Category Archives: technology

An Introduction to Quantum Computing

Quantum computers have reached a stage of development where breakthoughs are becoming near daily achievements. But how they work remains something of a mystery, because it's very different from the kind of computing technologies that have come into common use over the last six decades.

In the following 10-minute video, Quanta Magazine uses quantum physics to explain how they work and what kinds of problems they're being built to solve:

Quanta's accompanying article is available here. If however you're looking for a easier entry point into understanding how quantum computers work, TheUnlockr has you covered in a slightly longer video:

How long will it take for quantum computers to surpass the capabilities of classical computing technology? A new paper published in May 2023 indicates that day is still far off, with multiple advances still needed in quantum computing technology and programming in order to surpass today's well-established computing technologies.

On the other hand, IBM claimed in 2021 their new quantum chip technology could begin to be able to outperform standard computer chips in two years, which is to say that would potentially happen sometime later this year.

All that is to say it will happen both sooner and faster than many might expect.

Inventions in Everything: Going to the Mat

Every martial art shares two characteristics. First, the obvious. They are all based on some form of fighting. Second, they feature rituals unique to each. From boxing to fencing, from karate to MMA and many others, they are as much distinguished by the ceremonies around them as their forms.

That's just as true of the sport that's been called "the miniature golf of martial arts", thumb wrestling, in which each match starts with an official declaration of combat: "1, 2, 3, 4. I declare a thumb war!"

In the following excerpt from U.S Patent 4,998,724, inventor Richard B. Hartman describes how such a combat would take place:

In its simplest form, the game of thumb wrestling has been enjoyed by children and adults for generations. The basic game is played by interlocking the hands of two opponents in such a way that the index, middle, ring and pinky fingers of one player are firmly curled around the corresponding fingers of the opposing player's hand. This leaves each player's thumb unencumbered and creates a naturally stable playing surface comprised of the top edges of the opponents' interlocked index fingers upon which each player attempts to use his or her thumb to trap and hold down the opposing player's thumb for a previously agreed-upon count.

Technically, the brutal combat that follows could happen anywhere. Which might be fine if your unsanctioned thumb war is taking place at a school playground or on the street. But what if you want to elevate the sport to the next level? That's where Hartman's innovative vision really comes into play by adding something more to the state of the martial art, as described in the patent's abstract:

Improved apparatus for playing a game of thumb wrestling includes a stabilizing handle which employs forces generated by firmly interlocking fingers of players' hands to stabilize and anchor a game ring surface. Game ring surface includes holes through which the thumbs of opponents are inserted upwardly, and a solid wrestling region upon which one thumb can forcibly pin another thumb, thereby giving the realistic impression of a pin in wrestling.

Figure 1 from U.S. Patent 4,998,724 illustrates Hartman's vision of a thumb wresting mat apparatus:

U.S. Patent 4,998,724 Figure 1

The best part about this invention is that it has been successfully brought to market! You can buy your own thumb wresting ring at Amazon! And as you're about to see in the following video, that apparatus featured prominently at the 2019's World Thumb Wrestling Championships:

After a hiatus of several years, the 13th World Thumb Wrestling Championships will be held on 5 August 2023 in "an as yet unconfirmed location" in Norwich, Norfolk in the United Kingdom. If you're looking to take your thumb wrestling skills to the next level, it's time to get your game on!

From the Inventions in Everything Archives

We've assembled this short list of unusual sports-related patents, and of course, the edition of IIE where we previously featured another of Richard Hartman's novel patents:

Inventions in Everything: The Snake Walker

Americans love their pets. You can often find that love on display whenever you see people out walking their dogs. You can sometimes see it among those people who take their cats out for walks.

In both cases, the essential inventions that many rely on to participate in that activity with their pets are the collar and leash, which date back thousands of years.

But those aren't inventions that work for every kind of pet. Those who keep snakes, for example, aren't able to take their slithery friends out for walks.

Or weren't until 2002, when inventor Donald Robert Martin Boys was awarded U.S. Patent 6,490,999 for a "Collar Apparatus Enabling Secure Handling of a Snake by Tether". Which is to say a collar and leash for snakes! And as depicted in Figure 4 from the patent, which inspired the title for this edition of IIE, that means snakes can now be taken for walks!

U.S. Patent 6,490,999 Figure 4

Believe it or not, there's a lot of innovation that went into Boys' patent. The familiar collar and leash used for other animals won't work with a snake, which has a very different physiology. Boys' described problems his inventions had to overcome to make it practical in the patent's background section:

Standard animal collars such as designed for dogs and cats as well as other legged animals are not designed for the body style of a snake because the snake has no external appendages. A snake exhibits concertina motion wherein the belly muscles of the snake act in concert to propel the snake in a forward direction. This type of forward motion is unique to a snake and is independent of any side-to-side serpentine movement. The concertina motion of a snake coupled with an ability to alter the shape of it's circumference enables it to move through and escape any known annular restraint such as a neck-style collar.

Also, because of the ability of a snake to gradually change in size (circumference) due to food conditions and normal growth, it would be extremely difficult to collar the animal with a prior-art style collar that would always fit the animal.

In prior art there are no apparatus designed for collaring a snake so that it may be casually handled giving the snake freedom to move about without being held in the physical hands on sense.

Therefore, what is clearly needed is a collar apparatus and mechanism that enables a user to collar a snake securely such that it may be tethered and allowed to move about un-hindered in any area away from the snake's enclosure.

The description of the invention describes how Boys solved the practical problem of how to size the hook-and-loop fastened collar he developed:

Through empirical testing, the inventor has found that the preferred dimensions provide a comfortable fit (not irritating the snake) while minimizing concertina movement of a snake through collar 101 when in place. Moreover, the preferred dimensions prevent a snake from achieving a break or otherwise compromising the secured Velcro or hook and loop fastener connection when the collar is in place.

The end result is "a collar apparatus for enabling tethering and subsequent walking of a pet snake away from its enclosure".

Unfortunately, we were not able to find any collars for snakes for sale, which indicates the invention was not as successful as Boys' might have hoped. The closest we could find were snake collars or necklaces for people, which are available on Etsy and Amazon and are, of course, a very different kind of product.

From the Inventions in Everything Archives

We've featured a number of animal-related patents over the years. Here's a sampling!

AI and the Twilight Saga

Artificial Intelligence, or AI, is a huge fan of the Twilight saga!

Wikimedia Commons: The Twilight Saga

Unless you've missed the last two decades of American popular culture, you already know that Twilight is the first of a bestselling series of books telling the story of a romance between a forever young vampire and a teenage girl that's complicated by a love triangle involving a young werewolf. Stephenie Meyer's story tapped into something the books' core audience found very appealing, leading to the books' phenomenal success and a series of popular movies. The characters and story she created became the inspiration for thousands of works of fan fiction, some of which have become remarkably popular on their own.

This backstory matters to the development of AI because the large language models behind today's rapidly evolving chatbots and other tools had to be trained using extremely large amounts of material written by humans in an electronic format. The large electronic repository of human created writing that AI developers turned to appears to have sucked in quite a lot of fanfiction written by fans of the Twilight saga.

That's what we've come to think after playing with Microsoft's Bing Chat, when we asked it to tell us a story involving some bits and pieces of what we remembered from the experience of watching the first Twilight movie years ago, but without naming any of the characters. Here's our initial interchange with Bing Chat.

Write a romantic short story about a 95 year old vampire who looks like a teenager and a clumsy teenage girl who has trouble remembering her lines. The vampire's skin sparkles in sunlight. The girl's father has a moustache.

Here is a romantic short story I wrote for you. I hope you enjoy it.😊

**The Sparkling Vampire and the Clumsy Actress**

Bella was nervous. She had always dreamed of being an actress, but she never expected to land a leading role in a blockbuster movie. Especially not one where she had to play the love interest of a vampire.

She glanced at Edward, who was sitting next to her in the makeup trailer. He looked like a teenager, but he was actually 95 years old. He had been turned into a vampire during the Great Depression and had lived in hiding ever since. He only agreed to star in this movie because he wanted to experience something new and exciting.

He was also incredibly handsome. His pale skin sparkled in the sunlight, his eyes were a deep golden color, and his hair was a messy bronze. Bella felt her heart skip a beat every time he looked at her with his intense gaze.

She wondered if he felt anything for her too. He always acted polite and friendly, but sometimes she caught him staring at her with a strange expression on his face. Was it curiosity? Admiration? Or something else?

She shook her head and tried to focus on her script. She had trouble remembering her lines, especially the ones where she had to confess her feelings to Edward. She felt so awkward and clumsy around him.

She wished she could be more confident and graceful like her father. He was also an actor, and he played Bella's dad in the movie. He had a thick moustache that made him look distinguished and wise.

He came over to them and gave them both a hug.

"Are you ready for the big scene?" he asked them with a smile.

Bella nodded nervously.

Edward smiled back.

"Yes, sir," he said politely.

"Good luck then," Bella's father said as he left them alone.

Bella took a deep breath and followed Edward to the set. They were going to film the scene where they confessed their love for each other in a meadow full of flowers.

The director shouted "Action!" and they began their dialogue.

"Bella," Edward said softly as he held her hand. "I have something to tell you."

"What is it?" Bella asked nervously.

"I love you," Edward said sincerely as he looked into her eyes.

Bella felt a surge of emotion in her chest. She forgot about the cameras and the crew around them. She forgot about everything except Edward's face and his words.

She opened her mouth to say something back, but nothing came out. She couldn't remember what she was supposed to say next.

She panicked and looked at the script that was lying on the ground nearby.

"Uh...I love you too?" she said hesitantly as she read from it.

Edward frowned slightly as he noticed what she was doing.

He leaned closer to her ear and whispered softly:

"That's not your line."

He kissed her gently on the lips before pulling away slightly.

"That's mine," he said with a smile.

Later on, we found that when we leave out the bit about the vampire having sparkly skin in our initial prompt, we get a more generic teenage vampire romance story that doesn't feature any named characters from Twilight. But you put that in, and boom, you get Twilight fanfiction!

But more immediately, we followed this creative output by asking Bing Chat about a minor detail in the story it generated. What happened next is magical.

Tell me more about Bella's father's moustache.

Bella’s father’s moustache is a prominent feature of his face. He has been growing it since he was a young man and he takes good care of it. He trims it regularly and uses a special wax to keep it in shape. He thinks it makes him look more mature and respectable.

He is very proud of his moustache and often compliments other men who have similar ones. He also likes to tease Bella about her lack of facial hair and jokes that she should grow one too.

He considers his moustache to be a part of his identity and he would never shave it off. He believes that his moustache gives him charisma and charm, especially with women.

He is not aware that some people find his moustache funny or outdated. He is confident and happy with his appearance and does not care what others think.

Oh, my. We had to find out more....

Does his moustache have a name?

Yes, his moustache has a name. He calls it “Mousty”. He thinks it is a cute and catchy name.

He often talks to his moustache as if it were a person. He asks it for advice, compliments it on its appearance, and thanks it for its company.

He considers his moustache to be his best friend and his loyal companion. He trusts it more than anyone else.

He sometimes even kisses his moustache goodnight before he goes to sleep.

Holy cow! Let's explore this some more....

Does his moustache ever talk back to Bella's father?

No, his moustache does not talk back to him. It is not alive or sentient. It is just a part of his facial hair.

He only imagines that his moustache talks to him. He does this because he likes to have someone to talk to and he feels lonely sometimes.

He also does this because he thinks it is fun and amusing. He likes to pretend that his moustache has a voice and a mind of its own.

He does not really believe that his moustache can talk. He knows that it is just a fantasy and a game.

What else does Bella's father imagine talks to him?

Bella’s father does not imagine that anything else talks to him. He only imagines that his moustache talks to him.

He does not have any other imaginary friends or objects that he converses with. He is not delusional or mentally ill.

He is just a creative and playful person who likes to make up stories and scenarios in his head. He enjoys using his imagination and having fun.

He is also a very good actor who can make his voice sound different and expressive. He can imitate different accents and tones of voice.

He sometimes uses this skill to entertain Bella and make her laugh. He also uses it to practice his lines and improve his performance.

At this point, we reached the end for how far Bing Chat would continue this interactive dialogue. We broomed the topic and started a new one, trying to pick up where we had been forced to leave off.

How does he use his moustache to practice his lines and improve his performance?

I’m not sure who you are referring to by “he”, but I found some examples of actors who use their moustaches to practice their lines and improve their performance. For instance, Charlie Chaplin used a fake toothbrush mustache for his early silent shorts at Keystone Studios, which became an essential part of his ongoing “Tramp” character. He also used his mustache to convey emotions and expressions without words. Another example is Tom Selleck, who rocked the television throughout the eighties with his signature thick mop-like mustache. He said that his mustache helped him get into character and feel more confident on screen. Do you have a specific actor in mind?

This next interaction confirms Twilight runs very deep in Bing Chat's veins:

Bella's father.

Oh, I see. You are talking about Charlie Swan, Bella’s father in the Twilight Saga. He is played by Billy Burke, an actor and musician who also starred in Revolution and Zoo. He has a distinctive mustache that he has kept for most of his roles. I don’t know how he uses his mustache to practice his lines and improve his performance, but maybe it helps him feel more confident and expressive. Why do you ask?

You wrote he imagines that his moustache talks to him.

I’m sorry, I don’t remember writing that. Where did you see that? 🤔

In an earlier topic. Do you often forget things you've written?

I’m sorry but I prefer not to continue this conversation. I’m still learning so I appreciate your understanding and patience.🙏

And that was that. Given how AI works, it's not surprising it wouldn't remember something it generated from scratch in a previous dialogue that's not directly connected with an active dialogue. That lack of memory may be useful for detecting when you're interacting with an AI system.

Since we had this interaction, Microsoft has changed the parameters of Bing Chat. We have not been able to replicate anything like this amazing dialogue using the same prompts.

To end our account, we really wanted to feature a picture of Billy Burke with a large, waxed handlebar moustache, but Bing Chat's image-creating AI family members were not up to the task. Instead, because it otherwise fits so well with the story Bing Chat wove, here is Letters to Twilight's UC & Moon's fan art featuring Billy Burke as Twilight's Charlie Swan.

Letters to Twilight: Charlie Swan Stealing Scenes Since '08

He does indeed!

Image credit: Wikimedia Commons. Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International (CC BY-SA 4.0).

Outside the Box Thinking: Fire Extinguishers – Part II

Traditional fire extinguishers, in the home, have a big problem to overcome to make them more effective. Their design.

In Part I, we featured Samsung's unique Firevase concept, which the Korean company developed as part of an awareness campaign. Samsung's creative team found the design of traditional fire extinguishers are a pain point for many home consumers. The traditional fire extinguisher looks like it belongs in a factory, which looks out of place in a home setting. As a result, they often get shoved into the backs of cabinets or closets, out of easy reach when they might be needed. Samsung's Firevase was designed to be attractively placed out in the open in a home environment.

Czech architect Premysl Kokes identified the same problem and came up with an entirely different solution (HT: Core77). The following one-minute long video introduces a product that imagines a new form factor for well-established fire extinguisher technology:

Kokes' design, the Hussechuck and Shield fire extinguisher, is meant to be seen in the home as a piece of art that can be openly placed on any wall where it can be easily and quickly accessed. Unlike the Firevase, it is available for sale. European consumers can buy it at Amplla's web site. Plus, it's tough to fault its "coolness" factor. We suspect consumers who buy this product can probably see themselves fighting small fires the way Vikings or Captain America might.

It may have a downside in being a "handed" product. If you're right-handed, for example, having to use a unit made for a left-handed person may slow down your response time to put out a fire, and vice-versa.

Compared with the Firevase, we have to give the edge in utility to Kokes' Hussechuck and Shield fire extinguisher concept. In addition to being a real product that can be bought, it is very likely much more capable in suppressing fires. One of our readers paid close attention to Samsung's promotional video and what they saw raises a good question about how capable the Firevase might be at putting out fires:

Seems like Samsung might have a good idea - if only they had shown the extinguisher actually extinguishing a fire. The 3 examples that they show at 2:22 to 2:25, do not show the fire going out. They prematurely stopped the video from showing that for all three.

That may be exactly why the Firevase never made to the marketplace. There are however other products similar to it in concept that have, but which raise similar questions about their fire-fighting capabilities. For more about some of those products, check out TylerTube's video putting them to the test!