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Archive for the category “education”

Drop that calamari, you terrorist!

Security consists of a series of competitive advances, in which someone comes up with a new advanced technology, and then someone else figures out a way to defeat that technology.

One of those technologies is infrared technology.

Soldiers spent centuries figuring out the best way to see enemies at night without being seen. Early methods, like carrying torches, were more dangerous for the torch-carrier than his target….

Advancing without seeing is pretty difficult, however, which means a technological solution is the way around it. Night vision goggles, the ones with that famous green filter, amplify available light, which can turn low visibility into high visibility. The problem comes with regular light sources, which night vision also amplifies to a blinding extreme.

Infrared, instead, focuses on a different part of the visual spectrum, and so is less affected by sudden changes in visible light.

And now some people have come up with a way to defeat infrared technology, by making things invisible to an infrared device.

However, they didn’t invent anything new. Instead, they looked to nature:

What can the U.S. military learn from a common squid? A lot about how to hide from enemies, according to researchers at UC Irvine’s Henry Samueli School of Engineering.

As detailed in a study published online in Advanced Materials, they have created a biomimetic infrared camouflage coating inspired by Loliginidae, also known as pencil squids or your everyday calamari.

Led by Alon Gorodetsky, an assistant professor of chemical engineering & materials science, the team produced reflectin – a structural protein essential in the squid’s ability to change color and reflect light – in common bacteria and used it to make thin, optically active films that mimic the skin of a squid.

With the appropriate chemical stimuli, the films’ coloration and reflectance can shift back and forth, giving them a dynamic configurability that allows the films to disappear and reappear when visualized with an infrared camera.

For more information, see the UC Irvine press release.

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Why are some revolutions imperceptible?

I recently read something by Jim Ulvog, which referenced something written by Matthew Yglesias. But before I talk about what they wrote, I’d like to share an example of what they were both talking about.

When I first entered the fingerprint identification industry in 1994, the computational power required for fingerprint encoding and matching exceeded the capabilities of the general-purpose computers available at the time – even high end computers from Digital Equipment Corporation. Because of this, my employer had to build special-purpose cards to insert into these computers to allow them to keep up with the computations that were required. I was writing proposals at the time, and spent a lot of time enthusing about the fact that these special cards were much smaller than the ones used in the prior generation of automated fingerprint identification systems. Because of this small size, I wrote at the time, these products – Printrak’s “Fingerprint Processor 2000” and “Minutiae Matcher 2000” – were truly revolutionary.

Within a few years, the computational power of computers had increased, and Printrak was able to do away with the Fingerprint Processor 2000 and the Minutiae Matcher 2000 altogether. We no longer needed special purpose boards to crank out these processes – and, as an added bonus, some of the computers didn’t have to be expensive Digital Equipment Corporation computers any more. We could buy a computer from Compaq (which, coincidentally, purchased Digital Equipment Corporation), and this computer was completely capable of performing all of the fingerprint processing without any special card.

This completely revolutionized the automated fingerprint identification system industry, since it was now possible to use general purpose computers for fingerprint identification. Rather than depending upon the AFIS vendors such as Printrak to provide souped-up computers, government agencies could (if they wished) now buy the computers themselves, from the same purchasing schedules that they used to purchase their other computers.

A huge revolution, but most of you never heard about it. Why not? Because the automated fingerprint identification industry was, and is, extremely small. The four leading AFIS vendors in the 1990s had aggregated annual revenues of much less than US$1 billion dollars. So it’s safe to say that Printrak’s reduced need for DEC computers was not the catalyst that sent DEC into the arms of Compaq.

Back to Ulvog and Yglesias. Ulvog’s post Impact of the technology revolution has barely begun states that the recent technology revolutions have taken place in industries that don’t play a huge role in the economy. But when technology changes impact larger industries – Ulvog cites education and health care as two examples – then we’ll REALLY see changes.

Ulvog’s thoughts on this were crystallized when he read Yglesias’ article, Why I’m Optimistic About Growth and Innovation. Yglesias begins by talking about a huge technological change that took place several hundred years ago – yet at the time, that change was imperceptible to the broader public.

A printing press based on movable type, for example, was an enormous boon to productivity in the book manufacturing sector. It had almost no impact on economy-wide productivity, however, simply because the book manufacturing sector of 17th-century Europe was trivially small.

So when, according to Yglesias, did the Industrial Revolution really take hold? When technological changes were applied to a much more important industry – apparel manufacturing.

In a similar manner, Yglesias (and Ulvog) note that recent technological changes have occurred in industries such as journalism and music. “But,” you argue, “journalism and music are HUGE. Rupert Murdoch and the music company heads control huge companies.”

Not really.

Take a look at the 2012 Fortune 500. This list doesn’t measure companies based upon stock valuation; it measures companies based upon actual revenue. (An argument could be made that profit is more important than revenue, but I don’t think that a ranking by profit will significantly impact my point here.)

Number one on the list? Not a journalism company. Not a music company. Number one on the list was ExxonMobil, with over $450 billion in revenue.

Number two was WalMart, with revenue of over $445 billion. Yes, they sell music – along with everything else under the sun.

You have to go through a number of companies – other oil companies, auto companies, banks, health firms, diversified companies such as Berkshire Hathaway – before you get to a company that makes a substantial amount of its revenue from journalism or music. That company, News Corp (Murdoch’s firm) is 91st in the Fortune 500, with revenue of about $33.4 billion – or an order of magnitude lower than the revenue of an ExxonMobil or a WalMart. Time Warner, by the way, is 103rd at about $29 billion.

So, for example, if News Corp and Time Warner were both to be completely devastated by technological change, and were to be liquidated, it would cause some discomfort. But if ExxonMobil, Chevon, or ConocoPhillips were to be liquidated, we’d probably be plunged into another Great Depression.

This is one of the reasons why Jim Ulvog talks about the oil industry so much. In his post, he provides this example:

…the astounding ability to change direction on a drill and control its location 10,000 feet underground and out 10,000 feet horizontally from there. Could you push a 20,000 foot piece of steel piping through solid rock and have the tip be exactly where you want it to be, plus or minus a few feet?

What has this technology – and others – done?

Turned North Dakota into the second largest oil-producing state in the country. More than Alaska or California.

Put US oil production back to where it was over 20 years ago.

Makes it a reasonable possibility the US could be a net energy *exporter* in a decade or so. An exporter.

And that’s going to make a bigger difference in our lives than the New York Times’ efforts to work out a monetization model. Not that this isn’t important – I know a number of journalists who have been displaced or adversely affected by change, and it’s undeniable that the music industry is changing. But a $1 per gallon increase of decrease in the cost of gasoline will have a huge impact on the ENTIRE economy.

But where is the doctor?

I recently wrote a futuristic post in which most of the medical examination process is automated. One of my sources for the post was this VentureBeat piece that referenced the views of Vinod Klosla.

Accomplished Silicon Valley investor Vinod Khosla likens modern healthcare to witchcraft, and says technology will replace 80 percent of doctors….

Khosla said that machines, driven by large data sets and computations power, not only would be cheaper, more accurate and objective, but better than the average doctor.

Khosla made his remarks at a Health Innovation Summit, which was naturally attended by a number of doctors.

These remarks were about as successful as Ronald Reagan’s 1975 suggestion that Social Security be made voluntary – a suggestion that cost Reagan the Florida primary. Reagan lost because of the self-interest of older Florida voters, who felt that fewer young participants in Social Security would endanger their own benefits.

And there is certainly evidence of self-interest in the debate about health care. Khosla himself is an investor in medical technology companies, and would naturally benefit if these companies (rather than doctors) were handling medical needs. The doctors, who do not want to be unemployed, obviously took offense; one was reportedly “nauseated” by Khosla’s remarks. (I’m not sure how the doctor remedied the nausea.)

And there are other self interests out there, as evidenced by those who warn against the great doctor shortage.

With a growing, aging population, the demand for physicians will intensify over the coming years. According to AAMC estimates, the United States faces a shortage of more than 90,000 physicians by 2020—a number that will grow to more than 130,000 by 2025.

Needless to say, AAMC has a solution for this – increases in residency training. By the way, AAMC stands for the Association of American Medical Colleges.

However, AAMC probably does not represent the interests of another group.

At present, Belize is home to four offshore medical schools. These and other offshore medical schools in the Caribbean target students, who although they may be motivated and talented, cannot get admission to med school in the U.S.

And I haven’t even touched upon the basic composition of the death squads in the United States. Some argue that “Obamacare” will result in “death squads” of government officials who will make life or death decisions. This, of course, is contrary to the current system of privately-owned “death squads,” in which private companies deny benefits and thus make life or death decisions. Not surprisingly, some doctors who aren’t getting paid by either the government or by the insurance companies have taken matters into their own hands:

“About four years ago, one insurance company was driving me crazy saying I had to fax documents to show I had done a visit,” said Stanford Owen, an internal medical doctor in Gulfport, Miss. “At 2 a.m., I woke up and said, ‘This is it.’ ”

Dr. Owen stopped accepting all insurance and now charges his 1,000 patients $38 a month.

“When I decided to abandon insurance, I didn’t want to lose my patient base and make it unaffordable,” he said. “I have everything from waitresses and shrimpers to international businessmen. It’s a concierge model, but it’s also the personal doctor model.”

Dr. Owen, who once had three nurses and 10 examining rooms, said it was now just him and a receptionist. He has become obsessed with keeping overhead low, but he said that, for the first time since the 1990s, his income was going up.

So perhaps Dr. Owen will be one of those doctors who buys a machine from Vinod Khosla or another investor. Or perhaps Obamacare or private insurance companies will quit paying for medical care from a human.

Where does that leave the medical schools in the United States, Belize, and elsewhere?

Before your professor contacted you on Facebook

I recently saw an item on Facebook that caught my eye.

Here is a link to the new revised edition of the Zach Hunter book you asked about before class today.

This was a message from a college professor to one of his students. I happen to know both the professor and the student, by the way.

As I looked at the message, I thought about how things had changed since I was a student.

If Professor Ray Kierstead or Professor Arthur Leigh wanted to send me a message, they’d probably have to see me in class or encourage me to set up an appointment with them during office hours. Professor Kierstead or Professor Leigh wouldn’t just show up at my dorm room.

The professors obviously couldn’t send me a Facebook message like today’s professors can; Facebook wouldn’t even be established for another quarter century.

The professors couldn’t email me. Email was in its infancy, and even if the professors happened to have accounts on the DEC PDP/11-70 UNIX computer, I’d have to go all the way to the computer room to read them. It wasn’t like I had a computer terminal in my room or anything like that.

The professors couldn’t even phone me. Well, I guess they could; there was a pay phone in each of the dorms, and I think that they accepted incoming calls. (Younger readers, someday I’ll tell you what a “pay phone” was.)

So today, via Facebook, Twitter, Google+, or similar services, it is easy for professors to keep in touch with students and vice versa. Obviously there are drawbacks to this; if the professor happened to be vegan, and if the student happened to post something about a late night visit to In N Out, this could cause some issues. (However, I know that this particular professor likes turkey, so there’s no vegan issue here.)

I happened to think that this increased inter-communication is a good thing. But then again, I’m not a student today.

Tad Donaghe’s technology predictions for 2013

Yes, it’s prediction time again.

Tad Donaghe, who has been quoted in this blog previously (most recently here), has published ten technology predictions for 2013. The prediction cover a variety of topics, and I’m only going to share two of them.

2. LED Lighting – 2013 will be the Year of the LED light bulb. By the end of the year, good 75W replacement LED bulbs will be selling for less than $10/bulb. Throughout the year, consumers and industry will continue adopting LED bulbs in great numbers. By the end of the year, we’ll see a few news stories about how this adoption is leading to significantly less drain on the national power grid.

I really haven’t followed LED lighting, but I wonder if even $10 is too high a price point for mass adoption. Faced with a choice between a low-cost cheap item and a high-cost outstanding item, consumers often go for cheap. I suspect the growth will be minimal.

9. Books: Fewer people will read books printed on paper next year – we may reach parity with eBooks – 50% of people reading eBook in 2013. Public school districts in the US will very slowly continue to adopt digital texts, though the numbers won’t be significant for another 10 years or more.

The part of this post that intrigues me is the last part regarding the public school districts (and, by extension, private schools and colleges/universities). Public school districts often seem to be resistant to change, but at the same time public school districts are strapped for money. What if ebooks offer demonstrated cost savings to a public school district (or to another educational entity)? Policies toward ebooks won’t automatically change overnight, but there’s a chance that Tad may be pessimistic on this prediction. Maybe we’ll see significant change in five years rather than ten.

Do you want to see Donaghe’s predictions about 3D printing, self-driving cars, health care, and other topics? Read his post.

So you’re applying to Penn? It was different when I was your age

It’s Christmas week, and I was checking the analytics for my Empoprise-BI business blog. Surprisingly, I discovered that my October post Are you apathetic, or ravenous? had become extremely popular over the last few days. At first I couldn’t figure out why, but then I began looking at the search terms people were using to get to my blog, and I found several searches that were variations on these words:

Given the undergraduate school to which you are applying, please discuss how you will engage academically at Penn.

Why would people arrive at my blog from those searches? And why were people conducting those searches in the first place?

Then I remembered.

It’s that time of year when high school seniors are applying to colleges.

The apathetic/ravenous post quoted from a particular essay question in the University of Pennsylvania’s application.

A quick check of the University of Pennsylvania website revealed that applications are due on January 1.

Now you get the picture.

Joe and Jane Student are busily working on their applications to Penn, and they come upon the essay questions. Applications are due in a few days, and they’re a little tense. While trying to think of ways to answer the application essay questions, they turn to the web for help. Unfortunately for them, they run across my October Empoprise-BI post. (Even more unfortunate will be the high school students that arrive at THIS post. Ha! Caught you.)

This example just illustrates how the whole college application process has changed in the decades since I applied to college. (I didn’t apply to Penn, but I did apply to Haverford.) Back in the dark ages, when I got ready to type my essay answers on a typewriter, I had to turn to printed books to figure out what I was going to write. Today, of course, much of the process takes place online. You can apply to colleges online, you can research colleges online – and you can figure out how to answer essay questions online.

Well, I’ll throw a bone to those unfortunate Penn applicants who have ended up at this blog post, hoping to get wise advice on the application process. I can offer these tips.

First, be yourself. If you become someone else in your application essays, you may regret it later.

Second, chcek your spelling.

Third, check your spelling again, in case you missed something the last time.

Fourth, bear in mind that your college experience may introduce you to brand new wonderful things that you can’t even envision today. This week you may think that you’re going to get a biology degree so that you can become a doctor, but perhaps two years from now you’ll find yourself onstage at the campus theater, leaving the medical world far behind. Colleges (at least the good ones) are looking for students who want to learn, and who want to take advantage of what the college has to offer. Yes, you may have a particular undergraduate school or major in mind, and you may have an idea about how you will engage academically, but remember that you don’t know what you don’t know.

Oh, and if you cite this blog post in your application essay, I’m John Bredehoft, not Patrick Bredehoft.

P.S. The apathetic/ravenous post isn’t the only post on my Empoprise-BI business blog that has recently enjoyed sudden popularity. It turns out that my several posts on KitchenAid oven temperature probes have suddenly become popular again. All that Christmas cooking, you know.

Animal House 1804

I don’t watch a lot of movies, but I have seen Animal House, an account of a memorable year at the fictional Faber College. At the end of the movie, it is revealed that one of the most animalistic of the Animal House students, Bluto (portrayed by John Belushi), would eventually become a United States Senator.

Ignoring the fact that one of Belushi’s co-workers eventually WOULD become a United States Senator, there is a historical parallel to the “bad college student becomes respectable” story.

In 1804, there was a school in Lexington, Virginia named Liberty Hall. Today it is known as Washington and Lee University. Back in 1804, however, an incident occurred in the city involving a college student:

Several students are suspended when a Lexingtonian complains that they “stripped naked in the public street in a clear moonlight night between the hours of 8 & 9” to bathe at a public pump. In August, senior George William Crump is suspended for the remainder of the session for running naked through the streets of Lexington.

The account, on Washington and Lee’s own website, goes on to say:

(Crump later becomes a congressman and the U.S. ambassador to Chile.)

Congressman Crump’s official biography (which omits the streaking incident) is here.

And as for Senator Blutarsky, Congressman Keith Ellison once inadvertently quoted the Senator’s historical knowledge.

The Color Purple, the school edition (ditto)

Since I’ve been talking about the printed word recently, I might as well add another gem.

Recently I had to print a school assignment for a young cousin of mine. This involved going to her school’s website on my computer, downloading a file, and (because it was an odd paper size that I didn’t have at home) sending the print job to a local print shop chain.

Needless to say, I couldn’t do that for my assignments when I was her age. I had to be physically present in school to receive the assignment.

And, more than likely, the assignment was purple.

You see, most elementary schools in the 1960s and early 1970s did not have access to photocopiers, so they used one of two competing technologies. One of those technologies, the ditto machine, produced the purple assignment papers. Harmon Jolley remembers:

[T]he ditto machine used no ink. The user typed, wrote, or drew on a ditto master sheet which was backed by a second sheet of paper coated with a dye-impregnated, waxy substance. The inscribed image appeared on the back of the ditto sheet in reverse. The ditto machine used an alcohol-based fluid to dissolve some of the dye in the document, and transferred the image to the copy paper.

Though other colors of ditto sheets were available, purple was commonly used. In elementary school, I remember that the teacher would distribute drawing sheets for us to color. The sheets had been through the ditto machine, which gave purple outlines to the drawings of fruit, animals (mostly lions and tigers and bears), letters, numbers, and everything else that we were asked to stay within the lines while we colored.

The output of the ditto machine had a special aroma. Students could tell when a class assignment was hot out of the machine by the strength of the odor of the pages. The smell came from the ditto machine’s duplicating fluid, a mix of methanol and isopropanol.

Ditto machines have long since gone out of style, although they may still be used somewhere. Jolley notes that (as of 2006) you could still get ditto and mimeograph machine supplies from Presstek. I was unable to locate either item on Presstek’s site today, however.

Probably just as well. Eric Zorn reminds us that you could get high on the stuff. But Zorn does note that the cost of ditto duplicating was very low – around a quarter of a penny. Perhaps it would be higher if ditto machines were still common today, but it appears that it would still be much cheaper than the photocopying processes commonly in use. (I recently ran up a bill of about $800 printing some emergency documents at a copying center. No, it wasn’t for my young cousin.)

No wonder people have been clamoring for the paperless office.

For those without a voice

I caught a cold over the weekend, and by Saturday night I had lost my voice. I reasoned, however, that I would still be able to communicate with people; I could just send them a text message.

Of course, people without voices were able to communicate well before text messaging was invented. If you have recently visited the tymshft page on Facebook, you will see that I recently shared a picture from the Peoria Historical Society. The picture included the caption

Ancient iPad in the PHS collections.

Needless to say, it was not an iPad, but a slate. PHS links to PBS, which describes the history of these communication devices:

In early schools, each child owned a book-sized writing slate encased in a wood frame. This was used for practicing script and it traveled to and from school with the student each day. The student scratched the slate with a slate pencil, which was a cylinder of rock. Eventually, the slate pencil was replaced by soft chalk, making it easier to write.

Today, of course, classrooms use whiteboards.

And text messaging.

The Reed College Quest, non-physically

When I was in college, I was involved with the Reed College Quest, the weekly student newspaper. Back in those days, we would type the articles (I recall typing them on the college’s PDP-11/70 computer), send them down to the Sellwood Bee to get typeset, physically lay out the paper, send the laid-out pages to the Sellwood Bee, then receive the printed copies of the paper.

I have no idea how they produce the physical copies of the Quest today, but if you told me back then that someday I could go to a computer thousands of miles away and view an online version of the Quest, I would not have been able to conceive what you can find today at http://www.reedquest.org/. Color pictures? No need to route the articles via !teklabs!? My mind literally would have been blown.

P.S. The Sellwood Bee is online also.

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