"History is just people doing things"
THE ABQ CORRESPONDENT
ISSN 1087-2302 Online Edition Number 278......January 2019
since 1985 for clients and contacts of
We’ve looked at a lot of different approaches to mobility for robots…some walking, like people or dogs, some on wheels (pretty much calling for a flat floor, sidewalk, or road), flying, brachiating, jumping, or slithering. The fellows at Pliant Energy Systems LLC have come up with something still different…with an added twist. The video on their website shows their robotic critter swimming with the aid of what they are calling fins, with a sort of peristaltic movement…then shows it moving across sand on the beach, then across an ice-skating rink, then through snow. Of course it can carry cameras, instruments, and modest payloads, squirming across the strand to deliver ammo to the Seals, and so on. Very different; fun to watch. The twist is that their Velox technology can be passive, not going anywhere, but drawing energy from a moving stream to do useful work such as pumping water. Look at their “irrigation” page. The “body” of the device in this case is minimal, with no motor or internal energy source. When it’s held in a stream, the moving water moves the fins, which drive a small pump that carries water through a hose up to the bank. Neat! Turning things inside out, one supposes the water from the hose could be poured into a waterwheel to provide mechanical power for doing something else in addition to providing water. It wouldn’t be very efficient, but so what? Perhaps this could save many a poor devil from spending his life operating a shadoof to lift water from the Nile for the crops in somebody’s fields. At this early stage any of us are allowed to speculate ignorantly. Good stuff.
The Correspo has commented more than once on the practicality of including living organisms as part of “computing systems” to accomplish certain kinds of things. For example, the health of lily pads and algae in a remote pond or other plants around it could be detected in a closed system, or things like the average distance animals are from a chosen point when drinking from the pond might be measured automatically. That information could trigger a motor that turns on, using stored solar energy to raise or lower the spillway of the dam at the outlet of the pond, changing the water level. It wouldn’t be necessary to send a person out to make decisions, and take action, and this isn’t something that has to be done at electronic speeds. A person wouldn’t have to go out to make decisions, and take action. The system would be sort of a hybrid organism, just quietly keeping things “about the same” in that particular pond. A bunch of such things on streams feeding a river would affect the river as well as the surrounding area. Hmm..how does it cooperate with beavers? Instead of water, the system might deal with shade, or with wind, or anything else that’s going on naturally…e.g. deer devastating a vegetable garden. A team at Keio University in Tokyo is approaching this from a different angle…integrating an individual amoeba into a neural network logic system to solve math problems. It worked out the classic traveling salesman problem. Intriguingly, while the amount of calculation required in conventional systems increases geometrically with the addition of additional cities to the salesman’s route, the amoeba system increased calculation time only linearly. This is not yet notably practical, but it’s providing useful, intriguing insights. If we can learn how to emulate the amoeba’s logic, and create systems to exploit that, maybe we don’t have to allow for the care and feeding of live critters in all real systems. Still, it’s satisfying to think of living organisms cooperating in computation. Really, one supposes that this isn’t all that different from, though rather more carefully organized, than relying on the family dog to notify us when someone approaches the house, often identifying them as friend, foe, or undetermined.
Newspaper headline: “Homeless man arrested for domestic violence.”
One wonders how the event could occur in his domicile. Getting past that, it’s more complicated (and sordid), but the headline is kind of a stopper.
We think of commercial drones (unmanned aerial vehicles) as churning around the sky to take movies, inspect roofs, track pipelines and power transmission lines, looking for
problems, etc… We don’t often think of them as flying underground to inspect abandoned mines and explore caves. For one thing, GPS isn’t available for navigation, and even small communication and control cables can become only so long before they drag the vehicle down. Emesant, an Australian company, has developed a system called Hovermap, that uses LIDAR for autonomous navigation and obstacle avoidance in mapping flights underground. The data they collect allow extraordinarily accurate and comprehensive 3D mapping of their travels via computer magic that should be discussed another time. Fascinating and claustrophobic.
Some years ago we booked a visitor into the local Hilton hotel, but when we delivered him there after a long day of work, they had no record of his reservation and no room available. We got him situated after some scramble, and he was philosophical, commenting: “If even Hilton can’t keep track of reservations, it must not be possible of human accomplishment.”
ITEM FROM THE PAST
online in 1996 after eleven years of being
printed and mailed) came to mind because a
friend commented that after he’d explained
a story idea to us, he’d written it, posted it
as an ebook, and was earning royalty on sales
within a month.
FRIGHTENING POWER REVISITED
It's practical now for one person to sit at a computer terminal, and write, illustrate, design, and typeset whole books, producing camera-ready copy for the printer. We have noted a manufacturer who dassn't reveal the full power of its system to corporate prospects, because it threatens their current organization and habits. Now, the other side:
Alphagraphics, a chain of fast print shop franchises with a couple of hundred stores, is selling that wild power to individual retail customers in fifteen minute increments. Traditional typesetting is always expensive--we paid $7.60 the other day to set two lines--and frustrating, because few of us know how to ask for what we need. Now several Alphagraphics outlets allow customers to sit at Apple Macintosh units, using word-processing and drawing software to do their own typesetting and layout. The systems handle several typefaces and styles. The customer sees on the screen exactly what he'll get on paper, can tinker, improve, do his own proofreading, and produce lots of material quickly. The system puts the prepared material in shape to be printed crisply and immediately on a laser printer. The product is good enough for most commercial applications. The cost? They get $20 for the first hour on the Macintosh ($5 for fifteen minutes minimum), and $2.50 per page on the printer. Thus, we might have produced twenty or thirty lines of type, with several variations in size and style for our $7.60, and wouldn't have waited three days for it.
After a month's experience, one Alphagraphics outlet reports that former typesetting customers are crazy about this. Increased printing business far outweighs lost typesetting business. This master franchisee with nine outlets, is already testing the ability of customers to send in digital text files by phone, even by satellite, and pick up the finished work as soon as they can get to the shop. "We are almost to the point where you can write a book, store it, advertise it, and then economically print a single copy for delivery when somebody orders one," he says. This profound revolution in quality short run printing doesn't seem to scare individual retail customers.
That was twenty years ago, now. It’s all here, in
spades. The Correspo has commented that no
industry has been more affected by the computer
revolution than graphic arts/printing.
It started small; for months we twisted the arm
of a graphics shop we worked with to get a fax
machine. A week after yielding, he reported
excitedly that he could now send copy he’d laid
out to his customer for proofing and approval
without hiring a messenger service to deliver the
paper copy and bring it back, and turnaround
time was greatly reduced. The saving on
messengers alone was enough to pay for the fax
machine rapidly. It seemed like a miracle to him.
Our own introduction to the magic came in the
early ‘90s when, after six months of intense work
to write several small manuals on the operation
of an instrument, we had to get the things printed
Somebody steered us the Xerox’s new Docutech
system that would accept our computer files,
print them, including covers on heavier, colored
stock, and spit out some hundreds of complete
spiral-bound manuals FAST! Need some more?
Give us a couple of days’ notice. We appreciated
not having to be taught more than we wanted to
know about printing, and not having to make
…And the book advertised below is produced for
delivery one-off, just as predicted.
One hopes that the thousands of plate-makers
and Linotype operators displaced by the new
technology have moved gracefully into the new
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