Science And Technology Links: 4/20 – People Are Way Too Obsessed With This Date Edition

Another set of tech links, free of any mention of Hitler or Marijuana!

Aerospace

The Space Symposium!  Space Capsules, Heavy Lift Rockets, and so much more!

Lockheed wants to go to Mars.  Presumably so they can spend untold amounts of Martian money developing pie-in-the-sky military hardware. If you are interest on hardware, specially for electricians find a tool bag for electricians by following this site.

DARPAs new toy.  Evidence we are getting good at making small, lightweight, and powerful electric motors, because that thing has all of them.  And if there are any left, Volocopter has snapped them up.

Morat and I had a fun conversation a while back about how to deal with orbital junk.  NASA has some ideas as well.

Jupiter has another spot!  Is it acne, or a pox?

That moon of Saturn with a name that sounds like a nasty brain disease might be a life incubator!  Which means when we go poking around, we’ll probably get some nasty brain disease that we’ll name after the moon, and the circle will be complete.

Bio

Anything that can help treat PTSD is good news, especially if it’s something old that is getting re-purposed.  Although I hope people remember that this is used in conjunction with therapy, and is not a magic pill.

Finally, a band-aid for a broken heart!

From my Badger home, figuring out how easy it is for life to happen.  If it isn’t hard for the process to kick off, then life might be very common in the Universe.  Now intelligent life, that is a whole different question…

Drought resistant GMO rice.  Don’t worry, I am certain that activists will destroy these as well, rather than allow malnourished people to be fed.

Computing

An electronic synapse using a memristor.  That should give neural network researchers hope for fresh grant money.

Energy

Building a GMO sugarcane to produce biofuels.  The big sell is that it would grow on marginal lands not suited for food crops.

Sucking up ocean plastic to make diesel on the go.  The methodology is old (we know how to turn polymers into hydrocarbons), so the novelty is not in the method, but in the fact that the reactor can fit into a standard shipping container and requires less energy and heat to operate than older designs.  No word on how the energy balance works out, although if the required heat is low enough, it is possible the system could be largely solar powered, which would make it very cost effective.

The amount of renewable power generation continues to grow, mostly because it’s getting cheaper to install.

Environment

Finally, we can have a real moisture farm in a real desert, with real whiney orphan boys wanting to go to Tachi Station for power converters.

Materials

Non-Destructive Testing of materials with a green laser.  So at first blush, you have to wonder how a surface scan of a metal part can detect internal damage?  Well, if the damage is a manufacturing defect, such as a void/air pocket, it can’t.  But if the part has experienced load/stress that has caused a permanent change in the structure, that change will exist throughout the part, even if it isn’t visible to our eyes.  So it’s not looking for the cracks, per se, it’s looking for the telltale structural changes that indicate internal cracks are probably present.

Using computers to predict was elements can combine to form Voltron!… Err, I mean, magnets.  Like Voltron, magnetic materials are actually pretty rare.  Unlike Voltron, magnetic materials actually exist, and finding new ones would be a boon to electronics and electric machines.

Negative Mass Fluids.  WTF?  Oh, yeah, another Bose-Einstein Condensate.  Seriously, that stuff is just plain weird.  If pure Carbon materials are the Legos of modern Physics, BECs are the Ooblecks and Silly Puttys.

Corn and Cotton sneakers.  Speaking of shoes, Adidas is printing them these days, which means before too long, we’ll be able to print them at home.

Transportation

No, it’s not a free-energy train.  It still takes energy to make the hydrogen and store it.  However, given advances in electrolysis and new catalysts, it takes a lot less energy to make hydrogen, and a train is an excellent real world platform to prove hydrogen fuel cell technology, since it can more easily accommodate the mass of the necessary equipment.

The Airlander 10 gets a new, high-tech landing safety feature!  Bumpers.

Urban Aero is still trying to build a flying car.  I love all these flying personal transport ideas I’ve been seeing lately, but why I haven’t seen much of it what happens when the lift machinery losses power.

Now this one is a fixed wing, so it should be able to glide after a fashion, and it’s pretty slick looking.

I am honestly surprised this hasn’t been done before, because it’s so obvious.

Whacky/Fun

Kaspersky 2050.  A bit of futurism fun.

These look kinda fun, right up there with the tents that can be supported by three trees.  Although I wonder if the Qube tents could be built with hard shell, or semi-rigid panels and used for cheap homeless/refugee shelters.

Looks like it would be a ball to ride one of these.  (Was that pun too easy?  I’m not getting any points for that, am I?)

Image by NASA Goddard Photo and Video


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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78 thoughts on “Science And Technology Links: 4/20 – People Are Way Too Obsessed With This Date Edition

        • There are two stories that I have heard.

          One is true, one is false. The false one is kinda cute and funny and the true one is kinda bland and uninteresting.

          Without giving away which is which, here are the two stories.

          There was a clock at the corner of Haight and Ashbury in San Francisco that was broken and had stopped at 4:20. Hippies would say something like “Oh, I’m not going to smoke until 4:20!”, point at the clock, and then say “Okay, we can smoke.”

          The police have number codes that they give over the radio. “We’ve got a 211 down on Maple and Vine” is the code that there’s a robbery going down. “We’ve got a 586 down on South Nevada” is the code for illegal parking. The code “420” was for someone smoking marijuana.

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          • Honestly, the idea of it becoming boring and not-cool would be enough to flip me to being pro-legalization.

            (I don’t care whether people smoke it or not as long as (a) I don’t have to be where they are smoking it, (b) they don’t operate heavy machinery that might kill me while they’re stoned, and (c) there are movies OTHER than stoner-comedies in the megplex. Oh, and d: I don’t have to throw someone out of lab for being in an unsafe state to handle dangerous chemicals or blades. And I’m more okay with decriminalization but I do not think the “legalize and tax it!” is gonna solve the problems its supporters think it will solve.)

            But yeah: I’m so square I’m a cube. Maybe even a hyper-cube. (A square, squared.)

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            • I am not particularly tuned in nor turned on. Neither have I dropped out.

              That said, Colorado’s pot culture seems to have… I don’t want to say evaporated, but it certainly has reduced. The local stoner radio station still has a 4:20 selection where they play either a rock song dedicated to marijuana or a “funny” comedy bit from a “classic” comedy album.

              Given that this is the same radio station that plays Sabbath’s “Sweet Leaf”, Sublime’s “Smoke Two Joints”, and Zeppelin’s “Misty Mountain Hop” during the middle of the day anyway, it’s not really that surprising to hear some of the rock songs.

              But you might be confused if you tune in right in the middle of South Park’s “Kyle’s Mom’s A Bitch” and you thought you were tuning into the rock station.

              But the AM Radio station “K-HIGH” (the radio talk station devoted to discussions about pot and pot culture) lasted maybe two or three months before staggering into becoming an internet radio station… and then only a couple months after that, it crashed and burned.

              Sure, there’s a “medicinal” shoppe on every other corner in town, but it’s pretty much become bourgie.

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            • Yeah, I don’t smoke pot, but aside from criminal justice issues, hopefully pot being legal here in Washington will kill ‘pot culture’ which is the worst thing ever.

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              • Eh, I think it’ll solve things in the way repealing Prohibition did. In short, it will ‘solve’ the problems of trying to enforce a law a clear majority disagrees with, and a sizable minority actively ignores.

                I don’t think it’ll solve many other problems, but it’ll solve the biggest.

                Then again, I’ve always had more problems from drunks than stoners, even after you account for the imbalance in representation.

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                • Sure. But it won’t free up money for deficit reduction, enhancing social welfare benefits, strengthening K-12 education, subsidizing healthcare insurance, or reforming prisons. To the extent legalize-and-tax raises money and reduces tax burdens, it will represent a marginal ease upon the public fisc which will be gobbled up by other demands on public services so quickly as to seem virtually invisible.

                  See, e.g., public dollars raised through state lotteries purportedly dedicated to improvement of public education.

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                  • Can’t speak nationally, but the hole that losing marijuana taxes would put in the Colorado state budget is significant. Not in the same category with income, sales, and property taxes, but IIRC, bigger than severance taxes in a state that’s in the top-10 for all of coal, oil, and natural gas.

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                  • I figure there’s still gonna be a black market as home-growers (and perhaps even arms of the cartel) undercut the government-sanctioned stuff. People who worry about a safe buzz that doesn’t have weird pesticides or something will probably use the official outlets, but I don’t think it will kill off the black market.

                    And yes, I could totally see states using pot taxes to allow a fiddle in funding of other things, and then cry poor when not enough people smoke taxed pot to fill the coffers.

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  1. Car ride simulator: we did the same thing when the kids were infants by putting the kid in her car seat and putting that on top of the clothes dryer, running it with no heat. I worked like a charm.

    Tree tents: There is a subculture within the backpacking community of hammock enthusiasts. These tree tents look to be an extension of that idea, using three trees to provide a two-dimensional platform. Very clever, but I picture myself wandering through the woods looking for that elusive spot with the right configuration of foliage to make the damn thing work. I suspect how well it works in practice depends a lot on exactly what sort of forest you are in.

    The “Qube” tents, on the other hand, strike me as an impractical gimmick, even apart from the cutesy name, for any sort of even quasi-serious camping. It is obviously too large and heavy for backpacking any distance, so this is for car camping or something close to it. You need a lot of flat space, and the profile makes it obviously unsuitable for any but the most modest wind conditions. Notice how the video showing them being set up has ropes and stakes magically appearing out of nowhere. The most imagination required is coming up with a scenario with this actually makes sense.

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    • I’m not any kind of backpacker – only ever been car camping, except the one time bicycling – but those tent-hammocks are great. You don’t need the backpacker’s weight reduction considerations to justify them.

      We’ve never slept more comfortably when camping than we do in the hammocks. Bumpy ground is no concern, water will never seep in under the groundsheet…

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      • My active backpacking days were in the 1990s. Hammocks weren’t really on the radar back then. My brother is still an active backpacker (despite being older than me–why the difference? I had kids. Young kids suck for this sort of hobby). He is a hammock enthusiast, which is why I am aware of the subculture. He brings his to the annual beach house week and sets it up between two posts. My kids are suitably impressed.

        I am persuaded that it is a good idea, provided that you are camping in the sort of forest that provides suitable supports. In the unlikely event that I get back into backpacking, I would seriously consider switching to this.

        I am nonetheless skeptical of these three-support hammock tents. Finding two trees of suitable size and branch configuration, within the suitable range of distance apart, and with no bushes in between where the hammock goes? That’s one thing. Finding three trees? That’s another. A lot of clever camping ideas fall apart in the face of finding a spot where they actually work.

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    • I enjoy hammock camping, a lot.

      The Qubes, as advertised, seem like something my kid and his friends might enjoy linking together and playing Fort in the yard. Too bad they are hipster priced because I could see getting a few for fun if they weren’t.

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  2. it’s not really sucking up ocean plastic, as far as I can tell. It’s mostly about diverting plastic from just stuff you throw away into a useful feedstock. The system appears to me to be only as good as the availability and economics of the catalyst (and also, only as good as the willingness of people to separate out their plastic waste – and really, the willingness of people to just not throw their trash anywhere and everywhere)

    My understanding is that Brazil main biofuel source (and what makes it ‘energy independent’) is sugarcane

    he dual-purpose bioenergy crops are predicted to be more than five times more profitable per acre than soybeans and two times more profitable than corn. More importantly, sugarcane can be grown on marginal land in the Gulf Coast region that does not support good corn or soybean yields.

    It also doesn’t seem to replacing “food” crops, per se but rather other mass agricultural pseudo cash crops that feed into many industries (including what walking food eats). My understanding also is that the big ecological downside of sugarcane is that is uses an above average amount of water per acre – which may not be a problem in the Amazon or the Gulf coast, but certainly is other places.

    Open Ocean bio algae is my preferred alternative – you’re using an area on the surface of the planet not really be used by any human and not many other denizens of the biopshere, and you’re also sucking carbon out of the atmosphere at a pretty good clip if you’re doing it right.

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    • The next big thing is going to be trash-mining. Landfills are piles of usable material. The problem is that if you’d set up an operation that pulls (for example) copper out of landfills, you’d have an operation that, depending on how you look at it, reduces the total amount of trash or produces great quantities of copper-free trash.

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      • Yes, I completely agree. The technology exists now for some sort of mega machine that sucks in landfill at one end and separates out everything into its chemical components – it’s just not at all economically or energy feasible.

        (I think now most municipal landfills pass much of the stuff under a electromagnet to pick out all the useful ferrous material before they bury it)

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        • I think they only do this if the landfill is a transfer station. Which is a great thing in urban environments, but not so much in more rural areas (it just adds to the cost.) Most rural areas have a you-sort-it system, with a metal areas, hazardous item area, green dumping for arborists/landscapers and a seagull farm for the rest.

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    • Plastic to Diesel – Yes, the main thing is that it’s a better device for depolymerization. Ships underway produce a lot of plastic waste (especially military vessels), and that plastic is either stored until you make port, whereby you have to pay to have it disposed of, or it’s tossed over the side while underway and out of sight. Turning it into fuel incentives not tossing it over the side.

      Also, if you had an area where the currents do bring a lot of plastic, this could encourage scows to go collect it.

      Personally, I agree with you that GMO algae is way smarter than crops, but we don’t quite yet have a good way to farm such algae that keeps it contained, resists storms, and isn’t crazy expensive. That said, engineering sugar cane to thrive on marginal lands and produce useful feedstocks is still pretty neat.

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    • Yeah the problem with biofuel is that “Can be grown on marginal land” =/= “will be grown on marginal land”. If the biofuel is 2 times more profitable than corn and 5 times more profitable than soybeans then a hell of a lot of corn and soybean growing land would be diverted to growing biofuel crop.

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  3. Re corn plastics (the corn-and-cotton sneaker story)… Corn is not particularly friendly to the environment. It requires large amounts of fertilizer and water, with far-ranging consequences. Runoff carrying fertilizer from corn fields is the primary cause of the Gulf of Mexico hypoxic dead zone. Most of the areas growing irrigated corn use water from aquifers at rates well beyond the recharge rate. Horizontal gene transfer from genetically-modified corn — transfer of the genes spliced into the corn DNA to other species — is a thing, although the long-term consequences are unknown.

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            • Crop rotation doesn’t do any good if the increased demand is all for corn.

              On my regular trips along the Platte valley in Colorado and Nebraska, it used to be that one saw a reasonable mix of crops: corn, soybeans, etc. These days, it’s all corn all the time to feed the ethanol plants, with the corresponding increase in applied nitrogen fertilizers. Corn-based feedstock for plastics is just going to make that worse.

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        • Corn needs large amounts of nitrogen, potassium, and phosphorus — none of which exist in meaningful quantities in petroleum. Natural gas is a critical feedstock for production of ammonia, the most common nitrogen fertilizer (low prices from the fracking glut have brought much offshored ammonia production back to the US). Potassium and phosphorus for fertilizer are mined.

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          • If there is any petroleum in a liquid fertilizer, it might be as a preservative, or some kind of base chemical. I believe petroleum derived chemicals are more prevalent in pesticides & herbicides, but those are chemicals that use petroleum as a feedstock, not the oil itself.

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      • Maybe, maybe not — it’s a complicated systems analysis problem, and the result depends very much on what you measure. How much diesel (or worse, coal) goes into the process that produces a ton of PLA — tractor/harvester fuel, fertilizer production, water lift for irrigation, fermentation and associated pre- and post-processing, transportation, etc. Use of cheap nitrogen-rich fertilizer that corn needs results in the release of substantial amounts of N2O, a much more potent greenhouse gas than CO2. The carbon from petroleum that goes into non-degradable plastic goes into a landfill, not the atmosphere; the carbon from degradable corn plastic goes back into the atmosphere; should both be counted as a wash?

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        • Exactly.

          Another thing to keep in mind is that often, the technology in the links I present represent stepping stones. Big stepping stones, to be sure, otherwise they wouldn’t be trying to make money from it, or use it as advertising or PR, but most people recognize it as a waypoint toward a larger goal, such as having a large catalog of non-petro feedstocks for useful polymers and other chemical bases.

          I.E. I don’t expect corn and cotton shoes to be a long term product line, but rather something novel and maybe niche that can be leveraged to meet other goals.

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          • New corn hybrids reduce fertilizer runoff:

            The study from the University of Illinois found that the level of nitrates dropped 10 percent between 2010 and 2014. Adding in data from 2015 that was not available when the study was being written, that level dropped by 15 percent, one co-author said.

            Data used in the study, which was published May 6 in the Journal of Environmental Quality, suggest that varieties of corn adopted in recent years grow more crop per acre and are better at resisting drought, disease and pests are making better use of nitrogen fertilizer. That means less is left in the field to wash away into the river, McIsaac said.

            Link

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        • …the technology in the links I present represent stepping stones. Big stepping stones…

          When I first read the article, I had vague recollections floating up about corn-based plastics from decades ago (did my undergraduate days at a school with a big ag campus as well as other things). A bit of digging this afternoon to confirm my uncertain memory raises the question, “What’s new here?” Specialized corn breeds with the starch content optimized for plastics go back to the 1950s. Global production of bio-plastics pre Reebok’s new product run to half a billion kilograms per year. There’s nothing that suggests more than an incremental improvement to processes where the heavy lifting occurred decades ago.

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  4. I saw the memristor article and thought “We’ve got those working?”.

    Useful little things, IIRC, for circuit design. (And IC design, and computers…)

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    • Yeah, memristors exist. So far, they only work on integrated circuit scale — the effects are swamped by resistance, capacitance and inductance at larger scales. To date, they’ve been a technology in search of a problem — memory, switches, etc based on them have been either larger than the competition, slower than the competition, or both.

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