Thursday, May 29, 2008

Twentieth-century psychologists have been pessimistic about teaching reasoning, prevailing opinion suggesting that people may possess only domain-specific rules, rather than abstract rules; this would mean that training a rule in one domain would not produce generalization to other
domains. Altematively, it was thought that people might possess abstract rules (such as logical ones) but that these are induced developmentally through self-discovery methods and cannot be trained. Research suggests a much more optimistic view: even briefformal training in inferential
rules may enhance their use for reasoning about everyday life events. Previous theorists may have been mistaken about trainability, in part because they misidentified the kind of rules that people use naturally.

Science Magazine, 30 October 1987.

Another confirmation that model-based approach to teaching invention skills can be extremely useful when abstract rules are illustrated with examples from different domains. Just teaching-by-example or abstract reasoning logic may not be enough to get the knowledge transfer effect.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

As we've discovered during the last session of the Principles of Invention class at Stanford, server technology is going to be a strong control point in the emerging mobile applications space. Google continues to build a leadership position in technology and mind share among software developers and corporations. They (Google) become embedded into the fabric of the new generation of web applications.
For example, CNET writes:
MySpace's announcement that it has integrated Gears into its messaging system to create a backup of messages (email) to a user's computer and thereby enable faster searching and sorting of the messages. With 170 million messages sent each day on MySpace, this adds up to cost-savings as it needn't process all of the email searching and sorting server-side.

Or look at Google's App Engine, which is one area in which Google keeps trying to "mak[e] clouds of computing power more accessible to all developers." Google is now opening up App Engine to everyone, not an elect few, at pricing that is very compelling.

We'll probably explore further invention/innovation opportunities in this space during our next class, BUS75

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

History of DHL:
In 1969, Adrian Dalsey, Larry Hillblom and Robert Lynn (D, H, and L) founded DHL as a service shuttling bills of lading between San Francisco and Honolulu. The company grew rapidly and in a few years initiated service to the Philippines, Japan, Hong Kong, Singapore and Australia, creating an entirely new industry of international door-to-door express service in the Pacific Basin. Steady expansion continued in the 1970's as DHL initiated service to Europe (1974), Latin America (1977), the Middle East (1978) and Africa (1978).

This is an example of a system evolution pattern where control information "finds" a fast channel to improve the overall system performance. In this case, DHL found a way to increase productivity in the global shipping industry by delivering customs documents to foreign ports while freight ships were still en route. Officials were able to review the documents before the goods arrived, thus cutting the time that ships had to spend in port.
From the history of Fedex Corp:
FedEx was founded as Federal Express Corporation in 1971, by 28-year-old Memphis, Tennessee, native Frederick W. Smith. Smith, a former Marine pilot, originally outlined his idea for an overnight delivery service in a term paper he wrote for a Yale University economics class. He felt that air freight had different requirements than air passenger service and that a company specializing in air freight rather than making it an add-on to passenger service would find a lucrative business niche. Speed was more important than cost, in Smith's view, and access to smaller cities was essential. His strategies included shipping all packages through a single hub and building a private fleet of aircraft. Company-owned planes would free the service from commercial-airline schedules and shipping regulations, while a single hub would permit the tight control that got packages to their destinations overnight. In making his dream a reality, Smith selected Memphis as his hub: it was centrally located and despite inclement weather its modern airport rarely closed.

A good example how an alternative distribution system emerges by capturing large volumes of new types of payloads. Also of interest is coupling of distribution with storage ( parts warehousing ). A pattern familiar from the early banking systems.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

May 20, 2008. An update on the mobile application space

Google could soon find itself as the iPhone’s largest independent software vendor, while at the same time becoming its biggest competitor through the launch of the company’s own mobile platform. While browser-based versions of Google’s Web applications will run via both Android and the iPhone’s Web browser with little or no modifications (since both use WebKit), native apps for either platform aren’t compatible. In many instances Google may pick and choose which of its services to build native iPhone clients for, and which should remain browser-based or exclusively native for Android devices. As an example, the pre-release version of Google Maps for Android already has features missing from the iPhone version.

Google continues to position itself as a premier, if not dominant, player in the emerging mobile software space.

Monday, May 19, 2008

The Promise of Prediction Markets article in Science magazine makes a point that over time people get better at forecasting event outcomes ( see the graph below).

But we can turn this argument on its head and say that while crowds are generally good at predicting short-term events, they are not that great in predicting long-term outcomes. Furthermore, the farther the crowds are removed from an event, the worse their accuracy rate is. It is the job of inventors/innovators, not the crowds, to not only predict the future, but also make it happen. Truly great innovators, like Edison, Disney, Moore, Gates, and Jobs, have the ability to lead the crowds onto "predicting" the success of their innovations.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

herding cats

However, Peterson found a negative relationship between creative cities and strength that connects people to one another - such as modesty, gratitude, spirituality, teamwork, kindness, and fairness. ... This jibes with my research teams findings which show that regional creativity and innovation are related to diversity and openness, but not to social capital of the sort Robert Putnam has written about. Putnam's most recent research has also found that diversity hinders social capital. This is all very troubling news for our sense of community and social cohesion. The very strengths that make places diverse and creative seem to damage our social capital and community commitment. ( Florida, R. Who's your city. Basic Books, 2008 p. 210-211 )

A interesting trade-off: more creative people - fewer/shallower social connections. Makes perfect sense in terms of system analysis, because connection creation and maintenance require time and resources that can be better spent on developing new ideas. Online social networking, with its "low-touch" relationships, serves this environment much better than more traditional forms of social interaction, like family, clubs, churches, and etc. May also relate to the Tipping Point phenomenon described by Malcolm Gladwell and Andrew Hargadon's concept of technology brokering ( How Breakthroughs Happen).
I will use this problem as an example in my next Principles of Invention class.

Personality Maps

The maps show distribution of the Big Five Personality Traits in the United States.

Extroverted, Agreeable, Neurotic, Conscientious, Open-to-Experience

I wonder what kind of processes sustain these distributions. For example, a person with new ideas can be easily accommodated in Silicon Valley, but rejected in the South ( Georgia, Missouri, etc.) The network-centric view that Richard Florida proposes in Who's Your City is limited to the "Distribution" system component and does not explain a self-perpetuating cycle. Various institutions have to work together to convert ideas into cool products and high-paying jobs.

click on the picture to enlarge

(Source: Jason Rentfrow, Cambridge University; Kevin Stolarick, University of Toronto. Original maps by Ryan Morris. )

Friday, May 16, 2008

The brain has to be set up in such a way that we can perceive and understand all of these aspects of the external world. Basic brain functions are called "cognitive operators" (d'Aquili 1978). A cognitive operator is a function of either a specific brain structure or a group of brain structures working in conjunction to help us order our reality. We have identified seven cognitive operators: Holistic Operator, Reductionistic Operator, Causal Operator, Abstractive Operator, Binary Operator, Quantitative Operator, and Emotional Value Operator.

The Holistic Operator takes all of the particulars that we might experience and creates a sense of the general or holistic nature of the particulars. There are many instances, both in the sciences as well as in other academic pursuits, when an investigator will examine how the parts make up the whole. The Holistic Operator also plays an important role in everyday life, particularly in relation to aesthetics, myth, and religious experience. The Reductionistic Operator has a function that is opposite that of the Holistic Operator, it takes the whole and breaks it down into its individual parts. Science is particularly dependent on the functioning of the Reductionistic Operator. The Causal Operator helps us to observe causality and to relate one event to another in a sequential ordering. The Abstractive Operator allows us to generate abstract concepts - for example, that objects such as an elm, spruce, and oak can be categorized as "trees". The Binary Operator helps us generate a sense of opposites such that we can compare the concepts good and evil or right and wrong. This operator has particular relevance to religious and aesthetic experiences and particularly to myth formation. Religious myths tend to involve opposites that are in some form of conflict, which is then resolved through the myth (d'Aquili 1978). Likewise, many aesthetic works make use of opposites, such as light and dark or wholeness and fragmentation, which are brought together to comprise the work. When we initially observe a pair of opposites, we encounter a sense of arousal because of the incongruity between the opposites. We desire a resolution and revised understanding because of the Holistic Operator. Thus, in art, in particular, the "tense and happy indecision" (Schaible 1998) may be directly related to the functioning of the Binary Operator. These tensions enhance activity in the arousal system initially, with quiescent activity being stimulated upon resolution of the opposites within either a myth or an aesthetic work. The Quantitative Operator is involved in the generation of numbers and quantity. Thus, whenever we observe objects in the external world, we have a tendency to try to determine how many there are. Finally, the Emotional Value Operator connects the limbic system to the other operators and provides an emotional response to all of the input and thoughts that we have. This Operator tells us how we feel about everything. In order to do this, the Emotional Value Operator must be able to connect to all the other operators. Clearly, this operator is crucial for the emotional response people have during aesthetic and religious experiences.

The Creative Brain / The Creative Mind
by Andrew B. Newberg and Eugene G. d'Aquili

Zygon, vol 35, no 1 (March 2000)

It would be very useful to develop/refine tools that exercise all these brain operators. We already have The Three Magicians and Five-Element Analysis methods to engage most of them. The Binary Operator probably relates to dilemma formulation, while The 10x Diagram taps into The Quantitative Operator. The only thing that is missing is The Emotional Value Operator. This is where the Red Hat from the Six Thinking Hats method might be very useful.

Friday, May 09, 2008

Here is the first video I am going to embed into my Model-based Invention course this summer. This particular clip shows how "spontaneous creativity" can be shaped by previous experiences. Something to be aware of when you do real inventive work.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif.--Google's top executives on Thursday gave a glimpse into how it might try to deflect antitrust concerns of a possible ad-sharing deal with rival Yahoo, advising observers to look at the overall ad market.

With all the talk about creative destruction and competition, technology keeps creating monopolies: General Electric ( electric machines and distribution); ATT ( phone networks); IBM ( business computers); Microsoft ( PC OS and office software); Google ( web advertisement).

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

The race for mobile processors is heating up:
Nvidia is betting a big part of its future on boosting graphics performance in fit-in-your-pocket mobile internet devices (MIDs). iPhone-style devices with Nvdia's APX 2500 system-on-a-chip--due late this year and next year--incorporate most of the functionality of a PC.

On a somewhat related topic, Google keeps perfecting cloud-to-cloud communications. This time it's multi-size embedded presentations. And you can add youtube videos too. Pretty cool. I would probably start using the technology in class this summer, if youtube/docs allowed me to insert snippets of videos, rather than the whole video stream.

In any case, this approach is a sure sign of a potential ms office killer. It offers a combination of a new technology and a new application. Quite a good bet.
Just like viruses, elements of previous technologies embed themselves into inventors' designs:

On 21-22 October 1879, Edison and his staff conducted their first successful experiments with a carbon-filament lamp in a vacuum. The filament was made from a piece of carbonized thread. By New Year's he was demonstrating lamps using carbonized cardboard filaments to large crowds at the Menlo Park laboratory. A year later, Edison began manufacturing commercial lamps using carbonized Japanese bamboo as filaments.

1904 Fleming invents the vacuum diode

British engineer Sir John Ambrose Fleming invents the two-electrode radio rectifier; or vacuum diode, which he calls an oscillation valve. Based on Edison's lightbulbs, the valve reliably detects radio waves. Transcontinental telephone service becomes possible with Lee De Forest's 1907 patent of the triode, or three-element vacuum tube, which electronically amplifies signals.

1943 First vacuum-tube programmable logic calculator

Colossus, the world’s first vacuum-tube programmable logic calculator, is built in Britain for the purpose of breaking Nazi codes. On average, Colossus deciphers a coded message in two hours.

Monday, May 05, 2008

Associated Press has created a news service for iPhone:
The new mobile Web site is targeted at people who want access to international, national, and local news all the time. It aggregates news from more than 100 news publishers and offers text plus multimedia coverage including, photo galleries of sports events, and video coverage of the presidential campaign. The Web application is currently optimized for the iPhone, but the news service plans to add support for other smartphones in the future.

Of course, iPhone is not a phone. Apple were very smart to name a very un-familiar device with a very familiar word. In the age of cloud computing iPhone is a media contraption that hosts service cloudlets. As Winnie the Pooh would put it:

How sweet to be a Cloud
Floating in the Blue!
Every little cloud
Always sings aloud.
"How sweet to be a Cloud
Floating in the Blue!"
It makes him very proud
To be a little cloud.

An old hymn to the new brave world.

Saturday, May 03, 2008

To honk or not to honk, that is the question!

Today was the last session of my Spring '08 BUS 74 Principles of Invention class. We focused on the mobile application space, and I will probably write more about it later ( the Yahoo - Microsoft relationship, or the lack of thereof makes this topic very interesting).
In the meantime, I would like to go back to the problem that group 2 brought to the class' attention. The group participants did a great job of finding a good problem and formulating its core dilemma. Unfortunately, we didn't choose it for the problem-solving session, and I felt somewhat bad about leaving a quality problem "hanging" without a solution session. So, while driving back home, I started thinking about the dilemma, exploring it further and identifying ideas for possible solution. Here's what I got.

The problem: Hybrid cars are very quiet, especially, at speeds below 40 mph. This feature is great for reducing city traffic noise, but it creates a hazard for pedestrians, who have hard time hearing approaching "silent" cars. Blind people suffer the most. There are multiple examples of accidents caused by hybrids ( e.g. see )

The problem got so bad that, according to the Associated Press, the Congress is about to introduce a bill intended to protect blind people and other pedestrians from the dangers posed by quiet cars. Furthermore, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is planning a listening session this spring to consider possible solutions to the quiet-car problem and is already working with manufacturers.
One of the ideas is make cars noisier, etc. etc. But if we just make cars noisier we lose the benefit of quiet streets that hybrid cars brought to the cities. A good feature will be lost.

Let's try to analyze the problem and see if we can come up with better ideas. First, lets formulate main useful and harmful functions.

A noisy car is good because its loud sound alerts pedestrians and other traffic "members" to a moving hazard.

A noisy car is bad because it contributes to city "noise" pollution.

Ideally, our solution would preserve the useful function, while eliminating the harmful one.
Therefore, a first level dilemma would be: the car should be noisy ( to alert pedestrians), and the car should not be noisy ( to prevent noise pollution).
A second level dilemma would be: the car should be loud ( to alert pedestrians); the car should be quiet ( to prevent noise pollution).
A third level dilemma would be: a car should produce a sensory perception in pedestrians and others ( to alert ); the car should not produce a sensory perception ( to not annoy everybody).
There's a forth one, but I will stop here for now.

Let's dig into the first dilemma. What's bad about vehicle noise? Are there cases when such noise is considered to be "good" rather than bad? What is the difference, for example, between a good noise, like loud chirping birds or ambulance signal, and a bad noise, like heavy trucks or airplane engine?
The two most obvious sound characteristics would be magnitude, i.e. the loudness, and its pattern. Some patterns, even when they are relatively loud, are better than others. For example, Harley-Davidson company created and patented a distinct "potato-potato" pattern for its motorcycles. It helped company to sell products and strengthen brand loyalty.
Therefore, following H-D example, we can propose a first-level solution: let's equip silent hybrid cars with a sound source that produces certain, more pleasant, sound patterns. These patterns can be different per brand, model, and etc. Moreover, they can be customized by car owners, dillers, and etc. We can go even further and propose a"ring-tone for cars" business model, and enable people to download and modify their "engine" sound. The magnitude of such sound should be reduced relative to regular cars, but the patterns should be distinct enough to alert pedestrians.
There's probably more to it, but for now I will leave it for others to explore the idea further.

Now, consider the second-level dilemma: car should be loud; car should be quiet.
Let's get back to basics and determine the useful function of a loud car. IMO, it should be to alert pedestrians and others. Ideally, the car should produce the alert without producing any sound. This way we preserve the useful function, while eliminating the harmful one. By separating in space, e.g. spectrum, we get a "loud" signal that lies outside of the audible range.
Of course, pedestrians, e.g. blind people, must have a special device that detects this signal. Or, even better, it should be implemented as a functionality on a common device, e.g. a mobile phone, a portable player, etc. For example, a mobile device detects the "incoming car" signal and produces a "localized" sound, vibration, electric shock ;) and etc. Of course, we don't want to alert everybody in the neighborhood, therefore the car has to produce a signal that is projected into the "hazard" space.
A side thought: this alert system can be used to interact not only with pedestrians, but with other cars as well. For example, on a freeway it can be applied to eliminate the so-called blind spot. One implementation would be to equip all cars with both signal and detection systems. This way drivers can be alerted to various hazardous situations.

By separating in time, we get an alert system that is activated in special circumstances, e.g. poor visibility, pedestrian crossing, intersection, and etc.

By separating in action, we get various types of signals, e.g. ultrasound, modulated, and etc. There's probably more, but it's time to walk the dog. She's been really patient with me today.

To be continued....

Friday, May 02, 2008

Interesting links about learning

Math seems to be is better learned in abstract rather than in concrete

How the brain learns to read depenqds on language

both of these link may relate to my previous post about Cerf's article in RTM.

Is interacting with people and content on the net is better than watching tv?

--- what about talking to people or playing a game while watching tv? ;) i often find myself watching sports on TV( on mute) and e-mailing or listening to audio books at the same time.
New Business Development (NBD) process efficiency. It would be interesting to explore similarities between innovation and other "noisy" messaging environments, e.g. hormone signaling.

from Piloting the rocket of radical innovation
Greg A Stevens; James Burley
Research Technology Management; Mar/Apr 2003; 46, 2. p. 17.
Research Technology Management in its Jan-Feb 2008 issue published "Innovation and the Internet" paper by Vinton G. Cerf. He writes:
Innovation also arises out of discontent with the status quo. People who complain are often precisely the ones who have ideas for change. Of course, not every whiner is an innovator, but some see how to turn lemons into lemonade. I’ve learned to tolerate a certain degree of complaint when it points to possibilities for improvement.
The Reverse Brainstorm technique that I teach and extensively use in invention workshops was developed to stimulate quality "complaints". Very often, finding a high value problem is key to a good invention. ( also see Creativity, by Mihaly Csiksentmihaly).

Finding just that small thing that will make a huge, enabling difference is often the key to significant change. In fact, it is frequently the case that tough problems are solved only after figuring out what is the best way to express them.

Sometimes this is a matter of stating the problem at the right level of abstraction: too detailed and the critical issues are obscured; too high level and the problem is too generally stated to admit of a useful answer.

The ability to find the right level of abstractions for the problem is another skill that a good inventor has to master. Working with system models, 10x diagrams, and Scale-Time-Cost operator addresses this need by developing flexible abstract thinking and stretching imagination.