Saturday, May 17, 2014

Tourmaline lemonade

crystallographic sector zoning is a phenomenon that causes all sorts of headaches for geochemists and petrologists.  Basically, as different crystallographic faces grow in a medium (e.g. magma), they have different selectivities for different elements.  If you want to measure how much of a particular element a growing crystal scavenges from its surrounding, and you don’t measure all sectors, or don’t know their true relative volume, this can cause errors.

However, at least two scientists have turned this around, and used the zoning as a feature, not a problem.  Hinsberg and Schumacher (2007) treat the different sectors as co-existing minerals, calculate D values between them, and note that the D values are temperature dependent. Ta da!  They now have a single crystal geothermometer that records T over the growth of the mineral.  If life hands you lemons, compare the sections and build a new tool.

Saturday, May 03, 2014

A dumb gun is not a smart gun

There has been a minor brouhaha in the American media this week about the refusal for gunshops to sell the  Armatix “smart” gun.  These revolve around fears that the sale of this weapon will restrict consumer choice in other, non-adjacent states.

This is not surprising.  The tactic of making a product that nobody wants to buy, and them compelling its purchase through legislation is not new.  Nor is it unique to liberals; rather is practiced by all sides of politics on everything from health insurance to self-propelled artillery to NASA rockets. And this is where the smart gun falls down.

Compared to every other smart product to hit the market in the last ten years, the smart gun is really, really fucking stupid. It make no attempt at all to leverage the information revolution to its core utility, in the way that smart phones, smart glasses, smart cars, and smart everything else do.  So unsurprisingly, not even people who like guns want to but a smart gun.

It doesn't have to be that way.  There is no reason a well-designed actual smart gun can’t be so compelling, useful, and clever that everyone with even a remote interest in physics would want to have one. A gun with integrated display/user interface/ cameras/ standard hand-held computer sensors could to all sorts of amazing things not currently available to current weapons. 

Just off the top of my dome, these include:
  • Integrated tiltmeter/ compass/ gps system that shows you (on a map), where rounds are expected to fall when the gun is pointed into the air.
  • Breathalayzer interlocks.
  • Hunting and firearm regulation and helpful hints relevant to your GPS position.
  • High precision integrated camera/gunsight that records a pic every shot, automatically scores targets based on image analysis, uses image recognition to identify targets.
  • Digital map record of hunting sites, game seen, missed, taken, time spent.
  • Programmable trigger lockouts from image recognition to block unwanted targets, such as:
  • -children.
  • -birds and beasts not in season.
  • -cops.
  • -unsafe elevation (see above).
  • -people who have turned their back/ are retreating.
  • -recognized “do not shoot” faces.
  • -and any other targets where the shooter wants an extra layer of protection against accidents. 

There are all sorts of totally awesome things you could do with a computer-integrated, geospatially aware weapon.  And the fact that guns are exempt from consumer protection laws should only increase innovation in this area.  Done properly, a genuinely smart gun could make uncomputerized guns as obsolete as flip phones.

I don’t know who would make them, but perhaps a hugecomputer company in a gun-loving state desperate for a new product would be interested.