At the recent TED conference in Long Beach, Nathan Myrhvold, the founder of Intellectual Ventures (and former CTO of Microsoft), demonstrated a laser system that can track and kill mosquitoes. As silly as this sounds, it has potential value. First, with the falling cost of electronics, a device that could protect the doors and windows of a small building could be built for under $50. Second, when coupled with other strategies, it could reduce the death toll from malaria in Africa and Asia. You can watch a video of the system in action. The device was developed after Bill Gates, head of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, asked Mr. Myrhvold for assistance in developing creative ideas to eradicate malaria. The idea was first publicized last year.

Intellectual Ventures is a rather secretive firm. Its stated goal is to turn patents into marketable assets. It has characteristics of a hedge fund in that it doesn’t disclose its investors or the contents of its patent portfolio. It operates a large number of shell companies to disguise its purchase of patents and its licensing activities. The New York Times recently ran an article on the firm.

[Update1: A blog post by Brad Burnham, a venture capitalist, rejects Intellectual Venture’s approach.]


More pivot charts

Also presenting at TED conference was Gary Flake, the director of Microsoft’s Live Labs. He demonstrated a data visualization technology called Pivot that is designed to help people make better use of digital information. Says Mr. Flake, “With Pivot you can swim through the data, taking little twists and turns.” A video is available here. There is also a web site,, where you can learn more and download the app. Unlike the pivot tables and charts that I wrote about two weeks ago, these pivot charts combine bitmap images with quantitative data. The next step will be to make each bitmap an animation.

[Update2: There is a nice review of Pivot in Tech. Rev. Feb 25.]