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First Hot-Ice Computer Created

timothy posted more than 4 years ago | from the can-we-run-a-vm-on-it? dept.

Programming 120

KentuckyFC writes "Sodium acetate is the stuff inside chemical handwarmers that emits heat when it crystalizes after you press that little metal widget. That's why it is known as hot ice. Now a computer scientist in the UK has created a computer made entirely out of hot ice. The device processes information by exploiting the movement and interaction of wavefronts of crystallisation as they move through the material. The data input is in the form of metal wires that trigger crystal nucleation. The output works by reading off the direction of the moving wavefronts and the edges of the resulting crystals. The researcher has created AND and OR gates and solved a few problems such as finding the shortest path through mazes. There are even a few videos of the computer in action. The resulting computer is far from perfect, however. The data readout sometimes gives no solution and at other times gives circular results, the hot ice equivalent of a BSOD."

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120 comments

Hot Damn! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29291757)

That's some hot shit! Cool!

Re:Hot Damn! (1)

interkin3tic (1469267) | more than 4 years ago | (#29292383)

I would have gotten a better pun as the first post, but my computer froze.

Re:Hot Damn! (0)

xouumalperxe (815707) | more than 4 years ago | (#29297485)

I would have gotten a better pun as the first post, but my computer froze.

So you didn't get a good first post because your computer operated as intended?

Yes but.... (3, Funny)

binaryseraph (955557) | more than 4 years ago | (#29291775)

Will it help my aching hands from using the keyboard all day?

Re:Yes but.... (1)

spazdor (902907) | more than 4 years ago | (#29292273)

Probably not. The keyboard would have to be made of those little metal discs you have to 'pop'. Once per keystroke.

Count me out.

Re:Yes but.... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29292363)

No. hot ice is HOT.

So the computer is... (4, Funny)

Shikaku (1129753) | more than 4 years ago | (#29291787)

Vaporware?

Full of hot air?

Heating things up?

Hot stuff?

(I'm just throwing all the obvious puns, I'm done.

Pretty cool, but... (5, Funny)

AmigaHeretic (991368) | more than 4 years ago | (#29291801)

...does it run Linux?

Re:Pretty cool, but... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29291843)

...does it scramble eggs?

Re:Pretty cool, but... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29291977)

...does it run Linux?

no - the drivers aren't written yet. i am sure since windows 7 is coming out (the one solution to all problems), we can forge ahead with our sodium acetate computers. i like the idea of having a computer that runs for a few hours then needs to have it's chemicals "changed", worrying about the temperature of the surrounding environment...

wait a minute - aren't handwarmers made from iron oxide poweder?

excuse me for a minute while i find a phone.

Err, not a BSOD (5, Interesting)

freeweed (309734) | more than 4 years ago | (#29291837)

The data readout sometimes gives no solution and at other times gives circular results, the hot ice equivalent of a BSOD.

No, it's the hot ice equivalent of an infinite loop [wikipedia.org].

Yeesh, get off my lawn.

Re:Err, not a BSOD (4, Informative)

melstav (174456) | more than 4 years ago | (#29292677)

Actually, the analogy of a crash rather than an infinite loop is more appropriate.

In an infinite loop, the same instructions are executed over and over.

In the hot-ice computer, "execution" occurs when the stuff crystallizes. Once the hot-ice crystallizes at a given spot in the matrix, it cannot crystallize again until you reset the system. (by boiling it and melting all of the crystals)

So, when the crystals form into a circular path in the system execution stops because there's no place for the reaction to spread before it stops.

Re:Err, not a BSOD (1)

Idiomatick (976696) | more than 4 years ago | (#29295469)

A more accurate analogy that /. can understand:

The car has flipped upside down in a crash but the wheels keep spinning in anycase not moving the car further forwards.

Arctic monkeys... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29291841)

... with handheld gadgets..

Re:Arctic monkeys... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29292783)

Decent band, terrible post.

Gibson Called it! (1)

Spice Consumer (1367497) | more than 4 years ago | (#29291909)

"There was nothing in Number 92 but a standard Hitachi pocket computer and a small white Styrofoam cooler chest. The cooler contained the remains of three ten-kilo slabs of dry ice, carefully wrapped in paper to delay evaporation, and a spun aluminum lab flask. Crouching on the brown temerfoam slab that was both floor and bed, Case took Shin's .22 from his pocket and put it on top of the cooler. Then he took off his jacket. The coffin's terminal was molded into one concave wall, opposite a panel listing house rules in seven languages. Case took the pink handset from its cradle and punched a Hongkong number from memory. He let it ring five times, then hung up. His buyer for the three megabytes of hot RAM in the Hitachi wasn't taking calls." - Neruomancer

Stooges?! (0)

CaptainPatent (1087643) | more than 4 years ago | (#29291933)

"the hot ice equivalent of a BSOD"

I always knew those programmers over at Microsoft were Stooges [wikipedia.org] but did you have to be so blunt?!

Oh... that's not what you were trying to imply??

No solution... (3, Funny)

jemenake (595948) | more than 4 years ago | (#29292007)

The resulting computer is far from perfect, however. The data readout sometimes gives no solution...

By "no solution", you mean that the readout is completely crystallized? Ba-dump-bump!

Re:No solution... (2, Funny)

CaptainPatent (1087643) | more than 4 years ago | (#29292077)

By "no solution", you mean that the readout is completely crystallized? Ba-dump-bump!

Stop being an acetate. Ba-dump-bump!

Re:No solution... (2, Funny)

iamhigh (1252742) | more than 4 years ago | (#29292269)

By "no solution", you mean that the readout is completely crystallized? Ba-dump-bump!

Stop being an acetate. Ba-dump-bump!

Pathetic... It's really a basic solution.

Re:No solution... (1)

TheBilgeRat (1629569) | more than 4 years ago | (#29292333)

These acid comments detract from the spirit of discovery....

Re:No solution... (1)

Kral_Blbec (1201285) | more than 4 years ago | (#29292437)

No, they would only detract from a good spirit [answers.com] if they were alkaline.

Re:No solution... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29292729)

That answer is wrong; ethanol has a basic quality which increases with its concentration in solution.

Re:No solution... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29293295)

Pure alcohol isnt really a spirit though. Bourbon, whiskey etc are around 3-5 pH

New information processing methods (3, Interesting)

Absolut187 (816431) | more than 4 years ago | (#29292125)

The first thing I thought when reading the summary is that this could be a description of life on another planet. Totally different information storage/replication from our own amino-acid based process.

Every time I hear NASA scientists talking about how life requires water, I always shake my head.

Re:New information processing methods (1)

FlickieStrife (1304115) | more than 4 years ago | (#29292197)

Please correct me if I'm wrong, but while most people say "Life requires water" isnt it implied that "Life [as we know it] requires water"

Re:New information processing methods (3, Insightful)

Beardo the Bearded (321478) | more than 4 years ago | (#29292307)

Yes, there's the implied "as we know it".

For all we know, life could exist in a vaccuum, inside stars, as electricity, &etc. However, there's no evidence one way or another.

What we do know is that of the forms of life we have found on our planet, they all require water. This will help us narrow down the places we want to look for life. We have a better chance at finding life if we focus on life forms that we'd have a remote chance of recognizing.

Re:New information processing methods (1)

FlickieStrife (1304115) | more than 4 years ago | (#29292991)

I agree completely, the statistical theory (out of the gazillion planets/solar systems, how is Earth the only one with life) is kind of a weak one, but it works. On the other hand, maybe we only have a remote chance of recognizing this because while the 'as we know it' is implies, it is still stuck in the back of our (NASA's) minds as a liquid (see what i did there?) requirement. We are creatures of habit, and generally afraid of change, so we stick with what makes us comfortable.

Re:New information processing methods (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29293495)

Generally but chances are much much lower if there isn't any water.

Life = living = movement

Solid things can't really move...
Gas (Might be possible but won't be anything complex since it's hard to organize)
Liquid is ideal (water is just what we think is likely)

As for the type of liquids out there, you need something that's in liquid form in the temperature range that won't kill cells. (Though the range might be high)

You have all this and very limited resources. The most obviously thing to do first is to search for life as we know it. Start with the stuff we think is most likely and work our way down. It's just gonna take a while (but the time we spent search is relatively short compared to our human history)

Re:New information processing methods (1)

ghostdoc (1235612) | more than 4 years ago | (#29298005)

Life = living = movement

Solid things can't really move...

still too narrow for my tastes...
trees don't 'move' (and lichens definitely don't) yet they're definitely alive

and before you say 'but they're unlikely to be intelligent' I suggest you read the original article ;) The ability to do 'intelligent' stuff is demonstrated in the videos to not require cells/neurons/gates/etc

All plant and animal life on this planet evolved from a single cell. We all share a common ancestor that out-reproduced every other form of life on the planet (except some other single-cell organisms, possibly) it goes without saying that our ancestor was very suitable to our planet. What we don't know is who the other contenders were and what life would look like if they'd won (presumably because the planet's conditions favoured different forms).

Thinking crystals that shunt heat around to liquify and solidify bits of themselves and use crystallisation waveforms to think isn't that unlikely...

Re:New information processing methods (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29296135)

What we do know is that of the forms of life we have found on our planet, they all require water.

*cough* http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Conway's_Game_of_Life *cough*

Re:New information processing methods (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29296185)

There are several of us that already know about life that exists on other planes such as the astral, devachanic, etc, that evolve in parallel with us. And it's definitely not water/carbon-based. No need for speculation. Just have your Kundalini awakened and you will see...

Re:New information processing methods (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29292325)

They don't talk about life requiring water - they talk about our best chance of proving what we're looking at is life, is looking for something similar to what we see here. Idiot.

Re:New information processing methods (4, Insightful)

DerekLyons (302214) | more than 4 years ago | (#29292463)

Every time I hear NASA scientists talking about how life requires water, I always shake my head.

And your qualificatione for shaking your head are what?
 
Too many hours spent watching Star Trek and/or having an overactive imagination don't count.

FUCK YOU NIGGER (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29292601)

what do you know about reptilian lizard men!?!?!

Re:New information processing methods (4, Funny)

CarpetShark (865376) | more than 4 years ago | (#29292773)

And your qualificatione for shaking your head are what?

Uhh... having a head, and being able to shake it?

It's called critical thinking (4, Insightful)

FreeUser (11483) | more than 4 years ago | (#29297357)

And your qualificatione for shaking your head are what?

Presumably, having a mind capable of critical thought. Something you would be advised to learn. You are engaging in both the classic logical fallacy of "Appeal to Authority" (described here [nizkor.org]) and a tired ad homonem attack (you imply the grandparent poster watches star trek, which you implicitly indicate makes any thought they have on the subject meaningless. Both assumptions are themselves meaningless and irreleveant in the context of this discussion, but serve for you to classify the grandparent poster as a member of a group you view inherently as inferior to your rather arrogant self, which you then use as grounds to denigrate and dismiss their argument out of hand, without a shred of supporting logic to justify your stance).

The fact of the matter is that no one, inside of NASA or out, is an "authority" on extra-terrestrial life. No one has ever, as far as we know, detected, much less observed extra-terrestrial life. Everything we know, or think we know, is based purely on supposition and guesswork. In the case of NASA (and the view your post suggests you hold), the supposition that life elsewhere in the universe must (or is even likely to) mimic life on Earth.

Assuming extra-terrestrial life will be like Earth-based life is no more defensible, rational, or likely to be correct than assuming extra-terrestrial life will be nothing like Earth-based life. Assuming water must be intrinsic to life everywhere because we've observed it on one tiny, insignificant planet orbiting an unremarkable star in the outskirts of an equally unremarkable galaxy amounts to drawing statistical conclusions from a sample base with N=1, which is no better, or more intellectually rigorous, than just making random shit up.

The grandparent is right to shake his or her head. Any critically-thinking person would be inclined to do the same when confronted with such broad assumptions about something no one knows anything about, built upon such flimsy evidence.

All life in the universe may require water. Or not. Flip a coin. Based on the data we currently have, you are as likely to be right as any self-appointed "expert" in exobiology.

(Hell, water-based life might be the exception, not the rule. Just because it's us doesn't make it average or representative of the rest of the cosmos. Until we actually find some extra-terrestrial life, we can't even begin to guess the truth on this one way or another).

Re:It's called critical thinking (2, Insightful)

Grapes4Buddha (32825) | more than 4 years ago | (#29299241)

Assuming that extraterrestrial life is water based does give us some clue what to look for, though. If someone comes up with a viable "alternative formulation" for life, presumably scientists would start looking for that as well.

Re:It's called critical thinking (1)

DerekLyons (302214) | more than 4 years ago | (#29300095)

Presumably, having a mind capable of critical thought.

Being capable of critical thought is meaningless if one lacks the required basic knowledge of the field in question.
 
 

The fact of the matter is that no one, inside of NASA or out, is an "authority" on extra-terrestrial life. Everything we know, or think we know, is based purely on supposition and guesswork.

See, this is exactly what I mean about having the required basic knowledge - because it's plain that you don't.
 
Life isn't magic. It's based on chemistry and physics - and we have a lot of experts who know a hell of a lot about both. Someone who had the basic knowledge in the field required to think critically might invoke those - instead you fall back on 'maybe', and 'likely' and 'could be', and other forms of handwaving and smokescreens.
 
 

Assuming water must be intrinsic to life everywhere because we've observed it on one tiny, insignificant planet orbiting an unremarkable star in the outskirts of an equally unremarkable galaxy

Any critically-thinking person would be inclined to do the same when confronted with such broad assumptions about something no one knows anything about, built upon such flimsy evidence.

Of course! All those decades biochemists and biophysicists have spend studying their fields are meaningless, at the end they just guessed!
 
Or maybe, they have actually studied and know what they are talking about.
 
Because you certainly don't.

Re:New information processing methods (1)

Hurricane78 (562437) | more than 4 years ago | (#29292613)

Same here. They are not going to find life, even if it eats them alive! ;)

"Oh, look, that sand cave entry ceiling, that never ever can be life, just... i guess... fell down from gravity. Oh, look at that sea of liquid there! Perhaps we will find water the..." *pssshhhhhhh* (scientist astronauts dissolve in digestive fluid, causing gas for the poor alien sand gulper.)

It's as closed-minded as the stuff that they call "aliens" in movies. I bet out there in the real world, you'd be lucky to find something with a head. Let alone limbs, hands, faces with all the typical human senses, etc. I mean most stuff here on earth does not even look like that!

And for the bacteria: Do they need water and oxygen? No! There is stuff out there in the deep seas, that *breathes* uranium, titanium, or many other things! Imagine a bigger lifeform like that. Maybe floating in some non-water substance. And that's only the beginning.

Re:New information processing methods (1)

BungaDunga (801391) | more than 4 years ago | (#29293661)

They sure do need water though. At least for metabolic processes. Some can survive without it, but only in a sort of crystallized form that just sits there inert until it's put back into water.

Re:New information processing methods (1)

Richard_at_work (517087) | more than 4 years ago | (#29297317)

The train of thought that I tend to follow is that oxygen and water are prerequisites on Earth because both are fairly abundant - however, would life be able to utilise liquid hydrocarbons on Titan in the same way?

Re:New information processing methods (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29295143)

Your conception of bacteria is wildly incorrect. Nothing breathes uranium or titanium, and all terrestrial life forms are based on cells made of water, hydrocarbons, proteins and containing DNA. Some bacteria have novel metabolic systems, but they're only novel because of how extremely similar everything else is.

You need a NAND or a NOR gate to make a computer (4, Insightful)

Robotbeat (461248) | more than 4 years ago | (#29292387)

You need to be able to make NAND or NOR gates to make a computer, so until they also produce a NOT gate, this won't be a full computer.

Re:You need a NAND or a NOR gate to make a compute (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29292545)

Don't be so negative.

Re:You need a NAND or a NOR gate to make a compute (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29292581)

No you don't. See http://www.quinapalus.com/wi-index.html [quinapalus.com] for one without.

Re:You need a NAND or a NOR gate to make a compute (1)

NekoYasha (1040568) | more than 4 years ago | (#29293887)

Ah, but that design does have a XOR gate which can be easily turned into a NOT gate...

I have to admit that an one-instruction set computer implemented in cellular automation is just too awesome to be comprehensible to me.

Re:You need a NAND or a NOR gate to make a compute (1)

Mr Z (6791) | more than 4 years ago | (#29295955)

They also have "AND-NOT" which is also trivially turned into NOT.

Re:You need a NAND or a NOR gate to make a compute (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29297565)

All you need is ether an NAND gate or an NOR to make all the other gates and do any sort of computing

Re:You need a NAND or a NOR gate to make a compute (2, Informative)

Mr Z (6791) | more than 4 years ago | (#29297999)

I'm fully aware of that. This poster [slashdot.org] was slightly confused on that point. What NekoYasha and I were pointing out was that the building blocks they had in Wireland could be used to build NAND or NOR. If you have AND and NOT, you can build NAND, and therefore you can build all the rest. Both the XOR and AND-NOT gates could trivially provide "NOT", and so now you have a path to NAND.

The basic idea is that the question "Is this set of gates strong enough to compute all boolean functions?" can be answered definitively "yes" if you can show some combination of gates in that set can provide either NAND or NOR. If no combination of gates in the set can provide either NAND or NOR, then it's not complete.

The hot-ice computer can't make NAND or NOR yet, only AND or OR. They need to figure out how to make NAND or NOR (probably by figuring out how to make NOT, and combining it with AND or OR).

Re:You need a NAND or a NOR gate to make a compute (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29297707)

You forgot memory.

OP is a troll (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29292393)

Haha, hot ice computer, solving "many-destinations-one-source collision-free shortest paths in a space" problem.

Andrew, don't be a troll, although you are right, this is an crystaline analog computer, you're still trollin'.

I got my computer 9 years ago. (1)

MobileTatsu-NJG (946591) | more than 4 years ago | (#29292401)

The data readout sometimes gives no solution and at other times gives circular results, the hot ice equivalent of a BSOD.

What is a BSOD?

blah (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29292491)

Might be useful for an Eskimo..

Plasmodium mould (4, Interesting)

bencoder (1197139) | more than 4 years ago | (#29292571)

haha... I was about to say how it reminds me of a seminar I went to by a guy doing computing out of plasmodium mould growth so I looked it up, and it's the same guy. hilarious. This hot ice would have a similar growth pattern to the mould growth, but obviously a lot faster, and much more expensive.

Re:Plasmodium mould (3, Insightful)

apoc.famine (621563) | more than 4 years ago | (#29294077)

Not much more expensive - it might even be cheaper. All you're seeing is a supersaturated liquid crystallize. If you are counting medium and research time, it's probably cheaper than preparing a nutrient bed and watching mold grow. Keep in mind biocontainment and disposal. For this one, add some water and some energy, and you can just repeat this again and again.
 
Hell, it's probably easier to make a supersaturated solution than a proper mixture of mold spores and nutrients! For the solution, all you need is a starter crystal. The environment doesn't really matter.

Re:Plasmodium mould (1)

Wirr (157970) | more than 4 years ago | (#29297663)

Sodium acetate is VERY cheap.

And you can do it yourself !

Go to the supermarket and by some washing soda (Na2CO3) and some acetic acid (vinegar).

Mix it up in the right stocheometric amounts, cook it until dry, and hey presto there you are - Sodium acetate.

The reaction is so simple you will get a nearly 100% yield.

Then you bring some water to the boil, and add about the same weight of your sodium acetate to it.
Let it cool down - that's you supersaturated solution.

Now either put in a crystal of sodiumacetate as a condensation nuclei or just put some energy in e.g. hit it with a stick - this will start crystalisation.

Do the experiment it's fun and easy.

P.S.: When you finshed playing with it you can add some sulphuric acid and destill the mixture - that will get you 100% glacial acetic acid.

First po5t (-1, Redundant)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29293505)

paranoid c08spiracy

flv anyone? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29293633)

I find it tremendously amusing that the computer scientist in question was able to accomplish such an amazing and unprecedented feat...yet decided to post videos in avi format rather than a more web friendly format such as flv.

I don't see shit in the videos (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29293997)

I really don't. Except some mold. Nice.

Ice Hot, Doctor! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29294465)

"Ice-hot, Doctor!"
-- the Blue Kangs (Doctor Who: Paradise Towers), referring to a cold drink

Ice Ice (2, Interesting)

DynaSoar (714234) | more than 4 years ago | (#29294603)

I'd like to see a water ice computer. Pipes (!) and containers of water, frozen into ice. Doped to carry current efficiently. Areas of interface doped differentially to create N and P equivalent materials for semiconductor creation. It's very doable. So why bother for any reason other than a neat hack? Because it wouldn't be an electronic computer. It would be protonic, because when a voltage is applied to water ice, it's protons, not electrons, that flow.

Re:Ice Ice (1)

42forty-two42 (532340) | more than 4 years ago | (#29295613)

Protons moving? Do you have a citation for this? I don't see any reason for protons to move more freely in ice than anything else.

Di3k (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29295595)

People's faces qis

!computer (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29297597)

this is as much a computer as dropping a load in the toilet and trying to derive some data from the way things swirl when it flushes. interesting videos, stop calling it a computer.

ooh resistant to bitrot. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29300127)

Hmm. This seems like a neat concept for a computing solution in environments with extreme levels of ionizing or neutron radiation, such as other planets, the sun, etc. At least up to the points where you're taking so much ionizing radiation that the computing material grows hot enough to be unable to crystalize.

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