Al Qaeda Developing Killer Daleks! Run!

Killer Daleks! Run!In the made-my-day department: Fox News recently ran a story on the possibility of Al Qaeda attacking the west with killer robots, complete with a photo of a Dalek from Dr. Who!

As robots.net points out, the whole thing stems from a speculative statement in a robot ethics talk by Noel Sharkey of the University of Sheffield.

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Somethin’ Happenin: AlphaLab!

If you were looking for something to get excited about in the Pittsburgh start-up economy, here’s someting for you. InnovationWorks has just launched their new software/internet/games start-up incubator, AlphaLab.

Have an idea for a software or internet product that you think you could launch in six months with a little investment and hard work? Submit an application. According to their FAQ, the six funded projects will get:

  • $25,000 investment to develop initial versions of your product.
  • On-site staff resources guiding you on product strategy and development including market definition, market analysis, and user experience testing.
  • Access to advisors, mentors, and industry experts.
  • Free office space to develop your product in a collaborative environment with fellow entrepreneurs and technologists.
  • Access to the AlphaLab user community to provide valuable feedback regarding your product designs and usability.
  • Access to AlphaLab educational programs for practical advice on building your team, securing investment, market entry strategies, and other critcal topics.
  • Participation in AlphaLab networking events to introduce you to other technology entrepreneurs in Southwestern Pennsylvania.
  • A vibrant environment to launch your company and entrepreneurial career.

AlphaLab seems to be modeled on Paul Graham’s Y-Combinator, though AlphaLab seems to give slightly more start-up money, and provides office space (on the South Side) for the companies to work in. And unlike some other tech startup investors, AlphaLab won’t take control of your intellectual property.

It’s a super idea, and I can’t wait to see the companies that come out of it.

Subprime explained

Here isĀ  the clearest explanation of the subprime mess I’ve seen yet. [Click through to the larger version to read the text.]

Following the election in the prediction markets

One of the most interesting aspects of this election has been the advent of prediction markets such as Intrade and the Iowa Electronic Market as a means of measuring the current trends and positions of the candidates. These markets have been accurate in predicting a lot of events.It’s worth noting that prices in these markets represent the market’s estimate of the probability of a particular outcome. So if the market is giving, say, a 55% chance of Obama winning a particular election, and then Clinton wins, it’s difficult to say that the market was “wrong.” Evaluating the accuracy of these markets is a subtle endevor, but not impossible. Read the rest of this entry »

Pittsburgh’s R&D Future, and Present

Over at Pittsburgh’s Future, Harold Miller has picked up the theme of large companies and spinoffs, with his post, One of the Hidden Strengths of the Pittsburgh Region, on the large number of corporate R&D jobs in Pittsburgh. 7000 R&D jobs in Pittsburgh? Who knew?

Harold also points out that many/most of these jobs are in materials sciences, and yet most talk about a building a Pittsburgh start-up economy focuses on bio, health care, computer science, and robotics. It seems like there should be at least some possible synergy or crossover between these areas, especially CS/robotics and materials sciences. Maybe their communities are just so disjoint that neither knows how the other can contribute.

Somethin’ Happenin’ Here…

Between my last few posts here and recent comments elsewhere, I’ve probably given the impression that I’m bearish on Pittsburgh, at least as far as the tech/start-up economy goes. Not so. While it’s sometimes hard for me to keep my mood up in the winter, this has actually been a bullish week for me, Burgh-wise.

Among the things that lifted my mood this week was lunch today with Matt Harbaugh from InnovationWorks. Before today I had lumped IW in with the slew of public/non-profit/consortium/partnership groups around here that purport to help the tech economy. And frankly, it was never very clear to me what any of them did, or whether anyone in the local tech industry would care if they just disappeared.

After talking with Matt, however, a couple of things became much more clear: (1) there is a burgeoning start-up scene here, and (2) a lot of it is in the IW portfolio. (Though by no means all of it!) I don’t think the scene reached the perpetual-motion-machine stage yet, but that just means you gotta keep pedaling. Just knowing that there are people out there taking real, concrete action to move things the right way is a great thing. Talk is cheap, especially in the blogosphere. Action, baby. That’s where it’s at. I expect exciting things from IW.

Obama vs Clinton and the Service Economy

I had to laugh at yesterday’s email of the day, at The Stump (the New Republic’s election blog). It describes one Clinton’s supporter’s experience trying find her local poling place by calling the Clinton and Obama campaign HQs, respectively. When she called Clinton HQ,

A very nice elderly lady answered the phone and I asked her if she could tell me where to vote. She took my address down and then kept me on the line for 10 minutes while she struggled to use a computer to find out where I was supposed to go. She then went to the DC board of elections site and finally, after taking my name and birth date, was able to tell me where my polling site is.

Then she called Obama HQ:

I dialed the 800 number and pushed the option to find out where to vote. A chirpy 20-something answered the phone and within 20 seconds told me where to go.

This experience reminds me of nothing so much as my own experiences with customer service in Pittsburgh (Clinton) compared after moving from Austin (Obama). The most familiar aspect of the contrast is not difference in age or computer skills so much as the general level of unpreparedness for what should be an obvious and expected question. Somehow people in service jobs around here seem to expect everyone to know everything already.

So should I predict from this that Clinton will win Pittsburgh’s pledged delegates?