On November 22, the President’s Council of Advisers on Science and Technology issued a letter report on cybersecurity. It is concerned with providing cybersecurity in a frequently changing threat environment. As the overarching recommendation reads:
Cybersecurity will not be achieved by a collection of static precautions that, if taken by Government and industry organizations, will make them secure. Rather, it requires a set of processes that continuously couple information about an evolving threat to defensive reactions and responses.
The other recommendations address government’s own information technology practices, information sharing across the private sector and the government, and auditing cybersecurity practices in the private sector. This report follows up on a Feburary 2013 classified briefing provided by PCAST, so the recommendations are perhaps more for public consumption at this point
Also of note are two new faces on PCAST. Ernest Moniz had to step down when he became Secretary of Energy, and David Shaw and Ahmed Zewail are no longer on the Council. The new members recently appointed by the President to replace them are Susan Graham, an emerita professor of electrical engineering and computer science at the University of California, Berkeley; and Michale McQuade, vice president at United Technologies Corporation. McQuade has also worked for 3M and Eastman Kodak and has a physics background.
Some programs are off this week, perhaps expecting a post-Thanksgiving lull. Of those in repeats, there are two segments worth listing. I failed to catch it the first time around, but Jimmy Fallon had a technology demonstration of the new PlayStation 4 console in a recent episode. It will rerun on Thursday night. On Friday you can watch Johnny Galecki’s September appearance on The Late Show. Galecki plays a scientist on The Big Bang Theory.
New science and technology content this week is dominated by The Colbert Report. On tonight’s (Monday’s) program science writer Daniel Goleman visits to promote his latest book, which focuses on…focus. Tuesday night Ed Stone, longtime planetary scientist, and former director of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, engages with Stephen. Thursday night the guest is Alan Mulally, CEO of Ford Motor Corporation. How technology factored into the company’s turnaround may be part of the conversation.
In other venues, you can see Bill Nye, the Science Guy, with the ladies of The View on Thursday. Also on Thursday, the ladies of The Talk welcome their technology expert, Chi-Lan Lieu.
There will be a special on The Science Channel this weekend focused on the ISON comet. This comet recently had its close approach to the sun, and observers were unsure whether or not the comet broke up during the approach. While the comet’s days are numbered, the attention it is getting has yet to wane.
Recent developments in space made me think that perhaps a new space race is emerging. One not involving the United States.
Earlier today the Chinese launched Chang’e 3, a moon lander, which was carrying a lunar rover. If all goes as expected, it should arrive on the moon’s surface in the middle of the month. It would mark the first landing on the moon in nearly 30 years, and the first lunar landing by the Chinese. Chang’e 1 and 2 orbited the moon in 2007 and 2010, respectively.
India has also been active in space exploration today. It’s Mangalyaan mission left Earth orbit on its way to Mars. It should arrive at the red planet in roughly 300 days. If successful, India would be the fourth space program to successfully orbit another planet.
While it’s not clear if the two countries are eyeing each other as they reach for the stars, national prestige is a motivation behind their space activities. In that way their space activities resemble the space race of the 1960s.
Bay Chamber Concerts commissioned a piece in advance of the 30th anniversary of the Hubble Space Telescope (H/T The Atlantic). Called Hubble Cantata, it is currently in two forms – a 22 minute version which can be heard online at the composer’s website (and is available for download), and a multimedia version that has been performed in public by soprano Jessica Rivera and the International Contemporary Ensemble. The goal is to develop a full cantata for two voices and instruments, which would include the same kinds of multimedia interludes focused on the Hubble Telescope and what it’s been able to see. The video below is from the July 2013 premiere of the piece.
Besides composer Paola Prestini, Royce Vavrek, Carmen Kordas and astrophysicist (and science writer) Mario Livio have contributed to the cantata. Livio was engaged with the project based on his writings, and with his help the other artists were able to connect the story of a young woman with images from the Hubble that followed the life and death of a star. This remains a work in progress, as a November performance incorporated a new choir. There may well be chances to see further iterations of the work between now and the 30th anniversary of Hubble in 2015.
The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has been looking for the next generation condom. That its motivation is perhaps not what you think demonstrates the need for the competition in the first place – helping prevent sexually transmitted diseases. The Foundation figures we needs a more pleasurable condom in order to get more men to wear them. As the list of grantees suggests, latex has reached the limits of its sensitivity. Should any of the finalists break through with their idea, there is a million dollar payoff waiting.
The Department of Energy started the American Energy Data Challenge at the beginning of the month. In its first contest, the Department was looking for Ideas on the best existing energy data set is, the best energy data set not yet compiled, and best killer app focused on energy. The contest ends today, but the judging starts on Monday. That’s where you can come in. Starting then the public can review submissions. Final selections will be made based on public feedback and the decisions of a panel of experts. Winners can receive up to $1500.
The White House just opened the submission period for the first White House Film Festival. It closes on January 29. The theme of the festival is technology in schools, filmmakers must be in grades K-12, and films must be no loner than 3 minutes. Finalists will have their works displayed on various White House outlets. If I’m not sufficiently persuasive, maybe Bill Nye will be:
GoldieBlox was recently featured in a post here for their promotional video for their Princess Machine product, which is geared toward young girls learning basic building skills. The video featured a Rube Goldberg contraption unfolding as a reworked edition of The Beastie Boys song “Girls” played. There were new lyrics performed by girls, but it would be hard to confuse it as a totally original work.
You can no longer view the video in the post. Or on the GoldieBlox website, or on YouTube.
GoldieBlox figured they could use the song without permission or compensation from The Beastie Boys based on the fair use doctrine claiming that the video was a parody. While that could be something for the courts to decide, the group has a history of rejecting the use of their music in commercials (deceased member Adam Yauch had such language in his will) and seeking relief in the courts. The group reasonably concluded that the video was intended (at least in part) to help sell Princess Machines. The group issued an open letter (H/T The Hollywood Reporter and The Wire) to explain its position. Per The Hollywood Reporter:
“the band released a letter saying while it was ‘impressed by the creativity and the message’ of the Goldieblox video, ‘make no mistake, your video is an advertisement that is designed to sell a product, and long ago, we made a conscious decision not to permit our music and/or name to be used in product ads… When we tried to simply ask how and why our song ‘Girls’ had been used in your ad without our permission, YOU sued US.’”
It would appear that GoldieBlox, after not first asking permission, skipped asking for forgiveness and asked the courts to declare their video permissible through fair use. They claimed a threat of lawsuit from The Beastie Boys, a claim the group denies. GoldieBlox has pulled the original video, substituting another one with a generic music track, and issuing a letter of apology. I suspect the company was not willing to engage in a lengthy legal dispute (this issue is maybe just a small part of the backlash against the company).
No word on how this dispute may affect the company’s standing in the Intuit-sponsored competition for a commercial spot in the 2014 Super Bowl (If this post disappears, blame the No Fun League). The videos on the competition website are from company founders telling their stories. While I suppose they could be the eventual commercial, I would still expect GoldieBlox to use the video with girls using their product, even if “Girls” isn’t the soundtrack.
Partners in Research is a project at Georgetown University to help fill the growing gap between demand for biomedical research funding and the declining budget dollars available through the National Institutes of Health (H/T The Washington Post). Research scientists at the Center present proposals to a group of donors, who select proposals to fund from their pooled donations.
This certainly resembles the new trend in funding projects, where crowds provide small donations to support existing projects. But it bears a strong resemblance to angel networks or giving circles, which are smaller groups of donors that provide larger amounts per person. Partners in Research is still operating on a small scale. The latest competition was amongst four researchers, of whom two would receive $35,000 grants.
While the funds are needed, there are limitations to the approach. Besides a smaller pool of money, the input of donors does not guarantee that the proposals will have the benefit of outside expert review. The University can review proposals that will be up for competition, but the donors need not be trained in relevant fields of science and medicine. For both reasons, Georgetown focuses grants in this program on seed money for exploring new research areas, bridge funding to assist with funding gaps between traditional grants, and start up funds for new researchers. (Other crowdfunding programs often focus on these kinds of grants.)
With the trend of flat and/or declining traditional funding for research, it would be nice to determine if crowdsourcing can scale large enough to replace some of the traditional investigator grants while maintaining the capacity for outside expert review.