Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Evolving Ourselves

I was reading an article on BBC about the impact of technology on human evolution.  Basically, we know that changes to the environment drive biological adaptation and evolution.  But humans have found non-biological ways to adapt more quickly, and without the cruelty of death associated with natural evolution.  An example given in the article is that while polar bears evolved blubber to insulate themselves from the cold, humans used tools to kill the polar bear and use its fur for insulation. 

Now we are not only using technology to deal with to our environments, we are using technology to both adapt ourselves and our environment.  How will this drive human evolution in the future?  Here is an interesting excerpt:

"Technology may have limited the impact of evolutionary forces such as predation and disease, but that does not mean humans have stopped evolving.

Far from it, in a world of globalisation, rapidly advancing medical and genetic science and the increasing power of individuals to determine their own life choices, more powerful forces may come into play.

The direction of our future evolution is likely to be driven as much by us as by nature. It may be less dependent on how the world changes us, but ever more so on our growing ability to change the world."

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

For Now We See Through A Glass Less Darkly

1 Corinthians 13:12 contains the phrase "For now we see through a glass, darkly."

There are a number of new technologies in development that I believe put us on the cusp of a revolution in computing technology, and more specifically our interaction with computer interfaces.

First came the iPhone that introduced us to swipes and gestures rather than point and click. This was a big step in the direction of a "natural" human interface rather than the precision of a mouse pointer on tiny buttons.

Next came 3D Movies and 3D home theater. Most people don't have a 3D TV in their home yet, but if you have ever gone and sat down in front of a demo set in Best Buy, you will see how compelling it can be, turning the bezel around your screen into a window frame through which you gaze through at a scene on the other side.

The problem with current 3D technology is the glasses. They are only needed because of the varying viewing distances and angles of the audience. If those two things were fixed, such as a child holding a Nintendo 3DS (coming out in March), glasses aren't needed to provide the effect.

So what if you could track the audience and project the image based on their distance and angle? Enter the Microsoft XBOX Kinect. This device consists of cameras, lasers, and microphones that do just that, eliminating the need for a handheld controller for video games. Well it just so happens that the Kinect tracks the position of the user. So there you have it, the technology pieces are in place to allow us to interact with computing devices using natural human gestures, gazing through glass windows at a three dimensional virtual or augmented reality environment, rather than looking at or touching screens.

See the Microsoft video below for some great examples:


Friday, February 11, 2011

The Water of Life's Quantum Secret

One of the most interesting, and perplexing, things I learned in grade school science class, was the unique properties of water.  Not only did we learn that our bodies are made up of mostly water, but that it does strange things when changing states.  Like expanding and becoming less dense when freezing when everything else shrinks and becomes more dense when going from a liquid to a solid.  Also, when it freezes, it does so from the top down instead of bottom up.  It turns out this is very important for life to live and evolve in bodies of water, where we all started out.  Oh, and one more thing... when water passes through the tiny channels in cell membranes, it does so much faster than fluid dynamics predicts. 

None of these things were explained in science class.  It was like, "here are the rules of physics, but water behaves differently, and don't forget to hydrate before gym class".  

Today George Reiter at the University of Houston may have answered some these questions related to water and life.  They took tiny amounts of water and confined them to very small spaces in carbon nano-tubes that approximate the confines in cellular membranes.   When they performed measurements, they found the confined water to have gone into a different quantum state, with more kinetic energy than expected, thus providing an energy boost to the engine of life. 

There is even something in this for the religious, as water plays an important role in the first acts of Genesis.  "Darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters...And God said, Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it divide the waters from the waters." 

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Overcoming Organic Conflict

During my career I have noticed that a kind of organic conflict develops between and within certain kinds of organizations.  Typically this occurs when the objective of one organization is a check and balance to the objective of another.  As a whole,  these checks and balances are good, but if the inherent friction is allowed to become conflict,  the organizations efficiency will be greatly reduced.  

During normal times this usually just simmers in the background.  And example in IT might be a development manager who doesn't work closely with infrastructure to determine actual hardware costs of a project,  resulting in discovery of the need late in the project lifecycle and going over budget or delays.  

On the other hand,  a manager who reaches out to their counterparts and builds relationships and trust that transcends the natural friction enable the combined teams to act quickly and effectively in times of unusual crisis or opportunity.

But it takes diplomacy and extra effort as the natural tendancy is to back your team members in these conflicts because, after all, they are merely following the objectives you set for the team.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

SETI and Smoke Signals

What if SETI has it all wrong?
If advanced civilizations have the technology to communicate across the galaxy, do we really think they would be just broadcasting omnidirectionally or even point to point like the old telephone system?  Its more likely that if they figured out a way to communicate across vast distance of space and time, that it would be something like a Wide Area Network or Internet?  If so, what technology would they choose?  I don't know, but it seems to me the two basic issues to overcome would be gaps in distance and in time.  After all, those two things are relative. Therefore, I don't think radio frequency would be the ideal medium.  It would be like trying to connect your computer to the library across town using smoke signals. 

Perhaps we need a project that instead of scanning radio spectrum, instead scans across our understandings of physics to identify potential mediums of communication that might overcome the problems of distance and time.  Perhaps we need to put our ear down on the the strata of subatomic particles, dark energy, strings, and quantum particles and listen for a tap tap tap. 

I highly suspect the SETI project is scanning the sky for smoke signals. 


Thursday, January 6, 2011

Thoughts on My Child's Snore

My 6 year old son snores as he lays sleeping.  
When he was smaller it was more like a purr,
But now it has gained strength and I can sense the man within him.  
One day soon a woman will lay beside him listening to him snore,
And I will lay alone.
But no one can ever love a man as much as a father,
And I will never forget when his snore was a purr as he sprawled across my chest.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Mirror Life

I read an extremely interesting article in Wired magazine entitled "Building a Parallel Universe".  In a nutshell,  our version of life uses DNA to RNA to flip protiens to one particular side.  But what if there were amino acids flipped the other way?  It would be completely incompatible with our version,  immune to our viruses and able to produce medical wonders or an unimaginable ecological disaster ending our version of life on the planet.  So does this mirror life exist elsewhere in the universe?

As it turns out,  there are mirror amino acids on meteors. Scientists have started searching for mirror life already on earth,  and it may turn out to have been here before us...  making us the alien biological invaders.

Check out the article in the December 18 issue of Wired about the work of nobel scientist Dimitar Sasselov.