Learning from the Best Leaders

[via Shrikant Patil] From a Knowledge@Wharton article on what we can learn from the 25 most influential leaders of our time:

If there is one trait that each of these leaders shares, it is tenacity. Unlike so-called serial entrepreneurs who cash out of their companies after a few years and move on to their next venture, these leaders have had a long-term vision. They have been willing to ride out the lows with the highs. This willingness to slog it out and stay in the game for the long haul has been reflected as much in the success of their enterprises as in the endurance of their own influence as leaders. Asked why he never left Intel to start another company, Grove recently replied: “Intel is like a river. It changes every day and behind every bend there is a new start, a new challenge. I cannot think of any place where I would rather have worked.”

Biology and Technology Convergence

Wired has a series of stories entitled “Living Machines”:

We’re beginning to discern life processes at their fundamental level, and as we re-create these processes in silico, we’re starting to see how they work in inorganic settings. It turns out that many of life’s properties – emergence, self-organization, reproduction, coevolution – show up in systems generally regarded as nonliving.

EMERGENCE describes the way unpredictable patterns arise from innumerable interactions between independent parts. An organism’s behavior, for instance, is driven by the interplay of its cells. Similarly, weather develops from the mixing of oxygen, carbon dioxide, water, and other molecules.

SELF-ORGANIZATION is a basic emergent behavior. Plants and animals assemble and regulate themselves independent of any hierarchy for planning or management. Digital simulations made up of numerous software agents have demonstrated self-organization in systems ranging from computer networks to tornadoes.

REPRODUCTION was considered strictly the purview of organisms until recently. Now computer programs procreate, too. Genetic algorithms mimic biology’s capacity for innovation through genetic recombination and replication, shuffling 1s and 0s the way nature does DNA’s Gs, Ts, As, and Cs, then reproducing the best code for further recombination. This technique has been used to evolve everything from factory schedules to jet engines.

COEVOLUTION inevitably accompanies evolution. When an organism evolves in response to environmental change, it puts new pressures on that environment, which likewise evolves, prompting further evolution in the organism. This cycle occurs in many social systems – for instance, the interaction between behavioral norms and legal codes.

These life properties are already being built into real-world devices, like Sony’s robotic dog Aibo; put two of them together and their personalities will coevolve. The line between organisms and machines is beginning to blur.

Search Engine Technology

Andy Beal writes about search engines and interviews Microsoft’s Robert Scoble.

An idea from Andy: “Google has the technology to really take advantage of search within email. Why else would it even consider entering this arena? Imagine that, in order to use a free Google email account, you allow Google to provide advertisements and track your email activities. Google could change the way that search results and ads are displayed to free email users. For example, let’s say you receive an email from your brother, the content of which, among other things, gloats about the brand new P4 desktop computer that they just purchased from Dell. As part of the interface you use to read that email, Google magically displays paid search advertising for desktop computers, including a link that will take you directly to the appropriate page on Dell.com. This information would be quite beneficial to you, as you may be interested in seeing how you too can be a proud owner of a P4 computer. Fantastic targeted advertising for Dell, as they know that if you click on the listing, they are halfway there to converting you into another satisfied customer…This idea is so much closer to reality than you may think. Google already has the advertisers with its AdWords service boasting 150,000 users, eager to spend their advertising dollars. It also has the technology to determine which results to show you within your email interface. Google’s AdSense can provide the contextual ad technology that would scan an email’s content to determine which ads are the most relevant to display.”

Scoble: “For Internet searches, I see social behavior analysis tools like Technorati becoming far more important. Why? Because people want different ways to see potentially relevant results. Google took us a long way toward that future as their Google’s results are strongly influenced by how many inbound links a site has. But, now, let’s go further, even further than Technorati has gone. Let’s identify who really is keeping the market up to date on a certain field and give him/her more weight…I also see that search engines that search just specific types of content (like Feedster) are going to be more important (Feedster only searches RSS and Atom syndication feeds)…Oh, and users are going to demand new ways of exporting searches. Google showed us that with News Alerts. Enter in a search term, like ‘Microsoft’ and get emailed anytime a news source mentions Microsoft. Feedster goes further than that. There you can build an RSS feed from a search term. I have several of those coming into my RSS News Aggregator and find they are invaluable for watching what the weblogs are saying about your product, company, or market. For instance, one of my terms I built a feed for is “WinFS” — I’ll be watching to see how many people link to this article and if any of you have something interesting to say I’ll even link back.”

Underhyped 802.11

William Gurley compares 802.11 with x86 and Ethernet and writes why it is the next big platform:

802.11 is to wireless communications what the x86 is to computing and what Ethernet is to networking. This “open-standard radio” is today supported by more than 115 vendors with more than 900 certified products. The collective R&D of Intel, Broadcom, Cisco Systems and Motorola, as well the entire venture capital community, will move this technology further and further along the price performance curve.

In five short years, a backwardly compatible 802.11g chip began to offer about 25 times the performance at about one-twentieth the price of the first-generation radios in this market. As before, these low price points are leading to increased market opportunities and lower and lower prices. Currently, 802.11 radios are a 50-million-unit-per-year market, but history suggests that this is merely the beginning.

With some 802.11 radio chips approaching $5 price points, Wi-Fi will likely be embedded in every electronic product under the sun. This pervasiveness will impact the communications market in two remarkable ways. First, vendors that build supporting infrastructure and applications will come to assume that Wi-Fi is onboard, further entrenching the standard. Perhaps more importantly, as a client technology, 802.11 will increasingly be considered “free.”

In the wireless communications world, the cost of client technology (sometimes referred to as CPE, for consumer premises equipment) typically has a huge impact on overall system economics and therefore adoption. With “free” CPE, 802.11 will have a distinct competitive economic advantage.

802.11, or one of its backwardly compatible descendants, will dominate the wireless communications sector over the next 10 years the same way the x86 architecture dominates computing and that Ethernet dominates networking.

Digital Entertainment

The Economist writes: “thanks to the DVD and its ability to store a feature-length movie at high quality on a small disc, Hollywood now earns more money from home entertainment than from the showing of films in cinemas. In 2003, Americans spent $22.5 billion on DVDs and videocassettes compared with $9.2 billion at the box office, where receipts fell slightly for the first time in a decade…Sales and rentals of DVDs account for two-fifths of the studios’ revenues, according to Adams Media Research, compared with under 1% in 1997…What is particularly exciting for the movie industry is that people are choosing to buy rather than rent DVDs, as they mostly did with videos.”

This is yet another example of how industries are going digital. As the cost of DVD players has fallen to under USD 30, sales of DVDs have taken off, giving studios another lucrative franchise. Piracy remains the biggest threat. Says the Economist:

Hollywood is at the same euphoric stage with DVDs now as the music business was in the 1990s, when consumers bought CDs to replace their vinyl records. After that, piracy and internet-downloads struck and the music industry shrank. Video files are much bigger and can take many hours to download, which for a while offers some degree of protection. Nevertheless, having seen what happened to the music business, Roger Ames, chairman and chief executive of Warner Music Group, advises his colleagues in the film world to join big music’s effort to sue individual consumers who download content illegally from the internet. Unless the studios get tough, he warns They have no idea what’s coming their way.

Chips for TVs

A new market is opening up for the likes of Intel and Texas Instruments. Barron’s has more:

The new angle on television involves microdisplays — a technique for making rear-projection TVs that are cheaper and brighter than most large-screen digital sets sold today. Texas Instruments already reaps about 5% of its sales from its Digital Light Processing chip — a half-inch square that contains as many as 2 million movable mirrors to project a high-definition image onto a TV screen. At a consumer electronics trade show last month, Intel described an emerging, rival technology called Liquid Crystal on Silicon — call it LCOS. Instead of moving mirrors, the Intel approach bounces its image off a reflective chip covered with tiny liquid-crystal shutters.

Such microdisplay technologies are worth $300-$400 in component costs per TV set, Parker figures, plus an additional few hundred bucks for the projection parts. That boosts the semiconductor content of a digital TV from about $110 — comparable to a cable set-top box — to the $400-$500 per unit range of a personal computer. Unit sales of TVs in the U.S. surpassed 30 million in 2002, so it’s clearly worth the attention of TI and Intel.

Federal regulations will require most TVs to contain digital tuners by 2007.

Other technologies used in big digital TVs form their image right on their expensive screens, which incorporate liquid-crystal shutters or else tiny jots of the glowing electrified gas known as plasma. Televisions using TI’s little mirrors aren’t as thin as a plasma screen, but they’re cheaper. Intel hopes that its LCOS chips could ultimately be cheaper than TI’s moving mirrors, because the Intel design has no moving parts.

Adds WSJ on Texas Instruments’ digital light processing (DLP) chip:

After years of experimenting with a fingernail-size computer chip that holds a million or more microscopic mirrors, Texas Instruments Inc. is finally about to see the payoff — and it may be in your living room. The Dallas chipmaker’s “digital light processing” technology was little more than a dim prospect for many years. But now it is at the heart of new high-definition television sets from RCA, Samsung, Toshiba, Zenith Electronics and Panasonic, among others. Some analysts think DLP ultimately could be as ubiquitous as Dolby sound in stereos.

Today, the technology uses as many as two million mirrors. Light from a bulb first passes through red, blue or green filters, then is beamed onto the chip. The mirrors are tilted in rapid-fire sequence by electrical pulses to reflect the light, which creates tiny dots that are projected onto the TV screen.

Because each mirror produces a single picture element and reflects the light of a 200-watt bulb, the sets have ultrasharp images. Texas Instruments says the DLP images are brighter than those of liquid-crystal displays, and that DLP sets burn less energy than plasma screens, two other technologies for high-definition TV.

TECH TALK: Technology and the Indian Elections: Campaigning

We will examine how technology can influence elections in India from three angles: during the pre-polling stage (campaigning), during the results declaration stage (counting), and after the elections (governance). We will also look at the various entities that are involved in the elections the candidates, the political parties, the constituents (voters), the media and the winners (government), and discuss how technology can help each of them.

The election process starts with the filing of nominations by various candidates. They are either affiliated to national or state political parties, or in some cases, contesting as Independents. One of the most important requirements for every candidate and political party should be to have a website. For the candidate, the website should provide a profile, wealth declaration of the candidate and the family, current legal and criminal cases (if any), position papers on various issues the candidate considers of important, and a calendar of events as part of the candidates campaign. In the event the candidate is an incumbent, the website should also provide details of the promises made in the previous election and the current status in the fulfillment process. For the political parties, the websites should have profiles of the party leadership, the party manifesto and a list of its candidates with links to the candidate profiles. In some ways, this is analogous to the filings and disclosures that the stock exchanges expect the companies that are listed to do.

In addition, as the campaign progresses, the candidate and party websites should provide updates on the speeches made transcripts or audio/video recordings should be made available. It is also possible to provide pictures in near-real time with digital cameras and camera cellphones. Technology exists to easily record and upload files to the websites.

The organisation of the website can thus have two components an About Me/Us section which provides the background, and a Whats New section which has a weblog-like look which showcases the recent events and developments. This section should also have an RSS feed to allow interested people to subscribe to the updates.

The next layer of information availability comes from aggregation. Each constituency should have a website which provides demographic information (which can be sourced from census data and the electoral lists), along with details of the contestants with links to their respective websites. In addition, there can be historical data, which shows the past winners, voting percentages and other statistics, which can found in the Election Commission archives. The information should be available both in HTML form on web page, as well as in database form for analysis by those wanting to delve deeper. This aggregated information allows citizens to easily find the information on the contestants and make informed choices. This will also help in ensuring more people turn out to vote in most cases, the lack of desire to vote stems from ignorance of the candidates.

Tomorrow: Campaigning (continued)

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