Saturday, September 6, 2014

The Essence of How Bitcoin Works (Non-technical)

A less-technical introduction to the main ideas behind how Bitcoin works, including how money is transferred, who keeps track of it, and how everything is secured. This is the written version of the following video:


The goal of this video is to explain the essence of how Bitcoin works without any jargon or scary math. It is not, however, an introduction to what Bitcoin is or why it matters, for that, check out the great intro video at bitcoin.org. So, on to how it works!

Bitcoin lets people exchange money electronically as easily as sending an email or text. To send money, you use what’s called a “Wallet” app to type in an amount, enter or scan a recipient’s account number, and hit ”Send”. The recipient will then see the money pop up in their account. 

So how does it work? At a basic level Bitcoin is just a ledger with account numbers and balances. When Bob sends Carol 5 Bitcoins, his balance goes down by 5, and Carol’s goes up by 5. There’s no gold or government-issued money backing these numbers, just people’s belief that the numbers are worth something, and a system that prevents unfair changes.

Account Security

Part of this system makes sure that no one can spend money from someone else’s account.  Every time you hit “Send”, your Wallet app sends a message to the Bitcoin network describing how the ledger should change, including the sender’s and recipient’s account numbers and the amount to transfer. So what’s to prevent a thief from creating a message transferring money from someone else’s account?

Bitcoin requires a kind of signature on each message to prove that it was created by the true account owner. The signature serves the same purpose as a handwritten signature on a paper check, but it’s based on math rather than handwriting.

The math comes from the world of cryptography, which is normally used to hide secret messages, but in Bitcoin, has been re-purposed to prove ownership. Each Bitcoin account number has an associated key that only the true account owner knows, and is used to create signatures by encrypting transaction messages. Others test the signature by trying to decrypt it. If successful, they know the signature was created by the true account owner.

In addition to not relying on handwriting analysis, these math-based signatures also can’t be copied and reused on other transactions, since the signatures are unique to each transaction.

Maintaining the Ledger

So these signatures keep unauthorized transactions from changing the ledger, but who exactly is checking the signatures, and overall, maintaining the ledger? Surprisingly, anyone who wants to!

One of the main goals of Bitcoin is to provide a decentralized system, meaning no single company or government can control it. Every time someone sends money, a transaction message is passed around to all the people who want to help maintain the ledger, who I’ll call “maintainers.” Each maintainer keeps a personal copy of the ledger and updates it whenever they receive a new transaction with a valid signature.

With ledgers spread all over the world, traffic delays--and occasionally fraud--can lead to differences in those ledgers.  So how does the world decide which version to use?

Like in other democratic systems, there’s a vote, but it’s a bit different than a typical ballot system. Maintainers “vote” by trying to solve a special puzzle based on their version of the ledger. The first person to solve a puzzle announces their solution and everyone updates to that version. 
So the vote turns out to be a kind of mathematical race, but it’s designed to favor the majority’s version. This is because the more people there are working on a particular version, the faster it will be solved.

Because new transactions are constantly being generated, this voting process repeats over and over again so maintainers can continually agree about new transactions.

Voting in a Decentralized System

So why math problems instead of, say, emailing in votes to decide on a ledger? Without a central authority to register voters, it would be hard to enforce one vote per person--a single person could create multiple accounts to vote more than once, or even millions of times.  The math problems prevent this by making each vote have a cost in computers and electricity.  This means out-voting, or out-solving the majority to take over the ledger would effectively require out-spending the majority--an unlikely event.

So the math enables a fair vote in a decentralized system. Two more important details about how it does this:

To prevent someone from pre-solving a puzzle to win the race, each puzzle builds on previous answers, and the winner is not just the most recent solution, but the ledger version with the most total solutions.

The puzzles are also extraordinarily special in that there are no tricks to solving them faster, other than by buying more computers and electricity. It’s this property that underlies the entire system, and gives people assurance that solutions are truly from the majority, and not a clever attacker.

Creating Money

A final note about how money is created. Every time a puzzle is solved, a small award is added to the solver’s balance, effectively creating money “out of thin air.” This award acts as an incentive for people to help maintain the ledger, and is in addition to small fees senders attach to transactions. 

Because maintainers acquire newly created money through computation, they are typically called “miners,” but their main purpose is really to manage the ledger, not to create money.  The voting system simply provides a convenient way to randomly distribute money into the world, and in fact, after 2140 no more money will be created.

Summary

In summary, Bitcoin is an electronic currency that’s based on a collaboratively maintained ledger. People transfer money by sending messages to maintainers describing where and how much money should move.  Maintainers make sure that the messages are from the true account owners by checking digital signatures. And finally, the maintainers reach consensus with each other through a math-based voting process. 

I hope this gives you a quick sense for how Bitcoin works. If you’d like to dive deeper into the rabbit hole, check out my 22-minute video: How Bitcoin Works under the Hood.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Google Glass Review: Technically Underwhelming, Socially Misjudged

At my day job I write Augmented Reality apps for industrial applications, and we recently got the chance to develop for Google Glass, both an Augmented Reality application and heads-up guide for a factory worker assembling an industrial pump. To the horror of my fiancé, I also braved the real world for a week wearing Glass on my face, to the grocery store, running, meetup groups, and at home.

Overall, I thought the technology was underwhelming, especially compared to the hype in the media and Google's advertising. The screen is small, the battery is terrible, the processor is barely fast enough to do anything on the Augmented Reality front. I fully expected it to directly connect my brain to the Google-plex, and turn me into some sort of man-machine hybrid that never forgot a face, with the entirety of wikipedia ready to drop in on any conversation.

What I got was a gadget that showed me text messages and let me take pictures without me having to fish out my phone--which is actually pretty great, but not change-the-world-worthy.

(not mention most of the demo videos are fake--there's no way to capture the screen display at a decent frame rate, and definitely not the display and camera at the same time, so be wary!)

I think people (myself included) are misjudging Glass, comparing it against some imagined set of capabilities, and maybe giving it a little too much credit--and fear--than it deserves. Glass is not innovative because it puts a screen on your face. That's been done for 30+ years in industry, military and academia.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Haggling in America: 4 Things I Never Thought were Negotiable + Haggling Tips


For some reason Americans don't haggle or negotiate over price--you either pay the listed price or you don't buy it. Except at maybe garage sales or car delearships, but even there we hate it. The recently released Edmonds Survey of 1002 car buyers shows this:

"One in five Americans (21%) would rather say sayonara to sex for a month than haggle over the price of a car; 44 percent would give up Facebook for one month and 29 percent would turn over their Smartphone for a weekend if it meant avoiding the haggle" 

Somehow haggling has gotten a bad rap in American culture: it feels slimy, dishonest, price-gougey--just sell me the car for a fair price rather than marking it up $4k and making the sale into this time-consuming game of counter-offers. We get emotional about it. When I offer half for whatever the sticker price says at a garage sale (my standard rule), people get insulted:

"$4 is a VERY FAIR price for this chair, and you want me to give it to you for $2!? This was $199 when I bought it!"

Despite all this cultural disdain, I've discovered you can negotiate for a surprising amount of things in America, you can save a bunch of a money, and it's not hard (but maybe a little bit unsettling at first).

Here are a few of my tales about how I discovered this, followed by some tips. Note: I'm not claiming to be some master negotiator, but I think just by making the smallest effort you can reap huge savings.

Monday, April 28, 2014

DIY Air Freshener: Cut Up Christmas Tree Branches

The closets and cupboards that we don't open very often were acquiring some nasty dank and stale smells over time. Rather than buying an air freshener, we found out that cut up Christmas Tree branches worked pretty well as DIY air fresheners. It's been about 4 months and the closets still smell pine-fresh. Take that Glade!

XMas Tree Timmings make a great DIY Air Freshener
We cut up an entire mini-tree into several tubs of branches and put them in the closets and cabinets that don't get opened very much.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

How Bitcoin Works in 5 Minutes

This is a shorter version of my original "How Bitcoin Works Under the Hood" 22 minute video, and it's also geared more towards non-programmers.


Video




video script:

Introduction

At a very basic level, Bitcoin is just a digital file or ledger that contains names and balances, and people exchange money by changing this file. When Bob sells Carol a lawn mower for 5.2 Bitcoins, Bob’s balance goes up by 5.2, and Carol’s down by 5.2. There’s no gold or government issued money backing these numbers. Bob is only willing to trade his real-life lawn mower for a higher number in this digital file because he has faith that other people will also trust the system.

So who maintains this ledger and makes sure no one cheats? One goal of Bitcoin is to avoid any centralized control, so every participant maintains their own copy of the ledger. One surprising consequence of this is that everyone can see everyone else’s balances, although the real system only uses account numbers and not names, so there’s some level of anonymity.

If everyone maintains their own ledger, how are all the ledgers kept in sync as money is transferred? At a basic level, when you want to send money, you simply tell everyone else by broadcasting a message with your account number, the receiver’s, and the amount. Everyone across the entire world then updates their ledger.

As a quick aside,  I’m describing how Bitcoin works for power users--people who help maintain the system. You can also just use the system to send a receive money, however, without maintaining a ledger.

Account Security

If sending money is as simple as creating a message with some account numbers, what’s to stop a thief, Alice, from spending Bob’s money by using his account number?  Like a pen and paper check, Bitcoin requires a kind of signature to prove that the sender is the real owner of an account, but it’s based on math rather than handwriting.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

How I Moderate Discussions about Controversial Topics in Large Groups

I run a meetup group called Controversial Topic Discussion Club in Atlanta. Complete strangers from college age to retired come together regularly to discuss topics like gun control, abortion, drug legalization, charter schools, religion, and many more. The group size ranges from 8 to 40. Having run over 50 events over 5 years, and watching several others help moderate events, I wanted to share my learnings about moderating discussions to keep them respectful, fair and moving.

Before getting into the details, I want to clarify that the goal of our discussions may be different than the goal of moderating a business meeting, where you might be trying to reach a decision. Our group is more focused on learning rather than reaching any consensus, or changing anyone's mind. We're also more interested in just having a good time rather than detailing out the next health care bill, so I would rather let an interesting conversation meander rather than keep it laser focused.

Preparation


Before each meeting, I prepare a list of sub-topics, questions or interesting facts that I can use to re-start conversations. For example, on our Obamacare event, here are some of my sub-topics and questions:

Monday, December 9, 2013

Different Ways of Life: Polyamory, Traffic Laws, Japanese Address Formats

We all have ways of life that we assume are somehow the "right way," or are somehow optimal. And then you talk to someone that does things completely differently--and it works--and you find out about a whole set of assumptions you've been carrying around that are suddenly suspect.

The meetup group I help organize, Controversial Topic Discussion Club, had someone come in to talk about polyamory. Copying from the wiki entry:
Polyamory is the practice, desire, or acceptance of having more than one intimate relationship at a time with the knowledge and consent of everyone involved. It is distinct from swinging(which emphasizes sex with others as merely recreational) and may or may not include polysexuality (attraction towards multiple gendersand/or sexes).[2][3][4]Polyamory, often abbreviated as poly, is often described as "consensual, ethical, and responsible non-monogamy.
It's one of those ideas that's so foreign to how I was brought up, so different from the monogamous 2-person relationship society tells us is right, that I never even considered it to be anything other than unnatural and bizarre. Until I met several very normal sounding people the other night that are in relationships with 3 or 4 people at once (or more), all of which are perfectly content with the situation, and have been for years (and raising kids!).

I first imagined that everyone would somehow love each other equally, and have sex in multi-way orgies, but this is an outsider's ignorant assumption. The relationships are not always equal--one person may be dating someone outside the core family that's not involved with anyone else in the family. And some members may not have sex with others. Being poly apparently doesn't mean you're bisexual, gay or anything. It only means you're not monogamous, and that there's long-term commitment to the other partners ("swinging" is different in that it's more focused on sex than relationships). I'm certainly not anyone you should listen to to get a definition, but I think it might include a married couple where it's ok to date other people.

The speaker made a point to differentiate between the consensual open relationships he and his family have, and cheating. I believe he said cheating is when the other partner(s) don't approve, or when someone is doing something without telling others. Everyone in a poly relationship is ok with everyone else's relationships. He said jealousy is an issue, but it's an issue in any relationship, and you have to talk things out. He was ok that his wife could build relationships with other people, and is happy she's doing something that makes her happy.

As weird as all this sounds, the more I think about it, the more it seems like a more honest and open form of what are probably very common situations. For example, dating multiple people at once. Or being married, and having an affair. Is it really natural to expect two people to be madly in love with each other--and sexually interested in each other--for over 50 years? The divorce rate may say something about this. (note: I couldn't find any hard evidence that more than 50% of marriages end in divorce, it's probably more in the 30% range).

But what about the children? How could a child grow up in a family with 3 daddies and 4 mommies and boyfriends and girlfriends coming in and out of the picture? For me personally, any sort of gay or poly arrangement is probably better than a single mom. In fact, in a poly family, you have even more adult supervision and mentoring than in a typical mom and dad family. Maybe it could be a replacement for the aunts, uncles and grandparents that used to live in the same house.

What about taxes, survivor benefits, and hospital visitation rights? The speaker was somewhat annoyed that his family didn't get the same benefits as monogamous marriages in terms of insurance coverage, taxes, and other legal stuff. But, as someone who's been single (not married) his whole life, I don't understand why married people get any benefits. 44.1% of the population is single, and it's about to become the majority of people.



"It's just not natural. We won't be able to sustain the human race if everyone's in gay or weird poly relationships." I don't have a lot of evidence to refute this, but I have heard that our idea of monogamous marriage is perhaps evolutionarily new, and that tribes used to have much looser structures. If we look to the animal world, both male and female chimpanzees have sex with multiple partners, so I don't know if you easily say man-woman monogamous are biologically right.

In some cases, there just aren't enough members of the opposite sex to go around, like in engineering or public health school, or China, where their one child policy and a cultural preference for boys has resulted in 9 million more men than women. One final thing that doesn't seem natural is when parents pick their children's' spouses in arranged marriages, which this site claims occurs in 55% of marriages in the world!

I was originally just going to write about Polyamory, but I thought I'd throw in a few other ideas that have shaken up my worldview.


Traffic light in Israel
Traffic Laws
Starting small, in Israel (and many other countries), when the traffic light is about to turn from Red to Green, the Yellow light comes on for a few seconds at the same time as the Red, to indicate it's about to go Green. This lets you get your manual transmission going, and also keeps you from having to come to a complete stop if you're approaching the light.

Japanese Address Formats
Continuing on traffic related ideas, there's a great 2 minute TED talk, Weird, or Just Different?, in which the speaker describes Japanese addresses. Apparently there are no street names, just block names, and houses are not numbered in order, but rather in the order that they were added to the block. I have no idea how you would find the right house having never been to the block, but maybe that formatting system has other advantages.

Doctors Paid to Keep you Healthy
The same talk also mentions Chinese doctors that get paid more when they keep people healthy, rather than only getting paid when they get sick.

Nude Beaches
I was walking along a beach in Spain on a trip, and suddenly realized I had ventured into the clothes optional section of the beach. It wasn't just old naked men (although they were out in force), whole families were also there. This wasn't too long after the "wardrobe malfunction" super bowl episode in the US, where the whole country was up in arms about a potentially exposed nipple--one that children may have seen. Here in Spain I was looking at whole families with nipples in every direction, and no one's eyes were falling out. I'm not the first person to point out how it's strange that the US is more afraid of nipples than extreme violence on primetime TV.

I wonder how many other "ways of life" there are that I've never stopped to challenge...



Monday, October 14, 2013

Is the Republican Party due for a dramatic platform shift?

I know very few people that claim to vote Republican or Democratic tickets, since they sharply disagree with some parts of each party's platform. For example, lots of people are fiscally conservative, but socially liberal, so they don't fit well within either party's platform. I wonder if one of the next elections will be a realigning election, where the platform of one or both of the parties shifts dramatically, or lots of voters switch sides.

There's more than my anecdotal evidence to support a coming shift--look at the trend of people turning independent since 2008:

Source: Gallop Polls
If we look at the numbers to 2013 October, the trend continues, with a record 47% of people identifying themselves as independent, and only 20% as Republican.

What's driving this shift, and what will the new coalitions look like?


Wednesday, October 2, 2013

How Much YouTube Paid me for 4 Million Views, Alternate Ways to Earn Money from Videos

$5,675.51 for 4,054,755 views over 6 years



I'm writing this to share my experience with others wanting to make money off YouTube, and hopefully get some advice. At least for my videos, a minimum wage job would have been a higher paid use of my time, but as people continue to watch old videos, the ROI will continue to increase, so it may eventually pay off.

My CuriousInventor youtube channel mostly has videos on electronics soldering, but also a bit of head phone wrapping and recently Bitcoin.

Some caveats
YouTube didn't used to pay people, and not all my videos are monetized (most are), and I didn't have monetization turned on for all the time. My first revenue came around June 2009, at which point I already had 1.5M views. So a rough lower bound on my total CPM ($ / 1k views) is $5,675 / 3.5 = $1.62 CPM.

If you look at the past 30 days (September 2013), I got 70k views (a typical month is 50k) and $264, or $3.77 CPM.


Thursday, September 5, 2013

Comparison of Augmented Reality Glasses, Google Glass, Meta, castAR


Google Glass got a lot of media attention recently, but there are a lot better things around the corner that should hit consumer shelves within 2-3 years. I’ve been developing Augmented Reality apps for manufacturing companies at my day job, and wanted to share some of the neat things I see coming, as well as discuss the few remaining hurdles holding them back.

Cruise uses hand motions to flip through video.
In the very near future, I believe glasses that enable futuristic interfaces straight out of the movies will be on Best Buy shelves. The glasses will overlay information in real-time Terminator style, and you’ll be able to interact with it by grabbing and flicking information like in Minority report or Iron Man. (btw, if you think people on bluetooth headsets talking to themselves look crazy, imagine someone waving their hands around interacting with imaginary objects).


Terminator vision overlays information in real time.

Google Glass: a small Heads Up Display + Camera

You might think this type of thing is already provided by Google Glass, but Glass is an extremely limited form of augmented reality. It only provides a small rectangle in your field of view (a HUD, or “Heads Up Display”).

Sunday, July 14, 2013

How Bitcoin Works Under the Hood

new: Shorter (5 min) and less technical video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t5JGQXCTe3c






Intro
The goal of this video is to explain how Bitcoin works under the hood, to give a clearer idea of what it really means to own, send or “mine” Bitcoins.

New: Turkish translation by bitkoyun.com now available.


What is Bitcoin at a high level?


First, a brief high-level overview of what Bitcoin is.



At its core, Bitcoin is just a digital file that lists accounts and money like a ledger. A copy of this file is maintained on every computer in the Bitcoin network. (update: you don't have to maintain a ledger just to use Bitcoin to send and receive money, this is for people who want to help maintain the system).




These numbers don’t represent anything in the physical world, they only have value because people are willing to trade real goods and services for a higher number next to their account, and believe that others will do the same. The numbers only have value because we believe they have value, just like any other fiat currency.


To send money, you broadcast to the network that the amount on your account should go down, and the amount on a receiver’s account up. Nodes, or computers, in the Bitcoin network apply that transaction to their copy of the ledger, and then pass on the transaction to other nodes. This, with some math-based security, is really all there is--a system that lets a group of computers maintain a ledger.


While this may sound similar to the way a bank maintains a ledger, the fact that the ledger is maintained by a group rather than a single entity introduces a number of important differences. For one, unlike at a bank where you only know about your own transactions, in Bitcoin, everyone knows about everyone else’s transactions.


Also, while you can trust your bank, or can at least sue it if something goes wrong, in Bitcoin, you’re dealing with anonymous strangers, so you shouldn’t trust anyone. The Bitcoin system is amazingly designed so that no trust is needed--special mathematical functions protect every aspect of the system.


The rest of this entry will explain in detail how Bitcoin allows such a group of strangers to manage each other’s financial transactions.


Thursday, June 27, 2013

How to find out where the Sun Rises and Sets in your yard


My first thought was to get up at sunrise and try and find the sun, and do the same at sunset. Getting up early involves getting up early, and trying to find the sun at night can be tricky because you have to catch it before it disappears behind trees.

A better, and probably more accurate way is to use a compas app on a smart phone. The position of the sun varies by latitude and time of year, but there are calculators online that will tell you the exact heading of the sun at any time of day.


Tuesday, April 30, 2013

3 Great Things about BitCoin


  1. No transaction fees, so you can actually charge someone $.05 for something.
  2. You can accept payments from places that don't speak paypal (Bangladesh, Pakistan).
  3. Transaction is final, no chargebacks, freezing of paypal accounts, etc.
  4. Ok, one more. No government manipulation!

I went to Atlanta Startup's Village to hear 5 tech / web startups describe themselves, and one of them was bitpay. They let you accept bitcoins at your ecommerce store and automatically convert it to cash for you, and it costs 1%. 

BitPay presenting at Atlanta Startup Village 4/30/13





Saturday, April 27, 2013

In the Future, When Robots do All Our Work, What of Capitalism?


There's been a lot of concern lately about our current economic system and its wealth inequality, lack of jobs, and environmental impact. And many (12345... ) think that new robots and advanced software (AI) will soon exacerbate job availability and wealth inequality. Futurists are envisioning some drastic changes to our capitalistic system as the only solution: much greater wealth re-distribution, possibly including a basic living wage for all,  living in a world without economic growth, or even efforts to slow down technology advancements. As someone for whom Ayn Rand resonates deeply, my default belief is that laissez faire capitalism, individual ownership, and the hopefully rapid growth associated with those systems is our best bet long term, even for the poorest among us. But I don't have very compelling answers for many of the troubling questions that the future will soon raise--namely, who will pay us when robots take all our jobs? Are we destined to social chaos if we don't change our system in the future? To a more ... socialist one?

From "The End of Labor: How to Protect Workers from the Rise of Robots", credit Reuters

Income Inequality Trends

One statistic many site as cause for concern is growing income inequality, which can be seen by a stagnent household median income* even as GDP continues to rise. The middle income earners in this country are making the same or less than they did in 1987 in inflation adjusted dollars. The growth in GDP is only due to the highest earners. The top quintile makes over 50% of income (H2).


Wednesday, March 20, 2013

How to Mechanically Calculate an Inverse and Integral

Just watched a neat series of videos on "mechanical computers" that were used to aim warship guns in realtime, using up to 25 input variables like speed, direction, enemy speed, wind, etc.

Adding

One simple example is adding using a differential, made clearer with two linear racks:


The position of the center gear is A + B / 2. You can see rack Ahas been moved to 4, which caused the gear center to move to 2, since rack B stayed still. If rack B moved to 4, too, the gear center would move another 2 units to 4 (4 + 4 / 2 = 4).

The same idea applies to a differential, where the racks are two bevel gears. Note that the middle gear spins freely on its shaft, and that the output is the rotation of that whole middle block as shown with the arrow. The outer two gears are locked to the outside shafts, but not the middle.



Inverse

To do things more complicated than adding or multiplying (which can all be done with gears), a cam and follower, or pin and slot are used. As the wheel rotates, it pushes the pin down at exactly a 1/x rate. By cutting the path in different ways, you can express just about any y = f(x) using this technique, as long as the slope isn't too step I imagine. Arbitrary functions using wheels and slots!


If you make the pin follow the curve cut on the surface of a cylinder, you can provide two inputs: z = f(x,y).


Integration

Hold on to your pants, you can even integrate with these chunks of metal. Imagine you want to know the total distance a ship has traveled, and your only input is the speed over time: s = f(t). On paper, you would need to calculate the area under the speed curve, or you could pull out one of these bad boys.


That bottom platter is rotating constantly, which rotates the balls above it through friction. The location of the balls can be shifted left and right. If the balls are positioned directly above the platter, they won't move since the speed is 0 in the center. At the edge of the platter, the speed is max. By adjusting the balls' position along with speed, you're effectively calculating the total distance (d = speed * time), or integrating the speed. It's basically just an adjustable gear ratio, but neat regardless.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

2 Basic Things about the Supreme Court You Thought Were in the Constitution

The Constitution Text (Article III Section 1)

The judicial Power of the United States shall be vested in one supreme Court, and in such inferior Courts as the Congress may from time to time ordain and establish. The Judges, both of the supreme and inferior Courts, shall hold their Offices during good Behaviour, and shall, at stated Times, receive for their Services a Compensation, which shall not be diminished during their Continuance in Office.
There's some more, but it's just some technicalities about which court can hear which case. Actually, except for the part about "there shall be a Supreme Court," there's not much in Section 1, either. All that stuff you learned in elementary school was decided by Congress or just sort of happened and stuck. Am I missing something here??

9 Justices

No where in the constitution does it say anything about 9 justices. And it only mentions a Chief Justice in passing when talking about how to fire the President. Congress gets to decide the numbers, which begs the question of how separate the Judicial branch of the government really is.

It went from 6 to 7 in 1807, to 9 in 1837, to 10 in 1863, and back to 9 in 1869, where it's stayed since--but just barely.

Roosevelt didn't appreciate the court overturning a bunch of his New Deal laws during his first term, so he proposed a law that would "pack" the court with up to 15 judges. This law didn't make it through congress, but a retirement and death allowed Roosevelt to pick two new justices anyway. Before that, however, the court suddenly decided in favor of one of Roosevelt's laws, perhaps to play nice before something drastic happened... you can't always count on the rest of the government to play fair.

As Jackson was supposed to have said, "John Marshall has made his decision; now let him enforce it!"

Judicial Review

Congress and the President pass laws, and the Supreme Court rules them unconstitutional. Nice and balanced "separation of powers," except the fact that the constitution doesn't say anything about ruling laws unconstitutional, ie, "Judicial Review."


Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Top 4 Awkward Everyday Moments

Meeting someone when your right hand is full.


Checkout Line, Waiting on the Receipt, you and the cashier have run out of small talk.


The double-goodbye: You've said your farewells, the person leaves, but then comes back in to grab a forgotten item.


Talking to someone while trying to figure out if you've met them before.




Saturday, March 2, 2013

A Bunch of Clever Product Ideas (RedDot awards)

The RedDot awards are some sort of design awards. Here are a few products that won in 2012.



Lady Shifting
The patient leans onto a carrier that functions like dolly so someone much smaller can maneuver them to sit on the bed.



Easy_to_Cut
A little triangular kink gives you enough room to get the cutter blade under the tie wrap.


Sunday, February 24, 2013

Should Small Inventors Pursue Patents?

I recently attended a talk by Shane Matthews, an engineer who worked on the Super Soaker and Nerf Guns, and who has gobs of patents and products out there selling. He asked, "If you only have $10-20k left, should you get a patent, or should you invest that in marketing?" The answer was marketing, since getting a patent can easily cost that much.

I asked him how many of his products have patents, and he said about 2/3 don't have any patents. He said lots of times patents don't make sense, like for many types of toys, and for things that are only going to be around for a few years. By the time your competitors copy you, the fad is over.

Ok, so as a small-time inventor, I don't need a patent. Great!

Shane went on to say that the only reason he's able to license products to manufacturers without patents, is because he has a long history with those manufacturers. He said it's extremely unlikely that any manufacturer will even talk to you if you don't have a patent. And the Super Soaker and Nerf Guns? Well there are 30 patents on some of the Super Soakers.

For someone looking to license their technology, patents look like a necessary evil.

What about someone wanting to form a company around a new product? In this case, I believe the smaller the company / investment, the less value patents provide.