Supersonic Man

November 18, 2016

future cars

Filed under: Hobbyism and Nerdry,the future!,thoughtful handwaving,Uncategorized — Supersonic Man @ 7:05 pm

A lot of people who talk about the coming future of post-petroleum vehicles like to pooh-pooh the battery electric car, even though it’s the most successful type so far.  They keep insisting that the real future will belong to hydrogen fuel cells or ethanol or something else exotic.

But consider the following vision for a future car:

It’s an affordable compact or midsize, nothing fancy.  The base model comes with an electric motor for each front wheel, and 25 or 30 kilowatt-hours of batteries layered under the floor.  This arrangement keeps the powertrain out of the way, so it can have a trunk at both ends, like a Tesla.  Its range is at most a hundred miles, so it’s fine for commuting and shopping and local excursions, but very inconvenient for a road trip.

Most people accustomed to gasoline cars would find this a bit disappointing.  But consider the upgrades you could buy for it.  If you want sure-footedness in snow, or more performance, add a pair of rear motors.  (They would be smaller than the front ones, unless you’re doing some aggressive hot-rodding.)  If you want longer range, you could have a second battery pack in place of your front trunk.  And… if you want to drive everywhere and refuel with gasoline, you could replace that front trunk or second battery with a small gasoline engine and a generator.  It could be no bigger than a motorcycle engine, because it would only need to produce fifteen or twenty horsepower to keep your batteries from draining while cruising down a highway.  Ideally it would be a turbine rather than a piston engine, as it would only run at one speed.

Or if gasoline goes out of fashion, you could use that space for a fuel cell and a hydrogen tank.  Again, it would produce only a steady fifteen or twenty horsepower.  Or there could eventually be other alternatives not well known today, such as liquid-fueled batteries which you refill with exotic ion solutions, or metal-air cells fueled with pellets of zinc or aluminum.

These would not have to be options you choose when buying the car, but could just as easily be aftermarket modifications.  They simply bolt in!  Anyone with a hoist could swap them in minutes.  Even the trunk would just be a bolted-in tub.  With a good design, these power options might be interchangeable easily enough that people could just rent such an add-on as needed, rather than buying it.  It might be cheaper than, say, renting another car for a vacation trip.

Another option might be to install stuff from below.  There have been plans to make a network of stations where a machine just unclips your empty battery and slots in a full one, from underneath.  With forethought, this car could be made compatible with such a system.

The point is, once you have the basic platform of a battery-electric car, it can be cheaply adapted to run on any power source.  You could run it with coal, or with thorium, if you’re crazy enough.  Whatever becomes the most economical and abundant power storage medium of the future, your existing car can take it onboard.  All you need is to make sure it has some unused room under the hood.

And the best part?  Even if you don’t add anything, you still have a plug-in car that’s perfectly okay for most everyday uses.  In fact, I suspect a lot of people might come to prefer the car with no add-on, because it’s lighter and quicker and more efficient that way, and it has two trunks.

July 6, 2016

Erdős-Bacon number

Filed under: fun,Hobbyism and Nerdry,Uncategorized — Supersonic Man @ 11:54 am

The Erdős-Bacon number is defined as the sum of the number of onscreen filmmaking collaborations it takes to connect a person to actor Kevin Bacon, and the number of academic publishing collaborations it takes to reach mathematician Paul Erdős.  The number has no value except for the small set of people who are both academics and film performers.  Natalie Portman has a Erdős-Bacon number of seven, as does Colin Firth, and Danica McKellar’s number is six.  The actor with the lowest number is apparently Albert M. Chan, who appeared with Bacon in Patriots Day.  His number is four.  Coming from the other direction, Carl Sagan’s number was four.  Stephen Hawking’s is seven.  The lowest number that anyone is known to have is three, held by Professor Daniel Kleitman of MIT, who was a math advisor for Good Will Hunting (which is one step from Kevin Bacon via Minnie Driver’s appearance in Sleepers) and appeared in the film as an extra.

Can this number be beaten?  Lots of mathematicians are still alive who have collaborated with Erdős, and if any of them ever appears in a Kevin Bacon film, they will achieve a value of two.  The other way this could be achieved is if Mr. Bacon himself goes into academia and collaborates with one of this group.  Since Paul Erdős left us twenty years ago, a value of one is not achievable.

For an even more exclusive club, there are people who have an Erdős-Bacon-Sabbath number, in which the third component is the number of musical collaborations which separate the subject from the members of Black Sabbath.  Some famous people for whom low Erdős-Bacon-Sabbath numbers have been claimed include Lisa Kudrow (15), Adam Savage (13), Albert Einstein (11), Richard Feynman (10), Mayim Bialik (10), Tom Lehrer (9), Terry Pratchett (9), Ray Kurzweil (8), and Brian May (8).  I don’t think any values lower than eight are known.

Some of these collaborations are a stretch — it’s easy to question whether they count.  Among those mentioned earlier, Natalie Portman has a pretty solid 10 via a joke rap track she recorded with some people from Saturday Night Live, Danica McKellar has a dubious 10 by singing in an ad jingle, and Carl Sagan has an even more dubious 10 by being sampled in an autotuned remix of bits of narration from Cosmos.  Mayim Bialik’s case might be the poorest of all: Michael Jackson put his celebrity friends into a crowd scene in a music video, and I don’t think she even sings in it.  In Brian May’s case, it’s the Erdős side which is very dubious, via some book called Bang! The Complete History of the Universe, which does not exactly seem to be a peer-reviewed publication.  For Kurzweil, it’s the Bacon number which is shaky, as they’re counting an appearance on a nonfiction TV show.  But some are much more legitimate: for instance, by singing in Mamma Mia!, Colin Firth has given himself a value of 11 which should be beyond dispute.

June 21, 2016

light

Filed under: Uncategorized — Supersonic Man @ 10:58 am

People have been trained to be scared of the word “radiation”.  But all it means is that something spreads outwards from a source.  Sound counts as radiation.  So do ripples on a pond, or earthquake waves in solid rock.  If you use the term broadly enough, the shrapnel that blasts outward from a grenade can be considered as a form of radiation.  And, of course, light is a form of radiation.

What people need to be legitimately scared of is the narrower category of ionizing radiation.  That’s the nasty stuff that comes out of radioisotopes, nuclear reactions, and x-ray machines.  It’s bad for ya because it destroys protein and DNA molecules inside your cells.  Anything that’s capable of ionizing an atom is also capable of breaking apart an organic molecule in the process, and if that molecule is inside you, damaging enough of them in this way will give you radiation sickness, cancer, three-headed children, and so on.

The hot particles which spit out of radioisotopes, and which are generated in tremendous floods by nuclear reactors and bombs, are ionizing radiation.  They aren’t waves, like sound or light (at least, no more than any solid object is wavelike) — they’re the subatomic equivalent of grenade shrapnel, consisting of solid pieces flung through the air.  But the way that they shine straight out in all directions is such that the word “radiation” has never gone out of fashion for describing them.

X-rays and gamma rays are also ionizing radiation — especially the latter, which tend to be produced in nuclear reactions and accompany the other emissions of radioisotopes.  But unlike the alpha and beta and other hot particles, these are electromagnetic waves.  They are, essentially, light.

The heat on your skin from standing in front of a fire is also a form of light (infrared), but it is not ionizing.  The only way it’ll ever disrupt organic molecules is by cooking them, and it’s far less effective for that purpose than, say, contact with hot water.  But how can light be both ionizing and non-ionizing?

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June 2, 2016

a small attempt to emulate the gadget press

Filed under: Uncategorized — Supersonic Man @ 9:08 am

Nowadays the popular media report on the latest gadgets almost as eagerly as they report on celebrity gossip.  Since my smartphone is now three models out of date, I’ve been reading more than my share of this stuff.  And this is inspiring me to try adding a little noise of my own to that topic.  So:

Five Things Premium Phones Will Need in Order to Stay Premium

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