THE MOSES ILLUSION

April 8, 2018


Portions of this post were taken from an article in The Chattanooga Times-FreePress.

Let’s do a quick quiz:

QUESTION:  In the Biblical story, what was Jonah swallowed by?  How many animals of each kind did Moses take on the ark?

Did you answer whale to the first question and two of each kind to the second question?  Most people actually do, even though they are aware that Noah, and not Moses, built the ark in that story.  Noah—not Moses.  You knew that.

Psychologists call this phenomenon the “Moses Illusion”.  This is just one example of how people are very bad at discerning factual errors in the world around them.  Even when people know the correct information, they often fail to notice errors and will even go on to use that incorrect information in other situations.  An “official” definition of this illusion goes something like this:

“In pragmatics and psycholinguistics, the Moses illusion is a phenomenon whereby listeners or readers fail to recognize an inaccuracy or inconsistency in a text. It is also called the semantic illusion.”

Research from cognitative psychology shows that people are naturally very poor fact-checkers and it is very difficult for individuals to compare things we read or hear with what we already know about a specific topic.   The Moses illusion (also known as semantic illusion) was first identified by T.D. Erickson and M.E. Mattson in their article “From Words to Meaning: A Semantic Illusion” (Journal of Verbal Learning and Verbal Behavior, 1981).

In this era of “fake news”, this reality has very important implications for how people consume journalism, social media and other bits of public information.  In the study mentioned above, eighty (80) percent of the participants failed to notice the error in the question despite later correctly answering the question, “Who took the animals into the Ark? The failure occurred even though participants were warned that some of the questions would have something wrong with them and were given an example of an incorrect question.  Psychologists call this “knowing neglect”.  People have relevant knowledge but fail to use it.

OKAY, why are human beings so bad at noticing errors and misinformation? Psychologists believe that there are at least two forces at work.

  • First, people have a general bias to believe that things are true. (After all, most things that we read or hear are true.) In fact, there’s some evidence that we initially process all statements as true and that it then takes cognitive effort to mentally mark them as false.  At one time, I personally believed just about everything written.  I suppose it was because I considered this to be somewhat of a legacy relative to the writer.  In days gone by, a non-fiction writer would write to inform and not to confuse.  Back then I felt that most writers did NOT have a political agenda. Today, I would be absolutely incorrect with that supposition.
  • Second, people tend to accept information as long as it’s close enough to the correct information. Natural speech often includes errors, pauses and repeats. (“She was wearing a blue – um, I mean, a black, a black dress.”). One idea– to maintain conversations we need to go with the flow and accept information that is “good enough”. Just move on and if people

don’t fall for these illusions when the incorrect information is obviously wrong. For example, people don’t try to answer the question “How many animals of each kind did Nixon take on the Ark?”.

Detecting and correcting false information is difficult work and requires fighting against the ways our brains like to process information. Critical thinking alone won’t save us. Our psychological quirks put us at risk of falling for misinformation, disinformation and propaganda. Professional fact-checkers provide an essential service in detecting incorrect information in the public view.  They are one of our best hopes for zeroing in on errors and correcting them, before the rest of us read or hear the false information and incorporate it into what we know of the world.

FAKE NEWS:

Why on earth is there so much fake news?

There are two main creators of fake news. The most egregious creator comes from non-journalists who put out spammy garbage you see on the web that’s simply untrue. As mentioned earlier, we generally believe just about everything written with the goal of checking it later, then there is no later.  The second creator of fake news is not so much fake news, but biased news coming from journalists with an agenda. Biased news isn’t as egregious since we all have our biases that are hard to extricate from our actions. However, biased journalists can do greater damage due to their large platforms. I would like to see a disclaimer at the beginning of each blog or tweet, when needed— “WARNING:  this is garbage.”  Don’t hold your breath for this to happen.

With the use of clickbait titles, misinformation, and satire, fake news has the ability to affect public opinion about a person, country or issue. I am amazed at the number of people who gain information, political and otherwise from the late-night television shows.

Findings indicate viewers of late night talk shows tend to be politically unsophisticated and low news media consumers, relying on incidental exposure to news about current events that are introduced throughout the day in the course of other activities (i.e., news headlines on email servers, jokes in late night monologues) with one notable exception.  Viewers of “The Daily Show,” are on the other end of the political spectrum, reflecting high levels of political sophistication and high news media consumption. They tune into “The Daily Show” for a “twist” on news stories with which they are already familiar, expecting Stewart and his team to provide a humorous slant on current events. Apparently, the other late-night shows—-not so much.  It’s mostly relative to political discourse garbage.

CONCLUSION:

I know I need to slow down and take the time to ask the question—is this information true, partially true, completely false?  What do I know relative to this new information?  I am to the point of turning off the television set and reading a good book.  Who do you believe these days?  What news or media outlet gives a non-bias, only-the-facts, information-filled narrative?  I honestly can NOT answer that question at this time.

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TEN MOST RELIABLE CARS

April 4, 2018


Conservative design principles may be the key to building a more reliable automobile, say engineers from Consumer Reports who studied vehicle reliability for their 2018 auto issue.  Nine of the ten vehicles receiving “much better than average” overall scores in every available year of the survey were either from Toyota or Lexus.  The only exception was the Acura TSX mid-sized sedan, which received a perfect score in every model year from 2010 to 2014. This probably does not surprise anyone.

Let’s take a look at what Consumer Reports considers the ten most reliable models.

CONCLUSION:

Consumer Reports’ ratings of vehicle reliability are based on survey responses from more than half a million vehicle owners. The surveys ask questions about 17 different potential trouble spots, ranging from engines and transmissions to fuel systems, electrical, suspension, brakes, body hardware, and in-car electronics, among others.

In the ratings, the Camry received “much better than average” ratings (the magazine’s highest score) for in-car electronics in four of the last eight model years on the Consumer Reports survey. It also received perfect scores in all eight years for three engine categories and two transmission categories.

Toyota’s conservative approach does have a downside, however, Fisher added. The company’s vehicles are often dinged by automotive writers for being “dowdy,” or just plain lacking in excitement, he said. “Other manufacturers are willing to take risks for the sake of a performance increase, or for fuel economy boost, or for excitement and drive-ability,” he said. “And those manufacturers continue to get accolades from their peers. However, I would argue that none of those accolades consider reliability.”

OKAY—what are you after? Bells and whistles or a reliable vehicle to get you to and from work?

 


Several of the following comments were taken from the Washington Free Beacon.

If you have been reading my posts you know that just about all involve the STEM professions, travel, salary levels for engineers, book reviews, restaurant reviews, etc etc.  In other words—I usually do NOT do political.  Politicians are fascinating people because ALL people are fascinating.  We all have a story to tell.  OK, with that being the case, I could not resist this time. Take a look.

Senate increases budget by forty-eight ($48) million, salaries by twelve ($12) million. That was the sub-title to the Washington Free Beacon article relative to the Omnibus Spending Bill just signed by President Trump. How much is $1.3 trillion dollars?  ANSWER:  It’s a million million. It’s a thousand billion. It’s a one followed by 12 zeros. 1,000,000,000,000.  The following digital photograph represents one billion dollars.

The next digital represents a trillion dollars.

Please notice the little guy, at the left of the stack.

You ready for this?

The Senate increased its total salaries of officers and employees by $12.6 million in the 2,232-page bill that lawmakers had fewer than forty-eight (48) hours to read and vote on. The bill avoids a government shutdown that would take place at midnight on Friday.

Aside from giving their own institutions a bonus, the omnibus bill also gives away millions to prevent “elderly falls,” promote breastfeeding, and fight “excessive alcohol use.”

The legislation increases the Senate budget to $919.9 million, up $48.8 million from fiscal year 2017, according to the congressional summary of the bill.

  • “The increase provides funding necessary for critical modernization and upgrades of the Senate financial management system and investments in IT security,” the summary states.
  • Salaries of staffers in the Senate are also set for an increase. Division Iof the legislation breaks down the total salaries of officers and employees, which are being raised from $182 million in 2017 to $194.8 million in the final bill, an increase of $12.58 million.
  • The Senate also increased its expense account, as expense allowances are going from $177,000 to $192,000, an increase of $15,000.
  • Committee offices got an increase of $22.9 million in salaries, from $181.5 million in 2017 to $204.4 million in the final bill.
  • Another $15 million goes to study “high obesity counties” and an increase of $5 million for the CDC program that seeks to “address obesity in counties” by leveraging “the community extension services provided by land grant universities who are mandated to translate science into practical action and promote healthy lifestyles.”
  • The bill also spends $2.05 million to prevent “elderly falls” and $8 million in the form of “breastfeeding grants.”
  • The legislation also mandatesthe Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau to improve “wine label accuracy.”

I’m sure the bill does some very good things one being added money for our armed forces.  We have experienced in 2017 a terrible statistic—the number of casualties resulting from training our men and women in uniform exceeded the number of casualties in combat.  This is largely due to lack of funding for equipment maintenance and training.

I know or at least suspect, there is a great deal of behind-the-scenes activity on the part of each congressman and senator required for preparation prior to each legislative session.  Let’s take a look at the number of scheduled sessions over the past few years. Here are the number of legislative days for the House and Senate each year in recent history:

  • 2016: 131 in the House, 165 in the Senate.
  • 2015: 157 in the House, 168 in the Senate.
  • 2014: 135 in the House, 136 in the Senate.
  • 2013: 159 in the House, 156 in the Senate.
  • 2012: 153 in the House, 153 in the Senate.
  • 2011: 175 in the House, 170 in the Senate.
  • 2010: 127 in the House, 158 in the Senate.
  • 2009: 159 in the House, 191 in the Senate.
  • 2008: 119 in the House, 184 in the Senate.
  • 2007: 164 in the House, 190 in the Senate.
  • 2006: 101 in the House, 138 in the Senate.
  • 2005: 120 in the House, 159 in the Senate.
  • 2004: 110 in the House, 133 in the Senate.
  • 2003: 133 in the House, 167 in the Senate.
  • 2002: 123 in the House, 149 in the Senate.
  • 2001: 143 in the House, 173 in the Senate.

An “unhappy” President Donald Trump signed the $1.3 trillion spending bill into law Friday, his second about-face in twenty-four (24) hours on the measure to keep the government open.

The president said he approved the legislation to fund the government through September for national security reasons, as it authorizes a major increase in military spending that he supports. But he stressed that he did so reluctantly.

Trump slammed the rushed process to pass the more than 2,200-page bill released only Wednesday. Standing near the pile of documents, the president said he was “disappointed” in the legislation and would “never sign another bill like this again.”

So much for draining the swamp. We are good through September of this year and then we start all over again.  ALL OVER AGAIN!


Portions of this post are taken from the January 2018 article written by John Lewis of “Vision Systems”.

I feel there is considerable confusion between Artificial Intelligence (AI), Machine Learning and Deep Learning.  Seemingly, we use these terms and phrases interchangeably and they certainly have different meanings.  Natural Learning is the intelligence displayed by humans and certain animals. Why don’t we do the numbers:

AI:

Artificial Intelligence refers to machines mimicking human cognitive functions such as problem solving or learning.  When a machine understands human speech or can compete with humans in a game of chess, AI applies.  There are several surprising opinions about AI as follows:

  • Sixty-one percent (61%) of people see artificial intelligence making the world a better place
  • Fifty-seven percent (57%) would prefer an AI doctor perform an eye exam
  • Fifty-five percent (55%) would trust an autonomous car. (I’m really not there as yet.)

The term artificial intelligence was coined in 1956, but AI has become more popular today thanks to increased data volumes, advanced algorithms, and improvements in computing power and storage.

Early AI research in the 1950s explored topics like problem solving and symbolic methods. In the 1960s, the US Department of Defense took interest in this type of work and began training computers to mimic basic human reasoning. For example, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) completed street mapping projects in the 1970s. And DARPA produced intelligent personal assistants in 2003, long before Siri, Alexa or Cortana were household names. This early work paved the way for the automation and formal reasoning that we see in computers today, including decision support systems and smart search systems that can be designed to complement and augment human abilities.

While Hollywood movies and science fiction novels depict AI as human-like robots that take over the world, the current evolution of AI technologies isn’t that scary – or quite that smart. Instead, AI has evolved to provide many specific benefits in every industry.

MACHINE LEARNING:

Machine Learning is the current state-of-the-art application of AI and largely responsible for its recent rapid growth. Based upon the idea of giving machines access to data so that they can learn for themselves, machine learning has been enabled by the internet, and the associated rise in digital information being generated, stored and made available for analysis.

Machine learning is the science of getting computers to act without being explicitly programmed. In the past decade, machine learning has given us self-driving cars, practical speech recognition, effective web search, and a vastly improved understanding of the human genome. Machine learning is so pervasive today that you probably use it dozens of times a day without knowing it. Many researchers also think it is the best way to make progress towards human-level understanding. Machine learning is an application of artificial intelligence (AI) that provides systems the ability to automatically learn and improve from experience without being explicitly programmed. Machine learning focuses on the development of computer programs that can access data and use it learn for themselves.

DEEP LEARNING:

Deep Learning concentrates on a subset of machine-learning techniques, with the term “deep” generally referring to the number of hidden layers in the deep neural network.  While conventional neural network may contain a few hidden layers, a deep network may have tens or hundreds of layers.  In deep learning, a computer model learns to perform classification tasks directly from text, sound or image data. In the case of images, deep learning requires substantial computing power and involves feeding large amounts of labeled data through a multi-layer neural network architecture to create a model that can classify the objects contained within the image.

CONCLUSIONS:

Brave new world we are living in.  Someone said that AI is definitely the future of computing power and eventually robotic systems that could possibly replace humans.  I just hope the programmers adhere to Dr. Isaac Asimov’s three laws:

 

  • The First Law of Robotics: A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.

 

  • The Second Law of Robotics: A robot must obey the orders given to it by human beings, except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.

 

  • The Third Law of Robotics: A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Laws.

With those words, science-fiction author Isaac Asimov changed how the world saw robots. Where they had largely been Frankenstein-esque, metal monsters in the pulp magazines, Asimov saw the potential for robotics as more domestic: as a labor-saving device; the ultimate worker. In doing so, he continued a literary tradition of speculative tales: What happens when humanity remakes itself in its image?

As always, I welcome your comments.


The subtitle to this book is “a bullfighter’s guide” and when you read it you will definitely understand.  The book is written by three individuals with extensive business experience who obviously have attended many meetings with the same results; i.e. bored to tears, confused, no direction given or agreed to, and simply a waste of time.

Brian Fugere is currently in corporate-speak rehab and has been jargon-free since their book was written.   He is a principal of Deloitte Consulting LLP where he was the former chief of all marketing efforts.

Chelsea Hardaway is the president of Hardaway Productions.  This company helps clients cut through the clutter of communication.

Jon Warshawsky is a managing partner of Deloitte Services, LP and helped start that firm’s e-learning practice.

I love the manner in which the book starts: “Let’s face it, business today is drowning in bullshit. We try to impress (or confuse) investors with inflated letters to shareholders. We punish customers with intrusive, hype-filled, self-aggrandizing product literature. We send elephantine progress reports to employees that shed less than two watts of light on the big issues or hard truths.”

If you think you smell something at work, there’s probably good reason–“bull” has become the official language of business. Every day, we get bombarded by an endless stream of filtered, antiseptic, jargon-filled corporate-speak, all of which makes it harder to get heard, harder to be authentic, and definitely harder to have fun.

We have become immune to empty, generic messages and as a result, no one really listens anymore. Endless charts and graphs, Power Point presentations with one hundred and four slides, Excel spreadsheets, mandated company templates to “simplify” reading, etc.  You’ve been there—do NOT tell me you have not.

The authors identify four ways in which businesspeople organize their objectives through ineffective over-standardizations or misguided practices, sharing practical advice on how to remain true to a business ideal, promote healthy change, and communicate authentically. The four ways are as follows:

PART ONE:  The Obscurity Trap

PART TWO: The Anonymity Trap

PART THREE:  The Hard-Sell Trap

PART FOUR:  The Tedium Trap

If you are honest with yourself, you must admit you have heard the following words (and many others) and/or phrases used when discussing specific topics:

  • Best of breed
  • Center of excellence
  • Frictionless
  • Out of pocket
  • Paradigm shift
  • Results-driven
  • Best practice
  • Empowerment
  • Bring to the table
  • Face time
  • Brain dump
  • Drink from a fire hydrant
  • Heavy lifting
  • Mind share
  • Outside the box (I’m so tired of this one I could cry every time I hear it.)
  • Push the envelope
  • Sea change
  • Unpack
  • Win-win
  • Bandwidth
  • Core competency
  • Come-to-Jesus-moment

I submit, if beauty is in the eye of the beholder, there could be many definitions to each of the phrases above depending upon who is listening. Do you really know what bandwidth is? In our context here, it means, “time” as in “I do not have the bandwidth to complete any value-added action items.”

Another pet-peeve of mine—all of the many, many acronyms and abbreviations used in today’s business world, many of which no one knows or remembers. We sprinkle our documents with abbreviations and eighty (80) pages later expect an audience to remember what the presenter is trying to say when he or she doesn’t remember either.

This book cuts through the clutter and makes a desperate effort to solve the problems and clean up our corporate language by suggesting several very direct approaches.  One great section addresses the need to clean up e-mail and get to the point with concise language that actually and adequately covers the subject with zero jargon and real English.

I think you are going to enjoy this book and I’m sure, if you are in the business world, you need this book.  Have at it.

WHY DID I NOT THINK OF THAT?

February 17, 2018


Portions of this post were taken from Design News Daily.

How many times have you said that? It’s called the Eureka moment – a sudden flash of intuition that leads us down a path to a wonderful, new, productive solution. Most of us have had such moments, but a select few have parlayed them into something grand, something that changes the world. That was the case for Arthur Fry, inventor of the Post-It Note and Richard James, inventor of the Slinky toy. They took simple ideas – such as a sticky note and a coil spring — and touched hundreds of millions of lives with them.  Given below are nine Eureka Moments that actually produced workable and usable devices that have revolutionized and made life easier for all of us. Let’s take a look.

If you could see my computer and associated screen, you would see a “ton” of post-it-notes.  Most with scribbles, PIN numbers, telephone numbers, etc etc.  We all use them.

Legend has it that Post-It Note inventor Arthur Fry conjured up the idea for his product when the little scraps of paper in his Sunday hymnal kept falling out. To solve the problem, he used an adhesive developed by a 3M colleague, Dr. Spencer Silver. Silver’s reusable, pressure-sensitive adhesive was failing to stir interest inside 3M until Fry came along and made the mental connection to his hymnal.

In 1974, the two partnered to put the adhesive on small sheets of yellow paper and … a mythic product was born. They passed their sticky notes to fellow employees, who loved them. “I thought, what we have here isn’t just a bookmark,” Fry said. “It’s a whole new way to communicate.” They later put their product on the market, receiving an even stronger reaction. Lee Iacocca and other Fortune 500 CEOs reportedly wrote to praise it. Post-It Notes, as they soon became known, eventually were sold in more than 100 countries. At one point, it was estimated that the average professional received 11 messages on Post-It Notes per day. Fry received 3M’s Golden Step Award, was named a corporate researcher, became a member of the company’s Carlton Society and was appointed to its Circle of Technical Excellence.

(Image source: By Tinkeringbell – Own work, Public Domain/Wikipedia)

Ansa baby bottles are virtually impossible to find today, but they were all the rage in the mid-1980s.

The bottles, which have a hole in the middle to make them easy for babies to hold, were the brainchild of William and Nickie Campbell of Muskogee, OK, who designed them for their infant son. After filing for patents in 1984, they took out a loan, launched the Ansa Bottle Co., manufactured the plastic bottles, and enjoyed immediate success. They received editorial coverage in American Baby and Mothers Today, while inking deals with Sears, K-Mart, Walgreens, and Target, according to The Oklahoman. Their bottles even went on display in the Museum of Modern Art in New York City.

(Image source: US Patent Office)

Rolling luggage is an accepted fact of air travel today, but it wasn’t always so and I’m not too sure what we now would do without it.  The concept was slow to take hold, and achieved acceptance in two distinct steps. The first step occurred in 1970, when inventor Bernard Sadow observed an airport worker rolling a heavy machine on a wheeled skid. Sadow, who was at the time dragging his own luggage through customs after a trip to Aruba, had the proverbial “eureka moment,” according to The New York Times. Sadow’s solution to the problem was a suitcase with four wheels and a pull strap. To his surprise, however, the idea was slow to take off. That’s where the second step came in. In 1987, a Northwest Airlines pilot and workshop tinkerer named Robert Plath took it to the next level — developing an upright, two-wheeled suitcase with a long stiff handle. Plath’s so-called “Rollaboard” was the missing ingredient to the success of rolling luggage.

Today, his 30-year-old concept dominates air travel and is built by countless manufacturers — any patents having long since expired. The initial slow acceptance remains a mystery to many, however. Sadow, looking back at it years later, attributed the consumer reluctance to men who refused to take the easy way out. “It was a very macho thing,” he said.

(Image source photo: Design News)

OK, who on the planet has NOT owned and/or played with a slinky?  In 1943, Naval mechanical engineer Richard James was developing springs for instruments when he accidently knocked one to the floor, permanently altering the future of toy manufacturing. The spring subsequently stepped “in a series of arcs to a stack of books, to a tabletop, and to the floor, where it recoiled itself and stood upright,” writes Wikipedia. James reportedly realized that with the right steel properties, he could make a spring walk, which is exactly what he did. Using a $500 loan, he made 400 “Slinky” coil springs at a local machine shop, demonstrated them at a Gimbels department store in Philadelphia, and sold his entire inventory in ninety (90) minutes. From there, Slinky became a legend, reaching sales of 300 million units in 60 years. Today, engineers attribute Slinky’s sales to the taming of the product’s governing physical principles — Hooke’s Law and the force of gravity. But advertising executives argue that its monumental sales were a product of clever TV commercials. The song, “Everyone knows it’s slinky” (recognized by virtually everyone who lived through the 1960s and 1970s), is considered the longest-running jingle in advertising history.

(Image source: Wikipedia)

The Band-Aid (or “Band-Aid brand,” as Johnson & Johnson calls it) is in essence a simple concept – an adhesive strip with a small bandage attached. Still, its success is undeniable. The idea originated with Johnson & Johnson employees Thomas Anderson and Earle Dickson in 1920. Dickson made the prototype for his wife, who frequently burned herself while cooking, enabling her to dress her wounds without help. Dickson introduced the concept to his bosses, who quickly launched it into production.

Today, it is copied by many generic products, but the Band-Aid brand lives on. Band-Aid is accepted around the world, with more than 100 billion having been sold.

(Image source photo: Design News)

Today, it’s hard to imagine that an upside-down bottle was once considered an innovation. But it was. Ketchup maker H.J. Heinz launched a revolution in packaging after deciding that its customers were tired of banging on the side of glass bottles, waiting for their product to ooze out. The unlikely hero of their revolution was Paul Brown, a molding shop owner in Midland, MI, who designed a special valve for bottles of ketchup and other viscous liquids, according to an article in the McClatchey Newspapers. Brown’s valve enabled ketchup bottles to be stored upside down without leaking. It also allowed liquids to be easily delivered when the bottle was squeezed, and sucked back inside when force was released.

Brown was said to have built 111 failed injection-molded silicone prototypes before finding the working design. To his lasting delight, the successful concept found use with not only with Heinz, but with makers of baby food, shampoo, and cosmetics, as well as with NASA for space flights. In retrospect, he said the final design was the result of an unusual intellectual approach. “I would pretend I was silicone, and if I was injected into a mold, what I would do,” he told McClatchey. The technique apparently worked: Brown eventually sold his business for about $13 million in 1995.

Players of pinball may take the games’ dual flippers for granted, but they were an innovation when Steve Kordek devised them in 1948. Working for the Genco Co. in Chicago (a company he became acquainted with after stepping into its lobby to escape a heavy rain), Kordek became the father of the two-flipper pinball game. His lasting contribution was simple, yet innovative — the use of direct current (DC) to actuate the flippers, rather than alternating current (AC). DC, he found, made the flippers more controllable, yet less costly to manufacture. Over six decades, Kordek reached legendary status in the industry, producing games for Genco, Bally Manufacturing, and Williams Manufacturing, always employing his dual-flipper design. He worked until 2003, designing the Vacation America game (based on the National Lampoon Vacation movies) at age 92. But it was his DC-based, dual flipper design that shaped his legacy. “It was really revolutionary, and pretty much everyone followed suit,” David Silverman, executive director of the National Pinball Hall of Fame told The New York Times in 2012. “And it’s stayed the standard for 60 years.”

(Image source: By ElHeineken, own work/Wikipedia)

It’s difficult to know whether any individual has ever been credited with the design of the ergonomic bent snow shovel, but the idea is nevertheless making money … for somebody. Bent-handle snow shovels today are sold at virtually every hardware store and home center in the northern United States, and they’re a critical winter tool for millions of homeowners. The idea is that by putting a bend in the shaft, the horizontal moment arm between the shovel handle and the tip is shorter, putting less strain on the user’s lower back. Although there’s some argument on that point, it was recently proven by engineering graduate students at the University of Calgary, according to a story on CTVNews.com.

Studying the bent-handle shovels in the school’s biomechanics laboratory, engineers concluded that they require less bending on the part of users, and therefore reduce mechanical loads on the lower back by 16 percent. “I think that’s a pretty substantial reduction,” researcher Ryan Lewinson told CTVNews. “Over the course of shoveling an entire driveway, that probably would add up to something pretty meaningful.”

(Image source photo: Design News)

Erno Rubik, a Hungarian sculptor and professor of architecture, invented his famous game cube while trying to solve a structural problem. Although his goal had been to put moving parts together in a mechanism that wouldn’t fall apart, it gradually dawned on Rubik that he had created a puzzle of sorts.

His puzzle consisted of 26 miniature cubes, each having an inward extension that interlocked to other cubes, allowing them to move independently and in different directions. Initially called the Magic Cube, it was released in Budapest toy shops in 1977. It was later licensed to the Ideal Toy Co. in 1980, which changed its name to Rubik’s Cube to make it more distinctive. Its broader release started a craze in the early 1980s. Rubik’s Cube won Toy of the Year Awards in Germany, France, the UK, US, Finland, Sweden, and Italy. Between 1980 and 1983, 200 million cubes were sold worldwide. Clubs of “speedcubers” popped up around the world, it appeared on the cover of Scientific American, books were written about it, and The Washington Post called it “a puzzle that’s moving like fast food right now. “Today, Rubik’s Cube continues to sell and enthusiasts continue to test their skill against it. Total sales are said to have passed 300 million. In 2017, a speedcuber named SeungBeom Cho set a world record for solving the puzzle in 4.59 seconds.

(Image source photo: Design News)

CONCLUSIONS:  We all have ideas.  The difference is persistence in developing and marketing those ideas.


The convergence of “smart” microphones, new digital signal processing technology, voice recognition and natural language processing has opened the door for voice interfaces.  Let’s first define a “smart device”.

A smart device is an electronic device, generally connected to other devices or networks via different wireless protocols such as Bluetooth, NFC, Wi-Fi, 3G, etc., that can operate to some extent interactively and autonomously.

I am told by my youngest granddaughter that all the cool kids now have in-home, voice-activated devices like Amazon Echo or Google Home. These devices can play your favorite music, answer questions, read books, control home automation, and all those other things people thought the future was about in the 1960s. For the most part, the speech recognition of the devices works well; although you may find yourself with an extra dollhouse or two occasionally. (I do wonder if they speak “southern” but that’s another question for another day.)

A smart speaker is, essentially, a speaker with added internet connectivity and “smart assistant” voice-control functionality. The smart assistant is typically Amazon Alexa or Google Assistant, both of which are independently managed by their parent companies and have been opened up for other third-parties to implement into their hardware. The idea is that the more people who bring these into their homes, the more Amazon and Google have a “space” in every abode where they’re always accessible.

Let me first state that my family does not, as yet, have a smart device but we may be inching in that direction.  If we look at numbers, we see the following projections:

  • 175 million smart devices will be installed in a majority of U.S. households by 2022 with at least seventy (70) million households having at least one smart speaker in their home. (Digital Voice Assistants Platforms, Revenues & Opportunities, 2017-2022. Juniper Research, November 2017.)
  • Amazon sold over eleven (11) million Alexa voice-controlled Amazon Echo devices in 2016. That number was expected to double for 2017. (Smart Home Devices Forecast, 2017 to 2022(US) Forester Research, October 2017.
  • Amazon Echo accounted for 70.6% of all voice-enabled speaker users in the United States in 2017, followed by Google Home at 23.8%. (eMarketer, April 2017)
  • In 2018, 38.5 million millennials are expected to use voice-enabled digital assistants—such as Amazon Alexa, Apple Siri, Google Now and Microsoft Cortana—at least once per month. (eMarketer, April 2017.)
  • The growing smart speaker market is expected to hit 56.3 million shipments, globally in 2018. (Canalys Research, January 2018)
  • The United States will remain the most important market for smart speakers in 2018, with shipments expected to reach 38.4 million units. China is a distant second at 4.4 million units. (Canalys Research, April 2018.)

With that being the case, let’s now look at what smart speakers are now commercialized and available either as online purchases or retail markets:

  • Amazon Echo Spot–$114.99
  • Sonos One–$199.00
  • Google Home–$129.00
  • Amazon Echo Show–$179.99
  • Google Home Max–$399.00
  • Google Home Mini–$49.00
  • Fabriq Choros–$69.99
  • Amazon Echo (Second Generation) –$$84.99
  • Harman Kardon Evoke–$199.00
  • Amazon Echo Plus–$149.00

CONCLUSIONS:  If you are interested in purchasing one from the list above, I would definitely recommend you do your homework.  Investigate the services provided by a smart speaker to make sure you are getting what you desire.  Be aware that there will certainly be additional items enter the marketplace as time goes by.  GOOD LUCK.

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