Science might help find a cure

I’m part of a large extended family. At times the size of my family gets very small, especially when an email lands in my inbox notifying me someone I love is ill with a disease. Not being a doctor it can make you feel helpless. Fortunately working in the tech. industry, especially Microsoft Research, can fill you with immense hope that science can breakthrough and solve hard problems; maybe even cure a disease.

According to the World Health Organization these were the top ten diseases in 2011:
WHO Top Ten Diseases 2011


















Microsoft Research has published work related to these diseases. Here’s a list of searches on for some of the diseases:

heart disease

Lower respitory infections




Lung cancers

Diabetes Mellitus

Science is cool but curing sick people is even better.


URL Addressable Identity

In a previous post I talked about how hard it was to reach me while traveling on the Washington Coast, which is a cellular service dead zone. Yes I could eventually pick up a voice mail or email message once cellular service or internet access was available. But something more fundamental in this situation seems broken.

Companies, organizations and proxies for humans [blogs, personal web sites…] have unique IDs on the internet. Domain name services and internet protocol routing and other networking magic make this possible. With this magic, for example, is a unique address that resolves to one location on the internet; i.e. you can reach no matter what you use to get on the internet, what you use to request a URL.

Why can’t humans have a unique address on the internet? Each human could use a unique address to share their ‘internet homepage’ with anyone because it would be easier to hand out – and easier to remember – than a long URL derived from a blog or custom domain or whatever they use to create web presence. Humans could also use a unique address to aggregate their online data and manage access to it. A precedence for a unique address exists today with mobile phone numbers, which facilitate the relationship between a unique person and how to reach this person via cellular networks, routing mechanisms and other networking magic. I want to reach frank; I call his mobile phone number. Why can’t we do this on the internet?

Well, there are several reasons why a unique address for all humans can’t be implemented on the internet today; starting with how to disambiguate common names, for example ‘John Smith’. There’s no single registry or list of all humans on the planet that I know of. Lacking this, what would the internet use to lookup two or many John Smiths to determine which one was the one you intended to ‘call’?

And even if there were a way to create a single registry of all humans; who’s the best or right organization to manage it? The ideal organization would be non-commercial; similar to the W3C or IETF. This organization would be tasked with creating standards that would have to be agreed upon by existing and new internet traffic stakeholders for the unique address system to gain adoption. Standards would include [but not be limited to] consumer privacy, security; naming conventions, name resolution; performance, relationships to existing laws and policies.

The organization would also be tasked with creating fair, well documented opportunities for commercial interests to leverage a unique ID system.

In the absence of a single registry of all humans we have commercial interests – see Facebook adoption worldwide – building their equivalent registry.

What could help move us toward an open system is to design contextual IQ into the architecture for how humans are looked up on the internet. Back to the ‘John Smith’ example, the unique address registry needs to query signals for who I am in relation to where I am in relation to who I’m trying to find. If I’m trying to ‘call’ my friend John Smith and we both have associations to a common city and we have have social graph intersections and other signals then the unique address registry should narrow the connection to my friend John Smith.

More on this later with some graph intersection sketches…

Local banking

I want to disrupt the check cashing industry. It’s a drug dealing enterprise disguised as financial services. Let’s get families out of the cycle of depending on this industry and cash.

TODO list to get started:
– Get families living at the poverty level setup with a local bank account so they can convert paychecks or other income into a manageable account. The local bank component is critical to broker a relationship between people who need this service and banks who should get to know and invest in their immediate communities.

– Through the use of a local bank account educate poverty level families on sustainable personal finance practices.

– Moving poverty level families dependent/addicted to cash into using a local bank account is a significant culture change. Advocacy could start with a joint campaign lead by local bankers and rental property owners, who take the largest percentage of their income.

– Other advocacy partnerships could be with grocery stores, community centers, libraries, churches. Then follow up with family support groups who help poverty level families make the transition.

This could all tie in with an emerging market phone product; something in between a feature phone and smartphone.
Local Bank Workflow

Query for ads

One of the problems I see with mobile ads – looking at you Facebook – is that I’m served ads [push] when instead I want to ask for ads [pull]. Pushed ads are often not relevant nor do they leverage signals in a way that makes the ad hard to ignore. Inspire me to tap the ad; show me something I can’t ignore.

PCC ad searchA pulled ad model could work something like query the ‘system’; where the system returns best matches for an ad by location, by store, by product based on what’s entered in the search box + signals from the mobile device.

Or the system could be queried for a specific location, store, product. If I shop at PCC and my mobile device signals that I’m near PCC; show me ads for PCC. And if I’ve previously purchased Santa Cruz beverages – something PCC should have data about – show me ads for Santa Cruz beverages available at PCC.
Santa Cruz ad search

These pulled ads should be presented in separate feeds than the news or tweet stream. BTW: With their new Gmail tabs system, Google has done a great job helping me mentally seperate what’s primary and what’s a promotion.

Or even better the system should expose dials to ‘tune’ what shows up in pulled ads; to improve the relevance beyond the current X to delete/show more model.

Query me

I took my family to the Washington coast for a quick end of summer mini-vacation. We rented a cabin in Seabrook, which is a sweet planned community just off the beach; south of Pacific Beach, Wa. The weather was warm – and unusual for the Washington coast – not windy. We enjoyed long walks, scampering in/out of the water, riding beach cruiser bikes. The sunset the first night was gorgeous, followed by a sky full of stars then a glorious full moon. Of course we made smores on an open fire outside our cabin.

What we didn’t have was cellular service from AT&T or T-mobile. Seabrook is a dead spot. Fortunately most of the cabins have wireless networks so our laptop, tablet, smartphones had internet connectivity.

But what if someone tried to reach us by trying to ‘call’ us on our smartphones? They would have to leave voicemail messages that we would pick up later when cellular service was in range. Or they would have to send a message via another system. Neither of these options is timely or simple for both parties.

What I really want is a system that can be queried for me; and if I’m not available to respond immediately [like with a phone call] can step through multiple options to find me. If direct contact can’t be made, then a message is left for me to pickup later on the internet; which is never down. Access to the internet is another story, later.

App numbers game

Deborah sent me this article from yet another person trying to categorize the top apps across the big three platforms.

Analyzing popular apps is a weird numbers game – but it does matter to consumers, money people and app developers.

Earlier this week while in Portland we mused about the business density; it seemed like every neighborhood had several small businesses bursting with customers. How can this be? Is the Portland business climate so hot that entrepreneurs just want to get something started? App stores/ecosystems are similar. Developers want to build apps where they know their app is side-by-side with other [especially cool/popular] apps. Consumers want to browse and install or be seen using cool/popular apps. And money people want to invest in app developers that get this.

What’s missing in the article above is a deeper view into who the top app developers are; what they have in common, how they view their peers. The more we understand this movement [how I think about it] the better chance we have of recreating the conditions that lead to it.

Rural incubators

The Seattle Times ran a story earlier this year about Google experimenting with spreading wi-fi via balloons in New Zealand.

This made me think about other ways to get internet access to people living in USA rural areas; because I believe this is an untapped pool of innovators.

My mother lives in a remote part of Washington State; there’s plenty of open land there. Building is cheap, wood is cheaper since logging companies are nearby. But, they lack widely available high speed internet access. You can pay the Dish Network a crazy monthly fee or settle for weak DSL service. Neither is ideal for setting up an incubator.

AT&T has a ‘cell tower on wheels’ system – COWS – they use for large events like concerts.

I could see COWS being used to get high speed internet access to rural girls, boys; to help them startup.