Friday, June 29, 2007

Frankenstein Redux

J. Craig Venter's "Next Big Goal: Creating Life." is the start point for companies to create synthetic organisms designed to make money while (hopefully) improving life on Planet Earth. In Venter's case, it's transforming "one species of bacterium (Mycoplasma mycoides) into a different species (Mycoplasma capricolum)." by swapping genetic material from the latter into the former with the intent for the altered bug to either generate environmentally friendly bio fuels or to clean up Carbon Dioxide to reduce the effects of global warming (at reasonable cost). Even though this is NOT creating life from scratch, the infrastructure for making this happen is being put into place for making ALIFE a physical reality in the very near future. (Companies, among others, doing ALIFE R&D include Amyris Biotechnologies, LS9 and Genencor.) University research into this field is ongoing as one can well imagine.

In computing, ALIFE has been around for a long time beginning with Conway's Game of Life in the early 70's to Langston's Ant in the 80's. Since the late 90's, the Santa Fe Institute has been using computers to understand how chaos enables life to emerge from open systems while IBM is developing the first petaflop computer to learn how proteins fold in real time. To see what MIT and others are doing in this amazing field, click here.

With all this research being done to generate ALIFE, digital and otherwise, the inevitable question arises. Can we manage the "Franeknstein" we are creating?

"One never knows, do one? - Fats Waller"

Saturday, June 23, 2007

The 700 Club

700, we keep hearing about this but what's the big deal? We know about 300, the number of Spartans who fought the Persians at the battle of Thermopylae in 480 BC and we know about 3.14, or Pi, the ratio of the diameter of a circle to it's circumference but nada about 700 unless you 1. look toward Pat Roberson's 700 Club for Christian inspiration or 2. use the Internet on a regular basis whereby one learns, in almost osmotic fashion, about the importance of unfettered Radio Spectrum Frequencies, and how it applies to wireless connects to the net.

The 700 MHZ spectrum, the last great block of available RFs, can be the wireless silver bullet able to connect America in ways that go far beyond the costly and limited confines of AT&T, Verizon and the Comcasts of the world as seen by the explosive growth of free WiFi in cities like Philadelphia, San Francisco and Boston. When WiMax takes off, the importance of open RF will really take hold as WiMax has much greater range and speed than WiFi. By the same token, the promise of an open 700 threatens these same telcos and cable companies web existance because they know if 700 remains open, their hegemony over how we connect into the net becomes very tenuous indeed.

Why is this important? It's important because 1. the US is becoming a backwater in broadband speeds because of the lack of competition as seen by this excellent article called Moving in the Slow Lane 2. privatising the net and 3. warrant less wiretapping and AT&T's intent to become the DRM Sheriff of the Net thanks to its prior connections with the NSA (sniffing traffic packets/data mining techniques) on the aforementioned warrant less wiretapping scandal that is beginning to get very serious for the Bush Administration.

With 700 open, the web remains open source, something to think about when getting one of these...

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Webs, Geckos & Tech

Spiderman, the most popular and soulful creation of Stan Lee and Steve Ditko, has the well known superhuman powers of spider sense and strength, web slinging and the ability to climb walls at a moment's notice. Super strength and sense are still a bit of a stretch but the ability to clone super strong spider silk can become reality because researchers at the University of California, Riverside have recently decoded the genetic sequence of the Black Widow's dragline, something considered to be a landmark achievement as"The black widow spider's dragline silk is a standout compared to other spider silks because of its superior strength and extensibility, a combination which enables black widow dragline silk to absorb enormous amounts of energy." Because spider silk is 4 to 5 times lighter than steel and 5 to 10 times as strong, it's a no brainer as to why people want to create this material by the boatload.As for climbing walls, the Gecko has intrigued scientists and lay people for years as it has the uncanny ability to do just that with ease based on the unique configuration of the lizard's feet as seen by this picture from Wikipedia.Seems that the tiny setae (bristles) on the gecko's feet achieve adhesion via the Van der Waals force which operates via "(electrostatic) interactions between charges. In other words, Wan der Waal forces act, in similar fashion to lightening (albeit in much subtler fashion) as the negative charge of the base of a thunder cloud and the positive charge of the ground becomes so strong that an energy discharge in the form of a lightening bolt happens with terrific force. For the Gecko, the electrostatic adhesion caused by the negative to positive charge attraction from foot to surface occurs at the molecular level given the tiny size of each setae but with millions of setae on each foot, the gecko matches Spiderman's exploits without a problem. With this in mind, RPI & The University at Akron scientists have created Gecko Tape, a prototype material consisting "of polymer surfaces covered with carbon nanotube hairs." The interesting aspect of this tech is that it sticks and unsticks without getting dirty on a wide variety of surfaces, something the Gecko has been doing for millions of years.
Implications of this tech needs no explanation.
Now all we need is super strength and spider sense. Well Mr Wizard, want to give it a go?Postscript. Don Hebert died June 12, 2007. He will be missed as he introduced people like me to the wonders of science way back in the late 50' s.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Predator Tech

Remember seeing the predator films beginning with the 1987 flick starring two future governors (Jessie "the Body" Ventura & Arnold Schwarzenegger) where an alien hunter killed armed humans for sport using invisibility as the means to (unfairly) get close to it's victim? I do and the part that stirs the memory the most was the alien's ability to project the scene behind his body to his front by bending light, thus making him invisible to Arnold & Company. The effect was very cool, something relegated to the realm of science fiction, until now.
As seen in the excellent NY Times article, Light Fantastic: Flirting With Invisibility researchers are closing in on the fantasy of invisibility that been depicted ad nauseum since the beginning of SF back in the days of Jules Verne and H.G. Wells.Although the tech is currently limited to single frequency micro wavelength light at this time, the ability to bend visible light in the future is something not impossible to imagine given that the principle of bending light works and the benefits to being able to do this is simply too great to ignore. (Military/NSA/CIA)Click on the green image to read Physorg's take on invisibility and...
The future's already here.

Friday, June 08, 2007


The revolution is near. Stem cells created from skin cells, thus eliminating the rejection problem when building new hearts, eyes or any other organ that a person may need could change how man deals with disease and aging let alone killing off any political claptrap relating to the ethics of converting Joe's elbow tissue into a kidney that he needs in order to stay alive.

The question now arises as to whether investors can take the long view in buying into this technique as the guesstimate as to when this becomes reality is about 10 years, something that may be unrealistic given that tech accelerates at double exponential rates thanks to the net and the transparency of information transfer.

"God must be a boogy man." - Joni Mitchell


Why discuss fireflies, the enchanting nocturnal denizens of fields and lawns, when this article addresses the MIT breakthrough of wireless power. The reason - resonance. When large numbers of fireflies congregate, they synchronize their flashes so that the whole group acts like one single firefly writ large akin to how a Bose-Einstein Condensate functions when a gas of super cooled atoms (Rubidium etc., etc.) act as one quantum object when the temperature nears absolute zero and the atoms are coaxed into the BEC state through the precise use of lasers.
In the case of MIT, the key to achieving wireless power centers on resonance as this enables the efficient transfer of power over long distances, thus possibly ushering in the age of remotely powered laptops, smart phones and LEDs without the need for batteries or wires.Tres cool, n'est pas?

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Living Memory

Living Memory, a very cool project developed by Phillips, "intends to provide the members of a locality with a means to capture, share and explore their collective memory and experience and to help them interpret and preserve the richness and complexity of their local culture. It aims to achieve these goals in a natural, intuitive and unobtrusive manner." It does this by providing an interconnected set of related technologies to enable people to do just that using user friendly tech to make it happen as seen by the image below. (Click image to see a video showing how the table works.) Looking at this shows, in a tangential way, indirect references to Microsoft's Surface, an always connected multi user environment that will allow people to interactively work together on the same computer (Jeff Han anyone?), Xerox Parc's pioneering research on Ubiquitous Computing. and Apple's upcoming iPhone the one piece of hardware that EVERYONE'S WAITING FOR.

Soft machines and the move away from the stiff 2D Window metaphor is finally taking hold after 30 years. It's about time.

Saturday, June 02, 2007


I know, I know, it's Microsoft's idea but it's one idea that's very cool; a technology called Photosynth, an image mapper that takes pattern recognition to a new level by picking out edges and other discrete elements in digital images and storing them in a database. When similar features are discerned in multiple images of the same subject material, the fun begins to unfold as the system builds a 3D representation of the image collection to allow one to roam interactively in 3space of any thing that has been digitally photographed. It's a Mashup picture style and it's, I daresay, revolutionary, something not readily associated with Microsoft, the king of buggy operating systems and expensive bloatware. (Photosynth should run on everything, BTW but it doesn't. XP/Vista/Explorer are required to try the app.)
The reason why I write about Photosynth is the notion that data will become infinitely malleable when intuitive visual tools like these are integrated into the semantic web where anything linked can be messaged with consummate ease once interface elegance is married to modular semantic web editors like Protege/Timeline etc., etc., thus allowing non coders like myself to build mashups of unimaginable power and sophistication.
In the Salon article Delight in Disorder, David Weinberger expands this concept by talking about remixing the world by going past rigid taxonomies to codify content any way we want as the web has removed the constraints of physicality when dealing with data and how it can be manipulated. This can be a train wreck in the making but one never knows do one?

Last but not least, a competitor to Photoshynth has arrived called Quakr and it runs on everything. Web 2.0 rules, Web 3.0 is coming and yes, the Singularity is near.

To get a sense of how content is being accessed and processed check out Joshua Lock's Blog. It's a good read.

"And the beat goes on." Big Bopper