Saturday, August 20, 2005

Nanotubes, VHS and the Discman

In the same three days:

University of Texas scientists (the irony grows too thick, my friends) have come up with a fast, practical way to produces sheets of nanotubes. Transparent, electrically conductive sheets stronger than industrial steel -- I assure you, although you may believe this is just me geeking out, this is the Big One.

Bill over at DISC/ontent reminds us that as of 2006, VHS is quite literally dead. My VCR is officially legacy-tech.

However, the new "Low End Technology" column at Gizmodo reminds us the Discman refuses to go away.


Warren said...

And here I am still buying and watching laser video discs! I've never felt so retro.

GM Doug said...

As a fellow science geek (Physics Degree and a Masters in IT) I assure you John you aren't alone on this one. I'd missed this news (Stupid BBC) but having explained the significance to my wife her first words ... HER FIRST WORDS I tell you ... were

"Soooo with this technology they could make super light super thin body armour for everyone and I mean EVERYONE in our clothes. And would it work like that faraday cage you keep going on about to protect us from lightning? Wouldn't that make everyone safer?"

While my wife isn't a super science geek but a fan of Sci-fi - I got to love the fact that she can instantly think of applications that the future needs.

Andrew said...

I think his cape was made of something sorta like this, wasn't it? in Batman Begins.

Dweeze said...

I find myself buying more VHS titles for my kids than I do DVD - VHS is sturdier and holds up better to handling from a two-year old than DVD. We're on our third DVD copy of Nemo - the VHS copy, which has been watched as much as the three DVD copies combined, is still going strong. I know it's sacrilege, and a year ago I would never have imagined me saying something like this, but there is still a family market for VHS for a company willing to go after it.

Bill Cunningham said...

Dweeze - I understand your frustration, but know also that the price point for DVD is going into the basement.

My big beef (okay small beef) is the multi-format DVD's out there - widescreen and fullscreen. Excuse me, they're calling fullscreen "family friendly" - as if widescreen is an assault on the familial unit.

It's just another excuse to wring money out of the marketplace, as is the multi version discs. SIN CITY is in release - or should I say the first version is in release? - with multiple casewrap art. Isn't this multi-cover, multi-version gimmick mentality the very same thing that halved the comic book industry in the early nineties?

This is worse than software, but at least when a 2.0 version is released you can get the upgrade for free. If the studios are going to release multi-versions then at least let us get a coupon or something so we can afford to "upgrade".

Wow. Mini-rant. You can tell I switched to decaf this week.

Alex Jay Berman said...

Much as I hate to rain on people's parades, I have to admit the rain looks pretty as it glistens moistly on the balloons being marched down the street, so ...

While as much of a sci-geek as anyone, I have two quibbles with this: One is more personal: I REALLY don't want to see the "paper/books is/are dead" crap start up again.

The other is an important thing, I think: It would be nice if the people writing these articles would JUST ONCE quantify what they mean when they say "stronger then steel". Are we talking tensile strength? Able to upport more pounds-per-square-inch? A higher burn- or melting point?

And just what are we comparing this to? "Industrial steel." Uh-huh. An inch thick? A millimenter? An atom's width?

I mean, hell--I want Reed Richards' unstable molecule clothing as much as the next guy, but these questions need answering.

(Also, reflect on the fact that I work in an office--a huge compound, really--where the vast majority of people are morbidly obese ... so forgive me for shuddering at the thought of the sudden prevalence of nanotube tops.)

Emily said...

I'm wondering why UT scientists are ironic, John.

Sebastian Hassinger said...

Of course, the most exciting thing about the transparent, stronger than steel nanotube sheets is that we can actually build Wonder Woman's airplane now! Woot!

Anonymous said...

Physicists in Switzerland have been doing some interesting things with light recently. They've been able to speed it up to a point faster than the speed of light(though they admit that it's most likely just an illusion), slow it down, and--get this...stop it.

One of the theorized applications is making things invivsible. So that makes ANOTHER step closer to Wonder Woman's plane.

Andre said...

This is definitely a great breakthrough. The combination of high tensile strength, favourable electrical properties that don't change significantly even if the sheet is stretched to twice its length, and the possibility of mass manufacturing make the potential applications in the not-too-distant future really exciting.

BUT, don't expect cheap body armour clothes made of nanotubes. Alex Jay Berman was right to ask for some numbers. Here's the relevant section from the paper:
"Stacks of undensified sheets have an observed tensile strength of between 120 and 144 MPa/(g/cm3) (fig. S5, A and B). A densified stack containing 18 identically oriented sheets had a strength of 465 MPa/(g/cm3), which decreased to 175 MPa/(g/cm3) when neighboring sheets in the stack were orthogonally oriented to make a densified biaxial structure. These density-normalized strengths are already comparable to or greater than the ~160 MPa/(g/cm3) strength of the Mylar and Kapton films used for ultralight air vehicles and proposed for use in solar sails for space applications (21) and those for ultra–high-strength steel [~125 MPa/(g/cm3)] and aluminum alloy [~250 MPa/(g/cm3)] sheets."

So, under the most favourable conditions they are about twice as hard to rip as the same mass of aluminum foil. Also, kevlar, the material commonly found in currently used bullet-proof vests is much stronger with a tensile strength per density of about 1900 MPa/(g/cm^3) (according to I don't need to point out that most people still don't wear kevlar clothes.

Rogers said...

I wear kevlar clothes. But they were provided by the Gnome Lords in Zurich, to protect me from my ... enemies.

Bill Cunningham said...

I wear a kevlar cup, but only when I go in for pitch meetings...

Anonymous said...

>>>I find myself buying more VHS titles for my kids than I do DVD - VHS is sturdier and holds up better to handling from a two-year old than DVD. We're on our third DVD copy of Nemo - the VHS copy, which has been watched as much as the three DVD copies combined, is still going strong. I know it's sacrilege, and a year ago I would never have imagined me saying something like this, but there is still a family market for VHS for a company willing to go after it.

He's right. DVDs have become an awful financial drain on public libraries. One scratch and a DVD is toast. A wrinkle in a VHS tape? -- eh, still plays! The NYPL staff have been discussing the short lifespan of DVDs. (I know, because I've borrowed DVDs that were toasted by scratches and they've told me about this dilemma.)

Alex Jay Berman said...

Whenever I borrow a DVD or CD from the library, I immediately run it through my CD Doctor, as a courtesy. Seems to work pretty well.

(Besides, I go to libraries for BOOKS ...)

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