30 July 2009

Kenyan Mines Shut ~ Economic Ripple Effects...

Dutch videojournalist Ruud Elmendorp spotlights the economic challenges facing the commodity material sector in Kenya in this story about mines shutting down and the resulting ripple effect throughout the business ecosystem...

Recurrent Natural Disasters ~ Fear For Humanity

Humanity suffers from lots of natural disasters, recurring risks, in addition to the man-made ones. Some fearsome examples: Starving child stalked by vulture in the Sudan... Mapping all tropical cyclones from 1985-2005... Jupiter hit again, saves Earth, Pacific Ocean-sized disruption visible... Anak Krakatoa re-awakens captured by Marco Fulle...Major wave event in the making...

29 July 2009

Saeed Arida ~ Accelerating Innovate Syria @ MIT

I'm very pleased to have interviewed Saeed Arida of Innovate Syria on MaximizingProgress.tv tonight. Saeed is a PhD Candidate in Design & Computation in Architecture at MIT and has spearheaded the Innovate Syria initiative together with a couple dozen colleagues and advisors for this past year. I first wrote about Innovate Syria back in May when we were honored with a visit by Syrian Ambassador to the US, Imad Moustapha. Since then Saeed and team have advanced the cause by creating a website, rallying the extended network of entrepreneurs and patrons, and further planning the initial innovation center in Damascus, capital city of Syria and one of the oldest continuous conurbations on Earth. They have very bold goals...
"The project aims at transforming the Syrian Economy into an Innovation Economy by building a series of innovation centers in Syria’s major cities. Each of these centers will be highly specific to its environment by capitalizing on existing industries and human capital. These centers will effectively contribute to modernizing the country while educating a future generation of critical thinkers and innovative entrepreneurs who can make a difference in their local cultures."
This is most excellent and both a very compelling idea for Syria and for our Planet. We urgently need to Innovate Earth!

Inhabitatable ~ Delightful Designs & Artifacts!

Some more delightful Inhabitatable designs!

28 July 2009

Neuro Revolution ~ Author Zack Lynch @ MIT...

Drop by MIT this Thursday July 30 at 12-1pm at McGovern Institute Seminar Room in 46-3189 to hear Zack Lynch, founder of the Neurotechnology Industry Organization, co-founder of NeuroInsights, a market research advisor on the impact of neurotechnology on business, government and society, and a member of the McGovern Institute Leadership Board, talk about his new book The Neuro Revolution: How Brain Science is Changing our World...
"History has already progressed through an agricultural revolution, an industrial revolution, and an information revolution. The Neuro Revolution foretells a fast approaching fourth epoch, one that will radically transform how we all work, live and play. Neurotechnology -- brain imaging and other new tools for both understanding and influencing our brains -- is accelerating the pace of change almost everywhere, from financial markets to law enforcement to politics to advertising and marketing, artistic expression, warfare, and even religious belief."
It will be great to see Zack again, especially since we're launching the third year of our MIT Neurotechnology Ventures class this Fall 2009!

27 July 2009

Ocean Ranching ~ Sustainable Aquatechnology?

Free-range fish such as Bluefin Tuna are being hunted to collapse in a tragi-commons of stupidity and absence of property rights and the actual application of pricing, supply & demand, and other economic laws. I've written about this before in Overfishing Bluefin and End Of The Line. This death spiral is the aquatic analogue to the terrestrial slaughter of Dodos, Passenger Pigeons, and Bison. But hope now reaches us from Australia in a WIRED story by Brandon Keim that Tuna Ranch Hormone Cocktail Could Save Bluefin about the success of Clean Seas Tuna in spawning Bluefin in captivity, a breakthrough first step towards building a closed-loop sustainably engineered Ocean Ranching ecosystem for Bluefin. Other key elements, including massive next-generation seacages, are already being commercialized, as evidenced by today's piece by Andrew Gomes in the Honolulu Advertiser that 27-acre open-ocean fish farm nears launch off Hawaii's Big Isle about Hawaii Oceanic Technology's goal of ranching Bigeye 'Ahi in their Oceanspheres... And check out this NewScientist video of Open Blue Sea Farms and MIT's mobile seacages... Perhaps Lobster wrangling and King Crab herding are next?

Exponentials Everywhere ~ Kevin Kelly's Technium

Nice piece by Kevin Kelly on Was Moore's Law Inevitable? posted in his The Technium live-book-in-progress pages on exponentials everywhere...
"Moore's Law is one [...] There must be others. [...] But we've learned to look for them. Searching, we can see similar laws peeking out now. These "laws" are reflexes of the technium that kick in regardless of the social climate. They too will spawn progress, and inspire new powers and new desires as they unroll in ordered sequence. Perhaps these self-governing dynamics will appear in genetics, or in pharmaceuticals, or in cognition. Once a dynamic like Moore's Law is launched and made visible, the fuels of finance, competition, and markets will push the law to its limits and keep it riding along that curve until it has consumed its physical potential."
Just a sampling of three compelling exponentials, these drawn from Kurzweil and Christensen respectively...

26 July 2009

Amazing Hubble ~ Seeking Stars... And Planets!

Just read the interesting finale piece in Daily Galaxy on Cambridge Professor Stephen Hawking asking Will Extraterrestrial Life Be Carbon Based? Answer: Not necessarily. Among the further references is this cool piece on MIT EAPS Professor Sara Seager asking How Would Extraterrestrial Astronomers Study Earth? (citing piece by MIT's David Chandler) referencing the emergent fleet of space telescopes like the recently launched Kepler and the proposed SIM and the TPF. In the meantime, we've made tremendous progress with Hubble, an amazing telescope that's been pushed -- and, of course, repeatedly fixed -- well beyond its original design parameters...

25 July 2009

Outsmarting Man? ~ Intelligent Machines Emerge

John Markoff writes in the NYTimes that Scientists Worry Machines May Outsmart Man...
"While the computer scientists agreed that we are a long way from Hal, the computer that took over the spaceship in “2001: A Space Odyssey,” they said there was legitimate concern that technological progress would transform the work force by destroying a widening range of jobs, as well as force humans to learn to live with machines that increasingly copy human behaviors. The researchers -- leading computer scientists, artificial intelligence researchers and roboticists who met at the Asilomar Conference Grounds on Monterey Bay in California -- generally discounted the possibility of highly centralized superintelligences and the idea that intelligence might spring spontaneously from the Internet. But they agreed that robots that can kill autonomously are either already here or will be soon."
While the worrisome end of the spectrum certainly appeals to the neo-luddites and fearmongers, I prefer to emphasize the positives: savvy machines will be that much more capable of serving us and helping us prosper, stay healthy, and live vibrant, vital lives.

Beautiful Flags ~ My Favorite Country Symbols!

Flags immediately evoke everything about a country and are powerful symbols. But relatively few are outstandingly beautiful. These are my top favorites -- flags of Lebanon, Brazil, South Africa, and India...

24 July 2009

Moving Windmills ~ DIY Wind Energy in Malawi!

Thanks to Raj Melville, MIT alum entrepreneur and TiE Boston social entrepreneurship uberguru of Social Ecosystem blog fame, for spotting the short trailer, Moving Windmills, the work-in-progress documentary about Malawian DIY windpower innovator William Kamkwamba...

Future Frontiers ~ Emerging MIT Action Themes

The final Part VI of my 2006 piece on The Innovation Institute was my personal perspective on cross-cutting and promising trends and directions for MIT. Titled Future Frontiers: Emerging MIT Research Themes, I asserted that five areas especially stand out...
  1. Tiny Technologies -- the analysis and synthesis of ever more sophisticated structures, functions, and systems at length scales ranging from micro-through-nanometers.
  2. Systems Biotechnology -- the analysis (and ultimately synthesis) of complex biological phenomena, processes, pathways, and systems.
  3. Neurotechnology -- the discovery (and ultimately design) of neurological sensing and control functions, and the development of neuro-diagnostics and therapeutics.
  4. Systems Sociology -- bringing engineering tools and methods to the analysis (and potentially synthesis) of complex, real-world social and socio-technical systems.
  5. Global Innovations -- understanding root causes and developing deep, distributed, sustainable solutions to the most pressing and persistent problems of humanity worldwide.
I still agree these are each compelling, but it is worth emphasizing how intermingled each of these themes are. For instance, some very compelling Global Innovations work at the Institute is in the realm of Clean Energy, but the underlying discoveries and inventions are Tiny Technologies, including new catalysts, materials, and more. Or other compelling Global Innovations work is in the realm of Healthcare Delivery in emerging markets where the essential solutions emerge from reality mining patterns of social networking and the movement of people, goods, and money, all elements of Systems Sociology. MIT is a vibrant and ever-changing place, so for those interested in emerging themes here, be sure to stay tuned to the excellent science journalist MIT News pages, our magazine of innovation, Technology Review, and the latest direct updates from labs, centers, programs, departments, and more!

23 July 2009

Pawn Stars ~ Lessons On A Key Financial Service

Great! I just saw the first episode of the new History Channel reality show Pawn Stars featuring the Harrisons -- a three generations Las Vegas family -- and their essential financial service business...
"Long before banks, ATMs and check-cashing services, there were pawn shops. Pawning was the leading form of consumer credit in the United States until the 1950s, and pawn shops are still helping everyday people make ends meet."
Turns out I've been interested in Pawn for years now, so I'm real pleased to see this show. Pawn Stars is both instructive -- because the basic economics of the business are spelled out by the protagonists in their interaction with clients -- and hilarious -- because these real-life family businessmen and the folks bringing in stuff to pawn are an authentic bunch of characters! Check out Episode One on iTunes.

22 July 2009

Blowing Candles ~ Need "Big Gun" Air Cannon;-)

Little Sam whacks a Howtoons Air Cannon to blow out 9 candles... But Big Joost needs a bigger gun for his 41... You too can DIY via Howtoons...

21 July 2009

Towards Type I ~ Next Up On Kardashev's Scale

I wrote last year circa Yuri's Day about Nikolai Kardashev, creator of the Kardashev Scale...
"...a general method of classifying how technologically advanced a civilization is. [...] The scale has three designated categories called Type I, II and III. These are based on the amount of usable energy a civilization has at its disposal, and the degree of space colonization. In general terms, a Type I civilization has achieved mastery of the resources of its home planet [~1016 Watts], Type II of its solar system [~1026 Watts], and Type III of its galaxy [~1036 Watts]."
Thinking recently about Giant Leaps helping us get well Beyond Our Cradle has got me thinking how fast we might advance from today's guestimated Type 0.72 towards Type I... At the same time I'm quite sympathetic to the notion that energy consumption is not a particularly holistic measure of civilizational vitality, especially given the mistaken notion that boosting efficiency per capita would lower this metric of advancement. Plus I should hope that we want to use technological innovations and ecosystems engineering to minimize the chance we anthropogenocide our Earthly environment. It would be rather worse than ironic to achieve Type I by effectively choking and denuding and despoiling our way there!

20 July 2009

Giant Leaps ~ Stepping Beyond Our Cradle Earth!

MIT's Giant Leaps celebration of the 40th Anniversary of the Apollo 11 landing was centrally about looking forward and inspiring what's next. We all think that Armstrong's Giant Leap for Mankind was one among many on our pathway to a better future! And it really should be one of several steps leading us ever further -- as Tsiolkovsky so poetically put it -- Beyond Our Cradle! In the meantime, let's remember how totally glorious an achievement Man on the Moon was 40 years ago! Absolutely epic, from launch, to walkabout, to safe return... And R.I.P. Uncle Walter who was as blown away about this as everyone else! And btw, it's completely irrelevant if we are "alone" or if there's lots of intelligent ETs in the Universe. We need to get Beyond Our Cradle to preserve our species, allow for population expansion, supply raw materials, and purely for the joy of exploration and discovery! That pathway may entail robonauts and certainly other transformative innovations but most especially requires us all to prosper and thrive and commit financial resources to humanity's ultimate bet, investing in further Giant Leaps!

19 July 2009

A Slum Insight ~ Achieving Vital Urban Solutions

What if the Billions of Dollars spent on flying a handful of humans to the Moon were instead invested in urban innovations and slum solutions? Or what if the Hundreds of Billions of Dollars burned by boneheaded warmongers in the name of "Defense" were instead invested in development ventures, entrepreneurial finance, and prosperity innovations? View this video and get A Slum Insight into what problems need urgent solutions...

18 July 2009

Anchorman Cronkite ~ That's The Way He Was;-)

R.I.P. Walter Cronkite. CBS and others have edited together or written more proper tributes to this giant TV broadcast news anchorman, but I personally most appreciate Johnny Carson's final salute...

17 July 2009

Robonauts ~ Affordably Accelerating to the Stars

Astronauts, Cosmonauts, Taikonauts... Robonauts. The affordable pioneers of space civilization will be automata, both teleoperated and entirely autonomous mechanisms acting on our behalf. I'm all for humans in space -- indeed, I too want to go Beyond Our Cradle -- but the pathway will be paved by our machines doing all the dirty and dangerous work for us. The next visitors to the Moon, for instance, really need to be Armbots and Buzzbots, not more extraordinarily expensive humans.

Daylighting ~ Re-Discovering Urban Waterways

Great piece by Dot Earthling Andy Revkin and colleague Jean Chung in the NYTimes on Peeling Back Pavement to Expose Watery Havens about Daylighting, the uncovering of waterways buried under roads and urban accretions. Revkin spotlights cases in the US, in Korea, and elsewhere. There's also an accompanying video piece, In Seoul, An Ancient Stream Restored: New Life for the Cheonggyecheon. Among the compelling results...
"We’ve basically gone from a car-oriented city to a human-oriented city," said Lee In-keun, Seoul’s assistant mayor for infrastructure, who has been invited to places as distant as Los Angeles to describe the project to other urban planners. Some 90,000 pedestrians visit the stream banks on an average day. What is more, a new analysis by researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, found that replacing a highway in Seoul with a walkable greenway caused nearby homes to sell at a premium after years of going for bargain prices by comparison with outlying properties. Efforts to recover urban waterways are nonetheless fraught with challenges, like convincing local business owners wedded to existing streetscapes that economic benefits can come from a green makeover. Yet today the visitors to the Cheonggyecheon’s banks include merchants from some of the thousands of nearby shops who were among the project’s biggest opponents early on."
I'm especially interested in both these cases of re-discovery and renewal as well as examples where foresightful people did it right in the first place. San Antonio's River Walk, for instance, is a beautiful example where instead of channeling and covering, they created an urban greenway -- by design -- back in the 1930s... And Utrecht, perhaps my favorite Dutch city, has a delightful Oudegracht flowing through its core...

16 July 2009

End Of The Line ~ Overfishing Of The Oceans?

Thanks to Swiss Consul Pascal Marmier for reminding me of SEED Magazine earlier today. SEED has a provocative piece by Maywa Montenegro on Finding Fish with several experts discussing the global fisheries crisis. This, in turn, pointed me to The End of the Line, a new documentary film about the extreme art and science of "The Catch" resulting in unsustainable overfishing. The trailer... I'm more convinced than ever that what we have in the open oceans is a tragedy of the commons whose solution is propertization -- creating compelling and enforceable property rights and thus bringing economic self-interest and modernity to bear in water much like enclosures and the end of forest-hunting and free-ranging meant on land. More generally, we need to perfect ecosystems engineering so as to grow and harvest entire fishy food chains in a sustainable fashion. And that certainly includes aquaculture, as evidenced by this piece...

Inhabitat Us ~ More Delightful Green Designs!

More delightful greenhabitats -- big and small -- from Inhabitat!

15 July 2009

Lars Torres ~ MIT IDEAS & Global Challenge!

Great to have Lars Hasselblad Torres on my MaximizingProgress.tv show today. We talked about his upbringing in Dakar, Senegal, his crafty collage aesthetic, deep interest in participatory ideation and creativity, and most recent roles at MIT running first the IDEAS Competition and the upcoming Global Challenge! To celebrate the 150th anniversary of MIT, in 2011 our worldwide alumni will be invited to participate in this Global Challenge, a web-enabled collaboratorium for innovative, multidisciplinary problem-solving. Lars has also been instrumental in helping orchestrate at a distance the Maker Faire Africa gathering this August in Accra, Ghana.

Stewart Brand ~ Vital Cities & Tech Innovations...

Counterculture environmentalist Stewart Brand, founder of the Whole Earth movement (among other things), shares his latest observations and assessments about future vital cities and the powerful role of transformative technological innovations for us in the Anthropocene. Plus he opines for four environmental heresies: vital urbanization, nuclear power, gene-mod foods, and geo-mod environments...

14 July 2009

Julian Simon ~ Doomslayer & Cornucopian Hero

Thanks to Dot Earth for reminding me of Professor Julian Simon, famous doomslayer and cornucopian futurist who grounded his thinking -- and books like The Ultimate Resource -- in a long view of the facts and statistics of our world. Check out this video interview (first of multiple parts)... And see here a compelling piece by Paul Dragos Aligica titled Julian Simon and the "Limits to Growth" Neo-Malthusianism.

13 July 2009

Business Action for Africa ~ Progress To MDGs...

Thanks to NextBillion.net's Tayo Akinyemi for the pointer to Business Action for Africa's newly released report From Crisis to Opportunity: Harnessing the Power of Business to Sustain Progress Towards the MDGs. I was especially intrigued by a few distinct insights, first by Prof Paul Collier...
"...the downside of modern industry is that the typical task is most efficiently undertaken by clustering many firms together in the same place. This creates a chicken-and-egg problem in that no firm wants to be the first to produce in a new location. African governments can help to counter this coordination problem by promoting export zones at ports, ensuring that infrastructure and the regulatory environment is supportive."
And by Richard Liang of the CDC...
"...members of the African diaspora are returning home because they see prospects that they cannot find in the us and europe. This "reverse" brain-drain can have a positive impact, particularly in countries like Ghana where recent oil and gas finds are big news and offer good prospects. They have seen the huge potential of their homeland and are doing something about it."
And by Cartridge & De Cleene from Yara...
"...the work we are doing to create an agriculture growth corridor along the existing Beira infrastructure and trading corridor in Mozambique illustrates a new way forward. Initiated in partnership with the government of Mozambique, and organisations including the Norwegian Government, AGRA, World Bank, African Development Bank and InfraCo, the concept provides an example of how to tackle constraints, such as low yields, limited access to finance and poor quality infrastructure, through a holistic and co-ordinated approach. Crucially, the initiative is underpinned by an innovative financing structure, which combines commercial and concessional sources of finance. [...] Although the Beira Agricultural Growth Corridor offers a replicable model, we need a step change in the way stakeholders collaborate to achieve real and transformative scale, and the appropriate mechanisms and frameworks to deliver this, particularly as it relates to small holder farmers. This includes, for example, a greater willingness to share the risks associated with early stage investment in agricultural innovation, especially as it takes time and patience for new approaches to bear fruit. We also require more creative and flexible ways to leverage sources of finance to support and fast track promising new business models. The Africa Enterprise Challenge fund is a good example of what can be achieved."
Very interesting.

White Man's Burden ~ Easterly's Alternative View

Reading the back'n'forth around MDGs, international aid, and Africa introduced me to Professor William Easterly's book White Man's Burden about the patronizing, insulting mindset of those with a self-imposed Western moralistic duty to "help" the poor in developing countries. See here Al Jazeera's Riz Khan interviewing Easterly... FYI, Easterly is Professor of Economics at New York University, joint with Africa House, and Co-Director of NYU’s Development Research Institute. I'm a bit non-plussed that he's so dour. He talks about being concrete, but seems to poo-poo having bold goals and ambitions. On the other hand, I certainly resonate with his antipathy to "top-down" solutions since "bottom-up" action is needed to actually get things done. (Btw, for completeness, here Riz Khan interviews Jeffrey Sachs.)

Cheetahs vs Hippos ~ New Africa Entrepreneurs

I just read a most interesting column by Senegalese beverages entrepreneur Magatte Wade on Jeffrey Sachs' Misguided Foreign Aid Efforts where she rails against how Sachs bears his burden and instead asserts that...
"...we need to work together to identify and support the up-and-coming new Cheetah cohort of honest, hard-working Africans [named] in honor of Ghanaian economist George Ayittey's distinction between the older generation of Hippo rulers dependent on aid and the younger Cheetah generation of fast-moving entrepreneurs."
First time I'd heard of that picturesque distinction, but that's because I hadn't paid enough attention to TED talks, specifically this essential and vigorous one by Ayittey himself...

12 July 2009

IDDS 2009 ~ Int'l Dev't Summit @ KNUST Ghana

Many of my MIT IDI International Development Initiative and D-Lab colleagues are at KNUST in Kumasi, Ghana for IDDS 2009, the latest International Development Design Summit! MIT's David Chandler writes about their activities in his piece 'Crazy mind, able hands' where he spotlights the core IDDS ethos...
"...hands-on work to develop real solutions to developing-world problems -- in an extremely limited amount of time. Lots of action, not so much talk."
Check out the summit blog and the overall IDDS website for more info! If you're able to swing by Kumasi this coming week, Tuesday, 14th July there is a talk open to the public by Paul Polak, Founder of International Development Enterprises and Author of Out of Poverty.

11 July 2009

TransMilenio ~ Celebrating The Buses of Bogotá

Very interesting NYTimes article by Elisabeth Rosenthal on Buses May Aid Climate Battle in Poor Cities, plus accompanying photogallery and video piece on the The Buses of Bogotá about the TransMilenio, the Colombian capital's Bus Rapid Transit system which moves millions each day along dedicated road lanes... The buses are clean, bright, and the newest additions are long and articulated. The system is said to run and feel much like a tram, but with much lower up-front capital cost. One especially cool feature is that key stations on TransMilenio routes have plentiful bicycle parking facilities and thus connect a big network of bike paths and walkways making it attractive for customers who would have otherwise used private wheels. Green cities champion and former Bogotá Mayor, Enrique Penalosa, helped start the system in the first place and now helps spread the concept to other cities.

10 July 2009

Permanent Diet ~ Key Factor Towards Longevity

Karen Kaplan in the LATimes writes Permanent Diet May Equal Longer Life about the role of caloric restriction on various health metrics. See here the rhesus monkey on the left has been on a reduced-calorie food regimen, the one on right on a "normal" diet...
"In the new study, scientists tracked 76 adult rhesus monkeys from the Wisconsin National Primate Research Center starting in 1989. Half the animals were fed a typical diet of lab chow, and the rest got a version with a higher concentration of vitamins and minerals to make up for the 30% reduction in chow quantity. Over the course of the study, the monkeys that ate the regular diet were three times more likely to die of an age-related disease than their counterparts on caloric restriction. Fourteen deaths in the control group were attributable to age-related diseases, compared with five such deaths among the animals that ate 30% fewer calories, according to the study. The rates of cardiovascular disease and pre-cancerous cell growths were twice as high in the control group compared with the reduced-calorie group. The researchers also noted that although five of the control monkeys became diabetic and 11 were classified as pre-diabetic, all the calorie-restricted animals remained diabetes-free."
The devilish thing here is that it's tasty to eat the bad stuff and the good stuff seems like rabbit food. Changing from my blubber-building lousy diet to something healthy is going to require going hungry and changing a lot of bad habits. Ugh.