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A couple of months ago I started to receive an alert every time I went to watch TV, notifying me that my remote control batteries were running low and encouraging me to replace them as soon as possible.  As time went on, and as I continued to use the same batteries, my remote control’s functionality steadily decreased as one might expect.  Over time, I was unable to change channels as quickly as I desired, or even at all.

My solution, instead of simply changing the batteries, was to smack the remote control repeatedly until it regained some life.  This would work temporarily and so I considered the problem fixed.  This went on for a few weeks.  Until one day, when the remote control stopped working entirely.  At this point, I had no choice but to go to the stores and buy new batteries.  Fine, a minor inconvenience.  But there was just one problem.  I kept forgetting to go to the store!  Which meant that I couldn’t watch TV for several days!  Ah, the horror!

As it turns out, my plight is just one of many afflicting consumers.  Old school problems in a modern age.

As Alphr puts it, “While the act of taking out a battery and replacing it is less common now than it was five or ten years ago, a lot of gadgetry, and children’s toys, still rely on physical batteries. From remote controls and smoke detectors to smart IOT devices like lights, security systems and locks, removable batteries remain unavoidable.”

Thankfully, the days of manually replacing batteries may soon be a thing of the past thanks to a new method of wirelessly recharging batteries.  That’s because as long as your remote control or toy is within range of one of Cota’s wireless tiles, your object will be continuously charged as needed.

As Digital Trends explains, “They receivers lie mostly dormant, triggered only when a Cota-compatible receiver sends a packet of information indicating it’s low on power. The Cota then directs the needed energy to the transceiver’s relative location, or to multiple transceivers’ locations. The devices needn’t be stationary — the Cota transmitter re-establishes disrupted connections within milliseconds.”

This solution is perfect for someone like me who is ordinarily too lazy to manually replace a battery.  Even for something as vital to everyday life as the TV remote.

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Is a device that charges your remote control remotely the Greatest Idea Ever?

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In the book Cognitive Surplus, author Clay Shirky talks about how mass media consumption has evolved, how we’ve gone from passively watching just a few TV shows like Gilligan’s Island to actively creating and sharing our own content for free, using our surplus free time, our cognitive surplus, as he puts it, to edit Wikipedia articles and send around memes.  It’s a fundamental shift in how we operate.  Media is no longer something we consume.  It’s something we use.

The times are a changing but that doesn’t mean we’re watching less TV nowadays.  Quite the contrary.  Collectively we’re still spending trillions of man hours watching TV on a daily basis.  What’s interesting though is that while we share photos, news articles, and tidbits about our lives online the one thing that we don’t do is share TV.  That’s the one activity that we still prefer to do alone, cuddled up on our coach, binging Netflix in our pajamas.  But what if there was a way to change that?  What if there was a way to share TV?

Marketers dreaming of dual screen experiences have long desired this outcome but I think that the key isn’t to bring TV watching online.  It’s to bring online acts i.e. the act of sharing, to your physical TV.  Most new TVs nowadays are “smart”.  They come with built in apps.  Or users supplement their cable boxes with DVRs or an extra device like a Roku, Apple TV, or Fire TV stick that is capable of streaming third party apps.  The bottom line is that TVs are capable of doing a lot more than just receiving a single cable signal.  Nowadays, they’re more than just one trick ponies.  And if that’s the case, then why not add one more trick to their arsenals?  Why not give them the ability to share content?

What I’m envisioning is a way for people to share content directly through their TVs.  Full length TV shows, movies, commercials, clips from live sporting events.  Whatever the case may be.  Stefon Diggs game winning touchdown could be shared.  As could a segment from Ancient Aliens or last night’s debut episode of Black Lightning.

When you send something to a friend you can add some commentary to it.  “Hey, check out this new show I think you might like.”  Or, “Saw this commercial for a new toy and thought your daughter might like it.”  Shared content would then show up in a special queue, perhaps as an added tab in your DVR menu, enabling you to see all the content you saved and all the content that’s been sent to you.

TV executives and advertisers would obviously prefer a different approach.  One that forces people to watch live TV more often.  But other than sports programming there’s really no reason to do that.  Especially when DVRs save our content and most people prefer to binge watch anyway.  If that’s the preferred method of TV consumption then why not give people more of what they want? Why not give them another entire queue of content to sift through?  The content that their friends have sent them.

I don’t believe that this technology would require a radical shift in the way that TV’s are produced.  It’s the kind of thing that should work on most existing sets, especially if a sharing app is just a third party app of its own.  Would such an app revolutionize the TV watching experience or get people to share less online?  I don’t think so.  Rather, I think that it would carve out a niche of its own and bring TV watching more in line with today’s expectations of what media is.  After all, media is something we use, not just consume.  So let’s use it together.

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We’ve come a long way since the days of Gilligan’s Island.  Would we now benefit from having the ability to share content through our TVs?

A few weeks ago I saw a post on social media wherein people were posing in art museums in front of paintings that looked just like them.  Somehow, against all odds, these people had found themselves in the annals of history.  They had found their art doppelgangers.

Clearly, this was just mere coincidence.  There are only so many facial combinations that people can be comprised of so it stands to reason that over time, across generations, that people would invariably just wind up looking like one another.  More so by chance that any other reason.  Sorry time travel conspiracy theorists.

But I wasn’t going to let that simple fact remove the luster from this one in a million accomplishment.  And I certainly wasn’t going to let reason stand in the way of my new life goal: to find myself in a museum too.  Even if I am one of a kind.

Thankfully, I no longer have to travel the world to do just that.  Thanks to Google’s new Arts and Culture app I can now do so from the comfort of my living room.  All I have to do is take a selfie and feed it into an algorithm that’ll compare it thousands of artworks from around the world to find my best match.  Just like how much a picture of Donald Trump returned a 97% match with a painting of a clown.

As it turns out I wasn’t alone in my desire to be compared to famous works of art.  Apparently, it’s something that we all want.  As witnessed by the app’s meteoric rise to the top of the free app charts.  And that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

As Digital Trends puts it, “Thanks to front-facing cameras on smartphones, we take the opportunity to snap selfies whenever possible. This week, we have an app with a new feature that builds on this tendency — to indulge in narcissism — by throwing in a bit of educational value to go along with it.”

The only way this app could actually be bad is if the crazies were right and the app was just a ploy to collect our selfies for the malevolent creation of a facial recognition database that could then be used to track our every move.  But there are ways around like.  For example, one could do what I did and upload a funny photo that would likely throw off any future authorities that might be hot on my trail.  Or one could cover their face with a mask or simply hold up a picture to their phone’s camera.

But to be honest I wouldn’t worry about all that.  Google acknowledges up front that they won’t be using your image for any such purpose and even if they were it’s probably still worth it just to be able to participate in the early front-runner for app of the year.  After all, we all want the same simple thing in life.  To receive that validation, that yes, we are priceless works of art.  Just like we always thought.

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May the Force be with me!

Here’s a quick look at everything that tickled my fancy this past week:

KODAKCoin: Seems like Kodak wants to get in on the BitCoin craze too, launching a blockchain based initiative to protect photographer’s digital rights.

According to CNN, “Kodak says it will use the blockchain, essentially a digital ledger, for a new platform called KODAKOne to help photographers manage image rights. KODAKCoin will be used for transactions when photographers license their work.”

Personally, I love this idea as it’s a creative example of how the Blockchain is going to revolutionize our lives.

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Rhythm Shoes: So you think you can dance? Or is it that you have two left feet? The kind of person who finds themselves in a dance off and resorts to doing The Elaine? Then I’ve got just the thing for you: rhythm shoes that use vibrations to nudge you in the right direction, teaching you to dance along the way.

As Venture Beat explains, “The shoes contain a number of sensors that sync up to the accompanying rhythm app. This app then delivers visual dance lessons, while sending vibrations to the shoes to indicate where to step and how to move your upper body.”

Will you tearing up the local club in no time at all with rhythm shoes? Probably not.  But it sure can’t hurt!

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Negative Mass Device: This is going to blow your mind.

According to Science Alert:

“Physicists have created what they say is the first device that’s capable of generating particles that behave as if they have negative mass.

The device generates a strange particle that’s half-light/half-matter, and as if that isn’t cool enough, it could also be the foundation for a new kind of laser that could operate on far less energy than current technologies.”

This breakthrough could be huge in terms of developing better quantum computers.

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Smartbe: Parents are obviously over-protective of their newborns and want to have them in their sight at all times.  But would parents be okay with loosening up their gripe on their newborns in exchange for a little extra comfort and convenience?

That’s what smartbe, a smart stroller, offers.  Instead of having to push a stroller every where you go, you can now have a stroller that’ll follow you around.  Perfect for parents who want to run while pushing their stroller.

To smartbe or not to smartbe, that is the question.

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Fart pill could improve your diet: That’s right.  There’s now a pill that can track your farts.  What a great time to be alive.

As Ars Technica puts it:

“The authors are optimistic that the capsule’s gas readings can help clear the air over the inner workings of our intricate innards and the multitudes of microbes they contain. Such fume data could clarify the conditions of each section of the gut, what microbes are up to, and which foods may cause problems in the system. Until now, collecting such data has been a challenge. Methods to bottle it involved cumbersome and invasive tubing and inconvenient whole-body calorimetry. Popping the electronic pill is a breeze in comparison. And early human trials have already hinted that the pill can provide new information about intestinal wind patterns and gaseous turbulence from different foods.”

Are any of these the Greatest Idea Ever?

Between Black Mirror and Philip K. Dick’s Electric Dreams there is plenty of science fiction fodder on TV right now.  But what I want to focus on is an idea that was spotlighted a few months ago on an episode of The Orville.  In this episode the crew encountered a society on another planet that was built around the concept of a social credit score.  To the point where if you score was too low, the local coffee shop wouldn’t even serve you.

That idea of a social credit score isn’t just reserved for science fiction anymore.  It’s a real thing right here on Earth, happening right now in China.  It all started a few years ago with the proliferation of mobile payments and social apps such as AliPay and WeChat.  As people got use to using their phones to pay for things they began to use them more and more.  To pay for groceries.  To hail an Uber.  To even pay parking tickets or order food for delivery.

At this point the Network Effect began to take effect.  The more people used these services the more they became comfortable with the idea of giving up control of their data and the more willing they were to sign up for even more services.  And the more people that used these services, the more that other people also wanted to use them.

These tech companies could now know a lot about their users.  The purchases they made, the trouble they got into with the court system, their credit score, who they were friends with, where they were traveling to.  With all of that information at their disposal there was only one logical step to take.  Combining it all in a useful way.

Useful could be a dirty word though.  In the hands of the Chinese government useful data could be a bad thing as they would invariably want to keep tabs on their citizens and root out dissident.  But useful could also be a good thing in the hands of a tech company that wants to reward people for good behavior.

And that’s exactly how things have played out so far.  Citizens in China are receiving a social credit score, three digits, just like a real credit score.  Depending on what actions a person takes this score could go up or down.  If you get good grades in school, volunteer your time, shop for items that improve your health, etc. your score will go up.  Fail to pay a parking ticket, however, and your score could plummet.  So much so, that you might lose access to basic services.  In fact, you might even be denied a visa to travel to another country or lose out on certain job opportunities.

Is this a world that you’d want to live in? That depends on how much of a law abiding citizen you are.  If you sometimes forget to pay a bill on time this society is not for you.  If you do everything you’re supposed to you’d probably love living in a society like this, especially when you hear about all the perks and rewards you’d get for good behavior.  Such as being able to skip security lines at airports, receiving discounts on hotels, getting streamlined access to government services or receiving preferential profile placement on dating apps.

Now here’s where things get tricky.  Your social credit score isn’t just about you.  It also takes into account who your friends with and what their scores are.  In some regards, this makes sense.  You’d want to reward someone who travels in well respected circles, who uses good judgment when picking who to associate with.  But then again it’s also a little bit extreme.  People with low scores could essentially be ostracized from society because no one would want to be friends with someone who has a low score that could drag them down by association.

Could you imagine walking away from a life long friend just because they have a low score?  Would you be willing to do that to someone you care about?  Think long and hard about your answer.  You may have to decide that for real in just a few years.  The age of social credit is almost fully upon us.

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Is Social Credit the Greatest Idea Ever?

The annual Consumers Electronics Show is wrapping up today after a week filled with hundreds of thousands of people convening to droll over the latest tech products.  Everything from AR to VR was represented with an extra focus on Alexa enabled gadgets, wearables, the Internet of Things, and AI.  But the product that I’m most excited about falls into a different category: None of the Above.  For the technology that I’m most excited for isn’t your traditional consumer facing electronic device.  Its Nissan’s brain to car interface.

By now we’ve all pretty much just assumed that Driverless cars are inevitable, that perhaps even within the next five years we’ll all be replaced by autonomous vehicles that take distracted, drunk, sleepy, and irresponsible human drivers out of the equation.  But what if there’s some push back from the populace?  What if people don’t trust the tech? Or prefer to drive on their own, even knowing the risks?  What then?

A hybrid approach may be the answer.  Instead of replacing human drivers, smart cars could augment their performance.  We’ve already seen some examples of this.  Cruise control.  Park assist.  Lane monitoring.  But those were just the beginning.  Those were just testing the waters.  Now we may be ready for the main course.  A full brain to car interface that will anticipate your actions and perform them for you.  Faster than you ever could.

According to Futurism, “This human driver—semi-autonomous collaboration would see the latter predicting the former’s actions — be it turning the steering wheel or applying the brakes — by reading and interpreting their brain signals using Electroencephalography (EEG) technology. Upon doing so, the semi-autonomous vehicle would start those actions 0.2 to 0.5 seconds sooner. The automaker calls it, ‘Nissan Intelligent Mobility.’ When it autonomous mode, the system could also adjust detect driver discomfort and adjust its driving style accordingly, or use augmented reality to alter what the driver sees.”

Most products unveiled at CES never see the light of day.  Some estimates even put the number at 80%.  Sometimes the demand isn’t there.  Or the market research kills development before it gets off the ground.  And sometimes these are just proof of concept models with no intention of ever getting mass produced.  Hopefully, Nissan’s vision doesn’t fall into one of those categories.  Hopefully, it does become a real product.  Because this definitely sounds like the kind of thing that could save lives.  Or at the very least, let you act on your Road Rage even sooner!

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Is Nissan’s Brain to Car Interface the Greatest Idea Ever?

#1,243 – ScanMarker

Last year I read 19 books, a fair amount, but far short of my goal of 52.  There are plenty of reasons why I fell short of my target.  All the usual excuses you can think of: life getting in the way, being busy, traveling a lot, getting stuck reading something that I didn’t enjoy which killed my momentum, etc.  But there was also another reason why and that’s the simple fact that it takes me longer to read a book than the average person because I also highlight while I read and take notes and then transfer those notes into one of my journals.  This is often a very time consuming effort and one that slows me down considerably.

Thankfully there may soon be a quicker way for me to save interesting passages that I come across while reading: a highlighter capable of digitizing printed text.  Known as the ScanMarker, this amazing new invention is 30x faster than typing, can translate up to 40 languages, and can also read the text aloud while scanning for further reinforcement.  It can also scan two lines at a time in just one second.

A tool like this is a total game changer for a writer or student.  Having the ability to quickly and easily capture information without having to re-type it would save a ton of time.  As would capturing information the first time you see it so that you don’t have to try and figure out where you saw something weeks later.

Now all I need to help me finish the book that I’m working on is for someone to invent a handheld editing tool that’ll scan text, fact check it for you and then recommend any changes if need be.  We could call it the ScanMarkup.  The Next Big Thing in publishing.

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Is ScanMarker the Greatest Idea Ever?