Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Saving Private Rudi

Captain Miller: He better be worth it. He better go home and cure a disease, or invent a longer-lasting light bulb.

Rudi Cilibrasi works on the Normalized Compression Distance concept through the use of Google and other tools like Winzip. This is very clever because it uses tools that are already available to everybody while at the same time he uses them to do something that was thought to be impossible. In effect, the data mining and clustering of data in multidimensional space is an issue at the crossroads of many problems of importance nowadays from bioinformatics to robotics, including drug discovery.

The nice thing about Rudi is that he is making available some of his tools and findings free to whoever wants to use them: his code is on sourceforge (GPL). This is a little bit like what Dave Donoho does at Stanford with his Wavelab software thereby providing proof of scholarship as opposed to the usual article publication which is just a means of advertizing that scholarship.

Why am I saying these things ? because there is a twist: Rudi is dying. He has Hepitatis C. His parents have already passed away from the disease.

This is ironic since there is a non trivial chance that one day, a researcher at one of the big pharmaceutical company will use his software, or a derivative of it, in order to discover a drug capable of taking down Hepitatis C. It is also very likely that the product of this discovery will belong to the drug company's Intellectual Property (IP) and that Rudi may be restricted to have access to this drug because he is on the wrong continent or country as has been the case in his story.

In our war on diseases, it would be a damm shame to lose Rudi since he may even be part of the solution directly or indirectly.

Please, sign the petition, let's Save Private Rudi.

Friday, June 17, 2005

Bob, I would not call it "co-existing"

Via BoingBoing, I found this tidbit about how Australia's megafauna coexisted with humans:

New research conducted by Australian and British scientists reveals that in fact humans and megafauna, such as gigantic three tonne wombat-like creatures, a ferocious marsupial "lion" and the world's all-time biggest lizard, may have co-existed for around 15 000 years.

Don't get me wrong, I am not objecting to the fact that they were not living at the same time, rather the word "co" in latin translates into "with". I'd rather qualify the situation as humans surviving against some pretty tough odds.

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Catch my gamma rays if you can.

NIAC just released their new grants. One of them is focused on how to harvest antimatter. Why antimatter ? well because everybody knows that if you use some antimatter with its matter equivalent, they annihilate with each other releasing a large amount of energy. Why do we care ? well, the story goes that with a lot of energy, you can go anywhere in space. In essence, once you get antimatter, you're ready for some Star Treck action.

The main problem is that the last statement is just plain wrong. In order to go anywhere in space, you need to eject mass from your spaceship. You know, inertia, if something goes one way, the rest goes the other way. Hence, in order to have a rapid spaceship, you have to efficiently eject mass as rapidily as possible in the opposite direction. The only way we know how to rapidily eject matter is to heat it up. The warmer the heat, the higher the ejection speed of the fuel and therefore, the higher the speed of your rocket. This is why chemical rockets are less efficient than nuclear rockets.

In the case of the "antimatter" devices proposed, the large amount of energy released is just massless photons, high energy photons, but massless photons nonetheless. How do you suppose large masses of matter can be heated up and ejected when the fuel is made up of massless photons ? Well if they remain photons, it won't help therefore you need a conversion process enabling matter to pick up the energy of the massless photons instead. And here lies the problem, the cross section of gases to high energy photons is very very small. In effect, physically, it is so poor that it does not compete seriously with any existing and tested nuclear rocket concepts.

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Eye Tracking Machines and Autism: A Business Case ?

While searching for a gaze tracking hardware/software in order to better understand drivers/driving for our entry in the Grand Challenge Race, I was talking to one of the manufacturers of eye tracking software (Eyelink, SMI and Seeing Machine) and found out that there was not much awareness with regards to issues of autism and some of the solution devised for the eye tracking business.

In order to make it clear that the two are related, I used the paper of Kevin Pelphrey, Sasson, Reznick and Paul published in the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders in 2002 and extracted one of the most compelling picture that one needs to see in order to understand some of the gaze tracking issues of autistic people.

Eye Tracking Deficiency in Autism Posted by Hello

Obviously, the brain is not tracking the most interesting part of the face and therefore, very little can be gathered with respects to other people's emotion. Learning may as well be disrupted since face tracking is important in learning from imitation.

Some recent studies seem to show that one can detect autism or related cognitive deficiencies by watching videos made by families at age 3 to 6 months. This is very important since, way before going into some biochemical or more intrusive means of detection, I am sure that a video based system, like the one sold by these companies, has some potentiality for cognitive deficiency detection. One needs to realize that there is really no detection mechanism for autism before the age of two and it is generally very late at that stage.

There is a business case to be made especially if you consider that some families are willing to pluck $75,000 of their own money over one year to do something about the autism condition of their kids. More specifically, while it would be extremely difficult to use this technology as a standard test, I am sure however, that families that already have had autistic kids would want to know if their newborn siblings have the same problems. And in the event that they indeed have a similar problem, they would look into working on the imitiation learning business much earlier than at the age of two.