Archive for the ‘Life’ Category

I’m currently reading a riveting book about the history of innovation.  In How We Got To Now, author Steven Johnson traces the trajectory of six innovations that shaped the modern world.  What Johnson is particularly focused on in this book is the so-called Hummingbird Effect; how seemingly unrelated events are actually connected, such as the way that the Hummingbird evolved its unique ability to hover in place as a response to the way that the flower had evolved to attract pollinators.

One of the examples that Johnson gives is of the Gutenberg Press, the world’s first printing press.  This invention obviously had a huge impact on the world as access to information increased and literacy rates improved.  But it also had unintended consequences such as the spread of heretic ideas that undermined the authority of the church.  But that’s not all it did.  As a perfect example of the Hummingbird effect the printing press also impacted several other innovations that would have been impossible to predict at the time.  For instance, since people were starting to read more they realized that they were really farsighted.  This lead to an increased interest in correcting vision, which lead to an increased interest in lenses, which lead to the invention of the microscope and the telescope, which lead to advances in healthcare and physics.  If the printing press had never been invented we might not know what a cell was or that there are planets surrounding other stars.

Other inventions had similar long-term effects.  Shipping ice from Boston to the Caribbean to make ice cream and cool drinks created a global luxury market for ice which led to people taking an interest in cooling techniques.  This ultimately lead to refrigerators, which then lead to air conditioners, which led to the greatest mass migration the world has ever seen as warmer climes could now be settled, which led to a dramatic shift in the balance of power in U.S. politics with the Democrats losing control of Congress as population centers migrated South.  Political reverberations that are still being felt today.

The accidental discovery of glass, stumbled upon in the Sahara desert, had a far greater impact.  At first, the transparency of glass is what appealed to people as it became a key fixture in jewelry.  But later on mankind would start to tinker with some of its other properties, such as its strength and its ability to bend light, using it to make wine glasses and then beautiful stain glass windows.  Eventually it would make its way into eyewear and ultimately mirrors and that’s where things would get really interesting.

For the first time in human history people could actually see what they looked like, instead of forming a rough picture based off of seeing their reflection in a pond.  This fundamentally altered the way they saw the world.  Instead of relying on institutions such as their families or the church for guidance, they would instead start to rely more on themselves, even caring more about their possessions and their social status.  Not so coincidentally, it was around this time that there was also a rise in the number of self-portraits as artists took more of an interest in the proverbial selfie of the day.  This fundamental change just so happened to coincide with the Renaissance and while it would be foolish to say that the Renaissance was caused by the discovery of glass and the advent of the mirror, it is worth mentioning, at least, as a possible contributing factor, especially when you consider that the Renaissance was fueled in part by artists competing for recognition and commissions from the wealthy Medici.

This idea that the mirror could change the way people saw the world, and that in turn, could lead to the Renaissance is completely mind-blowing to me.  I’ve always just kind of taken our way of life, the modern human condition, for granted.  I’ve never thought philosophically about the way that I see the world; that perhaps there could be another entirely different perspective that one could take.  I never once considered that a new technology might be able to profoundly change my worldview.

Sure, there are plenty of people claiming that we are, in fact, currently undergoing a transformation in the way we see the world, for better or for worse, thanks to our reliance on computers.  On the one hand these machines may be making us dumber as we outsource our memories to them.  On the other hand they could be changing our understanding of the world around us as we start to equate naturally occurring phenomenon with programming the way that the invention of watches led to some imagining natural systems as a series of cogs and wheels. But, while both of those perspectives are true, it’s hard for me to imagine that computers are fundamentally impacting the way I see the world or that they could lead to another Renaissance.  Computers may be making us dumber but they also could be making us smarter, augmenting our performance and improving it bit by bit.  Either way, they’re not really altering our sense of self the way that the mirror did.  But there is a new discovery that might.  A breakthrough in our understanding of the human mind and how it works that could change everything.  A revelation that could lead to a heightened sense of self, unlike anything ever seen before in human history.

That bold claim is based on the working theory that consciousness has various levels of intensity.  You might want to imagine these levels on a baseline of 1-10 with one representing somebody in a coma and ten representing someone fighting in the Octagon with their fight or flight response in full swing.  But now we’ve come to find out that there’s a higher level of consciousness that’s off the charts.

According to I Fucking Love Science:

“One way in which neuroscientists measure consciousness is to look at something called neural signal diversity. This assesses how complex a brain’s activity is at any given time and provides a mathematical index of the level of consciousness. For example, a waking brain has more diverse neural activity than a sleeping one, which means it has a higher state of consciousness.

When the researchers from the University of Sussex and Imperial College, London, looked at the neural signal diversity of volunteers given one of the three different psychedelic drugs, they found something surprising. The brain signal diversity was higher in those who had taken the drugs compared to a baseline of someone who is simply awake and aware, suggesting that they have a heightened sense of consciousness.”

Taping into this higher state of consciousness for the first time could have the same transformative psychological impact of looking in the mirror for the first time.  You’d suddenly realize that you have infinitely more potential than you had ever imagined.  Your perspective on life would instantly change as you begin to wonder what you could do with heightened senses, with better reflexes, with more situational awareness.  Your mind would race as you contemplate how much smarter you’ve become and if you’ve gained any new abilities.  And what about society as a whole?  If everyone was operating at this higher state of consciousness would it usher in a new era of creativity, a new Renaissance?  What innovations will this Great Awareness lead to?  What sort of Hummingbird Effects would it have?

The great thing about innovation is that it’s impossible to answer these questions from our present day perspective.  Johannes Gutenberg had no idea that the printing press would lead to the discovery of the cell.  The first person to stumble across glass in the desert could never have fathomed that it would one day be used as a mirror and lead to the Renaissance.  When Thomas Edison invented the phonograph he first thought it would be used to send messages from one person to another.  When Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone he first thought it would be used so that a musician on one end could perform for someone listening on the other end.  They had no idea that the use cases for their inventions would wind up getting switched with the telephone getting used to communicate and the phonograph becoming a music player.

When it comes to innovation, it’s not always necessary to know where you’re going to wind up.  The only thing that truly matters is knowing when to start.  Knowing when the next revolution is about to begin. And I believe that our discovery of a higher state of consciousness is one of those key moments in history.  A pivotal moment that could change everything, even if we don’t yet realize how.

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Is a higher state of consciousness within our reach?

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#1,054 – Ghost Restaurants

Ghost Restaurant.  A haunted eatery that’s a sequel to the 2002 horror flick Ghost Ship? Or a new cuisine craze where specters serve “ghoul” food instead of soul food?  Turns out it’s neither.

As Fast Company puts it, “Hungry New Yorkers ordering meals through such online services as Seamless or Eat24 order everything from sushi to burgers to tacos. But when they order from certain restaurants like Leafage and Butcher Block, they might not realize that those restaurants aren’t restaurants at all. They are virtual eateries created by a company called the Green Summit Group that operates several food-delivery services out of central commissaries in midtown Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Chicago. In New York alone, Green Summit’s brands offer all sorts of cuisine ‘concepts,’ including meatballs, salad/sandwich/juice, and burgers/grilled cheese.”

In other words, they’re ordering from ghost restaurants that exist in name only.  Weird, yet entirely practical.  The unusual setup makes perfect sense for busy millennials who are constantly ordering delivery while on the go.  When your office is a Starbucks and your living quarters a stranger’s spare bedroom you get used to unorthodox arrangements.  It doesn’t really matter to you that the restaurant you just ordered from doesn’t have a physical space that you can go to for date night since your date nights mostly just consist of Netflix and Chill anyway.

The arrangement makes sense for the chefs as well.  Why pay hefty rents for your own branded space when you can share a kitchen and pocket more of the profit?  Shared cooking spaces are likely to bring down other costs as well if the ghost restaurants are sharing supplies and even ingredients.

All in all, it seems like a win-win situation for everyone involved.  Unless, of course, you happen to be someone who actually likes to eat out.  Or,  you’re one of those people who is disappointed to find out that there aren’t any actual ghosts serving food.  But for everyone else…say hello to the latest food craze: ghost restaurants.  Coming soon to a front door near you.

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Is a Ghost Restaurant the Greatest Idea Ever?


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#987 – Amazon Go

It may not seem like it but the supermarket has actually been rife with innovation over the years.  From bar code scanners to coupon dispensers to self checkout lines the grocery store has evolved to the point where food shopping is a nearly friction-less experience.  Just occasionally inconvenient and slightly time consuming if you happen to get stuck in the slow check out line behind the little old granny who is paying in loose change, checking the circular for the latest special on dried nuts, and questioning every item that gets scanned in to make sure that she was charged properly for the three cartons of on sale blueberries that she just has to have in order to make her world famous cobbler.

Amazon feels your pain though and wants to ease your suffering.  Welcome to the final frontier of retail shopping.  The truly friction-less shopping experience.  That’s right.  By 2018 you may be heading inside of a physical Amazon store, picking up whatever you want, and walking right out the door without ever paying.

Before you get carried away allow me to clarify.  You are in fact paying for the items.  It’s just happening automatically.  If you’re an Amazon Prime member of course. Thanks to a bevy of sensors Amazon will be able to tell when you enter the store, what you put into your cart, what you put back on the shelf, and what you ultimately take out of the store.  You’ll then be charged accordingly.

As Engadget explains, “It looks like those rumors of Amazon convenience stores were true. The online shopping giant unveiled Amazon Go today, its spin on brick and mortar retail. It uses computer vision, a whole bunch of sensors and deep learning to let you walk into a store, sign in with an Amazon Go app, fill up your bags and leave without stopping for a checkout line. Amazon is calling it a ‘Just Walk Out Shopping’ experience, a self-descriptive name if there ever was one.”

While the idea of a store without cashiers seems like a robbers wet dream I’m assuming there’s going to be safeguards in place against that so I’m not even really going to be concerned about that aspect of this plan. Rather, the more interesting question to ask is what is Amazon going to do with all of the data that they will be collecting.  Data about which items we pick up and then put back or data about our shopping history and patterns.  Amazon, I’ll save you the trouble and just tell you straight up: I eat a lot of licorice nibs.  A lot.

All in all, it’ll be interesting to see what Amazon Go has “in store” for us going forward.  Is this the future of shopping or just a passing fancy?

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Is Amazon Go the Greatest Idea Ever?

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#980 – Onwards

The election of Donald Trump as the 45th President of the United States has exposed a harrowing truth: that there’s a lot more hate in the world than we’d care to admit.  Racism, sexism, misogyny, and xenophobia aren’t new phenomenon though.  It’s just that they’ve boiled to the surface seemingly more than ever before as their practitioners now feel emboldened by their President elect’s mandate of hate.

Thankfully, not everyone is fueled by hatred or willing to turn the other check in the face of it.  In addition to the fifty million plus people who voted for Hillary Clinton, the visibly angry youth who took to the streets to protest the election results the night after, and those who continue to put pressure on the Electoral College to do the right thing, there’s also a new wave of people who feel empowered in their own right.  People who have been motivated by this shocking turn of events to take it upon themselves to get more involved in the fight for social justice.  People who have publicly stated that they want to get more involved in their local communities.  People who have stated their desire to run for office themselves.  People who have been getting involved at the grassroots level, calling upon their local representatives to do more.  In fact, there’s now an official movement that has been started known as Onwards that’s going to explore specific ways for people to make a difference.  If you want to join the movement you can sign up at: https://www.onwards.world/

The man behind the movement?  Dex Torricke-Barton, a now former Space X executive who quit his dream job to tackle an issue that he felt was even more important than helping to turn our race into a true two planet species: fighting hatred on the front lines right here on Planet Earth.  Or as he put it himself: “The only reason to quit my dream job was to go and fight a nightmare.”

And you know what?  He’s right.  Building a better future won’t matter if the present derails us before we can get there.  We need to be more compassionate, more tolerant of each other, more inclusive, more willing to work together.  If we can’t do that then we won’t have anyone capable and willing to work on our rockets in the future because we’ll all be too busy fighting each other.

As the told the Huffington Post, “’What happened on Tuesday is not just about campaigning deficiencies or media failures,’ he said. “There is a growing gulf in understanding, empathy and policy; between coastal elites and communities left behind by globalization, between those who seek greater diversity and those who are fearful of it, between the ‘winners’ and ‘losers’ in a changing world.’”

What Torricke-Barton wants to do is shorten that gulf.  To bring us closer together.  How exactly will he do that? Well, that remains to be seen.  It could be a small gesture akin to the Kindness Project in San Francisco which has facilitated strangers leaving random notes of kindness to one another.  Or it could be something on a much larger scale.

You may think that it would be hard to judge such a nebulous idea without knowing what exactly it is or what kind of impact it will have but that’s actually not the case.  The really big idea here is that of taking a stand against injustice and it points to a larger trend: the creation of an entire cottage industry centered around social justice.  In a future where the majority of jobs may be automated it very well could be that the future of work will involve more human-centric tasks.  Like actually being nice to one another.  Onwards could very be at the forefront of that.  At the very least they’ll have been one of the first ones to try.

I sincerely hope that Onwards catches on and becomes the Next Big Thing because it is abundantly clear that we need all the help that we can get in the fight against Donald Trump and his mandate of hate.  The cast of Hamilton can’t do it all on their own.

Onwards and upwards then to a better future!  Hopefully…

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Dex Torricke-Barton has quit Space X to start Onwards.  Will it become the Greatest Idea Ever?  Only time will tell.

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#953 – Living Will

Jose Fernandez was one the greatest pitchers of all-time.  And that’s not an exaggeration.  By the measure of era +, a new era statistic that measures your earned run average after accounting for external factors such as ballparks and opponents, Fernandez’ 150+ was the greatest ever.  Greater than Clayton Kershaw.  Greater than Sandy Koufax. Greater than anyone else.  Ever.  In layman terms that means his performance was 50% better than the league average.  And he was only 24 with room for improvement.  Tragically though, Fernandez was lost to us on Sunday morning.  Perishing in a high speed boat crash off the coast of Miami.  Proving that once again, the brightest stars burn out the fastest.

Fernandez’ shocking passing is just a further reminder that life is short and that any of us could depart at any time.  This got me thinking about what would happen if I were to die suddenly.  I don’t have a will yet and quite frankly I don’t want to depress myself by sitting down to create one now.  But I do want there to be some mechanism in place for ensuring that my wishes are met.  Or, at the very least, that some of my prized possessions make their way to my friends and not to my estate.  But how can I do that passively without having to actually face my fear of death head on?

Well, what I’m envisioning is a smart will of sorts.  An algorithm capable of sorting through your emails, social media accounts, and credit card receipts in order to keep a running tab of your possessions.  Just bought Honus Wagner’s rookie card at an auction?  No need to update an actual will.  This service will know to do it for you.  Who will be in line to receive it?  If you don’t specific someone the service will select someone for you based on social media activity.  Perhaps it would be the person who has interacted with you the most i.e. your best friend.  Or it could be the first person who responded to your post or a random selectee out of all the people who responded.  You’d be able to select whichever setting most suits you.  What about your stock portfolio you ask?  Well, instead of just giving all of your holdings to a beneficiary what if the algorithm could figure out how to best disperse them?  So that your friend who you exchange stock tips with via email gets the stocks in the companies that he told you to invest in.  While your crazy uncle who told you repeatedly to invest in that wildly speculative graphene startup gets those shares.

Now, not every purchase would be flagged by the system.  It will use machine learning and your edits to figure out which purchases are worthwhile.  In fact, as time goes on the algorithm will get smarter, linking to more and more data sources – along the way building out a comprehensive data profile of your life.  This digital dossier will essentially be able to answer the hard questions that a probate attorney wouldn’t be able to answer.  Questions regarding who you liked and didn’t.  About how charitable you were or wanted to be.  About what you were interested in and passionate about.  Think of it like a digital organ donor card of sorts.  We already think to pass on our organs if we were to die suddenly.  But we don’t think to do anything with the digital records that we would be leaving behind.  A living will would change that, enabling our loved ones and the authorities to not just extract useful information from our person but also from our online personas.

Is any of this even possible?  Maybe.  Maybe not.  But I think the concept is worth exploring if for no other reason than the fact that it beats the alternative: contemplating one’s own imminent demise.

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The sudden passing of Jose Fernandez got me thinking.  Is a Living Will the Greatest Idea Ever?

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#950 – Postmates

Two weeks ago I was excited to spend a lazy Sunday afternoon on my couch breaking in my new satellite dish as I watched every NFL game.  The first time in my life that I wouldn’t be a slave to the local TV broadcast schedule.  Everything was going smoothly until 5 o’clock rolled around and I realized that I had nothing in my house to eat.  I couldn’t run out and get something because I had people over.  I couldn’t make something fresh on account of the fact that I lacked proper ingredients.  What recourse did I really have?

Well, as it turns out there was something that I could have done instead of microwaving left over Costco chicken.  What I could have done was whipped out the Postmates app on my phone and placed an order for some Taco Bell.  That’s right.  There’s an app that will enable you to get delivery from establishments that don’t normally offer delivery!  Need some diapers but can’t run out to get them because you’re home alone taking care of two kids?  Get some delivered!  Desperately in need of a new box of tissues and some nose drops but can’t drive because you just took some sleeping pills?  Have them delivered! Want a cup of coffee from Starbucks first thing in the morning but are too lazy to get it yourself?  Have some delivered!  (My cousin who once thought up a Joe on the Go delivery service isn’t going to like this very much)  All in all, this is a total game changer.

As Tech Insider cautions though, there is a lot of competition:

“While Postmates was one of the first startups to popularize on-demand delivery through an app, it now it has more competition than ever before.  There’s an obvious comparison to be made between Postmates and Uber, which has recently been expanding its UberRush delivery service and food delivery with UberEats. Amazon has also been aggressively going after services like Postmates with its same-day (and sometimes one-hour) delivery for Prime subscribers.  Then there are the countless startups competing for the core Postmates business of food delivery, like Caviar, DoorDash, and Maple.”

While it’s clear that operating a business in the on demand sector is tough sledding I’m confident that Postmates has staying power, especially as rumors circulate that they are close to securing another 100 million dollar funding round.  Hopefully, they’ll stick around for the long haul, at least long enough for me to try them out the next time I’m hosting a party and run out of dip.  And if not, well, there’s always Uber.

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Is Postmates the Greatest Idea Ever?

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#946 – Coffiest

Three years ago, I wrote about Soylent Green, a liquid meal replacement that could save you the time associated with buying food, preparing and cooking a meal, and cleaning up after yourself.  The perfect substitute for lazy millennials and busy working professionals who want to eat healthy without having to work at it.  Of course I have yet to try this product on account of how I’m a picky eater who doesn’t like to try new things but I’ve heard great things and some people even swear by it.  For those who have yet to be convinced though there’s now a second Soylent product on the market, a version of coffee known as Coffiest, designed to combine your morning pick me up and your breakfast into one easy to consume caffeinated beverage. Personally, I would have called it Soylent Brown, but whatever.

As The Next Web puts it, “I don’t know why you’d want to replace very delicious foods with a bottled beverage, but Soylent is very much a thing and has garnered quite a following since its introduction into the world several years ago. And now, the company is set to release a follow up product that adds caffeine to the mix…”  The new product, “contains 150mg of caffeine, coffee flavoring, and the same nutritional ingredients in Soylent 2.0. It’s designed to help ease those who start their day with coffee move toward replacing their entire meal cycle with Soylent products, all without missing the bittersweet, chocolatey flavors.”

A staff writer for Business Insider tested the product and had this to say about it:

“Most days I eat yogurt with fresh fruit and granola at my desk, but last week, I gulped down Coffiest on my commute. I kept a 12-pack in my fridge so I could grab a chilled bottle on my way out the door. It spared me a few minutes every day that I usually spend packing, prepping, and eating breakfast. By the time I arrived at work, I could sense the caffeine tunneling through my brain. An average 8-ounce cup of brewed coffee has between 95 and 200 milligrams of caffeine; Coffiest’s 150 milligrams put the drink in the ‘strong coffee’ end of the spectrum.  But caffeine seemed more concentrated in this concoction than in the average cup of coffee. A couple hours into my first day on Coffiest, I realized I had crushed my inbox and whipped out my first article without letting a single yawn slip. I felt alert and focused.  While that may have been the placebo effect working its magic, Rob Rhinehart, cofounder and CEO of Soylent, credits Coffiest’s ‘secret sauce’: L-theanine. It’s an amino acid found in green tea that’s purported to cancel out the jitteriness often associated with a caffeine buzz, which may have also helped me to concentrate.”

While it’s still too early to tell if Coffiest will catch on and if it even works as well as it claims it’s encouraging to know that there’s an alternative to coffee out there since in addition to being a picky eater I’m also not a coffee drinker.  That is, if I’m able to bring myself to try it.

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Is Coffiest the Greatest Idea Ever?

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