Monday, November 28, 2005

Drilling Down
Great for Craigslist but Not for Newspapers
New York Times, November 28, 2005

The number of users of online classified advertising services increased 80 percent this year, according to a report released yesterday by the Pew Internet and American Life Project based on data gathered by comScore Media Metrix.

In 2005, almost nine million of those visitors went to, a 165 percent increase from 3.4 million last year. "It was a huge increase on top of a pretty large base to begin with," said Lee Rainie, director of the Pew project. Mr. Rainie said that Craigslist, which offers free listings for everything from apartments to furniture and personal ads, attracted more patrons by opening 15 city- or region-specific sites this year.

The report is bad news for classified advertising sources like newspapers, which have historically dominated the market. Mr. Rainie cited Craigslist's relief services after Hurricane Katrina as an example of its ability to meet the needs of a large, diverse consumer group. "One of the most appealing things to users of Craigslist is how adaptable it is," he said.
Boston Globe

The power of Om
Meditation research is coming of age, as neuroscientists measure its surprising benefits
By Carey Goldberg, Globe Staff

November 21, 2005

Meditation seems to energize the sleep-deprived. It seems to help with concentration. It even seems to bolster the very structure of the brain as we age.

Neuroscientists presenting their latest research at a convention of 34,000 colleagues last week had so much praise for meditation that it was starting to sound like a mantra. Their work fits into a growing body of data that tries to bring modern science to bear on age-old methods to quiet the mind.

Enthusiasts have long touted the health benefits of meditative practices such as chanting, yoga, and prayer. Now, using the latest high-tech tools of neuroscience and biochemistry, they are teasing out how those benefits work. And increasingly, they are focusing on how meditation may help not only the body but the brain.

''As time goes on, we're understanding this phenomenon in ever more advanced scientific terms," said Dr. Herbert Benson, president of the Mind/Body Medical Institute and a Harvard Medical School associate professor who has studied the body's ''relaxation response" for nearly 40 years. ''And why it's so important today is because over 60 percent of visits to the doctor are in the stress-related realm."

While some of the most striking studies have involved monks who were experts at meditation, the new research also backs up claims that garden-variety meditation can bring scientifically demonstrable benefits. Considered on the fringes of science just a generation ago, serious research on meditation now includes hundreds of studies examining its possible benefits.

Three of five researchers on a panel about meditation at last week's Society for Neuroscience meeting in Washington, D.C., were from Harvard. In recent years, academic researchers seeking to turn anecdotes into hard data have suggested that meditation may provide a broad array of benefits, from lifting depression to relieving pain to fighting flu.

Skeptics remain. Many of the studies are small and preliminary, and some depend on the meditators' own descriptions of what they feel, which could be biased by their desire for it to work.

When the Dalai Lama, the Tibetan spiritual leader and a longtime collaborator with brain scientists, was scheduled to speak at the Society for Neuroscience conference, several hundred scientists signed a petition questioning his presence, and arguing that meditation research has not been objective enough.

But researchers say that that is their very aim: to improve the quality of the research, using new tools and better methods, to determine more conclusively what meditation really does. ''If we're going to make extraordinary claims, and claim that certain individuals can break the rules we have about human performance, the methodology has to be absolutely airtight," said Sam Moulton, a psychology graduate student at Harvard.

As the power of meditation gained credibility during the 1970s and 1980s, Moulton noted, researchers were looking mainly for physiological effects, such as blood pressure and heart benefits. ''Now, we're looking for mental effects." Monks are considered the superstars of meditation, but Benson and others say benefits can come from a spectrum of repetitive, mind-clearing practices that elicit the so-called relaxation response -- from swaying in prayer to saying the rosary to knitting.

Under that broad definition, about one-half of Americans perform some sort of meditation, mainly prayer, Benson said. Among the studies presented last week was one by Massachusetts General Hospital researchers, who scanned the brains of 20 people who meditated regularly. These people had four regions of cortex -- the rind of the brain, associated with higher functions like memory and decision making -- that were thicker than in 15 subjects who didn't meditate. In addition, the researchers found signs that one area of the cortex seemed to have aged less quickly than it did in nonmeditators.

The study did not look at whether those brain differences had a noticeable impact on behavior, but researchers are now doing follow-up work to assess that. The findings ''provide the first evidence that alterations in brain structure are associated with Western-style meditation practice, possibly reflecting increased use of specific brain regions," said Sara Lazar, of Harvard, the study's lead author.

In other Harvard-affiliated work, researchers reported that by using a device that can analyze every breath a person exhales, they could objectively measure the depth of relaxation a person had achieved. People who reached deeper states of relaxation exhaled more nitric oxide, a gas known to relax the smooth muscles in arteries, and aid blood flow.

''Our results provide initial evidence of how the relaxation response intervention and other mind/body approaches might lower blood pressure," said Jeffery A. Dusek, the study's lead author. ''In the near future, it may even be possible to use our new technique to determine an effective 'dose' of meditation for a given person, or to identify characteristics of individuals who best respond to the relaxation response intervention."

Another new study, from the University of Kentucky, found that meditation could offset the sluggishness of sleep deprivation better than a nap. Researchers tested volunteers on a button-pressing speed task, and found that even novice meditators improved their performance more after 40 minutes of meditation than after a 40-minute nap. Meditation helped even after a full night of sleep deprivation, the study found, said researcher Bruce O'Hara.

And Buddhist monks have demonstrated yet again that meditation can give them extraordinary powers of mind, according to work by Olivia Carter, also of Harvard. Her team tested the powers of concentration of 76 Tibetan monks, by showing them different images in each eye. Normally, people's brains flip between the two images every 2.5 seconds. But the monks averaged about four seconds per eye, and one monk reported focusing on one of the images for 723 seconds.

Ultimately, scientists aim to understand not only the powers of monks but the everyday experiences of an amateur like Philip Hresko, a 63-year-old Boston architect who began training six weeks ago at the Mind/Body Medical Institute out of concern for his heart health. Along with more prolonged techniques, he said, he has been learning to relax when he gets a spare 20 to 30 seconds.

''When I'm stuck in traffic, instead of gripping the steering wheel and getting upset, I might look through the skylight of my little car and count clouds or watch the birds flying," he said. Already, Hresko said, his high blood pressure has fallen, and he has more energy. And does he feel mentally and emotionally better? ''Oh, my God, yes," he said.

Carey Goldberg can be reached at

To meditate:Pick a focus word, short phrase, or prayer that is firmly rooted in your belief system, such as ''one," ''peace," or ''The Lord is my shepherd." Sit quietly in a comfortable position. Close your eyes. Relax your muscles, progressing from your feet to your calves, thighs, abdomen, shoulders, head, and neck. Breathe slowly and naturally, and as you do, say your focus word, sound, phrase, or prayer silently to yourself as you exhale. Don't worry about how well you're doing. When other thoughts come to mind, simply say to yourself, ''Oh well,"and gently return to your repetition. Continue for 10 to 20 minutes. Do not stand immediately. Continue sitting quietly for a minute or so, allowing other thoughts to return. Then open your eyes and sit for another minute before rising. Practice the technique once or twice daily. Good times to do so are before breakfast and before dinner.

SOURCE: The Mind/Body Medical Institute

Friday, November 25, 2005

BEN FRANKLIN: 300th anniversary celebration underway
Associated Press

PHILADELPHIA (AP) — The celebration of the 300th anniversary of Benjamin Franklin’s birth is underway, launched by the re-enactment of his arrival in Philadelphia and the December kickoff of a traveling museum exhibit and other events.

“Philly’s Got Benergy!” is the tagline for promoting the celebration, which officially started Oct. 9 at an event portraying Franklin’s arrival in Philadelphia as a 17-year-old runaway.The centerpiece of the plans to celebrate the Jan. 17 anniversary is an exhibit running from Dec. 15 to April 30 at the National Constitution Center called “Benjamin Franklin: In Search of a Better World.”

“He’s a founder who still winks at us. He’s the most modern and contemporary of all the founders,” said Richard Stengel, the Constitution Center’s president and chief executive.Stengel said the exhibit includes a variety of opportunities to learn by doing, including a 25-foot sailboat that visitors can climb aboard to learn how Franklin charted the gulf stream. Besides such hands-on displays, it has more than 250 original Franklin artifacts and more than 40 video animations.

The exhibit will head to museums in St. Louis, Houston, Denver, Atlanta and Paris after appearing in Philadelphia. Notable in its absence is Boston, where Franklin was born and raised; Boston’s Museum of Science said it could not host the exhibit because it is opening a large “Star Wars” exhibit instead. Other events featured as part of the yearlong celebration will include an exhibit at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, a specially commissioned piece by the Philadelphia Orchestra and a special performance by the Philadelphia Ballet.

Franklin was born on Jan. 6, 1706. But in 1752, when the old Julian calendar was replaced with the Gregorian calendar by Britain and its colonies, time skipped ahead 11 days — making the old Jan. 6 the new Jan. 17.

The celebration is being led by the Benjamin Franklin Tercentenary, a consortium including the American Philosophical Society, The Franklin Institute, the Library Company of Philadelphia, the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the University of Pennsylvania.

If You Go...BENJAMIN FRANKLIN TERCENTENARY: Go to and click on “Calendar” for a month-by-month listing of events, or call (215) 557-0733. Most events take place in 2006 but some concerts, lectures and exhibits are scheduled for November and December. At, click on “Quick biography” for an overview of Franklin’s life and achievements.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

The Real Story Behind Thanksgiving

Did you know that the first [Plymouth Colony Pilgrim's] Thanksgiving was a celebration of the triumph of private property and individual initiative?

William Bradford was the governor of the original Pilgrim colony, founded at Plymouth in 1621. The colony was first organized on a communal basis, as their financiers required. Land was owned in common. The Pilgrims farmed communally, too, following the "from each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs" precept.

The results were disastrous. Communism didn't work any better 400 years ago than it does today. By 1623, the colony had suffered serious losses. Starvation was imminent.

Bradford realized that the communal system encouraged and rewarded waste and laziness and inefficiency, and destroyed individual initiative. Desperate, he abolished it. He distributed private plots of land among the surviving Pilgrims, encouraging them to plant early and farm as individuals, not collectively.

The results: a bountiful early harvest that saved the colonies. After the harvest, the Pilgrims celebrated with a day of Thanksgiving -- on August 9th.

See whole story at

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Problem: Good Jobs Are Scarce. Solution: Become Your Own Boss.
New York Times, November 16, 2005

IF there is one place where the idea of the ownership society is taking hold, it is America's colleges and universities. More than 1,600 colleges offer courses in entrepreneurship, up from 1,050 in the early 1990's and a mere 300 schools in the 80's.

Experts see the surge reflecting profound changes in the American economy. It is a response to globalization and the fact that "two billion people in the world want to do the same job you do," said Paul Merage, an entrepreneur and philanthropist who endowed the business school at the University of California, Irvine, this year with $30 million.

Mr. Merage, who invented the microwavable frozen snack Hot Pockets, demanded that the curriculum at the newly renamed Merage School of Business stress innovation and ways "to grow a business."

Prof. Thomas O'Malia of the University of Southern California also sees uncertainty driving the spread of own-your-own-shop education.

"There's no job security," said Professor O'Malia, program director at the Lloyd Greif Center for Entrepreneurship, a specialized unit within U.S.C.'s Marshall School of Business. "If the average corporation must recreate itself every 3.4 years, you need to think about controlling your destiny."

Students, however, seem driven less by fear than ambition - even passion.

Maya Gowri, for example, who organized a nutritionist practice at a hospital in her native Chennai (formerly Madras), in India, and came to the United States to earn a doctorate in biology from the University of Kentucky, is happy that she also studied two years and paid about $70,000 in tuition to earn a master of business administration degree last year from U.C. Irvine.

The M.B.A. studies "taught me about function and marketing and helped me find a business partner to raise finance," Ms. Gowri said. With a few employees and a fellow Irvine student, Charles Hsu, as a money raiser, she has begun Discovery Services International, which performs research for small biotechnology companies.

Another student, Emily Chan, is in the final leg of a three-year part-time program of study for a business master's at U.S.C. while holding down a job planning auto plant locations for the Toyota Motor Company in Torrance, Calif. It is a good job, Ms. Chan said, but her real ambition is to develop ideas about animal feeds into a business of her own.

Ms. Chan, who rescues injured dogs, has developed a formula for feeds that she says help animals recover. So she is going to classes at night and on weekends and paying about $80,000 over three years to earn the degree.

"I've always had the passion but not the confidence to get started," Ms. Chan said.
At her stage in the master's program - called "feasibility" - she works with other candidates to see if her concept can work as a real business. In fact, Ms. Chan needs to sell the product in a commercial market - as opposed to just doing a college experiment - or she will not pass the feasibility course, said Professor O'Malia, who likes to call the entrepreneur program a boot camp.

At Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles, the program sounds more like athletic coaching.

"Half of what I teach is technique - how to organize, control cash flow and such," said Prof. Fred Kiesner, who teaches management and entrepreneurship there. "The other half is to get inside your heart and soul and mind and say: 'You can do it. Don't fear failure. If you're not risking failure, you're not stretching to try something new.' "

At U.S.C.'s entrepreneurship center, students are taught a distinction between management and entrepreneurship. "A good manager thinks efficiently of how to go from A to B," Professor O'Malia said. "But entrepreneurs are a little like Columbus, thinking effectually how to go into the unknown."

Often entrepreneurial success doesn't involve derring-do as much as forming alignments and reducing the need for capital. "Entrepreneurship is about organization, not lone-wolf operators," said Christine Beckman, professor of organization at the Merage school.

Two University of Southern California graduates, one from 1989, the other from 1998, illustrate the point.
Todd Smart, attending the university in the 80's, heard a visiting insurance man say that his business was being hurt by poor service from car-towing companies that were paid $600,000 a year. So Mr. Smart asked for a chance to do the towing, traded his car for a tow truck and started gathering up crashed vehicles.
As business grew, he did not use his new company's capital to buy more vehicles but had his drivers buy them, creating new small-business owners and allowing greater expansion of the towing company.
"What I learned in business school," said Mr. Smart, whose companies now tow 500 cars a day in the San Fernando Valley, "is that the cash-flow account is more important than the profit-and-loss statement."
When the other student, Todd Stennett, graduated with an M.B.A. in 1998, he and his wife, who have two children, owed $82,000 in credit-card debt. But Mr. Stennett saw opportunity in a federal policy encouraging small companies to commercialize government technology, like the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration's powerful lasers for mapping land.
Mr. Stennett could not afford to buy a $1.5 million laser, but he lined up scores of land-surveying businesses as customers whose contracts helped him pay for the equipment. He also joined bush-pilot outfits to help the surveying.
"Our relationships with partners are critical to our success," Mr. Stennett said, as his company, Airborne 1, reaches $5 million in annual revenue.
To Andrew Policano, dean of the Merage school, the benefit of entrepreneurial training nowadays is that it encourages original thinking.
"Innovation is what all corporations want today," Mr. Policano said. "Chief executives coming to our campus want graduates who will tell them what the business should be in five years."

Sunday, November 13, 2005

New York Times
Published: November 13, 2005
WHEN James E. West was 8 years old, he propped himself on his bed's brass footboard one afternoon and stretched to plug the cord of a radio he had repaired into a ceiling outlet. It was one of his first experiments. Mr. West's hand sealed to the light socket as 120 volts of electricity shimmied through his body, freezing him in place until his brother knocked him from the footboard and onto the floor

Like more storied inventors who preceded him, he was quickly hooked on the juice - even as he lay shivering from that first encounter. "I became fascinated by electricity after that, just completely fascinated," recalled Mr. West, now 74 and an award-winning research professor at Johns Hopkins University. "I needed to learn everything I could about it."

Over the past several decades, he has secured 50 domestic and more than 200 foreign patents on inventions relating to his pioneering explorations of electrically charged materials and recording devices. According to the National Inventors Hall of Fame, an organization in Akron, Ohio, that counts Mr. West among its inductees, about 90 percent of all microphones used today in devices like cellphones, acoustic equipment and toys derive from electronic transducers that he helped to develop in the early 1960's.

Inventors have always held a special place in American history and business lore, embodying innovation and economic progress in a country that has long prized individual creativity and the power of great ideas. In recent decades, tinkerers and researchers have given society microchips, personal computers, the Internet, balloon catheters, bar codes, fiber optics, e-mail systems, hearing aids, air bags and automated teller machines, among a bevy of other devices.

Mr. West stands firmly in this tradition - a tradition that he said may soon be upended. He fears that corporate and public nurturing of inventors and scientific research is faltering and that America will pay a serious economic and intellectual penalty for this lapse.

A larger pool of Mr. West's colleagues echoes his concerns. "The scientific and technical building blocks of our economic leadership are eroding at a time when many other nations are gathering strength," the National Academy of Sciences observed in a report released last month.

"Although many people assume that the United States will always be a world leader in science and technology, this may not continue to be the case inasmuch as great minds and ideas exist throughout the world. We fear the abruptness with which a lead in science and technology can be lost - and the difficulty of recovering a lead once lost, if indeed it can be regained at all."

A COMMITTEE of leading scientists, corporate executives and educators oversaw the drafting of the report, entitled "Rising Above the Gathering Storm: Energizing and Employing America for a Brighter Economic Future." To spur American innovation, it recommends enhanced math and science education in grade school and high school, a more hospitable environment for scientific research and training at the college and graduate levels, an increase in federal funds for basic scientific research and a mix of tax incentives and other measures to foster high-paying jobs in groundbreaking industries. The report cites China and India among a number of economically promising countries that may be poised to usurp America's leadership in innovation and job growth.

"For the first time in generations, the nation's children could face poorer prospects than their parents and grandparents did," the report said. "We owe our current prosperity, security and good health to the investments of past generations, and we are obliged to renew those commitments."

The Industrial Research Institute, an organization in Arlington, Va., that represents some of the nation's largest corporations, is also concerned that the academic and financial support for scientific innovation is lagging in the United States. The group's most recent data indicate that from 1986 to 2001, China, Taiwan, South Korea and Japan all awarded more doctoral degrees in science and engineering than did the United States. Between 1991 and 2003, research and development spending in America trailed that of China, Singapore, South Korea and Taiwan - in China's case by billions of dollars.

Mr. West's personal journey has involved overcoming school segregation and racism, a reading disability and the downsizing of Bell Labs, the legendary New Jersey research center where he once worked, and he fantasizes about a day when children hold inventors and scientists in higher esteem than hip-hop stars and professional athletes.

"We need to bring the view back in this country that we're willing to make investments for the future because everything that's in the cellphone and the iPod today was known 20 years ago," he said. "I think scientists and inventors are a very peculiar breed in that we're not in it for the money - we're in it for the knowledge."

IT all begins with a tingle of curiosity. "If I had a screwdriver and a pair of pliers, anything that could be opened was in danger," Mr. West recalled of his childhood. "I had this need to know what was inside."

That need links Mr. West to a rich tradition in American life and civilization. Benjamin Franklin, his kite lofted into the sky to coax electricity from the clouds, is the totemic American inventor whose financial acumen gave him time to ponder and then spout a series of inventions that included a stove, catheter, glass harmonica, bifocals and, of course, the lightning rod - which he declined to patent so it would be freely available to the public.

No less a figure than Abraham Lincoln regarded the patent system, and the protections it offered for what he called the "fire of genius," as one of history's signature achievements. Shortly after President Lincoln's death, Thomas Alva Edison filed a patent for his first invention, an electric vote recorder. Edison became widely heralded not only as the creator of a longer-lasting light bulb and the phonograph but also as the inventor of the invention factory.

When the conglomerate that eventually became General Electric began buying out Mr. Edison's operations in the 1890's, it represented the beginning of the corporate absorption of the inventive act. "Edison marks the end of the individual inventor and the precorporate phase of invention," said Randall E. Stross, a contributor to The New York Times who is also working on an Edison biography titled "The Wizard," which Crown Publishing plans to release in 2007.

In 1932, a year after Edison died, corporations secured more patents than individuals for the first time, and a year later the Census Bureau eliminated "inventor" as a job class, according to Technology Review, a trade publication. During the golden era of corporate research and development that followed Edison's death, G.E., DuPont, AT&T and eventually Lockheed, Eli Lilly, Intel and other corporate giants came to dominate innovation. And as that happened, some tensions arose between corporations and independent inventors and researchers.
While tipping their hats to the scores of breakthroughs that have emerged from corporate labs, inventors also say they are concerned that bottom-line pressures at many companies may cause pure research to be eclipsed by innovation tied to rapid commercialization - leading to routine refinements of existing products rather than to breathtaking advances.

A tug of war has emerged between individual inventors and corporations over proposed legislative changes in patent laws, with the inventors arguing that possible revisions would benefit the business giants. Corporations have argued that the system is equitable but flawed. Dean Kamen, an inventor whose creations include the wearable insulin pump and the Segway transporter, recently testified before Congress, calling for changes in the patent system that also preserve protections for individual inventors.

Despite those tussles, Mr. Stross says he believes that recent technological advancements have helped to move innovation out of the corporate sphere and to "give the lone inventor access to inexpensive tools and resources to once again be master of one's own lab."

Robert S. Langer, a research scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a biotechnology pioneer, says that he shares the concerns raised in the National Academy of Sciences report but that he remains confident about the country's prospects. "While I think we can always do better, I am optimistic about the spirit of innovation in this country," he said. "I think we hold a lead, but no lead is unassailable."

For Mr. West, whose career has spanned stretches in creative havens like Bell Labs, inventing has meant brainstorming sessions with fellow tinkerers and long hours walking the corridors of his own mind. "I spend a great deal of the hours that I'm awake within myself," he said. "You never want to stop doing it, especially when it's a pleasure. It's vital to my existence and I couldn't live if I wasn't an inventor."

Ilene Busch-Vishniac, a Johns Hopkins professor and inventor who has collaborated with Mr. West for more than two decades, most recently on acoustical research, called him the quintessential explorer. "For an inventor to be successful they have to think outside of the box and propose things that are wildly different," she said. "Secondly, you need to be able to figure out how to do the tests that evaluate whether something is plausible. Jim is great at both of those things, but especially at figuring out the tests."

Mr. West began testing his limits at an early age, defying his family's wishes that he become a dentist and setting his sights on a doctorate in physics. To dissuade him, his father introduced him to other African-American friends with doctorates - all of whom had failed to land university posts and held blue-collar jobs instead. Still, Mr. West pressed on, coached by a series of mentors, memorizing text and numbers to mask his reading problems, building on his mathematical gifts and eventually enrolling as an undergraduate in physics at Temple University.

AFTER a summer internship at Bell Labs, he invented a pair of headphones; enthralled by his lab work, he decided to forgo his physics studies and to stay on at Bell Labs, where he developed microphone technologies and explored a range of interests in acoustics. When Bell Labs became part of Lucent after AT&T reorganized, the scope of its research operations shifted, and Mr. West eventually moved on as well. At Ms. Busch-Vishniac's invitation, he joined Johns Hopkins in 2000.

Although he walks with a slight limp caused by a series of lower back surgeries, Mr. West looks much younger than his age. Like all inspired inventors whose fertile imaginations make them both researchers and artists, Mr. West also still manages to bring a Zen-like focus to his endeavors. "If I'm concerned about what an electron does in an amorphous mass then I become an electron," he allowed. "I try to have that picture in my mind and to behave like an electron, looking at the problem in all its dimensions and scales."

He and Ms. Busch-Vishniac are currently analyzing solutions to noise problems in hospitals, and they are mentoring two local high school students and a Johns Hopkins graduate student who have joined their team as young inventors. The graduate student, Emily Nalven, 22, said she decided to join Mr. West after taking classes with him.

"Even on the days he didn't lecture, he came to class, sat in the front row, took notes and spent his time after class answering student questions," she said in an e-mail message. "One day, I asked him something about sound waves and he answered my question, then came back the next day with an even more detailed explanation to ensure that I truly understood."

The seeds of future inventions are sown in these kinds of interactions, but the possible erosion of fertile academic and financial soil in America concerns Mr. West and many others in science.

"The inventiveness of individuals depends on the context, including sociopolitical, economic, cultural and institutional factors," said Merton C. Flemings, a professor emeritus at M.I.T. who holds 28 patents and oversees the Lemelson-M.I.T. Program for inventors. "We remain one of the most inventive countries in the world. But all the signs suggest that we won't retain that pre-eminence much longer. The future is very bleak, I'm afraid."

Mr. Flemings said that private and public capital was not being adequately funneled to the kinds of projects and people that foster invention. The study of science is not valued in enough homes, he observed, and science education in grade school and high school is sorely lacking.
But quantitative goals, he said, are not enough. Singapore posts high national scores in mathematics, he said, but does not have a reputation for churning out new inventions. In fact, he added, researchers from Singapore have studied school systems in America to try to glean the source of something ineffable and not really quantifiable: creativity.

"In addition to openness, tolerance is essential in an inventive modern society," a report sponsored by the Lemelson-M.I.T. Program said last year. "Creative people, whether artists or inventive engineers, are often nonconformists and rebels. Indeed, invention itself can be perceived as an act of rebellion against the status quo."

THOSE who keep an eye on corporate behavior say they think that sober-minded risk taking - and the support of daring research for research's sake - also needs to be on the strategic menus of more companies. "When inventors work independently, the invention itself is seen as an opportunity, whereas in the corporate world accidents are seen as failures," said Peter Arnell, a marketing consultant who coaches companies about innovation. "When people exist outside of the corporate model and have vision and passion, then accidents and getting lost are beautiful things."

Nathan Myhrvold, part of Microsoft's early brain trust and the former head of its heavily endowed research arm, founded Intellectual Ventures, a fund that he says spends "millions of dollars" annually to support individual inventors in long-term projects. Mr. Myhrvold started his fund about five years ago after he retired from Microsoft; he now backs about 20 inventors in such fields as nanotechnology, optics, computing, biotechnology and medical devices.

"As far as we know, we're the only people who are doing this - which means we're either incredibly smart or incredibly dumb," Mr. Myhrvold said. "There's a network of venture capitalists for start-ups that have created thousands and thousands of businesses, but very little for inventors."

Mr. Myhrvold says that most public and academic grants are for investigating well-defined research problems - and not for backing, as he does, "an invention before it exists." His staff of about 50 people files about 25 patent applications a month on behalf of inventors and his fund. He and his staff also help inventors refine ideas, pay for their time and labor and share ownership stakes in projects with them.

"We all love the goose that lays the golden eggs but somehow we've forgotten about the goose," Mr. Myhrvold said. "This decade I'm hoping will be the decade of the invention."

Whether or not a new inventive age is coming in America, Mr. West says he plans to continue doing what he's always done. He and Ms. Busch-Vishniac debate, regularly and vociferously, the merits of their respective ideas. But both say their debates are authentic exchanges of viewpoints, not games of one-upmanship.

"You can't have a big ego and be a great inventor," Mr. West said. "You constantly have to be listening and evaluating."

Even though he is halfway through his eighth decade, he is pursuing other new projects - collaborating with a colleague at Georgia Tech, for example, to explore improved methods of teleconferencing. Inventing, he says, is the intellectual bicycle that he rides each day.
Looking back over the years, Mr. West says he has often gone down the wrong intellectual path. But, he says, that's just how inventors do their thing.

"I think I've had more failures than successes, but I don't see the failures as mistakes because I always learned something from those experiences," Mr. West said. "I see them as having not achieved the initial goal, nothing more than that."


Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Technology Review

Blog This By Henry Jenkins March 2002

A few months ago, I was at the Camden Pop!Tech conference, and the guy sitting next to me was typing incessantly into his wireless laptop, making notes on the speakers, finding relevant links and then hitting the send key-instantly updating his Web site. No sooner did he do so than he would get responses back from readers around the country. He was a blogger.
Bloggers are turning the hunting and gathering, sampling and critiquing the rest of us do online into an extreme sport. We surf the Web; these guys snowboard it. Bloggers are the minutemen of the digital revolution.

"Blog" is short for "Web log." Several years ago, heavy Web surfers began creating logs-compendia of curious information and interesting links they encountered in their travels through cyberspace. Improvements in Web design tools have made it easier for beginners to create their own Web logs and update them as often as they wish-even every five minutes, as this guy was doing. Blogs are thus more dynamic than older-style home pages, more permanent than posts to a Net discussion list. They are more private and personal than traditional journalism, more public than diaries., one of several sites at the heart of this phenomenon, now lists more than 375,000 registered users, adding 1,300 more each day. Users range broadly-from churches that have found blogging an effective tool for tending to their congregations' spiritual needs to activists who see blogging as a means of fostering political awareness, and fans who use blogs to interact with other enthusiasts. Most often, bloggers recount everyday experiences, flag interesting stories from online publications and exchange advice on familiar problems. Their sites go by colorful names like Objectionable Content, the Adventures of the AccordionGuy in the 21st Century, or Eurotrash, which might leave you thinking that these are simply a bunch of obsessed adolescents with too much time and bandwidth.

Yet something more important may be afoot. At a time when many dot coms have failed, blogging is on the rise. We're in a lull between waves of commercialization in digital media, and bloggers are seizing the moment, potentially increasing cultural diversity and lowering barriers to cultural participation.

What will happen to democracy in the current media environment, where power is concentrated in the hands of a few publishers and networks? Media scholar Robert McChesney warns that the range of voices in policy debates will become constrained. The University of Chicago Law School's Cass Sunstein worries that fragmentation of the Web is apt to result in the loss of the shared values and common culture that democracy requires. As consumers, we experience these dual tensions: turn on the TV and it feels like the same programs are on all the channels; turn to the Web and it's impossible to distinguish the good stuff from the noise. Bloggers respond to both extremes, expanding the range of perspectives and, if they're clever, creating order from the informational chaos.

At the risk of egotism on my part, let's imagine what happens when bloggers get hold of the online version of "Digital Renaissance." Some may post links to the column calling me a pretentious ass. Others, if I am lucky, may feel that I have some interesting insights. My arguments for grass-roots media may be taken up by conservative and progressive sites alike but framed differently depending on the bloggers' own ideological agendas. Once this column appears, my authorial control ends and theirs begins. As these words move through various contexts, they assume new associations and face direct challenges, but they also gain broader circulation.

Ultimately, our media future could depend on the kind of uneasy truce that gets brokered between commercial media and these grass-roots intermediaries. Imagine a world where there are two kinds of media power: one comes through media concentration, where any message gains authority simply by being broadcast on network television; the other comes through grass-roots intermediaries, where a message gains visibility only if it is deemed relevant to a loose network of diverse publics. Broadcasting will place issues on the national agenda and define core values; bloggers will reframe those issues for different publics and ensure that everyone has a chance to be heard.

It may seem strange to imagine the blogging community as a force that will shape the information environment almost as powerfully as corporate media. We learn in the history books about Samuel Morse's invention of the telegraph but not about the thousands of operators who shaped the circulation of messages, about Thomas Paine's Common Sense but less about the "committees of correspondence" through which citizens copied and redistributed letters across the colonies, about the publication of Harriet Beecher Stowe's abolitionist blockbuster Uncle Tom's Cabin but not about the teenagers who used toy printing presses to publish nationally circulated newsletters debating the pros and cons of slavery. In practice, the evolution of most media has been shaped through the interactions between the distributed power of grass-roots participatory media and the concentrated power of corporate/governmental media.

As the digital revolution enters a new phase, one based on diminished expectations and dwindling corporate investment, grass-roots intermediaries may have a moment to redefine the public perception of new media and to expand their influence.
So blog this, please.