A short effort on my part, trying to highlight the plight of minorities in Pakistan. Asia Bibi is only one of over two million non-Muslims residing in this country - their communities having been victimized on several occasions as a consequence of serious loopholes in our legal system,constitution and our minds.
What is the most resilient parasite? A bacteria, a virus, an intestinal worm? No. It's Kamil Ahsan. After refusing to write for lack of inspiration, committing to write and deciding against it midway, missing Box Move meetings and multiple deadlines, the guy refuses to give up on me. So on the auspicious occasion of his birthday, I dedicate this post of random musings to him.
It’s been an eventful couple of weeks for the EE-diots of SSE. We’ve been making a processor these days for the Computer Organization Project. Indeed, leaving the books and the computer labs for the “real” labs has been a pleasant change.
Let’s talk about processors. They are everywhere: calculators, computers, washing machines, cars, TVs etc. Now that we are done motivating the processors (seemed straight out a textbook, that sentence), let us keep our feet on the ground and consider just the very basic one: the one we are actually implementing. As of today, it just adds ANDs and ORs data.
The long and short of a processor is that it executes a series of binary instructions to do some really useful things. For example the 16 bit instruction 0000101111110000 would pick two numbers stored somewhere in our processor (the numbers are stored in what we call “register files”. Visualize a register file as a huge vertical shelf having lots of drawers - the drawers are the registers), adds them and stores them in a specified register.
To put things in perspective, this instruction is stored in the Instruction memory, a ROM for example, which is in itself best visualized as a huge vertical shelf.
The instruction memory is accessed by a Program Counter, as in, the counter increments and we move on to the next instruction. The most typical instructions are add, subtract, multiply and divide using an Arithmetic Logic Unit. But that is just the square one. These are usually just the means to an end. It can also “branch” to higher or lower instructions in the Instruction Memory by evaluating conditions. Like comparing values in two registers and making its move accordingly.
So now is the climax. At its best, we can use this hardware to do recursion, take factorial and implement the Fibonacci sequence, among other non-trivial things, using just the limited amount of instructions mentioned above (the arithmetic operations, branching etc.).
This in effect, is the hardware implementation of the code we write in, say, C++ or MATLAB.
A=B+C would be translated to the 16 bit instruction whereby A, B and C are actually registers. Whatever is in the B and C register would be added and stored in the A register.
And obviously, complexity is just a series of trivial things put together. A complex recursion code in MATLAB or C++ would be implemented using the same arithmetic and branch instructions.
Now moving to the more human aspects of the Project, a lot of our time is spent soldering:
We insert, say, the “ROM holder” on top of the board, as you can see below:
...and solder it from beneath:
It takes a lot of focus, attention to detail and delicate touches and brings out the artist in the scientists.
Switching gears: a lot of psychology talk going on these days. Obviously Inception has a role to play in it. Apart from that Dr. Shahid Khan is offering neuroscience next semester. Got me excited until I checked out the pre requisites: BIO 313. No problem. But the pre reqs for BIO 313? BIO 221 and BIO 212. Pre reqs within pre reqs. Recursion slaps you in the face at times.
Parting words: Happy Eid (although I am disappointed that there will be distasteful TV dramas on bakras, trashy talk shows and televised concerts to celebrate what is in actuality a very solemn occasion. So much that riles me in this country of ours).
Note: Guest contributor Sana Bajwa is a Political Science and Economics Major.
One of the defining features of humans is their ability to mold the materials available to them in their environment into tools. The oldest evidence of tool making found has been dated to some 2.5 million years ago. From there it took our ancestors all the way till around 5,000 years ago to make another significant jump in technological advancement. But from then on we see technological development advancing at an exponential rate. In his essay published at the turn of the century, Raymond Kurzweil predicted that ‘we won't experience 100 years of progress in the 21st century—it will be more like 20,000 years of progress;’ and we can see the proof of his statement all around us. We live in a world today in which technological breakthroughs are occurring on an almost monthly basis. We are consumed by the constant desire to get the latest gadgets. We want them upgraded, smaller, better, faster, and sometimes, we just want them in a new colour. But have we ever stopped to wonder where our now archaic desktops go? What the fate of our mp3s and our 3310 Nokias is? It is easy for us to dismiss fashions and old technologies from existance, but the physical proof of them can not be got rid of as easily. With the rapid obsolescence of technology, E-waste has become a major global issue. Not only is it a problem because of the sheer mass of the waste, but it is also a problem because of its toxicity. As a result a conflict arises between the environment and technology. Do we continue to harm the environment for the sake of the centuries of human effort and development that the advanced level of technology today is a product of? Or do we look to limit it and protect the environment instead?
To understand this problem properly, we need to first see how the world has been dealing with it up until now. Initially, e-waste was treated in the same way that conventional waste was treated in; by dumping it in landfills. However as it built up at an increasingly worrying rate and toxins from it started leaking into the environment, there was a call for tighter legislation and a pressure to recycle. While some recyclers did genuinely try to recycle the material, a large amount of this ‘recycling’, an estimated 50 to 80 percent, took the form of exporting the e-waste to third world countries. Since the cost of safely recycling e-waste is high and the efficiency rates of extraction of useable raw materials from it is low, it is almost inevitable that e-waste will move down ‘the economic path of least resistance’ (Exporting Harm: The high-tech trashing of Asia). Third world countries are in no position to be able to effectively regulate the e-waste coming into their country, and are even less capable of recycling it in an environmentally safe manner. Once the e-waste gets there, it is dumped in the open where workers extract raw materials from them through a number of methods, including simply burning them and treating them with acids such as nitric acid and hydrochloric acid. This second process is used as a way of extracting the gold that is used to plate certain computer parts. As a result, the surrounding soil, air and water are contaminated by the acids, as well as affecting the health of the workers. It can cause pulmonary edema, circulatory failure and even death because of the inhalation of the fumes from the acids. This process usually takes place by a river, so the acids that are washed away by it also affect the oceanic life and the river banks. The following substances in e-waste have potentially harmful effects on the environment and individuals; lead, cadmium, mercury, barium, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), polyvinyl chloride (PVC), beryllium, carbon black, phosphor and brominated flame retardants (BFRs) including polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDE’s). An article published in PNAS in 2009 reported that the PBDE levels in workers in Guiyu, a dumping ground for e-waste in China, was ‘more than 100 times higher than in Europe’.
When this issue of dumping and its effects were brought into the limelight, the Basel Convention was created to deal with the issues it highlighted. In 1994, its signatories agreed to a complete ban on the export of hazardous wastes from the first world to the third world. However, its effectiveness proved to be limited, as third world countries did not, and still do not, have the resources to enforce it's laws. As a result, large amounts of e-waste were being imported illegally. In a 2009 PNAS article, Eddy Zeng, an organic geochemist, said that 70% of the world's e-waste was being processed illegally in China. Computer units are also legally exported in working condition, for re-use, to third world countries, but this also adds to e-waste as their life ends in these countries and they end up as simply another contribution to e-waste. This problem has also been exacerbated by the consumers of electronics in these countries themselves, whose old hardware is also dumped at these sites. A 2010 article in Nature News estimated that there were 180 million units of computers being dumped worldwide and that this number would increase to up to 1 billion units by 2030.
So what needs to be done about this problem? We need to look for alternative solutions, as we can see that simply laying out what can not be done does not solve the problem. Technological advancement is also a fact, it can not be stopped, and should not be either. But the producers of these products should be made responsible for the safe disposal of their products. Their responsibility to their products should extend through to the end of the products life cycle. Another approach would be to make manufacturers use less toxicants in their electronics, as all forms of recycling them simply involve moving them from one form to another. Technological advancement should be carried out in a responsible and sustainable manner. The level of technological advancement present in the world today is a testament to the human intellect and its ability to conceive and create, but this ability should extend to take account of the affects of these advances too.
The Box Move blog is no longer active since the founding team has graduated. The archives will remain online.
The SPROJ Forum for the SSE 2012 batch. Discuss potential Senior Projects here.
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ON THE FRINGE:
The story of a how a YouTube video of a blind man biking down a mountain inspired good non-fiction writing on echolocation. You may find it useful for your own writing. Read here.
An awful waste of space?
Amidst NASA's budgetary cuts and scientists' renewed vigor in justifying Space Programs, it is important to shed some light on the background. Click here for a succinct overview of the Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence(SETI) project.
Manto ka Muqaddama
Pakistaniat.com publishes, on the anniversary of Saadat Hasan Manto's death, a sampling of his works, a tribute to him as well as articles chronicling the obscenity trial he was tried for. Read all three parts of the series here.
Not Another 2010 List
The folks over at The Last Word put up their list for the best non-fiction in the past year, including 'The Mind's Eye' which is very hard to find in bookstores, indeed! Read the full list here.
Leslie Kaufman at The New York Times tells us exactly why those birds flying above are dropping to their deaths. Click here to read the article.
Spontaneous Solar Growth!
Reported at MadScience, scientists at MIT have found a way to create solar cells that can regenerate themselves like living organisms. Read more here.
Lessons from Chernobyl
Decades after the radiation disaster at Chernobyl, scientists elucidate how plant life has been thriving in the highly radioactive environment. Read more here.
MIT Scientists revisit Galileo's famous inclined plane experiment, this time with polymer ribbons and discover complex results. Read here.
A Lifetime, Washed Away
Pakistani author Daniyal Mueenuddin writes in the NY Times about the aftermath of the flood and displaced people. Read more here of the article posted by 3QD.
On String theory and Materials Science
Click here to find out how physicists at MIT are using ideas of gauge/gravity duality to explain properties of superconductors.
That's why you're irrational!
Newsweek's Sharon Begley provides a fascinating argument for why evolution may favor irrationality. I particularly liked the examples she picked. Read here.
Just when you wanted a gene kit
The US Food and Drug Administration held hearings n the 19th and 20th of July to talk about the validity of tests which were sold directly to the public which gives consumers direct access to to their genomes. Should it be regulated? Read more here.
On Trees and Prisons
In a 6 minute talk on Ted.com, Nalini Nadkarni (shown above) talks about her ideas of incorporating conservation into prison programs. Watch the talk and read Nadkarni's fascinating biography here.
These Lungs are made in USA
Stem Cell Biology takes huge leaps forward with the new advances made in lung transplants based on using the lungs extracellular architecture. Read more from Nature here.
Economist Special Reports
Ten years after Craig Venter revealed the first working draft of the entire Human Genome, this special report demonstrates how Biology is now at the brink of something brilliant - just recently, the draft of the entire genome of the Neanderthal was revealed. Suck on that, sceptics!
Bobby Satcher, astronaut, the first orthopedic surgeon in space. Read all about his tales here on MITnews.
Craig Venter Creations
Researchers create world's first fully synthetic self replicating, living cell. Massive fuss about limitless monster potential possible. Read the NewScientist article here. Watch the Ted.com talk by Craig Venter here.