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When it comes to stopping COVID-19 we may need to start thinking outside the box.  And it doesn’t get much more outside the box than the idea of banning deodorant to force people to not only wear masks, but to do so properly, with their noses covered.

While this may sound like an Onion article it’s actually a real plan in Germany.

Jalopnik explains:

“The logic goes like this. In order to stymie the spread of covid-19 but ease lockdown restrictions, Berlin (and the rest of Germany) has instituted a mandatory mask policy in public spaces, including on public transport just like most other cities around the world. While compliance has been high, and fines for neglecting to mask up are even higher, many aren’t wearing their masks properly, covering only their mouths while leaving their noses exposed. That’s a big problem. Probably bigger than you think.

Since our mouths and noses are ultimately connected to the same respiratory system, covering one but not the other drastically undercuts the effectiveness of mask-wearing. That’s where the deodorant (or more specifically, the lack of it) comes in. If passengers are encouraged to allow the natural scent of their body to develop and flower unabated, especially as the summer wears on in a largely non-air-conditioned city, they will provide one another with the encouragement they need to keep their faces fully covered and protected from vile odor and virus alike.”

Considering that Germany has handled the spread of the virus relatively well and is lead by a scientifically inclined individual (Angela Merkel completed her PhD thesis on Quantum Chemistry) it would probably be best to follow their lead on this one.  Even if doing so does stink.

Image

Is banning deodorant the Greatest Idea Ever?

 

What we know about COVID-19 constantly changes on a daily basis as new data gets harnessed, as new information comes to light.  Lately its been the idea that the dominant strain currently making the rounds is more contagious than previous strains albeit less deadly.  But there is also a renewed focus now on clarifying something that we’ve actually suspected from the get go: that COVID-19 is airborne.

Technically, the World Health Organization disagrees with that assessment but an international coalition of scientists are “100% sure” they’re right.

According to the New York Times:

“The World Health Organisation (WHO) has long held that the coronavirus is spread primarily by large respiratory droplets that, once expelled by infected people in coughs and sneezes, fall quickly to the floor.

But in an open letter to the WHO, 239 scientists in 32 countries have outlined the evidence showing that smaller particles can infect people and are calling for the agency to revise its recommendations.”

The Los Angeles Times adds:

“They say multiple studies demonstrate that particles known as aerosols — microscopic versions of standard respiratory droplets — can hang in the air for long periods and float dozens of feet, making poorly ventilated rooms, buses and other confined spaces dangerous, even when people stay six feet from one another.

‘We are 100% sure about this,’ said Lidia Morawska, a professor of atmospheric sciences and environmental engineering at Queensland University of Technology in Brisbane, Australia.”

Before you freak out it’s important to note that this has likely been the case the whole time.  The fact that it is airborne doesn’t mean that it’s circumventing the globe, mixing in with our oxygen supply and infecting everyone all at once.  If you are by yourself in an outdoor area you are probably fine.

But what it does mean is that indoor areas are especially vulnerable, even if you are practicing social distancing.  We’re going to have redesign air conditioners and air filtration systems, install UV lights everywhere, and most importantly, if you’re inside, anywhere inside at all, you need to be wearing a mask at all times.

Indoor precautions essential to stem airborne COVID-19

COVID-19 is likely airborne.  Proceed with extreme caution when indoors.

The other day I learned that vegans have to take Vitamin D supplements or face dire health consequences – because of their diets they aren’t getting enough Vitamin D naturally and that is a recipe for disaster.

According to My Food Data:

“Vitamin D is an essential vitamin required by the body for the absorption of calcium, bone development, immune functioning and alleviation of inflammation.

A deficiency of Vitamin D can lead to rickets, a weakened immune system, increased cancer risk, poor hair growth and osteomalacia.”

But now it turns out that everyone should be increasing their Vitamin D intake not just vegans.  For Vitamin D, long known for supporting the immune system, may actually help us prevent and treat COVID-19!

According to The Ladders:

“Research, conducted by a team at Medical University in Lublin, Poland, showed that the coronavirus attacks only one intracellular genetic target, the aryl hydrocarbon receptors(AhRs).

The hypothesis is that therapies targeting the downregulation of AhRs and IDO1 genes should decrease the severity of the infection. The study found that the active form of vitamin D and tocopherol, a form of vitamin E could play a part in helping with the down regulation of these genes.”

Thankfully, I’ve already been taking a Vitamin D gummy so I should be covered.  But I would highly recommend everyone else start doing the same or at least try to eat foods known to be high in Vitamin D.  Because when it comes to the coronavirus it’s better to be safe than sorry.

Why would I need a vitamin D prescription?

Is taking Vitamin D the Greatest Idea Ever?

 

I’ve been writing a lot about COVID-19, about all the latest mask innovations, creative ways to practice social distancing, and the all important pursuit of a vaccine but there are other medical breakthroughs worth mentioning as well.  Chief among them: a new way to heal broken bones using electric scaffolding.

As New Atlas puts it:

“We’ve already heard about implantable materials with a scaffolding-like microstructure, that help heal broken bones by giving bone cells a place to migrate into. A new one could work even better, though, by also providing electrical stimulation.

Scientists have previously had success using implants to mimic the body’s own electrical field, stimulating bone cells into reproducing. Unfortunately, though, these devices have tended to be bulky, requiring an integrated (potentially toxic) battery or a hard-wired external power source. Additionally, once the broken bone has healed, the implants have to be surgically removed.

Led by biomedical engineer Thanh Nguyen, scientists at the University of Connecticut have instead developed an electrified scaffold material which is wirelessly powered, and that never has to be taken out. It’s made of nanofibers of a non-toxic, piezoelectric polymer known as poly(L-lactic acid) or PLLA – piezoelectric materials produce an electrical charge in response to applied mechanical stress.

The idea is that after the material was implanted at a bone fracture site, the doctor or even the patient would periodically use an external handheld device to send pulses of ultrasound through to it. Those pulses would cause the scaffolding to vibrate, with the stress from those vibrations in turn causing it to generate a weak but therapeutic electrical field.

As the body’s stimulated bone cells proceeded to reproduce within the scaffolding, it would gradually and harmlessly dissolve. Eventually the material would be entirely replaced with natural bone, so nothing would need to be removed.”

But electric scaffolding isn’t the only amazing medical breakthrough in the works.  There’s also a new hydrogel that could make knee replacement surgeries obsolete.

Futurity explains:

“The thin, slippery layer of cartilage between the bones in the knee is magical stuff: strong enough to withstand a person’s weight, but soft and supple enough to cushion the joint against impact, over decades of repeat use.

That combination of soft-yet-strong has been hard to reproduce in the lab.”

But that may be about to change.  According to the article, “The developers of the new hydrogel—materials made of water-absorbing polymers—say it’s the first that’s capable of withstanding tugging and heavy loads as well as human cartilage, without wearing out over time.

In fact, “The material may look like a distant cousin of Jell-O—which it is—but it’s incredibly strong. It’s 60% water, but a single quarter-sized disc can bear the weight of a 100-pound kettlebell without tearing or losing its shape.”

All of which begs the question: what other amazing medical breakthroughs are on the way?!

A sample of the piezoelectric polymer

Is an electric scaffolding that heals broken bones the Greatest Idea Ever?

How do you say, “2020 sucks” in sign language?  I suppose I could Google it or ask Alexa but soon there will be a much cooler way to find out: communicating with a deaf person who would use specially designed sign language gloves capable of translating finger movements into speech to provide the answer.

But how would it work?! Fast Company explains:

“Researchers at UCLA have developed a promising solution. It’s a translation glove. The glove, which slips onto your hand like any other glove, features stretchy, polyester-wrapped wires that can track the positions of your fingers. Within a second, an onboard processor can translate those finger movements to one of more than 600 signs with a remarkable 98.63% accuracy. The results are beamed via Bluetooth to a companion app on your phone, which reads the words aloud.

Jun Chen, the assistant professor at UCLA’s Department of Engineering who led the research, tells us he was inspired to create the glove after being frustrated when trying to talk to a friend with hearing impairment. He looked at other solutions that had been proposed to translate ASL and found them imperfect. Vision recognition systems need the right lighting to make fingers legible. Another proposed solution, which can track the electrical impulses through your skin to read signs, requires the precise placement of sensors to get proper measurements.

Meanwhile, this glove leaps over UX hurdles because . . . it’s just a glove. To use it, all you need to do is wear it (though Chen has experimented with adding extra sensors that stick to your face, since expressions are also a nuanced part of ASL—which is a shortcoming that ASL translation projects often overlook). The glove is also cheap to create. The lab version you see here cost just $50 to build. Industrial mass production, Chen suggests, would drop the price significantly.”

 

Of course not everyone is going to love this idea as there will be those in the deaf community who are going to feel like they shouldn’t have to change their behavior just to make life easier for those with hearing.  And that is a legitimate concern.  Often times designers can come up with solutions that make situations worse or don’t fully take into account a community’s culture or feelings.  Sometimes just creating a useful product isn’t enough.  You may need to lay the groundwork to get it adopted as well.

But I for one hope that this particular idea does get adopted.  Because as great as sign language is, as unique and wonderful as it is, something that enables more people to engage with it would surely have to be considered an improvement.  And with these sign language gloves a deaf person could effectively travel anywhere, carrying around with them at all times their very own universal translator!  How cool is that?!

I talk a lot about game-changing breakthroughs and transformative technologies but this time we’re talking about an actual invention that really could transform people’s lives for the better.  One conversation at a time.  At least, that’s the hope.  We’ll have to wait and see how things actually play out.  Until then we’ll just have to resort to expressing what we think about 2020 with the one piece of sign language that we all know: sticking up our middle finger at it.

 

These Smart Gloves Can Translate Sign Language - Nextgov

 

Is a sign language glove the Greatest Idea Ever?

A quick look at everything that tickled my fancy this past week.

Let There Be Light:

Israeli researchers have discovered a new property of light: its ability to branch flow.

As the Times of Israel puts it:

“In an accidental breakthrough made while blowing kids’ soap bubbles, Israeli scientists have observed light behaving in a ‘beautiful’ manner never before seen by the human eye.

They captured the process on camera and wrote an academic paper declaring themselves the first people to see a physical phenomenon called ‘branched flow’ in action, which will be the cover story in Thursday’s edition of the renowned journal Nature.”

Interestingly, it could, “lead to a new area of physics…[where] the light from branched flow will be useful in medical diagnosis…[and] could bring about more pinpointed examination of blood vessels and veins, and could also be developed to ‘steer the flow of liquid’ inside the body to remedy some health issues.”

Better Queues: 

Netflix chills out, finally gives the people what they want: the ability to remove titles from their continue watching queue that they clearly have no interest in continuing to view due to the fact that they stopped viewing it in the first place!

As Deadline puts it:

“Netflix subscribers are celebrating the service’s latest innovation: the ‘Remove from row’ feature.

While it’s not exactly a game-changer, the feature is a fantastic way to remove annoying — or possibly embarrassing — content that keeps popping up in the ‘Continue Watching’ row.”

Netflix - Apps on Google Play

Higher Education:

COVID-19 may have forced everyone to turn to remote learning to finish their school years but one man in Japan took things to the extreme by going to a remote area of Japan to obtain the world’s first master’s degree in ninja studies!

CNN explains:

“A Japanese man has become the first person in the world to hold a master’s degree in ninja studies, after completing a graduate course that involved learning basic martial arts and how to stealthily climb mountains.

Genichi Mitsuhashi, 45, spent two years studying the history, traditions and fighting techniques of ninjas — the mysterious covert agents of feudal Japan — at the country’s Mie University.

Known for their secrecy and high levels of skill, ninjas were masters of espionage, sabotage, assassination and guerrilla warfare dating back to at least the 14th century. Yet Mitsuhashi said ninjas were also independent farmers, and he moved to the mountainous province of Iga, 220 miles from the Japanese capital Tokyo, to better understand how they lived.”
BBVA quiere convertir a sus empleados en 'ninjas digitales'

 

Amazing Hummingbirds:

The other day I almost got decapitated while reading outside, nearly the victim of an accidental Hummingbird flyby.  But that’s not why Hummingbirds are amazing.  They’re amazing because they can see colors that we can’t even fathom.

As Wired puts it:

“The tests showed that the birds could see every nonspectral color that the researchers threw at them. Color pairs that were closer together in hue resulted in more mistaken visits but still beat the 50/50 odds of the control experiments.

As an additional plausibility check, the researchers scanned databases of precisely measured colors that appear in plants and birds. These nonspectral colors are quite common in nature, accounting for 30 percent of bird plumage colors and 35 percent of plant colors in the databases. So it would certainly make sense that hummingbirds (and other birds) are able to see these colors in their environment.

And the researchers do think this study is generalizable beyond just the broad-tailed hummingbirds that volunteered for it. Many things are poorly understood about the physiology of eyesight across bird species, much less the neural processing of signals from those color cones in the eye, but what we do know suggests hummingbirds are probably representative. ‘Although these experiments were performed with hummingbirds,’ the team writes, ‘our findings are likely relevant to all diurnal, tetrachromatic birds and probably to many fish, reptiles, and invertebrates.'”

a hummingbird

Are any of these the Greatest Idea Ever?

#1,765 – Keen

Pinterest is a wealth of information.  A virtual pinboard filled with ideas, recipes, inspirational quotes, useful imagery, and much, more more.  It’s likely that you’ve encountered it during one of your many trips down an Internet rabbit hole and it’s even more likely that you’ve recently spent a lot of time on there during the quarantine to quell your boredom.

If so, I have some good news for you.  For Google is launching Keen, an AI powered Pinterest competitor that will help you find content relevant to your interests.  When all is said and done this new service may even be much better than Pinterest in the long run.

But what exactly is it?  If you’re keen to find out The Google blog explains:

On Keen, which is a web and Android app, you say what you want to spend more time on, and then curate content from the web and people you trust to help make that happen. You make a ‘keen,’ which can be about any topic, whether it’s baking delicious bread at homegetting into birding or researching typography. Keen lets you curate the content you love, share your collection with others and find new content based on what you have saved.

You can curate for yourself or for other people. Just as my wife found resources to help me learn about birding, you can use Keen to build a collection of your best resources on a topic you know well and share it with people who would enjoy your curation. The keens can be private or public, so you control what is shared and who can contribute.”

That idea of building collections and sharing them with others especially appeals to me.  I wouldn’t necessarily want to keep track of anything for myself but I would gladly curate a Keen of new ideas, hiking information, travel tips, or anything else relating to one of my primary interests for other people.

And if Keen is successfully able to leverage Google’s unparalleled AI expertise then it’s likely that these Keens that I would put together would be incredibly useful, filled with relevant information from a wide array of sources that I probably never would have discovered on my own.  So, look out Pinterest.  Business is about to pick up!

Google silently launches Pinterest-rival called Keen | TechGig

Is Keen the Greatest Idea Ever?

Quarantining has been a struggle for a lot of frustrated people who are bored, lonely, going stir crazy, and suffering from Skin Hunger.  For others it’s been a blessing in disguise, an opportunity to learn new skills, discover new passions, uncover hidden talents, and explore their creativity.

As we pass the half way point of the year I thought this would be a good time to take a quick break and look at the best content to come out of the quarantine so far.  Without further adieu I present to you the Quarantine Awards for the first half of 2020!  In no particular order…

Sarah Cooper’s Trump Impersonations:

We laugh so we won’t cry.

 

The Great Indoors:

These miniature characters are having the time of their life.  At least someone is…

 

Stuntmen fighting COVID remotely:

Transition videos that linked people in different locations became all the rage.  Here’s the video that started it all.

 

Mark Rober’s Squirrel Ninja Warrior Obstacle Course:

Move over Bill Nye the Science Guy!  Mark Rober is the science educator we all deserve.

 

Indoor Skiing:

Making the best of a bad situation.

 

Bookcase Credibility:

It’s important when appearing on TV remotely to position yourself in front of a bookcase to add a dash of credibility to your expertise.  It’s also important to make fun of those people on Twitter.

capture 4

 

National Treasure:

The Cleveland Indians did the best thing they’ve done since they starred in the movie Major League.  They snuck images of actor Nicolas Cage into 39 of their lineup cards last year and no one noticed! National Treasure meets National Pastime.

The Cleveland Indians' Brilliant Social Media Team Hid Nicolas ...

 

Finding Creative Ways to Social Distance:

Top prize goes to these neighbors who converted their fence into a social distancing friendly table.

 

Fake Plane Challenge:

Just because we couldn’t go anywhere doesn’t mean that we still couldn’t travel.

 

Rooftop Tennis:

The Olympics may have been postponed but that didn’t stop these neighbors from engaging in a rooftop tennis match.

 

Rube Goldberg Machines:

Useless machines that make things more complicated, not less, were a staple of quarantine.  And this 70 step basketball trick shot was at the top of the list:

 

Cat Art Gallery:

Everyone knows that if you want to win the Internet you need to feature cats.  This time it’s an art gallery for an injured cat that couldn’t go outside.

 

The Office Slack:

Miss your office? Or better yet miss The Office?  Then this slack channel that recreated entire Office episodes has got you covered.

How to Watch The Office Season 1 Episodes in Slack | Collider

 

Post It Note Art: 

And last but not least a special shout out to my friend Mike Zulla who gained international celebrity thanks to his Post It Note Art.

Are any of these the Greatest Idea Ever?!

For the most part humans are inherently driven to innovate, to reach for the stars.  We’re driven by Manifest Destiny to explore new places, constantly pushing the envelope wherever we go.  It’s who we are.  It’s what we do.  There was no financial incentive to discover fire or invent the wheel.  Man didn’t go to the Moon to get rich.  Most inventors, designers, garage tinkerers, craftsmen, and hobbyists do what they do not for the pursuit of riches, but rather for the richness that innovating fills their hearts with.

But every now and again we do need a quick kick in the butt, a financial incentive to get us over the hump, to get us motivated to solve, large intractable problems that have created a roadblock in our pursuit of progress.  That’s where incentive prizes come in.  These large-scale bonuses call attention to pressing issues and serve as a call to arms, drawing our best and brightest minds away from whatever else they were doing to focus on solving this new problem in the name of pride and prize.

The idea of financial competitions for generating ideas isn’t new.  In fact, the practice dates all the way back to England in 1714 and the creation of the Longitude Prize.  As the official Longitude Prize website explains:

“In 1714, the British Government offered, by Act of Parliament, £20,000 for a solution which could find longitude to within half a degree (equivalent to 2 minutes of time), and a group later known as the Board of Longitude was set up to assess submissions and offer rewards. These experts included the Astronomer Royal at Greenwich and other scientific, maritime and political leaders.”

It took a while but eventually a solution was found and mankind was off to the races with incentive competitions continuing to pop up throughout history.  Flash forward three hundred years and things are really in full swing.  An entire cottage industry has even sprung up around the practice with an entire website, InnoCentive, dedicated to them.  But the ones that usually get the biggest buzz are the multi-million dollar challenges organized by entrepreneur turned author Peter Diamandis, co-founder of Singularity University and Executive Chairmen of the X-Prize.

To date there have been X-Prizes focused on sub-orbital flight, creating more efficient cars, oil cleanup, and many more.  You’re probably familiar with the Lunar Lander prize.  Others, not so much.  Currently there are prizes based around AI, enhancing our understanding of ecosystems, turning carbon dioxide into products, and my personal favorite – a challenge to build a real life Avatar system.

Now comes news of the latest X-Prize challenge.  An invitation to solve one of the most pressing design challenges of our current time: how to build a better mask.  The prize hasn’t been announced yet.  Just a survey to figure out why it is that people don’t like wearing masks.  A fact finding mission to get the ball rolling.

But I can save them a lot of time.  Masks are stifling and uncomfortable.  They fog glasses.  They seem to increase your body temperate, making you feel hotter than you really are, making you assume that you can’t breathe when you really can.  They are boring and uncool.  Others may have trouble hearing you speak and there’s no opportunity for facial expressions to be seen.  They put deaf people at a severe disadvantage and there’s a belief that even if they protect you there’s a chance you could still wind up infecting yourself through the mere act of taking them off and putting them on.

The winning design would need to be sleek, sexy, transparent, and infused with tech.  We already have the C-Mask that comes along with a universal speech translator.  But since people seem to be most worried with how masks affect their ability to breathe I’m thinking that masks should also be tied to a smartphone app that displays your vitals thereby proving to you that everything is copacetic and whatever you think you’re feeling is really just in your head.

There are likely other solutions and that’s what the X-Prize mask competition hopes to find out.  And I have no doubt that they will.  Because when we are constrained, when our backs are against the wall, when all hope is lost…that is when some of our best ideas come out, forged in the fire of the creative process.  As all of the other X-Prize competitions have proven, time and time again, sometimes all it takes is a little nudge, a little incentive.

Is an X-Prize for mask design the Greatest Idea Ever?

The real title of this post should probably be “Triso Fuel” but Radioactive Gobstoppers has a much catchier ring to it.  But regardless of what you call it one thing is abundantly clear: we’re looking at the future of nuclear energy.  That’s because Triso Fuel can make nuclear power plants meltdown proof.

U.K. Nuclear Power Plant Guards Compared to Homer Simpson ...

But I’m no expert.  The extent of my nuclear energy knowledge comes from watching The Simpsons so I’ll let Wired explain:

The basic idea behind all nuclear power plants is the same: Convert the heat created by nuclear fission into electricity. There are several ways to do this, but in each case it involves a delicate balancing act between safety and efficiency. A nuclear reactor works best when the core is really hot, but if it gets too hot it will cause a meltdown and the environment will get poisoned and people may die and it will take billions of dollars to clean up the mess.

The last time this happened was less than a decade ago, when a massive earthquake followed by a series of tsunamis caused a meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi power plant in Japan. But a new generation of reactors coming online in the next few years aims to make these kinds of disasters a thing of the past. Not only will these reactors be smaller and more efficient than current nuclear power plants, but their designers claim they’ll be virtually meltdown-proof. Their secret? Millions of submillimeter-size grains of uranium individually wrapped in protective shells. It’s called triso fuel, and it’s like a radioactive gobstopper.”

Adds Futurism:

“The design is supposed to stop the uranium from ever melting — even at 3,200 degrees Fahrenheit. That kind of heat far exceeds your average nuclear reactor temperatures, which generally top out at 1,000 or 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit, according to Wired.

‘In the new reactor designs, it’s basically impossible to exceed these temperatures, because the reactor kind of shuts down as it reaches these high temperatures,’ Paul Demkowicz, director of the Advanced Gas Reactor Field Development and Qualification Program at Idaho National Laboratory, told Wired.

‘So if you take these reactor designs and combine them with a fuel that can handle the heat, you essentially have an accident-proof reactor,’ he added.”

As far as I’m concerned this is very good news.  Not having nuclear plants that can meltdown gives us one less thing to worry about.  Considering how 2020 has been going so far that’s no small feat.

Advances in high temperature nuclear reactor fuel - TRISO ...

 

Is Triso Fuel the Greatest Idea Ever?