Tuesday Tech Digest

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Japanese transportation technology is getting better all over, and we're the lucky beneficiaries. Tired of determining when to turn your car to parallel park? Never fear: self-parking cars from Japan, already available in Britain, are coming to the US. Better: the next version of the Prius is
to be able to get 94 mpg. Maybe those all those conspiracy theorists who claimed the car companies were withholding their technology were right after all. Best: the Japan Railway Company unveiled the fastest train in the world, proving that government projects sometimes work better than capitalism. (How are those bullet trains coming along, Texans?)

In what has to be the coolest new technology this week, "biological engineers" at MIT figured out how to coach viruses into assembling battery electrodes. Viruses are part of God's plan after all.

Nanotechnology motored along this week as engineers in Britain found a way to create a better coolant using nanoparticles.

In other engineering news, the Army Corps of Engineers, in sharp contrast to the State government of Louisiana, took responsibility for its actions by admitting design failure in the levees they constructed. The X-37, picked up by DARPA when NASA dropped it, had a successful flight.

The only weirdness to come out of physics this week was the discovery by researchers at Washington University in St. Louis that if you try to add order to a system it breaks down, but if you add disorder it can make the system spontaneously create order. Nobody understands this, not even the discoverers.

How many innovative and interesting things did Google create this week? I've lost track, but this new program, allowing websites to automatically display links related to the content, looks like a winner for both the sites and for Google.

Meanwhile, the presse ancienne is starting to slowly adapt to the internet: ABC announced that it is going to offer TV shows with un-skippable ads online the day after original broadcast.

There is bad news for consumers afoot: a new VHS-vs.-Betamax-style format war is underway for the next generation storage device, the thing they want to replace DVD's with so we can all buy our favorite movies and albums again. This time it's Sony and Dell on one side vs. Toshiba and Microsoft and Intel on the other, Blu-Ray vs. HD-DVD. These things will have 15 gigs or so of storage space. Considering that most DVD's already contain way more space than a movie needs, and that they're usually filled with nonsense nobody wants as a result, why the heck would anybody want to switch to these much larger capacity disks?

Good news for all three of the main operating systems this week. Microsoft decided to let people download Virtual Server for free. Very nice. Get it while it's hot. Japan's Aozora Bank Ltd. bank decided to switch 2,300 desktops to Macintosh. Meanwhile, Linux usage grew 27% in China last year.

How long does it take for a cracker to obtain your password? You may be motivated to pick a longer more complicated one after reading this.

The hottest thing in Web technology these days is called Ruby on Rails. A nice beginner's guide turned up this week here.


Cognitive psychology remains one of the hottest fields this week as researchers at Yale discovered that the brain links conscious and unconscious memory. And the psychology of procrastination was uncovered.

There were several fascinating finds in archeology. A 1,500 years old, hitherto unknown huge pyramid was discovered beneath a slum in Mexico City, the secret of Leonardo's painting was revealed, and a stone age man in Pakistan was uncovered who used a dentist's drill made of flint. Ouch.

Biology saw two critical new pieces of evidence for evolution uncovered this week, and an anti-freeze gene was discovered, which may allow us to grow crops on Mars.

Another good week in health news, as a new cervical cancer vaccine was shown to work, and new progress was made against sleeping sickness (it works in rats), but bird flu was discovered in the UK (only in birds so far).

Astronomers discovered two hungry super-massive black holes (exquisitely illustrated on the right) locked in a death dance, and a new analysis of data once again called global warming itself into question, never mind its possible or probable causes.

This week's biggest endorphin booster? Real life Rube Goldberg machines.


Syl said...

Why should someone want or need higher capacity disks? You're joking, right?

That procrastination one was excellent.

Still have a few more to go..off to read them.

I love this feature, MHA!

Syl said...

Okay, this is weird. Introducing order to a complex system can create disorder and introducing disorder can create order. And this is considered unintuitive.

When I had my paradigm shift after 9/11 I guess more shifted than I knew because the above makes perfect sense to me.

I think my understanding comes from the notion of 'shaking up the Middle East' and waiting for some type of order to emerge.

Though I'm not quite sure the 'order' is going to be something we expected.

JB said...

syl, so one can watch nonsense at higher resolution, of course.

truepeers said...

I'm with you Syl; it made perfect sense to me, so i didn't have to read the article; and I'm going to get to that procrastination one too... How do you put all this together MHA? you must not sleep.

David Thomson said...

"(How are those bullet trains coming along, Texans?)"

Bullet trains? I can only wish. The so-called train system in Houston is a joke.

Syl said...


My sound card died a year ago. I don't even miss it. Obviously that means I don't watch videos nor listen to music on my PC.

I have gigs and gigs and gigs and gigs of Poser/DAZ stuff and renders. In one evening of work I can easily produce 1/2 to a full gig of test renders and project files.

And I need somewhere to keep it. :)

Jake - but not the one said...

MHA, I enjoyed the collection of articles. A valuable service, indeed.

The disorder into order article leads to interesting thoughts about many systems, no?



PS - the GW article was a puff piece - not really up to the standards of the others. Even the Prius article was mostly fact, not advertising.

Knucklehead said...

I'll add my voice to those who are enjoying this semi-regular feature.

That said, not even the Japanese can build women-proof parallel parking technology. Can't be done. Fuhgettaboudit!

Rick Ballard said...

I just can't get over the details in the black hole illustration. It certainly leaves nothing to the imagination.

terrye said...


I like this feature too. The varity is interesting.

Why is it that there are no such huge pyramids in North America? Too cold?

truepeers said...

Jake, the GW piece may be puffery, but that helps it make its real point: that no one and no profession has a simple given authority over other human beings anymore; all human authority must be proven in the marketplace, where people choose, or not, to follow it. This is because whatever the objective proofs of science, they are made at such a degree of specialization that their relationship to the bigger picture about which one seeks authority cannot also be an object of the same scientific expertise.

In order to know what truth we must follow, we look at the scientists as self-interested human beings and read their specialized findings in light of whatever other scientific and anthropological expertise we have acquired; the latter can be a kind of science, but one that in increasing human self-knowledge only adds degrees of freedom to human behaviour and makes the object of this knowledge - human society - more complex and beyond any definite authority again.

Whatever the truth about global warming, it's clear that the last of the old-school elitists, needing some kind of authority to justify their positions, have clung on "science" and its progeny's scare game, allowing this writer the opportunity for some choice political rhetoric:

First, most government scientists are gagged from making public comment on contentious issues, their employing organisations instead making use of public relations experts to craft carefully tailored, frisbee-science press releases. Second, scientists are under intense pressure to conform with the prevailing paradigm of climate alarmism if they wish to receive funding for their research. Third, members of the Establishment have spoken declamatory words on the issue, and the kingdom's subjects are expected to listen.

On the alarmist campaign trail, the UK's Chief Scientific Adviser, Sir David King, is thus reported as saying that global warming is so bad that Antarctica is likely to be the world's only habitable continent by the end of this century. Warming devotee and former Chairman of Shell, Lord [Ron] Oxburgh, reportedly agrees with another rash statement of King's, that climate change is a bigger threat than terrorism. And goodly Archbishop Rowan Williams, who self-evidently understands little about the science, has warned of "millions, billions" of deaths as a result of global warming and threatened Mr Blair with the wrath of the climate God unless he acts. By betraying the public's trust in their positions of influence, so do the great and good become the small and silly.

loner said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
loner said...

Why should someone want or need higher capacity disks?

Storage, and I know who I hope wins...

While Blu-Ray is more expensive, its proponents say the technology represents a quantum leap. It promises 25 gigabytes of storage on each disc — enough to fit an entire season of a television series. It also promises a whole suite of interactive features. Blu-ray discs, for example, could offer multiple versions of the same film, related video games, soundtracks and perhaps one day allow viewers to dictate plot.

I still remember having a tedious debate with someone who should have known better back in the late '80s regarding how long it was going to take to develop a disc on which you could store an entire movie and then there were all those disc arrays on which we were storing 30 second television commercials not all that long ago.

I have this feeling that the "two hungry super-massive black holes" illustration has been doctored, or is it just an unattractive frame?

I'm trying to remember where I spent a pleasant hour or so watching a Rube Goldberg device not all that long ago. Could it have been baggage claim at Philadelphia International Airport? I think it was, but I couldn't find confirmation on the internet so does that mean I'm wrong?