Personal tracking with Ed Hunsinger: part big data, all man

Playing with your own big data: Ed Hunsinger at South by Southwest Interactive 2013. 

Ed Hunsinger: part man, part machine; does this equal…cyborg? Not quite. It’s all perfectly normal and you will see more and more 2000 Men and Women soon, tracking their bodies’ performances with data selfies, using such devices at FitBit,( ), Storm, latitude tracking, RunKeeper ( ), Foursquare (‎ ) to post and track your own whereabouts,  and a blithering host of apps that allow you to monitor every square inch you occupy and every breath you take.

Hunsinger is tracking his body and everything he does, and he’s leveraging SPlunk, his company’s IT log analysis software, in this project. He’s pulling down Twitter data and analyszing it with SPlunk.

There’s tons of apps that you can use to gather data, Hunsinger said, highlighting Bioblogger as one app worth testing out. The challenges lay in pulling the date out of the apps and tracking sites and massing it to measure and track the aggregate data.

“I want millions of data points, ” Hunsinger said, darkly hinting at APIs and ISO time-date stamps and a script he wrote to pull data from FitBit. For those who want to play along, check his Github, which is under the name Ed Rabbit. Look for biblogger.

Hunsinger noted that the act of tracking data affects the data. So he tries to work with trackers that collect data passively, as much as that is possible.  He directed interested parties to look into Lumo (LumoLift, LumoBack) and ZEO (now defunct:,_Inc. ).

You put on the headset, hit button, and the device knows when you dreams at night and when you are awake. Hunsinger uses a six-month battery on the device so that it runs passively without needing his attention.

He challenges developers to come up with more effective tracking and reporting software, apps that work silently to gather data.

May the best software win. And let the Data Hunger games begin.


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2013 SxSW Interactive Presentations on Soundcloud

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How I learned to love supercolliders more than space travel and telescopes

UT Physics professor Dr. Steven Weinberg at the 2013 South by Southwest Interactive Conference

“We need to fund supercolliders – and that is why I am here (at SXSWi),” said Nobel Prize-winning physicist Dr. Steven Weinberg. And the South by Southwest Interactive audience applauded with enthusiasm. As much as SxSWi participants love the pursuit of space travel and rocket ships, they love their big data more.

What physicists need in order to get to the next step is more data. Isaac Newton was able to make a transformative discovery about the laws of motion and gravitation— but his theories were based upon hundreds of years of star and sky data. Evolutionist Charles Darwin’s theories drew upon a large collection of naturist data from an aggregate of fossil collections.

Manned space flight might need perhaps a hundred billion in funding to get off the ground. That kind of money is ten times what it would cost to build a device such as the Hadron collider. But, when you are talking about an investment of that magnitude, you need to consider which scientific and engineering initiative would produce the largest amount of data that is of scientific interest and worth?  The answer, according to Weinberg, is the supercollider.

Time travel back to the year 1993 in Texas: what if the U.S. had funded and constructed the superconducting supercollider in Ellis county. It would have pursued many important scientific goals. But there was a funding competition between the supercollider and the International Space Station in Houston. Congress passed the space station, but not the supercollider. (For more information on the history of the superconducting supercollider, see WIKI: )

Dr. Weinberg was there through it all. And he is optimistic about a little project called the International Linear Collider or ILC. (For more information visit here: ) The ILC is the next step that could lead to an avalanche of new data that might reap massive scientific rewards, taking scientists into future discoveries about the nature of the universe as they peek into the building blocks of the world itself.

According to Dr. Weinberg, it should have been built decades ago.

“2,000 years ago, the Greek philosophers theorized about the existence of atoms. It took until the 1900s for chemists to prove that atoms existed. We do not have another 2,000 years to wait to move scientific knowledge forward. Funding is needed,” said Weinberg.

Dr. Weinberg’s areas of research include particle physics, unification of fundamental interactions, and cosmology. (For a summary of his work, see his WIKI: ) Dr. Weinberg is perhaps one of the most brilliant minds working in theoretical physics at this time and that leads to him throwing out remarks of this kind…saying that scientists currently have “strong hints that a unification [unified field theory] may be possible, but the simplicity will be seen in the phenomena when it is a much higher rate of energy —10, 000 trillions times more energy than we can create in a lab.”

He pauses. Then he explains that when he says 10,000 trillion, he is not implying a “big number.” This is the exact number he is talking about. Now that’s a theoretical mathematical physicist.

Dr. Weinberg explained that, historically, 20th century physicists reasoned that there were four main forces of nature. By the 1940s, electromagnetic forces were understood pretty well and there were interim theories about weak nuclear forces, but there was no theory to explain strong forces. The fourth force – gravity – was not well understood.

Could there be simplicity in the equations? By the 1950s, physicists theorized that there might be a particle that carried the weak force – a w particle. (Weinberg jokes “w” for weak, not for Weinberg…but it would not be improbable if a particle was to be named for him, as he is at the forefront of this science.)

Dr. Weinberg treated the audience to a physics lecture that summarized the development of the search for various particles that led to the discovery and proof of the various particles, including the crucial Higgs Boson, a very unstable particle that is pivotal to basic theories of particle physics.  (For detailed information on the discover or the Higgs Boson and it’s importance to theoretical physics, see: .)

The particle was discovered at the Large Hadron Collider (LAC) at CERN in Switzerland. (See: ) Dr. Weinberg was asked to list some experiments he believed should be funded and he listed these:

  • Produce neutrinos which would travel in a mine and that we could detect: electron neutrinos.
  • Look into the decay of the proton. Granted, the average proton’s age is longer than the age of the universe! However, if you have enough protons, you can observe one decaying.
  • Various experiments at the 100 million level range of funding, for example….
  • After the LAC is finished, scientists will need a collider that collides electrons and positrons. This will take an international collaboration to get this funded, which is difficult because few nations want to fund something this is not located in their country.

Listen to the presentation on Soundcloud

Recent news from the CERN laboratory in Geneva has revealed the existence of a heavy unstable particle that had been predicted by the theory that unifies two of the forces of nature. This is the last missing piece of our current theory of known elementary particles, the Standard Model. But there is much left to be done before we have a thoroughly unified theory of all matter and force, and some of this will involve observations from space.– quote from the Youtube video summary of his talk, found here:

Steven Weinberg holds the Josey Regental Chair in Science at the University of Texas at Austin, where he is a member of the Physics and Astronomy Departments. His research on elementary particles and cosmology has been honored with numerous prizes and awards. He is the author of over 200 scientific articles, one of which is the most frequently cited paper on particle physics of the past fifty years. 

Among his books are the prize-winning The First Three Minutes and Dreams of a Final Theory, and the treatises Gravitation and Cosmology and, in three volumes, The Quantum Theory of Fields.   Educated at Cornell, Copenhagen, and Princeton, Dr. Weinberg also holds honorary doctoral degrees from sixteen other universities, including Chicago, Columbia, McGill, Padua, Salamanca, and Yale. He taught at Columbia, Berkeley, M.I.T., and Harvard, where he was Higgins Professor of Physics, before coming to Texas in 1982.

Links: Dr. Steven Weinberg’s bio page on UT’s website

Dr. Steven Weinberg’s book, Lake Views: This World and the Universe

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2013 SxSW Interactive Presentations on Soundcloud 

Find out more about the South by Southwest Interactive Conference in Austin Texas

Rock star: Chicxulub, the 65 million year old crater that rocked the world

Tonight, I attended an Austin Forum presentation by Dr. Sean Gulick on the Chicxulub crater, which was created when a gigantic meteor rocketed down from the sky and plummeted into the ocean near the Yucatán Peninsula in Mexico 65.5 million years ago. I won’t pretend that I have any specialized knowledge about rocks, craters, or geology, but after contemplating the damage done by this massive space rock, it’s clear that stray asteroids slamming into the earth are Bad News and that humanity has got to find a way to get the hell off this planet before another event of this nature occurs.

We live mostly in denial about how fragile life on Earth is. Viewed from a human scale, the planet seems so big, so…round and eternally spinny…and seemingly stable. But we Earthlings are not spinning around in the best of neighborhoods. Dr. Gulick showed a slide covered with black dust specks: each speck represented a hunk of space junk whizzing around in our solar system, many with the potential to slam into Earth and rock our world. Literally.

It took a long time for geologists to discover the giant depression in the ocean floor now known as the Chicxulub impact crater. When it was found, hopeful entrepreneurs drilled the area, seeking oil. What they found instead was evidence that an extraterrestrial rock landed there, putting a violent and sudden end to the age of the dinosaurs and driving the planet from the Cretaceous period into the Paleogene period. Scientific evidence has proved that the mass – and sudden – extinction at the end of the Cretaceous period was caused by a single event: a destructive meteor.

When you view a virtual model of a relatively small hunk of rock hitting a planet, it does not seem like a meteor could cause that much damage. After all: Earth huge; rock, small. However, the asteroid that made the Chicxulub crater was large: 10 kilometers, or six miles, wide.

Another way to measure how big it was is to consider how deep the impact was on the earth from this meteor. This translates into, “How big a hole did it punch into the earth?” The “transient” crater (the first impact of the crater, before the earth affected by the impact melted, uplifted, and froze in time with the top layer rolling over into the crater), was probably 35 kilometers deep and 100 kilometers across.

But it’s not all about size: it’s about the extraordinary kinetic energy transfered to the planet on impact. The asteroid was moving about 22 kilometers per second, or 50,000 miles per hour. When it hit the planet, about 1% of the energy of the impact went into tsunamis and hurricane force winds. The other 99% of the energy went into the target – Mother Earth.

Dr. Gulick described that energy force as equal to 13 earthquakes combined. The heat from the blast cooked anything within 750 miles. Millions of glassy balls of molten impact material rained death down on every living thing, from dinosaurs to trees, as the rocks and earth became suddenly fluid, like water, under the extreme forces when the two space objects – earth and meteor – collided. Particulate matter was thrown into the earth’s atmosphere, turning day into night and plunging the planet into a three-year global winter. World-wide darkness supressed photosynthesis and collapsed food chains.

Dr. Gulick pointed out that the “ejecta” was worse than the impact itself. The matter that was thrown into the air increased the sulfur content of the atmosphere, caused acid rain, emitted infared rays that heated up the nearby atmosphere like a pizza oven, and messed up the chemistry of the ocean, causing mass extinction.

The meteor killed off most of the life on Earth. What survived, and evolved, from that massive storm of destruction were significantly smaller life forms, such as…us.

We have to get to know impact craters, and the meteors that cause them, much much better, because there is a steep chance that one day they will end life as we know it – again. The meteor that slammed into the Chixculub Crater may have made humans top dog on the food chain for now, but the only constant in life is change.

This UT Austin Forum presentation was sponsored by the Texas Advanced Computer Center (TACC) and there’s a reason for that research center’s involvement in such matters. Big, big data needs to be crunched to learn about the planet’s prior experiences with meteors, about craters on other planets, and about the meteors that are careening around out there in space, possibly on a path to slam heck into the earth at some random time in the future.

Did anyone have a clue that a meteor was about to smash into Russia in February – the largest to hit the planet in more than 100 years? Nope. Why the furshluggener not? Let’s put some funding into meteor detection and deflection. Consider the footage taken in Russian Urals region. If what happened recently in Russia were to happen over a metropolitan area, it would be a major catastrophe.

Although there are less of these impact events on Earth now than say, 65.5 million years ago, we don’t see near as many craters than we should. For an idea of what’s really going on, take a gander at the moon. Heck, there’s so many impact craters that the scientists give them names.

Compare earth and our lunar companion: the moon looks like a teenager’s skin under a harsh light. One reason we don’t see big impact craters on the earth’s surface is because the surface is constantly changing. And by constantly changing, Dr. Gulick means every 200 million years or so, give or take 50 million, when the tectonic plates shift around, effectively covering up impact craters. Space junk was smacking into us at a higher order of magnitude then than now, but the evidence has been swept under the oceanic plates.

Chicxulub is the only confirmed “extinction” crater on the planet: ground zero for the end of the non-avian dinosaurs. Not that there have not been other mass extinctions. In fact, there have been four or five of them. There are theories that acidification of the ocean – similar to the ocean changes observed by scientists today  – might be the cause of some earlier planetary extinctions. But that is the subject of some other blog post.

As it is, I doubt I’ll be sleeping tonight, as I consider that before another 45 million years pass, it’s likely the planet will be hit with another extinction-producing asteroid. Anytime in the next 45 million years, as in maybe tonight.

If I were a scientist, I’d go into more detail about the carbonates, the enhanced dissolution, impact melt, mega blocks, crater seismic gravity, magnetic wells, melt sheets, gravity anomalies, distinct ejecta distribution patterns, velocity models…gigapascals…tons of gigapascals… maybe you get the picture. It was over my head.

Now…Fireball layer! That, I can picture.

Actually, I didn’t picture it quite like Dr. Gulick’s slide. I was picturing something more like the Burning Man fireball.

The catastrophic events following the meteor impact are unimaginable – except to scientists, who have made a little animated movie of the global catastrophe that comes with scary music. Thankfully, the clip does not depict balls of hellfire raining doomsday on screaming tyrannosaurs, raptors, and sauropods.

In the next two years, the scientists involved in the study of the Chicxulub impact crater plan a drilling expedition to the location. They are interested in what kind of material will be found deep in the crater. It was incredibly hot at the Chicxulub area for about two million years. Life forms evolved in the thermal springs: what must they have been like?

The scientists also want to perform studies comparing the Chicxulub crater with craters on other planets. There will be opportunities for teachers and other researchers to participate in these future studies. If you want to get involved, contact Dr. Gulick.

And what blog posting about the end of the Age of Dinosaurs would be complete without a happy moment spent watching Godzilla dancing?

Event: “The 65.5 Million Year Old Chicxulub Impact Crater: Insights into Planetary Processes, Extinction and Evolution” presented by Dr. Sean Gulick, Research Associate Professor, Institute for Geophysics, Jackson School of Geosciences, The University of Texas at Austin.

About the speaker: Dr. Sean Gulick is a research associate professor in the Institute for Geophysics at The University of Texas at Austin. His primary scientific interest is the examination of deformation of the Earth. Current projects include examining tectonic and glacial climate linkages in Alaska, investigations of geophysical images of the Chicxulub impact crater, and many others. To learn more about these projects:

Links for more information

About the Austin Forum: The Austin Forum is a monthly speaker series and networking event that hosts distinguished leaders who share their knowledge and experience about the confluence of science, technology and society in the 21st century. For more information see their website.

For more information about the Texas Advanced Computing Center (TACC):

For general info on the Chiczulub crater, see:


Change is as good as a holiday

South by Southwest Interactive (SxSW) 2013, a five-day free flight of imagination and creativity, just ended in downtown Austin, Texas. Each year, creative minds gather to share dreams and nightmares about technological changes, inventions, and twists in the road that takes the rest of us to the future.

Who was the most interesting guy at Southby Interactive this year? Whose prophesy, whose new hardware gadget, 3D print imager (lasers!!), or change-the-world idea will be the one left standing when 2014 rolls around?

Will it turn out to be this guy that said the most important thing at SxSW Interactive in 2013? He’s Nobel Fellow and UT Austin professor Dr. Steve Weinberg, who discussed new physics discoveries that are turning the world on end over end, and his urging that we concentrate on funding and building a mammoth particle accelerator.

Or will it be this guy? This is Takahito Iguchi, the CEO of Telepathy, whose interactive glasses from Japan might beat out Google Glass for style and features.

And how much longer do we have to wait to climb into our own spaceships???

The answer might be: not long at all, if we are willing to work our way across the universe, according to Richard Garriott, who is busy building rocket ships with his friends.

Get ready for some interviews and articles about the Smarties who came, who spoke, and who beguiled our fancy this year at SxSW Interactive.

Your faithful reporter, and fellow enthusiastic Tech Kool-aid drinker,
Clair LaVaye

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