Monday, December 24, 2007

Economics of power

Power is something not usually talked about in economics. Economics has to do with scarcity, and the distribution of resources based on scarcity. Well, free markets are the most efficient solution. But it doesn't take into account who has more power and the way they use that power to gain all the resources.

Anyway, I found a good podcast that discusses these issues, that can be downloaded here.


The Political Economy of Power
August 14, 2006, Featuring
Bruce Bueno de Mesquita
Russ Roberts talks with Hoover Institution and NYU political scientist Bruce Bueno de Mesquita about his theory of political power--how dictators and democratically elected leaders respond to the political forces that keep them in office. This lengthy and intense conversation covers a wide range of topics including the evil political genius of Lenin, the dark side of US foreign aid, the sinister machinations of King Leopold of Belgium, the natural resource curse, the British monarchy in the 11th century, term limits and the inevitable failure of the standard methods of fighting world poverty.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Are Humans Evolving Faster?

Researchers discovered genetic evidence that human evolution is speeding up – and has not halted or proceeded at a constant rate, as had been thought – indicating that humans on different continents are becoming increasingly different.

“We used a new genomic technology to show that humans are evolving rapidly, and that the pace of change has accelerated a lot in the last 40,000 years, especially since the end of the Ice Age roughly 10,000 years ago,” says research team leader Henry Harpending, a distinguished professor of anthropology at the University of Utah.

If humans are evolving at a faster rate, it must be due to the rapidly changing environment. Hence, those with genes insufficient enough to adapt will be behind in the race - until technology can catch up to meet those needs making the race of survival a more equal one.

3D printing and open-source software

Desktop fabricator may kick-start home revolution
17:59 09 January 2007 news service
Tom Simonite

The Fab@Home device can be used to create 3D objects from various materials

A cheap self-assembly device capable of fabricating 3D objects has been developed by US researchers. They hope the machine could kick start a revolution in home fabrication – or "rapid prototyping" – just as early computer kits sparked an explosion in home computing.

Rapid prototyping machines are already used by designers, engineers and scientists to create one-off mechanical parts and models. These create objects by depositing layer upon layer of liquid or powdered material.

These machines typically cost from $20,000 to $1.5 million, says Hod Lipson from Cornell University, US, who launched the Fab@Home project with PhD student Evan Malone in October 2006.

The standard version of their Freeform fabricator – or "fabber" – is about the size of a microwave oven and can be assembled for around $2400 (£1200). It can generate 3D objects from plastic and various other materials. Full documentation on how to build and operate the machine, along with all the software required, are available on the Fab@Home website, and all designs, documents and software have been released for free.

"We are trying to get this technology into as many hands as possible," Malone told New Scientist. "The kit is designed to be as simple as possible." Once the parts have been bought, a normal soldering iron and a few screwdrivers are enough to put it together. "It's probably the cheapest machine of this kind out there," he adds.

The machine connects to a desktop computer running software that controls its operation. It then creates objects layer-by-layer by squeezing material from a mechanically-controlled syringe. A video shows a completed machine constructing a silicone bulb (16MB, wmv format).

Unlike commercial equipment, the Fab@Home machine is also designed to be used with more than one material. So far it has been tested with silicone, plaster, play-doh and even chocolate and icing. Different materials can also be used to make a single object – the control software prompts the user when to load new material into the machine.

Malone and Lipson hope Fab@Home will grow into a community of enthusiasts who share designs for 3D objects and even modify the machines for themselves. This will prompt the emergence of widespread personal fabrication, Lipson hopes.

"We think it's a similar story to computers," he explains. "Mainframes had existed for years, but personal computing only took off in the late seventies." A cheap self-assembly computer called the Altair 8800, launched in 1975, sparked the rapid development of personal computing, he notes: "We hope Fab@Home can do the same for rapid prototyping."

Adrian Bowyer, who is also working on rapid prototyping machines at Bath University, in the UK, agrees that the technology could have mass appeal once the equipment is cheap enough. One of his own machines can even make some of its own parts (see
3D printer to churn out copies of itself).

"Fab@Home is an interesting idea; it should be easy for anyone in the world to build," Bowyer says. "Once you've used one you never want to go back, it's liberating and enormously fun." Bowyer believes the technology could one day even replace traditional models of manufacturing.

Bowyer adds that the Fab@Home machine could probably already be used to make many cheap injection-moulded products already on the market: "I can imagine people swapping plans of things to make online, or paying to download them instead of going to the shop."

Friday, December 21, 2007

10 min documentary on nanotechnology research at UC Berkely

Basically it's good because they state their goals in the research - cheaper solar power and medical nanotechnology.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Roadmap on research into molecular manufacturing complete

The Technology Roadmap for Productive Nanosystems describes ways to move nanotechnologies forward in directions I have outlined in my technical publications. It centers on today's capabilities, exploring the rewards we can expect from incremental advances, and links these advances to longer term objectives for atomically precise manufacturing (which, by the way, are quite unlike the popular fictions). Perhaps of greatest value, the Roadmap identifies broad criteria that can help researchers and research managers select high-payoff projects that can contribute to the emerging field of atomically precise nanosystems engineering. An area of special promise is integrating other nanotechnologies into complex, functional systems by exploiting recent breakthroughs in building self-assembling, atomically precise DNA structures.

Pretty cool, the whole thing can be dowloaded here: