Astro Teller is the head of X, the "Moonshot Factory" that first launched as an R&D division of Google. iHeart Radio invited Astro to be part of a fantastic podcast series of virtual commencement speeches for 2020 graduates (and the rest of us) that they collected from the likes of John Legend, Bill & Melinda Gates, Hillary Clinton, George Lopez, Mary J Blige, and several dozen more. I've recently been working with the folks at X, and their celebration of weirdness, radical creativity, and urgent optimism is very real. And it's infectious. Listen to Astro's speech above. From his blog post:
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On the one hand, this is an incredibly daunting time. On the other, we have a once-in-a-century opportunity to hit the reset button, let go of conventional ways of thinking, and rebuild the world in radically better ways. This shift in perspective might feel difficult, even premature. However, the alternative — to try to claw society back towards an old normal that wasn’t working that well in many ways — is far worse. And counterintuitively, those of us who are newer and fresher in our fields, like the Class of 2020, may have some of the strongest tailwinds as we search for new approaches to the world’s most pressing problems. We’ve seen many times over the years at X that strategic naivete is actually a superpower.
One of my messages for graduates is to not worry that they don’t know the answers. The mental freedom and flexibility they have, and their willingness to learn and experiment, is going to be a secret to success in a world where there are no ready answers and no playbook.
CeramicSpeed makes bikes that use a drive shaft instead of a chain. Shane Miller got a close look at Eurobike 2018. Read the rest
Revolve has released a promotional video for its prototype collapsible airless tires. Originally designed for bicycles, the same tire can also be used on a wheelchair. Read the rest
Tim Harford (previously
) is an economist with a gift for explaining complex subjects in simple, accessible terms: his latest book, Fifty Inventions That Shaped the Modern Economy
, uses 50 short essays about technologies as varied as Ikea's Billy Bookcase, the plow, and AI to illustrate the ways that the human race has transformed itself, its relations, and the planet.
What do "Bic for Her" pens, electric facial rejuvenation mask, and Trump: The Game have in common? They were all bizarre and ridiculous commercial products that tanked in the marketplace. This summer, the Museum of Failure will open in Helsingborg, Sweden to celebrate such bumbles and fumbles, along with other products that were bested by competition or simply too ahead of the times for their own good. The curator is Samuel West, a psychologist who studies the science of creativity. From Smithsonian:
"I got tired of all of this glorifying of success, especially within the domain of innovation where 80 to 90 percent of all projects fail," he tells Smithsonian.com. Perhaps as a way to counter the trumpets of success, he started collecting products that represented failure. He says he had no purpose at first, but thought that it was a fun hobby...
Technological gadgets that failed are a big category at the museum. "I could open a whole museum with only smartphones," West says. But other industries are good at making duds as well. Colgate tried to sell beef lasagna. Harley Davidson marketed a perfume.
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Founded in 1970 as Xerox's R&D division, PARC was a dream factory that brought the world laser printing, Ethernet, the graphical user interface that led to Windows and the Macintosh, ubiquitous computing, and many other technologies that we now take for granted. Why made the place so damn special? Alan Kay, who pioneered networked computing while at Parc, lays out a few of the principles of the research community of which Parc was a hub:
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1. Visions not goals
2. Fund people not projects — the scientists find the problems not the funders. So, for many reasons, you have to have the best researchers.
3. Problem Finding — not just Problem Solving
4. Milestones not deadlines
5. It’s “baseball” not “golf” — batting .350 is very good in a high aspiration high risk area. Not getting a hit is not failure but the overhead for getting hits. (As in baseball, an “error” is failing to pull off something that is technically feasible.)
6. It’s about shaping “computer stuff” to human ends per the vision. Much of the time this required the researchers to design and build pretty much everything, including much of the hardware — including a variety of mainframes — and virtually all of the software needed (including OSs and programming languages, etc.). Many of the ARPA researchers were quite fluent in both HW and SW (though usually better at one than the other). This made for a pretty homogeneous computing culture and great synergy in most projects.
7. The above goes against the commonsense idea that “computer people should not try to make their own tools (because of the infinite Turing Tarpit that results)”.
Lauren Bowker's UK-based firm The Unseen is currently working on a bunch of cool thermochromic textile and dye applications, like this hair color that responds to heat. Read the rest
The Empowerment Plan is a Detroit-based organization that creates manufacturing jobs making EMPWR coats that double as sleeping bags:
the empowerment plan is a detroit-based, nonprofit organization focused on permanently elevating families from the generational cycle of homelessness. it hires single parents from local shelters and provide them with training and full-time employment as seamstresses so that they can earn a stable income, find secure housing, and regain their independence. the individuals it hires manufacture a coat designed to meet the needs of those in the homeless community. the durable ‘EMPWR coat’ can transform into a sleeping bag at night or an over-the-shoulder bag when not in use. since 2012, it has provided employment to 34 homeless individuals—all of whom have now secured permanent housing for themselves and their families—and distributed over 15,000 coats to those in need across the US and canada.
• REDFworkshop.org (Vimeo / The Empowerment Plan via designboom) Read the rest
DJ Jesse Jarnow polled a bunch of "hardcore music nerds" to get their feature wish-list for a music-centric phone for Wired; here's what I suggested: Read the rest
The World Wide Web Consortium's plan to standardize web-wide digital rights management is based on the idea that if an entertainment company doesn't like a new technology, it should have the right to prevent that technology from coming into being. Read the rest
The Trans Pacific Partnership: it's thousands of pages' worth of dense bureaucratic language setting out the give-and-take of years' worth of secret negotiations. Figuring out what it means for you is a transcendentally difficult process. Read the rest
The Oct 10/11 event is run jointly by the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the Center for Civic Media at MIT and will be hosted at the MIT Media Lab. Read the rest
Brian Sacks: "Tell your child that before he/she was born you too had a groundbreaking idea for a rainbow-powered washing machine. Let them know you were on the verge of getting a patent and becoming fabulously wealthy but then they happened." Read the rest
Your smartphone was designed to deliver as much value as possible to its manufacturer, carrier and OS vendor, leaving behind the smallest amount of value possible while still making it a product that you'd be willing to pay for and use. Read the rest
Over at Backchannel, Andy Warner's comic about how in 1941 a Swiss electrical engineer returned from a hike with his dog in the Alps and came up with velcro. Read the rest
Comedian, commercial director and documentarian Jordan Brady hosts a great podcast on commercial filmmaking called Respect The Process. He recently interviewed Ryan Berman, Chief Creative Officer for San Diego ad agency I.D.E.A. The interview is a smart casual conversation between old colleagues about the modern advertising agency, the challenges of staying forward-thinking, and keeping your team fresh and energized.
Late in the podcast (14m30s), the talk turns to Berman's own documentary film on the current state of U.S. patent law, Inventing To Nowhere, which recently screened at SXSW. Though Berman is quick to point out this was a sponsored project for The Innovation Alliance, a tech-industry lobbying group, it is not branded content. The doc is an impassioned plea for inventor protection under whatever patent reform comes from congress.
The Innovation Alliance website SaveTheInventor.com features a petition declaring:
...we oppose efforts by some multinational companies in Washington, DC to weaken patents and make it harder for inventors and start-ups like us to live out our dream of creating something and calling it our own. With our ideas, willingness to take risks, and hard work, we have just as much right to succeed as they have.
On a lighter note: also check out the hilarious PSA Brady directed, Scooter The Neutered Cat which he made for animal protection group GiveThemTen.org Read the rest
Arik Gabbai of The Smithsonian interviewed innovator Kevin Ashton, who coined the phrase “the Internet of Things." He has a new book called How to Fly a Horse: The Secret History of Creation, Invention, and Discovery. Read the rest