Power on a Chip

Technology Review writes:

Gas turbines powered much of 20th-century technology, from commercial and military aircraft to the large gas-fired plants that helped supply U.S. electricity. But these days it isnt the hulking machines in the labs museum that capture [Alan] Epsteins enthusiasm. Instead its a jet engine shrunk to about the size of a coat button that sits on the corner of his desk. Its a Lilliputian version of the multiton jet engines that changed air travel, and, he believes, it could be key to powering 21st-century technology.

Though the turbines blades span an area smaller than a dime, they spin at more than a million revolutions per minute and are designed to produce enough electricity to power handheld electronics. In the foreseeable future, Epstein expects, his tiny turbines will serve as a battery replacement, first for soldiers and then for consumers. But he has an even more ambitious vision: that small clusters of the engines could serve as home generating plants, freeing consumers from the power grid, with its occasional black- and brownouts. The technology could be especially useful in poor countries and remote areas that lack extensive and reliable grids for distributing electricity. A comparison to how the continuous shrinkage of the integrated circuit drove the microelectronic revolution is tempting. Just as PCs pushed the computing infrastructure out to users, microengines could push the energy infrastructure of society out to users, says Epstein.

Epsteins immediate goal, however, is to use these miniature engines as a cheap and efficient alternative to batteries for cell phones, digital cameras, PDAs, laptop computers, and other portable electronic devices. The motivation is simple: batteries are heavy and expensive and require frequent recharging. And they dont produce much electricity, for all their size and weight.

The Mind of an Inventor

Newsweek has an interview with Evan Schwartz, the author of “Juice: The Creative Fuel That Drives World-Class Inventors.” Says Schwartz about inventors: “One quality that stands out: it’s the ability to find new problems that no one else even sees. The conventional view of inventors is, they’re good at solving problems. It’s really finding problems. Max Levchin was an expert in cryptography. Everyone thought there needed to be a secure way of paying people on the Internet. There were dozens of start-ups that failed because their solutions were so complicated. They required you to download a cryptography application onto your desktop and run the program every time you wanted to pay for something. People didn’t want to do that. So he came up with PayPal, where all the security features reside on a server, and the customer just sends an e-mail. He saw this problem in a completely different way. That’s what inventors do. They ask: how can I make this better?”

Finding Partners

Dave Pollard writes: “would hazard a guess that, both in business and in our personal lives, ‘finding people’ is our most inefficient process, the one we waste the most time doing ineffectively, and the one we do the worst job at. This is another instance of ‘the cost of not knowing’ — Who is the best supplier to repair your furnace, or advise you on managing your business, who are the best people to go into business with, what is the best community of people to live in and with, and, of course, who is Mr. or Ms. Right to spend the rest of your life, or at least the rest of the week, in the romantic company of.”

Dave has some interesting ideas on how to make the process more effective.

Taming the Email Inbox

Michael Hyatt has some suggestions [1 2]:

Contrary to popular opinion, there is not a law that says you must answer every e-mail as it is received. In fact, this is a sure-fire way to kill your productivity and end up becoming a slave to e-mail rather than using it as a tool to accomplish your work on your terms. One simple way to do this is to schedule specific times of day to work on e-mail.

The most unproductive thing you can do when it comes to e-mail is to read the same messages over and over again. This has the effect of doubling, tripling, or even quadrupling your workload. Instead, you should read each message once, then decide what to do with it. Read-decide. Read-decide. This is the pattern of effective e-mail processing. The goal is to end up with an empty inbox daily or, at the very least, every couple of days.