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Archive for the ‘epistemology’ Category

Twitter As Personal Wire Service

Wednesday, February 25th, 2009

It’s really interesting how quickly those that I follow on Twitter have become an invaluable, customized, expansive resource for news, information, humor, and conversation. For a time I thought Twitter would amount to not much more than a time suck, but increasingly I find it an indispensable tool for keeping me connected to cool, smart people and progressive thinking and ideas. And in a very rapid fire fashion, like a firehose that I can talk to. It has also brought me face-to-face with some of the most interesting people I’ve ever met, but only after first connecting via Twitter. If you’re not already following me, I’m , and please do.

Thanks to everyone, all 280+ of you.

Test Firing of The LHC

Saturday, September 13th, 2008

CERN test fired the , which I wrote about previously this year, earlier this week and, minus a couple minor electrical issues, the test firing was a success. The test this week was just an activation of the particle beam accelerator, testing the firing of the beam in both directions of the 17 mile accelerator, with the first beam collisions not planned for testing until October when researchers at CERN will intersect proton beams. When fully operational the LHC will allow researchers to recreate and closely observe the earliest moments of the universe and record the particle behaviors that occur during these incredibly brief moments.

Putting some numbers (via ) to all of this, when up and fully functional the LHC will accelerate protons in 14,000,000,000,000 electron volt collisions 600,000,000 times a second after traveling 26,659 meters (17 miles) at 11,245 times a second. To do this the LHC will utilize 10,000 tons of liquid nitrogen cooling 9,300 magnets to control these proton collisions occuring at 99.99% the speed of light, all taking place at -271.3°C (-456°F) and 10-13 atmospheres.

There is much misguided fear that the firing of the LHC will potentially end reality as we know it. There is absolutely no science behind these fears. Regardless, it is interesting to contemplate:

10 Things: The Network is The Computer

Friday, September 12th, 2008

Last year, at the , author and visionary gave an incredibly compelling and thoughtful talk where he points out that the web as we know it, depicted as a graphical representation above, is only about 5,000 days old (the internet is actually much older than that), and that in this time we have seen unprecedented change. He proceeds to then explore what the next 5,000 days might bring, with much thought put to the notion of “the cloud”, networks, and ubiquitous computing… themes that I am increasingly exploring myself, and have written about on occasion. The talk is worth taking 20 minutes to watch, and below are my 10 Things from :

1.  Ten years ago we thought the web was going to be “TV, only better.” Obviously, that was just a touch limiting.

2.  The first lesson we have learned from the last 5,000 days is that we have to get better at believing in the impossible. Many things that are/were inconceivable to us previously are happening regularly.

3. Think about all of the handhelds, laptops, mobiles, and servers in the world and how they are networked. They are giving us one thing, what Kelly refers to as “The One Machine,” or “The One.” All of these devices are windows into this single, global, exponential machine.

4.  This machine, The One, is the most reliable machine ever made with zero down time running uninterrupted.

5.  On the web there are over 100 billion clicks per day on the computers of the world with over 55 trillion links between the pages on the web made per day.

6.  The internet uses about 5% of global electricity.

7.  The internet uses about 246 of storage (an exabyte being equivalent to 1 quintillion bytes).

8.  Total traffic on the internet is around 7 terabytes per second. The Library of Congress is 20 terabytes. Every second about half the Library of Congress is moving around the web.

9.  At this point, the internet is roughly comparable to the human brain in terms of connections, processing power, and capacity. The rate of increase will put the One Machine equivalent with about 6 billion human brains 30 years from now. By 2040 the web will exceed humanity in processing power in raw bits.

10.  Humans are becoming the extended senses of this machine. We are the web. We are the machine. The next 5,000 days are about intelligence, anticipation, personalization, and ubiquitousness… a new kind of stage in the development of the web. The web is becoming an organism, and a unity is beginning to emerge:

  • There is only One Machine (the network is the computer)
  • The web is its operating system
  • All screens look into The One
  • No bits will live outside the web (the internet of things)
  • To share is to gain (participation requires transparency)
  • Let The One read it
  • The One is us

Network Science and Predictive Models

Thursday, April 17th, 2008

Nodes and networks

I cannot help but be riveted by the concept of , actually an emerging scientific discipline that combines interacting physical, informational, biological, cognitive, and social networks… and in a way that scares me a little bit. It seems that the Department of Defense shares my fascination, but not my hesitations. The Pentagon is devoting resources (now up to $7.5 million in research grants) to what it deems a priority area of investigation and research in the effort to understand complex and variable networks. This is directly related to how the Pentagon and related constituents can then work on an understanding of the structure of the diffuse networks employed by our nation’s enemies. An underlying goal of this research is the ability to anticipate who might join such a network, which takes threat assessment to an entirely different level. So, network science would seem to be a holy grail, of sorts, for the abstract goal of developing predictive modeling. Again, very interesting and very scary, and surprising that it only garners $7.5 million currently. I suspect that will be increasing once efficacy is established. How does the military view network science:

“Initiation of a field of network science would be appropriate to provide a body of rigorous results that would improve the predictability of the engineering design of complex networks and also speed up basic research in a variety of applications areas.”

That’s from a , which I have excerpted from a post at , Wired’s national security blog that pretty much gets my attention every day, and where I first came across this story.

The Most Complex Machine Ever Built

Tuesday, April 1st, 2008

Large Hadron Collider

You’ve no doubt already heard of the (LHC) due to the recent resurgence in mainstream media. This is partly because it is a really big deal, connecting us to the earliest moments of the formation of the universe, and partly because some people are worried that when scientists, physicists, and researchers fire it up that it will end reality… and as a result these people are pretty active. That’s , the world will not be consumed by tiny black holes. Rest easy.

So, what is the LHC for? It has been constructed to recreate the conditions that occurred just after the Big Bang. In recreating these early moments of the universe we may be able to understand how the first particles were conceived, and thus help us better understand how the universe actually works. The LHC will do this in a very controlled environment, and be heavily measured, recorded and monitored. It will allow us to repeat this experiment with frequency, greatly increasing our ability to study and understand. In short, this is an enormous step towards enlightenment, understanding the nature of reality, and will fill in many of the theoretical blanks that physicists and cosmologists have struggled with for a long, long time. In the name of epistemology, this is a very, very good thing.

LHC Facts:

  • It is made up of 2000 super conducting magnets
  • It will utilize the most complex cameras ever made
  • These cameras will be able to capture impossibly small time horizons
  • The LHC is the culmination of over two decades of work
  • Construction involved 7,000 physicists from 80 nations
  • It is located 175 meters underground and is 27+ kilometers in diameter
  • Once operational, protons will be accelerated close to the speed of light
  • Every second there will be 800 million proton collisions
  • Only a fraction of these matter, and will captured by cameras mentioned above
  • Particles created will exist for a thousandth, of a thousandth, of a billionth of a second
  • These collisions will generate heat 1 million times hotter than the core of the sun

To achieve this, the LHC team has had to build an incredibly complex machine of enormous scale. Just one of the superconducting solenoids contains more iron than the Eiffel Tower. There are many of these making up the LHC particle accelerator. The receptors and detectors are housed in giant rooms that are as big as cathedrals. The cost of this project was of such a magnitude (estimates range in the $6 billion and up range) that the United States halted its own Superconducting Super Collider back in 1993.

Excellent video of the LHC and the planned experiments (part 1 of 3):

The Loss of Arthur C. Clarke

Tuesday, March 18th, 2008

Arthur C. Clarke

Catching up on my feeds just now I was saddened to see that , physicist, author, innovator, futurist, and ardent believer in the potential of humanity, has died. He was 90, so the man had a very decent run. Perhaps his most recognized work was 2001: A Space Odyssey, the movie for which just celebrated its 40th anniversary. He leaves behind an enormous legacy of invention, creativity, art, and inspiration having written over 100 books. Enormous. Few have been so profoundly influential to so many, and managed to do it with such consistent style, usually sporting a satin Nehru jacket and tanned from the beaches of his home in Sri Lanka. For me, Arthur C. Clarke is the Yin to Philip K. Dick’s Yang. A couple great quotes from Clarke in honor of his passing…

Reflecting on his life:

“Sometimes I am asked how I would like to be remembered. I have had a diverse career as a writer, underwater explorer and space promoter. Of all these I would like to be remembered as a writer.”

A terrific quote on the value of the space program, from 1970:

“The inspirational value of the space program is probably of far greater importance to education than any input of dollars… A whole generation is growing up which has been attracted to the hard disciplines of science and engineering by the romance of space.”

Arthur C. Clarke (1917-2008)

The Handicap of Expertise: Getting In Our Own Way

Sunday, February 10th, 2008

An innovation bottleneck…

The dreaded curse of knowledge, that as we become more expert in something we also begin to limit and eventually lose the ability to innovate. Is this possible?

Janet Rae-Dupree thinks so, and in an article in the New York Times titled , she looked at how innovation is actually better supported by toning down the level of expertise. The premise she explores is that once we become expert we lose the ability to think freely, and operate instead from the place of our expertise. She points out that as we become more knowledgeable and expert in our fields our language and thought patterns change to such a degree that outsiders and non-experts often will not understand. This knowledge/action patterning then begins to wear behavioral paths for us that inhibit our ability to operate without the support of what we know to be true, and instills avoidance tendencies for things that are outside of that expertise.

How do you avoid this tendency? Dupree points us to , who in her 2006 book, proposes bringing in from the outside to keep creativity and innovation on track. Rabe tells us to look for renaissance-thinkers and creative generalists who have expertise in related areas, but not in your specific area of expertise. It is important to empower these individuals to question and challenge, and bring a different perspective to the work at hand.

This would seem to align with my post earlier regarding building innovative cultures, and the idea that you need to attract talent to your team that bring both a unique perspective AND a willingness to challenge convention, argue on behalf of ideas, and embrace risk.

Sciencedebate 2008

Saturday, January 19th, 2008

Sciencedebate 2008 header

It has taken me too long to write about this. I say that because this is an effort that should be an absolute top priority for all of us, at least those of us who value rational, reasonable thought and the support of science as an issue demanding attention from the presidential candidates.

has been underway for several weeks, and it is an effort to get the candidates to engage in a substantive debate on science and technology. This is effectively an effort to inject intelligence back into the election process as a barometer of how a presidential prospect will move our society forward. I encourage you to check this out by clicking on the link and if you are so inclined, sign the petition. You’ll be in good company as some of the more notable supporters of this effort are 23 Nobel and Crafoord laureates, 21 government leaders of both parties, 25 University and college presidents, and several thousand concerned citizens, including yours truly.

Carl Sagan Was Cool

Thursday, November 1st, 2007

Carl Edward Sagan

It was 1980. I was 11. PBS aired the documentary which would go on to be viewed by over 600 million people worldwide, becoming the most viewed PBS documentary of all time. For many of us, this was our introduction to the history of the universe, to astrophysics, and to planetary science. I remember being totally riveted. I remember thinking that Carl Sagan was cool.

I still think he is cool, but I had not thought much about him over the years. I was sad when I learned that he had died in 1996 at the age of 62, but beyond that had not really thought much more about how important an influence he was on me when I was younger. I believe that my love of the planets and my passion for learning about the universe started with watching Carl Sagan on television while laying on the family room floor when I was 11.

In a strange but happy coincidence, a friend loaned me a copy of Sagan’s first book which I had not yet read, and somebody sent my wife a Carl Sagan clip from Youtube. This was within a 24 hour period. For me, it signaled the beginning of a Carl Sagan rediscovery, which I have been happily conducting for the last couple of days. Here is a choice Sagan quote that I came across:

“If you want to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first create the universe.”

Carl Sagan (1934-1996)

has several segments of both “Cosmos” and another popular Sagan documentary, “Origins.”

Thanks Nick!

“The Ruins of The Unsustainable are the 21st Century’s Frontier”

Monday, October 22nd, 2007

idea in the future

That’s a quote from Bruce Sterling’s presentation last week at . I am going to try to quickly tie together three prescient ideas for you, and is the rope I will use. His talk last week covered two paradigmatic concepts, that of , and “the internet of things.” There is much discussion around the concept of “connectedness” and “interconnectedness,” and the realization that in a complex intertwining of relationships, everything really is connected to everything else. These two ideas, spimes and the internet of things, take interconnectedness to an entirely new level. The concept of spimes was initially introduced by at Los Angeles in 2004. A spime is a still theoretical object that can be tracked through space and time for its entire lifetime. There are six existing technologies whose convergence will allow a spime to happen:

1. Small means of remotely and uniquely identifying objects over short ranges, like radio-frequency identification.

2. A mechanism to precisely fix object location, such as a GPS.

3. The ability to mine large amounts of data that match criteria, like internet search engines.

4. Tools, such as computer-aided design, that enable the virtual construction of nearly any kind of object.

5. The rapid prototyping of virtual objects into real ones by means of sophisticated, automated fabrication of a specification for an object, through 3D printers.

6. “Cradle-to-cradle” life-spans for objects when combined with cheap, effective recycling.

The second concept, referred to as “the internet of things,” is the expansion of the internet to encompass real objects as they exist in space and time. This “” is the success of the internet in tagging, searching and relating information in the virtual world applied to the real world. The internet of things will be made possible by the creation of spimes, one begets the other, and this is where things begin to get really, really interesting.

The third concept, the one that makes the relationship between spimes and the internet of things really sing… is sustainability. When everything can be tracked at every point in its life cycle, you begin to understand patterns of material flow, manufacturing, material use, object use, object termination, and ultimately object material recycling and reuse. The whole thing starts over again. Knowing that you can track the material and process of object creation, that you can track that object’s life, and track the harvesting of the materials used to make it… you’re tracking everything, and the ability to reclaim that material means that you can find a use for all of it. That’s very powerful, and ultimately led to the quote that is the title for this post. When you have an ability to understand and monitor the context of materials and resources you have the potential to see patterns of use and patterns of need. Sustainability aligns those two and completes the circle. As Bruce Sterling put it last week, sustainability is the killer app.

Original story via

And The Conversation Grows And Grows

Wednesday, August 29th, 2007


A colleague of mine has launched his blog at . His focus is honed and specific to the forces changing and shaping the world of architecture and design. Cool stuff. We have had an infinite number of incredible discussions and brainstorms on this topic, and this was suggested as a way to begin capturing this content, and involve others in the conversation. I highly suggest subscribing as there will be a proliferation of compelling content coming forthwith.

Congrats on the site, Stephen.


Another colleague introduced a couple weeks ago, and I wanted to offer a more formal welcome and congrats to Nick as well. His blog is focused on finding and revealing what is new, cool and interesting in the world of experimental music. Also, very cool stuff. And a terrific resource.

Both blogs are featured in the schneiderism blogroll in the right column, which is naturally an incredibly high honor.

So, How Big Is The Gun?

Sunday, August 12th, 2007

Accelerated Plasma Clouds

Something about Sunday evenings and being pleasantly distracted by cosmology and astrophysics. It relaxes me.

So, the image shown above was captured by the Gemini Observatory in Hawaii. It depicts supersonic trails of plasmic hydrogen forming in the wake of enormous high speed iron objects, “bullets” if you will. These bullets are being “shot” through the humongous clouds of molecular hydrogen that comprise the Orion Nebula (around 1400 light years from Earth). Astronomers estimate that these bullets are traveling at greater than 1000x the speed of sound. That’s fast, but it is nothing compared to the fact that these bullets, a cute analogy really, are sized beyond our comprehension. The typical diameter of one of the object tips (just the tip!) is roughly 10x the size of Pluto’s orbit around the Sun. Let me say that again. The mere tips of these objects are…


Pluto is , by the way.

Let’s recap and feel incredibly inconsequential in the process:

Objects made of iron, larger than our solar system, are moving 250 miles per second through even larger clouds of colored gas.

More on the

The Point (And Value) of Research

Thursday, July 19th, 2007

enzo engine

I had an experience lately that really made me think about what we do and how we approach our design work… once I got over being angry. My team had engaged a group to conduct some research on our behalf in support of an initiative that I lead. They interviewed us (as they should), asked lots of good questions (as they should), and then went away to do the work and report back with observations and a findings report. The goal here was to make recommendations based on a solid research foundation, supported by strong rationales. They spent three weeks digging in and crafting the report.

At the end of those three weeks we were presented with the results of their efforts… and left unbelievably wanting. What went wrong? When did they forget the goal of the project? Did they even understand what research actually is and entails? Needless to say, my team was disappointed and wondering why we had engaged this group. I detailed thoroughly what the issues were and regrouped with the team to discuss how to move forward. We’re back on track now, and things are coming together both quickly and in a way that is creating the needed value from this effort. But it begs a bigger question.

How did we get there? Where was the misunderstanding? How can research goals and efforts go so wrong?

Ultimately, why do so many research efforts fail and, more importantly, why do design teams so often sleepwalk through the research and discovery process? This project made this clear as it was not yet part of a larger effort. The research WAS the project, and evidence based design should look at this type of work with big eyes and anticipation. It’s what we do, we work to understand and create context for our recommendations and assertions (or as a best practice, are supposed to do).

I think one reason is that research is often done by an individual or team that is largely separate from the rest of the project conceptualization and design phase. They do their work and create a findings report or set of requirements which are presented to the larger project team who may or may not actually read the documents. This becomes the protocol and they begin to devalue their own efforts. It is hard to believe, but there is still a proliferation of designers who do not value the research and findings created at the inception of most projects. What is even more unbelievable is the reality that there are still designers who enter into project work with a design bias from the very beginning, and resist tempering that bias with the reality of the market research or competitive audit. This ends up costing the client, in many cases, as work needs to be re-investigated or brought back on strategy. The reality of my project is the group we hired put the wrong team together, they missed the point and treated this discreet research effort as they would the discovery phase of any other project, which is to say… poorly. My team was pretty explicit about how to proceed, but old habits die hard. I knew that the team we hired had the expertise and the talent to provide us with the value we required, they just missed the opportunity to organize around this requirement and instead went on autopilot. Getting reoriented was painful, but I now honestly feel we will have a better foundation for moving forward with the initiative as the missteps so clearly outlined what opportunities were missed and where the misunderstandings were. I’ll let you know where we net out as I get the new report TOMORROW. I am excited to see what they provide, but will admit to having a bit of anxiety about it.