Monday, June 30, 2003
For the last year and a half, Leigh and I have lived in an apartment complex in Raleigh, NC. If you look at this Mapquest map and switch over to the aerial photo, you can see that the complex has 23 buildings containing 1-, 2- and 3-bedroom aparments. There's roughly 300 individual apartments in the complex.
I don't know how they handle trash in apartment complexes around the country, but in Raleigh it is normal for there to be a central location somewhere in the complex where everyone takes their trash. Here's what the central location looks like in my complex:
This trash collection point is located right in the middle of the complex, next to the little building that has all the mailboxes in it. You can see the square hole in the wall. That's where you throw your bags of trash. Behind the brick wall is a very large trash compactor. Every few hours a maintenance guy comes around and compacts the trash into a big metal container measuring prehaps 6 ft x 6 ft x 20 ft. A couple of times a week a flatbed truck comes, hauls the container away and replaces it with an empty one.
So what you have is a central location where 300 households leave their trash. Every day you see people walking or driving to this central point. They are easy to spot -- either they are carrying big white garbage bags by hand, or they place the bags on the hood or trunk of the car and drive slowly over. Since Leigh and I have 4 kids, we generate a good bit of trash and it seems like I am taking trash over there on a near daily basis.
What is so interesting about this central trash location is the social aspect of it. There might also be a message about the general "goodness" of humanity in there somewhere as well. You notice very quickly that people use the central trash location to give things to one another. Anyone who has stuff that is "too good" to throw away will leave it on the sidewalk along the brick wall. You find people leaving all kinds of stuff -- tables, chairs, TVs, computers, lamps, dishes, books, boxes of magazines and so on.
Yesterday when I took the trash, there were two big green garbage bags on the sidewalk. Taped to each one was a piece of paper that said, "Good Clothes". The bags were open and inside you could see blue jeans, shirts, etc. I walked back to my apartment to get the camera, because I'd never seen the surplus items on the sidewalk labeled before. By the time I got back, the clothes were gone but there were 2 sofas instead:
To be fair, there is no way to get a sofa into the compactor. But the point is that people leave a wide variety of things on the sidewalk, and the stuff does not last for long. The two bags of clothes lasted less than ten minutes, and the sofas lasted less than an hour.
There are at least three lessons here:
- People recognize that a lot of the things that they throw away are not "trash". The items are simply no longer needed, and might be useful to someone else.
- Given a way to do it, people will gladly make those items available to others for free. They will often take extra time to make this process easier for the recipients -- for example, sorting good clothes into separate bags and labeling the bags.
- By creating a convenient and central sharing point for the things that people want to give to others, sharing becomes a part of the community.
Friday, June 27, 2003
The three fastest sport bikes in the U.S. according to Cycle World magazine:
Kawasaki Ninja ZX-12R - 186 MPH
Suzuki GSX1300R Hayabusa - 184 MPH
Honda CBR1100XX - 177 MPH
All three bikes are hovering in the $11,000 range.
Like a shot
If you have ever been in a city and heard the sound of a gun going off, you know that two things go through your head. The first thing is that you know it when you hear a gunshot. It is a very distinct sound. The second thing is that it is troubling. When you hear a gunshot, it is guaranteed that something is seriously wrong.
There are new sensor systems that can listen for the audio signature of a gunshot. Microphones are scattered throughout a community -- on utility poles, rooftops, and so on. When a shot is fired, multiple sensors that hear the same shot can triangulate to estimate where the shot came from. As soon as the shot is heard, the location is displayed to a dispatcher, and the dispatcher can send the police to the scene. There are several companies that produce these types of systems, including:
- Proxity Digital Networks has a system called OnAlert GDS
- Allied Techsystems has a system called SECURES
This is a perfect problem for Wireless Sensor Networks (see the June 6 post). Here are some of the key players in the WSN arena:
One of my first posts on this blog mentioned complete motorcycle kits that you can buy. The kits contain everything you need to build your own Harley-like motorcycle -- frame, engine, transmission, fork, handlebars, brakes, etc. You simply follow the instructions, bolt everything together and you have a motorcycle.
Build this motorcycle from a kit.
There's something cool about the idea of building your own motorcycle from scratch like that. A couple of people commented on it, and the logical question became, "what else can you get in kit form these days?"
One obvious thing that comes to mind is houses, because Sears used to be very big into the complete house kit. See, for example, this scanned page from the catalog, and many other examples.
A page from the Sears catalog of complete home kits. Click to enlarge.
I've looked, and there does not seem to be this sort of complete "kit catalog" available today from any manufacturer. A couple things that come close are panelized homes, manufactured homes (which arrive on the site in large, pre-built sections that are craned into position and bolted together) (list of manufacturers), and log home kits.
If you are building your kit house by a lake, you can get a complete aluminum boat dock kit to go with it.
A dock needs a boat. You can build kit boats that are little or big.
There are lots of kit cars in all shapes and sizes.
In general, though, they are not complete like the motorcycle kits are. They all require a "donor vehicle" to provide the chassis.
You can get guitar kits, turbocharger kits, electronics kits... There are lots of other kit ideas on KitGuy.com.
Thursday, June 26, 2003
I have four different Sony devices that use Memory Sticks (Sony's packaging for flash memory), and I had started using Memory Sticks as a form of floppy disk. It's the same idea as the little USB disks built from flash memory. The nice thing about a Memory Stick, as opposed to a floppy disk or a USB disk, is that a Memory Stick is small and rugged enough to stick in your wallet.
So I had a Memory Stick in my wallet and it was happy there for a long time. Then one day it stopped working. I replaced it, and then the second one stopped working too. When the second one blew out, I figured out what is happening.
Using a card reader to get in the door at the office
In a lot of offices now, the doors are controlled by card readers. These readers use electromagnetic energy to power the card, in somewhat the same way that a crystal radio uses nothing but the power of an AM signal to power the radio. The reader on the wall creates an electromagnetic field. When you hold the card up to the reader, an antenna in the card picks up the field. The field is actually strong enough to power a circuit inside the card. Once it is powered up, the card transmits the code number of the card back to the reader, a computer in the building confirms the code and the door opens.
Instead of taking my card out of my wallet, I had held my wallet up to the reader. Apparently the electromagnetic field is strong enough to destroy the chips inside a Memory Stick. By extrapolation, I would assume that these readers might also be dangerous to smart cards, compact flash cards, etc. that you keep in your wallet. Moral of the story: remove the door card from your wallet before you use the reader.
Now that I had two blown Memory Sticks, the obvious thing to do is take one apart. Here's what's inside:
Inside a memory stick is a tiny printed circuit board
The chip on the left is Fujitsu part number 30LV0032 0052 M75 PFTN, which is the flash memory. The chip on the right is Fujitsu part number MB86188, which is a microcontroller.
Wednesday, June 25, 2003
With 10 days to go before the 4th of July, you may want to watch this video on fireworks to learn what's going on inside the fireworks that you see at an aerial display. It's a 16MB mpeg file.
One tablespoon of ketchup contains one teaspoon of sugar.
One teaspoon of salt contains 2,000 mg of sodium.
One tablespoon of mayonnaise contains nearly one tablespoon of oil -- 11 grams of fat and 100 calories. See this and this.
An adult alligator weighs 600 pounds or so, yet its brain weighs less than a tablespoon of mayonnaise -- about 9 grams. It's the size of a grape.
If you are interested in robots, this is a very cool page:
Monday, June 23, 2003
Something completely different...
Let's say that you are sitting around thinking about your funeral, and you would like it to be unique... something memorable... something that people would talk about for years...
What you need to do is hire the Harley Hearse to handle transportation....
Tombstone Hearse Co. recommends that you prepay for your service to make sure that your final wishes are implemented.
One of the new technologies starting to reach critical mass is Java-enabled cell phones. The phones run applications written in the Java programming language.
A cell phone contains a computer, and this computer can run applications just like a desktop computer can. The computer in a phone is smaller and slower than a desktop machine, and the screen is smaller too, but there are still lots of applications that a phone can run. It is sort of like going back in time -- the CPU and screen in a cell phone are roughly equivalent to the CPU and screen of the original IBM PC or Mac in the 1984 timeframe.
The original IBM PC and today's cell phones are about equal in CPU power.
This Nokia has a color LCD with 176 x 208 Pixels
Many of the new cell phones you get today come with Java built in. If you have a Java-enabled phone, you can download Java applications to your phone and run them on your phone's computer. Right now, a lot of these applications are games, but there are also "real" applications starting to appear. You can get a sampling of some of the possibilities on this page.
This page explains how it works.
If you'd like to learn how to create Java applications for cell phones, here are some resources:
- PopSci ran a nice description last month.
- Nokia has a quick article on Java in mobile devices
- Nokia also has a bunch of demo code that programmers can download to learn about different aspects of writing the applications.
- Motorola also has a developer community
As the CPUs in phones get more powerful and the screens get larger, it will be possible to do more and more with Java-enabled phones.
Sunday, June 22, 2003
The Perfect Food
Breyers makes a calcium-enriched ice cream -- a half cup of it has 30% of the calcium you need every day.
The question I have is this -- could you also make this ice cream protein-enriched and vitamin-enriched to create the perfect food??? You would eat nothing but ice cream all day, and you would get everything you need from it. My kids, in particlar, would find the Enriched Ice Cream Diet extremely appealing!
When you think about it, this is not such a crazy idea. Babies regularly live for up to a year on nothing but breast milk, and in a pinch they can survive on breast milk until they are three or four. The base material for ice cream is milk, so ice cream is already off to a good start. The biggest thing that ice cream is missing is the protein.
A person needs something like 1 gram of protein per kilogram (2.2 pounds) of body weight per day. A person also needs about 25 calories per kilogram. This means you would like to see 5 or 6 grams of protien in half a cup of ice cream, rather than the traditional 2 or 3 grams. An easy way to add the protien would be eggs -- one large egg per cup of ice cream would add 3 grams or protein per half cup of ice cream. There are all sorts of protein powders that could be added instead, but eggs have the advantage that they don't change the taste, and "eggs in ice cream" is already common. Frozen custard has lots of eggs in it.
Add in the vitamins and minerals, take out a little of the fat, swap the "real vanilla bean flecks" with something having a little more fiber (like wheat bran), and presto -- Enriched Ice Cream is THE PERFECT FOOD!
The new micro-hard-drive from Cornice is sparking a mini-revolution in consumer electronics. The drive holds 1.5 gigabytes of data but only costs about $60 in quantity, making it much cheaper than Flash memory.
The Cornice Storage Element, a miniature hard drive
The Cornice drive measures 5mm x 42.8mm x 36.4 mm (7,800 cubic mm) and weighs 14.6 grams. It can easily fit inside things like digital cameras, MPG camcorders, MP3 players, USB disk drives and so on.
Besides the small size, the thing that is so interesting about this drive is the approach the manufacturer took. The drive is not packaged as a stand-alone, removable part. Instead, it's designed to be glued right onto the product's motherboard. It integrates into the product and uses the product's CPU and memory. This approach helps keep the size down and the price low. It also reduces power consumption.
Here are some comparisons:
- A Memory Stick measures 2.8mm x 21.5mm x 50mm (3,000 cubic mm). Memory Sticks with capacities up to 1GB are available, but the list price is in the $500 range right now.
- Hitachi makes a microdrive that fits into the CompactFlash form factor -- 5mm x 43mm x 36mm (7,740 cubic mm).
The Hitachi/IBM Microdrive
This drive is available in capacities up to 1GB and costs about $200 right now.
- The Apple iPod uses PCMCIA form factor drives permanently mounted in the device. Competitors to the iPod are using removable 5GB (or larger) PC Card drives -- 5mm x 54mm x 85.5mm (23,000 cubic mm). These drives currently cost about $250.
Apple iPods go all the way up to 30 gigabytes at the moment.
Friday, June 20, 2003
Record your life
This week, financial firms were ordered to start saving records of all instant messages, an extension of the requirement that they save all email messages. This article describes the ruling briefly. It would now be easy to create systems that can record all phone calls as well -- a 300 GB hard disk can store over 40,000 hours of voice recordings at decent quality (2KB/sec). Cell phones create a minor problem, but the cell providers could record all calls centrally. Perhaps in 5 to 10 years it will be possible to transcribe everything said into text so it is easily searchable.
At that point the only way to get some privacy would be to go take a walk with your financial advisor. However, we are nearing the point where it will be possible to cover even those moments. For example, the Deja View Camwear system is able to record 4 hours of sound/video.
This project from the DOD creates an all-encompassing digital diary of your life. Nearer-term, Oregon is proposing a GPS-based system to track where cars go.
There's the obvious privacy concerns, but if every moment of everyone's life were recorded, it certainly would make things easier. For example, the OJ Simpson case could have been handled in 5 minutes -- either OJ did it or he didn't, and it would all be on his digital diary, or that of one of the vicitms.
Thursday, June 19, 2003
I would like to nominate this pop-under ad, shown at half its original size, for the "most annoying pop-under ad of the year" award:
Once the ad gets onto your screen, it starts continuously playing this sound file, only 5 seconds of which have been captured here. The ad is a Flash animation, and the animation shows fireworks "exploding" in the background. This sound file is the sound of the explosions. Once you figure out what is going on, your only choice is to go track down the ad (which in my case was buried within a stack of about 25 open windows) and close the ad in order to get rid of the noise.
This is not the first time I have thought that if we banned all advertising, in every form, our world might be a much nicer place. It would be a less expensive place too -- companies in the U.S. spend something like $200 billion per year on advertising, or about $2,000 per household per year. The money for all those ads comes from higher prices on every product we purchase. Short of a total ban, there has to be a way to eliminate advertising that forces you to waste time dealing with it. An ad in a newspaper or magazine is one thing. Telemarketers, spam, noise-producing pop-unders, etc. are another.
Here's the question of the day: what makes music so popular with human beings?
For example, let's take Britney Spears. She gets up in the morning, goes to work, stands in a room and she says, "I want to make love to you baby, I want to make love to you baby, I want to make love to you all night long, do do, da-do do, ooooo." Or whatever it is that she says. She doesn't "say" the words, though. She "sings" them. Behind her, a guitarist plays some notes. A drummer beats out a simple rhythm. A microphone records those sounds. That's all they are -- sounds. Music is a pattern of words and tones strung together. The whole "performance" lasts two and a half minutes.
What happens next is the mysterious part. When people hear these words and tones, a chemical reaction occurs. Suddenly, 15 million people want to spend money so they can hear Britney over and over again on a CD. Tens of millions more people download software so they can trade digitally compressed versions of these words and tones with one another without spending money. Millions of people pay $30 each to pack into coliseums so that they can see and hear Britney in person from a thousand feet away. There are Britney posters, Britney dolls, Britney Happy Meals, Britney calendars, Britney lunch boxes, Britney clothing. When Britney's face is attached to an AOL ad, more people sign up for AOL.
There are gigantic, multi-billion dollar companies devoted to imprinting Britney's words and notes onto CDs, as well as multi-billion dollar companies like ASCAP, BMI, the RIAA, etc. devoted to extracting money for Britney's words and notes whenever anyone hears them. All of this money, all of this merchandise, all of this human energy is propelled by Britney's act of stringing some words and notes together for two and a half minutes. After a year or two, people get tired of Britney and they transfer their devotion to a new person, who has also strung some words and notes together in a new pattern.
What is going on inside human heads that makes us act in this way? If we were ever to meet an alien species from another solar system, would the aliens listen to music too? Is "music" an integral part of "intelligence"? Or would the aliens look at us like we are nuts?
Wednesday, June 18, 2003
I saw this site, called Digital Photo of the Day for the first time today. What was interesting to me was the archive of past photos, with over a thousand photos on tap. The mix and quality of the photos is excellent and, if you are a photographer, is a good source of ideas. It compares very favorably to the National Geographic Photo of the Day site.
We were down at the pool as a family. This is your typical "apartment pool" on a warm summer evening, meaning there were a lot of kids, some teenagers and a good number of adults around the pool. A surprising number of the teens and adults were smoking. The entire pool area smelled of cigarette smoke. All of the children at the pool were certainly getting a message about smoking by watching all these teens and adults doing it. Which got me wondering why, in an environment like that where there are known to be lots of young kids around, are people allowed to smoke? If Joe Camel influenced children to smoke, it seems even more likely that living human models would have an even larger effect.
Tuesday, June 17, 2003
Amazon is now advertising the Fossil "PDA Wristwatch" -- a Palm PDA in a wristwatch package:
It's $295. Looking at the technical data for the watch, it looks to be a normal PDA and includes the complete Palm OS, the infrared beaming capability, etc. The only possible problem is the screen size (160x160 -- hard to say if all palm apps would respond "normally" to a screen that small) and the battery life: "Approx. 4 days (Based on an average use of 30 minutes per day, with backlight set OFF. The battery life varies depending on the temperature and conditions of use." [Source: Amazon Technical Data page]
If you scroll down to my June 5 post on the Microsoft wireless watches, there are at least five questions that come to mind:
- Will 2003 be looked upon as the "Year of the Big Watch"?
- Are we seeing the first step in an evolutionary chain, so that by 2004 we are seeing watches double or triple in size again to become a "cuff" more than a watch?
- How long will it be before cell phones are integrated in, talking to a Bluetooth headset (or maybe using a speaker phone) and voice-activated dialing to eliminate the keypad?
- The obvious: how long before cell phones with cameras are integrated in, replicating the Dick Tracy video-phone watch?
- What is going to be the solution to the battery problem, and how long will it take to get here? We need either to shrink batteries quite a bit more, or perfect the fuel cell battery, or develop a "wireless battery" -- the battery is on your belt or in your pocket, beaming power wirelessly to the watch.
Sunday, June 15, 2003
DARPA Grand Challenge
In the same way that the X Prize is inspiring lots of private research and development in sub-orbital space flight, DARPA is trying to inspire private development of autonomous robots with the Grand Challenge. In DARPA's words:
DARPA is seeking to promote innovative technical approaches that will enable the autonomous operation of unmanned ground combat vehicles. In the future, such combat vehicles will operate over varied terrain without the benefit of road signs, pre-programmed routes, etc. Autonomous vehicles must navigate from point to point in an intelligent manner so as to avoid or accommodate obstacles and other impediments to the completion of their missions. For example, an extremely large vehicle that simply travels on a straight line between two points by climbing over or breaking through everything in its path (and destroying what cannot support that movement) is not the type of intelligent solution that is sought. Vehicles that cannot demonstrate intelligent autonomous behavior will not be accepted as Participants.
Entrants will have to run a course from Los Angeles, CA to Las Vegas, NV -- according to this mapquest route it's 270 miles by car and should take 4 and a half hours. The DARPA route will be a bit more challenging, running along "surfaced and un-surfaced roads, trails, and off-road areas. Man-made and natural obstacles—both above and below the surface of the average terrain—are likely. Examples of obstacles include ditches, open water, rocks, underpasses, construction, and other vehicles. All obstructions on the route can be either accommodated or avoided by a commercial 4X4 pick-up truck." DARPA thinks that a vehicle should be able to do it in 10 hours or less (see Rules).
The prize to the winner is $1 million. The date for the event is March 13, 2004.
Team Overbot is one of the teams vying for the prize, and they are looking for volunteers:
Team Overbot is pretty secretive, but provides this glimpse... Click the image for more info.
Paul Gunther and team are also building several vehicles for the Grand Challenge and sent this link to a very nice set of photos.
Click for an archive of photos from Paul Gunther and team.
Friday, June 13, 2003
This article is a good one on car engines, and it answers a lot of questions on what is actually going on inside an engine's cylinder when the gas is burning. In understandable terms it explains things like spark advance, detonation, fuel/air ratios, octane, etc. It also answers lots of questions on aftermarket equipment like, "will split electrode plugs really improve horsepower?" and "Will $400 ignition wires make my engine run better?", etc. This article has a lot more details on the actual combustion process.
Wednesday, June 11, 2003
Smoking and sex
Here's a question -- why is it that "smoking" is considered "sexy"? Have you ever thought about it? You have a behavior, and this behavior consists of holding a white stick up to your mouth, and then blowing smoke back out of your mouth. What would cause people to think of "sex" when they see that behavior?
Here's a theory. Perhaps, way way back in the evolutionary chain, humans have a long-extinct ancestor that had long, thin, tusk-like incisors jutting out of its mouth. And perhaps, residually, our brains are programmed to recognize that "long incisors" means "good mate". So when a person puts a cigarette up to his or her mouth, it triggers the "long incisors" circuit in our brains, and cigarettes get associated with sex in that way. It sounds ridiculous, doesn't it? That's because it is ridiculous -- there must be a better theory.
In the book The Tipping Point by Malcomb Gladwell, Chapter 7 contains this fascinating research finding:
"Heavy smokers have been found to have much greater sex drive than nonsmokers. They are more sexually precocious; they have a greater "need" for sex, and greater attraction for the opposite sex. At age 19, for example, 15 percent of nonsmoking white women attending college have had sex. The same number for white female students who do smoke is 55 percent. The statistics for men are about the same...."
So it is not that "smoking" is sexy. It's that human beings who smoke tend to be far more sexual. People figure that out, and they learn to associate smokers with heightened sexuality. Therefore, "smoking" is considered "sexy".
That's my current theory anyway.
[See also Stiletto Heels and Cell phones and sex.]
Tuesday, June 10, 2003
In DISCOVER magazine this month (July 2003) there is an article on grass that contains these remarkable statistics:
- There are 50 million lawns in America.
- They consume 270 billion gallons of water every week. (6 gallons of fresh water for every person on the planet every day)
- People apply 67 million pounds of pesticides to their lawns every year.
- The lawn mowers that cut these lawns consume 580 million gallons of gas each year.
- There are 30 million acres of lawn, golf course, athletic field, public park, cemetery and sod farm in the U.S.
- 50 million lawns, 700,000 athletic fields, 14,500 golf courses.
- The "turf" industry represents $45 billion per year.
- In many U.S. cities, 60% of the fresh water produced by the city goes to lawn irrigation.
Other fun facts totally unrelated to the DISCOVER article:
- If your grass looks really bad, you can paint it with Green Lawnger green turf paint.
- When they paint the grass for the logos at a football game, Missouri Turf Paint is the vendor.
- Artificial turf is so realistic now that you can't hardly tell the difference. Artificial Turf Strikes Back talks about how real it is.
This is artificial. Click on it.
Radio Controlled Toys
If you have small children, say 6 or 7 and under, Estes has a very nice, free, downloadable little flight simulator to go with its "Sky Rangers" electric radio controlled airplanes. You can download the simulator from: http://flyrc123.com. Once you download it, you may be asked to enter your birthdate. Enter the parent's birthday (or any year pre-1989) or you will be asked to fax parental permission to the company (COPPA compliance). The installation process will leave an icon on the desktop that you click to start the simulator.
The simulator is great for kids because there are only 2 buttons -- left and right. If you have ever flown one of these planes, you will realize that the simulator is very realistic. When you turn, you lose altitude, so you have to keep an eye on altitude just like you do when flying the real toy.
We have one of these planes (the Air Hogs plane shown above). Little toy R/C airplanes like these became popular a year or two ago:
- They use a 27MHz one-channel radio that lets you turn the plane left and right. The more advanced ones have a second channel that lets you increase or decrease power.
- They use a small electric motor to drive the propeller
- A tiny nicad battery inside the plane quick-charges in about 2 minutes from a battery pack.
- You get 2 to 3 minutes of flight from a charge.
So you charge the plane for two minutes, fly it for 2 minutes, run and pick it up, charge it, fly it, etc. For kids it is perfect. The planes are small and light so they don't destroy themselves in crash landings, and they fly slow enough that a kid can handle it. The Estes simulator does a good job of teaching the behavior of the real plane before you go out and fly it for real.
The big picture
My wife Leigh and I were going to rendezvous at the mall, so in order to avoid confusion (which is easy when you have four kids...) we looked at this aerial photo of the mall and decided exactly where we would meet:
Photo of Crabtree Valley Mall in Raleigh, NC provided by MapQuest
The place where we looked at the photo was MAPQUEST. The very nice thing about the Mapquest aerial photos is that you can find your general location using the normal roadmaps that MapQuest is famous for, and then click the Aerial Photo tab to switch over to photo mode. You can look at your house, your business, your school, the mall... Anything in town. Not all parts of the U.S. have detailed aerial photos, but most parts have something. The Aerial Photo tab is located just above the map.
[Hint: For towns that don't seem to offer the aerial photo tab, you can start in Raleigh, NC (or any nearby city that does offer the tab), zoom out, and then zoom in on the location you want. The Aerial Photo tab will follow.]
Sunday, June 08, 2003
Build it yourself
This article is a photo tour showing how you can take a 17-inch monitor case and a dremel tool and fit an entire computer inside of it.
It is an insane project in terms of the amount of time spent, but it shows what is possible with a little creativity and determination.
This article describes someone who says he will publish the same sort of blow-by-blow instructions for creating your own personal cruise missile. Once you hear the idea -- "create your own cruise missile" -- it does not sound that far-fetched.
- There are people who create gigantic radio controlled airplanes -
See also this page
- There are people who create their own jet engines, like this and this. Or power it with a normal weed whacker engine or a 150cc piston engine (example).
- GPS receivers are cheap and easy to interface, like this
It's just a matter of putting the pieces together...
Friday, June 06, 2003
This press release talks about a new mote named "Spec" that is less than 3 mm by 3mm:
This is the smallest "complete" mote on a single chip that has been developed so far. All it needs is an antenna, a battery, an inductor and a crystal. Developing tiny batteries at the same size scale as the Spec mote is the next step, but that should happen within a year. It will yield a complete mote that fits in just 30 or 40 cubic millimeters.
A mote is a "wireless sensing unit". It has a CPU, a radio transceiver and some sort of sensing capability for things like temperature, humidity, GPS coordinates, etc. The CPU in most motes runs an operating system called TinyOS that handles power management, radio communications, sensor interfacing, etc.
A key feature of motes is the ability to organize themselves into ad hoc networks. For example, if you place motes on a 100' by 100' grid in a forest, the motes will use their radio tranceivers to communicate with one another and start sharing or transfering data. For example, they might funnel all the data collected by all the motes in the forest toward a "super-mote" in one corner of the forest, and then it stores the data for future collection (or transmits it using a high-power radio).
This article and this article offer some details on motes and their networks.
Thursday, June 05, 2003
The newest thing in watches
Microsoft is planning to support a new type of wireless wristwatch that can receive and display things like weather forecasts, stock quotes, sports scores, etc.
The online demo is very cool. The core technology is called SPOT (Smart Personal Objects Technology). See also this article and this article for details.
This is a cool web site that talks about the robots that NASA will be sending to Mars: Mars Exploration Robot (MER) Mission
Tuesday, June 03, 2003
I had read about a product called Credit Watch from Equifax. It seemed intriguing, and I wanted to check my credit report anyway, so I signed up. The idea is that, for a fee, Equifax will send you an email any time any company accesses your credit report or adds an entry to your credit report. The idea is that if someone tried to steal your identity, you would be able to detect it because there would be a flurry of activity on your credit report.
If you ignore the fact that they are charging you to look at your own data... It seems to work well. When something changes the email comes, and then you can go to a viewer page and see what happened. You get the name of the company accessing your file, the date and what they did.
The site also lets you submit disputes online and monitor them as they go through the process. It gives you access to your credit report and credit score, telling you what you need to do to improve the score. Overall it works as advertised.
David (age 5), Irena (age 3) and I decided to go fishing this past weekend.
Our first stop was Wal-Mart to get fishing rods. As we came up to the fishing display in the sporting goods department, Irena took one glance at the selection and immediately locked onto the $8 "Barbie Rod and Reel" set.
I didn't know that Barbie fishes.
If you could go back in time and replay a person's life like you replay a video tape, you would be able to find a scene in my life where, shortly after Irena was born, I proclaimed to my wife Leigh that our home would be a Barbie Free Zone (BFZ). Three years later it is obvious how foolish and naive I was. What Barbie has going for her, even in a fishing set, is the color pink. The rod is pink. The rod's grip is pink. The reel is pink, with a blue cover and a little flower glued on the side. Plus, the rod came with its own mini tackle box (pink) complete with Barbie's photograph and endorsement on it.
What is it about the color pink? Pink is a strong tractor beam that pulls Irena inexorably toward it. Is there something chemical that happens in her brain when she sees the mixture or red and white pigments?
David chose a full size (non-endorsed) adult rod ($14) because it came complete with a tackle kit and tackle box. The tackle kit had hooks, bobbers, sinkers and a selection of perhaps 700 different rubber lures.
We drove to the lake. The kids opened the tackle kit and divided the lures between their two tackle boxes. They each picked out a lure and I tied them on. I told them we were just practicing. But I'll be damned if Irena didn't catch one. We went fishing 3 times over the weekend and we caught one fish each time. The only possible comparison in terms of excitement level for the kids is Christmas day. It was a total surprise to me, and a really nice weekend.
Monday, June 02, 2003
The back of a dollar
In this week's issue of TIME magazine, there is a full page ad for The Liberty Bill Act. The goal is to "place an abridged constitution on the back of U.S. Currency". Like this:
The tag line is, "Imagine seven billion one-dollar bills exchanging hands each day among the six billion people in the world... with the constitution on every one."
That's a powerful tag line, and there is another way to think about it. Assume each one-dollar bill passes between 100 people before it becomes so tattered that it gets shredded by the treasury. According to this page, "The average life of a dollar bill is eighteen months." That means that every year, there are something like 500 billion ad impressions available on the backs of one dollar bills. The constitution is one thing you can put back there. But what if you sold the space to Coke, Disney, Home Depot and Wal-Mart? What if you put coupons back there???
If you assume a $10 CPM (the advertiser pays $10 per thousand impressions), that means that the treasury could make almost $5 billion a year selling ad space on the back of one dollar bills. $5 billion is a lot of money. There are about 100 million households in America. If you assume that the ad space belongs to "We, The People", the treasury could distribute that $5 billion to every American household and each household would get a check for $50 every year.
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