Computer Game Makes You a Genetic Scientist by Lisa Grossman (Crowdsourced Science)

A new online game harnesses the computational power of idle brains to help decipher the origins of genetic diseases.

The game, called Phylo, stands on the shoulders of crowdsourced science giants like the protein-folding game Foldit and the celestial object identification powerhouse Galaxy Zoo. Each project takes advantage of humans’ prowess at pattern recognition, something computers are notoriously terrible at.

“There are some tasks that humans can do better than computers, like solving puzzles,” said bioinformatics expert Jerome Waldispuhl of McGill University, one of Phylo’s project leaders. The game was officially launched Nov. 29.

Phylo players move colored squares representing the four nucleotides of DNA to find the best alignment between snippets of DNA from two different species. These particular sections of DNA, called promoter regions, determine which parts of the genome end up as traits in the organism, whether it be blue eyes or heart disease.

Seeing where the genes line up across species can help biologists pinpoint the sources of genetic disorders.

“If some region is conserved across all species after alignment, it probably was conserved for some very specific reason,” Waldispuhl said. “We should be able to provide better understanding of the reason for which mutation potentially will create a disease, or why this disease appears.”

Unlike in Foldit or Galaxy Zoo, the science in Phylo is pretty well hidden. It feels like an abstract puzzle game, with colorful shapes and jazzy music. That was deliberate, Waldispuhl says.

“We don’t want to be restricted only to the people interested in science,” he said. Science geeks won’t need as much convincing to play a game that helps research move forward, he says. The Phylo developers want the game to appeal to people who would otherwise play Farmville.

“If it’s not fun, people won’t play it,” Waldispuhl said. “We wanted a good trade-off between what’s fun, and what’s the interesting information in science… so that when we provide the game on the web, people won’t think about the biological problem, but just have fun and be entertained.”

The team hopes to make versions of the game for smart phones and tablets, and eventually to incorporate it into social networking sites like Facebook. The game already has its own Facebook page, where you can leave feedback.

“The only way to make it better for the community is to release it to the community, and open it to comments from around the world,” Waldispuhl said.

‘This Week’ Transcript: The Giving Pledge

There’s been this increasing disparity between the rich and the poor, and we found out that a rising tide just lifted all yachts, not all boats.

Warren Buffett has been practically begging the country – begging the congress to tax him more. In fact many of the richest Americans like Buffett, Bill and Melinda gates and ted turner say they should pay higher tax.

BUFFETT: the rich are always going to say that you know, just give us the money and we’ll go out and spend more and then it will all trickle down to the rest of you. But that has not worked the last 10 years, and I hope the American public is catching on.

The debate over whether the rich should pay more taxes takes place outside Washington, DC as well. In Washington State for instance where Bill Gates Sr. has been passionately championing a new tax on the rich. Washington is one of seven states with no state income tax.

AMANPOUR: Proposition 1098 that was in Washington state to try to bring a wealth tax championed by Bill Gates, Sr., supported by Bill Gates, it failed.

BUFFETT: Right. Got beat pretty badly, but I really admire Bill Sr. for what he did on this. I mean there’s a guy that’s going out and trying to do something for his state and, unfortunately, lost.

AMANPOUR: What do you say though to the executives? One, apparently, was even a Microsoft executive who spent a lot of money trying to defeat that.

BUFFETT: they’re not alone in those look at who fights in terms of the estate tax and in terms of higher tax rate. That’s what K Streets all about in Washington. And, unfortunately, the politics is a game of push and pull and you get to push with money.

AMANPOUR: Are you disappointed that it got defeated?

B. GATES: I voted yes and I was hoping that it would pass. But that’s done now.

AMANPOUR: If people aren’t going to pay for the services that they need, how are those services going to get funded, do you think?

B. GATES: Well, taxes and spending have to match each other in the long run. There’s many ways to tax, there’s many ways to spend. That’s all up to the voters. Some states, you rely on your legislators to do that. Some, you have lots of referendums. AMANPOUR: Do you agree with the former Federal Reserve Chairman, Alan Greenspan that all Bush era tax cuts should come to an end?

BUFFETT: no, I think — or actually you might extend them further for the lower class, middle class, maybe upper middle class but I think that you should raises taxes on the very rich. I lived in periods where capital gains taxes were 39.6 percent, when earned income taxes were 70 percent and our economy did just fine.

AMANPOUR: why do you think there isn’t there more of that kind of debate….

BUFFETT: I think that it hasn’t been to the interest of the people in Washington to get as riled up about that as they get riled up about other things. You know, we’re going to raise $2.2 trillion this year or something like that. Nine hundred billion will come from individual income taxes. Nine hundred billion will come from payroll taxes. So the payroll taxes become 40 percent of our total revenue just like the income tax. And people that talk about how the rich pay their share and all that sort of thing, they totally ignore the payroll tax. You know, I did this little survey in my office a few years ago and there were 16 people who responded. And I had the lowest tax rate of the 16. I didn’t have any tax shelters. I didn’t have any tax planner. It was all courtesy of the U.S. Congress. I mean, they did my tax planning for me. And, literally, the average for the office, counting payroll taxes was 32 percent and mine was 16 and a fraction percent.

AMANPOUR: their rationale is that by giving you a tax break, so to speak, which is what it amounts to, you help all the others…that it trickles down.

BUFFETT: Yes. Well, all I can say it hasn’t trickled. You know, as I said, a rising tide has listed all yachts, but the row boats have been left behind.

TURNER: I still pay quite a bit of taxes but not as much as I would if I didn’t give so much money away. I get a lot of deductions.

AMANPOUR: so what do you think about the prospects of cutting Social Security –and means testing for people like you

TURNER: Well I don’t like it. I paid for Social Security. It’s my own money I’m getting back. Social Security, we get taxed for Social Security. In my opinion. I think Social Security — since you paid for it, it’s yours and you’re entitled to get it.


BUFFETT My wealth has come from a combination of living in America, some lucky genes, and compound interest. (Both) my children and I won what I call the ovarian lottery.


AMANPOUR: was it difficult at first to sort of go from making that money to giving it away? Did your hands shake? Did your heart stop?

BUFFETT: No, it was not difficult to make the decision. My wife and I made the decision back when we were in our twenties that we were going to do it. The question was how to do it. And it’s much easier to make it than it is to give it away intelligently.

We have been blessed with good fortune beyond our wildest expectations and we are profoundly grateful. But just as these gifts are great, so we feel a great responsibility to use them well.


AMANPOUR: What was the personal, mental shift between making all that money and then deciding to give it away?

M GATES: I think that’s an important thing to understand about Bill and me, which is we knew — even during the time we were engaged, we talked about the fact that this wealth would go back to society. That was a given between us, because we both grew up in families where volunteerism was really important, giving back was really important. And Bill had thought it was going to be later in his career, in his 60s. But once we started getting going in a small way, it builds on itself.

I don’t measure success in numbers. But I consider my contribution of more than $1.3 billion to various causes over the years to be one of my proudest accomplishments and the best investment I’ve ever made


AMANPOUR: Was it scary to give a third of your wealth away?

TURNER: It is scary because everybody is always afraid that they’re going to go broke.


BUFFETT: I’ve got everything I possibly need. I’ve never given up a meal, a movie, a vacation trip, anything in my life. And I’ve got all this huge surplus. I’ve got a whole bunch of what I call claim checks on society. Little stock certificates. They sit in a box and have been there for 40 years. They can’t do anything for me. They can do a lot for other people if intelligently used.

AMANPOUR: you said you won the ovarian lottery. Is that because of opportunity? Was it because of smarts?

BUFFETT: It was being born in America in 1930. I was born in the right country at the right time. Bill Gates has always told me if I had been born, you know, many thousands of years ago, I’d have been some animal’s lunch because I can’t run very fast, I can’t climb trees, and some animal would be chasing me and I say, well, I allocate capital. The animal would say, those are the kind that taste the best. You know?

AMANPOUR: And how did you get your head around not giving it all to your children?

BUFFETT: Well, I just think the idea of dynastic wealth is kind of crazy. The idea that you should be able to do nothing in this world, you know, for the rest of your life and your children and your grandchildren just because you picked the right womb does not really seem to be very American.

AMANPOUR: If you’re not giving up anything, are you a do-gooder? Are you a philanthropist?

BUFFETT: I’m somebody doing something that’s very logical to me. And I consider the real philanthropist the person who sticks $5.00 in a collection plate this Sunday and can’t go to a movie because of it. Plenty of people do that. They actually give up an extra toy for their kids at Christmas by giving that $5.00 or $10.00. I consider somebody like my sister who spends hours every day working to help other people. They’re giving away time which is precious.

AMANPOUR: And yet you have called it a moral obligation.

BUFFETT: Well, it’s certainly an internal obligation. I mean, I don’t want to preach morality to other people. But it’s — I don’t see any other choice that makes any sense. I mean, I could build a pyramid to myself and I could kill tourism in Egypt. You know, if I spent the whole $40 or $50 billion on building the greatest tomb ever and people would come for a couple of hundred years. But I think that’s kind of crazy.

AMANPOUR: So would you say you’re egoless?

BUFFETT: No, I’m not egoless. I take great pride in, you know, what Berkshire Hathaway does if we do well. And, I mean, I like accomplishing things and if I accomplish them, I like other people acknowledging that. So, no, I’ve got plenty of ego. But I don’t believe in spending money that doesn’t do anything for me when it will do something for somebody else.


BUFFETT: I’ve told them, they’re a failure if they don’t have any failures, because if they just do easy things, you know, anybody can do those. They’re supposed to tackle tough, important problems and, to some extent, ones where funding is otherwise not available. That’s where you make a difference.


BUFFETT: they have this identical goal that every human life is the equivalent of every other human life.

AMANPOUR: Describe how you chose the areas that you chose, and why you chose those when there are so many government programs, let’s say, for education or, indeed, for global health.

B. GATES: Well, we looked around and saw that the greatest miracle that had happened for everybody on Earth is that as health had improved, it not only saved lives, it reduced sickness, let kids be able to learn. But that also led to the stabilization of the population wherever good health was created.

M. GATES: And also, we really started with the premise that all lives, all lives have equal value no matter where they live on the globe. So, that’s Bangladesh, or that’s Boston, or that’s in Britain somewhere. But in the U.S. we feel the greatest inequity is education, that not every child in this country is getting a phenomenal education. And they ought to that’s the civil rights issue in our country.


AMANPOUR: Where do you think education can make a change and a difference?

B. GATES: Well, the biggest thing would be is if teachers were getting lots of feedback about what they’re doing well and what they’re not doing well, and if the incentive system encouraged them to teach other teachers when they’re doing it well, to learn from others. And so the average quality would go up.


M GATES: We talked to about 10 teachers who were willing to be videoed in the public school system in Memphis. And they say — and some of them have been teachers for a long time. And they say, “Watch my video with me.” And you sit down and watch the video, and they say, “Look at this. I was doing great teaching this lesson. And look when I lost that boy in the back of the classroom. Look at when I lost that girl.””I needed to let the kids have a break at that point. I needed to teach my lesson in a slightly different way. And I’m showing it to my other peer teacher to compare our lessons.” They want to change the craft of their teaching and get better. And that, I think, is remarkable.

AMANPOUR: And does it trouble you that in terms of where American students are, in terms of university graduation, that they’re now — we’ve gone from 1, now down to 12 over the last several years?

M. GATES: You know, if you say, OK, of all the kids that start in 9th grade in high school in the United States, you say, literally, only one-third are ready to go on and succeed in college. We’re leaving behind two-thirds of our U.S. kids in the public school system. That, to me, speaks right there to what the problem is that’s broken. And it’s got to be fixed. You can’t have a democracy where only a third of the kids participate. And that’s why we’re so focused on the issue.

AMANPOUR: you talk about democracies which obviously there are elected officials who are meant to be taking care of these kinds of things. Are you stepping in because our democracy is failing in this regard?

B. GATES: No. There’s been a history in the United States for several centuries now where an approach that’s more innovative requires some extra funding to get going. and so the idea of charter schools at first they required extra money and some of these new curriculum approaches require extra money. The work to measure effective teachers, to pay for the videos that Melinda talked about, they’re not going to take that out of their normal funds. So maybe they should have more experimental money, but they don’t. So the role of philanthropy is to make that possible. Now, they get to decide which of these things really work. And they get to apply the big dollars, which is their regular spending on students, so our role is catalytic to let them see new approaches.


M. GATES: We think in our lifetime we will get an AIDS vaccine. It’s not an easy problem, but you have to work upstream. The only way we’re ever really going to get at AIDS is with a vaccine. We might get an interim tool for women that they can use, a drug, a pill that they could use to keep them from contracting AIDS, but if you want to solve AIDS, you can’t just treat all the people with it you’ve got to get vaccine.


B. GATES: The United States government is the biggest funder of an AIDS vaccine. We’re, I think, the second, and so there’s a lot of different approaches that are getting funded.


GATES: We are particularly helpful when we can gather the right group of scientists, take a long-term point of view and keep the visibility of the impact as high as possible.


AMANPOUR: How do they react when you take them to some of the abject poverty that exists in this world?

M. GATES: I don’t think you can go into an AIDS orphanage and not leave a changed person. And so even though the orphanages that we’ve been in, in South Africa, with them look really nice, they know at the end of the day, when we leave, those children don’t have any parents. And that affects a child deeply.

CHRISTIANE: most people assume that they’re going to leave whatever they’ve made and whatever they’ve done to their offspring. But you don’t feel that way.

B GATES: I don’t think it’s a favor to a child or to society to have immense amount of wealth bequeathed to them simply because of the family they’re in. You know, they want to develop their own identity, their own excellence. And clearly, they’re going to get some benefit in terms of going to great schools and broad exposure, but then have a chance to make their own way.

M GATES: and I think what we’ve tried to instill in our own kids is that with great wealth comes incredible, enormous responsibility.


TURNER: I don’t believe it’s really healthy to pass on fortunes to children just because they’re your children. They’re not necessarily more worthy than anyone else — and if they get everything from their parents or from the previous generations then their life doesn’t have the kind of meaning or the challenges that being able to make it on their own does.

AMANPOUR: what was your highest net wealth?

TURNER: Close to 10.

AMANPOUR: And it plummeted with the plunging of the Time Warner stock to —

TURNER: Less than two.

AMANPOUR: How did you stomach that?

TURNER: I lost $10 million a day every day for three years. I stayed with Time Warner because my family and friends had a lot of stock in the company and I was on the board and I just — I was like the captain of the Titanic. I went down with the ship. It hurt because I worked hard to get that money. I’ve worked hard. Like that song, “She Works Hard for her Money.” That was my theme song.

AMANPOUR: How did you triumph over that?

TURNER: I just — I hung in there. But I had a rough couple of years. I lost most of my fortune. I lost my job. I lost my wife, and I lost a grandchild, passed away. All in the same year. And I thought about giving up. But I couldn’t give up because then what would I do? I wasn’t going to go — quitters never win and winners never quit. I remember — that’s kind of been my slogan for a long time.

AMANPOUR: Did philanthropy fill a void?

TURNER: Yes. But during that year I didn’t give a whole lot away because I was trying to hang on to what little bit was left

AMANPOUR: when you gave the money to the United Nations you said, I want to put all you rich people on notice. I’m coming after you to give more money.

TURNER: Well I said that and just by saying that, it caused a lot of people, I’m sure, to think about it.

AMANPOUR: did you know Bill Gates and Warren Buffett before that?

TURNER: I did. I didn’t know them real well but I knew them knew them

AMANPOUR: What did you want them to do and others like them?

TURNER: Well, to consider giving now. They were already considering giving. Everybody who’s rich has considered — considers it. It’s just a question of whether they do it or not because it’s so much easier not to do it. But Bill and — Bill Gates and Warren with this Giving Pledge, they’re out there really taking a leadership position and I’m proud to know them and be partner with them because we do — the U.N. Foundation and the Nuclear Threat Initiative does a number of joint projects with both of them.

AMANPOUR: You just mentioned N.T.I., the Nuclear Threat Initiative.

TURNER: Right. That’s the one that focuses on weapons of — getting rid of weapons of mass destruction and making sure they’re not used in the meantime and making it a more peaceful and safer world.

AMANPOUR: And yet, that should be the role of a government.

TURNER: It is the role of government. But governments can stand help. Governments are like everybody else. Everybody needs helps sometimes no matter how rich and powerful you are. And that was the thing. I did not know for sure when I started that it was going to work, that the U.N. Foundation was going to be able to help the U.N. or the Nuclear Threat Initiative was going to be able to help the U.S. government. There were a lot of things that weren’t getting done that are getting done now, done more quickly and it really has worked out. And not only are — is our foundation helping, but now you have lots of corporations that are helping the United Nations and you have lots of NGOs that are helping.

AMANPOUR: You did something in Yugoslavia with Nuclear Threat Initiative. Why did you have to step in and secure the Yugoslavian nuclear materials?

TURNER: Because our government didn’t really have the way to raise that last $5 million. They were $5 million short for transporting and blending down the highly enriched uranium that Serbia had. It was very dangerous. It was being held in a museum. It wasn’t being properly supervised. It could have been stolen by a terrorist or — and it was enough to make several big bombs.

AMANPOUR: And the United States government did not have $5 million?

TURNER: Well they didn’t — it didn’t fit the rules that they have. So we came up with $5 million.


I’m older than he is…”


TURNER: I delivered a Washington Post Extra when they dropped the first atomic bomb. But I read what Einstein said four days later was this has changed everything in the world, except how men think. And in the 1960s, I was giving money to that. The hard part about that is translating money into something that really does attack the problem. You really get into governments and I don’t know how to use big money to really change the world in that respect. I’ve got a $50 million challenge out now to the IAEA on a program for a nuclear fuel bank. But, basically, that’s got to be done by governments. And money just doesn’t — it doesn’t buy as much in some areas of philanthropy as it does in others.


TURNER: we got to all get rid of them. us, Russia, China. And they all understand that. And they all voted for it last year at the Security Council. So all I’m trying to do is remind them that they’re already voted for it, let’s go ahead and do it. And we’ve already voted for the START Treaty and it carried. Now all we got to do is ratify it with a super majority of the Senate get that ratified and get on the road towards nuclear disarmament and world peace because we have too many other problems that we need to deal with. Let’s get rid of polio and measles and malaria, instead of bombing each other. 15:30 TURNER: And we can eliminate poverty. I’m on the committee now — the U.N. committee to eliminate poverty. Well, in the next five years, it’s a big job but we’re going to work on it. We’re going to try. I mean, it’s going to be —

AMANPOUR: It’s exhausting saving the world.


TURNER: Saving the world is a hard job.

AMANPOUR: What would you say to people who don’t have so much money, should they be doing that too?

TURNER: Or don’t have any money. One thing they can do is pick up trash. That’s what I do. We’re in New York now and yesterday I walked around the block and I picked up trash and put it in the garbage —

AMANPOUR: I don’t believe you.

TURNER: I swear to God. Absolutely. I pick up trash in Atlanta.


TURNER: Because I want to set a good example. President Kagame of Rwanda has passed a rule that on the third Saturday of each month, the entire country has to go out from 8 – 11 and pick up trash, including him, and the cabinet of Rwanda. They all go out and pick up trash and Rwanda is just as clean a country as Switzerland is.

TED’S MOTIVATION COMES in part FROM A TOUGH UPBRINGING AND a STRICT DISPLINARIAN FATHER AMANPOUR: What about your father made you take these risks and aim so high in your life, whether it was starting CNN, whether it was winning the America’s Cup, whether it was being for environmental control before that was cool, or nuclear disarmament before that was cool?

TURNER: you only have one life, you might as well make it interesting and you might as well aim high. You know, it’s — try to do as much as you can. 32:00 But basically I didn’t have a lot of fear because I thought things through very carefully before I did them and I felt like I wasn’t really taking that big a risk.


Buffett: It is not a zero sum game, you know. I mean, we, the fact that penicillin was discovered in England has been great for people in the United States. If they come up with an electric car first or whatever that works, the important thing is that benefits of the world’s innovation flow to the whole world.

[Commercial Break]



AMANPOUR: Does there need to be a sense of sacrifice in the United States?

BUFFETT: there’s no sacrifice among the rich. There’s plenty of sacrifice going on now. I mean, if you look at Iraq and now Afghanistan, there’s been sacrifice. But I would doubt if you take the people on the Forbes 400 list — whether many of them have a child or a grandchild that served in Iraq or Afghanistan — they come home in body bags to Nebraska, but they don’t have to call up anybody up at the country club to notify them.


BUFFETT: They can look forward to their children living better than they lived and their grandchildren living better. But it will come back slowly. I mean, it’s not an easy thing. If I had a great idea, believe me, I’d have been raising my hand wanting to come on your program earlier to tell the world about it. I don’t have any brilliant ideas on it. I do know that business is coming back. When business comes back, employment comes back. And the genius of the American society has not been lost.

AMANPOUR: how does the United States, in this situation, generate jobs, compete with China, India, and actually bring those jobs to Americans?

B. GATES: Well, there’s not a fixed number of jobs. The fact that other countries are doing well actually creates opportunities for jobs. The question for us is, are we educating people well? That’s the number one thing. If you want to look at economies improved created a lot of jobs, even just look within the unemployment figures. Look at the college-educated unemployment versus, say, high school only, versus dropout, and you’ll see that the education system is what’s out of whack. The demand is there if you have the right skills. That’s not an immediate solution, but for tough problems like this, you really — it’s only by looking at the long run that you solve it.

AMANPOUR: since you are known as a very clever and savvy entrepreneur. You took many risks, you embodied the American Dream if you like. Today there are major problems with the middle class, with the small businesses. How would you advise kick-starting the economy today?

TURNER: I think stimulating it with borrowed money, probably — and I don’t like deficits either. I believe in balanced budgets and making a profit …..

AMANPOUR: Do you see a way out of this?

TURNER: Yes. We’re doing it right now. We’re correcting things. We’ve already paid off $1 trillion of our debt in the last couple of years by not borrowing so much. We’re cutting down on our borrowing and people are cutting down on their expenses. But, you know, prosperity will return. It always has and I think it will.

AMANPOUR: Do you see austerity necessary? Like Europe is doing deep cuts, rising taxes?

TURNER: Yes, yes. We were spending too much. And that’s what the conservative movement has said we spent too much. You know, I’m not exactly sure where is too much but some places.

AMANPOUR: Where do you see the next big innovation coming?

BUFFETT: well you don’t see it…. you know at the start of the 1980s — we thought Germany and Japan were going to eat our lunch, and all we were going to do was flip hamburgers and cut each other’s hair. And then we created 20 million new jobs. I didn’t know where those 20 million were coming from. And maybe the people that created them didn’t know. But we’ve got a genius to the system that creates jobs.

AMANPOUR: you’re an innovator. Where do you see innovation here coming?

B. GATES: Well, technology will be used in schools. We’ll have the best lectures available. You’ll be able to test your knowledge. You’ll be able to work with students who aren’t at the same place as you are. We should be able to drive some efficiency and excellence

AMANPOUR: How does one innovate again in the United States?

TURNER: Well, there’s a lot of innovating being done right now. I just came up this week from a conference on mobile health and what’s being done with cell phones in the developing world to transport medical information to people and to gather it. It’s just absolutely amazing the things that are being invented. Now, they’re not all being invented by Americans, but some of them are. America never had a monopoly on brain power. We had — we’ve been very successful but on top of that, as time goes on and you get more and more successful, that leads to some complacency and you have to go — that’s why you have cycles. The stock market goes down some days and goes up some days.

AMANPOUR: where do you see America in the next two years, five years?

BUFFETT: Well, the two years, I don’t know. I mean, I don’t think — we will be better off two years from now than we are now unless there is some nuclear, chemical or biological event. But the one thing I’m absolutely sure of is that the best years of America lie ahead. There’s no question about that. But what has worked for 200 and some years is going to keep working and we have unleashed human potential. We aren’t smarter than those people around the Revolutionary War time, you know we don’t work harder. We just work more effectively. And that will keep on and on and on and we’ll turn out more and more goods and services. And I just hope they get more equitably distributed in the future.


TURNER: I was opposed to the latest ruling that corporations can give unlimited amounts of people running for public office….the richest will be able to buy the elections and I don’t think they ought to be the case. I think that our government should be run by the people and for the people, that democracy is important. And I’m very concerned about that. And I hope that Congress will overturn that at some point in time.

AMANPOUR: what about climate change, you’re putting a lot of money into trying to get environmental control.

TURNER: Yes, but I’m not putting unlimited amounts in. It’s limited the amount of giving you can do for lobbying was limited. I think that’s good. I do not think that the rich should be able to buy the country.

B GATES: In philanthropy, it’s very important to have diversity. And so if somebody thinks with the Giving Pledge, or other things, that we’re saying, you know, there’s only one model, that’s a mistake. We love the fact that we sit down and learn from these people things they’re doing. And everybody should pursue their own approach. So it’s not a monolithic thing. It’s about doing different things. But it’s still learning from each other.

M. GATES: And I think the important thing is to think about how much wealth could go back to society from the Giving Pledge. I mean, that’s the enormous positive. The financial dollars that come from the philanthropy I think are the initial wedge to try to the experiments, and then it’s really up to the democracy to decide whether to take those on.

BUFFETT: there’s three things you can do with your money. You can spend it on yourself or your family. You can pay it in taxes one way. Or, three, you can use it in philanthropy. Now, among the three, I take care of myself very well and my kids are pretty well taken care of. I think I should pay higher taxes. But if I’m not going to pay it, I mean, the rest of the money is going to go back to society. It’s just a question of whether it goes through the government or whether it goes through a private source.


AMANPOUR: What was the reaction there? Obviously, they’re not used to — they’ve barely just begun to make it.

BUFFETT: it amazed me that it was so similar to our experience in the United States. These people talked about their children. They talked about their businesses. They talked about the different role of government there in terms of philanthropy. But they opened up. They were not reluctant to talk at all. Their culture is different. However, they may wish to adapt some of our ideas to what they are doing is fine with us. But we are not there to add another wing to the American operation.

GATES we had a lot of very good questions. The government came and the government said they were very enthused about what had happened in the interchange. And the questions were like we get in the United States: “How should you involve the kids?” “What causes really seem like they’re impactful?” “How do you find other people to work with?” They’re just at an earlier stage, and they’ll put their own imprint on it.


We want to leave our kids a different kind of inheritance, an example of at least trying to lead a worthy life.

AMANPOUR: how are you going about getting people like Tom and others to join the giving pledge…..

M GATES: Many times they’re already doing a lot of giving on their own

STEYER: The invitation to me was a phone call from Warren Buffett. If he thinks it’s a good idea, I start with the assumption it is a good idea.

B GATES : So we do hope to get more to join in. We think the more the better. In some ways I’ll all raise our sights. We all may start a little younger. We all may be a little bolder. We’ll find ways to collaborate together.


STEYER: the big new thing that I believe is staring us in the face is sustainable energy. You know, so I’m a huge believer that the thing that America can do, that America can focus on is creating new ways of both generating and using energy.

AMANPOUR: Why is America not taking that big chance?

STEYER: I think that we’re in the very early innings. I would like to do it a lot sooner because I think it’s just an enormous part of our economy, it’s an enormous part of the world economy, and it’s something where we can really lead and build some amazing sustainable businesses with a lot of employment.

AMANPOUR: what is it that makes a master of the universe such as yourself want to give away most of your fortune?


STEYER: Well, of course, that question implies that either I am or I believe myself to be a master of the universe…

(CROSS TALK) “immediately dispel”

STEYER: I try and take a lot of pride in being part of my community. And I think that it has nothing, in my opinion, to do with being a master of the universe, but it does have a great deal to do with wanting to be a good citizen and a good community member.

AMANPOUR: People are told to work hard, to amass as much wealth. This is a very materialistic world, particularly here in the United States. So to hear that it’s not hard to get rid of it all is interesting.

STEYER: I guess it depends what you derive your fun and value out of. I mean, I think it’s really fun to do stuff. And so if we’re fortunate enough to be able to do more stuff…as a result of this

AMANPOUR: What stuff?

STEYER: You know, honestly, one of the things we did was we started a community bank. And, you know, to have a bank, you have to have a bunch of money to get it going. But we felt that a community bank that put money back into the community where people could get loans that they otherwise couldn’t get, both businesses, individuals, non-profits, would be something that would make that community a lot better place to live, and at the same time we’d have a very rigorous way of measuring whether we were doing a good job.

01: 07 55 AMANPOUR: So it’s not charity per se.

STEYER: I think of it as participation. I mean, that is structured in a way so that my wife and I could never make any money, than money went into the bank, and it can never come back. If the bank makes money, all it means is we can make more loans.

AMANPOUR: you said that you would be willing to have your taxes higher, many Americans, particularly those who are successful say, hang on, I did this work, this is a capitalist society, this is my just reward. You disagree with that notion.

STEYER: I certainly do.

AMANPOUR: Because?

STEYER: I think anyone who doesn’t give credit to the system that they are born into is taking an awful lot onto themselves. I mean, I really think that people have sacrificed a lot more than a little tax money to make that system available for all of us. And I would be ashamed of myself if I didn’t give some credit to them.

AMANPOUR: It’s emotional for you. Do you feel we’re in trouble

STEYER: No. I think the U.S. is great. I think that people need some ideas. I think that they need a strategic sense. But I have enormous confidence in Americans to work hard and to be smart and to do the right thing.


AMANPOUR: You were a man of great ambition, great hunger —

TURNER: I still am.

AMANPOUR: Is the hunger still there?

TURNER: Yes. But now I’m hungry for success for the human race and America and all my friends all over the world.

AMANPOUR: How do you want history to see you?

TURNER: I don’t know. I’d like to — hopefully it’ll see me honestly. I believe in honesty so I don’t — and all I’m doing is good so or trying to do good. Even the people that don’t agree about getting rid of nuclear weapons think it’s a good idea to try.

B GATES: there’s a certain momentum in terms of the more you hear about other people doing giving, it will encourage you to do more. And certainly all of us who got involved have been inspired by each other’s stories, and that rededicates us to getting this money to have the most positive impact.

M. GATES: And any time there’s talk about giving in a society — I mean, we’re interested not just in the wealthy giving. There’s lot of people giving their time or giving small amounts of money even during these recessionary times. So just to have that discussion stimulated for the country I think is an important thing.

AMANPOUR: what do you want your legacy to be?

BUFFETT: I want to do the most intelligent job I can do, in effect, without respect to whether the recipients are male or female or black or white or Americans or Africans, or whatever it may be, that it has the greatest impact on improving the most people’s lives in the future.

AMANPOUR: Do you have any plans to retire?

BUFFETT: No. Not even after I die. I’ve got a Ouija board. The directors will keep in contact with me. (laughter)


AMANPOUR: You’re also obviously keen on eradicating polio. And, in fact, one of your executives says that if we don’t have a polio vaccine, if we don’t eradicate it by 2012, then we will have failed.

B. GATES: Well, by 2012 we should be very close on polio. We’re 99 percent of the way there if you measure by how many cases there were when this campaign started over 20 years ago. The last one percent is very difficult. And so we’re spending a lot of time going around, meeting with political leaders, making sure that there’s a little bit of innovation to even take the good old oral polio vaccine and make it somewhat more effective.

B. GATES: Well, urban poverty when you first see it can be a bit overwhelming — the lack of sanitation, the small houses. And, of course, the kids are interested when our kids come in, because they look a little different and there’s a lot running around. You know, just to see the way those kids live was eye-opening, and it’s got them asking questions on an ongoing basis.

AMANPOUR: And how do you think the money that you and your wife have pledged to give away will make you a better citizen and will make the community a better place?

STEYER: Well, I mean, we didn’t set out to deliberately make this money. We were just pursuing our professional interests. And we also have specific interests in aspects of our community where we feel strongly, where we thought there were things that we could do that would be both interesting and fun and hopefully have a good impact.

AMANPOUR: Such as?

STEYER: Well, we’ve tried to think exactly what links them together. I mean, the three things that we do really have to do with trying to work on sustainable energy, trying to work on sustainable agriculture, and trying to — through a community bank, to put money back into poor community in the West Coast.

AMANPOUR: Is it because it makes you feel good? It enriches you? It helps you be happier?

STEYER: Well, I think pursuing interesting things that you think are valuable, that’s what’s fun in life. So do I — that’s what I think get fun out of, is trying to do hard, fun things.


STEYER: both my wife Katherine and I had received wonderful educations, and we want our kids to have an opportunity to learn in the same kind of great schools we did. But after that we feel like it’s their responsibility to make their own life, to be who they want to be. Not to be our kids, per se, but to create their own reality.

AMANPOUR: And what was their reaction?

STEYER: Why are you telling this? We already figured this out long before you brought it up.

AMANPOUR: So smart.

STEYER: They were — I think they were years ahead of us in thinking that they knew that being somebody’s offspring is not the way to go through life.

16:45 AMANPOUR: your grandmother used to read you a poem by Alfred Lord Tennyson.


AMANPOUR: Do you remember it?

STEYER: it’s about Ulysses after he comes back from the odyssey, after he is the king of Ithaca again and he decides to take all of his old men and set sail to try new places, new boundaries, see what they could do, and, you know, never to give up. And I thought that was — she was 86, she had about a month to live. I thought that was a great attitude.

AMANPOUR: So never rest on your laurels.

STEYER: resting on your laurels is really boring. As long as you’re trying something new and sailing into new seas, you have a chance to learn something and do something new, and that’s what’s really fun.

Open Source: Open Source Economy and Metacurrency Project by John Robb

Here’s an alternative to complaining about how broken the current system is (or arguing about nonsense like what “should” or “shouldn’t” happen).  It’s a way to create something new that can improve all of our lives.

The article below is the latest post to the Metacurrency Project.  If you are interested, please join the mailing list (you can get digests either daily or weekly if you just want to keep tabs on it).

NOTE:  This is proving hideously difficult to explain all at once.  So, please bear with me.


Basically, what this metacurrency project is about (at least my intent) is to find a way to rapidly build successful open source ventures (and over time: build an open source economy).  These open source ventures:

  1. generate incomes for the participants ($$, yen, Gold, Euros, food, etc.),
  2. automate the allocation of rewards based on contribution, and
  3. don’t require a corporate hierarchy/bureaucracy to manage them (which ultimately dooms every corporation to stagnation/death/inefficiency).

The short term objective of the project is to build a social network enabled Internet venture, using metacurrencies, that proves the concept.

Let’s examine this in detail:

First, why focus on social network enabled Internet ventures?  They  grow very quickly, require little capital (fixed costs are low), and the tasks required to operate them are quantifiable. They are also VERY lucrative.  Further, the only true obstacle to building a successful venture of this type is a large network of people willing to advance the system.

Second, what is a metacurrency?  At the top level, metacurrencies make it easy to build a large social network that can accomplish complex tasks.  Let’s deconstruct this.

A metacurrency isn’t a traditional currency.  It more of a currency that awards currencies.  In other words, it’s about finding automated ways to determine who makes a contribution, how much they should be rewarded for that contribution, and when they get that reward.

All ventures, at core, are a bundle of tasks that run continuously.  These tasks, in aggregate, solve the problem the venture was formed to solve.  These tasks can be decomposed into specific functions that can be accomplished by individuals or groups. The measure of whether these functions are successfully completed or not can be automated.   Further, these functions can be attached to a reward.  The combination of automated  measurement of a venture function + reward is a metacurrency (the rules of which are transparent).

So, by extension, any venture = a bundle of metacurrencies. Some metacurrencies, like deal sourcing inGroupon‘s case, are venture specific. Others, like reputation and skill at a particular task, are applicable economy wide (part of the platform).

Metacurrencies can be configured in a variety of ways.

  • They can be binary = yes or no.
  • They can be continuous = like a meter that measures % of max contribution at any given time.
  • They can be complex, with feedback loops = ratings or completion metrics that modify the results of any single process (as in, the customer satisfaction level of this process is very high, so the value of the completed process is increased).

Where do we go with this if it works?  Here are some ideas:

  • It would be possible to leverage existing metacurrencies to quickly create new ventures.
  • The addition of MMOG (massively multiplayer online game) mechanics to metacurrency construction (structured randomness to some portion of the rewards) would accelerate adoption.
  • Connected metacurrencies (across ventures) would make for very interesting dynamics.  i.e. local food production venture connects with the reward allocation of a coupon venture.
  • Levels and status. Continual success with a metacurrency could yield advancement in skill level — unlocking new metacurrencies with new reward structures.
  • Rapid group formation that can accomplish a variety of tasks (i.e. resilient communities).
  • Etc…..

Open Source Jihad by John Robb

…the open source jihad is America’s worst nightmare. Al Qaeda (AQAP Inspire).

Earlier this year, al Qaeda formally announced that it had adopted open source warfare (a new, extremely potent theory of 21st Century warfare that makes it possible for a large number of small autonomous groups to defeat much larger enemies) as its preferred method of conducting its insurgency against the west.

The adoption of open source jihad led the organization to launch a new english language magazine called Inspire.  This magazine, filled with tools (software, etc.), techniques, and philosophy (on how to carry out open source jihad), demonstrated its desire to shift its role from closed leadership (of operations) to coaching small groups to act on their own.  It also led al Qaeda to make a demonstration (an attack) that could provide a plausible promise for its open source collaborators/partners.

Systems Disruption and Parcel Bombs

To bring down America we do not need to strike big.  …security phobia that is sweeping America, it is more feasible to stage smaller attacks that involve less players and less time to launch. Al Qaeda’s Inspire e-Zine


To provide a plausible promise (proof that open source warfare can be successful against the enemy), al Qaeda turned to systems disruption.  Systems disruption, a major part of open source warfare theory, is a method of attack that uses a knowledge of networks to amplify the damage of the attack.  With systems disruption, even small attacks (that cost little and generate little risk to the group) can have national or global impact.  As such, it’s perfect for the type of attack made by the small autonomous groups within an open source insurgency.   It also has a proven track record, in conflicts from Mexico to Nigeria.  It works.

Al Qaeda’s choice of a demonstration was to use parcel bombs (called Operation Hemorrhage — a classic name for a systems disruption attack).  These low cost parcel bombs, were inserted into the international air mail system to generate a security response by western governments.  It worked.  The global security response to this new threat was massive.

Returns on Investment (ROIs)

Part of effective systems disruption is a focus on ROI (return on investment) calculations.  As paraphrased in Inspire:  it is such a good bargain for us to spread fear amongst the enemy and keep him on his toes in exchange of a few months of work and a few thousand bucks.  We knew that cargo planes are staffed by only a pilot and a co-pilot, so our objective was not to cause maximum casualties but to cause maximum losses to the American economy. (this shift is a clear attempt to avoid limitations of blood and guts terrorism by adopting systems disruption as outlined in this article)

To demonstrate this ROI, Inspire listed the costs of the investment in the operation:

  • Printers:  $300 each
  • Nokia mobile phones:  $150 each
  • Shipping and transportation:  short $$
  • TOTAL COST:  $4,200

It’s pretty clear that the security costs inflicted as a result of this operation are counted in the millions of dollars, making for an impressive return on investment for the operation.  ROIs from systems disruption can reach one million to one.

Given this successful demonstration attack, we should expect to se many more attacks that employ systems disruption in the future as open source jihadis adopt the method.

NOTE:  My intent with developing open source warfare, systems disruption, etc. back in 2004-6 was do what JFC Fuller did with armored warfare in the early 1930’s: to develop a truly modern theory of warfare that reflected trends already in motion.  Apparently that is proving to be the case as insurgents adopt it from Nigeria’s MEND to al Qaeda.  Perversely, the US gov’t had a head-start on this given my presentations to the DoD/CIA/NSA and even a House Armed Services Committee appearance, but they squandered it.

NAO Humanoid Robot Developer Program by Invitation Only

Aldebaran Robotics, world famous for the NAO humanoid robot, has opened their NAO Developer Program and is looking for the worlds best developers to become insiders in this exciting new robotics community. Participation is by ‘invitation only’ via developer members that include the top online robot blogs and forums selected by the Aldebaran management.

Robots Dreams has three NAO Developer Program Invitations to hand out (see below). This is a rare opportunity, not to be taken lightly. Please make sure that you are familiar with the program requirements, commitments, and opportunities before contacting us for one of the invitations.

101013 NAO Robot Press Confernece230

According to the official NAO Developer Program posting, Aldebaran is looking for participants that fit the following profile:

  • Participate in a privileged international community of pioneer developers!
  • Each candidate must pass a programming test to ensure the highest level of skills.
  • Only 200 of the best developers from around the world will be selected to participate.
    • The “Happy Few” Developer Program members:
      have excellent programming skills
      are motivated by creativity
      are visionary
      are entrepreneurs
      enjoy challenges
  • The NAO Developer Program relies on a collaborative effort:
  • Together with Aldebaran Robotics you will develop your NAO’s personality and behaviors.
  • Exchange developments with the community!
  • Share developments that are integrated into NAO through behavior channels by theme (examples include entertainment, gaming, humor,…you can even create your own channels by personality style).
  • Sell your behavior applications to Aldebaran Robotics clients using the online NaoStore!

What will you receive and what are the benefits?

  1. Access to the latest developments and innovations in humanoid robotics technology as it is advanced by the community. Access to the code, SDK, dedicated website, and prototypes from Aldebaran Robotics.
  2. A NAO robot. Keep in mind that NAO isn’t available to the general public, but that is a stated goal of the company, so this is a chance to be a part of that exciting initiative.
  3. The complete suite of software specifically designed for NAO development including NaoQi, Choregraphe, SDK, high level modules and low level access to NAO’s sensors and actuators, Telepathe (collects data from NAO’s sensors), and NAOsim (3D simulator).
  4. Access to the NAO Developer Program website supporting the international community of 200 top developers that qualify for the program including code versioning tools, wiki, bug tracker, collaborative workspace, data repository, and more.
  5. Privileged access to important Aldebaran Robotics source code.
  6. Early access to the NAOstore to share and sell applications to other developers and customers.

As mentioned above, this is a fantastic opportunity, and involves a serious commitment. In order to participate you need to get an invitation from a developer member, like Robots Dreams, pass pre-screening by Aldebaran Robotics, and there is a program fee of 3600 Euros entry fee that includes the robot and all the other material and support defined by the program.

If you’re up to the challege, and want to be a part of this exciting select community, contact them at Robots Dreams NAO Developer Program Invitation.


Telomerase reverses ageing process by Ewen Callaway


Protecting chromosome tips doesn’t just prevent ageing. It can reverse it. Peter Lansdorp/Visuals Unlimited/Corbis

Premature ageing can be reversed by reactivating an enzyme that protects the tips of chromosomes, a study in mice suggests.

Mice engineered to lack the enzyme, called telomerase, become prematurely decrepit. But they bounced back to health when the enzyme was replaced. The finding, published online today in Nature1, hints that some disorders characterized by early ageing could be treated by boosting telomerase activity.

It also offers the possibility that normal human ageing could be slowed by reawakening the enzyme in cells where it has stopped working, says Ronald DePinho, a cancer geneticist at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and Harvard Medical School in Boston, Massachusetts, who led the new study. “This has implications for thinking about telomerase as a serious anti-ageing intervention.”

Other scientists, however, point out that mice lacking telomerase are a poor stand-in for the normal ageing process. Moreover, ramping up telomerase in humans could potentially encourage the growth of tumours.

Eternal youth

After its discovery in the 1980s, telomerase gained a reputation as a fountain of youth. Chromosomes have caps of repetitive DNA called telomeres at their ends. Every time cells divide, their telomeres shorten, which eventually prompts them to stop dividing and die. Telomerase prevents this decline in some kinds of cells, including stem cells, by lengthening telomeres, and the hope was that activating the enzyme could slow cellular ageing.

Two decades on, researchers are realizing that telomerase’s role in ageing is far more nuanced than first thought. Some studies have uncovered an association between short telomeres and early death, whereas others have failed to back up this link. People with rare diseases characterized by shortened telomeres or telomerase mutations seem to age prematurely, although some tissues are more affected than others.

“They are not studying normal ageing, but ageing in mice made grossly abnormal.”

When mice are engineered to lack telomerase completely, their telomeres progressively shorten over several generations. These animals age much faster than normal mice — they are barely fertile and suffer from age-related conditions such as osteoporosis, diabetes and neurodegeneration. They also die young. “If you look at all those data together, you walk away with the idea that the loss of telomerase could be a very important instigator of the ageing process,” says DePinho.

To find out if these dramatic effects are reversible, DePinho’s team engineered mice such that the inactivated telomerase could be switched back on by feeding the mice a chemical called 4-OHT. The researchers allowed the mice to grow to adulthood without the enzyme, then reactivated it for a month. They assessed the health of the mice another month later.

“What really caught us by surprise was the dramatic reversal of the effects we saw in these animals,” says DePinho. He describes the outcome as “a near ‘Ponce de Leon’ effect” — a reference to the Spanish explorer Juan Ponce de Leon, who went in search of the mythical Fountain of Youth. Shrivelled testes grew back to normal and the animals regained their fertility. Other organs, such as the spleen, liver and intestines, recuperated from their degenerated state.

The one-month pulse of telomerase also reversed effects of ageing in the brain. Mice with restored telomerase activity had noticeably larger brains than animals still lacking the enzyme, and neural progenitor cells, which produce new neurons and supporting brain cells, started working again.

“It gives us a sense that there’s a point of return for age-associated disorders,” says DePinho. Drugs that ramp up telomerase activity are worth pursuing as a potential treatment for rare disorders characterized by premature ageing, he says, and perhaps even for more common age-related conditions.

Cancer link

The downside is that telomerase is often mutated in human cancers, and seems to help existing tumours grow faster. But DePinho argues that telomerase should prevent healthy cells from becoming cancerous in the first place by preventing DNA damage.

David Sinclair, a molecular biologist at Harvard Medical School in Boston, agrees there is evidence that activating telomerase might prevent tumours. If the treatment can be made safe, he adds, “it could lead to breakthroughs in restoring organ function in the elderly and treating a variety of diseases of aging.”

Other researchers are less confident that telomerase can be safely harnessed. “Telomere rejuvenation is potentially very dangerous unless you make sure that it does not stimulate cancer,” says David Harrison, who researches ageing at the Jackson Laboratory in Bar Harbor, Maine.

Harrison also questions whether mice lacking telomerase are a good model for human ageing. “They are not studying normal ageing, but ageing in mice made grossly abnormal,” he says. Tom Kirkwood, who directs the Institute for Ageing and Health at Newcastle University, UK, agrees, pointing out that telomere erosion “is surely not the only, or even dominant, cause” of ageing in humans.

DePinho says he recognizes that there is more to ageing than shortened telomeres, particularly late in life, but argues that telomerase therapy could one day be combined with other therapies that target the biochemical pathways of ageing. “This may be one of several things you need to do in order to extend lifespan and extend healthy living,” he says.

  • References

    1. Jaskelioff, M. et al. Nature doi: 10.1038/nature09603 (2010).

Infographic: Is Information Overload Over-Hyped? by Future Company Blogger Adrian Ott

This blog is written by a member of Future Company expert blogging community and expresses that expert’s views alone.

Have we become a society of whiners when it comes to information overload? The time management field is overflowing with advice touting that more self-discipline is needed to control time allocations. Should we just “man-up” and manage our time better? Or perhaps there is something fundamentally different now than in the past–a difference to be concerned about, a difference that creates challenges and opportunities?

Clay Shirky has asserted that information overload is not new and has existed throughout history; the problem stems from limits on our ability to filter information. On the other hand, Tom Davenport suggests in an HBR post that we don’t really care about information overload at all; we consciously allow it to happen.

The problem is that people don’t have tools to filter information down to the most useful bits with minimal effort. The only choices we have right now are to take everything through our various media sources or shut ourselves off from potential opportunities. Of course that’s a false choice because when we let ourselves be inundated by information we miss things anyway–time is the ultimate arbiter of attention.

Pressure Increasing on the Attention Bottleneck

The infographic contains key statistics on the growth of information and product proliferation (This is research I collected while writing my book, The 24-Hour Customer). There are many reasons for these trends, some are material (use of mobile devices to consume and generate new information) and some are silly (gaming Google’s PageRank algorithm)–but there’s no doubt that the trend is accelerating.

Information overload is not new as Shirky points out. What is new is the growing imbalance between the rate of information growth relative to the fixed constraint of time. In 16 waking hours a day, people can only comprehend a finite amount of what’s thrown at them. The information coming into the top of the funnel in the infographic is growing at an increasing rate while the intake at the bottom remains fixed adding pressure to the attention bottleneck.

This pressure explains why it’s more difficult to gain attention from consumers today versus twenty years ago when there were less data, fewer products and fewer distracting digital devices. This dynamic has driven an attention arms race where it feels like we are in Times Square with lights flashing and noise blaring all the time, no matter where we are.

This is very real and different. It is not about people being lazy or inept; the kind of discipline required to shut out the world and avoid multitasking with all the electronic temptations at our fingertips is significantly greater than in the past.

Time Constraints Drive Attention When Information Filters Fail

Filter failure is a cause as Shirky suggests, but perhaps more concerning is the rate of filter innovation that fails to keep pace with the explosive growth of information. When information filters are broken, time constraints become the filter. Stress caused by information overload will only get worse unless we rapidly innovate better methods and technologies that enable people to cope. I’ll share some ideas on that–and the opportunity for businesses to capture consumers and profits–in a future post.

Adrian Ott has been called, “One of Silicon Valley’s most respected, (if not the most respected) strategists” by Consulting Magazine. She is the author of the new book The 24-Hour Customer: New Rules for Winning in a Time-Starved, Always-Connected Economy (HarperCollins, August 2010). Follow Adrian on Twitter at @ExponentialEdge

4 Types of Strategy by Greg Satell

Greg Satell is founder and operates Knowledge Management Center at Zenith Optimedia. To learn more about Greg Satell, is on LinkedIn or follow on twitter at .


Do you have a strategy?  Is it the right one?  Does your organization buy into it?

These are all important questions, often without clear answers.  Strategy doesn’t play out in PowerPoint or Excel, but in the real world.  We have much less control over it than we would like to admit.  Even the best laid plans can go awry.

Albert Camus famously said that ideology should serve people, not the other way around and it is the same with strategy.  In truth, to find the one that will serve us best we need to pursue four types of strategy simultaneously.



Many strategies start with a vision.  For instance, Herb Kelleher at Southwest Airlines had a vision that air travel could compete on price with ground travel.  Therefore his main objective was to become “THE low cost airline” and decision making hinged on that one overriding principle.

Of course, sometimes a clear vision can blind management to market realities, which was the case withJeffrey Skilling and Enron.  Skilling believed that securitization and a quantitative approach could make the company unstoppable.  Unfortunately, that same vision (and some financial legerdemain) obscured serious problems that led to one of the great financial meltdowns in history.

Often, a vision has a shelf life.  It works for a while and then outlives its usefulness.  That was true ofJack Welch’s idea that every business should be number one or two in its category or abandoned.  It drove company strategy for a while, until it became clear that the evaluation had as much to do with category definition as it did with success.

Every company needs a vision which articulates its mission and creates a community of purpose.  However, a vision is, and will always be, necessary rather than sufficient.  A big idea will only take you so far.


Another common strategic path is extrapolation.  This is the preferred method of management consultants.  You analyze data, identify trends and take them to their logical conclusion.

Some great insights have come from trend analysis.  A great example is how Michael Milken realized that even companies with very poor debt ratings seldom actually declare bankruptcy.  Therefore, there was a fortune to be made in bonds that were long considered “junk.”

However, the same reasoning can often backfire, which happened to LTCM, a hedge fund run by Nobel prizewinning economists.  By believing so strongly that market discrepancies would revert to long term trends, they took on way too much risk.  They not only went bust, but almost took the global financial system with them.

A further unintended consequence of extrapolating trends is that you risk missing disruptive innovations.  I argued in an earlier post that Rupert Murdoch is doing just that with paywallsand that there are more creative ways to save newspapers.

Inevitably, when you choose to follow one trend you are implicitly choosing to ignore others.


The world is a messy place and unexpected events are bound to occur.  When they do, we are often caught off-guard and need to react.  This isn’t the slow, deliberate strategy we find in textbooks, but a frantic rush to dodge a bullet.

One of the most famous instances of reactionary strategy is when Microsoft realized that they were missing out on the Internet.  In one of the most impressive management feats in modern history, Bill Gates realigned his enormous enterprise to the needs of a connected world and probably saved the company.

Of course, most examples are not quite that dramatic.  You don’t need to manage a business for long before you realize that sometimes, despite your best efforts and well laid plans, events will sometimes have to dictate your actions more than you would like.


Not all strategy can be planned, but sometimes simply emerges from normal operations.  This kind of strategy, which Henry Mintzberg dubbed emergent strategy, is often elusive.

It could be argued that Andy Grove’s famous move to bet Intel’s future on microprocessors was, in fact, an emergent rather than a planned strategy.  In his book, Only the Paranoid Survive, he recounts that his decision was largely based on changes in production already made by line managers.

Of course, sometimes potential strategies fail to emerge because they conflict with planned strategies.  This was the case with Xerox, whose famous PARC lab created both the graphical user interfaceand the Ethernet, but failed to capitalize on both of them.  These have, of course, become core components of our information age.

Some companies, such as Google and 3M, are so ensconced in emergent strategy that they seem to be completely chaotic.  They give employees time to work on projects of their own invention and see what comes of it.  According to conventional strategic principles, they seem to have no strategy at all.

Muddling Through

An enterprise without a vision is an institution without a soul.  We must follow trends, react to market events and be aware of emergent opportunities that arise through the creativity that a healthy organization.  Pursuit of one type of strategy to the exclusion of others is not only foolish, but dangerous.  We must be able to walk and chew gum at the same time.

However, any organization is a system of gradients, not absolutes, and I strongly suspect that emergent strategies are greatly increasing in importance.  Much like Total Quality Management revolutionized manufacturing decades ago, it seems to me that information technology is having a similar effect on strategy.

Authority is diminished in correlation to the increase in labor market efficiency.  As corporate value is increasingly driven by highly skilled people who are operating in poorly understood areas, the management challenge is often more to figure out what is going on rather than to point the direction forward.

More than we’d like to admit, the lunatics really do run the asylum.


The Public Square Goes Mobile by Allison Arieff

“We don’t need more leaders. We need more followers. Wherever & however you can enter public life is ok.”

That tweet by Carol Coletta, president and CEO of CEOs for Cities, is a radical provocation in our age of the non-expert. The nation is gripped by the fantasy that the least-qualified, least-experienced among us make ideal leaders. Dissatisfaction — no, real anger — with the status quo, as opposed to informed ideas or policy experience, seems to define qualifications for public service.

This shouldn’t really come as a huge surprise. I guess moms have stopped telling their kids, “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything.” Far too many of our public processes, from school board meetings to town halls, provide citizens with a forum to complain but not much else. Hand ‘em a mike and two minutes and they’ll unleash a torrent of opinion — but it’s unlikely anyone will step forward with constructive advice or proactive steps relating to budget cuts or the latest environmental action report.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with complaints — we’ve all got plenty to gripe about these days — and it is important that we have forums in which to air them. In just one recent week, for example (as illustrated in this beautiful infographic from Wired UK), New York City’s 311 number received 34,522 complaints, mostly having to do with rodents, noise and taxi cabs. So there is no shortage of problems to solve. But, increasingly, there is less time, and fewer resources and people, to do so.

What if there were a way to transform complaints into something positive and productive? What if we reframed the exchange to be less about adversity and more about cooperation and action? What if citizens were encouraged to offer their thoughts on how things from transit systems to city parks might be improved — as opposed to simply airing their grievances about all that was wrong with them?

Courtesy of Local Projects

That’s the beauty of Give a Minute, created as part of CEOs for Cities’ US Initiative by the media design firm Local Projects. Says Coletta, “We need more citizens who feel agency — that they can actually influence the future of their communities. Otherwise, there is complacency and resignation. Give a Minute encourages agency. Go ahead. Share your ideas. Change your city.”

In embracing a technology that nearly everyone now possesses — text messaging — Give a Minute provides a fast, cheap and easy way to share ideas, connect them together and make them happen. As Local Project’s Jake Barton, whose firm has excelled in previous participatory projects like StoryCorps, explains, “It’s like 311 for new ideas.”

“There are no hoops to jump through, no points to win, no fake “votes” to solicit, no games to play,” adds Coletta. “It’s a very straightforward question to citizens that treats them respectfully, as adults, and assumes an authentic relationship between citizens and their government.”

As part of its US Initiative, CEOs for Cities is hosting Challenge events in cities across the country. It is at these events that the specific needs of each particular city are identified. In Chicago, where Give a Minute recently launched, the goal was to make it possible for people to go where they need to go without owning a car, while in Memphis (where Give a Minute will begin in January 2011), says Coletta, “The ambition is to develop all of our talent and put all of our talent to work.”

In other communities, the questions will be driven by urban leaders who are hoping to engage citizens in an authentic dialogue on how to improve the community in specific ways. Other cities on tap include Indianapolis, New York, San Jose and Grand Rapids.

Courtesy of Local Projects

Give a Minute launched with the question, “Hey Chicago, what would encourage you to walk, bike or take CTA more often?” Citizens, who are learning about it from billboards, ads on the L and in the local paper, are texting their ideas and posting them to the Give a Minute Web site. You can look here to find the responses texted so far (1,000 in the first two weeks), which range from “lower CTA fares” to “organized walking groups going roughly the same route with similar interests” to “play classical music on train system” to “I need to bring my daughter with me, so the streets need to be kid-safe.”

“We’re just culling through all the different ideas that run from the specific to the hilarious to the utopian,” says Barton. “But one thing that does seem clear is that they are far more diverse and often smaller scale, and actionable on different scales including individual, neighborhood and government.”

These ideas aren’t revolutionary — but that wasn’t Give a Minute’s goal. At first glance, the endeavor does feel like just another version of the often-overrated concept of crowd-sourcing, which aspires to gather together the collective brilliance of those most qualified to solve complex problems but rarely does. Give a Minute did spring from an open exploration into existing open-source and crowd-sourcing platforms, but realized the general emphasis on finding the most revolutionary idea amidst the multitudes wasn’t quite right. Says Barton, “At meetings, Carol would say, ‘What are the experts not figuring out? What are these new silver bullets that trained professionals aren’t coming up with?’ It’s not about inventing new ideas but having those ideas phrased and framed by the public so it doesn’t feel like [the solution] is being dropped down from above.”

“It’s about people in a specific neighborhood saying let’s put in a garden here,” Barton continues. “I’d say it’s a more nuanced approach to crowd-sourcing, less the winner-takes-all model but rather getting a group to rally around something specific. The entire process is designed for maximum participation to some kind of constructive end. The basic idea was to reinvent public participation for the 21st century.”

When participants text their responses, they hear back from representatives of the local agencies, non-profits and other groups working in that area. Then you might, optimally, hear back again about opportunities to get involved with like-minded individuals and organizations. Or you might get a response to your text message back from the head of CTA, or some other expert involved in the issue. Give a Minute is aiming for a broad range of respondents — not just transit or government folks, but also grassroots activists and local celebrities (on the wish list might be, say, David Byrne or Jay-Z in New York, Steve Wozniak in San Jose/Silicon Valley).

Give a Minute wants to recruit change-minded people to do more than text for change; in tracking responses, Local Projects will be able to point to particular ideas and causes in common, and direct individuals into larger efforts through other technology platforms like Meetup or Kickstarter. And cash-strapped government agencies and non-profits understand that being open to, and willing to cultivate, these ideas — including allowing for temporary solutions, for execution and management from the bottom up — can not only be beneficial but is probably essential. This helps remove the adversary: it’s not NIMBY, it’s “how can this community work together to make change happen?” Coletta refers to this as a Declaration of Interdependence.

The localism inherent in Give a Minute makes sense for the times. Weary of the national conversation, overwhelmed by the global ones, people are turning inward to their own communities — something I’ve written about frequently in this space. From carshares to communal ovens, local currencies to walkability indexes, people increasingly understand that they can effect change in their own backyard, block and neighborhood. In this country’s quest for individuality, we sometimes forget we do need other people; this project helps facilitate that. It may take more than a minute, but it’s worth a shot.

A brief history on the withdrawal of the A5/2 ciphering algorithm in GSM by Harald Welte

Recently, I wanted to investigate when and how A5/2 has been withdrawn from both GSM networks and GSM phones alike. Unfortunately there was no existing article discussing this history online, so I went through dozens of meeting reports and other documents that I could find online to recover what had happened.

If you don’t know what this is all about: It is about the A5/2 air-interface encryption algorithm that was used in certain GSM networks until about 2005-2007.

A5/2 was specified as a security by obscurity algorithm behind closed doors in the late 1980ies. It was intentionally made weaker than it’s (already weak) brother A5/1. The idea was to sell only equipment with A5/2 to the countries of the eastern block, while the less-weak A5/1 encryption was to be used by the western European countries.

A5/2 had been reverse engineered and disclosed in the late 1990ies, and has undergone a lot of attention from cryptographers such as Ian Goldberg and David A. Wagner. In a 1999 paper, they already expect that it can be broken in real-time.

It took several more papers until in August 2003, finally, the proponents of the GSM systems (ETSI/3GPP/GSMA) have realized that there is a problem. And the problem was worse than they thought: Since they key generation for A5/1 and A5/2 is the same, a semi-active downgrade attack can be used to retroactively break previously-recorded, encrypted A5/1 calls. The only solution to this problem is to remove A5/2 from all equipment, to make sure the downgrade is not possible anymore.

Starting from 2004 the security related working groups of 3GPP and GSMA thought about removing A5/2, and in the following years they convinced their respective bodies (3GPP, GSMA), and members thereof (operators, equipment makers) to fix this problem.

Ever since that time, it is known that using the same key generation for different algorithms enables down-grade attacks. However, the key generation for the then-new A5/3 algorithm was unmodified. So now that A5/1 has been broken in recent years, even if the operators deploy A5/3, the same model of down-grading attacks to A5/1 can be done again.

I have put down a time-line at the still mostly-empty website. Some of the goodies from it:

  • It took from 1999-2007 until this gaping security hole was fixed. Call that incident response!
  • Unnamed Northern American Operators (and the PTCRB) were the biggest blockers to remove A5/2 support from their networks. This is particularly strange since US operators should always have had A5/1 access.
  • As a breaking of the more secure A5/1 was already anticipated even back then, in 2002 A5/3 was first specified. Five years later (2007) there was virtually no support for A5/3 among manufacturers of GSM network equipment
  • It took until January 2009 until the GSMA discussed A5/3 testing with mobile phone makers
  • It took until November 2009 until there was a plug-fest testing interoperability between A5/3 enabled GSM network equipment and A5/3 enabled phones.

And what do we learn from all this?

  • GSM equipment manufacturers and mobile operators have shown no interest in fixing gaping holes in their security system
  • Prior to that first A5/2 attack, they have never thought of procedures for upgrading the entire system with new ciphering systems (i.e. proactive plans for incident response)
  • Even after the A5/2 disaster, they have not learned the slightest bit. The same problem that was happening with A5/1 – A5/2 downgrade attacks can today be done with A5/3 – A5/1 downgrade attacks. And this before the majority of the operators has even started to use the already-7-year-old A5/3 in their production networks.
  • The security work group of 3GPP has had a lot of insight into the actual threats to GSM security even 10 years ago. You can see that e.g. in the Technical Recommendation 33.801. But nobody wanted to hear them!
  • Similar problems exist with the authentication algorithms. It took 12 years from first practical attacks on COMP128v1 until the GSMA is looking at withdrawing it.

Stuxnet? Let’s stop being scared of shadows by Paul Ducklin

Paul Ducklin is Sophos Head of Technology, Asia Pacific. Email him in the Sydney office or follow him on Twitter at @duckblog.

Sky News just published an article, complete with video, entitled Stuxnet Super Virus ‘In Hands Of Bad Guys’.

In the article and the video, you will see and hear a variety of startling claims.

The narrator, for example, states that “Stuxnet disrupted Iran’s nuclear programme. The bug, or malware, was slipped into the circuits in the new Busheshr power plant.”

Really? Prove it. Show me some credible evidence.

A tame ethical hacker, interviewed to camera by Sky, points at some graphs on a web page, claiming that the graphs show the number of attacks this month and last month.

The screen grab is too indistict to make out. It could show anything, and probably does, especially since the hacker doesn’t bother to define “attack”. Does he mean the number of reports from computers where an attempt at infection was detected and blocked? Where an infected file ran on a PC which needed to be cleaned up? Or a full-blown infection in which an industrial control device was actually affected, as ultimately intended by the virus?

An unnnamed source is quoted by Sky to have said that “we have hard evidence that the virus is in the hands of bad guys – we can’t say any more than that.”

Honestly? A virus in the hands of bad guys? What a surprise. “We can’t say any more.” Really? This is the same sort of excuse I’ve heard many times before from those who claim to have irrefutable evidence of some sort of nation-state cyberwarfare.

Try looking up catchy names like Titan Rain, Ghostnet, and Operation Aurora. Now find someone who claims to be able to show that those were cyberwar. Then ask them about the proof. If they don’t jump at once behind the “if I tell you, I’ll have to kill you” copout, please tell me. They sound like people we could genuinely learn from.

And Sky even managed to get a UK-based consultant to say, as deadpan as you like, that with a copy of the Stuxnet malware, you could pretty much do anything you want. “You could shut down the Police 999 [UK emergency number] system. You could shut down hospital systems and equipment. You could shut down power stations, you could shut down the transport network across the United Kingdom.”

(That’s the first time I’ve heard that the UK actually has a country-wide integrated transport network which could operate all at once, which is surely an important prerequsite for any possibility of shutting it down in its entirety.)

We don’t need yet more speculation about Stuxnet when we already face a determined and extensive enemy in the form of cybercriminals. They are routinely stealing our credentials, plundering our bank accounts, raiding our retirement funds, subverting our payment systems and even – as one poor fellow in Western Australia found out recently – selling our houses from under our feet.

The problem with inaccurate, inflammatory and irresponsible stories about Stuxnet – good though they may be for page impressions and video views – is that they make cybercriminality sound like a second-rate problem when it is positioned against a news backdrop alleging cyberwar.

Yet it is the sort of rampant and general cybercriminality I mention above which is, in my opinion, significantly more likely to undermine the economic stability of, and thus the quality of life in, many developed countries.

Let’s stop being frightened of shadows and actually concentrate on getting rid of the cyberenemy already in our midst.

HTTPS Everywhere gets Firefox “Firesheep” protection | Electronic Frontier Foundation offers protection for Firesheep, other vulnerabilities by Michael Cooney

Follow Michael Cooney on Twitter: nwwlayer8

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) today said it rolled out a version of HTTPS Everywhere that offers protection against “Firesheep” and other tools that seek to exploit webpage security flaws.

Hitting the streets in October, Firesheep caused a storm of controversy over its tactics, ethics and Web security in general. Firesheep sniffs unencrypted cookies sent across open WiFi networks for unsuspecting visitors to Web sites such as Facebook and Twitter, and lets the user take on those visitors’ log-in credentials.

What’s up with encryption?

HTTPS secures Web browsing by encrypting both requests from your browser to websites and the resulting pages that are displayed. Without HTTPS, users’ online reading habits and activities are vulnerable to eavesdropping and hijacking, EFF states.

EFF says the new version of HTTPS Everywhere (0.9.x) is a direct response to growing concerns about website vulnerability in the wake of Firesheep on social networking sites or webmail systems, for example — if the browser’s connection to the web application either does not use cryptography or does not use it thoroughly enough.

“These new enhancements make HTTPS Everywhere much more effective in thwarting an attack from Firesheep or a similar tool,” said EFF Senior Staff Technologist Peter Eckersley in a statement. “It will go a long way towards protecting your Facebook, Twitter, or Hotmail accounts from Firesheep hacks. And, like previous releases, it shields your Google searches from eavesdroppers and safeguards your payments made through PayPal.”

EFF says that HTTPS Everywhere now protects site such as, Cisco, Dropbox, Evernote, and GitHub. In addition to the HTTPS Everywhere update, EFF also released a guide to help website operators implement HTTPS properly. Websites may default to using the unencrypted, and therefore vulnerable, HTTP protocol or may fill HTTPS pages with insecure HTTP references. EFF’s HTTPS Everywhere tool uses carefully crafted rules to switch sites from HTTP to HTTPS, the company stated.

Firesheep creator Eric Butler wrote on his blog during the recent storm of protest:

“I’ve received hundreds of messages from people who are extremely happy that the issue of website security is receiving attention. Some, however, have questioned if Firesheep is legal to use. I’d like to be clear about this: It is nobody’s business telling you what software you can or cannot run on your own computer. Like any tool, Firesheep can be used for many things. In addition to raising awareness, it has already proven very useful for people who want to test their own security as well as the security of their (consenting) friends. A much more appropriate question is: ‘Is it legal to access someone else’s accounts without their permission’.”

LTE: “4G” or IMT-Advanced

“4G” is the term used to refer to the forthcoming “Fourth Generation” of mobile wireless services that is currently being defined by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU). Its Radiocommunication Sector (ITU-R) is in the process of establishing an agreed and globally accepted definition of 4G wireless systems using the name IMT-Advanced. Current 3G systems were established through ITU’s previous project on International Mobile Telecommunications 2000 (IMT-2000).

As background for this project, ITU published a document, “Recommendation ITU-R M.1645: Framework and overall objectives of the future development of IMT-2000 and systems beyond IMT-2000.”

The IMT-Advanced project schedule shows the requirements and evaluation criteria published in 2008 with submissions to occur through 2009. In Release 10, 3GPP will address the IMT-Advanced requirements in a version of LTE, called LTE-Advanced, for which specifications could become available in 2011. WiMAX will address the IMT-Advanced requirements in a version called Mobile WiMAX 2.0, to be specified in IEEE 802.16m. Such a 4G family, in adherence to the principles defined for acceptance into this ITU process, is globally recognized to be one that can grow to include all aspects of a marketplace arriving beyond 2010, thus complementing and building upon an expanding and maturing 3G business.

The Progression Towards 4G (simple view)

Preliminary research for IMT-Advanced is focused on technologies capable of delivering peak data speeds of 1 gigabit per second in “hotspot” locations and 100 Mbps in a mobile environment. Radio channels to support such networks are expected to be in excess of 20 MHz.

Further ideas under consideration for IMT-Advanced include:

  • Evolution of current OFDMA approaches
  • High-order MIMO (e.g., 4X4)
  • Wider radio channels (e.g., 50 to 100 MHz)
  • Optimization in narrower bands (e.g., less than 20 MHz) due to spectrum constraints in some deployments
  • Multi-channel operation in either same or different frequency bands
  • Ability to share bands with other services

Globally, there are a variety of wireless research and development projects, initiatives and organizations that are advancing the capabilities of wireless systems. These include the Wireless World Research Forum, Wireless World Initiatives, Information and Communication Technologies (ICT), research under the European Union’s Seventh Framework Programme (FP7), Japan Mobile IT Forum (mITF), the Electronic and Telecommunications Research Institute (ETRI) in Korea, and the Next Generation Mobile Committee (NGMC).

It could be well toward the end of the next decade before any IMT-Advanced system has a large subscriber base. Needless to say, vendors will be looking at how to leverage and enhance current OFDMA systems such as LTE and WiMAX to meet the requirements of IMT-Advanced.

Any claim that a particular technology is a so-called “4G technology” prior to an established definition by the ITU is, in reality, simply a marketing spin, creating market confusion and deflating the importance of the telecommunications industry standards. Technologies should be verified against a set of agreed-upon requirements in order to qualify as “4G,” and this will happen in the future when the requirements are outlined by the ITU. Only then will it be understood what is, and can be rightly and credibly called, 4G.

Thermoelectric Technologies | Harnessing Waste Heat: Technology uses auto exhaust heat to create electricity, boost mileage

The effort is funded with a $1.4 million, three-year grant from the National Science Foundation and the U.S. Department of Energy. A Purdue University team is collaborating with General Motors, which is developing a prototype using thermoelectric generators, or TEGs, said Xianfan Xu, a Purdue professor of mechanical engineering and electrical and computer engineering.

TEGs generate an electric current to charge batteries and power a car’s electrical systems, reducing the engine’s workload and improving fuel economy.

The prototype, to be installed in the exhaust system behind the catalytic converter, will harvest  from gases that are about 700 degrees Celsius, or nearly 1,300 degrees Fahrenheit, Xu said.

Current thermoelectric technology cannot withstand the temperatures inside, where gases are about 1,000 degrees Celsius, he said. However, researchers also are working on new thermoelectrics capable of withstanding such , a step that would enable greater fuel savings.

The project begins Jan.1. The first prototype aims to reduce by 5 percent, and future systems capable of working at higher temperatures could make possible a 10 percent reduction, said Xu, whose work is based at the Birck Nanotechnology Center in Purdue’s Discovery Park.

The research team, led by Xu, involves Purdue faculty members Timothy Fisher, a professor of mechanical engineering; Stephen Heister, a professor of aeronautics and astronautics; Timothy Sands, the Basil S. Turner Professor of Engineering, a professor of materials engineering and electrical and computer engineering, and executive vice president for academic affairs and provost; and Yue Wu, an assistant professor of chemical engineering.

The thermoelectric material is contained in chips a few inches square that will be tailored for their specific location within the system.

“They are optimized to work best at different temperatures, which decrease as gas flows along the system,” Xu said.

The researchers are tackling problems associated with the need to improve efficiency and reliability, to integrate a complex mix of materials that might expand differently when heated, and to extract as much heat as possible from the exhaust gases.

Thermoelectric materials generate electricity when there is a temperature difference.

“The material is hot on the side facing the exhaust gases and cool on the other side, and this difference must be maintained to continually generate a current,” said Xu, who has been collaborating with GM in thermoelectric research for about a decade.

A critical research goal is to develop materials that are poor heat conductors.

“You don’t want heat to transfer rapidly from the hot side to the cool side of the chip,” Xu said. “You want to maintain the temperature difference to continuously generate current.”

Researchers at GM are using a thermoelectric material called skutterudite, a mineral made of cobalt, arsenide, nickel or iron.

“The biggest challenge is system-level design – how to optimize everything to get as much heat as possible from the exhaust gas,” Xu said. “The engine exhaust has to lose as much heat as possible to the material.”

Rare-earth elements, such as lanthanum, cesium, neodymium and erbium, reduce the thermal conductivity of skutterudite. The elements are mixed with skutterudite inside a furnace. Because using pure rare-earth elements is costly, researchers also are working to replace them with alloys called “mischmetals.”

The work builds on previous research at Purdue involving the National Science Foundation, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, the Air Force Office of Scientific Research and the Rolls-Royce University Technology Center.

Findings, as well as teaching- and research-oriented materials from the project will be provided via websites including Purdue’s nanoHUB and thermalHUB Web portals. The research will provide graduate and undergraduate students with training in interdisciplinary areas and industrial experience through internships.

Thermoelectric technologies also might be used in other applications such as harnessing waste heat to generate electricity in homes and power plants and for a new type of solar cell and solid-state refrigerator, Xu said.

Why Counting Flaws is Flawed by Brian Krebs

Once or twice each year, some security company trots out a “study” that counts the number of vulnerabilities that were found and fixed in widely used software products over a given period and then pronounces the worst offenders in a Top 10 list that is supposed to tell us something useful about the relative security of these programs. And nearly without fail, the security press parrots this information as if it were newsworthy.

The reality is that these types of vulnerability count reports — like the one issued this week by application whitelisting firm Bit9 — seek to measure a complex, multi-faceted problem from a single dimension. It’s a bit like trying gauge the relative quality of different Swiss cheese brands by comparing the number of holes in each: The result offers almost no insight into the quality and integrity of the overall product, and in all likelihood leads to erroneous and — even humorous — conclusions.

The Bit9 report is more notable for what it fails to measure than for what it does, which is precious little: The applications included in its 2010 “Dirty Dozen” Top Vulnerable Applications list had to:

  • Be legitimate, non-malicious applications;
  • Have at least one critical vulnerability that was reported between Jan. 1, 2010 and Oct. 21, 2010; and
  • Be assigned a severity rating of high (between 7 and 10 on a 10-point scale in which 10 is the most severe).

The report did not seek to answer any of the questions that help inform how concerned we should be about these vulnerabilities, such as:

  • Was the vulnerability discovered in-house — or was the vendor first alerted to the flaw by external researchers (or attackers)?
  • How long after being initially notified or discovering the flaw did it take each vendor to fix the problem?
  • Which products had the broadest window of vulnerability, from notification to patch?
  • How many of the vulnerabilities were exploitable using code that was publicly available at the time the vendor patched the problem?
  • How many of the vulnerabilities were being actively exploited at the time the vendor issued a patch?
  • Which vendors make use of auto-update capabilities? For those vendors that include auto-update capabilities, how long does it take “n” percentage of customers to be updated to the latest, patched version?


The reason more security companies do not ask these questions is that finding the answers is time-consuming and difficult. I should know: I volunteered to conduct this analysis on several occasions over the past five years. A while back, I sought to do this with three years of critical updates for Microsoft Windows, an analysis that involved learning when each vulnerability was reported or discovered, and charting how long it took Microsoft to fix the flaws. In that study, I found that Microsoft actually took longer to fix flaws as the years went on, but that it succeeded in an effort to convince more researchers to disclose flaws privately to Microsoft (as opposed to simply posting their findings online for the whole world to see).

I later compared the window of vulnerability for critical flaws in Internet Explorer and Mozilla Firefox, and found that for a total 284 days in 2006 (or more than nine months out of the year), exploit code for known, unpatched critical flaws in pre-IE7 versions of the browser was publicly available on the Internet. In contrast, I found that Firefox experienced a single period lasting just nine days during that same year in which exploit code for a serious security hole was posted online before Mozilla shipped a patch to fix the problem.

Bit9′s vulnerability count put Google Chrome at the Number 1 spot on its list, with 76 reported flaws in the first 10 months of this year. I’d like to propose that — by almost any objective measure — Adobe deserves to occupy the first, second and third positions on this grotesque vulnerability totem pole, thanks to  vulnerabilities in and incessant attacks against its PDF Reader, Flash and Shockwave software.

For one thing, Adobe appears to have had more windows of vulnerability and attack against flaws in its products than perhaps all of the other vendors on the list combined. Adobe even started this year on the wrong foot: On Dec. 15, 2009, the company announced that hackers were breaking into computers using a critical flaw in Reader and Acrobat. It wasn’t until Jan. 7 — more than three weeks later — that the company issued a patch to fix the flaw.

This happened again with Adobe Reader for 20 days in June, and for 22 days in September. Just yesterday, Adobe issued a critical update in Reader that fixed a flaw that hackers have been exploiting since at least Oct. 28.

True, not all vendors warn users about security flaws before they can issue patches for them, as do Adobe, Microsoft and Mozilla: In many ways this information makes these vendors easier to hold accountable. But I think it’s crucial to look closely at how good a job software vendors do at helping their users stay up-to-date with the latest versions. Adobe and Oracle/Sun, the vendors on the list with the most-attacked products today, both have auto-update capabilities, but these updaters can be capricious and slow.

Google and Mozilla, on the other hand, have helped to set the bar on delivering security updates quickly and seamlessly. For example, I’ve found that when I write about Adobe Flash security updates, Google has already pushed the update out to its Chrome users before I finish the blog post. The same is true when Mozilla issues patches to Firefox.

Marc Maiffret, CTO at eEye Digital Security, also took issue with the Bit9 report, and with Google’s position at #1.

“While many vulnerabilities might exist for Chrome, there are very few exploits for Chrome vulnerabilities compared to Adobe,” Maiffret said. “That is to say that while Chrome has more vulnerabilities than Adobe, it does not have nearly the amount of malicious code in the wild to leverage those vulnerabilities.”

There is no question that software vendors across the board need to do a better job of shipping products that contain far fewer security holes from the start: A study released earlier this year found that the average Windows user has software from 22 vendors on her PC, and needs to install a new security update roughly every five days in order to use these programs safely. But security companies should focus their attention on meaningful metrics that drive the worst offenders to improve their record, making it easier for customers to safely use these products.

Announcing Ushahidi 2.0 (Luanda) by David Kobia

We’re extremely pleased to finally announce version 2.0 (Luanda) of the Ushahidi platform. This release marks the end of many months of work on new functionality and bug fixes based on feedback we’ve received.

Highlights of Ushahidi 2.0

1. Plugins


The plugin system is something we’ve been working on for many months now, and we talked about it briefly back in July. This system allows us to do two things; First, it allows anyone to extend the capabilities of the platform. Second it allows us to focus on the core application itself. For the past few months, our community has been building plugins that you will soon be able to take advantage of via an Ushahidi App Market. In the meantime here are some resources to let you take advantage of this new functionality:

2. New and Improved API

Henry and Emmanuel have been working hard on the Ushahidi API which exposes the platform to 3rd party applications that you create. This API allows you to post or retrieve information from Ushahidi deployments. This in fact is how our Mobile applications (iPhone, Android, j2me) communicate with the platform. Our goal is to give you as many ways as possible to consume the data that Ushahidi deployments create. More information about the Plugin API can be found here. We hope you find new and interesting ways to use it. Soon, you’ll be able to administer Ushahidi deployments through 3rd party applications via an Admin API.

3. One-Click Upgrades (Beta)

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Ushahidi deployments have been notoriously difficult to upgrade. You can now exhale, because we have been working hard at a one-click upgrade mechanism, so that you can upgrade to the latest version without losing some hair. We’re still working out some kinks though, but its closer to 100% done. The system will alert you to new version availability and give you the option to perform the one-click upgrade. Please note that the one-click upgrade will only be available for users of version 2.0. If you have an older version of platform, you will need to update your deployment to version 2.0 manually. Instructions on how to do this are on this wiki entry. Once updated, you will be able to use the one-click upgrade mechanism for future versions.

4. Improved Localization

With the platform’s continued use around the world in countries that speak anything other than English, it is increasingly important to quickly and easily localize the language used on the deployment. We now have a location on the web (Thanks to Brian) where you can help localize language packs for use on your deployment of the platform. Already, many languages have been added and the list of available languages continues to grow. Head over to Tafsiri (Swahili for translate) to get started.

5. SMS Providers

Version 2.0 of the platform now allows you to add other SMS providers into the system via the Plugin API. The platform ships with FrontlineSMS, Clickatell and now SMSSync. SMS providers either provide a mechanism for filtering text messages into the system and/or sending messages from the system.

6. Trusted Reporter Functionality


Popular deployments are sometimes inundated by reports and it becomes increasingly difficult for administrators to read through and approve incoming messages. With Ushahidi 2.0, it is now possible to tag certain phone numbers, email accounts or twitter users as ‘Trusted Reporters’ and their reports will be automatically approved by the system.

7. Improved Theming

With previous versions of the platform, theming was restricted to what you could achieve with CSS styles alone. In Ushahidi 2.0, you can now create new templates and change the structure of pages, allowing you to design completely new looks. The additional benefit is that you never have to tamper with the core code like you had to before.

8. Improved Reports Listing

Caleb has also been hard at work on the reports listing page. We’re trying to make this page as functional as possible and will continue to do so, so that we can convey different sets of information quickly and in a practical way.

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9. Improved Reports Detail
The reports detail page has also been updated. You can go for wider or taller maps. You can also switch tabs to view images and other attached media.


10. Improved Scheduler


Certain tasks with the platform are executed at specified intervals like checking email, checking twitter, sending alerts etc. The improved scheduler allows you to set the frequency of such events.

11. Improved Caching and Speed

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Moving forward we’ll begin to add some options for administrators to help optimize the loading of the platform. This is especially critical for high traffic deployments.



There are numerous other fixes and improvements and we hope you enjoy the hard work we’ve put in so far. As always we can’t ever get enough feedback so we’ll be waiting to hear from you!

We’ll also be going into detail in the next few blog posts about how to use some of the features I’ve mentioned above.

HBR Blogs: Frontline Leadership | The Intelligence Challenge: Lessons from the Private Sector

This post is part of an HBR Spotlight examining leadership lessons from the military.

Since 9/11, the need for increased collaboration and information sharing within the military and intelligence communities has become a constant requirement. As Marine intelligence officers in Iraq and then as analysts at national-level security organizations, each of us has directly witnessed failures caused by weak communication and poor information sharing practices. These experiences have pushed us to look to the private sector to understand how the military can most effectively leverage innovation in information collection, management, and analysis to support the national security mission. Many of the recent HBR blogs on the subject of military leadership show what the armed forces can teach the private sector. We fully agree with many of these arguments, but — in line with Tim Kane’s earlier contribution — we also contend that there is much to learn from knowledge transfer in the opposite direction.

We have begun to identify a few key problems facing the defense and intelligence community that we believe should be prime areas for private contribution to the public mission. The list below highlights our experiences, but is by no means an exhaustive catalog of the current challenges being encountered by defense and intelligence officials. Further, we recognize that the many excellent technology transfer efforts run by government organizations such as In-Q-TelArmy OnPoint, the Small Business Innovation Research grant program, and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency have had much success both fighting these challenges and in increasing the number of technology firms (Palantir TechnologiesEndecaKeyhole, and others) who focus on these issues. Nonetheless, we hope that this comment might help reinvigorate and expand a dialogue around how the private sector can better work with our national security community.

Here are two illustrative areas where private sector expertise is needed:

Failure to Share Information

The flow of intelligence information is generally poor between insular military units with overlapping mandates and between military and civilian intelligence organizations. Even knowing where to find information is tough and time-consuming. It is frustrating how often analysts who have been working on a particular region or target for long periods of time will come across new information that they did not know existed because there is minimal interaction between two different organizations. Even when information does make it across boundaries, we have seen regulatory and bureaucratic barriers cause delays of weeks to get an internal intelligence report to the people who need it.
Misaligned incentives also complicate information flow. Access to information is the currency of intelligence. Both analysts and organizations are sometimes reluctant to share an insight with others not in their fiefdom because it might be replicated without credit and they could lose their perceived value (and funding). Only strong leadership can overcome a basic psychological bias: sharing often requires more work without direct personal reward.

To solve these problems, the best analysts have had to recruit and develop their own “human sources” outside of their unit and within the American defense apparatus — ironically, they do this just as a CIA case officer would strive to cultivate a source within an enemy organization. This is not the way information should be shared. Relying on proactive analysts with good networking skills is not a long-term solution, but a desperate work-around.

Failure to Identify and Hold Accountable the Relevant Centers of Expertise

Right now, hundreds of analysts are churning out virtually identical slides and memos for their respective bosses within the 16 intelligence agencies and the 10 military combatant commands. When things go wrong, the blame is easy to diffuse because so many different people in many different places could have caught the problem. Duplication dilutes responsibility. Additionally, during our time in civilian security organizations, we sometimes observed senior analysts treat solving a complex puzzle with real national security implications like an academic exercise. Like researchers who neglect to publish their studies, analysts often fail to ensure that their intelligence work is translated into operations. It doesn’t seem to cross their minds to check how their report is disseminated, and whether the relevant watch list manager, commander, or policymaker has seen their work.

While the intelligence community now espouses a “responsibility to provide” information to other agencies, it often remains unclear to analysts exactly where that responsibility falls and who will be held accountable. Ironically, “understaffed” intelligence units can actually be more capable and driven because their analysts are closer to the information sharing and decision making process, and have ownership of their particular issue.

The Way Ahead

While there are different tools meant to bring together intelligence analysts with like interests, no one has truly solved the issue of continuous informal and formal collaboration across agency, network, and classification level. General Stanley McChrystal, despite his recent loss of command, achieved great success in special operations by reducing staff size and flattening organizations. He was able to put all the people with information on a particular problem in the same room, so if a piece of information was not shared, accountability was clear. Moving beyond programs that begin to solve the problem, such as A-Space and Intellipedia, we need to emulate McChrystal’s strategy within a fully integrated virtual environment. Moreover, the military can take a lesson from recent slim-downs in the private sector — reducing unneeded billets and spending that money on best-in-class collaboration tools and acquiring top human talent. Such flattening measures will have the additional benefit of decreasing the level of separation and lack of accountability between decision makers and analysts.

These problems are not new. Dedicated professionals work to solve them every day, but we believe more can be done. As we address these and other issues bearing on leadership, we must understand and learn from private organizations that have successfully attacked these same problems. It would be irresponsible not to take advantage of valuable lessons learned by many of the world’s best corporations.

In particular, we should focus on identifying and transferring better business intelligence tools: real-time situational awareness, integrated information management, and simple communication enablers. We need to adapt many of the customer intelligence innovations being used so effectively in the advertising industry to find insights into behavior of threat groups and individuals, as well as the behavior of our own analysts. We need to send intelligence personnel to successful private companies to learn how these tools are used, and then give them the time to imagine the security applications.

Last year’s Christmas Day attack on Northwest Flight 253 was stopped when passengers took personal responsibility, seized the initiative, and worked together. The intelligence community and the private sector can do the same.

Jake Cusack, Matt McKnight ,and Renny McPherson all served as Marine Corps intelligence officers in Iraq, and are graduate students at Harvard Business School and Harvard Kennedy School. They currently advise clients in defense policy and intelligence technology for the Mayflower Strategy Group.