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By ROBERT J. SHILLER    The New York Times

CAPITALISM is culture. To sustain it, laws and institutions are important, but the more fundamental role is played by the basic human spirit of independence and initiative. The decisive role of the “spirit of capitalism” is an old concept, going back at least to Max Weber, but it needs refreshing today with new evidence and new thinking. Edmund S. Phelps, a professor of economics at Columbia University and a Nobel laureate, has written an interesting new book on the subject. It’s called “Mass Flourishing: How Grassroots Innovation Created Jobs, Challenge and Change” (Princeton University Press), and it contains a complex new analysis of the importance of an entrepreneurial culture … read more on The New York Times website by clicking here


So you’re a cyborg — now what?

By Elizabeth Landau, CNN

Atlanta, Georgia (CNN) — Quick: What’s the fattiest system in your body that has two halves and weighs between 2 and 4 pounds?

It’s your brain — you know, that thing that remembers stuff. But because of rapidly evolving information technology, your first impulse was probably to search for the answer on the Internet.

As we become ever more dependent on external sources of memory — using GPS to guide our driving, smartphones to keep our schedules — it’s time to rethink our ideas about what “memory” actually is.

While we don’t physically plug smartphones and other devices into our heads, in some ways we’re already one with them, as evidenced by the anxiety we feel when we’re without them. Would you remember to pick up milk? Would you know your parents’ phone numbers?

If you’ve ever found yourself running late because you left your phone at home, “you might be a cyborg,” says Fred Trotter, a blogger who spoke about information technology at the Health Journalism 2012 conference in April.

Brain implants that make you think of “Avatar,” “The Matrix” and “Star Trek” may still be to come, and scientists are working on ways that we can control devices with thoughts alone. Researchers at Duke University last year, for instance, showed how a monkey could control a virtual arm with its brain, as well as feel sensations the appendage delivered.

But in some ways it doesn’t matter that we’re pushing buttons with our fingers instead of our thoughts. We have become dependent on the networked devices that live in our pockets and colorful rubber cases, rather than what’s in our skulls.

“They’re really external extensions of our mind,” said Joseph Tranquillo, associate professor of biomedical and electrical engineering at Bucknell University…

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Velcro, Vaseline, Teflon, penicillin, and now perhaps the rocket – they were all happy accidents

A man lets off fireworks during a festival in Guangzhou. Chinese alchemists created explosive mixtures in their quest for an elixir of life. Photograph: China Photos/Getty

Any scientist will tell you – probably at length, if you’re buying the drinks – that as much as they love their career, the day-to-day benchwork can be somewhat repetitive.

It’s the eureka moments that make science worthwhile, and such moments are all the sweeter when they’re unexpected. What the Dutch call geluk bij een ongeluk (“happiness by accident”) and English speakers call serendipity – although when an irritating colleague receives serendipity’s blessing, we’re more likely to call him or her a jammy bastard.

Happy accidents have a secure place in scientific history. Perhaps the best known example is of Alexander Fleming, who was working at St Mary’s Hospital in 1928 when he noticed that a culture of Staphylococcus aureus had become contaminated with mould – and the mould was destroying the bacteria. This chance observation led, ultimately, to the development of penicillin and other antibiotics. Similarly, x-rays, radiation and pulsars – and in a less exotic vein, Velcro, Vaseline and Teflon – all owe their discovery or existence to serendipity.

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At IDEO, a “design thinker” must not only be intensely collaborative, but “empathic, as well as have a craft to making things real in the world.” Since design flavors virtually all of our experiences, from products to services to spaces, a design thinker must explore a “landscape of innovation” that has to do with people, their needs, technology and business. Brown dips into three central “buckets” in the process of creating a new design: inspiration, ideation and implementation.

Design thinkers must set out like anthropologists or psychologists, investigating how people experience the world emotionally and cognitively. While designing a new hospital, IDEO staff stretched out on a gurney to see what the emergency room experience felt like. “You see 20 minutes of ceiling tiles,” says Brown, and realize the “most important thing is telling people what’s going on.” In a completely different venue, IDEO visited a NASCAR pit crew to come up with a more effective design for operating theaters.

After inspiration comes “building to think:” often a hundred prototypes created quickly, both to test the design and to create stakeholders in the process. Says Brown, “So many good ideas fail to make it out to market because they couldn’t navigate through the system.” IDEO counts on storytelling to develop and express its ideas, and to buy key players into the concept. Finally, IDEO relies on constantly refreshing its sources of inspiration by bringing in bold thinkers to campus, and increasingly, focusing on socially oriented design problems.

Click here to listen to the full lecture that Tim Brown gave at MIT in 2006:



People often credit their ideas to individual “Eureka!” moments. But Steven Johnson shows how history tells a different story. His fascinating tour takes us from the “liquid networks” of London’s coffee houses to Charles Darwin’s long, slow hunch to today’s high-velocity web.


“This is worth repeating. It’s in Apple’s DNA that technology is not enough. It’s tech married with the liberal arts and the humanities. Nowhere is that more true than in the post-PC products. Our competitors are looking at this like it’s the next PC market. That is not the right approach to this. These are post-PC devices that need to be easier to use than a PC, more intuitive.”