Archive for the 'Technology' Category

Jan 04 2016

The Coming 3-D Printer Revolution

Published by under Technology

3d-printerI am a technophile, so I follow new and emerging technologies pretty closely. I am also an occasional early adopter, as much as my finances allow, which is not anywhere close to what I would like. Often I must wait for a new technology to come down in price to the consumer level, or at least the “prosumer” level.

Over the last couple of years I have had my eye on 3-D printers. This is an extremely promising technology, often referred to as additive manufacturing. Traditional manufacturing methods start with a block of material and then take away material to create the shape, or they use some kind of mold, or they hammer, pull, bend, or press material into shape.  Continue Reading »

27 responses so far

Dec 07 2015

Steorn Is Now Selling Free-Energy Products

Published by under Technology

Steorn is an Irish company that has been promising for years that they have pioneered what is essentially a free-energy device. They recently announced that they now have two devices available for pre-order. The OCube is a USB charging device that they are selling for €1,200, and the OPhone which is a cell phone that never has to be recharged.

I first wrote about Steorn in 2007 when they promised a live demonstration of their free-energy technology, a demonstration that never manifested. Steorn did not give up their claims. In 2009:

Twenty-two independent scientists and engineers were selected by Steorn to form this jury. It has for the past two years examined evidence presented by the company. The unanimous verdict of the Jury is that Steorn’s attempts to demonstrate the claim have not shown the production of energy. The jury is therefore ceasing work.

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30 responses so far

Nov 19 2015

Gene Editing Humans

A Chinese team of researchers recently announced that they attempted to edit the genes in human embryos with the genetic disease beta-thalassemia. They used the CRISPR-Cas9 technology, which they said was not successful enough in this application to be used. Some of the embryos resulted in mosaics, with only some of the cells being fixed, and other resulted in unwanted mutations.

While the attempt to fix the genetic disease in embryos was unsuccessful, the announcement has prompted discussion over the ethics of gene editing in humans.


First for some background, because I have not yet written about the CRISPR technology, this is an exciting gene-editing technology that allows for rapid, accurate, and inexpensive gene editing.

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12 responses so far

Nov 17 2015

Autonomous Cars and Ethics

Published by under Technology

In the last few years autonomous cars have seemed to turn a corner – suddenly the technology is here. This is one of those technologies that was long anticipated, and then quickly arrived. They are not yet in mass production, but it feels like we are on the steep part of the curve.

Google car is the most in the news. The company has been testing their autonomous vehicle for years. Some use the term “driverless” but there still needs to be a human in the driver’s seat. The success of the vehicle is measured in how often the driver needs to intervene. At first they measured interventions per mile, and now they measure miles per intervention.

The autonomous car is certain to be a transformative technology. I can’t see how it won’t. It will transform the way we get around, could spawn new industries, and may also transform our infrastructure. For example, imagine a fleet of truly driverless cars you can summon with an app, Uber-style. Insert your credit card, and you’re off. For some people this may obviate the need to own a car.

Right now we are trying to adapt autonomous cars to our existing infrastructure. Eventually we will adapt our infrastructure to autonomous cars. At present the goal is to get the cars to drive more like humans. For example, recently a Google car was pulled over for driving too slowly. The algorithm called for the car to drive very cautiously (never more than 25 mph). This resulted in a back-up of traffic. Google now says they endeavor to make the cars drive more like people (at least in some ways).

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39 responses so far

Jul 23 2015

Stem Cells and the Arc of Technology

I have noticed a common arc to many technologies. First they are known and discussed only by scientists and experts in the field. Then they are picked up technophiles who read nerdy magazines and websites. This is all while the research is preliminary and the technology just a distant hope for the future.

Then something happens that makes awareness of the potential technology go mainstream. This is often a movie depicting the technology, but can also be just an article in a more mainstream magazine or newspaper, an early demonstration of the potential for the technology, or a political controversy surrounding it. Then the hype begins.

The hype phase is driven by the researchers looking for more funding, the technophiles who have already been salivating over the technology for years, and a sensationalist media.

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9 responses so far

Jun 15 2015

Simulation Sickness

Published by under Technology

One of my oldest memories is from a cruise my family took when I was five. Toward the end of the trip I started to feel incredibly sick. At one point I had to simply sit down – I was immobilized with nausea and a general feeling of unwell. I am told I later vomited on the captain’s shoes, although I don’t have any memory of this.

What I was experiencing was simple motion sickness. There is a related phenomenon emerging known as simulation sickness. When the CEO of Oculus first used their Oculus Rift virtual reality game system, he experienced symptoms of motion sickness.  It’s a serious problem for this new technology, delaying full deployment.

The problem is rooted in neuroscience. Our brains receive several types of sensory information that tell it about it orientation relative to gravity and any acceleration or motion it is experiencing. The eyes simply see how our head is moving in relation to the rest of the world. Our vestibular system senses both our orientation with respect to gravity and acceleration. It does this through three semicircular canals, a utricle, and a saccule in each inner ear, oriented in each three-dimensional axis. These canals are filled with fluid and lined with tiny hairs projecting from neurons. The semicircular canals experience rotational acceleration, while the utricle and saccule measure the direction of gravity and linear acceleration.

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20 responses so far

Jun 09 2015

Injectible Brain Electrodes

Charles Lieber with his team at Harvard University have developed a flexible mesh network of electrodes that can be injected through the skull, unfolding onto the surface of the brain. This technology could be a significant advance in our ability to study the brain.

Neuroscientists are trying to map the brain in as much detail as possible, creating what is being called the “connectome” (reminiscent of mapping the human “genome”).

There are about 87 billion neurons in the adult human brain. Each neuron is capable of making up to around 10,000 connections to other neurons, which means the total connections in the brain is somewhere around a quadrillion. The saying goes that neurons that wire together fire together, so the pattern of connections determines the pattern of electrical activity in the brain.

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7 responses so far

Jun 04 2015

Batteriser – Cool Tech or Scam?

Published by under Technology

A company is claiming that they have created a small sleeve costing only $2.50 that will fit over standard alkaline batteries, and boost their life by up to 800%. My initial reaction to this claim is that it is almost certainly total BS. But I am always willing to give a new claim a fair shake and dive into the details.

The reasons for my initial skepticism are many. Energy scams are common. They often promise incredible effects from implausible devices. Usually, by asking one simple question, you can destroy the claims utterly – from where is the extra energy coming? The laws of thermodynamics are called “laws” for a reason, and reality is a harsh mistress.

Bob Roohparvar, owner of Batteroo which is developing the Batteriser, has an answer to this question. He claims that typical alkaline batteries use about 20% of their available energy. The reason for this high inefficiency is that electronic devices are finicky; they need a steady voltage of 1.5. When an alkaline battery drops below 80% capacity the voltage also drops to 1.4 or 1.3. At that point the device will read the battery as dead, leaving 80% of its juice unused.

The Batteriser, Roohparvar claims, is a miniaturized device that boosts the voltage back up to 1.5, and maintains it there until every last drop of energy is extracted from the battery. OK, I thought, at least he has an answer to the most basic question about such claims. But that is about all he has. Even a slightly deeper dive into battery technology and his claims reveals them to be untenable.

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28 responses so far

May 26 2015

The Implications of Online Time-lapse

Published by under Technology

This is very cool – programmers have created a process with which they scour the internet for photographs. They then categorize them by subject matter, and then select groups of photos that are essentially of the same subject over different periods of time. They crop, color correct, and adjust each photo so that it matches a master, and put them together to create a time-lapse video.

The result is thousands of time-lapse videos that might have taken years to otherwise create.

This is a fun demonstration of two technological trends that are worth pondering. The first is the absolute explosion in digital data, including photographs and video. One estimate is that there were 880 billion photos uploaded in 2014. There are 27,800 photos uploaded to Instagram alone every minute. This is partly due to the smartphone revolution – a large portion of the population in developed nations walk around with a camera on them at all times.

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12 responses so far

May 11 2015

Missing the Point and Wasting Resources

Published by under Technology

I sometimes think of scientific skepticism as a method of waste reduction and improved efficiency. As an individual, a family, a society, a government, and indeed a civilization, we are best served if our time and energy were spent in an efficient manner pursuing appropriate goals. It pains me, for example, to think of researchers who spend an entire career pursuing a fiction. When you think about how much time and money is wasted because of ideology, stubbornness, or simple ignorance it can be depressing.

Part of the problem is that the choices we face are increasingly complex, and we really don’t have the infrastructure necessary to collectively make good decisions. Politics is overwhelmed with ideology and perverse incentives, people are overwhelmed with misinformation and advertising, the public is largely scientifically illiterate, the media generally does not do a good job of informing the public, and the default mode is to make decisions for emotional and ideological rather than rational reasons.

There are many examples just from the pages of this blog – billions wasted on useless supplements, disease outbreaks caused by antivaxxers, companies dedicated to producing free-energy devices, and ideological opposition to anything “unnatural,” to name just a few. The latter is interesting because it demonstrates how passionate people who mean well can be easily diverted by sloppy thinking. A recent article by Beth Skwarecki points this out nicely. While I don’t agree with everything she writes, the essence of her article is spot on.

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23 responses so far

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