Monthly Archives: September 2015

Life on Mars

I’m going to go out on a limb here:

With the recent discovery of (evidence for) liquid water on the surface of Mars, there’s going to be life there.

My own personal hypothesis would be that it’s either going to be terrestrial life that was transported to Mars via rock ejected from Earth by the impact of past meteors or the other way around, an idea known as panspermia. One solid possibility would be Earth –> Mars via ejecta following the Chicxulub asteroid impact in Mexico. It is commonly thought that Mars may have been a much more hospitable place long ago, including large seas suggested by potassium-thorium-iron enriched areas visible by Gamma Ray Spectrometer. This enrichment may be explained as an accumulation deposited by liquid water on the surface of the planet.

A superimposition of gamma-ray data from Mars Odyssey's Gamma-Ray Spectrometer onto topographic data from the laser altimeter onboard the Mars Global Surveyor.

A superimposition of gamma-ray data from Mars Odyssey’s Gamma-Ray Spectrometer onto topographic data from the laser altimeter onboard the Mars Global Surveyor.

If this is correct, some residual bacteria-like organisms remaining from a more biotic history could have seeded Earth in a Chicxulub-like impact of Mars.

“Tetsuya Hara, et al, at Kyoto Sangyo University in Japan have calculated that a large amount of Earth landed on the Moon and Mars, but also on other planets that may be compatible with life—the Jovian moon, Europa, the Saturnian moon, Enceladus, and more surprisingly even planets like Earth orbiting other stars.” (from askwhy)

On porrible map of Chicxulub asteroid ejecta

On possible map of Chicxulub asteroid ejecta

Regardless of any relationship between the life of the two planets, I have to say that I’m firmly on the side of manifest destiny here. I completely understand the arguments against contaminating another planet with life from this one, but I don’t imagine a future without Earthlings spreading to the other planets of this solar system.

Without the need to transport masses of water, NASA (and other Terrestrial space agencies) may suddenly see a manned mission to Mars as imminently do-able. The question changes from could we go to should we go? What are our obligations if our presence there will disturb an extant biosystem?

Carl Sagan said “no.” It was his belief that any planet with indigenous life should be protected from human intrusion. Perhaps an inspiration for Star Trek’s Prime Directive.

On this issue, I would have to part with Sagan’s advice – perhaps on purely selfish grounds. I want humans to explore the heavens and I believe that a strict policy like this Prime Directive would prevent that forever.

If you are reading this, take a moment contribute your two bits.

If possible, should humans go to and possibly remain, on Mars?

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Posted by on September 29, 2015 in Uncategorized


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My log has something to say…

“Can you hear it?”

RIP Log Lady (AKA Catherine Coulson)

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Posted by on September 29, 2015 in Uncategorized


iTunes Matching followup #1

iTunes Music Match is a service offered by Apple to extend their reach into the music business even further than before. If you’re old enough, you may remember that there is another company called Apple, Apple Corps, in the music business. If you need a hint, think of the illustration in the center of your Beatles albums – one side was a green apple, the other was of the same apple sliced in half.

Would you rather install your program from a floppy disk or a cassette tape?

Would you rather install your program from a floppy disk or a cassette tape?

Back in 1978, Apple Corps sued Apple Computers over the name and finally settled in 1981 with a payment to Apple Corps and an agreement that Apple Computers would not enter the music market. At the time, apple was selling the Apple II Plus with coming with a whopping 48k of memory installed.

By way of understanding what 48k can hold, one minute of CD quality music runs about 1MB – compressed. The ability to play something as awesome as the Mario Brothers theme music was still a good four years away.

So, safe bet, Apple.

Music did, however, enter the picture eventually. In 2001, Apple launched a music management service you may have heard of. They called it iTunes, and 14 years later, almost everyone is still using it.

But I’m getting distracted. A couple of weeks ago, I decided that iTunes music match might be the best way for my family to manage our bloated and fragmented music collections. I was dubious.

I’ve had time to play with it a bit now and I thought it was a good time to check in. One thing Apple is known for is simplicity, unfortunately, iTunes is becoming so large, and managing so many types of media that this does get in the way of clarity. The other

click this image for The Atlantic's article on what made Clippy such a hated icon

Click this image for The Atlantic’s article on what made Clippy such a hated icon

con is that Apple Music is a separate service that provides instant access to a wealth of music following a model something more like Pandora or Spotify. I didn’t want that service, but I do find that Apple keeps asking me, “Is this what you’re looking for! Sign up for a three month trial today!” Frankly, that’s almost as annoying as Microsoft’s Clippy.

The cons break down to clarity. But a little bit of intuition and practice worked that out for me.

The pros are that every machine in our household now has access to our combined music collection. Further, each computer doesn’t have to duplicate this file space in its own storage because as long as you have an internet connection, you can stream anything in your library. If you expect that you won’t have internet, or you want to go on the road and not be hit with data limitations, you can download anything from the library to any of your devices and have it there when you need it later.

One thing I still have not figured out is an easy way to combine your music libraries in a way that eliminates duplicate files and makes it easier to get all of your music ‘Matched.’ There are third party organizers that will do this for you – some of them quite well (Wondershare TunesGo is one example), but having paid once to get your music organized, it’s not an attractive option to pay twice.Recall that my primary reason for subscribing to iTunes Match is to organize and combine our family’s music in one place that we can all access.

It’s entirely possible that Apple has solved this last problem already and I just don’t know it – however, that’s another problem in itself.

If Apple could help with the organization (perhaps have a ‘load library’ function where you can simply point to the various libraries you wish to add?) and make the iTunes Match a bit more distinct a function from Apple Music, I would become a hardcore fan. Presently, I would say, proceed with caution and know what you’re getting into. On a scale of 1-10, I call iTunes Match a 7.5, with a possibility of jumping up to 10 with a few tweaks.

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Posted by on September 28, 2015 in Uncategorized


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Oh, VW, what have you done?

What happens when the irresistible force strikes the immovable object?

Until this week, this was an entirely theoretical question. But then, Volkswagen, one of the most loved brands has done the unthinkable, willfully deceiving governments and its customers in order to attain ‘clean diesel.’ Funny that this would happen just as I have been exploring the idea and application of branding in retail.

Until last week, this was the feeling one got from VW:

(For more on Nick Drake, singer of Pink Moon)


A Page from the Enron Playbook?

A Page from the Enron Playbook?

I don’t want to even discuss this much right now other than to say, what should VW’s next move be? How can they regain customer trust and appreciation? How can they save their brand?

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Posted by on September 23, 2015 in Uncategorized


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Branding: Part II

Several Weeks ago, I attended my first Branding Workshop, exploring what a brand is and how making conscious ‘brand decisions’ can help grow a business. I wrote a bit about my experience and take-home message here.

Last week, I attended my second Branding Workshop, this time run by Tom Morse-Brown of MorseBrownCreative. Tom’s approach was much more of an interactive one that engaged the attendees in exercises to pick out the feelings that brands were trying to convey with website and store design.

It was a much smaller workshop and naturally, being a recovering lecturer, I made every attempt to take over discussion and had to fight against my impulse to stand up and start pacing the room. Fortunately for me, Tom is a very patient man.

What he did leave us with was a homework assignment – to go and explore the feeling, the atmosphere, and the aesthetics of the next retail experience we encountered. He asked that we sum our experience up in one word or phrase inspired by the space, so, naturally, I wrote him a long email …

An excellent opportunity for examining how a company brands itself occurred to me yesterday. I had to buy some large bins for camping supplies and some other small items to help organize the electronics cords in my house, so I went to ‘The Container Store’ a new retailer which has just opened in the Town Center Shopping area (Leawood, KS). Visiting this store is truly an experience – and it got me thinking about the idea of brand and what connections they were trying to make.

First the basics: this is essentially a large warehouse store selling containers – hardly sexy.

First Impressions: When you walk into the store you are immediately surrounded by music (louder than you might expect background noise to be, and popular, upbeat songs). The store is highly organized and it shows from the first step- which is just what they want you to think you are buying. It practically shouts, ‘bring organization home with you!’

Screen Shot 2015-09-22 at 2.27.26 PMSecond look: There are also more employees than you would expect for a store selling glorified tupperware – probably necessary to keep it so neat, but it also feels like a service experience. Finally, the store is divided into sections radiating from the center registers such that each section has its own focus (e.g. kitchenwares, closet, office space, etc) all unified by the theme of getting the right system in place and all your stuff will practically be organized for you. The bulk of the items are very practical and unsurprising, but each section also has a number of cute items that make it feel like your space can be organized – and – have character.

She's up all night to the sun               I'm up all night to get some                    She's up all night for good fun                 I'm up all night to get Organized

She’s up all night to the sun
I’m up all night to get some
She’s up all night for good fun
I’m up all night to get Organized

Finally, what you feel from being in this store: You are imbued with a sense of possibility. ‘You can organize your stuff! And you don’t even need to throw anything away!’ Not only that, but it can be fun and quirky-cool.

Frankly, I was amazed by this place. I wasn’t bored. The store felt alive with customers and employees. And I probably bought things that I wouldn’t have otherwise. It’s crazy, but I actually want to go back.

But, you said sum it up in one phrase: ‘Organization can be fun and we can help you do it!’


Why is it that all the highly organized guys get the cutest girls?

If only I had my life to live again! My next degree will have to be in Marketing.

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Posted by on September 22, 2015 in Uncategorized


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The Scale of Space – Why Light Speed isn’t Fast Enough

I’ve made several posts here discussing the scale of the universe and how we fit into it. Also, some others about the nature of light and its behavior. The problem with understanding each of these topics is that they are so damned difficult to relate to – they are both beyond our experience. Recently, I’ve come across two new videos that address these topics in a very visceral manner.

Both of these videos involve the solar system. Recently, the New Horizons probe became the first vehicle to visit the dwarf planet, Pluto. To many of us, who grew up in the time between 1930 and 2006, when Pluto was the ninth planet from the sun, this represents the limit of our solar system. The much older Voyager spacecrafts have recently been measuring a different limit to our solar system – that distance at which the influence of the sun ceases to the dominant force  – i.e., the place where you truly enter interstellar space.

The first video is our solar system modeled in a dry lakebed

The second is a simulation of what it would look like if you were riding on a photon emitted from the surface of the sun.

Amazingly, in this second video, we find that traveling at the speed of light suddenly feels unsatisyingly slow. Why doesn’t it look more like this cockpit view of the Millennium Falcon making the jump to light speed?

you don't want to bounce too close to a star...

you don’t want to bounce too close to a star…

In fact, we know that in Star Wars ships travel all over the galaxy. For a point of reference, the Milky Way Galaxy is about 100,000 light years across, which means that even for ships traveling at light speed, they’re getting nowhere near one another. Luckily, I’m not the only one who has thought about this problem. Chris Lough, at, has already worked out the math using a few arbitrary numbers that can at least give us an idea of how fast we would need to go to make this kind of Sci Fi realistic. It turns out that the Millennium Falcon must be going somewhere in the neighborhood of 1000+ light years / hr. At that speed, we might just be able to see the stars whipping past our ship just like the movie.

hqdefault-1It might be easier just to fold space, a la Dune, than yo ever get a hunk of metal to move that fast.

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Posted by on September 19, 2015 in Uncategorized


Brilliant: Elites are more likely selfish and less equality minded


Who, me? Share?

A new study published in Science Magazine demonstrates something you might very well have predicted, elite individuals place greater value on themselves in general, and when there is cost involved in sharing, they are more likely to ‘charge’ that cost to others.

Somehow this article reminds me of a similar look into the way that drivers of ‘valuable’ cars tend to ignore laws regarding yielding to pedestrians than drivers of less valuable cars described in my ‘Greed is Good‘ blog article.

In the current study, three groups of individuals were asked to play the dictator game. This is a simple ‘game’ where one person is given all the power and then asked how much they want to share. It is typically done with food for children and animals (chimps) or money for adults. Here is the game explained:

In this article, the three groups were Yale Law Students (Labeled as ‘elites’), Berkeley Undergrads (Labeled as ‘intermediate elites’) and a group of randomized Americans. Each group was assessed in two ways, first was their generosity: How fairly did they share?

They were classified as either ‘fair-minded’, ‘intermediate’, or ‘selfish’

Second, was how their generosity was affected by adding a cost to sharing.

This classified them as either ‘equality-focused’ if they split the cost of sharing evenly or ‘efficiency-focused’ meaning that they charged the cost of sharing to the one being shared with.

Here are the data:

Screen Shot 2015-09-17 at 9.41.52 PM

Interestingly, it appears that the ‘Intermediate Elite’ were the most selfish – although both elite groups were much more selfish than the ‘American Adults’. But, when charged a price to share, the Law Students were the most likely to pass that cost along.

In general though, I see both groups of elites acting a lot like todlers…

Here’s an example of the game being played with a two year old girl and her dad using goldfish crackers.

What I would like to say is, hey – those of you for whom life is going pretty well, don’t forget to share a little – oh, and yield for pedestrians.


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Posted by on September 17, 2015 in Uncategorized


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