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Archive for March, 2018

I’ve written in the past about Enchanted Objects, items that elicit an emotional response when we use them.  There’s a pill bottle that glows when it’s time to take your medication, an umbrella that lets you know if it’s going to rain that day, and best of all, the proverbial wallet that gets harder to open as you approach your monthly budget.

On the one hand these objects are really just a part of the Internet of Things.  Nothing special.  But on the other hand, because of the way they make us feel, they’re so much more than that.  They’re real life examples of the objects from Harry Potter.  Whimsical every-day items that are seemingly imbued with magical properties.

But why stop at making items that look and feel like they could belong in Harry Potter when you could make an actual item from the series come to life!  That’s right.  We now have the Eta Clock, a timepiece that aims to mimic the Weasley Family Clock, enabling people to keep track of their loved ones’ whereabouts at a glance.

As the Verge puts it, “Unlike Mrs. Weasley’s version, the Eta Clock relies on modern technology rather than actual sorcery to accomplish the job. Using a companion app, each user can set specific locations on their phone corresponding to places like ‘work,’ ‘gym,’ or ‘school,’ along with more general categories like ‘abroad’ (when someone is outside their home country), ‘transit’ (if the individual is traveling faster than three miles per hour), or ‘lost’ (if the person’s phone hasn’t updated location in more than five days).”

According to their website, “The Stata Clock wall-hanging device works in conjunction with our Stata Clock mobile app. To get connected, simply download our app and share your locations. Our simple mobile experience uses minimal battery power and makes staying connected effortless.

Want a bit more privacy? Not a problem – privacy levels are set by each individual user. Best of all, you are in complete control of your data. We remove all location data from the cloud as soon as we send it to your clock and never keep it for more than 48 hours.”

Privacy concerns are obviously a huge factor with this product but the fact that the clock deals in generalities not specifics helps ease those concerns.  A parent would simply know that their son or daughter was out with friends.  Not specifically where they were.

Pretty magical if you ask me.

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Is the Eta clock the Greatest Idea Ever?

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#1,279 – Oxygene

A while back I wrote about CityTree, a moss filled bench that could provide the same environmental impact of planting 275 trees.  Now it seems we’re set for a moss filled encore thanks to new tires from Goodyear that come coated with moss.  An innovation that could have an even larger environmental impact.

As Futurism reports, “The concept behind new tires, named Oxygene, is unique — it involves embedding living moss within the tires’ sidewalls. The moss-filled tires not only absorb moisture from roads while in motion, but can also pull carbon dioxide out of the air to fuel the moss’ photosynthesis…In a city roughly the size of Paris, Goodyear estimates these tires could produce 3,000 tons of oxygen and absorb over 4,000 tons of carbon dioxide per year.”

Considering that our reliance on automobiles isn’t going to subside anytime soon having an environmentally friendly tire could be a nice compromise.  A way for us to continue our gas guzzling ways while also reducing our carbon footprint at the same time.

Oxygene isn’t the only new approach to cleaning up air pollution in our cities though.  There’s also a smog sucking chimney being developed in China in the city of Xian.  The prototype structure uses sunlight to filter out pollutants and emit clean air.

According to Futurism, “These results have not yet been published, and have not undergone peer review, but preliminary reports determined the chimney emitted between 5 and 8 million cubic meters of filtered air every day. Nearby monitors recorded 19 percent less particulate matter compared to other parts of the city.”

Air pollution is a serious problem, especially in our cities, in which more and more people are moving, so it’s encouraging to see that both a car company and a government are trying to tackle the problem, albeit in vastly different ways.

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Is Oxygene the Greatest Idea Ever?

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One of the hallmarks of human ingenuity is our never-ending quest to one-up ourselves.  To make modes of transportation from cars to planes that go faster and faster.  To create rockets and spaceships that can take us farther and farther into space.  To create phones and computers that follow Moore’s Law, cramming more and more transistors onto chips as the devices themselves get smaller and smaller.

However, one technology that we have yet to perfect is the battery.  We have yet to find a way to make them cheaper or last longer.  Until now that is.  That’s because Australian researchers at RMIT University have created a Proton battery that runs on carbon and water.  Giving it the advantage of being made from abundant materials while also being rechargeable.  And best of all, this new battery gives off zero emissions as well.

Futurism explains how it works, “The RMIT battery can be plugged into a charging port just like any other rechargeable battery. What happens next is remarkably simple: the electricity from the power supply splits water molecules, generating protons, which bond with carbon in the battery’s electrode. The protons are then released again to pass through the fuel cell, where they interact with air to form water and generate power.”

The hope is that these new batteries could one-day replace our reliance on lithium-ion batteries.  Which is something that we desperately need to do considering the dwindling supply of rare-earth metals and other materials that are used to make them.  Luckily, that definitely seems like it will be possible.

As Engadget puts it, “The big advantage with proton batteries compared to fuel cells is efficiency. The latter must produce hydrogen gas then split it back into protons, which creates losses. But a proton battery never produces hydrogen gas, so the energy efficiency is comparable to lithium-ion batteries.”

We’re constantly driven to innovate at break-neck speeds.  To go faster.  To go farther.  To make things smaller.  To keep pushing the envelope.  Batteries not included.  Hopefully, this new Proton battery changes all that.

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Is a Proton battery the Greatest Idea Ever?

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Blockchain mania is officially upon us.  You can use it to trade digital cats, collect your favorite celebrities, and now…create your own government.  That’s the premise, at least, behind a new Blockchain application known as BitNation, that aims to give people freedom of choice when it comes to selecting which government services they prefer.

On the surface, BitNation, is more about providing legal services than creating entirely new forms of government.  What they are offering are essentially the same services that nations already provide such as dispute resolution, insurance, creating marriage certificates, issuing land deeds, etc.  Any time of government or legal service that you can think of, using any type of legal code already in existence.  Citizens maintain their sovereignty at all times and are free to join or leave a micro-nation as they wish.

The hope is that BitNation can help us resolve our conflicts in a more humane manner without having to resort to violence or back-handed politics, like we do when we’re back into corners by the archaic systems we currently have in place.

As The Next Web puts it, “In the real world individuals are forced to compete with each other in order to achieve their desired governance outcomes. However, this can often lead to violence, coercion, and conflict. With Bitnation’s Pangea software, a Decentralized Opt-In Jurisdiction, citizens can create nations, join voluntary nations on the Ethereum blockchain, and conduct peer-to-peer negotiations. It is aiming to reduce competition between citizens and increase competition among nations for citizens to improve the quality of governance.”

I’ve always wondered what the world would look like if we weren’t forced to adhere to strict boundaries.  If we were all basically citizens of one nation of Earth.  And while BitNation doesn’t share in that vision of unity it’s still a fresh start on the idea of governance.  An idea that we’ve already seen play out with Asgardia, the world’s first space-nation, and with Estonia’s push to allow anyone in the world to become a digital citizen.

The trend shows no signs of slowing down either.  According to The Next Web, “Bitnation’s technology already has over 200 new nations registered, more than 100 embassies and consulates, as many as 150,000 citizens on all five continents, and a positive open source community of over 2,000 contributors.”

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Is BitNation the Greatest Idea Ever?

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IBMs history is steeped in trying to keep pace with Moore’s law, the adage coined by company co-founder Gordon Moore that computing processing power would double every 18 months.  For decades they’ve done everything they can to pack more and more transistors onto a single chip.  At some point we all knew that Moore’s law would come to an end though.  That eventually we’d reach a point where we could no longer defy the laws of physics.  What would we do then?

Well, IBM might finally have the answer.  Instead of packing more and more transistors onto a chip perhaps the smartest thing to do is to make the chip itself smaller and smaller.  So small, in fact, that it is now smaller than a grain of salt.  Enabling it to be used in ways we never imagined before.

As Mashable puts it, “don’t let the size fool you: This sucker has the computing power of the x86 chip from 1990. Okay, so that’s not great compared to what we have today, but cut it some slack — you need a microscope to see it.

The computer will cost less than ten cents to manufacture, and will also pack ‘several hundred thousand transistors,’ according to the company. These will allow it to ‘monitor, analyze, communicate, and even act on data.’”

Tech Crunch adds that the, “usual promises of ubiquitous computing also apply: this smart dust could be all over the place, doing little calculations, sensing conditions, connecting with other motes and the internet to allow… well, use your imagination.”

The primary use case currently being imagined is, of course, the Blockchain.  These new “computers”, so-called Cryptographic Anchors could be used with Blockchain applications to track shipments or to detect theft or fraud.

All in all, this is a tremendous breakthrough even if it is a few years away from becoming commercially viable.  So for now, we’ll just have to take this news with a grain of salt.

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Is IBM’s new tiny computer the Greatest Idea Ever?

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#1,275 – Nexus Lexis

Did you know that JK Rowling came up with the idea for Harry Potter while riding a train?  Or that Mark Twain of Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer fame was using a pseudonym?  If you didn’t, perhaps you would have liked to discover those facts while perusing a literary museum, an institution dedicated to honoring and promoting great writers and their works.  If only such a place existed.

Technically, there are some major libraries around the world like the British Library and the Library of Congress that act like quasi-museums in their own right with various historical documents on display like the Magna Carter and the Gutenberg Bible.  There is even a literary museum in Amsterdam, a room in the EMP museum in Seattle dedicated to Fairy Tales and various traveling art installations dedicated to Science Fiction and Comic Book cover art.  But there isn’t one definitive place for bookworms and bibliophiles to nerd out about the history of the written word.  We can go to the Louvre to marvel at art and the Natural History Museum in NYC to gaze back through the eons in awe but there’s nowhere for us to appreciate potent prose.

What I’m imagining then is a museum dedicated to all things literary.  A place where you can marvel at Shakespeare’s folios, view beautifully written letters to loved ones from Civil War soldiers, gawk at the work of impressive wordsmiths like famed poet Emily Dickinson and discover the inner dialogue of great thinkers like Henry David Thoreau and Ralph Waldo Emerson.  There would be entire wings dedicated to Science Fiction, Fantasy, Romance, and every other genre you can think of.  Famous contemporary authors could host book readings and signings.  Scholars could host events to discuss the evolution of paper from its humble beginnings in the Far East.  There could even be character actors sprinkled throughout the museum, interacting with guests while doing their best Edgar Allen Poe impersonations.  Quote the Raven.  Nevermore.

While not ideal it would be okay if our most vaunted literary treasurers were still locked up in other museums around the world.  This place I’m imagining doesn’t have to be the be-all, end-all of literature.  We’re not re-creating the Library of Alexandria.  We’re not trying to house all of the world’s knowledge in one place.  All we’re trying to do is educate and inform in a fun and creative way.  To create a literary Hall of Fame of sorts, so that people can pay homage to all the great writers who have influenced their lives or learn about new ones that they’ve never been exposed to before.  The entire museum could be devised as a maze of sorts, a literal Choose Your Own Adventure, so that you could walk through it several different ways, jumping around out of order depending on which path you choose.

Perhaps you’re thinking to yourself that the idea of a literary museum is pretty lame.  That people don’t even read that much anymore as the dearth of local bookstores would seem to indicate.  Or that local libraries already afford people the chance to discover new titles and learn about new authors.  But I disagree.  When I go into a library or bookstore I’m searching out a specific title or looking at the sections that I’m already interested in.  At no point during my foray into Barnes and Noble am I learning about C.S. Lewis or Philip K. Dick.  At no point am I reminiscing about the career of Jules Verne.  At no point am I discovering other great science fiction writers from a bygone era.   I’m going straight for Michio Kaku’s latest book and that’s it.

So, would there be a market for such an institution?  Would anyone other than me care for a museum that honors great writers?  I think so.  Entire towns are popping up around the world dedicated specifically to books.  Comic Con has turned into Book Con.  People are reading and writing now more than ever before, albeit in different forms and through different mediums.  Local bookstores may be dying but Amazon is not.  And most telling of all, there’s already a museum in Chicago that opened in May of last year that’s dedicated to telling the story of American literature.

So, I have no doubt that the demand and interest would be there for a museum dedicated to telling the story of all types of literature, from all cultures, encompassing all genres.  The question is, would the will to create such a place also exist?  I don’t know if it would.  But it should.  After all, people are going to need a place to come pay their respects to me after I’m gone.

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Is Nexus Lexis the Greatest Idea Ever?

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Here’s a quick look at everything that tickled my fancy this past week:

Superblood

A startup known as Rubius Therapeutics is hoping to treat diseases with enhanced forms of blood.

According to Futurism:

“Rubius plans to equip red blood cells with a therapeutic protein that can be tailored to treat a particular condition. Afterwards, they’re infused into the body to begin treating the patient’s condition. Ultimately, thissuperblood will only account for less than 1 percent of the total amount of blood in a patient’s body.

Initially, the company wants to develop superblood therapies that replace missing enzymes in patients suffering from rare diseases, as well as treat cancer and autoimmune disorders like lupus and type 1 diabetes. Unlike T-cell therapy, however, red blood cell therapies don’t need to be as personalized. On their site, Rubiusclaims they’d only need one universal donor (someone with an O negative blood type) to ‘generate enough therapeutic doses to treat hundreds to thousands of different patients.’

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Seeing Heart Disease

I hate not knowing my risk of a heart attack.  I could drop dead tomorrow and I’d have no idea about my impending doom today.  Thankfully, there may soon be a quick non-invasive way to tell if you are at risk of developing heart disease.  No blood test required.

According to the Verge, “Scientists from Google and its health-tech subsidiary Verily have discovered a new way to assess a person’s risk of heart disease using machine learning. By analyzing scans of the back of a patient’s eye, the company’s software is able to accurately deduce data, including an individual’s age, blood pressure, and whether or not they smoke. This can then be used to predict their risk of suffering a major cardiac event — such as a heart attack — with roughly the same accuracy as current leading methods.”

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Silicon Quantum Computers

Quantum computers can do some amazing things that regular computers can’t.  Unfortunately, the technology is still years away from making an impact.  Or is it?  A new breakthrough from Intel could drastically alter how we integrate Quantum Computers into society by making one that works with existing technology.

As The Next Web reports:

“The researchers used a special type of qubit (the quantum version of a classical computer’s bits) called spin qubits to run two different quantum algorithms on a silicon chip.

Other quantum systems, like Intel’s breakthrough 49-qubit computer, rely on superconductive materials and near perfect-zero temperatures. A spin qubit doesn’t require either, it’s an electron that’s been agitated by microwave pulses.

While other quantum systems are closer to being useful, the idea here wasn’t to create a better computer but one that would work with existing infrastructure.”

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 Luciola

In the future we may have tiny lights capable of flight.

According to Reuters, “Japanese engineering researchers say they have created a tiny electronic light the size of a firefly which rides waves of ultrasound, and could eventually figure in applications ranging from moving displays to projection mapping.”

It could even become a key component in future iterations of smartphones.

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Are any of these the Greatest Idea Ever?

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