Saturday, June 10, 2006

Art and Enrepreneurship

Most folks would not look to Mary Englebreight's Home Companion for entrepreneurial enlightenment, but the Jun 2006 issue includes some advice from an artist who walks the talk. Mind you, this is jewelry handmade in the good old USA. You can outsource some tasks some of the time, but you can't outsource creativity or smarts all of the time.

Holly Anne Mitchell,

The Art of Business

1) "Never price your work based on your own pocketbook. Check the market. Just because you may not be able to afford it, doesn't mean that anyone else can't!"

2) "Pay yourself first, and always remember you earned it and deserve it. Keep your business and personal finances separate as much as possible."

3) "Make sure you select [a marketplace] where the crowds are there to buy artwork, not just to stroll around and browse. Remember, you're there to make money and create a name for yourself."

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Fueled by Rocks:
The Coming of the Plug-In Car

So! Tired of paying $2.50 a gallon at the pump? Want to have efficiency that would make a Prius owner blush? Forty-four MPG? We don't need no stinkin' gallons! How about Fueled by Rocks?

Let's put a few ideas together and see what happens.

1) Half of the homes in America contain two or more cars. (Make magazine vol 5, p.6) It'd be more interesting to know the number of cars owned per household, given that many homes don't have garages. ;) One of those cars is used primarily for local trips. We can build a nifty all-electric plug-in car to serve that need! For cheap!

2) Get yourself a nice high-mileage used car, for cheap. How about a New Beetle? Easily had on Ebay Motors for $5000. Who cares about the worn motor, we're gonna scrap that.

3) Let's keep things German. How about a nice Siemens AC-motor motor package? $7000, ten year warranty.

4) Batteries? Let's see, we have LOTS of choices here. Conventional lead-acid batteries for $2000. Off-the-shelf Ni-Cads are now available on the used market. Or then there are these nifty lithium-ion cells from A123 Systems. (Wired, March 2006, p. 034)

So what we end up with is a car for around $14,000 that will run for 10 years and turn its back on the gas station and middle eastern oil. Yes, we use electricity from a (probably) coal-fueled power plant. That route is still more efficient and less polluting than that 4-cylinder power plant we were using.

Nifty, eh? Where's my wrench....?

Friday, February 24, 2006

Definitions: scrap, junk, and WASTE

In my world, "Scrap" is any bit of cutoff raw material that is too small to safely work on with power tools. Which explains why I have boxes of plastic, wood, and metal cutoffs. Those cutoffs just get used, reused, abused, and re-reused until there is nothing left.

Junk is anything that can't become reshaped into useful scrap. Dead computer motherboards, burned out power supplies, iron pipe that I've torn out of the house in the ongoing process of restoring its bones from 2 apartments (happened in 1932) back into a functional maintainable single-family home. Happily, most junk does not go to the landfill, it goes into one recycling stream or another. (Though I have not found a recycling stream that will accept crumbled 130 year-old plaster.)

And Waste?

Waste is a verb. Waste is stashing your previous computer in the back of the closet or on an office shelf. Where it lingers over the period of time where it might be useful, to somebody else, in another role. If enough time passes, it becomes junk, and is only useful as parts to be separated for recycling.

So BRING OUT YOUR DEAD! ( be continued)

Friday, February 03, 2006

e-Show Stopper: Usurious Handling Fees

Some would have you believe that online purchasing raises efficiencies and lowers purchase prices. I'm sure that there's some truth in that, but there is a Big Lie hiding beneath the surface - usurious shipping, -excuse me- HANDLING charges.

Let's take a simple case. Our lab wants to order 2 (two) six-foot S-video cables, to connect video cameras to VCRs. We are encouraged to order from one of several "approved" vendors, one of which is . OK, the website lists item #4763195 at a modest and reasonable price of $4.18, so into the shopping cart it goes. We'll take two, in fact, to have one for a spare. Eight bucks well spent for better use of researcher time.

Ah, but then we proceed to the checkout process, and see that shipping and handling will be ... $16.49 ?!?!?!?! Huh? A USPS flat-rate envelope would cost just $4.05! I know we live in a time of "overnight expectations", but this is ridiculous! Why can't a well-oiled machine like the mammoth XxxConnection conglomerate offer a reasonably cheap shipping channel, rather than force you to take a next-day express service as the lowest-cost option? (Don't even get me started about Ebay sellers who list an item at $0.99 and a "standard" shipping cost of $25.)

Without a doubt, e-commerce and its fabulous long tail is a wonderful thing, but we're burning a lot of diesel fuel to make it happen, and the big-margin winner looks like the transportation company moving all those wee little boxes around. Either them or the makers of -their- fuel... Wasn't somebody talking about oil addiction the other day? Some oil guy?

Monday, January 30, 2006

Just when you think you've seen it all....

Now here is somebody who is thinking outside of the electrical box! I-Wei Huang creates steam-powered creatures the likes of which you've never seen outside of the mostly-regrettable Will Smith version of Wild Wild West.