Thursday, September 29, 2005

DIY iPod

[See previous]

IPods for Anarchists

New idea - Electronic paper

[See previous new idea]

Electronic paper is not a new idea, but the fact that you can get a development kit for it and that we might actually start seeing products based on it is new:

Electronic paper development kit runs Linux

Still waiting for the sheet of electronic paper as big as a sheet of newspaper, with a resolution of 300 DPI ...

Makes me think

[See previous]

In this article, a typical high-achievement college student talks about how bad engineering education is getting at the college level.

Confessions of an Engineering Washout

It leads me to believe that the American university system as we know it is probably doomed, at least for technical education.

See also Emphasis on Teaching.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

New idea - floating airport

[See previous]

San Diego group promotes floating airport

From the article: "A local group is promoting a plan to replace Lindbergh Field with an international airport off the coast of San Diego. The proposed floating airport would be located in the Pacific Ocean, between the Orange County line and the Mexican border."

There are several different ideas that break off from this one. For example:

Monday, September 26, 2005

Looking on the bright side

[See previous]

It is about to get much easier to detect cancer:

Nanowires for detecting molecular signs of cancer

From the article: "Harvard University researchers have found that molecular markers indicating the presence of cancer in the body are readily detected in blood scanned by special arrays of silicon nanowires -- even when these cancer markers constitute only one hundred-billionth of the protein present in a drop of blood. In addition to this exceptional accuracy and sensitivity, the minuscule devices also promise to pinpoint the exact type of cancer present with a speed not currently available to clinicians."

Sunday, September 25, 2005

Launching your own satellite

If you have ever thought about launching your own satellite, this is interesting -- a student satellite:

SSETI Express

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Windows XP security tip #1

Last night I was helping a friend fix a Windows XP computer. I was amazed yet again at how "wide open" people leave their machines. So I thought I would start collecting some simple Windows XP security tips for you to try on your machine.

Here is tip number 1, and it comes in three parts.

Part 1: If you have a "family computer" in your house, then each person who uses it should have their own account. So for example, if you and your spouse and one of the kids are sharing a machine, then all three of you should have your own accounts. And the accounts should have passwords. These accounts are incredibly easy to create. There are at least four good reasons to create these accounts:
  1. When the kids use the machine, they will not be able to "get into" any of your files. They won't be able to accidentally delete or move any of your files, they won't be able to access your sensitive information, they won't be able to get into your email, and so on.

  2. If someone (say a babysitter) comes over and uses your machine, he/she won't be able to access/destroy any of your stuff either.

  3. You will be able to have your desktop the way you like it, and your spouse and kids will be able to have their desktops the way they like it, and you will never be bothering each other.

  4. All of your settings will be yours and yours alone. So, for example, if you want to set up "one click" access on Amazon, you don't have to worry about the kids accidentally using it and ordering 10 books.
From a security standpoint, reasons #1 and #2 are incredibly important. #3 and #4 make life much easier. Once you set up these accounts you will amazed at how much easier things will be. You will never have to worry about other people "messing up your stuff."

To set up accounts, click the "Start" button. Find "Control Panel" and click on it. Click on "User Accounts". Click on "Create a new account". Create one account for each person who uses the machine. If you have a babysitter or friend who frequently comes over and wants to check email or something, create an account for him/her as well. Or create a generic "Friends" account and let all of these people share it.

When you create an account, you will be asked whether you want the account to be "Limited" or not. Especially with kids and friends (and possibly with your spouse, if he/she is computer-illiterate), all new accounts should be "Limited". This way, your kids and friends will not be able to install any new software on your machine without your permission.

Part 2: Each of these accounts needs to have a password. Click on "Change an account" to set a password on each account.

When you set a password, you will have the option of making your files "private". You definitely should do this. Here's what you are doing: You are making it so that only the account owner can view the files in your account. If you do not make your files private, then the kids (for example) can open up your directory and look at all of your files with a few mouse clicks. The entire hard disk is wide open. If you make your files private, then that option goes away. The kids will not be able to get into your account, AND they will not be able to look at any of your files on the hard disk.

What if you are the only one using your machine? You should put a password on your machine's single account (it was created when XP was installed) and make your files private. That way if a random friend comes over and decides to use your machine, he/she will not be able to get into your files. Create a separate "Friends" account for your friend to use (see part 1), and all of your stuff will remain private.

Part 3: Now there is one last thing you need to do -- activate a screen saver.
  1. Go into each account.
  2. Right click on the desktop and select "Properties".
  3. Set up a screen saver (use the "blank" one if you do not like screen savers)
  4. Set a wait time of perhaps 5 minutes. 10 at the most.
  5. Click the check box that says, "On resume, display the welcome screen".
  6. Do this in every account.
What you are doing is telling the machine, "If I step away from the machine for 5 minutes, make me log in again." If you don't do this, then your passwords will be useless. You will log in, get up and leave your machine for an hour, and anyone who sits down at the machine will have wide-open access to your account.

If you ever get up and want to immediately lock your machine, use the "Log off" option in the "Start" menu. You do not actually have to log off (which can take a minute or two) – just click "Switch user" and you will get the Welcome Screen.

Setting up these accounts will take less than five minutes. I know it sounds a little complicated if this is the first time you've seen the process, but it really is easy. You are doing three simple things:
  1. Create an account for each person who uses your machine
  2. Set a password on each account. Make sure the files are private.
  3. Activate the screen saver in each account.
These simple steps make your Windows XP machine far more secure than it is now.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

The Esuvee Challenge Course

Here is something you don't see everyday:

The Esuvee Challenge Course

An interesting take on an educational problem.

Robots and realtors

Realtors are being replaced by robots. In this case, the robots take the form of software and databases on the Internet. This article discusses the trend:

The 6 Percent Solution: Skip Real Estate Agents

From the article:$100 billion is a huge number. With approximately 100 million households in America, it means that every household paid about $1,000 to realtors last year. (!) As we eliminate realtors, each household will save $1,000 per year on average. And that is very good.

The question is this. There are about 1 million realtors in the U.S. Not all of them are "active", but let's say half are. If we eliminate 500,000 good, high-paying jobs, what are those people going to end up doing? See Robots taking jobs and Robotic Nation.

Here are some other good, high-paying jobs that may be heading in the same direction soon:OK, that last one isn't a "job" per se, but it is interesting that millions of people have started playing poker over the last few years, and the game is about to be dominated by robots.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

The Art of Retouching

A friend sent this. When you click on the link, what you will see is a re-touched photo. Then, if you mouse over the image, you will see the same photo before retouching.

Glenn Feron - The Art of Retouching

It is interesting to notice both what is added as what is deleted from the photo. There are many other images in the portfolio.

See also virtual attractiveness.

Helpful - federal statistics

[See previous]

A nice gateway to all kinds of statistics available within the federal government:


Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Something else to worry about...

[See previous]

It turns out that if someone can make a recording of the sounds of your typing, they can figure out what you typed:

Acoustic Snooping on Typed Information

From the article: That includes passwords:This means that we should see people advertising silent keyboards fairly soon.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

New idea - flying Walrus

[See previous new idea]

What happens if you combine a blimp, an airplane and a Harrier jump jet? You get an immense aircraft called the Walrus:

Walrus program launched to research large airlift vehicle

From the article:There is also this: "It is intended to carry a payload of more than 500 tons 12,000 nautical miles in less than seven days at a competitive cost." That makes it sound something like an airborn navy.

Lots of photos in this article.

New Orleans off the front page

The newspaper came this morning and the lead story is not about New Orleans. That means that the major news cycle on this event lasted exactly two weeks.

Monday, September 12, 2005

New idea - Aquaporin desalination

[See previous]

The next small thing

From the article:

Friday, September 09, 2005

New idea - eliminate the spark plug

[See previous new idea]

Eliminate the spark plug, save 20% of the gas:

Powering a new generation of cars

From the article: I must admit that the spark plug seemed essential to me. I always find it interesting when a new idea takes something essential like that and throws it out the window.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

New idea - hydrogen tablet

[See previous new idea]

Danish Researchers Reveal New Hydrogen Storage Technology: "Scientists at the Technical University of Denmark have invented a technology which may be an important step towards the hydrogen economy: a hydrogen tablet that effectively stores hydrogen in an inexpensive and safe material....

The hydrogen tablet is safe and inexpensive. In this respect it is different from most other hydrogen storage technologies. You can literally carry the material in your pocket without any kind of safety precaution. The reason is that the tablet consists solely of ammonia absorbed efficiently in sea-salt. Ammonia is produced by a combination of hydrogen with nitrogen from the surrounding air, and the DTU-tablet therefore contains large amounts of hydrogen. Within the tablet, hydrogen is stored as long as desired, and when hydrogen is needed, ammonia is released through a catalyst that decomposes it back to free hydrogen. When the tablet is empty, you merely give it a “shot” of ammonia and it is ready for use again."

See also AltEng - The sources of energy that will replace oil.

Fun fact - self-storage units

[see previous]

Have you ever wondered why you see self-storage units (also known as mini-storage) popping up all over the place? From an article in today's paper:

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Surviving after a hurricane

Several years ago, Raleigh North Carolina was hit by a freak hurricane called Fran that came much further inland than anyone expected. I happened to live in Raleigh at the time. Fran shut the city down for about two weeks. Now, watching from the sidelines as 90,000 square miles of the gulf coast recovers from Katrina, what is coming to mind is a check list for things your family needs "after a hurricane" or other big disaster like that.

Let's make the assumption that your house is not blown totally to bits by the hurricane. If that happens then any preparations you make will, obviously, be pointless anyway. And let's also assume that your house is above sea level (and not in a flood plain), so there is not five feet of standing water in your living room once the hurricane passes.

So you, your family and your home makes it through the hurricane (or whatever). If Fran and Katrina are any example, then you need to plan on power/water/phones being out for one to two weeks. The roads will be covered with debris and impassable for two or three days at least. Grocery stores, gas stations, Wal-Marts, etc. will not be open for at least three or four days, and more than a week in some cases. Therefore, the question you should be asking is this: What would you need to have on hand to survive for a week or two? If you think ahead, you can have everything you need to ride out the aftermath.

The very first thing you are going to care about after the hurricane hits is whether or not your house/apartment has been damaged. If you are lucky, your home survives unscathed. If not, either the wind will blow all or part of the roof off, or the wind will drop a tree through the roof into a bedroom. You are going to need five things to deal with this damage immediately:
  1. A chainsaw
  2. Gas/oil for the chainsaw
  3. Tarps to cover the damage and keep the rain out
  4. Rope to tie the tarp with
  5. A couple rolls of duct tape can also be helpful
You can buy huge blue tarps these days fairly inexpensively. It is not a bad idea to have one or two in the garage to cover the roof if you need to. A couple hundred feet of cheap nylon rope is also handy.

Your next concern is going to be drinking water, since the hurricane is likely to either cut off running water or contaminate it. You need to have about a gallon of water per person per day. So a family of four would need about 30 gallons for a week. 60 gallons if you want to last two weeks. You can buy water in plastic 5 gallon jugs at most warehouse clubs, or buy several hundred half-liter bottles of water by the case and keep them in the garage.

The other thing you will want water for, surprisingly, is flushing the toilet. You would be amazed at how important this can be after just half a day. For this you need a bucket and a supply of water. One easy way to have a supply -- fill your bathtubs before the hurricane hits. Depending on your toilet, it takes about two gallons per flush. Another option -- fill a kid's wading pool in the backyard.

Depending on the time of year, one concern will be mosquitoes. Stock a supply of repellent containing deet.

Food is a necessity. You need about 2,000 calories per person per day (little kids and infants need less, but may have special needs (like formula)). Stock up on canned foods, dry foods (rice, dry potatoes, pasta, etc.). Have a week or two supply of non-perishable food in your panty or garage at all times. If you want to get "official" about it, you can buy MREs and have them on hand specifically for emergencies, but that probably is going overboard. Canned food and dried food is fine. Have powdered milk and drink mixes too - water gets boring after awhile, and the kids will want milk.

You will need a way to cook. Most people use their grills in an emergency. You need to have a propane grill, and a full tank or two of propane. If your grill has a side burner to make it easy to boil a pot of water, all the better.

Do you need electricity? There are three schools of thought:
  1. No. All you need is flashlights or lanterns or glow sticks to provide light at night.
  2. Yes, but only in small amounts. In that case, you can get by with a little inverter that plugs into the car and provides 400 watts. You will have to run the car occasionally to recharge the battery. If it is sweltering hot outside, you will occasionally run the car anyway to bask in air conditioning. You may want to keep 5 gallons of gas in the garage.
  3. Yes, and you need a lot -- enough to keep the freezer and refrig running, to power fans, TVs, etc. If you go this route you need a generator of some sort (2,500 to 5,000 watts), and enough gasoline to keep it running. Five to ten gallons a day would suffice to keep a household going.
If you are storing gasoline, you need to use a gasoline preservative and you need to rotate your stock every few months. Yes, it is a pain.

Whether you have a generator or not, you do need flashlights and batteries.

If you don't have a generator to keep the freezer cold, what will happen 24 hours after the hurricane hits is that the freezer will thaw out. All the food in the freezer will be available for eating over the course of two or three days. If you cover the freezer in blankets and have two or three frozen gallon jugs of water in it, it can stay cold about 3 days. I know that many people who went through hurricane Fran in Raleigh have memories of incredible feasts that neighborhoods had as people consumed all the food from their thawing freezers.

A radio and batteries to run it is nice.

Do you need a weapon and ammunition to ward off looters? I'll let you make that call. I know it wasn't a problem in Raleigh during Fran. And I imagine that the vast majority of the area affected by Katrina is the same.

If you are on medication, you want to refill your prescription before the hurricane hits. Pharmacies will be out for at least a week. A good plan -- always have at least a week's supply of prescription medicine on hand. Never allow your supply to drop to zero before refilling.

Power was out in Raleigh for up to two weeks, depending on where you lived. After 10 days things were returning to something of normalcy. It took months to clean up all the debris, and there were huge "shredding yards" where the thousands of uprooted trees were taken to be shredded. In areas to the east of Raleigh where the flooding was severe, recovery took a lot longer. It takes months to completely recover from a big hurricane.

What am I forgetting?

Helpful - 20 Things They Don't Want You to Know

[See previous] - 20 Things They Don't Want You to Know

From the article:

Makes me think

[See previous]

The digital home | Science fiction? | "Whether or not computer, software, consumer-electronics, telecoms, cable and internet companies are in fact out of touch with consumers may be the biggest question facing these industries today."

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

DIY - Hydrogen H2 Car and Multi Fuel DVD

[See previous]

Hydrogen H2 Car and Multi Fuel DVD

Want to convert a car (or a lawn mower) to Hydrogen? This video may be your answer, although it is a bit pricey. If nothing else, the ad is a piece of pure Americana.

New idea - desktop manufacturing

[See previous new idea]

Wired 13.09: The Dream Factory

From the article: I have a friend who uses this service. Right now the problem is the cost when you are prototyping, which can get absurd. With luck the cost drops over the next year or two, and "desktop manufacturing" becomes as commonplace as "desktop publishing".

Sunday, September 04, 2005

Makes me think

The Bursting Point

Friday, September 02, 2005

Buying an electric scooter

I have a friend who filled up his gas tank yesterday. Because of the supply disruptions caused by Hurricane Katrina, he paid $3.20 a gallon and it ended up costing about $60. His reaction to that was, "I'm not going to take it anymore!"

What he decided to do is interesting. He decided to go to Pep Boys and buy an Electric Scooter. Since I have a truck, I helped him out by driving him down to pick it up.

This scooter is fascinating. It is made in China, and with a rebate it is currently priced at $299. I had a moped in college, and this scooter is exactly like the moped. It has a 750 watt (about 1 HP) motor that gives it a top speed on level ground of 30 MPH. It has a four 12-volt batteries that give it a range of about 25 miles. It has everything you would expect it to have from a moped standpoint -- head light and tail light, turn signals, horn, rear view mirrors, storage under the seat, etc.

It has two things that you do not get with a moped. First, it is completely silent. It's almost spooky how quiet it is. Going 30 MPH with zero noise is a new experience. It's a lot of fun to ride it. Second, it costs basically zero to operate. Perhaps a penny per mile. With gas at $3.20 a gallon, his car is costing 16 cents a mile just for the gas.

His wife sent him to the grocery store last night for a gallon of milk. The store is two miles away. He found that taking the scooter was quicker than driving because you can park the scooter right next to the store's door, walk in, walk out and you are done.

Here's the funny thing about this scooter. By the time you add in tires, oil changes, gasoline and per-mile depreciation on the car, the average car costs about 30 cents a mile to operate. That means that if he uses this scooter for 1,000 miles, the scooter is free.

Obviously he won't be riding a scooter like this in the winter when it is 20 degrees F outside. He won't be riding it in the rain. He won't use it for any journey longer than about 15 miles round trip. But his office is only 6 miles away so he can ride the scooter to work on nice days. He can use it to go to the store and so on. Let's say it takes him a year to put 2,000 miles on the scooter. And let's say that at the end of the year he throws the scooter away, so he has zero maintenance costs. He has saved 100 gallons of gasoline and he has put $280 in his pocket compared to the cost of driving his car (2,000 miles would cost $600 in the car, while the scooter cost $299 and he spent $20 on electricity for it).

There are 235 million cars in America -- about 1 for every adult. If 235 million people bought a scooter and used it 2,000 miles per year, it would save the nation about 1.25 million barrels of oil per day. That is nearly equivalent to all the oil pumped out of the Gulf of Mexico every day. And the nation would save $280 * 235,000,000 = $65 billion.

See also Cheap electric cars from China.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

New idea - medical tourism

[See previous new idea]

This isn't a "breaking news" new idea, but it is new to me because I know someone who is about to give it a try. It seems somehow bizarre that it has come to this, but there is a now a travel category called Medical tourism. Here is a FAQ on it:

Medical Tourism FAQ

At the bottom of the FAQ are some price comparisons which are kind of surprising. This article from Newsweek is also interesting:

Indian hospitals are outsourcing care

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