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Archive for October, 2013

It’s a Friday afternoon.  You are driving on the New Jersey Turnpike trying to beat the rush hour traffic coming from New York City as you make your way South towards Atlantic City for your friend’s bachelor party.  Traffic is moving at a decent clip and you are as content as can be as you listen to sports talk and fantasize about winning thousands of dollars at the craps table.  Then all of a sudden a Fung Wah Bus carrying a bunch of senior citizens from Chinatown pulls onto the highway and settles directly in front of you.  You want to pass the bus before you have to spend the next two hours going 35 mph but you aren’t sure if it’s safe to pass.  You are in a gambling state of mind but gambling with your life is a whole lot different than gambling with a few bucks. 

As such, you have no choice but to travel slowly a safe distance behind the bus.  As a result you wind up being late to the festivities and miss out on meeting Mike Tyson who was walking through the casino floor.  Depressed and inconsolable you spend the rest of the night gouging yourself at the all you can eat buffet where you wind up getting food poisoning.  Bed ridden for the duration of the trip you are forced to live vicariously through your friend’s Instagram feed scrolling through picture after picture of your friends celebrating their winnings and partying with some hot chicks that they met at the 50-50 club.  Just when you think it can’t get any worse the fire alarm in your hotel goes off and you are forced to make your way to the lobby in your underwear.  After enduring countless ridicule from drunkards for fifteen minutes you storm off and start wandering down the board walk where you find a quarter.  Score!  Things are looking up!  You make your way to the nearest slot machine and decide to try your luck but it’s to no avail.  You sit there for a few minutes watching your neighbors play until an old lady asks you if she can play there because it’s her favorite machine.  You defer to her and then stand there in shock as her very first spin wins the jackpot.  You are now officially on suicide watch.

All of that could have been avoided though if you only had a car that was equipped with the See-Through System.  Of course, no cars are equipped with it yet but one day they may be giving us the ability to see through cars.  That’s right I said see through cars!! But don’t take my word for it.  Instead, check out this video from YouTube:

How is all this possible?  According to Gizmag, “Large vehicles such as transport trucks and buses are equipped with a forward-facing webcam on their windshield. Cars, meanwhile, have a transparent LCD screen built into their windshield. When a driver gets stuck behind one of those bigger vehicles, they have the option of wirelessly receiving a live video feed from its windshield camera. The transmitted footage is displayed on the car’s windshield LCD in such a way that it lines up with the actual through-the-glass view of the back of the larger vehicle.  As a result, the driver is able to see what the road in front of the blocking vehicle looks like, in the position that the vehicle occupies on the road.”

However, there are still some kinks to work out before this product can reach the market as there is, “still a 200-millisecond delay in the video transmission. That might not seem like much, but as pointed out in a report in New Scientist, it’s enough to make an oncoming car appear 10 meters (33 ft) farther way than it really is, if both vehicles are traveling at 90 km/h (56 mph).”

Despite those concerns I would be willing to bet that all of the kinks do eventually get worked out.  At least I hope that’s the case.  After all, there’s nothing worse than getting stuck behind a slow moving truck.  You never know what you might miss out on.

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In the future we will be able to see through cars that are blocking our view of the road.

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Here’s a look at a few of the stories that tickled my fancy this past week:

Disney’s Avatar Land – When Avatar come out a few years ago there was a wave of people who obsessed about what it would be like to actually live in the World that James Cameron created.  Now those people will get their wish thanks to Disney’s plan to create an Avatar theme park within the Animal Kingdom.  No word yet on how they plan to create mountains that float in the sky.

Find out more at: http://www.theverge.com/2013/10/17/4847612/disney-world-avatar-land-finished-in-2016-first-concept-art

AVATAR-Inspired Land Coming to Disney’s Animal Kingdom

Would you wait on line for an Avatar themed ride?

Google Glass Gets a New Patent – If you were already one of those anti-Google Glass people who think that it’s creepy and an invasion of privacy and that the people who wear them are Glassholes than you’re probably not going to like the latest Glass related patent that Google has applied for.

According to Mashable, “Google wants to patent the heart hand gesture so that a ‘wearable computing device, which could include a head-mounted display (HMD) and a video camera, may recognize known hand gestures and carry out particular actions in response.'”

Such a gesture based system in theory could allow a user to like a photo that they’re taking and share it on social networking sites.  It’s an intriguing idea but will it catch on?  I don’t think I would ever do the hand heart gesture in public but I may be willing to do other hand based gestures if additional functionality is added.

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Will we use gestures in connection with Google Glass in the future?

Square Cash – Jack Dorsey is at it again.  With Twitter fast approaching its IPO, Dorsey’s other venture, Square, has launched a new email based service called Square Cash.

As the Verge explains, “To use Square Cash, all you do is compose an email to a friend, type the amount you way to pay in the subject title, and cc cash@square.com. If it’s your first time using the service, you’re directed to Square’s website where you type in your debit card number — and you’re done. There are no accounts to create, apps to download, friends to add, surcharges to pay, or bank account numbers to look up.”

Considering that the transfers only take 1-2 days instead of the standard 3-4 days Paypal should be very nervous right now.

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Is Square Cash the future of mobile payments?

Marvel Studios Plans New Shows – Emboldened by the strong start of their new Joss Whedon hemmed TV show “Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” Marvel is planning to create as many as 5 new shows!!!

Wired reports that, “In addition to persistent rumors that the studio is developing a show centering around Captain America: The First Avenger supporting character Sharon Carter, a new report from Deadline says that the company is shopping a package of four drama series and an additional miniseries to shop around cable channels and video-on-demand companies, including Netflix and Amazon.

According to the report, various unnamed providers have shown interest in the package despite the size of the commitment necessary — 60 episodes in total, presumably split between four 13-episode series and an additional eight-episode mini-series, as opposed to a more traditional commitment of 13-20 episodes at a time.”

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This may just be the beginning.

Google surpasses $1,000 share price – More Moonshots coming

The other day Google joined an exclusive club of companies whose shares have traded at more than $1,000 a piece.  That should be cause for celebration but CEO Larry Page is not one to rest on his laurels.  In fact, he is promising even more Moonshots and now that is cause for celebration.

As Page said on the earnings call, “My struggle in general is to get people to spend money on long-term R&D. Most companies, even companies that have significant R&D budgets, if you look at that, maybe 99 percent of it ends up being really incremental, which is relatively small improvements to your existing businesses, and maybe 1 percent of that ends up being true long-term things like Android was when it got started. … You should actually be asking me to make more significant investments.”

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What do these guys have in store for an encore?

Elon Musk’s New Car – The other day Elon Musk bought a car that was a prop in a movie.  Now, a rich person buying a new toy isn’t exactly headline grabbing news.  However, when its Elon Musk it is for he plans on taking the car, James Bond’s hybrid car/submarine that appeared in the movie “The Spy Who Loved Me”, and making it work.

Fox News reports that in his childhood Musk was, “disappointed to learn it can’t actually transform.”  And so now years later he says, “What I’m going to do is upgrade it with a Tesla electric powertrain and try to make it transform for real.”

This would sound far fetched if it wasn’t coming from Musk.  But since it is it’s probably only a matter of time before he figures it out.

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Will Elon Musk successfully create a hybrid car/submarine?

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#333 – Fantex

I remember reading a quote a few years ago regarding one of my favorite baseball players, Texas Rangers shortstop Elvis Andrus.  This was back when Andrus was still a highly touted prospect and had yet to appear in a major league game, yet to do any of the things that would net him the 8 year, 120 million dollar extension he just signed back in April.  If I remember correctly the quote was from an executive within the Rangers organization and appeared in an issue of Baseball America .  Now I’m paraphrasing but I think it said something along the lines of “if baseball players were stocks I’d bet my mortgage on Elvis Andrus becoming a good baseball player.”

Ever since then I’ve held out hope that one day we would get to the point where baseball players and athletes everywhere were actually stocks that could be traded as their value fluctuated in relation to their on the field performance and off the field antics.  Now that day is finally here thanks to a new company called Fantex Brokerage Services. 

According to ESPN the service will be starting with football players not baseball players as the, “initial public offering will be for Houston Texans running back Arian Foster.”  The article indicates that Fantex will be, “paying Foster $10 million for a 20 percent stake in his future income, including contracts, endorsements and other related business revenue.”

For someone like myself with an interest in investing and more than a passing interest in sports this is a dream come true.  Sure, you could argue that predicting future performance in sports is just as much as a crapshoot as picking stocks, maybe even more so due to the propensity of players to get hurt, but at the end of the day I’d much rather put my money where my mouth is on something that I’ve spent my whole life analyzing than on something that I know very little about.  I mean, I can tell you more right now about Foster, off the top of my head, such as where he went to college, when he was drafted or in his case not drafted, how he performed last week, how much money he makes per year, etc. than I can tell you about any of the companies that I’m currently investing in.  In most of those cases I’m investing in an idea, such as 3-D printing, more than I am in the company itself.

I think it’s safe to say that a lot of other people feel the same way that I do and so I can definitely see this concept taking off if done properly.  The key is going to be how many other big name players Fantex can sign up.  Foster is a good start but a nicked up 27 year old running back on a disappointing team is probably not a great long term investment.  Stock in LeBron James or Bryce Harper, however, now that’s a different story. 

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Would you be willing to invest in this man?

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There was a lot of hoopla and excitement in Washington , D.C. today but it has nothing to do with the new debt deal that was signed into law late last night.  Rather, the thing that has everyone buzzing is the Bionic Man.  Of course, the word man is being used loosely for we’re not talking about a real man or even a real life version of Robo Cop.  Instead, we’re talking about a man made creation composed entirely of prosthetic limbs and artificial organs.  

According to the Verge, “A team of scientists and researchers at the University of Zurich were able to recreate more than 50 percent of the human body using the “most sophisticated” prosthetics and artificial organs (like a full circulatory system) available, and now the Bionic Man is going to show itself to the world at large. A new documentary entitled The Incredible Bionic Man will air on the Smithsonian Channel this Sunday at 9:00PM ET, and those located in the Washington , DC area will get a chance to “meet” the creation for themselves.”  

Only time will tell if this project is just a scientific curiosity or if this is the first step towards creating our future Cylon overlords. 

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Are we looking at the future of human evolution?

Meanwhile, over in New York City there is also a lot of hoopla and excitement surrounding a visitor to the city, as renowned British street artist Banksy has been spreading his infamous brand of graffiti art around the city much to the chagrin of Mayor Bloomberg.  According to the PolitickerBloomberg was quoted recently as saying, “Art is art, and nobody’s a bigger supporter of the arts than I am. I just think there are some places for art and there are some places [not for] art. And you running up to somebody’s property or public property and defacing it is not my definition of art.”

Boom.  Roasted. 

As much as it pains me to say this Bloomberg does have a point though.  Graffiti is a hindrance.  However, when done properly, like Banksy is doing now with this project dubbed “Better Out Than In” it works.  For we’re not talking about a bunch of street thugs promoting their respective gangs.  We’re talking about one of the greatest street artists of all time turning New York City into a scavenger hunt for art lovers.  If it bothers Bloomberg that much he should just commission Banksy to do his thing in pre-approved locations so that New Yorkers get to enjoy his art and city officials don’t have to run around trying to cover up the works as soon as they appear.  Do I really have to think of everything around here?

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Is this art?

 

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#331 – Color Coded Food

The other day a co-worker of mine, who is decidedly more adventurous than I am when it comes to food choices, threw caution to the wind and bravely helped herself to a few heaps of left over macaroni salad that was lying around in the office kitchen.  Since the days of hunting and gathering are long gone (for everyone other than Mark Zuckerberg that is) it’s not often that one has to put their life on the line in the name of lunch but that’s exactly what my co-worker had to do since she had no way of knowing just how long that macaroni salad had been lying around for.  Had it just gotten there?  Or was it lingering for hours?  Was it safe to eat or should she err on the side of caution? 

It’s a question that we have all had to ask ourselves and if the Synthetic Biologists from the University of Groningen in the Netherlands have anything to say about it it’s a question that we’ll never have to ask again.  That’s because they have created a bacterium that changes color in the presence of rotting meat.  According to Focus magazine all you’d have to do is, “Seal it safely in a plastic tray from the supermarket, and it’ll tell you exactly how fresh it is.” 

Since that example pertains to meat I’m not sure if it would have been able to detect the level of freshness in the macaroni salad that my friend consumed but it does go to show that it is possible to use Synthetic Biology to engineer a color coded food spoilage system of sorts.  Perhaps as this technology improves over the next several years there will be additional iterations created that can be used for everything from milk to meat.  

After all, there’s nothing worse than buying a perfectly fine looking piece of Grade A, USDA approved sirloin steak from the supermarket only to get home and find out that upon further inspection the other side of the meat tells an entirely different story.  Hopefully, those days will soon be long gone and we’ll have a whole new system to aide in our decision making process.  Especially since our current system of “hey hunny, can you smell this?” isn’t really all that reliable.  Let’s just hope that if this system does get rolled out though that they figure out a way to account for people that are color blind!

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Or we can use Synthetic Biology to create color coded food!

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Last Friday night after work I was hanging out with a few co-workers at a local bar when I received a text message that rocked me to my core. This message was so shocking and scandalous, so disappointing and depressing, so infuriating and irritating, that it caused me to lose control of my central nervous system. Before I could make sense of what had happened I could feel my hands trembling as my insides thrashed about like a pair of sneakers in a washing machine. All I wanted to do was to crawl into the fetal position and cry myself to sleep. In an instant, I no longer had any interest in socializing. My appetite was gone along with whatever infinitesimal amount of game that I possess. The night was officially over before it even began.

The reason why? A now infamous text message that read:

“Brittany Snow has new boyfriend….sorry.”

Just like that my World was flipped, turned upside down Fresh Prince style. From that point forward Brittany Snow would always and forever be known as the one that got away.

Of course, I say that tongue in cheek. I know that she’s not really my soul mate. I knew that the second she thought it was a good idea to appear in “The Pacifier”. It’s just that she had the “it factor” that I look for in a girl, you know, that sweet girl next door innocence covering up a more wild and adventurous side and I always believed that if I could just meet her then maybe, just maybe, I could actually get her to like me. Call me crazy. Call me naïve. But the fact of the matter remains that I honestly believed that things would work out if I could only somehow find a way to make the plot of “Win a Date with Tad Hamilton” come true.

What bothers me the most about that is that I might have actually been right. After all, I saw her on a late night talk show a few years back talking about how hard it was to date because there weren’t any guys brave enough to approach her. Maybe, all that I needed to do was approach her and I would have had a legitimate shot at wooing her. And who knows maybe we would have even hit it off. Or maybe, if not me, then some other poor schlub toiling away in obscurity in a remote locale is the one who would have hit it off with her. How much would it suck right now to be the guy driving a reindeer sled in Anchorage, Alaska when in reality that guy is really the best match for her?

Instead of either of us getting the chance to find out we instead have to be subjected to tabloid headlines suggesting that Snow and Zac Efron of all people are now dating. Really? Zac Efron? Really? Realllllllly? Aside from fame, personality, charisma, charm, good looks, and millions of dollars what does he have that I don’t have?!?!? I’ll tell you what it is. A cocaine addiction that he just got out of rehab for. And yet that’s the guy she goes for.

This arrangement, if true, actually does make a lot of sense. Snow and Efron are friends who met on the set of Hairspray. It’s only logical that he would have seeked her out for companionship after he got out. Which gets to the issue at the heart of the conundrum: celebrities tend to only date other celebrities. It makes sense. They travel in the same circles, have some of the same friends, are on equal footing in terms of social status, and are understanding of each other’s often grueling and demanding schedules. But at the same time it’s taking the easy way out. It’s settling for the familiar. Yea, that’s right. Brittany Snow is settling for a teen heart throb. She should hold out for someone better. Someone like me.

The point of all this, and yes there is a point, is that there should be a quick and easy way to get in touch with celebrities. A way for someone like myself to actually reach out to Brittany Snow in order to let her know that there’s more to life than high school musicals; a way for a journalist to reach out to a news maker in order to obtain a few quotes for a story; a way for someone in a small town in Kansas to reach out directly to someone like Elon Musk with an idea for how to make the Hyperloop project better. As of yesterday no such way existed. As of today it does. And we have Twitter to thank.

On the verge of their IPO they are rolling out a new feature enabling users to receive direct messages from anyone that is following them. In the past users could only receive messages from those people that they were mutually following. This change is welcome news for me and that reindeer sled operator and not so welcome for celebrities or thought leaders who don’t want their inboxes filled with spam from crazy, stalker types. For those people, however, there is no need to fret because if they don’t want to deal with an influx of messages they can just leave their settings as is for the changes will only take affect for those people that choose to opt to receive them.

I hope that the vast majority of people do choose to use this new feature though. Sure, there will be some spam and some unwanted correspondence but the same holds true for your email inbox and yet no one is suggesting that we do away with Gmail anytime soon. So, Brittany if you are reading this please make sure you change your settings and opt in to receiving direct messages. I have a manifesto that I want to send you.

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Come on Brittany, you can do better.

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The other day at Comic Con, while spending more time trying to meet up with my friends than actually looking at exhibits, I was reminded of how great my location within a location locator app would be.  Never again would people wander around aimlessly in a large crowd looking for a loved one as they would instead know exactly where they needed to go.  As I previously stated, “With modern technology such as GPS enabled smart phones at our disposal and the advent of location based services such as Foursquare and Gowalla it shouldn’t be too hard to bring this app to market.” 

Well, as it turns out there was an additional step that I needed to take that I was overlooking before that could happen.  And that step was to pair this concept with a pair of shoes so that we’d have something to do the navigating for us.  Thankfully, Dhairya Dand at MIT’s Media Lab has done exactly that and the result is a pair of vibrating shoes that according to the UK version of Wired Magazine uses, “three hyper tactile actuators (to) “tickle” each foot, telling you to turn right or left…”  

The goal according to Dand is to make it so that you can navigate around a city freely without having to have your face buried in your cell phone screen.  As he tells Wired UK , “There’s nothing better than shoes for solving this — they’re the interface between your body and the ground, they’re how you connect to the city.”  But just how exactly will these vibrating shoes solve that problem?  

By spying on you and learning all about you of course.  In doing so, the accompanying cell phone app can monitor and analyze your daily routine and online activity, learning what you like and don’t like, and ultimately nudging you towards places such as restaurants that you may be interested in checking out.  It’s also supposed to allow you to program in your emotional state so that if you are in a friendly mood it can steer you towards people in your area who share common interests.  Perhaps one day it’ll even lead us directly to our soul mates making online dating obsolete.  

As great as this concept sounds I do have some concerns about it though. First of all, is there going to be a way to turn off the vibrations if you are not in the mood for them?  Just like with turn by turn car navigation systems I can see this technology, while useful, becoming a nuance after a while.  Its one thing to say “shut the hell up bitch” while you are alone in the car it’s quite another to start yelling that on the street.  Also, what happens if it goes off while your foot was on the gas pedal causing you to get into a car accident?  Can you imagine how a jury would react if the defendant in a vehicle homicide case said “I swear it wasn’t my fault, my shoe told me to do it!”  And of course it goes without saying that inevitably someone is going to get faulty directions that they will stupidly follow leading them to walk down an open elevator shaft or into the mouth of an active volcano or something ridiculous like that.  And aren’t there going to be people who can’t even use this technology at all because they’re ticklish? 

I guess that there are similar concerns to be had with any new technology though so we shouldn’t necessarily let that stop us from enjoying what could be a great product.  Especially since there are so many great potential applications that vibrating shoes bring to the table.  We’ll just have to take things slowly, one step at a time.  Pun intended.

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Are vibrating shoes the future of navigating?

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