Sapere aude: Dare to think on your own

22 07 2008

I remember as a kid my mother explaining to me that, in Japan, people referred to Korea as “cho-sen”, meaning “Land of morning calm”. Being a pain in the neck since my early years, I always wondered how one could possibly say “land of morning calm” using just two syllables – that’s when my mother gently suggested me to shut up 🙂 .

Latin shares some of that hidden magic with Japanese and can also express a lot in a few words. Ad augusta per angusta, Caveat emptor and Urbi et orbe all seem to have this elastic semantic property. My favourite among the short Latin quotes is sapere aude, which mysteriously means “Dare to think on your own”.

In the last couple of years, I have read my fair share of business books (or at least portions of them, as I’m admittedly a lousy reader):

  • Get things done
  • The long tail
  • The world is flat
  • Wikinomics

and I’m currently reading:

  • Web 2.0: a strategy guide
  • Groundswell: Winning in a World Transformed by Social Technologies
  • Here comes everybody
  • Thinkertoys

While many things can be learned from those books, they are written in a way that can lead us to refer to them as gospels, and not simple sources of opinions.

Likewise, many times we see the use of blank statements disguised as common wisdom justifying policies or courses of action. Here are some that examples:

  • You can’t teach an old dog new tricks
  • Jack of all trades, master of none
  • Perception is reality

The real world is so much more complex than that. And I don’t mean to say I’m immune to that: from time to time I catch myself unconsciously trapped in that herd mentality. That’s why I enjoy to hear people who disagree with me, as they may be my only chance to snap out of it

If we have to choose a blank statement to adopt, I like this one better: “when everybody thinks alike, nobody thinks much”. If everything looks rosy and everybody is agreeing with you, think twice. And above it all, sapere aude.

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Santos-Dumont, The Wright Brothers and Innovation

17 07 2008

This is a post I wrote long time ago in my internal blog at work and decided to publish here too, as it seems to still be current

Unless you’re Brazilian or an aviation enthusiast, chances are that you have never heard about Alberto Santos-Dumont. Most people in the world would not hesitate in saying that the Wright brothers invented the airplane. However, some claim that “the only witnesses to the Wright brothers flights (…) were typically close friends and family”, while “Santos-Dumont made his flights in public, often accompanied by the scientific elite of the time, then gathered in Paris” (read more about it here and here). The picture above (from Wikimedia Commons) shows one of his flights in the Bagatelle field (close to the Eiffel Tower). PBS aired “Wings of Madness”, a good documentary about Santos-Dumont, last year. Here are some excerpts from the program description:

In the early 1900s, the most acclaimed celebrity in Europe, and arguably the world, was a fashionable, frail, Brazilian-born aviator named Alberto Santos-Dumont. (…)Tiring of balloons, Santos built the 14bis, an ungainly tail-first flying machine that nevertheless made the first powered airplane flight in Europe in 1906. At that time, the Wright brothers’s secret early flights were widely disbelieved, so Santos and his adoring public were convinced he was the first to fly. When Wilbur made his triumphant European tour in 1908, Santos had to face the terrible realization that the Wrights were the true pioneers after all. But just before his long slide into illness began, he designed an exquisite new airplane out of bamboo: the Demoiselle, or Damselfly. One of the classic aircraft of the pioneering era, it was the true forerunner of today’s ultralight planes.

An interesting aside from this discussion is that the Gartner’s hype cycle around emerging technologies was already in full display mode 100 years ago: Dumont went from the technology trigger all the way to the plateau of productivity in a decade and was very hyped for a while to the point that the local Dayton Daily News in 1903 stated that the Wright brothers were emulating Dumont (Orville and Wilbur lived in Dayton):

In any case, the true answer for the question “Who invented the airplane” is: none of them. Or better yet, all of them: Orville, Wilbur, Alberto and several others pioneers, all should be credited with the invention of the airplane. We tend to like simple answers, and so we just accept that Gutenberg invented printing, Thomas Edison the light bulb and Christopher Columbus discovered the Americas. In reality, all inventions and findings in the world are composites of ideas and experiments run by several people. That’s why I strongly believe that our current models governing intellectual property are outdated and preventing us from unleashing the true power of innovation. Our copyright laws are way too strict, and patents many times are inhibitors, not drivers, for new inventions.

Note that I’m not advocating that all IP protection should be dropped. However, the big accomplishment that should be awarded is not the idea, but the execution. Ideas are cheap, good implementation is the real challenge. This concept applies even in the case of artistic works like music, movies or books. Just imagine what would happen if everything was governed by a Creative Commons-like license, where anybody, everybody could share, remix and reuse whatever they want. Often times we see songs that were very flat in their original recording to become masterpieces with some novel interpretation. If we lower the barriers, even disasters could be rescued. Can you improve on “The Godfather” I and II? Unlikely. “The Godfather
III”, on the other side, had some good ideas ruined by a few really lame ones. The potential for a great movie was there, but it was never realized. You’re just left wondering “what if”. Of course, movies are not that easy to tweak, but scripts are. I bet that the last three Star Wars movies could benefit from better writing.

It would be interesting as a social experiment to establish a 5-year moratorium on all IP-related claims and see what would happen: chaos and the-end-of-the-world-as-we-know-it or an explosion in innovation. At a minimum, this approach would help us to find out how much control is actually needed to foster innovation.





Interactive video and viral marketing

16 07 2008

Most Brazilians have already seen this site, but chances are that this was not widely known in North America. It’s a typical Brazilian beer ad, probably a bit too racy for some audiences, but it’s worth it a view for the novelty of it. I won’t say much more to not spoil it.

Here are the instructions if you still want to see it:

  • Here’s a rough translation of the screen:
Invite a friend you want to tease to visit the Bar da Boa.
Here you can send a very special and personalized invite to a friend.
Juliana (Paes, a popular Brazilian actress) would say so!

For that, fill out the form below:

Your name:
(Maximum of 15 characters)

Your friend’s name:
(Maximum of 15 characters)

Your email:
(optional)

Your friend’s email:
(optional)

  • Fill out the first box with your name
  • Fill out the second box with your friend’s name
  • You may leave the other two text boxes empty
  • Click on “Visualizar”

In case you are curious, this is a free translation of the video:

“Hi, I had a tatoo done, you wanna see? Here it is.

Aw, poor guy, don’t be sad. There’s another one with your name, wanna see?

Hey Big Paul, come on here!”





My first Bamboo Fun Sketch

10 07 2008

There you go. It was supposed to be a woman’s face, but ended up more like Mowgli, from The Jungle Book. This one is pretty much useless, but this may be useful to capture impromptu diagrams quickly.





The Bamboo Raft Fun

9 07 2008

Yesterday night I bought something that was in my wish list for a long while: Bamboo Fun, a consumer-grade graphic tablet (not to be confused with a tablet PC). Yay!!!

This beauty has been around for a while, so I have this feeling that very soon Wacom will be releasing a newer version, but I couldn’t resist.

I have no idea about what to do with it yet, but I may experiment a bit with image-blogging or hand-writing-blogging a bit (more likely to be chicken-scratch-blogging, actually).





Comic books

4 07 2008

I’ve been reading comic books for as long as I can remember, and that officially makes me a geek – as if working for IBM and being a Lost fan was not enough 🙂 . Last Saturday, my favourite comic book shop in Toronto closed for business, and led me to reflect on how much of a subculture that is, despite the success of the super-hero blockbuster movies.

The Comic Emporium closes shop

The Comic Emporium closes shop

I’m still a regular buyer of Marvel books (the Ultimate Universe titles are *really* good) and some DC (All Star Batman & Robin by Frank Miller and Jim Lee is not too bad) but I like all types of comics, from Peanuts to Moebius.

What I like about comic book as a medium is that, contrary to movies, they are pretty much limitless: no technical or budget constraints, they can go as far as the writer’s or artist’s creativity can take them. From the deceptive simplicity of Charles Schulz’s Charlie Brown to the visual sophistication of Alex Maleev, you can make the unimaginable real. It’s storytelling at its best.

I also find comics a good way to learn a new language. Reading books and newspapers can improve your vocabulary, but let’s face it, nobody speaks that way. If you are learning Portuguese, I highly recommend Brazil’s Monica’s Gang (the site is annoying, but the first 10 years of the series are worth a read). For other good foreign books, try Argentina’s Mafalda – a masterpiece or France’s Asterix. Belgium’s Tintin is a bit dated and in hindsight controversial, but so influencing that it can’t be missed.

Comics, as everything else, keeps reinventing itself, so you may find digital comics interesting. For gamers, try out PvP. Toothpaste for dinner is not too bad. And many IBMers love the stick people at xkcd.org.

If you ever visit São Paulo, pay a visit to the Gibiteca Sesi (“gibi” is comic book in Portuguese). They have a colletion of 26,000 books, including gems by Will Eisner, Neil Gaiman and Alan Moore. If you are a big fan like me, that’s like heaven on earth.