30 November 2009

Powerful Prosthetics ~ From Replace to Enhance!

Many thanks to Marc at WebUrbanist for his Powerful Prosthetics post spotlighting artificial replacements -- or supplements -- some dating back to ancient days, but most enabled by modern materials and technologies! Here's just a tiny sampling -- click thru for more... And if you're at all like me, you want to know more about the Chinese legless Basketball Girl, the Paralympian swimmer Qian Hongyan...

African Heritage ~ Saving Timbuktu's Books...

Today's BBC piece by Andrew Harding on Saving Africa's precious written heritage spotlights the pressing need for preservation and digitization of one of humanities most important but under-appreciated cultural treasures, the manuscripts of Timbuktu...
"Across Timbuktu, in cupboards, rusting chests, private collections and libraries, tens or perhaps hundreds of thousands of manuscripts bear witness to this legendary city's remarkable intellectual history, and by extension, to Africa's much overlooked pre-colonial heritage. [...] They provide unique insights into Timbuktu's emergence as a trading post, and by the 1500s as a famous university town, full of students and scribes. They also help refute the notion that sub-Saharan Africa produced only oral histories, with little or no written records. Some of the documents discuss social and political problems, usually in an Islamic context, while others offer medicinal advice, including one 13th Century herbal remedy to help treat women in labour."
Kudos to the South Africans for stepping forward to financially support saving this history, but one has to ask, Where's Google? Surely there won't be any copyright complaints around digitizing these books!

LegoMatrix ~ Classic Stop-Motion Animation!

Wow, thanks to Paul Hsieh from GeekPress for spotting the LegoMatrix! This replication via Legos of the original "Trinity Help" scene is done via classic stop-motion animation! Check out this blow by blow comparison with the original Matrix movie...

Start-Up Nation ~ CNBC on Israeli Inno-Economy

Interesting to hear Dan Senor, co-author of Start-Up Nation: The Story of Israel's Economic Miracle, describe on CNBC how Israel has become such an intense innovation economy. Thanks to Harvard Professor Calestous Juma for spotting this piece, btw...
Without delving into the touchy politics of the region, let me just say that while it's indeed quite impressive what entrepreneurs like Stef Wertheimer have done, I think it is really rather much for Senor to single out Israel's "innovative immigration" policy as a "success" factor. "Innovative" if you're a Jew, but definitely not if you're a Palestinian or Arab generally or even Gentile, in which case you are verboten.

Comer @ Media ~ School Development Program

The transformative implications of child-centric and systemic-holistic health are enormous. That's why it's worth your time to join in this coming Wednesday December 2nd, 2009, from 11a to 12noon in the Roth Room (e15-283A), when the MIT Media Lab's Social Health Initiative hosts nationally and internationally renowned Yale University School of Medicine Professor of Child Psychiatry Dr James Comer for his talk...
Dr Comer is perhaps best known for his creation in 1968 of the Comer School Development Program (SDP), the forerunner of most modern school reform efforts. He is the author of nine books, including Maggie’s American Dream, and Leave No Child Behind, and has served on multiple boards, advisory committees, and more.
"The MIT Media Laboratory is launching a Social Health Initiative, and a series of inaugural keynote lectures. Our goal is to create a network of organizations and tools that help people thrive, staying healthy and happy during their entire lives. Because social health is intimately intertwined with social support, adequate wealth, self-determination, and security, a successful social health system must take a holistic view of life."
This Social Health Initiative is worthy of your close attention.

Cresting Wave ~ David Merrill Sends CA Regards!

MIT Media Lab alumnus entrepreneur David Merrill of Siftables fame sends his regards from California via this image of a Cresting Wave... What the hell am I doing here in drizzly Massachusetts?!

29 November 2009

Conflict Minerals ~ Congo Gold on 60 Minutes...

Thanks to Sasha Lezhnev, co-founder of the Grassroots Reconciliation Group, for these poignant images of the Congo conflict mineral zone... I really first properly learned of the larger situation tonight because of Scott Pelley's 60 Minutes report on Congo Gold, the mineral fuel for an ongoing cycle of violence among competing rebel militias which has literally killed millions of civilians. There are many vicious dynamics involved...
"John Prendergast, who worked in the Clinton administration on Africa policy, co-founded "The Enough Project," which works to expose war crimes. He says Congo is stuck in a vicious cycle of war -- in which rape and other atrocities are common -- due to the outside world's demand for the precious minerals it holds. "If you do a conflict analysis, you will find that when there are spikes in violence, it has something to do with contestation over the mineral resources, gold and the rest of them," he tells Pelley. Congo also holds vast quantities of copper, tin and coltan -- an essential ingredient of electronics. Militias will attack civilian populations near the mineral supply to take control over a source of income. "It's chaos organized in order to exploit the gold and other minerals for the enrichment of these armed groups and it just keeps the cycle going and going," says Prendergast."
Pelley goes on to interview the jewelry industry and draw parallels with "conflict diamonds" which are banned. Seems to me that commercial pressures are only one vector of influence. Surely this is a clear-cut case for armed humanitarian intervention -- Peacemaking -- as Paul Collier argues for -- "Security Assistance through Military Intervention" -- which is something rather beyond the Peacekeeping currently being tried. See here the 60 Minutes piece...

Green Inhabitating ~ Fully Embracing Flora!

Get your click on these latest delighters from Inhabitat...

Beauty in Science ~ Pictures From Research...

Thanks to Der Spiegel for this photogallery of scientific delights from Focus magazine's "Pictures from Research" photo competition, such as these beauties, first fibrin mesh and platelets clotting a wound... And here the Praying Mantis displaying its threat pose...

Rwanda Joins Commonwealth ~ Prosperity Club...

Great to hear that Rwanda becomes a member of the Commonwealth! And it doesn't have much to do with learning Cricket or even changing official languages to English. Nor does it have much to do with "democracy" -- as I've noted Rwandan President Kagame is quite dictatorial. But it does have to do with rapid modernization and embracing the innovation economy. What's most exciting to me is how The Commonwealth can serve as a powerful platform for prosperity -- i.e. emphasizing better business rules and effective enforcement, freer trade and exchange, developing infrastructure (certainly for landlocked states like Rwanda) and education and health, boosting investments overall and particularly in entrepreneurial energy and agriculture and mobility ventures, business-oriented growth corridors, emphasizing creativity and productivity, and more. These are exciting times for The Commonwealth generally and for African members especially! See the Commonwealth TV announcement...

One In A Million ~ Unlikely Events Video!

Thanks to Paul Hsieh at GeekPress for spotting these...

28 November 2009

Changing Identities ~ Firms Embrace New Future

Great to see MIT alumna and current HBS Professor Mary Tripsas' latest piece in the NYTimes When Names Change to Protect the Future. She writes about companies which respond to market shifts and redefine their identities -- or don't and die. While Polaroid was all about "instant photography" it failed to go digital, got mired instead in its photochemical legacy, and is now bankrupt. Apple on the other hand has dropped "Computer" from its name and is generalizing its wares. She gives another interesting emerging comparable...
"Ideally, a strong identity provides continuity and consistency, allowing a business to prioritize opportunities efficiently. For instance, when laser vision-correction surgery emerged as a possible substitute for eyeglasses, the Luxxotica Group, the maker of luxury and sports eyewear brands like Chanel, Prada and Ray-Ban, chose not to participate. “We are an eyewear company and, simply put, our best opportunities for growth going forward continue to be in our core business,” says Kerry M. Bradley, president of Luxxotica Retail North America. “From this perspective, we passed on laser vision correction.” In contrast, laser techniques fit well with the identity of Bausch & Lomb, a contact lens maker that defines itself as an eye health company. It developed its own laser eye treatment, called Zyoptix. So each company responded to the opportunities of laser surgery in a way that was consistent with its identity."
Better this than getting stuck in the "identity trap"! Other interesting ongoing cases include Philips, Sony, Xerox, Kodak and many more.

SeaOrbiter ~ Exotic Oceanic Observatory

Check out the SeaOrbiter images courtesy the DailyMail. I don't quite understand why this would be better than a submarine, but this design by architect Jacques Rougerie sure looks cool!

Syphir ~ Co-Winner MIT Pan-Arab BP Contest!

Great to see MIT alum Abdulrahman Tarbzouni and Hussein Al- Mohssen from Syphir, the co-winners of the 2008-2009 MIT Arab Business Plan Competition (announced in June 2009) participating in the launch this year. See here Abdulrahman share their experience, support from the Forum, and the their venture evolution (presented in Arabic)...

27 November 2009

Back in the USSR ~ McCartney in Red Square!

Channel surfing tonight, I found WGBH's fundraiser salute to Paul McCartney's 2003 concert in Red Square! Very interesting interlude interviews between McCartney and Russia President Putin and Defense Minister Ivanov, and former USSR Chairman Gorbachev, plus many other everyday Russians for whom the Beatles were forbidden fruits during Soviet times. As revealed in a BBC Magazine piece by Leslie Woodhead on How the Beatles rocked the Eastern Bloc -- and see this interview and the How the Beatles Rocked the Kremlin documentary -- the power of music to cross even armed borders and inspire people is an under appreciated channel for liberty -- and for encouraging the oppressed to keep hope alive for a better tomorrow! That said, everyone loved the Beatles hit song Back in the USSR!

THE Commonwealth ~ Platform For Prosperity...

Leaders of the Commonwealth of Nations -- nations linked mostly through ties with the historic British Empire -- are meeting this week in Trinidad & Tobago. I'm fascinated by this organization because I think it's such a great idea -- and because so few people apparently get it. It's the 60th anniversary of the formalization of the Commonwealth and it's bereft with self-doubt and muddled misdirection. As the Economist notes in their piece Wider still and weaker?
"...leaders arriving in the Caribbean will be presented with two reports, both of which are remarkably blunt, considering that one was funded in part by the Commonwealth’s small Secretariat, and the other came from the Royal Commonwealth Society, the largest of the NGOs that promote the club. Both reports suggest that the group must acquire more bite, as a promoter of democracy and human rights, or else it might as well shut up."
I hope the leadership do not focus too myopically on primarily human rights and environmental issues instead of more broadly and constructively -- on issues of free trade, the everyday economics of families, increasing entrepreneurship, education for all, essential infrastructure, sustainable development, and other core elements of human prosperity -- i.e. those things crucial to our common wealth, in short. Overall, I'm quite personally enthusiastic about what I think of as THE Commonwealth -- a global institution that can embrace a growing family of humanity (as evidenced by including ex-Portugese Mozambique and hopefully ex-Belgian Rwanda), that emphasizes the practical benefits of common English language for business, basic rule-of-law, emphasis on investments, and the like. The Commonwealth is a platform for prosperity in sub-saharan Africa and greater south and east Asia -- and prospectively even in the MENA region currently outside the bloc. Indeed, I think the English-savvy countries of the EU -- especially the Dutch, Germans, and Scandinavians -- would be better off banding together joining into the current Commonwealth and building towards a global Economic Commonwealth. This seems like a natural secular successor to NATO, for instance, one emphasizing common economic prosperity instead of narrowly defensive security. Furthermore, it would be neither limited to geographic co-location -- the challenge of most economic groups from ASEAN onward -- nor blithely open to anyone, malevolent dictators and kleptocrats alike -- the prime problem of the UN (and for that matter, the AU and USAN)

Eiffel Anniversary ~ Aesthetic Engineering!

The aesthetically amazing Eiffel Tower in Paris, France is 120 years old. Snively Parisian nabobs called it an "odious column built up of riveted iron plates" at the time. But today it's generally appreciated as a symbol of engineering and the arts, of Paris, and indeed of French culture.

Stove Innovations ~ Low-Cost Energy Solutions

Great to see Jeffrey Ball's WSJournal piece Small Energy-Saving Steps Can Make Big Strides...
"Consider the basic cook stove -- a low-cost option that can dramatically reduce pollution. More than half the world's population burns fuel indoors to cook and heat their homes, according to the World Health Organization. Those indoor fires emit small particles that can get lodged in the lungs and that account for 1.5 million deaths annually, says the organization, which calls the fires "the killer in the kitchen." The fires also contribute to a smoggy plume known as the Atmospheric Brown Cloud. Studies, including some from Stanford University, say the cloud is trapping heat in the atmosphere. Several companies and nonprofit groups are trying to sell large numbers of low-cost stoves, particularly in India. The stoves look like pasta pots. Because of their design, they cook a meal with less wood, which they burn more cleanly. So the stoves can slash emissions of pollutants by more than half, manufacturers say."
One exemplar of this effort is Envirofit, the US social enterprise whose well-engineered, low-cost cook stove is pictured and whose co-founder "BOPreneur" Paul Hudnut is a key player in the growing development ventures movement!

Invest In Nigeria ~ Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala @ TED

MIT alumna, former Nigerian Finance Minister, and current World Banker Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala speaks at TED about business and investment in Africa, especially her homeland Nigeria...

26 November 2009

Brazil Takes Off ~ The Country of Today!

Many thanks to the Economist for their special report on Brazil Getting It Together At Last. Famously known as perpetually the country of the future, it's now arriving. I've been hugely impressed with the MIT students from Brazil -- very entrepreneurial and motivated, key leaders of multiple clubs and activities here, and active in multiple key technology-business sectors including energy, education, media, finance, and more. Brazilian companies are entering the global ranks -- e.g. Vale, Embraer, InBev, etc -- and the country has multiple great cities, not the least of which are Rio and São Paulo. Very exciting!

Fast Forward ~ Day In Life of Cycle Chic!

Great little video stitching together a day in life of Cycle Chic!

Beautiful Bicyclists ~ Many Thanks to Cycle Chic!

Many thanks to Copenhagen Cycle Chic for beautiful bicyclists! Seeing these everyday individuals in seasons ranging from sunny summer to rainy fall and snowy winter, and aged from kids to grandmas, and wearing everyday attire -- hence the cycle chic! -- illustrates that bicycling is an essential element of vital city living and a key part of the transport infrastructure.

Orbital Mechanic ~ Astronaut Tools Up ISS!

Thanks to the DailyMail for spotting Astronaut Randy Bresnik working on the Columbus module of the International Space Station (ISS)...

God Is Bullshit ~ Thanksgiving, George Carlin...

Giving thanks to George Carlin for calling Bullshit on God... (Plus mondo thanks to Accelerating Future for the tip;-)

P.S. It looks like the Almighty has forced YouTube to remove this video. How blasphemous!

24 November 2009

22 November 2009

Factory Surgeries ~ On Indian Hearts and Eyes...

Fascinating cover story in the WSJournal by Geeta Anand on The Henry Ford of Heart Surgery ~ In India, a Factory Model for Hospitals Is Cutting Costs and Yielding Profits. Pioneered by Dr Devi Shetty, this new approach...
"...offers cutting-edge medical care in India at a fraction of what it costs elsewhere in the world. His flagship heart hospital charges $2,000, on average, for open-heart surgery, compared with hospitals in the U.S. that are paid between $20,000 and $100,000, depending on the complexity of the surgery. The approach has transformed health care in India through a simple premise that works in other industries: economies of scale. By driving huge volumes, even of procedures as sophisticated, delicate and dangerous as heart surgery, Dr. Shetty has managed to drive down the cost of health care in his nation of one billion. His model offers insights for countries worldwide that are struggling with soaring medical costs, including the U.S. as it debates major health-care overhaul."
Perhaps even more widely known is the story of the Aravind Eye Hospital as reported on by PBS NewsHour's Fred de Sam Lazaro in Two Decades On, India Eye Clinic Maintains Innovative Mission...
"The late ophthalmologist Govindappa Venkataswamy founded Aravind in 1976, after he retired at fifty-five from the government hospital in Madurai. Dr V, as he was widely known, combined a religious zeal to serve and his fascination with businesses like McDonald's and the "other chains you have in America" that were able to provide a uniform product on a massive scale. Methodically, he built on the concept of high quality assembly line patient care, forging close ties to public health experts at the University of Michigan and to the Berkeley-based Seva Foundation. [...] Aravind began by offering care to paying patients, using the proceeds to offer free care to those who could not afford it."
Both of these are excellent examples of innovative healthcare approaches emerging out of developing countries!

Micro-Gardens ~ From Concrete to Community

Thanks to the FT's Tracey Taylor for spotting the shift From concrete to community in the Mission District of San Francisco. Local resident Jan Martin tore out the fugly concrete and planted instead a small garden. And despite nay-sayers and skeptics...
"...her garden thrived. In fact it attracted the attention of the local community and passers-by for positive reasons. People stopped to chat when she was out weeding and several neighbours asked her how they might go about planting their own front-of-house gardens. Indeed this modest patch of succulents, evergreens and native flowers in one of the city’s densest neighbourhoods became the launch-pad for an ambitious greening project that has seen significant expanses of pavement replaced with gardens across San Francisco."
This spawned a boom in planning applications and a community volunteer body, Plant*SF, to advocate and spread more such gardens. What a great little story of DIY urbanism making for every more beautiful, livable, and vital cities!

A Better Mountain ~ From Stones Into Schools!

I love a great human-interest story and Parade delivers! Greg Mortenson writes about his work Fighting Terrorism With Schools. It started after a disasterously failed attempt to climb K2, the world's second-highest peak which located on the Pakistan-China border...
"I staggered into a tiny village called Korphe, where the impoverished residents gave me food, shelter -- and a mission. One afternoon, I watched 82 children scratch their lessons in the dirt with sticks. Among them was a girl named Chocho, who appealed to me to come back one day and build Korphe a school -- one that would be open to all children, even though, in that part of the world, the privilege of learning to read and write has traditionally been reserved for boys. Three years later, I kept my promise. The organization I founded, the Central Asia Institute (CAI), has kept right on building. Today, in the mountains of rural Pakistan -- where schools are scarce and all too often supported by the same radical Islamist money and ideology that fuels al-Qaeda and the Taliban -- CAI now has 91 schoolhouses. We serve 19,000 students -- three-quarters of them girls."
Mortenson's written about his experience in a to-be-published book, Stones Into Schools: Promoting Peace With Books, Not Bombs, in Afghanistan and Pakistan. About that aborted climb, though?
"A few months ago, I gave a talk in Durango, CO. A young girl raised her hand. "Will you ever go back and try to climb K2 again?” she asked. "No," I replied. "I’ve found a better mountain."
How beautiful is that -- A Better Mountain to climb!

21 November 2009

Biking to School ~ Normal Mode in Netherlands!

Thanks to David Hembrow for this video of everyday kids biking to school in the Netherlands. Note how normal it is, even in winter, and how much the basic infrastructure is competently designed and built... Curiously enough, this was my normal mode growing up in Los Altos, CA and biking to school every day at Egan Junior High!

The Thrivers ~ Alive at the Four Seasons Lodge

Thanks to MIT Sloan alumna Beth Pollack for pointing out her grandparents story. The Four Seasons Lodge movie follows Holocaust survivors who come together each summer in the Catskills to dance, cook, fight and flirt and celebrate living in freedom -- thriving, really. Just the trailer alone makes me want to see the whole film...

Recovery ~ Beyond Justice in Sierra Leone...

Recent BBC coverage asks Did Sierra Leone get war crimes justice? The atrocities committed there -- and the tremendous resulting economic and social disruptions -- should never be forgotten. See also this BBC slideshow of photos by Nick Danziger on Recovering in Sierra Leone... The rebel terror tactic of chopping limbs -- and the resultant great need for solutions -- is one reason I'm an enthusiastic supporter of our MIT Developing World Prosthetics class in the D-Lab family.

19 November 2009

iRobot Looj ~ "Less Chores, More Life!"

Brad Feld suggested his MIT fraternity brother Colin Angle's business -- iRobot -- to the Daily Grommet -- specifically their Looj gutter router! Great motto: "Less Chores, More Life!"

18 November 2009

Lawrence Walmsley ~ Clean Energy on MP.tv!

Wonderful to have MIT alumnus and MIT $100K Lead Organizer Emeritus Lawrence Walmsley on MaximizingProgress.tv tonight! With UN-connected parents, he lived a very cosmopolitan youth, growing up in Peru, India, Brazil, and Paraguay. Then inspired at a young age to be an astronaut, Lawrence studied engineering at Princeton. Waylaid by Goldman Sachs and banking temporarily, he ended up at MIT Sloan and Harvard's Kennedy School pursuing dual-degrees. While at MIT, he co-led the MIT $100K business plan competition with then doctoral student Jason Fuller -- and, in fact, was instrumental in doubling the size of the Competition from the then $50K prize fund to today's $100K! After schooling, Lawrence joined premier global strategy consultancy McKinsey, and today is in their cleantech and energy innovation practice. Fantastic to have Lawrence share his experiences with us tonight. And I personally very much look forward to seeing what entrepreneurial directions he heads into next...

12 TW in 40 Years ~ Saul Griffith @ NextAgenda

Saul Griffith articulates case for building ~12 Terawatts of new clean energy by mid-century -- 2050...

Imaging Wishlist ~ Raskar Keynote @ 6Sight!

My MIT Media Lab colleague Ramesh Raskar's imaging wishlist!

Stormy Anime ~ Time-Lapse Atlantic Weather!

Thanks to the Map Scroll for spotting this Stormy Anime...