Turbo e-Booster

Monday, May 22nd, 2017

The e-booster eliminates turbo lag:

It’s driven by electricity, so it spins up to 70,000 rpm in just three-tenths of a second, providing a boost until the turbocharger gets up to speed. BorgWarner says the cantaloupe-sized device, combined with a standard turbocharger, improves torque by 85 percent at 1,500 rpm, and by 55 percent at 2,000 rpm.


BorgWarner first toyed with this idea in the late 1990s, but decided the e-booster needed too much power, says Verrier. But the recent development of 48-volt electrical systems changed the picture. Providing four times the power of a traditional 12-volt system allows the adoption of all kinds of new technologies: active ride control, electric water pumps, heated seats, and so on. The e-booster requires 5 or 6 kilowatts, something a 48-volt system can supply.

Accelerationism is a political heresy

Sunday, May 21st, 2017

Andy Beckett introduces Guardian readers to the “fringe” philosophy of Accelerationism:

Half a century ago, in the great hippie year of 1967, an acclaimed young American science fiction writer, Roger Zelazny, published his third novel. In many ways, Lord of Light was of its time, shaggy with imported Hindu mythology and cosmic dialogue. Yet there were also glints of something more forward-looking and political. One plot strand concerned a group of revolutionaries who wanted to take their society “to a higher level” by suddenly transforming its attitude to technology. Zelazny called them the Accelerationists.

He and the book are largely forgotten now. But as the more enduring sci-fi novelist JG Ballard said in 1971, “what the writers of modern science fiction invent today, you and I will do tomorrow”. Over the past five decades, and especially over the past few years, much of the world has got faster. Working patterns, political cycles, everyday technologies, communication habits and devices, the redevelopment of cities, the acquisition and disposal of possessions – all of these have accelerated. Meanwhile, over the same half century, almost entirely unnoticed by the media or mainstream academia, accelerationism has gradually solidified from a fictional device into an actual intellectual movement: a new way of thinking about the contemporary world and its potential.

In 1979 it was announced that Lord of Light would be made into a 50 million dollar film — back when $50 million was a lot of money:

It was planned that the sets for the movie would be made permanent and become the core of a science fiction theme park to be built in Aurora, Colorado. Famed comic-book artist Jack Kirby was even contracted to produce artwork for set design. However, due to legal problems the project was never completed.

Parts of the unmade film project — the script and Kirby’s set designs — were subsequently acquired by the CIA as cover for the “Canadian Caper“: the exfiltration of six US diplomatic staff trapped by the Iranian hostage crisis (in Tehran but outside the embassy compound). The rescue team pretended to be scouting a location in Iran for shooting a Hollywood film from the script, which they had renamed Argo.

The protagonist of Lord of Light is a renegade pseudo-god, who believes the technology of the god-like elite should be shared with the unenlightened masses and introduces Buddhism as a “culture jamming” tool against the established powers.

According to Robin Mackay and Armen Avanessian, who wrote “the only proper guide to the movement in existence,” #Accelerate: The Accelerationist Reader, describe Accelerationism as a political heresy:

Accelerationism is the name of a contemporary political heresy: the insistence that the only radical political response to capitalism is not to protest, disrupt, critique, or détourne it, but to accelerate and exacerbate its uprooting, alienating, decoding, abstractive tendencies.

#Accelerate presents a genealogy of accelerationism, tracking the impulse through 90s UK darkside cyberculture and the theory-fictions of Nick Land, Sadie Plant, Iain Grant, and CCRU, across the cultural underground of the 80s (rave, acid house, SF cinema) and back to its sources in delirious post-68 ferment, in texts whose searing nihilistic jouissance would later be disavowed by their authors and the marxist and academic establishment alike.

How to 3D print plastic braces for $60

Friday, May 19th, 2017

A digital-design major at the New Jersey Institute of Technology made his own plastic braces using a 3D printer:

He was broke, but had access to a high-quality 3D printer through his university. He took full advantage of this.

The process wasn’t exactly easy. He had to research orthodontic procedures and plot the route of his successive braces, so his teeth would move in the right way. But once that was done, all it took was fabricating a series of models out of relatively inexpensive plastic, and then following through on wearing them.

His two main reference texts, he explains, were Contemporary Orthodontics (5e) by William Proffit DDS, PhD, and Orthodontics at a Glance by Gill Daljit.

Alginate Powder Impression


Robot cars versus phantom traffic jams

Thursday, May 18th, 2017

A new study suggests that even a few autonomous cars could ease congestion for everyone:

You’ve likely seen the demonstration of phantom traffic jams where cars drive around in a circle to simulate the impact of a single slowing car on a road full of traffic. One car pumps its brakes for no particular reason, and the slowdown ripples through the traffic. Now, the University of Illinois research, led by Daniel Work, shows that placing even just a single autonomous car into one of those circular traffic simulations can dampen the effects of the phantom traffic jam.

The team’s results show that by having an autonomous vehicle control its speed intelligently when a phantom jam starts to propagate, it’s possible to reduce the amount of braking performed further back down the line. The numbers are impressive: the presence of just one autonomous car reduces the standard deviation in speed of all the cars in the jam by around 50 percent, and the number of sharp hits to the brakes is cut from around nine per vehicle for every kilometer traveled to at most 2.5 — and sometimes practically zero.

Because fuel use increases when when cars slow down and have to get back up to speed, the presence of the autonomous vehicle also reduces fuel consumption. According to the calculations by the team, in fact, the savings is as much as 40 percent when averaged across all the cars in the traffic flow.

It’s interesting that these improvements can occur even with a single vehicle in a flow of 20 other cars. And it’s also worth noting that the level of autonomy required to have this effect isn’t the kind that Waymo, Uber, and others are seeking to build — it’s more akin to the adaptive cruise control already featured in many higher-end cars.

Kevin Kelly’s fundamental technological forces

Thursday, May 11th, 2017

In The Inevitable, Kevin Kelly presents a dozen fundamental technological forces:

“In this era of ‘becoming,’ everyone becomes a perpetual newbie.”

“The bigger the network, the more attractive it is to new users, which makes it even bigger and thus more attractive, and so on. A cloud that serves AI will obey the same law.”

“We are exploring all the ways to make things out of ceaseless change and shape-shifting processes.”

“People of the book favor solutions by laws, while People of the Screen favor technology as a solution to all problems.”

“As we increase dematerialization, decentralization, simultaneity, platforms, and the cloud — as we increase all those at once, access will continue to displace ownership.”

“[I]t is an emerging design space in which decentralized public coordination can solve problems and create things that neither pure communism nor pure capitalism can.”

“The filters have been watching us for years; they anticipate what we will ask.”

“[The entire global economy] is headed for the inevitability of constant, relentless, and increasing remixing.”

“Computers have been on a steady march toward us.”

“If today’s social media has taught us anything about ourselves as a species, it is that the human impulse to share overwhelms the human impulse for privacy.”

“Our society is moving away from the rigid order of hierarchy toward the fluidity of decentralization.”

“A hundred years ago H. G. Wells imagined this large thing as the world brain.”


Monday, May 1st, 2017

I recently mentioned DARPA’s 24-prop prototype plane, which transforms in flight. Lilium has its own, similar prototype:

They claim 300 km range and 300 km/hr top speed — while making less noise than a motorbike.

Watch DARPA’s 24-Prop Prototype Plane Transform In Flight

Friday, April 28th, 2017

A 325-pound, one-fifth scale model of DARPA’s 24-prop XV-24A LightningStrike has transformed in flight:

While this sort of feat is not unheard of — it’s performed by Ospreys and NASA drone prototypes alike — it is a crucial step in scaling up the prototype into its 12,000-pound final form, complete with 61 foot wingspan.

The full-sized version of the craft will be built as an uncrewed drone, with a targeted top speed of 300 to 400 knots, much faster than what helicopters can hope to achieve.

They weren’t cogitating, recollecting, differentiating

Tuesday, April 25th, 2017

Radiologists were asked to evaluate X-rays while inside an MRI machine that could track their brain activity:

(There’s a marvellous series of recursions here: to diagnose diagnosis, the imagers had to be imaged.) X-rays were flashed before them. Some contained a single pathological lesion that might be commonly encountered — perhaps a palm-shaped shadow of a pneumonia, or the dull, opaque wall of fluid that had accumulated behind the lining of the lung. Embedded in a second group of diagnostic images were line drawings of animals; within a third group, the outlines of letters of the alphabet. The radiologists were shown the three types of images in random order, and then asked to call out the name of the lesion, the animal, or the letter as quickly as possible while the MRI machine traced the activity of their brains. It took the radiologists an average of 1.33 seconds to come up with a diagnosis. In all three cases, the same areas of the brain lit up: a wide delta of neurons near the left ear, and a moth-shaped band above the posterior base of the skull.

“Our results support the hypothesis that a process similar to naming things in everyday life occurs when a physician promptly recognizes a characteristic and previously known lesion,” the researchers concluded. Identifying a lesion was a process similar to naming the animal. When you recognize a rhinoceros, you’re not considering and eliminating alternative candidates. Nor are you mentally fusing a unicorn, an armadillo, and a small elephant. You recognize a rhinoceros in its totality — as a pattern. The same was true for radiologists. They weren’t cogitating, recollecting, differentiating; they were seeing a commonplace object. For my preceptor, similarly, those wet rales were as recognizable as a familiar jingle.

In 1945, the British philosopher Gilbert Ryle gave an influential lecture about two kinds of knowledge. A child knows that a bicycle has two wheels, that its tires are filled with air, and that you ride the contraption by pushing its pedals forward in circles. Ryle termed this kind of knowledge — the factual, propositional kind — “knowing that.” But to learn to ride a bicycle involves another realm of learning. A child learns how to ride by falling off, by balancing herself on two wheels, by going over potholes. Ryle termed this kind of knowledge — implicit, experiential, skill-based — “knowing how.”

The two kinds of knowledge would seem to be interdependent: you might use factual knowledge to deepen your experiential knowledge, and vice versa. But Ryle warned against the temptation to think that “knowing how” could be reduced to “knowing that” — a playbook of rules couldn’t teach a child to ride a bike. Our rules, he asserted, make sense only because we know how to use them: “Rules, like birds, must live before they can be stuffed.” One afternoon, I watched my seven-year-old daughter negotiate a small hill on her bike. The first time she tried, she stalled at the steepest part of the slope and fell off. The next time, I saw her lean forward, imperceptibly at first, and then more visibly, and adjust her weight back on the seat as the slope decreased. But I hadn’t taught her rules to ride a bike up that hill. When her daughter learns to negotiate the same hill, I imagine, she won’t teach her the rules, either. We pass on a few precepts about the universe but leave the brain to figure out the rest.

Some time after Lignelli-Dipple’s session with the radiology trainees, I spoke to Steffen Haider, the young man who had picked up the early stroke on the CT scan. How had he found that culprit lesion? Was it “knowing that” or “knowing how”? He began by telling me about learned rules. He knew that strokes are often one-sided; that they result in the subtle “graying” of tissue; that the tissue often swells slightly, causing a loss of anatomical borders. “There are spots in the brain where the blood supply is particularly vulnerable,” he said. To identify the lesion, he’d have to search for these signs on one side which were not present on the other.

I reminded him that there were plenty of asymmetries in the image that he had ignored. This CT scan, like most, had other gray squiggles on the left that weren’t on the right — artifacts of movement, or chance, or underlying changes in the woman’s brain that preceded the stroke. How had he narrowed his focus to that one area? He paused as the thought pedalled forward and gathered speed in his mind. “I don’t know — it was partly subconscious,” he said, finally.

“That’s what happens — a clicking together — as you grow and learn as a radiologist,” Lignelli-Dipple told me. The question was whether a machine could “grow and learn” in the same manner.

Spoiler alert: yes.

A more comprehensive and devious approach

Saturday, April 22nd, 2017

An enterprising group of hackers targeted a Brazilian bank with a more comprehensive and devious approach than usual:

At 1 pm on October 22 of last year, the researchers say, hackers changed the Domain Name System registrations of all 36 of the bank’s online properties, commandeering the bank’s desktop and mobile website domains to take users to phishing sites. In practice, that meant the hackers could steal login credentials at sites hosted at the bank’s legitimate web addresses. Kaspersky researchers believe the hackers may have even simultaneously redirected all transactions at ATMs or point-of-sale systems to their own servers, collecting the credit card details of anyone who used their card that Saturday afternoon.

“Absolutely all of the bank’s online operations were under the attackers’ control for five to six hours,” says Dmitry Bestuzhev, one of the Kaspersky researchers who analyzed the attack in real time after seeing malware infecting customers from what appeared to be the bank’s fully valid domain. From the hackers’ point of view, as Bestuzhev puts it, the DNS attack meant that “you become the bank. Everything belongs to you now.”

It conquered the office

Friday, April 21st, 2017

Adam Smith famously used a pin factory to illustrate the advantages of specialization, Virginia Postrel reminds us — just before the Industrial Revolution really kicked off:

By improving workers’ skills and encouraging purpose-built machinery, the division of labor leads to miraculous productivity gains. Even a small and ill-equipped manufacturer, Smith wrote in The Wealth of Nations, could boost each worker’s output from a handful of pins a day to nearly 5,000.

In the early 19th century, that number jumped an order of magnitude with the introduction of American inventor John Howe’s pin-making machine. It was “one of the marvels of the age, reported on in every major journal and encyclopedia of the time,” writes historian of technology Steven Lubar. In 1839, the Howe factory had three machines making 24,000 pins a day — and the inventor was clamoring for pin tariffs to offset the nearly 25 percent tax that pin makers had to pay on imported brass wire, a reminder that punitive tariffs hurt domestic manufacturers as well as consumers.


Nowadays, we think of straight pins as sewing supplies. But they weren’t always a specialty product. In Smith’s time and for a century after, pins were a multipurpose fastening technology. Straight pins functioned as buttons, snaps, hooks and eyes, safety pins, zippers, and Velcro. They closed ladies’ bodices, secured men’s neckerchiefs, and held on babies’ diapers. A prudent 19th century woman always kept a supply at hand, leading a Chicago Tribune writer to opine that the practice encouraged poor workmanship in women’s clothes: “The greatest scorner of woman is the maker of the readymade, who would not dare to sew on masculine buttons with but a single thread, yet will be content to give the feminine hook and eye but a promise of fixedness, trusting to the pin to do the rest.”

Most significantly, pins fastened paper. Before Scotch tape or command-v, authors including Jane Austen used them to cut and paste manuscript revisions. The Bodleian Library in Oxford maintains an inventory of “dated and datable pins” removed from manuscripts going as far back as 1617.


But a better solution was on its way. In 1899, an inventor in the pin-making capital of Waterbury, Connecticut, patented a “machine for making paper clips.” William Middlebrook’s patent application, observed Henry Petroski in The Evolution of Useful Things, “showed a perfectly proportioned Gem.”

It was that paper clip design that conquered the office and consigned pins to their current home in the sewing basket.

One-handed zipping

Wednesday, April 5th, 2017

Under Armour introduced an ingenious new zipper design created by engineer Scott Peters a couple years ago:

Although the fastening still relies on the interlocking of two bands of metal teeth, the clasps at the bottom have received a thoughtful re-design. The motivation for Peters, he says, was watching his uncle, who suffers from myotonic dystrophy, struggle to engage the conventional clasps. The solution is the inclusion of magnets and a unique catch, so that the two halves automatically align with one another and the zipper can even be done up one handed.


More on the MagZip‘s development:

The eureka moment of a magnetic zipper was crucial. But the exact millimeter grooves making the process practical would require painstaking nuance.

“Magnets in and of themselves won’t work. They’ll drive components together, but you have issues of alignment, issues of holding things together without popping out – and pulling them apart can be a nightmare,” Peters explains. “We had to figure out the combination of mechanical design so it self-aligns and easily locks itself in place, enabling you to zip with one hand.”

“We started rapid prototyping, getting parts machined, and testing. We’d make a part, assemble it, and glue it on a zipper to find out what worked and didn’t work. I had one part that actually broke, and when this had broken, it kind of showed me the way. . .we were able to evolve the design to where it is today, a more open hook-and-catch.”

Cutting Air Freight Costs In Half

Friday, March 31st, 2017

Natilus [sic] hopes to cut air-freight costs in half with drones — thanks to a more efficient use of fuel and the lack of an expensive crew:

Natilus, which has raised $750,000 from venture capitalist Tim Draper and was incubated at the aviation-oriented Starburst Accelerator in Los Angeles, will power its drones with turboprop and turbofan engines and standard jet fuel, sending them on missions at an altitude of approximately 20,000 feet. That’s well below commercial planes, but high enough to be fuel-efficient. Matyushev says trips across oceans would cost about half of what current commercial air freight transport runs, traveling a bit slower than manned cargo aircraft.

Natilus vs. Cargo Ship and 747

“Air cargo is all about speed at high price,” he says. “Ocean freight is longer transit times at lower pricing. And with certain goods — be it perishables, or goods that are looking for that middle ground — that idea of middle price for middle transit times is that sweet spot.”

Creating deep-learning systems is more like coaching than playing

Wednesday, March 29th, 2017

Larry Zitnick is a walking, talking, teaching symbol of how quickly deep-learning techniques have ascended:

At Microsoft, he spent a decade working to build systems that could see like humans. Then, in 2012, deep learning techniques eclipsed his ten years of research in a matter of months.

In essence, researchers like Zitnick were building machine vision one tiny piece at time, applying very particular techniques to very particular parts of the problem. But then academics like Geoff Hinton showed that a single piece—a deep neural network—could achieve far more. Rather than code a system by hand, Hinton and company built neural networks that could learn tasks largely on their own by analyzing vast amounts of data. “We saw this huge step change with deep learning,” Zitnick says. “Things started to work.”

For Zitnick, the personal turning point came one afternoon in the fall of 2013. He was sitting in a lecture hall at the University of California, Berkeley, listening to a PhD student named Ross Girshick describe a deep learning system that could learn to identify objects in photos. Feed it millions of cat photos, for instance, and it could learn to identify a cat—actually pinpoint it in the photo. As Girshick described the math behind his method, Zitnick could see where the grad student was headed. All he wanted to hear was how well the system performed. He kept whispering: “Just tell us the numbers.” Finally, Girshick gave the numbers. “It was super-clear that this was going to be the way of the future,” Zitnick says.

Within weeks, he hired Girshick at Microsoft Research, as he and the rest of the company’s computer vision team reorganized their work around deep learning. This required a sizable shift in thinking. As a top researcher once told me, creating these deep learning systems is more like being a coach than a player. Rather than building a piece of software on your own, one line of code at a time, you’re coaxing a result from a sea of information.

Masters of reality, not big thinkers

Sunday, March 26th, 2017

Joel Mokyr’s A Culture of Growth attempts to answer the big question: Why did science and technology (and, with them, colonial power) spread west to east in the modern age, instead of another way around?

He reminds us that the skirmishing of philosophers and their ideas, the preoccupation of popular historians, is in many ways a sideshow — that the revolution that gave Europe dominance was, above all, scientific, and that the scientific revolution was, above all, an artisanal revolution. Though the élite that gets sneered at, by Trumpites and neo-Marxists alike, is composed of philosophers and professors and journalists, the actual élite of modern societies is composed of engineers, mechanics, and artisans — masters of reality, not big thinkers.

Mokyr sees this as the purloined letter of history, the obvious point that people keep missing because it’s obvious. More genuinely revolutionary than either Voltaire or Rousseau, he suggests, are such overlooked Renaissance texts as Tommaso Campanella’s “The City of the Sun,” a sort of proto-Masonic hymn to people who know how to do things. It posits a Utopia whose inhabitants “considered the noblest man to be the one that has mastered the most skills… like those of the blacksmith and mason.” The real upheavals in minds, he argues, were always made in the margins. He notes that a disproportionate number of the men who made the scientific and industrial revolution in Britain didn’t go to Oxford or Cambridge but got artisanal training out on the sides. (He could have included on this list Michael Faraday, the man who grasped the nature of electromagnetic induction, and who worked some of his early life as a valet.) What answers the prince’s question was over in Dr. Johnson’s own apartment, since Johnson was himself an eccentric given to chemistry experiments — “stinks,” as snobbish Englishmen call them.

As in painting and drawing, manual dexterity counted for as much as deep thoughts — more, in truth, for everyone had the deep thoughts, and it took dexterity to make telescopes that really worked. Mokyr knows Asian history, and shows, in a truly humbling display of erudition, that in China the minds evolved but not the makers. The Chinese enlightenment happened, but it was strictly a thinker’s enlightenment, where Mandarins never talked much to the manufacturers. In this account, Voltaire and Rousseau are mere vapor, rising from a steam engine as it races forward. It was the perpetual conversation between technicians and thinkers that made the Enlightenment advance. ted talks are a licensed subject for satire, but in Mokyr’s view ted talks are, in effect, what separate modernity from antiquity and the West from the East. Guys who think big thoughts talking to guys who make cool machines — that’s where the leap happens.

The Church of Electronic Culture

Thursday, February 2nd, 2017

Long before there were hackers and makers, there were tinkerers, and long before magazines like Wired and Mondo 2000 pushed a vision of the cyber-future, magazines like Amazing Stories and Science Wonder Stories pushed a vision of the electronic future. Hugo Gernsback was the tinkerer who coined the term scientifiction and published many of the magazines that blended science and fiction:

First, though, he was a radio man, immersed in and obsessed with the new technology of wireless communication. He was an inventor in the turn-of-the-century generation inspired by Thomas Edison; among his eighty patents are “Radio Horn”; “Detectorium”; “Luminous Electric Mirror”; “Ear Cushion” (for telephone receivers); “Combined Electric Hair Brush and Comb” (“may also be used as a massage instrument”). He formed the first radio hobbyist group, the Wireless Association of America, when he was twenty-five years old, and incorporated its successor, the Radio League of America, six years later; created Radio News magazine; and started one of New York’s first stations, WRNY, broadcasting from atop the Roosevelt Hotel on Madison Avenue. The station and the league promoted the magazine, and the magazine promoted the station and the league, and all promoted Gernsback. He was an evangelist for the church we might call electronic culture. Most of us are its parishioners nowadays, with our magic boxes.

Gernsback left a trail of technical writings, patents, interviews, newspaper clippings, and prophetic essays, and the best of these have now been gathered into a beautifully illustrated compendium and sourcebook titled The Perversity of Things: Hugo Gernsback on Media, Tinkering, and Scientifiction, by Grant Wythoff, a Columbia University historian of media studies.

Hugo Gernsback wearing his Isolator

Born Hugo Gernsbacher, the son of a wine merchant in a Luxembourg suburb before electrification, he started tinkering as a child with electric bell-ringers. When he emigrated to New York City at the age of nineteen, in 1904, he carried in his baggage a design for a new kind of electrolytic battery. A year later, styling himself in Yankee fashion “Huck Gernsback,” he published his first article in Scientific American, a design for a new kind of electric interrupter. That same year he started his first business venture, the Electro Importing Company, selling parts and gadgets and a “Telimco” radio set by mail order to a nascent market of hobbyists and soon claiming to be “the largest makers of experimental Wireless material in the world.”

His mail-order catalogue of novelties and vacuum tubes soon morphed into a magazine, printed on the same cheap paper but now titled Modern Electrics. It included articles and editorials, like “The Wireless Joker” (it seems pranksters had fun with the new communications channel) and “Signaling to Mars.” It was hugely successful, and Gernsback was soon a man about town, wearing a silk hat, dining at Delmonico’s and perusing its wine list with a monocle.

Public awareness of science and technology was new and in flux. “Technology” was barely a word and still not far removed from magic. “But wireless was magical to Gernsback’s readers,” writes Wythoff, “not because they didn’t understand how the trick worked but because they did.” Gernsback asked his readers to cast their minds back “but 100 years” to the time of Napoleon and consider how far the world has “progressed” in that mere century. “Our entire mode of living has changed with the present progress,” he wrote in the first issue of Amazing Stories “and it is little wonder, therefore, that many fantastic situations — impossible 100 years ago — are brought about today.”

So for Gernsback it was completely natural to publish Science Wonder Stories alongside Electrical Experimenter. He returned again and again to the theme of fact versus fiction — a false dichotomy, as far as he was concerned. Leonardo da Vinci, Jules Verne, and H. G. Wells were inventors and prophets, their fantastic visions giving us our parachutes and submarines and spaceships. “In time to come,” he wrote in one editorial, “there is no question that science fiction will be looked upon with considerable respect by every thinking person.” He declared, and believed, that science fiction would be the true literature of the future.