Archive for October, 2013

#342 – Foc.us

A few months ago I took a “Which Harry Potter Character Are You” Quiz on Facebook and got the result Hermione Granger.  The makers of the quiz may have been implying that I have the personality of a teenage girl but I took it to mean that I’m smarter than everyone else.  I mean, come on, isn’t it fairly obvious that I have already achieved maximum intelligence?  How else do you explain my ability to commit every line from the movie Major League to memory?   

So while I may have no need for the new Foc.us headset that allegedly makes you smarter while you wear it I’m sure that there are a lot of other people who may be interested in it.  After all, it’s not everyday that you get to literally put on your thinking cap.  (For the record when I was younger I used to think that a thinking cap was an actual hat that you had to wear when you wanted to think so perhaps I’m really not that smart after all.)  In any event this invention’s claims are intriguing to say the least.  Dare I say that we could be on the verge of becoming like Bradley Cooper in Limitless where there’s nothing to prevent us from learning new languages and beating the stock market? 

Before we get carried away though I should mention that there is a catch.  Isn’t there always?  In this case the catch is that in order to get smarter you’ll have to be willing to submit your brain to a series of precisely targeted shocks.  Not exactly an easy sell for consumers.  According to Engadget the way that the headset works is that it, “serves up transcranial direct-current simulation (tDCS) — a controversial form of neurosimulation that transmits current to a particular area of the brain. Originally used to help patients with brain injuries, tDCS has supposedly been found to increase cognitive performance in healthy adults.”  

The makers of the headset seemingly envision this headset being used by avid gamers who want to boost their ability to concentrate and process lots of information quickly during intense bouts of game play.  If it catches on though the hope is that it could spread to other segments of the populations perhaps even making its way into the workplace or schools where ultra competitive high school students could use it during the SAT’s.  

All of which begs the question:  is shocking your brain with electrical currents a form of cheating?  Is there going to be a performance enhancing scandal in Major League Baseball in the future involving a manager who used a headset during a game?  Only time will tell but one thing is for sure: this is one technology that I will not be an early adopter for. 


Today I should be focused on hocus pocus but instead I’m focused on foc.us.

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In their latest issue Discover Magazine unveiled a call to arms for suggestions about scientific news stories from the past year so that they could assemble their annual year in review issue featuring the 100 top stories from the past year.  Rather than just give them a few suggestions I figured I would do them one better and just make the whole list for them.  However, my list would be a little bit different since I won’t focus on just scientific discoveries and breakthroughs but rather on any great idea from the past year whether it be a real invention or just wishful thinking. I would also only focus on the top 50 ideas instead of 100 and since this is me we’re talking about I would have to add a twist to make things interesting.

So, without further adieu and in no particular order here is my list of the 50 best ideas of 2013 in story form: 

  1. Mark Zuckerberg unveils Internet.org, a partnership with several tech companies predicated around the idea of providing everyone in the World with internet access. 
  1. Not to be outdone Google reveals that they too want to bring internet access to remote locations via a network of tethered balloons.  An idea so crazy that Google actually refers to it as Project Loon. 
  1. They don’t stop there though also announcing that for their next moon shot they are going to find the proverbial fountain of youth and cure aging.  The company that they create to do just that is dubbed Calico 
  1. Larry Page and company weren’t the only ones making headlines.  Elon Musk was also hard at work on several fronts.  While his company SpaceX was creating a reusable rocket called the Grasshopper that set a new altitude record he was also… 
  1. Blowing us away with his plans for the Hyperloop, a new high speed mode of transportation that could make it possible to travel from Los Angeles to San Francisco in 30 minutes.  And if that’s not enough he also announced that he had invented a way to design rocket parts using Minority Report style hand gestures.  He also stated that he wanted to… 
  1. Create an actual working model of the underwater car/submersible from the James Bond movie “The Spy Who Loved Me”. 
  1. If you think that idea is far out then you haven’t seen anything yet for there is a company called Planetary Resources with a real far out idea: mining asteroids for natural resources.  There’s just one problem with that plan: they might not get the chance to mine them if the United Nations gets their way. 
  1. But that’s not the only space themed idea that made headlines this year.  Japan also announced plans to beam solar energy down from space.  While NASA announced… 
  1. That they had figured out a way to use lasers to transmit data between the Earth and the Moon rapidly improving their ability to communicate in space. 
  1. That’s a great an idea and all but if you’re going to use lasers for anything it might as well be a working version of a light saber. 
  1. Be careful when handling one though because if you lose your hand while battling a Jedi you won’t be able to take advantage of Disney’s new finger powered technology 
  1. You also won’t be able to use the incredible new Leap Motion controller, the most radical change to the way that we interact with computers since the advent of the mouse. 
  1. Nor will you be able to take advantage of Apple’s attempt at improving password security, the fingerprint scanner 
  1. And sadly you won’t even get to play with Microsoft’s Project Spark. 
  1. But don’t fret for you will eventually regain feeling in your replacement limb thanks to new mind-controlled prosthetics from DARPA. 
  1. Speaking of mind control it is now possible to control someone’s mind remotely as two University of Washington researchers proved earlier this year. 
  1. Assuming that you still have control over your own faculties you may want to put on a pair of Google Glass to compliment what you would normally be able to see. 
  1. Or you could utilize a new expanding camera lens that combines insect and human vision. 
  1. But if that’s not good enough you can always just enhance your other senses by implanting magnets into your ears to give yourself your very own headphones.  
  1. If that approach is too extreme for you then perhaps you’d prefer to put on a pair of mind-reading headphones instead and have music selected for you based on your mood. 
  1. Now that your favorite song has pumped you up it’s time to start planning that hard earned vacation to the edge of the stratosphere that you’ve been dreaming about.  
  1. Be careful on your way up though.  The skies are becoming a crowded place thanks to commercialized drones that deliver Taco Bell to remote locations as well as… 
  1. Flying cars from Terrafugia that we’ve all been waiting for since we first saw the Jetsons. 
  1. And that’s not even taking into account tiny atmospheric bacteria that could affect the weather on your trip. 
  1. Since you’re going to be up there for a while you might want to pack a snack.  The newly developed liquid meal, Soylent Green, could be just what you need. 
  1. Once you get up there take a minute to take in the sights and ponder what the Mars Rover Curiosity is up to.  
  1. Then use some of your remaining time to consider the future of Bitcoins and digital currency as well as… 
  1. What it will be like once equity based crowd funding gets under way. 
  1. If you get bored of doing that you can instead think about all of the amazing scientific achievements of the past year including a breakthrough in creating sustainable nuclear fusion as well as… 
  1. The creation of cube shaped robots that self assemble and… 
  1. An intriguing discovery indicating that the DNA in our bodies is governed by a biological clock. 
  1. But none of those discoveries can top the fact that scientists were able to grow mini brains from stem cells! 
  1. Actually that’s not entirely true.  The fact that there is now a Quantum Invisibility Cloak that hides objects from reality comes pretty darn close. 
  1. Once you are back down on the ground you’ll have several choices to get you home safely as you can either head out in style by using the Model S electric car from Tesla, the best car ever tested by Consumer Reports or by using… 
  1.  A driverless car from Google, which will get you home safer than any human ever could. 
  1. If you are going to have a human drive you home though you might as well equip your car with the See Through System so that they can see through trucks ahead of them on the road. 
  1. Upon arriving home you can use your heartbeat to unlock your front door courtesy of the Nymi Bracelet. 
  1. You can then turn on the lights and the internet at the same time thanks to your newly installed Li-Fi which uses converted LED light bulbs to transmit data faster than traditional Wi-Fi. 
  1. At this point you are too wound up from your adventure to head to bed so instead you use the Vasper Machine to get a workout in.  
  1. Afterwards you realize that you probably should head straight to bed but instead you head to the living room where you immerse yourself in the virtual reality haven provided by the Oculus Rift. 
  1. Afterwards you want to relax and enjoy a cold beer but there’s just one problem.  You don’t have any left in the refrigerator.  Undeterred you use your reverse microwave to chill one in just 45 seconds. 
  1. Cold beer in hand you decide to watch TV, an experience made possible thanks to your new friends at Aereo who have created a way to watch live TV online. 
  1. Unable to find anything to watch you instead decide to browse the available offerings on Netflix which you can now do easily thanks to their new user profiles. 
  1. After watching a Louis C.K. stand up special you take out your lap top and start browsing the web.  After a brief detour to an Asian porn site you stumble upon an article about acoustic levitation which totally blows your mind. 
  1. You then continue down the rabbit hole known as the internet and come across news of an artificial leaf that might be able to power the world using photosynthesis. 
  1. At this point you are so hyper that you know there’s just no way you are going to bed anytime soon so instead you reach for some spray on caffeine and keep going. 
  1. Your latest search leads you to a discussion about the latest 3-D printing breakthroughs where you learn about the 3Doodler, the World’s first 3-D printing pen and… 
  1. The Hyperform, an amazing new 3-D printing technique that allows you to print large objects.  
  1. And that’s not all.  You also find out about 4-D printing, wherein printed objects change over time!!! 
  1. With your mind sufficiently blown you take out your new curved cell phone and start telling all your friends about all the amazing things you’ve just seen.

Discover Magazine issued a call to arms. I answered.

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A few months ago I was talking to a girl that I met through an online dating site when the subject of weird quirks came up.  Usually it’s my quirks such as my irrational fear of giraffes and my inability to eat a cheeseburger despite the fact that I like cheese and hamburgers that dwarf anything else that the other person can come up with.  However, in this case I had met my match for this person had a fear of ice cubes.  That’s right.  She claimed that she couldn’t consume a beverage if it had an ice cube floating around in it.  There are weird quirks and then there are weird quirks.  And this was the latter.  In fact, I’m pretty sure this is the best evidence to date that there are aliens living among us.  

Concerned, and a little bit scared for my own safety, I felt like alerting the authorities or at least Maury Povich so that he could plan a show around this phenomenon.  I can hear the announcement now, “coming up at noon, ice cubes and the people who fear them”.  He could have even gotten the rapper Ice Cube to lead an intervention.  But instead I just gave her the cold shoulder, ignored her calls, and hoped that she would slowly go away just like one of those ice cubes that she despised.

I had totally forgotten about that incident until this past weekend when I came across news of a reverse microwave dubbed V-Tex that promises to chill any drink in a manner of seconds essentially rendering ice cubes a thing of the past.  

According to foodbeast.com, “V-Tex is an environmentally-friendly, efficient system that cools beverages in a matter of seconds. From wine bottles to soda cans, the unit is able to chill drinks in all types of containers without disturbing carbonation. How? V-Tex uses a “start stop rotational sequence” to create a Rankine vortex, which essentially keeps a drink in its original state while quickly bringing down the temperature.”

But that’s not all.  The article adds that, “The reverse microwave requires nearly 80% less energy than many standard drink chillers, allowing consumers to save money and keep things green. It also frees up standard refrigerator space, since most beverages can be stored at room temperature elsewhere until right before serving.” 

Anyone who has ever hosted a party will surely be thrilled to hear that but the promise that this device offers goes far beyond house parties.  It could very well be the one thing that I need to pursue a relationship with my former love interest.  After all, it’s a foregone conclusion that she’ll fall madly in love with me once I tell her about this idea and how it could change her life.  Now if I could only remember her name…


Thanks to the V-Tex ice cubes will soon be a thing of the past.


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#339 – Aereo

I attended Northeastern University in the early 2000’s which was right around the time a fellow student by the name of Sean Fanning was creating a little peer to peer file sharing system called Napster.  You may have heard of it.  It was, after all, responsible for bringing the music industry to its knees.  

Despite the fact that it had a short shelf life this service still had a profound long term impact as its success and the public’s insatiable thirst for access to cheap music paved the way for Apple to sell songs for 99 cents a pop in the iTunes store.  From that moment on a chain of events was unleashed that has lead them to becoming the most profitable company in the World.  

Where was I during all this?  Presumably in my dorm room playing video games or watching TV which ten years later is exactly the same position that I find myself in.  At least that was the case until two days ago when suddenly my TV reception was cut off.  You see, Time Warner Cable in their infinite wisdom has decided to convert to a digital format and as a result the basic channels that I was receiving no longer come in.  The obvious solution is to just pony up for the new digital box and buy a subscription to Time Warner Cable.  But never one to conform to what other people want me to do I refused on principle alone.  

That left me with just two choices.  I could either attempt to survive on a Netflix only diet or I could think outside the box (pun intended).  I chose the latter opting to give Aereo a try.  Aereo just like Napster in its heyday is a new way of doing things that aims to disrupt the status quo.  In this case the status quo being the way that customers pay for and receive access to network television channels.  

Aereo does this according to Wikipedia by allowing. “subscribers to view live as well as time-shifted streams of over-the-air television on Internet-connected devices.”  In my case that means that I can now watch live TV on my Roku which is exactly what I was able to do last night when I got to see game two of the World Series between the Boston Red Sox and the St. Louis Cardinals.  This marked the first game this entire post season that I was able to watch live; a far cry from the regular season when the MLB app allowed me to watch games whenever I wanted.  

The best part is that it was incredibly easy to set up.  A few clicks on the computer and within a few minutes I had the app installed.  No installation required.  No taking off a day of work to wait around for the cable guy to come.  Nothing.  Just a few clicks and just like that I had access to dozens of channels including all of the major networks.  Actually that’s not the best part.  The best part is that it only costs $8 a month!!!  Take that Time Warner!!!! 

I should point out however that the video quality was far from perfect as the feed was a little bit choppy due to some buffering that was occurring.  It wasn’t unwatchable but it wasn’t ideal either.  To be fair thoguh I’m not 100% sure that is Aereo’s fault.  It could have more to do with my internet connection so it bears keeping an eye on for the next few weeks.  But in any event it did cause me to miss a portion of David Letterman’s Top Ten list last night.  Now I’ll never know what the second best opera lyric of all time is.  

As of now the service is only available in a few select cities such as New York, Boston, Miami, Atlanta, and Dallas but there are plans to roll out the service to more cities with Detroit rumored to be next.  In essence this means that we’ve reached a pivotal juncture.  Is Aereo’s momentum going to continue until every major city is signed up?  Or will the service crumble under the weight of considerable legal pressure from the cable operators who feel threatened by their presence? 

So far Aereo has been able to stave off the vultures and remain in business as the courts have sided with them up to this point.  That could certainly change though at any point but even if it does Aereo will have made a major impact on the way that TV is provided to customers.  Whether they are the ones to benefit from that or if they go the way of Napster and ultimately have to watch from the sidelines as someone else reaps the benefits (Apple again?) remains to be seen.  Regardless of what happens though one thing is certain:  the way that we watch television is about to change rather drastically.  And that’s a good thing. 

Now if you’ll excuse me I have to go watch Last Man Standing.


Is this what the future of Cable TV looks like?

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If I’m going to write about farting I might as well write about something else that affects us all: urination. Specifically what I’m referring to is the fact that we always have to do it even when it may not be convenient for us to do. What I’m envisioning is a pill or even a piece of gum that tricks our minds into thinking that we don’t have to pee even when we do. The pills would come in various doses so that you can take a small dose while commuting to work or a larger dose to make it through the night. You may be skeptical but if it’s possible to trick our brain into ignoring pain then maybe it’s possible to trick it into thinking that it doesn’t have to urinate.

Here’s something else that commuters, especially those in New York City could appreciate: a cell phone app that texts you when you train has arrived letting you know which track to go to. Sure beats standing in a crowded waiting room waiting for a verbal announcement.

Speaking of apps I would love to see a fantasy football app that helps you set your lineup by taking injuries into account. Say for example that you have a player going at 4pm who is listed as questionable. Let’s call this player Larry Fitzgerald since he is almost always playing at 4 o’clock and almost always listed as questionable. You would like to use him if he’s going to play but don’t want to get screwed over if he doesn’t. In a perfect world you’d just replace him prior to the start of the 4 pm game with another player who has yet to play if he doesn’t wind up playing. But what if your only options are playing at 1 pm? It wouldn’t be fair to have the knowledge of what happens in that 1 o’clock game and decide who to use over Fitzgerald after the fact. However, it would be fair if you had to make a decision about who to play prior to the start of the 1 o’clock games. So what I’m envisioning is an app that operates according to if this, then that logic. If Fitzgerald is not going to play then use this other player. That way you are covered in the event that he doesn’t play and having the hindsight of what happened during the 1 o’clock games never comes into play.

That’s not my only thought about football this week. I also would like to point out that I hate the college football targeting rule. Not the rule itself. It is a good idea to punish players who are specifically trying to hurt defenseless players. But rather what I hate is what happens after the foul is called. You see all such calls get reviewed. If the ruling on the field is confirmed the player is ejected from the game and a fifteen yard penalty is enforced. If it is determined that targeting did not occur the player gets to stay in the game but the 15 yard penalty is still assessed. What!?!??! Why are you still assessing the penalty if it was determined that no foul occurred?

I also don’t like the fact that in the NFL time runs off the clock whenever there is a penalty. We saw this play out this past Sunday night in the Colts-Broncos game when a series of penalties on a punt took off nearly 40 seconds of game time when there was only two minutes left to begin with. It might actually wind up becoming a team’s strategy to purposely commit penalties in succession just to run out the clock in a game. That’s not right.

I find it shocking that there is not a single fantasy basketball publication on the market. Is the NBA really that unpopular?

I wanted to write this week about two-way charging for electric cars wherein they put energy back into the grid when they are not being used. However, I was unable to put this concept into my own words in a unique way. So, instead I’m just going to encourage everyone to read this article from the Verge in it’s entirety. It sums up this idea perfectly: http://www.theverge.com/2013/10/15/4838466/could-electric-cars-make-the-grid-go-p2p.

The other day Vudu announced that they were offering DVD style bonus features for their digital rentals something that Netflix should have done a long time ago. It’s a cool new feature that could garner them lots of new business. If only they were offering on a movie that people actually wanted to rent. Instead they are offering it on After Earth which is literally unwatchable. And that’s coming from someone who is a huge Will Smith fan and who thinks that Independence Day is the greatest movie of all time.


Is this the worst movie of all time?

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When the day began I knew I would be writing about a new invention that would make the World a better place just as I do everyday.  I just wasn’t sure what it might be.  The leading candidate at the time was Ototo, a new musical invention kit that turns anything, literally anything, into a musical instrument in the vein of Makey Makey.  But since I hate music I figured that it wouldn’t be enjoyable for me to write about that.  Instead I chose to focus on something far less appealing to one’s senses: farts. 

The reason why?  My discovery of a new type of underwear called Shreddies that filter out the smell of your flatulence.  It does this according to ubergizmo.com by using a, “highly absorptive carbon cloth in the back panel of the underwear, which neutralizes the odor from your farts. The cloth is called Zorflex and is thin and flexible, and just so happens to be a cloth used in chemical warfare suits. When you toot, the fabric traps and neutralizes the smell, and can be reactivated simply by washing the piece of fabric.”

This is surely welcome news for anyone who has ever had to hold in a fart while in an important business meeting and for anyone who has ever had to be in the presence of someone else with a penchant for passing gas aka that one buddy of yours that you’ve known since elementary school that still thinks it’s funny to fart whenever you are together in a confined space.  I won’t name names (Brian) but you know who you are. 

At this point, the only question that remains is whether or not this product actually works or is it going to be another case of too good to be true?  Personally, I have a feeling that it will wind up working for the most part and put an end to the phrase “silent but deadly”.  But then again I wouldn’t be surprised if I’m wrong.  Especially since as one of my other friends just said in reference to his farts, “God himself can’t keep mine from smelling.” 

Yep, this is my life.


You could live like this or you could get some fart blocking underwear.

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In a recent column on Wired.com Clive Thompson postulated that even the worst bloggers are making us smarter.  His logic: “The fact that so many of us are writing — sharing our ideas, good and bad, for the world to see — has changed the way we think. Just as we now live in public, so do we think in public. And that is accelerating the creation of new ideas and the advancement of global knowledge.” 

I’ll take that as a compliment and continue my quest to aid in that advancement of global knowledge by sharing news out of China about an electronic vacuum cleaner designed by Daan Roosegaarde that sucks smog right out of the air!  Smog has become a huge problem in China where small particle pollution is now a record 40 times higher than an international safety standard according to the British newspaper the Daily Mail.  It can also lead to street closures and force children and the elderly to have to stay indoors when the visibility drops below 10 meters.  Seemingly, smog is the one thing standing between China and World domination.  Well, that and their ability to play basketball. 

This new vacuum cleaner aims to change that though and surprisingly this drastic measure is not without precedent.   As Quartz reminds us, “ Beijing is no stranger to manipulating the skies. To keep an open-air stadium dry for the 2008 Summer Olympics’ opening ceremonies, Chinese meteorologists developed a technique to reduce the size of raindrops, delaying precipitation until storm clouds pass.” 

So how does this amazing invention work?  According to Quartz, “the smog “cleaner” uses coils of copper to create an electrostatic field that pulls smog particles down to the ground, where they’d be captured and compressed.” 


In the future will we use a vacuum cleaner to say goodbye to smog?

As great as a smog vacuum cleaner is it pales in comparison, however, to another great invention that aims to make our lives cleaner: Mab, a swarm of hundreds of mini flying robots that clean our apartments for us while we lounge about.  Just how many flying robots are we talking about here?  Nine hundred and eight to be exact according to Mashable.  As they explain, “The Mab concept requires users to load water and a chemical substance into the system’s spherical core. The cleaning liquid is then distributed to 908 mini-robots, which are each equipped with propellers for flying. After that, the mini-robots are dispatched, scanning the home and cleaning surfaces with droplets of fluid. Dirt is captured and carried back to the core. The little bots would be powered by the solar energy collected via their wings.”


The day when robots clean my apartment for me can’t come soon enough.

This concept was the winning entry at the 2013 Design Lab competition which according to Gizmag focused on, “the themes of Urban Living, Social Cooking, Natural Air and Effortless Cleaning.”  A few of the other finalists grabbed my attention as well including:

  • Electrolux – In the future if you are hungry you won’t have to run to the store.  You’ll just have to draw something.  That’s because the Electrolux is a 3D food printer that allows, “Children and family members to draw their desired meal before the printer scans the image and reproduces the real thing.”

It’s at moments like this that I really wish I knew how to draw.

  • The Breathing Wall – We’ve all heard the expression: if these walls could talk.  I’m willing to bet, however, that many of us have never used the expression: if these walls could emit perfumed odors.  And yet that might actually be possible thanks to the Breathing Wall.  In addition, it will also change colors based on your desired mood.

Walls that respond to your mood. What’s next? Floors with feelings?

  • Global Chef – Part creepy, part kind of cool this concept uses laser hologram technology to, “beam distant loved ones or friends into the kitchen while you cook.” But its real appeal is in the idea of using it to receive virtual cooking lessons.

Whatever happened to the days of reading a cookbook?

Check out the rest of the finalists athttp://www.gizmag.com/electrolux-design-lab-2013-future-home/29462/


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