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Yesterday, I received an email directly from Barack Obama thanking me for my service to this great country.  It’s the kind of email that I always knew I was destined to receive.  It’s also the kind of email that thousands of other Americans have received.  A boilerplate form letter that wasn’t evenly personalized to me and made no mention whatsoever of the issue that I had written about.  Here’ a copy of that letter, which he didn’t even bother to sign:

When I posted that message on Facebook everyone immediately had the same response: what did I write to him?  In short, I pitched him on the idea of creating a cabinet level Secretary of the Future who would advise the President on matters of great technological importance.  Ideally, this new Secretary of the Future would have been me but I would have settled for just creating the position at all.  Here’s what I wrote to the Commander in Chief:

Dear President Obama,

As your tenure as President winds down and you begin to look toward your future I’d like to urge you to also look toward the past.  Specifically, to 1995 when the Office of Technology Assessment was shuttered after a twenty three year run.  I’m not sure why this congressional office closed. Perhaps it was for budgetary reasons or political ones.  But in any event I think it’s time that we brought back this office and also fulfilled famed futurist Alvin Toffler’s dream for a cabinet level Secretary of the Future.

Now more than ever it’s vital that we have forward looking politicians.  People in positions of power who understand the important role that science and technology can play in building a vibrant society.  People who understand the science behind climate change, who are open minded when it comes to the promise offered by Artificial Intelligence and DNA editing.  In short, we need people who are going to embrace innovation, not fear it.  Having futurists on board will help with that endeavor.

In addition to advising political leaders and lobbying Congress for regulations that would ease in technological change (e.g. new driverless cars rules) the Office of Technology Assessment would also interact with the public, teaching citizens the importance of future thinking.  Futurism could become one of the staples of a collegiate liberal arts education while a travelling mini World’s Fair could move around the country showcasing all of the latest ideas and inventions to people from all walks of life.  As a people we’d fully understand that the future that we want is within reach and that we have the power to shape it.  And we’d all be better off for it.   After all, the best way to predict the future is to create it.

And with your help we can do just that.  You have already left behind a tremendous legacy that history will look upon very favorably.  From healthcare reform and marriage equality to the Iranian nuclear arms deal and killing Osama Bin Laden you have achieved a great deal that has put this great country in a better position than it was eight years ago.  But there is still more work to be done.  More innovations that are needed.  More reforms that are required.  Who better to carry on your legacy than a forward thinking leader who will always be motivated to do what’s best for our future and for our children’s future.

Thank you for your time,

Craig Shames

I’d like to think that after writing a letter of that caliber that I would have been invited to the White House to mingle with world leaders and spend a night in the Lincoln bedroom where I’d pretend to sleep while snooping around looking for hidden passageways and evidence that Area 51 really does house aliens.  But alas, it was not to be.  All I got for my trouble was a generic form letter.  I guess you really can’t fight City Hall.  Or the White House for that matter.

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Is Alvin Toffler’s idea for a cabinet level Secretary of the Future the Greatest Idea Ever?

#951 – Tabula Rasa

I love to nerd out at weird, obscure, interesting, or scientifically significant locales when I explore a new place.  When I was in Seattle that meant shopping at Pike Market, taking a tour of their historic Underground Tunnels, walking through a Sculpture Park, stopping by the Bill and Melinda Gates Visitor Center, and checking out three museums.  Sadly though, all that exploring did was temporarily cure my wanderlust.  It did nothing for my wonderlust as Atlas Obscura likes to say.  What I really wish that Seattle had, or that any major city had, was a one stop shop for all of one’s geeky needs.  A Super Science Center that presents visitors with a truly immersive experience and the kind of joy that they haven’t experienced since they stepped off the monorail at Disney World for the first time.

What I’d like to do then is to create such a place. A real world embodiment of Tomorrowland on an epic scale.  I call this nerd paradise Tabula Rasa, which is Latin for blank slate.  Show up with an open mind and a sense of precocious wonderment and leave with a lifetime of memories.

Here are some of the things that I imagine Tabula Rasa would have:

  • A hands on science center for kids and more importantly an adult themed obstacle course playground akin to St. Louis’ City Museum.
  • A massive auditorium to house TED talks and other speakers.  Primarily this event space would host a nightly play called Wannabes, about the struggles of two aspiring entrepeneurs
  • Multiple museums clustered together similar to the layout of San Diego’s Balboa Park
  • This cluster would also include an office park so that major tech companies can set up state of the art collaborative research facilities.  These secretive R&D labs would be open to the public for tours
  • It would also include an inventors Hall of Fame
  • Opportunites for citizen science.  Imagine being able to join a renowned Think Tank for the day, brainstorming away to your heart’s content, and possibly actually making a meaningful contribution to the problem of the day.  You could also sign up to participate in a focus group for new products, receiving credit that you can spend at the rest of the theme park.  Similar to Las Vegas, you could also screen up coming movies and TV shows and provide feedback.  There would also be on site talent scouts and opportunities to audition for reality TV shows
  • Convention center space to host Comic Cons and other conventions
  • A perpetual job fair so that you can be productive on your vacation and potentially land your dream job at one of the world’s leading tech companies by talking to one of their on site recruiters
  • A massive antique and crafts market
  • A place similar to Scrap in Portland where you can find any random material that you could possibly ever need to complete a crafts project
  • An art studio to host the ever popular Paint Nite; a row of art galleries that host nightly open house Art Walks
  • An incredibly huge book store, similar to Portland’s Powell Books, featuring a rare book room, and large collection of newspapers and magazines from all over the world
  • A maker space work shop to experiment with 3-D printers, Raspberry Pis and other technologies first hand
  • An on site bar hosting nightly trivia
  • A sprawling complex dedicated to playing games, with event space that you can rent out to host your own game night parties
  • A movie studio that you can rent out to play dress up with your friends and re-enact scenes from your favorite movies
  • A trampoline park
  • A facility hosting Escape the Room puzzle games
  • On site scavenger hunts and geo-cache hunts that challenge you to find all of the hidden artifacts on site
  • A video game room where you can try out all of the latest tech including the Oculus Rift
  • An on site restaurant/murder mystery theatre
  • An on site comedy club
  • A mini World’s Fair exhibition to see examples of the latest technologies

In addition, the entire area in of itself would be a massive tribute to technology.  Lodging accommodations would be provided by a 100% robot run hotel called the Tabula Rasa Casa.  Transportation would be handled by driverless cars.  Food deliveries would be made via drone.  On site restaurants would serve lab grown meat.  All payments would be cashless.

The facility would also be a patron of the arts hosting on site residencies for artists, philosophers, and futurists.  It would conduct studies and issue trend reports.

Basically, what I want to do is take the best nerdy stuff in the world (Comic Con, CES, Ted Talks, museums, etc.) and combine it in one location and make it so that all of these wonderful things are all happening every day.

Would that be overkill?  Is too much of a good thing bad?  No and no!  I want more science, more awesome stuff, all the time.  And I think, that if done properly, it would be the greatest thing ever.  But then again, I think everything is the greatest thing ever, so what do I know?

Well, I’ll tell you what I know.  My own feelings.  If this is something that I clamor for then inherently it must also be something that others would clamor for too.  Everything we love to nerd out about on an epic scale?!  Who wouldn’t love that?!

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Is Tabula Rasa the Greatest Idea Ever?

 

 

#950 – Postmates

Two weeks ago I was excited to spend a lazy Sunday afternoon on my couch breaking in my new satellite dish as I watched every NFL game.  The first time in my life that I wouldn’t be a slave to the local TV broadcast schedule.  Everything was going smoothly until 5 o’clock rolled around and I realized that I had nothing in my house to eat.  I couldn’t run out and get something because I had people over.  I couldn’t make something fresh on account of the fact that I lacked proper ingredients.  What recourse did I really have?

Well, as it turns out there was something that I could have done instead of microwaving left over Costco chicken.  What I could have done was whipped out the Postmates app on my phone and placed an order for some Taco Bell.  That’s right.  There’s an app that will enable you to get delivery from establishments that don’t normally offer delivery!  Need some diapers but can’t run out to get them because you’re home alone taking care of two kids?  Get some delivered!  Desperately in need of a new box of tissues and some nose drops but can’t drive because you just took some sleeping pills?  Have them delivered! Want a cup of coffee from Starbucks first thing in the morning but are too lazy to get it yourself?  Have some delivered!  (My cousin who once thought up a Joe on the Go delivery service isn’t going to like this very much)  All in all, this is a total game changer.

As Tech Insider cautions though, there is a lot of competition:

“While Postmates was one of the first startups to popularize on-demand delivery through an app, it now it has more competition than ever before.  There’s an obvious comparison to be made between Postmates and Uber, which has recently been expanding its UberRush delivery service and food delivery with UberEats. Amazon has also been aggressively going after services like Postmates with its same-day (and sometimes one-hour) delivery for Prime subscribers.  Then there are the countless startups competing for the core Postmates business of food delivery, like Caviar, DoorDash, and Maple.”

While it’s clear that operating a business in the on demand sector is tough sledding I’m confident that Postmates has staying power, especially as rumors circulate that they are close to securing another 100 million dollar funding round.  Hopefully, they’ll stick around for the long haul, at least long enough for me to try them out the next time I’m hosting a party and run out of dip.  And if not, well, there’s always Uber.

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Is Postmates the Greatest Idea Ever?

#949 – On Wheelz

Nike’s HyperAdapt self-lacing sneakers are pretty cool.  But you know what’s also cool?  Having the ability to turn any sneaker into roller skates!  Now, I’m not talking about those ahead of their time sneaker-skate hybrids from your middle school days that you would allow you to run and then glide on your heel.  No, what I’m talking about is actually combining any sneaker that you already own, any sneaker at all, with an actual pair of skates thanks to a new clip on product known as On Wheelz.

New Atlas describes how it works:

“Developed by French start-up Flaneurz, On Wheelz are simple skate platforms designed to work with casual shoes. The system includes a sneaker with step-in hardware built into the toe and heel sections of the sole, and a platform with toe- and heel-hook hardware. Just like a clipless bicycle pedal, you can quickly step in and lock into the platform, giving your shoes the power to roll and glide. The included release key lets you detach your shoes in seconds.”

If you live in a major city and usually walk to work I can imagine that you may be interested in using On Wheelz so that you can save a little bit of time without having to work up a big sweat.  A more practical solution than lugging around a large bicycle.  And even if you usually take a bus or subway having the ability to cover more ground in less time with these sneaker skates could allow you to rethink your commute.  T

he only question is whether or not society will lump you in with Segway or scooter users and deem your new kicks a fashion faux pas.  If you’re cool enough to pull it off though you may have just found your new best friend.

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Are On Wheelz the Greatest Idea Ever?

#948 – HyperAdapt 1.0

Back to the Future is one of my all-time favorite movies.  So much so, that I recently just purchased a copy of a script used in the filming.  (Not even the first draft or the final draft but just a random third draft).  So much so, that I’m seriously considering purchasing a replica Hoverboard to hang up in my apartment.  So much so, that I’m secretly campaigning for a sequel entitled Back to Back to the Future in which Marty’s afterthought of a girlfriend Jennifer is the main character, feuding with Biff’s sister Tiff.  One of the big twists would be that Biff is actually his own grandfather thanks to time travel.

So it should come as no surprise that I’m super excited to announce that Marty’s famous self-lacing sneakers are about to become a reality thanks to Nike.  Seriously.  They go on sale on November 28th.  There is a catch, however.  And that’s the fact that the shoes don’t really lace themselves.  Rather they just contract until they’re in the right position.  But, hey, that’s still pretty cool!  And this is just version 1.0.

Wired explains how it works and what’s next in line:

“Once the sensors get a read on your foot position, a series of tiny pulleys will contract the throat of the shoe tightly around the foot by winding thread around a spool. “Imagine a fishing rod,” Hoke says. The wearer can adjust the tightness by pushing on a plus or minus sign on the left side of the shoe. Hold it down for two seconds, and the shoe will loosen fully, allowing increased blood flow and removal. Eventually, Nike says it wants to make the micro-adjustments automated and reactive to biometric data, so they adjust on the fly.”

In addition, “…the shoe will automatically adjust to your preferred setting, much like a car seat that knows how close you like to sit to the wheel. As the ‘1.0’ designation suggests, the team is already looking to how this technology can improve and adapt to create a hyper-personalized platform. He wouldn’t give much away, but Hoke did say that, eventually, you could imagine how your shoe might gather biometric data that can be fed into an entire adaptable, reactive ecosystem of Nike wearables. And by wearables we mean clothes.”

I should caution that the sneakers don’t yet have a price tag and the price, once announced, could be astronomical.  But if you’re a fan of Back to the Future, like I am, (and really who isn’t?), then you’re pretty much going to have to own a pair of these.  Just leave the replica Hoverboard to me.

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Is the HyperAdapt self-lacing sneaker the Greatest Idea Ever?

#947 – Atlas Obscura

A book arrived in the mail today.  A book unlike any other.  Clive Cussler’s Dirk Pitt novels, which got me started as a reader, were amazing, but they don’t compare.  The Harry Potter books that I would devour in one day were incredible, but they aren’t even in the same zip code.  Moneyball, which I loved, isn’t even in the same ballpark.  No, the greatest book of all time is likely to be one that you probably haven’t heard of yet.  Say hello to your new best friend:  Atlas Obscura, a book highlighting weird, obscure, and interesting places.

The reason why this book appeals to me so much is because of my new found love for travel and exploration.  Over the last three years I’ve visited cities such as Portland, Seattle, Houston, San Diego, and San Francisco.  All for the first time.  Being on my own there’s only so much sightseeing that I can do.  And considering that I’m not a foodie and that I don’t drink, when I visit a new place I look for other things to do.  Outside the box things. Take my recent trip to Seattle for example.  I went hunting for antiques in the Pike Market underground, nerded out at the EMP Museum’s Star Trek exhibit, the Pacific Science Center’s Lego exhibit, and the Museum of History and Innovation’s History of Toys exhibit, and, best of all, learned about the history of Seattle when I toured their vast network of underground tunnels that preserve the way the city used to look like over one hundred years ago.  I even visited Bruce Lee’s grave site and the world famous Gum Wall Alley, where visitors still stick pieces of used chewing gum on a wall to continue a tradition started by a pissed off concert goer years ago after he couldn’t get into a sold out show.  I was able to do all that, thanks in part, to the Atlas Obscura website which steered me towards the lesser known side of Seattle.  The side featuring the Fremont Troll and the Ye Olde Curiosity Shop instead of the tourist trap Space Needle and its gift shop.  The side that gives you a true, authentic feeling of what it’s like to live in Seattle, not just pass through it.

Portland has its fair share of obscure places as well as Porlandia can attest to.  Sure, you may have heard about Powell Books, the privately owned bookstore that runs the length of a city block. But did you know that hidden inside is a rare book room that requires special access?  You’ve probably heard about Forest Park, the country’s largest city based forest.  But did you know about the Witches Castle, an abandoned and allegedly haunted Ranger Station, tucked away just off the side of the main road that intersects the park? You could go to Portland and have a great time visiting the International Rose Test Garden among other hot spots.  But will you have as good of a time as the person who grabs a cup of coffee in the Rimsky-Korsakoffee cafe where the tables move around as you’re trying to use them?

Obscurity is everywhere.  St. Louis’ City Museum is a giant obstacle course playground for adults.  President’s Park in Virginia is filled with oversized busts of former White House residents.  The Paper Factory Hotel in New York is, yep, you guessed it, a hotel converted from a Paper Factory featuring a staircase made out of books.  Name a city, any city, and you’re likely to find dozens of quirky locales…if you know where to look.  Atlas Obscura does and they capture all those details eloquently.  Or so I hear.  I imagine that reading it is going to solicit uncontrollable wanderlust.  A burning desire to pick myself up and go visit all of the places described throughout its pages all at once.  So if you can’t find me in the coming days you’ll know where to look.  Or, more precisely, you won’t.  I’ll be out there, somewhere over the next horizon, out in the great unknown, searching for weird things, Atlas Obscura in hand to guide me.

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Is Atlas Obscura the Greatest Idea Ever?

#946 – Coffiest

Three years ago, I wrote about Soylent Green, a liquid meal replacement that could save you the time associated with buying food, preparing and cooking a meal, and cleaning up after yourself.  The perfect substitute for lazy millennials and busy working professionals who want to eat healthy without having to work at it.  Of course I have yet to try this product on account of how I’m a picky eater who doesn’t like to try new things but I’ve heard great things and some people even swear by it.  For those who have yet to be convinced though there’s now a second Soylent product on the market, a version of coffee known as Coffiest, designed to combine your morning pick me up and your breakfast into one easy to consume caffeinated beverage. Personally, I would have called it Soylent Brown, but whatever.

As The Next Web puts it, “I don’t know why you’d want to replace very delicious foods with a bottled beverage, but Soylent is very much a thing and has garnered quite a following since its introduction into the world several years ago. And now, the company is set to release a follow up product that adds caffeine to the mix…”  The new product, “contains 150mg of caffeine, coffee flavoring, and the same nutritional ingredients in Soylent 2.0. It’s designed to help ease those who start their day with coffee move toward replacing their entire meal cycle with Soylent products, all without missing the bittersweet, chocolatey flavors.”

A staff writer for Business Insider tested the product and had this to say about it:

“Most days I eat yogurt with fresh fruit and granola at my desk, but last week, I gulped down Coffiest on my commute. I kept a 12-pack in my fridge so I could grab a chilled bottle on my way out the door. It spared me a few minutes every day that I usually spend packing, prepping, and eating breakfast. By the time I arrived at work, I could sense the caffeine tunneling through my brain. An average 8-ounce cup of brewed coffee has between 95 and 200 milligrams of caffeine; Coffiest’s 150 milligrams put the drink in the ‘strong coffee’ end of the spectrum.  But caffeine seemed more concentrated in this concoction than in the average cup of coffee. A couple hours into my first day on Coffiest, I realized I had crushed my inbox and whipped out my first article without letting a single yawn slip. I felt alert and focused.  While that may have been the placebo effect working its magic, Rob Rhinehart, cofounder and CEO of Soylent, credits Coffiest’s ‘secret sauce’: L-theanine. It’s an amino acid found in green tea that’s purported to cancel out the jitteriness often associated with a caffeine buzz, which may have also helped me to concentrate.”

While it’s still too early to tell if Coffiest will catch on and if it even works as well as it claims it’s encouraging to know that there’s an alternative to coffee out there since in addition to being a picky eater I’m also not a coffee drinker.  That is, if I’m able to bring myself to try it.

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Is Coffiest the Greatest Idea Ever?