Lone Inventor vs Collaborative Work Group


The march toward always-on technology may hinder groups’ ability to solve complex problems: study
August 13, 2018, Harvard Business School

Basically says that being constantly “engaged” reduces individual creativity and effort. The Collective is a lousy way to make progress. Being a lone wolf is more creative, but lacks some corrective inputs. The ideal seems to be a mix of both. Today we are moving to way too connected way too much.

Wonder if that’s part of the problem with Millennials in the work force…

Bold done by me:

More than a decade after the introduction of the first smartphone, we are now awash in always-on technologies—email, IM, social media, Slack, Yammer, and so on. All that connectivity means we are constantly sharing our ideas, knowledge, thinking, and answers. Surely that “wisdom of the crowd” is good for problem solving at work, right?

New research by Harvard Business School associate professor Ethan Bernstein and colleagues, to be published online next week in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America (PNAS), suggests that “always on” may not be always effective. “Intermittently on” might, instead, be better for complex problem solving.

In their study the three researchers—Bernstein, Assistant Professor Jesse Shore from the Questrom School of Business at Boston University, and Professor David Lazer from Northeastern University—put together and studied the results of a number of three-person groups performing a complex problem-solving task. The members of one set of groups never interacted with each other, solving the problem in complete isolation; members of another set of groups constantly interacted with each other, as we do when equipped with always-on technologies; and a third set of groups interacted only intermittently.

From prior research, the researchers anticipated that the groups in which members never interacted would be the most creative, coming up with the largest number of unique solutions—including some of the best and some of the worst—representing a high level of variation that sprang from their working alone. In short, they expected the isolated individuals to produce a few fantastic solutions but have, as a group, a low average quality of solution (due to the variation). That proved to be the case.

The researchers also anticipated that the groups that constantly interacted would produce a higher average quality of solution, but that they would fail to find the very best solutions as often. In short, they expected the constantly interacting groups to be less variable but at the cost of their best solutions being more mediocre. That proved to be the case as well.

But here’s where the researchers found something completely new. Groups that interacted only intermittently preserved the best of both worlds (rather than succumbing to the worst). Even though the groups interacted only intermittently, they had an average quality of solution that was nearly identical to those groups that interacted constantly. And yet, by interacting only intermittently, these groups also preserved enough variation to find some of the best solutions, too.
Perhaps the most interesting result was that the higher performers were able to get even better by learning from the low performers only in the intermittent condition. When high performers interacted with low performers constantly, there was little to learn from them, because low performers mostly just copied high performers’ solutions, and high performers likely ignored them. But when high performers interacted with low performers only intermittently, they were able to learn something from them that helped them achieve even greater solutions to the problem.

Bernstein and his co-authors see a number of workplace implications for these findings, including the advantages of alternating independent efforts with group work over a period of time to get optimal benefits. In some ways, that’s how work has been done in organizations—with individuals working alone, then coming together in a meeting, then returning to work alone, etc. But those cycles are being broken by the constant advancement of technology. “As we replace those sorts of intermittent cycles with always-on technologies, we might be diminishing our capacity to solve problems well,” Bernstein notes.

I’d agree with that 100% given what I’ve experienced in companies as highly connected communications were driven into the workgroup.

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About E.M.Smith

A technical managerial sort interested in things from Stonehenge to computer science. My present "hot buttons' are the mythology of Climate Change and ancient metrology; but things change...
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42 Responses to Lone Inventor vs Collaborative Work Group

  1. Larry Ledwick says:

    That conclusion fits my experience very well.

    Collaborative work efforts have always bothered me, especially when the work groups are formed by outsiders rather than the people who have to do the work.

    There is too much pressure to conform, and a single strong personality tends to run the group. In studies and in my personal experience with seminars where they did group activities and “break outs” where 3 – 7 people would work on some task on a time deadline, the work output was:

    – Mostly very average
    – Mostly the very conventional
    – The timid members of the team hardly ever contributed (even though they might be smart)

    Procrastination was used as a pressure tactic and as the dead line approached the group would “nominate” someone to prepare the consensus view.
    That consensus view was often the sole work product of that person with a couple nods to ideas discussed in the group.

    Most really creative and intelligent people I have met, work best on original problems if they go off by themselves and form a coherent whole concept and only emerge from their hidy hole occasionally when they either run into a hurdle (in which case they go to the one or two people that both have the skills to help break down that hurdle but work well with the investigator). Or they come out to talk the problem out with someone and in the process of trying to explain their logic they find conflicts or new associations that they were blind to until they tried to explain it.

    Very rarely you find two people that tease the best out of each other and have a knack of pulling in the same direction without stepping on each other.

    Sometimes you just need someone skilled in the art who can listen to you explain the issue and ask probing questions which lead to light bulb moments where the principle suddenly has that eureka moment and dashes off to pursue that step of the solution.

    Sometimes you need someone who is a good listener who has almost no skill in the art so they will ask the obvious to them simple questions that sometimes blow a great idea entirely out of the water, or lead to the blinding light of intuition.

    Forced interaction for me has always been counter productive, you need to pick people who know you well enough to guide you or look for the seams in your plan without trying to push “their solution”. Those people like good proof readers are hard to find and should be cherished.

    Personally I need to be able to roll an idea over in my mind repeatedly to look at it from all angles, sometimes that leads me back to the obvious solution everyone else would have chosen, but at least I know what the trade offs are that make that the best solution. Other times I find an outside the box approach and need to talk it out with someone with out them feeling a need to talk me out of it or into it but let the idea live or die on its own merits.

    I think that the modern stress in education on “team work” and collaborative group efforts makes great communists but not always great original thinkers.

  2. p.g.sharrow says:

    The General IQ of a committee is always lower then that of the least intelligent member….pg

  3. philjourdan says:

    2 pair of eyes are better than a single pair – on solving a problem. However, you do have to get to that stage. So I see the value of that approach. You have to come up with the idea, then get the group to look at the solution for the flaws.

  4. E.M.Smith says:

    That comment on making great communists is spot on. Think of the Central Committee. It is never going to make the best right choices as it is always a group effort.

  5. cdquarles says:

    Exactly. A chain is only as strong as its weakest link. A group is only as strong as its leadership. There is nothing magic about collectives. Sets are what the members are or make them, not the other way around. Any group is a corporation. These may not be commercial corporations, but they’re corporations nonetheless.

  6. Simon Derricutt says:

    I suspect it mainly depends on how involved the colleagues are and whether they will put in the work to understand your design. The public “walk through” of a design is supposed to pick up errors or things that could be improved, but on the occasions I had to do that I didn’t get any push-back or analysis of even the points where I knew there was a risk, as die-shrinks and other chip changes altered the parameters of the interactions between chips. Electronics design needs to take those sorts of things into account, looking forward around 5 years. I got the impression that my colleagues had done a quick scan of the schematics but hadn’t looked any deeper. The process said that there must be a design review, so it was done and ticked off, but there really wasn’t any value in the review as far as I was concerned.

    These days, I’m discussing various design ideas with people in various countries by email. To me, that means understanding what the design is about and sometimes attacking the basic principles. It takes a fair amount of effort and time looking for the possible failure modes. There’s a guy in the Netherlands who is trying to produce and measure longitudinal EM waves, and my analysis is basically trashing the historical experiments since it’s pretty obvious that their antennae and systems are producing standard transverse waves. Antenna simulations show this too, and since they only simulate the TE waves in far field then what he should be looking for is an antenna that simulates as being extremely inefficient. It seems there’s a lot of carp in the theories dealing with longitudinal waves and the practical demonstrations. The idea is that they are supposed to be faster than normal light, which would be interesting if it was proven. Trouble is, the experiments are all flawed because they aren’t sending or receiving longitudinal waves, and so the claims are unproven so far. Maybe I can get him to fix the antenna problem, but he’s stuck in a belief that the experiments were valid.

    The difficulty in collaborative work seems mostly in achieving enough engagement of the others that they’ll put the work in to understanding the details. Ideally, various people should produce their own ideas for a solution, then come together and decide which one is the best and what can be added from the other solutions to make it better. I tried this once when we had a bit of fairly slack time, and Alan and I produced 6 different design solutions for one small problem so that we could compare the costs/benefits for each. As an exercise (since I was training Alan in design at that point) it was probably useful and may have made him less inclined to take the first solution that was thought of. The obvious way may not be the best.

    For me, though, it seems that the most productive times were the discussions during smoke-breaks. The least productive times were the formal walk-throughs and the time needed to prepare for them. Maybe because the time-out wasn’t expected to be productive, so we could bounce crazy ideas around without needing to worry about whether they were logically consistent or workable, and then explore the reasons they wouldn’t work. It’s always easier to find the faults in someone else’s ideas than your own.

  7. p.g.sharrow says:

    @Simon; Interesting you bring up the problem of longitudinal vrs transverse EMF waves. Got me to thinking about this “wave” travel through the “medium” of Aether,
    If I use the concept of Quanta of charge in chaos, As the EMpulse travels through the medium the dominions of it tend to flip with the pulse against their inertia and then back into chaos, a wave traveling through a medium. Not really a 2 dimensional wave but a pulse. We “see” a wave of energy in our 2 dimensional wire that has it’s atoms are nudged +- as the wave passes through it.

    This leads to the voltage spike of the pulse and it’s timing being important to our work…pg

  8. Simon Derricutt says:

    pg – given the wave equations, then a perfect springy/massy medium has to work as a model to propagate the waves, but it may have problems with some predictions being a bit off. Main problem with the longitudinal wave experiments is that I can see the obvious flaws in the antenna design, so I reckon the experiments are basically invalid anyway. If he wants to get a valid result, he’s got to change the design of the antennae and the experiment. It’s not what I’m working on, so I’m pushing him in what I think is a better direction. If he does get the design right, and measures the wavelength in the only reasonably-cheap way (interference from two received signal), and he proves that the wavelength is longer for the same frequency in free space, then that would be pretty profound. May even get mainstream science interested if it’s faster than light as we know it, but that absolute measurement of velocity is just a tad difficult.

    It’s a lot easier to find holes in someone else’s theories. Trouble is you need to spend the time on understanding the theory first before you can find the holes, so it does take a degree of getting involved. Personally, I suspect that any longitudinal EM wave (near field) will transform to a transverse wave over around 10 wavelengths or so, and so in some ways the experiment will probably fail. However, AFAIK no-one has shown the conversion of the wave or measured a longitudinal wave’s amplitude against distance from emitter, since the antenna designs they’ve used emit transverse components that would swamp out any longitudinal signal. It’s thus something where there are theories that haven’t been properly tested, though I’ve been pointed at tests that are thought to show it (but don’t). The fact that capacitors work says that longitudinal waves must exist, but the wave equations don’t allow them as such. It’s time someone did a bit more careful work on them and avoided the errors of the past.

    I’ll happily attack a subject regarded as crackpot, but I want the results to be up to the standards of normal science too.

  9. p.g.sharrow says:

    LoL; I think every foundational scientific finding started out as the brainchild of a crackpot! or at least he/she was thought of by his peers as a crackpot. Cheers ! grape harvest started for me yesterday….pg

  10. cdquarles says:

    @p.g., That’s correct, to the extent of my exposure to the history of science. That’s primarily biology and chemistry, though I have looked at other fields’ histories, too.

  11. wyoskeptic says:

    I remember a research study involving groups in which it was asserted that better decisions were made when someone in the group openly disagreed with what was being said.
    (I can’t find where I read about it or I would cite a link.)
    Basically the situation is that in a group setting, most people are reluctant to speak up if they sense (or assume) their ideas are in the minority. If everyone seemed to “be on the same page”, people tended to simply go along. No one wanted to make waves.
    In the study, there were setups where a number of the people in the group setting took a very obvious wrong stance about something and those people not in on it, tended to agree and go along with the others, (the majority) even when it was clearly and even ridiculously wrong. However if someone (again part of the study) did speak speak up, even if that one was again obviously and completely wrong, then the others felt more free to speak their own minds.
    Simply put, it is an example of why humans are herd creatures. Few people enjoy going against what others are doing/thinking, even if they know absolutely that they are wrong. However, when one “leaves” the herd, then others are more likely to feel they can do the same.
    I remember this was in some sort of leadership training article or the like which spoke out on the need for any leader to have a “No!” man rather than having all “Yes!” men. What it suggested was that as a leader, it was far better to encourage people to speak up, even if what they said was wrong, crazy, or even totally unrelated to the issue, since someone who does that encourages others who would normally be silent to speak up.
    In some ways, this follows the Intermittent meeting process in that those who think different are free to explore a different approach when alone and if they feel something is worth it, they can speak up, rather than constantly being subject to the need to be silent when they hold a position that the majority disagrees with. They can define their position to the point they are comfortable when they do meet or are able to approach one or two others who might be more accepting of their findings and then have “co-conspirators” to help make their point.
    I remember all the meetings I was involved in where the only thing I ever wanted was for it to be over. Not speaking up and disagreeing meant things moved along much more rapidly. However, if I felt that something was important enough, or that there were important things being over looked, then I would speak up and “disrupt” things. Often I had no good idea of what needed to be done, but by breaking things up, often others did come up with ideas. I did this a lot more often after reading the article I described, deliberately pointing something out just in case there were some who saw things better than I and thus would feel more free to speak up as well.
    Near as I can tell, it was beneficial more than not.

  12. H.R. says:

    At work, the most terrifying words to me – typically uttered by upper management – were, “You, you, you, you, and you (me) form a team to do Foo.”

    Most, not all, of the courses in my MBA program involved teams for some part or all of the given course. This was because, “You will be working in team-based environments.” Oddly, the only course that seemed to be missing from the curriculum was one that covered forming and managing teams with some in-depth study of team size, limitations, and team dynamics.

    No need for me to type much more on the topic because Larry pretty much summed up my experience with teams.

    Oh… what I did not notice in the article was problem identification. Most teams are formed to solve the wrong effing problem! It’s been my experience that once the correct problem is identified, most reasonably intelligent and competent people in their field can come up with the right solution. Ask the right effing questions and it’s not surprising that a fair number of people can come up with the correct answer.

    Of course there are exceptions to what I just wrote; there are many known problems where the the solution has yet to be found. But that may just be due to the fact that no-one has asked the right questions yet.

  13. E.M.Smith says:

    I always made sure there was no penalty for disagreement with me on my staff. One meeting, my Sr. Sysprog and me were arguing some technical points in a conference room. When we came out. one person asked what were were fighting about as we’de gotten a bit loud. I explained “nothing, just hashing this tech…”

    That was when I realized I’d succeeded. Folks could get loud in the defense of their position, and other folks could ask about it, and nobody felt afraid…

  14. Larry Ledwick says:

    That was one of the lessons of major aircraft accident studies, they found that the junior crew members were highly reluctant to question the pilot’s decisions or assumptions even when they had some obvious input like a fuel gauge rapidly approaching empty.

    As a result airlines started to include training in effective crew communications and that the pilot may be in command but the other people in the crew were there for a reason not just to rubber stamp his decisions. That is one of the reasons air crashes have become so rare in the US, as most commercial air crashes were human factors problems not equipment problems. Or they were minor mechanical issues aggravated by bad decision making. Very rarely were the crashes unavoidable by the crew.

  15. Steve C says:

    @pg (1st comment) – I think you’re re-stating Piet Hein’s “Arithmetic of Co-operation”:
    When you’re adding up committees,
    there’s a useful rule of thumb:
    that talents make a difference,
    and follies make a sum.

    With regard to less usual forms of EM energy, there do seem to be interesting things happening, though I haven’t found a good place to keep up with all of them. I recall reading, ten years or so ago, that some McMaster researchers had produced and detected Vector Potential waves, which Maxwell had predicted but which had been previously thought to be only a theoretical abstraction. Then a couple of years or so ago there was brief mention in the Radio Society mag of another “odd mode”, produced (IIRC) by cutting your parabolic dish along a radius and bending the ends one wavelength apart fore/aft. It doesn’t interfere with conventional transmissions on the same frequency, apparently, nor with signals from oppositely “bent” dishes. Not many practical articles, though – I did find one paper on the Vector Potential wave, but it was heavily theoretical and a bit mathematically eyewatering for me.

    Re collaboration, it also makes a difference who you get your inspiration from. My approach is so theoretical sometimes that I will design (& revise …) something in my head until I am satisfied that it must work, but often then lose interest before actually building one. The friend I spark ideas off, and vice-versa, is OTOH very “rule-of-thumb practical” and likes to “get in there” with whatever’s to hand. At his last job, he wandered round the shop, picked up a few bits of scrap here and there and built a better mousetrap – to the astonishment of the kiddies up in the drawing office, who didn’t think such a thing could be done without CAD and costing. (The trap duly caught the invading rodent, I’m pleased to say.) Him correcting me: “Have you ever built something like that??”; me correcting him: “Umm, no, I think it goes up as the square.”

    @Simon – As he and I are both radio enthusiasts, we’ve been looking for working scalar energy experiments – have you ever seen anything promising (or at least not obviously tosh) on that front? So far everything we’ve come across is either “Transmission lines 101” stuff, to our disappointment, or just plain “you have to believe it to see it”, in too many cases. Maybe it’s scalar waves which are only a theoretical abstraction …

  16. Simon Derricutt says:

    Steve C – I’ve seen no experimental proof of scalar waves that I couldn’t discount because of obvious errors. However, if they exist you should be able to produce them by using concentric spheres where the capacitance is tuned with an inductance in the lead to get the resonance, and where the size is small relative to a wavelength. You should also get them if you have two equal-sized rings (also small) separated by a small axial distance, and again with a tuning inductance, that are driven in antiphase, but only along the axis of the rings. The rings will receive them, too, but again only along the axis. Simulations should show such an antenna doesn’t radiate at all for the spheres, and won’t radiate along the axis for the rings.

    If a transverse wave passes by a spherical antenna, then it will receive a signal because the wave doesn’t pass the whole surface at the same time. Thus, using a spherical antenna (normally edge-fed too) is an obvious fail when it comes to looking for longitudinal waves, either transmitting or receiving.

    I’m thus sceptical as to whether scalar waves can travel in free space, and that they are FTL. No proof around that I can see. I think they are simply a near-field phenomenon, and that they drop off very quickly. They obviously exist, since otherwise capacitors wouldn’t work, but I don’t see them being useful for communications unless we can make a beam of them. I also don’t see that they would be photons (quantised). Still, it’s something that hasn’t been put to bed yet, and so there are a lot of rumours and quite likely a lot of lies.

  17. gallopingcamel says:

    “Oh… what I did not notice in the article was problem identification. Most teams are formed to solve the wrong effing problem! It’s been my experience that once the correct problem is identified, most reasonably intelligent and competent people in their field can come up with the right solution. Ask the right effing questions and it’s not surprising that a fair number of people can come up with the correct answer.”

    Peter Drucker in his book “Management” says:
    Effectiveness is doing the right things.
    Efficiency is doing things right.

    Nobody has explained the core imperatives of good management better than that.

  18. H.R. says:

    @gallopingcamel: Well then,we can conclude that the best management is efficient at doing things effectively.

  19. Larry Ledwick says:

    I bet this is the result of a collaborative project.

    Robotic hand demo

  20. Simon Derricutt says:

    H.R. – actually, the first thing that is needed is to admit that there’s a problem, and then maybe you can ask the right question as to how to fix it. Still, I agree that asking the right question is important and where people often fail.

  21. p.g.sharrow says:

    I find that getting a complete understanding of the question/problem is often more involved then the answer/ solution. Once you fully understand the problem the solution is obvious.
    Of course examining the problem may take a lot of time and effort, maybe even rephrasing the question…pg

  22. H.R. says:

    Simon Derricutt: “H.R. – actually, the first thing that is needed is to admit that there’s a problem, […]”

    Sounds like a 12-step program to me.

  23. E.M.Smith says:

    I tend to work down a list that starts:

    Is there a problem?
    Is it MY problem? (If not, is it one I must handoff, or just ignore?)
    Who ought to solve it? (From my staff, or me, or vendors – for my problems)
    If I am solving it: what is it, really? (PGs point, plus once really understood is it still mine?)
    Can it be solved? How?
    Which is the better option, and the fall back poorer but determinate option?
    Proceed to solve inside time budget and money budget.
    Keep checking on the need to bail to the lesser but acceptable option if stickage happens.

    As P.G. pointed out: Mastery of the problem shows the solution set available.

    Always try to avoid change orders. Never complete a stupid thing when a change is clearly right.

  24. p.g.sharrow says:

    As EM points out is the solution really needed!
    I was asked by LAM Research to design and build a small effective Fume Scrubber to be sold with their IC deposition equipment. After 2 years of part time effort success, I created the solution, But they had moved on to a different business model and didn’t need it. I had a very effective small fume scrubber and patent but no customer. And so far no commercial success because of EPA rules on air and water pollution. …pg

  25. Steve C says:

    @Simon – Thanks for your thoughts on “scalar”, I think we’re on pretty much the same page. Incidentally, I agree with your comment further up that longitudinal waves would probably decay into normal TEM after a few wavelengths. We amateurs can try to generate mainly magnetic waves (with, e.g., a “magloop”) or mainly electric ones (e.g. “Isotron”), but we all end up with plain ol’ TEM.

    (Incidentally, apologies for the delay in replying. I thought I’d posted this at the top of the week, but must have closed the browser before sending it. Blame the excellent Fifth (cricket) Test Match between India and England for taking me over!)

  26. Simon Derricutt says:

    Steve C – yep, the scalar waves idea does persist but the experimental evidence is very weak because the antenna design they’ve used obviously transmits TE waves. Another problem is measuring the wavelength and frequency and thus saying how fast the wave is, when that simply tells us phase velocity. No actual signals sent and received at superluminal speeds and being timed.

    Lots of voluminous emails where Arend (the Dutch guy) has tried to persuade me with ancient and modern experimental evidence that I’m rejecting as flawed, but maybe I’ve done enough to persuade him of what the flaws are and thus how to measure it correctly, and if he does do the job right then he’ll get valid data for maybe the first time in that field. I’m expecting plain old TEM waves at more than 10 wavelengths, but as far as I can tell no-one has done the job correctly before and so Arend really will be breaking new ground here. We don’t know what the results will be. It’s obvious that scalar waves exist and propagate (in near field, anyway) because capacitors work, but we don’t know the velocity because the distances are normally very small and any timing differences would be below threshold of measurement. We also know that IR has an anomaly at very short (sub-wavelength) distances, and the heat-transfer at such distances can be several orders of magnitude more than expected. There’s thus a possibility that there’s a second speed of light with longitudinal electric waves in free space that is around 1.5 times the normal speed of TEM waves. That would be pretty amazing and show that something we “knew” was always true actually isn’t.

    The cricket did work out pretty well, though.

  27. p.g.sharrow says:

    The problem is 2 dimensional thinking in a 3 dimensional world. EMF activities take place in 3 dimensions of density, a bubble or doughnut of energy density. Waves are a handy visualization for paperwork but are not a true representation. Capacitance is the key, a sphere surface a better shape. We tend to use a wire, a more 2 dimensional shape,in our work but, capacitance must be considered.
    Thank you for the above discussion as It helps me visualize the conditions in my own pursuit…pg..

  28. Simon Derricutt says:

    pg – nice to know that a few others here find it useful. The capacitance probably gets a lot more important when doing Tesla-type experiments using spark-gaps, which have some very high-frequency components that will jump across very small capacitances that would seem negligible otherwise. That may be a reason for the bifilar-wound pancake coils showing characteristics that could be otherwise regarded as unexpected. Spheres are also used, but of course if you send a plane wave across a sphere then there will be an unavoidable phase variation across the surface. I figure that has been the cause of some bad analyses of some results, and some untenable claims.

    From what I’m hearing from Arend, maybe results in a few months as regards phase velocity, and before the end of the year (maybe) for group velocity. I’m not expecting to be surprised, but the possibility is there. Though he wants to keep design details secret until he’s cracked it, if you’d like to be in the conversation I’ll ask. Could be a benefit to both of you. Downside is the extreme length of the emails…. He’s using simulation to get an idea of what’s happening, but of course the simulator doesn’t know of the possibility of scalar waves anyway so the results need interpretation. That does give 3D plots.

    What I find most difficult is Arend’s assumptions that the theories he’s applying (Aether ideas) are correct, whereas I keep pulling it back to what is experimentally shown to happen. Still, when it comes to exploring “crackpot” ideas, discussions are useful. The more experience can be applied to a problem, the more the errors get noticed and avoided. Which assumptions/beliefs are justifiable, and which are not justifiable based on what we know to happen? I figure you need to prove assumptions (especially hidden assumptions) are reasonable and have at least some experimental justification. Lone inventors, it seems to me, don’t question their assumptions that well and need someone else to bounce ideas with and to force them to justify the hidden assumptions.

  29. E.M.Smith says:

    “Lone inventors, it seems to me, don’t question their assumptions that well and need someone else to bounce ideas with and to force them to justify the hidden assumptions.”

    The lone guy can explore in great depth where others fear to tread. That can find things otherwise missed; but at the expense of occasional long sojourns down a dead end (sometimes a lifetime of dead end work – see the Voynich Manuscript and a lifetime spent trying to decode it ending in failure:

    FWIW, my thesis is it is written in Etruscan as the parchment has been dated to 1400s and the drawing of a castle in it has swallowtail tops only seen in northern Italy then, and that’s the Etruscan area – and while a dead language now, I could see a lone person having a family heritage of the language as a private code for a few generations after general use died out. So that’s what I’d test against it were I in a position to do so. (Ought to be fairly quick to test as we have some Etruscan samples, though in a different script). I could see a rich and powerful educated family keeping it alive as a secret family language inside the Roman occupation…

    Now the herd rapidly quashes the lone guy and prevents him running off down that long “Dig Here!”, so the herd never finds the really interesting bits. But it also usually finds something that sort of works, if cobbled up…

    In between is the sweet spot. The lone investigator who gets the occasional challenge pebble in his shoe and the occasional new-idea-pointer from a discussion with an ‘other’. Best of both worlds, IMHO. And per the cited article.

    My Sidebar on Scalar EMF:

    I have to admit to little background in this. I’ve scanned some of the Tesla stuff, but not in depth. I know EM fields oscillate between an E and M mode and that different antenna designs can use more of one or the other – but beyond that I did not go. A vague awareness that a wound “magnetic” antenna can work as can a long wire “electrical”… So what I say must be taken with that “ignorance filter” in mind.

    In common antennas, the use of a “capacitance top hat” is an easy way to make a shorter antenna seem longer. This is a large disk, ball, or radiating wires (simulating a disk with a few wires) at the top of a shorter antenna. Similarly, a wound coil at the bottom can be used as an inductive (think magnetic) lengthening of the wire.

    Seems to me that wavelength vs actual distance vs speed ought to say something interesting here.

    So the electrons, at the speed of light more or less, get wound up (literally) in the inductor and the actual length of wire in the winding is different from what it would be in a straight wire. I’ve forgotten if it is less or more wire. IIRC, less.

    Similarly, the electrons are going far less distance into the Capacitance Hat than into a single wire.

    Yet the wavelength stays the same.

    Now to me, that says the speed of those electrons is slower into the Capacitance Hat. You can see that as just taking time to “fill the bucket” (where time becomes pseudo-distance) just like for the inductor you can see building the magnetic field as taking time (so pseudo-distance) and thus less wire needed.

    But is that really what is happening? Or is this change of speed a real change in the velocity of electrons (and thus of the very slow light they represent)? So is there a way to invert that paradigm? To make an inductor that puts MORE in faster? An anti-capacitor that is spilling out the far side faster than it enters the near?

    On example case. I saw this in a Scientific American article decades ago on how to build a Nitrogen Laser. In this case the EFFECT of the arrival of electrons happens faster than the speed of light while the individual electrons are not moving that fast. Some hand waving involved in the explanation, but this looks like the same setup:


    The basic device is two copper plates separated by an air gap line with a nitrogen gas flow there (to make it pure nitrogen) and a spark gap in one corner. When the spark conducts, a circular spreading flow of electrons leaves the corner and heads out across that plate. The point of arrival at the gap in the plate “moves” faster than the speed of light along the length of the gap, charging it and raising the nitrogen energy levels just ahead of the trailing laser pulse that lets that energy join into the beam. There is no mirror needed. You get a “broomstick sized chunk of light” flying out the end…

    All because a circle spreading at the Speed Of Light intersects a distant line at faster than the Speed Of Light…

    So my crazy idea is something similar, some way to actually pump up / make the electric wave / EM charge at FTL speed by having ‘something else’ showing up at light speed…

    Or maybe I’ve just not had enough coffee yet to see the crazy talk in it… ;-)

  30. jim2 says:

    I built a “natural radio” that receives wavelengths of thousands to hundreds of thousand km wavelengths. It is portable so obviously does not have some sort of huge antenna. Instead it uses a relative small, linear antenna that samples the e part of the wave. Then all you need is a high impedance amplifier.

  31. jim2 says:

    EM – I read about a similar laser, but it used CO2 and emitted infrared.

  32. Simon Derricutt says:

    EM – I recall a claim early this year that the Voynich manuscript had been decoded. Looking it up, seems that one (that it was Hebrew and was decoded by an AI) has been debunked. I found another couple of claims that make somewhat sense, though, http://blog.world-mysteries.com/ancient-writings/voynich-manuscript-ms408-decoded/ and https://edition.cnn.com/2018/06/15/health/voynich-manuscript-mystery/index.html . Doctors today tend to use codes and shorten words, so maybe it’s not so much written in code than jargon, and would have been understood by doctors at the time and place it was written. Not intentionally coded, just an old language mangled by doctors.

    I’ve been doing the “dig here” since I got the early retirement. Having someone to discuss this stuff with has been pretty important, and mostly I discussed with BobN (who used to contribute here) and Pete who I used to work with at Xerox. You need someone who has a lot of knowledge but remains open-minded about what is possible. Some of those diggings I’ve put up here, and I’m continuing to work on the experimental side. Though the logic for the 2LoT violation remains valid as far as I can see, practically making a device on a small budget hit problems with the variability of electronic properties of deposited thin films, where the workfunction variability is greater than then 0.1eV target. We’re thus thinking of alternative designs that get around the fabrication problem. As such, I’m learning a lot of RF stuff I never needed before for the CoM work, which may earn enough cash to pay someone to get the 2LoT fab done professionally.

    The scalar EMF wasn’t something I’d really worried about, but in working with microwaves now, and deciding whether to use coax, stripline or microstrip for various parts, I’ve needed to look at surface waves and how the wave travels. Also skin depth is pretty critical, and the knowledge that though the core of a coax can carry current in its skin, the outer sheath has two surfaces for carrying current, inside and outside the sheath.

    The top hat or ball simply makes a longer current path, since the current only travels in the outer skin. Since it also has more capacitance, the capacitance has to fill so there’s an extra delay as well.

    The surface waves in a conductor in free space travel at around 95% of c, so the TEA laser in Nitrogen (which also works in air) gets a nice acceleration from the phase velocity of the intersection of the wavefront on a line not parallel to the wavefront. A nice little sneaky for achieving an effective FTL wave. I don’t yet see a way to use that for making a “negative” inductance or capacitance, though. Maybe the thought that such a thing might be possible could spur someone to make one, though. A lot of the reason things became possible was that someone brought up the idea and someone else made it actually work. A.C.Clarke “invented” Waldoes, but it took a while before someone actually made them real things you could buy. Also IIRC he had spun Diamond (Carbon Fibre) as being very strong and useful for tethering a mass orbiting the Earth so that you could climb it rather than use rockets. That may well be done for real (though maybe we’ll get easier ways before that happens).

    Through discussions with Arend, and seeing where the experiments and designs were not up to scratch, I’ve maybe produced a good design for an antenna that will transmit and receive scalar waves properly. That should enable him to actually do good measurements using an antenna that, according to normal calculations, won’t radiate at all. This is actually an essential property – if the simulations show the antenna as radiating, then pretty-well by definition they’re going to be TEM waves.

    “In between is the sweet spot. The lone investigator who gets the occasional challenge pebble in his shoe and the occasional new-idea-pointer from a discussion with an ‘other’. Best of both worlds, IMHO. And per the cited article.”

    Yep, the problem is that if you go too deep into the crazy stuff with others who believe it, then you can simply get diverted into a group-think that is wrong. If you don’t talk to people about what you’re doing you don’t get picked up on bad assumptions or theories that have been shown to be wrong. There’s a sweet spot where you have enough discussion to find the errors in the assumptions and to get enough new input to develop. For CoM violation, the basic theory is already in the textbooks and someone reminded me of that, which I pointed out was too small to be useful. However, that also led to an idea about how to make it big enough to be actually useful. Nice if I’ve got the design right. For the wilder stuff, it’s mainly a matter of designing an experiment within the budget that will show whether the theory actually is close enough to be worthwhile.

  33. jim2 says:

    If a longer wavelength were chosen, it would be relatively easy to set up several e-field sensing antennas to detect it. The longitudinal EM wave should have a structure different from the transverse, so sampling the wave at various points should tell the tale.

  34. jim2 says:

    On further thought, if an array of small spheres (with no feeder wire exposed, ie within a Faraday shield) were set up on a grid say, an then a voltage phased to simulate a transverse EM wave imposed upon the, they should radiate. That radiation could be picked up by a conventional antenna or a similar array.

    In like manner, if the spheres were phased in a pattern expected from longitudinal EM wave, then they should generate one if allowed by nature. It could be received by a like array connected to high impedance amplifiers.

  35. p.g.sharrow says:

    After examining the page 33v, 33v page writing and 33v translation of the Voynich manuscript, In my opinion the translation is bunk!. This is no prayer to RA. this is a healer/doctor’s thesis or notes on medicinals and treatments. The writing looks to be European letters and the age would indicate phonetic spelling rather then proper spellings. The writer’s notebook to himself for future reference. Very nicely done in my opinion. I often have written and drawn notes to myself to remind me of paths traveled. This just looks to me to be better done then my own…pg .

  36. E.M.Smith says:

    I agree on the nature of the notebook. My guess from the pictures is that it was a medicinal plant guide with some notes about treatments (where the pictures of people show up). I’d expect it to be botany notes (so things like lanceolate leaves, five fold symmetry in the fruit, sepals of small size, etc. for proper identification – Queen Anne’s Lace is lethal and is sorted from wild carrots by one small detail I keep forgetting… leaf fuzz or petiole details… needless to say I don’t eat wild carrots ;-)

    I’d expect lots of repetition where a given “word” shows up next to similar leaves or stems. Frankly, I’d have a botanist classify the plants then look for similar words appearing next to the same type of plants in both texts. (So if everything the botanist labels as “fuzzy” has the same alien word next to it, it likely means “fuzzy”…) Trying to turn a set of botany descriptors into a sentence will driven anyone bonkers.

    The script is unique. I’ve looked at a lot of scripts. It might be a stylized European derivative, but it isn’t based on the Phoenician root of all the other European stuff near as I can tell. Some letters look similar, but others are quite different and many are “missing”. That argues against my Etruscan muse as they were using a Phoenician script that eventually became the Latin script. The script is another place to do a directed attack. Try to find character matches to ANY other script and then see if any of the grammar or lexicon has touch stones.

    I suspect the script is an invented one. On one occasion i invented a script for my personal notes. It isn’t hard. I also stopped using it after about 3 pages as I realized I had nothing that secret so as to justify the work of coding / decoding ;-) But the script invention took all of a couple of hours to create and then start using. It’s a very low threshold task. But what could be telling is just the number of characters. Supposedly frequency analysis has been done and not found a match, and as part of that they ought to have look at things like 26 (latin) vs 32 (slavic) vs… characters in a language. Then again, if some of them are not characters but instead are just symbols for things like “fuzzy’ or “cures headache” then that approach isn’t going to cut it.

    In any case, if it doesn’t decode to something clear, logical, and directly supported by the pictures; then most likely the decoding is wrong.

  37. Simon Derricutt says:

    Jim2 – as I understand it, the “scalar” or “longitudinal” waves are simply a change in the electric field strengths, so producing them should be a matter of changing the charge at a point without a perceptible movement of electrons visible (which would produce a magnetic wave). Though there is a persistent rumour that such waves travel faster than normal TEM waves, AFAIK the attempts to measure that have all been flawed. Seems like they’ve measured the phase velocity but not the rate of transfer of information, and the antennae they’ve used emit and receive TEM waves anyway. Maybe a different mode than normal, but not unexplainable.

    It seems to me that unless you can get some resonances for discrimination, then a broad-band transmission and reception of such waves wouldn’t have much use and you couldn’t use the spectrum effectively. Though you can see super-long-wave signals on your receiver, you can’t really decide where it’s coming from or have any point-to-point communication between a lot of pairs without mutual interference.

    Attach a bit of wire to the gate of a JFET and you have a pretty good collector for low-frequency changes in electric field (useful for alpha-particles). In fact it needs resetting pretty often as it goes out of range. For wave reception, better to add some negative feedback. For Arend’s tests, better to work in the GHz range where the wavelength becomes easier to measure, and so getting the discrimination built into the antenna (by getting the resonance at the right frequency) makes more sense. Also, getting something that won’t pick up TEM waves helps.

    Hopefully we’ll settle the question properly in a few months, and we’ll know if scalar waves can be used in far-field and what the propagation velocity is. I’m a bit surprised people haven’t done a good job on this before, and that the Tesla enthusiasts continue to speculate on scalar waves without designing the experiment to test the ideas properly.

    Of course, there’s a logical problem with TEM waves spreading out in a spherical wavefront, too. Basically, if you try to draw those right-angles between electric and magnetic field around a sphere it can’t be done. You can thus really only have a TEM wave when it’s a section of the sphere – the edges of the wavefront are what defines the bit in the middle you’re not measuring. Still, the ideal spherical wavefront problem is not normally mentioned. I like finding paradoxes, since when you dig deep enough to solve them then it’s likely something new will drop out.

    With scalar waves, I only got into the question because Arend was trying to convince me about his Aether theory, but there may actually be something very useful there if they really are FTL. If they travel at c, however, it’s still possible that it might give a whole new spectrum available that mostly doesn’t interfere with standard radio reception and is maybe suited better to short-range communications. If nothing else, it will either vindicate the Tesla enthusiasts or shut them up….

  38. cdquarles says:

    Fascinating :). As to why Aether theory persists, I am reminded that Einstein’s work put some constraints on the nature of it only. It didn’t, at least to me, ‘kill’ it.

  39. Simon Derricutt says:

    CDQ – most theories end up with wave equations as fundamentals, and of course if you use a model of springs and inertial masses as your Aether then it will carry those waves quite happily and a lot of the predictions will be found to be true. What they don’t notice (hidden assumption) is the reason for the inertia of those little masses being there in the first place. They can explain inertia in real masses from the properties of the Aether, but don’t see that they are simply pushing the source of the inertia to a higher, but still unexplained, level. The success of GPS satellites does tell us that General Relativity is a bit wrong, and that we need a specific frame (Sun-Earth) to calculate the timings correctly, but doesn’t really give us a solid clue that Aether does or does not exist – it needs to be left on the table as a workable theory as does GR. I think we’ll only get solid data once we can have two spaceships that can reach an appreciable percentage of lightspeed and can check their clocks against each other and against an observer. Clocks on satellites orbiting W-E and E-W run at a different rate, so it’s not quite as simple as we were taught. Gravity and acceleration are not actually equivalent – in gravity, Einstein says that the deflection of a beam of light is twice what Newton would predict for an acceleration, and so he showed that one of his basic assumptions (the equivalence principle) wasn’t correct. People don’t want to trash Einstein’s theories, since in general they work pretty well, but as we get better at measurement we see deviations and at some point someone will “correct” Einstein’s theories in the same way as he added a correction to Newton’s laws. In the meantime, I don’t know if Aether is actually there or not, but at least I know I don’t know.

  40. cdquarles says:

    Yes, I agree. It is akin to the general use of the Ideal Gas Law; but the assumptions and conditions required logically are generally not mentioned. Real gases, though, have significant differences from the assumptions required for the Ideal Gas Law; thus, the Van der Waal’s corrections used for real gases where high resolution results need high precision.

  41. Larry Ledwick says:

    This probably fits here better than many of the other threads.

    Adm. Hyman Rickover, “the father of the nuclear Navy,” once stated, “All new ideas begin in a non-conforming mind that questions some tenet of the conventional wisdom … Good ideas are not adopted automatically. They must be driven into practice with courageous impatience.”


  42. p.g.sharrow says:

    Rear Admiral Hyman Rickover was an engineering officer, a Mustang, that is he rose up through the ranks from an enlisted-man to become a Captain. The Navy tasked him with exploring Nuclear power as the future Naval ship power source. He had among his duties.the need to lobby for funding from congress, in excess of the Navy’s funding needs, to do the Nuclear Navy Creation. He succeeded brilliantly in both creation of the Nuclear Navy technology and obtaining the needed funding. The Navy department wanted to retire him and give the command to a real Admiral from Annapolis but Rickover’s friends in congress would not hear of their friend being forced out in mandatory retirement, so Congress made him a Rear Admiral and he could keep his position as head of the Navy Nuclear Power Program. Navy tradition is only Annapolis graduates can become an Admiral…pg

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