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In my twenties I designed a perpetual motion device that works perfectly . . . in the future.

And by that I mean the device requires in one of its parts a type of material that did not yet exist but I imagined someday would. That imagined material would have three properties:
  1. Thin (perhaps 1/16 of an inch, or anywhere in that range.)
  2. Must block or substantially reduce a magnetic field
  3. Must not itself be attracted or repelled by a natural magnet
The third point is the hard one. There are "shielding" materials for magnetic fields but the shields themselves are influenced by magnets.

Every few years I like to check in with my smarter-than-me readers and ask if some new development in materials science has gotten us there yet.

You don't need to tell me perpetual motion violates the rules of physics. I know that. No lectures needed.

But if the rules of physics disallow perpetual motion, they also disallow any future discovery of the material I described, because having that material would allow me to build my device.

So I'm just checking in to see if anyone knows of a newly developed material that meets my criteria. If you do, you are about to change the world.

(Regular readers know I like to use irrational optimism as a feel-good strategy for the moist robot container that you refer to as Scott. That's what this is.)

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Scott Adams

Co-Founder of CalendarTree (the simple way to add lengthy schedules to your calendar)

Author of the best graduation gift ever
 
Yesterday I was Kansas City for business. I had a few hours between meetings and stopped into a local coffee shop. By the time I was ready to leave, the only people left were the barista and one other customer. I made some witty banter with the barista while tossing away my garbage, which prompted her to ask where I'm from. I replied that I live in California, and this led to the customer across the room chiming in to ask which city. It turns out he has a friend who lives near me.

The customer was a big, blusterous, hairless guy, about 35-years old. It helps my story if you have a mental picture of a friendly blowhard who probably played high school football.

I cheekily asked what his friend's name is. It was a long shot, but I figured it would be funny if I actually knew him. The rest of the conversation went like this, spoken loudly across the room of the otherwise empty coffee shop.

Guy: "You don't know him."

Me: "How can you be sure I don't know him?"

Guy: "I can tell by looking at you."

Me: "How can you possibly tell by looking at me?"

Guy: "I can tell by the way you're dressed. My friend's a high roller."

For my non-American readers, a "high roller" is a rich guy. I was wearing jeans and a nice sweater.

Me: "I could be a high roller. You never know."

Guy: "No. If you knew my friend you'd be wearing an expensive suit. He only hangs around with other high rollers."

Me: "Still, I could be a high roller. You never know.

Guy: "No..."

As he continued loudly explaining his hypothesis that people who look like me could never know people who look like his high roller friend, I sketched Dogbert on a napkin. I signed it, wrote my name more legibly below my signature, folded it neatly and handed it to him on the way out.

Me: "Tell your friend I said hi."

I didn't pause to check his reaction, because it seemed funnier to not look back, so I don't know if he's familiar with Dogbert. But the odds are fairly good that his businessman friend has seen it somewhere. That should be an interesting conversation unless he tossed the napkin before he left the coffee shop.

Yeah, I know I was being sort of a dick. But how was I supposed to resist in that situation? I don't have that kind of self-control.

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Scott Adams

Co-founder of CalendarTree

Writer of a book

 
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How important is good health as a competitive advantage in business?

Attractive people have all sorts of proven workplace advantages over unattractive folks. And fitness is one of the most important and controllable dimensions of your looks. So it follows that fit people probably get more job offers, venture funding, and promotions. And obviously attractive people have an advantage when it comes to sales and negotiating.

Fit people have more energy to put into every task. And we all know that humans perform better when they have more energy. Studies back that observation.

Energy influences your optimism, your ambition, and how others see you. Those are big deals too.

And studies show that exercise and diet have a huge influence on brain health. You need your brain for most occupational challenges.

Stating the obvious, healthy people have fewer sick days than unhealthy people.

Depending on your sporting preferences, exercise might be a great networking tool as well. You tend to form lifelong friendships with your running pals, tennis partners, soccer teammates, and so on.

Exercise and proper nutrition have a huge impact on your stress levels. And you know you don't operate efficiently when your body is in stress mode.

Successful people tend to be lifelong exercisers. But correlation does not prove causation. Folks that have the energy, discipline and drive necessary for career success probably have what it takes to hit the gym every day too. So while it's probably true that exercise improves your odds of success, it might be truer that highly disciplined and energetic people are more likely to succeed at both work and exercise.

Still, there's enough science to say that fitness increases your odds of career success. That's why my book on the topic of success (the book that shall remain nameless here because you are tired of hearing about it) has chapters on diet and exercise. I would go so far as to say that any book on success that ignores your health is tragically incomplete.

So how did readers react to seeing diet and exercise information in a book about success?

Not so good.

And the problem wasn't my lack of credibility, given that I show my sources and those sources are credible. Based on the reader reviews on Amazon, lots of folks consider diet and exercise inappropriate "filler" for a book on success.

My moist robot view of the world says health is the number one priority for success. So I worry about the folks who want more out of life and don't see diet and exercise as the starting points for that journey.

I blame the media for putting diet and exercise in the "vanity" bucket while hard work and education are in the "success" bucket.  I'd like to see diet and exercise in the success bucket, with vanity as the side benefit of both fitness and success. Business publications should be talking about diet and exercise on a regular basis. That would be more useful than the ridiculousness they write about passion, engagement, and doing your own research to pick stocks. I'm not going to say that Shape magazine is a better guide to workplace success than your favorite business publication, but it's probably a close call.

In your opinion, where do you rank diet and exercise in terms of importance to success? Do any of you put it at the top of your lists?

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Scott Adams

The Financial Review wrote about the startup I cofounded (CalendarTree.com).

VentureBeat.com interviewed me about it too. They like it.
 
Here's a link to the unnamed book I wrote on success

 



 
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I am amazed at the negativity to my canal idea. (See prior post). Apparently it was one of my least popular ideas of all time. And that's saying a lot.

I learned from your comments that some of you believe the following things will NEVER happen:
  1. Self-driving cars (legal ones).
  2. Robot-caused unemployment. 
  3. Artificial intelligence equal to humans.
  4. Engineers solving problems that you can't.
 
Some of you were concerned that the water in the canals would evaporate into outer space. Someone should mention this risk to the oceans, lakes, and rivers of the world. Apparently they will be evaporating soon.

Many of you said it would be prohibitively expensive to build a canal network in the United States. But keep in mind that you start with the technology you have and you finish with the technology that you develop along the way. You would expect the first few years of canal-digging to have a high cost-per-mile. But as robots take over the hard parts, and we get smarter about how to approach the problem, costs could plummet.

Some of you wondered what happens to all of the dirt that gets displaced. How about pounding it into bricks or rammed earth at the site and using the materials to build houses and businesses along the canal route? Would that work? I have no idea. The point is that you can't assume the future is a straight line from the past. Engineers are clever cats, and they are likely to come up with canal-building solutions we don't anticipate.

Some of you said boats can never be cost-effective because water is corrosive. Yet there are plenty of functional boats that are over 50 years old. A standard house of that age is usually a tear-down. So while it is true that boat maintenance is expensive, so is house maintenance. I'm not ready to declare houseboat living of the future to be more expensive than inefficient land-based houses of the past.

Some of you say there are too many elevation changes in the United States to make it practical to build canals. That might be true, but can you rule it out without studying it?

The country is already criss-crossed with rivers that run downhill (of course) and drain to the ocean. To connect rivers west of the Mississippi, perhaps you only need one set of massive locks to get boats from the ocean to a central mountain lake. From there you could have several downhill canals to existing rivers that flow in different directions. You might need three such super-canal "hubs" that connect to existing rivers. As long as every boat can get to the ocean, everything is connected.

You would need to reengineer existing dams along the routes to accommodate boat traffic, but remember that you're simultaneously bringing in a new water supply, energy system (turbines in the canals), and energy grid. So the old dam system might benefit from an upgrade anyway.

And that water you have to pump into the locks needs to flow downhill eventually, so you recoup some of the costs using dam-style power generators.

Keep in mind that the canal costs are shared by projects that include building out the water and energy infrastructures. So that helps. And when you evaluate the cost of a project, you have to compare it to the alternatives. In this case, the alternatives might be massive droughts, massive unemployment, and a failed energy grid. So if you think the canal project is too expensive, compare that to the cost of being eaten by your starving neighbor.

Is the canal project feasible? Probably not. I'll remind you that this blog is for playing with new and often terrible ideas. But I am surprised at the knee-jerk negativity to this one. And it makes me wonder if there is a country and/or profession bias. If you hate the canal idea, can you tell us your profession and your country of residence?

[Update: Is it my cognitive bias as I look at the comments, or do Americans generally like this idea better than non-Americans? America has a strange DNA in the sense that many of us are descended from folks that at one time said some version of "You want me to cross the ocean to a hostile land, with no money and no plan? Sure. When can we start?"

I think the American mindset is to assume anything can be done and we'll figure out the details later. But I'm aware that I might be romanticizing my place of residence. Am I wrong? 

______________________________________________________________________

Scott Adams

Co-founder of CalendarTree.com (Scheduling made simple)

Author of the best graduation gift ever.

 


 
As robots take more jobs from humans we can expect a massive unemployment problem. Let's start planning for that now. I'll limit this discussion to the United States just to keep things simple, but the concepts should be applicable everywhere.

I'm about to describe a huge government program. Please don't leave comments saying huge government programs are never a good idea unless you have a better idea that doesn't involve the government.

So let's say the plan I'm about to propose has about a 20% chance of working. That still beats the do-nothing option of massive unemployment leading to certain doom.

My plan is to turn the United States into more of a tourist attraction than it already is by building vast networks of interconnected canals across the nation. These canals would accommodate hotel and residential houseboats. And let's say the houseboats are all computerized so you just plug in your destination and go have a drink on the top deck while the boat does the rest, including making its own scheduled maintenance and refueling stops.

I'm stealing the Google self-driving car concept and applying it to a canal network with houseboats. The boats would be aware of other boats and obstacles and avoid them.

Now let's say that by law the only boats allowed on the canals are the self-driving and highly "green" types that don't pose much risk of polluting the canals. Then the canals become a solution to water shortages across the country as well, so long as they are fed by Canadian water sources. So this project is also a partial solution to climate change and the water shortages. And because these canal routes will crisscross the country, perhaps it makes sense to build out the next generation of our energy grid along the same rights-of-ways.

I imagine all of the house boats on the canal being built with a common docking standard and individual identity beacons. If you want to dock with a friend's boat for the day, just enter the identity numbers for your two boats, wait for the confirmation, and the boats do the rest. The two boats might be miles apart when you program them, and they adjust speeds accordingly to meet. You'd use the same method to dock with restaurant boats, gift shop boats, and other service crafts.

I can imagine that a portion of the house boats are rented to tourists and another portion are full-time homes for retirees and people who just prefer continual travel. Each boat will have full Internet access so folks can work and travel at the same time.

I would think that at some point the cost of a houseboat would be far below the cost of a home because there is no land involved and the houseboats would be energy-efficient. So this could also be an answer to affordable housing.

Obviously robots would be a big part of the labor force for a massive project of this size. But you'd also need huge numbers of humans for planning and implementing. And if the human workers for the canal project are the first occupants of the houseboats, their cost of living might be so low that they become competitive with robot labor. A big reason that human labor costs so much is that our lifestyles are relatively expensive. The boating lifestyle could be designed from the bottom up to be inexpensive (yet awesome). When humans can live inexpensively, they can charge less for their labor and compete with robots for a bit longer.

This one massive project would modernize the energy grid, solve the water crisis, expand tourism, create affordable housing, stimulate the economy, solve unemployment, reduce shipping costs, and make travel affordable.

And it would touch every part of the country. Every town along the canal system would want to create a commercial center and docking area for boaters.

What do you think?

[Update: It occurred to me that you could also design the canals with power generators at the bottom that are powered by the current. And you might as well lay fiber along the route while you're at it, with wifi towers all along the route. Oh, and let's add lots of edible fish to the canals so boaters can catch as they go.]

_____________________________________________________________________________________

Scott Adams

Co-founder of CalendarTree.com (Scheduling made simple)

Time.com says my latest book is not crazy.

 


 

 
When a new and great idea comes into the world it will often simultaneously pop up in lots of different places. I assume that's because something in the environment is triggering people to think of the same solutions.

I've blogged a few times about the need to use the Internet more directly to influence policy debates. And now we have a 28-year old candidate for Congress, David Cole, who is doing just that, by putting his platform on popular software development site GitHub for public editing and debate.

This is a bigger deal than you think because if "showing your work" online becomes the norm, how do lobbyists continue to ply their trade? It would be embarrassing for an elected official to vote in a way that is contrary to the "best" argument on his own website.

I was just watching Niall Ferguson's TV special, Civilization: The West and the Rest. (It's GREAT, by the way.) He explains the factors that caused the West to rise to dominance. Summary: The West had better political and economic systems.

But at the moment, we really don't have the best political and economic system. I think that honor goes to China, at least in terms of projecting their economic dominance. And if you don't buy the argument that China has a better system, at least you can agree that the American system of government is broken, mostly because of big money interests.

David Cole might have just fixed that problem....and changed the course of civilization. Sorry, China. Nice try.

I don't know if Cole will get elected. But his approach got enough attention to become inevitable without him, primarily because it all makes perfect sense. So I'll give him credit, should history every ask me.

____________________________________________________________________________________

Scott Adams

Co-founder of CalendarTree.com

 



 
The problem with civilization is that our stuff is so often in the wrong place.

For example, it bugs me that I pay to heat my house . . . and then I put my refrigerator inside the heated house. That just feels wrong. I want my fridge to have an insulated conduit to the outdoors that senses temperatures and opens when the outdoors is sufficiently cold to help out. And let's give that conduit a bug screen and an odor filter. This idea won't happen soon because it requires the homebuilder and the refrigerator-maker to coordinate. I'll put this idea on hold until I build my well-planned city of the future.

I recently blogged about the idea of consumers hosting computers in their homes and selling CPU time back to the grid. I got that idea about half right. A reader pointed me to a company that has a smarter take, so much so that I laughed out loud when I checked their website.

The company is Nerdalize, and their insight is that computers are also accidental heaters. With their business model you can heat your home for free in return for allowing a computer/heater in your home that is connected to the grid. This way data centers don't need to spend vast amounts of money discarding excess heat that other people would happily pay for. It's brilliant if it works. I'm going to add this idea to my city of the future too.

I also want a "travel room" in my city of the future. It's a room that has TV screens on all four walls, coordinated with a 360-degree camera on a drone located anywhere in the world. If I want to take a flying tour of the alps, for example, I just rent time on the drone. My travel room will feel as if I am flying, and I can navigate the drone to whatever tourist site I want. Just to keep things safe, let's say the drone is programmed to avoid dangerous situations, such as kamikaze attacks on the locals.

My next post will be about a plan to keep the economy humming along after robots take over all of the manual labor and put two-thirds of humans out of work.

_____________________________________________________________________________________

Scott Adams


Creator of Dilbert

Co-founder of CalendarTree.com (Scheduling made simple)

Author of How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big

 
Today I share a small time-saving tip that I borrowed and upgraded.

When you empty the trash cans in your home, you usually replace the plastic garbage bag at the same time. But where do you keep the extra bags? Do you have to remember to bring them to the trash can, or do you have to make a special trip to the closet to grab one?

I noticed that professional cleaners cleverly leave a few extra bags on the bottom of the can, below the bag in service. The extras can't be seen until you need them, and they take up no space.

I borrowed that idea and improved on it. Instead of a few extra bags at the bottom of the can, I put an entire roll of bags down there. It takes up some space, but not nearly enough to be an issue. It adds some weight to the trash can, but not enough to matter.



This is a minor time-saver at best, but life is full of little steps, and many of them can be more efficient. I like to chip away at the needless complexity of life with the hope of taming some of it in the long run.

Do you have any small time-saving ideas to share? If I like your suggestions I'll probably use them on a future post either here or on the CalendarTree blog.

 


 
 
 
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