I was blessed with an invitation to HealthFOO this year, here in nearby Cambridge. Alas, the event was cancelled due to the intense events after the Boston Marathon.
But not only was I bummed out that I wasn’t going to spend a fun weekend with follow health enthusiasts, but I also had to cancel my Ignite talk.
Of course, I was going to talk about the practical use of microbes. Below, I’ve written what I was going to talk about, with the sides I was going to use. (No, this is not my verbatim script, so it’ll not be exact to the timing usual of an Ingite talk)
Hello, my name is Charlie Schick. By day, I work for IBM as a sales consultant in healthcare and life sciences. By night, I am a fermentos, a practitioner and promoter of the practical use of microbes.
Tonight I want to welcome you to the Post-Pasteruian Age. But, for some historical perspective, a Post-Pasteruian Age suggests two preceding ages. Let me tell you about them.
When we think of the Pre-Pasteurian age, we think of a scary time of plagues, food poisoning, death by simple infections, and poor public health systems (can you say miasma?).
But it wasn’t all the bad.
Folks were using bugs practically, for food safety, mostly. Most cultures were fermenting foods – milk, vegetables, grains – to preserve them and improve nutritional value.
Indeed, microbes can be credited for the start of civilization. The magic that converted a warm mash of grains into a well-preserved intoxicating food drove humans to settle down to ensure a steady supply of grain to ensure a steady supply of intoxicant.
Then Pasteur and gang came along.
Hello, Pasteurian Age.
John Snow (upper right) figured out crucial pieces of germ theory. And leading scientists gave us anti-microbial terms like Pasteruization (Pasteur, upper left) and Listerine (Lister, bottom right).
The progress of science also led to Fleming’s accidental discovery that microbes (fungi) themselves were good at killing bacteria, setting us on a long path of conquering microbes through antibiotics.
And we can’t deny that we’ve we’ve become healthier overall. Vaccines, antibiotics, public health, food safety have all been components of our improving health, increased longevity, and reduction in microbial deaths from childhood to old age.
But what have we wrought?
Enter the Pasteurian Age! An age of disinfectants at every turn, on every surface, in every process.
But this age is now an age of sterile, processed food. This isn’t the real cheese.
And this age has led to a reduction of biodiversity in our environment, foods, and, most importantly, our bodies.
And the only things that can survive this harsh aseptic environment are the super bugs – bugs that have learned to resist every tool we can throw at them to eradicate them.
MRSA, XDR-TB, C diff – you know it’s bad when non-scientists know what these bugs are and what havoc they can wreak (sometimes first-hand).
And our ability to keep our environment so clean is thought to be leaving our immune system with nothing to fight. The thought is that our immune system has turned against us in boredom and is causing a rise in allergies.
But it’s not all bad.
We are now entering a Post-Pasteurian age where there’s a resurgence in the practical use of microbes based on biology and technology and science.
*by the way, I got the term Post-Pasteurian from MIT anthropologist Heather Paxson, in a paper on the US politics of raw-milk cheese.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Sandor Ellix Katz’s amazing paean to fermentation: “The Art of Fermentation”. It’s a celebration of experimentation, chock full of stories and recipes beyond the usual yogurt, beer, cheese, and sauerkraut.
And fermentos (a term I picked up from the book) talk about the bacterial terroir, the mix of native bacteria that is used to naturally ferment foods, as contributing to the final product. Much like the vinyard’s terroir contributes to the flavor of the wine.
And you know there’s a resurgence of microbes in daily living when you see probiotics getting to be vogue. The idea behind probiotics is that competition of good bugs can put the bad bugs in check.
Ok, so some of these claims might now hold up in a clinical trial. But look at the creativity of these vendors. For example, if there are now vagina salves, how soon until we have armpit or acne salves?
Indeed, I’ve played with some of these probiotic supplements that are purported to have therapeutic effect. I didn’t make vagina beer (beer with the right yeast to control vaginal infecions), but I did make a tummy beer (using Florastor on left) and tummy yogurt (using VSL#3 on right).
If you need to know, the tummy beer was yummy. The tummy yogurt wasn’t so tasty, possibly due to the not having a full complement of a yogurt culture.
I also see an increased interest in extracting value from biowaste. For example, dairy farmers are turning into electricity suppliers, learning the art of anaerobic digestion. And municipalities are realizing the value of compost (and the reduction in landfill needs) for recycling all the biowaste we thoughtlessly throw away.
And there have been huge changes in microbiology. It feels to me a total rediscovery of the wonders of microbiology. Technological changes in gene sequencing and analytic algorithms have led to a growth in microbial ecology studies – in the environment and, most importantly, on our body. For example, we are trying to see patterns in what microbes individual carry while healthy or sick.
And this understanding can lead to bacterial cures, cures where bacteria are applied to restore microbial function in the patient.
For example, in whole bowel transplant for bowel inflammatory diseases. It was found that leaving the donor’s microbes intact rather than flushing them out led to better outcomes.
Another popular example, Clostridium difficile is a nasty infection, usually acquired in a hospital after a patient has had a course of antibiotics. Current standard antibiotics are not too good at eradicating this infection, leading to a high rate of relapse.
Understanding the ecology of the bacteria in the gut and C diff’s role in this ecology has led to an interesting solution – transfaunation. Or, transferring poop from a healthy individual to someone with C diff.
Initial tests have been promising. And scientists are now trying to better characterize the sets of bacteria that help C diff patients recover.
Welcome to the Post-Pasteurian Age.
It’s an exciting time for the resurgence of the practical use of microbes in food, products, and health.
But don’t be passive in this age. Go out and ferment something!
For the last few months, I have a wee app on my phone that works in the background to track my activity. Called “Moves,” it presents a pretty and easy to use interface to annotate (somewhat) and review what I’ve done and where.
The simplicity is wonderful, so it’s been hard for me to work up the courage to suggest any changes. Any changes could potentially turn this simple app into a patchwork of different feature requests that kill the simplicity and calm of the app.
That said, I have been trying to wonder how to layer in deeper and deeper engagement with the app. I’d like to see users able to uncover a bit more, do a bit more as they become heavier and more frequent users of the app.
Browser interface to data?
For example, there’s no browser component to review the data on a larger screen. Currently, the only interface is on the phone. Getting the data off the phone opens things up for other uses of the data.
Business-wise, I can understand why the Moves folks don’t want anything beyond the app, as then there would be a whole web service they would have to create. But at the same time, this could open up the opportunity for an API so that hackers can take the tracked data and do new things with it.
Heck, why doesn’t Moves just make an API and let someone else deal with the browser interface?
Indeed, seems like they are considering releasing an API. Though not sure if it’s just on the phone or from their servers.
Also, there is other data on the phone that could be folded in to Moves, such as images or text messages. Yes, I am harking back to my Lifeblog days. Moves already gives me a ribbon of activity. What if I could explore the images or text messages collected along the way?
And could this be layered for more active users? This ties back to my comment above that the interface reveal more of itself as I become a more proficient or more frequent user.
Just some thoughts. Have you had any thoughts on how to tweak Moves*?
*Please, no rants on battery drain.
There have been a slew of consumer healthcare devices that have come to market ranging from fancy pedometers and activity meters to apps that track your every move to a toothbrush. Yes, an intelligent, app-connected, electronic toothbrush.
I am all for tracking behaviors. Quantifying behaviors can be used to detect depression or Alzheimer’s or even manage migraines. Of course, tracking activity can also be used to lose weight or train for a race.
One challenge with all of these monitoring devices is keeping people engaged for longer than the excitement of a new whiz-bang electronic device can last. Also, the challenge is that these devices become less useful as the behavior they seek to modify takes hold. To keep relevant and engaging, device makers have created fancy data interfaces, social connections, and, even gamification.
Gamification is the idea that adding game elements, such as badges, achievement awards, cheering, or leaderboards, makes an activity more engaging. And there might be cases where gamification might make something more engaging, though I can’t see how managing migraines can be turned into a game.
Back to our toothbrush.
Justifying ends and means
The toothbrush system awards folks on how much and how long they brush their teeth.
This brings me to my first concern: be careful what you measure. Is there a correlation between good oral health and frequency and length of brushing? Sure, there is some correlation, but when do diminishing returns kick in? Sure, brushing after meals is good. But if you reward someone for frequency and duration of brushing, how long until someone is brushing all the time just to get achievement awards? Yes, kids can be obsessive like that. [And that music the kid listens to for as long as they brush? Watch them try to play the same tune for a very long time, constantly brushing without stop.]
This brings me to my second concern: why can’t good health be the reward? I understand that we want to reward good behavior, but how can we do that without gimmiky gaming badges and awards, especially when it has something to do with our health? To me, any health program that tries to modify behavior should do it through promoting good behavior rather than conditioning the behavior through non-related rewards. This goes for a diet (learning how to eat right, not just lose weight) or a toothbrush (learning proper oral hygiene, not gaming a system).
This brings me to my third concern: coupons. Really? What I didn’t say is that the toothbrush users will also be rewarded with coupons. And coupons just rub me the wrong way. For one, the connection between coupons and tooth brushing doesn’t seem clear to me. Also, and back to the previous two concerns, are we trying to devise a nifty coupon-generating device or are we trying to instill good brushing habit and proper oral hygiene?
How devices help
I totally think the use of an electronic toothbrush can be quite beneficial to promoting proper oral health. As part of a system of periodic check-ups, proper eating, and flossing, brushing is important. And tracking brushing might be good for educating children, tracking and correlating usage patterns with dental or oral outcomes, or even for seniors to keep track of the last time they brushed.
To be fair, the toothbrush makers do a good job of pointing all this out. But none of these really should require coupons or achievement badges to get folks to do it. Heck, so many of us already brush our teeth daily without coupons or awards. Simply wanting to avoid bad dentist visits and halitosis are good motivators, too. So, perhaps a bit of measurement can help folks who are a bit on the slack side. But in the end, it’s good health we want, not a clockwork orange coupon-clipper with shiny teeth.
What do you think? Am I being a frump?
[Thank you @changeist for unknowingly providing the spark to write this.]
One of my favorite radio stations in the Boston area, Phoenix WFNX 101.7, died an inglorious death last year. But, like the phoenix, it rose from its ashes as a live streaming radio station, supported by Boston.com (my home page for 10+ years). Now called RBdC (Radio Boston.com) it has multiple ways to access the radio stream. One of them is, of course, a mobile app.
While the idea of a digital-only local radio station is fantastic, I was a bit disappointed that the mobile app missed a few tricks. It failed to take advantage of the mobile modality (what I sometimes call the “mobile lifestyle”), and seems to act like some PC app.
Let me show you.
Main screen – what’s missing?
The one major major omission that stands out like a big thumbs-up is a “Like” button. One of the benefits of a streaming station is the ability to collect data on the listeners – when, where, how long, who. But something that is even better, is that a music player is a feedback conduit. Sure, they could track how many tracks are purchased or shared, but I think they would get a ton of valuable data with a “Like” button. That would give feedback to the DJs on what is resonating with listeners – and of course, that data would be sliced and diced based on who is listening, when, where, and how long.
RBdC, use this app as a data collection tool to not only improve your station, but provide valuable data to your advertisers. And, no, you don’t really need to get creepy about it. There’s a ton of usage data (plus the “Like”) that you can collect that isn’t a violation of privacy.
Now imagine if all ads (and interstitials) also had their graphic and folks could “Like” them? Take that back to your advertisers.
[Gah, listening right now and so want to fave a tune. Great radio station as always, and I want to tell you so!]
The only other comment I have on the main screen is that ton of white space. Why haven’t they used that whole space for the song graphic? What is that upper open space going to be used for?
This ain’t your grandfathers radio
I think it’s great that I can see what songs have played before. But why can’t I jump backwards and start the stream earlier? And where’s the pause button? As this is a stream, let me interact non-real-time, non-linearly with the station. Give me the ability to jump back or pause the stream. I know that this might be an issue with ads (ok, so don’t give me a FF button). But at least let me enter the stream at different points. One use would simply be that I see a song I love in the back stream or I want to replay it. Please?
And this is an app on a phone, so there will be many interruptions. I’d be pissed if I was into a tune and then got a call and missed most of the tune.
Also, as this is on a phone, why are the only options to share email or Facebook? What about text message (or Twitter for that matter)? I could text (tweet) a link to the song to a friend and the link opens up their RBdC app on their phone (and it starts at the beginning of the song) so they can hear the song as well and share the experience with me (if they didn’t have the app, it opens up the store to download it – spread that usage!).
Do my ears deceive me?
One last thing: I’ve used other streaming music apps, such as iHeartRadio and Pandora. The quality of the music on those apps is really rich and good on my phone. I feel that the audio quality RBdC app is just OK. I don’t think it’s using the full bandwidth it could use to stream music. Indeed, the science of streaming audio is ancient and I expect the quality of the audio to be the max the pipe can provide. Considering that my kids and I never use the radio in the car, blasting streaming tunes driving
80 65mph down the highway with full, rich audio, over 3G, I think RBdC could do the same.
I’m not writing this to poop on RBdC. They deserve a special place in the Boston music scene pantheon, both pre-break up and now as carrying the torch of alternative music in an age of pop-ification and homogenization of radio and TV music.
This exercise was simply to point simple ways a mobile app can take advantage of mobile and not just be a port of a desktop experience into a small screen. It frustrates me to no end when folks think a phone is a small computer. No, you need to understand the mobile lifestyle.
This isn’t 2005. It’s a very different world from what I wrote about at the start of this blog. The users, networks, and phones are way more sophisticated. So, I expect way more.
For those who know me, I haven’t spoken about mobile in a while (the therapist asked me to avoid it). But lately at work (around healthcare and life sciences) mobile has been smacking me in the face, so that part of my brain woke up and I’m back to mobile (to quote a famous mobile genius “Because I can’t shut-up”.). Expect more rantings in future.
[Argh! RadioBdC, another string of f-ing awesome tunes you're playing in my head and I can't tell you. You guys are great and I want you to know!]
Do you have an app that misses a few key mobile-savvy features?
Oh, seems like another good time for a pause for station identification. I do these periodically to let folks know what this (as of late, slow) blog is all about.
Hello, folks. My name is Charlie Schick. I am a Director on the Big Data sales team at IBM. I am a sales consultant with industry expertise in Healthcare and Life Sciences (I have a PhD, by the way). I thoroughly enjoy this job, as it allows me to talk science and healthcare and cavort with care providers and research scientists, all while working for an amazing tech leader.
Prior to that I was at Children’s Hospital Boston (as fundraiser and as scientist and faculty – though roles separated by a decade) and Nokia (in marketing and product management). If you’re interested in knowing more of my tenure at those two places, feel free to invite me to lunch or beer.
Practical microbiology (and then some)
Throughout my life, I have dabbled in many things – building things from bio-molecules to web publications to communities. I am always happy to get deep into the tech (bio or otherwise) and get my hands dirty and tinker. In the past few years, I’ve returned to my first love – biology – and have been studying the practical uses of microbiology, such as probiotics, functional foods, physiology, and the like (just see the things I’ve been posting and commenting on here on this site and on Twitter).
Thinking rather than doing
Alas, I have a wide range of interests (see my About page) and I have a very active family, so I’m more of a thinker than a doer. I suppose one day I’ll pair with the right doer for my thinking and we’ll have a blast. Until then, I’ll keep writing and fermenting foods.
As I said before, if you want to learn more, I’m in the Boston area and always welcome a free beer.
And of course, my standard disclaimer (riffing off of Cringley)
Everything I write here on this site is an expression of my own opinions, NOT of my employer, IBM. If these were the opinions of IBM, the site would be called ‘IBM something’ and, for sure, the writing and design would be much more professional. Likewise, I am an intensely trained professional writer , so don’t expect to find any confidential secret corporate mumbo-jumbo being revealed here. Everything I write here is public info or readily found via any decent search engine or easily deduced by someone who has an understanding of the industry.
On the flip side, this is my personal site. Please don’t flood me with ideas that you think IBM might be interested in. There are other channels for such biz dev, and this site is not part of them.
At the start of each year, I write down a few things I’d like to accomplish or focus on for the year. Usually, it’s a behavior I’d like to see improve or do more of. Often, I find that when I write something down, it seems to happen somehow. And the expectation is also that the behavior will continue in subsequent years.
In 2012, I decided that I wanted to ferment more – brew more beer, try fermenting new things, make more yogurt. And I did.
Looking back, I am pleased with the fermentation that I did do.
True, I made a few batches of beer, mostly from malt extract with some grain. I would like to make the jump to all-grain, but am content with the kits I buy.
Yet, one wee adventure in beer-making was to take Florastor, a probiotic supplement based on a yeast, S boulardii, isolated in Vietnam by a Frenchman in the 20s. I read that the yeast made a fruity beer, much like a wheat beer, so made a batch of wheat beer pitched with Florstor. I called it “Tummy Beer”. It was delicious and is now all gone.
I made more yogurt in 2012 than ever before. That’s not much. But, much like the Florastor, I took a commercial lactic acid bacteria product and tried to make yogurt out of it. VSL #3 is considered the premier probiotic supplement, containing 8 different strains of lactic acid bacteria. I did make some yogurt from VSL #3, but it wasn’t too tasty. For sure it needed other bugs as part of the consortia.
What I was exploring with Florastor and VSL #3 is other ways of providing clinically-tested probiotics in foods we already readily consume. What clinically-tested bugs could we deliver in malt- or milk-derived matrices we are so comfortable with? Perhaps gut repopulation to stop C diff or IBD or Chron’s? I do not think these concoctions are far off.
[Added 27jan: I just remembered that I also made a few batches of yogurt with goat milk. Came out runnier than with cow milk, but was quite tasty.]
Being of German decent, I grew up eating white and red kraut. I stumbled upon Sandor Katz’ website, Wild Fermentation while looking for a recipe for sauerkraut (more on Sandor below).
With his amazingly simple suggestions I made two batches of sauerkraut. And, while the idea is that you are to eat the sauerkraut straight, to take advantage of the fermented bacteria, I cooked it up. I was accustomed to eating kraut cooked with meat – and the smells of the first time I did this transported me back to my childhood.
What was interesting was that my mom, who knows how fermentation-happy I was, only then mentioned that my grandfather would make his own kraut. Ah, I wish I were able to learn how he did it. My mom did learn how to cook kraut from my grandfather (her father-in-law) and gave me tips on flavourings. Perhaps she’ll remember how he made the kraut and provide that link back to my heritage.
I also love pickles and picked up a suggested recipe from Sandor, again. As part of my CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) this past summer, I got a batch of pickling cukes. It was only natural to pickle them. Meh. They were tasty and tangy, but came out too watery – I need to compress them better next time.
I always read what bugs are in fermented foods. I am a firm believer that there are some digestive and even health benefits to these bacteria and fungi. For example, I’m partial to Stony Field Yogurt over others because it has six bug versus the usual five found in yogurt.
But I was curious about kefir, which has up to 10 microorganisms, including yeast and some bacteria that are known to be residing in our guts (unlike the lactic acid bacteria in yogurt).
I started buying different brands and trying them, loving them all. The catch, though, is that you can’t just take store-bought kefir and use it as a starter to make more, like you can with yogurt. Kefir has these strange “grains” that are clumps of the bugs needed to make kefir. Also, kefir is made daily, not amenable to once a week batches like yogurt.
While I didn’t make kefir in 2012, I found grains on Amazon and ordered some a few weeks back and made a few batches. My impetus to make kefir is related to all the fermenting I did in 2012. So, more notes on kefir-making coming at a later date!
More on Sandor Katz
And what’s more, in 2013, I know that I’ll take fermenting to new heights for me. When I tweeted that I was making kefir, foodie friend Chris Heathcote (@antimega) suggested I read “The Art of Fermentation”, written by, no less than, Sandor Katz. I bought it immediately and am now thoroughly enjoying it.
I can’t really express how amazing Sandor’s book is for the fermentos in me (“fermentos” being the term I learned from the book – people who ferment). But even though he’s been doing this for 20+ years, it’s still an exploration for him. And rather than proscribing recipes, he provides suggestions on how to do things, encouraging exploration and wonder from his readers. He’s not a fermentation purist, but almost a ludic fermentos or hedonistic fermentos – it’s really about fun, flavor, connecting to nature, and connecting to culture (of many sorts).
I don’t know what I’ll ferment based on his book; perhaps meat or cheese or manioc. Yes, manioc: being also part Brazilian, I regularly eat foods based on manioc flour, which I didn’t know was fermented. Isn’t that weird?
Yes, by setting myself to ferment more in 2012 has put me on an even more enlightened fermenting path in 2013. And [thank you, Chris] I think Sandor’s book will have me fermenting even more, and perhaps dong some crazy experimenting, too. I know I’ll want to connect more with the fermented foods in my Brazilian-German heritage, too.
I’ve also been less bashful about professing my mania for fermenting. And I am glad I have: my two closest colleagues at work have spouses that ferment regularly, from yogurt to kefir to sauerkraut. And they do it for cultural and for health reasons. And a sales rep I work closely with is part of a craft brewing company with a really interesting business model. That blew my mind: to have fellow fermentos so immediately close to the people I work closest with.
How have you fermented lately? Do you know folks who ferment? Am I crazy to get so excited about meeting fellow fermentos?
Last November, I participated in NaNoWriMo, a month long writing frenzy with the sole goal of writing 50,000 words (“quantity, not quality”). Not only was it fun to have such an arbitrary goal, but I was able to get down storylines that had been banging in my head for a long time, got to flex my narrative writing muscles (it’d been a while), and I was able to accomplish something concrete (which became more concrete when I stopped editing the book and printed it via LuLu.com).
No, this month I’m not going to participate in NaNoWriMo, despite being in the midst of my own writing frenzy on a new and more complex book. Though, the idea of spending 30 straight days of barfing out a story no longer seems far-fetched, now that I have done it once.
Which leads me to the idea of the effect of setting goals for the heck of it.
Twenty-one days to habit
Back in September I participated in a discussion around health monitoring devices and behaviour change. We wondered a bit why many of these devices, such as the FitBit, only held interest for about three weeks. We thought it had something to do with the idea that repeating a behaviour for 21 days is enough to form a habit. Might it be that after three weeks, folks no longer needed to measure themselves, that they had internalized (made habitual) the understanding that the device revealed?
Indeed, I too found that after three weeks, the FitBit was less relevant to my daily life – my behaviour was modified, I was more aware of my own activity levels.
That got me thinking what I could accomplish in three weeks that might lead to a new behaviour. And, with NaNoWriMo in mind, what kind of accomplishment might I be proud of after those three weeks.
Around the same time, I saw in someone’s Twitter bio that he had run consecutively for hundreds of days (though it might have been thousands).
Therefore, I decided that I would run consecutive days, 5km or more, for three weeks straight. Since I made the decision at the end of September, I figured to make it neat, I made it “consecutive running from 01Oct to 21Oct,” not counting my runs of 29 and 30Sep.
Obstacles, of course
The catch was, for most of October, I was traveling to Germany and California with many day trips, as well, meaning that I had to squeeze in my runs as best I could. For example, I ran jet-lagged on my first night in Germany, after arriving on the red-eye in the morning and hopping off to another town for a day trip. I ran late late at night (11pm PST) on a treadmill (only time I didn’t run outside) full of rich food and booze after a day with friends in California (oh, and this was two days after returning from Germany – so double jet-lagged there). A few days later, I went out for a run hours after returning from California on a red-eye (oh, it was painful, though not as much as the treadmill).
Towards the end of the month, I had a day-trip to NYC and other day-long activities that had me running laps up and down my 200m-long driveway and a bit around the property for variety (the dogs found it amusing) – it was starting to get dark early and one can’t run at night on the roads around my house.
I even headed out on the windy and wet morning as hurricane Sandy approached. And the night after Sandy, it was a torrential downpour that I was about to head out into but was lucky that the rain stopped just as I was heading out. And the 2nd day full moon lit the way behind a thin veil of clouds as I did 200m sprints up and down my driveway.
Exceeding goals to inspire the next goal
When I hit day 21, I realized that I could keep doing this, so I modified my goal to go all 31 days of October. And I did. Though I must say, I did not run on the 1st or 2nd of Nov (I will, indeed, go out today, 03Nov on a long run, when I post this).
When I tallied up my distance, I realized by the third week, that if I kept up the pace, I could hit 160km (100mi). While the main goal was 31 days, I made sure I broke 160km (I ended up doing 168km).
So now, the next arbitrary goal is to hit 160km again in November. This reduces the anxiety of having to run consecutive days, but raises the anxiety that I now have to do more longer runs, especially if I skip running days.
Let’s see. I might have to report back if I make it or not.
I think this arbitrary goal got me out running more, setting a big goal that might be a permanent goal. Much like NaNoWriMo showed me I can crank out a book if I just get down and do it, achieving and exceeding my running goal gives me confidence in setting bigger goals.
Don’t you think?
Do you set arbitrary goals to get you to do things, just for the heck of it? And have you succeeded in those goals?
Image via Josiah Mackenzie
Paul Erdős was the most prolific publisher of mathematics papers (more than Euler). Much like Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon, mathematicians have an number to connect mathematicians to Erdős, as measured by paper co-authorship networks. It’s called the Erdős Number.
I suppose, to be a purist, these connections should be via mathematical papers, but there’s a tool from Microsoft to connect authors via any published paper. If you’re like me and have published papers, put your name and Paul Erdős in the search boxes to calculate the distance – your Erdős Number. As you can see in the figure, I have an Erdős Number of 4 from multiple paths via co-authors on some of my papers.
The thing is, there are some actors who have low Erdős Numbers, such as Colin Firth, Natlie Portman, and Mayim Bialik. Yes, geeks who are also famous actors.
Of course, these folks also have Bacon Numbers (which you can look up on Google or use this cool Oracle of Bacon tool). And if they have Bacon and Erdős Numbers, it’s only fit to calculate an Erdős–Bacon Number [Portman, 6; Firth, 7; Bialik, 7]. A fun write up on this is on Wikipedia.
Of course, to be a purist, Bacon connections are via movies. Now, what only few know, I was in a scene in a soap in Finland (here’s the IMdB entry – and, lo, my own IMdB entry). If we were to loosen the Bacon connection rules a tad, to TV shows, The Oracle of Bacon tool, then, is able to connect me to Kevin Bacon (though, the connection is through someone who was not in my scene).
In summary, my Erdős–Bacon number is 7 IF you count my Erdős Number via non-math papers AND count my Bacon Number via a TV show and a cast member I was not in a scene with (though I am sure it’s off by one more link, as my scene was with the lead of the show).
Ah, wait while I let my ego thrill.
But why the heck was I looking into this? I’m writing a new novel where there are a ton of smarties with low Erdős numbers. That got me doing all the research and then doing some vanity checks. And, yes, Kevin Bacon will have a cameo appearance to give all the characters a defined Erdős–Bacon Number!
Now back to whatever you were doing before. Or go flatter yourself and let me know your numbers!
Other notes: I mentioned to my brilliant wife that I have a Sagan Number of 4. She then pointed out I knew his ex-wife Lynne Margulis (when I was in grad school) for a 2-degree of separation. Yeah, my life is full of 2-degree to fame and success (and more). Sigh.
Last Christmas-time, I was driving to go get my parents (they live a few states away) and was listening to a Science Friday about Mars. The guest was an advocate for human travel to Mars and mentioned how much it would cost to get there. I don’t know if Ira or the guest mentioned it, but I realized that the cost of the trip, spread over a 5 year program, was on the same order as a blockbuster Hollywood movie.
I immediately dictated an outline story for my entry into NaNoWriMo 2012 (I had recently completed NaNoWriMo 2011). The story would be about a Hollywood producer making a multi-year, multi-movie, reality-TV, and ancillary products production that would follow selection, training, and trip of a crew, the construction of the spacecraft, and other exciting thrills of a novel. [Though, like my other two novels and anthology of short stories, it probably won't be published beyond a personal copy from Lulu.com.]
Over the intervening months, the outline had become heftier and heftier, so I decided to forgo NaNoWriMo and, last Wednesday, I put down the opening scene. [Usually, my stories bounce around my head for a while, different key scenes developing and begging for attention, until the opening scene gels and demands to be written. It all then flows from that opening.]
Today, I wanted to look up again the current estimates of a manned trip to Mars. An, lo!, I found an organization that indeed is thinking of a commercially-funded Mars mission with funding from a reality-TV show (records indicate the announcement was 01 June 2012).
Human settlement of Mars in 2023
Mars One will take humanity to Mars in 2023, to establish the foundation of a permanent settlement from which we will prosper, learn, and grow. Before the first crew lands, Mars One will have established a habitable, sustainable settlement designed to receive new astronauts every two years. To accomplish this, Mars One has developed a precise, realistic plan based entirely upon existing technologies. It is both economically and logistically feasible, in motion through the aggregation of existing suppliers and experts in space exploration.We invite you to participate in this journey, by sharing our vision with your friends, by supporting our effort, and perhaps, by becoming the next Mars astronaut yourself.
via Home – Mars One.
Ideas are not unique
I’m not saying the brilliance here is on par with Leibnitz and Newton inventing calculus at the same time, but it’s one more of my examples that if you have an idea, it’s highly likely someone else does too. The key thing, of course, is all in the execution. Indeed, I’ve had many great ideas that I’ve seen come into being a few years later. By someone else. By someone more driven and talented.
OK, I never intended to actually drive a Mars program, but, to write the fiction, I’ve done a lot of thinking about it. And, of course, the way I see my story unfolding has the liberty of fiction, for me to craft the storyline in a way that reality doesn’t necessarily allow.
I wish the MarsOne folks the best of luck. I do think I’ll continue with the storyline, though the thrill of mixing reality-TV funding with a Mars mission has lost its shine a bit. Nonetheless, the story is calling me to write it, and there are lots of twists and turns that I know will not be part of the MarsOne story, so it’ll still be a fun story to tell.
Now is the time
What is true, though, is that I need to get this damned story off my chest, fast, now the MarsOne is making their mark. [And thank you, MarsOne, for some additional ideas for me to consider in my story.]
As for you, if you have an idea you believe in, do it NOW, post haste, toot sweet. Because there is someone out there with the same goddamn idea, and if you do nothing, they will get all the credit. Even if you planned it all out 6 months or 6 years before them.
Do you have a similar story of a well thought out plan that someone else executes on?