Build a better mousetrap

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pages: 274 words: 75,846

The Filter Bubble: What the Internet Is Hiding From You by Eli Pariser


A Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace, A Pattern Language, Amazon Web Services, augmented reality, back-to-the-land, Black Swan, borderless world, Build a better mousetrap, Cass Sunstein, citizen journalism, cloud computing, cognitive dissonance, crowdsourcing, Danny Hillis, data acquisition, disintermediation, don't be evil, Filter Bubble, Flash crash, fundamental attribution error, global village, Haight Ashbury, Internet of things, Isaac Newton, Jaron Lanier, Jeff Bezos, jimmy wales, Kevin Kelly, knowledge worker, Mark Zuckerberg, Marshall McLuhan, megacity, Netflix Prize, new economy, PageRank, paypal mafia, Peter Thiel, recommendation engine, RFID, sentiment analysis, shareholder value, Silicon Valley, Silicon Valley startup, social graph, social software, social web, speech recognition, Startup school, statistical model, stem cell, Steve Jobs, Steven Levy, Stewart Brand, technoutopianism, the scientific method, urban planning, Whole Earth Catalog, WikiLeaks, Y Combinator

And while creating a healthy information diet requires action on the part of the companies that supply the food, that doesn’t work unless we also change our own habits. Corn syrup vendors aren’t likely to change their practices until consumers demonstrate that they’re looking for something else. Here’s one place to start: Stop being a mouse. On an episode of the radio program This American Life, host Ira Glass investigates how to build a better mousetrap. He talks to Andy Woolworth, the man at the world’s largest mousetrap manufacturer who fields ideas for new trap designs. The proposed ideas vary from the impractical (a trap that submerges the mouse in antifreeze, which then needs to be thrown out by the bucket) to the creepy (a design that kills rodents using, yes, gas pellets). But the punch line is that they’re all unnecessary. Woolworth has an easy job, because the existing traps are very cheap and work within a day 88 percent of the time.

., 41–43. 221 “dampens all significant variety”: Ibid., 43. 221 “move easily from one to another”: Ibid., 48. 221 “support for his idiosyncrasies”: Ibid. 222 “psychological equivalent of obesity”: danah boyd. “Streams of Content, Limited Attention: The Flow of Information through Social Media,” Web2.0 Expo. New York, NY: Nov. 17, 2007, accessed July 19, 2008, 223 how to build a better mousetrap: “A Better Mousetrap,” This American Life no. 366, aired Oct. 10, 2008, 223 you’ll catch your mouse: Ibid. 223 “jumping out of that recursion loop”: Matt Cohler, phone interview with author, Nov. 23, 2010. 226 organ donation rates in different European countries: Dan Ariely as quoted in Lisa Wade, “Decision Making and the Options We’re Offered,” Sociological Images blog, Feb. 17, 2010, accessed Dec. 17, 2010, 229 “only when regulation is transparent”: Lawrence Lessig, Code (New York: Basic Books, 2006), 260,


pages: 238 words: 73,824

Makers by Chris Anderson


3D printing, Airbnb, Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic, Apple II, autonomous vehicles, barriers to entry, Buckminster Fuller, Build a better mousetrap, business process, crowdsourcing, dark matter, David Ricardo: comparative advantage, death of newspapers, dematerialisation, Elon Musk, factory automation, Firefox, future of work, global supply chain, global village, industrial robot, interchangeable parts, Internet of things, inventory management, James Hargreaves, James Watt: steam engine, Jeff Bezos, job automation, Joseph Schumpeter, Kickstarter, Lean Startup, manufacturing employment, Mark Zuckerberg, means of production, Menlo Park, Network effects, profit maximization, race to the bottom, Richard Feynman, Richard Feynman, Ronald Coase, self-driving car, side project, Silicon Valley, Silicon Valley startup, Skype, slashdot, South of Market, San Francisco, spinning jenny, Startup school, stem cell, Steve Jobs, Steve Wozniak, Steven Levy, Stewart Brand, supply-chain management, The Nature of the Firm, The Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith, transaction costs, trickle-down economics, Whole Earth Catalog, X Prize, Y Combinator

Sixty days after his Kickstarter fund-raising period closed in December 2010, Wilson shipped more than twenty thousand of the watch cases. What Wilson avoided by going this route was the prosaic path of corporate product development: layers and layers of approval processes, which tend to favor the conventionally tried and true over real innovation. As Carlye Adler put it in Wired: Build a better mousetrap and the world is supposed to beat a path to your door. It’s a lovely thought, one that has inspired generations of American inventors. Reality, though, has fallen somewhat short of this promise: Build a better mousetrap and, if you’re extremely lucky, some corporation will take a look at it, send it through dozens of committees, tweak the design to make it cheaper to manufacture, and let the marketing team decide whether it can be priced to return a profit. By the time your mousetrap makes it to store shelves, it is likely to have been fine-tuned and compromised beyond recognition.47 Take Peter Dering, a civil engineer and an expectant father with an idea for a device called Capture that would allow you to easily clip a camera to your clothes or backpack.


pages: 194 words: 36,223

Smart and Gets Things Done: Joel Spolsky's Concise Guide to Finding the Best Technical Talent by Joel Spolsky


Build a better mousetrap, knowledge worker, linear programming, nuclear winter, Sand Hill Road, Silicon Valley, sorting algorithm, Superbowl ad, the scientific method, type inference, unpaid internship

Chapter 1 HITTING THE HIGH NOTES I n March 2000, I launched the website Joel on Software1 by making the very shaky claim that most people are wrong in thinking you need an idea to make a successful software company: The common belief is that when you’re building a software company, the goal is to find a neat idea that solves some problem which hasn’t been solved before, implement it, and make a fortune. We’ll call this the build-a-better-mousetrap belief. But the real goal for software companies should be converting capital into software that works.2 1. 2. Joel Spolsky, “Converting Capital Into Software That Works,” published at on March 21, 2000 (search for “Converting Capital”). 2 Smart and Gets Things Done For the last five years, I’ve been testing that theory in the real world.


pages: 532 words: 155,470

One Less Car: Bicycling and the Politics of Automobility by Zack Furness, Zachary Mooradian Furness


active transport: walking or cycling, affirmative action, American Society of Civil Engineers: Report Card, back-to-the-land, Build a better mousetrap, Burning Man, car-free, carbon footprint, clean water, colonial rule, conceptual framework, dumpster diving, Enrique Peñalosa, European colonialism, feminist movement, ghettoisation, Golden Gate Park, interchangeable parts, intermodal, Internet Archive, Jane Jacobs, market fundamentalism, means of production, Naomi Klein, New Urbanism, peak oil, place-making, post scarcity, race to the bottom, Ralph Nader, ride hailing / ride sharing, Ronald Reagan, Silicon Valley, sustainable-tourism, the built environment, The Death and Life of Great American Cities, Thomas L Friedman, Thorstein Veblen, urban planning, Whole Earth Catalog, Whole Earth Review, working poor, Yom Kippur War

This is not an appeal to racist nationalism or jingoism as much as it is a matter of common sense and a pragmatic way to envision a broader movement for bicycle transportation that can include, and should rightfully praise, the labor of bicycle factory workers, welders, independent bike builders, tinkerers, artisans, and a multitude of small businesses and communities that stand to gain from an american vélorution. Building a “Better Mousetrap” Industry One of the major problems facing bicycle transportation activists in the twenty-first century is that the totalizing logic of globalization and the realities of free market capitalism frame the prospects of a successful bicycle culture around the importation of bicycles and the enhancement of retail and repair industries, as opposed to encouraging more centralized, more localized, or at the very least, more geographically regionalized modes of production.

That is to say, instead of promoting non-motorized transportation through more localized, democratic modes of production and distribution, their prevailing modus operandi uncritically promotes further deregulation and consolidation of the bicycle industry—a scenario that ironically makes cheap oil a prerogative of bicycling advocates inasmuch as the low price of fuel is currently the sole factor enabling bicycle corporations to outsource, subcontract, and otherwise ship bicycles and parts across the globe. Finale as langdon Winner points out in his otherwise problematic critique of the appropriate technology movement, people have always been able to build a better mousetrap in hopes of transforming society, but such technological solutions are fundamentally and perpetually constrained by the larger cultural and political contexts in which they are deployed. Understanding these contexts and daring to ask a more critical set of questions about the relationships between technologies, social change, and everyday life is a crucial task, but by no means the only task, in the broader struggle to create a better world. indeed, the goal is not simply to interpret technologies but to change the ways in which they are used, namely, by creating the cultural and political conditions in which technologies can be put to work in service of equality, social justice, environmental sustainability, and mutual aid.


pages: 231 words: 73,818

The Achievement Habit: Stop Wishing, Start Doing, and Take Command of Your Life by Bernard Roth


Albert Einstein, Build a better mousetrap, Burning Man, cognitive bias, correlation does not imply causation, deskilling, fear of failure, Mahatma Gandhi, Mark Zuckerberg, school choice, Silicon Valley, The Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith

And the experience of taking control of your life will change your reality, making it possible to achieve almost anything you seriously want to do. A NOTE ABOUT DESIGN THINKING So what is this design thinking stuff, anyway? Design thinking is a set of general practices a group of us has developed over the years that are effective in solving design challenges. A design challenge can apply to just about any kind of product or experience. It’s not just about how to build a better mousetrap (though that’s part of it); it’s also about things that are not physical objects: how to improve the wait time at a popular amusement park, how to clean up a highway, how to more efficiently get food to needy people, how to improve online dating, and so on. Design thinking is an amorphous concept that was given its name by David Kelley, another Stanford professor and cofounder of IDEO, when he was trying to explain that successful designers have a different mind-set and approach from most people.


pages: 282 words: 80,907

Who Gets What — and Why: The New Economics of Matchmaking and Market Design by Alvin E. Roth


Affordable Care Act / Obamacare, Airbnb, algorithmic trading, barriers to entry, Berlin Wall, bitcoin, Build a better mousetrap, centralized clearinghouse, computer age, crowdsourcing, deferred acceptance, desegregation, experimental economics, first-price auction, Flash crash, High speed trading, income inequality, Internet of things, invention of agriculture, invisible hand, Jean Tirole, law of one price, Lyft, market clearing, market design, medical residency, obamacare, proxy bid, road to serfdom, school choice, sealed-bid auction, second-price auction, second-price sealed-bid, Silicon Valley, spectrum auction, Spread Networks laid a new fibre optics cable between New York and Chicago, Steve Jobs, The Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith, two-sided market

But in the absence of sufficient pressure by regulators, a brand-new market design is seldom adopted before a market becomes so dysfunctional that its users grow desperate for something new (or until an entrepreneurial market maker sees a way to compete with existing markets by offering a better design). It’s not clear whether the financial markets have reached that state of dysfunction yet. As the tale of these financial markets makes clear, a superior market design isn’t always implemented. Building a better mousetrap isn’t always rewarded when the mice have a say in the matter. Financial markets are part of an enormous industry. The current winners in the race for speed were simply responding to the extant market design. They wouldn’t be happy if their big investments in faster microwave channels were rendered useless. Yet they already know that could happen at any moment by the construction of a newer and faster communication channel.


Infotopia: How Many Minds Produce Knowledge by Cass R. Sunstein


affirmative action, Andrei Shleifer, availability heuristic, Build a better mousetrap,, Cass Sunstein, cognitive bias, cuban missile crisis, Daniel Kahneman / Amos Tversky, Edward Glaeser,, feminist movement, framing effect, hindsight bias, Isaac Newton, Jean Tirole, jimmy wales, market bubble, market design, minimum wage unemployment, prediction markets, profit motive, rent control, Richard Stallman, Richard Thaler, Robert Shiller, Robert Shiller, Ronald Reagan, slashdot, stem cell, The Wisdom of Crowds, winner-take-all economy

Aggregation / Deliberation could aggregate information and ideas in a way that leads the group as a whole to know even more, and to do even better, than its best member does. Suppose that the group contains no experts on the question at issue, but that a fair bit of information is dispersed among group members. If those members consult with one another, the group may turn out to be expert even if its members are not. No individual person may know how to fix a malfunctioning car, to build a better mousetrap, or to repair a broken computer, but the group as a whole may well have the necessary information. Or suppose that the group contains a number of specialists, but that each member is puzzled about how to solve a particular problem, involving, say, the most effective way to respond to a natural disaster or the right approach to marketing a new product. Deliberation might elicit perspectives and information and thus allow the group to make an excellent judgment.


pages: 280 words: 75,820

Rapt: Attention and the Focused Life by Winifred Gallagher


Albert Einstein, Atul Gawande, Build a better mousetrap, Daniel Kahneman / Amos Tversky, David Brooks, delayed gratification, epigenetics, Frank Gehry, fundamental attribution error, Isaac Newton, knowledge worker, loss aversion, Mahatma Gandhi, McMansion, music of the spheres, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Richard Feynman, Richard Feynman, Rodney Brooks, Ronald Reagan, Silicon Valley, Walter Mischel

The American dream is no longer just to get rich quick, but also to enjoy doing it, and new captains of industry offer various best-selling decalogues for achieving this goal. Their tips range from the philosophical (learn from your failures) to the practical (never handle the same piece of paper twice). There’s one insight into both productivity and satisfaction that they inevitably share, however: the importance of laserlike attention to your goal, be it building a better mousetrap or raising cattle. Unless you can concentrate on what you want to do and suppress distractions, it’s hard to accomplish anything, period. Whether she’s herding sheep in the high alpine desert or negotiating a settlement in a law office, Burke is right there, as attentive as a bird dog. According to the underappreciated mid-twentieth-century psychologist Nicholas Hobbs, the way to ensure this calm but heightened attention to the matter at hand is to choose activities that push you so close to the edge of your competence that they demand your absolute focus.


pages: 357 words: 98,854

Epigenetics Revolution: How Modern Biology Is Rewriting Our Understanding of Genetics, Disease and Inheritance by Nessa Carey


Albert Einstein, British Empire, Build a better mousetrap, conceptual framework, discovery of penicillin, double helix, Drosophila, epigenetics, Fellow of the Royal Society, life extension, mouse model, phenotype, stem cell, stochastic process, Thomas Kuhn: the structure of scientific revolutions

It’s reasonably clear in many cases what individual modifications can do, but it’s not yet possible to make accurate predictions from complex combinations. There are major efforts being made to learn how to understand this code, with multiple labs throughout the world collaborating or competing in the use of the fastest and most complex technologies to address this problem. The reason for this is that although we may not be able to read the code properly yet, we know enough about it to understand that it’s extremely important. Build a better mousetrap Some of the key evidence comes from developmental biology, the field from which so many great epigenetic investigators have emerged. As we have already described, the single-celled zygote divides, and very quickly daughter cells start to take on discrete functions. The first noticeable event is that the cells of the early embryo split into the inner cell mass (ICM) and the trophoectoderm.


pages: 292 words: 81,699

More Joel on Software by Joel Spolsky


barriers to entry, Black Swan, Build a better mousetrap, business process, call centre, Danny Hillis, failed state, Firefox, George Gilder, low cost carrier, Mars Rover, Network effects, Paul Graham, performance metric, place-making, price discrimination, prisoner's dilemma, Ray Oldenburg, Sand Hill Road, Silicon Valley, slashdot, social software, Steve Ballmer, Steve Jobs, Superbowl ad, The Great Good Place, type inference, unpaid internship, wage slave, web application, Y Combinator

twenty-six HITTING THE HIGH NOTES Monday, July 25, 2005 In March, 2000, I launched my site, Joel on Software, with the shaky claim that most people are wrong in thinking you need an idea to make a successful software company ( fog0000000074.html): The common belief is that when you’re building a software company, the goal is to find a neat idea that solves some problem which hasn’t been solved before, implement it, and make a fortune. We’ll call this the build-a-better-mousetrap belief. But the real goal for software companies should be converting capital into software that works. For the last five years, I’ve been testing that theory in the real world. The formula for the company I started with Michael Pryor in September 2000 can be summarized in four steps: It’s a pretty convenient formula, especially since our real goal in starting Fog Creek was to create a software company where we would want to work.


pages: 278 words: 83,504

Boeing Versus Airbus: The Inside Story of the Greatest International Competition in Business by John Newhouse


airline deregulation, Bay Area Rapid Transit, Build a better mousetrap, corporate governance, demand response, low cost carrier, upwardly mobile

In losing sequential battles to Airbus for sales to low-cost carriers, some of them expected to buy its 737, Boeing had suffered a heavy blow. Then, Airbus experienced a similarly hard blow when Boeing began selling sizable numbers of 787’s to carriers that had been flying A330’s in the middle market and had been counted on by Airbus to buy its newer version, the A350. In short, Boeing started turning itself around by not just building a better mousetrap but selling it at concessionary prices to airlines of possibly pivotal importance that might instead have bought the other party’s paper airplane. Boeing had altered its strategy, and apparently put behind it at least some of the problems that had been the talk of the industry. Some of the credit goes to Scott Carson, who took charge of the sales force and wasted no time in changing its attitude and lack of edge.


pages: 486 words: 132,784

Inventors at Work: The Minds and Motivation Behind Modern Inventions by Brett Stern


Apple II, augmented reality, autonomous vehicles, bioinformatics, Build a better mousetrap, business process, cloud computing, computer vision, cyber-physical system, distributed generation, game design, Grace Hopper, Richard Feynman, Richard Feynman, Silicon Valley, skunkworks, Skype, smart transportation, speech recognition, statistical model, stealth mode startup, Steve Jobs, Steve Wozniak, the market place, Yogi Berra

Today, at the dawn of the nexus of the future, ideas for inventions stand only a small chance of being realized and competing in the marketplace unless they’re generated or picked up by corporations that can marshal teams of scientists and lawyers underwritten by enterprise-scale capital and infrastructure. Nonetheless, millions of individuals still cherish the dream of inventing and building a better mousetrap, bringing it to market, and being richly rewarded for those efforts. Americans love their pantheon of garage inventors. Thomas Edison, the Wright Brothers, Alexander Graham Bell, Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard, and Steve Wozniak and Steve Jobs are held up as culture heroes, celebrated for their entrepreneurial spirit no less than their inventive genius. This book is a collection of interviews conducted with individuals who have distinguished themselves in the invention space.


pages: 496 words: 154,363

I'm Feeling Lucky: The Confessions of Google Employee Number 59 by Douglas Edwards


Albert Einstein, AltaVista, Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic, barriers to entry, book scanning, Build a better mousetrap, Burning Man, business intelligence, call centre, crowdsourcing, don't be evil, Elon Musk, fault tolerance, Googley, gravity well, invisible hand, Jeff Bezos, job-hopping, Menlo Park, microcredit, music of the spheres, Network effects, P = NP, PageRank, performance metric,, Ralph Nader, risk tolerance, second-price auction, side project, Silicon Valley, Silicon Valley startup, slashdot, stem cell, Superbowl ad, Y2K

As she bounced around the department, a whirling dynamo of positive energy, she urged us to take risks, try new things, and let nothing stand in our way. We started referring to her as "Small. But mighty." Those qualities cut both ways. "Larry and Sergey were always skeptical about traditional marketing," Cindy recalls. "They wanted Google to stand apart from others by not doing what everyone else was doing ... Let the other guys with inferior products blow their budgets on noise-making, while we stayed focused on building a better mousetrap." That skepticism translated into constant questioning about everything marketing proposed. The department only existed because someone (a board member or a friend from Stanford) had insisted the founders needed people to do all the stuff that wasn't engineering. Cindy pushed back against the constant pressure to prove her department was not a waste of payroll, but she also let us know that expectations were high.


pages: 390 words: 114,538

Digital Wars: Apple, Google, Microsoft and the Battle for the Internet by Charles Arthur


AltaVista, Build a better mousetrap, Burning Man, cloud computing, credit crunch, crowdsourcing, disintermediation, don't be evil,, Firefox, gravity well, Jeff Bezos, John Gruber, Mark Zuckerberg, Menlo Park, Network effects, PageRank, pre–internet, Robert X Cringely, Silicon Valley, Silicon Valley startup, skunkworks, Skype, slashdot, Snapchat, software patent, speech recognition, stealth mode startup, Steve Ballmer, Steve Jobs, the scientific method, Tim Cook: Apple, upwardly mobile

Among the many papers on the schedule for the conference, though largely unnoticed, was one by two Stanford undergraduates, entitled ‘The anatomy of a large-scale hypertextual web search engine’. Larry Page and Sergey Brin, then 25 and 24, were setting out their idea of a better search engine; given the rapidly growing number of pages and users on the world wide web (devised only six years earlier), it was the modern equivalent of building a better mousetrap. The idea was that the world would beat a path to their door – or click its way to their web page. They weren’t the first who had had the idea of how to index the web, nor the first to have thought about indexing it in the way that they did. But they were to do it by far the best. They created a system for searching the content of the net – hardly a new idea, since Yahoo and dozens of other companies were already doing exactly the same.


pages: 528 words: 146,459

Computer: A History of the Information Machine by Martin Campbell-Kelly, William Aspray, Nathan L. Ensmenger, Jeffrey R. Yost


Ada Lovelace, air freight, Alan Turing: On Computable Numbers, with an Application to the Entscheidungsproblem, Apple's 1984 Super Bowl advert, barriers to entry, Bill Gates: Altair 8800, borderless world, Buckminster Fuller, Build a better mousetrap, Byte Shop, card file, cashless society, cloud computing, combinatorial explosion, computer age, deskilling, don't be evil, Douglas Engelbart, Dynabook, fault tolerance, Fellow of the Royal Society, financial independence, Frederick Winslow Taylor, game design, garden city movement, Grace Hopper, informal economy, interchangeable parts, invention of the wheel, Jacquard loom, Jacquard loom, Jeff Bezos, jimmy wales, John von Neumann, linked data, Mark Zuckerberg, Marshall McLuhan, Menlo Park, natural language processing, Network effects, New Journalism, Norbert Wiener, Occupy movement, optical character recognition, packet switching, PageRank, pattern recognition, pirate software, popular electronics, prediction markets, pre–internet, QWERTY keyboard, RAND corporation, Robert X Cringely, Silicon Valley, Silicon Valley startup, Steve Jobs, Steven Levy, Stewart Brand, Ted Nelson, the market place, Turing machine, Vannevar Bush, Von Neumann architecture, Whole Earth Catalog, William Shockley: the traitorous eight, women in the workforce, young professional

As a result “the upper ranks of other computer companies are studded with ex-UNIVAC people who left in disillusionment.” In 1962 Sperry Rand brought in an aggressive new manager from ITT, Louis T. Rader, who helped UNIVAC address its deficiencies. But despite making a technologically successful entry into computer systems for airline reservations, Rader was soon forced to admit: “It doesn’t do much good to build a better mousetrap if the other guy selling mousetraps has five times as many salesmen.” In 1963 UNIVAC turned the corner and started to break even at last. Yet the machine that brought profits, the UNIVAC 1004, was not a computer at all but a transistorized accounting machine, targeted at its existing punched-card machine users. Even with the improving outlook, UNIVAC still had only a 12 percent market share and a dismal one-sixth as many customers as IBM.