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I love the idea of National Parks.  Cherished lands that we make sure that we take care of so that we don’t ruin them the way we ruin everything else.  But what I don’t get is why we stop with them.  All of our land should be cherished equally.  The entire planet should be cherished.  We should treat it the way the Na’vi treat Pandora.  Like it’s the living thing that it is.  That’s why on the 100th anniversary of the National Parks Service I’d like to suggest that we abolish the National Parks Service and just make the entire country one giant National Park.

Littering would become a capital offense.  Graffiti a crime against humanity.  Carve your name into the red rocks in Sedona and spend the rest of your life carving your name into the wall of your jail cell.  Accidentally put recyclables into your Hefty brand garbage bag and pay a hefty fine.

Is this even feasible?  Of course not.  It’s a logistical nightmare.  But the point is that we should be doing more to protect our planet, even if we don’t go so far as to become an environmentally crazed police state.

What else could we do?  Educational awareness would be a good start.  Perhaps mandatory field trips for all students to the nearest national park?  Even if we have to greatly expand the number of national parks so that there’s one within four hours or so of every community.  Or as I suggested previously create an Pokemon Go style augmented reality scavenger hunt app that encourages people to visit every park in order to collect all available tokens.

All in all, I truly believe that it’s imperative that we do something.  After all, the purpose of a national park, as laid out by the website for Glacier National Park is:

  • To preserve and protect the natural and cultural resources for future generations
  • To provide opportunities to experience, understand and enjoy the park consistent with the preservation of resources in a state of nature
  • To celebrate the ongoing peace, friendship, and goodwill among nations, recognizing the need for cooperation in a world of shared resources.

Doesn’t that sound like something we need more of?

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Is expanding the reach of the National Parks Service the Greatest Idea Ever?

Now that we’ve found a potentially habitable Earth like exo-planet in our cosmic neighborhood we need a way to get there.  Enter Breakthrough Starshot, a joint effort from several of the world’s leading thinkers to do the unthinkable and get the necessary hardware there in time for most of the people alive today to see it happen.  This would be like Ty Pennington building the Sistine Chapel in one night for an ABC special instead of the requisite eight years that it really took.  Except that this is being done on a cosmic scale across the vastness of space.

The one hundred million dollar project was created by eccentric billionaire Yuri Milner, the man behind the Breakthrough Prizes.  It’s being supported by Stephen Hawking and Mark Zuckerberg, among other scientific and technology heavyweights.  And according to Ars Technica it features, “a group that any geek would consider an all-star cast: physicist Freeman Dyson, Ann Druyan, the woman behind COSMOS, Harvard astronomer Avi Loeb, astronaut Mae Jemison, and former NASA researcher Pete Worden, who will lead the project.”

So, how will this brain trust dream team get a space craft to Alpha Centauri so quickly?  With lasers of course!

“Most of the capital investment in Starshot will go to the infrastructure of the laser array (beamer), which could potentially launch hundreds of cheap, gram-scale spacecrafts per year,” Loeb said [to CNET]. “This will allow us to send a fleet of probes towards Proxima that could relay the images taken back to Earth more easily.”

That’s right.  This entire plan hinges on sending tiny spacecraft the size of a postage stamp across the cosmos on a recon mission.  We’re not talking about sending a man to the moon or a monkey into space.  We’re talking about sending a tiny camera to another solar system.  And while that may not sound like a big deal, trust me, it is.

Because that camera and the other instruments that we send will be able to tell us a whole lot.  Such as whether or not Proxima b is truly Earth like or just a heap of rocks.  And more importantly, whether or not life already exists there.  This means that within our lifetimes we could very well find out whether or not we’re alone in the Universe.  A true breakthrough indeed.

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Is Breakthrough Starshot the Greatest Idea Ever?

#935 – Proxima b

Today is a monumental day.  For today is the day that scientists have confirmed the existence of a rocky, Earth like exo-planet well within the habitable Goldilocks zone of its host star.  And best of all it was found surrounding our closest stellar neighbor, just a mere four light years away!  If we’re ever going to become a multi planetary species this is our best bet.

As I Fucking Love Science explains:

“A truly breathtaking new Nature study has dramatically revealed that a second home may exist just over 4 light-years away, in the Alpha Centauri triple star system.  This new world dances around the red dwarf star Proxima Centauri, which is the closest star to our own Sun. Dubbed “Proxima b”, this exoplanet was discovered after painstaking years of analysis of the tiny movements of its host star in response to the gravitational pull of the planet itself. By picking apart these stellar wobbles, estimates of the planet’s mass and physical parameters could be made.”

But wait, there’s more!

“It’s definitely terrestrial, meaning that it has a rocky surface, and based on its temperature, it is possible for liquid water to exist at the surface. As we know from our own pale blue dot, where there is water, there is life. This means that Proxima b is likely to be the nearest possible home to life outside our own Solar System.”

No wonder this discovery is being hailed as one of the greatest scientific discoveries of the last Century.

To be clear though just because we’ve found an Earth like planet doesn’t mean that we’ve found a second Earth.  It could have an atmosphere and water but it might not.  Even if it does we may not want to live there based on how harsh the climate is or how the weather patterns are.  Are we talking about living in Hawaii or Siberia? Case in point: the planet is tidally locked meaning that only half of it faces the Sun while the other half is in perpetual darkness.  Is it even worth getting excited over half of a planet?  That is if we can even ever get there in the first place.

Of course it is!  This is a tremendous life-altering, game-changing discovery.  For the first time in human history we’ve confirmed the existence of an Earth like planet that contains water and the building blocks for life.  It’s fair to assume that it either once held life, currently does, or could in the future.  We’ve found other exoplanets before.  But none like this.  And none that are this close to us.  It just doesn’t get any better than this.

If going back to the moon, mining asteroids, or establishing a colony on Mars doesn’t excite you then perhaps this will.  Perhaps this discovery will even be enough to start a new space race and a new space age, one dedicated towards making contact with this brave new world.

One can only hope because obviously we’re not going to be long for this world at the rate we’re going.  Proxima b here we come!!!

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Will we one day make it to Proxima b?!?!

 

 

#934 – A-Frame

A revolution is coming.  As you look all around you at the legions of people playing Pokemon Go you may be inclined to think that it’s going to be a Augmented Reality led revolution.  But that’s only a harbinger of things to come.  The real end game lies with Virtual Reality as a whole as it becomes not just a new medium but, rather, a whole new mode of communication.  And when that happens we’ll have Mozilla’s A-Frame to thank.

If Virtual Reality is a boundless landscape, similar to the infinite vastness of the World Wide Web, then A-Frame is a tool of the trade, similar to a website builder, that gives people the ability to create virtual places to visit.  With A-Frame in the hands of the masses this new VR landscape becomes democratized.  Instead of just having a few standard options from big name publishers you would instead wind up with a world full of infinite possibilities.  A place where amateurs can create content just as easily as graphic designers and computer programming whizzes.  Just like how the internet now is a messy, loosely connected web of professionally curated sites and amateur hour blogs, A-Frame generated virtual reality experiences could act in much the same way.

As Kevin Ngo, one of the creators of the technology puts it, “Today we click on links to jump from page to page, one day we will walk through portals to jump from world to world. Unfortunately, there are only a handful of WebGL developers in the world who know how to create highly interactive 3D experiences. But there are potentially millions of web developers, web designers, and 3D artists yearning for a tool to make VR content creation as easy as building a webpage.”

Imagine if you will then, an enterprising yoga instructor creating a virtual meditation space.  One that places students inside of an enchanted forest complete with calming music that plays every time a tree sways in the breeze.  Or imagine receiving a birthday card from a loved one that only you can view when you put on a VR headset and visit the unique place that they created.  With A-Frame what we experience in VR won’t just be the same cookie cutter experiences that are designed for the masses.  Rather we all might wind up enjoying our own unique experiences.  And the best part about this is that there’s no telling where this technology will go.  Just like how early users of the internet couldn’t imagine that it would be used for anything other than basic communication.  Social networking, e-commerce, fantasy sports and the like were all just a distant dream to them.  A-Frame offers that same promise for the future of Virtual Reality.

As Clive Thompson puts it in Wired:

“Let’s be clear: Most of the VR created by everyday people will be hideous.  GeoCities sites groaned under the baroque cruft of overexcited amateur designers, all ‘blink’ tags and spinning icons.  But down in the muck is also where ferment happens.  I suspect people will hit upon odd VR-specific memes, new ways of making jokes, or being crude and idiotic, of talking to (and at, and past) one another.  The hits will be things no one – especially not the inventors – can predict.  Release the infinite monkeys into VR, and in not too long, someone’s going to pound out some Shakespeare.”

It would be understandable if you weren’t a fan of VR as of yet.  After all, the premise has been around for decades with nothing to show for it and the technology has disappointed us many a time before.  For every one person touting the potential of the Oculus Rift to transform education or our way of life there are a thousand other people complaining about motion sickness or social ills.  Yet the technology endures because of its limitless potential.  If we ever realize that potential it will most likely be because of what A-Frame lets us do.  It’s the killer app that we’ve been waiting for.  The gateway drug that we can’t live without.  The entry point to VR for millions of people who will undoubtedly be drawn to the idea of creating virtual worlds, of creating new experiences in much the same way that they were drawn to blogging and creating their own websites on the open web.

In short, Virtual Reality without A-Frame is not a reality that I’d want to be a part of. What I want, what we all want, is to be a part of something bigger than us.  A-Frame is our golden ticket to that reality.

Is A-Frame the Greatest Idea Ever?

My generation was the lucky one.  We got to live in a time where we had the World Wide Web and all the trappings of modern convenience at our finger tips.  We could look up information whenever we needed to know something.  We could access historical data to help us write term papers in college.  By the time our late twenties rolled around we were able to keep in touch with our long lost high school acquaintances thanks to the emergence of social media.  And now in our thirties we get to Netflix and Chill.  But we also got to have a real childhood.  We got to play outside, use our imaginations, and as crazy as this sounds, actually got to be bored.  Today’s generation is not so lucky.  From the time they are three years old they have their attention spans sucked into the tiny screen in their tiny hands.  The internet is now ubiquitous.  Interwoven into the fabric of our lives.  For better or for worse it’s a part of who we are.  Would I want to change any of this?  Of course not.  But then again, I was one of the lucky ones.

It’s not often that I look back at great ideas of yesteryear as I’m more future focused, looking towards tomorrow and beyond.  But every once in a while there comes a time when it’s worth getting nostalgic.  Today, the 25th anniversary of the creation of the World Wide Web, is one of those days.  I’m usually not big into celebrating birthdays and anniversaries but this is one worth getting excited about.  Consider the following:

If there was no such thing as the Internet there’d be no such thing as Google.  And if there’s no such thing as Google then we might never wind up with driverless cars, augmented reality glasses, the ability to reverse aging, The Singularity, machine learning, or any of the other countless moonshots that they are working on.  They’d also be no YouTube which means no crazy cat videos.

If there was no such thing as the Internet there’d also be no such thing as Elon Musk because there’d have been no such thing as Paypal.  And if there’s no Elon Musk there’s no Tesla, Solar City, Hyperloop, or more importantly, no eventual human presence on Mars.

If there was no such thing as the Internet there’s be no such thing as Amazon.  And if there’s no such thing as Amazon there’d be no such thing as e-readers, talking speakers, or delivery via drone.

If there was no such thing as the Internet there’s be no such thing as Facebook.  And if there’s no such thing as Facebook there’s hundreds of millions of dollars that would never get donated to schools in Newark or to charities around the world.  There’d also be no home for Oculus Rift or Instagram if either of them even existed.

If there was no such thing as the Internet there’d be no such thing as Apple.  And if there’s no such thing as Apple there’d be no Steve Jobs.  And if there’s no Steve Jobs there’s no such thing as iTunes or smartphones or tablets.  Not ones that we’d care about anyway.

Without the Internet there’d also be no Sir Richard Branson which means no Virgin Atlantic and no Spaceport America.

No Bill Gates which means no eventual cure for Malaria.

No Marc Andressen either.  Which means no Andressen Horowitz.  Which means no AirBnb, BuzzFeed, Groupon, Pinterest, Magic Leap, Skype, Soylent, or countless others.

Without an Internet there’d also be no Internet of Things.

If there’s no earth bound Internet there definitely wouldn’t be one in the solar system either.  Sorry NASA.

In addition, you wouldn’t be able to ride in an Uber to a restaurant you found on Yelp to meet a date you met on Tinder.

There may not even be a you if your parents hadn’t meet online in a chat room or on a dating site.

You also wouldn’t be reading this.  There’d be no WordPress, no Medium, no Twitter.  No tools for amateurs to communicate with.

And worse of all there wouldn’t be a Wired magazine if there was nothing for them to cover.  No dot com boom.  No web 2.0.  No Silicon Valley.  No tech bubble.  No unicorns.

Nothing.

Obviously it’s not all goodness all the time.  The Internet has given rise to e-commerce which has to led to mom and pop book stores closing.  It’s given rise to cyber bullying and cyber terrorism.  To trolling and snark.  It’s contributed to the rise in power of Donald Trump.  But all in all, it’s been a tremendous boon to society.  It’s revolutionized the way we live and work and communicate with one another.  It’s made the world smaller and made us more interconnected which ultimately makes us all safer.

Is it perfect?  No.  Not even close.

But it’s who we are now.

Once you go wide there’s no turning the tide.

Is the World Wide Web the Greatest Idea Ever?

 

 

 

 

 

Netflix is already plenty smart enough having been built around a famous proprietary algorithm that can predict what you’re going to want to watch based on what you’ve already seen.  But that arithmetic only takes into account one set of variables: your viewing history on Netflix.  But what if it could take more into account?  What if it could know your entire viewing history?

According to Business Insider, “Netflix has more than 75 million subscribers in more than 190 countries, and each of them is served a different experience each time they log in. The company has around 1,000 people based in Silicon Valley who are charged with architecting the product and the personalization algorithm that resets every 24 hours to ensure users discover the exact content they want to watch out of an estimated 13,000 titles at any given time.”

Except I’m not getting the exact content that I want to watch.  Most of the time I’m getting content that I already watched…somewhere else. Imagine for instance if the algorithm knew what shows you watched on Hulu or what movies you viewed through Amazon Prime.  If it knew what channels you ordered through your cable provider.  It wouldn’t recommend that you watch The Flash because you just binged Jessica Jones.  It would already know that you’re all caught up on the exploits of the Scarlet Speedster.  It might even be more inclined to recommend The Walking Dead if you don’t subscribe to AMC even if you have never watched a Zombie or horror flick before.

If you can’t link competing services for obvious reasons then perhaps a survey would work just as well.  Just ask users what shows they’ve seen or give them a series of would your rather choices to narrow down their preferences.  For a company that prides itself on knowing us better than we know ourselves its curious that they’ve never asked us for our own opinions.  After all, how do you know that you know us better than we know ourselves if you don’t have a baseline from which to work?

Netflix isn’t just an entertainment company.  It’s also a technology company.  One that wants to disrupt Hollywood and change the way we consume content.  The algorithm, their push to ditch their signature red envelopes for streaming, their original programming, all point to this.  And yet their approach is woefully inadequate and one-sided.

In spite of this and in spite of the fact they hardly ever get big name movies they have grown into a global behemoth.  So much so that the term Netflix and Chill has entered our lexicon.  You might even be doing it right now.  And yet the best has yet to come.  More original programming is on the way.  And hopefully, one day, a smarter algorithm will be too.

Couldn’t we make the Netflix recommendation engine smarter by linking it to other services?

The other day I was lamenting the fact that I no longer have to ride the New York City subway system, depriving myself of prime reading time.  Making me the first person in the history of mankind to ever lament not having to take the New York City subway system.  But, sadly, it is something worth lamenting.  Now that I drive to work I no longer have a productive commute.  There’s no time to read, write, catch up on email, think deeply, or do anything even remotely useful.  All I can do is pay full attention to the road while listening to Christian Rock.  Which is ironic because I’m an atheist who was raised Jewish.

When I complained about my new reality to a colleague they told me that I should listen to books on tape.  Something that I know another colleague is doing to catch up on Game of Thrones, which is a good idea quite frankly because those tomes are literally unreadable.  Apparently, there are now also unwriteable.   But anyway, I’m not sure that listening to books on tape would work for me as I’m more of a magazine reader.  Bingeing on back issues of Wired, Fast Company, Popular Science and the like on my Next Issue app.

Obviously the format of a magazine is vastly different than the format of a book as you wouldn’t necessarily want to read a magazine straight through.  As a work around there are two things that you could probably do.  Either make it so that each section of a magazine is its own track, one that you can easily skip over if you’re not interested in the content.  Or make it so that only select magazine content makes it onto the tape in the first place.  Perhaps just the long form, deep dive cover stories.

Of course if you choose to listen to a magazine instead of read it you’ll wind up having a very different experience than was intended by the editors who curated it.  There won’t be any glossy pictures, infographics, informative charts, or video clips that help to tell the story.  And worse of all there won’t be any scratch and sniff perfume ads.

But all in all, the trade-off is probably worth it.  Especially when the alternative is to read pool side where you wouldn’t want to be caught dead reading the latest issue of Scientific American in front of scantily clad college coeds.  Trust me.  I would know.

Luckily, there are already quite a few magazine on tape options available.  Amazon’s audible has quite a few and they also have access to an audio digest of the New York Times.  Meanwhile the Associated Services for the Blind and the National Library Service for the Blind have a few titles available as well that were set up so that people with visual impairments could still enjoy magazine content.

However, I have yet to find a source that has everything and none of the places I checked so far had a converted version of Wired magazine, the driving force behind my desire to listen to audio magazines in the first place.  Perhaps then I should create something.  An all audio version of Next Issue.  I shall call it Fireside, invoking everyone’s favorite place to read.  For $5 a month you’ll get unlimited access to every magazine in the world and a special algorithm will enable you to listen to your choice of content as spoken by anyone in the world.  If you want Morgan Freeman to read you Newsweek that can be arranged.  If you want Derek Jeter to read Sports Illustrated to you we can make that dream happen.  Anything your little heart desires can be made so.

Now if you’ll excuse me I have to sit by the pool and “read”.

Now that I no longer ride the subway I no longer have time to read.  Is a service that reads magazines to you the Greatest Idea Ever?

 

 

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