Posts Tagged ‘science’

Odds and Ends Monday

January 21, 2013

I have been busy lately:

The WiMAX Forum – you think Wi-Fi for your laptop and cellphone is great, just wait for WiMax. My oldest client has asked me to be a leader in the WiMax Forum, so I am getting up to speed on the politics of this tech forum. Lot’s of fun and a few great challenges for me, here!

My Nikon 1 J1 camera – it is lots of fun – a minimalist camera with a disappointing megapixel count but a great user interface for me. I took this camera with me to Taiwan, and it took great pictures – a good compromise between a point-and-shoot camera and a semi-pro camera. I like the interchangeable lens, and that was the differentiator for me that pushed me into the line at the CostCo register!

My good friend Mark Hepworth – our City Councilman – is running for Mayor. I think Mark will make a superb Mayor. He is principled, ethical, and credible in the City politics scene. Mark asked me to work for his campaign a few months ago, and I am glad to work for him.  I can’t wait to call Mark “Mr. Mayor”!

We have a crime wave in our neighborhood. My neighbors are up-in-arms -they are worried and anxious – three homes burgled in two weeks. I have arranged a meeting with the Chief of Police, here, this week. As the HOA “guy” (the President), I have a Crime Watch team organized with street captains, an efficient e-mail pyramid, and cameras and signs and lots of stuff to fight crime. Regardless of all of this, we have a crime wave, here. We have the crooks on camera in the commission of more than one burglary, so we’ll catch these rats!

January reporting deadlines for my companies are due in a week (groan) – working on this – well, I should be working on this right now, but I am procrastinating…  Blogging, instead!

My alma mater Rice University has drafted me to work on their local College of Engineering Alumni Committee – we need to raise some money for this department, and I think I can help!

My good friend JC and I had dinner recently with past Senator Kay Hutchison

IMG_0456and Nobel Prize winner Dr. Robert Curl (the carbon “buckyball”). I had dinner at the Curl house a number of times while I was at Rice – their son Mike and I were dorm roommates… It was good to spend some time with Bob and his wife that evening and catch up. We somehow meet about once a year and enjoy dinner in a “highfalutin” venue somewhere – every year, somehow…

IMG_0457The other night was the Texas Academy of Mathematics, Engineering, Science and Technology – the annual TAMEST awards banquet. This is a terrific venue to rub shoulders with brilliant and impacting people in Texas!

“Home Maintenance Week” – well, two weeks was last week and will be this week – some sheetrock repairs, fence repairs, irrigation system repairs, window repairs – all either done last week or to be done this week. I do some of this, and hire out some of this – the annual January maintenance homeowner activity for our household… I have everything “under control”!

A Christmas present was the 1988 and 1989 “Mission Impossible” series on DVD – watching the 1988 series now. This is a classic serial that I have not ever seen on contemporary TV – sad – a great TV serial!

So, time to get back to filing my W2’s and W3!

Brian – Out for now!

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A Conversation about the Weather

October 11, 2012

I pulled up to a table at a local Starbucks – I shared a largish table with a stranger who kindly offered to share in the completely full Starbucks with a sea of laptops adjacent to empty coffee cups… I was glad to share this fellow’s table, and he was happy to strike up a conversation about the weather.

“Strange weather out,” he said.

“Yup,” I replied.  “The western storm system is pushing moisture into our region of the country, and a cold front is whizzing through the plains right into Texas.  Strange weather,,,”

“This isn’t global warming, though. That’s nonsense,” he said. “This is just strange weather.”

“You think that global warming is nonsense,” I asked?

“Yes, of course it is,” He said. “Just a conspiracy for someone to get rich off of carbon taxes. Just an excuse to justify more and more Government regulation. People don’t understand that we have bastards all around us who want power and money. They can all go to hell for all I care.”

“Sometime it does seem that we are surrounded by greedy, power hungry people who want all my money – and yours, too.” I retorted.

I am smiling on the inside. I don’t want to offend this gentleman.

“Who is the real expert on global warming,” I ask?

“Well, it’s not Al Gore. Rush Limbaugh says it is all nonsense. So does Glenn Beck,” he pronounced.

I guess that I shifted visibly in my chair.

“You think that global warming is real? Heck, they say the ocean is a half degree warmer than it was fifty years ago. A half of a degree – that’s nothing,” he says. “A half of a degree doesn’t matter at all. The ocean is just absorbing more sunlight, is all.

“Maybe so,” I said. “Maybe so.”

I am thinking to myself that a half degree warmer ocean is pretty significant, and that this fellow should be somewhat alarmed about that if that is indeed the case. But the reality is that a warmer ocean is disputed in scientific circles because the data is largely inconclusive considering other factors such as ocean currents and salinity.

My brain was busy preparing a slew of questions to put this fellow in a corner so he would realize the degree of ignorance he was displaying, but I refrained.

I asked, “What do you think the weather will be like tomorrow?”

This conversation brings me to the point I really want to make: Our society as a whole is terribly ignorant about science. This fellow I was having a cup of coffee with was turning to Limbaugh and Beck for scientific confirmation – two gentlemen who are none too credible in my book for scientific reporting.

More to the point, when a person is ignorant, they are easily manipulated. Extend ignorance to an entire society, and important decisions about policy and priority are easily swayed by a measure of “razzle-dazzle” and a convincing face. Give me facts that I have the knowledge to comprehend, and I will apply them to a relevant context, and I will make better decisions. So will the public – if the public can in fact comprehend the most basic of facts.

My observation is that much of the public is held in ignorance about most things scientific. The average person seems to want the “convincing face” to tell them the answer they want to hear so that they don’t have to think about something they are ignorant about – someone with a good haircut can do a fairly good job as the “convincing face”! I just want the facts (and they can be hard to come by) – and I wish that society as a whole was better educated, particularly in the sciences, than we seem to be.

Oh well… The weather tomorrow will be a little cooler!

Rescuing the Economy – Proposal #3

December 26, 2010

My friend PN remarked, “Brian, what do astronomers get paid to do? I mean, what is the value of astronomy?” PN takes his Celeston with him when he leaves the light pollution of the “big city”. I remember wondering in the moment why he didn’t see the value of astronomy. He did in fact, but he was making a point that astronomy, and many fields of science had no immediate payoff, and therefore little allure for public funders and philanthropists. Look at the gloomy future for NASA to see that this concern is real.

I am afraid that many fields of science may lose significant funding and attention in the future, whether I like it or not – probably including astronomy. But not all fields of science are threatened like astronomy might be. Science that contributes to medical advances will flourish in the future. I think that with significant investment in lieu of the relatively more modest investment today, certain fields of science can be propelled so far forward so fast that they will radically reshape national economies such as our own and potentially improve the lives of everyone on the planet in a matter of a couple of years. But it’s a long shot.

I have been blogging on rescuing the US economy:

  • My Proposal #1 that predicts future medical consumption will be what saves the future US economy;
  • My Proposal #2 for more Federal investment in engineering projects by the SBIR;
  • A “China Playbook” of Seven Eco-Pillars that all require redefinition for the future.

The repair and modernization of the US economy is a difficult road for Congress to navigate. When was the last time your community added a stoplight before the tragic car wreck? Well, stand by for us all to trip and fall on the global stage tragically before Congress will act correctly.

So, what is the “long shot” that might overcome the tragic “trip and fall”? There must be a long shot with a high risk of failure, but potentially enormous returns. Scientific discovery changes the way we see the world, the problems in the world, and the solutions to those problems. My friend wasn’t looking at it from quite that perspective, but I was beginning to. My proposal – my long shot:

Invest $250 Billion in scientific research for a cure for cancer – all cancers – in five years.

My previous post that proposed a sharp increase in SBIR investment in engineering solutions to practical problems noted a structural error in public policy that has spurred a misapplication of talent in this country: Scientists in the US are “stooping” to a mission of invention and innovation in lieu of discovery. They do this today because invention and innovation or applied science receives significant funding from multiple sources, and because discovery or pure science receives far less funding, and because their Ph.D. credential beats out the credentials of most engineers who might do better invention and innovation. Where the previous proposal made a case for funding more invention and innovation by engineers instead of scientists, this post expands on the value of scientific discovery and the need to fund it and the essential role for scientists to pursue it.

Discovery is the “long shot”. Remember Rumsfeld’s muttering about “things you know you know”? Well, Discovery is all about the things you don’t know. There is undeniable value in things you don’t know. But this value is undeterminable, and therefore its cost is unjustifiable when things get tough. Scientists do discovery best – this is their big potential value contribution in our economy, and public policy today no longer encourages it very well. A little bit of Discovery spurs a disproportionately larger wave of invention and innovation – always.

The mission to the moon was a mission of discovery – it gave birth to the computer chip – and to a host of other commercializable inventions and innovations that have contributed remarkably to our economy.

The decoding of the human genome was a mission of discovery – it gave birth to the hard disk drive – and to a host of other commercializable inventions and innovations that have contributed remarkably to our economy. The hard disk drive? Yes – the problem was, “How do you store the human genome once you know it?” The answer was the hard disk drive – with microminiature magnetic molecules that store a one or zero – or “fairy dust” as coined by an IBM physicist…  And now, many of us have our offices littered by used disk drives mechanisms and boxes full of portable hard drives.

What is the next big discovery?  See this previous post on The Next Big Thing – but these things are really inventions and innovations, and not discoveries. So, what is the next big discovery that will drive large portions of our future economy? My own guess is a pico-machine that defeats or destroys cancer cells – or any other specific cell they are built for – by seeking them out in the body, attaching to them and rendering them harmless. Maybe this pico-machine is really a virus or a gene, but the point is that for all intents and purposes it is a molecule-sized machine that has a physical structure and a physical mechanism and a programmable behavior to accomplish its task.

These pico-machines will be the brain-children of scientists, and not engineers. Who will fund this pure science? Who will fund a $250 Billion cure for all cancers and potentially many other diseases – and other unimaginable applications? Congress? On the present course, I doubt it… It’s the “long shot”, and who in Congress is brave enough to invest large amounts of public funds today when times are tough in something their constituents might call science fiction?

Today, the US government tends to toss token amounts of money at quantifiable, low-risk problems. This is a sure bet strung out over as long a period of time as possible. I think that this strategy today yields relatively small returns. I have heard more than one scientific researcher remark in frustration, “I invest so many hours preparing so many proposals for such small amounts of money for such limited scopes of work…”

My proposal – one more time:

Invest $250 Billion in scientific research for a cure for cancer – all cancers – in five years.

And then, how about curing Alzheimer’s Disease… Or regrowing the retina of the eye to cure macular degeneration and blindness, or regenerating a failed pancreas to cure diabetes, or – well, there is a long list of discoveries waiting, and waiting, and waiting…

In case you aren’t looking at the cost of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, $250 Billion amounts to about two years of the cost of those wars… I would rather bet some of my tax dollars on the “long shot”, wouldn’t you?