Nanoscale Mechanical Logic Inverter

David Pescovitz at BoingBoing points to some research at Case Western Reserve University that at first sounds like the ultimate homage to Babbage’s early mechanical computer. As he explains the project was funded by DARPA which is interested in components that would be much more reliable in high heat environments like inside a jet or rocket engine.

In a transistor, the voltage applied to one of the terminals, the gate, determines whether a current flows through it. But above 250 °C, the device becomes so awash with thermally generated electrons – even when it is supposedly off – that the voltage leaks through the gate to render the device useless. Even silicon carbide, the semiconductor material hardiest against heat, doesn’t remedy the situation.

The nanoscale levers that make the connection necessary for the inverter to function operate via electrostatic attraction when a current is applied, so are not purely mechanical. They are, however, resistant to temperatures in excess of five hundred degrees Celsius. Work remains, however, before practical application as some of the levers have melted or snapped after two billion cycles for reasons that remain unclear to the researchers.

I am usually very critical of the blithe application of the steampunk label. In this case, I think it resonates with the lateral thinking. Te-Hao Lee and his team re-visited concepts that pre-date modern electronics and effectively carried them forward, like retro futurism realized, to find benefits that complement the computing machinery that so successfully supplanted Babbage’s original designs.

Steampunk chip takes the heat, New Scientist (via BoingBoing)

feeds | grep links > Broadband as Voting Issue in Australia, CERN’s Changing Patent Policies, More on European Police Raids of ISPs, and More

Following Up for the Week Ending 9/5/2010

feeds | grep links > Mobile Cloud, Name Changes and Reputation, Joke Patents at Sun, and More

  • Building a cloud out of smart phones
    Advancing beyond theory, a group of international researchers have cobbled together a proof of concept out of a dozen or so cell phones and a dedicated router. As Technology Review explains, this mobile phone based cloud is capable of driving one fairly typical distributed algorithm, map/reduce. I have to agree with the article that the rational for this, beyond the obvious clever hack value, is a bit lacking, even the possibility of moving computing back towards data, potentially cutting down on message passing. If there is a killer use for the idea, I’m sure someone will find it.
  • danah boyd criticizes Schmidt’s name change idea
    She makes good points on both deflating the implied ease of changing your name and on how reputation is likely to persist through a simple discontinuity such as tweaking the label on all your personal data online. She acknowledges that it is hard to make predictions about how reputation will evolve in practice and how much we may be able to affect it. Mostly she questions what it isn’t we don’t know about Schmidt’s recently expressed opinions both here and on the end of privacy. I like that she gives him the benefit of the doubt, suggesting there might be some puzzle piece we don’t have that could complete a rational synthesis of his opinions.
  • Sun engineers held a contest for goofiest patents
  • Vimeo releases new embeddable HTML5 player
  • Pirate Party strikes hosting deal with Wikileaks
  • All electrical data storage could deliver eight fold improvement in density

feeds | grep links > Distributed Computing Spots Astronomical Rarity, Search Engine Runs a Tor Enclave, and More

feeds | grep links > Stop the Mathness, Efficient Spintronics, New Book on Net Policy and Innovation, and More

Still recovering from jet lag and flight + commute from hell this morning. At least the post is back to my usual window for blogging. Hopefully my batteries will be recharged enough tomorrow to drag forth some useful commentary along with the days links.

Oh, and the sky just turned ominous as I prepare to post this.  Making use of the electromo juice while it holds out in the face of nature’s unremitting hatred of our electrical grid.

feeds | grep links > Linux Foundation’s Compliance Program, Leaked Google Privacy Document, KDE 4.5, and More

Day two of my trip and the main event, the Cassandra Summit, was excellent. Jet lag and tromping around San Francisco on foot this evening have wiped me out. The hotel WiFi has also decided not to cooperate, slowing down and acting generally very flakey.

Tomorrow I’ll be in training all day and then catching the red eye home. Not sure if or when I’ll be able to blog, so if you don’t even seen a list of links, you’ll know why and I’ll be back Thursday.

feeds | grep links > Verizon Changes Users Passwords without Permissions, Microsoft Sacrificed IE8 Privacy Features for Ads, and More

  • Verizon changing users’ router passwords
    As the Slashdot post explains, the customer who shared their experience having their router password changed is clear that Verizon said this was for security purposes. This is another tough balance, there is no reason Verizon should not be able to run appropriate security scans but remotely altering customer hardware without permission is an overreach. I can totally see the reasoning for doing so given the expense involved in a mass customer service campaign but it still doesn’t make it right.
  • Linux kernel 2.6.35 released
  • Microsoft cut IE8 privacy features to sell ads
    Adrianne Jeffries at RWW discusses part of a Wall Street Journal article discussing online privacy. The interesting section is the one that contains the lede, that Microsoft decided revenue was more important than the rights and privileges of its users. This is one of the reasons I remain fiercely loyal to Mozilla, even over Chrome, as the steering body is a non-profit that is more resistant to these kinds of pressures.
  • Update from Emerging Languages Camp at OSCON
  • Cooling silicon solution leads to melting
    The weird physical phenomenon that io9’s Alasdair Wilkins very clearly explains as the result of dissolving a brew of metals into silicon isn’t the only fascinating aspect of this research. The process of melting, a side effect of the metals coming out of solution as the temperature drops below the usual melting point of silicon, apparently may help purify the remaining solid silicon. This could clearly be useful for all kinds of materials fabrication that uses silicon, including electronics of all stripes and solar power cells.

feeds | grep links > eFuse Won’t Brick Droid X’s, Electrodeposition of Circuit Traces, Study on Copyright Bypassing Contracts, and More

  • Motorola clarifies that eFuse won’t brick a phone
    As Slashdot points out, it goes into a recovery mode from which the original firmware can be installed and the phone completely recovered. I wonder if that also confirms that the Droid X could be hacked as have other eFuse equipped phones, even if doing so is more of a hassle than it should be. At least this reduces the risk of trying considerably, even if it is far from ideal.
  • Electrodeposition for circuit tracing
    Slashdot links to this IBTimes article that requires a little bit of parsing. What the researchers are working on are not the features on a CPU die, the first clue being they mention scales at 100nm which is much larger than what is found on a die. They are talking about the traces that connect processor elements and components on a circuit board. This won’t do much for power and heat issues on CPUs but across an entire electronic device, could have considerable potential.
  • Academics must review contracts’ effects on user rights
    I don’t know what this will do in practice, but what The Register describes seems like a good idea. One of the worst abuses of IP law has been the privatization of law through the anti-circumvention measures in the DMCA and the DEA and the increasing push of EULAs. What is being advanced here sounds like a comprehensive, empirical study of the potential harms caused by this particular situation. It’s unlikely to recommend wholly reversing things but just suggesting restoring the limits on copyright that have been diminished would be worthwhile.
  • VLC tackling Bluray playback
    Some good news reported by the H up until the end, that the VLC folks won’t have a valid license for the DRM systems used on commercial Bluray discs, AACS and BD+. So in and of itself, VLC will be able to play back the Bluray formats themselves but won’t be able to do so for the vast majority of commercial discs.
  • Wine 1.2 released
  • UK-wide tween hackathon with open government data
  • When the pay-what-you-want model benefits companies, charities and individuals