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2.5. Science and Time


How To Invent (Almost) Anything > 2. Simple Science > 2.5. Science and Time

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Surely time is fixed? It would seem that we cannot change time unless we are thinking about relativity and make time go slower by moving faster. Time is a much-ignored resource in inventing, yet is one of our most precious commodities. Rich or poor, we all have a similarly short span, and the inventions around us can help or hinder us from making the best of that period.

When things happen, they do so in defined order, which we can change. Many designs are put together as static models before we set them going. We can design in new ways by asking ourselves if some of the functionality (this word is important and we will use it a lot) can be delivered at different times. In computers, magnetic tape allows us to store a lot of information cheaply, but it is a serial device. Even hard discs and CD-ROMs are have latency and seek-time, delaying the processor’s request for data. The day that someone invents a static method of storage that is just as cheap, dense and robust, will be the day that moving storage will begin to die out.

We might want to use something at a given time, but the current situation prevents us from doing so. Consider drinking a cup of tea or coffee. You may want to drink it right away, but it is too hot, or you may want to drink it later, but it has gone cold. Now imagine that you could balance out those two, for example using some form of heat storage or exchange that removes excess heat from the delivered liquid when you tip the cup and puts it back in later. Perhaps you could do this by running the liquid over heat-absorbing surfaces as the cup is tipped, and returning the stored heat later on into the liquid once it has cooled down.

Let's look at the practicalities of this in more detail:

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