Neil deGrasse Tyson moderating a debate on selling space

From March 2014. We live on the cusp of an amazing age. It will save us all.

Isaac Asimov discussing global warming and the exact way the world needs to be saved – 25 years ago

An amazing speech that could be given today.  Done without notes.

And it recapitulates almost everything I have been focussed on for some time. Talk about walking in the footsteps of giants!

Oncoming global warming. The amazing benefits of the Cold War. The changing aspects of nation states. National security. 

The sticks that are driving cooperation between nation states. And the carrots.

How the Constitution shows us a path forward. How Westward expansion produced a united country, not one with Southern separatists.

It will be about getting into space and beaming power back to Earth.

We now no longer can simply have one nation state fight another. Because what they do affects us all.

We need to figure out how to deal with the effects of humanity that transcend all national boundaries.

It is well worth watching the whole thing. It will be 45 minutes that could make a difference.

The disruption of Health will be distributed

 DNA / Protein function finder from @WellcomeTrust @SangerInstitute @emblebi @YourGenome

[Crossposted at SpreadingScience]

Advances in health IT must be viewed as a whole
[Via O'Reilly Radar]

Reformers in health care claim gigantic disruption on the horizon: devices that track our movements, new treatments through massive data crunching, fluid electronic records that reflect the patient’s status wherever she goes, and even the end of the doctor’s role. But predictions in the area of health IT are singularly detached from the realities of the technical environment that are supposed to make them happen.

To help technologists, clinicians, and the rest of us judge the state of health IT, I’ve released a report titled “The Information Technology Fix for Health: Barriers and Pathways to the Use of Information Technology for Better Health Care.” It offers an overview of each area of innovation to see what’s really happening and what we need to make it progress further and faster.


Health has always been intimately connected with technology, from removing the handle of a drinking well to a handheld ultrasound wand.

Dealing with human health is probably the most complex system of endeavor mankind us currently trying to solve. Old, authoritarian, top-down approaches are giving way to newer, distributed, bottom-up paradigms.

And new digital tools are driving this.

Often we can only solve health problems because of the technological tools we have access to.

But healthcare has been slow to activate the greatest impacts of the digital revolution – to connect people and communities in ways to solve very complex problems. Healthcare’s natural attraction to the status quo for many medical needs– after all, if a doctor makes a mistake, people can die – means that therapeutic benefit often has to be shown BEFORE anything changes.

Patient healthcare data and its mining does not easily fit this paradigm. Authoritarian approaches stemming from the  medical edifice we all face still drives almost all our health concerns. So change is slow.

But it is coming. Faster than many of the authoritarian processes can deal with.

This has not stopped people from doing the mining themselves. From places like 23andme, patientslikeme to crowdfunding projects, individuals are now taking much greater control of their health data.

And finding out all sorts of interesting things.

Often without any form of mediator, because they can.

(It reminds me of the battle I was part of almost 20 years ago. We needed to connect to the internet because it was becoming critical in order to do our biomedical research. The IT department was very reluctant and stonewalled, due to fear of disrupting things. We simply said we could connect to the internet without needing them. Our IT needs had become decentralized , distributed, and we could simply dial-up without needing the IT department at all. So we did.)

Medicine is becoming a more distributed system, decentralizing access and the practice of medicine. It is, in many way, at right angles and in conflict with the authoritarian processes we find in medicine today.

This holds tremendous opportunity to revolutionize what we know about medicine. But with tremendously disruptive effects on the status quo.

There will be real battles here but the conflict between the old, authoritarian system and the new, distributed system will find a balance which eventually helps us all.

Because it has real benefits. And it cannot really be stopped anyway.

The more ignorant the American, the more they want to send the military into Ukraine

The less Americans know about Ukraine’s location, the more they want U.S. to intervene
[Via Washington Post] 

Since Russian troops first entered the Crimean peninsula in early March, a series of media polling outlets have asked Americans how they want the U.S. to respond to the ongoing situation.  Although two-thirds of Americans have reported following the situation at least “somewhat closely,” most Americans actually know very little about events on the ground — or even where the ground is.


They surveyed over 2000 people. They asked them to find Ukraine on a map and to indicate whether the US military should intervene against Russia.

Their results:

The farther their guesses were from Ukraine’s actual location, the more they wanted the U.S.  to intervene with military force.

The more ignorant, the more they wanted to use force.

Here is the map, red if they were close to where Ukraine to blue if they were way off:


Only 16% of Americans knew where Ukraine was. Fifty percent were over 1800 miles off.

Even the demographics are depressing. Members of military households were no more likely to know where Ukraine was than non-military, Seventy-seven percent of college graduates failed to find Ukraine.

Both Republicans and Democrats were similarly ignorant. Younger people did slightly better than older but not much better.

And how does this correlate with their attitudes regarding military action?:

However, the further our respondents thought that Ukraine was from its actual location, the more they wanted the U.S. to intervene militarily. Even controlling for a series of demographic characteristics and participants’ general foreign policy attitudes, we found that the less accurate our participants were, the more they wanted the U.S. to use force, the greater the threat they saw Russia as posing to U.S. interests, and the more they thought that using force would advance U.S. national security interests; all of these effects are statistically significant at a 95 percent  confidence level.


Like something from “The Andromedra Strain”, our sewer pipes are being dissolved by microbes

Concrete tubes 

Concrete-Dissolving Bacteria Are Destroying Our Sewers | 
[Via Gizmodo Australia]

Underground in places nobody likes to look, bacteria are doing terrible things to our sewage pipes. The concrete pipes that carry our waste are literally dissolving away, forcing engineers into a messy, expensive battle against tiny microbes.

“The veins of our cities are in serious trouble, and they’re in serious trouble because of corrosion, and this corrosion has been unanticipated and it’s accelerating,” said Mark Hernandez at a symposium on the microbiology of the built environment in Washington DC yesterday. Hernandez is a civil engineer, but he’s meeting with microbiologists because this problem is bacterial. Essentially, it’s an infection of the nation’s sewage system.


Now this could really bring us down- our underground sewer pipes simply dissolving. It makes sense. 

Some bacteria turn sewage into hydrogen sulfide. Others turn the hydrogen sulfide int sulfuric acid, which dissolves the concrete.

In The Andromeda Strain, the foreign organisms ate through plastic. Here we have normal organisms eating through concrete.

Hope we find a solution that works.

Personal genomics solves a genetic mystery

 chromosome I

Three grievous losses for St. Charles County couple, all blamed on genetics 
[Via : Lifestyles]

Three times Laura and Rob Sheppard experienced inexplicable and unimaginable loss. All three of their daughters were born with the same lethal problems, including under-developed brains. All three babies died shortly after being born. Each time, Laura Sheppard looked to her daughters’ MRIs to understand what happened to their brain development. “I needed to see, I needed to understand,” said Sheppard, a St. Charles County resident who works in pharmaceutical research and development. She described herself as a scientific person. “I find comfort in cold hard facts.”

But nothing could explain what caused their children to be born with such a host of problems. Laura Sheppard worried that it was something she had done or was exposed to.

“‘What did you do?’ That’s all I could remember thinking,” she said.


Thanks to new technologies, this is how doctor’s can now comfort parents getting the devastating news about why their children died, As Dr. Cole told Laura Shepard:

I have a lot of really smart people who work here, and I will work for years to try to figure out what happened.

And he did. Only it did not take as long or cost as much as it would have just a few years ago.

While this was not easy to accomplish, the low cost of getting genomic information, coupled with the 6 personal genomes they had from one family, helped them identify the problem.

This was an entirely new human gene defect, one that would have been very, very hard to find by searching the standard databases of diseases.

And it offers real hope for the parents to attempt to have further  children. The genetic defects can be picked up long before brain development stops. In fact, advances from in vitro fertilization techniques might allow them to only select embryos which do not have the defect.

And, in what I think will be a continuing trend, the parents are not hiding behind anonymity but are coming forward to tell their story. As Laura Shepard said:

Through their [the Shepard's daughters] lives they have touched and changed more people than their deaths ever will.

Zero Marginal Cost – the end of capitalism or its rebirth

Forex Money for Exchange in Currency Bank 

Is The Zero Marginal Cost Society The End Of Capitalism… Or A Way To Fix Capitalism?
[Via Techdirt]

As regular readers here on Techdirt will know, I’ve been talking about the importance of understanding what happens to economic equations when the marginal cost of something is zero for over 15 years already. It’s a very common theme around here. One of my complaints has been that those who came out of an economic world viewpoint in which economics is entirely about dealing with the efficient allocation of scarce resources, tend to fall into a weird intellectual black hole when they try to put a zero in the equation. But I’ve long argued that this is the wrong way to look at things. The basic equations still work fine, it’s just that you have to recognize the flip side of zero is infinity. When you have a zero marginal cost item, you are creating an infinite good — a resource that can never run out. When you begin to realize that you have a new form of resources — inputs in economic terms — suddenly you realize that you’re massively expanding the pie, allowing incredible new things to be created from that limitless pool of resources. That’s powerful stuff.

So, as you can imagine, I was excited when the publisher of Jeremy Rifkin’s new book, The Zero Marginal Cost Society: The Internet of Things, the Collaborative Commons, and the Eclipse of Capitalism, reached out to send me a promo copy a few weeks ago. I am only halfway through it, so I’ll probably write more about it when it’s done, and there’s an awful lot of really interesting examples and profound thinking going on. So I’m really enjoying the basic part of it. However, there’s one aspect of the book that I have trouble with, and it’s exemplified in Rifkin’s op-ed in the NY Times a few weeks ago, called The Rise of Anti-Capitalism. You can probably already suspect the problem I’m seeing, based on the title. The explanation of zero marginal cost and how more and more of our economy is heading there is spot on. And, as we’ve been noting for over a decade as well, this goes way, way beyond just “content” like music and movies. It’s going to impact nearly every important industry in our lives:


Nice discussion. The endeavors that are most disruptive right now, as marginal cost begins to move to zero, are those that enhance social activities and collaborative needs.

And most are acting in very capitalistic ways. But in ways that mirror more closely just what Adam Smith hypothesized in Wealth of Nations than we have grown used to calling capitalism today.

Add in increased resources from space and things will change a lot.


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