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Archive for July, 2017

A quick look at everything that caught my eye this past week:

Personalized Exo-Skeletons: In the future we may all have robotic exo-skeletons that help us out, making it easier for us to get around and haul heavy loads of equipment along the way.  Perfect for hikers, campers, little old ladies, or anyone who wants to go grocery shopping.  And now those exo-skeletons will be matched to our specific gaits.

According to Science Alert, “Scientists have developed special algorithms that enable body scaffolds called exoskeletons to adjust to the walk of the person wearing them, making these robotic aids more efficient and personalized.  The enhanced mechanics are able to tweak their behavior based on feedback from the wearer’s metabolism and other measurements, and the team behind the system is calling it human-in-the-loop optimization.”

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The Frame: Don’t like the fact that your television set is a giant eye sore in your living room?  Samsung has got you covered.

As Wired puts it, “The Frame, a clever mashup of a television and digital art display. One click on the remote toggles between the TV and “art mode,” a high-res display for digital paintings, drawings, and photographs. You can import your own images, order them from Samsung at $20 a pop, or subscribe to unlimited art for $4.99 a month.  The Frame mounts flush against the wall, like a painting in a gallery. That clever design trick, coupled with the wood or metal bezel and translucent cable linking it to the Samsung One Connect, disguise the fact the Frame also streams all your favorite shows.”

Personally, I’m a big fan of this concept.  It’s great for hosting company as you not only get to hide your TV, you also get to add in a conversation piece as you either discuss the art itself or the fact that your TV is hidden.  As a fan of great design it’s also worth appreciating for its great utilization of otherwise dead space.  And, who knows, if you like you might even find yourself spending more time staring at your TV than actually watching it.  If know I would if I could get to display my epic Instagram pictures.

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Concrete breakthrough: Scientists have finally figured out the key to why Roman concrete has survived for thousands of years while more modern day advanced concrete crumbles much more quickly than that.

As Pionic puts it, “Around A.D. 79, Roman author Pliny the Elder wrote in his Naturalis Historia that concrete structures in harbors, exposed to the constant assault of the saltwater waves, become ‘a single stone mass, impregnable to the waves and every day stronger.’

He wasn’t exaggerating. While modern marine concrete structures crumble within decades, 2,000-year-old Roman piers and breakwaters endure to this day, and are stronger now than when they were first constructed. University of Utah geologist Marie Jackson studies the minerals and microscale structures of Roman concrete as she would a volcanic rock. She and her colleagues have found that seawater filtering through the concrete leads to the growth of interlocking minerals that lend the concrete added cohesion.”

Further understanding of how the sea affects concrete could lead to improving the performance of modern day concrete.  Something that will definitely come in handy as the polar ice caps melt and sea levels rise around the world.

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Sprites successfully launched: Breakthrough Starshot, a joint effort by some of the world’s leading minds to launch tiny gram sized spacecraft capable of making their way to our nearest stellar neighbor, Alpha Centauri, has successfully completed its first launch of tiny craft called “sprites”.

As The Guardian puts it:

“The smallest spacecraft ever launched are successfully travelling in low Earth orbit and communicating with systems on Earth, scientists have announced.  Known as ‘Sprites’, the miniature satellites are just 3.5cm x 3.5cm and carry radios, sensors and computers, with each device powered by sunlight and weighing just four grams…Scientists say the latest development is an important precursor to an ambitious attempt to send space probes to planets beyond our solar system…”

Hopefully the sprites will continue to be operational and the next phase of the plan can begin in earnest.

Image result for sprites breakthrough starshot

Are any of these the Greatest Idea Ever?

 

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The Joba Rules were designed to protect the right arm of former New York Yankees pitcher Joba Chamberlain.  A starting pitcher by trade, Chamberlain arrived in the major leagues as a relief pitcher and instantly became a Phenom as his bulldog mentality translated into an intimidating mound presence.  As his success continued the debate surrounding what his role should be intensified.  With a four pitch mix capable of maintaining his velocity deep into games Chamberlain could have been groomed as a starting pitcher.  But thanks to his size, demeanor, mound antics, success to date, and innings limit restrictions some thought that his future was in the bullpen as a closer or relief ace.  The Rules, which put restrictions on how many innings he could throw in one game or how many games he could appear in successively curtailed his momentum.  As his role constantly changed so did his confidence.  He went from Phenom to out of the game in just a few short years.

I never understood the Joba Rules or any other attempt to put innings restrictions on pitchers.  Yes, there is evidence to suggest that throwing exponentially more innings in one year than the prior year could affect your arm strength and lead to injuries.  But not all innings are created equal.  A 1-2-3 inning in which you faced the bottom of the order is not the same as having to navigate the heart of the order in the bottom of the ninth inning of a playoff game.  What major league teams should be monitoring more than the number of innings completed or the number of pitches thrown is the amount of stress encountered.

The same adage holds true for driving.  If all innings aren’t created equal than neither are all the miles you drive.  A ride to the local grocery store isn’t the same as driving uphill on a mountain grade curve.  Local driving on a day to day basis isn’t the same as a long road trip.  Stop and go traffic isn’t the same as speeding, suddenly stopping and starting, making a sharp turn, or doing any of the other things that one might do when running late to an appointment.  And yet when it comes to leasing a car you’re likely to encounter a one size fits all approach to mileage.  In most cases that’s 12,000 miles per year, on average a thousand miles per month for you to use at your leisure.

However, it doesn’t have to be this way.  Something I learned when I leased my new Subaru Crosstrek is that the car has software capable of monitoring your driving.  Your speed, the way you use your breaks, the turns you make.  If you happen to have Progressive Insurance you can opt into a program that will send this black box data from your car to the insurance company.  If you’re a good driver this data can be used to lower your rate.

What I’d like to suggest then is for car companies to adopt this practice of monitoring the way we drive for determining how many miles we get when we lease a car.  If all miles aren’t created equal then I shouldn’t be penalized for going over the arbitrary number of miles that was given to me to work with when I first leased my car.   Rather, when I turn my car in at the end of my lease a conversion should take place to determine how many “true” miles I put on my car regardless of how many “actual” miles I put on it.

Will this switch ever take place?  Of course not.  Car companies love to nickel and dime customers and there’s no way better way to nickel and dime them than to literally charge them a nickel and a dime as they do when they charge customers 15 cents for every mile they go over their limit when they turn their cars in at the end of their leases. But a guy can hope can’t he?  All miles are not created equal.  Maybe one day we’ll realize that.

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All innings and car miles are not created equal.

 

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The hits just keep on coming.  Breakthrough after breakthrough on a daily basis.  Here’s a quick look at the latest news:

New particle discovered:  Now that scientists have discovered the mysterious God Particle, aka the Higgs Boson, the particle that gives all other particles their mass, what’s next for physicists?  How about the Angel Particle? As the Independent puts it:

“When the Big Bang created the universe out of nothing, scientists believe the explosion created equal amounts of matter and anti-matter.

And, if they were ever to meet, they would annihilate each other – returning to ‘nothing’ apart from a burst of energy.

However, in 1937 an Italian theoretical physicist, Ettore Majorana, predicted the existence of a strange class of particles called fermions that were their own anti-particles.

And now, in an article in the prestigious journal Science, researchers from the University of California, Los Angeles, and Stanford University reported they had found the first evidence of just such an object, which they dubbed the “Angel Particle” after Dan Brown’s thriller Angels and Demons which involves a bomb made from a combination of matter and anti-matter.”

Further understanding of these particles could lead to breakthroughs in quantum computers.  In fact, it could lead to computers that are 100 million times faster than what we have now.

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Quantum communication breakthrough: Speaking of quantum computers, Chinese scientists have developed a way to send completely “unhackable” internet communications.  A tremendous advantage in today’s day and age of cyber warfare.

As the BBC explains:

“If you send a message you want to keep secure from eavesdroppers, traditional encryption works by hiding the key needed to read the message in a very difficult mathematical problem.  But what is ‘difficult’ in terms of maths? It means you have to think really fast to figure it out as you try endless combinations of long, numeric keys. In 2017, that means you need to use a very powerful computer.

Steady improvements in computer power mean that the number-based keys have to be lengthened periodically. Encryption has a shelf life and is rapidly becoming more vulnerable…

Quantum communication works differently:

  • If you want to send your secure message, you first separately send a key embedded in particles of light.
  • Only then do you send your encrypted message and the receiver will be able to read it with the help of the key sent beforehand.

The crucial advantage of this so-called quantum key distribution is that if anyone tries to intercept the light particles, they necessarily alter or destroy them.  What this means is that any attempt at hacking will immediately be noticed by the original sender and the intended receiver – hence its description as ‘unhackable’.”

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New stem cells:  Currently there are two main sources for stem cells: embryos and skin cells.  Together these stem cells are known as induced pluripotent stem cells.  And now they’ve got some company as scientists have invented a new class of stem cells with a remarkable new ability.  The new stem cells are known as extended pluripotent stem cells and they’re similar to the induced pluripotent stem cells that everyone is already familiar with.  With one key difference.

According to Futurism, “The key difference between the two is that iPS cells are made from skin cells (called fibroblasts) and EPS cells are made from a combination of skin cells and embryonic stem cells. iPS cells are the hallmark of stem cell research and can be programmed to become any cell in the human body — hence the “pluripotent” part of their name. EPS cells, too, can give rise to any type of cell in the human body, but they can also do something very different — something unprecedented, actually: they can create the tissues needed to nourish and grow an embryo.”

Meaning that not only could we use stem cells to regenerate tissue or trial drugs but that we also may be able to one day do something even greater: create human-animal hybrids!

 

More fun with stem cells:  In addition to creating animal-human hybrids stem cells implanted into the brain may one be used to make us younger.

According to the Guardian:

“Implants of stem cells that make fresh neurons in the brain were found to put the brakes on ageing in older mice, keeping them more physically and mentally fit for months, and extending their lives by 10-15% compared to untreated animals.  The work, described as a tour de force and a breakthrough by one leading expert, suggests that ageing across the body is controlled by stem cells that are found in the hypothalamus region of the brain in youth, but which steadily die off until they are almost completely absent in middle age.”

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Teleportation breakthrough: On July 10, 2017 Chinese scientists pulled off a remarkable feat that largely went unnoticed: they teleported a photon from the surface of the Earth to a satellite 310 miles above the Earth.

As I Drop News reports, “This marks the first time an object has ever been teleported from Earth into space and confirms that ‘quantum entanglement’– one of the most bizarre and mysterious feats in quantum theory– is possible.  Entanglement occurs when two quantum objects, such as photons, come into existence at the exact same time and place, giving them a shared (or entangled) existence and identity. This curious phenomenon means that measurement on one photon influences the other photon in the same way, even when the two objects are in separate galaxies. Whatever happens to the first photon happens to the second one, and when the second photon assumes the identity of the first, teleportation has essentially occurred. It’s what Einstein once called ‘spooky action at a distance’, and theoretically, there is no limit to the distance over which entanglement can occur.”

Even though most scientists believe that it will be impossible to ever teleport anything other than particles this was still an important first step to take towards proving our disproving that theory.  Next up, scientists will attempt to increase the distanced with which the particles can be sent.

Image result for star trek teleporter

Moon water:  Speaking of outer space we may soon have an easier time up there, perhaps even have a base on the Moon, thanks to the discovery of water lurking below the lunar surface.

According to Futurism, “Even more interesting is the potential help lunar water could give to future exploration on the Moon and beyond. ‘These deposits may be much easier to access than potential water ice in shadowed regions at the lunar poles,’ [Brown University geologist Ralph Milliken added in the interview. ‘Water is heavy and expensive to take from Earth to space, so any bit of water that you can get on the moon instead of bringing with you from Earth is a big deal and opens up possibilities for sustained human presence on the moon.’  This would be especially useful since some Mars missions in the works right now — notably NASA’s — involve using the Moon as a jump off point. A potential lunar base would be easier to maintain given the presence of water on Earth’s satellite.”

 

Image result for moon water

Are any of these the Greatest Idea Ever?

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In today’s day and age you don’t have to go far to find an amazing man-material capable of revolutionizing society the way that the likes of steel and plastic already have.  Graphene was the first such material to catch my eye and get me excited about materials science but since then there have been a host of other new materials worth getting excited about.  And now there are two more that we can add to the list.

First up is a new material that could allow for super-fast battery charging whether we’re talking about cell phones or electric cars.  How fast are we talking?  How about being able to charge something in seconds instead of minutes or hours.

According to Science Alert, “Previous research has looked at the use of supercapacitors as an energy storage device for portable electronics. Supercapacitors release energy in large bursts, and have incredible potential when it comes to powering our technology.  The problem is they can only be used for rapid charge/discharge cycles rather than long term energy storage.  Now a team from Drexel University has combined the properties of a supercapacitor with that of traditional batteries with large storage capacities by using a material called MXene.”

This amazing new material could also be used to minimize electromagnetic interference.  According to Phys.org, “If you’ve ever heard your engine rev through your radio while listening to an AM station in your car, or had your television make a buzzing sound when your cell phone is near it, then you’ve experienced electromagnetic interference. This phenomenon, caused by radio waves, can originate from anything that creates, carries or uses an electric current, including television and internet cables, and, of course cell phones and computers. A group of researchers at Drexel University and the Korea Institute of Science & Technology is working on cleaning up this electromagnetic pollution by containing the emissions with a thin coating of a nanomaterial called MXene.”

But that’s not the only new material in the works.  There’s also an incredible new material that’s both flexible, strong, and durable making it an ideal material for clothing, manufacturing, and even artificial body parts such as ligaments and tendons capable of becoming stronger than the real thing.

As Futurism puts it, “The old cliché that looks can be deceiving definitely comes to mind when considering a new material developed by researchers from the Hokkaido University. It looks soft and squishy — which it is — but it’s as tough as metal. In fact, its developers say it’s five times stronger than carbon steel, while at the same time having the flexibility of rubber.  The reinforced material is a product of combining hydrogels, typically found in products like contact lenses, with glass fibers. The result is a tough but bendable mesh that’s built to maximize resilience.”

If the researchers are to believed then we may soon get to the point where baseball players are voluntarily signing up for Tommy John surgery.

All joking aside these two new innovations are further proof that we have barely just begun to scratch the surface of what is possible when it comes to materials science.  As we continue to reconfigure atoms and combine materials into new configurations, as we continue to refine our understanding of physics and chemistry and explore all the various combinations of the adjacent possible, there’s no telling where we might wind up.  No telling what novel new materials we might conjure up.

Containing our 'electromagnetic pollution'

Is MXene the Greatest Idea Ever?

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Plants are pretty amazing.  On a practical level they generate oxygen, heal our wounds, give us shelter, and provide us with subsistence.  They even spruce up our living quarters aesthetically, help us relax and give us wonderful fragrances to smell.  But that’s not all that plants are good for.  Thanks to new research they suddenly have some remarkable new abilities.  Such as being able to turn into a light source.

According to The Next Web, “Dutch product designer Ermi van Oers created Living Light: plants that double as lights. Or lights that double as plants – whichever way you prefer looking at it. The lights run on electricity generated by bacteria in the soil. Here’s how it works: during the process of photosynthesis plants release organic compounds in the soil. This causes bacteria to generate electrons and protons, which are then used in a similar way to a traditional battery.  And here’s the fun part: healthier plants produce more energy. If you take care of it properly, the Living Light will produce up to 0.1 mW. Enough to use it as a night lamp…”

They also might become our new personal trainers as Jen-Hsien Chiu from the Royal College of Art created a goal setting app that connects to a device with a plant inside of it.  If you don’t meet your goals the plant will die.  Talk about motivation.  Check out this video clip from I Fucking Love Science to learn more about this invention and many others from the university.

And last but not least plants have even inspired a new design for a soft robot capable of shape shifting until it makes its way to hard to reach places.  Such as those that you might encounter when searching for survivors after an Earthquake.

As Popular Science puts it, “In a new study in the journal Science Robotics, researchers Elliot W. Hawkes, Laura H. Blumenschein, Joseph D. Greer, and Allison M. Okamura demonstrate a robot that travels through space like a living thing, but that is perhaps best thought of as a fast-growing, useful, mechanical plant, which unfurls from a single immobile foot. The robot’s design is explicitly plant-inspired.”

All of these new plant based or plant inspired innovations goes to show that there is still much we can learn from our planetary neighbors.  In fact, there may even be some things that we can still learn about them.  Including the fact that they may have feelings.  And even a “brain”.  Only time will tell what else we can learn from them or about them.

Image result for living light

Is Living Light the Greatest Idea Ever?

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I’ve always wanted to get a telescope.  Always wanted to take a step back from the minutia of my everyday life to marvel at the wonders of the Universe; to fully appreciate the scale and scope of the cosmos instead of taking my life for granted.  But I never took the plunge.  Never even knew where to begin.  What kind of telescope should I get?  How would I even know what I was looking at?  Would I ever use it enough to justify the cost?

Well, those concerns have all been alleviated thanks to an incredible new invention: a commercial telescope for the masses that is posed to revolutionize amateur astronomy.  Not since Galileo first gazed upon the stars has there been this much excitement surrounding a telescope.  And it’s all thanks to a partnership between French startup Unistellar and our alien signal hunting friends, the SETI Institute.

According to Phys.Org:

“Unistellar’s new eVscope leverages ‘Enhanced Vision’ imaging technology and now provides three unique features never before offered in a compact mass-market instrument thanks to this partnership:

  • Enhanced Vision produces extremely sharp, detailed images of even faint astronomical objects by accumulating their light and projecting it into the telescope’s eyepiece. Enhanced Vision technology mimics the light gathering capability of significantly larger reflector telescopes, thus delivering unprecedented views of night-sky objects previously inaccessible to amateur astronomers.

 

  • Autonomous Field Detection (AFD) powered by GPS, enables the eVscope to pinpoint celestial objects of interest without complicated alignment procedures or expensive equatorial mounts. Thanks to AFD intelligent pointing and tracking, astronomers from novice to expert, can spend more time observing and always know precisely what they are looking at. This system is also able to name any object the user is observing, thanks to a coordinates database of tens of millions of celestial objects.

 

  • Campaign Mode, a revolutionary and exciting feature developed at the SETI Institute, takes advantage of the telescope’s advanced imaging technology and allows users around the world to participate in observing campaigns to image and collect data on objects of special interest to researchers. In Campaign Mode, image data is automatically sent to a data repository at the SETI Institute’s headquarters in Silicon Valley. The international scientific community can then access unprecedented volumes of image data for specific objects, from thousands of telescopes around the world, at different dates and times. This in turn, can enable new discoveries and enhance our understanding of the universe around us.”

This telescope is a real game-changer on so many levels, as detailed above.  So much so, that the innovations bear repeating for we’re talking about a commercial telescope that works nearly as well as significantly larger telescopes, enables you to quickly and easily get your bearings, identify the objects that you’re looking at, and directly contribute to on-going research projects in real-time.  For a citizen scientist, it just doesn’t get any better than that.

Except when it does.  Because, believe it or not, this incredible telescope is set to be relatively affordable.  The exact price isn’t known yet but it’s expected to cost less than $1,000 when a crowdfunding campaign launches this fall.  And personally, I can’t wait!  This game-changing, do-it-all telescope is a definite must-have whether you’re an amateur astronomer or just hoping to become one.  And after spending the weekend camping out under the stars, surrounded by constellations in all directions, I can tell you that I definitely want to become one.  Now more than ever.

Image result for unistellar telescope

Is the eVscope telescope the Greatest Idea Ever?

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#1,117 – Glamping

I just went camping…in the woods…in a tent…for the first time.  Well, to be fair it was more like glamping (glamorous camping).  There were flush toilets, showers, camp hosts who could hook you up with a can opener if need be, firewood available for sale, and an entire town five minutes away if you needed to pick up some Land O’ Lakes yellow American cheese sliced thin.  We were not roughin’ it.  Not in the least.

And yet, it was still a rough experience.  The hassle of building and taking down the tent, the inclement weather, the threat of bears and other wildlife, the annoying bugs and creepy crawlers, the loud music playing and otherwise annoying campers at other nearby campsites that were stationed way too close together.  Would I do it all over again?  Yes.  Absolutely.  Could the experience have been better?  Yes.  Absolutely.

What I’m imagining then is a campsite that’s more of a hotel than a campgrounds.  On-site staff would help you put together and take apart your tents, help you start a fire, and help you unload/load your car.  During the day you could go on a guided hike.  At night you could borrow telescopes for some star gazing.  “Room” service to your tent would be available if you get the munchies.  All of the bathroom facilities would be inside of a secure lodge instead of an outhouse so as to limit the chance of a scorpion or spider attacking you while you’re doing your business.  Anything you could think of to further enhance your experience from hammocks to sporting goods would be available for rent.  And best of all there would be a fenced in perimeter that would severely limit the threat of a bear wandering into your tent.

When you think of rough and tough individuals you aren’t likely to think of the French so it should come as no surprise that a similar glamping hotel concept, known as Bubble Hotels, already exists in France.  Essentially, each bubble is a pimped out see-through tent that comes with most of the accommodations you’d expect to find in a modern hotel.

As Road Trippers describes, “You can make the most of your bubble by checking out the telescopes and star maps they offer, or get into full relaxation mode by visiting the hot tub or getting a massage. They also offer breakfast, which you can enjoy in your king-sized bed in the temperature-controlled comfort of your private bubble while taking in the full glory of Mother Nature at sunrise. I’d like to see a tent try and do that!”

There are plenty of other glamping experiences out there as well if you know where to look.  There’s arooftop camping experience in the middle of Manhattan, hotels with indoor campsites for kids, and even an entire website dedicated to finding the best fit for your camping needs.  It’s no wonder that glamping is now the #1 travel trend in the world.

Some of you may think that this all sounds a little bit ridiculous.  That glamping with all its bells and whistles cheapens the camping experience.  That Wi-Fi, electricity, air mattresses and appliances, and all the rest, have no business at a campsite.  After all, the whole point of going out into the woods to be in nature is to actually be out in the woods in nature.  Not inside a secure, climate controlled, hermetically sealed bunker capable of surviving a nuclear blast.

But to criticize glamping is to miss the point of glamping.  It’s not about creating a purely authentic camping experience.  It’s about finding a way for yuppies, millennials, girlie girls and city slickers to enjoy mother nature and all its glory.  It’s a gateway drug to the addicting power of the great outdoors.  A stepping stone on the way to stepping over stones, rocks, boulders, and other obstacles on the more adventurous backpacking trips to far flung locales that you one day may find yourself on.  For once you break the seal and try glamping there’s no going back.  Once you’ve slept under millions of stars, the five stars of even the best of hotels just won’t cut it anymore.

Image result for bubble hotel

Is glamping the Greatest Idea Ever?

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