Sunday, September 16, 2012

Exciting innovation in Internal Combustion Engine

Internal Combustion Engines is one of the most important inventions of the 19th century. It laid the foundations of the automotive industry which transformed our lives forever. Top auto manufacturers have some of the finest minds working on improving the core engine and we have seen incremental improvements over the years. With gas prices rising the focus has changed from more power to more fuel efficient engines.

EcoMotors, based in Michigan, has come up with an innovative design of the Internal Combustion Engine that will lead to drastic improvements. Their patented "Opposed-Piston Opposed-Cylinder Engine" comprises of two opposing cylinders per module, with a crankshaft between them, each cylinder has two pistons moving in opposite directions. The configuration eliminates the cylinder-head and valve-train components of conventional engines, offering an efficient, compact and simple core engine structure. Here is an explanation by their chief technology officer, Prof. Peter Hofbauer:

EcoMotors investors include Khosla Ventures and Bill Gates. The technology looks very promising, now lets wait and see when it actually gets into production.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

The Human Face of Big Data

Big Data recently has been a pretty hot technology area. The Human Face of Big Data project is a globally crowdsourced media project focusing on humanity's new ability to collect, analyze, triangulate and visualize vast amounts of data in real time. Rick Smolan of the "Day in the Life" book series fame is the person behind this project. Here is a small video:

The data collection will happen through the downloadable mobile app for both iOS and Android (available September 25th), so anyone with a smartphone will be able to participate. The data will be collected from the users and their trackable activities in real time between September 25th and October 2nd and will be analyzed by data scientists to draw some interesting insights in an invitation only event in New York.

In November the data collection and analysis activity will involve connecting students around the world in grades 6-12 and their teachers sharing opinions and learnings. Also a large format book "The Human Face of Big Data" will be released on November 20th, its a collection of pictures illustrating the topic.

Saturday, March 31, 2012

Google Maps Quest for NES

As part of the April Fools' Day 2012 Google engineering team in Japan came up with an interesting idea of creating Google Maps for the Nintendo Entertainment System. They created a very nice version of low resolution graphics with the old 8-bit games look and feel.

To interact with the live system go to Google Maps. Clicking on the area "Start Your Quest" takes you to the 8-bit version. You can perform all the functions that you can do with regular maps. Take an epic journey with 8-bit Street View. Get detailed directions to avoid dangerous paths, and battle your way through a world of powerful monsters and mystic treasures.

The Google post further claims that "As the first NES cartridge to be released in nearly 18 years, we’re working hard to make Google Maps 8-bit for NES available in the Google Store as soon as possible. A mobile version for Game Boy is also under development."

Time to find an old Nintendo to play this one.

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Online Reviews - Can they be trusted?

In the Internet age people often turn to web for researching products and services. We turn to websites like Amazon for product reviews, Yelp for restaurant and other services reviews, or travel sites/blogs for trip reviews. Online reviews form an important input into our decision making for buying a product or service.

Since reviews can influence the sales of a product/service there is a big financial incentive for firms to keep them positive. Retailers/service providers realize the importance of reviews and dedicate resources to monitor them and even respond to them as appropriate particularly when its negative. Some firms have even resorted to dubious ways to create fake positive reviews.

Some of the techniques employed are paying people to write reviews using freelance services. In February of last year a home improvement company in Texas posted an online advertisement for “a writer who can write and post 25 positive reviews on 8 sites” that included Yelp, Google Places among others. Someone from Bangladesh won the contract for $100 and completed the job.

Then there is the case of a company encouraging its customers to write positive reviews by providing the product for free. New York Times reported that the company VIP Deals offered a leather case for Kindle Fire for $10 (official list price was $59.99) plus shipping. The deal got even sweeter when the product arrived, it came with a letter extending invitation to write a review on Amazon promising a refund of purchase price in exchange. The result was a near perfect rating consisting of more than 80% 5 STAR reviews and remaining 4 STAR reviews.

Fake reviews are a serious problem and companies like Yelp and TripAdvisor are taking steps to combat this as it raises the credibility of the core service itself and people may stop trusting their reviews. Yelp introduced the Review Filter to counter this. This kind of opinion spam is also being looked at by researchers from educational institutions like Cornell and University of Illinois at Chicago with funding from the industry.

Some of the simple tips to spot fake reviews include multiple reviews for one or several products of same company from the same person. The fake reviewers talk more about themselves than the actual product. Reviews are posted soon after the product launch and description will contain unusually large amount of praise sometimes irrelevant. The fake reviewers also aren’t usually long time members of a site.

Next time when you read an online review be aware that it could be fake.