Interesting new delivery systems in the developed and developing world

Coca-Cola light logo

Following on from my earlier post about how drones are starting to show potential to be used as delivery mechanisms, there has been some other interesting examples recently of using existing delivery mechanisms in a new way, or creating new delivery networks.


In terms of the developed world, when Jeff Bezos bought WashPo, there was some speculation that he would try to leverage their superior (albeit local) delivery mechanisms for the paper to deliver Amazon goods. In the absence of any further news about Bezos’ plans, that remains an interesting idea.


An interesting idea in the developing world is piggybacking on existing, dominant networks. A recent documentary described how an NGO used Coca-Cola’s network to distribute rehydration kits in Africa. This is a brilliant idea, which turns on its head the previously accepted notion that Coke should be available everywhere, but medicines not. Similar initiatives have been done before by the foundation or CSR arms of big companies, such as Unilever in India, but it’s a brilliant idea for an NGO to do the same thing.


Lastly, Fast Company recently had an article on a social enterprise creating a whole new network, also in Africa. This takes the US model of Avon ladies, training women to be rural, travelling saleswomen, armed with small sales kits and support networks. This idea seems to have the potential to really flip industries that have struggled to build businesses that sell to the bottom of the pyramid, hopefully opening up huge new markets.


English: African savannah exhibit at the Natio...







Photo credits: Wikipedia


Latest interesting uses of 3D printing technology

3D printer
By Tiia Monto (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

3D printing is an area where usage has just exploded over the last year. There seems to be no limits to the awesome and industry-flipping use cases that are being presented. I wrote about some interesting of the industries that are at risk of being flipped by 3D-printing a while ago. What we’re seeing is an interesting example of a technology being adoped rapidly both by consumers and companies.

As companies like UPS are going into the future, and envisioning a world where logistics has been replaced by printing your own products, individual enthusiasts are going into the past, and using 3D-printing to bring back forgotten products. A pair of Swiss architects have 3D-printed a whole room, and many companies see huge potential in combining 3D-printing with traditional manufacturing techniques.

Bioprinting, for medical uses, is one of the most promising, China just printed human liver cells, but also one of the areas where tangible, usable results are the furtherest away. A San Diego lab is dreaming of printing cartilages.

The area which is closest to my heart is education, using 3D-printing to inspire kids to create and innovate. At a recent TED event I attended, the 3D-printer booth was by far the most crowded. MIT‘s Center for Bits and Atoms has over the last years been setting up Fab Labs all over the world (Neil Gershenfeld‘s TED talk from a few years ago here) and with 3d printers coming down in price, they are now teaching kids do hands-on science and create almost everything.

Of course, as with any new technology, things can still go wrong. Fast Company recently highlighted this fun collection of 3D-printing gone rogue and all over the place.

September as a time for reflection

For Jewish people, the month of September heralds the coming of Rosh Hashanah, the new year, and a time to reflect on the past year.

Even for non-Jews, September does seem to hold an unusually large share of anniversaries, on both a personal and world level. Everything from the September 11 attacks in 2001 and 2012, the high number of birthdays in September (children being conceived in the dark of January winter), weddings, deaths. As summer retreats and fall takes over, September holds the time to remember all these things.

A shofar made from a ram's horn is traditional...

Web services have popped up to help you in this process, prompting you to reflect on the past year, and providing you with access to your replies at a later stage. 10q is one of them, well worth checking out.



Photo credit: Wikipedia

Missing Plato: Voting for change for no reason in Australia, Norway

Plato. Luni marble, copy of the portrait made ...

It makes one wish longingly for Plato’s ideal society, ruled by Philosopher Kings. Obviously what Plato outlined was unquestionably autocratic and totalitarian, and not something we’d like to put in place today. It was even autocratic with the standards of the limited democracy they had in Athens. But sometimes in today’s society, it feels like democracy has become a reality TV show, where people vote for changes in governments just for the sake of changing them. The current leaders get voted out just because they are no longer seen as interesting.

Cases in point now are Australia and Norway. Australia just voted to replace Kevin Rudd with Tony Abbott. Rudd has a proven track record, and has made sure Australia weathered the financial crisis storm better than any other industrialized country. However, now voters see fit to replace him with another coalition, which is unproven and has been mum on what their policies will be. It feels like gambling with the country’s future.

In Norway, we are seeing the same scenario play out. Jens Stoltenberg had the highest approval ratings ever just a year ago, and Norway has also sailed through the financial crisis splendidly, but in a week, all polls point to him being voted out by voters eager for change for the sake of change itself.

Not all changes are bad, of course. Some of the changes in government we saw in the midst of the financial crisis made sense, since there were incompetent governments such as Berlusconi‘s, that were largely to blame for the crisis. Now that the world seems to be beginning to turn the page and come out of its crisis, it no longer makes sense to change governments just for the fun of it.

Another case in point is the US. It seemed to make sense for a long time to run the pattern of reverting to the party in mid-term elections that had lost the previous presidential election. This did for a long time seem to reinforce the necessary checks and balances. Now, however, it has just led to a complete paralysis and the frozen Washington that everyone laments.

Germans, as is often the case, seem to be the most pragmatic ones, and look to be keeping Merkel around. Good for them.

Photo credit: Wikipedia

Latest interesting uses for drone technology

UAV over Pakistan

The use of drones is expanding more and more, with new innovative uses popping up regularly. Here are some of the latest examples:

  1. Using drones to save lives. This Wired article describes how a octocopter could carry defribillators to people in medical emergencies in remote areas.
  2. Delivering packages (and cakes!). So far, not allowed in the US, but Chinese companies are exploring its potential. China is catching up quickly in the military UAV arena, as outlined by HuffPo here, and seems likely to surpass the US soon in the civilian area, given the more stringent US regulations.
  3. As often, Burning Man points the way forward. Their department of Mutant Vehicles, which sounds like something out of a Philip K. Dick novel, issued usage instructions for drones at the Burning Man festival. Perhaps something that the FAA could learn from.
  4. As is often the case, it’s only when the usage is really proven to be useful that regulation is adapted. So perhaps the use of drones to fight the Yosemite fire could spur faster legislation around its use cases.
Photo credit: Swamibu (Creative Commons)

Latest use cases in MOOCs

University of Maryland to Offer Four Free Cour...

MOOCS (Massive Open Online Courses) are really taking off at the moment. It has yet to be proven as a business model, and it is still in its early stages of proving its usefulness, but it does seem to hold large potential. It currently seems to be in the phase of testing out what works and what doesn’t.

From the origins of computer science-based courses we see at EdX, now Coursera and Udacity are adding new types of courses. I’ve signed up for courses at all of them to test them out, and will report back as they proceed with pros and cons.

English: Photograph of bust statue of Ludwig v...

In the last couple of days, two new courses have appeared that are likely to be able to change the perception of what topics work for a MOOC. Coursera started a piano class on Beethoven’s sonatas today, which has 32,000 registered students! Also today, new provider Instructure is offering a class based on hit TV show Walking Dead. These kinds of high- and low brow MOOCs have the potential to significantly broaden their appeal and reach.

The traditional universities are struggling to keep up. Georgia Tech is testing ways to couple online, paid-for education that results in a proper degree, with the size of MOOCs. Slate describes more here. The Ivy League schools are still torn as to whether it’s better for their brand not to offer any online content, or whether they would benefit from leveraging the brand on the Internet. Harvard is testing the waters by making a few courses available on EdX.

The only thing that is clear so far is that we will see a huge amount of experimentation in the years to come, which can only be good news to all us knowledge-hackers out there.

Photo credits: University of Maryland Press Releases, Wikipedia

Undelivered speeches in parallel universes

Aeon has a new great piece on parallel worlds, going back to its origins in Western thought with Epicurus hypothesizing that the current arrangement of atoms is just one of many potential ones.

This got me thinking about the recent revelation of a 1983 speech prepared for the Queen of England that she would have delivered in case of a nuclear WWIII. Other famous undelivered speeches throughout history include the speech JFK was due to give in Dallas on Nov 22, 1963, and a haunting speech prepared for Nixon in case of a flawed moon landing.
Given all these outcomes that the world has managed to avoid, perhaps we do live in the best of all possible worlds after all?

How technology changes our reading habits

Cover of "Kindle Wireless Reading Device,...

Amazon Kindle



Photo credit: popturfdotcom


Technology has always shaped the way we read books, from Gutenberg to Kindles, but it feels like the pace of changes is speeding up in recent times, and in some very positive ways.


One of the big enablers has been the application of big data and better analytics to books, book reviews and data on reading. Amazon‘s recommendations are getting better and better. Now Goodreads, picked up by Amazon earlier this year, is proving to be a really useful platform. It is not always spot on in terms of recommendations, and they keep sending me emails about books from the Young Adult section, but having a social network based on reading is quite nice. It does yield a lot of good ideas for new books to read, as well as new appreciation the hidden literate depths of one’s more peripheral Facebook friends!


BookVibe is a new fun book discovery tool, which picks books to recommend based on what books are discussed in my Twitter and Facebook feeds. My current list of recommendations include everyone from the expected (Carl Sagan, Freakonomics, Sherry Turkle), to more unexpected books about Dungeons and Dragons or something called “The Harbinger”.


There’s also, which aims to be the Pandora of books, by defining and matching the “genome” of books. For fiction, the results are not that convincing (I get better recommendations from Amazon). It works better for non-fiction, but it seems the DNA of a book is still fairly elusive.


The other big change we’ve witnessed recently is the time-shifting of reading. After watching TV content was  inexorably changed by Tivo, and later Netflix, timeshifting has moved to reading, with all the wonderful tools we now have at our disposal. I can no longer live without Instapaper and Pocket. I also love the Longform app’s curated take on articles. Om Malik discusses how he uses Pocket here.


Even if it’s an age of TL;DR, in which we have ever less time to read, it seems these innovations are at least helping us make the most of what we read.