Popular Mechanics

January/February 2022

Discover the latest in technology, engineering, and tools with Popular Mechanics. Plus, get essential advice on your home and car, useful DIY ideas, in-depth explanations on how things work, and more!

United States
10 Issues

in this issue

3 min
1 my pop life

HUNTER FENOLLOL Home Tech Editor Live your life like one big improv bit, and you’ll be prepared for anything that comes your way! PRODUCTS I’M USING RIGHT NOW 1 iPhone 13 Pro Max (256GB) A 120Hz Pro Motion display, powerful processor, and cinematic focus video recording feature combine to make for a palm-sized workhorse capable of editing videos and playing graphic-intensive games on the go. 2 TOTU USB-C Hub This portable hub creates my everyday workstation. It allows me to extend my Windows laptop across three external screens, and house all of my peripherals like a mouse, keyboard, webcam, hard drive, and condenser mic. 3 Tile Slim This credit card–sized Bluetooth tracker helps me find my wallet through the app or with the help of a smart assistant. 4 Garmin Speak Plus with Alexa A dashcam, GPS, and Alexa allow me…

2 min
2 can’t stop thinking about

Simultaneity is possible for activities that can be done unconsciously. So why can’t our conscious brains seem to multitask? If you’re trying to read this magazine while also listening to a podcast, you’ll probably end up frustrated, losing focus on one or both tasks altogether. There’s a reason for that: Your conscious mind is incapable of dealing with more than one thing simultaneously if those operations require the same parts of the brain. “Your [brain’s] language regions are processing the sounds, the words, the meaning of the sentences,” says Marc Coutanche, Ph.D., an associate professor of psychology at the University of Pittsburgh. When you read and listen to two separate things, he explains, you’re forcing your brain to draw on the same resources. “Imagine a circuit where you’ve got multiple inputs and multiple…

1 min
elon musk wants to upgrade your brain

The world’s busiest billionaire says you waste serious brainpower taking a thought, compressing it into a few words, and communicating it to another person who must then decompress those words into a thought. But with a direct neural interface like the one Musk is working on through his brain implant startup Neuralink, it could be possible to improve the bandwidth between your brain’s cortex (the layer that deals with functions like long-term planning) and the digital world by up to 1,000 orders of magnitude, according to Musk. Someday, this could mean telepathically talking to others or maybe even uploading your consciousness into a robot or another person’s brain.…

4 min
teaching quantum materials how to remember

THE BIOLOGICAL LEARNING METHODS OF habituation and sensitization help organisms, including humans, adapt to changes in their environment. Each can be exemplified in riding a bike. As you learn to ride, you become habituated to the bike’s wobbles and respond less to its tilts and vibrations. You’re able to ride faster and farther as a result. But if you fall and hurt yourself, you’ll be more sensitized to the bike’s instability, and as a result more dependent on the brakes or training tools. Scientists in the field of neuromorphic computing, which aims to make computers smarter and more independent from human input, are working to reproduce aspects of habituation and sensitization in hardware. A new paper in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences demonstrates similar behaviors in a semiconductor called…

1 min
what we’re learning from sea slugs’ giant neurons

Shriram Ramanathan and his colleagues modeled their nickel oxide experiments after experiments previously conducted with sea slugs in the genus Aplysia. For centuries, scientists have used these slugs to study learning, behavior, and memory. The slugs can retain information for weeks—a killer “long-term” memory for an organism with a yearlong life span—and display a relatively high level of neural plasticity. It may not make them “intelligent,” but it does make them the perfect subject for researchers teasing out the origins of fundamental learning behaviors like habituation and sensitization. Aplysia’s colossal neurons, the largest in the animal kingdom, can grow to 1 mm in length. The neurons’ gargantuan size make it easier for scientists to physically see and study physiological responses to stimuli.…

3 min
how to recover a stuck vehicle by yourself

TO DRIVE A VEHICLE IS TO GET IT STUCK. Snow, sand, or mud will claim us all eventually, but if you’re prepared, you can likely get yourself back on the road without a tow. When you find your wheels spinning, the first step is to not make the situation worse. Stop spinning your wheels immediately says Chris Komar, an instructor at Team O’Neil Rally School in New Hampshire. You’ll only dig yourself deeper and risk breaking a half shaft, CV joint, or clutch. “If you’re 20 percent stuck, it doesn’t take much to become 100 percent stuck,” he says. During the winter, Komar rescues up to three vehicles per day. Next, lower your tire pressure—regardless of the vehicle—by 30 percent, says Komar. Lower pressures enlarge the contact patch of your tire, boosting…