems that all follow a common software language and hardware architecture.  Modern avionics are essentially networked purpose-built computers that tie into external sensors and internal control systems.  Back in the bad old days, the avionics computer was locked just above the pilot’s shoulder and somewhere between his ears.  Cockpit indicators, like artificial horizons, airspeed, altitude, etc. were designed to be slotted into common holes in the dashboard and hooked up to common external sensors (like pitot tubes, etc.).  That was about as standardized as it got.  Nowadays, only the simplest of aircraft are without computerized avionics.  I’ve seen restored WWII fighters with modern avionics systems tucked into the cockpit, complete with multifunction touch displays and HUDs.

Commercial and military aircraft all have complex avionics packages.  Once upon a time, those avionics systems were unique to each manufacturer, and sometimes unique to an airframe (companies might re-use pieces from one airframe to another, but you also had airframes with completely unique systems).  As you can imagine, this made for not only design headaches, but support nightmares.  Having common hardware requirements and common software APIs streamlines things quite a bit.

A new twist on an old trick.

But will they help us do the Electric Slide, or the Electric Bugaloo?

The Falcon 9 rocket has been successfully re-used.  This is a pretty big deal when it comes to reducing the cost to orbit.  Another way to keep down costs is to use a Single Stage To Orbit (SSTO).  The reasons we use multiple stages is both weight (once the fuel is used, to point in carry the empty tank around) and efficiency (the traditional bell shaped rocket nozzle has a lot of shape variation, and that variation affects how efficient it is in certain air pressure and density regimes).  Now the rocket at the link looks less like a rocket and more like Paul Bunyan’s beard trimmer, but that is what is known as a Linear Aerospike, which is a rocket nozzle that is efficient across a wide range of atmospheric conditions, which means you only need one rocket motor for the whole flight.

Bio

Despite the alphabet soup, the topic of interest is the discovery of another key part of why our bodies degenerate with age.

Lungs can make blood, who knew (no one knew, that’s why it’s interesting).  Also, we can make blood in a lab using immortal stem cells.  I just can’t but wonder what will happen to all the college students who are unable to get free pizza once every 8 weeks.

Speaking of stem cells, fixing a torn rotator cuff.  Wave of the future, folks.

Computing

Why is AI still kinda dumb?

Once more around this maypole.  It bothers me how seemingly blasé law enforcement is about backdoors and the clear danger they represent.

Microchip!  Assemble thyself!

Finally, I can put the TV remote in my couch cushion, instead of losing it between them.

Energy

Globally, coal power plants are in decline (old ones being retired, new ones not coming on-line).  Not surprising.  Especially given the interest in other sources of power (full disclosure, the CEO of Windlift is an old friend of mine from Grad School).  Related, given the intermittent nature of wind and solar, storing power in compressed air.

The polymer membrane in hydrogen fuel cells is a fragile thing, and a tear in one greatly reduces it’s ability to produce power.  New ones will hopefully be able to heal themselves, thus significantly increasing their service lives.

Storing solar power in solar cells, thanks to ferns.

Environment

Turning citrus peels into heavy metal water filters.  And here I was just using them to freshen up the sink disposal.

Turning leaves into fertilizer!  Wait, we already do that with compost?  Let me re-read… OH!  Using bionic leaves to make fertilizer!  The advantage is, no need to using petroleum to make fertilizer, and the ‘leaf’ can be plugged into the ground next to the plants.  I’d be curious to see how this would work in a farmer’s field, but I can certainly see something like this working in a garden, or a greenhouse.

I do love a nice poly-cotton blend, but the material hasn’t been very re-usable except as fill.  Note the word, ‘hasn’t’.

Materials

A liquid that can move by itself.  Do you want The Blob?  Because this is how you get The Blob!

Graphene Quantum Dots.  Not the candy.  Handy little things, from TVs to laundry detergent.

Because graphene, here is a desalination filter, and a water filter (OK, it’s carbon nanotubes, but close enough).

And for when we don’t want water hanging around, a self healing, highly durable hydrophobic coating.

Printing with liquid metal (and an introduction to shear thinning).

Military

When I first saw Team Wendy, I was pretty sure I was going to read about how fresh (not frozen) beef was helping soldiers.  Turns out, that is not quite right.

Physics

Subatomic quantum behavior continues to surprise.

Paging Orson Krennic.  Mr. Krennic, your new toy is ready.

Man, if you can’t count on the existence of Dark Energy, what can you count on?  Seriously though, there is an important bit in there about models and how they can bite you in the ass.

How much more do we have to learn about mosquitoes before we can just up and wipe the little bastards out?

Robotics

Upside, this is a cool new way for robots to manipulate things!  Downside, these guys have heard of tentacle porn, right?  Rule 34 exists for a reason, people.

These are closer to cybernetics than robotics.

Gesture controlled RC car.

Transportation

Thinking about autonomous air vehicles.  If self driving cars give you the willies…

Using little plasma generators to give trucks some aerodynamic efficiency.

That is a bad-ass looking wheelchair.  And it climbs stairs.

More money for the dream of supersonic commercial flight.  Still need to figure out how to quiet the boom.

Sweet Lord Poseidon, I want one!

Image by Joe Dyer


Associate Editor

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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75 thoughts on “Science And Technology Links 4/6/17

  1. Quiet morning on the links, huh? I’ll chime in and say I appreciate the effort.

    Also, tangentially related to the first item

    The Air Force conducted a major test of the F-35 program when it conducted a deployment demonstration from Edwards Air Force Base in California to Mountain Home Air Force Base in Idaho in February and March 2016. This was the service’s first attempt to use an updated version of the ALIS?—?the ground-based computer system that is supposed to diagnose mechanical problems, order and track replacement parts, and guide maintenance crews through repairs.

    Whenever a squadron deploys, it must establish an ALIS hub wherever the F-35 is deployed. Crews set up an ALIS Standard Operating Unit (SOU), which consists of several cases of computer equipment. Technicians will use these to set up a small mainframe which must then be plugged into the world-wide ALIS network.

    It took several days for the crews to get ALIS working on the local base network. After extensive troubleshooting, IT personnel figured out they had to change several settings on Internet Explorer so ALIS users could log into the system. This included lowering security settings, which DOT&E noted with commendable understatement was “an action that may not be compatible with required cybersecurity and network protection standards.”

    (em added)

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      • This strikes me as being vaguely related to the age of the people in charge of advising the people in charge of approving the purchase order.

        The Colonels advising the Generals at this point know Linux as this crazy OS that only eggheads can use and we can’t expect Airmen Basic fresh out of boot to sit down at a computer and know how to use Linux but… yeah, they’re down with Windows.

        When we get Colonels who grew up in the post-Redhat era to start having enough stroke to be able to tell the General “New distros of Linux are different. They’re really user-friendly now”, we might be able to do a real and serious (and perhaps even cheap?) upgrade to military tech.

        (Sometimes I wonder how much money Microsoft lost due to Windows 8 when it comes to military contracts…)

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          • I’ve got a bud who recently went on IRR. Before that, he worked on the floor of a Space Operations Squadron.

            I’ll ask him if he ever encountered that. (Normally, he gives rants on how much he hated working with windows and how glad he is to not have to anymore.)

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                  • The F-16 was so badly unstable that, during its first high-speed taxi run, it oscillated so badly that it actually left the ground.

                    It’s now being used as the Superior Legacy System We Never Should Have Stopped Buying in articles like the one by this turd, who’s gleefully reposting some forced-out general’s backstabbing of his former colleagues.

                    ps the description: “”First, the roll control was too sensitive, too much roll rate as a function of stick force. Second, the exhaust nozzle control for the prototype was wired incorrectly. You had to be on the ground for the nozzle to be wide open, so as soon as you took the weight off the wheels, the nozzle closed and essentially doubled the thrust at idle.”

                    So, um, the prototype for this Superior Legacy System was built so badly wrong that it was basically uncontrollable.

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                    • Related: the success of the F-16 is largely due to avionics that (eventually) took care of all the fiddling details so quickly that the pilots had no idea it was happening.

                      I imagine the first few prototypes were exciting birds, before that got that figured out.

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    • I figure that what happened was the people who wrote ALIS were mandated by the customer to use off-the-shelf software as a cost-savings measure.

      And, at the time, the off-the-shelf software was IE 8.

      The only backwards compatibility between IE 8 and IE 11 is the ability to parse basic HTML, so any hacks that made ALIS work on IE 8 are not available to IE 11…unless, as described, you turn all the security features off.

      And they’re not allowed to rewrite ALIS to work with IE 11 because “you already BOUGHT that software, we’re not gonna give you MORE MONEY to go BUY IT AGAIN”. And they’re not allowed to use an entirely different system because “off the shelf saves money, MAKE IT WORK.”

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      • This company I used to work at used a bug tracking system with an HTML front end that only worked on IE. Well, only on some versions of IE. Well, only on very specific patch levels of some versions of IE. Really, not “gotta have these patches”, but “gotta have these patches but not those, because those fix bugs it depends on”.

        Eventually, someone I worked with spent two days writing a dead simple HTML frontend that had no polish at all but worked on any browser without crashing or freezing.

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  2. If you’re looking for tea leaves to read for 2018, here are some.

    I’m not totally sure how useful these are, given that only 31% of the folks in Colorado Springs voted and, especially, given that Tuesday was a huge snowstorm (a bunch of businesses closed, and my boss even sent out an email saying, paraphrased, “days like this are one of the reasons why we give you guys vacation days… stay safe, etc”).

    The takeaway is that people are now joking that Boulder has moved to Colorado Springs.

    A window into 2018? An outlier? What are your priors?

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  3. Here’s an interesting idea.

    Right now, current wind turbines in offshore installations each have their own electrical generator mounted directly to the turbine (through a gearbox, obviously). The generated power then flows along cables to a central station where it is combined and conditioned for the grid.

    This idea removes the generator set from each turbine and replaces it with a seawater pump. The pumps move seawater under pressure to a central generating station and that is where it is turned into power. Hydraulic networks can balance out load variations easier than electrical systems can (or, perhaps, more cheaply, not sure).

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          • Here’s a guess: Trump’s approvals go up as a result of this strike.

            Oh, and one very prominent person is in favor of exactly this policy (taking out airbases). In fact, she advocated for it just today. HRC.

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              • Eh, I’m iffy on whether he’ll get anything distinguishable from noise. Public taste for Middle Eastern adventurism is already really low (“bombing terrorists” is great, but people don’t want actual boots on the ground or any sign it’s going to become something serious that could turn into another slog like Iraq), low overall approval for Trump means skepticism as to the wisdom and effectiveness of any proposed plan is ‘baked into the cake’, and the fact that people seem pretty sick of Syria anyways.

                He might get a blip for doing something at all, maybe a larger one of Russia saber rattles back enough to push back on “So friendly with Russia” but….I suspect it’ll be down the memory hole by next weekend, and out of the polls.

                Just too much downward momentum for what is, in the end, just another bombing run in Syria. After several days of hemming and hawing. (And as Jaybird notes — nobody really wants to be involved in Syria anyways)

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                • Not sure who “those people” are in this sentence; thus far this is wildly popular with Trump-skeptical Twitter conservatives, which I would expect to be echoed among real people, and I assume the ever-present pro-action part of popular opinion will assert itself. He isn’t going to hit W post-9/11 numbers, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it at least got him over 50% approval.

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                  • The term “those people” refers to the people who bump his approvals up in light of this air strike. Nothin nefarious. Just highlighting the subject of the discussion: people who want military engagement in Syria.

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              • One difference is that I don’t Hillary woulda done what Trump just did: act unilaterally without either legal basis or political cover from allies. The end result, of course, isn’t any different but the politics is. The problem Trump now has is that he’s not only reversing course on his earlier isolationist policies, but he’s alienated so many allies who might have otherwise been willing to follow thru on this … well … pretty reflexive reaction to an event which previously wasn’t within the Trump-policy worldview.

                Keep your head on a swivel with this guy. He comes at you from unexpected directions!

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    • I suspect that, despite the lack of competence in either the WH or the State department, that the Russian’s are not overly concerned. Playing with chemical weapons draws undue attention, so letting Uncle Sam smack someone’s hands for doing it is perfectly fine by them.

      It reinforces who Assad’s friends are, doesn’t it? It also reminds Assad not to play with the big boy toys because that makes the world give a crap, if briefly, over Syria. Which is not so good for Russian interests.

      So I don’t suspect much beyond this. Trump lacks the popularity to get involved in Syria — the public appears in no mood for another Middle Eastern adventure. Russian interests weren’t significantly harmed (possibly even advanced) so I suspect this will be a return to the pre-chemical weapons status quo.

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