Friday, March 28, 2008

The march to add spy drones to local law enforcement arsenal continues:

A small pilotless vehicle manufactured by Honeywell International, capable of hovering and "staring" using electro-optic or infrared sensors, is expected to be introduced soon in the skies over the Florida Everglades.

If use of the drone wins U.S. Federal Aviation Administration approval after tests, the Miami-Dade Police Department will start flying the 14 pound, or 6.35 kilogram, drone over urban areas with an eye toward full-fledged employment in crime fighting.

"Our intentions are to use it only in tactical situations as an extra set of eyes," said Detective Juan Villalba, a police department spokesman.

He acknowledged strong interest from law enforcement agencies in getting drones up and running, however, and said the smaller aircraft were particularly likely to have a "huge economic impact" over the next 10 years.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Strategy as a set of trade-offs

Defining the objective, scope, and advantage requires trade-offs, which Porter identified as fundamental to strategy. If a firm chooses to pursue growth or size, it must accept that profitability will take a back seat. If it chooses to serve institutional clients, it may ignore retail customers. If the value proposition is lower prices, the company will not be able to compete on, for example, fashion or fit. Finally, if the advantage comes from scale economies, the firm will not be able to accommodate idiosyncratic customer needs. Such trade-offs are what distinguish individual companies strategically.
Harvard Business Review, April 2008, p. 85.

Invention of a new business model usually breaks through an "unavoidable" trade-off. For example, Google and found ways to get around the scale vs. customization trade-off. Hotel chains solved institutional vs retail, and etc. Companies that define themselves as a trade-off maintainer are prone to disruptions from their more innovative peers.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Scientific American proposes a grand scheme for solar power:
Solar energy’s potential is off the chart. The energy in sunlight striking the earth for 40 minutes is equivalent to global energy consumption for a year. The U.S. is lucky to be endowed with a vast resource; at least 250,000 square miles of land in the Southwest alone are suitable for constructing solar power plants, and that land receives more than 4,500 quadrillion British thermal units (Btu) of solar radiation a year. Converting only 2.5 percent of that radiation into electricity would match the nation’s total energy consumption in 2006.

To convert the country to solar power, huge tracts of land would have to be covered with photovoltaic panels and solar heating troughs. A direct-current (DC) transmission backbone would also have to be erected to send that energy efficiently across the nation.

The technology is ready. On the following pages we present a grand plan that could provide 69 percent of the U.S.’s electricity and 35 percent of its total energy (which includes transportation) with solar power by 2050. We project that this energy could be sold to consumers at rates equivalent to today’s rates for conventional power sources, about five cents per kilowatt-hour (kWh). If wind, biomass and geothermal sources were also developed, renewable energy could provide 100 percent of the nation’s electricity and 90 percent of its energy by 2100.

While British researchers see environmental dangers everywhere, except in massive installations of solar panels:
the great environmental concerns of the future should be nanomaterials, manmade viruses and biomimetic robots.

So say researchers, policymakers and environmental campaigners, who have identified 25 potential future threats to the environment in the UK, which they say researchers should focus on.

In addition to well-publicised risks such as toxic nanomaterials, the acidification of the ocean and increasingly frequent extreme weather events, the list includes some more outlandish possibilities. These include:

• Biomimetic robots that could become new invasive species.

• Experiments involving climate engineering, for instance ocean 'fertilisation' and deploying solar shields

• Increased demand for the biomass needed to make biofuel.

• Disruption to marine ecosystems caused by offshore power generation.

• Experiments to control invasive species using genetically engineered viruses.
Paul Lockhart writes:

The main problem with school mathematics is that there are no problems. Oh, I know what
passes for problems in math classes, these insipid “exercises.” “Here is a type of problem. Here is how to solve it. Yes it will be on the test. Do exercises 1-35 odd for homework.” What a sad way to learn mathematics: to be a trained chimpanzee.

This is a big problem with education in general. Students are not taught to look for cool open-ended problems. Inventiveness and creativity are presented as simple puzzle-solving exercise, where answers are known before hand and are really easy to test against.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Dilemma of the Day

Economist Paul Romer:

So with ideas, you have this tension: You want high prices to motivate discovery, but you want low prices to achieve efficient widespread use.