Archive for May, 2019

Fitness trackers are great.  They monitor our health.  Count our steps.  Motivate us to keep moving so that we can reach our daily goals.  We can even challenge our friends and family to contests and competitions, weaponizing our health and well-being in the eternal war for bragging rights.  But as great as they are, I can’t help thinking that they could be better.  Especially if they could track everything we did, not just the steps we take.

That’s why I’d like to create a hypersensitive tracker that would capture all of the movement that a person does in a day.  Literally everything that they did.  Violent sneezes.  Nervous ticks.  Twisting and turning while trying to fall asleep.  Typing.  Scratching an itch.  Anything other than sitting still or lying down.  Every movement.  Every motion.

At the very least I’d like to invent a way to more accurately compare our results when using standard trackers.  You see, if everyone is using different trackers (FitBit vs. Apple Watch) or different models of the same trackers and everyone’s height and gait is different….then how do you ever accurately compare your results to someone else’s?  It’s virtually impossible.  An exercise in futility.  That’s why I’d like to invent a mathematical formula that converts all steps into a new universally accepted metric known as a CRAIG – a Certified Really Accurate Indication of Gait.  By converting our steps into CRAIGs we’ll know, once and for all, exactly how many steps we actually took each day, and have a way to accurately compete against our friends.

On the other hand, the opposite approach could work as well.  Instead of accurately counting everything we did or converting our steps into CRAIGs we could instead inflate our numbers every time we reach a milestone.  Hit 10,000 steps, gain an extra 1,000 step bonus.  Hit 20,000 steps and get a 5,000 step bonus! Or what if, at randomly selected times, everything you did was worth double or triple steps?! Like a lightning round at a bowling alley.  People would have to immediately stop whatever they were doing and get moving. Adding some unexpected excitement to what could be an otherwise boring and mundane daily existence for a lowly cubicle dweller.

Some people may disagree with this approach.  Claim that giving out bonus steps would be cheating, akin to waving your hand around while sitting at your desk, trying to jack up your totals without actually putting in the work.  And they may have a point.  If you’re goal is to purely count your steps then artificially inflating your numbers would be counterproductive.  But at the same time isn’t the whole point of a fitness tracker to motivate us to move?  To go beyond our comfort zones and push past our preconceived limits?  If bonus points and random inflationary periods achieve that desired effect of motivating us to achieve our goals then what’s the harm?

While you ponder that here are some other Fitbit related ideas that I’ve come up with recently that I think have some merit:

  • I think it would be great if we could develop a tracker within a tracker.  So that I can see exactly how many steps I took during a specific walk.  Similar to how your car’s odometer can track how many miles you did on a road trip.
  • Cross platform challenges.  It would be fun if you could challenge people who use an Apple Watch or Google Health instead of just other Fitbit users.  Granted there are other apps that track walking performances from disparate apps but it would be great if you could cut out the middle man and do all of that within the FitBit app.
  • I recently discovered that you can join a group (I chose the hiking group) and post pictures to it. Instead of liking your photo, random people can cheer it.  It would be nice though if you could like or “cheer” the comments that they leave like you can on Instagram.
  • Because of the fact that I’ve been posting pictures I’ve received some friend requests from random strangers.  This gave me a great idea: using this ability to find and contact other users to set up a dating portal within the FitBit app to find other like-minded singles in your area.  Sticking with the walking theme the first date would always being going on a walk somewhere in your neighborhood. And this doesn’t just have to be for dating.  Any two users could connect and users could even start their own walking clubs.

All in all, it’s become increasingly clear to me that if we want to be successful in life there’s one simple thing that we all need to do: step up our games!

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Are fitness trackers the Greatest Idea Ever?

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The other day I had dinner at Snakes and Lattes, an establishment that lets you play board games while you dine for a nominal fee.  One of the games that I wound up playing was my new all-time #1 favorite game: Patchwork.  A two player game where you compete to build a quilt out of oddly shaped Tetris like pieces while collecting buttons.  Believe me, it’s a lot more interesting than it sounds.

This got me thinking though.  If someone can make a board game about quilting then surely I could make a game out of something equally obscure, yet close to my heart.  A game about antiquing.

Here’s how it would work.  Each game would come equipped with multiple game boards depicting various settings where one might go antiquing.  There might be a house undergoing an estate sale, an actual antique shop, a garage sale,  a junk yard, a local swap meet, etc.  Whatever the case may be.

Each of these boards would be littered with random items and players would be tasked with collecting items from an assigned shopping list without going over budget as they navigate their way across the board with alternating dice rolls.  The key to the game would be to move about the board as efficiently as possible, to collect all the items on your list before your opponent collects all the items on their list.

Now here’s where things get interesting.  Also scattered throughout the board would be certain obstacles.  You may be forced to sell an item that you already collected in order to pay one of your bills.  Or your opponent may have an opportunity to swap out something from your collection for something that they don’t have a need for.  You may even be in a race to be the first to collect an item that you both need.  But have no fear.  If you pass by one of the conveniently located pawn shops you’ll be able to swap or buy back anything you need.

You’d also have an opportunity to use your creativity throughout the game.  Let’s say that collecting a bird feeder is on your list.  Instead of trying to collect the actual bird feeder on the board, you could instead find a few other smaller items, and assemble them into a bird feeder.  This ability to re-purpose items would be what separates the good players from the great players the way that triple word scores separate the wheat from the chaff in Scrabble.

Would this antiquing game be the Greatest Game Ever? Maybe.  Maybe not.  But surely it can’t be any worse than the game about gardening that I saw in Snakes and Lattes. In a world consisting of thousands upon thousands of obscure games, perhaps there’s room for one more.

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Is a board game about antiquing the Greatest Idea Ever?

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The creation of plastic in 1907 was a revolutionary breakthrough that changed society in the decades to come.  To appreciate just how big this impact was just think about how many things there are in our daily lives from silverware to toys that are made from plastic.  Modern airplanes include plastic.  About half of your car is made from plastic as well.  Tennis rackets include it.  So too do stents given to heart attack patients.  They even make up most pairs of eye glasses.  Suffice it to say plastics are everywhere.

This may not seem like a big deal on the surface.  A versatile material that can be used in a variety of ways would typically be seen as a good thing.  But there is an environmental impact to our excessive plastic consumption habit.  Especially when you consider that it takes 400 years for a piece of plastic to degrade and that a whopping 91% of plastic isn’t even recycled! That according to a recent scientific study that National Geographic reported on.  A statistic so mind-boggling that Great Britain’s Royal Statistical Society named it as their statistic of the year in 2018.

As the New York Post puts it:

“We’re surrounded by plastics for much of our lives. Plastics are cheap and easy to make, they’re often incredibly durable and they last just about forever. Unfortunately, those upsides are also terrible news for the environment, as plastic waste continues to pile up despite recycling efforts and public awareness campaigns.

One of the biggest problems with the popular material is that even recyclable plastics aren’t always able to be broken down and used again. In fact, less than one-third of recyclable plastic is repurposed after the recycling process, with the rest being tossed along with other non-recyclable waste…”

Thankfully, there is some good news on the way.  A new kind of plastic that may be 100% recyclable and reusable in a variety of ways.

According to ABC News, “Scientists at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory have designed a plastic that can be recycled over and over again, and turned into new materials of any color, shape, or form. They are calling it polydiketoenamine or PDK, and this new plastic can be disassembled all the way down to the molecular level.”

This is a potential game-changing technology that could revolutionize society (once again) and help us to clean up an environment that has been ravished by human activity, in particular our penchant for plastics.  PDK may even find a home in the future as a filament for 3D printing, giving that fledgling technology the boost that it needs to finally go mainstream.

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Is PDK Plastic the Greatest Idea Ever?

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The other day I wrote about molecular coffee, java made without the use of any coffee beans.  A feat accomplished by reverse engineering how coffee tastes to come up with an alternative that winds up tasting exactly the same albeit with different ingredients.

Similarly, we may one day have molecular surgery, non-invasive procedures that don’t involve any incisions, cutting, or scarring, with the desired results being achieved via a process that reshapes tissue to make it more malleable.

According to Science Focus:

“So far, the researchers have focused on cartilage – a tough connective tissue that’s found throughout the body. By passing electric current through the cartilage, the scientists found that they could make it flexible, while avoiding damage to the tissue.

The technique works by ‘electrolyzing’ the water inside the cartilage – splitting water molecules into hydrogen and oxygen gases. The creation of charged hydrogen atoms (protons) alters the electric charge inside the cartilage in such a way that the tissue becomes malleable.”

This is an incredible breakthrough even if it does only effect a small portion of surgical procedures such as those of a cosmetic variety as it goes to show that brute force hacks aren’t always the best means of healthcare.  Perhaps in due time we’ll find out that there are even more outside the box type solutions that could help the human body heal without the need for undergoing expensive and risky surgeries.

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Is Molecular Surgery the Greatest Idea Ever?

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We all learned in school that there are three phase of water: solid, liquid, and gas.  However, that may not be entirely true.  As it turns out there be another, more exotic, phase of water and it may be extremely abundant throughout the Universe.

As Wired reports, “The findings, published this week in Nature, confirm the existence of “superionic ice,” a new phase of water with bizarre properties. Unlike the familiar ice found in your freezer or at the north pole, superionic ice is black and hot. A cube of it would weigh four times as much as a normal one. It was first theoretically predicted more than 30 years ago, and although it has never been seen until now, scientists think it might be among the most abundant forms of water in the universe.”

But what if there’s more to it than that? What if superionic ice isn’t a new phase of water at all?

“Depending on whom you ask, superionic ice is either another addition to water’s already cluttered array of avatars or something even stranger. Because its water molecules break apart, said the physicist Livia Bove of France’s National Center for Scientific Research and Pierre and Marie Curie University, it’s not quite a new phase of water. ‘It’s really a new state of matter,’ she said, ‘which is rather spectacular.’”

A new phase of matter? As astonishing as that would be, it’s not the first time that a new state of matter has been discovered.  About a month ago National Geographic reported on another new type of matter.

“Now, a team has used a type of artificial intelligence to confirm the existence of a bizarre new state of matter, one in which potassium atoms exhibit properties of both a solid and a liquid at the same time. If you were somehow able to pull out a chunk of such material, it would probably look like a solid block leaking molten potassium that eventually all dissolved away.”

And these discoveries are likely just the tip of the iceberg.  As our instruments and the tools at our disposal continue to improve we may discover even more exotic forms of matter.  Meaning it won’t be long before we have to rewrite the textbooks once again.

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Is Superionic Ice the Greatest Idea Ever?

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Back on July 15, 2017 Jeff Bezos, Amazon’s founder, was in Cape Canerval, Florida at the Kennedy Space Center to receive the first ever Buzz Aldrin Space Innovation Award.  Afterwards he made several attention grabbing remarks about his future plans.

According to Futurism:

“Amongst his statements was an assertion that humans should terraform the Moon. According to Tech Radar, Bezos claimed, “It’s time for America to go back to the Moon, this time to stay.” He then added, “We should build a permanent settlement on one of the poles of the Moon.” He ended on a positive note: “If we have reusable rockets, we can do it so much more affordably than we have ever done it before. We have the tools. We have the young people with a passion to do it. We can get that done today.’”

Well maybe not today but soon enough and now less than two years later Bezos has finally unveiled those specific plans which involve sending a moon lander known as Blue Moon to our satellite’s south pole, bringing his bold proclamation one step closer to fruition.

As Wired puts it:

“When Robert Heinlein wrote his masterpiece of space age realism, The Man Who Sold the Moon, he had no way of knowing how prescient it would be. Published in 1950, it tells the tale of Delos D. Harriman, the ‘last of the robber barons’, who is hellbent on being the first man on the moon. Harriman drives himself to the brink of bankruptcy and madness chasing his lunar ambitions, which he feels can’t be left to the bumbling government bureaucracy to handle. At the dawn of the new space race, it feels more relevant than ever.

These days, billionaires with their own space program are in abundant supply—Elon Musk, Paul Allen, Richard Branson, Robert Bigelow. But towering above them all is Jeff Bezos. Once the richest man in the world, Bezos is Harriman become flesh. For the last 19 years he has bankrolled his space company, Blue Origin, almost entirely out of pocket and has made his goal of colonizing the moon known. He is also, incidentally, a big fan of Heinlein.

Today Bezos unveiled a mock-up of Blue Origin’s lunar lander at a small invite-only event in Washington, DC. As detailed by Bezos, the plan is to send the lunar lander, called Blue Moon, to Shackleton Crater at the moon’s south pole. Last month, the company hinted at its plans with an enigmatic tweet depicting Endurance, the ship that carried British explorer Ernest Shackleton on a disastrous mission to Antarctica in the early twentieth century.”

The idea here is that Blue Moon will drop off important supplies at Shackleton Crater, paving the way for future manned missions by 2024 that will lay the groundwork towards establishing a permanent human colony on the moon.  A colony that could then pave the way for future space exploration missions including the eventual terraforming and colonization of Mars.

Bezos has taken a lot of flack lately for his sexual transgressions which have lead to him getting divorced and losing half of his wealth and rightfully so.  But maybe Bezos’ self-inflicted walk of shame should have been met with more sympathy.  Considering that Bezos was funding Blue Origin himself, that loss of wealth also means that there’s now less money pouring into Blue Origin.  For now, it doesn’t seem to be affecting his plans but perhaps it one day will.  Turning Bezos into a real-life version of Harriman, going bankrupt to fulfill his dreams.  For our sake and the sake of humanity’s space-faring future, let’s hope that’s not the case. Especially when you consider that Bezos has far-ranging ambitions when it comes to space, aside from just wanting to colonize the Moon.

According to Fast Company:

“Bezos announced a massive vision for the future in which “Earth is zoned residential and light industry,” with heavy industry and mining moving to space.

But even a gentrified Earth won’t be enough to support the ballooning human population. So Bezos is also proposing a constellation of space stations modeled after ideas from his former Princeton professor, Gerard O’Neill. The physicist’s namesake O’Neill cylinders would be miles-long, mile’s wide structures that rotate–using centrifugal force to produce artificial gravity–and harvest sunlight to grow crops.”

The cylinder space station idea is one that is firmly rooted in science fiction so to me the idea that is the most revolutionary here is the idea that Earth would be “zoned residential” with all industry moving to space.  Considering how expensive it is to get things into orbit relocating all industry into space would seem to be a daunting task.  But it makes sense.  Earth is the only place in the known Universe that can support life.  Shouldn’t it therefore be 100% committed to that one and only task?  Everything else that can take place somewhere else should do just that!

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Is Blue Moon the Greatest Idea Ever?

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Will Dany follow in her father’s footsteps and turn into the Mad Queen?  Is Tyrion Lannister going to make a power play after finding out that he is really a Targaryen? Who is going to kill Cersei Lannister and take over the Iron Throne?! And what in the hell was Bran doing during the battle for Winterfell?!?!

We may not know the answers to those questions before Sunday but that doesn’t mean that we still can’t have a little bit of fun, Westerosi style in the meantime.  With that in mind I thought it would be a good idea to imagine today’s technological and scientific leaders as Game of Thrones characters:

Rising to power in the North i.e. Winterfell/North America even though he is really from the South i.e. King’s Landing/South Africa.  The only question that remains is if he is The Prince Who Was Promised, our one true savior who is ultimately going to save us all?!  Elon Musk is Jon Snow.

He started with nothing and then gradually built wealth over time, ruthlessly crushing competitors along the way throughout his pursuit of power.  Ambitious as they come he has his gaze set on the ultimate prize, colonizing the Moon and then the rest of the solar system, cementing his status as the richest and most powerful man on Earth.  However, his plans were nearly derailed when he got divorced and lost half his wealth/army because of a fool-hearty decision made in the name of love.  Jeff Bezos is the Mother of Dragons Daenerys Targaryen.

She famously tried to change her appearance i.e. make her voice deeper so that she could survive in a male dominated world.  She is two-faced, disingenuous and can’t be trusted.  Elizabeth Holmes is the Waif.

A talented power broker acting in the best interest of the realm, he only invests in those he deems worthy. Marc Andreessen is his doppelganger Varys.

A master manipulator he wants everyone to “like” him even though he is just using them to consolidate his power for his own selfish means.  Under his tyrannical rule you won’t have any privacy and will never truly be free.  Mark Zuckerberg is Cersei Lannister.

Grew up loyal to the company/family but eventually comes to realize that Facebook/Cersei is an uncontrollable monster that must be stopped.  Chris Hughes is Jamie Lannister.

Didn’t let being confined to a wheelchair didn’t prevent him from peering across space and time to unlock the secrets of the Universe.  Stephen Hawking is Bran.

Steadily guided a powerful company/force that he took over with a deft hand.  So far has been unable to take the next step on his own.  May have greater political ambitions that have yet to be realized.  Tim Cook is Sansa Stark.

A figure of mythical proportions he used magical powers i.e. his reality distortion field to alter events in his favor.  Also wielded the power of prescience to know what others wanted/would become before they would even realize it themselves.  Steve Jobs is the red priestess Melisandre.

A talented talker who has the ear of those in power, he helps raise the profile of those he deems worthy.  Joe Rogan is Tyrion Lannister.

Unlikely hero and fan favorite who goes to the Citadel/Governments to warn of an impending threat i.e. the Night King/Climate Change.  Greta Thurnberg is Samwell Tarly.

Formerly head of a powerful company/house he always wants to do the right thing and help others.  Even though he is no longer in the picture his legacy lives on and probably always will.  Bill Gates is Ned Stark.

A powerful woman who opposes sexism and workplace stereotypes she leans in and faces her challenges head on.  Sherly Sandberg is Brienne of Tarth.

Vast repository of information.  Keeps tabs on everything that is happening.  Google is the Citadel.

Horrific monster hell-bent on destroying mankind any way he can.  Donald Trump is the Night King.

Understands the power of information and uses the spread of it for his own personal gain.  Jack Dorsey is Littlefinger.

No one is Arya Stark.

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Is Game of Thrones the Greatest Show Ever?

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#1,495 – Archs

Just when you thought that Elon Musk couldn’t get any cooler this news comes courtesy of Science Alert:

“Last year, Elon Musk’s personal Tesla might have gotten all the headlines during SpaceX’s historic rocket launch back in February, but the Falcon Heavy also carried a second, secret payload almost nobody knew about.

Stashed inside the midnight-cherry Roadster was a mysterious, small object designed to last for millions (perhaps billions) of years – even in extreme environments like space, or on the distant surfaces of far-flung planetary bodies.

Called an Arch (pronounced ‘Ark’), this tiny storage device is built for long-term data archiving, holding libraries of information encoded on a small disc of quartz crystal, not much larger than a coin…

The technology, developed by physicist Peter Kazansky from the University of Southampton in the UK, can theoretically hold up to 360 terabytes of data, about the same amount as 7,000 Blu-Ray discs.

But even more impressive than the data capacity is the physical longevity of the medium – the first two discs, called Arch 1.1 and Arch 1.2, are said to be two of the longest-lasting storage objects ever created by humans, theoretically stable for up to 14 billion years, thanks to ‘5D data storage’ inscribed by laser nanostructuring in quartz silica glass.”

Similar to the Lunar Library project that I wrote about the other day these Archs could help humanity preserve their knowledge should anything happen to us here on Earth. A fate that is becoming increasingly likely thanks to the perils of Climate Change.

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Are Archs the Greatest Idea Ever?

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I’m not a coffee drinker but even I can appreciate the greatness of this next idea: a way to create everyone’s favorite morning pick me up without using any beans!

According to The Spoon, “Seattle-based startup Atomo claims to bring you all the goodness of a cup of coffee — without the bean. Atomo’s so-called ‘molecular coffee’ is made by reverse engineering the flavor and aroma compounds in coffee beans to make a substance that, when brewed, tastes and caffeinates like java. It’s made with natural ingredients and can be brewed one-to-one for coffee in French presses, refillable K-cups, pour-overs, etc.”

In light of our forthcoming climate catastrophe this idea has particular appeal considering that we may not always be able to grow coffee beans naturally.  Or maybe this is the kind of approach that could pave the way for astronauts to enjoy coffee when they won’t have the ability to grow their own beans.

But best of all, perhaps we could even use this reverse engineering approach to create molecular versions of other foods and beverages as well.  Ensuring that we’ll always have our favorites on call, whenever we need them.

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Is Atomo Molecular Coffee the Greatest Idea Ever?

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I’ve always maintained that one of the reasons why we don’t know what Dark Matter and Dark Energy are is because we’re looking for a simple answer.  A particular particle.  Or a mathematical equation that describes their behavior in the same way that E=MCdescribes the relationship between mass and energy.  The elusive search for a Theory of Everything that combines Einstein’s Theory of Relativity with Quantum Mechanics hints at this basic human desire to make sense of the world around us in a neat, easy to understand package.

But the quantum world isn’t so cut and dry.  The answer is likely far more complicated than we can imagine. Instead of a particle exerting its influence perhaps a fluid is at play.  Instead of a three dimensional Universe perhaps one with eleven dimensions as predicted by String Theory is the true nature of reality.  Which is why the latest discovery as to the true nature of consciousness makes perfect sense.  Consciousness isn’t located in just one place.  It’s not a singular cluster of neurons.  Nor is there a biological on/off switch.  It was naïve of us to ever think things would be that black and white.  Instead the truth is a Universal one: that which can’t be explained easily can be explained complicatedly.

According to Futurism, “An international team of neuroscientists from universities and hospitals spanning the Americas and Europe say that they’ve determined the neurological signature for consciousness. Rather than a specific chunk of the brain that’s responsible for consciousness, the researchers say they’ve located a brain-wide pattern of activity that’s only present when people are awake and responsive.”

In fact, they were able to locate four distinct patterns of activity.

“The first pattern, and most complex, showed high-level, efficient coordination across wide swaths of the brain. This pattern was more prevalent in participants who were awake and healthy but less so in participants with unresponsive wakefulness syndrome as well as those were in a minimally conscious state, according to the research.

In contrast, a separate pattern emerged in unresponsive people’s brains that was less complex and more linked to specific brain regions, suggesting a lower level of coordination within the brain. The other two patterns, the researchers suggest, exist as transition states between the two other patterns.”

Obviously, further research will need to occur before we can truly understand everything there is to know about consciousness.  But this is an important first step.  Albeit, an obvious one at that.

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Have we finally figured out the true nature of consciousness?

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