Internal combustion battery…sort of

The center section is essentially 2 combustion chambers back to back, the orange wrap is the ‘stator’ of an electric generator. When the magnets tied to the piston runs through the stator it generates electricity. Then a spring returns the stator to the center and the cycle (2 cycle) starts again.
Green Car Report :Could Free Piston Range Extenders Broaden the Electric Truck Horizon?
One of the ‘cool’ things about a Free Piston Engine is that it can be packaged in a fairly simple block and because of the elimination of the mechanical drive train and residual mechanical controls (valves, cams, etc) the machine can eat different types of fuel and be tuned in a wide variety of ways quite simply. This makes it compatible with battery electric systems on a packaging and mission program ability standpoint.
A simple schematic of the bare bones of a free piston machine. Other uses have been proposed but tying it to a generator and modern power electronics to make it a range extender is pretty interesting. The technology is derivative of the highly refined IC engines of today and the equally long history of electric generators so this should be something that matures pretty quickly.

Interesting Fuel Cell + Ship Tech

Why the Shipping Industry Is Betting Big on Ammonia
Ammonia engines and fuel cells could slash carbon emissions
Article in IEEE Spectrum MCKIBILLO

There’s a lot to like about ammonia. This colorless fuel emits no carbon dioxide when burned. It’s abundant and common, and it can be made using renewable electricity, water, and air. Both fuel cells and internal combustion engines can use it. Unlike hydrogen, it doesn’t have to be stored in high-pressure tanks or cryogenic dewars. And it has 10 times the energy density of a lithium-ion battery.

So there is always a fly in the ointment of this sort of story…

Manufacturers and engineers must overcome key technical hurdles and safety issues in the design of ammonia engines and fuel cells. Port operators and fuel suppliers must build vast “bunkering” infrastructure so ships can fill ammonia tanks wherever they dock. And energy companies and governments will need to invest heavily in solar, wind, and other renewable-energy capacity to produce enough green ammonia for thousands of ships. Globally, ships consume an estimated 300 million tons of marine fuels every year. Given that ammonia’s energy density is half that of diesel, ammonia producers would need to provide twice as much liquid ammonia, and ships will need to accommodate larger storage tanks, potentially eating into cargo space.

So to fully replace oil you need 600 million tons, all produced artificially in new chemical plants. And then there is the ‘pungent’ odor and its solubility in water where it produces a strong alkaline Ph, the fact that it can cause breathing problems etc etc etc.

Not saying it is not an interesting approach but I really have to wonder how acceptable this would be. This seems like a question of ‘what kind of hell are you willing to accept to reduce CO2’ when the reality is that there are a lot of other things to do first and a lot better future directions to take. I like the idea of the age of windjammers returning…as in the last post.


Oh, oh oh, oh oh oh oh, I saw this coming !

Last Cassette Player Standing, in American Conservative
From the article: Photo by: Education Images/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

Money Quote:

There are several lessons here. The most politically salient is that in manufacturing, as in cooking, it is possible to “lose the recipe.” And with an accelerating pace of technological progress, it is possible to lose it in an alarmingly short span of time. This is perhaps the strongest argument for some form of industrial policy or trade protection: the recognition that the national value of manufacturing often lies not so much in the end product itself, but in the accumulated knowledge that goes into it, and the possibility of old processes and knowledge sparking new innovation. Of course, innovation is itself what killed the high-end cassette player. But many otherwise viable industries have struggled under the free-trade regime.

The fact is that technology is not embodied in a drawing or set of drawings or any set of instructions. It is embodied in human knowledge. One of the key problems in the industry is the loss of control a customer or prime has when they let a contractor develop the ‘data package’ and ‘product’ with no significant oversight. While the customer or prime may ‘own’ the IP because they paid for it, the fact is that the majority of the capability is embodied in the people and culture of the contractor not in any set of information.

The Hellenic world had machines as complex as early clocks and steam engines of a sort but lost the recipe in a few generations or less. Various complex building skills and wooden machines, metalworking and early chemistry were discovered then lost again and again because the data package was in human brains and examples. This is why the printing press and its ilk were so incredibly important to technological lift off. Along with a culture of progress and invention.

We are far ahead of that world but as above, not above losing the recipe of a complex technology. This is one of the drivers behind Computer Aided Design, Analysis, Documentation, Fabrication. Our cybernetic tools have the ability to record the data package in detail at least for certain classes of things so that we should be able to maintain the ability to replicate things. Making special, small run, even one off technological objects rational rather than nutty.

But at the same time I think that it is likely that the artisanal ethos and products will remain relevant and even increase in value as people shift away from a mind/economy/culture of scarcity to at least sufficiency and if we survive and expand into the universe eventually richness. These transitions will be extremely difficult because they are at odds with many tens of thousands of years of genetic/mimetic coding of our behaviors based on small group hunter gatherers and kin group bonding. Those transition will be enabled by machines that fabricate, even machines that invent. What will happen when humans loose the recipe for technological advancement, because too few engage in the complex enterprise of development??? Is that the point of the Rise of the Machine???

Space, a little at a time

Miniature Tethered Electrodynamics Experiment MiTEE

MiTEE is a cool space experiment out of the University of Michigan. Faculty led, undergraduate, graduate and PhD student team, developed and got launched a cube (stack) satellite that is demonstrating the use of tethers for de orbiting spacecraft, a serious need in this day of thousand plus satellite constellations.

As a note of interest this was on the first successful Virgin Orbit launch.

For Values of Duh

I used to be an IEEE member though I am an ME. IEEE spectrum is a great tech magazine and site. They have an article up Why Aren’t COVID Tracing Apps More Widely Used? , that seems a bit clueless, it starts…..

a new study suggests that trust and transparency are barriers for broader acceptance of the apps

Sub head of above

So…they needed a study to find this out? A type of app that tracks your location at all times and provides that to an cloud AI so it can figure out who you have been talking to, has trust issues, given what we KNOW about big tech?


Tragedy of the NotCommons

A blog tag to an article I did not read set me to thinking today. Read on if you think that the Net today is fraught with societal risk.

I have been using the WWW, Internet, since a couple of years after its start as ARPANET and MilNet for email and data transmission. Following it through the years I saw the slow exploration then the exuberant exploitation through the 80’s and 90’s even the 0ughts.

One of the things I had a hard time understanding was the effervescent froth about how this was freedom and that governments could never control it. When governments where the entity that installed it and ran it in many places. There are arguments in support of a weakish case for net freedom but for the masses it is not and will never be a truly open commons.

A big part of this is because of the way most people interface with the Net. They use it like they use a car, get in and drive, many times not knowing a thing about internal combustion engines, transmissions, etc. They are not technically savvy people, but then even people like me, an engineer, thirty plus year user of the Net, do not understand the ‘stacks’ on ‘stacks’ that are the interwoven hardware, firmware, protocols and software that makes the Net hum.

In the early days the Net was about Protocols, eMail and Hyperlink were two critical protocols that enabled communication and the creation of documents (Still, though they are called, Blogs, or Sites) that could be read out of sequence and include incredible depths of information that were simply impossible with a book or the like.

This early Net was dynamic and boisterous but largely a land of technical folks, academics, geeks and nerds. It was a natural environment for them in a way only the still evolving desktop computer had been until then.

After a while businesses started to move in and the media started to look at this as a way of distributing their content without the cost and logistic drag of newsprint, TV stations or even radio. Of course what most did not see coming was that the net would make their old advertiser supported business model very difficult to support over the long term while giving new Platforms (AOL and their ilk, now TWITTER, FACEBOOK etc) a leg up as essentially the new middle man between the consumer and ‘the content.’

But even at the start with AOL et al, some philosopher technical types pointed out that these Platforms ,while they gave Joe User an easy path to the internet, put a barrier between the user and the broader Net. Some like me never went down the platform path because we wanted the depth of the Net in the raw as it were but we pay the penalty of having to work harder to get things that Platform users get for free.

Twenty years on Facebook and Twitter have paved over the Net to a very significant degree. They started as just social networks with different focuses. But they have become the principle distributor of news and opinion. They have sucked up adjacent Net onramps in their fight to gain share and suppress competition. Now they lust after your data so they can sell it to the highest bidder, while using it, somewhat unintentionally to wrap the users in ever thicker cocoons of confirmation bias. They have also strangled the legacy media in its bed by stripping away the advertiser revenue.


I see 3 main reasons, ease of use, addictive content and the network affect. Ease of Use: You might argue that some of them are not that easy today but in the beginning essentially each of them was drop dead simple, so simple a tweener cheerleader could use it in ten seconds or less. Addictive Content: Most of these tools make something you want to do easy and provide reinforcing feedback, if your tweet goes viral to a 1000 people, woohooo! If your facebook post gets a like from a dozen friends, charge UP! This is addiction. Network affect: Simply stated, a network of 10 people has 100 interconnects, 100 people have 10,000 interconnects, the more people on a platform the more valuable it is to the user as well as the owner. Since you have limited time in your life, you cannot copy identical on multiple platforms going along. Then the platforms will make it hard for you to migrate from them with your list of friends, follows, photos, blogs, whatever.


The title of the article I mentioned at the start said something about Protocols vs Platforms and this was one of those epiphany things you hear about. AHA!

Platforms are largely just Net hubs and they hate open protocols because it will reduce them to pipes and strip away their ability to siphon off value from the users, both consumer and creator.

Facebook or Twitter are just Protocols of Protocols with a software wrapper. Their core are proprietary protocols & software, not open protocols so that competition is impossible. The network affect and the users addiction to the particular flavor of Platform makes changing essentially impossible.

But if the Platforms are required to open their protocols and enable users to migrate their core identity the monopoly would be broken without destroying the user side value. One could even see an anti monopoly order that required some kind of Baby Twitter / Baby Facebook disaggregation that requires the ‘Babies’ interlink and compete.

This seems relatively clear cut process . It would provide the users with competition for their core value that is simply not there today. And while it will hurt the stockholders (who are earning monopolist profits today) it does not strip their assets while providing the opportunity to earn significant returns going forward.

The NonCommons of today, the Platforms, are a tragedy for the users in that their value is stripped without much recompense beyond ease of use. If we go back to the roots of the Net, open protocols, and user value, we have a chance to build back better….and make the Net great again.

Cool Stars, Kinda Literally

Image: This artist’s conception illustrates what brown dwarfs of different types might look like to a hypothetical interstellar traveler who has flown a spaceship to each one…. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech.

There are a class of celestial objects much heavier than our systems Jupiter but about the same size. They are not really planets just balls of dense hot gas, but they are not really stars because they lack the mass to collapse and heat their core to ignite sustained fusion. These Brown Dwarves are probably one of the most common objects in our universe but little is known about them because until recently they were essentially impossible to find. With new tools and new techniques this fascinating class of in between are coming into focus.

Another fascinating article from Centauri Dreams.

Mice with damaged spine, enabled to walk again…Faster Please…

Credit: CC0 Public Domain

JANUARY 15, 2021
Designer cytokine makes paralyzed mice walk again


“Thus, gene therapy treatment of only a few nerve cells stimulated the axonal regeneration of various nerve cells in the brain and several motor tracts in the spinal cord simultaneously,” says Dietmar Fischer. “Ultimately, this enabled the previously paralyzed animals that received this treatment to start walking after two to three weeks. This came as a great surprise to us at the beginning, as it had never been shown to be possible before after full paraplegia.”

Above article in MedicalXPress via

Let’s hope this paves the way for human treatment. Not that I don’t love cyborg exoskeletons in their place, but this is far better.