Tag Archives: Mobile

Three Laws of Innovation?

A couple of topics popped up together recently to make me think some about Innovation and maybe what might be considered as the “Three Laws of Innovation”

Yes, again, why not, Innovation theory (and practice) is very interesting and a favourite subject area of mine

(Embedding further) Three laws were good enough for Newton, Asimov, Arthur C Clarke, Kepler, and Thermodynamics (Thermo-man?), so is enough for us here

The two topics that pinged on my radar were the DAB radio switch-over and  the growth of mobile “apps”.

Very observant, young man, you might say with cutting irony, considering how the latter elephant is not exactly a not a small thing to notice, however, the specific shading that drew my attention is the conflation of “apps” with the relatively absurd concept of the “Consumerisation of IT”, but that is something for another day

As is generally well known (maybe at least to the connoisseurs of such), there are two great peaks of thinking about Innovation (or at least well promoted, anyway), which are strong candidates for Laws 1 & 2:

  • Utterback’s theory of “Dominant Design”, and
  • Christensen’s “Disruptive Innovation”

I shall ignore Foster’s S-Curves, fun but largely useless without 20:20 hindsight.  Although his retrospective observations on historic R&D yield in mature industries were also interesting

It happens that both of these theories are about competition – essentially, quasi-Darwinian “survival of the fittest” ideas in the commercial eco-system.  This prompts the thought that ideas are like animals or plants colonising new territory and perhaps supplanting existing species.

Indeed one can conceive the evolution of computers in just such a way,   In the first stage, the mainframe mega-dinosaurs lumbered in to empty lands and all five of them hunkered down in their primeval swamp…


The slower and smaller minicomputers grew up and ate some of the mainframe lunch but otherwise nested in  vacant slots in the eco-system…


Then the nimble and populous Personal Computers burst on to the scene and set up home next to the others, but also occupy some completely different space…


And most recently, the little amoebal-mobile devices sneak in, erode some of the desktop territory but also set home home in a new country (and they opened a shop too, well, a marketplace, and everything)


The point here being that it is not all about competition although this does impact some of the legacy techno-animals but, in many cases, the new mechanisms opened up new territories and enabled some new things.

It should also be observed that Christensen’s theory applies well here as the cost performance of computing has fallen dramatically so that the dinosaur mainframes are now well and truly outclassed by the lower performance systems that came in from underneath, such that, that a typical mainframe is no more powerful than reasonably sized Wintel enterprise server, but about 100 times more expensive to feed and water!

In the model above, although there are some new territories to invade, the spaces between older technologies are getting ever smaller with the “idea-space” becoming ever more congested and the eco-system constipated.  The niche features and almost fractal scale of new mobile apps squeezing into uses not previously envisaged…

just how did we ever live before without those iFart apps?

…together with the growing variety of device formats seem to mirror this reducing space into which new things must fit.   Just so, oh best beloved, indeed, this is a feature of another evolutionary effect: specialisation.

Tangentially, this notion of congestion does raise the question is that can/will the total “idea-space” fill up?

At the end the of 2010, the US Patent Office (profligate as it is in granting patent “all-sorts” due to its perverse budgeting incentives) records shows that there were 4,767,685 utility patents (broadly, “inventions”) granted in the 47 years between 1963 and 2010, and the annual rate of grants is increasing.  If you project the growth curve (it is a good fit for a third order polynomial), then in just the next 20 years, the number of utility patents will double to over 10 million…


…something is going to break…

Consider, for example, the evolution of electric tools, for example, a thrilling topic perhaps of rather particular interest, but well known to DIY old-timers.

In the early days, a power drill was a treasured item, costing a kings ransom to buy, and then enhanced by the ingenious design of various add-ons that allowed the drill to power other devices.  However, the combination tools were rather average at the job and you spent ages swapping attachments to get a job done.

Now, the cost of base motor-drive parts has reached the point (relative to average income) that dedicated tools are generally in B&Q and all good local stockists (yes, even here in Lincolnshire).  The evolutionary generations are broadly thus…


….and the key point is here that specialisation has followed an age of standard/generic, multi-purpose designs.

On the topic of power tools and attachments, we shall not dwell on a very dark DIY episode many years ago, when one gimlet sharp child of mine watching out of the window said, “Mummy, why is Daddy hitting that piece of wood with the jigsaw?”. Gilly wisely closed the curtains and drew attention away from the gathering storm clouds outside, &%@+^$(&^%$%$%^^%&$…

In the evolutionary context, the thin-client Internet browser has much in common with the 1970s Black and Decker drill, it performs some functions well (the hole-making ability) but does others really badly.  The central management of pages on a web-site and server push for software add-ons is very good but, in contrast, browser-based transactional applications are appallingly bad (vide the immensely frustrating and totally unacceptable experience of the https payment page in a checkout process that displays “page not found”, cue lost or duplicated orders and payments).  In other words, a very poor substitute for a properly constructed fat-client, event driven, distributed application

As an aside, the nineties/noughties Browser can be considered an example of the “When you’ve got a hammer, everything looks like a nail” principle, graphically:Hammer

The pendulum is now swinging away from the generic macro browser to micro apps as fat clients, with a huge range of variety, diversity, and utility.  Whilst there is a potential for a tremendous mess and confusing mishmash, some of the previous lessons have (fortunately?) been enshrined within the application architectures with common frameworks and interfaces (e.g., Android security permissions and sharing” model) and UI design (e.g, Windows Phone 7 Metro style guide)

Considering that “apps” are no more then evolved, differentiated versions of web-pages, recasting Apple’s trademarked bon-mots “there’s an app for that”  back in time becomes “there’s a web-page for that”….

Not so impressive, but invokes a scary vision that there are over 20 billion pages indexed on the surface of the WWWeb, and many more in the deep, suggesting that if even a fraction of the pages and their features were to escape as mobile apps, then there could be millions, if not, billions of apps to come, and then die on our phones like the husks of a defeated blue-bottle infestation

So what about the DAB switch-over, I hear you cry, what does this have to do with the price of fish?  Well, DAB is an example of a somewhat different trend of technological sophistication, and growing complexity.

A quick trip to the dictionary confirms that “Sophistication” and “Sophistry” have the same root in the Ancient Greek word for wisdom (σοφία, sophia) which should be a good thing, you might think. However. the fallacious, specious and dishonest taint of sophistry slops over into a pejorative meaning, and so your average fashion-victim socialite may be unaware that being called “sophisticated”  is not cool and an oh so subtle insult!

Unlike the rather simplistic two-dimensional competitive territory model above, of course, the “idea-space” is much bigger and more multi-dimensional. Consider here an abridged picture of the evolution of the modern auto-mobile, from fire and wheel to pinnacle of multiplexed CAN-bus wiring and other goodies that can no longer be fixed with a few Lucas connectors and the ubiquitous half-inch spanner of my youth.  Each generation of innovation is built on the foundations of previous, and also mashed up from wildly different sources to build a pyramid of complexity


So. back to DAB, in my mind which is tuned always to consider contingencies, it is a comforting thought that when civilisation falls and we are hiding from the hordes of flesh-eating zombies, we can at least make an AM radio from a handful of salvaged components, whereas DAB FM is at least two orders of more complex – no, it’s just a recipe of the end of humanity as we know it.

So drawing this monologue to a close, which Innovation mega-theory would make a good candidate to sit in a trinity of the Laws of Innovation together with with Dominant Design and Disruptive Innovation?

Might be interesting to draw in something around that is not just about competition as the other two, but perhaps combination / complexity.   Food for thought and an ongoing search, I think.

GPS-enabled Road Pricing. Hah!

I recently had  to to go to Kent at short notice, and since I was heading into relatively unknown territory on a long journey, I zero’d my satnav trip details, a rare event.

When I got home, I flipped to the trip detail screen and was tickled to see this trip record shown below…

was_it_a_veyron (works)

The distance looks right,  but behold,  my Max Speed was apparently 242 mph – was I driving a Bugatti Veyron (top speed 258 mph)?  – I think not!

This makes you think about how useful is GPS data as the foundation of a national road pricing system  – the answer is probably in chocolate teapot territory!

Many people think that a satellite based road pricing system would work roughly like this…

Road pricing - how people think it works

…with the satellites somehow detecting the position of your car and then transmitting the data to the Big Computer that adds up the price of the  the roads you have been sitting on, and then issuing a bill.

But of course the satellites don’t detect the position of the car at all, it is the Black Box in the car that does all the work, and so a GPS-satellite based road pricing system would really work something like this….


…with the car working out where it thinks it is, and then (somehow, by mobile phone, maybe) sending the data to the Big Computer that…well, you get the picture, don’t you…

If such a system were built, then once people twig the way things work, the little Black Boxes will be wearing tin-foil hats – to block the incoming satellite signal, and then to stop the mobile phone signal going out; result: No road travel data = no payment.

So the Power-That-Be would have design some sort of method of enforcement.  What better way than using the Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) cameras that are sprouting all over the place.

All you need to do is cross-relate the journey data received from the in-car black boxes with the location of sightings according to the cameras.   The system would look something like this…


Thinking a bit harder than maybe my satnav did, then you can imagine many points of error:

  • confused satnav systems
  • lost distances travelled in tunnels, city canyons, and inside little tin foil hats
  • black box failures, including maybe “failures” induced by sharp, stabbling screwdrivers
  • failed/partial uploads of trip records
  • misrecognised number plates
  • cars and drivers missing from the database
  • and more…

Aaaaaaaaaagh, a merry feast of error compounding upon error, a veritable panoply of tainted data, a concatenation of absurdity!

Multiplying up the error probabilities in this ordure-filled pipeline, and you will get a success probability in the mid-seventies percent.   Not good…

I have previously mentioned the risk profile of Government IT projects so I won’t bang that particular drum again here, but you can always look here to remind yourself…

My trip would have earned me about 18-points on my licence, a big fine, a 5-year ban, and probably 6 months in chokey for apparently travelling at 182 mph faster than the National Speed limit.

So if/when we end up with a GPS-powered road pricing system, expect the worst!

Footnote:  the charming and naively executed diagrams in this post where brought to you courtesy of a DigiScribble pen.  It calls itself ” The Mobile Digital Note-Taker”, but using it underlined for me the fatal flaw of all write-only devices…you can’t see what it thinks you wrote until you upload – too late, way too late

SNIS – YAMFLA (Yet Another Meaningless Four-Letter Acronym)


The world of Information Technology overflows with its arcane jargon and acronyms, but it is by no means, the sole offender of creating inpenetrable and mysterious language.

I was recently driving along and saw this displayed on the dot-matrix on the back of a bus…

what does SNIS mean

…and whilst admiring the rendition of the letters on the display and pondering dot densities and the like, I then spent precious minutes attempting to work out what it was actually trying to say, and where was the bus going?

There is a lot of talk about reducing street clutter at one moment, and then, again, increasing confusion within the driver’s mind to make them slow down

coincidentally, Hans Monderman , the proponent of “Shared Space”, died earlier this year, but that is another tangent

but this new FLA certainly did the latter, and none of the former for me!

As I overtook and looked in my mirror, Eureka, the bus was heading for the depot, and proudly displaying “Sorry, Not In Service” on the long display at the front.

Yes, the transport types have invented a new word-thing and foisted on us unsuspecting general public who really didn’t need it and shouldn’t be spending our time working out what it means. This particular word-thing should really only be used amongst consenting transport types and anoraks, and I don’t really mind if the bus people use it as a verb,

“OK, guys, we’ll SNIS this bus and bring on the relief”

just as long as they don’t do it in front of the children.

In my humble opinion, this display below would have worked better, and would probably have meant more to a large part of the world that uses the Roman alphabet…

a better graphic

Mobile madness

Over the weekend, I was very nearly forced to hand out an “Unhappy Voucher”  after a foray into Mobile madness.


Not quite in Norse saga territory, but after getting my daughter’s mobile phone replaced three times (cracked keys, random turning-off, etc., etc..), I finally gave in, consigned the not so old phone to Silicon Heaven, bought a new model on some cute subsidised deal, put the SIM in the Box of Many Identities, and handed over the new toy.

So imagine my surprise, when,  a week later, I was ambushed whilst staggering to the kettle for the first coffee of the day: “My phone’s dead, the display has gone”….. I said “Hnnh”

So there I was, standing in the shop, bristling……….it had all kicked off after the Sales Slug had rejected  my reasonable replacement request, and I asked to see the Manager, and  Dismal turned up…

Me: ….phone broken…..screen blank……Slug……packaging……not necessary…..in the bin.  Please could you replace it for me?
Dismal: Sorry,  we can’t replace the phone without all the original packaging
Me: …gone in the bin …
Dismal: Well we can’t replace the phone without the original packaging
Me: Yes, you can
Dismal: No we can’t
Me: Yes you can
Dismal: We could go on like this all day.  You’re not listening to me
Me: Yes, I am, I just think you’re wrong
Dismal: Are you calling me a liar?  – Great customer service, this, I thought
Me: No, just mistaken

(Dismal taps on keyboard)

I’ve typed here – advised customer of policy, blah, blah, .no packaging, need to order a handset and battery OK so they can replace the phone without the packaging, but he’s going to make me wait a long  time

(Tapping, more tapping, grunt, much more tapping, visit to the stockroom, more tapping, another visit to the stockroom – comes back with new phone in box looking unhappy)

We haven’t any handsets and batteries in stock, so I will have to take a new phone out of its box and send back the old one…


Humanity – 1, Forces of Customer Service Evil – Nil