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Archive for March, 2016

When I was in middle school I was given a choice: either play a musical instrument, sing in the chorus, or take an art class.  Since I hated music, I chose the art class.  It did not choose me back.  I was awful.  I could barely color inside the lines.  After a few days I wound up switching to the chorus.  For the next two years I did my best Ashlee Simpson impersonation and lip synced at every opportunity.  I was the only mute in the history of the Oceanside Middle School chorus.

As it turns out though, I’m actually kind of artistic.  A fact I recently discovered when I started using Instagram.  Now thanks to their plethora of filters I’m a world famous nature photographer!.  No, seriously.  A guy who can barely draw a stick figure is actually pretty skilled with a camera phone despite having no advanced photography training.  Is it that I’ve unearthed a hidden talent?  Or is it really just because Instagram can make anyone look good?

I don’t know.  All I know is that I want to make sure that Instagram is here for the long haul so that future generations of middle schoolers can discover their hidden talents as soon as possible instead of languishing unnecessarily in their school choirs.   With that in mind here’s a look at some suggestions I have for improving Instagram:

  • Before I hit post on a blog article I always preview it first to see how it’s going to look on the site.  That’s something I wish you could do on Instagram with options for how it’ll look on a phone versus an iPad versus a desktop computer.
  • I also wish that you could save your work as a draft.  Why is it that posting or discarding are the only two options?
  • I hate that when I make a collage I have to filter/edit the entire collage the same way.  Collages would look a lot better if you could first edit a few photos different ways and the combine all of your masterpieces into one epic collage.
  • There have also been times when I’ve lost what I was working on because I left the creation tab to check new notifications.  That should never happen.  You should be allowed to check notifications from within the editing tab.
  • This may sound blasphemous but I wish you could use Instagram as a creation tool without necessarily posting to Instagram.  Say, for example, if you wanted to make something and then just text that image to just one person, such as your love interest.
  • The key to a successful post is undoubtedly in how good your hashtag game is.  It would be nice then if the app would use machine learning to suggest relevant hashtags for you to use based on what objects are in your photo.  And it would be even better if you could automatically reach all of the hashtags within the same subgroup so that when I go to post a picture of a sunset I don’t have to use #sunset #sunsets #sunsetporn, etc.  I could just use #sun and be done with it.
  • I think it would also be nice if you could delete photos from your phone from within the Instagram app.  That way if you have five similar looking photos you can pick the best one and get rid of all the duplicates all in one fell swoop instead of having to go back into your phone’s camera roll days later and try to remember which one was the best one that you wanted to save.
  • I usually struggle with finding the perfect filter to use as I suspect most people do.  Sometimes it feels like I’m at the eye doctor playing the better 1 or better 2 game.  Only problem is I sometimes forget what option 1 was since you have to horizontally scroll through all the options.  I wish that instead of one horizontal row of scrolling there was two with the top row showing your current selection and the bottom row showing all other options.  That way you could easily toggle between your top choices.
  • I think it would be utterly fascinating if you could read about a photo’s statistics.  The way that you’d check out a baseball player’s stats on the back of a baseball card.  Hovering over a photo for instance might show you what filter was used or what percentage the brightness is.  Knowing how a photo that you like was composed might help you recreate that magic on your own page.  Furthermore, it might be interesting if you could get a report of all your statistics.  So that you could, for example, see how many times you’ve used each filter and how many likes corresponded to that usage.  That might better inform your decision making process in the future.
  • Food for thought: if Facebook owns Instagram how come the likes your photo gets on Facebook don’t count towards the total that’s reflected on Instagram?  Shouldn’t your photo display the total number of likes across both platforms?

Are any of these suggestions for improving Instagram the Greatest Idea Ever?

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This is going to sound preposterous.  Ludicrous even.  You might even say that it’s crazier than the idea of Donald Trump as President.  But just hear me out.  For I think I have uncovered the secret to swallowing pills: making ones that taste like a pretzel!

Those of you who know me intimately know that I have long struggled with swallowing pills.  It’s why I tend to avoid taking medicine as much as possible even if it means suffering through a cold or living with chronic back pain that goes untreated.  And as it turns out I’m not alone.  A recent study has shown that 40% of Americans struggle with swallowing pills as well.

However, during a recent bout with a sever chest cough avoiding medication was no longer an option.  I had to face my fears and swallow pills on a consistent basis or I wasn’t going to be able to fall asleep.  Desperate for answers, I decided to take a page out of my mom’s playbook.  The one wherein she tricks the dog into taking medicine by hiding it in food.  In my case that meant chasing the pill with the bite of a pretzel, the only food I had available at the time as I was staying in a hotel.

Since that fateful night I’ve consistently taken sleeping pills with a pretzel and it works like a charm every time.  In fact, I don’t even have to use a whole pretzel.  Literally the tiniest morsel of a pretzel will work.  Just something to get the distinct flavor of a pretzel into my mouth.

The fact that the tiniest morsel works is what makes me believe that a pretzel flavored pill could be a viable option.  For this isn’t just a case of tricking your brain into swallowing two things at once.  Rather this is making it so that you actually don’t mind swallowing the pill at all.

Am I totally crazy here?  Is it even possible to make a pill that tastes like a pretzel?  Does this trick only work for me?  I don’t know.  All I know is that Seinfeld had it all wrong.  These pretzels aren’t making me thirsty.  They’re making me feel better.

Is a pretzel flavored pill the Greatest Idea Ever?

 

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When I was in college I auditioned to be on Showtime’s American Candidate, a reality TV show designed to find someone worthy of running for President.  The guy who won, Park Gillespie, was a school teacher from North Carolina with an even worse comb over than Donald Trump.  He won $200,000 and was never heard from again.

I bring this up because the candidates that we have to choose from this year are atrocious.  Donald Trump is a racist psychopath who will do irreparable harm to this country if elected.  Meanwhile Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio are about as appealing as a three day old hot dog in a 7-eleven.  You’d buy them if you really had to and there were no other options but you’d hate yourself for it.  Over on the Democratic side things aren’t much better.  I wanted to like Hillary Clinton so that we could have the first female President after having the first black President.  But she is inherently unlikable and untrustworthy.  I’d rather it be Chelsea Clinton that was running.  Bernie Sanders on the other hand has some good things going for him.  Like the fact that Larry David does a great job of playing him on Saturday Night Live.  But let’s be honest.  Is he even going to be alive past next Saturday night?  All of which is to say that I wish we had better candidates.

Curious as to how we got into this mess I did some googling to find out just how presidential candidates are selected in the first place.  Turns out it doesn’t take much to run for the highest office in the land.  In fact, all you need is $5,000 and an application.  Which explains why a cat named Limberbutt McCubbins ran this year.  Other candidates included Harry Potter, Kermit the Frog, Elsa from Frozen, Satan, and Deez Nuts (twice).  With such stellar competition I’m surprised Trump even made it this far.  You can check out the full list of actual candidates here.

All told 1,611 people, cats, and fictional characters ran for office this year.  From there things got whittled down to a handful of candidates deemed worthy enough to appear at a debate where their performance lead to an even further culling of the list.  Eventually there’s a few front runners who appear on ballots at primaries and caucuses until a clear winner for a party’s nomination emerges.  And then we have the general election.

This process usually works.  This year it clearly didn’t.  Which begs the question: is there a better way?  A better way to go about selecting presidential nominees?  Now, I’m not suggesting a reality TV show is the way to go.  Clearly it’s not.  But surely there must be something else that we can do.  Another way that we can find the best candidate for the job, not just the best candidate out of the 1,611 ass clowns who filled out some basic paperwork.  Because keep in mind: the best candidate may not even want to be a candidate.  Case in point:  George Washington.  Our very first President didn’t want to be President.  He did so reluctantly out of service to his country.

Perhaps the best candidate today would be someone just as reluctant.  Someone like a Mark Zuckerberg or Jeff Bezos or Tim Cook.  A proven leader with experience balancing a budget, dealing with regulators, and making hard choices who would instantly connect with today’s youth.  Hollywood has already gone to the Oval Office.  Maybe it’s Silicon Valley’s turn.  Their turn to disrupt the way that government works.  And yet that thought never even crossed anyone’s mind.  Until it was too late of course.

That’s because last week word came out of a top secret meeting among tech luminaries with the likes of Tim Cook, Eric Schmidt, and Elon Musk in attendance along with key members of the Republican Party.  The primary agenda topic?  How to stop Donald Trump.  Man I would have loved to be a fly on the wall in that meeting!  Especially during the part when Musk (with a straight face) tells everyone that if they wanted him to he would build a time machine and go back in time to stop Trump from running.

With the GOP establishment taking desperate measures to ensure that Trump doesn’t win the nomination it’s clear that changes to the election process are needed.  After all, the candidate that makes it this far should be someone who everyone wants to see win office not someone who has divided his own party.

What I’d therefore like to see happen is for a total revamp of the way Presidential candidates are selected.  Volunteers are no longer welcome.  Political parties are out.  Instead everyone in the country will submit to a series of examinations.  There’d be a personality test, a lie detector test, an aptitude test, and any other test that one could think of including a full physical.  An algorithm will cull through the results of all these examinations as well as credit card receipts, browser search history, email, social media posts, blog entries, etc.  Anything and everything that could provide insight into how someone thinks.  The thirteen people who score the best; who are shown to have the most empathy, the greatest ability to resolve conflicts, problem solve, and think outside the box would get selected to compete in the first debate.  It wouldn’t matter what political party they were affiliated with.  It wouldn’t matter what level of government or business experience they had.  It wouldn’t even matter how old they were.  Wouldn’t matter if they were a tow truck operator or a teacher or a stay at home soccer mom.  Whoever scores the best gets selected.  Period.

I chose thirteen as the number of people that would make it past the algorithm’s screening as a nod to the thirteen colonies.  So that we could pay homage to the people who founded this country and their belief that the best person for the job wouldn’t necessarily even want the job.

Now I realize that people are going to be up in arms about how rigorous this testing would be.  About how their privacy is going to be invaded and how their civil liberties are going to be violated.  And while I admit that their’s some validity to their concerns do we really have any other choice?  Isn’t the mere thought of Donald Trump as President enough to scare us into taking drastic actions?  I think so.  Do you?

Would an algorithm that selects the best presidential candidates be the Greatest Idea Ever?

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Donald Trump doesn’t believe in Climate Change.  Leonardo DiCaprio does but when he mentions it during his Oscar acceptance speech everyone rolls their eyes.  We’re literally committing suicide on a global scale and nobody cares.  And I don’t know what to do about it.

Consider the following:

  • I just attended a Spring Training game in weather that’s 15 degrees warmer than the seasonal high for this time of the year.
  • At one point this winter the coldest place in the entire United States was in Arizona!  At another point it was warmer at the North Pole than in New York City.
  • The Iditarod dog sled race had to import snow so that they could start the competition this year.  The Iditarod is held in Alaska!!
  • 150,000 penguins dead last month because an iceberg cut them off from their food source.
  • The drought in California is so bad that farm land is going unused for the first time since the mid 1800’s.
  • There were water riots in Sao Paulo, Brazil last year because the reservoir levels are so low there that they technically have negative amounts of water since they have to pump in the water that they do have.  The lack of rain is Brazil is due to deforestation of the Amazon which is a result of the world’s dependency on eating meat since extra land is needed to raise all that extra livestock.  If the Amazonian ecosystem fails other tropical rain forests will fail and the entire world will enter into a drought.  This is a global catastrophe just waiting to happen.  Instead we’re going to ignore all that and head to Brazil this summer to compete for silly gold medals.

Obviously something is wrong here.  Reservoir and ground water levels around the world are getting depleted.  Temperatures are rising or dropping to record lows and highs.  Polar ice caps are melting.  Marine and animal life is dying off.  And we’re going to be next.  Without water there is no food.  Without food there is no us.

I don’t know about you but I don’t want to live in a world where countries are constantly at war over water.  I don’t want to live in a world where I have to bathe myself in week old rain water that I collected from a bucket on my roof.  I don’t want to live in a world where I have to meet a shady character in a dark back alley at 2 am to get my fix of strawberries.  And I certainly don’t want to live inside the plot of a bad Kevin Costner movie.

So what can we do about it?  Well if it was up to me I’d science the shit out of this problem like I was Matt Damon in The Martian.  I’d do what China does and seed clouds to generate rain on demand.  I’d create artificial meat in a laboratory so that we don’t need land to raise livestock.  I’d expand upon the Artificial Leaf concept and build an entire Artificial Forest.  I’d engineer crops that don’t even need water to survive.  I’d build barriers around deserts so that they don’t spread any further.  I’d alter the temperature of the ocean so that Hurricanes can’t form.  I’d put something in the atmosphere that would be designed to reflect some of the sun’s rays back out into space and thereby lower the global temperature.  I’d do anything and everything humanly possible to fix this.

Because if we don’t nothing else on this blog is going to matter.  Nothing else is going to matter at all.  Not Steph Curry’s greatness.  Not Fuller House.  Not Donald Trump.  None of it will mater.  The time to act is now.  The stakes couldn’t be any higher.

 

We need to do something about climate change before it’s too late.

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#862 – Miles For Smiles

Freedom of Speech.  Freedom of Religion.  Freedom of the Press.  Freedom of Travel?

I know it sounds funny to list having the right to travel among all of those other freedoms that we’ve actually had to fight for but I think it’s about time that we started taking the idea of travel more seriously.  Treating it as a standard part of the human condition instead of as a luxury item that only the rich and upper middle class get to partake in.  Optional vacationing is out.  Mandatory worldwide travel is in.

The driving force behind this idea is my observation that we don’t do enough as a species, from a top down level, to ensure the happiness of our kind.  Being human is basically a free for all.  An every man for himself kind of proposition.  Of course there are laws to follow and some basic services that are provided to us for free or for a fee.  But ultimately, no one really cares about you or your happiness.

I know that sounds harsh, but it’s true.  Your dream job isn’t assigned to you by a benevolent government entity.  Rather, it’s up to you to find a gig on your own.  No one is out there playing matchmaker for you either.  It’s up to you to find your own soul mate.  And when it comes to traveling there isn’t anyone to help you out or point you in the right direction other than the Travelocity Gnome and William Shatner.  Which means that, once again, you have to take matters into your own hands if you want to visit your mother.  Mother Nature that is.

They may not sound like that much of an inconvenience but it’s a lot harder than it sounds.  Sure the Internet has made it easy to search for flights and book hotels but there are still a ton of roadblocks that one has to overcome before they can travel somewhere.  For example, you have to take time off work, clear your schedule of your commitments, coordinate your schedule with the schedule of your traveling partner or partners, obtain a passport, buy supplies that you may need, etc.  And that’s assuming that you can even afford to go in the first place.

All of which probably explains why there are millions of people who have never left their country of origin.  Millions of people who have never even left the small town they were born in.  Millions of people who don’t even think of going somewhere else.  Who don’t even know what else is out there that’s worth going to.

Until recently I was one of those people, never once venturing west of the Mississippi in my entire life.  When I finally stepped foot in California for the first time I was 30 years old.  I’m now 33 and have still yet to stamp my passport.

With so many other problems in the world no one is going to shed a tear for me.  I’m a middle class white guy with a decent job and good health.  If I really wanted to, I could hop on a plane to Europe tomorrow.  But this isn’t about me.  This is about all those people still living in the same place they were born.  This is about all the people who have never even been on airplane before.  This is about all the people who don’t even dare to dream about visiting another place.  This is about….perspective.

The perspective to realize that we live on what could very well be the only habitable planet that there is.  Which makes Planet Earth a remarkable and special place that we should cherish with all our heart.   A gift from the heavens that we should be sharing with every soul lucky enough to exist on it, if even just for a fleeting moment in time.  Instead of taking it for granted we should be granting everyone access to it.  Granting them access to the seven natural wonders of the world and all of the cool man made spots as well.  Giving them a chance to see the Great Pyramids and the Grand Canyon with their own eyes.  An opportunity to see Ancient Greece and the Great Wall of China.  The Eiffel Tower and the Statue of Liberty.  Beaches and Mountain Ranges.  Rain Forests and Deserts.  Anything and everything.

What I’m envisioning then is a world-wide organization dedicated to the literal pursuit of happiness wherever in the world that may be.   I call it Miles For Smiles.  Run like a charitable organization, Miles for Smiles would collect donations from rich backers who believe, like me, that traveling should be a basic human right.  Anyone who desires to go somewhere would apply for funding and a committee would select the winners.  Travel packages could last anywhere from a 3 day weekend to a month long sabbatical.  Donors who wish to give the gift of travel but are short on funds can instead donate AirBnB style living arrangements or their time to serve as tour guides for visitors.  They could even volunteer to take care of people’s responsibilities whether that’s babysitting their kids or covering for them at their jobs.  Eventually, we could get to the point where there’s an entire cottage industry that springs up around the idea of mandatory worldwide travel whether that’s concierge services or a temporary employment agency.  The people participating in this hyper-connected network would come to be known as travel ambassadors.  And it will become every little kid’s dream to become one.

I know this sounds far-fetched but just think about the benefits aside from the obvious increase to everyone’s happiness.  Think about how much this would boast the tourism industry in fledgling cities around the world.  Think about how much it would help small businesses and local economies.  Think about how much good could come from the spread of ideas, from the changing of perspectives.

A world in which everyone is worldly is a world in which I would want to live.  How about you?

Is Miles For Smiles the Greatest Idea Ever?

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Researchers at MIT have made a game changing breakthrough, creating the lightest and thinnest solar cells ever made.  So thin and lightweight in fact, that they can sit atop a soap bubble without popping it.

This is significant because the potential applications for a super lightweight solar cell are limitless as we could use them to power pretty much everything.  As Fast Company puts it, “Their physical size means that they have the potential to be used in everything from paper to clothing to air- and spacecraft. In wearables, the solar cells are so light they would be virtually unnoticeable by the wearer.”  Best of all, this means that we could put them on our cell phones and never again have to worry about our batteries dying!

As incredible as this is, what’s even more amazing is how the researchers created this new solar cell as they created a whole new fabrication method in the process.  As Popular Science explains: “Solar cells are typically made up of layers of photovoltaic materials and a substrate, such as glass or plastic. Instead of the usual method of fabricating each layer separately, and then depositing the layers onto the substrate, the MIT researchers made all three parts of their solar cell (the cell, the supportive substrate, and the protective coating) at the same time, a method that cuts down on performance-harming contaminants.”

But that’s not all!  The Christian Science Monitor adds that, “the cells created so far are functional and efficient; they have a weight-based power of more than 6 watts per gram, about 400 times higher than the output of glass solar cells, despite being about 1/1000th the thickness of those units.”

For now this technology is merely just a proof of concept.  It’ll be a while before the manufacturing process is scaled up and commercialized as the researchers still need to figure out the best materials to use.  But, rest assured, these new solar cells are coming to a wearable or electronic device near you and sooner rather than later.  You just won’t notice it when they do.

Is a lightweight solar cell the Greatest Idea Ever?

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