Archive for June, 2018

I think it’s highly likely, inevitable really, that we’ll be able to hook our brains up to computers in the near future, allowing us to connect directly to the Internet just by thinking about it.  The idea may have come from the fictional Neural Lace but there are several real projects underway to make this dream a reality.  Facebook’s attempt to let people type with their thoughts, Elon Musk’s Neuralink, and Bryan Johnson’s Kernel to name a few.

However, the drawback with this technology is how invasive it would be.  After all, it’s hard to connect your brain to the Internet wirelessly.  It’s the kind of thing that you’d need hardware to pull off.  And the idea of drilling a hole into my skull to implant a computer chip doesn’t sound all that appealing.  Thankfully, we may soon have another option.  A non-invasive way of approaching the problem.

The technology is known as CTRL-Kit and it comes to us from a company called CTRL-Labs.  The idea is that just by wearing a simple wristband you’ll be able to interact with various apps using only your thoughts.  For instance, imagine being able to walk around a virtual reality environment while lying on your couch.  Instead of actually walking around your living room in circles like you’d have to do today you can just sit still and just imagine yourself walking.

As the Verge describes, “CTRL-Labs’ work is built on a technology known as differential electromyography, or EMG. The band’s inside is lined with electrodes, and while they’re touching my skin, they measure electrical pulses along the neurons in my arm. These super-long cells are transmitting orders from my brain to my muscles, so they’re signaling my intentions before I’ve moved or even when I don’t move at all.”

In other words, why cut out the middle man when you can just piggyback on their signal instead.  By using the neurons in our arms, instead of the ones in our brains, we’ll be able to achieve the same results with less risk.  It’s a clever hack and one that could ultimately be responsible for the technology going mainstream.  Which, I for one, hope happens sooner rather than later.  Because quite frankly, there are few things in life cooler than being able to control things with your mind.

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Is CTRL-Kit the Greatest Idea Ever?

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Whoever said there’s no such thing as a bad idea had clearly never heard of Flopstarter, a new crowdfunding platform for novel inventions in the vein of Kickstarter and IndieGoGo with one clear distinction: the ideas are horrible.  On purpose.

As Fast Co. Design puts, “a ‘mole skin’ notebook made from real, skinned moles. A line of vintage apparel made exclusively from clothing people have died in. A minimalist watch that does away the numbers, the minute and hour hands, and really any discernible way to tell the time at all.  These are just some of the many horrible, horrible ideas on Flopstarter–what claims to be both ‘a real crowdfunding site’ and a ‘platform for bad ideas’ created by designer-provocateur Oli Frost…”

On the surface this would seem like a horrible idea and a waste of time.  A platform for bad ideas?  Why would anyone waste their money funding a watch that can’t tell time?  But therein lies the rub.  What if bad ideas are just a matter of perspective?  What if Flopstarter could be used to give a second chance to all those quirky ideas that legitimate manufacturers traditionally pass on?  Ideas that may have their very own niche audience out there.  Or what if they are all bad ideas, with no hope in sight, but they wind up sparking conversation and lead to a legitimately good idea coming about?  Just because you don’t look the way a good idea is supposed to look doesn’t mean there’s not at least some merit to your idea.

After all, history is lined with examples of ideas that people thought were bad at one time or another. Ideas that got laughed at.  Shot down.  Tossed aside.  Ideas that were ahead of their time.  Easily dismissed by close-minded people who couldn’t think outside the box.  The beauty of Flopstarter is that you no longer need someone else’s validation.  Your idea, no matter how far-fetched or crazy it may seem, can now find its home.  Or at least that’s the hope.

As it turns out others have not shared that same sentiment.  A quick look at their homepage shows that all of their projects have received the same amount of funding to date.  Which is to say none.  But maybe word just hasn’t gotten out yet.  Maybe there’s still hope for Reverse Viagra or a 1D printer.  Only time will tell.

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Is Flopstarter the Greatest Idea Ever?

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Michael Lewis is one of my favorite authors.  Years ago, before I became an avid reader of non-fiction books, his books, and the Dirk Pitt novels written by Clive Cussler, were some of the only books I read.  Moneyball and the Blind Side becoming some of my favorites, well before they became hit movies.  My fandom shows no signs of waning either.  His latest book, The Undoing Project, is at the top of my to do list, as is one of his older books about Silicon Valley, The New New Thing.  I’m pretty much at the point now where I would read anything he writes.  The topic almost doesn’t matter.  He’s that good.

Unfortunately, it looks like I may never have the chance to read anything else he writes ever again.  At least not in the traditional sense.  For he’s no longer writing books.  But all hope is not lost.  He’ll still be creating stories.  It’s just that if I want to enjoy them I’ll have to listen to them.

As the New York Times describes:

“When Michael Lewis had an idea for his next book, a contemporary political narrative, he decided he would test it out first as a 10,000-word magazine article, as he often does before committing to a years-long project.

But this time he made a surprising pivot. Instead of publishing the story in Vanity Fair, where he has been a contributing writer for nearly a decade, he sold it to Audible, the audiobook publisher and retailer.

‘You’re not going to be able to read it, you’re only going to be able to listen to it,’ Mr. Lewis said. ‘I’ve become Audible’s first magazine writer.’”

This is a very interesting turn of events IMO as authors seek to take more control of how their ideas get out into the world.  Similar to how some comedians like Louis CK are selling content directly to fans, Audible exclusives could be how authors bypass the traditional publishing house model, giving them unprecedented control, over not only their stories, but their own narrative as well.  Especially since Lewis will also be narrating his story as well, adding an additional layer to the experience that will allow him to connect with his fans on a more intimate level.

If our use of emoji have brought us back full circle to the days of hieroglyphics and markings on cave walls then could it be said that Audible is bringing us back full circle to the days of passing down stories through song and spoken word like we did for hundreds of years before the advent of papyrus and paper?  Homer’s Iliad, one of the greatest stories ever told, is actually believed to have originated as an oratory tale.  The reason why it’s written the way that it is, with its repetitive plot, and weird way of describing characters every time they appear, is to make it easier to remember for its various narrators.  In fact, there’s no historical record of anyone named Homer having ever existed at all.

So, could it be that we’re about to return to that great oral tradition?  Passing down stories from generation to generation with Audible and authors like Michael Lewis leading the way as we undergo a fundamental shift in the way that we consume media?  Or is this just a passing fad?  An ode to the current pop culture obsession with podcasts as busy Millennials try to multi-task their way to the top in today’s hyper-competitive, always-on society.

Only time will tell.  But I get the sense that it’s more than a fad.  As more and more authors sign up for this business model it paves the way for even more authors to get presented with the opportunity, creating a cycle that becomes impossible to stop once it reaches a certain scale.  The publishing industry getting disrupted by Audible’s exclusives, the same way that Netflix originals disrupted Hollywood.  And while traditional books will never truly go away, (too many people like the tactile experience of reading a physical book) it’s certainly possible that Audible cuts into how much people read on their Kindles, iPads, or phones or how many podcasts get listened to.

All in all, it’s clear that Michael Lewis isn’t going to be the last big name author to sign with Audible as the floodgates are now officially open.  How many more will follow and how will the publishing landscape be altered by this fundamental shift?  It’s a story that will be worth following in its own right.  Maybe one day you’ll be listening to me on Audible as I tell it.

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Are Audible Exclusives the Greatest Idea Ever?

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It’s long been known that the human body is capable of generating electricity.  In The Matrix the concept is exploited to turn humans into batteries but in real life the technology wouldn’t be used for anything nearly as nefarious.  Quite the contrary.  Instead we may be able to use slight body movement to charge our smart phones.  Outlets, docking stations, and charging cords need not apply.

As Futurism puts it, “We have a lot of devices these days, and they all need to be charged. Though there are now pads for wireless charging, these are still plugged into a power outlet. In many cases, the charging process has barely evolved at all in the past decade or more.

But now, researchers from the University at Buffalo and the Chinese Academy of Science (CAS) might have developed the next step in this evolution, one that would no longer require plugging anything into a power socket. All it takes, according to their research recently published in the journal Nano Energy, is a special metallic tab and a little bit of body movement.

The secret is an effect called triboelectric charging, and it’s something that most people have actually seen — or felt — before. Triboelectric charging happens when a material becomes electrically charged after coming into frictional contact with another material.”

That’s right.  If you’ve ever been shocked before then you know what’s at play here.  Obviously further research will be needed before this proof of concept can be turned into a viable commercial product but the early returns are promising.

“As a demonstration in their study, the researchers used a metallic tab that’s only 1.5 cm (0.6 inches) long and 1 cm (0.4 inches) wide. The small tab generated 124 volts, with a maximum current and density that was enough to light 48 red LED lights at the same time.”

The next step for the researchers will be to develop a portable battery capable of capturing all of the energy generated by their tabs.

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Is Triboelectric Power the Greatest Idea Ever?

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#1,324 – Jolt

In the book Moonwalking With Einstein: The Art and Science of Remembering Everything, author Joshua Foer describes how he trained for and competed in the U.S. memory championship in just one year after previously covering the event as a journalist.  It’s a great read and one of my favorite books of all-time, entertainingly depicting what it takes to create a memory palace, a place in your mind’s eye where you can store images to better help you remember just about anything from decks of playing cards to long strings of random numbers.

In the book one of Foer’s fellow memory competitors was lamenting the fact that we collect stamps and baseball cards and lots of other things, but no one really consciously collects memories.  We just rely on our brains to store recollections of key events, but anyone who has ever had a word stuck on the tip of their tongues, knows how fallible memories can be.  What usually jogs them is someone else giving us a clue.  A keyword that can spark a new connection in our minds.  For instance, if you are having trouble remembering a party you were at and someone says it was the party where your sister threw up on your best friend, suddenly the images come flooding back in, usually in vivid detail.  Isn’t that weird? For the longest time you were unable to access a memory even though it was lying somewhere in the recesses of your mind.  Inaccessible due to a weak connection that hasn’t been exercised since the events unfolded decades earlier.  Wouldn’t it be great then if there was a way that we could help each other remember?  If there was a way that we could help each other collect memories?  Help each other remember trivial things that we have long since forgotten?

What I’m envisioning is a phone app that would link to our Instagram and Facebook accounts to find pictures of us and then show those pictures to our friends, who would then have to come up with a word or two to serve as a future clue for us, in case we ever need it, when looking back at those pictures later in life.  Sure we could do this chore ourselves.  Take copious notes and describe what we thinking or feeling at the time the picture was taken.  But that’s a tedious exercise that no one is going to want to do for every picture that they have.  Especially on days when they take hundreds if not thousands of pictures.  But what if you were to gamify the act of quickly labeling someone else’s photo?  Well, that might actually be fun.  A time-suck that would actually benefit society.  Think of it like a cross between Candy Crush Saga, Instagram, and Words with Friends.  An addicting game, involving pictures, with a social component.  Perhaps the more pictures you comment on, the more points you’d get.  Points that you could exchange for prizes.

I’d call this game, Jolt, because we’d be jolting each other’s memories, and aside from the monetary motivation, people might actually enjoy playing this game on merit alone.  If for no other reason than the fact that they would be jolting their own memories along the way.  Reminiscing and taking a stroll down memory lane, strengthening the connections of their own neurons, every time they swipe through a picture.  Surely, there are worse uses of someone’s free time.  Like every other mindless task we currently do when we’re bored.  With Jolt at least we’d be giving something back to society, helping our friends relive their glory days, one memory at a time.

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Is Jolt the Greatest Idea Ever?

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