Archive for October, 2015

#810 – BroadwayHD

After several years and numerous failed attempts I’m finally going to see “Book of Mormon” tomorrow night, the award winning Broadway play from the creators of Southpark.  Although I’m not going to see on it on Broadway.  Rather, I’m going to a travelling troupe performance at Arizona State University.

Not that I’m complaining.  It should still be a really good show.  But there’s just something about seeing a Broadway show on Broadway that adds to the excitement.  Unfortunately though, not everyone can make it to New York or get a ticket even if they can.  But that may soon be changing thanks to a new streaming service, known as BroadwayHD, that will broadcast over 120 shows directly to you so that you can enjoy them from the comfort of your living room.

As Brit + Co puts it, “Streaming services have pretty much replaced traditional TV. With the rise of binge-watching, it’s all Netflix this or Hulu that. Heck, streaming services have even entered our slang lexicon, like “wanna Netflix and chill?” Cable is practically ancient — and live theater? Even less accessible… so you think. A brand new streaming service has just arrived that is going to make musical and theater lovers rejoice! For those of you who don’t live in New York City and can’t easily pop over to Broadway — or simply don’t want to shell out $150 (give or take) for a ticket every time you want to watch a musical — meet BroadwayHD.”

To start the service will cost roughly $14 per month or to put it in perspective: the same cost per year as one ticket to one high end show.  Although watching a show on TV is not the same thing as watching it in person in a theatre it’s still better than the alternative which is to be denied access to the show entirely.  In theory, you could use this new service to scout shows that you’d want to see in person or to re-watch your favorite shows that you’ve already seen live.  Either way, with this new Netflix of Theater at least you have options.  Which is a lot better than where we found ourselves last week.

Is BroadwayHD the Greatest Idea Ever?

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#809 – Second Skin

What do you do when you’re wearing something and you get hot?  If you’re wearing a few layers you take one off obviously.  If you’re not you suffer in silence.  Not exactly an eloquent solution or a real practical one.  All that’s about to change though thanks to the creation of living clothing, known as Second Skin, that is interwoven with bacteria capable of changing its composition in response to changing environmental factors such as rising humidity.

Wired explains how it works:  “To power its inventions, Biologic relies on Bacillus subtilis natto—a bacterium, commonly used in Japanese cooking, that reacts to atmospheric moisture. Like pinecones, these hydromorphic ‘natto cells’ will expand and contract depending on the amount of humidity in the air—the more humidity present, the bigger the bacteria get (the size of an individual cell can change up to 50 percent). With this behavior in mind, Yao partnered with New Balance and designers from the Royal College of Art to create a new type of clothing called Second Skin that becomes more breathable as the wearer’s body heat and humidity increase.”

How does it accomplish that result?  By embedding flaps in the clothing that will unfurl and open up more and more as the humidity increases.

What else does this biology infused technology have in store for us?

According to Wired, a lot.  Such as, “things like adding bioluminescence to make a fabric or plant glow, or weaving pollution-eating bacteria into a piece of clothing that can then consume and digest dirty air.”

While there are other synthetic materials capable of morphing and doing similar things this is the first time that a biological approach is being taken.  If it works it could open up a whole world of possibilities.  Just so long as we don’t get weirded out by the fact that we’re wearing bacteria.  Which we shouldn’t when you consider how much we’re already carrying on us, how much already resides inside of us, and how much is lurking all around us without even realizing it.  Uh oh.  I think I may have just weirded myself out.

Is a Second Skin the Greatest Idea Ever?

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#808 – Bionic Lens

What if I told you that you could have perfect vision for the rest of your life? Vision that’s not just perfect but is, in fact, three times better than 20/20.  What if I also told you that your eyesight would never, ever deteriorate and that you’d never get cataracts or any other degenerative issue?  On top of all that what if I told you that the outpatient procedure you’d need to undergo was painless, takes only eight minutes, and instantaneously corrects your vision?

You’d be like where do I sign up?!?! Right?!?!  But wait there’s more!!

According to Business Insider, “this is much safer than laser surgery, which involves burning away healthy corneal tissue and also results in other complications, like problems with glare and trouble driving at night. Webb’s solution has none of these issues; the quality of your vision will always be perfect, and it will not deteriorate over time.”

This just gets better and better.

Known as the Ocumetics Bionic Lens this incredible innovation is currently being patented by Dr. Garth Webb and could be available as soon as 2017.  Considering that I was on the verge of getting Lasix surgery the timing of this news couldn’t have been any better.  I’m going to scrape those plans now, get some hipsterish J.J. Abrams style frames instead, and bide my time until 2017 when my life changes forever.  I can’t wait!

Is a Bionic Lens that gives you perfect vision for life the Greatest Idea Ever?

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The easiest way to carbon date pop culture or depict the future is through a phone.  Spot a huge Zach Morris phone and you know it’s the early 90’s.  Spot a flip phone and you know it’s the early 2000’s.  Spot an iPhone and it’s the 2010’s.  In the future what will we be spotting?  Well, if Samsung has its way it’ll be a smartphone with a flexible screen that folds in half.  What’s the point of having such a device?  Practicality.  Folded up it’s a phone that fits in your pocket.  Unfurled it’s a flat screen for tablet use.  A true 2 in 1 device that could easily be the Next Big Thing.

Want to know more?  Digital Trends provided some details about this new device in a recent post:

 “Samsung is allegedly testing two variants of the device, with the main difference being the processor. One has the Qualcomm Snapdragon 620, while the other has the Snapdragon 820. These are the newest processors from Qualcomm that feature Quick Charge 3.0. The 620 is an octa-core built from Cortex chips, while the 820 is a quad-core built from custom Kryo cores. It would be easy to think the 620 is more powerful than the 820 since it’s an octa-core, but make no mistake about it, the 820 is the most powerful processor that Qualcomm has ever made…The only other specs that were revealed with this report include 3GB of RAM, a MicroSD slot for expanded storage, and a non-removable battery. The presence of a MicroSD slot will be welcomed by many, but it’s unlikely this phone will be all that affordable, at least early on.”

When it comes down to it the specs are probably going to make or break this phone.  If some features have to be left out because they won’t mesh with a screen that folds or won’t fit because there’s less internal room to work with that could derail sales no matter how cool the concept is.  On the other hand if a new design actually adds new functionality that could become a major selling point. 

Internally code-named Project Valley this new phone could hit the open market as early as January 2016 although it may only be available in South Korea at first.  If it does eventually make its way stateside it could be the first product from Samsung that legitimately gives Apple a run for its money.  And if that’s the case then this could become the phone that we’re all using in thirty years.  Give or take.

Is a foldable phone the Greatest Idea Ever?

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The latest in a series of posts dedicated to quirky inventions that could depict everyday life in the near future.

In thirty years we’ll probably all have driverless cars or be inclined to travel across larger distances via Hyperloop.  However, if we do still have manually driven cars we’ll probably have ones that come equipped with Jaguar’s Ghost Navigation System, a heads up display that aims to help make driving easier and safer by providing drivers with a holographic car for them to follow when they are in need of directions.

Computer World explains that, “The technology works by embedding a display screen in the surface of each roof pillar inside the car. The display screens take a live video feed from cameras covering the angles outside the car usually obscured in blind spots created by the pillars.  Pedestrians, cyclists and other vehicles would be visible all around the car — and by combining the transparent pillars with an advanced high-quality Heads-Up display, the movement of others on the road could be highlighted with an on-screen halo moving across the car’s virtual windscreen.  When the driver indicates plans to change direction, move their head to look over their shoulder during a passing maneuver, or as the vehicle approaches a junction, the system would automatically make the left or right-hand side pillars transparent.”

In addition to providing drivers with a 360 degree field of view and lead car to follow the system comes equipped with several other features as well.

Business Insider reports that, “In addition to [the] automotive apparition, the experimental navigation system also projects onto the windshield an array of strategic information for the driver to use — such as parking guidance, stop light duration, and geographic landmarks.”

One might suspect that such a heads up display would be a distraction but apparently just the opposite is true.  Since you’ll no longer have to look around for a parking spot or slow down to read signs while driving on the parkway you’ll be more focused on the road in front of you and the task at hand.  If that’s true even the more skeptical among us will have to admit that they now believe in Ghosts.

Is the Ghost Car the Greatest Idea Ever?

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The latest in a series of posts dedicated to quirky inventions that could depict everyday life in the future.

What will our everyday lives look like in thirty years?  Well, when it comes to working out we may all be wearing smart fitness suits that track our movements and provide post workout feedback so that we can steadily improve our techniques.  Our very own personal trainers woven right into the very fabric of the clothes that we’re wearing.

As Gizmag puts it, “Advances in 3D motion capture technology have added an extra layer of realism to sports video games like FIFA and Madden. But software engineer-turned entrepreneur Mazen Elbawab reckons you shouldn’t need to enter a virtual world to move like your favorite athletes. His Heddoko line of sportswear comes equipped with sensors that capture the body’s motion, to offer feedback on how you can perform more like the pros.”

Performance is just one part of the appeal though.  The real value in this technology lies in its ability to help prevent injuries from forming or to treat ones that already have.  Things like gait, posture, and making sure that your muscle groups are working in unison are often overlooked parts of fitness training for the Average Joe.  The Heddoko workout suits aim to change that.  Whether you’re a weekend warrior, a professional athlete, or someone who just likes to attend the occasional yoga class the way in which you work out is about to change.

Ah, who am I kidding.  In the future no one’s going to be working out.  We’re all going to be taking exercise pills and spending all of our free time with an Oculus Rift.

Is the Heddoko Suit the Greatest Idea Ever?

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The latest in a series of posts dedicated to quirky inventions that could depict everyday life in the future.

In thirty years in addition to having actual hover boards we’ll also have something called Hovertrax, a ‘look, ma no hands’ version of the Segway capable of traveling up to 8 miles at 5 mph on a single charge. 

As TechCrunch puts it, “If laziness was a sport, the equipment would be the Hovertrax. You step up onto the foot pads, tip your feet forward, and two motorized wheels carry you around while gyroscopes auto-balance the Hovertrax so you don’t fall off.”

As ridiculous as that sounds I can actually see it taking off even though it can’t actually take off.  That’s because it’s the kind of thing that would be perfect for a college student or office worker to use to navigate their way around a large campus.  In fact, I already saw someone use one for that exact purpose at Arizona State University. 

The obvious criticism of this invention is that it’s going to make us all fat and lazy, even more so than we already are.  But I don’t think that’ll be the case.  The guy I saw using it at ASU was an athlete on his way to practice.  And NBA star J.R. Smith arrived to a playoff game last year on one.  Using the Hovertrax helped them save energy for where it was needed most.  So, if anything it’ll save us time and make us more productive. 

Meaning that unlike the Segway it will actually have staying power.  Just so long as that $1,000 price point drops in the near future.

Is the Hovertrax the Greatest Idea Ever?

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In honor of today being Back to the Future Day I thought it would be fun to start a series dedicated to quirky futuristic ideas.  The kind of things that might offer a glimpse into what everyday life might be like in the near future.  In the movies that meant hover boards, video conference screens and flying cars.  Inventions that perfectly capture the essence of what everyday life might be like in thirty years.

To kick things off (pun intended) I’d like to start with something that the movie depicted that is now on the verge of actually becoming a real thing:  self-lacing sneakers.  That’s right.  After years of research and development Nike has actually turned science fiction into science fact.

As The Verge puts it, “Of all the technological innovations promised by Back to the Future II, two are most desired: the hoverboard, and self-lacing shoes. While the former is still only in prototype form (despite what some might say), it seems like we might be getting a pair of the latter sooner rather than later.”

Fittingly (pun intended again) Nike gave the first pair to Michael J. Fox along with the note shown below:

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As cool as this is it’s hard to believe that this concept actually works and that it will actually get mass produced.  If you thought the rush for a new pair of Jordans was bad just wait until this hits the market.  But apparently, it is in fact, possible.

Wired explains how:

“Very, very basically speaking, Nike patented a motorized system that will guide laces into their correct positions. An ankle cinching system will use a coil spring to tighten, keeping you snug, totally hands-free.”

I’m sold.  Now if only we could do something about that pesky hover board.  And flying car.  And…

Is a self-lacing sneaker the Greatest Idea Ever?

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#802 – CRISPR-CAS9

I haven’t written about something truly revolutionary in a while but all that’s about to change thanks to Crispr-Cas9, a new DNA editing technique that’s poised to take the world by storm by making it possible to quickly and easily edit DNA on the cheap.  And with it there’s no end to what we could accomplish.  Diseases could be eradicated.  Global hunger could be ended.  Designer babies, human clones, and personalized pets could be just around the corner too.  Don’t believe me?  Just look at everything that’s been accomplished so far. 

As Wired describes, “Using the three-year-old technique, researchers have already reversed mutations that cause blindness, stopped cancer cells from multiplying, and made cells impervious to the virus that causes AIDS. Agronomists have rendered wheat invulnerable to killer fungi like powdery mildew, hinting at engineered staple crops that can feed a population of 9 billion on an ever-warmer planet. Bioengineers have used Crispr to alter the DNA of yeast so that it consumes plant matter and excretes ethanol, promising an end to reliance on petrochemicals. Startups devoted to Crispr have launched. International pharmaceutical and agricultural companies have spun up Crispr R&D. Two of the most powerful universities in the US are engaged in a vicious war over the basic patent. Depending on what kind of person you are, Crispr makes you see a gleaming world of the future, a Nobel medallion, or dollar signs.”

That sounds great and all but how exactly does it work?

According to Wired:

“When the Crispr-Cas9 complex arrives at its destination, Cas9 does something almost magical: It changes shape, grasping the DNA and slicing it with a precise molecular scalpel.  Here’s what’s important: Once they’d taken that mechanism apart, Doudna’s postdoc, Martin Jinek, combined the two strands of RNA into one fragment—‘guide RNA’—that Jinek could program.  He could make guide RNA with whatever genetic letters he wanted; not just from viruses but from, as far as they could tell, anything. In test tubes, the combination of Jinek’s guide RNA and the Cas9 protein proved to be a programmable machine for DNA cutting. Compared to TALENs and zinc-finger nucleases, this was like trading in rusty scissors for a computer-controlled laser cutter.”

What excites me the most about this new technique is that I have a sneaking suspicion that it’s just the beginning.  That we’re only just starting to scratch the surface of what DNA editing could become.  That perhaps we’ll soon discover an even better technique.  Maybe by utilizing a different protein instead of Cas9 the process can be sped up even further.  And even if none of that is possible and this new technique is the best we’ll be able to do that’s still pretty exciting in of itself as more and more people begin to play around with it and more and more industries begin to tap into it’s potential.  At this point it’s too early to tell exactly what we’ll be able to do with it and what will come out of it.  Surely we’ll probably have to weigh the ethics of what we’re doing and regulate this burgeoning industry.  But that’s a story for another day.  For now let’s just marvel at the greatness that we’re on the verge of achieving. 

Is the Crispr DNA editing technique the Greatest Idea Ever?

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As it stands now it usually takes nine months to develop a vaccine.  A painfully slow process that just won’t cut it during an outbreak.  What can we do about it?  Well, if DARPA has its way we may soon be able to use our own bodies to create vaccines on the fly.

According to Live Science, “The new method of vaccine production would involve giving the body instructions for making certain antibodies. Because the body would be its own bioreactor, the vaccine could be produced much faster than traditional methods and the result would be a higher level of protection, said Col. Daniel Wattendorf, a clinical geneticist with DARPA, the branch of the U.S. Department of Defense charged with developing new technologies for the military.”

How exactly would this novel new approach work?

Live Science explains:

“Scientists would harvest viral antibodies from someone who has recovered from a disease such as flu or Ebola. After testing the antibodies’ ability to neutralize viruses in a petri dish, they would isolate the most effective one, determine the genes needed to make that antibody, and then encode many copies of those genes into a circular snippet of genetic material — either DNA or RNA, that the person’s body would then use as a cookbook to assemble the antibody.  Using a single needle jab, doctors would then insert the genetic antibody recipe into someone’s muscle cells. Once inside the muscle cell, free-floating RNA would latch onto the DNA or RNA instructions and make many, many copies of antibodies.”

All in all, this research sounds extremely promising and could revolutionize the way that we respond to disease outbreaks in the near future whether it’s another Ebola scare, a run-away strand of the flu, or an unforeseen pathogen that arises from genetic experiments.  DARPA, having already given us GPS and the Internet, may have just struck gold once again.

Is Darpa’s plan to use the human body to develop it’s own antibodies the Greatest Idea Ever?

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