Archive for category Technology & Industry


Posted by on Tuesday, 28 August, 2012



We have moved on from the last recession best we could. Companies are profitable. Stocks are back. even the housing market seems to be steadying.

But jobs? Peh!

Why is that?

In a word? Robots.

Nobody – not even a glib politician – is going to add jobs faster than the “robot revolution” scrapes them away. Cut taxes all you like. Stimulate till the top blows off. The fact is, technology’s outgunning us and we will keep losing jobs till we cry uncle.

Why WOULDN’T a company use the best available tools? Isn’t that what it is supposed to do? What’s wrong with that? Of course companies will buy “intelligent machines” to reduce labor costs. And why worry? Aren’t new jobs being created to replace the ones that were lost?

I have talked about this before. I’m still talking about it. Technology is zooming. Faster and faster. And jobs are being eaten alive.

Let’s look at how we shop. Consuming is a lonely chore now.  We cavort with machines at the store instead of clerks. No friendly smiles. Not even a nasty scowl.

And work? Well that’s been you and your best buddy,  the machine,  for a long time, right? Only now it’s more so. Flesh-and-blood workers aren’t valuable enough to waste a wall on. Just a cubicle. Soon humans will be so rare in the workplace, the computers will gawk when they see one. Wherever there are human workers, their computerish adversaries are crowding in.

Isn’t it time to examine our basic assumptions about why jobs aren’t rebounding along with the rest of the economy? The recovery has been slow. But that’s really not the whole story. There’s something else going on. The very technology that has the potential to free us from muckery is tossing us about like a rubber ducky in a hurricane. Unless we pay attention, there will be less rubber duckies.


This last economic bubble was real estate. At least, that’s how it began. The next economic bubble is inflating under our noses – an unemployment crisis that is being confused with a slow economic recovery.

Here’s the thing. It used to be  that automation, though disruptive , was something we could adjust to.  Jobs got eclipsed but others took their place. And because we seemed to adjust, we came to assume that we always would. No matter how powerful our computers, no matter how capable  our robots, no matter how fast the rate of innovation, we would adjust. Jobs would show up when others were destroyed. How did we know we could adjust? It’s simple. We always do.


Till it isn’t.

Look around you kids. The high unemployment is only being MASKED by the “recession” which, by the way, has been over since June of 2009. Those high unemployment numbers are your beloved technological revolution peeping at you over the walls of your complacency. While you were focused on the last set of problems, there’s a whole new set arising.

That’s bad, right?

No. It shouldn’t be.

MISTER ScienceAintSoBad is just a science guy. He shouldn’t write tirades like this. It’s not his cup. Not his tea.  Techies like me? We’re THRILLED when our intelligent machines work right. Rare as it is. We shouldn’t be the ones to worry about the social implications. That’s the other guy.  Advanced robotics and computing is good stuff. It should be helping us, not hurting. It shouldn’t be ME who points out that science has consequences. That’s for the philosophers and the social engineers and the political types. Who are slouched around the TV, watching each other making speeches.

Guys! Wake up! Too many people. Too few jobs.

Get it?

What are the options? Okay, I can help  you with that.

Option A: We could make more stuff.  Create jobs that way. With all of our great technology, we could use it to increase the benefits for all. We haven’t run out of needs. Our knees and backs still hurt. More medical stuff please. The air’s too hot. Global warming solutions please. And I guess we can all agree we need lots more ringtones for our friggin’ smartphones.

There’s lots to do. It’s just a matter of finding the right way to encourage a bit more risk – taking by entrepreneurs. Maybe we need more government. Maybe we need less government. Maybe we need more leadership. Maybe we need more patent law suits.


Amping up sales could  increase employment. Can’t argue with that, right? However, maybe  things can only be pushed so fast. Maybe the public isn’t up for more innovation right now. Maybe there’s a limit too how much new stuff can be absorbed at any one time.

And that’s okay by me.

Option B: But if we can’t incentivize, brutalize, or hypnotize society into upping the need for stuff (and hence jobs) we may need to approach this differently. Maybe we need to find a better way to share out the existing jobs or, at least, the benefits of those jobs.

More, I will not say. There’s a limit to how far a technical guy is willing to debase himself. But you  – YOU know who I’m talkin’ to – you love this crap, right? You, who can’t wait till the next copy of The Journal Of Politics And Society shows up, you’re a social engineer, a political mover/shaker, one who dreams of changing the world, one dreary meeting at a time. Maybe you didn’t notice that there’s a burgeoning unemployment bubble that’s independent of the economic recovery until I said so. I helped you out, didn’t I? Now you know.

Get busy.


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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. 

Robot:”Slide over. I’m driving. “

Posted by on Friday, 20 July, 2012




Say you’re driving and a brick wall pops into existence right in front of your speeding car. Do you drive right into it?  Or do you jam on the brakes and twist the wheel to avoid a collision? While you’re scratching your head over that tough one, let’s look at one way to  reduce your chances of an accident.

You’ve read about cars that drive themselves right? In two or three years, your car’s gonna be twice as smart as you are. Twice. That’s SOMETHING, huh? While you’re re-reading Fifty Shades Of Grey, your car will take you from point A to point B without crashing into vehicle C .

Sterling Anderson (Mechanical Engineering at MIT) has been concerned that we’re going about this all wrong. He says self-driving cars that follow preprogrammed paths don’t make sense. After all, it’s certainly not what you do in real life.  You’re constantly reinventing how you’re gonna get to the office as you drive . Get squeezed into the left lane? Traffic’s crawling to your right? Might as well stay left till you’re under the bridge (ASSUMING Mister Testosterone will just back off of your bumper). Anderson’s idea is to put in place an electronic “copilot” that doesn’t interfere except when needed. This arrangement lets you do all the driving unless you get out of your “safe zone”‘ If that happens,  Anderson’s “friendly ghost” grabs the wheel. He and his associate from the MIT Mobility Lab, Karl Iagnemma, think you will barely notice. You may even give yourself undeserved credit for an expert maneuver that you couldn’t have accomplished without that virtual tug on the wheel.

Anderson and Iagnemma also point to the cost advantages of their system over a fully autonomous vehicle. Lots cheaper. Less parts. Less complex.

Mister ScienceAintSoBad wishes Sterling Anderson good luck. His impressive new system will, no doubt, win him a well deserved PhD. But he may be underestimating the appeal and robustness of the “competition”. Google’s self driving cars have gone further and with less problems. And the marketing momentum seems to favor Google’s more comprehensive approach.

ScienceAintSoBadRating = 5 . Technological tour de force. Commercial acceptance? Time will tell.

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Image credits:  People always wonder about my secret source for high quality artwork such as the above drawing/cartoon. Shocking, I know. But I drew it myself.  MISTER CartoonsAintSoBad. 


Posted by on Friday, 29 June, 2012




Ice can build up on airplane wings. When this happens, the airplane loses lift. When an airplane loses lift, it doesn’t fly so good.

What if were possible to make metal immune to icing?  What if this immune-to-icing metal  could also be used in compressors so that air conditioners and heat pumps and refrigerators and freezers didn’t ice up?   Actually? If you add it all up, the money saved, the energy that wouldn’t be wasted, the air fatalities that wouldn’t  happen – this would make the world a better place.


Guess what?

Two women at a college in Cambridge, Massachusetts developed  (ACS Nano) a treatment for metal that repels ice. Ice doesn’t have a chance. Anything – even “incipient condensation droplets” –  slides right off. Dr. Joanna Aizenberg and Dr. Amy Smith Berylson call the product SLIPS. The marketing department may call it something catchier. Whatever. The point is, this is a great idea. Potentially, this has lots of uses. It even  works for the blades of wind turbines which, if they get iced up, also lose “lift” and become inefficient.

The downside?   I sure can’t find one.

ScienceAintSoBadRating = 10


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Photo credits with appreciation to Frank Starmer, Associate Dean for Learning Technologies, Professor of Biolstatics and Bioinformatics, Duke University, Duke – National University Of Singapore Graduate School

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Posted by on Thursday, 14 June, 2012




It started simple. With the Palm Pilot.

You could do a few functions – notes, calendar, some calculations, that kind of thing. There was a modem, 512 kilobytes of memory, and a monochrome screen. The Palm was just a glimmer of what was coming. Microsoft got into it with it Microsoft Mobile devices and Apple caught the wave with its IPod and IPhone. And Google threw Android phones at the wall; and was amazed at how many of them stuck. Which pissed off Microsoft so it made a new version of its own phone.

Palm Pilot

The race was on.

They’ve gone all out. Gargantuan marketing budgets, out-of-this-world technical innovation, manufacturing prowess, and skyscrapers full of patent trolls trying to imagine and lock up every conceivable variation of computer and communications technology out into the distant, distant future.

It’s like the race for the atom bomb. Only that was scary. This is fun, right? Cute little I-things. Pictures of lovable green robots.

The primary field of battle was raw intelligence. The problem: improving the understanding of “natural language” for text input or speech input. Google wanted to make it easier to search. Not long ago, if you made a typo in a long search string, you got the wrong stuff. Or nothing at all. Google realized it had millions of users. “Why not,” it thought ” take advantage of  what we can learn from their efforts to ‘understand’ speech?” If all that data was used right, maybe it would be the thing that would finally bring artificial intelligence into the mainstream.

Did it work? You know it did. When you type in Sicence Ain’t So Bad, what happens? It knows what you were trying to say, right?


The competition between the giants – Microsoft, Apple, Google took many forms. Last year, Apple released IRIS, its voice system. The BS may have gotten out a little ahead of its functionality and some users are so mad they’re suing. But you can see what those SteveJobsians are up to. An alter ego in your pocket  Could Google afford to ignore IRIS?  Hardly. Besides, Google, already had its own voice technology stuff. So it just cranked harder. Wait’ll you see the Galaxy S3!


There’s nothing wrong with healthy competition.

Or even unhealthy obsession.

It makes our devices better and better, right? But before phones went crazy with this stuff, the world of artificial intelligence was esoteric . It was inhabited by professor types. Now that Apple/Google/Microsoft are throwing everything at it to stay ahead,  and now that the behavior of hundreds of millions of phone and tablet users is being mined to deepen the understanding of language,  I gotta ask my usual question. Does ANYBODY have a CLUE where all this is leading?

How long will it be till – hype aside – we really can interact naturally with our devices? Till they acquire human-like characteristics but without human-like limitations such as fatigue, hunger, and lust?

It won’t be long. I CAN tell you THAT!


Because the devices  are in our pockets, the technology is ALREADY deployed. It’s just a matter of picking out which apps to use. Plus the devices are connected from here to hell, right? – 3G, 4G, Wifi, Bluetooth, NFC – you name it. So your brilliant phone will connect to your not-too-shabby car and, voila!, machines with unnerving human qualities. Machines we may come to regret. Robots, medical devices, all kinds of things that operate independently and without much need for us at all.


We are on the threshold of something very big. I don’t exactly know what it will mean. Nobody does.

Please don’t worry. I’ll keep you informed as the good/bad things become more obvious, as we race beside the future trying to keep up with it.

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The cartoon is by MISTER ScienceAin’tSoBad. (I don’t understand it either.)


Posted by on Saturday, 26 May, 2012




(Wait until they see what comes next!)

Remember how exciting war used to be? In World War II, for example, 60 million people were killed shooting, knifing, and bombing each other.

That was almost 3% of the entire population of the world! Back in the day, they really knew how to decimate themselves.


Afghanistan sounds awful (and thank you, thank you, for your service). But this is an army? 150,000 soldiers? It used to take twice that many to run the mess halls.The amazing reality of modern warfare is that it’s becoming a robot thing. As the number of robots goes up, the number of people goes down.

Just like at Walmart.

Our robot warrior drones aren’t particularly admired in the countries we have decided to save from themselves. In Afghanistan, for example,  the drones are accused of bloody excess in the fog of war. Maybe that’s to be expected from the population of a country where we weren’t too popular to start with. And, let’s be honest, our drones could use a little work on their social skills. Good as they are, they have the unfortunate habit of sometimes bombing the neighbors.

Not only are the number of robots in our armed services increasing, but so is their degree of autonomy. Already there are roboticized weapons (Jonathan Moreno, Huffington Post) on US ships that operate “on their own” while humans just keep an eye on them and we recently deployed a robot sentry in the demilitarized zone (Korea) which has built in surveillance, tracking, firing, and voice recognition along with the ability to operate independently.  This is where things seem to be headed.

Like it or not, the days of human combatants – at least from the industrialized nations – are coming to an end faster than you may think.

MisterScienceAintSoBad doesn’t understand the big picture here.

(Neither do you, right?)

Does (frightening thought) anyone?

What kind of world are we building? Will the rich guys fight with machines while the third world bleeds the old fashioned way? Is this a mere transition until everyone fights with machines? Will war become a bloodless chess match between robots? Is this good? Is this bad?

Yikes! Yikes! Can’t we have a moratorium on change just long enough for our brains to catch up with ourselves?

Pretty please?

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Credits for above image to “Bandia Machine Robo Rescue, Evil Robot”, Victorian Science Fiction Previews, Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.


Posted by on Friday, 11 May, 2012





Passenger: Could you pick up the pace a LITTLE?

Me: Are you NUTS? This is a safe speed.

Passenger: You’re driving like you’re a hundred (instead of just 71.)

Here’s the thing. You get older, you get more cautious. Sometimes you actually OBEY the speed laws. Which means extracting some tailgaters from your rear bumper after you arrive. I’m not braggin’ or nothin’ but when you get older.. okay .. it’s p-o-s-s-i-b-l-e your eyesight and hearing aren’t as good. Maybe. Even your reflexes aren’t..uh.. THAT sharp.

But screw you. I drive just fine. And you ain’t gettin’ MY keys!


In fact – and contrary to what you probably think – statistics favor geezers who, while doing everything wrong and forcing YOU off the road, tend to compensate for their degraded skills by not taking so many gee-whiz chances. And – yeah – after a hundred years behind the wheel, they DO recognize black ice better than a teenager does.

Wisdom, see?

Doesn’t mean geezering around in a vehicle’s perfect. The risks are real. Some older drivers are b-a-d! And I MEAN bad! Some oldsters could take you out  as you’re leaving the church with your top hat on. At the TOP of the steps.

What to do?

Senior drivers have, obviously, earned the right to a little consideration. It means a lot to be able to drive.

Independence and self respect.

For some, it doesn’t feel like a choice. They don’t have anybody in their lives to take the wheel.




The Intelligent Transport team  (Newcastle University) with Dr. Amy Guo at the head, has created a duded up car. It’s a mobile lab with sensors and monitors to figure out if customized aids such as night vision systems, specialized navigation systems, adaptive speed management, and various other innovations can keep older drivers behind the wheel longer and, hence, keep them healthier and more independent overall. The work is to be presented to the Aging, Mobility and Quality of Life conference in Michigan.

For those who are too far gone for Guo’s technology, autonomous (self driving) vehicles should offer another option before long.


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Credits for the car plowing through the stone wall to Martin Addison  Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic License.


Posted by on Sunday, 15 April, 2012




You’ve read about fusion energy.

Energy that is plentiful and cheap.

It uses water as fuel. No pollution. No global warming. No uranium. No meltdowns.

Energy like it’s made in the stars where the nuclei of atoms are fused together.

Sadly, discussions about energy these days tend to describe fusion power as too “out there”, too “not in your lifetime”.

But what if..


Eric Lerner is the head of Lawrenceville Plasma Physics in new Jersey. It’s a small private lab.

Lerner put out a press release about how his company has advanced the “containment problem”.

Fusion reactions – think stars and hydrogen bombs – are  rough on any devices you try to put them in so they have to be contained in electromagnetic “bottles” to keep the incredibly corrosive plasma out of contact with the walls of the machine. Lerner says his lab has succeeded with containment at the highest temperature ever.

And not mere containment. Lawrenceville Plasma wasn’t happy with just beating mainstream scientists at their own game. Lerner’s team beat them with a technology that has been written off as impractical – a type of fusion that doesn’t produce any dangerous neutrons  – aneutronic fusion.  The process is safe as yogurt.

But safe doesn’t necessarily light  lamps.

I checked the nightly news: NBC, ABC, FOX? They missed Lerner’s announcement. There’s been an incredible lack of coverage. Nothing in the New York Times.  Nothing,  even  in The Good 5-Cent Cigar, the student newspaper at the University of Rhode Island.

Fishy? You’re thinking this was some self promotional deal that MisterScienceAintSoBad fell for?

Google it. Go ahead, I dare you. There’s nothing but praise for Lerner’s accomplishment. Online, this seems as solid as the theory of gravity. (In fact, the gravity thing  has some detractors on the far right and the far left).

Isn’t that TOO much praise for Lawrenceville Plasma Physics? Shouldn’t we worry? Normally, everybody’s a critic. The President may have been born in Kenya. The Queen of England’s a commie. Where did Lerner get HIS teflon? Shouldn’t there be some doubters asking how this small private lab, with a trickle of funding,  made an end run around the big players? Shouldn’t some be  questioning the authenticity of the report?

MisterScienceAintSoBad has seen this type of thing before. Remember the Mysterious Case of Chloe Sohl? As with the Chloe Sohl case, something didn’t sound right. If there’s a big breakthrough in fusion energy, it’s hot news, right?  Why is the mainstream press missing in action? Why does this breakthrough only show up  when I Google (or Bing or whatever)?

What gives?


The Internet is an open place. Information can be manipulated.

How? Maybe scam artists plant phony praise for certain “events”. So much so that it overwhelms everything else. Maybe they screw with Wikipedia articles.  Maybe they forge authoritative  recommendations. It would be nice to understand how this all works so you could know when you’re being played. For now, let me just remind you that if it seems too good to be true it probably is too good to be true.


In this case, there were hints.

Lerner had written a book about the big bang – The Big Bang Never Happened. In his book, he says that the physics world is wrong about the “big bang”.

Here’s the thing.

It could be Lerner, with his bachelors degree in physics, who’s wrong. And the entire community of scientists from Einstein to Hubble might possibly be right.

You never know.

Another hint. Lerner, in his press release, speaks matter of factly about cooperating with Iran in this vital area.


Was that a misprint? Did he mean Uranus? Isn’t Iran our mortal enemy? The future of energy now lies with a hands-across-the-ocean project between Iranian and US scientists?

Lerner says Iranian and American scientists want an alternative to the current conflict.

.. a scientific and engineering collaboration between the two countries that could, if successful, make uranium enrichment obsolete, block proliferation everywhere, liberate the world from oil, and open up a new source of cheap, clean unlimited energy. 

And, unbelievably, the New York Times missed THAT one?

Now Lerner has caught out the rest of the science guys again. The billions  that are being spent on nuclear fusion? What a waste! His company’s Focus Fusion 1 research instrument has achieved the highest temperature magnetic containment ever recorded. And on a shoestring. One more (giant) step to go for Lerner’s group. Then, ITER, the world’s most advanced nuclear fusion project, will become a useless relic.

Lerner’s achievement has met with silence from the establishment. And fist bumps from an easily impressed crowd on the Internet. Eric Lerner’s “All those A-holes who think they know so much just don’t get it” approach seems evidence enough.

If you want to believe.

Aneutronic fusion, as far as I can tell, is more akin to cold fusion (you remember Pons and Fleischmann, right?)  in that it shares the term “fusion” with the intense release of energy that happens in stars but not the potential for lighting up cities.

I’m going to say that the effort at Lawrenceville Plasma is more impossible dream than robust science. But, look, I could be wrong. I don’t have a Phd either.

Here’s some interesting back-and-forth on this event from ars technica (a site for tech geeks).


In the meantime, it’s fair to ask if we’ve given up too easily on the main fusion effort, the deuterium-tritium cycle that Lerner’s group disdains.


It HAS been a long time. And it may be yet another 20 years until commercialization of fusion power. But, you know what? The Joint European Torus has produced 16 megawatts of power-  not nothing – and demonstrated that the deuterium tritium cycle is technically feasible. A commercial scale power plant (that’s ITER) is where the remaining bugs get worked out. If all goes well – and I grant you that’s a lot of all’s to go well – we’re on our way to curbing global warming and a whole of other impossible stuff.

A new era.

For those who can wait.

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Image attribution:

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MAN HELPS DOG. Technology And Disabled Pets.

Posted by on Thursday, 8 March, 2012


This story is about science and technology.

And pets.


Your dog would die for you.

No “Um die for THAT one? He just yelled at me for shredding the toilet paper!”

Not at all.

Your dog would just throw his Golden Retrieverness at the robber, get iced, and float right up to the heavenly fenced in area.

Loyal and loving.

Are you as loyal as Biscuit is?

What if he got hurt? What if he couldn’t use his legs? Too much of Biscuit to tuck under your arm for a “walk”, right? How would you two manage? Would you ask the vet to put him down?

Biscuit loves you. How could you do that? Would he ever let YOU be put down?

You know he wouldn’t.


Let me ask you something science-y.  Is  cosmology intriguing? Is physics elegant?

Sure. Absolutely.

But that stuff doesn’t make you cry, does it? The great things? They’re  when we USE what we know to make things better, right? To repair the heart of a nine year old girl.

To help a family with a very sick dog.


I was trying to keep up with Mark Robinson  at his new headquarters ( Mark was explaining about his decision to make wheelchairs for dogs and cats.

“I was already selling the darn things for a company that made custom stuff. I could see there was a need . But they were SO expensive. People couldn’t afford them. Pets were being put down just because their owners couldn’t afford one”

Mark explained how, in 1992, he had no choice but to arrange a peaceful end for his family’s much loved but sick keeshond, Mercedes. The experience changed him. He couldn’t stop thinking about other pets. And other families. How many pets had seizure disorders like Mercedes? What about pets that can’t walk? Pets that can’t stand? Paralysis, nerve damage, or blindness? What are their options?



A graduate of Lewis Wadhams School (inspired by A. S. Neil’s Summerhill School movement) , Mark had learned to think for himself. By seventh grade, he was gobbling up advanced courses, It was pretty obvious that he was going to be a thinker and doer.

And a little hyperactive.

When he finished his MBA, Mark “hit the deck” just as desktop computers were exploding. (Not literally!!!)

This was his wave. Mark was to be  swept up in the “innovation revolution”. He divided his interests between computing and energy systems. Still does (Nextek Power Systems, Advanced Energy, The Energy Grid). He had an affinity for the klunky computers that were starting to appear in hobby magazines. He coauthored books about the, then new, IBM PC and MAC as well as  Radio Shack’s popular TRS-80 (“Trash 80″) computer.

“Those were the DOS prompt days. Green screens, portable lunch boxes, and no Internet. I knew I was part of something. I wasn’t real sure what it was.”



That’s the background, okay? Smart guy, green screens,and DOS prompts.

As Microsoft Windows began to dominate, and the thrill of early adoption disappeared, Mark branched out. One thing and another and, motivated by his loss of Mercedes, Mark found himself selling customized wheelchairs and, eventually, creating and selling his own which was out-of-the box adjustable.

Today, Mark’s fast growing firm ships the majority of pet wheel chairs world wide.

Tech-O-Dog Lives Good Life

His sells “chairs” that readily adjust for dogs and cats of all sizes with lots of different mobility problems. It has “drag bags” for keeping the little guy comfortable around the house, “Walkin’ Boots” to let his.her feet get into the action while rolling along,  “No cone” collars which seem INSANELY more comfortable than the Queen Elizabeth lampshades the vet sends you home with after a minor procedure, and a raft of other stuff – all innovative and all aimed at alleviating the awfulness of dealing with a disabled or sick pet.

Mark Robinson gets the ScienceAintSoBad innovation award for using technology to do the right stuff – the stuff other’s just wouldn’t have thought about.
It makes a difference.

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Image credits: The bottom photo is courtesy of The top photo? That’s courtesy of Mister ScienceAintSoBad’s Galaxy Nexus.

Why The Concordia Flipped

Posted by on Thursday, 19 January, 2012



You know the Costa Concordia? The gorgeous cruise ship that sunk off the coast of Giglio?

Normally (when it’s not turned over on its side) 26 feet of the ship is underwater. The rest sticks straight up for thirteen stories.

Top heavy, right?  No WONDER it flopped over!

Modern cruise ships are very high tech. The architecture says “Physics be damned! I look impossible because I AM impossible!” So is this a bad way to design a ship? Did top marine architects not notice that their leviathans aren’t stable in the water? Did the insurance companies insure half billion dollar sinkers because they were foolish? Were the insurance agents too busy to drive out to the dock and actually take a look at the the mess they were insuring?

To answer these oh-so-great questions, MISTER ScienceAintSoBad, did a little research. An article  in the New Scientist by Paul Marks helped. These “ships of the future” are “engineering intense”. In spite of their Towering Inferno look, they’ve got plenty of “ballast” down below – enough to pass tough, tough stability tests where the ship is pulled from vertical with weights and released. It’s part of routine shipyard testing and it’s a tough exam. The ship has to recover from a vicious lean and right itself  fast enough or nobody’s going anywhere.  There are watertight compartments too which are designed for water ballast to be pumped around. This is to provide stability and compensate for forces that might tip the ship. And the lifeboats aren’t old days, either. They’re self-righting covered pods. If you can get yours down to the heaving seas, you can sail twice around the world. Guaranteed.

Engineering marvels.

But here’s the thing. With science we like to test our theories. We like evidence.

What’s the evidence that the Costa Concordia was a safe ship? Did it fail safe? You’re thinking “no”, aren’t you? And you’re saying this because it was over on its side and would have sunk if it hadn’t had the good luck/bad luck to have found itself a rock!

Okay. Maybe NOT so accident resistant. I’ll give you that one.

These ships aren’t perfect. Their huge profiles can make them hard to handle in strong winds. And they’re “tender”. If they turn  too fast, bad things happen. They roll like crazy. The steering limit system is supposed to prevent this. You can’t turn too sharply if your life depends on it. (I realize that it does. Thank you for that comment.)

For the moment, most of the attention seems to be on the way the crew handled things and that makes sense. But that ship’s going to get a good look over too. Maybe 13 stories is one too many.



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Thanks to Robert Lender for the photo: Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

Why Are Phones Getting So Large?

Posted by on Friday, 25 November, 2011




” Zoey” asked about screen size for smartphones. They’re getting so big. Why?

I said:

Phones started out small.

Apple made a big thing about how dainty the IPhone was. But, as people have come to expect more from their phones, small has become less cute and more aggravating. How are you going to read a book, watch a movie, or edit a document? With a magnifying glass?

So  there’s been some “size drift”.

It’s true you can add a tablet to your electronics collection – something like the very nice IPad.  But some people don’t want to have a permanent forward lean like a school kid with a backpack full of gadgets. Maybe bigger phones will  take pressure off of your need for multiple electronics, multiple accounts, and multiple charging technologies .

Saves money too, right?

We don’t know what is the best size for a smartphone yet. This is an experiment. We’re figuring this out together.

I thought you should know.

Thanks to David Baldinger for the cartoon figure used in the above image. Creative Commons License
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