Musings on Business and Tech

Category — science

How Many Gallons? How and When Will The Oil Spill End?

May 27, 2010   No Comments

I’m a Podcast Junkie

I used to listen to music. Sometimes I still do. Every once in a while I buy an audio book. But for the last few years or so, my preferred listening material, by far, are podcasts. And with my 1.5 hour round-trip commute every day, I have ample time to listen.

My favorites these days are Leo Laporte’s This Week in Tech and NPR’s Planet Money. Below is a list of all the podcasts I listen to currently, and here’s an OPML file if you want to import these into  iTunes. But I also like hearing about others as well, so leave a comment to tell me which ones you like!

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March 5, 2010   No Comments

Cell phones show human movement predictable 93% of the time

Aside from providing great value to the end-user, location data is also proving hugely valuable to researchers. A new study published in Science magazine analyzed mobile location data from frequent cell phone users and found that human movement is predictable at least 93% of the time.

The authors analyzed various aspects of the information related to the calls, as well as information that could be aggregated over multiple calls: number of distinct locations, historical probability that the location had been visited in the past, time spent at each tower, the order in which customers usually visited towers, and so on.

Customers that stuck to the same six-mile radius had predictability rates of 97 to 93 percent, and this fell off as the typical area of travel grew. But the predictability eventually stabilized, and remained at 93 percent even as the radius of travel rose to thousands of miles. Regardless of how widely they traveled, the researchers could adequately predict their locations, down to the specific tower, 93 percent of the time.

As the Ars article points out, these findings could be used for many different practical purposes: planning traffic flow in cities, tracking the spread of contagious disease, and anticipating cellular network usage patterns. Very interesting, indeed.

Read Cell phones show human movement predictable 93% of the time.

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March 1, 2010   No Comments

Not Your Father’s NASA

Obama’s proposed budgetary shake-up of NASA makes a lot of sense to me, especially the part about relying more on commercially built rockets. At this point, given the space shuttle’s checkered history, I trust Boeing, Lockheed Martin, and Elon Musk much more than NASA to build a safe vehicle for manned space flight.

More details:

[The] proposal seeks to cancel the Ares I rocket, in development for four years as a replacement to the space shuttles. More unexpected, the request also would kill Orion, the crew capsule that was to sit atop the Ares I. The Orion is the only spacecraft in development that would be capable of traveling beyond low Earth orbit…

The Obama budget proposes spending $18 billion over five years for development of technologies like fuel stations in orbit, new types of engines to accelerate spacecraft through space and robotic factories that could churn soil on the moon — and eventually Mars — into rocket fuel.

via News Analysis – Billions for NASA, With a Push to Find New Ways Into Space – NYTimes.com.

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February 3, 2010   No Comments

The 120,000 Foot Skydive, via @scobleizer

Via Robert Scoble’s Twitter feed, I caught wind of this fascinating Red Bull-sponsored extreme skydiving mission. Sometime in 2010, Felix Baumgartner, a.k.a one crazy motherfucker, is going to jump out of a stratospheric balloon from 120,000 feet above the Earth’s surface. Doing a dive from this height means he will also attempt to be the first human to break the speed of sound in free-fall. Best part: the whole thing will be broadcast live on the internet (using Silverlight).

Fifty years ago, United States Air Force Captain Joe Kittinger made aerospace history. He jumped to Earth from 102,800 feet, near the edge of space. The achievement contributed valuable data that set the groundwork for the United States’ first space program.

In our world today, few boundaries remain unchallenged; yet, while many have tried to surpass Colonel Joe Kittinger’s accomplishment over the intervening half century, none have succeeded, and some have died. In 2010, the Red Bull Stratos mission will explore the limits of the human body in one of the most hostile environments known to humankind.

Read Felix Baumgartner, Space Diving, Space Jump | Red Bull Stratos.

January 29, 2010   No Comments

When to Start Teaching Kids Computer Science

Fred Wilson argues on his blog today that Computer Science education should begin in middle school. While I agree that there should be CS classes in middle school, I would go even further than Wilson. These classes should start in elementary school, probably around third or fourth grade.

Wilson’s post references an article in today’s New York Times that talks about improving CS education in high school. But Wilson argues for starting it even earlier. He says, “I remember the first time I wrote some code, hit compile, then run, and the computer did something I had instructed it to do. It was as Janice says “magic”. I was smitten and have remained so almost forty years later.” I couldn’t agree more, but for me it happened much earlier (and I didn’t have to compile, since it was interpreted BASIC :)).

When I was in elementary school, my parents enrolled me in after-school computer classes with an area math teacher who offered the classes in his house, on the side. (Those classes and that math teacher have since become somewhat infamous, but that’s a whole other story, and I only had good experiences there.) In the classes we learned to write very simple programs in BASIC on the Commodore PET.

We weren’t building search engines, but we were learning the basics of logic and syntax, two concepts that not only help introduce computer science but also come in handy for lots of other pursuits as well. (I was really good at Latin when I started learning that later on. Coincidence?) We also learned Logo both in these classes and in elementary school, and I’ll never forget those ideas as well.

I’m no expert in education, but I think that you can introduce these ideas very early in a child’s life. My 3 year old is already very good at working little gadgets (she was playing games and videos on my iPhone even before she turned 3). Kids are ready to absorb this kind of stuff as long as we provide it to them. If we start to teach them these things earlier in their lives, imagine what they’ll do by the time they’re in college.

Read Getting Computer Science Into Middle School.

December 21, 2009   1 Comment