Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Invention of the Day: Social Gaming

Milton Bradley (1836-1911) invented the first board game, Checkered Game of Life, in 1866. Here's an excerpt from his patent (US 53,51):

The subject of this invention is a game peculiarly adapted to the home-circle from the fact that it can be played by two or more players. addition to the amusement and excitement of the game, it is intended to forcibly impress upon the minds of youth the great moral principles of virtue and vice.

As "Happy old age" is surrounded by many difficulties, fifty may oftentimes be gained as soon by a succession of smaller numbers as by striving for "Happy old age".

A very humble beginning for today's multi-billion dollar industry.

tags: invention, innovation, games, entertainment, information, network,  social

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Creative thinking is slow thinking

Once again, our education and job experiences that emphasize timed tests and quick solutions during brainstorming sessions may hinder our creative abilities. Moreover, the education system may discriminate against creative students.
Here's some brain research evidence for that:

AS FAR as the internet or phone networks go, bad connections are bad news. Not so in the brain, where slower connections may make people more creative.
Rex Jung at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque and his colleagues had found that creativity correlates with low levels of the chemical N-acetylaspartate, which is found in neurons and seems to promote neural health and metabolism.

The volunteers' capacity for divergent thinking - a factor in creativity that includes coming up with new ideas - had already been tested. Jung found that the most creative people had lower white-matter integrity in a region connecting the prefrontal cortex to a deeper structure called the thalamus, compared with their less creative peers (PLoS ONE, DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0009818).

tags: creativity, science, brain, mind, education, brainstorming, distribution, biology

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Asking for directions

tags: youtube, media, imagination

and the pursuit of fantasy

Games and movies are becoming a self-reinforcing platform for the new media:

...the $46 billion worldwide video game market in upheaval--budgets are soaring for console titles even as free online games sharply cannibalize sales--agents are suddenly awfully useful: finding the right talent to complete increasingly complex titles, structuring deals across media, bringing in third-party financiers.

Add to it social networking, better graphics, faster processors, ubiquitous mobile computers and you get a market revolution in the making.

tags: information, entertainment, content, source, process, innovation, payload, mobile, social

Saturday, March 27, 2010

The value of aproblem: finance.

From George Soros' book "The Alchemy of Finance" (2003 paper back edition):

The major insight I gained ... is that all human constructs (concepts, business plans or institutional arrangements) are flawed. The flaws may be revealed only after the construct has come into existence... Recognizing the flaws that are likely to appear when a hypothesis becomes reality puts you ahead of the game. p. 37.

This is a good argument for starting a project with Reverse Brainstorming, a technique I've developed to search for problems rather than solutions. In a Reverse Brainstorming session participants are required to generate a 50+ problems within an hour; 100 is my preferred number. The vast majority of the flaws discovered during the session will never be exposed, or will never become important enough to entail a corrective action. But there will be several that will reveal critical issues. Understanding and inventing ways to address them will put us ahead of the game.

tags: reverse brainstorm, method, problem, solution, high value, money

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Trade-off of the day: Efficiency vs Care

NYT reports about the growing industrialization of healthcare in the US:

As recently as 2005, more than two-thirds of medical practices were physician-owned — a share that had been relatively constant for many years, according to the Medical Group Management Association. But within three years, that share dropped below 50 percent, and analysts say the slide in physician ownership has continued.

For patients, the transformation in medicine is a mixed blessing. Ideally, bigger health care organizations can provide better, more coordinated care. But the intimacy of longstanding doctor-patient relationships may be going the way of the house call.

I think deployment of IT in healthcare is likely to increase. Small practice doctors will have harder time competing with large hospitals not only because they'll have weaker position negotiating with the government, but also, due to the economies of scale/scope effects, their malpractice insurance premiums will be higher and return on IT investments lower.

Dmitry Gorchev, Russian author and arist, died today at the age of 46.

Rest In Peace.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Thinking by twittering

Twitter can be considered as one of the thinking systems employed by the Borg. Here's how it works:

Short messages about environmental objects or events are broadcast by "shouters" to a group of connected individuals. The few who have the motivation and resources (e.g. time, neurons, slaves - let's call them "symantics") choose to analyze the information and make sense out of it. Then, the sense is shouted down the twitter, so that the rest of the Borg can use it for operating in the environment. As a result, the Borg has an inexpensive, distributed, highly specialized sense extracting hierarchy that consumes flat randomized media.

It would be an interesting task to identify various Borg networks and determine "shouters" and  "semantics". It would also be useful to find and extract the Borg's memory (blogs?) because twitter as a medium is inherently memoryless.

also see: "Firing on all neurons: Where Consciousness Comes From."

tags: mind, brain, social, network, information, system, control,  innovation

Monday, March 22, 2010

Hong Kong's air polution: 500 on a 0 to 500 scale.

An update to my yesterday's post about China's need for new energy infrastructure:

NYT: Air pollution in Hong Kong, one of the perpetual banes of living and working in this Asian financial hub, reached record levels on Monday, setting off an official government warning to avoid outdoor activities and physical exertion.

Pollution levels are now 12 to 14 times the amount recommended by the World Health Organization, according to the Clean Air Network

Some of it is due to a major sandstorm in northern China. But sandstorms are a regular event in this part of the world; they are not going away any time soon. All this makes deployment of clean energy technologies even more desirable.

tags: problem, energy, effect, economy, system

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Last January, during our "The Greatest Innovations" course, we concluded that energy innovation has a much better chance to succeed in China, rather than US.

Firstly, should China continue its rapid growth while using today's conventional energy technologies, the impact on the environment will be devastating. Why? Because over the last 45 years losses have become the fastest growing energy segment in our fair country. If this technology is simply transferred to China, it will reproduce existing wasteful practices on a much larger scale - China's population is already 4 times greater than ours. Whether we believe in global warming or not, a lot of pollution would be bound to happen. Thus, the need for energy innovation in China is higher.

Secondly, China doesn't have a mature energy infrastructure. Compared to the US, where industrial electricity consumption started growing rapidly about a hundred years ago, China's a relative newcomer to the info-industrial age. Therefore, it makes a lot of sense to create an infrastructure that is based on new technologies, i.e. leapfrog, not copy.

As we can see, the need is higher (environmental impact) and the opportunity is greater (new infrastructure buildup). Also, China has some two trillion dollars to burn, which we don't.

And here's some empirical confirmation for our two-month old hypothesis:

NatCore Technology of Red Bank, N.J., recently discovered a way to make solar panels much thinner, reducing the energy and toxic materials required to manufacture them. American companies did not even come look at the technology, so NatCore reached a deal with a consortium of Chinese companies to finish developing its invention and mass-produce it in Changsha, China.

From this perspective, technology licensing and intellectual property rights are going to become even more important for US R&D firms.

tags: energy, infrastructure, example, problem, solution, trend, innovation

Another argument for early education

Puberty worsens children's learning abilities. Unfortunately, our education system was created over a hundred years ago, when kids, on average, reached puberty later in their lives, and very few of them could afford high school. As a result of changes in human biology and culture, we've got schools that teach languages and science (which, arguably, is just another language) at the worst possible time: during last years of junior high and first years of high school.

When children hit puberty, their ability to learn a second language drops, they find it harder to learn their way around a new location and they are worse at detecting errors in cognitive tests.
Why is this? Sheryl Smith and her colleagues at the State University of New York now reckon that all of these behavioural changes could be due to a temporary increase in a chemical receptor that inhibits brain activity in an area responsible for learning.

On the other hand, teenage boys learn very quickly how to play complex computer games. It's quite possible that the academic learning model doesn't fit their natural learning abilities.

tags: biology, education, information, system, constraint, trend, biology, information

Thursday, March 18, 2010

What's good for information is good for Google.

The buildup of internet infrastructure continues across the world:

The Unity Consortium, which consists of Google, Bharti Airtel, Global Transit, KDDI, Pacnet, and SingTel, has nearly completed the testing of the $300 million project. Internet users in Asia will start seeing faster Internet speeds over the next several months from the new cable, which has the potential to create a 7.68Tbps (terabits per second) connection under the Pacific.

In the meantime, Australia Pushes to Ensure New Built Homes Have High-Speed Internet Access.

Get ready: 3D videoconferencing is coming to a screen near you.

tags: information, infrastructure, google, internet, niche construction, distribution, video, 10x

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Patent #26

US Patent 7,681,194 with inventors Jan Van Ee and Eugene Shteyn, i.e. truly yours, issued this week, just over 11 years since the original application was filed. At the time, we put enough information in the disclosure to cover several future scenarios.

The claims look very complex, but at the bottom of the invention is a solution to the following dilemma:

1. on one hand, user interface of a controlling device should have a lot of icons (representations) of controllable devices, so that all of them can be controlled;

2. on the other hand, the interface of the controller should have very few icons, so that when needed user can easily find the right one.

We solve the problem by applying, in two steps, the separation in time/space principle. First, we aggregate devices into tasks; second, we make the interface time- and place-dependent. As the result, at any given time user is enabled to see only actionable icons. This is the basic idea.

Further, from studying patterns in system evolution, we know that control problems are preceded by detection problems. Therefore, we make our controller context-aware, i.e. capable of detecting what's around it. Once devices around the user are detected, we bring up tasks that can be accomplished with these devices. Voila!

tags: problem, solution, dilemma, patent, invention, interface, control, detection

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Trade-off of the day: Efficiency vs Stress

Two recent papers reached a similar conclusion: frequent e-mail exchanges improve organizational efficiency, but lead to more stress among employees.

The first study looked into the impact of interruptions caused by e-mails:

Our data suggests that people compensate for interruptions by working faster, but this comes at a price: experiencing more stress, higher frustration, time pressure and effort.

The second study investigated the relationship between e-mail and work performance:

...we obtained solid evidence that e-mail supports work performance, but at the same time contributes to negative effects [stress and distress - ES] that in the long run may affect motivation and satisfaction.

What do you think about the problem? Drop me an e-mail.

tags: trade-off, problem, information, dilemma, internet, control, 10x


1. Gloria Mark, et all. The Cost of Interrupted Work: More Speed and Stress. CHI 2008, April 5–10, 2008, Florence, Italy.
2. E-mail characteristics, work performance and distress Rita S. Mano, Gustavo S. Mesch. Computers in Human Behavior 26 (2010) 61–69. doi:10.1016/j.chb.2009.08.005.

Monday, March 15, 2010

In the domain of science publications transition to electronic documents causes "twitterization" of research media:

The move to online science appears to represent one more step on the path initiated by the much earlier shift from the contextualized monograph [books]... to the modern research article.
As 21st-century scientists and scholars use online searching and hyperlinking to frame and publish their arguments more efficiently, they weave them into a more focused—and more narrow—past and present.

Science 18 July 2008:
Vol. 321. no. 5887, pp. 395 - 399
DOI: 10.1126/science.1150473

It's quite possible that proliferation of e-book devices will benefit magazines more than books. Shorter chapters/articles are easier to jump in and out on the go; embedded audio and video clips are better suited for the "show, not tell" style of presentation; more recent events mentioned in the text are more fresh in the mind and psychologically close to connect for the reader. To summarize, attention spans are getting shorter, authors and publishers will have to find ways to feed readers with small easily digestible info-chunks.

tags: information, payload, system, time, internet, digital,  media

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Healthcare update: back to basics

It looks like personalized gene-based medicine is further away that was originally thought. To develop working therapies for most common diseases, scientists will have to collect a lot more DNA data and figure out better ways to analyze it. In the short run (3-10 years), personalized approach to medical treatment will be based on lifestyle choices, e.g. diet, exercise, stress management, etc. Though basic, lifestyle changes were very difficult to implement; they worked mostly for highly organized and motivated people. Now, with the proliferation of social networking, availability of connected diagnostics devices, and, more importantly, rising healthcare costs, it'll become easier for many of us to decide upon and implement good lifestyle choices. In any case, magic DNA bullets are not going to be ready for quite some time.

Here's an excerpt from a NYT article (3/10/10) that describes a significant scientific setback in the gene-based approach to treating diseases:

More common diseases, like cancer, are thought to be caused by mutations in several genes, and finding the causes was the principal goal of the $3 billion human genome project.

The results of this costly international exercise have been disappointing. About 2,000 sites on the human genome have been statistically linked with various diseases, but in many cases the sites are not inside working genes, suggesting there may be some conceptual flaw in the statistics.

The finding implies that common diseases, surprisingly, are caused by rare, not common, mutations. In the last few months, researchers have begun to conclude that a new approach is needed, one based on decoding the entire genome of patients.

tags: health, information, problem, science, source, control, strategy

Friday, March 12, 2010

GSM patents asserted by Nokia against Apple:

5,802,465 5,862,178 5,946,651 6,359,904 6,694,135 6,775,548 6,882,727 7,009,940 7,092,672 7,403,621

According to Nokia, the patents were recognized as essential to the GSM standard.

tags: patents, apple, mobile, control, battle

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Content as Software - 2

This is a follow-up to my yesterday's post about Content as Software (CAS).

Recently, Steve Jobs said that, despite abundance of Flash-compatible content, Apple is not going to support Adobe Flash on iPod or iPad. In his words, Flash is a CPU hog. Google expressed a similar view. Why is it so? Is one of the most popular web platforms going to die in the mobile space due to turf battles, or there's something else going on here? Is CPU hogging the only problem with Flash, or are there other reasons why it is going nowhere? To find answers to these questions, I looked up Flash timeline and compared it side-by-side with browser technology developments.

Remarkably, evolution of Flash looks like a continuous effort to overcome web browser deficiencies. First, it was a simple animation engine that allowed developers to embed dynamic content into static HTML pages. Then, media play-out and limited, but certain, scripting capabilities followed. At the time, web authors could not rely on consistent browser behavior beyond the very basics. In terms of browser as an application platform, Microsoft supported ActiveX in Internet Explorer (Windows-only), while Mozilla pushed JavaScript in Netscape and its open source descendants. MP3 audio was handled by a separate browser plugin, so it was difficult, if not impossible, to use most popular media to create a coherent browser-based web experience. On top of that, session management had to rely on cookies and annoying pop-ups, which could be easily disabled by the user. If you as a developer wanted to have a live page or stream content, you had to rely on Flash to provide a stable platform for your application.

Later, more video codecs, a full-blown object-oriented scripting engine (ActionScript), and web services integration layer were added to Flash. In 2007, after the acquisition by Adobe, new versions, Flash CS3 and beyond, could run whole applications inside its own application, had integrated support for Photoshop and other Adobe graphics manipulation products, 3D animation, and etc. The software has become a software platform that itself runs within a browser application that runs on top of a sophisticated windowing operating system, either Windows, Mac OS, or Linux.

A PC with plenty of electric power, processing power, memory, and storage space can easily afford this behemoth. A smartphone (or an e-book) cannot. And it doesn't need to, because its operating system, rather than a web browser, runs user applications. The OS, be it iPhone OS or Google Android, provides a consistent set of APIs that developers can rely upon when they write their code. Since browser on a mobile phone is no longer "The Web Application", but rather one of many web apps, there's no need for Flash to be a media presentation intermediary. The hog can be slaughtered.

Sales of smarphones are predicted to outnumber PCs by 2012. Unless a dramatic change in Flash architecture for mobile devices happens, the product is going to die a slow death. It's not about Steve Job's ego or his design preferences. Rather, it's about the process of creative destruction of obsolete technologies and business models.

tags: 10x, payload, information, mobile, content, software, cloud, system, evolution, niche construction, social, network

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Content as Software (CAS)

An increasing number of providers are discovering that packaging their web content as a mobile application is a very attractive business proposition. The same content that is free on the net can be sold for real money when delivered through an iPhone app. NYT has a story about two such apps: Zillow (real estate) and Yelp (business recommendations). Both of them have a location-based component, which makes a lot of sense for people who have a purpose while on the go.

It's easy to predict that delivering content as software (CAS) will grow in popularity among users and providers. First, people are willing to pay for mobile apps; second, content providers have greater control over presentation (browser-independent implementation); third, CAS screens have a greater focus than PC, both time- and space-wise, which enables insertion of highly-relevant ads, including video. All signs point to a new stage in the development of internet commerce. For example, in the nearest future travel guides will stop being books and become integrated mobile apps.

tags: 10x, payload, information, mobile, content, software, cloud, system, evolution, niche construction, social, network

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

The spinning woman illusion. To me, she always seem to spin clockwise: from right to left; and I have to make a conscious effort to look at the figure sideways to it reverse the direction.

The link comes courtesy a New Scientist article that proposes:

...when people make decisions, their pupils dilate, a subtle cue that could be used to predict a person's intentions, or even converse with people with locked-in syndrome.

A useful clue in negotiations. It would be good to have a monitoring device that tracks, Blade runner-style, your opposition's pupils.

The title of the article is slightly misleading, though. It mentions wide eyes rather than dilated pupils. The "wide eyes" effect is a sign of interest from another person, rather than decision-making activity. That's why men prefer women who listen to them with eyes wide open. Maybe the reporter for the story, Ewen Callaway, who is male, got carried away by his imagination. Or maybe it's a plot to grab our attention. Or maybe it's a little bit of both.

tags: psychology, effect, science, detection

Monday, March 08, 2010

Text is finite; video is infinite.

Emerging internet infrastructure is shaping up to look a lot like traditional high-traffic networks (rail, auto, air, water, etc.). Increasingly, it connects large centers of content aggregation with high-volume information "retailers". The trend is driven by availability of digital video:

(NYT 3/1/10). Arbor’s Internet Observatory Report concluded that today the majority of Internet traffic by volume flows directly between large content providers like Google and consumer networks like Comcast. ...“Out of the 40,000 routed end sites in the Internet, 30 large companies — ‘hyper giants’ like Limelight, Facebook, Google, Microsoft and YouTube — now generate and consume a disproportionate 30 percent of all Internet traffic."

The company[Cisco] estimates that video will account for 90 percent of all Internet traffic by 2013.

Furthermore, the next generation wireless networks are built with video streaming as a primary user scenario:

Verizon Wireless has been testing its forthcoming 4G LTE network in both Boston and Seattle since August, 2009. Successful data calls involved streaming video, file uploads and downloads, and Web browsing, as well as calls with Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) to enable voice transmissions over the LTE network.

The next series of biztech battles are going to be about video formats, content recommendation systems (e.g. iTunes vs Netflix vs Facebook, etc.), and processing power/efficiency of mobile devices.

tags: payload, distribution, system, evolution, information, google, apple, , infrastructure, innovation

Friday, March 05, 2010

The day the second shoe dropped.

Several months ago I used example of Google' Outlook plug-in to explain how to solve a typical dilemma. Today, by buying DocVerse, a "startup that allows people to edit Microsoft Office files online", Google provided another example of the same problem-solution pattern. What's the difference between the two cases? Last time, Google's target was Outlook; this time, it's the rest of MS Office. Last time, Google engineers built the software themselves; this time, Google business people bought the company that makes the desired software.

In an interview, Jonathan Rochelle, group product manager for Google Apps, said Google acquired DocVerse to make it easier for people to transition from desktop software to online software. The latter is an area where Google is trying to get a leg up over Microsoft, with its Google Apps service, which includes online word-processing and spreadsheet software.

Google is now involved in two strategic battles:

1. against Apple, to dominate mobile software with the Android/Chrome combo;
2. against Microsoft, to dominate server software with Google Apps.

The only question is, Will Google's search cash cow produce enough money to sustain the troops?

tags: dilemma, google, problem, solution, battle, apple, microsoft, course, example, control point

Thursday, March 04, 2010

Apple patents listed against HTC:

  • Patent No. 7,362,331: “Time-Based, Non-Constant Translation Of User Interface Objects Between States”
  • Patent No. 7,479,949: “Touch Screen Device, Method, And Graphical User Interface For Determining Commands By Applying Heuristics”
  • Patent No. 7,657,849: “Unlocking A Device By Performing Gestures On An Unlock Image”
  • Patent No. 7,469,381: “List Scrolling And Document Translation, Scaling, And Rotation On A Touch-Screen Display”
  • Patent No. 5,920,726: “System And Method For Managing Power Conditions Within A Digital Camera Device.”
  • Patent No. 7,633,076: “Automated Response To And Sensing Of User Activity In Portable Devices”
  • Patent No. 5,848,105: “GMSK Signal Processors For Improved Communications Capacity And Quality”
  • Patent No. 7,383,453: “Conserving Power By Reducing Voltage Supplied To An Instruction-Processing Portion Of A Processor”
  • Patent No. 5,455,599: “Object-Oriented Graphic System”
  • Patent No. 6,424,354: “Object-Oriented Event Notification System With Listener Registration Of Both Interests And Methods”

At first glance, they don't look that broad. The lawsuit is likely to cause a one- or two-year product deployment delay, not a knockout punch against Google and/or its hardware partners.

tags: patent, apple, google, mobile, law, battle

History rhymes

Today's most important financial innovation happens away from Wall Street. Early gaming transactions in the world of social networking are a good indicator of a major shift in internet business models. As goods and services become increasingly digital, money will flow away from ads to true virtual transactions. Very similar to the commerce/banking revolution that happened in the 17th century Europe:

The Amsterdam Exchange Bank (Wisselbank) was set up in 1609 to resolve the practical problems created for merchants by the circulation of multiple currencies in the United Provinces, where there were no fewer than fourteen different mints and copious quantities of foreign coins. By allowing merchants to set up accounts denominated in a standardized currency, the Exchange Bank pioneered the system of cheques and direct debits or transfers that we take for granted today.

Ferguson Niall. The Ascent of Money. 2008. p.48.

and 400 years later:

Feb. 19 (Bloomberg) -- Facebook Inc. is expanding a service called Facebook Credits that gives it a 30 percent cut of sales from tractors, fish food and guns in online games...

Today, gamers on Facebook can either buy Facebook Credits to obtain items in games, or pay for them through third-party services. Of the $3.6 billion in U.S. virtual goods sales in 2012, about $2.2 billion will be on social networks, with 80 percent on Facebook, said Atul Bagga, a ThinkEquity analyst in San Francisco. If all payments on the site use Facebook Credits, that would mean $530 million in revenue for the company, he said.

Facebook has become a market of markets. Their social identity management system is ideally suited to support a variety of digital transaction models. They just need to fix gaping security holes. As they say in Russian, "начать и кончить" :)

tags: innovation, money, control, scale, security, internet, social, network, information

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

From John R. Searle's "Rationality in Action":

...most practical reasoning is about adjudicating between conflicting, inconsistent desires and other sorts of reason...Typically in practical reasoning you have to figure out how to give up on satisfying some desires in order to satisfy others... By satisfying one desire your frustrate others.

Ch.1, p.30.

This is where practical (engineering, economics, business, etc.) reasoning differs from inventive reasoning. One of the core principle of the TRIZ tradition is commitment to Ideal Solution, i.e. a solution that enables us to satisfy one desire without frustrating others. As inventors and innovators, we should be looking for situations where widely accepted trade-offs between conflicting desires become more and more lopsided, e.g. due to new technology developments.

For example, today practically all printed content (books, magazines, newspapers, scientific articles, etc) is produced digitally but distributed "paperly." This tells us that the previous conflict between the two forms of content, digital vs paper, was adjudicated toward the old publishing world. That is, publishers benefited enormously by optimizing the process of content creation to fit their physical goods distribution model. When you go through any airport you see that books and magazines are sold side by side with salted peanuts and souvenir mugs. Even Amazon's Kindle, an all-digital device, is no more than a glorified paperback because its reading content was originally developed to be printed on paper. Paradoxically, this new device and distribution technology proliferate an old trade-off.

Looks like an opportunity for a good invention.

tags: tradeoff, payload, system, evolution, invention, innovation, tool, source, problem