Sunday, August 30, 2009

When in doubt wear red.

New Scientist reports that "referees are more likely to award points to a competitor dressed in red". Also, a couple of related studies:

1. Elliot's team told 67 students that they would be taking either a vocabulary test or an analogies test, and asked them to look inside a folder to find out which one. The students saw either the word "analogies" or the word "vocabulary" on a red or green background - and the colour had a profound effect on their subsequent behaviour. When the students were instructed to walk to an adjacent laboratory to take the test, they found a sign on the door saying "Please knock". Those who had seen a red background knocked fewer times, and more quietly, than those given green.(Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, vol 136, p 154).

2. Ravi Mehta and Juliet Zhu of the Sauder School of Business at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada, found that red enhances performance on detail-orientated tasks, whereas blue improves the results of creative tasks. (Science, vol 323, p 1226).

3. It is this context-specificity that Elliot and colleagues are now exploring. Their latest work has investigated innate preference in infants. The team have found that one-year-olds shown red and green Lego bricks tend to reach out for red bricks. Yet when the infants are shown an angry face before being exposed to the blocks, they go for green.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Studies confirm that healthcare to a large degree is a lifestyle issue:

Two teams, one led by Pierre-Carl Michaud of the Rand Corporation in Santa Monica, California, the other by Samuel Preston of the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, have dug into international health statistics to ask why US citizens can expect to die earlier than their counterparts in the richest European nations.
eliminating profligate spending on ineffective medical interventions by US doctors is only part of the solution to US health woes. Changing citizens' behaviour so that they eat less and exercise more will be vital, both to improve health and reduce costs. "One of the main reasons that US healthcare is so expensive is that we are sicker than other people," says Preston.

Jeroen Brouwer, who lives in the Bay Area and works for Philips directlife program in the US, recently told me that during a regular work day his Netherlands-based colleagues spend 40% more calories in physical activities than he does. Jeroen goes to the gym, they don't; Jeroen runs for exercise, they don't. Why the difference? It seems to be in lifestyle choices. The Dutch bike to work, we drive; the Dutch walk around the town, we drive; the Dutch drink beer, we drive.
To improve the US health care system, the government should impose heavy taxes on driving! (smile).

Friday, August 28, 2009

Dilemma of the Day: predicting the future.

I am reading Blue Ocean Strategy, by W.C. Kim and Renee Mauborgne. It's a good book, full of interesting business intuitions and anecdotes, but contradictory statements, like the two below, leave me sometimes puzzled:

We're not talking about predicting the future, something that is inherently impossible. p.76.

Visualizing strategy can also help managers responsible for corporate strategy predict and plan the company's future growth and profit. p.96.

On one hand, the future is inherently unpredictable; on the other, here's a visualization tool that helps you do exactly that. Huh?

I guess they mean that future is probabilistic. Some predictions can be made with a greater degree of confidence than others. For example, I can rather confidently predict that 50 years from now, unless humanity perishes in a cataclysmic event, we will use electricity to satisfy our basic energy needs. We will use money in commercial transactions. We will have developed genetic techniques to treat diseases that seem to be untreatable today. Etc, etc.

On the other hand, I can't predict with sufficient accuracy whether Apple as a company will survive these 50 years; who who will be its new CEO, and what the change in leadership is going bring. My hunch, though, is that he or she will still be human and make contradictory statements like the ones in the Blue Ocean book.
2 + 2 = 4

2 wolves + 2 rabbits = 2 wolves

1 dog + 1 dog + 1 dog = 1 Cerberus

for more creature arithmetic see

Thursday, August 27, 2009

CNET has a story and a picture gallery about the Wright brothers' contract with the War Dept:

On September 9 of that year, Orville Wright kept the plane in the air for more than an hour, which was one of the War Department's requirements. The other requirements included carrying a passenger for at least 125 miles at a speed of 40 miles per hour, being steerable in all directions at all times, and landing without damage.

Sounds like an automobile; one that doesn't have to have a road.

Update: the latest DARPA drone that will fly for years at 60,000 feet and higher.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

The imminent death of printing is a really good news for trees.
I think Google Wave will be the killer app of the Web 3.0. It has very high niche construction potential.

In the early 2000-s, the audio recording industry lost its Internet battle to Napster and other P2P services. At the time, a lot of folks in Hollywood were really concerned that video will follow the same path. They were scared stiff of the new media. But judging from this Bloomberg report, Hollywood seems to have figured out a way to make money on digital content distribution:

Digital movie revenue for online stores in the U.S., including computer downloads that can be transferred to handsets, may grow to more than $1 billion in 2013 from about $215 million last year, said Dan Cryan at London-based video analysts Screen Digest.

Studios get paid when a movie is downloaded and their cut varies according to how new and popular the film is, said Leslie Golding, a founding partner at Acetrax AG, the content aggregator that built Samsung’s store.

Most revenue from films sold by phone makers ends up with studios, as handset makers are willing to sell movies for less than they pay to studios, according to Screen Digest.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Need larger brain cache for extra connections

It has been my presumption that multitaskers are generally more productive than people who prefer to do one thing at a time.

According to a new study released by a group of Stanford University researchers Tuesday, people who regularly deal with several streams of electronic information simultaneously do not pay attention, control their memory, or switch from one job to another any better than those who prefer to complete one task at a time. Actually, they fare worse.

Multitasking is a brain killer for me. When I write I set my phone in airplane mode and turn off wireless on my PC. But the connectivity habit is tough to break. I must admit that I can't stay unplugged for more than two hours. Yet.

Monday, August 24, 2009

...and the pursuit of happiness

Megan McArdle in the Atlantic traces back the origins of American home entertainment:

The emergence of leisure activity as what economists call “market production”—something that is bought and sold—is a relatively recent phenomenon. Until well into the 20th century, most leisure was “home production,” created and consumed without much cash changing hands. Our ancestors made parties out of things they needed to do anyway—quilting, raising a barn, eating—or they entertained one another, singing, reciting, dancing. Either way, any trading was strictly on a barter basis.
The Great Depression left us with a legacy of devices that transformed the home, saving our labor and helping us waste the extra time they gave us.

Fun has become America's most important businesses. Maybe that's why people now ask their kids when they come back home, "Did you have fun at school?"

The long-lasting effects of infrastructure build-up

Contemporary vine had acquired its taste 2,000 years ago:

The use of barrels was a technical innovation that had specific repercussions. Its adoption was rapid, with the number and volume of amphorae in Rome declining rapidly after the first century. Use of the new containers enabled the cost of carrying freight t obe reduced, tended to favour vineyards that had easy access to oak forests rather than those closest to deposits of clay, and modified the tastes of wine consumers. The vineyards of northern Italy, Bordeaux, and the fringes of the Massif Central benefited greatly from this innovation to the detriment of vine-growing areas in central and southern Italy. A historical geography of Europe. p. 42.

Roads played a major role in military, adminstrateive, and also conceptual domination of the Roman Empire. They were created and equipped when the conquest took place, and were abandoned when Roman ocupation collapsed.
Roads played a determining role in the creation of a centralized administrative system. [imperial postal service] was improved many times and performed the dual function of allowing imperial functionaries to travel around, and dispatches to be delivered with the minimum of delay. The staging posts also played an essential part in allowing ordinary travelers to move around the empire, in which personal mobility was becoming more commonplace. pp. 44-45.

The great majority of cargo was moved by water which was faster and cheaper than transporting goods by road. ... at the end of AD 301 we may calculate that to transport a cargo of corn over 100 miles cost 1 per cent of its overall value if carried by sea, 4.9 per cent if shipped by river, and 28 per cent (or even 56 percent depending on how the document is interpreted). These proportions were very close to those noted for eighteen-century England. p. 45.

Business Art: Health Care #2

My boss at HP used to call me a business artist because I always explained to him my strategy ideas in pictures and drawings. Today's piece is called "Evolution of Health Care #2"

A 10X change in blood tests?

Scientific American:

a new patch lined with short needles, each the width of just a few strands of hair, may soon grant squeamish patients a reprieve as well as a relatively simple opportunity to take matters into their own hands. The innovation could eliminate the pain and fear of getting shots, researchers say, and it could also make future vaccines and medical treatments safer, more effective and easier to self-administer.

It can probably be used for various tests, which is a much more common medical procedure than vaccine shots. Simple cholesterol, sugar, and other tests could help people, among other things, maintain a better diet and exercise regime.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

A neat graph from Mark J. Perry's blog:

Plasmons and trains - what's the difference?

Here's claim 1 of US Patent 7542633:

A method comprising: guiding a plasmon signal on a first plasmon guide; selectively controlling the guided plasmon signal with a plurality of control signals, wherein at least one of the plurality of control signals includes optical electromagnetic energy guided through a waveguide that is directly coupled to the first plasmon guide.

I have no idea what plasmon signal is, so I think about it as a train. Then, plasmon guide acts as rails, plurality of signals as a traffic light, and the waveguide as an electric wire that runs along the rails toward the traffic light. That's all.

The whole patent is a great illustration of how people keep reinventing the railway system even when they think they invent some fancy new technology.

On the system level, the key to understanding a patent is to figure out which element plays the role of Payload. In this case it's "plasmon signal".

Friday, August 21, 2009

Early evolution of coinage.

metal coinage - at least to start with - had only a subsidiary role as a means for allowing differential barter to take place. Its initial purpose was fiscal in character, with coinage being used as a means of controlling and simplifying expression of weight. ... The appearance at the end of the fifth century BC of bronze coinage created conditions for the development of an internal market and for trade based on profit, as well as for the development of a banking system. In the fourth century BC, for Aristotle money had become the leading expression of wealth, being followed by land and goods, such as slaves and livestock.

An historical geography of Europe. ed. R.A.Butlin and R.A. Dogson. p. 28.

From reflecting weight to expressing value to measuring wealth to enabling a banking system.

Welcome to Web 3.0

I confess that I now turn to the App Store in almost every situation. In unfamiliar places, I use apps to find the nearest gas station, cinema or even public toilet. I track the length and time of my commute. All my gym workouts are logged. Finding a nice place to eat while on the move is a cinch. Even this article is brought to you thanks to a voice recorder app (iDictaphone) that I used for recording interviews, and one that helped me "mind map" my thoughts when planning it out. Sometimes I daydream about becoming the most virtually enhanced human in the world.

Is there anybody out there who wants to work with me on iPhone apps for inventors?

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Free Cheese!

An important step in Google Apps evolution:

Google officially rolled out its Apps Script functionality for enterprise users Wednesday, following a limited pilot release earlier this year.

Google Apps Script works mainly within the Spreadsheets app to automate various processes. For example, users can automate the sending of e-mails based on data held in a spreadsheet, or create scripts that communicate with other Web services.

Why is it important? Because scripting allows customers customize and connect their information, which makes Google Apps a lot more stickier within an enterprise. If Google Search disappears tomorrow, people will easily switch to Yahoo or Microsoft. Once Google Apps, with scripts and storage, take hold in the IT space, replacing them would be almost impossible.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Magic as a Service

The cloud computing is coming. It will be the next step in the evolution of technology and, most likely, will fuel the next stock market bubble. In the meantime, to prepare for the inevitable we need to learn the new terminology: IaaS, PaaS, Saas. Here's an excerpt from a post that untangles the acronyms:

IaaS (Infrastructure as a Service) in a general sense, provides the ability to ’summon’ resources in specific configurations at will and delivers value similar to what one might find in a traditional datacenter. IaaS’ power lies in its massive on-the-fly flexibility and configurability. It can be equated to owning a magic wand that could conjure up a variety of network and server resources in zero time and occupying zero space.

This description is so close to the TRIZ definition of Ideality! The infrastructure does not exist, but its functionality is fulfilled.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

A fascinating, yet simple approach to show that under certain circumstances time can flow in both directions, forward and backward:

I show that entropy in a system can both increase and decrease (as time reversal
dictates), but that all entropy-decreasing transformations cannot leave any trace of their having happened. Since no information on them exists, this is indistinguishable from the situation in which such transformations do not happen at all: ‘‘The past exists only insofar as it is recorded in the present’’ [11]. Then the second law is forcefully valid: the only physical evolutions we see in our past, and which can then be studied, are those where entropy has not decreased.

DOI: 10.1103/PhysRevLett.103.080401

Lorenzo Maccone, 2009. Quantum Solution to the Arrow-of-Time Dilemma. PRL 103, 080401 (2009).

Monday, August 17, 2009

A new demographic of smartphone users:

In fact, moms are finding smartphones so useful that they are one of the fastest growing demographics to own smartphones. In the first quarter of 2009, about 14 percent of all wireless users who identified themselves as mothers said they owned a smartphone, according to Neilsen. This figure was up from 8.3 percent of moms who owned a smartphone in the first quarter of 2008.

The No. 1 reason many moms say they have a smartphone is to keep track of their family's schedules. For Russell, with four kids aged 3 years old to 10 years old, the calendar is crucial for alerting her to doctor appointments, horseback riding lessons, football practices, and even reminders for when field trip money is due.

Phone, i.e. voice communication application, is quickly becoming a thing of the past.

web mail is so 1995

techcrunch: now the third largest Web mail service in the U.S. In July, Gmail nudged past AOL Email with 37 million unique visitors compared to 36.4 million for AOL, according to comScore estimates.

One of the primary lures of Gmail has always been its seemingly endless and ever-expanding storage limits.

Gmail is a lot more than just a web mail. It is one of Google Apps that make the company a major player in the cloud services for consumers. A more realistic comparison would be against Facebook, which has 250 million users worldwide.

Friday, August 14, 2009

A 100X change

Aug. 13 (Bloomberg):

Researchers at Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the Broad Institute looked for compounds that could destroy the stem cells, which often resist conventional cancer treatment. One, salinomycin, cut the number of stem cells at least 100 times more than did Bristol-Myers Squibb Co.’s Taxol, a common chemotherapy medicine, according to a report on the findings published today in the journal Cell.

It'll probably take at least 10-15 years before this research results in an working therapeutic medicine. And after some much investment in time, money, and effort, the medicine will be very expensive. Everything is so expensive in healthcare, it's unbelievable. If computers were developed the same way we would still work on IBM mainframes.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Dilemma of the Day: gel condoms

New Scientist, 11 August 2009.
Patrick Kiser, whose team developed the gel at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City, says that the objective is to give women in countries where HIV is rife a cheap way to protect themselves from viruses and pregnancy even if their partner is unwilling to wear a condom.

A. The gel has to be penetrable to enable unobstructed sexual intercourse.
B. The gel has to be impenetrable to prevent infiltration of sperm, HIV, and other sexually transmitted viruses.

Solution: Separation in Time (upon condition)

The gel is liquid as long as it is in contact with the acidity that is normal in a vagina, but will turn solid when it encounters semen, which is slightly alkaline. Any particles wider than 50 nanometres – including sperm, HIV and other viruses such as the herpes virus and the papilloma virus, which causes cervical cancer – are trapped.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Money makes the world go around!

Just like that, and your phone has become your wallet:

Using eBay's PayPal technology--and only PayPal--iPhone users can now make a purchase bid on a new item directly from the device, without having to go back and use a regular computer or deal with the payments in mobile Safari.


A 10,000X change

The pattern of progress in genome sequencing looks like Moore's law on steroids:

Aug. 10 (Bloomberg) -- Helicos Biosciences Corp.’s gene- sequencing machine mapped the genome of a Stanford University professor, who developed the technology, for less than $50,000 using the labor of just three people, researchers reported.
The cost has dropped from about $300 million required to decode a full human genome during the early stages of gene- mapping, when multiple computers and machines were needed plus the labor of more than 250 scientists and technicians

Add to it the ability to turn on an off specific gene expressions and you get a possibility of human evolution within one generation.

Can you imagine a world in which people mutate faster than viruses?

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Citius, Altius, Fishius

Forget health care. This country needs a diet & exercise reform:

Aug. 11 (Bloomberg) -- Lots of exercise, combined with eating a diet rich in fish, fruits and vegetables, may lower a person’s chance of developing Alzheimer’s disease, a study by Columbia University Medical Center in New York found.

Those who adhered most closely to the Mediterranean diet and were the most physically active had about a 60 percent lower risk of developing the disease compared with those who didn’t follow the diet or exercise, according to research today in the Journal of the American Medical Association. The study found the overall risk for getting Alzheimer’s was 9 percent for those who combined the most exercise and healthiest eating compared with 21 percent for the least.

The study builds on previous research that showed sticking to a Mediterranean diet rich in olive oil, red wine, fish and fresh produce lowers the odds of developing Alzheimer’s disease. The authors said this was the first research to look at the impact of a combination of Mediterranean diet with exercise.

Monday, August 10, 2009

The battle of the junk food giants

Now, McDonald's competes with Starbucks directly in the Fat+Sugar market:

McDonald’s move into mochas and iced lattes has helped the fast-food chain report its seventh consecutive month of increases in global sales this year, underscoring the resilience of its business model in the recession.

Other burger chains will probably follow the trend, and we'll have another cycle of obesity epidemic around the world. The price for coffee will probably go up too.

iPhone app for check deposits:

USAA, a privately held bank and insurance company, plans to update its iPhone application this week to introduce the check deposit feature, which requires a customer to photograph both sides of the check with the phone's camera.

"We're essentially taking an image of the check, and once you hit the send button, that image is going into our deposit-taking system as any other check would," said Wayne Peacock, a USAA executive vice president.

The image processing technology used by the banking app is essentially the same as the one demonstrated by Ray Kurzweil, but the business model of the former looks a lot stronger.

In any case, both applications live in the niche created by the transition from analog (paper) to digital (electronic transfer). They will go away as soon as the transition is complete.

Sunday, August 09, 2009

More doom and gloom from scientists:

...epidemiologist Warren Hern of the University of Colorado at Boulder, even likened the expansion of human cities to the growth and spread of cancer, predicting "death" of the Earth in about 2025. He points out that like the accelerated growth of a cancer, the human population has quadrupled in the past 100 years, and at this rate will reach a size in 2025 that leads to global collapse and catastrophe.

[Marc] Pararelli [of Colorado State University at Pueblo] is even more pessimistic. The only hope, he says, is a disaster of immense scale that jolts us out of our denial. "My sense is that only when the brown stuff really hits the fan will we finally start to do something."

The good news is that if the Earth is going to die in 2025 anyway, we don't have to solve the US health care problem now! :)

I wonder whether a massive shift to consumption of virtual goods is going to change the situation for the better. It takes less energy to telecommute than to drive and less resources to manufacture Second Life outfits rather than similar real ones. In the end, consumption can be channeled from resource-hungry to resource-saving goods, provided we develop enough of those. It's a matter of culture, not biology.