Wednesday, December 9, 2009

No. 0054 - Self Folding Clothes

I tell my friends all the time that to be an engineer is really a sick way of being lazy; "sick" as in we work really hard to come up with ideas and gadgets that would allow us all to be lazier. I think the invention of the Segway is the perfect example. I'm sure numerous engineers have spent countless hours in researching and developing this technology, but to what cause? To substitute one of the most basic function of our everyday lives - walking.

I'm going to explore this laziness a little further. I personally hate folding clothes after laundry. I've always thought that whoever invented the washer and dryer, why couldn't have they just gone the extra mile and invent a clothes folder. Here is my invention, and it all boils down to one key technology that has been around for a long time - the answer is shape memory alloy or SMA. SMA is a material that you can deform in any manner you want, but upon applying heat or electrical current, the metal will automatically return to its original shape. The last time I learned about this technology, people were thinking about developing artificial limbs with this material because they mimic the function of muscle cells so much.

Here is how I would use this material in clothes. Imagine a t-shirt with SMA strands along all the crease line. With all the strands hooked up to a tiny permanent connector on the shirt, all you would need to do is plug the shirt in and it would fold itself. Better yet, if we use the heat sensitivity SMA, then all we would need to do is throw the clothes into the dryer and they will come out folded. How cool is that? I actually did some youtube research before I wrote this blog and guess what? People have already integrated heat SMA with textile, see

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

No. 0053 - A Girl Named "NPR"

If NPR (National Public Radio) is a girl, I would ask her to marry me. She is funny. She is smart. She is witty. She always have something interesting to tell me. She cares about things that really matter in the world today, yet she is never too busy to tell me a few random fun facts (picking lock for a sport! who would have thought!?

She introduces me to new music all the time. And we are not talking about playing the same pop song every three hours like most others but instead excerpt of songs from rising stars from all sorts of genre (she introduced me to Zee Avi,

She is unbiased on most political views, but yet she is not a push over even in front of the most formidable figure. She examines topics from all angles allowing me the freedom to process the information in which ever manner I wish.

She asks intelligent questions which often times does a good job of stirring up my brain juices, while at the same time also asks questions that make me feel.

She likes to talk science on Fridays (Science Friday) which combines two of my all time favorite things together: Science and Fridays.

She knows how to fix cars on weekends (Car Talk) but then right after that, she'll jump right into an engaging discussion of making fun of current events (Wait, Wait Don't Tell Me), which is also one of my favorite things to do and that is poking fun at whatever.

Though she does repeat herself during the night time (in some places Latin music) but I don't mind.

She is way popular, with lots of people always trying to call her. One time I've finally mustered up enough courage to call her to voice an opinion but her line was busy. I was pretty crushed.

And you know this attraction is 100% genuine and not one bit shallow because she doesn't even have a body or a face.

Some of you may say, "wow, Patrick has really lost it this time" or "that last breakup must have really messed him up in the head!" Messed up in the head? Maybe. But one thing I do know from an interest-based analysis standpoint, that if NPR is a girl, I would find her dang attractive.

Disclaimer: Please don't interpret this as "Patrick's Future (Human) Wife Wish List". I'll never post such a thing, even though this would be pretty close. If you follow this blog regularly, you would know that the spirit of this blog is an attempt to approach everything in life analytically. Please don't consider me crazy. Thank you.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

No. 0052 - Vacation Sync

Just a few weeks back, I had some of old college friends visit me from the west coast. In the mean time, I took some vacation to go with them on a road trip to visit another college friend of ours in DC. Needless to say, there were a lot of planning involved but nevertheless, they were good times. Idealistically speaking, I wished some of my other friends would have been able to join us for the reunion tour but because now that we all have graduated and have moved on with our lives, it is getting harder and harder to sync up our PTO to go on a trip together just like the good old days. When we were still in college, syncing holidays are easy because we all went to the same school so we would share holidays. But now that we all work, PTO's can be taken anytime in the year. Unless you plan something out a year in advance, taking vacation as a bunch of friends is nearly impossible. I wish there is some program out there that would simply sync up our holidays, you know, kind of like black out dates. So say you are trying to book a flight for a family reunion, this program would automatically bounce back an error saying "Black out dates! You need to save your PTO and money for the camping trip next month!". Or say you are trying to get marry, have kids and start a family and stuff "Black out dates! Can't get marry until after your road trip to Mexico!" I would imagine a program like this would have only 2 outcomes: (1) all the friends would be able to meet up and have a great time on a vacation together or (2) you would lose a lot of good friends really fast.

Monday, October 26, 2009

No. 0051 - 6 Sigma Idiot

Currently at work, I've been assigned to a project where I have to design a capbank (as in a collection of capacitors housed in one box). Now for those of you who are not familiar with capacitors, they are more or less like a battery. Actually, a lot of them do shape like a battery, but unlike any traditional batteries from the grocery stores, if you touch the terminals, the chances are you will get a good jolt depending on the capacitance. The general rule is you don't touch them unless you have touch the terminals with a screw driver (with an insulated handle of course) first to discharge it.

As my teammates and I are about done with designing this thing, of course safety people would have to review it before it gets built. In my previous experience, these meetings never go well. They have always caused me nothing but a great deal of frustrations and anguish. Now don't get me wrong, I'm an advocate for safety but I'm just not sure if these meetings does the job. I usually call them the "What If" meetings because that is pretty much what the safety guys do; proposing a list of "what if" scenarios with an increasing order of ridiculousness. Here is usually how they go.

Safety Guy (SG): What if the operator forgets to discharge the capacitors?
Design team (DT): We've designed it to discharge automatically.
SG: Then what if the discharge is not quick enough?
DT: We can design it to make it real labor intensive to dissemble so it will take longer.
SG: How about what if it blows up. . . spontaneously?
Me in my head: The box is freakn' Aluminum!!
SG: What if the operator is really good at unscrewing screws and pulling things apart?
Me in my head: Then he deserves to get fried!? Anyone would know better than to treat lightly of MULTIPLE capacitors that are each a size of a SODA CAN!
SG: What if some one forgets to turn off everything?
Me in my head: What if the operator licks the terminals?! Come on?!?

My dilemma is where exactly should this "what if" game stop? The whole idea is to protect people from doing dumb things and hurting themselves in the process, but is there a measurement to that? To what level of idiots am I suppose to protect? Is there a measurement of idiocy? I propose that there should be one. In my everyday design tasks, we often deal with the term "6 sigma". A sigma is a standard deviation. So what 6 sigma really means is whatever we design, the final distribution curve of this thing should fit within a 6 standard deviation window or roughly 99.99966% of the time. Or in another word, whatever it is that I'm designing, it better work 99.99966% of the time. Now take that same paradigm and apply it to measuring idiots. Given a normal distribution (or bell curve). The middle bulk part would represent people with average intelligence. People to the right and left edge of the curve would represent the extreme genius and idiots, respectively. With such a curve, I think the safety guy will have a better idea of where should the "what if" questions stop because now there is a demarcation of idiots that can be saved (near the left edge of the curve but within the 6 sigma window) and those that may just jump into a swimming pool with a live capbank, what I also call the "6 sigma idiots" or people outside the left side of the bell curve.

***Note: Knock on wood, knock on wood, rabbit's foot . . . that I won't become that 6 sigma idiot and fry myself.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

No. 0050 - Thoughts Separator

Has anyone ever suffers from a collision of thoughts? Let me explain. Sometimes, when either people ask me a question or I'm just thinking or pondering about something, several great ideas/thoughts/answers would arrive in my head at the exactly same time or in quick rapid firing sequence. As a result, the ideas would collide with each other and I would end up instantaneously forgetting them all. It is actually quite annoying and I wonder if this is an actual disease.

The worst thing about thoughts collision (we'll call it TC for now) isn't just the deletion of the first few good ideas/comments, the worst is when the dumb and irrelevant ideas that trickles in afterward. So for people like me who has a "direct-brain-to-mouth" syndrome (bad combo with TC), it is surely a double whammy.

I was sitting in Sunday School once and the teacher asked one of those "what do you think" type question. There was a pause then TC happened to me, but by then my hand was already half way up, it was too late. Sure enough, I lost all the good comments and the stupid irrelevant one was made (I know, because the teacher had to do some polite patch up work to my comment to bring it back into the topic). After that, some other people raised their hands and gave the respond that I would have given almost verbatim. In my mind, I threw my hands up and said, "that's what I was going to say!!" (felt like an idiot).

I think what I need (and those who suffers from TC) is a thought separator that would work like an inbox to an email account. Something that would capture it all in a flash so I can go back and review them one by one. Even better, have a spam filter that would filter out all the dumb and irrelevant stuff (you see it just happened to me right now, when I typed "spam", I thought, "hmmm maybe I should have spam for dinner"). That would be the best. Or maybe something that would at least slow down the sequence of ideas coming into my head. Only if I can digest each ideas individually, I think I would be a much much much smarter person, instead of being that weirdo that makes irrelevant off-topic comments at church.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

No. 0049 - 25 Random Things About Me

Okay, this is not really my invention. I'm just following the crowd with this whole "25 random things about you" movement. In fact at one point, I vowed to not do it but then again, here I am simply because I get bored very easily. To be quite honest, I'm only adding this as an invention idea because I didn't want to mess up my whole invention motif to my notes section in my Facebook. Here are the instructions that I guess we are suppose to copy and paste at the beginning. My 25 follows that. Enjoy.

Suggested Guidelines: Once tagged, you are supposed to write a note with 25 random things, facts, habits, or goals about yourself. At the end, choose 25 people to be tagged. You are supposed to tag the person who tagged you. If I tagged you, it's because I want to know more about you.

To do this, go to “notes” under tabs on your profile page, paste these instructions in the body of the note, type your 25 random things, tag 25 people (in the right hand corner of the app) then click publish.

1. It seems like I do not have any short term memory. If you physically bump me, I would forget even faster as if thoughts are falling out of my ear. I also can’t retain anything if multiple thoughts arrive at the same time (I get real frustrated when that happens).

2. I can only breathe through one nostril at a time and my nose choices which nostril to breathe through (It would often reroute the airflow at random times of the day). But when it gets mad or irritated, it would just block both passages. (You can suffocate me just by covering my mouth).

3. I once had a pet “cyclop-ed” parakeet as a child (no I did not hurt it nor did I get it from a pirate) probably because it watched too much TV.

4. I asked Roseanne out to a dance as our first date but she wasn’t feeling well, so I bought her a tube of Airborne as our date gift.

5. Whenever I get hungry back in college, I just go open up my fridge and cabinets, and my appetite would go away. (It still works sometimes these days).

6. I like tripe (the Chinese way).

7. For the longest time, I thought the thundering and misting of the vegetables in grocery stores is all apart of “Plant Psychology”, as in we are trying to trick the plant to think that it is still in the fields therefore have reasons to stay alive and fresh.

8. I once had a very heated argument (even to tears) with my cousins when I was ~8 about how ants don’t have any eyes. (I was behind the no-eyes proposition).

9. Unlike most Asians, I hate seafood.

10. I used to think 99 degrees was cool, but now I think 30+ is warm.

11. I prefer noodles rather than rice.

12. I once installed my camera in my friend’s RC plane, flew it above the mountain ranges and captured movie of the Pacific Ocean.

13. I have only ditched class twice in my entire life besides honest sick day. I faked sick once in 3rd grade and I ditched a welding lecture once just so that I can make it to this professor’s office hour.

14. I get noxious when I smell Spaghettio because back in 6th grade, my science teacher used it to represent intestines to a fake murder scene at the baseball field. He was trying to teach us the Scientific Method.

15. I love McDonald fries.

16. I get annoyed when I see little kids wearing their soccer cleats off the field (e.g. grocery stores, downtown sidewalks).

17. If I didn’t become an engineer, I would have been an architect. (And if not that, then a photographer)

18. I learned how to speak fluent English from watching the Simpsons and Full House.

19. My first crush on a foreigner (Caucasian) was the girl in Labyrinth when I was a little boy. (I’ve recently found out that the girl happens to be Sarah Connelly, who ironically is also the star to A Beautiful Mind, my number one favorite movie of all times. Roseanne accuses me of sub-consciously favoring that movie not because of the story but simply because Sarah Connelly is in it. I dispute that accusation, John Nash is awesome . . . for the most part).

20. I have driven to places before where I would be so tired when I was driving that I forgot how I got to a certain places. (For example, I once drove from San Luis Obispo to Santa Barbara during the night. I was so tired, that I’ve pretty much shut down my brain to the lowest running capability as in simply making sure the front of my car is in between the white lines not know where I was going. When I’ve received full mental power again, I did not remember driving through the switch backs or the tunnel of the 101 and I’ve noticed the ocean to my right. Cold sweat ran down my back as I’ve realized I’ve just cheated death. I’ve vowed to never do that again.)

21. Drinking Gatorade makes me thirstier.

22. I have yet to finishing up using an entire stick of chapstick but I’ve set that as one of the many goals in my life.

23. I hold my breath when I remove the lens of my camera.

24. I despise, loathe and can’t stand the High School Musical and all other teenie bopper movies like it. (Get real and get a job! . . . excuse my candor).

25. I hate insects of all sorts, especially those that can fly and may freak out on you. My general rule is if you have more than two pair of legs, I probably won’t like you.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

No. 0048 - Wild Card Birthday

I am going to be 29 soon. And it feels a lot like someone is holding my feet to the fire. Every year that goes by, someone is pulling me incrementally closer to the fire and by the time I hit 30, that's when I go up in flames. I think that is a pretty accurate description of how I feel about my age. Since I've moved to Massachusetts, I've been looking out for a soccer league to join. They have leagues for all ages but one thing that bothers me is that they called the 30 and plus years old team "Over-the-hill league". I didn't realize I was so close to the top of the hill?! How come no one warned me about this hill?! I didn't realized I was even climbing this hill?! I thought I was still in the FOOT-hills!

I'm sure a lot of you out there are dreading to have that "3" sneak up into the tens unit of you age. The 20's were great, weren't they? You're out of the house on your own so you can have ice cream for dinner and stay out 'till 3 in the morning. You can be a couch potato or sit in front of your computer for days, but still be able to get on your feet and play some hardcore ultimate Frisbee for hours and hours without complaining "my knees are hurting". If I can choose to be 20's forever, I would. Even if I can stay in the 20's for just one more year, I would do it. That's is why my invention this month is called the Wild Card Birthday.

Here is how it works. Everybody get issued a wild card that they can keep. During any part of their life, that person may use it to legally keep the same age for another year. That simple. So if I have such a wild card, I would use it during my next birthday and give myself a second 28th birthday party (all are invited). I mean seriously, who really cares about age anyway; it's all relative. Did you feel any different when you turned 24? Not really (at least not for me). Legally you didn't really gain anything unlike 21. But will I feel something when I cross over to the 30's? Heck yes I will because I would be branded as over-the-hill according to the MPS (Mass Premier Soccer). Considering average lifespan in the US is in the hi 70's and low 80's, what is it going to hurt if we can just roll back our age by one year? That's only roughly 1.25% of our entire lifespan.