Goo Ideas

Yesterday was Food Day– you missed it?  I write a lot about feeding your vehicle, but how about feeding yourself.  Without that, what else matters?

Economist Robert Gordon of Northwestern claims the United States is out of ideas.  (He’s angling to be the next Francis Fukuyama, then.)  Whatever our new ideas are, one of them had better be about food.  Some appetizers:

-Entirely New Cropsbglg
-Expanded Aquaculture
-Perennial Grains
-Genetic Engineering
-Entomophagy
-Waste Reduction

In the late ’50s and ’60s, the Green Revolution brought new seed strains and other agricultural practices.  Protesters had lots to complain about, but for most starvation wasn’t one of them.  Time for a new revolution. Continue reading

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Loose Gates

“Bill Gates Pledges to Reinvent Condom”– Let the jokes begin!  Viruses galore!  Patches on top of patches!  Micro…Soft!

Unfortunately, many of the gripes with a condom spring from… being a condom.  From the eye of a systems engineer, the condom is a hack solution.  It combines the failures of the Maginot Line with the issues of Dunkirk.  The roles of a condom, at root, are:

-Prevent conception
-Prevent infection

On either side, a thin polymer layer falls down on the job. Continue reading

Clubbed to… Life?

Wow, club soda is actually good for you.

Just by virtue of not being loaded with sweeteners, club soda works.  Add a dash of alcohol to cap off your workday, or dinner, or night out, or whatever.  (A distilled alcohol usually gets rid of the aldehydes and ketones; a really good distillery gets rid of the propanols and butanols.)

But even on top of that, most club sodas contain potassium; few I’ve seen contain sodium, and one brags about being sodium-free.  People in industrialized countries (in particular Japan and the US) get too much sodium.  Way, WAY too much salt.  Fortunately, potassium does a good sodium impression in the body; consuming potassium thus helps the body deal with its sodium.  A few research results are now suggesting that, at least to a first approximation, sodium per se is not that bad.  What’s bad might turn out to be a sodium/potassium ratio that’s completely out of whack, due to industrialized food loading up on one but not the other.  I think it’s safe to say Americans aren’t giving up snacks and processed foods any time soon.

(Note that this does not hold for seltzer, which is usually bubbles only.  And especially not for tonic water, which was good for you at one point but is now just sweeteners.)

So you might want to try a “* and soda” next time at the bar.  Especially if it’s rinsing down bar food.

The Myth of Disruptive Technologies

I keep posting about emerging new technologies.  In fact, that’s kinda the point of this site.  I’ll lay out a massive disclaimer, though: reality is not so easily swayed by writers, or even engineers.

Simple observations:

-The Internet has not killed television, which did not kill radio, which did not kill newspapers.

-MP3s are doing well (both free and paid), yet CDs still sell, and vinyl numbers have actually increased.

-Not only do I see plenty of people on motorcycles and bicycles (which both predate cars), but I know a few people who still own horses in the 21st century.

Yet, every so often you’ll see headlines billing some new innovation as “the _____ killer.”  In terms of market competition and business models, sure, one entrant can force another out of the field.  However, technologies which are legitimately new rarely kill their market competition.  Instead, they carve a new niche for themselves.  Two or more niches not only coexist, but hey, I’ve used a bit of a tautology.

Common example: sodas did not kill milk, juices and ades, beer, wine, and liquor, etc.  Instead, the introduction of Coca-Cola, Dr. Pepper, etc. in the 19th century created the soda market that didn’t really exist.  Sure, we complain that kids are drinking too much soda and too little milk.  But really, store shelves are full of milk as we speak.  What sodas really impacted was lemonade, iced teas, etc.  Conversely, Coke was only pitched by its company as a refreshing beverage years after its founding.  That drink, as well as Dr. Pepper, were originally sold as a medicinal, but wasn’t particularly successful.  “Real” treatments did to Coke what Coke then did to lemonade: not kill it, but squeeze its market to the side.

In the near term, technology moves forward linearly, with a clear older/newer spectrum.  But in the medium term, most new technologies are more lateral jumps.  This is why most futurists are accurate in the near term, but inaccurate in the long term.

I’ll go on in later posts:

-The new crop of mirrorless/CSC/ILC cameras will not kill SLRs.  You’ll still see SLRs on stadium sidelines, in front of wildlife pros, etc.  But you’ll also see fewer SLRs and more mirrorless in the rest of the photo world.

-Electrics will not force gas stations from the map, and I don’t mean electric stations either.  Land surface EVs will, in time, dominate certain markets: offroading, scooters and e-assist bikes, and a number of commercial applications.  But some form of chemical, combustible fuel will survive for decades, even if it’s in the form of hybrids.

-Cheapening solar power will not sweep away all, most, or even some competing power sources.  Even if  breakthroughs in cell physics and manufacturing happened tomorrow, electricity works in an “ecosystem” that doesn’t respawn like a video game character type, or even a video game expansion pack.

. . .

Sorry to burst your bubble.  But I, personally, feel challenged by this future, not discouraged.  The lack of silver bullets then means marksmen are still in demand.  Our failure to bring flying cars to market simply means I go to Amazon, not a mall zone.  Heck, I’ve wondered whether horse-riding ability is a useful skill I should pick up, just to be thorough.