Thursday, July 1, 2010

Well, That's Interesting: Claytronics

One of my daughters is 'way ahead of me. I've started to write quite a few stories, she's finished so many that I've lost count.

Which is fine by me: her example may get me fired up to actually finish one of my bright ideas.

Years ago, I jotted down a few notes about a nifty far-future technology: material that could form itself into many different shapes. It's not a particularly new idea. The heavy in one of the Terminator was 'living metal.' Extremely mutable creatures and devices are an old gimmick in science fiction - including a sort of assassin robot that disguises itself as a section of floor to let an unsuspecting guard walk over it. Just like in Terminator 2: where the scene is such a close match to the old story that I have to assume that it's a tribute.

I'd give title and author of the story - but, despite cudgeling my mind: I can't recall. Mars is involved, as I recall - but that doesn't narrow the field by much.

With my luck, I'll remember at 3:00 a.m. and get jerked awake by the part of my brain that was in 'search' mode.

Wrenching myself back on-topic.

My contribution to the notion of mutable technology, if I'd gotten past the note-making stage, would have been using it for control interfaces. The idea was to have a slab of material that could be, as needed, a keyboard, a control yoke, tuning knobs, whatever.

Which I assumed - this was around the turn of the century - would be a hundred or so years out.

So, Tuesday, I read about claytronics:Among the applications for this still-in-the-concept-stage technology: control systems.

I really doubt that it'll take a century to get claytronics ready for consumer tech.

A decade, maybe.

This is hardly an original thought: but one of the challenges for creators of speculative fiction is to imagine 'future technology' that won't be available in department stores in a year or two.

Well, That's Interesting: Synthetic Signaling Cascades and Living Spaceships

"Living spaceships" is something out of science fiction.

It's also something that's appeared on the horizon of materials technology:
"Synthetic Signals Could Foster Unprecedented Life Forms"
Tech News, Discovery News (July 1, 2010)

"A rush of adrenaline or pain of a burn seem simple enough, but both are the result of complex chemical interactions known as signaling cascades.

"Vital to all life on Earth, scientists are taking the first steps towards a synthetic signaling cascades. The research has powerful implications for how life on Earth could have developed, what life on other planets could look like and lead to stronger materials that can respond to their environmental intelligently.

" 'The machines that we use to travel in space and go to the bottom of the ocean -- to go places where biological organisms can't go -- are complex but also rather simple in that they are dumb pieces of metal stuck together with rivets and glue,' said Jonathan Nitschke, a scientist at the University of Cambridge and the co-author of a recent paper in the journal Nature Chemistry...."

"...The European scientists created a simple mimic of these complex systems with a molecule shaped like DNA. Instead of nucleotides at their center, however, the new molecules had a core made from copper.

"By studying these new, DNA-like molecules, scientists could learn about how life on Earth or other planets might have began or evolved. It could also lead to the creation of new, intelligent materials, which could become stronger or weaker depending on their surroundings with no input from a human controller...."
Don't get too excited about machines adjusting themselves "with no input from a human controller."

Centrifugal governors have managed power output of steam engines since 1788, when James Watt applied a windmill control technology to a steam engine. ("James Watt Biography," World of Physics Biography, via Bookrags) Good thing, too: because human beings aren't particularly good at keeping machines running exactly at a given rate. Centrifugal governors are.

Granted, DNA-like molecules with a copper core instead of nucleotides are a few steps removed from James Watt's day: but the principle of using technology to maintain desired conditions in a system is nothing particularly new.

Privacy Policy

Nothing spooky here.

These days it's important to have a "privacy policy" available: so here's mine.

I do not collect information on individuals visiting this blog. If you leave a comment, I'll read what you wrote: but I don't keep a record of comments, apart from what Blogger displays. (In other words, the only record of what you write or who you are will be what people see at the bottom of the post.)

I do collect information about how many hits this blog gets, where they come from, and some technical information. I use the WebSTAT service for this purpose - and all that shows is which ISP you use, and where it's located.

You can stop most of Webstat's data gathering by disabling cookies in your browser. I don't know why you would, but some folks do.

I'm also an AdSense affiliate, so Google collects information on what I've written in each post: but that's mostly my problem.

I'm also considering starting an affiliate relationship with DAZ Productions. You should be able to keep DAZ and Commission Junction, their provider of affiliate services, from collecting information by - again - disabling cookies in your browser.

And you can keep DAZ Productions from finding out anything about you, by not buying any of their products.

Again, I don't know why you would: but some folks do.

Or, rather, don't.