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The Economics behind The Death Star

[SitM; they should be building it out of Buckminster Fullerines. Steel is too heavy. Nerd out.]

Given the current rate of innovation and progress in construction (and design) technologies, we tend to assume that anything can be built. Think up any ridiculous shape or size you’d like for a building, and if there is a rising economy of plutocrats willing to pay for it, a totalitarian state to muscle it past any potential construction hiccups, and plenty of marginalized laborers to be exploited to build it, there’s a good chance it will be realized. Well, you decide you want to go the post-modern route, in particular, millennial OMA, say a perfect sphere, monstrous in size–140km (87 miles) in diameter–and which doubles as the most destructive weapon in the universe, with enough firepower to vaporize entire planets at will? How much would it cost to build this megastructure-to-end-all-megastructures? And, more importantly, how much steel would be required to construct your very own Death Star?

Those are the questions that economics students at Lehigh University wanted answered. Posting their findings on their blog Centives, the students began by estimating the colossal mass of the Death Star and the amount of steel that would go into its construction. Comparing the density of steel in the Death Star to that of a modern warship (“After all, they’re both essentially floating weapons platforms so that seems reasonable”), they calculated that the amount would hover around 1.08×1015 tonnes of steel, the production of which would take 833,315 years to accomplish. At today’s steel prices, the endeavor would cost $852,000,000,000,000,000, or “roughly 13,000 times the world’s GDP.”

Still undeterred? While the iron in the Earth could easily provide the raw material needed for one of the upwards two billion Death Stars the students claim could be assembled from terrestrial resources, the recovery of that material would necessitate extent mining excursions to the planet’s core, something “we would all really rather you didn’t remove.” Then there’s the off-chance that your fellow mortals or even alien species eventually takes notice of what you’re up to and actually tries to stop (or assume control of) the enterprise, in which case you’d have a hard time perpetually fighting them off for 800 millenia.

Apple patent application points to DJ-like beat matching, pairs iTunes with fist pumps

Apple patent application points to DJ-like beat matching, pairs iTunes with fist pumps

Once upon a less digital time, there existed the art of the mixtape: a tedious labor of love that required timing, taste and a penchant for musical progression. No longer in this iTunes-era, where personally curated song collections that once served as the background to our lives can now be automated by our dear friends in Cupertino. And, based on a patent application filed back in August of 2010, those Apple-made robo-playlists could get even smarter and slicker, with your perennially hip, millennial compadres being none the wiser. According to the claims covered, “an electronic device” (insert Mac or iOS product here) would be able to locate and interpret beats from a preceding AAC, MP3 or WMA file and crossfade them into those of the following track. In other words, it’s a virtual disc jockey built into your machine; one that would supercede the currently available DJ feature. Whether or not this Sven Väth-like software will pan out in the company’s favor remains to be seen. So, until that fateful day arrives, the creation of those fist-pumping, house mixes is better left to the few, the proud, the orange-skinned.

Nevada Approves Rules for Self-Driving Cars (implication: Knight Rider Becomes Reality)

Nevada Approves Rules for Self-Driving Cars (implication: Knight Rider Becomes Reality)

[SitM: Resurrection of Hasselhof as pop icon to follow shortly thereafter]

Nevada has become the first state in the United States to approve self-driving cars, a necessary step for Google’s vision to become a reality.

In a statement, the Nevada Department of Motor Vehicles said that its Legislative Commission today approved regulations allowing for the operation of self-driving vehicles on the state’s roadways. Nevada’s rules are the next step in a process began last June, when the state passed a bill that required its DMV to draft the rules.

Autonomous test vehicles will display a red license plate, Nevada officials said. If and when the technology is approved for public use, the cars will carry a green license plate. Nevada’s standard licese plates are bluish-gray, with most of the license plate representing mountains fading into a yellowish sky.

The regulations are a boon for Google, which stunned the industry in late 2010 when it disclosed that it not only had developed an autonomous car, but had successfully tested it on public roadways. Now, Nevada could be prepping for the first self-driving cars to populate the streets of Las Vegas, among other cities.

“Nevada is the first state to embrace what is surely the future of automobiles,” Department of Motor Vehicles director Bruce Breslow said in a statement. “These regulations establish requirements companies must meet to test their vehicles on Nevada’s public roadways as well as requirements for residents to legally operate them in the future.”

Nevada said it worked with Google, automobile manufacturers, testing professionals, insurance companies, universities and law enforcement to develop the regulations. Other states also have similar bills that will be voted upon to determine if they, too, can follow suit.

“Our work doesn’t stop here,” Breslow said. “The department is currently developing licensing procedures for companies that want to test their self-driving vehicles in Nevada. Nevada is proud to be the first state to embrace this emergent technology and the department looks forward to sustaining partnerships as the technology evolves.”

In August of 2010, Google actually said that its cars had traveled more than 160,000 miles without incident – not without driver intervention, but without an accident. Video confirmed that one of Google’s self-driving cars had been involved in a fender-bender, that Google blamed on the Google human driver in the car, rather than the vehicle’s autonomous systems. (Google has also released videos of its autonomous vehicles in action.)

Sergey Brin, a Google co-founder who has taken the self-driving car and other special projects under his wing, has he wants the self-driving car to drive a million miles without an accident. The company has also patented a “landing strip” for the cars, able to orient it or transfer information to it via short-range wireless technologies.

Two other car companies have publicly said they’re developing autonomous cars, as well: Audi and Volkswagen.

Department of Energy prize indicated Phillips LED bulb is the real deal

Department of Energy prize indicated Phillips LED bulb is the real deal


Remember Philips’ futuristic-looking EnduraLED lightbulb? Roughly two years after they pulled the wraps off of it, the bulb has now passed the U.S. Department of Energy’s 18-month testing period and won the DOE’s L-Prize, a competition designed to spur innovative, viable replacements for the venerable 60-watt incandescent. Philips will get $10 million for being the first to clear all of the technical hurdles and field testing.

Philips is no longer referring to the bulb as the “EnduraLED” in press releases, so a name change is probably in the works. But whatever they end up calling it, the LED bulb puts out an amount of light consistent with a standard 60-watt, yet sucks up just 9.7 watts of juice. Consumer release dates are vague, with the company reporting the bulb “could arrive in stores as soon as early 2012.”

Technology does not stand still: Data Centers’ Power Use Less Than Was Expected . . .

Technology does not stand still: Data Centers’ Power Use Less Than Was Expected . . .

[SitM: predicting the future is fraught with uncertainty and mistakes because it’s nearly impossible to tell what sort of advancements are going to be made in technology. Advancements in tech can increase power usage due to greater demand or it can decrease it due to increased efficiency]

SAN FRANCISCO — Data centers’ unquenchable thirst for electricity has been slaked by the global recession and by a combination of new power-saving technologies, according to an independent report on data center power use from 2005 to 2010.

The study suggests that Google’s centers are more efficient than most.

The report, by Jonathan G. Koomey, a consulting professor in the civil and environmental engineering department at Stanford University, found that the actual number of computer servers declined significantly through 2010 because of this lowered demand for electricity and because of the financial crisis of 2008 and the emergence of technologies like more efficient computer chips and computer server virtualization, which allows fewer servers to run more programs.

The slowing of growth in consumption contradicts a 2007 forecast by the Environmental Protection Agency that the explosive expansion of the Internet and the computerization of society would lead to a doubling of power consumed by data centers from 2005 to 2010.

In the new study, prepared at the request of The New York Times, Mr. Koomey found that electricity used by data centers worldwide grew significantly, but it was an increase of only about 56 percent from 2005 to 2010. In the United States, power consumption increased by 36 percent, according to Koomey’s report, titled “Growth in Data Center Power Use 2005 to 2010.”

“Mostly because of the recession, but also because of a few changes in the way these facilities are designed and operated, data center electricity consumption is clearly much lower than what was expected, and that’s really the big story,” said Mr. Koomey.

stick a fork in RIM, it’s done

stick a fork in RIM, it’s done

[SitM: some Verizon stores aren’t even displaying Blackberries in their showrooms anymore. You can still buy it, but it’s a backroom item]


As it struggles with the declining popularity of the BlackBerry line of smartphones, Research In Motion said on Monday that it would begin laying off about 2,000 employees, 10.5 percent of its work force, this week.

While the company had previously announced that it planned to cut employees, the number of jobs lost was higher than some analysts expected, perhaps suggesting that the company’s situation was deteriorating more rapidly than earlier thought.


The company’s move into the tablet computer market with the BlackBerry PlayBook this spring has also proved disappointing. The device, which uses the new operating system, was introduced without many major features, including e-mail software, a puzzling omission given that BlackBerry phones were the world’s first successful wireless e-mail devices.


RIM has shipped only 500,000 PlayBooks but has not disclosed how many of them have been purchased by consumers and businesses. By comparison, Apple said last week that it sold 9.25 million iPad 2 devices during its last quarter.
RIM’s situation has led several employees to leave the company of their own accord. Brian Wallace, the former vice president of digital marketing and media, recently joined Samsung Mobile. Shortly afterward, he was followed to Samsung by Ryan Bidan, a former Microsoft Games executive who was the senior product manager for the PlayBook.

Even the smartest tech visionaries are afflicted with myopia

Even the smartest tech visionaries are afflicted with myopia

“I think there is a world market for maybe five computers” – Thomas Watson, Chairman of the Board of IBM, 1943

“640k (of RAM) ought to be enough for anybody.” – Bill Gates defending MS-DOS’ 640k RAM address limit, 1981

“It’s rare that you see an artist in his 30s or 40s able to really contribute something amazing” – Steve Jobs, founder of Apple, 1985

“There is no reason for any individual to have a computer in his home” – Ken Olsen, CEO of DEC in 1986.

“What would I do? I’d shut it down and give the money back to the shareholders.” – Michael Dell, CEO of Dell Computer in 1997 on what he would do with Apple Computer

“Blinky lights aren’t so special anymore. Everyone’s got blinky lights” – Mr. Technology, CTO of Soul in the Machine, 2011

Notes on the quotes. At the time of Olsen’s quote, DEC was the 2nd biggest tech company in the world. Lucky for Steve Jobs, he was wrong about himself. Thomas Watson: what was he thinking? As for Michael Dell, Apple’s current market cap is 10 times that of Dell Computer. And Mr. Technology? His next date will be impressed with him because of blinky lights. Moral of the story: be careful about believing anyone’s predictions about the future.