Tech Tuesday 2/27/18 – Social Impacts Edition

I’m trying a new format today. Instead of sorting links by field, I’m going to focus more on a theme. This week: the intersection of science, tech, and society. Links are offered in no particular order.

Tech Tuesday 2/27/18 - Social Impacts Edition

SI1 – A topic I’ve touched on before, about how architecture is important to people.  This time, how it relates to dignity, and bathrooms.

SI2 – The obvious social impact here is that aerospace employers a huge number of workers to assemble aircraft very carefully.  Assembling aircraft panels is a huge part of the work they do.  Attaching ribs and stringers involves a lot of very careful layout and hole drilling, and mistakes can result in wasteful and expensive re-work.    It’s also not the most efficient structure for aircraft, since the loads carried through the fuselage are rarely ever in the radial or longitudinal direction, but in every direction, which means the skin has to take up a lot of the slack.  And, of course, every point of joining is a point of weakness (drill a hole, introduce a weak spot).  Being able to just print the whole thing in one go saves a lot of material and allows for a stronger panel.  Of course, you also don’t need quite so many expensive, unionized machinists to run a printer.

SI3 – I knew it!  Oh, wait, they said ‘low level’…  But wait!  If I overindulge, it’s OK!

SI4 – Making wind turbines greener with a recyclable, self curing resin for the turbine blades.  Not the most social of impacts, but anything that helps old stuff not be tossed in a heap of useless, that’s a net good in my book.  Especially since

SI5 – I always knew Vampires were dumb, even if they do sparkle in the sunlight.  Also, seriously Samsung, don’t we have enough problems with people walking into things, or into traffic, because they can’t take their eyes off their phones.  You want to enable this further?  On a good note, Finland is toying with the idea of putting your driver’s license on your smartphone.  You’d certainly want your phone secured, but if it reduces my need to visit the DMV, I’m interested.

SI6 – We’ve figured out a frequency spectrum of UV light that is safe for us, but deadly to viruses.  I expect to see little UV lights next to those public hand gel dispensers any day now.  Speaking of Viruses, we understand a bit more about how they get past our immune system.

SI7 – I hate cancer.  Apparently, so does Huntington’s Disease. The enemy of my enemy… is still my enemy, but that doesn’t mean we can’t leverage things to our benefit  Until we’ve figured out how to use that leverage, let’s keep the cancer from spreading, shall we?  It also helps to have a virtual cancer tissue bank, because one should know thine enemy.  Finally, might the answer to cancer be within ourselves?

SI8 – Speaking of stem cells, we are one step closer to growing a damn kidney, and fixing brain damage.  Also, remember my stem cell treatment for my damaged knee?  Looks like it might get a helper, or even a replacement.  Since we are on the topic of replace and repair, we’ve gotten a human egg to reach maturity, in the lab.  Finally, naked mole rats are just effing strange, but we can learn a lot from them.

SI9 – My car has to last a few more years, and then I am downsizing.  I hope I can downsize enough that I can fit one of these in the budget.

SI10 – You know a disruption is about to take place when the entrenched players start angling for protection.

SI11 – Shout out to James K for living in one of the least corrupt nations.  We know it’s all due to your hard work spreading libertarian-ish ideals.

SI12 – Printable medicine is a crazy neat idea.  Printing it as a QR code to simplify tracking and dosage is just inspired.

SI13 – Sourcing enough drinking water is a constant issue.  Being able to drink water from any source, polluted fresh or sea water is a huge goal, and graphene filters may get us there pretty quick.  Of course, if it is polluted, being able to recover the pollutants might be industrially useful.

SI14 – Finally, pretty soon, all your crops will be GMOs.  At least, if you want to eat, they will be.

 


Contributor

A Navy Turbine Tech who learned to spin wrenches on old cars, Oscar has since been trained as an Engineer & Software Developer & now writes tools for other engineers. When not in his shop or at work, he can be found spending time with his family, gardening, hiking, kayaking, gaming, or whatever strikes his fancy & fits in the budget. ...more →

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53 thoughts on “Tech Tuesday 2/27/18 – Social Impacts Edition

  1. You know what Denmark also ranks high on? Happiness. I wonder if there’s some correlation there….You feel less likely to get shafted by the government (at least, that’s what I think of when I think of “corruption”), you’re inclined to be happier….

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  2. SI1: Regarding bathrooms. I remember once I was in the Zurich airport bathroom. I went into one of the stalls and it was amazing. Not like in the US with a “stall” with space above and below the sides. This was floor to ceiling made out of some kind of stone. The door was like a regular door with a serious knob and a major lock. I went in there and it was quiet! Now THAT was a public bathroom. Ah good times. But the overall idea in the link is good. Public architecture and design should be good. This used to be the case. Sadly, it seems no longer.

    SI5 I consider people who can’t talk their eyes off their phone and have accidents as Darwin’s law in effect. We need more of this since we’ve made society more safer and we are nearing the “Idiocracy” tipping point. That being said, I have no desire to have my drivers lisc on my phone. I can renew by mail my lisc, so only have to go into the DMV once every 16 years? That’s good enough.

    SI6 Shouldn’t those lights be in use in hopsitals and other medical care areas?

    SI13 We have the technology to create a closed loop water system for people. Especially in dry areas and heavily populated areas, I don’t see why we don’t do this–unless it’s the cost.

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  3. SI6 – I saw the price tag of $1000 per lamp, multiplied that by the number of fixtures in a high school that buys the cheap crinkly toilet paper, and thought “holy crap that’s expensive!” – and then the sentence finished with “relatively inexpensive”.

    Which I guess, what’s the cost of getting a $7 vaccine into an arm? You have to distribute, store at appropriate temperatures, monitor temperature alarms, keep clinics open, hire trained staff to administer, run the publicity campaigns, etc etc

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  4. Because I live in the PacNW, up on a ridge, and my commute is 7 miles. A uniwheel does nothing to keep my dry during the winter, and would probably die trying to get up the ridge to my house.

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    • I am very change-averse and I really liked the old format, especially the part where it was organized by discipline. Like, I am slightly obsessed by organizing things by discipline just in general, it’s part of how I ended up in library work. So right now I’m all “hm, I GUESS this new thing is okay…”

      But from a less personalized perspective, I think it’s pretty neat. And I *love* that it seems to be bringing out more of your own thoughts on the subjects. I’m also self-aware enough to know that if you do switch, within a couple of months I’ll be just as attached to the new way and resistant to changing it as I am to the new way itself right now.

      Overall I agree with fillyjonk that whichever format you enjoy writing more is the way to go :D.

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  5. One of the issues for me with “small super efficient car” is that everything where I live is far, far away, and requires venturing out onto interstates with semis and people in big-old-pickup-trucks, and while I know that YES a big car doesn’t necessarily keep you safer, it feels less scary.

    If they had dedicated roads for JUST semis and larger trucks, and let passenger cars be on separate lanes away from things that felt like they could easily obliterate them, I’d be much more likely to consider a SmartCar or similar. (Though then again: I like to try to do a month’s worth of shopping in one go, and even in the car alone, I’m not sure I could fit all of that….)

    Anything bike like is out for me; childhood ear infections destroyed my sense of balance and I’d be a hazard to myself and others.

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    • I’ve found that my Honda Fit is a reasonable compromise on size, at least for now. When I’m on the inside, the giant vehicless don’t seem any larger than they seem when I’m in any sort of sedan. That’s mostly a result of sitting at a normal sedan sort of height above the road, I think. When I see another Fit on the road, though, I’m (still, after eight years) inclined to think, “I’m driving around in something that small?” With the back seats folded down, there’s adequate cargo space*.

      If you asked me to design a vehicle system, I’d probably look hard at one based on two pieces. A Smart-like electric vehicle for short runs; an add-on with an alcohol-fueled generator and added cargo space or seats for the occasional longer trips or bigger loads. Not a trailer, but something much more integrated. Given some standardization, I can envision an hourly/daily/weekly rental market for the add-ons.

      * An anecdote on the space. I was at Office Depot picking up some odds and ends. As I was going in, there was a guy with a sizeable Volvo trying to fit the box containing his new knocked-down office chair. When I came out, he and one of the staff were there with the chair parts unpacked, trying to fit them into the car somehow. I pulled up behind them and asked if I could try putting the now-empty box in my Fit, just for grins. With the back seats folded down, it was easy.

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  6. [SI2] — the problem with printing aircraft parts isn’t unions, no matter how fun they are to blame. It’s a fundamental mismatch between additive manufacturing and the entire aircraft inspection and certification regime.

    You know, the whole bit that works really hard to make sure your aircraft is inspected often enough that giant chunks don’t fall off, or bits don’t break mid-flight.

    I happen to know this, because I sat in on two-hour bitchfest that included Boeing ,Airbus and the FAA (among quite a few others), discussing the fact that determining material fatigue and predicting lifespans with additive manufacturing was, at the moment, practically impossible.

    You *can* get fracture mechanics data off additive manufactured materials, but it varies depending on the type of machine you use (and even between models by the same manufacturer), they don’t have the data to determine what other changes might impact the material properties…

    In short, the problem with additive manufacturing (3D printing for everyone else out there) is that the resulting part has no answer to the question “How long can this part be flown? How often do inspections need to take place? How big does a crack need to be before it’s a danger?”, which is the sort of question that the FAA (and every other body that does that job) considers kind of important.

    And trust me, the major airplane makers — and NASA, and plenty of others — are throwing money at it because additive manufacturing is about a million types of “great”. But they’re not having much luck, because they can’t extract universal material properties (they can take a given part and get the properties for that, but that seems to only work for that part from that machine and thus is somewhat useless) , which is the bedrock for doing anything that involves critical parts.

    (I am not a materials scientists. I am not a fracture mechanics expert. My actual job, however, involves supporting that work. And the people I come into contact with are the people whose work lives are all about life prediction, fatigue crack growth, and how they relate to thinks that fly in the air or in space).

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    • I wasn’t actually blaming Unions for a move to AM, it’s just a potential impact of doing so.

      As to your technical concern…

      We have DECADES of data on how a skin panel, or a rib, or a stringer, will fatigue over it’s life. And we still design to assume our information is imperfect.

      However, we also know how often, per flight, a given fuselage panel will undergo what kinds of movement and can estimate how many flights before fatigue is an issue. We get this partly from actual flight data from the airlines. But we also get it from test rigs.

      Not sure if it was mentioned in your meetings, but Boeing has a huge test rig out in the back of the Everett plant. Once they get a couple sections of aircraft built and assembled, they mount them in the rig, and proceed to simulate (by twisting and bending and stretching) various mission profiles at high speed, basically playing the aircraft’s expected life at super fast forward. Get 10 years of data in a few months, IIRC.

      And all the current fracture mechanics data we have was gotten in a similar fashion.

      Couple that to some serious advances in finite element analysis with regard to fatigue over the past decade, and we will have a good start of fracture and fatigue data in a few years time.

      The real issue will be how to inspect such a panel. You can look at a skin panel, and a rib, and a stringer, and see if any one piece has failed, and replace that piece. AM will have largely the same problem carbon fiber does, in that it’s hard to eyeball for defects, so other non-destructive methods will have to be fielded and verified first.

      The other issue will be the fact that the aircraft manufacturers and regulators have to think about aircraft design process differently, and that is surprisingly difficult to do for such big companies and organizations. When I was working on the 787, one of the issues that existed is that the older engineers and the regulators just couldn’t seem to wrap their heads around the fact that CF is not AL, so the insisted on treating CF as if it were just Black AL. Which made it very difficult to actually utilize CF to maximize it’s efficiencies. AM, despite being made from AL or TI, will have the same issue, since the structures will not be known shapes.

      Remember the Engineering Credo:

      “Engineering is the art of modelling materials we do not wholly understand, into shapes we cannot precisely analyse so as to withstand forces we cannot properly assess, in such a way that the public has no reason to suspect the extent of our ignorance”

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      • All of that fracture mechanics is built on underlying material properties.

        Trying to predict lifespans and work out maintenance cycles on additive manufacturing is, at the moment, like trying to calculate orbital dockings when mass of the Earth keeps fluctuating.

        The test rigs don’t help, because they’ve found that they can extra material properties — which is what FEA is built on — for a part created by a printer — but if they switch to a different printer, or even a different model by the same company, the material properties change.

        I’ve heard a Boeing engineer speaking, in total frustration, about how they’d love to print up parts, but they can’t do so for flight-critical bits because they have no idea how long they’d be good for. They can see the potential, but the end result is a product they can’t trust yet.

        Again, the problem isn’t engineering — it’s material science, the stuff “below” the level of engineering. Test rigs don’t help, because the second you replace the printer your millions of dollars of tests (and they actually are that expensive) are useless.

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        • I understand the complaint now. The printers need to have consistent weld heads (feed rates, temperature, etc.) and patterning. That is an engineering problem, just a different engineering problem.

          We know that a good weld can actually be stronger that the material it is joining, and metal AM is just welds on top of welds. But, as you say, there is a ton of variation on what constitutes a ‘good weld’, even when done by a robot, so it makes sense that they are getting an annoying amount of inconsistency.

          That said, Boeing/Airbus/etc. can toss an awful lot of resources at the inconsistency issue, such that a standard will be determined and settled on and all printers for use in the Aerospace industry will conform to that standard. It’s been done before (what, you think in the early days the AL alloys they got were consistent?).

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          • The test rigs don’t help, because they’ve found that they can extra material properties

            That’s what I get for revising it a few times and not reading closely.

            The test rigs don’t help, because they can’t trust the underlying material properties. They can probably assume that that part, created from that model of that machine, will match the test results (with the usual knockdown factor) but that’s it.

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        • I believe the Air Force is moving quickly to approve (may have already approved) 3D-manufactured structural replacement parts for their fleet of aging B-52s. IIRC, though, they’re dealing with the strength questions by printing with titanium or exotic alloys that are fundamentally superior to the original materials. Nice to have that sort of budget :^)

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          • IIRC, though, they’re dealing with the strength questions by printing with titanium or exotic alloys that are fundamentally superior to the original materials.

            I’d have to ask a material engineer but….yikes. I suspect they’re sticking to as few flight critical systems as possible (“if it breaks, the plane won’t crash”) and using a ridiculous safety factor for inspection rates.

            Tiny changes in things like tensile strength and yield stress can add up to big differences over 100,000 flight hours.

            I’ll have to hassle a coworker tomorrow about it, but this came up just last year and they were grousing about the wide variance. They really want to print parts, but they also don’t want planes to fall out of the sky.

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  7. [SI3] Good news for the brain:

    two weeks of daily treatment with the drug tandospirone reversed the effects of 15 weeks of binge-like alcohol consumption on neurogenesis

    Bad news for the liver.

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  8. sl10 – I’m…ok with this. Labeling is fine, rent seeking protectionist regulations are not. (I got to think the first generation of vat meat will be inputs into pre-processed foods, where appearance doesn’t matter for sales.)

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      • Retentiveness about labeling and defintions is kinda itself a defining feature of the US food industry – or at least, its relationship with the USDA. The crime a day folks get a lot of milleage over the umpteenth bazillion pages in the CFR devoted to various agricultural products to cover all the potential permutations.

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        • Labeling is sort of the go-to argument, I think, for people who have no other way to express their unease with how our food is obtained and prepared.

          Because the average person really has almost no idea where the food we put in our bodies comes from, how it is originated, or processed, or prepared.

          What I thought was interesting revelation during the Mad Cow scare, was how it turned out that no one really does.

          The industrial food stream is so vast and complex, with so many incestuous loops and criss-crossing lines, that it is virtually impossible to know all of it.
          No one really knows for example, what is in cattle feed since it contains ground up cows, who ate feed containing other cows who ate that same or different feed, and so on in an endless loop.

          So for someone who wants to “make good health decisions”, there just aren’t any good answers other than detaching entirely from processed foods.

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        • But that’s the thing – there’s nothing wrong with ‘pink slime’; people were promoting that term as a boogeyman.

          (and I wonder how many people perturbed by pink slime also give great credit to 19th century Native Americans for using ‘all parts of the buffalo’)

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          • It probably is. But how would we even know?
            We- collectively we moderns- are so detached from the source of our food, we don’t have any reliable gauge.

            My grandparents slaughtered their own meat and ate food that triggers my disgust reflexes (blood pudding, and cow brains). But they knew exactly what was in it. And they were eating things that people have consumed for millenia.

            We routinely eat food that has been so highly engineered and processed to maximize our salt, sugar and fat tastes that it is completely fair to ask if it is food at all.

            Our concept of what “food” is has become sort of bifurcated.

            On the one hand, we have an idealized vision of happy cows eating fresh green grass, and being turned into slabs of red meat, when in fact a natural cow-like ungulate will have about half its food contained in things like intestines and tongue.

            On the other, the industrial process of food engineering has resulted in cows that are freakishly developed and pumped full of pharmaceuticals, and the resulting intestines and tongues processed into that pink slime.

            So we lack the ability that previous generations had, to accurately assess food and make decisions regarding it. Both our ideas of where food should come from and where it actually does come from are freakish and ahistorical.

            This isn’t a matter of villainry so much as the consequences of our choices.

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            • Are you talking about sausages and hot dogs? Yummy and good usage of the random parts of the animal. If anything it is the detachment from where our food comes from that looks at eating certain parts of the animal as gross. I mean tongue is disgusting. My mom liked it since she ate it as a kid. But that is just a cultural artifact. It’s just a taste.

              It seems like there is a ton of info about how our food is made. Some is bad and some is good, but there is plenty out there. I don’t like how engineered some food is, but it sure as hell is exactly what food is. Deriding processed food as not real is one of those snobby things that has always irked me. And i agree heavily processed food is often not good for us. Of course processed foods can be perfectly fine also. But it’s not like there isn’t a plethora of data about all that stuff.

              We have kilo tons of info about what to eat. The problem is sorting through it and all the agendas, varying tastes, marketing terms, fads and money making schemes. It would be hard to go to wrong with eat moderate amounts of high quality food of which there are many types. Also get some exercise. There isn’t any money to be made it that.

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              • “But it’s not like there isn’t a plethora of data about all that stuff.”

                About that stuff in the aggregate.

                Not, say, what exactly has happened, in terms of strange and abnormal inputs, or not happened, to that particular piece of cow you are eating right now before it gets on your plate.

                That’s what Chip was referring to, I believe, when he started talking about cows eating ground up other cows and no one knowing which cows had eaten cows and which hadn’t. (Which was, yes, v. relevant with respect to mad cow disease.)

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                • Specific to that yes. However it is possible to buy a variety of organic or solidly sources meats in the grocery. People do have choices. Factory farming is what it is which lots of people find unpleasant. It’s not like i’m not all for more FDA inspections and labeling. The more general complaints he had are pretty common though.

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            • As hard as it was, as gross as it could be (at times), I will always value the appreciation I got from working on farms and in a butcher shop (a small town slaughterhouse/butcher, not a grocery store butcher). I didn’t at the time, but I do now.

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            • An industrial scale process where germs are killed because of properly high temperatures, or are inhibited because of properly low temperatures, or a combo of both, is likely better for public health and safety than every artisan hand slaughtering and cutting up things on a boutique basis.

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              • In the context of preserving, I think of this as the “we die of botulism less often but the jam tastes nowhere near as good” problem. (nb I say botulism because it’s a fun word to say, not because it’s the most appropriate toxin to name.)

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              • Oh absolutely it is better for public health!

                However, the detachment from our processes is, I think, decidedly a mixed blessing.

                The estrangement I am talking about is the core of modern technology itself; Technology and industrial processes have made it unnecessary to know where our fuel comes from, where our water comes from, where our food and clothing and furniture and houses and everything else comes from.

                This is widly, insanely, efficient; A person in Buffalo can eat a fresh orange in January, and I can buy a tee shirt that just a week ago was on a loom in India. This is a bounty of luxury that was unthinkable a century or so ago.

                And yet.

                This detachment makes it difficult for us to make decisions about policy because we find it hard to see the connections between say, opiod epidemic and the orange in Buffalo or the bag of FunYuns and the draining of the Ogallala Aquifer..

                Even what seems like a simple question- “Is the modern food stream good for our health?” is not so simple.

                Because the food stream relies upon, just for one small example, mass production of staple crops like corn and wheat.
                These require industrial sized applications of complex petrochemicals which end up being distributed through our land and water and air. How does that affect public health?

                It also requires massive amounts of public policy, everything from taxation to subsidy to infrastructure to finance it and move it around. How does that diversion of money affect public health?

                On the other end, the insanely cheap food stimulates demand, warping our diet and our bodies in ways we really are only beginning to understand.
                We live longer, but fatter. So this in turn requires industrial scale pharmaceuticals and medicine to treat things like diabetes and the resultant policy to administer and pay for it.
                How does that affect public health?

                Finally, the industrialization of food means that it responds to global, not local factors causing localized disruptions in economies and communities; There are in the Midwest a lot of small farming towns that are slowly vanishing, swallowed up by the much more efficient agricultural industry.

                How does this affect public health, when entire communities can no longer find jobs or a future? Isn’t there a connection to the opiod epidemic?

                This isn’t an argument opposing this.

                Its to note that all these things have secondary and tertiary ripples that affect all of our policy decisions.

                And yet because the linkages are hidden, it becomes hard to assess that simple question- “Is it good for our health?”

                Because like globalization itself, the answer seems to be, “Its very very good for some, less good for others, and absolutely awful for still others.”

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