FEATURED STORY

Signals from OSCON 2014

From tiny satellites to young programmers to reasoned paranoia, here are key talks from OSCON 2014.

Experts and advocates from across the open source world assembled in Portland, Ore. this week for OSCON 2014. Below you’ll find a handful of keynotes and interviews from the event that we found particularly notable.

How tiny satellites and fresh imagery can help humanity

Will Marshall of Planet Labs outlines a vision for using small satellites to provide daily images of the Earth.

Read more…

Comment

Podcast: Design for how the world should work

Josh Clark and Tim O’Reilly on designing beyond screens, and beyond a single device.

Editor’s note: this podcast episode is the first in our new bi-weekly O’Reilly Radar Podcast series. You can subscribe through iTunes, SoundCloud, or directly through our podcast’s RSS feed.

As the Internet is increasingly embedded into our physical world, it’s important to start designing for physical and intentional interactions with interfaces to supplement the passive, data-gathering interactions — designing smart devices that service us in the background, but upon which we also can exert our will.

In this episode, Josh Clark (in an interview) and Tim O’Reilly (in a keynote) both address the importance of designing for contextual awareness and physical interaction. Clark stresses that we’re not facing a challenge of technology, but a challenge of imagination. O’Reilly argues that we’re not paying enough attention to the aspects of people and time in designing the Internet of Things, and that the entire system in which we operate is the user interface — as we design this new world, we must think about user needs first.

Read more…

Comment

Jeremy Rifkin unveils a return to the local in an interconnected future

Internet of Things, local energy sources, and online collaboration underlie the Zero Marginal Cost Society.

Cube_self-folding_strand

Stratasys’ Education, R&D departments and MIT’s Self-Assembly Lab are researching 4D printing — manufacturing one-off objects that can change their shapes or other physical characteristics in response to their environment. (View the video.)

Jeremy Rifkin is always predicting an avalanche of change: substitutes for human labor in The End of Work, pervasive genetic engineering in Algeny, and so on. Several interlocking themes run through his latest book, The Zero Marginal Cost Society. Behind everything lies the renewed importance of local resources: local energy production, local manufacturing, local governance. And the Internet that ties us all together (evolving into the Internet of Things) will, ironically, bolster local power.
Read more…

Comment

Designing real vegan cheese

Synthetic biology surely can get weirder — but this is a great start.

real_vegan_cheese_screenshot

I don’t think I will ever get tired of quoting Drew Endy’s “keep synthetic biology weird.” One of my favorite articles in the new issue of Biocoder is on the Real Vegan Cheese project.

If you’ve ever tried any of the various vegan cheese substitutes, they are (to put it kindly) awful. The missing ingredient in these products is the milk proteins, or caseins. And of course you can’t use real milk proteins in a vegan product.

But proteins are just organic compounds that are produced, in abundance, by any living cell. And synthetic biology is about engineering cell DNA to produce whatever proteins we want. That’s the central idea behind the Real Vegan Cheese project: can we design yeast to produce the caseins we need for cheese, without involving any animals? There’s no reason we can’t. Once we have the milk proteins, we can use traditional processes to make the cheese. No cows (or sheep, or goats) involved, just genetically modified yeast. And you never eat the yeast; they stay behind at the brewery.

Read more…

Comments: 5

Open source biology

Joe Schloendorn is creating and distributing plasmids that can freely be reproduced — a huge breakthrough for DIY bio.

Photo by mira66 on Flickr, used under a Creative Commons license.

At O’Reilly, we’ve long been supporters of the open source movement — perhaps not with the religious fervor of some, but with a deep appreciation for how open source has transformed the computing industry over the last three decades.

We also have a deep appreciation for the dangers that closed source, restrictive licenses, patent trolling, and other technocratic evils pose to areas that are just opening up — biology, in particular. So it is with great interest that I read Open Source Biotech Consumables in the latest issue of BioCoder.

I’m not going to rehash the article; you should read it yourself. The basic argument is that some proteins used in research cost thousands of dollars per milligram. They’re easily reproducible (we’re talking DNA, after all), but frequently tied up with restrictive licenses. In addition, many of the vendors will only sell to research institutions and large corporations, not home labs or small community labs. So, Joe Schloendorn is creating and distributing plasmids that can freely be reproduced. That in itself is a huge breakthrough.

Read more…

Comments: 4

Announcing BioCoder issue 4

Inside this issue: implanting evolution, open source biotech consumables, power supplies for systems biology, and more.

BioCoder4Cover 2

The Summer 2014 edition of BioCoder is now available for free download.

We’ve made it to our fourth issue of BioCoder! I’m excited about this issue — it’s the best collection of articles we’ve published so far.

Some of the highlights are:

Implanting Evolution:
We spend a lot of time thinking about how to modify other creatures, from microbes on up. What about ourselves? Surgeons already implant pacemakers and insulin pumps into humans. What about other applications? What are the possibilities if you implant NFC and RFID chips?
Open Source Biotech Consumables:
One of the biggest problems for grassroots biotech research is the price of ingredients. Some proteins cost thousands of dollars per milligram, hardly affordable by a community lab or a small startup. We can solve that problem with “open source” DNA. This is an exciting development — and a challenge to what we mean by “open source” (I promise to write about that in another post).

Read more…

Comment