Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Science magazine achievement of the year

This has been reported ad nauseum in the blogosphere, so I will add to the list.  I am glad that Science chose Evolution as its achievement for 2005.  The Chimp sequence is great, but the SNP project and the sequence of the 1918 flu pandemic virus are much more interesting. And despite the misgivings of Bill Joy and Ray Kurzweil (subscription required) about the flu virus, science needs to understand disease and other phenomena.  This is just the start.  Hopefully the years to come will allow us to learn a lot more about our evolutionary history.

Science's Breakthrough of the Year: Watching evolution in action | Science Blog

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Sunday, December 25, 2005


I am in the process of moving my blog to wordpress and my own site. Watch this space

I have also shut off comments for now while I try and get things moved over

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Friday, December 23, 2005

Geoffrey Moore, strategy and business models

In the December issue of Harvard Business Review, Geoffrey Moore has an article entitled  Strategy and the Stronger Hand where he talks about two distinct models of businesses.   While I generally agree with some of what Geoffrey has to say in this article, it  brought to mind another set of articles by Chris Anderson at Wired, where he talks about "The Long Tail".  In Geoffrey's view there are two kinds of company: those with a complex systems model (IBM comes to mind) and those with a volume model, e.g. Dell.  The rest of the article focuses on the differences in the value chain for each type of business and the potential pitfalls of one business model merging with the other.  In "The Long Tail" fit into this scenario, Chris talks about the many niche markets that can be very profitable.  Where does this fit into the Moore article?  Well it does not fit in directly, since Chris talks more about companies that fit the volume model.  But it got me thinking about the smaller niche companies that fit the "complex systems" model.  Companies that do not do billion dollar deals but form part of a complex system in the Moore model.  Does the success of such a company depend on finding the right alliances so that it can be part of a complete solution?  Is there a place for a smaller specialized company to be highly profitable on its own?  My opinion is that in todays market, such a company can fill the following two roles: 
  • A disruptive role, where the company throws a wrench into the entire fabric of the value chain that Moore describes.  Under this model for the parts of the process that the company fills the customer will be willing to pay a premium for the product.  The end-to-end solution provider then has two choices (1) to either understand that for a particular niche they can't provide the solution or (2) work with the disruptive force to ensure that the customer has the best user experience.  This would be the ideal situation for the niche company, but a potentially risky one
  • A collaborative role where the company builds itself  up to be part of an end-to-end solution.  This would require a  product that easily fits into existing end-to-end solutions and, very likely, an alignment with a complex systems provider.  This is a lower risk solution and one that many companies probably aspire to.

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The "Live Forever" crowd

Ah the "Live Forever" crowd. I have never understood the obsession with extending life. It is one thing to beat disease and illness. It is another to want to reverse or slow down aging to an extent that we live for a couple of hundred years. I strongly believe that those technologists that spend a large portion of their thought process on this subject would be doing society a service by channeling their thoughts elsewhere. I know many of them already do that, but I would spend a lot more time thinking about energy, healthcare, communication and the means of building a world which does not have to worry about making ends meet. There are aspects of anti-aging that fall within the above topics, which are very relevant.

What confuses me is how absolutely brilliant people like Ray Kurzweil, for whom I have a lot of respect, focus on the regenerative aspects and medicine. Question becomes: Do we want to alter our natural aging process, or do we want to live healthy, disease free lives. Longevity will be a natural offshoot of the latter, but IMHO, that's where our focus should be. Science and technology are meant to be leveraged to improve how we live and what we know. Lets use them responsibly and for the right reasons ("right" being VERY subjective)

Further Reading
The Impact of Emerging Technologies: Fictional Science
I am going to live forever

Beyond Human

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Cell-based nano machine

From the Whitehead Institute

Cell-based nano machine breaks record | Science Blog

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Tackling brain cancer with nanotechnology

One of the more significant potential applications of nanotechnology is the early diagnosis and treatment of cancer. The possibility of targeted cancer treatments, pre-symptomatic detection and diagnosis. The national cancer institute is one of the leading advocates of nanotechnology in the battle against cancer. Their cancer nanotechnology website is highly recommended

read more | digg story

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A small victory for evolution

A court ruled that ID cannot be taught in classes in PA. In general I do not blog about this debate, since this such an irrelevant argument that I do not want to bgive it any airtime, but one can always make exceptions!!. Why am I happy about the decision? The biggest problem with ID is that it is limited to essentially one religion, which automatically assumes that one religion is correct and the others are not. That alone makes the concept unpalatable and a that belongs to classes in theology or science philosophy.

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Monday, December 19, 2005

Biotech entrepreneurs

As someone who has been on the business side of biotech for a few years, I found the following article rather interesting. Can a dual-degree in biotech and business really achieve its intended purpose? I would suggest that in general, such a degree is not going to change the career path of the enrolled students. A better solution might be to allow biology/bioinformatics/chemistry grads to pursue elective courses in finance and marketing. That would allow the more business-oriented lot to learn some of the technical aspects of business and choose to follow that path if they need to.

I strongly believe that any success I have had (or am likely to have) on the business end of biotech/nanotech has been driven by my strong scientific background (undiluted by business studies) and by learning the business end the hard way; in the trenches. I would say that the majority of biotech-inclined graduate students are more apt to be interested in the scientific aspects and those who tend to drift towards the business end do so gradually. The more entrepreneurial would probably have gone down that route anyway, regardless of degree.

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Friday, December 09, 2005

Google and Personalized Medicine?

All I will say is "Hmmm ... very interesting"

Sergey Brin on Google and personalized medicine
. Of course, this is under the assumption that the quote is correct.

Friday, December 02, 2005

Thoughts on grid computing

For many years people have talked about grid computing. In the scientific computing business, grid computing has been considered by many to be a panacea for various computing problems and there a number of projects are that try and tap into the power of grids. Examples include the world community grid from IBM and United Devices or the efforts from BOINC.

While community grids probably work well for the kinds of projects listed above, I have always wondered how useful they will be for more specific applications, e.g. a drug discovery effort at a pharma company. There are companies that are running grids, to they really give better results than a cluster. IMO, cluster computing has certain advantages for an IT group and in terms of efficiency that a grid cannot achieve in reality. While Prof. Charles Brooks via Predictor@home has demonstrated how multiscale modeling efforts can be applied to grids, I am still somewhat uncertain about the success in a commercial setting. Cluster computing, for now, would be my preference if I was an IT manager. Certainly there are applications, such as lower-priority, long term projects where a grid solution would be optimal (e.g. a routine, version controlled genome annotation project) as it can keep humming along in the background when resources are found within an organization. On the other hand, for a mission critical project (e.g. virtual screening for a specific kinase target), I would prefer to deploy a cluster, i.e. resources that I can control.

What do others think?

Further Reading

Sun's Grid Flop
Cluster Computing
Clusters better than grids

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Biology and Computing

When I got involved in computational science many years ago, the power, or lack thereof, of computing was one of the most frustrating parts of doing research. Getting time on centralized supercomputing resources was never easy and to solve problems, one had to make many approximations, just to make the solutions computationally feasible. Things started changing in the late 90's when Linux clusters started becoming feasible, robust and cheap. Suddenly, large computational resources were available to almost anyone and without that the whole genomics/bioinformatics boom would never have happened. I think the field is ready for the next "big thing". Routine calculations on large systems can now be done on commodity machines. With Microsoft jumping into the fray with their CCS beta, it is evident that HPC has firmly arrived. Specialized hardware (e.g. blue gene) is being used for complex calculations on living and non-living systems. That said, I think the industry is ready for either the next big leap in computing architectures that will allow the complex calculations that require a blue gene to become more accessible, or a change in usage paradigm, which will allow improved, easier access to these specialized resources. On-demand computing for scientific and technical applications is a hitherto untapped paradigm that can, in theory, bring high-performance computing to a larger set of users. As we seek to unlock the mysteries of cellular machinery, regulatory networks, nanotechnology and many other fascinating fields, a radical change in how computing is accessed or the hardware that we use is needed, and hopefully not too far away.

Science and growing up

I wonder how children percieve science these days? When I was growing up, I had a fascination for the world around me and how it worked. As I started learning more about gravity and the reason the sky was blue, I remember being absolutely awestruck by the simple elegance of some of the science (qualitatively at least) and that early interest is probably why I ended up becoming a scientist. I remember what a big deal the first in vitro fertilization was back in the day. Today I have a feeling people will not even notice. Somehow, and I could be completely wrong, people and as a result children have started taking things for granted. Science is driven by curiosity, by the need to learn more, to understand, and in this world of fast food and instant rice, I am not sure we have the time. The funny thing is that the information revolution has given us tools that can make finding the information (good and bad) a lot easier. All one has to do is go to Wikipedia or use our good friend Google.

Maybe I am just being unnecessarily pessimistic. Maybe kids are using the information available to find out more about what makes nature tick, and just maybe enough of them will learn to respect and understand it to go on and actually make it a career.

Further Reading
2 cents worth
. A post that echoes a sentiment I feel. People are not that interested in "why" anymore.

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