Mathcad Inventor Reveals New Startup’s True Ambition—Numbers That Mean More and Don’t Make Mistakes

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adopt anything new? Did he choose the right path to start? If the values are put in by people that matter, so to speak—scientists and materials people, in areas you can trust—that will jumpstart it in a certain way. Those will be the questions. But Allen knows the users in this space pretty well.”

Another question, says Bricklin, will be how far to open up the technology, and how much to keep proprietary. The format for URLs, obviously, isn’t owned by anyone—which was part of the key to the Web’s phenomenal growth. True Engineering, by contrast, has already obtained trademark protection for the terms truenumber and numberspace. To make money, the company will need control over at least part of the number-ecosystem it hopes to create—but the lower the barriers to adoption, the bigger the ecosystem might grow.

Razdow says he’s open to different ways of collecting revenues on the invention. “Say National Instruments [which makes testing and measurement equipment for hardware engineers] decides that all of their instruments are going to have the option of writing their numbers in plain text or truenumbers format,” says Razdow. “That would be great. They’re a big company. But I don’t think they are going to want to pay me royalties for every number their machines spit out. It might be better for me to just let them do it, and let all of the companies that use test equipment buy a server from me to keep their numbers in.”

As time goes one, Razdow will have to pick his way between the open and proprietary approaches carefully—and may well wind up changing course a few times before he’s done. Right now, though, he’s more concerned with lining up investors. So far, the company’s main support has come from angels and a few customers who were interested enough in the truenumbers concept to fork over advance payments. “The notion that you are going to have metadata about numbers—I don’t think you can control that. That’s why the whole notion of taking investment is important, so that we can grow up to become a Lotus.” In a numbers-driven world, that just might happen.

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Wade Roush is a freelance science and technology journalist and the producer and host of the podcast Soonish. Follow @soonishpodcast

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3 responses to “Mathcad Inventor Reveals New Startup’s True Ambition—Numbers That Mean More and Don’t Make Mistakes”

  1. awesome says:

    “Here’s an actual truenumber […] 150 mi. To get a sense of how a truenumber works, hover over the quantity, then click on it”

    You clicked truenumber: 7a42dac3-b0df-49b6-b4aa=-31043ad2fb21

    [ERROR] ID Not Found

    Comments and annotations
    Barcode for this TrueNumber
    Invalid Data

  2. Wade RoushWade Roush says:

    @awesome: Thanks for noticing that problem. Somehow an extra “=” sign had slipped into the ID for the truenumber. We took it out and it should be working fine now.

  3. Miramon says:

    Is a True Number a permanent URI? What guarantee is provided of permanence?

    Lockheed-Martin deserves dissolution for that famously imbecilic mistake, but it would be even worse if some software pinged a True Number URL for some critical application and got a 404.

    Also, what about any kind of calculation efficiency? Suppose I have to calculate with a table of a million or a billion True Numbers? Even if I cache them all, I am obviously going to be wasting enormous resources if I need a network round trip with all that HTML returned from an Internet inquiry into a True Number value.

    I suppose you may say that you shouldn’t actually be calculating with True Numbers to begin with, but you can be pretty sure that if it becomes a government procurement standard, that’s what Lockheed-Martin will do.