arnabocean

— by Arnab Gupta

On using (or abusing) bio-technology

June 24, 2013

I wrote a small piece on fair use of our biotechnology on my Tumblr, but since I’m planning to write longer pieces on this blog, I wanted to cross-post it here as well.

Joe Hanson, of It’s Okay To Be Smart, wrote:

Can Biotechnology and Genetic Engineering Save an American Icon?

What I find so interesting is that the techniques being used to save this tree, and one day reintroduce it to the wild, are not that different from those that are used to create genetically modified crops. How does saving a dying species by inserting a gene differ from creating an herbicide-resistant soybean, or rice that produces extra vitamins? I have my opinions, but I want to know: What do you think?

My thoughts are below.

The problem facing scientist writers

June 22, 2013

I was lamenting on the scarcity of engineering blogs, even though there are a plethora of excellent science and other technical blogs on the internet.

That got me thinking about why relatively so few scientists in general, and engineers in particular, write and publish on the web. Here’s the problem, I think–

Where are the engineers’ blogs?

June 22, 2013

I wish there were more people writing about engineering mechanics research. It’s certainly a fascinating area, and while perhaps they wouldn’t be as popular as the tech-media blogs, or the awesome science blogs that everyone can identify with, they’d still be pretty good, right?

I really like and follow Dr. Drang, who seems to occupy the perfect niche—mechanical engineering and computer programming. And through Dr. Drang I’ve recently discovered the blog of J. Ben Deaton, but haven’t had the chancce to explore in detail yet. (BTW, Deaton’s site is also powered by Octopress, with the default Octopress theme that I mentioned.) Then there’s Engineering is Awesome, which is also excellent.

But other than that, I don’t know of any engineering or mechanics blogs. There may be some great ones that don’t show up in Google searches—if you know of one, would you let me know? :)

There are quite a few science blogs though (example, example), and they are excellent and fascinating. But where are the engineers? Are engineers really that boring compared to other scientists? :)

Website Rebuild — using Octopress

June 20, 2013

I’d originally designed and built this website in the summer of 2011, and I had made it a point that I myself did all the hard yards of learning the technology and developing (and finding how others had implemented a feature) the HTML and CSS code. I stayed completely away from Javascript, mostly because I basically had no idea about Javascript. I wasn’t sure how resource-hogging Javascript was, and that was a factor, yes—but it was mostly because I didn’t want to use something I didn’t know, and I knew next to nothing about Javascript.

So that was then.

For a while now, though, I’ve been pondering a rewrite and rebuilding of the website, for a number of reasons.

What advantages does a composite have?

March 15, 2013

Previously, we talked about what composite materials are, in an engineering sense. To recapitulate, composites are materials comprising two or more constituents. The constituents are combined in a way such that they retain their distinct identities in the final material (unlike alloys, for example). In particular, we talked about composites with a homogenous ‘matrix’ material (such as epoxy resin in polymer composites, and metals such as aluminum in metal matrix composites) in which reinforcing fibers (such as carbon fibers or glass fibers) or particulates are embedded. The fibers are the reinforcing material that provides strength to the composite, while the matrix material serves other purposes such as: (a) protecting the fibers (b) binding the fibers together to actually create the composite (c) helping to redistribute stresses if a fiber breaks.

But the key question is: why use composite materials at all? Why not use metals as always? What advantages do composites provide? Turns out, quite a few.

So, what are Composites, again?

March 10, 2013

In the broadest sense, a composite material is one that consists of two or more distinct materials—which retain their individual properties even when the final material is formed! In fact, we’ve all encountered various composite materials in our everyday lives.

Aggregate Concrete

Aggregate Concrete. (Source)

Getting up to speed…

March 05, 2013

Let us get introduced, first, to a class of materials which are highly directional in nature. What does directional mean? Let me give an example. Imagine that you have a sheet of thermocol in your hand. Try to pull the sheet apart—if it’s thin enough, you probably can. Does it matter in what direction you hold the sheet of thermocol? Top-bottom versus left-right? Of course it doesn’t. This is an example of a material that is not directional—it responds in identical fashion, whichever direction you choose to interact with it in.

Thermocol Sheet

Thermocol Sheets. (Source)

It doesn’t matter if global warming is man-made

January 12, 2013

Earth’s climate is changing. If you’re not wearing blinkers, and usually follow the news, this should no longer be a controversial statement to you. (Of course, climate change is a better descriptor than global warming. Earth’s temperatures will not literally rise everywhere all the time. Instead, extremes of climates will become more extreme, and the overall nature of Earth’s climate will shift dramatically.)

For example, from this great New York Times piece:

Especially lately. China is enduring its coldest winter in nearly 30 years. Brazil is in the grip of a dreadful heat spell. Eastern Russia is so freezing — minus 50 degrees Fahrenheit, and counting — that the traffic lights recently stopped working in the city of Yakutsk.

Bush fires are raging across Australia, fueled by a record-shattering heat wave. Pakistan was inundated by unexpected flooding in September. A vicious storm bringing rain, snow and floods just struck the Middle East. And in the United States, scientists confirmed this week what people could have figured out simply by going outside: last year was the hottest since records began.

“Each year we have extreme weather, but it’s unusual to have so many extreme events around the world at once,” said Omar Baddour, chief of the data management applications division at the World Meteorological Organization, in Geneva. “The heat wave in Australia; the flooding in the U.K., and most recently the flooding and extensive snowstorm in the Middle East — it’s already a big year in terms of extreme weather calamity.”