Microkhan by Brendan I. Koerner

Entries Tagged as 'technology'

A Wonder This Didn’t Catch On

March 1st, 2013 · 4 Comments

In an attempt to flesh out the nascent The Skies Belong to Us mood board, I have been combing through reams of patents for anti-hijacking devices. Most are deliciously zany, such as this capture chamber or this trick chair. The hijacking epidemic of the late 1960s and early 1970s certainly seems to have fired up […]

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A Question of Competence

February 25th, 2013 · No Comments

Guinea’s political opposition is none-too-pleased with the current regime’s decision to outsource the management of May’s election to Waymark, a South African information technology firm. At first glance, these objections may seem flimsy, based more on xenophobia than legitimate fear of cronyism. But if you scratch beneath the surface a bit, you can get a […]

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Knife Tricks

January 25th, 2013 · 2 Comments

The effervescent young lady above worked for an early manufacturer of handheld metal detectors. Here she shows a Congressional panel how the skyjackers of the the late 1960s managed to sneak knives aboard planes, even when selected for manual frisking by airline employees. From my very nascent collection of skyjacking-related images, tied into the forthcoming […]

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Be Thankful for What You’ve Got

January 18th, 2013 · No Comments

A bundle of statistics to chew over the next time you set foot in an automated elevator. Yes, the steel boxes of today lack a certain charm compared to the ornate, manually-controlled brass contraptions of yore. But at least they’re not death traps. (Current accident statistics here.) Humans are great at many things, but reliable […]

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Espionage Made Easy

January 9th, 2013 · No Comments

The Department of Justice rarely indicts people it has no genuine hope of prosecuting, but an exception was recently made in the case of two Chinese nationals, Wan Li Yuan and “Jason Jiang” (true name unknown). The men, who will surely not be foolish enough to travel to these shores again, are alleged to have […]

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The Simple Can Be So Difficult

December 27th, 2012 · No Comments

A few days before Christmas, a milestone of sorts was reached at the Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology: for the first time ever, a few eggs were cooked on a kerosene stove. This was significant not because of the quality of the meal produced, but rather because the stove generated eight watts of electricity […]

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Trompe L’Oeil

December 4th, 2012 · 3 Comments

As we recently explored in our post about wildlife strikes, even the most advanced technology cannot withstand Mother Nature’s meddling. Roller coasters are another case in point, as explained in this rather fascinating bit by a veteran amusement-park techie: A ride error is usually caused by an issue with the photo eye sensors…On Talon, the […]

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The Garments of Egg Smugglers

October 22nd, 2012 · No Comments

The fear of detection begets some of the most admirable innovation around, a technological truism proved by the photographic records of Australian Customs. These galleries are chock full of devices that smugglers have used to route around law enforcement, mostly in order to convey drugs from Southeast Asia. But there are also several wearable inventions […]

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Where is the Romance?

March 30th, 2012 · 2 Comments

I got in a spirited discussion yesterday regarding New York’s abundance of one-dollar dumpling shops. In my dozen-plus years of calling this metropolis home, the special these joints offer has never changed, even though their various costs (especially rent) have certainly increased a fair bit. And though I realize that many of them probably skirt […]

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Write Your Name Across the Sky

January 27th, 2012 · No Comments

One of the book-related research tangents I’ve become ensnared in is the early history of parachuting. As you might suspect, the development of this important life-saving technology produced more than a few martyrs to the cause, as well as some heroes with complicated backstories. One of my favorite examples from the latter category is Carroll […]

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Working Overtime, Fighting Crime

January 26th, 2012 · 1 Comment

Getting thwacked by this Wired story I’m working on, which requires me to comprehend the nuances of both ribonucleic acid and artificial intelligence. Suffice to say, my brain’s full-up for the next twenty-four hours; see you back here shortly.

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The Specialist

January 18th, 2012 · 10 Comments

By now you may have heard of the landmark federal conviction of Alfred Anaya, who played a key role in a drug trafficking ring that moved product from Mexico to the Midwest. What makes Anaya’s downfall so interesting is that fact that, by the government’s own admission, he never touched any drugs himself; his role […]

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Betting on the Wrong Horse

December 5th, 2011 · 1 Comment

When you’re in the midst of agonizing over the relative merits of two competing technologies, the choice can seem oh-so-important. I still have vivid memories, for example, of the raging household debate that surrounded my family’s selection of a first computer—the Mac and the Amiga both had points in their favor, after all. But in […]

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Demo or Die

September 12th, 2011 · 2 Comments

Let me start the week by directing y’all’s attention to my latest Wired essay, in which I argue for the revival of a bygone regulation: the requirement that patent applicants submit working models of their inventions. Sound onerous? Yeah, that’s the point: The abolition of the model requirement [in 1880] was initially a boon to […]

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The Unsung Hero of Slots

July 19th, 2011 · 8 Comments

After a gestation period that lasted nearly a year, my latest Wired story is finally out. It’s a tough one to summarize, but the tale centers on a Cuban-Latvian engineer who figured out a way to replicate the slot machines manufactured by International Game Technology (IGT), the S&P 500 company that has long dominated the […]

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Try, Try Again

June 22nd, 2011 · 2 Comments

There are few more hallowed legal principles than the protection against double jeopardy, which is enshrined in various constitutions and codes throughout the world. But as allegedly unimpeachable DNA evidence has become more common in courtrooms, a backlash has developed against the centuries-old prohibition against trying a person again after they’ve been acquitted. In Scotland, […]

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Requiem for the Slug Kings

April 28th, 2011 · 1 Comment

A surprising number of tears were shed when the world’s last manual-typewriter factory announced its shuttering a few days back. Once again, generations of technological know-how are set to evaporate as a once state-of-the-art invention tumbles into museum mode. The manual typewriter industry’s long-anticipated demise got me thinking about engineering wizards whose skills have been […]

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The Patron Saint of Chi-Chi’s

April 13th, 2011 · No Comments

I’m working on a Wired piece that’s requiring some deep-diving into Patent Office history, and so I’ve recently been losing myself in Google’s nifty patents database (which is far more user-friendly than Uncle Sam’s). For some odd reason, I’ve found myself gravitating toward food-technology patents, since engineering innovation has obviously remade the American diet—and, by […]

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Up from the Underground

April 4th, 2011 · 5 Comments

Though I only recently became aware of the fact that Burkina Faso is a hotbed of film production, I was completely unsurprised to learn that the nation’s movie industry is deeply troubled. The primary culprit, as you might surmise, is piracy; as cinemas have vanished with the proliferation of affordable DVD players, the markets in […]

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Lost in Translation

March 10th, 2011 · 2 Comments

Though English may be gaining an ever-greater toehold in the rest of the world, the United States appears to becoming increasingly polyglot. At the same time, first-generation immigrants are making landfall in far-flung locations throughout the U.S., rather than concentrating in a handful of urban centers. Those two trends spell trouble for courts with slim […]

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The Quinby Smoker

February 15th, 2011 · 2 Comments

Behind every mass-market product is an invention that made its creation cost-effective. In the case of honey, that technological marvel is the humble bellows smoker, which produces a non-toxic haze with the power to chill out agitated bees. It does so by messing with a colony’s communications system: Sentries are supposed to alert warriors to […]

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The Importance of Good Design

January 13th, 2011 · No Comments

A salient reminder that engineering details really matter, from the august (and 141-year-old) pages of The Field Quarterly Magazine and Review: The Hindustani howdah often requires six men to place it on the elephant’s padded back. The Siamese “shing kha” can be easily lifted by two persons, and this while the elephant is standing—a great […]

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The Wizard of Rub

November 4th, 2010 · 5 Comments

Many moons ago, I found myself at a basement party where a band named after a Dungeons & Dragons creature provided the entertainment. The star of the show was a diminutive man with a bushy beard and a strange contraption draped across his chest. It looked to me like a badly wrought piece of armor, […]

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Roboscrews

September 29th, 2010 · 5 Comments

One of my current projects is a think piece about robots, specifically those that may soon be charged with carrying out morally weighty duties. That line of inquiry has led me to delve into the history of robot prison guards—or, perhaps more accurately, robots that were briefly purported to be the prison guards of the […]

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Death to Acer

September 10th, 2010 · 14 Comments

I’m writing this post while recovering from a bout of Hulk-like rage, brought about by the sudden death of my Acer Aspire 3810T’s screen. I should’ve known this would happen when I first removed the laptop from the box—the cover instantly struck me as having the strength of tin foil. Thankfully, I had a D-sub […]

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The Joys of I-5

August 11th, 2010 · No Comments

I’m out here for work as well as pleasure, which means I’ll be spending the lion’s share of the day’s remainder on the Southern California freeways. Back tomorrow with more nukes-related polymathism, as well as (time permitting) a brief history of 19th-century Irish banditry. In the meantime, please enjoy a highlight from a World’s Fair […]

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The Father of Boom

July 27th, 2010 · 2 Comments

During my guest stint over at Ta-Nehisi’s place last week, a commenter reminded me of my all-time favorite Otto von Bismarck quote: “Politics is the art of the possible.” The unsmiling German statesman may have meant that all successful negotiations must end in compromise, but I’d like to think he also had faith in politics’ […]

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The Wizard of Ice

July 7th, 2010 · 3 Comments

As our poor city continues to broil, it’s worth remembering a man who dedicated much of his career to cooling down humanity: the great John Gorrie, who was convinced that an effective ice machine would be key to combating one of the 19th century’s most dreaded diseases: Dr. Gorrie became convinced that cold was the […]

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Ye Olde Tyme Robo-Banjo

June 28th, 2010 · No Comments

We can trace our lifelong fascination with technology to a few choice childhood experiences: our first time playing Pitfall on an Atari 2600, watching The Black Hole on Betamax, and, perhaps above all, visiting The Magic Castle. The foyer of said castle featured a self-playing piano, which responded to audience requests (as long as those […]

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A Notch Below the Opti-Grab

May 7th, 2010 · No Comments

While using the U.S. Patent Office’s records to try and discern what genius invented the jalapeno popper, we accidentally stumbled upon an invention for the ages: the flavored boot for eyeglasses. We’ll let the application’s description do the dirty work for us: Many individuals who wear eyeglasses frequently will remove their eyeglasses and place the […]

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