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Archive for November, 2012

#119 – Next Issue

A friend of mine has referred to me as a modern day P.T. Barnum for the way that I hype everything up. This is the Greatest Idea Ever! No, this is the Greatest Idea Ever! No wait, I really meant that this is the Greatest Idea Ever! Well, ladies and gentlemen and children of all ages, prepare yourselves for you are about to finally see what is really, truly, once and for all, the Greatest Idea Ever!!!!! I give to you, drum roll please…Next Issue – a new app for your iPad or Android powered tablet that delivers you unlimited access to most major magazines for a monthly subscription fee Netflix style!!! (http://www.nextissue.com/home-page-1/?utm_expid=45829366-5)

If you’ve been following my blog for a while then this probably sounds familiar to you for back in June I pitched a very similar idea (https://greatestideaever.wordpress.com/2012/06/30/54-netmagz/): “Just like with Netflix users would pay a monthly subscription fee, let’s say $5, and in turn they would receive the back issue of their choice in the mail. Once it’s returned, in good condition of course, they would receive the next issue. There could even be a digital collection of some less popular titles akin to the Netflix Instant Queue.”

While my article primarily focused on the idea of being able to access any back issue of any magazine via the postal service Next Issue has instead focused their business model on the Instant Queue. For a set fee, up to $15 per month, you can get unlimited access to any of the magazines that they have partnered with so far. That sounds impressive but could be misleading if the best of the 75 magazines is Country Living. But in the case of Next Issue it’s anything but misleading as they have assembled a collection featuring some of the most popular magazines out there from Entertainment Weekly to Sports Illustrated and everything in between! They even have some of my favorite titles like Wired and Fast Company! And they claim to be adding additional titles all the time!  And there’s even a free 30 day trial!  This just keeps getting better and better.

And the best part of all is that they even have back issues! In some cases like with Time Magazine this means that issues go all the way back to the beginning of the year. For others that were just added to the service like ESPN the Magazine this means that only a couple of issues are available. Luckily for me Sports Illustrated is one of the magazines that goes pretty far back so even though the college football season is almost over I will be going back and reading the Sports Illustrated college football preview issue!

As for the app itself it’s very easy to use and the issues download very quickly, faster in fact than when you download something through the iPad’s own newsstand. In addition, you can chose to have the newest issues of the magazines that you are reading get automatically downloaded to your queue as they come in. The only drawback to this service is that you can’t download more than one title at a time and the downloading process will use up a decent amount of your device’s battery power.

That’s a small price to pay however for having unlimited access to the current issue as well as several back issues of nearly every major magazine. Now if you’ll excuse me I have to go and cancel all of my magazine subscriptions and get back to downloading all the back issues of Better Homes and Garden.

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Here’s a look at my “Instant Queue” on the new Next Issue app aka the Netflix of Magazines!

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I resume my week long feature series “From Mags to Riches:  Finding the Gold in your favorite magazines so you don’t have to” with a look at the BBC sponsored Focus.  Fans of Harry Potter, the Brittish Bulldog Davey Boy Smith and One Direction may disagree but Focus could very well be the best thing to come out of England since the Beatles.  At the very least it’s a close second behind Keira Knightley.

My affection can be traced to the fact that each issue is always jam packed with interesting articles about what’s on the cutting edge of science and technology and their October, 2012 issue was no different.  From the hunt for Earth’s Twin to the latest advances in robotics this issue covered a wide spectrum of potentially World changing ideas.  Here’s a look at a few of my favorite things from this issue:

Artificial Tactile Sensations:  “Imagine being able to run your finger across a picture of a dog on your tablet and being able to feel its fur..”  Thanks to scientists at Disney Research that dream may soon become reality.  According to the article, “When you touch certain objects, an electrostatic force is created that alters the friction between your finger and the surface.  By varying the electrical signal, different textures can be simulated.”  Thanks to this new technology the promise being offered by augmented reality may be realized.

BioBricks:  Building a colony on the Moon or Mars isn’t just for science fiction anymore.  It’s probably going to happen within the next twenty years.  But whether or not it’s successful will largely depend on how cost effective it is.  Enter BioBricks, which according to the article are “sequences of DNA that perform a particular function and can be added to a cell.”  These genetically engineered bacteria could provide food, medicine and building materials saving untold billions of dollars in shipping costs.

Raspberry Pi:  Missed out on that Black Friday sale for a new laptop?  Don’t fret.  Just get the Raspberry Pi and make your own computer for under $50!  As the article states, “The Raspberry Pi is a complete computer built upon a single circuit board the size of a credit card.  Straight out of its plain cardboard box, it won’t do much.  But pop in an SD memory card with an Operating System (OS) loaded on it, hook it up to a TV or monitor, add a keyboard, plug it into a Micro-USB port for power, and you’ll have a working personal computer…”

(Note:  this idea was discussed in this issue but it first appeared in the September issue)

To read more about these great ideas and many more be sure to check out the rest of this issue.

Check out Focus to read more about the Raspberry Pi and other great ideas.

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I take a break from the Mags to Riches Series and from bringing you the Greatest Ideas Ever to bring you a commentary on the Worst Idea Ever.  I had long thought about creating a spin off blog to celebrate such ideas, you know the ones that make you scratch your head and say to yourself, “Really? Somebody thought that was a good idea?”  I even had a great name picked out:  the Sarah Palin Decision to Run for Vice-President Memorial Blog.

If this blog had existed last week I probably would have used it to rip the NFL for their rule that came to light during the Lions-Texans Thanksgiving day game that says when you a challenge a scoring play that would have otherwise been eligible for an automatic review it negates the review!  What’s the point of that!  Impose a 15 yard unsportsmanlike penalty if you want but to not get the call right is unacceptable.

But alas I digress for the subject of today’s rant isn’t a sporting event.  It’s something far more egregious albeit equally entertaining.  The kind of thing that one would expect to exist within the confines of a Bond movie where one is supposed to suspend reality.  The kind of thing that is so outrageous that you can’t help but do a double take and check the calendar to make sure it’s not April 1st.  The kind of thing that makes you wonder if you’re actually living within an episode of the Twilight Zone.

What is it you wonder that has me in such a tizzy?  What is it that could possibly be the Worst Idea Ever?  Worse than Ted Turner’s plan to allow poor people to sell their right to have children (http://newsbusters.org/blogs/lachlan-markay/2010/12/09/ted-turners-craziest-scheme-yet-cap-and-tradewith-children).  Even worse then the Ancient Romans’ idea that the future could be read by studying the shapes of animal entrails.

The idea if I can even call it that, as it’s more like a crack pot scheme, was hatched by the United States Government during the Cold War at the height of their tension with the Soviet Union.  In order to show off how powerful they were the United States was prepared to blow up the Moon by setting off a nuclear weapon on it!  (http://www.businessinsider.com/how-the-us-planned-to-blow-up-the-moon-to-win-the-cold-war-2012-11)

According to the article, “At the height of the space race, the U.S. considered detonating an atom bomb on the moon as a display of America’s Cold War muscle.  The secret project, named ‘A Study of Lunar Research Flights’ and nicknamed ‘Project A119,’ however was never carried out.

America’s planning included calculations by astronomer Carl Sagan, then a young graduate student, of the behavior of dust and gas generated by the blast. According to the report, viewing the nuclear flash from Earth might have intimidated the Soviet Union and boosted U.S. confidence after the launch of Sputnik…”

Thankfully this plan was scrapped due to safety concerns as someone must have realized that without the moon there would be no life on Earth!!!!  Not to mention the fact that something could have gone wrong during the missile launch causing the payload to detonate over a major U.S. city or in another country causing a nuclear war that would have wiped out life on Earth!

I would have expected a plot like this to have involved the Soviet Union not the United States.  After all, there are conspiracy theorists out there who believe that the alleged crash landing of a UFO at Area 51 is really the work of the Russians who wanted to use the panic caused by an “alien invasion” to create mass hysteria.  The aliens in question were really just deformed children that the Russians had been experimenting on.  And yet it’s not the Russians who are behind this audacious plot but rather the Americans!

Hearing about this plan makes me rethink my recent desire to advocate the start of another Cold War, this time with China, assuming of course that one isn’t already going on.  My rationale for wanting to engage in such a conflict was that it would benefit space exploration.  Instead of racing to the Moon we’d be racing towards building a habitat on Mars or some other distant outpost.  But I take that back.  If Cold War hysteria is going to lead to a plot to blow up an object in our solar system we’d be better off without it.

Even Brian Williams agrees that this is the Worst Idea Ever.

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Up next in my week long series, “From Mags to Riches:  Finding the Gold in your favorite magazines so you don’t have to” is the December issue of Popular Mechanics which spotlights 110 futuristic predictions/ideas in honor of their 110th anniversary.  Here’s a look at a few of my favorites:

  • Don’t call it a comeback.  Woolly Mammoths and other extinct species could be brought back to life.  And it could be happening sooner than you think.
  • Climate-controlled jackets that could protect you from extreme heat or extreme cold by “sending an electric current across the junction between two different metals” could be on the way.
  • Speaking of awesome clothing researchers in China have developed clothes that use a titanium dioxide coating to clean themselves.   No need to hoard all those quarters anymore because in the future, “to revive your lucky shirt after a night of poker, you need only step into the sun.”
  • Addiction vaccines may soon be par for the course as scientists are hard at work trying to “persuade the body to produce antibodies that shut down drug molecules before they get to the brain.”  I wonder if this will work on my licorice nibs and Sunkist addictions.
  • Vegetarians rejoice.  You may soon be able to eat meat again thanks to new synthetic meat that tastes just like the real thing.  Sort of.  These new meats will be like the cover bands of the food pyramid.  It’ll look the same but you’ll know that something is a little bit off.  But will you mind?
  • People of the world rejoice.  Thanks to a new startup called Pronutria you won’t have any problem getting your fix of protein for they have “discovered an industrious single-cell organism that converts sunlight, CO2, and water into low-cost nutrients…in other words, the planet’s protein could be produced in an area half the size of Connecticut.”
  • And last but not least it may soon be possible to sequence someone’s genome before they are even born just by taking a blood sample from the mother and saliva from the father.  Could this help cure diseases before they start?

To read more about these ideas and dozens more be sure to check out the rest of this amazing issue.

With 110 ideas at your disposal you’re bound to find something you find interesting.

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Up next in my week long series, “From Mags to Riches:  Finding the Gold in your favorite magazines so you don’t have to” is the December issue of Scientific American which touts 10 World Changing Ideas.  To be honest I’ve kind of soured on Scientific American recently, as their writing is a little bit too dense for my liking.  In fact, this is the only science based magazine that I don’t subscribe to.  But I would be remiss if I didn’t give credit where credit was due and this issue certainly delivered the goods.  Here’s a look at which of their World Changing Ideas grabbed my attention:

XNA:  Wouldn’t it be great if we could create synthetic life forms that could clean up oil spills or turn waste water into electricity?  That’s the promise being offered by a new class of organisms being designed with XNA instead of DNA.  As the article explains, “Life is inconceivable without a system for genetic information storage and replication, but DNA and RNA are not unique.”  Enter XNA whose uniqueness could make it “immediately useful for medicine, biotechnology, and biology research.”

And just in case anyone fears a doomsday scenario where a rogue XNA based organism escapes into the wild and wrecks havoc on the environment you can rest assured that no harm can be done.  According to the article, “if such a creature escaped into the wild, it would die without a steady supply of XNA specific enzymes.  XNA could not weave itself into the genomes of natural organisms, because their native enzymes would not recognize it.”

Drones at Home:  Let’s play a quick word association game.  Just say the first thing that comes to mind when I say the word drone.  Chances are you immediately thought of war or of the military.  And that’s a fair commentary.  But in a few years if we were to play that word association game again there’s a chance you could be saying something else.  There’s a chance you could be saying toy.  That’s right.  We could very well be on the verge of having drones available for personal use.  Suddenly that friendly game of hide and go seek in the backyard just got a whole lot more intense.

Of course drones could also have any number of practical applications such as telling when crops need water, reporting on traffic jams or charting oil spills.  But there are legitimate concerns that should be raised before these drones start invading our stores.  Such as how to relegate the influx of so many small planes into already crowded air space and how to deal with the inevitable privacy issues that are going to arise when some ass clown uses ones to spy on his girlfriend.  And while those are legitimate concerns they could very well be negated by all of the good things that these drones are going to be doing.  So the question we have to ask ourselves is a rather simple one: is the risk worth the reward?  I don’t know.  All I know is that everyone’s going to want one.

Decanoic Acid:  In the future wars won’t be fought for oil.  They’ll be fought for water.  But what if there was a way to avoid that unsavory future?  What if there was a cheap and efficient way to turn salt water into fresh water?  The solution?  Decanoic Acid, a directional solvent, which occurs naturally in milk.  The key to its success?  It dissolves water without dissolving the other molecules that are in the water.

Unfortunately, there is a major deterrent to this plan.  It has to be cost effective.  As creator Anurag Bajpayee explains in the article, “we’ll have to beat the cost of the cheapest alternative, which right now is dumping.”  Let’s help that he can pull off that feat for this process, “could be a boon to cities, industries, and agricultural operations – all of which create vast amounts of dirty water…”

To find out  more about Decanoic Acid and the other ideas that I’ve spotlighted here as well to hear about foam that restores breathing, sugar-powered pacemakers, and electronic tattoos be sure to check out the rest of this issue.

Check out this issue to find out what other World Changing Ideas are out there.

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Welcome to my newest feature series, “From Mags to Riches: Finding the Gold in your favorite magazines so you don’t have to”. I begin my week long look at the best ideas from the newsstand with an unlikely source: the November issue of Inc. I was drawn to their most recent issue for two reasons. First of all, the iconic Sir Richard Branson was on the cover. And more importantly they ran a cover story entitled, “5 Big Ideas For The Next 15 Years.”

What I liked about this story was the angle that they took as they sought to spotlight companies bringing these ideas to life not just the idea itself. As they explained in the piece, “the potential for riches was not a determining factor ; building a multibillion-dollar business may be practically but not conceptually ambitious. Innovation was necessary but not sufficient – we passed over breakthrough inventions unsupported by concrete plans for wide-scale deployment.”

So did they uncover any companies worth getting excited about? Boy did they ever. Here’s a look at a few of my favorites:

  • Waste Enterprises: This company aims to solve the sanitation crisis in the developing world by turning raw human waste into biofuel pellets that sell for upwards of $200 a ton in parts of Europe. From the magazine, “this company operates on the premise that human waste is the one truly infinite resource. Find a way to reuse and monetize that resource, and we may be able to stem the global sanitation crisis where it starts.” Hey, it’s a dirty job but somebody’s got to do it.
  • Terrapower: In my last post I talked about a new technology that could usher in a clean energy revolution. The company that has that technology is none other than Terrapower. Why do I feel this way? Well, any company that boasts Bill Gates and Nathan Myhrvold as their brain trust will certainly get my attention. These titans are teaming up to develop a new nuclear energy technology called a traveling wave reactor that runs on depleted uranium. The reaction occurs slowly, over decades, with no need to refuel leading to reduced costs and improved safety. The article quotes Myhrvold as saying, “We knew we had to think about delivering massive amounts of emission-free energy with base-load power – meaning it’s available every hour of every day year round, not something that goes out when the sun or moon passes the horizon or the wind dies down.” An ambitious goal to be sure. If Terrapower can deliver the energy needed to pull it off we’ll all be better off.
  • Sage Bionetworks: This company aims to make medical research more efficient. As the article states, “In a world of competitive grants and publish – or – perish academe, data hoarding is the norm. Meanwhile, people in pain stay that way longer.” Sage Bionetworks wants to liberate that data making collaboration easier and helping to build a more complete picture of various diseases. They intend on doing that by building their own technology platform called “Synapse” which would create a shared space for researchers to use. According to founder Stephen Friend they aim to replace the “medical-industrial complex” with an open source model. If he’s able to pull it off patients everywhere may soon be giving up their personal information voluntarily. Wouldn’t that be refreshing?

This issue also highlights the Minerva Project, an education start up, and Ekso Bionics, which develops a wearable exoskeleton that enables paraplegics to walk. Check out this issue to read all about those companies, the ones I spotlighted, and everything else that they have to offer.

Check out this issue for other great ideas.

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A few days ago I hyped up the forthcoming 3D Printing Revolution that’s going to change the World. The next day while on the train I started to read an issue of Focus magazine that touted a forthcoming Quantum Revolution that is going to have a positive impact on computing and medicine among other things. Everywhere you look these days there’s someone else touting something else as the next great Revolution.

It would seem that the prediction market is as over saturated with claims about revolution as the radio is with replays of Call Me, Maybe. There’s even a show on NBC called Revolution. So, what gives? Are all of these claims about forthcoming revolutions overblown or are we really living on the verge of a Golden Age that could give way to no fewer than a dozen World changing revolutions at the same time? Before I can answer that let’s take a look at exactly what revolutions may be coming our way:

The Quantum Revolution: This aforementioned revolution may be the hardest to pull off and the one least likely to cause a revolution anytime soon. Long term though the possibility of having our lives improved by a deeper understanding of physics and specifically quantum mechanics is down right intriguing. Especially if it leads to the creation of a computer network that would be impenetrable to hackers. After all, it would be kind of hard to steal data that’s in two places at once.

The 3D Printing Revolution: This revolution may already be upon us (http://www.rawstory.com/rs/2012/11/23/scientists-create-cartilage-using-3-d-tissue-printer/?utm_source=twitterfeed&utm_medium=twitter). From printing toys to light bulbs to pieces of art are we on the verge of living in a society of makers where creativity is King? I sure hope so.

The Synthetic Biology Revolution: Are we on the verge of being able to play God and create truly synthetic life forms? If so, could we soon be living in a World where we can literally create a solution to any problem that we’re faced with? Microbes that clean up oil spills? Check. Wood that grows into a chair no assembly required? Check. Life enhanced? Check and double check.

The Augmented Reality Revolution: I fear that this revolution may be limited to video games and enhancing the in store shopping experience. In “reality” though there are so many more possible applications from the battle field to the classroom. Google glass is just going to be the beginning.

The Materials Science Revolution: Are we about to be living in a society where artificial enhancements to the human body are even more common than today’s tattoos? Thanks to nanotechnology and the continual creation of new materials we could soon be living in a World where the meat heads down at your local gym will soon be sporting muscle implants (http://gizmodo.com/5961174/muscles-made-from-wax+filled-yarn-are-way-stronger-than-your). What else are we in store for? Graphene it’s your time to shine. Don’t let us down.

The Space Revolution: The space race that once captured our imaginations is long gone and the shuttle program has now been shuttered. Is the final frontier dead? Hardly. With private companies and entrepreneurs like Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, and Richard Branson leading the way we’re about to embark on an era of space tourism in low earth orbit and eventually the moon. Throw in plans to start mining asteroids and the possible imminent announcement of being able to live on Mars or of finding life on a nearby exoplanet and we could be on the verge of taking the species to new heights.

The Clean Energy Revolution: Whether it’s wind power, solar power, wave power or the fleeting promise of cold fusion there’s been no shortage of potential clean energy revolutions on the verge of breaking through over the last few decades. Unfortunately, all have failed to live up to their promise and we still find ourselves mostly dependent on fossil fuels. However, that may be about to change thanks to several new projects in the works. (Check back for post #114 to find out which one is leading the way.)

The Data Mining Revolution: There is an abundance of data being created on a daily basis and we’re just starting to figure out how to use it to our advantage. Soon we may be able to use this data to cure major diseases, improve traffic flow, and create apps that improve our way of life. Today’s data scientists may be tomorrow’s rock stars.

The Neuroscience Revolution: We’ve done some pretty incredible things as a species and continue to do so as the recent discovery of the Higgs Boson can attest to. And yet we are no closer to understanding how the brain works. If we can make progress in this area we could cure alzheimer’s disease for starters. Advancements in optogenetics and brain mapping are leading the way.

There you have it. Nine potentially World changing revolutions and I haven’t even mentioned the internet of things, wearable computers, emotion enabled technology, or even biomimicry (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-20465982#?utm_source=twitterfeed&utm_medium=twitter). So much promise out there. So many possibilities.

Of course we’ve seen these kind of mini-revolutions before whether it’s been the personal computer revolution or the smart phone revolution or the social media revolution. Any time a new technology comes along that threatens to disrupt the status quo there’s bound to be someone who will label it as a revolution. And whose to say that they’re wrong? This isn’t necessarily a case of the boy who cried wolf. Each and every one of these “revolutions” could very well change our lives. Some of them may impact our lives a great deal. Others not so much.

Can I tell you which one will have the greatest impact or even rank them for you? Probably not. All I know is that a revolution is coming. But this time instead of running around shouting “the redcoats are coming, the redcoats are coming” we’ll be shouting “the lab coats are coming, the lab coats are coming” for scientists are leading the charge. I for one can’t wait to see what they come up with. Bring on the revolutions!

Revolution is coming. But which one?

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