Suramya's Blog : Welcome to my crazy life…

May 14, 2022

Using algae sealed in a AA battery to generate enough electricity to run a microprocessor for 6 months

Filed under: Computer Hardware,Emerging Tech,My Thoughts,Science Related — Suramya @ 11:59 PM

Powering computers and all our devices requires us to use batteries if they can’t be connected to a power source/electrical socket. For the most part this means that we use NiCa or Lithium batteries. The problem with this is that they require us to use rare earth metals that are hard to find and process, which makes them expensive and mining the metals are potentially bad for the environment. The other problem is that they need frequent replacement and create a lot of waste. Due to this a lot of effort is going on to find better ways of generating power.

Now, Christopher Howe and other researchers from the University of Cambridge have managed create a power source using blue-green algae to generate enough electricity to power a processor performing calculations (to simulate load). Using a type of cyanobacteria called Synechocystis sp. PCC 6803 sealed in a container about the size of an AA battery, made of aluminum and clear plastic they were able to generate the 0.3 microwatts of power to run the CPU for 45 minutes followed by 15 minutes of standby, which required 0.24 microwatts of power.

The system ran without additional intervention for 6 months and the computer was placed on a windowsill at one of the researchers’ houses during the test and the ambient light was enough to power the processor. There are indications that this can be scaled up to generate more power for more resource intensive applications but even if that doesn’t work out, the current setup could potentially be used to power IoT devices that don’t require that much power to run such as sensors/monitors deployed in the forests/cities for monitoring.

Sustainable, affordable and decentralised sources of electrical energy are required to power the network of electronic devices known as the Internet of Things. Power consumption for a single Internet of Things device is modest, ranging from μW to mW, but the number of Internet of Things devices has already reached many billions and is expected to grow to one trillion by 2035, requiring a vast number of portable energy sources (e.g., a battery or an energy harvester). Batteries rely largely on expensive and unsustainable materials (e.g., rare earth elements) and their charge eventually runs out. Existing energy harvesters (e.g., solar, temperature, vibration) are longer lasting but may have adverse effects on the environment (e.g., hazardous materials are used in the production of photovoltaics). Here, we describe a bio-photovoltaic energy harvester system using photosynthetic microorganisms on an aluminium anode that can power an Arm Cortex M0+, a microprocessor widely used in Internet of Things applications. The proposed energy harvester has operated the Arm Cortex M0+ for over six months in a domestic environment under ambient light. It is comparable in size to an AA battery, and is built using common, durable, inexpensive and largely recyclable materials.

Their research has been published in the Energy & Environmental Science journal and work is ongoing to build on top of it to look at commercial applications.

Source: A colony of blue-green algae can power a computer for six months

– Suramya

May 13, 2022

Artist draws 100+ sketches at the same time!

Filed under: Interesting Sites,My Thoughts — Suramya @ 9:14 PM

Art requires skill to be able to do it well. However, when people talk about skilled artists, some of the examples look like the artist took a bunch of paint and threw it at the canvas, but when that painting is displayed in a gallery there will be 100’s of people talking about the energy, passion and whatever else shown in the painting, which is basically paint thrown on the canvas.

Alexis Bantiles on the other hand is simultaneously drawing 100 different sketches at the same time! using a customized pole that holds 30+ colored pens and I have trouble drawing one… I am in awe of the skill, practice and effort required to achieve this.


Drawing 100 different sketches at the same time.

Source: @nowthisnews

– Suramya

May 12, 2022

Thoughts on Star Trek Picard & Strange New Worlds

Filed under: My Thoughts — Suramya @ 9:51 PM

It’s been a good few months for Star Trek, with the Season 2 of Picard wrapping up and the new Strange New Worlds show kicking off. Yes, I know Star Trek: Discovery has also been going on but for some reason I never enjoyed the show so haven’t been watching it.

The last episode of Picard, kind of explained how the internal continuity of the show worked and made it all make sense. But what they didn’t explain is how the presence of two Borg queens in the universe changed things and why history turned out the same way even though things should have changed drastically due to the events in the show. For all they talk about not changing the past the show was quite free with doing things that would change the future.

Coming to Strange New Worlds (SNW), I usually don’t like prequel shows that are too close to existing shows because there is not much mystery there as you can’t do something new and exciting without breaking continuity. SNW seems to have avoided this (so far at least) and the first two episodes have been interesting. I am looking forward to how they resolve the dilemma Captain Pike is facing now that he knows his future. (From one of the episodes in Discovery). I like the portrayal of Pike and most of the characters are interesting even though they could use more fleshing out. I guess that will happen over the course of the season. This is an interesting look into what Star Trek could have been if the pilot episode “The Cage”, starring Jeffrey Hunter as Enterprise Captain Christopher Pike had not been rejected back in the 60’s.

– Suramya

May 11, 2022

Apple discontinuing iPod after 21 years run

Filed under: My Thoughts — Suramya @ 6:55 PM

The iPod was a massive game changer when it released. I love music and when the iPod 2nd gen released I was using a Rio mp3 player that had 32 MB of storage which meant that I could put ~8 songs on it. So everyday I would decide what 8 songs I wanted to listen to that day and copied them over. It was annoying but still amazing because I didn’t have to carry multiple cassettes/CD’s around.

Then I was gifted the iPod 2nd Gen by my sister and brother-in-law and suddenly I could store up 16GB of music (~3,500 songs). I no longer had to decide which songs I wanted to carry around, as I could copy all of them. It was a game changer and I used it constantly till about 2012/13 when the battery died and I couldn’t replace it at a reasonable cost. Also by then I had a smartphone could use it listen to music instead so didn’t need to carry another device just for songs.

Found out yesterday that Apple is going to discontinue the iPod after the current stock is sold out. It had a good run from 2001-2022 and it revived Apple as a company so kudos to the team that created it and the marketing team that made sure that it became the ‘must-have’ accessory for most of the hip crowd.

Source: BoingBoing: iPod, RIP (2001 – 2022)

– Suramya

May 8, 2022

BBC announces that ‘Ncuti Gatwa’ is going to be the 14th Doctor

Filed under: My Thoughts — Suramya @ 10:12 PM

The worlds longest running SciFi show Doctor Who, which is famous for replacing the lead character by having them ‘regenerate’ into a new body has announced that ‘Ncuti Gatwa’ is going to take over the mantel of the Doctor from Jodie Whittaker later this year. I have no idea who this guy is but I am looking forward to seeing him take over the role. I loved Jodie in the role and the subject matter of most of the episodes during her run. (Except for the Flux/Division storyline which wasn’t too great… I think they could have simplified it a bit)

Most of the reactions to the casting seems to be positive, but there are enough idiots who are complaining about the casting because the show is becoming ‘woke’ as they cast a black man as a savior when it is well known that only white men can save others.. (yes that was me being sarcastic) These same people complain about the 13th Doctor as well. I hope the showrunners don’t pay them any attention and continue making great TV, unlike the Star Wars team that decided to ignore a major chunk of the stories from the previous movie in the last movie because a vocal minority didn’t like it.

Doctor Who has always used it’s episodes to give commentary on social issues but most people tend to forget/ignore that.

Edit (11th May 2022): As expected, it only took a few minutes. Right-wing commentator slammed for his take on why Ncuti Gatwa got Doctor Who role & Racism Is Always Right on Time With Black Casting Announcements and It’s Exhausting and many many more.

– Suramya

May 5, 2022

Thoughts around using GPS tracking to stop car thieves

Filed under: Computer Security,My Thoughts,Techie Stuff — Suramya @ 2:56 PM

Earlier today, I saw the following tweet Retweeted by the BengaluruCityPolice where they recommend that we install a hidden GPS tracker in the car that can be used to find the car if it is ever stolen.

On the surface this sounds like a great idea but there are larger implications that we are missing here. But first lets talk about why this wouldn’t work for long:

  • The thief’s are not fools, once this technique starts getting more popular the first thing they will do is search the car from top to bottom to find and remove the tracker.
  • If the car is underground or behind concrete/metal then the GPS tracker will not be able to transmit. So no signal.

There are other reasons as well but these are the top two that make the tracker useless. Now let’s look at the drawbacks shall we:

Once we have a GPS tracker in the car, all movement information of the car is now tracked and stored online. The current data privacy laws in India allow cops or others to get access to this data fairly simply. This data can also be sold to others (after anonymizing it) but it is quite simple to de-anonymize a dataset as proven by various people recently, such as the case last year where a Priest was outed as a user of Grindr app due to data de-anonymizer.

This is especially risky for women as this potentially allows people to figure out where they live or work, what their schedule looks like etc. Another problem is misuse of data by the company hosting it. History has shown that insiders at companies that store private data have used their access to view private details. This includes cops, tech employees etc. So the more data that is stored the more risk of data misuse and this doesn’t take into account the possibility of attackers hacking into the network to steal the movement data.

Once people have the data, it can then be used for many things such as:

  • Abusers can track their victims (wives/kids)
  • Identify who is having an affair with whom (Uber did this)
  • Figure out who is undergoing medical treatments
  • Criminals can see when we are on vacation and the house is empty.
  • Locate people who are traveling home at late night through empty areas
  • Employers could begin tracking employees to see if an employee is thinking about leaving by looking at visits to competitor’s office etc

These are not theoretical concerns there are been proven cases for each of the above. The risk is grave enough that the US Women’s Law Organization, which deals with a lot of domestic abuse cases has a whole section dedicated to GPS monitoring abuse.

We need to look at all aspects of the technology before we start implementing on a large scale. This includes looking at how the tech could potentially be misused.

– Suramya

May 4, 2022

Using reflection in pupils in public selfies to figure out the different ways a user can hold a device

Filed under: Computer Software,My Thoughts,Techie Stuff — Suramya @ 11:58 PM

Users in TV/Movies have been able to zoom enhance photo’s that look like they were taken with a broken down webcam from the 80’s to give crystal clear images for a while now. In fact the Zoom/Enhance trope has become so common that there are a whole bunch of meme’s out there for it.

Till recently such activities were possible only in the fictional world, thanks to advances in photo technologies and the increasing no of mega-pixels (plus other things) in the modern camera this is now possible in the real world as well. A few years ago, a Japanese stalker was arrested after he stalked and assaulted a 21-year-old “Japanese idol” at her home by zooming into a high-resolution selfie posted by the singer to view the train station reflected in her eye.

Now, a group of researchers from Keio University, Yahoo Japan, and the Tokyo University of Technology are using publicly posted selfies by users to examine the reflection of the smartphone taking the picture in the pupils of the photo to figure out how the phone is being used i.e. the different ways a user can hold a device like a smartphone: with both hands, just the left, or just the right in portrait mode, and the same options in horizontal mode. There are a bunch of potential uses for this technique and it is interesting and unique research.

But it also highlights the fact that we need to be careful of what we post/share as there might be information in the picture that we didn’t want to share. If you search for ‘photo sent caught cheating’ you will find multiple instances of folks sending pics that got them in trouble because there was something in the pic that gave the game away, such as this one or this one

Source: Using Pupil Reflection in Smartphone Camera Selfies

– Suramya

May 3, 2022

Key DNA building blocks found in meteorites supporting the theory that meteorites contributed to origin of life on earth

Filed under: Astronomy / Space,My Thoughts,Science Related — Suramya @ 10:22 AM

How life started on Earth is a subject that is under massive debate and there are multiple theories on how all the required building blocks came into being on earth. One theory is that while the earth was forming and in the early stages of becoming a planet one or more meteorites containing the building blocks of life crashed into the planet. Once the blocks were there over time they combined together to form DNA and then life started.

DNA consists of pairs of molecules called nucleobases which consist of adenine, guanine, cytosine and thymine. These together form the DNA which is the basis of all life on earth. Two of these nucleobases – adenine and guanine were detected in meteorites back in the 1960s. Leading the scientists to postulate that they could have been the source of the compounds on earth. However, till recently no one was able to detect the remaining two DNA nucleobases in any meteorite which made it hard to argue that the meteorites where the source of the nucleobases.

Now, Yasuhiro Oba at Hokkaido University in Japan and his colleagues have discovered the remaining two DNA nucleobases, cytosine and thymine in several meteorites. They examined rocks from three meteorites: the Murchison, Murray and Tagish Lake meteorites that date to about 5 billion years ago and hit earth approximately two decades ago.

The lack of pyrimidine diversity in meteorites remains a mystery since prebiotic chemical models and laboratory experiments have predicted that these compounds can also be produced from chemical precursors found in meteorites. Here we report the detection of nucleobases in three carbonaceous meteorites using state-of-the-art analytical techniques optimized for small-scale quantification of nucleobases down to the range of parts per trillion (ppt). In addition to previously detected purine nucleobases in meteorites such as guanine and adenine, we identify various pyrimidine nucleobases such as cytosine, uracil, and thymine, and their structural isomers such as isocytosine, imidazole-4-carboxylic acid, and 6-methyluracil, respectively. Given the similarity in the molecular distribution of pyrimidines in meteorites and those in photon-processed interstellar ice analogues, some of these derivatives could have been generated by photochemical reactions prevailing in the interstellar medium and later incorporated into asteroids during solar system formation. This study demonstrates that a diversity of meteoritic nucleobases could serve as building blocks of DNA and RNA on the early Earth.

This is an important find but more interestingly the team found that the soil around the Murchison meteorite had a higher concentration of the nucleobases than in the meteorite and according to researchers “If these results are representative of typical pyrimidine concentrations in meteorites, then [nucleobases present on] Earth would likely have been responsible for the emergence of genetic material rather than inputs from extraterrestrial delivery.”

Like always, the more we examine the world the more questions we have. For every question we answer, 10 more are formed. Which is what makes the whole scientific process of discovery so fascinating.

Source: New Scientist: All four of the key DNA building blocks have been found in meteorites
Paper: Identifying the wide diversity of extraterrestrial purine and pyrimidine nucleobases in carbonaceous meteorites

– Suramya

May 2, 2022

MIT researchers create a portable desalination unit that can run off a single solar panel

Filed under: Emerging Tech,My Thoughts,Science Related — Suramya @ 2:33 AM

The lack of drinking water is a major problem across large portions of the world and over 2 billion people live in water-stressed countries. According to WHO at least 2 billion people use a drinking water source contaminated with feces. On the other side, places near the sea have to deal with salt water contamination of their drinking supply. If we can desalinize sea water cheaply and easily then it will be a great boon to world.

There are existing technologies that convert sea-water to drinking water but they require massive energy supply and large scale plants which are very expensive to make. To resolve this issue MIT researchers have been working on creating a portable desalination unit that generates clear, clean drinking water without the need for filters or high-pressure pumps. Since the unit doesn’t use filters or high-pressure pumps the energy requirement is low enough that it can be run off a small, portable solar panel.

The research team of Jongyoon Han, Junghyo Yoon, a research scientist in RLE; Hyukjin J. Kwon, a former postdoc; SungKu Kang, a postdoc at Northeastern University; and Eric Brack of the U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command (DEVCOM) created this and the initial prototype has worked as expected. Their research has been published online in Environmental Science and Technology.

Instead, their unit relies on a technique called ion concentration polarization (ICP), which was pioneered by Han’s group more than 10 years ago. Rather than filtering water, the ICP process applies an electrical field to membranes placed above and below a channel of water. The membranes repel positively or negatively charged particles — including salt molecules, bacteria, and viruses — as they flow past. The charged particles are funneled into a second stream of water that is eventually discharged.

The process removes both dissolved and suspended solids, allowing clean water to pass through the channel. Since it only requires a low-pressure pump, ICP uses less energy than other techniques.

But ICP does not always remove all the salts floating in the middle of the channel. So the researchers incorporated a second process, known as electrodialysis, to remove remaining salt ions.

Yoon and Kang used machine learning to find the ideal combination of ICP and electrodialysis modules. The optimal setup includes a two-stage ICP process, with water flowing through six modules in the first stage then through three in the second stage, followed by a single electrodialysis process. This minimized energy usage while ensuring the process remains self-cleaning.


Video demonstration of the process

The prototype device was tested at Boston’s Carson Beach and was found to generate drinking water at a rate of 0.3 liters per hour, requiring only 20 watts of power per liter during the use. As you can guess this is pretty amazing. If the device can be mass-produced it will help reduce the scarcity of drinking water in the world without requiring massive amounts of energy which would cause other climate impact.

One downside of this kind of machine is that it creates a byproduct of highly saline water as the salt from the pure water is mixed with the waste water. Releasing this water in the ocean has a huge impact on the sea life as the water suddenly becomes too saline for them. If the water is allowed to seep into the land then it will reduce the fertility of the soil due to the increased salt in the soil. In addition to making the device commercial we also need to do research on what we should do with the waste water generated so that the adverse impact of the product can be offset.

Source: MIT News: From seawater to drinking water, with the push of a button

– Suramya

May 1, 2022

Book Review: Eight Million Gods (Eight Million Gods Book 01) by Wen Spencer

Filed under: My Thoughts,Reviews-Urban Fantasy — Suramya @ 12:38 AM

Eight Million Gods (Eight Million Gods Book 01)

by Wen Spencer

Description:

First entry in a new urban fantasy saga by the creator of the popular Tinker contemporary fantasy/SF series. A young American expat writer in Japan suffering from OCD tries to figure out if she’s crazy or not while solving a murder that may be part of a war among Japanese deities.A contemporary fantasy of mystery and death as American expats battle Japanese gods and monsters to retrieve an ancient artifact that can destroy the world. On Saturday afternoon, Nikki Delany thought, “George Wilson, in the kitchen, with a blender.” By dinner, she had killed George and posted his gory murder to her blog. The next day, she put on her mourning clothes and went out to meet her best friend for lunch to discuss finding a replacement for her love interest. Nikki is a horror novelist. Her choice of career is dictated by an Obsessive Compulsive Disorder that forces her to write stories of death and destruction. She can’t control it, doesn’t understand it, but can use it to make money anywhere in the world. Currently “anywhere” is in Japan, hiding from her mother who sees Nikki’s OCD as proof she’s mentally unstable. Nikki’s fragile peace starts to fall apart when the police arrest her for the murder of an American expatriate. Someone killed him with a blender. Reality starts to unravel around Nikki. She’s attacked by a raccoon in a business suit. After a series of blackouts, she’s accompanied by a boy that no one else can see, a boy who claims to be a god. Is she really being pursued by Japanese myths – or is she simply going insane? What Nikki does know for sure is that the bodies are piling up, her mother has arrived in Japan to lock her up for the rest of her life – and her novels always end with everyone dead.

Buy From:

Rating:

Review:
This is another fantastic book by Wen Spencer and is pretty fast paced and easy to read. The main character Nikki has a OCD disorder that forces her to write constantly but everyone she writes about seem to die horrible deaths. She decides to channel this urge to write by becoming a famous horror writer under a pseudonym. It also allows her to avoid her mother who is very controlling and wants to get her committed to an insane asylum. A good part of how the character develops is due to the main character trying to figure things out without alerting her mother or involving the authorities.

The book is based in Japan and the locations & culture are well explained and described. Even though I have never been to Japan it was easy for me to imagine the city due to the fantastic descriptions. Plus the author managed to avoid stereotyping the culture which was a pleasant surprise and the explanations were enough to get me to look up additional details on the internet as I was reading the book.

Due to the fast paged action the book feels like it is a lot shorter than it is and the final ‘battle’ was a bit anti-climatic for my taste. It felt like there was a lot of buildup and then suddenly all was resolved. They could have expanded this section a little to justify the buildup, but that being said it was still a good conclusion and it has set the stage for future adventures so I am guessing there will be more books in the series down the line.

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