Category: Design & Technology

Hope Summit 2010

For most of the day tomorrow I’ll be attending Hope Summit 2010, “a gathering of advocates, experts, patients and others who will discuss recent stem cell advances and what they could mean to each of us and our families and friends”. The conference is sponsored by the Missouri Coalition for Life Saving Cures and will be taking place in downtown St. Louis. There’s still time to register if you’re interested. Topics that will be discussed include:

  • Stem Cell Elements – Review the basics about what stem cells are, how they’re derived and the hope they hold for us all.  
  • Scientific Advances – Learn about major scientific advancements in stem cell research taking place across the county, around the world and right here in Missouri.  
  • Religious Support – Faith leaders explain their perspectives on stem cell research and God’s call to alleviate human suffering.  
  • Economic Impact – Discuss the broad economic impact and benefits of a pro-science, pro-research Missouri.  
  • Stem Cells in Politics & Policy – Analyze the major political debates surrounding stem cells research at the national and state levels.  
  • Protecting Our Rights– For active members who want to strategize and educate Missourians about the hope and promise of stem cell research for ourselves and our loved ones.

Speakers include:

  • Chris Mooney – Best-selling author of “Unscientific America: How Scientific Illiteracy Threatens Our Future”
  • Bernard Siegel – Executive director, Genetics Policy Institute, host of the annual World Stem Cell Summit
  • Dr. Steven Teitelbaum – Physician and professor of pathology and immunology, Washington University in St. Louis
  • Marie Davis – Executive director of the Metro Saint Louis / Greater Missouri Chapter of JDRF
  • Kelly Gillespie – Executive director of the Missouri Biotechnology Association
  • Victoria Kohout – Executive director of the Nebraska Coalition for Lifesaving Cures

More detailed information on the agenda, location, cost and speakers is available on the conference website, which I linked to above. I’ll do my best to provide updates via twitter (@viharsheth) during the conference but I can’t promise I’ll be able to. I hope to see you there.

Are You Just A Number?

Mitchell Baker is the Chair of the Mozilla Foundation, a non-profit organization dedicated to promoting openness, innovation and opportunity on the Internet. He recently wrote on his blog about the presence of self on the Internet in a post called, “I Am Not A Number“. It’s a short, philosophical post worth reading.

Baker’s main point is that the Internet and its corporate hooligans are not only stealing but also sculpting each Internet user’s identity. Scary stuff. He wants his presence on the Internet to be himself, not a caricature of himself that exists only after corporations get done manipulating information about him.

After you read Baker’s post and the comments below it (do read these), you will hopefully understand why its important to make sure a free and open Internet, void of companies collecting every possible piece of data about you, is vital to people’s privacy and their rights. Supporting organizations like the Mozilla Foundation, the Electronic Frontier Foundation and others like it is paramount to this cause.

Surprisingly, the perpetrators are the companies we know and respect. I’m not writing this to call out any particular examples but to highlight the fact that if you knew exactly what was going on, you probably wouldn’t be happy with it. Make sure to educate yourself so when and if users are actually given a voice to dictate how the Internet should be operated and governed, you know what you’re talking about.

Old Laptop – RIP

RIP: Recycled in Peace. I battled the sweltering heat over lunch today and dropped my brother’s old laptop off at a temporary electronics recycling center downtown. The heat index at time of disposition was exactly 100 degrees according to The Weather Channel. The “center” is very temporary, as you can see in the photo below, and is only being operated today. But, there are other drop-off days scheduled around town.WITS Recycling - 2009.06.24

Today’s effort is being operated by a local group called WITS, which stands for Web Innovation and Technology Services. Sounds like a Silicon Valley start-up, no? Well, it’s actually far more than that. WITS’ mission is:

We recycle/refurbish electronic/computers and surplus equipment from local/national businesses and residents by fixing or replacing what may be broken and putting it back into the community for educational use. 

This keeps the used equipment out of the landfills, and provides those in need with the technology to accomplish their educational/career goals.

We also offer training in many areas for students of all ages and capabilities for internships and resume experiences and the chance to teach their skills to other students with hands-on experiences.

Anything that WITS cannot reuse is recycled appropriately at our recycling facility. WITS has a 0% landfill policy which has been able to be followed since we began recycling.

Funny thing is that the brochure I was handed at the drop-off location has a few other “mission” statement-type passages on it. Three of them caught my eye:

  1. “Building communities by bridging the digital divide.”
  2. “Providing innovative no/low-cost high-level technology training and free computers to low-income and underserved populations, while recycling safely to save landfills.”
  3. “By reusing redundant and obsolete technology, we are able to create training and re-use opportunities for underserved and low-income population and non-profits. By appropriately recycling and demanufacturing at our facility, we can create value for business, residents and the environment.”

Yes, the mission is a bit cumbersome, but the group’s tag line sums up their efforts quite nicely: “Building Communities through Reuse, Recycling and Education”. Can’t beat that.

We often forget that technology often has an impact on more than just our physical environment. Computers reduce paper usage but also use tremendous amounts of power. Socially, technology can help the disenfranchised catch up to rest of society but it can also increase the gap in ability, knowledge and opportunity at a breathtaking pace; consider how much technology is integrated into everything you do and how your ability to understand and use the technology evolved over years of access and practice. How can someone without that same exposure be expected to compete?

WITS is not going to solve this problem by itself, but the efforts being made by the organization are hopeful. Remember, you can either take your old computer and throw it in the trash, leaving plastic and a whole host of toxic chemicals to interact with Mother Nature. Or, you can recycle your old electronics at a place like WITS, knowing that your garbage will not only reduce your impact on the environment but also expose underserved populations to technology, give them work, and help create a more equal society. It’s your choice.

The Most Interesting Man In The World

Well maybe not, but he must be close, and should definitely be in the next round of those strangely awesome Dos Equis commercials. The man I’m referring to is Gus Gustafson (sp?). I’d hate to call him just a home builder because I’d be leaving out a plethora of other things he does, and seemingly does well, but that’s what we were there to talk about.

My wife and I had the opportunity to meet this gentleman on Sunday and got a tour of his new home, which is currently under construction. The home is built out of structurally insulated panels (SIPs), which we plan to use on our future abode.  Our encounter was limited to only a few hours but we learned about everything from carpenter bees to waste water treatment methods, and all topics covered included tangible evidence to back up any claims that were made.

The home itself is near completion and comes in around 3,300 square feet on two levels (with no basement). The entire freakin’ thing is cooled by one window air conditioner and can run entirely on six car batteries. How? Because of the amazingly efficient building envelope created when constructing a house (or any building) out of structurally insulated panels. Using air exchangers to replace stale air with fresh, the building otherwise loses virtually no conditioned air to the outside regardless of exterior conditions. Because of this simple benefit, electricity bills for the entire house, which include every appliance a standard home has, run in the $20 to $30 range monthly. The level of comfort provided in every inch of the house by just one window-unit air conditioner was mind blowing.

I could write for pages on the other extremely interesting topics we covered but the main lesson to take away from our visit is that the old way of building is not the best way of building. Hopefully contractors of all types will educate themselves on new building techniques and start to incorporate them into their businesses. Only through this process will society speed up its evolution towards the more sustainable.

Oh yeah, using SIPS is faster, cheaper and makes the building stronger. What’s not to like?

Tesla / St. Louis

There is no formal association between St. Louis and Tesla Motors . . . yet. Tesla is the maker of two all-electric vehicles, one already on the streets – the Roadster – and one under production – the Model S. The Roadster will set you back around $100,000 but it is one mean beast. The Model S, set to cost under $60,000, is a more practical sedan. $60,000 is not affordable by any stretch of the imagination but it is in line with the costs of equivalent luxury automobiles.

What’s the point of this discussion? I want Tesla to open a showroom in St. Louis. I know, this sounds like a pipe dream given the company only plans to sell 20,000 to 25,000 units worldwide. To date, Tesla has opened showrooms in Los Angeles and Menlo Park, California. The company plans to open other showrooms in Chicago, Manhattan, Miami and Seattle. Other possibilities include Washington D.C., and Munich, Germany. After they finish opening locations in the top U.S. markets, I want their secondary expansion to start in St. Louis.

I’ve spoke with representatives from the company and they do plan on expanding further as delivery of the Model S approaches. Why? Basic maintenance and servicing for one. Also, most electric cars, including Tesla’s models, will include easily replaceable batteries (though they’ll weigh hundreds of pounds). Most electric cars will be sold with short-range batteries, as higher capacity batteries drastically increase costs and aren’t used for their full potential the majority of the time. The base Model S will come with a 160-mile range battery, but the company will also offer 230 and 300-mile batteries. If someone buys the car to commute to work, why should he pay tens of thousands of dollars extra for a long-range battery? Most likely, he wouldn’t. Proponents of electric cars envision a scenario in which an owner would take his car to service station to have his batter temporarily replaced for a longer car trip. To make this scenario a reality, more sales/service locations will be needed than just those on the coasts and one in Chicago. Got it? Good.

So, stay tuned for more updates as I campaign to get enough Tesla’s sold in St. Louis to get a showroom here as well!

Is There Enough Gas In The Tank?

What if we discovered the cure to cancer but ran out of an ingredient for the drug? What if we engineered a ship that could travel the universe but ran out of fuel? What if . . . ? You get the point. How terrible it would be to know the solution to a problem but lack one essential component?

Well, that could be a possibility in the realm of renewable energy according to a recent article in NewScientist. The piece discusses the limited availability of two elements, iridium and platinum, used in the manufacturing of two renewable energy technologies, solar cells and hydrogen fuel cells; it also speaks to the ever-growing controversy of fuel versus food. There are some great (and not so great) comments posted to the article that make for good discussion.

I’ve discussed all three of these topics on green | rising before but have never talked about the possibility that developing renewable energy technology may be limited by mother nature. Is humankind really going to be stifled in its attempt to become sustainable because we are resource constrained? The irony!

Conservation, conservation, conservation. We’re not throwing away iridium and platinum like we are many other natural resources but the manufacturing of LCD TVs – the single largest iridium-consuming process – is a sad supplement to the manufacturing of solar technologies. 

The lesson here is that we must head conservation in all of its forms. Even the most ardent supporters of renewable energy probably do not know that processes like the manufacturing of LCD TVs may prevent or retard the advent of a clean energy future. While I’m not judging this specific example it does highlight the fact that we must not let consumption thwart our efforts at a cleaner, greener tomorrow.

Stem Cell Spinal Study Announced – Hooray!

While approval of a new stem cell study and Barack Obama’s accession to the presidency are completely unrelated, the announcement that the first-ever human trials of stem cell therapy is monumental. Beginning this summer, a U.S. biotechnology company is going to test the safety and efficacy of stem cells on newly paralyzed people. The patients will be paraplegics and must have fresh injuries – less than two weeks old. Given that timeline, the math tells me that people walking around right now, none the wiser, will end up being the test subjects for this trial. Sorry about your misfortune in advance.

The old administration’s strict guidelines on federally-funded stem cell research essentially froze research in the U.S. in place while other countries advanced their own. Not cool. While stem cell research itself is not illegal in the U.S., not nearly enough private money exists to mount a legitimate research effort without federal funds. Obama has promised to loosen these guidelines and hopefully allow the flow of more federal dollars to these research projects.

Coincidental to this recent announcement, last week my wife and I went to the screening of a movie called “The Accidental Advocate“. While I’ve been a member of the Missouri Coalition for Lifesaving Cures for some time, seeing the film was my first detailed exposure to all of the issues surrounding this controversial research. The documentary only screened in 13 cities nationwide, and St. Louis was fortunate to be one of them. Admittedly, the film is very pro stem cell research, and in my opinion, rightfully so.

My opinion is that destroying stem cells in the hopes of finding therapies and cures for those suffering extremely debilitating conditions is more advantageous to humankind than the potential “evil” caused by the destruction of these cells, most of which are destined to become medical waste if they go unused.

Even if you are currently against stem cell research, you should make an effort to see this film.  At worst, you become educated on the position of those in favor of the research, but in the end, hold firm to your current beliefs. No harm, no foul. At best, you change your mind or relax your opposition after actually learning about the issue in its entirety.

If your only guide to date has been spirituality, I’m not saying it shouldn’t remain an influence in your life. What am I saying is that once you learn about the science behind stem cell research, you will see that destroying stem cells for research is not a blatant disregard for human life. You will also see that you can remain confident in your spiritual beliefs while understanding that allowing this research to continue may alleviate massive human suffering, and doing so is a basic tenet of virtually every life philosophy, spiritual and secular.

Pick Your Cancer

Ohhhh ‘bama, what have you done? Offshore drilling? Really?

Our cancer isn’t the dependency on foreign oil, it’s the dependency on oil period, and other fossil fuels, from wherever they hail. Oil taken from our backyards, or coal from our stripped lands, is still a cancer. If we’re choosing to die, just by our own hands, then let’s drill the hell out of our coastlines and natural preserves. The oil won’t be here for 10 years, and by that time we may be on an irreversible path toward a little town called self-destruction.

But, if want to free ourselves of the cancer itself, we must abandon fossil fuels as a source of energy and turn to technology that already exists. Wind, solar, geothermal, and biomass are the future, and the future is now.

My wife and I were recently watching an episode of Eco-Tech on The Science Channel. The show was mind-blowing.

  • Did you know that all the energy every used by mankind in the history of existence is delivered to the earth by the sun in only 30 days?
  • Did you know that solar technology that already exists and is used to make Seville, Spain almost entirely powered by the sun could be used to power the entire planet? According to some scientists, covering just 1% of the Saharan desert with solar reflectors, which would be used to heat water into steam, could supply the entire earth’s energy needs?
  • Did you know that wave technology nearly perfected could power all of Florida’s energy needs?
  • Did you know a guy in Chicago has developed an urban wind turbine (looks like a big drill bit) that captures wind energy from all directions (I’m going to see this on Friday!)
  • Did you know that scientists have almost perfected a solar technology that allows photovoltaic solar cells to be printed in the form of ink onto thin, bendable film? These can be produced 10 to 20 times cheaper than solar panels currently available on any market and can be shaped to contour any surface.

That’s not even the half of it. In ten years we can be free of our dependence on all oil, not just foreign oil. Our skies and rivers will be clean, the needless wars will be over, and we can all start focusing on other problems that have been left untreated or exacerbated by our addiction.

Personal Mobility Appliances

Bradley Berman, editor of hybridCARS, published an interesting commentary on Reuters yesterday called, “In 2018, expect personal mobility appliances“. The article is as much about technology as it is about perception. It’s short too, so please go read it, but here are some notable quotes:

  • By 2018, the American love affair with the car will become platonic.
  • Sure, you might still adore your car, but with the lusty “need for speed” tied up in gigahertz instead of get-up-and-go. Your car, reborn as a personal mobility appliance, will be more about what it can do, and less about stimulating your senses.
  • The marketplace itself will go digital.
  • The personal mobility appliance will zip along an increasingly networked roadway.
  • John DeCicco, an automotive strategist at Environmental Defense, expects that some auto companies will cling to “traditional measures of mobility” — horsepower, size, and 4-wheel drive — while others will embrace the attributes of what he calls a “post-mobility” age: connectivity, entertainment, information, navigation, safety, and mobile workplace features.

I’ve imagined the future and it is beautiful. I hope to have a personal mobility appliance but also a jet pack, or an Iron Man suit if the price is right.

“Now on display at the Museum of Transportation: The last SUV ever built!”

Let’s make it happen. Here’s a start - Land Rover go boom!

It’s Electric, Boogie, Woogie, Woogie!

I’ve searched the web to get on a waiting list for an electric car and have been disappointed. Are these manufacturers that far from delivering a working product that they’re not even taking names? Shame on them. If anyone knows how to get in line for any electric cars being developed please let me know.

One reason for the lack of “signupability” on Chevy’s part is indirectly explained in this article, Electro-Shock Therapy, published in July/August 2008 issues of The Atlantic. In the piece, Jonathon Rauch explains how General Motors is reinventing the automobile and itself. He explains that the risky part of this endeavor is that the electric technology and the car itself are being developed in parallel. And, if the technology breakthroughs don’t materialize post haste, GM is going to be in a world of hurt . . . more so than now. In fact, if this gamble does not pay off, it could be the end of days.

I really, really, really hope GM gets it right though. A recent spot on CNN interviewed people who have bought used EV1′s and Toyota’s electric RAV4′s for between $40,000 and $70,000 on eBay Motors. Demand is high and people are starting to gain awareness of the environmental issues associated with driving static technology. In fact, surveys have shown that even if gas prices go down, people are going to continue to find ways to reduce consumption. While intentions are admirable, I’m sure if push came to shove, people would ramp up their mileage again. That’s why it’s important to make available an alternative that removes the temptation to regress. We are creatures of habit, and we’ll continue to get caught in the mousetrap unless the cheese just disappears.