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Archive for August, 2017

As Hurricane Harvey continues to deluge Houston with rain, with two or three more feet still to come, we’re reminded of the devastating effects of Mother Nature at her worst.  But as horrible as the catastrophic flooding is, there’s a far greater natural threat that we have to worry about: the super volcano positioned under Yellowstone National Park in the heart of the United States, because if it were ever to erupt it wouldn’t just effect an area the size of Texas.  It would effect the entire United States.  In fact, it would effect the entire world.  And oh by the way, it’s long overdue for an eruption.

Ever since I saw Spock save an ancient civilization from an impending volcano induced cataclysm in the second movie of the Star Trek reboot, I had long hoped that there would be a similar geoengineering scheme that could save us from the Yellowstone Super Volcano.  And now, thanks to NASA, there is.

As Popular Mechanics reports, “NASA’s plan is to drill a hole into the side of the volcano and pump water through it. When the water comes back out, it’ll be heated to over 600 degrees, slowly cooling the volcano. The team hopes that given enough time, this process will take enough heat from the volcano to prevent it from ever erupting. As a bonus, the scientists are proposing to use the heated water as a source of geothermal energy, potentially powering the entire Yellowstone region with heat from the volcano that wants to destroy it. A geothermal generator could produce energy at around $0.10 per kWh, competitive with other energy sources.”

NASA won’t be the only ones pocking around the Yellowstone Super Volcano though.  According to Wired, the discovery of lithium there could make it a hot bed for mining activity.

“Electric cars and smartphones of the future could be powered by super volcanoes like Yellowstone after scientists discovered that ancient deposits within them contain huge reservoirs of lithium—a chemical element used to make lithium-ore batteries, supplies of which are increasingly dwindling.”

The article from Wired further explains the process behind how the lithium was created:

“In a study published in the journal Nature Communications, researchers from Stanford University and the US Geological Survey have found a new potential source for lithium—within America’s super volcanoes

These volcanoes are capable of producing huge eruptions, about 1,000 times bigger than average. Along with the famous Yellowstone caldera, there are three other supervolcanoes in the US, Crater Lake, Long Valley and Valles Caldera.

When these volcanoes erupt, they collapse into huge basin-like formations known as calderas. These depressions often fill with water to become lakes, with the ash and pumice ejected during the eruption spread across the caldera in ancient deposits.

In the study, the team looked to super volcanoes as a potential source of lithium because of the lithium-enriched magma that formed them. Over thousands of years, lithium leaks out of the volcanic deposits, accumulating in the caldera lake, eventually becoming concentrated in a clay.”

So as you can see, all of our prayers have been answered.  We’re finally going to be tackling the issue of what to do about the Yellowstone Super Volcano.  And everything from electric cars to smartphones to all life on earth is going to reap the rewards of this intervention.  Now, if only it would stop raining in Houston…

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Is the plan to save Yellowstone the Greatest Idea Ever?

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#1,154 – Kestrel Materials

Bundling up under several layers when it’s cold out or lugging around a jacket when it’s warm out in case it might get cold later in the evening might soon be a thing of the past thanks to a new type of adaptive clothing from Kestrel Materials.

According to Futurism:

“Kestrel Materials has designed a fabric that’s a step-up from breathable and waterproof types, and their goal is simple enough: ‘reduce the need for bulky layers.’ To do this, the startup has created an adaptive material that reacts to cold and warmth.

When exposed to cold surroundings, the fabric flexes and creates air pockets that trap heat and keep people warm. During warmer weather, the air pockets collapse and prevent heat from being trapped in the clothing. Since the material uses common fibers, such as nylon and polyester, the applications for such an adaptive fabric are as plentiful as the styles of clothes people wear.”

This new material doesn’t just alter its properties to adjust to the weather.  It also changes its shape.  As the Kestrel Materials website describes:

“Our fabrics change shape, increasing their thickness and insulation in response to the cold…early prototypes have demonstrated more than a doubling of material thickness in response to a temperature change of 10 degrees Celsius .”

Kestrel Materials aren’t the only ones looking to design adaptive clothing.  The Army has been working on a solution as well, that according to Quartz, “uses a coating of fine silver nanowires on ordinary fabrics, such as cotton or polyester, as a way to potentially keep soldiers warm in extreme cold.  The coating makes the fabric conductive, and with just a few volts of electricity, it can generate a substantial amount of heat.”

How much electricity are we talking about needing? 3 volts, the amount found in a watch battery, would be more than enough, capable of heating up the clothing by 110 degrees Celsius.

Between Kestrel Materials, the Army, and other clothing designers and fashion brands that are working on similar approaches it’s likely that our days of layering up will soon be over.

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In the future we may not have to bundle up anymore.

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The volatile Bitcoin is on the upswing again.  It’s now 4X as valuable as gold and according to some projections its value over the next few years could reach as high as $40,000.  But it’s not the only peer to peer digital network that’s making waves.  Ethereum is also fast on the rise with Microsoft announcing plans to create an Ethereum based blockchain framework that will allow large corporations to easily do business on these new decentralized networks in the future.

And make no mistake about it, the future is definitely heading towards decentralized networks.  Thanks to the Internet and various open-source movements it’s now easier than ever to share information and work together.  And people, just like atoms, inherently want to work together.  Charlottesville would seem to be evidence to the contrary but that’s the exception not the rule.  Overwhelmingly, people want to work together, want to be together.  It’s why we start families and live in cities.  And the same holds true for everything in the Universe.  It’s why atoms bond together.  Why multi-cellular organisms form.  Why galaxies cluster.

On a planet with billions of people and billions of computers it’s likely that a system will eventually emerge that would combine all of the resources at its disposal.  A global brain is an inevitability at this point, not a theory.  The proof is in the pudding.  Collaboration has literally happened every other time there’s been a similar opportunity so why wouldn’t it happen again?  Every solar system is proof of that.  Cosmic structures working together, the Moon governing tides on Earth, Jupiter acting as an asteroid barrier, the Sun creating the necessary conditions for life.  The Great Barrier Reef is also proof of that.  Millions of organisms working together to create a vibrant ecosystem.  The waste of one organism becoming the food for another as the largest organic structure on the planet forms over thousands of years.

Information wants to be free and it wants to be distributed as efficiently as possible, using the lowest possible energy.  This is the way that the real world works so why should the digital world be any different?  That’s why Ethereum is so exciting.  Central authorities like banks, governments, and corporations, the very entities that the 99 % is weary of, aren’t going to be needed anymore.  Anything we could possibly ever want to do, every type of transaction, every type of validation and verification, we can now do ourselves.  Easily.  Efficiently.  Securely.  Together. The future has arrived and we have the blockchain to thank.

Here’s a quick look at some of the first settlers of this brave new digital world, courtesy of Wired.  These are just some of the many entities laying the groundwork of the future, thanks to Ethereum:

  • “The Golem Project describes itself as ‘AirBnB for computers.’ Users can sell their machine’s unused computing power or buy it from others. Early adopters have already used it to render CGI images on strangers’ computers that would have otherwise been sitting idle. Those adopters did not need to trust that Golem would pay them for their computing time or that the code would run as promised; the transactions were guaranteed by the openness of the network. In the future, Golem could be an alternative or even a challenger to the current cloud computing hegemony.”

 

  • “Gnosis is another market DApp with a lot of buzz. It’s a prediction market, meaning users can bet on the outcome of events (i.e. ‘Will Roger Federer win the Australian Open?’) and question askers can leverage the ‘wisdom of the crowd’ to better predict an event’s outcome. Prediction markets have existed before, but they have always been heavily regulated and dependent on trust in a central source to determine the correct answer and dole out the money. ‘With Gnosis, we are not only using Ethereum to do payments. We are using it to build the core of the prediction market,’ says Gnosis co-founder Martin Köppelmann. ‘Previously, people had to send money to our company, our company would hold the money, and later we sent it back. Now the big difference is that it’s really peer to peer. We don’t touch users’ money.’”

Coindesk details several other Ethereum based apps poised to make a big impact including the Vevue Project, which aims to bring Google street view to life with embedded 30 second long user generated videos, KYC-Chain which verifies users identities, Eth-Tweet, a microblogging platform, and WeiFund, a crowdfunding app.

As you can see, the future is rife with opportunity.  Ethereum is the latest digital Wild West, the latest wide-open real estate in search of settlers.  If you missed out on the web movement and watched on the sidelines as Amazon ate the World now is your chance to get in on the ground floor.  If you missed out on making “a killer app” now is your chance to get in on the action.  If you’re a developer or an entrepreneur creating a new platform on Ethereum is where it’s at.  Aside from creating augmented or virtual reality based businesses there’s no better starting point.  We could very well be looking at a Web 2.0 scenario where every company, every business, every website suddenly becomes obsolete, replaced by an Ethereum based alternative.  What’s the Amazon of Ethereum going to look like?  Who is going to become the Google of Ethereum?  Will you be watching it all happen or will you be one of the ones making it happen?  The future has arrived.  Time to get onboard.

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Is Ethereum the Greatest Idea Ever?

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I’d love to work at Google.  But, then again, who wouldn’t?  The free food.  The Quidditch Patch.  The 20% free time rule.  The secretive moonshot lab.  The never ending quest to make all of the world’s information easily accessible.  The desire to make the world a better place just so long as they aren’t being evil along the way.  Google has it all.  Everything you look for in a workplace from perks to work life balance to that hard to quantify feeling that what you’re doing with your life actually matters.   But, let’s face it, I’m never going to work at Google.

It wouldn’t be for a lack of trying though.  I’ve applied in the past and been rejected.  But that’s okay.  Google is highly selective.  Only about 1% of applicants get admitted.  By comparison Harvard admits 7% of applicants.  They also like to hire engineers, programmers, computer scientists, math wizards, quants, and those predisposed to quantitative analysis and I am none of those things.  I can’t even figure out how much to tip at dinner.

But what if I could work at Google?  As a matter of fact, what if everyone could?  What if there was no such thing as positions or job openings?  No such thing as qualifications or prerequisites.  No tricky interview questions to ponder.  No riddles to solve.  No references required.  What if everyone who wanted to work at a place like Google could? No questions asked.

I know how that sounds but in my mind it’s a logical response to the looming question of what will happen to society once robots take all our jobs.  With millions of unemployed people roaming the streets society could be on the verge of collapse unless somebody steps in and does something about it.  The idea of a Universal Income has been trending lately as one possible solution.  One that Sir Richard Branson and Mark Zuckerberg have been passionately championing with Elon Musk even calling it an inevitability.  The basic premise is that as a response to automation, governments would just give every citizen an arbitrary stipend to cover the minimum cost of living.  With this stipend in hand citizens would be free to pursue their dreams and passion projects.  To become writers, actors, painters and photographers.  To become well fed “starving artists”.

But this plan has never seemed all that feasible to me.  Where is the money for these stipends coming from?  If we can’t fund social security how are we going to fund a basic universal income?  What makes more sense to me then is the idea of a limitless corporation.  A company that would hire anyone who wanted to work it, head count be damned.  In theory, this would be a universal basic income with a catch.  Anyone would be free to join this fictitious company, to punch in and get paid by the hour, but this is no free stipend.  You’d have to earn your paycheck, just like at a real modern day company, but the difference is that there’s no one to tell you how to go about doing that.  There are no bosses.  No assigned projects.  No deadlines to meet.  You are on your own.

If you’re not successful in your chosen endeavor, no problem.  You’d still collect your stipend just for trying.  But if you are successful?  If you managed to start your own company, publish a book, or launch a profitable career as a world famous lip gloss reviewer on YouTube, well then that’s where things would get interesting.  You’d be filthy rich but you wouldn’t be the only one to benefit from your success.  This limitless corporation would as well.  They’d get a portion of your earnings and all your future earnings with that money going into a general pool to fund the basic universal income of everyone else who wasn’t successful.

In a way this is a kind of hybrid communist/capitalist system.  Everyone’s basic needs are met and everyone shares in individual successes.  Google kind of works this way already.  Engineers collect a standard paycheck but they’re also free to work on passion projects.  If one of those passion projects winds up becoming an actual Google product, then great.  Everyone benefits.  That’s kind of like what would happen at the limitless corporation.  Instead of 20% of your time dedicated to passion projects it would be 100% of your time.  But the end result is the same.  The corporation would own the product you created so that they could integrate it into a wider ecosystem.

Under such a system prolific individuals could still rise above the crowd and enjoy a better lifestyle than everyone else.  But there wouldn’t be a wide divide between the 1% and the 99% percent.  We’d all be working together, helping each other to innovate, coming together to create value that would benefit all of society while the robots did all of our dirty work for us.

Is this crazy?  Probably.  But is it also crazy enough to work?  Possibly.  But, hey, if you don’t like this plan there is an alternate solution.  Just hire me to work at Google now.

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What if everyone who wanted to work could? No questions asked.

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#1,151 – Temporal Treasure

Yesterday I saw a post on LinkedIn in which a sales recruiter was complaining about a rude CEO that she had to deal with.  In her post she recapped how she had emailed him twice and never received a response.  After emailing for a third time she was floored by the response that she did get.  Something to the effect of, “if you email me again, I’m going to charge you for my time spent on dealing with your emails.”

When I read this my initial reaction was the same reaction that I’m sure most people had.  That this CEO must be a total douche to say that aloud even if he was thinking it.  But then I began to look at this rant with a different slant.  What if the CEO had a point?  If he’s the leader of a Fortune 500 company his time is extremely valuable.  So why shouldn’t he be allowed to charge for it?  And if he’s allowed to charge for it, then why can’t we all charge for our time?

On the surface this sounds absurd.  Something that would be impossible to enforce.  But there may be some merit to the idea.  Perhaps, in a weird way, it’s even an appropriate response to robots taking all of jobs.  In the face of insurmountable unemployment we’d create a financial system built around something other than actual employment.  A system build around time.

Such a system could be a variation on the theme of the Justin Timberlake movie In Time.  Instead of paying people in units of time, increasing or decreasing their lifespans, we could pay them for their time.  If you respond to an email, you’d get paid.  If you spoke on the phone with someone, or responded to a text, you’d get paid.  Maybe you’d even get paid every time you edited a Wikipedia article, read a blog post, answered a question on Quora, shared a video on YouTube, or commented on a Facebook thread.  Anytime you did anything that contributed positively to society you’d get paid by the person who benefited from your value add.  Available funds would flow freely through society, getting passed from neighbor to neighbor throughout the course of the day.

In a sense, the wealthiest among us would be the people who were the most helpful, the most accessible.  We’d be living in a true reputation economy in which your actions really, truly mattered.  And in a way, it’s the society that we’ve already started living in.  We already pay a neighbor a few bucks when they give us a ride to the airport or when they let us crash at their apartment.  It’s called taking an Uber and renting an Airbnb.  The share economy is the reputation economy.  So why not also make it the time economy?

Email overload is one of the scourges of modern day life as that CEO’s response attested to.  Trying to get down to inbox zero is an exercise in futility.  But if we actually had to pay to send an email, wouldn’t that all change?  If it cost, say 5 cents to send an email, and an additional one cent per additional recipient, I’m pretty sure that my twelve person fantasy football league wouldn’t indulge in petty reply all debate threads 100 emails long because none of those cheap bastards would want to spend $100 over the course of a season just to get the last word in an argument.  Actually, I probably would, but that’s just me.  Everyone else probably wouldn’t.  And if everyone else stops sending hundreds of emails then your email inbox might start looking more manageable.  You’d also have the added benefit of knowing that you’re not receiving junk email because if somebody paid to speak to you, it must be important.

Would a society built around a series of micropayments flounder or flourish.  Would we get more done since we have less to do or would we do less since we’d only want to do things that we could paid for?  Would such a system bring us together or tear us apart?

Only time will tell.

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Is getting paid for your time the Greatest Idea Ever?

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#1,150 – Artificial Womb

I’ve never understood why women wanted to get pregnant.  Was it because of maternal instinct? Societal peer pressure?  I suppose there are plenty of legitimate reasons why someone would want to get pregnant but all of them are devoid of reason.  Because when it comes down to it, there’s no logical reason why someone would want to get pregnant.  Start a family, yes.  Raise a child, yes.  But get pregnant, no.  Wanting to be preggers just doesn’t make any sense.

Just think about all the downsides.  When you’re pregnant you’re basically immobile.  You can’t go hiking or do any of the other things that you would have done when you weren’t pregnant.  You can’t drink alcohol.  Or smoke.  Can’t fly in your later term.  You’re constantly hungry, constantly having to deal with back pain.  Not to mention the extreme pain, serious health risks, and chance of dying that you encounter during the actual child birthing process.  Even if you make it out unscathed it could take you months or years to regain your figure if you ever do at all.

So, if I were a woman and wanted to have a family, I’d either find a surrogate to carry my child for me or I’d let someone else do all the heavy lifting and adopt a baby.  That’s the logical thing to do.  The less time spent having to deal with actually being pregnant the better.  That’s why the latest research from scientists in Philadelphia is so exciting.  For they may be on the verge of inventing an artificial womb capable of carrying fetuses to term outside of the human body.

According to Vox:

“The research remains preliminary, but in April a group of scientists at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia announced amazing advances in artificial womb technologies. The authors explained how they had successfully sustained significantly premature lambs for four weeks in an artificial womb they had designed.

This enabled the lambs to develop in a way very similar to lambs that had developed in their mothers’ wombs. Indeed, the oldest lamb — more than a year old at the time the paper was published — appeared to be completely normal.

The technology included placing the premature lambs in a “biobag” containing a bath of simulated amniotic fluid, regularly replenished, with an oxygenator circuit connected to the lamb via the umbilical cord.

The lambs were at a stage of development comparable to that of a 22- to 24-week-old human fetus. Babies born at that stage of gestation have very high mortality rates —roughly 70 percent at 22 weeks — and almost all who survive have long-term health problems. The immediate hope is that artificial wombs could raise the survival rate of human fetuses and improve their lifelong health substantially.”

What this means, is that, in theory, it may be possible to remove a fetus from a mother’s womb, at say, the 18 week mark, via a minimally invasive surgical procedure, and then transfer that fetus to the artificial womb where it would continue the gestation process on its own.  Freed of the burdens of pregnancy the mother would now be free to live her life without the burden of having to carry around another human being inside of her.  Which means more hiking, more traveling, and more sexy time!  Doesn’t that sound a whole lot better than actually being pregnant for nine months???!!

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Is an Artificial Womb the Greatest Idea Ever?

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#1,149 – Facebook Digest

Most people that I know use Facebook.  Not everyone granted.  But most people.  They use it keep tabs on old friends, stalk old flames or seek new ones, broadcast the minutia of their lives, give opinions, seek advice, or do any of the other myriad of things one can do on a social media network.  Some of them even, annoyingly so, use it to play games.  For the last time, Peter, I do not want to join your stupid mafia!

And yet, in spite of that, most people aren’t using it well.  They check in sporadically.   Liking a few pictures here and there, adding a pithy comment or two when the mood strikes.  Most of the additional content on the site, the items for sale, the upcoming events, the group discussions, goes unseen.  There are just too many other things to do.  Too many tweets to send, too many pictures on Instagram to like, too many people on Tinder to swipe through.  There are only so many hours in the day.  Relevant updates get lost in the shuffle all the time.

Facebook obviously wants to change that.  They want to make sure that you spend even more of your previous free time with them scrolling aimlessly through the news feed.  Their failed attempt to take over your phone’s home screen was the first big hint of a larger strategy yet to come.  One that would see them stop at nothing to ensure total global domination.  To get to the point where everyone is using Facebook all the time.  Using the news feed as a homepage for the entire Internet.  Using Facebook Messenger as a WhatsApp clone to conduct conversations and transact business directly with retailers.

Live video is a big part of that strategy.  A way for Facebook to take down YouTube and their rival Google.   President Trump’s own news network has already launched on the platform and more will follow.  Eventually, we’ll even get to the point where snippets from your augmented and virtual reality exploits will be embedded into your feed as well.  The acquisition of Oculus Rift hints at that.  And the latest push by phone manufacturers to build AR apps will further that effort as Facebook continues its march toward dominating the phone industry, doing for mobile advertising what Google did for desktop search advertising.

But it’s not enough.  If Facebook truly wants to take over the world they’re going to have to do more.  Our habits are already engrained.  Our attention already divided and accounted for several times over.  There’s just too much else to do.  Too many other options.  There’s no way that we could ever see every update, no way that we could ever see everything that we’d want to, no way for us to stay fully engaged all the time.  What Facebook really needs then is a shortcut.  A way for us to see the best of Facebook.  Even when we’re not on Facebook.  A way to separate the signal from the noise, the wheat from the chaff.

What I’m envisioning is a newsletter of sorts, called Facebook Digest or The Digest for short, that would compile the best of Facebook, the key status updates (changes to relationship statuses, baby announcements, job promotions, etc.), the trending news links, the most popular posts, etc. and then send them in an easy to digest newspaper format directly to your email inbox.  An algorithm would do the compiling using a combination of a personality profile that you fill out along with relevant metrics such as likes, comments, and clicks to determine what’s trending, what you’re engaged with and what you’d be interested in hearing more about.  This wouldn’t be fake news.  It would be real news, from your real life.

In theory, with the Digest you could follow along with everything that’s happening in Facebook without actually be on Facebook.  The Digest could be the perfect compromise for those of us who have pulled away from the service entirely because of how addictive it became or because we didn’t like how it made us feel.  Facebook would no longer be an all or nothing proposition.  Rather, you could still get your daily fix without having to make a full time-sucking commitment.  It would be the best of both worlds even as it pushes people away from the platform.  It may sound counterintuitive but it would work.  It would be Facebook’s greatest innovation since the advent of the like button.

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Is Facebook Digest the Greatest Idea Ever?

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