All posts by Jeremy Eades

I'm an English teacher in Japan. I have an interest in the brain and language acquisition, not to mention writing and the pipedream that I'll become the next Asimov. Or something like that. Nice to meet you!

Safer, saner cities

city park The more I go through life, the more I find that other people have very different experiences.  But if you’re from middle America, or any major city, much of Nature you’ve seen in your adult life has been through a car window going somewhere else.  And the traditional view of future cities has been a bigger and better version of the concrete jungle, like a bad SimCity where everyone lives in one area, commutes to work in another and goes shopping in a third.

A recent study found that more “walkable” neighborhoods bode well for the elderly, not merely for exercise and physical health, but also for their mental wellbeing.  Specifically,

Berke speculates that walkable neighborhoods might be so important because they promote social connection and reduce isolation, a major predictor of depression. “If people are out walking to destinations, they run into each other”, he says. “And then they talk, or interact, or share ideas”.  He adds that city streets with their shorter blocks, more direct routes, and greater number of intersections—can be more walkable than suburban ones. They also have greater population density, which increases the probability that people meet one another by chance.

This sort of connection between people in a neighborhood is something that has been lost in modern American cities and towns since the rise of the automobile and long-distance commuting became regular.  At least, it’s something that I’ve seen and heard about, but have never actually experienced.  But, with rising gas prices and actual debates going on about changing the way our cities grow, this is something that could impact our perception of futuristic cities.

(via SciTechDaily) (image from Andreas.)

A bridge with a nervous system

352144488_4a1dbec18c_m Is this a great idea for engineering, or a way to make our toasters self-aware and kill us all?

Researchers want to build in to bridges, airplanes, and other large structures a type of nervous system that, among other things, would detect any defects such as cracks or rust, and relay that to a central computer that could tell engineers and repair workers what needed to be fixed.  This Structural Health Monitoring (SMH) system would use ultrasound waves travelling through really teeny, tiny fibers embedded into the material to detect any potential dangers.  After the recent airline maintenance scandal in the US, this could really be useful.

(Note: I also came across this book from a conference in Tokyo in 2003 on the same topic for you eggheads who really want to get into this.  Forgive me if I don’t read all 1300 pages of engineering articles)

(via Scitechdaily) (image from massdistraction)

Robots as entry-level employees?

Image00796 In Japan, the population is falling, causing a reduced workforce that can’t keep up with pension and healthcare payments.  In most other countries, you’d think a healthy dose of immigration and the social payments that go with it would keep things rolling.  But not Japan.  They’d rather invest billions in robots to do everything from hand out tissues to sell mobile phones to hock vinegar, or just do plain old stupid tricks.

It’s something worth keeping an eye on, although for the price some of these things are going for, you’d think just hiring one of the many ‘freeters‘ that are always calling me up to go drinking on a Tuesday night when I have to write a Futurismic post (sorry, Taka!).

(image from Asahi, alas, I didn’t win one)

Six-story tall giant robot? Yes, please

433545945_a040aa5016_m My roommate’s an interesting guy.  He’s into Gundam.  Like, room-filled-with-models into Gundam.  And he’s dragged me into his robot otaku world.  So I had to mention this project when it came up.  A roboticist from the Future Robotics Technology Center in Japan, Takayuki Furuta, has done cost-estimates of what it would take to build a full-size, functional Gundam robot.  Some impossible parts, namely the alloy Gundanium and solar furnaces, would be replaced by modern analogues, aluminum alloy and 7 Apache gas turbines, respectively.  The whole thing will cost roughly US$742 million, a small price for a giant robot, I suppose.  Furuta hopes to have a 4-meter version up and running by 2011, if I’m still nearby in 3 years, I might have to make a pilgrimage.

(via Matt Yglesias) (image from moogs)

First fuel-cell flight fulfills fantasies

Condensation Boeing’s making a series of firsts in aviation, with the latest being a manned flight powered by fuel cells (though batteries helped the plane take off).  While it’s unlikely they’ll power commercial airliners, they may see usage in secondary power capacities or they “could power small manned and unmanned air vehicles.”

This seems to be a more likely future for fuel cells in aviation.  The main benefits here are lighter weight than batteries (since they’ll consume hydrogen, making the plane lighter) and a chance to keep the combustible fuel far from quickly moving parts like the propeller.

(image from Wikipedia Commons)