Friday, February 25, 2011

Will we see a similar ad for computer scientists?

The ad's text says:

150 Extra Engineers

An IBM Electronic Calculator speeds through thousands of intricate computations so quickly that on many complex problems it’s like having 150 EXTRA Engineers.


tags: technology, innovation, business, computers,  evolution

Sunday, February 20, 2011

½ + ½ > 1 DOI: 10.1126/science.1121629

Due to mind's relatively slow background information analysis processes, splitting an invention or a problem-solving session into two parts may help you come up with a better solution.

Contrary to conventional wisdom, it is not always advantageous to engage in thorough conscious deliberation before choosing. On the basis of recent insights into the characteristics of conscious and unconscious thought, we tested the hypothesis that simple choices (such as between different towels or different sets of oven mitts) indeed produce better results after conscious thought, but that choices in complex matters (such as between different houses or different cars) should be left to unconscious thought. Named the “deliberation-without-attention” hypothesis, it was confirmed in four studies on consumer choice, both in the laboratory as well as among actual shoppers, that purchases of complex products were viewed more favorably when decisions had been made in the absence of attentive deliberation.
Dijksterhuis et al., On Making the Right Choice. Science 311 (5763): 1005-1007.

This approach is especially helpful when running a reverse brainstorming session on the first day and a problem-solving session on the next.

tags: creativity, mind, brain, brainstorming, reverse brainstorm, research, psychology, efficiency

Three birds with one stone: the 105th anniversary of bottle recycling.

According to Feb 19, 2011 online issue of Berliner Zeitung, glass bottle recycling was invented and promoted by Carl Benz, of the Mercedes Benz fame, in the early 20th century. Concerned with broken glass that punctured car tires on the streets, the entrepreneur proposed to pay 2 phennings for a returned beer bottle. German beer manufacturers, who at the time began experiencing a shortage of empty containers, supported the idea, and the program became an almost overnight commercial success. As a result, car enthusiasts got into fewer accidents, beer enthusiasts got more money in their pockets, and beer producers got a cheap source of empty bottles. Win-win-win-... Eventually Carl Benz's invention served as a prototype for many other successful recycling programs: from paper, to metal, to plastic.

So, if somebody tells you "There's no such thing as a free lunch," it means he didn't spend enough time thinking about a creative solution.

tags: creativity, trade-off, problem, solution, invention, innovation, inertia, psychology


Wednesday, February 16, 2011

A paper on European Inventors and Patents

Paola Giuri, et. al. 2007. Inventors and invention processes in Europe: Results from the PatVal-EU survey. doi:10.1016/j.respol.2007.07.008

The paper summarizes results of a survey of 9017 inventions, including the demographics of inventors and economic value of patents.

I found two things very interesting: first, the extremely low level of women participation (around 3%); second, the high level of "internal use" of patents (up to 65% in mid-size companies). The concept of "internal use" of a patent is a contradiction in terms, because the patent gives its owner a right to exclude others from using the invention. In this case, others are people inside the company, which the company prevents from using the invention. My feeling is that companies just don't know what to do with the majority of their patents, therefore, they mask their confusion or lack of IP strategy with an absurd term "internal use."

Overall, the most optimistic estimate of useful patents is 13.4%

 tags: invention, patent, strategy, control, 10x, problem

Sunday, February 13, 2011

e-mail must die - 2

Distribution of information in the form of document files is bound to create content security problems because every computer where the information is stored becomes a hacking target.

CNet reports on an ongoing industrial espionage investigation of another attack from China:
For years, companies in the oil and energy industry have been the victims of attempts to steal e-mail and other sensitive information from hackers believed to be in China, according to a new report from McAfee.

And the attack was at least partially successful, McAfee said: "Files of interest focused on operational oil and gas field production systems and financial documents related to field exploration and bidding that were later copied from the compromised hosts or via extranet servers. In some cases, the files were copied to and downloaded from company Web servers by the attackers.

tags: information, control, security, s-curve, payload, content, industry, system

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Channeling free money

Another sign that virtual goods are becoming as important as real goods and services:

Visa has agreed to buy virtual goods company PlaySpan for $190 million in a big move into the market for digital goods.

PlaySpan enables game companies and video publishers to make money through the buying and selling of virtual goods. It’s a key part of the food chain in the free-to-play business model.

Also related, according to NYT, Apple wants to channel all in-application sales through its AppStore:

Apple is now saying the app makers must allow those purchases to happen within the app, not in a separate browser window, with Apple getting its standard 30 percent cut of the transaction. At the moment this applies only to e-book purchases.

tags: money, virtual, games, social, market, communications, 4q diagram, control

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Creative lying

The New Scientist reports on a recent study connecting lying and increased brain activity:

Our brains are naturally better at telling the truth than lying, but repeated lying can overcome our tendency for veracity, making subsequent lying easier – and possibly undetectable.

Neuroimaging studies have shown that people's brains show considerably more activity when they are lying than when they are not, particularly in the prefrontal cortex, suggesting that lying requires extra cognitive control and inhibition of truth-telling. Lying also takes measurably longer than telling the truth.

Is it possible that good sci-fi and fantasy writers who necessarily have to lie to tell a good story overcome their natural truth-telling "deficiency"? This may also be true of inventors who usually get better at creating new ideas as they move from specific implementations to wider concepts.

On the other hand, consistent use of models, or abstract representations, helps reconcile imagination with the reality because a new idea my represent a "lie" in today's world, but be "truthful" in a future world defined by the model. For example, the Earth's rotation around the Sun is a "lie" in everyday experience, but "truth" in Copernicus' heliocentric planetary system. Reconciliation between these two systems of beliefs has taken over three hundred years, probably because we, the learners, are hardwired to tell "truth."

tags: dilemma, creativity, problem, trade-off, imagination, method, control

Bruno Verschuere, Adriaan Spruyt, Ewout H. Meijer, Henry Otgaar, The ease of lying, Consciousness and Cognition, In Press, Corrected Proof, Available online 18 November 2010, ISSN 1053-8100, DOI: 10.1016/j.concog.2010.10.023.

Friday, February 04, 2011

Good teaching and learning habits

Cognitive neuroscience research has discovered six processes that influence the establishment of long-term procedural and declarative memory. These processes are

1. repetition of the procedure or information,
2. excitation at the time of learning,
3. association of reward with the material to be learned,
4. eating carbohydrates before or during learning,
5. sufficient sleep after a learning session,
6. avoidance of drugs of abuse and alcohol

Source: Lynn Waterhouse. Multiple Intelligences, the Mozart Effect, and Emotional Intelligence: A Critical Review. EDUCATIONAL PSYCHOLOGIST, 41(4), 207–225

There's an interesting dilemma hidden in points 1 and 2 that require both repetition and excitement during a learning session. Good teachers and good games solve it by keeping learners deeply engaged while repeating the same basic procedures. They also provide rewards (p.3), either through grades or points.

For comparison, the "Chinese mother" educational style described in a recent WSJ article focuses on repetition and reward.

tags: teaching, information, learning, control, psychology, education, games, dilemma

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Turning bad ideas into great solutions

Scott Adams, the virtual father–and-mother of Dilbert, writes about an interesting creativity technique:

I spent some time working in the television industry, and I learned a technique that writers use. It's called "the bad version." When you feel that a plot solution exists, but you can't yet imagine it, you describe instead a bad version that has no purpose other than stimulating the other writers to imagine a better version.

For example, if your character is stuck on an island, the bad version of his escape might involve monkeys crafting a helicopter out of palm fronds and coconuts. That story idea is obviously bad, but it might stimulate you to think in terms of other engineering solutions, or other monkey-related solutions. The first step in thinking of an idea that will work is to stop fixating on ideas that won't. The bad version of an idea moves your mind to a new vantage point.

Essentially, the goal is to shift your thinking from a real-world implementation to the outcome you want to achieve by whatever means possible: flying monkeys, gnomes, magic wands, and etc. Maxwell's demons would also be great candidates for implementing a "bad version" that eventually leads to great solutions.

TRIZ has at least two tools to accomplish a similar goal: The Ideal Solution technique and The Gnomes method (often called the Smart Little People method - argh! what an ugly translation from the original Russian Метод Маленьких Человечков).

tags: ideality, creativity, imagination, psychology, triz, method,