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Archive for October, 2012

The UK edition of Wired Magazine just came out with a special issue dedicated entirely to the MIT Media Lab.  And I have to say that this is probably the best issue of Wired that I have ever read as it was jammed packed from cover to cover with amazing features and stories highlighting all of the incredible work going on at the lab.

This isn’t just your ordinary run of the mill research lab.   This is a place that is positioning itself under the leadership of its director, Joi Ito, to be at the forefront of a coming revolution in inter-disciplinary research that could change the World as we know it.  For the better that is.  As such, I think it’s important to highlight some of the things that they’re working on.  But be forewarned.  Your mind is about to be blown:

Augmented reality mirror:   Mirror, mirror on the wall whose the fairest of them all?  And oh by the way how is my health today?

Looking around corners:  You may never be able to have eyes in the back of your head but you soon may be able to look around corners thanks to this new technology.

http://web.media.mit.edu/~raskar/cornar/

EyeRing:  For those occassions when a mood ring just won’t cut it.

http://fluid.media.mit.edu/people/suranga/current/eyering.html

LuminAR Desklamp:  If you’re going to insist on still using a desktop computer why not make it out of the one thing that’s already on your desktop: your lamp.

http://fluid.media.mit.edu/people/natan/current/luminar.html

AIDA Driving Agent:  Frustrated because you’re stuck in traffic on your way to an important business meeting.  Don’t stress reassess because AIDA has got your back.

http://senseable.mit.edu/aida/

Conductive ink:  “Don’t wire a circuit – doodle it.”

http://www.popsci.com/diy/article/2012-03/invention-month-conductive-ink

Glasses free 3D Images:  Do you like 3D movies but hate the glasses?  You could be in luck.

http://www.extremetech.com/computing/132681-mit-develops-holographic-glasses-free-3d-tv

Zeron:  Have you ever wished that you could place a ball in mid air?  I know I have.

http://www.gizmag.com/zeron-levitates-magnetic-ball/22482/

Scratch:  A programming language for kids.  Show and tell just got a whole lot more interesting.

http://scratch.mit.edu/

 

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If there’s anything that I love doing more than coming up with ideas it’s coming up with crazy theories.  Not conspiracy theories mind you, although I do like those too, but rather scientific theories, albeit ones that may or may not have any credence to them, are usually impossibe to prove and for which no actual data exists.  For example, speculating that the Bermude Triangle is in fact a worm hole to another part of the Universe.  Sounds crazy and it probably is but it’s worth at least filing away in the “hey, you never know” category for future consideration on a rainy day. 

One of the other crazy theories that I’ve come up with that also resides in that category is the possiblity that lurking somewhere in the depths of the Ocean is an intelligent creature far smarter than humans.  Untouched by predators this species has evolved for millions of years developing unparalleled cognitive abilities.  But as fate would have it this poor creature is resigned to swimming around somewhat aimlessly in the abyss, limited by their lack of opposable thumbs and subsequent inability to build tools, construct structures, and develop a written language.  Unable to communicate with their land based counterparts they are powerless to prevent the planet wide destruction happening all around them and instead they are forced to watch from a distance as a less intelligent species ruins the planet. 

While that theory may sound far fetched and implausible it could very well be the exact scenario that’s playing out beneath the icy surface of Europa if in fact the oceans there are suitable for life to have developed.  And as it turns out it may also be the exact scenario playing out right here on Earth.  Except that instead of some unknown species from the bottom of the Ocean floor emerging to surprise us with their prowess it’s just your average, ordinary whale. 

Sounds crazy but this isn’t just a crackpot theory anymore.  This time it’s reality for there is now documented proof that a whale tried to communicate with a human:  http://cosmiclog.nbcnews.com/_news/2012/10/22/14599730-the-whale-that-talked-like-a-human?lite

As the article states, “The readings suggested that the whale varied the air pressure inside the nasal tract, expelling air through vibrating phonic lips to make the kinds of sounds that come from a human’s vocal cords. In short, the whale had figured out an alien way to talk like a human.”

That just blows my mind.  This isn’t just a simple case of an animal mimicking a sound that they heard.  This is a creature that had to think outside of the box to create a whole new way to communicate outside of their normal methods.  To me this implies that not only are whales capable of communicating with us but that they have a strong desire to.  Which leaves only one question.  What are they trying to tell us?

Are Whales smarter than humans?

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The other day I interrupted a conversation between two of my colleagues to which one of them replied, “hey, we were in the middle of a conversation here.” To which I replied, “that’s great but there’s nothing that you could be talking about that could possibly be more important than what I’m about to tell you because for what I’m about to tell you could change your life forever. ”

Intrigued my colleague gave me the floor and after I told her the Earth shattering news about a potential new fuel source from air (http://theenergycollective.com/robert-webb/133691/british-engineers-produce-amazing-petrol-air-technology-so-does-it-stack) she agreed. This was in fact the coolest thing ever and something that could very well change our lives forever.

There are however two concerns that immediately come to mind. First of all, are the British engineers behind this idea correct in believing that this could actually work on a large scale or is this just another in a long line of can’t miss clean energy technologies that will inevitably fall short of expectations? And more importantly even if the technology works would it actually produce more energy than the process would use up?

That’s the million dollar question and if there is a billion dollar answer accompanying it then we could very well be on the verge of a game changing clean energy revolution. And this time it’s for real. Possibly. Hopefully. Maybe.

Fuel from air. Amazing!

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#96 – Fire Brian Cashman

People that know me personally often compare me to George Costanza.  I’m hoping that it has more to do with the fact that I love reading the Daily News and have an overstuffed wallet and less to do with the fact that I have a receding hairline.  But there is one aspect of the comparison that holds true.  We both want to be the General Manager of the New York Yankees.

Unfortunately for me that’s never going to happen and it has nothing to do with the fact that I’m ridiculously under qualified and everything to do with the fact that their current Genera Manager, Brian Cashman, isn’t in danger of losing his job anytime soon.  Which I find to be inconceivable.  How is it possible that he not only avoids getting any of the blame for the team’s shortcomings but seems to gain more power along the way?

While you contemplate that let’s take a look at why I think that someone who has enjoyed unparalleled success should even be replaced.  After all, the Yankees did just lead the American League in victories and made the playoffs for the 16th time in 17 seasons winning 5 World Series titles along the way.  While those achievements are impressive in their own right they don’t measure up to the standard of excellence that the Yankees live by where’s it’s championship or bust each and every year.  And yet despite that mantra they have become increasingly complacent under the leadership of Brian Cashman just content to make the playoffs each year and take their chances in the crap shoot that is the Major League Baseball postseason.  I’m sorry but as a Yankees fan I find that to be unacceptable as is Cashman’s inability to draft, develop, acquire, or obtain any suitable starting pitching.  When the Yankees were enjoying their run of three straight World Series championships from 1998 to 2000 they were fueled by their starting pitching featuring the likes of Andy Pettitte, David Cone, David Wells, and Orlando Hernandez.  Everyday they were running out an ace pitcher.  Since then with Cashman calling the shots they have failed to find any decent starting pitching with the exception of CC Sabathia.  Just take a look at some of their failed acquisitions:  AJ Burnett, Jaret Wright, Jeff Weaver, Kei Igawa, Carl Pavano, Kevin Brown, Randy Johnson, Michael Pineda, and Javier Vasquez (twice).  Not only that but they have also failed to develop their own homegrown starting pitching other than Pettitte as both Phil Hughes and Ivan Nova have regressed this year and Joba Chamberlain, he of the infamous Joba rules, has been relegated to a middle relief role after a failed attempt to turn him into a a front line starting pitcher.

That inability to develop their own talent is especially troubling.  And unfortunately there’s no help on the way anytime soon as the Yankees latest pitching prospect triumvirate has fallen apart with the team cutting former first round draft pick, Andrew Brackman.  On top of that Manny Banuelos just underwent Tommy John elbow surgery after a season in which Bronx native Dellin Betances lost the ability to throw strikes.  Combining all that with the fact that the team failed to sign former first round pick Gerrit Cole out of high school (after going to college he is now with the Pittsburgh Pirates and is one of the best pitching prospects in the game) and have traded away some of their other good prospects (hello Jesus Montero) and it’s no wonder that the team can’t get over the top at the Major League level.  But of course Cashman will escape blame on that front as well with the player development department taking the hit instead.

In fact, Cashman is such a skilled politician that he can escape blame for pretty much everything.  The struggles of Alex Rodriguez?  Hank Steinbrenner’s fault for resigning him.  The struggles of Curtis Granderson against the Tigers?  He had poor vision and will be getting tested.  Sabathia’s game four stinker?  Sore elbow.  The team wide inability to hit in the clutch and manufacture runs?  Just a bad time for a slump.  No matter what aspect of the team gets questioned Cashman has an excuse lined up.

And yet despite his expertise at playing the blame game this is a man who is in fact a horrible politician.  This is a man who nearly ran the beloved Derek Jeter out of town when he was a free agent a few years ago telling him to test the market if he didn’t like the Yankees offer.  This is a man who is on record as saying he didn’t want to spend the money to sign relief pitcher, Rafael Soriano, which pissed off Soriano.  The same Rafael Soriano who became the team’s closer this year when Mariano Rivera got hurt, saving the team’s season in the process.  And let’s not forget the fact that this is a man who helped to run Joe Torre out of town because he was upset that Torre was getting all of the credit for the team’s run of success in the late 90’s.

That last point is worth repeating and emphasizing for it is emblematic of everything that’s wrong with the Yankees.  That’s right Cashman’s ego is the biggest problem facing the Yankees.   That’s because during this entire time the Yankees have had the highest payroll in baseball and with that comes a thankless no-win situation.  Win and it’s because you were supposed to.  Lose and get criticized.  Cashman is so obsessed with this that he’s been hell-bent on trying to lower the team’s payroll and build from within if for no other reason than to prove that he can win on a budget.  As a result he’s been continuously making bad decision after bad decision whether it’s deciding not to sign top international free agents like Yu Darvish or Yoenis Cespedes or not trading for ace pitcher Cliff Lee two years ago.

I would go on and continue to bash Cashman’s numerous short comings but it’s time to move onto the Walking Dead and I’m not talking about the Yankees offense.

Hopefully not Cashman much longer.

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I don’t drink. I don’t smoke. I don’t do drugs. I don’t cheat on my taxes. I don’t lie on my resume. I don’t do anything that I’m not supposed to. I don’t even jaywalk. Ah, who am I kidding of course I jaywalk. Everyone does. But I don’t do anything else that I’m not supposed to. I even return all of my library books and magazines on time. Even the back issues of Wired Magazine.

I am the prototypical law abiding citizen and in my spare time I like to pretend that I’m a crime fighting vigilante. For example, ever since 9/11 the NYPD has been running an advertising campaign on the Long Island Rail Road. The campaign states, “If you see something. Say something.” A couple of years ago I saw a man setting fire to one of the tracks at Jamaica Station. So I said something. Turns out the man was a LIRR employee who was purposely setting the fires to keep the tracks from freezing over. But that’s besides the point.

I also take every opportunity that I get to set things right. One time I found $80 on the floor of a 7/11. Rather than keep it I gave it to the cashier to hold onto in case anyone came looking for it. My reward? A single piece of Bazooka Joe chewing gum. Retail value: 5 cents.

But it’s not about the reward. It’s about doing the right thing. The morally upstanding thing. That’s why when I come across a lost cat sign on a telephone pole I actually canvase the neighborhood looking for it. And when I see a car approaching in the opposite direction at twilight I flash my lights at them to alert them to the fact that their headlights aren’t on.

Why am I telling you all this? Because apparently winning the citizenship award in the sixth grade was all for naught as I now have a criminal record after getting a ticket the other day for riding my bike on the sidewalk of a Queens suburb! And apparently I’m not the only one: http://transportationnation.org/2012/10/07/data-nypd-confirm-evolution-of-police-tactics-for-cyclists-in-nyc/.

Nor am I alone in my anger as the article states, “Cyclists argued it was too sudden, improperly targeted at the wrong offenses, and not focused enough on educating the city’s thousands of cyclists.”

First I can’t drink large sodas and now I can’t exercise. Mayor Bloomberg you need to make up your mind. Do you want me to be obese or do you want me to be in shape? You can’t have it both ways!

Now I definitely understand the rationale behind wanting to crack down on people who ride their bikes on the sidewalk because there are countless accidents in which pedestrians have literally been run over by bike messengers who pedal with reckless abandon, weaving in and out of traffic like their life is depending on it. And quite frankly it probably is. But I am not one of those people. The only person that has ever been endangered by my biking is me and I have the scars to prove it. At some point wouldn’t you think that common sense should prevail and that the law should be applied to those that it’s intended to crack down on? Or are you really going to take this law literally and start handing out tickets to an 8 year old riding around his block?

Better yet aren’t there better ways to be allocating resources than on a sting operation to catch people riding their bikes on the sidewalk? Like, gee I don’t know, counter terrorism. Or making our streets safer. Because the last time I checked the six o’clock news wasn’t all filled with fluff pieces. There are real crimes being committed by actual criminals. And I’m willing to bet that none of them have a citizenship award to their names.

Why ride your bike on the sidewalk when you could ride it in the middle of the street and have this happen to you?!

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#94 – From A to Z

Here’s a quick alphabetical look at all the great ideas that I’m obsessing about right now:

Athena:  From the “hey they stole my idea department” comes an announcement that Winter Storms will now be getting names ala Hurricanes with the first storm set to be called Athena.  It has a nice ring to it and it certainly sounds a whole lot better than last year’s, “that stupid storm that forced me to talk to my wife when the power got knocked out ’12”.:

http://usnews.nbcnews.com/_news/2012/10/02/14182155-winter-storms-to-be-named-by-weather-channel?lite

Bicycle made from cardboard – I’m all for “recycling” but this is a little ridiculous:

http://news.yahoo.com/blogs/sideshow/bicycle-built-cardboard-213331777.html

Coursera – The future of education has arrived:

https://www.coursera.org/

De-extinction – Don’t call it a comeback:

http://rare.longnow.org/

Extreme Dodgeball moves – Here’s a great idea; don’t play dodgeball with this guy:

Facebook Gifts – For when you are “reminded” of your best friend’s birthday at the last minute:

http://www.insidefacebook.com/2009/08/19/confirmed-facebook-expanding-gift-shop-to-include-virtual-and-physical-goods-from-developers-tonight/

Google street view – Now with an Ocean view!:

http://www.wptv.com/dpp/news/national/google-street-view-underwater-maps-when-will-google-add-more-underwater-features-and-whats-next

Hacker Hostel – No it’s not the name of a new horror film.  It’s the name of a shared living space in San Francisco for aspiring entrepreneurs:

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/07/06/technology/at-hacker-hostels-living-on-the-cheap-and-dreaming-of-digital-glory.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0

Ingenious use of a hot tub – First it’s a time machine now it’s a tug boat:

http://abcnews.go.com/blogs/lifestyle/2012/10/hot-tug-is-a-floating-hot-tub/

Jobs – I can’t believe it’s been one year already since his unfortunate passing.  I don’t think that we should be referring to him as our generation’s Thomas Edison since he’s more of a businessman than an actual inventor but regardless there’s no questioning his greatness:

http://www.wired.com/gadgetlab/2012/10/what-we-talk-about-when-we-talk-about-steve-jobs/

Kinesis – As in telekinesis as featured in the hit movie Looper.  I’m still not sure I understand what happened and I’m also not sure if I care.  If you haven’t seen this movie yet it’s worth checking out:

Littlebits – Move over legos there’s a new king of the toy aisle:

http://littlebits.cc/

Metrocard Discounts– New York City’s metro card redesign has turned these cards into coupons worth as much as 20% off at the Gap for example.  Making better use of the dead space on the back of a metro card now that’s a great idea:

NBC’s Revolution – Best new show?  Greatest show ever?:

http://www.nbc.com/revolution/

Oh Yea! -Die Hard 5 is coming out next year!:

http://news.yahoo.com/die-hard-5-given-name-2013-release-date-000633481.html

Presidential Election Game – Love game night and found the presidential debate the other night to be especially riveting? Then try your hand at this new game:

http://www.election-game.com/

Quantum computing aided by scotch tape – As if scotch tape needed another reason to be awesome:

http://www.wired.com/wiredenterprise/2012/09/scotch-tape/

Russia’s Hidden Diamond Mine – Finding a hidden diamond mine would be pretty cool in of itself but when you find a hidden diamond mine featuring especially hard diamonds that could be used for new scientific breakthroughs it’s even cooler:

http://livewire.talkingpointsmemo.com/entry/russia-reveals-massive-hidden-diamond-mine-in-asteroid

Sterile Neutrinos – Now that the Higgs Boson has been discovered sterile neutrinos become the Universe’s most mysterious particle.  Do they exist?  Will we ever find out:

http://somerandompearsonsblog.blogspot.com/2012/02/sterile-neutrinos-leave-ghostly.html

Travelling Stadium – Why spend billions of dollars on a tax payer funded stadium when you can just build a portable stadium?  Cold weather city Super Bowl anyone?:

http://www.popsci.com/technology/article/2012-07/change-venue

University of Sheffield’s Pollution Scrubbing Clothing -In the near future simply getting dressed in the morning could offset your carbon footprint thanks to a new clothing additive that cleans the air around it:

http://www.popsci.com/science/article/2012-09/your-clothes-could-soon-scrub-pollution-directly-air

Vesta – An audacious plan to mine natural resources from asteroids is in the works which means it won’t be long before we’re exploring one of the solar system’s largest asteroid, Vesta:

http://www.wired.com/wiredscience/2012/04/planetary-resources-asteroid-mining/

Warp Speed – Turns out it may be possible after all!:

http://www.complex.com/tech/2012/09/nasa-scientists-say-warp-speed-may-be-possible

Xeros Laundry – It’s laundry.  And it’s waterless!:

http://www.xerosltd.com/

Yahoo original programming – Have to give them credit for trying:

http://screen.yahoo.com/cybergeddon/

Zzzz – Are you still reading?!?!?

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Here’s a look at some random thoughts that have been keeping me up at night:

I’m sure by now most of you have seen that iPhone commercial where they highlight the fact that the range of motion of your thumb matches the size of the phone’s screen perfectly.  Seems like a good idea but how do they know that the phone will fit perfectly into your hand?  Don’t we all have different sized hands?  I’m pretty sure that my mini Burger King commercial hands are much smaller than the hands of the WWE’s Big Show.  If Apple is going to tout this feature then shouldn’t the phones come in different sizes so that it can match your range of motion?  After all, if you’re going to tout a feature wouldn’t it make sense to make it a feature that applies to everyone?! 

Facebook recently announced a plan to charge people upwards of $7 per post to promote certain things such as wedding announcements.  Paying this fee would give your post a higher level of visibility within your friends feeds so that the chances of someone seeing it are higher.  On the other hand they also announced plans to have a store linking to certain retailers so that people can buy last minute gifts for their friends’ birthdays which the site does a good job of highlighting.  These are two contrasting styles for raising revenus.  One is an affront to the core ethos that defines Facebook.  That’s the same one that is opening up a slippery slope that will lead to the dowfall of Facebook as users balk at having to pay for the basic features of the service.  The other is a subtle and clever way to make money off of an existing feature.  Facebook would be wise to find more subtle ways to make money. 

I know that there are ways to see how much data you are using on your phone so that you can avoid monthly overages but it bothers me that I have no idea how to equate that data to my activities.   Data is not as self explanatory as cell phone minutes where you are obviously using up one minute per minute spent talking on the phone.  Since data represents so many different things and since each program uses it up at different rates I have no way of knowing what I can and can’t do on my device.  Can I watch Netflix for 10 hours and then use the MLB app for 6 hours?  Or do I only get 10 hours of total video viewing no matter what service I’m using?  Am I using up data every second that I spend reading something on a website or only when I hit refresh on the page?  And if it equates to hitting refresh then how many times can I hit refresh before I use up  a byte of data?  Wouldn’t it be great if there was a way to see exactly how your activities were affecting your data usage?

Speaking of confusing technology that is over my head does anyone even know the best way to charge your phone?  If I use an iPad charger to charge an iPhone will that affect the phone’s performance and battery life?  Should I let the battery run all the way down before recharging or constantly keep it above a certain level?  Is it harmful if I leave it plugged in too long and it goes past 100% for hours and hours?  Can I use the phone while it’s charging?  Help!!

I hate the fact that when you subscribe to a magazine on the iPad you only start your subscription with the most recent issue.  Why can’t I start my membership retroactively to get the prior issue or the last few issues?  I think that a great way to attract new subscribers would be to give them a few back issues for free when they first join. 

How come most people only use umbrellas when it’s raining out and not when it’s really sunny out?

Would you want a customized phone that perfectly fit the size of your hand?

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