Archive | future shock

Is Sugar Toxic?

You know how public health has centered around low-fat diets for the last thirty years? It turns out there’s no actual evidence to suggest that’s a good thing. The move to carbohydrates has actually made the problem (heart disease et. al.) worse.

Apparently, fructose (part of sucrose) is metabolized similarly to alcohol, and causes all kinds of problems for you. Enough problems that you shouldn’t touch it, but it’s in everything. A neat way to think about a can of coke is that it’s the same as a can of beer, just without the buzz. It’s that damaging.

There’s a great NYT article over here by Gary Taubes, who you can listen to in podcast form on EconTalk over here. Gary wrote Why We Get Fat: And What to Do About It.

For the full, terrifying, experience, here’s a video for you. It’s 90 minutes long but the whole thing is worth your time.

Windows 8 Spaces

About a decade ago I discovered software RAID on Linux. That’s the ability to chain multiple drives together to mirror the data from one to the other, or make them look like one big drive. Or both.

To do so, you have to read a big document and edit a bunch of files:


I used to love doing this. It was interesting to learn how it all worked. Today, I have less time.

I was kind of amazed to find software RAID built in to Windows 8. It’s all point-and-click:
Windows Spaces dialog

You can

  • Mirror drives 2 or 3 times
  • Store parity info for recovery
  • Chain disks together to make bigger drives
  • Some combination of the above
  • Thin provision: Make a 1Tb drive out of a couple of 100Gb drives, then when it starts to run out of space just add more
  • Mix SATA, SCSI and USB disks in all of this
  • Make all of this a network drive and access it from your Mac, PC or whatever

All just built-in to Windows 8.

For a cheap, quick, redundant local data solution it’s actually incredibly useful. More over here.

The rise of the LED

Mass manufacturing has finally brought down the cost of various LED bulbs in to the range of consumer lighting applications. $25 bulbs are now worth it since since they save you something like 5 or 10 times that amount over the course of their 20-30 year lifespan.

Think about that for a second – there are plenty of houses with a 30 year expected lifespan. They’re built out of wood in the US and about ready for a remodel or demolition after a generation or so. In the UK they’re littered over 30 year flood plain building sites, which is about the same thing in terms of outcome.

Or, think about aircraft. A new 787 has an expected lifetime in the 30 year range.

This brings interesting economies of scale. You don’t need light sockets any more, since you’ll never need to change the bulb. You will explain to your grand children about the time when you used to change light bulbs back when TV sets were the size of a suitcase.

Philips LED bulb

Philips LED bulb

My favorite so far for standard screw-in household applications is this philips bulb currently at amazon for $23. Design-wise it is the Dyson of lightbulbs but it lights up with the right yellow hue of a black body mass at some high temperature. That is, it looks like a normal bulb when lit up.

There are cheaper bulbs but they tend to have a white/blueish tint and I actually believe Philips rating the bulbs for 20+ years whereas I’m unclear on the cheaper no-name bulbs. Those cheaper bulbs are great for outdoor applications (exterior lighting) since I don’t really care if the outside of the house is white or yellow at night since I’m not the one looking at it.

A few weeks ago I backed this kickstarter project building an interesting bulb.

Another interesting bulb

Another interesting bulb

Embedding the LEDs on the surface and leaving the interior, in theory, free for air to flow for more heat conduction is interesting. But, I don’t really understand the physics and heat dissipation issues.

The rational thing to do, given the amount of money saved per bulb appears to be to replace every bulb immediately with LEDs. even at $23 a bulb. But, I find myself replacing them as the old ones die out. I tell myself that I’m hedging the future cost of LED bulbs since they should decline in price over time.

LED dome light

LED dome light

One of the cars has (had) two incandescent dome lights. Dome lights are, apparently, what you call the lights above your head in the car. These too are now replaceable with LED solutions. The bulb you see above is something like an inch long and the metal connectors are the same, but the array of 12 LEDs replaces a glass cylinder with an element inside (like a normal bulb). These lights are much brighter, will last longer than the car will and, I’m guessing, use less electricity too. Grandpa, do you remember when you used to change lights in cars? What was that like?

This has interesting weight applications. If all the bulbs in a car are permanent and use less electricity that means it will be lighter since you don’t need the sockets. That will make the car marginally more efficient, need a smaller alternator (if driven by gasoline) and so on. That makes me wonder if Tesla already does all this.

These particular lights aren’t dimmable however. That’s another cost consideration. The Philips bulbs will apparently dim but cheaper ones tend to just crap out. There is also a noticable 1-2 second lag between turning on the light switch and the Philips bulb lighting up, probably charging a capacitor or something internally.

An LED bulb for your fridge

An LED bulb for your fridge

Household appliances are not immune. A bulb blew in the fridge and I replaced it with an LED bulb too.

Lastly, there are various kickstarter projects to make wifi-controlled LED bulbs which will turn any color you like, make you a sandwich and console you on a lonely evening, or whatever. I think that’s a great idea but right now I’m treating those as approximately unproven (lifespan) and as geek entertainment not cost-effective lighting. I’m not sure we will be using 802.11b in 30 years time but I’m pretty sure there will still be standard light sockets, and these things only amortize their cost over a 20/30-yearish span.

It’s great to be living in the future.

National Geospatial Advisory Committee

US Department of the Interior

US Department of the Interior

From this release:

Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar has appointed 13 professionals to serve as members of the National Geospatial Advisory Committee (NGAC), which provides recommendations on federal geospatial policy and management issues and advice on development of the National Spatial Data Infrastructure (NSDI).

Amongst them, I’m honored to say, is me.

Selling SortGadget

SortGadget home page

I built sortgadget a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away. The site is pretty simple – it lets you browse Amazon cameras for sale. It has a couple of sliders to narrow down your purchase criteria and then in theory makes affiliate sales commission. In theory.

Only I never did anything with it, so now it’s for sale on flippa with a reserve of $1 for anyone who does actually want to spend the time iterating it to something useful can do so.

Square Wallet

Square Wallet

I’ve been curious to try Square Wallet for a while. You run an iPhone app which magically knows where you are and transmits this to Square Central, which I imagine to be sort of like the Wonka Factory. Square needs to know your credit card details and then will let you make payments without having to swipe or sign.

I found a cafe and thought the story would be something like stand in line, open the app, click on what I wanted, magically get served and pay.

In reality you can browse the menu but it’s dog slow to do so and there is no ordering. Instead you order with the server as normal and you pop up magically on their terminal, which happens to be an iPad.

iPad Point of Sale with Square reader poking out

Then when you come to pay you say your name and they have a photo of you (taken when you set up wallet) to verify the transaction. After you pay the receipt almost instantly appears on your iPhone.

Square Wallet showing my receipt

This particular cafe also had 20% off the first purchase which rings all sorts of Groupon-esque alarm bells. And that’s an interesting train of thought; given the data they have on sellers, purchasers and transactions there are all kinds of fun analytics to be had. Hey, we know you buy coffee over there, switch to here for a week and get 10% off. It’s a more compelling idea than Groupon since they can do deeper tracking to see if you actually become a regular customer or whatever. The level of detail will be stunning if they can get the adoption; hey we know you like Beer x on a Friday, try this other place…

The problem I had is that I don’t have phone service. Normally I could have opened the app, or had it running in the background and it would do all this stuff over AT&T but instead I had to join the free wifi at the cafe first. That made it feel a bit clunky but I’m a tiny minority.

I figure the real transformational experience will be next summers batch of farmers markets. All those guys use square now and it will be possible to go from stand to stand making purchases without using cash or card. The time saving now I think about it would be substantial.

Square map

One last note on the nice design tweaks to the maps they show in the app. It looks like the Apple maps API in the background with some shadows around the map and a striped layer of darkness on top to give it the feel of being a semi-folded paper map. Very nice.



Surface Launch

Microsoft Store in Colorado

I drove through the cold sun of a Colorado morning to the MS store at Lone Tree in Colorado to catch the tail end of the Surface launch. Getting there a couple of hours after opening, there were still over 100 people queuing to enter. It was a bit confusing since the store was relatively accessible and then I found out the queue was just for the people waiting to buy one, everyone else was already buying one. The store made people wait so they saw someone to unbox the device and ask any questions which makes sense.

The energy wandering around was quite something, loud beat music and smiles everywhere. The wrap around video wall was used to great effect with various Win8 promotional material flying around.

Surface on display

The device itself was impressive. Felt like an iPad with a bunch of differentiators.  The windows button was touch sensitive unlike my x86 tablet with its normal solid button. The Touch Cover was deeply awesome and the thing I was worried wouldn’t work; the difference between resting your fingers on it and pressing was noticeable. Basically it felt like the apprehension of using an on-screen keyboard for the first few times: would it work? Yes it does, very well.

The engineering behind the cover, the device, the power cable, the stand is all way above par. This isn’t a piece of plastic. The stand is actually really nice but I’m not sure how it’ll work out on the tray table of a aircraft seat. Multi-touch was great, including things like rotating birdseye aerial maps in the Bing Maps app.

Asus Windows 8 RT tablet

But wait! There’s more! There were tons of other Win8 devices around the store. The one above was an ASUS tablet with Microsoft keyboard and mouse. The keyboard was sweet but the mouse didn’t fit me well. The tablet itself is great, it’s more expensive than a surface for some reason that I didn’t bother to find out, probably more memory or something. The construction was great compared to other more plastic-derived devices. Actually, the keyboard was fantastic. Even compared to Apple mini keyboards with Bluetooth.

There were a bunch of desktop flatscreen all-on-one-computers also running Win8 and I can’t say there was a fault with any of them other than how it feels slightly strange touching the screen. After all, every computer I’ve used in the last 20 years or so hasn’t had one.

Overall? I know I work at Microsoft but even so, this is great execution. The store was approachable, the hardware was clearly very well thought out and the end product fit between the place, the people and the sale was put together excellently. It’s not far off from when I first went to an Apple Store, just evolved.

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