- EtherCalc — open source web-based spreadsheet.
- Dynamics of Correlated Novelties (Nature) — paper on “the adjacent possible”. Here we propose a simple mathematical model that mimics the process of exploring a physical, biological, or conceptual space that enlarges whenever a novelty occurs. The model, a generalization of Polya’s urn, predicts statistical laws for the rate at which novelties happen (Heaps’ law) and for the probability distribution on the space explored (Zipf’s law), as well as signatures of the process by which one novelty sets the stage for another. (via Steven Strogatz)
- On The Media Interview with OKCupid CEO — relevant to the debate on ethics of A/B tests. I preferred this to Tim Carmody’s rant.
- CRDTs as Alternative to APIs — when using CRDTs to tie your system together, you don’t need to resort to using impoverished representations that simply never come anywhere near the representational power of the data structures you use in your programs at runtime. See also this paper on Convergent and Commutative Replicated Data Types.
ENTRIES TAGGED "Innovation"
Technology is now outpacing innovation, fostering a culture of disposability.
I’ve noticed a number of faint signals recently pointing to a general shift in the speed of technology and the repercussions it’s having on the products we’re seeing come to market. This recent Tweet from Tom Scott got me really thinking about it:
The Internet of Things: never mind your phone, now your whole house can be obsolete after a couple of years!
— Tom Scott (@tomscott) April 4, 2014
Scott’s comment brought me back to a recent conversation I had with Princeton architecture student Alastair Stokes. I’d asked Stokes whether the technology challenges of designing a building to last 100+ years are more difficult today than they were in, say, 1900 — or if it’s as difficult, just different. He said the challenges might be more difficult today, but regardless, maybe technology is changing the solution: we shouldn’t try to design buildings today to last 100 years, but design them so they’ll last for, say, 20 years and then be replaced. Read more…
Why the dearth of imagination — we need to get beyond different flavors of spyware.
“The best minds of my generation are thinking about how to make people click ads,” as Jeff Hammerbacher said. And it’s not just data analysts: it’s creeping into every aspect of technology, including hardware.
One of the more exciting developments of the past year is Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE). Unfortunately, the application that I’ve seen discussed most frequently is user tracking: devices in stores can use the BLE device in your cell phone to tell exactly where you’re standing, what you’re looking at, and target ads, offer you deals, send over salespeople, and so on.
Color me uninterested. I don’t really care about the spyware: if Needless Markup wants to know what I’m looking at, they can send someone out on the floor to look. But I am dismayed by the lack of imagination around what we can do with BLE. Read more…
The Rational Pregnancy, Arts Innovation, Driverless Cars, and Frolicking Robots
- Expecting Better — an economist runs the numbers on the actual consequences of various lifestyle choices during pregnancy. (via sciblogs)
- Business as Usual in the Innovation Industry — the only thing worse than business plan contests for startups is innovation wankfests for small arts groups. [T]he vast majority of small and mid-sized arts organizations are not broken so much as they are in a constant state of precarity that could largely be addressed by reliable funding streams to support general operations and less onerous grant application processes that would allow them to focus more on delivering services and less on raising money. Hear! (via Courtney Johnston)
- Driverless Cars Are Further Away Than You Think (MIT Technology Review) — nice roundup of potential benefits. experiments involving modified road vehicles conducted by Volvo and others in 2011 suggest that having vehicles travel in high-speed automated “platoons,” thereby reducing aerodynamic drag, could lower fuel consumption by 20 percent. And an engineering study published last year concluded that automation could theoretically allow nearly four times as many cars to travel on a given stretch of highway.
- Portraits of Robots at Work and Play (The Atlantic) — photo-essay that is full of boggle. (via BoingBoing)
Despite reports of breakthroughs in battery technology, the hard problems of battery innovation remain hard.
Lately there’s been a spate of articles about breakthroughs in battery technology. Better batteries are important, for any of a number of reasons: electric cars, smoothing out variations in the power grid, cell phones, and laptops that don’t need to be recharged daily.
All of these nascent technologies are important, but some of them leave me cold, and in a way that seems important. It’s relatively easy to invent new technology, but a lot harder to bring it to market. I’m starting to understand why. The problem isn’t just commercializing a new technology — it’s everything that surrounds that new technology.
Take an article like Battery Breakthrough Offers 30 Times More Power, Charges 1,000 Times Faster. For the purposes of argument, let’s assume that the technology works; I’m not an expert on the chemistry of batteries, so I have no reason to believe that it doesn’t. But then let’s take a step back and think about what a battery does. When you discharge a battery, you’re using a chemical reaction to create electrical current (which is moving electrical charge). When you charge a battery, you’re reversing that reaction: you’re essentially taking the current and putting that back in the battery.
So, if a battery is going to store 30 times as much power and charge 1,000 times faster, that means that the wires that connect to it need to carry 30,000 times more current. (Let’s ignore questions like “faster than what?,” but most batteries I’ve seen take between two and eight hours to charge.) It’s reasonable to assume that a new battery technology might be able to store electrical charge more efficiently, but the charging process is already surprisingly efficient: on the order of 50% to 80%, but possibly much higher for a lithium battery. So improved charging efficiency isn’t going to help much — if charging a battery is already 50% efficient, making it 100% efficient only improves things by a factor of two. How big are the wires for an automobile battery charger? Can you imagine wires big enough to handle thousands of times as much current? I don’t think Apple is going to make any thin, sexy laptops if the charging cable is made from 0000 gauge wire (roughly 1/2 inch thick, capacity of 195 amps at 60 degrees C). And I certainly don’t think, as the article claims, that I’ll be able to jump-start my car with the battery in my cell phone — I don’t have any idea how I’d connect a wire with the current-handling capacity of a jumper cable to any cell phone I’d be willing to carry, nor do I want a phone that turns into an incendiary firebrick when it’s charged, even if I only need to charge it once a year.