- Design Like Nobody’s Patenting Anything (Wired) — profile of Maker favourites Sparkfun. Instead of relying on patents for protection, the team prefers to outrace other entrants in the field. “The open source model just forces us to innovate,” says Boudreaux. “When we release something, we’ve got to be thinking about the next rev. We’re doing engineering and innovating and it’s what we wanna be doing and what we do well.”
- Agree to Agree — why I respect my friend David Wheeler: his Design Scene app, which features daily design inspiration, obtains prior written permission to feature the sites because doing so is not only making things legally crystal clear, but also makes his intentions clear to the sites he’s linking to. He’s shared the simple license they request.
- The Coming Fight Between Druids and Engineers (The Edge) — We live in a time when the loneliest place in any debate is the middle, and the argument over technology’s role in our future is no exception. The relentless onslaught of novelties technological and otherwise is tilting individuals and institutions alike towards becoming Engineers or Druids. It is a pressure we must resist, for to be either a Druid or an Engineer is to be a fool. Druids can’t revive the past, and Engineers cannot build technologies that do not carry hidden trouble. (via Beta Knowledge)
- Reimagining Math Textbooks (Dan Meyer) — love this outline of how a textbook could meaningfully interact with students, rather than being recorded lectures or PDF versions of cyclostyled notes and multichoice tests. Rather than using a generic example to illustrate a mathematical concept, we use the example you created. We talk about its perimeter. We talk about its area. The diagrams in the margins change. The text in the textbook changes. Check it out — they actually built it!
The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs launched a new innovation center to solve big problems.
There are few areas as emblematic of a nation’s values than how it treats the veterans of its wars. As improved battlefield care keeps more soldiers alive from injuries that would have been lethal in past wars, more grievously injured veterans survive to come home to the United States.
Upon return, however, the newest veterans face many of the challenges that previous generations have encountered, ranging from re-entering the civilian workforce to rehabilitating broken bodies and treating traumatic brain injuries. As they come home, they are encumbered by more than scars and memories. Their war records are missing. When they apply for benefits, they’re added to a growing backlog of claims at the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). And even as the raw number of claims grows to nearly 900,000, the average time to process them is also rising. According to Aaron Glanz of the Center for Investigative Reporting, veterans now wait an average of 272 days for their claims to be processed, with some dying in the interim.
The growth in the VA backblog should be seen in context with a decade of war in Afghanistan and Iraq, improved outreach and more open standards for post-tramautic stress syndrome, Agent Orange exposure in Vietnam and “Gulf War” illness, allowing more veterans who were previously unable to make a claim to file.
While new teams and technologies are being deployed to help with the backlog, a recent report (PDF) from the Office of the Inspector General of the Veterans Administration found that new software deployed around the country that was designed to help reduce the backlog was actually adding to it. While high error rates, disorganization and mishandled claims may be traced to issues with training and implementation of the new systems, the transition from paper-based records to a digital system is proving to be difficult and deeply painful to veterans and families applying for benefits. As Andrew McAfee bluntly put it more than two years ago, these kinds of bureaucratic issues aren’t just a problem to be fixed: “they’re a moral stain on the country.”
Given that context, the launch of a new VA innovation center today takes on a different meaning. The scale and gravity of the problems that the VA faces demand true innovation: new ideas, technology or methodologies that challenge and improve upon existing processes and systems, improving the lives of people or the function of the society that they live within. Read more…
Open Pushing Innovation, Clear Intentions, Druids vs Engineers, and Reimagined Textbooks
Reverse PR, Cyberbullying Research, Design Notes, and Evaluating CEOs
- Amazon’s Product Development Technique — the product manager should keep iterating on the press release until they’ve come up with benefits that actually sound like benefits. Iterating on a press release is a lot less expensive than iterating on the product itself (and quicker!). (via Fast Company)
- Bullying in a Networked World — Harvard literature review on cyberbullying. (via Kinder Braver World)
- Lamps (BERG London) — design notes from a project Google did with BERG a year ago. I treat these like backstory in a novel or film: you see a little bit, but the author has imagined a complex history and world that you only see the consequences of. Similarly, BERG spend a long time making complex stories behind the simple objects and interactions they design.
- How AH Evaluates CEOs (Ben Horowitz) — my experience backs this up 150% percent. Filed under “stuff I wish I’d known a decade ago”.
What's interesting isn't software as a thing in itself, but software as a component of some larger system.
One of Marc Andreessen’s many accomplishments was the seminal essay “Why Software is Eating the World.” In it, the creator of Mosaic and Netscape argues for his investment thesis: everything is becoming software. Music and movies led the way, Skype makes the phone company obsolete, and even companies like Fedex and Walmart are all about software: their core competitive advantage isn’t driving trucks or hiring part-time employees, it’s the software they’ve developed for managing their logistics.
When I look at what excites me, I see a much bigger world than just software. I’ve already argued that biology is in the process of exploding, and the biological revolution could be even bigger than the computer revolution. I’m increasingly interested in hardware and gadgetry, which I used to ignore almost completely. And we’re following the “Internet of Things” (and in particular, the “Internet of Very Big Things”) very closely. I’m not saying that software is irrelevant or uninteresting. I firmly believe that software will be a component of every (well, almost every) important new technology. But what grabs me these days isn’t software as a thing in itself, but software as a component of some larger system. The software may be what makes it work, but it’s not about the software. Read more…
Policy recommendations to get the engines of democracy firing on all cylinders.
If the country is going to have a serious conversation about innovation, unemployment and job creation, we must talk about our race against the machines. For centuries, we’ve been automating people out of jobs. Today’s combination of big data, automation and artificial intelligence, however, looks like something new, from self-driving cars to e-discovery software to “robojournalism” to financial advisors to medical diagnostics. Last year, venture capitalist Marc Andreessen wrote that “software is eating the world.”
Computers and distributed systems are now demonstrating skills in the real world that we once thought would always be the domain of human beings. “That’s just not the case any more,” said MIT research professor Andrew McAfee, in an interview earlier this year at the Strata Conference in Santa Clara, Calif.:
McAfee and his research partner, MIT economics professor Erik Brynjolfsson, remain fundamentally optimistic about the effect of the digital revolution on the world economy. But the drivers of joblessness that they explore in their book, Race Against The Machine, deserved to have had more discussion in this year’s political campaign. Given the tepid labor market recovery in the United States and a rebound that has stayed flat, the Obama administration, given an opportunity for a second term, should pull some new policy levers.
What could — or should — the new administration do? On Tuesday, I had the pleasure of speaking at a panel at the Center for Technology Innovation at the Brookings Institute to talk about what a “First 100 Days Innovation Agenda” might look like for the new administration. (Full disclosure: earlier this year, I was paid to moderate a workshop that discussed this issue and contributed to the paper on building an innovation economy that was published this week.) The event was live streamed and is available on-demand.
Below are recommendations from the paper and from professors McAfee and Brynjolfsson, followed by the suggestions I made during the forum, drawing from my conversations with people around the United States on this topic over the past two years.
Crowdsourcing Flights, Teaching Programming, Redeploying Finance Engineers, and Recognising Cat Faces
- Flightfox — Real people compete to find you the best flights. Crowdsourcing beating algorithms …. (via NY Times)
- Code Monster (Crunchzilla) — a fun site for parents to learn to program with their kids. Loving seeing so much activity around teaching kids to program. (via Greg Linden)
- Telling People to Leave Finance (Cathy O’Neil) — There’s an army of engineers in finance that could be putting their skills to use with actual innovation rather than so-called financial innovation.
Economics of Innovation, Bio Imagery, Open Source EEG for Smartphone, and Feynman Bio
- Doing Capitalism in the Innovation Economy (Amazon) — soon-to-be-released book by Bill Janeway, of Warburg-Pincus (and the O’Reilly board). People raved about his session at scifoo. I’m bummed I missed it, but I’ll console myself with his book.
- Cell Image Library — a freely accessible, easy-to-search, public repository of reviewed and annotated images, videos, and animations of cells from a variety of organisms, showcasing cell architecture, intracellular functionalities, and both normal and abnormal processes. The purpose of this database is to advance research, education, and training, with the ultimate goal of improving human health. And an excellent source of desktop images.
- Smartphone EEG Scanner — unusually, there’s no Kickstarter project for an iPhone version. (Designs and software are open source)
- Feynman — excellent graphic novel bio of Feynman, covering the science as well as the personality. Easy to read and very enjoyable.
MAKE's Hardware Innovation Workshop is coming May 15-16 at PARC.
Being held May 15-16, MAKE's Hardware Innovation Workshop is an intensive introduction to the business of making and the makers who are creating these businesses.
History of Keys, Open Standards, Values, and A Technology Stagnation
- The History of Key Design (Slate) — fascinating and educational. I loved the detector lock, which shows you how many times it has been used. Would be lovely to see on my Google account. (via Dave Pell)
- Why Telcos Don’t Grok Open Standards (Simon Phipps) — Their history is of participants in a market where a legally-constituted cartel of suppliers commission specifications for key shared standards. Technologists contribute freely on the expectation they will recoup their costs through royalties for licensing the patents on their contributions. […] Since every participant usually ends up having at least some ideas accepted, most participants in the process have some claims on each standard, with the result that net royalties payable between the participants may not be the relative burden they appear if taken in isolation. But it does mean that late entrants to the market can face an insurmountable cost barrier.
- The Next Big Thing (Umair Haque) — Umair frequently skirts the boundaries of Deepak Choprah-esque vacuous self-help, but I applaud his constant challenge to know your values and live truthfully by them. Hence here’s a minor challenge. Unless you want to spend your valuable life painstakingly eking out barely better solutions to problems we’ve already solved which give us answers that fail to matter in the enduring terms of the questions which do, consider the following: If we’re going to reboot our institutions, rethink our way of work, life, and play, then what are we going to redesign them for?
- The Jig Is Iup (The Atlantic) — The thing about the advertising model is that it gets people thinking small, lean. Get four college kids in a room, fuel them with pizza, and see what thing they can crank out that their friends might like. Yay! Great! But you know what? They keep tossing out products that look pretty much like what you’d get if you took a homogenous group of young guys in any other endeavor: Cheap, fun, and about as worldchanging as creating a new variation on beer pong. A different angle than Umair, but a challenge to think beyond building another declining value acquisition for your own personal benefit.
A/B Testing in Rails, Open Source Groupware, Is the Internet Innovative, and Patent Art
- Chanko (Github) — trivial A/B testing from within Rails.
- OpenMeetings — Apache project for audio/video conferencing, screen sharing, whiteboard, calendar, and other groupware features.
- Low Innovation Internet (Wired) — I disagree, I think this is a Louis CK Nobody’s Happy moment. We renormalize after change and become blind to the amazing things we’re surrounded by. Hundreds of thousands (millions?) of people work from home, collaborate to develop software that has saved the world billions of dollars in licensing fees, provide services, write and share books, make voice and video calls, create movies, fund creative projects, buy and sell used goods, and you’re unhappy because there aren’t “huge changes”? Have you spoken to someone in the publishing, music, TV, film, newspaper, retail, telephone, or indeed any industry that exists outside your cave, you obtuse contrarian pillock? There’s no room on my Internet for weenie whiners.
- Context-Free Patent Art — endlessly amusing. (via David Kaneda)