Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

As Hurricane Harvey continues to deluge Houston with rain, with two or three more feet still to come, we’re reminded of the devastating effects of Mother Nature at her worst.  But as horrible as the catastrophic flooding is, there’s a far greater natural threat that we have to worry about: the super volcano positioned under Yellowstone National Park in the heart of the United States, because if it were ever to erupt it wouldn’t just effect an area the size of Texas.  It would effect the entire United States.  In fact, it would effect the entire world.  And oh by the way, it’s long overdue for an eruption.

Ever since I saw Spock save an ancient civilization from an impending volcano induced cataclysm in the second movie of the Star Trek reboot, I had long hoped that there would be a similar geoengineering scheme that could save us from the Yellowstone Super Volcano.  And now, thanks to NASA, there is.

As Popular Mechanics reports, “NASA’s plan is to drill a hole into the side of the volcano and pump water through it. When the water comes back out, it’ll be heated to over 600 degrees, slowly cooling the volcano. The team hopes that given enough time, this process will take enough heat from the volcano to prevent it from ever erupting. As a bonus, the scientists are proposing to use the heated water as a source of geothermal energy, potentially powering the entire Yellowstone region with heat from the volcano that wants to destroy it. A geothermal generator could produce energy at around $0.10 per kWh, competitive with other energy sources.”

NASA won’t be the only ones pocking around the Yellowstone Super Volcano though.  According to Wired, the discovery of lithium there could make it a hot bed for mining activity.

“Electric cars and smartphones of the future could be powered by super volcanoes like Yellowstone after scientists discovered that ancient deposits within them contain huge reservoirs of lithium—a chemical element used to make lithium-ore batteries, supplies of which are increasingly dwindling.”

The article from Wired further explains the process behind how the lithium was created:

“In a study published in the journal Nature Communications, researchers from Stanford University and the US Geological Survey have found a new potential source for lithium—within America’s super volcanoes

These volcanoes are capable of producing huge eruptions, about 1,000 times bigger than average. Along with the famous Yellowstone caldera, there are three other supervolcanoes in the US, Crater Lake, Long Valley and Valles Caldera.

When these volcanoes erupt, they collapse into huge basin-like formations known as calderas. These depressions often fill with water to become lakes, with the ash and pumice ejected during the eruption spread across the caldera in ancient deposits.

In the study, the team looked to super volcanoes as a potential source of lithium because of the lithium-enriched magma that formed them. Over thousands of years, lithium leaks out of the volcanic deposits, accumulating in the caldera lake, eventually becoming concentrated in a clay.”

So as you can see, all of our prayers have been answered.  We’re finally going to be tackling the issue of what to do about the Yellowstone Super Volcano.  And everything from electric cars to smartphones to all life on earth is going to reap the rewards of this intervention.  Now, if only it would stop raining in Houston…

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Is the plan to save Yellowstone the Greatest Idea Ever?


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#1,146 – MoviePass

There’s a lot going on these days.  The racial tensions in Charlottesville that lead to three people dying.  The push to remove confederate statues that followed.  President Trump’s off the rails press conference in which he blamed both sides.  All of the CEOs and moderate Republicans who have abandoned Trump in droves since.

Combine all that with Trump’s feud with the FBI, the Attorney General and anyone else who has crossed him, the Congressional failure to repel and replace Obamacare, and with the Russian election meddling and possible collusion, and it’s enough to make you wonder if we’re really living in Westeros all of a sudden with enough sub-plots to fill an entire series of books and spawn a hit HBO series.  With the threat of North Korea looming, our very own (nuclear) winter is coming as well.

So what do you do when life begins to imitate art?  When you need to find an escape from all the bad news inundating your Facebook feed?  You do the only thing you can do.  You spend more time with the arts! A feat which is now imminently possible thanks to the MoviePass, a monthly subscription service that lets you attend one in theatre movie per day for just $10 a month.  Considering that a single movie ticket usually costs around $10 this deal sounds almost too good to be true.  So, what’s the catch?

Well, for starters there are a few restrictions.  The ticket doesn’t cover IMAX or 3-D movies and the corresponding app will only work when you’re within 100 yards of a theatre.  That means that you can’t buy tickets online ahead of time which could limit your ability to see a popular new release.  And even for movies that have been out for a while you run the risk of schlepping all the way to the theatre just to find out that the movie you want to see is sold out.  Plus, it is for only one movie per day.  But, still.  We’re talking about $10 a month to have the ability to see up to 28-31 movies per month if you really wanted to.

So, let’s evaluate this.  It sounds like a no-brainer, but is it?  $10 a month for thirty movies is a great deal but that’s $10 more per month than I pay right now.  An additional $120 per year that I’d have to budget for.  Keep in mind that I haven’t seen a movie in the theaters in several months.  I wanted to see Wonder Woman and the new Spider Man but couldn’t bring myself to do it.  So, if I’m not going to use this pass religiously, or even all that often, am I literally just throwing away $10 a month?

Well, if I had this pass a few months ago logic would dictate that I probably would have used it to see Spider Man and Wonder Woman thereby recouping my investment.  So long as I see at least two movies a month then the deal is worth it.  But would I see two movies a month? 3 movies a month?  4 movies a month?  Two seems doable.  Anything more than that seems unlikely.  Who has that much free time to be able to go to the movies everyday anyway?  Especially, once the weather clears up and hiking season begins.  Not to mention the fact that there really aren’t that many good movies that are worth seeing in theaters.  For every Dunkirk there’s five Valerians.  Is this pass worth it if it means I’m going to be spending a Saturday night watching Brigsby Bear or a Sunday morning watching the Emoji Movie?  Sure, the value is there but what about the psychological toll that watching dozens of bad movies will take on my psyche?

It’s also fair to ask if this business model is even sustainable, a question that AMC is soon going to beasking via a subpoena.  When the program first launched back in NYC in 2011 it cost $50 per month.  That still sounds like a reasonably good deal to moviegoers and theaters realizing that most people wouldn’t go more than five times a month were on board with that.  But now that the cost has been slashed to $10 a month?!?! There’s no way this can last can it?

I don’t know.  All I know is that if you’re a movie lover who would go to the movies more than two times per month, and don’t mind having to buy last minute tickets, then you should definitely take the plunge.  And quickly!  Before they change their mind!

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Is MoviePass the Greatest Idea Ever?

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On last night’s episode of Silicon Valley, a paranoid Gilfoyle take action when he realizes that Dinesh’s hacker girlfriend has infiltrated the apartment’s Wi-Fi network and is using it to effectively spy on them.  In a panicked state the duo ripped wires out of the wall, covered up their webcams with duct tape, and took various other actions to try and safeguard their apartment from their virtual intruder.

The scenario that played out last night is the one that we often associate with our Wi-Fi routers.  That some hacker in Estonia is trying to enter our home networks to steal our social security numbers or bank account numbers.  Or less nefariously that our neighbors are trying to steal our signal.

But now we can add one more privacy fear to Wi-Fi routers: the fact that one day they may be used to spy on us by using holograms to recreate what the inside of an apartment looks like.

As Science Mag puts it, “Your wireless router may be giving you away in manner you never dreamed of. For the first time, physicists have used radio waves from a Wi-Fi transmitter to encode a 3D image of a real object in a hologram similar to the image of Princess Leia projected by R2D2 in the movie Star Wars. In principle, the technique could enable outsiders to ‘see’ the inside of a room using only the Wi-Fi signals leaking out of it…”

This technology comes to us from scientists at the Technical University of Munich and obviously won’t just be used for spying.  There are plenty of practical applications that could benefit society as well, such as using the technology during disaster recovery efforts to locate victims that may be trapped inside a burning building.

But for those of you who may still have spying concerns you can rest easy knowing that your humble abode will likely never get mapped.

According to CNET, “The development of this technology is still in an early state. But for those concerned about privacy, [paper co-author Friedemann] Reinhard said the movable antenna required to scan an entire room or a building would be very large and couldn’t be installed clandestinely.”

So for now all you really have to worry about are your neighbors.  Or if you’re anything like Dinesh, your crazy hacker girlfriend.

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Are Wi-Fi holograms the Greatest Idea Ever?

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People who are familiar with the CRISPR-CAS-9 gene editing technique are aware of its truly transformative ability to change the world.  Capable of ending hunger and curing all diseases (including cancer and AIDS) it has a chance to be the most important scientific discovery of all-time.  In fact, as scientists and researchers continue to play around with this nascent technology it’s becoming clear that we have barely just scratched the surface of what it can do.  As witnessed by its newfound ability to act as an antibiotic.

A few years ago, when researchers from my alma mater Northeastern University discovered a new antibiotic in soil, it was the first new antibiotic discovered in more than thirty years.  This was a historically important discovery that is likely to be downright pivotal in our on-going fight against drug resistant super bugs. That’s because super bugs have evolved to fight and even become resistant to most antibiotics thanks to our misguided insistence that we should wipe out all of our gut bacteria in one fell swoop every time we are sick.  As it turns out though not all gut bacteria is bad.  Some of it lives symbiotically with us and plays a vital role in maintaining our health.  Using an antibiotic as a proverbial sledgehammer to destroy everything in its path is counterproductive.  The correct approach is a targeted one that would eliminate only the bad bacteria.  Thanks to CRISPR-CAS-9 that may now be on the verge of happening.

As Futurism explains, it may soon be possible to provide patients with a CRISPR pill that could target specific bacterium such as Clostridium difficile which can kill 15,000 people per year:

“Jan-Peter van Pijkeren, a food scientist from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, is creating a probiotic cocktail that patients can swallow as a liquid or pill.  The cocktail of bacteria will include a bacteriophage – a virus that infects bacteria – capable of carrying a customized, false, CRISPR message to C. difficile. This message would cause C. difficile to make lethal cuts to its own DNA.”

Instructing bacterium to kill themselves on purpose?  That’s straight up savagery.  And it could very well be the future of medicine.  A future in which we deliver drugs to specific parts of our body using gene editing techniques as part of complex personalized healthcare plans that our doctors specifically design for us.  With this approach you won’t need a sledgehammer to get the desired results.  Just a pair of scissors.

Considering the already limitless potential of the CRISPR-CAS-9 gene editing technique it’s somewhat surprising to find yet another novel use for it.  Which begs the question: what else can it be used for?!?!

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Is a CRISPR pill the Greatest Idea Ever?

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Suffice it to say, the way that we eat and drink in the future is likely to be vastly different than the way we eat and drink now.  For instance, we’ll probably consume lab grown meat and seaweed that taste likes bacon.  We’ll probably have no choice but to turn to bugs as a source of protein.  Heck, we might even start drinking cockroach milk.  It’s also entirely possible that we’ll even have vaporized cuisine that we inhale instead of eat.  And now we can add edible water bottles to that list.

Designed to counteract the environmental impact of water bottles, the Ooho is a spherical, edible blob of water, that looks like a jelly fish and could very well be the future of hydration.  It’s outer layer is designed to be peeled away like a piece of fruit, leaving behind a gelatinous blob that you can consume to quench your thirst.  A blob, that the creators say has no taste, although artificial flavoring could be added if so desired.

As the Huffington Post describes, it’s an innovation whose time has come: “It will come as no surprise to anyone with the slightest interest in the environment that water bottles are at the top of the hit list for ‘worst products to buy,’ thanks to their one-time purpose and amount of waste generated.  But one London-based company could be changing the whole game with the idea for a water bottle made out of edible materials that delivers hydration in the form of a blob.”

Fast Company adds that, “The new packaging is based on the culinary technique of spherification, which is also used to make fake caviar and the tiny juice balls added to boba tea. Dip a ball of ice in calcium chloride and brown algae extract, and you can form a spherical membrane that keeps holding the ice as it melts and returns to room temperature.”


As great as this concept is I wonder if it will be convenient all of the time.  For example, if you’re hiking and only want to take a sip of your water supply wouldn’t it make more sense to have a water bottle so that you can put the cap back on and save some for later?  Won’t the Ooho get dirty if you put it away in your backpack after peeling it?  Also, if you have a water bottle and drink its contents you can easily re-fill it and keep going.  Once you eat the Ooho there’s no way to re-fill it.

So while the Ooho is a great idea that will definitely have a place in the market I’m not certain that it will completely replace the need for water bottles.  But it does raise an interesting question: what else does the future have in store for us when it comes to food and drink?

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Is Ooho the Greatest Idea Ever?

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Should I get Lasix eye surgery or hold out hope that Google Glass eventually comes out?  Do I wait for the Bionic Lens to come along and give me 3x better than 20/20 vision or do I make a fashion statement now with some Snapchat Spectacles?  With so many vision enhancing options on the market the decrepit, crooked-beyond-repair frames that I’ve been rocking since middle school just aren’t going to cut it anymore.  The time has finally come to upgrade my eye wear.  

But, wait!  Before I make a final decision it’s worth noting that there will soon be another option on the market: contact lenses capable of monitoring your health!  First up is blood sugar monitoring for diabetics.  But that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

According to Gizmodo, “A research team led by Oregon State professor Gregory Herman has developed a transparent biosensor that, when added to a contact lens, could conceivably be used to detect symptoms an array of health conditions. Currently, a lab-tested prototype can only detect blood glucose levels, but in the future, the team believes it could detect other medical conditions, possibly even cancer.

What other kinds of medical conditions are we talking about?!?! 

As Herman tells Gizmodo, there is a lot of information that can be gleamed from a single tear drop.  Such as: “glucose, but also lactate (sepsis, liver disease), dopamine (glaucoma), urea (renal function), and proteins (cancers). Our goal is to expand from a single sensor to multiple sensors.”

This means that it’s likely that we’ll one day have health monitoring contact lenses for a whole array of ailments and illnesses.  On the one hand, this is great news as we can now “envision” a future where everyone is more in tune with their bodies, leading healthier lives.  But on the other hand, I now have an even harder decision to make.  In fact, I still have no “eye-dea” what to do.

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Are health monitoring contacts the Greatest Idea Ever?

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Lost among all of the alternative facts, fake news claims, and political wrangling of the last week was the news that scientists have finally achieved the holy grail of chemistry, creating a metallic form of hydrogen, 80 years after its existence was first theorized.  How big of a deal is this?  Well, considering that hydrogen is the most abundant element in the Universe and a metallic version could be used as a fuel source for long range space travel, among other uses, I’d say that it’s a very big deal.

As the Independent put it:

“For nearly 100 years, scientists have dreamed of turning the lightest of all the elements, hydrogen, into a metal.  Now, in a stunning act of modern-day alchemy, scientists at Harvard University have finally succeeded in creating a tiny amount of what is the rarest, and possibly most valuable, material on the planet…for metallic hydrogen could theoretically revolutionize technology, enabling the creation of super-fast computers, high-speed levitating trains and ultra-efficient vehicles and dramatically improving almost anything involving electricity.  And it could also allow humanity to explore outer space as never before.”

That last part is what really grabbed my attention.  Revolutionizing space travel and making it so that we can travel to the far reaches of our galaxy within the span of a human lifetime?  Um, yes please!

The key to making that happen is to figure out a way to reverse the incredibly rare process that scientists only just created for the first time.  No easy feat.   Especially when you consider that the amount of pressure needed to create metallic hydrogen is greater than the amount of pressure found at the center of the Earth.  So great in fact, that the diamond anvils typically used to crush elements in high pressure experiments, couldn’t be used in this instance since the diamonds themselves would not have survived the high pressures involved.  Instead synthetic diamonds coated with alumina were used.

Here’s why that matters.  Since metallic hydrogen is formed at such high pressure, turning around and breaking it apart would create more energy than any other known catalyst that we currently have at our disposal.  Meaning that if we can harness this process we can use it in place of rocket fuel as a way to power our space craft and propel us to where no man has gone before.

There are some scientists who remain skeptical of the findings from Harvard University so it remains to be seen if metallic hydrogen is just a pipe dream or our future savior.  But if the science turns out to be viable and the process repeatable, then we could be looking at a legitimate world changing super material that would truly have the power to revolutionize society.

So far the early results are promising with the metallic hydrogen proving to be stable at room temperature, just like how diamonds remain stable after getting formed through a similar high pressure process.  Hopefully, the next wave of tests show equally promising results and that over time scientists can figure out exactly what else they can do with this new wonder material.

Until then let’s just marvel at the fact that metallic hydrogen was even created at all.  And remind ourselves that sometimes, the best news, isn’t on the front page.

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Is Metallic Hydrogen the Greatest Idea Ever?

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