Thursday, November 29, 2007

The Mythical Man-Month & Wicked Problems

Fred Brooks is one of my heroes. The lead architect on developing the IBM 360 series mainframe (the first successful general purpose computer), he wrote a brilliant book that everyone who does any type of business should read. His mantra: "Adding manpower to a late software project makes it later." is now considered a given as he proved that the communication needed to get people up to speed on any given project offsets any gains garnered from adding manpower to the job. Time and time again, he gives illuminating examples of why meticulous planning is key before addressing any problem because if this is not done, failure surely follows.

When Brooks' ideas are placed in context with Wicked Problems, (Wicked problems are complex problems that change when you apply a solution.) interesting and unexpected connections between the two concepts arise as findings show that wicked problem solutions were “significantly better across all three quality ratings...originality, feasibility, and effectiveness” when respondents voiced their solutions as individuals and not as part of a group (Note, the experiment involved asking members of a large group to solve the WP problem.) When viewed in this light, Brooks' notion of flexible, right sized groups that encourage open ended communications from the get go work best on any multi person project including those involving Wicked Problems.

Addendum: Click here to get another take on WP.

Virtual Eve

Tutoring done at the one on one level is the most effective and the most expensive way to teach people. Because the inherent cost of this type of teaching is so high, one on one has been a relatively small industry limited to people who can afford this kind of individualized instruction. This may no longer be the case because Virtual Eve, the first "real" synthetic teacher, can "alter her presentation according to the reaction of the child facing her at the keyboard..."

The implications of this techology cannot be understated as "Dr Hossein Sarrafzadeh at the Auckland-based Institute of Information and Mathematical Sciences states...'With rising demand for long-distance learning and online tutoring, a computer programe capable of detecting human emotions may become a critical teaching tool.' ”

When this tech is combined with good course content, Virtual Eve will become a big time hit. To see a video of her in action, click here.

The age of Idoru is nigh.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007


To see the potential of WiMax, the tech that will change everything, click here. To read more about WiMax, go to the BRT article titled  The 700 Club - Saturday, June 23, 2007.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Fahrenheit 451

Remember the 1966 movie Fahrenheit 451 where fireman set fires (to burn books) instead of putting them out as all printed material was banned in order to keep citizens ignorant, isolated and forever linked to a huge tv screen, forbidden to question or think beyond the confines of what the government wanted them to see. The title is based on the fact paper burns at that temperature.

The book's great and François Truffaut's movie is intriguing but that's not the reason for this piece, the size of the TV screen is as it's wall sized, flat and high res, a huge artifact that blows one away when looking at the film. The rez and flat part are there in today's LED affairs but wall size is not conceivable using this tech (too expensive, too fragile) but where this is a will, there is a way as stated in Technology Review's article titled Printing Cheap Chips.

Using Ink Jet related technology, companies like Kovio are printing sophisticated circuits on thin films at low cost. Because this tech scales, the ability to print truly thin wall size displays becomes real, something that the Sony's of the world are pursuing at breakneck speeds as the market for this kind of energy efficient tech goes beyond huge in the emerging world of the long emergency.

Couch Potatoes of the World Unite - :)

Thursday, November 22, 2007

BRT Wiki

The BRT Wiki is up. Very raw, just starting out but Wikia is the home place for this venture so check it out and start putting in content.

Cool Tech/Smart Keyboard

Fiendishly expensive, $1564.37 $ 1256.86 € outragoeusly cool, the Optimus Maximus keyboard is intelligent hardware who's keys change according to the app you are in so if you use Photoshop, the keys reflect that app's config while if you use Quake III, the shortcuts go to Quake. This tech, no doubt, will get cheaper and the key set will morph into a flat panel ala iPhone (Not as responsive but form factor is much more elegant and flexible in application) but the idea in and of itself is very heavy duty stuff. As Murry C said in the EA Talk, "Self aware objects know about themselves and will communicate with us." Sound like this keyboard's a good start.

Click on the OM keyboard to go to the Art. Lebedev Studio, the Russian outfit that's creating this extreme hardware.

Everything's Alive Talk

Click on the YouTube logo to get access to the ten part Everything's Alive talk.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Stem Cells Have Arrived

It's about time, researchers can take skin cells and convert them into stem cells using tech that's cheap and effective. "All they had to do, the scientists said, was add four genes. The genes reprogrammed the chromosomes of the skin cells, making the cells into blank slates that should be able to turn into any of the 220 cell types of the human body, be it heart, brain, blood or bone."

The big thing about this is the fact that because the stem cells will be produced by the person who needs them, tissue rejection is no longer an issue, thus opening the door to medical advancements in disease treatment and organ regeneration that remained the stuff of dreams before this approach to stem cell generation became available.

Click on the above graphic to get Physorg's perspective on this achievement, something that even Bush praised as a step in the right direction.

Addendum: Hurdles remain for this new technique but researches are confident this approach to creating stem cells will work as articulated by a recent Physorg report that can be accessed by clicking on the graphic below.

"God must be a boogy man." - Joni Mitchell

Kidizoom & More

Cute article about a camera for kids but there's more to this than meets the eye as the Kidizoom does video as well as take stills in a form factor kids can work with. As discussed in the Everything's Alive talk, the notion of buying a camera that could only take stills would begin to go away in five years as full resolution high def video (1920X1080) images can size up to 5"X7" hard copy without a problem. With this in mind, the Kidizoom, like Negroponte's XO, portend the future of multi function devices that are cheap, rugged and use low power, characteristics that are not here today but soon will be.

Learning How to Learn - Part 2

Continuing the discussion, Murry Christensen talks about the different methods of learning and how they apply to the workplace of the 21st Century.

Learning How to Learn - Part 1

Learning how to Learn - Part 1 is a provocative take on how one learns and the disconnect many people have regarding the value of degrees in determining the success one will have in the workplace.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Optic Flow

"Finding the virtual door. The target doorway was presented to test subjects through a prism that effectively shifted its location to one side. Subjects who maintained optic flow were able to adapt to the shift and find their way to the door far better than subjects without access to optic flow."

"One must see the underlying relations among tangible and intangible things in order to successfully negotiate the world." - RM

Optic Flow has been around for a long time starting with great artists like Albrecht Durer and Leonardo da Vinci

playing around with perspective to add depth and realism to their work as did Vermeer, the Dutch master who probably used the Camera Obscura to insure physical accuracy when creating his exquisite paintings.

To learn more about this fascinating subject, check out research from Centeye, Brown University and Action Research.

The road beckons.

Saturday, November 17, 2007


TOE, The Theory of Everything, may resemble a humongous Spirograph diagram known as E8, a fantastically complex 57 dimensional mathematical construct that, when placed in the hands of physicist Garret Lisi, just might show how the universe really works. He did this by using E8 to graphically and mathmatically connect together the very aspects of reality (Quantum/Relativity theories and the four forces of GravityStrong/Weak & Electromagnetic) that have confounded scientists for over 100 years. Click here to get New Scientist's view of Lisi's theory.

What's cool about this is that according to Lisi, the theory is simple, elegant and may be experimentally verifiable when Cern's new Hadron Collider goes online in 2008/9. The other thing that's cool is Lisi himself, a guy who surfs and snowboards and is unattached to any university. The paper itself is just 31 pages long and is filled with graphs and charts that show how E8 and the numbers work together, something that Einstein intuitively understood when he changed how man looks at the cosmos. "What's it like to ride on a beam of light?"

Addendum: Check out Lisi's video here. Needless to say, it rocks.
Check out Lisi's site. That too is outragous.

"It's not what you say, it's what you don't say that counts." - Dizzy Gillespie

Thursday, November 15, 2007

The Urge to Swarm

It's geat when the NYTimes comes through with a terrific article. In From Ants to People, an Instinct to Swarm, a detailed analysis of how well ants and other swarmers manage to handle congestion greatly differs from the daily disaster we create during rush hour.

To whit:

"By studying army ants — as well as birds, fish, locusts and other swarming animals — Dr. Couzin and his colleagues are starting to discover simple rules that allow swarms to work so well. Those rules allow thousands of relatively simple animals to form a collective brain able to make decisions and move like a single organism.

Deciphering those rules is a big challenge, however, because the behavior of swarms emerges unpredictably from the actions of thousands or millions of individuals."

When it comes to us humans, swarming behavior does apply.

"In one version of the experiment, each person was instructed simply to stay with the group. As Dr. Couzin’s model predicted, they tended to circle around in a doughnut-shaped flock. In another version, one person was instructed to head for a particular card at the edge of the circle without leaving the group. The players quickly formed little swarms with their leader at the head, moving together to the target.

The scientists then sowed discord by telling two or more people to move to opposite sides of the circle. The other people had to try to stay with the group even as leaders tried to pull it apart.

As Dr. Couzin’s model predicted, the human swarm made a quick, unconscious decision about which way to go. People tended to follow the largest group of leaders, even if it contained only one additional person."

A real pioneer in analyzing swarming behavior was Craig Reynolds, a brilliant programmer who developed a wonderful app called Boids, a program used to generate one of the truly great 1987 CG shorts called Stanley & Stella "Breaking the Ice".


Tuesday, November 13, 2007

The Corporate/Public Education Divide - Part 1

Self directed learning is the new mantra as the Top Down Model begins to die off. Also, as seen by this video, one learns the difference between corporate education and public is truly profound. See why in this informative segment from Everything's Alive.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Everything's Alive - The Interactive World

The first "real" segment of the EA discussion has arrived. Murry explains in full why Everything's Alive.

Friday, November 09, 2007

Almost Real

It's almost real but not, especially the eyes, the eyes have no real life in them as this is just about the most difficult thing to capture successfully in 3D. The Beowulf previews look awesome, special effects galore with full motion capture throughout, (The same kind of tech used in the 2nd and 3rd Pirate movies - Davy Jones & Crew and The Polar Express - badly done.) but the audience will sense that it is not real.

Does that matter? It won't if the story rocks. If the story punts, the movie's done for no matter how great the effects may be. (i.e. Pirates III, Matrix II & III tanked critically but made money anyway while Fantasy died an unpleasant death at the box office.)

The USAToday article covers CG and its relationship to film very well with referrals to The Fantasy Within and Terminator 2 along with an aside to Sin City a personal favorite, in describing how CG and 3D imaging can be seamlessy integrated with film making in a wide variety of ways. Whether Beowulf succeeds or not is not that big a deal as the die is cast because digital processing will continue to lower costs in making film just as it has in video, sound and imaging.

Spooky at a Distance

Well, the truth is out, Einstein loses, God Does Play Dice and nothing can be done about it. Researchers did the tiniest double slit experiment possible with one Hydrogen Atom. "While a single electron will behave as a purely quantum entity, the mere presence of another electron is enough to cause the electron to make the transition from quantum to classical behaviour -- according to an international team of physicists who have done a bizarre yet simple version of the famous “double slit” experiment."

As a follow up, check out the Science Daily article which states that "The line between the Quantum and Classical worlds is at the scale of one Hydrogen Molecule."

As a means of further explanation, check out Physorg's take. "The big world of classical physics mostly seems sensible: waves are waves and particles are particles, and the moon rises whether anyone watches or not. The tiny quantum world is different: particles are waves (and vice versa), and quantum systems remain in a state of multiple possibilities until they are measured -- which amounts to an intrusion by an observer from the big world -- and forced to choose: the exact position or momentum of an electron, say."

If that was not bad enough, see what happens when just One Particle is examined.

Grasshopper, imagine the sound of one hand clapping.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

End of Oil Redux

Another quick shot across the bow regarding the End of Oil and how we deal with it is at hand. Wired Autopia has a good take on this and is worth checking out. To see the BRT article that deals with this issue at greater length, go to The Long Emergency (9/30/07) a piece that compares James Kunstler's excellent book to Ray Kurzweil's equally good work The Singularity is Near.

In any case, the consequences are dire if we don't deal with this potentially horrific situation NOW.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Everything's Alive/The Discussion Begins

A brief discussion as to why Everything's Alive is eloquently explained by Murry Christensen. There is no doubt things will be radically different from now on as we move further into the 21st Century.

Free Reading.Net

Short and sweet, Free Reading.Net will change how young kids learn how to read. This site rocks and is a must see for anyone who has young children who need to learn the basics in knowing how to read. Awesome site, it will have a tremendous impact on education to be sure.

Addendum. According to USA Today, "Schools spent $4.4 billion for textbooks in the 2006-07 school year, according to Eduventures."

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Building Virtual Worlds & Go Ask Alice

In just two weeks, one can build a Virtual World, courtesy of Carnegie Mellon, one of the premiere computer science schools in the world. What's innovative about this in addition to the course is the programming environment CM uses to enable students to create these innovative environments. It's called Alice, a program designed to teach high school and college aged kids how to develop 3D code. It's free and looks very easy to use, something I may try to do because the output that comes from this tech is pretty damn cool.

Monday, November 05, 2007


Open Smart Phones are coming as Google and the Open Handset Alliance have announced the eminent arrival of "an open platform (to be called Android) for a Linux phone that can run mobile Google apps and others."

When this is connected to WiMax and the 700 MHZ Spectrum, true 24/7 open access wireless connectivity will come to the world.

To get an idea of just how huge this announcement is, click on the above graphic. The implications go beyond imagination.

Click here for Forbes' take on this. Click here to see why Open Source will rule. And last but not least, here's the NYTimes report on this event.

It's about time.

Sticky Feet

Gecko Tape may have a competitor in Sticky Feet, a reusable, washable tape able to adhere to dusty surfaces without a problem because scientists have finally learned how insects stick to walls.

"researchers call the material “insect tape” because its adhesive properties come from a pattern of microstructures that are inspired by insect feet. The team, composed of evolutionary biomaterials researchers from the Max Planck Institute (MPI) in Stuttgart, Germany, and biologically inspired robotics researchers from Case Western Reserve in Cleveland, US, analyzed more than 300 different species of insects to determine the optimal properties for a man-made adhesive."

Needless to say, this product will sell like crazy if it works as intended and the price point makes the item affordable.

Addendum: I bet Sticky Feet will be one of the monikers manufacturers use when marketing this product, especially if they use an outrageous graphic like the one seen at the top of this article. "Insect Tape" just doesn't cut it in these days of excessive hype and endless sloganeering.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Everything is Alive

The intro video is up on You Tube where two of the three players in this blog talk about tech, education and society. It actually appears that we know what we're talking about. :)