Thursday, January 29, 2004

Reduce your Transfat intake and......kill an orangutan!!??

Earlier this year I spent time talking to executives of a major consumer goods company regarding how the new transfat labeling laws might impact their business. As you may know, trans-fatty acids, aka partially hydrogenated vegetable oil, are a food stabilizer found in darn near any food product that comes in a bag, box, or wrapper. The rub is that transfats also clog your arteries as fast as the demon cholesterol. After 10 years of lobbying, the government finally acted to make the food companies label the amount of transfats in foods.

So what does this have to do with orangutans? The executives I met with had legitimate concerns about their business. Many major food companies are highly dependent on trans-fats as a product ingredient, and a radical shift away from that ingredient could have a non-trivial impact on the entire US food economy. One alternative to transfats is Palm Oil, a natural product with many of the same properties as trans fats. Palm oil is produced only in tropical countries, many of which need the economic boost. Wild Orangutans are only found on the tropical islands of Sumatra and Borneo.

Fast forward to the Jan. 27 New Scientist article entitled "Ape's Ray of Hope", which discusses some glimmers of optimism for Great Ape conservation, and also the disturbing threats still facing orangutans in Sumatra and Borneo. Habitat loss is the most significant threat to the orangutan, and a key driver in habitat loss is the development of palm oil plantations for economic growth.

Issues like this offer very clear lessons in the risks of “selfish-optimization”, and the challenge of problem solving in a highly interconnected “ecosystem”. In fact, many of the “players” in this problem may not even know (or care) that they are in each others “ecosystem”. The cardiologists might tell you to avoid transfats - the consumer companies might respond by offering a new heart friendly treat, that increases the income opportunity of an impoverished country, that threatens other organisms who have never so much as dunked a cookie in milk.


Friday, January 23, 2004

Want to innovate? Get out, mingle....its the weak ties that count.
A recent study by Martin Ruef at Stanford Biz school used network science to help understand how entreprenuers come of with innovative ideas. Not surprisingly, part of the answer is exposure to a diverse set of people to spark ideas. Perhaps more surprisingly, the study showed that it was the "weak" network ties that contributed most to innovation, not the core relationships of the entreprenuer. How to find the 'next big thing' - 2004-01-15 - Silicon Valley/San Jose Business Journal


Wednesday, January 21, 2004

Evolving the Bad Guy! Here's a link to New Scientist's article that describes our work using evolutionary computing to anticipate hacker behavior.
New Scientist


Monday, January 19, 2004

The international Irish Music scene - Robustness in Action.

I spend a lot of my time preaching the virtues of robustness in a networked world. With a spade full of recent social network software offerings and publication of network-centric books (Six Degrees by Duncan Watts and Linked by Lazslo Barabasi), we need look no further than the traditional Irish Music movement for a great example of a robust, thriving network.

The Session, a site run by Jeremy Keith, is a hub in the exchange of jigs, reels, hornpipes and other types of tunes. Traditionally, the tunes have spread via sessions with players of a variety of instruments coming together to play. Jeremy also keeps a list of 500 sessions around the world, so any globle-trotting whistle player is never far from a cold pint and friendly group of fellow musicians.

Chiff and Fipple is the critical hub for all things whistle (as in tin, penny or Irish whistle). It is run by the Undisputed King of Internet Whistle Journalism, Dale Wisely. Now you might not think that there is much to say about a shrill, six hole musical instrument with a average retail price of about $7, but C & F is the meeting place for large and thriving group of musicans of all abilities and eccentricities.

Not only to these sites link a self-organized community of musicians, but it transmits the Irish Music cultural DNA via tunes in both print and digital media. Many of the songs go back hundreds of years, but are being played still in bars globally.

And if you find your local Irish Music Session becoming too crowded you have a few options. 1) Just pound down another Guinness and elbow your way in or, 2) fire up your computer and take a whack at Brian Arthur's (Irishman and Complexity pioneer) El Farol problem! ---http://www.santafe.edu/arthur/Papers/El_Farol.html

The Session

Chiff & Fipple: The Tinwhistle Internet Experience


Thursday, January 15, 2004

About the only thing cooler than a working robot on Mars would be.......a SWARM of Autonomous robots on Mars! Of course that would that away the fun of driving an innerspace remote control car. One day we will have to give up the joystick!
NASA'S M2K4:Roaming the Red Planet


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