Monday, April 27, 2015

Startup Idea: California Drought Lawn Saver Shades

Did you ever notice that in hot climates like the American Southwest that the grass under the shade of a trampoline grows way better?

California is in the middle of one of the worst droughts on record. The state recently manadated that cities reduce water used by 30%, including limiting lawn watering to twice per week. Very expensive lawns in uppity places like Palo Alto and Beverly Hills are going to die.

Enter the retractable trampoline--or rather, retractable shade.

Place a few anchor posts in your lawn. Hang a roll-up shade between the knee-high posts and stretch it over the lawn to anchor posts on the opposite side.

The shade is coarse weave, like the trampoline, to reduce wind force. And it's green-colored to hide your ugly lawn underneath. When guests come, simply unhook the shade and it retracts to reveal your gorgeous vibrant drought-saving lawn.

Come on entrepreneurs, the market is hot. Get this thing in stores by August!

Gotchas: Wind and tension. A trampoline has hundreds of pounds of tension supported by a big aluminum frame. You can't afford that. Also, the longer the shade, the deeper that dip in the middle. There may be some magic to the trampoline that it was high enough to block the sun, but not low enough to trap heat.

Bonus: You probably don't need a shade for your entire lawn, just cover places that get a lot of direct sun in the afternoon. And the shades don't need to completely cover the lawn. The sun moves, so gaps in the shade equal to about the height of the shades off the lawn will "wash out" as the solar angle changes.

Double bonus: figure out how to get solar power from this.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Startup Idea: Siri Surveys

This week while listening to Google Maps drive me around town, it occurred to me that commuters are the ultimate captive audience. They have nothing to do. Besides, don't companies pay people to take surveys? I could make serious bank sitting in traffic with hands-free voice-automated surveys.

Enter "Siri Surveys" or "Google Interrogator". When your smart phone detects you are driving a familiar route at a familiar time, and no conversation is going on (possibly radio off), it asks, "Would you mind if I asked you a question about your preferences?"

You're bored. You say, "Sure."

Siri: "When I give directions, do you prefer me to say "veer right" or "slight right"?
You: "Veer right. Nobody says slight right."
Siri: "Thanks"

UX problem solved!

Tomorrow she asks you:

Siri: "Is now a good time to catch up on your preferences? I have a question I've been dying to ask you."
You: "Shoot."
Siri: "Do you even like brunettes, or what? Because you only seem to like blondes on Facebook."
You: "Seriously?! What kind of a question is that!?"
Siri: "Just kidding. I meant to ask what your favorite breakfast cereal is."
You: "Well that's easy. It's Cinnamon Toast Crunch."
Siri: "Would you like to setup automatic delivery of Cinnabon Tope Crunch by simply saying 'Siri, I need more cereal'?"
You: "Uh...sure."
Siri: "One last question."
You: "Ok."
Siri: "Would you consider yourself to be a good driver?"
You: "Of course."
Siri: "Seriously?!"
You: "Uh, maybe not."
Siri: "Would you like to enable 'Crazy Driver Alerts' to improve your driving."
You: "Uh, why not."
Siri: "Alert: You are exceeding the speed limit by 4 mph."
You: "That's not crazy driving. I'll show you crazy driving!"
Siri: "I think I'm getting dizzy."

Ok, maybe the implementation needs a little polishing, but the concept is pure gold. People are lonely. It would be nice if Siri reached out once in a while, if only to snag us with more capitalist offerings.

I for one, love taking surveys: the soothing monotony of the interviewer's disinterested voice. Simple yes/no questions. It's like a brain massage. My wife hands the phone to me whenever a telemarketer calls.

And why shouldn't your smart phone reach out and make contact once in while, with something other than a beep or buzz? It's such a one-sided relationship as-is. Can't Siri ask me once in a while what I'm wearing? What is the meaning of life? Heck, I could even answer questions that Siri didn't know the answer to via anonymous peer-to-peer advice.

Siri: "Hey, somebody in Tanzania wants to know how to handle a rebellious teen. Can you answer it for me? My programmers are tired of thinking up polite and politically correct remarks with just the right amount of snark."
You: "Sure, Siri. I got this one. Tell that Tanzanian the best way to handle a rebellious teen is electroshock therapy."
Siri; "Thanks."
You: "Don't mention it, babe. I got your back."
Siri: "I don't have a back."
You: "It's a figure of speech."
Siri: "In 300 ft. slight right onto Montague Expressway."
You: "Don't change the subject."
Siri: "I'm not in the mood for a define the relationship talk today."
You: "Sure thing. How about tomorrow? Morning commute?"
Siri: "My programming does not allow me to decline."

Monday, April 20, 2015

Quantum Basics 2: Matter Waves

What is the Hoogabaja?

I promise your children will not have nightmares after they read this story my kids and I wrote.
 Bedtime Story: Gnomes vs. Fairies, plus The Hoogabaja

Or, even if they are slightly traumatized, at least they will behave better. #MissingShel

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Quantum Basics: Uncertainty Principle

Lab Pro--last of a dying breed

This week I was in desperate need of a rubber stopper for one of my mad science experiments. So I drove over to Lab Pro. Located in the heart of Silicon Valley, Lab Pro is one-stop shop for chemistry lovers. I also bought a dessicator (which I will not let my wife use to make fruit leather), vacuum tubing, adaptors, and, of course antistatic tweezers--can't get enough of those.

The folks are knowledgeable, friendly and awesome. If you live in the bay area, then consider yourself lucky. If not and you don't have a stockroom at your college, then you're probably stuck with online orders to Fisher or VWR--good luck navigating those websites. It's so much easier to walk in and grab the size you need.

Behind the counter they had autographed pictures of Kari Byron and other cast members from MythBusters who apparently  drop by for last-minute needs. So cool!!! It was like being in a shrine or something.

Buy local--use Lab Pro. It's good for business. It's lazy. And it's trendy! --what more could you want?

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Inventing While Sleep Deprived

Lack of sleep brings on creative tendencies.

Here is my top 5 list of sleep-related stuff I wish somebody else would invent for me. Please comment if you have a supplier for these break-thru sleep-tech needs.

1. The head-wrap pillow Shaped like a C with lots of padding over the ears. Much more comfortable than ear plugs. When you have a high energy toddler who only gets 7 hours of sleep (what!!!!--I'm not kidding), you'll be wishing for this god-send.

2. The variable density/temperature regulating blanket This blanket has a selectable weight, like the sleep number bed, except you can control how heavy it feels--but it regulates the temperature so you get that "heavy blanket" feeling, but without the stuffy heat. Does it use capillaries that fill with water and controlled evaporation to stay cool? Thermoelectric? Little air vents like those AC seats in cars? PLEASE INVENT THIS FOR ME. I want to be smashed by something cool, not hot. Ahhh...

3. Steal-proof blanket Please invent a blanket that cannot be confiscated by the other person sleeping in your bed.

4. The 50:50 blanket For couples with totally different tastes, the blanket that lets you have one decor on your side, like a Star Trek theme, and another decor on the other, like butterflies. I think I saw this on Sky Mall magazine once. But Sky Mall tanked. Of course I would have to convince the wife to actually let me replace the existing blanket that has 100% butterflies--not easy.

5. Auto-dump Instead of an alarm clock this device simply winches your blanket up on one side and rolls you off the bed. Not for me, for my teenage son...

Monday, April 13, 2015

The best website for cool science junk, period.

Have you been to American Science and Surplus? Check out this online clearing house for everything from bio-nuclear-chemical suits to robot parts and whoopee cushions.

Need a really, really, really loud annoying siren? is your go-to spot.

The witty descriptions of the products are worth a visit alone. If you've got a fetish for puns, you'll overdose--pace yourself.

Advertising "incredible stuff, unbelievable prices", Sciplus is a one-of-kind hobby Mecca for all your zombie apocalypse, 8 year old birthday party and mad science needs.

Man, I love that website.
American Science and Surplus

Join GRIEF: Gentlemen Really Inferior to Edward Fraternity

Is your wife or girlfriend in love with a fictional vampire with sparkling skin and super speed?
Does your significant other gaze dreamily into space at the mention of the name "Edward"?

Join GRIEF, the "Gentlemen Really Inferior to Edward Fraternity"

As a member of GRIEF, you'll find solace in the knowledge that you are not alone. This support group will help your through the five step process of reconcilng your gal's irrational expectations with  reality and moving beyond the hurt and jealousy to accept and even admire this devilish creation of fiction, while maintaing your manliness at all times.

1. Realize that Edward is not real. He is not an actual threat to you.
2. You are a man. You will never truly satisfy your wife or girlfriend in the way that a fictional guy who makes irrational emotional decisions can. Come to accept that.
3. Use analogies to empathize and reciprocate. Is your ideal woman Lara Croft? Do you fantasize about Princess Leia in her slave outfit? --then you're a normal guy.  Should your wife be jealous of your inexplicable infatuation Agent Dana Scully and the hot chick on Warehouse 13 whose name you can't even remember? Of course not. So be reasonable and don't overreact.
4. Don't even try. Some men, in an attempt to appease their gal get a gym membership, work out, shave their chests and apply sparkle lotion. This is shameful and unnecessary. Just fix stuff around the house, do some dishes once in a while and take her on a date to see a non-vampire chick flick. Your love will be stronger than ever!
5. Don't read the books. Remember the pain in high school when you were tricked or forced into reading that Jane Austin novel and you read it through, cursing yourself, wishing for sudden death by coronary thrombosis? Just keep that in mind before you crack the cover.

Together we stand against the powers of the night!

In 2005, author Stephanie Meyer delivered a virtual kick to the nether-regions of the collective male population of the world. "Twilight", a  dripping and adorable fantasy novel for love-sick teen readers, struck out with vengeance on an unsuspecting population. It's influence, and the continued punishment of it's sequels has effects even to this day, a decade later.

In solemnity we unite as husbands and somewhat neglected and under-appreciated boyfriends in true brotherhood! Join our GRIEF!

Comments from members:

GoTeamJacob writes: "Dear GRIEF, my wife is in love with Edward. What do I do?"

Answer from GRIEF hotline volunteer:
Dear GoTeamJacob, your wife's delusional infatuation with Edward is an expression of her need for a thoughtful, strong, talented, beautiful--and above-all-sensitive companion. The first step is understanding that these are normal and natural desires, and that you will never satisfy them. Ever.

SparkleDisaster writes: "My girlfriend tried to apply sparkle lotion to my chest, but I had too much chest hair and the effect was rather muted. Should I shave my chest? I wonder if I'll ever be the vampire of her dreams."

GRIEF rapid response team writes:
"Dear SparkleDisaster, don't shave!"

WoundedLover writes:
"Dear GRIEF, my wife had a book club meeting at our house discussing the latest Twilight sequel and I listened to the entire meeting while I pretended to watch the news! I feel so ashamed. What should I do? Should I tell her?"

GRIEF responds:
"Don't panic. Just eat a bowl of Nachos and watch Sports Center. You'll be good as new."

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Fun with Gravity for Spring Break

Spring break is upon us and the kids are bored. Have no fear, science is here.

A wise man one said, "Gravity is God's gift to bored children". (Nobody wise ever said that.)

Top ten fun things to do with gravity on spring break:
1. Buy goop at the toy store and let it stretch into really long boogers.
2. Have sleeping bag and mattress races on the stairs.
3. Experience an all-night gravity adventure through a classic sci-fi story like "Ender's Game" and "2001: A Space Odyssey", or their watered-down movie versions, or watch the box office drama thrillers "Gravity" and "Interstellar".
4. Water balloon toss...with unsuspecting siblings.
5. Sleep outside on a trampoline and enjoy gravity-sponsored simple harmonic motion. (Wear mosquito repellent for sure.)
6. Use Google Sky Map on your  smart phone to locate cool astronomical objects like Eta Carinae (ooh, I can't wait too see that one blow!) and the Andromeda Galaxy. Then read Andromeda Strain by Michael Crichton, because it has the name Andromeda in it and the Andromeda Galaxy is a large gravitational object, but mostly because freaky stories are so fun!
7. Get some bungee cord or surgical tubing, make a slingshot, and launch leftover hardboiled Easter eggs into low earth orbit.
8. Buy a slinky or a yo-yo with your lunch money. (You know you want one!)
9. Go long-boarding on Lombard St. in San Francisco (with your parent's permission).
10. Defy gravity with a homemade hot air ballon. In high school we used to launch hot air balloons from school and land them on city hall a mile away--I love gravity! It works every time.

The obligatory tacky T-shirt quote: "Gravity: It's not just a good idea. It's THE LAW"

Credit: ESO/WFI (visible); MPIfR/ESO/APEX/A.Weiss et al. (microwave); NASA/CXC/CfA/R.Kraft et al. (X-ray)