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Archive for July, 2017

I wouldn’t want to play chess against Elon Musk.  Every time he makes a move (starts a new company, publicly discusses an idea) it’s all part of an elaborate plan that he has set into motion.  Nothing he does is in isolation.  Each move has been carefully thought out well in advance.  The destinies of Solar City and Tesla speak to that, so intertwined are their future prospects that it’s inevitable that the two companies will merge.  And now it seems as though the fates of the Hyperloop and the Boring Company are intertwined as well as Musk has announced that he has received a verbal commitment from government officials approving an Eastern seaboard Hyperloop that that would make it possible to travel from Washington to New York City in under half an hour.

As the Verge puts it, “The Boring Company started as a joke, but became increasingly serious as Musk began tunneling in a parking lot outside of SpaceX in an effort to demonstrate his ability to dig faster and more efficiently than traditional tunneling projects. Musk says he’s working on tunnel-boring machines than can simultaneously dig up and reinforce tunnels, which could go a long way toward solving a big engineering challenge. He recently announced the completion of the first section of tunnel under Los Angeles.”

But now it seems as though the Boring Company has a much larger end game in sight: digging the tunnels that will accommodate the Hyperloop network.  Including, if his tweets are to be believed, one on the East Coast that would allow for unprecedented travel between two of the country’s most influential cities.

According to the New York Times, “Mr. Musk’s planned 29-minute trip is considerably shorter than the current options. A drive from Washington to New York can take about five hours. Amtrak’s Acela, its high-speed counterpart to regional train service, cuts the time down to about two hours and 45 minutes. A nonstop flight from Kennedy Airport in New York to Ronald Reagan National Airport in Washington is currently the fastest option, at one hour and 15 minutes.”

It’s going to be a while before the dream of convenient travel between New York and Washington D.C. becomes a reality.  The Hyperloop still has to be built, the tunnels still have to be dug, and that’s all assuming that this verbal government approval even holds up.  But at the same time I also wouldn’t bet against Musk.  If he’s set his mind to accomplishing something it’s probably too late for us to object anyway.  The plan was probably already set in motion long ago.

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Is an East Coast Hyperloop the Greatest Idea Ever?

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Google isn’t the only tech company to launch a new feed based service.  Amazon just did too, creating Amazon Spark and it’s designed to turn product reviewers into “enthusiasts” and in turn its site into Instagram.  Essentially, Spark is a hybrid social media site and product store, a shoppable feed of images that could really put a damper into Pinterest’s plans as users shop items recommended by people who share their interests.

As TechCrunch puts it, “Amazon today is launching Amazon Spark, a new feature aimed at improving product discovery, which is seemingly inspired by Instagram and its use of shoppable photos. Similarly, Amazon Spark users are encouraged to post stories, ideas and images of products they love, which others can react to with comments and ‘smiles’ – Amazon’s own version of the Like or Favorite button.”

Ars Technica adds that, “Spark appears to be Amazon’s way of not only encouraging more young people to discover new products on the platform in a way that feels natural to them, but also boosting the social  aspect of Amazon as a whole. But products will always be the main focus of any Amazon feature, and Spark certainly integrates ‘shoppable’ tags more efficiently than Instagram. Amazon has the upper hand as it can link directly to products it sells and directly bring customers to that product page when they tap on the link.”

But Spark isn’t the only new innovation that Amazon recently unveiled.  They’ve also been working on a portable robot that would live inside of airports or other public spaces, and bring cellphone charging capabilities to those who hail it.  Consider it an Uber for cell phones.

As Geek Wire reports, “The idea may seem wacky, but the inventors contend that such robots would fill a need that’s currently unmet. They note that mobile devices have become ubiquitous in public and semi-public spaces:

“It can be quite inconvenient to a user when one of these devices runs out of battery power. This is especially true if the user does not have an available charging adapter for the device. Users may find themselves asking friends, or even strangers, to borrow a charging adapter. In some cases, there may not be any charging ports, or power outlets in the immediate vicinity, making charging the device even more cumbersome. Even in cases where charging stations, ports, or outlets are available, a user may have to remain close to the device. For example, charging a phone in a public place may require the user to remain in the general area of the phone to avoid theft.”

Would a charging robot solve all of those issues?  That depends on whether or one is available in your area or how long it would take to get to you.  Plus it’s highly likely that other technologies such as wireless charging devices or longer lasting batteries or phones that work without batteries will make it so that we don’t even need to recharge our batteries.  But in any event that doesn’t really matter.  The only thing that really matters is that if there’s an issue in need of solving, whether that’s cell phone charging of finding a way to make shopping more social, you can rest assured that Amazon is working on a way to solve that problem.

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Is Amazon Spark the Greatest Idea Ever?

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We’ve known for a while that search was going to look and feel fundamentally different in the near future.  That Google might get to the point where they could predict what we wanted before we even searched for it, delivering up results as soon as we first encountered the search box.  Well, that day has finally come.  Thanks to a news feed of sorts, designed to help you organically discover new and interesting things; the kind of things that you may be interested in based on your search history, and the kind of things that you aren’t likely to normally encounter when conducting a standard search.  Older things and things outside your filter bubble, if not your comfort zone.

As Wired describes, “When you open the app you’ll be presented with an infinitely scrolling list of stuff Google thinks you might be interested in based on your browsing and searching history: news headlines, blog posts, 12 Foods You Can Feed Your Dog listicles, and more, along with sports scores, movie trailers, and the like. It’s like what Google Reader might have evolved to become in 2017, if Google hadn’t murdered Google Reader in 2013.”

When I first read this I was immediately intrigued.  A quick and easy way to find cool new things that I may be interested in?  Yes, please!  But then I realized the drawback: if the feed is being generated from your search history then that means that your results may be skewered; by things that you searched for only one time and aren’t really that interested in; by things that you had to search for while at work that you may not be interested in personally; by the kind of things that you search for when no one else is around.  Thankfully the feed will be editable which helps ease those concerns.  Since you can tell Google to remove certain sources or give you more of a certain topic you’d at least have some say in the results you’re seeing.

As Wired puts it, “you can control and customize what shows up in your feed. If you search for something like ‘health care bill,’ you can tap the new Follow button at the top of the results to get more health care-related news in your feed. You’ll probably get more anyway, since Google assumes you’re interested in the things you search for, but actively following sends a much stronger signal. You can tell Google when you’re done reading about Drake because really you just wanted to know what that one lyric was, or that you never want to see stories from the Daily Mail ever again. Think of the new feeds as your personal recommendations list for the entire internet.”

In other words, think of it as a better version of Stumble Upon.  An infinitely useful resource that you’ll keep coming back to even if you have nothing in particular to search for.

Ultimately, I can see this feed catching on and becoming the new normal.  Making it so that our children and grandchildren will be left to wonder how we ever tolerating living in a simpler time with just a single search box on a plain white screen to interact with, nothing else to scroll through or look at.  And we’ll wonder too.  How we ever got by in the time before predictive feeds.

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Is the Google Feed the Greatest Idea Ever?

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I have a confession to make: I don’t love Star Wars.  Shocking I know.  The admission surprises even me.  But there’s no denying it.  I just can’t get into it.  The Natalie Portman lead prequels were atrocious.  And that’s coming from someone who loves Natalie Portman.  The latest iteration was an improvement over the prequels but felt like more of a remake than a new take on the story.  The Kylo Ren-Han Solo I am your father storyline?  Rey not realizing that she’s a Jedi?  The emerging threat of a Death Star?  Sound familiar?

Admittedly the original trilogy was good.  Especially considering when it came out.  It was so far ahead of its time that it blew audiences away and became a cult hit.  But I didn’t have the benefit of watching it when it first came out.  I watched it on my VCR in the late 1990s before I could fully appreciate what I was watching.  As a result I wasn’t impressed with what I saw and as a result I never recovered my fandom.

But all that may be about to change because if there’s one thing I love more than a good space opera it’s a good immersive experience.  And thanks to Disney I may soon have the chance to live out an incredible immersive experience set in space aboard a spaceship.  An immersive experience that’s to be set in the Star Wars Universe for those of you who are into that sort of thing.

That’s right.  Disney just announced plans to build a Star Wars themed hotel in Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida that is to be so immersive as to dominate every second of your day.  Every guest will be given their own unique story line to follow, the entire hotel staff will be in character, and the fun and games will never let up as you pilot the Millennium Falcon, partake in battles, interact with other guests in the Cantina, and fight the urge to join the Dark Side.

As TechCrunch states:

“In other words, it’s… like… Westworld (or, you know, as close as anyone can get) plus Star Wars, minus all the sexy and/or murdery stuff.  The potential here is incredible. I’d be excited about this even if it was just some haphazard third party throwing together a Star Wars-themed weekend. But with the might of an army of Disney Imagineers and Lucasfilm’s own stamp of approval on it? Oh man, oh man, oh man.”

Even if you’re not a Star Wars you’d have to admit that the idea of spending a weekend living out a fantasy aboard a spaceship is still pretty cool.  And if you are a Star Wars fan?  The kind of person who camps out the night before the movies come out, dresses up like a Storm Trooper for Halloween, has a life sized Yoda statue in their living room, thinks that they have actually successfully used Jedi mind tricks on their dog and ends every email by saying ‘May The Force Be With You’, well…you probably just lost your mind.

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Is an Immersive Star Wars Hotel the Greatest Idea Ever?

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Here’s a look at everything that I’ve been thinking about lately:

  • A new date night idea has gone viral.  You and your partner head to your local Goodwill and armed with just $10, buy each other a ridiculous outfit to wear.  You then have to head out to dinner or wherever else you were going wearing your ridiculous outfit acting like everything is totally normal.  If you’re looking for a new date night idea this should be worth trying.

 

  • By now everyone is probably familiar with the rear cameras that come standard in most cars, allowing you to glance at what’s behind you as you’re backing up.  But what about a front camera?  I don’t know about you, but sometimes when I’m pulling into a spot it’s hard for me to see over the front hood of my car.  As a result I’m often several feet away from the curb.  A front camera sure would help in those instances.  And come to think of it, a side view camera might be nice too for when I’m cutting a sharp corner, like when I’m in a parking garage.

 

  • I’ve been on the lookout for a new pen and/or pencil to use for quite a while now.  But every time I buy one from Staples I’m often disappointed in the performance.  There are dozens of options, all touting mysterious new features ranging from erasable gel ink to an ability to write underwater, and all of them underwhelm when I go to use them.  Why isn’t is possible to try pens and pencils before you buy them the way you try on clothes?  I know that some stores do offer this option for some pens but usually those pens don’t work and usually the places to right are quickly taken up.  That’s why there should be an entire store dedicated to trying writing utensils.  And I’m going to start it!  Store name options include: “Write Here, Right Here”, “The Mighty Pen”, and “Scribble”.

 

  • I was recently searching for tickets to the hit Broadway show Hamilton on StubHub for an upcoming trip to Chicago.  To accomplish this I had to look for tickets five separate times, for each of the five show times across the three days that I was going to be in town.  It would have been better if I could have searched for tickets for all five show times all in one fell swoop.  That would have allowed me to find the cheapest ticket in my desired seating location without having to cross reference my findings.

 

  • The ability to conduct in depth searches of this nature would also be useful for airline bookings.  Let’s say I’m dead set on having an aisle seat.  Let’s say there are five flights in one day and my schedule is flexible.  When I’m searching for flights it would be great if I could see which flights have available aisle seats.  That information might help me decide which flight to take.

 

  • Speaking of airlines, I just tried to book a flight on American Airlines using a voucher from a previously canceled flight only to find out that I couldn’t do so because my voucher was only good for one year from date of booking.  Wouldn’t it have been nice if American Airlines would have notified me that my voucher was about to expire so that I could have used it before losing it?  Not telling me was horrific customer service on their part.  Not that I should be surprised.  This is an airline that we’re talking about after all.

 

  • What would Facebook be like if our profiles were public?  If we could broadcast our personalities to the world the way we broadcast our thoughts (Twitter), our pictures (Instagram), and our professional lives (LinkedIN) what would happen?  Would we share less?  Share differently?  Would we gain fame and fortune the way the best YouTube personalities have?  Could my mix of nature pictures, posts about ideas, and interactions with my friends, turn me into a star?

 

  • Speaking of social media, what would happen if we had a social media site dedicated to sharing personal stories, the kind of intimate stories about our sex lives that we’re generally ashamed of sharing?  Would people hesitate to share or would we openly share since we already share everything else?  And if we’re openly discussing our personal lives how would that impact the way we lead our lives?  Would we take more risks so we have better stories?  Would we be less embarrassed if we find out that other people share our opinions, fetishes, and worldviews?  Would it lead to a more open society?  If we had such a site, I’d call it: “Scarlet”, short for “The Scarlet (Open) Letter.”

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Is a Goodwill Date the Greatest Idea Ever?

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#1,111 – Wanderlust

Ask any single thirtysomething what their two biggest laments in life are and you’re likely to get the same answers: not having a love interest and not having someone to travel with.  That may be an over simplification but in my experience it often holds true.  Love and travel are intertwined.  You can’t have one without the other any more than you can have a butterfly without a caterpillar.  Even the lone traveler has fallen in love…with traveling.

Our yearning for love and companionship and our drive to explore, to seek out new environments, are evolutionary drivers.  It’s what causes us to seek new partners to procreate with and it’s what causes us to seek out new places to live, whether that’s an undiscovered land mass or a habitable exoplanet.  As a result we spend a significant portion of our lives searching for our soul mates.  Those that are lucky enough to find theirs not only wind up with a lover and a best friend but also with a partner in crime and a travel partner.  They have the best of both worlds as they crisscross the globe, fulfilling their primal urges for companionship and exploration along the way.

But what’s a single hopeless romantic supposed to do? How do you see all that the world has to offer if you don’t have anyone to see it with?  For several years I did what I thought was right.  I waited.  If I found a beautiful spot that I wanted to visit, say a tropical island or a quaint European village, I made a mental note.  I’ll get there eventually I would tell myself.  Maybe on my honeymoon.

Eventually I realized that this wasn’t a sound strategy.  My life was passing me by.  Was I really going to pass up the opportunity to visit a locale that would bring me happiness just because I was waiting for somebody else to accompany me?  What if I never found someone?  So, I decided to take matters into my own hands and just start doing more on my own.  Was it awkward when I flew to Maui and the airline gave out champagne to all of the newlyweds?  You bet.  Did I care?  Nope.  I don’t even drink.

Once I broke my travel alone seal I was off to the races.  Determined to visit all the cities across the United States that I had never been to before.  I traveled to Portland, Seattle, Los Angeles, San Diego, San Jose, San Francisco, Las Vegas, and Charlotte.  I hiked, took pictures, went antiquing, speed through museums.  If there were sights to see you can rest assured that I saw them.  No matter where I was I managed to have a good time.  So much so that I have to say that I don’t mind traveling alone at all.  In some regards, I even prefer it.  I get to set the agenda and only do the things that I want to do.  At no point am I forced to go somewhere or do something that I’m not interested in.  Better yet, I get to go at my own pace, never feeling rushed, or like I’m letting someone else down.  And best of all, if I don’t feel like doing something I can just blow it off guilt free.

But at the end of the day I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that something was missing.  Traveling alone may be welcomed, even preferred, but it’s not the end all, be all.  I’d still sign up for a romantic trip for two in a heartbeat.  There’s just something inherently heart- warming about exploring a new place with somebody else.  Seeing the look on their face when they gaze upon a priceless work of art.  Watching their expression change when they experience a new cuisine for the first time. Engaging in a deep and meaningful conversation about the history of a place as you throw yourselves head first into the local culture.  When you travel to a new place you can easily get lost.  But you can also easily lose yourself.  Within your surroundings.  Within your partner’s gaze.

It’s with that in mind that I’d like to start a new travel service.  One that caters to our modern lifestyle but also to our ingrained desires for companionship and exploration.  One that would make it easy to travel the globe and fall in love at the same time.  Sure there are other travel dating sites already out there but none like the one I’m imagining.  None like Wanderlust.

What I’m envisioning is a service that would operate similarly to the dating site How About We.  Instead of saying how about we grab a coffee or how about we go ice skating you’d instead start out your post by saying how about we go to Hawaii.  The person posting the trip can set the parameters.  Is the trip all expenses paid? Or are you going Dutch?  Are you looking for romance or just friendship?  What are you hoping to do once you’re there?  Relaxation or adventure?  What does your itinerary look like?  Have it all figured out or need recommendations?

Wanderers (as they will become known as) will then get to pick their potential travel mate from a pool of those people who responded to their listing.  In order to find the right person to travel with Wanderlust’s algorithms will recommend the best match based on questionnaires that each person fill out.  Since there’s a strict vetting process in place Wanderers never have to worry about their safety.  Their won’t be any weirdos or escorts in the pool.  Every Wanderer will be a real reputable person.

Now here’s where things get interesting.  Wanderlust wouldn’t just be a travel company or a lifestyle company or a dating company.  It would be a technology company.  Meaning that in order to facilitate matches, regardless of cultural differences or language barriers, each Wanderer will be given a language translation device to take with them.  That way they’ll be able to communicate with their companion even if they don’t speak the same language.  This aspect of the service is a real game changer as it opens up a whole new world of possibilities.  Now your soul mate isn’t just someone who lives in the same town as you or works at the same company as you.  Now it could be anyone.  Anywhere in the world.

Wanderers would also be provided with devices that track their location and movements.  This would ensure their safety and also allow for perks and benefits to pop up throughout their trip through augmented reality.  Walk into a famous restaurant and receive a coupon for 50% off your meal.  Walk pass a museum and gain free entry.  You could even use the devices to leave messages for other wanderers or to learn more about the history of the monument you’re currently standing in front of.

Afterwards all wanderers will be rated by their travel companions.  Were they courteous and respectful? Fun to be around? Did they know their way around the city?  These ratings would form a reputation economy that would power the service just like how eBay and Yelp work.  Highly rated power users would reap the benefit of getting to go on the best trips.  Better yet, Wanderlust would also tip the best users making it possible to actually earn a substantial amount of income as a full-time travel guru.  These professional wanderers could either station themselves in a host city, entertaining guests as they fly in from around the world, or they could be travelers themselves.

Will this Wanderlust service solve all of our travel related issues?  Sadly, no.  Millions of people will still be stuck spending their entire lives in the same place they’re born.  Financial constraints, family obligations, and job responsibilities will still limit the amount and quality of travel that people can do.  But it will certainly help.  Making it easier for people to explore new places and potentially fall in love at the same time.  And if there’s even a chance that a service like this could help facilitate the start of even just one new relationship don’t we owe it to ourselves to try?

Related imageIs Wanderlust the Greatest Idea Ever?

 

 

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Storing information inside of DNA has been a neat parlor trick for years.  All of Shakespeare’s sonnets have been encoded in DNA.  Recently famed geneticist George Church encoded his own book Regenesis and made 90 billion copies of it.  A new publication record.  But that’s just the beginning.

Thanks to its ability to store information reliably DNA is the unquestioned future of data storage.  For starters, its “technology” is never going to become obsolete the way modern storage devices might.  Fine-tuned over millions of year of evolution DNA is a tried and true method of information storage and replication.  Plus its ability to store a million times more information in the same space as a standard floppy disk ever could makes it an infinitely more desirable resource for us humans.  And considering how much data we are generating on a daily basis we’re definitely going to need a reliable place to store it all in the coming years.  DNA data storage is the best and really only option for doing that.

But when that time come it’s not just books that we’ll be encoding.  In the future we’ll also have the ability to store videos inside of DNA as well.

That’s right.  Scientists have figured out a way to encode film inside of DNA as they were able to successfully encode one of the very first motion picture ever made, the famous galloping horse captured by British photographer Eadweard Muybridge, who wanted to observe if a horse ever had all four hoofs off the ground at the same time while running.

As amazing as it would be to store information and videos inside of DNA though that’s only one side of the equation.  What if the opposite held true?  What if you could also use the same technology to record what was happening inside the cell?  As far-fetched as that sounds that may actually happen one day.

According to the New York Times, “With the new research, [Church] and other scientists have begun to wonder if it may be possible one day to do something even stranger: to program bacteria to snuggle up to cells in the human body and to record what they are doing, in essence making a ‘movie’ of each cell’s life.  When something goes wrong, when a person gets ill, doctors might extract the bacteria and play back the record. It would be, said Dr. Church, analogous to the black boxes carried by airplanes whose data is used in the event of a crash.”

Obviously it’s going to be a while before we have bacterial black boxes or before we can even fully trust the data storage and replication capabilities of DNA.  But thanks to the tremendous work being done by Dr. Church and other geneticists we continue to make great progress towards that goal.  And, more importantly, we continue to make great strides at rates that would have astonished scientists just ten years ago.  What else will be possible in just a few years time?

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Is storing video inside DNA the Greatest Idea Ever?

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