Michigan State University Creates a Transparent Solar Panel

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Michigan State University researchers have created a solar panel that resembles a typical piece of glass, which can be placed on top of a window to collect solar energy. Clean solar power may be the future of energy. Transparent solar panels that seem just like normal glass may make that future real.

Called a transparent luminescent solar concentrator, the panel uses organic molecules made to absorb invisible wavelengths of light, such as ultraviolet and near infrared light. The material moves this unseen light to the edges of the panel, where strips of photovoltaic solar cells pick it up and convert it to electricity.

There have been past attempts at similar tech, but the results that have been produced were not transparent enough or were tinted. Such colorless transparency would allow these solar panels to have a wide variety of uses.

There are residential and commercial uses of windows using this technology, or gadgets like mobile phones and tablets with these solar cells embedded in the glass, or electronic signs that charge themselves, or even in cars or other vehicles with such windows.

The current version of the transparent solar cells is about one percent efficient, but the research team aims to increase that beyond five percent. Colored luminescent solar concentrators can get efficiency up to seven percent. Opaque solar cells can have an efficiency of 15% or more.

Wearable Technology May Soon Have Ability to Collect Data for Parkinson’s Disease

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Recent news that Robin Williams had suffered from the early stages of Parkinson’s Disease preceding his death has been quite a surprise to many. Other celebrities have suffered from the effects of this dangerous disease for many years: Muhammad Ali, Johnny Cash, and Michael J. Fox. From these big names, has come widespread media attention, and awareness. This week, a big step has been taken towards finding new data to control the effects of Parkinson’s.

Intel announced on Wednesday its plans to use wearable gadgets such as smart watches to monitor patients with Parkinson’s disease and collect data that can be shared with researchers.

The well-known chip maker said that it is teaming up with the Michael J. Fox Foundation, established by the actor and Parkinson’s sufferer in 2000, to conduct a multi-phase research study of the neurodegenerative brain disease. An estimated five million people globally have been diagnosed with Parkinson’s, the second-most-common neurodegenerative disease after Alzheimer’s.

Their initial goal is to determine the feasibility of using wearable devices to monitor patients remotely and store that data in an open system that can be accessed by scientists.

The next phase of the study, which has been said will likely kick off in the fall, the foundation plans to set aside funds to explore how patients are responding to medication. Participants will be monitored via an array of wearable devices.

Clinical trials have been said to be far too “subjective” in the past. For instance, a patient might inform her doctor that she felt a tremor for several minutes, when it actually lasted a matter of seconds. In the future, Intel hopes patients and their doctors will have more precise measurements via wearable devices about the “frequency and severity” of symptoms.

The Michael J. Fox foundation will continue to raise funding to cover the costs of providing wearable devices to patients.

By using such devices, the foundation and other research groups can tap into a broader pool of patients for clinical trials. Today, many people with Parkinson’s disease are unable to participate in clinical trials because they do not live near a research facility. However, wearable devices offer a convenient way to track patients from their work or homes, allowing people in the most rural parts of the country to participate.

As the technology expands beyond the Parkinson’s Research, Intel hopes to capture a share of the growing market for big data analytics and wearable devices in the health sector.

While Intel boasts its own wearable technologies, Intel stressed that the Parkinson’s study is device agnostic, meaning patients can test a variety of wearable gadgets. In March, Intel completed its acquisition of Basis Science, a startup that is best known for its wrist-band that measures the wearer’s heart rate.

Mind The Gap

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There are certain mysteries in life which are ineffable…like where do all those solo socks go? why do I always end up picking up the tab? in the weird world of online there are several gaps which remain mysterious. Here’s a couple:

Tablets are divided between iPads (25%) and Androids (74%) with the Surface coming in a distant last at about 1%. The androids out number Apple because hundreds of companies make tablets with the Android OS on board whereas only Apple makes the iPad.  What’s weird and (I have never seen a satisfactory explanation for this) is that the bandwidth usage of all kinds is dominated by iPad at about 75% with Android taking the rest.  Given that all devices hook up to Wifi how is it possible that 25% of the users are consuming 75% of Tablet bandwidth.  There are multiple theories out there…maybe iPads are favored by data intensive corporate applications of the devices, others suggest that the dominance of iTunes in movie streaming is a factor…but then Netflix runs on both….any way you look at it, it’s a bit weird.

The other gap which is causing waves in our industry is the search revenue per click conundrum. Most people are reasonably familiar with the concept that when we click on ads in search results somebody (mostly Google) gets paid. As end users have migrated to mobile devices at a rate far greater than anyone could have ever imagined the advertisers haven’t.  Advertising agencies are notoriously conservative and (some might claim) in some ways dumb.  Search delivered on desktops has been around for over a decade and they are comfortable with that medium. A few years back social media exploded on the market and agencies were caught completely off guard. A few years later they are just about starting to catch up with the opportunity.  Mobile devices and delivering ads against those devices has left the industry scratching their heads…even now I am shocked and infuriated by major brands who still don’t have a mobile friendly site…let alone mobile friendly ad campaigns.  The result is that although Google’s revenue continues to head north at a good clip they are achieving that growth with many more cheaper clicks. That steady decline has been happening over the last couple of years with no end in sight.  In public statements Google has pinned their hopes on local advertisers paying a premium for mobile clicks to drive their local businesses. We are certainly seeing some pretty dramatic spikes in click prices for “hyperlocal” searches like “plumber West Oshkosh.”  The problem is that even large numbers of local businesses smart enough to bid online (but often not smart enough to get good ROI for their efforts) don’t compare to the massive spend the big brands can move between platforms. This will no doubt level out over time….but it’s not going to happen overnight.

The Velvet Rope Problem

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For an incredibly rich and powerful company Google has a tin ear when it comes to the common touch. At the core of the problem is an apparent company wide belief that they are smarter than the rest of us and the rules don’t apply to them. The irony is that the billions of dollars of revenue they generate each year comes from regular people searching for stuff online. In comparison Apple does a much better job of fitting in with the common man. The iPhone and iPad are probably amongst the best designed and engineered things most of us possess. In comparison Google Glass and driverless cars are securely focused on the super rich tech insiders. One of their more public elitist debacles is now headed into the sunset. The Google barges were mysterious contraptions moored in San Fran and Portland harbors. Although their true function was never fully revealed, the consensus was that these were planned to be retail/display centers where the brightest and best could meet behind closed doors to become privy to and perhaps buy the latest and greatest from the Google stable. These barges have now been sold and are headed off to the breakers yard…or whatever else the new owners have in mind for them. Not only was this a very public attempt to end run retail zoning laws it was also a clear example of their “this is not for you” mentality.  In comparison Apple builds huge beautifully designed retail outlets in most larger cities without velvet ropes to keep regular folks at bay.

Google is terrific at spotting a trend then jumping on it to use their wealth and power to make it both accessible and affordable to everyone.  That’s probably a bit unsatisfactory for the Googlers who think the cools stuff should be kept for “people like them” but it’s where the smart money is. The democratization of technology has been a major driving force for the last couple of decades. As a rule of thumb, if a development’s users can be numbered in the hundreds and can only be found in the greater San Francisco Bay area it’s not going to drive revenue at scale.

The Google Genome Project

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Google has a black ops group which spends large chunks of speculative Google cash on ‘moonshot’ projects like self driving cars and dark fiber. Most of these don’t have immediate financial upside but neither did the original moonshot and we are still enjoying the benefits from that adventure. the latest project to come out to that group is one I can totally get behind.  Ten years ago sequencing the Human Genome cost hundreds of millions of dollars. Nowadays you can get your broad genome markers worked up for $70 or the whole thing sequenced for about $1,000. This has led to a proliferation of DNA data for hundreds of thousands disease conditions.  We know which mutations are closely linked to various diseases, we also have a pretty good handle on mutations which are implicated. Google has already partnered with Autism Speaks to help them digest the massive DNA data understanding that syndrome generates, now they are contributing in a different way.

Part of the problem of understanding the genetic causes of disease is that the majority of the data we have amassed so far has been from sick or very sick people. Even in cases where a very precise mutation is linked to a disease there may be other more subtle things going on.  These things can be harder to spot when a person’s genome is already seriously impacted by disease. To help make comparisons easier and more accurate Google is setting out to come up with the base line DNA of a “healthy” human. That should help people studying disease more easily find other potential markers or contributing factors for their target condition.  Initially Google will use the entire genomes of 175 apparently healthy guinea pigs.  The data will be anonymous and they wont be taking samples from anyone they employ.  Provided that the data is truly anonymous this shouldn’t generate any meaningful health concerns.  Over time I’d expect them the use a larger and larger healthy normal dataset but this sounds like a good start. It’s good to see Google using their massive wealth and data processing powers for good in this case.

Changing the Way We Sleep

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Sleep is pretty important to most of us, and getting a good night’s sleep can be difficult for some. There are a slew of sleep-aids out there, but a recently successful Kickstarter campaign ($100,000 goal, so far over $300,000 has been raised) has pushed a company named “Hello” to create the module called Sense.

The Sense Sleep Tracker system consists of three parts; the sense module, the sense pill, and the app. The Sense module looks like a trendy rubber band ball, but it monitors things while you snooze along with the sleep pill. It’s a pill by name only, as it clips onto your pillow and tracks how much you toss and turn with a 6-axis accelerometer and gyroscope

What makes Sense interesting, though, is what else it takes into account. By tracking noise, light, temperature, humidity, and even air condition, it figures out a “Sleep Score” based on the potential for rest and how much you actually managed to get. Events such as car alarms sounding outside, or dogs barking are figured into the calculation as well.

The Sense module can record any rumblings it hears, but will also keep an eye on light levels, temperature and other disturbances near the bedside. Just want to relax? That funky module can put out white noise or other soothing sounds to put you to sleep and then wake you up at the perfect time with its Smart Alarm, which wakes you when you are out of your deepest sleep cycle.

The first units are scheduled to roll out in November.

Is There a Future in Cloud Computing?

 

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Over the last year, the concept of cloud computing has continued to build momentum, as it has rapidly moved into the mainstream.  In fact it is now fair to say that cloud as a distinct topic has started to fade into the background; organizations are now simply leveraging all kinds of cloud services as a necessary component of their digital strategies.

This increase in cloud usage means that the boundaries of the enterprise are starting to blur, in particular enterprise IT is no longer defined by ownership or the location of the technology but rather by the value it can bring. But what does this mean for the future of cloud? What will continue to drive this change?

Companies can now create reliable and scalable systems in a matter of days or weeks rather than months or years, using cloud platforms to create components that instantly have global scale and reach.  The speed of application development in the cloud – as a result of both higher productivity and the ability to build on the work of others through integration – is therefore a key trend and a real game changer in terms of both the value of IT and the way in which companies leverage it for advantage in an increasingly digital era.

A factor that will continue to have prominence in everybody’s minds in the coming years is security. While security is a critical topic it is also one which is frequently driven by perception and emotion rather than a comprehensive assessment of the risks and benefits involved.  When thinking about it logically, in-house systems often use their position inside the firewall as the single most important factor in ensuring security – but this attitude often simply justifies a lack of development in the kinds of comprehensive security capabilities required to truly secure data and protect it against access from different groups.  Cloud services on the other hand have usually been built from the ground up to be both secure and to keep the information and activities of different tenants separate; perhaps counter-intuitively this means that they are often more deeply built for security than many traditional on premise systems.

These issues may seem obscure at first glance, but with more and more corporate data needing to be made accessible to people and systems outside the bounds of the firewall – e.g. for mobile access, API exploitation or digital supply chain creation – it becomes critical.  The firewall as a security mechanism ceases to make sense when the majority of actors are outside its boundaries – the key is rather to have a much more granular security model focused on securing the actual assets and resources rather than simply creating an isolated community. As a result, many consider the security of cloud services to be higher for emerging use cases, since security is a multi-faceted problem and not simply a factor of ‘where’ data physically resides.

It appears clear from many observations and experiences that the implementation of cloud within businesses will only continue to increase and accelerate. As every business is different, however, so will each business’s journey be unique. The general opportunity they all share, however, is to use the cloud and its integration potential to simplify their business models and to diminish the risks of change by adopting the new behaviors of moving quickly, testing ideas at low cost and rapidly scaling successful outcomes.  In the future, such speed and adaptability will simply be accepted as the only viable route to sustainable and meaningful business execution.

Cool and Cubical

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Google comes out with all kinds of stuff…most of it interesting but occasionally they come up with something which even my jaded eye finds compelling. Their latest addition is cool in exactly the same way Google Glass isn’t. What they have created is a multimedia ‘platform’ which allows the artist to embed video and music on to each side of a virtual cube, each side can be as unique and different as you wish. In the Chrome browser or on an Android device you can rotate the cube in 3D. As each face comes round to your point of view so the sound and images playing on that face at that time become the focus….but each face which you can see something of contributes a little. You can try it here http://nofun.thepresets.com/ just paste that URL into a Chrome browser. This is a techno/trance number from an Oz band and it’s predictably clubby but I think this could go way beyond just something else to project at a rave. This concept allows parallel narrative from six simultaneous perspectives.

Apparently this started as an experiment inspired by Rubik’s cube and as a challenge to see just what could be done with a browser…turns out quite a lot. It’s not a completely new concept..multiple parallel video has been used in things as diverse as the documentary about Woodstock and the TV series 24. What’s different is that the viewer can manipulate and investigate the cube which makes each individual’s perspective unique. Imagine taking a single incident then telling it from six different perhaps opposing perspectives. Now add in maybe virtual reality and it gets even more interesting. Perhaps we could walk through and around a set of multiple cubes each of which is virtually controlled by the viewer. It sounds arty and maybe a bit trippy…and maybe it is…but it might also be a rather cool new way to experiment with how we express our perspectives through art and Google deserves credit for making that available to anyone with enough imagination and code skills to make it happen

Score One for Big Cable

Atlanta-AereoIn the same way any strategy which relies on your soccer team figuring out how to get past Germany to continue in the World Cup so any new media strategy which relies on the Supreme Court letting you loosely interpret laws is likely to run into difficulties. So is was with a real sense of sadness that I watched the Supreme Court finish of the Aereo business model with a crushing 6-3 defeat today…if that were soccer half the crowd would be gleefully chanting “slaughter” at the top of their drunken voices.

What is it and why do you care? Here’s why….this week my Verizon contract is up. I have Fios Internet and TV a DVR and three set top boxes and that costs a shade under $200 a month. I also pay for Hulu Plus, Netflix and Amazon Prime to the tune of another $20 per month. I can get pretty much all the TV I watch minus the live broadcast of the big 5  for just the $20 I pay to Netflix and Hulu Plus and Amazon.  With the smart antenna offered by Aereo i could plug that into a laptop get the big five over the air broadcast on the rare occasions I watch them and cut the cable bill down to  only $25 a month. All in I’d get pretty much all I watch for $50 total.

The supreme court ruled that Aereo was essentially turning an over the air free signal into a public performance which meant they would have to pay royalties. That shut the entire venture down. It’s a pity but given the lobbying power of the cable industry not much of a surprise. A time is coming when the ad soaked garbage put out by the big five will reach a point where many perhaps most of us will simply cut the cable and we will make do with the great independent programming and content we can get through places other than the big cable companies.  This decision has perhaps pushed that a little further into the future…but it’s coming.

The Great AntiFoot Hoax?

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Every so often you come across a marketing story which is so clever you really have to wonder if it actually happened. Such a story of sweeping through the media and chatterati of France. It’s World Cup season worldwide (everywhere except here in the US that is) and those very clever folks at Orangia have announced and claim to be selling the Orangina Antifoot…this has nothing to do with athletes foot I’m pleased to report.  The commercials show some boffins adding electronics to an Orangina can which allows the smart lady in the bar who doesn’t love ‘the beautiful game’ to surreptitiously turn off all the TVs in the bar. Such devices do exist…indeed a few years back when I was traveling a lot more than I do now and was tired of endless commercials and CNN news loop repeats being played at my poor head I did invest in such a device and it will indeed turn off any TV from 30 feet away..it’s a kind of universal off remote and yours for just $20.

What’s so clever about this campaign is that is that apart from the one pictured in the commercial nobody (that I have read about) has been able to get hold of the real thing.  It looks like it’s simply a very clever commercial hoax masquerading as reality.It’s technically feasible and makes for a hilarious commercial but the amount of adverse publicity it would cause if actually used …let alone the spontaneous outbreaks of mob violence against anyone caught drinking Orangina leads me to think that it never went into actual production or sale…which is a pity.