Thursday, April 30, 2015

Friday Thinking, 1 May 2015

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

It used to be, in companies like ours, that we hired people who could learn from us. Now we aim to hire people who can teach us what we need to know.

The digital era also means that we have to become a technology business. We can no longer be trailing far behind those at the cutting edge. By the time we catch up, others will be on to something better.

So, as we make The Big Move to digital, we have to acquire more technologists for our organizations. In our newsrooms, we have to hire people who are savvy about technology, and we must train everyone in our newsrooms in technologies that are unfamiliar to them.

Technology, of course, gives us the power to measure everything we do. How our stories are doing. How much time people spend with each story. How deep into a story they read. Whether they read one more story after the first one, whether they return to us, where they come from, where they go when they leave us, and what their interests are.

For so long, in print, we only needed to assume that lots of people read our stories. Who could contradict us? There was no way to measure it. But metrics now are plentiful. They are also necessary.
Washington Post Executive Editor Martin Baron on journalism’s transition from print to digital

And so, some of the most innovative work I’ve seen is transforming the higher ed system, especially in India, where they have incredible programs, creating tens of thousands, and hopefully soon, hundreds of thousands of teachers. They blend the learning fashion, combining MOOC content with closer instruction. I think that blended learning was a great idea. I think it will improve the quality of education and I think that the first few countries to implement this skill will really influence the way that really makes them appear valuable to the whole country. It will be developing economies, specifically India and China.

The challenge for blended learning will be in teaching. If you want to move your country to blended learning, this is something that requires working with hundreds of thousands of teachers to help them understand a better way for them to teach. And I think it’s clearly a better way for them, it would add more value for the teachers, more value for the learners.

Right now, most learners that are taking MOOCs are actually working adults. Coursera serves a very broad demographic, anything from high school students to retired adults. But the center of gravity for Coursera is working professionals, so median age is about 35, with a bachelor’s degree, and most in their 20s and 30s, also late 40s. The reason for this is that, just as a statistical fact, most of us spend most of our lives as working adults, only a relatively short period of our lives is spent in high school, college, and so that’s part of why most of the learners are working adults.

The second is, it turns out that most college and high school students already have convenient access to education; you just go to college every day. But working adults such as you and me don’t have continued access to education that we need in order to stay current. Even for professors or people who aren’t professors, it’s very inconvenient to hire a babysitter twice a week and go to a night class at a community college. So I think the biggest impact of MOOCs is bringing working adults back into the educational system.

It turns out that, having a room full of 100 people is a very inefficient way to learn. And we know from the data that the retention rate is shockingly low. You remember 20% of the lecture. Reading is another example. Maybe adults have learned to become efficient at using these modes of learning, but I think sitting in a lecture [is] very challenging for young people. I know more about reading, but it turns out that reading is hard for a lot of people, because there’s so much work, there’s so much text, and it’s challenging for people to learn how to process all that and to identify and focus on what’s important. I guess the same thing is true for lectures, that over time we have developed certain habits of processing the lecture, but I think overall, the modern lecture, where the professor just talks in front of 200 people, is not a very efficient way for learners to learn.
How MOOCs Are Taking Local Knowledge Global

...a growing recognition of the shifts underway in the manufacturing industry—shifts that are making manufacturing’s traditional business model, that of simply making things and selling them at a profit, increasingly obsolete.

The first of these shifts is the end, for all intents and purposes, of a manufacturer’s ability to create and capture value solely by making “better” products. For decades, manufacturers have been pursuing “more for less,” focusing on delivering increasing product quality and functionality to consumers at lower and lower prices. But while this model served manufacturers well when improvements were relatively few and far between, accelerating technological change—and the consequent shortening of the product life cycle—has reduced the window of opportunity for capturing value from any given improvement to a sliver of what it once was. And in an era of global competition, most of the already small gains in margin from product improvement are often competed away, with the consumer as the beneficiary.

With delivering more for less no longer a sustainable strategy, forward-thinking manufacturers are looking for alternative ways to create and capture value. They are being forced to rethink old notions of where value comes from, who creates it, and who profits from it, broadening their idea of value as a point-of-sale phenomenon to include a wide array of activities and business models. It is no longer just about selling the product, but about gaining a share of the value it generates in its use.

Consider the value that Netflix generates through the use of televisions as a conduit for streaming entertainment—or the value that businesses such as Zipcar and Uber create through the use of cars for on-demand mobility. Manufacturers are waking up to possibilities such as these and, in the process, starting to transform the way they do business.

The “more digital” a product or industry is—the more sensors and electronics it incorporates, or the more digitized its processes—the shorter its product cycles. Technology is evolving at a faster pace each year—products contain more and more digital technology, and so become obsolete more and more rapidly. With the greater use of digital manufacturing tools, an increasing number of physical objects being digitized, and a growing number of processes digitally transmitted and managed, the speed of evolution and collective learning increases, in turn speeding the fragmentation process.
The future of manufacturing - Making things in a changing world

“What Akio Toyoda feared the company lost when it was growing so fast was the time to struggle and learn,” said Liker, who met with Toyoda in November. “He felt Toyota got big-company disease and was too busy getting product out.”

“We cannot simply depend on the machines that only repeat the same task over and over again,” Kawai said. “To be the master of the machine, you have to have the knowledge and the skills to teach the machine.”
‘Gods’ edging out robots at Toyota facility

Why did you believe he was still relevant?
Well, I didn’t. I had to figure that out myself. It took months of reading and rereading his stuff to realize that in Marshall we had a classically trained scholar realizing that there’s this thing coming down the pipe—the Internet—yet because he didn’t understand the ultimate interface, he was frustrated in his inability to describe it clearly. I think that’s what people really respond to in Marshall: the almost vibrating sense of being in on one of the biggest prognostications of all time, yet having news of its arrival coming from this fuddy-duddy guy in 1950s Toronto. How on earth did that happen?
Douglas Coupland on Marshall McLuhan

This is a great 19 min video that provides both an informative and entertaining discussion of the Internet of Things.
Will smart devices survive and thrive in the future?
The Internet of Things needs a reboot, says Paul Brody, vice president and global electronics industry leader for IBM Global Business Services.
An article that underlies this video.
The Internet of Things will cost companies more than they're ready for
Though the Internet of Things era has only just started, it may already be broken.
Like generals fighting the last war instead of the next one, many companies working to build the Internet of Things seem to be stuck in the smartphone and tablet era, embracing approaches that will soon be obsolete, if they aren’t already.

Today, smartphones are powerful hubs surrounded by less intelligent objects. Each device is managed and operated from a few centralized data centers. This is not yet a major issue as devices currently last only a year or two before being decommissioned. The cost of managing data centers is limited in duration and underwritten by a constant flood of replacement devices with short lives.

Not so in the Internet of Things era: an LED lightbulb has an expected life of 20+ years; aircraft are expected to remain in service for decades; the average car on the road in the US is now more than a decade old. Applying a centralized cloud-based business model to these devices will mean decades of expense without decades of associated revenue. At IBM we already see clients that are struggling with device-related services that have failed to meet revenue targets, but cannot be switched off for fear of angering an installed base.

There is a solution at hand to the mismatch of management costs and revenue expectations for the Internet of Things: distributed, edge-based cloud computing. If the data center is the center of the network, PCs, smartphones and other connected devices are on the edge. Edge-based cloud computing is about more than making individual devices smart and connected. It involves linking together every device at the edge of the network to form an integrated, distributed cloud service. If we can get these smart devices to manage themselves, then network services will be available for as long as the devices are in place and at an extraordinarily low price.

All the talk these days is about mobile and wearables - here’s something that may be coming very soon.
Digital tattoo lets you control devices with mind power alone
WHAT'S on your mind? For £79, anyone can buy a headset that reads the electrical activity of their brain. It's called an electroencephalogram, or EEG, and you can use it to control devices with the power of your mind. But there's a drawback: they don't work when the wearer is moving and they look silly, so no one wants to wear them.

The solution could be a kind of EEG system that does away with the cumbersome electrodes, annoying gels and wires of its predecessors, replacing them with a flexible electronic skin that conforms to the body. It promises to let us monitor our brains discreetly 24 hours a day, and can be worn continuously for two weeks, staying put whether you're swimming, running or sleeping.

John Rogers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign led the team that built the device, which is so light that it sticks to the skin through van der Waals force – the same mechanism that lets geckos' feet stick to surfaces. It only falls off when the build-up of dead skin beneath it makes it lose its grip.

Internet devices?? This is a must watch -1 ¼ hr video. The interesting part starts at 18 min with Bill Gates’ keynote - the future of money in the developing world is presented in a short video (in the video) at 33 min. Smart devices enabling payments via text message.
Closing Plenary - Sibos 2014 Boston
Sibos 2014 Boston Closing Plenary with Bill Gates
17:50 Keynote speech by Bill Gates
43:50 Interview Bill Gates, Gates Foundation, and Heidi Moore, The Guardian
1:14:40 Closing remarks by SWIFT CEO Gottfried Leibbrandt

Here’s a concise article about the future of industry in the digital environment.
Industry 4.0: The Future of Productivity and Growth in Manufacturing Industries
The Nine Pillars of Technological Advancement
Many of the nine advances in technology that form the foundation for Industry 4.0 are already used in manufacturing, but with Industry 4.0, they will transform production: isolated, optimized cells will come together as a fully integrated, automated, and optimized production flow, leading to greater efficiencies and changing traditional production relationships among suppliers, producers, and customers—as well as between human and machine.
Big Data and Analytics
Autonomous Robots
Horizontal and Vertical System Integration
The Industrial Internet of Things
The Cloud
Additive Manufacturing
Augmented Reality
I would add one more 10th Pillar - the blockchain and the rise of distributed autonomous organization

Speaking of the IoT and the potential contribution to a Smart City - here’s an interesting article about public transit that our cities should be paying attention to.
3 Advances in Transit Technology
Transit agencies' focus and spending are beginning to shift as technology, such as mobile computing, social media, GPS and data analytics, have opened up new ways to improve service and, hopefully, attract more riders.
When it comes to public transit, the city of Portland, Ore., stands out. Despite having a metro population ranked 24th in the country, the city has the 11th largest transit system, when measured by passenger trips. Besides bus service, the city has, over the years, invested in an extensive light rail system, a downtown streetcar line as well as commuter rail. And growth continues. In September, Tri-County Metropolitan Transportation District of Oregon (TriMet), the regional transit agency, will open a 7.3-mile extension of its light rail system. Add it all up and Portland has a robust transit network that is the envy of many American cities.

Portland’s transit system gets a lot of national attention partly because of its investments in different forms of transportation, which are well integrated. It also gets high marks for how it uses technology. The agency was an early leader in the use of smartphone apps for trip planning. It was also one of the first transit agencies in the country to let riders use their smartphones to pay fares. Like a growing number of transit systems, TriMet transmits bus location information in real time. Need another minute to finish that cup of coffee before starting your commute? In Portland, riders can find out on their phone, tablet or computer when the next bus will arrive at their stop within a five-minute window.

While transit agencies always have used technology, most of the focus and spending has been directed toward infrastructure — the buses, trains and rails — as well as significant labor costs. Information technology has played a relatively quiet role as a tool rather than as an overall strategy. But that thinking is beginning to change as mobile computing, social media, GPS, data analytics — as well as other forms of automation — have opened up new ways to improve service and, hopefully, attract more riders.

Here’s an interesting interview with a founder of Coursera on the future of the MOOC.
Coursera’s Andrew Ng: How MOOCs Are Taking Local Knowledge Global
Coursera co-founder Andrew Ng is widely considered a pioneer in the field of artificial intelligence. Along with Daphne Koller, he is the co-founder of Coursera, the massive open online course (MOOC) platform, in April 2012. In just a little more than three years, Coursera has over 12 million users enrolled in more than 1,000 courses from more than a hundred institutions worldwide. Ng taught at Stanford University and is the director of the Stanford Artificial Intelligence Lab. He works on deep learning algorithms, which Ng says are loosely inspired by how the brain learns. He worked on one of the most ambitious artificial intelligence systems at Google called Google Brain.
The system analyzed millions of photos taken from YouTube videos and learned to recognize objects, including human and cat faces, without additional human guidance.

Last year, Ng announced he would be stepping away from his day-to-day responsibilities at Coursera to become chief scientist and head of Baidu Research, and lead a new five-year, $300 million research initiative based in Silicon Valley. Chinese-language search engine Baidu, sometimes known as “China’s Google,” is the world’s fifth-most popular website with a $55 billion market capitalization.

In an interview about MOOCs  and their impact, Ng says they  allow universities to take their great content and project it onto a larger audience than they ever did before. A recent study co-authored by Wharton professor Ezekiel J. Emanuel on the impact of MOOCs on traditional business education, also found that rather than poaching students, MOOCs complement, enrich and help business schools reach new diverse audiences.
An edited transcript of the conversation….

This is a great 50 min video by James Paul Gee, a great researcher in the world of learning, games and the virtual. Teaching remains important - but teachers have to become designers of learning experience - not content providers. This is a Must view.
James Paul Gee keynote - "Language, Learning, Experience, and Video Games"
The Nordic research seminar ‘Language Perspectives in learning contexts' was intended to illustrate the themes of reading, writing and orality in all subjects.

Here is a 4 min Must see video about the future (or at least some aspects) of learning.
SMALLab Learning
SMALLab Learning was founded in 2010 with the mission of advancing embodied learning in schools and museums.
Here is a specific lesson - 8 min video.
SMALLab Centripetal Force Lesson
Teacher training video for ASU SMALLab which is a research-based, embodied learning environment that uses K-12 students' senses of hearing, movement and sight in practical ways to enhance instruction in STEM disciplines. In SMALLab, motion-capture technology tracks students' 3D movements as they are immersed in an interactive space.

This next article is about more than storytelling - it will also be a fundamental part of how we educated ourselves and provide new dimension to the learning experience.
This Is How We’ll Experience Storytelling in the Future
IN THE FUTURE, you won’t just consume stories by watching a movie or tuning into a podcast via earbuds. You’ll be standing in the middle of them—maybe you’ll even be able to see the blurry  tip of your nose in front of you—with panoramic vision, perhaps a sense of smell, and maybe even the slight feeling of vertigo. “Originally stories were living things,” says Charlie Melcher. “It was a dialogue, something you could interrupt, or physically respond to.” Melcher thinks that sort of interactivity is exactly what the future holds.

Some of these new physical effects—surround vision, a sense of depth perception, vertigo—are vividly felt in virtual reality films. In particular, this year’s Sundance Film Festival, filmmakers showed off a range of VR experiences that left viewers with everything from unsettling emotions to a sense of awe. Yet for all the hype around virtual reality, relatively few people have experienced it. So if you’re in New York, you should go visit Sensory Stories, at the Museum of the Moving Image. (If you’re not, don’t stress: the exhibit will travel after it wraps up July 26.)

VR is only part of the Sensory Stories exhibit, which was curated with Melcher’s Future of Storytelling, an annual summit of tech people and creators showing off the latest in storytelling and communications. The other micro-exhibits include tablet games, like a scent-emitting Goldilocks game by oPhone, and physically interactive displays, like Google Creative Lab’s Cube, an oversized, remote control block with a phone hidden inside. The phone’s sensors talk to a laptop hidden in the room that’s playing six different weird, grainy films simultaneously. Each side of the cube correlates to one plotline, so by turning the cube over in your hands, you choose which narrative you watch.
You’ll Feel Profound Empathy.
One of the most oft-discussed qualities of VR is its ability to implicate you in what you’re watching. It’s an odd (or maybe titillating) side effect of watching VR porn, that suddenly the people in the film seem like actual people, not just performers.

This is an interesting development - promising new ways to interact with the IoT.
Microsoft Invents A Better Way To Sense Hand Gestures
Imagine strapping on a virtual reality headset, then using your hands to pick up a sword and swing it around your head. Imagine a hazard team able to defuse a complicated bomb from a mile away, just by controlling a robot's hand as effortlessly as your own. Imagine painting a picture on your computer just by waving a brush in front of your screen. Or, if you prefer, imagine using a computer like in Minority Report, whisking away pages and files just by grabbing them with your hands.

Handpose, a new innovation by Microsoft Research, could make all that possible, giving computers the ability to accurately and completely track the precise movement of your hands through a Microsoft Kinect, right down to the finger wiggle. While not the first project to make progress in this space—a Leap Motion 2 hooked up to an Oculus Rift can already do this—Microsoft's software innovation promises to be faster, and it can work from as far away as across the room, on existing hardware or, eventually, on mobile phones.

This may be more vaporware than real - but it definitely on the plausibility trajectory for sometime in the future - of our interfaces with the digital environment.
Computers That Know How You Feel Will Soon Be Everywhere
SOMETIME NEXT SUMMER, you’ll be able to watch a horror series that is exactly as scary as you want it to be—no more, no less. You’ll pull up the show, which relies on software from the artificial intelligence startup Affectiva, and tap a button to opt in. Then, while you stare at your iPad, its camera will stare at you.

The software will read your emotional reactions to the show in real time. Should your mouth turn down a second too long or your eyes squeeze shut in fright, the plot will speed along. But if they grow large and hold your interest, the program will draw out the suspense. “Yes, the killing is going to happen, but whether you want to be kept in the tension depends on you,” says Julian McCrea, founder of the London-based studio Portal Entertainment, which has a development deal with a large unidentified entertainment network to produce the series. He calls Affectiva’s face-reading software, Affdex, “an incredible piece of technology.”

With $20 million in venture funding, the company has so far worked closely with a few partners to test its commercial applications. Now it plans to open its tools to everyone. Starting today, Affectiva will invite developers to experiment with a 45-day free test and then license its tools. You remember Intel inside? El Kaliouby envisions “Affectiva-embedded” technology, saying, “It’ll sit on your phone, in your car, in your fridge. It will sense your emotions and adapt seamlessly without being in your face.” It will just notice everything that’s happening on your face. She’ll expand on her strategy May 19 at the LDV Vision Summit, a coming together of some of the smartest companies cracking the problem of machine vision, in New York.

Talking about computers knowing how we feel - this is something to watch over the next couple of weeks - and especially what is learned from this event.
Brains Vs. Artificial Intelligence: Carnegie Mellon Computer Faces Poker Pros in Epic No-Limit Texas Hold’Em Competition
80,000 Hands Will Be Played in Two-week Contest at Rivers Casino in Pittsburgh
In a contest that echoes Deep Blue’s chess victory over Garry Kasparov and Watson beating two Jeopardy! Champions, computer poker software developed at Carnegie Mellon University will challenge four of the world’s best professional poker players in a “Brains Vs. Artificial Intelligence” competition beginning April 24 at Rivers Casino.

Over the course of two weeks, the CMU computer program, Claudico, will play 20,000 hands of Heads-Up No-limit Texas Hold’em with each of the four poker pros. The pros — Doug Polk, Dong Kim, Bjorn Li and Jason Les — will receive appearance fees derived from a prize purse of $100,000 donated by Microsoft Research and by Rivers Casino. The Carnegie Mellon scientists will compete for something more precious.

“Poker is now a benchmark for artificial intelligence research, just as chess once was,” said Tuomas Sandholm, a professor of computer science at Carnegie Mellon who has led development of Claudico. “It’s a game of exceeding complexity that requires a machine to make decisions based on incomplete and often misleading information, thanks to bluffing, slow play and other decoys. And to win, the machine has to out-smart its human opponents.

“Computing the world’s strongest strategies for this game was a major achievement — with the algorithms having future applications in business, military, cybersecurity and medical arenas,” Sandholm said.

Insectoids are coming.
Drone flies after being installed with honeybee brain
Fleets of these "artificial bees" could one day pollinate our crops just like real bees do.
This could be the bee version of the robot apocalypse: Researchers from the Universities of Sheffield and Sussex have installed a drone with a honeybee brain, and it flies much like a real-life bee, reports Discover. Fleets of these bee-like bots could even one day takeover for actual, organic honeybees in the task of pollinating our crops.
The research is part of the Green Brain Project, which seeks to create artificial brains that are modeled after the brains of real-life creatures, and install them into robots. Their primary focus at this time is on the honeybee Apis mellifera.
For this experiment, a bee's brain was mapped and recreated using circuits that fire on and off in the same way that neural connections fire in organic bee brains. This artificial brain was then uploaded to a quadcopter drone, which was capable of successfully flying and navigating a corridor without bumping into anything. Researchers even claim that the drone's flying behavior was eerily similar to how real honeybees fly.

Though it's a remarkable achievement, it's important to note that the researchers only mapped a part of a honeybee's brain-- specifically, the parts responsible for seeing and smelling. Mapping the entire cognition of a honeybee would be a very complicated task, though researchers see this project as the first step in that eventual direction.

Speaking about learning. I believe this is prescient - not that humans will replace robots - they are coming more than we can know - but this is the way to accelerated learning in anticipation to unleashing deep and grounded design knowledge when 3D printing becomes the norm for manufacturing - This is the learning that is deeper than what the current educational system provides. Learning by doing. 
‘Gods’ edging out robots at Toyota facility
Inside Toyota Motor Corp.’s oldest plant, there’s a corner where humans have taken over from robots in thwacking glowing lumps of metal into crankshafts. This is Mitsuru Kawai’s vision of the future.

“We need to become more solid and get back to basics, to sharpen our manual skills and further develop them,” said Kawai, a half century-long company veteran tapped by President Akio Toyoda to promote craftsmanship at Toyota’s plants. “When I was a novice, experienced masters used to be called gods, and they could make anything.”

These gods, or “kami-sama” in Japanese, are making a comeback at Toyota, the company that long set the pace for manufacturing prowess in the auto industry and beyond. Toyota’s next step forward is counterintuitive in an age of automation: Humans are taking the place of machines in plants across the nation so workers can develop new skills and figure out ways to improve production lines and the car-building process.

“Toyota views their people who work in a plant like this as craftsmen who need to continue to refine their art and skill level,” said Jeff Liker, who has written eight books on Toyota and visited Kawai last year. “In almost every company you would visit, the workers’ jobs are to feed parts into a machine and call somebody for help when it breaks down.”

Learning how to make car parts from scratch gives younger workers insights they otherwise wouldn’t get from picking parts from bins and conveyor belts, or pressing buttons on machines. At about 100 manual-intensive workspaces introduced over the last three years across Toyota’s factories in Japan, these lessons can then be applied to reprogram machines to cut down on waste and improve processes, Kawai said.

One the energy front - here’s more on the rapid emergence of solar into mainstream.
Solar Costing a Third of Retail Power Emerges in Germany
Germany’s cost of producing solar energy has shrunk to about a third of the price households pay for power after the nation made developers compete for subsidies.
Most bids to build large ground-mounted solar plants in the first solar auction came in at 9 euro cents (9.7 U.S. cents) to 10 euro cents a kilowatt-hour, Deputy Economy Minister Rainer Baake said. German retail consumers are paying on average 29.8 cents a kWh, according to Eurostat.

“The auctions were very well received,” Baake said at an energy conference Thursday in Berlin. The previous “feed-in tariffs were wonderful to introduce the technology. That era is over.” He didn’t say which bids were accepted, and there’s no guarantee all of them will result in projects.

Germany introduced auctions to try to lower the cost of solar installations as it seeks to more than triple the share of its power consumption coming from renewables by the middle of the century. The Bundesnetzagentur regulator received 170 bids for more than the 150 megawatts it offered. It will auction off a further 350 megawatts this year, 400 megawatts next year and 300 megawatts in 2017.

Coal-fired plants still generate power cheaper than solar in Germany, which has less sunshine than Italy and Spain in the south. That didn’t stop the country from jumpstarting a photovoltaic installation boom when it introduced above-market subsidies to developers more than a decade ago.

And another article.
RPT-Like shale oil, solar power is shaking up global energy
Solar could impact energy sector as much as shale
Solar has become cost competitive in most major economies
Solar costs have fallen 80 percent in last decade
China policy change boosts solar stocks
Global solar index up 40 percent this year

One by one, Japan is turning off the lights at the giant oil-fired power plants that propelled it to the ranks of the world's top industrialised nations. With nuclear power in the doldrums after the Fukushima disaster, it's solar energy that is becoming the alternative.

Solar power is set to become profitable in Japan as early as this quarter, according to the Japan Renewable Energy Foundation (JREF), freeing it from the need for government subsidies and making it the last of the G7 economies where the technology has become economically viable.

Japan is now one of the world's four largest markets for solar panels and a large number of power plants are coming onstream, including two giant arrays over water in Kato City and a $1.1 billion solar farm being built on a salt field in Okayama, both west of Osaka.
"Solar has come of age in Japan and from now on will be replacing imported uranium and fossil fuels," said Tomas Kåberger, executive board chairman of JREF.

Once Japan reaches cost-revenue parity in solar energy, it will mean the technology is commercially viable in all G7 countries and 14 of the G20 economies, according to data from governments, industry and consumer groups.

A crash in the prices of photovoltaic panels and improved technology that harnesses more power from the sun has placed solar on the cusp of a global boom, analysts say, who compare its rise to shale oil.
"Just as shale extraction reconfigured oil and gas, no other technology is closer to transforming power markets than distributed and utility scale solar," said consultancy Wood Mackenzie, which has a focus on the oil and gas industry.

Speaking about the looming ubiquitous Solar Energy and another looming shortage.
Scientists are turning salt water into drinking water using solar power
The world needs this.
By inexpensively turning salt water into drinking water using sustainable solar power, a team from MIT in the US has not only come up with a portable desalination system for use anywhere in the world that needs it, but it’s just won the 2015 Desal Prize - a competition run by USAID to encourage better solutions to water shortages in developing countries.

In order to win the $140,000 prize, entries had to demonstrate how their invention not only works well, but is cost-effective, environmentally sustainable, and energy efficient. And the MIT researchers teamed up with US-based manufacturing company, Jain Irrigation Systems, to do just that.

The team’s invention works by using solar panels to charge a cache of batteries that power an electrodialysis machine that removes salt from the water and makes it perfectly drinkable. David L. Chandler explains for MIT News:

Are we approaching an energy tipping point?
Half of U.S. Fracking Companies Will Be Dead or Sold This Year
Half of the 41 fracking companies operating in the U.S. will be dead or sold by year-end because of slashed spending by oil companies, an executive with Weatherford International Plc said.

There could be about 20 companies left that provide hydraulic fracturing services, Rob Fulks, pressure pumping marketing director at Weatherford, said in an interview Wednesday at the IHS CERAWeek conference in Houston. Demand for fracking, a production method that along with horizontal drilling spurred a boom in U.S. oil and natural gas output, has declined as customers leave wells uncompleted because of low prices.

There were 61 fracking service providers in the U.S., the world’s largest market, at the start of last year. Consolidation among bigger players began with Halliburton Co. announcing plans to buy Baker Hughes Inc. in November for $34.6 billion...
...Oil companies are cutting more than $100 billion in spending globally after prices fell. Frack pricing is expected to fall as much as 35 percent this year, according to PacWest, a unit of IHS Inc..

This is not yet like building a public infrastructure for the digital environment - but it’s approaching  a good simulation.
Google Is About to Make Your Wireless Carrier a Lot Less Relevant
GOOGLE’S NEW WIRELESS phone service, Project Fi, offers a long list of modern day perks. It automatically moves phones between traditional cellular networks and the WiFi wireless networks inside homes and businesses. Once on WiFi, you can still make calls and send texts. And you can pay for all this in small, flat, monthly fees—avoiding the sort of inflated, strings-attached pricing that so often accompanies our cell services.

But the most interesting perk is that the service uses two different wireless carriers—T-Mobile and Sprint—and you don’t have to pick between them. As you move from place to place, Project Fi will not only move you from cellular to WiFi and back again. It will move you between T-Mobile and Sprint, depending on whose signal is the strongest in your particular location.

“The unique thing is that you’re no longer tied to a network. You can go from a Sprint tower to a T-Mobile tower and back to a Sprint tower. That’s groundbreaking. It gives customers so much more freedom,” says Robert Schouwenburg, the chief operating officer of mobile hotspot startup Karma, which has negotiated a deal with Sprint similar to Google’s.

At the moment, Google’s service is only available on the Nexus 6, the company’s flagship Android phone. But it points to a new world where the big wireless carriers—Sprint, T-Mobile, Verizon, AT&T, and the rest—are pushed even further into the background of our daily lives. It’s a world where we won’t really pay attention to what network we’re on, what brand name it might carry. We’ll just rely on our phone to move us onto the network that can best serve us at any given moment. And isn’t that a world we all want?

Here is an interesting development that may displace for FoldIt player - or augment their capacity for social computing - but will certainly augment Artificial Intelligence.
An Algorithm Set Revolutionizes 3-D Protein Structure Discovery
A new way to determine 3-D structures from 2-D images is set to speed up protein structure discovery by a factor of 100,000.
One of the great challenges in molecular biology is to determine the three-dimensional structure of large biomolecules such as proteins. But this is a famously difficult and time-consuming task.

The standard technique is x-ray crystallography, which involves analyzing the x-ray diffraction pattern from a crystal of the molecule under investigation. That works well for molecules that form crystals easily.

But many proteins, perhaps most, do not form crystals easily. And even when they do, they often take on unnatural configurations that do not resemble their natural shape.
So finding another reliable way of determining the 3-D structure of large biomolecules would be a huge breakthrough. Today, Marcus Brubaker and a couple of pals at the University of Toronto in Canada say they have found a way to dramatically improve a 3-D imaging technique that has never quite matched the utility of x-ray crystallography.

The new technique is based on an imaging process called electron cryomicroscopy. This begins with a purified solution of the target molecule that is frozen into a thin film just a single molecule thick.

Speaking about proteins - here’s an interesting development in the world of domesticating DNA.
50 years of DNA research turned upside down as scientists discover second programming language within genetic code
Scientists have discovered a second code hiding within DNA. This second code contains information that changes how scientists read the instructions contained in DNA and interpret mutations to make sense of health and disease.

A research team led by Dr. John Stamatoyannopoulos, University of Washington associate professor of genome sciences and of medicine, made the discovery. The findings are reported in the Dec. 13 issue of Science.

The work is part of the Encyclopedia of DNA Elements Project, also known as ENCODE. The National Human Genome Research Institute funded the multi-year, international effort. ENCODE aims to discover where and how the directions for biological functions are stored in the human genome.

Since the genetic code was deciphered in the 1960s, scientists have assumed that it was used exclusively to write information about proteins. UW scientists were stunned to discover that genomes use the genetic code to write two separate languages. One describes how proteins are made, and the other instructs the cell on how genes are controlled. One language is written on top of the other, which is why the second language remained hidden for so long.

And even more discovery about the information of life.
Beyond genes: Are centrioles carriers of biological information?
Scientists have discovered that certain cell structures, the centrioles, could act as information carriers throughout cell generations. The discovery raises the possibility that transmission of biological information could involve more than just genes. Centrioles may actually be carriers of information, which holds profound implications for biology and disease treatment.

During reproduction, both parents equally contribute genetic material, while the female egg donates most of the cell organelles, such as mitochondria. However, the centrioles of the newly fertilized embryo come exclusively from the male's sperm, bringing with them any malfunctions to the first embryo cells.

For Fun
The transparent society and the end of privacy as we’ve come to know it. The designs speak louder than words and other sounds ….
Bathrooms without doors. How did this become a thing?
Yes, the sharpest minds in architecture have convinced those with the most dosh in luxe and contemporary abodes to do away with bathroom doors in the master bedroom with its accompanying ensuite.

Now while a yurt, igloo, or even some of those overpriced studio apartments where you can’t swing a cat, might lack a bathroom door for spatial reasons, there’s no justification for any place else to go without.

Sure, open space can look impressive. Just imagine: the over-sized mirror reflecting back onto the handmade upholstered headboard and bespoke side tables. The glass shower, polished to perfection allows natural light to filter throughout. Seriously people, how doesn’t this fad appeal?

Since we’re talking home furnishing - I have to say I am much more of chork fan (see the picture) - it’s way more Zombie ready - and appropriate for anything that may still be moving.
Consider the Spork. Everyone Else Is.
Consider the spork. A fast food and backpacking staple, the hybrid spoon-fork eating utensil’s utility is winning over the world of haute cuisine and inspiring other clever combinations.

The Michelin-starred restaurant D’O outside of Milan serves silky Risotto alla Milanese, which uses only local Italian saffron costing hundreds of euro per ounce. But don’t ask for a spoon, because Chef Davide Olandi serves his internationally renowned cuisine with sporks.

Sporks have inspired other hybrid utensils, most notably the chork. Chorks, which are currently relegated to the fast-casual disposable-utensil category, are for people who are shaky on chopsticks and need fork training-wheels. A friend rightly noted that they look more like tweezers than chopsticks, and suggested that we call them “freezers.” It’s hard to imagine chorks existing without sporks.