Tag Archives: innovation

solar phone chargers

I love the idea of charging my phone and other small devices with solar power. So, here is a Wirecutter article on doing that. One thing I learned is that you generally want to pair your solar panel with a battery so you can charge the battery during the day, then charge your phone all night. Otherwise you would have to leave your phone sitting near the charger for several hours during the day, which is probably exactly when you want to be using your phone for other things.

July 2017 in Review

Most frightening stories:

Most hopeful stories:

  • A new cancer treatment genetically modifies a patient’s own immune system to attack cancer cells.
  • Shareholders of big fossil fuel companies are starting to force some action on climate change business risk disclosure.
  • Richard Florida offers five ideas for solving poverty and what is wrong with cities: taxing land based on its improved value, massive investment in public transportation and public education, ending the mortgage interest tax deduction, and guaranteed minimum income.

Most interesting stories, that were not particularly frightening or hopeful, or perhaps were a mixture of both:

  • Technology is marching on, whether or not the economy and human species are. The new thing with satellites is to have lots of small, cheap ones instead of a few big, expensive ones. Even if the coal industry were to make a comeback, today’s coal jobs are going to data analysts, remote control machine operators, mechanical and electrical engineers, not guys underground with pickaxes and headlamps. But the coal can be produced with a lot less human effort (i.e. jobs) than it used to be. Iris scans like in Minority Report are now a thing.
  • Ecologists have some new ideas for measuring resilience of ecosystems. Technologists have some wild ideas to have robots directly counteract the effects of humans on ecosystems. I like ideas – how do I get a (well-compensated) job where I can just sit around and think up ideas?
  • Isaac Asimov says truly creative people (1) are weird and (2) generally work alone.

Some combination of the Trump news, the things I see every day on the streets of Philadelphia, and events affecting friends and family led me to question this month whether the United States is really a society in decline. Actually, I don’t question that, I think the answer is yes. But the more important question is whether it is a temporary or permanent decline, and what it means for the rest of the globe. I am leaning slightly toward permanent, but maybe I will feel better next month, we’ll see. Maybe I need to get out of this country for a little while. Last time I did that I felt that the social glue holding Americans together is actually pretty strong compared to most other places, even if our government and its approach to other governments have become largely dysfunctional. We need to get through the next couple years without a nuclear detonation, hope the current vacuum of leadership leads some quality leaders to emerge, and hope things have nowhere to go but up. There, I talked myself off the ledge!


Isaac Asimov on Creativity

In 1959, Isaac Asimov was briefly part of a panel tasked with “out-of-the-box” brainstorming about weapons technology. He very quickly recused himself from this, but before he left he wrote an essay advising the panel about the nature of creativity and creative people.

Who is creative?

A person willing to fly in the face of reason, authority, and common sense must be a person of considerable self-assurance. Since he occurs only rarely, he must seem eccentric (in at least that respect) to the rest of us.

Should creative people think alone or in groups?

My feeling is that as far as creativity is concerned, isolation is required. The creative person is, in any case, continually working at it. His mind is shuffling his information at all times, even when he is not conscious of it.

Okay, so creative people tend to think up ideas alone. But should they then get together to share those ideas, and if so, how?

the information may not only be of individual items A and B, but even of combinations such as A-B, which in themselves are not significant. However, if one person mentions the unusual combination of A-B and another the unusual combination A-C, it may well be that the combination A-B-C, which neither has thought of separately, may yield an answer.

I am no Isaac Asimov, but I’ll give my two cents on my own creative process. Step one is to take in a lot of information and ideas, in somewhat random combinations. For me, reading is the best way to do this, although other forms of media and more formal education can be helpful. This takes a lot of time, time that I certainly don’t have when working a 9 to 5 job and supporting a (wonderful) family. The job and family also tend to physically and mentally wear me out, and some of the bullies and unimaginative types I encounter on the job not only shut down my creativity but the creativity of everyone around me. Then there is the fact that, as Isaac mentions in his essay, whoever is paying you is unlikely to be sympathetic to the idea they are paying you to screw around.

Anyway, there have been a couple times in my life when I have had the time to just sit and think and screw around a little bit. So along with the steady inflow of information and ideas, there has to be some unstructured downtime, and that is when the creative ideas pop into my mind. Exercise, drugs and music may be helpful in moderation, although you could obviously overdo the drugs. Insights are unpredictable and fleeting, so it is critical to have a notebook or the electronic equivalent to capture them.

Step three is to take those brilliant snippets of ideas from the notebook and do the hard work of turning them into something, whether it is a book, a computer program, an artwork, or whatever. I find that this process is not all that creative. It is just work. But it is the critical step of taking your insights that last mile to a fully formed, coherent story that other human beings might gain something from.

Detroit leading the self driving car race

Despite all the hype around Google, Uber and Tesla, this report from Navigant Research says GM, Ford, Daimler, Nissan and BMW are leading the race to bring self-driving cars to market. Waymo (Google), Hyundai, Toyota and Tesla are in the middle of the pack, while Honda and Uber are bringing up the rear. To me, it’s an interesting example of how big, powerful, but stodgy corporations can innovate when they are threatened by small upstart players. I wouldn’t have predicted the Detroit companies would pull it off, or that the big Asian players would lag behind. I also thought we might see some partnerships between traditional car companies and tech companies, but the car companies seem to be developing the tech on their own.


Finnish-ing school

Certain countries just lend themselves to English puns. Hungary? Try some Turkey Chile fried in Greece. The Finnish must get particularly tired of this sort of thing. But luckily they can be smug in the knowledge that their schools are good.

Finland’s historic achievements in delivering educational excellence and equity to its children are the result of a national love of childhood, a profound respect for teachers as trusted professionals, and a deep understanding of how children learn best…

Children at this and other Finnish public schools are given not only basic subject instruction in math, language and science, but learning-through-play-based preschools and kindergartens, training in second languages, arts, crafts, music, physical education, ethics, and, amazingly, as many as four outdoor free-play breaks per day, each lasting 15 minutes between classes, no matter how cold or wet the weather is. Educators and parents here believe that these breaks are a powerful engine of learning that improves almost all the “metrics” that matter most for children in school – executive function, concentration and cognitive focus, behavior, well-being, attendance, physical health, and yes, test scores, too.

The homework load for children in Finland varies by teacher, but is lighter overall than most other developed countries. This insight is supported by research, which has found little academic benefit in childhood for any more than brief sessions of homework until around high school.

April 2017 in Review

Most frightening stories:

Most hopeful stories:

Most interesting stories, that were not particularly frightening or hopeful, or perhaps were a mixture of both:

  • I first heard of David Fleming, who wrote a “dictionary” that provides “deft and original analysis of how our present market-based economy is destroying the very foundations―ecological, economic, and cultural― on which it depends, and his core focus: a compelling, grounded vision for a cohesive society that might weather the consequences.”
  • Judges are relying on algorithms to inform probation, parole, and sentencing decisions.
  • I finished reading Rainbow’s End, a fantastic Vernor Vinge novel about augmented reality in the near future, among other things.

the middle seat

I like this idea for making the middle seat on airplanes just a bit more spacious and comfortable than the others, so people wouldn’t mind it so much and might even prefer it.

But if Molon Labe Designs gets its way, that panic could give way to placidity. The upstart Colorado aviation design firm wants to kill the middle seat’s middle child reputation. Its “stagger seat” concept sits slightly below and behind its neighbors, so it can be three inches wider than its window- and aisle-adjacent companions. It has its own armrests.

“Flying sucks, and design makes it suck less,” says Hank Scott, the CEO of Molon Labe, who’s currently in Germany to show off the prototype at the Aircraft Interiors Expo in Hamburg. (BMW Groups’ Designworks and Panasonic Avionics also had a hand in the design.) By extending curved armrest back, the designers ensure the middle seater has access to at least half of its length. (“If you’re in the aisle or window seat, you couldn’t possibly steal the entire armrest—your elbows would be behind your back at a weird angle,” Scott says.) That also gives the middle seat’s in-flight entertainment system room to grow to a whopping 18 inches, compared to the puny 15-inch screens on other seat backs. For all this design prowess, however, this thing gets you nothing in extra legroom.

Tesla vs. Ford

BBC says Tesla’s market value is now greater than Ford’s.

At the close of trading Tesla had a market value of $49bn (£38bn), compared with Ford’s value of $46bn…

The firm delivered more than 25,000 cars in the first quarter, up 70% on the same quarter last year.

While Tesla’s sales are growing fast they are still a fraction of Ford’s, which sold almost 6.7 million vehicles in 2016.

Tesla delivered 76,000 electric cars last year.

The legacy Detroit car companies could be embracing the new technologies, but instead they are allowing themselves to be creatively destroyed. Their business model, I believe, is to keep cramming pickup trucks into developing countries until they burst at the seams. Meanwhile, Tesla and Google and Uber will pass them by and become the new face of the U.S. auto industry. Then next time Ford, GM, and Chrysler tell us they need a taxpayer bailout or the U.S. auto industry will disappear, we may not have to listen.