Month: November 2011

Health talks at TEDxBrussels

When I wrote my last post, videos of health talks at TEDxBrussels were not out yet. Now they are and you can watch them below …

First Andrew Hessel started by talking about synthetic biology, biotechnologies and his participation in the open source biology movement. One day, there will be an org (organism) for the things you want to do.

Then Jack Tiszynski followed with the drastic idea of replacing doctors by software for diagnostics and brought the idea that we will have a “virtual double” in our future smartphones. This double will know our predisposition to diseases and suggest prevention methods and cures.

Finally David Duncan talked about extreme ageing and some of the important issues brought by prolonging life and being healthy for a longer period of time than before.

But among talks I didn’t attend, Peter Hinssen presented his idea of S-curve for the future and especially the future of healthcare. For him, the flip in healthcare didn’t occur yet. But he can already predict that health will become more personal, more numerical, more proactive, more community-oriented. That’s funny because he put words on part of what we are going to say at the closing ceremony of the International Year of Chemistry, this Thursday in Brussels. Hope to have the same vibrant words ūüėČ

TEDxBrussels in tweets and videos

TEDxBrussels is a local, self-organized event that brings a TED-like experience to Brussels. I already often mentioned videos and presentations from TED (for instance here, here or here). When I read that it will again be organized in Brussels in 2011 I decided to attend this edition. Here is a short summary of this intense day with my tweets and the just-released videos. It would be very time consuming to write about each and every talk. Here I will just highlight speakers I like the most (you can have a look at TEDxBrussels website for the complete list of speakers).

22.11.11-09.09: Tell people you work in a #pharma company and you immediately get questions on #ethics. Yes it’s an ethical business!

One of the nice thing about a TED event is that you get to see many new people, most of them very interesting with cool background, strange or simply something nice to say. And, yes, when you tell people you are working in the pharmaceutical industry, questions on ethics immediately pop up ūüôā

22.11.11-09.40: Nice sweet talk from Cuartielles at #tedxbrussels #arduino. Learn by doing.

One of the first talks was from David Cuartielles on the Arduino project. His talk was like a reminder that life is still very physical and the Arduino project is a good example of “open source hardware” and of “leaning by doing”. It reminded me that when I will have time, I would really like to play with the Arduino!

Also embedded in physical life were talks by Henrik Scharfe (F-Geminoid) and Ken Haase (E Pluribus Unum). Hasan Elahi (Hiding in plain sight) and Kaliya Hamlin (Identity) introduced concepts of radical transparency and participatory totalitarianism (respectively). And during that time, many people were logged in Facebook, Twitter and many other social networks, updating their status, giving everybody parts of their lives and, for most of them, using their unique identity given at birth.

22.11.11-10.28:¬†#eyeborg Spence at #tedxbrussels: I’m not an expert but I have a camera in my eye

Then we went back to hardware with Rob Spence talking about the camera he used to have in place of his eye. It was also interesting to discover how people improved a lot prosthetic arms, legs (and eye thus). I found also cool the augmented reality that was displayed in the fireman mask as well as the simple way a fireman can change this display.

22.11.11-11.16: #smartcars are not just cool tech projects, they can solve some current issues. Waiting for #collaboration between them. #tedxbrussels

Raul Rojas presented his team’s “car that think”. Again, it was very interesting to see how technology evolved: this VW can drive all alone in the traffic in Berlin! It seems that cars are becoming “smarter”. But I thought he would touch the fact these smart cars can autonomously collaborate between themselves (once they are more than one). Then these smartcars could one day outperform human drivers in heavy traffic.

22.11.11-11.27: High concentration of #apple products at #tedxbrussels. Feeling a bit lonely with my #moleskine and #pen ūüôā

And if we stay in hardware, there was an awful lot of MacBooks, iPads, iPhones, IObjects in the audience. And even some speakers brought Apple products on stage. I just had a moleskine and a pen to take some notes. My Android phone was way enough to update Twitter ūüôā (but it was definitely not good at taking pictures in the feeble light during talks).

22.11.11-13.16: Great talks from Ashdown, Meyer (entrepreneurship), Hypponen, Janah (microwork) & Chakrabarti (education+) this morning at #tedxbrussels ūüôā

The end of the morning was filled with interesting presentations from Paddy Ashdown (Why the world will never be the same …), ¬†Mikko H. Hypponen ¬†(Definding the net), Julie Meyer, Leila Janah ¬†(see below for the previous 2 people’s videos)¬†and Kushal Chakrabarti (What does education mean to you?). While both have their own qualities and bring work to the world, it was interesting to compare the personnalities of Julie Meyer (more formal, on the financial side, “money follows ideas”, presentation with the logo of her company on top right, helping individual entrepreneurs) …

and Leila Janah’s (less formal, playing more with emotions, “technology must serve humanity”, more “web 2.0” presentation, being an entrepreneur and helping individuals getting jobs in the same company (hers)).

22.11.11-07: Wonderful and breathtaking para-music #tedxbrussels

The afternoon indeed started with a beautiful concert by disabled people with Charles Hazlewood as conductor.¬†It was then followed by a serie of science-fuction authors where they explained to us a part of life (and its adaptability to a changing world): David Brin (Target 2061), John Shriley (False singularities …), Rudy Rucker (Beyond machines …), Jacques Vall√©e (Theory of everything else), …

22.11.11-15.41: Strange talk about death bed visitors by Fenwick #tedxbrussels

And it continued with a very strange presentation (imho, ymmv) about dying well by Peter Fenwick!

22.11.11-16.45:¬†I should have danced my PhD ūüôā #tedxbrussels

Then we saw an effective way to present what Ph.D. students are doing: dance (John Bohannon and the Black Label Movement)!

22.11.11-16:57: From Oxford or not, a video link is unfortunately still less powerful than a live talk #tedxbrussels

The Science section started with a video conference from David Deutsch (The Unknowable …). His talk was very interesting but nothing will beat a real, live talk, especially if the professor on the other side of the video link is … well, teaching like a professor.

22.11.11-18.31: @xprize I would prize simple delivery system and tech that drastically improve basic sanitation+health issues for 10mio people #tedxbrussels

Deutsch was followed by a presentation of what does the XPrize Foundation by Eileen Bartholomew. In the end, she asked for feedback and what we would like the XPrize Foundation to support. I think that tackling basic health issues will not be very difficult; getting money for less developed countries can be the problem and that’s where the Foundation can help. Solutions submitted to this hypothetical prize won’t necessarily be using the latest, cool hi-tech of the moment but I’m sure they can be very effective. Leveraging power, they said.

22.11.11-17.16: Interesting futuristic story from Marc Millis #tedxbrussels

And after these two high-level talks we went back to science fiction with Marc Millis telling his story going to other planets (“colonies”) in space. That was relaxing (btw, he was sitting on a sofa).

22.11.11-17.39: Great session on the future of biology and health Рat least for a biologist #tedxbrussels

22.11.11-18.35: Intetesting perspectives on bioengineering (Hessel), fut medicine (Tuszynski) and ageing (Duncan) #tedxbrussels

Then, as a finale, 3 talks on biology and health! Yippee! Andrew Hessel started by talking about synthetic biology, biotechnologies and his participation in the open source biology movement. One day, there will be an org (organism) for the things you want to do. Jack Tiszynski followed with the drastic idea of replacing doctors by software for diagnostics and brought the idea that we will have a “virtual double” in our future smartphones. This double will know our predisposition to diseases and suggest prevention methods and cures. Finally David Duncan talked about extreme ageing and some of the important issues brought by prolonging life and being healthy for a longer period of time than before. (I wish the videos were already on the website!)

22.11.11-18.37:¬†Overall, loved this first #tedxbrussels experience! ūüôā

I unfortunately didn’t have time to attend the last part of the session (damn!). But anyway, thanks to the organizers for this edition of TEDxBrussels! Even if all of them are not relevant to your job or will not be applicable before a long time, it gives you lots of ideas and it will take me some time to explore more in details some (many) of them. I started by collecting direct links to presentations above on Pinboard. Feel free to use them as starting point too!

Visualizing how a population grows to 7 billion (NPR)

The NPR has produced a nice visualization / video showing how population grew to 7 billion (original article):

If you want to model the improvement in child survival, you just turn the birth tap off (or nearly). Then, with wealth, prevention, healthcare and better food, the population will also grow older (death tap also turned off or nearly) and during a certain time, lots of adults will be economically active (i.e. they will work and consume). This is a demographic dividend. But it comes with a risk:¬†at the next stage, there might be a disproportionately high number of people compared to / depending on a small number of active adults (the next generation). In addition, if you fill it up slowly but you also empty it slowly, the container risk to be full soon, it all depends on the various rates …

Note that this representation is also very effective to understand the basics of¬†compartmental models in epidemiology ūüôā

Human Development Index 2011

The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) released its Human Development Report 2011. It “argues that the urgent global challenges of sustainability and equity must be addressed together ‚Äď and identifies policies on the national and global level that could spur mutually reinforcing progress towards these interlinked goals“.

In this report, there is a ranking, the Human Development Index (HDI). The HDI is a way to measure the development. It combines indicators in three main dimensions: health, education and living standards. The mathematical way used to combine these indicators is explained in a technical note¬†(PDF). The interest is of course to have a single number to use in comparison for both social and economic development. It’s not the only¬†element to take into account to compare development. It’s merely a starting point giving an overview of development. An in-depth discussion about development and comparison between countries will need to go further and analyze each indicator separately (as well as other indicators if possible).

But human nature likes rankings. So be it. Here are the top 10 countries according this HDI:

1 Norway 0.943
2 Australia 0.929
3 Netherlands 0.910
4 United States 0.910
5 New Zealand 0.908
6 Canada 0.908
7 Ireland 0.908
8 Liechtenstein 0.905
9 Germany 0.905
10 Sweden 0.904

And the 10 least developed countries are all in Africa (again, according to the HDI):

178 Guinea 0.344
179 Central African Republic 0.343
180 Sierra Leone 0.336
181 Burkina Faso 0.331
182 Liberia 0.329
183 Chad 0.328
184 Mozambique 0.322
185 Burundi 0.316
186 Niger 0.295
187 Democratic Republic of the Congo 0.286

For information, China is 101st with an HDI of 0.687 ; Vietnam is 128th with an HDI of 0.593 ; India is 134th with an HDI of 0.547 (all three in the group of medium human development countries).

If I put all this in a map, it gives (thanks to the UNDP Statplanet tool):

Map of the Human Development Index 2011

The UNDP also has a data explorer tool √†-la-Gapminder. Yesterday, I wrote about Hans Rosling’s talk urging us to continue to improve child survival in order to curb the world population growth. If I plot the HDI -vs- the “under-five mortality rate per 1,000 live births” (the¬†probability of dying between birth and exactly age 5, expressed per 1,000 live births), I get the following graph that intuitively makes sense: the smaller is your under-5 mortality rate, the bigger is your HDI (meaning the country is more developed).

HDI -vs- under-5 mortality rate

Now the HDI is¬†admittedly¬†a theoretical value: it doesn’t take into account inequalities within each specific country. That’s the reason why the UNDP created in 2010 the¬†Inequality-adjusted Human Development Index (IHDI).¬†The IHDI is thus the actual level of human development (taking into account inequality).¬†The average loss in the HDI due to inequality is about 23%. And although the loss is variable from country to country, it increases on average when you go down the human development index (HDI), see figure below. This average loss is the smallest in Europe and Central Asia (-12.7%) and the biggest in Sub-Saharan Africa (-34.5%).

Average IHDI loss

No more Read More!

Just a little post to write how I hate those “Read More” sentences in blog post!

Grrr, again a disguised "Read More"!
Grrr, again a disguised "Read More"! This post has a very low information content as presented.

“Read More” is a way to cut your blog post in two: one part that will be shown in your blog RSS flux, on your front page and another part that will only be read by those who click on the “Read More”. A variant of this is the […] (as shown above).

Most of the time, I read blogs I subscribed to via a RSS reader (or news aggregator). I read blog posts when I have time. A central place like the RSS reader is like a personalized newspaper. I usually read blog posts grouped by the interest I have at the moment I read them. An organized place like the RSS reader is like a personalized newspaper, just on a certain topic, just when you need it.

Now, if there are “Read More” after 2 or 3 lines of text, I usually don’t know anything about the quality of the remaining article. Either I click, I launch my web browser (wait, wait, wait …) and finally read the remaining part of the article. It’s very rare I do that. Usually, I just go to the next article. Most of the time, the next article is by someone else, on another blog (items being classed by interest topic and time in my reader). After a few¬†disappointments¬†of finding a “Read More”, I just cancel my subscription to the RSS feed. Unless information given there is very, very interesting.

I know that “Read More” directs more traffic to your website. I know getting more traffic makes you earn money (if you serve ads), can potentially make you earn money (if you sell something) or simply gives you more details about your audience. I know that ¬†“Read More” allows to “shorten” long blog post so your front page is not 10-pages long.

But in the end, the goal is to be read. If you write well, have a good product and/or don’t annoy people with¬†unnecessary¬†“clicks”, people will anyway come to your website and potentially buy your stuff. Imho, simplifying readers’ lives by giving them all the information they want in the format they want regardless of the channel (RSS, e-mail alert and website) is more important than any other reason. Don’t force page views, it’s annoying!

How to feed 7 billion people?

The world reached a population of 7 billion people at the end of October 2011. United Nations¬†symbolically¬†chose Danica May Camacho, a girl born in Philippine, to mark this global population milestone.¬†I recently wrote about the world population getting older, about non communicable diseases becoming the most dangerous threat to health (here too) or about World Population Day(11th of July 2011). We are now 7 billion and new projections tells us we will be 9.3 billion in 2050.¬†When I heard all the news around this, I couldn’t help but think about Hans Rosling’s presentation on population growth at TED Cannes, in 2010.

In this presentation, Hand Rosling made a small recap of the situation in 1960, when the world was divided between 1 billion wealthy people and 2 billion poor people. He made this situation more obvious by plotting the number of children per women -vs- the percentage of child survival.

Hans Rosling's population in 1960

Then, if you watch the movie (watch it at the end of this post), you’ll see how the different populations evolved to the situation of 2005 where the differences were still there but less marked than in 1960. And all this was thanks to soap, hygiene, education, vaccination, family planning, …

Hans Rosling's population in 2005

So, one thing is to worry about what would be the world with 7 or 9 billion people. Another thing is to prepare the environment (i.e. both our container – the earth, its ecosystems, its water resources, etc. – and its content – us, other animals and plants, etc.) to cope with such an amount of people. And a third thing is to try to curb that curve and find ways to slow the world population progression.

In the remaining of his talk, Hans Rosling states that one way to curb this population growth is to continue to improve child survival to 90%. This would help reach a sustainable size population of the world. Unfortunately there isn’t any “gold recipe” in order to improve child survival. Two general goals can achieve this (as well as achieve many other things): an improvement in education and a reduction in poverty.

Fertility predictors, from Science magazine

If you improve education (especially of girls/women because they will become/are mothers, they could give their voice in that matter if we give them enough power), you will decrease fertility. The less children you have, the more time you have to take care of each of them, to give them more education, to feed them properly. On the other hand, if you reduce poverty, you also decrease fertility and, at the same time, you have more wealth to take care of your children, to send them to school and to give them proper food. This is not always the case, just generally the case.

Improving child survival will not solve all the issues. An addition of 2 billion people during the next 35 years or so is something big and it will have an impact of every aspect of our lives. But I really like the idea of having a leveraging effect starting from the improvement of child survival.

I let you watch Hans Rosling’s talk, now …