Saturday, April 30, 2005

Robots and global warming

I find myself fascinated by global warming, because as a society we seem to be paralyzed. Here is a yet another recent article on the topic: Robots 'confirm' global warming. From the article:This is the tenth or eleventh "smoking gun" that scientists have found. There's the fact that all the glaciers are melting. There's the fact that the arctic ice sheet is breaking up. There's the dying sea birds. And so on.

Yet, there are still a number of people who loudly proclaim it is all bunk. And clearly a majority of people in America and around the world believe that it is bunk, because we are doing nothing significant to solve the problem. As a planet we continue to burn millions of barrels of oil and millions of tons of coal every day, which only makes the problem worse.

What if we had a robot who could "know everything that humans have discovered?" This robot is somehow able to read everything that is known about climatic change, transportation, energy production and consumption, economics, etc. and understand it. Here are my questions: Having concrete, irrefutable answers to these simple questions would be great.

Friday, April 29, 2005

The next time a hard disk crashes...

This week I had a bad hard disk failure. Something in XP messed up and damaged the directory structure. The symptoms: The machine would not boot. It would offer to go into "safe mode", but then blue screen in the middle of booting safe mode and reset. It eventually led to the complete loss of the information on the disk (I back up about once a week, so I lost approximately a week's worth of stuff - most importantly, the photos of the twin's birthday). So...

Note to self - the next time your hard disk crashes, here is what you should do:Also, when you download photos from the camera, immediately back them up to a CD. It will only take a minute, and it will prevent this from happening again.

Fascinating stories

I had the chance to meet Bob Gurr recently. Now 73, Bob is something of a legend in the amusement park arena. He was the principal designer on all sorts of rides and attractions that you have either heard of or ridden on yourself. He started his career at Disney, where he worked on everything from the monorails to Abe Lincoln. Later in life he has done all sorts of stuff, including dinosaurs for movies and the sinking pirate ships on the strip in Vegas.

He has a fascinating series of about 60 articles online that you may find interesting. They talk about many of the projects he has worked on over the years. You can find them here:

Thursday, April 28, 2005

What kind of HDTV to buy?

I have a friend who is wanting to buy a "hang it on your wall" type of HDTV. His question is, "which should I buy - Plasma or LCD?"

I saw an article talking about differences in LCDs, plasmas and a new technology called SED. The article is not available online, but here is what it says: You can see in this quote two things. First, LCD is not as clear as plasma on moving images. Second, there is a new technology called SED that is "just around the corner" (isn't that always the case?) and is better than both. SED won't be available until next year.

This online article compares LCD to Plasma and says about the same thing:LCD has a smearing problem because the pixels cannot react fast enough in moving images. Plasma has a bit of a lifespan problem, and is subject to burn in.

Here is a quick introduction to SED technology if you would like to learn more: It should be here as early as 2006 in mass-produced quantities by at least one manufacturer.

The other technology that has been "just around the corner" for years is the OLED. This technology seems to be moving on a slower track when it comes to large displays. Here is an intro:It is not clear when large OLED displays will be available in mass quantities - perhaps not before 2007.

Handy info

The most expensive ZIP codes of 2005

Average starting salaries for class of 2005

Sunday, April 24, 2005

How to make money with web sites

A couple of weeks ago I posted an article called "How to make a million dollars." The article turned out to be very popular, and it started to generate a lot of email. People are asking great questions, especially about the Web and creating new Web sites. To answer these questions, I've created a place called WebKEW.

The idea behind WebKEW is to collect together ideas, techniques, case studies, stories, etc. that will help you learn how to create successful web sites. Here are two starting points:I will be adding to WebKEW over the coming weeks and months. Right now, I'd love to hear any feedback, ideas, questions etc. that you might have. Please email them to me directly or post them in the comments on WebKEW. Thanks!

What can change in 25 years?

There is a great post on Robotic Nation today called, "What can Happen in 25 years".

Friday, April 22, 2005

Windows XP Handhelds

Following up on yesterday's post and the OQO, how hard would it be to embed a cell phone, a camera and a GPS receiver into a Windows XP handheld? Here are three of the better know Windows XP Handhelds out there now:


OQO has a 1 GHz PC, 256MB RAM, 20 GB hard disk, 800 x 480 display.


Flipstart has a 1 GHz PC, 256MB RAM, 30 GB hard disk, 1.3MP camera, 1024 x 600 display.


Tiqit has a 300 MHz PC, 256MB RAM, 15 GB hard disk, 640 x 480 display.

There is also the IBM Thinkpad PC110 and the Sony PCG-U101 that get discussed in this space.

Thursday, April 21, 2005

New idea - cell phones take over the world

[See previous]

Here is the new idea - cell phones as a media transport device:

Will Your Music Hub Be a Phone?

From the article:This notion of the cell phone becoming the center of each person's universe is interesting. Think about all the things that a phone can do either now or in the near future:The question is, how long until someone produces the ultimate fusion device that actually does all this stuff? And will it be available in both a small (like a normal phone/PDA as is common today - for people who want a pocket device) and larger (like a tablet PC - for people who want to be browsing and emailing a lot) formats. For me, something the size of the OQO or the PSP with all of this stuff fused into one device would be fantastic.

Playlists and nothingness

You are what's on your playlist

From the article:So... if you don't listen to music, there is nothing on your playlist. Does that mean you are nothing?

I do have an MP3 player, and it is loaded up with books and courses. It is amazing how much material you can cover this way.

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Looking on the bright side...

[See previous]

CDC: Dangers of being overweight overstated

From the article:Wow!

Makes me smile...

[See previous]

The last line in this story makes me smile:

Broadway baby sitters

Monday, April 18, 2005

A system straight out of Manna

Big brother will watch you in the office

From the article:The article hypothesizes other uses. For example, if two people seem to spend a lot of time near each other, they may be having an office tryst. If too many people get together for an "unscheduled meeting", it may indicate a huge waste of time or potential mutiny. And so on.

If you want to see where systems like this lead us, read the book Manna.

See also Manna and the water heater.

Sunday, April 17, 2005

Flying cars

Flying Cars Ready To Take Off: "Have you ever dreamt about the day you can buzz around in your very own flying machine? Well, that day may be sooner than you think. "

Large well-hidden subcultures in America

One question I get asked a lot, especially in the context of HowStuffWorks, goes along the lines of, "why did you write an article about XYZ -- nobody will read that." XYZ can be any topic you can imagine. The flip side of the question is, "You should write about XYZ -- everyone wants to know about it." One thing that has been impressed upon me over and over again since starting HowStuffWorks is that: a) with very rare exceptions, there is nothing that everyone cares about, and b) there are certain topics that have surprisingly huge and well-hidden followings.

I got my first noticeable taste of the large, well-hidden subcultures in America some years ago. I had a friend who raised rabbits. He had built a special shed beside his house, and he kept maybe 50 breeding pairs of show rabbits. As I got to know him better, I realized that his wife was a certified show rabbit judge. "Peculiar..." I thought, but he was a nice enough guy.

He had invited me to rabbit shows before, but one day he told me about a rabbit show just a few miles from my house at a national guard armory. I figured "what the heck", and I went. I was expecting to see 10 or 15 people there.

Walking into the armory what struck me first was the smell. Then there were the (seemingly) thousands of people. And then there were the (what felt like) millions of rabbits, all in their identical metal mesh cages. Many of these people were fanatics -- outright lunatics -- about rabbits. They talked to their rabbits. They screamed at judges if their rabbits did not win. They, to some degree, lived for their rabbits. They were nuts. I left that show thinking, for the first time, "there must be millions of rabbit lunatics in this country, and they live among us, completely invisible." It was an eye-opening experience, and a very bizarre feeling. The movie "Men in Black" taps into that same feeling to some degree.

I was reminded of that feeling when I opened Parade magazine this week and found this ad:

What we have here is the "May God Bless You, Little Grace" preemie doll by "renowned doll artist Tinneke." You can see the price of $25.99 in the above image, but let me blow that part of the ad up for you:

It is five payments of $25.99. The asterix refers to the shipping and handling charges, so the full price of Little Grace is $142.97.

The ad copy mentions that, "A one-of-a-kind doll by Tinneke can sell for thousands, but this extraordinary first is only $129.99 -- a truly remarkable value. Orders will be filled on a first-come, first-serve basis." Thousands? Wow.

Now, I know what I was thinking when I looked at this ad. Perhaps you have the same thought: Who would buy a vinyl doll that costs $142.97? I have a large circle of friends and acquaintances, and, to be honest, I cannot think of a single person who would spend $142.97 for a vinyl doll. Not a single one.

Here is what is remarkable. The fact that I do not know a single person who would buy this doll is completely, totally meaningless. Because there must be a MASSIVE hidden subculture that buys these dolls. Walk with me over to the rate card for Parade magazine and you can understand why:As you can see, Parade magazine reaches 35 million people, and a full-page color ad like this costs over $850,000! They have to sell tens of thousands of these dolls just to recoup the advertising costs. If you are going to drop nearly a million bucks on a single magazine ad, you have a pretty good idea that the demand is there. Go to the Ashton-Drake web site and you will see what I mean. There must be hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of people who are collecting dolls like these.

They live among us, completely hidden....

Makes me smile...

[See Previous]

Hunters Bag a Prosthetic Leg

Saturday, April 16, 2005

Web idea - promotion

[See previous]

How to Promote Your Business on the Internet

Nuclear Power for Commercial Ships

This relates to the previous post on Electricity, gasoline and uranium:

Nuclear Power for Commercial Ships

From the article:A little dry, but it is interesting to read the article.

Friday, April 15, 2005

Web idea - video

[See previous]

Google Preps Video Distribution Service

New ideas

[See previous]

Here are two ideas involving water. The first one is incredibly simple -- a motion-activated sprinkler to scare away deer (probably people too...): The second one looks at "watering the lawn" in a completely different way and creates a watering robot:

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

How to make a million dollars

Last week I was invited to speak to a group of 200 students at Duke University. The organizers gave me pretty much free rein in picking my topic, so I decided to talk about this:

The talk went really well. So well, in fact, that I have received requests for tapes of this presentation. Since no tape was made, what I thought I would do is lay the talk out, in writing, so that people can read it at their leisure. Here it is:Enjoy!

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Something else to worry about...

[See Previous]

The headline should be, "THE END OF THE WORLD IS COMING!" or something like that. Here's the link with its original headline:The gist of the article is that, in 1142 AD, a saint named St. Malachy made a prophecy about the popes to come. According to this prophecy there are only two popes left before, "the city of seven hills will be destroyed, and the formidable Judge will judge the people."

The interesting part about the article, assuming it is accurate, is that Pope John Paul II was listed by St. Malachy as "De Labore Solis" (Of the Solar Eclipse, or From the Toil of the Sun). On the day that John Paul II was born, there was a solar eclipse. CNN reported today that there will be another solar eclipse on the day of his funeral:Personally, I am still amazed by the fact that the Pope had a feeding tube inserted a day or so before Shiavo died.

Monday, April 04, 2005

Looking on the bright side...

[See previous]

The headline says it all...

MIT developing $100 laptops for children

Friday, April 01, 2005

Electricity, gasoline and uranium

The previous post on Toshiba's new batteries (with one-minute recharge times) prompted a question that then led to an email exchange. The question is, "Can't we now use these batteries to create electric cars that recharge in a minute or two?"

The answer to that question is "probably not." One funny thing about electric cars is that the recharge time might still be high even with batteries that take only one minute to recharge.

A typical car uses about 15 horsepower to cruise on a flat freeway. The power is needed to cut through aerodynamic drag, overcome rolling resistance, run the air conditioner and other appliances in the car and so on. Let's say an electric car is more efficient, so it needs 10 HP. A HP equals about 750 watts. If you assume normal inefficiencies in the batteries, the converter, etc. let's say it's 1,000 watts per HP. That means the car needs about 10 kilowatt-hours per hour to go down a flat highway at a reasonable speed.

If you want the car to have a three hour range, what this means is that you need to be able to pump 30 kilowatt-hours of electricity into the car to fully recharge it.

The biggest circuit breaker in a typical house might be 50 amps at 220 volts (probably for the air conditioner). That's roughly 10,000 watts. So, if you plug an electric car directly into the biggest circuit breaker in a typical house, it would take about three hours to fully recharge the car. It has nothing to do with the batteries -- it has to do with the amount of time it takes to move electricity across a wire into the car.

Even if you plug an electric car directly into the 200-amp main coming into the house, all you can pump is 40 kilowatt-hours of electricity per hour into the car. It would still take perhaps 45 minutes to recharge an electric car with 150 to 200 mile range. And you would not be able to turn on anything else in the house while recharging the car.

I don't ever think we will have quick-recharge electric cars. It is always going to take at least an hour or so to recharge an electric car with any kind of range if "plugging it in" is the way you do the recharging.

It is when you think about this that you realize the miracle of gasoline. When you pump 20 gallons of gas into your car in 5 minutes, you are transferring an amazing amount of energy into the gas tank. A gallon of gas, if you could convert it completely to electricity in a 100% efficient process, contains about 36.6 kilowatt-hours of energy. Twenty gallons of gas therefore contains about 730 kilowatt-hours of electricity. And it all comes into the car in 5 minutes.

As you can see, gasoline has a good energy density that it makes it easy to move a fair amount energy into a car's fuel tank quickly. Is there anything with a better energy density? One year ago today I wrote an April-Fool's article on a vehicle called the NCar. The NCar is powered by enriched uranium, and it is such an appealing idea. A pound of highly enriched uranium contains the energy equivalent of about one million gallons of gasoline. If we could somehow tap into that incredible energy density in a safe way using a small (big as a typical car engine, say) reactor, we would be set. You would never have to refuel your car. If we could make small nuclear-powered AA batteries, they would potentially last for decades in a cell phone or laptop without ever needing recharging.

Alas, it does not appear that we will be seeing uranium batteries any time soon...

Something else to worry about...

[See Previous]

US will cease to exist in 2007

From the article:I guess that now would be the time to be buying flood insurance...

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