ResourceMiner: Toppling the Tower of Babel in the lab

An open source project aims to crowdsource a common language for experimental design.

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Contributing author: Tim Gardner

Editor’s note: This post originally appeared on PLOS Tech; it is republished here with permission.

From Gutenberg’s invention of the printing press to the Internet of today, technology has enabled faster communication, and faster communication has accelerated technology development. Today, we can zip photos from a mountaintop in Switzerland back home to San Francisco with hardly a thought, but that wasn’t so trivial just a decade ago. It’s not just selfies that are being sent; it’s also product designs, manufacturing instructions, and research plans — all of it enabled by invisible technical standards (e.g., TCP/IP) and language standards (e.g., English) that allow machines and people to communicate.

But in the laboratory sciences (life, chemical, material, and other disciplines), communication remains inhibited by practices more akin to the oral traditions of a blacksmith shop than the modern Internet. In a typical academic lab, the reference description of an experiment is the long-form narrative in the “Materials and Methods” section of a paper or a book. Similarly, industry researchers depend on basic text documents in the form of Standard Operating Procedures. In both cases, essential details of the materials and protocol for an experiment are typically written somewhere in a long-forgotten, hard-to-interpret lab notebook (paper or electronic). More typically, details are simply left to the experimenter to remember and to the “lab culture” to retain.

At the dawn of science, when a handful of researchers were working on fundamental questions, this may have been good enough. But nowadays this archaic method of protocol record keeping and sharing is so lacking that half of all biomedical studies are estimated to be irreproducible, wasting $28 billion each year of U.S. government funding. With more than $400 billion invested each year in biological and chemical research globally, the full cost of irreproducible research to the public and private sector worldwide could be staggeringly large. Read more…

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Every (successful) company is a service company

Designers are helping to shape the businesses, products, and services in our changing economy.

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Register now for the O’Reilly Design Conference, which will explore the evolving role of design in business and society along with the tools designers need to shape the next generation of products and services.

Loosely defined, service is the relationship between consumer and company. There are traditional service companies, such as hotels and transportation companies, and their modern counterparts Uber and Airbnb.

Then there are companies that are changing their identities from product companies to service companies, with varying degrees of success: for example, IBM, morphing from hardware to services, and Adobe, moving its software model to a cloud-based, subscription-based service. Whether you’re new to the game or established, almost any product today must have a service aspect.

Why does this matter — and what does it mean for designers?

Tim O’Reilly wrote a recent piece on how the economy is being shaped by software and connectedness. He explained:

One way to think about the new generation of on-demand companies, such as Uber, Lyft, and Airbnb, is that they are networked platforms for physical world services, which are bringing fragmented industries into the 21st century in the same way that ecommerce has transformed retail.

The evidence is clear: we’re living in an attention economy, with thousands of devices and companies competing for eyeballs. Our products are now connected and smart, and the consumer-product relationship is long term, with data fueling the courtship. It’s no longer enough to have a great product — it needs to be coupled with a great service. Service is at the heart of any user experience, and designers are crafting this experience, forging the connections between products and consumers. Read more…

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Data-driven neuroscience

The O'Reilly Radar Podcast: Bradley Voytek on data's role in neuroscience, the brain scanner, and zombie brains in STEM.

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Subscribe to the O’Reilly Radar Podcast to track the technologies and people that will shape our world in the years to come.

In this week’s Radar Podcast, O’Reilly’s Mac Slocum chats with Bradley Voytek, an assistant professor of cognitive science and neuroscience at UC San Diego. Voytek talks about using data-driven approaches in his neuroscience work, the brain scanner project, and applying cognitive neuroscience to the zombie brain.

Here are a few snippets from their chat:

In the neurosciences, we’ve got something like three million peer reviewed publications to go through. When I was working on my Ph.D., I was very interested, in particular, in two brain regions. I wanted to know how these two brain regions connect, what are the inputs to them and where do they output to. In my naivety as a Ph.D. student, I had assumed there would be some sort of nice 3D visualization, where I could click on a brain region and see all of its inputs and outputs. Such a thing did not exist — still doesn’t, really. So instead, I ended up spending three or four months of my Ph.D. combing through papers written in the 1970s … and I kept thinking to myself, this is ridiculous, and this just stewed in the back of my mind for a really long time.

Sitting at home [with my wife], I said, I think I’ve figured out how to address this problem I’m working on, which is basically very simple text mining. Lets just scrape the text of these three million papers, or at least the titles and abstracts, and see what words co-occur frequently together. It was very rudimentary text mining, with the idea that if words co-occur frequently … this might give us an index of how related things are, and she challenged me to a code-off.

Read more…

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Design is how users feel when experiencing products

The O’Reilly Design Podcast: Cindy Alvarez on emotion, user research, and why Craigslist is great design.

Subscribe to the O’Reilly Design Podcast, our podcast exploring how experience design — and experience designers — are shaping business, the Internet of Things, and other domains.

Oberon,_Titania_and_Puck_with_Fairies_Dancing._William_Blake._c.1786In this week’s Design Podcast episode, I sit down with Cindy Alvarez, a designer at Microsoft, author of Lean Customer Development, and member of our program committee for O’Reilly’s first design conference.

Alvarez talks about how design is changing, how the approach to design at Microsoft is changing, and user research misperceptions and challenges. She also offers advice to those who are insisting all designers should code.

Here are a few highlights from our chat:

Steve Jobs has said that, “Design is not how it looks, it’s how it works.” I would go one step further and say, “Design is how you work.” When you’re using something, how do you feel … How are you feeling more capable — do you feel smarter? Do you feel stronger? Do you feel stupider? Design is how you feel when you are using things or having experiences.

The ‘butt-brush’ effect comes from the wonderful Paco Underhill book Why We Buy. … Specifically, the butt-brush phenomenon is people looking at products that they really wanted to buy, but the store layout made it so people were bumping into them. That was such a strong push to get them to abandon what they were doing … that they’d just get up and walk away. He theorized about people feeling vulnerable, and undoubtedly there’s some sort of evolutionary thing about woolly mammoths sneaking up on us or something. I think it’s just, on a more base level, people feel clumsy. They feel fat, they feel clumsy and awkward, and we don’t like that at all.

Read more…

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Cultivate in Portland: Leadership, values, diversity

Building the next generation of leaders, for any size organization.

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Register now for Cultivate NY, which will be co-located with Strata + Hadoop World NY, September 28 and 29, 2015.

At our recent Cultivate event in Portland, O’Reilly and our partnering sponsor New Relic brought together 10 speakers and more than 100 attendees to learn about corporate culture and leadership. Three themes emerged: diversity, values, and leading through humility.

Almost every speaker talked about the importance of diversity in the workplace. That’s important at a time when “maintaining corporate culture” often means building a group that’s reminiscent of a college frat house. It’s well established that diverse groups, groups that include different kinds of people, different experiences, and different ways of thinking, perform better. As Michael Lopp said at the event, “Diversity is a no-brainer.” We’re not aiming for tribal uniformity, but as Mary Yoko Brannen noted at the outset, sharing knowledge across different groups with different expectations. No organization can afford to remain monochromatic, but in a diverse organization, you have to be aware of how others differ. In particular, Karla Monterroso showed us that you need to realize when — and why — others feel threatened. When you do, you are in a much better position to build better products, to respond to changes in your market, and to use the talent in your organization effectively. Read more…

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Harmonizing the four factors that regulate our society

The O'Reilly Radar Podcast: Cory Doctorow on his work with the EFF, reforming the DMCA, and better IoT business models.

Subscribe to the O’Reilly Radar Podcast to track the technologies and people that will shape our world in the years to come.

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In this week’s Radar Podcast, I sit down with science fiction author, activist, journalist, and blogger, Cory Doctorow. We talk about pitfalls in the Internet of Things and his work with the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), including work to reform the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) — the source of many of those IoT pitfalls. Doctorow also talks about why we should treat human beings as things that are good at sensing as opposed to things that need to be sensed.

Here are a few snippets from our conversation:

In the absence of any other confounding factors, obnoxious stuff that vendors do tends to self-correct, but there’s an important confounding factor, which is that in 1998, Congress passed the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. In order to try and contain unauthorized copying, they made it a felony to break a lock that protects access to a copyrighted work or to tell people information that they could use to break that lock.

I’m way more worried about the fact that the [DMCA] law also criminalizes disclosing information about vulnerabilities in these systems.

Lawrence Lessig, who was on our board for many years and is a great friend and fellow of Electronic Frontier Foundation, talks about how there are four factors that regulate our society. There’s code, what’s technologically possible. There is law, what’s allowed. There’s norms, what’s socially acceptable. And then there are markets, what’s profitable. In many cases, the right thing is profitable and also socially acceptable and legal and also technologically possible. Every now and again you run up against areas where one or more of those factors just aren’t in harmony.

Read more…

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