The 50 Greatest Breakthroughs Since the Wheel – The Atlantic

Why did it take so long to invent the wheelbarrow? Have we hit peak innovation? What our list reveals about imagination, optimism, and the nature of progress.

Source: The 50 Greatest Breakthroughs Since the Wheel – The Atlantic

A few years old, but still interesting. For example:

By expanding the pool of potentially literate people, the adoption of corrective lenses may have amounted to the largest onetime IQ boost in history.

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Point-of-use medical tests go extreme:  sperm tests on a smartphone

Device costs less than $5 and can accurately measure the number and speed of swimmers. Source: With racy sperm pics on a smartphone, men can easily test fertility | Ars Technica If  only Theranos could do as well!

This is just a research project. But it’s still impressive. Smartphones have elaborate sensors, computation, networking, and even databases. Adding a custom sensor modifier will bring lots of inexpensive tests, medical and otherwise.

Style by subscription: Why clothing-to-your door is so popular – Silicon Valley

I’m going to list some oddball potential case study opportunities for my students here. (I’m teaching 3 courses in April, all requiring papers!).

Having a computer and a person you’ve never met pick clothes out for you, based on a style questionnaire and your social media photos, seems an odd concept. But San Francisco’s Stitch Fix and Le To…

Source: Style by subscription: Why clothing-to-your door is so popular – Silicon Valley

Help! What’s a better way to say “art versus science?”

I’ve been working with a  colleague, Don Norman, on analyzing how the field of design has changed and will evolve in an era of smart machines. Don is back at UCSD, although since he retired from here about 20 years ago, he is limited to a fractional salary We overlapped at UCSD briefly, but I never appreciated what a usefully disruptive influence he can be. Or how many books he has written over the years.

I generally refer to “art and science” as opposite ends of a spectrum of how people work and how technologies evolve. See “Art to science” as a category in this blog. “Art to science” is widely used: “Job X is a mixture of art and science.” But neither word is correct.

Instead of “art,” I now use the correct term, which is “craft.”

But Don keeps pointing out that  “science” is not correct, either. Science is very important to technology, but it is a philosophy/methods for doing research, not for normal operation. What is a better  term? I keep thinking there should be a good Greek term, and I just located  this discussion of the Greek words Techne, Praxis, and Phronesis. But none of them is correct. Of course, the Greeks were pre-industrial by 2000 years, so it’s not surprising if they had no concept for “systematic and well understood work.”

Perhaps the Romans had  a word for  describing “the military science of systematically butchering barbarians?”   Any suggestions?

Why Elon Musk’s New Strategy Makes Sense — Really??

Claim: “The history of architectural innovation is on his side. Source: Why Elon Musk’s New Strategy Makes Sense” by Joshua Gans

I’ve seen many people encouraging Musk’s integration of Solar City with Tesla, but it strikes me as a weak move. There is some synergy between electric cars and home PV, but electric energy is mostly fungible. Only if local utilities use really dumb pricing schemes for solar power would it be useful to bypass them if you have an EV. (Admittedly, many utilities do exactly that.)

Second, his closing argument contradicts a lot of other analysis.  I have not read Gans book. But he writes that:

As I outline in my book, The Disruption Dilemma, the companies that have thrived in the face of architectural disruption of this kind are those that have kept all the parts close and in control rather than spread them out.

But, “keeping all the parts under your control” rules out 99% of startups. And it also seems historically incorrect. IBM, when it started the IBM-PC revolution, did so by surrendering control of almost everything, including the OS, processor, hard drive, and applications. IBM made all of these things for its mainframes, but it revolutionized the industry by NOT controlling them for personal computers. And this was certainly architectural disruption – the shift from a closed to an open architecture.

I’ll have to look at his book. Or ask my friend Liz Lyons down the hall, who was his student.