Another look back

Finally cleaned out the old trunk — adding a few more jewels to the scanned collection before saying goodbye to dead trees and colourful ink, some lined up with current events such as the Super Bowl, a Steve Jobs biopic, new release of Microsoft Office, new release of 128GB iPad and the price of coffee these days:

New-Yorker-cover-0000 New-Yorker-cover-0002 New-Yorker-cover-0003 MacUser-cover-0000 MacWorld-cover-0000 MacWorld-cover-0002 MacWorld-cover-0003 MacWorld-cover-0004 MacWorld-cover-0005 MacWorld-cover-0006 MacWorld-cover-0007 MacWorld-cover-0008a MacWorld-cover-0008b

Fifty years until the next generation of real innovation?

I’m floating in a thought set of two Thai teas right now so my ability to pull memories out of the nether reaches of the brain is muddled.

What is the difference between idol worshipers and the idolised?

What makes groups of people find true innovation?

Imagine the following conversation…

= = = = =

Today, we have brought together some of the brilliant geniuses of the past (as opposed to the non-brilliant ones, that is) — Tesla, Eastman, Marconi, Edison, Nakamatsu, Einstein, Khayyám, Curie — in order to find out their thoughts about today’s revolution in technology.

Moderator: “Gentlemen and lady, welcome.”

All: “Thank you.”

Moderator: “During this time of year, technology vendors tell us about their latest offerings in the open market.  We’d like your opinions about their engineering achievements.”

Curie: “I am a scientist, not an engineer.”

Einstein: “Me, too.”

Moderator: “No problem.  We only want your opinion about the practical applications of research you performed in your lifetimes.”

Curie: “Please proceed, Monsieur.”

Moderator: “Thank you.  Over the past few days, we have seen many devices demonstrated by company executives that are meant to simplify…”

Eastman: “Are you saying that executives themselves are simplifying something?”

Moderator: “No.  Let me finish and you see what I am trying to say.”

Edison:  “As both inventor and company man, I can tell you that simplifying your work for the public is no easy challenge.  Why, look at Tesla here.  Does anyone remember who he is.  I bet Westinghouse would have a thing or two to add if he were he.  By the way, where is he?”

Moderator: “Well, we put out a call for him but instead, strangely enough, we received an RSVP from a musical act calling itself AC/DC.”

Edison: “Very interesting.  Yet, you also invited me.  Were you trying to send a message?”

Marconi: “Who, me?”

Moderator: “No.  Please let me continue…”

Curie: “Gentlemen.  Let our moderator finish what he had to say.”

Moderator: “Thank you.  Anyway, we have a lot of devices to talk about so I’ll get right to it.  We have placed on the table in front of you several of the latest products — some of them still in the prototype stage — that we would like you to comment upon.  Let’s start with this one, the Motorola Droid Razr Maxx HD.  Who would like to comment first?”

Tesla: “Okay, I will bite.  What is this interesting toy?”

Moderator: “This is a mobile phone.”

Tesla:  “A phone, you say?  Where is the receiver?”

Moderator: “Well, that’s the thing, sir.  You see, it is the receiver.”

Tesla: “A-ha.  I see this is like a tiny television, is it not?”

Moderator: “Yes.  Good analogy.  You’ll also be glad to know that it uses wireless technology to send and receive radio signals…”

Marconi:  “A wireless?  Why didn’t you say so?  How do you power this device?”

Moderator: “With a battery.”

Edison: “AC or DC current?”

Moderator: “DC.”

Edison: “Very exciting.  I can see why Westinghouse chose not to show up.  What about this musical act, AC/DC?  Did they finally decline the invitation?”

Moderator: “No, they decided to show up by proxy.  Here, let me show you.  Mr. Marconi, if you will hand me the phone…?”

Marconi: “Certainly.”

Moderator: “I’ll just bring up the music app…”

Eastman: “‘Music app’?”

Moderator: “Oh, sorry.  This phone has its own built-in memory…uh, well, not unlike camera film…”

Eastman: “Really?”

Moderator: “No…I mean…well, Ms. Curie, your research into radioactivity, combined with Einstein’s work on relativity, has opened up many engineering and science fields, including work on erasable memory.”

Tesla: “You can erase memories now?  Fascinating…”

Moderator: “Well, not human memories, I mean…”

Tesla: “Oh?  Well, that’s too bad.  Imagine being able to erase ordinary memories from your mind so you could create more room for important research…”

Moderator: “Anyway, let’s get back on schedule.  Inside this phone, like most of the devices we’ll review today, are miniaturised computing and memory units, not unlike the analog computers some of you are familiar with.  Back to the demo!  Here is what the rock band AC/DC sounds like…” [plays “Back in Black” by AC/DC]

Einstein: “Very interesting use of distortion…”

Moderator: “Yes, these are electrified instruments.  If you gather closer, you can see the band performing.”

Curie:  “Looks like that young man is wearing his pants a little short, n’est pas?”

Einstein: “I am impressed that the men can see what they’re playing with their hair so long.”

Moderator: “Yes, I understand what you mean.  Anyway, let’s move on.  Here is the next device, the Nokia Lumia 920.”

Tesla: “Why is it sitting on that little hot plate?”

Moderator: “Well, sir, this is exactly the sort of thing I thought you’d appreciate.  The ‘hot plate,’ as you call it, is a wireless charger for the battery.”

Tesla: “Wireless electricity?!  If I was still alive, I would be sainted for this, wouldn’t I?”

Moderator: “Yes, sir.  In fact, there is a movement to do just that.”

Tesla:  “All those years in isolation, fearing that no one would understand me in this or any century, let alone on this planet…”

Moderator: “And for you, Mr. Eastman, this phone has a camera.”

Eastman: “What do you mean?”

Moderator: “In fact, there are two cameras, one that faces away from you and one that faces you, which detects your face and will turn off if you stop looking at it.”

Eastman: “Amazing.  But this is all it can do?”

Moderator: “We have more product offerings to show you from manufacturers such as LG, HTC, Amazon and Apple…we can get to those later.  So far, what do you think about our incredible technical achievements?”

Einstein: “I don’t know.  I mean, we had telephones and cameras in my day…”

Tesla: “And I demonstrated wireless radio so long ago…”

Marconi: “No, I did.”

Tesla: “Whatever you choose to believe is up to you…”

Curie: “But what do they do, exactly?”

Moderator: “Madame, these devices — the smartphones and tablets, as we call them — allow scientists and doctors from around the world to gather together in realtime.”

Eastman: “So you have solved the problem of teleportation?”

Edison: “Yes, has the ultimate goal that us scientists, engineers and inventors kept from the public — traveling through space and time — reached fruition?”

Moderator: “Not exactly.  Check this out.  You can see one another’s faces and hear your voices nearly instantaneously, though.”

Tesla: “And all this takes place wirelessly?”

Moderator: “Yes.”

Tesla: “This is all you have achieved in the decades since I’ve been gone?”

Moderator: “Well, not exactly.  We have sent men to the moon…”

Curie: “No women?”

Moderator: “That’s right.  But more than one woman has gone into outer space…”

Curie: “…and cured cancer by now, I imagine.”

Moderator: “Not exactly.”

Together: A collective sigh.

Tesla: “So what you’re saying is that the work we’ve done is just being worked and reworked all over again, combining and recombining the hard years of research for which we sacrificed our lives, our reputations, our…”

Einstein: “Precisely my thoughts.  I suppose by now someone has absolutely proved or, God forbid, disproved my theories and moved on to more important science?”

Moderator: “Not exactly.”

Einstein: “I see.”

Nakamatsu: “You may think that these are unimportant achievements but I can tell you that the research does not progress as fast as you think it does.  Just like in your day, there is so much competition that a lot of redundancy prevents inventors like us from making significant progress.”

Khayyám: “These smartphones, as you call them.  What else can they do?  The tablets appear to be a magic slate of some kind.”

Moderator: “Yes, sir.  Let me show something that you might find interesting, as simple as it seems to us today — the graphing calculator function.  You just plug in the formula here…and a graph of the formula, or function, is displayed there.”

Khayyám: “Wonderful, wonderful.  It is poetry in motion!”

Tesla: “The more I see these things, the more I ask myself whether you have carried my research to its conclusion.  Can you control minds with these smartphones?  Is there a universal mind behind them?”

Moderator: “Sort of.  Some people call it the web browser-based search engine.  Others call it wikipedia, baidu or google.”

Khayyám: “‘Google’?  Is that a mathematical term?”

Moderator: “In a way, yes.  Some say it is an intentional misspelling of the word ‘googol,’ one followed by 100 zeroes.”

Khayyám: “So the universal mind is truly mathematical?  It is just as I thought.  I can return to my eternal meditation upon the true meaning of the philosophical poet who dabbles in mathematics.”

Moderator: “Well, that’s about all the time we have.  What I’m gathering from you is an intriguing mix of disappointment and satisfaction.”

Tesla: “Yes, your devices are fun to look at.  However, where are the brilliant minds of today?  Have they not advanced science any further?  Are they just building upon our old research?”

Einstein: “I suppose the atomic bomb is a thing of the past by now, given what you’ve shown us, opening up young people across the world to break down barriers of ignorance and connecting together their joy and vigour, ridding the world of unnecessary violence.  No, wait, don’t say it!”

Moderator and Einstein in unison: “Not exactly.”

Moderator: “Thanks again for joining us.  Since it seems I have not completely impressed you with our ‘all-in-one’ devices, let’s reconvene in…let’s say, oh, another 100 years and see if I can’t knock your socks off, as the saying goes.”

Curie: “Don’t call me until you’ve found a cure for radiation poisoning.”

Tesla: “Don’t bother me until they’ve found more practical applications for my inventions like mind control or creating earthquakes to move mountains.”

Khayyám: “Call me anytime but give me more time to wake up from my meditative sleep, next time.”

Einstein: “Hey, if you don’t have to put me back to sleep right now, I won’t complain.”

Nakamatsu: “Wasn’t the floppy disk a great invention?  I thought so.  The tiny memory card there is not so different, is it?  Let me show you what I think it’ll turn into next…”

Edison: “I want to know one thing.  How many iterations will it take until those things are so tiny they’ll fit inside your ear where DC power is the only way to go?  Take that, Westinghouse, wherever you are!”

Marconi: “I’m with Tesla on this one, despite our previous differences.”

Tesla: “It’s about time…”

Moderator: “Yes, the concept of time is still something we share in common.  Until next time, dear readers!”