The Methanol Economy

Technology Review writes:

The hydrogen economy — with its vision of gas-guzzling engines replaced by hydrogen fuel cells that produce water instead of smog and greenhouse gases — is a big mistake, according to George Olah, winner of the 1994 Nobel Prize in chemistry.

Olah, whose research in the chemistry of hydrocarbons has led to high-octane fuels and more easily degradable hydrocarbons, is now director of the Loker Hydrocarbon Research Institute at the University of Southern California. He argues that storing energy in the form of methanol, not hydrogen, could end our dependence on fossil fuels and transform carbon dioxide from a global-warming liability into an essential raw material for a methanol-based economy. Olah lays out his plan in a new book, Beyond Oil and Gas: The Methanol Economy, published last week by Wiley-VCH.


Greg Linden writes about the presentation at Google’s Analyst Day:

Slide 31 says that Google’s philosophy to new product development is “no constraints” and that they initially ignore “CPU power, storage, bandwidth, and monetization.”

Slide 20 says (in the notes) that Google plans to “get all the worlds information, not just some.”

And slide 19 (in the notes) talks about how their work is inspired by the idea of “a world with infinite storage, bandwidth, and CPU power.” They say that “the experience should really be instantaneous”. They say that they should be able to “house all user files, including: emails, web history, pictures, bookmarks, etc and make it accessible from anywhere (any device, any platform, etc)” which leads to a world where “the online copy of your data will become your Golden Copy and your local-machine copy serves more like a cache”. And, they say that they want “transparent personalization” that uses user “data to transparently optimize the user’s experience … implicitly.”

Mobile Web Pages

Mike writes: “Most mobile sites split their content across multiple short pages. I think in a lot of cases its a bad approach. In case of a small-to-medium size mobile web page it takes a cell phone much longer to start downloading the page than to actually download it. Thats why my philosophy has always been to make mobile pages as long as possible. A good example of an app that I designed with that in mind is Windows Live Mail for mobile, where we first try to determine whether the device can handle large pages, and then generate as large page as possible (with an upper limit). This improves the user experience by reducing the time that the device spends connecting and locating each page. It also lowers the amount of data that gets transferred to the users phone, because downloading each page has an overhead of downloading its header and footer sections.”

P2P for Media Distribution

Robert Cringely writes about Peer Networks:

The merging Big Kahuna in commercial peer-to-peer seems to be Wurld Media’s Peer Impact, which has similar technology to Grid Networks (though Windows-only), but where Grid is a networking company, Peer Impact is a media company and actually has a pretty compelling business model.

Peer Impact is up and running right now, though most of what the network has available isn’t TV or music, but video games. About 1,100 video games from most major publishers except Electronic Arts are available through Peer Impact. The network has also announced it is adding video content and movies from NBC/Universal, and says it will have all major film studios and all major record companies onboard by the end of this year.

Peer Impact is similar to iTunes in that Apple sets the price ($0.99 per song and $1.99 per show). Where Peer Impact is different is in its use of Microsoft DRM, Windows client software, and a peer-to-peer distribution scheme. But where the company is REALLY different is in its relationship to participating nodes: Peer Impact pays users.

Advertising 2.0

Rudy De Waele points to a paper by advertising specialist Paul Beelen who writes: “This type of Internet is far more dangerous to the advertising industry than the previous one. This new type of Internet undermines the very principals advertising has relied on for decades, such as information-asymmetry and top-down content delivery.”

TECH TALK: The Value of Vision: Mental Models

Building a vision is about developing mental models about the world one is in. One needs to understand technological change that is happening along many fronts. One also needs to understand history. In some cases, experience itself is a great teacher. Having lived through one era, some of the lessons from that world can be applied going ahead. Vision is about building these mental models and continuously enriching them based on new inputs that one receives from reading, conversations with people, and ones own thinking.

Vision takes time to develop. It is not just about that one Eureka moment. Theres a lot of hard work that needs to go into building the circumstances to create multiple smaller Eureka moments. Vision evolves in step functions, but with a lot of incremental enhancements along the way. Every once in a while, there will be a leap in thinking. But those small steps that build towards the big jump are equally important.

Vision can be a great differentiator. For entrepreneurs with little else, all they have is a dream to sell. What they need to do is to put forward a future that others who are needed to join them (team members, early adopters and investors) can be convinced about. The hardest part convincing other about the future that one is portraying. Passion of presentation makes a big difference. The entrepreneur has to believe in that vision. The challenge comes in convincing some of the non-believers that is a test of the visions strength. The non-believers may not change their mind but if they can be made to accept that what the entrepreneur is taking about is plausible, then that is a victory in itself.

The mental models work as building blocks in the development of the vision. They help enrich the view of the world and put a trajectory on the innovation that one is seeing around. The mental models necessarily have to be diverse because competitive barriers across industries are not as strong as they used to be. Technology is obviously a key component understanding emerging technologies and their impact is critical. It is also important to build mental models of the scenarios and businesses in different countries. For example, understanding China can help in projecting what will happen in India. At the same time, it is not about perfect copying. The mental model needs to also take into account differences (especially cultural) that exist and how they will play out.

Getting the timing right is perhaps the most important thing. The problem with entrepreneurs with vision is not that they can be late, but that they will be too early. Entrepreneurs are natural optimists so there is a proclivity to shortening time horizons in getting to the future. On this hinges the success of the enterprise. It is not necessarily about having a Plan B. What entrepreneurs need to think is how they can also manoeuvre others to act in a way that makes their vision become a reality faster. In a sense, this means creating an ecosystem which works to bring to life tomorrows world faster.

Tomorrow: A Personal View

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