Thursday, January 24, 2008

The Long Nose – How Long a Technology Takes to Incubate

The Long Tail is well known. In fact, I posted about it last year when Chris Anderson delivered the keynote address at NI Week. You can see the post here. Recently, I came across an article by Bill Buxton of Microsoft called the “Long Nose” which describes the time it takes for a technology to incubate. In working with emerging technologies this topic comes up often. Just as the long tail describes how low volume segments when taken in aggregate can add up to a sizeable market, so the incubation of new technologies comes in incremental steps but over a long period of time. The computer mouse took 30 years to go from first invention to standard practice in the computer industry. It followed many small, incremental steps or “low-frequency” efforts as the author describes it before it reached a “high-frequency” or rather highly visible usage on the Macintosh and later on Windows 95. The author asserts this is the normal path of technology development and shouldn’t come as a surprise when highly touted emerging technologies take years to come to maturity.

Peter Drucker, a favorite of mine, once wrote that it takes 25 years for a new technology to go from invention to practical usability of the technology. The author breaks down the process into three steps: invention, refinement/augmentation, and traction, with the second taking the majority of time and effort.

The article proposes that any innovation that will become big in the next 10 years is already in the market. This suggests that instead of looking for some radically new innovation, we should be looking for the immature technology and iterating on it more frequently in an effort to move it up the maturity curve. When I look at the number of patents offered by most any research university, it tells me we have enough technologies. We just don’t have enough maturing technologies.

Best regards,
Hall T.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Sandia Z-Pinch Machine – Creating Conditions for Fusion

Sandia’s Z-Pinch Machine can create about 240 Trillion watts of energy, but only for a billionth of a second. Still that represents 80 times the worlds output of electricity. The z-pinch or zeta-pinch refers to the confinement of plasma down the z-axis of a three dimensional graph which was used in the earliest experimental devices in England. This is used in fusion research by “pinching” the plasma to reach very high temperatures. Early versions proved unstable until the 1980s when researchers reconfigured the device to use tungsten wires rather than external magnets to create the pinching effect. In general, non-nuclear energy outputs are less than the inputs. Fusion energy output is higher than the input – in this case by a factor of four.

Sandia continues the research with their Z-machine which is the world’s highest peak-current pulsed-powered device in the world. The key finding is that such a machine demonstrates the ability to generate very high temperatures with a much smaller machine than other facilities use. This means generating fusion at a potentially lower cost.

Best regards,
Hall T.

Friday, January 11, 2008

INFN—Borexino Project to Study Neutrinos

The Borexino project is dedicated to the study of low-energy solar neutrinos. The sun’s output is made up of these neutrinos. The neutrino has no electric charge and cannot be divided further unlike a proton or electron which consists of further sub-atomic particles. Neutrinos are classified as leptons and come in three flavors – muon, tau, and electron.

The San Grasso National Labs one of the four labs in the INFN, focuses on this research.
The interesting part about the project is the detector which is a series of concentric rings containing increasingly pure water as one goes from the outer ring to the inner ring. The ring structure helps filter out unwanted radiation. At the center is a stainless steel sphere which again uses a concentric ring structure to detect the neutrinos.

LabVIEW has been utilized in the past at this site for various projects. In this example, LabVIEW was used to operate a magnetometer. The application translated a file of sequence commands into a LabVIEW-based state machine which runs several operations in parallel.

Best regards,
Hall T.