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Equating Angels with Transistors: Shatner at His Best

In this 1976* AT&T promotional video, William Shatner explains the miracle of microprocessors. As an AT&T historian writes: "Back in 1976, microprocessors had a maximum of 8.5K transistors for 64bits of memory. The Queen of England sent her first email, and Steve Wozniak designed the Apple I." The video is very Seventies with its retro-futuristic music and narration. This is basically a LOST Dharma Station training video, but real.

Sample quote: "There was a time when philosophers argued the question of how many angels might fit on the head of a pin -- defying the laws of physics and reason. Well, today, if we take the liberty of equating angels with transistors, we can make the case for the existence of a modern kind of miracle: like fitting 7,000 transistors on one insignificant chip. In fact, by the time you hear me say this, that number will seem too modest." Indeed, today it's typical for CPUs to include hundreds of millions (or even billions) of transistors -- but very few angels.

Recommended for: nerds, Shatnerphiles, technology buffs, history buffs, and fans of sweet/smooth Seventies style (this video is so peaceful, it would make great bedtime viewing).

* = apparently this video was first created in 1976, then updated in 1980, hence the appearance of Apple ][ computers in some later shots.

(Via Kottke.org.)

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Wired, YouTube
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technology
Watch This Robot Crack a Safe in 15 Minutes
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Wired, YouTube

When Nathan Seidle was gifted a locked safe with no combination from his wife, he did what any puzzlemaster—or, rather, what any engineer with a specific set of expertise in locks and robotics—would do: He built a robot to crack the safe. Seidle is the founder of SparkFun, an electronics manufacturer based in Denver, and this gift seemed like the perfect opportunity to put his professional knowledge to the test.

The process of building a safecracking robot involved a lot of coding and electronics, but it was the 3D printing, he said, that became the most important piece. Seidle estimated that it would take four months to have the robot test out different combinations, but with one major insight, he was able to shave off the bulk of this time: While taking a closer look at the combination dial indents, he realized that he could figure out the third digit of the combination by locating the skinniest indent. Thanks to this realization, he was soon able to trim down the number of possible combinations from a million to a thousand.

Watch the video from WIRED below to see Seidle's robot in action, which effectively whittled a four-month safecracking project down to an impressive 15-minute job.

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iStock
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Big Questions
How Does Autopilot Work on an Airplane?
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iStock

How does autopilot work on an airplane?

Joe Shelton:

David Micklewhyte’s answer is a good one. There are essentially a few types of features that different autopilots have. Some autopilots only have some of these features, while the more powerful autopilots do it all.

  • Heading Hold: There’s a small indicator that the pilot can set on the desired heading and the airplane will fly that heading. This feature doesn’t take the need for wind correction to desired routing into account; that’s left to the pilot.
  • Heading and Navigation: In addition to holding a heading, this version will take an electronic navigation input (e.g. GPS or VOR) and will follow (fly) that navigation reference. It’s sort of like an automated car in that it follows the navigator’s input and the pilot monitors.
  • Altitude Hold: Again, in addition to the above, a desired altitude can be set and the aircraft will fly at that altitude. Some autopilots have the capability for the pilot to select a desired altitude and a climb or descent rate and the aircraft will automatically climb or descend to that altitude and then hold the altitude.
  • Instrument Approaches: Autopilots with this capability will fly preprogrammed instrument approaches to the point where the pilot either takes control and lands or has the autopilot execute a missed approach.

The autopilot is a powerful computer that takes input from either the pilot or a navigation device and essentially does what it is told to do. GPS navigators, for example, can have a full flight plan entered from departure to destination, and the autopilot will follow the navigator’s guidance.

These are the majority of the controls on the autopilot installed in my airplane:

HDG Knob = Heading knob (Used to set the desired heading)

AP = Autopilot (Pressing this turns the autopilot on)

FD = Flight Director (A form of navigational display that the pilot uses)

HDG = Heading (Tells the autopilot to fly the heading set by the Heading Knob)

NAV = Tells the autopilot to follow the input from the selected navigator

APR = Tells the autopilot to fly the chosen approach

ALT = Tells the autopilot to manage the altitude, controlled by the following:

VS = Vertical Speed (Tells the autopilot to climb or descend at the chosen rate)

Nose UP / Nose DN = Sets the climb/descent rate in feet per minute

FLC = Flight Level Change (An easy manual way to set the autopilot)

ALT Knob = Used to enter the desired altitude

This post originally appeared on Quora. Click here to view.

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