Archive for January, 2018

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

Amazon Go Finally A Go

This past week the supermarket of the future finally opened to the public. No cashiers. No lines. Just grab items and go.

As Recode explains:

“On the surface, the store resembles what a 7-Eleven might look like if it got a high-end makeover, was laid out in part like a Pret a Manger sandwich shop, and was dreamt up by the same tech powerhouse that had previously made one-click buying and two-day shipping the industry norm.

Upon entering, shoppers are greeted by a selection of salads, sandwiches and beverages, as well as ready-to-eat meals for breakfasts, lunches and dinners. Amazon Go also carries small selections of beer and wine, as well as produce, meat and even Amazon’s own meal kits. Following Amazon’s acquisition of Whole Foods, one section is also set aside for chips, cookies and nuts, all from the grocer’s 365 Everyday Value brand.”

Would you want to shop here if you could?

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High Tech Glasses Prevent Motion Sickness

Driverless cars could be game-changing, freeing us up to read while we get driven to work. Unless of course, if you’re the type of person who can’t read in the car because you get motion sickness. Thankfully, there may soon be a workaround.

As Engadget puts it, “Never mind festooning a self-driving car in lights and other devices to fend off motion sickness — you might just have to slip on some eyewear. University of Michigan researchers have patented a system that could use glasses or a headset to prevent a disconnect between your sense of motion and what you see. The approach would use a set of sequentially activated light pipes that would imitate the movement of the autonomous vehicle in your peripheral view, giving your body a frame of reference while freeing you to check your phone without getting sick.”

Levitating Humans

In the future we may be able to levitate objects using tractor beams.  Yes, really.

According to CNET:

“Engineers from the University of Bristol have been able to trap (essentially levitate) objects using an acoustic tractor beam that is larger than the wavelengths of sound used by the device.

‘Acoustic researchers had been frustrated by the size limit for years, so it’s satisfying to find a way to overcome it. I think it opens the door to many new applications,’ Asier Marzo from Bristol’s Department of Mechanical Engineering, said in a release. Marzo is lead author on a paper published Monday in the journal Physical Review Letters.

Those applications could include touchless control of drug capsules or micro-surgical implements inside the human body using sonic tractor beams. It could also become possible to move and manipulate fragile items in a whole new way.”

Which means that we won’t have to worry about careless UPS drivers playing soccer with our packages anymore.

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No More Scars

I don’t mind scars. They tell the story of your life and serve as a natural ice breaker. But depending on the location of your scar you may disagree. For example, you may have severe facial scarring from a car accident.  Or maybe you want your body back after getting a C section.  For those people there will soon be an alternative on the market. A way to heal the body without inducing any scarring.

According to Science Alert:

“The type of skin that regenerates over a small, superficial cut is filled with fat cells called adipocytes, just like the skin you were born with, which means the two will eventually blend into each other once the wound has healed.

But scar tissue is made up almost entirely of cells called myofibroblasts, and doesn’t contain any fat cells at all. So instead of blending into the surrounding skin once the wound has fully healed, it looks completely different – permanently.

But scientists have discovered that existing myofibroblasts can actually be converted into adipocytes, which suggests that as a wound is healing, scar tissue could be converted to regenerated skin instead – something that scientists thought could only be possible in fish and amphibians.”

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Are any of these the Greatest Idea Ever?

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If you thought CryptoKitties was bad you ain’t seen nothing yet. Welcome to the latest cryptocurrency craze, CryptoCelebrities.

Here’s how it works. Using Ethereum people can buy virtual trading cards of famous celebrities whether that’s Elon Musk or Emma Watson. The value of each card starts out cheap at like 2 cents a pop and then doubles every time somebody else wants to buy it. So, if someone else thinks that owning the Emma Watson card is worth 4 cents, you’ll have no choice but to hand it over to them. This goes on and on until you reach a point where someone is left holding a card that nobody else wants. Great for all the people who are doubling their money along the way. Not so great for the person who is left holding the card. It’s like a high stakes game of hot potato.

Is this really what we’re going to be using the transformative potential of the blockchain for? To trade virtual cats and celebrities? Fortunately, there may be another new blockchain based app that will actually do some good. It’s known as Climatecoin and its aim is to become the world’s first carbon neutral cryptocurrency. It works by attaching itself to the long standing idea of carbon credits in which nations that produce more than their allotment of carbon emissions can purchase credits from nations that have extra.

Futurism explains how the carbon credit system works:

“The idea behind the system is that everyone has a limit to the emissions they can produce. If a nation wants to exceed its limit, it must purchase a carbon credit. Each of these carbon credits serves as a permit to produce a certain amount of emissions; for example, one credit might equal one ton of carbon dioxide emissions.

If an entity ends up with extra carbon credits, it can trade them to others on markets such as the European Union’s Emissions Trading System (ETS).

From this system emerged voluntary carbon offsets. These give companies and consumers the ability to pay a certain amount to offset their own emissions. For example, an airline might ask passengers if they want to pay an extra $20 when purchasing a ticket to offset the emissions caused by their flight.

The money used to purchase carbon credits and offsets is given to projects attempting to help the environment, such as by developing renewable energy systems or protecting forests.

These credits give purchasers a way to effectively cancel out the amount of emissions they produce. They’re doing something bad to the environment, so they give money to someone attempting to do something good for it.”

Climatecoin piggybacks on that idea allowing for investors concerned with the negative environmental impact of cryptocurrency mining (due to the amount of electricity consumed during the process) to essentially purchase carbon credits. The money raised from this sale is then used to contribute to environmentally friendly projects.

All in all, Climatecoin is, as they say on their website, a way for people to invest in the planet. For example, through this technology you can arrange, in a transparent way, for peer to peer transactions that would raise money to fix the environment or you could use it to set up a peer to peer system of trading assets representing a certain amount of energy production. Either way you’d be doing something to try and fix the climate without harming it any further in the process. Surely, a much better use of ones time than collecting coins representing the cast of Friends.


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Is CryptoCelebrity the Greatest Idea Ever? Is Climatecoin?

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Every minute over 24 hours of new content is uploaded to YouTube alone. That’s a staggering statistic. Forget about the Information Age. We live in the Information Overload Age.

The vast tools that we have at our disposal have turned everyone and their mom into creators, flooding the marketplace and making it harder and harder for great ideas and unique opinions to stand out. Now don’t get me wrong. It’s great that we have the freedom to express ourselves creatively and it’s great that the barrier to entry has been lowered to the point where anyone can start a YouTube channel, a podcast, or a blog. We’re even at the point where anyone can create their own brand and look to build up a multi-platform audience from scratch. A few years ago that would have been unimaginable.

It wasn’t always this way. Our television options used to be limited to what the executives at CBS, NBC, FOX, and ABC decided. Now there are hundreds of cable TV channels, dozens of streaming apps like Netflix and Hulu, and millions of YouTube channels, digital shorts, and the like at our disposal. Our reading options used to be limited to the local newspaper, the New York Times best seller list, and a handful of magazines. Now there are millions of blogs and websites to choose from. Forget about keeping up with the latest fiction; you can never even keep up with the latest fan fiction.

And it’s just going to get worse. Once the robots take all our jobs and Universal Basic Income catches on we’ll all be free to pursue our passion projects full-time. No more working for the man. No more rat race. No more tip toeing around a delicate work-life balance. It’ll be all blogging all the time. The amount of video that we’ll be posting, the number of pictures we’ll be taking, the sheer volume of prose that we’ll be producing will be staggering. Which begs the question: who will consume it all?

There are times, lots of times actually, where I write something and no one retweets it or comments on it. I send it out into the ether and nobody cares. That can be disheartening. There are times where I’ve thought about quitting. But I never do. Because for me to be successful all I need is just one person to be inspired by just one thing I’ve written. And so I preserve. But what about everyone else? How many people have given up because they feel like they are wasting their time? How many people have been overcome by self-doubt? How many people have succumbed to pessimism? Countless numbers probably. So what if we could guarantee that everything you produced received a certain amount of attention?

What I’m envisioning is a dedicated system in which everything we produce is liked, shared, and/or commented on by bots programmed for specific tasks with the entire system geared towards ensuring that all content goes viral. It’s ironic really. First the bots take our jobs, freeing us up to create more content than we can consume. Then they bail us out once again, helping us to consume all that excess content.

This may seem disingenuous but I wouldn’t mind if all my feedback came from bots. If it’s done well enough you wouldn’t even be able to separate the real feedback from the robotically influenced feedback. To you it would all just be feedback. And perhaps all of the activity from the bots, could serve another purpose: to give your creation the gentle nudge that it needs to go viral for real.

Of course we already live in a world where bots exist. Millions of Twitter profiles are beefed up with fake followers, purchased in large quantities by fame seekers who try to game the system and come across as more influential than they are. However, I don’t play that game. I automatically delete any xxx infused account that I believe to be fake. But intelligent bots that can actually comment on your material? That can actually help to spread your material? Now that’s another story. Those are bots that I’d want to get into bed with. Not literally. Well, maybe. But that’s a story for another day.

PS: That ending is a little bit risqué. I probably shouldn’t have written that. But it doesn’t matter since no one is going to be reading this anyway. But if robotic consumers were real I probably would have had to write something else. Which would have made me spend more time on this post, potentially making me rethink my entire train of thought, possibly turning me into a better writer over time. Yet another reason why robotic consumers could be for the best.

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If we’re all busy creating content who is going to consume it? How about bots?

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I’d like to have a YouTube channel but I don’t own a camera.  I’d like to have a podcast but I don’t own any recording equipment.  I’d like to self-publish a book but I don’t have a printer.  I’d like to become an artist but I don’t have access to an art gallery.

In today’s day and age it’s easier than ever to create content.  We take pictures, pass around memes, generate fan fiction, speak our minds, share our thoughts and write about our experiences.  But we do so in private.  On our own.  As amateurs.  And often times at great personal expense.  I’d like to change that.  I’d like to bring our side hustles to the forefront.

What I’m envisioning is a multi-purpose facility specifically designed to cater to the needs of the modern citizen.  There would be recording studios so that you could create content for your podcast or YouTube channel.  Computers that you can use to write the next great American novel as well as printers and a whole suite of editing and publishing services.  Meeting rooms to brainstorm business ideas with your friends.  Modular rooms that can be rearranged to fit the needs of any startup.  A space for open mic nights and musical performances to give people a platform to show off their talent and art gallery space to give artists and photographers an opportunity to show what they can do.

You could show up one night and participate in a Paint Night or take a class that would teach you about low light photography.  Show up another night and attend a spoken word poetry slam or learn how to write a children’s book.  Watch community theater or learn how to code the next.  It would be everything a creative person would need to live their life to the fullest.

Think of it like a gym for the soul.  And just like a real gym, it would be supported by people paying a monthly membership fee.  Considering how much value you’re getting i.e. access to expensive equipment, access to classes and services, proximity to other like-minded people, this fee would be worth it.  Even if it does cost something like $50 per month.

Similar entities already exist.  Think of the modern day machine shop filled with 3-D printers, laser cutters, and other expensive pieces of equipment that the small-time DIY hobbyist can’t afford to own.  These workshops and tool libraries pick up the slack, creating an environment where people can chase their dreams.  And yet when it comes to creative pursuits, our options are vastly limited.

Maybe your library or church hosts an event.  Maybe your friend has a piece of equipment that you can borrow.  Maybe your side hustle is good enough and you get lucky enough to make a living at it full-time.  But the majority of people aren’t so lucky.  They’re just scrapping by, wishing upon a star as they angrily making their way through the pages of an expletive filled adult coloring book, hoping upon hope that their next passion project will finally be the one to propel them into the limelight.

To change this we could take an abandoned strip mall and convert into a creative outlet mall.  We could make the Creative Commons a literal commons.  A place where creative people can congregate to pursue their hopes and dreams.  A place where everything exists and anything is possible.

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Is a creative outlet mall the Greatest Idea Ever?

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#1,253 – Alo

Smartphone technology continues to evolve.  Every two years or so a new iPhone or Samsung Galaxy device comes out.  Each iteration packed with state of the art features.  New and improved cameras.  Fingerprint scanners.  Touchscreen functionality.  Apps galore.  But for the most part, every new phone that comes out is the same as the last.

Sure, the dimensions may be slightly different.  Over time they get thinner and look sleeker.  We’re no longer walking around with Zack Morris brick phones.  But by and large they all still roughly appear to be the same.  An iPhone 4 is physically comparable to an iPhone X.  But those days may be coming to an end.  For the Alo phone will be nothing like anything else you’ve ever seen before.  In fact, it’ll barely resemble a phone at all.

Here’s what we know so far about this mysterious product that it still in development.  The phone will be AI infused and entirely voice controlled.  It will be capable of projecting everything – emails, texts, photographs, videos, etc. as holograms.  And it will be comprised of a weird gelatinous material ergonomically designed to fit your hand.  But that’s just the start.

According to Futurism, “A user could also communicate with the device through vibrations and, oddly enough, heat. Inside of the phone would be a center made up of an aluminum alloy that would vibrate and give feedback to the user through temperature. According to [designer Jerome] Olivet, ‘Its translucent skin emits vibrations or communicates by producing heat depending on its activity,’ and, ‘Its skin repairs automatically as soon as it is damaged.’”

A gelatinous, hologram projecting phone that communicates via heat and is controlled only by your voice.  This is going to take some getting used to.  Which is exactly why I can’t wait to try it!

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Is Alo the Greatest Idea Ever?

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#1,252 – SEXTANT

This may be one of the most ingenious ideas I’ve ever heard of.  Making use of space itself to help us in our efforts to navigate through it.

As Futurism puts it, “NASA may have just improved our potential for deep space exploration by inventing a new type of autonomous space navigation. Known as Station Explorer for X-Ray Timing and Navigation Technology, or SEXTANT, the technology uses pulsars — rotating neutron stars that emit electromagnetic radiation — to determine the location of objects in space.

The way SEXTANT uses pulsars has been compared to how GPS navigation can provide drivers with positioning and accurate navigation using satellites orbiting around Earth. The pulsars SEXTANT uses are best observed in the X-ray spectrum, in which their beams of radiation essentially turn them into lighthouses.”

This work is especially important when you consider just how unlikely it is that we’ll be able to send manned probes to explore the outer reaches of the solar system and what lies beyond.  Instead, what we’ll have to do is send autonomous probes to do our exploring for us and now thanks to this SEXTANT system those probes will have lighthouses in place to guide them.  Secrets of the Universe here we come!

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Is the SEXTANT system the Greatest Idea Ever?

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#1,251 – Sweatcoin 

How’d you like to get paid to work out? Sounds too good to be true, right? Not anymore.  It’s the premise behind a new cryptocurrency based fitness app known as Sweatcoin that’ll let you earn a form of digital currency for every step you take.  To start out, using the free version of the app, you can earn up to 5 coins per day.  Eventually, you’ll be able to cash in your earnings for fitness related gear.

According to TechCrunch:

“It works like this: users sign up and then hook up their smartphone’s health and fitness data and GPS location to the app. The app then tracks how many steps you take in a day and rewards you a monetary “sweat” value according to your movements. For every 1,000 steps recorded, the app will pay out .95 in “sweatcoins.” Users can later trade these coins in for fitness gear, workout classes, gift cards and a number of other offerings.”

There is a catch, however.  The app allegedly only works outside.  Perfect for a hiker like me.  Not so perfect for office drones and treadmill enthusiasts who would hope to accumulate steps throughout the work day or through their normal workout routine.

But despite this limitation and the limitation on how much you can earn per day this is still a pretty cool idea.  Even if you aren’t earning real cash.  After all, winding up with a Fitbit or gym membership just for doing something that you ought to be doing anyway is pretty sweat.  I mean sweet.

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Is Sweatcoin the Greatest Idea Ever?

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Lego meet Nintendo.  Nintendo meet Lego.

That’s what I immediately thought of when I first heard about Nintendo’s Labo, a new innovative way of playing with a Nintendo Switch that adds various accessories to the equation.  In order to get the accessories to work with the portable gaming console, you’d first have to build them, using sets made out of cardboard.

According to The Verge:

“Today, the company revealed a new initiative dubbed Nintendo Labo, which involves DIY cardboard accessories that can transform the Switch’s Joy-Con controllers into everything from a fishing rod to a piano to a full-on robot suit. These accessories are then used to control a variety of mini-games, essentially turning the Switch tablet into a tiny arcade. The goal of Labo is to get kids involved in playing games on the Switch in a more hands-on, tactile way.”

This is basically a better version of my own childhood, when my sister would get an actual Nintendo game to play with and I’d wind up playing with the box that it came in.  Kids today will instead get the best of both worlds.

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Is Nintendo Labo the Greatest Idea Ever?

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A couple of months ago I started to receive an alert every time I went to watch TV, notifying me that my remote control batteries were running low and encouraging me to replace them as soon as possible.  As time went on, and as I continued to use the same batteries, my remote control’s functionality steadily decreased as one might expect.  Over time, I was unable to change channels as quickly as I desired, or even at all.

My solution, instead of simply changing the batteries, was to smack the remote control repeatedly until it regained some life.  This would work temporarily and so I considered the problem fixed.  This went on for a few weeks.  Until one day, when the remote control stopped working entirely.  At this point, I had no choice but to go to the stores and buy new batteries.  Fine, a minor inconvenience.  But there was just one problem.  I kept forgetting to go to the store!  Which meant that I couldn’t watch TV for several days!  Ah, the horror!

As it turns out, my plight is just one of many afflicting consumers.  Old school problems in a modern age.

As Alphr puts it, “While the act of taking out a battery and replacing it is less common now than it was five or ten years ago, a lot of gadgetry, and children’s toys, still rely on physical batteries. From remote controls and smoke detectors to smart IOT devices like lights, security systems and locks, removable batteries remain unavoidable.”

Thankfully, the days of manually replacing batteries may soon be a thing of the past thanks to a new method of wirelessly recharging batteries.  That’s because as long as your remote control or toy is within range of one of Cota’s wireless tiles, your object will be continuously charged as needed.

As Digital Trends explains, “They receivers lie mostly dormant, triggered only when a Cota-compatible receiver sends a packet of information indicating it’s low on power. The Cota then directs the needed energy to the transceiver’s relative location, or to multiple transceivers’ locations. The devices needn’t be stationary — the Cota transmitter re-establishes disrupted connections within milliseconds.”

This solution is perfect for someone like me who is ordinarily too lazy to manually replace a battery.  Even for something as vital to everyday life as the TV remote.

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Is a device that charges your remote control remotely the Greatest Idea Ever?

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In the book Cognitive Surplus, author Clay Shirky talks about how mass media consumption has evolved, how we’ve gone from passively watching just a few TV shows like Gilligan’s Island to actively creating and sharing our own content for free, using our surplus free time, our cognitive surplus, as he puts it, to edit Wikipedia articles and send around memes.  It’s a fundamental shift in how we operate.  Media is no longer something we consume.  It’s something we use.

The times are a changing but that doesn’t mean we’re watching less TV nowadays.  Quite the contrary.  Collectively we’re still spending trillions of man hours watching TV on a daily basis.  What’s interesting though is that while we share photos, news articles, and tidbits about our lives online the one thing that we don’t do is share TV.  That’s the one activity that we still prefer to do alone, cuddled up on our coach, binging Netflix in our pajamas.  But what if there was a way to change that?  What if there was a way to share TV?

Marketers dreaming of dual screen experiences have long desired this outcome but I think that the key isn’t to bring TV watching online.  It’s to bring online acts i.e. the act of sharing, to your physical TV.  Most new TVs nowadays are “smart”.  They come with built in apps.  Or users supplement their cable boxes with DVRs or an extra device like a Roku, Apple TV, or Fire TV stick that is capable of streaming third party apps.  The bottom line is that TVs are capable of doing a lot more than just receiving a single cable signal.  Nowadays, they’re more than just one trick ponies.  And if that’s the case, then why not add one more trick to their arsenals?  Why not give them the ability to share content?

What I’m envisioning is a way for people to share content directly through their TVs.  Full length TV shows, movies, commercials, clips from live sporting events.  Whatever the case may be.  Stefon Diggs game winning touchdown could be shared.  As could a segment from Ancient Aliens or last night’s debut episode of Black Lightning.

When you send something to a friend you can add some commentary to it.  “Hey, check out this new show I think you might like.”  Or, “Saw this commercial for a new toy and thought your daughter might like it.”  Shared content would then show up in a special queue, perhaps as an added tab in your DVR menu, enabling you to see all the content you saved and all the content that’s been sent to you.

TV executives and advertisers would obviously prefer a different approach.  One that forces people to watch live TV more often.  But other than sports programming there’s really no reason to do that.  Especially when DVRs save our content and most people prefer to binge watch anyway.  If that’s the preferred method of TV consumption then why not give people more of what they want? Why not give them another entire queue of content to sift through?  The content that their friends have sent them.

I don’t believe that this technology would require a radical shift in the way that TV’s are produced.  It’s the kind of thing that should work on most existing sets, especially if a sharing app is just a third party app of its own.  Would such an app revolutionize the TV watching experience or get people to share less online?  I don’t think so.  Rather, I think that it would carve out a niche of its own and bring TV watching more in line with today’s expectations of what media is.  After all, media is something we use, not just consume.  So let’s use it together.

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We’ve come a long way since the days of Gilligan’s Island.  Would we now benefit from having the ability to share content through our TVs?

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