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Update: China is building pyramids. Sort of. Well, they're tall and pointy. The concept is similar.


You hated my idea of building canals all across America. And you don't trust the company that claims to harvest usable energy from the atmosphere. But you'll love my pyramid idea.

Imagine an enormous pyramid in the middle of a desert, miles wide and reaching miles into the sky. The purpose of the pyramid is energy production. And it does so in a variety of ways.

For starters, the inner core of the pyramid is hollow from the ground to the sky. Air enters through holes in the base and is drawn up through the hollow center because warm air rises. That gives you enough airflow to generate electricity.

If you put some scrubbers in the device I think there's a way to deal with pollution and climate change too. I saw some sort of tube-to-the-sky concept that was supposed to do that but I'm too lazy to search for the link. So let's say we fix climate change with our pyramid as a bonus. Perhaps that requires a separate hollow tube in the same pyramid.

We'd also cover the sunny sides of the pyramid with motorized mirrors to reflect sun down to generate solar-steam power on the ground. I think that's more economical than using photovoltaic cells but maybe not.

If it's possible to collect ions from the air in useful quantities (which most of you doubt) then we know there is a higher concentration at high altitudes. So perhaps someday we have ion antennas near the top of the pyramid too.

And let's not forget the temperature differential between the desert floor and the top of the pyramid. That difference could power Stirling generators.

And I would expect lots of natural wind a few miles up, so maybe we can have windmill-type generators on whichever side of the pyramid gets the least sun.

If your desert is within pipeline access to the ocean, I think that turning salt water into steam gets you desalinization. I would think you could make fresh water with the byproduct of your solar steam generator.

None of this works if building the pyramid is too expensive. So I wonder how hard it is to fashion suitably strong bricks out of sand. If it's only a case of heating the sand until it becomes hard as glass, all we need is giant magnifying glasses aimed at our brick-making oven on site.

We'd need robot laborers, and lots of them. Their job would be moving and placing each brick of the pyramid, which isn't terribly complicated work. That seems feasible with current technology.

To power the robots, you need to start your project by first building a solar power plant on the desert floor. That too would be the type that concentrates the sun to create steam power. And the solar power plant wouldn't go to waste because if the first pyramid works, you can keep building more nearby and power the robots continuously. When you're done building pyramids, the power plant connects to the grid.

When aliens helped the early Egyptians build the original pyramids perhaps they were leaving a clue for future generations. That conversation probably went like this:

Alien: We need to tell future generations of humans about pyramids. It will save them.

Egyptian: I can write a message on a wall.

Alien: I've seen your hieroglyphics. They're shit. Look at that one. (Points at wall.) I can't tell if that guy is winning a war or trying to date his ox.

Egyptian: I just realized you guys are made of meat. And if I'm not mistaken, you're boneless.

And that's why the pyramids exist but there is no evidence of aliens.

 --------------------

Scott Adams

Co-founder of CalendarTree.com

Did you buy a graduation gift yet? Don't forget this book.

 



 

 

 
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Where have I seen this advice before?
 
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In my prior post I described a small company that claims it can harvest useful amounts of electricity directly from the atmosphere. Is this a case of a bold scam or is it simply an inventor who is more optimistic than qualified? Or - and this is the least likely possibility by far - could it be a legitimate breakthrough?

Whatever it is, I think we all agree on the following fact: Almost every part of the company's pitch fits the pattern of a classic scam.

If you knew nothing except what has been presented to you so far, including the information and calculations provided by the sleuths who left comments, you would be generous to assume a 1% chance that this is a legitimate scientific breakthrough in green energy. On the face of it, you'd have to give it a 99% or better odds of being bullshit. If you tell me the odds are more like 99.9999% bullshit I'll be happy to agree because I'm not that good at calculating the odds of things.

But here's where it gets interesting.

Do you know what else can sometimes look exactly like a scam? Answer: A legitimate breakthrough.

If it walks like a duck, quacks like a duck, and swims like a duck, it must be a duck, right? Unless it's a hunter with a remote-controlled duck. There's always the thing you didn't consider.

What interests me most about this situation is that the company has been consistent from the start in asking for both public attention and qualified scientific scrutiny. They even offered to ship me a desktop prototype that I can witness lighting a bulb.

Are they bluffing?

That's an interesting question. Let's take a journey to find out. I hope you'd agree that unmasking scammers (if that's what happens) would be interesting.

Based on your comments, I asked the company this question yesterday: "How much useful wattage does the prototype produce?"

If the wattage estimate is trivial, or for some reason unavailable, or delayed for a variety of excuses, I think we're done. Would you agree?

The company claims that its technology is different from the devices you can see on YouTube that are harvesting too-trivial-to-matter electricity from the air. That technology is decades old. And they say their technology doesn't use the EM from radio stations. There's no way for me to verify that from a distance.

If the wattage estimate that they come back to me with is in the useful range, I would next ask for a video that tracks end-to-end from the antenna to the intermediate equipment to the working household device (light bulb, fan, etc.).

And I would also ask for their location relative to the nearest radio station.

If the video and the wattage estimate are still intriguing, and they aren't too near a radio tower, I say we put a qualified expert in the same room as the prototype and have some more fun.

Would that plan entertain you?

[Update: Yesterday the inventor provided me with some wattage figures along the lines of "keeps a 15-watt bulb lit for x minutes." I asked a follow-up question of how long the device needs to collect energy before releasing it for those x minutes. He informed me that he was called away on a family emergency and would follow up. If you are following along at home, this is exactly what a scammer would do. That doesn't make it a scam. But the pattern is consistent with one.]

[Update 2: The comments that support the company didn't show up for a few days because our comment system puts new accounts in a limbo zone for reasons I don't understand. See comment from BrahmsKeith in particular]

[Update 3: I have received wattage information from the company in a few email exchanges but I am pressing to get that information in the form of "On average, my prototype produces enough wattage in x minutes to power a bulb of a certain type for Y minutes." What I have received so far doesn't tell me how long it takes to charge a capacitor to light a fluorescent bulb for a period of time. This is the response all of you predicted.]

--------------
Scott Adams

Co-founder of CalendarTree.com

Author of a book with a name that doesn't sell books.

 



 
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Imagine you have two choices. You can either...

Do nothing, or... 

Do something simple that has a 1% chance of helping billions of low income people live substantially better lives, but it comes with a 99% chance that the only outcome is your own permanent embarrassment. 

Here I'm talking about the kind of embarrassment that follows you around forever. If you have a Wikipedia page, your embarrassment will end up on it. Every time you go to a party, someone will bring it up. When your obituary is written, it will be mentioned. Your credibility will forever be defined by this embarrassment.

Do you take that 1% chance?

This isn't a thought experiment. I'm dealing with that decision right now. Luckily for the world (maybe), I don't feel embarrassment like normal people. So I'm all in for the 1% chance of helping the world. I live for this sort of thing.

Here's my story.

About a decade ago I got an email from an engineer/inventor who claimed he could make electricity out of air. It had something to do with harvesting ions or some such blah, blah, blah. I was interested because I have a nerdy curiosity about green energy projects, but I assumed that this would be like most ideas in that realm and it wouldn't pan out.

The inventor formed a tiny company and the company stayed in touch with me by email as they filed their patents and worked on their prototypes. Patents were granted. Bigger and better prototypes were built. I've seen their videos of the prototypes powering household appliances.

If the videos are to be believed, the prototypes are harvesting useful amounts of electricity directly from the atmosphere, day or night, rain or shine. What the company doesn't yet know is how well it scales up, and whether or not normal engineering improvements in the process can make this economically feasible. The company thinks the odds are good.

If it scales up, and proves to be economical, the world will be transformed.

I like to think my bullshit filter is better than average. After ten years of following this project, I have concluded that the people are real, the patents are real, and the prototype does create electricity from the atmosphere. I could be wrong, so you should be skeptical. And I'm encouraged by the fact that the company doesn't claim to know it can scale up; they are looking for funds to find out.

And just to be super-clear, things that are in the "too good to be true" category turn out to be bullshit 99% of the time. That's our context.

But I'm going to take the 99% chance of embarrassing myself along with the 1% chance of helping the world by giving some attention to this technology.

I give you the company's crowd funding link.

I don't have a financial interest in the company.

The company has offered to fly me out to their tiny field laboratory in some godforsaken Florida cow field to see the prototype myself. I said they should spend their money showing it to atmospheric physicists (to further validate the potential) or investors in the green energy field.

If you are one of those types, I can put you in touch with the company. Depending on your credentials, I might even pay for your trip to see it. Contact me at dilbertcartoonist@gmail.com if you're interested.

Here are the patent links:

Patent 1

Patent 2

Patent 3

[Update: Read all of the comments before forming an opinion. And keep in mind that this is in the class of things that are bullshit 99% of the time.]

[Update 2: I'll forward to the company for response any simply-stated question you have about the technology or the economics of scaling up.]

[Update 3: And please stop categorizing me as gung-ho for an idea I have described as being in the class of things that are 99% likely to be bullshit. It's going to be hard enough to keep "Cartoonist involved in scam" off my Wikipedia page.]

[Update 3: For some reason there are comments I can see on my CMS that aren't getting posted. If you put a phone number in your comment, that might be why. Try an email address. The comments getting omitted include an alleged eyewitness to the prototype. And there are a few comments I can't comment on because my CMS doesn't work. -- Scott]


--------------

Scott Adams

Co-founder of CalendarTree.com

This book explains why I do things like this

 



 

 

 

 
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What do you think of this actor, Adam DeVine, to play Dilbert in a live-action movie?

He's quickly becoming one of my favorite comedy talents. He's the right age and look too.

I'm hoping to write a  Dilbert movie script this summer and it helps to have an actor in mind even if the actor isn't aware of it.

[Update: Please stop saying Drew Carey in the comments. He would have been ideal about 20 years ago. The story I have in mind is more of an origin story in which we see a younger Dilbert freshly into the cubicle world. He would age in sequels.]



 
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How good are you at predicting commercial hits?

Amazon has a new feature that shows the percentage of reviewers who "liked" a book. That's a combination of 4 and 5-star reviews divided by the total number of reviews. I decided to see how my nine original books came out on the "liked" ranking. I was curious if sales were aligned with reviews.

Liked              Title

90%     How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big
88%     Dobert's Top Secret Management Handbook
87%     The Dilbert Principle
82%     Dilbert and the Way of the Weasel
78%     The Dilbert Future
76%     The Religion War
71%     The Joy of Work
68%     God's Debris
67%     Stick to Drawing Comics, Monkey Brain

So given those user ratings, let's see how good you are at predicting hits. In this case you're predicting the past, but since you don't have complete data you still need a lot of intuition or experience to answer these questions.

1. Which two books have been read by the FEWEST people? 

2. Which two books has been read by the MOST people? 

If you can answer even one of those questions correctly, you would be the best book publisher in the world.

Scroll down for the answers.

 

 






Answers:


The two books that have been read by the FEWEST people include the one that is least liked (67%) and the one that is most liked (90%).

The two books that have been read by the MOST people are The Dilbert Principle (88% - 3rd place) and God's Debris (68% - almost tied for last place).

If you ask a publisher (and I have) how well they can predict hits, they'll tell you no one has that ability. The quality and likability of a book have no correlation to sales.

I've been talking to a lot of folks who work in the venture capital field (including seed and angel) as part of the CalendarTree.com ramp-up. Start-up funding is a bizarre world in which everyone holds these two contradictory views:

1. A successful start-up must have the following elements (x,y,z...) 

2. No one can predict which start-ups will succeed. 

As far as I can tell, the only reason for the first item on the list is so folks have something to talk about in the meetings. Obviously there are some minimums, such as the ability to create an actual product, but beyond that no one can predict anything.

Publishing has the same absurdity. It goes like this.
  1. Bob, it's your job to pick our next hit book.
  2. Bob, no one can predict which books will be a hit.
I'll bet you're having the same kind of conversation at your job. It goes like this.

Boss: Add this new feature to our product even if you have to work nights and weekends.

You: Will that increase sales?

Boss: Beats me.

-----------------------------------------
 
Scott Adams

Co-founder of CalendarTree.com

 



 
 

 

 

 
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If you could snap your fingers and magically double the wealth and income of every human on earth while somehow keeping inflation in check, would you do it?

Before you answer with some version of "Duh, yes." keep in mind that you would be severely worsening income inequality. And that, as we are often reminded by the media, will destroy civilization.

I'm not entirely clear why income inequality leads to doom, all other things being equal, but I hear it has something to do with the French. The analogy, as I understand it, is that Marie Antoinette and her historically inaccurate philosophy "Let them eat cake" is exactly like Bill Gates pledging his fortune to eradicating malaria, fixing education, and providing clean water to the poor.

BUT WHAT ABOUT THAT HEDGE FUND GUY AND HIS HIGH FREQUENCY TRADING????

You can kill that guy with a shovel. That has jury nullification written all over it. I haven't looked into it, but I'm fairly sure there are a few assholes among the middle class and poor too. Can we ignore the outliers for now?

One of the odd things about my career, and where I live, is that I meet a lot of billionaires and hundred-millionaires in the normal course of my work. Allow me to label my experience anecdotal and rare before you do. Anyway, my experience is that all the super-rich people I meet seem to have a few things in common:

-          They don't need to work.

-          They all work 60+ hours per week.

-          Every penny they make from now on will be spent by others.

-          They are trying to find the best way to give away their money.

-          No one likes higher taxes.

I don't think we want the rich to stop working. We're all lucky that Steve Jobs didn't quit before Pixar. But if the rich keep working, inequality is likely to keep getting worse. So how do you solve the problem of helping the rich give away their money in ways that help low-income folks the most while being meaningful to the givers?

Before I answer my own question, I'd like to introduce an economic concept that someone probably already thought of. I call it Predicted Personal Lifetime Consumption (PPLC). That's the amount of money that a rich person can reasonably spend on himself and his immediate family members over the course of a lifetime.

There are two big limiting factors on personal consumption. The first is decision fatigue. At some point you want to stop making choices about your personal spending so you can enjoy life. There just isn't enough time to make all the buying decisions necessary to spend a billion dollars on leisure.

The second limit on personal spending for the rich is that at some point you run out of big, expensive items worth buying. Maybe you buy a jet, an island, perhaps a pyramid or two, and soon you're running out of ideas.

My point is that there are a lot of rich people wishing they had a better and more meaningful way to get rid of excess wealth. Most of those folks have a pro-business attitude and, one imagines, a low opinion of how the government uses taxes. So what do you do?

How about a private entity creating some sort of venture capital funding program that allows the rich to leverage their experience and their cash in ways that best help the economy? Think of it as micro-loans to low-income borrowers but with the kicker that the lender can offer mentoring, contacts, and even training.

If you had a choice of paying an extra $100K in taxes, or loaning $100K to a low-income person who has a reasonable business plan and might need some mentoring and contacts, which would you prefer? Paying extra taxes feels like shitting on your own money and burying it where no one can find it. Helping someone who is struggling to create a business feels like a meaningful use of your mind and your resources. It's no contest.

The problem is one of information.

There's no way to match poor people that need some mentoring, training, and investment with rich people who might be happy to help.

Making loans to low-income people is a high-risk, low-return game. That's why no one does it. But the rich can do it without answering to shareholders and without risking a change in their own lifestyles. And while the low-income people are struggling and failing (mostly) they are also building up their skills, creating contacts, and stimulating the economy even as they fail. The economy as a whole benefits even as individual low-income ventures go under. That's how capitalism works; it's mostly a failure engine for individuals while being a benefit to the whole.

So imagine an online service that matches rich people with low-income folks who need some help. When you get a rich person as a mentor, you get his entire network of contacts by extension. That's way better than a bank.

And rich people like to keep score. So this imagined micro-loan and mentoring service needs to track the performance of each rich person's investments in the poor. You would track data to keep things competitive among the rich, to make sure the system is working, and to allow you to identify best practices among investors.

That's my idea for today. How bad is it?

---

Scott Adams

Co-founder of CalendarTree.com

According to Amazon.com, the best reviewed book I've ever written is this one.

 


 

 
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Climate change is causing drought conditions in the United States. That’s bad.

Climate change is causing giant killer icebergs to break free and eventually melt, thus raising ocean levels. That’s bad.

The crackpot in me wonders if there’s some way to float those icebergs (made of fresh water) over to where the droughts are.

You assume this idea is economically impractical. But keep in mind that your budget for getting it done is “trillions of dollars” because that’s how much the economy will lose if we do nothing. So if you think you need a million tugboats to move each giant iceberg, don’t assume that’s out of the budget.

Ideally, you’d want to get those icebergs near the head end of a giant (wait for it) canal system that snakes through the drought-riddled United States. That way much of the iceberg water can be directed to the water tables below parched land before it reaches the warmer sea and raises sea level.

What? You say that canal system would be too expensive? Remember you have trillions of dollars to work with now because the do-nothing alternative is more expensive.

Let’s see some creativity, people. How can we get the fresh water out of those icebergs and into our sinks without raising sea levels?

Ideas?

[Update: Thanks to HelloWorldo for this link to a plan for floating icebergs to Saudi Arabia.]
 

---

Scott Adams

Co-founder of CalendarTree.com

Imagine if everyone read this book except you. How sad would you be?

 


 
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I have an interesting problem.

As part of my co-founder duties for CalendarTree.com I've been on a knowledge-absorption quest in preparation for raising capital.

Your first question might be "Why does the Dilbert guy need money from other people?" The answer is twofold:

1. I have a substantial investment in the start-up already. Portfolio diversification is a standard financial discipline. 

2. Raising funds isn't just about the money. It's how you acquire a network of contacts that have an interest in your outcome. And it is a signal to the world that your business must be credible because serious people are backing it.

I've been talking to some of the smartest people in the start-up world lately and I've learned a few things that I find fascinating. First, experienced investors understand they have no crystal ball for picking winning start-up ideas. As I've often said in this blog, ideas are worthless (because everyone has one) whereas the ability to execute is priceless because it's rare. And indeed I have learned that the quality of the start-up idea only matters to the degree that it isn't obviously dumb. Once your idea reaches the level of "sounds good" you are deemed equal - at least on an idea level - to all other start-ups that also sound good. And there are a zillion of those.

The tie-breaker for attracting funding is the talent you bring to the start-up. Investors have transferred their superstition about their ability to pick winning ideas to a new superstition about their ability to pick winning teams of people. Is that really easier?

Obviously an investor can identify the truly bad entrepreneurs and avoid them. But an investor can also identify truly bad business ideas, and that doesn't help pick winners from the group that is left over. So I wonder if there is any science behind the notion that investors can pick winning start-up teams from the class of folks who are not obviously stupid or insane.

My guess is that there is a whole lot of self-fulfilling prophecy going on. Once an entrepreneur is identified as a potential winner, resources and attention flow to the start-up. The buzz starts. Optimism increases. And sure enough, that entrepreneur ends up with slightly better odds of success than others in the "good enough" group.

The next interesting thing is that you need to have extraordinary technical people on your team to attract funding. But you need funding to attract extraordinary technical people. The chicken and the egg both need to come first. The winning entrepreneurs are the ones that solve this Kobayashi Maru (i.e. impossible*) test. There are two popular ways to solve this problem.

1. One of the founders can be the technical talent. 

2. A founder can have a start-up track record so strong that technical talent can be attracted based on the high likelihood of funding. 

The technical team for CalendarTree is BlueChilli, our equity partners out of Australia. Their business model involves helping founders with the technology end of things (and lots more) then assisting in the transition to funding and building an in-house team of talent for the start-up. That's the phase we're in now. We're looking to build out our local team.

So here's my interesting problem: Can the creator of Dilbert find great hackers (of the code, UX and growth variety) in the San Francisco Bay Area? It's going to be a lot harder than you might think.

First, some background. CalendarTree solves a universal problem in the world of scheduling. Briefly, we turn your schedule into a link that allows anyone to add the entire series of events to an existing calendar without manually typing it. We think that's a strong business opportunity on its own, and it's up and running to rave reviews, but our long term plans are far bigger. I've shared the stealth part of the plan with some top investors who didn't blink when I called it a billion-dollar opportunity. And there seems to be general agreement that the only known obstacle is attracting the talent to execute the plan.

In the interest of full-disclosure, we stumbled on the billion-dollar opportunity while building out the medium-sized business I briefly described. The huge-sized opportunity is sort of invisible until you hear it for the first time.

I'll share the billion-dollar plan with qualified job applicants. If you live in the SF Bay area, and you want to be part of something big, and you're an exceptional hacker (code, UX, or growth) email me at scott@calendartree.com. My co-founder and I would love to meet you.

We're looking for a fast, smart hacker or two with the following skills.

CAL/DAV experience (ideally)

C# .NET specialist. We use .NET 4.5 MVC4 and EF6

Front-end Javascript (Jquery) and HTML5, CSS/LESS

Understanding of GITHUB with NUGET desired

And if you can play with iOS, that's highly desirable

As a bonus, experience with IIS8, Windows Server 2012 and SQL Server 2012 desirable

I hope my regular blog readers don't mind a glimpse into the start-up process in return for enduring this job posting. Let me know in the comments if you'd like ongoing updates on CalendarTree when things seem interesting.


*Yes, I know Kobayashi Maru is a no-win situation, which is slightly different from an impossible situation. But I like the sound of it anyway.

---------------------------

Scott Adams

Co-founder of CalendarTree.com

Author of this book

 

 



 
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Pundits are saying it makes no sense for Apple to buy Beats because the Beats headphones are expensive and technically inferior compared to the competition. All Beats does is successfully make millions of consumers lust for its product by using extraordinarily clever design and marketing. It's almost as if the Beats co-founders have some sort of reality distortion field.

Wait, why does that sound familiar?

To my ears, Beats plus Apple sounds like the most perfect match of all time.

Apple can improve the Beats sound quality if it chooses to do so. So that's not a problem so much as a business choice. And buying Beats is a good way to get into the streaming music business quickly, which had to happen because iTunes is a dinosaur with arthritis. And when you buy Beats you get Jimmy and Dre in the deal, and that team might be worth more than all the other Beats assets combined.

Apple's biggest problem lately is that it is charisma-challenged, which makes investors distrust their future vision. That just changed. They just bought a shitload of charisma.

No one can predict how the Beats deal will go. Any deal of this scale and complexity can go bad for any number of reasons. But if you have a strong and unwavering opinion that Apple buying Beats is definitely a mistake, you're either a genius or an idiot who thinks he's a genius. Good luck sorting that out.

Disclosure:
I own Apple stock. I also own several Apple products, half of which are overpriced and inferior compared to the competition. The only reason I don't own any inferior and overpriced Beats headphones is because for some reason they don't make it easy to buy an adapter that will work with my Windows computer. Yes, I've tried to purchase Beats headphones for irrational reasons and failed. That makes me sort of a double-idiot. But I take pride in being aware of it.

[Update: In my defense, two separate employees of Best Buy assured me I would have to search online to find an adapter because  Beats wouldn't work on my Windows computer. Apparently the common problem is the employees at Best Buy because, as some of you noted, my Apple earbuds do work on my Windows computer. -- Scott]

---

Scott Adams

Co-founder of CalendarTree.com

Author of How to Fail...

 

 




 
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