Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Dilemma of the Day: modern reproductive strategies

One one hand, in today's society people get married and have children when they are over thirty and forty. This trend relates to increased amounts of time spent on education, carrier building, and partner selection.
On the other hand, research shows that "genetic disease is more likely in the children of older fathers".

Therefore, to ensure mature partner choices, marriage should be delayed. But to avoid the likelihood of genetic diseases of the offspring, marriage should happen earlier in one's life.

The dilemma can be solved by applying the Separation in Time principle: marriage is delayed (best time to choose a mate), but sperm and eggs are selected and tested way before marriage (best time to get the genetic material).

One implementation of the solution, e.g. by using frozen eggs, got a boost from a recent study:

EGG freezing looks increasingly promising as an insurance policy for women who need or want to delay having children, according to the first systematic monitoring of success rates for IVF using eggs that were frozen then thawed out.

It's highly likely that future babies will be born to older parents using their "young" genetic material.

problem, solution, dilemma, separation, health

Monday, October 26, 2009

A list of greatest innovations of all times from 2007 Businessweek:

1. Weapons
2. Mathematics and the number zero
3. Money
4. Printing
5. Free markets and capital markets
6. Domesticated animals and agriculture
7. Property ownership
8. Limited liability
9. Participatory democracy
10. Anesthetics and surgery
11. Vaccines and antibiotics
12. Semiconductors
13. The Internet
14. Genetic sequencing
15. Containerized shipping

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Money and Monkeys

A New York Times magazine (via Freakonimcs) article about monkeys that learned to use money:

The essential idea was to give a monkey a dollar and see what it did with it. The currency Chen settled on was a silver disc, one inch in diameter, with a hole in the middle -- ''kind of like Chinese money,'' he says. It took several months of rudimentary repetition to teach the monkeys that these tokens were valuable as a means of exchange for a treat and would be similarly valuable the next day. Having gained that understanding, a capuchin would then be presented with 12 tokens on a tray and have to decide how many to surrender for, say, Jell-O cubes versus grapes. This first step allowed each capuchin to reveal its preferences and to grasp the concept of budgeting.

Over time, the capuchins learned to behave just like people: gamble and trade goods, favors, and sex for these shiny useless discs.

tags: money, greatest, control, incentives, behavior

Local electric power production and storage is needed

Two cases when adding new consumption or production capacity (Tool) leads to unintended consequences for the existing infrastructure (Distribution).

The first example relates to the predicted increase in the number of electric cars in California:

Oct. 23 (Bloomberg) -- California’s push to lead U.S. sales of electric cars may result in higher power rates for consumers in the state, as a growing number of rechargeable vehicles forces utilities to pay for grid upgrades.

A typical Santa Monica circuit, which serves about 10 households, may be overloaded should two or three of those customers charge vehicles simultaneously, even if they do so overnight during off-peak hours, Ted Craver, Edison’s chief executive officer, said in a phone interview on Oct. 20.

While surplus power is available at night at cheaper rates, the grid needs adjustments to handle such charging, Craver said. For example, additional or larger transformers may be needed in neighborhoods with numerous plug-in car owners.

In the second example, Science magazine describes the potential impact of biofuel production on the water distribution infrastructure:

Biofuels promise energy and climate gains, but in some cases, those improvements wouldn't be dramatic. And they come with some significant downsides, such as the potential for increasing the price of corn and other food staples. Now, a series of recent studies is underscoring another risk: A widespread shift toward biofuels could pinch water supplies and worsen water pollution. In short, an increased reliance on biofuel trades an oil problem for a water problem.

Making matters worse, other U.S. energy sectors are growing and increasing their demand for water. Another recent report from Argonne by Deborah Elcock, an energy and environmental policy analyst, for example, found that water consumption for energy production in the United States will jump two-thirds between 2005 and 2030—from about 6 billion gallons of water per day to roughly 10 bgd—driven primarily by population growth. About half of that increase will go toward growing biofuels.

tags: five element analysis, tool, distribution, system, greatest, maturity, hype, energy

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Don Reisinger at CNet writes:

After Sid Meier announced on Thursday that a new Civilization title called Civilization Network was on its way to Facebook, it had me thinking: what other games could I play until I'm ready to take on Meier's new title next year?

Actually, it doesn't matter what other games people will be playing. What matters is that there will be tons of games on Facebook and they will strengthen Facebook's role as an essential piece of social infrastructure for the next generation of internet users. Other digital things, like money, content, art will follow the net people.

tags:infrastructure, greatest, payload, social, distribution

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Neuroscientists are figuring out how brain handles time and how our experiences are being recorded in memory:

there is not a single "film roll" in the brain, but many separate streams, each recording a separate piece of information. What's more, this way of dealing with incoming information may not apply solely to motion perception. Other brain processes, such as object or sound recognition, might also be processed as discrete packets.

To investigate, VanRullen examined another neural function, called near-threshold luminance detection. He exposed his subjects to flashes of light barely bright enough to see, and found that the likelihood of them noticing the light depended on the phase of another wave in the front of the brain, which rises and falls about 7 times per second. It turned out that subjects were more likely to detect the flash when the wave was near its trough, and miss it when the wave was near its peak.

In everyday life we measure time by comparing our processes to standard processes, such rotation of the Earth around the Sun. It looks like the brain has its own set of standard internal processes that determine the pace of cognition. Here's an interesting experiment that induces accelerated thinking:

Luke Jones at the University of Manchester, UK, decided to test the subjects' rate of mental processing during the experience. After exposing them to the clicks, he measured how quickly they could accomplish three different tasks: basic arithmetic, memorising words or hitting a specific key on a computer keyboard.

The results, to be published in the Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology, showed that the clicks accelerated the subjects' performance in all three tasks by 10 to 20 per cent. It was as if the drumbeat of their brain's internal slave galley had sped up - compelling each neuron to row faster. White noise had no such effect. "Information processing in the brain is running in subjective time," says Weardon. "If you speed up people's subjective time, they really do seem to have more time to process things."

This would make a good iPhone/Android app!

tags: time, payload, process, control, brain, mind

Monday, October 19, 2009

Monetization of Gossip

Twitter hits 5 billion tweets:

Former Current Media executive Robin Sloan appears to have posted Twitter's 5 billionth tweet, in the form of a reply to another user that otherwise read only "Oh lord."

The company [Twitter] recently raised another round of funding at a valuation somewhere in the neighborhood of $1 billion.

To twitt or not to twitt: that is the question.

tags: distribution, 10x, payload, youtube, five element analysis, information, infrastructure

Sunday, October 18, 2009

It might be that creative environment is just a sign that the organization is lead by a smart person. Because stupid bosses tend to bully their employees:

new research showing that leaders who feel incompetent really do lash out at others to temper their own inferiority.

"Power holders feel they need to be superior and competent. When they don't feel they can show that legitimately, they'll show it by taking people down a notch or two," says Nathanael Fast, a social psychologist at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles, who led a series of experiments to explore this effect.

Psychological Science, DOI: 10.1111/j.1467-9280.2009.02452.x

tags: control, psychology, creativity, management,

Trade-off of the Day: the economics of bargaining.

From the Scientific Background paper for this year's Nobel Prize in Economics:

Organizing the transaction within a firm centralizes decision rights, thereby saving on bargaining costs and reducing the risk of bargaining impasse, but at the same time allows executives more scope to extract rents in inefficient ways. The net effect of this trade-off depends on both the difficulty of writing useful contracts ex ante and the extent to which assets are relationship-specific ex post.

A common trade-off in a control system. It would make a good case study: trade-off -> dilemma -> solution (separation in time and, probably, action).

tags: trade-off, economics, control, dilemma, problem, example, course

future platforms for sensor deployment?

Continuing developments in the world of small airplanes:

A mere 30 centimeters long, the MAVion combines fixed wings with two counter rotating propellers, allowing it to operate with high aerodynamic efficiency--even in adverse conditions, according to the professor.

"The ultimate goal of the MAVion concept is to demonstrate a twofold capability using the same vehicle: fast forward flight and hover flight," Moschetta explained. "The two counter-rotating tandem propellers provide a simple means to enhance yaw control, which is particularly important in vertical flight."

and radio-controlled insects:

remote control of insects in free flight via an implantable radio-equipped miniature neural stimulating system. The pronotum mounted system consisted of neural stimulators, muscular stimulators, a radio transceiver-equipped microcontroller and a microbattery. Flight initiation, cessation and elevation control were accomplished through neural stimulus of the brain which elicited, suppressed or modulated wing oscillation. Turns were triggered through the direct muscular stimulus of either of the basalar muscles.

tags: control, transportation, flight, brain, invention, , 10x, drones

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Philips has found a way to connect a medical device with a life-style application:

...a biometric-style emotion-sensing system that supposedly alerts traders when it might be wise to take a breath and step away from the Charles Schwab site.

The Rationalizer system consists of the EmoBracelet and corresponding EmoBowl. The bracelet measures the user's emotional arousal level through a skin response sensor and displays the findings as a dynamic light pattern on either the bracelet itself or the nearby, rather cool-looking bowl. As your emotions intensify, so does the light pattern, which speeds up and shifts color from soft yellow to orange to deep red--alerting you and everyone else who pops in the room that you're turning into a basket case.

tags: innovation, emotion, health, control, detection,

related: US Patent Application 20090226046

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

New Scientist reports on the latest out-of-body-experience research:

Whatever the mechanism, the study of out-of-body experiences promises to help answer a profound question in neuroscience and philosophy: how does self-consciousness emerge? It's abundantly clear to us that we have a sense of self that resides, most of the time, in our bodies. Yet it is also clear from out-of-body experiences that the sense of self can seemingly detach from your physical body. So how are the self and the body related?

I bet that with proliferation of 3D camera, display, and gaming technologies we'll be able to have out of body experiences on a regular basis. Our poor brains will be forced to adapt to a totally new reality. I wonder if it would be possible to have experience of somebody else's body. One day, this would make one cool Facebook app. Personal Snowcrash on steroids.

tags: brain, psychology, games, system, payload, innovation, social, network
Another sign that PC has become a completely commoditized product:

IDC released its PC tracker report Wednesday afternoon for the third quarter of 2009 and for the very first time, Acer is indeed the No. 2 producer of PCs in the world, with 14 percent. Hewlett-Packard remained on top with 20.2 percent of PCs shipped, and Dell dropped to 12.7 percent.

"It's a pretty amazing transition in market leadership by Acer," said Loren Loverde, the program director of IDC's PC Tracker. "It's reflective of the changes in form factors and channels and pricing--the way we've shifted to lower cost portables, particularly in consumer and retail, which is where Dell was not as strong."

Advantage comes through cost competition and distribution channel capture. Design (the least expensive type of innovation) is another factor, but only Apple has the ability to deliver a differentiated product in this space.

tags: s-curve, distribution, maturity, computers

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

How a sewing machine works

from http://www.dossierstudio.com/2009/08/how-a-sewing-machine-works/

Monday, October 12, 2009

Game on!

In the minds of many industry observers, thanks to its integration of a functional operating system, an accelerometer, GPS and a camera, and the fact that thousands of developers, big and small, have released games for the iPhone, the Apple device has already surpassed Sony's PSP and Nintendo's DS as the most important, or at least most adaptable, portable gaming platform.

But as developers get more creative and as its technology improves, it's likely that the iPhone will only get more impressive as a gaming machine.

With "2012," the developers at augmented reality entertainment production studio Trigger seem to have broken new ground with a couple of features. In the game, players are tasked with making their way--virtually, of course--from their real-world location to a digital Tibet. They do so by answering trivia questions related to survival, and with each correct response, they are credited with hundreds of miles of forward progress.

via CNet

What's on your mind, Mr.Turtle?

A neurophysiology study straight out of a science fiction novel:

In this study, we used a bloodless and intact turtle brain to explore the feasibility of detecting visually-evoked ncMRI signal. After being surgically removed from the cranium and placed in artificial cerebral spinal fluid (aCSF), the turtle brain (with eyes attached) is able to generate essentially normal electrophysiological activity in response to visual stimulation ([Kriegstein, 1987] and [Fan et al., 1993]).

The researchers didn't find much, but the method they used looks really impressive. It would be a great experiment to run in a high school bio class. Students could actually see how the brain works.

tags: education, detection, representation, science, biology, brain

reference: Physiologically evoked neuronal current MRI in a bloodless turtle brain: Detectable or not? doi:10.1016/j.neuroimage.2009.06.017 

invention vs innovation: a 10X difference

The difference between invention (discovery) and innovation (commercial application) was highlighted last week when Charles K. Kao was awarded the 2009 Nobel prize in physics ""for groundbreaking achievements concerning the transmission of light in fibers for optical communication". Kao's work lies at the foundations of today's telecommunications technology. His share of the Nobel Prize money is about $700K. For comparison, John T. Chambers, the Chairman and CEO of Cisco, a networking and communications gear company, gets about $10M a year in salary, stock, and bonuses. Both of them are at the top of their profession, and the contrast between the rewards the society affords these two brilliant men indicates the relative value created at different stages of the innovation process.

tags: 10x, invention, innovation, greatest, economy, process, scale, niche construction

Sunday, October 11, 2009

A growing niche of low-power nuclear reactors:

Hyperion Power Generation plans to build a small reactor manufacturing plant in the United Kingdom within the next two years. The firm says it plans to use the existing UK supply chain to build its 70MWt (27MWe), self-regulating reactor and that the UK will be its ‘launch pad’ for the European market.

“We’ve got so much demand that we need to go ahead and start planning our manufacturing facilities,” he [John (Grizz) Deal] said.

“We have customer commitments for over a hundred units already. We’re going to be very busy! In fact, we’re now scheduling deliveries out to 2018-2020 even though we expect to go to market in the 2013-2014 timeframe.”

The reactor looks like an electric battery on steroids: you plug it in, run for 5-7 years, and then replace with another one, if necessary.

tags: source, network, system, energy, growth
By continuities, I mean patterns that extend across time. These are not laws, like gravity or entropy; they are not even theories, like relativity or natural selection. They are simply phenomena that recur with sufficient regularity to make themselves apparent to us. Without such patterns, we’d have no basis for generalizing about human experience: we’d not know, for example, that birth rates tend to decline as economic development advances, or that empires tend to expand beyond their means, or that democracies tend not to go to war with one another. But because these patterns show up so frequently in the past, we can reasonably expect them to continue to do so in the future.

The landscape of history, by John Lewis Gaddis. p.31.

A continuity is often an indicator of an underlying infrastructure that sustains the pattern by counter-acting entropy.

tags: process, artifact, niche construction, pattern, greatest, course

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Growing beyond hype

During the next four years, the cloud is predicted to grow very rapidly:

Another good news is that we seem to have passed the peak of the hype cycle some time earlier this year.

tags: cloud,  hype, growth, niche construction, artefact,storage
An important emerging technology market:

Financial analyst Piper Jaffray estimates that US citizens will spend $621 million in 2009 in virtual worlds; estimates of the Asian market are even larger. Research firm Plus Eight Star puts spending at $5 billion in the last year.

Over in Second Life, trade remains robust. The value of transactions between residents in the second quarter of this year was $144 million, a year-on-year increase of 94 per cent. With its users swapping virtual goods and services worth around $600 million per year, Second Life has the largest economy of any virtual world

and a new problem:

Just as the digital revolution has facilitated piracy and copyright theft in other spheres, those who make a living running businesses in Second Life have seen their profits eroded by users who have found ways to copy their intellectual property (IP).

The easier it is to implement and replicate somebody-else's idea, the important IP protection becomes. Also, production processes for virtual goods in Second Life are still primitive, therefore it is difficult to have trade secrets.

tags: niche construction, 4q diagram, problem, greatest, virtual, economy, market, growth,
Time to imagine a world where battery power for portable devices is no longer a problem:

Scientists at the University of Missouri are developing a small nuclear battery that they say can hold a million times more charge than standard batteries.

The radioisotope battery, being developed by Jae Kwon of the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering and other researchers, is the size and thickness of a penny.

The battery is designed to drive micro/nanoelectromechanical systems (M/NEMS). Such devices include labs on a chip, and biological and chemical sensors.

You can't recharge a nuclear battery, though. Only replace.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Patents in the news

From the yesterday's InformationWeek:

A half-decade after it won a $565 million court judgment against Microsoft (NSDQ: MSFT) for patent infringement, University of California tech spinoff Eolas has filed another lawsuit based on the same technology—this time against a virtual who's who of the tech industry's biggest players.

Named in the suit, filed Tuesday, are Adobe (NSDQ: ADBE), Sun Microsystems (NSDQ: JAVA), Yahoo (NSDQ: YHOO), Google (NSDQ: GOOG), eBay (NSDQ: EBAY), Amazon (NSDQ: AMZN), and Perot Systems. Also listed as defendants are several companies, including Blockbuster, Playboy, JPMorgan Chase, and J.C. Penney, that use the technology on their Web sites.

tags: example, patent, media, payload

Trade-off of the Day: History

Just how, though, do you present historical experience for the purpose of enlarging personal experience? To include too little information can render the whole exercise irrelevant. To include too much can overload the circuits and crash the system. The historian has got to strike a balance, and that means recognizing a trade-off between literal and abstract representation.

The Landscape of History: How Historians Map the Past, by John Lewis Gaddis. p 12.

Monday, October 05, 2009

NYT on the emerging digital infrastructure of Africa:

October 5, 2009 5:00 PM PDT
BUSHENYI, Uganda--Laban Rutagumirwa charges his mobile phone with a car battery because his dirt-floor home deep in the remote, banana-covered hills of western Uganda does not have electricity.

In an area where electricity is scarce and Internet connections virtually nonexistent, the mobile phone has revolutionized scientists' ability to track this crop disease and communicate the latest scientific advances to remote farmers.

With his phone, Rutagumirwa collects digital photos, establishes global positioning system coordinates and stores completed 50-question surveys from nearby farmers with sick plants. He sends this data, wirelessly and instantly, to scientists in the Ugandan capital, Kampala.

Once solar power generators become less expensive, Africa will be able to take full advantage of the new communication technologies.

tags: distribution, greatest, infrastructure, mobile, niche construction

Sunday, October 04, 2009

An article about further research into the Long Tail theory:

The Wharton researchers find that the Long Tail effect holds true in some cases, but when factoring in expanding product variety and consumer demand, mass appeal products retain their importance. The researchers argue that new movies appear so fast that consumers do not have time to discover them, and that niche movies are not any more well-liked than hits.

I think the key issue here is the difference between the type of content and delivery option used in the studies. The original Long Tail hypothesis was tested on a large online digital audio collection, while the new research uses Netflix data on movies ordered via mail. In the first case, the risk to consumer to waste valuable leisure time is essentially non-existent. Audio download takes very little time and it's easy to try a song and dump it after a few seconds.
It's different with Netflix movies, though. The waiting time for a movie is at least one day, and if the user plans for a having a good time, a risky bet on an unproven movie may not be worth it. Since we know that people, in general, are risk averse, choice of a better known movie is justified from a behavioral point of view.

In any case, the Long Tail theory seems to work best when "total consumption costs", including access and trial time, are close to zero.

tags: control, scale, selection, risk, payload, distribution, entertainment

Invention: a paper clip stand for iPhone

tags: invention video youtube

Friday, October 02, 2009

I wonder how long will it take to reliably "externalize" control of at least some of the brain functions. So far, scientists have been poking in different directions without a real breakthrough. Maybe we are still in the period of data accumulation.

Peter Brown and his colleagues at University College London generated a small electrical current in the brains of 14 healthy volunteers using scalp electrodes. The current increased the activity of normal beta waves – a kind of brain wave that is usually active during sustained muscle activities, such as holding a book. Beta activity usually drops before people begin a movement.
The participants then carried out a simple task: they moved a spot on a computer screen as quickly as possible using a joystick. When beta wave activity increased, their fastest times slowed by 10 per cent.

via New Scientist.