Monday, April 29, 2013

sustainable natural lighting via genetically modified plant

In what they call the “first step in creating sustainable natural lighting,” a group of innovators coming out of Singularity University have launched a Kickstarter campaign to create glowing plants. Admittedly the idea of replacing street lamps with glowing foliage will seem far-fetched to many. But after just three days the campaign has gone viral, already having surpassed its goal of $65,000.

The core team includes Omri Amirav-Drory, a postdoctoral fellow at Stanford and founder of the gene building startup Genome Compiler, a Singularity University company coming out of the rapidly expanding Singularity Labs. Also part of the core team are Senstore co-founder Antony Evans, and Kyle Taylor, a biologist who teaches Intro to Molecular and Cell Biology at the biohacker space BioCurious. The three have now joined forces at Singularity University. I got a chance to speak with Evans, the group’s Project Manager, and ask him about the groups’ exciting and eccentric vision.
To create the glowing plants, the team will first generate modified genes with the Genome Compiler software, then insert them into Arabidopsis, a small flowering plant related to mustard and cabbage (they make sure to point out that the plant is not edible). The main gene, luciferase, is the same one that makes fireflies light up the night.

Evans acknowledges that this isn’t the first time luciferase has been used to create glowing plants. But to create plants bright enough to light our way will take a lot of optimizing. The feature that they’ve already worked out is modifying the luciferase gene so that it recycles, as lots of the enzyme will be needed to make the plant sufficiently bright.
[Source: Kickstarter]
[Source: Kickstarter]

With Genome Compiler they’re able to design and print DNA, to make new sequences from scratch. But even while the price of DNA synthesis drops, costs can mount quickly, especially when you’re troubleshooting. At the time of this writing, the Kickstarter campaign had raised over $64,000 – less than a thousand shy of their goal after just three days. The more money the group gets, the more genes they’ll be able to print and test.

To create a system that people can experiment with, they had to start simple. If you’ve seen Arabidopsis you know it’s more suited to light a dinner table than a sidewalk. “We chose it for good reasons, it’s about as safe as it gets. It’s a winter plant that won’t do well in direct sunlight, so it won’t go crazy [by spreading uncontrollably]. Two, it’s about as good as it gets as a model organism. Because it has such a small genome its metabolic pathways have been completely mapped. What I would really like to do one day is a willow tree, but genetically engineering trees is pushing the boundaries of science that we’re not ready for.”

While the genetics will have to be worked out, for Arabidopsis and willow trees or whatever comes after, Evans said the toughest part about getting the project going was “dealing with the ethics and regulatory questions. Science in some ways is the easy part. There isn’t a lot of precedent for what we’re doing. It took a long time to get to a consensus [with regulatory bodies] on that.”
The glowing gene is first inserted into agrobacteria which are then used to move the gene into the plant. [Source: Kickstarter]
The glowing gene is first inserted into agrobacteria which are then used to move the gene into the plant. [Source: Kickstarter]

Want to support the cause, or maybe just have the only house on the block with a glowing yard? People from the US who back with $40 or more will be sent seeds (50 to 100) of their own so they can cultivate the glowing crop in their own backyard. They emphasize that the seeds will never be sold commercially, so the only chance ever to get the seeds is through Kickstarter. Those interested can follow them on twitter or Facebook or follow developments on their blog. And anyone in the Sunnyvale, CA area can meet up with the team at the Bioluminesence Community meetups at BioCurious Monday evenings.

Evans acknowledged that they’ve encountered a fair amount of skepticism, but the team hopes to convert those skeptics. “More than lighting streets it’s about educating and inspiring the public – it’s not as dangerous as people think. We want to put a beautiful plant in their hands and show them it’s useful and safe.” And for those who are interested, the team plans on publishing a paper so that others can learn from their trial-and-error and won’t have to reinvent the wheel. “The plant is the sexy part, but if we can establish guidelines, I think that might be the more important part.”
The funds raised with the campaign are just the beginning. The real resource, Evans tells me, is people. “Bigger than the light itself, if we can get people to invest their time, being creative, building an ecosystem, then they can get together to try things and build things. I know it sounds cheesy, but I think of the light of the plant as ‘lighting the way.’ I want kids to see it and think, ‘I can do that,’ go down to the lab and start coming up with things. And that’s where the real innovation will come from, because they’ll come up with things we can’t.”

Like the campaign, Evans hopes the plants will eventually grow into something beyond the original vision. Plants are exquisitely sensitive to their environment and respond to minute changes in air, temperature, light. “You could modify the plants for all kinds of sensing applications,” he says. “I firmly believe that this is something that’s going to revolutionize our society. With this technology we have a lot of tools that can solve a lot of humanity’s problems. We’re limited only by our imagination.”

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

99.5% of illegal immigrants get approval for legal status; high number raises concerns about fraud

The Washington Times

The administration has approved 99.5 percent of applications of those who have applied for legal status under President Obama’s nondeportation policy for young adults, granting legal status to more than 250,000 formerly illegal immigrants.

Officials said they expect the approval rate to drop as more cases make their way through the system, as it takes longer to deny an application than to approve it. Indeed, the approval rate already has dropped from 99.8 percent just a month ago.

But the high rate leaves others wondering whether the administration is doing all it can to weed out fraud or potentially dangerous illegal immigrants in DACA, or the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, as it’s formally known.

“You really have to wonder who they’re giving deferred action to, and what kind of risk they represent to us,” said Jessica Vaughan, director of policy studies at the Center for Immigration Studies. “The screening process is much less for DACA than it would be for a green card, and so it’s all that much more susceptible to fraud.”

DACA is seen by many as a test-run should Congress pass a broad legalization for most of the 11 million illegal immigrants in the U.S.

Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), left, shouts at Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y., not shown) as he speaks during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on immigration reform at the Hart Office Building on Capitol Hill, Washington, D.C., Monday, April 22, 2013. Also pictured is Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), right. (Andrew Harnik/The Washington Times)

Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), left, shouts at Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y., not ... more >
That means the pressure is on Homeland Security to get it right, and officials say they are taking steps to combat fraud, including warning that bogus applicants will be prosecuted and deported.

Mr. Obama created the program last summer to try to help illegal immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as children by their parents.

His policy allows them to remain and work in the U.S. on tentative legal status with no fear of deportation, though they do not have a direct path to citizenship. That path could come, though, under the immigration bill senators are beginning to debate, which would give DACA-approved immigrants a speedier chance at citizenship.

On Monday, one of those legalized under DACA pleaded with Congress to give her that chance.
“Legalizing people like me, the 11 million of us, will make the United States stronger and will bring about significant economic gains,” said Gabriel Pacheco, who was brought to the U.S. from Ecuador at age 8 by her parents. “Doing nothing is no longer acceptable.”

Her situation captures the complexities of American immigration: One of her sisters is about to earn citizenship as the wife of a U.S. citizen, with two citizen children; another sister is here illegally and didn’t qualify for DACA because she was too old; and her younger brother, 27, who owns a carwashing business, did qualify. Ms. Pacheco’s husband, meanwhile, is a Venezuelan who has lived in the U.S. for 26 years and earned his green card last year after an 18-year wait.

Mr. Obama announced the DACA policy in June, and the government began taking applications in August.

It was a galvanizing moment for immigrant rights advocates, and Hispanic voters in particular rewarded the president by voting for his re-election in overwhelming numbers.
The policy applies to illegal immigrants who were brought to the U.S. before age 16 and who were not yet 31 when the program was announced.

Illegal immigrants with serious criminal records aren’t supposed to qualify. To be eligible, applicants must have graduated from high school or earned an equivalency degree or served in the military.
Through the first 7 months of the program, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) approved 268,316 illegal immigrants for tentative legal status, while denying just 1,377 applications.
A Homeland Security official said the denials will tick up as time passes. Those whom the department plans to reject are given time to submit more evidence or appeal their denial, while approvals go through immediately.

For example, while USCIS approved 29,793 applications in the first six weeks of the program, it denied just six applications, or one out of every 5,000. But in March, the agency approved about 98.2 percent, meaning it denied nine out of every 500 applications.

USCIS has issued some denials but expects denial rates to increase once requests for evidence and notice of intent to deny responses are received and reviewed by USCIS,” a Homeland Security official said.

Louis “Don” Crocetti Jr., who retired in 2011 after serving as the head of the USCIS fraud branch, also predicted his old agency’s denial rate will rise because of how it handles cases.
“It’s not uncommon, in fact it is more common than not, that the questionable cases are put on the back end in order to [make sure] the more deserving candidates get the benefit,” said Mr. Crocetti, who now runs the Immigration Integrity Group, a consultancy.

Cesar Vargas, one of those who has gained legal status under DACA and is executive political director of DRM Action Coalition, said the high approval rate makes sense given who is in this pool of immigrants.

“I am not surprised, just as most Americans and senators should not be not surprised, since many of the DACA applicants who applied were youth and students who were committed to their school and work,” Mr. Vargas said. “Dreamers have been in the U.S. for most of our lives such that it was not as difficult to put the paperwork proving our presence and moral character.”
Through the end of March, the department had received 472,004 completed applications and had settled nearly 270,000 of them.

Mr. Crocetti said DACA is a chance for the administration to test its screening process as it prepares for the possibility of a broad legalization for all 11 million illegal immigrants now in the U.S.
“We are in a post-9/11 world, as most recently evinced by the events in Boston,” he said. “This is a pivotal time that we have to get this right. We have to screen these people accurately, and we really have to know what are the key indicators to look for when these people file.”

Unlike the 1986 amnesty, when every applicant was interviewed in person and there still was double-digit fraud Mr. Crocetti said that’s not likely to be an option this time around. But he said technology has become so advanced that the agency can come up with analytical tools that can predict applications most likely to be fraudulent.

Ms. Vaughan, the policy director at the Center for Immigration Studies, which favors a crackdown on immigration, said that in the wake of the Boston Marathon bombings that should be a priority for any legalization program, including the ongoing DACA system.

“That’s very concerning in light of the most recent reminder namely this terror attack in Boston, near where I live,” she said, “that we simply are not taking enough care in screening the people we admit for legal status whether it’s this kind of deferred action or a green card or an asylum application.”

Monday, April 22, 2013

Omni-directional treadmill for virtual applications

Back in the 90s, I had a cartoon idea I called 'VR for Dogs' - the idea would be to put a dog in a virtual environment that would allow them to go for a run using an omnidirectional treadmill surrounded by a dome that would display the virtual environment - if the VR was convincing enough to a dog, it should work wonders on humans.

So, here it comes - this version uses a harness - the Virtuix Omni:

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Boston bomber description controversy

First in the news I saw a report of a 'white male' suspect (no problem saying that), but when someone referred to a 'dark skinned male' the sensors rolled out (National Association of Black Journalists).  Now, the latest suspect photos - two men of middle eastern origin.

Can't we just concentrate on catching the bomber, whoever it is? I doubt the families of the victims are worried about racial profiling. Clearly, the different political camps are focused on what this event means for their agendas - immigration, gun control, race, religion, etc. This race pimp who makes his career bashing 'white privilege' at Salon writes how we should hope the bomber is a white American.

The Feds are now forbidden to use racial profiling for immigration enforcement, and the AP style guide drops reference to 'illegal immigrants' because it 'dehumanizes'. Frankly, I find our media culture dehumanizing - tabloid news and sensationalism, social media dominating our political direction. I certainly wouldn't look to journalists to set standards for defining humanity.

I guess in the future when I call the police to report a crime in progress,  I should just say there is an entity committing a crime - no gender, color or other descriptive - i can't say if they are tall or short because it's all subjective to my own ethno-gender-morpho-centric- point of view. I will count on the dispatcher to prompt me in a thoughtful and sensitive way.

I'd actually be culpable for making an aggressive accusation, if, for example, this would-be criminal entity may have mistaken my car for their own and were merely trying to get in through the window with a brick only because they were upset that their keys wouldn't open my door, and in fact I may have caused them great distress by not applying a warning label to my vehicle stating 'caution: this may not be your car. It is in fact property of 'owner's name here', and provide a QR code that allows download of the owner's social security number, credit report, dna sequence, and a friend request on Facebook. It's all about sharing these days anyway. Not just sharing - redistribution and above all FAIRNESS!

Let's all march in rows wearing red coats so history can repeat itself. After all, the West has never been famous for prevention. Just drive the car until it breaks down. Thanks to Democrats and Republicans for helping pimp our ride.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Patton Oswalt proposal for Star Wars VII,0,579336.story


Patton Oswalt is guest starring in this week's "Parks and Recreation," but the most impressive thing about his appearance is what you won't see on NBC.

As part of the episode, Oswalt's character was supposed to appear before a Pawnee City Council meeting and filibuster a proposed vote. Producers invited Oswalt to "ramble a bit about whatever subject he wanted."

Oswalt decided his topic of choice was a pitch for the upcoming "Star Wars Episode VII." While we wouldn't dream of spoiling the twists and turns the story takes, let's just say that he's found a brilliant way to merge two of the Disney corporation's biggest franchises (and even one they don't own).

The result is a single eight-minute take that was completely improvised, brilliant and much too long for the constraints of a half-hour network comedy.

Thank God for the Internet. The entire take is now posted in its entirety online, so that, hopefully J.J. Abrams will be able to study it and learn.

This has been quite a week for Oswalt, who penned a short Facebook post in the wake of the Boston Marathon bombings that was full of hope and inspiration. The post went viral and made its way all over the Internet in just a couple of days.

As of Wednesday, it had been shared over 250,000 times and been reprinted in whole or in part on several websites, including the Huffington Post.

Also on Monday, Oswalt appeared as the Penguin in a Batman parody video posted on College Humor's website. While the video was meant to be a joke, it did appear that Oswalt could pull off a convincing Penguin, should the big screen franchise ever need the character to reappear. (Danny DeVito most recently played the character in Tim Burton's 1992 "Batman Returns.")

And to top it off, he was announced as the host of the 17th annual Webby Awards, honoring the best of Internet culture, which will be held on May 22 in New York City.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Predictive Analysis projects

...funded by Google and the CIA.

If ever there were a right moment to pay tribute to Francis E. Dec...

Iranian 'Time Machine',2817,2417686,00.asp

Forget Psychics, Iranian 'Time Machine' Can Predict Future

Throw out the Magic 8 ball — an Iranian scientist's time machine can predict your future.

According to The Telegraph, 27-year-old Ali Razeghi's "Aryayek Time Traveling Machine" can see up to eight years into the future by analyzing only the user's touch.

Based on a set of complex algorithms, the misnamed "time machine" can "predict five to eight years of the future life of any individual, with 98 percent accuracy," Razeghi told The Telegraph.

A serial inventor, Razeghi is also the managing director of Iran's Centre for Strategic Inventions, where he recently registered his new machine, and 179 other projects before it. Ten years of work has resulted in a device that can easily fit into a laptop case, but doesn't actually move users through time.

"It will not take you into the future, it will bring the future to you," Razeghi said of his invention's title.

The machine can be put to use within Iran's government, The Telegraph said, helping to predict, for example, the possibility of military confrontations or fluctuations in currency and oil prices.

"Naturally a government that can see five years into the future would be able to prepare itself for challenges that might destabilize it," the scientist said, adding that he expects to market the invention to government executives as well as individuals, "once we reach a mass production stage."

Razeghi criticized the Americans' efforts to build the same sort of prediction device "by spending millions of dollars on it where I have already achieved it by a fraction of the cost." In fact, the U.S. has already done so — Google and the CIA have invested in "temporal analytics engine" Recorded Future (see slideshow), which maps patterns and forecasts a future outcome based on everything from Twitter feeds to government documents.

There is no timeline yet for when Razeghi's machine could be available, or how much it will cost, though it's safe to say the average consumer likely won't be setting up the Aryayek Time Traveling Machine in their living room.

The biggest hold up in launching the prototype now, the scientist said, is because "the Chinese will steal the idea and produce it in millions overnight."

Perhaps Doc Brown has a solution.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

2nd hand smoke

The good old grapevine
turns up sour grapes sometimes
when the grape falls too far from the vine.

Immigration advocacy group

Forward? Just a creepy coincidence, I'm sure.

Mark Zuckerberg immigration group puts big pieces in place

Friday, April 5, 2013

Target offends shoppers after it uses 'manatee' to describe plus-size dress


Talk about a fashion faux pas.

Target caused quite an uproar this week when they named the color of a gray plus-size dress for sale on their website “Manatee Gray.”

The same dress in regular sizes was labeled “Dark Heather Gray,” leaving online shoppers wondering just what the retailer was trying to imply with their word choice.

The color switch-a-roo was noticed by online shopper Susan Clemens, who promptly captured images of the color titles and tweeted it at Target.

The retailer was quick to apologize for the seemingly offensive word choice.

Clemens tweeted she didn’t expect an apology from Target, but the retailer was quick to fix the error regardless.

Target spokesperson Jessica Deede told FOX 411 that “Manatee Gray” is a color label often used by Target.

“Manatee gray is actually a seasonal color that is used across product categories on, from apparel items to home items. This was an unintentional oversight,” she said. “We will take this opportunity to learn.”

Deede explained that the varying color labels for the plus and regular-sized items occurred because of a communication error between two teams working with the dress.

“There were two teams working on uploading products to and there was a discrepancy,” she said.

The plus-size gray dress has temporarily been removed from the website, but Deede said it should be back shortly.

“We are working on fixing that color label on”