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Archive for July, 2013

#271 – Karma

Continuing with today’s theme of great ideas that help other people I present to you: Karma.  No, it’s not the night club that got frequented on every episode of the Jersey Shore.  Rather it’s that other kind of hot spot.  A Wi-Fi hot spot.  And it’s the first of its kind.

Here’s how it works.  Users sign up and pay for a set amount of data usage.  The data is theirs to own meaning that any data that goes unused can be carried over to the next month or stored for use years later.  Once you pay for it it is yours to do what you like.  But wait.  There’s more.  The whole point of Karma is to pay it forward.  So if you share your connection with other people you earn an additional 100 mb every time someone signs up for the service using your connection.  For doing so they also get a free 100 mb to get them started.  It’s the 21st Century equivalent of what goes around comes around.  And in this context you are definitely going to want what is coming back at you.

An article on Mashable sums it up best:

“There’ll be a day, if one recent Wi-Fi startup has its way, when you switch on your tablet or laptop and the wireless Internet access you need is just there. Automatically, everywhere, every time.

You won’t think about it. You won’t search for elusive hotspots. You’ll just get to browsing, and the days when passwords or daily- or monthly-pass payments stood in the way of productivity are no more — they’ll vanish, much like the brick-and-mortar video store.”

Steven van Wel, co-founder of  Karma was quoted in that same Mashable article as saying:

“We like to think about it as this crazy idea: Your data is yours and you can do with it anything you please. You buy data, you consume it whenever you need it, wherever you need it, and that’s the basic premise of Karma. We get you a line, we allow you to pay for your data consumption and that’s it. We never penalize you according to how you use your data. If you have [some of your data allowance] left at the end of the month, you’re free to use it next month. You’re free to use it in two years. It’s your data, you paid for it … and the next step for us is to build this social-bandwidth platform, allowing anyone to connect to a Karma Wi-Fi and get a line. You don’t pay for their data, you just help them to get a line.”

Not since the Etch a Sketch was at the height of its popularity have a bunch of lines brought so much joy to so many people.

Karma-Hotspot

The more you share the more free data you can earn…

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Nearly a year ago I wrote about the MIT Media Lab and some of the awesome things that they were working on.  Things like an augmented reality mirror, conductive ink, and glasses free 3-D images.  Now it appears as though those crazy kids from Boston are at it again, doing even more awesome things.  But this time the awesomeness isn’t taking place on a college campus in Massachusetts.  Rather, it’s taking place all over the World thanks to grants handed out by the Awesome Foundation.

According to the BBC  this foundation was started in 2009 at MIT by a group of students and friends.  It has since morphed into a wide spread organization with chapters around the World.  The objective of the foundation is simple.  Give out small scale no strings attached funding to a variety of projects ranging from the quirky (using a giant inflatable boulder to re-enact the famous Temple chase scene from Indiana Jones) to the ambitious.  It is as they say on their website, “a micro-genius grant for flashes of micro-brilliance.”

Referred to as “guerrilla philanthropists” by Christina Xu, the chancellor of the Awesome Foundation, the purpose of these local foundations is to give away money for no other reason than to help make their communities more awesome.  To do so members contribute $100 a month and then hold a monthly meeting to read through grant applications and decide who they want to give a $1,000 grant to.  While that may not seem like a lot on the surface, it means everything to the struggling inventor who just needs a tiny, little kick start to buy the parts or supplies that they need to turn their dream into a reality.

Far too often in life we hear about the worst in people.  Just turn on the 6 o’clock news any day of the week and almost every story will be over saturated with doom and gloom.  So, it’s refreshing for once to hear about people doing something nice for total strangers just for the hell of it.  Just because they can.  Just because they want to make the World a little more awesome.  I may not be able to understand everything that goes on at MIT but the idea of helping others, of trying to make the World a better place, now that’s a concept I can understand.

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It doesn’t get much more awesome than this!!!!

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The news was flying in fast and furious this past weekend from San Diego, home once again to Comic Con.  From Marvel unveiling plans for The Avengers sequel to the release of an amazing trailer for the return of the Walking Dead in October there was plenty to buzz about.  With Sci-Fi dominating the headlines it sure seems like as good a time as any to bring back that ever popular Sci-Fi rallying cry that never seems to go out of style: where are all the flying cars! 

Ever since we watched the Jetsons as kids and then saw the Delorean showcased in the Back to the Future series during our adolescence we’ve waited patiently for the day that flying cars would whisk us from one place to the next.  Sure there have been other technological advances that have come and gone since the Jetsons first aired.  Devices like the personal computer and cell phone that have made our lives easier and helped us connect with one another like never before.  Gadgets that we now can’t imagine living without.  And yet it’s still seemed as though nothing was ever good enough.  No matter what was being invented, or how cool it was, or even how potentially life changing it was, it was never what we really wanted.  It was never a flying car.  The holy grail of our Sci-Fi fantasies remained elusive. 

Surprisingly, that was always okay with me because to be honest I’m not even sure if I want flying cars to exist. Regular planes already seem to have enough trouble as it is as witnessed by yesterday’s landing gear issue at LaGuardia airport.  Not to mention the fact that airspace is already over crowded and will continue to get even more crowded once everyone has a pet drone in the sky following them around.  Add in flying cars to the mix and there won’t be any room up there anymore for birds or clouds! 

Plus I have to admit that I’m kind of afraid of heights.  Not deathly afraid mind you.  Nor am I at the John Madden take a coach bus everywhere I go level.  It’s just that I prefer to keep two feet on old Terra Firma as much as possible thank you very much.  It all started when I was seven years old when my family took a trip to Ellis Island to see the Statue of Liberty.  At the time old Lady Liberty was undergoing repair work and so we had to take the stairs all the way to the top to the observation deck.  Once there 3/4 of it was off limits but there was one side that was open to viewing.  Being only seven years old though I did what most seven year olds do and wandered off to get a better look from one of the off limits areas.  It was a windy day so it didn’t take much to send me off balance after I started to lean forward to check out the view.  I would have plummeted to my death but just as I was about to start my descent my dad grabbed me by my shirt collar and pulled me back to safety.  To this day my mom and sister deny that this ever happened and think I just dreamt up the whole thing.  But I’m convinced that it really happened.  Either way I’ve been avoiding heights ever since just to be on the safe side. 

But for those of you who may be more adventurous you’ll be pleased to find out that flying cars could soon be on the market thanks to Boston based Terrafugia.  According to the Wall Street Journal these new hybrid car/planes will make their long awaited public debut at EAA AirVenture, “an annual gathering of aviation enthusiasts and industry insiders in Oshkosh , Wisc.”  While the planes figure to excite the on lookers at this event it’s the promise that these vehicles offer the general public that has everyone else giddy.  That’s because according to the Daily Mail, motorized rotors on the wings that work similarly to helicopter blades will allow these vehicles to take off vertically!  That means that you can quickly find an alternative route if you get stuck in traffic!  And with wings that easily fold up it’ll be easy to transition from the open skies to the crowded confines of your house’s garage.  With a range of approximately 500 miles and an ability to travel at up to 200 mph these flying cars could make it a cinch to travel short distances.  Roosevelt Field Mall here I come!

As cool as that it is though it’s still not enough to get me interested in actually using one of these flying cars but there is another Jetsons inspired technological breakthrough that I can see myself using.  And that’s the Shower Clean Suit created by the Japanese company Konaka.  That’s right instead of taking your suit to the dry cleaners you can just wear it while you take a shower and presto!  You have yourself a clean suit.  Now all I need is my very own Rosie cleaning robot and I’ll be all set.

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Thanks to Terrafugia and Konaka our Jetsons inspired vision of the future is about to come true.

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#268 – Soylent Green

Today at work I took part in four separate conversations about food. About what I either had just eaten, was eating, or would be eating later on. That doesn’t even take into account all of the conversations that I had with myself about what I wanted to eat for lunch or the half an hour I spent talking about an upcoming Ice Cream social during an activities committee meeting. Ironically, the thing that we’re supposed to be consuming consumes our every waking moment. Not to mention the time that we spend buying food, preparing food, eating food, and ultimately cleaning up after we’re done making a mess of food. It’s exhausting just thinking about it.

This is why I try to avoid the long arduous process that is meal time and just eat out as often as possible but that’s a less than ideal scenario as well. One that leaves me out of shape and with less disposable income than I’d like. In short, food is like a woman. You can’t live with them and you can’t live without them. Speaking of women and food this seems like a good time to mention that I hate girls who refer to themselves as foodies. Anytime I see that listed on a girl’s online dating profile I immediately skip to the next profile even if the girl was otherwise perfect. I do that primarily because I’m a picky eater and I know that a self professed foodie isn’t going to be a good match for me. But I also do that because I hate the idea of a foodie, of someone who voluntarily spends the few spare minutes that they have away from food, (when they are not thinking about, consuming, preparing, or digesting food), with food, thinking about it, talking about it, and obsessing over it. Enough is enough.

This is why I’m very excited to find out that there is such a thing as a reverse foodie! These are people who prescribe to a liquid diet created by Rob Rhinehart and outlined in the latest issue of Popular Science. Dubbed Soylent Green this homemade mixture includes a wide array of ingredients such as whey isolate for protein, maltodextrin for carbs and oat powder for fiber. On average each drink provides about 800 calories which should be more than enough for the average person to subside on. Having followed this routine for over six months Rhinehart claims, “an increase in energy, clearer skin, and less dandruff.” But here’s the best part: this diet only costs about $150 per month! I probably spend that much per week.

In the interest of full disclosure I should mention that there are risks involved. Rhinehart did get potassium poisoning which resulted in heart palpitations but that was when he was still experimenting on the right mix of ingredients. From all accounts Soylent Green has now worked out all the kinks and has amassed quite the following online. (Although I can’t imagine it tastes all that great).

The next step for Rhinehart and company is to start mass production in hopes of one day making enough money to subsidize distribution to the poor. There also could be branches of the military that have an interest in using Soylent Green in lieu of other food alternatives that may be costly to ship and maintain.

Now if you ask me Soylent Green will never replace eating a mouth watering strawberry or digging into a big, juicy steak. And that’s coming from me, someone who doesn’t even like food, and who eats out of necessity and not for enjoyment. And considering the number of foodies out there I’m sure there will be plenty of kick back when this product starts to make it main stream. So, while I’m not ready to anoint this liquid diet the future of food I am at least appreciative of the fact that there is someone out there who is just as annoyed with food as I am, and who is actually trying to do something about it. Thank you Rob Rhinehart. Keep up the good work.

Now if you’ll excuse me I have to go figure out what I want for dessert.

Giada-de-Laurentiis-2

I wonder what Giada could make with Soylent Green…

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#267 – Pursue.it

There are so many things on my To Do list that I never get around to doing.  I call them pursuits because I’m constantly chasing after them.  Elusive yet obtainable they are the non-essential extra-curricular activities that I wish I had time for.  In my case there are creative pursuits like book and screenplay ideas.  Over twenty of them at last count.  Unable to decide which of them to devote attention to I wind up working on none of them.  There are also intellectual pursuits like spending time on a website such as GalaxyZoo, a site that I have bookmarked and written about but have sadly never used.  And yes there are even career pursuits in the form of a list of companies that I want to write a letter to in hopes that my life story will convince them to hire me.  Not all of these pursuits are going to save the World but I value them all equally nonetheless.  They are the proverbial carrot on a stick, constantly dangling in front of me, teasing me, taunting me, laughing at me.  And they remain elusive to this day.

Of course I could hire a personal assistant for some of these pursuits and I have tried just that in the past.  But that is an expensive proposition and it’s highly unlikely that I can find one person with the skill set to handle all of my diverse interests.  TaskRabbit isn’t a good fit either as most of my pursuits aren’t suitable for rabbits to handle.  There’s no Ikea furniture in need of assembling here.  No, what I need is a whole army of people from a variety of backgrounds specializing in a wide array of disciplines that will work for free.  And what I need doesn’t exist.  Not yet at least.  Pursue.it could change all that.

But why would anyone voluntarily give up their own free time, and take away from their ability to pursue their own interests, to help someone else pursue theirs for free?  The answer is simple.  Reputation.  It’s the same reason why people obsess over Wikipedia entries for free.  The same reason why people answer questions on Quora.  We live in a reputation economy now and people genuinely like/enjoy putting their expertise to use to help people and set the record straight.  Having our contributions accepted and liked by others feeds into a positive feedback loop that keeps us going.  With that in mind I think that people would be more than willing to help out other people with their pursuits if said pursuit aligns with their own interests.

In addition, it’s my hope ultimately that the person that posted the pursuit and the person that helped them out could form a bond and make a connection that leads to more partnerships.  The best example of this may be of a semi famous creative person who takes to the site to enlist help with a project.  Let’s say the semi famous creative person in this instance is a writer like Aaron Sorkin and he needs help brainstorming character names for a new role on The Newsroom.  He could post this as a pursuit and maybe, just maybe, someone will do such a good job with the project that the person will wind up getting offered a job to work full time on the show.  Hey, crazier things have happened.

As far fetched as this concept may seem at first glance I think that the idea has some merit.  We all have a wish list of things that we wish we could devote more time to whether it’s our Pinterest page or a scrap booking project.  Why should we just continue to ignore those interests when there may be people out there more than wiling to help us out?  We shouldn’t and hopefully one day soon we won’t have to.

In the meantime does anyone want to help me put my collection of back issues of Wired Magazine in chronological order?

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Pursue.it would put the elusive items on your To Do list within reach.

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Last week I went for a physical and received a clean bill of health.  Good news, right? Well it would be if I were healthy!  But I’m anything but.  You see, I have a whole litany of ailments that I’m currently suffering from.  A jammed toe from playing soccer that is still preventing me from walking normally nearly three months after the injury first occurred.  A sore ankle that will never be 100% following major surgery several years ago.  Lower back pain and an inflamed rib cage that is sensitive to touch resulting from a car accident over five years ago.  And so on.

Either I’ve been turned into a real life version of the Operation game board, I’m actually as hurt as I say I am or I’m a hypochondriac.  Either way there is cause for concern.  Of course most people are simply going to assume it’s the latter.  And to be honest I can’t blame them.  From an outsider’s perspective when you have someone who is complaining about so many different ailments, who sees a commercial for Sleep Apnea or some other obscure issue and automatically thinks that they have that, it’s easy to say that person must be exaggerating the severity of their injuries.  But I know the difference between being injured and having pain and I know my own body.  When something’s not right I know it even if no one will believe me.  Which is often.

Case in point is the clicking sound that I’ve been hearing in my ears for nearly twenty years.  Or the sharp pain in my elbow that’s persisted ever since I injured it in the seventh grade while throwing a tennis ball.  Or the occasional tingling sensation I’ll feel in my nose.  I’ve gone for tests for these conditions and all of the other ones that I’ve suffered from over the years and nothing has ever been wrong.  One doctor even had the audacity to accuse me of not being in tune with my own body.  Can you believe that?  It’s gotten to the point where I’m starting to doubt my own sanity.  It’s like I’m living out an episode of House where I’m suffering from mysterious injuries that can’t be explained until House comes in during the last two minutes of the show and figures it all out.  Except that so far in my life no one has figured any of it out.

So where does this leave me?  Aside from being on the verge of becoming the youngest person to ever get accepted into an assisted living facility you mean?  Well, for starters it leaves me concerned.  Not for my own well being necessarily but for other people like me in similar circumstances.  How many people out there are suffering in silence like me?  How many people are living with pain that our doctors can’t detect?  Thousands?  Millions?

To give a voice to these people I’d like to propose that we devise a way to detect pain via either a blood or urine test and make this test a standard part of any physical.  By identifying how much inflammation a person has in their body at any one time doctors will be able to prescribe medication or physical therapy or whatever other treatment may be best to help that person deal with whatever pain they may be in.

I think that the time has come to look at pain as a treatable symptom and not just shrug our shoulders at it.  To quantify pain scientifically instead of just asking patients to pick a number from 1-10.  I may very well be a hypochondriac but I do know one thing: I’m not pain free.  My physical should have told me that.  Hopefully one day it will.

Pain Scale

Wouldn’t it be better if we had a way to test for pain?

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A few months ago in their May 2013 edition, PC World Magazine unveiled a list of 101 Great Websites You’ve Never Heard Of.  Some of the websites profiled I had heard about but there were quite a few newbies that blew my mind.  Here’s a look at my favorite ones:

1.  Futureme.org – This site allows users to send emails to themselves…in the future!   So what are you waiting for?  Go send some inspiration to your future self.

2.  Slydial – This service allows you to send a call straight to voice mail enabling you to skip straight to the point and avoid annoying chit chat.  When would this be useful?  As the site explains, “You desperately need to call your girlfriend but she is a talker and you don’t want to spend an hour on the phone with her because you would much rather watch the game with your buddies. Leave her a sweet voicemail and get a reprieve for the night.”

3.  Jobdreaming – This site sends users job opportunities based on the criteria entered by the user taking all of the stress out of the job hunting process.  Take that Linkedin.  As their website explains, “We know you don’t want to spend days looking through jobs boards waiting for that perfect position to appear. You also might not want to let others know you would consider a change, and possibly jeopardize the job you already have. Instead of trolling job boards or waiting for a recruiter to call – you take 30 seconds and give us a quick overview of the types of jobs you’d like to be notified about. It can be one thing, or lots of things.”

4.  Canistream.it – If you a cord cutter and want to find out where to watch something then this site is for you.  A review on appstorm.net says it best, “we have always had a hard time with is figuring out where and when a movie or show is streaming. For example, sometimes a TV show is on Hulu Plus, but not on Netflix, or a movie is available on iTunes, but not on Amazon or Netflix. A part of me wishes that all the different services would release shows and movies at the same time, but we know that is a pipe dream.  That’d leave you with the arduous task of searching between all the services, if it weren’t for a new app: Can I Stream It?.  This web app takes the headache of trying to figure out what is playing on what service…”

5.  Vizify – Resumes are yesterday’s news.  Use Vizify to create a sleek digital bio for future employers and daters to see when they search for you online.  As an article on Mashable says, “Vizify creates a paginated profile that visualizes data from social media accounts including Facebook, Foursquare, LinkedIn, Instagram and Twitter. Once you input all those sources, your profile will run about 11 pages — but you can edit everything and create new pages, each page focused on one content type: photo, factoid, quote, links and more. A page called “words” will aggregate the words you use a lot on Twitter along with visualizing the popularity of specific tweets. “Activities” uses Foursquare data to show places you frequently check in.  Co-founder and CEO Todd Silverstein says they interviewed more than 200 hiring managers, who say their biggest pain point is finding a cultural fit. Vizify’s graphical bios aim to showcase achievements alongside interests and quirks.”

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Check out this issue for even more great websites that you’ve never heard of.

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