Monday, October 31, 2011

The good, the bad, and the loss aversion bias.

Nobel Laureate Daniel Kahneman writes about the bad news bias:
The brains of humans contain a mechanism that is designed to give priority to bad news. No comparably rapid mechanism for recognizing good news has been detected. Threats are privileged above opportunities, as they should be. Loss aversion is one of many manifestations of a broad negativity dominance in people.
John Gottman, an expert in marital relations, observed that the long-term success of a relationship depends far more on avoiding the negative than on seeking the positive. Gottman estimated that a stable relationship requires that good interactions outnumber bad ones by at least 5-to-1.
By now, there must be a smartphone app for counting good and bad martial interactions. You can probably hook it up to facial, voice, or some other vital signs detection/recognition software.

His three other articles on Bloomberg (Part 1, Part 2 and Part 4.)

In the meantime, here's your good news of the day: Justin Bieber reaches 2B YouTube views.

tags: reverse brainstorm, mobile, psychology, problem, effect

Sunday, October 30, 2011

20 - 20 hindsight in action.

The person who writes about patents for Forbes admits:
No, I hadn’t patented anything, not inventive enough.
Exactly right. People who complain about Apple's slide to unlock patent don't understand one simple truth: It's a free country- nobody forces smartphone manufacturers use Apple's patented features. That is, the manufacturers are free to invent better phones than Apple folks have ever imagined. Besides, the manufacturers are powered by Android, the mobile OS developed by Google. And we all know that Google employs the smartest engineers on the planet, don't we.

The timeline of Steve Jobs' inventions.

Here's two charts showing Steve Job's contribution to Apple's patent portfolio since his return to the company in 1997.

The second chart shows distribution of Job's co-inventors.

Data analysis developed with Innography tools.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Invention of the Day: Credit Card system

Bloomberg recently published an article with a brief history of money, describing the transition from coins to credit cards. The credit card piece caught my attention because of its American roots:
The modern credit card is an American creation, devised in the credit boom following World War II. First came the Diners Club card, introduced in 1950. Then, in 1958, the BankAmericard, ancestor of Visa, and the first universal credit card issued by a bank and generally accepted by a large number of businesses. But only in the 1990s did credit cards become truly global, widespread beyond North America and the U.K.
Of course, a credit card isn’t itself money, but a way of spending it, moving it and promising it. With credit and debit cards, money has lost its materiality. It can be called up virtually anywhere in the world instantaneously.
After some digging, I found a US Patent issued in 1923 describing the concept of a credit card system, which is really close to the one we've got today. Here's how the inventor envisioned the credit card:

20 years later another patent mentions the connection between credit card and travel.
Many business institutions, of which commercial air lines and the retailers of gasoline, oil and like supplies for automotive vehicles to the motoring public are an example, have a large number of outlets or places of business, frequently scattered over a wide territory, from any one of which credit may be extended to customers. In order that this may be done, the customers are usually furnished with an identification, commonly referred to as a credit card, bearing, among other things, the name and address of the customer entitled to the use of the same.

Only with the proliferation of computers and cheap long-distant communications, the credit card business took off in the 1960-1970s.

tags: s-curve, infrastructure, business, money, system, evolution,

Friday, October 28, 2011

Quote of the Day: Steve Jobs on Intellectual Property

If protection of intellectual property begins to disappear, creative companies will disappear or never get started.
quoted from Steve Jobs, by Walter Isaacson. ISBN-13: 978-1451648539

Green technology and political protest.

This is a real-life test for green technology. Will solar energy save the political action?
NEW YORK, Oct 28 (Reuters) - Anti-Wall Street protesters' plans to camp in a New York park throughout the city's harsh winter were dealt a blow on Friday when the fire department confiscated generators and fuel because they posed a danger.
But Occupy Wall Street spokesman Ed Needham said the removal of the generators was "certainly a directed effort to thwart our situation." He said solar powered generators were being brought in to replace those taken.
Facebook and Twitter proved that social networking technology can help people organize in a totally new different way. Now, it's the green tech's turn to prove itself. If it works out, this might become the Occupy's movement's greatest contribution to the world.

tags: energy, synthesis, s-curve, problem

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Web is dead update.

(October 26, 2011. VentureBeat):
The video-streaming component of Netflix is responsible for nearly 28 percent of all bandwidth usage nationally. Real-time entertainment services are the primary drivers of traffic, with especially heavy bandwidth consumption for music and video content.

The report also highlighted the rapid shift of Internet traffic away from desktop devices such as PCs, to all other forms of net-connected devices, such as set-top boxes, game consoles like the Xbox 360, the Playstation 3, smart phones and tablet devices. Only 45 percent of Internet traffic on fixed networks now goes to laptops or desktop computers, according to the report.

Just like the electricity revolution started with the lightbulb, the Internet revolution started with the browser. After the light bulb came the good stuff: factories, radio, television, and computers. Today, we see the Internet moving beyond the web. What should a Wikipedia 2.0 look like?

tags: information, evolution, distribution, tool, trend, s-curve.

Mindshare: American innovators

Unless I missed something important, Henry Ford was considered the #1 American innovator during most of the 20th century. Walt Disney's share rises to the #1 spot with Disneyland and the emergence of television. The #3 innovator of the century seems to be Bill Gates.

I don't include Albert Einstein in this list because technically he is a scientist, not an inventor/innovator.  Nevertheless, it is interesting to see his share rising steadily over time.

Also, it is illuminating to compare an individual innovator to the thing he made popular.

tags: invention, innovation, information

Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.

I'm almost finished reading the new biography of Steve Jobs, by Walter Isaacson. The book is a good read; it contains a lot of first-hand information, which is useful in reconstructing a creative process. One thing strikes me as odd though. The author and many other characters in the book say that Jobs was a complex man. I think this is incorrect. Jobs acted on a simple principle: to get done what he wanted to be done, he had to push people, including himself, to the limit. There are just two variables in this process: Jobs' ability to push (or manipulate) and the person's limit. He always chose what he called the A team, so that the team could produce, and he drove people on the team to perform at the top of their abilities.

A good illustration would be the early episode with Steve Wozniak when he designed a super circuit board in four days instead of weeks because Jobs gave him this impossible fake deadline. It's a recurring pattern of behavior: pushing somebody to the limit without being afraid to break the person. Some did handle it for a while, many did not. That is also why Jobs easily took credit for other people's work and ideas because he felt it was to his credit to push them above what they thought was possible. Some appreciated it, many didn't.

tags: creativity, business, method, management

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

The 21st century Facebook Utopia.

Can you imagine a country of 800 million people successfully policed by just some 30 of them? No courts, no jails, no lawyers involved. For comparison, the United Nations recommends a minimum police strength of 222 per 100,000 people.
(26 October 2011. New Scientist. )Known as the Facebook Immune System (FIS), the massive defense network appears to be successful: numbers released by the company this week show that less than 1 per cent of users experience spam.
The system is overseen by a team of 30 people, but it can learn in real time and is able to take action without checking with a human supervisor.
It took just three years for FIS to evolve from basic beginnings into an all-seeing set of algorithms that monitors every photo posted to the network, every status update– indeed, every click made by every one of the 800 million users. There are more than 25 billion of these "read and write actions" every day. At peak activity the system checks 650,000 actions a second.
The only network bigger, Larus suspects, is the web itself. That makes Facebook's defense system one of the largest in existence.
 The efficiencies of the virtual world are totally unprecedented in human history. The Matrix is turning out to be a very cool place.

tags: virtual, synthesis, infrastructure, control, security, facebook,10x

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Patents: Apple's virtual sliding bolt latch.

Apple just got a patent issued on the sliding lock for iPhone/iPad. Now, they can sue the pants out of Android manufacturers until they come up with a better idea.

An excellent example of how an old interface concept can be transferred into a new environment. The good old sliding latch is a perfect metaphor for unlocking a device.

Of course, voice or thought control will make all these physical gestures obsolete.

tags: interface, mobile, apple, google, patent, example, control
Russell Grandinetti, an Amazon’s executive (NYT 10/16/2011):
...the landscape was in some ways changing for the first time since Gutenberg invented the modern book nearly 600 years ago. “The only really necessary people in the publishing process now are the writer and reader,” he said. “Everyone who stands between those two has both risk and opportunity.”

It's more like early newspapers, rather than books. For example, Benjamin Franklin successfully published and edited his own newspaper where he wrote too, under multiple pen names. It worked in a relatively small town, but when newspapers wanted to expand their circulations they created large publishing houses.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Invention of the Day: Chocolate.

A recent meta-study of the relationship between chocolate consumption and cardiometabolic disorders concluded:
Higher levels of chocolate consumption were associated with a reduction of about a third in the risk of cardiometabolic disorders in our meta-analysis. This beneficial association was significant for any cardiovascular disease (37% reduction), diabetes (31% reduction, based on one publication), and stroke (29% reduction), but no significant association was found in relation to heart failure.
[however]...the high sugar and fat content of commercially available chocolate should be considered, and initiatives to reduce it might permit an improved exposure to the beneficial effect of chocolate. (doi: 10.1136/bmj.d4488 Published 29 August 2011).

In short, chocolate is good for you if it contains just a little bit of sugar and no added milk fat.

Though the history of drinking a cacao beverage goes back to 500 AD, today's solid chocolate is a fairly recent invention.
In 1828, Dutch chocolate maker Casparus J. van Houten patented an inexpensive method for pressing the fat from roasted cacao beans. Van Houten's machine -- a hydraulic press -- reduced the cocoa butter content by nearly half. This created a "cake" that could be pulverized into a fine powder known as "cocoa." 
The introduction of cocoa powder not only made creating chocolate drinks much easier, but also made it possible to combine chocolate with sugar and then remix it with cocoa butter to create a solid. In 1849, English chocolate maker Joseph Storrs Fry produced what was arguably the world's first eating chocolate.
It's interesting to observe the evolution of chocolate products and manufacturing processes. From a rare bitter drink to a popular sweet drink to a mass market packaged sugar+fat bar, with a wide variety of added ingredients.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Life and Death: Michael Jackson vs Steve Jobs vs Dennis Ritchie

When Michael Jackson died the news generated an 11% increase in internet traffic
When Steve Jobs died Apple received over one million tribute e-mails from people around the world. 
When Dennis Ritchie died Wired published an article saying that Steve Jobs stood on his shoulders.

Out of the three, Dennis Ritchie will have the greatest cumulative impact on human civilization because he pioneered a technology with an infinite reach, including all servers and browsers tuned to the news of Michael Jackson's death, as well as all iPads and iPhones Steve Jobs sold. But his work lacked the accessibility necessary for understanding the scale of his impact. 

The good news is that unlike Alan Turing, who died as a convict on probation, Ritchie's contribution to the society was widely acknowledged during his life.

The latest in the evolution of impulse buying.

WSJ reports on a new trend in grocery retailing: placing expensive packaged food near fresh healthy produce.
...stores are finding that consumers consider even packaged foods placed there [near fresh fruits and vegetables] to be fresher and higher quality—researchers call this a "halo effect."

Humans, like monkeys, are drawn to sweet bananas (yellow is a very tasty color). P.8 on the graphic says: Grocers place bananas toward the back to lure shoppers through the section. If I remember correctly, Trader Joe's has the layout closest to the one shown on the picture.

Brick and mortar stores are in a tough spot because shoppers, changed by internet shopping habits, know exactly what they want. Even women in electronics stores become less of impulse buyers.
Oct. 17 (Bloomberg). Women now go into a store, hoping to go right to what they need like a man would,” said Delia Passi, CEO of Hollywood, Florida-based Medelia Inc., which advises companies such as Home Depot Inc. on how to appeal to female shoppers.
Impulse purchases require people to browse the aisles, however, and that’s happening less and less these days because Web-savvy consumers often already know what they plan to buy and simply pick it up and leave, said Bill Martin, the chief executive officer of ShopperTrak.
These mission shoppers visit fewer stores -- three per trip, down from five pre-recession .
From a system evolution perspective, we see a transition from one S-curve to the next one. The old S-curve (brick and mortar retail) invented about hundred years ago is in the efficiency stage, where they have to squeeze out every penny from a limited set of value scenarios. Further, they've got a fixed setup and lack the ability to customize shopping experience for a particular shopper or a demographic, as web retailers do. All product browsing and impulse shopping moved to Internet retailing, which is in the growth stage of a new S-curve. Proliferation of connected tablets and 4G networks will further speed up the transition process.

tags:  10X, system, s-curve, efficiency, growth, business, model

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Invention of the Day: Commercial Spaceflight.

Virgin Galactic is planning to have first commercial (sub-)space flights in 2013-14. Now, you can sign up for $200K a seat, but I believe in ten years space tourism will be a relatively affordable adventure, similar to an exotic African safari today.

The vehicle is made of composite materials. It is powered by two hybrid engines, and can carry six passengers and two pilots.
Burt Rutan is the key engineer/inventor behind the spaceship technology. He retired from the industry earlier this year, after building an all-electric toy flying car - BIPOD.

tags: transportation, entertainment, 10X, invention, innovation

Friday, October 21, 2011

Technology vs Science vs Steam

Technology appears to be a fairly recent concept: it starts showing up in books about a hundred years. You can also see how science takes away the mindshare from arts, philosophy, and even religion.

It's also interesting how the peak of "steam" coincides with the birth of "technology." Maybe at the time people realized that steam power is just an instance of a bigger trend.


Thursday, October 20, 2011

Education: "The-Skill-That-Must-Not-Be-Named"

Gallup published results of attitudes to entrepreneurship among American students (5-12 grades):
Nearly 8 in 10 students (77%) in grades 5 through 12 say they want to be their own boss, 45% say they plan to start their own business, and 42% say they will invent something that changes the world.

It's great that four in ten students think about inventing something. This should lead us to a logical conclusion that at least some rudimentary invention skills ought to be taught at school. But the idea of teaching invention is unthinkable many, including the Gallup researchers. The only education-related questions they ask are about business and finance:

How the aspiring inventors - 4 out of 10 students - will learn to change the world?

tags: education, information, creativity, problem

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Tech changes the way we think, have sex, and separate.

Recently, a study published in Science noted that frequent use of search technology (Google) changes the way we think:
...when faced with difficult questions, people are primed to think about computers and that when people expect to have future access to information, they have lower rates of recall of the information itself and enhanced recall instead for where to access it.
Now, there's a study showing that the use of the Pill changes the way women chose their partners:
Women who used OC [oral contraceptives] scored lower on measures of sexual satisfaction and partner attraction, experienced increasing sexual dissatisfaction during the relationship, and were more likely to be the one to initiate an eventual separation if it occurred. However, the same women were more satisfied with their partner’s paternal provision, and thus had longer relationships and were less likely to separate. (h/t NS).

It appears there's a trade-off between attractiveness and paternal reliability. The Pill skews the trade-off toward the reliability.

tags: trade-off, biology, technology, information, detection, mind

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Elements of Creativity: low LI and high IQ.

While discussing greatness, S.B. Kaufman cites an article linking latent inhibition and creativity.
In all of our studies and analyses, high IQ, when combined with low LI (Latent Inhibition, the capacity to screen from conscious awareness stimuli previously experienced as irrelevant), was associated with increased creative achievement. These results are particularly stunning in the analysis of eminent achievers and high-functioning controls. High IQ clearly appeared to augment the tendency toward high creative achievement characteristic of low-LI individuals. (Carson SH, Peterson JB, Higgins DM

It appears that seeing old things as new due to, e.g. changing circumstances, is an important element of creativity. In Buddhism it is called "Beginner's Mind."

The concept of having a fresh look on an old subject may sound obvious, but in reality it is very difficult not to follow headlines screaming about the latest and greatest. For example, in the world of technology what can be more boring than railroads? But look at how high-tech investor Peter Thiel sees Warren Buffet's purchase of a railroad company:
The Warren Buffet rhetorical point is his US$34 billion investment in late 2009 in a railway, the single biggest investment by Berkshire Hathaway outside of finance. It is an all-out bet against clean tech. It was described as a bet on America, but 40 percent of what gets transported on railroads is coal. You have to look at Buffett's railroad investments as an all-out bet that clean tech is going to fail.
It's a bet that we're going to send coal to ships in Long Beach and send it to China to power Chinese factories to send us stuff. That's not the clean-tech vision of the 21st century.
What we've got here is two high-IQ individuals re-considering seemingly old, irrelevant developments (low LI condition) to draw creative conclusions: 1) buy railroads; 2) don't invest in clean tech.

tags: creativity, infrastructure, information, psychology, business, magicians

Monday, October 17, 2011

An Android problem: too much innovation.

A long-time Android user complains about the downside of owning a Google-powered device:
[Operating System] fragmentation alone is plenty reason to abandon the platform--I'm not buying a new phone every year just to keep up, and I'm tired of the guessing game and bullet lists about what's coming when and to whom, and what apps support what version of the OS, down to the second decimal place.

Smartphones are complicated devices, running complicated software. Android is further complicated by, as I mentioned, fragmentation, and also the introduction of wild-card apps from multiple sources. ... when something goes wrong with my phone, I want someone to call, and Verizon (or AT&T, or T-Mobile, or Sprint) isn't in the business or habit of supporting software. The manufacturers seem well out of their depth, in terms of support. And Google is no help at all. 

I've heard similar complaints from other users, who are not into the geekery of owning the latest and greatest technology. By restricting choices and keeping the complexity of devices and applications down, Apple is helping people to move into the brave new world of the new Internet.

tags: innovation, control, synthesis, system, s-curve

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Midnight in Paris

Enjoy the music.

Mobile text vs Web

VentureBeat has a remarkable infographic about world-wide impact of mobile phone texting (click to enlarge).

tags: mobile, commerce, communications

Saturday, October 15, 2011

The beginning of a revolution in medical devices.

A 10X change in health care has been allowed by FDA:  
Sept. 29, 2011. Bloomberg News - Mobisante’s ultrasound attachment [to iPhone] costs $7,495. Though the images aren’t the highest quality available, a top-of-the-line ultrasound machine costs as much as $100,000.

Mobisante’s device, which goes on sale in October, is part of a wave of new smartphone applications and attachments in the nascent mobile health market. In the past eight months, products that turn a phone into a blood-pressure monitoring cuff, a CT-scan viewer and other health-care gadgets have received U.S. Food and Drug Administration clearance.

The market is predicted to grow: By 2015, 30 percent of the world’s smartphone users will be using mobile health products, up from 5 percent now, estimates Research2guidance, a mobile- market consulting firm in Berlin.
Smartphone will play the role of a gateway device that pre-processes local data and, if necessary, connects medical sensors to the diagnostics cloud.

tags: 10x, health, scale, source, interface

Friday, October 14, 2011

Innovation of the Day: Siri, the voice control fairy.

In the NYT video below, iPhone-based virtual assistant Siri beats a human assistant in solving "girlfriend situation."

The episode reminded me the work we did at Philips Research Silicon Valley ten years ago, trying to marry voice control to a mobile device.

Unfortunately for us, phone hardware was not good enough to perform necessary computations in real time. Now, when you have gigahertz processors and graphics chips on a mobile device, mapping simultaneous inputs from multiple sources can finally be done. The problem of user interaction with a tiny device is fundamental. As the density of information we exchange through the device increases, information resolution, i.e. user ability to discriminate between items available on the device, has to increase as well. Zooming in and out is one way to do it. Accessing via voice and touch, as Siri does, would be another.

Creativity quote of the day

The obstacle is the path.
Zen proverb

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Screwed In.

Light Bulb          Person
-------------- == -------------
  Socket              iPhone

 I wish I could draw this relationship between an element and its interface into the system.

Winning in patent courts, by design.

Emphasizing design not only helps Apple convince consumers buy Apple products, but also allows the company to attack its competitors in court. Instead of using a more traditional IP litigation strategy based on utility (technology) patents, Apple leverages its cache of design patents to speed up court decisions. Litigating utility patents takes years, while showing similarity of design decisions makes infringement analysis very simple. Here's the latest from Apple's battle with Samsung:

Oct 13, 2011. San Jose, California. (Reuters) - Apple sued Samsung in the United States in April, saying the South Korean company's Galaxy line of mobile phones and tablets "slavishly" copies the iPhone and iPad

Koh [U.S. District Judge] frequently remarked on the similarity between each company's tablets. At one point during the hearing, she held one black glass tablet in each hand above her head, and asked Sullivan if she could identify which company produced which.
Additionally, at the hearing Koh said she would deny Apple's request for an injunction based on one of Apple's so-called "utility" patents.

So far, Apple is winning the battle.

tags: patent, strategy, integrity, control point

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

The beginnings of a new S-curve.

Some early indicators that mobile revolution is beginning to spread beyond consumer:

Enterprise mobile software company Enterproid, which lets Android device owners split their phone between business and personal profiles with its Divide software, announced Thursday it has raised $11 million in funding.

“Employees bringing their own devices to work is a growing phenomenon, and Enterproid has found a solution for the challenge it creates for businesses’ privacy and security...”

The functionality, including security features and virtual machine(VM) support, will eventually be built into the hardware. With Andy Grove and Bill Gates gone, it would be interesting to see whether Intel&Microsoft partnership that worked so well in the PC space is going to work again in the mobile enterprise segment. Businesses don't mind ugly devices for their employees as long as the hw/sw combo delivers functionality at a reasonable cost. ARM + Android vs Intel + Win8(x) - it could be a remarkable battle of technologies.

tags: mobile, business, technology, battle, synthesis, security

Monday, October 10, 2011

Invention Innovation Creativity

After reading a post in Greg Mankiw's blog, I ran a quick word frequency search on Google's Ngram and found that creativity is fairly recent term. It doesn't appear in literature until the beginning of the 20th century.

tags: invention, innovation, creativity

Friday, October 07, 2011

Amazon's real breakthrough.

Two attributes that make Kindle Fire an important device:

tags: innovation, system, distribution

Thursday, October 06, 2011

A fundamental failure of imagination.

Philosopher Bertrand Russell remarks on a priori knowledge, essential for deductive [mathematical] reasoning:
When Swift invites us to consider the race of Struldbugs who never die, we are able to acquiesce in imagination. But a world where two and two make five seems quite on a different level. We feel that such a world, if there were one, would upset the whole fabric of our knowledge and reduce us to utter doubt.
Children before age 3 or 4 live in this wonderful world where 2+2=5. Actually, it's quite obvious for them that you can take two pieces of playdough, add another two pieces of playdough, and out of them make any natural number of playdough pieces: 5 or 1 or whatever. Then they grow up, become adults and a simple statement like 2+2=5 throws their world into utter doubt. Amazing, how fragile the world of adults is.

tags: psychology, philosophy, logic

Steve Jobs: a 10X change for an infinite market.

It's hard to write about Steve Jobs' approach to innovation just one day after his death. Let him speak for himself. In this video, he introduces first iPod. Remember, this is years before Apple became a household name in consumer electronic devices. At the time of the speech, the company is a minor player in the IT industry dominated by PC. But Steve Jobs sees an infinite opportunity and he brings an order of magnitude change to take advantage of it:

Just to emphasize several points:

1. A major technology transition under way. [from CD to MP3]
2. A market with an infinite potential. [Everybody loves music]
3. No winning solution. [No competition in a potentially infinite market]
4. At least one order of magnitude improvement over current solutions. [ a) thousands of songs instead of hundreds; b) fast transfer of the whole library].
5. Cool design.

It's a tough set of criteria to satisfy. Out of today's devices only Amazon's Kindle/Fire fits it.

tags: 10x, apple, information, entertainment, market, 4q diagram,

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Invention of the Day: GPS

GPS is one of the very few inventions that was created with an explicit goal to have an infinite number of users, and, consequently, provide infinite benefits to the world. On January 29, 1974 Roger L. Easton was awarded US patent 3,789,409 for Navigation System Using Satellites and Passive Ranging Technologies.

Here's how Easton describes the problem he wants to solve:
A new order of accuracy has become possible with the introduction of artificial earth satellite navigation systems wherein the instantaneous location of the satellites is precisely known.
Unfortunately, the measurement of range has hitherto required the navigator to radiate an interrogation signal (and thereby betray his presence) and also raises the possibility that the satellite transponder will saturate from a plurality of simultaneous interrogations by different navigators.
In other words, direct communications between many ships and the satellites may become a bottleneck in the navigation system. Further, a request for information may betray the position of the ship. Therefore, the inventor proposes a solution:
...the present invention allows the navigator to passively determine his position by measuring the distance, or range, to one or more satellites. Each satellite transmits multi-frequency signals which are derived from extremely precise oscillators. Similar multi-frequency signals are derived by the navigator's equipment from an extremely precise oscillator which is phase synchronized with the oscillators on the satellites. By measuring the phase differences between the signals received from the satellites and the locally produced reference signals, the navigator obtains an indication of the distance to the satellites and, therefrom, of his own location. The navigator's presence is not betrayed since no interrogation signal transmission is required.
As a result we get the best of both worlds: precise positioning with unlimited number of users and maintaining secrecy of location.

In 2010, Roger L. Easton was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame.

tags: trade-off, dilemma, solution, problem, system, information, detection

Steve Jobs. RIP.


Bloomberg video about Steve Jobs.

The soft steps of computer revolution.

Wired: The demise of the scroll bar
The scroll bar’s disappearance is symbolic of a larger shift: replacement of the mouse-driven conventions of the 1970s graphical user interface with the multitouch navigational techniques of iOS.

I believe it's a bigger shift than just an interface change. The nature of information we are working with is changing as well.

tags: interface, system, synthesis, payload, information

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

World War Two 3D photography

A BBC video showing how the Royal Air Force used 3D photography to discover German V-1 and V-2 rocket launchers. It's amazing how they used millions of photos for producing accurate 3D intelligence about Hitler's secret weapons.

At the time, rockets were unheard of and the biggest problem was how they were to search for something they didn't know what it looked like. It's an ancient problem, posed two thousand years ago by Plato in the Meno dialogue.
Meno. And how will you enquire, Socrates, into that which you do not know? What will you put forth as the subject of enquiry? And if you find what you want, how will you ever know that this is the thing which you did not know?

tags: detection, problem, solution, scale

Monday, October 03, 2011

Steve Jobs vs Thomas Edison

Author Vaclav Smil says Steve Jobs is no Thomas Edison:
Some 130 years after Edison’s remarkable creation of the electricity system, there still remains no doubt about the fundamental and truly epochal nature of his contributions: the world without electricity has become unimaginable. I bet that 130 years from now our successors will not be able to say the same about Apple’s sleek electronic devices assembled from somebody else’s components and providing services that are not fundamentally different from those offered by competitors. I have no doubt that the world without iPhone or iPad would be perfectly fine. ( h/t )
И знал лишь 
бог седобородый, 
что это — 

разной породы. (В. Маяковский.)

I think Edison was a much better inventor than Jobs, but Jobs is a much better innovator. In other words, Edison invented a lot of stuff but most of his inventions, including DC-based electricity, didn't scale. On the other hand, Jobs didn't make any first-order inventions, but the systems he put together are used and will be used by everybody on the planet.

In my opinion, 130 years from now people will think our biggest innovation was social networking because it created a new way for humans to interact over space and time. Just like the Edison/Westinghouse/Tesla electricity system, it will have become a key infrastructure element of the civilization.

tags: invention, innovation 

Sunday, October 02, 2011

A 2% rule?

The economics of Zynga is amazing. 98% of people who use the service get it practically for free, and the company still makes a lot of money. The only comparable examples I know of would be Newcomen's steam engine where 99% of energy was not utilized for useful work, and the patent system, where estimated 98% of patent applications are commercially useless. Other candidates include online ads, but I don't know exact numbers.

As Zynga said in its SEC filing, the top 2 percent of loyal players are crucial to its success, as those players are “whales,” or the company’s biggest spenders. They play three times more than the average player.The top 2 percent play Zynga games for 120 minutes per day, compared to 40 minutes for an average player.
The data reveals that Zynga’s user base of more than 265 million monthly active users are playing games almost as much as the top hardcore gaming franchises.

In social games, Zynga has more than 60 percent of the overall market. While hardcore franchises such as Call of Duty and World of Warcraft are played for longer durations, Zynga’s Ville games are played four times more frequently. Zynga also takes advantage of those frequent sessions by constantly serving up marketing messages to stir up engagement, cross-promote  its other games, and handle transactions.

tags: games, economics, efficiency, synthesis, business, model, internet

Creativity Barrier of the Day: Functional Fixedness

...problem solving may in some instances be delayed through the "functional fixedness" of solution objects. That is, owing to his previous use of the object in a function dissimilar to that demanded by the present problem, S [a person] is inhibited in discovering the appropriate new use of the object. [ R.E. Adamson - Journal of Experimental Psychology, 1952]

Functional fixedness was originally demonstrated in a 1920s experiment by Karl Dunker and later reproduced by R.E. Adamson at Stanford (1952). In the experiment, the task before students is to attach the candle to the wall, so that when the candle is lighted its wax doesn't drip on the floor.

When thumbtacks were provided in a box, only 40% of students figured out that the box could be used as a tray attached to the wall. The control group got thumbtacks and the box separately, and their success rate was 86%.

The difference in problem-solving outcomes was determined by people's fixation on the functionality of the box as a container rather than its possible use as a tray.

tags: psychology, creativity

Saturday, October 01, 2011

Green energy: beyond the hype.

It appears grid-scale energy storage is nearing a breakthrough
A new battery developed by Aquion Energy in Pittsburgh uses simple chemistry—a water-based electrolyte and abundant materials such as sodium and manganese—and is expected to cost $300 for a kilowatt-hour of storage capacity, less than a third of what it would cost to use lithium-ion batteries. Third-party tests have shown that Aquion's battery can last for over 5,000 charge-discharge cycles and has an efficiency of over 85 percent.
The company has now received $30 million in venture capital to step up manufacturing of its sodium-ion batteries.
Once the storage problem is solved, renewable energy sources will make a lot more economic sense. This particular technology is very suitable for off-grid solutions needed in the developing world.

tags: energy, source, tool, system, synthesis