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Archive for July, 2012

The first in a series of posts about the Olympics.  

On the eve of the Olympics word came out that a female Olympian from Greece, Voula Papachristou, was being kicked out of the games for a racist tweet (http://sports.yahoo.com/blogs/olympics-fourth-place-medal/banned-greek-triple-jumper-bitter-upset-racist-tweet-162255969–oly.html).

Was the punishment excessive?  Probably.  Was it unfounded considering that she didn’t break any rules, laws, or codes of conduct?  Possibly.  But Olympians are supposed to be representatives of their country.  The very best of the best.  They’re not supposed to be loose cannons who harbor ill will towards other citizens.  In that sense the punishment may in fact be justifiable.

But what would have happened to Voula if she wasn’t an Olympian?  What if she was a school teacher who posted a racist tweet about her students?  Would she have been fired?  I would hope that the answer would be no because I’m a big advocate of Freedom of Speech.  However, that still doesn’t excuse this kind of ignorant behavior.  Someone who is racist is free to say racist things but at the same time everyone else is free to react to what was said.  Those reactions could lead to the person ultimately realizing the error of their ways and apologizing but is public humiliation enough of a punishment?

Perhaps the solution is to institute a fine for anyone who posts a racist message on a social networking site.  After all, seeing red in your bank account sounds like a much better deterrent than having to carry around the proverbial scarlet letter.  How would this work?  Well, the amount of the fine could vary with it increasing for repeat offenders.  I would suggest starting out at $100 and increasing in increments of $100 for each subsequent offense.  The money that’s raised could then be put into a fund to support victims of cyber crime.

I know that a lot of people are going to object to this idea and rightfully so.  Aside from the obvious logistical concerns over defining what exactly comprises a racist comment and determining who would even monitor or enforce such infractions there are going to be constitutional and legal concerns as well.  And I get that.  But at some point we have to take a stance against racism and in particular online racism and cyber bullying.

I’ve spoken in the past about establishing an online credit rating (https://greatestideaever.wordpress.com/2012/05/06/19-online-credit-rating/) and I still feel strongly about doing something, anything, that would make people more accountable for their actions online.  Youtube seems to agree with me based on their recent announcement that they want commenters to use their real names:  http://www.slate.com/blogs/future_tense/2012/07/25/youtube_wants_commenters_to_use_their_real_names_.html.  So, if we’re going to be making people more accountable for their actions shouldn’t we also be able to punish them when they cross the line?

The internet is what it is today because it was designed as an open, unregulated space where anonymity wasn’t only allowed it was encouraged.  But that ideal worked better when the internet was comprised of AOL chat rooms.  In today’s day and age of social media that doesn’t work so well anymore and it won’t be too much longer before there is an all out push to regulate the internet.  In fact, in the current issue of Wired Magazine there is an article about Russia’s Eugene Kaspersky of online security firm Kaspersky Lab and in it he suggests that we should have to use electronic passports in order to gain access to the internet so as to restrict access to certain sites (http://www.wired.com/dangerroom/2012/07/ff_kaspersky/all/) .

As cries for more stringent internet regulation ramp up it’s going to become harder and harder to maintain the freedom that we currently enjoy and people like Papachistou aren’t helping our cause.  That’s why we should institute a fine for online behavior that is in poor taste.  Either we give up a little bit of our Freedom of Speech or risk losing all of our freedom to surf the web without regulation.  I don’t know about you but I don’t want to get my online passport stamped anytime soon.

Instead of losing her spot in the Olympics, Voula Papachristou could have just paid a fine.

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On the flight back from Martha’s Vineyard I watched some of the Minority Report which was fitting because in the aftermath of what happened in Aurora, Colorado I was hoping to come up with an idea to address what happened.  For those of you who aren’t familiar with the movie it stars Tom Cruise as the head of a futuristic pre-crime unit designed to catch criminals before they commit violent acts such as killing their spouse.  In the wake of what happened in Colorado I can’t help but wonder if that’s exactly the kind of system that we need to prevent future attacks from happening.

Of course we don’t have three “precogs” who can see the future to base this program around but there may be other tools at our disposal including social media.  Case in point a study commissioned by the Online Privacy Foundation which hopes to analyze people’s Twitter feeds to determine if any of them are psychopaths (http://www.forbes.com/sites/kashmirhill/2012/07/20/using-twitter-to-help-expose-psychopaths/).   According to the study it turned out that 41 of the 2,900 people surveyed were in fact certifiable psychos.  Of course that doesn’t mean that any of them are actually the next James Holmes.  Just that their random thoughts, musings, and writing styles suggest certain Machiavellian or narcissistic traits.

I’m not sure that the formula that this study used is fool proof  but I do think that in theory they may be on to something.  Studying someone’s online behavior to look for alarming or abnormal behavior does seem like a good starting point at least.  After all, it can’t hurt to flag certain individuals and have the FBI investigate them further even if that person is a regular guy like you or me.  I know that privacy advocates will go up in arms over such measure but if we’re willing to subject ourselves to pat downs and random bag checks at airports in exchange for safer flights then wouldn’t we also be willing to subject ourselves to a potential FBI inquiry if it means feeling safer at our malls and movie theaters?

If we’re not then perhaps there’s a better way such as instituting a new law that would require everyone to take an annual personality test and then meet with a therapist once a year.  In doing so therapists would serve two purposes.  First of all, they would flag anyone harboring bad intentions as indicated by their test results and interactions during their one on one session.  And secondly they would try to talk any at risk people off the proverbial ledge.   Of course not everyone would want to comply with such a program and there may not be a way to enforce attendance but if it can save people from getting shot isn’t it worth a shot?

We may not have precogs at our disposal but there are things we can do to screen for psychopaths before they commit crimes.

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I just spent the last few days on Martha’s Vineyard with my sister and her family as per their annual summer family vacation.  It was my first time there and it hopefully won’t be my last as I grew to love the laid back lifestyle offered by the resort towns that we visited.  Of course renting out a multi-million dollar home with a waterfront view doesn’t hurt either.

While I was there I got to spend a lot of quality time with my twenty month old nephew, Benjamin.  AKA the greatest toddler ever.  We spent a lot of time outside whether we were at the house exploring the expansive backyard or the pergola in the front or if we were down at the beach or walking through town.  And the thing that became glaringly obvious to me, aside from how ridiculously cute he is, is that there really should be a better way to apply sunscreen.

Most of us just deal with the inconvenience without so much of a second thought but when you’re out in the sun with a toddler day in and day out applying sunscreen every five seconds you begin to wonder if there’s a better way.  And if you happen to know someone with a hairy back I’m sure you’ve wondered the same thing.

Which is why I’d like to take this time to promote my sister’s idea for a suntan lotion pill.  Just take the pill one hour prior to going out in the sun and your whole body will be protected for a set amount of time.  Sounds like a great idea in theory and hey if it’s possible to design a pill that allows someone who is lactose intolerant to eat dairy products then why shouldn’t it be possible to make a pill that can block the sun’s radiation?

Well it turns out that not only is it possible but it’s also already in the works:  http://www.fyiliving.com/health-news/sunscreen-pill-a-possibility-so-long-suntan-lotion/.  According to the article it may take several years before this product hits the market but it will eventually do so thanks to coral found in Australia’s Great Barrier Reef as the coral, “possesses UV blockers that help protect your skin from the sun’s harms.”  However, “since the coral is endangered, scientists will have to make artificial replicas of the coral and test its effectiveness on human skin.”

If doing this is actually possible just think about all of the amazing ramifications this would have.  You wouldn’t have to worry about getting a painful sunburn if you miss a spot applying lotion.  And you wouldn’t have to worry about suffering from the effects of sun poisoning if you happen to miss a lot of spots as my roommate did not too long ago.  Any and all sun related worries would be alleviated with one pill.  Come on scientists, don’t fail me now!

If a sunscreen pill can be invented then applying bottled suntan lotion may become a thing of the past.

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#68 – Save Dubai

I’ll be the first to admit that not all my ideas are going to be winners.  I do think that the vast majority though have a lot of merit but there are a few that are just bat shit crazy.  There’s really no way to sugar coat it.  I’m talking about everything from the Bermuda Triangle being a time portal to the Pyramids being built by ancient aliens .  Where did the Mayans disappear to?  That’s simple.  They went back to their home planet!  The Mayan calendar isn’t counting down to the end of the World it’s counting down to their return!

I could go on and on about all of my other crazy ideas and theories but that would take the focus away from what may very well be my craziest idea of all: saving Dubai.  After all, why should anyone care about what happens to rich people when capitalism runs amock?  No one is going to shed a tear for a laid off investment banker from Lehman Brothers and no one’s going to cry a river for rich sheiks when their visions for an oasis dry up.  They got their just desserts in the desert.

But to sneer at Dubai from your high horse is to miss the point.  For this isn’t just about over-development and mismanagement.  There’s enough of that going on in Atlantic City and Las Vegas to keep us busy for a long time.  Rather this is about the people who have been affected the most by the mass exodus:  the migrant workers who came to Dubai from places like Bangladesh in hopes of making money to support their families back home.

There are thousands of such workers trapped in Dubai since their passports were taken from them and they can’t afford to go back home.  How come no one has intervened on their behalf yet?  They are being forced to work in oppressive heat as if prisoners in some kind of work camp.  What exactly is their crime?

An article I found on the website of the British newspaper the Independent from 2009 (http://www.independent.co.uk/opinion/commentators/johann-hari/the-dark-side-of-dubai-1664368.html) sums it up best:

“Since the recession hit, they say, the electricity has been cut off in dozens of the camps, and the men have not been paid for months. Their companies have disappeared with their passports and their pay. “We have been robbed of everything. Even if somehow we get back to Bangladesh, the loan sharks will demand we repay our loans immediately, and when we can’t, we’ll be sent to prison.”

This is all supposed to be illegal. Employers are meant to pay on time, never take your passport, give you breaks in the heat – but I met nobody who said it happens. Not one. These men are conned into coming and trapped into staying, with the complicity of the Dubai authorities.

Sahinal could well die out here. A British man who used to work on construction projects told me: “There’s a huge number of suicides in the camps and on the construction sites, but they’re not reported. They’re described as ‘accidents’.” Even then, their families aren’t free: they simply inherit the debts. A Human Rights Watch study found there is a “cover-up of the true extent” of deaths from heat exhaustion, overwork and suicide, but the Indian consulate registered 971 deaths of their nationals in 2005 alone. After this figure was leaked, the consulates were told to stop counting.”

I can understand turning a blind eye to the ridiculous excess that led to an abandoned amusement park called Dubailand, a series of man made islands shaped like a map of the World, and building not only the World’s tallest building but it’s second tallest building as well.   But turning a blind eye to the people left behind is not acceptable.

Which begs the question:  what can be done?  A good start would be to bring worldwide attention to the issue, get charities and relief organizations involved, and work with government officials to provide these “prisoners” with the proper travel documentation so that they can leave the country.  But a better and longer lasting solution may be to actually follow through with the original vision for Dubai and finish all of the construction projects.  I know it sounds crazy but picking up the pieces and finishing all of these massive projects may be the only hope for the workers left behind.  Otherwise all of the people who died in the oppressive heat or committed suicide would have died in vain.

But here’s the catch.  We shouldn’t save it and have it act as a playground for the wealthy as originally intended . Rather if we’re going to save it we should do it for altruistic purposes.  Perhaps we should use it as a safe haven for the World’s political refugees.  I’m sure there are a lot of people in Syria who might sign up for that.

I’m open to suggestions though.  After all, if a call to arms for how to fix Detroit can lead to a suggestion for a Zombie Theme Park then what kind of ideas could be generated by a call to arms to save Dubai?  This may be one of my craziest ideas yet but then again doing nothing may be even crazier.

A quarter of the World’s cranes are said to reside in Dubai.

Anything you can do I can do but better…plans to build the World’s tallest and second tallest buildings.

Come on in, no lines today! Or any day. Dubailand remains unused…

These man made islands were designed to look like a Globe. Development has started on only one of them.

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Here’s a look at some more of the Greatest Inventions Ever:

1.  Spray Paint Batteries:  Turns out that spray paint isn’t just for graffiti artists anymore.  Scientists from Rice University have invented a spray on battery!  This could revolutionize the electric car market removing the need for space wasting car batteries:  http://www.forbes.com/sites/matthewdepaula/2012/06/30/soon-we-might-spray-paint-batteries-onto-any-surface/

However to be fair there is some downside to this invention according to a similar article in Wired Magazine (http://www.wired.com/wiredscience/2012/07/spray-paint-battery/), “The main drawback of the ingenious spray-paint system is that lithium-ion batteries need oxygen-free, dry conditions to be created since they are made using toxic, flammable and corrosive materials. The paper suggests further research is needed to develop electrodes less sensitive to moisture and oxygen, as well as paints that could completely protect the spray-painted batteries from these elements…”

Spray on batteries could turn any surface into a battery.

2.  Floating Bed:  When I was a teenager the only thing that I could make was a stack of Legos.  Look mom, I made a wall!  Meanwhile, a 19 year old from Reddit has made a floating bed:  http://www.tecca.com/news/2012/05/24/reddit-diy-floating-bed/

Move over water bed there’s a new gimmick bed in town.

3.  Suppressing fires using sound:  As wildfires continue to ravage parts of the United States there is a renewed sense of urgency to find new ways to fight fires just like there was a sense of urgency to find a better way for oil cleanup after the BP oil spill disaster in the Gulf two years ago.  But instead of turning to Kevin Costner for help we may be able to turn to DARPA:  http://www.wired.co.uk/news/archive/2012-07/13/sound-fire-extinguisher

4.  SensFloors:  Imagine living in a World where lights turn on when you step out of bed and then automatically adjust as you move through different rooms.  Sound too good to be true?  It may soon be possible thanks to smart floors, surfaces embedded with sensors, that will know when you are walking on them:   http://www.fastcompany.com/magazine/136/touching-innovation.html

With SensFloors you won’t have to stumble around in the dark at 3 am when you wake to go to the bathroom.

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#66 – Lintsanity

Jeremy Lin and Linsanity may be on the verge of leaving the New York Knicks to go to the Houston Rockets but that’s okay because he’s about to replaced by lintsanity aka fabric made from dryer lint:  http://www.fastcodesign.com/1670267/believe-it-fabric-made-from-sheets-of-dryer-lint#1

Now, a fabric made out of leftover lint may not excite most people but it matters a lot to me because this was one of the first ideas that I had!  I can still vividly recall the day that I was doing laundry with my mom at my house on Long Island when I told her that I thought that lint was an underutilized commodity that could be turned into something useful.  Like with my most of my ideas and crackpot schemes my mom thought I was crazy.  Hey mom, I hate to say I told you so but I told you so!!!!

Bragging rights with my mom aside this story also gives credence to my theory that there is a use for every single thing that exists in the World whether it’s a naturally occurring substance, a living organism, or even a waste by product like lint.  A theory that I will expand upon in a future post.

Until then, I guess it’s back to the old dryer board, er, drawing board to try and come up with more great ideas before somebody else beats me to it.

A vest made from dryer lint! Amazing!

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#65 – Sports Con

Comic Con is great.  At least I imagine it would be great.  I’ve never attended but from what I’ve heard it’s an awesome event.  And how could it not be when new characters for the upcoming third season of Games of Thrones are being introduced and the cast of Fringe is on hand to discuss their favorite moments from the show in advance of their last season.  If you’re a pop culture geek there’s nothing better than gaining access to your favorite actors and actresses from your favorite shows and finding out about what’s forthcoming.

Since this event is so popular I think that it would make a lot of sense to expand it.  But I’m not talking about spreading it to more cities.  Rather I’m talking about extending it to other topics.  In particular to sports.  Currently, most major sports and some individual teams host similar events called Fan Fests but those would pale in comparison to the scope and impact of a Comic Con type event.

If such an event did exist here’s a look at what could be on the agenda assuming that it were to take place around this time of year:

  • Olympics Preview:  Athletes from the upcoming Summer Olympic games in London could be on hand to promote their respective sports.  In addition, since this is the 20 year anniversary of the 1992 men’s basketball Dream Team members of that team could be hand to sign autographs, mingle with fans, and discuss the current team including everyone’s favorite topic of which team would win if they were to play each other in their primes.  A topic which has already drawn interesting comments from members of the Dream Team and members of the current team.
  • NBA Free Agency:  Speaking of basketball there has been a flurry of activity recently surrounding player free agency and trades.  For example, former league MVP Steve Nash has joined forces with Kobe Bryant in Los Angeles in a sign and trade deal just as future Hall of Famer Ray Allen decided to ditch the Boston Celtics for the defending champion Miami Heat.  Meanwhile, the Brooklyn Nets have orchestrated a coming out party by trading with Atlanta for Joe Johnson and resigning Deron Williams with the Houston Rockets gaining buzz left and right by signing Jeremy Lin away from the New York Knicks and putting themselves in position to land Dwight Howard from the Orlando Magic.  With so much going on wouldn’t it be great if some of these signings were announced at Sports Con?  Can you imagine the buzz that an in person Dwight Howard trade announcement would generate?
  • The Body Issue:  ESPN the Magazine recently came out with their controversial annual look at the bodies of athletes.  Those appearing in the issue could be on hand to discuss their decision to participate and how body image affects the lives of athletes.
  • College Football Playoffs:  It was finally announced a little while ago that college football with be implementing a playoff to determine the National Champion.  A panel could be set up to discuss this new format as well as other college related issues including the massive conference realignments that have been taking place and even the controversy surrounding Joe Paterno and Penn State.
  • WWE Showcase:  You could argue whether or not professional wrestling is a sport but there’s no arguing how popular it has become.  I’m sure that a WWE event would draw a huge crowd as current champion CM Punk makes an appearance to discuss his upcoming match at SummerSlam.
  • Hollywood:  This event could also be used to promote any movies or TV shows with a sports tie-in such as the HBO show Eastbound and Down.  Or if such an event existed last year it would have been the perfect venue to promote the Brad Pitt movie Moneyball.

Of course all of the other major sports leagues would want to be represented as well with officials from Major League Baseball on hand to discuss the recent all-star game and upcoming trading deadline and representatives from the NFL on hand to hype up the start of the new season on the heels of Drew Brees signing a record extension with the New Orleans Saints.

All in all, with so many sports and so much going on year round in each of them there’s always going to be something exciting and newsworthy going on.  Wouldn’t it make sense then to capture all of that excitement with the creation of Sports Con?

Hey Kevin Smith, you may want to save that hockey jersey for Sports Con!

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