Archive for February, 2010

Reconnecting

February 23rd, 2010 by Collin Canright | No Comments | Filed in Personal, Technology

I’ve been working on new things a lot lately: new online marketing ideas, including an ebook on staying connected through email and social media; new studies in group dynamics and leadership; new writings in neuroscience, social intelligence, and nanoscience.

In going over my strategy for bringing in more business through our online marketing in my sales group this morning, it became apparent that I have been giving close to short shrift to the technical writing I have done and managed for so long. Our largest current projects are a software manual revision and a series of hardware manuals for an electronics test equipment manufacturer–one of the first times we’ve been able to completely redesign and rewrite a hardware manual.

So I decided to spend some time on LinkedIn searching for other software companies in the Chicago area to call on. I came across a lot of Motorola software engineers in my network, a company I have done only one project with, an edit of a white paper 20 years ago on Six Sigma and producibility. I remember wading through the math and getting to the core idea that any product had to be designed with the particulars of manufacturing and production in mind. It seemed quite simple.

I passed on making making connections to the Motorolans for the time being. Their work it is too far away from my experience at this point.

But the electronic data interchange developer I came across isn’t, though it’s been like 10 years since I worked with the subject directly.

In thinking about the EDI work I did, I recalled all the documentation I did in the electronics industry. So I did some LinkedIn searches on the keyword “electronics” and came up with some people at a company I had worked with about 15 years ago.

The new services are critical areas of growth, but sometimes it also pays to look back at what’s worked in the past and reconnect.

Nanoscience

February 21st, 2010 by Collin Canright | No Comments | Filed in Technology

Nanoscience and nanotechnology are “an important part of the Chicago technology fabric,” said Terry Flanigan, MIF Enterprise Forum Chicago chairman, in introducing the Feb. 16 program. A number of Chicago-based companies are pioneering products based on nanotech, while Chicago’s Argonne National Laboratory houses one of national center for nanoscience sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy.

One of Argonne’s top nanoscientists, Dr. Tijuana Rajh, Group Leader for the NanoBio Interface Group at Argonne National Laboratory explained the basics of nanoscience and nanotechnology and gave an overview of nano-based applications that are likely to revolutionize energy and medicine. Nanoscience combines physics, chemistry, and biology and, like the physical, chemical, and biological functions that take place at the nano-scale, it’s different and greater than any of the three alone.

TiO2 Nanoparticle-DNA Molecule

TiO2 Nanoparticle-DNA Molecule

The nano scale—roughly smaller than molecules and larger than atoms—is “the natural threshold where all living systems and man-made systems work,” Dr. Rajh said. Chemicals and atoms display different electronic and light properties and behaviors at the nano-scale than at regular scale.

Nanoscience provides “an integration of physical laws and chemical precision with biological selectivity.” In other words, the laws of physics can be controlled with the precision available to the chemist manipulating molecules in order to intervene in biological systems.

Indeed, Dr. Rajh’s group at Argonne is working with the University of Chicago to treat cancer with nano-bio technology. They have been able to fuse inorganic nanoparticles to organic proteins at the DNA level and create a way to target and destroy cancer cells and only cancer cells. Nanoscientists are also developing new materials that will make solar energy more efficient and batteries more effective.

Nanoscience started in the 1980s, with the development scanning tunneling microscopy (SMT), invented by two IBM researchers in 1981. In that respect, it reminds me of neuroscience, which took off in the 1990s with the development of functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI).

Earlier on, physicists learned how to master the strong forces of nature, like thermodynamics. Now nanoscientists are learning how to master the weak forces that the atomic scientists theorized than then substantiated experimentally.

Nanoparticles are man-made substances that behave like artificial atoms, and since the 1980s nanoscientists have perfected the synthesis of new materials. “The implications are huge,” Dr. Rajh said. “We have crystal-like structures and we can therefore create new materials,” she said. “You can custom design energy properties not existing in nature.” In effect, nanoscience has, in the words of MIT EF member Richard Cross PhD, freed science from the “tyranny of the periodic table (of the elements).”

It’s the frontier of research. “We don’t know what to expect and don’t know what will happen,” said Dr. Rajh. “Not we can push the boundaries of science by creating a new periodic table.”

For more details, view a video of a similar presentation given by Dr. Rajh for an Argonne colloquium.

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Neuroscience

February 18th, 2010 by Collin Canright | No Comments | Filed in Psychology

Neuroscience is wired. News reports on the latest discoveries in neuroscience appear with increasing frequency, as shown by a Google Trends graph (bottom line) on the search term “neuroscience.”

With advances in medical technology, especially magnetic resonance imaging, developed in the 1970s, neuroscientists have been able to watch the brain in action and gain a much more detailed look at how the brain processes information. As a result, neuroscientists have gained insight into the overall structure of the brain and which areas are responsible for what functions and the biochemical processes through which the brain communicates with the body.

Since the mid 1990s, for instance, neuroscience researchers have been mapping the portions of the brain responsible for emotion. In 1996, researchers in England identified a tiny brain structure called the amygdala as the crucial bran area for the perception of fear (Trudeau, 30 October 1996). The amygdala isn’t logical. It just reacts. “Before we are even consciously aware of something the amygdala has activated the fight-or-flight reflex and activated the fear system,” said Kerry Ressler, a psychiatrist at Emory University and investigator for the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (Hamilton, 4 September 2009). (Note: All references appear at the end of the post, with links.)

Indeed, of all the recent neuroscience research, perhaps the most relevant to learning and development is research on emotions: how they work to connect the brain and the body and their critical role in human learning and development. “The inextricability of thought and emotion is one of contemporary psychology’s most important discoveries,” wrote Winifred Gallagher. The Greek separation of “supposedly lofty cognition, which focuses on reason and absolute truth, and funky emotion, which centers on subjective value judgments” has been brought back into a whole over the last 10 years, as “scientists have discovered that thinking and feeling often have a chicken-or-the-egg relationship and are heard to tease apart” (Gallagher, 2009, p. 29).

One of those scientists, Dr. Candace Pert, pharmacologist and former Chief of the Section on Brain Biochemistry of the Clinical Neuroscience Branch of the National Institute of Mental Health, has done pioneering work on brain chemistry, communication between the mind and the body, and the biochemical nature of emotion. In her view, the mind is in the body’s nervous system as much as it is in the brain. “The body is the unconscious mind,” she wrote. The chemical mechanisms of communication between the brain and the body are short amino acid chains called peptides and receptors, and the information that they carry is experience, by both the brain and the body, as emotion. To Pert, “emotion creates the bridge between mind and body” (Grodzki, 1995). As Pert wrote, “Neuropeptides and their receptors thus join the brain, glands, and immune system in a network of communication between brain and body, probably representing the biochemical substrate of emotion” (Pert, 1999, p. 179).

The implication is that emotional awareness and expression is critical to learning and development. Indeed, both memory and actual performance are affected by mood, Pert’s research shows. Emotions are both the arbiters of what people remember and what people learn. The human brain is bombarded by sensory input. In order for the brain not to become overwhelmed, it needs some mechanism to decide what information is important to pay attention to and what information should be ignored. Pert concluded that “our emotions . . . decide what is worth paying attention to” (Pert, 1999, p. 146).

Researchers studying attachment theory and its role in parenting say something similar and take it a step further. “How emotion is experienced and communicated may be fundamental to how we come to feel a sense of vitality and meaning in our lives,” wrote Siegel and Hartzell (Siegel and Hartzell, 2004, p. 59). Their experience and research suggests that “emotions shape both our internal and our interpersonal experiences” and, as a result, allow us to integrate our experience within our selves, deepen our connection to others, and prepare our bodies for action. Emotional communication is especially important to how children develop and learn. “The experience of emotional joining helps children develop a stronger sense of themselves and enriches their capacity for self-understanding and compassion (Siegel and Hartzell, 2004, p. 68).

Couples therapist Sue Johnson goes so far as to call attachment theory the “science of love.” Listen to her explain the origins of attachment theory from pioneering psychoanalyst John Bowlby in “Hold Me Tight,” a February 2010 CBC “Ideas” interview  and title of her book.

It’s a physical as well as an emotional process and becomes the equivalent of a dance between the mind and body. “Emotions are at the nexus between matter and mind, going back and forth between the two and influencing both,” Pert wrote (Pert, 1999, p. 189). Neuropathways are forged in the brain, though mechanisms that include attachment, and those pathways, along with the emotional tendencies that our individual neuropathways support, serve as a filter our experience. As a result, we cannot objectively define what is real and what it not. We are, in a sense, the product of our emotional experience and select information based on that experience, both past and present. Even so, the biochemical receptors in our brains and body can and do change. “Emotions and bodily sensations are thus intricately intertwined, in a bidirectional network in which each can alter the other,” Pert wrote (Pert, 1999, p. 142). Because that generally unconscious process can be brought into consciousness, “even when we are “stuck” emotionally, fixated on a version of reality that does not serve us well, there is always a biochemical potential for change and growth” (Pert, 1999, p. 146).

References

Gallagher, W. (2009). Rapt: attention and the focused life. New York: The Penguin Press.

Grodzki, Lynn (1995). “Approaching a theory of emotion: an interview with Candace Pert, Ph.D.” Retrieved from http://primal-page.com/pert.html on 20 June 2009.

Hamilton, J. (4 September 2009). “In the future, science could erase traumatic memories.” National Public Radio broadcast retrieved from http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=112531962.

Pert, C. (1999). Molecules of emotion: the science behind mind-body medicine. New York: Simon & Schuster.

Siegel, D. J. & Hartzell, M. (2004). Parenting from the inside out: how a deeper self understanding can help you raise children who thrive. New York: Jeremy P. Tarcher.

Trudeau, M. (30 October 1996). “Brain and Emotion.” National Public Radio broadcast retrieved from http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=1041718.

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Luddite

February 17th, 2010 by Collin Canright | No Comments | Filed in Technology

I am not used to being the person who looks at the new and suggests that the old school has a lot of value left in it. I may have been cutting edge when I bought my first PC over a car or worked for an electronic news service that turned out to be a precursor to the web–and way ahead of its time–and even when I started desktop publishing on the PC.

Yet now my firm is decidedly leading edge. Not cutting edge and certainly not bleeding edge. We began the February 2010 issue of our newsletter like this:

When new innovations hit and catch fire, they are exciting partly because they fill a need, and partly because they are new. As each new tool takes hold, the old tools, such as steady email, take a back seat. But just because they are in the background doesn’t mean they are not necessary. And just because it’s familiar doesn’t mean it’s not useful and valuable. Nowadays, many people check their email before they officially start their day. The fact remains: email is still popular.

When I started using email, I barely had anyone to email to. They had to be on the same service. Maybe that’s why we recognize that email powers social media, which will be the primary point of our new ebook. It seems kind of retro, and I’m not entirely comfortable with that, but it’s so.

Bloomberg BusinessWeek came out with a report on online marketing this week, focusing on collaboration, multichannel marketing, and personalization. I liked it because it’s on “online marketing” more than “social media” or “email marketing.” Online marketing recognizes the whole.

And in my leading edge way, I like the report’s focus on multi-channel marketing. The report’s marketing metrics language may be tedious to me, but the overall point is sound. Here’s the quote, in leading edge fashion, that I think makes it the best:

Modern marketers are moving toward integrating offline and online activities, with the goal of creating a full spectrum, single-view capability. Marketers are quickly coming to the realization that the greatest value to be had from investing precious marketing dollars is in the integration of effectiveness and optimization: Knowing what works, in which channels, and targeting individual customer behavior in each channel across multiple touch points. Integration, collaboration, effectiveness, and optimization together comprise the wide-angle viewfinder executives and managers increasingly use to stay ahead of the competition as they get the biggest bang for their budget.

Online and offline integration. The next point comes from internet marketing pioneer Ken McCarthy, who says online marketing, in the end, is all about conversion, and conversion really boils down to copywriting–“old school” direct marketing copywriting at that.

I really am not a Luddite but a transitional thinker. Communications media is going through its biggest transition since Gutenberg. It’s a great time to be in the marketing and media businesses.

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