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Fundamental Factors Underlying
Recent Technological Innovation
Don Lancaster
Synergetics, Box 809, Thatcher, AZ 85552
copyright c2006 rev 2/10 as GuruGram #68.
(928) 428-4073
W hat are the fundamental underlying "secret" forces that are driving recent
technological developments? How can you apply these fundamental factors to
your own product designs? Or at the very least, allow you to become enough
aware that you can avoid getting done in by them?
Here’s my choices of the biggies. Some are subtle and some obvious…
Factor #1 — Decoupling
Many of the stunning hardware developments of the past few decades can be
directly traced to decoupling , or simply separating inputs from outputs .
Really wonderful things happened to electric typewriters when the keyboard
output was disconnected from the printer input. For you could now store and
intercept keystrokes and do all sorts of wonderful things with them. Not the least
of which were fixing errors, sharing information, keeping copies, and saving
previous work.
On copiers, decoupling the scanning function from the imaging function has
eliminated the outrageous weight and sizes and unreliability of huge precision
optics. Especially if size changing zoom or other features were needed. But copiers
themselves have largely been obsoleted by stand alone scanners and printers. The
ultimate in decoupling is thus to break the problem down into two separate
systems. And allow extensive manipulation and modification between the two.
On monitors, expensive and unreliable front panel controls are now replaced by a
decoupled rotary wheel . Same for washing machines and other appliances. On
prepress, you no longer needed separate paths for text and graphics. Because the
decoupled and captured intermediates were simply data files.
On oscilloscopes and test equipment, going to menu driven buttons eliminated
the need for costly and bandwidth limiting switching in tight front panel spaces.
Decoupling by going digital replaced expensive CRT’s with cheap monitors.
Just about everything electronic benefited from the decoupling of power supplies
no longer doing their conversion at 60 Hertz . By going to DC first and then to a
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much higher frequency, switch mode power supplies dramatically slashed the size
and weight of most capacitors, inductors, and transformers. And got much
cheaper, much cleaner, and more efficient as well.
Music, of course, used to have these silly acoustical physics rules that everybody
had to comply with that determined the size, volume, tonality, and the skill
complexity needed. Usually combined with ludicrous ergonometrics. But by newly
decoupling the tone generation from any physical embodiment , electronic
music ( and synthesizers in particular ) removed most all of the physical barriers.
Stunning improvements have happened in decoupling content from the physical
media forms that it used to demand. Obvious examples are email over actual
letters, music and video downloads, and replacement of trade journals and
manufacturer’s reps with instant online sales. More on disembodiment shortly.
Google , of course, has totally decoupled information gathering from the
traditional librarian gatekeepers and the now ludicrous demand that the
information provider, the recipient, and the information itself all had to be in the
same place during totally restricted times.
In telephony, we have decoupled the ability to talk remotely from the need for
one fixed monopoly to provide wire-only service to your home or business.
Obvious alternatives are cellphones, VOIP, cable, wireless, satellite, and great
heaping bunches more yet to evolve.
The lowly computer mouse has long decoupled itself from the reliability problems
of direct mechanical rollers and cords. Through optic sensing and wireless comm.
The next generation of vehicles will almost certainly be drive by wire . And again
decoupling the driver inputs from what those inputs are supposed to accomplish.
…with this impact…
One of the more profound consequences of decoupling is that many institutions
and infrastructures are now not only utterly useless , but are clearly a drag on
society. Music producers and record companies are rather obvious examples of
entities that clearly no longer serve any useful purpose whatsoever.
Or, what exactly is it that the first class mail part of the post office does, and why
is it still of any use or need whatsoever? Or is this like the British Sailing Ship naval
bureaucracy whose size and costs peaked many decades after the last sailing ship
was removed from active service?
Similar examples obviously involve book publishers from whom the majority of
their services are no longer either needed or relevant. Same goes for magazines
and, especially, trade journal publishers.
Nobody felt sorry when the litho camera folks or the printed circuit tape and dots
people went out of business.
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Dozens of other examples come to mind. Which additional decoupling examples
can you think of? What still can be separated?
Factor #2 — Accurate Replication
With accurate replication, the end user gains the ability to make copies of items
or IP that are as good or better than those from traditional sources.
People once went to a commercial printer because they could not produce their
own copies that were as good or as cheap by themselves. Authors once used book
publishers because typesetting and artwork creation were unbearably difficult,
time consuming, and second rate using previously available tools.
Musicians once used music companies because today’s cheap but superb quality
mixing and editing was once impossibly expensive. And that distribution required
a physical media presence.
"Perfect" copies of video or music by either the creator or the end user are now
trivial and clearly eliminate the surface noise, hiss, distortion, flutter, wow, and
most bandwidth limitations of previous music delivery systems. Generation loss is
now completely gone. Digital now trumps Analog. Nearly always.
One obvious consequence of cheap and fast perfect copies is that anyone who is
overcharging for their product will cause new copies to be made instead by the
end user . Thus, the price gougers all loudly scream "piracy". Rather than realizing
that additional copies would likely not be paid for anyway and probably would
increase the product awareness and demand.
Traditional copyright and IP protection has thus largely become totally useless.
Factor #3 — Elimination of the gatekeepers
Also known as disintermediation .
A gatekeeper was a profit stealing and time wasting obstructionist between you
and something you needed or wanted. The internet has not only eliminated
gatekeepers, but also the gate itself and the fence the gate was at one time
supposed to go into.
Obvious examples are used car dealers, manufacturer’s representatives, book
publishers, music companies, scholarly journal houses, and, ( sadly ) librarians.
Anyone reasonably swift can now use the online Blue Book to find exact vehicle
values. And can buy or sell the cars themselves via Craig’s List , eBay , or any of a
number of online Auto Trader publications. To the point of which it is clearly
fundamentally insane to buy off a used car lot.
I consider manufacturer’s representatives to have been the vilest of the vile.
Several evolutionary steps below, say, lawyers. These epsilon minuses made it
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virtually impossible to find out how much something actually cost. Or to get
hassle free technical info in a timely manner. Replaced, of course, by 24/7 online
stores and totally free instant technical information.
At one time book publishers offered extensive services not available elsewhere.
Such as art departments, type setting, competent editing, or economics of scale.
With the possible exception of promotion and marketing, there is nothing a
modern book publisher does that you cannot do faster, cheaper, and better by
yourself. Or by cash-and-carry targeted web alternatives .
Similarly, the only purpose I can see for record companies is to steal royalties off
their talent. They accomplish absolutely nothing useful otherwise and clearly no
longer serve any worthwhile societal purpose. Anybody that wants to can now
pick up their own superb quality recording studio for pocket change.
Publishers of scientific journals are a good example of gatekeepers in the process
of self destruction . An individual today has the choice of paying a journal many
hundreds of dollars to publish their paper after a long delay and then making the
issues so expensive that their own school library cannot afford a copy. Or of
instantly and freely web publishing to a worldwide audience. To survive, the
journal publishers must realize that copies of every paper more than three years
out of date should be available free and without ANY restrictions .
Librarians were classic gatekeepers. Many of whom were control freaks. But the
notions that the gatekeeper, the infoseeker, and the infosource had to be in the
same place at the same time, or that the info somehow had to be "returned", or
that access was restricted to anything less than 24/7 are clearly ludicrous today.
As to online access, Burger King ( and similar WiFi locations ) offer better service
and more info access convenience than do most libraries.
With far fewer food and drink restrictions.
Factor #4 — Computing power insanely beyond awesome
Back in the olden days, adding one vacuum tube to a system involved a major
upheaval in size, cost, and power consumption. But these days, adding another
half million transistors to say, an electric can opener, is no big deal at all. Chances
are they are already sitting underused in the microprocessor of choice.
Engineering and other math analysis at one time had to be super efficient because
of the value of the user’s time. But throwing another ten million calculations at
something is now often trivial .
Thus, many brute force solution methods now become eminently practical. And
newly driven by the utterly unbelieveable and unprecedented drop in the cost of
memory and the availability of raw computing power.
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Two examples of brute force math techniques that have only recently become
feasible include our Magic Sinewaves and our Fun With Fields tutorials.
Factor #5 — Nonlinearizing the tyranny of time
"The moving finger writes, and having writ, moves on." ain’t necessarily so any
more. At one time, type was painstakingly set one line at a time. Typewriters
worked with one character at a time. Movies were real time edited by cutting and
splicing with scissors and glue above the cutting room floor. Video similarly was
A-B roll edited only in real time.
In book publishing, it was an absolute no-no for an author to try and tell the
publisher how the text and words were to be arranged. And woe be to the author
who dared try to — gasp — change even one word after typesetting. For it was
outrageously expensive and time consuming to do so.
These days, of course, we routinely typeset first and edit last . With zero cost
penalties and great heaping bunches of benefits. Because we can now easily do
nonlinear editing .
The original breakthrough in this ability happened when word processors became
screen oriented rather than line oriented. You could now edit and change
anything you could see. Such techniques as cut-and-paste and spell checking and
advance outlining became routine.
And a whole new level of capabilities got added when the layout programs
became document oriented rather than screen oriented.
Missed a paragraph? No problem. Just let it ripple on through the whole story.
Regardless of how many pages are impacted. Reposition a figure so its text is
relevant? No biggie. Trivial, even.
The similar breakthrough in video and movies came about with the Video Toaster
and related software. That let you store your entire movie or show in an instantly
accessible form. You could now easily combine old and new material in any order
regardless of its time sequence. And, of course, CGI and sound synchronization
manipulated it in previously undreamt of ways.
Thus shattering the tyranny of time.
Factor #6 — Teeny Nano New Nu
Things are getting smaller.
Many electronic components are now so small you can’t even see them and don’t
dare sneeze. Which is bad for individual experimenters and students, but
otherwise has greatly reduced the size, weight, and cost of new electronics.
While dramatically expanding their capabilities.
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