Become a fan of Slashdot on Facebook


Forgot your password?

Comment Re:Show Me Something Made with C Nanotubes! (Score 1) 100

That's nice, but which of those are actually commercial? Most of the "products" featured in that article are one-off research or demonstration tools.

I've made something just like that. A few years back I made a "commercial" hazardous gas sensing system using CNT transistors, and installed it in an industrial chemical facility. This was based on technology I'd worked on as a postdoc which had been picked up by a Silicon Valley company and further invested in by DARPA. That's how things are supposed to work, right? It was a great technology demonstration, but too expensive to actually compete in the market. The project died as soon as we installed that first system.

The problem is not quality of the nanotubes, or material inhomogeneity (crystallographicly pure CNTs have been available for many years now), nor is it the price of CNTs. The limiting cost comes from the manufacturing processes that must be altered from exiting standards to accommodate CNTs. So... demo devices and prototypes are really not interesting anymore, we've had 20 years of those. We need to be seeing investment in foundries and factories designed to handle this material as an input. That's not going to happen at a university, and it's not likely to come from IBM or any of the other companies that have turned the nanotech PR-granting cycle into a cottage industry. If you're a commercial scientist being funded with grants, you have to be very careful not to get caught up in that death-spiral. The particular paper that this Slashdot summary is about is simply a slight alteration of science and techniques first developed (by IBM!) more than 10 years ago (they switched out titanium for molybdenum while keeping the same device geometry and non-scalable fabrication techniques). It's nice to see CNTs get attention again in a top tier journal, but this is not yet commercially relevant work.

We should be interested when IBM says they're setting up a production line to test manufacture, package, and integrate into assembly some thousands of these chips.

Comment consider what's required to change it (Score 1) 29

Medical devices are highly regulated. Clinical trials are extremely expensive to run, and the FDA can demand new clinical trials every time you push through a software update. At the very least, you have to file with the FDA (for every single software update) a document demonstrating that nothing substantial was changed in the operating of the device.

Comment makes sense (Score 1) 43

This is exactly the kind of threat analysis I would expect from someone who worked as an undergraduate researcher for 13 months in a biolab focused on renewable energy. Go ahead and parse that thought a bit.

How about this: Make sure that when we train someone with all the skills necessary to weaponize biology, we actually have something productive for them to do. It's much better to try to encourage positive behavior from our scientists through incentives (i.e. encourage good jobs, not just endless training grants) rather than plan on them becoming bitter, crazy terrorists.

Comment Re:Off-Earth habitation (Score 1) 684

It's very difficult to have a self sustaining station without a water source. Air and waste recycling, atmospheric seals, etc are not perfect. Like the ISS, you become dependent on deliveries of raw material from somewhere else. It's difficult, but MUCH easier to create a long term habitation somewhere where you can get even just a little water.

As many other posters have said, the moon (which has a little water in some places) would be a much better starting point.

The real way to do this is to follow the actual idea behind the much-derided galaxy program. It would be much more scalable to create a self-sustaining system of small stations at lagrange points (points of local gravitational stability) in the Earth-Moon system. Figuring out how to do that allows us to more practically live in different parts of the solar system.

Comment wow (Score 5, Insightful) 209

Department of Labor required international staffing agencies to pay a minimum of $61k for developers in Dayton. These guys (also in Dayton) paid $40k. Do the students know this was going on? Did the academic senate know this was going on? The staffing company paid the university to make this contract happen. Wow...

Why do universities have an exemption for these rules at all?

Comment Get your head out of your ass (Score 1) 137

What a terrible problem: your organization dedicated to furthering human knowledge was too successful and now has to train a new crop of employees.

Just to be really clear, places like Carnegie Mellon are not education focused institutions, they're research focused. We are absolutely not talking about people with a passion for classroom work. In the early 1990s, the federal government removed the requirements and incentives for contractors to dedicate significant budget to basic research. In many cases, new funding for research would only be available to universities. The idea was to shift all basic research to the univerisities. The people we're talking about are the folks who would have been employed at a large company doing government funded R&D in the 1980s. Now, they're doing government funded R&D at universities. For about 5-6 years in the late 90s, that worked well. Since the dot com bust, it has not...

The amount of spending on academic basic research in the US exceeded the total amount spent on startup companies in the US every year from 2000 to 2013. That's a horrible inversion of capital that implied the university-first research system was failing. It's about time we saw some of this work turn the corner into commercialization, along with a restoration of economic sanity to R&D.

Examples like this show that our new system may be viable long term.

Comment of course (Score 1) 73

Science IS creative. This idea that we're all logic and consensus is silly. You make the most progress by looking for overlooked issues and un-thought thoughts. Being good at public speaking doesn't hurt either. (Being able to do arithmetic in your head, or rattle off facts like a living encyclopedia... not so useful in science.)

Every scientist I know would like to indulge in a crafty hobby. The key word is indulge. Whether you have time or not, you usually feel like you don't.

Comment Re:Rugged (Score 1) 74

I've taken my Surface Pro 1 places I would have never thought to take a laptop. It's my primary business computer as well as my electronic notebook in the cleanroom and the lab (no case other than the occasional clean ziplock style bag - it's very useful for me to be able to seal my work laptop in a plastic bag for a few hours). It's also my vacation gaming machine... and I have a toddler who sometimes manages to get his hands on it. I've gone through 3 broken smart phones in the time I've had my Surface. I'm starting to see some connection issues with the display port and the power connector. It has occasional bluetooth and networking issues. The onboard SSHD is annoyingly small. The speakers are really terrible which is a problem for video conferencing. I think many of these issues were solved in later versions, but I haven't (yet) felt the need to replace it.

I've had business grade laptops break a hinge, crack a screen, burn out a video card, or a completely fail to charge at the same age as this computer.

The Surface was initially marketed as a gimmicky consumer device, but it's surprisingly robust.

Comment this is really a new problem? (Score 1) 259

Amazon (generally) isn't profitable. They need to find ways to make more money to stay in business. Is it surprising that they're trying to get more profit out of their store? As a customer, yes, that's annoying. I would love convenience, flexibility, and low prices for ever and ever. But, every other store on the planet is also trying branding, partnering and placement tricks like this to turn a profit. That candy isle at the grocery store checkout isn't there as a service to the customer.


Video HooperFly is an Open Source, Modular Drone (Video) 24

Tricopters, quadcopters, hexicopters. A HooperFly can be any of these, or an octocopter or possibly even a larger number than that. The HooperFly is a modular creation, and spokesman Rich Burton says the design is open source (and was showing off the HooperFly at OSCON), so the flier's configuration is limited only by your imagination. The main construction material is plastic tubing available from most building supply and hardware stores. The electronics? We didn't see schematics or code, but presumably they're out there. One thing for sure is that the HooperFly is good for making music videos like M.I.A. & The Partysquad's Double Bubble Trouble (NSFP; i.e. NotSafeForPrudes; has images of 3-D printed guns, flying copters, etc.) and the lyrical Peace Drone at Twilight. It looks like HooperFly lives at the intersection of technology and art, which is a good place to be -- not that there aren't plenty of HooperFly skateboard videos, too, because one of the first things it seems most skateboarders do when they get a camera-equipped drone is shoot a skateboard video and post it to YouTube. But beyond that, intrepid drone pilots can work with the HooperFly's autopilot features to do many beautiful (and hopefully legal) things.

Comment limitation is not financial (Score 2) 442

The limitation is not financial. Space exploration isn't expensive compared to other large infrastructure projects. Space exploration is very difficult and really exciting to work on. Given the opportunity, it could suck the attention and political talent away from domestic infrastructure projects.

In the upper levels of the government, there are a handful of roles from which a person can realistically manage the combination of congressional and bureaucratic oversight necessary to get "large" things done. If we're going to Mars, the director of NASA needs to be a superstar with a ton of facetime with Congress. That person can be the "visionary" science expert in Washington, or the "establishment" expert in Washington, but he can't "just" be a good administrator.

Chuck Bolden is a great guy, but he's not calling up his personal friends in the VC community like Arati Prabhakar (DARPA director and current "visionary" expert) or playing a key role in high stakes international diplomacy like Ernest Moniz (Sectretary of Energy and current "establishment" expert). Both of those administrators specialize in military related work. As long as the focus in Congress (and the media) is defense, it's going to be hard to break into that scientific leadership role focusing on anything but defense.

Comment Re:And what this tells us... (Score 2) 90

I'm a pretty good scientist, and I enjoy xkcd.

As a physicist, I don't expect the #1 book in "Physics" to be written by a professional physicist (although Randall has a physics degree and has worked a "physics" job). By definition, professional physicists don't specialize in mass market entertainment. Randall does specialize in entertainment, and I appreciate that he's using that expertise to write about science. If you don't like his approach, that's ok; there are other folks out there producing content about science differently.

Comment Re:NSF does credit products now [Re:"writing" has (Score 1) 122

That's not what I mean. Internally, how does NSF set its budget? Do the PMs get their money based on "other products" or papers published? If the "selection pressure" on program officers is to stick to the metrics (papers published), then they're going to pass that down to their performers.

I have been a program officer in other government agencies (not NSF), and I speak from my experience there. Our mission was technology transition, but our personal performance metrics were papers published. We rarely transitioned any technology (lots of SBIRs and industry collaborations, but those aren't actually technology transition). We did sponsor a lot of papers.

Your characterization of NSF "allowing" non papers on a CV is fairly shocking. In my experience, it's encouraged to have non-papers on a CV to at least pay lip service to the idea that science leads to broader societal impact.

Comment Re:"writing" has nothing to do with it (Score 1) 122

Maybe you didn't understand what I was talking about. Your grant proposals and tenure review processes are secondary effects here. The primary driver is how the government sets its budget internally.

I've been a grant officer. Of course we like seeing practical applications! It's wonderful to see people somehow get past the system to develop something that we can at least pretend is practical. The bottom line is, though, that papers published and students graduated are the hard metrics used to bash weak program managers in the internal budget fight. The other metrics go in the "other" category. If you don't have the numbers in the hard metrics, you don't get funding to give out grants.

Look at all the stuff you're referencing. If you don't see that those things are all related to the cycle of publish-citation-publish, you're not paying attention.

I'm in industry now. Guess what I need from the academic groups I sponsor? Paper publications! That's what my investors want to see: more publications, so that's what I need from the folks doing basic research. The company is good at practical work, I don't need to outsource that.

Comment "writing" has nothing to do with it (Score 4, Insightful) 122

Science today is judged by two metrics: papers published and students graduated.

It's important to actually understand that statement if you want to understand some of the quirks and problems with scientific culture.

You do not get credit for projects, advancements, talks, transition to industry, programs, results, etc. The government granting agencies only track papers published and students graduated when comparing different granting offices. Put another way, the government internally sets funding targets for each sub-field based on papers published and students graduated. Thus only papers published and students graduated are meaningful to science (again, not results, but papers).

Papers and # of PhDs became the currency of science, and are used to judge everything from the readiness of a student to graduate to the differential societal contribution of different scientific fields.

This has led to a situation where if you want to graduate students in fields like particle physics, you need to include them on the very rare papers that come out. Failing to graduate students would lead to a decrease in funding. For a student to get "credit" for working at CERN or NASA, that student needs to be on a paper. It's as simple as that.