Category Archives: Uncategorized

The Hyperloop Actually Is For Freight

I wish I’d spotted this story (also on QZ) a few days earlier, as it would have been a nice one to add to my Five Year Retrospective.

The company implementing the Hyperloop demonstrator have announced $8.5 million in funding – get this – to build a freight-first version of the technology.

Called this one in 2013 (here) – “this system is wasted on human passengers”.

Seriously, are these people reading my blog, or is my real name “Captain Obvious”?

Five Year Retrospective

I realized today that I’ve been writing this blog for more than five years. I’ve kept everything up here (even the stuff that now appears hopelessly naive or even downright embarrassing), because it provides a record for me of the lessons (some of them hard earned) that I’ve learned along the way.

Re-reading some of what I’ve written, I’ve decided to write a retrospective, to see how well things have stood up over time (and to review what I’ve learned along the way).

The results are a mixed bag, as you’ll see below. Continue reading

VW’s platform trouble: when streamlining actually isn’t

I wrote about VW’s vaunted platform streamlining process about a year and a half ago (you can read my post here), and predicted at the time that it would eventually cause them grief.

I just read this article which describes how their platform is already backfiring on them. I had though it would take a few years for this to happen, but the auto industry evolves rapidly.

I’m not sure my reasoning was 100% accurate for why things aren’t working out there, but it still brings up an important point – a streamlining process can result in massive over-specialization based on the way things work today. That can have severe ramifications when the underlying model changes, because it can slow down the ability for an organization to change later on.

In addition, the actual process of streamlining can involve large organizational change, and as we all know, change management can be a tricky task.

Google buys Nest

Google just announced that it has bought Nest (producers of smart thermostats, and now smoke alarms too). Both sides (for now) are indicating that they’ll take privacy seriously.

Its clear that Google is chasing a strategy with the “internet of things”. Willing to bet they’ll make further purchases or create new products along these lines in the very near future – think connected burglar alarms (Rogers won’t be happy), smart door locks, or light bulbs that compete with GE’s connected product.

Its also clear that this is going to push other large tech competitors to do much of the same, for fear of falling behind. Expect much investment and many buyouts in this sector this year.

Rock, Paper, Scissors

I recently read an interesting book called Dogfight, about the war between Apple and Google over the cellphone market. If you haven’t read it, it covers some of the background behind the development of the iPhone and Android, and the strategies that both companies employed to fight each other.

The major IT companies have long been converging, in the sense that their offerings overlap more and more over time, and the strategic maneuvering of the past few years has gradually made way for something more like trench warfare – gradually improving their products in the hopes of outselling the rest, while relying on the entrenchment of their own platforms. Obtaining a new customer in this environment is zero-sum – the customer must be leveraged away somehow from a competing platform. This is one of the reasons why I wrote some while back that I was bearish on big tech companies in the immediate future. So far, the results of my predictions have been mixed, but I think we’ve already seen them start to play out. Continue reading

Direct magnetic drive

I’ve been thinking about alternative power-trains lately. I believe I’ve come up with something that is at least partially novel, and that might have applications for nanotechnology (I don’t think it scales up, unfortunately).

The basic idea is a modification of a standard electric motor (linear or rotary – I’ll show examples with use-cases below). The thought I had was whether it was possible to make the “fuel” for the motor directly power it, rather than using electromagnets powered by electricity. Continue reading

Partial automation of self-driving vehicles

Take a look at the scene below, and imagine it from the perspective of a self-driving car.

Street scene 1
Linked to original image on Flickr.

There’s a lot going on.

  • There’s the outlines of the road (i.e. potential paths, some of them legal routes for the vehicle to take);
  • there are traffic lights and other signs, all of which need to be identified (and then also checked for context – i.e. “does this sign apply to me?”);
  • there are other cars on the road and pedestrians (each of which may suddenly change direction);
  • as well as innumerable other non-traffic-related distractions (trees, shops);
  • and (perhaps most importantly) the desired destination of the passengers, which may also change rapidly (“hey, there’s a sale on in that store”, “you just missed a parking spot!” etc).

Continue reading

Inflection Points, Driverless Cars and “Soft” AI

Earlier this week, Nissan announced that it would have several models of driver-less cars on the market by 2020. Now GM and Honda have made several similar announcements. This could be an inflection point, where the driver-less car becomes somewhat inevitable (barring legislative ramifications, or a particularly gruesome accident). Continue reading

Microsoft after Ballmer

The New York Times, commenting on Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer’s retirement, stated their belief that his replacement should be a catch-up artist, in order to allow Microsoft to somehow “get back in the game”.

I disagree. Playing catch-up is a fool’s game, a form of fighting the last battle. Continue reading

Indoor vertical food walls

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about a few topics in the past few years – distributed systems, lowering humanity’s environmental footprint, and also food. None of what I’m about to write is particularly original, nor is it going to change the world – the potential product I’m describing is more oriented towards first-world apartment dwellers. I’m hoping that the idea will start other people thinking about the problem though.

The underlying issue is that our food supply is extremely fragile, and (while affordable in first-world terms) costly. There has been much research into reducing bottlenecks in the food supply chain, as well as well-known programs to encourage people to consume locally produced food.

One solution that has evolved is the idea of a food wall. They’re a form of vertical high density gardening. You can see examples here and here. Some examples are really impressive, and can generate vast amounts of food in a relatively small area. Most of the ones I’ve seen are intended for outdoor use though, and are still labor intensive. Continue reading