Target board battle: What’s it mean for the rest of us?

The results of Target’s contested board of directors election will be announced Thursday at the company’s annual shareholder meeting, but what does this internal battle mean for the rest of us who don’t sit on the board or own Target stock?

I’ve been asking around this week to find out what, if any, implications hedge-fund manager William Ackman’s board challenge may have on Target customers, company employees or Minnesota’s economy in general. (Continue reading…)

Video: Arbor Day celebration in Northeast Minneapolis

I took a break from my business and technology reporting yesterday to film this video of an Arbor Day celebration in my neighborhood (Waite Park in Northeast Minneapolis). Volunteers and students helped plant more than 80 trees around Waite Park Elementary School as part of a National Arbor Day Foundation event.

IBM supercomputers helping to usher in new era for bioscience

The world’s largest biotechnology conference is underway in Atlanta this week, and a large delegation of Minnesotans have made the trip to represent the local industry. The scheduled presenters at BIO 2009 include scientists and doctors from 3M, IBM, the Mayo Clinic, Hormel Institute and University of Minnesota.

Drew Flaada, IBM
Drew Flaada, IBM

Last week I spoke with Drew Flaada, director of emerging solutions development for IBM, who is scheduled to talk about the company’s collaboration with Mayo and the U of M in Rochester.

“The work that’s being done in Rochester is unique and critical,” Flaada said.

IBM collaborates with many other organizations on health-care technology, Flaada said, but what makes Rochester unique is that the company’s campus is literally down the road from the Mayo Clinic. In a smaller city, the two large employers have had an opportunity to create a “third culture” between the companies.

Medical research in areas such as gene sequencing is generating huge amounts of data for health researchers, and maintaining and studying that data requires massive storage capacity and computing power.

“Not only do you have a lot of data to deal with, the computational requirements you’re dealing with are just incredibly complex,” Flaada said. “The mathematics behind these type of endeavors are tremendously huge… You have to be able to take these huge amounts of data and compare them with other data sets that are the same size.”

That’s where IBM comes in. It’s been collaborating with Mayo for nearly a decade, developing supercomputers that will let researchers mine health data for new knowledge. The advancement of supercomputers is allowing researchers to tackle calculations of a greater and greater scale, with less waiting around for the results.

One example: a researcher could take the genetic profiles of a group of patients with a certain disease, and then search to see if there’s a gene they have in common that might be a cause. But with billions of pieces of data included in a single gene sequence, the computers needed to run them are tens of thousands of times faster than what you’re probably reading this on.

IBM’s supercomputers are measured in petaflops. A computer with 1 petaflop of capacity can do a million billion calculations per second. That’s roughly equal to the strength of 140,000 laptop computers.

The volume of data available to researchers is growing, the speed of supercomputers is accelerating and the understanding of how to use computers for interpreting data is growing, Flaada said.

Those developments lead him to believe health-care research is on the cusp of something big.

“If you look at different areas of science, there are times when you can see definite inflection points, where the science changes,” Flaada said. “The rate of discovery, I believe, within the biosciences is going to hit this inflection point very soon that’s just going to be staggering as far as the amount of advancements.”

“These kinds of things happen maybe once in a lifetime, looking at it from a scientific standpoint,” he said. “This is extremely exciting and we really, I think, are on the ground floor of what’s taking place.”

Pick Five Videos for Understanding Cloud Computing

I’m spending the afternoon doing research for a magazine article about cloud computing. When my eyes tired of reading, I turned to YouTube for some educational videos.

Here’s my quick Pick Five Videos for Understanding Cloud Computing:

These first two attempt to visually explain the concept of cloud computing.

And now in with the talking heads. These next two videos touch on the lack of agreement over what cloud computing actually means. The latter introduces a term I’d never heard before called “cloudwashing.”

And if you’ve made it through the previous four videos, you might understand cloud computing well enough to get the humor in this song parody via Funny or Die:

I missed this one in my original post. Thanks to @HighTechDad for sharing.

The Road to Regaining Dominance

Minnesota’s economy—and identity—have been linked for decades to the strength of its life science community, from groundbreaking research at the University of Minnesota to global Fortune 500 companies like Medtronic and General Mills.

But the state is losing its competitive edge, and staying above average is going to require targeted planning and investment in key areas, according to a recent report by the BioBusiness Alliance of Minnesota and Deloitte Consulting.

“Destination 2025 Roadmap: Recommendations To Grow Minnesota’s Life Science Industry” is a 20-year strategic plan based on input from more than 600 public, private and academic experts. (Continue reading…)

Medical device makers urge caution on treatment comparisons

When it comes to treating common diseases, physicians have a near-dizzying array of treatment options at their disposal.

Take coronary artery disease. There’s bypass surgery. There’s medication. There’s devices such as stents. Or drug-coated stents. And if a pill or device is involved, then there’s the question of which brand or model.

In short, it can be like standing in the cereal aisle at a supermarket. With so many choices, how’s a doctor to decide what’s best?

A new federal research priority is aiming to empower doctors, as well as patients and health-insurance companies, with better information for making these kinds of decisions. The shift could have major implications for Minnesota’s health-care and medical-device companies. (Continue reading…)