Tag Archives: nytimes

Greed and the Wright Brothers – NYTimes.com

The Wright brothers’ critical insight was the importance of “lateral stability” — that is, wingtip-to-wingtip stability — to flight. And their great innovation was something they called “wing warping,” in which they used a series of pulleys that caused the wingtips on one side of the airplane to go up when the wingtips on the other side were pulled down. That allowed the Wrights’ airplane to make banked turns and to correct itself when it flew into a gust of wind.

But when the Wrights applied for a patent, they didn’t seek one that just covered wing warping; their patent covered any means to achieve lateral stability. There is no question what the Wrights sought: nothing less than a monopoly on the airplane business — every airplane ever manufactured, they believed, owed them a royalty. As Wilbur Wright, who was both the more domineering and the more inventive of the two brothers, put it in a letter: “It is our view that morally the world owes its almost universal system of lateral control entirely to us. It is also our opinion that legally it owes it to us.”

What was Curtiss doing in the meantime? In addition to coming up with the idea of adding wheels for easier takeoffs and landings, he invented an entirely different system for dealing with lateral stability, a system of flaps that went up and down and controlled the wings. (Airplane manufacturers today still use that basic insight.) The Wrights responded by filing a lawsuit, claiming that Curtiss was violating their patents. The litigation would consume them literally until the day Wilbur Wright died.

via Greed and the Wright Brothers – NYTimes.com.

The problem with the Intellectual Property is that it incentivizes people to sit on their laurels once they’ve captured an idea, so stiffles the next round of innovation. Most of these ideas aren’t nearly as revolutionary as you think, as even ground break ideas are typically simultaneously invented by independent groups. There is a great survey of this across multiple major inventions in human history in Steven Johnson’s Where Good Ideas Come From.

Repair Cafe

This is a great idea:

At Amsterdam’s first Repair Cafe, an event originally held in a theater’s foyer, then in a rented room in a former hotel and now in a community center a couple of times a month, people can bring in whatever they want to have repaired, at no cost, by volunteers who just like to fix things.

Conceived of as a way to help people reduce waste, the Repair Cafe concept has taken off since its debut two and a half years ago. The Repair Cafe Foundation has raised about $525,000 through a grant from the Dutch government, support from foundations and small donations, all of which pay for staffing, marketing and even a Repair Cafe bus.

Thirty groups have started Repair Cafes across the Netherlands, where neighbors pool their skills and labor for a few hours a month to mend holey clothing and revivify old coffee makers, broken lamps, vacuum cleaners and toasters, as well as at least one electric organ, a washing machine and an orange juice press.

Just imagine these cropping up all over the US landscape. What a wonderful way to build both community and sustainability.

Citation Needed

I was recently reading a NY Times article about the new gold rush going on in Silicon Valley which included the following statement: “Nationwide unemployment among computer scientists and programmers is higher than in other white-collar professions – around 5 percent”. Ok, that seems interesting, and not what I expected, so I wanted a citation.

Years of using Wikipedia has developed a very good set of habbits in actually looking at all the references someone links to in an article. Just because someone writes a thing down, doesn’t make it true. In the era of the internet you can’t hide behind your endnotes.

So I went trying to find this fact. Maybe they paid the $20 for the IEEE report on unemployment? Though I doubt it for an article that was basically about crazy perqs that were being given. All the freely available pieces of data cited on blogs are from October 2009, 18 months ago. I’m sure that 18 months in no way changed that number. The Bureau of Labor Statistics data that is broken down by job family is older than that, dating back to May 2009. And it doesn’t actually address unemployment, but employment. And when it break it down by job family, you start to realize how difficult it would be to figure out those rates anyway. If anyone has a better way to find these numbers, please let me know.

As the NY Times is about to put itself behind a paywall, I’m starting to wonder if one of the lessons old media really needs to learn from new media is heavily footnote. Trust is no longer given to an organization, they’ve all been too wrong too often. But trust can be given on a piece by piece basis if it has enough supporting material. And providing people good links to good primary sources is really valuable, as an hour on google will attest to. If the NY Times actually started doing that, I’d jump on the digital subscription bandwagon. It’s one of the reasons I pay for Ars Technica, they actually spend time getting good citations.

NYTimes on Bard’s Citizen Science

The 480 students have studied under two dozen scientists recruited from across the country for the program. Using lab equipment, computer modeling and classroom discussions, they have explored all aspects of disease, including detecting germs and managing pandemics.

“There are mixed opinions, from total apathy — ‘Why am I here? This isn’t why I came to Bard’ — to total enthusiasm,” Ms. Batkin said of her classmates. “I decided to take it 100 percent seriously; otherwise I knew I wouldn’t get anything out of it. I definitely find myself becoming more critical of the science articles I read.”

It seemed to have a pretty good kickoff, though I’m sure there will be detractors. Looking forward to how this program evolves over time.