Saturday, September 15, 2007

Candy batteries > candy cigarettes

Bio batteries? An interesting idea from Sony:

Sony's new bio cell is totally different, it is organic. Its fuel is a carbohydrate glucose solution, yes, everybody's favorite sweety.

One bio cell unit produces around 0.8V, 50mW. You have to connect quite a few units in series to utilize this feeble power. At least four units are necessary for running a silicon Walkman.

Yes, the word "sweety" was used in the article. Yes, the article was likely translated from another language. Yes, electricity rated in the fractions of watts and volts is very small.

My cell phone battery is 3.6V and 0.950 amp hours. You would need at least 4 or 5 of these bio-cells to power a phone and, if you check out the article, they are no slim-profile lithium ion battery. Still, a very interesting idea. Wonder if the same warnings still apply?

Additionally, this comment is PRICELESS:
If they can only create a cell that runs on body fat. Imagine this...Problem 1# Man has beer belly or Woman worrying about cellulite on big oshiri, Problem 2# Batt low sign on K-tai or PSP? I guess this might be the craze that could take the world by storm. Just attach to problem area and VOILA! Hitting 2 birds with 1 stone. Problem area reduced and you power up your gear!

Infrastructure problem with hydrogen addressed

Definitely a "why didn't I think of that" moment for me... Liquid hydrogen but a completely different approach:

Crabtree's system on the other hand envisages a system that uses a standard petrol tank containing an organic liquid.

This liquid is passed through a heated module containing a catalyst, which then unlocks the hydrogen and releases it a little at a time to be used as fuel.

The remaining dehydrogenated liquid can then be removed at a filling station and whisked away to be reprocessed - the liquid can be hydrogenated and rehydrogenated repeatedly - making it re-usable.

Fill up the car with organic, hydrogenated liquid (basically an inert, non-toxic substance that can trab hydrogen gas), the car extracts the hydrogen and drops it into a new tank. Empty the used tank out, fill the new one up... tada! You'll have to find some kind of creative solution for getting the liquid back out of the car but this is a very innovative idea.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Stigma can be a b*tch

This is a picture I took on the bus this morning. These, sitting by themselves without an owner in sight, are peach pits. They are saliva-soaked perishables left out in the open by an inconsiderate ASS. I could not believe my eyes so I took a picture and now I can't believe my camera.

Can I be honest? I love public transportation. I love the trolley that operates here in San Diego. Its air conditioning is cold, its punctuality is excellent and the ride to school is smooth. I also like the bus. Yes, I like the bus. I have air conditioning and satellite radio and a smooth ride in my car but I take the bus because I like it. Reading while driving is difficult and dangerous but reading on the bus is allowed. You don't get a lot of walking done when you drive but when you take the bus you're walking all the time. You are also forced to slow down, take it easy, let things happen. I'll be honest: these are all things I need to improve on.

The bus is also humbling. How do I know this? Because I shared a bus ride with two peach pits that some animal left on the bus for another person to pick up. I've shared the bus with newspapers left all over 5 seats for no reason. I shared a trolley ride with a man dressed in camouflage yelling about conspiracies at 7 am. I've sat next to people that smelled so atrocious that I would be surprised if the experience didn't contribute just slightly to the decline of my overall health.

There is a stigma attached to the bus for all these reasons but I just can't get enough. I don't like filling up my gas tank, I don't want to jockey for parking with college students and I drive like crap in the morning sometimes. Buses and trolleys and trains are running all the time, just waiting to pick someone up.

Try it out sometime; plan a route and take the bus. Look up the times online, grab your $2.25 and wait a few minutes. Think about the extra time it took you to get somewhere and wonder whether it was really lost time. Make this "lost time" count and see how you feel. Experience a little humanity from the front lines. Save the miles, save the gas, save the stress, ride a bus.

And thank the driver on your way out. The poor guy/gal has a heck of a job sometimes.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

The chicken & the egg: supply and demand

This very short article got me thinking about how consumer-oriented business works these days. First, a blurb:

One of British capital’s top tourists destination-Science Museum-... will showcase two high performance green-machines that can reach speeds of up to 150mph.

Developed by researchers at Imperial College for the Formula Zero competition, the hydrogen powered car runs off hi-tech hydrogen fuel cells. A full-size version could accelerate faster than a Porsche.

The car enthusiasts will also be able to see Warwick University’s 95% biodegradable and Recyclable racing vehicle with a shell sourced from hemp, tyres from potatoes and cashew nut shell brake pads.

Since I have been frugal with the images lately (for no reason), I submit, for the sake of education alone, a picture of a Porsche (2008 GT2 to be exact):

Perfection... but I digress.

I love the idea of eco-racers and other esoteric uses of non-petroleum fuel. They generate excitement uniquely and open people's eyes to the CAPABILITY of the existing alternatives. Both of these alone are great reasons to continue a pursuit like this. But I also like it for a completely different reason.

How does business work in 2008 (I'll call it that since everyone seems to live a year ahead of themselves)? To answer this question, think about where and how people spend their money outside of absolute necessities. There is no reason to figure out where this money comes from, how it could be spent differently or how much each person spends for this example. We're just looking at where money that doesn't keep you alive, sheltered and basically fed.

This money, regardless of source, tends to flow quickly out of your possession into the hands of companies that sell products and services. Maybe you splurge on a pair of jeans or sunglasses, maybe you let yourself buy that sexy little iPhone, maybe, because you were good, because you deserve it because you work so hard, because why should you have to live the ascetic life?, you traded your 4-year-old piece of junk car for something that smells like new polymers and redefines (kg x s)/m^2. Maybe you did all three. You devil you.

What you did in all those cases is fall prey to some type of marketing. Am I judging or condemning you? Not at all, marketing is effective. You don't want the iPhone because you have a primal need for wi-fi connectivity and real-time traffic, you want it because it looks like sex and works like a charm in the pure white womb of the Apple store. Businesses vying for your surplus cash (also known affectionately as "available credit") have to convince you that you need this, they have to install a sense of desire or you will have no reason to buy what they sell.

What I am saying is not new or creative or innovative; I am stating the (hopefully) very obvious. Here is where it gets interesting...

Right now, no one really NEEDS a hybrid or solar panels or hydrogen fuel. Gas can be $2, $3 or $4 and your day-to-day life does not change. The earth can gain 1 or 2 or 3 degrees and, honestly, you probably won't even notice. If you save energy, consume less, re-use more and recycle, you're doing it altruistically and I commend you for that.

But, put plainly, we're not going to improve our general environmental situation with altruism. We're going to get there with money, lots and lots of money. And where is this money going to come from? Trees. That's right, big money trees....

Plan B, however, has the money coming from the same place it always does: the marketplace. Without demand, there simply is no product. If you have a product to sell that does not immediately alleviate some condition, you create some kind of demand for it through creative and/or persistent marketing.

So if you have supply and no demand, you create demand. If you sense a demand without a product, make the product. What if there is no demand AND no supply but a clear reason for both to exist? You have to get creative. You create the demand (the vehicle) without a product (the fuel).

Make things you just can't make the old way. Give people value and innovation and creativity. Build it for the early-adopters, the ones who have to have the the have-to-haves. Open the source up, reach out to the people for ideas, start internet forums, cruise the blogs. Hold eco-racing events, invite people to drive your new ideas, get the buzz going. Explore every possibility, watch all the technologies, experiment perpetually. Uniquely design them, make them stand out and grab people's attention.

Understand that it is the right thing to do. Then understand you will make gobs of money from it. The first company to put it all of this together in a truly sustainable package will set the bar... and rake in the cash.

Make these vehicles and the supply, the power to move them, will follow.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

VW Up! yours

Fun new VW concept... no word on the powerplant yet though.

Jump forward for biofuels?

The problem facing "grow-and-go" fuels like ethanol is the agriculture structure leading up to the pump (kinda like hydrogen). Corn takes too much space and resources (see my post on ethanol int he archives). Sugar cane takes tons of water as well as space. How about jatropha? What? From NY Times:

...a plant that can grow in marginal soil or beside food crops, that does not require a lot of fertilizer and yields many times as much biofuel per acre planted as corn and many other potential biofuels. By planting a row of jatropha for every seven rows of regular crops, Mr. Banani could double his income on the field in the first year and lose none of his usual yield from his field....jatropha can grow on virtually barren land with relatively little rainfall, so it can be planted in places where food does not grow well. It can also be planted beside other crops farmers grow here, like millet, peanuts and beans, without substantially reducing the yield of the fields; it may even help improve output of food crops by, among other things, preventing erosion and keeping animals out.

Good stuff!

Monday, September 10, 2007

Don't just read this, absorb it

Blogging a blog entry... I'm incorrigible.

From Seth Godin, posted on Labor Day:

It's hard work to make difficult emotional decisions, such as quitting a job and setting out on your own. It's hard work to invent a new system, service, or process that's remarkable. It's hard work to tell your boss that he's being intellectually and emotionally lazy. It's easier to stand by and watch the company fade into oblivion. It's hard work to tell senior management to abandon something that it has been doing for a long time in favor of a new and apparently risky alternative. It's hard work to make good decisions with less than all of the data.

Today, working hard is about taking apparent risk. Not a crazy risk like betting the entire company on an untested product. No, an apparent risk: something that the competition (and your coworkers) believe is unsafe but that you realize is far more conservative than sticking with the status quo.

None of the people who are racking up amazing success stories and creating cool stuff are doing it just by working more hours than you are. And I hate to say it, but they're not smarter than you either. They're succeeding by doing hard work.

As the economy plods along, many of us are choosing to take the easy way out. We're going to work for the Man, letting him do the hard work while we work the long hours. We're going back to the future, to a definition of work that embraces the grindstone.

Some people (a precious few, so far) are realizing that this temporary recession is the best opportunity that they've ever had. They're working harder than ever -- mentally -- and taking all sorts of emotional and personal risks that are bound to pay off.

Hard work is about risk. It begins when you deal with the things that you'd rather not deal with: fear of failure, fear of standing out, fear of rejection. Hard work is about training yourself to leap over this barrier, tunnel under that barrier, drive through the other barrier. And, after you've done that, to do it again the next day.

The big insight: The riskier your (smart) coworker's hard work appears to be, the safer it really is. It's the people having difficult conversations, inventing remarkable products, and pushing the envelope (and, perhaps, still going home at 5 PM) who are building a recession-proof future for themselves.

So tomorrow, when you go to work, really sweat. Your time is worth the effort

Do your research, read up and take the leap... you'll be glad you did. And you can quote Seth on that.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Information + interpretation

All the current alternative fuels broken down for the layman. It's a little bit "butbutbut" in my opinion but still gives a nice broad, objective view.

If you will, pay attention to the "Pluses, minuses" section. How many of the minuses have to do simply with consumer acceptance? Now, I'm business-savvy enough to understand that it is impossible to shape consumers with altruistic products alone. I know that you can't offer an "inferior" (in terms of effectiveness) product and expect people to buy it en masse based on their big, gooey hearts overflowing with love for other people and the environment. Some people will (yours truly) but not the majority.

On the other hand, I also know that consumers as a group typically function like a herd of animals. You can point the group in a certain direction but it is not guaranteed they will go there. You also may find yourself confounded with why they are going some other direction. Examples? Why are girls buying $300 sunglasses and $500 purses when they work at Starbucks? Why are people spending $500 on an iPhone that does all this stuff they never needed before? Why do people spend more money to have a Yukon when they could spend less in general on a Subaru and get the same utility? Because consumers are cows and they will buy into "the cool," plain and simple.

Being energy savvy and CO2 conscious and recycle happy still isn't cool enough to drive people to cut back and do with less, but it's getting there. Who is going to grab this opportunity? Toyota is doing well but it's too conservative. When you watch the commercials, they are geared towards mom and dad, grandma and grandpa. The Prius and hybrid Camry are "safe" and "efficient" and "quiet." Where is the cool? Toyota can do cool - look at their Scion campaign. Scions are cool, period. They look cool, the billboards are cool, the TV spots are cool, they're cool. So what about a Prius-drive train powered Scion? You're out of your mind if you think you can't make this stuff cool. You're also out of your mind if you think that people who buy $15K cars aren't slightly frugal (and, in turn, MPG conscious).

Smart cars are cool. Priuses are cool. Bicycles are cool. Let's all just agree on this and we'll be fine.

Just listen to Josh and everything will be OK, I promise.