Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Super Light Household Iron

I picked up an iron the other day - admittedly, something I almost never do. It was REALLY HEAVY! I gave the iron the same look I give someone who packs too much for a weekend vacation. WHAT COULD YOU POSSIBLY HAVE IN HERE?!

I thought: What components are so heavy, and is it possible to make them external to the iron? Certainly you could make the water tank external, but adding a hose does seem pretty sloppy. What about the heating element? And does the iron plate need to be so heavy?

Then I remembered hearing about a technology called a heat pipe. This is a nifty little tube that uses a pressurized vapor/liquid mix to transfer heat almost instantly. They mostly use these for cooling electronics like a laptop.

What if you made the iron plate really thin and regulated its heat by a heat pipe attached to an external heat source plugged into the wall. Maybe you could even make the iron's steam the same steam used in the heat pipe: You would just have to carefully regulate the amount of water and pressure filling the hose at any given time. With the right technology, the flexible heat pipe tube would be just about the same thickness as the electric cord that would no longer be needed.

Wouldn't it be nice if your iron was 5 times lighter? Think how much lighter a centralized vacume systems is. Why do we have to shove the weight of a whole machine around with each arm movement when really we just want to move around the suction or heat - the machine's byproduct?

And here's the best part about the idea: You don't have to worry if you accidentally set the iron down on something - as soon as you release the button, the iron cools off instantly!

How much for the Maglev?

I love the idea of Maglev technology. A couple weeks ago I decided to find out how it really worked and how much it cost - how much power does it take to keep a train full of people elevated? You can't just assume a "new technology" is better for everything. Yes Maglev reduces friction, but how much power does it cost? I wanted to understand how it compared to traditional wheeled trains. And then I had a thought about sticking some huge wheels on a train..

Let's make an assumption that a maglev train suffers frictional loss only from air resistance, and that a similar train using traditional wheels will experience the same air resistance. Let's assume that a wheeled train suffers an extra frictional loss due to wheel bearing friction, and that this loss is roughly proportional to its speed.

So, all things being equal, there should be an approximate top speed at which the more expensive maglev train pays for itself by outperforming the wheeled train. Lets guess that this speed is 100mph.

But I had to ask this question: What if you made the wheels 5 times as large? This reduces the bearing friction by 5 times. Does that mean that a wheeled train would outperform a maglev train up to 500mph?

Of course there are heaps of ignored factors here, but it's a valid thought experiment. Here's a really bad sketch for you. I have no idea what is ha.xinhua.

Monday, January 7, 2008

My Pecha Kucha Video

Click here to Watch the video!
Thanks for being a great audience that night Pecha Kuchakers

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Kitchen Sink Pause Button

So you're doing the dishes,
and you have the pressure and temperature just right,
and you turn off the water to soap a big pot, or put something in the dishwasher,
and then you turn the water back on...
But you have to tap the faucet back and forth, up and down to get it back to where you had it just right.

Sometimes I wish I had a pause button.

Friday, December 28, 2007

The Dakotas

Hey, I'm on vacation, but my friend Chris kindly suggested a great design idea.

Check back after the new year for Sink Pause Buttons and UltraLight Household Irons.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

I'm on Core77!

Check me out! Thanks, Hipstomp for supporting my sketch idea -
Check out the original post here

Air-Tram Concept - the Next Generation

Hey I started researching precedent for this idea, and I'm pretty excited about the real possibility of developing it. Check these out:
Find out more on this site that I put together to summarize the idea and explain why I'm looking for an engineer to talk to.
Email me if you're interested, or if you just like the idea.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Air-Tram: A Conceptual Alternative to the SF Proposed Subway Addition

So a few weeks ago I posted a "crazy" idea about high speed gondolas flying across the city. See: Another Crazy Transportation idea: High speed sky trams.
But when I read that San Francisco had a $1.2 billion proposal in the works to extend their subway system, I thought some more about the concept and realized maybe it wasn't such a crazy idea.
The proposed subway route goes down two wide straight long streets. Would it be cheaper to build above the street instead of below? And isn't it a seductive idea to build a super-light supension bridge across the city? A suspension system supporting only rails and a few rail cars could be extremely light and unobtrusive to the street view. If anything the modest towers would be an iconic addition to the skyline and elegantly express the city infrastructure.

This video is my first sketch of this concept. My intention is not to convince anyone that this is a good idea. My intention is merely to convince people this is a possible alternative worth considering. The next step is to develop the idea and compare its price tag to a new subway addition. I'm not banking on it, but I have no reason yet to discount it either.

This posting is a perfect example for what this Sketch Portfolio is about - A crazy dumb idea gets stuck in my head and the more I think about it, the more it starts to look more like a good idea.

Thoughts from the best seat in the house:

So I'm a little embarrassed about this post. but the theme of this Sketch Portfolio is to not be scared of dumb (or uncouth) ideas. Besides we all do some of our best thinking in the bathroom.

So how many of you hate opening a new roll of toilet paper? I think it's stupid that we have to pick at the glue-stuck sheets to get it started. Watch this video.
Sorry, now you'll probably be even more annoyed every time you pick apart a new roll of TP.

Other Bathroom ideas:
Tankless Grey water urinal:
One innovation of the Green Building movement is using Grey Water to flush toilets. The conventional method is expensive however: Water flows to a central tank that treats the water and then redistributes it to the toilets. You basically have to run double plumbing throughout the building.

But I always thought you could do it this way: Just run the water straight from the sink down to a urinal tank. The tank would fill up and flush when ever it was full. This should give the urinal plenty of daily flushing. And who cares if the sink water goes untreated to wash a urinal? If anything I'd think the soapy water would just help clean the urinal.

Every time I've mentioned this idea to architects they immediately decided it wouldn't work. But then someone told me that they saw it done like this in Japan. Here's to the Green Movement.

One more thing while I'm on toilets. A couple years ago I saw this idea of dual-level flushing - I thought it was a good idea, too bad it didn't seem to catch on.
Along that line, I've always thought there could be a female urinal - seriously, it would save a lot of water. I have two ideas that would work just fine, but I think I've gone far enough with this posting. I'll leave it to your imagination. Happy thinking -

Monday, December 10, 2007

The "Three Gorges Dam" & the Earth's rotation

Don't bother reading this unless you just happen to be curious about these sorts of things. Seriously, just skip this one. It's probably self-indulgent and nonsensical.

So Here is an email I wrote to some people at a science radio show. I know it makes me sound crazy, but whatever that's why the title of this blog is a disclaimer. Besides, I think it's pretty interesting.

Hey guys -
So I recently heard that the partial filling of the Three Gorges Dam on June 1 2003 was theoretically supposed to alter the earth's rotation slightly by .06 microseconds (from
). This perked my interest, because theoretically you could use this event to "weigh the earth" without using gravity like a Cavendish type experiment does. I know that the numbers would almost certainly be too sensitive to get any meaningful results, but I still think it is an interesting thought experiment:

In a Cavendish experiment we use gravity to measure the earth's density and then derive values for the gravitational constant and the mass of the Earth. However, in this Three Gorges Dam thought experiment couldn't we could measure the mass of the earth without using gravity? We can measure the mass of the water, we know how the angular momentum of the earth is effected by holding that water back to a "unnatural" line of latitude. (for this angular momentum equation we also need a density map of the earth which I'm pretty sure we measure with seismic refraction.) And we can measure changes in the rotation of the earth with crazy accurate GPS.

Here's why I can see that this data wouldn't be valuable.
Assuming we can even measure the .06 microseconds accurately, can we filter that number out from the 2/1000 sec/day/century change in rotation caused by tidal friction (I'd bet so), and from the constant fluctuation in rotation (up to an order of 10^-6 seconds) caused by the erratic seismic activity in the earth. (I'm guessing no way) (numbers also from

Then even if we can filter out the .06 microseconds, is our seismic refraction model good enough to compare the change of the earth's rotation with the mass of the earth and the water's mass and position? (I'm guessing no again)

But nevertheless, it seems like an interesting thought experiment anyway, you think? If we wanted to bad enough, I could imagine doing a very long term experiment that could use this same concept to measure the Earth's Mass and therefore the Gravitational Constant without directly measuring the gravitational force.

I tried writing to NASA scientists Richard Gross and Benjamin Chao to see what kind of data they collected, but my email bounced back. Oh well, wanted to share the idea with someone and thought you might get a kick out of it.

Thanks guys - Eric

Monday, December 3, 2007

Music Notation in color

There has always been a small tradition of using color to notate music. I made this a few years ago to help with improvisation on the guitar. (click image to enlarge)

Music theory uses a language of letters and numbers. You can find alphanumeric fretboard maps like this all over the Internet. But it is useful to translate this map into color because (unless you're color blind, sorry fellows) our brain is very good at processing color. Unlike when we read, we can can process color peripherally - at a glance we can see patterns over a large area form a holistic model of the fretboard.

If playing a song is like tying knot - following instructions and then committing it to kinetic memory - improvising is more like untangling a complicated knot in your brain. You have to understand how different knots relate to each other in changing contexts.

This fretboard color map lets you see intuitively how pieces of melody fit into a larger context. It helped me to stop relying on kinetic memory alone and to start really thinking about what I was trying to play.

(For you musicians: I'd like to see this develop into a web application: You should be able to change the color scheme from the root key to the key of different chords in the song by pushing a MIDI pedal (or in a pinch, by clicking a mouse). Ideally, there could be more than one map overlayed on top of one another so you could see the relative parts of scale for different chords. For example in they key of G, you could intuitively read that B is the 3rd of the root, the 5th of the relative minor and the 6th of the Dominant. Maybe we could use shapes and color together: It's amazing how quick your brain can toggle between reading squares vs triangles to reading blue vs red.)

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Enabling the Disabled: the Segway

So basically, Dean Kamen is awesome. I loved the Segway from the minute I saw it. Our human instinct and intuition fears and even disbelieves the very premise of the Segway and nevertheless, there goes Kamen's machine stubbornly demonstrating that it does really work. I love that. Soon after I saw the Segway I started wondering about it's applications for handicap people. Couldn't this technology enable them to join the eye level of the average person in a crowd? When I mentioned this to people they tended to say, "That would be too dangerous! You want to put a handicap person on a ladder with wheels?" Well, when I went to post this idea, I happily discovered that sure enough Kamen has done it again. Here's to questioning doubt. Check it out: The iBot

Monday, November 26, 2007

Sunday Newspaper Advertising

I've heard this conversation a lot:
"All these ads are a waste of paper, I don't even look at them."
"Yeah, but that's how the newspaper makes money"
"Yeah but who reads this anyway?"
"Well somebody must read them or else no one would advertise?"
"Well I don't read them, and this is making a mess of the environment and my living room. Hell, I'd even pay to not receive them."

Readers should have the option to tell newspapers: "Really, i don't read the ads. Please don't send them." Theoretically, Advertisers should love this - it's market targeting done for free. Why would advertisers want to pay for readers who are going to ignore them. Yes, maybe the cover of the ad section gets a glance on the way to the trash, but seriously, think about it.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

USB Album blocks:

So speaking of USB.. I love the digital age of trading music. I love replacing boxes of CDs with one simple iPod player.

But I think this age overlooks something. Music is a "word of mouth" industry. No matter what hype it gets on the radio or on MTV, ultimately the music that sells is the music that "all my friends like." Music trading has moved from swapping records/tapes/CDs to IM'ing myspace links/sharing iPODS.

But all those music sharing friends still love tangible objects - they still sport Band's patches and stickers. And I've heard more than one person lament the end of the mix tape. Music is also a collectors industry. Like Comic books, baseball cards, and pogs, music albums have always attracted prolific collectors.

I think there is a big market for cheap plug and play albums that easily let people share music through a tangible object. How about USB blocks that link together (see my last post).

TuneCubes are Cheap and Reusable!

1. Link up a dozen TuneCubes, make a killer mix.

2. Load the whole chain of TuneCubes all at once.

3. Toss em around to your friends at the show.


Edit: Dec 5

Ha ha, look what I just found. So they're thinking it - where's the conceptual leap to producing the real thing? Maybe USB manufacturing process is still too expensive.

A cleaner USB

The birth of USB was an important move towards standardizing computer peripherals. But since 1996, Moore's law has trudged on and the USB plug now seems a little cumbersome. This little flash drive is clever, but maybe there's something better.

Let's just get rid of the plug. Who doesn't love apple's magnetic power cord connection. Let's use that idea. To easily adapt to the new technology, just plug up a USB socket with the adapter and all your new peripherals snap into place. (photoshop collage - Device doesn't exist, but I think I want one.)

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

A screw with a lot of torque

So I'm not so sure about this one. I was on the BART looking at screws and thought, "The Phillips screw is better because it strips less, but why is the action in the middle of the head where there is less torque." I thought of this sketch.

Then I wondered if you could get rid of the whole core of the screw all the way from head to tip. Would that get you more torque for your metal and make the screw turn easier and break less often?
I don't think it's very practical. Although it's kind of interesting that you could screw things together and then run wire through the screw. Now that im looking at it, it looks familiar. I think I've seen something like this before.

Being on hold is completely unnecessary

If you are a big company: please take reservations and call your customers back.
Since I know companies are too lazy to do that. If you are a developer: please make a nice web app that calls Bank of America for you and listens to that stupid music and repeats in a soothing voice:

"hello. I am an automated waiting on hold service. My client is important to you. When you are availiable, please call my client at 555 5555 to answer their question. Press 1 and I will connect you automatically.hello. I am an automated waiting on hold service. My client is important to you..."

Monday, November 19, 2007

Another Crazy Transportation idea: High speed sky trams.

Ahh, beautiful San Francisco.. wait are those flying high speed gondolas? Okay ha ha this is ridiculous. But think about this: San Francisco will eventually have to make drastic improvements on their public transportation system. Digging a subway underground is really expensive, and a logistical nightmare. Some cities, like Chicago, built an elevated train above the street which avoided some of these problems. An elevated train is essentially a big long inelegant bridge. What if build an elevated train that takes on the metaphor of a long spanning bridge? Think monorails/gondolas/ziplines/golden gate bridge over the city. We may hold a prejudice that gondolas are only for slow ski lift climbs, but they don't have to be. We could use a really long light weight bridge to carry a fast train-gondola.

It was impossible to build the golden gate bridge until engineers could figure out how to transport a lot of people a far distance while using a really small earth footprint. To build a transportation system across the city we don't have that demanding requirement, but by giving ourselves that goal we might get some good ideas.

Edit Nov 26: I keep thinking about this idea: Here is an image of how this could be realistically implemented. Think how much lighter and cheaper you can make a bridge when you remove the entire weight of the road. Is this simpler and more elegant than digging a subway?-------------------

Edit Dec 04: So I just read that San Francisco has a proposal in the works to extend their subway. There's a heated debate. It's a much needed addition, but it's $1.2 billion. Here is the proposed route. 1.2 billion $? This idea is really starting to seem important now. Yesterday, I biked the route and thought about the logistics of building a system like this. Here's a sketch of a SkyRail station above the existing CalTrain station.

I need to get a faster computer to render videos like this, but here is a really crappy version of the first part of the route. video
I'm talking to a structural engineer to make sure this concept is feasible, and then I'll render a video of the route and photoshop some stations to make this proposal seem really possible.

I think this is worth thinking about as an alternative to building a subway. It could be an beautiful iconic structure. The cable car was a ridiculous system too when that was proposed. Think about it, a huge loop of cable miles long that a car would grab on to? Weird.

San Francisco Transportation: what the kids are ranting about

Here is the Tokyo subway map. A colorful web over the city.

Here is the San Francisco subway. A colorful well, rainbow, that only goes down a single street in San Francisco. (It's called BART). To be fair, BART is really a bay area system meant to connect cities together and was never supposed to be much of an intercity system. But what makes up for a lack of subway?

MUNI is SF's bus and rail system. All of these routes move slowly at the speed of traffic and they break down fairly often. The only exception is where the MUNI runs underground DOWN THE SAME SINGLE STREET AS THE SUBWAY. The city collects $1.5 to ride the MUNI and spends all of it just keeping track of the loose cash.

Some people think it is too scary to imagine charming San Francisco getting a legit public transportation overhaul. But if we're serious about the green movement and uncloging the cars from the city, the eventual solution will have to do better than busses riding in traffic.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Bullet Trains: "Direct Flights" for everyone

This sticky note puppet shows an idea that at first seems really dangerous and stupid. Which is why it's worth giving it a second thought.
A train goes from A, stops at B, goes to C.
First the usual way, then a different way.
If 10% of the train wants to stop, do you have to stop the whole train? Can you keep the train moving and load/offload passengers "on the fly."

Bullet train have proved to be very efficient in other parts of the world and will probably become a very important form of transportation over the next 50 years. Locally, California has already approved funding to build a bullet train from LA to SF. (Let's get on it Gobernator!) If ridership someday reaches enough critical mass, this general concept could be a practical way to save time and fuel.

The bullet train would exchange passengers through a detachable car that docks in the rear. The exchange car undocks, decelerates and gets side-tracked to the station. A different exchange car at the station accelerates, gets tracked onto the main line and approaches the bullet train to dock behind it. The exchange car would have its brakes synchronize to the train's brakes with a radio signal. The brakes default to "stop" in the case of signal loss. Once the exchange car is docked, the exchange of passengers between cars is as safe as traveling between any other cars on a train. A double door can be used to insure no passengers get caught between cars during detachment. When you split up the details of the problem, it starts to seem pretty safe. Who knows, maybe they're already doing it in Japan.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Simplifying the urban bicycle experience

edit: Dec 16
Hey all, thanks for your comments! - see my response at the end of the post.
A bicycle is loved for its mechanical elegance and simplicity. It's a bummer when you have to muck that by carrying all this extra stuff.

Here is a common problem, and a common urban solution. There's got to be a better solution than a big hunk of metal in your pocket.
It's assumed that you just have to carry this extra stuff around t o protect your bike. But what if we made the bicycle just a little more complicated to greatly simplify the experience of riding a bicycle. Could we build these components into a bike? Here are some brainstorm sketches:

The seat post seems like it could be a pretty good lock, and a pretty good pump. Here are two ways you could make it a pump: (I shouldnt have called them "options", this is just a sloppy proof of concept) You could throw some gaskets into the bike frame and attach a tube to the bottom where it could reach the wheels, or just put a nozzle on the top and you could detach your wheel and hook it up.

edit: Dec 16
Hey all, thanks for your comments! that's some great feedback, and I appreciate your understanding that this is just a developing sketch. I have thought of a lot of the issues that you bring up and I agree with you. I'm excited to develop the idea further. Keep posting comments, and if anyone has a design firm wanting to pursue the idea, send me an email.
edit: Dec 19
Nice, thanks for the post Anonymous - check out this 2004 Cannondale
http://gb.cannondale.com/bikes/04/ce/model-4SS2.html I love the idea of using the fork instead of the handlebars. One thing about the handlebars is that it would be easy to torque them apart with a crowbar. Critique: This Cannondale implementation doesn't lock the frame to anything, and it only addresses one wheel. Can we take the idea further?