What has six legs, room for a man on its back and an insatiable appetite for trees? No, it’s not a mutant beaver, it’s a Timberjack Walking Forest Machine. Designed and built by a Finnish subsidiary of John Deere, this baby will walk where wheels won’t go, then size up, cut down, and strip to lumber a tree while maintaining a dialogue with the lumberyard’s database about exactly what dimensions are required by the current customer. Low impact forest management sure seems like a good idea, although the image of an army of giant insect-like walking sawmills is a little creepy. Let’s just make sure they can’t reproduce.
More than a year ago I picked up a copy of American Scientist magazine, partly because it had a cool article about nanotechnology with these beautiful images of biomolecules. Then, without reading it, I put the magazine aside for a long long time. Happily, it reappeared from under a crumbling pile of unread material and I did read it this time (serendipity like this reinforces my worst pack rat instincts). The article, Biomolecules and Nanotechnology, is really first rate. The author, David Goodsell of the Scripps Institute, takes a Steven Vogel style approach to thinking about the natural world, just at a much smaller scale: how do we apply engineering thinking to biological systems? The result, along with the illustrations created by the author, offers many aha! insights about why biological systems behave the way they do.
I was inspired, so I went to Goodsell’s web site where I became more inspired, and now I’m ordering a copy of his book (used, because sadly it is out of print) The Machinery of Life. There should be a lot more writing like this, but I am grateful that there is any at all.
From his web site I discovered this article about his illustrations published in the San Diego Union Tribune providing a little background on the artist and his work. The inset picture I display here is an illustration of the cell membrane and flagellar motor of an E. coli bacterium.
Steven Levy writes a good piece, straightforward and reasonable, on blogs at Newsweek: Will the Blogs Kill Old Media? Answer: no. But will they be a big deal? Yes.
Here’s an example of what I can do in the age of blogs that I never could before: Alex Beam wrote an obnoxious piece on blogging for the Boston Globe a month or so ago. I’d give you a link to it, but the Globe doesn’t make archived articles freely available. Take my word for it, it was short-sighted and annoying. I read columns like this all the time, and usually I just think to myself, “what a jerk” and move on with my life. But in this case I knew about the weblogs of the people he was ridiculing, people like the prolific Minnesota writer James Lileks and uber-bloggers Glenn Reynolds and Virginia Postrel. I knew as I was reading the piece that I could go to their sites and learn the other side of the story. Sure enough, within a day or so I was able to see how Alex Beam put together his story by reading what his interviewees had to say. They posted his email messages and their own version of things. I was able to verify that yes, other intelligent people out there agree with me: Beam’s column was short-sighted and annoying. Someone once said you shouldn’t make enemies with people who buy their ink by the gallon. These days, anybody who wants to write can get all the Internet ink they need in God’s great plenty.
Read about the Quarter Shrinker at Bert Hickman’s experiments page. The pictures alone are worth the trip. “The quarter shrinker uses a high voltage capacitor bank and a triggered spark gap to apply up to 125,000 amps through a small work-coil of #10 AWG magnet wire which surrounds the coin. Once the spark gap is triggered, a current of over 1 million amperes in induced into the coin, and the interaction of the induced magnetic field and the field from the coil cause the coin to shrink radially-inward. At the same time, the work coil explodes into copper shrapnel, and then into a 8″ ball of plasma. This all occurs in about 20 millionths of a second.”
This MATLAB Programming contest has been so successful that it’s practically swamping our ability to process the entries. One person, Yi Cao, entered the contest more than 200 times during the week in which it ran. Even now, despite the fact that the contest officially ended at 5 this afternoon, we still have around 180 more entries to process. If all goes smoothly we should have a winner within 12 hours. Currently Sriram from Georgia Tech is in the lead. But if overall effort has anything to do with, Yi should win, hands down.