Sunday, November 29, 2009

Twittering for living

Amazing facts about biological evolution of cuckoo chicks:

... an extremely short incubation period, which ensures that the cuckoo chicks usually hatch before the host's chicks.
...having killed its rivals, the cuckoo chick must stimulate an adequate rate of feeding by its host. It appears to accomplish theis task by behaving as if it were the equivalent of a whole brood of its host's chicks. It does so by emitting a rapid begging call that mimics the begging sounds, as well as the calling rate, of a complete brood of its host's chicks.

Niche Construction, p 11.

tags: evolution, biology, niche construction,
A quote from Michael Wheeler's book "Reconstructing the cognitive world":

The strength of these connections are known as the network's weights, and it is common to think of the network's "knowledge" as being stored in its set of weights. The values of these weights are modifiable, so, given some initial configuration, changes to the weights can be made that improve the performance of the network over time.
... the specific structure of the network, and the weight-adjustment algorithm, the network may learn to carry out some desired input-output mapping.
... most connectionist networks also exploit a distinctive kind of representation, so-called distributed representation, according to which a representation is conceived as a pattern of activation spread out across a group of processing units. p.10

From this perspective, relevancy of information relates to its ability to change the network's weights. Irrelevant information passes by through the network without reconfiguring its "knowledge" and/or ability to act upon it.

Also of interest, a technique to build intelligence into a distribution sub-system. In this case, the distribution and control components of the system are integrated and cannot be substituted with a competing solution. The "vertical" axis (Distribution--Control) on the 5-element system diagram becomes not just important, but essential to the system's performance.

tags: cognition, network, control, computers, information, distribution, system, five element analysis

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Retail: The Battle of Technologies

NYT reports on a potential price war between Amazon and Wal-mart:

This fight, then, is all about the future. Rapid expansion by each company, as well as profound shifts in the high-tech landscape, now make direct confrontation inevitable. Though online shopping accounts for only around 4 percent of retail sales, that percentage is growing quickly. E-commerce did not suffer as deeply as regular retailing during the economic malaise, and it is recovering faster than in-store shopping. People are also shopping on smartphones and from their HDTVs.

Published: November 23, 2009

Amazon is going to win this war, unless Wal-mart takes dramatic steps to improve its e-tailing strategy. Since at least the last Christmas shopping season, Amazon's biggest advantage has been its ability to aggregate demand and effect real-time supply-demand pricing.

tags: distribution, control, commerce, greatest, 10X, battle
Is Yoga a technology? Probably, not.
Is psychoanalysis a technology? I don't think so.
Is medicated blood chemistry (cholesterol, sugar, vitamins, hemoglobin, etc.) maintenance a technology. Most likely, yes.

What's the difference? The type of learning that is required to produce consistent results. With technology we have a formal set of repeatable steps, while in a human-centric methodology we've got a series of rules, internalized by apprenticeship and practice.

tags: technology, control, mind, learning, method,  process, education

Friday, November 27, 2009

The chicken and its three eggs.

Philosophy of technology is a 2,500-year intellectual exercise, and according to Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy:

Technology is a continuous attempt to bring the world closer to the way it is to be. Whereas science aims to understand the world as it is, technology aims to change the world.

This tells me that there should exist a fundamental difference between the logic of scientific discovery and the logic of invention, which most of the books on creativity completely ignore. Unfortunately, philosophy of invention doesn't exist. Though, there are some attempts to create a philosophy of creativity.

Just for fun, below are Google timelines for philosophy, invention, science, and technology.

tags: technology, science, invention, timing, evolution, system, greatest

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Search by itself doesn't have a lot of staying power. Google can be relatively easily replaced by Microsoft or Yahoo. On the other hand, personal or corporate content in the cloud can be hardly moved from one provider to another. Maybe in the future it will be possible, e.g. by having a virtual rather than real data center to host all the data and applications (a la Google Docs).
In the meantime, this quote below is an indicator that content providers are looking for new revenue streams.

Reports have surfaced over the last several months, most recently in the Financial Times, that News Corp. is in talks with Microsoft to enact a plan that would see News Corp. properties hiding their content from Google's search engine in return for exclusive listing with Bing.

tags: cloud, tool, transition, computers, content, evolution, value, google, microsoft, network

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

NS, November 2009 by Colin Barras -- An important constraint that prevents development of new mobile interfaces:

The fat finger problem is the main reason why icons on hand-held touch-screen devices are generally around 10 millimetres across. In recent years numerous ways around the problem have been explored, including the combination of a touch-screen with a touch-sensitive pad on the rear of the device

Long-term evolution would make our fingers insect-like: thin and agile.

tags: problem, dilemma, mobile, interface, computers, control

Sunday, November 22, 2009

The magic of the familiar.

While looking at the list of Top Grossing American films of the decade, it is hard not to notice that all of them are cinema versions of fairy tales. Moreover, it appears that movie audiences had been well primed by either a popular comic strip, a book, or previous movie based on the same characters. Technology-wise, the development of computer graphics enabled creation of magical effects that were practically impossible during the previous decade.

The Dark Night
Release date: 7/18/08
Domestic boxoffice: $533.3 million

Shrek 2
Release date: 5/19/04
Domestic boxoffice: $436.7 million

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest
Release date: 7/7/06
Domestic boxoffice: $423.3 million

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Four hugs a day keep the psychatrist away.

The latest research on communicating emotions by touch (click on pictures to enlarge) shows, e.g. that a handshake is probably the best way to "say" thank you. Also, there's significant difference between how effective men and women are in communicating their core feelings: anger, fear, disgust, love, gratitude, sympathy, happiness, and sadness. 

Source: Hertenstein, M. J., Holmes, R., McCullough, M., & Keltner, D. (2009). The communication of emotion via touch. Emotion, 9, 566-573. doi: 10.1037/a0016108

tags:  psychology, health, communication, emotion,

Friday, November 20, 2009

Twitter ads a geotagging API:

Twitter contends that including a user's location when he or she tweets could significantly add to its microblogging service. The company wrote in a blog post that the new feature should allow users to "better focus in on local conversations."

It's a very important step to a twitter-based business model that allows for highly relevant local advertisement.

From a system perspective, solutions to detection problems (in this case, location id) are precursors to the emergence of new control systems.

tags: business, model, niche construction, control, detection, system, problem, synthesis
The more I read about robots, the more I think that the most useful of them will come with functionality and scale that are very different from human abilities and size:

The surgeons of tomorrow will include tiny robots that enter our bodies and do their work from the inside, with no need to open patients up or knock them out. While nanobots that swim through the blood are still in the realm of fantasy, several groups are developing devices a few millimetres in size. The first generation of "mini-medibots" may infiltrate our bodies through our ears, eyes and lungs, to deliver drugs, take tissue samples or install medical devices.

Most importantly, new diagnostics and control technologies need to be invented to guide the bots in these new applications.

tag: tool, system, health, control, detection, greatest, scale

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Meditate or die.

Science Mag. Nov 16, 2009:

Meditation can cut the risk of heart attack, stroke, and death by almost 50% in patients with existing coronary heart disease, according to a new clinical trial. The findings indicate that relaxation and mental focusing can be as effective as powerful new drugs in treating heart disease.

Monday, November 16, 2009

It's the infrastructure, stupid!

In "Mind, Language, and Society" philosopher John R. Searle writes:

When confronted with an intractable question such as is presented by a clash of convincing default positions, don't accept the question lying down. Get up and go behind the question to see what assumptions lie behind the alternatives the question presents.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

In an information-based society quality of life is quality of information. That is, relevant information is key to rational decision making, whether it concerns biological (gene-related), cultural (context-related), environmental (constraint-related), or other issues. Since people's attention is limited, I believe there exists an informational equivalent to Gresham's Law: bad information drives out good.
Here's some evidence for it
from the transcript of CNet's conversation with Eric Schmidt, CEO of Google:

You would think that, based on popular culture, that everyone cares about the stuff that's popular. But our data shows that people are looking deeper and deeper into the Web for even more specialized information.

With regard to quality of information, it's remarkable that the CNet interviewers completely missed the topic of Google Apps, a set of cloud services that targets enterprise software customers. Wave makes a lot more sense as a component of this set, rather than a standalone e-mail replacement application.

tags: control, information, cloud, google, niche construction, mousetrap, 4q diagram, system, infrastructure, video

Invention of diseases

Invention of the stethoscope by René-Théophile-Hyacinthe Laennec in the 19th century was a major breakthrough in doctor's ability to detect early signs of a disease. It came at a price, though. In "History of Medicine" Jacalyn Duffin writes:

Prior to the stethoscope, patients could not be sick unless they felt sick. After the stethoscope it was possible to have a serious disease and feel fine. The patient was no longer the chief authority on his or her own well-being.

In the future, you won't even need to be alive to be sick. That is, technologies for genetic analysis will enable doctors to find baby's diseases even before he or she is conceived.

Timeline for "stethoscope". Retrieved from Google, on 11/15/09.

As a side note, I like the technique of showing the change in control structure "before" and "after" the invention. It brings up the point that new diagnostics technologies are not only about early detection, but also about who has the control over medical decisions in the healthcare system.

Update: a stethoscope iPhone application.

tags: health, detection, control, niche construction, invention, innovation, problem , dilemma

Saturday, November 14, 2009

A graph from a 1954 article by Ernest Jawetz in Annual Review of Medicine looks remarkably similar to the Gartner Hype Cycle "discovered" in 1995. Both graphs have an enthusiasm peak, a disappointment pit, and a productivity plateau (see below).

Gartner Hype Cycle (courtesy

With Twitter we are probably still in the early stages of the cycle (see Google Timeline snapshot):

tags: innovation, cycle, diffusion, pattern, theory, book, infrastructure, niche construction, constraint

Is Facebook a status function?

Philosopher John Searle describes a certain type of invention, he calls it status function, instances of which exist only because people collectively believe in their functions:

Think of the difference between a knife and a 20 dollar bill. The knife will cut just in virtue of its physical structure. But the 20 dollar bill will not buy just in virtue of its physical structure. It can only function as money if it is recognized, accepted, and acknowledged as valid currency. The knife function can exist for anybody capable of exploiting the physics, but the status function can only exist if there is collective representation of the object as having the status that carries the function.

He claims that humans create their civilizations by inventing various status functions:

I regard the invention of the limited liability corporation, like the invention of double-entry bookkeeping, universities, museums, and money, as one of the truly great advances in human civilization. But the greatest advance of all is the invention of status functions, of which these are but instances. ... without them, human civilization, as we think of it, would be impossible.

Status functions seem to be essential for scalability. From a system point of view, they are instances of the Control component.

Source: John Searle. 2005. What is an institution? doi:10.1017/S1744137405000020

tags: invention, ideality, theory, function

Friday, November 13, 2009

Invention of the week: Traffic Light

From the Traffic Light History:

The world’s first traffic light came into being before the automobile was in use, and traffic consisted only of pedestrians, buggies, and wagons. Installed at an intersection in London in 1868, it was a revolving lantern with red and green signals. Red meant "stop" and green meant "caution." The lantern, illuminated by gas, was turned by means of a lever at its base so that the appropriate light faced traffic. On January 2, 1869, this crude traffic light exploded, injuring the policeman who was operating it.

The traffic light as we know it today was patented by Garrett Morgan in 1923. General Electric bought the patent for $40,000, and monopolized manufacturing of the device in the United Sates.

tags: control, history, greatest, transportation, scale, patent, problem, solution, innovation

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Advances in technology: HD, mobile, and community-based porn

A 20+ minute report on the evolution of the porn industry. All their issues are very similar or a bit ahead of what plagues the rest of the content industry. Current TV itself is restructuring and laying off 25% of its staff in an attempt to adjust to the new ways people generate and use content.

tags: 10x, entertainment, mobile, problem, social, media

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

This inventor story is about Hans Berger, the pioneer of electroencephalography (EEG) - technology widely used today in brain research and medical applications.

It is well known that Berger worked for almost 30 years in nearly complete isolation, recording electrical activity from the brain, before he dared to risk his first publication on the EEG in 1929. His first few publications on the new method were neglected until Nobel Prize winner Douglas Adrian repeated his experiments and demonstrated the new method to the scientific community of physiologists. Then, in the second half of the 1930s, groups specializing in EEG recording mushroomed all over the world, particularly in the United States.

A happy ending? Not really. Berger developed and used EEG to detect signs of human psychic activity. The popular press was enthusiastic about the technology, but scientists met Berger's direction of research with skepticism. Eventually, funds dried up and "without any prospect of pursuing the project further, Berger, depressed, committed suicide on June 1, 1941."
At the same time, clinical psychiatrists who used the same technology to solve a different problem (detection of brain disorders), succeeded beyond all expectations:

Quite early on, the new method demonstrated an enormous diagnostic potential with the recording of disease-specific patterns. Brain tumors could be localized by their halo of electrical silence, and epileptic seizures displayed persistently dramatic changes of the record.

Same technology, drastically different results in its application.

Source: Cornelius Borck. 2005. WRITING BRAINS: Tracing the Psyche With the Graphical Method. History of Psychology. 2005, Vol. 8, No. 1, 79–94. DOI: 10.1037/1093-4510.8.1.79

tags: health, problem, 4q diagram, problem, solution, reverse brainstorm, mousetrap

Monday, November 09, 2009

Dilemma of the day: rejection

via NS:

Rejection can dramatically reduce a person's IQ and their ability to reason analytically, while increasing their aggression, according to new research.

"It's been known for a long time that rejected kids tend to be more violent and aggressive," says Roy Baumeister of the Case Western Reserve University in Ohio, who led the work. "But we've found that randomly assigning students to rejection experiences can lower their IQ scores and make them aggressive."

Thus, a dilemma: a) on one hand, we should reject bad or crazy ideas because they don't provide good solutions; b) we should not reject such ideas because the rejection will make people feel and behave stupid.

Reverse brainstorming solves this dilemma by taking the original idea and, instead of rejecting it, expanding the problem space around it. Eventually, better problems and a better solutions are found, and participants' self-esteem is preserved.

In contrast, regular brainstorming sessions, unless run under strict rules, often deteriorate into criticism of a specific idea, which makes participants more aggressive and less creative.

tags: dilemma, problem, creativity, brainstorm, reverse brainstorm,
Looking inside the brain of a rat:

Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, DOI: 10.1073/pnas.0903680106

tags: brain, mind, detection, health, information, tool, control

Sunday, November 08, 2009

In this recession, smartphone market behavior contradicts conventional economic theories predicting that demand for expensive goods falls when consumer income falls (inferior vs normal good):

In Europe, smartphone sales are expected to rise 22% in 2009, defying the 21% slump in handset sales predicted by Pyramid Research. In the United States a poll by ChangeWave Research in June suggested that 37% of consumers already own a smartphone, while more than 14% planned to buy one in the next three months.

Microsoft predicts that in a few years smartphones will make up 30% of the volume and more than 50% of the value of the mobile phone market.

This is clear evidence that we deal with a new stage in S-curve, that doesn't conform to standard economics. Another important aspect of this phenomenon is that it's not about the phone itself (hardware), but about many new ways to use it (software):

Apple needed just two ingredients to be successful: ease of use and a wide range of "apps" - small software applications that allow owners to optimise their phone, whether it is Sudoku puzzles or sugar trackers for diabetes sufferers.
It is here where rivals like Samsung falter. With few apps to satisfy the whims of owners

iTunes is a critical control component in Apple's iPhone/iPod architecture. The software was originally built to help users manage thousands of songs, and now it seamlessly manages thousands of applications.

P.S. I would love to insert an annotated S-curve chart here, but my Mac doesn't have the tablet functionality. Damn.

system, mobile, apple, tool, control, control point, niche construction, 

The 10x change of the week: human genome.

Another exponential step in our ability to acquire new biological data. The next steps will be to interpret and use as information, e.g. for treating diseases or developing new and better us.

The Human Genome Project, which officially completed the mind-boggling achievement of sequencing Jim Watson's genome in 2006, carried the equally mind-boggling price tag of $3 billion. If I may be so bold as to use that word thrice in one paragraph, even more mind-boggling is that a company called Complete Genomics has just sequenced three human genomes for $4,400 in materials, with an error rate of less than one base in 100,000.

Referene: Human Genome Sequencing Using Unchained Base Reads on Self-Assembling DNA Nanoarrays. Published Online November 5, 2009. Science DOI: 10.1126/science.1181498

tags: 10x, information, tool, health, cloud, computers

Saturday, November 07, 2009

The myopia epidemic among children (in addition to CEOs)

New Scientist ( issue 2733. Nov 6, 2009) reports on another lifestyle threat to children's health:

[R]ates of short-sightedness, or myopia, were rising to epidemic proportions around the world. Today, in some of the worst-affected countries such as Singapore, Hong Kong and Taiwan, around 80 per cent of young adults are myopic, compared to only 25 per cent a few decades back.

Rates are lower in western countries - between 30 and 50 per cent - but myopia seems to be rising steadily here too. What could be causing this mysterious epidemic?

"Our findings suggest that being outdoors, rather than sport per se, may be the crucial factor," says Rose. The theory has since been backed up by a study of 1249 teenagers in Singapore, led by Seang-Mei Saw at the Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine, National University of Singapore (British Journal of Ophthalmology, vol 93, p 997).

On average the children in Sydney spent nearly 14 hours per week outside, and only 3 per cent developed myopia. In contrast, the children in Singapore spent just 3 hours outside, and 30 per cent developed myopia. Once again, close work had a minimal influence; the Australian children actually spent more time reading and in front of their computers than the Singaporeans (Archives of Ophthalmolology, vol 126, p 527).

It appears that peripheral vision is the first thing to go when children spent most of their time indoors.

Stop reading this. Go out and play!

tags: problem, solution, health, niche construction

Friday, November 06, 2009

Additional evidence that browser has become an application run-time environment:

With a project called Closure Tools, Google plans on Thursday to start helping developers who aspire to match the company's proficiency in creating Web sites and Web applications.

Google is a strong proponent of using JavaScript to write Web-based programs, part of its Web-centric ethos. Indeed, the company has pushed the language to its limits with services such as Gmail and Google Docs, and it developed its Chrome browser in part to enable JavaScript programs to run faster.

The real issue at stake is future dominance in web (cloud) applications. Will Google succeed with its Android/Chrome platform, or Apple solidify its advantage with iPhone/iPod? Also, I believe Facebook has its own app language, which makes it a 2.5 horses race.

tags: mobile, tool, platform, evolution, niche construction, payload

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Building the cloud: location, location, location

What is clear is that, over time, Microsoft will need even more capacity. That's what has Josefsberg returning to a custom "heat map" that figures out the best place to build data centers based on factors including cheapness, greenness, and availability of power, political climate, weather, networking capacity, and other factors. Choosing the right spot is critical, Microsoft executives say, noting that 70 percent of a data center's economics are determined before a company ever breaks ground.

Energy seems to be a major constraint for cloud development:

Even with only half the site ready for computers, the center has 30 megawatts of capacity--many times that found in a typical facility.

On a hot day, Microsoft would rely on 7.5 miles worth of chilled water piping to keep things cool, but general manager Kevin Timmons smiled as he walked in for the facility's grand opening in late September. It was around 55 degrees outside.

tags:energy, infrastructure, tool, cloud, computers, scale, 10x, greatest
Developers make money on iPhone/iPod applications by luck. Apple makes money by design.

(CNET) More than 100,000 apps are now available for download from Apple's App Store, making it the largest such retailer in the world.

The App Store launched in July 2008 with just 500 applications. The store is now available in 77 countries, which has contributed to what Apple said Wednesday is well over 2 billion downloads.

It also appears that Apple's business model is running into scalability problems:

Most notably, Apple's app approval process has caused frustration with developers, who are sometimes left in the dark about the reason an app is rejected.

As we discussed during the last session of the Model-based Invention/Innovation class, this is a hole that Google can exploit with its Android platform/distribution system. The AppStore situation can be compared to what happened to Yahoo, when they ran into problems while trying to catalog the web. Eventually, search replaced guided portal-based navigation. Most likely, AppStore will be replaced by a free distributed marketplace for mobile software.

tags: mobile, problem, 10x, apple, google, control point, evolution, distribution,  battle
Ten inventions that changed the world, according to the London Science Museum:

...curators select[ed] the 10 objects in its collection that had made the biggest mark on history. These then went to a public vote to find the most important invention of past centuries.
1. X-ray
2. Penicilin
3. DNA double helix
4. Apollo 10 capsule
5. V2 rocket engine
6. Stephenson's Rocket
7. Pilot ACE computer
8. The atmospheric engine
9. Model T Ford
10. The electric telegraph

tags: invention, innovation,  greatest

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Think big. Think beautiful.

From "The Unconscious City: How Expectancies About Creative Milieus Influence Creative Performance", by Jens Förster (2009):

I suggest that such[creative] thinking works like a self-fulfilling prophecy, that is, that the creativity of people increases when they are reminded of a creative place.

DOI 10.1007/978-1-4020-9877-2_12

tags: creativity, psychology, setup
Warren Buffet is betting on fuel-efficient transportation infrastructure:

Nov. 3 (Bloomberg) -- Warren Buffett’sBerkshire Hathaway Inc. agreed to buy railroad Burlington Northern Santa Fe Corp. in what he described as an “all-in wager on the economic future of the United States.”
The purchase, the largest ever for Berkshire, will cost the company $26 billion, or $100 a share in cash and stock, for the 77.4 percent of the railroad it doesn’t already own.

Trains stand to become more competitive against trucks with fuel prices high, he[Buffet] has said.

It's also a bet that there will be no significant change in the transportation technology. Introduction of energy-efficient trucks will take a very long time.

see also Energy Use for Transportation from DOE.

tags: greatest, infrastructure, example, distribution, transportation, efficiency, niche construction,

Monday, November 02, 2009

Invention is the best medicine

Last week I traveled to University of Michigan, Ann Arbor to give a guest talk at the SmartSurfaces hands-on think-tank taught by professors Karl Daubman (Architecture), John Marshall (Design), and Max Shtein (Materials Science). This inter-disciplinary course is designed as a series of workshops for students, mostly senior- and junior-level undergrads, who are interested in fusing new urban architecture and design ideas with elements of emerging heliotropic technologies. My goal was to discuss with them the concept of problem value and methods for discovering high-quality problems.

It was raining on Friday, the day of the workshop. I woke up with a terrible headache wishing I were back home in the sunny Bay Area. But, somehow, when I stepped into the Smartsurfaces studio to give the talk the headache disappeared. The whole 5-hour class, including a lunch break and a Reverse Brainstorming session, went without a hitch. Student participation was high, they asked good questions, did really well on generating problems (300+ in 45 minutes), and everybody felt that we made good progress. Somebody even said that I became their favorite visitor :) Thank you!

Here's a link to the session report (video and pictures) put together by Dr. Marshall: