IBM and Feb 14

Just discovered this bit from the Geekend blog:

Feb. 14, 1924, IBM is founded.

Also checked wikipedia:

On February 14, 1924, CTR changed its name to International Business Machines Corporation. At the helm during this period, Watson played a central role in establishing what would become the IBM organization and culture.

Elevator News Network

I noticed something interesting when I entered the elevator to reach my floor in the office yesterday. There was an LCD monitor in the top corner of the elevator, broadcasting the Elevator New Network (ENN). Now that’s a very unusual place for an LCD screen, and on further investigation (read Googling), I discovered that ENN is in fact quite an old network. ENN also apparently changed its name to Captive Network way back in 2001, but I suppose it retained the name for the channel. They also have over 8000 elevator screens in North America, and they must be looking to expand to India going by this rediff article posted a couple of days ago. They seem to have started out in office elevators, with malls and buses as next targets.

I’m don’t get the utility of such a set up – maybe it’ll increase the general awareness of people using the elevator. It is certain to get some advertisement revenue, which seems to be the basic business model. Now that I have some in my office, do you have one in your office elevator?

The Unreasonable Effectiveness of Mathematics in the Natural Sciences

One of my friends pointed me to the article “The Unreasonable Effectiveness of Mathematics in the Natural Sciences” by Richard Hamming after I had sent him the link to Richard Hamming‘s talk “You and you research“. The article itself is quite thought provoking and makes you take a different view at Mathematics, something which we take for granted.

He presents the evolution of Mathematics quite beautifully – how various parts like algebra, number system, geometry came into being, and how they fit into the world as abstractions of what we observe around us. Now only if we could get Maths to effectively abstract the stock market ;-). Maybe Warren Buffet could give us some pointers on that with Buffettology.

On a side note regarding the talk by Richard Hamming, it is also quite thought provoking and makes you think about what you want to do in life, and setting your priorities accordingly.

The real story behind the space pen

The story of NASA spending millions of dollars to create a pen that worked in space for their astronauts, while the Russians just opted to use pencils, is often cited as a KISS example. However, it turns out that it’s just that – a story, and not the reality.

I first came across the actual story behind the space pen in the Geek Trivia article of TechRepublic. Apparently, both the Americans and Russians opted to use pencils initially, but turned out to have several problems due to the tips breaking off, and their flammable nature (in the high oxygen environment). NASA did opt to use mechanical pencils initially, but they were pretty expensive (almost $130).

In the end both parties started using the space pen developed by the Fisher Pen company which was a lot cheaper ($2.39 after a bulk discount). The research behind development of the pen did require around a million dollars, and patented in 1965. But, this was done by the pen company and not NASA. Also, if you are interested in buying one, it costs around $50.

There is also a detailed Scientific American article on the space pen which appeared last December.

Push starting a train

We have seen people push starting their cars and other vehicles, but trying the same on a train is not what one would expect to hear. However, this is the exact news I came across in today’s paper (link to online article). In this case, the train was left stranded in a neutral zone (with no electricity) when one of the passengers pulled the chain and halted the train. However, to get the train up and running, a few hundred passengers pushed the train about 60 metres to the nearest live point. Now, this is something you don’t hear too often.

Skycars and the future of cars

I came across a link to Moller Skycars through one of my feeds. This got me looking a bit more into where we have reached with the concept of flying cars. The Moller Skycar (on wikipedia) has apparently been around for quite some time, and has also been tested out (but tethered runs for safety). The M400 model which is being planned for general usage is basically a 4-seater VTOL (Vertical Take-off and Landing) vehicle capable of speeds of upto 375 mph, and runs on ethanol. It’s expected to be priced around $1 million.

There are also a few videos on the Moller site on the flying cars, plus one on youtube of the cars test run (or flight). There’s also quite a bit of information on the wikipedia page on flying cars (with one of the earliest models dating back to 1937). Going by the information I’ve seen, the flying car can be expected to be launched by the end of this decade.

However, one of the big questions remaining is the one regarding the energy source for these vehicles – some form of petroleum/ethanol, which is not exactly environment friendly. This is also one of the main sections in the future of cars page on wikipedia, with alternatives ranging from hybrids to hydrogen powered vehicles.