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Mountek MK5000 CD Slot Mount

After I bought my Android smart phone, it is naturally that I am going to play mp3 and navigate with the built-in GPS when I am driving. Therefore I need to buy a phone mount to hold the smart phone inside the car. There are only two types of phone mount in the market, suction cup that sticks to the wind shield or flimsy clips that clips on to the air ventilation. I am not happy with both solutions, the former one blocks my view and the later one blocks the wind.

I did some search on eBay and Google and come across this one of its kind phone mount, the Mountek MK5000 that mounts on the CD slot. Since I no longer use the CD player, the space in front of CD player is pretty useless. It is the perfect place to mount my smart phone. It does not block anything other than the useless CD player. The MK5000 phone mount is very sturdy, it has an adjustable blade than I can slide inside the CD slot and lock it tight. The mount support vertical and horizontal rotation for easy screen rotation. It has spring loaded adjustable arms that fits devices of different size.

I have been using the mount for a couple of months and it works very well. Every day when I hop into my car, I place my smart phone onto the mount. The only disadvantage of the mount is its price. A cheap made-in-China phone mount costs less than $10, sometimes you can even get one as low as $5. The Mountek MK5000 is currently selling for $20 at eBay. Although it is more expensive, the design and the quality of the product worth the premiums price.

3D Printing, The printed world

This is the end of Bandai. Who would buy over priced plastic model if you can print your own Gundam? Probably it will be the end of ToyR’us too.

By Feb 10th 2011, Economist
Three-dimensional printing from digital designs will transform manufacturing and allow more people to start making things

FILTON, just outside Bristol, is where Britain’s fleet of Concorde supersonic airliners was built. In a building near a wind tunnel on the same sprawling site, something even more remarkable is being created. Little by little a machine is “printing” a complex titanium landing-gear bracket, about the size of a shoe, which normally would have to be laboriously hewn from a solid block of metal. Brackets are only the beginning. The researchers at Filton have a much bigger ambition: to print the entire wing of an airliner.

Far-fetched as this may seem, many other people are using three-dimensional printing technology to create similarly remarkable things. These include medical implants, jewellery, football boots designed for individual feet, lampshades, racing-car parts, solid-state batteries and customised mobile phones. Some are even making mechanical devices. At the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Peter Schmitt, a PhD student, has been printing something that resembles the workings of a grandfather clock. It took him a few attempts to get right, but eventually he removed the plastic clock from a 3D printer, hung it on the wall and pulled down the counterweight. It started ticking.

Engineers and designers have been using 3D printers for more than a decade, but mostly to make prototypes quickly and cheaply before they embark on the expensive business of tooling up a factory to produce the real thing. As 3D printers have become more capable and able to work with a broader range of materials, including production-grade plastics and metals, the machines are increasingly being used to make final products too. More than 20% of the output of 3D printers is now final products rather than prototypes, according to Terry Wohlers, who runs a research firm specialising in the field. He predicts that this will rise to 50% by 2020.

Using 3D printers as production tools has become known in industry as “additive” manufacturing (as opposed to the old, “subtractive” business of cutting, drilling and bashing metal). The additive process requires less raw material and, because software drives 3D printers, each item can be made differently without costly retooling. The printers can also produce ready-made objects that require less assembly and things that traditional methods would struggle with—such as the glove pictured above, made by Within Technologies, a London company. It can be printed in nylon, stainless steel or titanium.

The printing of parts and products has the potential to transform manufacturing because it lowers the costs and risks. No longer does a producer have to make thousands, or hundreds of thousands, of items to recover his fixed costs. In a world where economies of scale do not matter any more, mass-manufacturing identical items may not be necessary or appropriate, especially as 3D printing allows for a great deal of customisation. Indeed, in the future some see consumers downloading products as they do digital music and printing them out at home, or at a local 3D production centre, having tweaked the designs to their own tastes. That is probably a faraway dream. Nevertheless, a new industrial revolution may be on the way.

Printing in 3D may seem bizarre. In fact it is similar to clicking on the print button on a computer screen and sending a digital file, say a letter, to an inkjet printer. The difference is that the “ink” in a 3D printer is a material which is deposited in successive, thin layers until a solid object emerges.

The layers are defined by software that takes a series of digital slices through a computer-aided design. Descriptions of the slices are then sent to the 3D printer to construct the respective layers. They are then put together in a number of ways. Powder can be spread onto a tray and then solidified in the required pattern with a squirt of a liquid binder or by sintering it with a laser or an electron beam. Some machines deposit filaments of molten plastic. However it is achieved, after each layer is complete the build tray is lowered by a fraction of a millimetre and the next layer is added.
And when you’re happy, click print

The researchers at Filton began using 3D printers to produce prototype parts for wind-tunnel testing. The group is part of EADS Innovation Works, the research arm of EADS, a European defence and aerospace group best known for building Airbuses. Prototype parts tend to be very expensive to make as one-offs by conventional means. Because their 3D printers could do the job more efficiently, the researchers’ thoughts turned to manufacturing components directly.

Aircraft-makers have already replaced a lot of the metal in the structure of planes with lightweight carbon-fibre composites. But even a small airliner still contains several tonnes of costly aerospace-grade titanium. These parts have usually been machined from solid billets, which can result in 90% of the material being cut away. This swarf is no longer of any use for making aircraft.

To make the same part with additive manufacturing, EADS starts with a titanium powder. The firm’s 3D printers spread a layer about 20-30 microns (0.02-0.03mm) thick onto a tray where it is fused by lasers or an electron beam. Any surplus powder can be reused. Some objects may need a little machining to finish, but they still require only 10% of the raw material that would otherwise be needed. Moreover, the process uses less energy than a conventional factory. It is sometimes faster, too.

There are other important benefits. Most metal and plastic parts are designed to be manufactured, which means they can be clunky and contain material surplus to the part’s function but necessary for making it. This is not true of 3D printing. “You only put material where you need to have material,” says Andy Hawkins, lead engineer on the EADS project. The parts his team is making are more svelte, even elegant. This is because without manufacturing constraints they can be better optimised for their purpose. Compared with a machined part, the printed one is some 60% lighter but still as sturdy.

Lightness is critical in making aircraft. A reduction of 1kg in the weight of an airliner will save around $3,000-worth of fuel a year and by the same token cut carbon-dioxide emissions. Additive manufacturing could thus help build greener aircraft—especially if all the 1,000 or so titanium parts in an airliner can be printed. Although the size of printable parts is limited for now by the size of 3D printers, the EADS group believes that bigger systems are possible, including one that could fit on the 35-metre-long gantry used to build composite airliner wings. This would allow titanium components to be printed directly onto the structure of the wing.

Many believe that the enhanced performance of additively manufactured items will be the most important factor in driving the technology forward. It certainly is for MIT’s Mr Schmitt, whose interest lies in “original machines”. These are devices not constructed from a collection of prefabricated parts, but created in a form that flows from the intention of the design. If that sounds a bit arty, it is: Mr Schmitt is a former art student from Germany who used to cadge time on factory lathes and milling machines to make mechanised sculptures. He is now working on novel servo mechanisms, the basic building blocks for robots. Custom-made servos cost many times the price of off-the-shelf ones. Mr Schmitt says it should be possible for a robot builder to specify what a servo needs to do, rather than how it needs to be made, and send that information to a 3D printer, and for the machine’s software to know how to produce it at a low cost. “This makes manufacturing more accessible,” says Mr Schmitt.

The idea of the 3D printer determining the form of the items it produces intrigues Neri Oxman, an architect and designer who heads a research group examining new ways to make things at MIT’s Media Lab. She is building a printer to explore how new designs could be produced. Dr Oxman believes the design and construction of objects could be transformed using principles inspired by nature, resulting in shapes that are impossible to build without additive manufacturing. She has made items from sculpture to body armour and is even looking at buildings, erected with computer-guided nozzles that deposit successive layers of concrete.

Some 3D systems allow the properties and internal structure of the material being printed to be varied. This year, for instance, Within Technologies expects to begin offering titanium medical implants with features that resemble bone. The company’s femur implant is dense where stiffness and strength is required, but it also has strong lattice structures which would encourage the growth of bone onto the implant. Such implants are more likely to stay put than conventional ones.

Working at such a fine level of internal detail allows the stiffness and flexibility of an object to be determined at any point, says Siavash Mahdavi, the chief executive of Within Technologies. Dr Mahdavi is working on other lattice structures, including aerodynamic body parts for racing cars and special insoles for a firm that hopes to make the world’s most comfortable stiletto-heeled shoes.

Digital Forming, a related company (where Dr Mahdavi is chief technology officer), uses 3D design software to help consumers customise mass-produced products. For example, it is offering a service to mobile-phone companies in which subscribers can go online to change the shape, colour and other features of the case of their new phone. The software keeps the user within the bounds of the achievable. Once the design is submitted the casing is printed. Lisa Harouni, the company’s managing director, says the process could be applied to almost any consumer product, from jewellery to furniture. “I don’t have any doubt that this technology will change the way we manufacture things,” she says.

Other services allow individuals to upload their own designs and have them printed. Shapeways, a New York-based firm spun out of Philips, a Dutch electronics company, last year, offers personalised 3D production, or “mass customisation”, as Peter Weijmarshausen, its chief executive, describes it. Shapeways prints more than 10,000 unique products every month from materials that range from stainless steel to glass, plastics and sandstone. Customers include individuals and shopkeepers, many ordering jewellery, gifts and gadgets to sell in their stores.

EOS, a German supplier of laser-sintering 3D printers, says they are already being used to make plastic and metal production parts by carmakers, aerospace firms and consumer-products companies. And by dentists: up to 450 dental crowns, each tailored for an individual patient, can be manufactured in one go in a day by a single machine, says EOS. Some craft producers of crowns would do well to manage a dozen a day. As an engineering exercise, EOS also printed the parts for a violin using a high-performance industrial polymer, had it assembled by a professional violin-maker and played by a concert violinist.

Both EOS and Stratasys, a company based in Minneapolis which makes 3D printers that employ plastic-deposition technology, use their own machines to print parts that are, in turn, used to build more printers. Stratasys is even trying to print a car, or at least the body of one, for Kor Ecologic, a company in Winnipeg, whose boss, Jim Kor, is developing an electric-hybrid vehicle called Urbee.
Jim Kor’s printed the model. Next, the car

Making low-volume, high-value and customised components is all very well, but could additive manufacturing really compete with mass-production techniques that have been honed for over a century? Established techniques are unlikely to be swept away, but it is already clear that the factories of the future will have 3D printers working alongside milling machines, presses, foundries and plastic injection-moulding equipment, and taking on an increasing amount of the work done by those machines.

Morris Technologies, based in Cincinnati, was one of the first companies to invest heavily in additive manufacturing for the engineering and production services it offers to companies. Its first intention was to make prototypes quickly, but by 2007 the company says it realised “a new industry was being born” and so it set up another firm, Rapid Quality Manufacturing, to concentrate on the additive manufacturing of higher volumes of production parts. It says many small and medium-sized components can be turned from computer designs into production-quality metal parts in hours or days, against days or weeks using traditional processes. And the printers can build unattended, 24 hours a day.

Neil Hopkinson has no doubts that 3D printing will compete with mass manufacturing in many areas. His team at Loughborough University has invented a high-speed sintering system. It uses inkjet print-heads to deposit infra-red-absorbing ink on layers of polymer powder which are fused into solid shapes with infra-red heating. Among other projects, the group is examining the potential for making plastic buckles for Burton Snowboards, a leading American producer of winter-sports equipment. Such items are typically produced by plastic injection-moulding. Dr Hopkinson says his process can make them for ten pence (16 cents) each, which is highly competitive with injection-moulding. Moreover, the designs could easily be changed without Burton incurring high retooling costs.

Predicting how quickly additive manufacturing will be taken up by industry is difficult, adds Dr Hopkinson. That is not necessarily because of the conservative nature of manufacturers, but rather because some processes have already moved surprisingly fast. Only a few years ago making decorative lampshades with 3D printers seemed to be a highly unlikely business, but it has become an industry with many competing firms and sales volumes in the thousands.

Dr Hopkinson thinks Loughborough’s process is already competitive with injection-moulding at production runs of around 1,000 items. With further development he expects that within five years it would be competitive in runs of tens if not hundreds of thousands. Once 3D printing machines are able to crank out products in such numbers, then more manufacturers will look to adopt the technology.

Will Sillar of Legerwood, a British firm of consultants, expects to see the emergence of what he calls the “digital production plant”: firms will no longer need so much capital tied up in tooling costs, work-in-progress and raw materials, he says. Moreover, the time to take a digital design from concept to production will drop, he believes, by as much as 50-80%. The ability to overcome production constraints and make new things will combine with improvements to the technology and greater mechanisation to make 3D printing more mainstream. “The market will come to the technology,” Mr Sillar says.

Some in the industry believe that the effect of 3D printing on manufacturing will be analogous to that of the inkjet printer on document printing. The written word became the printed word with the invention of movable-type printing by Johannes Gutenberg in the 15th century. Printing presses became like mass-production machines, highly efficient at printing lots of copies of the same thing but not individual documents. The inkjet printer made that a lot easier, cheaper and more personal. Inkjet devices now perform a multitude of printing roles, from books on demand to labels and photographs, even though traditional presses still roll for large runs of books, newspapers and so on.

How would this translate to manufacturing? Most obviously, it changes the economics of making customised components. If a company needs a specialised part, it may find it cheaper and quicker to have the part printed locally or even to print its own than to order one from a supplier a long way away. This is more likely when rapid design changes are needed.

Printing in 3D is not the preserve of the West: Chinese companies are adopting the technology too. Yet you might infer that some manufacturing will return to the West from cheap centres of production in China and elsewhere. This possibility was on the agenda of a conference organised by DHL last year. The threat to the logistics firm’s business is clear: why would a company airfreight an urgently needed spare part from abroad when it could print one where it is required?
Our TQ article explains the technology behind the 3-D printing process

Perhaps the most exciting aspect of additive manufacturing is that it lowers the cost of entry into the business of making things. Instead of finding the money to set up a factory or asking a mass-producer at home (or in another country) to make something for you, 3D printers will offer a cheaper, less risky route to the market. An entrepreneur could run off one or two samples with a 3D printer to see if his idea works. He could make a few more to see if they sell, and take in design changes that buyers ask for. If things go really well, he could scale up—with conventional mass production or an enormous 3D print run.

This suggests that success in manufacturing will depend less on scale and more on the quality of ideas. Brilliance alone, though, will not be enough. Good ideas can be copied even more rapidly with 3D printing, so battles over intellectual property may become even more intense. It will be easier for imitators as well as innovators to get goods to market fast. Competitive advantages may thus be shorter-lived than ever before. As with past industrial revolutions, the greatest beneficiaries may not be companies but their customers. But whoever gains most, revolution may not be too strong a word.

中文起義 – 陳雲

「中文起義」是陳雲中文系列的最新著作﹐閱讀中文系列已經成為我習慣﹐每次讀完陳雲總覺得我的文筆有進步﹐雖然很可能只是在自我感覺良好。這本書照舊收錄陳雲在報紙的文章﹐根據書中的序言所說﹐陳雲的文章得了罪地產商被封殺﹐報紙收入依靠賣樓廣告﹐於是他在報紙的地盤不保﹐下一本書恐怕不知何時才能出版。

我第一次看這本書時﹐讀完水過鴨背沒有什麼印象﹐只覺得與舊作大同少異。現在執筆寫書評﹐重新把這書翻看一篇﹐才看到這書的優點。這本不是純萃的消閒讀物﹐而是學習寫好中文的參考範例。書中的文章除了執正壞鬼中文﹐一半篇幅是香港政治評論。陳雲的評論很大路﹐缺乏創新性的見解﹐盡管作者帶出很多有趣的冷知識﹐組織鬆散讓讀者找不到重點。他文章的評論有點似分析哲學﹐著重釐清既念和語理分析﹐折穿政府文宣背後的大話﹐正所謂名不正則言不順。初看時我把注意力放在評論和冷知識上﹐完全捉錯了用神。陳雲的專長是中文﹐政治評論只是配菜﹐文章中對政府宣傳﹐地產和減肥廣告﹐報紙報導﹐逐句逐句分析修正﹐才是這本書的精華。借用哲學家Foucault的語言和權力論述﹐語文影響我們的思想﹐文字是權力的工具。陳雲藉著書中的例子﹐喚醒我們被政府文字麻痺的思想﹐展現優雅文字傳達思想的威力。

書本分為四個部份﹐第一部份針對政府政黨的宣傳﹐從宣傳文稿字裏行間中﹐找出不經意洩漏的深層想法。他從修正沙石和對比舊日的文件﹐說出用詞與氣度的關連。第二部份針對廣告文字﹐從私人住宅名稱演變中的典故﹐見證香港文化風俗的歷史﹐從陽它廣告到陰宅廣告﹐陳雲挑出粗劣的廣告文字﹐出手修正用語挽救斯文。以前讀書時﹐老師叫我們多讀報紙學好中文﹐現在連報紙的中文水準也一落千丈。第三部份陳雲借用新聞報導﹐培養讀者優雅中文的鑑賞能力。報導中使用不同的辭語﹐將會表達不同的意思﹐這些微細的分別﹐往往基於報紙或記者的立場。在最後幾篇文章﹐陳雲繼續堅守保衛古雅中文的代言人身份﹐對抗大陸的劣等中文﹐提倡回到古文學習典雅中文之道。

閱讀陳雲的文章﹐日常生活中隨手拈來爛文字﹐到了他手中皆可成為中文教材。寫一好文章猶如一篇好報導﹐也要用層層遞進的手法﹐去吸引讀者的思路。善用對仗等修辭手法﹐增添文章的辭彩﹐令文章讀來活靈活現。

不乖 – 候文詠

上年到台北旅行回程時﹐身上還剩下少許台幣﹐反正帶回家也沒有用﹐在機場候機時逛書店﹐剛剛好夠買候文詠這本「不乖」。我沒有拜讀過他的小說﹐只知道他是台灣的著名作家﹐作品「白色巨塔」曾改篇為電視劇﹐捧紅了F4的言承旭﹐不過我也同樣沒有看過。這本書是候文詠的人生哲學﹐收錄了他的八篇文章。他的文章很容易讀﹐一點道理配一點故事﹐雖然有些是老生常談﹐但閱讀時也有讓我反思﹐問我自己有否做到。

第一篇點題文章「不乖」﹐我以前在網絡上讀過﹐我對他的觀點十分讚同﹐於是有賣這本書的興趣﹐網絡上免費傳來傳去的東西﹐可是最強的廣告。我小時候很不喜歡被稱讚乖﹐在我心目中乖是笨的同義詞。候文詠把乖定義為順服﹐循規道矩聽聽話話﹐盲目地追隨主流。不乖並不等於盲目反叛﹐而是要經過思考才得出答案﹐這個經過懷疑然後知道了的過程是十分重要﹐讓我們擁有適應環境的能力。

第二篇文章「認真拼不過迷戀」﹐道理說白了便是說﹐要做好一件事情﹐必先要喜歡上它。夾硬去認真努力做一件事情不能持久﹐只要迷戀上就會發自內心的認真。候文詠有提到迷戀和耽溺的分便﹐迷戀是躉向美好人生的動力﹐不過如果能夠這樣理性思考﹐也不會有耽溺的壞習慣了。至於如何才能養成良好迷戀﹐他卻完全沒有提及。舉了自己喜歡寫作做例子﹐他自己當了大作家﹐能夠把嗜好發展成迷戀﹐然又幸運地取得成功﹐那可是萬中無一的特例啊。

第三篇文章「成功那有失敗好」﹐道理是成功招自滿﹐自滿招失敗。文章談論他面對失敗的方法﹐把失敗視作挑戰﹐從難度低至高拾級而上﹐以嬉而勤的態度快樂地接受失敗。不知道台灣中文的用詞是否不同﹐我認為他說的失敗﹐其實是指我們說的挫折。或許他想說是不要著眼於一時三刻的成功或失敗﹐要把目標放眼於是一生人的成功。

第四篇文章「想事情要用自己的腦袋」﹐道理與我讀碩士做研究時領悟一樣﹐好的問題比標準答案重要得多。答案是封閉式﹐問問題是開放式﹐這才是獲得知識的能力。後半篇文章講思考方法﹐大慨與哲學科入門教的差不多。文章中最有趣是講作者小時候﹐想方法去求證冰箱的殺菌燈在關門後會亮著﹐保持好奇心是問問題的先決條件。

第五篇文章「知道是一回事﹐做到又是另一回事」﹐四個字可以總結這篇文章﹐知易行難。把知道化為行動的方法﹐便是構思和規劃﹐把複雜的事情﹐拆細為簡單的步逐﹐然後專注於每一步。Divide and conquer的思維練訓﹐那是我在工程系學到最有用的東西。

第六篇文章「別讓快樂輸在起跑線上」﹐內容沒有什麼新意﹐可以跳過不說。

第七篇文章「從眼界到視野」﹐眼界只是知道了的知識﹐視野便是內化明白了的知識﹐光是知道沒有用﹐必需融入思考中﹐才可以拿出來用。

第八篇文章「人文是為了追求連結」﹐我認為是鬼扯之作﹐求其找幾個有點喻意的故事﹐胡亂地放在一起﹐然後加句似是疑非大道理作總結。

這本書開頭寫得好﹐特別是「不乖」這一篇文章﹐可是越寫下去越無新意﹐有一點點讓我失望。最大問題是他常用自己作例子﹐但他可是從醫生轉行當大作家的特殊例子﹐雖然他只是想和讀者分享心得﹐但我總是覺得他有點兒在曬命﹐而不是客觀地說成功人生的通則。這本書值不值二百五十新台幣呢﹖老實說我認為不太值﹐文章在網上找看便可以了。

Turning garbage into gas

Why burn or bury garbage when you can vaporize them and turn garbage into electricity? This is the solution for landfill.

Feb 3rd 2011, Economist
Atomising trash eliminates the need to dump it, and generates useful power too

DISPOSING of household rubbish is not, at first glance, a task that looks amenable to high-tech solutions. But Hilburn Hillestad of Geoplasma, a firm based in Atlanta, Georgia, begs to differ. Burying trash—the usual way of disposing of the stuff—is old-fashioned and polluting. Instead, Geoplasma, part of a conglomerate called the Jacoby Group, proposes to tear it into its constituent atoms with electricity. It is clean. It is modern. And, what is more, it might even be profitable.

For years, some particularly toxic types of waste, such as the sludge from oil refineries, have been destroyed with artificial lightning from electric plasma torches—devices that heat matter to a temperature higher than that of the sun’s surface. Until recently this has been an expensive process, costing as much as $2,000 per tonne of waste, according to SRL Plasma, an Australian firm that has manufactured torches for 13 of the roughly two dozen plants around the world that work this way.

Now, though, costs are coming down. Moreover, it has occurred to people such as Dr Hillestad that the process could be used to generate power as well as consuming it. Appropriately tweaked, the destruction of organic materials (including paper and plastics) by plasma torches produces a mixture of carbon monoxide and hydrogen called syngas. That, in turn, can be burned to generate electricity. Add in the value of the tipping fees that do not have to be paid if rubbish is simply vaporised, plus the fact that energy prices in general are rising, and plasma torches start to look like a plausible alternative to burial.
Related topics

The technology has got better, too. The core of a plasma torch is a pair of electrodes, usually made from a nickel-based alloy. A current arcs between them and turns the surrounding air into a plasma by stripping electrons from their parent atoms. Waste (chopped up into small pieces if it is solid) is fed into this plasma. The heat and electric charges of the plasma break the chemical bonds in the waste, vaporising it. Then, if the mix of waste is correct, the carbon and oxygen atoms involved recombine to form carbon monoxide and the hydrogen atoms link up into diatomic hydrogen molecules. Both of these are fuels (they burn in air to form carbon dioxide and water, respectively). Metals and other inorganic materials that do not turn into gas fall to the bottom of the chamber as molten slag. Once it has cooled, this slag can be used to make bricks or to pave roads.

Electric arcs are a harsh environment to operate in, and early plasma torches were not noted for reliability. These days, though, the quality of the nickel alloys has improved so that the torches work continuously. On top of that, developments in a field called computational fluid dynamics allow the rubbish going into the process to be mixed in a way that produces the most syngas for the least input of electricity.

The first rubbish-to-syngas plants were built almost a decade ago, in Japan—where land scarcity means tipping fees are particularly high. Now the idea is moving elsewhere. This year Geoplasma plans to start constructing a plant costing $120m in St Lucie County, Florida. It will be fed with waste from local households and should create enough syngas to make electricity for more than 20,000 homes. The company reckons it can make enough money from the project to service the debt incurred in constructing the plant and still provide a profit from the beginning.

Nor is Geoplasma alone. More than three dozen other American firms are proposing plasma-torch syngas plants, according to Gershman, Brickner & Bratton, a waste consultancy based in Fairfax, Virginia. Demand is so great that the Westinghouse Plasma Corporation, an American manufacturer of plasma torches, is able to hire out its test facility in Madison, Pennsylvania, for $150,000 a day.

Syngas can also be converted into other things. The “syn” is short for “synthesis” and syngas was once an important industrial raw material. The rise of the petrochemical industry has rather eclipsed it, but it may become important again. One novel proposal, by Coskata, a firm based in Warrenville, Illinois, is to ferment it into ethanol, for use as vehicle fuel. At the moment Coskata uses a plasma torch to make syngas from waste wood and wood-pulp, but modifying the apparatus to take household waste should not be too hard.

Even if efforts to convert such waste into syngas fail, existing plants that use plasma torches to destroy more hazardous material could be modified to take advantage of the idea. The Beijing Victex Environmental Science and Technology Development Company, for example, uses the torches to destroy sludge from Chinese oil refineries. According to Fiona Qian, the firm’s deputy manager, the high cost of doing this means some refineries are still dumping toxic waste in landfills. Stopping that sort of thing by bringing the price down would be a good thing by itself.

涼宮春日的消失

早幾年「涼宮春日」曾捲起一陣輕小說改篇動畫的旋風﹐我也曾經迷上為這套經典作品﹐看完動畫還覺得不夠喉﹐要追看補完當時已出版的所有小說。可是涼宮動畫版第二季卻珊珊來遲﹐而原著小說系列的水準也江河日下﹐故事沒有進展只是不停無聊地拖劇情﹐我對涼官熱潮慢慢冷卻掉。到第二季動畫版是﹐還搞出了「無止境八月事件」﹐連續八集內容完全一樣﹐只是分鏡作畫不同的集數﹐讓我涼宮對徹底失望。想不到京尼阿卻宣佈涼官劇情版﹐把被公認為系列最精彩的小說「涼宮春日的消失」搬上大銀幕。

涼宮春日這類輕小說﹐寫作手法是一向以人物為中心﹐今次則反過來以劇情帶動人物。之前數本小說舖排幾位主角的性格﹐促成今次消失的事件﹐亦因為經歷了這事件﹐SOS團中眾人的關係產生微妙的變化。這套動畫是拍給涼宮的粉絲看的﹐之前沒有接觸過涼宮系列的觀眾﹐或許會以旁觀者身份感到故事很有趣﹐但不會感受到阿虛那份傍偟﹐不會對另一個性格長門同時感到陌生但又覺得熟識。平時涼宮的故事圍繞著涼宮一人身上團團轉﹐這次涼宮消失了沒有太多戲份﹐長門倒成為正印女主角﹐迷倒一眾長門大明神的信徒。

故事最吸引人的地方﹐是沒有直接描寫長門的心情﹐在涼宮存在的世界﹐長門本就是很少流露感情的人型電腦﹐在涼宮消失後的世界﹐她從無所不能的長門大明神﹐變成平凡害羞內向的文學少女﹐更沒有留下對舊世界的任何記憶。觀眾只能從過去對長門的認識﹐憑著在消失事件發生發生後﹐舊世界在新長門身上殘留的影像﹐舊長門為阿虛留下來的線索﹐去推搞猜想長門是抱著什麼想法﹐來推動這個改變世界的計畫。在之前無止境的八月事件﹐長門重覆地過著同一個暑假長達數萬年﹐在這漫長的歲月裏﹐她漸漸地對阿虛產生感情﹐心中不禁嚮往過沒有外星人﹐沒有未來人﹐沒有異能者的的平凡高中生活。她藉著涼宮的能力改變世界﹐在正常世界中涼宮不再是神﹐只是一個愛幻想的女生﹐她自己則坐在文學活動室的一角﹐默默地等待意中人來到身邊。

或許長門把愛看得通透﹐她改變了全世界﹐甚至改變了自己﹐但她沒有改變阿虛。他還是舊世界的那個自己﹐只有他還帶著舊世界的記憶﹐仍然是長門喜歡的那一個人。一直以來阿虛總是抱怨被捲入莫名其妙的事件﹐長門讓他在兩個世界間作出選擇。小說沒有說明阿虛的心理﹐但我懷疑他選擇回到舊世界的理由﹐並不只是單純扺受不住在涼宮身旁邊就有古怪事件發生的有趣生活﹐而是他不能接受到新世界中涼宮與古泉成了一對。在舊世界中阿虛對三個女孩也有好感﹐雖然沒然說出來但他心底裏最著緊的還是涼宮。不過那可能只是我一廂情願的猜想﹐真正原因是不回到舊世界﹐作者便沒有戲可以唱下去了﹐總不成把涼宮系列變為校園愛情小說吧。

照目前的情況看來﹐涼宮春日小說恐怕最終會爛尾收場﹐作者開了一大票主線卻不知怎完結﹐大慨開頭時沒有想過應如何結束吧。或許「涼宮春日的消失」劇情版﹐正好為涼宮動畫畫上一個完美句號﹐在這時完結讓觀眾留下美好的印象﹐總好過死拖爛拖到沒有人氣時才被砍掉。

志明與春嬌

每次怪雞導演彭浩翔上映新片﹐我總一定會捧場。近年他人紅了﹐電影風格催向自我﹐有時不免脫離觀眾群。「志明與春嬌」的意念很有創意﹐借香港政府推行禁煙後﹐男女煙民被迫上街頭煲煙﹐圍著煙灰盔打邊爐發生的愛情故事。可惜電影只是把一段段趣味小插曲堆砌起來﹐未能夠把故事完整地表達出來﹐我還是比較喜歡當年拍「買兇拍人」和「大丈夫」的那個彭浩翔。

電影是宣傳噱頭是楊千嬅第一次拍三級片﹐當然天后不會色情露肉。這套電影被定為三級片﹐是因為戲內粗口滿天飛﹐劇中角色不論男女經常爆粗。電檢處也太過道德潔癖﹐粗口已是日常生活的一部份﹐在街頭巷尾隨處可以聽到﹐細路仔不用看電影也會懂﹐不教也會壞就不用禁了。不過可能我身在外地與香港脫節﹐片中的男女好歹也是做寫字樓的白領斯文人﹐怎麼會滿嘴粗口像地盤佬呢。

雖然整體上電影失手﹐但片中有幾個笑位很到肉。最精彩一段是余交樂評論網上交友為世紀騙案﹐女方網上的相片與真人差天共地﹐嚇得從台灣過來會佳人的男網友慌落而逃。片尾那段解釋余文樂與楊千嬅開房﹐他沒有乘人之危飛擒大咬的真正原因﹐絕對是讓人拍案叫絕的神來之筆。片中的模疑記錄片﹐訪問劇中人對愛情的看法﹐很有張小嫻式的sound bite爛gag。電影中主角兩人短訊傳情﹐把n 55!w ﹗上下倒轉來讀變成I miss u這個橋子很浪漫。可是其他的短訊因為鏡頭關係﹐常常看不到電話螢幕中的內容﹐不免影響觀眾對電影的投入。

不知道是否只我的個人問題﹐還是年紀大不懂香港年輕人的愛情世界﹐我對電影中的愛情觀完全沒有共鳴﹐主角兩人的行為完全不可理喻。楊千嬅有穩定男友﹐煲煙時認識了余文樂﹐毫無理由便無啦啦出軌﹐還主動勾引余文樂﹐都不知是什麼心態。余文樂女友另結新歡被拋棄﹐楊千嬅主動送上門又對她不冷不熱﹐都不知道他們在片中那七日時間﹐如何發展出一段令人信服的感情。不過楊千嬅年紀比我還老﹐應該不關代溝的問題﹐大慨這只是編劇憑空創造﹐完全脫離現實的愛情童話。

哲學功課﹕Proofing the Existence of External World

苖卡兒(Descartes)說﹕我思故我在。雖然我們可以肯定自己的存在﹐但如何可以證明在我們思想以外的世界也是存在呢﹖如何去證明人生不是一場夢﹐不是只有獨自一個人的意識漂浮在虛無之中。這篇哲學功課的題目﹐大慨正好對號入座哲學給一般人的印象﹐怎麼哲學問這個無聊的問題。其實這個問題只是大問題的其中一環﹐問世界存在的本質是什麼。這篇功課對比了Moore和Russell兩位哲學家的論證﹐前者從康德(Kant)以理論為起點﹐推論出在人與人的意識以外﹐必然存在一個外在的世界。後者則把問題反過來﹐質疑為什麼不接受世界存在﹐畢竟認為世界不存在的人精神有問題。最搞笑是話說某次Russell講學﹐其中有一個聽眾相信世界不存在﹐那當然除他以外的其他人也不會存在。可是他聽得半桶以為Russell在認同他的觀點﹐演講完畢走上台對Russell說﹐他很高興聽到有人認同他認為其他人不存在的觀點﹐一個多麼的自相多盾的說法。我證明世界存在的論証很簡單﹐如果世界不存在的話﹐我就不需要寫這篇文章交功課﹐教授也不需要花時間去改功課。既然我寫了這篇文章出來﹐教授又要花間去改﹐那就證明了世界是存在的了。

In this essay, I am going to evaluate Moore’s and Russell’s proof of the existence of external world. I will first outline Moore’s argument and Russell’s argument respectively. Then I will point out the difference in the scope of claim in the two arguments. Moore’s argument asserts a smaller scope of claim than Russell’s, thus it is more defendable. Furthermore, I will propose counter examples to nullify Russell’s argument. At last, I am going to propose my proof to the existence of external world to address the shortcomings in both Russell and Moore’s argument.

On the surface, Moore’s argument is surprise simple. It is so simple that it does not seem to be very convincing. His argument can be illustrated as the following. By holding out two hands, here is one hand and here is another hand. There are two hands exists in front of you. If those hands exist, which is something you cannot deny, there must be external world. [1-p451]

Let’s us understand Moore’s claim a little bit more. Moore’s claim is actually an argument to convince a skeptic who does not believes there is an external world but maintain the belief that there is still an external mind outside of his own mind. In another word, to begin with he has to at least believe that there is other mind, who is trying to convince him that there is an external world, already exists outside of him. Moore’s claim will not work on soloist who does not even believe there is anything outside of his own mind. Moreover, Moore’s claim is based on Kant’s early doubt that “the existence of things outside of us … must be accepted merely on faith, and that if anyone thinks good to doubt their (here, their refer to the external world, not those people) existence, we are unable to counter his doubts by any satisfactory proof.” [1- p439]. Most important of all, Moore’s claim does not survive Descartes style of self-meditation scrutiny. Moore believe there exists an external world and convince the other minds he experience in his external world to believe there really is an external world, but he can never proof to himself that he is not a sole existence that all the external world he experience are merely a product of his own mind.

Moore’s argument is pretty straight forward. He is playing word games on Kant’s argument by separating the definition of the terms use by Kant. He redefines “things outside of us”, “external things” and “things external to our mind” as three separate terms. (Notice that that he uses the term “things outside of US” instead of “things outside of ME”.) He excluded transcendent things from his argument, since that belongs to the department of metaphysics. Then he flipped the argument to equate “external things” to “things not internal to our mind”. Notice this slight change of term is the slate of hand he played to separate “things that can meet in space” from “physical objects” and here is he introduced the term “present in space” which supposed to have a lesser definition than “things that can meet in space”. He used a few examples like shadows, after image to illustrate his points, but I am not going to repeat the arguments here due to the limitation of space. Now, here he plays the finally trick, he used the “two hands” as a common experience shared between two different minds, which the skeptic cannot deny. Since there is a gap between the two minds and now there is a common experience come form that gap, there must be something existence between the two minds originate that experience, so the external world must exist.

Let’s move on to Russell’s argument, if that is qualified an argument. First of all, Russell’s claim is more ambitious than Moorse’s. Russell actually goes one step more to define the nature of external world, which is the existence of matter. Moorse is smart to leave the external world remains undefined which gives him more room to play with his definition tricks. Instead of arguing for the existence of matter, Russell simply makes the instinctive belief assertions without even bother to argue for it. To begin with, one cannot doubt his own existence and the existence of the sense data he experienced. Russell is quite frank to admit that “we can never prove the existence of things other than ourselves and our experience” [2-p.14], then he immediate follow by asserting that “although this is no logically impossible, there is no reason whatever to suppose that it is true.” and appeal to the common sense hypothesis to assert there are external objects that cause our sensations. Here he had commit the two fallacies. First, the appeal to common sense is begging of question. Second, even given that we can indeed somehow rule out the soloist possibility, his so-call argument still suffered from the false dilemma fallacy. He assumes that if we can rule out the soloist hypothesis, our sense data must come from physical objects, but he forgot the origin of experience can skipped the existence layer and come from the transcendent layer directly. For practical reason, we may operate on the “external object exists” instinctive belief proposed by Russell, but he should at least compare and evaluate all alternatives instincts before concluding his particular version of instinct is most simple thus should be the most possible solution.

In [2-p15] and chapter 3, Russell uses more examples to illustrate his instinctive belief of the existence of external object. In [2-p15], he uses the existence of a cat that is independent of his perception as an example. He thinks it is quite natural to think that a cat will continue to exists and feel hungry regardless of his sense-data. There is a famous counter example which is also a cat, Schrodinger’s cat. According to Quantum theory, the wave equation is only collapse at the moment of observation. Strictly speaking, Schrodinger’s cat are free to seize its existence when there is no observer, except that once when it is being observed, its state variable collapse to a known state and catch up with what supposed to happen during the unobservable moments. The Schrodinger’s cat does not sound nature to most people, but it conforms to the laws of quantum physics. Therefore whether something sounds nature or not cannot be used to justify the intrinsic belief. In chapter 3, Russell uses the common between public space and private space to argument for his existence of matter. I can nullify his arguments with two terms, “Virtual Reality” and “Augmented Reality”. In virtual reality, there is no public space and each one’s private space is truly private to him. In augment reality, although there still a public space, but the sense data of the public space can be augmented and altered before it arrive at the private space. In addition, Russell argues that a blind man cannot experience light. With the latest technology, the vision chip, a blind can actually experience light more or less like a seeing person although he never experience lights. The vision chips implanted in his retina stimulate the visual nerve to send image to the brain. In theory the whole visual process can stay digital and electrical without anything related to light. Therefore light must be something that can be reduced and transformed into a set of computer equations and can be recreated using digital processors.

Both Moore and Russell did not give a satisfying proof of the existence of external world to a soloist. I am going to propose my solution in the last paragraph in an attempt to bridge the gap left open in Moore and Russell’s argument. My proof that I am not a lone existence in this world is very simple. If I am alone in this world, no one is going to mark my philosophy paper and I will have no reason to write it. The very fact that I am writing this philosophy paper is the proof that I am not alone in this world, which imply there must exists an external world. Now, assume that there is a philosophy professor who is marking this philosophy paper. The very fact that he is marking this paper also is a proof of the existence of an external world; otherwise he has no reason to mark this paper. In fact, if there is no external world, why would anyone bother to read a paper trying to proof the existence of the external world? Therefore the mere existence of this philosophical paper on its own is the proof of the existence of the external world. Q.E.D.

Reference:
[1] Paul K. Moser and Arnold Vander Nat, Human Knowledge Classical and Contemporary Approaches, 2003, Oxford Press
[2] Bertrand Russell, The Problems of Philosophy, 1912, Feedbacks

IP Integration : What is the difference between stitching and weaving?

I should write a article on: What is the difference between reusing and salvaging…

by David Murray, 12/15/2010, Design and Reuse

As a hardware design engineer, I was never comfortable when someone talked about IP integration as ‘stitching a chip together’. First of all, it sounded like a painful process involving sharp needles, usually preceded by a painful accident. I happened to be the recipient of said stitches when, at 8 years of age, I contested a stairs post with my forehead, and sorely lost. I have to say, luckily, I have been quite adept at avoiding the needle and thread ever since. That was of course until once when, an hour before that important customer presentation, my top-shirt button, due to an over enthusiastic yawn, pinged across my hotel room floor like a nano-UFO. A panicked retrieval of the renegade button was followed quickly with a successful hunt for an elusive emergency sewing-kit. The crisis quickly dissipated as I stitched back the button in a random-but-directed type of methodology. Needle-less to say stitching, whilst sometimes necessary, makes me uncomfortable.

Stitching, according to Wikipedia, is “.. the fastening of cloth, leather, furs, bark, or other flexible materials, using needle and thread. Its use is nearly universal among human populations and dates back to Paleolithic times (30,000 BCE).” It also states that stitching predates the weaving of cloth. So, 32,000 years later, in these hi-tech times we are still stitching things together. It’s not fur this time, but ‘ports’. Stitching a chip together involves connecting ports together with wires. (Note the terminology also where, if you don’t use certain ports you ’tie’ them off).

Weaving is a different game altogether. One definition simplifies weaving as ‘creating fabric’. Thus a key differentiator between stitching and weaving is that stitching may refer to fixing/mending things whilst weaving is used to create. Stitching is an emergency, an ah-hoc approach (please refer to my stitched button above) whilst weaving is more structured, more planned. Stitching invokes the image of being bent over, eyes squinted, immersed in the tiniest of detail. Weaving is more graceful and productive. In IC design flow terms, I equate stitching with scripting. It is task that is useful to join pieces of the flow together. Weaving creates something. It transforms thread to cloth, and therefore equates more to synthesis. Weaving is a process.

So when it came to developing and naming a tool used to effectively integrate IP and create a chip hierarchy, in a structured manner, we didn’t consider consider ‘STITCHER’ – It had to be ‘WEAVER’.

Stitching is important to fix things, and is necessary in emergency situations, however it has its limitations and as if used as a core creation process, it may come undone. So as I ranted on during that vital presentation, as I got to the cusp of the value-add, I curbed my enthusiasm, keep it slightly in check just in case those button stitches came undone and resulted in a serious eye injury of an altogether innocent customer. What then, of those poor stitched chips? What if those threads start to unravel and your chip integration is running very late. You may have to resort to different type of Weaving, when dealing with your management, customers or partners.

Which MBA? Think twice

According to Economist, studying MBA is not a good investment. So I should be glad that MBA school rejected my application.

2 Feb 2011, Economist
Set your heart on an MBA? Philip Delves Broughton suggests a radical alternative: don’t bother

Business schools have long sold the promise that, like an F1 driver zipping into the pits for fresh tyres, it just takes a short hiatus on an MBA programme and you will come roaring back into the career race primed to win. After all, it signals to companies that you were good enough to be accepted by a decent business school (so must be good enough for them); it plugs you into a network of fellow MBAs; and, to a much lesser extent, there’s the actual classroom education. Why not just pay the bill, sign here and reap the rewards?

The problem is that these days it doesn’t work like that. Rather, more and more students are finding the promise of business schools to be hollow. The return on investment on an MBA has gone the way of Greek public debt. If you have a decent job in your mid- to late- 20s, unless you have the backing of a corporate sponsor, leaving it to get an MBA is a higher risk than ever. If you are getting good business experience already, the best strategy is to keep on getting it, thereby making yourself ever more useful rather than groping for the evanescent brass rings of business school.

Business schools argue that a recession is the best time to invest in oneself. What they won’t say is that they also need your money. There are business academics right now panting for your cheque. They need it to pad their sinecures and fund their threadbare research. There is surely no more oxymoronic profession than the tenured business-school professor, and yet these job-squatting apostles of the free market are rife and desperate. Potential students should take note: if taking a professional risk were as marvellous as they say, why do these role models so assiduously avoid it?

Harvard Business School recently chose a new dean, Nitin Nohria, an expert in ethics and leadership. He was asked by Bloomberg Businessweek if he had watched the Congressional hearings on Goldman Sachs. He replied: “The events in the financial sector are something that we have watched closely at Harvard Business School. We teach by the case method, and one of the things we’ll do through this experience is study these cases deeply as information is revealed over time so we can understand what happened at all these financial firms. I’m sure that at some point we’ll write cases about Goldman Sachs because that’s how we learn.” He could have stood up for Goldman or criticised it. Instead he punted on one of the singular business issues of our time. It is indicative of the cringing attitude of business schools before the business world they purport to study.

When you look at today’s most evolved business organisms, it is obvious that an MBA is not required for business success. Apple, which recently usurped Microsoft as the world’s largest technology firm (by market capitalisation), has hardly any MBAs among its top ranks. Most of the world’s top hedge funds prefer seasoned traders, engineers and mathematicians, people with insight and programming skills, to MBAs brandishing spreadsheets, the latest two-by-twos and the guilt induced by some watery ethics course.

In the BRIC economies, one sees fortunes being made in the robust manner of the 19th-century American robber barons, with scarcely a nod to the niceties of MBA programmes. The cute stratagems and frameworks taught at business schools become quickly redundant in the hurly-burly of economic change. I’ve often wondered what Li Ka-Shing of Hong Kong or Stanely Ho of Macao, or Rupert Murdoch, for that matter, would make of an MBA programme. They would probably see it for what it is: a business opportunity. And as such, they would focus on the value of investing in it.

They would look at the high cost, and note the tables which show that financial rewards are not evenly distributed among MBAs but tilt heavily to those from the very top programmes who tend to go into finance and consulting. Successful entrepreneurs are as rare among MBAs as they are in the general population.

They would think to themselves that business is fundamentally about two things, innovating and selling, and that most MBA programmes teach neither. They might wonder about the realities of the MBA network. There is no point acquiring a global network of randomly assembled business students if you just want to work in your home town. Also, they will recall that the most effective way to build a network is not to go to school, but to be successful. That way you will have all the MBA friends you could ever want.

They might even meet a few business academics and wonder. Then they would take their application and do with it what most potential applicants should: toss it away.