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Inside Dean Kamen's Seceded Island of Geekery

CmdrTaco posted more than 5 years ago | from the yeah-thanks-for-it dept.

News 187

mattnyc99 writes "The new issue of Esquire has a long, in-depth, intricate profile of Dean Kamen and his quest to invent a better world. Earlier this month, we discussed Kamen's Sterling-electric car, but this piece goes into much more detail about how that engine works — he got the original idea from the upmodded Henry Ford artifact in the basement of his insane island lab — and about how his inventions often go overlooked, including the Slingshot water purifier that Stephen Colbert made famous but that no one has actually bought yet. Quoting: 'To get the Slingshot to the 20 percent of the world that doesn't have electricity, Kamen came up with the idea of splitting it in half. Leaving the Stirling aside, he would try to develop a market for his distiller in parts of the developing world that have electricity but not reliable clean water. "There are five hundred thousand little stores in Mexico," he says. "If we can put one of these in 10 percent of them, that's enough to put it in production." That may be the killer app for the distiller.' So, is this guy all hype with overpriced devices, or is time for someone to take his genius (Segway aside) to the mass market?"

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187 comments

question (4, Funny)

larry bagina (561269) | more than 5 years ago | (#25876749)

has he managed to solve the pickle matrix in his hamburger earmuffs yet?

Something completely different.. (0, Offtopic)

cayenne8 (626475) | more than 5 years ago | (#25876775)

What the hell happened to my USER page?

It has weird new formatting...post my last post in big text at the top of the screen? That can't be good for work usage...

:)

I cannot find a way to change it back to the simple mode of just a few minutes ago....anyone?

Re:Something completely different.. (0, Offtopic)

Yvan256 (722131) | more than 5 years ago | (#25876875)

I have no idea, it's like someone at Slashdot figured out CSS a few weeks ago and keeps messing with everything since then.

How about AT LEAST display the "your comments" tab by default instead of the "firehose" tab?

Re:Something completely different.. (0, Offtopic)

cayenne8 (626475) | more than 5 years ago | (#25876967)

"How about AT LEAST display the "your comments" tab by default instead of the "firehose" tab?"

I'll second that one !! But really...if you're gonna screw around with the CSS...at least give the option in the preferences section to turn it off and back to 'normal'.

Just more crap to mess up on an older laptop. I can't even view the idle pages...they are horrible looking on my firefox on an old mac....and when you try to post...the window to type in is about 1 inch wide...

I can't even do the firehose anymore...

Re:Something completely different.. (1, Informative)

Yvan256 (722131) | more than 5 years ago | (#25877009)

FYI, Firehose also looks like crap when using Safari 3 on Mac OS X on a 1280x1024 display, so the problem isn't your laptop nor Firefox.

Re:Something completely different.. (2, Funny)

techno-vampire (666512) | more than 5 years ago | (#25877089)

I can't even view the idle pages

Personally, I consider that a feature, not a bug.

Re:Something completely different.. (0, Offtopic)

prgrmr (568806) | more than 5 years ago | (#25877023)

Myspace and Livejournal both recently reformatted their profile pages, so apparently the Powers That Be at Slashdot felt compelled to participate in a little Monkey see, Monkey do.

Re:Something completely different.. (4, Insightful)

Mr. Slippery (47854) | more than 5 years ago | (#25877291)

it's like someone at Slashdot figured out CSS a few weeks ago and keeps messing with everything since then.

The problem seem to be that they haven't figured out CSS...if they had figured it out, these pages would be usable and non-ugly.

Re:Something completely different.. (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25876923)

It's not just you, I suspect someone [slashdot.org] is [slashdot.org] playing [slashdot.org] with [slashdot.org] the [slashdot.org] stylesheets [slashdot.org] .

Re:Something completely different.. (1, Offtopic)

Loibisch (964797) | more than 5 years ago | (#25877231)

Yes, this is complete and utter bullshit. I thought it was greasemonkey acting up, but then I disabled it and wham, still looks ugly like hell. Great, now my user control panel looks like the ugly-ass idle pages.

Re:Something completely different.. (2, Funny)

Locke2005 (849178) | more than 5 years ago | (#25877493)

You've unwittingly stumbled upon Idle's plan to take over slashdot... soon ALL of slashdot will look like Idle! Muahahaha!

Re:Something completely different.. (4, Interesting)

cayenne8 (626475) | more than 5 years ago | (#25877571)

"What the hell happened to my USER page?

It has weird new formatting...post my last post in big text at the top of the screen? That can't be good for work usage...

:)

I cannot find a way to change it back to the simple mode of just a few minutes ago....anyone?"

Ok...it is offtopic...but, how else will you find out what's going on on Slashdot when they change stuff like this? Modding topics like this to oblivion don't help when you're trying to get info out or about happenings within the forum...

Re:Something completely different.. (1)

Captain Splendid (673276) | more than 5 years ago | (#25879049)

Go here [slashdot.org] to sign the petition.

Or... (4, Insightful)

Zordak (123132) | more than 5 years ago | (#25876787)

So is this guy all hype with overpriced devices, or is time for someone to take his genius (Segway aside) to the mass market?

Or is he, as the title implies but the summary fails to make clear, a guy who has made tons of money selling stuff he's invented since the 80s, and has made enough money that he bought his own private island [wikipedia.org] (with its own "navy" and "air force")and then half-jokingly seceded from the United States something like 20 years ago.

Re:Or... (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25876931)

Nice segue.

Re:Or... (3, Interesting)

fprintf (82740) | more than 5 years ago | (#25877111)

I grew up sailing in Fisher's Island Sound, off the coast of Connecticut. We sailed by North Dumpling hundreds of times over the years. At some point in the 80s we noticed a lot more activity on the island than we had seen before, and this must be the point that Dean bought it. Suddenly there was a nice helicopter atop the island, and a grey amphibious landing craft always on the beach. We *never* saw anyone outside, certainly not any hot young things sunning themselves on the upper deck... this guy is apparently not James Bond, despite his penchant for bondian-type toys.

Anyway, it is a very cool spread. Personally I think anyone that owns an island like that should be able to seceed from the union, providing he pays for the protection afforded by the Groton sub base and can afford the duties/tariffs on any exports from CT! :-)

Re:Or... (2, Funny)

TheRealMindChild (743925) | more than 5 years ago | (#25877503)

We *never* saw anyone outside

It must be run by Oompa Loompa's

Sterling != Stirling (5, Informative)

MikeV (7307) | more than 5 years ago | (#25876801)

C'mon folks, if you're gonna pretend to be geeks, at least get it right - it's Stirling technology, not Sterling.

Re:Sterling != Stirling (1)

flyingfsck (986395) | more than 5 years ago | (#25877207)

It will be a Sterling idea once he successfully monetized the Stirling engine. Pardon, could not resist it, wot. H.

Re:Sterling != Stirling (1)

kwantar (1398143) | more than 5 years ago | (#25878895)

Rod would be pleased you cleared that up.

Kamen needs to invent a marketing machine (5, Insightful)

DustyCase (619304) | more than 5 years ago | (#25876841)

There are a lot of great R&D guys out there who have no idea how to get their product into the consumer's hands. Kamen started out making medical equipment (portable dialysis IIRC), and the Segway is the little brother of one of the best mobility devices (wheelchairs) in existence. But his track record is horrible when it comes to mass market devices. OTOH, you have the iPod, which is a very functional and stylish, yet underperforming, piece of technology, and the sell like mad. If he wants to turn the trend around he needs to spend some of that mountain of cash on a top shelf PR and Marketing firm, as opposed to the stunt publicity that "announced" the Segway.

Re:Kamen needs to invent a marketing machine (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25877157)

There are very few inventors who have had the incredible mass market exposure that Kamen has enjoyed over the last ten years.

If his inventions during this interval have met with less than stellar success, it is certainly NOT because they were sheltered away.

They are super cool, but they just miss the market.

Re:Kamen needs to invent a marketing machine (1)

dkleinsc (563838) | more than 5 years ago | (#25877255)

Kamen is far from poor, and his products are quite popular in the markets he targets.

The Segway isn't that popular, but I don't really see that as a problem: it's quite nifty for the people it would help, Segway polo looks fun, but for most people it's simply not worth the cost of owning it and the hassle of moving it around when you're not using it.

Re:Kamen needs to invent a marketing machine (1)

MobyDisk (75490) | more than 5 years ago | (#25877487)

That's exactly what Steve Jobs said about the Segway [boingboing.net] before it came out.

Genius? (5, Insightful)

retech (1228598) | more than 5 years ago | (#25876855)

Next time you need kidney dialysis you won't need to question his genius.

And kudos to him for seceding from the union!

Re:Genius? (1)

decalod85 (1214532) | more than 5 years ago | (#25878697)

And kudos to him for seceding from the union!

Yes, it is quite an apt move. Ask South Carolina how that worked out for them...

Better water purification (2, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25876869)

Actually, the best new water purification device comes from Seldon Technology. It uses carbon nanotubes and doesn't need electricity.

Re:Better water purification (4, Interesting)

Tastecicles (1153671) | more than 5 years ago | (#25876927)

there's a survival kit device that is basically a straw with a filter laminate in it - the claim is that you can stick the end of this thing in raw sewage, suck on it and get a drink of pure water. Not something I'd try myself for gits and shiggles, but I have half a dozen of these in my "End of Civilisation" bag so if it does come down to it, I'm not going thirsty. Caveat: it doesn't filter out radioactive particulates, so sticking it in a river estuary after a nuclear strike would be a no-no.

Re:Better water purification (4, Interesting)

snspdaarf (1314399) | more than 5 years ago | (#25877325)

Have you ever tried one of these straws? Even with clean water, you will collapse your asshole trying to suck anything through them. I used to think they were a slick idea, until I tried one.

Re:Better water purification (2, Informative)

Tastecicles (1153671) | more than 5 years ago | (#25877619)

I've not actually cracked one of these yet (saving them for a real emergency), but I do get the principle by which it works:

first layer: particle filtration
second layer: germ filtration
third layer: chemical filtration

is basically it. So, using common, all-garden kitchen equipment, and a glass tube out of a barometer, you can build a gravity-fed system using nothing more than a couple coffee filter papers or percolator mesh in a funnel for large particle filtration, a top layer of sand for smaller particles and large monocellular organisms (ie amoebae), crushed charcoal for general germ filtration and mix bed ion exchange resin (available from good camping stores and water treatment specialists; also electrodialysis membrane can be used but that makes life a little more complicated) for finishing and chemical purification. Such a basic system works, doesn't cost a mortgage to set up or operate and *requires no electricity*. Depending on how dirty the water is to begin with, you can reuse filters x number of times before you either have to replace the column substrates or occasionally you can backwash them using distilled water (providing you're anywhere near a source!) and use them again as if from new.

Commercial water filters such as the Brita range uses only mix bed IER. You can tell the difference if you live in a hard water area as the filter substrate does in fact work to remove base metals (and chlorine!) from solution. I have a filter I bought from ASDA two years ago; it uses the same cartridge it came with, I've never seen the need to replace it as a backwash of distilled water once a month whether it needs it or not is all it takes to refresh the resin and have it working like new again.

Re:Better water purification (1)

nedlohs (1335013) | more than 5 years ago | (#25878519)

"I've not actually cracked one of these yet (saving them for a real emergency)"

Wise, wouldn't want to test things in a non-emergency situation after all.

Re:Better water purification (5, Funny)

Rude Turnip (49495) | more than 5 years ago | (#25877743)

Uhm, trying putting the straw in your mouth instead :-)

Re:Better water purification (1)

snspdaarf (1314399) | more than 5 years ago | (#25878917)

Of course it was in my mouth. What do you think I was trying to do? Smuggle it into prison? :-)

Re:Better water purification (2, Interesting)

c_forq (924234) | more than 5 years ago | (#25877763)

What about reversing it? Like make a water tower above it funneling down to a spicket with a fitting for the tube in the end?

Re:Better water purification (1)

snspdaarf (1314399) | more than 5 years ago | (#25878871)

What about reversing it? Like make a water tower above it funneling down to a spicket with a fitting for the tube in the end?

Possibly. A better solution would be to use a larger filter, as Tastecicles described. Even with a high end filter like those sold by REI and others, I like to use a coffee filter as the first stage to get as much grit as possible out first. But, I still found the straws useless in real life.

Re:Better water purification (1)

IWood (1380317) | more than 5 years ago | (#25877647)

That's the LifeStraw, created by Vestergaard Frandsen [http://www.vestergaard-frandsen.com/lifestraw.htm]. Pur's flocculant powder [http://www.purpurifierofwater.com/] is a better solution, particularly for water that's full of particulate contaminants. Kills everything, removes pollutants, and makes the water clear. The LifeStraw's great virtue is its minimal cost per gallon over the lifetime of the unit.

Re:Better water purification (1)

Tastecicles (1153671) | more than 5 years ago | (#25877729)

that's the one. I'm goingto have a look into the flocculant powder thing as well, sounds interesting. Another thing I have in the kit which no discerning survivalist should be without is a pack of water purification tablets. Good for water which looks clear (but, you know, most bacteria aren't visible to the naked eye) because it kills everything then disperses.

Re:Better water purification (1)

samkass (174571) | more than 5 years ago | (#25877649)

Caveat: it doesn't filter out radioactive particulates

But it does filter out non-radioactive particulates? I assume there's simply a lower bound to the size of what it can filter and that suspended atoms are well below that size, but that "particulates" would be filtered out, whether they were dirt or little chunks of U-235.

Re:Better water purification (1)

Thelasko (1196535) | more than 5 years ago | (#25878165)

there's a survival kit device that is basically a straw with a filter laminate in it - the claim is that you can stick the end of this thing in raw sewage, suck on it and get a drink of pure water.

It's called the LifeStraw. [wikipedia.org]

Re:Better water purification (1)

d12v10 (1046686) | more than 5 years ago | (#25878195)

They don't filter bacteria or viruses either, and you'll rapidly chew up through the predicted lifetime if you attempt to filter large particles (like, say, dirt or very hard water). They're neat and novel devices, but not terribly practical.

Use your arms (2, Informative)

Nerdposeur (910128) | more than 5 years ago | (#25878275)

People who camp often use hand-pumped versions of this to make creek water drinkable. The advantage is that you can use the muscles in your arm to pump the water instead of sucking on a straw until your face implodes.

Way to go Dean (1)

symbolset (646467) | more than 5 years ago | (#25876899)

If you can get these devices distributed throughout Mexico you can crush their feeble electricity distribution infrastructure.

Plan, through, think cunning.

Re:Way to go Dean (4, Insightful)

Abreu (173023) | more than 5 years ago | (#25877265)

Well, I am in Mexico and I can tell you that a lot of small businesses here consist on buying some midsized reverse osmosis/filtration/UV equipment and make money distributing 20 liter bottles of water in a given neighborhood.

So yeah, a lot of those small stores are already "crushing our feeble electricity distribution infrastructure", so there wouldn't be too much of a difference there. Not to mention that it is a way-too-powerful union what's crushing the electricity distribution here, but I disgress...

Sadly philanthropy isn't profitable. (2, Insightful)

the_macman (874383) | more than 5 years ago | (#25877013)

...including the Slingshot water purifer that Stephen Colbert made famous but that no one has actually bought yet

Unfortunately philanthropy won't ever take off unless it's profitable. Just an inherit part of human greed. Sad but true. We have MORE than enough food to feed the entire human population, yet people still starve to death.

Case in point. For those of you who have seen Charlie Wilson's war, they end up giving millions of dollars in arms money to Afghanistan to repel the Russian invasion then when they ask for a million dollars to help rebuild the schools a US politician says, "Charlie, no one gives a shit about the schools."

Re:Sadly philanthropy isn't profitable. (5, Interesting)

jfengel (409917) | more than 5 years ago | (#25877217)

Unfortunately philanthropy won't ever take off unless it's profitable.

When it's profitable, they don't call it "philanthropy". They call it "business".

There are plenty of important philanthropists out there, willing to spend money at a "loss" in financial terms. Most notably, Bill Gates is spending more money than the entire network of all of Slashdot's readers to try to cure malaria and other global development programs. Carnegie Mellon University is the result of a massive philanthropic donation.

I'd say philanthropy has already taken off, despite not being profitable, because a lot of people think that there's more to life than profit. They have to start with the profit to make the money to donate, but they don't end there.

Re:Sadly philanthropy isn't profitable. (4, Interesting)

msblack (191749) | more than 5 years ago | (#25877795)

Sometimes philanthropy has negative side effects that we didn't expect. In the case of the Gates Foundation, medical professionals in Sub-Saharan Africa are bypassing jobs in the local communities where their help is desperately needed. Instead, they are taking cushy well-paid positions with the GF inoculating children against deadly diseases or treating AIDS patients. The downside is that routine medical care is in short supply as workers flock to the high-paying positions to fight sexy epidemics. The big loser is basic health care.

More from here [newsday.com] .

Re:Sadly philanthropy isn't profitable. (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25878149)

Well, let's never help anyone in one place because we might make things a little worse somewhere else.

Re:Sadly philanthropy isn't profitable. (5, Interesting)

SydShamino (547793) | more than 5 years ago | (#25877219)

Unfortunately philanthropy won't ever take off unless it's profitable. Just an inherit part of human greed. Sad but true.

That's one reason why we should bring back massive (i.e. 90%) inheritance taxes. We need to force rich aging people to recognize their own finality. They can then choose four options:

1) Pass on the money while they still live, giving gifts to family/friends under the tax limits each year for many years.

2) Pass on the money while they still live, giving it to charity with no limits.

3) Allow the money to go to charity when they die, with no limits.

4) Have the government take most of it.

The option 4) in my list above, brought about by the 90% inheritance tax, replaces the current option 4) Keep a death grip on money and power in their family until the day they die, then have their children reach in and take over that grip.

Honestly, I'm not sure why we as a society would like the old option four at all. I agree that (living) people have a right to do what they wish with their acquired wealth (with some limits). And, once someone dies, it's nice to be able to respect their wishes. But if people know that the new option four is inevitable if they don't make their own choices while they live, or give it all to charity when they die, we'll all see more philanthropy and a better world.

Re:Sadly philanthropy isn't profitable. (4, Interesting)

madsenj37 (612413) | more than 5 years ago | (#25877683)

Inheritance tax like many other ideas has merit to it, but when implemented is not actually a good idea. I do not stand to inherit much in the scheme of things, but would be pissed if the government took it away. I do chores and general upkeep at my parents house. I save them money and keep the house valuable. They keep money in their pocket, in banks, the stock market etc, and keep the economy going. The same goes for rich people. Just because they are filthy rich, does not mean that their kids have not help maintain some of the parents goings on. How do you judge what filthy rich is and who is deserving? Rich people keep much of their money invested and keep the economy going. That is how they stay rich. That is how Americas stays strong. There is too much bloat in the American government. Reduce that spending, because taxes are high enough. I recommend that you read Carnegie's Gospel of Wealth [swarthmore.edu] . The gist of it is this: The rich have a moral obligation to do good while still living, but not a financial one. Hopefully you do not believe in forcing morals on someone else. Otherwise, you stand for man and woman marriage only, no drugs, prudence, etc. and are not much for tolerance.

Re:Sadly philanthropy isn't profitable. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25877831)

I'm glad you've defined what morals are. Makes the discussion so much easier.

Re:Sadly philanthropy isn't profitable. (1)

madsenj37 (612413) | more than 5 years ago | (#25878751)

That is my point. Not everyone has the same moral system and yet a inheritance tax to support philanthropy is just that. I gave one view on morals as a counterpoint.

Read the Document (2, Interesting)

copponex (13876) | more than 5 years ago | (#25878819)

Carnegie at his best:

Thus is the problem of Rich and Poor to be solved. The laws of accumulation will be left free ; the laws of distribution free. Individualism will continue, but the millionaire will be but a trustee for the poor; intrusted for a season with a great part of the increased wealth of the community, but administering it for the community far better than it could or would have done for itself.

So, a rich man knows what to do with your money, but you do not. That's individualism and freedom according to Carnegie, and not coincidentally, everyone who is sitting at the top of the caste instead of the bottom.

Well, you can stick that kind of freedom up your ass, for all I care. If the wealth belongs to the community, let the community decide how to spend it. What Carnegie describes is tyranny exerted by corporate power instead of state power, which is better in some ways, but still not good.

Re:Sadly philanthropy isn't profitable. (2, Insightful)

theLOUDroom (556455) | more than 5 years ago | (#25878911)

Rich people keep much of their money invested and keep the economy going. That is how they stay rich. That is how Americas stays strong.

Do you think having a bunch of useless Paris Hilton's is what makes out economy strong?

First off, money doesn't disappear. If there's a million dollars when someone dies and 90% of it goes to the gov't, that million dollars doesn't simply blink out of existence.

Second, labor generates wealth, not money.
People with money, make money because they own the means of production and society forces us to pay them for the use of this.

Take your idea to the extreme. Imagine I personally owned every square inch of land on the planet. All I do is sit on my ass and collect rent checks. I inherited this land from my parents and my children with inherit it from me.
Do you really think that helps society?
All it really does is suck money out of the economy. I do nothing. I get checks anyways.

This simple thought example proves how fundamentally flawed your reasoning is. If you admit that it would be bad for me to own every square inch of land on the planet, then you must then open the discussion regarding "How much is too much?" and "What do we do when some hits that limit?"

Re:Sadly philanthropy isn't profitable. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25878973)

Inheritance tax like many other ideas has merit to it, but when implemented is not actually a good idea. I do not stand to inherit much in the scheme of things, but would be pissed if the government took it away.

Circular argument. You're already assuming you're entitled to the efforts of your parents, which is what is being called into question here. In that light, of course you'd be against it. Is it yours to claim, though?

I do chores and general upkeep at my parents house. I save them money and keep the house valuable. They keep money in their pocket, in banks, the stock market etc, and keep the economy going. The same goes for rich people. Just because they are filthy rich, does not mean that their kids have not help maintain some of the parents goings on.

Granted, we do things for our parents as they get older. The profit motive behind this gets a bit shaky, though, as is the big disparity in wealth people can accumulate. Simply, it doesn't seem fair that I should have to put myself in debt to take care of my parents in their last years while someone else takes away truckloads of money for the same (or likely, less) work, and society should at least somewhat be enriched by the transfer.

Rich people keep much of their money invested and keep the economy going. That is how they stay rich. That is how Americas stays strong. There is too much bloat in the American government. Reduce that spending, because taxes are high enough.

Taxes are the lowest they have been in many decades in America. Bloat is an issue, sure, but it's a separate issue. And I'm disinclined to throw robust support behind "The American economy" when its primary effects at this peak are to further enrich the top 1% and at best keep the rest of us along with a carrot-and-stick routine. The economy would do incredibly well with 1% tax, but those of us who aren't at the top of the pile wouldn't see a thing of it.

Hopefully you do not believe in forcing morals on someone else. Otherwise, you stand for man and woman marriage only, no drugs, prudence, etc. and are not much for tolerance.

Aside from the fact that most people here have moral issues about all those issues you list, this isn't a morals issue any more than income tax is a morals issue.

Re:Sadly philanthropy isn't profitable. (1)

Rude Turnip (49495) | more than 5 years ago | (#25877709)

The taxes don't have to be at 90% for options 1-3 to happen...it's going on right now at 45%.

Re:Sadly philanthropy isn't profitable. (3, Insightful)

demonlapin (527802) | more than 5 years ago | (#25877783)

The problem with this, of course, is that if you have enough money, you can create your own charity. Said charity can then employ your descendants to perform not-too-difficult jobs for rather-higher-than-average salaries.

If you have upwards of $10-$20M, this is a completely valid way to do things The hit in high inheritance taxes falls on those with just enough to be taxable but not enough to fund ways around it.

Re:Sadly philanthropy isn't profitable. (2, Insightful)

canUbeleiveIT (787307) | more than 5 years ago | (#25877827)

That's one reason why we should bring back massive (i.e. 90%) inheritance taxes. We need to force rich aging people to recognize their own finality.

I fail to see why wanting to transfer my hard-earned wealth to my children is any of the government's business.

The problem with your plan is that many of the supposed "rich" are merely people who have been prudent with their money by investing in their retirement from an early age instead of blowing it on new cars and oversized houses. Why should people who are thrifty enough to resist the consumer mentality be penalized?

Re:Sadly philanthropy isn't profitable. (1)

0100010001010011 (652467) | more than 5 years ago | (#25878121)

Why should people who are thrifty enough to resist the consumer mentality be penalized

Because their grandchildren turn out like Paris Hilton.

Re:Sadly philanthropy isn't profitable. (1)

SydShamino (547793) | more than 5 years ago | (#25878219)

I fail to see why wanting to transfer my hard-earned wealth to my children is any of the government's business.

And why is it the government's business if you want to transfer your hard-earned money to your employees in response to their efforts? Why is it the government's business if I want to transfer my hard-earned money to McDonald's for a Happy Meal?

It's the government's business because we have banded together to form a society with a government, and we as a society have chosen to let the government skim off the top of some types of transactions as a way to keep the communal services funded. Money transfers between people is one method that we allow to be taxed.

It doesn't matter that I paid income tax on the money I earn. When I spend it with or give it to someone else, they are going to have to pay income tax on it, too.

And, besides, if you want your hard-earned wealth to go to your children, why don't you sit down and write out a check for $30,000 (IIRC) to each of them right now? Then do it again next year, and every year until you die. Voila, no government involvement in the transfer of your wealth to your kids. When they get married, or they have kids, you can write the same check to their spouses and their kids and transfer your wealth even faster.

Re:Sadly philanthropy isn't profitable. (1)

canUbeleiveIT (787307) | more than 5 years ago | (#25878845)

It's the government's business because we have banded together to form a society with a government, and we as a society have chosen to let the government skim off the top of some types of transactions as a way to keep the communal services funded. Money transfers between people is one method that we allow to be taxed.

Right, skim off the top, not take all of it or mandate what must be done with all of it.

And, besides, if you want your hard-earned wealth to go to your children, why don't you sit down and write out a check for $30,000 (IIRC) to each of them right now? Then do it again next year, and every year until you die. Voila, no government involvement in the transfer of your wealth to your kids. When they get married, or they have kids, you can write the same check to their spouses and their kids and transfer your wealth even faster.

There are a number of reasons that one wouldn't want to do that and it doesn't take a genius to figure that out. However, I will give you a couple:

* Contrary to popular belief, a great deal of the wealthy have gotten that way by saving money and taking advantage of the principle of compound interest. With a person saving long-term, the majority of the wealth will be generated in the last ten or so years [investingforstudents.org] . If one gifts the principle there will be exponentially less money at death. If one waits until the money has been earned, it severely limits the number of years that one can give.

* Oftentimes one's offspring is not in the correct frame-of-mind to receive large amounts of money when they are still young, once again limiting the number of years to gift the money.

In any event, I guess that I don't see why it matters to you, the government, or anyone else if I give my children $30,000 per year every year or just give them a lump sum when I die. I can't see the advantage to that, other than it seems to satisfy some urge that people have to punish the people who have more than themselves. If you find yourself in that group, it might interest you to know that households how have a total wealth of more 1 million dollars (about 7% of the population of the US) give about half of all of the money donated to charities.

Re:Sadly philanthropy isn't profitable. (1)

rengav (456846) | more than 5 years ago | (#25877837)

Ah, no. You are out of your gourd. Why should the government get almost all of the money that my parents (and grandparents) worked so hard all of their lives? All that money has been taxed several times already. It was taxed as profit for the companies that my parents hold stock in, then it was taxed again as dividends paid to my parents, and then it was taxed as capital gains when my parents sold the stock.

THEN you want to take 90% of what's left? I say NO, the government's hand is in my pocket enough, thank you very much!

Re:Sadly philanthropy isn't profitable. (1)

kwerle (39371) | more than 5 years ago | (#25877891)

Ah, no. You are out of your gourd. Why should the government get almost all of the money that my parents (and grandparents) worked so hard all of their lives?

Fair question.

Why should you get it?

Re:Sadly philanthropy isn't profitable. (1)

FishWithAHammer (957772) | more than 5 years ago | (#25878213)

Because the people who earned it presumably want him to have it?

Re:Sadly philanthropy isn't profitable. (1)

aneurysm36 (459092) | more than 5 years ago | (#25878417)

because it belonged to my parents and they chose to give it to me.

Re:Sadly philanthropy isn't profitable. (1)

rtechie (244489) | more than 5 years ago | (#25877855)

That's one reason why we should bring back massive (i.e. 90%) inheritance taxes. We need to force rich aging people to recognize their own finality.

It's a nice idea, but there would be strong (i.e. armed) resistance to the government seizing family homes, so that's not happening. And the really rich can find ways to avoid such a tax. For example but moving most of their assets outside of the United States into a trust that will ignore US tax claims. So you would also basically have to end all foreign investment. Good luck with that.

A much better way at helping the poor is targeted tax cuts at the taxes that affect THEM, notably sales taxes, alcohol and cigarette taxes, and service fees of all kinds. What to help poor people? Cut their DMV registration from $100 to $50. Cut parking and speeding fines 50%. Eliminate toll roads. Eliminate fees on national parks, etc.

A better bet is to raise property taxes, they're a LOT harder to dodge.

Re:Sadly philanthropy isn't profitable. (1)

Pope (17780) | more than 5 years ago | (#25878161)

Yes, raise property taxes, surely the landlord won't pass that on to his poor tenants, right?

Re:Sadly philanthropy isn't profitable. (1)

Shatrat (855151) | more than 5 years ago | (#25877899)

5) Leave the country, or arrange that the money does.
Forcing people to be charitable isn't going to work.
That's not charity, it's just theft and people will avoid it.

Re:Sadly philanthropy isn't profitable. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25878005)

There's this principle called "equality of opportunity" that most Americans and all American politicians claim to believe in...

Massive intergenerational transfer of wealth destroys equality of opportunity. Wealth accumulates at the top. You need a large inheritance tax to give a meaningful chance to people who aren't born with a silver spoon. That the government ends up taking the money is arbitrary.

In reality America is failing at equality of opportunity, and the data shows we're worse than many European countries. In particular Americans are less likely to increase or decrease their social status relative to their parents than Scandinavians, French, and possibly even the classist British.

The future of the inheritance tax is likely to be option 3, because it's not a "death tax" if it doesn't go to the government (intentionally misleading terminology FTW!) but a charitable legacy.

Re:Sadly philanthropy isn't profitable. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25878099)

4) Have the government take most of it.

After all, the government always knows best.

*giggle* Sorry, couldn't keep a straight face.

Re:Sadly philanthropy isn't profitable. (1)

mdarksbane (587589) | more than 5 years ago | (#25878113)

And what do you do when that value is in the form of property, or a company.

Sorry, son, the family farm/business/house is being given to charity so the government can't get it.

Not all inheritable wealth is in the form of liquid assets.

Re:Sadly philanthropy isn't profitable. (1)

OwnedByTwoCats (124103) | more than 5 years ago | (#25878253)

See "Hughes Medical Foundation".

Re:Sadly philanthropy isn't profitable. (0)

d12v10 (1046686) | more than 5 years ago | (#25878229)

Some people call that socialism, and are very fearful of it.

Re:Sadly philanthropy isn't profitable. (1)

rcastro0 (241450) | more than 5 years ago | (#25878331)

Well, since you mentioned, here are, imho, the problems with each of your alternatives:

1) Pass on the money while they still live, giving gifts to family/friends under the tax limits each year for many years.

This alternative invalidates your alternative #4. In fact, it is exactly what my grandfather did before he passed away in order to avoid inheritance tax: he transfered what he had to the name of his children. Of course then the children would have to register that income and pay taxes over that. But their tax bracket would be much lower than your proposed 90% tax. What, you think you could place limits on how much he could transfer? Watch Mickey Blue Eyes [wikipedia.org] .

2) Pass on the money while they still live, giving it to charity with no limits.

Well, this point is really number (3) below. Except it happens before you die.

3) Allow the money to go to charity when they die, with no limits.

How fair or efficient is that? You could be perpetuating a rich person's eccentricity. In fact, just recently there was a very interesting debate around a rich woman who donated millions of her money to a charity to support... her dog! (see Rich Bitch [newyorker.com] ). Her white maltese (called "Trouble") will get her own, tax-free, trust fund [nytimes.com] .

4) Have the government take most of it.

Would be a good idea, if the government were such a perfect agent for our society's welfare. Do you really trust the government to spend that money well? Think US$700bn, think US$25bn, think of the cost of the Iraq War [nationalpriorities.org] . Then think about how much ($20k, $100k?) you parents will be leaving for you.

If you think your parents would leave a larger sum, you may have less to worry. As Warren Buffet, the 3rd richest man in the world, told us about, the tax system tends to be lighter on the rich... [timesonline.co.uk] . The rich often pay less taxes, have good lawyers, creative accountants, resourceful private bankers...

A favorite Murphy Law states: Hard Problems have solutions that are simple, elegant, and wrong. But I am with you: it should be discussed...

Re:Sadly philanthropy isn't profitable. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25878407)

As you mentioned in 1), for this to work you have to limit what a person can do with money while they are still alive, or they'll just create a living trust in their children's name or give most of it to them outright.

Maybe I'm square but I'm not sure I see how telling people what they can do with their own money is a great idea.

Re:Sadly philanthropy isn't profitable. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25878935)

IMG, UR a moron.

As an attorney, I can promise you we have many many many ways around that. Heck, we have ways around almost anything you can dream up. Keep trying though, it keeps us in business.

Re:Sadly philanthropy isn't profitable. (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25877249)

I'm in the middle of going back to school after years of working in order to contribute something more effective than just a monetary donation to the third world. Years of making very good money, and the work I'm putting towards doing this is making me happier than the money ever did.

Posted anonymously because I'm not trying to brag - I'm just trying to make people think about what would actually make them happy.

Re:Sadly philanthropy isn't profitable. (2, Interesting)

Beezlebub33 (1220368) | more than 5 years ago | (#25877433)

...including the Slingshot water purifer that Stephen Colbert made famous but that no one has actually bought yet

Unfortunately philanthropy won't ever take off unless it's profitable. Just an inherit part of human greed.

So, how do you make his things profitable? The water purification process seems pretty good, but there's a serious problem getting it to market.

Seems like the best way to do it is to make it profitable for the little stores, which means that they need to be able to get the device and power and maintain it for less than they can make selling the water. Maybe through microloans or something like that.

The real difficult part here is the maintenance and energy costs. If he really wanted to get it everywhere, the thing to do is to design it such that it could be built and maintained in a poor place, then give the plans away, so that small entrepreneurs could make them to sell to the small stores. And then he'd do the same with a cheap, efficient Stirling engine to power it.

Re:Sadly philanthropy isn't profitable. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25877667)

Case in point. For those of you who have seen Charlie Wilson's war, they end up giving millions of dollars in arms money to Afghanistan to repel the Russian invasion then when they ask for a million dollars to help rebuild the schools a US politician says, "Charlie, no one gives a shit about the schools."

That is an interesting albeit somewhat irrelevant assertion. In "Gone with the Wind", Katherine Hepburne suffers a broken ankle and is immediately assisted by several gentlemen, despite the fact that she is clearly married and hence self-interest would not enter onto their part. Later on she asks, "Dear Charlie, can't you ever care about anything but money?" and Charlie replies "But Lara, it was never about the money, I just wanted someone to love me".

This proves that people are not truly interested in money, and that they will help freely if given the chance.

Seceded? Secluded? (1)

seven of five (578993) | more than 5 years ago | (#25877211)

Agh

But is his water-maker better? Cheaper? (4, Interesting)

Animats (122034) | more than 5 years ago | (#25877243)

If you want to get clean water from non-clean water, there are plenty of systems available. Here's a small watermaker [appliedmembranes.com] that runs on salt water. It's a reverse osmosis device, with the prefilters needed to get rid of the solid crud. Here's a simpler one for non-salt water. [appliedmembranes.com] The U.S. military uses reverse osmosis units heavily. They work fine. They scale down to straw-sized things for survival use, and scale up to city-sized desalinization plants.

So why is Kamen's system better? Lower power consumption? Lower initial cost? Fewer consumables? The article doesn't tell us that. It's not like he's the first person to build a packaged water purifier.

Re:But is his water-maker better? Cheaper? (2, Insightful)

sagneta (539541) | more than 5 years ago | (#25877451)

You hit the problem I've always had with him. In fact, I could add to the list a device that extracts water right out of the air with very little power. That could be powered by electricity and solves the issue of actually getting water at all which the other devices do not. Did he ask "Is the issue lack of technology or lack of access to technology?" He never asks that question. So everything is a technological solution which is not really what the world wants nor needs.

Re:But is his water-maker better? Cheaper? (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25877453)

IIRC, his device requires no filters or additional chemicals, and also can filter practically everything out (including heavy metals). It's essentially a vapor distiller.

One of the big parts is that combined with the engine, you can run the distiller on practically any fuel source (including.... methane from dung)

Re:But is his water-maker better? Cheaper? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25877549)

For the third world, it seems a solar still would be better. And the solar heater part could also be used for cooking. And maybe even driving a Stirling engine to make a small amount of electricity,

Re:But is his water-maker better? Cheaper? (1)

TellarHK (159748) | more than 5 years ago | (#25877747)

The problem with reverse osmosis, is that the membranes for RO systems are very, very difficult to maintain and store in the kind of conditions you'll find in third-world nations without a supply chain following along. Membranes need to be kept refrigerated, properly sealed, and replaced on a fairly regular basis. Something that pulls off the same task with a lower level of support requirement would be a big hit in many markets, I'm sure.

I just have zero idea how to do it.

Re:But is his water-maker better? Cheaper? (2, Informative)

hey! (33014) | more than 5 years ago | (#25877935)

Yes, but capacity isn't the only dimension on which a water purification system has to "scale". How long it can operate it without resupplying filters is a relevant factor.

One of the reasons that poor people are poor is that they have to buy things in more expensive packages. We in the US have fabulously expensive infrastructure that that allows us to "buy" a teaspoon of clean water by turning the tap. Water filtration is a much more expensive, but it doesn't take the millions of dollars of investment a city water supply would. It may well be a cheaper solution in situations where people share a well and carry their cooking and drinking water home. Not cheaper per gallon, just a cheaper way to get people the minimum amount of clean water needed for health.

The sticking point, as far as I can see, is there isn't enough money dedicated to any kind of solution, whether the fabulously expensive to build but cheap per gallon first world solution, or the relatively cheap to install but expensive per gallon approach of water filtration.

If there is a place for Kamen's invention, it would be in a world that is willing to invest up front in some kind of filtration system for everybody. We do not, I suspect, live in such a world, but if we did we might be interested in ways of reducing the cost per gallon of filtered water, say by installing a system like this with solar panels.

work safe link (1)

eleuthero (812560) | more than 5 years ago | (#25877317)

Is there a copy of this article on a site that doesn't immediately flag problems at work--something tech oriented perhaps?

typo in headline (2, Funny)

Sleepy (4551) | more than 5 years ago | (#25877335)

Inside Dean Kamen's Seceded Island of Greekery
There, fixed it for you.

Dean Kamen should stick to medical devices (1)

Locke2005 (849178) | more than 5 years ago | (#25877401)

My understanding of Sterling-cycle engines is that the greater the delta in temperature between the heat source and the heat sink, the greater the efficiency. Mobile applications have only air for a heat sink, and thus are non-ideal. Where Sterling-cycle makes since is in a stationary generator, preferably on the coast, where you can pump up cold water from the depths to get your greatest heat differential. The ideal location would be the Hawaiian islands, with geothermal heat and deep ocean in close proximity. Obviously Dean Kamen has put more research into this than I have, but I really don't see this as a practical means of powering a car. As far a the Segway, at $5000 it is 10 times the price point at which it would catch on. Also, any rational mechanical engineer would simply have added a third wheel to the Segway to balance it, rather than relying on the sensors and computationally expensive methods the Segway uses.

Re:Dean Kamen should stick to medical devices (3, Insightful)

TellarHK (159748) | more than 5 years ago | (#25877557)

Thinking like that is exactly _why_ the world needs people like Dean Kamen.

Irrational engineering has led either directly or indirectly to many, many of the world's great advances. Guys like Kamen are out there on the "crazy edge" of bleeding edge, for a good reason.

Re:Dean Kamen should stick to medical devices (1)

Free the Cowards (1280296) | more than 5 years ago | (#25877733)

My understanding of Sterling-cycle engines is that the greater the delta in temperature between the heat source and the heat sink, the greater the efficiency. Mobile applications have only air for a heat sink, and thus are non-ideal.

This is true of any heat engine, not just Stirling engines. If internal combustion engines have done fine with only the air as a heat sink for the past 100 years or so, I don't see why it would suddenly become a show-stopper for a Stirling engine.

Cult of the Armchair Zeroes (4, Insightful)

copponex (13876) | more than 5 years ago | (#25878385)

Please, don't take this personally. I know you're just making a post on Slashdot. But why can't you even read one article about this before you make useless guesses?

After two minutes of Googling, I found this diamond in the rough [wipo.int] , a patent application secretively titled "STIRLING ENGINE THERMAL SYSTEM IMPROVEMENTS", submitted by Dean Kamen. Though you may dislike the Segway, and I can't blame you for it, the technology came from his iBot wheel chair [ibotnow.com] , which is the closest thing I've seen to offering someone who doesn't have use of their legs a chance at full mobility. This has improved the lives of thousands of people. Unless you're an aid worker or another genius inventor, your comparable contributions to society are far less, without even touching his more traditional medical inventions.

So, with all due respect, before you pat yourself on the back for shooting down an idea you are totally ignorant of, stop typing and read about the idea first. Then, if you have something useful to say, the world will be glad to read about your idea, and then reply.

Water Filtration (1)

TellarHK (159748) | more than 5 years ago | (#25877465)

What I'd love to see Kamen work on would be some kind of mass-market home water purification system for use here in the US, simply because that way he'd be able to make a profitable killing. There are so few companies that manufacture equipment out there now, that they would not be difficult at all to supplant with a better product.

US Filter, Culligan, etc, are all designed to support an infrastructure of independent distributors and not really intended for personal maintenance. The technology in these things is seriously old-school in most cases, while the science behind them is fairly simple.

Radon removal - simple as hell. Just push air in and out of water to clear it. I've seen it lowered just by putting a valve on the water lines for low levels. Or by using carbon filters. Water softening - simple as hell, but requires filtering media cleaning which goes through bag after bag of salt, which then goes into groundwater or sewage systems. Iron removal - again, simple but requires filter media. pH balancing - simple, but requires chemicals.

If Dean can come up with ways to do those items without the grossly excessive media requirements they have these days, he'll really be on to something to revolutionize an industry.

I lived in Manchester working for my brother's water company for a few years, I may not know all the details, but I know that it's an industry based on some really simple principles that could benefit from some serious technological leaps beyond "Hey, the timer that says to use 10 pounds of salt to clean a water softener is now digital instead of an analog timer!"

Genius and marketing not necessarily hand in hand (5, Interesting)

kaizendojo (956951) | more than 5 years ago | (#25877739)

So, is this guy all hype with overpriced devices, or is time for someone to take his genius (Segway aside) to the mass market?"

Speaking as someone who has met Dean and worked with him on more than a few FIRST competitions, he's someone who is truly geek and lives to discover and improve things. That skill set isn't necessarily the same skills that would serve marketing and promotions people, and once Dean is set into motion he's a hard cat to stop - something you definitely want in an R&D genius.

At some point, Dean needs to do the market research before the announcement phase but if you spend even a few minutes with the guy, you can see how excited and dedicated he is to wanting to change the world in positive ways. I imagine that when you see the world in that framework, it becomes hard to contain your excitement to the meeting rooms....

Still, for one of the smartest and richest guys I've ever had the pleasure of meeting, he's extremely down to earth. Rare breed.

Re:Genius and marketing not necessarily hand in ha (1)

mdarksbane (587589) | more than 5 years ago | (#25878007)

As another former FIRST member, I agree 100%.

Guy give the most *depressing* speeches, though.

Re:Genius and marketing not necessarily hand in ha (1)

nate_in_ME (1281156) | more than 5 years ago | (#25878183)

I've been involved with FIRST since '98, and actually work for FIRST now, and think that the GP post sums things up nicely...eccentric might be another fitting word to describe Dean...Yes, there may have been better ways to do some things(like the segway), but I'm guessing the whole discussion went something like this..."OK, we just got the balancing to work(with the iBOT wheelchair), now what can we use this in that's FUN?"

Reminds me of John Harrison (1)

gelfling (6534) | more than 5 years ago | (#25878097)

And his lifelong quest to solve the Longitude problem. Being a genius isn't enough, you need superhuman tenacity.

more background info in CODE NAME: Ginger (0)

microcars (708223) | more than 5 years ago | (#25878157)

for those that want to know more about how things operate "behind the scenes" at DEKA, check out CODE NAME: GINGER [amazon.com]

absolutely fascinating look at DEKA from an insider during the development of the Segway.

Not "Segway aside," but the same marketing pattern (2, Interesting)

CadmannWeyland (609987) | more than 5 years ago | (#25878259)

I think mattnyc99 (the poster) misses one of his own points by saying "Segway aside."

mattnyc99 points out that Kamen is trying to leverage the distiller side of the market to help fund / drive down costs to get the Stirling side of the product to market.

The technology in the Segway comes originally from a wheelchair system that Kamen and company designed and produced. The Segway was an effort to popularize the technology to drive down costs, so that the wheelchair would be much less expensive, and widely available.

At least, that's the way I see it.

not impressed (1, Flamebait)

Ancient_Hacker (751168) | more than 5 years ago | (#25878443)

so this guy can design $26,000 wheelchairs that no one can afford. $12,000 electric mopeds that no one buys.

Call me not impressed.

And now he has some water filtration system, cost unknown, but probably pricey.

And a Stirling engine of unknown efficiency and reliability.

If you read between the lines of TFA you might get the impression that investors are not clamoring to invest in another expensive set of gadgets that are over-designed and over-priced and under-powered.

Re:not impressed (1)

SlowMovingTarget (550823) | more than 5 years ago | (#25878925)

You'll be really impressed when he's flying around in a super-high-tech suit of armor powered by a Stirling engine stuck in his chest to keep the exploded Segway shards out of his heart. Although, judging from the design aesthetics of his wheelchair and the Segway, he'll look more like a greenish Michelin Man than Iron Man.

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