Newer posts are loading.
You are at the newest post.
Click here to check if anything new just came in.

April 26 2013

Glowing Plants

I just invested in BioCurious’ Glowing Plants project on Kickstarter. I don’t watch Kickstarter closely, but this is about as fast as I’ve ever seen a project get funded. It went live on Wednesday; in the afternoon, I was backer #170 (more or less), but could see the number of backers ticking upwards constantly as I watched. It was fully funded for $65,000 Thursday; and now sits at 1340 backers (more by the time you read this), with about $84,000 in funding. And there’s a new “stretch” goal: if they make $400,000, they will work on bigger plants, and attempt to create a glowing rose.

Glowing plants are a curiosity; I don’t take seriously the idea that trees will be an alternative to streetlights any time in the near future. But that’s not the point. What’s exciting is that an important and serious biology project can take place in a biohacking lab, rather than in a university or an industrial facility. It’s exciting that this project could potentially become a business; I’m sure there’s a boutique market for glowing roses and living nightlights, if not for biological street lighting. And it’s exciting that we can make new things out of biological parts.

In a conversation last year, Drew Endy said that he wanted synthetic biology to “stay weird,” and that if in ten years, all we had accomplished was create bacteria that made oil from cellulose, we will have failed. Glowing plants are weird. And beautiful. Take a look at their project, fund it, and be the first on your block to have a self-illuminating garden.

February 27 2013

Four short links: 27 February 2013

  1. Open Source Cancer Informatics Software (NCIP) — we have tackled the main recommendation that came out of our June meeting with open-source thought leaders: Keep it simple. Make barriers to entry as low as possible, and reuse available resources. Specifically, we have adopted a software license that is approved by the Open Source Initiative (OSI) and have begun to migrate the code developed under the cancer Biomedical Informatics Grid® (caBIG®) Program to a public repository. Our goal in taking these steps is to remove as many barriers as possible to community participation in the continuing development of these assets. Awesome! (via John Scott)
  2. NPR’s Framework for Easy Apps — their three architectural maxims: Servers are for chumps; If it doesn’t work on mobile, it doesn’t work; and Build for use. Refactor for reuse..
  3. Random Junk in People’s Labs (Reddit) — reminded me of the contents of my “tmp” and “Downloads” and “Documents” directories: unstructured historical crap with no expiration and no current use. (Caution: swearing in the title of the Reddit post) (via Mihalyi Csikszentmihalyi)
  4. Sync — BitTorrent’s alpha-level tech to “automatically sync files between computers via secure, distributed technology.” Not only is it “slick for alpha” (as one friend described), it’s bloody useful: I know at least one multimillion-dollar project built on their own homegrown implementation of this same idea. (via Jason Ryan)

October 26 2012

TERRA 720: Atom

Atom is a short, animated film about the ‘life’ of Atom X. From the Big Bang to the emergence of life on Earth and beyond, this film tells a rather brief story of, well, everything.

July 17 2012

Four short links: 17 July 2012

  1. What’s Next for Newspapers?three approaches: Farm it [...] Milk it [...] Feed it. (via Stijn Debrouwere)
  2. Why The Fundamental Attribution Error Exists (MindHacks) — assuming causation, rather than luck or invisible effects, is how we learn.
  3. Stuff Makes Us Sad (Boston.com) — The scientists working with UCLA’s Center on Everyday Lives of Families studied the dual-income families the same way they would animal subjects. They videotaped the activities of family members, tracked their moves with position-locating devices, and documented their homes, yards, and activities with thousands of photographs. They even took saliva samples to measure stress hormones. Studying our lives with an eye to understanding and improving it: the qualified self. (Long story short, as Cory Doctorow summarized: Stuff makes us sad)
  4. chibi (GitHub) — A tiny JavaScript micro-framework.

May 31 2012

May 08 2012

Four short links: 8 May 2012

  1. Gmail Vault -- app to backup and restore the contents of your gmail account. (via Hacker News)
  2. Leaving Apps for HTML5 (Technology Review) -- We sold 353 subscriptions through the iPad. We never discovered how to avoid the necessity of designing both landscape and portrait versions of the magazine for the app. We wasted $124,000 on outsourced software development. We fought amongst ourselves, and people left the company. There was untold expense of spirit. I hated every moment of our experiment with apps, because it tried to impose something closed, old, and printlike on something open, new, and digital. (via Alex Howard)
  3. Your Two Weeks of Fame, and Your Grandmother's (PDF) -- researchers mined 20C news articles to see whether shrinking news cycles caused briefer fame. Instead they found duration of celebrity is largely steady across the entire century, though depending on how they measured celebrity they could sometimes see changes in the duration with the most famous. (via Google Research)
  4. Dan Pink's Travel Tips -- the author travels a lot and has passed on his tips in these videos.

July 07 2011

Into the wild and back again

The psychological wear and tear of office life leads many to fantasize about leaving it all behind. Ryo Chijiiwa knows this feeling well, but unlike most people he actually did something about it. In 2009, Chijiiwa quit his job at Google, packed up and moved off the grid.

In the following interview, Chijiiwa, who will speak in-depth about his experiences at OSCON, talks about how solitude and nature have shaped his perspective.


What possessed you to do an about-face from working for high-profile tech companies and ditch the grid?

RyoChijiiwa.jpgRyo Chijiiwa: Part of it was that I was simply burnt out. I had spent the better part of 10 years either studying computer science in college or working as a professional software engineer (or both), and I suddenly decided I wanted to experience life outside the cubicle. Living in the woods was a childhood dream of mine, and it seemed like a good time to realize that dream.

But, the other part was that I started to see some fundamental issues with the way the industry and our society are structured. At a personal level, I realized that striving for success and accomplishment didn't bring me any closer to happiness. And at a societal level, it occurred to me that a system predicated on infinite growth simply was not sustainable. So, I decided to step back, slow down, and rethink my life and my priorities.

Can you describe a typical day in the wilderness?

Ryo Chijiiwa: There's really no "typical" day in the wilderness. For a long time, there was actually a fair amount of work to do because I was trying to turn a patch of completely undeveloped land into something habitable. I built my cabin mostly on my own, and that alone took several months. The work that needs to happen also varies depending on the season. In the spring, I might be tending to the garden, or clearing brush to lower the risks of a forest fire. In the autumn, I might spend a lot of time gathering firewood. I also dedicate a fair chunk of time to cooking because food is important. There's also ample time for reading, writing, reflection and contemplation, too, which is one of the benefits of a slower lifestyle. Of course, if I can't find anything better to do, I can always step out of my cabin and go wander the woods.

Geek Lifestyle at OSCON 2011 — From fine-tuning your setup to taking the geek approach to growing your own food, we'll celebrate and explore hacker culture in all its richness in the Geek Lifestyle track at OSCON (July 25-29 in Portland, Ore.)

Save 20% on registration with the code OS11RAD


As far as communications go, I was completely cut off for a while. I had an iPhone, but AT&T had absolutely no coverage on my property, and I actually enjoyed being disconnected. There's a certain peace of mind you can get only by switching off completely. I eventually found out that Verizon had coverage, so I got a feature phone on a pre-paid plan for emergencies and for those few occasions when I needed access to the outside world.

After much deliberation, I got a MiFi earlier this year so I could go online, though I can't say getting "wired" was unequivocally better for my quality of life. With Internet access, I spend more time and electricity on my laptop, uselessly browsing the web when I could be doing something else. I think this is a common problem people have these days, but the shift that happened when I suddenly got Internet access really made it noticeable.

Electricity is another constraint. This past winter, when sunlight was scarce and my solar panels were covered in snow, I once had to tell my mom, who lives in Japan, that I couldn't Skype with her unless the sun shined. While the lack of power was something of an inconvenience, it was also reassuring to know that I could have power as long as the sun shines, which isn't something you can say when you're dependent on the grid and the power goes out.

What has solitude taught you?

Ryo Chijiiwa's Hut 1.0
Ryo Chijiiwa's Hut 1.0. He's currently working on Hut 2.1.
Ryo Chijiiwa: I've learned a ton. I've learned some carpentry and architecture from designing and building my own cabin. I've also learned a lot about off-grid electricity, about the importance of water, gardening, wildlife, and self-reliance, to name a few things. But the fact that I gained knowledge and skills is hardly surprising.

What I think made this experience uniquely valuable for me, though, is that I've learned so much about myself. In many ancient cultures, venturing out into the wilderness alone was a rite of passage, a necessary step toward adulthood. In our society, on the other hand, isolation is feared and even stigmatized. Yet, there's a lot about yourself that you can learn only through isolation and solitude. Sometimes, you can't hear yourself unless you put yourself in an environment where there's nobody else — no parents, no bosses, no peers. And knowing who I am, what my strengths and weaknesses are, and knowing what's really important to me is invaluable because the truly difficult decisions in life can only be solved if you know who you are.

Do you expect to bring that new knowledge back into the grid at some point?

Ryo Chijiiwa: Absolutely. I've been a fan of the open source model for a long time now, and I think a big part of it has to do with my desire to share and contribute things, whether it's code or knowledge. My entire journey, since the day I left Google, has been chronicled in my blog, Laptop and a Rifle, where I tried to make the whole experience pretty transparent. I'm also working on a book that's filled with practical knowledge, which will hopefully be published as an ebook sometime later this year.

What are the benefits of alternative lifestyles? What do they allow people to do?

Ryo Chijiiwa: Alternative lifestyles can have a number of advantages. The major one, I think, is that it helps us strike a better work-life balance. For example, I don't have to choose between working and living in a cabin in the woods because I can do both! One doesn't necessarily have to choose between working and traveling — you can do both! At the very least, there's so much more you can do when you're not spending 60 hours at the office.

I think there are some benefits to society at large, too. Living in a 120-square-foot cabin in the woods and living purely off of solar energy probably helped me reduce my carbon footprint. After the March 11 earthquake in Japan, I was able to jet off and volunteer in the tsunami disaster area for two months, which would have been difficult to pull off if I had been tethered to a job and a mortgage. Also, by sharing what I've learned, I'm hoping that that information will help others realize their own dreams, and live healthier, happier, and more sustainable lives.

Do you believe it's possible to find balance between always on and completely off?

Ryo Chijiiwa: It's very, very difficult. When I'm in my cabin, I've accomplished something of a middle ground, simply because I have a limited supply of electricity and my MiFi account has a 3GB per month data limit. The trend is clearly going in the other direction. Everything is going into the cloud, which means you'll need an "always on" connection to have access to not just your email and social life, but your photos, favorite TV shows and your music.

Living in the woods, and going from being completely disconnected to being mostly connected, made me realize how difficult it actually is to incorporate technologies into our lives in a healthy way. The pace of technological change is so blindingly fast that we're doing a poor job of adapting, not just at an individual level, but even as a society and as a species.

The environmental impact of technological changes that started two centuries ago only became apparent a few decades ago. It concerns me somewhat to think about how, two centuries from now, our descendants will look back on today's technologies and the impacts they have on people, societies and our environment. There will likely be unforeseen consequences, some of which may prove to be undesirable. Unfortunately, only time will tell.

This interview was edited and condensed.



Related:


October 29 2010

Four short links: 29 October 2010

  1. My iPad Magazine Stand (Khoi Vinh) -- My opinion about iPad-based magazines is that they run counter to how people use tablets today and, unless something changes, will remain at odds with the way people will use tablets as the medium matures. They’re bloated, user-unfriendly and map to a tired pattern of mass media brands trying vainly to establish beachheads on new platforms without really understanding the platforms at all. (via Shawn Connally)
  2. Dan Hill Keynote (video) -- beautiful and thought-provoking presentation on mining, using, and presenting data in the urban environment.
  3. The Dark Side of Entrepreneurship Continued (Pete Warden) -- "work/life balance" is so trite, but I've been fascinated by how people deal with it since I heard Joe Kraus talk at Web 2.0 about what he was doing different at his latest startup. He replied that he was working fewer hours because he had a family, and that it was a difficult line to walk but he felt that he was managing it better because it was his second time around.
  4. TweeQL -- query language for tweets. Query languages encode use scenarios. They limit what can be done easily but those limits also permit optimizations. I note the arrival of new query languages (cf Yahoo! Pipes) for these reasons. (via raffi on Twitter)

September 23 2010

Four short links: 23 September 2010

  1. Universal Location Service -- API access to location information from mobiles on Verizon, T-Mobile, Sprint, and AT&T. "Universe" here is defined, naturally, to be "United States of America".
  2. The Bubble Cursor in Javascript -- Javascript implementation of a circular cursor that grows and shrinks in size depending on proximity to something interesting.
  3. The Revenge of the Intuitive (Brian Eno, Wired) -- now I'm struck by the insidious, computer-driven tendency to take things out of the domain of muscular activity and put them into the domain of mental activity [...] This appetite for emotional resonance explains why users - when given a choice - prefer deep rapport over endless options. You can't have a relationship with a device whose limits are unknown to you, because without limits it keeps becoming something else.
  4. "Wait, What?" (Alex Russell) -- I didn’t try to organize people who didn’t see the value in organization: instead, I tried to organize folks whose experience was valuable in terms of personal maturity and not just facility with code. We picked a hard technical problem and an easier social problem knowing that the social aspects were more critical.

August 03 2010

Four short links: 3 August 2010

  1. OpenStructs -- an education and distribution site dedicated to open source software for converting, managing, viewing and manipulating structured data.
  2. TinkerPop -- many (often open source) tools for graph data.
  3. Polaroid a Day -- a moving human story told in photographs.
  4. Prizes (PDF) -- White House memorandum to government agencies explaining how prizes are to be used. The first part, the why and how of contests and prizes, is something to add to your "here, read this" arsenal.

July 21 2010

Four short links: 21 July 2010

  1. The Men Who Stare at Screens (NY Times) -- What was unexpected was that many of the men who sat long hours and developed heart problems also exercised. Quite a few of them said they did so regularly and led active lifestyles. The men worked out, then sat in cars and in front of televisions for hours, and their risk of heart disease soared, despite the exercise. Their workouts did not counteract the ill effects of sitting. (via Andy Baio)
  2. Caring with Cash -- describes a study where "pay however much you want" had high response rate but low average price, "half goes to charity" barely changed from the control (fixed price) response rate, but "half goes to charity and you can pay what you like" earned more money than either strategy.
  3. Behavioural Economics a Political Placebo? (NY Times) -- As policymakers use it to devise programs, it’s becoming clear that behavioral economics is being asked to solve problems it wasn’t meant to address. Indeed, it seems in some cases that behavioral economics is being used as a political expedient, allowing policymakers to avoid painful but more effective solutions rooted in traditional economics. (via Mind Hacks)
  4. Protege -- open source ontology editor and knowledge-base framework.

July 15 2010

Four short links: 15 July 2010

  1. How Will You Measure Your Life? (HBR) -- Clayton Christenson's advice to the Harvard Business School's graduating class, every section a gem. If you study the root causes of business disasters, over and over you’ll find this predisposition toward endeavors that offer immediate gratification. If you look at personal lives through that lens, you’ll see the same stunning and sobering pattern: people allocating fewer and fewer resources to the things they would have once said mattered most. (via mjasay on Twitter)
  2. Lyle Lovett Yet To Make a Penny From Record Sales (TechDirt) -- read with Virgin Sues Platinum-Selling Band and Zoe Keating's ongoing exploration of life outside a label. Big record companies take the album profits but give you visibility so you can tour. This sucks if you're a good musician but can't tour (e.g., just had a #cellobaby). (via danjite on Twitter)
  3. Google's Commitment to Digital Humanities (Google) -- giving grants to universities to work with digital works. Will also be releasing more corpora like the collection of ancient Greek and Latin texts.
  4. Open Source Hardware Definition -- up to v0.3, there's momentum building. There's an open hardware summit in September. The big issue in the wild is how much of the complex multi-layered hardware game must be free-as-in-speech for the whole deal to be free-as-in-speech. See, for example, Bunnie Huang's take.

July 13 2010

Four short links: 13 July 2010

  1. Super Me -- a game structure to give you happiness in life. Brilliant idea, and nice execution from a team that includes British tech stars Alice Taylor and Phil Gyford. (via crystaltips on Twitter)
  2. Android Tablet -- the PanDigital Novel is a wifi-enabled book-reader that's easily modded to run Android and thus a pile of other software. Not available for sale yet, but "coming soon". A hint of the delights to come as low-cost Android tablets hit the market.
  3. Batch Processing Millions of Images (Etsy) -- 180 resizes/second, done locally (not on EC2), with much fine-tuning. This is how engineering battles are won.
  4. BitCoin -- open source digital currency project.

June 30 2010

Four short links: 30 June 2010

  1. Publishers Who Don't Know History ... (Cory Ondrejka) -- interesting thoughts on publishing. Friends share, borrow, and recommend books. Currently, publishers are generally being stupid about this.
  2. Regulating Distributed Work -- should Mechanical Turk and so on have specific labour laws? This is the case in favour.
  3. We Are What We Choose -- Jeff Bezos's graduation speech to Princeton's Class of 2010. Well worth reading.
  4. The Velluvial Matrix (New Yorker) -- Atul Gawande's graduation speech to Stanford's School of Medicine. The truth is that the volume and complexity of the knowledge that we need to master has grown exponentially beyond our capacity as individuals. Worse, the fear is that the knowledge has grown beyond our capacity as a society. When we talk about the uncontrollable explosion in the costs of health care in America, for instance—about the reality that we in medicine are gradually bankrupting the country—we’re not talking about a problem rooted in economics. We’re talking about a problem rooted in scientific complexity. (via agpublic on Twitter)

June 28 2010

Four short links: 28 June 2010

  1. They Don’t Complain and They Die Quietly (Derek Powazek) -- In this hyper-modern age of real-time always-on location-based info-overload, perhaps a moment of true peace and quiet is the greatest gift one can receive.
  2. The Slow Media Manifesto -- Slow Media inspire, continuously affect the users’ thoughts and actions and are still perceptible years later. Steven Levy ran a Slow Media session at Foo. (via Bruce Sterling)
  3. The Dragon's DNA (The Economist) -- Beijing Genomics Institute putting more DNA-sequencing capacity into the top floor of a refurbished printing works than is available in the whole USA.
  4. Scribd Coding Blog -- very interesting blog about the technology behind and inside Scribd. They process over 150M polygons a day, building web fonts from the fonts in PDF files, and tell you why it's not straightforward. I wish there were more of these genuinely interesting technology blogs from companies that do interesting things.

May 07 2010

Witwe darf Kind ihres toten Mannes austragen | Frankfurter Rundschau - Meldungen | 20100507


Snip: Witwe darf Kind ihres toten Mannes austragen Rostock. Wichtiger Sieg einer Witwe im Kampf um ein Kind von ihrem gestorbenen Ehemann: Das Rostocker Oberlandesgericht entschied, dass eine Klinik die künstlich befruchteten Eizellen an die 29-jährige Frau aus Neubrandenburg herausgeben muss. Das Paar hatte vor zwei Jahren die Zellen einlagern lassen, kurz darauf starb der Mann bei einem Unfall. Das Landgericht Neubrandenburg hatte zuvor der Klinik recht gegeben, die unter Verweis auf das Embryonenschutzgesetz die weitere Nutzung der Eizellen verweigert hatte. (dpa)

August 07 2009

Sara Lawrence-Lightfoot

Change, growth, and new learning. A cultural shift in aging in America.

June 17 2009

TERRA 517: Sealed Off!!! PART ONE

The beach known as The Children's Pool in La Jolla, California, has been a point of pride in the town for 75 years. Today almost no one goes there to swim, not since a pod of 200 harbor seals took up residence on the sand. Should La Jolla return the beach to use by people or make it a seal preserve? Sealed Off!!! takes a quirky look at this unusual controversy through the eyes of some of the people most intimately connected to it.

May 08 2009

Senator Dick Durbin and Sara Lawrence-Lightfoot

Senator Dick Durbin and Sara Lawrence-Lightfoot
Older posts are this way If this message doesn't go away, click anywhere on the page to continue loading posts.
Could not load more posts
Maybe Soup is currently being updated? I'll try again automatically in a few seconds...
Just a second, loading more posts...
You've reached the end.

Don't be the product, buy the product!

Schweinderl