Liquids Pricey, Gas Cheap

April 22, 2011

Just a quickie today:

Doodle around Energy Tribune (published in Houston, Texas) and if you’re like me you’ll find yourself quickly convinced that shale gas is here to stay for the foreseeable future.

“Shale gas” is the natural gas that’s mixed into rocks that aren’t very porous.  It’s hard to get at because you have to “frack” (fracture) the underground rocks so that the gas can get to the pipe leading to the surface.  With 1980’s technology it had might as well be on Venus, even though there’s oodles of it.

Some of the chemicals used in fracking are poisonous, and if they get into the water table then That Would Be Bad.  But I’m also willing to believe that regulation can force the industry to find ever more bio-degradable alternatives.  We have bio-degradable packing peanuts, McDonalds wrappers and dish soap now, so why not fracking chemicals too.

So if this plays out the way it looks like it might, natural gas will stay reasonably cheap for the rest of our lifetimes in the USA, in Europe and in China.  Great.  Of course it’ll run out eventually, but not within the next 20-30-40 years.

Liquids may stay a different story, though.  Liquids soak through the rocks much more slowly than gases do, so even though there is such thing as “shale oil”, it might stay exotic, at least for now.  You can make liquids (low-sulfur diesel fuel) out of gas, but it’s expensive and one is better off converting process X to run on gas directly.

But gas, that’ll stay cheap.  It Will Be Gas.

What this is doing, for me anyway, is it’s turning my aspirations in different, more conventional directions.  Before I wanted to play Citizen Kane and Atlas Shrugged all at the same time and invent a whole “new” alternative way to run the planet.

Now, not so much.  Now, it’s more about:

  • converting industries (airlines, shipping, trains, trucks, plastics, etc) from oil to gas
  • converting personal transportation (cars, trains, motorcycles, micro-monorail personal rapid transport, etc) to electricity
  • using communication/internet tricks to squeeze tonnage and transportation out of the system (Skype, Gmail, Facetime,, Fedex, etc)
  • finding ways to re-structure culture and environments so that people don’t feel so compelled to consume energy and tonnage in order to feel like they have value

Maybe I’m just getting old, but a more evolutionary approach feels more natural to me anyhow.  This is the game as far as I can tell.

April 19, 2011

I’d like some critique, please.

I find myself wanting a service where I upload a JPG/GIF/PDF/whatever, pick a couple options (speed, size, captions), and pay a little money.  The company prints it in color and mails it to me an hour or so later.

(A cool gimmick would be to calculate the actual amount of toner/ink required by analyzing the picture itself, and charging only that.)

By “color” I at first was only thinking about a good color laser printing on decent/glossy “brite” paper, like the really fancy stuff that costs a nickel a sheet.  Because really, the new color laser printers are awesome.

It would only make sense to also offer photo printing on a fancy inkjet.  However, I’ve learned why photo printing is much more expensive:

  • Photo inkjet ink is more expensive.
  • Photo paper is more expensive.
  • Photo paper is heavier (more postage)
  • Photo paper requires a stiffer/more-durable envelope (more expensive packaging, still more postage)

Besides, already does inkjet photo printing pretty much at-cost already.

So when it comes to offering something cheaper and pretty-decent, it’s all about the color laser.

The site could also up-sell stuff like picture frames, supplies for hanging/sticking to the wall, etc.

It’s so simple that it’s kinda retarded, really, but I would have used it by now if I had the chance.  Instead, I just use the color laser at work and sneak stuff home in stolen Fedex mailers.  Still, if I had a way to get it all done without getting up from my chair then I would have gone for it by now.


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.

Master-Slave iPhone/iTouch

April 11, 2011

I’d like to have an iPhone and an iTouch that are “married” and work together in a certain way:

They look alike and work alike, but only the iPhone is the real thing.  The iTouch is just a “dumb terminal” and doesn’t “know” or “do” anything on its own.  In electronics parlance, the iPhone the “master” and the iTouch is the “slave”, communicating with the iPhone over Bluetooth such that:

  • Its screen looks exactly like the iPhone’s screen
  • Pushing its button also pushes the iPhone’s button
  • Touching its screen also touches the iPhone’s screen
  • Talking into its microphone also talks into the iPhone’s microphone
  • Its speaker plays what’s coming out of the iPhone’s speaker

So it’s a glorified clone, really.  This way I could take notes, look things up, etc., while talking to someone on my iPhone.  I probably wouldn’t even need to know which is which.

(As for which microphone to listen to on a phone call, it would probably just go with whichever device I pushed “answer” on.)

I know that Steve Wozniak has two iPhones, so that he can do nearly exactly this, but of course it means two different AT&T accounts and having to somehow sync them all the time.  ‘Which isn’t horrible, but it’s not super-slick like this could be.

(Come to think of it, this would be much more doable on Android.)

“Trunk Club”: Another Take on How Men Get Clothes

April 6, 2011

Because clothes shopping sucks.  It really does.

Behold: Trunk Club

You (and The Mrs.) talk to homegirl over the telephone/Skype/email.  A big box of clothes arrives.  You keep (and therefore purchase) the pieces you want and return the rest with the pre-paid Fedex sticker.

Booya.  All it takes is money.

Not-So-Stupid Shipping Container Tricks

April 6, 2011

Shipping containers are quite the impressive invention.  Read the book and see what I mean.  They let us pick up 40-ton objects and put them down nearly anywhere on the earth, which such ease that Alexander the Great’s head would explode with envy.

And they look so simple, too.   What’s left?  How could someone possibly improve on the system in any way?

Well to start, feast your eyes on the CakeBoxx container design (website, video) that has no doors at all, but rather has/is a giant lid that fits over a base. 

Advantages include:

  • Killer-strong/more-stackable, because it’s metal all around (no doors)
  • Easier to inspect, because you can see everything, from all sides, right away
  • More secure, because A) it takes a lot more equipment just to get into one, and B) it’s more difficult to replace the serial-numbered tags/seals/thingies that hold the lid down (as opposed to simply cutting the hinges off a regular container and then replacing them, with the lock still on no less!)

Wow.  ‘Wish I’d thought of that one.  Maybe next time I will.

Next, I must admit that I found very impressive the Hammar 195S (video) automated container trailer for semi trucks.  It loads and inloads itself, picking the continer up and putting it back down again, without needing someone else to show up with a crane at either end.

What next, I ask you?!


(I, for one, am holding out for something like the Hammar trailer, but more articulated and complex, so that I can build container-frame baby houses that can then be set atop concrete pillars on hillsides, without having to excavate much at all.)

(And/or actually straddling two-lane streets.)


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?

Book Plug: “Time, Sex and Power”

March 31, 2011

A few years ago, on a whim, I picked up a copy of Sex, Time and Power at the used bookstore (I think mainly because it had a naked lady on the cover, which of course is perfect ;)).

I took it home, shelved it, and never touched it again.  Last weekend, though, I moved to my awesome new apartment (well, as awesome as it can be when full of cardboard boxes), and while unpacking I of course had to pick it up again and remember that I had it.

This time I opened it up.  It’s rocking my world.  I won’t finish unpacking for a while.

Imagine hybridizing Wild at Heart with Double Your Dating and then running it through the scientific analytical wringer.  It’s written by an MD who’s also an (avid amateur) anthropologist.  He’s the same fellow as who wrote The Goddess Versus the Alphabet, which explores the phenomenon of ancient cultures tending to have stopped worshiping goddesses around the same time when they discovered writing.

It all started when he was in medical school and essentially asked:

“What the heck is up with this monthly menstrual bleeding business?

Not one other species does it, so why would homo sapiens [or “gyna sapiens”] evolve to start doing it?  Blood is “expensive” because it requires animal iron to replace, as our guts are nearly unable to get iron from plants.  That and predators can smell blood from a mile away.

So how exactly is this advantageous?”

It snowballs from there.  The book is two inches thick, and I’m only a quarter-inch into it, so I can only review its “build-up”, not its conclusions.

One of its angles is to contemplate the fact that human females are the first in natural history to understand that sex leads to pregnancy, which also just so happens to be far more dangerous and deadly for them than for any other species.  It has to do with the fact that human babies, evolutionarily speaking, “want” the biggest brains and heads that they can possibly get, which unfortunately also causes them to more severely wound their mothers during delivery, sometimes fatally.

Big-headed babies, even those that occasionally killed their mothers, were still an evolutionarily-advantageous “good deal” for the species in the aggregate.  Things got way more complicated, though, when women’s brains were also big enough to consciously connect the dots: sex -> pregnancy -> possible injury or death.

Even salamanders understand that death bad, so what’s a species to do when each of its females has a damned good reason to avoid reproducing?

Some clues:

To start, human females also happen to have the strongest ability to willfully say “no” to sex, even when fertile.  They also have more-than-typical interest in sex when they’re not fertile.  And finally, they’re the first to not even know when they’re fertile in the first place.

Etc, etc.  The rabbit hole just keeps on going.

The Grand Unifying Theory that explains it all comes later, or at least I sure hope it does.  For now, all I have is this excellent meta-argument that an extremely important (perhaps the defining) evolutionary crisis for our species was endured and solved solely on the female side of the family.  Us menfolk have been reacting to it even since.

“Fast Five” and how cultures use men

March 26, 2011

Perfect timing.

First, there’s International Women’s Day a week or so ago.


  • are most of the prison population
  • are most of the homeless population
  • commit suicide more
  • die on the job more
  • get overwhelmingly killed more in wars that women also vote for, yet are never drafted (by law or by poverty) to fight
  • have less access to higher education
  • die younger (unlike in 1920 when life expectancies were the same)
  • have less average net worth
  • sometimes get a bad hand and have to pay child support to women who elect to no-fault divorce them and use the legal system to deprive them of child custody and visitation

One of the Women’s Day demonstrators had a sign that read “How long until women have equality?” and I’ve rarely been so angry.  I was a Good Boy, though, and didn’t say anything (“man fail!”).

Then, I recently finished listening to a (3-hour!) interview of Warren Farrel, author of The Myth of Male Power.  He was once on the board for the National Organization for Women, but got kicked out when he started turning the same how-is-a-group-used-by-the-culture analysis on men’s lives as well as women’s.

Then, I re-read Is There Anything Good about Men, another take on essentially the same subject.  One of its key points is that men are every (remaining) culture’s biggest winners and biggest losers, and it elaborates on why that is, especially from the perspective of evolutionary theory.

Essentially: To grow a population, a group needs all the women it can, but only a few men.  Therefore there’s always a “penile surplus” of men who, as the economics shake out, are ready for starting companies, fighting wars, curing diseases, starting movements, and all kinds of ambitious and risky stuff that usually ends in anonymity and oblivion, but Mad Success (riches, women and offspring) for those who succeed.  It’s those men that we’re descended from.

Roughly 80% of all the women who have ever lived have reproduced.  Only 40% of all men have.  Most men in world history have died childless and presumably single.

And then, I noticed that I just love the movie preview for Fast Five, about a group of crooks (eight men and one woman) who get together in Brazil to pull a heist and steal $100M from a police station.

  • Men doing incredibly risky stuff for a shot at incredible rewards
  • Men brutalizing each other in the competition for said resources
  • (The portrayal of) young women holding themselves out as prizes to the victor, uninterested in who in particular that victor ends up being

“Chances are we’re going to end up in jail or buried in a ditch somewhere…  but not today!” –Vin Diesel

Man.  How sucker can I be?  How far does the rabbit hole go, exactly?