Breakfast in London, lunch in Reykjavík and dinner in Boston

The day before yesterday I had one of those crazy days that seemed to be the norm for me last year. I woke up and had breakfast in London. Then I took a flight to Reykjavík (I LOVE planes with electric outlets/plugs… give me those any time over “entertainment systems”!), where I had lunch.

The flight was delayed, but the airline was great about it: they gave everybody a written explanation (the scheduled aircraft had to return to origin due to a medical emergency), a voucher for food and drink, and a copy of passenger’s legal rights. Even more impressive, they told us that the connecting flight would be delayed to give all connecting passengers a chance to make it and not be stranded in the beautiful but remote island of Iceland. I love that solidarity spirit, and the fact that almost all passengers agreed with that decision and did not complain about it.

That meant I arrived late in Boston, so after a quick dinner I went straight to sleep, to try remain awake during the important meeting the next morning. Then, right after that meeting, same itinerary back to London.

Four Oxford Alumni Weekend lectures

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[More pictures here]

Last Saturday I had the pleasure to attend Oxford’s Alumni Weekend with my son.
I knew he would not be the only teenager there, but I was surprised to see kids even younger than him accompanying their parents. The truth is that I wish I had brought him earlier. I’ll try to bring my daughter to the next one.
Besides the obvious networking opportunity, the true pleasure was to attend interesting lectures delivered by top academics, and to see my son actually interested in those lectures!

The first one was “Innovation in Healthcare: Drug Discovery, Digital Development and Adoption within the NHS” at the Saïd Business School, by Prof. Charles Bountra (Translational Medicine), Prof. Lionel Tarassenko (Electrical and Electronic Engineering), Dr. Dan Lasserson (As. Prof. Primary Care Health Sciences), and chaired by Dr. Nick Scott-Ram (Dir. of Commercial Development, Oxford Academic Health Science Network).
I took many notes, since I also have a professional interest in the subject. Here are some, in no particular order:

  • A study identified the 521 molecules being studied as potential new medications in 2002. 10 years later 45 of those molecules made it to the market, and 95 were still in research. The 381 remaining were discarded
  • In the UK 350,000 people will be diagnosed with cancer every year
  • Today there are 71 medications available to treat tumors. They increase the life of patients by an average of only 2.1 months at a very high cost, and only 30 have any clinical relevance
  • Diabetes and its implications account for 10% of the NHS budget
  • There are 7,000 identified “rare diseases”
  • The average time it takes innovation to reach patients is 17 years. Rather than “bench to bedside” is “bench to bookshelf”, since most innovation is done for publication purposes
  • The number of women diagnosed with gestational diabetes mellitus is rising rapidly. In Oxford the increase was 50% last year. It is expected to increase 100% in the next decade
  • Two changes that need to happen: patients WILL own their data whether clinicians or insurers want it or not; and there should be no difference between a GP (General Practitioner) and specialists
  • 30% of COPD and 25% of heart failure patients will be readmitted within 1 year
  • Every minute a stroke patient waits, she loses 2 million neurons
  • Thrombosis-busting drugs are effective 30% of the time; using stents for that is effective 85% of the time, but there is not enough trained people to perform that procedure

The second one was “Wild Weather – Is Climate Change Already Taking its Toll?” by Dr. Friederike Otto (Scientific Coordinator) at the School of Geography and the Environment (my son thought it was funny that it was at South Park(s) Road) / weather@home Notes:

  • What people care about is not the amount of water or precipitation, but the number and value of properties at risk
  • Many extreme weather events (especially heat waves and droughts, not so easy with floods and hurricanes) can be statistically demonstrated to be anthropogenic. Therefore there is a case for climate justice / damage liability. Poor nations that suffer those events are asking Oxford to help them build a case to take large industrialized countries to court
  • Extreme weather events have serios short term implications, like geopolitical unrest and the economic effect (for example insurance companies), but there are others, like new barriers or regulations
  • Example of a study: heat waves in Serbia would occur every 80 years naturally, but they actually happen every 10 years due to the anthropogenic effect

After the lunch break, we attended the lecture titled “The Quest for Artificial Intelligence” back at the Saïd Business School. It was delivered by a panel consisting of Prof. Michael Woolrich (Head of the Computer Science Dept.), Prof. Nando de Freitas (Computer Science and Google Deep Mind), Prof. Stephen Pullman (Computational Linguistics), and chaired by Dr.Cecilia Tilli (Academic Project Management – Oxford Martin Programme on the Impacts of Future Technology). Here are some notes:

  • Our brain consumes 40W of energy, like a lightbulb. No AI comes even close to that energy efficiency
  • The basic circuit to build AI is built on Action + Reward + Observation (Memory and Computation)… just like our brain
  • 1.2 million people die each year in car accidents. Most are pedestrians
  • In 40 states in the USA the most common job is “truck driver”. Soon driverless vehicles will eradicate that job category. AI will also impact jobs like accounting, financial consultancy, and lawyers
  • Autonomous killing machines should be regulated and/or banned, just like land-mines are
  • The way healthcare is using data today is barbaric
  • The panel refused to speak about artificial consciousness, although they agreed it is a fascinating subject, one that they often talk about and debate… over a pint in the pub. Interesting work on consciousness done by Grigg and Koch
  • But here is is one thought I had during the lecture: IF intelligence derived, evolutionary speaking, from interpreting and adapting to moving stimuli, then Google Cars + Google Deep Mind… IF consciousness may be the result of quantum interference at the neural microtube level, then as micro electronic gets smaller and quantum effects start to take place… or maybe we could force the origin of artificial consciousness by introducing a reward mechanism for the “interpretation” (logical computation) of incomplete datasets (“reality”) thus forcing abstract flawed inference feedback into the machine learning algorithm…

Finally, before returning to London, we attended “From Quark to the Cosmos” a Particle-Astro Physics lecture by Prof. Ian Shipsey (Head of Particle Physics) held at the Department of Physics. The lecture itself was fascinating, although obviously it was all over the place given the subject (no pun intended). But the fact that there was a large section devoted to the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), since one of its main components (“Atlas”) was developed and built at Oxford University, and the fact that one of the main engineers and architects of the whole LHC project was sitting in the first row, made it all the more exciting.
Again, here are some notes in no particular order:

  • The Higgs-boson is known as “The God Particle” because in an interview, before it was found, it was referred to by the scientist as “the god-damned particle we can’t find”, and the editor changed “god-damned” to “God”
  • The standard model of particle physics can predict events to 1/10 billion accuracy
  • 7^14 neutrinos pass through you every second. It would take 11 light years of solid lead to stop a neutrino
  • The Hubble Telescope looks at the equivalent area of space as the one that fits in the area circumscribed by holding a penny 25 meters above your head, due to its diameter. In that area there are 300 galaxies. The Universe is estimated to hold 100 billion galaxies
  • There are approximately 10^78 atoms in the Universe
  • Interesting: the periodic table of elementary particles
  • One atom is to an apple what an apple is to Earth, one subatomic particle is to a speck of dust what a speck of dust is to Earth
  • There is 5 times more dark matter than visible matter
  • The Universe is composed of 5% visible matter, 25% dark matter, and 70% dark energy
  • Mathematicians and Physicists think that the fact that clinical trials have to report a result as negative even if a secondary result is positive is absolutely crazy
  • Electricity (electron) + Magnetism = Electromagnetism (photon)
    Electromagnetism + Weak energy = Electroweak (Higgs-boson)
    Electroweak + Strong energy = Grand Unified Force / Supersymmetry or SUSY (dark matter)
  • How do we find dark matter… through asymmetry
  • Atlas is the largest digital camera in the world, inside the LHC. It’s as large as a cathedral, to be able to capture the smallest of events (particle reactions). It will be upgraded in 2023
  • It took 10,000 people from 60 countries to come up with the LHC. It produces the equivalent to 10,000 Encyclopedia Brittanica of data every second, which if recorded in CDs and stacked up it would reach 1.5 the hight of Mount Everest
  • The LHC has only run 1% of the collisions as of yet
  • There are 20 cells in a mm, 500,000 DNA, 500 billion atomic nuclei, and 10 trillion quarks
  • The Large Synoptic Survey Telescope will discover more astronomic objects in one month than all previous telescope combined… and it will do it in movie format (not pictures, like current telescopes)

Crazy couple of days: meeting Google Ventures, NHS, Accenture, interview, events…

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Everybody is too busy. It’s the “toxic work world” we live in, according to the New York Times. But some days are more ridiculously packed than others.
Last week I had so many meetings, it was hard for me to keep track of them. Some that I remember off the top of my head: meeting with a General Partner of Google Ventures, meeting two executives from the National Health Service (NHS), an executive from Accenture at their posh London offices, being interviewed by an Editor from The Times, being picked up by a driver in a hybrid car with wifi who took me to a media event (Haymarket Group’s Create 2015) to present and participate in a panel along two other accomplished “entrepreneurs” from TechHub, and minutes later participating at another event (Connected Health) at Simmons & Simmons.

That kind of manic schedule is only possible in high density/concentration areas such as New York, Silicon Valley, or London. And that’s why when other areas in the world try to “replicate Silicon Valley”, they forget the main “ingredient”: critical mass.

Playing in London… even with Microsoft!

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These past few days have been quite “playful”.
On the one hand, I have just discovered, right around the corner from our apartment by London Bridge, a free and public playground that has an artificial grass hockey field, half a basketball court, 3 pingpong tables and even a beach volleyball court with sand and all! So obviously, the next day I went with my son to a sports equipment store and bought a soccer ball, a pingpong set, a basketball, a volleyball and a badminton set. Time to hit the court!

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Talking about pingpong, this past week I have had several meetings and events in interesting places, like the Francis Crick Institute reception at the May Fair Hotel, but the most playful one was the Innovation Club meet up organized by Microsoft at Bounce, a private pingpong club with a waiting list of 3 months! Who would have thought I would be playing pingpong with Microsoft executives and discussing open standards and free software a few years after having had to lobby against them and their defense of software patents at the European Parliament?. The tech world surely is a rapidly evolving one.

Invited to cruise on the Seabourn Quest 7-Day The Baltic & St Petersburg

I have been invited to yet another cruise, this time the 7-Day The Baltic & St Petersburg on the Seabourn Quest 14-21/05/2016. This is the itinerary: Copenhagen (Denmark), Tallinn (Estonia), St. Petersburg (Russia), Helsinki (Finland), Stockholm (Sweden).

Thank you @Cruise_Curator

Royal Society of Medicine 11th Medical Innovations Summit

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Yesterday I attended the 11th Medical Innovations Summit held at the Royal Society of Medicine.

Like everyone else, I usually attend these events because there is a chance you may get to actually listen to an interesting presenter, or learn about a true innovation. But I usually leave disappointed due to a number of reasons like too much hype and lack of substance, bad organisation, “innovations” that are not really innovations, or bad presenters.

This was not one of those disappointing events. It was a truly inspirational day. We got to listen to 13 presentations, and meet and be inspired by modern day heroes. They were all excellent but my absolute favorites were:

  • Dr Jesse Selber: kidney and a pancreas transplant while simultaneously undergoing a scalp and skull transplant
  • Dr Marie Johnson: founder and president of AUM Cardiovascular
  • Dr Steve Lonsdale and Naomi Walker: rapid Ebola diagnostic kit
  • Dr Jeffrey Smith: the world’s first medical device to detect shock and high blood pressure in pregnant women
  • Professor Scott Hollister and Associate Professor Glenn Green: 3D printing to design a device that successfully restored the patients breathing through a procedure that had never been done before
  • Dr Ripley Ballou: malaria vaccine
  • Dr Joanne Mountford and Professor Marc Turner: limitless supply of clean, laboratory-grown blood
  • Mr Simon Berry: Kit Yamoyo anti-diarrhoea kit

To the RSM and these exceptional individuals: thank you very much!

20/21 British Art Fair

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On Friday I attended the 20/21 British Art Fair at the Royal College of Art, in London.

Usually I love art fairs, and find many exciting works of art. I particularly love the creative energy you can feel at contemporary art fairs.

This one was not an exciting fair. Perhaps because it is modern and contemporary, perhaps because it is limited to British artists, or perhaps because this year’s selection was not that interesting. In any case, I am thankful for the invitation, but it definitely not cause a positive impact.

Horse riding vacation in the English countryside: Four Seasons Hampshire

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Last month we took the kids to an idyllic English countryside retreat: the Four Seasons Hampshire, where we stayed in two adjacent suites.

Not far from London, it has everything a kid can dream of for a wonderful countryside vacation: green hills, a fishing pond, clay pigeon shooting, indoors heated swimming pool, bicycles, a large collection of DVDs, library, a playground, a rope-adventure course, a crocket lawn, tennis courts, a kids playroom with videogames, foosball, pool table… even a resident black labrador dog called Oliver!

But the main reason why we went there was for the horse experience. My daughter loves horses, and what do you do before you purchase a car? You test drive several, right? I figured it would be the same with horses. So we got to take care of them there: feed, wash, clean, groom… and ride. It was truly magical. Toby (the horse) and Chloe (the stable girl) were very patient with us.

The whole staff is also extremely nice and helpful, and the organic food is excellent. They even grow their own vegetables, have their own bee hives for honey, and a flock of hens for fresh eggs.

A most delightful experience, one that we will cherish in the collective memory of our family forever. Thank you for making it happen @Cruise_Curator 😉

A fun summer with the kiddos: Legoland, Parks, Museums, Zoo, Bowling, and Gardens

This summer we have enjoyed London and its surrounding areas as tourists with the kids.

Due to the personal nature of this post, I will keep it brief and pictures, as usual in this blog for privacy reasons, will not show my kids.

Places we went to:

Legoland Windsor

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Although some years ago we went to Legoland Billund, we wanted to check this one out. As expected, it was a lot of fun (especially if you are a Lego fan… and who isn’t?!) but there were too many people and lines were between half and hour to an hour each. I still prefer the one in Denmark, but this was totally worth it. Added bonus: the Windsor castle.

All Star Lanes bowling

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I have only been bowling once before in my life, but my kids like it, and this place in Brick Lane/ Spitalfields does not disappoint. The collection of 80’s toys they have in the entrance is hilarious.

Hyde Park and Serpentine Gallery and Pavillion

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Hyde Park is always lovely, and this summer, although not really hot, we enjoyed several sunny days. One of those we had a picnic in the park, played Frisbee, fed (cereals, not bread) the swans, ducks, and squirrels, got a pedal boat, visited the Serpentine Gallery, and had fun at the Serpentine Pavillion.

Natural History Museum

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The Natural History Museum is always a hit with kids, yet I knew it would be hard to beat New York’s, which we visited last winter. But I was completely surprised by the interest my kids had on the geology part. I guess it is all about how much fun can you make learning, and I came up with some “fun with the rocks”.

ZSL London Zoo

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As a general rule I oppose zoos. They feel like a jail for animals. But at the same time, it is a good opportunity to expose urban kids to some animals they will not otherwise have a chance to see live. And that’s probably a prerequisite to take nature’s defense to heart and strive for conservation. Besides, ZSL is an old institution with some impressive record. Having said that, the zoo is a mix: some excellent areas, and some very sad ones.

British Museum

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The British Museum, like the MET in NY, is the kind of museum that you cannot see all in one day. Not even “one wing” in one day. So we focused on the Japanese art and the “mummies” (Ancient Egypt) section. Since my son will be doing home schooling this year, we will definitely spend a lot of time here.

Kew Gardens

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Upon my wife’s suggestion, we decided to visit Kew Gardens. It is a bit out of the way, but it was totally worth it! It made for one very magical day.

Victoria Park

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If you visit London with kids, don’t forget to check out the “giant slides” at Victoria Park. A fun kid’s park, not too crowded, and definitely worth it.

Museum of Science

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The Museum of Science should be named “Museum of the History of Science and a little part of interactive displays”. Don’t expect to find a lot of “hands-on” like in its counterparts in Boston, San Francisco, or Valencia. And when you find it, it will be crowded beyond acceptable. But as “history of science” goes, it is quite interesting, specially the large collection of aircraft.

London Eye

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The last landmark was the most typical one, before my daughter returned home. The London Eye is just a giant Ferry’s Wheel that turn very very slowly, so you get to enjoy London from up high. If you are into that kind of thing, it provides a bird’s eye view of the city, but it lacks the magic of the Empire State Building (although the lines are much much shorter).

Cool work meetings this summer in London

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This summer I have had several work meetings around London. Some of the most interesting, cool and fun:

  • At London Blackfriars Railway Station
  • NHS Test Beds 2nd round event at the Kia Oval… with a live cricket match going on! (it was somehow distracting, if only because I don not understand this game)
  • Handing out student awards at PwC
  • At London BioScience Innovation Centre
  • At Google