The Boeing 787

Boeing is in the process of launching (finally, after delays) its latest aircraft, the Boeing 787 Dreamliner. This is the first new major jet launched since the Airbus A380, and of course, has me interested in many ways.

Of course, on a personal-professional level (if that term makes any sense, which I have a feeling it doesn’t—anyway, I work with composite materials, remember?) the B787 is mostly made out of composites. Mostly out of carbon-fiber laminates; some out of carbon fiber sandwiches—use of metal (titanium and aluminum) is minimal.

Second, I just love the wing design. The sweep and curve upward of the wings is just beautiful. Also, it is a vast improvement over the last generation of wing-tips, which looked as if from a design perspective they were a later ‘add-on’ to a previous, flat shape. Here, finally, is a smooth, elegant, downright beautiful wing shape!

I also found this link to the B787’s design highlights. It’s an informative page, do check it out. (For information about the composites being used, go to Visionary Design→Composites.)

From the link above, I learn (among other things):

  • There is a very futuristic HUD (Head-Up Display) in front of the pilots which combines what the pilot actually sees with other useful information that the pilot needs. I’ve seen things like these in Fighter Aircraft simulations, but is this the first time it’s being used commercially?
  • The B787 is not a very large aircraft! I had inherently assumed that the plane would be B747 or A380 scale (i.e. a pretty big plane), but it’s not—it can carry a maximum of about 300 passengers, compared to the B747’s ~400 and the A380’s 525 in three classes.
  • The internal air pressure of the aircraft will correspond to a lower altitude (6000ft, as compared to 8000ft in earlier aircraft), and will have higher moisture content—meaning a more comfortable flight!

Now, what remains is for the major airlines to buy these and put them into service.

Ph.D. Candidate’?

So, I’ve defended my Ph.D. Preliminary Exam (phew), and what lies ahead are the defense of my thesis proposal, and the final Ph.D. Dissertation Defense, of course.

Does this mean I can now call myself a ‘Ph.D. Candidate’, as opposed to a Ph.D. student? Is there a difference in connotation? I’m not really sure about the protocols involved.

If you happen to know the norms (or lack of them), leave a comment, will you?

☛ When Galaxies collide…

A composite image created by combining data from the Chandra X-Ray Observatory and the Hubble Space telescope, this is a stunning image of two galaxies colliding. Both of them are spiral galaxies, and they are on the verge of a collision—with their disks oriented at 90 degrees to each other!

Well, “on the verge” is in galactic time scales, which means they’ll collide in a few million years. And considering that this is 450 million lightyears away from us, the event has already occurred—we just haven’t seen it yet.

A detailed description of the image is present as a caption with the photo itself. Go see it!

Choosing passwords

To the modern web user, passwords are usually a nightmare, especially with the modern trend of “your password must contain every possible category of keys”. Well, how effective is that sort of thing?

Here’s a take on that.

(By the way, a measure of a great publication of any sort is when you end up “liking” and “sharing” most of its content. XKCD is one such.)

Of course, the flip side of the argument in the comic is: most users don’t think of random sequences of words, but most often come up with the easiest-to-guess phrases. In this case, some security is better than no security.

(Oh, and don’t forget to mouseover over the comic itself. And do that over every xkcd comic. You’re welcome.)

The Robot that flies like a bird

We’ve always wanted to fly, haven’t we? We’ve watched the birds in the sky, and thought, “Wish we could fly—just like them!” We’ve succeeded; we’ve built out flying machines; we’ve flown in the air.

But not like a bird.

The way a bird flies is quite complex, and difficult to implement in human flight. We’ve devised alternate methods—jet engines and rigid wings. But finally, technology and mathematics have caught up, and we have a robot that flies just like a bird—by flapping its wings!

Of course, this is no easy feat. Bird flight is very efficient, and the shape of the wings, position of feathers (used as “flight controllers”), mechanics of the flapping motion—all of it combines to give the languid end result of a bird in flight. Imagine—the mechanical bird in the video apparently runs at 80% efficiency! (That’s a very high figure.)

Having said that, I hope we don’t fixate ourselves with perfecting bird flight per se. It’s great to master the technology; it’s great to be able to make working devices out of that technology; hopefully they’ll be able to make it even at larger scales, while keeping the same high efficiency. But the whole idea of biomimetics, I think, should be bio-inspiration, not bio-copy.

After all, nature has chosen certain mechanisms for its processes—but they don’t signify the best possible methods. They only signify the techniques that were found to do the job. Since it did the job efficiently, it stuck through the evolutionary chain. But had an even better mechanism been “stumbled upon”, then that would be the technology we’d be trying to copy and develop!

All I’m saying is: let’s learn the technology perfectly, and then let’s make it our own. Let’s fly even better than the birds.