Thursday, November 27, 2014

Thankful for Bioprinting

Cross-section of multi-cellular bioprinted human liver tissue
Cross-section of multi-cellular bioprinted human liver tissue
This is Thanksgiving Day in the United States. As always, I have a lot to be thankful for and one of those things is 3D Bioprinting. As an amateur futurist and technology analyst, I enjoy following all types of technical discovery. But medical innovations are particularly exciting.

Last week represented a major inflection point in 3D bioprinting. Organovo, the San Diego based bioprinting company, introduced their first commercial product; a 3D printed human liver tissue that can help predict liver tissue toxicity in potential new drugs. Based on work done at the University of Missouri, this process will speed the development of new drugs by eliminating toxic compounds earlier in the discovery process.

This development, along with advancements in printing of orthopedic implants by companies like Arcam AB and improvements in 3D printed prosthetics, have made 2014 a watershed year for medical applications of 3D printing. Going forward, medical applications will be one of the largest and most important segments of the additive manufacturing market.

Are you thankful for any particular technologies?

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Thursday, November 20, 2014

Following the Rails to Promontory Point

Teri and I are considering a road trip that would follow the original route of the eastern portion of the Transcontinental Railroad from Omaha, Nebraska to Promontory Point, Utah. It seems that it would be a fun summer trip through some beautiful scenery and a chance to see some interesting historical sites.

Here are some of the places we are considering visiting:

The Union Pacific Railroad Museum in Council Bluffs Iowa.

Union Pacific Railroad Museum

The Durham Museum located in Union Station in Omaha, Nebraska.

Union Station Omaha, Nebraska

The Golden Spike Tower overlooking Bailey Yard in North Platte, Nebraska.

Golden Spike Tower

Cody Park Railway Museum in North Platte Nebraska.

Cody Park Railway Museum

Cheyenne Depot Museum in Cheyenne, Wyoming.

Cheyenne Depot Museum

The Utah State Railroad Museum at Union Station in Ogden, Utah.

Utah State Railroad Museum

The Golden Spike Visitors Center at Promontory Point, Utah.

Golden Spike Visitors Center

What other sites would you recommend visiting along this route?

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Saturday, November 15, 2014

Avastars Makes You the Star

Avastarship by Avastars
The Avastarship, which launched yesterday in the main foyer of the St. Louis Galleria Mall, would have looked right at home on the set of the original Star Trek series. An aluminum cylinder, ringed with glowing bands of psychedelic color, is hard to miss. The 3D scanner in the center of the ship won't break you apart and beam you through space, but it will launch you instantly into a 65 inch tall, personalized Avastars video where you are the star.

The animated videos let you be a rockstar, fashionista, cheerleader, veterinarian, firefighter, cool rocker, special forces hero or a martial arts master.  A few days after the mall experience, you will receive a 3D printed personalized doll or action figure with your own face.

"This isn't about 3D technology," explains Avastars' cofounder Dan Lauer. "The girl who comes to Avastars doesn't care about 3D printing.  She wants to be a princess or a popstar and that's what really maters."

Avastars doll and action figure
The St. Louis startup was cofounded by Lauer and Jill Barad, the former Chairman and CEO of Mattel who led the explosion in the popularity of Barbie in the 1980s and 1990s. Lauer's previous ventures include the creation of the Water Babies brand of realistic baby dolls. The management team also includes Scott Harmon who honed his 3D technology experience at Zcorp prior to and after its acquisition by 3D Systems and Brandon Elliot, formerly the Director of Digital Ventures at Build-a-Bear Workshop.

In addition to the St. Louis Galleria, Avastarships are also launching this year in Oak Brook, Illinois and Cincinnati, Ohio.  The companies goal is to expand into thousands of retail locations.

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Thursday, November 13, 2014

What Do I Know for Certain?

There is one point on which I am absolutely certain. One thing of which I am certain is that there is little else that I know for certain.

The world does not follow a random and arbitrary set of rules. The laws of physics do not change. Every action has an equal and opposite reaction. But the world is complex and impossible to model accurately.

Because the world is too complex to fully understand, it can appear random and arbitrary at the individual level. I don't know what today will bring.  I hope to finish this post, go for a hike at Rock Bridge State Park then come home and do some reading. But there is also a possibility that I will get hit by a car, shot by a terrorist or attacked by a mountain lion. It might be safer to go back to bed.

It is highly probable that I will have a pleasant walk and a quiet afternoon. Since I write these posts in advance and post them manually, if you are reading this, I made it home.

I don't know for certain what today will bring. I don't know whether the market will go up or down next week. I don't know whether my remaining time is short or long. The one thing of which I am certain is that there is little else that I know for certain.

However, I believe that by thinking in probabilities rather than certainties, my understanding of the world is more accurate. Expecting the expected and some elements of the unexpected is the most reasonable expectation. The way we respond to the unexpected defines us.

What do you feel you know for certain?

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Thursday, November 6, 2014

The Union Pacific Rolls and Rocks

Union Pacific Locomotive
I grew up in a small town in Missouri in a house that was about 100 feet from one of the main tracks of the Missouri Pacific Railroad. I remember the wail of the horn, the roar of the diesel engines and the shaking of the ground when the trains rolled by several times per day. The trains were as friendly as they were powerful and always began with a wave from the engineer in the cab of the locomotive and ended with a wave from the conductor in the caboose.

Originally the Pacific Railroad, ground breaking for the Missouri Pacific took place in St. Louis on July 4th, 1851, making it the first railroad west of the Mississippi River. The line merged with the Union Pacific in 1982 and over the next decade, the familiar blue locomotives were repainted in bright yellow and red.

Although I seldom have the opportunity to count the cars on passing trains anymore, I remain a big fan of the Union Pacific Railroad. It is the second largest holding in my portfolio and one of my favorite companies. Here are a few of the reasons why:

1.  The Union Pacific is a strong, financially stable company with an extremely dedicated and competent management team. The strength of the leadership is apparent in their earnings announcements through the results they present and the way they present those results.

2. As long as the world needs to eat, build houses, drive cars or drill for oil, there will be strong demand for rail services which will allow the company to grow and price its service at a level that will allow for future investment.

3.  The company is protected by a strong moat. The capital investment required to build the rails, purchase the locomotives and rolling stock, staff the trains and yards, and manage the logistics are a barrier against excessive competition.

4.  The operating premise of a railroad is easy to understand and transparent. It is a business that Warren Buffet would love and does since his company owns the Burlington Northern Santa Fe.

5. Reviewing the quarterly financial statements of the Union Pacific provides a wonderful overview of the health of the country's economy as a whole and can reveal trends and opportunities before they are apparent in the mainstream news.

6.  The inertia and stability of a slowly growing company like the Union Pacific helps dampen the gyrations of a portfolio highly weighted in 3D printing companies.

Did you ever count the cars on the trains as they passed?

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