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Saturday, March 31, 2007

Issues of Water

A colleague sends this along, Another personal water purifier idea reported on in Medgadget. This is a solution similar in form to the Lifestraw device. I see that P&G is sponsoring a World Water Day, and the inspirational Children's Safe Drinking Water blog. Might be useful to also connect with other solutions to the problem. For example, its not only about purifying, but also about pumping and transporting water. In 2002 I attended a World Bank meeting that highlighted third-world solutions and it opened my eyes to this important issue.

Friday, March 30, 2007

Wiki Divide

A colleague pointed me to this Bnet article. Have also had a number of conversations on this topic with younger folks in the organization. We are approaching a big change, loss of expertise from the baby boomers and a very different view of the online world in the newer generation. The baby boomers see online as a way to connect with systems and an easier way to make a phone call. The younger folks see it as a the means of connecting, researching and delivering. Thus the use of 'wiki divide' is apt. The reaction to activities like blogging is a sure sign of this. At least when folks join the company they do see we are experimenting with these ideas, but its still seen as research rather than value.

Thursday, March 29, 2007


Reading Charles Stross' 2005 book Accelerando. I note that its available in a number of forms online at it's site. Not sure how common that has become, but its an interesting development. I had noted a study that showed that providing this kind of service has the tendency to increase book sales. Not sure if that is still true, or if it only is observed for certain kinds categories of works.
I have experimented with reading works online and with specialized book readers as an ebook, but it does not work for me with a work of any length. Paper is still a remarkable medium.

The book manages to compress many ideas in a very short space. I have not counted them but there are dozens per page. Many of which we have sought to understand as useful views in a technological future. There is even a technical companion / glossary, though incomplete on Wikibooks. Although I like the companion at one level, should fiction need a technical glossary? Stross apparently picked all these items up during his own tenure as a programmer in the 90s. It would be interesting to review the book in 20 years to see if these topics are still in the news, or are even intelligible then. So the technological mentions are dense ... but I even with Scifi I do demand character development and engagement. That does not happen all the time with Scifi, hope it does so here. If you have been following technological directions in the past ten years this book will often bring a smile or smirk to your face.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Monday, March 26, 2007

Ultimate Blog : Livecasting

I have posted about recording ones life in various forms. Notable is the Microsoft Mylifebits Project and related methods to record audio, video and computing media. A number of people have also taken the next step to record much of their lives. See, for example, Justin TV, where Justin is capturing an audio and video record of his life, 24X7 and streaming it on the web. Includes, thus, all of his professional meetings. I watched his interaction at a meeting at Podtech today, and it was a revelation. This goes beyond what Steve Mann did at MIT in the 90s where he recorded selected parts of his life. Many will see this as bizarre, but the technology exists to perform various forms of this kind of recording today and its likely we will see more of this. This also leads to new understanding of how wearable sensors, cameras and computers can be implemented. Implications for storing corporate knowledge, and how to separate it from personal experience? Applications for consumer research?

Origami Printers

My background is in physics and so I often scan PhysicsWeb for information, and some interesting things do turn up. This one links to the ability to create 3D models. There are existing methods that let you carve 3D forms out of a material. Messy and expensive. Its done, for example to build models of bottle designs. We have joked about the ability to create 'origami printers' that would create and fold templates of 3D shapes. Here is a step in that direction. I note that this article is original reporting, but where are the links to the original papers? We are on the web here. There is a Quicktime movie of an example, which seems to indicate this is still in an early state.

"Chemical origami" shrinks 2D discs into 3D objects

Physicists in Israel have invented a neat method of making elaborate 3D structures from flat 2D discs. The trick is to pre-treat a gel disc half the size of a beer coaster with a monomer solution "blueprint" that selectively shrinks when heated. The technique, which cleverly demonstrates the link between 2D and 3D geometry, could be used by engineers to create self-assembling prototypes (Science 315 1116).

It's quite easy to see how simple 3D objects could be created using the principle. For example, if the solution were only applied to the edges, only they would shrink when heated, and the disc would form a bowl-shaped object. But more complex "chemical origami" would need an intricate application pattern, and it is difficult to predict 2D patterns that will accurately translate into the 3D objects desired. ..."

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Simplified Virtual Worlds: Nexon Maplestory

A good article in BusinessWeek online on alternate virtual worlds. In particular about Nexon's Maplestory, which is a virtual world that originated in Korea and now has hundreds of thousands of Koreans logged on at any time. The game is described as being far simpler and easier to customize than Second Life. Tailored specifically for non-techies. The form of the Maplestory avatars appear to be too 'cute' for a more cynical western audience, which may require a cultural adjustment. Maplestory is starting to gain traction in the US, with Target selling cash cards which can be used in the virtual world. This is a rare non-research connection between virtual worlds and big retail. An example of virtual worlds going mainstream as an entertainment interface.

I have now spent since November informally looking at Second Life and other examples of virtual worlds. There are striking differences between social uses of worlds and their use as business environments. Though there is also a clear similarity .. where SL works well, in business as well as social applications, is where it is stocked with lots of live avatars that link reality to the virtual space.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Oracle vs SAP

The Oracle vs SAP lawsuit is intriguing. Nick Carr examines the details. This will be closely examined by large companies who provide public access to training and related systems. Carr seems to make the case that SAP or its contractors may not be as responsible because Oracle did not closely guard their assets or even notice when they were accessed. That runs contrary to his former view that illegal copying of digital assets in the music industry should not be condoned just because it is easy to do. I would think that this case will go on for some time and will have interesting implications for the industry.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Strange Loops of Inspiration

Back in 1979 I eagerly acquired Douglas Hofstadter's book: Godel, Escher, Bach. Heard about it in a Scientific American article. Although I had studied Godel's work in mathematics, this was the first time I had seen it placed in the context of computation, which was my world at the time. I remember reading it on a cross Canada flight, losing a bit of sleep. I thought it would have applications in my day-to-day work. That was not the case. Yet still it gave me a new introduction into how philosophy and computation could be married and linked to intelligence. It led me to a time doing artificial intelligence applications in business. Ultimately the AI hype curve descended, and although we had several very useful applications, some still running today, lack of management patience broke our group up.

I just acquired Hofstadter's new book: I am a Strange Loop. Based on the flyleaf, its about consciousness and its emergence from brains. Look forward to reading it. I am not sure it will create the excitement of the 1979 book, but I am willing to be inspired once again.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Data Mining Introduction

A good 39-page document that overviews data mining techniques. The opening sections useful as an introduction, relates data mining to aspects of databases and business intelligence.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Making the Best of Computer Interactions

This article relates to what is called affective computing, which we tested at MIT in the 90s, The sensor array at the right is more appropriate for applications like flying a plane, rather than just updating a spreadsheet! Shows how are getting closer to brain interfaces.

" .... The idea -- to grossly over-simplify -- is that people have more than one kind of working memory, and more than one kind of attention; there are separate slots in the mind for things written, things heard and things seen. By monitoring how taxed those areas of the brain are, it should be possible to change a computer's display, to compensate. If a person's getting too much visual information, send him a text alert. If that person is reading too much at once, present some of the data visually -- in a chart or map ... "

Monday, March 19, 2007

Designing Interactions

Designing Interactions (includes pdfs of selected chapters)
" ... Digital Technology has changed the way we interact with everything from the games we play to the tools we use at work. Designers of digital technology products no longer regard their job as designing a physical object--beautiful or utilitarian--but as designing our interactions with it. In Designing Interactions, Bill Moggridge, designer of the first laptop computer (the GRiD Compass, 1981) and a founder of the design firm IDEO, tells us stories from an industry insider's viewpoint, tracing the evolution of ideas from inspiration to outcome ... "

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Model Based Computing

As new forms of real-time data continue to come onto the scene, new forms of computing need to be developed to make sense of them. One method: Method Based Computing or RMS (Recognition - Mining, Synthesis) is being actively talked. Here is an introductory article.

" ... For the past year or so, Intel has been talking up RMS, an application software model for terascale computing. RMS, which stands for Recognition, Mining and Synthesis, is the class of software that Intel believes will represent the killer apps of the not-too-distant future -- 2010 and beyond. These applications will require the capabilities of terascale processors -- teraflop performance processing terabytes of data.

RMS applications are used to manipulate complex models, which can be either objects or events. The three components of RMS describe its function. Recognition involves defining the model; mining has to do with sifting through datasets for instances of that model; and synthesis performs "what-if" types of calculations on the model to yield predictions or solutions.

For example in financial markets, there is a deluge of real-time data being generated for all types of traded options (bonds, stocks, currency). This makes qualitative financial analysis somewhat of a guessing game. RMS might change that. A trader would be able to define a model of an attractive options investment (recognition). Once an investment of this type is found (mining), an algorithm could be applied to provide the trader with the different levels of risk and potential return (synthesis) in a given economic environment. The application doesn't provide the trader with an answer, per se, just guidance on which investments are more likely to yield good returns under different sets of economic conditions (interest rates, currency rates, stock P/E ratios, etc.). ... "

Friday, March 16, 2007

Csikszentmihalyi's Flow Game

Learned about Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi's Flow Theory in a Sciam article about television addiction then tracked his work for some time, Flow " ... which holds that people are happy and fulfilled when they are fully immersed in what they are doing ... In short; flow could be described as a state where attention, motivation, and the situation meet, resulting in a kind of productive harmony or feedback ... "

Notably presented in his work: Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience and 1998 book Finding Flow: The Psychology of Engagement With Everyday Life. His ideas were naturally picked up by game designers

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Data Mining Site

I have mentioned the KD Nuggets site here a number of times. Its a good, old-style, information-rich site about knowledge discovery and data mining. Publishes weekly news on the topic. I scan it regularly for useful information in the field. Data mining tends to be more focused on specific goals and tends to be business oriented, while knowledge discovery is usually directed at finding fundamental patterns in data.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Economist Letter Blog

The Economist now posts many of the letters to the editor it receives in a blog. You have to register to post, the letters can be 'lightly edited' and only letters that are not 'otherwise inappropriate' make it through. Always includes links back to original articles .... lack of which is a frequent gripe of mine. You are immersed in a linky medium ... use it!

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Retail Blog

Spoke to Evan Schuman, who publishes StoreFrontTalkBack, one of the few blogs that cover retail technology. I have found it to be very useful, since I cover similar ground internally. I connected with him to discuss some of his articles. Much of what he publishes are original articles, based on interviews and connections with retailers and vendors. What struck me was the difference between his work and many tech blogs, which often just comment on other writings. Evan also publishes a newsletter which I have subscribed to, which provides more detail regarding his blog entries. If you know of other blogs that cover retail tech, would appreciate knowing about them.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Making Business a Game

An article in Strategy+Business : The Game Maven of New Haven, article about Yale prof Barry Nalebuff and some of his game theory applications. Notably Nalebuff was the author of the book Co-opetition. I was led to the article by the mention of P&G, but the article itself contains only a brief mention of our spinbrush acquisition, and not much else. Still worth a look:

" ... Barry Nalebuff, chairman of Honest Tea and an economics professor at Yale, has applied complex game theory and innovation principles to his business. One major thrust of his work is companies can grow the "game" by welcoming competitors and still grow their own business. Companies from Procter & Gamble to Dunkin' Donuts have effectively used the strategies, he said .... "

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Ray Buse

Pete Blackshaw comments on Ray Buse's recognition as PR Professional of the Year. Buse is a Cincinnati PR celebrity. The article provides some local venture history.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Semantic Web Application Freebase

The semantic Web, aka Web 3.0, leads to an application called Freebase via AI and hardware luminary Danny Hillis. Free, open structured data, with intelligent meta-tag links. Carr describes it:
" ... Artificial intelligence guru Danny Hillis has launched an early version of the first major Web 3.0 application. It's called Freebase, and its grandiose epistemological mission is right up there with those of Google and Wikipedia."We're trying," Hillis tells John Markoff of the New York Times, "to create the world's database, with all of the world's information." Alpha user Tim O'Reilly says that Freebase "appears to be a bastard child of wikipedia and the Open Directory Project" but that it's really "like a system for building the synapses for the global brain." ..."

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Seeking the Nature of the Blog

Nicholas Carr writes In Praise of the Parasitic Blogger, thoughtful piece which he ends describing his blog as ... a parasite, a bacterium, a scavenger of bones and turds and the occasional piece of pretty cloth. And I, for one, couldn't be happier ... He takes his metaphor from Steven Johnson's Ghost Map, the excellent description of nineteenth century London's battle with disease. I agree that blogs are a new form of journalism, born of a cheap universal medium and a very simple recording mechanism. So it permits most anyone and everyone to digest today's news. Here news is not what I can find in a newspaper today, but also the track of an individual in an increasingly information-rich environment.

That's a useful outward view of the blog. What is the view to the individual? Some conversations we had recently bring up that idea. Should an employee be able to write about their professional experiences, when that might reveal the activities of their employer? I said yes, as long as the affiliation is clear. I described a blog as a sort of 'floating resume'. Today some employers may look at a candidates online writing. In the future they may require the submission of a blog name to show the evolution of a person's writing, thinking and interests.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Is Business Ready for Virtual Worlds?

In CIO Insight: Is Business Ready for Virtual Worlds? Good overview with some technical perspectives. They mention the positives and some of the negatives I have observed now with a few months of 'in-world' experience. Its has lots of intriguing possibilities, but it has a number of slips in actual execution.

Monday, March 05, 2007

Qwaq for Multi-Dimensional Model Collaboration

Qwaq is an interlinked set of multidimensional croquet spaces. Advised by such people as Alan Kay, the company aims to aid in the collaboration of geographically distributed groups. I saw a short demo, and the graphics are a bit primitive, but are much more stable than virtual worlds. It links together applications with knowledge assets in 3D space. More on the open source Croquet platform, which Qwaq is based on. At the right, a Croquet implemented 3D spreadsheet. First I had seen this idea, worth a look. I would be curious to see if this could be linked into virtual worlds in some way. Examining.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

The PC Must be Revamped

Alan Kay, some say the inventor of the modern workstation, writes in CIOInsight : Alan Kay: The PC Must Be Revamped-- Now. Very good piece, while the personal computer greatly expands the computing and textual capabilities of the individual, its interface deserves a serious review. Its only been about thirty years since computing became widely available. How can we we do better? Though his work on the Children's Machine (also known as the One Laptop Per Child and $100 Laptop) is mostly about hardware availability, rather than improved interface, at least for now.

" ... Kay believes the limitations of the PC are due as much to lack of imagination and curiosity on the part of computer scientists, the unwillingness of users to invest effort into using computers, and the deadening impact of popular culture, as they are to technical constraints. He says the push to make PCs easy to use has also made them less useful; their popularity has stunted their potential. Executive Editor Allan Alter spoke with Kay about the future of the PC. The following is an edited version of their talk ... "
His Viewpoints Research Institute..

Saturday, March 03, 2007

Psychology of Security

Security Guru Bruce Schneier has a draft of an essay on The Psychology of Security that is worth reading. Lots of useful discussion about how people look at risk and how that relates to security choices. Also recommend his books.

Friday, March 02, 2007

Future Value Chain

Quoting Alan Kay's famous line "The Best Way to Predict the Future is to Create it" ... From the Global Commerce Initiative (GCI) , Intel and Cap Gemini, a 46-page paper published in October 2006: The 2016 Value Chain, with a forword by P&G's AG Lafley and Jose Luis Duran of Carrefour and a number of manufacturing and retail contributors. A good, but general overview of the how the next 10 years will evolve our view of value chains. Nothing tremendously new here, but lays out what we should be thinking about. Includes mention of virtual reality, quantum computing and 'Wikipedia style collaboration' as means of delivering aspects of this new value chain view. Minimal mention of analytical methods. Also just a few mentions of RFID. Well worth a read, provides a basic grounding in the value chain world.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Jingles for Pringles

A new consumer media creation site, Jingles for Pringles. With prizes. Upload your own video. Good example of consumer generated media (CGM).

HP Labs : Imaging the Antikythera Mechanism

When I was a student of archaeology back on the 70s we were shown a picture of a corrosion encrusted device that contained some interlocked bronze gears. It had been found in a 2000 year-old Mediterranean wreck a hundred years earlier and labeled the Antikythera Mechanism. We did not have a clue as to what it was. It was clear that there were barely discern-able inscriptions on the device. Only a few years ago, Thomas Malzbender, an imaging scientist at HP Labs, developed an technique using multiple images of a surface, such as the mechanism, to build an enhanced image of the writing detail. The text turned out to be instructions for using the device for predicting eclipses. This idea, called reflectance imaging, has the potential of revolutionizing aspects of archaeology. More here on this from HP labs.

So what has this to do with corporate Information technology? Is IT planning Indiana Jones type efforts? Doubt it. But imaging is a powerful concept that helps companies get a better understanding of materials and their function. Computing and digital photography have advanced to the point that this can all be done in increasingly powerful ways.