Hooves on Hybrids

I need one of these. And I don’t even own a bike.

In fact, I think the developers of this product are thinking too small. Making a bike sound like a galloping horse is just fun. But how about equipping electric cars with a galloping-horse device? How about mandating that all electric (or hybrid) cars have galloping-horse devices factory-installed?

For whatever reasons, we are ignoring a serious threat to public safety posed by these silent vehicles.

I’m all for electric cars, but even better than an electric car would be an electric car that can’t sneak up on you. And even better than that would be if all electric cars sounded like galloping horses.

Let’s do this.

Lists of Bests

Chris Ford of ThoughtWorks has put together his list of the most important academic papers in computer science. This is becoming a thing: Michael Feathers and Fogus have also published such lists.

Chris set three criteria for inclusion in his list:

The paper must have changed the world. (I.e., they must truly be important.)

The paper must have changed his perspective. (This makes it personal.)

Only one paper is allowed from each decade. (This makes the list interesting.)

His list includes some choices that are hard to argue with, like Alan Turing’s “On Computable Numbers, with an Application to the Entscheidungsproblem” and Claud Shannon’s “A Mathematical Theory of Communication.”

I thought about trying to put together my own list, and maybe I will sometime, but I realized as I thought about it that all the papers I would choose are already in this list.

Killer Robots etc.

Elon Musk is seriously worried about artificial intelligence. He’s donated ten million dollars to the Future of Life Institute to ensure that AI research is beneficial.

I’ll grant you that ten million is chump change to Elon Musk, but the Institute has the word “catalyze” in its mission statement, and we all know that this means they expect small nudges in the right places to have huge impacts.

I’m trying not to be cynical because I think that Musk’s concern is legitimate, and I hope humanity does take the right steps to avoid a future of killer robots and an Internet of Evil Things. And maybe the consciousness-raising that the Institute is doing will be enough. But I’m going to have to see a few practical programs before they get my ten million.

That Writing Book

Notes toward an introduction to a book on writing that I still haven’t written, and perhaps a hint as to why:

If you want to know how to master the craft of writing, read Jon Franklin’s Writing for Story. To the best of my knowledge, he’s the only story writer who has actually explained how to do it. That’s not quite right: there are a lot of screenwriters who have explained the craft of screenwriting in picky detail. Apparently in that field understanding the craft is necessary. Apparently you can’t write a decent screenplay by putting down words at random and eliminating those that don’t feel right. Writing fiction or nonfiction stories (asterisk; ref to Franklin book) is different. That’s exactly how most of us do it. It’s certainly how I do it. So you don’t look to writers like me for a tutorial on the craft of writing. If on the other hand what you’re looking for is…

I’m not sure what comes next.

The Machine

I’d love to see HP pull off something game-changing — and The Machine promises to be just that.

It’s the biggest project underway in HP Labs, involving innovations in semiconductor physics, photonics, systems engineering, and software architecture. And entirely eliminating the need to read data into or write it out of memory seems pretty game-changing. And that’s what the Memristors HP is producing will do. Removing the distinction between memory and storage will require fundamental changes at the operating system level, so a new operating system is part of the project.

“Current systems can’t handle where we are headed,” HP says, “and we need a new solution.”

Developers will be able to get their hands on a simulator next year.



Comic Fans: Remember PAM?

I think comics lost something when money and technology came into the artform.

For me, this cover of Thunderbolt #1 captures the particular appeal of the artwork of artist Pete Morisi. Back in the day we only knew him by his initials, PAM, which he rendered as PA||| (there’s probably a font in which that looks right).

There’s an innocent exuberance in Morisi’s drawings that I think feels Kirby-ish. In a time when it was just starting to be common for artists to sign their work, this immediately recognizable artwork, always signed with the enigmatic initials, was intriguing.

Morisi drew Thunderbolt for Charlton in the 60s, at a time when Marvel was reinventing the superhero comic. He was a full-time NYPD policeman (hence the disguised identity). He worked for Stan Lee in the 50s and was responsible for bringing Iron Man artist Don Heck into the Marvel bullpen.


Don’t aspire to be an entrepreneur. Aspire to be an inventor.

Entrepreneurship is about getting your invention realized. It’s worthwhile, it’s deeply engaging, and if it works, it can be very rewarding. Maybe even if it doesn’t. But entrepreneurship is not an end, it’s a means to an end. It has to be about something, and the thing it’s about is the invention. Getting the invention realized, bringing something new into the world, that should be what motivates you.

A scene in the movie “Million Dollar Arm” is a good insight into the process of invention. The Jon Hamm character, an entrepreneur at the end of his seed money and staring failure in the face, is sitting in the dark, channel surfing between a cricket match and “Britain’s Got Talent.” It’s 2009 and Susan Boyle is making her now-famous appearance singing “I Dreamed a Dream” and blowing away the judges. Click. Cricket. Click. Singer. We watch as Hamm’s character finds a connection between the singer, the cricket match, and his own problem.

He doesn’t say anything, so you are left to puzzle over what exactly it is that he’s seeing. The movie lets you see him making the connection, so emotionally you believe it, but it’s clearly a connection that you wouldn’t have made. The scene nicely captures this phenomenon of seeing a connection that nobody else sees, that nobody else would ever see in exactly the way you do. And then acting on it.

That’s invention.