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Archive for May, 2018

All of the great environmentally friendly ideas that caught my eye this past week:

Atmospheric Harvesters

The home of the future won’t just be covered in solar panels.  It’ll also have its very own atmospheric harvester enabling it to generate its own drinking water, even if its located in an arid climate with little to no humidity.

As Engadget puts it, “As climate change continues to wreak havoc upon the Earth’s weather patterns, formerly lush locales like the American West are finding themselves increasingly parched. Perhaps nowhere is that abrupt arridization more pronounced than in Cape Town, South Africa. Since 2015, the region has suffered severe droughts and the coastal capital of 4 million people has struggled to maintain a steady municipal water supply.

Cape Town narrowly avoided Day Zero earlier this year, when the city’s taps were projected to run dry, but the city is expected to face another critical shortage in 2019. The situation has become so dire that officials are seriously considering importing icebergs to augment the water supply. But why try to tow 70,000 tons of ice 1,200 miles up from Antarctica when modern technology can suck the humidity we need out of thin air?”

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Recycling CO2 Faster Than Plants

A new process for Synthetic Photosynthesis could process the overwhelming quantities of carbon dioxide currently poisoning our atmosphere faster than plants.  Like twice as fast.

According to Futurism, “Once the technology is successfully transplanted into living plants, we would be in for faster, less energy-intensive CO2 fixation. Its applications include developing systems to create carbon-based feed for cattle, and perhaps even designing desirable chemical products. The obvious impact is better CO2 processing, which may contribute to stabilizing its presence in our atmosphere.”

 

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Choose Water Bottle 

British scientist James Longcroft claims to have invented a water bottle capable of decomposing in just three weeks.  If he’s right, this could have a huge environmental impact as plastic water bottles are one of the leading causes of ocean pollution.

According to Science Alert, “The outer lining of the bottle is made out of recycled paper donated by businesses, while the waterproof inner lining is made with a composite material Longcroft has developed himself.  All the constituents of the bottle can fully decompose within three weeks when left in water or landfill, and can be eaten by sea creatures, the company told Business Insider in a statement.”

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Are any of these the Greatest Idea Ever?

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I live right near a park which gives me picturesque views, quick access to a bike path, and relative quiet most of the time.  It’s perfect.  Except when it’s not.  The commotion from a birthday party being held in the Ramada.  The headache inducing repetitious music from an Ice Cream Truck.  The beautiful yet annoying cacophony of bird mating calls.  I love my apartment.  And yet there are times when I can’t wait to move out.  Noisy sounds and my inability to control them the likely cause of my downfall.

Thankfully, there may soon be something I can do about it.  Thanks to new noise canceling windows that can reduce noise pollution by 50%!

As Futurism puts it, “You can’t shut your neighbors up. But researchers out of Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University have done the next best thing: they made noise-cancelling windows that can cancel out any harsh noise coming into your home.”

So how exactly does this amazing new technology work?!?!  If you’ve used noise-cancelling headphones the answer will sound familiar to you.

“The device is essentially an array of microphones and speakers that register the sound waves of loud noises coming in and cancel them out by playing an inverted version of the same wave — the waves’ peaks matched perfectly to the valleys of the other. When the inverted waveform and the original sound interact, they cancel each other out, leaving just mellow, ambient noise. All in real-time.”

Amen to that!

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Is a noise cancelling window the Greatest Idea Ever?

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The Do Not Call registry may have eliminated some of the annoyance of having to deal with unwanted phone calls but there’s still a modern inconvenience that we have to deal with: Robo calls.  Those automated messages that you receive upon answering your phone, even when doing so from trusted sources that you do want to hear from.

As Wired puts it, “When a robot rings your phone, you can usually tell right away. Its voice is melodic, it rarely stumbles, and it’s unnaturally efficient. The voice betrays its origin before it even has the chance to tell you that you qualify for a free loan, your mortgage payment is overdue, or that your input would really be valuable for a customer survey. Knowing it’s a robot also makes it easy to hang up.”

That’s where Google Duplex comes in.  Somehow able to mimic the complexity and nuance of human speech Duplex is the future of Robo calls.  And here’s the best part.  It’ll be a part of Google Assistant, able to make calls on behalf of ordinary citizens like you and me, not just on behalf of telemarketers.

For instance, with the technology at your beck and call you’ll be able to pass off the responsibility of making a dinner reservation or booking a nail appointment to your phone.  That may not sound like much but it floored the audience at Google’s developer’s conference the other day as it proved that AI is getting remarkably close to passing the Turing Test, that moment in time where us humans wouldn’t be able to tell if we’re talking to man or machine.

From Wired:

“The big reveal was that neither of the voices who initiated the calls belonged to a human. They were bots, dispatched through Google Assistant and activated through a back-end system. But they sounded human: They said ‘Um’ and ‘Ohh, I gotcha’ and ended query statements with the raised pitch of a question mark. And, for the purpose of the demo, they completed tasks that normally fall to us mere mortals, whether than meant making a hair appointment or determining whether it would be better to just walk into a restaurant and take a gamble on a table.”

This technology has startling ramifications and further demonstrates just how committed Google is to AI.  From object recognizing cameras to self-driving cars to do-it-all personal assistants Google is doubling down.  And we all stand to benefit.  One dinner reservation at a time.

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Is Google Duplex the Greatest Idea Ever?

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#1,309 – Kilopower

Conspiracy theorists often ask: if the moon landing wasn’t faked and we really did land on the moon then why haven’t we gone back?  If it was so easy to get to, surely we would have gone back by now, if for no other reason than to say that we can.  Right?!  And yet…

The obvious answer is that NASA decided to focus its limited resources elsewhere.  Such as going to Mars instead.  And even though there was no evidence to support this claim it always seemed likely to come true.  It was the obvious next step in mankind’s on-going quest to become a multi-planetary species.  Even if we weren’t 100% sure.

Well, now we have our proof.  Because as it turns out, NASA really has been focusing on figuring out how to get to Mars and what to do once we get there.  For instance, last year it was reported that NASA wants to build a magnetic shield around the red planet in order to terraform our nearest stellar neighbor.

According to Wired UK, “The shield would allow Mars to slowly restore its atmosphere over the course of a few years. Once an atmosphere had built up, the greenhouse effect would take over and heat up the planet, potentially making it warm enough for liquid water to exist on its surface.”

Assuming that this plan would work opens up a Pandora’s box of subsequent questions.  Each more daunting than the last.  Starting with how we would power our operations there and our journeys back and forth.  The weight and cost of fuel being such that it is virtually impossible to transport.  Luckily, NASA has spent the last decade working out that problem as well.

As Engadget puts it, “Being able to generate power will be essential for long-term space travel. Powering a stay on Mars, for example, will require a lot of fuel, way more than we can pack onto a rocket. That’s why NASA, Los Alamos National Laboratory, the Department of Energy and a number of other groups have been working on a small, transportable nuclear reactor that can reliably generate power on the go. The reactor they’re developing is called Kilopower and earlier this year, they announced that they had conducted successful tests of the system…and reported that those tests went extremely well.”

See that, conspiracy theorists.  It’s all going to work out in the end.  Even if we did ake the Moon landing we’re about to go to Mars for real.

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Have you ever come across an object and wondered about its origins?  Perhaps while browsing in an antique shop, walking around your neighborhood, or sitting in your grandmother’s living room.  If so, maybe there was someone that you could ask to satiate your curiosity.  Someone who knew about the object’s history.  Where it came from.  How old it was.  What purpose it served.  But maybe there wasn’t.  Maybe your inquiry went unanswered.  Leaving you to wonder about the object of your affection.

Well, in the near future you may not have to worry about leaving the fate of an object to chance.  Instead, thanks to Google you’ll be able to point your phone’s camera at it, in the native camera app even, and learn all about it.  All thanks to Google Lens.

According to Wired:

“When Google first announced Google Lens last year, it was described as a kind of search in reverse. Rather than type a text query to find image results, you could point your phone’s camera at an object, like a dog or a plant, to find text-based information. Lens was not only a statement about your camera as an input device but also a most Google-y expression of technology: It combined search, computer vision, AI, and AR, and put it all in apps that weren’t limited to one ecosystem.”

The article adds that, “The new features, which roll out at the end of May, represent Google’s next steps to make your smartphone camera ‘like a visual browser for the world around you,’ says Aparna Chennapragada, vice president of product for AR, VR, and vision-based products at Google. ‘By now people have the muscle memory for taking pictures of all sorts of things—not just sunsets and selfies but the parking lot where you parked, business cards, books to read,’ Chennapragada says. ‘That’s a massive behavior shift.’

A behavior shift that Google is now hoping to take advantage of with Lens as they further re-imagine what mobile search can and should be.

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It’s finally happening!!! One of my long standing ideas to be able to measure exactly how much pain a person is in is finally on the verge of happening thanks to Australian researchers!!!!

According to New Atlas, “The research team found that there are identifiable molecular changes in immune cells when a person is suffering from chronic pain. Using hyperspectral imaging analysis these pain biomarkers can be instantly identified, meaning a clinician could determine a patient’s pain tolerance or sensitivity and immediately adjust the dosage of a painkilling medication.”

But that’s not all.

“As well as offering a new biomarker for the presence of pain, Hutchinson’s research suggests that these immune cells actually play a significant role in modulating the sensation of chronic pain. This means that instead of concentrating on developing pain-killing drugs that simply target the nervous system, new drugs may be investigated that suppress this immune pain response.”

As someone who suffers from chronic back pain that nobody else believes exists this is great news.  I’ll finally be able to find out once and for all exactly how much pain I’m in and be able to do something about it. Thanks mates!

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With Marvel’s Infinity War currently blowing up at the Box Office, now is as good of a time as any to ask if you could have any superpower, what would it be?!? If you answered having the ability to shoot lasers out of your eyes, you’re in luck.  That’s now a real thing.

According to Engadget, “It will still be a while before scientists are able to harness Superman-like laser vision, but the technology is now closer than ever before thanks to a new development from the University of St Andrews. The team there have created an ultra-thin membrane laser using organic semiconductors, which is for the first time compatible with the requirements for safe operation in the human eye. Even though the membrane is super thin and flexible, it’s durable, and will retain its optical properties even after several months spent attached to another object, such as a bank note or, more excitingly, a contact lens.  The ocular laser, which has so far been tested on cow eyes, is able to identify sharp lines on a flat background — the ones and zeros of a digital barcode — and could be harnessed for new applications in security, biophotonics and photomedicine.”

What kind of applications are we talking about exactly?  I’m not sure.  Perhaps we could unlock a door just by looking at it or maybe a blind person could use this technology to scan objects in order to learn about them. Either way it would seem like we would need to have an interface in place that could process what the lasers in our eyes are scanning.  Making it ideal technology to pair with a neural implant that would let us connect directly to the Internet through our minds.

Such a pairing would be decades away though.  For now it’s just cool to say that we can shoot lasers out of our eyes.

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If you’re a fan of blockchain technology these are exciting times.  On a seemingly daily basis there are new applications and cryptocurrencies being developed with no end in sight. In a way, it’s almost like the entire web is migrating onto the Blockchain which essentially means that the entire world is migrating as well.  It’s the dawn of a new era.  A transformative point in time leading to an entire reinvention of modern society.  And unlike the birth of the Internet, I’ll actually be paying attention this time to watch it all unfold.

As compelling as this narrative is, I always thought that the revolution would be occurring in the background.  Startups and giant corporations working feverishly behind the scenes to build out the infrastructure and underpinnings for our new way of life.  I never imagined that the Blockchain could be real.  Something tangible that I could actually hold in my hand.  And yet that’s exactly what we’ll all be doing one day when we all have blockchain phones.

These new age mobile devices will look and act just like a regular iPhone or Samsung Galaxy device and will come with all of the usual trimmings.  They’ll just be more secure.  Really secure.  Fully encrypted devices that can’t be tampered with enabling users to surf the web in peace.  Away from the prying eyes of Facebook or even the authorities.  Case in point: BitVault.  A new device that would enable people to hold private conversations, bank privately, and store images securely.  It’s the wave of the future and the perfect response to the Cambridge Analytica scandal.  A tool for regular people to fight back against Big Brother.

What I love the most about the concept of blockchain backed smartphones though is how perfect they are for tying in with my long-standing idea for a Game of Life, wherein everything we do in life gets rewarded.  Such a concept sounds good in theory but is incredibly hard to pull off in real-life logistically.  How could you monitor what everyone is doing and reward them accordingly?  How could you keep track of all the prize payouts that would be occurring?  Well, as it turns out the blockchain would be perfect for this endeavor.  A blockchain smartphone becoming the key to the entire ecosystem.

Case in point: the first blockchain based smartphone for the U.S. market is called The Motif and it’s created by a company called Blacture, whose mission is to empower black youth financially.

As Futurism describes, “Created by blockchain and mobile tech company Zippie, this OS automatically rewards users with tokens whenever they use their Motif phones for activities like buying things online, agreeing to share their personal data (it’s not yet clear what data, or with whom), or making the exceedingly vague endeavor to ‘offer products and services’ to the Blacture community.”

This is great.  I already shop online and already gladly hand over my personal data so that I can benefit from getting served targeted ads tailored to my interests as well as receiving more relevant search results adjusted in real-time based on my exact location and recent search history.  Getting paid for doing those things or for otherwise contributing to community building is an added bonus.

BitVault and Motif aren’t the only new kids on the block(chain) when it comes to smartphones though. There’s also the Finney, designed especially for cryptocurrency power users.

“Named after scientist Hal Finney, recipient of the world’s first bitcoin transaction, the Finney smartphone is an open-source, ultra-secure phone built on an independent, free blockchain network. It’s expected to come with a 256GB internal memory, a 16 megapixel camera, and a powerful suite of security measures, and it will be powered by the Tangle technology of IOTA.’

This is just the beginning though.  It’s likely that we will soon see many other variations of blockchain powered smartphones on the market in the near future and it’s only a matter of time before the major phone carriers and big tech companies get in on the fun as well.  Exciting times indeed.

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May is mental health awareness month which makes it the perfect time to talk about an idea that I have for a deluxe fitness tracker that would track our state of mind.  For now this idea is purely conceptual.  I have no idea how to make such a product.  But I think the idea has merit.  Primarily because of how under-served the mental health market is.  In fact, according to a recent survey, over 80% of respondents believed that there should be more options available for childhood mental health services.  This on top of recent news that as many as 1 in 5 Americans are suffering from depression.

So, if we’re basically all depressed and full of unresolved teenage angst wouldn’t it make sense to leverage technology in order to tackle this problem head on?  Fitness trackers are great in their own right but counting steps and measuring heart rates is only scratching the surface of what a health monitoring app ought to do.  There’s a ton of other information that would be insanely valuable to know about.  Such as, everything that’s going on between our ears.

Think of it like a mood ring of sorts.  Just by looking at this tracker you could quickly find out what’s bothering you.  You may think this kind of information would be obvious.  That you would be in touch with your feelings and know when something is off but that’s not always the case.  You could be secretly depressed without even realizing it.  Your endorphins and adrenaline rushes masking what’s really effecting you beneath the surface.  Case in point: you receive some bad news.  People ask how you’re doing.  You put on a brave face and say everything is fine.  You keep up appearances.  But truth be told, you’re really hurting on the inside.  Wouldn’t it be great then if you had a mental health tracker to tell you exactly how much you were hurting?  If you could tell, by looking at a particular measurement, if you really were fine or if you really ought to talk to someone ASAP before doing irreparable harm to your psyche.

Emotions aside, perhaps this tracker could also monitor everything else going on inside your brain.  If it could measure your memory capacity, your spatial awareness, your powers of deduction, your reflex time, your tiredness, your general mental aptitude, etc.  For instance, imagine using this information to make the potential life-saving decision to not drive home late at night because of warning signs indicating that you would be at risk of falling asleep behind the wheel.  Or imagine making the decision to read a book over watching TV because your visual cortex was already dangerously overworked for the day while the logic and reasoning part of your brain wasn’t getting enough attention.  Or better yet, imagine studying for a test and finding out when you could stop, because you found out that the memory stores in your brain were filled up and that studying more wouldn’t make any more of a difference.

Just think about how much time we could be saving, how many better decisions we could be making.  Just think about what this could mean for our society, if instead of snapping at one another, we could know ahead of time that we need to start calming down because our rage quotient was trending up.

All of that and more may one day be possible.  All thanks to a fitness tracker that monitors the activity of our biggest muscle of all: the brain.

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