Big Better Building Part II – WIF Engineering Feats

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Incredible Modern

Engineering Achievements

Humanity likes nothing more than building insanely large and complicated structures, except maybe reading about large and complicated structures built by other people. Today, we’re going to do the latter. While the ancient people had some amazing engineering achievements, we’ve all seen an article or six about the pyramids and the Great Wall of China. As such, let’s focus on the amazing achievements of relatively modern engineering, such as…

Engineering HOF – WIF Into History

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History’s Greatest

Engineering Achievements

The history of civilization is replete with examples of humanity improving the world in which it lives. Through ingenuity, imagination, and hard work, humanity has spanned rivers, built roads, erected cities, and created the infrastructure to connect them. Some projects took centuries to complete; others were finished with alacrity, driven by immediate needs. Many were treated with derision by contemporaries who considered the vision of their proponents’ to be delusional. Some — the Panama Canal being one example of many — were completed only after a spectacular and expensive failure during earlier attempts. Still others were spurred by the competition between nations and empires

Spectacular feats of engineering preceded the term engineer. The master builders and visionaries evolved over the centuries from mathematicians (spontaneously, it would seem) across the globe. The Great Wall in China, the pyramids of the Maya and Aztec cultures, the cities of the ancient world all were accomplished by engineering, though the builders and designers were unaware that they were engineers. Over the centuries, engineering accomplishments were directed at the worship of gods and heroes, the improvement of societal life, and to simply celebrate the spirit of humanity. Here are 10 of the greatest engineering achievements in history.

10. The Roman Water Distribution System

Three centuries before the beginning of the Common Era the Roman Republic, later the Empire, distributed water throughout its dominions using a system of canals, pipes, reservoirs, standing tanks, and aqueducts. Entirely through the use of gravity the Romans distributed fresh water to cities and towns, as well as to mines and farms. Some of the aqueducts still stand, architectural marvels built by laborers under the supervision of surveyors and master builders. By the end of the third century the city of Rome was serviced by eleven separate water conduits distributing water throughout the city, and in the case of the wealthier citizens directly into their homes. Poorer residents resorted to public wells and baths.

The empire was serviced with water systems as well, operated by both local governments and the state. Natural springs were the preferred sources of water. Easements were established by law on either side of the conduit’s pathway. The waterways were liberally supplied with inspection points – which would today be called manholes – and the water was routinely inspected for purity. Lead pipes were used in some sections, though the use of ceramic piping was preferred, and sections of the aqueducts which were of concrete were lined with brick, to prevent erosion and to help filter the water. The system was so well designed and built that there are sections still in use for the distribution of fresh water nearly 20 centuries after they were built.

9. The Cathedral of Hagia Sophia

Built as a Christian church and later converted to an Islamic mosque, the Cathedral of Hagia Sophia is today a museum, and an iconic image of Turkey. Originally constructed in the sixth century it has survived rioting, looting by conquerors, earthquakes, fires, and the ravages of time. Built chiefly of masonry, it is easily recognized by its corner minarets and its massive dome. Built and rebuilt many times over the years, it remains a symbol of Byzantine architecture, and for over 1,000 years Hagia Sophia was the largest cathedral in the world. Its design was revolutionary in its day.

The huge dome is set upon a square base, supported by four triangle shaped pendentives in the square’s corners. The pendentives carry the weight of the dome and direct it downwards, rather than outwards as the shape of the dome would otherwise dictate. Though the dome collapsed on more than one occasion, and was modified during rebuilding to include ribs which help distribute its weight to the supporting walls, each rebuilding strengthened it and improved the overall structure of the building. Hagia Sophia is a museum of both the Christian and Islamic faiths, as well as the Byzantine Empire and the Crusades. It remains one of the largest masonry buildings in the world in the 21st century.

8. The Leshan Buddha

Carved from a single stone and completed in the early ninth century, the Great Buddha of Leshan stands over 230 feet tall, with a breadth across the shoulders of 92 feet. It is the tallest statue of Buddha to be found in the world, carved from the sandstone of a cliff overlooking the junction of the Min and Dadu Rivers in Sichuan. Ordinarily sandstone would be easily eroded by the rainwater which has fallen on the statue over the centuries. That it hasn’t is a tribute to the ingenious engineering which controls the flow of water through and behind the statue, which has served to protect it since its completion circa 803 CE.

The Leshan Buddha includes over 1,000 coiled hair buns, of stone, which are placed on the statue’s head. They were designed to collect rainwater, and to route it to a system of drains and drainpipes which allow the water to flow through the statue’s head and arms, draining out the back, behind the stone clothes and away from the statue, protecting it from the effects of erosion. The system was installed as part of the original carving. Originally protected by a wooden shelter which was destroyed by the Mongols, the statue has stood exposed to the elements for seven centuries, with its drainage system protecting it from erosion. Today the greatest threat to the statue is the heavily polluted air of the region, a factor its designers could not have anticipated.

7. The Erie Canal

Between the Hudson River and Lake Erie land elevation increases by about 600 feet. Canal locks of the day (1800) could raise or lower boats about 12 feet, which meant that at least 50 locks would be required to build a canal which linked the Hudson with the Great Lakes. President Thomas Jefferson called the project “…little short of madness.” New York’s governor, Dewitt Clinton, disagreed and supported the project, which led to its detractors calling the canal “Dewitt’s Ditch” and other, less mild pejoratives. Clinton pursued the project fervently, overseeing the creation of a 360 mile long waterway across upstate New York, which linked the upper Midwest to New York City. The cities of Buffalo, New York, and Cleveland, Ohio, thrived once the canal was completed, in 1825.

The engineering demands of the canal included the removal of earth using animal power, water power (using aqueducts to redirect water flow), and gunpowder to blast through limestone. None of the canal’s planners and builders were professional engineers, instead they were mathematics instructors, judges, and amateur surveyors who learned as they went. Labor was provided by increased immigration, mostly from Ireland and the German provinces. When it was completed in 1825 the canal was considered an engineering masterpiece, one of the longest canals in the world. The Erie Canal’s heyday was relatively short, due to the development of the railroads, but it led to the growth of the port of New York, and spurred the building of competing canals in other Eastern states.

6. The Brooklyn Bridge

The Brooklyn Bridge was originally envisioned by John Roebling, who had built suspension bridges of shorter spans across the Ohio River and at other locations. The project in Brooklyn and Manhattan led to an accident which cost Roebling his life, and the engineering challenges passed to his son, Washington Roebling. Washington was stricken with the bends early in the construction, and was forced to supervise the project from his Manhattan apartment. The engineering challenges were difficult; wooden caissons were sunk to the bottom of the East River, with men inside them to excavate the river bottom until the caissons reached bedrock. In the case of the east tower supporting the bridge, they never did. The tower rests on sand to this day.

It took 14 years to complete the project, from 1869 -1883. Often described as a suspension bridge, the structure is in reality a hybrid suspension/cable stayed bridge, with the load of the span transferred by wire cables to the towers, and thence to the bedrock on the Brooklyn side, and the sand over the bedrock on the Manhattan side. In the 21st century it carries six lanes of traffic as well as bicycles and pedestrians, though it no longer accommodates rail traffic, nor commercial vehicles. It was considered the engineering masterpiece of the world at the time of its completion, spanning nearly six thousand feet, and linking the formerly separate cities of Brooklyn and New York.

5. The Eiffel Tower

Gustave Eiffel built the iconic symbol of Paris – indeed of all of France – to serve as the gateway to the 1889 World’s Fair. Contrary to popular belief, Eiffel did not design the tower, instead purchasing the patent rights to the design from engineers within his employ. He then signed a contract for the construction of the tower acting as himself, rather than as his company, and later set up another company to handle the management of the tower and the income derived from it. The design of the tower was controversial from the outset, with artists and engineers complaining of its lack of aesthetic value. It was said that French writer Guy de Maupassant ate at the restaurant in the tower after its completion because it was the only place in Paris from which the tower could not be seen.

The ironwork was delivered to the site with holes for connecting bolts pre-drilled, and as they were installed the tower was brought into proper alignment through the use of hydraulic jacks installed near the four feet of the structure. Creeper cranes climbed the legs of the tower to erect each succeeding level. The tower was declared complete in March 1889, at the time the tallest man-made structure in the world. It reached the height of 1,063 feet and remains the tallest structure in Paris. The tower was to have been dismantled in 1909, under the terms of the original contract, but its usefulness as a radio transmitter gained it a longer lease on life. By the end of the twentieth century the idea of dismantling the tower was unthinkable.

4. The Panama Canal

The 51-mile long cut across the Isthmus of Panama was a dream for many decades prior to the French beginning its construction in 1881. During the building of America’s Transcontinental Railroad, equipment for use in the Sierras was shipped from the east coast of the United States to Panama, transferred across the Isthmus, and then shipped to California. Engineers for years studied the building of a canal before the French attempted to complete one, but the engineering difficulties combined with the climate and politics to thwart their efforts after more than two decades. The United States stepped in where the French failed, and completed the canal in 1914, after another ten years of work.

The canal is actually two canals, connected on either end with an artificial lake, Lake Gatun, located 85 feet above sea level. Locks on the two canals raise or lower ships to or from the level of the lake, allowing them to traverse from Atlantic to Pacific, or vice versa. The canal allows ships to transfer from one ocean to the other in just under twelve hours. It was the engineering decision to abandon the sea level canal design favored by the French and instead create Lake Gatun through the building of Gatun Dam (then the largest dam in the world) and install locks to raise and lower ships which allowed the Americans to succeed in completing the dam, which changed shipping lanes and inter-ocean traffic forever.

3. The Channel Tunnel

For centuries the British Isles remained unconnected to the European continent, a situation which many Britons favored as critical to their national security. Numerous proposals for a tunnel beneath the channel were put forth, but opposition within England and France prevented any serious efforts. Attempts to build tunnels for automobile traffic were started and stopped in the mid-to-late 20th century. Finally, in the late 1980s, after the usual political and professional maneuvering among governments, businesses, and financiers, work on the tunnels for high speed rail trains got underway, already bearing the nickname by which it is best known today, the Chunnel.

The tunnel was built from both sides, using massive tunnel boring machines – TBMS – to approach each other. The machines bore through what is mostly chalk, though the varying geology of the French shore created some difficulties. Both the French and English used the removed spoil for land reclamation projects. The tunnels were lined with both cast iron and reinforced concrete. When completed, the tunnel provided electrical power to the trains running through it via overhead lines. The tunnel opened in 1994, and today allows for a trip from London to Paris in just over two hours. The tunnel also allows for freight traffic delivering goods manufactured throughout Europe to be imported to Britain, and British goods to find markets on the continent.

2. Burj Khalifa

The world’s tallest structure as of 2019, Burj Khalifa is a mixed use skyscraper in Dubai, which was completed in 2009. The building was designed by the same Chicago firm which designed the Willis Tower (formerly the Sears Tower) in that city, and uses the same engineering principle of bundled tubes at its core to support the building’s weight. The tubular design allowed for substantially less steel to be used in construction, with most of the building being reinforced concrete. Its spire alone, which is mostly decorative, would qualify it as the 11th tallest structure in Europe were it erected on the continent.

The building has an outdoor swimming pool located on the 76th floor, with another on the 43rd floor. A 300 room hotel is located within the building, as well as corporate offices and private apartments. For those of a hardy constitution, 2,909 steps connect the ground floor with the 160th. The observation deck is located on the 124th floor. The surrounding park, known as Burj Khalifa Park, is landscaped with desert plants which are kept hydrated using water collected by the building’s cooling system, which itself relies on the cooler air of the upper portion of the building to decrease the temperatures of the lower portion of the structure.

1. The Apollo Space Program

It remains one of the signature engineering achievements in the history of the human race. No other program has delivered human beings to an environment other than their home planet and returned them safely to earth. Americans not only walked on the surface of the moon, they drove on it, using a battery driven vehicle designed for the purpose, capable of carrying two astronauts and greatly increasing the area which the lunar explorers could cover. It was carried to the moon within the Lunar Excursion Module (LEM) and used for the final three moon missions in the early 1970s. In 2003, the National Academy of Engineers called the program the “…greatest engineering team effort in American history.”

The Apollo program led to significant advances in the development of integrated circuitry, contributed to the growing cause of environmentalism, and over 20% of the world’s population watched on television when astronaut Neil Armstrong left the first human footprints on the lunar surface. NASA claimed spin-offs from the space program in the areas of freeze-dried foods, emergency reflective blankets, hand-held portable vacuum cleaners, and more than 2,000 other areas. LASIK surgery is a direct descendant of the technology developed to dock with vehicles in space, first performed as part of the Gemini program, in which astronauts learned the techniques required of Apollo.

Engineering HOF –

WIF Into History

New Stuff – Don’t Blink and They’re So Yesterday

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Tech Items

You Need To

Know About

We often check out sci-fi movies and books for ideas on what future tech could look like – anything from Marty McFly’s hoverboard to Luke Skywalker’s lightsaber – but what we don’t realize is that there are so many amazing gadgets and gizmos already around us. Every year, genius minds come up with fantastic ideas that have the potential to be game-changers. Sure, some ideas may fall flat, but for every weird and wacky item, there is a genuinely cool piece of technology that we humans could be using for many years into the future. Let’s take a look at 10 items that seem from the year 3017, but are actually coming very soon or available now.

10. PowerRay underwater drone by PowerVision

Sure, drones can record incredible footage from the sky, but what if you want to explore another vast and open area: the ocean. That’s why the Powerway underwater drone looks to be hugely popular, as it will be able to be controlled underwater to depths of 98 feet (30 meters). The little submarine-esque item can record 4K video and stream it to your phone, which is not only fascinating to the average seagoer, but also useful for fishermen. A sonar function is available which can apparently detect fish from up to 131 feet away (40 meters) and baits them with the help of a blue light. This makes us think that fishing doesn’t sound so hard after all!

9. Spectacles by Snap Inc.

Snapchat is already one of the most popular apps in the world, and now the company behind it all, Snap Inc., has now released their very own physical product: Spectacles. These record 10-second clips at the press of a button, which can then be uploaded to your Snapchat account. These sound useful, as you can have your phone in your pocket but still be able to record things from your POV, and they are stylish enough to be worn outside (unlike Google Glasses, RIP). However, there has been some discussion about privacy concerns regarding the Spectacles, as the thought that someone could be taking a video without your knowledge or approval is a real issue among people today.

8. Smart bikes by LeEco

LeEco has created smart bikes that contain some very useful improvements to your regular bike. There is a 4-inch touchscreen attached to the frame, which can provide you with on-screen directions and riding stats, as well as a compass, speedometer and barometer. There’s also some lasers attached to the handlebars, which create a virtual lane in front of you, which is kind of cool. There will be two types available for LeEco’s smart bikes: a road version and an all-terrain version. What’s great is that the smart bike doesn’t look so much different from the bikes of today, thereby reducing the risk of theft as it’s not over-the-top and ostentatious.

7. 360 smart bed by Sleep Number

This is perhaps the most high-tech bed on the market. The 360 smart bed is said to adjust to your ideal level of firmness and support, as you can control all settings relating to comfort. What’s really fun is that if the bed senses you snoring, it will gently raise the head section to (hopefully) prevent it for the rest of the night. Sleep Number’s bed can also warm your feet, which is said to help induce sleep much faster. In the morning, you’ll get sleep statistics sent to your phone, which means getting good sleep is now training of sorts.

6. The Core by Norton

The Core is not only a modern router for the home, but also a very stylish and futuristic-looking item – exactly what we want! But it’s more than a pretty sight, as the router contains security features that are said to prevent hackers, malware, and viruses from ever getting into any item with an Internet connection. As we have smartphones, laptops, tablets, and even fridges connected to the web, this is a big advantage in a world where cybercrime is a prevalent threat.

5. U connected shower system by Moen

This is something we’re really excited about, as getting the perfect shower temperature every morning seems to take way longer than we’d like. From your smartphone, you’ll be able to pre-heat the water temperature before you even get in, as well as setting a time limit to turn off the shower so you don’t spend ages in there and end up late for work (easy to do on a Monday morning). This device could also help in drought areas, as there’s no need to waste water as you wait for the perfect temperature – it happens instantly.

4. Moxi stroller and phone charger by 4moms

Everyone loves to get two things done at once, so that’s why 4moms made the moxi. The stroller doesn’t just get your child from A to B, but can charge your phone whilst doing so. Using kinetic energy, you can ditch regular old electricity to keep your phone from running low. There are additional great features of the stroller too, like an LCD dashboard that shows various data, headlights and taillights, and a fully adjustable seat and handlebars.

3. Pop instaprint camera by Polaroid

Not a company to dwell in the past, Polaroid has gone full 21st century by creating their Pop instaprint camera. Able to print 3″ x 4″ prints on-the-go, the camera gives you those instant memories but in a much more modern and sleeker design. The Pop from Polaroid can also shoot 1080p HD videos, making it the ultimate party or travel item. The notion of printing out photos has died somewhat, as most of our pictures tend to stay on our phones or computers, but the Pop camera bridges the gap between digital image and handheld phone.

2. Touchscreen by Tanvas

Have you ever wanted to feel what the material is like of a shirt when shopping online? Well, Tanvas can make that possible with their touchscreen technology. Tanvas has partnered with apparel company Bonobos, so you can know how smooth or rough those pants are before purchasing. It remains to be seen about what other applications this technology from Tanvas can be used for, but for the meantime, this could be very useful for online shoppers who want to go that extra mile.

1. Kitchen assistant by Hello Egg

Move over Alexa, there’s a new voice-operated home gizmo in town. Hello Egg’s device is specifically made for the kitchen, where it will assist you in planning meal ideas for the week, as well as keeping your shopping list organized and shouting out instructions for when you eventually start cooking. We really love this idea, as it can be often confusing to cook a new meal with only written instructions, but thankfully Hello Egg’s assistant has the option to show videos too, in addition to voice directions. No more burnt meals!

New Stuff –

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The Newest Things, Gear, Paraphernalia and Stuff – WIF Technologies

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Futuristic Technologies

Available for Us Today

People watch sci-fi movies and get excited by the crazy ideas presented. Some of them even go on to become scientists or inventors, and many have helped bring the world inventions that mimic what they once saw in movies. In a way, these people are making a specific vision of the future happen, but some of these inventions aren’t really practical and are really more a form of wish fulfillment than they are moving humanity’s scientific advancement forward. But there are many inventions humanity could actually use, in a practical sense, that are also really cool and wouldn’t seem out of place in a science fiction movie…

10. An Accurate Breathalyzer-Type Device To Know If Someone Is High On Marijuana

Today, law enforcement everywhere has a difficult task on their hands when it comes to the roadways. They have to not only deal with drunk drivers, but drivers who are high on heroin, meth, and now (legally in many states) marijuana. And this raises a really difficult question for the police: How do you know if a driver is under the influence of marijuana, in a way that wouldn’t be instantly thrown out in any court of law in the country? The roadways need to be safe, but it’s no use prosecuting someone if you don’t have evidence that will hold up.

Now, a small startup does have a device they are testing with law enforcement that can also test for alcohol as well, but it’s limited. The device can only tell if you’ve smoked within the last two hours. This isn’t exactly the futuristic level we were talking about, but it likely would be a lot of help, and may be enough to keep the roads safe for the time being. While some people may dispute that they would be safe to drive sooner, two hours is a pretty reasonable window of time, especially for state regulation.

9. Home Security Systems That Use Carefully Targeted Infrasound To Scare Off Intruders

Today, we have a lot of state-of-the-art security systems but most of them are just concerned with motion detection, cameras, making loud noises, and so forth. And, of course, all of them alert law enforcement. However, some have already considered the use of infrasound detection in order to help find intruders, and with that in mind, infrasound could help us in an entirely different way. Instead of guard dogs, actual guards, or weapons and the legal liability they can involve, if infrasound could be properly weaponized you could essentially scare people off your property.

Infrasound, often known as the “fear frequency,” usually stirs up the fight or flight feeling in people, and in the absence of anything to fight, most people just… run. A properly designed passive system that could detect and target intruders could theoretically use inaudible sound in order to keep your property safe and secure — almost like a magical spell that deters intruders. And as we know, it doesn’t get much more futuristic than something your enemies cannot distinguish from magic. Infrasonic detection could snuff out intruders quietly and alert the police if needed, but the active component would likely scare them off before they even broke a window or got up to any other shenanigans. It might even help deter teenage vandals from your property or, to put it another way: it might finally get those young punks to stay the heck off your lawn.

8. The James Bond “Fingerprint” Gun, For Which Only A Partial Prototype Exists

In the recent James Bond movies with Daniel Craig, Q gives Bond a special gun that can’t be fired without his handprint. Now, while there isn’t anything like this in real life, a German company did try to make a prototype. However, it involved a separate watch and the whole thing was all rather cumbersome. This technology, if it could actually be implemented in a way that truly worked well on a consistent basis and didn’t require any extra components, could revolutionize gun safety in the modern world, and especially in America.

Of course someone looking to hurt people could still use their gun to do so, but they couldn’t use their dad’s gun, a friend’s gun, and so on. And, a huge amount of gun deaths are tragically accidental, like when a kid gets his hands on a parent’s gun and, sadly, it goes off. Technology like this would keep your firearm from being used against you by someone who took it, and avoid horrible accidents that would scar you for life and destroy your family and relationships.

7. An Exercise Bike — Or Bike Switching Station — That Powers A Home Generator As You Use It

At the moment, this is the stuff of fantasy because of the amount of power it would (or more to the point, wouldn’t) generate. A bike-powered generator could fuel, say, lights for a little bit… and that’s about it. Some people have done the math and it really doesn’t sound like much. However, our imaginations have always wondered about how much power we could get from our own work, and many of us think of hand crank emergency radios as a good analogy. Still, those don’t use very much power at all, and that’s the real problem. While powering somelights is within the realm of reason, the biggest reason people want electricity after a disaster is heating and cooling.

Those things require a much more significant amount of power, and thus it’s quite difficult to actually get enough to make a real difference, or do anything for any significant amount of time. The amount of effort, in comparison to what you actually get in terms of cooling, or heating, might not be worth it. If a bike with enough gears and an efficient enough system was created so that a small family could, at least, generate enough power to keep themselves warm, or cool, as needed, it would be an incredible help in any kind of big disaster.

6. Ferromagnetic Roadways And Walkways For Practical Hover-Vehicle Technology

Not long ago, people saw the demo of the Hendo Hoverboards and got very excited… only to quickly crash back down to earth. The Hendo Hoverboard could hold several hours worth of charge, and really and truly hovered above the ground. It was a dream come true to many (especially those of us who have been waiting for Hoverboards since Back to the Future II), until the realities of the project hit. Now, it was a genius bit of engineering and did use some clever new techniques, but it was basically maglev technology, which requires a surface with metals that interact with magnets to actually do anything at all. In other words, unless it was on top of the right metal surface, it was just a big hunk of expensive junk you could stand on. This meant you could use it nowhere other than places specially constructed its their use.

However, if we had ferromagnetic roadways, we could have hoverboards, hover cars, and other hover technology. With the precision of maglev technology, we could likely cut down greatly on accidents while increasing our overall speed and efficiency at the same time, which is a big win-win. Of course, this would be ludicrously expensive, but in the long term, if built right, it would probably also last a lot longer than our current roadways.

5. Researchers Are Looking Into Ways To Use Our Own Body Heat To Charge Our Phones

Several years ago, people latched onto an article about some very experimental ideas to use a small device in your pocket to generate energy from your body heat, and some magazines started wildly speculating that you would have body heat-powered smartphones before you knew it. However, several years of fast-moving technology later, we really aren’t any closer on that front. The good news is, researchers are looking into it now for real, and not just looking at something that theoretically could get there for unrelated reasons.

If something like this could be designed, it could at least help with supplementary power. It’s possible it would only be enough to slow down the battery degradation, and not charge it enough to go much farther, but with battery technology bottlenecked every little bit could help. This would allow us to push our phones just a little bit further without resorting to bulky and cumbersome backup batteries and the like.

4. If We Could Create A Truly Energy-Efficient World, Much Fossil Fuel Use Would Be Eliminated

Today, there’s an incredible amount of energy used that is simply untapped. This source is motion, in general. Whenever something is moving, a certain amount of force is used. Some of that energy is transferred (energy, as we know, cannot be created or destroyed). If we could truly harness all kinetic energy from movement, especially all of our movement throughout the day, and not waste any energy potential around us, we could greatly cut down on our reliance on fossil fuel and other energy sources.

One company that found its way onto Shark Tank called Tremont Electronics designed a special device that could help charge a smartphone while you walk. They are working on other smaller products, but are also thinking big. They hope to one day secure the funding to test their technology to make “wave farms,” where energy is generated by using the motion from… well, waves. That was probably obvious. With this kind of technology, we could take green energy to an entirely new level most people never before imagined.

3. Affordable Water Filtration Infrastructure That Removes Pharmaceuticals And The Like

Today, the water infrastructure of some of the biggest countries — including the United States — has some huge deficiencies. And we aren’t even talking about places like Flint. But a huge amount of pharmaceutical byproducts are ending up in the water supply. Unfortunately, many water filtration plants are not properly equipped to clean this stuff out of the water. Even those sites that can get most of it out often only boast success rates of about 95%, which doesn’t sound so great when you realize the other 5% or so is pharmaceutical byproducts in your water.

To make matters worse, the FDA doesn’t really even have proper guidelines for this yet in the USA, and there really isn’t a standardized technology, much less a standardized system or set of methods get water to a safe level across the country. Part of the problem is people aren’t even sure what a safe level is with some of this stuff, as hormones have even ended up in the water can have effects in incredibly low concentrations, which we don’t even fully understand yet. If someone could invent a filtration method that could get this stuff out entirely (or, at least, almost entirely), and get water to a safe level — that could be easily implemented across the country — it would be an incredible help to humanity.

2. Sound Technology That Allows You To Filter And Hear Only What You Want To Hear

Hearing aids allow deaf people, or those hard of hearing, to hear. There are now special prototype speakers out there that can direct sound to an almost pinpoint degree, to the point where it will only be heard in one small location. Now, the second technology is fairly new and experimental, but with a little tweaking the two could be combined into an incredible invention. If you could truly direct sound accurately enough, you could make a device you could fit in your ear that could block out everything except for the sounds you did want to hear.

Imagine having a device where you could tell it to listen only to the TV in front of you, and not anything else that might be going on in the background. You could also use it to pay better attention to a conversation without worrying about background noise, or just shut out people or things that are bothering you in your environment. Let’s face it: All of us need our peace and quiet sometimes, and almost everyone would use this.

1. Even In The Year 2018, In The Fanciest Cars, You Won’t Find A Truly Accurate Gas Gauge

It’s fairly amazing to think that, even in the year 2018 — when most vehicles now are decked out with all of the most ridiculous new gauges and sensors and features — the one thing that’s stayed pretty much the same is the gas gauge. It still operates on the same principle with the floater mechanism where, on inclines, you may think you have more (or less) gas than you really do, and overall even when you think it’s full, it often really isn’t.

The truth is your gas gauge is actually designed to lie to you, mainly because car manufacturers think you enjoy the crazy game of trying to figure out how much gas you have left at any given time, and like going for broke — psychologically speaking. They also like to give you the false sense of security you get when you think it’s full when it really isn’t. Apparently, people really enjoy that feeling and don’t like how quickly the full meter would truly go away. Now, we believe that in 2018 people are grown up enough to accept the truth and enjoy the convenience of a truly accurate gas meter. It would lead to fewer people being stranded on the road, as they’d know the exact percentage at any given time — if this theoretical design was done right — and it would just be a great convenience for everyone in general.

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Hope 4 Humanity – WIF Inventions

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Inventions That

Will Give You

Hope for Humanity

Some days, it can seem that the best minds on earth are all preoccupied with projects like developing robot soldierslaunching crypto-currencies, and designing slot machines. While those activities may (arguably) have some societal value, it’s hard to see their primary mission as unambiguously beneficial. But don’t lose all faith in humanity. Below are 10 examples of inventions that may not make a ton of money and may not make their creators famous, but do make the world a better place…

10. Prosthetic dolphin tail

Winter the dolphin did not have an easy start in life. At 3-months-old, she was found by a fisherman tangled in a crab trap line. Winter, named after the season in which she was found, was cut from the line by the fisherman, who then called in a rescue crew. Despite the best efforts of the marine hospital where she was taken, the line had cut off circulation to her tail fluke and it was lost, along with two vertebrae. Normally, this is a fatal injury for a dolphin, but, in her new aquarium home, Winter learned to swim using a shark-like side-to-side motion (instead of the usual up-and-down motion dolphins usually employ with their tails) and using her flippers for momentum. While this provided a temporary solution, the unnatural motion posed a long-term risk of scoliosis and Winter’s health was worsening.

Enter Kevin Carroll and Dan Strzempka, two prostheses with Hanger Orthopedic Group. Carroll heard Winter’s story on the radio, and convinced his colleague Strzempka, who also happened to be an amputee, that they could help. Carroll and Strzempka quickly volunteered to try to craft a prosthetic tail for Winter. While aquarium staff initially thought Carroll’s call was a prank, they quickly agreed to let the men, who offered their work pro-bono, work with a team of trainers and vets to try to find a solution. After several iterations, the team developed a viable prosthetic tail for Winter, as well as a gel that provides cushioning for the prosthesis. Not only was Winter able to swim normally again, her story, which spawned the movie Dolphin Taleprovided inspiration for people all over the world, including children with disabilities and wounded soldiers. Additionally, the gel that Carroll and Strzempka developed has also helped human amputees manage their prostheses.

9. An anti-tremor spoon

While working on his doctorate, engineer Anupam Pathak worked with the Army Research Lab, looking for ways to stabilize rifles for soldiers in combat. Pathak succeeded in identifying ways to make the hardware for motion cancellation very small and realized his innovation had the potential to help another group of people needing steady hands—those with Essential Tremor or Parkinson’s Disease.

One of the most salient impacts of those diseases comes when patients eat. Often, hand and arm tremors make it impossible for those experiencing them to feed themselves. However, Pathak worked to refine and commercialize his technology to make a spoon that would cancel out the tremors, giving patients back their autonomy over one of their daily functions. Using Pathak’s motion cancellation technology, the Liftware Steady spoon cancels out more than 70% of shaking, allowing many of those with hand tremors to feed themselves. The company was acquired by Google and has since reduced the price of its products, and introduced a second product—the Liftware Level, a spoon which assists those with limited hand and arm mobility by keeping the utensil level, even when the hand moves unpredictably. One user with Essential Tremor explained the impact of this device on her life, noting that the Liftware spoon made eating less embarrassing and gave her more confidence, making eating enjoyable again.

8. Railway tunnels for turtles

What happens when Japan’s high-speed trains meet its low speed turtles? In the past, it hasn’t been pretty for either party. Near Kobe, Japan (which is on the coast), turtles trying to cross the tracks sometimes fell in the space between them and couldn’t get up. They’d walk between the tracks until being run over by a passing train or until they got to a junction, at which point they’d get squished during signal switches. This wasn’t just a problem for the turtles, but also for the train and its passengers, with turtle-related incidents causing 13 service disruptions between 2002 and 2013.

To combat the turtle vs. train problem, West Japan Railway Co. partnered with the Suma Aqualife Park to find a solution. They came up with “turtle tunnels,” concrete ditches that pass under the tracks near switch points. If staff find any turtles in the tunnels during their track checks, they rescue them and send them to the aquarium. A train company spokesman noted that, “The system prevents turtles from getting into accidents and avoids causing trouble for our passengers. We hope to continue using it.”

7. Biodegradable 6-pack rings

Plastic packaging poses a threat to wildlife on land and in the sea. The Pacific Ocean has a “garbage patch” made up of almost 80,000 tons of discarded plastic, covering an area three times the size of France, posing a threat to the sea life it encounters, who can be entangled and killed in the floating trash pile. While plastic 6-pack rings (that hold cans of soda or beer) make up a tiny fraction of the discarded plastic, consumers have long been warned to cut them up before discarding them, because they can injure or kill animals that become trapped in them.

However, one company, E6PR, has come up with an even better way to ensure that animals don’t become victims. It has created an eco-friendly 6-pack ring, made from by-product waste (wheat and barley) and designed to be compostable. Even if it doesn’t end up in a compost facility, it will break down in weeks and, unlike plastic, won’t hurt animals if they happen to ingest it. The product had its commercial debut in early 2018 on cans of beer from Florida’s Saltwater Brewery. As of mid-2018, the company is working to refine the product and ramp up production to be able to supply the 6-pack to all the beverage manufacturers who want to offer it. That’s a development animals all over the world should want to toast.

6. PARO the robot seal

PARO, an interactive robot that resembles a baby seal, may be best known for its appearance on Aziz Ansari’s sitcom, Master of None. However, PARO, which was designed in Japan, does most of its work in nursing homes and hospitals—helping provide patients with the benefits of animal therapy. Like a trained therapy animal, PARO responds to users’ voice and movements with its own motions and vocalizations. However, unlike real animals, PARO doesn’t need food, breaks, or clean-up, doesn’t play favorites amongst patients, won’t trigger allergies and can be used with patients whose unpredictable behavior might pose a risk to a therapy animal.

In a study of nursing home residents, those who interacted with PARO for an hour twice a week over 12 weeks, showed significant declines in loneliness over the period of the study. For those who worry about the dehumanizing effect robotic therapy animals might have, research suggests that in addition to engaging with PARO, residents who did so were more social with other residents and staff. Another study of dementia patients found that sessions with PARO lessened anxiety, increased social interaction, and helped lethargic patients remain alert.

5. Pugedon recycling receptacle

The Pugedon recycling receptacle aims to address two problems at once—promoting recycling and feeding stray cats and dogs. The machine, which is about the size of a refrigerator, is placed on the street and powered by a solar cell. When someone throws in a recyclable bottle, the machine dispenses food for hungry strays. If users want to empty their water bottles before disposing of them, the machine also funnels that leftover water to a bowl that the strays can access. The profits garnered from the sale of the recyclables pay for the kibble dispensed by the unit. The machine was introduced in Istanbul, Turkey, which is home to more than 150,000 stray cats and dogs. Engin Gargin, the machine’s inventor, said he was inspired by the idea of giving residents a cost-free way to help strays, while improving Turkey’s recycling rates.

One of the concerns with the units was that they would attract hordes of hungry dogs, but according to one article, that has not transpired. In India, the machines were planned with a slightly different user in mind.  Pugedon units have been placed near areas where pet owners walk their dogs, in the hopes that the prospect of a free dinner for their canine companion may encourage residents to recycle.

4. The Upsee harness

Debby Elnatan, an Israeli mother of a son with cerebral palsy, was determined to see her son walk, despite doctors that counseled her that her 2-year-old, “didn’t know what his legs are and has no consciousness of them.” Elnatan worked with her son to build his walking skills, an arduous task. Elnatan says the idea of the Upsee, a harness that attaches a child to an adult, allowing the child to stand upright and to take steps with the support and motion of the adult, came from the “pain and desperation” she experienced while trying to find a way to help her son walk.

A group of 20 families with mobility-challenged children tested an early version of the product, and shared favorable results: the children enjoyed using the harness and the Upsee enabled families to undertake more activities together. The Upsee was put into mass production by Irish company Leckey, and is now improving the lives of children with mobility challenges around the world.

3. Embrace infant warmers

Complications from preterm births are responsible for approximately 1 million infant deaths a year. A major contributing factor to these deaths is the hypothermia many premature babies experience, as they lack the body fat needed to regulate their temperatures. In wealthier settings, where preemies can be placed in incubators in hospitals, they have much better outcomes than those preemies who are born in resource-poor settings, where hospitals may be distant, electricity may be intermittent, and incubators that can cost up to $20,000 just aren’t affordable.

Addressing this gap in care was the challenge faced by Jane Chen, Rahul Panicker, Linus Liang, and later, Naganand Murty, who first received the project in a Stanford class called “Design for Extreme Affordability.” Using design thinking and rapid prototyping the team developed the Embrace Infant Warmer, a sleeping-bag type warmer that relies on paraffin pouches for heat and costs hundreds of dollars, instead of thousands. The product has since helped more than 300,000 babies worldwide. In order to ensure the product’s sustainability, the company introduced a for-profit sleep sack, the sales of which support charitable distribution of the Embrace Warmers throughout the developing world.

2. Lifestraw water filter

The Lifestraw story begins with Guinea worm, a tropical parasite that incapacitates those who consume its larvae by drinking unclean water. In 1986, Guinea worm disease afflicted more than 3.5 million people in Africa and Asia. By 2017, the disease was nearly eradicated, with only about 30 reported cases. One of the factors driving down the incidence of the disease was a filter developed by Vestergaard, a Swiss-based company, which removes Guinea worm larvae from drinking water.

After its success with the Guinea worm filter, Vestergaard turned its attention to dealing with other water contaminants. In 2005, it introduced the LifeStraw, a personal straw-like filter, designed for use in emergency situations and in the developing world, where clean drinking water may not be easily accessible. Today, the company offers a range of products based around this idea, from water bottles for hikers to larger community-level water purification systems. For each product purchased, the company commits to providing clean water (via school-based systems) to a child in the developing world for a year. LifeStraw’s philanthropic efforts have provided clean water to more than 1 million children in the developing world.

1. Be My Eyes App

The idea for this app, which helps people who are visually impaired by crowdsourcing volunteer assistance with short, simple tasks, came from founder Hans Wiberg’s own experiences as a visually impaired individual. Wiberg’s blind friends shared that they often relied on FaceTime or other video phone apps to ask for help from family and friends for help with everyday problems like reading the expiration date on a milk carton or the departure board at a train station, though many of them worried that they were burdening their loved ones with a plethora of micro-tasks.

Wiberg saw an opportunity to connect the visually impaired with a network of volunteers who could help with things like identifying the contents of cans, or reading the amount of an electric bill. After pitching his idea at 2012’s Startup Weekend in Aarhus, Denmark, Wiberg quickly connected with a team that helped turn the idea into a reality, and the free mobile app was launched for iOS in 2015 and Android in 2017. Since the app’s launch, more than 80,000 blind and visually impaired individuals have been helped by more than 1.3 million sighted volunteers. There are so many volunteers that they have to be quick to the draw to be able to help; as of late 2017, the app’s response time averaged 20 seconds, meaning that most users were able to get help almost as soon as they needed it.

Hope 4 Humanity –

WIF Inventions

Newfangled Transportation – WIF into the Future

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Transportation Methods

of the Future

It is somewhat safe to say that, without transportation, we wouldn’t have gotten anywhere. The discovery of fire, speech, writing, and all the other man-made inventions, have definitely brought us a long way. But without the ability to transport these inventions to other parts of the world, many of them would have simply faded back into obscurity. And many of them have, by the way. Nevertheless, transportation freed us up to become the dominant species on the planet, moving from one place to the other with relative ease, colonizing new places and meeting new cultures – sometimes with bad consequences.

We went from simply walking, to riding horses, to inventing the wheel, to crossing vast oceans, to flying over them entirely, and finally, to going into outer space. But even with how much transportation has evolved over the centuries, especially during the past several decades, innovation is only picking up steam. Who knows how people will be moving around in 20 years? Well, these examples might offer us a glimpse of what is to come.

10. Gliding Taxis

Up until the invention of flying, water was the fastest means of transportation. But even to this day, traveling by water is still the cheapest. In any case, by combining the benefits of both air and sea travel, two men, Alain Thébault and Anders Bringdal, have designed a water taxi that seems to be gliding right above the water surface. Known as Sea Bubbles, these transportation vehicles are perfect for overly-congested cities that also have a major river, or another body of water, passing through. Not only are they able to take you to, or close to, your destination in a fraction of the time, but they will do it in a completely clean way.

Each individual Sea Bubble can hold up to five people, and can be accessed via special docks along the river. They are battery-powered, and have a 50-62 mile range at speeds of up to 20 mph. What’s particularly interesting about these vehicles is their ability to glide over the water surface, thus reducing friction with the water, and improving both its speed and range in the process. They do this by making use of two wings submerged below the water surface. When in motion, the Sea Bubble lifts up from the water, with only its two wings making contact. Because of this, the ride will be less bumpy as compared to ordinary boats, and there will be little to no waves generated. And because it is battery-powered, the Bubble is completely silent.

They made their debut on Paris’ River Seine in the summer of 2017. Anne Hidalgo, the city’s mayor, said in a statement, “I really believe in the development of river transport. Most of the world’s big cities were built on riverbanks, an advantage we have to use to reduce our reliance on polluting cars.”

9. Hoverbikes

How long have we’ve been waiting for hoverbikes? Probably ever since we first saw them being used in Star Wars, at least. Well, they are finally here and they work. Looking more like a commercial drone on steroids, the Hoversurf Scorpion-3 is the brainchild of a Russian drone start-up. These hoverbikes are programmed to fly at altitudes of 16.4 feet for 25 minutes, and at maximum speeds of up to 44 mph. They are capable of going much higher than that, setting a record of 93.5 feet, but for safety reasons they are limited to only 16.4 feet. It weighs only 229 pounds, which luckily is below the 250-pound threshold – the maximum weight allowed before you would need a registration or a pilot’s license in most countries.

According to their website, these hoverbikes are made for extreme sports enthusiasts who don’t shy away from heights and high speeds. But someone else has shown interest in acquiring an entire fleet of them – the Dubai Police. With them, the officers could zip over traffic, or reach inaccessible areas, in a moment’s notice. But before they will unleash them onto the city streets, the Dubai Police will conduct further testing to explore what other possible uses these hoverbikes might have.

8. Flying Cars

If there are hoverbikes around, then flying cars shouldn’t be too far behind. Now, even though the project is still under development and has some way to go before it will become available to the general public, Uber and NASA have come together in order to make flying cars a reality. Known as Uber Elevate, this project involves the development of a vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) aircraft, which will most likely have a fixed-wing design. Mobile propellers at each end of the wings will be able to rotate up and down, thus allowing the VTOL to land and takeoff on the spot, without the need of a runway.

The aim of this project will be to bring an airborne version of present-day Uber taxis to large, congested cities all around the world. Uber is also aiming to make their vehicles autonomous, so as to eliminate the human error element. The hope is to have these flying cars take people from one place to another over the city and land on specifically-designed helipads or on the rooftops of certain buildings.

But in order to do that, a special system needs to be developed that will manage the airspace above the city. NASA has been working on a project called Unmanned Aircraft Systems Integration in the National Airspace System(UAS in the NAS) which aims to achieve just that. In a statement, Uber’s Chief Product Officer said that “Uber Elevate will be performing far more flights over cities on a daily basis than has ever been done before. Doing this safely and efficiently is going to require a foundational change in airspace-management technologies.”

They hope that by 2020, some of these flying cars will be operational. The company has also announced that LA, Dallas, and Dubai will be the cities where this technology will be implemented first. Uber is not the only one with such grand plans in mind. Airbus is also developing its own City Airbus program, which will work, more or less, on the same principles as Uber Elevate.

7. Personal Submarines

In recent years, Aston Martin, the British luxury car manufacturer best known as James Bond’s car-maker of choice, has entered the seafaring market with a 1,000-horsepower motorboat. More recently, however, they’ve designed and created a submarine. Together with Florida-based Triton Submarines LLC, Aston Martin has developed a high-end, luxury submersible, codenamed Project Neptuneand worth $4 million. Built around a platform specifically designed for super yachts, Neptune will only be 5.9 feet in height and with a total weight of about 8,800 pounds. It will be able to carry three people to a depth of 1,650 feet and at speeds of up to 3 knots, or about 3.5 miles per hour. Oh, and it’s also air conditioned.

Now, based primarily on its price, this submarine will not be for everyone. Like their cars, Aston Martin is providing for the higher-ups in society. With those super rich people in mind, Marek Reichman, the company’s chief creative officer, said in a statement that “what they want to experience is changing. It’s no longer about just having a launch or having your tender. It’s about having some other way of entertaining your guests.”

6. City-to-City Rockets

“If you build a ship that’s capable of going to Mars, what if you take that same ship and go from one place to another on Earth? We looked at that and the results are quite interesting,” said Elon Musk in an interview not that long ago. Over the past several years, Musk’s SpaceX has been experimenting with reusable rockets in an attempt at lowering the cost of going to Mars. If the cost of sending people and cargo into space was at around $10,000 per pound, after Musk’s many test flights and experimentation with reusable rockets, that price has dropped to around $1,000 per pound. This price reduction has ignited some debate about a possible intercontinental transportation system involving rockets.

Now, the plan is pretty out there and it may take some time before it could become a reality and available to the general public. Nevertheless, if it’s ever put into practice, it could connect any two cities anywhere on the face of the Earth. One such rocket would be able to transport 100 people from New York to Shanghai at speeds of 17,000 miles per hour and in just 39 minutes. It would, thus, take most people more time commuting to work every day than it would to travel half-way around the world.

5. The Self-Driving Monorail

Back in 2015, a company by the name of SkyTran opened a 900-foot test station near Tel Aviv, Israel. This station is used as a testing ground for a self-driving monorail system capable of transporting people 20 feet above the ground, and at speeds of 155 mph. The system involves a series of 300-pound pods traveling on a network of rails suspended above the ground. Together with NASA, SkyTran designed differently-sized pods that can accommodate two or four people, one for the disabled, and another, larger one used for transporting cargo. Somewhat similar to a Maglev train, these pods glide on the suspended rail by making use of electricity, gravity, and magnetism. Using the same amount of electricity as two hairdryers, each pod reaches a speed of 10 mph, after which it accelerates on its own, without any additional power.

Due to their small design, these pods can even go through buildings, with stations being located within the buildings’ lobbies themselves. Unlike normal public transport, SkyTran pods do not have a precise schedule. Passengers will get on the first pod that shows up and will input their destination of choice. They will then be taken there automatically in only a fraction of the time it would take traveling on the ground. The first such suspended rail system will be implemented in Lagos, Nigeria by 2020. There are also plans of building one in Abu Dhabi.

4. Self-Balancing Wheelchairs

An obvious sign of a developed society is how well it treats its weakest members. When we look at disabled people, for instance, that progress presents itself in the form of integrated infrastructure such as ramps, special platforms, toilets, and so on. But this infrastructure, especially if not built right from the start, can cost well into the billions nationwide. One other way to address this issue, while still providing for the disabled, is to redesign wheelchairs so as to get around without the need of this costly infrastructure. This is what four university students have managed to achieve by independently funding, designing, and creating the scewo wheelchair.

By making use of state of the art technology, this wheelchair uses two large wheels to drive on flat terrain, while two sturdy rubber tracks allow it to climb and descend stairs with ease. Thanks to its wide base, the wheelchair is also able to go up and down spiral staircases. Its design is also compact enough so as to maneuver easily indoors and fit through standard doors. It can also rotate on the spot, drive on slippery terrain such as snow or loose gravel, and can raise itself so as to bring the user at eye-level, as well as to reach overhead objects.

3. The Float

With the tremendous potential the Maglev system has when it comes to fast transportation, it is no wonder that more and more companies are looking to implement it in the coming decades. But while this system is still restricted to rail networks for the time being, some have envisioned it being used on our roads and highways. Short for magnetic levitation, the Maglev system makes use of two magnets – one that lifts the train off the tracks, and another that pushes it forward. The train is, thus, able to accelerate without actually making contact with the rails themselves. This way, it can reach speeds of up to 375 mph – making a trip from NYC to LA last only around 7 hours. Anyway, the Float is a car concept designed by student Yunchen Cai which makes use of the Maglev system.

The design makes the Float look like a bubble floating just above the street. Each individual pod is able to seat one or two passengers, but several of these pods can clamp up together (like bubbles in a bubble bath), allowing for more people to travel together. The Float also has bucket seats and sliding doors, making it easy for people of all ages to get in or out. And like several other entries on this list, the Float will not necessarily be private property, owned by individuals, but rather, they could be better seen as taxis which one could call upon anywhere, by using an app.

2. Windowless Planes

At first glance, windowless planes (and definitely not windowless in the way you’re probably thinking) do not sound like a particularly good idea. But after seeing this new design, some may just change their minds. Conceptualized by Technicon Design, an international agency, this proposed idea was designed to make use of already existing technology, or one that will be available in the very near future. Instead of the standard plane windows, these private jets will have no windows whatsoever. Instead, they will make use of high-resolution, low-voltage screens located on the sides and ceiling of the plane. Cameras mounted on the outside will capture the surrounding views and will display them in real-time in the inside of the plane.

These screens will be powered by solar panels mounted on the roof of the plane. Now, besides making the flight a more pleasurable experience, this technology will make these private jets sturdier and less cumbersome. By removing the windows altogether, the overall weight of the plane will drop significantly, thus making it much more fuel efficient. And with a simplified fuselage, there is much more flexibility for the interior design, as well. These displays can also project other images, besides the outside view – changing the mood inside the jet, depending on preference. If desired, they can also display a traditional plane interior.

1. The Space Train

With so many proposed plans of colonizing the solar system these days, it would only be fair to address at least one means of future space travel. Hopefully, in the not-so-distant future, humans will begin forming a colony on Mars. If this ends up being the case, we will need to develop a means of transportation that is fast and reliable enough to get us to and from there in only a fraction of the time. Today, a manned mission to the Red Planet is expected to last somewhere around six months, or even more. During this prolonged period of time, astronauts and colonists will be exposed to microgravity which has a long series of negative effects on the human body. One proposed transport system is a hypothetical space train, known as the Solar Express.

When it comes to space travel, the most expensive and time-consuming portions are the acceleration and deceleration phases. This proposed space train would, thus, never stop, going back and forth between Earth and Mars indefinitely. The Solar Express will first begin to accelerate by making use of rocket boosters. It will then use the planets’ gravity to continuously slingshot itself back and forth between the two. This way, the train would be able to reach 1% of the speed of light, or about 1,864 miles per second. This speed would reduce an Earth-to-Mars trip to just 2 days. Geez, Matt Damon would be pissed. 

Unmanned probes would mine for water or other resources from asteroids and would rendezvous back with the train on its return journey. Boarding the train from the planets would be done in somewhat the same fashion, without it ever needing to stop. We are still a long way away from developing one such space train – with much of the technology required not even existing at this point. Nevertheless, the entire concept is intriguing, to say the least.

Newfangled Transportation

– WIF into the Future

Great Minds Think Alike – WIF Genius Handbook

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Great Minds


Throughout History

Since the first modern homo sapiens emerged some 50,000 years ago, it’s estimated that 107 billion human beings have at one time or another lived on planet Earth. The overwhelmingly vast majority of these people have been forgotten by history, but there are a very few individuals whose names and achievements will echo through the ages.

From ancient Greece through to the modern world, these are 10 of history’s greatest minds.

10. Plato (Circa 428 BC – 348 BC)

The philosopher Alfred North Whitehead once wrote that European philosophy is best characterized as a series of footnotes to Plato. While this might perhaps be something of a stretch, it gives an indication of the esteem in which the ancient Greek philosopher is held even to this day.

Plato’s efforts to understand the world around him covered metaphysics, ethics, politics, aesthetics, perception, and the nature of knowledge itself. Despite having been written more than two-thousand years ago, his work remains eminently readable today. Plato didn’t deal in dry, tedious treatise. He preferred to bring his work to life, teasing out thoughts and ideas in the form of a dialogue between characters. This in itself was a remarkably innovative approach. Plato blurred the lines between philosophy and entertainment and challenged the reader to scrutinize their own beliefs.

Having been born into one of the wealthiest families in Athens, Plato would have been well-schooled by the city’s finest philosophers. There’s no question it was his mentor Socrates who made the greatest impression, appearing again and again as chief protagonist in Plato’s dialogues. Socrates’ resurrection in immortal literary form would no doubt have been particularly galling to certain influential Athenians who had only recently killed him off. Ancient Greece was similar to the modern world in at least one respect: not everybody reacted kindly to having their beliefs challenged.

9. Leonardo da Vinci (1452 – 1519)

Born out of wedlock, and with no formal education, the young da Vinci seemed destined for a life of anonymous drudgery. In Renaissance Italy there was little social mobility. The right family name and connections were invaluable. Da Vinci had neither, but he was not a man who would blend into the background to be forgotten by history.

Flamboyantly dressed, a strict vegetarian, enormously physically strong, and rumored to be gay in an age when homosexuality could be punished by death, it was nonetheless the workings of da Vinci’s remarkable mind that truly set him apart.

In an age renowned for producing an abundance of great artists, da Vinci is regarded as one of the greatest of them all. Yet painting was by no means his only talent, nor perhaps even his greatest talent. He studied geometry, mathematics, anatomy, botany, architecture, sculpture, and designed weapons of war for the kings, princes, and barons who struggled for wealth and power in Italy’s warring city states.

It was as a visionary that da Vinci was arguably at his most brilliant. In an age when Europe lacked basics such as indoor plumbing, he sketched out designs for magnificent flying machines and armored vehicles powered by hand-turned crankshafts, ideas that were centuries ahead of their time.

In 2002, almost 500 years after his death, one of Leonardo’s visions was lifted from the pages of his notebooks to become a reality. A recreation of a glider based on his sketches, albeit with a few modifications deemed necessary to reduce the risk of killing the pilot, was successfully flown by World Hang Gliding and Paragliding Champion Robbie Whittall.

8. William Shakespeare (1564 – 1616)

The famous bard has become such an integral part of Western culture that it’s tempting to assume we must know a great deal about his life, but the reality is quite the opposite. He was certainly born in Stratford-upon-Avon, England, but the exact date is a matter of some conjecture. There are huge swathes of time where he disappears from the records; we have no idea where he was or what he was doing. It’s not even entirely certain what he looked like. The popular image of Shakespeare is based on three main portraits. Two of these were produced years after his death and the other probably isn’t a depiction of Shakespeare at all.

While history leaves us largely in the dark as to Shakespeare the man, almost his entire body of work (so far as we know) has been preserved. The best of his offerings are widely regarded to be amongst the finest, if not the finest, works of literature in the English language. He was equally adept at comedy or tragedy, had a gift for writing strong female characters, and possessed an intimate understanding of the human condition that imbued his work with a timeless, eminently quotable quality.

Shakespeare was by no means the only famous playwright of his era, but his work has stood the test of time in a way that others have not. Few people are now familiar with the plays of Ben Johnson or Christopher Marlowe; fewer still have seen them performed. While his rivals are now little more than historical footnotes, Shakespeare is even more famous and celebrated in death than he was in life. With an estimated 4 billion copies of his work having been sold, he ranks as the best-selling fiction author of all time.

7. Isaac Newton (1642 – 1727)

In December 2016, a first edition copy of Isaac Newton’s Principia Mathematica sold at auction for $3.7 million. This was an extraordinary amount of money, but then Principia was an extraordinary book.

First published in 1687, Principia laid out the mathematical principles underpinning motion and gravity. It revolutionized science and was hailed as a work of near unparalleled genius, at least by the very few individuals capable of understanding it. Newton didn’t enjoy being questioned by lesser minds (which included just about everybody), so he wilfully set out to make Principiaas difficult to follow as possible. To make it less accessible still, he wrote it in Latin.

If Principia had been Newton’s only achievement, then that would have been more than enough to earn him the title of scientific genius. But Newton did a great deal else besides. With a ferocious work ethic that drove him to at least two nervous breakdowns, he scarcely slept, never married, and often became so absorbed in his work that he simply forgot to eat or teach his classes.

In an astonishingly productive 30-year period Newton invented calculus (but didn’t bother to tell anybody), conducted groundbreaking work on optics, invented the most effective telescope the world had ever seen, and discovered generalized binomial theorem.

When Newton died in 1727, his collection of notes amounted to some 10 million words. This window to the mind of one of history’s greatest geniuses proved less useful than might be imagined. Newton was obsessed with alchemy, and the latter part of his career was consumed in a futile attempt to transmute base metals into gold.

6. Benjamin Franklin (1706 – 1790)

At the age of 12, Benjamin Franklin was made apprentice to his elder brother James at his printing business in Boston. What he lacked in formal education, the younger Franklin more than made up for in curiosity and intelligence. He soon surpassed his brother as both a writer and a printer, a fact that didn’t escape James, who regularly expressed his displeasure with his fists.

The terms of Franklin’s apprenticeship meant that he couldn’t expect to receive wages until he turned 21. Backing himself to do rather better on his own, at 17 he ran away to find his own fortune. He succeeded in spectacular fashion and would go on to become one of the wealthiest men in America.

While Franklin’s genius for business earned him a huge amount of money, this was never his overriding goal. Convinced that an individual’s entrance to heaven would depend on what they had done rather than what they believed, he was passionate about improving the lot of his fellow man. Amongst his many achievements he set up America’s first lending library, founded a college that would go on to become the University of Pennsylvania, and created a volunteer fire fighting organization.

Franklin’s talents as a businessman were matched by his brilliance as a writer, a mathematician, an inventor, a scientist, and a good deal else besides. Perhaps his most significant discovery was that lightning bolts could be understood as a natural phenomenon rather than as an expression of the wrath of an angry God. By understanding lightning Franklin was able to tame it. The principles of the lightning rod he developed to protect buildings, ships, and other structures from lightning strikes are largely unchanged to this day. In true Franklin form he preferred to freely share his invention rather than apply for a patent that would have been worth an untold fortune.

5. Ludwig van Beethoven (1770 – 1827)

Johan Van Beethoven was a man with a singular mission in life: to transform his son from a talented amateur into a musical genius to rival even the great Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. He would pursue this goal with ruthless, single-minded determination.

As a result, the young Ludwig van Beethoven’s childhood was rather a miserable affair. Forced to practice for hours on end, his father would loom over him ready to administer a beating for the slightest mistake. This punishing regime left no time to spare for fun or playing with friends. Witnesses reported seeing Beethoven perched on a piano stool at all hours of day and night. Even his education was cut short; at the age of 11 he was withdrawn from school to concentrate on music to the exclusion of all else.

It’s sometimes said that it takes 10,000 hours of practice to master a craft, and Beethoven would have exceeded this total from a very young age. His lopsided education meant that he struggled with simple mathematical principles throughout his life, but he became a truly phenomenal musician.

Beethoven ranks as arguably the greatest composer who ever lived, a feat which is all-the-more impressive since by the age of 26 he had developed a ringing in his ears. Over the next 20 years his hearing deteriorated to the point where he was totally deaf. Despite this considerable handicap, Beethoven’s intricate knowledge of music allowed him to produce some of his greatest works at a time when he couldn’t hear the notes he hit on his piano.

4. Nikola Tesla (1856 – 1943)

In 1884 a Serb by the name of Nikola Tesla set foot on American soil for the first time. He arrived in New York with little more than the clothes on his back, the design for an electric motor, and a letter of introduction addressed to Thomas Edison.

Tesla and Edison were both geniuses, both brilliant inventors, and between them they knew more about electricity than anyone else alive. However, there was one major problem. Tesla’s electrical motor was designed to run on alternating current. Meanwhile, a good deal of Edison’s income was derived from the Edison Electric Light Company, which relied on direct current.

In an attempt to protect his investments, Edison set out to discredit Tesla and convince the public of the dangers of alternating current. One particularly gruesome film, shot by the Edison Manufacturing Company, shows an unfortunate elephant by the name of Topsy being enveloped by smoke and keeling over after being blasted with 6,600 volts of electricity.

Despite these dirty tricks, Tesla’s system had one very significant advantage: alternating current could be transmitted over long distances, while direct current could not. Tesla won the war of the currents.

Tesla’s inventions, from hydroelectric power plants to remote control vehicles, helped to usher in the modern age, but he had no spark for business. In 1916, with his mental health deteriorating alarmingly, he was declared bankrupt. Afraid of human hair, round objects, and preferring the company of pigeons over people, he seemed to have become the embodiment of the idea of a mad scientist. This impression was only strengthened by Tesla’s obsession with developing a “death ray” capable of shooting bolts of lightning. Tesla believed his death ray would bring about an end to warfare, but he never succeeded in completing it. He died alone in a hotel room at the age of 86.

3. Marie Curie (1867 – 1934)

In 1896 the physicist Henri Becquerel made the serendipitous discovery that uranium salts emitted rays of some kind. While this struck him as rather curious, he wasn’t convinced that further research into the phenomenon represented the best use of his time. He instead tasked his most talented student, Marie Curie, with discovering just what was going on.

It wasn’t often that such opportunities fell so easily into Curie’s lap. In her native Poland there had been no official higher education available for females, so Curie had enrolled in a clandestine “Flying University.” On emigrating to France she had graduated at the top of her class, despite having arrived armed with only a rudimentary grasp of the French language.

Curie, working alongside her husband Pierre, identified two new elements, polonium and radium, and proved that certain types of rocks gave off vast quantities of energy without changing in any discernible way. This remarkable discovery earned Curie the first of her two Nobel Prizes, and it could have made her very rich indeed had she chosen to patent her work rather than make the fruits of her research freely available. It was widely assumed that something as seemingly miraculous as radiation must be hugely beneficial to human health, and radium found its way into all manner of consumer products from toothpaste to paint.

Even Curie had no idea that radiation might be dangerous, and years of handling radium very likely led to the leukemia that claimed her life in 1934. Her notebooks are still so infused with radiation that they will remain potentially deadly for another 1,500 years; anybody willing to run the risk of reading them is required to don protective gear and sign a liability waiver.

2. Hugh Everett (1930 – 1982)

By the age of just 12, Hugh Everett was already brilliant enough to be regularly exchanging letters with Albert Einstein. The American excelled at chemistry and mathematics, but it was in physics, and more specifically quantum mechanics, that he made his mark with one of the strangest scientific theories of the Twentieth Century.

Nils Bohr once famously wrote that anybody who isn’t shocked by quantum mechanics hasn’t understood it. The behavior of protons and electrons on a quantum level is downright weird, but Everett suggested it all made sense if there were an infinite number of universes.

Everett’s multiverse theory proved popular amongst science fiction writers, but it was derided by the scientific community. Disappointed, Everett largely gave up on quantum mechanics. He instead undertook research for the US military, attempting to minimize American casualties in the event of a nuclear war.

A heavy-drinker and a chain-smoker, Everett died in 1982 at the age of 51. Since then his ideas have begun to edge towards the scientific mainstream, and they do resolve a number of thorny problems. The universe operates to the laws of a set of numbers known as fundamental constants, and every one of these has to be precisely tuned in order for the universe to function as it does.

It seems that either humanity has been fantastically lucky, on the level of one individual winning the lottery every week for several months, or the universe has been intelligently designed. Everett’s multiverse theory suggests another possibility. If there are an infinite number of universes, then an infinite number of possibilities are played out. In such circumstances it comes as no surprise that we find ourselves in a universe that appears to be tuned to perfection.

1. Albert Einstein (1879 – 1955)

Contrary to popular belief Einstein didn’t fail math at school. He excelled at the subject, having mastered differential and integral calculus by the age of 15. However, while the spark of genius was already present, it would be quite some time until anybody recognized it. It’s fair to say that the academic world wasn’t beating a path to Einstein’s door. Having been rejected for a university teaching position, and then having been turned down by a high school, in 1902 the German-born physicist began work in the Patents Office in Bern, Switzerland.

The idea that a lowly patents clerk would go on to become arguably the most influential scientist of all-time would have appeared absurd, but in 1905, in what must rank as the most extraordinarily productive 12 months of individual intellectual endeavor in history, he produced four papers that would revolutionize the way the universe is understood.

In just one year he proved the existence of atoms, described the photoelectric effect, demonstrated that an object’s mass is an expression of the energy it contains (E = mc2), and published his Special Theory of Relativity. He would eventually expand the latter into his famous General Theory of Relativity, which suggested that space and time were one and the same thing.

Einstein’s theory of relativity was still just a theory, and one that was considered little short of heresy by a significant portion of the scientific community (Nikola Tesla included). It wasn’t until 1919, when his predictions on the behavior of starlight during a solar eclipse were demonstrated to be accurate, thereby proving his theory to be correct, that he was catapulted to international fame.

Great Minds Think Alike

– WIF Genius Handbook