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Archive for December, 2013

#376 – 2014 Predictions

One of the characters in the new movie Lone Survivor says, “Anything that’s worth doing is worth overdoing.”  For me that means that I should be blogging even more!  And it starts right now with a look at my 2014 predictions:

  • Apple will finally reveal their next great product but it won’t be an iWatch or anything else that we’ve been anticipating.  Rather it’ll be something entirely unexpected.
  • Snapchat will surpass Facebook as the dominant social network for teens and they will also make significant headway with adults.  They will even unveil a rather lucrative business model based around time sensitive coupons that disappear after a set length of time.
  • A year after giving us the Hyperloop, Elon Musk will once again make headlines with a proposal, this time for an electric airplane that can take off and land vertically.  Meanwhile, plans to actually develop the Hyperloop will press forward.
  • The FDA will continue its crack down and officially shut down 23andme.  Afterwards, a massive scandal will come to light indicating that Google’s Sergey Brin (the ex-husband of 23andme’s CEO Anne Wojcicki) was a driving force behind the crackdown.
  • A policy will go into effect allowing cell phone calls on flights leading to several airlines imposing additional costs to passengers who want to fly on phone free flights.
  • There will be a massive 3-D printing related copyright infringement lawsuit that will threaten to undermine the entire 3-D printing movement.
  • There will also be the first of many lawsuits related to the new equity crowd funding laws that allow ordinary citizens to invest directly in start ups for the first time.
  • The price of a Bitcoin will continue to fluctuate wildly between $500 and $1,500 as headlines range from its widespread acceptance to governments cracking down on it.
  • A habitable exo-planet within 50 light years of Earth will be discovered.
  • At least two new elements will be discovered.
  • We still won’t know much about dark matter but we will learn a lot more about dark energy.
  • Reverse photo bombs where people take selfies of themselves in front of unsuspecting people will become a worldwide trend.
  • A universal one time only flu shot will be created.
  • Amazon will buy the United States Postal Service after it declares bankruptcy.
  • DRAM chips will replace MRAM chips and lead to a whole new generation of smart phones.
  • Flexible e-screens that can be rolled up like a newspaper will revolutionize e-readers.
  • Clinical trials on humans will begin for a new procedure that could reverse the aging process.
  • The Oculus Rift and Leap Motion Controller will be huge commercial successes.  Google Glass will continue to struggle.
  • A body modification trend will sweep the nation with people trying to turn themselves into living cyborgs.
  • The NBA will officially announce their plan to turn their draft lottery into a pre-determined slotting system known as “The Wheel”.
  • A Graphene based condom will come onto the market to much fanfare and will get parodied on Saturday Night Live.
  • A “smart” version of something entirely useless will be created.  My money is on the creation of a smart teddy bear.
  • A major breakthrough will be achieved on the Quantum Computing front involving the manipulation of beams of light.
  • As the backlash against the NSA continues there will be several new attempts at creating more secure login methods.  All of them will fail to catch on.
  • The first actual cyber war between two countries will be waged.  The United States will be one of these countries.
  • A male contraceptive pill will go on the market.
  • Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo will have it’s first commercial flight and it will be a huge success.
  • There will be a significant commercial airline plane crash after interference from a consumer drone.
  • Google will unveil their latest moonshot.  It will be a robotics project headed by Andy Rubin that will aim to create a robotic personal assistant.  Google will also, as per a recently announced partnership with Audi, design a new car with a hand gesture based interface.
  • Aereo will win a key court decision that enables them to keep operating.
  • Samsung and Apple will call a truce putting an end to their patent war.
  • Seeing a telepresence robot at the office or in school will become a more common occurrence.
  • This blog will become so successful that TED talks get renamed CRAIG talks as I spend all of my free time travelling the World giving speeches about great ideas.

Is 2014 going to be the year that Snapchat goes even further mainstream?

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#375 – The Dawn of a New Era

As the year winds down and another begins anew I think it’s important to take a moment to look around, survey the landscape, and evaluate where you’ve been and where you’re going.  It’s an important exercise and one that I undertake every year around this time.  For me, it’s a much better use of my time than making New Year’s Resolutions that I already know I’m never going to keep.  This year, however, rather than focusing on my own life, I want to take the time to look around at society and gauge the progress that we’re making in terms of technological advancements.  Have we already peaked?  Or is the best yet to come? 

Depending on whom you ask the results may vary.  A recent attention grabbing article by Christopher Mims on Quartz suggested that 2013 was a lost year for tech.  This article cited the fact that innovation in the mobile phone sector has stagnated, that wearable technology such as Google Glass and the Samsung Galaxy Gear Smart Watch were busts, and that interest in social media sites like Facebook and Twitter declined.  On the other hand a post from Om Malik on Gigaom took the opposite view in an aptly named piece entitled, “Dear Quartz, Maybe It’s You That Needs New Glasses and a Map.  2013 Was Not a Lost Year For Tech.”  In that article, the author states,”While I don’t expect to see an end of these type of articles, it would be good for folks to take a step back, think for a moment and stop looking at innovation from the singular lens of consumer apps and gadgets.” 

So whose viewpoint is accurate?  In my opinion, it’s Malik’s rose colored view and it’s really not even close.  Granted, wearable technology hasn’t fully caught on yet and there wasn’t a new game changing product from Apple the way there once was with the iPad or the iPhone but that stuff is just small potatoes.  Sure, it grabs the headlines and excites the masses but there is still so much innovation going on behind the scenes in multiple industries that to call 2013 a lost year is just plain wrong.  It’s the equivalent of calling Tony Romo a good quarterback.

After all, this was a year that saw 3-D printing really hit its stride with several new printers and scanners hitting the market, not to mention the fact that several new printing methods and techniques were created.  Heck, we even saw the creation of 4-D printing!!!  This was also the year that the Leap Motion Controller came out while the Oculus Rift inched closer to release.  From practical inventions that enhance our experiences (Nest Protect) to ones that save our senses (fart blocking underwear) this was a year that saw it all.  And who could forget Elon Musk unveiling plans for the Hyperloop!  Even Amanda Bynes knows that this wasn’t a lost year for tech and she didn’t even know where she was for half the time.   

From landing a rover on the red planet to creating cars that drive themselves we sure do have a lot to be proud of.  And the best part is that there’s a lot more to look forward to.  We’ve only just begun to scratch the surface of what we can do with supercomputers, robotics, synthetic biology, regenerative medicine, and wearable technology just to name a few of the game changing technologies that are just getting started.  The World as we know it today is probably going to be unrecognizable in just a few short years.  We very well could have new ways of charging things, new ways of building things, new ways of designing things.  Your children may wind up growing up never knowing what a wire is or what an outlet is.  They may never know what it’s like to put gas in a car.  Heck, they may never even know what it’s like to drive a car at all.  

Once the Internet of Things is up and running, once every home has a 3-D printer in it, once we start living in smart cities that anticipate our every need, once we have robots to do our bidding and pet drones to follow us around, once we have electric cars that put energy back into the grid instead of just taking it, once all that happens and then some, we’ll have a vastly different lifestyle than we do today.  We’ll vacation in space hotels while telepresence robots attend work or school for us.  We’ll tour museums and other cultural landmarks from the comforts of our living rooms.  We’ll have virtual assistants that will know what we want before we do.  We’ll have personalized healthcare that anticipates our illnesses treating them before they sicken us.  We’ll have so many conveniences right at our fingertips, perhaps even in our fingertips, that we’ll never have a reason to leave the house and yet at the same time we’ll never feel more connected to each other than at that moment.  We’ll have everything and anything that we’ll ever need and it’ll be glorious. 

That is why I can’t help but think that we have arrived at a seminal moment in human history.  At a point in time like no other where we can see with clarity for the very first time the path that lies before us and what we need to do to head down it.  In essence, we are at the calm before the storm, sitting on the verge of massive technological breakthroughs in a multitude of areas that will see our species reach untold heights.  Anything we set our minds to from eradicating diseases to slowing down aging to colonizing other planets is soon going to be possible.  These are exiting times and they’re just going to continue to get more exciting from here on out.  It’s the dawn of a new era and we’re going to have front row seats.  So sit back, buckle up, and get ready to enjoy the ride.

Who cares about iPhones when you have 3-D printers!!!!

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#374 – Human E-ZPass

Despite the fact that I lived near New York City for most of my life I’ve never really had much need to go through Grand Central Station.  Last night I did though and since I wasn’t in a rush I actually took the time to look around and appreciate it’s grandeur.  I even noticed, for the very first time, the constellations on the ceiling.  Amazing.

There was, however, something else that I noticed as well: a logistical nightmare.  You see, a found a small out cove, underneath the main stair case, that had a few Metro North ticket machines inside, lining all the walls.  This design seems fine if you were only ever going to have one person using a machine at a time.  But as well all know that’s never going to be the case during Rush Hour in New York City.  There’s always going to be a line of people at each machine waiting to buy a ticket.  Which means that inevitably the line of people using the machine against the far wall is going to jut out and co-mingle with the line of people waiting for the machine on the adjacent wall.  The end result is going to be a a total cluster fuck of stressed out, pissed off people who are going to miss their trains because a) they are unsure of where one line starts and the other begins and b) the fact that they even have to wait on a line at all.

In today’s day and age the fact that we continue to force people to wait in long lines to buy paper tickets is beyond me.  First of all, creating these long lines that often spill out into the main concourse blocks the flow of traffic.  Secondly, it creates paper waste which hurts the environment.  Third, waiting in lines for anything is inhumane!  We should only have to do it when going through airport security, when we need to use the bathroom at a sporting event, or when we are awaiting our turn at a gang bang.  As a society we should try to avoid lines in all other circumstances.

Take for example, going to the movies.  Let’s play out the following scenario.  It’s date night.  Your girlfriend was taking forever to get ready so you are running behind schedule.  Maybe you arrive with ten minutes to spare before American Hustle starts.  You are undoubtedly excited to see this movie and don’t want to miss a minute of the action but as luck would have it there’s a huge line for tickets that wraps around the corner.  You suspect that you’re never going to make it in time but decide to try anyway and wait in line.  By the time you get up to buy a ticket though, the start time has long passed, and you’re forced to settle for the movie with the next closest start time: Justin Bieber’s Believe.  For the next two hours you try to figure out ways to kill yourself.

But it doesn’t have to be this way.  We don’t have to be victims of our circumstances, slaves to our surroundings.  We can take back control of our lives.  We can start making our own luck.  After all, the technology exists to create a whole new system.  The technology exists…to turn human beings into human E-ZPasses.  Just like cars zipping by toll booths on the highway we can develop a system that would enable us to bypass the ticket booth and walk right into the theater of our choosing.  All we’d need to do is put up a sensor on the door to the theater and a sensor on a person whether it be in their cell phone, some other wearable device, or in something they carry on them at all times like a futuristic ID card.  Whenever somebody then walks through the door to the theater they would get charged the cost of a ticket.

The best part about this system is that we can make it really intuitive.  We can add in a time element so that if someone accidentally walks into the wrong theater on their way back from the bathroom they won’t get charged for another ticket.  They’d only get charged if they stayed for a certain length of time.  And since we’re linking this system to someone’s ID card or cell phone we’d have access to other biographical information.  This means that the system will automatically know whether to charge someone a senior citizen discount or a student discount.   Kids ID cards could link to their parents so that their parents get charged a kid rate when they enter.  Best of all, it would put an end to the practice of paying for one ticket and then spending an entire day sneaking into other showings since each time you entered a theater you’d be getting charged.

RFID chips and Apple’s iBeacon already work on similar principles so why can’t we extend the same concept to any walk of life that currently necessitates people having to wait in line to buy tickets whether it’s riding a train or watching a movie?  Why can’t we create a human E-ZPass system?  Is there some kind of evolutionary benefit to waiting in line that I don’t know about?  Does it teach us patience or humble us?  Does it make us appreciate the journey more than just the destination?  Is it part of a larger global conspiracy masterminded by the creators of Angry Birds and Candy Crush Saga to ensure that there will always be plenty of down time for people to play games on their cell phones?

I don’t know.  All I know is that waiting on lines is stupid and we should avoid them at all costs.  Even if that cost turns us all into human E-ZPasses.

Gina Ventura, of Mineola, waits in line to

I know how you feel lady in red.

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#373 – Non-Stop Trains

A few months ago I was standing on a train platform with my roommate when he came up with a crazy idea for a train that never stopped.  Like most of my roommates ideas I quickly dismissed it for its outlandishness.  But what if it was really one of those “so crazy it might just work” ideas?  Well, if the Chinese have anything to say about it, it very well could be.

According to Business Insider the way that it works is as follows: “Passengers step onto a compartment platform above an incoming train, which is then snagged by the train as it moves through the platform. At the next station, anyone wanting to get off moves up into the compartment, which is then snagged by the station. The train itself never stops, it simply trades embarkation capsules as its moves through a station, giving passengers a window of time to board without the train needing to stop.”

To see the concept in action view the video below:

As cool as this is there does seem to be a massive logistical hurdle that would need to be cleared before this could become a reality and that is how this system would handle a large crowd.  I mean it appears to work beautifully if there are only three passengers getting off at a particular station like in the concept video.  But what happens when you are commuting during rush hour in New York City and there are hundreds of people who all want to get off at the same station? Could all of those people fit into just one embarkation capsule?  And what if, due to crowding, there is not enough time for someone to make their way into the capsule?  What then?  Are we really making a better and more efficient transportation system or are we turning our morning commute into a death match?

Surely, these are questions that are going to have to be worked out before this concept goes from the drawing board to reality but in theory it is definitely an idea that is worth exploring.  Now if only someone could figure out a way for the subway cars to stop smelling like urine…

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#372 – Gladwell and Simmons

Malcolm Gladwell is the best selling author of Outliers and the Tipping Point.  Bill Simmons is a famous ESPN personality known as “The Sports Guy”.  Put them together, as Grantland has done via a series of email exchanges dating back to 2006, and it’s a foregone conclusion that more than a few great ideas will be bandied about.  Having read all of those emails here’s a look at some of the ideas that they mentioned in passing, often times in a half serious manner, that I think actually have merit as legitimate ideas.

First up is the the creation of a National Sports Czar.  This idea was put forth by Simmons in their most recent exchange and it’s one that I’ve been championing in my own right for years.  Although, in my scenario I’m the one who is in charge.  Here’s what Simmons had to say:

“In theory, this person could deal with the five professional sports leagues (that’s right, I included you, MLS!) as well as the PGA Tour, FIFA, ATP/WTA, the Olympic Committee, and whoever the hell runs boxing. (Oh, wait — nobody runs boxing! Our Sports Czar could figure that out, too.) He could teach the NCAA that words like “corrupt” and “hypocritical” are actually detrimental things that should be fixed. He could intervene whenever a dastardly owner is trying to steal a franchise from a city (hello, 2017 Milwaukee Bucks!) or some greedy billionaire is extorting a city to pay for his new arena. He could develop relationships with the five major commissioners, as well as important network executives like John Skipper, David Levy and the guy in charge of Fox Sports Zero Point One. He could create committees to study ACL tears, concussions and staph infections, and he could lead the way in determining whether ANYONE under the age of 15 should play tackle football. And he could handle everything that bothers you — good and bad — about PEDs going forward, maybe even create an all-encompassing policy and state-of-the-art drug testing.

That’s a real job, Malcolm. Think how important sports is to American culture, think how far it spreads, think how much money’s at stake, and think how much time it consumes.  Why wouldn’t this be its own job? Do you realize how many special czars (or czar-like positions) have been appointed by American presidents over the years? We’ve had eight AIDS czars, a foreign aid czar, an auto recovery czar, two bank bailout czars, a bird flu czar, a birth control czar (a birth control czar!!!!), two climate czars, a copyright czar, four cyber security czars, nine drug czars, five energy czars, five faith-based czars (WTF???), a food safety czar, a homelessness czar … I mean, here’s the list if you want to see everybody. We couldn’t have a sports czar? Why not try it?”

I wholeheartedly agree.  We definitely should be looking into creating such a post.  We also should be, according to Simmons, considering a radical re-alignment in the NHL that would see a reduction in the total number of teams from 30 to 24 with 12 teams residing in the United States and 12 in Canada turning the Stanley Cup into a “border war” for national pride.  This idea could turn more people into hockey fans than all of the Mighty Ducks movies put together.  But could it work logistically?  Probably.  As Gladwell says, “If the question is can Canada support 12 teams that are at least as successful as the Phoenix Coyotes and the Nashville Predators, the answer is of course. I suspect my high school could draw more fans than the Coyotes.”

If these guys could figure out a way to make the NHL more interesting then surely they must have something in mind as it relates to the bottom of a NBA team’s bench where the 10th, 11th, and 12th guy on a roster have been relegated to becoming nothing more than glorified cheerleaders, spending entire seasons chest bumping guys and coming up with secret handshakes.

As it turns out they do!!! The idea as put forth by Simmons is simple.  Turn those guys into a highly specialized unit designed for one thing and one thing only: pressing.  You could use that unit at the end of quarters when other teams are resting their top guys or against superior opponents when you are trailing and need an edge.  It might not work all the time but it could very easily swing 5 or 6 games throughout the course of a season in your favor and it could at the very least tire out some key guys on the other team.  So why not try it?

As Simmons explains: “You can easily find 10th, 11th and 12th men to make that press work. You know how many athletic swingmen are out there? Oodles. There’s always another Dahntay Jones or Josh Powell killing himself in the D-League hoping for a chance. It’s just a logical way to use your roster. You could build the press around one scorer (one of your top-five guys) and the ninth, 10th, 11th and 12th guys on your team. Like the 2008-09 Clippers. Couldn’t they have pressed for 10 minutes a game with Al Thornton, Mike Taylor, DeAndre Jordan, Fred Jones and Mardy Collins? Why the hell not?”

At this point I’m pretty much willing to concede that Gladwell and Simmons are other-worldly Gods that know more about sports and life in general than everyone else put together.  And I haven’t even touched upon Simmons’ tangent about how we should change the way that the media covers sports or Gladwell’s take that watching football is immoral.

If you are interested in hearing more of their great thoughts including why we need a better system to judge celebrities then I strongly suggest checking out the full transcript of their exchanges on Grantland.  And just in case you weren’t fully intrigued yet I should point out that Gladwell also reveals what really happened during the JFK assassination!!! Hint: there was a second shooter but it’s not what you think…

Are these the two greatest sports minds of our time?

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#371 – The Wheel

Yesterday was Christmas which meant you probably spent the day with relatives drinking eggnog, opening presents, and watching basketball. And if you are a fan of the NBA you probably liked what you saw. First, Russell Westbrook notches a triple-double to lead the Thunder in a rout over the hapless Knicks. Then LeBron James does this to the Los Angeles Lakers:

But for all of the great things that the NBA can offer there is still the troubling fact that about half of the teams aren’t really trying to win. In fact, they are openly trying to lose on purpose. Look no further than the Eastern Conference’s Atlantic Division where the 11-15 Toronto Raptors are actually in first place!!! The reason for such widespread ineptitude can be traced to one thing: the league’s draft lottery which rewards the worst teams with the best odds of landing the top pick. And since this year’s draft class has a historic talent pool with as many as four or five guys capable of being considered worthy of the #1 overall pick you literally have teams falling over themselves to try and finish in last place.

To a certain extent some level of tanking exists every year. Those teams that aren’t good enough to compete for a playoff spot are better off blowing things up and starting over. I accept that. But this year things are different. This year teams are openly admitting that they won’t be trying from day one. There have even been a series of slogans created that embrace this new reality:

Andrew Wiggins from Kansas = Riggin’ for Wiggins

Juluis Randle from Kentucky = Scandal for Randle

Jabari Parker from Duke = Acting Sorry for Jabari

Now, there is an obvious solution to this problem and that is to just do away with the current weighted lottery system and instead give every team an equal shot at winning. But I prefer the less obvious solution: replace the entire system with the Wheel as outlined on Grantland.

What is the wheel you ask? Well, it’s basically a way to pre-determine the draft order for every team so that order of finish in the standings no longer matters. You might pick in the top six one year, then have a really low pick the next two years, before getting a decent pick again. The picks are staggered in such a way that every team is guaranteed to have a top five pick once every six years. This means that yes, as luck would have it, a team that wins the championship could be in line to get the #1 overall pick the following year. It also means that if a bad team gets a top pick and it doesn’t pan out that they’d have to wait a few years before getting another crack at it which could set their franchise back. However, it also means that tanking would be eliminated. Free agency also becomes imminently more interesting as a smart free agent looking for a team with a good shot at winning the championship could go to a team like the Bucks, that they would have never considered before, because they already know ahead of time that Milwaukee is about to embark on a three year window of relatively high picks that could vault their decent core into title contention. Something like that would never happen nowadays. It even makes trading easier since you’ll know ahead of time exactly what pick you’re going to have five years from now.

Of course this doesn’t solve all of the NBA’s problems. Carmelo Anthony is still going to hog the ball, the Pelicans are still going to be named the Pelicans, sneakers are still going to squeak, all-stars are still going to avoid the Slam Dunk Contest, the Nets are still going to suck whether they are in New Jersey or Brooklyn, Charles Barkley is still going to say offensive things, referees are still going to show favoritism, players are still going to cry about every foul call, Kevin Love is still going to toil in obscurity, and Metta World Peace is still going to be a ticking time bomb. But at the end of the day the Wheel does do one thing: it makes the NBA vastly more interesting. Which is more than you can say for the Charlotte Bobcats.

Mathis2

Is the Wheel the key to fixing the NBA?

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The loss of a loved one.  The passing of your family pet.  The time you got dumped by the love of your life.  The time you got beat up.  The time you broke a bone.  We all have them.  Whether we’re talking about near death experiences, facing our worst fears, or dealing with loss we all have painful memories that we’d rather not have to deal with.  In my case its the car accident that I was in six years ago that nearly took my life and the gruesome broken ankle that I suffered years later while playing softball.

How we deal with those memories varies from person to person.  For some the pain gets internalized and leads to anxiety, depression or other psychological issues.  Others are able to come up with effective coping mechanisms and eventually find a way to move on.  But what if there was a better way?  What if there was a way that we could erase our most painful memories so that we could quickly move on with our lives?  Well, thanks to scientists in the Netherlands we may soon have such a way.  That is if we don’t mind subjecting ourselves to Electroshock Therapy!!

How does it work?  I’ll let the Wall Street Journal explain:

“Scientists used to think that once a memory took hold in the brain, it was permanently stored and couldn’t be altered. People with anxiety disorders were taught to overcome their fears by creating a new memory. Yet the old memory remained and could be reactivated at any time.

About a decade ago, scientists made a surprising discovery. They showed that when a lab rodent was given a reminder of some past fear, the memory of that event appeared to briefly become unstable. If nothing was done, that memory stabilized for a second time, and thus got ingrained—a process known as reconsolidation.

But when certain drugs, known to interfere with the reconsolidation process, were injected directly into the rodent’s brain, they wiped out the animal’s fearful memory altogether.  Crucially, other memories weren’t erased.”

Of course it’s still way too early in the process to say definitively whether or not this procedure will hold up.  For example, we still don’t know if the memory erasure will last permanently or if it’s just a temporary effect.  We also don’t know if it’ll work on real life traumas since it’s only been tested on subjects using a controlled memory recall experiment.  Perhaps our memories get stored differently when our entire body goes through an experience versus when we just watch a video or read something.

No one knows for sure at this moment but regardless this research sure does sound promising.  And while I’m not sure if I’ll ever want to go through electroshock therapy, or if I’ll even ever want to forget something that happens to me at all, I do like knowing that the option exists.

Would you erase your painful memories if you could?

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