Friday, April 14, 2006

Whuffie: XXI century money?

Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom, is a 2003 Sci-Fi novel by Cory Doctorow that can be downloaded and read for free, has an interesting economic concept: whuffie.

What is whuffie?

Whuffie is reputation. Anyone can express his/her opinion about you, and that influences your whuffie count. The more whuffie you have, the more respected you are, and the more VIP treatment you will enjoy. Anyone can give or take whuffie to/from someone, no matter how high or low is the voter's whuffie level.

In the original novel, the world has reached a post-scarcity scenario (the so called Bitchun society). Whuffie is not used to decide if you have access to the basics, as food or housing. Whuffie is used to have access to extra resources and/or insider circles.

Whuffie works in the novel through wireless voting together with digital management, so the voting and book keeping system is totally transparent to any member of the Bitchun society.

I regard the whuffie concept very appealing. It may need some fixes to avoid demagogy and other possible abuses/deviations, but the concept is sound, an it could be the basis for a reasonable alternative to our current economic system.

An embryo of what could become a whuffie economy is already developing in Internet: Karma in slashdot, or diggs in Digg. It may not seem much right now, but I wonder how revolutionary and strange money seemed when barter was the norm.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Vitamin E at megadoses is hepatotoxic

Some days ago I had the opportunity to talk to a top level expert in drug hepatotoxicity. He was invited by my company to take part in a scientific advisory board. I am not authorised to talk about what was discussed in those meetings, and I won't do it here. Apart from the professional discussions, I could chat with him about issues not related to my job. I knew from him that high doses of vitamin E can act as oxidant for the liver, instead of working as antioxidant. He strongly advised against taking megadoses of Vitamin E. He also said that one of the main champions of vitamin E died of what could be considered a consecuence of high vitamin E intake. I don't know who was him. I don't know either how high were the doses.
I wonder if high doses of vitamin E are bad only if they are not combined with high doses of other antioxidants. At this moment, I don't know if there is some research on this issue. If someone knows anything relevant, please tell me by email. I will try to keep you informed of any new finding.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

DIY nanotech

Let's suppose that you are enthusiastic about nanotechnology, but you are not rich.

Let's suppose that you don't know much about molecular devices. Let's suppose that you are not already working in the field, but you have some time to spend in it, an a burning desire to see things moving. What can you do?

  • Well, you can stay sat doing nothing and waiting for the future to happen. That's the easiest path. Stop reading.

  • Too active for just waiting? Great. Perhaps you can burn that energy writing advocacy. Then you can happily sit and do nothing more. Stop reading.

  • Advocacy is not enough for you? Oh, boy, you are really serious. Thus, you may have enough willpower to spare a coke or a chocolate bar to help others make the hard work for you. Well done!. Stop reading.

  • So you are one of those who don't anesthetise your mind by losing a couple of dollars. You want to be at the eye of the hurricane. You are a hard core (wo)man. Edison would admire you!. What can you do? Well, it depends on how much time you have, and how good is your education.

If you have the right match of education and freedom, get a Ph.D. on nanotech, and become part of the tidal wave. You can have your own start-up very soon. In some years from now, you can be an influential leader in the field.

If you have education, and not much time, I am sorry to say that you won't be able to do much more than intelligent(?) investing or "advanced" advocacy(?). Bad luck.

If you have time (at least twenty hours a week), independently of your education, you can start learning the fundamentals. Once you have learnt, you can play freelance or join other people. Don't believe in people who say that only big teams with big money can make the difference. YOU can make the difference. To start with, you can play with any of the free molecular modelling packages that are out there. Computing power is so cheap these days that you can have a decent workstation for very low money, or even a home made beowulf. Looking for good examples of software packages? Here you have two excelent free packages: NAMD and GROMACS

And now, stop reading. I have nothing more to say!