Sunday, 27 November 2011

Digitising everything

I would like to see digitised as much as possible of human output. There are many ongoing efforts to digitise books, paintings, museum artifacts and buildings. But in addition to this, I would like to see digitisation made available to the people: your local digitisation centre, that has the tools and experience necessary to digitise your objects.

I believe that there are enough unique objects out there and owned by the people that such a digitisation outreach is necessary for us to truely capture the wealth of human output.

Art and low hanging fruit

Are the possibilities for orginal self-expression finite or infinite? If finite, what will it look like as we approach complete exploration of the possibility space? How will we know when we get there?

Perfect-pouring teapot

I am yet to encounter a teapot that pours without dripping (at some level of fullness of the teapot and hence angle). I suspect the reasons these are an engineering challenge have something to do with fluid dynamics, surface tension and potentially the water molecules bonding to the surface.

I watched recently an amazing video from Ross Nanotechnology of the NeverWet superhydrophobic spray-on coating (I would recommend watching the video), and it seems to me that this coating in the spout of the teapot has the potential to prevent dripping problems. As the water would be repelled by the surface, it wouldn't hang around to create a drip.

I hope their spray is suitable for food-preparation uses!

Serrated surface to reduce friction in one direction

I observed the other day that a wet serrated surface significantly reduced friction in one direction. It appears that the serration grooves act as a reservoir for the fluid, ensuring the points of contact between the two surfaces are always separated by the fluid, reducing friction.

The diagram below illustrated (with exaggerated serrations).

Could this observation be put to any use?

Symbol keyboard

I think there is a niche for a touchscreen keyboard that acts as an auxilary to the existing keyboard and displays symbols and characters that are not on the standard keyboard. Being a touchscreen, the symbol keyboard could easily be reprogrammed with different sets of characters that the user needs at their fingertips - a set of shortcut buttons would allow the user to switch between sets of symbols (either predefinied e.g. "maths" or user-defined).

Further thoughts on "Whatever doesn't kill you makes you stronger"

I've written previously on the quote "whatever doesn't kill you makes you stronger", and I have given some further thought to role of suffering in shaping one's personality.

I previously concluded that the quote is misleading, as some suffering will weaken you. But I am also convinced that suffering is an important part of learning and development. In the physical domain, we improve our physical strength and stamina via repeated exposure to painful training, and we improve our skill through practise that can be both physically and mentally draining. Similarly, our mental faculties improve through practise, which is often taxing.

That suffering is essential, and that too much is detrimental, suggests there is an optimum. And hence a question of fundamental importance: what is the optimal level of suffering? I strongly suspect that the optimum will vary significantly from person to person, and throughout each person's lifetime. So we should ask ourselves the question: are we at the optimum level of suffering for growth without detriment?

There are some complications: answering that question is difficult - as both measuring the level of suffering, and measuring the potential for detriment, are inexact; and because in an unforgiving society we cannot push ourselves to the limits as we cannot afford to fall over. We have to keep a safety margin between ourselves and the optimum. Alone we cannot push ourselves to our true limit, because there is no-one there to catch us when we fall over.

Which brings us back to the importance of a teacher, one that both imparts information, and pushes the student to deliver. When I try to imagine an environment of a teacher that really pushes students, I am reminded of some of the stereotyped images of military training, where the drill instructor pushes recruits to the limits, whilst trying not to push them to far (a la "Pyle" in Full Metal Jacket). I am also reminded of the scene from V for Vendetta where V imprisons Evey until she is free of fear.