Monthly Archives: November 2008

And we really wonder why we are in a financial crisis!?

Can someone please help me logically justify the rate of return on “investing” $12 billion a month on the war in Iraq? Is that really what the oil reserve in Iraq is valued at?  I assume more if you include inflation over the past 5 years.  WTF.

For more insane statitics from US Senate and Congressional Services please read this article http://usliberals.about.com/od/homelandsecurit1/a/IraqNumbers.htm

On a related topic; GM, Ford, Chrysler are on the brink of collapse and along with it millions of jobs resulting in the ripple effect.  I know Micheal Moore can be a bit out of this world at times but he brings up a valid point in his appearance on Larry King Live .  I think he couldn’t be more correct in comparing Roosevelt’s WWII era policy to Obama and our financial crisis. The need to overhaul the auto industry into a mass transit, light rail and hybrid manufacturing powerhouse is really the only solution (status quo is obviously not cutting it).  This will be a real chance for the US and so be it the world to take our next step in financial and political evolution a.k.a the Synergism Hypothesis. Could this be the end of capitalism?

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Filed under community, economy, energy, politics, productivity, technology

The Driving Plane

I love ideas which turn accepted orthodoxies on their heads. In this case, the science, fiction, and science fiction perspective on the future of transportation has long been the flying car. Imagine being stuck in traffic and then blasting over the jam, touching down and taxiing right into your driveway. Cool, but I’ve never seen a car fly, and I’m sure most aviation agencies don’t want a bunch of yahoo drivers inaugurating the term air-rage.

What I have seen is that airplanes can drive. Take-off, touch-down. Pretty simple. So simple that a company called Terrafugia has begun developing a plane that could be considered street legal, geared towards the pilot community (which makes sense, since I assume that most pilots also have a driver’s license).

Popular mechancs has done a whole spread on them: http://www.popsci.com/military-aviation-amp-space/article/2008-10/flying-car-gets-real.

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Will humans live to see 10G or even 20G wireless technology???

From the creation of the internet by Tim Burners Lee in 1989 to the latest technology running in 3G wireless networks, the world has literally seen what some call the greatest human invention of all time grow up right before their eyes.  (Always funny to think about what work must have been like before 1990… no email, no social networks, no research… weird)  Now the next logical step in the evolution of the internet is 4G wireless technology that will bridge the trillions of wireless devices that the world will be using.  Check out the latest project from the EU called MAGNET Project http://www.gizmag.com/magnet-beyond-project-4g-wireless-world/10380/.  How much further can wireless technology go?

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Filed under community, economy, productivity, technology, web 2.0

CharterforCompassion.com

Basically describes my thoughts on the meaning and purpose of religion… charterforcompassion.com

Check out the 2008 TED Prize Wish: http://www.ted.com/index.php/talks/karen_armstrong_makes_her_ted_prize_wish_the_charter_for_compassion.html

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Live Blogging Web 2.0 Keynotes Day 1

The big men are up on stage now (o’reilly and batelle), talking about the conference and the mantra of where they wanted this conference to go. They are extending the concept of Obama’s speech, “yes we can” to the tech industry. We can move things forward into 2009. They believe that in this down turn we are going to clear out the clutter and focus on the guys that are really trying to solve a problem. 

Update

Larry Brilliant is up from Google.org which is the philanthropic arm of Google. He is letting us know why he chose to join up with Google. But first he wants us to understand the whole concept of a philanthropic arm inside an organization like Google. How does it work? Google.org is a hybrid philathropy organization. The Google founders take some of the money from shareholders and put it in an organization that will try to tackle the biggest problems in the world. It wont benefit the shareholders directly, which is a big move away from how public companies are currently run. 

Google.org isnt the only philanthropic organization in Google, they also do Google Grants.

The process for deciding what to fund is the typical VC model. They look for two criteria: is the problem huge and can the solution scale (or Google had nothing to offer it). In terms of not being able or to scale or google has nothing to offer, one of the largest concepts to combat infant and child mortality is early female education, but they will not fund education as Google has nothing to offer.

Improving government services and allowing communities to communicate both with each other and with the government is an example of something they have worked on. In the US, before you move you want to look at the schools in the area that you are looking for. There is nothing like that in areas like India and Africa. So Google is helping private companies do this. Great example of using the power of information to help empower people in the most under-developed areas of the Globe.

There are many strengths in the hybrid model that Google has created. Google is not going to use its philanthropic arm to develop emerging markets. This does not mean philanthropy cannot help your company. Great engineers will gravitate to companies that are making the world a better place. It is okay to make investments in for profit, commercial companies. Google.org’s hyrbid structure lets them do that.

Another major effort they are working towards is reducing the price of renewable energy. Right now coal is the cheapest form of energy. However, if Google.org invests in companies that are working on renewable energy they can reduce the cost of these forms of energy. They have invested in wind, geo-thermal, etc and by driving the cost of these types of energy down they can be more effective than barking up each individual governments tree as they are making it obvious to switch to these forms of energy as they will be cheaper than coal.

It’s okay for these renewable energy companies to make money and therefore okay for Google.org to invest in them because if they did not make money then nobody else would do it and the technology would not spread. 

“It’s core to google to curb coal and oil use” This is because Google doesn’t want to be part of the problem, they want to be part of the solution. 50% of their energy use is coal based and they want to change this. This has caused an obsession within the company. 

Update

Larry Brilliant is off now and Mary Meeker is up on stage from Morgan Stanley, talking about emerging technological trends and the economy

Mary is talking about home ownership and the reasons for the increase and recent problems (same old, same old, wont go into too much detail on this one, just general economic stats to date … very depressing, everything is down).

Importantly however are her closing points:

-Companies with cogent business models that provide consumer value should survive / thrive

-Lots of ad share to gain compared with some of the other platforms

-Search will continue to become important 

-Ads follow eyeballs, it just takes time

Update

Mary is off stage now and Rajesh Jain from Netcore solutions is heading up to stage now

He is going to talk about emerging enterprises, technologies and markets: Made in India, but made for the world. He is going to talk about two companies the first being Novatium:

-50 mil middle income homes and only 8 million home pc’s

-5 million broadband connections and 30 million cybercafe visitors. He believes this has to change!

Novatium created a thin computer than is simple and affordable (100 dollars for the computer and 10 dollars a month for the internet). What this is doing is decreasing use of cyber cafes and children are actually teaching their parents.

They are working with Telco’s, local providers and retailers to get their product into all Indian homes and they think the price point is perfect as its the point by which mobile phones took off. 

This is a very interesting concept as he now has a portal in all of the peoples homes that they can then push multiple services to, including advertising, education, commerce, additional access, etc. 

He has now moved to talking about SMS and how SMS is the perfect channel to talk to people as it is non-intrusive. I disagree. I would hate to get sms advertisements on a regular basis. However in India this seems to be different as they have 3.7 million subscribers and within those people there have been 11 million subscriptions. These people receive 13 million SMS’s daily. 75% of these people read every SMS message and 45% forward them on to friends. My question is would this work in North America or is it just an Indian thing?

The following four points are the guiding philosophy of Emergic Innovations

-bold and ambitious goals

-focus on local non-consumers

-Simpler and Cheaper

-Limited Legacy Helps Leapfrog

Update

Rajesh is now off stage and John Doerr from Kleiner Perkins is coming up and he is being interviewed on stage by John Heileman from New York Magazine

John Heileman was in Chicago with Obama yesterday and has been with him for a few days and he has a few question for John Heileman (?’s from Obama)

Obama is appointing the first ever CTO of a country and he wants Doerr’s opinion on who it should be. Without even thinking about it he says Bill Joy would be his choice.

Next question is if Obama were to focus on one major policy initiative that would help the entrepreneurial climate what would it be? Most important thing he has to do is kick start the amount of research and innovation in energy. He also thinks we should staple a green card to the diploma of anyone who graduates from a degree in physical sciences and engineering in the US.

Another thing he suggests is to refocus DARPA. They used to be all about innovation (started the internet), but are now sliced up and only work on mission critical items, like in conflict robotics. He thinks they need to refocus on energy.

Now he is chatting about VC funding. 2007 saw a major peak at 100 billion dollars available in tech funds and over 50 billion of that went to internet companies. We have seen that go down to the mid 30’s recently and says that it could go as low as 16 billion by the end of 2009. He thinks the hardcore real entrepreneurs should see this as a way to hammer home their ideas.

Next question is, if we see a long term depression, what does that do for good ideas getting funded and the already funded going all the way to liquidity, etc. He believe the good companies will still get funded. Liquidity however is another question. We may not see that much liquidity for the next 3-4 years. Google is just not going to be buying these internet related start-ups and then who will? He thinks we should all get ready for the long haul and looking 4-5 years in the future instead of a quick exit. This is great as no longer will we waste our time with stupid ideas that flood the internet with useless material with a advertising based business model. 

He believe the following 11 items will help everyone weather the storm. 

1.) Act now 

2.) Protect the vital core of the business

3.) Make sure you have at least 18 months of cash

4.) Defer facility expansion

5.) reevaluate your R&D priorities

6.) renegotiate any contracts that you can

7.) remember everyone in the organization should be selling

8.) offer people equity instead of cash

9.) secure your cash

10.) for your revenue plan, develop and obsess on leading indicators

11.) over communicate with everyone

There was recently a Fortune Magazine article that said Kleiner Perkins is no longer investing in the internet. Since then they have made 9 internet related investments, so there is no truth to that statement. 

Now they are talking about the iPhone and the opportunity behind it. Why does the iPhone matter? It matters because they are person. They know who you are and where you are. They are broadband and always connected and most importantly, they are always in your pocket. He believes this platform is more important than the PC. The pace of these devices selling is wild and has exceeded the expectations of Steve Jobs. KP is looking to fund applications that take advantage of the platform. The obvious big one is the potential of location aware services.

They are now moving on to other internet related investments KP has made. He just showed us a video demo of CoolIris … possibly the coolest media search engine I have ever seen.

 

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Live blogging from The Web 2.0 Summit

As some of you may know a few of us from the Spreed team are attending a very interesting conference called the Web 2.0 Summit. We will have two guys live blogging the entirety of this event. Keep checking back for live updates.

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Eye Science Part 1 – How we read and what a human eye can take in.

Since our mention in Wired Magazine, we’ve had a lot of great feedback from users requesting changes to our reading interface. We had the whole gamut of  requests from different colors to different fonts, changing of font sizes, adding words to each cluster, subtracting words from each cluster.

These are all great suggestions and they seem pretty commonplace. One has to ask, why haven’t the guys at Spreed already implemented many of the requests?  To technically implement them is not that hard. What gives?

The answer is not simple.

The easy answer is that we are the first company entirely focused on reading enhancement. It is a new space with new challenges. Our goal is to become the experts in this field. We have developed some significant expertise and we try to use this when building in features. This means that we have a look at the existing sciences to justify a feature’s benefit in terms of reading efficiency.

We look at past research, we try to find new research, we try it out on ourselves and a portion of our community before a change to our reading interface ever makes it to the live site.

Our initial goal when we started Spreed was to let the computer do the heavy lifting of speed reading. We wanted to develop an algorithm and a reading interface that would be effective for most people. No doubt Spreed demands that people challenge themselves to learn how to get through information faster. We remain adamant that with a little (or in some cases a lot) of practice, we can help you read faster. When Spreed eventually catches on and is integrated with other content and technology providers, you’ll be able to let the computer do the ‘heavy lifting’ for all your digital reading.

You might even find an increase in your speed when reading conventionally. Recently, we had a few people say that they are now reading faster on paper since they started using Spreed.

That’s the easy answer to the latency in adding features. I am going to pick a specific part of our research to have our users think about: Have you ever wondered how the human eye picks up words?

When reading traditionally your eyes do not move in a linear fashion across the page. The eye makes many “stops” and occasionally doubles back to words previously read. Even fast readers double back –  only they are a lot faster at it than the average reader. A “stop” is called a saccade and it typically lasts in the range of 200-250 milliseconds.

The Science of Word Recognition – Kevin Larson, July 2004.

http://www.microsoft.com/typography/ctfonts/WordRecognition.aspx

On each stop, the eye will focus on a word, look for first few letters of the next word and also go further ahead to gauge the length of upcoming words and the sentence as a whole. The eye’s ability to look forward might be the reason why single word flashing also know as RSVP might be less efficient than our algorithm.

So what does your eye process in a saccade?

There is a vast array of academic research in this area. I am going to quote Kevin Larson who is the leader in this field. Mr. Larson is a cognitive psychologist working at Microsoft with their advanced reading technologies team. Who knew Microsoft has such a team??? Regardless, we find his work very useful.

During a single fixation, there is a limit to the amount of information that can be recognized. The fovea, which is the clear center point of our vision, can only see three to four letters to the left and right of fixation at normal reading distances. Visual acuity decreases quickly in the parafovea, which extends out as far as 15 to 20 letters to the left and right of the fixation point

The Science of Word Recognition – Kevin Larson, July 2004.

Visual acuity? Fovea? Parafovea?  What happens when font sizes are increased? when colours or contrasts are changed? when the number of words or characters in a cluster change?  How will this affect how you can absorb information? You need not worry about these questions, but we do!

Parafoveal rules are the basis for the length of clusters in Spreed. The algorithm ensures that characters do not fall outside the average person’s parafoveal field of vision. Depending on the length of words in a cluster, the formation algorithm can produce a cluster with one, two, three and sometimes four words. At times the algorithm does not allow clusters to reach the maximum length because of another set of rules (i.e. grammar rules). The alogorithm tries to encompass speed reading principles, visual perception (eye science), and English grammar / linguistic rules. We’ll leave the other rules for another post.
We err on the side of caution when we make changes to the cluster formation algorithm and reading interface. Our goal was to allow the average (if not daring) person to read faster. There will always be outliers who require a larger font, or different colour scheme etc. Is the algorithm perfect? Certainly not. We feel we are at the inception of a reading revolution and will continue to innovate and test both within our labs and our community at large.

ps. We will be at the Web 2.0 Summit in San Francisco this week November 5-8. If you feel like talking about Spreed, shoot myself or Dave an email (suhail@spreedinc.com or dave@spreedinc.com)

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