Sep 9, 2009 | General Nonsense | Permalink

Nature is God's way of killing you.

Your ideas for cubicle toys made me think it would be very cool to have a Dilbert Cubicle Buddy with open standards so you could customize it to a variety of functions.

Imagine a hard plastic Dilbert doll sitting next to your computer, attached by USB. Perhaps it is in wireless contact with a motion sensor outside the cubicle. As someone approaches, Dilbert's eyes light up to warn you.

Maybe you have an RFID device on your keychain, and as you approach your computer the Dilbert Cubicle Buddy detects it and enters your password to unlock your computer. When you go out of range, it locks everything up.

The Dilbert Cubicle Buddy could have a speaker, so it plays music, assuming you have another one for stereo. But you'd only need one for playing voice mail or for general alerts. For example, if someone enters your cubicle when you aren't there, the Dilbert Cubicle Buddy could deliver a recorded message of your whereabouts.

A hidden camera inside the Dilbert Cubicle Buddy could provide security video.

The Dilbert Cubicle Buddy could include a hard drive to back up your system.

It could warn you of incoming e-mail or phone calls before the normal alerts, and wave or just say "Phone call coming."

It could give you random compliments and kudos.

If you twist Dilbert's head backwards, there could be a webcam on the back.

It could have a pico projector for your smaller Powerpoint demonstrations.

It could have a flashlight on top of his head, with bendable arms like a spider, so you can stage the light where you need it.

It could be a USB hub, with jacks on the back.

A Wally version could be a big rechargeable battery for stealing electricity from work.

It could be an iPhone charging dock.

Basically, the Dilbert Cubicle Buddy would be a limited robot that would accept add-ons and apps. It could do anything you programmed it to do.

Obviously you'd need to be able to bolt it to your desk or to your monitor so it isn't stolen.
Our usual method for determining what sorts of Dilbert products the public might want involves a process I like to call guessing. This is tricky because the people who are drawn to careers in, for example, the T-shirt arts, don't have a lot in common with the typical Dilbert reader who is, generally speaking, good at math.

Lately we've been wondering what type of Dilbert-themed toy, gadget, or decorative item you'd want for your cubicle, or as a gift for someone who is toiling in one. So I'm asking for your opinions.


Okay, I'm back now.

I would think the perfect Dilbert feature for a cubicle would be more than just funny or whimsical. It should be practical and even solve some sort of problem. That's my take on who Dilbert readers are. In a word, you are optimizers. No matter what the situation, you tend to ask yourself "What's a more clever way to do that?"

A typical cubicle has crap all over the desktop, the whiteboard is full, if you have one, and any drawers and storage are crammed. But you might have a few feet of fabric-covered wall space to play with. So imagine a chess set featuring the Dilbert characters as various pieces, but they are push-pin design, so you can play on your cubicle wall. Or the pieces might be magnetic if you have a metal whiteboard. It's a cool concept until your weasel coworkers steal your knights, which are Dogberts, by the way.

I also fantasize about motion detectors disguised as Dilbert characters, placed outside your cubicle like a sentinel, that sends a wireless signal to your computer to hot-key out of your game as someone approaches.

Or how about a Dogbert doll for your desk that looks innocent, but actually has a switch on the bottom that sends a Bluetooth signal to your computer, then uses Skype to activate a robocall to your phone? That way when visitors overstay their welcome, you pretend to fondle your Dogbert doll and suddenly your phone rings.

Realistically, our licensees would probably make products that are simpler than what I just described. Imagine a Dilbert-shaped USB drive, or a Dogbert Unwelcome mat. Do you have a better suggestion?
In the category of clever ideas that are unlikely to be implemented on a wide scale, I like this one:


The idea of putting special solar panels on top of roads sounds appealing, but I can't imagine the panels being sturdy enough. And I can't imagine the costs being low enough. But evidently at least one engineer thinks those problems are solvable.

This got me thinking about doing something similar with houses. And by similar I mean impractical, costly, and unattractive. I call it a house saddle. The house saddle would be something you put over your roof like a saddle on a horse, and have embedded solar cells to produce electricity. The House saddle would have little feet on the shingle side, so it sits up a few inches. In effect, it shades your house. It could even have a radiant barrier built into its bottom side to further block the heat. Air would flow between the house and the saddle, but only from low to high. The side edges would be snug to the roof so the wind wouldn't lift the house saddle like a kite. The saddle would be weighted appropriately for your house type. You want it heavy enough to stay put in the wind, but light enough so it doesn't damage the roof.

If the solar electronics are embedded in the saddle, all you need to do is run an electric cable from the saddle to the point in your home where the power grid meets your home's wiring. An electrician could wire it in an hour. The installation would be relatively inexpensive.

I can imagine the house saddle having a built-in LED display, visible from the street, showing how much power it is putting into the grid, or how much money the homeowner is saving. When you put numbers to things, it influences behavior. The neighbors would choke a little harder every time they paid a power bill, knowing they were, in effect, buying their overprice electricity from the guy next door. Soon they would want their own house saddle. And the LED display would clue you when to hose off the system to boost efficiency.

A big saddle on a roof would be ugly, obviously. You'd want artists to be involved in the design, to make it as inoffensive as possible. Remember that solar water heaters and photovoltaic panels on roofs are also ugly, and you see plenty of them, so ugliness wouldn't entirely kill this idea. Perhaps we'd get used to these house saddles the same way we got used to wearing seat belts in cars. In time, a naked roof would look wrong.

Before you say, "We already have this. It's called photovoltaic panels," remember that I'm adding some elements to the mix:
  • - Easier to install.
  • - Airflow between shingles and saddle.
  • - Radiant barrier
  • - Saddle is intentionally large to shade as much roof as possible.
  • - Digital display to influence neighbors
  • - Artist design so it is less boring than standard solar cells.
Have you ever wondered if big swings in financial markets are being orchestrated by a small group of individuals? Let's call this hypothetical group of people the Illuminati.

Your first instinct might be that the financial markets are so vast and diversified that it would be impossible for a small group of individuals to have any real control over it. Think again. Physicists have discovered that a relatively few companies have unexpected influence on markets. And the top name on the list is a privately held company that you probably never heard of.


The same math holds true for the media. As a general rule, news doesn't become real news until the New York Times or the Washington Post report on it. After that, television and local news jump all over the story. (The exception is celebrity and gossip stories that have little importance.)

The government would be easy to control if you and your buddies controlled both the economy and the news. I don't see any elected officials being part of the illuminati. They would be puppets just like you and me.

My best guess is that 20 individuals could control the United States behind the scenes if they were the same people who controlled the financial markets and the media. And when I say control, I don't mean micromanaging things. They wouldn't care who was on the Supreme Court, for example, or whether abortion is legal. All they would care about is increasing their power and wealth, which are two sides of the same coin. So their interests would include wars and financial markets and access to natural resources. Everything else they could buy.

I'm not suggesting the Illuminati exists, or that the companies in the physicists' study are doing anything inappropriate. I just think it's interesting that the Illuminati is entirely feasible, bordering on simple. The CEO of any one of the big financial or media companies could pick up the phone and call a meeting of the others. Add some hookers and cigars and you have the Illuminati.

If you were one of the 20 powerful people, would you make that phone call and organize the others?

Last week I challenged readers to provide links to the best arguments on both sides of the idea that we are doomed because of the soaring national debt. I have reviewed your comments and your links and render my nonpartisan verdict.
  •  If the government hadn't bailed out banks, we might already be toast.

  • When baby boomers retire in numbers, we're doomed for sure.

  • Stimulus money will largely be wasted.

  • It is possible to grow the economy enough to minimize a very large debt, and this has been done in the past. But the past has never seen a debt as large as the one ahead of us, when the boomers start collecting Social Security and their health costs skyrocket. And we're not done with mortgage defaults either.

  • If the government tries to inflate our way out of the debt, or raise taxes by some huge amount to pay it down, the medicine will be as deadly as the disease. In other words, we're in a fiscal death spiral.

  • No one credible is showing any numbers that give us a way out of the death spiral. Or at least none of you provided a link to anyone who sounded credible to me.
  • My blog sofware will never allow me to do properly formatted bullet points.

And so I conclude, based on the evidence presented in the comments to this blog that the most realistic straight line prediction is that we're all doomed. And that seems to be the case no matter what any president did in the past or will do in the future.

The good news is that straight line predictions are almost always wrong. The future unfolds in shocks and surprises. So maybe our civilization will be annihilated by space invaders before inflation ever becomes a problem. Or maybe some inventor is on the verge of building a device that turns industrial waste into delicious, non-fattening food.

I've already predicted that the next economic boom (okay, bubble) will involve energy storage devices. And I think another growth area will be new planned cities to store all the senior citizens. The notion of a "house" will change into something much less expensive and yet more fun and useful.

It didn't get the most votes, but it has the clearest argument.


In reaction to my post yesterday, several people pointed out that Obama's budget deficits would lead to certain economic doom. Let's take a look at that assumption.

First, if you are American, and you believe the deficit means certain doom, you should cash in all of your investments and move into some sort of survivalist encampment, or to a country that has less of a budget problem. You don't want to pay your share of the $19 trillion. So if you aren't already packing to leave, maybe you are just saying you think the ballooning national debt is the end of us all, but you really think we'll figure a way out of it. This might be similar to saying you believe in Jesus but for some reason you refuse to give most of your money to the needy. There's a difference between real believing and whatever the heck the other thing is.

Allow me to be the first to say I don't understand all the ins and outs of the national debt. On the surface, it's hard to see how you can pay off a multi-trillion dollar debt even if you mug the rich. It's not even clear how we could stop the debt from increasing every year until cannibalism breaks out.

On the other hand, the Adams Theory of Slow Motion Disasters states the following: Any looming disaster that is generally recognized years in advance is eventually solved. For example, population hasn't increased until we ran out of food (Malthus), the Y2K problem got fixed, and even our air and water quality have improved in recent years in the U.S.

So what are the odds that human ingenuity will find a way to pay off the national debt, or at least pound it into a smaller problem before it rips society to shreds?

Do the economic experts in the Obama administration believe the debt is unsolvable? It's entirely possible that some of them think we're doomed, but they don't speak out because keeping their jobs in the short run is the best strategy they have.

I declare a link war. Show me your links to the best arguments for the debt eventually killing us all, and your links to any argument that says there is a way to grow the economy enough to pay it off. If you don't have a link to share, vote on the ones you think are most persuasive. Let's see if we believe, collectively, that we're doomed.
Okay, now that I have your attention. I don't think President Obama is likely to do anything especially brilliant or visionary while in office, and yet he might someday be viewed as the greatest president ever. He has the advantage of incredibly lucky timing. Examples...

The economy is likely to be better at the end of his presidency than the beginning. Presidents get credit for that sort of thing even though they rarely deserve it.

Whatever gets passed in terms of healthcare is likely to be considered a success someday, even if better ideas are left on the table. What people will notice is that more people are covered. Everyone seems to agree that the timing is right for that, and Democrats have the votes.

Every day makes it more likely that Bin Laden will be caught or killed, which will make our increased presence in Afghanistan look like a brilliant idea. The military has seven more years to get that done, and more drones are in the sky every day.

Iraq is winding down, and no obvious new wars are on the horizon.

Thanks to recent run ups in oil prices, there's a good chance we'll see major breakthroughs in alternative energy technology. That helps on every front.

And of course, having Obama as president is a huge bonus in how America is viewed, and how Americans view each other. Those benefits come just from showing up, being African American, not being a jerk, and not making any huge mistakes.

Greatness is mostly timing, which is mostly luck.

I know many of you will weigh in with all the mistakes Obama has made, or will made. But I don't think any of that will change how history views his presidency.

Recently I realized that our kids will never experience something called "bill paying." While they will certainly exchange their money for services, it will all happen by electronic funds transfer or some version of it. And your kids' kids won't know the word "checkbook."

You grandkids probably won't deal with the concept of a home phone number, since all numbers will go directly to individuals. And the fax machine has one foot in the grave, as most new printers allow you to scan to e-mail.

I'm hoping that "booting a computer" soon goes away. Someday it will seem funny that we had to wait minutes to fire up the old Personal Computer, which is another phrase that is already mostly dead. Now we just have computers. The personal part fell away.

Perhaps the word "television" will be gone soon too. You'll have a monitor that can access all forms of entertainment from the Internet, and network TV shows will be a small part of that. Television already sounds old timey.

Computer backup will cease being a spoken concept, except by engineers, as soon as all computers do it automatically over the Internet and on the fly. That's probably coming.

"Online" is a word that will fade away, once that becomes the only way anything gets done. It already sounds ridiculous to say you booked your airline tickets online, since that is generally understood.

What other concepts are going away?
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