The rest of the media were reporting on an asteroid named 16 Psyche last month worth $10 quintillion. Oddly enough they reported in July 2019 and again in February 2018 that the same asteroid was worth $700 quintillion, so it seems the space rock market is similar to cryptocurrency in its wild speculation. Those numbers are ridiculous, but it had us thinking about the economies of space transportation, and what atoms are worth based on where they are. Let’s break down how gravity wells, distance, and arbitrage work to figure out how much of this $10-$700 quintillion we can leverage for ourselves.
The value assigned to everything has to do with where a thing is, AND how much someone needs that thing to be somewhere else. If they need it in a different place, someone must pay for the transportation of it.
In international (and interplanetary) trade, this is where Incoterms come in. These are the terms used to describe who pays for and has responsibility for the goods between where they are and where they need to be. In this case, all those materials are sitting on an asteroid, and someone has to pay for all the transport and insurance and duties. Note that on the asteroid these materials need to be mined and refined as well; they’re not just sitting in a box on some space dock. On the other end of the spectrum, order something from Amazon and it’s Amazon that takes care of everything until it’s dropped on your doorstep. The buyer is paying for shipping either way; it’s just a matter of whether that cost is built into the price or handled separately. Another important term is arbitrage, which is the practice of taking a thing from one market and selling it in a different market at a higher price. In this case the two markets are Earth and space.
It seems like just yesterday (maybe for some of you it was) we were installing Windows 3.1 off floppy drives onto a 256 MB hard drive, but hard drives have since gotten a lot bigger and a lot more complicated, and there are a lot more options than spinning platters.
The explosion of storage options is the result of addressing a variety of niches of use. The typical torrenter downloads a file, which is written once but read many times. For some people a drive is used as a backup that’s stored elsewhere and left unpowered. For others it is a server frequently reading and writing data like logs or swap files. In all cases it’s physics that sets the limits of what storage media can do; if you choose wisely for your use case you’ll get the bet performance.
The jargon in this realm is daunting: superparamagnetic limit, LMR, PMR, CMR, SMR, HAMR, MAMR, EAMR, XAMR, and QLC to name the most common. Let’s take a look at how we got here, and how the past and present of persistent storage have expanded what the word hard drive actually means and what is found under the hood.
This post is different from normal Hackaday fare. I don’t want to presume anything about you, but I’m pretty sure the story I’m about to share resonates with at least some of you.
I’ve been having a tough time, exacerbated by this age of social distancing. This all crept up on me at first, but as I began to look back on my behavior and moods, I began noticing patterns that I hadn’t noticed before. This is certainly a relevant issue in this community, so let’s talk about mental health, beginning with my own journey.
An update: over the last couple days there has been an outpouring of support, and I am extremely grateful to everyone who has reached out to me. It will take me a while to catch up with everyone, and though I am fortunate enough to still have a full time job with some flexibility, the number of hours I have available means I have a new and welcome challenge. I’ve learned a lot recently; some things worth sharing:
It’s clear that people care about me, and that’s pretty cool.
I am not alone in my experience. It’s sad hearing about all the other people who say they’ve gone through similar things, but I appreciate the sharing. This is shitty; depression sucks.
A lot of the guilt and shame I’ve felt about not keeping up with people, which has made it harder to try to reach out, has evaporated. It turns out it’s ok to say “dude, we haven’t talked in almost 15 years. What has happened in your life? Get me up to speed.”
My friends are awesome! I’ve been missing out by not being more involved.
I have successfully curated an image that has convinced other people that I’m put together and confident and busy, but that was a mistake on my part. I have been like every failed startup; make everybody think you’re doing great up until the moment you are out of runway and crash spectacularly. It turned out that vulnerability was the important part I should have been showing more of. Convincing everyone I was doing fine wasn’t getting me what I needed. I just had to ask for it.
My life is pretty good right now. Talking to people and catching up I have been describing a pretty rosy situation in which I have a good job, a good house, and a good partner. Part of this is definitely my habit from the previous point leaking through, but there’s a lot of truth to it, too, and I find myself feeling guilty for being depressed. All the rock star movies portray a person who has it all still suffering depression, so I guess it can happen to anyone. Just like the rock stars, I had impossible expectations for myself and shallow connections and craved human connection.
I still have a long way to go. The self-awareness and reaching out is a sign of an upward trend, but it’s a deep valley I’m in. I’ve taken some steps and have momentum, and I’m not doing this alone.
Friends, I’m not ok, and this is a call for help. I’m not in danger, and I’m not thinking about hurting anyone or myself. For a long time I’ve been depressed, though the optimist in me always found reasons that it wasn’t depression and that it would just be ok once ___ was over. But there was always a new ___, and it wasn’t until an intervention in January by a loved one when I realized the extent of my depression. The tests had me so close to severe on the scale that even when I went back through to see if I could tweak the results I was still firmly in depressed-land. This was before COVID. Now the random bouts of sobbing is inconvenient, the things that were causing me problems before are magnified unbearably, and the effects on those who have no choice but to be around me are undeniable.
I’ve been seeing a therapist. I’ve been doing research and reading books. I’m working on appropriate medication (which has not been easy. The first attempt had side effects that had me rolling in pain for a week). I had a plan before the pandemic. I was going to get out more, be more social, find a squad. I had even taken a new dance class and was starting to get involved in that community. I was anxiously awaiting summer so that I could try to find an ultimate team to join. I knew it was going to be hard to stick my neck out, but the current situation hasn’t been tenable for some time.
Even before COVID I spent so much time at home working on projects and side hustles and so little time interacting with people. This whole thing has changed my lifestyle surprisingly little, and that’s telling and terrible. Part of me yearns for human connection while the part of me that usually wins celebrates being able to go grocery shopping without interacting with anyone. My throughput and volume of projects is still high, but I rarely feel worthy enough to share. My loneliness and feelings of having no impact are crushing me, and the lowered confidence and self-esteem makes me think I have little to offer. The voice in my head is the meanest bully you can imagine, and he’s really hard to escape.
Now the call to action; please schedule something with me. Any amount of time, and most days and times are ok. You can just tell me about your day if you want. Call or video or even text or email. If it’s been a while since we’ve talked, that just means we have more to catch up on. I need to get over the hump of this depression and anxiety and feel like there really are people out there who want to spend time with me.
Medical device company Medtronic released designs for one of their ventilators to open source for use in the COVID-19 pandemic. This is a laudable action, and there is plenty to glean from the specs (notable is that the planned release is incomplete as of this writing, so more info is on the way). Some initial reactions: medical devices are complicated, requirements specifications are enormous, the bill of materials (BOM) is gigantic, and component sourcing, supply chain, assembly, and testing are just as vital as the design itself.
The pessimist in me says that this design was open sourced for two reasons; to capitalize on an opportunity to get some good press, and to flex in front of the DIY community and convince them that the big boys should be the ones solving the ventilator shortage. The likelihood of anyone actually taking these specs and building it as designed are essentially zero for a variety of reasons, but let’s assume their intent is to give a good starting point for newer changes. The optimist in me says that after what happened to California over the weekend with 170 ventilators arriving broken, it might be nice to have open designs to aid in repair of existing non-functioning ventilators.
The design details released today are for their PB560 model, which was originally launched in 2010 by a company called Covidien, before it merged with Medtronic, so we’re already starting with a device design that’s a decade old. But it’s also a design that has proven itself through widespread use, and this data dump gives us a great look at what actually goes into one of these machines. Let’s take a look.
Treating the most serious cases of COVID-19 calls for the use of ventilators. We’ve all heard this, and also that there is a shortage of these devices. But there is not one single type of ventilator, and that type of machine is not the only option when it comes to assisted breathing being used in treatment. Information is power and having better grasp on this topic will help us all better understand the situation.
We recently wrote about a Facebook group focused on open source ventilators and other technology that could assist in the COVID-19 pandemic. There was an outpouring of support, and while the community is great when it comes to building things, it’s clear we all need more information about the problems doctors are currently dealing with, and how existing equipment was designed to address them.
It’s a long and complicated topic, though, so go get what’s left of your quarantine snacks and let’s dig in.
In January 2019 I gave a presentation at Nerd Nite about my experience selling Wacky Dancers on Amazon. There’s no video, but someone recorded audio. I finally got around to syncing it with my slides, so if you didn’t get to see it then, here’s as close a chance as you’ll get. Also, an update since then; we’ve sold over 450 dancers, and are no longer offering our product for sale since we have no more inventory.
Technology frequently looks at nature to make improvements in efficiency, and we may be nearing a new breakthrough in copying how nature stores data. Maybe some day your thumb drive will be your actual thumb. The entire works of Shakespeare could be stored in an infinite number of monkeys. DNA could become a data storage mechanism! With all the sensationalism surrounding this frontier, it seems like a dose of reality is in order.
The human genome, with 3 billion base pairs can store up to 750MB of data. In reality every cell has two sets of chromosomes, so nearly every human cell has 1.5GB of data shoved inside. You could pack 165 billion cells into the volume of a microSD card, which equates to 165 exobytes, and that’s if you keep all the overhead of the rest of the cell and not just the DNA. That’s without any kind of optimizing for data storage, too.
This kind of data density is far beyond our current digital storage capabilities. Storing nearly infinite data onto extremely small cells could change everything. Beyond the volume, there’s also the promise of longevity and replication, maintaining a permanent record that can’t get lost and is easily transferred (like medical records), and even an element of subterfuge or data transportation, as well as the ability to design self-replicating machines whose purpose is to disseminate information broadly.
So, where is the state of the art in DNA data storage? There’s plenty of promise, but does it actually work?