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Archive for August, 2013

Here’s a look at a few things that caught my eye this week with an emphasis on brains and brainiacs:

1.  It’s Alive!!!! -Move over Frankenstein there’s a new kid on the block.  Although in this case I use the word kid lightly because the life form in question is barely even a life form at all.  Yet.  The Atlantic Wire explains:

“A team of scientists at the Institute of Molecular Biotechnology in Austria have developed a method for growing human brain tissue from stem cells. The immature brain cells can self-organize into three-dimensional structures similar to that in the developing brain. The “cerebral organoids” are approximately four millimeters across and have distinct sections, and according to senior report author Juergen Knoblich, the “proto-brain resembles the developmental stage of a nine-week-old fetus’s brain.”

If that doesn’t blow your mind then maybe this video of the neurons firing will:

2.  Remote Control Brains – Up next is a scary development from University of Washington researchers who figured out a way to remotely control another person causing them to make involuntary movements.  While the research centered around using one person’s thoughts to control another person’s ability to play a video game the implications are huge.  Could we soon be living in a future where we turn people into mindless zombies that do our bidding for us, carrying out actions like murdering somebody against their will?

Read more about it at:  http://www.usatoday.com/story/tech/sciencefair/2013/08/27/human-brain-remote/2709143/

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Our biggest mind control fears may soon be realized…

3.  The Hyperloop Is Coming!!! – You gotta love Elon Musk.  As if simultaneously running three companies wasn’t enough he also finds the time to pitch additional ideas that would benefit mankind.  The only problem is that he doesn’t have the time to actually implement the idea on his own.  He was instead hoping that somebody else would come along and help him out and it now appears as though that may actually be happening thanks to a Southern California start up known as the Jump Start Fund.

According to an article on Forbes.com the Jump Start Fund, “mixes elements of Kickstarter-like funding and the “wisdom of the crowd” to refine an idea (and it) has picked up the Hyperloop concept and will try to advance it closer to reality.”

Yes!!! Yes!!!! Yes!!!!  Thank you!!  Let’s make it happen!!

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The Hyperloop is coming!!!

Speaking of the awesomeness of Elon Musk there has now been a lot of mainstream media coverage stating that…

4.  Musk Is Better Than Jobs – Duh!  I’ve been saying for several years now that Steve Jobs was overrated.  Sure he ushered in the age of personal computing and made a ton of contributions in a variety of industries but his real greatness lied in marketing in terms of making Apple products desirable.  He was the driving force behind a cultural revolution and that’s nothing to sneeze at but he was NOT the Thomas Edison of our generation.  That’s not to say that he played no role in the development of Apple products because he did.  It’s just that his real contributions, have always, and probably always will, be overstated.

The real visionary of our generation is Elon Musk.  But don’t take my word for it.  Instead check out this article from Slate with the appropriate title:

A Lot of People Think Elon Musk is Already Greater Than Steve Jobs Ever Was 

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Jobs accomplished a lot but there’s no question Musk will have had a greater impact when it’s all said and done.

 

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A few weeks ago Billionaire investor Carl Icahn tweeted about his position in Apple stock and subsequently benefited from the feeding frenzy that followed.  At the time I didn’t understand how this was legal.  How could someone benefit financially from their own propaganda?  Well as it turns out it was legal because according to a blog article from the Wall Street Journal, “Icahn Enterprises had days before those tweets warned its investors to watch Mr. Icahn’s twitter feed for potential disclosures. The SEC had allowed firms to disclose some news on Twitter and other social media platforms as long as they had told investors to watch for it.”

As far as I’m concerned though tweeting disclosures about financial companies should be illegal.  Regardless of whether or not investors were given a heads up or not doesn’t change the fact that this one tweet still held significant sway over the stock price.  That’s not fair to all of the people who were making investment decisions based on real facts about the company’s financials.  Of course when it comes to a popular mainstream stock like Apple speculation always runs rampant and leads people to make irrational decisions.  That’s assumed.  That’s the name of the game.  But that kind of speculation is accounted for.  Chalked up to human nature.  Good news about a company raises the price.  Bad news lowers it.  You can project ahead and make predictions and react accordingly to the ebb and flow of the stock price.  What you can’t account for, what you can’t plan for, what you can’t protect yourself against, is one lone tweet from a rogue investor who is looking to enhance his own holdings and preserve his own self interests.  There is no defense for that.

Twitter isn’t the only platform that we have to worry about though.  Any form of print journalism will do.  Just take a look at this article from seekingalpha.com about CVD Equipment Corporation that caused the stock to drop over 10% in just one day.  How is that legal?  How do we know as investors that the writer of this article didn’t stand to benefit financially from bashing the company?  Perhaps he just wanted to lower the stock price so that he can buy in at a lower rate and then watch the price soar when he writes another article a month from now praising the company.

Of course Icahn’s tweet and the article from Seeking Alpha are just two examples but on the other hand they do appear to be indicative of a larger trend.  A trend that points towards stock prices rising and falling not based on real facts or ones own personal thoughts but on the whims of influential people with legions of followers.  This wasn’t something that investors had to consider years ago but in today’s day and age of social media and real time stock updates it is.  As a result we may need to pass a law or put a rule in place that counteracts the harmful nature of tweets and blogs.  After all, insider trading is enough to worry about.  We don’t need to worry about insider tweeting too.

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Technically this was legal. But it shouldn’t be.

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It’s a Wednesday night.  You have a sink full of dirty dishes.  You know that you should wash them.  A part of you may even want to.  But you continue to ignore them as if they were a piece of advice given to you by Matthew Berry.  You know that in doing so you’ll be drawing the ire of your wife and starting down a path that winds up with you attending six months of marriage counseling before ultimately getting a divorce that leaves you bankrupt but you don’t care.  Mr. Clean and your soon to be ex-wife can wait for your arch rival nemesis just stole your 11th round sleeper and all hell is about to break loose.  Names will be called.  Expletives will be uttered.  It will get real personal real fast.  You’ll both wind up saying things that you’ll later regret and neither of you will have any credibility left by the end of the night.  And you’re okay with that. 

If that scene sounds familiar to you then you are one of the millions of people who participate in fantasy football leagues.  What started out as a hobby for some is now a multi-billion dollar industry that has spawned a plethora of websites, blogs, publications, and even a highly regarded TV show, FX’s The League.  It is even for some pundits a full time job or for obsessive types like yours truly a part-time job.  With its still growing popularity it would seem as though there are still plenty of money making opportunities out there for a fantasy minded entrepreneur.  But in what capacity?  The big time players like ESPN, CBS Sportsline, and Yahoo already have the market cornered when it comes to hosting leagues.  The publication market is already over saturated with dozens of rags touting the latest rankings.  What’s left for the little guy?

Well, after giving it some thought I think that there are two paths one could take.  The first one involves becoming a traveling salesmen of sorts.  But instead of traversing the country peddling bibles you’d be selling your advice.  I know that this claim may illicit gasps from those reading this but I think that this idea has merit.  So much so that I think that I, or any like minded individual, could headline an act in Las Vegas or sell out arenas around the World with a well thought out, well choreographed presentation.  There would be a humorous component with an opening monologue, skits, and of course a team name generating segment that figures to be a big hit.  There would then be an informative slide slow presentation covering an assortment of hot topics ranging from identifying breakout players to revealing the latest industry trends.  To cap off the program there would be a question and answer session that is the hallmark of any fantasy football related talk show or podcast.  If you are a big time fantasy player or just a sports fan in general how could you not find a one time event like this entertaining?  From corporate offices to college campuses to little houses on the prairie this highly entertaining show would be a hit anywhere it goes.  It’ll be as if we took a Kevin Hart stand up special, a Ted Talk, the Upright Citizens Brigade, Taco from the League, and Mel Kiper Jr. and mixed them all together.  It would be a fantasy player’s wet dream.  A one man show for The Show.  And if people are willing to pay money to listen to lectures or to hear amateurs tell jokes at open mic nights then how could they not line up to pay money for something entertaining AND informative that could also help them win fat stacks?

But if that still doesn’t tickle your fancy then there is another path we could take.  One that has been laid out before us by our geeky ancestors: comic book nerds.  After all, if ComicCon can morph into a huge must see event then why can’t a gathering of fantasy players?  Dubbed FantasyFest all of the major publications and pundits would be on hand to hawk their wares while networking with industry insiders.  Former players would be there as well to sign autographs and meet fans.  There would be panel discussions, Q&A sessions, live mock draft rooms, a job fair, and even a speed dating event!  Anything and everything relating to sports, fantasy sports, and sport video games would be in play.  And it would be epic.

Either way I think we are looking at two ideas that could work.  Fantasy sports aren’t going away anytime soon and the industry is in fact only getting larger.  There is money to be made here and real career paths to be carved out.  All that we need to do at this point is (Christian) Ponder our options and figure out the best way to proceed.  Until then I have work to do.  My first PPR draft is on Monday, I have the 12th pick, and I have no clue who I want to take.  Any suggestions?

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A scene like this looks familiar to, well, almost everyone at this point.

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Superman can fly.  Spiderman can shoot webs out of his hands.  Wolverine can regenerate.  We know that these extraordinary abilities don’t really exist in real life but as movie goers we suspend our disbelief and go along for the ride.  And yet when it comes to Hollywood casting decisions we can’t seem to do the same.  We are either unable or unwillingly to suspend our disbelief.  Ben Affleck as the new Batman?  No, sorry, I’m not buying it.  Try again.

Unfortunately, for the millions of people who look at Affleck and still see that guy from Gigli there is no trying again.  Affleck is already locked into the role as the movie heads into pre-production.  Of course Affleck could turn out to be a very good Batman.  He’ll probably be better than George Clooney or Michael Keaton and who knows perhaps he’ll even be better than Christian Bale.  But that’s not the point.  The point is that it’s a controversial selection and a lot of people aren’t too happy about it.

Considering that those people are the ones who are going to have to decide whether or not to watch this movie when it comes out I think that their opinion should matter.  Which is why I’d like to propose a change to the way that Hollywood does business.  Here’s what I’m thinking:  Whenever a movie studio has a role that they need to fill they announce to the general public a list of pre approved candidates that are under consideration.  This won’t be a fantasy list that you and your buddies brainstorm while out at the bar.  Shia LeBouef!!! Mark Wahlberg!!!! Leonardo DiCaprio!!!! That guy from that thing!!!!  No, this would be a highly selective list of people who have already been approached about the role and who the studio would be willing to accept.  No romantic comedy dreck like Josh Duhamel or Matthew McConaughey here.  No big names like Brad Pitt or Tom Cruise that just don’t fit.  Serious candidates only.  Matt Bomer step right up you are the next contestant on the Price is Right!  A vote is then held to see who the people are in favor of.

Now I’m not saying that these results have to be used.  The studio can still make the ultimate call.  But by having a vote like this you’d be giving the people a say, making them feel a part of the process, and ultimately finding out some really useful information that can inform the final decision.  And who knows, perhaps a landslide vote in either direction would affect the outcome.  After all, I can’t imagine a studio going ahead with a controversial selection if they had empirical data pointing to the fact that the decision would hurt the box office results.  And best of all votes like this could even be used to usher in significant character changes.  Want the next James Bond to be black?  Then vote for Idris Elba!!!  Want the next Dr. Who to be female?  Then vote for Emma Watson!!!!!

I think that a system like this, if used the right way, for big name roles, and not all parts, could be a real boon to the movie making industry.  In fact, it could wind up being the most important thing to happen to Hollywood since the advent of popcorn.  Until then we’re left wondering how Daredevil is going to fare as the Caped Crusader.  It’s an outcome that we never should have been left to ponder.

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Is this a version of Batman that we really want to see?

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The other day LinkedIn rolled out a new feature targeted towards high school students over the age of fourteen.  Called University Pages it allows prospective students to explore the career paths of alumni and find out more information about each college before making the biggest decision of their lives.  Conversely, it also figures to give admissions officers a better glimpse at the skills that students possess.

There are many benefits to this new feature as it aims to provide students with insights that they wouldn’t otherwise be able to gleam.  For example, by analyzing the career paths of thousands of alumni you can figure out what school best suits the career path that you’d like to set for yourself.  You can even attempt to follow the career paths of famous people that you want to aspire to be like.  And who knows perhaps one day students, or more specifically their parents, can avoid the hassle of having to fill out dozens of the same cookie cutter application for each school by instead submitting a link to their profile.

Of course LinkedIn has never targeted this demographic before so some changes are going to be in order.  To that end Forbes reports, “LinkedIn’s current member-profile format emphasizes people’s work history, which seems stunningly ill-suited for young newcomers whose main income streams are likely to involve gifts from grandma or an occasional turn at a lemonade stand.  But LinkedIn says it will steer teens toward different ways of filling out their membership profiles, emphasizing academic honors, projects, school awards and the like.”

This new feature marks a seminal shift in strategy for LinkedIn as they embrace data science and open their doors to millions of new users.  In essence we are about to be introduced to LinkedIn 2.0 and it may only be the beginning of their evolution.  Who knows maybe they’ll even eventually get around to putting their match making skills to work by tackling online dating. This got me thinking about what some other big tech companies might do for an encore. After all, reinventing ones self is the key to staving off competitors and surviving in today’s economic climate.  In fact, we’ve already seen it with Instagram adding videos to compete with Vine.  Heck, even Facebook’s acquisition of Instagram in the first place is a forward thinking move on the part of Zuckerberg and company.

So without any further adieu here’s a quick look at what could be next for a few of the tech industry’s heavy hitters based either on real facts or rumors or my own speculation:

Netflix – According to All Things D, “Netflix has never streamed a live event, and Reed Hastings says it never will.”  But then again we all know that Hastings is prone to changing his mind.  Quikster anyone?

Amazon – This is a company that lives on the cutting edge of innovation.  Whether it’s Amazon Studios, Kindle Worlds fan fiction, or same day grocery deliveries via AmazonFresh, they have proven time and again that they are always willing to try new things in order to break into new markets.  And now word comes out from Fast Company that they have cut a deal with Conde Nest to allow magazine subscribers to access content and manage their accounts directly through Amazon.  Is there no end in sight!??! There is even speculation that they could buy the United States Post Office in order to expedite their plans for same day delivery.  Or they could partner with…

Uber – What started out as a sleek taxi service may soon turn into the logistical nervous system for cities.  Starting with using their driver’s downtime to make same day deliveries.

Apple – Speculation always runs rampant in Cupertino and this time the focus is on the highly anticipated, long awaited “iWatch”.  The only question that remains is whether this refers to a smart watch or an enhanced version of Apple TV.  If it is Apple TV look for them to cut deals directly with content creators instead of cable providers.

Twitter – Vine was just the start.  On the horizon may be a site redesign to make following/discussing live events easier and figuring out a way to go back and review/replay major events.

Google – Moon shots galore on the horizon from Google Glass to self driving cars to Project Loon, their ambitious plan to provide internet access to all.  No doubt there’s even more to come starting with the possibility of one day watching NFL games on Youtube.

Dropbox – Further development of the pervasive data layer, a way to connect to every app, file and device.

Elon Musk – Not a company but worthy of mentioning anyway for the Hyperloop and his longer term plans to develop a plane capable of vertical landings and takeoffs so that we can eliminate airports.

What’s great about all of this speculation is that it shows that all companies, big or small, are constantly thinking ahead, trying to figure out what they need to do to stay relevant.  Even a small start up like TaskRabbit can dream big about one day becoming the future of the workforce.  Whether or not they get there remains to be seen but it’s nice to know that the ambition is there.  And as the aforementioned list shows there is a lot of ambition to go around.  I can’t wait to find out what happens next.

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LinkedIn has started to target high school students with the roll out of University Pages. What’ are other companies up to next?

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Here’s a quick look at a few things that tickled my fancy this past week:

1.  Lion dog – Recently a Chinese zoo came under fire for trying to pass off a dog as a lion.  One of the people who commented on the story had this to say:

“I’m sure there’s a money-making idea somewhere in a zoo where every animal is an hilariously-obvious mistake or con-job.”

I have to agree.  That would be a great idea.

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2.  MLB Expands Instant Replay – According to a recent article on ESPN the proposed change would take effect next season if it passes an off season vote and through it, “Managers will be allowed one challenge over the first six innings of a game and two from the seventh inning until the completion of the game. Calls that are challenged will be reviewed by a crew in MLB headquarters in New York City, which will make a final ruling.”

I’ve long advocated the expanded use of instant replay in Major League Baseball so I sincerely hope that this measure passes the league vote.  If it does we can avoid watching game delaying scenes like this one involving Donnie Baseball from unfolding:

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3.  No more turbulence!! – I’m not a big fan of flying.  If the screaming baby doesn’t drive you crazy it’ll be the punk kid sitting behind you kicking your seat.  If you are lucky enough to avoid those fates then chances are that you’ll be sitting behind the asshole who thinks it’s a good idea to lean all the way back or in between two future Biggest Loser contestants.  And don’t even get me started on the turbulence.

Thankfully though there is hope in regards to that last part.  That’s right, clear air turbulence may soon be a thing of the past thanks to new technology known as LIDAR.  Here’s how it works according to Engadget:

“Essentially, the DELICAT program calls for planes to be equipped with a light detection and ranging instrument (LIDAR) that emits short-wave ultraviolet lasers. Radiation then bounces off oxygen and nitrogen particles in the air, indicating fluctuations in air density that signal the presence of CAT (Clear Air Turbulence) pockets.”

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4.  Smart Windows – I saw another article on Engadget recently that caught my eye: smart windows that filter out heat or light.  Here’s what the article had to say:

“In the heat of summer, either you shut the windows and crank up the AC, or pull down the blinds and stumble around in the gloom. At least, that was the case. A team at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory has developed a new smart window that lets people choose what they want to let into their home, filtering out visible light, near-infra-red light, or both.”

As someone who has spent the last three years stumbling around in the gloom I can’t wait until this product reaches the mainstream.

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Yesterday my life got flipped, turned upside down.  No, I’m not referring to the fact that they are making a sequel to Independence Day without Will Smith!!!!  Blasphemy!!!!  Rather, it was the fact that when I got to work I discovered that my water bottle had started to leak causing my lifeline, the Book of Ideas, aka the Holy Grail of Information, to get all soggy like a bowl of ten minute old Frosted Flakes. 

Visibly upset I immediately took to social media posting the following status to Facebook:  My God damn water bottle spilled in my bag this morning and soaked my book of ideas!!! FML!!!!! WTF!!!!! #theuniversehatesme.  #iwantmymommy. 

I was fully expecting an outpouring of sympathy and moral support but all I got was five comments.  One of which was from my mom.  Another of which mocked me: Here’s a great idea.  Close water bottle before placing it among important information.”

Point taken.  But what if you are not always in a position to take the necessary precautions?  What if you get caught in a sudden rainstorm?  Or what if you aren’t watching where you are walking while looking at your phone and accidentally fall into a mall fountain like this person?

Wouldn’t it be great then if we were always covered regardless of the situation?  Well, thanks to these new waterproof notebooks you would be.  First up is a product called Rite in the Rain (http://www.riteintherain.com/) that is an all-purpose notebook specifically targeted towards outdoorsmen who may run into all kinds of adverse weather conditions and treacherous terrain.  No matter what mother nature throws their way they’ll still be able to write down their thoughts with this pad. Check out the image below:

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I don’t spend a lot of time outdoors but I do spend a lot of time in the bathroom so this next product has my name written all over it.  Called My Aqua Notes (http://www.myaquanotes.com) it’s a water proof note pad specifically designed to be hung in the shower!!!  There’s no doubt that I do my best thinking in the bathroom and now thanks to this new notepad I’ll never have to cut another shower short just to go and write down that flash of inspiration before I forget!  And best of all you can even write under water!!!  Who needs bubbles and battle ships during bath time when you can have a notepad!!! They have even designed notepads that come with built in word search games!!! Amazing!!!!

Check out their video below:

Unfortunately though, none of these great products are going to help me replace the notebook that I’ve already damaged.  Which for those of you keeping score at home, is now the third notebook that I’ve lost to water damage!!!  (The first two were victims of a flooded basement).  I guess I should take this as a sign that I shouldn’t be maintaining these books.  After all, I’ve been lugging these books around, everywhere I go, for over two years, and all I have to show for it is a pile of water logged books that make my room smell like a shipwreck.  Perhaps it’s time to call it quits.

But you know I can’t do that.  Not yet at least.  There are still plenty of other great ideas still to come.  My goal of trying to save the world one idea at a time is still just as vibrant as ever.  So instead I’ve come up with a different approach.  One that will allow me to continue doing what I love to do while removing all the risk.  Simply put, I’m just going to avoid going anywhere near water at all costs.  No more showers.  Instead I’ll just wash myself down using moist towelettes.  I won’t even drink bottled water instead subsiding on my own urine.  And I’ll train to become an astronaut living out the rest of my life on the International Space Station so as to avoid pesky rain storms.  I’ll do all that and more; anything and everything as long as I don’t have to stop writing in the book of ideas.  Extreme?  Probably.  Worth it?  Definitely. 

Then again maybe I can just convince Moleskine to make a water proof version of their notebooks!

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Water proof paper!!! Amazing!!!

 

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