Monday, October 27, 2008

Open Source Those Inventions!

From Saturday's New York Times comes an interesting article about Johnny Chung Lee, a recent Ph.D. grad from Carnegie Mellon's Human-Computer Interaction Institute. Dr. Lee became Internet-famous by posting videos on YouTube that describe in a wonderfully clear manner a number of his very clever and easy-to-build inventions.

One video, which describes how to use a Nintento Wii remote, some LEDs, and software to create a 3-D effect on a computer screen, has been viewed more than six million times. Another video explains how to build a general-purpose interactive whiteboard for about $60 in parts, some open-source software, and existing computer equipment (a fifth-grade robotics club built one in four hour-long after-school sessions). Dr. Lee's YouTube videos are available here.

Dr. Lee's videos were noticed. M.I.T.'s Technology Review magazine named him as a top innovater under 35, and according to the article he recently joined Microsoft.

The open source community may be of two minds about Dr. Lee -- while on the one hand, he makes his video ideas available for free (including the associated software, which he offers from his website), he does now work for Microsoft.

The article got me thinking about another avenue that creative individuals can use to promote their ideas and, perhaps more importantly, themselves. We all know that there are many good ideas that do not achieve market success. There is simply such a vast distance between "a good idea" and "a viable company" that, for many people, a better route to success may lie along the path taken by Dr. Lee: find the medium that will best publicize your idea, and give it away in a clear and concise manner. Let the world see not only how creative you are, but also how well you can explain your ideas.

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