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Archive for November, 2014

I don’t like most holidays but Thanksgiving is one that I should like.  Four days off from work.  Three NFL games on TV.  Two hand touch football games in the backyard with family members.  One giant turkey to devour.  Zero religious overtones.  And yet there’s something holding me back from completely enjoying it:  the menu.  Stuffing.  Yams.  Beets.  Butter nut squash.  Sweet potato casserole.  Cranberry sauce.  There’s a reason we only eats these food once a year:  they’re not that good!!

Before you round up the rest of the villagers and start chasing after me with pitchforks you should realize that I’m an extremely picky eater.  When you consider that I don’t like any of the traditional Thanksgiving menu items you can begin to understand why I’m not able to enjoy Thanksgiving as much as I would like to.  By 8 pm when the rest of you are regretting eating that second piece of pie I’m ransacking the pantry looking for something else to eat.

That’s why I’d like to propose that we change the Thanksgiving menu!  Now, I’m not looking to totally hijack the menu and just put on things that I like to eat like steak, pizza, or licorice nibs.  Rather, what I’d like to do is upgrade the menu to include some things that I think should have been on there all along.  Hearty, Earthy, foods that come from the land.  For example, instead of mashed potatoes (or in addition to) we should have Tater Tots!  Looking to put my money where my mouth is I made some this year and brought them to where I was having Thanksgiving dinner.  And they were a big hit!  Who doesn’t love a good Tater Tot?!?!!

Next up I think we should start making Pretzel bread a staple of this meal instead of plain old boring dinner rolls.  From the bread served at steak houses to the buns used by Wendy’s, pretzel bread is huge right now.  Why not capitalize on that momentum and start incorporating it into our yearly feasts?!  And if you’re saying to yourself this is ridiculous, I don’t even know how to make pretzel bread, have no fear.  Costco sells them in bulk!!!

The last food that I think we should incorporate on the menu is corn on the cob.  It doesn’t get much more hearty than that.  For the life of me I’ve never been able to figure out why this is not on the menu.  Is it not in season in most places?  Who cares!  Let’s genetically modify it!  Come on people!  This is a must have on our new and improved Traditional Thanksgiving menu!

So put down those pitchforks and stop chasing after me for saying sacrilegious things.  These suggestions would improve Thanksgiving tenfold!  Unfortunately when it comes to that crazy Uncle of yours you’re still on your own.

If you ask me Pretzel Bread should be served at Thanksgiving!

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The other night I was watching TV and stumbled across the Dark Knight.  I hadn’t seeked out this film.  I wasn’t in the mood for it.  It wasn’t even a good part of the movie.  And yet here I was watching something I didn’t even want to be watching just because it was on.  Welcome to the life of a cable TV viewer.

That may sound like a complaint but it’s really not.  Flipping through the TV channels in search of something to watch usually results in a good find.  A favorite old movie.  A marathon of American Pickers.  The end of a close basketball game.

That penchant for serendipitous discovery is something that cord cutters no longer have.  Sure they’re saving money but they also have to go through the chore of digging for something to watch.  That works if you know ahead of time what movie you want to watch on Netflix.  But not so much if you just want to flip around.  Wouldn’t it be great then if there was a way to quickly and easily scroll through the viewing options on your Roku or Apple TV instead of having to click into specific apps?

I know that sounds ridiculous.  But TV viewers are lazy by nature.  That’s why they’re sitting on the couch watching TV in the first place!  It stands to reason then that we should be making their TV viewing experience as easy as possible.  So here’s what I’m suggesting.  Let’s make flipping through the apps on a streaming media device just like flipping through the channels on a cable box.  Instead of going from sitcom on CBS to cop drama on NBC to animated series on FOX to sports program on ABC you could go from randomly selected movie on Netflix to Bill Maher stand up special on HBO GO to game of the day on Watch ESPN.  The featured program that these apps choose to spotlight would change ever so often.  Just like the way Cable TV operates albeit with fewer programming changes.

That may not sound like much but perhaps I’d get more use out of the CNET app or the Bloomberg app if I could just flip through them like channels.  Taking a quick glance at what they had to offer.  Seeing if anything tickled my fancy.  Maybe I’d like what I saw and stick around for a while.  Maybe I’d even go further down the rabbit hole and see what else they had to offer.

Usually my ideas fall on deaf ears but I think that this idea has merit because I know that Roku is looking to improve their product.  They’re even planning on releasing a Roku TV with the device built directly into the boob tube.  No extra box required.

That’s great and all and could result in a faster product but it’s not really going to change the way we watch TV.  Giving us the ability to quickly and easily flip through apps like channels…well, that might just.

Is a Roku that acts like a TV the Greatest Idea Ever?

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#576 – Radio DVR

The other day I was driving home from work when the theme song from Top Gun came on over the radio.  This song really pumped me up and made me want to drive at high speeds, bobbing and weaving my way through traffic while an imaginary fighter jet chased after me.  Unfortunately for my over active imagination I was stuck at a red light while this song was playing.  By the time I finally got going again I was forced to draw my inspiration from the Christian Rock station.  This was not an ideal situation considering that I’m Jewish.

I was also driving around a few weeks ago while listening to baseball postseason games on the radio.  If there’s one sport that is actually better consumed on the radio than watching it on TV or in person it’s baseball.  It’s something that I grew up doing and it’s something that I continue to take every opportunity to do.  The only problem is that my car now comes with a blue tooth component that enables me to receive phone calls through the car so that I can drive and talk at the same time.  It’s a great asset to have when I’m the one making an outbound call.  Not so much when a call comes in just as the 3-2 pitch is being delivered in the bottom of the ninth with the bases loaded and the home team trailing by three runs.

Wouldn’t it have been great then if I could have paused the theme song from Top Gun while I was stuck at the red light and resumed it once I got going again?  Or if I could have paused the play by play account of that game when my call came in?  I think it would be which is why I want to create a Radio DVR!  Just like the DVR you use with your television a radio DVR would allow you to pause and then rewind or fast forward the station that you were last listening to.

In addition to the use cases I already listed there are plenty of more scenarios in which having a Radio DVR would come in handy.  For example, when your favorite song comes on you could replay it over and over again.  If you pause the radio station for a while before starting your trip you could give yourself the ability to fast forward past songs that you don’t like.  If you need to get out of the car for a bathroom break or to re-fill the gas you could pause what you were listening to whether it’s a game, a song, or a newscast.  You could even pause a song if your spouse wants to do the unthinkable and actually speak to you.

This may all be a moot point in the near future if we’re all riding around in driver-less cars that sync to our Spotify playlists.  But until that day comes I think this idea has merit.  After all, if our cars can parallel park themselves they certainly should be able to pause the radio for us.

Is a radio DVR the Greatest Idea Ever?

 

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I’m a huge fan of the X-Prize, the monetarily motivated competition that aims to inspire solutions to the world’s most pressing problems by giving away a huge sum of money to the person or group that can make the impossible possible.  Previous X-Prizes have focused on sub-orbital flight, lunar landings, and oil spill cleanups while current contests include an actual contest to come up with a Star Trek style tri-corder that can accurately diagnose diseases.

In that same vein of medical devices comes the latest X-Prize winner: a device capable of running hundreds of lab tests from a single drop of blood.  That’s great news when you consider what Fast Company had to say:

“A single drop of blood carries a mind-boggling amount of information about your health. It can tell you whether you’re coming down with the flu, if you have certain kinds of cancers, and if you have heart disease. It’s just that the technology necessary to harness all of that information hasn’t been available in the past. Soon, it will be.”

So how does this amazing new invention work?  Wired explains:

“One small drop of blood is dropped into a small receptacle, where nanostrips and reagents react to the blood’s contents. The whole cocktail then goes through a spiral micro-mixer and is streamed past lasers that use variations in light intensity and scattering to come up with a diagnosis, from flu to a more serious illness such as pneumonia—or even Ebola—within a few minutes. There’s also a vitals patch that users can wear to get continuous health readings—EKG, heart rate, body temperature—delivered to their smartphone or the rHEALTH device itself via a Bluetooth link. An app called CHAS (Comprehensive Health Assessment Unit) can walk the user through the process of self-diagnosis.”

Considering how effortless it is to use this device and how much it can do it’s easy to see why it won the X-Prize.  Money may not be able to buy happiness but it sure can speed up innovation.

Is a device that can run hundreds of lab tests from a single drop of blood the Greatest Idea Ever?

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Tony Fadell has already accomplished a lot.  First he created the iPod while he was at Apple.  Then he left to start Nest, a company that re-imagined the lonely smoke detector.  Now for his latest trick he’s backing a startup known as Keyssa that could change the way we use our smart phones.

Business Insider explains why that is:

“Silicon Valley startup Keyssa is working on a technology it calls “kiss connectivity,” which could allow you to transfer a movie as large as “Avatar” between devices in just five seconds…”

Allow me to repeat that.  You could transfer files in just five seconds!!!  What the what!!

Bloomberg Businessweek adds, “Keyssa is trying to bring a new level of wireless transfer speed to consumer phones, laptops, and home appliances. After five years of working in secret, the company is unveiling what it calls “kiss connectivity.” Keyssa says the technology—essentially a complex radio that uses high frequencies—will provide a faster alternative to today’s tangle of wireless network equipment and cords, which often produce signals that interfere with Wi-Fi and Bluetooth. Keyssa aims to replace plugs and ports with low-power wireless connectors that use the extremely high-frequency (EHF) radio band used mostly by astronomers.”

Aside from faster transfer rates this new technology could have design implications as well.  Phones would no longer need to have ugly holes on the side of them to allow for wires to be plugged in.  This could essentially lead to a change in the way phones are made resulting in devices that are even slimmer and more durable than they are today.

All of this leads to some people wondering if Fadell is the next Steve Jobs.  While that makes for a good debate the only thing I’m wondering about is what he has planned next.  Because whatever it is there’s a good chance it’s going to be a total game changer.

Is Kiss Connectivity the Greatest Idea Ever?

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#573 – Body Labs

The other day I tweeted a link to an article.  Something that I do a half dozen times a day.  Like with most things that I write about no one seems to care half the time.  But on this day something strange happened.  This tweet got favorited six times, a new personal record.

This social engagement metric is indicative of two things.  1) I need a larger presence on Twitter.  And 2) I may have stumbled upon something awesome.

So what was it that went viral?  A post related to the historic Rosetta comet landing?!? A link to a racy Kim Kardashian photo?  Nope.  Nothing that exciting.  Just a story from Wired about a new startup that has the capability to create a realistic image of your body.  In other words, Avatars of your bodies, of your exact bodies, including every single lump and roll.  Why is this a big deal?

According to Wired:

“The trend toward personalized consumer products has been simmering for years.  Today, you can get earbuds custom-molded to your ear canal, buy a data-driven bra for exactly your shape, or select a button-down shirt in one of 75 sizes.  But even as this mass customization movement grows, making custom products remains slow and costly.  And most of these “custom” products are only semi-custom.

Now, imagine you could upload an individual’s shape with a click.  Suddenly, designing that bespoke suit becomes less time consuming.  There are other possibilities, too.  Hollywood could use these avatars to design more realistic effects at a fraction of the time and cost.  Videogame brands could let gamers uplaoded their avatars and rop them in to the game for a more immersive experience.  Health and fitness aps could use it to track not just a person’s diet and weight, but the way their bodies physically change over time.  Using Body Labs’ technology, the body can become a platform upon which other companies can build a range of new products.”

Like most people my age I would be horrified to track how my body has changed, err deteriorated over time and having my likeness in a video game doesn’t really appeal that much to me.  But, the one aspect of this technology that I am excited about is the potential for custom clothing.  Take dress shirts for example.  Whenever I get a shirt that fits well on the arms and torso it’s usually too tight around my neck.  When I get a shirt with a bigger neck I’m then wearing a parachute to work.  With this technology, however, I could soon have a shirt that fits perfectly.  Same thing for sneakers.  Size 10 is too tight.  Size 10.5 too big.  What I really need is a size 10.25.  Soon I could have that.

 I can’t wait.
body-avatar-inline
Is technology that can create an exact avatar of your body the Greatest Idea Ever?

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A crystal capable of sucking all the oxygen out of a room.  That sounds more like the plot of an episode of Fringe than a real news headline.  And yet here we are about to discuss how we’re one day going to be breathing underwater for long periods of time.  Before we get ahead of ourselves though let’s find out exactly how this amazing new crystal works.

According to Science Alert:

“Scientists from the University of Southern Denmark have developed a new form of crystalline cobalt salt that acts like a super-effective oxygen sponge. Once it sucks up oxygen, it will hold on to it indefinitely until it’s gently heated or exposed to low oxygen pressure, at which point it will quietly release its oxygen hoard back out into the atmosphere. About 10 litres of it would be needed to suck all of the oxygen out of an average-sized room.

‘The material can absorb and release oxygen many times without losing the ability. It is like dipping a sponge in water, squeezing the water out of it and repeating the process over and over again,’ said lead researcher and nanobioscience professor Christine McKenzie, in a press release. ‘When the substance is saturated with oxygen, it can be compared to an oxygen tank, containing pure oxygen under pressure. The difference is that this material can hold three times as much oxygen.'”

Obviously the first thing that comes to mind when you hear about an oxygen hoarding crystal is breathing under water for long periods of time.  And while that may one day be possible there may be another far more benevolent use for this technology: medical equipment.

According to Motherboard, “The Danish researchers imagine one scheme for this technology in particular. While providing extra oxygen to someone, whether they’re a COPD patient or on the top of Mount Everest, necessarily involves the use of complicated pumps and tanks, McKenzie imagines a simple mask layered with oxygen-loaded cobalt salts.”

All in all, whether we’re trying to breathe more easily on land or under water we may soon have these new oxygen hoarding crystals to thank. Nefarious TV show plots need not apply.

It may sound like the plot from an episode of Fringe but an oxygen hoarding crystal may just be the Greatest Idea Ever.

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#571 – Singles Day

Did you know that today is a holiday?  Well, sort of.  It’s 11-11 which means it’s Singles Day!!! What is Singles Day you ask?  Well, as I mentioned Sunday in my Week in Review column it’s a man-made holiday created by Alibaba to encourage single people to shop online and buy themselves gifts.  11-11 was chosen for this landmark event since it’s the date with the most ones in it.

I think this is a great gimmick and it’s creative thinking like this that goes to show why Alibaba is such a great company.  But the more I think about it I don’t think that this day should just be limited to shopping.  Instead, we should turn this into a full-fledged holiday that celebrates all that is great about being single!

After all, people in relationships have Valentine’s Day.  A day filled with love and passion as couples celebrate their fondness for one another.  But what do single people have?  Just a lifetime of regrets and a gallon of Rocky Road ice cream to drown their sorrows.  But it doesn’t have to be this way.  By embracing all that is great about being single we can turn the tables on those lovey-dovey saps and make them just as jealous about all the fun that single people are having as single people are about all the sex they’re having.

So here’s what I’m proposing.  Next year, let’s turn 11-11 into a day that lonely, depressed single person will never forget.  A day loaded with a ton of social events designed exclusively for single people to get out and about and mix it up with other single people.  I’m talking about city wide scavenger hunts, giant water balloon fights, and free concerts by day.  Speed dating events, happy hour specials and social mixers at night. Dances where it’s a single person’s choice on who to ask out.  Parties among adults where each guest has to bring a single friend with them.

Heck, let’s even take it a step further and really roll out the red carpet for single people.  Let’s give them steep discounts at restaurants, movie theaters, and sporting events.  Just show proof of a paid dating site membership and get in for just $1.

All in all, anything and everything having to do with being single is up for grabs.  Crazy cat ladies will enjoy steep discounts on cat food from their local supermarket.  Sci-fi nerds will get treated to a Battlestar Galactica marathon on TV.  If it’s a part of the stereotype of being single it’s fair game.

Alibaba may have just wanted to boost their bottom line but I really think that they may have stumbled upon something here.  A day designed to celebrate everything that is great about being single not just an excuse to buy a new iPhone.  But hey, a few discounts never hurt anyone either.

Cheer up single people.  Singles Day is here!

 

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#570 – Echo

The other day Amazon made an unexpected announcement about an entirely new product.  Referred to as Echo, this voice controlled speaker sits in your living room or kitchen and acts as an information providing companion that anybody in the room can interact with.  You can ask it to play a song, add something to your shopping list, or answer a question that you have. It’s just like Siri or Cortana but instead of being in your phone or in your computer it’s with you in your home.

As Gizmodo describes, “It is the conversational internet. A tangible, touchable piece of pseudo-furniture that filters data through a very smart-looking piece of voice recognition. The web strung across your living room—or better yet, kitchen. There’s more potential in this little lightsaber handle than we know quite what to do with.”

Check out this “parody” video to see it in action.  It’s guaranteed to make you want Echo even more:

Now, you may be asking yourself why you should care about Echo when your phone already does the same things.  And that’s a fair point.  But Echo isn’t just a Siri knock off.  Rather, it could very well be indicative of how we interact with computers in the future as it is optimized for hands free use.  We can use it while we’re cooking or  cleaning or otherwise disposed.  We could even use it while having sex or just lying in bed after first waking up.  To find out the latest news or weather you won’t even have to get up to get your phone or turn the TV on.  All you’d have to do is ask Echo.

All in all, Echo reminds me a lot of Jibo, the social family friendly robot that I wrote about a few months ago that could take your picture, play games with you, serve as a telepresence robot, and act as your personal assistant.

To be honest I’m not sure whether Jibo or Echo is more likely to be in your home a year or two from now.  All I know is that it’s becoming increasingly obvious that some form of hands free, voice controlled, always listening artificial intelligence will be making it’s way into our homes.  For Amazon’s sake let’s hope it’s Echo.

 

As you can see from the graphic above, Echo can do a lot.  Does that make it the Greatest Idea Ever?

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Here’s a quick look at everything that caught my eye this week:

1.  Foodini:  Microwaveable dinners may soon be a thing of the past.  That’s because in the future we’ll 3-D print what we want to eat thanks to the Foodini, a 3-D printer for food created by Natural Machines.  There is a catch, however.  The food that gets printed isn’t ready to eat.  You’ll still have to cook it.  Why exactly would anybody want to do this then?  Well, if you have children you could 3-D print spinach or other vegetables that are good for your kids into objects that they won’t mind devouring.  Kind of like this:

Spinach Quiche Dinosaurs

Furthermore, it’s likely that future generations of the foodini will come with built in cooking abilities.  Until that happens though this isn’t a device that’s likely to catch on and take over your kitchen anytime soon.  It could, however, find a nice home in restaurants that want to use it to present their signature items in new and unique ways.

2.  Twitter Gets Topical:  When I use Twitter it’s to promote this blog or to search for things to promote on this blog.  Very rarely do I even look at my own feed.  There’s just too much noise there from the thousands of people that I’m following to actually be useful.  Searching by hashtag or on the Twitter discover feed is much more effective.  Twitter seems to agree with me as they are allegedly planning on creating topic based feeds allowing users to follow along with the ideas that interest them not the people that intrigue them.  You may even be able to filter someone you follow and only see their tweets about the topics that interest you ignoring all of their tweets about the ones that don’t.

To find out more check out this article from The Next Web.

3.  Internet In Space:  If you’re planning on living in space or just vacationing there you’re probably going to want to have internet access.  Thanks to Elon Musk that may soon be a possible as he is reportedly planning on spending $1 billion  dollars on creating a fleet of about 700 satellites to send into space.

According to Business Insider, “The satellites Musk and Wyler want to send up would be about half the size of the smallest current commercial communications satellites, and this fleet would be 10 times the size of the largest communication satellite fleet, the report said.”

Considering that Elon Musk usually gets what Elon Musk wants there’s a pretty good chance that this will actually be happening.

4.  Singles Day:  I just found out that Alibaba promotes a Singles Day on 11-11 where single people are encouraged to take advantage of online shopping deals and buy themselves a present to make up for the fact that they’re single.  What a great idea!  Who needs Black Friday when you can have Singles Day!  Let’s make this a thing in the U.S.!

Is Singles Day the Greatest Idea Ever?

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