Monthly Archives: March 2007
This morning I went out in the desert for the first time in years. I got a chance to take the newest thing in jeep tours, the Desert Wolf Tours Tomcar Tour. The Tomcar is a vehicle made for the Israeli military. You should see what this vehicle can do in the desert. A short clip from our trip today:
Here at the kickoff of the Arizona Nanotech Summit, the Mayor of Scottsdale is telling the audience that she knows nanotechnology will one day be understood by all. She’s sweet and well meaning, but it’s clear she doesn’t know yet what nanotech is all about and right now, she’s betting on the come.
But my friend Matt Kim of QuanTera, who chairs the Nanotechnology Cluster in Arizona, tells it all when he says next that nanotechnology is a magnifier. It takes things and enhances them. On his own web site you can see that he intends to use nano-engineered materials to enhance fiber optic networks.
When I went to Bronx Science, back in the day, science was about Newtonian physics. Then it was about quantum theory. Now it’s about wave theory. Who can keep up? It makes keeping up with information technology look like keeping up with the Simpsons.
But here’s a first pass: a nanometer is one billionth of a meter. Nanotech involves manipulating things that are small into new applications that weren’t possible before. The nanotech revolution was kicked off in the 80s with the discovery of the Buckyball, a carbon 60 molecule that won the Nobel Prize for the late Rick Smalley. A carbon nanotube is no more than a stretched out Buckyball, but it’s the strongest fiber possible, and it can conduct electricity better than copper with reduced power loss.
So it appears that nanotechnology, like semiconductor, is a building block that makes many other things possible – especially in energy and medicine. Although nanotech is primarily in the universities and the companies like Motorola and Intel right now, it will be in all our lives in the future. There are companies actually making nanotubes and going after applications for them.
Nanotubes are strong, they are lighter and stiffer than other materials and conduct electricity better, but they are hard to produce and handle. For industrial applications, these nanotubes can be delivered as paper or film.
At Rice University in Texas, where the impending oil crisis is well understood. scientists are taking a look at how nanotech could be used to support both conservation and transmission of energy.
In one particular application to energy conservation, lightweight nano materials could save us 70% of our energy costs in operating cars. A vehicle made with nano materials could be just as strong as a conventional car, weigh 50% less, and get much better gas mileage.
In another application, the solar energy industry could use photovoltaics to collect the sun’s energy and nanotubes could that be used to transport energy as electrons (sun) rather than as mass (oil). Whatever the winning source for new energy becomes, we could always conserve by renewing our infrastructure as a distributed system (like the Internet) for energy. Carbon nanotubes can be the building blocks of the new distributed network.
Nanotech is also fundamental to medicine, because scientists have seen that our body is actually made of DNA strands are actually nanotubes of two inches by six inches. We learned this when we developed the ability to look at molecules with a scanning tunneling microscope.
When the scanning tunneling microscope was discovered in the 80s, it allowed for the first time the imaging and manipulation of biological molecules. The tool made it possible to image and manipulate atoms better than an electron microscope. This, in turn, makes better diagnostics possible.
Being able to see the smallest components of our bodies will help bring about the era of personalized medicine.
And that’s because we are becoming able to see that the incredible diversity of the world’s population resides in only slight differences between people in certain protein levels. For example, 2 million people throughout the world have sickle cell anemia, which is caused by a very small difference in the hemoglobin of red blood cells. Sickle cell anemia makes its victims prone to all kinds of other infections, especially when they are babies. We can now screen for this disease in neonates at the molecular level using mass spectrometry. It’s screened for because it affects the immune system of babies and if it’s found, we can give them penicillin and prevent them from dying from opportunistic infections. That’s one way to reduce infant mortality.
For the adults among us, this research into the nano composition of our bodies has all kinds of ramifications.
People who have had heart attacks have different protein ratios. So we now know that there are biomarkers for heart attack. Really distinct patterns emerge from which it is possible to tell if a person is having a heart attack 98% of the time.
So it’s not for the science fiction idea that one day little nanobots will go through our bodies attacking diseased cells and curing our ills that we value nanotech. It’s for the applicationsthat are already possible using either nano materials or imaging devices capable of deciphering the nanotechnology of our own bodies.
Are you still following me? If not, and you just gazed over and skipped to the end, here’s the takeaway: you yourself are a bunch of nanotubes. “That’s all ye know on earth,and all ye need to know.” (One hundred lindens to the person who correctly identifies this quote without Googling it.)
I am in the middle (well, I lied, and I’m about a third of the way through) of “Founders at Work,” a series of interviews with star-quality founders (Wozniak, et al) about their early days. So far, it’s the most fascinating entrepreneurship book I’ve ever read, simply because it underscores the chance and randomness of most startups.
So far in this book, every entrepreneur has started out trying to solve one problem, and become famous for solving another. Often the problems are not even related, but they grow out of the issues arising from the first company. Hotmail, for example, was a fluke. Its founders were developing a web-based database, and were just trying to access their personal email accounts from work so they could talk to each other during the workday. That small problem led them to the concept and development of web-based email (the first product of its kind) and caused them to be acquired for $500m by Microsoft after twenty months. And was it because web-based email was seen as a need? NO. It was because each email they sent out had a Hotmail sign up link on the bottom.
And Paypal? It went viral because its founders enabled people to send money from a Paypal account, and made the receiver open an account to access the money. It was designed to be viral.
Design everything to be viral. If it isn’t, it will never cross the chasm.
For every one of you entrepreneurs who comes to me looking for money, I ask you first to read Seth Godin’s blog entry from March 19. It is aptly titled “The Realistic Entrepreneur’s Guide to Venture Capital,” and among other points, it reminds us that there are really very few business problems that can be solved with money.
I’m at the Arizona Health-e Connection summit on deploying health information technology. Arizona is the first state to have a roadmap to transition its citizens to electronic medical records.
There’s a lot of transitioning left to do and a lot of thinking about how to do it, but for the past year I’ve been playing on the periphery of the effort, serving on various committees that are doing some of the thinking. To me, it seems the progress is slow, but as I sit here in this overflowing room I realize many people are committed to the process, so it will happen. The Governor is driving it, and she’s a breast cancer survivor herself, so she has a personal care here. I’m sure she started this whole drive by saying “what kind of health care do I need and deserver for myself and my loved ones,” and facing the fact that we don’t have it in Arizona – or anywhere in America.
Clearly, information technology can transform how we deliver health care. Everyone who has ever logged on to a computer knows it. But now there are several drivers for health IT adoption sooner rather than later: rising costs, awareness of the substantial benefits, administrative leadership, and the strong endorsement of business.
Probably because of the state’s rapid growth and the influx of emigrants from out of the state and out of the country, we have a strong partnership between the state, major employers, and health care organizations. AHCCCS, our Medicaid system, has received a $12m grant to e-healthify the records of its million patients. Once it is done for AHCCCS it will be easy to do it for everyone else.
The state also provided a grant to rural communities to “e-healthify” themselves.
Medical errors kill more people per year that breast cancer, aids, and motor vehicle accidents. In Arizona alone, we have $31m in unpaid emergency care costs. Tucson Medical Center alone loses $4m annually. Only 10% of providers use EHRs that are certified by the government for base level interoperability and functionality – never mind decision support.
The speaker from the Office of National Healthcare Information Technology (ONCHIT) is now telling us that the position of his agency is that the health care system isn’t broken. Rather, we don’t have a system for health care at all, and because it’s not systematized, it sucks. We have an industry sector, but it’s not yet automated, and thus not optimized. Kind of like the days before manufacturing automation.
Healthcare IT isn’t about technology, it’s about care, just as ERP systems aren’t about technology, but about supply chains. Health care has no good “supply chain” or “demand chain.” Every other industry sector does. Thus, health care does not deliver its product on a just-in-time basis to a customer whose needs it already knows. Wal-Mart can do this. So can health care.
The federal government has a plan to be at electronic health records by 2014. It has a number of work groups: consumer empowerment; chronic care; biosurveillance; and EHRs. Across those work groups is a group on quality, and another on confidentiality and security.
A good system would bring together electronic health records (provider), personal health records (patient), and public health information(payer or government). Amazingly, the consumer will probably adopt the technology first, and drag the providers along.
Fundamental to all this is standards (for security, data, and technology) that will create an interoperable system.
So I’m teaching this class in PR and networking at GCU, and one of the students is Corey Kossack, a power Ebay seller with a toolset to help everyone else succeed. Although he’a still a student, he has already written and published the book “EBay Millionaire or Bust.”
He wants to differentiate his skillful EBay consulting from all the other people who purport to know how to make someone successful on EBay. In his own words, “I’m lost in a sea of crap.” So I’m putting it out there: what would best differentiate Corey’s business from the get-rich-quick guys who promise the moon and can’t deliver. Corey, on the other hand, has already delivered for himself, and has written both the book and the software to help others.
I don’t write for geeks. In fact, I’m kind of a geek-to-human translator. For years I have been trying to convince technologists to talk directly to their customers, who might be non-geeks.And at the same time I’ve been trying to convince POHs (Plain Old Humans) to try complicated devices and applications because they did cool things.
But in the early days of software, when most of it was used by businesses, and those businesses had IT professionals, no one was listening and no one cared. Most of my friends thought they would die or retire before they had to learn to use email, and most of them still wouldn’t know a blog from a bog.
Consumers hated the software industry, and the software industry spoke only to itself. But now that has all changed, as social media takes over the web. Social media, after all, is about interaction. Between consumers. Large groups of them.
So I am listening to the opening remarks of Kathy Sierra at this week’s Austin “South by Southwest” (SXSW) conference.
Kathy is a former Sun Microsystems employee and now blogger who seems to understand that when you put up a web page called “FAQ” you are not necessarily making your customers happy. And that when people push the button for “HELP,” they don’t want to see yet another navigational maze anymore than they want to hear a voice from India if they’re calling a helpline from New Jersey.
Her talk is based on the assumption that a user asking for help is confused, and that he/she often has a friendly face in mind when he/she tries to access a web-based help menu, not a branching system of further questions.
So he/she doesn’t want a list of equally confusing help choices. In her talk Sierra used an example from Microsoft Excel of a person trying to add up a column of numbers, and she noted the responses that came up on the help page. I just tried this myself with Excel 2003, and it took me three screens of dizzying choices to find out how to add a column of numbers in Excel, which is what I thought Excel was for. I’m pretty computer literate and math savvy, but I would have hit the WTF button long before, if I were really in the middle of something else and thought I was going to get immediate help to continue a task. The fact of the matter is that Excel, the leading spreadsheet, is not at all user friendly or intuitive, and that only after you have taken some kind of training can you use it.
Which is why many ordinary people don’t blog. It’s not that they don’t want to, but they’ve been so daunted by learning Excel or Word that they resist learning any other software. These same people keep their old cell phones because they think smart phones are too smart for them.
These people are not only people in the non-native-to-the-Internet generation, but also many in the generation we like to call NetGen — people who have grown up on the Internet. My nineteen-year-old foster kid, who now lives with me, has a MySpace page, but doesn’t know how to search MySpace for people he knows who might be on it. He text messages, but can’t enter an address on a cell phone unless the person has already called him.
There are many other examples of people who only use one or two of the features on their smart devices, because they can’t figure out how to program them (this started with the VCR and only got worse.)
But it’s more important now, because we interact with the Internet now on our own, as consumers without corporations to offer us software training the way companies used to teach their employees how to use the Microsoft productivity suites. If something is too hard to use, we will GIVE UP. We will then appear in some market study as a low conversion rate or an abandoned shopping cart, when all we wanted was a little HELP.
Kathy treats this as “news,” and her talk is received all over the blogosphere as one of the best presentations of this important conference. It’s as though no one had ever discovered this before. Clearly it will be a while before my job as geek-to-human translator is outsourced.