Thursday, May 28, 2015

Friday Thinking, 29 May 2015

Hello – Friday Thinking is curated on the basis of my own curiosity and offered in the spirit of sharing. Many thanks to those who enjoy this. J

Ecosystems are dynamic and co-evolving communities of diverse actors who create new value through increasingly productive and sophisticated models of both collaboration and competition.

Rethinking the fundamentals of how a business creates and captures value wasn’t a priority in an era of slow change and stable industries, but during a time of rapid convergence of enabling technologies, customer desires, and business ecosystems, it now must be. As early as a decade ago, an Economist Intelligence Unit survey found a clear majority of executives saying that business model innovation would be more important to their companies’ success than product or service innovation.

. . . the opportunities of the future on a street corner in Bangalore, in a small city in central India, in a village in Kenya… don’t require companies to forgo profits. On the surface, nothing could be more prosaic: a laundry, a compact fridge, a money-transfer service. But look closely at the businesses behind these offerings and you will find the frontiers of business model innovation. These novel ventures reveal a way to help companies escape stagnant demand at home, create new and profitable revenue streams, and find competitive advantage.

...“Success is a powerful thing,” said Intuit’s Scott Cook. “It tends to make companies stupid, and they become less and less innovative.”22 The big problem is that it’s a form of stupidity that, in the moment, can feel very smart. High-flying companies with so much to lose become cautious, their every move carefully considered.
Minimum viable transformation

In recent years technology has introduced unprecedented change and uncertainty to markets. It’s no surprise that CEOs talk so much about agility and adaptation. Less remarked upon is the uneven effect of those forces, which also makes markets more diverse than ever. Established, stable businesses in the developed world must be managed alongside young, unpredictable ones in the developing world, and fast-evolving tech-based businesses alongside slow-moving cash cows. To deal with this diversity, companies need to tailor their approach to strategy and execution to each environment in which they operate. And because of the increasing pace of change, they need to constantly “retune” this collage of approaches. But it’s simply not feasible to manage all these shifts using traditional top-down, deliberative decision making. The ability to adjust needs to be woven into the fabric of the enterprise.

Self-tuning is related to the concepts of agility (rapid adjustment), adaptation (learning through trial and error), and ambidexterity (balancing exploration and exploitation). Self-tuning algorithms incorporate elements of all three—but in a self-directed fashion.

The self-tuning enterprise, in contrast, takes an evolutionary approach at all levels. The vision, business model, and supporting components are regularly calibrated to the changing environment by applying the three learning loops. The organization is no longer viewed as a fixed means of transmitting intentions from above but, rather, as a network that shifts and develops in response to external feedback.

Focus on seizing and shaping strategic opportunities, not on executing plans.
In volatile environments, plans can quickly become out-of-date. In Alibaba’s case, rapid advances in technology, shifting consumer expectations in China and beyond, and regulatory uncertainty made it difficult to predict the future. To deal with this situation, Alibaba adopted a continuous process of “replanning.” Rather than meticulously executing a fixed, detailed blueprint, the company keeps revising its strategy and tactics as circumstances change.
Get good at adapting the organization.
The Self-Tuning Enterprise

We are approaching having half the world online.
3.2 billion people will be online by the end of 2015, 2 billion from developing countries
A report on internet usage worldwide released by the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) says that 3.2 billion people will be using the internet by the end of 2015.

The report, which is released yearly, details trends in ICT growth and the connectivity gaps remaining worldwide. This year’s release shows a significant amount of progress made since 2000, but still a decent road ahead in developing countries.

For every internet user in the developed world there are now two online in the developing world, meaning there are 4 billion people in developing countries who are still not connected/online.

Internet usage is highest in Europe, with 82.1 percent of people connected at home, followed by America at 60 percent.
The ITU expects there will be more than 7 billion active cellular connections by the end of 2015, which has grown from 738 million in 2000.
A pdf of facts and figures is downloadable here

This is a new White Paper from the European Commission
White Paper on Citizen Science for Europe
The White Paper on Citizen Science in Europe aims to support policy makers on European, national and regional level when setting up future strategies of civic engagement in the excellence in science. The document's prémiere will be held in Brussels, 22 th september, during Socientize event Citizen Science Europe. You can check full schedule for this day in our website. White Paper deserves our best gratitude for our partner ZSI from Wien, Austria.

The debate and consultation had collected  the experiences and opinions from the divers set of stakeholders and has been organised during diverse stages of the project. All contributors will be named in the list of contributors of the White Paper.

What is human nature - an eternal question that is also under pressure from new science and new concepts.
New Study of Foragers Undermines Claim That War Has Deep Evolutionary Roots
One of the most insidious modern memes holds that war is innate, an adaptation bred into our ancestors by natural selection. This hypothesis—let's call it the "Deep Roots Theory of War"--has been promoted by such intellectual heavyweights as Steven Pinker, Edward Wilson, Jared Diamond, Richard Wrangham, Francis Fukuyama and David Brooks. *[After reading this post, please see followup posts: "New Study of Prehistoric Skeletons Undermines Claim that War Has Deep Evolutionary Roots," "Survey of Earliest Human Settlements Undermines Claims That War Has Deep Evolutionary Roots."]

The Deep Roots Theory addresses not just violent human aggression in general but a particular manifestation of it, involving attacks by one group against another. Deep Rooters often contend that--as warlike as we are today--we were much more warlike before the advent of civilization.

A study published today in Science, "Lethal Aggression in Mobile Forager Bands and Implications for the Origins of War," provides more counter-evidence to the Deep Roots Theory. The study's authors, anthropologists Douglas Fry and Patrik Soderberg of Abo Akademi University in Finland, say their findings "contradict recent assertions that [mobile foragers] regularly engage in coalitionary war against other groups."

Fry and Soderberg focus on mobile forager bands, also called nomadic hunter-gatherers, because their behavior is thought to provide a window into human evolution. Our ancestors lived as wandering foragers from the emergence of the Homogenus some 2 million years ago until about 10,000 years ago, when humans began raising crops, domesticating animals and settling down into more complex, hierarchical societies.

Evolving in the trajectory of the digital environment here’s an interesting blog post by Pierre Levy. The simple graphic tables throughout are interesting illustrations of the ideas.
The Emergence of Reflexive Collective Intelligence
Emergence happens through an interdependant circulation of information between two levels of complexity. A code translates and betrays information in both directions: bottom-up and top-down.

According to our model, human collective intelligence emerges from natural evolution. The lower level of quantic complexity translates into a higher level of molecular complexity through the atomic stabilization and coding. There are no more than 120 atomic elements that explain the complexity of matter by their connections and reactions. The emergence of the next level of complexity – life – comes from the genetic code that is used by organisms as a trans-generational memory. Communication in neuronal networks translates organic life into conscious phenomena, including sense data, pleasure and pain, desire, etc. So emerges the animal life. Let’s note that organic life is intrinsically ecosystemic and that animals have developed many forms of social or collective intelligence. The human level emerges through the symbolic code : language, music, images, rituals and all the complexity of culture. It is only thank to symbols that we are able to conceptualize phenomena and think reflexively about what we do and think. Symbolic systems are all conventional but the human species is symbolic by nature, so to speak. Here, collective intelligence reaches a new level of complexity because it is based on collaborative symbol manipulation.

In terms of types of intelligence here’s something about the world of reasoning in conditions of complexity - where prediction is impossible and anticipatory awareness must be developed. This is a must view 10 min video.
Risk and Resilience
Moving from a system designed for robustness to one that supports resilience represents a significant strategic shift. Whilst systems have commonly been designed to be robust - systems which are designed to prevent failure - increasing complexity and the difficulty it poses to fail-proof planning have made a shift to "resilience" strategically imperative. A resilient system on the other hand accepts that failure is inevitable and focuses instead on early discovery and fast recovery from failure.

Speaking of risk and resilience - with the acceleration of change accelerating - with the approach of a near-zero marginal cost economy - with the need for continual, life-long learning in order to keep up in a race where everything that can be automated will be - the serious question for an economy that depends on innovation is “What sort of platform can enable people to take the necessary risks involved with innovation and learning? This is a must view 55 min video discussing the possibility of a guaranteed income in Canada. The discussion about this possibility is an important one - whether one agrees or not - it’s a question of creating a platform for wealth - as defined by Adam Smith - the productive capacity of people. What type of social-political-economic platform will enable the flourishing of human productivity?
Basic Income Canada
Why is a basic income necessary? Why should the living wage movement care about the basic income movement? What is the cost of a basic income? How can people join the movement for Basic Income in Canada? This and more will be discussed with Jon Sanderson from Canada in our live hangout. You are welcome to ask questions and place comments throughout our live transmission

Speaking of Risk and Resilience - here’s something from Australia that was once on track to bring 93% of households fiber optic and now with a change in government this is the new preparation for the 21st Century - progress or regress?
Even Learning About Encryption In Australia Will Soon Be Illegal
You might not think that an academic computer science course could be classified as an export of military technology. But under the Defence Trade Controls Act — which passed into law in April, and will come into force next year — there is a real possibility that even seemingly innocuous educational and research activities could fall foul of Australian defence export control laws.

Under these laws, such “supplies of technology” come under a censorship regime involving criminal penalties of up to ten years imprisonment. How could this be?
The story begins with the Australian government’s Defence and Strategic Goods List (DSGL). This list specifies goods considered important to national defence and security, and which are therefore tightly controlled.

Regulation of military weapons is not a particularly controversial idea. But the DSGL covers much more than munitions. It also includes many “dual-use” goods, which are goods with both military and civilian uses. This includes substantial sections on chemicals, electronics and telecommunications, among other things.

Disturbingly, the DSGL risks veering wildly in the direction of over-classification, covering activities that are completely unrelated to military or intelligence applications.

Speaking of collective intelligence - here’s a short article on the progressive transformation of learning.
A new model for higher education?
Last month I mentioned that business schools, through their graduate degrees and executive education programmes, might be the first to feel the heat of the changing market for higher education. Turns out that may not be true – it might be the undergraduate market, quickly followed by the rest of higher education. Globally.

Arizona State University, or ASU, and edX, a partnership between MIT and Harvard, recently announced an initiative that will allow students to do their entire first year of an undergraduate programme online.

According to the announcement of this new "alternative entry into higher education" on ASU’s website:

“The Global Freshman Academy will give learners anywhere in the world the opportunity to earn freshman-level university credit after successfully completing a series of digital immersion courses hosted on edX, designed and taught by leading scholars from ASU.

“By allowing students to learn, explore and complete courses before applying or paying for credit, the Global Freshman Academy reimagines the freshman year and reduces academic and monetary stress while opening a new path to a college degree for many students.”

This arrangement puts ASU in a great position to be a ‘credit bundler’ and therefore a university to the world. In essence, by being a first-mover in awarding credits for MOOCs – theirs and others – ASU could become the largest university in the world.

This is a wonderful 5 min video on creating conditions that improve performance.
Carol Dweck - A Study on Praise and Mindsets
For over a decade Carol Dweck and her team studied the effects of praise on students. This study involved a series of experiments on over 400 5th graders from all over the country.

To start, Carol Dweck and her team gave all the students a really easy non-verbal IQ test. At the end of the test they praised the students in one of two ways:
One group was praised for their intelligence: "Wow great job - You must be really smart at this"
The other group was praised for their effort: "Wow great job - You must of worked really hard at this"

Dweck wanted to look at how this subtle difference in the way that they were praised effects the students mindset and performance.
After praising the children they gave them an option for the next test. One choice was to take a harder test that Dweck told the children would be quite difficult, but a great opportunity to learn and grow. The other choice was to take a second test that was similar to the first, and one they would surely do well on.

67% of the students that were praised for their intelligence chose the easier option. While 92% of the students that were praised for their effort chose the harder option!

The next test they gave the students was incredibly difficult - One that they would surely all fail. Carol Dweck wanted to look at how the different groups attacked this challenge. She noticed:The effort group worked harder, longer, and actually enjoyed this test more than the intelligence group - Who quickly became frustrated and gave up early.

For the final step of the study Carol Dweck and her team gave all of the students a test that was just as easy as the first. The results are pretty convincing:
The intelligence group actually did worse on this test than they did on the first. Their average score dropped by 20%
The effort group did better. Their average score ended up increasing by 30%.

Here is some great evidence about the differences between Morning people and Night Owls. Perhaps it’s my own rant against the tyranny of the Morning People. :)
Morning People Vs. Night Owls: 9 Insights Backed By Science
Chances are you already know whether you're a morning person or a night person (and if you don't, just ask your significant other). What you might not know is that social scientists use pretty specific—and, by academic standards, pretty casual—names for these two chronotypes. "Larks" are up and at it early in the morning, and tend to hit the sack at a respectable evening hour; "owls" are most alert at night, and typically turn in long after dark.

These labels are less an either-or than a spectrum; chronotype can shift over a person's lifetime, and recent work suggests adding two more subsets to the list: early to wake and late to bed, and late to wake but early bed. But generally speaking the larks-or-owls construct has stood the rigors of research, with evidence really growing since the development of a 19-part Morningness-Eveningness Questionnaire in the late 1970s that sorts folks into chronotypes based on things like when they'd ideally get up, how alert they feel in the morning, when they normally get tired, and so on. More involved than asking a spouse, but effective.

An exhaustive list of lessons to emerge from this line of study isn't possible (or, frankly, something that sounds fun). But we gathered some of our favorite lark-versus-owl studies from recent years and identified nine general insights worth passing along—for your late night, or early morning, pleasure.

This is a very interesting piece - well worth the read for anyone interested in blogging, communicating, and the trajectory of the future of work, the economy, and more.
Medium is not a publishing tool
Today, we all understand the Internet business is not the software business. We strive to build networks and platforms. We compete on user experience (and marketing, to some extent). Features and flexibility are far down the list of competitive tactics, at least when you’re dealing in consumer software (make that, services).

My next “blogging” tool had far fewer features — and way more users. No one moves where they tweet because some other tool has better formatting or profile customization. That’s because a tiny percentage of the value Twitter brings comes from the software itself. It’s all about the network — the connection with other users and the content they create.

Chris Dixon had a great post a while back — Come for the tool, stay for the network — describing how, unlike Twitter, some platforms started out with tool value and transitioned into network value (which, ultimately, became a much bigger part of the equation, such is the case with Instagram). We had an inkling of this and were just getting started on the network piece of Blogger when I left 10+ years ago. It’s not that Blogger immediately suffered. Its ease-of-use continued to attract users in the tens of millions for many years. (According to Compete, had 63M visitors just this March.) But it was a pretty big missed opportunity for Google. (Don’t worry, they’ve done fine.)

More importantly, it was a missed opportunity for people and ideas. Well-designed networks reduce friction and help good stuff be found. Connections allow the whole to become greater than the sum of the parts and allow new paths to discover and build meaning.

This is a very interesting development - augmenting the human aesthetic sensibility - enabling us to see beauty we may tend to overlook.
Computational Aesthetics Algorithm Spots Beauty That Humans Overlook
Beautiful images are not always popular ones, which is where the CrowdBeauty algorithm can help, say computer scientists.
One of the depressing truths about social media is that the popularity of an image is not necessarily an indication of its quality. It’s easy to find hugely popular content of dubious quality. But it’s much harder to find unpopular content of high quality.

That’s largely because popularity is governed by a power law: a small proportion of content receives a large proportion of attention while the vast majority of content shares the rest. Take the picture-sharing website Flickr, which hosts some 200 million pictures. Of these, 166 million have five favorites or less.

That’s a large number of unpopular pictures! It’s easy to imagine that there must be many photographic gems hidden within this long tail of unpopularity. But how to reveal it?

Today, we get an answer thanks to the work of Rossano Schifanella at the University of Turin in Italy and Miriam Redi and Luca Maria Aiello at Yahoo Labs in Barcelona. These guys have taught a machine vision algorithm to recognize beauty and then allowed it to trawl through the long tail of unpopular Flickr images looking for gems that nobody has noticed. And the results are impressive.

Speaking of AI here’s an interesting new development.
Numenta And IBM To Build Biologically Inspired Intelligent Machines.
When we catch balls, Jeff Hawkins, cofounder of Numenta and author of “On Intelligence,” tells us we aren’t solving differential equations. A robot, on the other hand, does solve differential equations, requiring roughly 3-trillion calculations for a 1s toss (“Kinematically Optimal Catching a Flying Ball with a Hand-Arm-System,” Berthold Bauml, Thomas Wimbock and Gerd Hirzinger, Institute of Robotics and Mechatronics, 2010).

There’s a big difference between intelligence and intelligent behavior Jeff would also have you note. Deep Blue, the IBM computer that beat chess grand-master Gary Kasparov back in 1996, and IBM’s Watson, which defeated two Jeopardy! champions back in 2011, displayed intelligent behavior, not intelligence. When you stop feeding these machines their specialized input, their intelligent behavior ceases. On the other hand, when you lay awake in the warm darkness of your bedroom with your eyes closed, your mind continues processing unabated, thinking, musing, possibly stumbling onto some deep aha moment. Part of the reason you keep ticking in the dark is that there are, in fact,pacemaker-like neurons always active in your brain.

This innate lack of intelligence is the problem underlying all of the current machine architectures generating all of the hype in AI. Whether it’s the work of Google’s Professor Geoff Hinton, the work of Professor Fei-Fei Li at the Stanford Vision Lab, or the work of Professor Yann LeCun at Facebook’s AI lab, the output of their machines is intelligent behavior without actually harboring any actual intelligence. The machines and their algorithms are as innately intelligent as the cursor at the end of this sentence.

Maybe we will see Robo-Chef at a fast food joint near us soon - or maybe a mashup between Robot Wars and Chopped. This is interesting in that it illuminates some occupations that will at minimum be ‘enhanced’ with robot help and second it demonstrates the speed of progress being made in robotics.
Robots Start to Grasp Food Processing
Advances in robotics make it possible to automate tasks such as processing poultry and vegetables.
It is less striking than Deep Blue’s victory over chess champ Garry Kasparov, but Richard van der Linde says that his robotic hand’s mastery at picking up cabbage is something of a milestone for machines. With the aid of five cameras, plus sensors in its wrist to monitor the resistance it encounters, the three-fingered gripper can carefully pick up a cabbage, reorient it, and place it into a machine that removes the core. “In industry, only humans can do that at the moment,” says van der Linde.

His company Lacquey, based in Delft, the Netherlands, is working with FTNON, a manufacturer of food-processing equipment, to get the technology ready to go to work inside the giant chillers where today humans process cabbage, lettuce, and other produce for packaging. ­Lacquey is also testing versions for other sorts of jobs, such as packaging tomatoes, peppers, and mangoes.

The company’s progress is an example of how advances in robotic manipulation technology are opening up new jobs for robots in the food-processing business. Solid, hard, identical objects such as car parts are easy for robots to move around. But delicate, flexible, naturally variable objects such as meat, fruit, and vegetables require much more sophisticated sensing and manipulation.

Interest is driven partly by the potential to cut labor costs, just as in other industries. But food-processing companies also see robotics as a way to increase safety, says Gary McMurray, who leads the Food Processing Technology division at the Georgia Tech Research Institute. “Anywhere you have people in there handling food, they make mistakes from time to time,” he says. Incidents where meat or vegetables become contaminated with, say, E. colior Listeria are costly to a food processor. A 2015 study found that on average, meat recalls wiped $109 million from a public food-processing company’s value within five days of their announcement. Though figures are not available for the specific number of cases originating from contamination at a food-­processing plant, the Centers for Disease Control estimates that 128,000 Americans are hospitalized with food-borne illness from all causes each year, and of those, 3,000 die.

Now that we are speaking about the food industry.
Food Technology for All
We may be heading toward a new food economy that’s more competitive and innovative.
For years, the most important food technologies were all about scale. How could we feed a fast-growing population at less expense? By doing everything bigger: food grown on bigger farms was sold by ever-merging global food giants to grocery chains of superstore proportions.

Many of today’s food technologies seem to be moving in the opposite direction, toward methods and products that are economical for small farms as well as large corporate ones. This does not mean an end to big food: with the planet’s population projected to reach 9.6 billion by 2050, agriculture and food production will still have to achieve a massive scale, with help from technology and innovative research. Still, evolving technologies, including inexpensive sensors, mobile devices, and data analysis, have helped an increasing variety of food companies, retailers, and producers lower their costs and compete in many specialty markets.

This could be the start of a new food economy—one that reflects more competition and more innovation, provides opportunity for a broader group of investors, and is more dynamic and responsive than the industrial model that has dominated for decades.
This Business Report explores the implications of that shift—for financing food startups, for the development of new foods, and even for how we shop and eat.

Talking about new methods of food production - the urban farm non-profit is an interesting concept - this is a 30 min video - well worth the view - for anyone interested in what urban farming is capable of - for both vegetables and fish.
Will Allen [Urban Farmer] - Growing Power
Growing Power is a national nonprofit organization and land trust supporting people from diverse backgrounds, and the environments in which they live, by helping to provide equal access to healthy, high-quality, safe and affordable food for people in all communities. Growing Power implements this mission by providing hands-on training, on-the-ground demonstration, outreach and technical assistance through the development of Community Food Systems that help people grow, process, market and distribute food in a sustainable manner.

This is a longish piece - but is a must read for anyone interested the future of distributed organization based on the concept of the ‘blockchain’ - the protocol underlying the Bitcoin. I’m not quite convinced by this paper, as it is from the Ethereum group itself - there may be significant ‘vaporware’ involved here. However, this is an important effort in expanding the concept of Bitcoin and new capabilities for new forms of currency and contractual transactions.
The Business Imperative Behind the Ethereum Vision
In the world of cryptography-based computer science, the Ethereum technology vision has captivated the imagination of a large number of software developers and technologists who saw its obvious promise. But those same promises and their business interpretations (and implications) have not widely reached, nor been well understood by non-technical audiences.

As Ethereum nears coming out of the “labs” and into the market, it is even more important that its message be widely understood by the business community.
The purpose of this article is to answer why Ethereum matters, why non-technical people should care, and why we need another global blockchain, even if Bitcoin already is one. These are a few key questions, and for each one of them, the more you dive into the answers, the more you start to understand them, and the more you will appreciate Ethereum’s unique position, while learning that its approach has merits and longevity.

Ethereum is an alternative decentralized ledger protocol, not an alternative cryptocurrency. Ethereum’s ideological lineage contains as much BitTorrent, Java and Freenet as it does Bitcoin. From a product perspective, it is a general-purpose, global blockchain that can govern both financial and non-financial types of application states.

In its essence, Ethereum powers decentralized business logic, also known as smart contracts, represented as cryptographic “boxes” that contain value and only unlock it if certain conditions are met. This business logic executes on the blockchain cloud (no server hosting is required), and automatically enforces the terms of a given agreement between a number of parties. They are a building block for “ÐApps”, the new form of Decentralized Applications that Ethereum excels at. And from a front-end (client) point of view, Ethereum has a powerful special-purpose browser enabling users to install and interact with any ÐApp in a user-friendly manner.

Here is an interesting innovation for wind energy.
This wind turbine has no blades — and that’s why it’s better
What do you get if you take the blades off a wind turbine? A better wind turbine.

That sounds like a joke, but that’s actually more or less the model of a new wind turbine prototype. Instead of blades that turn in the breeze, the turbine is just a hollow straw that sticks up 40 feet from the ground and vibrates like a guitar string when the wind thrums by.

The result is a turbine that’s 50 percent less expensive than a bladed one, nearly silent, and, as one of the turbine’s engineers put it, “looks like asparagus” (sorry, Quixote). And while each Vortex turbine is also 30 percent less efficient at capturing energy, wind farms can double the number of turbines that occupy a given area if they go bladeless. That’s a net energy gain of 40 percent for you non-mathletes out there.”

Speaking of alternative energy and the future of energy.
France Declares All New Rooftops Must Be Topped With Plants Or Solar Panels
A new law recently passed in France mandates that all new buildings that are built in commercial zones in France must be partially covered in either plants or solar panels.

Green roofs, as they are called, have an isolating effect which helps to reduce the amount of energy needed to heat a building during the winter or cool it in the summer. They are capable of retaining rainwater and reducing problems with runoff, and also offer birds a place to call home in the urban jungle.

French environmental activists originally wanted to pass a law that would make the green roofs cover the entire surface of all new roofs.

And speaking of the emergence of a new energy paradigm. They may also be thinking of the accelerating emergence of renewable forms of energy production as a negative impact on investments in traditional energy technologies.
Huge Insurance Company Cites Climate Change As Reason For Divesting From Coal
Citing climate change as a major threat, one of the world’s largest insurance companies has pledged to drop its remaining investment in coal assets while tripling its investment in green technologies.

At a business and climate change conference held this week in Paris, AXA — France’s largest insurer — announced that it would sell €500 million ($559 million) in coal assets by the end of 2015, while increasing its “green investments” in things like renewable energy, green infrastructure, and green bonds to €3 billion ($3.3 billion) by 2020.

During the announcement on Friday, AXA’s chief executive Henri de Castries spoke about the threat that climate change poses to the environment, and the responsibility of insurance companies to deal with those threats. Last year, AXA paid over €1 billion ($1.1 billion) globally in weather-related insurance claims, citing climate change as a “core business issue” already driving an increase in weather-related risks.

“The facts are undeniable. If we think we can live in a world where temperatures would have increased by more than 2 degrees [Celsius] we’re just fooling ourselves,” de Castries said.

Perhaps one of the key barriers to the acceleration of Solar and Wind energy uptake is storage of energy - batteries. This may be bad news for Elon Musk but promises more for the consumer.
Elon Musk and Tesla face a powerful competitor — Warren Buffett and his Chinese car company
Chinese automaker BYD, backed by Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway Inc, aims to triple its production of batteries as it takes on Tesla Motors in the race to supply electric vehicles and boost energy storage.

Shenzhen-based BYD plans to add 6 gigawatt hours of global production for batteries in each of the next three years, and hopes to keep adding at that pace afterwards if demand is solid, Matthew Jurjevich, a spokesman for the company, said on Friday.

That means BYD could ramp up from 10 GWh capacity at the end of this year to about 34 GWh of batteries by the beginning of 2020. This would put it about even with Tesla's planned $5 billion Nevada gigafactory.

The companies are fast emerging as two of the key players in the nascent electricity storage sector. Storage technology is considered critical to integrating large amounts of renewable energy because it can absorb excess power from wind farms or solar panels and keep that for use when conditions don't allow for power generation.

Speaking of cars - this articles only asks one of the important questions - the other question is in 50 years will kids believe we ever owned our own car? The picture of the Mercedes concept car is worth the view.
"Our Kids Will Not Believe Humans Ever Drove Cars" - The Real Question About Driverless Autos
Do you remember a time before the internet, and a time before television? Now answer the same question for your parents. And do it again for your children.
Carl Bass, chief executive of software design group Autodesk believes the same query will one day be posed about driverless cars.

“It will definitely happen,” he says. “We are as human beings particularly bad at driving. The range of human performance at driving is enormous. If you take Formula One drivers, they are superb athletes who can do things with a car that you and I can’t imagine and if you take a distracted person texting with a kid in the back seat screaming, we are absolutely awful drivers.

“We don’t really ever say it to each other but we literally kill thousands of people every year by driving. I think we will soon come to the conclusion that computers can drive cars way more safely than humans come. Fifty years from now, our kids and grandkids are going to look back and say: ‘I can’t believe they actually drove their own car’ back then’. It will become so routine.”

One the biotechnology front - this is an interesting finding - given that we are at a point where there are more people over 65 than under 15.
Vampire Healing: Young Blood Can Mend Old Broken Bones
It's old blood, not old bones, that makes fracture healing difficult among the elderly
Why do vampires from Dracula to Angel seem to crave the blood of the young and beautiful? The undead may be onto something. Young blood, it seems, has special healing properties that have been lost in older blood.

A recent finding by scientists from the Hospital for Sick Children, Toronto, and Duke University challenges long-held ideas about why our bones have a harder time healing as we age. Their research discovered that old mouse bones mend like youthful bones do when they're exposed to young blood after a fracture.

“The traditional concept is that as you get older, your bone cells kind of wear out so they can't heal as well, and we thought we'd find that during this study as well,” explains study co-author Benjamin Alman, of the Hospital for Sick Children. “But it turns out that it's not the bone cells, it's the blood cells. As you get older, the blood cells change the way they behave when you have an injury, and as a result the cells that heal bone aren't able to work as efficiently.”

When a bone is fractured, significant bleeding occurs at the site. Inflammatory blood cells help spur the process by which new bone cells heal the break over time. Alman and colleagues found that the blood cells of older mice don't drive this healing the way younger blood cells do, but they also wanted to see how those older bones would heal when exposed to young blood.

The progress towards domesticating DNA continues - here is something from Nature. On the positive side - this too may change some of the geopolitics currently involved in conflict.
Drugs: Regulate 'home-brew' opiates
The research community and the public require a fast, flexible response to the synthesis of morphine by engineered yeasts, urge Kenneth Oye, Tania Bubela and J. Chappell H. Lawson.
Every year, thousands of students from across the world compete to build biological systems from pre-existing parts in a competition organized by the International Genetically Engineered Machine (iGEM) Foundation. Last November, to spark discussion on security and health risks raised by synthetic biology, FBI Special Agent Edward You presented an example: the production of opiates from sugar by yeast (Saccharomyces cerevisiae) that has been genetically modified.

You's hypothetical scenario is becoming a reality. One week after the iGEM competition, two developers of opiate-producing yeast strains approached us, specialists in biotechnology policy. They had results in advance of publication, and requested advice on how they might maximize the benefits of their research while mitigating the risks. Now, published papers by these researchers — John Dueber at the University of California, Berkeley, and his colleagues, and Vincent Martin of Concordia University in Montreal, Canada, and his colleagues — describe all but one step of an engineered yeast pathway that converts glucose to morphine (see 'Brewing bad'). Meanwhile, researchers at the University of Calgary have put in place the final piece.

Nature has just published an extensive report on the technology of DNA editing - the acceleration of the domestication of DNA.
A DNA-editing technology called CRISPR has rapidly become one of the most popular ways to alter genomes. Concerns about its risks temper excitement about its usefulness. It has already been used to modify human embryos, and the technology could alter wild animal populations; it works in everything from wheat to mice. Nature brings together research, reporting and expert opinion on gene-editing and its implications.

For Fun
This is fun - but also very cool - all sorts of potential uses of this approach. It also confirm that dogs like children selectively hear - blah, blah, blah … TREAT.
World’s First ‘Phodographer’ Dog Uses Heart Rate Monitor That Snaps Pics When He Gets Excited
Sure, photographers take a lot of photos of dogs, but did anyone ever ask dogs what they want to take pictures of? With this new “Heartography” heart monitor and photo camera system, Nikon aims to let dogs show their owners what excites and interests them by snapping a photo from their point of view every time their heart rate goes up.

The heart rate monitor can be worn on a strap around the dog’s neck. The camera is worn on the dog’s chest with the help of a harness, and the two communicate with Bluetooth. When the dog’s heartrate goes up – which can be when he’s excited or afraid – the camera snaps a picture! It’s not yet clear if the system will be available for sale.
The first “phodographer” to use Nikon’s new system was a dog named Grizzler, who stars in their promotional video. Take a look!


  1. John, again a superb collection, some nuggets I had missed.

    About blameless wind harvesting, my initial (engineering) reaction was very negative - and is, and has been confirmed by others. The capture section is very small, and the vibrating perturbance in the flow - this is the source of the energy harvesting so turbulence is needed (laminar flow at low speed would not produce any) - is bound to create much, much noise. And the overall efficiency will be terrible. Worth trying but my estimate of success is very low, except perhaps in unusual locations.

  2. Thanks Denis - I Googled and found this link

    The article lists 8 'red flags' concerning this concept and the folks trying to develop it. I suppose lots can happen from idea - to prototype - to reality.