Tuesday, January 31, 2012

The Wake of the Intangible

Last year I completed the book How to Measure Anything: Finding the Value of Intangibles in Business by Douglas Hubbard and the concepts garnered from the book are still incubating. As the subtitle indicates, the challenge businesses face is in using the "intangibles" within measurement and decision making. 

Dictionary.com defines intangible as something that is "Unable to be touched or grasped; not having physical presence." Okay, how if it does not have any physical presence, how can we measure its attributes and then gain any value from them?

In short Hubbard proposes that even intangibles provide observable effects. In my view it is as if an unseen boat just passed you quietly on the water. Because of the fog you did not see the boat and due to its distance you could not hear it, but you could still feel the waves in its wake. The question then becomes, how can I use the waves to inform me about what just passed me through the water? While not the same as having the ability to visually track the passing boat and calculate the time and distance and its dimensions, the waves do nonetheless provide some data that one could use. The challenge is, how can we get value from the waves?

Within the book Hubbard details his Applied Information Economics (AIE) to assist in this challenge. See the diagram below:
 Screen shot 2010-08-05 at 2.06.53 PM.png

See the Everything Is Measurable table below for more.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Product of Negative Integers...Easy as -1, -2, -3

I have been reading One, Two, Three: Absolutely Elementary Mathematics by David Berlinski. While the topic is basic mathematics, the book's content is not elementary my dear Watson.
In a side discussion of negative numbers he presents a proof of a rule that has baffled students since the discussion of positive and negative integers began--namely if when you multiply two positive numbers the product is positive and when you multiply a positive number to a negative number you get a negative outcome, how is it that when two negative numbers are multiplied together the result is a positive number? Berlinski eloquently details the proof on over two pages with this conclusion:
[xy + x(–y)] + (–x)(–y) = xy.
[xy + x(–y)] + (–x)(–y) = –x–y.
Therefore, xy = –x–y.
Berlinski, David (2011-05-10). One, Two, Three: Absolutely Elementary Mathematics (p. 153-154). Pantheon. Kindle Edition.

I thought it would be good to do this in Ruby for fun. And sure enough, the proof stands true.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Vagueness: the path to the adjacent possible?

In his Wired article entitled In Praise of Vagueness, Jonah Lehrer writes, "According to an experiment led by Catherine Clement at Eastern Kentucky University, one way to consistently increase our problem-solving ability is to rely on vague verbs when describing the problem. That’s because domain-specific verbs–actions which we only perform in particular contexts – inhibit analogical reasoning, making us less likely to discover useful comparisons. However, when the same problem is recast with more generic verbs – when we describe someone as 'moving' instead of 'sprinting,' for instance – people are suddenly more likely to uncover unexpected parallels. In some instances, Clement found that the simple act of rewriting the problem led to impressive improvements in the performance of her subjects."

Apparently, vagueness allows one to move to the adjacent possible more easily. Therefore, when stuck back away from specificity and get general.

Monday, January 09, 2012

Why we study history

On my run today, 1-9-12, I was listening to the This Developer's Life podcast that spoke of the value of looking at older programming languages and technologies and what can be gained from looking back at the refined algorithms of older programming languages and the efficiencies of other older technologies. One thing that stood out to me within the discussion is the long life of the Fortran language. Fortran developer David Sokol stated that Fortran is largely supported by academic institutions and research. While software companies come and go, one thing that stays is the need to teach, study, and learn. This reminds me of the concept of "the root produces the fruit." In other words, information does not emerge from nothing. With continued use, refactorings, and adaption older languages can provide the context for gaining old ideas for new platforms and technologies.