“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.)

James Burke on YouTube

November 5, 2010

James Burke’s “Connections, an Alternate  View of Change” (episode 1 part 1), from 1978, is the most brilliant piece of television I’ve ever seen.  Now that the YouTube era is upon us, it has now been entirely uploaded.

This is a big deal.  Please just give episode 1 part 1 a try and see if it moves you.


September 1, 2010
I just had to share this bit of disturbing fascinatingness from Japan (tomorrow the world?)

LovePlus+ is a “virtual girlfriend” game/program for the Nintendo DS/iPhone, etc.  It’s a lot like Tamagochi (if any of you remember that), but instead of simulating the upkeep of a caring relationship between a person and a virtual baby chicken, it’s a virtual 17-year-old human female.

One fellow even married his.  Publicly!

And now holiday resorts are offering themed vacations to fellows and their LovePlus+ virtual girlfriends, which of course travel easier because they live in their Nintendo DS.  Some of the guys pay double, for both themselves and “her”.

This of course means at least 100 things, but I can’t get my head around just what they are.  ‘Which is why, of course, I’m posting this and provoking responses.

(One thing this reminds me of:  In artificial intelligence, we have the “Turing Test”, named after Alan Turning, inventor of the modern electric computer.  It goes like this: If a person is interacting in a screen-and-keyboard chat session with Entity X, and the person can’t tell whether he’s chatting with a person or a program, then the Turing Test has been passed and true AI has been achieved.  In the case of LovePlus+, though, the person knows it’s a program, and doesn’t care.)

I’m sure we have plenty of analogues to this here in the US and A, but I can’t quite put my finger on them.

The only “immortal” animal

June 18, 2010

A species of jellyfish that can sometimes revert back to being a baby jellyfish, and then grow up all over again.

Either bullshit or fascinating (or both).

The Dunning-Kruger Effect (short audio piece)

June 4, 2010

I sure found this very very interesting.  According to the Dunning-Kruger effect (named after the people who discovered it), people who are incompetent at subject X tend to drastically overestimate their competence.  Check out the audio piece about it from Australia.

And vice-versa, those who are most competent tend to under-estimate the other way.

Further, the only way for people to realize their incompetence is to see it in the rear view mirror after gaining actual education in subject X.  ‘And not, you see, by simply being shown a lousy test score.  That doesn’t cut it.

Hmm.  Four fingers pointing back, right?  So join me:

“I think I’m above average in the subjects that I actually suck at.”

Empty inbox!

May 19, 2010

This is what it looks like.  Dare to dream.

Containerized heavy weaponry

April 27, 2010

I mean, like, containerized by design.  Weapons not only transported by container, or stored in a container, but deploying directly from a container.  In this case, super-powerful anti-aircraft and anti-ship missiles.

What’s chilling is how this makes perfect sense from a product-design/ease-of-use standpoint.  It really is an obvious way to make a weapon easier to buy, sell and use.  You don’t even have to take it out of the box, or plug anything in, or hook anything up.

But it’s also scary.  I would certainly prefer that sophisticated weaponry capable of destroying an aircraft carrier remain ungodly expensive and mind-bendingly complicated.  Too damn bad, Craig.

(Also, I would prefer that the Navy not even have aircraft carriers anymore.  They’re no longer good for anything but the transfer of wealth from the working and middle classes to ten huge corporations in Virginia.  Act like ya’ know.)

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).

“Why We Haven’t Met Any Aliens”

April 15, 2010

Holy wow.  This article really rocks my world:

It’s about how other intelligent species in the universe may just die out because they eventually discover XBoxes, junk food and pornography, leading to…

Most bright alien species probably go extinct gradually, allocating more time and resources to their pleasures, and less to their children. They eventually die out when the game behind all games—the Game of Life—says “Game Over; you are out of lives and you forgot to reproduce.

(Which I sure as hell can identify with, believe you me.)

It then points to how underdog “faith groups” like Christianity or Islam might build up resistances and carry the torch in the end.  WwwwwwWOW.

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.