Archive for category Technology & Industry


Posted by on Friday, 18 October, 2013

funny cartoon about self driving cars

Gasoline Direct Technology Looks Promising

Holy slide rule!

Automotive engineers have no end of tricks.

Car makers had to jack up the fuel-efficiency under federal (and California) rules that keep getting tougher. After messing around a little, they came up with a way to inject fuel directly into the combustion chamber. MISTER ScienceAintSoBad is good with that but what about emssions? The newest emissions standard is even lower than the one for 2017 – 2021.

A study in ACS journal Environmental Science & Technology suggests that they are on the right track with the new GDI (gasoline direct injection) technology. The study says the emissions are at or below what’s required.

Matti Maricq is lead author.

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The drawing is mine



A New Space Craft: A Few Laptops To Do The Work Of “Mission Control”

Posted by on Sunday, 15 September, 2013



A few days ago, I wrote about a brainier dune buggy . It does a lot of the work that ground based scientists used to do.

Today I’ve got another one. A smarter rocket ship.

Why have a room full of humans  hunched over computers to control a space launch? Isn’t that from another era? If a dune buggy can be made smarter,  why not a space vehicle?


A rocket  should be able to do its own  instrument checks  asking for a “consult” only when necessary.

The Japanese  Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) read my mind. A few days ago, it launched a 3 stage rocket and, according to Science Recorder (Ellen Miller), the whole thing was controlled with just two  laptops. The rocket handled the nitty gritty, allowing the human controllers to concentrate on higher order decisions.

MISTER ScienceAintSoBad was impressed.

Meanwhile, NASA’s beaming about its new “21st Century Control Center”.  It has replaced those bulky old workstations with newer “cleaner” computers But, you know what? I think NASA should have a look at what its Japanese counterpart is doing.  NASA launches more and bigger vehicles but isn’t this the direction that it should be headed?

What do you think?

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Drawing by me



Posted by on Friday, 6 September, 2013



The new IPhone is expected to have a fingerprint sensor which MISTER ScienceAintSoBad thinks is a great (marketing) idea. People trust fingerprints. If you really want to protect your phone do it with fingerprints.  It”s as close to perfect security as you can get.

So let me ask you something.

How do we know that fingerprints  can be trusted? Is it for real? Does every single person on earth really have a unique paw print?

It is in courtrooms, where where fingerprints matter the most. And there, the fingerprint evidence is judged by an “examiner” who’s opinion, in effect, is the fingerprint since the jurors don’t get to see the originals.  How good are they? Do they ever  hang the wrong guy? What if the prints are smudged? Or partials? What about examiners who slug back a couple on work days? Are you telling me there’s never a deal where the examiner screw it up?

Matching prints


The International Association for Identification (the fingerprint guys) administered a proficiency test to 156 examiners.

Not that it was worried.

Still.  How could it hurt to have some proof?  Maybe back off some skeptics. The results were a surprise.

“Despite the absence of objective standards, scientific validation, and adequate statistical studies, a natural question to ask is how well fingerprint examiners actually perform. Proficiency tests do not validate a procedure per se, but they can provide some insight into error rates. In 1995, the Collaborative Testing Service (CTS) administered a proficiency test that, for the first time, was “designed, assembled, and reviewed” by the International Association for Identification (IAI).The results were disappointing. Four suspect cards with prints of all ten fingers were provided together with seven latents. Of 156 people taking the test, only 68 (44%) correctly classified all seven latents. Overall, the tests contained a total of 48 incorrect identifications. David Grieve, the editor of the Journal of Forensic Identification, describes the reaction of the forensic community to the results of the CTS test as ranging from “shock to disbelief,”..

(That’s taken from Wikipedia)

They flunked their own test – and  they didn’t do much better when they were retested later. Can we expect better from smartphone sensors?

We don’t know.

Apple probably won’t share its secrets. (Does it ever?)  We won’t know how good the rejection rate is on those sensors but why should they push too hard? The lower the rejection rate (the sloppier the fingerprint sensor is about allowing a false match), the more convincing the fingerprint magic will seem. After all, this more about user convenience.

Until someone swipes the phone.

Loosening up on the rejection rate means the idea that only you can unlock your phone is wrong.  You’re not the only one.  Actually? There are three of you. Maybe a thousand of you. Maybe, even, a million. The odds are still pretty stiff against any one who swipes the phone being among the lucky million.

That’s good enough for me.

The IAI deserves credit for its transparency. At least we know the idea of fingerprinting perfection is an illusion. If, indeed, Apple uses this technology, isn’t it fair to ask for something similar?

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Both drawings are mine




Posted by on Tuesday, 27 August, 2013



My article, “Airport Scanners: Good For Your Health” got looked at more often than anything else I’ve done. The article was about  an aborted  attack on Delta  flight 523 to Detroit where  Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab started waiving around a home made bomb.  Some of his fellow passengers said “That’s so not happening on this flight” and grabbed his butt. Nobody got hurt but lots of people got worried about how good security was.

Seriously? You can walk onto an airplane with a bomb?

All of a sudden, body scanners started showing up in airports and, all of a sudden, passengers started to get nervous about who was seeing what. It is amazing how uptight certain people are about having somebody see the outlines of their impossibly perfect bodies.

Like the guys behind the scanner don’t have bellies of their own!

Well, anyway,  ever since I published that article, I’ve been trying to stay up on airport scanner technology. I wondered if authorities really understood that the people who sputter about their privacy were much more anxious about their bulgy parts than their private parts. The average passenger will choose vanity over safety every time.

I guess Homeland Security gets it because the old body scanners have been removed from US airports due to “privacy issues”. However, a new wave of scanners is coming that only shows a “standard” body outline (hides your particular endearing characteristics).    The entire technology is under review with special attention to safety. Here’s an interesting article on howstuffoworks on the subject.

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The cartoony thing above? That’s my own drawing.



Posted by on Tuesday, 20 August, 2013



Remember me talking about driverless cars? You said  “Not in my bleeping lifetime?”

Well, Smarty Pants, what do you say to this?

It’s happening.

An article in CIO  (Evan Dashevsky) says trucks are ready. That’s because they already drive in  “convoys”, several trucks tucked one behind the other, to reduce the overall air resistance and  fuel costs. Dashevsky says you shouldn’t let the Google “hype” about autonomous vehicles confuse you. As he sees it, driverless cars are still on the distant horizon whereas, since nobody seems to want the long hours of a long haul truck driver (there’s a big shortage of qualified drivers)  trucks are the perfect place to try out the technology.    With a human in the lead truck, letting driverless vehicles follow suddenly seems less crazy, doesn’t it?  And the trucking companies have a whole lot to gain  if it works.




Meanwhile, in Singapore, a driverless shuttle bus will run back and forth over a two kilometer route from the campus to JTC’s Clean Tech One Building at Nanyank Technological University, another “walk before you can run” opportunity for autonomous vehicles.

MISTER ScienceAintSoBad believes we ARE close to true self-driving cars – the kind that’ll take you wherever, whenever and that you can actually afford. Could be five years maybe.  Not a distant horizon at all.

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The drawings are my own.


Posted by on Saturday, 3 August, 2013
Balloons for Google



I mentioned (last post) that Google defies gravity. Its latest gravity defying stunt, Project Loon, is cool, cool, cool.


I said.. what was it? – flip,  flip,  flip – here it is –  I said Google would disappoint you just like all the others. Nobody pumps out miracles forever. Google will crush your hopes. Again and again. Because Google is uninhibited when it is in creative mode. It doesn’t give a fig what you think. Nor does it care if it gets egg goo on its face either. It’s looking into the far future, something that twitchy investors don’t like much. And over that dark horizon there are some real wonders. One of them: Google’s Project Loon.

(That’s an n on the end. Project Loo was discontinued.  Image problems. This is Loon as in balloon. Okay?)

Where was I?

Google’s boundless ambitions to connect to every mud hut on the planet had hit a wall. There’s no Internet service in MudHutVille and not much hope of it any time soon. No fiber,  no copper,  no satellites,  no money to buy same.  No Google,  no Android,  no Adwords,  no Chromebooks.

What to do?


With enough balloons and a lot of google-ish ingenuity, thought Google,  maybe the Internet could reach all over the world without rockets and satellites .

Less, anyway

A  simple villager freaks out

How would this work?

That’s the elegant part. Google was looking for a way to get up there without all the muss and fuss of booster engines, without the ear splitting noise,  and without dumping the CO2 equivalent of 43 Detroits into the atmosphere. Google’s “Loons” are delicate, light, whispy things; they drift quietly through the air and are steered by rising or descending into prevailing air currents which do the pushing. Of course, balloons don’t get nearly as high as satellites. But with enough of them in the right locations, they can form a big network and do the job, can’t they?

Maybe. But this is an iffy proposition. Balloons can fail,  prevailing winds sometimes don’t blow right,  electronics packages go flooey. Lots can go wrong.  This atmospheric dance of the balloons would have to be able to compensate for all kinds of screw ups with extras of everything which can be deployed just as needed.  Still with Google’s great  experience running its many Internet “properties”, wouldn’t it be a  logical choice to pull this off?

The project is in a very early stage right now. Google will take its time  and try to make sure that whatever system it creates will work as well as its other fine efforts. There’s no guarantee that the project will ultimately succeed though MISTER ScienceAintSoBad thinks it has a great chance of doing so.

If  you live in a mud hut,  sweep the floor and figure out where to put your sit down log. You’ll be surfing before you know it.


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 Image creds:  The first image is from a video Google posted online. The second one – the line drawing – that’s by me (copyright 2013, D Chidakel)


Posted by on Monday, 29 July, 2013




You know about saccadic eye movements?

Ha ha!

But, seriously, this is interesting.

First what it is. Then I’ll get to to why we’re  even talking about it. .


Your eyes are  strange. No offense. But they are. You wouldn’t think they would work as well as they do. There’s only one small part of  your retina where the vision receptors are close enough together to tell a bear from a bush. If our ancestors had tried to pick berries from bears, we wouldn’t be having this little talk,  now would we?

As the eye evolved,  it learned to keep the fovea, the aforementioned part,  on the move. The fovea follows a complex track around whatever you’re looking at, darting quickly over everything before steadying.  These quick eye  movements are automatic; you aren’t aware of them. To you, seeing the world seems  simple  and natural. Behind the scenes, the brain and the eyes are involved in a saccadic dance.

That’s how it works,  okay?

Back to my point.


Well YOU might not have been aware of your eye movement but it’s nothing new to scientists and physicians. In Finland,  Dr.  Martti Juhola at the University of Tampere, wondered if saccadic eye motion could be used for identification (International Journal of Biometrics). He knew that these movement  patterns are unique for each individual. Could eye movements be used like passwords are used? Maybe instead of passwords?  Could we use a video camera to turn saccadic eye movements into a biometric ID that might – just might – free us from “password hell” someday? Just a video camera and the right software and we could lose the passwords? Wouldn’t that be nice?

Juhola ‘s group is developing a system for doing just that. If it proves viable,  maybe you will use it some day.


They’ve been trying to replace passwords with “biometrics” for years and years. It isn’t an easy thing to do get right. This Finnish idea might have legs but it will take time till we know.

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Image credits for the image above: ‘fraid it’s me again. 

No more blood pressure cuffs. Yay!!!

Posted by on Tuesday, 25 June, 2013
See? You need a wristband.



You’ve used a home blood pressure cuff, right? They still sell them at CVS I think.  The cheap ones have a little squeeze ball to pump up the cuff.  The expensive ones –  well I don’t know this for a fact since I never had one –  I think they self inflate. The display shows those two numbers that you soon learn to hate – diastolic and systolic blood pressure. Are you confused yet?


STBL’s new “bracelet”

You’re supposed to relax while the cuff crushes your muscle. That’s what the instruction say.

Sometimes this works and the readings more-or-less make sense. Sometimes you get crazy stuff.  Also, your pressure fluctuates throughout the day. Since, at best, you’re only going to use it a few times in a day, you probably won’t get a great representative reading of the dynamics of daily blood pressure. Better than nothing I guess.

Anyway, the reason I’m bothering you about all this is that  Michael Tschudin and his associates over at STBL Medical Research AG just came up with something better. They have a comfortable wrist “bracelet” that can be worn for long periods, It  records the blood pressure and heart rate continuously-  the holy grail of blood pressure monitoring – without  sticking a needle in your veins. Their system is so noninvasive it is almost casual. Simple , continuous, convenient, and noninvasive?   Tschudin, Luscher, and friends are  cool dudes. Scientifically speaking.


I’m going to explain what the numbers mean. Not that you haven’t heard it before, right? Let’s go through it again.

Your heart ‘s a  double pump. Two sides. One for the lungs,  the other for the rest of the body.  Each time the heart pumps,the pressure in your arteries rises and falls.  There’s a maximum pressure and a minimum pressure for each stroke. Max, min, max, min. Over and over. This goes on until the day the kids inherit the house and start staying nicer (er) things about you. That maximum pressure is called the systolic pressure. The other one, the minimum pressure, is the diastolic pressure.

Simple enough.


The device hasn’t been approved but it sounds like it’s got a great shot. The price is fine for a hospital purchasing department – cheap, actually. But too expensive for CVS shelves. In time? Sure. You’ll probably have on in your drawer.

ScienceAintSoBadRating = 10 on this one. A brilliant solution to an important problem.

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photo credits. That first one is from a Halloween display on our front lawn. The second one is from the developers of the product. 



Posted by on Saturday, 2 February, 2013
Missing Science Guy

Science Guy Out Of Office?



Has Google taken away his  Internet license?

Is he being held in a state institution for the criminally inane?

Where IS MISTER ScienceAintSoBad?

Readers complained. You don’t start a blog and then just turn out the lights  Where the HELL you been?



I have been reamed out for not keeping up my end of the deal. I know that I am supposed to update regularly and I feel bad about it. I do. But, here’s the thing. We are buying a place. Three bedrooms, three bathrooms. Nice kitchen. Honking big basement. This is a big, big house. By our standards.

And the huge house  needs fixing up. Lots of it. So we made me the “general contractor”.

I have a clip board.

And each day, I walk around behind the electricians and plumbers and carpenters and tin knockers looking official.

What are we doing today? I ask.

Staying out of our way, they say.

We have smart friends who suggest things. I write them down and add them to the drawings. Sometimes I argue a little. Just to show I’m paying attention.  Mostly I do the calling, coordinating, checking, and making sure  the door is unlocked in the morning. It doesn’t take a genius.

But it does take a lot of time.

I manage to keep up on  the scientific literature and I fantasize about actually updating my neglected blog. This (if I tap “publish”) will be the first time I actually pumped one out since construction started.

I will be back on my regular beat soon; I promise.  A few weeks. In the meantime, here’s something to chew on.


A little thing. From Google. Not a secret, exactly. But you never heard of it.

Very cool!

If you like to keep up on specific stuff like – I dunno – architecture, or book collecting, or phrenology (that’s head bumps and I’m just being funny) you can “subscribe” to some “feeds”, using an rss “reader” such as Google reader.  But if you just want to have fun surfing the feeds, Type www. Very hard to put down. You’ll see what I mean.










My Galaxy Nexus phone is 12 months old.

A senior citizen of a phone.

It still does great tricks, takes decent pictures, and keeps me connected. And with the help of my graying pal there, I tap out this article, waiting in  the doctor’s office  for my name to be called. What more could I ask from my pocket slab? Am I getting restless for a better phone? Do I need an upgrade?

The rush to the future has slowed. Are smartphones  amazing? For sure. But in the world of “what have you done for me lately”, higher screen resolution, faster processors, and a few more more pixels won’t make me rush to the store for a new phone.  My Galaxy Nexus is as good as the newest stuff in most ways. I don’t feel so bad when I walk by the kiosk. Nothing there makes me drool.

Maybe this will.

How about a smartphone with a battery that lasts for days?  And a great display that you can drop without damage, that won’t scratch and – seriously – that can be bent and twisted.

See? I got your attention.

Phone displays are the next big thing. Instead of glass, they will soon become unscratchable, unbreakable plastic with amazing clarity. Most important of all, the display, instead of sucking the battery dry, will help to conserve energy, finally allowing you to focus on  something beside how long it’s been since the last charge.

The new OLED displays will bend easily so that they can be folded up like a piece of paper while still functioning.  Star Trek had great tricorders for beaming Scotty up. But they couldn’t bend and twist..

Here’s the thing. According to Mathew Humphries of,   Dai Nippon Printing already has the thing working. They say this technology has been licensed to Samsung. MISTER ScienceAintSoBad thinks the first phones will be announced next month.

Don’t say I never told you nothin’.

Now. Back to the house project.

See ya.

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Image of MISTER ScienceAintSoBad: My own (processed) image.

IBM’s Doctor In A Box

Posted by on Wednesday, 7 November, 2012


What if your doctor knew everything?

Instead of just acting like he did.

I mean what if your physician ACTUALLY had all those studies and papers – all the latest stuff – in his.her head?

Nobody’s saying doctors aren’t smart but they can’t be up on every possible disease or every possible drug. Nobody could keep all that information “upstairs”.

Except for Dr. Watson.

The latest incarnation of  Watson, IBM’s supercomputer, takes in the Internet as well as other sources of up-to-date medical information, sorts out all the useful stuff, and  shares this with busy medical professionals as it is needed. Easy access to everything. And an algorithm to help.

Maybe you remember Watson. From Jeopardy. Watson was a contestant on the show and trounced  all the other (human) players.

They never had a chance.

IBM now wants to get Watson in the medical game, offering direct help as well as second opinions to physicians. Maybe, eventually, aiding and abetting the delivery of primary health care. (This, by the way, is from Brandon Kleim, Wired Magazine).

Would it work? Is this a good idea? Well… doctors do make mistakes.

No. I’m serious. It can happen.

Like.. all the time.

Thousands of errors every year. People who should get better, don’t. People who should go home, die. Not knocking the docs. They are amazing. But nobody’s perfect, right?

“I am. I am.” (Shut UP Watson!)

Okay. That’s the idea, anyway – that a machine, indefatigable, without human biases, with always up-to-date information – can offer useful assistance to healthcare providers.


Nobody’s threatened by THAT idea, right?

One of the doctors quoted in the article above reminds us that doctors have enough knowledge. No need to waste electricity. We’re fine here.

Mister ScienceAintSoBad will stand aside while the geniuses from medical school figure this out. Some would say that most medical errors can’t be prevented this way. Well, guess what? This one’s inevitable. Watson, Shmatson. Eventually? The strong right arm of every physician will be his Doctor In A Box.

I’m right on this.

Trust me.


MISTER ScienceAintSoBad.

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Credits for the animation: to Heather’s Animations. Please note that donations are gratefully accepted in return for which (or even without a contribution) you can utilize the work you find there in your emails, articles, and what not.