Archive for the 'inventions/schemes' Category

“Sleepbox” and the modular real estate of tomorrow

September 22, 2011

All right all right.  I hereby declare that I’m getting excited about this “Sleepbox” idea, and more importantly about where it can lead.

You get the idea.

It’s related to Tumbleweed Tiny Houses (which is a running real-deal business, by the way, so props there), only Sleepboxes are much smaller and mass-produced because they’re small enough to transport on trucks and trains.  They’re also more affordable than “houses” because–and this is key–they don’t get rained or snowed on.

OK.  Now.  Notice, if you please, how many of us (well, many of us without children, sigh) are approaching “traveler” status every day.  There’s a growing demographic who own:

  • A $2000 Apple laptop
  • four changes of clothes
  • a bicycle/Vespa

…and access all of their…

  • books
  • music
  • movies
  • correspondence
  • …and even a portion of their social life via Facebook/G+

through said $2000 Apple laptop.


Therefore, my mind is racing toward applying this business model in a more permanent direction:

I see a “marina” of these pre-fabbed baby housing units–most of them obviously imported from China–tastefully arranged over a defunct Suburban parking lot.  Interspersed are some nice ceramic planters with trees, flowers and such.

Parking and storage lockers off to the side, bus/train connections nearby.

In the center are (aggressively-cleaned) facilities for:

  • laundry
  • bathrooms
  • coffee/hanging out
  • milk and bananas
  • toothpaste and razor blades
  • playground

Over the top a geodesic dome roof, steel-frame with clear plastic panels, to keep rain and snow off.

Instant affordable housing, boom boom boom, set up in a month or two, just like that.

Also notice what other business aspects are facilitated by the “Marina” model.  For example: Heterogeneity of design and ownership.  Each individual unit could be owned by any of…

  • Its occupant
  • A private owner collecting rent
  • A bank
  • An investment corporation
  • A government

Physically, they can vary by…

  • source (China, Chicago or Milan)
  • design (Kmart, Ikea or custom)
  • footprint (kid, adult or couple)

Finally, note that these assets can be picked up and moved to somewhere else, in search of a better deal for their owners, occupants, or both.

All of these cacaphonous factors can help these places fly together quickly.

Of course, someone could instead borrow golden ingots from the Chinese Communist Party and cut them into super-thin slides to build big monotonous blocks of half-million-dollar condos… but who cares?  And besides, for how much longer will such big loans be available from anyone at all?


Addendum 1: Trailer parks match this business model quite closely, actually, and I feel rather dumb for not noticing that earlier.  Not exactly the same, but close.

Auto-web-uploading digital camera

April 19, 2011

I want a DSLR or point-and-shoot digital camera that automatically, via wifi, uploads every picture it takes to some password-protected web photo database, broken down like by day.

Dangit, doesn’t this exist? ‘The heck!

Two-Way Equities Banking

April 15, 2011

Today’s post is me theorizing about a type of savings bank of which I, for one, would like to be a customer.  Since it’s finance that means I’m in over my head and don’t really know what I’m talking about, so I would very much appreciate your comments and clarifications about the idea’s

  • novelty
  • desirability
  • possibility
  • legality

The way I see it, it’s very simple: a “cashless bank”.

I’m starting to make a little money again, which is nice.  I also don’t want to die starving on the sidewalk one day, so I’ll have to start investing.  Since I’m actually worried about dying starving in the sidewalk, unlike most college-educated white people, perhaps you can guess that I’m one of those people who doesn’t invest for gains so much as to assuage my paranoia about the dollar going kaput, banks getting run on, etc.

Read some history.  When it comes to finance, everything is stable and predictable and boring until Shit Happens and the black swan takes a dump on your parents’ life savings.

So here’s what comes to mind:

It’s a “bank” where all of my deposits (made via cellphone pictures of my paychecks, etc) are instantly “translated” into the commodities/equities of my choice.  N% gold, M% silver, X% Exxon stock, Y% pork bellies, and Z% Yen.

And then, when I make a withdrawal (like at the grocery store with my debit card), so-many of those equities are instantly sold to produce the cash.

Every year I get the auto-generated report about how much I made on interest and capitol gains, etc.

It’s like a “100% gold standard” bank, but it doesn’t have to be just gold.

When I log in and change my N%/M%/X%/Y%/Z% mix (+5% Yen, -5% pork bellies), some brokerage magic effectively happens, selling one to buy the other right after.

If customer A sold some Yen at the same time as customer B bought some Yen, it would be gentlemanly to clear that trade in-house for free and not have to go to Wall Street to do it.

Of course on the inside, this is surely much more complicated.  The institution has to have so-many dollars of cash on hand for withdrawals and to “float” things along.  When I took out $20 at the grocery store I didn’t actually sell half an Exxon share at that instant.  It actually happened an hour or so later.  The idea, though, is that the bank abstracts all that that away and charges some kind of fee structure that makes it all fair for everybody.

I know some banks offer sub-set/sorta-similar services for their bigger-dollar people, where every 15th the month (ie “payday”) so-many dollars get taken from the checking account and go into buying some stocks, or whatever, but I must admit that I’m interested in doing it much slicker.  Also, I’m especially turned on by the idea that it’s two-way, so that it’s no big deal to extract cash from it without logging into a brokerage website and waiting 48 hours, or whatever.

If there’s a meta-pattern for how fortunes are made, it’s taking something that’s only for rich people (cars, bank accounts, electricity to the home, telephones, etc) and applying technology and sophistication to make it available to the little guy.  To me, that’s exactly what this is.

Please do me a favor and fire away.  If this is a dumb idea then let me know now so I don’t waste any more hope on it.

Product Idea: “Mister Shower”

April 4, 2011

Your comments and criticism, please:

My new apartment is swell, but my shower is awful.  (And no, I didn’t think to check it before signing the lease.)  Sometimes the water isn’t warm enough and the pressure is so low that it comes out in a trickle.  I can pee more gallons per minute than this shower puts out.  The water doesn’t actually project from the shower head, but runs down it, like a rock getting rained on.

I dig and dig around for a product that does the following, but am surprised to find that it doesn’t appear to exist.

Let’s call it “Mister Shower”.  Mister Shower does the following:

  • Sits on the floor, next to the toilet (or wherever)
  • T’s off the hot or cold water supply in front of the sink or toilet, using a kit of plumbing adapter-thingies
  • Takes in water at a relative trickle at whatever pressure is available
  • Heats that water to temperature X, which is set with a dial
  • Has a fitting for a flexible shower head hose
  • Includes a battery-powered RF dial-thingie pump control that you stick to the wall in the shower stall

So it buffers up water and heat at a precise temperature, and then serves it out in quick blasts.  Whammo.

Finer points:

  • Just 2 amps of power is plenty to heat 10 gallons from cold to hot in 12 hours
  • Just 100 watts of pumping power is plenty to do 2.5 gallons/minute @ 50psi
  • The tank is ambient-pressure, like a toilet tank, so it doesn’t need to be a pressure vessel

Note what it does NOT do:

  • Hot/cold water mixing — You set the water temperature and walk away

And that’s it.

Maybe there’s another product “Mister Bathroom” that also has a second output for a sink tap.

Anyway, I’m suddenly enamored with this idea, because it’s exactly what I, a mere plumbing mortal, could buy online, take out of the box, and hook up to solve this shower situation.

What I don’t know is how many other people would care.

Well?  Brilliant or stupid?

Armageddon cell phones

February 25, 2011

I’ve been obsessing over this for a year now, and the monkey on my back is growing.  None of these ideas can possibly be new, but I haven’t yet met them all in one place.

I’m not posting this today to show off how smart I am.  Rather, this is me asking for help with better understanding and appreciating how and why the following scheme is hard.  ‘Because surely it is.

Like most pre-to-post-middle-aged people, I’m just shocked by useful text messages are, and by extension low-bandwidth services like Twitter.  Between them and a few slick Ajax websites, I can conduct nearly all of my daily communicating business through a very slow internet connection.  56kbit on a high-def iPhone 4 Retina display beats the heck out of megabit broadband on a dingdang Treo.  Believe me.

The fact that I pay $90/month for an iPhone just to access these low-bandwidth services (and the occasional voice call) just drives me crazy.  But I pay it because it’s worth it!  Still, that’s no excuse for not trying to reduce that cost for myself and others.

So.  Fast-forwarding to the end, ask yourself:

Would you accept a $0/month cell phone bill if it came with these restrictions:

  1. When in a Wifi hotspot (near your or anyone else’s home or workplace) everything works: voice calls, web and text/voice messages.
  2. When not in a Wifi hotspot, you’re limited to slow web (no flash or pictures) and text/voice messages only.
  3. When there’s no Wifi hotspot anywhere between you and the person you’re messaging, you’re limited to text/voice messages only, between the two of you, and no voice calls or web at all.

As for me, my answer is: “heck yes,” and I’m a relatively rich person.  If I were a seamstress in Calcutta, hustling to make connections to survive, it would be “hell yes.”

So.  What I’m effectively describing/proposing is a “cell phone” that doesn’t have a cell connection at all, but instead hacks/hotwires Wifi and Bluetooth (and some 2.4GHz medium-range protocol?), through some crazy-genius protocol, to effect these three operating modes, downshifting from one to the other when necessary:

  1. When in a Wifi hotspot, it uses that connection to do everything though that fast connection: voice calls, fast web, text messages, etc.
  2. When not in a Wifi hotspot, it does the message-passing ad-hoc-network thing, each message frog-hopping from one phone to another until reaching a wifi hotspot.  Those frog-hops are done over phone-to-phone password-free Wifi or Bluetooth (or some other 2.4GHz protocol?) connections.
  3. When there’s no Wifi hotspot in town at all, it frog-hops all the way from one phone to another, not touching the internet at all.  So, as long as the guy I’m contacting is in town, I can still text him.

In everyone’s home and workplace is a $50 wall-wart from China.  This wall-wart knows the local Wifi password for that establishment and is the “gateway” between this proposed phone-to-phone network and the real-deal internet.  The trick is that the wall-wart allows full-speed internet access to its owner and his buddies, but “leftovers” throttled/slower access to everyone else.  There has to be a reason why the owner bought and paid for it, and that’s my best guess as to what that reason could be.

Another guess as to why the person bought and installed the wall-wart is that access to this network isn’t $0/month, but rather $10/month, and he is compensated when data comes in/out the internet through his wall-wart, so that it pays for itself eventually and then some if it’s in a good location.

(Of course eventually, if this scheme were successful, this technology would be just built right into people’s routers with no need for secondary wall-warts at all.)

And then sometimes, like when you’re trying to overthrow the government and they shut down the internet and cell network altogether, the phones just pass messages to each other and that’s the whole story.  So through this minimal do-it-yourself local-Twitter text-message capability, people in a city could still pass information to each other and organize.

That’s pretty much the story.  I need all the help I can get with figuring this out, and and also learning who’s doing it already.  This is something I can believe in.

“Foodtubes” and the future of freight

December 3, 2010

Dear Homies, sometimes you just gotta be excitable and shout-out for the heck of it:

I present to you “Foodtubes” (link1 link2).  The idea has legs, for anyone who figures out How to Actually Do It.

Over time, perhaps just this one block of efficiency alone could keep our economy from tanking.  This is why I care.

Aside: And why do enthusiastic engineers have to have such absolute-complete-utter-shit copy-and-paste-only communication skills?  I mean really, it’s embarrassing.

The idea is an “internet of stuff”: a network of plastic pipelines where little capsules boogie around like trained rats, point to point.  Amazon Fresh and UPS boxes full of eBay trinkets are a dead giveaway, for example.

The contents aren’t even packed in cardboard boxes.  Not even that.  Just plastic bags, plunked into the capsules.  No muss no fuss.  Even if it’s ripe tomatoes, they’ll come in capsules with built-in air-inflated packaging, suspended bruise-free like little princesses.  Wha-bam.

It’s hilarious that they illustrate these things coming out of a regular grocery store.  Idiots!  They’d come from an Amazon Fresh warehouse with no windows and inconvenient parking in a crummy neighborhood.  This would be a stick of dynamite to bricks and mortar, and you know this.

Does UPS even need sorting facilities if every parcel is point-to-point?  Exactly.

And for Next Day Air, do the little buggies roll RIGHT up into carbon fiber tubes in the freighter jets like Pringles into a can?  Yes they do.  And disgorge at full speed out the back at the end of the runway after landing?  Exactly.

And likewise into/out of specially-engineered tube-containers dockside for two-dollar UPS Ground to China?  You guessed it.

What’s also brilliant, but also easy to miss, is that it doesn’t carry people, so there’s no one to kill when engineers/programmers mess up, and no one to worry about “The Terrorists” screwing around.

They’re idiots for saying the capsules should be six feet long and three feet wide.  Make it more like a Howitzer shell or A-Fresh box and I’ll believe it.  99% of what I buy can fit into that form factor with a little creativity.  (Could Ikea sell a sofa or coffee table that packs into boxes that big, Your Parents Put it Together?  You bet your butt.)

Also, if they’re nice and small, then no one worries about human trafficking.  That and they’re easy to single-file through automated bomb scanners.  Exactly.

The keys to this will be figuring out:

  • The actual pipe, motor and switching technology, like down to the last detail  (Plastic pipe?  Really?  It won’t wear out?)
  • How to lay all those damned pipes, like for real (Mad-crazy automation & brilliant interfacing with municipal authorities)
  • Whatever mobile networking it takes to let multiple people/groups share a terminal (Your sandwich will arrive in 18 seconds, 17, 16, 15…)
  • The micro-UPS business model that “splits out” a terminal to everyone on a city block?
  • (Getting it into China without being ripped off.)  (Or rather, accepting getting ripped off and making the best of it.)

And finally, consider that this is an obvious real estate play, which is where the REAL money is, just like with trains 150 and cars 60 years ago:  Apartment buildings and other facilities can be built around this that are on real estate that was OTHERWISE cheap, because it was inaccessible transport-wise.  Work “local”/from-home and you’re set.

And then you can get really crazy, like imagining tanks of clean/waste-water coming and going this way, or compacted slugs of trash or sewage, or whatever, and you can build cities absolutely anywhere.

Interesting.  So I’m using this to imagine a world where smaller-than-a-breadbox stuff flows ultra-freely, easier than today, but bigger things and human bodies are LOCAL.  Hm.  I’ll buy it.

Let the scheming begin!

Act like you know.

(Damn I’m hot today.)

Proposed Gmaps feature: Range maps

April 16, 2010

Here’s a Google Maps feature that would be really neat.   It works like this:

  1. I put down a pin at some geographic location.
  2. I select a time of day (9am, 6pm, etc.)
  3. I select a number of minutes (5, 15, 45, etc.)
  4. I select a means of transport (car, bicylce, walking, walking+bus/train, etc).

Google Maps then shades in, on the map, everywhere I can travel to at that time of day, within that number of minutes, by that means of transport.

This would be super-great for people moving closer to their new jobs, and would thus nicely tie into Adsense revenue for mortgages, moving companies, etc.

The shapes surely change with the time of day, but I wonder how much.  During rush hour the freeways are slow so the shape is more “blobby”, going out in all directions along side streets.  Late at night, though, freeways are super-fast so the shape “spikes out” along them.  That’s only a guess, though.  I’d love to know how much it really does change, and I bet Google has most of the data already, in some form.

And then how about doing it not by a quantity of minutes, but instead by some general-purpose metric of hassle and frustration (walking/cycling being minuses, and sitting in trafic being plusses, etc).

Semi-graphical super-grammar

April 8, 2010

I should really present some kind of graphical for-example to better convey just what the heck I’m talking about, but here goes anyway.  Furthermore, it’s surely telling that I’m not generating that for-example graphic, because I’m at my day job and have to make this quick.  In fact, that’s actually the whole point of this posting, come to think of it.

I type out technical sentences all day, all the time:

This does it this way, but this other thing is similar but it also does this other thing.  On the other hand, if you use this one instead, it’s like this instead of like that, but the same in these other ways.


In “one-dimensional” English, these sorts of explanations get long and complicated.  I often worry, surely with some good reason, that people who don’t speak English natively just can’t understand them, no matter how hard I try.

So if I’m always writing on a computer and then hitting “send” or Control-P for print, it gets me to thinking…

…that there’s a new graphical “super-grammar” waiting to happen here.

Some way, eventually standardized in a few Control-_’s in Gmail, of structuring these sorts of statements in a more obvious way, surely involving lists, tables, font sizes or even colors.

I’m reminding myself of the “truth tables” that we did in electronics class, which let us state what-if outputs for every possible combination of inputs.

And I say grammar to imply a standard, that you can grade fifth graders for doing correctly or incorrectly, that takes the “graphic designer” style stuff out of it.  Like, pre-sets that are the best practices for how present-day graphic designers (or “information designers,” as Tufte would say) convey these sorts of complex if-then’s and for-each types of relationships, but right there in Gmail or whatever.

What we’re all working with today, like:

  • Sentences
  • Capitalization
  • Paragraphs
  • Punctuation
  • …and all of that…

… are all throw-backs to the first printing presses 500 years ago(!), which of course could only do left-to-right rows (aka “lines”) of various type blocks, one per symbol.

We can do so much more than that now.  Mind you, bullet-points are a great start, but we can do better.


The Weight-Sensing Hand-controller-less Electric Skateboard

May 28, 2009

V-1 of the weight-sensing electric skateboard.

Here’s the idea:  It’s an electric skateboard with no hand-held controller.  Instead, it senses the portion of the rider’s weight on the fore and aft trucks with strain gauges and commands motor current (~= torque) according to the differential between them.

So the trucks (where the wheels go on) are actually electronic scales.  It knows which way I’m leaning (toward one end of the board or the other), and accelerates in that direction.  That’s pretty much it.

I and the great Frank Schmitt tried to make one of these back in the 20th century when we lived in California.  He’s carrying the torch presently, while I fired all of my guns at once on this proof-of-concept.

I came up with some way to belt-drive the wheels, glued the strain gauges (the little brown rectangular thingies) down to some custom trucks, and hacked together an all-analog (!!!) motor controller that used the strain gauge signals to compute a current command and drive an H-bridge power stage accordingly.

The latter V0 version, upside down to show the complexity

Upside down to show the complexity. The big metal box housed the batteries, and the 9-volts were to deliver +/- 18V to the analog motor controller! (I forget what the black box is.)

Closer-up of the back end.  I think those are Speed-400 motors, one per wheel, belted to pulleys that I somehow screwed onto the wheels.  The strain gauges are visible as little brown rectangles on the trucks.

Closer-up of the back end. I think those are Speed-400 motors, one per wheel, belted to pulleys that I somehow screwed onto the polyurethane wheels. The strain gauges are visible as little brown rectangles on the trucks.

Left of the purple truck piece is the analog-output current sensor, and to the right of it are the current fuses (lot of good they did me).

Left of the purple truck piece is the analog-output current sensor, and to the right are the battery/controller current fuses (lot of good they did me).

(I like how the photography came out.  Thanks to Mom and Dad's 1967 Nikon!)

(I like how the photography came out. Thanks to Mom and Dad's 1967 Nikon!)

My Crap-o-Matic H-bridge power stage for the motors.  (Power electronics is hard.)

My Crap-o-Matic H-bridge power stage for the motors. Notice the SOOT emanating from the second MOSFET! (Power electronics is hard.)

Of course it's an all-analog strain-gauge-informed current-mode DC motor controller.  What else could it be?

Of course it's an all-analog strain-gauge-informed current-mode DC motor controller. What else could it be?

One Saturday night I finally got it all together at work, turned it on, and I swear to God, good people, that it worked for ten seconds.

Ten seconds.

For ten seconds, it responded to my fore/aft shifts in my CG and motored to get under me.

And then the power stage caught fire.

Sadly, that ends my chapter of the story, because I’m just not that into skateboards anymore.  The great Frank Schmitt is making progress a version with just two rolling-pin-style wheels that’ll allow direct-drive motors, which will be very cool.  When he updates me I’ll link to it!  Go go Frankus!

The Six-Six Keyboard

May 27, 2009


So get a load of this.  I wanted to do some simple playing along to my favorite Oasis and Tears for Fears songs.  Play what?  Well, I tried guitar classes, but man is guitar hard.  So how about a musical keyboard?

I had actually taken a basic piano class across the street from Harvey Mudd at Scripps College (where the girls were), and was indignant to learn how the conventional piano’s “seven-five” (seven white keys, five black keys) layout meant that a C-major chord, while embodying the exact same sequence of half-steps between notes as a B-major chord, for instance, ended up looking very different.  Bullcrap!


The sequence of four, and then three, half-steps between the notes in a major chord is an easy concept to learn and understand, but that doesn't mean that all major chords look remotely the same!

The same goes for scales.  Playing a C-major scale is easy, but an A-major scale is more complicated, even though the sequence of half-steps is exactly the dingdang same:

Same thing with scales.  Even though all major scales are the same series of half-steps, they look very different.  Learn one learn them all?  Nope!

Same thing with scales. Even though all major scales are the same series of half-steps, they look very different. Learn one learn them all? Nope!

So how about this.  How about a “six-six” keyboard, with six white keys and six black keys per octave?  That way, the geometric patterns (and the shape necessarily made by one’s hand) between keys that correspond to half-step interval patterns will be consistent, regardless of where you’re starting from:

Aha, now thats more like it.  The same half-step pattern corresponds to the same geometrical pattern between keys, wherever you start from!

Aha, now that's more like it. The same half-step pattern corresponds to the same geometrical pattern between keys, wherever you start from!

Now we’re talking.

What’s weird now is that the “white” keys are no longer always the “natural” (as opposed to “flat” and “sharp”) keys.  The C, D and E keys look the same as before, but F, G, A and B are black keys now.

It’s all the same notes, though.  All the same notes.

Bingo!  I took the brains of a cheap Casio MIDI controller and figured out how to re-wire it to a new set of keys.  (Now in a storage room at Cornish College of the Arts).

Bingo! I took the brain of a cheap Midiman MIDI controller and figured out how to re-wire it to a new set of key switches. (Now in a storage room at Cornish College of the Arts).

So I got a cheap Midiman keyboard and figured out to wire its brains to a new set of Cherry keyboard keys.  I water-jet cut the “white keys” from a sheet of fiberglass panel and glued the black keys down.

In triumph, I sat on the floor in my underwear for an entire Saturday and played along to my favorite songs with the help of some guitar tabs from the internet.  The regular geometric pattern of the keys meant that most of the time, when I intuitively reached out and played a chord, I actually got it right, like I’m Elton John!  Victory lap!