Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Farewell, NanoBot

What a small, strange trip it's been.

I have been covering nanotechnology in some form since 2001, and I believe I have taken it as far as I care to.

I am proud of the way this blog became a voice for those who believed government and business were taking nanotech in the wrong direction.

I did my duty as a journalist. I comforted the afflicted and afflicted the comfortable -- even at the cost of my own employment in some cases. Now, it is time to move on.

The various twists and turns in my personal and professional life have led me to study, and write about, the future of the auto industry and the corrupt U.S. criminal justice system. Expect to see more of my work in those areas.

Meanwhile, I leave this six-year NanoBot archive to the ages. And I will exit with the same words that I have often repeated.

What is nanotechnology? Well, what do you want it to be?

Monday, June 01, 2009

Before the Internet, I was a better journalist

You know, my farewell to social media has lifted such a burden from me that I am considering taking it a step further.

When I began my journalism career, I covered some pretty interesting, complicated stories -- from health effects of trash incinerators in neighborhoods, to controversies surrounding methadone clinics to cultural implications of bilingual education. I covered these issues and more back in the 1980s and early '90s -- before the Internet existed.

I got out more, I talked to more people, I made more phone calls, I read more books, I went to more libraries, and I think I was actually a better writer and reporter back then.

Since then, I have seen how the Internet echo chamber can take one wrong piece of information and, via that lazy reporting tool, Google, fling it around the world and back a hundred times until bad information becomes conventional wisdom.

I have seen how the availability of tiny fragments of half-information, mostly out of context, can turn lazy reporters into "instant experts" because all it takes to write a successful "news story" is the ability to package information well so that it makes sense within certain closed-loop assumptions.

I've seen how addictive personalities and egomaniacs can obtain instant gratification from "connections" with others hunched behind screens, yet still not know the first thing about real communication.

I have already rejected Web 2.0. I am almost ready to tell Web 1.0 to get lost, as well.

Maybe an hour a day to answer e-mail, read some news and look up a few things. Then, back to gaining knowledge the old-fashioned way -- by communicating in a real way with real people.

Just a nice thought for now. I might follow through.

Next phase of my planned obsolescence

My daughter Sonya (center, adjusting her cap), who educated me about nanotech coolness six years ago, graduated high school yesterday, and I could not be more proud.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Why is Michigan betting on batteries?

Here are some raw notes and thoughts along the way to an article I'm writing for a Michigan publication about Gov. Jennifer Granholm's push for a lithium-ion battery infrastructure to save my state from ruin. I'm skeptical.

What prompted this rant was a piece an editor sent me written by Granholm in the Huffington Post: Michigan Will Lead The Green Industrial Revolution. Granholm writes:

In Michigan, we're not only redesigning the current generation of vehicles to be more fuel efficient, but as the world's epicenter for automotive research and design, we're literally redesigning the entire notion of the automobile. More here

Well, up in Mackinac, Granholm finally acknowledged the obvious -- that Asia is ahead of us. Nathan Bomey of Michigan Biz Review quotes her as saying

"This battery realm is so natural for us because there is right now in the United States no mass production of batteries, especially for vehicles, to speak of. That battery production is happening in Asia. So what we want to do is be the domestic place where batteries are produced." More here.

Being "the domestic place where batteries are produced" is a fine goal, but a far cry from the delusions of grandeur she pushed for Michigan in that Huffpost piece, which was a combination of jingoistic cheerleading, some fact, some fiction and a whole lotta hope.

Here are a few points to be made, in no particular order. (The only nanotech connection here is that it involves innovation and new technology in general)

1. The Obama Administration and Gov. Granholm have decided, for various reasons -- some pragmatic, some political, some ideological -- that government is going to build a whole lot of incentives for a li-ion battery infrastructure for electric vehicles ... one that Japan and Korea have already built. So, the U.S. is focusing very inward -- short term creation of business, jobs (nowhere near enough to replace the manufacturing jobs that have been lost) and a U.S. auto industry that "appears" to be remaking itself.

2. Companies like Sakti3 in Ann Arbor are living off of venture capital funding but are eager for government funding in order to survive. They will develop their technology in the direction government wants them to go. If Obama decided that stimulus money would go toward urine-powered engines, we'd have a whole lot of piss-fuel companies starting up and claiming they are the future of the auto industry.

3. Government is going whole-hog behind one technology because it is perceived to be closer to market. However, real innovation happens when you hedge bets and try different technologies. Corn growers learned that lesson the hard way, when they had no place to sell their crop after ethanol producers went back on their deals.

4. What does Toyota and VW know that the U.S. auto industry does not? History says they probably know a great deal. Both of them are pushing full-force into hydrogen fuel cell technology. Toyota, especially, has always viewed hybrid electric and electric vehicles as transition technologies on the way to fuel cells. In Japan, fuel cells for home use are gaining in popularity -- getting the public used to the idea.

5. To see how a state government can create incentives to speed development of technology, look at California, where its Zero Emission Vehicle mandate convinced Toyota to move up the release of its hydrogen fuel cell vehicle from 2015 to 2014. Remember, it was not too long ago that the former Big 3 were whining about California's strict emissions standards. Now, there's no whining anymore.

6. Bottom line is that Michigan lost its status as a center for automotive innovation a long time ago. So, look at the two traditional centers of innovation: Japan and California. Both are creating companies, coalitions and government incentives that lean toward an automotive future that views battery electric vehicles as a step along the way toward a completely new hydrogen fuel cell infrastructure. Granholm is correct in her determination to try to make Michigan a leader in "something," so, why not compete with Ohio and Indiana to become a leader in li-ion battery manufacturing -- a U.S. leader, still behind Japan and Korea? But does that make Michigan again an innovation leader? Absolutely not. The innovators are still tinkering away, with or without government incentive and funding.

7. Li-ion batteries may not represent the future of the auto industry, and hydrogen fuel cells may not, either. It could be that, someday, to "buy American" means to buy electric, while those interested in buying something truly innovative and less polluting will buy foreign. Sounds very much like status quo to me.

Again, these are raw notes, so please tell me where I am right and/or wrong. I won't cry about it ... much.

Backgrounder
Will batteries recharge Michigan’s economy?
Blogging for Center for Independent Media
U.S., at last, begins assault on batteries

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

My nano career downsized again

Well, as a colleague of mine put it recently, "I look forward to publishing's post-apocalyptic era. Being in the middle of it is pretty torturous."

The nanotech magazine and Web site I've contributed to on and off over the years, Small Times, is "off" again. Budget cuts leave no room for me as contributing editor.

So, here I am again with a great deal of nanotech knowledge and nowhere to put it. If any of you know of a publication that might be able to help me put all this sci/tech/biz news swirling about my head to good use, please let me know.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Our Bodies, Our NanoSelves


Replicating Nanomachines
Originally uploaded by jurvetson
This beautiful image comes courtesy of Steve Jurvetson's feed on Flickr. Jurvetson, a venture capitalist who funds nanotech companies, describes this image of a bacterial polysome, which appeared in Cell, as a "9-head programmable nanofabricator."

Jurvetson goes on: "The ribosome reads the digital code of mRNA and manufactures most of what we care about in our bodies from a sequential concatenation of amino acids into proteins. The ribosome is a wonderful existence proof of the power and robustness of molecular machines."

Backgrounder
Molecules, machines and miracles
The business of imagination
Three Nano Kings

So long, social media

I am getting rid of some unnecessary clutter that is doing nothing but adding additional layers to my core journalism work.

So, farewell Facebook, hasta luego LinkedIn and ta-ta Twitter. I am free of "social networks."

Continue to watch this space for nanotech commentary and further links to my work.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Vision = Seeing what others cannot

What began as my Twitter rant against other Twitterers turned into a Small Times blog post. It is about the ability to see not what is in front of you, but possibilities. It's about MEMS-enabling technology, but it could also apply to nanotech. Here's an excerpt.

MEMS-enabled PUMA: Look at the possibilities

I feel like it is 1909, rather than 2009, as I hear a derisive chorus of "get a horse" from much of the media mocking the MEMS-enabled PUMA prototype electric vehicle from General Motors and Segway.

An automotive correspondent from Newsweek wrote on Twitter that he "thinks the GM Segway vehicle is a farce." And even the editor of Wired.com, who should know how to spot possibilities better than other journalists, Tweeted: "NOte to GM: car with no door = FAIL."

It is likely the PUMA uses the same MEMS gyro/accelerometer cluster as the Segway, which last I heard was supplied by the UK MEMS company Silicon Sensing Systems.

The mockery doesn't say much for the vision of many in my profession ... again. It seems like members of the news media -- the survivors who are left employed, anyway -- would have learned from the recent past to recognize the early stages of something that could potentially change everything. But, even now as newspapers close and bleed jobs, many continue to lovingly clutch onto their dinosaurs, failing to look up to see the meteor looming in the sky. More here

Backgrounder
Getting down to nanobusiness
I sing the auto body electric
The business of imagination

Monday, April 06, 2009

Do-or-die at Delphi

I profile Delphi Medical Systems in a Detroit-area tech magazine called X-Ology. The company is a subsidiary of the bankrupt auto supplier Delphi. Like most businesses ... and workers ... around my neck of the woods, it's change or die. This is how Delphi is attempting to survive. Nanotech watchers will recognize one of my sources, nano and MEMS guru Marlene Bourne.

Delphi Medical Systems: A New, Inspired Course

The ancient Greeks, it is written, would gather around the Oracle of Delphi not to see into the future but rather to soak in the intellectual atmosphere that pervaded the crowds. In the modern age, the name Delphi Corp., for some, conjures up images of a suffering automotive supplier, but take a closer look and you can see the innovators of the 21st century gathering around it, picking up the broken links and discovering new directions. More here (free registration required).

Update: Here's a PDF of the Delphi Medical article

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Google kills 'NanoRobot Infection'

I just received this e-mail:

from Google Video Support
to: howardlovy@gmail.com
date: Thu, Apr 2, 2009 at 9:20 AM
subject: Google Video Content Identification

Dear member,

This is to notify you that your video "Government Created Killer NanoRobot Infection" from your Google Video account has been disabled because it has been identified by our Content Identification tools as potentially lacking the necessary copyright authorization for use on the Google Video site. Content Identification is a program that analyzes similarities in audio or video between user videos and a library of reference content provided to us by copyright owners. When a video matches a reference file, that video is automatically disabled.

Darnit, and it was a great clip from "The Office." Oh well. In the end, Google will getcha. I just hope they don't kill my clip of Jim Carrey and Conan O'Brien talking quantum physics

Monday, March 23, 2009

Friday, March 06, 2009

Twitter took the nanotech stars

I have a new blog post at Small Times. It's all about the rock stars of nanotech's Twitter universe. Here's an excerpt:

The largest criticism I have of the NanoTwitterVerse is that it at times can be a feedback loop -- the usual suspects talking inside baseball to one another, or "retweeting" one another to the point where only one point of view bounces around an echo chamber. That will change as more nanotech voices join the conversation. More here

Backgrounder
Canada's nano climate getting colder
My 'respectable' blog launches at Small Times

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Nantero: Nanotechnology Jobs of the Day

I am, of course, extremely underqualified for the nanotech jobs I come across in my own quest for work. Below are a couple of job listings from a company called Nantero. They're working on carbon nanotube based memory devices.

I wrote about Nantero and its technology here, which then set off a spirited debate over the merits of both the company and its methods.

Anyway, things can't be going too poorly if they're hiring in this economy. Here are the listings.

Senior Coat Engineer

Under general supervision, develop coat and characterization methods (including defects and defectivity), assess film quality, work with end customers to meet the stated quality requirements and lead a team of engineers in the processing of silicon wafers in the clean room. More here

Senior Characterization Scientist

Scientist with 3-5 years experience with analytical chemistry, developing analytical methods, QC methods, validation tests for chemical products, such as colloidal systems and/or liquid carbon formulations, slurries or colloids,... More here

Backgrounder
Energetics: Nanotechnology Job of the Day
IBM: Nanotechnology Internship of the Day
Nantero sings a happy tune

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

My Resume Is Updated; Act Now!

Someday, I'll create a fancy site for myself, with links to all my clips and an interactive resume with lots of ... um ... Java and flash and ... important-techy sounding words like that.

But, for now, here's a simple, updated resume.

I write. I edit. When I'm not covering the automotive or medical device industries here in Detroit, I speak two different dialects of nano (short-term and long-term). So, what's not to love?

In case you missed it, prospective employers, here's that resume link again.

Product brags it's 'NOT' nano

With nanosilver on the ropes with EPA regulations, we're going to see more of this ...

"Sanitized Silver is NOT Nanotechnology: Sanitized Silver is neither nanotechnology nor nanosilver." More here

Backgrounder
EPA decides to regulate what it already regulates

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

New Catchphrase in Congress is not nano [video]

The U.S. House recently passed a new bill reauthorizing the National Nanotechnology Initiative. Now, it's the Senate's turn to work on similar legislation.

Click on the video above, or go here, to see some of the at-times tense debate swirling around this legislation.

Backgrounder
Jim Carrey and Conan O'Brien talk quantum physics
'Transhuman cybersomething crazy ...'
HP teaches us the 'n' word

Sunday, February 15, 2009

IBM: Nanotechnology Internship of the Day

Today's posting is from IBM in Yorktown Heights, N.Y., where an intern will be working with the likely successor to silicon: carbon nanotubes. And if IBM says so, then it probably will be so. Here's the listing:

Our Nanoscience & Nanotechnology group is deeply involved in the design, fabrication, and study of novel carbon-based, i.e. graphene and nanotube, electronic and optoelectronic devices. These are envisioned as successors to the current, primarily silicon-based technology.

One of the key limitations of the high density silicon IC's is excessive power dissipation. This issue has not been fully addressed in the fundamentally new carbon-based devices. Our group has initiated an extensive experimental and theoretical study of the power dissipation pathways, of thermal effects on the operation in these systems and ways of directing dissipation.

We are interested in hiring an Intern with an understanding of fundamental transport mechanisms in nanosystems and numerical computation abilities. The hired candidate will couple with on-going theoretical research in modeling experimental results in this area. More here

Backgrounder
Nanotube interconnects and hot Indian babes
Energetics: Nanotechnology Job of the Day
Nantero sings a happy tune

Nad and his Amazing NanoBots

NYU's Nad Seeman continues to astound with his amazing DNA nanorobots.

These little buggers are made using DNA origami, have two arms and can be used as construction workers to build the scaffolding for new structures.

Backgrounder
These 'bots are made for walkin'
NanoEngineering puts on a happy face
Tag-teaming with nature to build nanomachines

Nanotech defined

Here's the most-accurate and concise definition of nanotechnology I have seen in a while:

Nanotechnology refers broadly to a field of applied science and technology whose unifying theme is the control of matter on the molecular level in scales smaller than one micrometer, normally 1 to 100 nanometers, and the fabrication of devices within that size range. For scale, a single virus particle is about 100 nanometers in width. More here

It comes from a post by Mat Nayie, but I am unclear as to whether he wrote it, just posted it or of the original context of the article. The definition, unfortunately, is the best part of the article. The rest paints in too-broad brushstrokes the possible energy applications of nanotechnology.

And those who doubt the feasibility of "Drexlerian" nanotechnology might be annoyed by the illustration of diamondoid gears, wheels and other imaginary doodads accompanying the article.

Oh, and the "Great Things Come In Small Packages" headline might annoy a few old-time nanopundits (myself included).

So, anyway. Nice definition. We'll leave it at that.

Backgrounder
NanoBot Defined
Nanotech? Nahh, doesn't exist yet
When nanotech 'industry' believes its own PR ...

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Autism ruling a victory for real science

I am glad to see at least one good thing come out of the ordinarily twisted and corrupt U.S. justice system, with a federal court ruling that autism is not caused by childhood vaccinations.

I hope that this will put a stop to a growing problem of misinformed parents refusing to vaccinate their children, thus putting everybody at risk for diseases that previously had been conquered.

I have been writing about this issue for years, with the nanotech connection being a disconnect between scientist and "consumer" of science.

Backgrounder
The Asperger/Nano Connection
The knowledge void: Here there be monsters
Somewhere between scientist and consumer, the message is lost

Update
Debate continues on Reddit

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Jim Carrey and Conan O'Brien talk quantum physics

video

Back, by popular demand, Jim Carrey and Conan O'Brien discuss quantum physics.

Backgrounder
Einstein's dice and the nano Sopranos
NanoVlog
Space Elevator: The Music Video

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Canada's nano climate getting colder: Part II

Dexter Johnson at IEEE Spectrum's Tech Talk has an excellent followup to Canada's pending decision to chase more nanotech innovation south of its border. Dexter writes:

Based on the labeling logic of Canada, it’s a little curious that any product with nylon in it doesn’t say, “Sulfuric acid helped make this” or when you buy your next laptop "Here’s a list of all the poisonous materials used to make your computer." More here

Backgrounder
Canada's nano climate getting colder
Big Three Are Dead; Long Live The Little
Nano knowledge going south? Blame Canada!

Friday, January 30, 2009

Canada's nano climate getting colder

I have a new blog post over at Small Times. Here's an excerpt.

New nano rules may leave Canada out in the cold

If you ask Canadian entrepreneur Neil Gordon about new rules coming next month requiring companies to detail their use of engineered nanomaterials, he'll tell you it's just another example of his government placing artificial constraints on nanotech commercialization.

That's why Gordon is now the ex-president of the now-defunct Canadian NanoBusiness Alliance.

"If Canada is becoming the first government in the world to require companies to provide information about their use of 'potentially' harmful nanomaterials in products, then there is another reason for entrepreneurs to avoid commercializing nanotechnology products in Canada," said Gordon. More here.

Backgrounder
Nano knowledge going south? Blame Canada!
Vive le nanotechnology libre
My 'respectable' blog launches at Small Times

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Self-replicating nano-ethics

Think tank that studies the ethics of nanotechnology urges Congress to fund more studies on ethics of nanotechnology.

Backgrounder
False claims inform consumers as they 'talk nano'
Wilson Center's nano numbers racket
Indigestible nanotech claim