Saturday, October 29, 2005

HapMap Catalogue of Human Genetic Variation Published

The completion of the first phase of the so-called HapMap – a haplotype map of single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) – was announced at a press conference in Salt Lake City, site of the American Society of Human Genetics convention.

The genomes of unrelated individuals vary on average at one DNA base per 1,000, or some 3 million locations across the human genome. In total, there are thought to be about 10 million single-base variations, or SNPs, in the human genome.

The published Phase I version has more than 1 million mapped SNPs. However, the data for Phase II have already been generated, consisting of an additional 2.8 million SNPs.
That is pretty cool research. In the future I figure we will all carry our mapped genome with us, on our iPod or something. How much space would it take? The human genome is around 3.2 billion base pairs, and we each have 2 sets of chromosomes so that gets to 6.4 bil base pairs. Divide by 4 to turn base pairs into bytes and you get 1.6GB. So you would have to take up almost 1/2 of the memory in your new 4GB iPod Nano.

But, what if instead we though of our ourselves as being just the diff between the standard genome (which I think ended up being a lot of Craig Venter) and our personal genome. Then instead of needing 6.4 bil base pairs, we need just our SNPs, or about 3 million bp. 3 mil bp in bytes ends up being 750 KB. That is tiny! Less than the size of a song on an iPod, it would fit on those old 1.4MB floppies. Heck, it almost would fit into the 640KB RAM of the old PCs. Now you could put it on almost any portable media and it would be a rounding error.

Via Bio-IT World


Tuesday, October 25, 2005

I Am No Longer Afraid of Chinese Competition

This video is too funny. For a while there I was reading reports like this and getting concerned that those studious science loving Chinese were going to kick our asses. Then I watched this video and decided that they are going to become lazy, materialistic, pop culture lovers just like us. Who would have ever thought that the Backstreet Boys would be China's downfall?


Friday, October 21, 2005

Historical Shares of World GDP

I was reading this article in the NY Times interviewing Nandan M. Nilekani, the chief executive of Infosys Technologies and he made the comment:

If you go back to the 1830's, India and China were 50 percent of the world's G.D.P., and then they missed the entire revolution of industry. So if you take a long view of this game, it's just part of the process.
Which reminded me of this really cool graph I saw once that compared the GDPs of India, China, US and Europe over hundreds of years. I found it on a Google search, but for the life of me I can't find it again.

But I found something similar in this .pdf. This graph (click on it for a larger version), shows the big 4 economies (plus Japan) from 0-2005.

Interesting points:
1) In 1700 India, China and Europe had about the same GDPs at 20% of world GDP each.
2) From 1700 to 1950, India and China (well, early 1800s for China) are straight down hill while the US is straight up
3) Around 1973 India and China awoke and are starting to climb back, while US and Europe fell respectively.


Saturday, October 15, 2005

Google Earmarks $265 Million for Charity

Google gave the first details yesterday of how it would carry out its commitment to devote a share of its lucrative public stock offering to charity and social causes. It said it had donated $90 million to a new charitable foundation it started and would give another $175 million to nonprofit groups and what it considers socially useful businesses over the next two to three years.

Sheryl Sandberg, a Google vice president for sales who is also coordinating the foundation and related programs, said the company would focus its charitable efforts in two areas: global poverty, and energy and the environment.

Google is just beginning to make grants with these funds. It has given $5 million to the Acumen Fund, a New York group that encourages entrepreneurs in developing countries to create businesses that can assist in providing health care, housing and other needs of the poor.

And it gave $2 million to the One Laptop Per Child program started by Nicholas Negroponte, co-founder of the Media Lab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, which seeks to develop a $100 computer to give to children in the developing world.

In Google's annual report, filed in April, Mr. Brin and Mr. Page said they had decided to put the money into a broader range of initiatives including investments in "socially progressive corporations" and "influencing public policy."
Sounds like the Google boys aren't just taking on Microsoft the company, they are also going after the Gates Foundation too. Good for them. I think global poverty and energy and the environment are great things to go after.

via New York Times


High-Tech Gadget Helps Boost Concentration

I am always a sucker for a good mind altering gadget.

Light and sound machines consist of three basic components: a small Walkman-sized control unit, light emitting diode (LED)-installed goggles and stereo headphones.

The control unit is a micro-computer pre-programmed with software that regulates the intensity and frequency of flickering lights and rhythmic pulsating sounds, two stimuli that in combination generate changes in brainwaves.

Such a combination of stimuli increases certain brainwave frequencies (beta, alpha, theta and delta waves) that are associated with specific mental states.
Preset programs mix and match fine-tuned sound frequencies and flickering lights induce certain desired mental states that enhance a personÂ’s efforts to concentrate or manage stress.
Sounds cool. Watch and listen to one thing to get pumped up, another to relax at the end of the day.
At the moment, South Korea is the only country that has a mature market for light and sound machines.

Since 1992, Daeyang Education and Communication (E&C) has sold a total of 1.1 million units of its MC Square light and sound machines.
South Korea already hasubiquitouss high speed broadband and kick ass cellphones. Now they are trying to corner the market in light and sound machines. I think I need to move.
DaeyangÂ’s product marketing activities relied solely on word-of-mouth advertising by its customers. While less than 40 percent of its customers (mothers and teenage students) recommended MC Square to their friends, the remainder hushed up their use of the product due to sense of rivalry, keeping the benefits to themselves.
Maybe I don't want to go to South Korea. They sound like a bunch of dicks.
``The light and sound system has a broad range of applications. It can be used for managing the stress of soldiers and athletes of national teams. It can also be customized for pets and domesticated animal farms,Â’Â’ she elaborated.
Um, you are going to give my cool mind altering gadget to a pig? I have now lost total faith in the sanity of the South Koreans. In fact, if this gadget is going to pigs, I am no longer sure that I want one anymore. I think I might just get me one of those new video iPods instead.

Via The Korea Times


Thursday, October 13, 2005

Black People Don't Care About George Bush

The poll also revealed overwhelming opposition to Bush among African-Americans. Only two percent said they approved of his performance as president, the lowest level ever recorded in that category, NBC television reported.
And given the poll's 3.4% margin of error, that could actually be -1.4%.

Via News 24


Monday, October 10, 2005

Japanese vs. US National Debt

I had always thought the US National Debt was huge and was surprised to see that the Japanese Debt was almost as large in absolute terms and over twice as large in per capita terms (Japan has about 40% the population as the US).

The US National Debt Clock has us at $7.987 trillion in debt or $26,800 per capita.

Japan comes in at $7.1 trillion (795.8 trillion yen) or $55,900 (6.24 million yen) per person (via Yahoo News). Good thing they have those miniscule interest rates (1.37% 10 yr, .02% 3 month).


Sunday, October 09, 2005

Dust to Dust ... to Diamonds?

Now, just eight ounces of cremated remains is all it takes to turn your mother into a diamond.

So far, nobody’s ordered more than 11 diamonds, said Dean VandenBiesen, vice president of operations for LifeGem, which uses super-hot ovens to transform ashes to graphite and then presses the stone into blue and yellow diamonds that retail for anywhere from $2,700 to 20,000.
Now that brings new meaning to "Grandma's ring".

Via Daily Times


Four Robotic Racers Cross Desert

Four robotic vehicles have finished a Pentagon-sponsored race across Nevada's Mojave desert, leading scientists to hail a technological milestone. Twenty-three self-driving racers took part in the Grand Challenge race which offered a $2m (£1.1m) prize. Vehicles had to negotiate 240km of rocky terrain. Last year none finished. The challenging competition was run by the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (Darpa).

The vehicles were kitted out and modified with GPS (global positioning satellite), cameras, infrared sensors, computing equipment, and lasers to guide them across the tough terrain. They were not allowed to be controlled, even remotely, by humans.

"The impossible has been achieved," said Stanford University's Sebastian Thrun after its customised Volkswagen, Stanley, crossed first on Saturday. Also finishing was a converted red Hummer called H1ghlander and a Humvee named Sandstorm from Carnegie Mellon University. The race favourite, a Ford Escape Hybrid by students in Metarie, Louisiana, came in fourth.
This is one for the history books. Self driving cars were able to travel 240km over obstacles and rough terrain without any human interaction. The winner took just under 7 hours. This Grand Challenge was a genius idea from DARPA. I love it.


Update: Just found the NY Times writeup that has video and pictures and stuff. Very Cool.


Saturday, October 08, 2005

Female Professional Workers as % of Total Workforce

1. Lithuania 70%
2. Russia 64%
3. Israel 55%
4. USA 54%
5. Sweden 50%
6. UK 45%
7. Mexico 41%
8. Bangladesh 35%
9. Egypt 31%
10. Pakistan 26%

Source: International Labor Organization
Interesting. Seeing how men aren't going to college or grad school as often as women, expect this number to go up in the US. Crazy how in Lithuania and Russia the numbers are so high.

Via Foreign Exchange with Fareed Zakaria


Monday, October 03, 2005

Building a Better Battery

In February, Altair Nanotechnologies, a small firm based in Reno, Nevada, announced a new kind of lithium-ion battery, the technology that powers many portable devices. Its prototype has three times the capacity of existing batteries and can be fully charged in six minutes.

Altair's trick was to coat the anode with lithium-titanate nanocrystals, says Roy Graham, the company's development director. This enlarges the surface area of the anode from around three square metres per gram to 100 square metres, increasing the capacity of the battery and boosting the rate at which ions are able to move to and from the anode, which is what determines how long it takes to charge. In June, Altair secured a $477,000 grant from America's National Science Foundation to further its design by using nanoparticles on both electrodes. This could further increase power density and reduce charging time, says Mr Graham.

Hard on the heels of Altair's announcement, Toshiba revealed that it too has developed a battery using nanotechnology that is capable of charging to 80% of full capacity in one minute.
Given how much advancement there has been in hard drive capacity and microprocessor speed, it has always disappointed me how little advancement there has been in battery technology. Where is the Moore's law of batteries? So I am glad to see they are making some advancements. Now that all technology is going wireless and mobile any advancements in battery technology will have huge payoffs. 3 times the capacity with a 6 minute recharge time? Sign me up. Not to mention that plugin-hybrid cars would be way better with some better batteries. If you could juice up your Prius in 15 minutes rather than over night that would be a major improvement.

Via The Economist


Sunday, October 02, 2005

Sailing Ships with a New Twist

Wind propulsion is coming back in a new form: kites, not sails. Next year, SkySails, a German firm based in Hamburg, will begin outfitting cargo ships with massive kites designed to tug vessels and reduce their diesel consumption. The firm estimates that these kites will reduce fuel consumption by about one-third—a big saving, given that fuel accounts for about 60% of shipping costs.

The firm says it can outfit a ship with a kite system for between €400,000 and €2.5m, depending on the vessel's size. Stephan Wrage, the boss of SkySails, says fuel savings will recoup these costs in just four or five years, assuming oil prices of $50 a barrel.

SkySails' kites are made of a type of nylon similar to that used in the sails of modern windjammers, but they fly between 100 and 300 metres above sea level, where winds are less turbulent and, on average, more than 50% stronger than the winds that sails capture. An autopilot computer adjusts the height and angle of the kite, the surface area of which can range from 760 to 5,000 square metres. When the wind blows too strongly, one end of the rectangular kite is released so that the kite flaps like a flag. A powerful winch retrieves the kite when necessary.
That is pretty cool. Kite surfing to the extreme.

Via The Economist


Alternative Energy: Tornados

Weather systems, as the world has recently been reminded, have awesome power. The energy released by a large hurricane can exceed the energy consumption of the human race for a whole year, and even an average tornado has a power similar to that of a large power station. If only mankind could harness that energy, rather than being at its mercy. Louis Michaud, a Canadian engineer who works at a large oil company, believes he has devised a way to do just that, by generating artificial whirlwinds that can be controlled and harnessed. He calls his invention the “atmospheric vortex engine”.
I have always wondered if there was a way to tap the energy of a hurricane. If you could do so, you could kill two birds with one stone. First, you would generate a ton of energy. Second, you would deprive the hurricane of its power and therefore its destructive energy. Less destruction, more power from a renewable source. Oh, if it were only so easy.

This guy is trying to build a stationary tornado to generate energy. Very interesting. More in the link below.

Via The Economist


Campus Gender Gap

This graph is really amazing (click on it to get a bigger version). A couple of thoughts.

First, what's wrong with the dudes? Men had 6 million students in 1985, only about 6 mil in 1995, slightly more in '00 and 7 mil in '05. Meanwhile women went from 5 mil in '85 to 10 mil in '05. The chicks added 5 million students, doubling their numbers in 20 years while the guys added 1 mil or 16% increase.

Second, they are predicting that there will be 3 million more female students then men in 2015. Wow!

Via The Seattle Times