Archive for January 19th, 2012

January 19, 2012

Lights Out


Lights out manufacturing is a methodology (or philosophy), rather than a specific process. Factories that run lights out are fully automated and require no human presence on-site. Thus, these factories can be run with the lights off. Many factories are capable of lights-out production, but very few run exclusively lights-out. Typically, workers are necessary to set up parts to be manufactured, and to remove the completed parts. As the technology necessary for lights-out production becomes increasingly available, many factories are beginning to utilize lights-out production between shifts (or as a separate shift) to meet increasing demand or to save money.

An automatic factory is a place where raw materials enter and finished products leave with little or no human intervention. One of the earliest descriptions of the automatic factory in fiction was the 1955 short story ‘Autofac.’ FANUC, the Japanese robotics company, has been operating a ‘lights out’ factory for robots since 2001. ‘Robots are building other robots at a rate of about 50 per 24-hour shift and can run unsupervised for as long as 30 days at a time. ‘Not only is it lights-out,’ says Fanuc vice president Gary Zywiol, ‘we turn off the air conditioning and heat too.’

January 19, 2012


robot chicken

Astrochicken is the name given to a thought experiment expounded by theoretical physicist Freeman Dyson. In his book ‘Disturbing the Universe’ (1979), Dyson contemplated how humanity could build a small, self-replicating automaton that could explore space more efficiently than a manned craft could. He attributed the idea to John von Neumann, based on a lecture von Neumann gave in 1948 entitled ‘The General and Logical Theory of Automata.’ Dyson expanded on von Neumann’s automata theories and added a biological component to them.

Astrochicken, Dyson explained, would be a one-kilogram spacecraft unlike any before it. It would be a creation of the intersection of biology, artificial intelligence and modern microelectronics—a blend of organic and electronic components. Astrochicken would be launched by a conventional spacecraft, like an egg being laid into space.

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January 19, 2012

Self-replicating Machine

Advanced Automation

gray goo

A self-replicating machine is an artificial construct that is theoretically capable of autonomously manufacturing a copy of itself using raw materials taken from its environment, thus exhibiting self-replication in a way analogous to that found in nature. The concept of self-replicating machines has been advanced by Homer Jacobsen, Edward F. Moore, Freeman Dyson, John von Neumann, and in more recent times by K. Eric Drexler in his book on nanotechnology, ‘Engines of Creation,’ and by Robert Freitas and Ralph Merkle in their review ‘Kinematic Self-Replicating Machines,’ which provided the first comprehensive analysis of the entire replicator design space.

The future development of such technology has featured as an integral part of several plans involving the mining of moons and asteroid belts for ore and other materials, the creation of lunar factories and even the construction of solar power satellites in space. The possibly misnamed von Neumann probe (a self-replicating spacecraft) is one theoretical example of such a machine. Von Neumann also worked on what he called the universal constructor, a self-replicating machine that would operate in a cellular automata environment (a computer simulation of life).

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January 19, 2012

Carbon Chauvinism

puddle thinking

Carbon chauvinism is a neologism meant to disparage the assumption that the chemical processes of hypothetical extraterrestrial life must be constructed primarily from carbon (organic compounds), as carbon’s chemical and thermodynamic properties render it far superior to all other elements.

The term was used as early as 1973, when scientist Carl Sagan described it and other human chauvinisms that limit imagination of possible extraterrestrial life. It suggests that human beings, as carbon-based life forms who have never encountered any life that has evolved outside the Earth’s environment, may find it difficult to envision radically different biochemistries.

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January 19, 2012

Artificial Life


Artificial life (alife) is a field of study and an associated art form which examine systems related to life, its processes, and its evolution through simulations using computer models, robotics, and biochemistry. The discipline was named by Christopher Langton, an American computer scientist, in 1986.

There are three main kinds of alife, named for their approaches: soft, from software; hard, from hardware; and wet, from biochemistry. Artificial life imitates traditional biology by trying to recreate biological phenomena, such as sexual reproduction and response to stimuli. The term ‘artificial life’ is often used to specifically refer to soft alife.

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January 19, 2012

Non-cellular Life



Non-cellular life is life that exists without a cellular structure. This term presumes the phylogenetic (evolutionary relatedness) scientific classification of viruses as lifeforms. Hypothesized artificial life, self-replicating machines, and most simple molecules capable of self-replication, such as crystals, are not usually considered living. Some biologists refer to wholly syncytial (containing multiple cell nuclei) organisms (such as many fungi) as ‘acellular’ because their bodies contain multiple nuclei which are not separated by cell walls, but they do contain cells. Viral self-assembly has implications for the study of the origin of life, as it lends further credence to the hypothesis that life could have started as self-assembling organic molecules.

The issue of life without cellular structure came again to the fore with the 2003 discovery that the large and complex Mimivirus can make some proteins. This discovery suggests that some viruses may have evolved from earlier forms that could produce proteins independent of a host cell. If so, there may at one time have been a viral domain of life. It is not clear that all small viruses have originated from more complex viruses by means of genome size reduction. A viral domain of life may only be relevant to certain large viruses such as nucleocytoplasmic large DNA viruses like the Mimivirus.

January 19, 2012

Au Jus

beef on weck by Adam Hayes

coles french dip

Au jus [oh joos] is French for ‘with [its own] juice.’ In American cuisine, the term is mostly used to refer to a light sauce for beef recipes, which may be served with the food or placed on the side for dipping. In French cuisine, jus is a natural way to enhance the flavor of dishes, mainly chicken, veal and lamb. ‘Jus’ means the natural juices given off by the food. To prepare a natural jus, the cook may simply skim off the fat from the juices left after cooking and bring the remaining meat stock and water to a boil.

Often prepared in the United States is a seasoned sauce with several additional flavorings. American recipes au jus often use soy sauce, Worcestershire sauce, salt, pepper, white or brown sugar, garlic, onion, or other ingredients to make something more like a gravy. So-called jus is sometimes prepared separately, rather than being produced naturally by the food being cooked. An example could be a beef jus made by reducing beef stock to a concentrated form, to accompany a meat dish.

January 19, 2012



Aquaponics [ak-wuh-pon-iks] is a sustainable food production system that combines a traditional aquaculture (raising aquatic animals such as fish, crayfish or prawns in tanks) with hydroponics (cultivating plants in water) in a symbiotic environment. In the aquaculture, effluents accumulate in the water, increasing toxicity for the fish. This water is led to a hydroponic system where the by-products from the aquaculture are filtered out by the plants as vital nutrients, after which the cleansed water is recirculated back to the animals.

Aquaponic systems vary in size from small indoor or outdoor units to large commercial units, using the same technology. The systems usually contain fresh water, but salt water systems are plausible depending on the type of aquatic animal and which plants.

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