Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Dilemma of the Day

Robert J. Sternberg. Wisdom, Intelligence, and Creativity Synthesized. 2003. Cambridge University Press. Cambridge. UK.
Concerning knowledge, on the one hand, one needs to know enough about a filed to move it forward. One cannot move beyond a field if one doesn't know where it is. On the other hand, knowledge about a field can result in a closed and entrenched pespective, confining a person to the way in which he or she has seen problems in the past. Thus, one needs to decide to use one's past knowledge, but also decide not to let the knowledge become a hindrance rather than help. ( page 108).

Monday, March 30, 2009

more Jeff Hawkins (p.78)
...the problem of undestanding how you cortex forms invariant representations remains one of the biggest mysteries in all of science. How difficult, you ask? So much so that no one, not even using the most powerful computers in the world, has been able to solve it.

Sounds like a really important problem. I need to find out more about it. 

Encarta is dead...

h/t Arstechnica:
"On October 31, 2009, MSN Encarta Web sites worldwide will be discontinued, with the exception of Encarta Japan, which will be discontinued on December 31, 2009. Additionally, Microsoft will cease to sell Microsoft Student and Encarta Premium software products worldwide by June 2009."
This is one of the few examples of a genuine business disruption, as defined by Clayton Christensen in The Innovator's Dilemma. Wikipedia, with 3 regular employees (including the secretary), killed the whole encyclopedia industry. Simply amazing.
Nature published a list of evolution gems to further disseminate evidence of natural selection. Reading the article, I found this beautiful quote:
Species evolve together, and in competition. Predators evolve ever deadlier weapons and skills to catch prey, which, as a result of Darwin’s canonical ‘struggle for existence’, become better at escaping them, and so the arms race continues. In 1973, evolutionary biologist Leigh Van Valen likened this to the Red Queen’s comment to Alice in Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass, “it takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place. If you want to get somewhere else, you must run at least twice as fast as that!” The ‘Red Queen’ hypothesis of co-evolution was born.
This observation led me to the thought that innovation is even more wonderful than life in the Wonderland. To make a difference, i.e. to get somewhere with your invention, you must run at least 10 times as fast as the rest of the field. :)
On Intelligence, by Jeff Hawkins (p.75):
Thoughts and memories are associatively linked, and again, random thoughts never really occur. Inputs to the brain auto-associatively link to themselves, filling in the present, and auto-associatively link to what normally follows next. We call this chain of memories thought, and although its path is not detrministic, we are not fully in control of it either.
 Let's take this passage as a starting point and see how it might help us better understand human creativity.
To generate novel ideas, we have to create out sequence, i.e. random thoughts. If Hawkins is right, and they cannot occur randomly, we might decide to force the seemingly "impossible" randomness by inserting various trigger points, e.g. by emerging ourselves in randomness-rich environments. This approach could be the basis for spontaneous creativity, which many people experience when they come up with a new idea. De Bono's random word stimulation is a good example of a conscious effort directed at creating pseudo-random triggers.

Another approach, let's call it systematic creativity, would be to guide one's mind through a certain sequence of various perspectives that disrupt routine thought-memories. The goal would be to force the brain into thinking at different event scales (e.g. tiny, small, normal, big, large, huge, humongous), time intervals (e.g. instantaneous, quick, normal, long, ..., eternal), and etc. By breaking through the "normal" path of auto-associations into the direction of strange, but possible, associations, we can imagine and explore virtual environments rich in novel possibilities.

We know that inventions, especially the good ones, create new worlds. Therefore, a conscious, systematic effort to envision and play with dimensions of a possible world, should be very beneficial to creativity.

Reference: Jeff Hawkings with Sandra Blakeslee. On Intelligence. - 1st ed. Times Books. 2004. ISBN 0-8050-7456-2.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

While preparing for the upcoming Principles of Invention class at Stanford CSP, by the way we still have one or two slots available, I found a positive psychology paper that places creativity within a wider framework of human virtues and character strengths. The whole set consists of 6 virtues and 24 character traits that are commonly endorsed across many cultures. In this post I decided to focus on a virtue that is most relevant to invention. Here's a snippet of the "Wisdom and Knowledge" category that includes creativity.

Table 1. Classification of 6 Virtues and 24 Character Strengths (Peterson & Seligman, 2004).

Virtue and StrengthDefinition
Wisdom and knowledgeCognitive strengths that entail the acquisition and use of knowledge
Creativity --Thinking of novel and productive ways to do things
Curiosity --Taking an interest in all of ongoing experience
Open-mindedness --Thinking things through and examining them from all sides
Love of learning --Mastering new skills, topics, and bodies of knowledge
Perspective --Being able to provide wise counsel to others

Source: MEP Seligman, TA Steen, N Park, C Peterson. Positive psychology progress. American Psychologist, July-August, 2005.

Later this year I will create a map of the tools and methods I teach throughout the course and specific character strength they help develop.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Subodh Nayar, the COO of Powerline Telco, makes an excellent point about the impact of the so-called smart power meters (networked devices capable of monitoring and reporting power usage in real time):
Empowering consumers with actionable intelligence about their power will not be the outcome of the deployment of smart meters. Rather, it will be exactly what the utilities intend for it to be: a cost-effective way to implement real-time pricing, demand side management and distribution system monitoring.
In essence, his argument is that the data from smart meters is not granular enough for consumers to make informed decisions about electricity usage . We, consumers, can control our usage, and ultimately the electricity bill, by turning on and off specific electric appliances, e.g. TVs, washers, dryers, etc. A smart meter is only going to give us data about electricity consumption for the whole house, not a particular device. The data would still have to be processed further (how?) to help us figure out when and which device ought to be turned on or off to save money.
Remarkably, depending on the system scale, the usefulness of the same data is drastically different. While the electricity supplier can use it directly to make power generation and distribution decisions, the consumer is stuck with more information overload.
No wonder, Google wants a piece of the smart meter action. The greater information overload, the greater the need for data processing services.

Notes for the class:
1. A good exercise for the Magicians. The case shows how a change in the point of view (Climb-on-the-Roof Magician) allows us to identify problems in the super-system (power generation & distribution) vs the sub-system ( house & house appliances).
2. Five-element analysis (recursive up and down): House as a Tool in the super-system; Appliance as a Tool in the sub-system (House). The role of Control, both on super- and sub- system levels. The difference between data and information.
3. Assuming that smart meters are deployed on a mass scale (short-term), formulate detection and control problems on the sub-system (House) level. Propose solutions ( tech & business).

Friday, March 27, 2009

In 2006, Kim Popovits, President and COO of Genomic Health, Inc., gave a talk at Stanford, in which she, among other things, mentioned that out of a hundred women that were subjected to chemotherapy for breast cancer only four would get any benefit from the treatment (15 min). The problem was that nobody knew which four, so women would take their chances and ask doctors for chemo.
After several years of work, Popovits' company, using a standard(!) diagnostics tool, developed a genetic test to identify those whom the chemotherapy had the greatest chance to help.
Key insights from the talk:
- a good example of a solution to a detection problem (genetic test) that leads to a much improved control sub-system, and therefore to a high level of system efficiency; (see also my previous post).
- application of an existing solution to a new high value problem that emerged due to the rapid growth of the treatment system; leverage a large "idle" database of tissue samples and medical histories; (another example of storage as a sign of an impending major change in system evolution);
- importance of the team, i.e. complementarity of different skill sets;
- the need to focus on the market need;
- decision criterion: "choose what's good for the patient". on one hand, creates the greatest benefits for the person; on the other hand, proliferates expensive treatments that bankrupt the society as a whole (e.g. Medicare is projected to become insolvable within the next decade);
- emergence of highly personalized drug treatments.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Gerald M. Edelman, a 1972 Nobel laureate in Physiology/Medicine, in an interview with Istvan Hargittai:
Q: Have you tried to formulate a recipe for scientific discovery?
A: I'll tell you my theory of discovery by means of an anecdote. Beethoven's landlady says to him, "Beethoven, get out of my house. Your cat drinks my milk, you throw your laundry in the stairwell, and you pound on the piano all night, I can't sleep." And she laughs in response, "Ha-ha-ha-haaa" [the first strokes of the Fifth Symphony.] That's discovery, namely, contingency, accident, pattern, preconception, elaboration, and constantly playing back and forth against tradition of some kind; in Beethoven's case, it was Viennese classical music. In tracing a discovery there is an extraordinary complexity and diversity in the history, circumstance, cultural development, and technical skill. So to try to lay down any simple rule is not possible. (p 209).

It looks like there's no recipe for scientific discovery. On the other hand, if we start thinking about science as a system, in which discovery of a scientific discovery must be possible, we can take to the heart Edelman's words several pages below:
In terms of principle, selectional systems all have three constraints: (1) You must have a generator of diversity (G.O.D.). (2) You must have some mechanism for polling so that two domains which have no causal connection can sample each other with sufficient completeness. (3) You have to have some form of differentiated amplification, providing a selective advantage, for example, by producing enough antibodies of the right kind. (p 213).
What he is describing here is a system capable of solving detection problems, and then feeding the results of its work to a control mechanism that acts on the differences detected. Of course, in early stages of system development, diversity is not significant. But, as the system matures and diversity increases, the detection/control sub-system grows in importance because it provides for the greater efficiency of the top level system.
Success of Silicon Valley would be a great illustration to the interaction of the selectional principles. We have (1) a culture that encourage generation of diverse ideas; (2) various multi-stage talent detection mechanisms, e.g. startup funding and/or academic grant review processes; (3) a relatively large pool of VC money available for entrepreneurs.


Candid Science: Conversations With Famous Biomedical Scientists
By Istvan Hargittai, Magdolna Hargittai
Published by Imperial College Press, 2006
ISBN 1860942881, 9781860942884
616 pages

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

SciAm notes the emerging need for maintaining mental agility:
Cognitive training is growing in popularity as baby boomers age. From 2005 to 2007 the U.S. brain fitness business increased from $100 million to $225 million, according to a report by SharpBrains, a market research company specializing in cognitive health. The growth was driven to a large extent by the success of Nintendo’s Brain Age [see my review of it and two other brain-training games in “Circuit Training”; Scientific American Mind, June/July 2006]. Research does confirm that regular brain exercise is beneficial to elderly people. ACTIVE, a nationwide clinical trial of 2,802 seniors that began in 1998, found that training in specific areas such as “processing speed” ­resulted in improvements that persisted at least
five years.
 My [futile?] hope is that people will not confuse basic brain health exercise tools, like puzzles and brainteasers, with problem-solving and creativity development methods...

Hacking the future

1. Hacking your genome.

2. Hacking the electrical Smart Grid.

3. Hacking the Treasury Plan.

4. Hacking the world.

Exponential times :)

Did You Know? from Amybeth on Vimeo.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

The internet cloud is getting deeper in its functionality:
According to VMware, the VCenter Mobile Access tool will also allow system managers to migrate virtual machines from one virtual host to another, using their phones. The software was introduced on Friday on VMware's VMTN blog by Srinivas Krishnamurti, the director of product management for the company. In addition to its search-and-migration capabilities, VCMA could also be used to remotely execute recovery plans, access scheduled tasks, and respond to alarms and events.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Stanford Entrepreneurial Center podcasts

The next big thing: http://ecorner.stanford.edu/authorMaterialInfo.html?mid=2112


Three Silicon Valley dealmakers - Tony Perkins, CEO of AlwaysOn; Tim Draper, Founder and Managing Director of Draper, Fisher Jurvetson; and Michael Moe, Founding Partner of ThinkEquity - discuss the evolutions in online media, the power of partnerships, and other next-generation opportunities for the global marketplace.

Dilemma/Tradeoff of the Day

In her talk at Stanford, Ryan Phelan of DNA Direct describes a growing gap between the today's science ability to analyze people's DNA and the health care system's lack of capacity to interpret/address the results for the people.
Based on her presentation, we can formulate an important modern medical tradeoff: on one hand, the doctor has to spend a lot of time with each patient to explain potential implications of a DNA test, and work out an appropriate treatment or a lifestyle change; on the other hand, the doctor cannot spend a lot of time with each patient, because it would further drive up the health care costs.
A lot of innovation must happen in this area to break through the trade-off and deliver high quality service at a very low (scalable) cost.

* Also, it is worth noting how a strong effort by the same person leads to drastically different results, when applied in different markets and time periods. For example, an equestrian gear catalog business failed due to a limited opportunity and a recession, while a medical information business grew dramatically with the market and expansion of the internet bubble.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Another technology battle, now between popular web browsers.
JavaScript, which lets developers create everything from basic Web site menus to online spreadsheet applications, was born in the mid-1990s when Microsoft's Internet Explorer challenged the incumbent browser, Netscape's Navigator. IE won that war, but now it faces its own challenge from the heir to the Navigator throne, Mozilla's Firefox, along with upstarts including Google's Chrome, Apple's Safari, and Opera.
I wonder, though, whether this whole issue is at all relevant in the world of mobile devices and twitter feeds. Internet browser is just a tool that allows people interact with content, which has multiple components, including javascript. Today, mobile devices are much more limited in bandwidth, battery power, and media processing capabilities than in javascript performance. Most likely, mobile websites, aka the-cloud, will target a completely different set of users, than today's browsers are fighiting for.

Nevertheless, this topic will make a good case study for a "Battle of Technologies" exercise.
I don't know why, but a genetic connection between a wild fox's or dog's tameness and floppiness of their ears, tickles my curiosity.

Many researchers have noted that beyond tameness, dogs appear to retain certain traits associated with juvenile wolves, especially behavioral traits such as whining, barking, and submissiveness. Russian geneticist Dmitry Belyaev focused on tamability as a guiding characteristic. His idea was not only that early humans would have selected the tamest animals to live with them, but also that selecting for a single trait could give rise to an entire set of changes in form, physiology, and behavior. Belyaev thus launched an experiment that would last longer than his life, seeking to test whether selecting for tameness would indeed produce a set of domesticated traits similar to those seen in dogs (Trut, 1999).

Belyaev chose the silver fox for his experiment; this species is related to the dog, but it is not domesticated. The initial foxes in Belyaev's experiment were not trained in any way, but simply tested for tameness at an early age. Starting at age one month, a human researcher would try to feed and pet the foxes, either alone or in the company of other foxes. The animals' responses varied from aggressive behaviors (such as biting), to indifference, to seeking interaction with the person more than with the other foxes. The tamest foxes were then selected for breeding the next generation, although fresh genes were supplied through continual outbreeding.

Belyaev and his colleagues did indeed create a population of foxes that differed in temperament and behavior from their wild cousins. The foxes changed physically as well, with alterations in coat color appearing as early as the eighth generation—typically a loss of pigment resulting in white patches. The foxes also developed floppy ears and curved tails, mirroring traits seen in dogs as well as other domesticated species (Figure 1).

Friday, March 20, 2009

An interesting tidbit on the new 3D movie technology:
Unlike the 3-D movies of past decades, where two separate projectors displayed images (one for each eye) and had to remain synchronized for the duration of the film, the latest 3-D systems use a single digital projector. They quickly alternate between images seen by the right and left eyes, which the brain marries into a three-dimensional picture. The process still requires glasses to pick up separate left and right eye images, but not the clunky red and green kinds popularized in the 1970s and 1980s with 3-D films. Today's 3-D eyewear looks more like sunglasses.

== using separation in time after separation in space. 

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Trade-off of the Day

 From a New Scientist article on the psychology of money:
Numerous psychological studies have found a general trade-off between the pursuit of so-called extrinsic aspirations - such as wealth, but also fame and image - and intrinsic aspirations, such as building and maintaining strong personal relationships. People who report a focus on the former score low on indicators of mental health, and those strongly motivated by money are also more likely to find their marriage ending in divorce.

The money effect

According to Kathleen Vohs and colleagues, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis:
The researchers found that the volunteers who had been primed with the money-related words worked on the task for longer before asking for help. In a related experiment, people in the money-word group were also significantly less likely to help a fellow student who asked for assistance than were people in the group primed with non-money words (Science, vol 314, p 1154).
 These findings have interesting implications for the structure of invention workshops. To encourage cooperation, the first phase - problem space exploration - has to be done without mentioning any monetary consequences of the work. Then, the second phase - problem solving - has to be preceded by an evaluation session, which not only separates high quality problems from background noise, but also primes participants to apply their best effort.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Recently, I wrote about voice communications and books becoming virtual, i.e. an application on a mobile computer. Here's how remote control follows the same path (NYT):
And so now we have a bounty of applications and accessories that let us use the technology we already have to control the technology we already have. This is not only frugal, but upgradeable and flexible. Whether you want to control your music, your television or your PowerPoint presentation, there’s probably a solution using your phone.
A good case study for Technology Battle analysis: Kindle2 vs Flepia.

Fujitsu gets set to release its Flepia color e-book reader in Japan with a $1,000 price tag.

In the works for several years, the Flepia has a bigger display than does Amazon's Kindle 2--it has an 8-inch 1,024x768-pixel XGA touch screen that can display 260,000 colors (Fujitsu refers to its e-ink technology as "color e-paper").

The unit also has built-in wireless Bluetooth and Wi-Fi options, an SD card slot capable of holding up to 4GB of storage, and a battery that, according to Fujitsu, is rated at 40 hours of continuous use (we assume that using Wi-Fi would drain it quicker, however). The Flepia runs on Windows CE 5.0.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

After eight years in prosecution, US patent 7,298,851 is now in play:

Discovery Communications, parent company of the Discovery Channel and Animal Planet, has filed a complaint against Amazon.com alleging that some security and copy protection features in the Kindle and Kindle 2 violate the company's patents.
According to a copy of the suit, Discovery charges that Amazon violated its patent for Electronic Book Security and Copyright Protection System. The patent, U.S. 7,298,851, was issued to Discovery Communications by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office on Nov. 20, 2007, per the lawsuit filing (PDF). It was initially filed in 1999.

Monday, March 16, 2009

The robots are coming!

Japanese "female" robot
The robot, named HRP-4C, has 30 motors in its body that allow it to walk and move its arms as well as eight motors on its face to create expressions like anger and surprise.
California vineyard robot
Key to the Intellgent Robotic Vineyard Pruner are stereoscopic scanning cameras that take 15 frames per second, scanning the entire vine and working a full vine length ahead of the pruning shears. As Morikawa explained, "This 'vision' is the key sense the machine needs; otherwise it can't understand the vine and prune intelligently."
Canadian rescue robot
ST. JOHN'S, Newfoundland, March 16 (UPI) -- A remote-controlled robot retrieved nine bodies Monday from a crashed Canadian helicopter in the Atlantic Ocean east of Newfoundland, police said.
Mayo Clinic robotic surgeon
The medical team placed the plastic-covered, computerized robot. Head Surgeon Rakesh Suri snaps on the slender arm extensions that will slip through Gilmet's ribs.
With another cardiac surgeon closely watching over the patient, Dr. Suri is ready to operate without a gown, in stocking feet from a console ten feet away.
"It's like a video game in many ways," Dr. Suri says.
In January, 2009, New Scientist published an article about the current debate in evolutionary biology on Darwin's "tree of life". The emerging view is that biological organisms do not form a neat genealogical tree, but rather a network that is ruled by Horizontal Gene Transfer (HGT).
Darwin assumed that descent was exclusively "vertical", with organisms passing traits down to their offspring. But what if species also routinely swapped genetic material with other species, or hybridised with them? Then that neat branching pattern would quickly degenerate into an impenetrable thicket of interrelatedness, with species being closely related in some respects but not others. ...
As more and more genes were sequenced, it became clear that the patterns of relatedness could only be explained if bacteria and archaea were routinely swapping genetic material with other species - often across huge taxonomic distances - in a process called horizontal gene transfer (HGT).
Technology, being closer in complexity to microbes rather than humans, seems to develop by transfer of ideas between different domains. The broker innovation model described in detail in "How Breakthroughs Happen" shows multiple example of solutions transfer from high-tech to low-tech industries. Furthermore, the Theory of Inventive Problem Solving (Russian acronym TRIZ) is built around the concept of repeating invention patterns that can be extracted from patented solutions. Also in this mold is template-based creativity approach proposed in Creativity In Product Innovation.

Though the mainstream innovation literature tends to focus on the personality of the inventor, real invention/innovation research work should be directed toward discovery of solution patterns and their proliferation throughout the technology noosphere.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

The smartphone world is getting more interesting every day. In February, Intel announced a deal with LG. A few days ago, they agreed with Taiwan Seminconductors to manufacture a system-on-a chip design for Mobile Internet Devices. With huge overcapacity builidng up in the industry, companies will increasingly go for high-volume high-growth high-margin must-have devices. Since PC upgrades are stalling due to the crisis, increasingly, people are finding ways to get the job done using cheaper, but quite functional, smartphones. Applications are still lagging, though. Nevertheles we can see that the new breed of enterprise cloud services is entering the market. Even SAP is getting into the mobile app space.

It's hard to be optimistic these days, but I think hi-tech will lead us out of the recession. PCs did it in the 80s of the last century; smartphones will do it in the 10s of this one.

== a system evolution note: mass proliferation of a new Tool leads to emergence of new Sources, and later to Distribution and Control upgrade.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

An estimate of patent costs

From an WSJ interview with a patent attorney:
...depending on the technology that's being patented, it can take anywhere from two to five years for a patent to issue. As far as costs, expect to spend anywhere from $10,000 to as high as $30,000 for highly complex technologies. Patentability searches account for up to a thousand of that, application fees can add up to another couple thousand, and the rest is attorney fees for patentability opinions, initial patent drafting, and [Patent and Trademark Office] action responses and appeals.
Given that about 1/3 of patent applications is granted and only 5% of patents are worth something, the "retail" price of a decent portfolio (20+ patents)  runs from $600K to $1.8M. This means that for most startups, unless a comprehensive invention and patent strategy is in place, filing patent applications is a crapshoot at best.

It is also a good indicator of the existence of an underserved market.

Friday, March 13, 2009

20 years of the web

Back in 1989, Berners-Lee was a software consultant working at the European Organization for Nuclear Research outside of Geneva, Switzerland. On March 13 of that year, he submitted a plan to management on how to better monitor the flow of research at the labs. People were coming and going at such a clip that an increasingly frustrated Berners-Lee complained that CERN was losing track of valuable project information because of the rapid turnover of personnel. It did not help matters that the place was chockablock with incompatible computers people brought with them to the office.

Today, the scheme proposed by Berners-Lee  would be called an intranet. In the present, the world-wide-web is a much different system than was originally envisioned at CERN. Information storage, which Berners-Lee wanted to create, has become almost a byproduct of concerted efforts to satisfy people's demand for information and entertainment.

The problem he identified then remains largely unsloved . Social networking moves us closer to a solution because it focuses on social roles, rather than information.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Sorry, Mr. Graham Bell.

Finally, VOIP has found its place in the world by way of GoogleVoice:
Google Voice, the new version of the GrandCentral technology Google acquired in July 2007, has the potential to make the search giant a middleman in an important part of people's lives, telephone communications. With the service, people can pick a new phone number from Google Voice; when others call it, Google can ring all the actual phones a person uses and handle voice mail.
If this promise materilizes - and I believe it will - home phones as we know them are dead. Today, they are already half-dead because the younger generation clearly prefers mobiles. But now, the good old land line will have no excuse for existence whatsoever. Over time, conferences, virtual audio/video conferences, and other means of media-based communications will be come a part of everyday business and leisure activities. GoogleVoice in combination with Android is going to be a very strong contender for #1 position in telecom applications space.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

First version is always a hack.

New Scientist has a 50-year retrospective about evolution of the spacesuit.
The suits were adapted from US Navy pressure suits for high-altitude flights and not designed to be worn on spacewalks.
We can see how a design, borrowed from a different application domain, over time is adapted to new tasks specific to space exploration. Now, compare this development to the evolution of the smart phone. The device is still being sold as a phone, i.e. voice communication appliance, while in the future it will evolve into a vehicle for application and data space exploration in the world of networks of networks.

Monday, March 09, 2009

A major step in the evolution of the book:
Now you can go to the iTunes Store to buy the Kindle app from Amazon that lets you read ebooks made for the Kindle device on the iPhone. Yes, it's that confusing! Maybe they shouldn't have called the app the same name as the device...I thought "Kindle" was the device?

                               via  marginal revolution
No wonder people are confused. The book technology, as invented by Guttenberg, is going to be transformed from a physical thing into a digital media format with a variety of readers.The physical paper book will go the way clocks, maps, and calculators went: virtual ("ideal") application on a device of convenience.
Distributed electricity network is coming to a neighborhood near you.
CAMBRIDGE, Mass.--Utility company American Electric Power (AEP) plans this year to place equipment in residential areas capable of storing a few hours of electricity, one of the first tests of distributed storage on the power grid.
The storage units would be the size of a relatively small "backyard transformer," each wired to provide enough electricity for four to six houses, he said. Together, those storage units could provide back-up power to neighborhoods during outages and potentially for other applications, Nourai said.

"Aggregated, hundreds of these units controlled (by AEP)...effectively do the same as one big storage unit," he said. "It's closer to the load, and it has the potential to (create) competition on price."

This is great news. The development of distributed storage will enable efficient local energy production: solar, wind, termal, etc. Rather than sending electricity into a vast inefficient regional grid, household will be able to store, and later consume, energy locally. In the future, we might even see a partial transition from AC to DC, because the new distribution scheme significantly reduces energy distribution distances, therefore, DC becomes more practical than AC.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

"How to Protect New Products and Discoveries"
A good overview (podcast) of patent and IP licensing basics (MP3, 29.3 MB).
An experimental bio-computational device:

A man who lost his sight 30 years ago says he can now see flashes of light after being fitted with a bionic eye.
Ron, 73, had the experimental surgery seven months ago at London's Moorfield's eye hospital.
He says he can now follow white lines on the road, and even sort socks, using the bionic eye, known as Argus II.
It uses a camera and video processor mounted on sunglasses to send captured images wirelessly to a tiny receiver on the outside of the eye. In turn, the receiver passes on the data via a tiny cable to an array of electrodes which sit on the retina - the layer of specialised cells that normally respond to light found at the back of the eye. When these electrodes are stimulated they send messages along the optic nerve to the brain, which is able to perceive patterns of light and dark spots corresponding to which electrodes have been stimulated.
 It can create an interesting opportunity for Artificial Intelligence if used in combination with this research by Stephenie A. Harrison & Frank Tong from Vanderbilt University recently published in Nature ( Decoding reveals the contents of visual working memory in early visual areas. Published online 18 February 2009. doi:10.1038/nature07832).

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

A new study released on Tuesday indicates that about 23 percent of all handset sales in the U.S. during the fourth quarter of 2008 were smartphones. This was up from 12 percent of all handset sales in the fourth quarter of 2007.
... prices for these advanced phones dropped. In fact, the average price of a smartphone during the quarter dropped by 23 percent from $216 in the fourth quarter of 2007 to $167 during the fourth quarter of 2008, NPD said. Apple's new iPhone 3G, priced at $199 with a two-year service contract with AT&T, helped lead the growth in smartphone volumes, but also led the industry in terms of declining prices.
This is great news for web services and cloud computing. Smartphones create the environment for the next wave of innovation in data network content and access technologies. In the long run, smarphones will play the role of a disruptor for laptop devices.

Monday, March 02, 2009

Family planing, 21st century.

The LA Fertility Institutes run by Dr Jeff Steinberg, a pioneer of IVF in the 1970s, expects a trait-selected baby to be born next year.
The science is based on a lab technique called preimplantation genetic diagnosis, or PGD. This involves testing a cell taken from a very early embryo before it is put into the mother's womb.

Doctors then select an embryo free from rogue genes - or in this case an embryo with the desired physical traits such as blonde hair and blue eyes - to continue the pregnancy, and discard any others.

Dr Steinberg said couples might seek to use the clinic's services for both medical and cosmetic reasons.

For example, a couple might want to have a baby with a darker complexion to help guard against a skin cancer if they already had a child who had developed a melanoma. But others might just want a boy with blonde hair.

As I wrote before, ants can do it too :) On a more serious note, enabling storage in a typical "flow" system often indicates a qualitative change in the evolution of the system. The 21st century holds many more surprises for the "human reproduction" industry and politics around it.
How do you compute the volume of a cat?

Sunday, March 01, 2009

I continue listening to Yale' netcasts on Entrepreneurship. Today, my "guest speaker" is Jordon Goldberg(J.G), CEO of Stickk.com , a web service that enables people to make commitments to a variety of causes, the major one being weight loss.

Key learnings:
1. A clear distinction between invention and innovation.
The talk is almost entirely about the business of innovation, i.e. making a startup work, product development practices, marketing, networking, and etc. The original invention by two Yale professors serves as a background and media attention grabber. The public is fascinated with the idea, which is a good indicator that the problem that stickk.com addresses is very important for the society.

2. The difference between short- and long-term planning, which is measured in constraints and trade-offs, rather than time.
J.G. is acutely aware of his personal and corporate constraints, such as money, communication distances ( world is not flat!), staff interactions, and etc. For an early stage innovation company the time is almost always "now", therefore it is very dependent on earlier strategic decisions.

3. He mentions the impending move into the corporate services market, which would be a good topic for a 10X diagram exercise. The exercise would explore ideas related to the increasing scale of each target market (person, family, community, company, town, a major corporation, government, global company, etc. )

4. The VCs' aversion to encumberences.
VCs don't want to have any, even potential, committments to research, non-profit, and other goals that do not relate directly to money-making. This is a good indicator that they anticipate management (control) problems, which may arise out of non-functional resource expenditures.

On a more abstract system level, problems might stem from future resource commitments, i.e. "bad constraints". On the other hand, forming money-making opportunities, e.g. via networking, is a "good constraint".