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The Fourth of July is one of my favorite holidays. It’s summer time. There’s nice weather, BBQs, baseball games, and fireworks. But not this year. This year the only fireworks are on this blog. For America is no longer worth celebrating. Not when women don’t have autonomy over the own bodies. Not when we’re in a constitutional crisis. Not when the fate of humanity hangs in the balance.

It all starts with a Supreme Court that’s gone rogue. Six fascist justices either morally bankrupt or bought and paid for by the far right. Either way, they no longer have any credibility after overturning Roe v. Wade and making a horrendous ruling on the EPA’s authority among other dastardly rulings.

As the Washington Post puts it:

“The Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade and eliminate the nationwide right to abortion dominated one of the court’s most consequential terms. The emboldened 6-3 conservative majority, with three nominees of President Donald Trump, wasted little time expanding the rights of gun owners to carry firearms in public, strengthening the role of religion in public life and sharply curtailing the Biden administration’s power to combat climate change.”

So much for separation of church and state. So much for women’s rights. So much for the future of the planet.

Worse of all this isn’t even the end of it. With the court signaling that they may empower states to overrule popular vote outcomes and distribute electoral college votes as they see fit. A move that would completely end democracy as we know it in America since it would be kind of hard to “vote harder” when your vote literally doesn’t count. Not to mention a potential ruling that could make it easier for people to discriminate against the LGBTQ community.

How are we allowing any of this to happen?! This court isn’t even legitimate. Thrice packed by a twice impeached President who may be facing criminal charges for the January 6th insurrection who didn’t even win the popular vote. How do any of their decisions hold any weight? Especially when they are so out of step with what the majority of Americans want? When they are so clearly delusional.

Think about it this way. If someone has to act like a whistleblower and leak your decision ahead of time its probably the wrong decision. If people take to the street in protest after you make your decision its probably the wrong decision. If you’re making decisions on the basis of religious beliefs it’s probably the wrong decision. And most importantly of all, if you’re rolling back 50 years of progress and literally tying everything back to how it was in 1788 when the constitution was first ratified you’re probably making the wrong decision.

So, I don’t care what you have to do to stop them. If you have to impeach them for lying under oath during their confirmation hearing or add more justices to balance them out. If you have to add term limits, change how they’re appointed or refuse to carry out their rulings. Either way, its clear that they have gone rogue and are a direct threat to the future of America and the World.

But by all means have a care free hot dog or two this weekend.

The Fourth of July is canceled.

There’s been a lot going on with the CRISPR-CAS-9 gene editing technique lately. From the development a new “soft” technique that’s safer than the original approach, to tracing the functionality of every human gene. But all that could pale in comparison to what comes next. For we could soon have the world’s first CRISPR related drug therapy thanks to a new drug that would treat blood related illnesses.

Fast Company explains:

“Until recently, CRISPR—the gene-editing technology that won scientists Jennifer Doudna and Emmanuelle Charpentier the 2020 Nobel Prize in chemistry—sounded more like science fiction than medicine; lab-created molecular scissors are used to snip out problematic DNA sections in a patient’s cells to cure them of disease. But soon we could see regulators approve the very first treatment using this gene-editing technology in an effort to combat rare inherited blood disorders that affect millions across the globe.

In a $900 million collaboration, rare disease specialist Vertex and CRISPR Therapeutics developed the therapy, dubbed exa-cel (short for exagamglogene autotemcel). It has already amassed promising evidence that it can help patients with beta thalassemia and sickle cell disease (SCD), both of which are genetic blood diseases that are relatively rare in the U.S. but somewhat more common inherited conditions globally.

Beta thalassemia is characterized by damaged or missing genes that cause the body to produce less hemoglobin (an essential protein that transports oxygen), potentially leading to enlargement of the liver, spleen, or heart, and malformed or brittle bones. It is estimated to afflict 1 in 100,000 people in the world, and regular blood transfusions are necessary to stave off its most serious effects.

While the exact statistics are unknown, SCD is estimated to affect 100,000 people in the U.S. and millions around the world; it is attributed to a defective gene that causes malformed hemoglobin that are stiff, sticky, and sickle-shaped (hence the name) and can thus block healthy blood cells from transporting oxygen around the body.

Exa-cel reportedly slashed the need for blood transfusions or incidence of serious, life-threatening medical events for months to years after patients received the treatment. New and impressive clinical trial results were announced at a major international medical conference in June and bolstered the companies’ prospect of producing the first gene-editing therapy of its kind to reach the broader market and patients.”

So, I guess you could say this is exa-cel(lent) news.

Is a CRISPR drug the Greatest Idea Ever?

Just watched Season 4, Part 2 of Stranger Things and can’t get enough of the gang from Hawkins?! Well, you’re in luck. For it may soon be possible to move things with your mind like Elle. Thanks to technology that reads our brain waves and uses that information to move programmable matter on metasurfaces, the two dimensional counterpart to metamaterials.

India Times explains:

“While telekinesis, in general, is fictitious, researchers have been working on a technology dubbed metamaterials that is awfully similar. Due to its rather extraordinary properties, it has offered researchers a novel concept of designing artificial materials, bringing strength and activity to advanced functional materials. 

It is already established that a human brain creates its own brainwaves while thinking. The researchers theorize that by collecting these brainwaves and using them as the control signals of metasurfaces could allow the users to control metasurfaces by using their minds.

This breakthrough was possible via the use of Bluetooth. Researchers managed to manipulate brainwaves wirelessly from the user to the controller via Bluetooth. The end goal was to use the test subject’s brainwaves to control the electromagnetic waves’ response to programmable metasurfaces. Eventually, they discovered that the user could seamlessly control the scattering matter.”

Hopefully, if this technology comes to fruition we don’t accidentally open up a portal to the upside down.

Will we have the ability of telekinesis soon?!

If you want to be freaked out just open up the Citizen app and find out about all the crime happening around you. You’ll be shocked to know that there’s always plenty happening, even in relatively safe suburban areas, from fights and fires to shootings and stabbings. But now we may have a way of predicting when crimes will occur with 90% accuracy. Thanks to a new AI algorithm reminiscent of the plot of the movie Minority Report.

According to Bloomberg:

“A new computer algorithm can now forecast crime in a big city near you. 

The algorithm, which was formulated by social scientists at the University of Chicago and touts 90% accuracy, divides cities into 1,000-square-foot tiles, according to a study published in Nature Human Behavior. Researchers used historical data on violent crimes and property crimes from Chicago to test the model, which detects patterns over time in these tiled areas tries to predict future events. It performed just as well using data from other big cities, including Atlanta, Los Angeles and Philadelphia, the study showed. 

The new tool contrasts with previous models for prediction, which depict crime as emerging from ‘hotspots’ that spread to surrounding areas. Such an approach tends to miss the complex social environment of cities, as well as the nuanced relationship between crime and the effects of police enforcement, thus leaving room for bias, according to the report.”

Unfortunately there are rumors that this new AI also targets minorities making this a literal minority report. Hopefully, that won’t be the case though and this new tool will help make our streets safer. Without the need for precogs.

Is a new crime predicting AI the Greatest Idea Ever?

Am I one of the greatest philosophers to ever live?! Probably not.  But I do have a lot in common with some of history’s most famous thinkers.  Consider the following:

Like Marcus Aurelius I have trouble sleeping, chest and stomach pains, and have written a self-help book.

Like Jean-Jacques Rousseau I feel at home everywhere and nowhere.

Like Henry David Thoreau I keep dozens of journals and have supersonic hearing that can hear faint distant sounds. 

Like Arthur Schopenhauer I don’t meditate or like noises and no one reads my books.

Like Epicurus I’m not a foodie.

Like Simone Weil I flinch at physical contact, believe that patience is a virtue, practice radical empathy and pay close attention.

Like Sei Shonagon I believe that who we are is represented by what we choose to surround ourselves with.  I find the beauty in objects and believe in the concept of Wabi – that there’s perfection in imperfection.

Like Friedrich Nietzsche I’m known as the philosopher of the exclamation point! A prolific writer and walker who can’t dance. 

Like Michel de Montaigne I surround myself with books and obsessively underline and annotate while reading.

Like the Stoics I’m indifferent.  Realizing that forgoing pleasure is one of life’s great pleasures.

And I’m even like author Eric Weiner who taught me about all of these philosophers in his wonderful book The Socrates Express for, I too, am freaked out by nonexistence.

So while I may not be a great philosopher perhaps all these similarities means that I’m destined to be?! On my way to becoming the next Socrates?! I guess we’ll have to wait and see.

Am I destined to become one of the greatest philosophers of all time?!

First came plants that can glow in the dark. Now comes plants that can grow in the dark thanks to a new process that changes how they’re fed. 

SciTechDaily explains:

“For millions of years, photosynthesis has evolved in plants  to turn water, carbon dioxide, and the energy from sunlight into plant biomass and the foods we eat. However, this process is very inefficient, with only around 1% of the energy found in sunlight ending up in the plant. Researchers at the University of California, Riverside and the University of Delaware have found a way to bypass the need for biological photosynthesis altogether and create food independent of sunlight by using artificial photosynthesis.

The new research, published on June 23, 2022, in the journal Nature Food, uses a two-step electrocatalytic process to convert carbon dioxide, electricity, and water into acetate, the form of the main component of vinegar. Food-producing organisms then consume acetate in the dark to grow. Combined with solar panels to generate electricity to power the electrocatalysis, this hybrid organic-inorganic system could increase the conversion efficiency of sunlight into food, up to 18 times more efficient for some foods.”

The fact that natural photosynthesis is only 1% percent efficient is shocking to me.  A process that we need to survive and it barely works?! That’s crazy. You would think that evolution would have improved upon that number by now but I guess that doesn’t matter anymore.  Now that humans have figured out a way to improve upon nature’s designs and make photosynthesis more efficient.

All in all, this is actually a very important discovery as it could pave the way to growing plants on space ships, space station, lunar colonies and other places where sunlight may not be prevalent.

Is growing plants in the dark the Greatest Idea Ever?

 

I just finished watching Halo which makes this a good time to discuss a new invention that could give us “wearable muscles”.  A more subtle option compared to bulkier exoskeletons that could fit underneath our clothes.

New Atlas sums it up best:

“Researchers at ETH Zurich have developed a lightweight, wearable textile exomuscle that uses sensors embedded in its fabric to detect a user’s movement intentions and chip in extra force as needed. Initial tests show a significant boost in endurance.

Where powered exoskeletons act as both muscle and bone, providing force as well as structural support, exomuscles make use of the body’s own structure and simply chip in with additional force. As a result, they’re much lighter and less bulky, but they’re also limited in how much force they can deliver, since human bones and joints can only take so much.

This ‘Myoshirt’ from ETH Zurich is designed as a vest, with cuffs for the upper arm and forearm. Sensors in the fabric feed data on muscle control impulses to a control box, which processes the information in real time and decides when to actuate the artificial muscles – which are short Dyneema cables aligned parallel with the wearer’s own muscles. By shortening the cables as the muscles contract, the Myoshirt is able to contribute power to your movements in a subtle, discreet, intuitive and tuneable way.

The ETH team developed the Myoshirt particularly to enhance the strength and endurance of people with restricted or declining mobility, and ran a small test, placing the unit on 10 people without any physical impairments, one with muscular dystrophy, and one with a spinal cord injury.

In an endurance test, which required people to lift their arms and/or an object and hold them up, healthy subjects were able to hold the position for a third longer with the exomuscle active than without it. The results were even better for the other two; the MD patient saw an endurance boost around 60 percent, and the patient with a spinal cord injury saw an endurance leap of 300 percent.”

So, while this innovation is targeting people who need help lifting things I’m hoping that one day it becomes commercially available for everyone so that I won’t have to go to the gym anymore.  I could live without having Cortana in my head though.

Is an exomuscle suit the Greatest Idea Ever?

Despite recent claims by a Google researcher AI is not yet sentient.  But it is making great strides towards that goal and even if it never quite gets there AI could still give humans a run for their money.  At least when it comes to creative pursuits like creating new art and literature.  Something long thought to be the sole province of people.  In fact, one day AI may be responsible for creating all content. 

Singularity Hub explains:

‘Nay, nay, I say! This cannot be,
That machines should e’er surpass our art.
We are the masters, them the slaves,
And thus it ever shall be so!
They learn, ‘tis true, but they learn
Only what we bid them learn, no more.
They cannot understand the heart
Or beauty of our words, you see.
So let us not give in to these
Machines—they’ll never be as good
As we are at creating art.’

If that reads a little like Shakespeare defending humans’ innate superiority over artificial intelligence hundreds of years ahead of his time, it’s not.

But it is something almost as far out: an AI system trained to express itself like the bard. The AI assimilated his style and perspective by ingesting his plays—educating itself to give an opinion on AI creativity in iambic pentameter.

‘Shakespeare’ was speaking as part of a debate held in the University of Oxford Union featuring AI versions of classic writers and literary characters.

The motion was: ‘This house believes most of the world’s content will soon be created by AI.’

This was a follow-up to another special AI debate that we described in The Conversation a few months ago. Whereas that one featured an AI in its ‘own character’ discussing the ethics of its technology, this time, by taking on different personas, we were able to explore this subject from a very different angle. The timely question is whether human-created content will soon be overwhelmed by the synthetic.

Other synthetic contributors included Mrs. Bennet from Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice (1813); Winston Churchill, with a rousing parliamentary speech; and Oscar Wilde, improvising a previously unknown AI-themed scene from The Importance of Being Earnest (1895).”

As a content creator myself I sure hope that AI doesn’t get to the point where it is responsible for generating all content.  But at the same time there could be some value to AI generated content.  For starters, these celebrity AI debates are kind of fun in their own right.  And who wouldn’t want to get some new Shakespearean style plays even in the famous bard isn’t the one creating them? Not to mention the fact that having AI versions of historical figures that you can conversate with does have a certain appeal.  Just think of the potential for interactive museum exhibits that let you have a conversation with famous people in their own style. 

The possibilities are endless.  Just so long as we humans don’t have to end our own creative pursuits.

To be Shakespeare or not to be Shakespeare? That is the question.

Here’s a use case for the wonder material graphene that I did not see coming: tattoos.  Specifically, e-tattoos capable of turning into a health monitor to keep an eye on our blood pressure.

New Atlas explains:

“Having the cuff tightened around your arm in the doctor’s office is the standard method of measuring blood pressure, but it’s not the most reliable way. It’s only a single data point that doesn’t necessarily capture the whole picture, and it can be influenced by a person’s mood at the time.

Continuous monitoring is needed to really understand how the body is functioning, but that’s hard to do outside of the clinic. Smartwatches and fitness trackers may seem like the answer, but they aren’t reliable enough to handle the job just yet – they tend to move around, and are too simple.

So for the new study, researchers at Texas A&M and the University of Texas at Austin developed a less invasive device that can measure blood pressure over time. The device is what’s called an e-tattoo, made up of a graphene sensor encased in a sticky material that’s apparently comfortable enough to wear for long periods of time, and doesn’t move around. Other e-tattoos have been designed to monitor cardiac patients’ hearts, vital signs during exercise, or muscles of neurodegenerative patients.

The new device makes its blood pressure measurements using a new method, so the team had to develop machine learning models to analyze the readings. It works by firing an electrical current into the skin and measuring how the body reacts – a value called bioimpedance, which has an indirect correlation with blood pressure that the new models can calculate.

In tests, the e-tattoo was able to accurately monitor blood pressure in arteries for more than 300 minutes. Ultimately, the team hopes to develop the tech into e-tattoos that can be worn by patients long-term to measure their blood pressure in a range of situations, including sleeping, exercise, and during stress. That data is important to help diagnose or monitor health conditions.”

Plus, having a tattoo will make you look cooler.

Is a Graphene Tattoo the Greatest Idea Ever?

Since our rights are being taken away now may not be the best time to talk about something else that takes things away from us.  But since the Laundry Jet is taking away our dirty laundry I don’t think we’ll mind.  Plus the promotional videos make using it look like so much fun.  Something that even kids would love to use when they have to tidy up their rooms since it turns doing laundry into a game of basketball thanks to a design that sucks up anything thrown its way.

As My Modern Met puts it:

“Doing laundry can be a dreaded chore that involves a lot of upper body strength for collecting and lugging piles of dirty clothes to the washer. But what if the muscle work was eliminated? Laundry Jet might be the solution. The appliance is an updated laundry chute that transports your laundry from your room to the laundry room.

What makes it different from ordinary laundry chutes is the fact that this futuristic-looking version is not reliant on gravity, but air power. Vacuum force sucks the laundry from a wall port down to a central repository in the laundry room. It can even work in reverse, too—there’s an optional return system installation that will suck the clean laundry back up to a designated location in the house.

As for those ports, each system can be installed with up to eight of them in different rooms of the house. Each one opens either with a manual slide or motion sensors. The ports are just narrower than the 6-inch wide pipes, and can be fed bulky items, like sheets and towels. The system is best installed during home construction; but, since the pipes are usually run through an attic, it can also be retrofitted into an existing home.”

Sign me up!

Is the Laundry Jet the Greatest Idea Ever?