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Archive for March, 2015

It’s March and I’m thinking about George Mason University.  They must have won a first round NCAA game right?  Wrong.  I’m thinking about the small school in the Washington, D.C. area because two of their electrical engineering students, Viet Tran and Seth Robertson, just invented a fire extinguisher that uses sound waves to put out fires!

What the what!!

In a YouTube video that demonstrates the use of their invention Tran said that he envisions the device getting used by robots or drones to fight forest or building fires, doing the dirty work so that firefighters don’t have to unnecessarily risk their lives in certain situations.  He also said that he envisions the device becoming a part of the kitchen of the future, having it readily available, in place above a stove, to immediately put out a grease fire or the like.  He also suggested in an article on CNN that it could be the perfect tool for astronauts to use so that they don’t have to use chemicals in confined spaces.

Those are all great suggestions and I really believe that this invention has a future as a commercial product.  However, I’ve already moved on to thinking about further applications for this technology.  You see, I’ve always believed that sound waves were an underutilized phenomenon that we didn’t fully understand.  Using them to fight fires instead of water or expensive chemicals is a great idea that is definitely worth celebrating.  But I can’t help but wonder: what else could we be using sound waves for?  Could we use them to travel faster?  Could we use them to generate electricity?

I’m not sure.  All I know is that a sound wave fire extinguisher is pretty cool and hopefully it’s not the last we’ve heard of sound waves.  Pun intended.

Is a sound wave fire extinguisher the Greatest Idea Ever?

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#642 – E-Ink Shoes

I have something shocking to tell you.  Something that will rock you down to the core of your soul.  Something that will make you re-think your entire existence.  After I’m done telling you there will be a moment or two where you’ll be unable to speak or even move.  You’ll be completely and utterly paralyzed.  Eventually the sensation will pass and you’ll regain the use of your lower extremities.  But not before you come to the realization that the world as you knew it is no more.

Women have a lot of shoes.

There I said it.

Obviously, that’s not really a shocking thing to say.  It’s not even a stereotypical thing to say.  Every woman and most men have a lot of shoes.  Workout shoes, lounging around the house shoes, going to work shoes, going out with friends shoes.  The list goes on and on.  Nothing shocking or salacious happening here.

But what is shocking is the fact that in the near future most women may only have one pair of shoes!  Just one pair!  That’s not a typo.  That’s a harbinger of things to come.  The reason why?  A newly designed e-ink shoe that has the ability to change its color and pattern to fit your needs.  That’s right.  The same technology that may be enabling you to read this on your e-reader right now could soon enable you to be the life of the party and the talk of it at the same time.

As CNET explains, “The shoes come in both black and white, and it can be customised to a variety of patterned outfits thanks to a flexible e-ink display that is integrated into the shoe’s upper. Tucked away into a hollow carved out of the shoe’s sole is a Bluetooth low-energy receiver, which allows the wearer to program the e-ink display in either block black or white, or with a pattern to match their outfit, from polka dots to animal stripes to flowers.”

The shoe is known as the Volvorii Timeless and can be found on the crowd funding site Indiegogo.  If you want to free up some closet space or be able to travel without having to lug around an entire suitcase just for your shoes you may want to support it.

Is an e-ink shoe the Greatest Idea Ever?

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Occasionally, I’ll eat in my car during my lunch break and when I do I’ll listen to sports talk shows.  I used to enjoy hearing people talk about sports but now that I live in a new city and the conversations are about the Phoenix Suns backup point guard or the Arizona Cardinals offensive line not so much.  What I’d rather be listening to is people talk about science and technology but unfortunately that’s not an option on mainstream radio stations.  It’s either sports, politics, breaking news, or music.  Phoenix isn’t even a major sports market by most accounts.  And yet there are 4 sports talk radio stations.  4!!!  New York is a much larger market.  They had 2!!!  Conversely there’s not a single science/technology talk show.  That’s a shame.

It’s not like there’s a real shortage of things to talk about.  Take this past Friday for example.  A random week day towards the end of March.  There probably wasn’t much to talk about, right?  Wrong!  You could have talked about the Kelly twins, a pair of astronauts, who are about to embark on a year long scientific study to try to better understand the effects of space on the human body.  You could have talked about a Mars One contestant alleging that the show is a scam.  You could have talked about Apple CEO Tim Cook’s announcement that he’s going to give away his fortune.  You could have talked about ten more things.

That’s because on any given day there’s a plethora of topics worth discussing.  There’s new inventions as there were on Friday when a group of students invented a sound wave based fire extinguisher.  There’s movers and shakers in various industries making headlines.  And there’s inevitably going to be financial news worth discussing as well as it relates to the stock prices of tech companies.  So you can’t honestly sit there and tell me that there’s not enough to talk about.

So why is it then that there are no science talk shows?  I think the answer rests solely on the fact that when radio was more popular science wasn’t.  There was no internet, no cell phones, no apps, no tech companies on the S&P 500.  Google hadn’t been started yet.  Mark Zuckerberg hadn’t even been born yet.  When there was technology news it was mainstream news as it was when a man walked on the moon.  Otherwise nobody cared about the latest inventions because the latest inventions were kitchen appliances.  But fast forward fifty years and times have changed.  The nerds have taken over.  Start-up culture, hacker culture, nerd culture.  They’ve all gone main stream.  From TV shows (Big Bang Theory, Scorpion) to movies (The Imitation Game, The Theory Of Everything) our pop culture is now one giant shout out to all things geeky.  If you don’t believe me just take a look at your Facebook feed.  Chances are somebody on there fucking loves science right now.

With such an insatiable clamor for all things science isn’t it a little bit weird that our radio programs haven’t caught up yet?  Sure there are people talking about science on various podcasts and YouTube channels and the like.  But there’s no one talking about science on mainstream radio.  No one doing it 24/7.  No one covering the recent Facebook developer’s conference live as if it were a NCAA tournament game.  No one interviewing standout coders as if they were star athletes.  No one fielding calls from crackpot inventors the way they take calls from disillusioned obsessive fans.

Isn’t it time we changed all that?  Isn’t it time that we gave science and technology the respect that it deserves?  Time that radio stations joined the 21st Century?  I think it is.  I think it’s way past time.  So let’s create a science talk radio show and change the way we spend our lunch breaks.  Sports are out.  Science is in.

Instead of having to listen to this man talk sports shouldn’t I be able to listen to people talk about science?

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The other day I got attacked by a motherfuckering rattle snake! I was out on a hike, minding my own business, day dreaming about the Spring Training game I was going to go to the next day, when out of no where this devil creature tried to get all up in my grill.  If it wasn’t for my ninja like reflexes I’d be dead right now.

Truth be told I’m not entirely sure that it was a rattle snake that attacked me.  In fact, I’m not even sure that I got attacked at all for I never made direct visual contact with the monstrosity.  I just thought I heard something, thought I saw something, and took off like Forrest Gump on a back country road.  It very well could have been a stick that scared me.  But the point here is that it could have been a rattle snake.  Could have been a very poisonous, very dangerous, very scary snake and I would have never seen it coming.

So here’s what I’m thinking:  let’s create a life form detector!  What I’m envisioning is either a stand alone hand held device or even a smart phone app that would be able to scan your immediate surrounding area, say anything within 100 yards of you, and determine whether or not there are any life forms in the vicinity.  Obviously it would get very annoying if it detected literally every life form.  So it would have to be fine tuned to the point where it could ignore worms, flys, and even the microscopic organisms living inside your microbiome while at the same time remaining capable of detecting snakes, scorpions, wolves, and any other predators you might encounter while hiking.  And of course there would have to be a way to train the device to not continuously detect you!

How would it work?  From a technical standpoint I have no idea but I imagine that it would use some combination of motion sensors and heat signature sensors since they are the tell tale signs of life.  I could also see it using a microphone and ambient noise filter to listen for threatening sounds in your environment.  The kind of sounds that a rattle snake might make before attacking you.

Now before you dismiss this idea keep in mind that I’m not the only person who has come up with this idea.  In fact, it’s already a real thing.  Well, sort of.  You see, such a device already exists…in Star Wars.   As Wookiepedia explains, “A lifeform scanner, also known as a life-form sensor or lifeform detection module, was a device that allowed the holder to detect living (sentient and non-sentient) beings from a distance. A large majority of bounty hunters and mercenaries used this technology to lock on to enemies and potential bounties.”

From the Star Trek tricorder to the Harry Potter invisibility cloak to the Back to the Future hover board there are a ton of examples of science fiction becoming science fact.  Isn’t it time that we did the same with the life form detector from Star Wars?!!

Now if you’ll excuse me I have to go blindly risk my life again on a hiking trail.  Hopefully, nothing will attack me.

Star Wars bounty hunters can use a life form scanner to find their targets.  Shouldn’t hikers also be armed with a life form detector to avoid snakes?!?!

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One of the main reasons why I wanted to move to Phoenix is so that I could have a ton of new areas to explore.  From Glendale and Scottsdale to Mesa and Tempe and everything in between there’s hundreds of miles and thousands of blocks to explore.  It’s going to take me a while to cover it all but that’s okay.  The journey is half the fun, right?

As I make my way around the city I’ve been taking mental notes of new favorite hot spots as I try to remember which bar has the best ambiance, which deli has the best Roast Beef, and which antique store has the best hidden treasures.

The mental notes approach, while tried and true, is a recipe for disaster.  Returning to an area armed with nothing more than your own recollection from two months ago is how people spend hours on end, roaming the streets endlessly in search of that elusive hole in the wall cupcake store that they fell in love with.  It would obviously be much better if there was a way to digitize your experiences.  A way to annotate your life on an ever evolving map.  Thankfully, now there is.

As Springwise explains, “The days of hand drawn routes and dogeared car maps are long gone. Most people now turn instinctively to their smartphones for directions, and while existing online maps do the job of getting people from A to B quite satisfactorily, the latest version of Citymaps has a lot more to offer. Citymaps 2.0 is a visually rich map which enables users to annotate and bookmark their digital world. It lets them create shareable ‘collections’ and will even learn the tastes of users over time, resulting in a personalized map which emphasizes specific venue types and brands.”

What I love most about this idea is the fact that the software evolves over time as it learns about you.  If I annotate all the antique stores and flea markets that I go to I could eventually receive a recommendation about an unknown mom and pop shop that could have exactly what I’m looking for.  The kind of recommendation that a Google search would never turn up.

I also like the fact that you can interact with your friends or other people and share your “collections” as you make them.  And I especially like the fact that you can collaborate with other people and pool your knowledge together in a shared collection.  When you’re traveling to a new city on vacation following a pooled collection seems like it could be a much better use of one’s time than following a Fodor’s guide or a few biased Yelp reviews.  It’s certainly a lot better than going it alone.

Now if only someone could tell me where I could find some good Roast Beef in the Phoenix area before I get the app I would greatly appreciate it!

Is a personalized smartphone map the Greatest Idea Ever?

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In honor of March Madness I thought it would be fun to set up a 64 team bracket of tech companies and the innovations and trends driving them.  Readers of this blog could then vote for the idea that they think is the best.  However, considering that more people ride the bench for Valparaiso than read this blog that’s probably not a very useful exercise.

Rather, what I’d like to do is a bracketology style analysis of the major players in tech assigning seeds the way that the NCAA selection committee does.  Here’s a look at what I came up with:

#1 Seeds

These are the best of the best.  Big name programs that attract the top talent year after year.  In the NCAA that’s Duke and Kentucky.  In the tech world that’s Google, Apple, and Facebook.  Top talent like Johnny Ive and Ray Kurzweil reside here as do leaders like Mark Zuckerberg and Larry Page.  From wearables to virtual reality to driverless cars these companies are at the forefront of innovation.

#2 Seeds

More big name programs that just missed the cut.  Very easily could have been #1 seeds.  Long history of success over the last ten to fifteen years.  In the NCAA that’s Kansas and Arizona.  In the tech world that’s Microsoft and IBM.  Play your cards right and you could get back on top very soon.  Can Watson and Hololens do the trick for IBM and Microsoft respectively?

#3 Seeds

Usually programs that had great years can be found here as a reward for their recent success.  Think Iowa State, Notre Dame, and Baylor.  No sure things here but they could make a deep run.  In the tech world that’s Tesla.

#4, 5, 6, 7 Seeds

Lots of big name programs here from strong power conferences.  Maryland, Louisville, Georgetown, Michigan State, etc.  Programs with a track record of success but who could be primed for an upset from a young upstart.  In the tech world think about Intel losing ground to new chip makers, Twitter’s uphill battle to make money and stay relevant and the litany of challengers trying to take down Amazon.

#8 & 9 Seeds

These match-ups are usually a toss up.  The outcome could go either way.  Cincinnati or Purdue? Too close to call.  In terms of technological concepts think about 3-D printing and BitCoin.

#10, 11, 12 Seeds

Lots of potential here from big name and small schools alike.  Some will have success (UCLA) while others won’t (Wofford, SF Austin).  In the tech world this is where you’ll find Lockheed Martin’s fusion reactor, Oculus Rift, Magic Leap and the Leap Motion Controller among others.

#13, 14, 15 Seeds

Small schools who just may pull off an upset can be found here.  Hello, Cinderella!  Their technological equivalent are young start-ups with big dreams.  Think liquid food alternative Soylent Green and live video streaming service Meerkat.

#16 Seeds

No sixteen seed has ever beat a number one seed.  But hey you never know!  Think flying cars, space elevators, and the like.

Filing out a bracket for March Madness is fun!  But you know what would be even better?  If we could fill one out for tech companies and concepts too!

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You probably know about the Circadian rhythm that affects your sleep cycle.  But did you also know that there’s another rhythm, known as the Ultradian rhythm, that affects you when you’re awake?

I didn’t until recently but it makes perfect sense.  If our brain cycles through periods of activity and inactivity at night there’s no reason why it shouldn’t be doing the same thing during the day.  And yet we completely ignore this fact, working for hours on end without taking proper breaks, completely oblivious to the ebbs and flows of our energy levels throughout the day as we soldier on without giving our bodies and minds the proper rest that it needs to stay on rhythm, just going and going, powering through all obstacles, all day long, non-stop, without an end in sight, kind of like this sentence.  And just like the way a run on sentence needs to be reined in so too do our bodies.

We attempt to do this by pounding coffee, red bull, and five hour energy capsules to compensate for the fact that we’re not operating at peak efficiency.   We chalk up our sluggishness to that “3:30 feeling” , a made up marketing term instead of acknowledging the real science on hand.  We take fifteen minute power naps whenever we can squeeze them in.  We try different diets and consume several portion controlled meals in an attempt to boost our energy level.  We even read New York Times best-selling books from self-proclaimed self-help gurus that make millions just from stating the obvious.  We do it all except for the one thing that could actually make a difference in our lives: monitoring our Ultradian rhythm.   That doesn’t make a lot of sense to me.  We’ve been living in the dark for far too long, oblivious to the fact that our bodies were even on day time cycles.  Now that we’re armed with the knowledge about what is really going on inside our bodies we should be doing something about it.

So here’s what I’m proposing: a wearable device that tracks our Ultradian rhythm throughout the day.  When we’re at work it’ll tell us the precise time to take a break.  When we’re restless it’ll tell us when it’s the best time to start exercising.  At night we can use it in conjunction with sleep monitoring devices to time when we should go to bed.  It’ll be with us, all the time, nagging us like an over protective mother, telling us what to do and when to do it.  And unlike when our mothers do it we’ll love every minute of it.

We already have wearable devices that monitor our sleep cycles, waking us up at exactly the right time.  We even have other brain monitoring devices that allegedly make us smarter, help us concentrate more, and control our mood, among other things.  In the future we may even be able to fly a drone with our minds or communicate across long distances telepathically.    If all of that is possible shouldn’t it also be possible to get in tune with our Ultradian rhythm?  I think so and I think that we owe it to ourselves to try.

http://b.fastcompany.net/multisite_files/fastcompany/imagecache/inline-large/inline/2013/06/3013188-inline-ultradian-rhythm-inline.jpg

We shouldn’t be working during the day for more than 90 minutes straight.  Shouldn’t we make a wearable that tells us exactly when it’s time to stop?

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