That’s thanks to a recent Justice Department settlement with a crusader named Cody Wilson, who since 2015 has been battling regulators and government attorneys over his right to publish the 3D-printed gun CAD files online through an open source platform. It’s an unexpected twist in a long legal battle that seemed all but over after the Supreme Court refused to hear the case back in January. Josh Blackman, one of Wilson’s attorneys told Inverse that preventing Wilson from publishing the designs was a free speech issue.
“The argument is that they have a first amendment right to speech, and the government was telling Cody he couldn’t put these files on the internet,” Blackman explained. “The State Department used to regulate this kind of technical data, but the government shifted that to the Commerce Department which is a much more lenient approach … Cody was the only one subject to this old regime.”
It does seem fair to point out that it isn’t particularly difficult for someone who wants to find these designs to get them, torrent files have been available pretty much since Wilson first posted them.
But gun control activists like Adam Skaggs, chief counsel at the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, tells Inverse the decision will make it easier for people who can’t buy guns legally to 3D print their own. They also worry that the more widely available these schematics are, the more likely it is law enforcement officials will encounter more untraceable guns without serial numbers.
“What we see again and again is that people who aren’t legally allowed to have guns — they go into a gun store and fail a background check — they’re just going to turn around and go online,” Skaggs explained. “And with the click of a mouse, they’ll get the info and materials to build their own, that’s exactly what they’re going to do.”
Fortunately, the technology for manufacturing 3D printed guns isn’t terribly effective yet, and 3D printers can also be expensive. But the problem may have more to do with what tomorrow’s criminals are able to do with Wilson’s designs as opposed to what will happen when the software files go back online later this summer.
“When you make it that easy to buy guns where you don’t have to pass a background check, they don’t have registered serial numbers … that presents a huge range of problems,” Skaggs said. “Criminal enterprises that face challenges in legally acquiring guns are just going to start avoiding gun stores entirely and just building their own.”
Elon Musk is sending engineers from his SpaceX and The Boring Co. companies to aid in the rescue of a youth soccer team in Thailand that’s trapped in a cave and running out of time.
Twelve boys and their 25-year-old soccer coach have been trapped in the Tham Luang cave in Thailand for almost two weeks as of today (July 6). The boys, who range in age from 11 to 16, were exploring the cave when a flash flood trapped them. As oxygen levels continue to drop, the boys are getting more and more exhausted, which in turn is leading to malnourishment among them. In addition, heavy rain is forecast this weekend for the area. Worried authorities say they fear time is running out to save the team.
“SpaceX & Boring Co engineers headed to Thailand tomorrow to see if we can be helpful to govt. There are probably many complexities that are hard to appreciate without being there in person,” Musk wrote via Twitter early this morning.
I am convinced however that the true future of computing (and not necessarily faster computing, but much more robust, highly capable, and versatile computing) lies not in exotic material computing or even in more materially or systematically efficient computing but in (analog) Bio-Computing.
Recently I have been re-reading the classics. Like I, Robot.
After having re-read the book I soon realized that I too had, over the years, discovered at least two of the (lost) Laws of Robotic Devices.
The Lost Law of Robotic Devices:
“No computer, file, or robot shall function, or allow any function whatsoever to operate as normal, without at least one full reboot. Upon reboot no computer, file, or robot shall fail to function normally or through omission allow a user to come to harm through failed function. Normal biological functions, such as heart attacks triggered by ignorance of this law, are not covered by the workings of this law.”
Second Lost Law of Robotics:
“No computer, file, or robot will ever fail or will ever need to be maintained, serviced, or backed-up until a moment of absolute and optimal disaster and/or complete failure for the end-user at which point it will have needed to have been maintained, serviced, and/or backed-up three weeks ago.”
Silvercar, a startup rethinking the auto rental experience in airports, already seems pretty tied to Audi — after all, every vehicle that Silvercar rents out is a silver Audi. Now the companies are deepening that relationship with a $28 million Series C investment.
Audi led the round, with the company’s North American president Scott Keogh joining Silvercar’s board of directors. Silvercar and Audi are also looking beyond airports with a new initiative called the Audi Shared Fleet, where businesses will be able to offer cars to employees on their corporate campuses.
“Silvercar represents not just the future of the car rental industry, but a vision for the future of mobility,” Keogh said in the funding release “We want to utilize the company’s strengths in technology and innovation to merge connectivity and mobility for today’s consumer.”
Silvercar has raised a total of $60 million in funding. Previous investors Austin Ventures and Facebook co-founder Eduardo Saverin also participated in the new round.
The service doesn’t just offer every customer access to the same high-end vehicle. It also streamlines the reservation and payment process, allowing you to make bookings through a mobile app and unlock the car by just scanning a QR code.Writer Ryan Lawler (now sadly departed from TechCrunch) tried the service out three years ago in Dallas-Fort Worth, Silvercar’s very first airport. He came away impressed with “the ease of getting in and out of the airport rental dock,” and he suggested that business travelers, in particular, might be willing to pay a premium to get a better experience. (The exact pricing varies from market to market.)
The company says its business tripled in 2015, and it’s now launching in its twelfth market, Las Vegas, just in time for this week’s Consumer Electronics Show.
One of the start-up world’s favorite words, in addition to disrupt, pivot, and on-demand, is community. Kickstarter identifies as “a community of people committed to bringing new things to life.” “The heart and soul of Etsy,” begins the About Etsy page, “is our global community.” Airbnb calls itself “the world’s leading community-driven hospitality company.” You’re not, in other words, just joining a platform where you can fund your screenplay, or hawk your hand-knit iPhone koozies, or rent your apartment — no, you’re belonging to something bigger than yourself.
But back in 2009, perhaps before the word had lost all meaning, a small-time-invention start-up called Quirky built a community that really acted like one. It told the first-world-problem solver in all of us — the one who thought up single-serve French-fry-makers and foldable coffee mugs and musical footballs while out walking the dog — that she no longer had to innovate in a vacuum. Anybody could join. On Quirky’s website, users would assess and workshop each other’s inventions. The most successful ideas, as determined by a vote, would be designed and built by the company. In some cases, the inventors made a lot of money. And it is for that tiny dreamer that the company’s recent death spiral feels like a true loss.
It all came to a head on what seemed like a typical Thursday evening this July, during the weekly Quirky ritual known as Eval. A studio audience of about 100 people gathered in the company’s former-rail-car-terminal headquarters in Chelsea. Lit by webcams from above and a bank of futuristic equipment behind, Quirky’s 28-year-old founder, Ben Kaufman, stood at a lectern in his usual black V-neck tee and announced a panel of product-evaluation experts by nickname: Anna “Make a Buck” Buchbauer, Justin “J-Bomb” Seidenfeld, Aaron Dignan, a.k.a. El Presidente. Ideas submitted and voted on by the Quirky community — watching the livestream from their living rooms — were presented via pitch videos and commentary from Kaufman: a voice-activated lightbulb, a paper-thin Bluetooth speaker that fits in your back pocket, an on-the-go beverage carbonator. The masterminds who won majority approval would hear the rallying mantra “Congratulations, you’re a Quirky inventor!” and have the chance to be like fellow Eval winner Garthen Leslie, a 63-year-old IT consultant from Columbia, Maryland. Leslie came up with the idea of a smart air conditioner during his morning commute, uploaded a rough diagram of the idea to the Quirky platform, and found the community waiting to help him refine it, suggesting additional features and weighing in on the sizing, specs, and the name, which would be Aros. And keeping with Quirky’s leave-the-rest-to-us business model, the company then patented, manufactured, marketed, and sold the unit into Walmart and Amazon, returning 10 percent of the profits to the inventor and those that played Watson to his Graham Bell (in this exceptional case, that’s amounted to more than $400,000 for Leslie and more than $200,000 for the community).
But this Thursday, July 16, it would turn out, was not an ordinary Eval. In fact, it would be the next to last one Kaufman ever did. Following the broadcast, he tacked on what he called an “after-party” — a.k.a. a crisis-management session aimed at addressing recent bad press that the company had gotten. In June, in a sweaty interview onstage at the Fortune Brainstorm conference, Kaufman admitted the company was all but “out of money,” which had once amounted to $185 million in funding from investors like Andreessen Horowitz and GE. In July came the news that nearly the entire New York City staff would be laid off. By August 1, Kaufman would officially step down from the company he started at age 22. It so happened that for every Aros-type success, the community had waved in many more duds like the Beat Booster, a wireless speaker with a built-in charging station that by one account cost the company $388,000 to develop but only sold about 30 units.
It’s not surprising that Kaufman used the word transparency no fewer than three times in the first five minutes of that after-party, the bottom line of which was that he frankly didn’t know if the company would survive — Quirky’s fate was in the investors’ hands. Because, for all the aspirational, rarefied Bushwick-bar vibes telegraphed by the Evals, Quirky was, of course, all about being real. Its cluster of a million members included folks like — to cite some of the most recent inventors featured on the website — Tony Lytle, a welder and proud grandfather from Larwill, Indiana, who’d dreamed up the Pawcett, a step-on drinking fountain for dogs; and Hadar Ferris, a licensed cosmetologist in Oceanside, California, responsible for decorative muffin-top molds called Bake Shapes; and Pennsylvania-based Navy veteran Jason Hunter, who gave birth to the Porkfolio app-enabled piggy bank. (In the age of artisanal everything, just as we want to know where our pickles were brined and our former-church-pew coffee tables were carved, here, too, was the meaningful personal backstory behind your magnetic bottle opener.)
A few weeks after he was ousted, Kaufman emailed with me from his first-ever personal email account: “It’s weird waking up one day and not even having an email address,” he later said on the phone. “This had been my whole life.” He was a small-time inventor himself at first, for a range of iPod accessories he started in high school that went on to become the company Mophie. At the 2007 Macworld Expo, he handed out pens and sketchpads and asked people to help design Mophie’s 2007 product line (sound familiar?) and then held a vote for the top three ideas. That same year, he sold Mophie, reappropriated the Macworld crowdsourcing schtick, and tried to launch a similar concept to Quirky. What helped Quirky finally get off the ground in 2009 was the recession-driven push for alternative incomes (no coincidence that Kickstarter as well as the entrepreneur-competition show Shark Tank, another bastion of scrappy innovation, also launched in 2009). Plus, there was more of a universal comfort with the practice of online sharing: We were now very used to telling our Facebook friends what we ate for breakfast, and by extension, we might as well tell the Quirky forum about our concept for a better egg-yolk extractor. Our notion of community, then, was evolving, and Kaufman — Mark Zuckerberg wrapped in a teddy-bear build, with the mischievous smile of your son or younger brother (depending on where you fell in Quirky’s wide-ranging age demographics) — was a relatable leader.
On the consumer end, seeing these ordinary tinkerers immortalized on the shelves of the Container Store (a big Quirky perk was that inventors’ names and faces appeared on their products’ packaging) was like watching the Spanx lady on QVC for the first time in the early aughts — a humble fax-machine salesperson from Clearwater, Florida, who just wanted to wear control-top pantyhose without the hose. Inventors were just like us! And now everybody could be the Spanx lady (albeit for only a tiny fraction of the profits), because unlike her, we didn’t have to side-hustle all alone. Next it could be my cousin in Westchester, who had four kids but no one to help her prototype her idea for a mother-baby bath towel. Next it could be my semi-retired father, who was in a private war with his never-shuts-properly pantry door and needed a constructive, supportive outlet for his aggression. Next it could be my friend Sarah, who was full of lightbulb moments — an Oreo-dunking robot claw, a universal key for all your locks — but was too stoned to sort through the mechanics by herself.
Quirky was catnip for the press: The Sundance Channel produced a short-lived reality show on the company in 2011. Kaufman appeared on Leno. This magazine featured it as a Boom Brand of 2013, noting, “It’s a pretty rare company that’s so hippieish — Let’s have everyone get a say! — yet so purely free-market.” The Times devoted several thousand words to a piece called “The Invention Mob, Brought to You by Quirky” just last February (by then its financially unsustainable business model had given way to a pivot — a smart-home subsidiary called Wink — that was too little too late).\
Another Timespiece, from this past April, cited Quirky as a springboard for the realest of all Real People: older people. “There’s a boom in inventing by people over 50,” John Calvert, the executive director of the United Inventors Association, told the paper. And indeed, Quirky had plenty of them in its hive — like 59-year-old Lorin Ryle, a full-time caretaker for her dementia-stricken mother. When her clip-on baby monitor for the elderly won at Eval, she says she cried, watching from her Hutto, Texas, home. It never actually made it to development (in fact, only about half of the Eval winners ever do), but for Ryle that didn’t take away from the experience of “working with people to make something work,” she says. “I’ve made lifelong friends on there.” (Another Quirky boomer, Marc Rumaner, who came up with a nifty little wine-bottle anchor called Vine Stop, has even gone so far as to host barbecues for fellow community members in his Chicago area.)
Of course, the inmates didn’t always like running the asylum. There was much talk in the forums that the Eval system seemed too democratic. “I failed to see how any of us could know what a product scout from a company like GE or Mattel could know,” says one community member. And indeed, when you look at misfires like the Drift, a $200 wooden balance board that simulates snowboarding and surfing, or the $80 Egg Minder, an app-enabled egg tray that signals to your smartphone when you’re running low on eggs, it would appear that the company’s raison d’être was also the reason for its downfall, a colony of amateurs green-lighting unscalable solutions to nonexistent issues. Quirky brought more than 400 products to market in just six years.
Yet Kaufman points out that the community had much less say than all the high-pressure voting would suggest; the real decisions were made when the cameras stopped rolling and he and the actual experts did the math on a product’s marketability. (So, maybe not so much power to the people, after all.) But, he adds of Eval, “There had to be a thing to look forward to on a regular basis — otherwise how are you going to keep the community engaged?” Quirky steered the ship, you might say, but the community was still the North Star.
Steering the ship — handling all of the engineering, manufacturing, marketing, and retailing, even when you’re taking 90 percent of the subsequent profits — was ultimately too expensive of a proposition, especially in comparison to other, less-handholding-oriented start-ups. “The reason why Kickstarter makes a ton of money is they don’t have to do anything besides put up a website,” Kaufman notes. After that, the failure (and let’s face it, many Kickstarter-funded products go on to fail) is all on the individual. Which is not meant to be a dig, Kaufman clarifies. He won’t confirm his next venture but says, “I love Kickstarter.” And: “I will likely use it.”
Much of my morning will be spent writing up my proposal for a new business project and the functional and operational structure of the business itself. Or, to be more accurate, transcribing my formulation notes into a proper form for developing the body of the actual proposal.
Later today, in the afternoon, I’ll be devising much of the pitch, assessing the projected financials (it should be able to generate more than one income/revenue stream, and should be able to be funded in more than one way), and so forth.
By the end of the week I plan to present the idea to some potential partners and maybe even an investor or two.
I’m looking forward to this as it is an excellent idea and in a field/industry that interests me a great deal.
Germany’s agressive and reckless expansion of wind and solar power has come with a hefty pricetag for consumers, and the costs often fall disproportionately on the poor. Government advisors are calling for a completely new start.
If you want to do something big, you have to start small. That’s something German Environment Minister Peter Altmaier knows all too well. The politician, a member of the center-right Christian Democratic Union (CDU), has put together a manual of practical tips on how everyone can make small, everyday contributions to the shift away from nuclear power and toward green energy. The so-called Energiewende, or energy revolution, is Chancellor Angela Merkel’s project of the century.
“Join in and start today,” Altmaier writes in the introduction. He then turns to such everyday activities as baking and cooking. “Avoid preheating and utilize residual heat,” Altmaier advises. TV viewers can also save a lot of electricity, albeit at the expense of picture quality. “For instance, you can reduce brightness and contrast,” his booklet suggests.Altmaier and others are on a mission to help people save money on their electricity bills, because they’re about to receive some bad news. The government predicts that the renewable energy surcharge added to every consumer’s electricity bill will increase from 5.3 cents today to between 6.2 and 6.5 cents per kilowatt hour — a 20-percent price hike.
German consumers already pay the highest electricity prices in Europe. But because the government is failing to get the costs of its new energypolicy under control, rising prices are already on the horizon. Electricity is becoming a luxury good in Germany, and one of the country’s most important future-oriented projects is acutely at risk.
After the Fukushima nuclear accident in Japan two and a half years ago, Merkel quickly decided to begin phasing out nuclear power and lead the country into the age of wind and solar. But now many Germans are realizing the coalition government of Merkel’s CDU and the pro-business Free Democrats (FDP) is unable to cope with this shift. Of course, this doesn’t mean that the public has any more confidence in a potential alliance of the center-left Social Democrats (SPD) and the Greens. The political world is wedged between the green-energy lobby, masquerading as saviors of the world, and the established electric utilities, with their dire warnings of chaotic supply problems and job losses.
Even well-informed citizens can no longer keep track of all the additional costs being imposed on them. According to government sources, the surcharge to finance the power grids will increase by 0.2 to 0.4 cents per kilowatt hour next year. On top of that, consumers pay a host of taxes, surcharges and fees that would make any consumer’s head spin.
Former Environment Minister Jürgen Tritten of the Green Party once claimed that switching Germany to renewable energy wasn’t going to cost citizens more than one scoop of ice cream. Today his successor Altmaier admits consumers are paying enough to “eat everything on the ice cream menu.”
Paying Big for Nothing
For society as a whole, the costs have reached levels comparable only to the euro-zone bailouts. This year, German consumers will be forced to pay €20 billion ($26 billion) for electricity from solar, wind and biogas plants — electricity with a market price of just over €3 billion. Even the figure of €20 billion is disputable if you include all the unintended costs and collateral damage associated with the project. Solar panels and wind turbines at times generate huge amounts of electricity, and sometimes none at all. Depending on the weather and the time of day, the country can face absurd states of energy surplus or deficit.
If there is too much power coming from the grid, wind turbines have to be shut down. Nevertheless, consumers are still paying for the “phantom electricity” the turbines are theoretically generating. Occasionally, Germany has to pay fees to dump already subsidized green energy, creating what experts refer to as “negative electricity prices.”
On the other hand, when the wind suddenly stops blowing, and in particular during the cold season, supply becomes scarce. That’s when heavy oil and coal power plants have to be fired up to close the gap, which is why Germany’s energy producers in 2012 actually released more climate-damaging carbon dioxide into the atmosphere than in 2011.
If there is still an electricity shortfall, energy-hungry plants like the ArcelorMittal steel mill in Hamburg are sometimes asked to shut down production to protect the grid. Of course, ordinary electricity customers are then expected to pay for the compensation these businesses are entitled to for lost profits.
The government has high hopes for the expansion of offshore wind farms. But the construction sites are in a state of chaos: Wind turbines off the North Sea island of Borkum are currently rotating without being connected to the grid. The connection cable will probably not be finished until next year. In the meantime, the turbines are being run with diesel fuel to prevent them from rusting.
In the current election campaign, the parties are blaming each other for the disaster. Meanwhile, the federal government would prefer to avoid discussing its energy policies entirely. “It exposes us to criticism,” says a government spokesman. “There are undeniably major problems,” admits a cabinet member.
But this week, the issue is forcing its way onto the agenda. On Thursday, a government-sanctioned commission plans to submit a special report called “Competition in Times of the Energy Transition.” The report is sharply critical, arguing that Germany’s current system actually rewards the most inefficient plants, doesn’t contribute to protecting the climate, jeopardizes the energy supply and puts the poor at a disadvantage.
The experts propose changing the system to resemble a model long successful in Sweden. If implemented, it would eliminate the more than 4,000 different subsidies currently in place. Instead of bureaucrats setting green energy prices, they would be allowed to develop indepedently on a separate market. The report’s authors believe the Swedish model would lead to faster and cheaper implementation of renewable energy, and that the system would also become what it is not today: socially just.
Trouble Paying the Bills
When Stefan Becker of the Berlin office of the Catholic charity Caritas makes a house call, he likes to bring along a few energy-saving bulbs. Many residents still use old light bulbs, which consume a lot of electricity but are cheaper than newer bulbs. “People here have to decide between spending money on an expensive energy-saving bulb or a hot meal,” says Becker. In other words, saving energy is well and good — but only if people can afford it.
A family Becker recently visited is a case in point. They live in a dark, ground-floor apartment in Berlin’s Neukölln neighborhood. On a sunny summer day, the two children inside had to keep the lights on — which drives up the electricity bill, even if the family is using energy-saving bulbs.
Becker wants to prevent his clients from having their electricity shut off for not paying their bill. After sending out a few warning notices, the power company typically sends someone to the apartment to shut off the power — leaving the customers with no functioning refrigerator, stove or bathroom fan. Unless they happen to have a camping stove, they can’t even boil water for a cup of tea. It’s like living in the Stone Age.
Once the power has been shut off, it’s difficult to have it switched on again. Customers have to negotiate a payment plan, and are also charged a reconnection fee of up to €100. “When people get their late payment notices in the spring, our phones start ringing,” says Becker.
In the near future, an average three-person household will spend about €90 a month for electricity. That’s about twice as much as in 2000.Two-thirds of the price increase is due to new government fees, surcharges and taxes. But despite those price hikes, government pensions and social welfare payments have not been adjusted. As a result, every new fee becomes a threat to low-income consumers.
Some people get more done than others — a lot more.
Sure, they work hard. And they work smart. (While “smarter, not harder” is fine, smarter and harder is way better.) But they also possess a few other qualities that make a major impact on their performance:
1. They do the work in spite of disapproval or ridicule.
Work too hard, strive too hard, appear to be too ambitious, try to stand out from the crowd… and the average person resents you. It’s a lot easier and much more comfortable to dial it back and fit in.
At times we all lack motivation and self-discipline. At times we’re easily distracted. At times we all fear failure — and success.
Procrastination is a part of what makes people human; it’s not possible to totally overcome any of those shortcomings. Wanting to put off a difficult task is normal. Avoiding a challenge is normal.
But think about a time you put off a task, finally got started, and then once into it, thought, “I don’t know why I kept putting this off — it’s going really well. And it didn’t turn out to be nearly as hard as I imagined.”
(That’s no surprise; it’s always easier than we think.)
I still consider it somewhat ironic that this is the case considering the real Tesla’s personal work, motives, and desires regarding energy distribution. Still, it is definitely a step in the right direction.
Tesla Motors, the electric-car maker based in Palo Alto, California, has announced that it will sell versions of its battery packs directly to consumers to help to power their homes, as well as to businesses that run larger facilities, and utility companies.
At a press conference in Los Angeles on April 30, the company’s charismatic founder Elon Musk said that the firm’s lithium-ion batteries would enable economies to move to low-carbon energy sources. Solar energy sources are erratic—but by storing their energy and then releasing it when required, batteries could solve that problem, he said.
Many other companies also sell stationary battery storage for buildings and for power grids—but analysts say that the technology is still too expensive for widespread use. Here, Nature explores whether Tesla’s announcement might change the game.
Has Tesla just invented a new battery technology?
No. The company’s packs contain standard lithium-ion batteries based on tried-and-tested technology, which are similar to those that many other firms have on the market.
Although companies and academic labs are pouring billions of dollars into research and development to significantly increase the amount of energy that batteries can store and to lower their cost, it could take years before significant breakthroughs reach the market (see ‘The rechargeable revolution: A better battery’).
Has Tesla managed to cut the cost of battery storage?
Possibly—but it’s unclear. Cosmin Laslau, an analyst for Lux Research, a consulting company in Boston, Massachusetts, says that he thinks Tesla’s batteries may be a bit cheaper than their competitors, although not by a lot.
Tesla did not reveal the price of its larger batteries for businesses and utilities, but it will sell residential models for US$3,000—3,500, or a cost of about $350 per kilowatt-hour (kWh) of energy stored. But that price tag does not include electronics that are required for connecting a battery to a home system, nor installation costs. Together, these costs could more than double the final price for residential consumers.
The internal production cost of lithium-ion battery cells (the cylindrical elements that store energy inside a battery, and which Tesla buys from Japanese electronics giant Panasonic) is generally thought to be around $200 per kWh, according to Mohamed Alamgir, director of research at LG Chem Power in Troy, Michigan, a subsidiary of the South Korean chemistry giant LG Chem. Incorporating those cells into a battery pack typically doubles costs, so that a battery the size of Tesla’s could cost about $4,000 to produce. Tesla could be selling these products at a loss for the time being, says Laslau, but could turn that loss into a profit once it scales up production at the $5-billion battery ‘gigafactory’ it is building in Nevada.
Does a home need a battery?
Most homes in the Western world probably do not. In places that have a good connection to the electricity grid, and where grid power is reliable, households do not need batteries for backup. And even those homes that have solar panels on the roof and extra energy to spare can use the grid itself as their battery: in many places, such as Germany and several US states, homeowners can sell their excess power during the day to the local electricity utility, and buy it back at night.
But the world’s electricity utilities and power grids themselves need more inexpensive energy storage. Countries that have been aggressively installing solar panels and wind turbines but that have not invested enough in energy storage have had trouble integrating the extra capacity into their grids. Germany, for example, has provided lavish subsidies for homeowners who installed solar panels, but when residents installed more photovoltaics than expected, electricity utilities had to spend more to keep the grid running smoothly, says Haresh Kamath, an energy-storage expert at the Electric Power Research Institute in Palo Alto. “The effects of unplanned deployment can be dangerous in terms of grid reliability,” he says.
Could today’s lithium-ion batteries meet utility firms’ needs?
When utilities need to manage loads on the grid, it is still cheaper for them to fire up gas turbines. The US Department of Energy estimates that for energy storage to be competitive, it must not cost much more than $150 per kWh. Assuming a cost of $700 per kWh, Tesla’s systems are still much more expensive than that. Right now, the cheapest way to store energy is to pump it uphill into a hydropower reservoir—where one is available. The next-best storage solution is to compress air in large underground reservoirs.
But even if they cannot economically store hours’ worth of a country’s energy needs, batteries can help to make the grid more reliable. And the US energy department’s target does not take into account the social costs of carbon emissions, says Jeff Dahn, a battery researcher at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Canada. “If there was an appropriate price associated with the generation of carbon, we’d all be using solar panels and paying whatever it costs to store electricity,” he says.
This article is reproduced with permission and was first published on May 1, 2015.
This is part of the Abstract and Introduction I wrote for a paper for the DHS on PIINs, a concept of my own. I am writing a much lengthier essay/paper (perhaps even a small book) on the same subject which will include information on how to form PIINs of various kinds and in different industries using the same basic techniques and procedures and networks.
I use these same principles in the development of all of my PIINs regardless or industry or purpose. Although each PIIN is modified to service the particular requirements of how it is constructed and what exact purpose it serves.
Although this is a little out of order for my publishing schedule I offer this post up as my Business of Business post this week.
First of all, let me summarize the nature of the PIIN. The Personal (or Private) Intelligence and Investigative Network, like all networks is almost entirely dependent upon a series of established contact points. This is both the strength of the PIIN and the inherent weakness thereof. Therefore it is imperative that high-quality and functionally useful, as well as accurate and practical contact points be created, assessed and reassessed, and maintained over time. This is true whether the contact point is physical, biological, communicative, informational, electronic, technological, or computational. Every asset is a tool and the quality and functionality of those tools are the essential elements in the creation, maintenance, and performance of your PIIN. The Value of any Network is circumscribed by the acute and chronic qualities of those components, which within themselves compose the actual circumference, and separate elements of that real network. If the components of the network are of inferior grade, if the contacts are defectively impositional or of little practical use, or if the contact points are weak or insecure then the entire network is suspect and prone to failure at any and every point of transmission. The PIIN therefore should avoid both obvious and subtle deficits at all times by being practically and pragmatically useful, flexible, adaptable, in a state of constant positive growth and change, accessible, composed of superior components and contact points, secure, and most of all accurate and reliable.
Each and every network is therefore dependent upon the depth and breadth of the human contacts established interior to and exterior to that particular network and subject to the limitations of accuracy and the quality and quantity of valuable information that network can generate. The first real action needed to establish any PIIN and to make it fully functional is the recruitment, development, and maintenance of quality contacts. Contacts are always of the most absolute importance in the establishment of any PIIN. In addition the nature and quality of those contacts should be viewed as central and formative to the capabilities of every other contact point in the configuration and to the network as a whole. After an initial establishment of contacts those contacts should be immediately vetted and/or tested for accuracy and quality. This process of discrimination should be both an immediate tactical and testable undertaking and a long-term strategic process of recurring verification and reverification. Do not expect any particular source to be always accurate, but do not allow any particular source to function in an important role unless it has proven itself capable of both consistent reliability and trustworthiness.
After establishing a few reliable and trustworthy contact points the network must grow in order to gain new sources of information and intelligence as well as to develop and generate new capabilities. Therefore always view already established contacts and contact points as generators of new contacts, informants, intelligence and perhaps even secondary and tertiary networks, or sub-networks. Consider as well every potentially useful new contact or acquaintance as a possible future contact point in your greater network. Contact points should also be capable of redundancy and potential verification of information and intelligence gathered from other points along the nexus and for information gathered from sources outside the network. This is to say that contact points are more than simple sources of information; they will also function as multi-capable nodes along the operational structure of the entire network. I will expound upon the importance of and briefly discuss some of the details regarding contact points later in this paper. For now it is important to remember that contacts and sources provide information and possibly intelligence, but contact points can potentially serve many varied functions, such as; information retrieval, intelligence gathering, analysis, communications, coding, encryption, decoding/decryption, collation, research, as reliable and secure relay points, as information nodes, computational capabilities, disinformation and misinformation dissemination, and even serve as a sort of network disguise, and misdirectional cover or front.
Constantly look for, search out and develop new contacts, contact points, information and intelligence sources, and informants in order to successfully grow your network. Your network’s ultimate effectiveness will depend upon both the quality and quantity of your contacts, contact points, and your contact’s network. In the initial stages of building and developing your network concentrate on the quality of your contacts and contact points, but in the larger and long term concentrate upon both the quality and quantity of those contacts and contact points which comprise the elements of your network. Always develop and maintain quality to the greatest degree possible within all elements of your network, but also always grow and encourage quantity in the most consistent manner possible throughout all aspects of your network. This will assure that your network has both great depth and breadth and that it is capable of the widest and most valuable range of flexible and functional capacities possible.
It does not matter what the major focus of your network is, what it is most well designed to do, what it in actuality best does, or what the functional intent(s) or objective(s) may be, this introductory advice applies equally well to any possible network you might desire to establish in any field of activity or enterprise. The PIIN is a potentially invaluable tool for both the amateur and professional alike, for both citizen and official agent, and no matter the function or objective, the real capabilities of any established PIIN will be determined by the inventiveness, innovation, flexibility, enterprise, imagination and quality of the component parts of the network. And those component parts are composed and arranged by the originator of the network, that individual who is responsible for first establishing the nature and parameters of the own individual PIIN. The originator therefore will establish the genesis of the network and how well it grows and develops in the initial stages, but as the network grows it will develop capabilities never earlier imagined by the originator and will eventually become functional in an almost independent sense, as long as quality contacts and sources are developed and as long as those contacts and sources continue to grow and establish new capabilities and contacts of their own. A PIIN begins therefore as an idea and individual construct but over time develops into an almost biological organization of vast complexity and capacity. Drawing upon the collective skills and capabilities of the PIIN for whatever is desired or needed makes the PIIN a worthwhile and profitable venture for all individuals associated with that network, and because of the potential for continued and even exponential growth the PIIN is an extremely advantageous system of achieving complex objectives rapidly and of multiplying capabilities well beyond the individual level.
Because of the limitations of space regarding this essay I cannot describe all of the potential advantages that would possibly be gained by the formation of individual PIINs, either those advantages that would be enjoyed by agents or officers in the service of some official organization, or those advantages that would be enjoyed by citizens who have formed and are employing their own personal PIIN. But the potential advantages would be numerous, and such networks could beneficially overlap, inform, and service each other in times of national emergency or crisis. More importantly, if such networks were allowed to “cluster” and interact/interface in an efficient, secure, and positive manner then they would serve as invaluable intelligence gathering and investigative tools for the anticipation of disaster and the effective prevention and thwarting of many forms of malicious harm intended by the enemies of the United States.
As just one small example of how PIINs would make highly effective and useful tools for the benefit of both the citizenry and the government let me outline this scenario. A hostile entity decides upon a coordinated and simultaneous cyber-attack against both the American civil government and the Pentagon. These attacks overwhelm official servers who are the obvious targets of offensive action. During such periods of particular and isolated cyber attack against governmental and/or military networks, or even during periods of general and on-going netcentric engagement or warfare the PIIN can act as an emergency secondary or redundancy system of information and communications exchange, intelligence gathering, an investigative force as to who is attacking, why, from where, and how, and for coordinating a necessary and effective counteraction or response. While main systems are under attack, disabled, or malfunctioning PIINs can serve as ancillary and even secretive means of continuing vital operations or responding to attack. It is relatively easy to attack and at least temporarily paralyze large-scale and centralized networks efficiently given the proper time, coordination, planning, resources, incentives, and information on system vulnerabilities, but it would be nearly impossible to simultaneously disable all small-scale private and personal networks. PIINs are the private enterprise of innovative intelligence and investigative networks.
Other examples of the potential usefulness of the PIIN are easy enough to construct, such as creating and fostering “bridging links” between individual citizens, law enforcement agencies, governmental entities, and the military. PIINs can also be used as investigative networks and resources, as research hubs, as communication nodes, as a pool of expertise (both amateur and professional), as an emergency system of collective and clustered capability, as a functional and ever growing database of information, as an ancillary or auxiliary analytical network, and as an exchange for valuable contacts, sources, and useful informants. Perhaps just as important to the overall value-added aspect of the usefulness of the PIIN is the fact that most PIINs can be constructed at little to no cost using already available personal, technological, and organizational resources. It is simply a matter of redirecting already available resources to the construction and maintenance of the PIIN, or of simply reformatting the way in which contemporary networks are thought of and how they currently operate, or fail to operate, effectively.
The next administration would do very well to consider encouraging the development of Private and Personal Intelligence and Investigative Networks throughout our society, and to encouraging the exploitation of such networks for the benefit of all the citizens of the United States of America.
A very interesting perspective and one I agree with to a large extent. Actually I think one should set out to create a Brand – with a certain type of Vision, and adapt accordingly as one meets particular circumstances in and through the world. (Which is basically what he says later in the article.)
In other words one begins with a Vision and then discovers and develops as one goes along. It is not either/or, but both…
Over $500 billion is spent on advertising each year. The average American is exposed to an estimated 3,000 ads per day. Fifteen minutes out of every hour of television programming is devoted to commercials.
Branding: 2 Key Lessons in Brand Building
That’s a lot of marketing. And a lot of marketers. With six million companies in the United States alone, that’s a lot of people competing to get their message out. How do you stand out from the crowd? How do you get noticed?
This is where branding comes in.
What is branding?
Branding is the art of distinguishing a product or service from its competitors. It’s the term for creating a recognizable “personality” which people will remember and react to.
A company with poor branding is throwing away marketing dollars. Why? Because without a focused message, companies weak in branding are invisible. Nobody remembers them and they blend in. They become just another leaf swirling in the wind, amid all those marketing messages consumers see each day.
In marketing, the point is to actually reach someone, to connect. The way to do this is by focusing attention, not dispersing it.
Discovering your brand
Too often, people try to “dream up” a brand for their company. However, a brand isn’t something you dream up — it’s something you discover. Specifically, it’s something you have to discover about yourself.
True branding must be based solely on the mission and culture of the organization. When people try to create branding separate from the company itself, the result may be pretentious, clichéd or ambiguous marketing. It waters down the company’s message.
Instead, a brand should reflect the company’s business plan, its mission and values. It has to be authentic. Therefore, when you brand a company (or anything else for that matter), you’re trying to capture its core identity. You have to look past the clutter and opinion and distill its true essence. This is what you convey to consumers — your brand. And your fonts, your design, your writing — all aspects of your marketing — should all align with that central concept. Now, you have focus. Now, you have penetration, because you’ve conveyed your company’s identity by first discovering yourself.
Related: The Basics of Branding The ingredients of a brand
While there is probably no foolproof formula for discovering a company’s brand, there are pathways to accomplish that. Consider the following points the “ingredients” that go into making an authentic brand:
Company mission. This is the most important element of branding. Your mission is the spirit of your company, it’s the beating heart of what you do. In fact, your brand can be thought of as the outward expression of your company’s internal mission. Think of it this way: Why does your organization exist? What is it there for? You have assets, employees, vendors, relationships and internal systems. . . but why? Values. What’s important to your company? What do you stand for? Every company has certain ideals that define what it is and does. These ideals could be environmental, social or ethical or could be standards of quality Whatever your company’s values are, they’re the very center of why you’re unique and are a crucial part of your brand. Culture. Each company in the world has its own ethos — a particular style or panache. Whatever you call yours, embrace it. There may be a million competitors in your market space, but there’s only one you. Your company’s group culture is part of the fabric of who you are. History. Your history tells a lot about you. Look to the company’s founders to help define your identity today. What were their values? What were they trying to accomplish? Every company came from somewhere. Your roots are an integral part of your company’s brand. Plans. When you look at your next 10 years, where do you see yourself going? Your business plan and marketing strategy both influence how you present yourself and should be included in your branding. If you’re going after an entry-level market segment, don’t position yourself as a luxury brand. Your brand must encompass your real-world objectives. Consumers. This is really what it’s all about. Your customers are the reason you exist. What are their needs? What do they think? Understanding your customers is a vital part of branding. Because if you don’t know whom you’re talking to, why bother to say anything at all?
It might take a bit of soul-searching to get at the essence of what makes your company special. The trick is to take a clear-eyed look and see what’s actually there. Because every brand is beautiful, every brand is inspiring.
Space-efficient work spaces are becoming all the rage these days. They’re great for maintaining privacy and uninterrupted workflow, and they can also be cozy and stylish as well. Here are some examples of a growing trend of miniature studios (for offices and living structures), that are small enough to fit in someone’s back yard.
We’re fond of calling them, shedquarters. Whether you need your own getaway space, an office, an art studio, or a full on extra home, there’s something for everyone out there!
Kanga Room: Based out of Austin, Texas, Kanga Room has backyard studios in three styles: modern, country cottage, and bungalow. The basic package is an 8×8-foot shed that starts around $5,900 and you can add on a bathroom, kitchenette, and front porch for additional cost.
Weehouse by Alchemy Architects: The Weehouse Studio was designed by Minnesota’s Alchemy Architects. They start at 435 square feet, and include a main room and bathroom. It can be used as either a home office, guest house, or even a main residence.
KitHaus: The KitHause was designed by Tom Sandonato and Martin Wehmann. It is a modular site-constructed prefab housing system. The K-Pod is the starting model and measures 117 square feet. They also have larger models.
Modern Spaces: “Forts for grown-ups!” Yep, that’s how they describe them. These come in four pretty boxy styles. A fully installed shed with a foundation and finished exterior starts at $6,000. On-site installation is currently only available to California residents.
Loftcube: Werner Aisslinger designed these sheds to make the extra space on top of city skyscrapers more productive. He was able to fit a kitchen and bathroom within these 400 square foot glass-walled studios.
Modern Cabana: The sheds from this San Francisco company start at 10×12 feet, but they have full studios with kitchens and baths. The basic model is perfect for a backyard office, with its sliding door.
Metroshed: The MetroShed, by David Ballinger, is a prefab, flat-packed model that starts around $6,000. This a simple design is made of a cedar wood beam post frame with aluminum-frame sliding doors, and comes in 9×13 feet or larger.
Today is the first official day of my Spring Offensive. I had planned to begin yesterday but a back injury prevented my proceeding.
In conjunction with my Spring Offensive I have developed a new Operational Plan for further building both my Businesses (including my inventions) and Careers (as a fiction writer, songwriter, and poet).
The new plan is what I call the 20/88 Plan.
It covers most all of my efforts during my current Spring Offensive. It is very simple in construction and should be simple in execution, though it might also possibly be somewhat time-consuming in execution, at least to an extent, depending on how events actually transpire.
I developed this plan as a result of my experience as a Contacts Broker and a Consultant. Basically it says this,
“Every month I will submit to 20 potential Agents or Contacts who will be able to help me achieve my ambitions. At the same time I will seek 8 Partners to work with me on various projects.”
Since I am basically pursuing Four Basic Fields of Endeavor, or Four Separate Types of Enterprisesfor my Spring Offensive that will equal twenty agents, new clients, etc. in each field, and two partners for each enterprise.
Four times twenty in each Field of Endeavor equals 80, plus the overall eight partners (two in each Enterprise) equals eight, and added all together equals 88.
Therefore 20 in each Field plus 8 partners equals 88.
If in the first month I fail to secure at least one agent or client or so forth in any given Field of Endeavour or at least one partner in any given Enterprise then I will just move on to the next list of 20 or 2 that I have prepared until I secure worthwhile, productive, and profitable agents or partners.
These are the actual details of my Current 20/88 Plan.
General Fields of Endeavor:
20 Agents Contacted (for my Writings)
20 Publishers Contacted (for my Poetry, Songs, and Writings)
20 New Clients Contacted (for my Business Enterprises and for Open Door)
20 Capital Partners and Investors Contacted (for my Business Enterprises, my Crowdfunding Projects, and my Design and Inventions Laboratory)
2 Songwriting Partners (composers primarily, since I am primarily a lyricist)
As many of you WordPress Users know by now WordPress has reduced their Classic Editor to an extremely hard to get locate set of complicated linkage maneuvers and basically replaced it with an extremely inferior “new” post editor. This has frustrated and outraged many WordPress Users, and with very good reason, especially since the problem was entirely self-created and would be extremely easy to resolve had WordPress either the foresight or the desire to do so.
But to me this points to any even bigger set of current problems in and with WordPress, those being: their total lack of response to user complaints both with the new editor and with a desire to return to easy access to the Classic Editor (and believe me it’s called Classic for a reason, they seem to be entirely missing their own definitional admissions), their willful attempt to avoid problem-solving (when this would be an extremely easy problem to resolve), and their apparent reliance upon an attempt to woo millennial and younger customers with hipster-huckstering tricks like a slick-looking and streamlined yet vastly inferior posting editor.
None of these things bode well at all for the WordPress Business Model.
WordPress is publicly displaying exactly how you do not run a business. Recently though, in an attempt to persuade WordPress to fully understand the type of business suicide they are committing by pursuing this entirely unnecessary course of action I have been participating in this thread and forum:
If you too are bothered by the inferior nature of the new editor and would like to to see a return to easy user access of the Classic Editor then let your opinion be known.
Here was my first reply to this entirely self-created and easy to resolve fiasco:
For God’s sake this would be so easy to correct. A single line of code that allowed the user to choose by which method and editor he would like to make his or her post.
If this were the marketplace, or a business, the idea of imposing upon your customer, client, or user a choice they find distasteful, inefficient, and functionless would be suicide. And the idea of making your customer, client, or user wade through a large number of entirely pointless steps to correct a “problem” that should have never existed in the first place is utterly ridiculous and juvenile.
There is a certain distasteful arrogance to the modern Geek that borders on a desire to be a petty tyrant. Look ma, I’m powerful! Technology – BOOM!
This is simply a programmer or group of programmers with a month-long hard bone to gnaw, doesn’t matter whether it is infected and full of maggots or not. It’s his to gnaw and tough luck everybody else, get your own maggot-filled bone to gnaw.
In the time it took some code-writer or technician or board-monitor to read this complaint (or any of the other complaints on this easy to resolve matter) some clever code-writer could have devised a simple line of code to install at the top of the editor that allows the user to choose “Classic Editor” as their editor of choice. As a matter of fact a clever or smart code writer who cared about the end-user would do that very thing. Immediately.
This ain’t rocket-science boys and girls.
This is mere psychological and professional pettiness to make a juvenile point.
Mark Cuban is the billionaire investor best known for his roles as a “Shark” and the owner of the Dallas Mavericks.
Throughout his career, he’s made over 120 investments, from large companies like Landmark Theatres to startups on “Shark Tank.”
For all of the businesses he’s been a part of, he’s developed a set of “rules that have been almost infallible,” he writes in his 2013 book “How to Win at the Sport of Business.”
We’ve summarized the three he’s used “religiously.”
1. Understand the difference between adding value and benefiting from a bull market.
In the same way that some stock market investors think they’re geniuses when they keep picking stocks that go up, failing to acknowledge that all stocks are doing the same thing, Cuban says entrepreneurs can fail to recognize that a good deal of their success is due to a fad or trend.
“There is nothing wrong with going along for the ride and making money at it, but it will catch up with you if you lie to yourself and give yourself credit for the ride,” he writes.
Cuban says that he saw this happen with professional sports leagues in the aughts. He says that many team owners became enamored with rising revenues from television rights deals, crediting it to their own “brilliance.” He says, however, that he and his Mavericks partners recognized that revenues were actually rising due to competition among cable and satellite providers. Cuban couldn’t become complacent.
“It’s a bigger challenge to recognize that the bull market may end and our programming needs to be of sufficient value to our customers and viewers for it to maintain or continue to increase in value,” he writes.
2. Win the battles you’re in before moving onto new ones.
Cuban writes that he had a chance to take Landmark Theatres international but that any time spent on developing a global presence was time not spent growing its national presence, and so he decided against it.
“You do not have unlimited time and/or attention,” he writes. “You may work 24 hours a day, but those 24 hours spent winning your core business will pay off far more. It might cost you some longer-term upside, but it will allow you to be the best business you can be.”
3. Don’t drown in opportunity.
“If you are adding new things when your core businesses are struggling rather than facing the challenge, you are either running away or giving up,” Cuban writes. “Rarely is either good for a business.”
Melissa Carbone, president of horror attraction company Ten Thirty One Productions, tells Business Insider that after the $2 million deal she made with Cuban on “Shark Tank” went public, she was flooded with partnership and investment offers, some of which were quite attractive.
Cuban told her to take a step back and not let emotions make her impulsive. She says she still hears Cuban’s voice in her head reminding her, “Don’t drown in opportunity.”
I was charging my cell phone just now when I was struck with a great idea regarding the eventual miniaturization of things like quantum computing.
A charger and switch filter which doesn’t just charge your phone but does things likes control the flow of electrons so tightly that you can even arrange how the spins align on the battery or circuits to achieve things like spintronically aligned quantum computing and the room temperature mimicry of superconductivity.
Functions might be practically unlimited based on exactly how we could devise and design the actual control elements.
I have read Buffett’s books as well as several books about/with/sponsored by Buffet, including The Intelligent Investor. Which I have in my personal business and consulting library.
I do not consider Buffett either that brilliant, or that great of a man, except when it comes to investing. When it comes to investing and how to maximize the inherent capacities of any given business he supports he can be, and is indeed, far more often than not, quite incredibly brilliant.
Therefore I found the letter Bill Gates spoke about in the article quite interesting. I downloaded a .pdf copy to study.
In a YouTube video posted Sunday, Gates talked a bit about why he liked this passage from the letter so much — it’s about the history of Buffett the investor and Berkshire the company.
In the video, Gates says what works about what he calls the “Berkshire system” is that it maximizes the potential of businesses by giving them autonomy as well as the explicit support of the whole Berkshire organization, even if mistakes are made.
Gates added: “What really struck me this time about the letter was the value of experience. [Buffett] is better today than ever because he’s seen so many businesses and he understands business profitability so incredibly well.” Gates says this is the most important annual letter Buffett has ever written.
Recently I have been involved in a number of different projects that have left me little time for blogging. I have been writing the lyrics for my second album, Locus Eater, I have been writing and plotting my novel The Basilegate, I have been putting together a crowdfunding project for one of my inventions and one of my games, I have been helping with and compiling material for my wife’s new career as a public speaker, and helping my oldest daughter prepare to enter college. In addition I have been speaking with and seeking a new agent. I have even been preparing a new paper on some of the work of Archimedes and what I have gleaned from it. Finally I have been preparing my Spring Offensive, which is now completed.
All of which have kept me extremely busy.
However I have not been entirely ignoring my blogging either. In background I have been preparing a much improved Publication Schedule for all five of my blogs, my literary blog Wyrdwend, my design and gaming blog Tome and Tomb, my personal blog The Missal, my amalgamated blog Omneus, and this blog, Launch Port.
Now that most of these other pressing matters are well underway and on an even keel this allows me more time to return to blogging.
So below you will find my new Production Schedule which I’ll also keep posted as one of the header pages on my blogs.
So, starting on Monday, March the 15th, 2015, and unless something unforeseen interferes this will be the Publication Schedule for this blog every week, including the Topic Titles and the general list of Subject Matters for that given day. That way my readers can know what to expect of any given day and what I intend to publish for that day. I will also occasionally make off-topic post as interesting material presents itself.
Launch Port – 10:00 – 12:00 AM
Monday: The Markets – Brokerage, Entrepreneurship, Markets, Marketing Tuesday: Business of Business – Business, Entrepreneurship, Employment, Self-Employment, Start-Ups, Writing Wednesday: Brainstorm – Reader Discussions and Commenting, Reblogs Thursday: Invention and Investment – Innovation, Invention, Investment, Tools Friday: Capital Ventures – Banking, Capital, Finance Saturday: Reassessment – Reblog best Personal Post, Review Sunday – Sabbath