The weirdly common co-occurrence of genius ideas




I love this stuff. The mythology of geniuses and brilliant minds and other paff needs a good deflating.


For many whom we consider “geniuses”, their outstanding talent is self promotion. The rest of the more modest innovators are never heard from. The classic example of self promoter versus introverted genius is Edison vs Tesla and their long battles. Or Marconi vs Tesla. Tesla won in US patent court but Marconi is who people remember because he knew how to play the game.

Last week was National History Day, and one of the exhibits by kids at my daughter’s school was on Leonardo. I asked the kids what was his most important invention, and they were a little stumped. They started talking about his tank, that never actually worked and had no legacy. But everyone knows about Leonardo’s “inventions”, even though almost nothing ever made it off paper. He knew how to “work the scene”.


Well, the ideas tend to be pretty obvious. (And not only in the hindsight.)


Shoulders of giants. Lots of people standing on their shoulders.


It’s fun, having ideas that no one else is having. The fact that many people can do this simultaneously only increases the total joy.


Just the other day I got annoyed with the ferrite lump on a power supply cable. Got a thought if the ferrite couldn’t be added as a filler into the plastic of the cable, have it distributed along the entire length instead of as an annoying bulge. Googled if it is possible/feasible, and sure enough, it’s patented already.

Some things are just plain obvious.

I had to resign myself to having ideas no one else is having.


“Genius, n. Person clever enough to be born in the right place at the right time of the right sex and to follow up this advantage by saying all the right things to all the right people.” --From *nix Fortune, source unknown. (Fairbanks comes kind of close.)

(Man, I miss *nix Fortune. What an ideal distraction. Beats Solitaire or Minesweeper any day.)

[quote=“shaddack, post:7, topic:52908”]Got a thought if the ferrite couldn’t be added as a filler into the plastic of the cable, have it distributed along the entire length instead of as an annoying bulge.[/quote]I’m probably wrong, but wouldn’t ferrite distributed along the entire length be liable to pick up an induced current and defeat the purpose?


Should not. The ferrite is lossy, and its purpose is to attenuate the AC field around the cable by converting its energy to heat. Should do the same with externally induced EMI.

(Anybody better versed in the dark art of magnetics to back or disprove me?)


And yet, whenever I go to pick a bot name on twitter, it’s always available! I AM TEH FRIST! with this GENIUS idea!


Yet might explain why my bots are mostly followed by bots…


This reminds me of some of Rupert Sheldrake’s work and that of Charles Fort. “It’s steam engines when it comes steam engine time”.




This premise is why I think patents are a bad idea. Have you noticed that most of the great inventions have had exhaustive patent fights that took decades and enriched legions of lawyers? What a waste (unless you’re a patent lawyer, that is).


Marconi should never have received a patent. There were a couple of others before him, Bose Tesla and I think a Scottish physicist who first demonstrated radio waves. Marconi patented a black box without showing how it works, which should never have been allowed. There are also plenty of other inventors who were robbed like Farnsworth was by RCA. Even though he finally won in the end, he was ruined.


A popular game in my household is having absurd ideas and then seeing if Google scores any hits.

C.f. “Eggs Benedict Cumberbatch”


Idea for Google. Classification system for such odd queries, and if they come from enough households, send the concept to the R&D team.


CTRL+F ‘Zeitgeist’


You have the donkey’s face where the horse’s ass should be. Or something. (I always suck at folksy expressions.)

The purpose of the patent system as it has been currently structures is not to enrich lawyers, that’s just a nice side benefit to lawyers. Lawyers will always find ways to make money from the tangly bits of law, and because we have politicians that think it’s good policy to invent things like the PATRIOT Act and the DMCA, there will always be tangly bits of law. The purpose of the current system is to restrict new market entrants and to raise the cost of market entry. It’s also, somewhat, a form of rent-seeking behavior.

There are many alternatives to our current patent system, but no patents isn’t one that works. No patents means that no one sinks any real money into research. Say what you will about open-source free-as-in-freedom technologies, but those are heavily subsidized by people’s day jobs. There is a broad category of research that is very expensive and time consuming. We’ve all heard Big Pharma whine on and on about how expensive it is to bring a new drug to market, and I think we’re right to distrust some of that when the cost of drugs starts to approach more money than exists in the world. But it is expensive, and the primary reason not a lot of effort goes into developing new antibiotics.

There are two things that might fix the patent problem.

  1. Abolish the massive lobbying power of private interests.
  2. Reassert by statute that the courts should interpret the utility of patents and copyrights as being to promote the useful arts and sciences. Right now, the courts seem to be of the position that congress sets the standard of “usefulness” by legislation. So anything congress says is right and therefore it is “useful” to make sure no Disney copyrights ever expire.


I read all over the place that there would be no innovation and investment in research without patents.

Do you have any evidence that this is actually the case, or is it just conjecture?


I’m not the one making an extraordinary claim. We know that people are motivated to create with patents and copyrights. The burden of proof is on you to demonstrate that it isn’t necessary. Historically, there was a time when there was effectively no patent system, but as the need for such a system diminishes as you move backwards in history, the presence of benefactors proliferates. I don’t imagine the Koch brothers paying for development of new vaccines out of the goodness of their hearts. Unless we’re prepared to incentivize people through the mechanism of the state (which, if we can’t get Americans to agree to let the state handle healthcare, ain’t gonna happen anytime soon.)

I mean there will still be innovation in fields with low entry-barriers, but for things like pharmaceuticals or vital systems for things like traffic lights and aircraft there are significant cost and regulatory barriers to overcome before you can generate a safe product. All of that requires, if nothing else, a way to recoup those costs.