Quants on Wallstreet

Dutch film maker Marije Meerman made two interesting documentaries about automated trading on Wall Street for Dutch television. I was at the  presentation of  the first, Money & Speed: inside the black box which is about the flash crash on the NYSE caused by a complex system of high frequency trading algorithms. On the 6th of May 2010, the American stock markets plunged by almost 10% in only 20 minutes. The documentary is accompanied by a great (and free) iPad app with the documentary and underlying data. The trailer can be seen below.

The second film is completely in English and has been put online completely. Must see.

Google on patents

Techcrunch did an interview with Kent Walker, Google’s Senior Vice President & General Counsel about patents. Some quotes

A patent isn’t innovation. It’s the right to block someone else from innovating.

An average patent examiner gets 15 to 20 hours per patent to see if it’s valid. It can take years to go back and correct mistakes. It has become a kind of lottery.

Patents are government-granted monopolies. We have them to reward innovation, but that’s not happening here.

Via Techdirt.

Adjustible infographic stencil

This is cool! Golan Levin designed an adjustable lasercut stencil, suitable for the rapid deployment of pie-chart infographics. So find your nearest fablab and use the laser cutter there to make this awesome template, buy some spray paint  and hit the streets.

USA inc

Mary Meeker, former Morgan Stanley analyst and now partner at the VC firm Kleiner Perkins takes a look at America’s financial position as if it were a company. Yes, another piece of long form content, I love it. So, take some time and watch it. You may learn something.

Is Intellectual Ventures the patent maffia?

The radio show This American Life has done some great investigating journalism by digging into the patent practices of Intellectual Ventures (IV). I wrote earlier about IV, but mainly focused on their labs. Their labs, responsible for creating and patenting ideas, is just a small part of IV (some 1,000 patents). The bigger part of their business is the management of a grand patent portfolio of more than 30,000 patents. Managing a patent portfolio mainly means licensing and litigation. Litigation means endless visits to the court room. It’s expensive and is a great burden on innovation. Especially in the US, where the patent laws are quite lax compared to Europe. This makes the patent systems very expensive and inefficient.

While IV has great PR in the person of Nathan Myhrvold, their corporate patent practices are dark. Journalists Alex Blumberg and Laura Sydell from This American Life tried to discover how patents are monetized at IV. It includes shell companies operating from the small town of Marshall, Texas. Nobody works there but they are connected to IV. Smoke and mirrors were encountered. IV seems to behave more and more like a patent troll. Chris Sacca, influential investor in Silicon Valley (and former patent lawyer) says the following:

There is a lot of fear about Intellectual Ventures. You don’t want to make yourself a target. I tried to put you in touch with other people in this community to talk to you about this and they almost uniformly said they couldn’t talk to you. IV has the power to literally obliterate startups.

and

Technology companies pay Intellectual Ventures fees ranging from tens of thousands to the millions and millions of dollars to buy themselves insurance that protects them from being sued by any harmful, malevolent outsiders. There’s an implication in IV’s pitch. If you don’t join us, who knows what’ll happen? It reminds me of a mafia-style shakedown, where someone comes in the front door of your building and says: ‘It would be a shame if this place burnt down. I know the neighborhood really well and I can make sure that doesn’t happen.’

The case of Intellectual Ventures shows us what can happen when companies amass great amounts of patents and push the limits of the patent law. It becomes ugly. But ugly doesn’t mean illegal. Unfortunately. It very bad when entrepreneurs work in fear of law suits.

Please take the time to listen to the whole show below. If you don’t have the time now, download their app for iPhone to listen to the show on the go.

One more interesting article that you have to look at is who is exactly behind Intellectual Ventures. The blog Patently-O has the full list. It includes companies (Sony, Apple, Yahoo, Google, etc), universities (Stanford, Cornell, etc), individuals and organisations (McKinsey, Rockefeller Foundation, Charles River Ventures, etc). Taking this step back to see the whole thing scares me even more. Alliances of companies buying patent portfolios, hedging and defending. I don’t like this part of business…

How I used the wisdom of the crowd to win a prize

Remember the book The Wisdom of Crowds by James Surowiecki? Well, I used his theory (more people know more than one smart person) in a ‘guess the number of bottle caps’ challenge in my local supermarket.

I thought it would be fun to test this, so I took a picture of the caps and put it on Facebook and Twitter. I got 11 responses, ranging from 164 to 945. The next time I was in the supermarket it was the last day to put in your guess, so I asked on Twitter what the average was of the 11 responses (it was quite a hassle to do this on my iPhone). One friend responded with the answers 442, so I filled in this number. Later, he saw he made a mistake and corrected the answer to 431, but then I already filled in 442.

Today I got a call from my local supermarket that I won!! The correct amount of bottle caps was 441! So I was just 1 off (or actually 10 if you don’t count the wrong calculation).

All in all, I was pretty amazed. There were only 11 responses. Tomorrow I can pick up my prize!

Don’t P in the OOL

Les twins

These twins have total control over every part of their body. Amazing to see, especially because it looks they’re just playing around.

Read more about these French twins Laurent and Larry Bourgeois.

Via the excellent Kottke (if you’re not reading his blog yet, please do for a constant stream of wonderful things).

The silence of dogs in cars

British photographer Martin Usborne made a wonderful series called “MUTE: the silence of dogs in cars“. It features dogs temporarily left in cars. We all know the situation, the dog is looking sad, or barking but without sound, muted by the glass of the car. The dog is trapped and for a moment we try to understand what the dog thinks.

For context, Usborne writes:

I was once left in a car at a young age.

I don’t know when or where or for how long, possibly at the age of four, perhaps outside Tesco’s, probably for fifteen minutes only. The details don’t matter.  The point is that I wondered if anyone would come back. It seems trivial now but in a child’s mind it is possible to be alone forever.

via Unless You Will.

Birds with arms

More birds with arms. Lol.