Archive for May, 2015

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

1.  Gravity Lamp: How does a lamp that doesn’t use batteries, fuel, or solar power work?  It’s powered by gravity of course.

As I Fucking Love Science writes, “The mechanics are quite simple. The lamp works on a pulley system: A maximum 11 kilogram (24 pound) weight is hoisted up with a beaded cord. Once the weight reaches the top of the pulley, the user can let go, allowing the weight to slowly descend. As it drops, the bead cord passes through a connected train that lights a bright LED. And once the weight hits the floor, the process can be repeated. The entire cycle lasts 20-30 minutes.”


2.  Screentendo – I don’t play games at works (no, seriously) but that may soon change thanks to Screentendo, an app that turns screenshots into playable video game levels.

As Gizmodo reports, “When you’re bored at work, pulling out your Game Boy to pass the time isn’t exactly inconspicuous. But this simple app called Screentendo is. It snaps a screenshot of whatever you’re working on and then turns it into a simple Super Mario level with clouds and breakable blocks. Spreadsheets have never been more entertaining.”

Screentendo Turns Screenshots Into a Playable Super Mario Level

3.  The ZEF Table – What if I told you there was a way to reduce your energy bill by 60%?  You’d probably be interested in hearing about that, right?  Now, what if I told you that to pull that off all you’d have to do was get a new kitchen table.  Would you still be interested?  Well that’s the promise of the ZEF Table.

As Business Insider explains, “Beneath the oak table are a series of phase-changing materials (PCMs) placed between the wood and anodized aluminum bottom. The materials soften when the surrounding room reaches around 71 degrees, absorbing the excess heat, and then harden once the temperature dips back below 71 degrees, releasing the trapped heat with the help of the aluminum and causing a noticeable change in the room’s temperature.  That means the table is essentially working like a “thermal sponge,” as Lagrange and Ménard put it, sucking up excess heat and then releasing it once the room becomes cool enough.”

ZEF table

4. Gleamfire – If you own a car you know how time consuming and expensive it can be to wash it.  You’ll also know how much water it wastes.  Thankfully, Gleamfire gets the job done using only 1.5 gallons of water compared to the 25 to 400+ gallons that a normal wash could use.  What the what!

As Fast Company puts it, “Washing a car in the driveway usually involves a bucket or two, a hose, and so much water that drought-stricken California started slapping $500 fines on anyone who does it wrong. Inspired to create an alternative, a former software entrepreneur designed a new device that uses less water than brushing your teeth.”

Are any of these ideas the Greatest Idea Ever?

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#709 – Ascend

Lots of high 90’s and 100’s.  That’s good news if you’re a student and we’re talking about your report card.  Not so good news if you’re a hiker living in the greater Phoenix Metro area and we’re talking about the ten day forecast.  Faced with a temperature gauntlet set down by Mother Nature most people would find something else to do.  But I’m not most people.  Which is why I’m pleased to announce the creation of Ascend, the World’s first ever indoor mountain range!

That’s right.  I’m planning to do the unthinkable and create an indoor playground unlike anything the world has ever seen.  Part Fantasy Factory, part Bio Dome, part Bellagio lobby, we’re talking about a place that would be the ultimate dream come true for outdoor adventurers.  A place for people to refine their approach and practice their skills.  There will be rock climbing walls, repelling stations, a parkour training section, even a Botanical garden to help make the place look as authenticate as possible.  It’ll have a little bit of everything that you might find on your normal outdoor adventures.  Minus the snakes of course.

Here’s a quick look at some more of what I’m envisioning:

  • A man-made “mountain” several stories high with various routes that people can take.
  • Venture off the trail and a trap door “booby” trap will open up and send you back to the beginning via a giant slide.
  • Reach a part that’s too steep?  No worries.  Just use the trampoline short cut!
  • Compete against other hikers in a race to the top on the obstacle course hike.
  • Recreate scenes from famous movies.  Get chased by a giant boulder like in Indiana Jones.  Swing from a rope across a body of water like Sloth in Goonies.
  • Not a fan of hiking?  Then go inside the structure to explore a robust cave system where you’ll have to search for hidden treasure.

Will I ever actually create this indoor monument to the great Outdoors? Probably not.  It’ll probably wind up suffering the same fate as my ideas for an Indoor Softball Complex, a Best of Long Island Festival, the Puzzle Palace, the Greatest Place On Earth, and IdeaCon: admired as worthwhile ventures but ultimately deemed too complex and expensive to pull off.

Perhaps one day I’ll be in a position to change that and make all of those dreams come true.  Until then I guess I’m going to have to find a new hobby for the summer.  Crocheting here I come!

Is an Indoor Hiking facility the Greatest Idea Ever?

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The other day my cell phone wound up at the bottom of a hot tub during an ill-advised attempt to take a family photo.  I tried to dry it out for 24 hours in a bowl of rice but that didn’t work.  Now I’m out $400 and four bags of instant rice.  In need of a new phone I figured I might take this opportunity to switch from the Samsung Galaxy Note 3 which barely fits into my pocket to an iPhone which barely fits into my budget.  After all, I’m going to need an iPhone to sync to the Apple Watch that I’m inevitably going to be shepherded into buying by society.  Despite my better judgment I’m about to find myself sucked into Apple’s closed ecosystem once again.

There’s just one problem with this game plan though: the Apple Watch is not yet a finished product.  Sure there are lots of cool features, some of which I just outlined the other day.  But the way that we interact with it doesn’t seem fresh.  We’ve gone from phones in our pockets to phones on our wrists.  It’s a lateral move.  A horizontal shift when only a vertical, game-changing, paradigm altering shift will do.  That’s where the Aria comes in.  For we’re not just talking about a cool new feature to use with your watch.  We’re talking about the one true way of how you’re going to be using your watch.  Swiping is out.  Wiggling is in.

As Tech Crunch writes, “After nearly a month of time with the Apple Watch, there’s been a few moments that drew attention to the downside to having a computer strapped to one’s wrist. Brushing one’s teeth, eating, and even holding your significant other’s hand on a walk all preclude accessing your wrist with your other hand, preventing you from responding to notifications or using apps.  The Aria is an add-on band that solves this occasional frustration by measuring movement in the wrist to control smart watches with finger gestures. Compatible with Android Wear and the Pebble Time, their module slots in to an existing band and lets you move through a watch’s interface without tapping the screen or using controls on the side of the watch face.”

In other words navigating through your watch’s interface will soon be as easy as lifting a finger.  It won’t be as cool as a full on gesture based interface like the kind used in Minority Report.  But it’ll be a start.  And, more importantly, it’ll be the perfect accessory for a smart watch as you’ll be able to access information without having to use both hands.  A development that will further free us from our dependency on our always connected devices.

All of this reminds me of a scene in the latest episode of Silicon Valley where the nefarious Gavin Belson of the fictitious Google like Hooli tells his haphazardly thrown together Moonshot team to dream up a real game changing technology, the kind of innovation that could get him back in the good graces of his board of directors after an epic product launch fail.  What they come up with is a way for people to communicate with their phones using their brain waves.  Gavin gets really excited about this prospect until, spoiler alert, he realizes that there is no prototype.  This grand idea is just that, an idea.

The Aria, on the other hand, sounds exactly like the kind of product that Gavin was looking for.  Something actually technologically possible that will change the way we interact with our devices by a factor of ten.  A Moonshot that does the impossible and actually delivers on its promise.

Aria wearable

Is the Aria the Greatest Idea Ever?

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I never really saw the point to owning a watch.  Tan lines, skin irritations, annoying ticking sounds.  No thank you.  If I want to know the time I’ll just break out a sun dial or ask someone or look at my phone or the clock on the wall or the clock on the TV or the clock on the microwave or the clock in the car or the clock on my computer.  Combine that sentiment with the fact that I think smart watches are impractical and that I’m not a fan of Apple products and it’s easy to surmise that I will not be getting an Apple Watch anytime soon.

And yet if you made that assumption you’d be wrong.  For the Apple Watch isn’t just a watch in the ordinary sense of the word.  Nor is it a typical Apple product.  Rather, what we’re dealing with is a revolutionary timepiece that completely changes what a wearable could be, transforming it from something that adds to the deluge of data already overburdening us to something that helps us escape the pressure of always being plugged in.  In essence, it’s something that makes us more human.  And in so doing Apple has finally found a way to win me over.

How has it done that?  By including the following four features in the watch:

  • When someone texts you a question the watch converts the parts of the sentence into options.  So if somebody says do you want sushi or pizza for dinner the words sushi and pizza will appear.  Just select one to answer.  No typing required.
  • When you get a new notification you can quickly decide if its worth your time or not.  Flick your wrist down quickly and the notification will go away.  Hold your hand up and you’ll be able to read it.  This allows you to stay in the moment longer.
  • Apple is including new technology in the watch known as Force Touch.  This means that you’ll be able to press down on the home screen to unveil hidden menus.  It’s a clever work around to having less surface area to work with.
  • Another new technology unveiled in the watch is something known as the Taptic Engine.  What this functionality does is make the watch vibrate whenever something happens.  A certain type of vibration will represent a new text message while another one will indicate a new email and so on.  You’ll eventually get to the point where you’ll be able to figure out what’s happening without even having to look at the watch at all.  Yet another example of how the watch is going to make us more human and end the stranglehold that our phones have over us.

What’s great about the watch is that there are probably several other cool new feature that I’m not even aware of yet and more likely to come out every time there’s a software update.  Considering this is version 1.0 we’re probably just beginning to scratch the surface of what the watch is capable of.  And considering that Apple’s designers are thinking outside the box on this new device, thinking of how it’s going to be used and how it could be designed to make our lives better that’s a good thing.  I can’t wait to see what they come up with next.

Is the Apple Watch the Greatest Idea Ever?

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Food week may be over but there’s one last quasi food related topic that I want to cover: the microbiome, the colony of bacteria currently living in your stomach and elsewhere throughout your body.  Scientists have recently begun to pay more attention to this fascinating aspect of human biology as they wonder whether or not there are medical benefits that can be gleamed from better understanding it.  Some researchers have even suggested that it could play a key role in treating cancer.  However, when it comes to the microbiome the most intriguing use of all, in my opinion, is in regards to its potential to replace the fingerprint in crime scene investigations.

As the LA Times states, “In forensic science, fingerprints and DNA are beginning to look old-school. To catch perpetrators (or exonerate the innocent), future sleuths may find themselves collecting and comparing entire colonies of microorganisms and the people and places they inhabit.”

How exactly would that happen?  Well, when you touch something you’re not just leaving behind a fingerprint.  You’re also leaving behind a bacterial trail.  That trail is unique to you, influenced over time by the objects and places you’ve come into contact with.  Compare the bacteria found at a crime scene to the bacteria found in a person’s microbiome and you’ve got your perp.

As this technology continues to improve the ways in which it can be utilized are likely to improve as well.  In fact, according to several recently released studies that the LA Times cites it may one day be possible to track a person’s previous whereabouts by studying the microorganisms found on the bottom of their shoes and even match a person to their cell phone based upon the microbiotic commonality found between a user and the surface of their phone.

All of which begs the question: how long until CBS starts airing CSI: Microbiome?

Is using the Microbiome to solve crime the Greatest Idea Ever?

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I’m a picky eater.  There, I said it.  Can we move on now?

Apparently, we can’t because everywhere I go my pickiness winds up becoming a big issue.  Family gatherings, work meetings, social situations.  I can’t go anywhere without worrying about what I’m going to eat, without someone commenting on what I’m eating or not eating, without someone questioning my eating habits.  Case in point:  ordering a sandwich.  I’ll go into a deli and ask for Roast Beef on rye.  That’s it.  Just plain.  Pickle on the side.  The guy making the sandwich doesn’t have to recall six different ingredients.  He doesn’t have to strain to remember whether I said mayo or no mayo.  All he has to do is add meat to bread.  This is literally the easiest sandwich he’ll have to make all day.  And yet a game of twenty questions always breaks out.  Do you want cheese on that?  Mustard?  Mayo?  Nothing?  What about a little salt?  Pepper?  Ketchup?  Are you sure?  A little Italian dressing on the side?  Just plain?  Do you want it heated up at least?  No, bitch.  Just make the damn sandwich.

The reason why I bring this up is because I don’t feel that we take picky eating seriously enough.  We think it’s something that most people will grow out of as they get older.  Behavior that can be learned.  Molded by peer pressure.  Modified over time as we meet new people and encounter new experiences.  And maybe that’s true in most cases.  But in some extreme cases, like mine, that never happens.  People like me are always going to want to order chicken fingers off of the kid’s menu in a fancy restaurant.  That’s just the way we’re wired.  And, yes I do believe that wiring has something to do with it.  What else could it be?  It’s not like my taste buds are broken.  They clearly work for the foods that I do like.  Rather, what I suffer from is a mental block.  I won’t even try certain things based on how they look.  A tuna casserole isn’t a meal.  It’s an episode of Fear Factor.  That, to me, indicates a psychological issue.

You know what else are psychological issues relating to food? Anorexia and bulimia.  Why is it that we treat those issues as serious eating disorders but we don’t do the same for picky eating?  We didn’t even classify adult picky eating as an actual eating disorder until 2014 when we began to classify it as Selective Eating Disorder.  Granted, that classification is a step in the right direction but how many of you had ever even heard of it until now?  I suffer from it and didn’t even know that it existed until five minutes ago.  How many other people suffer from it and don’t even realize that their pickiness is something that could be treated?

Now, I’m not saying that we should all run to the doctor right now and get tested for Selective Eating Disorder.  If you want to cut off the edges of your peanut butter and jelly sandwich no one’s going to say anything even though that’s technically a picky thing to do.  But if you’re going to start making decisions in your life based on food, if you’re going to start avoiding certain social situations because of food then we have a real problem.  A problem that needs to be addressed.  And one that nobody to date is addressing.  Just take a look at my own life for example.  Just how different would my life be if I wasn’t a picky eater?  I quit the Army primarily because I didn’t like the food.  If I could eat anything maybe I’d be in Afghanistan right now.  I’ve avoided certain social situations because of food even going so far as to avoid sleeping over some friends’ houses when I was kid because I didn’t like the breakfast options.  If I could eat anything maybe I would have different friends.  I’ve had a bunch of first dates but far fewer second dates.  Perhaps if I could eat anything I would be married by now.

All in all, I would love it if I could get treated and one day get cured of my picky eating habits.  If I could get to the point where I could try new foods regardless of what they look like.  If I could get to the point where I could do whatever I wanted without having to think about food.  But you know what I’d settle for?  More public awareness and understanding of Selective Eating Disorder.  If we could all realize that this is a serious issue and that we shouldn’t harass or make fun of people who suffer from it.  If we can get to the point where someone can order a roast beef sandwich without playing twenty questions.  Will we ever get to that point?  Probably not.  But I can hope.

Is it wrong that we make fun of picky eating instead of treating it like an eating disorder?

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Here’s a quick look at the food related innovations that caught my eye over the last week:

1.  Pizza ordering emoji – If you needed any more proof that emojis are taking over the world look no further than the new pizza ordering emoji from Domino’s.

As CNET reports:

“Domino’s Pizza plans to making ordering a hot, cheesy pizza as simple as a tweet.

The company announced on Tuesday that starting May 20, anyone who is craving pizza will be able to order a pie by simply tweeting the pizza emoji to @dominos. To take advantage of the new service, pizza-seekers will need to have set up both an online Domino’s Pizza Profile and an Easy Order pizza choice. Once you have those two things established, you can tweet either the pizza emoji or the hashtag #EasyOrder to have your preferred pizza pie delivered fresh to your door.”

2.  McDonald’s New Bag Tray – One wouldn’t ordinarily think of McDonald’s as an innovator but all that’s about to change thanks to their new takeout bag that morphs into a tray.  Perhaps we should have been giving McDonald’s more credit all along when it comes to creativity.  After all, they did once dream up the Hamburglar.

McDonald's bag

3.  McDonald’s Fry Defender App – Speaking of McDonald’s they also recently invented a cell phone app that protects your fries from the prying hands of your friends.

As Fast Company reports, “It’s a new feature in its iOS and Android apps that turns your phone into a motion sensor (assumably via the camera and light sensors integrated in the hardware). You activate the defender, set it by your food, and if someone reaches for it, BUSTED! A loud alarm goes off. One might even hear it from the urinal.”

See, I told you McDonald’s could innovate!

4.  Seed Bomb Coffee Cup – I hate it when I see litter.  Just the other day I see a Styrofoam cup in the pond near my house and it pissed me off.  Thankfully, there are people out there innovating a solution to the problem since it’s obvious that human beings are incapable of policing themselves.

As Fast Company writes, “America drinks an astonishing 400 million cups of coffee a day, putting 146 billion disposable coffee cups in landfills each year. Now, California environmental organization Reduce. Reuse. Grow. is using these post-consumer fibers to create biodegradable cups that not only decompose within 180 days, but are also embedded with seeds of native flowers and trees, helping to reforest as they cut down on waste.”

Now people can litter to their heart’s content.

Is a seed bomb coffee cup the Greatest Idea Ever?

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