Thinking Thin For the Challenges of Super-Small Technology

Okay, so in the past six months we have had two news stories dealing with new materials that are incomprehensibly thin.

First, there is the breakthrough (also covered on NPR) about a new fabric that is by far the blackest material on earth, absorbing almost all light. This material is composed of nanotubes that are, according to Reuters, 400 times thinner than a strand of hair. The head of the project, Rice University’s Pulickel Ajayan, was previously best known for getting in the Guinness of Book of World Records for inventing the world’s smallest brush. Which, we guess, would come in handy for dealing with those way-thinner-than-hair fibers.

The second story was an item in Design News about advances in the production of graphenes, which are described as a literally two-dimensional substance, even thinner than the nanotubes Dr. Ajayan is using for his blacker-than-black fabric which, tiny as they are, still have more than one dimension. Being literally two dimensional – a state of being we didn’t even know was possible until we saw this story, graphenes are mindbogglingly tiny:

We are surrounded by three-dimensional matter and until three years ago we only knew of three-dimensional materials, even carbon nanotubes; it looks very thin, but itís still a cylinder rolled up,î says [Prof. Andre] Geim. ìWe encountered a sort of paradigm of two-dimensional matter, absolutely single layer of atoms in a very high-quality lattice; this is the thinnest possible material in our universe. Nothing thinner can exist.

That’s pretty thin. But so what? Well, it turns out that with great smallness comes great strength.

On the nanoscale itís tougher than any other material we know; its bond is stronger than diamonds, so if you make a thin layer of diamond it wouldn’t be as strong as graphene.

On a less mindboggling level, we also of course have the big product from MacWorld, the MacBook Air.

Even this last, relatively prosaic product – like all modern computers – involves really small things doing very big jobs in such a way that very few laypeople can begin to comprehend. Almost everyone these days can use a computer, and more and more of us may be able to program a computer, but how many of us actually understand how they work at the micro level? Lots of people can fix a car, but only a few truly understand the physics and electronics involved in today’s automobiles. And how many people can actually fully understand even this blog post on another super-small technology?

And, returning to the nanotubes and graphenes above, these are really just two more examples of the kind of increasingly unimaginable actors that have been discovered over the last 1.5 centuries. Bacteria, viruses, radio waves, microwaves, and the atom – these are all aspects of nature it would be easy for nonscientists to believe were figments of the imagination were the results not so clearly tangible.

So what? Well, the world of design and engineering is inherently a largely technical world, but it still needs to communicate clearly with less technical consumers and businesspeople who may never completely get over their future shock. There’s already a communication gap, and it’s bound to grow. However, we also now we have an imagination gap as fewer and fewer people can even grasp how a product comprised of difficult to describe objects can work.

Of course, once people are convinced a product is safe and works effectively and/or will make them a profit, they’ll gladly use it or sell it without understanding it. Still, with controversies already raging over nanotechnology and genetically engineered foods to name just two examples, we’re going to see more and more caution and confusion as the divide between techies and non-techies grows ever wider. Fortunately, we like challenges.

The Arrest of Henry Louis Gates – Was it Constitutional?

Bill of Rights Lessons from the Nation’s “Teachable Moment” 

Public commentary on the Henry Louis Gates incident has revealed widespread popular confusion about the extent of our constitutional rights.  If ever there were a perfect moment for Americans and their police to learn more about their Bill of Rights, this is it.

Let’s start with the amazing Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, a landmark in the history of personal freedoms.  It was inspired in part by lingering American revulsion over the British Customs Act, which had allowed British forces to barge into American homes.  The American response was a little disorderly conduct now known as the Boston Tea Party.

The Fourth Amendment is bold in its clarity: “The right of the people to be secure in their …houses…shall not be violated.”   Absent “exigent circumstances,” an American’s home is a legal sanctuary beyond the reach of any police officer not armed with a warrant.

Skeptical posts to my blog have revealed that many Americans find it hard to believe that we really have that much freedom.  We really do.   

In US v Payton, 445 US 573 (1980), a suspected murderer was known to be inside a private residence.   During his arrest, police discovered a bullet-casing matching the murder weapon.   The defendant moved to suppress the evidence, and succeeded at the U.S. Supreme Court.  Writing for the Court, Justice John Paul Stevens held that the police were not permitted to enter the premises without a warrant even though 1) they had probable cause that 2) a suspected violent felon was within the premises.

Thus Prof. Gates was within his constitutional rights to refuse Sgt. Crowley access to Gates’ residence.  Crowley’s entry without Gates’ consent violated Gates’ Fourth Amendment rights. 

In Minnesota v. Olson, 495 US 91 (1990), a suspect in a robbery-murder was arrested inside a home which had been surrounded by police officers.  Ruling the suspect’s warrant-less arrest to have been unconstitutional, the Supreme Court pointed out that the home had been surrounded by police, which precluded any need to enter without a warrant.   Prof. Gates’ case is stronger than the defendant’s in Olson, because Gates voluntarily presented himself at the door and claimed legal residence.  Once the risk of flight has been eliminated, officers may not enter a private residence without a warrant.  

People lose their keys and force their own doors all the time.  When a resident in such a case claims legal residence, the police have to stop at the front door until they get a warrant, no matter how frustrating that may be.

Now, let’s turn to the First Amendment freedom-of-speech principles involved in a charge of “disorderly conduct.”  Disorderly conduct statutes have been frequently challenged on constitutional grounds as overbroad and prohibitive of free speech.  In 1975 the Massachusetts courts were forced to bring their “disorderly conduct” provisions into accord with an emerging line of Supreme Court decisions.  Specifically, it was held that abusive and profane speech in and of itself could not constitute disorderly conduct.  The Massachusetts courts have subsequently adopted a factual approach which focuses on whether the allegedly disorderly behavior threatened an imminent breach of the peace (e.g., “tumultuous” behavior). 

What kind of behavior is sufficiently “tumultuous”?  Case law from a number of states, including Massachusetts, has held that speech is only tumultuous if it rises to the level of “fighting words.”   In a New York case interpreting similar statutory language, Stephen v. New York, 581 NYS2d 981 (1992), the defendant was arrested for “clutching his genitals and shouting obscene remarks at a police officer.”  The court dismissed the charges, noting that the defendant’s behavior was “not violent, tumultuous or threatening, but merely loud, derisive, taunting and vulgar…”   Were the witnesses to the Gates’ incident really frightened that Gates was about to attack a dozen armed officers?  Did the witnesses fear personal bodily harm?  It does not seem likely.   If the onlookers had perceived Gates’ statements to be merely “loud, derisive, taunting and vulgar,” then Gates’ arrest would have to be ruled doubly unconstitutional.

Although Sgt. Crowley appears to have acted sincerely, ignorance of the law is no excuse, especially when the law we’re talking about is the Constitution.  Crowley invoked “standard police procedure” as his defense, but such procedures are not exempt from the requirements of constitutionality.

Admittedly, the Bill of Rights is a pain in the neck for our nation’s police officers.  It frequently permits criminals to escape the reach of the law.  Its only justification is that it preserves our freedom, which is why it is our national treasure.  Even at the cost of hampering law enforcement, these vital freedoms must be zealously defended.

Eating Fast And Until Full Can Make You Put On Weight!

Japanese researchers say eating fast and eating until full can make you put on weight. The scientists from the Osaka University, Japan said people who eat fast may be three to four times more likely to put on weight as compared to people who eat slowly and stop before they are full. The study, which appears in the British Medical Journal, lays emphasis on the eating styles which contribute to the current epidemic of obesity, and not just the amount of food one eats. Lead author of the study, Prof. Hiroyasu Iso and team looked at the relationship between ‘eating style’, ‘eating until full’ and being overweight. The study was conducted on nearly 3,300 people in between the ages of 30 to 69.

A questionnaire was provided to them on the eating habits and they had to report how quickly they eat from the first to the last bite, whether they eat until they’re full and had to get their height and weight measured (Body mass index, BMI). 50% of males and more than 50 percent of females said they normally ate until they were full. And, 45.6% percent of men and 36% of females said they ate quickly. When researchers compared people in “eating slowly and not eating until full” group and “eating fast and not stopping until full” group, adults in latter group were three times more likely to put on pounds as compared to the earlier group. The study author wrote, “Eating until full and eating quickly were associated with being overweight in Japanese men and women, and the combination of the two eating behaviors may have a substantial impact on being overweight.”

Another expert from UK agrees and feels speedy eating could be a reason for the weight gain as it interferes with the signaling system which tells our brain to quit eating because the stomach is swelling up. The researchers urged people to watch out the eating habits of the children from the beginning and cultivate good habits such as eating slowly, eating as a family without any distractions such as TV, and video games. Obesity is not few extra kilos but a heavy accumulation of fat which perks up your risk of diseases like heart diseases and diabetes that in turn can damage your health and cut off years from your life.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), approximately 400 million people around the world are classified as obese, of these 20 million are below the age of 5 years. Australia is now the world’s fattest nation with 26% of its adults being classified as obese. A rise in obesity has lead to an increase in diabetes and other health problems such as cardiovascular diseases, osteoarthritis, high blood pressure and 6 different types of cancer, including post menopausal breast cancer, pancreas, kidney and womb cancers. Another latest study published in the October 17 issue of the journal Science, revealed that compared to skinny people, the obese derive less pleasure from eating and therefore eat more.

I personally had this problem due to my very busy lifestyle (work, family, kids, kids, kids… if you are a parent you know what I am talking about). I finally decided to make a change for my health and my family. I found and tried this product called “Strip-That-Fat”. It’s been on the market for a little while and it is like nothing I ever tried before. I am telling you !!! the pounds, the belly, the fat was just melting off of me within a few weeks!!! Again, keep in mind that my weight for years went up and down around 280 lbs (except on 2005 I reached 307!) and I am only 6 feet tall, so needless to say I was overweight for my height and my age. With the Strip That Fat diet I was able to loose up to 2lbs every week! Of course these results were not always the same, but believe me when I said that I noticed a difference at the end of the week not having those couple of pounds on me. If you would like to comment visit my blog in MySpace.