Category Archives: Uncategorized

Sanofi BioGENEius Challenge Canada (SBCC) 2014 regional competitions

The Sanofi BioGENEius Challenge competitions seem to have been scheduled a little later this year. I announced the 2013 national winners of the Sanofi BioGENEius Challenge Canada (SBCC) competition in an April 9, 2013 posting and, for this year, I’ve just received word the regional competitions start today, March 27, 2014, and end April 29, 2014 with the national competition being held in Ottawa on May 23, 2014 and the international competition held in San Diego, California, June 22 – 25, 2014.

Here’s more about the competitions from the March 26, 2014 SBCC news release,

Hundreds of Canada’s most gifted high school and CEGEP students and their mentors, teachers and parents, will come together for the 2014 “Sanofi BioGENEius Challenge Canada (SBCC)”, Canada’s only national  biotechnology competition with mentors from Canada’s top universities and research institutes. Inspired by the question “How will you change the world?”, these Canadian teens aim to create astounding and life-changing discoveries.

  • This year, over 200 proposals were received from high school and CEGEP students from Victoria to Saskatoon to St. John’s, focused on biotechnology fields of discovery and study.
  • Now in its 21st year, over 4,700 high school students across Canada have participated in the “Sanofi BioGENEius Challenge Canada (SBCC)”.
    • Working closely with mentors, these students have conducted research in diverse areas such as telomeres, diabetes, stress management, Alzheimers, autism and pulp production.
  • The first place winner of the competition will advance to the International BioGENEius Challenge held in San Diego, CA on June 22-25. For a full schedule of dates, locations and judges, click here.

I believe it is possible for members of the public to view the competitions, here’s a list of cities along with the dates (just click on a date to find details about the location),

Regional competitions begin in Montreal, Quebec on March 27. Over the next few weeks, the SBCC will take place in Winnipeg, MB (April 22), Vancouver, BC (April 17), Edmonton, AB (April 28), Saskatoon, SK (April 28), Southwestern Ontario/Guelph, ON (May 1), Toronto, ON (April 29), Eastern Ontario/Ottawa, ON (April 28) and Atlantic Canada/Sackville, NB (April 29). The competition will conclude at the Partners In Research National Awards (PIRNA) in Ottawa on May 23, 2014.

Good luck to all the entrants!

An exploration of the grotesque: Glenn Brown and Rebecca Warren at the Rennie Collection

Before launching into my impressions of the current show (Oct. 26, 2013 – March 29, 2014) at the Rennie Collection (located in Vancouver, Canada) I’m providing an excerpt from the Wikipedia entry on the word grotesque (Note: Links have been removed),

The word grotesque comes from the same Latin root as “grotto”, which originated from Greek krypte “hidden place”,[1] meaning a small cave or hollow. The original meaning was restricted to an extravagant style of Ancient Roman decorative art rediscovered and then copied in Rome at the end of the 15th century. The “caves” were in fact rooms and corridors of the Domus Aurea, the unfinished palace complex started by Nero after the Great Fire of Rome in AD 64, which had become overgrown and buried, until they were broken into again, mostly from above. Spreading from Italian to the other European languages, the term was long used largely interchangeably with arabesque and moresque for types of decorative patterns using curving foliage elements.

Since at least the 18th century (in French and German as well as English), grotesque has come to be used as a general adjective for the strange, fantastic, ugly, incongruous, unpleasant, or disgusting, and thus is often used to describe weird shapes and distorted forms such as Halloween masks. In art, performance, and literature, grotesque, however, may also refer to something that simultaneously invokes in an audience a feeling of uncomfortable bizarreness as well as empathic pity. [emphases mine] More specifically, the grotesque forms on Gothic buildings, when not used as drain-spouts, should not be called gargoyles, but rather referred to simply as grotesques, or chimeras.[2]

While my understanding of the word is rooted in its meaning since the 18th century, I couldn’t resist the look backwards to ancient Rome and Greece. In any event, the heading for my post abut the Rennie Collection’s current exhibition concerns the grotesque which is “strange, fantastic, ugly, incongruous, unpleasant, or disgusting” and which “invokes in an audience a feeling of uncomfortable bizarreness as well as empathic pity.”

The entry to the show (main floor) gets the experience off to a deceptive start. The Rebecca Warren (she’s a sculptor) piece showcased here is a series of three vitrines (boxes) with plexiglass covers protecting the artwork within. Arranged in a row, they are small, oblong boxes mounted  at about 5 ft. (?) high on the wall. Rusty nails protrude at odd angles from the boxes, electronic devices of some sort are mounted below the boxes and there are bits of found objects and relatively unshaped clay on top of the boxes, as well as, twigs, more found objects, a neon object, and clay objects inside the boxes, behind the plexiglass covers.

Samantha (or Sam), an Emily Carr University of Art + Design student, sculptor, and our guide (one visits the Collection as part of a group at a prearranged time), provided some context for viewing this piece and the rest of the show. She was very illuminating and, unfortunately, it has been some weeks since I viewed the show and retain only bits and pieces remain (somehow this seems reflective of the vitrines). The one piece of information that I retain about Warren’s first piece is that the middle box has a layer of dust covering the objects within. Sam noted this is deliberate and the artist has specific instructions about how much dust there should be on the objects and on the base of the middle box in the row.

One moves deeper into the first floor’s display areas to view Brown’s first piece, a painting, a rather strange painting. It had a weirdly yellowish cast and it’s main feature looked like a skull to me but others saw something else,  a bit like Rorschach test where everything is open to interpretation.

We proceeded upstairs to a glorious room with dizzyingly high ceilings where the rest of Warren’s pieces were shown,

Rebecca Warren sculpture. Courtesy: Rennie Collection

Rebecca Warren sculptures. Courtesy: Rennie Collection

I don’t think the photograph, which shows three of the eight (?) sculptures in the room, quite conveys the impact of walking into a space occupied by these lumpen things with twisted and partial spinal columns, breasts in peculiar places, and other oddities shaped out of a type of clay that is fragile and obviously deteriorating.

The exhibit has a contrasting piece, one made of bronze and cast in a square of sorts. Interestingly, Warren likes to work with pom poms and there are two rather small examples, one each affixed to two different pieces. As I recall, Sam told us it was meant to be humorous and Warren keeps a large supply of pom poms on hand for when she might want to add one to a piece.

There are two more rooms on the second floor and those housed Glenn Brown’s work,

Glenn Brown, The Ever Popular Dead (after 'Jupiter Cloudscape' 1982 by Adolf Schaller), 2000 Oil on canvas 85 5/8 × 132 5/8 inches (217.49 × 336.87 cm) Courtesy: Rennie Collection

Glenn Brown, The Ever Popular Dead (after ‘Jupiter Cloudscape’ 1982 by Adolf Schaller), 2000. Oil on canvas: 85 5/8 × 132 5/8 inches (217.49 × 336.87 cm) Courtesy: Rennie Collection

If it looks like science fiction, that’s because it is. This piece was inspired by some science fiction art associated with Cosmos: A Personal Voyage, both a television series hosted by Carl Sagan and a book by Sagan. (Note: All of this type of information was provided by our guide, Sam, who also did some extra research to buttress her presentation, which was interactive. Thank you for doing that Sam.)

This painting, along with Brown’s other work in this show, rendered me physically nauseous. There was something about the colours and swirls and, possibly, the juxtapostion with Warren’s work that left me feeling ill. (Art can have physical effects. Stendhal famously passed out when visiting Florence, Italy due to a surfeit of art. Apparently, he’s not the only one; you can read more about Stendhal syndrome in this Wikipedia entry.)

Brown’s other paintings featured ‘portraits’ of odd looking people. You could almost recognize the portrait but the person was rendered in odd colours or it was the back of someone’s head—a head which featured many eyes and other oddities, calling to mind science fiction tropes about aliens.

While Brown was referencing classical work, for the most part, he, like Warren, rendered it as a grotesquerie. He even had a picture of two dogs seated at what appears to be a table. At one time, Brown worked in one of the Tate Museum’s (in London, UK) stores and the most popular items for purchase was a print of these two dogs which Brown reproduced in shades of a bilious green.

One of the interesting contrasts in the exhibition, other than sculptor/painter contrast, is that Warren’s work has human origins where Brown’s subject matter seems extraterrestrial. Adding to that impression is Brown’s painting style. There is no sign of a brush stroke; his paintings look as if they were digitally rendered, an effect made possible by his use of paintbrushes containing only a few hairs.

There were two pieces from Brown which didn’t fit this ‘extraterrestial and inhuman’ theme as I’ve described it. One piece, which bore a resemblance of sorts to Warren’s work, was a mound of material that was splattered and laden with paint sitting in the middle of one of the two rooms holding Brown’s work. Despite its sculptural quality, Brown describes the piece as a painting. The other piece was a painting which was cantilevered from the wall, like a pop-up which mimics the shape of what it being depicted. It was the one ‘pretty’ painting of Brown’s pieces. Titled ‘Zombies of the Stratosphere’ (1999), it depicts someone rowing a boat to a forested island.  The yellow in the picture reputedly gets its colour from urine. I now belatedly wonder if the first painting we saw on the bottom floor and which I described as having “a weirdly yellowish cast” also features this paint.

The Brits (Brown is from Britain) have a phrase “taking the piss” which I gather means ‘mocking’. It seems that in the one ‘pretty’ painting, Brown is almost literally ‘taking the piss’. Whether he’s mocking the art world or the fools who wander around art exhibits and/or purchase prints of dogs (considered banal subjects by many artists) from the Tate is not obvious to me.  Well, it’s never good to take yourself too seriously so there’s not much point to getting my ‘knickers in a twist’ over the matter, especially since I have no way of knowing if that was the artist’s intention.

In the end and after the nausea subsided, I was left with the notion that I was looking at two possible futures, one in which humans return to dust (Warren’s work) or we cease to be human as we understand the term (Brown’s work).

There’s not much time left to see the current exhibition, it ends March 29, 2014 and last I looked both scheduled tours were fully booked. You could try to organize and book your own tour, keep checking to see if someone cancels, or go here to see some images from the show.

Finally, I’m not sure either artist could be described as trying to “invoke empathic pity” as per Wikipedia’s ‘grotesque’ but here’s a video (originally an 8mm film) using the old Kansas song, Dust in the Wind as a soundtrack, which may that effect on you,

Like Warren’s work it looks rough and unpolished. Here’s what uselessdirector who uploaded the video had to say about it,

Uploaded on May 30, 2006

Filmed in 1977 by my dad, this music video nearly became “dust in the wind” until it was restored from its failing 8mm format.

The last one, TED 2014′s Session12: Onward

Well this is the last posting in what has been an experimental week for me and I’m ending it with Joi Ito’s talk. Here’s more about Ito from his TED biography,

Joichi “Joi” Ito is one of those names threaded through the history of the Internet. From his days kickstarting Internet culture in Japan at Digital Garage, his restless curiosity led him to be an early-stage investor in Twitter, Six Apart, Wikia, Flickr,, Kickstarter and other Internet companies, and to serve on countless boards and advisory committees around digital culture and Internet freedom.

He leads the legendary MIT Media Lab as it heads toward its third decade, and is working on a book with Jeff Howe about nine principles for navigating whatever the changing culture throws at us next. As he told Wired, “The amount of money and the amount of permission that you need to create an idea has decreased dramatically.” So: aim for resilience, not strength; seek risk, not safety. The book is meant to be a compass for a world without maps.

Ito (a self-described three-time college dropout) talked about his experience of co-founding SAFECAST in response to the 2011 earthquake and Fukushima nuclear accident in Japan as he made the case for making, manufacturing, and innovating in a frictionless fashion without having to write up big business plans and expending energy on attracting investment money. He emphasized a ‘can do’ approach for now and for the future and the importance of learning over education.

That’s it for me. It’s been an exhausting and stimulating week and I thank the TED organizers for the access to their event livestream.

Some final thoughts, this event could be have been held anywhere despite attempts at the beginning of TED 2014 to mention Canada and those fell to the wayside fairly shortly. Overall, the efforts to acknowledge Canada were both clumsy and ultimately inadequate if what they were trying to do was give the participants a sense of being on foreign (to the TED main event) soil for the first time in its history.

One of the problems of course is the organizers’ dedication to producing ‘wow’ moments such as  Edward Snowden’s attendance via a telepresent robot. It was a stunning moment and, even remotely, I felt a frisson of excitement. Inevitably, the conversation became much more US-centric and I noticed speakers scheduled for subsequent days were very much grounded in their US reality. The problem was the sheer number of those speakers coming after Snowden (whose impact was huge) and then there was NSA (US National Security Agency) response.

It’s an interesting problem, How do you orchestrate a ‘wow’ moment without having it overshadow everything that comes after? And in this case, how do you mitigate the US-centric impact (assuming you want to) on an event which is being held on foreign soil?

I hope the organizers can find a way to better integrate the event with its surroundings, not the physical surrounding but the social and the cultural. In any event, I look forward (onward?) to next year and I wish the organizers all the best. One final comment, the organizers pulled off some extraordinary juxtapositions of speakers and ideas.

‘Eddie’ the robot, US National Security Agency talks back to Ed Snowden, at TED 2014′s Session 8: Hacked

The session started 30 minutes earlier than originally scheduled and as a consequence I got to the party a little late. First up, Marco Tempest, magician and technoillusionist, introduced and played with EDI (electronic deceptive intelligence; pronounced Eddy), a large, anthropomorphic robot (it had a comic book style face on the screen used for its face and was reminiscent of Ed Snowden’s appearance in a telepresent robot). This was a slick presentation combining magic and robotics bringing to mind Arthur C. Clarke’s comment, “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic,which I’m sure Tempest mentioned before I got there. Interestingly, he articulated the robot’s perspective that humans are fragile and unpredictable inspiring fear and uncertainty in the robot. It’s the first time I’ve encountered our relationship from the robot’s perspective,. Thank you Mr. Tempest.

Rick Ledgett, deputy director of the US National Science Agency (NSA), appeared on screen as he attended remotely but not telepresently as Ed Snowden did earlier this week to be interviewed by a TED moderator (Chris Anderson, I think). Technical problems meant the interview was interrupted and stopped while the tech guys scrambled to fix the problem. Before he was interrupted, Ledgett answered a question as to whether or not Snowden could have taken alternative actions. Ledgett made clear that he (and presumably the NSA) does not consider Snowden to be a whistleblower. It was a little confusing to me but it seemed to me that Ledgett was suggesting that whistleblowing is legitimate only when down to the corporate sector. As well, Ledgett said that Snowden could have reported to his superiors and to various oversight agencies rather than making his findings public. These responses, of course, are predictable so what made the interview interesting was Ledgett’s demeanour. He was careful not to say anything inflammatory and seemed reasonable. He is the right person to representing the NSA. He doesn’t seem to know how dangerous and difficult whistleblowing whether it’s done to a corporate entity or a government agency. Whether or not you agree with Snowden’s actions, the response to them is a classic response. I went to a talk some years ago and the speaker, Mark Wexler who teaches business ethics at Simon Fraser University, said that whistleblowers often lose their careers, their relationships, and their families due to the pressures brought to bear on them.

Ledgett rejoins the TED stage after Kurzweil and it sounds like he has been huddling with a communications team as he reframes his and Snowden’s participation as part of an important conversation. Clearly, the TED team has been in touch with Snowden who refutes Ledgett’s suggestions about alternative routes. Now. Ledgett talks tough as he describes Snowden as arrogant. He states somewhere in all this that Snowden’s actions have endangered lives and the moderator presses him for examples. Ledgett’s response features examples that are general and scenario-based. When pressed Ledgett indulges in a little sarcasm suggesting that things would be easier with as a site where nefarious individuals would hang out. Ledgett makea some valid points about the need for some secrecy and he does state that he feels transparency is important and the NSA has not been good about it. Ledgett notes that every country in the world has a means of forcing companies to reveal information about users and he notes that some countries are using  the notion (effectively lying) that they don’t force revelations as a marketing tool. the interview switches to a discussion of metadata, its importance, and whether or not it provides more information about them individually than most people realize. Ledgett refutes that notion. I have to go, hope to get back and point you to other reports with more info. about this fascinating interview.

Ed Yong, uber science blogger, from his TED biography,

Ed Yong blogs with a mission: igniting excitement for science in everyone, regardless of their education or background.

The award-winning blog Not Exactly Rocket Science (hosted by National Geographic) is the epicenter of Yong’s formidable web and social media presence. In its posts, he tackles the hottest and most bizarre topics in science journalism. When not blogging, he also manages to contribute to Nature, Wired, Scientific American and many other web and print outlets. As he says, “The only one that matters to me, as far as my blog is concerned, is that something interests me. That is, excites or inspires or amuses me.”

Yong talked about mind-controlling parasites such as tapeworms and Gordian worms in the context of his fascination with how the parasites control animal behaviour. (i posted about a parasite infecting and controlling honey bees in an Aug. 2, 2012 piece.) Yong is liberal with his sexual references such as castrating, mind-controliing parasites in a very witty way. He also suggests that humans may in some instances (estimates suggest up to 1/3 of us) be controlled by parasites and our notions of individual autonomy are a little over-blown.

Ray Kurzweil, Mr. Singularity, describes evolution and suggests that humans are not evolving quickly enough given rapidly changing circumstances. He focuses on human brains and the current theories about their processing capabilities and segues into artificial intelligence. He makes the case that we are preparing for a quantitative leap in intelligence as our organic brains are augmented by the artificial.

Kurzweil was last mentioned here in a Jan. 6, 2010 posting in the context of reverse-engineering brains.

All Stars Session 4: I Heart Design

I’ll try to cover design since it is integral to TED (technology entertainment design) even if not to this blog. This session was mostly concerned with how design can make the world a better place and the following is not done in speaker order.

Architect Moshe Safdie talked about rethinking towers and cities to make them more livable. Pattie Maes talked about better design for the ‘internet of Things’ or ‘Network of Smarter Objects’ where the objects respond to us intuitively, e.g. lights that change in response to biofeedback from us as we meditate. Sarah Kay talked about poetry. I agree with her  comment that she didn’t belong in the session but there was something kind of charming about a poet participating in a design session. Aimee Mullins, a paralympian who’s been mentioned here before (my first posting about her was a July 24, 2009 piece on human enhancement) discussed imagination and its importance for creating the future. Stefan Sagmeister talked about asking for what you want in the context of his design practice. I’m excerpting  this from his TED biography,

While a sense of humor invariably surfaces in his designs, Sagmeister is nonetheless very serious about his work; his intimate approach and sincere thoughtfulness elevate his design. A genuine maverick, Sagmeister achieved notoriety in the 1990s as the designer who self-harmed in the name of craft: He created a poster advertising a speaking engagement by carving the salient details onto his torso.

Finally, the moderator asked Sarah Kay to return to the stage for a poem (from the Kia Kaha Tumblr page),

“Toothbrush to the Bicycle Tire” by Sarah Kay

They told me that I was meant for the cleaner life.

That you would drag me through the mud.

They said that you would tread all over me.

That they could see right through you.

That you were full of hot air.

That I would always be chasing,

Always watching you disappear after sleeker models.

That it would be a vicious cycle.

But I know better.

I know about your rough edges

and I have seen your perfect curves.

I will fit into whatever spaces you let me.

If loving you means getting dirty, bring on the grime.

I will leave this porcelain home behind.

I’m used to twice a day relationships

but with you, I’ll take all the time.

And I know we live in different worlds,

and we’re always really busy,

but in my dreams you spin around me so fast

I always wake up dizzy.

So, maybe one day you’ll grow tired of the road

and roll on back to me.

And when I blink my eyes into the morning,

your smile will be the only one I see.

There was more; this is not exhaustive description.

Africa and a quantum future at TED 2014′s All Stars session 2: Beauty and the Brain

This is my last piece for today, March 18, 2014  As I noted earlier , I wish I could cover everyone. For this session I’m covering Neil Turok, physicist and director of the Perimeter Institute, from his TED biography (Note: Links have been removed),

Neil Turok is working on a model of the universe that explains the big bang — while, closer to home, he’s founded a network of math and science academies across Africa.

Neil Turok works on understanding the universe’s very beginnings. With Stephen Hawking, he developed the Hawking-Turok instanton solutions, describing the birth of an inflationary universe — positing that, big bang or no, the universe came from something, not from utter nothingness.

Recently, with Paul Steinhardt at Princeton, Turok has been working on a cyclic model for the universe in which the big bang is explained as a collision between two “brane-worlds.” The two physicists cowrote the popular-science book Endless Universe.

In 2003, Turok, who was born in South Africa, founded the African Institute for Mathematical Sciences (AIMS) in Muizenberg, a postgraduate center supporting math and science. His TED Prize wish: Help him grow AIMS and promote the study and math and science in Africa, so that the world’s next Einstein may be African.

Turok is the Director of the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics, in Ontario, Canada. In 2010, the Canadian government funded a $20million expansion of the AIMS schools, working with the Perimeter Institute to start five new AIMS schools in different African nations.

I featured Turok in an Oct.17, 2012 posting about purpose in nature and in the universe.

Thankfully, Turok was not reading aloud as he did in 2012 when he was in Vancouver with his ‘What banged?’ talk and he immediately engaged the audience with his stories about AIMS (African Institute for Mathematical Sciences) in particular about two AIMS students, Marciel (?) and Kitsis (?) who have gone on to postgraduate degrees and work respectively in the fields of tropical medicine and fluid mechanics.

He segued to quantum physics and how important quantum computing will be in the future and will change everything and how we need to help Africa prepare for the quantum future.

I was a little confused by Turok’s plea to help Africa achieve a quantum future as it seemed to me that AIMS and efforts like that would mean that Africa and Africans might lead in the future, quantum or otherwise.

That’s it for me today. This is a very intriguing session although despite its title seems primarily focused on brains over beauty, which has scarcely been mentioned.

New director for TRIUMF, Canada’s national laboratory for particle and nuclear physics starts

Here’s the announcement, straight from the March 18, 2014 TRIUMF news release,

After a seven month, highly competitive, international search for TRIUMF’s next director, the laboratory’s Board of Management announced today that Dr. Jonathan Bagger, Krieger-Eisenhower Professor, Vice Provost, and former Interim Provost at the Johns Hopkins University, will join TRIUMF this summer as the laboratory’s next director.

TRIUMF is Canada’s national laboratory for particle and nuclear physics, focusing on probing the structure and origins of matter and advancing isotopes for science and medicine.  Located on the campus of the University of British Columbia, TRIUMF is owned and operated by a consortium of 18 leading Canadian universities and supported by the federal and provincial governments.

Bagger was attracted to TRIUMF because, “Its collaborative, interdisciplinary model represents the future for much of science.  TRIUMF helps Canada connect fundamental research to important societal goals, ranging from health and safety to education and innovation.”  Noting TRIUMF’s new strategic plan that recently secured five years of core funding from the Government of Canada, he added, “It is an exciting time to lead the

Bagger brings extensive experience to the job.  Professor Paul Young, Chair of TRIUMF’s Board of Management and Vice-President of Research and Innovation at the University of Toronto, said, “Jon is an outstanding, internationally renowned physicist with a wealth of leadership experience and a track record of excellence.  He is a welcome addition to Canada and I am confident that under his tenure, TRIUMF will continue to flourish.”

Jim Hanlon, Interim CEO/Chief Administrator Officer of TRIUMF and President and CEO of Advanced Applied Physics Solutions Inc., welcomed the news.  He said, “The laboratory has been shaped and served greatly by its past directors.  Today the need continues for an extraordinary combination of vision, leadership, and excellence.  Jon will bring all of this and more to TRIUMF.  On behalf of the staff, we’re excited about moving forward with Jon
at the helm.”

Bagger expressed his enthusiasm in moving across the border to join TRIUMF as the next director. “TRIUMF is known internationally for its impressive capabilities in science and engineering, ranging from rare-isotope studies on its Vancouver campus to its essential contributions to the Higgs boson discovery at CERN.  All rest on the legendary dedication and commitment of TRIUMF’s researchers and staff.  I look forward to working with this
terrific team to advance innovation and discovery in Vancouver, in Canada, and on the international stage.”

Bagger will lead the laboratory for a six-year term beginning July 1 [2014].  He reports he is ready to go:  “I have installed a metric speedometer in my car, downloaded the Air Canada app, and cleansed my home of all Washington Capitals gear.”

Nice of Bagger to start his new job on Canada Day. From a symbolic perspective, it’s an interesting start date. As for his metric speedometer and Air Canada app, bravo! Perhaps though he might have wanted the last clause to feature the Vancouver Canucks, e.g., ‘and set aside money/have set aside space for Vancouver Canucks gear’. You can find out more about TRIUMF here.

Nicholas Negroponte and Chris Hadfield at TED 2014′s Session 1: Liftoff

Nicholas Negroponte opened the first TED conference in 1984 and has come back for the 30th anniversary. Here’s his TED biography,

The founder of the MIT [Massachusetts Institute of Technology] Media Lab, Nicholas Negroponte pushed the edge of the information revolution as an inventor, thinker and angel investor. He’s the driving force behind One Laptop per Child, building computers for children in the developing world.

Negroponte discusses what has changed over the years. When he first started in the 1970s no one thought you’d ever use a touchscreen and putting your fingers on the screen was considered silly. This sort of thinking (touchscreens) is what went into the development of MIT’s Media Lab. He seems to be highlighting some of the high points of his thinking. He finds some of today’s internet of Things thinking to be pathetic (he references some of the sessions earlier today). He (?) started Wired magazine. Negroponte has gotten more interested in computers and learning over the years. He compares iteration to learning and mentions One Laptop Per Child. There was virtually no international aid for that project, the money came from the countries that used the program. After that project, he worked on an initiative where they dropped off computers to children (in Ethiopia and ?) with no instruction. Within days, the children had figured it out and within six months they hacked Android. He now wants to connect 100M people (on the African continent?). He predicts that in 30 years, we will ingest information (swallow a pill where the information travels through the bloodstream and on into the brain).

For some reason, they thought it would be amusing to play the Joe Canadian commercial. Chris Hadfield is then introduced. Here’s his TED biography,

Tweeting (and covering Bowie) from the International Space Station last year, Colonel Chris Hadfield reminded the world how much we love space.

Hadfield (who has a guitar on stage with him) talks about danger (asks the audience what’s the most dangerous thing theyu’ve done) and notes that space travel is dangerous. He then  describes in detail what it’s like to get into a space shuttle and head for the space. He says that a space shuttle is the most complicated machine (?) ever built. He next shows a shuttle launch and  describes being on the International Space Station. You see a sunrise every 25 minutes due to the speed at which you are travelling. He describes his first space walk when his left eye went blind. His left eye teared up while he continued work outside the station.

In space your tears don’t fall, they build up until there’s enough force to push them across the bridge of your nose and land like a small waterfall in your right eye. When the tears wooshed over to his right eye, he became completely blind.

Hadfield asks the audience again about danger and talks about overcoming fear and dealing with real danger as opposed to perceived danger. One of the ways astronauts deal with their fear and danger is to practice until they’ve changed their primal fear.

Hadfield plays a guitar and covers David Bowie’s Space Oddity and ends his talk with these words “Fear Not.”

I am done for today and I hope there aren’t too many mistakes in this post.

TED 2014 ‘pre’ opening with prosthetics made better by 3D printing, interdisciplinary network, an app for vision testing and the Internet of Things made open

Here’s today’s (March 17, 2014) second session and a list of the fellows along with a link to their TED 2014 biography (list and links from the TED 2014 schedule),

Somi Kakoma Vocalist + Composer + Culturist
Steve Boyes conservation biologist
David Sengeh biomechatronics engineer
Eric Berlow Ecologist
Uldus Bakhtiozina photographer + visual artist
Laurel Braitman science historian + writer
Eman Mohammed Photojournalist
Andrew Bastawrous eye surgeon + innovator
Kathryn Hunt Paleopathologist
Ayah Bdeir Engineer and artist
Will Potter Investigative journalist
Kitra Cahana Vagabond photojournalist + conceptual artist
Shih Chieh Huang Artist

David Moinina Sengeh, from the MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) Media Lab, focuses on biomechatronics and, more specifically, prosthetics. He was born and raised (till age 12?) in Sierra Leone where a civil war raged from 1991 to January 2002 when the war was declared finished. One of the legacies from the war has been war amputees resulting in a need for prosthetics and Sengher’s commitment to creating better prosthetics.

Even in wealthy parts of the world, an amputee may experience great discomfort from wearing a prosthetic that despite a number of fittings and adjustments never feels right and causes blisters and sores. In countries with fewer resources, getting a prosthetic that fits well is even more unlikely.

Sengeh has worked out a new way to create prosthetics that fit better and feel better, using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to scan the residual limb more accurately, followed by a finite-element analysis, then utilizing computer-aided design to create a  multilayer 3-D printed variable-resistance socket. One of Sengeh’s test subjects described his prosthetic socket as feeling like ‘pillows’. (You can read more about Sengeh and his work at MIT in a Dec. 18, 2012 MIT article by David L. Chandler.)  Sengeh has also founded a program in Sierra Leone to encourage and foster home-grown innovation and solutions in situations where resources are limited.

Andrew Bastawrous, Research Fellow in International Eye Health at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, talked about his work in Kenya where he has developed an app for vision testing and diagnosis with an inexpensive device which can be clipped onto a smartphone. He demonstrated the app, Peek Vision, during his presentation.

The whole thing reminded me of Aravind, another project designed to save sight, but this one was created in India, from the Aravind Wikipedia entry (Note: Links have been removed),

Aravind Eye Care Hospital is an ophthalmological hospital with several locations in India. It was founded by Dr. Govindappa Venkataswamy in 1976. Since then it has grown into a network of eye hospitals that have seen a total of nearly 32 million patients in 36 years and performed nearly 4 million eye surgeries, the majority of them being very cheap or free. The model of Aravind Eye Care hospitals has been applauded all over the world and has become a subject for numerous case studies.[1] [2][3]

My last fellow description for this session features Ayah Bdeir and the Internet of Things.  Bdeir has developed a modular approach to creating your own electronics and, today (March 17, 2014) she was introducing a new module, the Cloud Module which would allow you to create your own internet of things. (Last week I covered a webinar with Tim O’Reilly and Jim Stogdil in a March 13, 2014 posting where they discussed big data, the Internet of Things, maker culture and other components of an upcoming Solid Conference. OReilly & Stogdil discussed two options for the Internet of Things, a proprietary approach or an open  approach.) Bdeir’s modules facilitate an open approach. Bdeir will be speaking at the Solid Conference,

Ayah Bdeir is the founder and CEO of littleBits, an award-winning library of electronics dubbed “LEGOs for the iPad generation.” Bdeir is an engineer, interactive artist, and one of the leaders of the open source hardware movement. Bdeir’s career and education have centered on advancing open source hardware to make education and innovation more accessible to people around the world.

You can find out more about littleBits and the Cloud Module here.

Foresight Institute’s Integration-themed 2014 conference wrap-up released

Before describing their conference wrap-up, here’s a little information about the Foresight Institute from their Wikipedia entry (Note: Links have been removed),

The Institute was founded in 1986 by K. Eric Drexler [a seminal figure in the US and the international nanotechnology story], no longer with the Institute, along with his then wife Christine Peterson, who now serves on the Board of Directors.

Two sister organizations were formed: the Institute for Molecular Manufacturing and the Center for Constitutional Issues in Technology.

Foresight Institute was founded “to guide emerging technologies to improve the human condition” but focused “its efforts upon nanotechnology, the coming ability to build materials and products with atomic precision, and upon systems that will enhance knowledge exchange and critical discussion.”

The institute has organized an annual conference for several years now and a March 10, 2014 news item on Azonano offers details about the 2014 Foresight Institute Technical Conference, which took place Feb. 7 – 9, 2014,

“Integration” was the theme of the 2014 Foresight Technical Conference, and the invited speakers covered a broad range of scopes. Within the human scope, topics included the integration of nanoscale technologies into social, political, and economic spheres. Within the technical scope, topics included the integration of atomic and molecular parts into nanoscale structures and devices, as well as into existing and projected commercial products. The following comments derive mainly from technical-scope topics.

There were a number of striking examples of integration on the technical level, including this year’s winner of the Feynman Prize for Experimental work, Alex Zettl of UC [University of California] Berkeley. His functional radio system that exploits the oscillations of a single carbon nanotube may have applications in single atom detection as well. Advancing towards quantum computing and devices, Michelle Simmons of University of New South Wales described her fabrication process that uses a combination of atomic placement and tightly localized chemical transfers that position individual atoms in predictable locations leading to, for example, precise alignment of a single row of dopant atoms in a 3D silicon framework.

The Foresight Institute’s 2014 conference wrap-up notice (scroll down) by Stephanie Corchnoy, which originated the news item, offers more detail,

Tapping into both human and technological scopes, a number of talks focused on new laboratory facilities designed to be shared across government, academic, and private enterprises specifically for research on the nanoscale. The goal: to remove an existing bottleneck to innovation posed by lack of access to highly specialized and expensive equipment, such electron microscopes, and/or the expertise to use them. In the true spirit of collaboration, some of the talks were presented by two co-speakers.

Looking toward the near future, metrology was emphasized as a key bottleneck to progress in nanoscale fabrication. Access to equipment is one aspect of the bottleneck that may be addressed by the emergence of shared-access facilities, but the technical bottleneck is a separate problem. A number of speakers discussed advanced etching techniques achieving features in the 6-15 nm size range and noted that technology to adequately image these products is falling behind. This problem was not unforeseen – a metrology shortfall was discussed in the 2006 Nanotechnology Roadmap, which accounted for a convergence of top-down and bottom-up fabrication processes. Adequate metrology will be critically needed for products in this size regime regardless of the particular fabrication process in play.

This brings to mind the familiar question: Who should be listening to calls for action and taking action? Staying within this year’s theme, Congressman Michael Honda, who gave opening remarks at the conference, spoke of the challenge of integrating scientific expertise into policy making. This challenge is not new and holds its complexity even as nanoscale R&D grows globally and strides towards APM accelerate.

In keeping with last year’s conference (focused on Atomic Precision), there was a sense of energy, momentum, and collegiality throughout the weekend that speakers and attendees alike noted as unique.