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Good Thinking

The PayPal Plus Credit Card

June 12, 2006 The points of contact where the real world meets the virtual world are somewhat akin to the fabled end of the rainbow and eBay’s grand plan for ownership of a sizeable slab of the pot-of-gold became a little clearer last week when subsidiary PayPal introduced the PayPal Plus Credit Card - a MasterCard that can be used both online and anywhere that MasterCard is accepted offline. It seems like the eBay global garage sale has truly assembled a dream team of online properties on the back of its growth to become the world’s largest online marketplace. Last quarter, eBay traded US$10 billion worth of goods and Paypal was already the most preferred electronic payment method among eBay users before it was acquired in October, 2002. PayPal now has 100 million account holders and eBay has 200 million users (up from 147 million a year ago) and the recently acquired Skype VOIP communications company has 100 million users, so we forsee a healthy future for PayPal Plus. Not surprisingly, there’s a generous rewards program that applies to all online or offline purchases and just to ensure things get going with some immediate impetus, cardholders can take advantage of a special introductory offer – 0% APR on purchases and balance transfers until 2007. This limited-time offer is good through August 31, 2006, and will automatically appear on eBay items over US$50 as long as sellers accept PayPal and have not opted out of displaying PayPal Buyer Credit messages on their listings.  Read More

How the Shipping Container Made the World Smaller and the World Economy Bigger

June 12, 2006 Last month was the fiftieth anniversary of the birth of one of the most important inventions of our time - the shipping container. That first step, where a refitted oil tanker carried fifty-eight shipping containers from Newark to Houston in April, 1956, heralded a better way of transporting goods that has supercharged global trade. A new book tells the story of the container's creation and the sweeping economic consequences of the sharp fall in transportation costs that containerization brought about. By making shipping so cheap that industry could locate factories far from its customers, the container paved the way for Asia to become the world's workshop and brought consumers a previously unimaginable variety of low-cost products from around the globe.  Read More

Strawjet - making buildings out of straw

May 30, 2006 Every now and again, a technology comes along that is so momentous that it changes the way we do things from that point forth. Last year we saw the LifeStraw and this year, Strawjet. Strawjet just took out the History Channel’s Modern Marvels Invent Now Challenge and we suspect the sudden attention from this respected global medium will help to garner universal support for an ingenious idea. Strawjet is being developed by the Ashland School of Environmental Technology in Oregon. The School is a collaborative learning community dedicated to life-enhancing, technological innovations that serve ecological and humanitarian values worldwide and with the Strawjet project it has done itself proud. Strawjet manufactures straw into a low cost, fully recyclable, structural and insulating building material. Straw is harvested during the grain harvest and converted directly into entire finished wall sections for the construction of homes of any design, from standard homes to rapid assembly shelters for the developing world and disaster relief. Other building materials such as, cement, steel, wood, and glass, are associated with significant environmental costs through to their extraction, manufacture or harvest while straw is often considered a waste product and is continuously renewable and universally available. As a by-product of harvesting food crops it does not place any additional burden on the environment. It offers better insulation than typical brick and mortar construction and is better able to withstand the stresses of an earthquake. It saves resources for building, and provides the farmer with another source of income or the ability to create his own building materials as required. The process harvests straw, orients the stems so they are all parallel, then compresses and binds it into a continuous length of two inch diameter rigid cable which can be combined into a construction material in several ways. Labor costs at the building site are greatly reduced as the company has developed a system to combine the cables into standard panels and hence into completed wall systems in the field. Main diagram explanation: (1) modified combine grain harvester makes cables and harvests grain simultaneously. (2) truck collects cables, cuts them to eight foot lengths, weaves them into a mat and rolls the mat for ease of handling. (3) mat ready for use and a stack of mats. (4) Each pass of laminator adds a layer to composite wall. Layers are pinned and bonded ingeniously. (5) undulating wall section being made. (6) section of wall with the mobile cutter ready to cut it into finished wall sections complete with door and windows (7) which are delivered by truck and assembled. (8 &9). It’s ingenious and the full story is succinctly told here with an image library here.  Read More

Winning ideas of the ECOnomics Environmental Business Plan Challenge Award

May 29, 2006 The ECOnomics Environmental Business Plan Challenge provides a US$50,000 award for the business plan that best combines environmental innovation and profitability. Created by General Electric and The Wall Street Journal, the four finalists and winner of the award were recently announced and the quality of the ideas validated the exercise, with Robert Wright taking the gong for his Heated Air Spray Evaporation (HASE) Watervap technology (top of main pic) that will help solve the most universal human need: potable water. Another of the finalists, LiquidPiston, (bottom of main pic) was also a finalist of the prestigious MIT $50K Entrepreneurship competition. LiquidPiston is a novel internal combustion engine architecture, which is claimed to offer double the fuel efficiency of existing engines while drastically reducing pollutant emissions. The engine is based on a patent-pending "High Efficiency Hybrid Cycle" (HEHC) thermodynamic cycle, borrowing elements from Otto, Diesel, Atkinson, and Rankine cycles. The finalists of the competition can be found here.  Read More

Reclosable Aluminum Beverage Bottles

May 25, 2006 Astonishingly, glass has been with us for 5000 years. It was one of the first luxuries, is incorporated into 99% of all buildings and cameras and phones and has been a mainstay of global beverage packaging for more than a century. Not long ago, most drink containers were glass. With cardboards, plastics and now aluminium offering some advantages, the glass bottle is under threat. Aluminium drink containers were developed and commercialised and are peculiar to Japan, but this week Universal Can Company (UCC) of Tokyo entered into a licensing agreement for its proven, commercial technology with the American Ball Corporation which will manufacture and sell Alumi-Tek aluminum beverage bottles in the United States, Canada and Mexico. The Alumi-Tek offers the added convenience of reclosability to other aluminium bottle attributes, such as long shelf life, tamper-resistance, the ability to chill quickly and recyclability. Looks cool too!  Read More

Desktop device prints six colours on cylindrical objects

May 18, 2006 With desktop colour printers now under US$100, we constantly marvel at what we'll be able to do a few years from now. In recent times we've enthused about desktop cutters, and we regularly write about printers that can print three dimensional objects (here, here and here), and one that can even print metal parts. Well now there's a printer that can print on any cylindrical object. Croatian desktop printer company Azon specializes in printers that print on unconventional objects and materials, such as fabrics and textiles, and fingernails. Unbelievably, the company now offers several models that print on 3D objects such as pens, mobile phones, metal products, acrylic, fomax ad infinitum. Now the company has released a 10,000 Euro desktop printer that will print on any cylindrical object up to 17 cm long and with a a diameter of 2-14 cm for the cylinder. Like a coffee cup, f';rinstance - cool heh! The AZON MICRO CYLINDER uses Piezo inkjet technology with a two-level ink filter system to ensures the printhead doesn’t get clogged and anti-scratch technology ensures an extended life life for the printhead, reducing the cost of printing.  Read More

First commercial use of new glass wine closure

May 11, 2006 Wine has been amongst man’s greatest pleasures for at least 10,000 years, having played a prominent role in the Phoenicean, Greek, Egyptian and Roman civilisations. Initially, the bitterness of wine spoilage was masked by flavouring the wines, and many different methods have been used to prevent spoilage, such as topping wine containers with olive oil, leather tied with vine, clay stoppers, oily rag closures and most successfully, cork. But cork is inconsistent and still has an unacceptable spoilage factor and ever since French microbiologist Louis Pasteur discovered wine spoilage was caused by microorganisms, the search has been on for the ideal closure system. We recently wrote about the Zork wine closure system, and now there’s another. Vino-Seal is a new glass closure developed by Alcoa as an alternative to traditional corks and synthetic stoppers for wine. With a design similar to a decorative decanter stopper, Vino-Seal uses an inert o-ring to provide a sterile seal, preventing contamination or oxidation. Whitehall Lane Winery of Napa Valley will be the first to use the new glass closure commercially.  Read More

The ingenious Keyholding Company

May 9, 2006 Time is a commodity where supply is limited to a democratic 24 hours per person per day, regardless of income, so it makes sense that with working hours increasing, highly-paid people will be seeking to optimize their time usage. One recent report cites British consumers losing 60 million working days a year waiting for delivery drivers and workmen. UK-based Keyholding Company believes this market for time will become increasingly valuable in the future and is offering a range of services so people no longer need to use up valuable free time to take care of emergency or mundane tasks at home. The company has a database of fully-vetted tradespeople and keeps a set of your keys. This means that as well as sourcing a reliable trade's person, they can wait for them to arrive and ensure the works are completed satisfactorily. They can also deliver goods into your home and leave the property secure.  Read More

RFID tag implant for humans DIY kit

May 5, 2006 While RFID hasn’t exactly got a great name in some circles thanks to the technology’s capabilities becoming a threat to privacy, there are some people on the planet who just can’t wait for the technology to develop. Like Amal Graafstra f’rinstance. Graafstra heard about RFID being used to tag cats and dogs and decided he wanted to explore what was possible. He now has two RFID implants - a 3mm by 13mm EM4102 glass RFID tag in his left hand and a 2mm by 12mm Philips HITAG 2048 S implant with crypto-security features and 255 bytes of read/write memory storage space in his right hand. Getting implants meant there was no need to carry an RFID access card around and he could implement his own RFID access control systems instead of buying expensive off-the-shelf products. Amal has now built systems that enable him to access his front door, car door, and log into his computer using his implants, and has written a book called RFID Toys ($US$16.50 here) which details how to build these and other RFID enabled projects and produced a kit of the parts you’ll need (book and kit US$96.85 here).  Read More

The PanelPod - turns a panel into a display

May 5, 2006 With sound and high resolution graphics, computers can now be used to display anything. You just need a convenient place to put the screen. Which makes the Panel Pod kinda handy. It’s not rocket science – just a convenient way to mount an LCD monitor or LCD TV to a tripod. It has widespread application at trade shows, store merchandising, as an adjunct to any vehicle for “tailgating”, backyard barbecues, home entertainment flexibility and experimanetation and corporate meeting rooms. It’ll handle a 20 inch screen with ease, can be set up and taken down in seconds and will handle up to 18 pounds - US$249 gets you the mount and tripod.  Read More

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