Monday, May 23, 2011

Graphene - The Buzzword of the Decade

It's almost graduation time. If you are invited to a graduation party, and you're too cheap to get a gift, just pull the graduate aside and whisper into his/her ear "graphene". I read Popular Science and all that related mish-mash, and I can only vaguely remember hearing about graphene until this year. I've probably read a dozen articles in the past five months that mention graphene as the basis for groundbreaking technologies. Check out all the mentions of graphene in a Google news search.

What is graphene? Graphene is as simple as the lead in your pencil. It is elemental carbon, a/k/a graphite, but by convention, it is called graphene when it is found in a sheet that is one atom thick. These sheets can be layered to build a variety of shapes. When you press down with the point of your pencil, you create a little bit of graphene (mixed with carbon of other shapes and descriptions as well.)

Most of us are familiar with the carbon fiber sheets that are used to build aircraft race cars. Those sheets, though thin, are much thicker than the graphene sheets that scientists are exploring today. Graphene sheets are among the strongest substances known to science, 700 times stronger than steel according to Wikipedia. Graphene can be manipulated to show a variety of electrical properties, from rapid conduction of electrons for fast computing, to large scale electron holding in the form of ultracapacitors. There are even experiments now using graphene as the basis for cheap, thin-film solar cells.

Why the sudden interest in graphene? Scientists long known about the existence of graphene, but the substance wasn't readily available for study. Recently though, scientists have figured out how to create industrial quantities of graphene from cheap, readily available materials such as sugar and plexiglass. Graphene may eventually be the enabling technology giving us cheap, light, strong, recyclable cars, that are powered by ultracapacitors and charged by cheap home solar power, but before we get there, we need to be careful of con artists who will use the buzzword graphene to separate us and our clients from our money. Excuse me, I have to sell an ostrich ranch.

Congratulations to all the graduates of 2011.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Meet Foxconn, the monster that we created.

Yesterday there was a report of the deaths of two employees in an explosion and fire at a FoxConn plant in Chengdu, China that coincidentally or not, manufactures Apple's popular iPad. Foxconn factories have been called 21st century sweatshops. One Foxconn complex in Shenzhen employs somewhere around 500,000 workers, so it's not just a company town, it's on its way to becoming a company megopolis. Foxconn's ascendancy is a modern phenomenon. Foxconn was founded in 1974 as a Taiwanese corporation, but it didn't open its first factory in mainland China until 1988. Now Foxconn has almost one million employees, roughly five times as many as General Motors, and twenty times as many employees as Apple Inc. Foxconn makes most of Apples toys, the iPad, the iPhone, and lots for other companies as well, including the Amazon Kindle. Foxconn makes all these things, and they employ lots of people, but they don't make anything close to Apple's profits. Last year Apple made $18.4 billion on $65.2 billion in revenue. According to Wikipedia, in 2010 Foxconn had revenue just shy of Apple at $59.3 billion but only made profits of $2.2 billion. Apple's technology has generated lots of jobs, but most of them were NEVER in the US, and never will be. The manufacturing technology is also growing somewhere else than the USA. In theory, Apple could settle for less profit and manufacture more of its goods in the US, but that wouldn't sit well with Apple's shareholders including lots of US pension funds who are buying the AAPL stock at $335 a share, 16.7 times last year's earnings. The stock holders are counting on Apple becoming even more profitable. In other words, in some ways we are all to blame for corporate outsourcing behavior when we demand ever increasing earnings that are unsustainable without outsourcing.

What the growth of Foxconn tells us is that putting money in technology and education won't necessarily bring us the jobs of the future. I suspect that the million workers at Foxconn didn't get their jobs because of educations like those produced at our colleges and community colleges. Most of them got jobs because they are young, have fast hands and can sit for a long time.

The Post-Rapture Society

It's after 6:00 PM, and I'm still here, and if you are reading this you are too, so apparently we have some room for improvement. Harold Camping and his followers are still here too, so the rapture didn't go as they planned. Some say it didn't happen. Could it be it happened, but NOBODY made the cut? If somebody doesn't make it to work on Monday, maybe, just maybe. . . .

By the way,I don't mean to mock you if you thought this was the real event. I've made some bad calls myself. The band Blondie made a wrong call when they decided that it was time to cut a rap song.

Monday, May 16, 2011

2012 Chevrolet Impala
Meet the 160 MPH Insurance Adjuster

Chevrolet's Impala still sells well even though the parent company has been stingy with the updates. With a redesign put off until the 2014 model year in 2013, Chevrolet has announced that all 2012 Chevrolet Impalas, from the base rental version on up, will receive a 302 horsepower V-6 engine and a 6-speed automatic transmission. That's just one horsepower short of what the recently-departed Impala SS delivered with a 5.3 liter V-8. If my mental calculations are anything close to being accurate, that would give the 2012 Impala a top speed of somewhere around 160 miles per hour (assuming the tires and the electronic governor allow), with a 0-60 of about 6 seconds. That's a seriously quick driver's ed mobile. The horsepower figures announced by Chevy suggest that the Impala's new engine will be a direct-injected version of the 3.6 liter V-6 used in the Chevrolet Camaro. Since the Impala will likely be slightly lighter than the Camaro and a tad more aerodynamic, despite its power influx, the new Impala has a chance at hitting 30 MPG highway. (The Camaro is rated at 28.) You'll know your insurance adjuster was driving an Impala if you ask her if she had any trouble getting to your house, and she replies: "well, it was pushing just a little bit in turn two. . . ." (This post dedicated to my sister, the insurance adjuster.)

For our marginally relevant video of the day, some Impala History.

Monday, May 09, 2011

For No Reason -
The Ultimate Dog Tease

Monday, May 02, 2011

Playstation Network Still Down
Will it be back tomorrow? - eh, maybe

If you've been seeing more of certain members of your family lately, don't get used to it. Sony's Playstation Network (aka PSN) has been down for a couple weeks due to inept design and an opportunistic hacker. Sony finally fessed up that the hacker may have stolen information from another 24.6 million accounts, this time from PC users. (Just round it up to 25, Sony, don't be a wuss.) Depending upon what you read, the hacker may or may not have had access to unscrambled credit card data. Open Letter to Sony - Have you started to consider yet that this might not be a teenaged hacker at all? It looks to me like it could be an inside job by somebody who knows all your secrets.

All or part of the North American network could be back on line tomorrow. I hope so, because, judging from the video below, the mental health consequences could far exceed the financial loss due to identity theft. (Boy these kids look familiar.)

2 Things I thought I'd Might Never See
Bin Laden Kaput and Chrysler Profitable

Today (yesterday actually) we found out that Navy Seals killed Osama Bin Laden. We also found out that Chrysler reported its first profitable quarter since the bankruptcy.

This might be the week to bet on a longshot, because these things tend to happen in threes.

Time for a very marginally relevant video.