My Ideas Diary: Projects and research I'd love to see happen. Let me know if you'd like to collaborate
5/3/2013: Run a study where subjects list every annoying thing that happens to them as they go about their day. We have some ideas about barriers people face in their daily lives, but I don't think it has ever been comprehensively researched or documented. Maybe we could find out what the barriers to innovation, imagination, creativity, and the realization of ideas and potential really are? Maybe they aren't what we think, and maybe some of them could be easily rectified.
1/14/2013: What is the legality of giving directed funds to government efforts, especially at the federal level? I want to know whether a private citizen or foundation can give money to agencies like the NSF or NIH to increase their budget. Does this illegally interfere with Congressional autonomy and their role in determining federal spending and budgets? Is there a constitutional barrier or it is just that the mechanism to do this doesn't exist? So often I hear about scientific advances that falter from a small lack of funds, and usually this lack is organizational and not deliberate, and so might be easily patched with a carefully constructed donation pipeline.
12/05/2012: I've been a user of makeupalley.com for a while, including a fair bit of swapping when I first started. I started out negotiating these swaps as I would typically negotiate, trying to work out the bargain that the other side is just willing to accept (my econ training I guess). Makeupalley is a community of nearly all females, and all makeup afficionados, and this is a terrible strategy. People in this community aren't comfortable negotiating back, you have to take the deal they offer or say no. Typically people try to offer a deal they think is fair and don't strategize for an anticipated negotiation. Also, when you agree to exchange some items, you send extra gifts in the package as a surprise bonus. They don't have the same value as the items but they should be nice. These norms are quite different from typical dealmaking, and I'd like to know why and how.
12/05/2012: I like lemon in my soda. I just had the idea today that it would be awesome to have the additional lemon flavor come through the ice cubes - then you could control the intensity to some degree while you are drinking. So freeze ice cubes with a few drops of lemon juice in them.
11/10/2012: Set up a "gift registry," like people do for weddings, for science. Instead of listing gravy bowls and crock pots, research projects are listed with research PI, institution, and goals. People can donate money through the website, and it goes to an escrow account at the PI's institution until funding targets have been met, at which point the project commences. Sort of like a kickstarter for science. All the research output would go through traditional peer reviewed outlets, because incentives would not have changed for the researcher - they are still evaluated by their peers. My hope is that this is a way to harness funding for science, and perhaps get important projects funded that are overlooked by the agencies and foundations (for example, herpes research isn't well-funded, presumably since it isn't life threatening, but this is something that significantly affects many people's quality of life).
09/03/2012: Map the US economy. Horrifically complex, but even a high level abstraction would be extraordinarily useful. At a snapshot in time find out what the sectors are, their relative size, drill in deeper to discover the biggest companies and drill in further to see the smaller ones. Copy the idea of the phylogenetic Tree of Life pioneered by David Hillis, except the economy version will have a much more significant time dimension. The "Tree of the Economy" could also be augmented with regulations, at the points of impact. For example, add the Farm Bill at a root of the agriculture sector, and the applicable subsections at the appropriate sub-branches, and we can start to get a coarse picture of the impact of regulatory interventions. One open problem is discovering the legal entities or players in the economy - a number of people are working on this (see e.g. Freebase.com, Open Corporates, and some work at WC3).
08/27/2012: I had an idea for an experiment. It's along the lines of the famous experiments predicting success in life from childhood abilities to delay gratification. There are two primary responses to perceived injustice, anger and sadness (well, aside from indifference I suppose, but assume it is personally felt injustice). I think we each have a general tendency to lean one way or the other. I'd like to test whether the tendency toward the "anger" or action response is more highly correlated with future success than the "sadness" or withdrawal response. I also suspect that these response tendencies fall along Jungian extroversion/introversion lines and along gender lines (I think this scene from (stay with me) A League of Their Own shows an example of a gender response divide: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xx8cCDthsuk).
08/04/2012: Facebook needs to make more information available about how our personal pages are used. While on a hike last week I realized it would be pretty easy to come up with an "annoyance metric" (or "enjoyment metric") for one's facebook page. If I knew the proportion of friends I had who had chosen to display only my important posts or no posts of mine at all, then I could get a sense for community reactions to my posts. With enough friends I could even get a sense for what posts seem to trigger unsubscribes and perhaps post better more interesting things. Making the aggregate number of friends who subscribe, want important posts only, and the number choosing to unsubscribe available as personal page metrics would be very unlikely to violate the privacy of friends, given enough of them.
11/11/11: Public Domain Day (Jan 1) gives us a potential way to measure the value of the public domain. After a creator's work enters the public domain we should see an increase in use and reuse if copyright is acting as a barrier. Measuring the amount of reuse is not easy, but one could imagine an estimate of digital reuse as follows. Virigina Woolf's work enters the public domain Jan 1 2012, and through web searches (and eventually Google Books) we can estimate a proxy for the number of times her work is reused over time. Is there a discontinuity at Jan 1 2012? What about other well-known authors?
10/16/11: Government Decision Making: How does the government assess research appropriate to base policy decisions on? I'd like to build a case study on the determination of a regulatory standard (possibly around EPA air particulate regulations) and the interaction with the Data Quality Act and OMB information quality guidelines.
05/21/11: Hypothesis Registry: What would it take to both set up a site comparable to clinicaltrials.gov, but for all studies with hypothesis testing? The site would permit researchers to log and timestamp the hypotheses they propose to test in their study before they actually start the data analysis. How would this be incorporated into funding as it is for clinical trials?
04/25/11: Release of Academic Code: I'm collecting stories of interactions with university tech transfer offices when researchers release their code on the internet. Students and faculty sign rights to inventions over to their institution when they are hired, but how does this interact with software?
04/25/11: Tuvalu: What has happened in Tuvalu since the Bill Gross buyout of .tv? Apparently the money (50 million) has transformed the islands: the government has built hospitals, schools, and other community infrastructure and been able to join the UN. The business side of the story is out there, but what's the development side? What happens when you inject massive amounts of money into a small island economy? What makes it work here?
03/14/11: I'd like a bodysuit that regulates the temperature of my skin, regardless of the ambient air temperature. The idea is that way, no matter the conditions, I'd always be comfortable and could wear clothes as accessories on top. What gave me the idea are these paper-thin celluose batteries from Stanford (see also here). Could you imagine basically doing away with feeling too cold?
03/13/11: Science by video: (this idea was originally suggested by Stephen Boyd) Film scientists describing, in layman terms, their most significant contribution to scientific understanding, then make the video publicly available on a stable website. This would be straightforward to implement and fun! Update: Just found this potential example.
03/13/11: What is the outcome of the NIH open access policy? What is the outcome of the NIH requirement to list publicly available datasets as well as citations when applying for a grant?
03/13/11: Enlarging the scope of tech transfer. Can the traditional role of the tech transfer office in a university be expanded to include a public side? Rather than being concerned only with licensing and granting access to academic research for commercial enterprises, can a role be created to simply disseminate research broadly? The usual mechanism, journal publication, isn't cutting it for many reasons (paywall access, lack of inclusion of methodology ie. code and data).
12/03/10: Bridge the Open Source Community with the coding happening in academic science. My sense is that coding in science could learn a lot about communicating code, both in the code itself (mechanisms to create better code, such as version control and unit testing), and in community building. One recent effort at Penn is here: Introducing students to the world of open source. I keep hearing that there are extra cycles out there that people would like to use for scientific questions..