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Ten years after President Bill Clinton announced that the first draft of the human genome was complete, medicine has yet to see any large part of the promised benefits.

For biologists, the genome has yielded one insightful surprise after another. But the primary goal of the $3 billion Human Genome Project — to ferret out the genetic roots of common diseases like cancer and Alzheimer’s and then generate treatments — remains largely elusive. Indeed, after 10 years of effort, geneticists are almost back to square one in knowing where to look for the roots of common disease.

A Decade Later, Genetic Map Yields Few New Cures [via NYTimes]

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A decade ago, drug companies spent billions of dollars equipping themselves to harness the newly revealed secrets of human biology. Investors bid the stocks of tiny genomics companies to stratospheric heights.

That “genome bubble” has long since popped. And not only has there been no pharmacopeia, but some experts say the Human Genome Project might have at least temporarily bogged down the drug industry with information overload.

As the head of Novartis’s pharmaceutical business lamented in 2000, “Data, data everywhere, and not a drug, I think.”

Awaiting the Genome Payoff [via NYTimes]

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This interactive illustration by Tyler Lang in SEED magazine tracks the completion of major genome sequencing projects.

In 1995, the 1.8 million basepair genome of H. Influenzae was sequenced after 13 months, at cost of ~$9 million dollars. The final draft of the 2.3 billion basepair human genome was published in 2003, taking 13 years to complete at a cost of ~$3 billion dollars.

Advances in automated DNA sequencing technologies have continued to drive down costs (e.g. reagents, supplies, equipment) while increasing the speed and accuracy of throughput. Companies have been racing to deliver a “$1000 genome.”

Complete Genomics,a biotech company based in Mountain View, has promised to sequence one thousand human genomes by the end of 2009. The expected cost? $5,000 a pop. We’ve come a long way since the sequencing of the first free-living organism.

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The future that we all envisage is the day when every infant has their genome sequenced at birth and we utilise that information to optimise health throughout their life. – Andrew Wooten, X PRIZE Foundation [via BBC]

The Archon X Prize for Genomics is offering $10M to the first company that can build a machine sequence 100 genomes in 10 days for $10,000 or less each.

Mainstream implementation of touch and multi-touch capable devices is the “next move,” if you will. But first, we need more refinement in the technology and standardization of marketing & protocol.

Advertising must explain all the features, while hardware must enable touch out of the box, recognizing and supporting a minimum of four input points. There needs to be innovation in manufacturing & operations. Companies must strive for highest quality in sensor design, integration, and software to deliver the best user experience. Definitions must be set to distinguish “direct manipulation” from “multi-touch” and from “gestural interactivity.”

It is going to be a while. Amongst other issues, are the barriers of cost and simplicity. Touchscreens offered by 3rd-party hardware vendors must be purchased separately and often require special software & drivers that ramp up the cost. Ideally, touchscreens would be inexpensive monitors connected via USB or VGA and work with built-in Windows or Mac OSX functionality. Additionally, touchscreen adoption will be driven in part by the development of useful apps.

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Word is out that Windows 7 supports multi-touch, which is a huge step in the right direction. When will Apple get in the game (post-Snow-Leopard)? 

Touchscreens will become affordable eventually, no doubt. Retrofitting existing displays is an option for now. After all, the major difference between a touchscreen and an LCD display is that one lacks sensors. PQ Labs makes touchscreen overlays that you can mount onto your gigantic LCD or plasma TV monitors to enable multi-touch. Their product demos were pretty impressive.

Perceptive Pixel multi-touch wall for storyboarding & ideation

While working on a group project, I noticed how ill-suited mobile computers were for collaborative use. Even with computer display connected to an external projector and another mouse, it was impossible for more than one person to make edits when pulling together a PowerPoint presentation. Only one set of actions went through via vocal instructions to a laptop user, regardless of the number of ideas tossed out that could have been explored. This hampered productivity.

Imagine trying to have a conversation with five of your best friends that you haven’t seen in a year (yay!) except only one of you can speak at a time with no interruptions or exclamations. This is no way to work nor socialize.

I wished, then, for an operating system that would support a minimum of dual input (at least two mice, two cursors on one screen) for multiple-user single-tasking, AKA “group conversations” on a single workstation.

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Computing hardware has advanced by leaps & bound and become increasingly powerful, efficient, and reliable–whereas mainstream graphical user interfaces have remain unchanged, for the most part. 

Technology has allowed us to amass an immense amount of data in digital age (satellite imaging, radiology scans, genome sequences), but no user interfaces exist which can visualize, analyze, and present data as readily as multi-touch platforms can. Other than being downright cool, touch is ideal for consuming/presenting information. Because it is a more natural interface, it increases user productivity.

I’ve been drawn to it from the start.

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Zooming in and out of photographs is direct manipulation using two fingers of one hand, a bare bones gimmick for ads; it doesn’t scratch the surface of what true multi-touch (more than two input points!) is capable of.

For example,Perceptive Pixel offers pressure-sensitive multi-touch displays that can sense an unlimited number of simultaneous touches with accuracy and precision. Their displays come bundled with the right software and have applications in geo-intelligence, broadcasting, medical imaging, data exploration, digital storyboarding, industrial design…the list goes on. 

At IDC2009, I had the privilege of meeting Steven Batiche (Director of Research, Applied Sciences Group, Entertainment & Devices Division – Microsoft Corp.) and listening to his presentation on advances in surface computers. He pulled up a slew of videos demonstrating conceptual and working prototypes from the Microsoft design labs–I was utterly awestruck.

Until then, I had been steeped in Apple’s powerful marketing campaigns and lost sight of the obvious: that Microsoft is an immense international entity with resources that, if leveraged appropriately, could surpass Apple a hundred times over. Microsoft’s research & development rocks, as far as I’m concerned. They are doing some unbelievable experimentation with surface computers (think Microsoft Surface but 100X more awesome).

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How do I begin to describe that which has the feel of pure fiction? It’s better if I show you:

This is the Productivity Future Vision montage from Microsoft Office Labs . Though a concept video by all rights, it is very much grounded on research and is a plausible articulation of  what to expect by the year 2019. There is more artistic license on the software side, but the actual hardware is all too real. Many of the “concepts” have been prototyped or are somewhere along in development.

From the video, we see:

  • Speech, text, and cultural translation.
  • Low cost, multi-touch, edge-to-edge displays; flexible, transparent displays.
  • Software clusters brought together in a natural user interface.
  • Active workspaces with rich graphics, achieved with ambient projectors and thin OLED displays.
  • Large displays allowing for different user inputs (touch, mouse, stylus).
  • Mobile devices with modular form factors that can access sensor networks and information resources. Image analysis and projection abilities.
  • Seamless secure data sharing and integrated workflow tools between devices and across networks.

Check out the coffee mug at 4:12 – it’s to die for. Nothing is impossible! The music makes me feel very optimistic.

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You’ll see technology becoming more invisible, but working harder for you in both your work and personal life. Imagine a future where creating a document with a colleague will be as easy as having a conversation. Making connections with people and your content will be secure and seamless. Relevant insight and information will be delivered proactively and in context to the task at hand.

Mobile devices will be more powerful than desktop computers of today. Technology will connect you with the information you need, when and where you need it, whether it be your local coffee shop, an airport, or a roof top in Hong Kong. Software will be there to make getting things done as efficiently as possible in new ways that are more natural.

[“Productivity Re-Imagined” via Microsoft Office Labs]

silverglasses

Professor John Silver is on a quest to deliver affordable glasses to 1 billion of the world’s poorest people. His invention is readily adjusted by individual wearers and does not rely on opticians or expensive specialized equipment:

Inside the device’s tough plastic lenses are two clear circular sacs filled with fluid, each of which is connected to a small syringe attached to either arm of the spectacles. The wearer adjusts a dial on the syringe to add or reduce amount of fluid in the membrane, thus changing the power of the lens. When the wearer is happy with the strength of each lens the membrane is sealed by twisting a small screw, and the syringes removed. [via The Guardian]

If you’ve ever mushed around or ran across a concoction of cornstarch and water, you will have discovered the joys of non-Newtonian fluids, AKA dilatant or shear-thickening fluids. Unlike water and other boring ol’ Newtonian fluids with a constant viscosity dependent only on temperature & pressure, dilatant materials have flow properties that vary based on applied stress. They are squishy when little force is applied and elastomeric with more force.

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The disadvantages of conventional forms of human body protection, which involve a combination of hard-shell plastics and compressible foams, are immediately apparent. Plastics are too heavy and rigid, whereas foams are too bulky and cumbersome–together, they inhibit sensory feedback and greatly restrict freedom of movement. Unfortunately, the latter two are essential to sports (especially winter & motor sports), leaving athletes to choose between total safety or an unimpaired performance.

Richard Palmer has invented an advanced polymer called D3O that has the potential to replace traditional protective gear. It is made with “intelligent molecules” that flow with you as you move but on shock lock together within milliseconds to absorb the impact.

d30orange

Part microcellular foam and part dilatant fluid, D3O is soft and flexible until it encounters blunt trauma. Sporting good industries, as well as the military, have been clamoring for this light, malleable, orange material which can be seamlessly integrated into anything from sportswear to beanies to tactical body armor (and even iPhone cases).

As Palmer puts it, “It’s the difference between Robocop and Spiderman. Robocop is built with protection around him like a shield; d3o is more like Spiderman, where the protection and the athlete are integrated together. It’s a discrete, small and totally unrestricted layer of protection in the areas where you need it that wouldn’t previously have been possible.” [via CNN]

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I’d like to try out one of those beanies with an embedded layer of d30, although having someone hit me on the head with a shovel seems unwise…that Youtube video certainly makes it look safe enough.

The stimulus bill was passed in the House of Representatives today, 244 votes to 188, strictly along party lines without any Republican support. The Senate is due to vote on it sometime next week. Senate committees have already added several amendments, bringing it to a hefty total of $887 billion.

Per Obama’s amendment to ban earmarks in 2009, there are no senseless expenditures. It breaks down to roughly $550 billion in spending and $275 in tax cuts. Here’s the meat of stimulus bill: 

  1. Education. $117 Billion to school districts & public universities and to increase Pell Grants.
  2. Aid to the Jobless. $106 Billion to extend unemployment & social security benefits.
  3. State Aid. $119 Billion for Medicaid, law enforcement, and public safety.
  4. Infrastructure. $90 Billion to improve roads, bridges, mass transit, and waterways.
  5. Energy. $54 Billion to upgrade the electrical grid and weatherize houses.
  6. Science. $16 Billion towards research funding, upgrading facilities, and providing broadband internet services in rural areas. [Source]

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The stimulus package, also known as the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, is a bill “making supplemental appropriations for job preservation and creation, infrastructure investment, energy efficiency and science, assistance to the unemployed, and State and local fiscal stabilization, for the fiscal year ending September 30, 2009, and for other purposes.”

The legislation and accompanying reports are dry reads in PDF format, so I’d suggest over to ReadTheStimulus.org, which presents the various documents ofthe stimulus bill in a fully searchable, web-friendly format. There are even GoogleDoc spreadsheets that detail exactly where all those billions are headed. All the zeros make my head spin.

Last month, Dr. James Fowler (UCSD) and Dr. Nicholas Christakis (Harvard University) published a research paper evaluating the spread of happiness within social networks. Their findings? Happiness is contagious up to three degrees of separation [doi:10.1136/bmj.a2338].

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The following is an excerpt from an article written by the authors of the aforementioned paper:

SOCIAL NETWORKS AND HAPPINESS
By Nicholas A. Christakis & James H. Fowler

…Our happiness is determined by a complex set of voluntary and involuntary factors, ranging from our genes to our health to our wealth. Alas, one determinant of our own happiness that has not received the attention it deserves is the happiness of others. Yet we know that emotions can spread over short periods of time from person to person, in a process known as “emotional contagion.” If someone smiles at you, it is instinctive to smile back. If your partner or roommate is depressed, it is common for you to become depressed.

But might emotions spread more widely than this in social networks—from person to person to person, and beyond? Might an individual’s location within a social network influence their future happiness? And might social network processes—by a diverse set of mechanisms—influence happiness not just fleetingly, but also over longer periods of time? 

We recently published a paper in the British Medical Journal that addressed these questions. We studied 4,739 people followed from 1983 to 2003 as part of the famous Framingham Heart Study. These individuals were embedded in a larger network of 12,067 people; they had an average of 11 connections to others in the social network (including to friends, family, co-workers, and neighbors); and their happiness was assessed every few years using a standard measure. 

We found that social networks have clusters of happy and unhappy people within them that reach out to three degrees of separation. A person’s happiness is related to the happiness of their friends, their friends’ friends, and their friends’ friends’ friends—that is, to people well beyond their social horizon. We found that happy people tend to be located in the center of their social networks and to be located in large clusters of other happy people. And we found that each additional happy friend increases a person’s probability of being happy by about 9%. For comparison, having an extra $5,000 in income (in 1984 dollars) increased the probability of being happy by about 2%.

Happiness, in short, is not merely a function of personal experience, but also is a property of groups. Emotions are a collective phenomenon…

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I’m infectious! :)

House Dems offer $825B stimulus bill

After weeks of talks with President-elect Barack Obama’s top aides, House Democrats on Thursday released an expansive economic recovery plan that calls for $550 billion in spending and aid to states and $275 billion in tax cuts. [via CNNMoney]

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Congressional stimulus package includes billions in extra research funding.

Democratic leadership in the US House of Representatives unveiled on Thursday an $825 billion economic stimulus bill that includes tens of billions of dollars in new funding for basic research, science infrastructure and clean-energy initiatives.

Organizations representing the research community applauded the proposal, citing massive infusions of cash for both physical and biological sciences throughout the federal science agencies. But some questioned whether the one-time infusion would matter much to agencies whose budgets have flatlined or been lower than expected in recent years.

As part of a massive collection of tax cuts and spending initiatives, the 258-page blueprint released by House appropriators would pump $3 billion into the National Science Foundation (NSF), $2 billion into the National Institutes of Health (NIH), $1.9 billion into the Department of Energy and $1.5 billion into university research facilities. Much of that money would be directed toward science infrastructure like renovating buildings or laboratories, but the NSF and NIH would receive $2 billion and $1.5 billion respectively that could be used to pay for thousands of basic research grants that have already been approved but for which there was previously not enough money. [via Nature]
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shepard-obama-inauguration-no-cream
I’m quite keen on this new commemorative inaugural print by Shepard Fairey. This would look great as a shirt. [via ObeyGiant]
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This weekend, America’s capital city will welcome thousands of government officials and dignitaries from the U.S. and around the world. Over 10,000 buses will carry 500,000 riders into Washington, D.C., doubling the city’s population. On Inauguration Day, the Metro is expected to have a 17-hour rush hour. District bars will be open 24-hours a day for five straight days. To manage an event of this scale, the District of Columbia will spend a mammoth $47 million. It is not enough.

Obama’s Inauguration is expected to be the largest inaugural event in American history–and the most challenging to orchestrate. A committee of local elected officials estimates that ensuring the safety and wellbeing of everyone involved in the festivities will cost over $75 million. [via Forbes]

Yikes, the logistics are nightmarish (it’s like hosting a gargantuan statewide rock concert). It’s going to be a crazy four days until 1.20.09! I will most likely be living vicariously through friends who snatched up tickets to the inauguration.

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