Monthly Archives: April 2012

time words

How we think of time

  • minute
  • hour
  • day
  • week
  • month
  • year
  • (5-year)?
  • decade
  • generation/active life/career (20~ years ?)
  • lifespan (technically eon, or age)
  • century (now also an eon)
  • period (i.e. 200 years, as in “the enlightenment” or “the renaisance”)
  • age [agrarian empires, 3500-800 BC, axial age 800 BC-600 AD, middle ages 600 AD-1450, capitalist empires 1450–] (missaplied term, but who is picky)
  • millenium

America the Principled by Rosabeth Kanter

She works in organizational change, or teaches it at Harvard Bus Sch, or both.

Main thesis: The successful way to manage change, or to thrive in a dynamic environment, is by sticking to core principles. The moral compas is your guide.

She would like to see America stick to these three principles, which by implication says she thinks we are slipping away from them. I only remember two: open minds and common ground.

Kanter’s Law (named after her, perhaps by her) states that “everything looks like a failure in the middle”– and your principles guide you to success in the end. Her earlier book “Confidence — how winning streaks and loosing streaks begin and end” argues this point.

Best quote:
“Reality isn’t fixed, only our view of it.”

She discusses kaleidoscope vision. Twist the kaleidoscope.

She quotes some middle eastern buisness leaders as saying (in a case study) “If we know his religeon, we will know how he thinks”. This upset her, she does not like that level of fundamentalism.

The change element rule of thirds. 1/3 is for it, 1/3 is against it, 1/3 doesn’t care. Target those people without alienating the opponents.

Paul Saffo — Embracing Uncertainty

Mr. Saffo is a forecaster. How to spot the future coming.

“The difference between a forecast and reality is that a forecast must be believable and internally consistent”

wildcards make for better forecasting. For example, predicting that a movie star will become the next governor. He also says it helps to be a smart alec. His “movie star” prediction was a smart alec-y response which proved to be a true prediction. If you are pessimistic, appy the Lilly Tomlin rule.

Mr. Saffo is a big believer in the S-curve. 20 years of slow growth before you hit the inflection point. Implications: when people say things are just around the corner, they are 10-20 years out (we are still at the flat part of the S). When people say it will never happen, it is imminent (they haven’t seen it take off in 20 years of effort, so have given up hope. 20 years is the time to inflection).

“Never mistake a clear view for a short distance!”

Next insight– The future has arrived, but is unevenly distributed. Look for the small anomolies. These are the prodromal signs of change. Look back twice as far as you plan on looking ahead.

We fail our way into the future. Silicon valley is not build on the spires of achievement, but on the rubble of failure.

And he makes a prediction. The robots are coming.


  1. DARPA grand challenge. First one, only 4/20 make it out of the starting gate. Next one, 18 mo later, all but 4 finish.
  2. Roomba. Not only do people buy them, they name them and take them to visit friends houses.
  3. Another DARPA grand challenge, city driving. The robots all drove well, on the same day as California had a 100+ car pileup on the freeway.

The trend: changes in computation. The mircoprocessor put a computer on the desktop, and the device was a processor. Optical lasers/fiber optics allowed fast/big bandwith internet and the device became a connection. Now we have cheap sensors (tennis shoes reporting your pace !?!) which give the computer senses. Add wheels and we will have robots.

He called to someone in the audience to illustrate one of his points. They gave the wrong answer. He said “Next time I am going to use a planted response.”

My whiteboard


Neat company. Their pitch:
all emerging markets have prepaid wireless subscribers. They all run out of money at some point. Most of the world is on a 2G network with a $15 Nokia phone. These people have do something called “flashing” – where they call their friends or their boss and hang up on the first ring. That’s a “flash” – the recipient now knows to call that person back. The phone company gets no revenue from this. On a daily basis this happens – are you ready – 8 billion times around the word (almost half of all cellphone calls are flashes each day!). It is a well-known form of communication. Starscriber goes to these countries and tells the consumers there is an easier more effective way to do this kind of “flash-messaging” with their service, they are up and running in Nigeria, Indonesia and Latin America.
“Connecting the unconnected”

pixar story rules

Cut and paste from

Pixar story artist Emma Coats has tweeted a series of “story basics” over the past month and a half — guidelines that she learned from her more senior colleagues on how to create appealing stories:

#1: You admire a character for trying more than for their successes.

#2: You gotta keep in mind what’s interesting to you as an audience, not what’s fun to do as a writer. They can be v. different.

#3: Trying for theme is important, but you won’t see what the story is actually about til you’re at the end of it. Now rewrite.

#4: Once upon a time there was ___. Every day, ___. One day ___. Because of that, ___. Because of that, ___. Until finally ___.

#5: Simplify. Focus. Combine characters. Hop over detours. You’ll feel like you’re losing valuable stuff but it sets you free.

#6: What is your character good at, comfortable with? Throw the polar opposite at them. Challenge them. How do they deal?

#7: Come up with your ending before you figure out your middle. Seriously. Endings are hard, get yours working up front.

#8: Finish your story, let go even if it’s not perfect. In an ideal world you have both, but move on. Do better next time.

#9: When you’re stuck, make a list of what WOULDN’T happen next. Lots of times the material to get you unstuck will show up.

#10: Pull apart the stories you like. What you like in them is a part of you; you’ve got to recognize it before you can use it.

#11: Putting it on paper lets you start fixing it. If it stays in your head, a perfect idea, you’ll never share it with anyone.

#12: Discount the 1st thing that comes to mind. And the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th – get the obvious out of the way. Surprise yourself.

#13: Give your characters opinions. Passive/malleable might seem likable to you as you write, but it’s poison to the audience.

#14: Why must you tell THIS story? What’s the belief burning within you that your story feeds off of? That’s the heart of it.

#15: If you were your character, in this situation, how would you feel? Honesty lends credibility to unbelievable situations.

#16: What are the stakes? Give us reason to root for the character. What happens if they don’t succeed? Stack the odds against.

#17: No work is ever wasted. If it’s not working, let go and move on – it’ll come back around to be useful later.

#18: You have to know yourself: the difference between doing your best & fussing. Story is testing, not refining.

#19: Coincidences to get characters into trouble are great; coincidences to get them out of it are cheating.

#20: Exercise: take the building blocks of a movie you dislike. How d’you rearrange them into what you DO like?

#21: You gotta identify with your situation/characters, can’t just write ‘cool’. What would make YOU act that way?

#22: What’s the essence of your story? Most economical telling of it? If you know that, you can build out from there.

Presumably she’ll have more to come. Also, watch for her personal side project, a science-fiction short called Horizon, to come to a festival near you.

Kevin Kelly– the next 100 years of science

Kevin Kelly, active in the Long Now, self-proclaimed science groupie.

Transcript of the talk is here

Science is a structure of sustainable changes.

Recursion/self-reference is the fundamental principle of the universe (he does not say it as strongly, but this comes across). Self reference creates a new level; this explains the growing complexity of XX (science, civilization, life ITSELF!)

If science is how we know things (the god of truth/knowledge). Next wave of science a tripod:

  1. immense depth of observation
  2. full exploration of the parameter space (deterministic search)
  3. simulations (random search)

Earliest use of the word “science” in English is “For God of science is Lord” from 1340. I think he gets this from the Oxford English Dictionary [vol.ix, 1961, p. 221], but this is from an unconfirmed Google search. Other quotables:

What you imagine is as important as what you measure

Science is how we surprize God