Cool New Car Ideas Part Two: Tilt and glide

I recently mentioned a Yahoo group devited to titling cars in the Gyro Car blog. Here are two examples. The first is Carver. This vehicle--shown from the rear in the shot on the left--has a power unit with two wheels at the rear plus a body for driver and one passenger. The front 'people module' has one wheel and is linked to the drive unit in a way that allows it to lean in corners.

This design offers great aerodynamic potential and an amazing driving experience if the cool videos on the web site are anything to go by. So, you get the design possibilities of a three wheeler with a lot less chance of tipping over.

Second up in this post is BMW's Clever, which looks a lot like the Carver. I'm not implying anything by this, and BMW has plenty of cred in the alternative [and less than 4 wheels] vehicle space, notably with the C1. It would seem that something both designs have in common is the ability to alter the power source/drive train fairly easily. In other words, the vehicle consists of two main parts: the driver/passenger module and the drive unit. These are connected by the tilting mechanism. As alternative fuels and more efficient motors come online, it would seem that this design is well-placed to implement them quickly.

What is not entirely clear from either the Carver or Clever sites is how you would go about buying one of these vehicles. I realize that there are huge hurdles between a working prototype and a street legal vehicle. Crash testing and emissions being the two big ones I would think. Does anyone know if there is a category of road vehicle equivalent to the experimental aircraft? That would seem to make sense at a time like this, when rapid improvement and innovation in vehicle design and efficiency could reap huge dividends for the environment and global politics, not to mention driving fun.

The last item for this post, the Loremo, looks more conventional, but is actually quite radical. It has four wheels, but is very light in weight. Together with excellent aerodynamics this yields over 100 miles per US gallon. The light weight is achieved with space age materials and a design that features no side doors. Apparently this results in much greater cabin strength at lower weight.

The driver and front passenger step into the car from the front. The entire dashboard and steering wheel lift up. The rear passengers enter at the rear through a large hatch-back. Check out the web site for more photos.

Again, not clear when you will be able to buy one, but if I was an oil-dependent sheik, I'd be worried that designs like these are well-advanced and threatening to cut gasoline consumption as they become street legal.

Have Banks Screwed the Pouch in the Affordable (Sub-Prime) Housing Market?

Of course, I am using "screw the pouch" in the technical sense of "really made a rotten mess of." Here's the Washington Post waving a warning flag a few days ago:
Is a blowout taking shape in the impaired-credit mortgage market? Could lax underwriting standards during the housing boom years--no verification of applicants' incomes or assets, low or no down payments, and big mortgages to people already saddled with heavy consumer debt--finally be coming home to roost? Post article.
I think the answer is going to be yes. And who will pay the price? The people who need the banks the most right now, people who are trying to buy an affordable place to live before prices take another up-tick. Already we are seeing the negative impact on people's lives (in this case "we" is me and my construction business partner, master builder Don Davino). And here's what we see: People come and look at the homes we are selling (you can look here).

Quite a lot of these people like the houses and ask the real estate agent what kind of income they will need to pay the mortgage. Many figure out they can afford it and head to the bank. And the bank would love to help BUT, oh dear, there is now huge pressure on banks to avoid loans with anything but perfect credentials. So people who can afford a relatively small mortgage--and have a huge incentive to keep current with their payments--can't get one because they don't have unblemished credit.

Come on! Who does? Particularly in a sector of the market where buyers often lack credit history altogether or are emerging from a period of financial strain. So, because some banks screwed up in their greed for business, consumers are penalized. And the economy, which could use an up-tick in home sales, suffers too.

You might think "negative impact on people's lives" is a bit over-dramatic. I don't. Renting is still more expensive than buying and buying is a great way for families to cement their long-term financial security. If the next rising tide in property prices does not raise everyone's fortunes, including those suffering from the "sub-prime pouch screwing fallout," potentially dangerous gaps in social equity will continue to widen.

Clickcaster Works: A real sign that broadband and streaming are taking us to the next level

Lately I've been playing with ClickCaster, a site that offers free pod-casting and video-casting facilities. So far I am very impressed. Making and publishing a podcast was amazingly easy. You can hear the results here.

In less than 4 weeks I have had 250 feed views, 44 downloads, and 30 subscribers. That's for just my first two podcasts (statistics are one of the many nice things about Clickcaster).

Unfortunately I caught a really nasty cold about two weeks ago and really lost momentum with my recordings (yep, da cold wad dat bad id blocked my dose and bade my voice sound fuddy). I hope to put out some more podcasts mid-March.

To anyone who was experimenting with the web ten years ago over a 28Kbps modem, the ability to record good quality audio to a web site and instantly stream it is just so, well it almost chokes you up. All the elements have been around for a long time, but now they are coming together, very nicely in the case of ClickCaster.

Security Issues? Head to

Right now I am trying to keep my security insights separate from my technology rants and raves. So if you are looking for security postings they are now at That will allow me to keep stuff like the electric loo separate from more serious issues like threats to data and privacy. After all, some things are more serious than others. I mean, getting sprayed in the face by an electric toilet might seem very threatening at the time, especially when you haven't slept for 24 hours. But it is not likely to usher in the end of the Internet as we know. Is it?

p.s. now has several free security and privacy podcasts.

Oh So Wrong: Palettes of money shipped to Iraq

Yes folks, those are bricks of US cash stacked on palettes headed to Iraq.

How did Paul Bremer manage to lose $12 billion in cash in Iraq? Well it is doubtful anyone could keep track of cargo planes full of cash. Can you say checkbook, wire transfer, paper trail? No sane or honest government goes to the Federal Reserve Bank and requests 281 million individual bills, mainly $100 bills, packed into bricks worth $400,000 each.

Most Americans make sure they have no more than $50 on cash on their person when they are headed to a rough part of town. There can't be a citizen alive who thinks it makes sense to take 363 tons of cash into a war zone (yes, 792,000 pounds in weight).

And this didn't happen yesterday, this happened years ago. Somehow the Republican congress of 2005-2006 managed to let this slip by without so much as raising an eyebrow. I dread to think what else we will learn in trhe coming months. We already know that hundreds of computers were torched by US contractors because they were "the wrong kind." That practically new semi-trucks were destroyed by contractors just because they lacked oil filters or spare tires. That scores of SUVs were leased at $7,000 per month for contractors, many of whom never drove them. That, that...aaargh! Enough! Why is there not an uprising of fiscal conservatives barricading the Fed and calling for heads to roll!

The Airport Gate Number Rule

I've been doing quite a bit of flying lately and ran into a somewhat trivial but sometimes vexing rule that I first formulated many years ago when I was traveling extensively for InfoSec Labs and Rainbow Technologies:
Whatever gate number has been assigned to your connecting flight it will be a long way from where you are.
For example, you fly into Atlanta, Terminal B, connecting to O'Hare from gate C1. That is C1 out of 36 gates numbered C1 to C36. Great, a low gate number! Then you find that C1 is actually at the far end of C terminal. What you really wanted was C20 or C30. You get into O'Hare and find your connecting gate is G30. Could it be? A handy gate? No, G30 is as far from your arrival gate as you can get and still be in G terminal. And even when you make it all the way to the end of a foreign terminal, and all the signs are mercifully in English, things can still be pretty confusing. I took this photo at Seoul's Incheon airport, an otherwise wonderful airport (the cleanest, quietest, least crowded I have been to).

Hogfather DVD Draws Near: How American Discworld fans can see Pratchett's masterpiece

Sadly, so far no American networks have picked up the movie based on Terry Pratchett's Discworld novel The Hogfather. But the film will be coming out on DVD in April in the UK. This means that us Disc-aholic Yanks can order the DVD through and then play it on a region-hacked DVD player.

I actually have one of these and can attest that it works great. The model that I have is the Toshiba SD3980. I bought it through Amazon about 18 months ago for around $80. I was immediately impressed with how easy it was to install and use. I play it through a Sony Wega widescreen using component connections and the picture is great, regardless of the region or PAL/NTSC coding of the DVD (I also found it is smarter about aspect ratio than some more expensive DVD players--the ones that squish video shot in 4:3).

The big test was the 5 hour German PAL version of Until the End of the World, which is my wife's favorite movie. Played great, all 5 hours of it. However, it appears the 3980 itself is no longer available, replaced by the 3990. Since the price is the same, this would seem to be a good thing. (Note: some reviewers seem to have found the 3890 flimsy and easily broken--all I can say is they must give their DVD players a tougher workout than me, mine has given me no problems.)

So, for around $120, you and your North American Discworld-addicted friends [a phrase I am using in a good way] can have a Hogfather party in April.

(For more on region-hacked DVDs, check this link.)

New Daylight Saving Time: Differences from US to EU and back

As you probably know by now, there will be a significant number of days this year in which the normal time differences between the US and the EU will be different (yep, time difference differences--makes you wish for a Difference Engine--sorry, geek joke).

For example, New York is normally 5 hours behind London. But it will be just 4 hours behind for some days in the Spring, and 6 hours behind for some days in the Fall.

Well, here is a good site for tracking this, and settling arguments with co-workers. It even let's you check the change dates out to 2099.

And for those who want to be really technical, note that EU countries don't change their clocks at 2AM like we do in America, they change them at 1AM Universal Time.

Right Up Front: 01-20-09 and a cool online sign service

I've been getting a lot of compliments lately on my license plate, my fake front license plate, as permitted under Florida law which only requires an official license plate on the rear of your vehicle.

This cell phone photo does not really do it justice as there is a hint of red around the black numbers, all sharply printed on a solid acrylic sign. And all designed by me, using the services of If you scroll down that page you will see a blank plate. Select that and you have a fairly nifty design tool with which to create your own plate. The quality of the results and shipping time are both excellent. A good example of how technology expands personal expression.

(A word of caution: my wife was pulled over in New York state for having a "novelty plate" on the front of her Florida registered vehicle. The novelty plate, purchased in New York City, was in the style of normal New York plates and the letters were: U.S.A. Can't get more patriotic and law-abiding than that, right? Wrong. She avoided a ticket, but only after the first cop called for backup, I kid you not. So I guess you might want to avoid any custom designs that look too much like the real thing. The real kicker for my wife was the fact that the tag on her Florida plate had expired--and the policeman never noticed. Phew!)

Cool New Car Ideas: Compressed air power

Compressed air car? Yep, this vehicle is designed to tootle around town using a compressed air engine. Which means the emissions are? Cool air.

If you think compressed air is a puny power source consider that the US Navy mounted 15 inch compressed air guns on the experimental U.S.S. Vesuvius, in 1888. Today, you can buy a compressed air rifle that fires 6 rounds of 77 grain 9mm ammo at 900 fps.

So, the main limiting factor with compressed air is not power, it is supply, the need to recharge. Well, how about a small, efficient on-board powerplant that runs a compressor to recharge the holding tanks? This could be used for longer trips, typically outside of urban areas. We like it.

We'd like to see regenerative braking added to the mix. Maybe the compressor is electric, powered by lithium iron batteries, recharged by solar panels in the roof, regenerative braking, and as power source of last resort, a small diesel. BTW, kudos to BMW for putting regenerative braking into the 5-series.

Rock Your Hotel room TV: Use it as an iPod speaker system

Okay, so a lot of turned-on road warriors may have been doing this for a while. I know I've been thinking of doing for about a year but I kept forgetting to take the right cable. What is it? Playing an iPod, or other MP3 player, including a laptop, through the speakers in the hotel room TV.

About a year ago I noticed that a lot of hotels have been upgrading their TVs. Many now have stereo speakers. And quite a few have auxiliary inputs for video and audio. If you're lucky, these inputs are on the front of the box (sometimes they are exposed, other times they are hidden behind a plastic panel). With the right cable you can simply plug in your music player, switch the TV to AUX input, and get a decent room-filling sound.

On this latest trip to Malaysia I finally remember to bring along the right cable. Mini stereo plug on one end, left and right phono plugs on the other. Actually, the cable also has a video plug on each as well, handy for sending movies and photos from my digital camera to the TV screen. Not all hotel TV remotes have an AUX or alternative Video input button so you may have to select this on the front panel of the TV box.

My room at the Prince Hotel in Kuala Lumpur has a very nice Sony Triniton with stereo speakers and I am really enjoying the sound of my playlists on them. It is definitely richer than the sound on the small iPod travel speakers I have tried.

p.s. Hotels in Kuala Lumpur seem to be one of the world's best travel bargains. For $88 per night The Prince Hotel gives you a large, ultra-modern room with loads of tasteful woodwork and a superb view. Okay, you have to pay $12 a day extra if you want high speed Internet. But where else can you get a hotel this good with high speed Internet for $100? The service is first rate. The staff are cheerful and polite, attentive but discreet. Want room service to come back at 4PM because you're busy blogging. No problem and no grumbling. And no clumsy "Do not disturb signs." There's no annoying knocking on doors here--each room has its own electronic bell that guests can control from inside the room. And when you step outside your room you find the hallway is scented with aromatherapy oils.

The Geek's Commode: From the land of the electric loo

Normally I avoid blogging something more than once, but what you see on the right is a worthy exception: a high-tech toilet, a john with juice, a head that's wired, a bog with brains, it is an electric loo.

I encountered this in a hotel near Incheon airport in Korea. Maybe it struck me as amazing because I encountered it after being awake for 32 hours (apart from the sort of fake sleep you get in coach class when all the seats are full and even in you get an aisle seat you can't stretch out for fear of food carts crushing your feet).

But amazing it is, and a great example of how technology still has the power to transform a truly (hopefully) everyday aspect of our lives. And I don't just mean because it gives us more buttons to push (although there are twelve on this thing for those who are counting). I mean that this thing is transformational technology because this it does away with the need for toilet paper, which is a huge boon to the environment. Exactly how it does that I will leave to your imagination dear reader. Suffice to say, you don't want to push the buttons unless your butt is in position.

The Amazing Electric Loo: Now that's technology!

Sometimes a picture is worth more than a thousand words. On the left you see the amazing electric loo that I encountered upon checking into my hotel in Seoul, Korea. The entire room was very high tech with remotes for everything (TV, lighting, DVD, VHS, heating/AC, etc).

And then I went to the loo. Wow! Not only is it electric, it has 12 buttons. A geek's commode if ever I saw one.

There was one slight problem (for me, not for Koreans, obviously). I had no idea what the buttons did. I'm not complaining. Just about everything else in the room was labeled in English as well as Korean. But not the commode control pad.

So, like any intrepid explorer (and all geeks and hackers are at heart intrepid explorers) I decided to just push some buttons. I just stood there, leaned down, and picked one at random. At which point a probe extended from inside the loo and sprayed me in the face. I am not making this up (and trying not to fall for cheap shots like "I s**t you not!"). So, I pushed some more buttons until the spray stopped, After I had dried myself off--and this is perhaps what intrepid means--I tried it again, from a sitting position. Much better! In fact, and I'm not sure of the polite say this, this thing washes, rinses and blow dries. No TP required!

24 Hours of Darkness: Flying the dark side of the world

How wrong can one man be? In my previous post--which I had the guts not to amend--I suggested that daylight would catch up with a few hours into my flight to Seoul. Well, far from it my fellow travelers. The very opposite is true. I landed in the dark at JFK on Saturday evening. The Korean Airlines 777-200 took off at 1AM Sunday. It skirted the top of the world in darkness. We landed in the dark and I got to the airport hotel in the dark. I went to sleep at 7AM Monday, with a 14 hour time difference. At which time it still dark in Korea at this time of year. So the picture above is basically the sky for the entire journey. Amazing.

On the bright side, service on Korean Airlines was excellent and the 14 hour flight is survivable in coach, even when coach is full. The inflight entertainment system was the best I've seen/heard yet. More details to follow. The folks at Incheon airport were terrific and the airport itself first rate. The hotel I picked for a day room also turned out to be a great find. More details to follow, including the amazing electric loo.

JFK Terminal One on a Saturday Night

Well, had I've more exciting nights than this, but so far it's not too bad. My trip to Kuala Lumpur started with a cool Delta Airlines feature known as "calling passengers to let them know a flight is delayed." Apparently a lot of airlines offer this, but this is the first time I have actually received a call on my cell phone from an airline in time to stop me leaving the house for the airport. It meant I was able to sit and relax at home for a while and do a few more Saturday chores during the 90 minute delay. And that also meant less time to kill at JFK.

If you have ever flown from Terminal One you may know that some of the foreign carriers don't staff their check-in desks all day. So it doesn't matter how early you get to the terminal, you'll still have to stand in line. You either wait on your feet for the desk to open, or you wait for the line to move through. The picture above is from my Treo, showing the line at Korean Air at 9:00PM, half an hour before the desks opened (and that applies to business and first class too). I had the same problem when I flew business class to Moscow from JFK on Aeroflot last year, although that flight had a fairly light load so the actual wait in line was not that long. Unfortunately, tonight's flight to Incheon/Seoul looks to be packed.

I plan to sleep as best I can although we will hit daylight after a few hours. It seems so weird to be boarding a plane on Saturday night and deplaning at 6:00AM on Monday. I have booked a room at the Incheon Hotel so I can sleep on Monday until the flight from Incheon to KL, which doesn't leave until 4:30 in the afternoon. We'll find out if it is worth the $80. And if I can't sleep, then a shower and a bit of blogging should pass the time (call me a wimp but I gave up the idea of taking in the sights in Seoul when I saw the weather forecast--freezing--while KL will be in the nineties).

Heading East, or Maybe West: Going to Malaysia

So this month I need to go to Kuala Lumpur, capital of Malaysia. I will be delivering the keynote at a conference on enterprise [information system] security. I've been there before, about 7 years ago. Back then I was living right next to LAX (right next, like the first flight of the day was my wake-up call). So getting to KL was fairly simple. Fly LA to Singapore or Taiwan and then a short hop on to KL. But getting there from Florida poses an interesting question: Fly East or West?

My final decision came down to dollars and sense. The lowest fare from Jacksonville was out via JFK, then Korean Air to Seoul, thence to KL. Return is going to be China Air to Taipei thence to LAX and JAX. All are Delta code-share and so I will rack up some nice SkyMiles. But, and it could be a sore but, the layovers are loooong, particularly on the way out. So stand by for tips on how to kill 8 hours in JFK and Incheon, Seoul.

Also stand by for photos of KL, famous for the Petronas Towers and other impressive urban architecture. Last time I was there I killed a whole afternoon in the galleria-style mall in the base of the towers. Mainly people watching. And there are plenty to watch--24 million in a country not much bigger than New Mexico (according to the CIA).

Ink Jet Printer Cartridge Rip-Off? Brother 3820CN won't print without removing cartridge that still has ink

I was going to write something nice about Brother recently because I continue to find their 3820CN to be an eminently useful machine. It makes good copies and does printing, scanning, and faxing over my home network. It has a very reliable paper feed which is unusual at this price point. Furthermore, Brother recently repaired my 3820CN free of charge even though it was, strictly speaking, out of warranty. However, something happened today that needs to be addressed.

The control panel told me the Cyan cartridge was empty (the printer has cartridges for Black, Cyan, Magenta, and Yellow). I took the Cyan cartridge out and found it was not empty. I put it back in but could not get the machine to accept that there was still ink to be used up. This means I paid for ink that was not used. Furthermore, when any one of the four cartridges is empty the 3820CN will not print. It won't even print in black, as far as I can tell, if a color cartridge is reported to be empty. This means faxing is impaired because the fax confirmation will not print (even though it is a black and white document).

Now, I am not accusing Brother of anything, not yet. I am prepared to think this was an isolated incident, not a devious corporate plot to sell more ink. I have used Brother printers since 1982 (yep, way back in the good ole daisy wheel days). I will hold off any sort of judgment until I get a response to the letter I am sending them. But I am blogging what happened in case anyone else has had the same problem. Please let me know.

Meanwhile I am sending the 'not empty' cartridge to Brother to ask for a refund. And I will update this post with some pictures as soon as I can.