Ways To Think Differently

Dave Pollard offers “twelve methods that will exercise parts of your brain that rarely get it, and make you more creative and better able to understand the world.” Among them:

  • Analogies and Metaphors: “Science is Metaphor” said Timothy Leary. Analogies and metaphors allow you to ‘re-see’ something abstract as something concrete, something conceptual as perceptual. Lakoff points out that “We cannot think just anything – only what our embodied brains permit”, and analogies and metaphors permit us to think things we probably otherwise couldn’t. My recent “If the Shoe Were On the Other Foot” article was an example of this.

  • Conversations and Interviews: A wonderful enabler for thinking differently is the shared context that comes from conversations and interviews. Several of my most popular articles have been conversations with myself or with other people, because they help people understand my thought process much better than analytical discourse. Like everything natural, they are inefficient but extremely effective. Interviews work the same way. Face-to-face and recorded conversations and interviews, if they are natural and probing and improvisational, are even better, because you learn more of the participants’ worldview from the vocal nuances and body language.

  • Learning Something Outside Your Comfort Zone: If you’re an artist, learn about String Theory. If you’re a scientist, learn about the aesthetics of music. The more novel and uncomfortable and strange it is, the more it will liberate your calcified brain.

  • Nokia’s Vision

    Media Info Center writes:

    [2004 was phone as camera….2005] is the year of music — the cell phone as a sort of iPod, capable of downloading, saving and playing thousands of songs. 2006 will be the year of television on your mobile telephone. 2007 will be the year for games on the phone and the capability to play them against other phone users. 2008 will be the year of “my connected life,” when the years-old dream of cell phones that are Internet terminals will finally become a widespread reality.

    Jotspot’s Evolution

    Dan Farber writes:

    [Joe Kraus of Jotspot] said that the first iteration of JotSpot was inspired by the basic wiki concept, but has become a “wiki plus plus,” somewhat complex and difficult to explain easily to customers. He now plans to simplify JotSpot by creating three separate products within this year out of current and some future functionality. All of the products will be based on the JotSpot wiki-oriented platform (co-authoring, alerts, version control, calendars, attachments, aggregating mulitple data types, integrating with external applications, search, etc.).

    First is a new, simplified version of the wiki, which will conform to the more canonical notions of wikiness. Second is CorkBoard, which puts a graphical user interface on top of the text-oriented wiki framework, making it easier for more non-technical users to get up and running with a networked application, such as a shared project management space. Joe said the company will make the APIs open so that users have the ability to tinker and build their own CorkBoard applications on top of the JotSpot platform.

    The third application, called Application Publisher, allows users to create what Joe calls do-it-yourself (DIY) network-based applications. “If in under a minute you can make [the data] interactive like Google Maps and with good visual design, that’s something fascinating,” Joe said.

    Mash-Ups

    Business Week writes about a very Web 2.0 thing:

    What they’re all seeing is nothing less than the future of the World Wide Web. Suddenly, hordes of volunteer programmers are taking it upon themselves to combine and remix the data and services of unrelated, even competing sites. The result: entirely new offerings they call “mash-ups.” They’re the Web versions of Reese’s (“Hey, you got peanut butter on my chocolate!”) Peanut Butter Cups.

    “The Web was originally designed to be mashed up,” says Google Web developer Aaron Boodman, the 27-year-old creator of a program called Greasemonkey that makes it easy to create and use mash-ups. “The technology is finally growing up and making it possible.”

    The upshot: People are seizing far more control of what they do online.

    Useful Tools

    Atanu Dey writes that “there is a small set of very powerful tools, or mental models, that can help us comprehend the dynamic world we live in.” Among them:

    The tragedy of the commons. Want to figure out why the world is a mess, learn this one. It also will help you figure out a way out of the mess, with particular regard to population and pollution.

    The Prisoners Dilemma. Nothing beats this one when it comes to understanding why we end up screwing up when a perfectly reasonable outcome is possible but unattainable. Understanding the PD (and all its variations) is the first step to solving some of our most pressing problems, from global disarmament to terrorism.

    The Theory of the Second Best. Developed in the context of trade, it is an idea which has a much wider applicability. When you wonder how well-intentioned interventions go wrong, you can pull out this tool and figure out the real problem.

    The Idea of Markets. The unreasonable effectiveness of markets for allocating resources is as astonishing as it is counterintuitive.

    The Theory of Comparative Advantage. When I first learnt about it during a course in international trade, I was blown away by its simple profundity. But be warned that its simplicity is deceptive. It is a very tricky tool and is often clumsily wielded even by some otherwise sane people.

    TECH TALK: Next-Generation Networks: VDSL

    In this weeks columns, we will look at some network technologies: VDSL, WiMax, 3G and 4G, and Broadband over power lines. Well start by taking a look at VDSL.

    Very high bit-rate DSL (VDSL) can be thought of as the successor to ADSL (Asymmetric digital subscriber line) technology. Both work on regular telephone lines and as much are one of the most important wired broadband technologies. In India, BSNL and MTNL have launched DSL services across the country. Give the fact that unbundling of the local loop doesnt seem likely for the foreseeable future, DSL offerings from the incumbent telcos is going to be the best bet for getting high-speed connectivity into homes and enterprises in the near-term.

    HowStuffWorks writes about VDSL:

    VDSL operates over the copper wires in your phone line in much the same way that ADSL does, but there are a couple of distinctions. VDSL can achieve incredible speeds, as high as 52 Mbps downstream (to your home) and 16 Mbps upstream (from your home). That is much faster than ADSL, which provides up to 8 Mbps downstream and 800 Kbps (kilobits per second) upstream. But VDSL’s amazing performance comes at a price: It can only operate over the copper line for a short distance, about 4,000 feet (1,200 m)The key to VDSL is that the telephone companies are replacing many of their main feeds with fiber-optic cable.

    By placing a VDSL transceiver in your home and a VDSL gateway in the junction box, the distance limitation is neatly overcome. The gateway takes care of the analog-digital-analog conversion problem that disables ADSL over fiber-optic lines. It converts the data received from the transceiver into pulses of light that can be transmitted over the fiber-optic system to the central office, where the data is routed to the appropriate network to reach its final destination. When data is sent back to your computer, the VDSL gateway converts the signal from the fiber-optic cable and sends it to the transceiver. All of this happens millions of times each second!

    Dave Burstein discusses about the use of VDSL by Bell South in the US: SBC is selling satellite to 50% of their users -a fancy TIVO style set top and a slow DSL connection, and upgrading the rest to low profile VDSL2 they call fiber to the node. From the projected 2,000-5,000 feet, low profile VDSL2 is maybe 20 meg down, 1-3 meg up, most of which will be used for their videoBellSouth has 13 million lines, a million of which have fiber to the curb from a quiet build begun years ago, yes. Those are the lucky ones, because they will be upgraded to 100 meg symmetric VDSL over the next few years. Think 60 megs in practice, but still pretty good. BellSouth has just picked that build up to 200,000 lines for 2005 after slowing down for a few; unfortunately, at that rate it will take them fifty years to complete their rollout. ..Nominally ADSL2+, will morph into VDSL2 low profile soon. But VDSL2 low profile really is a slightly improved ADSL2+ (2-5 meg faster at these distances), not the 100 meg high profile that only works 500-1000 feet they are using for the lucky fiber to the curb types.

    A July 2004 News.com report about South Korea discussed its VDSL adoption: In Korea, large apartment buildings make it relatively simple for a telecommunications company to draw a fiber line to the basement and then provide VDSL (very high speed digital subscriber line). VDSL can offer as much as 50 to 100 megabits of service over short copper lines, so it is well-suited to these buildings. But the technology doesn’t work so well in the United States, where the distance between homes and the telephone company’s central offices are often large. As a result, the big phone companies say they are avoiding VDSL for the most part and looking instead to install fiber optics as a next-generation technology.

    In this context, it is also interesting to read the view of UGO Online (December 2004) about Fibre-to-the-home (FTTH): An ideal implementation of the service will eliminate any need for dedicated telephone lines, satellites, TV cabling etc, as everything will be delivered on the one high speed optical line straight to your house. The exact details of such a system are not set in stone, but generally existing telephone exchanges will act as the hub to which the fiber is connected to, inserting all of the available services into the line to each house with high reliability and low maintenanceBesides the questionable reach of FTTH, there is also the matter of equipment costs. Laying cable is never cheap, which is why Cable Internet has failed to provide a widespread broadband solution. But the real costs come with the end user equipmentWhilst FTTH is by far the most impressive and feature-filled technology on display here, the likeliness of it ever reaching a wide audience isn’t very high, at least not in the near future.

    Given that a lot of fibre backbones exist in India, what the telcos should be looking to do is to upgrade the last-mile infrastructure to offer higher speeds into Indian homes and enterprises with VDSL.

    Tomorrow: WiMax

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