One of the tricks I use to motivate myself is to have at least one project going at all times with the potential to change the world. Realistically, the odds of one person changing the world are miniscule, but for some reason that doesn't make the thought of it less motivating. People buy lottery tickets with near-zero odds of winning because the act of buying the ticket apparently triggers the production of some feel-good chemistry in the body. I use a similar technique, except that I think in terms of saving the planet because that sort of thought does a better job of hacking my body chemistry compared to buying lottery tickets.

I like to think that the bad ideas I describe in this blog might someday inspire one of you to come up with actual good ideas. That's how ideas evolve; you start with bad ones then tweak them. If I may borrow and modify a quote from Isaac Newton: If you can see further it is only because you're standing on the pile of manure I so generously provided. Bad ideas are the raw materials for good ideas.

I use bad ideas as the basis for writing comics too. Every Dilbert comic that made someone chortle started out as a bad idea that I tweaked and poked and molded into something that I wouldn't have expected at the start. Sometimes the end product retains the germ of the original idea, sometimes it drifts into something entirely different. One of the big secrets to creativity is that you have to start walking before you decide where you're going. It's opposite of how you're raised to think.

This morning, as always, I sat down at my computer at 6 am with my cup of coffee and started browsing the Internet. Sometimes I start with a question and just keep clicking links until I learn something. (Another one of my self-motivational tricks is that I try to learn something new every day.) This morning my click-path to nowhere turned up a random guy on the Internet who is promoting a craptastic idea for building huge towers in desert areas to generate clean energy, bring water to arid climates, and regulate global climate change at the same time. I don't know who this guy is, but I like his style. Here's his page.


The idea for a super chimney isn't new. In fact, Spain successfully tested one such tower years ago. We know high towers with sun-heated bases can generate airflow that powers turbines. But obviously there are lots of economic, legal, engineering, and political obstacles. And no one has tested towers that cool the atmosphere and produce rain clouds at the same time. But the idea seems reasonable to my untrained brain.

What I like best about this random guy is that he's thinking big. I'll bet he enjoys waking up in the morning and feeling a sense of larger purpose.

Also check out the awesome idea for a so-called SuperGrid that might involve a combination of superconducting cables, maglev trains, and a liquid hydrogen pipeline all in one tunnel. Perhaps that's how the super chimneys will one day distribute energy from remote deserts to the rest of the world.
Rank Up Rank Down Votes:  +50
  • Print
  • Share


Sort By:
0 Rank Up Rank Down
Jul 30, 2012
As a wise man once said, don't worry about people stealing your idea; if it's any good at all, you'll have to ram it down their throats. Some people will always think an idea is bad. It is an exciting time to be an idea guy, especially in digital products and services, because the cost to create a prototype is lower than ever. Bringing a product to market of course remains the tricky part. My latest bad idea is Enduroo, the social game for people who hate meetings. Now, I don't think gamification in all it's forms is necessarily a good thing. Companies using game theory to squeeze more productivity out of people? No thanks. But unofficial gamification is, well, devilish good fun. And if it produces more efficient meetings in the process, then the world might indeed be a better place. I thought, Dilbert would like this idea, and that was good enough for me.
+1 Rank Up Rank Down
Jul 23, 2012
I'm certainly a fan of huge ideas, but unfortunately this one is based on bad maths and physics. The air will go nowhere unless it is heated as in a solar chimney. 1) The equation he uses is for air of different temperatures at the same altitude, you cannot just plug in values for air at different altitudes. 2) The equation is an approximation for relatively short chimneys and does not take account of adiabatic cooling due to expansion which happens faster in an enclosed tube than it does in the atmosphere (he says the opposite in the FAQ, which is incorrect).

Scott, there are many "solar chimney" projects, not "super chimney".

For many awesome (if sometimes silly) ideas, visit www.halfbakery.com
(my ideas: www.halfbakery.com/user/marklar)
Jul 15, 2012
I can solve all the world's (starting with the US anyway) problems a lot easier and cheaper. I've been experiencing them improving my life now, so it's easy to say.

President Adam's enacts the following laws:
1. The biggest assets to people (as far as I can see) are your health. President Adams enacts a new health tax that works out really simply: every year, once under doctor's supervision, you get your bodyfat tested. Anybody with a bodyfat over some figure (18% for men, 25% for women) has a tax added to the income tax.
2. Upon turning 18, or graduating HS., or any time if you haven't done it up to the age of 60, everybody does a year of national service. During that time you exercise, learn basic skills like fitness, self-defense, basic technology and emergency preparedness. You also travel the world, during which half the time you are doing peace corps kind of work. You are forced to get out of the US for a bit, maybe work in some extreme poverty, and work places with a different mindset. All these people will also be building basic infrastructure.

Just doing these two things will give our citizens two things we lack: fitness and some basic confidence building skills. These are more important than a crazy chimney.
Jul 14, 2012
A similar idea to combat global warming was mentioned in one of the Freakonomics books . If I recall what was mentioned in the book correctly, the chimney can be a simple flexible tube of plastic or some other material. But that chimney was not intended to generate electricity - it would simply reduce global warming.
-2 Rank Up Rank Down
Jul 13, 2012
On second thought, you wouldn't necessarily need to move the chimney (impossible anyway because it's so big). The rate of rotation of the Earth would be different from the rate of rotation of the atmosphere. Thus, all the atmosphere in a great circle will be vacuumed by the chimney. If there's also lateral motion of atmospheric gases by diffusion then it's possible that all of the atmosphere will be vacuumed just from a stationary chimney.
-5 Rank Up Rank Down
Jul 13, 2012
The only way this chimney could stop global warming is if it were mobile and could move across the Earth's surface. Like a carbon dioxide vacuum cleaner. That's potentially a good idea.

The rest of it seems to be rather dopey and is less a question of standing on it, more a question of standing in it.
Jul 13, 2012
On the website his five kilometer tall chimney would have diameter of 1,000 meters.
Assuming a wall thickness equal to one tenth the diameter, you get a 100 meter wall thickness.
The circumference of the chimney would be 1,000 x 3.14 or 3,100 meters
a 100 meter thickness times the 3,100 circumference = 310,000 sq meter base.
310,000 sq meter base times 5,000 meter height = 1.55 billion cubic meters of concrete
The Hoover Dam has 2.5 million cubic meters (3.25 million cubic yards) of concrete

So basically, the chimney would require stacking 620 Hoover Dams together vertically. Of course, the base would implode by the time you stacked more than a couple of them, so you would have to significantly increase the wall thickness, eventually making an outer cone that would probably be closer to 6,000 Hoover Dams worth of concrete.
Jul 13, 2012
There's a truism from Thomas Edison about creativity - that it's 10% inspiration and 90% perspiration.

I think that many people today think that every life changing idea comes in a "blink" moment, and neglect to understand the work involved in bringing a great insight into reality.
+2 Rank Up Rank Down
Jul 13, 2012
@Phantom: It's a shame you always weaken your arguments by beating down on the government. The same kind of people who work at government institutions also work at corporations.
+1 Rank Up Rank Down
Jul 13, 2012
1 for the title alone.
Jul 13, 2012
Hmmm. snappybob is right. When you go to the link Scott lists, you get a bunch of Chinese characters. I also tried just typing in the URL - same thing.

I began to think of the Illuminati, and then of the Trilateral Commission, and finally of the Petroleum Institute. Call Occupy! Picket the Internet!!!!

But then, I Googled "super chimney," and the link on Google works. So snappy (may I call you snappy?) if you want to see the site, and the link in Scott's post doesn't work, then you can Google it and their link will take you to the site. Not that I'm endorsing the idea, but it's fun to look at.
Jul 13, 2012
I think somebody hacked the Super Chimney site because it is just a page full of oriental looking charactures.
Jul 13, 2012
I took a look at the site. It reminded me of the old programming cartoon where one ant is pointing at a blackboard flowchart where there's a box that says, "And then a miracle happens." The other ant (why they were ants I don't know - maybe a reference to programming bugs?) says, "I think we need a little more detail here."

There have been other energy-producing ideas. One I recall would have used large balloons to carry cables to great heights, trying to harness the electrical potential difference between the earth and upper atmosphere. I don't know whatever became of that one, but I'm sure it had something to do with where a miracle would have had to have happened.

Don't get me wrong. Brainstorming is great. Where it breaks down is when government decides it's a great scheme, whether or not it is either economically or scientifically viable, and dumps millions of dollars of other people's money down a rat hole (think "Solyndra"). I prefer to let ideas evolve rather than become revolutionary leaps, since those leaps often end up being off a cliff that the originators did not see.

I'm interested, though, about how you see bad ideas being a starting point for greatness. I've always thought starting with a good idea and tweaking it to make it better gave superior results. Bad ideas can lead in bad directions, particularly if there is government involved, and some political gain is perceived to be won by following those bad ideas far longer than should have been followed (think "Solyndra" again).

A bad idea is just that: a bad idea. But a bad idea with government backing is a horrendous disaster in the making. How many bad ideas can dance on the head of a government pin? It seems the answer is infinite.

So I'd prefer to let the good ideas evolve, and consign the bad ideas to the dustbin of history, well before letting the government get involved. It's a lot cheaper, and a lot safer, that way.
+2 Rank Up Rank Down
Jul 13, 2012
I see what you did there, Prime Influencer Adams.
Jul 13, 2012
The guy with the super chimney is:

Michael Pesochinsky

Great post!
Get the new Dilbert app!
Old Dilbert Blog