Saturday, December 24, 2011

Where did all the money go? From Physics to Economics.

Living in California, the Real State Bubble was hard to miss from way before it actually had popped. When I arrived back to Temecula in 2005 the house prices were not real and you could tell. But, it didn't stop there it kept going up and up until the inevitable end.

When the bubble finally burst, as I saw friends and neighbors lose their homes, there was one huge question in my mind:
Where did the money go? Did it just disappear?

Having a strong physics background I started to believe that the answer was "money can be transformed but cannot be created or destroyed". Of course, this was a clear translation from the First Law of Thermodynamics:
"energy can be transformed but cannot be created or destroyed".

Time went by and data started to come out on selected news sources. We could see how the wealth gap grew in a disproportional way:

The concentration of wealth completely redistributed and as my hunch was telling me the money didn't just disappear but it experienced a deep transformation in which it changed hands.

I'm not really making a law of economics. I'm more like posing a question and wondering about the advantage of adding a cross-disciplinary perspective to the subject.

The obvious next step would be to consider the Second Law of Thermodynamics would apply to worldwide economy as well:
"A tendency that over time, differences in temperature, pressure, and chemical potential equilibrate in an isolated physical system".

Would it be possible that the globalization process we're seeing and the crisis in the first world paired up with important development in countries such as Brazil, India, China and others is a result of an equivalent law to the Second Law of Thermodynamics?

If that were true, we could predict that the world will end up being more balanced and inequality gaps would tend to be reduced over time.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

NFC: One more step towards Money Virtualization

Today we're witnessing one of the last steps in the virtualization of money.

Starting millenniums BC with the Egyptians and the Babylonians money was originally very physical as in commodities, such as barley, salt, and precious metals.
Continuing with the first stamped weighted coins dating back to 700BC, followed by multiple attempts to representative money (token or certificate made of paper) in the 1800s and early 1900s.
And, in an exponentially accelerated fashion converting recently to electronic or digital money with the advent of credit and debit cards, virtual payments and transfers among other ways of electronic interchange of money.

So, what is new today about money virtualization?

The answer is NFC, Near Field Communication: allows for simplified transactions, data exchange, and wireless connections between two devices in close proximity to each other, usually by no more than a few centimeters.
NFC coming soon to a cellphone near you will be a key technology to enable electronic money, electronic business cards, file sharing, mobile gaming, electronic people and things tracking and friend to friend communication.

I received today in the mail my first NFC payment tag promising "simplicity starts now" (by Citi Bank).
The little tag is designed to be adhered to the back of your phone, so no need to wait for the new NFC phones to start living this NFC era. As stated in the brochure that came with the tag, a renown network of stores is already accepting "PayPass" including: 7Eleven, Sports Authority, CVS Pharmacy, Best Buy, Hess, bp, Home Depot and Mc Donalds. I am sure the list is growing fast.

Obviously they offer the same $0 liability they offer with the rest of their cards, which is probably going to take care of some of the unnatural fears that always accompany any new technology like this.

For me this is a historic moment I've been waiting for the longest time, one more step towards liberating myself from the purse and in this case of the wallet and being lighter by carrying just a cellphone. Oops, what about Id? When will we have a digital version of it? I love those credit cards that have your pic in the back and you don't need to have an id to use them ...

May years ago I wrote about technology becoming ubiquitous using the example of the clock/watch. Today we can certainly add money to this technology trend.

Simple is better, less is more, and with this motto I leave you with all the excitement of enjoying soon from one of the last steps in money virtualization, just before the implanted chip ;)

Sunday, September 11, 2011

The modern blackout

If you were to compare a quick movie from the blackout when I was growing up and the blackout nowadays, I bet you could easily spot the ten differences.

Last Thursday, a work day like any other, around four in the afternoon, the unthinkable happened: electricity went off!!

The good news is that this almost never happens anymore. The bad news is that when it happens it can be a big caos.

In my mind, the power outage had to be some small fluke and something that would get resolved immediately, so my only worry was to rescue an email I was writing on my desktop computer (yes, I do work with both a notebook and a desktop computer at the same time). Luckily, I have a small power unit so my machine didn't go down, I just plugged the monitor into the power unit and saved my email, only to later find out that the email at Rackspace's website was already being saved as a draft automatically for me (used to have Google do it, but Rackspace I had no idea). While I attempted to rescue the email I realized there was no internet and no intranet.

The obvious next step was to take a small break while electricity would quickly come back up. I decided to use it as a restroom break but of course no light! That was the first thing I noticed that started to point out the big differences with the past. In the past no light would have mean candles, basically fire! Today, everybody was using their cellphones as light sources. Big change, electricity is the new fire and cellphones are the new candles! and the new computers when there's no electricity! Of course, Twitter was going strong with cellphones only.

As part of my break I went to the receptionist area where my co-workers where gathering and that's when I learned that it was a huge blackout and it probably would not have an easy fix, they still had no idea what caused it. Being on the wake of September 11th, everybody had this thoughts on the back of their minds, could this be a terrorist attack? And with reason in a way, because of how key the electricity system became on our lives ... Anyway, people were starting to freak out, let's go home now, traffic will be bad, as we looked out of the windows to increasing movement of cars. We decided to leave.

I have a one hour ride home so I thought I'd pour some water on my bottle and then take off. Guess what?? The filtering water machine is digital and it was dark, no water would come out of the thing without electricity, it was dead!

The next step was leaving the building and reaching the highway. That on a normal day is a quick 3 to 5 minutes breeze, but not that Thursday. Cars were leaving buildings like rats would leave a sinking boat, but with the stop lights not working the usual 5 minutes turned out into a claustrophobic experience of 25-30 minutes to get to the highway. I was sitting on each of the lights behind a long line of cars while cars orderly but slowly attempted to advance one by one. Right there it was a little shocking to realize our dependency on the stop lights. It is a real mess and 10 times slower without them. I kept thinking we should have an alternative not lights procedure ...

Let's recognize that with no electricity and the mess in the streets, right there, it already was feeling a little apocalyptic.

Once I reached the highway it went pretty well and 40 minutes later I was in shinny Temecula, where electricity had not been disrupted. I was still in emergency mode, ok, what do I need to do? Get gas? get some cash? water?

By the time I reached home, I had dinner and I left for a Starbucks appointment I had, it was all gone for me. But Temecula was still freaking out and gas stations were having one hour lines. Later, I heard from my neighbors that were stuck in Escondido area, that they ran out of gas, gas stations were not working, restaurants were closed, it was a big disruption.

The blackout lasted all night and was fixed first time in the morning. Spending the night without electricity is a major challenge for most of us nowadays. Of course we all survived, but to face our dependency straight on was scary for most people.

These are the times to think of solar. I imagine San Diego at night, specially on the suburbs, with people gathered around the garden solar lamps, that loyally would stand up and work regardless anything else.

Our human body depends completely on the heart pumping oxygen around all the time. Our brain can only survive 3-5 minutes without it. In the same way as our body evolved to depend on the lungs and heart function, we are collectively evolving to have a huge dependency on electricity. We humans are living proof that it's possible to survive with this kind of dependency, but we need to acknowledge it and have backup plans.

I wrote on the past about the evolutionary path towards outsourcing energy here.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

The Arrow of Technology Adoption

I consider myself a very techie, adaptable, flexible person, and for the most part I think I am, with one big exception: Many times in the past I noticed that I cannot adapt to go back to older suboptimal technologies.

One of the earliest signs of this condition happened to me with the digital versus analog watch.
When I was 11 years old I had my first digital watch, which was actually my very first watch. I rejoiced in the beauty of 11:11 (nicer yet on the old watches than it is on the computer nowadays as the image to the left can testify). Years went by and it become stylish to use one of the old analog watches digital watches for ladies become a rare thing. I could not, use one of those analog watches for nothing in the world. I rather use the very non-fashionable at that time digital watch than deal with the inexactitude and guessing of the analog counterparts.

At that time it just remained one more rarity of my own, and only later on I started seeing a trend.

My second very strong experience of trying to go back in time with technology was a few years ago traveling to Uruguay, South America. Usually as soon as I arrived to the airport, my mother in law would bring me one of this very useful nokia 12-keys cellphones so I could remain connected with my family up here in the US. It all worked out well until text messages started to pick up in Uruguay. That's when I became crippled. My friends would send me quick long texts and I was supposed to answer back as quickly and as lengthly as they would. I would expect to have a keyboard if I was going to type a text message. My level of frustration would become very high as I tried to handle the texts with the little 12 keys keyboard. At that point, I had to admit that I could not go back into older, less optimal technologies.

Years later, I want to write my emails and blog posts on my laptop, read my tweets on the iPad, view my youtubes on Google TV and use the cellphone for all of the above when I have no other option. I realized we're surrounding ourselves with more and more technology. As everything resides in the cloud, we can choose the best device to deliver the experience we're looking for at each particular moment.

If we keep exploring the subject, we all can find multiple areas in which these incapacity to go back in Technology without major pain is very present. We all know the feeling of being almost physically sick and impaired when some of our essential technology stops working. Try to think of the last time that you had no electricity, or internet: that is the feeling I'm talking about! I believe this is one of the symptoms of experiencing what I'll call the "Arrow of Technology".

The "Arrow of Technology Adoption" (paraphrasing the "Arrow of Time": wikipedia, or more technically), describes the "one-way direction" or "asymmetry" of technology adoption.
Please note that the "Arrow of Time" might exist merely in the human perceptual level in the same way that the "Arrow of Technology" might exist merely in the human adoption of Technology, not necessarily in the sense of Technological evolution itself.

The "Arrow of Technology Adoption" does not imply that technology always arrives to stay for good. A perfect example is the arouse of Windows Tablet PCs in the 2000s. In year 2004, I got myself a touch screen Windows Tablet PC. Once the super coolness factor, of riding the Chicago train and having all the eyes on my super toy, got old, it started being a real pain to have to carry my crippled tablet with a stand and a keyboard at all times because I would feel completely crippled without a keyboard. Years later the iPad, and later on other tablets, as well as smart phones, made the concept of keyboard-less a reality. In this particular case, technology didn't get enough adoption on the first attempt, and it faded away, but later on it came back to be a winner.

Understanding the Adoption Curve of Technology together with the rules of the "Arrow of Technology" and its implications, will allow us to optimize our own technology adoption process in the family, company or personal levels. Also, there lays great opportunity in the understanding of these two principles as we could plan accordingly, stay ahead of the curve and ultimately innovate and compete in a technologically complex world.

I wouldn't be surprised if one day we can link the "Arrow of Technology Adoption" at the entropy level, after all, as much as many of us fight the concept, technology is part of the natural/physical world.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Twitter is closer to emulate a Neural Network than Facebook

When we think of Twitter and the innovation behind it, the first thing we all think is 140.
140 characters is without a doubt an amazing innovation that Twitter introduced which makes communication flow faster, forces twitters to summarize a piece of news or information, or an idea or an opinion and allows followers to get information or an idea faster as well.

Also, after the introduction of url shorteners (tinyurl,com originally and many others later on such as an emergent property of Twitter came to life: the linked web. Any blog post or news article out there could be potentially linked multiple times in Twitter with quick summaries and opinions.

Other emerging properties or elements in Twitter are:
. Tags, early on twitters started using tags as a way to group events or themes together and follow them separately.
. Curated content appeared more recently in an attempt to organize tweets in channels like mode.

There is one more original Twitter property we don't hear much about and I believe it's a key element to the Twitter success.

In the world of two way communications, Twitter is one of the first Social Networks that works asymmetrically versus working symmetrically like Facebook.
In Facebook, you are my friend at the same time I am your friend (with the exceptions of some of the user types). We could call that a Symmetric Social Network. Other previous successful examples of Symmetric Networks are Skype and Instant Messengers.
In Twitter, there's no implied/automatic relationship between those that I follow and those that follow me. We could call that an Asymmetric Social Network. Other previous successful examples of Asymmetric Networks are phones, cellphones and emails, the linked web.

When you look at a Neural Network, you'll find that it is also an Asymmetric Network. Neurons have their axons that allow them to connect to other neurons, at the same time, other neurons have the freedom to connect their own axons back to the neurons connecting to them or choose other not connected neurons to hook up with.

It seems like Twitter is imitating nature's success in implementing this type of social network architecture.
The most common neurons in the brain (called multipolar neurons) process their in-coming and out-coming connections separately. On a neuron, dendrites are receptors for in-coming connections and the axon branches out-coming connections.

On a simile between the Twitter and the Neural Network model we would see the following:
. The Twitter accounts that follow me would be like the Axon connections on a neuron.
. The Twitter accounts a person follows would be like the Dendrites connections on a neuron.

Thinking of the advantages of connecting Asymmetrically you could find a few:
. More flexibility and plasticity on the resulting graph.
. Easier to detect Hubs and greater influence of Hubs on the Network.
. More independence (freedom of choice regarding incoming communications) in the level of the individual cell or network node.
. Loose (light weight) connections.

Advantages of a Symmetric Network:
. Greater Trust in the Network Connections.
. More back and forth, one to one Communications.
. Tighter connections.
. More room for reciprocity to occur.

Different Networks do have different purposes. Like this article states, Facebook is more of an Identity Platform while Twitter is more of a communication platform.

As a conclusion, Bio-mimicry is big nowadays as a source of innovation and ideas for the technological world we're creating to learn and be inspired on the biological world leveraging its millions of years of evolution.

I'm sure there are more implications in the end graph that either Network type generate that would be interesting to research.
I wonder if we would see different levels of complexity on the resulting graphs.
I also wonder what other properties we could mimic or learn from the Neural Networks to apply into our Social Networks.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

TEDx American Finest City: Get your fix!

This TEDx event is being broadcasted live at:

The event harvested social networking from the beginning. They opened with an image saying: turn your cellphone volume off but leave the phone on because we want you to tweet!

Wonderful ideas delivered! Some notes on the talks:

Howard Blackson
Building Community Character

His idea is to add neighborhood nodes: find those centers and build paseos, plazas, combining the informal eclectic model with the formal. The juxtaposition adds value to the surrounding.
Building for city of vilages with 10 minutes distance among each other.
Build for social and cultural value which brings tremendous economic value.

James Brown
Design for intent

Buildings have intentions (Tells the story of a house to die).
A house is a sign, gives a description of the inhabitants.
Houses that tell stories.
Design: pushing for awkwardness, looking for discomfort.
Example the longest kitchen on the world.
Project, Friendship Park: San Diego - Tijuana.
Double fence at the border, US border built a second fence and broke this space of encounter.
Friends of Friendship park made a proposal to build a park between the two fences: send a message of unity instead of division

Scott Silverman from Second Chance
Compelling personal story:
Speaking about his miss-fortunes at school.
Was advised to be the best failure he could be.
Scott Silverman moving story from Second Chance: recycling human beings.
He believes in building human capital.
Never accept no for an answer. Tell me no, I dare you!?

Serge Dedina
Used different strategies to keep the oceans clean conveying the message through:
Sex it up!
"My man doesn't need to eat Sea Turtle eggs"
Figure out how people are communicating and infuse the social campaigns with feelings.
Punk it up!
Clean water now campaign example.

The orginal beat joins all beats and becomes whole.
Amazing trance dance performance.
Dance is a Universal language
The bodies have wisdom.
Since the beginning of time, we have danced to heal our community.
By expressing our individuality with movement, we know our story, we show our story.
There's a dance that lives inside of all of us.
Dance is healing, magic, communion.

David Lecours
"The Power of Story"

Be the change you with to see in the world.
If you pull from one source you;re copying, but if you're pulling from multiple sources you call that research.
Stories connect with the subconscious mind, the emotional mind.
You must connect in an emotional level, not only intellectual level.
We are drowning in a sea of facts, facts became a commodity and are not as valuable as they used to be.
If you torture numbers long enough they'll confess to anything you want them to.
When you weed stories on those numbers that changes all.
I am moved, therefore I am! Descartes, take that!
Story model behavior:
. provides simulation. how to act
. provides inspiration, motivation to act
. story encourages participation, call to action
Neuro-science is showing that when you're hearing a story you fire the same neurons as living story.
Stories are like mental software.
To tell your story, tap into that personal thing that can move somebody else.
On telling a company's story, three elements:
. foundation story, how organization came to be
. customer story, how it made a difference for somebody that can tell the story for you
. future story, where is it going

Larry Rosenstock
High Tech High

There's a therapeutic value to paradox, we need to integrate dualities.
Integrate head and hand.
Make students perplex.
Integrating school and community: interns, kids called into community to see what they make.
Higher for disposition, train for change
Model and Example, duality
Thomas jefferson: the purpose of public education is to create the public.
By larry's mom: there's two kind of people on this world, those who think there are two kinds of people and those who don't.

Sunday, May 08, 2011

The New Education

We all know something is broken with our Education System.

Do you want proof?
“In any field but education, if you fell asleep 50 years ago and woke up today, you’d have no clue what was going on. Things have changed, but in education we seem stuck.”
Joel Klein, Former Chancellor, NYC Dept. of Education
From Waiting for Superman.

Victor Hugo said: "There is nothing more powerful than an idea whose time has come."

I'm starting to think this is the case with "The New Education". Even if yet controversial the subject is out there, people are talking about it, and some visionaries can imagine how it might look.

Mark Randall is clearly such a visionary, as proved by his "humble suggestion" as he called it, or more truthfully a call to action to the Web Entrepreneur Community on his keynote at the Next Web Conference, Amsterdam 2011.

(if interested specifically on The New Education portion of this talk tune into minute 19:00)

Some thoughts in relation to "The New Education":

We desperately need a technology that allows "The New Education" to revolutionize the way we teach our kids: an education about ideas and thinkers, artists and creators.

When kids are following their curiosity and they have a question is when they're ready to be matched with a teacher and learn. The matching could be based on a Pandora Style DNA of both teachers and lessons. If a kid has certain interest and likes certain teacher or lesson, that will mean they're likely to learn from these other teachers and lessons. Also, a system such as Netflix "because you enjoyed ... we suggest you'd like ..." would be very beneficial in this kind of environment.

When kids play freely they have the concentration, focus, passion, perseverance that makes learning and creativity flourish. There's no replacement for motivation and there's no way that a kid can link to information if they don't have the questions already in place on their own minds or the open links waiting for a connection.

I imagined the education system of the future to be like a game, where kids get points/badges/stickers/privileges according to the activities they perform (foursquare or getglue style).
Students teaching other students with a system of rating and rewards should be a key part as when we teach, we learn and there's great satisfaction when you can help your peers.
It's be hard to imagine the education system of the future not being embedded in a social networking environment, with friends, follows, walls, status shares, and the whole enchilada.

There's the Khan Academy project, by Salman Khan and Bill Gates, that could interlock or be an antecedent in many different ways to a project like this.

Recently, I've been looking at the Sudbury Model also called Democratic Schooling and the Unschooling movements, and I think there's great lessons that can be included in this mix coming from their decades of experience with an alternative education. They also have succumbed to the pace of time and technology seems to be the glue that they're missing, which would tie everything together.

I'm sure there's a long but exciting road ahead!

A Summary on Mark's talk:

In the name of Education, a battle we're losing according to Mark Randall, in the next month Earth will spend $2 Trillion on Education and it's still a battle we're currently failing.

He does a little history:
. 18th Century, we prepared students for an agrarian/rural society.
. 19th Century, we prepared students for an industrial economy, a model we're still using today.
. 20th Century, education to produce good citizens, outstanding, productive contributors to society.
. 21st Century? the rate of change is accelerated, reaching the knee of an exponential growth curve, we need to prepare generations for an unknown future. This is scary!

Questions he asks himself and to the entrepreneur crowd:
How can we teach kids when the important questions are changing?
How can we teach kids when you can reach all of man-kind assembled knowledge on the palm of your hand?
Thinking becomes far more important than knowing. It's not about pouring facts into kids' heads.
It's about teaching:
. Reasoning (Logic)
. Creativity (Flow, play, free time)
. Curiosity (Innate)

And then, the humble invitation:
"There's a million dollar opportunity!" A hundred million reasons! And, by the way, a hundred million Euros!

Regarding the specific mechanics that Mark imagines for "The New Education" he proposes we match levels and learning styles/speed. We need to match students trajectories, in the same way we match dates and relationships on the web today.

This is not a hard problem when you look at it from a web technology perspective. We already know how to take millions of gamers and match their levels on real time from around the world.
Why can't we use students and their learning styles and match them together? We don't necessarily need more teachers but we need better ways of matching them together.

An implementation question: "How could we deliver video of the best teachers on Earth, giving their finest performances of their lives, at the right moment, at the right time, when that student is exactly ready for this lesson?"

Of course, video technology will not replace the need for caring teachers. Mark proposes we use voice over IP, and we make scarse teachers resources accesible as Live Help using the same model as Online Customer Support.

I couldn't agree more with the fact that, leaving the controversy aside, games are basically simulations. Your mind does not differentiate between you doing something on a game or in real life. Mark says "Simulations are experience in a bottle." So, games/simulations would be a big part of the plan.

On the prominent role of games in "The New Education":
"We've become very good in building addicting games, users are playing 3 billions hours a week of collective game playing online.
Imagine if we were to turn those coordinated multi-player experiences into something a little more productive. Imagine users being able to now shape their educational experience and staying with them in that constant state of flow as they get better and better, it gets harder and harder.
We can take the same technology and apply it to get meaning!"

Mark goes as far as providing a business model that would sustain profitability by catering the North American, European and Australian markets while contributing for free to the rest of the world.
He suggests we go straight to the end-user and cut out the middle man, a clear tendency of the whole market: newspapers, music, services, products, used goods.

He points to her daughter and says: "This is your end user." Then, he points to his wife and says: "However, this is your customer. And this customer is obviously one of the highest motivated customers that there are."

More on the implementation, he boldly states: "I believe there are 10 million potential customers that will gladly pay 10 Euros a month for a solution that is radically better and shows proven results, gives constant feedback, where's the child, how are they growing, what skills do they need. A text message: a kid plays a game, encounters new challenges, conquers them and has new skills they need to learn. Diiiing! parent gets a text message. You really should talk to Johnny today about judgement, he did some poor judgement calls."


Thursday, February 10, 2011

Could Video Games be better than soccer developing team player skills?

We all have heard the phrase "Kids need to play a team player kind of sport".
Oh well, to the risk of being a "bad mom" I'll admit that for some reason that never worried me much.
My daughters tried a myriad of different things from gymnastics to swimming, ballet, dance, soccer and even ice skating, but in the end the only thing that has sticked so far is Tae kwon do.
As one of my friends has a boy that has a similar pattern with sports it let me thinking on this deficiency that apparently some kids today would have regarding developing team player skills.

That is until, a couple of days ago, I sat with my daughter on my lap to watch her play
She was playing a war tycoon kind of game. Probably, not my favorite thing if you'd ask me, but my parenting style goes along the lines of letting them experiment and discover their own truths. After all, if war is as bad as I think it is, she should discover that eventually on the virtual world (although not sure about that having sometime infinite lives). Anyway, that would be probably a whole different discussion.

Back to the team play thing.
She was vividly describing things to me as much as she could without getting killed in the meantime, while I was making all sorts of annoying questions.
Some of what was happening was that some robloxs she was killing because they were not part of her team, and some others she was cool because they were. I was looking at the screen and seeing on the top right of the screen a list of roblox names with the amount of points (money actually according to her), the times she knocked out someone and the times she was knocked out by someone else.

Anyway, the thing is that I could not see any team indication in the screen. So, one of my most recurrent questions was: How do you know who's on your team?
Eventually, it was time for me to get an answer, and the answer was:
- You see, he's on my team because he gave me a sword. And now, I'm going to give him a medicine bottle so he can restore himself.
- So, the game is not telling you what the teams are? The game doesn't even know that you guys are a team? But, you're teaming up just because it makes sense???

This was an aha moment for me. So, cooperation and team building is intrinsic to online gaming to a level that goes beyond the original game design? Wow!
Obviously, there are video games that are known to develop team playing and strategy planning, but it seems that this is a systemic property.

Now, the mom in me can rest assured that video games are better than soccer when it comes to developing team player skills.