Thursday, March 26, 2015

Friday Thinking, 27 March 2015

Hello all –Friday Thinking is curated in the spirit of sharing. Many thanks to those who enjoy this. J

MIT professor Alex “Sandy” Pentland, who directs that institution’s Human Dynamics Laboratory, has aptly summed up the new reality:

“It is not simply the brightest who have the best ideas; it is those who are best at harvesting them from others. It is not only the most determined who drive change; it is those who most fully engage with like-minded people. And it is not wealth or prestige that best motivates people; it is respect and help from peers.”
How to build the perfect workplace

First, ATMs increased the demand for tellers because they reduced the cost of operating a bank branch. Thanks to the ATM, the number of tellers required to operate a branch office in the average urban market fell from 20 to 13 between 1988 and 2004. But banks responded by opening more branches to compete for greater market share. Bank branches in urban areas increased 43 percent. Fewer tellers were required for each branch, but more branches meant that teller jobs did not disappear.

Second, while ATMs automated some tasks, the remaining tasks that were not automated became more valuable. As banks pushed to increase their market shares, tellers became an important part of the “relationship banking team.” Many bank customers’ needs cannot be handled by machines—particularly small business customers’. Tellers who form a personal relationship with these customers can help sell them on high-margin financial services and products. The skills of the teller changed: cash handling became less important and human interaction more important.
Toil and Technology

This cognitive dissonance revealed itself most nakedly in social media. Digital immigrants showed up in this sphere in search of utility. The technological analogs of social media for digital immigrants are the phone and mail, which are based on simple cause and effect.

The phone rings, we answer it. In turn, digital immigrants misunderstood social media as a many-faced version of what we already knew, rather than a behavioral shift in which the concept of self was changing. Twitter is the analog of a newspaper. LinkedIn improves on the Rolodex. Facebook translated customer relationships in marketing into “friendship-relationship-management.” Social media could only progress as fast as the masses (i.e. digital immigrants) could adapt to it, and they depended on defunct conventions to understand why social media mattered, which severely stunted its progress. In the process, the technological revolution was set back by some 20 years.

Amid today’s incredible volume of stimuli through technology, digital natives ignore and access media in a more sophisticated and practiced rhythm, which often ignores simple cause and effect. A text can be answered within proper etiquette in a day, week or month. Their customer journey is inherently and deliberately indirect. This is because the behavior of digital natives is dominated by a sense of personal control — the context for technology into which they were born. This control is often misinterpreted as selfishness. It is not selfish; it is the nature of the entire social media movement, in which the individual expects to be at the center of his or her own experiences. Professional and personal lives intermingle in the great feeds [of social media] for digital natives.
The Next Tech Take-Off Is On Its Way

Now this is very close to the onset of a phase transition - watch this closely as this may be way more earth changing than the fall of the Berlin Wall. Is the developed world going to keep up? Will it have to?
China Introduces 70% Solar Subsidy For The Poor
Disadvantaged energy users in China could receive a subsidy of as high as 70% for the installation of solar power facilities.

China’s National Energy Administration (NEA) has just released its General Outline for the Solar Power Disadvantaged Support Implementation Plan (Trial) (光伏扶贫实施方案编制大纲(试行))  which envisages a raft of policy measures for expediting the deployment of solar power in disadvantaged communities throughout the country.

These include fiscal payments, the development of specialized service systems and accompanying power grids, as well as improved supervision and regulation of the market.
And if this isn’t enough to convince of a phase transition.
There are now twice as many solar jobs as coal jobs
Back in 2006, SolarCity was a small Bay Area solar energy startup with a handful of employees. Before long, according to CEO Lyndon Rive, the company was doubling in size every year to keep up with voracious demand for rooftop solar systems. Today, the company has over 9,000 employees spread across 65 offices nationwide; they’re are busy every day designing, selling, and installing solar systems.

Similar stories are playing out at solar companies across the country. The U.S. solar boom is taking off at breathtaking speed – even though solar is still a tiny slice of the American energy pie, it has by far the fastest growth of any energy source, and it’s adding jobs apace. As of November 2014, the U.S. solar industry employed 173,807 people, up 21.8 percent from a year before, according to a new survey by the Solar Foundation, a nonprofit research outfit.

That’s 10 times faster than job growth in the overall U.S. economy, which was just 2 percent over the same time period, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Solar employment is also outpacing job growth in the fossil fuel industry. Solar jobs now outnumber coal mining jobs 2-to-1 and are quickly catching up to jobs in oil and gas extraction, as well.

This is a nice piece by Canadian Science Fiction writer and Internet & Creative Commons activist Cory Doctorow - This is a MUST READ
An Internet of Things that do what they’re told
Our things are getting wired together, and you're not secure if you can't control the destiny of your private information.
The digital world has been colonized by a dangerous idea: that we can and should solve problems by preventing computer owners from deciding how their computers should behave. I’m not talking about a computer that’s designed to say, “Are you sure?” when you do something unexpected — not even one that asks, “Are you really, really sure?” when you click “OK.” I’m talking about a computer designed to say, “I CAN’T LET YOU DO THAT DAVE” when you tell it to give you root, to let you modify the OS or the filesystem.

Case in point: the cell-phone “kill switch” laws in California and Minneapolis, which require manufacturers to design phones so that carriers or manufacturers can push an over-the-air update that bricks the phone without any user intervention, designed to deter cell-phone thieves. Early data suggests that the law is effective in preventing this kind of crime, but at a high and largely needless (and ill-considered) price.

To understand this price, we need to talk about what “security” is, from the perspective of a mobile device user: it’s a whole basket of risks, including the physical threat of violence from muggers; the financial cost of replacing a lost device; the opportunity cost of setting up a new device; and the threats to your privacy, finances, employment, and physical safety from having your data compromised.

The current kill-switch regime puts a lot of emphasis on the physical risks, and treats risks to your data as unimportant. It’s true that the physical risks associated with phone theft are substantial, but if a catastrophic data compromise doesn’t strike terror into your heart, it’s probably because you haven’t thought hard enough about it — and it’s a sure bet that this risk will only increase in importance over time, as you bind your finances, your access controls (car ignition, house entry), and your personal life more tightly to your mobile devices.

That is to say, phones are only going to get cheaper to replace, while mobile data breaches are only going to get more expensive.
It’s a mistake to design a computer to accept instructions over a public network that its owner can’t see, review, and countermand. When every phone has a back door and can be compromised by hacking, social-engineering, or legal-engineering by a manufacturer or carrier, then your phone’s security is only intact for so long as every customer service rep is bamboozle-proof, every cop is honest, and every carrier’s back end is well designed and fully patched.

This is an interesting article - not providing any profoundly new revelations but confirming the viewpoints of many who have researched the importance of stewarding and growing Intellectual Capital, Social Capital, Knowledge Management, and Talent.
How to build the perfect workplace
The secret to attracting and holding onto the world’s best talent isn’t about the perks—it’s about relationships.
...those famous Google perks. The truth is, while the most sought-after talent doesn’t generally flock to a company because of certain benefits and giveaways (nice as they may be), the perks themselves can teach us about the company’s essence—why, that is, some employers are such super-powerful magnets for the world’s best employees year after year. Listen to what an ex-Googler told about Google’s nonstop free buffet: It “helps me build relationships with my colleagues.”

Hold on—food helps build relationships? It does when it’s used right. Data-obsessed Google measures the length of the cafeteria lines to make sure people have to wait a while (optimally three to four minutes) and have time to talk. It makes people sit at long tables, where they’re likelier to be next to or across from someone they don’t know, and it puts those tables a little too close together so you might hit someone when you push your chair back and thus meet someone new—the Google bump, employees call it. And now we begin to see the real reason Google offers all that fantastic free fare: to make sure workers will come to the cafeterias, where they’ll start and strengthen personal relationships.

That is, the food is just a tool for reaching a goal, and the goal is strong, numerous, rewarding personal relationships. Success obviously requires more than free food, but we’re glimpsing the explanation of workplace greatness. That same Googler said, “The best perk of working at Google is working at Google,” and the No. 1 reason he gave was the people: “We are surrounded by smart, driven people who provide the best environment for learning I’ve ever experienced.”

Here’s the simple secret of every great place to work: It’s personal—not perkonal. It’s relationship-based, not transaction-based. Astoundingly, many employers still don’t get that, though it was the central insight of Robert Levering and Milton Moskowitz when they assembled the first 100 Best list in the early 1980s. (For their insights into this year’s ranking, see their introduction to the list.) “The key to creating a great workplace,” they said, “was not a prescriptive set of employee benefits, programs, and practices, but the building of high-quality relationships in the workplace.” Reaching far deeper into people than corporate benefits and cool offices ever can, those relationships are why some workers love their employers and hate to leave and why job applicants will crawl over broken glass to work at those places.
Their list of the 100 best companies to work for is here:

This is an interesting YouTube channel with a number of short videos (2-8 min) from the MIT - Social Physics folks - explaining recent findings from the use of real-behavioral data acquired via sociometric badges and other forms of ‘Big Data’. Whatever people may think - Social Physics, real-time behavior data - is transforming what social science is and how it’s done.
These short videos are MUST VIEWS.
Social Physics
Social Physics is a new way of understanding human behavior based on analysis of Big Data. The contributors to the Social Physics channel are a set of researchers who are connected through their association with the Human Dynamics Lab at MIT.

About Social Physics:
How can we create organizations and governments that are cooperative, productive, and creative? These are the questions of social physics, and they are especially important right now, because of global competition, environmental challenges, and government failure.

The engine that drives social physics is big data: the newly ubiquitous digital data that is becoming available about all aspects of human life. By using these data with to build a predictive, computational theory of human behavior we can hope to engineer better social systems.
This is an excellent 6 min elaboration of ‘real-time’ sociometric measure of ‘social signals’. This is a fantastic app for making the dynamics of a co-located group meeting transparent to all.
Meeting Mediator
Taemie Kim, Chief Scientist at Sociometric Solutions and MIT Media Lab PhD graduate, discusses using social signal feedback to improve group communication and performance.
And here’s a 6 min video about establishing trust frameworks - this will become very important as social science research increasingly gather real-time - real-behavior data from mobile devices.
Trust Frameworks for mobile devices
John Clippinger, research scientist at the MIT Media Lab and co-founder Idcubed, discuses trust frameworks for mobile devices and how to control your own data.

And here is a definite MUST WATCH 1hr video of Sandy Pentland at the Santa Fe Institute. In this talk Pentland discusses the history of his work with social physics. Every social scientist should watch this video of the future of social science.
Ties that Bind: The Goodness of Social Networks
Social networks have proven to be fertile ground for understanding human behavior. This fascinating exploration suggests that we’re much more motivated by social incentives that reward others than by economic self-interest alone. Pentland discusses how studying patterns of information exchange in a social network – even without any knowledge of the actual content – can help us predict with stunning accuracy how productive and effective that network is.

Among other insights about human behavior, recent studies of social networks have shown that we’re much more motivated by social incentives that reward others than by economic self-interest alone.
During a March 11 SFI Community Lecture in Santa Fe, MIT's Alex "Sandy" Pentland discussed how studying patterns of information exchange in a social network – even without any knowledge of the actual content – can help us predict with stunning accuracy how productive and effective that network is, and described how the mathematical analysis of social networks is fertile ground for understanding human behavior.

Here’s a short essay by Andy Clark about the difference between the Brain and the Mind.
Out of Our Brains
Where is my mind? The question — memorably posed by rock band the Pixies in their 1988 song — is one that, perhaps surprisingly, divides many of us working in the areas of philosophy of mind and cognitive science. Look at the science columns of your daily newspapers and you could be forgiven for thinking that there is no case to answer. We are all familiar with the colorful “brain blob” pictures that show just where activity (indirectly measured by blood oxygenation level) is concentrated as we attempt to solve different kinds of puzzles: blobs here for thinking of nouns, there for thinking of verbs, over there for solving ethical puzzles of a certain class, and so on, ad blobum. (In fact, the brain blob picture has seemingly been raised to the status of visual art form of late with the publication of a book of high-octane brain images. )

Speaking of being out of our brains - here’s a 28 min video that gives a pretty good summary of where Virtual Reality (VR) is and will be within the next two years (the video is a year old - so the timeline - should be within another year and a half). This is also a great intro to the difficulties of creating perceptions in virtuality.
What VR Could, Should, and Almost Certainly Will Be within Two Years
We've figured out what affordable VR hardware will be capable of within a couple of years, and assembled a prototype that reveals that that level of VR hardware is capable of stunning VR experiences. That hardware is almost certainly going to appear in that timeframe, and it will be worth starting to develop for it now. This talk will discuss what that hardware is, and what it makes possible.

Here’s a great interactive site to compare generations today to the years that each generation was 18 to 33  on 10 different demographic dimensions  - very interesting. A nice way to present data.
Comparing the Generations
For example today white millennials constitute only 57% of their cohort compared to 78% of the silent generation. Only 28% of millennials are married compared to 64% of the silent generation when they were the same age.

Here’s an interesting article about a new report from the World Economic Forum. What is interesting is although the article cites the need for greater online access to educational services - it doesn’t mention that the Australian Government is aiming to deliver fiber optic cable to over 90% of Australian home (that’s the government providing digital infrastructure not the private sector). I wonder if there’s a connection (pun intended).
Australian workers top US, UK and Germany in 21st-century readiness
Australia scored at top level on four skills: curiosity, information and communication technology literacy, financial literacy, critical thinking and problem solving.
Australia's workforce is one of the best positioned to thrive in the rapidly evolving technological world of the 21st century, according to a global study from the World Economic Forum.

The study, of nearly 100 countries, found huge gaps between the skills that employers need and the capabilities of the workforce. The gaps included literacy and numeracy, critical thinking, problem solving and curiosity.

"More than a third of global companies reported difficulties filling open positions in 2014, owing to shortages of people with key skills," the report said.

Australia came well ahead of other developed nations including the United States, the United Kingdom, Germany, Sweden, the Netherlands and New Zealand. Australia performed below the top level in the fundamental skills of literacy and numeracy, although still above the OECD median and was outperformed overall by Canada, Japan, South Korea and Finland.
The WEF report, New Vision for Education: Unlocking the Potential of Technology, blamed shortcomings in education around the world for failing to train young people properly - it can be found here:

Speaking of Social Physics and Big Data - this shouldn’t be a surprise.
Privacy challenges: Just four vague pieces of info can identify you, and your credit card
Just four fairly vague pieces of information -- the dates and locations of four purchases -- are enough to identify 90 percent of the people in a data set recording three months of credit-card transactions by 1.1 million users. If someone had copies of just three of your recent receipts -- or one receipt, one Instagram photo of you having coffee with friends, and one tweet about the phone you just bought -- would have a 94 percent chance of extracting your credit card records from those of a million other people. This is true, the researchers say, even in cases where no one in the data set is identified by name, address, credit card number, or anything else that we typically think of as personal information.

Speaking identification - here’s something coming soon to a search engine near you.
Google: Our new system for recognizing faces is the best one ever
New advances in facial recognition are a step forward for an artificial intelligence technique called deep learning.
“I never forget a face,” some people like to boast. It’s a claim that looks quainter by the day as artificial intelligence research continues to advance. Some computers, it turns out, never forget 260 million faces.

Last week, a trio of Google researchers published a paper on a new artificial intelligence system dubbed FaceNet that it claims represents the most-accurate approach yet to recognizing human faces. FaceNet achieved nearly 100-percent accuracy on a popular facial-recognition dataset called Labeled Faces in the Wild, which includes more than 13,000 pictures of faces from across the web. Trained on a massive 260-million-image dataset, FaceNet performed with better than 86 percent accuracy.

Researchers benchmarking their facial-recognition systems against Labeled Faces in the Wild are testing for what they call “verification.” Essentially, they’re measuring how good the algorithms are at determining whether two images are of the same person.
In December, a team of Chinese researchers also claimed better than 99 percent accuracy on the dataset. Last year, Facebook researchers published a paper boasting better than 97 percent accuracy. The Facebook paper points to researchers claiming that humans analyzing images in the Labeled Faces dataset only achieve 97.5 percent accuracy.

However, the approach Google’s researchers took goes beyond simply verifying whether two faces are the same. Its system can also put a name to a face—classic facial recognition—and even present collections of faces that look the most similar or the most distinct.

Speaking of networks. Here is a free 12 page guide via downloadable pdf
Network science is a significant pathway into understanding many kinds of Big Data. Since its inceptions during the late 20th century it has been increasing its relevance to people's everyday life. Networks can help us to make sense of this increasingly complex world, making it a useful literacy for people living in the 21st century.

Recent work involving interventions directly with middle and high school students and teachers in developing network science skills in informal and student research settings has demonstrated that network science can be a powerful and motivating approach to understanding and theorizing solutions to complex social, health and environmental problems. Network science research also provides opportunities to develop many of the skills, habits of mind and core ideas from nascent teaching and learning standards that are not being addressed in extant curricula and teaching practice. There is a need for curricula, resources and professional development about networks, and the network science community needs to take the first steps in making a societal impact by developing accessible educational materials, tools and techniques.

To initiate this process, one key question was posed to the network science community: What should every person living in the 21st century know about networks by the time they finish secondary education? The result presented here -- Network Literacy: Essential Concepts and Core Ideas -- is truly a group effort, representing the distillation of the thoughts, comments, and writings of over 30 network science researchers, educators, teachers and students.

Here is something for everyone.
Ten Simple Rules for Lifelong Learning, According to Hamming
Learning is a lifelong imperative for any scientist, and Richard Hamming provided timeless advice on how to achieve this. In this sequel to our 2007 contribution to the Ten Simple Rules series, we attempt to distil the essence of what this mathematician and computer science and telecommunications pioneer addressed in one of his talks and in his book The Art of Doing Science and Engineering: Learning to Learn. Hamming developed both the talk and the book as a synthesis of his graduate course in engineering at the United States Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California. We have organized his authoritative advice into ten rules. We believe these will equip the reader to more confidently face the unremitting emergence of an exponentially increasing amount of new knowledge, coupled with the equally relentless obsolescence of established knowledge, in a world containing a greater number of scientists than ever before. Our rules promote a certain “style of thinking.” They also emphasize orientation towards the future and—we hope—will help the reader learn how to learn while motivating him or her to continue learning throughout life.
Rule 1. Cultivate Lifelong Learning as a “Style of Thinking” That Concentrates on Fundamental Principles Rather Than on Facts
Rule 2. Structure Your Learning to Ride the Information Tsunami Rather Than Drown in It
Rule 3. Be Prepared to Compete and Interact with a Greater and More Rapidly Increasing Number of Scientists Than at Any Time in the Past
Rule 4. Focus on the Future but Don’t Ignore the Past
Rule 5. Look for the Personal Angle
Rule 6. Learn from the Successes of Others
Rule 7. Use Trial and Error to Find the Style of Learning That Suits You
Rule 8. No Matter How Much Advice You Get and How Much Talent You Possess, It Is Still You Who Must Do the Learning and Put in the Time
Rule 9. Have a Vision to Give You a General Direction
Rule 10. Make Your Life Count: Struggle for Excellence

Speaking about the perfect workplace - it seems that humans remain important.
Toil and Technology
Innovative technology is displacing workers to new jobs rather than replacing them entirely
At the Quiet Logistics distribution center north of Boston in the United States, a robot lifts a shelf and transports it through the warehouse to a workstation. There, an employee picks an item from the shelf and places it in a shipping box. Each robot in the distribution center does the work of one and a half humans.

Robots and other technologies are transforming supply chains, tracking items from source to consumer, minimizing shipping time and cost, automating clerical tasks, and more. But are they eliminating the need for human workers, leading to persistent technological unemployment?

Surprisingly, the managers of warehouses and other supply chain facilities report that they have difficulty hiring enough workers, at least enough with the skills needed to use the new technologies. Moreover, they see these skill shortages persisting for the next decade.

New “smart machines” are radically changing the nature of work, but the question is how. Powered by artificial intelligence, new technologies are taking over tasks not only from warehouse workers, but also from white-collar workers and professionals. Automated teller machines have taken over the tasks of bank tellers; accounting software has automated the work of bookkeepers. Now computers can diagnose breast cancer from X-rays and predict survival rates at least as well as the average radiologist.

And speaking of robots, here’s a great TED Talks 6min video, about microbots.
Why I make robots the size of a grain of rice
By studying the movement and bodies of insects such as ants, Sarah Bergbreiter and her team build incredibly robust, super teeny, mechanical versions of creepy crawlies … and then they add rockets. See their jaw-dropping developments in micro-robotics, and hear about three ways we might use these little helpers in the future.

Speaking of autonomous robots putting people out of work - and enabling new forms of work - this is interesting in positive and scary ways. New forms of security, military and police action - new forms where citizen can hold their governments more accountable?
Supercomputer-Powered Drones Shut Down Rhino Poaching in This Park—Can They Save Africa’s Elephants Too?
The flying robots predict where poachers will target wildlife and send in rangers to stop them before they can pull the trigger.
Drones deployed in South Africa’s Hluhluwe Imfolozi Park have eliminated the killing of endangered rhinoceroses over the past six months, according to Air Shepherd, the nonprofit program that operates the machines. It’s a stunning statistic, given that poachers had been shooting between 12 and 19 rhinos a month.

These aren’t just any drones. Guided by a supercomputer that predicts where poachers will appear, the flying robots show ranger teams where to apprehend the killers before they can pull the trigger. A ground crew equipped with a 3-D printer, meanwhile, keeps the drones aloft by making replacement parts for the machines on the fly.

“It works because we can see the animals and the poachers in the dark with our thermal imaging cameras, and we already know where they’re both going to be before they’re there,” said John Petersen, chairman of the Minnesota-based nonprofit Lindbergh Foundation, which runs Air Shepherd.

The drones offer new hope for saving Africa’s endangered elephants and rhinos, which are being massacred for their ivory and horns. In the last three years, poachers have killed 100,000 African elephants, and last year more than 1,200 rhinos were butchered in South Africa alone. Conservationists say both species face extinction within 20 years unless the slaughter stops.

Here is a new open access science journal - from Science. I think this is Science ‘smelling the coffee’ about the inevitable trajectory of making all science publications open access.
Science Advances is the offspring of Science, created by the opportunities and imperatives of digital, open access publishing.
As AAAS’ first open access online-only journal, Science Advances will:
Publish significant, innovative original research that advances the frontiers of science and extends the standards of excellence established by Science.
Publish in a broad array of fields including computer, engineering, environmental, life, mathematical, physical, and social sciences.
Publish quickly to allow new science with potential global impact to be rapidly distributed, discussed, and built upon.
Promote and exemplify concise, readable prose that will allow scientific findings to be understood by a broad range of readers.
Publish cross-disciplinary research and collaborations, to encourage innovative approaches to complex scientific and social problems, and support open discourse among readers in diverse areas of interest and expertise.
Promote and uphold the highest standards in the conduct and communication of scientific research.

Here is a significant advance in 3D manufacturing - and a lovely website. There is a 1 min video demonstration.
3D printing has struggled to deliver on its promise to transform manufacturing. Prints take forever, parts are mechanically weak, and material choices are far too limited. That’s because current 3D printing technology is really just 2D printing, over and over again.

CLIP — Continuous Liquid Interface Production — is a breakthrough technology that grows parts instead of printing them layer by layer. CLIP allows businesses to produce commercial quality parts at game-changing speeds, creating a clear path to 3D manufacturing.

Speaking of 3D - here’s another step toward hacking matter - the construction of material a molecule at a time. A 4 min video explains it. Worth the view.
3D Printer for Small Molecules Opens Access to Customized Chemistry
Howard Hughes Medical Institute scientists have simplified the chemical synthesis of small molecules, eliminating a major bottleneck that limits the exploration of a class of compounds offering tremendous potential for medicine and technology.

Scientists led by Martin Burke, an HHMI early career scientist at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, used a single automated process to synthesize 14 distinct classes of small molecules from a common set of building blocks. Burke's team envisions expanding the approach to enable the production of thousands of potentially useful molecules with a single machine, which they describe as a “3D printer” for small molecules. Their work is described in the March 13, 2015, issue of the journal Science.

According to Burke, the highly customized approach that chemists have long relied on to synthesize small molecules is time consuming and inaccessible to most researchers. “A lot of great medicines have not been discovered yet because of this synthesis bottleneck,” he says. With his new technology, Burke aims to change that. “The vision is that anybody could go to a website, pick the building blocks they want, instruct their assembly through the web, and the small molecules would get synthesized and shipped,” Burke says. “We're not there yet, but we now have an actionable roadmap toward on-demand small-molecule synthesis for non-specialists.”

Speaking of domesticating DNA - here’s something more on the disruption of old energy geopolitics.
Bacteria used to yield pure water and produce hydrogen, the fuel of the future
In two separate research findings, scientists have used bacteria in processes that can deliver substantial power when scaled up in the future.

While a Sintef team in Norway has a method to deliver purified water, a Missouri researcher has discovered a bacterium that produces hydrogen, the fuel of the future. The Sintef researchers converted waste water into power using bacteria in an entirely natural process that delivers purified water.

As the bacteria feed on waste water, they produce electrons and protons and the resulting voltage generates electricity. While the electricity generated is small, it would be adequate to power a small fan or diodes, and is an environmentally friendly process where the end product is purified water.
And also
The researcher at Missouri University of Science and Technology has stumbled upon a bacterium that could help mass-produce hydrogen for fuel cells in the future.

The "Halanaerobium hydrogeninformans" bacterium can produce hydrogen under saline and alkaline conditions, better than modified organisms and could be valuable industrially when the process is scaled up.

And another advance in Solar.
Researchers enable solar cells to use more sunlight
Scientists of the University of Luxembourg and of the Japanese electronics company TDK report progress in photovoltaic research: they have improved a component that will enable solar cells to use more energy of the sun and thus create a higher current.

The improvement concerns a conductive oxide film which now has more transparency in the infrared region. Similar attempts had been made before, but this is the first time that these films were prepared by a one-step process and, at the same time, stable in air.
“The films made at the University of Luxembourg have been exposed to air for one and half years and are still as conductive as when they were fresh prepared”, says Prof.

Susanne Siebentritt, head of the laboratory for photovoltaics at the University of Luxembourg. “It is a fantastic result, not only for solar cells, but also for a range of other technologies”, she adds. Collaborators of this study were Dr. Matěj Hála, research associate in the laboratory for photovoltaics and Shohei Fujii and Yukari Inoue, visiting scientists from TDK.

And more on the solar energy front - when will this come to a city near us?
France decrees new rooftops must be covered in plants or solar panels
All new buildings in commercial zones across the country must comply with new environmental legislation
Rooftops on new buildings built in commercial zones in France must either be partially covered in plants or solar panels, under a law approved on Thursday. Green roofs have an isolating effect, helping reduce the amount of energy needed to heat a building in winter and cool it in summer.

They also retain rainwater, thus helping reduce problems with runoff, while favouring biodiversity and giving birds a place to nest in the urban jungle, ecologists say.
The law approved by parliament was more limited in scope than initial calls by French environmental activists to make green roofs that cover the entire surface mandatory on all new buildings.

The Socialist government convinced activists to limit the scope of the law to commercial buildings. The law was also made less onerous for businesses by requiring only part of the roof to be covered with plants, and giving them the choice of installing solar panels to generate electricity instead.

How the internet of things is slashing energy costs for business
A worldwide network of objects already helps businesses to control energy use, but now there’s money to be made by bringing them together
Smart appliances that communicate with each other and share information using the internet are already available. Indeed, the Internet of things has featured on lists of game-changing technologies for years, and is arguably one of the most hyped tech innovations around. With sensors getting cheaper by the day, more and more physical objects are becoming part of a network of things changing the way we live and work.

For businesses of the future, this should lead to a huge cut in costs since these new tools help us see exactly what is going on where. “The Internet of things – which is really about the connecting of devices and the acquisition of data – ultimately creates much more visibility: the visibility of the performance of the grid, visibility of where we lose energy, and where the savings potential really is,” says Gerd Kortuem, professor of ubiquitous computing at the Open University and energy leader for Milton Keynes’ smart city initiative.

Here some good new for diabetics.
Diabetes in rats treated with engineered probiotic
Imagine a pill that helps people control diabetes with the body’s own insulin.
Cornell researchers have achieved this feat in rats by engineering human lactobacilli, a common gut bacteria, to secrete a protein called Glucagon-like peptide 1 (GLP-1).

A 2003 study led by Atsushi Suzuki of the University of Tsukuba, Japan, first demonstrated that when exposed to the 37 amino acid, full-length form of GLP-1, intestinal epithelial cells that cover the guts are converted into insulin-producing cells. But until now, no one has administered full length GLP-1 into a live animal without injecting it, a method of administration that is not very effective.

In the study, published Jan. 27 in the journal Diabetes, the researchers engineered a strain of lactobacillus, a human probiotic, to secrete GLP-1, and then administered it orally to diabetic rats for 90 days. Rats with high blood glucose (called hyperglycemia, a hallmark of diabetes) that received the engineered probiotic ended up with up to 30 percent lower blood glucose levels.

The technology is being licensed by the company BioPancreate, which is working to get the therapy into production for human use.

We are getting closer to providing more help to many of us.
Special microbes make anti-obesity molecule in the gut
Microbes may just be the next diet craze. Researchers have programmed bacteria to generate a molecule that, through normal metabolism, becomes a hunger-suppressing lipid. Mice that drank water laced with the programmed bacteria ate less, had lower body fat and staved off diabetes—even when fed a high-fat diet—offering a potential weight-loss strategy for humans.

The team will describe their approach in one of nearly 11,000 presentations at the 249th National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society (ACS).

Obesity strongly increases the risk for developing several diseases and conditions, such as heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes and some types of cancer. One in three Americans is obese, and efforts to stem the epidemic have largely failed. Lifestyle changes and medication typically achieve only modest weight loss, and most people regain the weight. In recent years, numerous studies have shown that the population of microbes living in the gut may be a key factor in determining the risk for obesity and related diseases, suggesting that strategically altering the gut microbiome may impact human health.

One advantage to microbial medicine would be that it's low maintenance, says Sean Davies, Ph.D. His goal is to produce therapeutic bacteria that live in the gut for six months or a year, providing sustained drug delivery. This is in contrast to weight-loss drugs that typically need to be taken at least daily, and people tend not to take their medications as directed over time. "So we need strategies that deliver the drug without requiring the patient to remember to take their pills every few hours," Davies says.

Just maybe - someday soon all those commercial advertising magic remedies for balding hair will be a thing of the past.
Using stem cells to grow new hair
In a new study, Sanford-Burnham researchers have used human pluripotent stem cells to generate new hair. The study represents the first step toward the development of a cell-based treatment for people with hair loss. In the United States alone, more than 40 million men and 21 million women are affected by hair loss. The research was published online in PLOS ONE.

Some sad news for all you proud Celts - other groups may soon find out similar news.
DNA study shows Celts are not a unique genetic group
A DNA study of Britons has shown that genetically there is not a unique Celtic group of people in the UK.
According to the data, those of Celtic ancestry in Scotland and Cornwall are more similar to the English than they are to other Celtic groups.

The study also describes distinct genetic differences across the UK, which reflect regional identities. And it shows that the invading Anglo Saxons did not wipe out the Britons of 1,500 years ago, but mixed with them.

Published in the Journal Nature, the findings emerge from a detailed DNA analysis of 2,000 mostly middle-aged Caucasian people living across the UK.

It also finds that people in North and South Wales are more different from each other than the English are from the Scots; and that there are two genetic groupings in Northern Ireland.

This is an amazing site where you can see visual change that has occurred over a range of time periods. This will only take a few minutes to view - fascinating and worth it.
Then and now: Images of our changing planet
From building goliath dams that harness great rivers, to the natural construction of new land by volcanic activity, our planet is in a state of continuous change.

NASA spacecraft provide a unique vantage point for understanding the sweeping transformations, be they naturally caused or manmade.

These comparative photographs span time periods from just days to several decades. Earth is ever changing, both naturally, and due to our actions. Slide the reveal bars below to see just how massive those changes can be.

For Fun
This is hilarious - ever wonder how to describe what you really do for your next performance appraisal - or updating your LinkedIn profile - or your own website? This is the place to go - have a try.
john Verdon is a renegade who uses democratic revolutions to create holistic nirvana of monetizing in new partnerships.
Generate your own bogus job description
Technology has inspired some of the strangest, most ill-defined job titles. (Example: I'm supposedly a UX designer at Vox, but I spend most of my time working on development, and at the current moment, I'm writing a story that has nothing to do with UX or design.) We are still trying to understand just what is possible in most digital jobs, and we're nowhere near agreeing on any set standards. This happens at any time of major technical change — remember when we used to call car drivers automobilists?

At some point, we'll settle on set terms that are somewhat understood by people in the industry, but until then, people can and do create totally opaque job descriptions. What the hell does "divergent fields" mean? Are you a mathematician? What do you actually do?

I asked for help from the Vox Product and teams to enter business 2.0 nouns and verbs into a spreadsheet, and then used those to create a bullshit job description generator.

Here’s a funny 2 min rap battle.
Nikola Tesla vs Thomas Edison. Epic Rap Battles of History

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