Friday, November 20, 2015

Fall 2015 Bridges

We had some strong bridges this year. A couple of them made the competition an exercise in weight-lifting as much as a design and construction challenge.

Watch Me! Watch Me!

Some students, excited about dance routines sent me here. This makes me sad: the thin gruel you put up with as entertainment. Imagine if Bruno Mars had the dance moves of Fred Astaire.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

ISIS is Glamorous
At least that's what Virginia Postrel says
Confronting Islamic State requires an exercise largely unfamiliar to the American military’s hardheaded pragmatists: thinking carefully about the elusive, seductive magic of glamour. Making that task all the more difficult, it also demands recognizing the allure of ideas and images that baffle, offend or horrify most Westerners. As beauty is in the eye of the beholder, glamour is in the mind of the audience.
“What inspires the most lethal terrorists in the world today is not so much the Qur’an or religious teachings as a thrilling cause and call to action that promises glory and esteem in the eyes of friends. Jihad is an egalitarian, equal-opportunity employer: fraternal, fast-breaking, glorious and cool,”
Unfortunately your average wannabe jihadist is in for a shock
It’s drudgery, subordination, infighting, hypocrisy and general messiness. “The reality on the ground is a world away from the glamour of well-produced recruitment videos,” wrote Maher, noting complaints about boredom and guard duty. and by the way, once they have you, you are not getting out.
Personally, I’m not sure there’s a worse fate than quitting your comfortable job to run off and join the caliphate, all psyched to defeat the infidels, only to be told you’re being stuck on the graveyard shift at the IT desk, and you start tomorrow, oh, and if you don’t like it they’ll put you in a cage.

Digital Pictures of Propellers Look Funny

Here's an animation to show you why.

Monday, November 9, 2015

A venture capitalist searches for the purpose of school

Ted Dintersmith wants to re-imagine North American education.
They had stellar resumes, early career success (often in consulting, investment banking, or corporate America), and were driven to succeed. Yet such patently qualified people often proved hopeless in the world of innovation, and I couldn’t quite figure out why.
He's very excited about a "new" approach.
[The Future Project]’s strategy centers on a far more fundamental “flip.” They start by helping students define projects or, in their vernacular, dreams. Motivated by an ambitious personal goal, students are motivated to learn the skills, content, and character traits required to complete their self-directed initiatives. The shift in student engagement is stunning. Given a reason to learn, students bring energy to classroom assignments, and commit “free” time (including coming in on snow days!) to improve their writing, public speaking, project management, collaboration, and math skills.
I suspect he's more wrong than right. I suspect he either overestimates the motivation and creativity of a classroom of students or underestimates the amount of material good students learn in a year. But as school critics go, he's interesting.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Introducing Men Without Chests

C.S. Lewis wrote some of the most astoundingly insightful commentary on the modern world (which came before our present postmodern one). The Screwtape Letters or The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe are light and fun. The Four Loves or The Abolition of Man are more logical and demanding. Even more so for a troglodyte like me who misses half of the allusions. C.S.Lewis Doodle helps the flow with illustrations. Here is the first chapter of “The Abolition of Man” ending with this:
We were told it all long ago by Plato. As the king governs by his executive, so reason in man must rule the mere appetites by means of the spirited element: the head rules the belly through the chest ...It is an outrage that [men without chests] should be commonly spoke of as intellectuals. ... Their heads are no bigger than the ordinary. It is the atrophy of the chest beneath that makes them seem so. ...We continue to clamour for those very qualities we are rendering impossible. ...we remove the organ and demand the function. We make men without chests and demand of them virtue and enterprise. We laugh at honour and are shocked to find traitors in our midst. We castrate and bid the geldings be fruitful.

MMOs for N00bs
Having now played three MMOs — one fairly fanatically — for, wow, a year now I am of course perfectly suited to explain the entire hobby to the rest of humanity.
That sounds expert enough for me.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

New Frontiers in Fuel Efficiency
This spring I posted a link to a super fuel efficient spacecraft that made its way to the asteroid Ceres. Instead of a rocket engine, NASA gave it an ion drive.
Well, now a university student in Australia has made an ion drive that is 50% more fuel efficient than NASA's previous record-holder.
The existing record is NASA's High Power Electric Propulsion (HiPeP) with 9,600 seconds, but fueled by magnesium Neumann's drive managed an estimated 14,600 seconds of specific impulse. He says "Other metals have lower efficiency, but higher thrust. So you would need more fuel to get to Mars, but could get there faster."

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Computers in the Class
Do we want more or less?
Principals, politicians and the public have long been enthusiastic about technology modernizing the classroom. They want to prepare student for the future. I saw a study a year ago providing data to push back on the enthusiasm: computers encourage multi-tasking and distractions.
This year there is a bigger study: less speculation on causes, more detail about how much use is ideal.
These guys are more enthusiastic.

Friday, September 4, 2015

Poison-injecting robot submarines

Queensland University of Technology has developed an autonomous, poison-injecting robot submarine to kill sea stars and save coral reefs.

The 21st century is upon us and autonomous assassination robots are here.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Why We Fall for Bogus Research

Take it away Megan. I can't improve on this:
...on Thursday, Science published the results of a project that aimed to replicate 100 famous studies -- and found that only about one-third of them held up. The others showed weaker effects, or failed to find the effect at all.
This is, to put it mildly, a problem. But it is not necessarily the problem that many people seem to assume...
My favorite line:
Journalists who find themselves tempted to write "studies show that people ..." should try replacing that phrase with "studies show that small groups of affluent psychology majors ..."

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Red Lightning
This is what you see when you look at weather from the other side.

It is only seen above a thunderstorm and it only lasts for 1/50th of a second.

Major Success

College major success rates, that is. Who earns, who works, who is full-time, who is in his field. Ben Casselman of FiveThirtyEight has compiled a list of 173 college majors and correlates it to how much new grads earn and how likely they are to use their degrees. His method has a pretty big flaw (which he addresses in the details) that you should not miss. As long as you keep this in mind, the results are useful: is it possible that the average petroleum engineer is smarter, harder-working and more motivated than your average library science practitioner? Casselman compares average earnings for university grads to high-school only grads. Is that a similar pool of people?

I've made similar posts before.

The Amazing New Space-Age Material is ...Wood?

OK, not exactly wood. If you take wood and extract cellulose, then extract from that nanocrystalline cellulose, you get a fiber that is as strong as steel but as light as water (1/3 as heavy as aluminum.)

Enlisting the Troops Against Invasive Species

One creative solution to invasive species:

Friday, August 21, 2015

Fusion Comes Together

I see two big headlines in the fusion world currently. Both of them rely on the idea of producing energy in pulses. The biggest project in the world, ITER, continually squeezes hydrogen until it fuses, then continuously removes the waste while continuously supplying more fuel. These smaller, private organizations hold the fuel in place magnetically and compress it with a pulse of mechanical inertia. Dan Gelbart (Laberge's boss when he was hatching his plan) used to say that innovative technologies proceed in batches and efficient development moves toward continuous processes.
Steam Punk Fusion
General Fusion's innovation is that they crowd-sourced the solution to a tricky sealing problem. Progress seems to be proceeding according to the plan they boasted of three years ago: break-even* will be achieved in 2016 with viable power plant construction in the 2017-2022 range.
Helion Energy's big announcement is that it has raised $11 million and will raise $21M on the stock market. They claim they'll build a break-even machine in 2016! and a commercially viable machine in 2019! The final machine will be the size of a Mack truck, will produce 50 MW of power and will burn a combination of hydrogen (deuterium) and helium (He-3).

Helion spun off from this firm that wants to make fusion rocket engines.

*break-even (aka net-gain) means that it produces more energy in the fusion reaction than it takes to squeeze the atoms together.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Staying Healthy Amid Pressure Not To
For decades people have grumbled that university environments can be unhealthy. The Coddling of the American Mind (A reference to this pivotal work) in the Atlantic examines popular trends in the context of the powerfully successful psychological field of cognitive behavioral therapy. They make the case that emotional reasoning, trigger warnings, labeling microagressions and “catastrophizing” are literally harmful to mental health. Solutions could come from contemporary psychology or ancient philosophers like Marcus Aureluis* or Buddha.

*Relevant at 2:00, Aurelius at 4:20 of 33:00.

(Aug'15) McArdle adds: College as a consumer experience serves to "shelter" students from any benefit. 

(Sept'15) After a massive response, Lukianoff responds to the controversies in this video.
"Learn better how to argue fairly with yourself."

Wednesday, August 5, 2015