The Weekly – 7.27.12
This week we look at (more) solar news, the best camping gadget I’ve ever seen, why you should pay attention to the Security Training videos and use a Kensington lock in your hotel room, and computers mimicking real life. And I’m not talking about Facebook.
It’s like Transparent Aluminum1 – But Real
First up – imagine windows that double as solar panels. Even in cruddy Seattle we could generate significant amounts of power with transparent solar spread across the Bing tower – even at its paltry current 4% efficiency rate. Next steps are for the team to increase the efficiency of the panels to get them even somewhat near photovoltaic levels. And then to come put them on my house.
Damned Lies and Statistics
I love mobile data and the inherent complexity in managing little data packets dancing around buildings and hillsides as you tool down the highway at 70mph reading your newsfeed. Indeed data is problematic as there is only a certain amount of spectrum– you don’t get to make any more space in the radio waves. Which is why, when 3G auctions were going on a decade ago, telcos bid tens of billions of dollars to acquire the spectrum. They knew they needed it for the upcoming data demand that devices were going to use. Now, as devices get better screens and 4G LTE networks, the carriers are feeling the crunch. New technical methods like Dynamic Spectrum Access shows potential to offload some of the flow to other underutilized frequencies but in the interim, we get to play in the spectrum we’ve got. Which is why carriers are imposing data caps and upping your rates. And when they do this, they always say something like “no worries- 90% of our customers won’t notice any difference in their bill”. And that would be fine except for one little problem. It’s not true.
The 1% Solution
I kid, I kid. I love TaskRabbit – it’s like a more realistic Kozmo or mylackey.com (holla 90s startups!). And they have raised a quite substantial amount of funding to bring an on-demand labor force to personal and corporate tasks – big and small. If you subscribe to Tim Ferris’ 4-hour workweek (or at least to pretend to have read it), you know he says to outsource anything where the personal opportunity cost exceeds what it will cost you to pay someone else to do it. TaskRabbit handles that part beautifully altho be careful with the math. It’s very easy to start thinking your ‘personal opportunity cost’ for getting that fourth coffee is … you know … high.
RIP Sally Ride
I was deeply saddened by Specialist Doctor Ride’s death this week. I had the pleasure of meeting her a few years ago and was struck by her humility. And that humility got me thinking about the remarkable people we send into space. I can remember when the Columbia crew perished over Texas and after reading each of their bios I thought to myself – these are the best of our kind and we’re sending them up on a fuel tank bolted to a teeny thin-shelled vehicle sourced out to the lowest bidder. They should be sending up hacks like me.
On a lighter note, the world has just been handed the single greatest piece of camping gear since the camping toilet. I should stipulate that I do not camp. Unless you count as camping the Holiday Inn Express I stay in when I go to Mountain View. But were I to decide to spend more time outdoors than moving from my PT Cruiser rental to the lobby of the HIXPress, I would totally buy this. A way to start campfires easily AND charge my Windows Phone. It’s really quite an epic little piece of machinery.
Speaking of Hotels…
Ah, the BlackHat conference. Full of goodies for reformed hackers and wannabe script kiddies. This year my favorite hack was one that will get me into my hotel room when I’ve lost my seventh key. Yes folks, about 4 million hotel rooms are open to you by simply building a little piece of kit from your local Radio Shack. Didn’t get that upgrade at check-in? Well now you did. Just try not to pick my suite.
The Singularity is Nigh
Scientists have managed to make the first complete computer model of a living organism. You can imagine the implications – ranging from virtual drug testing all the way up to creating artificial life. I, for one, am excited to model myself in silicon. They just need to scale it up from the 525 genes they modeled to our 35000 genes then I can make my computer clone. And load it into my GPS. So I can give myself directions.
Last, Poor Larry
First he can’t speak for 4 weeks (where can I get that drug? There are many people in my life to whom I could apply that compound). Then, it’s revealed that cost-per-click rates are crashing. And since Google derives 96% of their revenue from these pesky little ads, that is…not good. The Atlantic summarizes it best:
As three makes a trend, a third quarter in a row of cost-per-click decline for Google advertising makes this an unsettling norm not only for the search company, but also for Internet advertising efforts elsewhere. During yesterday’s earning call, Google reported a 16 percent decline in CPC, meaning the value of each advertisement clicked has gone down. That follows a 12 percent drop last quarter and 8 percent the quarter before that. Even at the company that managed to make money off of Internet advertising, those online ads are continually losing value.
Until next week!
1 A gold star for the first person who can tell me the scifi movie where they used transparent aluminum.