Fostering innovation

MIT Media Lab co-founder Nicholas Negroponte’s article Creating a Culture of Ideas may be one of the most fanciful things ever written on the subject of invention. It’s a paean to diversity:

One of the basics of a good system of innovation is diversity. In some ways, the stronger the culture (national, institutional, generational, or other), the less likely it is to harbor innovative thinking. Common and deep-seated beliefs, widespread norms, and behavior and performance standards are enemies of new ideas. Any society that prides itself on being harmonious and homogeneous is very unlikely to catalyze idiosyncratic thinking. Suppression of innovation need not be overt. It can be simply a matter of people’s walking around in tacit agreement and full comfort with the status quo.

As nice as all of that sounds, it’s about as far wrong on a factual basis as it could possibly be, considering that the nations that have produced the greatest technical innovation, and this is measurable by patents, have been those, like Japan, that do in fact pride themselves on the harmony, homogeneity, and order of their societies.

Innovation is much more a consequence of coherence in the culture of ideas than of diversity, and more often than not simply carrying the technical status quo one step further in the direction it’s already heading.

Access to information, more than anything, is the key in my book. To test these theories, conduct a thought experiment on the Manhattan Project: what were the respective roles of expertise and diversity, communication and teamwork, and could you have accomplished the same thing with a panel of ordinary citizens of diverse backgrounds.

I don’t think you could.

Software-defined radio

Intel made a presentation of reconfigurable radio architecture to a forum in the Valley:

The processors are not bused, but rather are connected through a mesh that emphasizes nearest-neighbor relationships. This both offers a natural implementation for data flow organizations and reduces the power and signal integrity issues that come with long interconnect lines.

The mesh of processors is terminated on two sides by an array of I/O engines, with one array serving as an input device and the other serving as output. In front of the input processors resides a switchable array of analog front-ends — and, presumably, antennas — allowing the entire system to hop gracefully between frequency bands. Different analog front-ends provide different pre-filtering and signal capture/conversion. Behind the output array lives a collection of various media-access controller (MAC) devices.

Very cool. Expensive and complicated, but cool.

End of the Bloggies

Michele, editor of a small victory, has withdrawn from the rigged and tainted Bloggie Awards:

There’s significant evidence that the voting is rigged. Judges themselves have stepped forward to say they got together with other judges to decide on who in their circle should win. One judge said that she didn’t bother to read the blogs she didn’t know and just voted for the ones she read regularly.

I am withdrawing my name from the ballots. They can give my place to someone else, or just leave it blank. I don’t care.

I’m totally impressed, and feel like she qualifies for the Lifetime Achievement Award in Integrity. If the others who were nominated who weren’t part of the circle jerk will kindly follow Michele’s lead, we can uncover the bad guys from who’s left.

The most glaring example of the unsavory nature of this competition can be seen by looking at the Lifetime Achievement Award. In the entire history of the blog, there have been exactly two people who qualify for this kind of recognition, Evan Williams (the Blogger guy) and Dave Winer, the longest running blogger, the original quality blogware producer, and the architect of the XML/RPC standard. Evan was awarded his sometime in the past, but Dave (whose contribution is actually greater than Evan’s) didn’t even make the finals, against such do-nothings as Rebecca Blood and Matt Haughey. Give me a break.

And any blog award that can’t find a nomination for Instapundit is ridiculous on its face.

I don’t say this because either of these guys is my buddy; I’ve never met them, and I trash both of them on a regular basis. But facts are facts.

Jhai PC

This is interesting: Danny O’Brien’s Oblomovka

Felsenstein got to work. He’s built the solution. It’s a bicycle-powered, ruggedised luggable, with a localised version of Linux and constructed from cheapo commodity parts. It’s got an aerial, too: it uses WiFi to connect to a central Internet hub in the market town.

Using it, villages that currently have no electricity, telephone or decent roads can monitor the prices of crops, negotiate group purchases with other villages, and make business deals without spending days away from the farm. And with email and built-in VoIP, the families will be able to make direct contact for the first time with the Laotian Diaspora – the relatives who left the war-torn zone to earn money in the capital and beyond.

It’s an incredible project. The New York Times named it one of its best ideas of 2002. And Felsenstein, using his old-style Silicon Valley wiles, has brought the cost of full five village system to just $25,000.

OK, I’ve got two questions: how do Laotians in remote villages learn to read and write English (necessary for use of the Web), and who fixes the damn things when they break (or need tech support)? From what I know about Felsenstein (strictly a big picture, techtopian guy), I’d bet these details aren’t covered, and if they aren’t we’re looking at a flash in the pan.