Science and Technology June 27th

Tech Tuesday starts in two weeks, not two days ago, as expected, because Will & I have lives.

Aerospace

Aero1 – Three stellar nurseries, one giga-pic!

Aero2 – Orbital ATK has successfully tested it’s Ori… oh who cares, it’s a video of a rocket motor shooting flames everywhere.  Enjoy!  (Here is the press release, if you really want.)

Aero3 – A solar powered airplane.  I expect solar powered military recon UAVs will be not far behind.

Aero4 – The Paris Airshow happened last week, so there are fun things to look at.

Aero5 – Yes, NASA wants to probe Uranus.  Are you done laug… no?  Do you need more time to finish, or maybe to grow up?  Seriously people…

Aero6 – Just how many actual planets are out past Pluto?

Aero7 – The US SpaceCorps Wants You!

Aero8 – Magnetic Space Tugs, for de-orbiting, or formation flying.  Both are pretty significant tasks in space.

Agriculture

Ag1 – Vertical farming, no dirt.  One thing I wonder: different soils give different flavors to different crops, thanks to trace elements in the soil that get drawn into the plant.  Do setups like this try to recreate that flavor palette?

Ag2 – Can we stop trying to turn food into fuel now?  I’m all for growing plants that can be easily converted to fuel sources, but let’s stop using food crops and/or prime ag land to do it.  This is where GMOs can really make a difference.  People may care about what they put into their bodies, but most people don’t give a hoot about what goes into their tank.  If we have to grow corn for ethanol (and I’m not convinced we do, I seem to recall a variant of sugar cane, or maybe sorghum, that wasn’t fit for food and could grown in marginal soil – and that is assuming ethanol is ideal; vegetable oil has more energy), let’s not impact food sources to do it.

Ag3 – I’ve seen mushrooms turned into packing material, and even converted to plastic, but grown into a structure like a building, or furniture.  That’s neat.

BioMedical

Bio1 – I don’t even pay attention to news bits about nutrition anymore.  Except perhaps to mock them.

Bio2 – I’m pretty sure I will see the end of organ donation before I see the end of my life.

Bio3 – Turns out we all can play 11-dimensional chess.  Except Trump, he’s still stuck at 2.

Bio4 – Eat yer damn broccoli!

Bio5 – Antibacterial soaps do more harm than good.  Personally, I agree, because I think immune systems need something to do.

Bio6 – Micro-needle patches instead of shots.

Bio7 – Using plastic to try and save coral reefs that are being killed by climate change.

Energy

En1 – Solar paint that splits ambient moisture into hydrogen and oxygen.  Will this be the end of PV cells?

En2 – A scalable solar desalination system.  The key word here is “scalable”.

En3 – Seawater batteries.  For real, MIT says so.

En4 – Taming runaway electrons in fusion reactions – Achievement Unlocked!

Physics

Phys1 – Quantum satellite communication – Achievement Unlocked!

Phys2 – Speaking of telecommunications… 100 year old barrier breached – Achievement Unlocked!  Now… ummm… any electrical engineers out there care to explain this to the forum.  I think I kinda understand this, but I don’t ever recall learning about this barrier, so I’m not entirely sure I understand it.

Phys3 – Turns out, when you hit something with a light a billion times brighter than the sun, things get weird.

Phys4 – Speaking of weird, what the hell, water?

Technology

Tech1 – Using WiFi to see through walls is nothing new, but using a pair of drones to setup the WiFi field and see through walls is a novel approach.

Tech2 – A flexible, transparent, 77″ OLED display.   I can’t wait to see this on sale at Costco.

Tech3 – GE is building a one cubic meter laser sintering printer.

Tech4 – Speaking of 3D printing and lasers – making graphene foam.  With sugar.

Tech5 – Tiny camera, no lens.

Tech6 – Bio-mimicry is at it again.  This time, moth eyes will help reduce phone screen glare.

Tech7 – A sound that is inaudible to people, but can be heard by every microphone.  Nope, it’s not the start to some riddle.

Tech8 – Whop-whop-whop-whop-pew-pew-pew.

Transportation

Tr1 – Print on demand tire treads.  Well, it’s an airless tire, and I like that.  But I doubt it will be as smooth as the video makes it out.

Tr2 – Everyone heard about the collision between the USS Fitzgerald and the Crystal, right?  It’s looking like the main culprit is a ship autopilot, but I doubt the officers and bridge watch of the Fitzgerald will get out of this unscathed.

Tr3 – Getting rid of traffic lights with autonomous cars.  Not surprised this is coming out of Singapore.

Tr4 – A MagLev vertical and horizontal movement elevator.  I believe Gene called them ‘Turbolifts’.

Tr5 – Lowering the boom on da BOOM!

Weird and Wonderful

WW1 – A green city isn’t a crazy idea, but it would involve some engineering to prevent the plants from tearing the city apart (seriously, have you ever seen what a wisteria can do in the space of a few years?).

 

 

Image by pestoverde


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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64 thoughts on “Science and Technology June 27th

      • My prediction: the CO, XO, and officer of the watch go find work somewhere else. The damage control officer gets a commendation. This prediction holds regardless of the fact set of how the collision occurred. “Go find work somewhere else” need not involve their being cashiered.

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        • Oh, the CO is probably done regardless. Absent evidence of gross negligence, he’ll be allowed to retire when it’s all said and done (he’s been in 17 years), unless he has some really important shore based skill set such that the Navy can justify letting him ride a desk for the rest of his career.

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        • I believe it, my brother is a 2nd engineer on various freight hauling beasts in the Great Lakes and the Atlantic. But we’re not talking about two freighters running into each other, the Fitzgerald was a fully manned modern US Navy ship. If they saw the Crystal and still ran into it- heads are going to roll. If they didn’t see it- heads are going to roll.

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          • My guess (and this is purely speculation on my part, I have no information to back this up) is that the Fitzgerald did have eyes on the Crystal, but for some reason didn’t notice that she turned to port (perhaps there was some kind of commotion on the bridge or on the ship), or did notice but was somehow restricted from maneuvering (perhaps there were smaller vessels in the area that were not running AIS, and not getting out of the destroyers way) and couldn’t raise anyone on the Crystal… My experience is that with these kinds of incidents, it’s never just one or two things going wrong, but a whole mess of wrong coming together at the same time.

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      • I don’t quite fully trust the open source info about the tracks being shown in the press yet. They’re probably ok, but I don’t think anyone has taken the time to confirm that data is actual ‘ground truth’ and there isn’t something errant in there.

        (though I was surprised how good the ‘leaks’ were in the first 48 hours of this story, everything ‘sources tell the Navy Time’ etc turned out the be exactly the info confirmed by official press release in short order)

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  1. Tr3: The city of the future seems not to have bicycles or pedestrians. This is a common feature of these utopian autonomous car schemes.

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  2. Bio6: great, until people start misusing them somehow or someone has the very rare adverse allergic reaction. (They were being promoted on the news last night as “Amazon Prime can deliver them to you, and you can administer them to yourself while you watch tv” and I could only think of “All the lonely people, where do they all come from?”)

    I suppose it’s a net positive decoupling certain treatments from the NEED to be seen by a medical professional but as someone with weird allergies….I’m not sure I’d take a new form of a vaccine for the first time without a doctor nearby.

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  3. Bio3 — This is possibly the worst science writing I have ever seen. This is it folks. This is the most preposterously bad. The is peak terrible. Wow. Double wow.

    Simply, the brain is embedded in 3d space. It is three dimensional. What they are calling “dimensionality” here is simply the number of neurons in a clique. They use this weird terminology because, when modeling the system, we describe a graph using one variable for each node, and thus a system with N variables is (in a sense) an “N-dimensional model.”

    There is nothing new here. At my employer we routinely deploy models with literally millions of dimensions. In biological modeling, an entire genome can be modeled as one dimension-per-gene. High dimensional spaces have become routine.

    High-dimensional cliques, however, are interesting because their complexity increases quadradically. So (for example), an 11-node clique has 55 connections, whereas a 5-node clique would have only 10.

    The actual article from the scientists is here. I’m looking through it now, but I only understand maybe 30% of it. (I’m not a neuroscientist, so…)

    The take away is animal brains have a certain kind of layered complexity that was previously unknown. It is quite interesting. We don’t yet understand how brains find the balance between “uncontrolled entropic behavior” and “too simplistic to do much.” It is a profound question. There clearly will be a “sweet spot,” a certain kind of structured complexity. But what? We are so far from knowing.

    This is awesome. However, the brain is not 11-dimensional. That’s dumb.

    (I don’t have time right now to dive into the algebraic topology connection. I’m sure it’s really cool.)

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  4. Energy… After seven years and $7.5B, Southern Company and Mississippi Power announced yesterday they are immediately shutting down the coal gasification portion of the Kemper clean coal project in Mississippi. The combined cycle generating portion of the plant will be run on natural gas. No word on whether the CO2 capture portion of the project will continue. Last week the Mississippi Public Service Commission ordered Southern shareholders to take a $6.5B loss on the project rather than passing the costs to Mississippi consumers.

    Coal for the Kemper plant was low-grade lignite from surface mines in Mississippi.

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  5. Aero6 – How many planets are past Neptune.

    Bio2 – Funny story, I’ve been talking to the Cabal, and it turns out that you’ll definitely die before the end of organ donation. 2019. A connected government official in Venezuela gets your ears.

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    • I never said Pluto was a planet. It’s still a named KBO.

      And no, not Venezuela, anywhere but Venezuela. Unless you are going to soak all my organs in some kind of toxin that kills people slowly and painfully; then yes, send all my parts to connected government officials in Venezuela.

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  6. Ag2, Corn-ethanol, presenting the false-choice fallacy. Ethanol production only utilizes the starches in the corn plant, meaning that about 2/3rds of the plant becomes fuel, and 1/3rd becomes a high-protein animal feed (distiller’s grains). China has a complaint before the WTO that America is dumping distiller’s grains on the world market, and has levied a punitive tariff on their imports until they get a ruling. Dumping food.

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      • It’s actually one of the least efficient, although I suspect that’s gotten a bit better just through sheer desperation. (People stuck using corn for ethanol generation have probably done all they could to make it more efficient).

        Yeah, corn lobby for the win there.

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      • The U.S. uses corn because the Corn belt region has the most favorable soils and climate for growing yellow corn in the world. I thought the study would be interesting in that it appeared to start from the assumption that corn will be grown (it will) and here are the trade-offs btw/ food and fuel, but it seems to lose this thread. (Calculating the cost of tile installation? Really? That happened 100 years ago)

        There are two main problems identified: (1) fertilizer, which is applied to corn regardless of its ultimate use, and (2) refining, which is required for alternative fuel sources as well. The main issue in refining though is the use of coal over natural gas, which is changing. The main issue with fertilizer is that a lot of it ends up washed away so heavy application rates are used, but new corn hybrids appear to have stopped that. The study is severely dated, and some of its assumptions might have been true five years ago.

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        • Except the corn belt doesn’t have to grow corn. It is grown because it is profitable to do so, largely because of corn syrup and ethanol. There are lots of other food crops, or even industrial crops, that can be grown in the corn belt, should the price of corn fall.

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          • For a while, I was getting calls from people asking me about switchgrass. (I am a prairie community ecologist). Apparently switchgrass was going to be the next “it” crop for ethanol back around 2008 or so.

            I will admit:

            1. Yes, it can be grown on more-marginal land than corn can

            2. but I’d still be concerned about the whole “monoculture” aspect, especially if the mindset was, “We can plow under this diverse grassland and plant it to highly-inbred varietal switchgrass.”

            3. I don’t know what it would require in the way of fertilizer or pesticide; I am far from an expert on switchgrass.

            I’m guessing there was some fundamental failure-of-concept because I’ve heard nothing about the idea for at least five years.

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              • Actually, almost complete lack of progress on scaling up cellulosic ethanol. So far, that’s been a really good way to lose lots of money. Recall that Congress mandated that the petroleum industry be blending a few billion gallons of cellulosic ethanol into the gasoline supply this year. IIRC, actual production will be under 100M gallons.

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                • I seem to recall the whole point of that particular switch grass was that it was much easier to break down the lignins of that breed.

                  But yes, cellulosic has an extra step that makes it more expensive compared to corn or sugarcane.

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          • No, your timing is way off. Using corn for ethanol was a response to the Arab Oil Embargo, and I think the first fuel plant came on-line in 1978. The midwest started to be known as the corn belt with the Civil War — Abraham Lincoln described the Middle West as the interior area between the mountains and north of the line in which “the culture of corn and cotton meet.”

            When I wrote that the corn belt has a comparative advantage, I meant that the soil and climate were uniquely favorable to yellow corn. The soils are deep, rich and have multiple complex soil horizons. The spring has adequate rainfall for planting, but hot, mostly dry in the summer. It’s flat for mechanization. There are only two other places in the world of any size that are similar. One is in Northern China and the other is somewhere around Ukraine / Russian, currently not being used for corn, but supposed to be transitioning to corn in the next decade. Sure, you could plant wheat or beans or white corn, but it wouldn’t be that much more advantageous than growing it somewhere else.

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            • Sorry, that wasn’t my point. If it wasn’t for ethanol and corn syrup production, would the corn belt be growing as much corn as it does? I.E. would the world be eating that much corn as either sweet corn, alcohol, corn meal or feed?

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              • An awful lot of corn winds up being turned (rather inefficiently, but whatever) into cow flesh or pig flesh.

                I don’t know how much corn we export, either. I do know back post WWI, wheat exports were enormous (because most of Europe was either too bomb-scarred or had had too many of its young farmers killed off to effectively grow wheat for a few years). Contributing factor to the dust bowl because farmers grew wheat on marginal lands using what turned out to be terrible land-management practices.

                I do know when I travel in the upper midwest (mostly IL), pretty much the ONLY farming is corn and soybeans. It makes me wonder a bit about what would happen if the industrial demands for those collapsed.

                (Also, at least until the housing bust, a not-inconsiderable amount of farmland in and around where my parents live was being converted into McMansions, which seems to me to be a rather dumb use of good farmland, but that may just be one way in which I’m a little Tinfoil Hattie: I don’t think it’s smart to pave over/otherwise make inaccessible the land you can grow food on)

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              • Would the corn belt be less corny? It would still be corny, silly.

                The corn belt is growing more corn because advances in technology are improving corn seeds, a process that began at least a hundred years ago. (How did prairie populist Henry Wallace make his fortune?)

                I won’t dispute that sugar protection made it worthwhile to invest in the technology to develop high fructose corn syrup, but those aren’t protections corn industry lobbies to keep. Sugar and HFCS are differentiated products with different price points now.

                Corn growers benefit from the ethanol mandates for fuel, but the export market is becoming huge: exporting 200 million gallons in 2009 to 1.5 billion gallons in 2016. There is a demand for fuel alternatives that isn’t based simply on domestic politics.

                There is another piece though. Yellow corn is historically used for animal feed. Because it is valued by richer countries and is more difficult to grow, some developing countries try to encourage a domestic yellow corn industry as a cash crop with protective measures. If we lived in a world of free trade, there probably would be more yellow corn produced in the United States and it would probably be for the better of developing countries as well.

                (Not paid for by the Corn Lobby)

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                • We’re overlooking a very important point.

                  Corn Prices are subsidized to maximize production… there is a Price Floor for Corn which provides incentives to increase production (vs. mostly fixed costs) without regard to supply/demand. There’s no risk in producing as much corn as you can possibly produce. In fact, its the opposite of risk, you are incented to produce as much corn as you can possibly produce.

                  So, skipping any questions about the pros/cons of unfettered corn production… the answer to why the corn belt is corny isn’t technology and advances it’s a conscious policy of promoting maximum corn production.

                  Spot Price for Corn
                  June 29 = $3.662/bu
                  Price Loss Coverage = $3.7/bu

                  Price Loss Coverage

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  7. Canadian Supreme Court says fine to censor global internet.

    For the past few years, we’ve been covering the worrisome Google v. Equustek Solutions case in Canada. The case started out as a trademark case, in which Equustek claimed that another company was infringing on its trademarks online. That’s fine. The problem was that the lower court issued an injunction against Google (a non-party in the case) that said it had to block entire sites worldwide. Blocking sites already raises some concerns, but the worldwide part is the real problem. In 2015, an appeals court upheld that decision, and earlier today the Canadian Supreme Court agreed with both lower courts in a 7-2 decision.

    The court is dismissive of any concerns about how an order from one country to block things on the internet globally might be abused — calling the concerns “theoretical” and unproven.

    The good thing about the ruling is it means that Saudi Arabia can force companies to remove all references to LGBQT anything from the internet, worldwide, and China can force companies to remove anything that might offend Chinese communists.

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  8. I think this wins the ‘dumbest incidental line’, in Tech7:

    “Microphones are in millions of devices, including all of our smartphones,” said Hassanieh, an assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering.

    ‘millions of devices’?

    Dude, you are not a good counter of microphone devices. You have utterly failed at counting those, Hassanieh. You’ve off by a factor of three just for cell phones (There are more cell phones than people.), and those obviously aren’t the only device that have microphones.

    Every telephone, cell or otherwise, every tablet, every laptop, every car in the last couple of years, every hearing aid, every walkie-talkie, every two-way radio, seriously, this list is absurd.

    Total number of ‘devices with microphones’ in the world should probably be estimated somewhere between twenty and a hundred billion, not ‘millions’.

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