November 2004

AR funding from DARPA?

Dr. Dylan Schmorrow, program manager (and thus manager of research funding) for DARPA just hinted that there will be some funding for research in augmented reality for military training becoming available in about six months (esp. ramping up 2006 financial year). No details yet as to whether it’ll be a new Broad Agency Announcement or part of existing long-term funding, but sounds like it’s coming down the pike.

Makes sense — it’s one of the most immediately-promising applications for AR that’s out there.

AR funding from DARPA? Read More »

Paper or Plastic?

For many Californians there will be something of a reforendum in tomorrow’s election that isn’t on the ballot: paper or plastic. As you’ve probably heard, there have been serious and significant security issues with electronic voting machines. That’s an implementation problem which is shameful, but not a fundamental limitation of the technology. A more fundamental issue with the smart-card system most of our touchscreen-voting counties are using is that the system lacks any kind of voter-verified paper-trail — meaning there’s nothing to fall back on if you suspect electronic fraud. The argument I sometimes hear is that getting rid of paper eliminates the problem of hanging chads and the recount problems from Florida 2000. This is true, in the same way eliminating all financial accounting records would reduce fraud convictions.

Here in California, our Secretary of State has insisted that all voters be given the option to vote via a paper ballot… but many counties feel that’s an extra burden so they won’t inform you of that right, and some counties even plan to further inconvinience paper-ballot voters. My advice to those who are voting in touchscreen counties: ask for paper anyway. My hope is that Wednesday’s headlines (under the one that says “Kerry Wins,” of course) all report record numbers of voters requesting paper ballots and giving a resounding no-confidence vote in the shoddy technology we have this time around.

Paper or Plastic? Read More »

A manly image…

Brief random musing: People always seem to see Republicans/Conservatives as macho, gunslinging, no-holds-barred, get-the-job-done-whatever-it-takes and see Democrats/Liberals as lovey-dovey, unwilling-to-hurt-anyone-or-take-a-stand… regardless of whether they’re actually that way or not.

Try this on for size: take Arnold Schwartzneger, George W. Bush and John Kerry. When it comes to having macho cred, what seperates the Democrat from the two Republicans?

Answer: Kerry is the only one to have personally killed a man with his own two hands. That’s an easy image to have of Schwartzneger of course — just rent it from Blockbuster. But picture it in your head for a second: Kerry’s hands soaked in blood, the gunshots still ringing in his ears. To me the image feels oddly out of context given his more professorial style now. But for some reason it’s easy to imagine buzz-boy-Bush with that macho image… even though I can’t quite bring myself to imagine it as it happens. Every time I try the image in my head always jumps to a vision of Bush and I having had too many drinks at the bar and he’s telling the same old story of how he got his scar… the one we never get tired of hearing ’cause it gets better with every telling.

A manly image… Read More »

Paul Saffo on innovation in Silicon Valley

A few days ago I heard a talk by Paul Saffo (Institute for the Future) on the boom/bust cycle of Silicon Valley and how it all relates to innovation. Here’s a quick (and rough) summary, mostly taken from the notes I jotted into my Treo:

“We’ve never understood how The Valley works.” The conventional wisdom is that success comes from good management, right mix of capital and technology, etc. But that’s not it.

Silicon Valley is not built on success, it’s built on failures. Our best innovations come rising out of the ashes of our previous disasters. We need failures and large-scale wipe-outs like a forest needs fires to get rid of the undergrowth. In brief, Silicon Valley’s success is built on bad management.

Example: Why did the Web take off here, and not in Switzerland where it was invented? Because we’d just had a wipe-out in interactive TV. We had just trained an entire generation of C++ programmers in the subtleties of interactive graphics, and then laid them off so they had nothing to do.

“Our core competence in Silicon Valley is managerial incompetence.” &mdash bad management is the key to our vital boom-bust cycle. Furthermore, the whole point of good management is to kill stuff that isn’t relevant, and that kills innovation. “Well-run companies kill ideas. Poor management allows weeds to grow. Around here, weeds grow to become very valuable.”

So how do we survive in spite of our generally bad management? “we substitute velocity for management… that is a very rational act” given the uncertainty in the new technology sectors. Microsoft is the exception that proves the rule: “they aren’t a technology company at all, they are a company that happens to sell technology… they’ve never had an original idea in their life.” Microsoft would never have survived in the Valley, because the culture wouldn’t have allowed it. In their first down-cycle, all their engineers would have left for a different company. Up in Seattle the culture is different — there’s a lot more company loyalty. Silicon Valley is a place that eats its old. We’ve no respect for our elders… that’s how we work.

In all this is the question of innovation. Innovation isn’t rational — most companies and most ideas fail. “Innovation is extra-logical… economists can’t put their finger on it.” The culture can’t let failure be lethal (as it is in France) or no one will dare attempt anything. But it also can’t have no consequence, as is the case with what’s called “interpraneurism” within large companies. Innovation is very hard in large companies — it can be done, but it takes large amounts of stress to make it happen. Successful entrepreneurs have a balance between an altruistic “change the world for the better” angel on one shoulder and a “get rich” devil on the other. The culture in Silicon Valley lucked into having the right mix.

So why do we still innovate out here and not just rest on our laurels? Why do millionaires out here keep feeding their gains back into the system? For some reason, we seem to be a strange attractor for would-be world-changers. Saffo’s fear: will we start to fear change now? Will we finally decide we like what we have and refuse to tear down the old empires, like the Venetians did after their peak in the 1500s?

Final advice: disrespect your elders, remember that innovations extra-logical, and be willing to tear down the old empires.

Paul Saffo on innovation in Silicon Valley Read More »


DocBug Exclusive — with just a day before polls open, Fox News has declared George W. Bush the winner of what has proven to be the most contentious presidential election since four years ago. CNN, CBS and NBC took only minutes to jump on the breaking story with their own announcements of the Bush victory, but it was over an hour after the victory that ABC‘s Peter Jennings finally called the election for Bush. “We hadn’t finished designing our title-bar logos,” explained Jennings. Among broadcasters, NPR remains the sole hold-out to insist on waiting till the polls at least open before declaring a winner. Most major newspapers have also reported the Bush victory, except for the Chicago Daily Tribune, which has declared a victory for Thomas E. Dewey.