Mike O. and Industry!

Hey, I just noticed my old pal Mike O. has revived his blog (Industry!) from its state of suspended animation. He just posted the video of an oddball Tootsie Pop commercial that I also remember from childhood. When seen through my 21st century lens, it seems strangely edgy. What’s up with that blind fox? Right up to the end I was wondering if this was the actual commercial or a postmodern ironical send-up of same. It’s so hard to tell anymore.

While on the subject of old commercials that stick with you across the years, I was glad to find the old Chuck Wagon Dog Food commercial. I loved that little wagon! How did it just melt into the wall like that? It thrilled me every time.

Any commercials you particularly remember? It must be incredibly satisfying for the old retired ad men to see their material coming around again on YouTube. Look at all them cotton-pickin’ Alka-Seltzer ads.

Amory Lovins on Natural Capitalism

I recommend this series of lectures by the Rocky Mountain Institute‘s Amory Lovins. He delivered the lectures at Stanford, and they’re now hosted at the Social Innovation Conversations site.

I first came across these lectures on Jon Udell’s blog. Udell does a good job of describing them.

What you will hear, in these talks, is the distillation of a lifetime of experience in the creative optimization of the use of energy. The principles are all laid out in Natural Capitalism: integrative design, whole-system engineering, radical resource productivity, tunneling through the cost barrier. But it’s something else again to hear Lovins pile up the case studies, one after another, in a plain-spoken but cumulatively overwhelming stream of revelatory common sense.

Natural capitalism is wonderfully straightforward notion: essentially it states that capitalism is a reasonable framework for solving the world’s problems, so long as you assign reasonable value to the natural capital (clean air, forested land, mineral wealth) you consume and create. Everything belongs on the balance sheet. We suffer now because we thought of carbon dioxide emissions as a zero cost economic output that could go under the rug. Integrative design is another trend that I see rapidly becoming more prominent. And I was struck by Lovins’ use of this quote from Einstein: “I wouldn’t give a nickel for the simplicity on this side of complexity, but I would give my life for the simplicity on the other side of complexity.”

With these words still echoing in my ears, I was happy to read in this morning’s Boston Globe about a company called H2O Applied Technologies. According to the article, “They find ways to cut energy costs. They make energy-saving improvements. They buy and install new equipment. And they pay for everything.” They make their money by taking a cut of the resulting savings. It’s a beautiful model. No hand-wringing. No theatrics. No appeals to guilt or charity. Just profit-seeking capitalists trying to make money. If we do manage to save the world, this is how we’ll do it.

Here’s the link: Clients get energy savings, H2O shares the benefit – The Boston Globe (article may be behind a registration barrier).

Soccer vs. Rugby

I like soccer, and I don’t know much about rugby, but this is a funny video.


The slow-motion drama queen falls, the poor-me childlike appeals to mommy—I mean the referee—it all starts to make you wonder. If soccer players are so tough (which I don’t dispute), why do they come off like such babies?

It occurs to me that soccer happens much closer to the “edge”. The dividing line between sporting and unsporting play is very narrow. Good play means you’re almost always on the verge of a dangerous foul. The action is around your feet, so you’re more likely to be tripped than in rugby or American football. Tripping has a particularly cruel look to it. Since the resulting penalties are often severe and game-changing, the temptation to put on a show for the referee is irresistible. Soccer is a dance at the edge of a plateau. Rugby is much closer to the ground.

The video closes with the words “Forget about soccer. Leave them to cry.” You can bet that they don’t do the haka before any soccer matches.

[seen on amix.dk]

Google Sky and Comet Holmes

The latest version of Google Earth now has a projection of the sky built into called, fittingly, Google Sky. It’s a natural extension. We’ve got lots of pictures of the starry sky, so why not stick them all together using the Google Earth glue that already exists. But when I tried it for the first time, I was underwhelmed. If you want to learn your way around the stars, the freeware package Stellarium does a much better job. But I soon realized that’s not exactly the point. Google Sky can act as a focal point for aggregating shared data about the heavens just as its Earthbound sibling does for terrestrial data like storm tracks and botanical surveys. See for example this Popular Science note: Google Sky a Hit With Astronomers. Incidentally, there’s a similar professional sky-watching tool called WikiSky, but it doesn’t have a lot of the slickness of Google Sky.


Anyway, I figured that somebody would have entered special data about where to find Comet Holmes in Google Sky. They had. I was able to follow a link that placed this little indicator of the comet’s location on my screen. I really liked the fact that the interface has this holdover from the Earth-facing side: directions to and from the comet. I’d like to see those directions.

Take exit 9 to merge onto I-84 W toward US-20/Sturbridge/Hartford (41.7 mi). Take exit 57 on the left to merge onto CT-15 S toward I-91 S/NY City (2.6 mi). Turn straight up and head directly toward Mirfak/Alpha Persei (25.43 million mi). Turn right onto Holmes St (1.3 mi).

[originally spotted on O’Reilly Radar]

Earth, Moon, and Sun

Did you know that the Japanese have a space ship orbiting the Moon right now? Known variously as SELENE or Kaguya, it is, as we speak, floating around the Moon, taking gorgeous high definition video. So much of our mental imagery of the lunar landscape is based on Apollo video from the early 1970s, grainy snowy pictures from another world. But video technology, happily, has gotten much much better in the intervening 25 years. And we all get to profit from Japan’s exploration.

This particular video is only YouTube quality, but it’s still mesmerizing. A tiny blue and white Earth rises over the lunar horizon at about a minute and a half into it. You may be impatient to get to the “good part”, but I beg you to press play and let it go at its own speed. There’s no soundtrack, there’s no artificial speed-up. It’s just what you would see out your window, silent as death, endlessly rolling. When our little home comes quietly calling, it is lovely to behold.

Stick around for the whole show, because at around six minutes, you see the Earth (larger this time) sink into the darkness astern your moonship.

When you’ve tired of Earth and Moon, follow this APOD link to look at the video of a massive solar flare. It makes our pale planet seem all the more fragile. I look at these astronomical videos and I have to keep telling myself: these are real. There are no special effects involved. No special effects beyond, you know, flinging delicate camera equipment into the frozen nameless void and whispering the pictures back to our breakfast tables. I guess that’s special.

WikipediaVision: Watch Wikipedia happen

On the heels of TwitterVision and FlickrVision comes WikipediaVision, a real-time Google Maps mashup that shows where edits to the online encyclopedia are occurring: that is, where in the encyclopedia and where in the world. Wikirage (rhymes with “vicarage”) does a good job of showing what pages are most actively under revision, but WikipediaVision has the advantage of drawing your eye around a map.

Self-interest is alive and well… it’s fun to watch how well-correlated location and topic are. You can also click through on the “Diff” link and see the actual edit that was made. I watched a Canadian edit a page on New France, and drilled into it only to discover it was, quel horreur! an abusive edit. It was a contemporary anatomical reference having very little to do with New France. My wiki spectating was complete when I watched the editorial wound heal over in less than two minutes as someone (and their pet bot) came along and undid the vandalism. It was a very satisfying little drama. Wikipedia is a constantly boiling pot.

[via O’Reilly Radar]

Grove: I can Moore’s Law. Why can’t you?

I came across this Andy Grove interview in Newsweek in which he is complaining bitterly about the pharmaceutical industry. The piece begins with the statement that during the time that former CEO Grove spent at Intel, “the number of transistors on a chip went from about 1,000 to almost 10 billion.” And I thought to myself: Uh-oh. You don’t suppose he’s going to compare semiconductor manufacture to the molecular biology of pharmaceuticals?

Yes he is. It happens that he suffers from Parkinson’s disease, and he’s baffled and angered that no new therapies have been launched in the last ten years. He goes on from there to point out the many ways that the drug industry is stupider than the chip industry. All that’s missing is a man-on-the-moon quote, as in: “This country can put a man on the moon, but gosh darn it, we still can’t cure genital herpes” etc. etc. What we need is more managerial kick-ass and less regulatory kiss-ass. And so on.

One of the nice things about living in the Age of Blogs is that I immediately knew that bio-pharma insider Derek Lowe, over at In the Pipeline, would have something fun to say about this. He did: Andy Grove: Rich, Famous, Smart and Wrong. Lowe embellishes the obvious. Grove is being manifestly unfair for a variety of reasons. Pentium bugs, for example, are embarrassing but not lethal. Nevertheless, there is something useful in having an outsider beat up your industry. At the very least it prevents you from being complacent. And I happen to think that in the last paragraph of the Newsweek piece, Grove hits on an important point that Lowe chooses not to rebut:

The peer review system in grant making and in academic advancement has the major disadvantage of creating conformity of thoughts and values. It’s a modern equivalent of a Middle Ages guild, where you have to sing a particular way to get grants, promotions and tenure.

Some of the comments on Lowe’s blog pick up on this, but most just pile on the anti-Grove bandwagon (see the Newsweeks comments for a remarkable contrast). Clearly Grove has touched a nerve, but the fact that this discussion is happening at all indicates something fun is happening. Like it or not, pharmaceutical research is being dragged out into the sunlight. The public, including former CEOs of Fortune 500 companies, has some foolish misconceptions to get past. But they’ll also bring some fresh air with them.

Comet Holmes is easy to see

I had read that Comet Holmes had brightened dramatically, but I am suspicious of the word “dramatic” when used by astronomers. The events they describe are undoubtedly dramatic, but the images they describe are often tiny smudges even when observed through a big fancy-pants telescope. So I was pleased tonight when I finally had a good chance to look for the comet (having just been lashed by the coattails of Hurricane Noel), and wow! it just about hit me in the eye.

If you haven’t seen it already, I am here to tell you that it’s, well… it’s a smudge. But it’s pretty dramatic as smudges go: a big fuzzy ball and perfectly visible to the naked eye in a big metropolitan area. If you want to find it, Sky and Telescope has a growing site about it, as well as a finder map to help you locate it. If you already know where Mr. Perseus lives, just look up and you can’t miss the tennis ball that’s falling past his right shoulder.