Americans at their best. The filmmakers have created a “day in the life” snapshot of the global human world and of the Internet. I’m actually just sitting down to watch it, and can only bear witness to the first few minutes; but it’s immediately riveting and beautiful.
Batteries are getting better. Here’s some news from MIT, about emerging technologies to make batteries lighter and quicker to charge.
Such innovations, if they can be made to work at industrial scales, will bring the performance of electric cars (slow to charge, limited in range) closer to that of cars that use gasoline. I’d guess that a lot of money is flowing toward research into better batteries, especially for cars. From stories like the ones above, it sounds like this is starting to pay off.
What with global warming and peak oil, some car manufacturers, notably Toyota, are intent on pursuing a new and greener power source for cars, to replace gasoline. Of course, auto manufacturers probably also intend that the world to come will have even more cars than exist on the planet today.
This reflects a great error or blindspot in much of the discourse about automobiles and what they must become. Cars like the Chevy Volt proclaim: business as usual! No sacrifices demanded, in speed, comfort and range! The Volt is transitional technology; but it sets an expectation: this is more or less what the car of the future will be like. As/when batteries get better, your next next car (the affordable and range-anxiety-free EV that is surely in the pipeline as we speak) will let you kick the gasoline habit and this will be mostly painless. Happy motoring!
Electric cars can be seen as a manifestation of economic continuity, not economic change. The core assumption: manufacturers will keep making cars, and you’ll keep paying for ‘em, ideally every few years. Maybe you’ll pay relatively more for your next car, but won’t it be worth it to save the planet and all?
It’s important to ask, what are the unchallenged economic assumptions about a future when the global market for cars is growing? What else has to persist, so that the automobile industry can endure? Here’s a problem that stays with us: what to do with the cars we don’t want any more?
You know, we had pretty cool toys in the 60s when I was a child, but nothing that would touch this:
Oh, to be young now, with parents who would buy me such adventure and autonomy as such a vehicle would confer: to drive around! Of course, when I was a boy, of an age to have such a toy: we used to go roaming about, all over the countryside, nobody attached much risk to it. Kids mostly don’t get to do that so much, these days.
Meet Herman Cain, if you haven’t already. I’ve been reading and hearing about this man for some time, and until now I’ve been a little mystified by his popularity. Having seen this video, I think I understand the man’s appeal.
As I write, Herman Cain has been gaining steadily in the polls, moving now to the front of the pack in the Republican presidential primaries. In other words, he might well be going up against Obama for POTUS in 2012.
Meet a guy within spitting distance of being President of the US of A, who quotes Pokemon, as a way of inspiring the crowd before him. Did you catch that? I learned about it from Rachel Maddow.
Here is an article from Mother Jones about simple land use conflicts arising between Occupy Wall Street protesters and the people living around the original protest site of Zuccotti Park in Manhattan. I am going to go and look for video of this event, it sounds like it must have been an interesting encounter; and the author of the piece ends on a lovely hopeful note:
Though I wish every success to the farmers in this story, I can’t help but be tickled to learn what’s happening in American states like Georgia, where they’ve enacted legislation to drive out or otherwise punish illegal (Mexican) immigrants.
The crowds cheering such policies don’t seem to grasp the subtleties of policy-making, or they just don’t care. The significant economic consequences of anti-migrant legislation are now being felt, and lo, it turns out that Mexicans illegals were doing good and useful work:
This video is my first exposure to Elizabeth Warren. She’s a dry academic stick who bristles with imagination. Here she draws a fascinating story out of data collected by American federal departments of commerce and labor, about the changing fortunes of Mom, Dad and the kids–the “iconic family”, as Warren puts it.
This is her lecture given in June, 2007, as part of the UC Berkeley Graduate Council Lectures. Here she plays statistician, using graphs and charts to show how American families are working harder, saving less, taking on more debt, and how a rising cost of fixed living expenses puts families’ economic solvency at risk.
She talks for an hour, and it’s not everybody’s cup of tea, but I love this kind of stuff–it’s what I used to do as a planner.
Here’s something that gave me an idea of what’s happening, and what’s coming. Here is a video about a robot swarm. I think to myself, if this is what gets shared on Youtube, what’s out there at the cutting edge of AI that we don’t see?
I speak here out of a lifelong fascination with robots. To me, the interesting robots are the ones that can make choices about how to behave: the kind of robots Isaac Asimov wrote about so vividly. It’s easy to imagine the Swarmanoid colony robot developing in sophistication, into something quite lifelike.
Here’s something new to me: a business model for renting out and distributing 2D visual art–you know, stuff you hang on the wall–as streams of electrons.
The business, called FRAME, is a collaboration of two Tokyo designers: Yugo Nakamura, and Yoshihiro Saitoh. Here is what you get with their service: digital representations of various art works are piped into your home, and rendered on a good-sized Samsung flatscreen TVs.
To me this seems brilliant. From what I gather, somebody looked at networked digital picture frames (which I hear, aren’t leaping off the shelves these days). These fellows thought about how we could use them differently, and how the frames themselves might be different, in ways that people would value and pay to obtain.
In an age when 40-inch Hi-Def flatscreens sell for about the same $$$ as a modestly good quality picture frame of that size… somebody puts on their thinking cap, and we get Netflix for Art.
A service such as they describe could be more or less be bolted together with off-the-shelf technologies: like Samsung flatscreen Hi Def TVs, rebranded as digital canvas, able to render static images and video or animation (including Flash, sensibly).
Slick, simple, obvious, fresh, engaging, and a steady revenue stream from content rental once the product is placed.
Think Logan’s Run, picking sex partners–now we’ll do that for art, and if the content is sincerely good, the people who deliver this service can charge a premium. lt’s likely to be quite scalable. And the website is lovely:
Every now and then I run across a story about remarkable new technology, something that makes my jaw drop a little. Here is a TED Tak, by Jack Horner: Building a dinosaur from a chicken.
Horner begins his talk with the idea that birds are (literally) modern dinosaurs: they are what some dinosaurs evolved into. I was first exposed to this idea as a young man, reading Desmond’s The Hot-Blooded Dinosaurs. I gather it’s now a widely-shared view that birds’ ancestors were dinosaurs, and that therefore, the genetic line of dinosaurs persists into modernity (see Wikipedia on the origin of birds).
Horner is working on a project which involves genetically regressing a chicken into the form of its dinosaur ancestors. This is to be accomplished by enabling obsolete and unexpressed genetic software in a chicken’s DNA that produces things like teeth, claws and a tail.
Horner has a dry wit and it’s a heck of a story. Something I found remarkable: that the technological accomplishment (of being able to turn genes on and off) is almost in the background, it hardly seems novel or cutting-edge. The clever thing in the story is Horner’s idea that contemporary dinosaur DNA is readily available and can be manipulated to reveal its own ancestor. Magic!