Sunday, December 6, 2009

Being Environmentally Friendly does NOT cost money.

I read a great Op-Ed in the NY Times this morning. It covers some of the biggest excuses people use to argue with motions to conserve and use efficiently the resources of our planet. In all reality this is economic version of "going green."

Simple, Effective, Thoughtful solutions test to work the best on so many levels. Jared Diamond's title "Will Big Business save the Planet" is spot on. MANY big multinationals are the only concerns that are able to see the big picture, because they HAVE to, to remain competitive. I think the WORST thing we can do is over-regulate the environment because we're seeing the market work many of the problems out itself. WITHOUT the corruption and inefficiencies of the government getting involved.

This follows from big companies embracing the "Toyota" production and efficiency methods, which GE implemented and refined under Jack Welch here in the US and many have emulated. The simplicity of cheaper, direct Southwest Airlines over big convoluted airlines. The security and speed of Extreme Programming over old school Waterfall methodologies for software development. What's the simplest way?

Getting the information out about companies that are efficient is a good first step. Let's publicize that this is possible, and show concrete examples, while calling out the worst offenders. Cost is one way to deal with waste and inefficiencies. Shame is often just as good!

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Speed Suits and my Final Ironman Swim Preparation

Michael Phelps is an amazing swimmer. There's no doubt in my mind he's the best swimmer (sprinter really, and maybe not breaststroke outside of IM) in the world when he wants to be. Had nobody been allowed to wear the new speed suits they were wearing, likely Phelps would have won all the medals, just not smashed so many records. As we see at races the last two weeks (an supposedly unfit) Phelps wearing a regular suit couldn't even compete against others in high tech suits.

Note that these suits will be banned by ALL nations next year as well as the swimming governing body FINA. The CNN Story doesn't mention this, but the AP news I found does.

I bought a Blueseventy PointZero3 suit about 3 months ago at Nytro in Encinitas. I had swam in it quite a few times, but hadn't tested it against the clock. I certainly FELT faster, but since I couldn't quantify it I adopted the wait and see. I will comment on my performance improvement in a bit....

I had 2 key workouts I performed the last 2 macrocycles when it came to swimming. I also swim 2-3 workouts a week just WU + easy 50s with a form focus and some drill. Occasionally I would do an easy 1K swim after hard workouts as well.

Long Aerobic Workout: I used the timed 100s to tell me when to add another block.

  • 1K WU. Usually 10x100 with the last 25 Back/Breast.
  • 5x500 
    • 2x200 IM Race Pace
    • 100 RP Timed.
  • Easy Cool Down

Race Simulation Workout: Simulate what it feels like to swim at my goal pace after a hectic start, and occasional bunching around buoys.

  • 1K WU. Similarly Flexible.
  • 4x25 All out + 500 RP.
  • 4x25 All out + 400 RP.
  • 4x25 All out + 300 RP.
  • 4x25 All out + 200 RP.
  • 4x25 All out + 100 RP.
  • Easy Cool Down

I felt like these workouts were effective. They made me feel mentally comfortable. I did more threshold work earlier in the season to get comfortable with my top end. At this point I was more concerned with finding the right pace for my first Ironman. I do NOT want to blow up.

I can guarantee that my protocol was not scientific. One thing I can guarantee is that I haven't swam faster in a pool in a LONG time. Today I did a 1000WU, 500 building 100s at goal race pace. This is all based on my perceived effort, but I can say that swimming 1:20 on the 5th building 100 all of a sudden felt easy. I'm 10 days into tapering, and I was wearing the speed suit, but it really seems like swimming got 10 seconds easier. I hadn't swam under 1:20 in years. Today I swam under 1:10 for the first time on an all out (max effort not compromising form) 100. I also did flip turns for this all out TT which is pretty rare for me.

I know that my form continues to evolve, and especially with my injury earlier this year I spent a lot of time focusing on my form, and the feel of my body in the water. I've also realized that I should NEVER swim so "hard" my form breaks down. At that point I don't actually go faster! Still today was also an amazing realization. I can't really separate out taper and the suit but now I KNOW that it makes me faster. My best "comfortable" swims were around 1:25 - 1:30/100. Assuming my RPE was a good gauge I got about 5seconds/100 maximum benefit. Pretty amazing. I recommend highly people check it out.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Blazing Speed in Clearwater

Wow. Last year 1 guy breaks 2 hours on the bike in Clearwater, and Bozzone won with a respectable 3:40 winning time. This year I see 9! Slowtwitch has my usual favorite coverage.

Michael Raelert Finished 3:34:04! That involved biking over 28mph and then running a sub 1:10 half marathon (5:16/mi)! The top 5 men all went sub 3:40 and Julie Dibens won on the womens side with the first ever sub 4 hour 70.3 by a woman. San Diego residents Luke Bell and Michellie Jones placed well @ 7th and 6th respectively.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Water on the moon!

Sort of a holy grail for the moon (image by Luc Viatour and mars is to find water already there. Water is heavy, and would be REALLY expensive to transport to space until the advent of aerial thermonuclear powered space jets.

This news blew up today. Even Google did one of their special home page days for the news. The Economist covers it with the byline "There is water—or, at least ice—on the moon"

CNN says "NASA has found significant water on the moon."

The NY Times actually has a pretty good article, with a cool picture of the satellite about to slam into the lunar surface departing from the observation module.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

China's Command Economy, Resource Efficiency, and the worlds Geopolitical Future

I have had many discussions with people about the seeming meteoric rise in China the last 25 years. A LOT of people have long been excited about the prospect of doing business in China. The reality is that the opportunity for any foreigner or foreign business in China is usually limited until some form of domestic market has been established. Usually there is a strong incumbent by that time. It's true that China has been growing at an incredible rate. To me it just smells like a bubble. An even BIGGER bubble than Japan (who we all overestimated, though they still have some international heft).
Let's do a simple comparison. Look at this chart of Chinese GDP:

It's pretty obvious there have been NO contractions since 1980. The US has had 5 recessions during that time. I believe most people accept that recessions are just part of the business cycle and are inevitable (not that they talk or vote that way). I feel that recessions are important in balancing the business equation. Survival of the fittest. Trim the fat.

Particularly I would site inefficiencies and excess in China's command economy. People in America complain when we bail out banks. In China the government is still 100% in control of everything, and there are no laws to give companies a level competitive playing field. An Economist blog posting citing Tyler Cowen and the Wall Street Journal seems to resonate well
with how I feel:
Most of China's growth this year has been unsustainable, driven by stimulus. China's money supply has risen 29% in the past year. At the government's behest, banks have increased their lending by nearly $1.4 trillion, or 32%, during that time
All that during the worst recessiong we've seen in a while? Wow. Admittedly the journal citations also comments that:
That flood of borrowed cash has been channeled into new infrastructure and production capacity. These investments will account for up to half of China's gross domestic product this year, according to some estimates.
To me on the surface that seems smart. Captial investment is always good right? Or is there a law of diminishing returns. I often cite a notion which came to me from natural capitalism. We've spent the last 200 years (since the industrial revolution) maximizing the ability of people to utilize resources. Now we have too many people, no jobs, and we're running out of resources. Now is the WORST time to be investing heavily in infrastructure.

Here's one of my favorite case studies as a small aside. The Three Gorges Dam in China.
It's well accepted that when it comes to cost per watt BIG Hydroelectric power plants are a good deal. This dam produces about 22.5MW of power. It cost $30 billion conservatively, so it works out to about $1.33 a watt! First Solar makes Solar Panels for $ 0.85 a watt right now, and their modules are all recyclable and getting more efficient and cheaper every day. I'm excited to see both countries use of alternative energy growing immensely. Wind power for example is forecasted to grow by 6000MW in the US and 10,000MW in China this year. Still it appears that China overpayed for the whole project probably as commodities and equipment have steadily increased in cost over these years.

Never mind the fact that massive ecosystem upheval was a likely result, over a million were forced to move, and probably even earthquakes were caused by this endevour.

Of course China still has a IMMENSE proportion of the worlds population, VERY low costs of labor and living, and a clear competitive interest on the world scene. It will be a force to be reckoned with for many years to come, and possibly emerge to dominate. Clearly it's a wise decision for any company or investor to look into China for the future. But NEVER put all your eggs in one basket, or too many at all for that matter.

I especially don't think it's going to be all roses. China isn't the whole world, and I bet we'll see a correction in their GDP, some costs of their wasteful overeagerness, and watch them relive many of the mistakes we made along our path to becoming a global power (like recent scandals with tainted baby formula, pet food, and pollutants). Probably along with that will come some that could never happen in a place with freedom of speech/press, and due process. India is a challenger when it comes to cheap labor, and immense population, but also has many of the democratic and legal institutions that make business work in the US. Europe is showing a bit of modernization, and recent integration/expansion of the EU bodes well for their access to cheap labor and stirring the pot. South America (especially Brazil) appears to be waking up. America will always have it's ingenuity, creativity, and endless stream of ambitious immigrants willing to fight to live the dream.

I believe we've clearly seen an inflection point with the importance of Technology increasing dramatically, along with the pace of innovation. The US still has the worlds premier higher learning institutions, business schools, venture capital firms, banks and other financial firms, and a host of other factors that make it an outstanding place to effect technological advancement and change. We're also not nearly as wasteful, nor spending quite as much on Stimulus without a floating currency. Still any businessperson, and investor alike will be well advised to integrate China into a future multi-polar world view.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Crazy Drivers + Bikers

I've run into crazy drivers a few times. I also know that from driving and having a hard time seeing bikers (they are small!) that the onus is really on a bike to prevent things like:

1) Getting hit at a drive way.
2) Getting hit by an opening door on a parked car.
3) Running into a car that suddenly stops in front of you to make a right turn (this has happened to me. It's why I will frequently take a lane despite cursing and honking in certain situations).
4) Having to pull over suddenly because the road has debris or cracks wider then my tires (another situation I will take the whole lane). Especially in Leucadia going south on 101!

Yes. I have, and will continue to run stop signs when nobody is coming. The reason I and most cops take cars doing this seriously is because when they do, people die. If I run into a car.....I MIGHT dent a fender, but probably will be seriously injured or die. I've also been to other countries a LOT. I first read about this incident a couple of weeks ago, where a DOCTOR allegedly STOPPED in front of some bikers who were riding. Really?

I understand. I feel sorta similar when people are dragging ass on the highway in a car (usually talking on their cell phone), and especially when cars run red lights. Being a cyclist not only do I respond well to a gentle honk (not laying on it because you wanna jam, and the bike lane is full of cracks), but I've found most other cyclists will too. I accept the honks, and occasional screams because I've been in a hurry before too. The reality is I'm pretty good now. I usually give people who are ridiculous my biggest possible smile, wave, and a loud "Thank YOU." I know they feel like assholes on the inside.

Still what happened in LA to these cyclists was unacceptable!

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Scary Genetically Modified Plants!

I take fish oil daily. My chiropractor first recommended it, and I've been seeing the father/daughter at that practice for 20 years. It's pretty rare for me to take anything for granted, but the more I read about the benefits, and as I experimented with it I noticed a difference. I think that is important for EVERYONE to do, with ANY nutrition recommendation, or assertion. EVERYONE is different, and NOTHING is ABSOLUTE (OK....we all need air, water, and food). I encourage people to investigate and experiment for themselves. Moving on......

I read an article in New Scientist recently about about genetically modified soybeans that provide Omega-3s (There are several kinds EPA, DHA, and SDA which appears to be DHA on steroids) in some fashion. The FDA has declared them safe. Based on what? I see the benefits possible to fish stocks, and for general health. From what I read in this article they don't mention any studies.

I acknowledge that genetic engineering as we perform it today, is just a simple extension of breeding and cultivation we've done for years. I see the possibilities in modifying crops to make them insect resistant (though I guarantee nature will catch up pretty quick), and adding vitamins & minerals, or even modifying plants to increase their usability for conversion to fuel. There are some concerns though. First and foremost is our limited experience playing with nature in this way. I'm pretty adventurous but I also believe I am educated enough to know we should be careful. I also want to cite to facts from chapter 10 of one of my favorite recent works, Natural Capitalism:

Clear-cutting at the microscopic level of DNA may be creating the gravest problem of all. The world's farming rests on an extraordinarily narrow genetic base. Of the 200,000 species of wild plants, notes biogeographer Jared Diamond, "only a few thousands are eaten by humans, and just a few hundred of those have been more or less domesticated." Three-quarters of the world's food comes from only seven crop species, wheat, rice, corn, potatoes, barley, cassava (manioc), and sorghum. Nearly half the world's calorie and protein intake eaten as food, not as feed, comes from only the first three of these crops. Adding one pulse (soybeans), one tuber (sweet potato), two sugar sources (sugarcane and sugar beet), and one fruit (banana) to the list of seven would account for over 80 percent of total crop tonnage. In every one of these key crops, genetic diversity is rapidly disappearing as native habitats are destroyed.

What the heck?!? We know inbreeding is bad. We know we don't put all our eggs in one basket. Back to my point about nature catching up, they also mention:

Monocultures are rare in nature, in part because they create paradises for plant diseases and insects, as science writer Janine Benyus puts it, they are like equipping a burglar with the keys to every house in the neighborhood; they're an all-you-can-eat restaurant for pests. Disease already damages or destroys 13 percent of the world's crops, insects 15 percent, and weeds 12 percent; in all, two-fifths of the world's harvest is lost in the fields, and after some more spoils, nearly half never reaches a human mouth. The conventional response of dousing infested plants and soil with biocides seemed promising at first, but using technology to combat natural processes hasn't worked. Around 1948, at the start of the era of synthetic pesticides, the United States used 50 million pounds of insecticides a year and lost 7 percent of the preharvest crop to insects. Today, with nearly 20-fold greater insecticide use, almost a billion pounds a year, two-fifths more than when Rachel Carson published Silent Spring in 1962, the insects get 13 percent, and total U.S. crop losses are 20 percent higher than they were before we got on the pesticide treadmill.

The worst (best) part of it all is that they point out a lot of ways in which we can become more efficient AND safer by working on the smaller details, planting synergistically with other plants and animals in the loop.

For economic, health, and environmental reasons, a major overhaul of current agricultural production methods is needed to achieve adequate, acceptable, and sustainable food and fiber supplies. Many practitioners in both developed and developing countries are therefore adopting new or modernizing old methods of agriculture that are more clearly based on natural models. Their overhaul doesn't involve just doing the same things differently, because the problem of agriculture cannot be solved within the mentality that created it. Rather, the new solutions are the result of whole-systems thinking and the science of ecology; they embody the principles of natural capitalism; they follow the logic not of Bacon and Descartes but of Darwin.

I plan to build a mission to mars style waste recycling system that produces water, vegetables, and even fish. The best part is it's easy. Just copy nature. It's called biomimicry. A good friend of mine I collaborate with me once pointed at a bunch of plants and said "You know what these are? They are natural air, water, and waste filtration systems. Some of them even produce FOOD!"

I'd like to hear your thoughts.

Monday, November 2, 2009

The Art of Triathlon

I've been realizing lately what a journey triathlon is. I've grown a lot as a person these last 3-4 years as I undertook the journey. It's not really what I expected. But I like it.

I read a couple of interesting articles that really resonated with me today. Usually you figure things out, but you can really make sense of them for a long time. Things just click. I had already accepted what these articles were expressing, but reading them in well thought out words means a lot. My favorite quote from an article about what racing means when you approach it like an art:
Out of sheer necessity, the demanding challenge of a long-distance race motivates us to bring heart and brain into balance and cooperation to accomplish our goal. Along the way, we gain grace, wisdom and long-term vision that carry over into our participation in the human race. We begin to realize that we are either all winners or all losers. It’s not how fast we get to the finish line of life or whom we beat on the way; it’s how graceful, harmonious and efficient we are on our journey. This is what brings us enduring happiness and genuine satisfaction.

Can it be that simple? At least for me the act of testing myself has always been how I learned. I know that some people are different, but I think that undertaking great things, whether you succeed or don't, win or lose, is how you achieve greatness. And it just so happens that training, and competing in triathlons (and all the swim, bike and run events on the side :) ) has the nice little side effect of making you eat well, sleep well, live well, and maybe just be well.

In all reality I decided to do an ironman 3 years ago when a friend of mine lotteried in to kona. He trained some, and had done triathlon for a while, but basically completed the event on will. I was impressed, because as a long time swimmer, runner, and hardcore musician I knew how mentally tough it was to perform under pressure, ESPECIALLY when you are not really ready. As I count down 27 days to my first ironman at the end of this month in Cozumel, I'm reminded of a quote I read recently in another great article from about some of the toughest people who have done an ironman:

Experience is a harsh teacher -- she gives the test before she gives the lesson - and once in a while we need a reminder that toeing the start line at Ironman isn't an automatic ticket to a lifetime of bragging rights.

Just cause I start doesn't mean I will finish. A LOT of people don't. I'm looking forward to the experience.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Facebook is cashflow positive

Considering that the rest of the world is just barely starting to recover from the most recent bubble, I was impressed that facebook (supposedly since we're not getting numbers) has turned cash flow positive. At this point the report says they have 300million users, and are on track to bring in $500million this year.

I'm not sure how many profitable pure web companies there are. Ebay, Amazon, and Yahoo were the first batch of titans that took YEARS to reach profitability. Google has obviously become a juggernaut, but it looks like facebook is nipping on it's heels. I'm actually a pretty big fan. Facebook and email usually go about the same time as neatness when I get busy, but it's a GREAT took for staying connected with people all over the world. To me it's almost more profound then being able to fly to europe in 10 hours, when I can communicate asynchronously or synchronously around the world.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

The next stem cell study

I remember the first FDA approved study not to long ago commencing. I see another one today in New Scientist. It's similar to the previous one I saw in that it's for neural tissue. That time was for catastrophic damage to the spine, this is for ALS (Lou Gherig's Disease) so similar nerual tissue, and terminally ill patients.

I can feel the deluge coming.....

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Speculators and Oil price

The Economist covers speculators' effects on commodities based on recently recatagorized data release by the CFTC. They only released data for a brief period, BUT it was marginally inconclusive. If anything I gleaned that the data indicated speculators were playing a valuable market role. I suppose they will find some periods over which the results are more in favor of speculators and people will hem and haw like they do now.

More information is alwyas good. The market usually wins though, no matter WHO leads America. Educating more people so they don't believe politicians is our only hope. I'll cite the last 2 sentences of the articls:

It is tempting to look for scapegoats when high prices hurt consumers. But the real culprits for oil-price volatility may be much more familiar: supply, demand and global instability.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Market Based Health Care Reform

A couple weeks ago, out for a glass of wine, the subject drifted to health care reform. The girl I was talking to said something to the effect that "We're not giving time to let the market work" on health care. Clearly the cost and quality of health care have been largely in the public eye the last 5 years in my opinion. I saw a lot of validity in that point. Also many recent studies I've seen stipulate that we spend much more, for lower quality of care then many nations out there INCLUDING some countries with nationalized medicine (which I am NOT explicitly in favor of at this time).

Then while reading the most recent edition of The Economist, I read a pretty fair article summing up the current debate and posturing on both sides of argument that had a great finish which indicated something similar:
Though it has a shameful history, the insurance industry has done a U-turn of late. It now accepts the need for a radical overhaul of insurance markets through measures such as guaranteed issue of coverage and the creation of health insurance “exchanges”. But its leaders are increasingly unhappy about the shrill attacks. Can Mr Obama continue to bash the insurers one day and rely on them the next?

Which got me thinking, perhaps the THREAT of legislation is enough impetus to resolve the issue. How can Barrack Obama have his cake and eat it too? I think he's a smart guy who hasn't shown himself to about face when confronted with reality. Rather than pushing health care reform now, I think he should declare a 6 month moritorium to allow the debate to continue so issues can get worked out. I also believe that he should insist that at this time the health insurance company should come to an agreement amongst themselves (a. la. market based regulators of the financial world. They (like NYSE for example) self regulate reasonably and pre-empt government action sometimes by implementing reforms first.

I think if the insurance companies did a good enough job coming up with a basic system of rights then the current motivation for reform would wane, and people could all have health care. I do think that at least providing preventitive care (which reduces emergency care later in uninsured) and emergency care for all makes sense, and probably that basic provision should come from the government. The reality is we're never going to see emergency care not provided as needed, because that's just wrong, and luckily everyone pretty much agrees.

On top of that poll numbers say that people don't agree with Obama's current approach, and I'm SURE that health insurers don't want too much more government control. I think that Obama/The Government should propose, and possibly pass, just a patient bill of rights. Here's my suggestions:

1) No disqualifying for insurance based on history. Costs are purely decided by age.
2) Government provides every citizen a voucher entiling them to basic preventitive care (i.e. physicals and immunizations), basic medical coverage, and reasonable emergency coverage.
Note: People with more money will always be able to pay for fancier things. Also we will NEVER have doctors refusing emergency care so SOME preventative measures (those which save money long term) should be free.
3) Alternative therapies' effectiveness will be thouroughly tested head to head so that that best cost solution is used.
4) All drug studies will be 100% transparent.

More to come......

Saturday, August 8, 2009

"Signing Statements" a.k.a. Line Item Veto

I didn't know that presidenta could sign a bill, then declare a provision of that bill unconstituional in his interprative instructions to his executive branch. This practice known as issuing "Signing Statements" apparently has been around for some time.

The New York Times covers this issue with a poorly worded and misleading "Obama's Embrace of a Bush Tactic Riles Congress," which at least they redeem with a fuller recount saying:

Since the 19th century, presidents have occasionally signed bills while calling a provision unconstitutional. But the practice was rare until President Ronald Reagan. He and his successors, including Bill Clinton, began issuing signing statements much more frequently and challenging far more provisions.

So it's not really a bush tactic, nor even a partisan one, but one that's been used for a long time, though become more common since Reagan. Since then the parties of the president have reversed 3 times. They also note that it's use peaked with approximately 1200 bill challenged durint Bush Jr's two terms, somewhat redeeming the healine.

It seems that basically presidents have found a way to get a line item veto. I remember various presidents particularly Bill Clinton trying to get a line item veto passed but it never worked. Personally I'd rather see them give the president a line item veto so the process is more transparent. I'd also rather see ALL political donations itemized and enumerated on the web so donations have total transperency too. I'll keep dreaming.

It also reminds me of the interprative philosophy of judical interpretation. The most prominent example being the use of the "just and necessary" clause as a sort of carte blanche for judicial decisions. It seems a little suspicious to me, but it's difficult to pass judgement. I'm not a lawyer or a politician. I think it's just good for us citizens to be informed.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Memristors complete the electrical spectrum

At least until memcapacitors and meminductors come, we now have all of the basic building blocks of electronic devices. New scientist has a GREAT article about memristors. Seems that one guy (Leon Chua) figured out how this missing component a.k.a. the memristor should have been back in 1971! Turns out another guy (Stan Williams) had acceidentally stumbled on an arrangement that behaves just as Chua expected around 2000. Why is this exciting? I'll tell you in a minute. Suffice to say the effect is based on charged oxygen bubbles migrating into or out of RESISTORS! It also appears it was not within our technology realm until we got much close to today in terms of fabrication techniques (i.e. photolithography etc.)

Then we get on to Biology. It appears that a gentleman by the name of Max Di Ventra (UCSD woo hoo!) connected the behavior of a large single celled slime with the memristor. Of course it turns out that SYNAPSES are just memristors (Based on their description they operate in the frequency domain) with the "ebb and flow of potassium and sodium ions" substituting for the charged oxygen bubbles. Nature had them all along!

I did a brief stint working at the neuroscience institute working on robotic autotmata for the first robocup with segways. The institute was founded and run by Gerald Edleman who did amazing work on the structure of antibodies which he recieved a nobel prize for. Basically one of the feelings I got while there was that he valued just as much trying things out as opposed to trying to unravel them. We basically worked on building models of the brain to do limited things based on our understanding as it stood at the time. Of course we were just SIMULATING neurons in a coarse, and really digital fashion and they were able to make great strides in understanding. Now all of a sudden there's a circuit element which behaves like a neuron.

So this begs the question.....How long til AI? I certainly think this is a big step toward starting to have intelligent systems because we can just copy our brains to figure things out instead of trying to simulate what ends up just being a memristor in the first place. This certainly opens new doors, and the rapid development on this project track though I still wonder at seeing a sentient machine in my lifetime. It was only a few years ago it took a hundred million dollar machine (deep blue) to beat the best chess player at CHESS! Imagine the difficulties in programming, or really as we get closer TEACHING a computer. I think it will be a while before the technology, let alone philosophy exists for us to raise a sentient computer.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009


Word on the street today is that google is going to release an OS! This is a BIG move into microsoft's territory. Even IF it's as they say just for netbooks, and basically an android follow on it's still a big move following on the heals of the browser release.

The Economist headline reads: Google v Microsoft: Clash of the titans. They point out that M$ still has about a 90% share of the marketplace and this OS is aimed at netbooks. The reality is, they say, and I agree, that it will be a big challenge. Still the timing, and the company (now and google versus sun 15 years ago) seem to be well placed for success. Google has turned everything they've touched into gold.

Cnet's coverage is also here with a more techie sort of view. Two nice summarizing paragraphs excerpted cover the authors opinion:

Google's general idea seems to be twofold. First, it wants to make it easier for regular people to use a computer by making an operating system that is fast, secure, and lightweight enough to run on portable devices.

Secondly, Google believes that through the use of Web standards like HTML 5--promoted heavily during its recent Google I/O conference as the development platform of the future--software development on a browser-based OS will be easily understood by developers reared in the Web 2.0 era.

I pretty much agree. Starting from scratch is usually a better way to do anything if you want to change. I think they can be competitive becuase MS is SO encumbered by backwards compatability they they can't be as nimble. Also as an IETFer and Open Source afficianado I think it's a good sign they are being open about it and using OS software, and (likely) well documented open protocols.

Google already has attacked MS on the Applications front with google aps. Not only are they well featured, but they are instantly shared and have versioning! I've been using these simple free tools for a while to do work and collaborate.

Still the reality is that google is going major now. I predict 5 years max until they are no longer a a darling, and begin to have some of the problems all incumbents always do. Hopefully the competitive pressures of being a Web 2.0 and web services based company providing a service will mitigate some of those issues and they will be a company of the future. I'd love to be wrong.

A good article I always think of when talking about these subjects is Robert Cringly's 5% solution. He talks about how companies will no longer be able to be lax about improving their products if they want to survive in the future. This is also the future prognosticated for ALL industries by one of my favorite references, natural capitalism. They also agree, but for the bigger picture, that providing services instead of things people buy up front, you encourage producers to be effective and efficient.

I welcome people's feedback.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Error Analysis

I recently had a need to do some error analysis. I had forgotten the some rules, or so I decided to brush up. Really the two main ones I did remember were that PERCENTWISE when you multiply(divide) two numbers the percent error adds, and when you add(subtract) the percents stay the same. On the bright side these basic non-calculus rules can be quite helpful most of the time.

I don't do a lot of analog circuits, or statistics any more. Typical problems involve selecting circuit components to guarantee the parameters which are desired for a circuit. As you start getting into capacitors, inductors, and transistors, the linearity goes away. Also if there's some sort of statiscical distribution your function things can also be quite complicated. In these situations you must use calulus which starts to get VERY complicated once you start getting to deal with statistical distrubutions. Error anlysis can also be extended to computational algorithms, estimation functions, and a whole lot of different concepts. See wikipedia for some complex examples. Still even you can get pretty far doing simple integrals.

The additive property seems quite obvious. The multplicative (or really any rule) is pretty clear if you approach it like a circuit problem (or at least when I do) and think of the biggest variety doing a sweep in (the old days when I used to do) simulations. Fortunately On the bright side quite often you can reasonably simplify a problem to a set of linear equations. For example, despite the complexity of the circuitry inside the op-amps which were the cornerstone of the instrumentation amplifier I was investigating you can see from wikipedia the it's just the basic math operations because of the confiuration used. so extracting the net error is simple following the basic rules above. If you wanted a more exact number you might consider nonlinearity in your opamps, but using basic design rules you learn in EE 101 the high gain of an omp amp can be used to idealize a non linear circuit to something linear.

This is often what you want for something like an instrumentation amp where you're trying to amplify a signal. Still these concepts can be applied to more complicated scenarios. Quite often for analog circuits that have a transfer function and are applied to AC signals you can use a fourier (continuous signals) or laplace transfor (unit step or other functions with instantanous changes) to put them into a linear set of equations.

Error anlysis is pretty pervasive. A good open course from Columbia is a good refresher. Enjoy.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Iran Uprising!

I know it's been a while since I've written. It's been a tough month for me, but the action in Iran to me is amazing and very impressive.

First I want to comment on Barrack Obamas words, and Senator John McCains words. I know we have pretty much never tolerated external meddling in internal affairs so I think Obamas comments saying the people of iran need to pick their ruler was the smart, and conscienscious move. He has made me proud once again. I think what McCain said was not only political but naive and counterproductive. The reality is it appears the Iranian people have the issue covered.

Clearly the people have undetaken some risky protests. This is a brave act of civil defiance, and it appears Iranian politicians and those in power are reacting appropriately:

1) The people are rising up and peacefully (in most cases) asserting the rights which is a powerful uplifting message.
2) It appears that the supreme council of religious authorities are meeting to investigate the issue
3) Reports indicate that the secret police are refusing to assualt or shoot innocents for no reason. I think this is an amazing re-affirmation of the power of civil disobediance as we saw with Martin Luther King, and countless times throughout history. It's also a beautiful re-afirmation of the fact that most people, really, are good in their hearts. Even much vilified (and probably not perfect) Iranian Secret Police.

Iran IS a democracy. Perhaps after their own fashion, but it's for real. And i think we should all recognize the rights of different people to work through issues in their own way. I think it's a source of pride for America that we are what we are. I also believe that we have a lot to learn from different societities out there, and this is a good opportunity.

(6/18/09) A recent update from the Economist. I think clearly if the will was there, the protests would have been over in a day because few people will stand up to a tank (a la tank man). But the reality is that jouralists have been expelled. And to quote their article:

"Its men have beaten up protesters and fired on the crowd. Reformers, intellectuals, civil leaders and human-rights activists have been arrested or have gone missing, not only in Tehran but also in Tabriz, in the north-west, and across the country. Since the Ministry of Guidance has expelled foreign journalists, the course of the repression will be hard to follow. And the outcome of this clash is impossible to predict."

So it's not all perfect. Still I think it's clear that the people have a will that will not be suppressed, and I still think it's a good sign.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

2009 Triathlon Season

Here's the plan for the year:

3/29/09 (Tomorrow!) Superseal Triathlon
5/03/09 Wildflower Olympic
5/29/09 Rock and Roll Marathon
6/23/09 San Diego International Triathlon
7/26/09 Solana Beach Sprint Triathlon
*4 months of SERIOUS training*
11/29/09 Ironman Cozumel

I just registered for the Marathon. I think it will be a fun year, and I'm looking forward to only doing 2 events outside of San Diego. At least I have a job here for the next 4 months to keep me around for all the fun events!

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

The Atlantic has NOT been crossed by a swimmer!

My buddy Luis sent me this article today. I told him "somebody swam across the atlantic" and recounted the blurb I read about her swimming in a shark cage for 10 days or something. Turns out it was a LIE......or a mistake at least. And I as a swimmer and an engineer should have caught it.

There were all kinds of factual inaccuracies in the article, but didn't this trip used to take MONTHS for sailboats? To quote:
The real issue stemmed from the fact that swimming 2,100 miles in 25 days is impossible. (Some newspapers picked up on this.) It's infinitely more impossible when somebody only spends 21 minutes swimming during one of those 25 days. Michael Phelps swimming his fastestwould take about 20 days to cover that distance. And that's his fastest pace, sustained for three weeks, without ever stopping. Impossible.

I'm embarassed at not even thinking about it. I guess even I am susceptbile to believeing the media from time to time.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

George Bushs biggest Mistake & Science

Finally! My single biggest complain about George W. was his silly opposition to stem cell research, including forbidding federal funding for research on ALL stem cell lines. Actually in an episode of hipocrasy he actually said it was ok to continue research on 20 something stem cell lines, but no new ones. I think this contradiction indicates that it wasn't a well thought out idea in the first place. covers the Obama administration's overturning of the executive order today. Personally I'm ecstatic that this happened, and figure we'll see some research money coming from NIH and other resources that was not available before. Here's one of my favorite quotes (unsited of course) from the article:

But critics and skeptics of Obama's decision say that injecting taxpayer dollars into a delicate and already controversial scientific process could backfire. Obama's decision to make stem cell research scientifically worthy of federal tax dollars is as much of a politically subjective decision as Bush's choice not to, they say.

First and foremost I LOVE that they don't quote anyone. Even better is the fact that they say allowing the government to give money to stem cell research (just like it can to just about anything else) is "as much of a politically subjective decision as Bush's!" This is NOT affirmative action, but the removal of preferences, or lack therof. I'm just excited to have a president listening to science and sense! Obama also signed another memorandom saying:

 "Political officials should not suppress or alter scientific or technological findings and conclusions. If scientific and technological information is developed and used by the federal government, it should ordinarily be made available to the public."
I LOVE this, and I hope it will continue. Another good sign is that the "government" is all of a sudden interested in studying the comparative effectiveness of medications. To quote the article on the current state of drug studies:
Half the time, there's little if any good evidence comparing one with another. And one of medicine's little secrets is that new drugs don't have to work any better than cheaper, existing ones to be approved for sale.

What the heck? Our system is broke and WE DON'T COMPARE THE EFFECTIVENESS OF MEDICATIONS? I personally believe that with all the trouble we've seen with . What we can't forget in this new era of genetics is that some medications will work better for different people with different geno/phenotypes. If one medication or another is truly just more effective ECONOMICALLY then it should reign supreme. HOWEVER, as sequencing costs come down, we should start doing studies correllated to genetic markers to establish different "areas of competency" for different medications. 

I hope science continues to rein supreme!

Tuesday, February 10, 2009


I've been out in Chicago working for 2 weeks at the Borevitz Lab. I'm working on mesh network based environmental sensors for the team to use in quantifying microclimate data, its effects on the ecosytem, and specifically the flora and fauna. Currently they use the Hobo weather station which they use at several locations including the University of Chicago and the Indiana Dunes park nearby. Some nice images of the last month's data is displayed on the weather stations page. This is a big first step down the path of beginning to get real industrial quality data about our environment and ecosystem to help guide our decisions for the future.

There are of course some limitations. These stations are EXPENSIVE! just the basic data logger is about $500 and of course it gives you no ability to do anything wireless. That's a big one. You can put a sensor nearb
y without using a cable, which can break, and degrade any analog signals as well. Of course this is why we are investigating mesh netoworking to take this solution to the next level. Currently I'm using a proposed "Air Station" to drive early prototype development. One of the sensors I mention on that page is the Chipcap which you can get for about $7 and will survie -40 to 85 C, and all it needs is some nice packaging and a connector to equal the sensor Hobo sells for $170! (Shown is the Air Station in Development)

Also with the mesh networking built in, it will be possible to build cheaper micro sensors that will not require their own backhaul. Currently the hobo stations also require that you either go download the data periodically (not real time), use Wifi (not available many places), or pay for an expensive cell contract (expensive). We propose to alleviate this need by using the mesh network for localized connectivity, while accepting that a more expensive backhual 
communciations methodology will be necessary. Some of these sensors (which don't require a timing based digital bus) can be implemented as dumb terminals with Zigbee sending out packets for either ADC or low speed DIO pins. This means Zigbee Card ($20) + Solar Panel & Battery ($20) + Sensor & Packaging cost is now our baseline. There's even tiny AT91 based boards available for $20 which could enable us to have a pretty cheap smart solution as well.

We also recently went out to the Indiana Dunes and I will post some pictures of our trek shortly.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Stem Cell Study Approved by FDA

The first ever human trials for a medication based on Human Stem Cells has been approved by the FDA. Popular science covers this result this week.  This is an exciting first step for stem cell medicine as it pertains to humans. All research so far has been done with animals and very narrow parameters, so this is a "first shot across the bow" as said by Wise Young, director of the W M Keck Center for Collaborative Neuroscience at Rutgers University.

What does this mean for medications coming to market? Well it would be years (>5) before this drug will make it to market (if it succeeds) and also it could FAIL! Even if this trial is successful the technique is only expected to work for recent injuries in limited cases. I think this is like the first Chemotherapy trial we had years ago where people started thinking "we might have cancer beat" and with time we realized how complicated cancer and it's mechanisms are. Clearly though this means we're stepping along the inevitable progression most technologies see. This is as usual a bell curve: 

This is a nice bell curve borrowed from Wikipedia. We see this happen with a LOT of technologies. People in the industry see the promise of something and coalesce around it, but it takes a LONG time to get those things out there in industry. Still people over commit early, and end up wasting a lot of work because they adopted too early. This is why I often don't like to pay extra to be a "beta tester" for early technology by buying early.

My guess is we'll see more trials of stem cell based treatments and things like gene therapy as we merge into the biotechnology age that is emerging as we speak. It's exciting, but still VERY early!

Monday, January 5, 2009

Chargers Win!

The San Diego Chargers beat the Colts in an awesome overtime victory yesterday. Of course for me that means 8AM on Sunday morning while I was visiting Saigon. There was zero chance of me finding the game on TV and for some reason ESPN was replaying the Texas Tech Cotton Bowl Game again that morning.

LT was out with a pulled groin, though there is speculation he might be hurt worse. Mighty Mouse Darren Sproles picked up the slack and and ran in the Go Ahead touchdown to win in Overtime 23-17. Up next for Tom's sports world is UT against OSU in the Fiesta Bowl for a small victory despite being snubbed by the BCS for the top game by Oklahoma (who Texas beat on a neutral field).

Go Chargers! Superbowl here we come!