Sunday, December 05, 2010

Living books

Here's how illustrations in books, especially on science, technology, and invention, should look like:

DaVinci prototype on Xbox Kinect from Razorfish - Emerging Experiences on Vimeo.

The technology is built using Microsoft Kinect. I wish my book had illustrations like that. Instead of telling about an invention I could just show how it works and the concepts behind it.

tags: information, dynamic, payload, interaction, creativity, education

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

The idea reward department

XKCD describes a typical process for getting money for your business idea. For the sake of simplicity, filing patents, suing, and winning in court is replaced with filling out a simple form on Step 3 ;)


Monday, November 29, 2010

There's no solution!

With the latest Wikileaks dump, the US government ran into the same loss of privacy problem people experience every day: how to share information without surrendering control.

The biggest difficulty the government faces in this realm is how to share information among people who need it to do their jobs without surrendering control of it once they start using it. The fact that Bradley Manning got access to and removed so many documents has many asking just what type of security was employed. The fact is that the security measures were extensive and the failure was not in a lack of attention to detail. There simply is no solution that adequately addresses control of information while allowing those who need it to use it.

tags:control, information, system, security, social, network

Friday, November 26, 2010

Wirelessly wired!

Seals diving for their dinner near Antarctica have surfaced with an extra morsel: information, gathered by electronic tags on the animals’ heads, about the shape of the seafloor there.

The work has revealed previously unknown undersea channels, through which warm water might flow toward fragile ice shelves. And the seals do it all for a fraction of the cost of traditional seafloor mapping done from ships.

tags: tool, information, video, research, biology

Sunday, November 07, 2010

Brain–training puzzles are useless for improving creativity (surprise! surprise!) But you can still shock your brain into becoming a better mathematician.

From Nature blogs

Earlier this year, a large-scale study of ‘brain training’ games debunked the idea that they can improve general cognitive abilities in healthy young people.

Meanwhile, researchers at the University of Oxford, UK and University College London have shown that maths skills can be improved by stimulating the brain with electricity, perhaps removing the need for brain training games altogether.

A weak current was applied to participants’ parietal lobes – an area of the brain involved in numerical understanding – for 20 minutes before they began learning the associations between a series of nine arbitrary symbols to which the researchers had secretly assigned numerical values. A control group thought they were receiving the same electrical treatment, but were not.

Subjects who received the electrical treatment showed an enhanced ability to grasp the relationships between the symbols compared with the control group. Remarkably, the improvements were still seen six months after completing the training.

tags: creativity, education, information, brain, control

Germany: the brightest country in the solar system

source: NatureNews

tags: energy, source,  system, solar

Thursday, November 04, 2010

Creativity: exploring human potential

Economist Paul Romer and journalist David Brooks talk about innovation, norms and rules that promote new ideas and institutions; e.g. startups achieve cultural change by creating or discovering empty spaces where old rules do not apply.

tags: creativity, creativity, niche construction, startup, information, economics, innovation

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

What wisdom of crowds?

John Scully on Steve Jobs' principles:

He always looked at things from the perspective of what was the user’s experience going to be? But unlike a lot of people in product marketing in those days, who would go out and do consumer testing, asking people, “What did they want?” Steve didn’t believe in that.

He said, “How can I possibly ask somebody what a graphics-based computer ought to be when they have no idea what a graphic based computer is? No one has ever seen one before.” He believed that showing someone a calculator, for example, would not give them any indication as to where the computer was going to go because it was just too big a leap.

Reminds me of what Henry Ford said about his potential customers, "If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses."

In general, when people talk about The Wisdom of Crowds they forget that the concept applies to situations when users had had a lot of experience interacting with an object or system in question, therefore they can share their collective wisdom.

tags: s-curve, invention, problem, apple, creativity, information

Monday, November 01, 2010

The second question is more fundamental: How much math do you really need in everyday life? Ask yourself that -- and also the next 10 people you meet, say, your plumber, your lawyer, your grocer, your mechanic, your physician or even a math teacher.

Unlike literature, history, politics and music, math has little relevance to everyday life. That courses such as "Quantitative Reasoning" improve critical thinking is an unsubstantiated myth. All the mathematics one needs in real life can be learned in early years without much fuss. Most adults have no contact with math at work, nor do they curl up with an algebra book for relaxation.

How much math do we really need? By G.V. Ramanathan. Washington Post. Saturday, October 23, 2010

I think we do need some math. It is the third best substitute for real-life problem-solving exercises. Physics is the second, but to do physics you need to know math, otherwise you'll end up waving hands for an hour, trying to understand or explain how the world works, when 30 seconds and a simple formula would suffice.

tags: education, problem, solution.

Второй раз на те же грабли

The latest numbers on mobile software are in:

Google's Android platform was running on 43.6 percent of all the smartphones purchased in the United States in the third quarter. It was followed by Apple's iOS, which captured 26.2 percent market share, and Research In Motion's OS, which tallied 24.2 percent share. Microsoft's mobile OS held 3 percent market share in the quarter.

For the second time in its history Apple created a computing platform, PC being the first one, and for the second time they could not hold the advantage. Unbelievable.

tags: mobile, evolution, business, apple, google, microsoft, computers,  software, control point

Sunday, October 31, 2010

How easy it is to intimidate scientists with patent-related legal threats! Andre Geim, a 2010 Nobel laureate in physics, somebody who defied authority and common wisdom in his own field, believed empty talk served to him by a corporate lawyer. Here's an excerpt from Geim's interview to the Nature magazine:

Q: You haven't yet patented graphene. Why is that?

A: We considered patenting; we prepared a patent and it was nearly filed. Then I had an interaction with a big, multinational electronics company. I approached a guy at a conference and said, "We've got this patent coming up, would you be interested in sponsoring it over the years?" It's quite expensive to keep a patent alive for 20 years. The guy told me, "We are looking at graphene, and it might have a future in the long term. If after ten years we find it's really as good as it promises, we will put a hundred patent lawyers on it to write a hundred patents a day, and you will spend the rest of your life, and the gross domestic product of your little island, suing us." That's a direct quote.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Fremium MBA from LSBF

Facebook users can now study an MBA for free at the London School of Business and Finance (LSBF) after the college launched a course that will be available on the social networking website.

Students will be able to study for free and will only pay if they want to be formally assessed for an MBA. The LSBF GlobalMBA, which has received £7.5m investment, is awarded by the University of Wales.

With high-quality distance education becoming widely available, our ability to choose the right education at the right time as well as having this time seems to be the most important skill to learn.

tags: education, information, social, networking, evolution, control, business, model

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Solar power: too much of a good thing

Germany has been pushing the limits with solar power installations, which causes, surprise-surprise, imbalances across the existing grid:

Solar power is intermittent and can arrive in huge surges when the sun comes out. These most often happen near midday rather than when demand for power is high, such as in the evenings.

But if the solar power input is too large it will exceed demand even with all the generators switched off. Stephan Köhler, head of Germany's energy agency, DENA, warned in an interview with the Berliner Zeitung on 17 October that at current rates of installation, solar capacity will soon reach those levels, and could trigger blackouts.

Subsidies have encouraged German citizens and businesses to install solar panels and sell surplus electricity to the grid at a premium. Uptake has been so rapid that solar capacity could reach 30 gigawatts, equal to the country's weekend power consumption, by the end of next year. "We need to cap installation of new panels," a spokesperson for DENA told New Scientist.

More power doesn't necessarily mean a better overall system performance. Power sources within the system used to be controllable by people, but now they are becoming controllable by weather, i.e. an external factor the grid cannot handle.

tags: source, control, distribution, system, evolution, energy

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Problem-solving in context

In one famous experiment, the psychologists Leda Cosmides and John Tooby showed that subjects often had difficulty solving a logical puzzle which required them to identify playing cards that failed to conform to a rule of play (this is called the Wason selection task). However, when the very same logical puzzle was reformulated as a problem of identifying people who had failed to conform to a rule of social behavior, the subjects performed very much better on the test. This led Cosmides and Tooby to conclude that our reasoning abilities are sensitive to context in ways that would have been beneficial for our ability to spot cheats during our evolutionary history.

Wilson, Robert. The Company of Strangers. revised edition. p. 75.

It appears, in many cases we fail to solve a problem because we don't understand - no, understand is not the right word here - we don't internalize the rules, i.e. we don't feel comfortable working and playing within the context in which the problem is presented. Transferred into a familiar context, the problem becomes an easy target. Therefore, finding the right context of a problem should be one of the first steps in a problem-solving process. Stripping the problem of professional jargon, explaining it to an 8-year-old would be good first steps.

tag: creativity, problem, solution, method, process, inertia, psychology, magicians

Web is dead (continued)

CNet reports:

[Google] is set to launch Google Place Search as a standalone search option, much the same way Google users can search for images, news, or products. It will bring the Google Places listings that business owners can claim into the main search results pages, rather than confining them to searches done within Google Maps as was the case prior to today.

Searching for places should be a separate application on a multi-touch display because place is a "zoomable" entity, which has many fractal aspects: map, history, people, menu (if it's a restaurant), reviews, contact info, etc. Unfortunately, Google is so tied to the web, the company can't break loose from its old platform, the browser, and the old user interface paradigm, clickable links on the page. Just like Microsoft, with its calcified roots in Windows OS, Google is becoming stuck in Berners-Lee's 1989 vision of the Internet.

Background reading: The Web is Dead (Wired).

tags: internet, information, platform, evolution, interface, google, microsoft

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

A breakthrough battery technology

A German startup creates an electric battery for a long-range car:

BERLIN, Oct. 26 (UPI) -- An electric car developed by a German company Tuesday set what organizers said is a world record when it drove 375 miles without recharging its battery.

The battery, based on what DBM Energy calls the KOLIBRI AlphaPolymer Technology, comes with 97 percent efficiency and can be charged at virtually every socket. Plugged into a high-voltage direct-current source, the battery can be fully loaded within 6 minutes, Hannemann said.

The battery charging time is excellent; it's comparable with today's gas station infrastructure, but does not require it at all. Provided, of course, the high-voltage electricity can be provided safely.

tags: storage, payload, transportation, energy, 10x

Monday, October 25, 2010

Collective intelligence factor

Summary: for best results from creative group work, DO NOT compose the group randomly because it will negatively affect participants' performance. Unless, maybe, they happen to be socially sensitive to each other.

Having finished teaching my class at Stanford CSP, I'm back at blogging! Today's topic is a research paper in Science about Collective Intelligence. An excerpt from its abstract:

In two studies with 699 individuals, working in groups of two to five, we find converging evidence of a general collective intelligence factor that explains a group's performance on a wide variety of tasks. This "c factor" is not strongly correlated with the average or maximum individual intelligence of group members but is correlated with the average social sensitivity of group members, the equality in distribution of conversational turn-taking, and the proportion of females in the group.

This is consistent with my experience moderating multiple brainstorms and invention sessions. The important lessons from the paper are:
a) random groups perform worse than individuals;
b) the group's social dynamics is more important than participants' intelligence;
c) having women in the group helps the dynamics.

Also note the type of tasks the researchers used for measuring performance:

Tasks included solving visual puzzles, brainstorming, making collective moral judgments, and negotiating over limited resources.

From what I understand reading the paper's references, another task was:

to work on a creative, open-ended task together with their team members during a one-hour laboratory session. Specifically, they were asked to use a set of building blocks to build a house, garage, and swimming pool, which were scored according to a set of complex scoring criteria (see Appendix A). The scoring of the task was intentionally complex and devised to force trade-offs.

Working on open-ended problems is better than solving puzzles, but the approach still follows the good old path of standard engineering and management training practices where people take trade-offs for granted. As we know from the history of innovation, best solutions emerge when problem solvers break through trade-offs, which would impossible to re-create and measure in this type of experiments.

tags: trade-off, psychology, brainstorming, social, research

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Trade-off of the day: privacy vs performance

A NYT article about HTML 5, an upcoming standard for web pages, describes potential problems the standard creates for user privacy:

The new Web language and its additional features present more tracking opportunities because the technology uses a process in which large amounts of data can be collected and stored on the user’s hard drive while online. Because of that process, advertisers and others could, experts say, see weeks or even months of personal data. That could include a user’s location, time zone, photographs, text from blogs, shopping cart contents, e-mails and a history of the Web pages visited.

It is remarkable how tradeoff-based, standard, non-creative, non-inventive thinking builds privacy problems right into a major technology standard for the next 10-15 years. Engineers are educated and brought up with the idea that an improvement in one area has to lead to a deterioration in another. It's not entirely their own fault because they are trained to work and think within certain constraints. But even when they do have a chance to create a new technology from scratch, their psychological inertia guides them toward preserving bad old compromises, or, as in this case, making them worse than the old ones for the sake of "balance"! developers and the representatives of the World Wide Web argue that as technology advances, consumers have to balance its speed and features against their ability to control their privacy.

WTF is balance?!

tags: psychology, inertia, tradeoff, problem, book, creativity, internet, security

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Google: a severe case of mistaken self-identity.

Google news search engine puts news about Google car tests into the category of search engines :)))

Toward a new model of social change

I just wrote a big post about Malcom Gladwell's article in The New Yorker, but somehow this blogging software ate it all. $^####! What a disappointment.

I don't feel like rewriting it all, but here's a brief summary:

Malcolm Gladwell believes, based on historical research, that major social change is brought about by highly committed groups with strong ties, while today's social media (Twitter, Facebook, etc.) encourages creation and maintenance of low-commitment weak ties. In his words, the social media "makes it easier for activists to express themselves, and harder for that expression to have any impact. The instruments of social media are well suited to making the existing social order more efficient." Therefore, it's an improvement of the existing system, but not a creation of a new one.

I agree with his current assessment, but let's compare this situation to the rise of cities, where a large number of weak ties, eventually, played an important role in creation of various groups with strong ties. The social media of today can't enable us to produce things together within the social media itself. Using a metaphor, it still hovers above the world of real goods and events, touching but not changing it. With one major exception, of course, for the hacking culture, capable of creation of a wide range of new ventures inside the hovering space itself. To me, this is a strong indicator that the emerging social infrastructure will produce a major change, the timing of the change or its exact nature is difficult to predict yet. I'll speculate more about it in my subsequent posts.

tags: control, efficiency, evolution, infrastructure, network, niche construction, s-curve, social, system

Saturday, October 09, 2010

Time to resurrect privacy? At least for children.

Last spring, by the end of the Principles of Invention (BUS 74) class I taught at Stanford CSP, a group of students identified an online privacy and security as one of the more important problems to address in the near future. A recent Zogby poll sponsored by Common Sense Media confirmed the students' assessment:

...three out of four parents say that social networks aren’t doing a good job of protecting kids’ online privacy. The poll finds that 92 percent of parents are concerned that kids share too much information online, and 85 percent of parents say they’re more concerned about online privacy than they were five years ago. The Zogby International poll also finds that 91 percent of parents think that search engines and social networking sites should not be able to share kids’ physical location with other companies until parents give authorization.

A large part of the problem is that people have very little knowledge and control over how the information gathered by social networks is being used and where it ends up eventually. Somehow, we've created an environment where others know a lot more about you than yourself. But, unlike a relationship with the doctor, teacher or lawyer, this personal information asymmetry is governed neither by trust or law. It is as if every time you talk to a friend somebody is eavesdropping on your conversation. Phone companies are prohibited from doing this, but social networks are not.

tags: control, information, social, network, detection, constraint, niche construction

Friday, October 08, 2010

Forming a good creative habit.

Forming a good habit requires repetition. The more complex the task, the more repetition is needed to get to a plateau where the behaviour becomes automatic. This appears to be a conclusion of the study reported in a research blog:

" It seems the message of this research for those seeking to establish
a new habit is to repeat the behaviour every day if you can, but don't
worry excessively if you miss a day or two. Also be prepared for the
long haul - remember the average time to reach peak automaticity was
66 days."

Usually, repetitive work is not associated with creativity. But Edison's name comes to mind, b/c of his constant focus on developing new inventions. Over his lifetime he accumulated more than a thousand patents, some of them turned out to be seminal in the history of technology. Edison's lab tried to be creative "repetitively" and, obviously, the succeeded.

In Creativity, by now famous psychologist M.Csikszentmihalyi, the idea that creative people are very repetitive, almost stubborn, in things they are trying to create comes out loud and clear.

From my own experience, writing for two hours a day was key to making progress with my own book. Zerubavel's "Clockwork Muse" helped me immensely to understand and implement this simple recipe. Also, my best patents came out during the time when I literally forced myself to think up an invention a day. Most of the ideas died, but a good 50 or 60 of them made it into a patent application.

Of course, the problem with the repetitive approach could be that you get stuck with the same set of tools and in the same concept area, developing, even if you are very successful, a tunnel vision. Then, an antidote to this problem would be to work in many areas at the same time. That is why I really like working with various startups, learning new technologies, and teaching different invention techniques. Listening to UC Berkeley podcasts on topics ranging from electronics to philosophy of language, also helps.

tags: creativity, process, problem, solution, science,  invention

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

... is power

Remarkably, the Forbes' list of most powerful women tops Michelle Obama, a woman who married the right guy, rather than, let's say, Lady Gaga, who rose to power, whatever the Forbiates think it is, through her own efforts.

tags: selection, niche construction, information, control

Sunday, October 03, 2010

Creativity Quote of the Day: Explaining things.

"Dr. Hoenikker used to say that any scientist who couldn't explain to an eight-year-old what he was doing was a charlatan."
"Then I'm dumber than an eight-year-old," Miss Pefko mourned. "I don't even know what a charlatan is."

Kurt Vonnegut. Cat's cradle.

Genrikh Altshuller used to say that you should be able to strip your idea of all technical jargon and explain your invention to a 12-year-old because the 12-year-old would need only some understanding of physics. The more I work with inventors, the more I realize that most concepts can be easily explained to much younger kids. Unless, of course, adults package their explanations in layers of professional buzzwords, the buzzwords often designed to signal affinity with a certain group and repel the uninitiated. When stripped of packaging, ideas become much easier to understand, and, more importantly, develop  much further into additional inventions.

tags: quote, creativity, knowledge, communication

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Invention of the Day: Industrial-scale warfare.

What made the American Civil War so unprecedented was that it was the first great war of the industrial era. This allowed not only greatly increased production of the materiel of war but a revolution in command and control as well. Railroads and steamboats made possible the rapid movement of large number of troops, and the telegraph enabled the entire war to be directed from Washington to Richmond in real time. When President Lincoln, on April 15, 1861, called for 75,000 volunteers after Confederate forces attacked Fort Sumter in Charleston harbor, the call reached the most distant parts of the Union states almost immediately.

A Thread Across the Ocean, by John Steele Gordon. p.163. (c)2002.

Communications are even more important today, when weapons are required to be a lot smarter than the cannons of the Civil War. Remote control drones in Afghanistan and Pakistan, operated by soldiers on the ground thousands miles away from the field of action, guided by NSA intelligence collected through eavesdropping on internet and phone messages throughout the world, can deliver precision ground strikes only if they have the right information at the right time. Otherwise, they turn into expensive dumb pieces of hardware, indistinguishable in their impact from their 150-year old Civil War cousins.

tags: scale, communications, warcraft, drones, infrastructure, detection, system, telegraph, information, control

p.s. this post, besides being a note on technology evolution, is also an exercise in writing cumulative sentences.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

An article in NYT about how market for electronic chips evolved toward ARM, a company that today rules the world of low-power processors for mobile and other devices:

“Apple and the Newton made the company exist,” said Mike Muller, one of the founders of ARM and its chief technology officer. “The Newton never went anywhere, but it got ARM started and gave us some credibility.”

Dealing with hand-held devices and cellphones forced ARM to operate under severe power restrictions. It chased milliwatts, while Intel chased horsepower.

Mr. East and other ARM executives point to the difference in the companies’ business models. Intel designs and manufactures its own PC and computer server products, commanding about $50 to $1,000 for each chip. ARM chips, by contrast, are made by a handful of contract chip manufacturers and cost 65 cents to $20 each. ARM earns pennies or fractions of a penny off each chip through its licensing deals.

tags: 10x, 3x3, evolution, environment, mobile, niche construction

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Cloud computing: the gossip of virtual crops

Each day, Facebook game developer and FarmVille creator Zynga delivers about a petabyte of data — that’s 1 million gigabytes, or more than six Libraries of Congress — for its array of social games, chief technology officer Cadir Lee said.

The challenge for Zynga is unique compared to other large sites that are “read-only” or “input-only,” such as photo-sharing sites like Flickr or e-commerce sites like, Lee said. Zynga instead faces an environment that is constantly updating, with each new crop planted or fertilized and each message left on a friend’s farm.

In many ways today's gaming environments create a ubiquitous communications fabric reminiscent of the planet Pandora from James Cameron's movie Avatar; environments where virtual plants and animals communicate to real people, generating enormous streams of information, connecting experiences bordering on magic, giving players a feeling of being a part of a growing social organism.
It would be an interesting experiment to use these messages to drive Leo Villareal's LED art mentioned in my previous post. Some incredible light patterns may emerge from the gossip of virtual crops.

tags: games, cloud, information, communications, environment, virtual, art, 10x, content, synthesis

LED art

Leo Villareal uses LED (Light Emitting Diod) canvas to create his immersive art:

"Solid state lighting is exciting for several reasons including longevity and energy efficiency," Villareal said. "The ability to create over 16 million colors is truly incredible and offers a tremendous range of subtle and sophisticated possibilities."

Skip to the 1:20 mark in the video (below) to see an installation that impressed me the most.

tags: technology, control, tool, energy, art

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Invention of the Day: basketball

Social gaming, 19th century style:

In the winter of 1891 after moving to Springfield, Dr Naismith was faced with a challenging class of "incorrigibles". This antagonistic group had to be kept fit indoors through a harsh New England winter.

After failing to occupy the men with popular indoor sports of the day, he turned to "duck on the rock" for inspiration.

Instead of a rock, the players would throw a soccer ball at two peach baskets nailed high up at each end of the gymnasium. The janitor later punched holes in the bottom of the baskets after he became tired of climbing up to retrieve balls.

tags: entertainment, business, education, scalability, problem, solution

Monday, September 20, 2010

Google's China lesson

After being hacked last year by Chinese either students or government agents or both, Google decided to add a new security token to the good old password system:

Google is making it harder for Gmail and other Google Apps accounts to get compromised by adding an optional feature that will send a security code to your smartphone for logging in.

The two-step verification feature will put an additional roadblock in the way of online criminals by generating a onetime six-digit code that will be sent to the account holder in order to be able to successfully log in. The code will be sent after the password is provided.

This looks like a good protection for a system where users don't bother creating strong passwords. Criminals capable of hacking into a password database can probably defeat it by changing the address of a smartphone associated with the account which requires additional authentication. Also, imagine a nightmare of replacing your old phone and being stuck with the task to update all "clouds" with your new phone info. Nevertheless, it's a step in the right direction because even the smartest system can be compromised by dumb users.

I wish a similar system were introduced for accessing our personal information by third parties, enabling us authorize the access or at least track it.

tags: information, security, google, communication, problem, solution

Buy more jeans, at least they are bio-degradable.

Carl Chiara, director of brand concepts and special projects for Levi Strauss and Co., doesn't believe in washing jeans:

Mr. Chiara, who says he wears jeans every day in both work and social situations, believes that "the less people wash their jeans, the better their jeans become. Denim really does shape to people's bodies, and when you wash a jean you lose some of that shape."

Of course, if you don't wash your jeans they tend to get dirty and smelly, making you look bum rather than hip. What's the solution? Easy: BUY MORE JEANS and don't clean them much. Just like Mr. Chiara.

This is not to say that Mr. Chiara doesn't ever clean the 15 pairs of jeans that he owns. He gently spot-cleans spills with a damp sponge and "whatever is under the kitchen sink—usually Windex or 409."

15 pairs of jeans per person - what a concept from a Levi Strauss marketing guy! Who would've thunk?!

tags:  10x, information, market, business,  psychology
This Fall quarter, I'll be teaching "Model-based Invention and Innovation" at Stanford University Continuing Studies program. The class starts on Thursday and we still have several spots open. Please forward the link to the course to your friends and colleagues who might be interested in the opportunity.

Promising ideas deserve the best innovation development tools. This course will provide a practical guide to advanced systematic innovation techniques. We will consider invention and innovation models in technology and business methods within a variety of industries such as information technology, manufacturing, finance, entertainment, and others.


Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Invention of the Day: artificial ovary

PROVIDENCE, R.I. [Brown University] — Researchers at Brown University and Women & Infants Hospital have invented the first artificial human ovary, an advance that provides a potentially powerful new means for conducting fertility research and could also yield infertility treatments for cancer patients. The team has already used the lab-grown organ to mature human eggs.

To create the ovary, the researchers formed honeycombs of theca cells, one of two key types in the ovary, donated by reproductive-age (25-46) patients at the hospital. After the theca cells grew into the honeycomb shape, spherical clumps of donated granulosa cells were inserted into the holes of the honeycomb together with human egg cells, known as oocytes. In a couple days the theca cells enveloped the granulosa and eggs, mimicking a real ovary.

tags: invention, innovation, health, tool, infrastructure

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Paper books will last another 39 years.

An unbiased opinion on the future of digital books from a 3-year old:

For Mr. de Halleux...and his wife both read to their 3-year-old son, Tristan. He reads Winnie the Pooh to the child on a screen. She reads it in old-fashioned paperback form.

Mr. de Halleux said he was confident the boy would eventually favor the digitized version. “He really likes it because you can zoom in on things,” he said.

Zooming in on things is a must have feature for an e-book. Children know it better than adults.

tags: content, information, payload, dilemma, problem, solution, packaging

Monday, September 06, 2010

Invention of the Day: Futures markets

The idea of forward trading -- buying now goods that are to be delivered later -- is said to have originated around 1620 when a Nagoya rice merchant named Chozaemon met a friend from Sendai, in the north of Japan, who was passing through Nagoya on a pilgrimage. The friend reported that the rice harvest in the north was going to be bad. Chozaemon promptly bought the future Nagoya-area rice harvest, paying the farmers 10 percent upfront and owing them the rest. After the harvest came in, he stored the rice for several months, selling it for a tidy profit once the north's poor harvest had driven prices up.

Reinventing the Bazaar: A Natural History of Markets, by John McMillan. 2002. p. 23.

Future markets work as long as people keep their promises, their commitment supported either by law or culture. No wonder, forward contracts were invented in Japan, a country where culture is built on mutual respect and commitment to one's word. Being and island nation, Japanese farmers and merchants had no place to run from public shame and economic ruin, caused by one's low business ethics. Most likely, in a not so distant future, Facebook, LinkedIn, Farmville, or some other transparent social environment, will provide a similar honor mechanism for markets of novel digital goods.

tags: market, information, invention, innovation, quote, economics, social, network

Thursday, September 02, 2010

Invention of the Day: Patent for an Invention 1447 Venice passed the first general statute providing for patents covering inventions. It allowed that inventors or introducers of devices new to the Venetian territory would be protected against imitators for ten years; at the same time it formally compelled all inventors to reveal their inventions to the state, which was exempt from the patent restriction and could freely appropriate them.

Piracy: The Intellectual Property Wars from Guttenberg to Gates, by Adrian Johns, 2009. p. 200.

This is how the perpetum mobile of human society works: invention has value because we agreed, some six centuries ago, to think it has value.

tags: invention, innovation, space, law, information, distribution, control, quote, history

from 9 to 5 to 24 by 7 in 3 seconds

Here's some new data to support my thinking on hidden growth in office productivity inflicted upon the society by new communications tech:

According to the company, which in conjunction with Harris Interactive surveyed 2,200 American and British adult workers in August, 72 percent of Americans and 68 percent of Britons check e-mail outside of regular business hours. On sick days, 42 percent of Americans check their e-mail, compared with 25.8 percent of British workers.

...27 percent of Americans and 20 percent of British workers check their e-mail when they're off-duty because they feel that "they are expected to provide quick responses, even outside regular business hours."
 from Maui via iPhone

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

A $1.2B blunder

A funny paragraph from a CNet review of Windows mobile 7:

Above all, Windows 7 is--dare I say--elegant. Even my foreign-language spam looks beautiful on the device. It almost makes me wish I understood all those messages in Japanese, Korean, and Arabic.

Huh? Who cares about Windows 7 Mobile on a day when Steve Jobs introduces a whole slew of elegant mobile media devices? As far as mobile applications are concerned, Microsoft appears to be destined to fight with Google and Nokia over a distant #2 spot behind Apple. But that, in turn, means that HP's $1.2B acquisition of Palm last April looks like a total blunder. What kind developer in his right mind would spend any brain cycles on writing software for a marginal #5 OS?

tags: mobile, business, technology, market, 4q diagram, software,  source

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Evolution of the Hamburger.

I just finished reading The Hamburger, by Josh Ozersky, and wanted to capture key inventions and innovations in the evolution of this remarkable food item, which in many ways rhymes with the evolution of the Personal Computer.

- Ground meat on a bun instead of bread (fast food) - Walter Anderson, White Castle. p. 29
- Cooking process standardized across tens of restaurants to guarantee quality and sanitation of the food - Billy Ingram, White Castle. p. 30.

- Double-size burger ("Big Boy") - Bob Wian. p.46.
"...a bass player came in one night and asked for something different. Taking up the challenge, Wian took a sesame seed bun, sliced it in thirds, and proceeded to make the first designed double-decker hamburger. (This could never happen today, when all buns are presliced.)"
- Big Boy franchise - Bob Wian. p.48.

- US government gets into the burger picture, p. 91.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture in 1946 did an inestimable service to the beef industry, and its tireless lobby, by decreeing that hamburger could contain only beef and beef fat—that even the slightest bit of pork or pork fat disqualified it from the dignity of being called hamburger. This was a decisive blow for the beef men in the eternal war against the pork men, since it meant that they had an effective monopoly on the most popular meat product in America.

- Large-scale, limited menu, continuous high-speed burger cooking and service operation; drive-in restaurant (social networking) - McDonald brothers. p.53.
- McDonald's franchise, with uniform cooking and service process - Ray Croc. p.58.
: a combination of conformity and enterprise:
" was a franchisee who invented the Big Mac, a fran- chisee who invented the Egg McMuffin, a franchisee who invented the point-of-sale protocol (“May I have your order, please?”). A franchisee invented Ronald McDonald! Franchisees have conceived and developed most of the marketing and product innovations that have propelled McDonald’s to fast-food supremacy." p. 64.
- McDonald's financial model: lease restaurant from a real estate owner, sub-lease to the franchisee at 40% markup, use as a financial leverage to enforce process conformity - Harry Sonnenborn. p.78.

"McDonald’s became what it is for two reasons. One, because it was the first and the best hamburger franchise restaurant, with the most far-sighted senior management. And two, because Harry Sonneborn figured out a way to finance a multibillion-dollar empire without cash, collateral, or even a significant show of profitability.
Sonneborn would frequently go so far as to tell investors that McDonald’s was a real estate company, not a hamburger company."

- Hamburger University, rigorous training for McDonald's franchise managers - Ray Croc. p. 78.

"...the system was invaluable. It made McDonald’s predictable and productive, and a veritable moneymaking machine in the best franchises."

- Fully automated broiled burger cooking ("insta-burger") - Burger King, p.98.
- "Whopper" - a large burger - Burger King, p. 99.

- Meal combo of soda, fries, and burger for one price - Burger Chief. p. 100.
- Automated conveyor-belt broiled hamburgers - Burger Chief. p. 101.
- Giveaway toy with a meal; movie tie-in (Star Wars in 1977) - Burger Chief. p.101.

- Global expansion of the franchise - McDonald's, p. 118.

- Drive-through window - Wendy's, p. 121.
- Half-pounder, three-quarters pounder, salads, and baked potatoes - Wendy's, p. 121

- The gourmet burger - various NY restaurants. p. 130.
To add the most recent developments,
- McCafe - "gourmet" coffee to compete with Starbucks - McDonalds
- a "social networking" burger recipe restaurant -

tags: health, payload, finance, evolution, system, infrastructure, brainstorming, social, control, 10x

Monday, August 30, 2010

Creativity Quote of the Day: Anti-Creativity.

In his humor piece "The anti-creativity letters", cognitive psychologist Richard E. Nisbett, implies that the best way to destroy your creativity is to get you worried about creativity:

But worries about creativity are the best. Regardless of your patient's real or ascribed intelligence, he is bound to have doubts about his creativity. It is hard to believe, but humans actually think there is a properly of creativity that one can either "have" or "not have," as opposed to a talent for some field -- a love of its content that keeps them thinking about it all the time--organization, and a willingness to work. Because your patient hasn't the foggiest idea what the property of creativity might be or how he would know whether or not he has it, you can keep him constantly searching for signs and flinching at chimeras. And, of course, worries about his creativity will have the same salubrious effect on his work output that worries about his potency will have on his love life.

Nisbett, R. E. (1990). The anti-creativity letters: Advice from a senior tempter to a junior tempter. American Psychologist, 45, 1078-1082.

tags: creativity, psychology, quote

Invention of the Day: Hamburger Sandwich

Walt Anderson is generally credited with the invention of the modern hamburger, produced today in billions by major global corporations. There's even a "Big Mac Index published by The Economist as an informal way of measuring the purchasing power parity (PPP) between two currencies." And it all started in Wichita, on November 16, 1916, when Walt Anderson, armed with "a flat metal griddle, a counter, three stools, and a spatula" opened his first burger stand.

"The key to Anderson’s masterpiece was the bun. It was the bun that gave the hamburger its mobility; that allowed a person to eat it while walking or (more important) while driving; it was the bun that made it spe- cial, that separated it from all other sandwiches and gave it a brandable identity. The essence of a picture is the frame, as G. K. Chesterton once observed, and so the essence of the hamburger is the bun."
The Hamburger, by Josh Ozersky. p.29.

According to Ozersky, the business and marketing genius behind the success of the burger chain was Edgar Waldo “Billy” Ingram, a realtor who understood the potential of fast food for industrial workers in the age of Ford car factories:

“A revelation in the eating business has come. Instead of having to go to a restaurant and waste half an hour of the noon lunch, one may step into a nearby hamburger establishment and partake of the hot, juicy hamburger, prepared instantaneously.” p.31.

In later years, industrial refrigeration, an extensive network of roads, and American car-loving culture made hamburger restaurant a fixture in every town and every highway rest stop.

tags: invention, distribution, infrastructure, innovation, diffusion, 10x, history, 4q diagram, health

Sunday, August 29, 2010

RIP: Blockbuster, Inc. (1985-2010)

CNET reports:

Blockbuster reportedly plans to file something called a "pre-planned bankruptcy" and will continue to pay the studios and other most other major creditors. This development shouldn't surprise anyone. For years, Blockbuster has closed stores, laid off thousands, and generally been tumbling towards extinction. Driving to a video store to rent a movie is rapidly becoming as unnecessary as hiring a travel agent, developing film, or listening to music on compact discs.

In a new content distribution environment, a recipe for success turned into a recipe for disaster. Now, even Google wants to be a video-on-demand provider. I wonder, how long this business model will last and what will come to replace it?

tags: entertainment, payload, distribution, control, information, business, model, destruction

Saturday, August 28, 2010

A billionair sues billionairs over patents

WSJ reports:

They're the everyday fixtures of the Internet experience: pop-up stock quotes on a website, suggestions for related reading near a news article, videos along the side of your screen.

Now, Microsoft Corp. co-founder Paul Allen says he owns the technology behind all these ideas, and he's demanding that some of the world's top Web companies pay up to use them.

The patents in question are:

- United States Patent No. 6,263,507
- United States Patent No. 6,034,652
- United States Patent No. 6,788,314
- United States Patent No. 6,757,682


tags: patents, example, commerce, licensing

Friday, August 27, 2010

How many inventors does it take to pull the US out of recession?

Several tech sites, including CNet, reported Paul Otellini's remarks about the future of the hi-tech in the US:

Intel Chief Executive Officer Paul Otellini offered a depressing set of observations about the economy ..., coupled with a dark commentary on the future of the technology industry if nothing changes.
...he predicted, "the next big thing will not be invented here. Jobs will not be created here."

Well, over the last 300 years, with a very few exceptions, "the next big things" were not invented in China, nevertheless, we don't hear her CEOs complain about the decline of hi-tech employment in their native country. So the problem is not the impending drop in US inventions, but rather a lack of business opportunities for scaling them up using local workforce. The article lists several common reasons: high taxes, high medical costs, hostile business environment, etc.

But forget about taxes for a minute. One way to get around this problem would be for the US to become a nation of pure inventors. That is, everybody's job would be to genate lots of big ideas, while letting other countries implement them for a reasonable licensing fee. Of course, we would have to hire an army of lawyers to bomb sue those countries should they refuse to pay up. Much the same as the Hollywood does today.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Invention of the Day: Jigsaw Puzzle

Year 1766, London, England. The British Empire is now a major sea power. John Spilsbury, formerly the apprentice to the Royal Geographer, designs and successfully commercializes first jigsaw puzzles.

For a good 20 years during the mid 1700s, all manufactured jigsaws were in the form of dissected maps like Spilsbury's.
The maps were designed as teaching aids for geography classes. As pupils put the pieces together, they would learn how different countries connected to one another.
In the space of two years he[John Spilsbury] marketed the eight map subjects most likely to appeal to upper class English parents: the world, the four continents then known (Africa, America, Asia and Europe), England and Wales, Ireland and Scotland.

It is remarkable that the jigsaw puzzle outlived the steam engine designed by James Watt approximately at the same time and considered to be a major driver behind the first Industrial Revolution. As always, fun and games win over work and industry.

tags: invention, innovation, diffusion, book, education

Friday, August 13, 2010

Girlscout cookies burgers, 21st century style.

A very interesting idea from a food startup:

Then there is the marketing strategy. Rather than spend money on traditional marketing, 4food encourages customers to save their favorite burger combinations in the 4food system, give them catchy names, and use the likes of Twitter and Facebook (and even YouTube video ads) to convince their friends to buy them. Every time a custom burger is ordered, the creator receives 25 cents in 4food store credit.

tags: invention, innovation, social, networking, startup, information, licensing

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Догнать и перегнать Facebook!

Yesterday, after several years of using Gmail to satisfy most of my e-mailing needs, I finally clicked on one of those in-line ads that regularly run just above the Gmail toolbar. To remind you, the ads, superbly matched to customer interests and efficiently delivered at the proper time, were thought to become a money-making machine for Google. Until yesterday, the original intent worked neither for Google, nor for me. Finally, the spell broke. I don't know how much PennState University paid for the e-mail display ad, but the article linked to it was well worth reading. There, professor Hambrick described four major factors that bring about extreme risk-taking by CEOs:
1) recent [good] performance;
2) lavish media praise;
3) CEO's narcissism;
4) incentives with large upside payoffs but small downside penalties.

According to Dr.Hambrick, these factors often lead to unjustified acquisitions because CEOs think that the acquired companies will perform better under new management.

I parked this information somewhere in my brain and switched to reading Bloomberg technology news, which mentioned among other things Google's recent acquisitions: Slide, ITA Software, and etc. Google CEO Eric Schmidt justified the acquisitions by the large amount of cash the company had in its bank account and a long-term need to get into social networking.

Hmm... What's the difference between Google's old acquisitions that lead to the development of many excellent products, such as Google Maps, Google Earth, Docs, Gmail, etc., and the new ones? To me, the difference can be summarized by one word: "platform". With old acquisitions Google could fairly easy move them onto its existing, highly efficient storage-and-retrieval computing platform developed for search.
But now, Google doesn't have a consumer social networking platform to accommodate the acquisitions. Wave didn't work out, Buzz is not doing that great either. Rather than acknowledging a missed opportunity and concentrating on something more promising, Google continues imitating Nikita Khrushchev's strategy for Soviet Union circa 1957 to catch up and overtake America. Well, it didn't work out for tovarisch Khrushchev, and, I'm willing to bet, it won't work for Mr.Schmidt.

tags: 4q diagram, innovation, business, strategy, social, networking, information, platform

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Today, my Ambature colleagues and I had a series of meetings at JPL (Jet Propulsion Lab) and CalTech, where we discussed a wide range of topics, from quantum computing to invention disclosure ratios at major universities. Somewhat predictably, quantum computing is amazing, but I was surprised to learn that CalTech, which files on average only half a patent application per faculty per year, is one of the best in the US. Another related statistic: one million dollars of research money produces one patent application, which, probably, results in no more than half patent. That is, for $2M spent on research one of the best universities in the world gets one US patent. MIT has similar numbers, while public universities, like University of California, file at least 4 times less.

Assuming, generously, that one US patent application costs $50K over its life time, the amount of grant money universities spend on IP is less than 0.5%. In contrast, administrative costs are around 40%, which is 80 times higher. I wonder why this is the case.

Now, for your amusement, here's a picture of a test bed for Mars Rover. This is where JPL researchers investigate ways to rescue their remote machines when they get stuck on the Red Planet. This time, it's  the rocks, which you can see in the middle of the whitish surface, that cause the trouble.

Sunday, August 08, 2010

10 thousand monkeys with 10 thousand VCRs

A good example for explaining the 4Q diagram: a new technology was created to address a totally new market. Even people who had no clue how devices worked bought and used VCRs.

In the early 1980s, an apocryphal story made the rounds among video storeowners concerning a hapless customer who brought his VCR back to the store where he’d purchased it a year earlier, complaining that it had stopped working. The storeowner looked it over, wondering if there had been some mechanical failure, but found none. Upon ejecting the videocassette currently in the deck, the storeowner found that it had been played and recorded over so many times that the magnetic tape had worn to the point of snapping. Handing the customer the tape, the storeowner asked if all of his tapes were this worn, to which the customer responded, “I didn’t even know that piece came out!”

Greenberg, Joshua. From Betamax to Blockbuster : Video Stores and the Invention of Movies on Video. Cambridge, MA, USA: MIT Press, 2008. p 41.

Another story from the same book shows the deep roots of IP TV:

Saturday, August 07, 2010

Creativity Quote of the Day.

Psychologist M.Csíkszentmihályi on the meaning of creativity:

In his [A.Maslow's] opinion it is not the outcome of the process that counts, but the process itself. According to this perspective a person who reinvents Einstein’s formula for relativity is as creative as Einstein was. A child who sees the world with fresh eyes is creative; it is the quality of the subjective experience that determines whether a person is creative, not the judgment of the world. While I believe that the quality of subjective experience is the most important dimension of personal life, I do not believe that creativity can be assessed with reference to it. If creativity is to retain a useful meaning, it must refer to a process that results in an idea or product that is recognized and adopted by others. Originality, freshness of perspective, divergent-thinking ability are all well and good in their own right, as desirable personal traits. But without some form of public recognition the do not constitute creativity. In fact, one might argue that such traits are not even necessary for creative accomplishment.

Source: Implications of a Systems Perspective for the Study of Creativity, in Robert J. Sternberg (Eds.) Handbook of Creativity (p313-335). Cambridge University Press

The view emphasized above is particularly important when we consider invention (a novel idea) in relation to innovation (scalable implementation of the idea). For example, subjectively we might experience a "spark of genius" while inventing a solution, but it's no guarantee that the idea we came up with has any value. Creativity, along with money and other fixtures of the modern society, can be considered a status function. That is, somebody is creative because we think she is creative. Creativity itself is probably one of the greatest human inventions.

tags: creativity, invention, innovation, quote, psychology, system, status function

Friday, August 06, 2010

Creativity Quote of the Day.

...autonomy, complexity, and a connection between effort and reward are ... the three qualities that work has to have if it is to be satisfying.

If I offered you a choice between being an architect for $75,000 a year and work­ing in a tollbooth every day for the rest of your life for $100,000 a year, which would you take? I'm guessing the former, because there is complexity, autonomy, and a relationship between effort and reward in doing creative work, and that's worth more to most of us than money.

Malcolm Gladwell. Outliers, The Story of Success. 2008. HC ISBN 978-0-316-01792-3.

tags: creativity, quote, technology, control, social, networking

Thursday, August 05, 2010

Reportedly, Facebook spent $40M on a social-networking patent porfolio:

A set of documents from the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) reveal that Facebook acquired the 18 patents earlier this summer from MOL Global, the Malaysia-based payments company that purchased Friendster last year.

Most likely, it's a defensive move and has nothing to do with the intensifying Google-Facebook rivalry, as the CNET article alleges. Had the patents fell into the hands of an experienced IP litigation firm, Facebook would face massive legal costs and huge potential financial damages claims. I'd say they got away fairly cheaply. Especially, in view of a Bloomberg report that "Facebook Inc.’s biggest advertisers have boosted spending by at least 10-fold in the past year as the social network crossed the half-billion user mark."

In any case, Friendster's patents turned out to be worth a lot more than the business itself.

tags: patents, licensing, 10x,  high value, social,  network

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

Dead on arrival

A good example of how NOT to innovate:

Jolicloud, the netbook and web services-focused operating system by Netvibes founder Tariq Krim, has finally launched with an official version 1.0 release.

With Netvibes, Krim managed to create a personalized startup page site with a massive widget (or web application) ecosystem. In many ways, Netvibes acted as an online operating system — bringing access to services like Twitter and Facebook into one convenient location.

There are three strikes against the company.

First strike: the startup enters an extremely competitive existing market - ultra–portable web devices, e.g. netbooks, tablets, and, potentially, phones.

Second strike: the market is dominated by deep–pocketed players like Apple, Google, and Microsoft, willing to play a "war of attrition" game.

Third strike: the product that the startup offers doesn't bring to the market a significant (10X) change in user experience and/or performance.

In short, it's a classical "better mousetrap" innovation that has very low chances to succeed. Really unfortunate.

tags: moustrap, innovation, 4q diagram, example, startup

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

More on Amazon from VentureBeat:

Amazon Web Services has become a huge business, with revenues of $500 million in 2010, according to UBS Investment Research. And that success is due in no small part to the rapid rise of social games such as FarmVille on Facebook.

...Amazon hosts six to eight of the top 10 games on Facebook at any given time. That includes top Zynga and EA Playfish games, meaning that hundreds of millions of players are playing games on Amazon’s servers, without even knowing it. Overall, Amazon has hundreds of thousands of customers in 190 countries for its web services. It also powers big operations such as Netflix, NASA, Autodesk, NASDAQ and the New York Times.

Cloud services is only about 2% of Amazon's revenue. But still it's a good, and growing, chunk of change. I wish I bought their stock around July 1, this year.

tags: cloud, information, service, source, games, virtualization, commerce

Monday, August 02, 2010

What's good for shopping is good for Amazon.

Ian Freed, Amazon's VP in charge of Kindle:

First of all, with regard to the iPad, it's a totally different product. I mean, the product is a general-purpose tablet. We love that product because people use their iPads to buy a lot of products on Amazon. It's a tailwind for our e-commerce business.

But for book reading it's substantially heavier than a Kindle; the battery life is 10 hours versus 4 weeks on the new Kindle, and you can't read it outside in the sun. The Kindle is absolutely purpose-built for reading and it's a product that people consider a tool for reading. It's not something that's more of a gadget.

Amazon is the Wal-Mart of the Internet age. Within its shopping empire Kindle is just another gadget and book is just another piece of sellable content. Until a new format of the book, as a content wrapper emerges, Kindle ( device & app) will stay competitive with iPad and other tablets. It's the recommendations and reader reviews that matter.

tags: control, payload, control point, distribution, market, commerce, information, tool

Sunday, August 01, 2010

Electronic gold

I just finished re-reading A History of Money, by Glyn Davies. It's a very competent book on evolution of money from cowrie shells to electronic transactions. Since I believe that money is one of the greatest innovations of all time, I'm going through this and other books on history of finance searching for recurring invention patterns that can be re-used in various technology domains. After all, transaction money is just a control signal that the buyer sends to the seller in order to obtain the goods. Capital is another interesting function of money that follows innovation patterns in storage technologies. The days of the gold standard are long gone, but even today all central banks hold tons of this precious metal in their secure vaults. Just in case, people will trust useless metal more than useless paper or useless electronic signals.
It is interesting though that something very similar to the gold standard is being developed in the virtual world today. Here's an excerpt from an article on Facebook Credits:

How do I set up my own currency?
You permit the user to purchase only one thing with Facebook Credits: your currency. Once the users have exchanged Facebook Credits for your currency, they can participate in the broader game economy. There should be no direct purchase of any items or anything other than your currency with Facebook Credits.

Once the exchange is made, you’ve locked up the value of those Credits in your own currency, ensuring it won’t move off to another application.

Replace "Facebook Credits" with "Gold Coins" and you get the good old gold standard. In Facebook we trust! Funny, how history runs in circles.

tags: control, money, business, signal, commerce, games, virtual, market, payload

Friday, July 30, 2010

"We still don't know what we are doing."

Economist Tyler Cowen, of the fame, notes that he and his fellow economists don't quite understand why high unemployment persists while US companies keep reporting near-record profits. Some kind of structural change is suspected, but the economists can't put their collective finger on it. "Macroeconomics is rarely simple," they say.

Why is it so difficult to understand? Companies make more profits because for the same revenue dollars they have, after multiple rounds of layoffs, much lower labor costs. In other words, compared to pre-recession levels, fewer people do the same or even greater amount of work.

How is it possible and why this productivity burst doesn't register with standard economic statistics?

It is possible because of two structural changes:
Firstly, over the last 30 years, manufacturing moved from the US and Europe to China and other so-called developing countries. That is, most work in the developed world is done at the office, not on the factory floor.
Secondly, over the last 10 years, communication technologies globalized and virtualized the office. That is, individual contributors and managers can do their work via web or e-mail anywhere anytime (which, with the advent of Blackberries, 3G laptops, and iPhones everybody does on a regular basis, now.)

As a result, from a highly regulated 5-days-a-week/8-hours-a-day sedentary work style we've transitioned to a largely unregulated 7-days-a-week/18-hours-a-day nomadic life. This means that the 40-hr work week ceiling has been effectively tripled to 120 hours. During the recession, office people work a lot more because ... well, they don't want to be fired. Working 60-70 hrs a week and being paid for 40hrs is still better than being unemployed. This structural shift is not reflected by the standard government statistics because, technically, it's not overtime. Rather, people work at home or Starbucks at their "pleasure".

To summarize, the persistent high unemployment in the US is not a fluke. It is due to the changes in technology(communications) and business methods(globalization, outsourcing). We can expect companies continue invest in information technologies because they make their workers more productive, e.g. by increasing work hours, without increasing the labor costs.

tags: information, technology, trend, economics, detection, problem, solution, communications, mobile, infrastructure, office, social, networking
A couple of quick links showing a converging trend between zoomable interfaces and zoomable data:

1. Microsoft Research Street Slide View (youtube video). Unfortunately, they are still stuck in the "computer mouse" world.

2. Flipboard interface that takes advantage of new information flows.

In system terms, we're seeing emergence of a new Payload that matches capabilities of the Tool. This indicates the beginning of a major technology shift in the information technology industry.

tags: trend, payload, tool, system, model, example, interface, synthesis

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Why startups have lousy patents.

After helping several startups strengthen their IP, I feel like writing down some of the key problems they face in developing good patents.

Quote of the day.

The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.

George Bernard Shaw.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Creativity as a function of language.

From a recent article in WSJ:

Languages, of course, are human creations, tools we invent and hone to suit our needs.

It turns out that if you change how people talk, that changes how they think. If people learn another language, they inadvertently also learn a new way of looking at the world. When bilingual people switch from one language to another, they start thinking differently, too.

This is a yet another reason to ask problem solvers, e.g. engineers, managers, entrepreneurs, to reformulate the problem in jargon-free terms. Very often their ability to find a solution is constrained by their inability to describe the situation in language that does not imply a specific approach dictated by past professional experiences. Switching from verbal to graphical descriptions, e.g. by using the Three Magicians method or Five Elements analysis, helps overcome this issue.

tags: creativity, method, magicians, five element analysis, problem, solution, example, information

hi-tech + haute couture = ♡

I wrote earlier that Apple sells its devices as fashion items. Now, the fashion industry is waking up to high-tech opportunities. With the proliferation of iPad and its clones, as well as emergence of 3D consumer devices, fashion shopping is going to be a very important application for high-end customers.

VentureBeat: Historically the fashion industry has been slow to adopt technology, so most venture investors have stayed away from investments in the sector. But that has begun to change. Entrepreneurs are focusing on fashion-related online services, and more customers are willing to buy fashion items over the Internet, and investors are following.

Japanese market is also a good indicator of a possible marriage between high-tech and haute couture:

One of the iPad’s eager customers is Novarese Inc., a firm that offers wedding services and wedding dress rentals, with spokeswoman Kazuka Nohara saying the iPad is a more effective communication gadget between the firm and its customers, especially the grooms.

”Whereas grooms before used to be less participative, we were surprised at how grooms became more active in speaking with our coordinators and choosing wedding dresses since our coordinators have been giving the iPads to customers to look at them freely,” Nohara said.

tags: commerce, information, interaction, business, apple, entertainment, trend

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Throwing stones in glass houses.

Using a new laser technology, a ship can now shoot down a drone:

Built by Raytheon Missile Systems of Tuscon, Arizona, the 32-kilowatt infrared laser is shown illuminating and heating the wingtip and then the underside of what looks like a radar-seeking drone – until its remote pilot loses control and the aircraft catches fire and plummets into the ocean.

Imagine you are a remote pilot and you've just detected that your drone is being illuminated by a laser gun. What do you do? With little hesitation, you press a button that launches a missile that uses the laser to guide it straight to the enemy. Kaboom!!! The ship goes up in flames! Game over.

tags: detection, control, drones, military

East vs West: twitting [un]happiness

tags: emotion, source, map, 10x, psychology, process

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

The Survival of the Luckiest.

It looks like Intel's grip on the semiconductor industry is being disrupted by ARM. Not because ARM did something extraordinary clever, but because the world shifted to applications that care a lot more about electric power consumption than computing power. In biology this is called preadaptation.

Driven by the success of the iPad and iPhone, Apple is expected to pass Samsung as the world's No. 2 chip buyer in 2011, second only to Hewlett-Packard, according to market researcher iSuppli.

The firm is projecting that Apple's semiconductor spending in 2011 will hit $16.2 billion, surpassing Samsung Electronics, which is forecast to be at about $13.9 billion. HP will stay in the No. 1 position with $17.1 billion in spending, iSuppli said.

"This is a an indication of where the technology is moving," said Min-Sun Moon in a phone interview. "Apple is contributing to the trend of moving away from Microsoft-Intel to ARM-based systems," she said.

One of the more interesting aspects of this transition would be the abandonment of legacy applications. Especially, those that were written for the WYSIWYG environment tied to sharing/exchanging information via printed documents.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

a 10X change in mobile app revenue model

About a month ago, I cited a study showing that on average revenues from iPod/iPad applications don't cover development expenses. But it appears that a certain type of applications emerged to solve this problem. The key to revenue seems to be in-application purchases:

Apple turned on the in-app purchase feature for the iPhone last fall. That enabled game developers to embrace the same “free to play” business model that has made companies such as Zynga so successful on Facebook. In that model, companies offer their games for free, but they charge real money for virtual goods such as better weapons or online multiplayer play. The in-app purchase feature allows gamers to purchase their goods without leaving their games at all.

The results are surprisingly good. In January, Flurry said that the games that it tracked generated revenue of $9 per user per year, on average. In June, that number had risen to $14.66 per user per year. Previously, these games were generating around 99 cents to $1.99 per user per year.

I think this approach can work for all kinds of digital content, including books. Essentially, we need to create a new product placement technology where the product is sold, rather than advertised, within the context of the story.

A 10X diagram note for my students: by increasing the frequency of transactions, we are moving to the left along the time axis of the diagram.

tags: 10x, content, commerce, money, business, games, mobile, apple, market, book, virtual, problem, solution, course

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Recessions are great for entertainment companies because people have a lot of free time on their hands. Moreover, playing social games is much cheaper than even going to the movies, so we can expect a strong new industry emerge from this economic downturn.

TechCrunch: Google has quietly (secretly, one might say) invested somewhere between $100 million and $200 million in social gaming behemoth Zynga, we’ve confirmed from multiple sources. The company has raised somewhere around half a billion dollars in venture capital in the last year alone.
Zynga’s revenues for the first half of 2010 will be a stunning $350 million, half of which is operating profit. Zynga is projecting at least $1.0 billion in revenue in 2011.

Another quiet milestone along a similar path was reported by Bloomberg about a week ago:

Microsoft Corp.’s Xbox Live online video-game service probably broke the $1 billion revenue mark for the first time in the year that just ended, helped by sales of movies, avatar accessories and extra game levels.

tags: games, internet, business, industry, entertainment, economy, microsoft

Monday, July 12, 2010

Creativity Quote of the Day

From "Steps to an Ecology of Mind", by Gregory Bateson

I once knew a little boy in England who asked his father, “Do fathers always know more than sons?” and the father said, “Yes.”

The next question was, “Daddy, who invented the steam engine?” and the father said, “James Watt.”

And then the son came back with “—but why didn’t James Watt’s father invent it?”

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Predicting future is not that hard.

In 2001, guided by the invention principle I call "Telegrams before the train", my son and I came up with an idea of a portable playlist (US patent application 20040057348). This year, a new music service Songvote pushed the concept a little bit further:

...about 70 percent of music enthusiasts don't want to spend hours creating the perfect playlists, meaning that unless you're a DJ--or just really hard-core about music arrangement--you'd probably prefer to just listen to your library on shuffle or have someone else do the mixing for you.

Songvote is the service for you. This extremely nifty (and completely free) Web-based app lets users create collaborative playlists based on a simple time-restrained voting system. Using it is ridiculously straightforward: visit the site; create a theme-, event-, or activity-based contest; and then sit back and wait for the votes to roll in.

This "Telegram" principle is hard at work within any large-scale system that aims to optimize its performance. According to it, in order for the system to become more efficient, it has to shift upstream (to the Source and Distribution) the task of solving detection problems, e.g. determining the "quality" of a particular song. That's how it was done with the telegrams and train schedules 150 years ago; and this is how it is being done today with playlists and songs.

tags: detection, control, telegraph, example, course, payload

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

The ultimate shopping channel is coming to a smartphone near you:

Twitter is getting into the online shopping business--or at least pointing to places where deals can be had.

The company's new service, aptly named @earlybird, is an official Twitter account that the company plans to feed with deals at both online and offline retailers, as well as "sneak peeks and events." Users who follow the account will see these entries just like any other tweet in their stream.

This is another sign of the upcoming revolution that is going to produce a change in information consumption comparable to the emergence of the world-wide web in the 1990s. I need to stop procrastinating and write an analytical post about this transition.

tag: trend, system, payload, interface, search, business

Monday, July 05, 2010

$400K per green job

Last week, Business Week published an article by former CEO of Intel, Andy Grove, where he, among other things, pointed out that now it takes tons and tons of money to create jobs in America. The chart below shows that in 2010 dollars high-tech job creation costs went from about $2K in the 1950s to $100K in the 2000s.

Andy Grove thought it was a gruesome trend that spelled doom for American workers. He said that unless we learned how to create jobs more efficiently, the gap between the haves and have-nots is going to grow. Pretty bad, isn't it.

But just three days later, real life events exceeded his gloomy forecast:

"President Barack Obama, under pressure to spur job growth, said on Saturday two solar energy companies will get nearly $2 billion in U.S. loan guarantees to create as many as 5,000 green jobs."

It's $400K per job! Four times greater than the current already absurdly high level. This looks like the disruption pattern described in The Innovator's Dilemma, by Clayton Christensen. That is, we keep "producing" more and more expensive jobs (products/services), while our growth model is being disrupted by China and other formerly 3rd world countries.

tags: innovation, problem, trend, energy, infrastructure, disruption, economy, growth