Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Two Old things don't make a New.

For those who take an interest in patent matters - two blogs I must recommend are Patently-O and Shapeblog.

There is one case which I'm following in particular - Lawman's.

My interest in this case stems from a ruling that:-

"a combination of old elements shown in the prior art cannot constitute a point of novelty"

Currently this is being appealed, however if it holds then it will render a vast number of design patents unenforceable and forces new patents to have new or novel items within them and not just old items mashed together and called "new".

This is no bad thing, and something which would be good to see spread throughout the patent process.

An existing process + internet should not constitute a novel and new idea.

Friday, March 24, 2006

Liberty, what liberty?

Emperor Joseph II of the Holy Roman Empire once said: "Everything for the people, nothing by the people."

His regime can best be described as enlightened absolutism, where the ruler is the "highest servant of the state" and exercises absolute power so as to provide for the general welfare of the population.

Enlightened absolutism is a nice example of dictatorship, an authoritarian state.

Fortunately, in England between 1642 and 1689, through a number of civil wars and revolutions our ancestors finally abolished monarchical absolutism and produced the bill of rights. There were of course a number of previous historical precedents fought for and made e.g. Magna Carta.

Since that time a slow path to an ever more democratic society has existed, with legislation enacted through the lower and upper houses. The ability of one person, to independently introduce legislation with no review or control has been curtailed and parliamentary democracy is part of our culture and heritage.

Step in the Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill under which

(1) A Minister of the Crown may by order make provision for either or both of the following purposes—

(a) reforming legislation;
(b) implementing recommendations of any one or more of the United Kingdom Law Commissions, with or without changes.

In my view a nice way of saying "a minster may change the law"

The mechanism of control and review, is that

he considers that the conditions in subsection (2), where relevant, are satisfied in relation to that provision.
An order under section 1 may make such consequential, supplementary, incidental or transitional provision (including provision amending, repealing or replacing any legislation or other provision) as the Minister making it considers appropriate.

In my view a nice way of saying "if he feels the need to"

Adding the two gives "a minister may change the law if he feels the need to".

Monarchs don't hold the market on absolutism, just an historical precedent for it. This bill is a a big step in the wrong direction.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Money isn't everything, but it helps ...

In a hypothetical world:-

* I bought a thousand $1 lottery tickets and won $1
* My friend bought one and made $1000
* He made a return about a million times mine

So I've come to the conclusion that next week my friend will do about a million times better than I did.

So I'll invest $1 this time, he will invest $1000 - which I will give him - and we will split the million dollar winnings - cool.


There is no relation between my lottery winnings and my friends.

The problem of this argument is of course that post event analysis of a singular event through a small sample will tell you very little about the next event.

There is no linked process of $1 in, returns $0.90 every time - it's probabilistic.

So with this in mind, I read Booz Allen Hamiliton's report on "Money isn't Everything", something which I've been promising to do for ages.

They took 1000 companies and looked at R&D spending in 2004 and related this to profitability in 2004. They concluded that there is no relation (see above lottery example).

That higher R&D spending translates into competitive advantage is a myth - sure post analysis, but my chances of winning the lottery are directly related to how much I invest pre-event. Doesn't mean I will win or won't, or that my friend will or won't do better than me.

They concluded that spending too little will hurt (i.e. not competing in the lottery means I won't win it and if my livelihood depends upon competing in the lottery - then I'd better compete).

They also note that average R&D spending varies between sectors. The two biggest being internet and health (I assume bio-tech), the smallest being consumer and energy - in otherwise markets which tend towards utility or commodity basis tend to spend less on R&D, though this is not stated.

Certainly some markets are less of a lottery and have become stable utility or commodity environments. Technological innovations in these markets may in fact depress margins (as per the Buffet example and loom machinery).

Their argument goes that innovation is seen as a "black box" - a process presumed to transform R&D spending into results without anyone fully understanding how - sounds like a lottery to me. I agree however that this is not an excuse for reckless funding.

“It’s absolutely a myth that money alone will solve vexing technical problems. Rather, reckless funding largesse is actually a barrier to transformative innovation as it turns scientists into constituents with an incentive to maintain the status quo. Reasonable constraints are a spur to progress." Dr. Allan O. Steinhardt.

Welcome to the world of chaotic processes as opposed to defined. I'm not against managing investment, quite the opposite. It is important to understand though that you can't plan and map out research - unless you know what you are about to invent prior to undertaking the work. In the later case you're not innovating you're implementing (a defined process).

They do note that if you look at a wide sample or group of companies - then the top 500 R&D spenders per industry section outperformed on a gross margin level the bottom 500 R&D spenders and this is particularly pronounced in "new" markets i.e. those who spend more on lottery tickets do better on average than those who don't.

Overall the conclusions of the report seemed to be

* If you don't spend enough, you suffer.
* If you spend too much, you suffer.
* No-one knows what enough is.
* How much isn't as important as on what
* Managing your spending is a good idea.

So in conclusion, spend just about the right amount of money on all the right projects and you will succeed.

In otherwords, when you're next at the store - just spend $1 only and buy the winning lottery ticket. Try not to waste cash on cigarettes and beer.


Friday, March 17, 2006

Things happens at O'Reilly

More often than not, whenever I come back from an O'Reilly conference, I seem to go and kick start a crazy project.

At the last EuroFoo, frustrated at not having a 3D printer, I set off with the idea of building one. A group of us got together and worked up an ice based concept using an old fridge, a vodka medium and a cannabalised inkjet. Fortunately James Duncan refined this concept to chocolate and lego, and then with a few others who were working for me at that time, set about making this. It got slashdotted and went to Foo - Fotango's first 3D printer.

Well, this time on the way back from ETech - I saw an advert for a robotic chimpanzee. Naturally a somewhat mad "spime" like monkey concept came into being which was shared, refined and then taken to new levels of insanity with the help of Greg McCarroll.

The monkey will be here in about four weeks - I'll post more details on the horror we will create, as we go along.

Fav's this week

My favourite five for this week are :-

Jeff Han's Multi touch interace : because it is breathtaking.

YouOS : because building an entire OS in Javascript is an insanely correct thing to do. The worst thing about Javascript is the name.

Nada just because it points the way to a future where the physical / digital are designed in parallel

What's up : because it is such a simple and useful interface

E-Machine Shop : not because it's new but just because it's wonderful

Thursday, March 16, 2006

That printing revolution

Those who know me, have had to spend the last decade listening to why printing is the next industrial revolution.

So much happens in this area, it's hard to keep up.

From printing in polymers to metals and from houses to printers

Anyway HP Labs it seems now have a nano-scale process for memory with a reported desnsity of 100Gb per square centimeter

For those interested, if you can attend the printed electronics conference, it's worth it.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

In pursuit of utility

I'm a great believer in the move towards "utility" computing - including concepts such as SaaS, HaaS, utility web services etc.

I'm a simple guy and most things in my experience break down into CODB(Cost of doing business), CA(Competitive Advantage) or somewhere in between (Transitional) - of course excluding that which is destined for the heap.

There has been some interesting moves in this area SalesForce AppExchange , Amazon storage service and Google Base for example, and plenty of discussion.

If you haven't read "Does IT matter?" I would recommend it, also it's worth taking a look at Carr's blog and at this article on why investing in technology change can lead to economic pain

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Sterling's Spimes

Life is being very distracting as usual - the new company product, my various research projects, the ducks (we now have fifteen) and the maths degree (all in pursuit of my MAMScMPhilMBA - a dumb way of educating myself I know!) - I need to get my own attention economy information market up and running.

However, I did find time to read Bruce Sterling's book - "Shaping Things" last night.

The books covers a future set of things called "Spimes" which in my language are nodes or collision points between the physical and digital world. It discusses the reasons for the emergence of such things, the society in which they will develop and exist within as well as potential economics

It would be easy to take pot shots at the book, the main concepts could be more rigorously defended but that's not the point - it's a window on a much greater body of change

The beauty of this work, is that it crystallises many distinct areas into one coherent theme and provides a new vocabulary for this.

The themes put forward by Bruce are one's I firmly believe in, and he has done an outstanding job of this. It is warming to see such views put forward, having personally received ridicule and utter disbelief at these concepts.

I'm very grateful for this book, and I would recommend anyone with an interest in future technology and change to read it.

Monday, March 13, 2006

Etech 2006

Returned back from ETech after a gruelling trip - approx 17hrs.

The conference was good as usual, though this year it started to head down the road of a wider more corporate audience. This is inevitable.

It leads to the same old gripes - on one hand the pure technologists complain about the suits, on the other the suits complain that the conference is not upto the standard they expect (power, water, refreshments etc) and complain about the unfinished concepts (playsh etc) - see the bile

Still, despite this there were some excellent speakers (Bruce Sterling etc) and some interesting new products :-

Ning, like libapi but social everything.

AppExchange, like libapi but no js and more metadata control structures.

Nada - just cool, a particular interest of mine with the collision between physical / digital worlds and the future of "spimes"

Playsh - amazingly cool, mutliple virtual experiences in a shared reality

Bonabeau's Hunch Engine - let computers do the work they are good at and people do the work they are good at, for example my grandmother doesn't know how to use photoshop but she does know which picture of her grandchildren she likes - stunning.

Overall a great conference