Unpicking The Hype Around Web 3, What’s The Tech?

The buzzword of the moment in the frothier portions of the technology press is inescapable: “Web 3”. This is a collective word for a new generation of decentralised online applications using blockchain technologies, and it follows on from a similar excitement in the mid-2000s surrounding so-called “Web 2” websites that broke away from the static pages of the early Internet.

It’s very evident reading up on Web 3, that there is a huge quantity of hype involved in talking about this Next Big Thing. If this were April 1st it would be tempting to pen a lengthy piece sending up the coverage, but here in January that just won’t do. Instead it’s time to peer under the hype and attempt to discern what Web 3 really is from a technology standpoint. Sure, a Web 3 application uses blockchain technology, often reported breathlessly as “the Blockchain” as though there were only one, but how? What is the real technology beneath it all?

Where Did All This Web 3 Stuff Come From Anyway?

"This machine is a server. DO NOT POWER IT DOWN!!" Tim Berners-Lee's famous sticker on the front of his NeXTcube, the first web server.
“This machine is a server. DO NOT POWER IT DOWN!!” Tim Berners-Lee’s famous sticker on the front of his NeXTcube, the first web server. Binary Koala CC BY-SA 2.0.

In its earliest days, the web could be found only in academia, from Tim Berners-Lee at CERN, and then from others such as the National Center For Supercomputing Applications at the University of Illinois. In the mid-1990s the vast majority of web sites were served by the NCSA’s HTTPD server software, which served as the basis for the later hugely popular Apache project. Sites from this era were later dubbed Web 1.0, and operated as static HTML pages which could be refreshed only by reloading a page.

The millennium brought us Web 2.0. This is generally taken to refer to a much slicker generation of sites that made use of user-generated content. Behind every such generational shift lies a fresh technology, and if it was the HTTP server for Web 1.0, it was the use of Javascript in the browser to refresh page content on the fly for Web 2.0. This was dubbed AJAX, for Asynchronous Javascript And XML, and though the data transfer is now much more likely to be JSON than XML it remains the way that today’s web sites blur the line between a web page and an app.K Continue reading “Unpicking The Hype Around Web 3, What’s The Tech?”

Longer Range EVs Are On The Horizon

When electric cars first started hitting the mainstream just over a decade ago, most criticism focused on the limited range available and the long recharge times required. Since then, automakers have been chipping away, improving efficiency here and adding capacity there, slowly pushing the numbers up year after year.

Models are now on the market offering in excess of 400 miles between charges, but lurking on the horizon are cars with ever-greater range. The technology stands at a tipping point where a electric car will easily be able to go further on a charge than the average driver can reasonably drive in a day. Let’s explore what’s just around the corner.

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KiCAD 6.0: What Made It And What Didn’t

I’ve been following the development of KiCAD for a number of years now, and using it as my main electronics CAD package daily for a the last six years or thereabouts, so the release of KiCAD 6.0 is quite exciting to an electronics nerd like me. The release date had been pushed out a bit, as this is such a huge update, and has taken a little longer than anticipated. But, it was finally tagged and pushed out to distribution on Christmas day, with some much deserved fanfare in the usual places.

So now is a good time to look at which features are new in KiCAD 6.0 — actually 6.0.1 is the current release at time of writing due to some bugfixes — and which features originally planned for 6.0 are now being postponed to the 7.0 roadmap and beyond. Continue reading “KiCAD 6.0: What Made It And What Didn’t”

Four Wheel Steering, Always The Option, Never The Defining Feature

A couple of weeks ago when it emerged that a new Tesla might have a four-wheel steering capability, our colleague Dan Maloney mused aloud as to how useful a four-wheel steering system might be, and indeed whether or not one might be necessary at all. This is hardly the first time four-wheel steering has appeared as the Next Big Thing on the roads. It’s time to take a look at the subject and ask whether it’s an idea with a future, or set to go the way of runflat tyres as one of those evergreen innovations that never quite catches on.

What’s your dream vehicle? If you’re like me, you have more than one. There in my lottery-winner’s garage, alongside the trail bikes and the mobile hackerspace, the dictator-size Mercedes and the Golf Mk1, will be a vehicle that by coincidence has four-wheel steering. The JCB Fastrac is a tractor that can travel across almost any terrain at full speed, and though I have no practical use for one and will never own one, I have lusted after one of these machines for over three decades. Their four-wheel steering system is definitely unusual, but that makes it the perfect vehicle with which to demonstrate four-wheel steering. Continue reading “Four Wheel Steering, Always The Option, Never The Defining Feature”

Regenerative Medicine: The Promise Of Undoing The Ravages Of Time

In many ways, the human body is like any other machine in that it requires constant refueling and maintenance to keep functioning. Much of this happens without our intervention beyond us selecting what to eat that day. There are however times when due to an accident, physical illness or aging the automatic repair mechanisms of our body become overwhelmed, fail to do their task correctly, or outright fall short in repairing damage.

Most of us know that lizards can regrow tails, some starfish regenerate into as many new starfish as the pieces which they were chopped into, and axolotl can regenerate limbs and even parts of their brain. Yet humans too have an amazing regenerating ability, although for us it is mostly contained within the liver, which can regenerate even when three-quarters are removed.

In the field of regenerative medicine, the goal is to either induce regeneration in damaged tissues, or to replace damaged organs and tissues with externally grown ones, using the patient’s own genetic material. This could offer us a future in which replacement organs are always available at demand, and many types of injuries are no longer permanent, including paralysis. Continue reading “Regenerative Medicine: The Promise Of Undoing The Ravages Of Time”

Haber-Bosch And The Greening Of Ammonia Production

We here on Earth live at the bottom of an ocean of nitrogen. Nearly 80% of every breath we take is nitrogen, and the element is a vital component of the building blocks of life. Nitrogen is critical to the backbone of proteins that form the scaffold that life hangs on and that catalyze the myriad reactions in our cells, and the information needed to build these biopolymers is encoded in nucleic acids, themselves nitrogen-rich molecules.

And yet, in its abundant gaseous form, nitrogen remains directly unavailable to higher life forms, unusably inert and unreactive. We must steal our vital supply of nitrogen from the few species that have learned the biochemical trick of turning atmospheric nitrogen into more reactive compounds like ammonia. Or at least until relatively recently, when a couple of particularly clever members of our species found a way to pull nitrogen from the air using a combination of chemistry and engineering now known as the Haber-Bosch process.

Haber-Bosch has been wildly successful, and thanks to the crops fertilized with its nitrogenous output, is directly responsible for growing the population from a billion people in 1900 to almost eight billion people today. Fully 50% of the nitrogen in your body right now probably came from a Haber-Bosch reactor somewhere, so we all quite literally depend on it for our lives. As miraculous as Haber-Bosch is, though, it’s not without its problems, particularly in this age of dwindling supplies of the fossil fuels needed to run it. Here, we’ll take a deep dive into Haber-Bosch, and we’ll also take a look at ways to potentially decarbonize our nitrogen fixation industry in the future.

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Open 3D Engine editor with Amazon Shader Language file and asset from the game Deadhaus Sonata open. (Credit: O3DE project)

Open 3D Engine: Amazon’s Old Clothes Or A Game Engine To Truly Get Excited About?

Recently Amazon announced that they would be open sourcing the 3D engine and related behind their Amazon Lumberyard game tooling effort. As Lumberyard is based on CryEngine 3.8  (~2015 vintage), this raises the question of whether this new open source engine – creatively named Open 3D Engine (O3DE) – is an open source version of a CryTek engine, and what this brings to those of us who like to tinker with 2D, 3D games and similar.

When reading through the marketing materials, one might be forgiven for thinking that O3DE is the best thing since sliced 3D bread, and is Amazon’s benevolent gift to the unwashed masses to free them from the chains imposed on them by proprietary engines like Unity and Unreal Engine. A closer look reveals however that O3DE is Lumberyard, but with many parts of Lumberyard replaced, including the renderer still in the process of being rewritten from the old CryEngine code.

What Makes a Good Game Engine?

My own game development attempts started with the Half Life engine and the Valve Hammer editor, as well as the Doom map editor. This meant that some expectations were set before encountering today’s game engines and their tools. The development experience with the Hammer editor in the late 1990s was pretty much WYSIWYG, and when I was just getting started with Unreal Engine 4 (UE4) a number of years back this was pretty much the same experience, making it relatively easy to hit the ground running. Continue reading “Open 3D Engine: Amazon’s Old Clothes Or A Game Engine To Truly Get Excited About?”