Saturday, March 19, 2011

Podcast for Brilliant Brainstorms

This is a podcast created to let people know about Brilliant Brainstorms - a future-based company with a goal of creating new solar power options. Let me know what you think!
Brilliant Brainstorms Podcast 

Creative Commons Attribute: 

Music by mirandum

Friday, March 18, 2011

Holographic Virtual Room

Innovation:  holographic room allowing true immersion in a virtual environment 
Forces that would influence this innovation: 

Social – uses for the holographic room could be related to gaming and entertainment. The comfort level of users, price points for the technology, and types of activities available would determine whether the end users would embrace the technology or not. Games and entertainment in today’s world are social and interactive – as people are deciding what platform to purchase for their entertainment needs, one factor that is important is how many others are available to “play” with them, and what experiences can be shared. 

Political – another use for this type of technology would be for more realistic training opportunities for those in the military, life-saving personnel, etc. Funding for this type of technology could come as a result of political pressure to expose trainees to realistic simulations of potentially harmful events. Haptic feedback (already present on my cell phone) could be used to apply a buzz or small “zap” to the user to provide an alert that the trainee has been injured in some way. 

Technical – the technology for immersive virtual environments is in its early stages and being developed rapidly. The current technology does not allow for truly immersive experiences. Over time, research and development would have to progress in order to allow this innovation to develop and be able to be marketed. 

Financial – along with the need to create the technology, comes the need to make it affordable and supportable with existing infrastructure (space, power requirements, zoning issues, noise ordinances, etc.) If the cost to purchase and install the unit exceeds perceived value, the innovation will fail to take root and thrive. 

I would use the Nominal Group Technique (NGT) to explore this issue. Because of the potential for the innovation to be heavily social in implementation, getting groups to agree on the features important to a particular audience could focus development methods. I would explore training and entertainment options separately, as I feel these are distinctly different market segments with divergent needs and expectations. Respondents in an NGT process exploring consumer views benefit from high involvement and commitment, and the ranking process provides structure to the data collected. Providing a structured process in collecting data can help researchers avoid problems with individual opinion dominating overall discussion. (Claxton, Ritchie, & Zaichkowsky, 1980) This technique seems most suitable for getting rankings of which features are considered most important in the development of the holographic virtual environment. 

Reference: Claxton, J. D., Ritchie, J. R., & Zaichkowsky, J. (1980). The Nominal Group Technique in Consumer Research. Journal of Consumer Research , 7, 6.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Animoto Solar Power Video Short

Solar Power Can Save the World

Create your own video slideshow at

I created a short video on Animoto to showcase Solar Power.  The process was simple, but the features in the free account were fairly frustrating.  I started with 12 carefully selected items, based on the information in the site about shorts and what they contain.  I ended with 8 - all that would fit in the free format.  Too much time on Animoto's background, too little on the actual images and text I chose.  However, it was an interesting process overall.  Images are from Animoto or are Creative Commons licensed from Flickr.
In the wake of the earthquake and subsequent radiation leaks from the nuclear power plant in Japan, my thoughts jumped back to this prediction from our discussion of Herman Kahn's predictions in The Fortune Sellers and in our lecture (Sherden, 1998). One of his predictions was the use of nuclear explosives for excavation and power. We have nuclear power, but the leaks from Japan's Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant have lead to a spate of reactionary monologues on talk radio and online. Driving home from work, I heard one of the "talking heads" scream "I WANT COAL. KEEP BURNING COAL UNTIL THERE IS NOT A BRICK LEFT!" I don't know the name of the particular announcer, but the sentiment is not unique.

Although the disaster zone is in Japan, the US media seems focused more on possible damage to the US than I would have anticipated. Two of the top 8 articles (25%) of the articles from a recent search discussed possible implications to the US from leaking radiation. One of the remaining articles focused on evacuation of US citizens within a certain radius of the reactors. The media focus on the hazards and their potential to spread to the US feeds the hysteria of the groups that think nuclear power generation should never have been allowed.

One of the forces that helped nuclear power generation succeed was the economic incentives created by inexpensive power usage. Political forces also come to bear - government regulation of utilities leads to close scrutiny of the actions of those companies. In some cases, nuclear power plants are government owned and operated; in others government funding subsidized the building of the plants. In Japan, nuclear power allows for generation of power for the millions living there. The close proximity to water has been a key component of the geographic placement of nuclear power plants, and as an island nation, Japan has plenty of access to land near water.

Forces also exist that limit the potential of nuclear energy uses. Fears of what the radiation leaks will do in the long term limit the availability of future excavators and power companies to construct reactors or nuclear bombs for business purposes. Another negative potential impact of this type of event is the reduction in funding for nuclear-based research. Nuclear fission reactions generate enormous energy, and researchers have worked diligently to make the end results better - more power generation, safer and lower quantities of radioactive waste, etc. Continuing to provide funding for research is necessary to make the technology safer. The US funded a long-running set of projects (Project Plowshare) that explored alternate uses of nuclear explosions. Although many of the options showed promise in the projects, eventually the political climate changed and the research was abandoned (Madrigal, 2009). Existing political opposition is coupled with concerns for long-term environmental impact. These issues will limit the potential for the complete fulfillment of Kahn's prophesy. In fact, given sufficient pressure, the uses we have seen for nuclear power may regress in the long run.

This may actually prove to be a positive end result, although the time-line may be 50+ years in the making. If the pressure caused by medical and environmental concerns from radiation forces the eventual closure of nuclear power plants, perhaps more funding and attention will be available for sustainable energy initiatives. Solar power and other alternatives may be the beneficiaries of this tragedy.


Madrigal, A. (2009, April 10). 7 (Crazy) Civilian Uses for Nuclear Bombs. Retrieved March 17, 2011, from Wired Science:

Sherden, W. A. (1998). The Fortune Sellers. New York: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

GoogleDocs for Innovation

I have been using GoogleDocs to share files with my Teaching Assistants since 2008. I have searched the web off and on over the last several weeks to try and find something newer, better, stronger, faster to support my Socio-Technical Innovation, and have come back to the site I know. My innovation revolves around creating better technology for harnessing the power of the sun, and then deploying that technology in creative ways to improve life.

One of the first areas I would like to exploit is the desalination of sea water. A solar-powered facility could purify and pump water potentially long distances, with periodic aggregation and redistribution sites as needed. In order to make solar power a viable long-term solution, the cost of power production must decline, while the durability of products must increase. This will involve getting together a team of scientists, engineers and materials experts in order to generate the flow of ideas that will lead to the next great solar power breakthroughs.

GoogleDocs is helpful in this kind of collaboration because (1) it creates a cloud-based file storage system with built-in ability to share or hide information. A major bonus of the system is the easy accessibility of files from any location with internet access. Files can also be downloaded for working offline, then uploaded when modifications are complete. (2) GoogleDocs keeps track of revisions, so you know who made the most recent changes to the documents. Because I have used this tool so effectively in my own work, I see it as a critical component of collaboration and innovation.  It is a great combination of technical innovation leading to superior, practical sharing of ideas across time and distance.

Ideally research would be funded by non-profit groups, and experts world-wide could collaborate to create improved solar power technologies for humanitarian purposes. The research could also be shared, and modified by those wishing to pursue profits from the new advances. In the long run, everyone can benefit from an open project to improve solar power options.


Biogenetic Medicine

In Technology's Promise, Halal speculates on a variety of potential future technological developments.  One area he discusses is biogenetic medicine.  The DNA mapping has already lead to the discovery of specific genetic markers for inheritable diseases.  Stem cell research holds the promise of potentially replacing diseased or damaged organs.  We can (and do) manipulate the DNA of crops to make them more hardy, pest-resistant, etc.  Bacteria and retro-viruses have been modified to offer methods of introducing specific DNA into a particular host organism.  Over time, DNA modification could be used to attempt to replace a specific genome sequence indicating high probability for breast cancer with a healthy sequence inserted at that point through some type of "infection" mechanism, so new cells would replicate with the healthy sequence rather than the unhealthy.  Such technological advances come with a host of ethical, moral, and environmental issues.  Aside from the basic "is it ethical to do this" questions, we also have a question of "is it advantageous to the planet as a whole to do this?"  If we prolong the lives of people on the planet now substantially and exponentially (by decades rather than the current incremental improvements in longevity) how do we ensure our population is sustainable with the resources at hand?  How do we modify and manage birth rates to keep from over-crowding our finite planetary options?  Or, do we need to explore similar growth in planetary expansion and settlement to avoid over-population and ecosystem destruction here on Earth?  Reaching further down this path, if we prolong life indefinitely, and restrict reproduction in order to remain sustainable, what do we give up in innovation and creativity?  If the next Einstein, Mozart, etc. is never born due to population controls, where do we get the next great innovation.  Do we run the risk of creating a stagnating society because fresh ideas and fresh energy do not come along every generation to replace our existing outdated thinking?

Curing sickness is good.  Prolonging life is good.  But I have to wonder, how do we know when too much of a good thing turns bad...

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Sixth Sense

In this video, the creator of a computer-human-real world interface named "Sixth Sense," Prahav Mistry, demonstrates pieces of the evolution of his interface, as well as showing some of the potential uses.

Two areas of interest here are the incremental steps Pranav took to create this interface - beginning with the rollers of two mice and expanding to incorporate camera, projector, etc. Another key point is made in the conclusion of his video, when Pranav states "I think that integrating information to everyday objects will not only help us to get rid of the digital divide, the gap between these two worlds, but will also help us, in some way, to stay human, to be more connected to our physical world. And it will help us, actually, not be machines sitting in front of other machines." Allowing us to take our information out into the world and use it ANYWHERE we go is much better than the concept of a future in which we are chained to our machines, never interacting with the world outside. Using technological advances to make us more mobile, more social, in addition to providing educational context for any object we want to learn about is intriguing. When (or if) the source code becomes available, I can see myself purchasing hardware to create my own sixth sense interface.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Plasma Propulsion

In a recent Nova segment on PBS, the topic was improvements that will allow us to travel to Mars much faster - 35 miles per second in space.

Chapter 5 of the video below discusses Plasma Rockets as a means to travel much faster than currently possible - mere months rather than 2.5 years using current rocket technologies.  Called the Vasomere, it uses nuclear reactors to heat argon gas to plasma stage - creating super fast movement, in addition to super heat!! Tests have hit over a million degrees.  The current idea is to use superconducting magnets to contain the plasma in a magnetic field - protecting the surrounding materials from instant vaporization.  

Watch the full episode. See more NOVA scienceNOW.

The Vasomere is set to be tested in space in 2014.  From that point, this amazing technological innovation has enormous potential to change the global economy in dramatic ways.  Along with other advances in space exploration technology, the Vasomere brings us into the realm of making colonizing or pulling resources from nearby planets a possibility.  And, with the enormous increase in speed, it gives us the option to send unmanned probes out farther and faster in exploration.  Depending on what we find out there, manned missions could follow.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Behavior Modification

Changing people's behavior through modifying surroundings, incorporating technology, and including an element of fun - what a concept!

If more efforts to "engineer" human behavior included elements of innovation and pure fun and play, what impact could we have on the world around us?

Definitely food for thought...

2010 Horizon Report

The 2010 Horizon Report discusses a number of technologies and trends that are judged to be important to the future of "teaching, learning and creative inquiry" in the coming years, as well as a number of challenges associated with these upcoming changes.  Of the greatest interest to me is the link between one of the trends and the technology associated with it.

The trend of interest:
"People expect to be able to work, learn, and study whenever and wherever they want to."
2010 Horizon Report Johnson, Laurence F., Levine, Alan, Smith, Rachel S. and Stone, Sonja. 2010 Horizon Report. Austin, TX: The New Media Consortium, 2010. 

The technology: "Mobile computing, by which we mean use of the network-capable devices students are already carrying" coming into more widespread use in classrooms.
The convergence of this trend and this technology has implications into both social and technological areas.  Technologically, we have the capability to expand our classrooms outward to encompass any location in which the student may be located.  However, the technology presents a number of challenges.  I am a fairly sophisticated user, and have worked with a variety of formats for e-learning.  One that has me frustrated at the moment is the use of audio books.  I love the ease of listening to the audio book while I drive, cook dinner, etc.  It gives me a way to extend my education into time that would otherwise be "wasted" in the sense of not being used to accomplish any of my most important goals.  However, audio books checked out from different libraries have different formats.  Some work on the PC you download them to, and that is all.  Some will transfer to an Apple device (iPod, iPad, etc.) but not to other mobile devices.  Some work on Windows mobile devices, but not others.  None appear to work well on my Android-based smartphone.  If I want to hear my book, I have had to carry my laptop with me and set it up at max volume in the passenger seat of my car to hear certain titles.  I do end up able to "work, learn and study" where I want to (in my car), but it isn't easy, intuitive or even especially effective.  I have the feeling less determined (stubborn?) users would give up trying at some point short of finding the sub-optimal solution that I came up with.

Socially, the dynamic of learning changes as we learn how to collaborate, interact and teach with a "virtual" student body rather than with the physically captive audience in a lecture hall.  Students located in remote environments have a greater potential for distraction than those who come to class.  In an Adobe Connect lecture I gave this week, the one student attending the class was listening to me from her desk at work.  Somehow I doubt if either my topic or the work she was doing got her best efforts in this multitasking.  When the students are in front of me, I know who is paying attention and who is texting or playing Angry Birds in class.  With the virtual environment, normal social cues are replaced with text.  I can't see where the blank stares are versus where the light bulbs have illuminated.  With no feedback other than the absence of specific questions, I find myself unsure if I have covered materials sufficiently and can move on to the next topic, or if I need to try to find another way to explain capital budgeting so it makes sense to this group of students.  As the trend to push more of the educational process out to mobile devices continues, I can't help wondering if all this convenience comes to us at the cost of effectiveness in really understanding the materials presented.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

"Programmed for Love"

In the following article from the Chronicle:

the author suggests that human to human interaction is being replaced by human to computer interaction.  Social media sites like Facebook offer us the illusion of interaction with other people, while we are actually tied to our technology.  Many people feel compelled to maintain their technological connections - causing my husband to label these items as "electronic pacifiers."

In the article, the author discusses how the ever-present technology often keeps us from focusing on the people around us. We interrupt dinner to check email or answer the phone, we tend our farm cows instead of talking to our families.  However, another threat exists in technological advances.  As technology improves and becomes more "human" - able to mimic facial expressions, tone of voice, etc., there is a risk that people will form an inappropriate emotional attachment to their machines.  In Star Trek, the android Data was able to simulate a relationship and the appropriate responses by pulling segments from movies and videos into his memory and copying them in his interactions.  One author suggests that replacing humans with robots is acceptable - that people in the future may choose to marry robots.  Another warns of the risks of putting machines in roles only human beings should fill.

In thinking about this, I find myself somewhere in the middle.  One feature of robots is that they are not judgmental.  I might be more comfortable confessing my flaws to a robot therapist, knowing that there would be no "what a terrible person you are" running through the back of the therapist's mind in our conversations.  At the same time, I don't believe marriage to a robot would be emotionally sustaining.  I would love a robot cook, housekeeper, laundress, yard worker, but the purpose for me would be to free up time for me and my (very human) husband to do more enjoyable things together.  I have two dogs that love me, but they don't fill my need for love and companionship in the same way that my husband and friends do.  And, I don't think a robot - no matter how sophisticated - can fill that place either.  Regardless of the sophistication of the programming algorithms, I doubt robots will be able to mirror the complexity of true human interaction.  So, keep the robots to the menial tasks, and I'll stick to people when I feel the need to be social.

Friday, January 7, 2011

"Kno" What I Mean?

I recently read about the Kno tablet at the Campus Technology site.  The Kno is another in the line of many devices attempting to make us believe their product is "THE" answer to all our problems - in this case all our portable educational technology problems. I have been exploring how people use different technologies to make higher education easier, especially ways to help non-techies with online learning.  The Kno boasts an interface with academic publishers that may make it easier to use electronic textbooks.  And, it has a two screen model that looks interesting. 

I haven't gotten my hands on one, but I would love to be able to see an electronic textbook with "pages" facing one another on the two screens, just like in a "real" textbook.  In some subjects, because of the way I learned how to learn years ago, it is important  for me to be able to scan across information and see a comprehensive picture of the information.  I like being able to see the image, figure or table referenced at the same time as I am reading about it on the next or previous page.  But, I also want to be able to select different areas or pages and put them in smaller windows to expand, minimize or move as I see fit.  I want to add my own written or verbal notes to the e-text and share them with others for collaborative learning.  Oh, and I want to use voice commands in addition to touch.  And I probably want other features that I haven't even imagined yet.  All for a buck fifty :-)

The Kno also boasts of a platform designed around touch.  My question is whether the e-text publishers have adapted their products to the technology.  I am guessing that they are probably behind the curve on this one, and it will be some time before the two are perfectly meshed.  Since the product is shipping on an invitation only basis for now, we will have to wait for one of the lucky "winners" to give us a review.  I requested an invite, but I am not sure if I will actually purchase the product if asked.  The price tag is a bit hefty for me to shell out sight-unseen.  The price point is a sticking point for many students as well - the Kno may be priced out of the current market for higher ed students.  After all, if $600 buys you a computer or tablet you can head over to BestBuy and try out versus a tablet you can't touch with limited storage capacity, which would YOU choose?  I know which way my wallet leans...

But - who knows - maybe I will be one of the uber-lucky 10 who win a free model!  If I do, I will be sure to share how it works AND how it needs improvement.