Deck-clearing Brain-Dump

Okay, 2 months have gone by, and I’ve done bugger-all except make golden-mean calipers, mess about with laser-cutters, and drink too much.

So… I have about 1000 tabs of things that I find interesting. I (sortof) know what the next blog post is about, so I’ll just brain-dump everything except everything to do with the next post, which is “The Ultimate Turing Test”.

So. June 17th, Year of our Lord, 2014.

1) Google’s modular phone selling for $50 (!), because they want it to become a platform, not a luxury-good


Although I’m not certain that the thing is actually “real”. Yet. I know Bruce Sterling likes Design Fiction, but I think it’s a pain in the arse. It’s basically a type of advertising, and god-knows, we’ve had enough of that.

See also NASA’s new foray into design-fiction territory… an artistic rendering of a ship that doesn’t actually exist, based on a hyper-drive, that also doesn’t exist.


It’s PR. Maybe it’s good PR. Maybe it gets them the money they need to actually do this stuff for real… good. Until then though, all it’s doing is drawing pictures. The time between the first powered flight, and the moon-landing was 66 years. We actually went to the moon… we didn’t just draw pictures of going to the moon. There’s something very “end of empire” about all this – self-congratulatory spectacles in place of “actually doing something”.

Anyway – that’s my rant about design fiction out of the way. Back to $50 smartphones, Tesla has just decided to release all their patents… “they serve merely to stifle progress, entrench the positions of giant corporations and enrich those in the legal profession, rather than the actual inventors. After Zip2, when I realized that receiving a patent really just meant that you bought a lottery ticket to a lawsuit“. Yup – that is what we have been saying for at least 10 years.

2) I’m going to get one of these


It’s not the biggest or the best, but then I don’t need the biggest or the best. I’ve finally figured out something I can use this for, and it’s time I learned (again, again) 3D CADery.

This one is a whole lot prettier


and, cheaper, and a good example of what happens when things compete for money – the energy goes into polish rather than real innovation, because the problem they’re trying to solve isn’t something that the inventor is facing, and trying to fix, the problem is “how to make more money.

Which sounds more disparaging than I mean it I think polish is good – fantastic even. Trouble is, this one is still kickstarting, so won’t be shipped until next year, and I do not have the patience etc. They have waltzed in with about $1/2 a million (so far), and their Indiegogo page looks like a “how-to” template of “how to” do indiegogo.

3) Metal eating plants
4) open-source brain-recording gear
5) Smallest, fastest nano-motor

I think “drug delivery” is the “search and rescue” of nano-scale devices. Still, who cares. Pretty cool.
6) Toshiba is making a plant factory

Or at least CAD drawings of a plant factory, filled with render-ghosts.


I have mixed feelings about “this sort of thing”, in that a) I like hydro/aqua/aero-ponics, on account of coming from space in the 1970s, and Silent Running was brilliant… but it’s also monoculture, and I have mixed feelings about that… in that from an ecosystemic POV, it is very very bad… but from a materials-science, “ending the energy crisis”, it’s absolutely necessary. You need to be able to isolate and grow individual organisms.

7) Hempcrete – making walls out of hemp etc. Interesting because we’re moving (fairly slowly, fairly fast) towards ending the war on pot (if not drugs generally), and hemp is a wonder-material, and a victim of the war on drugs, and that is uses exactly the same Kickstarter template as the 3D printer I was on about earlier.

Is there some company that’s banging these things out? I’m not complaining… something moderately interesting is the “Mentioned By” logos… which would tend to suggest that not only is the design a template, but the process is as well – they’re all doing pre-kickstarter-launch marketing. I think we’re seeing a solidification of crowd-funding process here.

8 ) Rent-a-drone

Which is an idea I went on about 5 years ago… completely failing to anticipate how loud the fucking things would be. I’d imagined them being good for remote-tourism. Not if they sound like a lawn-mower on helium they won’t be. This too might be design fiction for the moment.

9) Truck Sized Batteries


Which are used in place of new power stations, to deal with peak demand etc. Unless I’m much mistook, it’s Tesla that has driven the price of these from $1000/kwh to $300/kwh, in the space of about 5 years.

There are also algae-powered variants being researched… which is a whole lot more interesting, because a) they’re more powerful and b), algae is free… and is not dependent on any rare minerals that we’re rapidly running out of.

There are also fairly impressive looking aluminium/air batteries – with about 3-4 times the capacity of a normal tesla battery… but the future is bio I suspect.

Anyway, Catsby has started to hassle me, which means I probably ought to go do something else. He’s good for a bit – sits there purring, then he becomes violent.

3 Comments » for Deck-clearing Brain-Dump
  1. Shelley Noble says:

    Really glad you do these, Nick. Your synthesis and analysis is always brilliant.

  2. roid says:

    Wasn’t there already a small-scale open source phone hardware project gaining traction? Can’t remember where i heard about it, but i’m pretty sure it wasn’t Google (boo hiss) behind it.
    update: it might have been “Phonebloks”, which seems to be the prequel to the Google project as it’s the same guy behind it.

    Those huge battery containers have the same form factor as Flywheel energy storage systems ie: .
    Always been a fan of flywheels, the chemistry doesn’t degrade, so i figure they’d be a good household addition (bury them in the backyard for decades). If only they were appropriately affordable.

  3. Nick Taylor says:

    @Shelley :)

    @roid – yea google are not the first, or even possibly best… but I think it’s interesting that they’re going straight for the “hardware as plugin platform” encouraged by a fairly radical economic model. I guess this would be the starting point for an open-source variant… but google are google. They’re mainstream economics. As Julian Assange said (I think) – when the US State Dept wanted to “influence” him, they didn’t send John Kerry, they sent a wife/gf of one of the Google founders.

    I think it’s pretty interesting that something so mainstream would be going straight for the Artificial-Scarcity Jugular.

    Flywheels. My problem with Flywheels, is Escaped Flywheels. Have you seen them? Worse than escaped ferris wheels, and god knows they’re bad.