John Grund:This video fits your theme of how we all live like princes today. It’s a commercial from the 1970s promoting the ‘world’s smallest electronic calculator.‘ Watch through till the end – you’ll be shocked by the price.’

☞ Yes, I remember not being able to afford one my second year of business school. (Back then, a year’s tuition was only about $2,500, if memory serves. In that context, ‘the world’s smallest electronic calculator’ was no trivial expenditure.)


Solar power your home and your car, even on cloudy days and at night. Fuel cost: zero. Carbon footprint: zero. Click here and then on News Coverage – the ABC News clip will give you the idea, and the New York Times report will flesh it out.

Basically, rooftop solar panels make electricity – but also hydrogen that gets stored in tanks, to be (a) converted back to electricity when the sun isn’t shining and (b) used as fuel your car.

Free heat! Free electric! Free ‘gasoline’ (because these cars wouldn’t need gasoline).

‘But who has room for all those enormous hydrogen tanks?’ I asked one of the people involved. ‘They take up the entire back yard!’

‘We put them above ground for the demonstration, but they’d be buried below ground.’

‘But they’re so big! Even if they were underground, they must cost a fortune to buy and bury. Can this really be economical?’

‘For the demonstration, and to get approval from the authorities in New Jersey, the hydrogen is packed at 200 pounds per square inch (like propane). But if you up that pressure to 5600 psi, which is easy to do, you shrink the required size 28-fold to just one small-ish tank.’

‘Yeah. And then: kaboom!’

‘No, actually. It can be made safe. The tanks envisioned for hydrogen cars would have us safely careening along the highways with tanks at even higher pressure.’

☞ Whether or not this little start-up leads the way, my point is that 20 years from now, we could look back on ‘the energy crisis’ as something humanity largely invented its way out of.

Of course, 20 years is a long time to hold your breath, so it may be perfectly appropriate to dress your daughter up as Cassandra this Halloween, even as you dress up her twin as Pollyanna. It’s all a matter of your time horizon.

But I keep thinking about Ray Kurzweil’s formulation, summarized here in December, that the next 50 years of technological progress will be 32 times as astounding as the progress of the past 50 years. So when you consider that ‘the world’s smallest electronic calculator’ came to market just 36 years ago, let alone, 50, and compare it with an iPhone (which, adjusted for inflation, costs just a small fraction as much), there may be hope yet.

Later This Week: The McCains Have a Vast Fortune (But He’s Right: The Economy Is Really Not His Strong Suit). Also: SPACS.


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