Cheap Thoughts: pollen and rain

We all know what role pollen plays in “May Flowers,” but what about its role in “April Showers?”

It’s well understood how clouds are formed by water condensing on particulates high in the atmosphere. Certainly pollen would be among these particulates, wouldn’t you think?

Put another way, do plants have the ability to actually make it rain?

Cheap Thoughts: phone numbers

Alex didn't need no numbers

This week’s reminder that 10-digit dialing is coming to the Triangle made me wonder why we even use phone numbers anymore. With all the smartphones, voice dialing, and Voice-Over-IP (VoIP) systems in place, having to remember a 10-digit number to call someone seems … quaint.

The VoIP system I have at home can easily handle phone numbers made of digits, of course, but it can also handle calling using a SIP address that looks more like an email address ( In fact, my phone calls can be routed entirely over the Internet, never touching a traditional phone switch (or as they’re known by phone geeks, the “public switched telephone network”).

Imagine having to remember the “dotted quad” IP addresses of all the Internet sites you want to surf. It would be pretty futile, wouldn’t it? Smart people like Jon Postel and Paul Mockapetris dreamed up the Domain Name System (DNS) years ago so humans could remember words ( instead of numbers ( Why haven’t we applied the same thinking to phones by now?

Back in the day, one “dialed” phones by picking up and telling the human operator at your local phone company office who you wanted to talk to (“Ruth, get me Pennsylvania 65000“). There’s no reason now why one couldn’t simply do the same now, only talking to a computer operator. In fact, AT&T actually has some of the best voice-recognition technology of anyone.

It is 2012, almost a hundred and forty years since Alexander Graham Bell patented the first telephone. In this day and age we should be creating fewer phone numbers, not more!

Cheap Thoughts: Time for Car 2.0?

Google's driverless car

As I was driving on the I-40 interstate the other day, I noticed how of the 12 feet of concrete devoted to a travel lane, the typical car or truck only touches two, one-foot-wide strips where the tires are. What a waste of the other 10 feet of concrete.

It made me realize how little the car has changed since it was first introduced. Oh, sure, plenty of progress has been made to the inside of the car, but what about the rest of what it takes to make a car go: the infrastructure? There are so many things we could be doing with cars but haven’t yet tried.

Why do we still build roads? All that impervious, land-hogging, surface, and only a fraction of it is useful to any vehicle. Well, the Romans did it, some might say, but thats because stones were all they had.
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Cheap Thoughts: virtual citizenship

My Dutch friend and former coworker Guus Bosman was quoted in this Economist article about dual citizenship.

It made me think again that, in such an interconnected world, we may one day choose our citizenship by the way we now choose hotel and airfare rates on sites like by comparison shopping online. Citizenship will become like today’s flags of convenience. Borders are becoming less important, are they not?

It’s not something I expect to live to see, of course, but it does make an interesting thought experiment!

AT THE height of the Dutch golden age, merchants exported their goods and their families to colonies on four continents. Four centuries later their descendants are less impressed by such adventuring. A new law proposed by the Dutch government aims not only to limit dual nationality among immigrants (in 2011 around 20,000 people gained Dutch nationality through naturalisation) but also to make it easier for the authorities to strip members of the 850,000-plus Dutch diaspora of their nationality, should they secure a second citizenship abroad.

Guus Bosman, a Dutchman living in Washington, DC, calls the proposal “mean-spirited”. Eelco Keij, a Dutch citizen in New York and one of the loudest critics of his government’s proposals, thinks that these days dual nationality is no more than “a harmless side-effect of globalisation”.

via Dual citizenship: Dutchmen grounded | The Economist.

Cheap Thoughts: Melatonin – why do we need it?

I’ve been eyeing that Zeo sleep monitor for the past few months and enjoying the sleep tips they post on their blog and Facebook page. Recently Zeo shared a post from an ABC Action News story about how electronic gadgets are stealing sleep. Seems looking at a lighted screen right before bed delays the production of melatonin, the hormone that is produced when darkness falls to make us sleep. As a blogger who does quite a bit of his writing near bedtime, this was of interest to me.
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Cheap Thoughts: One-way streets

Last week as I helped plant trees around Chavis Park, I wondered about the one-way streets around the park. I’ve never been a fan of the one-way streets in Raleigh’s downtown area but seeing them pass through the East Raleigh neighborhoods gave me a different perspective. How do one-way streets affect property values, I wondered? If NCDOT’s goal is to speed cars out of town, as it often is with the one-way streets, how does that stream of fast-moving traffic affect the neighborhoods?

Later that day, I sent a note off to city staff asking if there had ever been a study about how one-way streets affect property values. It appears that there isn’t such a study, and as one staffer pointed out it would be difficult to gather accurate data for such a study.

I asked specifically for property value data but what I’m really looking for is more of the sociological impact that a one-way street has on the surrounding neighborhoods.

I consider driving on a one-way street a lot like driving with blinders on. If you see something interesting but see it too late, it’s a challenge to return to it. I think neighborhoods with two-way streets are likely healthier neighborhoods.

Anyway, I need to see if any research has been done on this.

Cheap thoughts: illumination

Dead CFL bulb

I began labeling my CFL bulbs with the date I put them into service. This one died today after just 18 months of use. Ordinary bulbs last far longer than this! Cheap (possibly counterfeit) electronics are to blame.

So if CFLs aren’t the answer, what is? When will LED bulbs be ready for prime time? Is there a future where we move beyond bulbs entirely? Are self-illuminated walls and ceilings in our future?

Cheap Thoughts: “Roaming” for cable modems

On the road this week, I was thinking it would be nice if I could temporarily bump up the speed of my home cable modem. I don’t need blazing-fast service all the time, but when I travel it’s nice to have speedy access to my home network and also to have a video chat with the family without buffering …. buffering …. buffering.

This is how I see this working. The subscriber goes to a special page on their Internet provider’s website. They fill out a form specifying a time frame during which their cable modem becomes “unlocked.” The subscriber pays a small premium (similar to a mobile phone’s roaming charges) during the time their Internet speed is boosted. At the end of the window, the speed reverts back to its original speed and the rate returns to its original. With DOCSIS 3.0 modems now in the field, I would think that this could be implemented fairly easily.

I would jump to the first provider who could offer this. If only we had real competition amongst Internet providers.

Cheap thoughts: foul contest

Through each game, basketball players carry stats on their shots, assists, and fouls. There are contests held for free-throw shooting, there are dunking contests. Why aren’t there any foul contests? Players could take their best shot at each other and whomever has the most egregious foul wins. Maybe they could make it pay-per-view.