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We could soon use Jello to clean up spills instead of paper towels.  Well, sort of. 

Inverse explains:

“Paper towels are one of the most fervently consumed household goods on the market, as evidenced by pandemic shortages. In 2020, people used over 13 billion pounds of them in the United States alone. This means we’re sacrificing lots of trees to clean up coffee spills.

But it can be tricky to slash paper towel waste — a viable alternative must be reusable and absorb more water than paper products. It should also be just as convenient.

Now, a team of engineers from the University of Maryland may have found a more sustainable picker-upper: Their new design for a flexible hydrogel sheet could become the kitchen towel of the future.

In a recent paper published in the journal Matter, the researchers describe the new material’s unique properties — including its powerful absorbing potential. Though their recent work is a proof-of-concept study, the team hopes that the hydrogel sheets could eventually hit store shelves.

You can compare hydrogel to jello, says Srinivasa Raghavan, a chemical engineer at the University of Maryland and co-author of the new research.

Hydrogels are a group of polymer materials that can soak up large amounts of liquid and retain them once wet. This property comes from hydrogels’ chemical composition: Their cross-linked individual units, known as monomers, can swell up like blobs of jello without losing their structure.

The term ‘hydrogel’ was coined all the way back in 1894. Yet it took some time for these materials to find a commercial niche. In the early 1960s, the biomedical field started employing them to keep contact lenses moist. Today, they’re most commonly put into diapers to sponge up, well, you know.

Raghavan noticed that typical hydrogels wouldn’t work very well to wipe up a spill. That’s because they mostly come in the form of brittle pellets or powders — not a thin, flexible sheet, like a towel.

For everyday purposes, though, ‘the form of a towel is really useful and convenient,’ Raghavan says. So he and his team, spearheaded by Ph.D. student Hema Choudhary, set out to concoct a hydrogel with the absorptive power of a diaper — along with the convenience of a roll of paper towels.”

Amazing.  Now if you’ll excuse me I suddenly have a craving for Jello.

A Jello like material could soon replace paper towels.

Want to read more books this year? Setting aside just 30 minutes a day could help you knock out dozens of titles this year.  Or you could just use a new font specifically designed to help you read faster.

As Quartz puts it, “What if there was a fast and simple way for us to learn to how to read more efficiently?

That’s what Bionic Reading claims to do. The methodology, first developed in 2016, seeks to help distracted adults improve how they parse information by bolding a few letters within a block of text. This typographic trick purportedly shortens the time needed for our brains to process data.”

But it’s about retention too, not just speed.

According to Upworthy:

“But even those of us who are able to read fluently might sometimes struggle with the act of reading itself. Perhaps we don’t read as quickly as we wish we could or maybe our minds wander as our eyes move across the words. Sometimes we get to the end of a paragraph and realize we didn’t retain anything we just read.

People with focus or attention issues can struggle with reading, despite having no actual reading disabilities. It can be extremely frustrating to want to read something and have no issues with understanding the material, yet be unable to keep your mind engaged with the text long enough to get ‘into’ what you’re reading.

But what if there were a font that could help you stay focused? That could help you not only read faster but better retain what you’ve just read?

That’s what the creators of Bionic Reading claim is possible with their font tool.”

As an avid reader I’m all for anything that can help people read faster and more efficiently.  Just so long as they use it to read my blog!

Is Bionic Reading the Greatest Idea Ever?

People have often wondered why Roman era concrete has lasted so much longer than modern versions.  In some cases for thousands of years.  What did they know when creating it that we don’t?! Well, now we may have finally figured it out.

Interesting Engineering explains:

“A new study from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) about a 2,050-year-old Roman tomb has uncovered some interesting information about the nature of Roman-era concrete. Despite being a very ancient technology, the durability of this material has long stumped experts, until now. 

By studying the concrete of some of the existing Roman concrete structures, the team has discovered some interesting findings that may explain why Roman concrete lasts so long. The study was recently published in the Journal of the American Ceramic Society.

In stark contrast, modern concrete tends to crack and crumble after only a few short decades through a process called spalling. But Roman concrete, invented before modern material science, seems to be able to last for centuries without the same problem. Oftentimes, many existing Roman concrete structures are in pretty good condition given their age — a feat that could not be replicated using modern concrete recipes.”

But why exactly is that?!  

Dezeen reports that, “The research team found the ancient Romans made their concrete with quicklime, which is lime in its pure state, rather than the more typical slaked lime, and that this gave it ‘self-healing’ properties.”

Thankfully, it seems as though we’ve finally gotten closer to solving this age old mystery.  Which does raise an interesting new question to ponder: how much other knowledge has been lost to history?! How much else do we still need to rediscover?!

The secret of roman concrete has finally been solved.

Netflix has been drawing a lot of heat lately for canceling shows too quickly. If the numbers aren’t there the very first weekend the shows are gone. I get that we live in a cancel culture but this is getting ridiculous! Case in point: the mind-boggling cancellation of the mind-bending 1899. Which especially doesn’t make sense considering it’s from the creators of Dark who have already delivered Netflix a mega hit. Fans have started an online petition to bring it back but it’s probably to no avail. Is this why Reed Hastings just stepped down? Has he come to the realization that Netflix is a sinking ship, about to face serious backlash for the way they do business?

The problem with canceling shows too quickly is that it makes people overly cautious. Why invest time and energy in a new show if it’s just going to get canceled after one season, ending on a cliffhanger with multiple subplots that never get resolved? Better to wait for a few seasons to come out and a satisfying conclusion to be put in place before jumping in. But if you do that, if you wait too long to start watching, if everyone does, then no show will ever get renewed. Creating a vicious cycle.

It’s gotten so bad that some showrunners are literally now begging people to watch their shows opening weekend as that is literally the only metric that Netflix cares about. But what if you don’t want to do that? What if you have a trip coming up and want to save a show for a long flight? Or for a rainy day? What if your just too busy to drop everything and watch something the day it comes out. Shouldn’t we be out and about, enjoying our lives, instead of just sitting around on the couch all the time anyway?

What I’m proposing is that Netflix change their ways. The so-called Netflix Fix would install a new metric by which Netflix can measure the success of a show, taking into account more than just opening weekend viewership. Such as:

  • How many people have a show saved in their queue to watch later
  • How many people said they liked the show within Netflix
  • Rotten Tomato scores
  • IMDB score
  • Google user scores
  • DVD/Blu Ray sales
  • Merchandise sales
  • Ticket sales (for movies previously released in theatres including all sequels and prequels)
  • Award nominations
  • Social media impressions (number of tweets, retweets, likes, comments, etc.)
  • Results of polls the company conducts
  • # of Google searches
  • How many people started and watched to completion vs. started and stopped
  • How many people watched more than once
  • How many people went on to watch content similar to that

Combine all that and then contrast that versus how much it cost to make and how long it took and what critics are saying. Throw it all together into a mathematical formula similar to the Drake Equation and Voilà! you have a new formula for determine the actual value of a show!

Stop canceling shows!

Refrigerators are constantly getting upgraded with new sensors, touch screens, and various other Internet of Things capabilities to anchor our smart homes. Running low on milk? Your refrigerator will know and order some more. Want to know what’s inside your fridge without opening your door? You can find out. But soon we may have a whole new method of refrigeration as well. One that’s much better for the environment.

Science Alert explains:

“Say hello to ionocaloric cooling: a new way to lower the mercury that has the potential to replace existing methods with something that is safer and friendlier to the planet.

Typical refrigeration systems transport heat away from a space via a gas that cools as it expands some distance away. As effective as this process is, some of the choice gases we use are also particularly unfriendly to the environment.

There is, however, more than one way a substance can be forced to absorb and shed heat energy.

A new method developed by researchers from the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and the University of California, Berkeley, in the US takes advantage of the way that energy is stored or released when a material changes phase, as when solid ice turns to liquid water, for example.

Raise the temperature on a block of ice, it’ll melt. What we might not see so easily is that melting absorbs heat from its surroundings, effectively cooling it.

One way to force ice to melt without needing to turn up the heat is to add a few charged particles, or ions. Putting salt on roads to prevent ice forming is a common example of this in action. The ionocaloric cycle also uses salt to change a fluid’s phase and cool its surroundings.

‘The landscape of refrigerants is an unsolved problem,’ says mechanical engineer Drew Lilley, from the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in California. ‘No one has successfully developed an alternative solution that makes stuff cold, works efficiently, is safe, and doesn’t hurt the environment.’

‘We think the ionocaloric cycle has the potential to meet all those goals if realized appropriately.’

The researchers modeled the theory of the ionocaloric cycle to show how it could potentially compete with, or even improve upon, the efficiency of refrigerants in use today. A current running through the system would move the ions in it, shifting the material’s melting point to change temperature.

Ionocaloric cooling

The team also ran experiments using a salt made with iodine and sodium, to melt ethylene carbonate. This common organic solvent is also used in lithium-ion batteries, and is produced using carbon dioxide as an input. That could make the system not just GWP [global warming potential] zero, but GWP negative.

A temperature shift of 25 degrees Celsius (45 degrees Fahrenheit) was measured through the application of less than a single volt of charge in the experiment, a result that exceeds what other caloric technologies have managed to achieve so far.

‘There are three things we’re trying to balance: the GWP of the refrigerant, energy efficiency, and the cost of the equipment itself,” says mechanical engineer Ravi Prasher, from the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.

‘From the first try, our data looks very promising on all three of these aspects.'”

Hopefully, this new cooling method continues to progress and we wind up with new products featuring this new cooling method before long.

Is Ionocaloric Cooling the Greatest Idea Ever?

#2,739 – Gas

“Instagram makes people depressed & Twitter makes people angry.  Which is better?”

Elon Musk posed that question the other day to his million of followers. 

The answer may be Gas.  A new app, popular with teens, based around handing out compliments that Discord just acquired.

Jckonline explains:

“Named so for the act of ‘gassing someone up,’ the anonymous social media platform is intended to allow users to compliment their classmates by voting for their friends in a round of polls that refreshes every hour.

Now, if you’re thinking ‘there’s no way cyberbullying doesn’t interfere with this,’ you might be onto something—apps that are anonymous have a history of doing so. But Gas is all about positivity and positions itself as the place where friends share what they love about one another, ‘and no, they won’t dunk on you like other anonymous apps,’ the app’s description says.

‘The Hottest App Right Now? One Where Teens Have to Say Nice Things About Each Other’ is the title of a recent Wall Street Journal article, and it highlights an important need among this younger generation: Whether Gas ends up a fiery force or peters out, it’s currently ranking No. 1 in social networking and has a 4.5-star rating among 121,000 users, so it illustrates the craving for positivity in social media.”

Considering how big of an issue cyberbullying has become among teens, and how toxic social media has become in general, its no surprise that users are seeking out alternatives.  Safe spaces where they can still connect with one another and satiate their primal need for social interactions, while still feeding their notification fueled dopamine addictions.  If only we could somehow gas up all of Twitter.

Is Gas the Greatest Idea Ever?

It’s a harmless white lie.  Saying that you laughed out loud when you really didn’t.  Something that we all do countless times throughout the day when we’re texting friends, talking to co-workers via email, or flirting on dating apps. Is it really something that we need to crack down on? Ensure that we only say it when we actually laugh out loud? One man thinks so. And that man is Brian Moore.  

Nerdist sums it up best:

“In this dark time when anyone can purchase a verification checkmark on Twitter, one man is pushing back on internet inauthenticity. Brian Moore built a box that, when plugged into a computer, will verify whether someone actually laughed out loud before letting them post ‘LOL.’ It’s a small but mighty step in the fight to say what you mean and mean what you say. But it is also silly. If you don’t actually LOL, the program swaps in a different message. Instead of hyperbole, it inserts a more honest message like ‘that’s funny’ or ‘ha.’ If you have actually chortled audibly, it add a satisfying green check mark and a timestamp following the ‘LOL.’”

Now if only there was a way to verify fake news.

Is LOL Verifier the Greatest Idea Ever?

#2,737 – VALL-E

Microsoft’s OpenAI investment and Microsoft Office/Bing integration for ChatGPT has been generating a lot of headlines of late but it’s not the only news coming out of Redmond, Washington.  VALL-E has been generating a lot of buzz as well as it is capable of synthesizing your voice based off of just a three second recording!  In a world filled with deepfakes and fake news this is a worrying thought.  If we can’t even believe our own ears what can we believe?

Engadget explains:

“Microsoft’s latest research in text-to-speech AI centers on a new AI model, VALL-E. While there are already multiple services that can create copies of your voice, they usually demand substantial input. Microsoft claims its model can simulate someone’s voice from just a three-second audio sample. The speech can match both the timbre and emotional tone of the speaker – even the acoustics of a room. It could one day be used for customized or high-end text-to-speech applications, but like deepfakes, there are risks of misuse.

Researchers trained VALL-E on 60,000 hours of English language speech from 7,000-plus speakers in Meta’s Libri-Light audio library. The results aren’t perfect: Some are tinny machine-like samples, while others are surprisingly realistic.”

Adds Arstechnica, “Microsoft calls VALL-E a ‘neural codec language model,’ and it builds off of a technology called EnCodec, which Meta announced in October 2022. Unlike other text-to-speech methods that typically synthesize speech by manipulating waveforms, VALL-E generates discrete audio codec codes from text and acoustic prompts. It basically analyzes how a person sounds, breaks that information into discrete components (called ‘tokens’) thanks to EnCodec, and uses training data to match what it “knows” about how that voice would sound if it spoke other phrases outside of the three-second sample.”

Personally, I think the technology is intriguing if used in the right ways.  Perhaps your voice clone could argue with telemarketers and get your bills lowered while the real you does other things.  I especially love the name.  Paying homage to both DALL-E and the Uncanny Valley.  Let’s just hope it’s used for the right reason and isn’t used to start wars by having politicians say things they didn’t. 

Is VALL-E the Greatest Idea Ever?

While it’s far more likely that augmented and mixed reality become mainstays there is still hope for virtual reality if we can make the immersive experiences more life-like. OVR Technology may have figured out how to do that with a VR headset that incorporates 8 different fragrances. Allowing you to stop and smell the virtual roses.

Fortune explains:

“Taiwanese tech giant HTC unveiled a high-end VR headset that aims to compete with market leader Meta, and a slew of other companies and startups touted augmented reality glasses and sensory technologies that can help users feel — and even smell — in a virtual environment.

Among them, Vermont-based OVR Technology showcased a headset containing a cartridge with eight primary aromas that can be combined to create different scents. It’s scheduled to be released later this year.

An earlier, business-focused version used primarily for marketing fragrances and beauty products is integrated into VR goggles and allows users to smell anything from a romantic bed of roses to a marshmallow roasting over a fire at a campsite.

The company says it aims to help consumers relax and is marketing the product, which comes with an app, as a sort of digital spa mixed with Instagram.

‘We are entering an era in which extended reality will drive commerce, entertainment, education, social connection, and wellbeing,’ the company’s CEO and co-founder Aaron Wisniewski said in a statement. ‘The quality of these experiences will be measured by how immersive and emotionally engaging they are. Scent imbues them with an unmatched power.’

But more robust and immersive uses of scent — and its close cousin, taste — are still further away on the innovation spectrum.”

Not to mention haptic feedback systems that let us touch and feel virtually as well. Clearly, we’re still in the early stages of VR across the board whether we’re talking about graphics, latency, apps, accessories, or social acceptance. The more things we can add, including senses, the better off we’ll be. I just hope we go beyond the five senses. After all, there are 33 distinct “systems” in the human body. Let’s figure out how to incorporate them all!

But certainly starting with scent makes a lot of sense as our memories are often tied to certain smells.

Freethink explains:

“The lack of immersive scent has been a big loss for VR — a medium whose promise is lifelike immersion into alternate realities. Smell is the sense most closely linked to memory. Researchers believe this could have to do with how smell operates within the brain.

With every other sense — sight, sound, touch, and taste — the ‘data’ we perceive is first interpreted by the thalamus, a sort of ‘relay station.’ Once processed by the thalamus, only then is this information passed on to other areas of the brain.

But, as Ashley Hamer writes in Discovery, ‘Scents bypass the thalamus and go straight to the brain’s smell center, known as the olfactory bulb. The olfactory bulb is directly connected to the amygdala and hippocampus, which might explain why the smell of something can so immediately trigger a detailed memory or even intense emotion.’

Smell-O-Vision: People have been wanting to incorporate smell into TV and film for over a century; the earliest known use of scent in conjunction with film is 1906.

In the 1940s, ’50s, and ’60s, efforts like AromaRama and Smell-O-Vision sought to bring smell to mass audiences, but despite a lot of hype, they never actually took off.

The New York Times didn’t pull any punches when it described one such effort in 1959 as ‘capricious … elusive, oppressive or perfunctory and banal … merely synthetic smells that occasionally befit what one is viewing, but more often they confuse the atmosphere.’

So, if OVR Technology can pull this off it may actually be a big tech. Big enough even to give Virtual Reality the boost it needs for mainstream appeal.

As Wired puts it:

“VR still stinks, and its stench has many notes. It reeks of rich white guys, who wildly overfund and consistently overhype the always-on-the-verge-of-a-breakthrough technology. It has a festering funk of entrenched privilege, despite its purveyors’ claims that it fosters empathy and inclusion. It’s too expensive and only getting more so. Meta’s and the crypto community’s forays into VR stand to make it more putrid. It also, some complain, smells underbaked: In VR, nobody has legs. But perhaps more than anything, the metaverse stinks because it doesn’t smell like anything.

Smell is VR’s blind spot. Most VR technologists don’t even notice the lack of smells or worry about its consequences, despite the fact that convincing smell technology is becoming available.

Smell is arguably our realest sense—the sense that most grounds us in reality. If virtual reality wants to deliver on its potential, it needs to wake up and smell its nauseating scentlessness.”

Is smell in VR the Greatest Idea Ever?

For a few years now we’ve seen reusable notebooks that you let take notes, scan them in, and send them directly to the cloud for future reference.  Which is great as it’s been said that the average person goes through an entire tree’s worth of notebook paper in their lifetime. But now instead of having to use a dedicated notebook we can just use the Nuwa pen on any type of paper and get the same effect.  Access to a digitized version of everything we’ve written down.

TechCrunch sums it up best:

“We’ve seen a lot of companies trying to turn the humble pen into something a little more digital, but few have been as elegantly successful as Nuwa. The company showed off its smart pen at CES in Las Vegas this week.

The smart pen uses three integrated cameras along with motion and pressure-sensing electronics to take your ink scribbles and digitize them. The accompanying app keeps your notes safe, and it even manages to decipher your handwriting, making the notes searchable as well. The pen itself writes on any paper and can keep notes in journals, notebooks, Post-its … well, any paper, really.

We saw the pen in action, and it works fantastically well, capturing writing with speed and ease. Being able to search for ‘dinner’ in the app and see the note where you reminded yourself where and when you’re eating this evening felt a lot like magic.”

Well, I’m sold.  I’ll take a dozen please.

Is the Nuwa Pen the Greatest Idea Ever?