Archive for June 25th, 2008

Shock revelation – Ancient innovators were pretty clever

June 25th, 2008 | Category: Innovation tools,Interesting stuff

I guess we think that today we are right at the leading edge of innovation and earlier civilisations had more trivial challenges than we do. But, have you ever wondered how the Greeks or Romans might have dug tunnels through a mountain of solid rock, sometimes as much as 1000m long, from two ends with both teams meeting up in the middle? Maybe not. Recently someone, perhaps with a slight sadistic tendency, challenged me to put forwards an explanation. How could the Greeks, without GPS, surveying instruments, dynamite, magnetic compass and even much in the way of mathematics have possibly been able to achieve this feat? After a lot of thinking I separated the problem into three components:

1. How to ensure both teams start at and stay at the same elevation?

2. How to ensure that both teams align in the same direction so that they can work towards each other?

3. How to dig through solid rock without dynamite? 

After a lot of further though and TRIZ thinking around use of easily available feild and substance resources this is where I ended up:

Let’s think about problem 1 first. What resources do we have which could provide a common level. One possible resource is the field of gravity and the substance water. If you are able to dig a channel with water in it around the mountain, the elevation of the water surface must be the same at either end. The channel would then be used to set the height of two pillars, giving an elevation eyeline for the diggers on either end of the tunnel. That was my solution to problem 1.

On to problem 2. This is a problem of alignment. What simple detection fields might be available? How about optical, maybe that could work? If you could position a sighting point at the top of the mountain, compoesed of two poles of plumb lines and use this to align two poles on either side of the mountain then these could provide a reference point for each team digging through.

Finally on problem 3, the problem here is how to separate rock. One technique which can easily split rock is to drill holes into the rock and drive wooden plugs into the holes. Once the wooden plugs are in place if you pour water over them, they will expand with considerable force – more than enough if positioned correctly to split and separate rock.

Identifying and executing these three solutions is non-trivial today so imagine what it must have been like 2,500 years ago. Maybe the Greeks were pretty smart after all. For some further information on other hypotheses and to judge how I did with my possible solutions, click on this link. Also, if you ever wondered how they moved the Stonehenge rocks click here.  


Tunnel of Samos

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Barack Obama’s Linkedin question

June 25th, 2008 | Category: Why Technology Innovation?

Well, I’ve just been looking through questions on linkedin and I saw that there was an interesting one there which had been answered by a couple of my network contacts – “What ideas do you have to keep America competitive is the years ahead?”. I went to the Q&A section and saw that the question already had 2561 answers, which is rather more than my questions get on Linkedin (by a factor of 200!). Turns out Barack Obama is asking. ¬†Here is a selection of suggestions:

Sort out 1. Education (somehow), 2. Industrial Strategy, where there seems to be a familiar (from a UK viewpoint) disconnect between R&D and manufacturing in the US and 3. Infrastructure, which seems to be in a poor state.

Not being dependent on other countries resources (!)

Low taxes, minimal government

Invest in renewable energy

Invest in new technology and bring in talent

Empower individuals and businesses to be innovative and to be willing to take risks by implementing new ideas, without oveercontrolling them

Encourage innovation, keep jobs in the US, encourage an even playing field and keep the money made in US banks.

Use the military to keep drugs out of the US and invade countries which produce them. raise tax on fuel and teach Spanish as well as English (!!!)

I lost interest a bit here to be honest. Suffice to say there is a lot more stuff to read on the Linkedin Q&A. I reckon it is a good thing that Obama is asking questions on linkedin, although the test will be how well he responds I guess. Also good, from the POV of this blog that there seems to be a major theme around innovation in various guises. In fact, innovation must be at the core of any transformation in the US or anywhere else for that matter.