Norman Borlaug Saves A Billion

Everyone loves a hero. Save someone from a burning building, and you’ll get your fifteen minutes of fame. That’s why I’m always surprised that more people don’t know Norman Borlaug, who would have celebrated his 104th birthday on Sunday. He won the Nobel prize in 1970 and there’s good reason to think that his hacking efforts saved about a billion people from starving to death. A billion people. That’s not just a hero, that’s a superhero.

To understand why that claim is made, you have to go back to the 1970s. The population was growing and was approaching an unprecedented four billion people. Common wisdom was that the Earth couldn’t sustain that many people. Concerns about pollution were rampant and there were many influential thinkers who felt that we would not be able to grow enough food to feed everyone.

Paul Ehrlich, in particular, was a Stanford University biologist who wrote a book “The Population Bomb.” His forecast of hundreds of millions starving to death in the 1970s and 1980s, including 65 million Americans, were taken very seriously. He also predicted doom for India and that England would not exist by the year 2000.

Here we are 40 or 50 years later and while there are hungry people all over the world, there isn’t a global famine of the proportions many people thought was imminent. What happened? People are pretty good problem solvers and Norman Borlaug — along with others — created what’s known as the Green Revolution.

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Robot Uses Iron Man Tech To Walk

Designing a bi-pedal robot is a relatively straight forward task, given the array of tools that we now have at our disposal. There are many open source examples out there for anyone to get started. Designing one that doesn’t fall over a lot… well that’s not so simple. This is because when we walk our center of balance is constantly shifting, so during our adolescence we learn to shift our body weight around to maintain a stable center of balance. By the time we hit our mid-teens most of us have mastered the art of walking, and can maintain stability even through intense movements such as seen in many sports.

The question is of course, how does one convey this type of learning into a bi-pedal robot? It’s not easy to say the least. Take a look at what the robotics team over at Guangdong University of Technology’s School of Automation in China are doing. They’ve strapped a pair of ducted fan jet engines to the feet of a bi-pedal setup. What this does is allow the robot to maintain its center of balance over a large distance. Generally we see bi-pedal robots “tip toe over egg shells” because they need to keep the center of balance as stable as possible. By applying a thrusting force that comes out of the foot; they’re able to maintain center of gravity even though the robot is extended well beyond its normal range of motion.

Be sure to check out the video below for an excellent demonstration. Sometimes Hollywood does hackers a great service by giving us some inspiration!

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Drill Bit Gauge Is Interdenominational Black Magic

Oh, sure – when you buy a new set of drill bits from the store, they come in a handy holder that demarcates all the different sizes neatly. But after a few years when they’ve ended up scattered in the bottom of your toolbox for a while, it becomes useful to have some sort of gauge to measure them. [Caspar] has the solution, and all you need is an old steel rule.

The trick is to get a ruler with gradations for inches and tenths of inches. After cutting the ruler off just after the 6″ point, the two halves are glued together with some steel offcuts and epoxy. By assembling the two halves in a V shape with a 1 mm drill bit at the 1″ position, and a 5 mm drill bit at the 5″ marker, a linear slope is created that can be used to measure any drill bits and rod of the appropriate size inserted between the two.

It’s a handy tool to have around the shop when you’ve amassed a collection of bits over the years, and need to drill your holes accurately. Additionally, it’s more versatile than the usual method of inserting bits in appropriately sized holes, and can be more accurate.

Now that you’ve organised your drill bits, perhaps you’d like to sharpen them?