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Archive for March, 2014

Last May, I wrote a piece entitled, “Please Don’t Ruin This For Me”. The premise of which was to appeal to the “explorers” who were beta testing Google Glass and beg them to stop acting like a bunch of Glassholes, as they had become known, in hopes that by the time this technology reached the market it would be socially acceptable for someone like me to use. Since I really, really, really wanted to use them. Flash forward nearly a year and the glasses are still just as dorky as ever, not out yet or even on the verge of coming out anytime soon, and are, in fact, according to Google itself, not quite ready for prime time. In other words, this was pretty much ruined for me.

Having had a few months to accept my fate I was beginning to come around and realize that this really wasn’t the end of the world like I thought it would be. I had, after all, always wanted to get lasix eye surgery, something that would be kind of pointless to get if I was just going to wind up wearing a pimped out version of a pair of glasses anyway.  I also figured that there would be a different game changing technology that would come along that would be even cooler than Google Glass and make me forget all about it and in fact there was in the form of the Oculus Rift, the virtual reality headset that offers a truly immersive experience.

My interest in the Rift wasn’t in its obvious appeal as a gaming platform. Rather, I was interested in its theoretical ability to transform your surroundings and make you feel like you were really somewhere else. Whether that was walking through a museum, touring ancient ruins, or catching a baseball game, wouldn’t matter. All that would matter is that you could do anything, go anywhere, all without leaving the comforts of your living room.

I’m such a big believer in the awesome life-altering, world-changing potential of the Oculus Rift that I even gushed about it in a previous blog post:

“The future we were promised is not the one we got. We wanted flying cars but all we got were flying birds. Thankfully our fortunes are about to improve for we are on the verge of finally getting to live out an actual, honest to goodness, immersive virtual reality experience thanks to the Oculus Rift, a virtually reality headset that promises to revolutionize what it means to play a video game.

If you don’t believe me just ask Dan Down who wrote a review of the Oculus Rift for Focus Magazine.  In that article he wrote: “play a game on a console in front of your TV, and you’ll come away from it remembering that you were looking at your TV playing a game. The Rift is different. I came away recalling events in the game as something that had really happened to me.”

Forget for a second everything else that you’ve heard about the Oculus Rift up until this point. Forget about the fact that it may give you simulation sickness at first. Forget about the fact that all other prior attempts at virtual reality over the last twenty years have failed. Forget that there may not be enough games developed yet to make it worth its likely $300 price point. Forget about all that and just focus on the simple fact that it’s so real, so life like, so immersive, that you will literally be gaining memories just from playing it. Game changed.”

So you can imagine my disappointment when I heard that Oculus was selling the company for two billion dollars to Mark Zuckerberg of all people as my immediate reaction was, “oh god, they just went out and ruined this technology before it even hit the market.” It’s a sentiment shared by lots of other people as well as the internet erupted in protest with angry gamers and Facebook haters alike leading the charge after the news broke.  The maker of the hit game Minecraft even said that they were going to halt their efforts to bring a version of their game to the Rift after having similarly pulled away from Facebook. Investors took notice too dropping the value of the company nearly 7% on a day when most would have assumed that the stock price would have went up following an announcement of this magnitude.

Which brings me to my point: Facebook, please don’t ruin this for me. I’ll let you mine my data and sell it to advertisers. I’ll let you send my personal information to the NSA so that they can spy on me. I’ll let you bombard my news feed with advertisements about online dating sites since apparently that’s the only thing that you think I’m interested in. (You happen to be right but that’s beside the point). And I’ll even take back every disparaging thing I ever said about Farmville and Mafia Wars. Just please, for the love of God and everything holy, please don’t ruin this for me.

Thankfully, it sounds like their heart is in the right place as they plan to operate Oculus as a separate company and stay out of the way at first with no plans to rebrand it. Here’s what Zuckerberg had to say about the purchase according to Tech Crunch:

“Our mission is to make the world more open and connected. For the past few years, this has mostly meant building mobile apps that help you share with the people you care about. We have a lot more to do on mobile, but at this point we feel we’re in a position where we can start focusing on what platforms will come next to enable even more useful, entertaining and personal experiences.

This is where Oculus comes in. They build virtual reality technology, like the Oculus Rift headset. When you put it on, you enter a completely immersive computer-generated environment, like a game or a movie scene or a place far away. The incredible thing about the technology is that you feel like you’re actually present in another place with other people. People who try it say it’s different from anything they’ve ever experienced in their lives.”

Similarly, comments from Oculus echoed those same sentiments:

“At first glance, it might not seem obvious why Oculus is partnering with Facebook, a company focused on connecting people, investing in internet access for the world and pushing an open computing platform. But when you consider it more carefully, we’re culturally aligned with a focus on innovating and hiring the best and brightest; we believe communication drives new platforms; we want to contribute to a more open, connected world; and we both see virtual reality as the next step.

Most important, Facebook understands the potential for VR. Mark and his team share our vision for virtual reality’s potential to transform the way we learn, share, play, and communicate. Facebook is a company that believes that anything is possible with the right group of people, and we couldn’t agree more.”

As of now both sides are saying all the right things but I’m still concerned. There’s still the very real possibility that Facebook could wind up over extending their reach and mucking things up as part of a desperate attempt at trying to monetize the platform if the company isn’t doing as well as projected in other areas. They could also hurt the platform just by doing nothing since the Rift brand is taking a public relations hit by selling out and aligning themselves with an entity that is no longer seen as hip or cool by the younger generation, the generation that presumably will be the biggest users of a platform like this. This could even pave the way for Rift knockoffs to come into the market and steal their thunder since everyone agrees that Virtual Reality technology is going to be huge in the future and not everyone trusts Facebook to usher in that future.

These concerns are very real and they could all add up to another game changing technology that I really, really, really wanted to use getting taken away from me before I ever had the chance to use it. I really hope that’s not going to be the case though because I was really looking forward to using the Rift to help me lead a full and happy life.  Sure I wouldn’t have a girlfriend or any reason to ever leave my apartment but that’s okay because there would be so many other benefits such as attending a virtual high school union instead of the real thing, exploring the Egyptian pyramids, or experiencing what it’s like to be at the Super Bowl.  So, I think I speak for all of us when I say once again: PLEASE DON’T RUIN THIS FOR ME!!!

Another unforeseen problem?  Getting acquired by Facebook.

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#443 – Raising Cane’s

My recent trip to Arizona for Spring Training was memorable for several reasons. I got to see the best player in the world Mike Trout hit a homerun. I got to see the best pitcher in the world Clayton Kershaw dominate the Chicago White Sox. I got to see Yasiel Puig do Yasiel Puig things. And I got to witness the horrific line drive that hit Cincinnati Reds pitcher Aroldis Chapman in the head.

But the real reason my trip was memorable had nothing to do with baseball at all. Rather it had to do with food for I discovered the greatest thing ever: a fast food chicken finger place called Raising Cane’s. Residing in the Northeast I had never heard of such an establishment but apparently it is all the rage down South throughout SEC country. Sure, there are lots of chicken chains in the Tri-State area such as Ranch One and more well known fare such as KFC and Boston Market but none of these places specialize in chicken fingers. Why is that a big deal you ask? Well it’s simple. Chicken fingers are my favorite food! I am literally eating them right now as I write this.

They are to me as rainbows, unicorns, and puppies are to everyone else. If I were headed to a deserted island and could only bring one thing I would bring Brittany Snow. But if I could bring two things I would bring Brittany Snow and a life time supply of chicken fingers!! All due respect to strawberries, steak, licorice, Entenmann’s chocolate donuts and all of my other favorite foods but chicken fingers are my absolute favorite. And now, thanks to Raising Cane’s, they are starting to go mainstream. In fact, according to their website they are even expanding soon to four more locations throughout Texas and Louisiana .

That’s all fine and dandy for folks in those areas but what I want to know is when are they going to expand to New York !??! Hopefully, real soon because I don’t think I can wait much longer until my next fix. Having me taste the greatness that is Raising Cane’s just one time before departing to go back home is like injecting a sailor with cocaine and then sending him off to sea for six months. You just wouldn’t do it. It’s cruel and unusual punishment. And yet that’s exactly what happened to me. I got a taste of those juicy fingers, those perfectly golden brown crinkle cut fries, that piece of Texas Toast (whatever that is) and just when my body processed the awesomeness that was that meal I was whisked away never to return again. Oh, the humanity!!!

All of which is to say that I don’t think I can go on writing about ideas until I get me some Raising Cane’s chicken fingers. My desire for them is so strong that I’m not going to be able to focus on anything else until I get them in my system. So if anyone out there lives near a Raising Cane’s establishment go get some and then send them my way! The future of mankind could very well depend on it!!!

Greatest.  Food.  Ever.

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My annual trip to Arizona for Spring Training is almost over which can only mean one thing: it’s time for my annual Spring Training inspired post about baseball ideas.  Last year this allowed me to write about the Hard Hit Ball Stat aka my desire to create a statistic that takes into account how good a hitter is, not how lucky he is.  This stat would measure anything and everything that a hitter does from hitting foul balls to making outs to getting base hits to determine the likelihood that they are going to hit the ball hard somewhere their next time up.  It wouldn’t matter that they could very well hit a line drive right at someone just as easily as they could a home run.  All that would matter is that you would know how much damage they were capable of.  Of course this proposal, like all of my ideas, fell on deaf ears, but that’s not going to stop me from continuing to dream big!

This year my focus is on, well, focus.  Not to mention other hard to measure mental attributes like heart, desire, will power, attention span, IQ, and the ability to perform under pressure.  You see, there’s always been a lot of talk in baseball about the five tools: the ability to hit for average, to hit for power, to run, throw, and play defense.  But I’m a big believer in a sixth tool: mental aptitude.  And I think there’s something to it.  Something to what makes Mike Trout exceed expectations and what makes Brandon Wood fail to live up to them.  Lots of players are “toolsy”.  Lots of guys throw hard or hit well in the batting cage.  But not all of them capitalize on those tools.  Not all of them succeed in game situations.  Why is that?  Is there a way that we can quantify intangibles when scouting someone?

To be honest I’m not sure that there is but I believe that Major League teams are going to stop at nothing to try and figure it out.  You see, ever since the book Moneyball came out teams have been obsessed with trying to game the system to get whatever edge they could.  At first, as the book pointed out, that meant valuing flawed players with low batting averages and good on base percentages.  Nowadays, that means using advanced metrics to deploy platoons at several positions to gain an advantage at the plate as much as possible as Oakland has done masterfully over the last two years or to utilize defensive shifts like Tampa Bay has done.  Soon those trends are going to catch on around the league and teams will once again be on the lookout for a new market inefficiency to exploit.  It stands to reason then that human intelligence could very well be that next inefficiency.  

Former Cleveland Indians consultant Russell Carleton agrees and in a recent article for ESPN the Magazine he was quoted as saying, “The next big thing is understanding how each player works and, instead of strategies that can be applied across entire organizations, understanding the nuances of each player on a case-by-case basis.”

The problem is I’m not sure there’s a way to successfully do it.  Perhaps we could invent a smart batting helmet or baseball cap that measures a player’s brain waves while they are playing.  Or maybe we could use an advanced artificial intelligence system like IBM’s Watson to crunch a bunch of personal data about a player to look for personality traits that we can’t see with the human eye. 

I’ll leave it to people far smarter than me to try and figure that out.  All I know is that in today’s ultra competitive landscape with teams always on the look out for any edge they can get and with such a heavy emphasis being placed on scouting and player development and building from within it’s only a matter of time before the sixth tool takes center stage.

Is there a way to measure what makes Mike Trout so good?

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I’m in Arizona this week to watch Spring Training baseball games.  I’m seeing 13 games in 7 days!!  That’s probably way more baseball than any human being needs but that’s me.  I’m an all or nothing kind of guy.  So far my trip has been going great as I’ve seen a lot of good players and have witnessed a lot of memorable moments.  However, there was a hiccup on my trip as I missed the first two innings of the Monday night game between the Kansas City Royals and the Texas Rangers.  Was this because I was out getting hammered in honor of St. Patrick’s Day?  Nope.  Had I met girl during the day game?  Hardly.  Did I run into Mike Trout at the gas station and he invited me to hang out with him at his hotel?  Not quite.  Rather the reason why I was nearly an hour late to the game was due to brutal traffic brought on by….wait for it…wait for it….absolutely nothing.  The entire delay could be attributed to a single rubbernecking incident of a car that had slide down the highway into a ditch.  Was it interesting to look at?  Sure.  Was it worth being an hour late to the game?  Hell no.

This scenario isn’t just limited to Arizona though.  Rubbernecking, the act of slowing down to look at an accident, is a nation wide epidemic.  I don’t have the statistics at my disposal but I think it’s safe to say that it is probably the leading cause of the vast majority of traffic everywhere.  All that waiting.  All that stop and go traffic.  All that aggravation.  All for nothing.

Rubbernecking is so bad in fact that most people, even though they won’t readily admit it, find themselves rooting for carnage, secretly hoping that there are pieces of scrap metal and body parts strewn across the highway.  Anything will do.  Anything at all.  A toe even.   Something to justify the wait.  To make it all worth it.  Yet most of the time people are disappointed in what they actually see.  Just some broken glass, a tilted fender, a skid mark or two, and a flat tire.  A major let down by all accounts.

But it doesn’t have to be this way.  We don’t have to turn ordinary citizens into blood thirsty vultures.  We don’t have to cause people to be late to baseball games.  There is a better way.  All we’d have to is create what I like to call Rubbernecking Tents.  These tarps would put yellow police tape to shame as they would cover the entire area of the accident making it impossible for on lookers and passersby to see what is going on within their confines.  With nothing to look out people no longer have any reason to slow down and stare.  Sure, they’ll know that an accident, and a pretty horrific one at that, took place.  But they’ll have no idea what is really going on.

Not only would this help keep traffic moving but it would also allow the police to conduct their investigation unimpeded and most importantly it would provide the people involved in the accident with much needed privacy to deal with their injuries.  Of course none of this will matter in a few years when driver-less cars are in full effect but until then we owe it to ourselves to implement these tents and ensure that no one is ever late to a baseball game ever again!

Is a protective screen that prevents rubber necking the Greatest Idea Ever?

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In a recent article about dating Wired UK postulated the following:

“It’s a real 21st century conundrum: if we’re unable to meet people in real life, but disappointed in what we’re finding online, what’s the solution?”

That’s a question that I’ve been trying to answer for quite some time now. In fact, I’ve written about the topic eight times now on this blog! Eight times!!! That’s more than the number of times I’ve written about synthetic biology, quantum computing, and BitCoins combined!!!

A common theme that I’ve hit on is the fact that we should try to blend the digital and physical worlds. Something that would use the vast quantities of information that we have available to us to make it easier to find someone in real life. Something that would do the dirty work for us. Take the pressue off. Become the ultimate wing man.

I’ve come up with quite a few ideas that I think accomplish that but no actual products. Thankfully, San Francisco based design studio LUNAR has gone a step further than I did and actually created a couple of products as part of a recent project.

The first idea that they came up with is called Wizz, a stone shaped object that you can wear as jewelry that alerts you to when you are near a potential match. According to Wired, “The idea is that your information is pulled in from various social sites and dating platforms, and when you’re in the proximity of someone with like-minded interests, it’ll give you a little buzz. Think of it as Tinder and Highlight combined into a physical object.”

The second concept is reffered to as Connect. This is a wearable device that uses lights and icons to let other people know what you are all about and whether or not you are available. Here’s how it works according to Wired: “When you’re out and about, you slap it on and a glowing light acts as a beacon for other interested parties. A series of little charms communicate what your interests are or what you’re looking for in a prospective partner. ‘It provides a way to visually communicate to the guy or girl across the coffee shop, ‘Hey — I think you’re cute! You should come talk to me!’ as well as sets up the initial talking points to facilitate an easy conversation,’…”

This reminds of an idea I had previously wherein we would reinvent the mood ring. Here’s what I had to say about it at the time:

“These will be color coded rings that will have the same look and feel of mood rings but instead of being linked to your body chemistry they will be solid objects that won’t change colors. Rather each ring will denote the relationship status of the user. People who are looking for long term relationships will wear one color. People who just want to hook up another color and so on. This way it will be clear when you meet someone what their status is and what they are looking for.”

To be honest I’m not sure that any of these ideas are the be all, end all when it comes to solving the dating conundrum that continues to perplex society. While they all have some merit they also all have considerable flaws as they could draw unwanted attention to the user and also require mainstream acceptance in order to work effectively. I am, however, glad that this design firm is at least trying to tackle this problem. I’m not sure if there is ever going to be a definitive solution but I’m glad at least that someone besides me is trying to figure it out and that they have the wherewithal to make real products.  Hopefully, one of these products with actually catch on one day.

Is a piece of jewelry that alerts you to nearby suitors the Greatest Idea Ever?

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Just when I think I’ve seen it all something else comes along that just completely blows my mind.  This time my sleepless night can be attributed to the revelation that we could one day have an entire new way of computing known as Orbital Computing that could be 10,000 times faster than current methods!

Gigaom sums it up best:

“We’ve covered plenty of different ways that researchers are trying to continue advancing Moore’s Law — this idea that the number of transistors (and thus the performance) on a chip doubles every 18 months — especially the far out there efforts that take traditional computer science and electronics and dump them in favor of using magnetic spinquantum states or probabilistic logic.

We’re going to add a new impossible that might become possible to that list thanks to Joshua Turner, a physicist at the SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory, who has proposed using the orbits of electrons around the nucleus of an atom as a new means to generate the binary states (the charge or lack of a charge that transistors use today to generate zeros and ones) we use in computing.”

There is however a caveat as there often is when dealing with theoretical physics.  According to ExtremeTech, “The goal is to be able to probe the electron clouds of single atoms using terahertz waves of just the right size.  The catch is that to generate a tight enough pulse of sufficient intensity to do this, you need an accelerator two miles long.  But if you manage that, you can switch electron states 10,000 times faster than transistor states can be switched.”

That article goes on to further caution that, “Not even Joshua Turner is expecting orbital computing to be a workable technology any time soon. Most of his experiments are aimed at understanding what might be going on. He is merely looking into the crystal ball with a telescope and seeing what is even imaginable.”

Granted but even if this is just a theoretical thought experiment it’s a pretty exciting one at that so I’m glad that someone like Turner is daring to dream this big.  Hopefully, we will one day be able to turn his vision into a reality.  Until then, we all have some time to try and figure out what the hell he’s talking about!

Is a new way of computing that is 10,000 faster than current methods the Greatest Idea Ever?

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Forget what I just said about checking back tomorrow for another story about wearable technology as it turns out I just came across something so revolutionary, so mind-blowing, so ground-breaking that writing about it absolutely, positively can’t wait until tomorrow.   For we’re not talking about any run of the mill wearable that tracks activity or subtly changes behavior.  We’re talking about something that prevents migraines!!!

This is kind of a big deal because even if you don’t suffer from migraines yourself chances are that you know someone who does as it affects 10% of the population.  And even if you have no association with migraines at all chances are you’ve gotten some pretty bad headaches in your day from sleep deprivation or from a hangover so you can at least sympathize with those who do suffer.  And make no mistake about it, these people with their sensitivity to noise and light, are definitely suffering.  Most migraines are so bad in fact that they are completely debilitating.  Your only recourse is to lock yourself in a dark room and wait for it to subside.

That’s no longer going to be the case thanks to an amazing new wearable headband referred to as Cefaly.  This incredible device achieves it’s desired affect by issuing an electric current that stimulates the trigeminal nerve which has long been associated with migraines.  But don’t worry.  You don’t have to wear the headband all the time.  Just for up to twenty minutes a day when needed.

According to CNET, “The FDA says it approved Cefaly because of a clinical trial in Belgium showing that, of the 67 participants who suffered through migraines at least twice a month and hadn’t taken meds for the headaches in the three months leading up to the study, those who used Cefaly spent “significantly fewer” days dealing with migraines than those using a placebo device.”

What that means is that we are clearly dealing with a product that works and it’s only going to be a matter of time before it makes its way into mainstream use.  Until then we get to marvel at just how amazing this and all other wearable technologies are.  I wonder what tomorrow will bring.

Is a migraine reducing headband the Greatest Idea Ever?

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