Monday, October 30, 2006

Wow! Intuitive, "interface-free," touch-driven computer screen

TEDTalks: Jeff Han

This video is of Jeff Han, a research scientist for New York University's Courant Institute of Mathematical Sciences, who demonstrates—for the first time publicly—his intuitive, "interface-free," touch-driven computer screen, which can be manipulated intuitively with the fingertips, and responds to varying levels of pressure.

Very, very cool. Where can I get one?

Sunday, October 29, 2006

The empires of the future will be empires of the mind.

Sounds like some techno-geek talk from last week.

Not on your life. Winston Churchill said that in speech at Harvard University in 1943.

The article points out,
The war for talent is at its fiercest in high-tech industries... but a large and growing number of businesses outside the tech industry—from consulting to hedge funds—also run on brainpower... Companies do not even know how to define “talent,” let alone how to manage it.

It would be wonderful if talent were distributed equally across races, classes and genders. But what if a free market shows it not to be, raising all sorts of political problems? And what happens to talented Western workers when they have to compete with millions of clever Indians who are willing to do the job for a small fraction of the price?
That last point reminded me of a comment by Ken Robinson in our discussion about education last week.
Children starting in school this year will be retiring in 2065. Nobody has a clue what the world will look like in five years, and yet we’re meant to be educating for it. The unpredictability is extraordinary.

Our whole pubic education system was invented around the world to meet the needs of industrialism... I believe our only hope for the future is to adopt a new conception of human ecology one in which we start to reconstitute our conception of the richness of human capacity. Our education system has mined our minds in the way that we strip mine the earth for a particular commodity. And for the future it won’t serve us.

Making the point, Google signs deal to build R&D center in Korea

Just to put an exclamation point on the fact that the empires of the future will be empires of the mind...

here's your wake up call: Google signs deal to build R&D center in Korea

PS - The empire builder isn't Korea.

Forget Jack Welch: Jimmy Wales is the future

Here's a very interesting article about the leadership style of Jimmy Wales, founder of Wikipedia: Forget Jack Welch: Jimmy Wales is the future

Here's the punch line. What leads up to the punch line is excellent too.
Innovation thrives when flocks of creative people – inside and outside and organisations – are attracted to an exciting goal or opportunity. That is how Linux and Wikipedia got going: they attracted a swarm of innovators to an interesting question posed by people who in time became leaders of a community. Closed leaders mainly propel. Open leaders mainly attract: they create the conditions for creative self-organisation by articulating compelling goals and unlock the capacity of others to reach those goals. Or put it another way if it’s a choice between Jack Welch and Jimmy Wales, give me Jimmy Wales everytime.

Boy, isn't this the truth!

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Harry Potter finds his way to Duke University (via YouTube)

Duke University announced this week first demonstration of a working invisibility cloak. As intersting as the discovery to me, is the fact that Duke saw fit to publicize it on YouTube.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

For those of you who want the full buffet, but don't want to pay for it...

We've had an ongoing discussion here about net neutrality. We all want an all-you-can-eat Internet buffet, but no one wants to pay for it.

Here's an article about how, "soaring demand for games, video and music will stretch the Internet to its limits." When you think about it, it only makes sense that this is coming. The only reason we didn't hit the wall already is because of the massive overbuilding of infrastructure during the late 1990s technology bubble.

So, we're reaching a point where new capital investments are needed to build out the infrastructure to support the growth of new web-based services. If we insist on pure net neutrality and don't allow infrastructure providers to make a market return on their investment, who's going to make the necessary investment? Who are we going to blame with the performance of the Internet grinds to a crawl?

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

A rival to Wikipedia and an open innovation lesson

Here is a story about how a co-founder of Wikipedia is setting up a rival to the online encyclopedia. I've commented before that the example of Wikipedia demonstrates the need for an authority to make a community work.

Encyclopedia Britannica, for example, gets people who are authorities in their fields to write articles. While this ensures that a scholarly view is presented, Encyclopedia Britannica doesn't necessarily contain opposing views outside the mainstream, and the range of topics is more narrow and less timely than is possible with an online open collaboration like Wikipedia.

Wikipedia operates with a minimum of authority. Here's the challenge.
Its openness has also drawn charges of unreliability and left it vulnerable to disputes between people with opposing views, particularly on politically sensitive topics.

The latest venture... is intended to bring more order to this creative chaos by drawing on traditional measures of authority. Though still open to submissions from anyone, the power to authorise articles will be given to editors who can prove their expertise, as well as a group of volunteer "“constables"”, charged with keeping the peace between warring interests.

Accusing Wikipedia of failing to control its writers and editors, he said: "“The latest articles don't represent a consensus view -– they tend to become what the most persistent '‘posters'’ say."”
John Seely Brown, head of Xerox's Palo Alto Research Center and chief scientist at Xerox, and a colleague, John Hagel, an alumnus of McKinsey's Silicon Valley office, make a lot of sense on this issue.
Intriguingly promising are "networks of creation" (or "creation nets"), where hundreds and even thousands of participants from diverse institutional settings collaborate to create new knowledge, to learn from one another, and to appropriate and build on one another's work... These diverse participants often work in parallel and then fight and learn among themselves when the time comes to integrate their individual efforts into a broader offering.

Mobilizing such a range of participants requires a precise set of institutional mechanisms to make clear who assembles the network, who can participate in it, how disputes will be resolved, and how performance will be measured. Creation nets thus begin with a network organizer, in the role of gatekeeper.
Otherwise open collaboration just turns to anarchy. But as Wikipedia demonstrates, the balance between openness and authority isn't easy.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Reality Check II: We just got email...

Dawg gone! This is my week to deal with those at the back of the herd.

Earlier in the week it was explained to me that "eCommerce is a fax." Then today I had another reality check conversation.

My mother recently moved into an assisted living facility. We met with her stock broker in September to make sure everything was in order and to give me power of attorney to help manage her affairs. Her stockbroker works for a national firm.

So today my mother called me to ask a question. I didn't know, so I needed to contact her broker. His business card did not have an email address on it, so I had to call, but of course he wasn't in so I talked with his assistance. As the conversation wrapped up...

Me: By the way, can you give me his email address. It's much easier for me to communicate that way because I do it are odd hours. (Many of you who know me receive 2:30 am emails regularly)

Her: Well, go to our company's website, and you can fill in the form to contact him.

Me: No, I'm looking for an email address.

Her: Well you can contact him through the website.

Me: I'd like to get an email address so I can put it in my contact manager. I have a phone number, but we'll end up playing phone tag most of the time if we try to communicate that way.

Her: Well we just got email, but I'm not sure how it works. I think I have his address. (She fumbles around). Well I can't find it, but I think it is (she gives me what she thinks his address is). Well now wait a minute, I think there's a dot in there somewhere. (she tells me where she thinks the dot is). Try that and see if that works. Why don't I just have him call you this afternoon.

Me: (Hanging my head on the other end of the phone after just explaining about phone tag.) OK, why don't you.

Now I understand that everyone in the world doesn't know what a wiki or is, or even a blog. And I understand that my mother in an assisted living facility may never surf the web. But does it scare anyone else that someone working for a national brokerage firm doesn't know, much less use, their email address?

I feel like I'm in The Twilight Zone this week.

PS - When I met with him in his office, he asked what I did. In explaining I asked him to pull up in a browser on the PC on his desk. He tried, but his system wouldn't let him access the site because it was restricted.

No wait a minute. This is a stock broker. He's supposed to be knowledgeable about what's going on in the world so he can give good advice. An he can't get to the Internet? Are they concerned that he's going to be looking at porn or something? Maybe that's a good investment.

(Before you comment on that, I'm just getting frustrated this week.)

Powers of Ten: Serious and the Simpsons

Developed by IBM, here's a pretty interesting "film dealing with the relative size of things in the universe, and the effect of adding another zero."

Then of course, here's the Simpson's version. Now don't cheat and watch this one first. (You know who you are.)

Courtesy of Adam Gautsch at OrangeCoat. He said we ought to produce a video like this to promote a project we are working on together. I wonder which one he meant?

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

The Ten Types of Innovation: Does this make any sense?

Here's an interesting chart of what the author proposes as The Ten Types of Innovation.

Often fostering innovation and entrepreneurship in South Carolina focuses on technology transfer out of universities. Yet technology transfer is a driver for only one of the ten types of innovation identified here, Product performance. Some of most valuable companies created in the past several decades, like Dell and Wal*Mart, market mature products through innovation business models and marketing channels.

If the Sam Walton of 2006 were to appear in South Carolina, we wouldn't give him any economic development incentives and he wouldn't qualify for many of our entrepreneurial development programs because he is a retailer.

Does that make any sense?

Monday, October 09, 2006

Reality Check I: eCommerce is a fax

Every now and then, something happens that really strikes home how resistent most of us are to adopting anything new most of the time.

Swamp Fox LLC has been engaged by a global corporation to do a small project for which we will get paid $3,000. First, the purchasing documents that we had to complete and send back were 25 pages.

But what really got me was that, being the tech savvy guy that I am, I checked the box in the middle of those 25 pages to do business via eCommerce. Just now, someone in the purchasing department called...

Her: I'm reviewing the purchasing documents you sent, and you forgot to give us your fax number.

Me: Can't you email me what I need, or give me a web portal to go to?

Her: No, eCommerce is a fax.

Me: eCommerce is a fax?

Her: Yes, we only fax purchase orders.

Me: Huh. eCommerce is a fax. That's interesting. Well, I don't have a fax number for this company. Can you mail it to me?

Her: Sure, we'll mail it to you.

Wow! I talk here about Enterprise 2.0 and social networking software and open source and the like. There are still people out there, and probably plenty of them, for whom eCommerce is a fax. This is your reality check for the day.

A company's culture gets embedded deeply into its procedures and processes, and it becomes extremely difficult for people inside the company to do different, even if they want to - even if they know they need to. If you need an example of a source of The Innovator's Dilemmna that Clayton Christensen talks about, there you go.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

We're in denial II: The heart breaking decline rigorous math and science

A few weeks ago I observed,
We'’re in denial: The better educated a SC student'’s parents, the further he trails peers nationally.
South Carolina has 22 high schools that participate in the International Baccalaureate program. Recently I had the privilege of visiting the robotics team at one of them, and I met an incredible group of students. About half the students were either born outside the US, or their parents were.

I got a nice follow-up note from their teacher, which I'll let speak for itself.
Hi John,

Thanks again for coming and talking to my students. We perform an after action analysis the following day in class after each Thursday meeting. I heard nothing but very positive comments about your presentation. Many of the students seemed to be really pumped up after your talk.

By the way, the reason I asked the students to raise their hands if they spoke English as a second language was to illustrate some of the things you have been saying on your web site. Our school's program compares well with the Governor's school for Math and Science both in SAT scores and in curriculum. We teach an entire year of math beyond BC Calculus, have a strong AP Computer Science program, and are the only area school offering the entire calculus based AP Physics curriculum. Yet, international students are about the only ones taking advantage of what we offer.

When I first started teaching, the high school regional science fair could have filled a gymnasium. Last year there were only 12 individual entries, mostly from our school, even though our regional fair draws from 4 counties! It is heart breaking to see the almost total decline of interest in rigorous math and science in our school. By contrast, regional science fairs in New York City (and there are several) typically have 1800 or more entries and these include only the top projects from their respective school science fairs.

Again, thanks for talking to us.

You'll lose money treating consumers as highly rational

Andrew McAfee is a Harvard professor who coined the term, Enterprise 2.0, to describe social networking technology applied to a company. A warning - you'll be reading a lot more about that here in weeks to come.

But for now, he's written an interesting article about the adoption of these technologies, which can be applied to the commercialization of any innovation. The first thing that caught my eye was:
One of the benefits of being an academic is the ability to attend seminars that seem to have nothing to do with your own work.
Now why would you do that? Well of course, because:
The intersection of disciplines or cultures is a vibrant place for creativity because bringing together very different concepts from very different fields sets off an explosion of ideas.
Where have you heard that before?

Then he cites some insightful research by John Gourville at Harvard.
We need to stop thinking about consumers as highly rational evaluators of the old vs. the new products, lining up pros and cons of each in mental tables and then selecting the winner. Instead, we need to keep in mind three well-documented features of our cognitive 'equipment' for making evaluations.

  • We make relative evaluations, not absolute ones. When I'm at a poker table deciding whether to call a bet, I don't think of what my total net worth will be if I win the hand vs. if I lose it. Instead, I think in relative terms -- whether I'll be 'up' or 'down.'

  • Our reference point is the status quo. My poker table comparisons are made with respect to where I am at that point in time. "If I win this hand I'll be up $40; if I lose it I'll be down $10 compared to my current bankroll." It's only at the end of the night that my horizon broadens enough to see if I'm up or down for the whole game.

  • We are loss averse. A $50 loss looms larger than a $50 gain. Loss aversion is virtually universal across people and contexts, and is not much affected by how much wealth one already has. Ample research has demonstrated that people find that a prospective loss of $x is about two to three times as painful as a prospective gain of $x is pleasurable.
  • What the $#@! Is Web 2.0?

    This is a pretty straight forward explanation of what's different about Web 2.0, with some good examples.
    User-edited Wikipedia (Web 2.0) has gained ground, while Encarta (Web 1.0) is losing out.

    The Geocities model (Web 1.0) relied on “metaphors of place” while MySpace (Web 2.0) “anchors presence through metaphors of a person.”

    Web 2.0—the social web—is about people.

    Friday, October 06, 2006

    Very quirky, but my 15 year old son found it interesting

    I stumbled onto this "Cartoon promoting the stock market as the engine of America's prosperity." I found it amazing that the New York Stock Exchange would produce a cartoon to explain the stock market. At least they did in 1952.

    Even more amazing - no more like miraculous - is that my 15 year old son stopped playing a video game to watch it with me. When it was over he said, "That was pretty interesting." Wow!

    Animation in public domain and available at 1952.

    Wednesday, October 04, 2006

    Education Myths

  • The money myth

  • The teacher pay myth

  • The myth of insurmountable problems

  • The class size myth

  • The certification myth

  • The rich-school myth

  • The myth of ineffective school vouchers

  • Very provocative. You'll just need to read it for yourself.

    Sunday, October 01, 2006

    What jobs are Whole Foods customers trying to get done?

    For those of you that live close to a Whole Foods, or who have visited a Whole Foods in your travels, you have probably heard Whole Foods called whole paycheck. If you haven't shopped there, you now know what the common perception of their prices is.

    So I was intrigued by an article that Clayton Christen wrote saying Whole Foods was a classic "high-end disruptor" who is "offering (slightly) lower prices" compared to the available options for the for the job the customer is trying to get done.

    You'll just have to read the explanation from the master himself.

    Let’s Face the Facts on Fueling Transportation

    Earlier this year, William I. "Griff" Griffith, Ph.D., a recently retired research scientist at the Michelin Americas Research and Development Corporation, analyzed fuel cell technology in an essay entitled, Let’s Face the Facts on Fueling Transportation. Griff anayzes modern automotive diesel engines, the plug-in hybrid electric vehicle, and hydrogen fuel cells as solutions to our growing energy challenges. He concludes:
    The Bush administration made the decision several years ago to push the concept of the Hydrogen Economy, and many research dollars were moved to support that effort. While intriguing, the Hydrogen Economy will require multiple breakthroughs at every phase described above, and if breakthroughs are not available in any key area, the concept is unlikely to succeed. Nevertheless, the idea is sufficiently interesting to continue the research, in spite of some of its very vocal and knowledgeable critics, such as ex CIA director turned energy analyst James Woolsey who proposed the following three points regarding the Hydrogen Economy in January of 2006, “Forget Hydrogen, Forget Hydrogen, Forget Hydrogen!” Unfortunately, there is no way that the Hydrogen Economy will save us from our present energy crisis. For this we must pursue a variety of paths, and for transportation I believe I have outlined the two most obvious, modern diesel engines and the evolution of the HEV into the PHEV.

    A Deeper Dive Into Distruptive Innovations

    For those of you interested in a deeper dive into Clayton Christensen's ideas on commercialization, you could read his book, The Innovator's Solution. But then if you're like me, you have a shelf full of tomes yet to read. So here's a more digensible interview that is a great overview. And to wet your whistle, here's an intriguing observation from the interview.
    A company starts out in a direction conceived by the founder, and in 93% of companies that ultimately end up being successful, they figure out the original strategy doesn't work. But by kind of thorough experimentation and trial-and-error in the market, they happen upon or iterate towards a strategy and a business model that really is viable...

    Innovation is actually not nearly as risky and random as historically has seemed to be the case. There isn't anything about the process of innovation per se, that makes it unpredictable. The problem in the past is, we just haven't quite known what are all the variables that affect whether we can succeed, nor have we known how to manage those variables well. What I hope we do here, is highlight for innovators, a bunch of these variables that really lie at the root of many innovative failures. If they can understand why this stuff happens, and control it well, they actually can be successful at innovation, much more frequently than historically has seemed to be the case.