Fear of Flying

Mar 8, 2006 4:21pm

We have a deal with Google, in case you’ve missed it, in which they share what they call their "Zeitgeist"–the most common, or up-and-coming, searches that people are making.  Yesterday they pointed us to "CARL DIETRICH TRANSITION." 

Once you get past wondering whether some guy named Deitrich is having a midlife crisis, it turns out that the real Carl Dietrich is a 28-year-old Ph.D. student at M.I.T., and that he’s just won a $30,000 prize from the school for his inventiveness.

His most eye-catching project is a flying car, which he happens to have dubbed the "Transition."  Now the search terms make sense.

Well, I got a call early today from the producers of our WNT Webcast–hadn’t I done several stories on flying-car schemes before?  Quick search through my logs; turns out I’d done exactly one piece on an inventor with a prototype jet pack…and been queried by producers perhaps a half-dozen times in recent years about other such ideas.

None has, er, really gotten off the ground, and perhaps none ever will.  But M.I.T. sounded impressed.  "Carl joins a long line of independent inventors who are passionate about finding innovative ways to address society’s fundamental problems," said Merton Flemings, who directs the program that gives out the $30,000 award.

Dietrich sounds serious.  He’s rounded up some friends from M.I.T.’s business school to help him see if there’s a market for the Transition.  He figures it could be great for 100-500 mile short hops–the trips that are too expensive to be worth an airline flight, but too long to be practical by car.

The Transition, at least in its early design, looks like a sleek two-seater sports car with fold-up wings.  It’ll fit in a conventional garage.  The idea is that you drive it to the local airport, press a button, the wings extend, and a propeller takes over for the drive train. 

Cost to own one?  No idea, but more than a Toyota Camry and less than a Piper Cub. 

And if that doesn’t work, Dietrich is also working on nuclear fusion.


The Smoke is Settling

Some cigarette numbers today from the National Association of Attorneys General and the American Legacy Foundation, which report a substantial drop in tobacco sales.  These bullet points from their release:

  • Tobacco sales dropped 4.2% from 2004 to 2005.  Cigarette sales have dropped 21% since 1997 by 100 billion cigarettes.
  • The decline started in 1997 and accelerated after the signing of the [tobacco settlement] in 1998, after which the cigarette companies changed their advertising due to numerous restrictions placed on them.
  • The culture of tobacco has faded as tobacco is no longer glamorous or portrayed as such.
  • The prohibition of smoking in restaurants and public places has been a huge development.  It is sweeping the country.  A large number of Americans, 40,000 to 50,000 die of 2nd hand smoke each year.  Tobacco companies have fought very hard against these prohibitions.  The companies are trying to develop alternatives to fight the bans, but we are winning the battle.
  • 4,000 youth try smoking every day for the first time, but overall it is down by 40% since 1997.
  • There are more former smokers than actual smokers.


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