Friday, August 15, 2014

Maker Culture

Makers are the technology world's masters of the Do It Yourself (DIY) movement. This is a subculture obsessed with innovation, invention and prototyping. They identify and/or invent new uses for existing technology, or they blend different sources to create new solutions.

The entire subculture emphasizes learning-by-doing. They are all about learning by failure and then sharing their experiences with one another online. As opposed to the historic example of the garage tinker who worked alone to invent something he could patent, the Makers are more likely to license their discoveries under Creative Commons. Makers are the people in the trenches of the STEM fields of study.

All across the world, Maker Spaces are opening their doors. These brick and mortar facilities are gathering places for those willing to learn and share their knowledge. The better funded locations may also include 3d printers, CNC, metalworking and electronics tools. A simple search online will help you find a Maker Space near you.

These are the modern hobbyists. They are the natural extension of early ham radio operators and the Homebrew Computer Club which brought together the founders of Apple Computer. It is within this subculture that will birth the next generation of business moguls. These are the people on the forefront of modern innovation.

Are you a Maker? Tell me about it.

R-Squared Computing | Lou RG | Nearly Free IT | Firm Wisdom

Subscribe for free insights: RSS | Email

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Facebook's Messenger Woes

Recently the internet has been abuzz with concern over Facebook's new Messenger app for smartphones. Without going into too much boring detail, the problem is that the app wants total access to all your information and control over all the devices on your phone. In essence, Facebook Messenger can record video and audio whenever it wants and transmit it without your permission. Some are shouting that this is an unparalleled abuse of privacy while cooler heads are pointing out that the list of required permissions is no different then those of Google Search.

I have long argued that privacy is a myth. Anyone who uses social media and still expects privacy is living in a fool's paradise. As Digg user blue_beetle taught us "If you are not paying for it, you're not the customer; you're the product being sold." As such expectations of privacy are foolish, especially from companies like Facebook or Google.

Google uses my internet history to better tailor my search results. Google knows when I am searching for the term "walled garden" that I am not interested in gardening tools, seeds or soil. It knows this because of my past search history which is a good predictor of future subject areas of interest. Google also uses this information to connect me with advertisers that offer products which are more suited to my taste and interest. Supposedly Facebook does all this too, but why do people lose their minds with Facebook's app permissions and ignore them with Google?

Because Google never launched a social experiment without consent. In 2012, Facebook conducted an experiment on 700,000 users to attempt to manipulate their emotional state. This has sparked outrage and lawsuits against Facebook for tampering with the mental well being of hundreds of thousands of people (including minors!) without following standard scientific protocols. They simply did it because they could.

This created a major trust gap for Facebook. It is this trust gap that is at the heart of the Facebook Messenger furor. People are simply not willing to extend permission to a company that so blatantly violated their trust. That is the key point which is missing in the discussion I see online. People just don't trust Facebook to act properly and that's why they don't want the Messenger app on their phones.

What do you think?

R-Squared Computing | Lou RG | Nearly Free IT | Firm Wisdom

Subscribe for free insights: RSS | Email

Friday, August 8, 2014

Genetic Technology & You

Very soon we will be able to control our personal evolution by tinkering with our DNA. We will be able to make permanent changes or just short term tweaks within our lifetimes.

Short term gene therapies will be available for relatively minor cosmetic adjustments -- such as, blue hair and purple eyes for the weekend. Maybe add a slight cyan tint to your skin tone to better match that amazing new outfit. These therapies will work for a short time and then you'll revert back to your normal appearance. Much like the common cold, you might "catch" a case of green hair for a week then get over it.

Permanent DNA changes will help you be taller, stronger, more agile, better able to recover from injury and all around tougher. We will become resistant to diseases that have plagued us since the beginning of time, even helping us to overcome death itself. (See here.) We will become a race of super beings, capable of amazing new feats.

The truly scary part if this prediction is that I see it happening at homes, not in medical clinics. I believe that big pharma and universities will continue to advance DNA sciences, but the real innovation will happen in the wilds of the Creative Commons. I see home-based biohackers working in an open source community where they share DNA code snippets and techniques for harnessing viral delivery systems. I see small businesses selling unique, one-time-use digital biohack recipes so people can brew their DNA cocktails at home.

In this world, what happens to modern standards of beauty? When everyone has blue eyes and is supermodel thin yet healthier than any human alive today, what is considered beautiful? What about sports? The current concern over steroid doping will seem silly once genetically engineered humans routinely break records. The implications reel the imagination.

What do you think will be some of the unexpected consequence of human DNA tinkering?

R-Squared Computing | Lou RG | Nearly Free IT | Firm Wisdom

Subscribe for free insights: RSS | Email

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Why I Love Materials Science

A reader and friend commented to me yesterday that I seem very interested in materials sciences. He wanted to know why so I took advantage of the question for today's blog topic.

First, let me state that the value of a material is determined by its properties. These properties determine where it can best be used. For example, my last post I discussed graphene which has excellent mechanical, electrical, thermal and optical properties (to name a few). Considering all these properties, it stands to reason, graphene will be very useful for electronic devices and in many other applications that require strength and flexibility. Keep that in mind and we'll come back to that in a bit.

I am fascinated with materials sciences because each major epoch of human advance has revolved around innovation in materials.

When early humans first dug copper from the earth and smelted it into weapons, this changed history. The early barbaric tribesmen who knew the secret of copper could more easily defeat their stone wielding enemies. Stone weapons would chip and shatter against copper swords and armor.

When we first mixed copper with tin to create bronze, once again, the tides of history turned and a new Age was born. This is the period in history that gives us the rise of Ancient Greece and the scribblings of brilliant philosophers which still guide our thinking today. The brave Greek hoplite of legend relied on armor and weapons of bronze.

Then onto the Iron Age where we learned to harness natural forces and bend machines to augment the power of man. This is the epoch that is now ending, which we call the Industrial Revolution. It is the final phase of the Iron Age. This was the Age of industrialization when mechanized armies clashed in two mighty global wars for supremacy of ideology and control the resources and wealth of the Great European Plain -- all fueled by iron and petroleum.

It is advances in materials science that allowed the transistor to shrink ever and ever smaller until billions fit on a single computer chip. As we learn how to better control and manipulate the elements of nature, we unleash new potentials for humanity. We are now in the beginning stages of the Information Age -- the first Age of human history that was not based on the mastery of a single chemical element.

We now live in an era where new materials are being developed at an incredible rate. It stands to reason we are learning more and more how to manipulate and control the very elements of nature to create new exotic materials. With each new exotic material, new properties align or are improved which thereby determines the value of those materials. Ergo, new materials mean new opportunities.

And that's why I care about materials science.

R-Squared Computing | Lou RG | Nearly Free IT | Firm Wisdom

Subscribe for free insights: RSS | Email

Monday, August 4, 2014

Graphene - The Wonder Material of 21st Century

It turns out that if you take one atom of carbon and lay it next to another carbon atom, then you keep expanding that out into a sheet of carbon that is one atom thick, you create graphene. First isolated in 2004, graphene has rapidly absorbed enormous amounts of research dollars all over the globe.

For its weight, graphene is unbelievably strong -- as in 100 times stronger than steel. And it is a great conductor of electricity and heat. Plus it's flexible. It also reflects up to 97.7% of the light that shines on it, making it nearly transparent. The future of all electronic devices will be made of graphene.

Compared to silicon, graphene is still in its infancy. But the future looks bright for this young new material.

Because it is so transparent, it could have application as a display screen, no different than the LCD screen on your laptop. It also has fantastic properties as an energy storage medium with phenomenal power density. It has applications in water purification, solar panels, and medical sensor bio-technologies that can monitor vital signs and even sequence DNA. Scientists are frightfully close to even creating a graphene transistor.

If scientists can manage to crack all these amazing applications, then we have a wonder material that acts like it's own power charger, battery, circuit board, processor and display.

Look at your smartphone, or any other consumer electronic device. You will see that the case is made of plastic and the display is made of glass. The battery is made from lithium and the circuitry is made from silicon. There are 28 different elements involved in just one smartphone. Now imagine replacing all of those materials with one.

The immediate cost of the device drops drastically. Manufacturers don't have to source thousands of elements from different suppliers to produce the newest Samsung Galaxy. This eliminates costly supply chains, some of which originate in Afghanistan and other not-so-friendly parts of the globe. Did I mention that graphene is getting cheaper every day? Even if we can't replace all the elements with graphene, we can dramatically simplify. This means lower prices and greater performance.

I recommend you keep your eyes open for graphene investment opportunities. The future of this material is bright.

R-Squared Computing | Lou RG | Nearly Free IT | Firm Wisdom

Subscribe for free insights: RSS | Email