Musings on Google, Amazon.com, interesting entrepreneurs, happenings in the tech community.
"The Google Guys: Inside the Brilliant Minds of Google Founders Larry Page and Serge Brin" is out in paperback.
"ONE CLICK: JEFF BEZOS AND THE RISE OF AMAZON.COM" arrives Oct. 26
This blog will soon be transferred to my new site, RichardLBrandt.com. Please check it out.
Jeff Bezos really wants to get into space. He has put up a new website about Blue Origin, which is working on a vehicle to take people into sub-orbital space. The site has a short video of a successful test launch of the Vertical Takeoff and Vertical Landing vehicle, but does not mention that one of its prototypes crashed in another test launch in September. But he also notes on the site, "Accomplishing this mission will take time, and we're working on it methodically." Believe me, he has the patience -- and money -- to pursue this for a long time.
He's also hoping Blue Origin can get some of the NASA funding set aside for private space vehicle companies. Elon Musk's Space Exploration Techologies company (http://www.spacex.com/) is also hoping for some of that money.
What is the nature of time? Not an easy question. Is it as fundamental a property of the universe as space or mass, or just something our minds have created to make sense of the fact that seasons change and we grow older?
Hell, I don't know. But the New Scientist has an interesting series of articles about time. Need a free registration to read the articles.
The year is 2020. A massive contamination of a neurological disease is spreading rapidly and may affect up to 100 million U.S. citizens. Government leaders have convened a panel to try and stop the disease. You have 24 hours to find a cure. Go.
This is only a game, but one that three research organization hope will come up with new ideas for speeding up the rate of medical research.
They're hoping for 600 gamers, including university scientists, business leaders, healthcare innovators, biopharma executives and R&D professionals, government regulators, entrepreneurs, patients and the general public.
Actually, there will be two online games that will go live for 24 hours this Fall. One on Oct. 7-8, the other on Nov. 9-10. Anyone can play.
The games are being offered as "idea sourcing" events. They're being sponsored by the Myelin Repair Foundation, with a grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. The Institute for the Future (IFTF) is designing the game.
Aren't medical breakthroughs coming quickly enough? The sponsors think not. Their concern is that, while there are substantial scientific discoveries these days, life-saving new treatments are not keeping pace.
The game will try to embody a sense of urgency to solve a medical crisis, and see what innovations people come up with. Says IFTF game designer Jane McGonigal:
“Those who play games have a sense of urgency and abandon when they are engaged in a game scenario. We have seen these behaviors in corporate strategic game play where there are real stakes. The game we are building for the MRF is designed to generate that sort of urgency and unleash creative ideas for finding ways to speed medical research.”
Google, sorry, Topeka, has promised to do that for any U.S. city willing to change its name to Google, sorry, Topeka, wait, I'm confused now. So that city-that-must-not-be-renamed in Kansas obliged, but only for a month.
Just got an announcement from the Dusseldorff tourism folks about a new exhibit, "Out of this World - Wonders of the Solar System."
The exhibit (actually in Oberhausen) explores the "cultural and artistic perspectives on the creation and death of our solar system in the vast dimensions of the cosmos." They've converted a giant "obsolete gas holder," called the Gasometer, into a huge building that contains a replica of the solar system, with the highlight being an 82-foot-wide replica of the moon.
I just started following @tomhalle on twitter, an executive I've known for some years. He came up with a few great, thought-provoking web sites. I thought I'd repeat them here in additino to my retweets on twitter.
Wow. Never doubt the capabilities of a Communist government. An official Chinese news agency reports that Beijing managed "to blow away rain clouds for the smooth
opening ceremony" of the Olympics.
Let's see you do THAT, Dick Cheney!
And they mean literally blow them away. Beijing meteorologists launched over a thousand "rain dispersal rockets," which "intercepted" the storm heading their way, and somehow diverted (temporarily anyway) the storm onto Baoding City of Hebei
Province, southwest of Beijing, which got over 100 mm of rain Friday night.
Not sure what "intercept" means. Exploded in the face of the storm, perhaps? Ha! Take that, Storm Face. Rain, rain, go away and come on down on Baoding City of Hebei Province. Talk about rockets bursting in Red air!
No reports on what the tactic did to air quality.
It was "the first time that such technology has been used to ensure the weather
condition for Olympic opening," said the report.
I couldn't find any articles to indicate whether China changed the weather for anything other than Olympic opening.
One thing bugs me, though. What control did they use to ensure it was their rockets, and not some capricious artifact of Chaos Theory, that kept the opening ceremonies dry for a couple of hours? The article doesn't say. I can't wait for the peer-review paper to come out.
Just think, as the Chinese improve their weather-altering technology, to what uses it could be put. Just send out some rockets to blow some storms over to the poles to fill in the missing ozone layer, for example. Global warming? A few strategically placed storms ought to help cool things down. Maybe they could figure out a way to blow CO2 right out of the atmosphere!
But I understand. This research is still in its early phase. We shouldn't hype the possibilities too much yet.
Then again, what if this new technology is used for evil, as well as good? The new Chinese water torture: Rain incessantly on Tibet until the Dalai Lama gives up and declares Tibet forever a part of China.
Mr. Cheney, sir, before you go, please tap our federal deficit a little deeper to start research on military uses of the weather. We may need a rain dispersal rocket defense shield! Don't let China start a Storm Gap.
Well, never doubt the power of the Chinese government. It's really good at taking credit for amazing feats. Who needs a free press?
Don't you just hate it when people don't take your brilliant advice? I've been telling people for years that we need a new publication dedicated to covering technology entrepreneurs, but does anybody listen? Geez...
Larry Page hates it too. At the American Association for the Advancement of Science meeting last February, Page called for the scientists present to focus some of their creative energy on creating clean energy. Apparently, not enough of them have taken his advice.
So now he's dedicating some of Google's resources to the task. In his blog post he starts out by noting that "Clean and affordable energy is a growing need for our company."
Perhaps he's trying to justify why Google is getting into such an unrelated field with that opening. In a Fortune article a couple days ago, Brent Schlender already asked, "Is Google Spinning Out Of Control?"
And that opinion was based just on "two extraordinarily ambitious strategic gambits" -- OpenSocial, an attempt to create an open platform for social networks and Google's new cell phone initiative to create an open platform for phones. Imagine what Schlender thinks of this latest initiative.
Google, says Schlender, has no experience in creating platforms. Well, unless you consider things like Google Maps a platform with all the mashups being created.
But he's right, these efforts do take Google well beyond its traditional expertise. These are attempts to do something good and useful for the world.
The key phrase in Page's blog is, "we're seeking to accelerate the pace at which clean energy technologies are developing." Google is trying to be a catalyst for others to take up the challenge. It's the same with Google's attempts to push municipal wi-fi into the world. Many others have taken up that gauntlet, even as Google's experiment in San Francisco failed.
StreetInsider.com quotes Dr. Larry Brilliant, Executive Director of Google.org: "by funding research on promising technologies, investing
in promising new companies, and doing a lot of R&D ourselves, we
may help spark a green electricity revolution that will deliver
breakthrough technologies priced lower than coal."
If Google can't pull these deals off, maybe it can inspire others to, perhaps even helping to fund them. Google put some money behind Meraki Networks, which is getting volunteers or entrepreneurs to share their own broadband networks with cheap wi-fi devices, even inspiring the founders to start the company in the first place.
Coincidentally, after the Google/Earthlink attempt to offer San Francisco a free wi-fi system went into apparently permanent limbo, Meraki offered to give away routers to SF residents to spread a little free wi-fi love there.
As an inspirational force, I say, more power to Google.
I was looking into some fascinating brain research studying the basis of morality and psychopathic behavior. Because of the tragedy at Virginia Tech, I published an article on Technology Review's Web site.
Brain imaging scans called functional MRI can track activity in the brain in real time. Researchers have been studying the brains of people as they ponder moral issues, including the brains of psychopaths.
They find that the brains of psychopaths don't show any activity in empathy centers, while the brains of normal people do. Psychopaths have no empathy, remorse or fear, showing the same concern for people as hunters show toward deer.
From the researchers I talked to, it does not appear that Cho was a psychopath.
The most likely profile is that he was severely depressed. In extremely rare cases, a trauma, even an imagined one, can turn really dysfunctional depressives into a "Rampage killer."
One psychiatrist I talked to thinks this was the case at Virginia Tech as well as Columbine. These people were isolated, lonely, convinced the world was out to get them. Then they just snap. Says UCSF's Dr. Thomas Lewis, "It's kind of like throwing a temper tantrum--only with automatic weapons."
It's fascinating stuff. The research is still new, but maybe research is on the path of finding that a dysfunctional brain is really the root of all evil.