Listen to this Issue.
Give those eyes a rest.
Quote of the Week.
"In The Dark, We Cannot See The Road Ahead."
Ostriches don't really hid their
in the sand -- should we?
Picture of the Week.
Our "Tagged" Future?
Wal-Mart and others recently
RFID-tagged product tests in the U.S. But...!
Simply Doing "The Impossible."
Suppose you were POSITIVE it
could be done...?
A Picture Worth Many, Many Words...
How is gasoline like sugar?
About "The Harrow Technology Report."
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The next issue of The Harrow
Technology Report will publish on Nov. 24, 2003.
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I living in the last generation to die of cancer, or
the first generation to be saved by nanotechnology?"
Nobel Prize winner Richard Smalley
Director of the Center for Nanoscale Science and
Rice University, Houston.
(From the Oct. 10
Forbes/Wolfe nanotech Weekly Insider)
Back to Table of Contents
In the last issue
in others before it, we've explored some of the
advances in biotechnology that may, eventually,
bring doctoral level bioengineering techniques into
the home and elementary school. This could *perhaps*
culminate in kids being able to create their own
life form (as they already simulate in some games).
But the difference will be, then, that they can
actually 'make it so!'
I'm not implying that this
would necessarily be a good thing (it could be very
bad!), but biotechnology seems to be following the
computing field's exponential growth curve.
Do you remember when Desktop
Publishing hit the market? That's an example of how
crossing a computing threshold "impossibly" changed
industries (consider that few "printers" at that
time knew about the individual developments of the
laser printer, the Macintosh, and PageMaker software
-- and even those who did hardly conceived of how
that combination would change their world).
Now -- get ready for
biotechnology to eventually, similarly, cross its
own "impossible" thresholds...)
De Curve! De Curve!
Serendipitously, reader Steve
Pitcher has just brought our attention to some
expansion on this theme in an Oct. 9 "Silicon
Insider" commentary (http://abcnews.go.com/sections/business/
which further supports the idea of biotech following
in silicon's exponential-curve shoes:
was just three years ago, at an industry conference
in San Francisco, that a venture capitalist noted
that for the very first time, biotech — in
particular, the field of bioinformatics — was
beginning to exhibit the kind of technological
acceleration until now only found in electronics.
And now, when almost no one is looking, here we are:
the biotech train is starting to roar down the
"...Exponential growth is all-but beyond the
capacity of human beings to cope with. For example,
it will take generations for us to fully assimilate
just what happened in the PC Age from 1984 to 1998.
The change Moore's Law produces is so fast, and so
sweeping, that it quickly escapes any attempt to
control it. Just look at the Internet.
Ultimately, the greatest lesson to be learned from
the electronics revolution [as applied now to
biotech] is that if you hope to have any impact on
Moore's Law you'd better do it early, in the first
few generations, before the doubling grains of rice
on the chessboard mount up so high that they engulf
you. After that, it takes everything you've got just
to keep from being buried alive."
The Home Molecular Biology
Of course today, the concept of
exponential biotechnology growth and all that it
implies is a bit hard to swallow on the surface.
After all, the thought of a "Home DNA Kit" or
similar seems improbable, and more than a little
outrageous -- and rather scary. Yet reader Kenneth
LaCrosse points us to the Molecular Sciences
Institute, who's mission, in part, is that "...by
enabling a more predictive biological understanding,
work at MSI should enable a design-based engineering
of biological systems..."
Think CAD (Computer Aided
Design) systems for "life?" And remember that it
didn't take long for CAD technology to migrate from
the very expensive dedicated corporate computers to
the home PC (actually, in many cases, the "home PC"
replaced those expensive dedicated CAD workstations
in the workplace!)
A paper by MSI researcher Dr.
Rob Carlson (http://www.molsci.org/~rcarlson/)
titled "The Pace and Proliferation of Biological
published in the
Biosecurity and Bioterrorism
journal, explores these issues in further detail,
"The advent of the home molecular biology laboratory
is not far off. While there is no Star Trek
“Tricorder” in sight, the physical infrastructure of
molecular biology is becoming more sophisticated and
less expensive every day. Automated commercial
instrumentation handles an increasing fraction of
laboratory tasks that were once the sole province of
doctoral level researchers, reducing labor costs and
increasing productivity. This technology is
gradually moving into the broader marketplace as
laboratories upgrade to new equipment. Older, still
very powerful instruments are finding their way into
wide distribution, as any cursory tour of eBay will
These factors are contributing to a proliferation
that will soon put highly capable tools in the hands
of both professionals and amateurs worldwide. There
are obvious short term risks from increased access
to DNA synthesis and sequencing technologies, and
the general improvement of technologies used in
measuring and manipulating molecules will soon
enable a broad and distributed enhancement in the
ability to alter biological systems. The resulting
potential for mischief or mistake causes
understandable concern—there are already public
calls by scientists and politicians alike to
restrict access to certain technologies, to regulate
the direction of biological research, and to censor
publication of some new techniques and data.
is questionable, however, whether such efforts will
increase security or benefit the public good.
Proscription of information and artifacts generally
leads directly to a black market that is difficult
to monitor and therefore difficult to police. A
superior alternative is the deliberate creation of
an open and expansive research community, which may
be better able to respond to crises and better able
to keep track of research whether in the university
or in the garage."
Dangers? Yes. But Also
RESEARCH, Rather Than 'Ostrich' Behavior,
Is The Answer!
The paper concludes, in part:
"Our ability to manipulate biological systems is
rapidly improving and this naturally raises concerns
both about how relevant technology will be applied
and about potential consequent dangers. The
straightforward answer is that those dangers are
real and considerable. We may view this as a threat
or an opportunity.
common response to a perceived threat is to reduce
the likelihood of it coming to fruition, an effort
that often takes the form of regulation. However,
the argument for strict regulation of biological
technologies is misleading and therefore dangerous.
Fear of potential hazards should be met with
INCREASED [emphasis added] research and education
rather than closing the door on the profound
positive impacts of biological technology.
could err disastrously in the short term by
restricting the development of science and
technology, thereby stunting our ability to respond
to natural or artificial threats. Restriction of
research could leave us woefully unprepared to deal
with mistakes or mischief. I am not suggesting that
all regulation is without merit, but rather that
rules and restrictions will not eliminate problems;
they never have. Given the power of biological
technologies, the only way to ensure safety in the
long run is to push research and development as fast
Regulation or proscription of either science or
technology is unlikely to ease the way forward.
the dark we cannot see the road ahead, navigate, or
avoid collisions with either natural or artificial
hazards. Regardless of the outcome of the debate
explored above, the stage is set for remarkable
It's Moore's Law-Like Growth
Between these "front and back
covers," Dr. Carlson offers a detailed explanation
of how elements of biotechnology, such as DNA
Synthesis, are being driven by Moore's Law, and so
are growing at those exponential rates of
improvement that we've come to expect from the
In fact, he demonstrates the
point that while semiconductor fabs are getting
dramatically more expensive with each increment in
semiconductor technology (billions of dollars
apiece, even now), biotech techniques and equipment
that are increasingly making use of new technologies
and new equipment resulting from semiconductor
research, are getting ever-less expensive:
"...there is good reason to expect that the cost of
biological manufacturing and sequencing will only
decrease. Indeed, the continuing costs of sequencing
(expendables such as reagents) have fallen
exponentially over ... time ... by 2000 the total
costs of sequencing had fallen by a factor of 100 in
ten years, with costs falling by a factor of 2
approximately every eighteen months.
With the caveat that there are only limited data to
date, it does appear that the total cost of
sequencing and synthesis are falling exponentially."
"While it is still early in the development of [DNA
sequencing and DNA synthesis] platforms, they
promise to be another important shift in
If those trends are born out, within a decade a
single person at the lab bench could sequence or
synthesize all the DNA describing all the people on
the planet many times over in an eight-hour day,
even given profligate human reproduction.
Alternatively, one person could sequence his or her
own DNA within seconds. [Emphasis
Despite the fantastic nature of these numbers, there
is no physical reason why sequencing an individual
human genome should take longer than a few minutes.
Sequencing a billion bases in a thousand seconds
would require querying each base for only a
microsecond, which is well within the measurement
capability of many physical systems. Inexpensive
disk drives, for example, already read the state of
magnetic domains at upwards of a billion times a
second. Although storage media is an example of a
mature technology, it is also an indication of the
sort of interaction that will be possible with
Just The TIP Of This
This revolution has certainly
begun, as evidenced by DARPA (remember them - they
were responsible for the original development of the
Internet!) whose 2005 budget request includes $120
"...for exploring and developing technological
breakthroughs 'that exist at the intersection of
biology, information technology and micro/physical
, per reader Carl Taylor.)
And this is just ONE
example of how the many synergistic elements within
NBIC (the coming together of the previously
disparate fields of Nanotechnology, Biology
and medicine, Information sciences, and Cognitive
sciences) WILL, with or without our "concurrence,"
change our world.
Imagine the possibilities...!
But, "Hey!" you might be
thinking, "why should *I* be interested in this
-- this isn't the traditional 'computing' that
The answer is that The
Harrow Technology Report has always,
intentionally, remained flexible and agile -- able
to bend in the first gentle breezes of new
directions -- in order to meet its goal of keeping
us all aware of important emerging technological
trends. For example, way back when, when "Internet"
was a word only spoken by serious geeks; when
finding one of the very few ISPs was a daunting
task; and long before the Web was even a glimmer in
Tim Berners-Lee's mind -- this publication began
adding the Internet to its focus to educate its
readers on what I felt would grow into a dramatic
force that would change our world (and change the
computers that dominated readers' interests at the
Today, the components of NBIC
feel like déjà-vu.
Biotech isn't directly related
to traditional "computing," but it is being heavily
driven by it. And its impact, directly on each of
us and on our societies in general, is likely to be
FAR more powerful then the previous computer
revolution that's driving it. Besides, the day may
come when our computers become part biological, as
NBIC research is blurring the lines between things
"living" and "dead."
That's why it's far better that
NOW, early-on, we each educate ourselves in
these (and other) emerging areas of science and
research -- only that way will we be able to help
direct these next revolutions in a positive and safe
manner. It's up to US to define our own
'world of near tomorrows!'
Back to Table of
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This module, brought to our
attention by reader David Schachter, is just 0.6
inches long. Yet it's a complete 12-channel GPS
receiver from Motorola - their "GPS Mini-Module!"
far we've come in just a few years. (And how far we
have yet to go!)
Details are at
Back to Table of Contents
Commenting upon our recent
discussions of how the United Kingdom has been
particularly aggressive in implementing surveillance
how tiny RFID tags (Radio Frequency
IDentification tags) seem on the verge of making
it very big (http://www.theharrowgroup.com/articles/
reader Ross Brown adds fuel to this fire by pointing
us to an article in the The Guardian
which, in part, describes how some UK grocery stores
are already putting individually-tagged items to
For example, razor blades are perfect shoplifting
fodder: they're small, expensive, and lots of people
are apparently willing to buy stolen packs of blades
at a hefty discount. To help counter this, Gillette
has packed RFID tags into each package of blades
sold in these stores, and the shelf that they're on
monitors when an individual package of blades has
been removed from the shelf. At that point a
digital camera captures the image of the person
removing the blades while the computer system
remembers the RFID tag's specific (unique) number.
Later, if the person goes
through the checkout line but doesn't pay for each
package of blades he removed from the shelf, another
picture is taken, the police are called, and lots of
explaining will ensue. (Apparently, the police were
startled the first times that they were handed the
photographic evidence from both the shelf and the
checkout counter - rather good evidence.) Of
course, I'd hate to be targeted if I happened,
legitimately, to decide I didn't want both of the
packages of blades that I had picked off the shelf,
and set one package down on a nearby (dumb and
And there's more to come:
"...The tagging industry, when engaged in
conversations with itself, is still raving about the
prospect of tracking customers while they are still
in the store. Among the benefits of RFID, the
Auto-ID Centre's website cites this:
"Readers on the store's shelves will provide the
first extensive real-time view of customer behaviour
in the store. By recording how often an item is
picked up, purchased or put back, retailers and
their suppliers will have instant feedback on
promotions... providing the means to better tailor
promotions to a specific market segment."
an article entitled "Will RFID help win customer
loyalty? We think so!", Texas Instruments, an RFID
company, suggests a possible scenario if a consumer
carries the tag in a purse or wallet (implying a
"The technology has the potential to tell retailers
exactly who's in their store at any given moment
while offering full purchase histories for each
According to "RFID Journal," plans to realise this
potential are already under way. In April this year,
IBM announced it would test RFID tags in bank cards,
so that customers can be identified (and, you might
extrapolate, treated according to their status) the
minute they enter the bank."
Reading this, the broad use of
RFID tags might seem so invasive that people will
shout a resounding "NO!" and vote with their dollars
(or pounds, etc.), purchasing merchandise that isn't
tagged or shopping at stores without readers. But
although today's 'tag-less' loyalty cards are
"lower-tech," consider how they have already been
accepted by many to get discounts off (some say)
artificially inflated "regular" prices that are
charged to the cardless.
True, people could drive
farther to a chain that doesn't issue such cards,
but how many do? And, what happens once
manufacturers generally decide to include RFID tags
as globally as they print UPC codes today?
By the way, today's RFID tags
are just the beginning -- what happens if we
dramatically shrink their size to microscopic, make
them smart, and give them the ability to
communicate? This would be "Smart Dust," as
described by Dr. Richard Satava of DARPA, MIT, and
Univ. of Washington pedigree, in the (VERY
interesting and well worth reading) Winter 2003
issue of "Yale Medicine"
"They [Smart Dust motes] will communicate with each
other. So the environment is going to be smart
instead of dumb. They’re going to be in the food you
eat, the clothes you wear, embedded in your body,
absolutely everywhere. For example, when you came
into this room, this desk would know it was you and
rearrange itself for you.
Have you been able to buy anything lately that
doesn’t have a bar code on it? Probably not. But
it’s dumb. In the future, it will be smart. You
plant the field and you spray it with the
fertilizers and insecticides and smart dust—maybe a
thousand different sensors per millimeter—and as the
food comes up the smart dust gets incorporated into
the plants. And the plants talk to the harvester:
“Pick me. I’m ready. Don’t pick me. I’m not ready.”
It goes into the store. You’ve got a little handheld
and you talk to the artichokes. “How ripe are you?
How much do you weigh?” A world that used to be dumb
and unconnected now gets connected, and that
information gets shared.
We will have sensors throughout our bodies. So, as
doctors, we’ll be able to continuously monitor the
health of individuals."
As I've said before, there's
much to like about what pervasive RFID tags and
their infrastructure (and later Smart Dust) can
provide, such as easy tracking of individual
packages that are out of date, recalled, etc., plus
significant benefits throughout the supply chain,
and more. But at what cost to personal privacy?
Remember -- if your bank card is so-tagged (as
suggested in the 'RFID Journal' reference, above) or
if you've eaten Smart Dust tagged food, then
effectively -- "Tagged R You."
What might it take to unleash
this RFID tag tsunami? How about (eventual)
mandates from one or a few huge purchasers like
Wal-Mart, or on a vastly larger scale the U.S.
Department of Defense -- which has just
mandated that EVERY one of the 45 million line
items that it purchases have an RFID tag on its case
or pallet! (Although not yet in each individual
item within the case or pallet. Yet.)
to reader Ray Ingram for bringing this Oct. 8
Computerworld article to our attention -
Let's be sure that we implement
new technologies in ways, and with controls, that
we're comfortable (quite literally) living with.
Back to Table of Contents
one of those science fiction staples that just won't
go away. Wouldn't it be fascinating (not to mention
useful) if we could control this particular
fundamental force that surrounds us, allowing us to
lighten a heavy object, anchor a light one, propel a
vehicle, or waft through the air as on the tendrils
of a dream.
But of course
that's impossible. We can't do that. Good people
have been laughed out of offices and boardrooms and
probably tenure meetings for suggesting it.
Now, I don't have
the magic answer to unifying the field theory and
building my own antigravity belt (much as I'd like
one -- WITH a backup built-in, please). But I've
always maintained that if a large organization (a
government, a university research lab, a military
contractor, etc.) were to give a team of brilliant
researchers "incontrovertible proof" that "The Enemy
of the Day" (pick one) had already created (for
example) antigravity, and they then provided those
researchers with essentially unlimited funds and
(most importantly) a shield from bureaucratic
controls, that the researchers would in good time
figure out a way to "replicate" what they believed
had already been done -- by in fact creating
antigravity for the first time!
Which is why I'm
so intrigued with a July 29 report from Jane's
brought to our attention by reader Bob Lee, which
describes that Boeing,
"...has now admitted
it is working on experimental anti-gravity projects
that could overturn a century of conventional
aerospace propulsion technology, if the science
underpinning them can be engineered into
If gravity modification is real, it will alter the
entire aerospace business."
To put it mildly.
with most technologies, such a development could
also usher in a new type of weapon -- imagine a
"gravity beam" (an "impulse gravity generator") that
could accelerate a target with 1,000 Gs in an
instant -- most things within it, or hit by it,
would turn to strawberry jam.
these sci. fi. considerations to light at this time,
and involving the likes of Boeing, is that Russian
scientist Dr. Evgeny Podkletnov claims to have
created reproducible antigravity propulsion devices,
more formally called "propellentless propulsion," in
both Russia and in Finland. He is said to have
demonstrated that a 4-inch diameter beam can repel
an object a half-mile away, and could extend its
effect out to 125 miles. He also claims that he has
reduced the weight of an object by 2%. But -- he
indicates that his work is being stymied by
NASA, it seems
(to their credit), apparently took Podkletnov's work
seriously enough in the mid-'90s to attempt to
replicate his work. But they failed, owing to the
lack of Dr. Podkletnov's guidance. (They're trying
again, at the Marshall Space Flight Center.) More
recently, it turns out that Boeing, BAE Systems, and
Lockheed Martin have each independently contacted
Dr. Podkletnov, and they admit that "classified
activities in gravity modification may exist."
Even CNN's MoneyLine is commenting on this as I
On A Separate Note, Meet "The Lifter."
seemingly has no bearing on Dr. Podkletnov's technique, in my
research I did run across what is apparently a
little-known hobbyist implementation of either
"antigravity," or an as-yet unexplained field-effect
propulsion technology that is demonstrated by
devices called "lifters."
(Click on the image for a
extremely lightweight balsa and tin foil frames that
(apparently) happily lift their own weight and a bit
more, when energized by a high voltage, microamp
power supply. Interesting details and movies are at
Wishful Sci Fi?
OK, this DOES
seem a bit like science fiction, but remember that
stranger things have sprung from garages -- like the
personal computer you're reading this on (thank you,
Steve and Steve of Apple, and early pre-PC companies
like South West Technical Products, Altair, Atari,
MSI, and the like). If you have any personal
experience with lifter technology, let me know.
I take no stand
yet on the veracity of Dr. Podkletnov's or the
"lifter" technology claims, but I am very glad that
some organizations with the wherewithal to validate
(or not) these claims are now taking them seriously
enough to explore. Because I for one won't be
surprised when (not if) I (eventually) read that
"antigravity" has been confirmed.
necessarily come out of Dr. Podkletnov's work or
from the "lifters" (although of course it might).
But because gravity is such a pervasive force in
(and beyond) our world, and because history teaches
us that we first learn how to identify, and later to
control the forces around us, I expect gravity to
(eventually) fall (or would that be rise?) at our
Wouldn't it be
something, if we're closer than we think?
Back to Table of Contents
Finally, if you're more than a
little peeved about how gas prices continue to rise
(and never seem to go back to their original price,
even though the "immediate reason" for an increase
has since been resolved), then consider this
It does 'say it all.'
(Come to think of it, I recall
a similar situation with sugar, several decades
ago. There was a problem with one sugar crop and so
the 5-cent candy bars had to 'temporarily' sell for
more. They never went back to 5-cents, and now
candy bars run around ten-times as much, even though
the inflation-adjusted price of a 5-cent candy bar
back in 1968 would only be 27-cents today - see
I'd like to give well-deserved
credit to "Tom" for his sign (or to the artist who
rendered it into this form), but, alas, the picture
is "Internet anonymous."
Back to Table of Contents
"The Harrow Technology Report" explores the innovations and
trends of many contemporary and emerging technologies, and then draws some less
than obvious connections between them, to help us each survive and prosper in
the Knowledge Age.
"The Harrow Technology Report" is brought to you by Jeffrey
R. Harrow, Principal of The Harrow Group.
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Jeffrey R. Harrow maintains that all reasonable care and skill has been used
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