Judging from my (sporadic) blog posts over the past few years, it would seem that I have two hobbyhorses: peak helium, and transcranial direct-current stimulation (or tDCS).
Both of these topics appeared in the news in the past week, though I wouldn’t have known if not for thoughtful readers bringing the articles to my attention.
Yesterday, both Brendan Hong and Terry England brought these posts to my attention. (And they did so within 5 minutes of each other, according to the timestamps on my inbox.) Western Digital, a manufacturer of hard drives, has announced its intent to start building drives filled with helium gas rather than regular air (which is roughly 80% nitrogen, 20% oxygen, with trace amounts of argon, carbon dioxide, and other gases). The idea, as far as I can tell, is to reduce wind resistance for the spinning platters inside the drives. (Since a helium atom is less massive than any of the atmospheric constituents listed above, moving through a helium atmosphere would require less mechanical work than moving through an atmosphere comprising heavier gases. It boils down to conservation of momentum, or to look at it a different way, the force (really impulse) required to shunt the atoms or molecules aside.)
It doesn’t seem like such a crazy idea. They seem fairly confident that this move will enable them to pack more data into a hard drive enclosure. (Though I wonder why, if the enclosure has to be air-tight anyway, why not pump it down to something approximating a vacuum? That would offer less drag than even hydrogen gas. Perhaps it’s too difficult to achieve as a manufacturing process for mass-produced objects? I don’t know.)
I do however groan when I see statements like that near the end of the original article, which claims there’s a “plentiful” supply of helium. That might not be the case for much longer, as I’ve mentioned a few times. (I also roll my eyes at the suggestion that the use of helium will eliminate the drag entirely. Iâ€¦ doubt this.)
Meanwhile, reader Andrew Healy pointed me to an article about tDCS in last weekend’s New York Times Magazine. There was also this piece in the same paper, which appeared last week. While I agree with the statement that tDCS “is not black magic” â€” I mean, of course not! It’s MAD SCIENCEâ€”I’m troubled by some of the other information put forward in the second article. One researcher is quoted as saying, â€œtDCS needs to be coupled with adequate cognitive training,” which I find inherently limiting. What tDCS really needs is to be coupled with a profound Nietzschean Will to Power.
I admit I’m also disappointed that both articles overlook the potential for developing bona fide superpowers.