## Thursday, April 25, 2013

### Reinforced Wood

Wood is a great building material. It's fairly cheap. It's fairly light. It's fairly strong. What else could you ask for?

Well, wood is a little weak in tension and very weak in shear. Being that it is very commonly used in bending, a great application of its large cross section, this can be a problem. The solution: reinforced wood.

Essentially, wrap a steel mesh around the trunk of a young tree. As the tree grows larger, it will push through the mesh. Eventually, you will have an ordinary looking tree with steel mesh running through it. Chop it down and cut it up. Now, you have steel reinforced wood that is great in tension and shear and just about anything!

(I have to give credit to my father for this one, as it was his idea.)

## Thursday, April 18, 2013

### On God

I hate to infuriate the 75% or so of people who believe in some kind of god, but I am going to do it anyways.

God can do the impossible. He is beyond reason, correct? Well, I'm not. I'm an engineer. I better have good reasons for everything I do. If I design a plane and it fails, I won't get much sympathy for claiming that God informed my decisions while making it.

 I'm sure their families will feel the same way...

So, that's my philosophy about religion. If I can't use it as an engineer, why should I use it to engineer my life?

## Friday, April 5, 2013

### More on Gravity Transport: A City on a Clam-Hill

When it comes to riding a bicycle, the old saying should be: "what goes down, must ride all the way back up."

 Couldn't have said it better.

What if there was a place where you could always ride down hill? "Impossible", you say? Hck-Ptooey! I spit on impossible.

Imagine a hill that is shaped like a clam shell. Essentially, there is a cliff on one end and a shallow slope on the other that raps back around to the base of the cliff.

 Just in case you don't remember what a clam looks like...

Now, just put a few elevators along the cliff.

 I have attempted, with surprising success, to draw a contour plot  of the clam-hill. The red circles are elevators.
The flow of traffic would always move downhill from the top of the cliff to the base.

 A flow chart... The red cylinders are elevators. The rectangular prisms are buildings. Don't judge me.

Now, that is a place where I would want to ride a bike! Obviously, it would only work for a small city, but it is still a really neat idea.

## Thursday, April 4, 2013

### The Kind of School I Would Like To See (Cont'd.)

As the geniuses amongst you may have figured out already, I am an engineering student. This means that I do lots and lots of work. Did I mention that I do a lot of work?

What grinds my gears is that all the work I do is used for a total of zero useful things. Nadda. Zippo. Straight into the smiling trash cans.

 "Me happy, because me love engineering student homework..." (Yes, that is how trash cans speak!)

In my fictional school, actual companies collaborate with professors to assign useful work to the students. Nonetheless, professors only give assignments that are relevant to the class and are useful in teaching the material. Otherwise, people might not want to take their class, which, in this school, actually has consequences.

Students who do good work are recognized by these companies. Some even get paid to do it. Many use this recognition to get a job after graduating.

It seems I have solved the "GPA/Degree" problem with room to spare!

By "room to spare," I mean that I have also solved the high tuition prices problem. Teachers wont need to be paid much by students if they are being sponsored by companies. "Corruption," you dare say? Every student has a completely voluntary choice on the classes to take and the teachers to choose in my school! Why shouldn't they choose the class that is cheaper and might get them job offers?

To be fair, there is one - I repeat: one - class at UF that does this to a very minor extent. It's called Integrated Product and Process Design and I will be taking it next year. So, expect another post on this in a little over a year...

## Tuesday, March 19, 2013

### The Kind of School I Would Like to See

A big problem with schools is that the free market gets flipped on its head. Students rarely get to choose their teachers. When they do, the choice is made primarily on the easiness of getting an A. Even if a student does choose a teacher for being good at teaching, the teacher is not rewarded. Ultimately, there is little competition among teachers whose salaries are based primarily upon seniority.

In a system that does not reward good teaching, there won't be many good teachers. I would like to see a school where each teacher chooses the price for their course and is paid for each student that elects to take it. They pay the school a fee for the use of its resources, but keep the rest as profit.

One problem with this system is that students will still choose their classes based on easiness. The only way to give students the right incentive is to eliminate the GPA and "degree." Instead, each course should be treated separately. Each teacher chooses their own grading method: percent, letter grade, pass fail, position in class, or even no grade at all. There are no mandatory courses. Maybe, a standardized test is given by each department as a requirement for graduation, but nothing else.

A problem is then: what do the graduates show potential employers? That is the hard part. In the current system, there is a nice, simple number that they can show off. In my imaginary school, the employers will have to look at a complicated list of courses with a variety of different grading methods. Maybe, resources will develop that help potential employers to assess graduates. Maybe, not. I don't know the answer.

In the end, what I want is not really a school, but a market of learning. I want to to transform the school into a grocery store where the staff members are employees, the teachers are food brands, the courses are food items, and the students are hungry customers.

 A flea market is a good analogy too.

Right now, its more like a factory where the teachers are minimum wage employees and the students are well packaged, identical products.

 And what is with those graduation hats?! Not the ones in this picture, which are weird too. Just, graduation hats in general are very strange. And the gowns?...

### Counting to 1023 With Your Fingers

Everyone is taught from an early age to count with their fingers. The trouble is that it only works for numbers of 10 or less. Or, does it!...

In fact, anyone with ten fingers can easily use them to count to 1023 ($2^{10} - 1$).

Make two fists. That is zero. Lift only your right thumb: 1 ($2^0$), only right index: 2 ($2^1$), right thumb and right index: 3 ($2^0 + 2^1$), only right middle: 4 ($2^2$), and so on.

This way, any whole number less than 1023 can be represented. Suppose you wanted 783. That would look like:

 What? I'm an engineer, not an artist.
($783 = 512 + 256 + 8 + 4 + 2 + 1 = 2^9 + 2^8 + 2^3 + 2^2 + 2^1 + 2^0$)

This is probably not the most intuitive way for most people, but that might just be a result of their upbringing. If this was the way you learned to count, I bet it would seem perfectly natural. Either way, it is certainly more useful.

## Saturday, March 16, 2013

### Giant Roller-Coasters: The Future of Transportation

I was recently on a flight to Colorado for a skiing trip. And although I am always impressed by the defiance of gravity that is human flight, on this occasion I was imagining the possibilities presented by skiing, namely the harnessing of gravity.

The big problem with planes is that they are too slow, inefficient, and unpredictable. The culprit is of course friction. However, there is a way to do with out it. The idea of a vactrain has been around since 1910. Essentially, it is a train that levitates on magnets and runs in a vacuum tube. There would theoretically be no friction and the train could go at extremely high speeds with incredible energy efficiency.

 Nice looking train. Too bad shape is completely irrelevant when there isn't any air resistance...

The question is: how should the train be accelerated and decelerated? If the magnets are used to decelerate the trains, which could be done, a large percentage of the energy would be lost, even with attempts to re-store it. There is a better way to do it though: gravity.

Why not start and end the train high up? Then it will accelerate down one hill to reach a high speed and decelerate up another to stop. That way no energy is ever lost. Basically, I believe that giant roller-coasters are the future of transportation!

(Amazingly, I am not the first to think of this. Who would have thought that using giant roller-coasters in vacuum tubes as a transportation system would be an unoriginal idea? Still, I couldn't resist talking about it a little. Unfortunately though, roller-coasters actually can't go that fast. Even with a drop in altitude of a mile, the train would only reach a speed of about 500 mph. Maybe, a little energy loss isn't that bad after all.)