Step away from the salad bar!

So no one gets hurt!

Why salad is so overrated

Tamar is an interesting writer (her blog, the rest of her writing at the Post). She often takes a controversial subject in the world of food and does in-depth analysis on it (sort of like how the Do The Math blog does for alternative energy). In this article she looks at the value of salad, specifically the cost/benefit when including the farm and transportation costs. I knew things were bad, but didn’t realize how bad they were. She puts a comparison thus:

A head of iceberg lettuce has the same water content as a bottle of Evian (1-liter size: 96 percent water, 4 percent bottle) and is only marginally more nutritious [lettuce is 95 to 97 percent water].

This is an interesting image from the article:

Picture of salads, without the salad
Minus their greens, left to right: the Caesar Salad With Chicken from the Cheesecake Factory; the Quesadilla Explosion Salad from Chili’s Grill & Bar; the Waldorf Salad from California Pizza Kitchen. (T.J. Kirkpatrick/For The Washington Post)

Elevator to spaaayyyycccceeee!

Space elevator could take astronauts into the stratosphere
Canadian firm granted patents for elevator designed to reach 20km above Earth

Their space elevator idea has some promise, but I expect it is still $100’s of millions, if not billions, to build it. Finding someone willing to put that much green into something with only a 30% savings in fuel is likely to be challenging. It will be a serious engineering challenge as well.

My idea is to launch from a tube in the ocean (see here from back when I laughably thought I could interest others in my efforts) with an assist via microwave powered air breathing ‘rocket’ until the atmosphere runs out, then, in the case of fragile payloads (e.g., humans) a small rocket to get the rest of the way to the orbital space station. Non-fragile, non-perishable payloads can be sent much faster, thus should be able to get into orbit directly, then can use slow but efficient means to reach the station via ion drives. Yes, I have spent a lot of time thinking about this, 40+ years…

Good news, bad news

The latest on my vanity patent:

After much back and forth-ing with the examiner and his supervisor it seems my claims are being approved. That’s the good news. That’s it. The rest is bad news…

The bad news is the examiner has made this moronic insistence that I include a specific detection method in the claims which naturally means that if anyone were to produce the exact same product, but using a different detection method, they wouldn’t be infringing. The particular detection method is only meant to be used at the largest commercial scale (250K+ parallel sequencers) and there is plenty of money to be made at a much smaller scale (I already have a design with 40K parallel sequencers that would work just peachy, except uses a different detection method). Basically the patent is useless for any sort of intellectual property protection. Of course, if I had more money I could get around this nonsense, but the lawyer charges $675/hr and even though he has been generous in his accounting, I and my small investor just can’t afford to put in more money.

The worst thing, as if this weren’t bad enough, is the deadline to file for world-wide rights is Sept 15 and the lawyer needs at least 2 weeks to get the applications ready. Oh, the cost estimate for this process is $90-120K, more than the cost to validate the design. Thus, my uselessly narrowed patent will only be applicable in the US, probably no more than 20% of the market. My small investor took a tiny (yet still $1,000) ad out in the Wall Street Journal and to my mild surprise I got three inquiries. None amounted to anything; only one actually said no, the other two never got back to me despite my gentle nagging.

This whole process has really soured me on the idea of getting a patent. I’m quite certain that if we had a competent examiner that actually spoke comprehensible English we could have agreed on a set of claims that would have been commercially useful long ago and without getting the supervisor involved. A crap shoot on which examiner I get, though they all have specializations, so not totally random. Sort of like judges for trial, wind up with the hanging judge and spend the rest of your life in jail for a minor offense, get the bleeding heart judge and get probation for murder. Oh, examiners are basically paid piece work, so he has been reluctant to spend more time on my application since he has been working for ‘free’. I understand the government’s incentive to try and motivate the examiners with this approach, but now I’m being punished because of his incompetent insistence on wasting his time on irrelevancies.

So for any of you following this saga with any thought of getting a patent of your own, here are some bullet points for you based on my experience:

  • Never, ever, do this yourself. Your claims are everything. If you fuck up your claims before the examiner gets his (or her) mitts on them there is no recovery. Claims are legal statements, think about how easily Congress screws things up all the time. Don’t write your own claims unless you want to spend all your time and money on nothing.
  • Have deep pockets! I haven’t done a final accounting yet, but I am pretty sure I will have spent more than $20K for my useless patent. While it’s feasible to find a lawyer that charges a lot less than $675/hr (it isn’t like my lawyer gets all that, his firm has to pay for a nice building in the middle of DC, not to mention all the support staff) you have to be absolutely sure you have the right guy as this is an area where there are so many subspecialties it’s ridiculous. A portion of my patent mentioned LEDs and my lawyer worked with a specialist in LEDs to make sure all the right verbiage was included in my application.
  • Either plan to cover the global patents up-front or decide they aren’t necessary, this process is so long and drawn out that its just not practical to think you can get the US patent finalized before you go for the rest of the world. Though I never got to the point of doing the global applications (you apply for each country individually, in that country’s official language; let that sink in for a while) I have had a number of estimates in the same range. Thus, expect to have a working budget of at least $150K to get global coverage
  • Don’t bother. That is my take-away message from this debacle. All a patent grants you is the right to sue someone for infringement. If your idea is worthless to begin with, you won’t have any problems with infringers because you already wasted your time and money. If your idea is worth a mint (as I remain convinced mine _was_; now it is basically free to anyone, thus worthless to me) then you need to prepare every step of the way for prosecuting infringers AND have deep enough pockets to take them on. The US system is carefully crafted to basically make the odds of success for the individual on par with the lottery. I’m quite sure if I had ‘invested’ that $20K in lotto tickets I would have more to show for my efforts than I will ever get out of this patent.

Here is a partial list of other billion-dollar ideas I won’t be pursuing:

  • Long-term (million-year) archival storage with read speeds as fast as today’s fastest drives.
  • Table-top fusion. Actually, if this works it’s a trillion dollar idea.
  • Molecular memory that’s as fast as RAM, retains information without power and is infinitely re-writable.
  • This is probably only a $100 million idea: synthetic anti-freeze protein for tissue and organ preservation.

Aquaponics is probably my last attempt at elevating myself out of (upper) middle class. If I can get reality to match my pretty spreadsheet I can leverage our current resources into a nation-wide network that has billion-dollar potential. On days like today, though, it’s hard to get enthusiastic about the potential…

Burning to live longer

Study: Can Spicy Food Actually Increase Life Span?

Would you eat chili peppers 2-4 times a week to live 10-14% longer?

I love the taste going in, but can’t stand the burn going out. Even with bidets, all I get is very temporary relief as the cool water flows, as soon as I turn the water off the burn is at least as bad as before. I like horseradish (wasabi) because it only burns going in.

I only half jokingly like to say: what is the point of living forever if your life sucks?

The paper.

Insecure IoT

Vulnerabilities in Brink’s Smart Safe

This is far from shocking to anyone who has studied infosec. More of a total yawn, actually. Clueless people racing to claim market segments are naturally going to trip over complex things like security. Anything meant to be secure only has a chance of being such if the only way to change configuration is to properly authenticate. Customers hate that, though, because when they forget their password then they have an expensive brick on their hands. I experienced that myself: I bought a solid state computer I was intending at the time to use for hosting my web sites (my provider, at the time, was being incredibly unresponsive to my complaints). I chose a password that would be trivial to remember so naturally didn’t write it down. Over a year later I remember the thing is sitting in the basement and lo and behold, I have no idea what the damn password is. I believe I was eventually able to reset the box and get back onto it (I can’t remember, it was many months ago when I tried for a couple of days), but anyone else who had physical possession of the box could also do that. I quite doubt that the drive was encrypted such that it became a incomprehensible mess upon reset, I expect all the data would be there plain as day. Since I only paid a couple of hundred for the box I was frustrated, but it wasn’t a big deal. What if you had paid 100’s of thousands or millions? In that case you would demand that there be a back door (but only a ‘secure one’, whatever the hell that means!) so if the gewgaw was unable to be reached for some reason you could get around it and still get your money’s worth.

Real security is expensive and hard and is still steeped with vulnerabilities. Anything else is just window dressing advertising to a credulous customer designed to improve profit margins at the expense of ignorance.