In the long run the winning company in any industry will be the best software company

The recent blowout financial results from the FANG companies (Facebook, Amazon, Netflix, Google) reminded me of Marc Andreessen’s bold prediction about software companies.  Seems more and more relevant with every passing quarter:

1) Every product or service that can become software will become software.

2) Therefore, every company that makes those products or services has to, and will, become a software company.

3) Therefore, in any industry in the long run the winning company will be the best software company.

You can substitute “data analytics” for “software” and pretty much get a similar conclusion, even if the physical product itself is not software.

Marc Cuban, for what it’s worth, thinks artificial intelligence “will change everything” and the FANG stocks are ready to “crush it” on AI.  Buckle up.

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Most visitors to a place are those who live nearby, and those who visit rarely.

Think about that for a moment.  Certainly fits with what most city downtowns are like — swarms of both tourists (rare visitors) and the people who work (or live) there.  Empirically the number of visitors scales inversely as the square of both the distance traveled and the frequency of visitation.  But geography is two-dimensional while time is one-dimensional, and the world is a big place with lots of people who travel.  So you end up with a lot of people from far away who don’t visit that often, and the folks who live there.  But not many people from middle distances, who visit often.

To learn more about the math and data behind that statement, read the blog post by Robin Hanson about Geoffrey West’s new book, Scale:  The Universal Laws of Growth, Innovation, Sustainability, and the Pace of Life in Organisms, Cities, Economies, and Companies (link from Robin Hanson’s post).

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Stanford researchers develop a new type of soft, growing robot.

The basic idea behind this robot is straightforward. It’s a tube of soft material folded inside itself, like an inside-out sock, that grows in one direction when the material at the front of the tube everts, as the tube becomes right-side-out.

The growth of the tip is under remote control, allowing the robot to maneuver itself around obstacles.  A remote camera can be carried along by the tip as well, allowing for navigation, as well as observation of the local environment.

In other demonstrations, the robot lifted a 100-kilogram crate, grew under a door gap that was 10 percent of its diameter and spiraled on itself to form a free-standing structure that then sent out a radio signal. The robot also maneuvered through the space above a dropped ceiling, which showed how it was able to navigate unknown obstacles as a robot like this might have to do in walls, under roads or inside pipes. Further, it pulled a cable through its body while growing above the dropped ceiling, offering a new method for routing wires in tight spaces.

Read more at Stanford News.

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World’s first cable-free elevator travels horizontally and vertically, driven by maglev technology.  Link here.


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Boston Leads the List of Top 25 U.S. Cities for NIH Funding


Not surprisingly, the biotech hubs cluster at the top.  Boston leads at $1.9B, New York $1.4B, Seattle, Philadelphia and Baltimore all coming in around $900M each.

Somewhat surprising is how high Boston ranks relative to San Francisco ($680M). Consolidating San Francisco, Stanford, and Berkeley vs. Boston and Cambridge (U.S.) doesn’t change the ranking much.

Boston does have the highest concentration of research universities and hospitals in the country.  By itself, the five-block square Longwood medical area (Harvard Med, Harvard Public Health, Children’s Hospital, Brigham and Women’s, Beth Israel Deaconess, Dana Farber, etc.) totals over $1 billion, which would make it the third highest “city” on the list.

Data source:  U.S.  National Institutes of Health, FY 2016 funding.

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A Single Autonomous Car Has a Huge Impact on Alleviating Traffic


Just one autonomous car out of 20 vehicles can significantly alleviate traffic congestion, according to research from the University of Illinois.  The culprit behind many traffic jams is the variability in speed of human drivers — waves of excessive braking and acceleration that can cause long backups.  By avoiding jackrabbit starts and sudden stops, a more even driving pace inserted in the traffic flow by an autonomous car dramatically reduces variability-induced congestion.  What’s more, according to the research team fuel consumption is reduced by up to 40 percent when averaged across all the cars in the traffic flow.

Fortunately, it may not take very long to gain these advantages — more uniform driving can be accomplished with relatively simple control systems (think intelligent cruise control augmented by automated braking).  A completely autonomous vehicle is not required.

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Handpainted scenes from the original Star Wars trilogy, with a link to a cool documentary on 1980’s special effects from Industrial Light and Magic.

Interesting recent gallery exhibit and some interviews with Tara Donovan.  See also this, and for a comprehensive look at her work, just Google “Tara Donovan” and look at the images.  Amazing stuff.

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Why Do Gas Station Prices Constantly Change? Blame the Algorithm.  Retailers are using artificial-intelligence software to set optimal prices on thousands of items a day, sometimes as often as every hour.

Watch This Robot 3D Print a Building Out of Spray Foam.



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Time Lapse Engine Rebuild of a Ford Flathead V8

Courtesy of the folks at Hagerty.

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Vantablack, the Darkest Substance Ever Made


This is not photoshopped…

The photo above shows two identical sculptures, one of which is painted with Vantablack, a carbon-fiber coating from surrey nanosystems. It is the darkest substance known to man, absorbing more than 99.96% of incident light; so dark that details disappear and laser light is not reflected.  The original version could only by applied by vapor disposition, but it can now also be sprayed onto a surface.  Find out more about its amazing properties at “A Visual Guide to Vantablack” and at Surrey Nanosystems.

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