mithriltabby: Graffito depicting a penguin with logo "born to pop root" (Hack)
The Daily Show are quite good at digging up politicians’ past statements and contrasting them with more recent ones, which is great after-the-public-appearance theater. But what if it were possible to do this on the scene to make them eat their words? Video iPod + Pico Projector = Schadenfreude Pie!
mithriltabby: Warning sign: skull with lab safety glasses (Brainiac)

The recent FDA approval of cloned meat has been in the news lately. I reached for the bag of rock salt I keep handy for anything that originates from a government and claims to possess scientific rigor and took a look at their risk assessment.

In principle, there’s nothing wrong with cloned meat— a true clone would be identical to its original and pose identical risks. The problem is that cloning is error-prone, and there’s still a lot we don’t know about cellular biology. Even if they’re getting all the chromosomes duplicated properly, what about DNA methylation and microRNA? The FDA release has a Risk Assessment section that does discuss the risks of epigenetic changes, which mentions methylation but not microRNA; their conclusion is that “Progeny of animal clones, on the other hand, are not anticipated to pose food safety concerns, as natural mating resulting from the production of new gametes by the clones is expected to reset even those residual epigenetic reprogramming errors that could persist in healthy, reproducing clones. Thus any anomalies present in clones are not expected to be transmitted to their progeny.”

So what I see here is a lot of informed expectation and a few animal trials that have promising initial results. Since we’re still learning about these subtleties of genetics, I’d rather hold off on cloned meat for a few years while it gets further scrutiny. Once we have the science down, I will be delighted to enjoy tasty, tasty filet mignon that was created on a tissue printer from cell lines cloned from a cow you can feed in a petting zoo, along with fresh sourdough made from grain grown in a vertical farm. I’d rather have cloned meat labeled as such; as The Economist suggests, if it’s that good, being cloned should be a badge of quality.

mithriltabby: Adam Smith with caption “Invisible Hand” (Economics)
Looking back over my notion of Toonconferencing, it occurred to me that the same technology could be used (with drastically more CPU power) with a combined camera and augmented reality system to give your entire world a cartoon overlay. (It would need to be amazingly fast, though, to keep up with the real world without introducing lag.) This sort of thing could see practical application for tasks where it’s necessary to highlight certain details and minimize others.

The really cool application, though, would be a high dynamic range filter. (If you haven’t seen HDR photography, take a look at the Flickr feed.) In addition to the aesthetic appeal, it could come in very handy when driving to cut down on glare and reflections of the sun.

mithriltabby: Graffito depicting a penguin with logo "born to pop root" (Hack)
By the time videoconferencing becomes popular, it will probably take place over fiber optic lines and not be much constrained by bandwidth. There will be some demand for it over wireless, though, and that is much more constrained. Wireless videophones will have to have some way to downgrade their connections to handle limited bandwidth. Right now, we just wind up with dropped frames and jerky movements, but throwing more processing at it could make things much more interesting.

When CPU horsepower drastically outstrips available bandwidth, there will be a lot of ways to compress connections. I expect one of them will be optimized for the most important data in video communication: the nuances of the human face. We’ve already spent decades working on a very low-bandwidth representation of that, in the form of cartoons. Once there’s demand for low-bandwidth video connections, I expect we’ll see “toon filters” that operate by identifying the important details of the human face and transmitting just the changes in those parameters over the wire (after an initial setup).

And once you can send a cartoon of your own face, it should be possible to send any other cartoon you want. Disney may even license their trademark characters so people can make calls as anyone from the Cheshire Cat to Maleficent. (Though that may get nixed as soon as someone brings up the possibility of getting an obscene phone call from the Little Mermaid.) More exaggerated cartoony features may even be easier to read on small screens than normal human proportions.

mithriltabby: Graffito depicting a penguin with logo "born to pop root" (Hack)
A recent article in Wired discusses the recent creation from Tesla Motors: a $100,000 all-electric sportscar called the Tesla Roadster. At those prices, it’s a status symbol: “My penis is large and environmentally friendly!” The really interesting part is the underlying technology: the expensive R&D is all done by established technology companies investing in making better batteries for laptops and cellphones. Tesla Motors is just spinning off the fruits of that R&D into electric cars, and developing the expertise in that narrow field. And they think they might have a reasonably-priced electric sedan in 2008.
mithriltabby: Hurricane from space (Foom)
A post on’s How the World Works blog points out that Lloyd’s of London’s 360 Risk Project has released a report Climate Change: Adapt or Bust [PDF]. I think that this is going to have more impact than An Inconvenient Truth:
It is ... clear that, so far, the industry has not taken changing catastrophe trends seriously enough. Climate change is likely to bring us all an even more uncertain future. If we do not take action now to understand the risks and their impact, the changing climate could kill us.
The What’s Next section on page 19 (p12 on the PDF) is particularly interesting:
Insurers need to consider the impact that an unstable climate could have on global asset values, which may generate a mismatch against insurance liabilities. Asset values tend to react to new information as soon as it is known, and adjust accordingly even if the effects are likely to take effect some time in the future.
  1. Insurers rely on returns from assets to boost financial performance. If these returns reduce, whether gradually or suddenly, then insurer profits will be lower. Consequently, it will become even more important for insurers to price risk according to exposure, and to underwrite for profit, without reliance on investment income.
  2. The global financial services industry holds a significant proportion of the world’s financial assets. Insurance industry participants can therefore make a difference by using their influence as investors to encourage “climate proof” behaviour from the boards of large corporations.
  3. In addition to economic disruption from unstable climate, political unrest may result from competition for water and other resources, forcing demographic changes. Policies in respect of political and terrorism risks should be reviewed regularly to ensure the level of risk is within appetite.
I think people controlling large quantities of money are about to start taking global warming and international relations seriously.
mithriltabby: Graffito depicting a penguin with logo "born to pop root" (Hack)
slothman's Rapleaf Score RapLeaf are setting up a reputation management service for general commerce. I’ve syndicated their blog at [ profile] rapleaf.
mithriltabby: Hurricane from space (Foom)
If substantial numbers of former New Orleans residents settle in distinct regions of other cities, will those be called “the Little Easy”? If people who don’t have the money to wait for New Orleans to be cleaned up and made habitable once again settle in sufficient numbers that they bring New Orleans culture to other cities, there might be some interesting second-order effects.
mithriltabby: Sleeping tabby (Zonk)
Just caught up on The Economist’s latest Technology Quarterly, and found an interesting story: NTT have a “RedTacton” technology that induces tiny fluctuations in the body’s natural electric field. They claim they can get 10 megabits per second, which is as good as most home Ethernets today.

This could be handy: just wave your hand over a sensor and the server in your pocket acts as keyring and unlocks a door for you. That’s even better than the skin-based data transmission, which is much slower and less hygienic when used by crowds. (I’m expecting telecommuting to take off in a big way when the next pandemic hits.)

It’ll also be good for “personal area networking” (or “personal aura networking”, as I’m sure this will be dubbed). Right now, if you want to have all your devices talk to each other, you’re pretty much stuck with Bluetooth, which means interference with everyone else’s favorite use of unlicensed 2.4GHz spectrum: Wi-Fi, cordless phones, you name it. This will be more difficult to eavesdrop on (like with the BlueSniper), and less likely to suffer interference. It also means that devices will be able to specialize: you can wear something that’s just storage and a little data display on your wrist, and your headphones can talk to it for playing music, your phone can talk to it for getting addresses, and your headphones can talk to the phone when you talk. (But expect a very rocky start as the protocols all get shaken out.)

Other things to expect: high-tech pickpockets will specialize in getting close enough to people to try and hack any devices in their body network, or subtle devices will be planted at chokepoints to do the same to passersby. Demonstrations of ad-hoc packet switched networks across tightly packed crowds on dance floors will get about as much media attention and last about as long as flash mobs did.


Jun. 4th, 2004 03:40 pm
mithriltabby: Graffito depicting a penguin with logo "born to pop root" (Hack)
Terrorists in Iraq and Saudi Arabia are making foreign experts more reluctant to show up in person and risk their necks. This is a strategy that could backfire on the terrorists in a big way.

Consider: if you need expertise, and the experts are reluctant to show up in a violent area, it may become cheaper to provide telepresence than it would be to provide enough security to make them feel safe, or enough hazard pay to make them willing to take the risk.

Telepresence requires that you improve the network infrastructure in the on-site location, and that you have people on site capable of carrying out the recommendations of the telepresent experts. This means that you have an incentive to get your locals to upgrade their networks and their personal skills.

So you have all this bandwidth in use eight hours a day while the experts provide their talent... but the rest of the time, you’ve got all that network capacity going idle, and a bunch of locals who are going to be in the same “let’s explore this nifty new technology” mindset that we’ve all experienced.

It won’t be long before they discover eBay and find some ways to make a little money, and start purchasing outdated used computing hardware, far behind the times for the first world cutting edge, but perfectly adequate for dragging a society into the information age. (Though they’ll still need to get more fundamental basics like food distribution, sanitation, and electricity supply working before anything serious can happen. But it’s in the area of getting those working that these experts will be needed.) Opportunities for education suddenly grow, and for bypassing any communications barriers imposed by the current regime.

Empowering individual entrepeneurs will create more demand for a stable business climate, which will generate more opposition to the terrorists. Overall, a win for sense and stability.

I’m hoping that the people installing networking equipment in Iraq and Saudi Arabia encourage web surfing after working hours.

mithriltabby: Detail from Dali’s “Persistence of Memory” (Time)
So I was just contemplating Internet-mediated barter networks, and Geek Credit turns up on freshmeat with links to some fascinating ideas on complementary currency and local exchange networks. Interesting stuff; I’ll have to keep my eye on it.
mithriltabby: Detail from Dali’s “Persistence of Memory” (Time)
Another interesting one is, which is a more general reputation management site. Their UI for checking to see if anyone you know is already on the system isn’t as good as the one at LinkedIn. If anyone wants to build a reputation network, I’ll be happy to offer my ratings...
mithriltabby: Graffito depicting a penguin with logo "born to pop root" (Hack)
I knew there was a niche for it: there’s a professional networking site called LinkedIn currently in beta test. It’s kind of like one of those six degrees sites, but the idea is that the links are to people you know who are competent professionals.
mithriltabby: Serene silver tabby (Default)
Maybe some people will take global warming seriously if they see dire warnings in Fortune magazine? Might the threat of seeing the East Coast looking like Siberia catch their attention?
mithriltabby: Serene silver tabby (Default)
Anyone else trying It looks like another interesting site for looking at the interconnectedness of humanity, if it ever builds up enough mass to start connecting up, the way the old was (though a quick visit to the wayback machine shows it closed up shop at the end of 2000).
mithriltabby: Serene silver tabby (Default)
Here’s an interesting essay by Jared Diamond, author of the insightful book Guns, Germs, and Steel: the Fates of Human Societies.
mithriltabby: Serene silver tabby (Default)
There’s an interesting general problem I keep running into throughout my own career and, secondhand, through the careers of my friends. It seems that almost every company winds up with people who have lost touch with reality in the management structure. When that becomes sufficiently entrenched in the company, there’s really nothing else to do but leave. This can break up competent teams and scatter them to the four winds.

It seems to me that it should be possible to create an intermediate state between “individual employee” and “contract house”. Call this a Team. It would include at least one manager (possibly a project manager and a people manager, or one person who combines both functions), at least one developer (though you’d likely need more than one for this to be at all worthwhile), and at least one QA engineer.

The incentive for a company to hire a Team would be that they could get a group that already knows how to work together and can trust each other. They would be hired as a group of W-2 employees (though they might have their own health plan if they’re big enough for that to be efficient), and would leave as a group if they decided that management had gone insane and the company was doomed, or be laid off as a group if the company is performing layoffs. The Team would arrive en masse to the workplace and start demonstrating good work habits for other engineers to learn.

The risk would be that the team would up and quit as a group, gutting the effectiveness of the engineering department, if they decided to move on to greener pastures. The obvious check for this would be to have a contract for giving a series of warnings to upper management, with mandatory minimum times between warnings: “The following problems at this company have our Team worried. If this trend continues, we may leave.” “We do not believe that the measures taken are addressing the problem. This is your second warning.“ This could be just as healthy for the company’s upper management as the Team would be for fellow employees if they take such warnings seriously.

Would a real company hire a group like this? I don’t know. But if someone can pull this off and demonstarte this is a viable pattern, it might improve the quality and stability of the technology industry. It strikes me as a knowledge-industry descendent of the traditional labor union. (A group of such Teams could even form a Guild, where people could move between Teams easily because they come with recommendations from other Teams.)

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