Monday, March 29, 2010

A Rather Literal Turing Machine

Alan Turing was a hell of a guy.  He didn't quite invent the computer, but pretty close.  He proved that a simple language of zeros and ones, a bunch of address locations,  a writer, a reader and an eraser could calculate any computable function.  The idea that the instructions to manipulate data, and the data itself could be all jumbled together as long as you kept track of the addresses are at the heart of the thing I'm typing on right now.

Back when I was a wide eyed undergraduate taking Daniel Dennett's Philosophy of Mind class, I got introduced to the idea of the Universal Turing Machine.  It was a machine so powerful, it might be capable of intelligence or even consciousness.  And yet it was profoundly knowable.  For a Cognitive Science major, that was pretty mind blowing, since the minds we are all used to interacting with are profoundly difficult to understand.  Alan even came up with a criteria for measuring artificial intelligence, the Turing Test.  Oh yeah, he also pretty much won World War II, but that's another story.  

It was only after reading Alan's biography that I realized just how persecuted he was for being gay.  He was, in fact, found guilty, in a court of law, of being homosexual, and was chemically castrated.  He took his own life two years later, at the age of 41.  It was so egregious that last year Gordon Brown publicly apologized, 55 years after his tragic death.  

But his story started with a roll of tape, two characters, a pen, an eraser and an eye.  And it was weirdly moving for me to see the machine in person, after seeing it my minds eye all these years.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Got Thermolene?

I wrote about the abject insanity, and delirious optimism of home-made rocket cars in my entry Turbines, Hot Rods and the Optimism of the Space Age.  There seemed to be a lot of similarity between the engines in the different vehicles.  What were those cool ribbed spheres?  How the heck did they work?

And then I learned about Turbonique.  

"But there is one name that stands alone at the apex of the daredevilry supply industry: the Turbonique Company of Orlando, Florida.

Though the company no longer exists, mere mention of the name "Turbonique" still inspires a shudder of awe among drag racing enthusiast, the company's principle target market.
Even in the Wild West atmosphere of 1960s drag racing, Its products represented the zenith of no-compromise, crazyass crazy.
Recall Acme, that enigmatic mail order purveyor of catapults and jet skates to cartoon coyotes? Pikers, compared to Turbonique."
Turbonique made, among other things  "thrust engines"...
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Turbine powered "drag axles"....
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and, of course, turbine powered "liquid driven superchargers."untitled image
All of these lovely devices were powered by a rocket fuel called Thermolene.  As if pushing your car with a bomb, with a nozzle on it, was not crazy enough, they made superchargers, powered by nozzle bombs that are likely to also make your engine explode.  That's two great explosions for the price of one.  Thermolene indeed.
But that gave me an idea.  I've been thinking about how to make a hot rod for 24 Hours of Lemons.  Maybe this self powered turbocharger thing might work, only without the Thermolene, thank you very much.  Why couldn't we build a leaf blower powered supercharger.  
Looks like I'm not the first person to have this idea.More Leaf-Blower Supercharger Photos Found!

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Pattern, Paper Folding and Me.

A3 Animal B from michael schoner on Vimeo.
You know what they say about hammers. They think everything is a nail. I'm not sure what that makes me, but pattern and folded paper seem to appear somewhere in most of the projects I work on. There's something visceral, almost approachable about the topology of folded paper. Add pattern, and that topology starts to take on a life of its own.

I love the feeling of simultaneous form and flatness in these masks by Neterlands architect Michael Schoner. And there's something cool about doing work that is vaguely representational with such a thorough abstraction. But then again, maybe I just see nails

24 Hours of Lemons

Talk about a liability waiver.  The 24 Hours of Lemons is a race for $500 cars on real racetracks.  As you can see, its quite a cool mix of sillyness, shade tree engineering and actual near death experiences.  

Its real racing.  And like all racing, its about cheating.   Do you expect us to believe that sweet MR2 cost $500? And the austin mini with something crazy under the hood?  Not a chance.  At first I thought the same thing about the Jag XJS that was out there, but how broken does an XJS have to be to be worthless.  Perhaps that's a retorical question.

That said many of the cars you'd think would be crawlers went well.  Shout outs to the blue jeep cherokee and wienermobile toyota tercel.  There was some nice driving out there.  

Now we just have to figure out what we should run next year.  Any suggestions?