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Happy New Year
It’s plain to see that I’m an optimist, sometimes more than is socially comfortable. The ease with which I dismiss the disastrous economic decline above serves as one example of that. I wrote that the recession will benefit our political system, and, before I cut this line, as having “rewarded our company for methodical execution and ruthless efficiency by removing competitors from the landscape.” I make no mention of the disastrous effects on millions of people, and the great uncertainty that grips any well-briefed mind, because it truly doesn’t stand in the foreground of my mind (despite suffering personal loss of wealth).
Our species is running towards a precipice with looming dangers like economic decline, political unrest, climate crisis, and more threatening to grip us as we jump off the edge, but my optimism is stronger now than ever before. On the other side of that looming gap are extraordinary breakthroughs in healthcare, communications technology, access to space, human productivity, artistic creation and literally hundreds of fields. With the right execution and a little bit of luck we’ll all live to see these breakthroughs — and members of my generation will live to see dramatically lengthened life-spans, exploration and colonization of space, and more opportunity than ever to work for passion instead of simply working for pay.
Instead of taking this space to regale you with the many personal and focused changes I intend to make in 2009, let me rather encourage you to spend time this year thinking, as I’m going to, more about what we can do in 2009 to positively affect the future our culture will face in 2020, 2050, 3000 and beyond.
Every year I write a long email update to my friends, which you can sign up for on the far right hand side of this site. This year I’m also posting it on this blog as anÂ experiment. The following is the full, unedited text of that email.
Happy New Years!Â You are receiving this email from me because I want to keep you updated on what I’m up to. I send out between 1 and 4 emails like this a year (but always one on New Years Day) and focus on big updates and “best-of” tidbits to share.\n
If you’ve never received an update from me before, it means you signed up on my website for an update or that I added you to the list — you probably did something that was awesome enough for me to say, “Hey I should keep in touch with them.”Â If you thought I was less awesome, or don’t want to receive these updates from me in the future, please accept my apology and unsubscribe (or reply to this message and let me know — I’ll unsubscribe you by hand).\n
I hope to summarize my year for you and then proffer a few lessons I’ve learned. Finally Iâ€™ll include a few links I feel are worth sharing. This is the longest message Iâ€™ve ever written, if youâ€™ve only got the inclination to read one part, please skip to the end and read the segment titled Reflection and Projection â€" itâ€™s the part I feel is most important and that Iâ€™m most proud of.\n
This message is broken into several parts and should take about 9 minutes to read all the way through. Each section can be read independently of the other sections and includes a title and estimated reading time at the beginning.\n
Summary of 2008Â (estimated reading time: 3.5 Minutes)\n
I’ve always found the act of waiting for a specific day to look back and project forward a year a little ritualistic and weird, but it does create an interesting phenomenon — my friends seem to be singularly focused on reflection and projection and that makes it easier to see what friends, mentors and idols are doing. This is good because applying the lessons theyâ€™ve learned is a great way to improve.Â And with tools like Twitter, Tumblr, Blogs, and Facebook, sharing those lessons is easier than ever â€" making massive emails like this valuable. I think in the next 5 years or so, Iâ€™ll be able to send yearly updates via a service that makes email less valuable.Â Iâ€™ve started doing that already by posting this note on my blog (link)\n
2008 was a heck of a year, I struggle with picking the parts to summarize. I turned 22 this year, and, largely speaking, 2008 has been one dedicated to making Involver succeed.Â For those of you that don’t know my company, we help marketers distribute and track video campaigns on social networks, like Facebook. The company is young, and it’s been a wild and fun ride watching it succeed.\n
With regards to that work, Involver has truly had a breakout year. At this time last year we were subleasing a small office in Palo Alto and were yet another unheard of startup, toiling in a popular and crowded industry.Â In the first quarter of the New Year we established some great success with the Help Vinay campaign (which registered 26,000 South Asians for the bone marrow registry in 6 weeks) moved to a new office in the financial district of San Francisco and changed our name to Involver. Following that we launched our Pilot Program and started creating commercial campaigns. Now, brands that have used Involver’s platform include Puma, Chiquita Banana, Maker’s Mark, Reader’s Digest, Serena Software and Kiva.org. Not only that but our first commercial campaign won an OMMA, the industry leading award for Online Marketing, and our campaign for Kiva.org resulted in $300,000 for loans to entrepreneurs in the developing world.Â Â This generated some amazing press for the company — we’ve been featured by countless bloggers and appeared in Inc., Wired and PBS — and Inc. Magazine named our co-founders two of the â€œTop 30 Entrepreneurs under 30 Years Oldâ€�.Â And we moved, again, to bigger offices; we’re now in the SOMA district of San Francisco.Â Just imagine what we’ll be able to do with a year of experience under our belts and you’ll see why I’m so excited about next year.Â J\n
I’ve taken my work close to heart this year, but I still was able to take some time to have a personal life. In 2008, I moved apartments twice in an effort to experience more of this city and continually vary my experience (being open to randomness is a very effective way to grow quickly). I’m now in a beautiful place and have really enjoyed the live music, better access to transportation, and ample eateries in my new neighborhood.\n
I also launched a new personal website — http://www.tylerwillis.net — which chronicles my life and aggregates a lot of information about me. If you’re interested in more frequent updates on who I am and what I’m up to, that’s a great resource, and if you want the up to the minute updates, I post often to two services that allow for frequent but short updates, you can always visit my profiles on twitter or tumblr for that.Â\n
I spent much of my remaining free time this year supporting Barack Obama by writing articles, donating, and hosting an event — my birthday party featured live music and raised several hundred dollars for the campaign — I believe he represents an amazing opportunity for American politics and I’m ecstatic that he’s our leader.Â There is a movement growing in America, which is making politics attractive again to the best and brightest. Our political system will benefit from the economic collapse and a generational changing of the guard, and there is great opportunity to improve the system. I’ll be participating on a more local level in 2009 and implore you to do the same.\n
In the bucket that qualifies as both personal and work life, I made some strides as well. Early in the year I hosted a massively successful event, called Weekend Apps, which launched 11 new companies and brought together 100+ entrepreneurs to work together in new ways — around the same time, I shut down the consultancy I’d founded. Willis Media Group had a good roster of clients, but at the end of the day, I simply couldn’t get it to profitability. I learned a lot about struggle and the difficulties of service businesses, and even more about the value of limited liability — but life has trotted on nicely despite that failure.\n
Finally, I was also blessed with the opportunity to travel around the country a bit, in 2008 I visited New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Denver, Kansas City, Salt Lake City, Black Rock City, and Vancouver. I took two road trips through the West and Pacific Northwest and was able to reflect on the joys of travel and it’s importance to maintaining a healthy mind. On these trips, I took up a copy of Jack Kerouac’s “On the Road” and yet again found inspiration there for my travelerâ€™s soul.\n
I closed out the year in the most fantastic fashion, by doing an 18,000 foot skydive in Monterey Bay with very good friends who are all as excited about the future as I am. I was happy to be surrounded by them and their optimism, the same way Iâ€™m happy to be surrounded by you and your experience, intelligence and friendship heading into 2009.\n
Looking AheadÂ Â (estimated reading time: 1.5 minutes)\n
2009 is poised to be a great year for Involver. The horrible financial crisis seems to be affecting almost every vertical in the industry except the ones weâ€™ve focused on. Iâ€™ve heard that recessions donâ€™t slow trends, they speed them up â€" and that would seem to be true. With advertising budgets dropping across the world, most agencies and companies are reporting increases in video and social media spend. Weâ€™re hiring and I think weâ€™re well positioned to grow by helping more marketers run more effective and successful campaigns. The trends are on our side — and weâ€™ve got more money and experience than we did at this time last year — Iâ€™m very excited for 2009!Â Iâ€™ll also be hosting some events, the largest so far planned being SF Startup Weekend 2 in the spring.\n
2008 has also really excited me for the future on a larger scale than just work. Specifically when it comes to the possibilities of space.Â Watching the Mars Phoenix mission (link) filled me with a sense of wonder and awe, and was a moment I felt truly engaged with what was unfolding. I was lucky enough to meet Peter Diamandis shortly afterwards and in a span of about 15 minutes, he convinced me that there was a tangible way to funnel that excitement into compelling action.\n
So, this year I joined the International Association of Space Entrepreneurs and started supporting the X Prize Foundation. In the next 12 months I plan on attending several space related conferences and events, read and write more about industry successes and failures, and explore ways to volunteer some time or resources to help groups at the cutting edge of commercializing space access. I canâ€™t think of a more exciting way to spend my free time than supporting this burgeoning industry.\n
Iâ€™m also planning several trips.Â In addition to work travel, Iâ€™d like to make it to either Dubai or India for a vacation and I will be returning to Black Rock City for the Burning Man festival in late 2009.\n
Reflection and ProjectionÂ (estimated reading time: 2 minutes)\n
It’s plain to see that I’m an optimist, sometimes more than is socially comfortable. The ease with which I dismiss the disastrous economic decline above serves as one example of that. I wrote that the recession will benefit our political system, and, before I cut this line, as having “rewarded our company for methodical execution and ruthless efficiency by removing competitors from the landscape.”Â I make no mention of the disastrous effects on millions of people, and the great uncertainty that grips any well-briefed mind, because it truly doesn’t stand in the foreground of my mind (despite suffering personal loss of wealth).\n
Our species is running towards a precipice with looming dangers like economic decline, political unrest, climate crisis, and more threatening to grip us as we jump off the edge, but my optimism is stronger now than ever before. On the other side of that looming gap are extraordinary breakthroughs in healthcare, communications technology, access to space, human productivity, artistic creation and literally hundreds of fields. With the right execution and a little bit of luck we’ll all live to see these breakthroughs — and members of my generation will live to see dramatically lengthened life-spans, exploration and colonization of space, and more opportunity than ever to work for passion instead of simply working for pay.\n
Instead of taking this space to regale you with the many personal and focused changes I intend to make in 2009, let me rather encourage you to spend time this year thinking, as I’m going to, more about what we can do in 2009 to positively affect the future our culture will face in 2020, 2050, 3000 and beyond.\n
Support stabilization efforts in governmental structures, by joining the change congress movement or forming, researching, refining and voicing your opinions at Change.gov, the new open government system Obama’s administration is attempting to create. Volunteer for an organization that you think is going past triage, and actually doing something to solve a major problem systemically — do the triage also, but let’s work a little harder and make some headway on these problems.\n
These don’t have to be big efforts, but they should be continual and properly focused.Â A group of us, doing small actions continually, will inspire larger groups and result in larger change.Â There’s a trend of human’s banding together to build a better future that we can align with and help propel.Â Remember Margaret Mead, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”\n
Iâ€™m excited for 2009, and I look forward to sharing it with you. Â I hope to build more frequency into this email list, and as such would love to hear about what youâ€™d like to hear from me.Â Please donâ€™t hesitate to ever email me at email@example.com\n
Happy New Year!\n
Tyler Harrison Willis\n
Things Worth SharingÂ Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â\n
Â·Â Â Â Â Â http://bit.ly/KIrFÂ My friend Ramit is giving away $2500 to a young person with a concrete idea for social innovation. Deadline is Jan. 15th\n
Â·Â Â Â Â Â http://bit.ly/2qXWUpÂ Malcolm Gladwell gave a great talk at The Moth, itâ€™s a tall tale about his experience getting into Journalism.\n
Â·Â Â Â Â Â http://bit.ly/ovOxÂ Â Explaining the political awakening of Generation X in the form of an apology to politically active Boomers for taking so long.\n
Â·Â Â Â Â Â http://bit.ly/m1NCÂ A 4-minute-long video about wearable computers. Something I think will change personal interaction in the next 10-15 years.\n
Â·Â Â Â Â Â http://bit.ly/17RvnÂ The evolution of wearable, non-intrusive displays. Extremely important to improving the move towards wearable computing.\n
Â·Â Â Â Â Â http://bit.ly/w24MÂ An elegant short story about the subject of death.\n
Â·Â Â Â Â Â http://bit.ly/kCpqÂ Several very good remixes of Silversun Pickups songs.\n
Â·Â Â Â Â Â Â http://bit.ly/11ML1Â Â How to create the bullet-time effect from the matrix cost effectively.\n
Why mega-eruptions like the ones that covered North America in ash are the least of your worries.
- The supervolcano under Yellowstone produced three massive eruptions over the past few million years.
- Each eruption covered much of what is now the western United States in an ash layer several feet deep.
- The last eruption was 640,000 years ago, but that doesn't mean the next eruption is overdue.
The end of the world as we know it
Panoramic view of Yellowstone National Park
Image: Heinrich Berann for the National Park Service – public domain
Of the many freak ways to shuffle off this mortal coil – lightning strikes, shark bites, falling pianos – here's one you can safely scratch off your worry list: an outbreak of the Yellowstone supervolcano.
As the map below shows, previous eruptions at Yellowstone were so massive that the ash fall covered most of what is now the western United States. A similar event today would not only claim countless lives directly, but also create enough subsidiary disruption to kill off global civilisation as we know it. A relatively recent eruption of the Toba supervolcano in Indonesia may have come close to killing off the human species (see further below).
However, just because a scenario is grim does not mean that it is likely (insert topical political joke here). In this case, the doom mongers claiming an eruption is 'overdue' are wrong. Yellowstone is not a library book or an oil change. Just because the previous mega-eruption happened long ago doesn't mean the next one is imminent.
Ash beds of North America
Ash beds deposited by major volcanic eruptions in North America.
Image: USGS – public domain
This map shows the location of the Yellowstone plateau and the ash beds deposited by its three most recent major outbreaks, plus two other eruptions – one similarly massive, the other the most recent one in North America.
The Huckleberry Ridge eruption occurred 2.1 million years ago. It ejected 2,450 km3 (588 cubic miles) of material, making it the largest known eruption in Yellowstone's history and in fact the largest eruption in North America in the past few million years.
This is the oldest of the three most recent caldera-forming eruptions of the Yellowstone hotspot. It created the Island Park Caldera, which lies partially in Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming and westward into Idaho. Ash from this eruption covered an area from southern California to North Dakota, and southern Idaho to northern Texas.
About 1.3 million years ago, the Mesa Falls eruption ejected 280 km3 (67 cubic miles) of material and created the Henry's Fork Caldera, located in Idaho, west of Yellowstone.
It was the smallest of the three major Yellowstone eruptions, both in terms of material ejected and area covered: 'only' most of present-day Wyoming, Colorado, Kansas and Nebraska, and about half of South Dakota.
The Lava Creek eruption was the most recent major eruption of Yellowstone: about 640,000 years ago. It was the second-largest eruption in North America in the past few million years, creating the Yellowstone Caldera.
It ejected only about 1,000 km3 (240 cubic miles) of material, i.e. less than half of the Huckleberry Ridge eruption. However, its debris is spread out over a significantly wider area: basically, Huckleberry Ridge plus larger slices of both Canada and Mexico, plus most of Texas, Louisiana, Arkansas, and Missouri.
This eruption occurred about 760,000 years ago. It was centered on southern California, where it created the Long Valley Caldera, and spewed out 580 km3 (139 cubic miles) of material. This makes it North America's third-largest eruption of the past few million years.
The material ejected by this eruption is known as the Bishop ash bed, and covers the central and western parts of the Lava Creek ash bed.
Mount St Helens
The eruption of Mount St Helens in 1980 was the deadliest and most destructive volcanic event in U.S. history: it created a mile-wide crater, killed 57 people and created economic damage in the neighborhood of $1 billion.
Yet by Yellowstone standards, it was tiny: Mount St Helens only ejected 0.25 km3 (0.06 cubic miles) of material, most of the ash settling in a relatively narrow band across Washington State and Idaho. By comparison, the Lava Creek eruption left a large swathe of North America in up to two metres of debris.
The difference between quakes and faults
The volume of dense rock equivalent (DRE) ejected by the Huckleberry Ridge event dwarfs all other North American eruptions. It is itself overshadowed by the DRE ejected at the most recent eruption at Toba (present-day Indonesia). This was one of the largest known eruptions ever and a relatively recent one: only 75,000 years ago. It is thought to have caused a global volcanic winter which lasted up to a decade and may be responsible for the bottleneck in human evolution: around that time, the total human population suddenly and drastically plummeted to between 1,000 and 10,000 breeding pairs.
Image: USGS – public domain
So, what are the chances of something that massive happening anytime soon? The aforementioned mongers of doom often claim that major eruptions occur at intervals of 600,000 years and point out that the last one was 640,000 years ago. Except that (a) the first interval was about 200,000 years longer, (b) two intervals is not a lot to base a prediction on, and (c) those intervals don't really mean anything anyway. Not in the case of volcanic eruptions, at least.
Earthquakes can be 'overdue' because the stress on fault lines is built up consistently over long periods, which means quakes can be predicted with a relative degree of accuracy. But this is not how volcanoes behave. They do not accumulate magma at constant rates. And the subterranean pressure that causes the magma to erupt does not follow a schedule.
What's more, previous super-eruptions do not necessarily imply future ones. Scientists are not convinced that there ever will be another big eruption at Yellowstone. Smaller eruptions, however, are much likelier. Since the Lava Creek eruption, there have been about 30 smaller outbreaks at Yellowstone, the last lava flow being about 70,000 years ago.
As for the immediate future (give or take a century): the magma chamber beneath Yellowstone is only 5 percent to 15 percent molten. Most scientists agree that is as un-alarming as it sounds. And that its statistically more relevant to worry about death by lightning, shark, or piano.
Strange Maps #1041
Got a strange map? Let me know at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The potential of CRISPR technology is incredible, but the threats are too serious to ignore.
- CRISPR (Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats) is a revolutionary technology that gives scientists the ability to alter DNA. On the one hand, this tool could mean the elimination of certain diseases. On the other, there are concerns (both ethical and practical) about its misuse and the yet-unknown consequences of such experimentation.
- "The technique could be misused in horrible ways," says counter-terrorism expert Richard A. Clarke. Clarke lists biological weapons as one of the potential threats, "Threats for which we don't have any known antidote." CRISPR co-inventor, biochemist Jennifer Doudna, echos the concern, recounting a nightmare involving the technology, eugenics, and a meeting with Adolf Hitler.
- Should this kind of tool even exist? Do the positives outweigh the potential dangers? How could something like this ever be regulated, and should it be? These questions and more are considered by Doudna, Clarke, evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins, psychologist Steven Pinker, and physician Siddhartha Mukherjee.
Measuring a person's movements and poses, smart clothes could be used for athletic training, rehabilitation, or health-monitoring.
In recent years there have been exciting breakthroughs in wearable technologies, like smartwatches that can monitor your breathing and blood oxygen levels.
But what about a wearable that can detect how you move as you do a physical activity or play a sport, and could potentially even offer feedback on how to improve your technique?
And, as a major bonus, what if the wearable were something you'd actually already be wearing, like a shirt of a pair of socks?
That's the idea behind a new set of MIT-designed clothing that use special fibers to sense a person's movement via touch. Among other things, the researchers showed that their clothes can actually determine things like if someone is sitting, walking, or doing particular poses.
The group from MIT's Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab (CSAIL) says that their clothes could be used for athletic training and rehabilitation. With patients' permission, they could even help passively monitor the health of residents in assisted-care facilities and determine if, for example, someone has fallen or is unconscious.
The researchers have developed a range of prototypes, from socks and gloves to a full vest. The team's "tactile electronics" use a mix of more typical textile fibers alongside a small amount of custom-made functional fibers that sense pressure from the person wearing the garment.
According to CSAIL graduate student Yiyue Luo, a key advantage of the team's design is that, unlike many existing wearable electronics, theirs can be incorporated into traditional large-scale clothing production. The machine-knitted tactile textiles are soft, stretchable, breathable, and can take a wide range of forms.
"Traditionally it's been hard to develop a mass-production wearable that provides high-accuracy data across a large number of sensors," says Luo, lead author on a new paper about the project that is appearing in this month's edition of Nature Electronics. "When you manufacture lots of sensor arrays, some of them will not work and some of them will work worse than others, so we developed a self-correcting mechanism that uses a self-supervised machine learning algorithm to recognize and adjust when certain sensors in the design are off-base."
The team's clothes have a range of capabilities. Their socks predict motion by looking at how different sequences of tactile footprints correlate to different poses as the user transitions from one pose to another. The full-sized vest can also detect the wearers' pose, activity, and the texture of the contacted surfaces.
The authors imagine a coach using the sensor to analyze people's postures and give suggestions on improvement. It could also be used by an experienced athlete to record their posture so that beginners can learn from them. In the long term, they even imagine that robots could be trained to learn how to do different activities using data from the wearables.
"Imagine robots that are no longer tactilely blind, and that have 'skins' that can provide tactile sensing just like we have as humans," says corresponding author Wan Shou, a postdoc at CSAIL. "Clothing with high-resolution tactile sensing opens up a lot of exciting new application areas for researchers to explore in the years to come."
The paper was co-written by MIT professors Antonio Torralba, Wojciech Matusik, and Tomás Palacios, alongside PhD students Yunzhu Li, Pratyusha Sharma, and Beichen Li; postdoc Kui Wu; and research engineer Michael Foshey.
The work was partially funded by Toyota Research Institute.