Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Wacky Ideas

It seems that every once in a while, I get an idea that's either sheer brilliance or complete insanity. And every once in a while, one of those ideas will stick with me; I can't seem to forget it, no matter how crazy it sounds. So I figured I should start writing some of them down.

Idea #1: A method for producing arbitrary-length single-walled carbon nanotubes.

This one came to me as I happened to be staring at the metal screen on the microwave while thinking about space elevators. I wondered - isn't there some way to make them fast, cheap, and as long as you want? And even better - to do it with stuff you can find around the house (or at least order off the internet)? So here it is.

What you'll need:
- a bunch of polyethylene
- a microwave
- a Proton Exchange Membrane (well, something with really tiny holes through it)
- something to spin the nanotubes together

How to do it:

1. Melt the polyethylene. Send it through something to pull it out into fibers (not sure exactly how to do this). Pull it into thinner and thinner strands, until you get something about the width of a nanotube.
2. Send the strand through the microwave slow enough for it to rip all the hydrogens off the carbon chains.
3. Push the charged carbon chains through the PEM.
4. Let the carbon chains come together in a tube shape.
5. Tada! Instant carbon nanotube.
6. Do this at a bunch of places on the PEM, and spin the nanotubes into nano-string.
7. ???
8. Profit!

Here is a diagram of the process.

Idea #2: An entopy scanner.

This one I thought of the other day while sitting in chemistry class. Since every process increases the entropy of the universe, if it were possible to measure the entropy increase in a given volume of space, then you could tell if something was happening even if there was no information coming out of said volume (What I've just said probably contradicts some law of quantum physics, but oh well). For example, say you have a black box, which contains one of two things. Either it contains two cubes of some material at different temperatures, or two cubes at the same temperature. The box is opaque to any kind of electromagnetic scan or any other type of scan. How do you tell what the box contains? Why, use the entropy scanner, of course. A box with two cubes at different temperature will have a higher rate of entropy increase. In fact, if you were able to focus the scanner on a smaller region of space, you could tell exactly where the cubes were. And if you could focus it even smaller, you could probably tell what material they were made out of.

Imagine the possibilities of a technology like this! You could passively scan any object and determine it's characteristics. It would be particularily handy as a "life-signs detector", because living things are notorious for increasing entropy.

What you'll need:

- probably a new physical theory that would allow this to exist

How to do it:

1. I have no idea.

Idea #3: A cure for cancer!

From what I've heard of cancer cells, the reason they are so hard to target is because they essentially look the same as non-cancerous cells. They have the same surface proteins as healthy cells, which makes a virus-based attack impossible. So what differences do these cells have? For one, there are certain proteins that are more common in cancer cells. So what if one was to devise a virus that needed to attach to two proteins before activating? Then you could just tweak the distance between receptors in order that it wouldn't attack healthy cells.

What you'll need:

- a modified virus that has two receptors
- a bunch of cancer cells and healthy cells to test it on
- a way to change the distance between receptors

How to do it:

1. Genetically engineer the double-receptor virus. Or build it from scratch.
2. Test the virus on the healthy and cancer cells.
3. Tweak the receptor seperation until you achieve the highest ratio of cancer/healthy cells killed.

Here is a diagram.

Idea #4: A four-bit finite-state machine (with unusual implementation)

This one has it's roots in the last house meeting I attended here in residence. Since we have co-ed washrooms, there had been a lot of complaints about toilet seats being left up. Naturally our discussion gradually turned into an argument about putting the seat down. People on both sides had good information to support their opinions, but in the end it boiled down to the usual: guys have to put the seat down. Now, I know it looks like I'm going off on a tangent; after all, what does an argument about toilet seats have to do with computational theory? Well, I got to wondering what would happen if everyone who went to the bathroom followed some kind of set rule which depended on the state of all four toilet seats? Could one actually do computations with the toilet lids?

At first I wondered if a toilet-based computer could be Turing-complete. But I soon realized that without some sort of storage device, the best one could do would be a finite-state machine. Admittedly, a four-bit finite-state machine isn't exactly the epitome of excitement, but imagine if it were done with eight bits? Sixteen? Thirty-two? These would allow for more computational possibilities, but the bathroom size would quickly become impractical. So it's four bits for now. I haven't bothered working up any algorithms yet, but I'm sure someone can come up with a set of rules that will, say, allow two two-bit numbers to be added together. As far as input goes, perhaps the initial state of the machine would work?

Addendum: After more careful thought, perhaps the number of bits could be extended by using other bathroom digital devices. What first comes to mind are the stall doors (open/closed) and the faucets (on/off). With four stall doors and four sinks (each with two faucets), this would allow for a total of sixteen bits! I also had an idea for making this into a true universal computer. The traditional Turing machine has a paper tape with squares on it.... I'm sure you can think of something that's found in every bathroom that also fits this description.

Idea #5: Pool Noodle furniture.

I'd say the title of this one speaks for itself. I thought of this when I realized I was completely broke, and was wondering where to live next year. After finding a place to live, there's the problem of getting furniture. So why not make it out of materials that are cheap, cushiony, easy to work with, and aesthetically pleasing? I don't know exactly how to join the noodles together; perhaps hot glue? Contact cement might work for the smooth outsides of the noodles.

What you'll need:

- pool noodles (Buy a bunch; they're dirt cheap)
- a saw/knife of some sort
- glue?

How to do it:

1. Draw out the piece of furniture; get approximate measurements.
2. Cut the noodles to their appropriate lengths.
3. Glue the noodle-pieces together

Couldn't be simpler! I bet you could furnish an entire home in an afternoon, with about $50 worth of noodles. However, be careful with your designs, because noodles aren't quite as sturdy as materials that would regularily be used to build furniture from (i.e. wood).

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