Archive for November, 2017

#1,210 – The Skylon

Wouldn’t it be great if we could just teleport to anywhere in the world at a moment’s notice? If we could live in one city and work in another?  Or if we could travel to Europe and back on the weekend?  Or celebrate New Year’s Eve multiple times in the same day?

Having the ability to truly explore the entire planet within one’s lifespan would be a truly transformative experience.  One that could completely revolutionize society by further interconnecting the entire planet, opening up new avenues for trade and cultural exchanges along the way.  And as crazy as it sounds, such a pipe dream may actually soon be possible thanks to a new high speed plane concept known as The Skylon.

As Futurism puts it, “Who wouldn’t want to have breakfast on the French Riviera, take a walk along the Great Wall of China in the afternoon, and then cap off the evening by staring at stars above the Alaskan wilderness? That fantastic day might be possible soon, thanks to British aerospace firm Reaction Engines Limited (REL). The company is working on an aircraft that will be able to transport passengers anywhere in the world in just four hours.”

But that’s not all!  This plane would also be able to leave the atmosphere and travel up into space, just in case you really wanted to get away from it all.

So how does this amazing technology work?!

According to Futurism, “The Skylon is powered by a new kind of engine known as a SABRE. The company is already testing the engine system and is planning the first test flights for 2019. REL asserts that this engine will be capable of operating as a jet engine and a rocket engine. Amazingly, it will have the ability to power an aircraft at up to five times the speed of sound within the atmosphere, or it could send a craft directly into Earth’s orbit at 25 times the speed of sound.”

Now this isn’t the only technology in the works that might soon be capable of greatly reducing the amount of time needed to circumvent the globe or escape it.  Elon Musk and SpaceX’s BFR (Big Fucking Rocket) is promising to pull off a similar trick.  But between the two approaches The Skylon might actually be the safer bet, considering that it’s an actual plane concept, not just a reusable rocket, and that it could be capable of terrestrial and space travel at the same time.

Either way it’s exciting to know that there are multiple people working on the problem of global scale high speed travel.  Hopefully, one day soon all our dreams of proverbial teleportation will come true.

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Is The Skylon the Greatest Idea Ever?

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Whenever somebody asks me why I don’t drink I usually respond by saying that I don’t like the taste.  Beer, champagne, wine.  It doesn’t matter.  They’re all acquired tastes that I don’t have the patience to acquire seeing as how I’m a picky eater.  Of course, that’s not the only reason why I don’t drink.  Primarily, it’s because I’m not a fan of the lifestyle.  Standing around a loud, crowded bar constantly getting bumped into while meatheads spill their beers on me, is not my idea of a good time.  I’d rather go to bed early, wake up early, and conquer the next day than deal with the after effects of a hangover.  But rather than explain all that I just revert to my standard, “I don’t like the taste”, retort whenever the topic comes up.

However, it looks like I’m going to have to come up with a new excuse the next time someone asks me why I don’t drink thanks to a new invention capable of changing the taste of any beverage.  After all, I’m not going to be able to avoid drinking beer now that I can have one that’ll taste like chocolate milk or whatever else I’d prefer.

As Springwise puts it:

“Craving a drink that is a bit more high-tech than your average martini? Well, you may be in luck. A team of researchers at the National University of Singapore, led by Nimesha Ranasinghe, have developed a programmable cocktail glass which is capable of tricking your senses into thinking that you are drinking just about anything.  Named the Vocktail, the glass and specially-designed stand contain scent cartridges and micro air-pumps to provide aroma; LEDs to alter the color of the drink; and two silver electrodes on the rim of the glass which stimulate the tongue to add salty, bitter or sweet notes. The Vocktail also comes with an app that allows drinkers to fully customize their own drinks.”

Just think about the possibilities that this Vocktail, or virtual cocktail, would enable.  Instead of needing to stock a full bar, you could in theory, just carry a few standard, run of the mill ingredients, and then “trick” your friends or customers into thinking that they really ordered their favorite drink, when in fact, all they ordered was a glass of apple juice.

Or if you find yourself in a social situation that doesn’t suit your tastes, say at a bachelor party where everyone is sharing a bucket of beers, or at a Sunday morning brunch where everyone is sharing some Sangria, you no longer have to avoid participating.  Thanks to the Vocktail you can now pound a beer or share a glass with everyone else because when you do, you’ll actually be tasting your favorite rum.

Or taken one step further, imagine the possibilities for the Vocktail to be used as an instrument of health, not just as another way to get drunk.  For example, what if I could drink a horrible tasting Kale shake or some other kind of vegetable juice concoction but have it taste like soda?  Or better yet, what if you could turn water into anything you wanted?  This would be a total game changer.  By replacing soda with water we’d finally have a leg up on putting an end to the obesity epidemic.

That’s why the Vocktail has the potential to be so transformative.  From enabling me to finally drink alcohol to enabling me to finally kick my soda habit, the Vocktail could change my life forever.  For better or for worse.

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Is the Vocktail the Greatest Idea Ever?

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Sunday night I was trying to kill some time in Logan International Airport when I stumbled across an innovation exhibit dedicated to teaching travelers about the history of innovation in Massachusetts.  Considering that Massachusetts is one of the original thirteen colonies and is currently home to world class hospitals and universities such as Harvard and M.I.T., I figured that there was likely to be a lot of key innovations that would have occurred throughout the state’s hallowed history.  But the depth and breadth of the innovations and breakthroughs that have taken place was still staggering.

Here’s a quick look at some of the best innovations in Massachusetts state history as compiled by Dr. Robert Krim, the Director of the Entrepreneur Innovation Center at Framingham State University:

  • Facebook, created by Mark Zuckerberg in a Harvard dorm room in 2004
  • Alexander Graham Bell invents the telephone in 1876
  • Instant photography, invented in 1948
  • Golf tee, invented in 1899
  • E-ink (for kindles and other electronic devices), invented in 2007
  • Microwave oven, invented in 1946
  • Gillette safety razor, invented in 1903
  • Vulcanized rubber, invented in 1844
  • 1892, General Electric starts in Lynn, MA
  • 1969, Inertial Guidance System created for the Apollo Moon Landing
  • Core memory for computers invented in 1946 in M.I.T.
  • Sewing machine invented by Elias Howe
  • 1930, chocolate chip cookie invented!!!

Massachusetts was also home to a lot of firsts:

  • 1781, first state to end slavery
  • Arpanet, the first Internet, in 1969
  • The first subway in the Western Hemisphere (1897)
  • The first public school (1635)
  • First implanted pacemaker (1964)
  • First organ transplant (1954)
  • Ether used as the first anesthesia (1846)
  • Boston Common, the first public park in the U.S. (1634)
  • Basketball, invented in Springfield, MA in 1891
  • First World Series played in 1903
  • 1721, the first smallpox inoculation
  • 1784, the first commercial bank
  • Harvard, the first college, formed in 1636

That’s quite the list isn’t it?! Just think about the impact that the state has had on communications alone from the Telephone and the Internet to Instant Photography and Facebook.  Or the impact on domestic life from the Microwave to the Sewing Machine.  Or the medical breakthroughs from organ transplants to pacemakers.  How many lives have been saved by these and all of the other breakthroughs that have come from the state recently?

Throw in Emily Dickinson, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau and all of the other great poets and writers who have called Boston home including Stephen King and Massachusetts’ impact on our culture is second to none.

And I haven’t even mentioned the best part yet.  Forget about referring to Boston as Bean Town.  It’s now Gene Town.  Thanks to Harvard’s famed geneticist George Church, and all of the other great scientist working on the new CRISPR-CAS-9 gene editing technique.

With dozens of colleges and universities churning out new startups all the time (iRobot for example) the pace of innovation is only likely to increase going forward.  As much as I hate to admit it, being a Yankees fan and all, Boston and the great state of Massachusetts deserve all of the accolades we can throw their way.

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When it comes to innovation, Boston has a lot to be proud of.

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Here’s a quick look at everything I’m thankful for this year:

Elon Musk.  As if Tesla, Solar City, and SpaceX wasn’t enough, this year he went ahead and started several other companies and initiatives including the Boring Company (to ease traffic congestion in major cities, and possibly to house Hyperloops pods), Neuralink (to link our brains together and possibly to the Internet), Starlink (to launch a network of satellites that would provide low cost Internet access to the entire world, and finally a driverless truck concept that could revolutionize shipping and manufacturing. And for good measure he stated that he may still get personally involved in the Hyperloop.

The power of social media in bringing about social change as the formerly powerless suddenly become powerful through strength in numbers.  Case in point: the latest trend of outing celebrities and politicians guilty of sexual harassment over the years.

The amazing ability of CRISPR-CAS-9 to edit genes and potentially solve all of humanities problems.  Especially thankful for how quickly this research has been progressing and how easy it is for mostly everyone to conduct their own research in this growing field.

Breakthroughs in astronomy and physics thanks to new tools and techniques.  From detecting gravitational waves to observing blackholes we’re inching closer to game-changing discoveries such as finding habitable exo-planets and figuring out what Dark Matter is.  Once the James Webb telescope takes over for the Hubble next year, we could find ourselves square in the middle of a new era of astronomy.

Driverless cars, for continuing to progress and giving us hope that we’ll one day be able to get to the point where we never have to lose another life behind the wheel.

Amazing apps that make my life as a journalist and public speaker easier such as Flipboard and Keynote.

Twitter, for doubling its character limit,  but not before teaching me to be more succinct.

Instagram, for revealing my hidden talent as a photographer and artist.


Oculus Go, a $200 untethered, phone-less VR experience from Facebook that could finally make VR mainstream.

Neurofiction, Next VR, Mosaic, and all other attempts at creating new ways of consuming media.

Netflix’ offline mode.  Flying has never been more fun.

Amazon for creating a million different ways to interact with Alexa, including, potentially, Amazon Glass, a Google Glass replacement that I’ll hopefully actually get to use one day.

The Antipode, the Hyperloop, China’s Flying Train, Space X’s BFR, and all other attempts to make it easier to travel here on Earth.

Space X, for landing reusable rockets on floating platforms at sea, greatly reducing the barrier to entry to space.

Asgardia, for creating a space nation for all of Earth’s inhabitants to enjoy.

ASU’s plan to refreeze the Artic and all other geoengineering schemes or plans to combat climate change.

All those who RESIST.

Here One, Google’s Pixel Buds and other startups pursuing technology that will enable us to edit sounds in our environments and acquire universal translators while we’re at it.

Impossible Burger, for the promise of environmentally friendly plant-based meat that will taste like the real thing.

Uber, for finally giving us hope that the flying cars we’ve always wanted are just around the corner.

The Unistellar Telescope, which should be hitting the market in 2018, bringing with it an unprecedented ability to see objects in the night’s sky just as well as larger observatories can, while also telling us what we’re looking at, and enabling us to contribute to scientific studies.

Tideglusib, the drug capable of re-growing your damaged teeth and ending our reliance on fillings, root canals, and all other barbaric dental treatments.

All of the research into telomeres, the drug Rapamycin for pets, and any other attempts to reverse the aging process in humans and animals alike.

All of the latest fringe science breakthroughs including human head transplants.  Allegedly.

The Blockchain and especially Ethereum for promising to democratize every type of transaction.

The ambition of Mark Zuckerberg, Stephen Hawking and others for launching the Breakthrough Starshot initiative to get us to our nearest stellar neighbor, Alpha Centauri, within a human lifespan.

Graphene, the wonder material, still finding new ways to amaze us.

The Impossible EM Drive for making it possible to travel through space, at faster than the speed of light, without the need for any propellant.  Allegedly.

All of the people working on augmented, virtual, and mixed reality technology so that we can make our real reality better.  Yes, even you, mysterious Magic Leap.

Google [X] for daring to dream big wherever it’s in regards to driverless cars, worldwide internet access, a cure for aging, or whatever other secretive moonshots they’re working on now.

DARPA for pursuing bat-shit crazy innovations that could help our soldiers and eventually all of us.

The X Prize for pushing the envelope as far as possible through prize based competitions that drive the pace of innovation forward.

Watson, IBM’s supercomputer, for all of your contributions to medicine.

Quark Power, quantum controlled fusion, and everything else related to quantum physics that we don’t yet fully understand.

My namesake Craig Venter for all the latest advancements regarding Synthetic Biology.

And finally, all of the new ideas, inventions, technological breakthroughs and scientific discoveries occurring on a seemingly daily basis around the world in fields ranging from astronomy to zoology.  Thanks to the dizzying pace of innovation and our entrepreneurial spirit as a species there will never be a shortage of things for me to write about.

Clearly we have a lot to be thankful for.  Always remember that.

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There are a lot of great ideas happening all around us right now.

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I’m a light sleeper.  Even with ear plugs, a sound machine, and sleeping pills I still have trouble falling asleep.  That’s why I’m always on the lookout for tips, tricks, and hacks that could make it easier for me to fall asleep.  Which is how I came to find out about Bose’s newest offering, smart ear plugs.

What’s great about these plugs, originally designed by a company called Hush, is that they allow for two people, sleeping in the same room, to tailor their own unique sleep experience.  If I like to fall asleep to white noise but my partner needs total silence, that’s now possible.  If my partner snores and that bothers me, it’s now possible to block out that snoring.  If my partner and I wake up at different times, that’s cool too, our alarm clocks would be synced to our smart plugs, allowing us to gently ease back into consciousness at our scheduled times without waking up the other person.  Could you just imagine how transformative this technology would be in a college dorm room?!

So how do these amazing smart ear plugs work?!

According to Tech Radar, “Bose Sleepbuds will work by using noise masking. Unlike noise-cancelling technology that works by identifying unwanted sounds and playing an opposing sound (known as an inverted phase), noise masking works by playing a completely different type of sound in the hope of drowning out ambient noise.”

The article adds that, “at launch, there will be a range of noises available including: ‘ocean waves, waterfall, rain, stream, wind and country night. Other sounds include red noise (like white noise, but less harsh), airline cabin, dehumidifier and a ‘spa music’-like drone.’”

If you’re interested in learning more about these amazing ear plugs check out Bose’s Indiegogo campaign page.

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Are Bose’s smart ear plugs the Greatest Idea Ever?

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How do you watch TV? As it airs while live-tweeting your every waking thought and opinion? Via your DVR, at your convenience, so that you can catch up when you feel like it, and fast forward through the commercials as you please?  Or on Netflix years later, so that you can binge watch an entire series all at once and never have to go through the torment of waiting for new episodes to air?

Regardless of how you watch TV currently, the way in which you watch TV in the future may be drastically different.  In fact, it could be drastically different right now if you’re willing to roll the dice on a new Choose Your Own Adventure style app from director Steven Soderbergh known as Mosaic that puts you in control of a character’s destiny and the pace at which you watch it all unfold.

As Wired puts it:

“After watching each segment—some only a few minutes, some as long as a standard television episode—viewers are given options for whose point of view they want to follow and where they want to go next. Those who want to be completest and watch both options before moving on can do so, those who want to race to find out whodunit can do that too. Because each node, filmed by Soderbergh himself, feels like a TV show, launching Mosaic can be akin to sneaking a quick show on Netflix while commuting to work or waiting on a friend; but because it’s long story that’s easily flipped through, it can also be enjoyed like the pulpy crime novel on your nightstand, something you chip away at a little bit at a time before bed.”

The idea of interactive storytelling isn’t new.  Netflix is working on similar technology, starting with children’s programming, and of course the iconic Choose Your Own Adventure books started it all.  But Mosaic feels different.  Especially since it’s designed with smartphone using millennials in mind, not couch potatoes watching through a traditional set top box in their living room.  But if you are a traditional consumer of television programming don’t fret.  The murder mystery storyline fueling Mosaic’s app will also be airing on HBO in January as a mini-series.

So will Mosaic be the future of television programming?  Only time will tell.  For now, it’s just another source competing for our undivided attention in an age of distraction.

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Is Mosaic the Greatest Idea Ever?

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No matter the industry new ideas are often met with swift resistance.  Rather than embrace change our default reaction, hard-wired into our brains by millions of years of evolution, is to greet change with anger, to reject it, to cling to what is known and familiar, to what is safe.  History is littered with examples of innovations that were simply ahead of their time, rejected outright by those in power, fearful of the revolution that a controversial new idea would bring about.

Climate change deniers are proof of this phenomenon which makes it really hard to bring about vital change in the energy sector.  Thanks to this reality our move away from a reliance on fossil fuels is going to be a slow burn, not a quick fix.

Luckily, there’s a new biofuel on the horizon that could help with the transition since it’s essentially a renewable version of an existing product.  Instead of replacing coal with something else, we’d just replace it with a better version of coal.  Everyone wins, those open to change and even those among us who are more close-minded, desperate to hold onto what they’ve always been told to believe.

According to Science Alert, “This ‘instant coal’ biofuel brings the high energy efficiency of coal without the usual damaging side-effects – such as deep mining to collect it, and resulting pollution from burning it and releasing impurities. What’s more, it doesn’t take eons to form underground, and is instead made from agricultural waste including wood and plants. That means we’ve potentially got a never-ending source of the stuff, according to the team developing it at the Natural Resources Research Institute (NRRI), part of the University of Minnesota Duluth.”

In other words, we’re talking about creating an abundant artificial coal made out of plants that would replace existing coal, thereby eliminating mining operations and saving the planet in the process.  Hopefully, as this research continues to develop it will be met with less and less resistance once everyone realizes how much of a no-brainer decision it is to switch.

Image result for instant coal biofuelIs Instant Coal the Greatest Idea Ever?


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A lot of people, including Elon Musk, believe that we could be living inside of a computer simulation.  While that does sound far-fetched, it is at least a possibility.  Especially when you consider that we may soon have the ability to create a Universe in a lab.  After all, if we can do that, couldn’t a more advanced civilization have created the universe as we know it inside one of their computers?

Before we go down that rabbit hole though let’s focus on the issue at hand: the idea that we could actually create a Universe in a lab.  It sounds cool but how would this even work?

As Futurism explains:

“The kind of cosmogenesis envisioned by [Andrei] Linde, in contrast, would require physicists to cook up their cosmos in a highly technical laboratory, using a far more powerful cousin of the Large Hadron Collider near Geneva. It would also require a seed particle called a ‘monopole’ (which is hypothesized to exist by some models of physics, but has yet to be found).

The idea goes that if we could impart enough energy to a monopole, it will start to inflate. Rather than growing in size within our Universe, the expanding monopole would bend space-time within the accelerator to create a tiny wormhole tunnel leading to a separate region of space. From within our lab we would see only the mouth of the wormhole; it would appear to us as a mini black hole, so small as to be utterly harmless. But if we could travel into that wormhole, we would pass through a gateway into a rapidly expanding baby universe that we had created.”

What would be the point of creating a Universe in a lab?  Well, for starters it may help us understand how our own Universe is expanding.  As time goes on we could study the inner workings of a cosmos that may be utterly different than our own or remarkably similar.  It could also help us ponder philosophical questions about creation, religion, and our place in the Universe.  And if nothing else, it’ll probably be fun to play God.  Just like the aliens who created the computer simulation that we’re living in.

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Is a Universe in a Lab the Greatest Idea Ever?

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#1,202 – Concussion Cure

The NFL has a lot of issues right now.  Players fighting on the field.  Players fighting with owners and the President of the United States over their National Anthem protests.  A watered down, oversaturated product that is lacking star power.  A dearth of people capable of playing quarterback. Off the field issues involving alcohol, drugs and violent acts.  The list goes on and on.

But no issue is more central to the long-term health of the sport than that of concussions.  It’s such a big issue that there was even a movie about it last year.  Because if the people who play football have to legitimately fear for their long-term health and well-being then less and less people are going to continue to play football.  That’s good news for the NBA and MLB. But bad news for the NFL.

Thankfully, the NFL may have one less headache to worry about as there may soon be a way to quickly heal brain injuries resulting from concussions.  News that would be welcomed, not just by football players, but by military personnel or any of the millions of trauma patients around the world who suffer concussions by other means, such as car accidents.

As Futurism puts it:

“Most individuals who suffer a concussion are able to heal back to normal brain activity, yet up to five percent of sufferers can experience long-term symptoms. This is called post-concussion syndrome and it can manifest with headaches, mood changes, and other cognitive problems. The symptoms are caused by damage to blood vessels in the brain, making it more difficult for the organ to receive adequate oxygen.”

This new treatment addresses that issue by supplying the brain with additional oxygen to speed up the healing process.

According to Futurism, “a study published in 2013 showed that treating post-concussion syndrome patients with pure oxygen significantly improved cognitive function and quality of life for participants. Research conducted by a team at Tel-Aviv University in Israel, which was published in the journal Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, shows exactly how this treatment heals the brain. Shai Efrati, the lead researcher explained that, ‘Once the extra oxygen diffuses into damaged areas, it supplies energy and the regenerative process can happen.’ The extra oxygen helped to regrow blood vessels and nerve fibers.”

Obviously it would be cavalier to suggest that this treatment means that concussions are no longer a big deal or that there are no longer any other significant health concerns associated with football.  They still are a big deal and there are still a lot of risks associated with playing.  But if this treatment can help those who suffer from concussions get back on the field more quickly and without having any lingering side-effects long-term then that’s great news for players and fans alike.  Now if only we could do something about all of the NFL’s other issues…

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Is adding oxygen to the brain to cure post-concussion syndrome the Greatest Idea Ever?

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#1,201 – Flow Battery

As much as I’d like to hope that we can get our act together and stop climate change before it gets any worse, the chances of that happening are decreasing by the day, especially in today’s highly charged political climate.  So, if we have any hope at all, we’re going to need to invent our way out of this mess by figuring out a way to get rid of all the excess carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.  Thankfully, Penn State researchers may have a way to do just that thanks to a new flow battery that converts carbon dioxide into energy.

So how does this amazing new technology work?!!?

According to Futurism:

“Flow batteries normally contain two channels of liquid divided by a membrane that prevents them from mixing. In this recent discovery, the scientists placed a sodium bicarbonate and water solution with air on one side, and dissolved CO2 in between manganese oxide electrons on the other. This resulted in a higher concentration of protons on the latter side. The varying concentrations of the positively charged protons, called pH, is what creates the current and generates electricity.  Once the flow cell is discharged, it will recharge by switching each channel’s solution flow. Tests show that this can be done 50 times before with consistent results.”

Better yet, “In this new study, the battery produced two hundred times more power per unit of size than any of the previous experiments. This most recent model also works at room temperature and uses inexpensive materials.”

Unfortunately, we still have a long way to go before this battery produces enough energy to be commercially viable.  This is, however, a positive step in the right direction.

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Is this new flow battery the Greatest Idea Ever?

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