Archive for April, 2010

A POTPOURRI OF TECH DISCOVERIES

April 27th, 2010
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Some weeks are just a cornucopia of new things, and this seems to be one of them.

SALMONELLA

After I filed the ThinkTech aquaculture column for last weekend, I found out that Food and Water Watch earns nearly $7 million a year and that their executives are paid well. Some of that must be from public donations off their site, but you just wonder whether big money comes from somewhere else. Apropos to the column, this past Monday there was an article in the Advertiser about ahi with salmonella imported into Hawaii, proving that the seafood FWW wants us to import in lieu of local aquaculture can be downright dangerous. We’ve got to grow our local aquaculture industry. We should not be distracted from that by the likes of FWW.

REACTION

I got some very nice cards and letters on that article by email and by word of mouth. I also got some nice remarks on the Advertiser website, but I got some thoughtless comments on the Advertiser website too. This suggests that Peer News, now civilbeat.com is right to exclude public commentary like this. Interestingly, these missives are pretty nearly always anonymous. The problem of inappropriate comments was discussed at the NewsMorphosis 2.0 conference on March 18th. The video of the conference will air through May on OLELO Channel 54.

NOAA

NOAA was here on Tuesday for a hearing to get public input on what their policies should be for the 200 mile Exclusive Economic Zone. Good for them, but we hope they’ll make room for aquaculture. By all accounts, the aquaculture industry showed up to provide input, and the activists were also there to stop aquaculture. By those accounts, industry presented well, and the activists did not. We can only hope these activist groups will move on to some other more useful cause sometime in the near future.

NEW FUNGUS

A new antigen fungus recently came from British Columbia and thence into Oregon, where it has infected a number of unhappy people. Forget about spending a lot of time in Oregon until this blows over. It’s not clear whether the systemic infection caused by the fungus is treatable, although a number of people have recovered. The NPR piece that discussed the fungus did say there were those who felt it was related to climate change. That’s scary, suggesting there are more surprises to come.

ROD TAM

Did you know that the City Council decided not to make him resign or to prosecute him? And did you know that in the “settlement” of the clams and charges against him for his outrageous personal use of taxpayer money, they let him pay it back on a deferred payment basis under a promissory note that doesn’t even bear interest, like ZERO interest. No bank would do that for me, so why does the City do it for him. It must be magic.

CURRENT.COM

This week I stumbled into this news site, current.com/vantage, but there it was, and it’s fabulous. It’s a news site with tons of video and some real courageous investigative reporting. Like the dream news site. It’s what I would have imagined for Peer News. They should look at this.

PIGGY BACK TRAIN

A buddy sent me an article from a Chinese paper on the intercity high speed train system that China is building. The most amazing part of it is the fact that the trains won’t be stopping. The City train to Kapolei will average only 25 mph because it has to stop all the time. The China trains won’t have to stop – they’ve designed this piggy pack on and off cabin that makes that unnecessary.

When the train arrives at a station, it doesn’t stop - it just slows down to pick up a connector cabin which moves on the roof of the train. When the train is leaving the station, the passengers board from the cabin. After unloading passengers, the cabin moves to the back of the train so passengers who want to get off at the next station will board the cabin. When the train arrives at the next station, it leaves the cabin there. The departing passengers can take their time. Then the train picks up the new passengers in another cabin on the front of the train's roof. So at each station the train drops one cabin at the rear of its roof and picks up another at the front of its roof. Wow! This could change trains everywhere.

WIRELESS CAMPGROUNDS

John Flanagan, former editor of the Star-Bulletin, is on a freedom ride motorcycle tour of the Southwest, and he’s keeping a daily and detailed blog, with great stories and photos. He’s a professional journalist so it’s really fun to read. You have to see it and eat your heart out. Check high-speed-wobble.blogspot.com. But how does he do this in the boonies? For one thing, if you hadn’t heard, all the campgrounds now have wireless. Do Hawaii’s campgrounds have wireless? I doubt it. Better put, does Hawaii have real campgrounds anyway? Some say, however, that all of Honolulu, now including Kapiolani Boulevard itself, is getting to look like a campground.

He talks to his wife by video Skype, and he sends her knockout photos. You can see them on the blog. At home in Hawaii, during her recent video chat with him she could see the moon rise in the background over the mountains in Tuscon. And in the campground, he can get electricity and cell phone coverage. With that he can use his Blackberry as a modem, and that works well enough to enable their online video Skype conversations. The modern tech camper, but it doesn’t sound much like Walden Pond to me.

FRESH AIR HAWAII

ThinkTech is expanding its video channels. We’ve got ThinkTech on tech, Asia in Review on Asia, and now we’re expanding to Fresh Air Hawaii on the environment and then to High Energy Hawaii on energy. Stay tuned for some great videos. Check us out at ThinkTechHawaii.com.

SEX PHEROMONES

The best for last. Pheromones create attraction between members of the opposite sex. When we were kids, we would have given anything for this. Now human pheromones are apparently a reality, a secret weapon for dating. We’ve discovered the limbic region of the brain which is responsible for sexual attraction. We’ve also discovered an organ in the nasal cavity called the vomeronasal organ, which detects pheromones and stimulates the limbic region to increase feelings of attraction. And you thought it was all in the heart.

This works with animals, but the theory was recently reinforced for humans by the famous "twins" study in the ABC News show 20/20, a “speed dating” exercise which showed that pheromones actually work. The next question is how to manufacture them, and it now appears that this can be done. Dr. Virgil Amend, a pioneer in the field, has developed the “Pheromone Advantage.” With a few drops, he says, you can boost levels to achieve unavoidable results. The drops are available on his website for $39.95, with a guarantee. If this works, it sounds too good to be legal, but we’ll see. Is tech wonderful, or what.

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THE SCIENCE FAIR IS OUR CANARY IN THE COAL MINE

April 21st, 2010
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The Hawaii Science Fair was conducted the week before last at the Convention Center. The Hawaii Academy of Science which runs the Science Fair coattailed on another organization to get the space. They weren’t able to use their regular venue at the Blaisdell because they didn’t have enough money.

The reason they didn’t have enough money is because the state legislature cut them off this year. The legislature had been funding them for $250,000.00 for several years, but this year, nothing. How sharper the serpent’s tooth.

But there is great strength in the Academy and in its friends who took up the task to raise the money to go on. They and their cohorts raised the money to continue the Fair this year. Instead of their regular digs at Blaisdell they made a coattails deal for space at the Convention Center, and that worked fine.

I don’t think the Fair has gotten enough publicity. It’s a partnership between University researchers and DOE and the teachers and of course the kids and their parents. They all get very excited about science projects. This has been going on since 1925. Somewhere along the way they definitely got it right.

You’ve got to see these kids doing their thing at the Fair. They are so sweet and smart and ardent and thoughtful about the projects they present to you. I was a “celebrity judge.” They presented to me, and I was thrilled and taken by every one of them. These kids try so hard and they have so much support from the teachers and parents that it becomes a phenomenon more than an effort.

If they win, they will go on in the competition and could go to and win at the nationals. If they do well in the Fair, they are likely to get into and get scholarships at good colleges to study, and many have. Many have done extraordinarily high level projects and have gotten into top schools on top scholarships because of those projects. It can be a path right to the top.

And it’s available to everybody. Kids from the smallest and remote towns in the state can be and are involved in the Science Fair. This kind of program brings them together and it brings their parents together, and it brings the teachers and schools and islands together in a common goal of doing right for the kids, of giving them a real break. Can you feel it? What’s not to like about that?

So why does the legislature pull the plug on such an event? Why do we not care more about this when it is obviously so critical to the future of our kids and our state? Have we got our priorities upside down or have we forgotten about them altogether? Too bad we have to ask this question.

I think the loss of funding is actually an opportunity for the Academy. A world without state funding may be a better paradigm for them. They need to get out and reinforce relationships in the community, some of which must be 85 years old. The Fair needs relationships in all directions.

They have robust and valuable relationships with the parents because the parents participate and encourage the kids. It’s a kind of PTA, a place where parents get involved in what their kids are doing intellectually, academically.

There are also special relationships between the teachers and the kids. The teachers compete through their kids. They help the kids. They encourage their ideas and implementation. They're as much a part of the Fair as the kids are, and their relationships with the kids are strengthened in the process.

The Fair has had a long-term relationship with DOE, and one only wonders why DOE can't provide greater support. After all, we have some 3,800 people, far too many, administering DOE. Nobody can convince me that that number of people is necessary. Many people say the administrative side has to be cut back, and maybe now is the time.

In any event, all kinds of things can and should be done to reveal, publicize, and perpetuate what is going on at the Fair. It's not just that the politicians come down. Their encouragement strengthens the kids and shows them they can succeed on the mainland and hold their own in science.

Neal Atebara is the poster child. He competed in the Fair when he was a kid and won. The experience gave him the confidence he needed to go into a career in science, and that confidence took him to Harvard and Yale, where he did well, and then he came back to start his ophthalmology practice, now thriving.

Neal is into payback these days, and he pays back well and regularly with his enormous talent and time. He supports the Fair and given its loss of funding, he now puts more of his time into fundraising.

Whether you've been involved in it, whether you’ve competed or won doesn't matter. We should recognize the value of this activity on an educational level and on a confidence building level, on a statewide benefit level, and ultimately a state economy level. Recognizing that we should support it every way we can.

So this is an opportunity for the Fair to bond up with Bishop Street and big donors, just as it must have done when it was founded 85 years ago. Neal is raising money there and everywhere now. He is seeing donors, big and small, so he can fill the gap left by the termination of state funding.

Neal may come and see you at your organization. He is visiting many people on Bishop Street, including senior executives. And he is determined to make it survive. I hope that everyone he visits realizes how important it is for the Fair to survive, for our kids to have this kind of experience, for our educational system to have this event, and for our state to have this success.

While we certainly appreciate the officials and executives who came down to speak at the Fair, we need them to help out during the rest of the year too. Checks are welcomed. Nothing is as important and no other organization is as valuable to connect our kids with science and technology and themselves.

Let’s work together to keep the Fair going. Failure is not an option. When Neal contacts you, please do a little payback too.

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TECH ADVISORY COUNCIL HAS GREAT PROMISE

April 14th, 2010
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The University will always be a seminal vessel of science and tech innovation in Hawaii. As it goes, so goes our future. Some say, however, that it hasn’t come close to realizing its potential, noting that it hasn’t made money on IVF, green mice, ALOHAnet, GMO crops, or anything else you can think of.

The Office of Technology Transfer and Educational Development (OTTED) should be the core of the tech transfer experience at UH, but it has not given us any big hits and in fact UH patents and royalties have been disappointing.

LOSS OF STEAM

While the UH connection with the tech community outside Manoa was vital in the early 2000’s, it seemed to lose steam during the McClain years, and at this point the Manoa to Bishop Street connection seems more distant than before.

Where ten years ago, private sector entrepreneurs used to ask their colleagues whether they had “hugged their [UH] researcher today,” they don’t say that any more. Times and perceptions have changed.

With the decline becoming obvious, UH President M.R.C. Greenwood’s idea for a “President’s Advisory Council on Innovation and Technology Advancement,” namely a tech advisory council, is a great idea, and kudos to her for identifying the problem and taking this timely and affirmative step to deal with it.

Linda Lingle could have had a tech advisory council like this under Act 178 adopted under Cayetano, but she ignored that opportunity, so Greenwood’s move is a big and important step forward after an eight year gubernatorial hiatus that ran parallel to what was happening in Manoa under McClain.

APPOINTMENTS

Let’s look at Greenwood’s appointments, as reported in the Advertiser on April 5th. After all, the likelihood of success is directly proportional to the quality of those appointments. She looks to them to provide “recommendations that will help us set the course for our journey from where we are to where we want to be as leaders in the area of research, innovation and technology.”

Alphabetically, she appointed:

• Carl Bonham, executive director of UHERO and economics professor.
• Daniel Goldin, CEO of The Intellisis Corp., headquartered in San Diego.
• Katharine Ku, director of the Office of Technology Licensing at Stanford.
• Jim Lally, former general manager at Intel and member of the UH Foundation Board of Trustees.
• Brian Taylor, dean of SOEST.
• Barry Weinman, venture capitalist and chairman of the UH Foundation Board of Trustees.
• Mary Walshok, vice chancellor and dean of extended studies at UCSD.
• Hank Wuh, CEO of Cellular Bioengineering, a local tech company.

We’ll soon see whether these are the optimal nominees. They’re supposed to issue a report to Greenwood in August, four months from now. Hopefully, the panel will proceed with alacrity and provide fast and functional results. Heel dragging would undermine Greenwood’s vision, so time is of the essence.

WILL IT WORK

Will this work? The jury is out, or perhaps it hasn’t yet been fully impaneled. Are the appointments complete or a work in progress, capable of continuation or reconstitution after the initial report? This panel could be watershed and have a huge affect on the state’s future. Hopefully, it will not be, and will last much longer than, a typical one-shot disappearing task force.

What we haven’t had over the Lingle years is a truly representative tech group that represented all three legs of the community stool - education, industry and government. Could Greenwood’s panel move into that space?

There are some political people on the panel, but that’s not necessarily a negative. By definition, they can get things done. And there are some academicians from the mainland on the panel who may not be entirely familiar with the way things work in Hawaii, but that’s not a bad thing either. They bring fresh experience and provide input not otherwise available.

I think eight is probably a good number for collaborative thinking, but I also wonder if they might be better off with more of the tech and business deans and advocates and more local investors, entrepreneurs and professionals who can tell them about the pipeline between Manoa and local tech companies. Wouldn’t the dean of the engineering school be an essential member?

Is it okay not to include anyone from Asia? One of our most valuable prospects is the abiding hope Hawaii can still be a bridge to Asia. And yet, here again, we do not include a single member from Asia. Would they be unwilling to serve?

POINTS TO CONSIDER

It’s too bad we lost OTTED's Dick Cox to Notre Dame. That’s always a risk when you’re not spending enough money on your OTTED office. Perhaps the panel might recommend bringing in tech transfer talent from other universities, expand OTTED in personnel and resources and, in a word, throw real money at it.

OTTED never seemed to have enough money to actually fund utility patent applications, and only had minimum money to fund provisional applications. Perhaps Greenwood might have skipped right to the bottom line and thrown money at OTTED in lieu of appointing a panel to tell her the same thing.

We have much to do to make UH a great science university. There needs to be an open exchange among all science departments. I’m reminded of Bob Olson at the New Fitzsimmons Tech Park near Denver, who brought the researchers together for frequent meals and talks because he knew the most important thing was for them to share their excitement. Perhaps the panel could look for ways to achieve the same level of conversation, and excitement, in Manoa.

We have a long way to go to encourage the researchers to commercialize their work. It’s really a gold mine with veins running throughout the University. We have to give the researchers confidence that if they come forward with their IP, they’ll be well respected and received. This has not always been the case.

The panel might also address the rules for sharing of interests in IP obtained through OTTED. Should the rules be changed? Are the proportions shared among UH, the researchers and the departments in balance, or do they need adjustment? Given current productivity, some changes do seem necessary.

What about classified research under UARC? We haven’t heard much about UARC since the protest and “sit in” in David McClain’s office a few years ago. Most people I know would support UARC or would at least like to know more about it – is it happening, and providing benefits to the state? Certainly, the panel should explore what’s going on in that area and expand it as necessary.

SHIFT IN THINKING

The council is a great idea and long in coming. It signals a shift in thinking by this university administration. It now remains for the panel to write a thoughtful and reasoned report, and for the administration to properly implement that report rather than put it quietly on the shelf, where so many other reports have gone.

This could be the start of new and possibly enormous revenues for UH, money that would help run the University but would also expand science in our state. This kind of revenue is mission critical, so it’s important for the panelists and the administration to perform their duties to the highest standard possible.

We wish the panel well and hope they do the work they were appointed to do in style and wisdom and without conflict. We hope their counsel is sound and persuasive and with it the administration can achieve Greenwood’s vision.

More than anything, we hope the panel and the administration will keep the public fully advised. This is all about building confidence. Secrecy or any lack of transparency on such an important project is not an appropriate option.

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WHY I’M GOING TO WAIT TO GET AN IPAD

April 5th, 2010
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It seems like only yesterday when the crowds lined up at Apple for an iPhone, and then a year later for the 3G. Now, again, they want me to line up for the iPad. Great PR, great buzz. Apple’s really good at getting the public excited. It’s a lemming thing, and Apple’s PR department has got us all in a lather.

The paper is filled with seductive hype and yes people did wake up early Sunday to be there at 5:00 a.m. and get on line for their iPads. It wasn't as hot as the iPhone, but it was still pretty close. Surely the time is coming when gizmos simply get to be too much.

Now for an iPad is too soon for me. I can’t shoehorn another gizmo into my day. And I can take this kind of buying fever only so often. This time I’m not biting. For my money, they should have waited.

First, despite the headline, iPad is simply not an “iPhone on steroids.” Yes it has a touch screen, but it doesn’t have an old fashioned phone. They say it’s faster, but how much faster could it be? I can read the news on my iPhone by downloading any number of news apps, including the new Kindle app.

The devotees say they want iPads to make impressive presentations. Well, you know that any laptop can be used to make presentations, and with a screen bigger than 9.7 inches. I know want to impress people as much with the fact that they waited on line and got the iPad as with the presentation itself.

So why do I need this. How many can I use at the same time in the same day. I only have two hands, and there are only so many hours in the day. I’m using too many of them on computers already. Do they want me connected ALL the time? I can’t do that. There has to be a limit. Let’s get a life.

And at this point it’s too much money. I’m not willing to pay $500 plus for still another gizmo. That good it’s not. There’s no real aftermarket for the MacBook they wanted me to get. There’s not even a blue book for the used ones. Depreciation is breathtaking, and eBay isn’t going to make me feel better. There ought to be a law that when they offer you a new gizmo they have to take back the old one.

For me, it’s too much gear. This is the Schlep Factor, and I’m simply not willing to schlep still another gadget around. I love the iPhone because of its portability, and I’m not willing to go backward on that.

Will the iPad replace the MacBook? I doubt it. It’s not that much smaller or cheaper, and despite the hype it’s not more powerful. You’re not supposed to give up your MacBook or your iPhone for it. That means they want you to have all three. I’m not willing to have all three. My iPhone and all its unused apps still titillate me. I don’t need another gizmo for more titillation. I have more than enough now.

Carrying around an iPhone, a MacBook and an iPad would be confusing. When do you use what, or do you wait to get home and get on your Mac Pro desktop? You have to learn these gizmos, worry about them and make yourself dependent on them. In short, you have to marry them. Can you be married to three of them? Wouldn’t they be jealous? Wouldn’t you feel guilty? It’s simply too much for me.

So I'm going to take a pass and wait on iPad. Frankly, I could use a break from new gizmos for a while. I need more time to learn all the old ones. Financially, I’m still smarting from the cost of maintaining the ones I already have and, as my dear wife so often reminds me, another extravagance I don’t need.

The crunch will come if there are no dailies and I am relegated on the fly to my iPhone for the news. I may have to change my mind then, since I’d rather carry an iPad then a laptop. But first I’d also want to check out the Sony Reader, the Entourage Edge and the Skiff to see if they were better than the iPad.

For me, for now, the iPad is an aardvark and no reason to wait around the block. I’ll bet the next iPhone they put out is a little bigger or the next MacBook is a little smaller, and the next gizmo convergence will simply be a more pocket size iPad. Maybe they’ll call it the iMiniPad. That’s when I’ll make my move.

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