Nathan Myhrvold, March 8, 2007
August 3, 1959 |
|Institutions||Intellectual Ventures, University of Cambridge, Microsoft Research|
|Alma mater||UCLA (B.S., M.S.)
Princeton University (M.S., Ph.D.)
We collectively have a special place in our heart for the manned space flight program – Apollo nostalgia is one element, but that is only part of it. American culture worships explorers – look at the fame of Lewis and Clark, for example. The American people want to think of themselves as supporting exploration.
Three things about water affect almost all of cooking. First are the hydrogen bonds, which is why it has an incredibly high boiling point. Another is that it's a polar molecule, so that it dissolves a lot of things, and there are things that won't mix with it. And then there's how much energy it takes to heat water.
Technological 'revolutions' don't really overthrow anything – they simply append a new and dynamic market to that which went before.
If you have two steaks, one that's an inch thick, one that's 2 inches thick, how much longer does the thicker one need to cook? It's four times as long. It goes roughly like the square. How come cookbooks don't tell you that?
The cloning procedure is similar to IVF. The only difference is that the DNA of sperm and egg would be replaced by DNA from an adult cell. What law or principle – secular, humanist, or religious – says that one combination of genetic material in a flask is OK, but another is not?
People get cranky when you burst their bubble. Over time, advances in astronomy have relentlessly reinforced the utter insignificance of Earth on a celestial scale. Fortunately, political and religious leaders stopped barbecuing astronomers for saying so, turning their spits with human-rights activists instead.
If people don't find what you are doing threatening, then it is probably not very important.
Suppose that 'Unsolved Mysteries' called you with news of a long-lost identical twin. Would that suddenly make you less of a person, less of an individual? It is hard to see how. So, why would a clone be different? Your clone would be raised in a different era by different people – like the lost identical twin, only younger than you.
I have a very pragmatic approach to diets. Ones you can't stick to don't do you any good. Some people say, 'Just eat half of what's on your plate,' but I can't do that!
One of the ugly secrets of the renewable-energy industry is that its products make no economic sense unless they are highly subsidized.
Business is war! Its leaders are strategic commanders, who boldly snatch victory from the jaws of defeat – and who perform other acts of derring-do. This kind of talk sounds great in the boardroom, and, for that matter, in the bookstore, where dozens of authors counsel would-be corporate warriors.
It's really hard to compete with Apple on pure coolness, and if you do, you're probably going to use some of the things they pioneered.
I was good at math and science, and I got lots of degrees in lots of things, but in a parallel universe, I probably became a chef.
Within NASA, the shuttle is perhaps the least-groundbreaking project. Recall that Apollo was about creating brand-new technologies that did something unprecedented – putting men on the moon. The shuttle is, by comparison, a relic designed to make going into orbit routine.
Most estimates of the mortality risk posed by asteroid impacts put it at about the same risk as flying in a commercial airliner. However, you have to remember that this is like the entire human race riding the plane – it is one of the few risks that really could wipe us all out.
There is a one-in-300 chance that Earth will be struck on March 16, 2880, by an asteroid large enough to destroy civilization and possibly cause the extinction of the human race. But, on the bright side, Prince could re-release his hit song with the new refrain 'We're gonna party like its twenty-eight seventy-nine.'
Near Marseilles in the south of France, bouillabaisse is a cult food. In Toulouse and Carcassonne, the bean-based stew cassoulet is a cult food. Spain has paella and a number of others. Italy has so many, its cuisine is practically defined by them.
The best value for money in cooking equipment, in my mind, is first a digital scale and digital thermometer. They're both about $20. They help you cook so much more accurately that they're both enormously valuable.
People who grow up in a region doubtless have a better cultural awareness of their own cuisine, but it's also true that a lot of locals go to McDonald's, Applebee's and the like.
Elections, for their part, are typically popularity contests rather than measures of candidates' relative competency or effectiveness. Imagine if scientific truth were determined according to which scientist was most popular. To be successful, scientists would have to be charismatic and attractive – and human knowledge would suffer terribly.
It's impossible that we're alone in the universe. Every time we think we're more special than others, we're proven wrong.
If people don't get paid for their inventions, that's not a good thing. In the case of many patents, there are people who aren't in a position to take them to the next level. If you don't enforce your rights, no one is going to enforce them for you.
An efficient government is dangerous in the hands of the wrong man. Sadly, the right sort of man never seems interested in the job.
If you talk about sous-vide, then you have to talk about food safety, and microbiology, and heat.
I've been on a team that won the world championship of barbecue. But barbecue's interesting, because it's one of these cult foods like chili, or bouillabaisse. Various parts of the world will have a cult food that people get enormously attached to – there's tremendous traditions; there's secrecy.
I think you would find almost anyone who stands up for their patent rights has been called a patent troll.
No CEO ever says, 'Damnit, we need to increase research!' I want to encourage them to do that.
We pay for content that we like, and we like the content we pay for. It's a lot more satisfying to pay $7.50 for Steven Spielberg's next epic than it is to watch my home movies for free. Even for me.
Most visions of extraterrestrial life are actually steeped in human hubris. The fictional extraterrestrials of 'Star Trek' or a hundred other space operas are less alien than many of my neighbors. And funny, the ones running the place are mostly WASPish men.
A blowtorch is a wonderful thing. You can get one of those for about 25 bucks at Home Depot. And there's a ton of things that you can use a blowtorch for, in browning a steak or touching up the browning of a chicken or making creme brulee.
Micropayments are great if you use them for a product or service with certain properties. It must be one where you can get away with usage-based pricing, and where there is a strong rationale for making it cheap, yet not free.
The dilemma for early 21st century journalism is this: Who will pay for the news?
One of the things that I love to do is travel around the world and look at archaeological sites. Because archaeology gives us an opportunity to study past civilizations, and see where they succeeded and where they failed. Use science to, you know, work backwards and say, 'Well, really, what were they thinking?'
Our reactor actually burns nuclear waste as fuel. So not only is it safe and powerful, it solves an important issue: It actually reduces nuclear waste instead of creating. It's the reactor of your dreams.
Some article called me the most feared man in Silicon Valley. Good Lord! Why? My teenage boys got a kick out of it: 'Dad, how could this be true? You're not even the most feared person in this house.'
The whole hardware industry has experienced the phenomenon in which every time computers get cheaper, they appeal to a new set of users; every time they get more powerful, old customers upgrade.
I wanted to figure out how long to cook things. I did some experiments and then wrote a program using Mathematica to model how heat is transferred through food.
The physics of water is central to cooking, because food is mostly water. All steak that you cook is actually boiled on the inside.
Anybody who can afford a box of business cards can afford a Web site. Any company with an 800 number can move its services to the Web for peanuts by comparison. The extreme case of corporate promotion is to strip away all other aspects of your business and sell goods or services via the Net alone, as amazon.com has done with books.
It is better to predict dramatic things that don't happen than boring things that do.
In market research I did at Microsoft Corp. in the early 1990s, I estimated that the 'Wall Street Journal' took in about 75 cents per copy from subscribers, $1.25 at the newsstand and a whopping $5 per copy from ads. The ad revenue let them run a far bigger newsroom than subscribers were paying for.
By burning nuclear waste as fuel, we believe we can power the United States cleanly for hundreds of years without ever touching new resources.
Every serious nuclear accident involves operator error, so you want to eliminate the operator altogether.
The idea behind a dish – the delight and the surprise – makes a difference. Great literature surprises and delights, and provokes us. It isn't just 'Here's the facts – boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl.' It's how you tell it.
Words can hurt you. In the larger world, it frames how people think about you, and it can hurt you in lots of little, subtle ways.
What you do on a dinosaur expedition is you hike and look at the ground. You find bones sticking out of the dirt and, once you see something, you dig.
If you had a really good – battery, it wouldn't matter that the sun goes down at night and the wind stops blowing sometimes. But at the moment, battery technology is nowhere near good enough to use at utility scale.
A person's basic humanity is not governed by how he or she came into this world, or whether somebody else happens to have the same DNA.
If you have a block of ballistics gelatin and a high-speed camera, pretty soon somebody gets a gun!
Regardless of how it's done, transaction costs will continue to plummet as computers get more powerful. Low transaction costs are a wonderful thing if you're in the transaction business. They're wonderful for consumers too, making it cheaper and easier to buy things and creating new things to buy.
Our goal was to show people a vision of food they hadn't seen before. So, I had this idea of… let's cut all these things in half, and show a picture of the food in the pan, in the oven.
The techniques of being an Internet visionary are just like those of lower-tech fortunetellers through the ages. A technological visionary must tell people what they want to hear, because your company's stock won't rise if you spout an unpopular vision to analysts.
The prize for ultimate inefficiency goes to America. We have built in so many checks and balances that our 'leaders' are the most thoroughly hogtied of any on Earth.
Cooking is an art, but all art requires knowing something about the techniques and materials. Using modernist techniques, you get more control, and that allows you to be more artistic, not less!
Researchers who examined the voting records of wine judges found that 90 percent of the time they give inconsistent ratings to a particular wine when they judge it on multiple occasions.
There's a limit to how much you can deploy renewables, like wind or solar. People will talk about getting up to 30 percent of America's power from renewables, but you can't get to 100 percent because of their unreliability.
Why pay a fee for Internet content when a million free sites are just a click away? There's no incentive until people are too addicted to the Net to turn off their computers, yet are bored with what's available.
My company invents all kinds of new technology in lots of different areas. And we do that for a couple of reasons. We invent for fun – invention is a lot of fun to do – and we also invent for profit. The two are related because the profit actually takes long enough that if it isn't fun, you wouldn't have the time to do it.
If I say I've got two versions of Word – that old one from 1982 that's perfect, with zero defects; or the new one that's got all this cool new stuff, but there might be a few bugs in it – people always want the new one. But I wouldn't want them to operate a plane I was on with software that happened to be the latest greatest release!
We're more familiar with what economists call an English auction – prices start low and rise as people bid. However, there is also the Dutch auction, where prices start high and go lower until somebody bites. Movies are sold to the audience via a very slow Dutch auction, where each phase between price drops can last weeks or months.
Chefs think about what it's like to make food. Being a scientist in the kitchen is about asking why something works, and how it works.
We have the only cookbook in the world that has partial differential equations in it.
The reason societies with democratic governments are better places to live in than their alternatives isn't because of some goodness intrinsic to democracy, but because its hopeless inefficiency helps blunt the basic potential for evil.
Cooking is for chefs. Science informs us and lets us cook while knowing what we are doing, but it is not a replacement for the skills of a chef.
Another random thing I do is the search for extraterrestrial intelligence, or SETI. And you may be familiar with the movie 'Contact,' which sort of popularized that. It turns out there are real people who go out and search for extraterrestrials in a very scientific way.
I've never filed a patent lawsuit. I hope never to file a patent lawsuit. That may be unrealistic, but it would be great if I could avoid doing it… Lawsuits are a ridiculous way to do business.
Now, to find dinosaurs, you hike around in horrible conditions looking for a dinosaur. It sounds really dumb, but that's what it is. It's horrible conditions, because wherever you have nice weather, plants grow, and you don't get any erosion, and you don't see any dinosaurs.
The simplest fix for better grilling is to line the inside of your barbecue with tin foil. It dramatically affects how evenly the heat is distributed. That crusty black hibachi or Weber grill is doing your food no favors.
Records were replaced by CDs, and lead type died in favor of computerized fonts. However, each had a 100-year ride of popularity, so you can't feel too bad for them.
It's very hard for individual inventors to get paid. For the same reason that private equity is valuable – broadly, that's a good thing – in the case of patents, many that own them aren't in a good position to take the next step.
The Internet is the ultimate vanity-publishing medium, and therefore, the ultimate place for those of us who like to watch. The Internet can reach an audience at lower cost than any medium before it.
One of the greatest things that Apple and Jobs were very good at doing was daring to do the very different thing. It's what I did with my cookbook, frankly.
Many of the things the slow food people honor were innovations within historical times. Somebody had to be the first European to eat a tomato.
Politicians don't like to face unpleasant realities. In truth, nobody does, but as individuals, we have no choice; if we neglect to plan ahead, we are held accountable. Fail to meet your responsibilities at work, and you get fired. Ignore your car's gas gauge, and you get stranded.
When we first did 'Modernist Cuisine,' I think most people in cookbook publishing would have said, 'This is insane.'
Efficiency in government is a more elusive concept than efficiency in the private economy, which may be measured relatively easily as output per units of input. What is the government's 'output?'
The first thing that is not obvious to people is global warming is a less-than-1% effect. It's like being shortchanged at the bank by a penny every dollar. Over a long period of time with lots of transactions, that piles up.
Nobody wants a prediction that the future will be more or less like the present, even if that is, statistically speaking, an excellent prediction.
Nuclear energy is a baseload – meaning it's power that you can run any time you want, day or night – and carbon-free.
Software-industry battles are fought by highly paid and out-of-shape nerds furiously pounding computer keyboards while they guzzle diet Coke. The stakes aren't very dramatic. Life? Liberty? The pursuit of happiness? Nope, it's about stock options.
The way Moore's Law occurs in computing is really unprecedented in other walks of life. If the Boeing 747 obeyed Moore's Law, it would travel a million miles an hour, it would be shrunken down in size, and a trip to New York would cost about five dollars. Those enormous changes just aren't part of our everyday experience.
There's no way I'm going to stand up for bad ingredients. We love seasonal ingredients. It's a false dichotomy to say that modern cooking is at odds with that, but some people want to have a great ingredient and no technique.
Mankind is not special by virtue of our address in the universe, or what spins around us, or because life originated here. Slowly, but surely, we've been compelled to renounce the comfort of these beliefs.
When I was about nine years old, I announced to my mother that I was going to cook Thanksgiving dinner. And I went to the library and got this whole pile of books. I'd love to say it all turned out great. It didn't. But, sort of, from that point on, whenever there was serious cooking at home, I was the one who did it.
With cult foods, there is an underlying assumption that the best cooking ideas came generations ago. Yet culinary innovation is nothing to be ashamed of. When a chef tells me he is cooking with his grandmother's recipe, I always wonder why. Did talent skip the past two generations?
Wine lovers have known for centuries that decanting wine before serving it often improves its flavor. Whatever the dominant process, the traditional decanter is a rather pathetic tool to accomplish it. A few years ago, I found I could get much better results by using an ordinary kitchen blender.
Being a visionary is a new profession, but it is really just a variant on fortunetelling, which may be the world's oldest. And its marketing appeal is similar – people will pay for reassurance about the unknown.
If you want to do interesting software, you have to have a bunch of people do it, because the amount of software that one person can do isn't that interesting.
One of the problems with posing a 'bold new plan' is that you can't just extrapolate from previous plans.
Microsoft, Apple, Facebook all bought huge patent portfolios to further their strategic game. They're doing what I'm doing!
Ultimately, my Ph.D. is in mathematical physics, focusing on quantum field theory and curved space-time, and I worked with Stephen Hawking.
For relatively modest amounts of sulfur dioxide injected into the atmosphere, you could easily cool Earth by 1% or more, if you want.
If we could create invention capitalism, that would be a helluva legacy, that would be a helluva thing to do… We could actually turbocharge the rate at which the world invents things.
Suppose that every prospective parent in the world stopped having children naturally, and instead produced clones of themselves. What would the world be like in another 20 or 30 years? The answer is: much like today. Cloning would only copy the genetic aspects of people who are already here.
The world has shown that if you provide capital and expertise to an area that is starved for capital and expertise, really good things will happen.
The magic words 'on the Internet,' if inserted into nearly any sentence, seem to protect it from normal critical scrutiny.
The depressing thing about battery technology is that it gets better, but it gets better slowly. There are a whole bunch of problems in materials science and chemistry that come in trying to make existing batteries better.
In the early days of the software industry, people cared about copyright and didn't give a damn about patents – they copied each other willy-nilly.
Making money from enforcing patents is no more wrong than investing in preferred stock.
Sooner or later the space program will need to save us by detecting and deflecting an incoming asteroid.
Risk is the sort of word that is easy to discuss upfront but tough to handle when it comes time to pay the piper. There will always be some who wimp out and second-guess when the pain hits, but that is a childish reaction.
Pressure cookers are relatively inexpensive, they're in every kitchen store, your grandma probably had one, but a lot of people don't. A pressure cooker is interesting because by pressurizing the vessel, you're able to cook much hotter than the boiling point of water, and still have water be present.
New online formats gutted the newspaper-ad business. Why pore over tiny print looking for a job in the want ads when you can tap a few keywords into monster.com, then click through and apply? Why pay a steep per-character rate for a classified when you can hawk a whole garage full of used stuff on EBay or Craigslist for free?
Economists want their discipline to be a science, and they have nailed down a few precepts, but many of their debates are still clouded by ideology.
In politics, religion and other areas of culture, people disagree on the worth of competing ideas. There is no equivalent to the scientific method that can determine in a robust way which ideas match the real world, and which ones can be ruled out. So conflicting ideologies persist indefinitely.