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Researchers from the University of Sussex have developed some of the coolest technology I have ever encountered: holograms that you can see, hear, and even feel!

As Gizmodo explains:

“The technology isn’t limited to just creating a neat effect for the eyes. In addition to zipping the foam bead around to create the outlines of shapes, the transducers can also make it vibrate at frequencies that create sound waves, particularly those that fall within the range of human hearing. So not only could the bead be manipulated to create the image of a talking face, but it could also function as a tiny speaker so the face talked too. But that’s not all. The researchers believe they could take things one step further to create ultrasonic sound waves at frequencies that could be felt as a tactile sensation. The flapping wings of a butterfly in flight could be felt if someone placed their hands close enough to the hologram.”

Holograms have long shown promise as educational tools or methods of communication, enabling us to view schematics or interact with people who aren’t really there.  But this technology points to holograms evolving beyond that.  Perhaps even getting to the point where they could one day become a viable alternative to Augmented Reality or Virtual Reality technology, enabling us to live alongside or play interactive games with life-like, fully functional avatars of our closest friends.

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Is a hologram that you can hear and feel the Greatest Idea Ever?

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Joshua Seth understands the importance of creativity.  As a best-selling author, accomplished public speaker, world famous illusionist, and the voice of nearly one hundred different animated characters he has made a career out of acting and thinking creatively.  A skill that is suddenly in high demand thanks to the new Era of Creativity that we suddenly find ourselves in.

As Scott Belsky writes on Medium, “While productivity is about squeezing all the value out of existing resources, creativity and creative thinking are about discovering new resources: creative problem-solving that turns an obstacle into an advantage, inspiration that leads to a new product, creative reinvention that changes the course of your career.  The transition to the Era of Creativity will undoubtedly be difficult for some people, as all economic shifts are. But in the end, it’s a positive change for humankind. Being more productive can be satisfying, but ultimately it just makes you a more efficient cog in a faster machine. Being more creative, on the other hand, brings very different forms of fulfillment: joy, self-discovery, creative expression, new ways of doing old things, connection to others. In economic terms, GDP in this era will measure more than just raw economic output. It will measure happiness.”

Presidential candidate Andrew Yang would seem to agree with that view with his recent calls for a new way of measuring GDP.  One that adds a human element to the equation.

As The Hill recently reported, “Yang cited what he called human-centered capitalism as an important metric for measuring the economy.

‘I’d like to talk about my wife, who is home with our two children, one of whom is autistic,’ he said. ‘GDP would include her work at zero when we know it’s the opposite of the truth. So we need to start measuring things that actually indicate how we’re doing — things like health, mental health and freedom from substance abuse, childhood success rates, clean air and clean water, and other social indicators.’”

So if all this is true, if we’ve really entered into a new Era of Creativity, one in which GDP gets updated to measure our happiness, one in which creative jobs spring up to replace those lost to AI and automation, how will we adjust to our new reality? How will we survive?  By thinking more creatively of course.  And that’s where Joshua Seth comes in.  His newly created creativity card game could become a key resource for individuals and corporations alike, an invaluable resource for unlocking the creativity that lies inside every single one of us.

As Joshua recently told me, “We tend to think that creativity comes from a spark of inspiration but in reality for it to be sustainable you need a process.”

In theory, his card game is that process.  But there’s more to being creative than just playing a game that harnesses your creative juices and helps you collaborate with others.  You also need to be present in the moment.  As he puts it, “the key to creativity is finding focus and being present in the moment.  Do it with your whole heart and being.  Not perfectly.  Just better than the last time.”

Which is probably good life advice in general.  Just stay focused, live in the moment, and let your creative juices flow.  The rest will take care of its self.  One idea at a time.

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Is a creativity card game the Greatest Idea Ever?

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A couple of years ago I went backpacking for the first time, trekking through the Grand Canyon to the Havasupai Indian Reservation, a lush waterfall infused oasis in the middle of the desert that features some of the most tranquil, crystal clear water you will ever see in your entire life.  It was heaven on Earth.  There was just one problem: the bathrooms near the campsites were virtually unusable.  If the smell didn’t get you, the thousands of horse flies buzzing around you would.

Most people just grin and bear it.  Chalk it up to being part of the experience.  Roughing it in Mother Nature is part of the appeal they’ll say.  But, really, what other choice did they have?  When nature calls, you answer.  I, on the other hand, a true City Slicker in every sense of the word, take drastic action when the situation calls for it.  Which in this case meant hiking two miles to the nearest village just to use a flush toilet.  A decision that nearly cost me my life when I was too exhausted to hike out of the canyon the following day.  And I’m one of the lucky ones!  I live in the modernized Western world.  I have access to clean toilets and sanitary conditions most of the time.  The only times I wouldn’t would be when I go camping, a situation that I put myself in voluntarily.

Others aren’t so lucky.  For half of the world’s population there are no good options.  No hiking to nearby villages either.  There only options are to go to the bathroom in deplorable, unsanitary pit latrines or in some random spot in nature with no privacy.  Either way there isn’t any way for them to dispose of their waste.  Nearby streams become natural dumping grounds.  Little kids play in mud that is just crawling with bacteria.  Diarrhea claims thousands of lives.  Families are torn apart.  It’s a significant problem.  Albeit one that we’re not paying any attention to.  Here in the Western world we’re under the false impression that we’ve already cured sanitation issues.  But that couldn’t be farther from the truth.  The world needs sanitation innovation and it needs it yesterday.  Thankfully, techno philanthropist Bill Gates is on the case and he is determined to reinvent the toilet.

To that end he launched a competition, inviting inventors, engineers, and students from the top universities in the world to design a new type of toilet.  One that could operate off the grid, without an external power source, and generate zero waste in the process.  A self-sustaining solution that would improve sanitation, reduce the spread of disease, and improve the living conditions for millions of people.  And despite the daunting tasks associated with such an undertaking it appears as though he’s actually achieved what he set out to do.

As he describes on his website Gates Notes:

“Our foundation has invested a lot of money to develop a pipeline of next-generation sanitation solutions. In 2011, we launched the Reinvent the Toilet challenge. Many of the solutions created for that challenge are now ready to license. A remarkable cohort of engineers, scientists, companies, and universities around the world has done the hard work of getting a safe, off-grid sanitation market ready for take-off…

Each of these toilets seeks to solve the same problem, but they’ve all taken a different approach to get there.  Several run on solar power, so they can operate off-grid.

Others generate their own power, like the Cranfield nanomembrane toilet. Opening or closing its lid moves a screw that separates liquids from solids. A gasifier converts the solids into ash and heat that is used to operate the toilet.

[Meanwhile] a big theme for next-gen toilets is the ability to turn waste into something useful. The Ecosan extracts clean water, which is safe to use for hand-washing. The water created by Duke University’s neighborhood treatment system can be used to flush toilets or supplement fertilizer. The University of South Florida’s New Generator even collects methane gas for cooking or heating.”

These are all innovative solutions and each could find a home somewhere in the developing world.  Suddenly, something (the toilet) that hasn’t change for over a hundred years has been reinvented several times over.  All thanks to Gates’ refusal to turn a blind eye to the suffering of thousands.  The founder of Microsoft Gates could have rested on his laurels.  Could have retired early and lived a lavish lifestyle.  Instead he started to look for a new challenge.  A way to make the biggest impact possible.  To get the biggest bang for his buck.  That’s not a very inspirational thing to do, as his interviewer points out on the Netflix Special Inside Bill’s Brain: Decoding Bill, but inspiration isn’t Gates’ objective.  Saving lives is.  Which is why in addition to reinventing the toilet he is also out to eradicate polio and malaria.  At this rate I wouldn’t bet against him.

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Is a reinvented toilet the Greatest Idea Ever?

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#1,547 – Light Phone

Smartphones are great.  They fit in the palm of our hands and put more computing power in our pockets than NASA used to put a man on the Moon.  They enable us to communicate with one another.  Empower us to surf the web.  Engage us with apps and games.  They’re not just gadgets.  They’re revolutionary pieces of technology depended upon by billions of people for everything from processing financial transactions to doing homework.  By spreading knowledge and information to the masses smartphones have democratized multiple industries and removed the barriers to entry to countless others.  But it’s not all fun and games. They’re also massive times sucks that have ruined interpersonal relationships and lives as people have become addicted to them.

Realizing their pitfalls people have resorted to limiting their screen time or removing themselves entirely from apps that they find particularly addictive and disruptive.  But why quit Facebook when you can quit your phone entirely?!  That’s the premise at least behind the Light Phone.  A bare bones device designed to let you call and text and little else.

As The Verge puts it:

“Released in the spring of 2017, the Light Phone was shaped like a business card, weighed less than a stack of seven quarters, and felt like a hollow wedge of plastic. But when you pressed the phone’s only button, its tiny keypad lit up in a soft white glow. It was practically ephemeral, and it came packed inside a hardcover book of wistful photos of creeks, clouds, birds, and beaches.

The Light Phone was an object of extreme minimalism. ‘Going light,’ founders Joe Hollier and Kai Tang stressed, was about a conscious uncoupling from our screens, rediscovering the world around us, and creating space for a slower and potentially more meaningful pace of communication.”

But there were drawbacks.  Notably the fact that you could make calls but not send texts, an odd choice in an era where texting seems to be our preferred method of communication.  The second iteration of the Light Phone fixes that oversight.

According to Wired:

“This second version of the Light Phone—the one Hollier has been dogfooding since early this year—is meant to unleash you from you smartphone, forever. To make that possible, it comes with a few new tricks: text messaging, an unlimited address book, faster connectivity speeds, and a dashboard where new features will flow onto the handset in future updates. It ships to Indiegogo backers today and will go on sale to everyone else for a cool $350.

Does that sound like a lot to pay for a device that does, well, almost nothing? Consider that to be the point.

‘The value of Light Phone is not just the object itself,’ says Tang. ‘The value is the experience that you break away from the internet, from social media, from all the manipulation. You’re free now. This is your life. What are you going to do?’”

Stop and smell the roses hopefully.  Reconnect with nature and your loved ones.  Use your new found free time to spend time with people face to face or read a book if being anti-social is your thing.  But what you do isn’t really the point.  The point is that you’re now free to do whatever you want.

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Is the Light Phone the Greatest Idea Ever?

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Bill Gates believes that personalized medicine is the future.  To the point where we may all have personalized cancer vaccines.  But in some ways the future of personalized healthcare is already here.  At least when it comes to personalized vitamins.

As Futurism puts it, “A daily vitamin regimen is often used to help bolster health, especially for those with diets that aren’t 100-percent up to a nutritionist’s recommendations (which is pretty much everyone). There are a ton of vitamin supplements and customized regimens out there. But only one is custom-tailored based on not just your lifestyle and diet, but on the results of a DNA test. It’s called Rootine, and for just $2.00 a day, it gives you the daily vitamins you truly need, without any of the empty filler you’re likely to get from other ‘one size fits all’ vitamin products.”

As someone with dietary restrictions and poor eating habits, it’s essential that I take vitamins to make up the difference.  The only problem is that I’m still taking Flintstone vitamins and likely not getting everything that I need into my system.  A highly personalized regimen could change all that and remove all the guess work along the way.  But how exactly would it work?

According to Futurism:

“Here’s what makes Rootine different from other vitamin products: individuality. You start by taking a quick intake quiz about your lifestyle and habits. Next, you take a DNA test (or send your existing DNA data), which will allow Rootine to create a special formulation of vitamins specifically tailored to your own genetic profile. As a result, you get everything you need to keep your body as healthy as possible, without unnecessary, or in some cases detrimental, vitamins you don’t. And once you start the process, you’ll also have the option to send in regular blood work so your vitamin regimen can be further tweaked and adjusted according to how well it’s working.”

That all sounds amazing.  I just have one last question though.  Will these vitamins come in chewable format? Preferably as gummies shaped like dinosaurs?

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Is Rootine the Greatest Idea Ever?

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I just finished reading one of the greatest books of all-time, The Half-Life of Facts, a fascinating look through the lens of mathematics at how knowledge constantly changes and what we can do to try and stay on top of those changes; something that is especially important in today’s day and age of fake news where staying informed in a politically charged climate isn’t a lifestyle choice, it’s a necessity.

Unfortunately, for most of us we tend to stop learning once we’re done receiving our primary education, either after finishing high school or after completing a Bachelors or Master’s degree.  Of course we still “learn” new things throughout life, either through osmosis, our social networks, shows and movies, the occasional book, or nowadays the ever popular podcast method.  But we’re not actively studying random facts outside of our chosen professions just for the hell of it like we did when we were in grade school.  If we do learn something new as adults it’s highly likely that what we’re learning is going to tie in with what we’re already interested in and conform with our already firmly established worldviews.  Taking the time to gather all the relevant facts, to learn both sides of an issue, to stay informed on every issue, just doesn’t happen all that often.

That’s why fake news spreads so easily.  Why there is so much political upheaval. Why there are so many Climate Change deniers.  Why there are Flat Earthers.  We have all become victims of our cognitive biases, refusing to change our worldviews even when presented with compelling new evidence, choosing to believe that which we grew up believing, that which adheres to how we already perceive the world.  Our only hope for a better future, a cleaner future, a future with less hate, is to become more open-minded, to become skilled in the art of learning new facts, to get to the point where it becomes second-nature to always learn new things and accept new facts, even paradigm shifting facts that change the way the world works.

In order for that to happen we need to change how we learn.  No longer can it be acceptable for people to shut down their minds and coast through life once they are done with their formal schooling.  No longer can it be acceptable for people to reside in online filter bubbles that reinforce their personal beliefs.  No longer can life-long learning be considered an optional pursuit, something left to academics, nerds, and bored retirees.  Instead we need to establish a culture based around continuing education.  Based around the constant pursuit of obtaining the latest knowledge, across all walks of life.

As someone who has needed to pass certain licensing exams for their job I’ll be the first to admit that this sounds horrible.  The idea of giving up one’s free time to continuously study for and take exams is not an appealing one.  But at the same time it may be a necessity of life in the 21st century, a necessity of living in a time where facts are constantly changing at breakneck speeds.

And honestly, it may not be all that bad.  I’m not talking about serious, intensive exams on a weekly basis.  Perhaps just a few short online quizzes twice a year to make sure that people know what’s going on.  Something that can be passed in a manner of minutes after watching a brief online tutorial.  Something that would cover the latest Climate news, the latest scientific breakthroughs, a political story or two, the occasional fact changing (Pluto is no longer a planet, dinosaurs had feathers), etc.  Just a mix of information to make sure that people know what’s going on in the world, what’s really going on, not just what the latest memes are.  What’s the latest with Brexit?  What are the current carbon dioxide levels? Is red wine currently good for you or not?  What’s the latest crazy thing that Elon Musk said? What’s the latest diet craze all about?  In short, what do I realistically need to know to be an educated voter, a functioning member of society, or even just a good parent, spouse, friend, or neighbor.

Best of all such a continuous education program would create a never ending source of jobs – for the people creating the content, to those administering it, to those offering extra-help tutoring sessions, to those enforcing it.  In a future where autonomous robots take away all of jobs we’re going to need to think outside the box to create new jobs that only humans can do.  An entire cottage industry springing up around continuous education could be one possible solution.

Such a program could even tie into other aspects of society.  For instance, if China’s experimental social credit program takes off and people receive reputation scores that follow them then maybe the continuing education program could tie in with those scores.  If you have passed the latest tests you’ll have a higher reputation score than someone who hasn’t, indicating that you are more trustworthy since you are more informed.  Or perhaps the testing could be incentivized.  Those who take and pass the exams would receive better car insurance rates or better credit scores.  Or points that they can trade in for airline miles, Amazon.com gift cards, or discounts from their favorite retailers, etc. whatever the case may be.

I’m sure that some people will be opposed to this idea but there is already precedent for it.  Financial Advisors and medical professionals are already required to undergo continuing education training.  Anyone who works in an office and takes annual cybersecurity or ethics training does the same.  When it comes to being a subject matter expert in your chosen profession it’s obviously important to stay on top of the latest news in your field.  People’s lives and their livelihoods literally depend on it.  Shouldn’t that same logic apply when it’s your life and your livelihood that’s on the line?

All in all, it’s become increasingly clear that we need to think long and hard about thinking long and hard.  That we need to be cognizant of the fact that our facts are constantly changing.  If we don’t then our society may very well be on the verge of making the plot of Idiocracy come to fruition.  A horrible fate that would doom us all.  So if we don’t want that to happen we will have to take drastic, society-wide action to ensure that we raise the education level of all citizens, at all times.  A continuing education program, that would be a necessary evil in the war against ignorance, may very well be the way to do just that.

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Is lifelong learning the Greatest Idea Ever?

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After years and years and years of online dating it has become painfully obvious that no one knows how to sell themselves.  Unsure of what to say most people have flat out given up, using some variation of the line, “I hate talking about myself”, “I never know what to put here”, or my personal favorite, “if you want to know something just ask.”

I’m not above criticism either.  I’m 37 and still single so clearly what I’m writing isn’t working either.  And I’m a writer! That’s why I think we should turn our hopes and dreams for finding true love over to an algorithm like we do with everything else.

Such a program would craft the perfect profile for us, customizing a series of standard templates based on our specific interests.  It would even select our best pictures for us using facial recognition software that culls our social media platforms.  No more awkward bathroom selfies or group shots where you can’t tell who it is that you’re supposed to be looking at.  Instead only the best, quirkiest, most fun-loving pictures would get selected.  The pictures that show who you really are, not who you want to portray.

In fact, by removing our ability to sell ourselves we’d be stripping away everything that’s wrong with online dating.  Carefully crafted selfies, humble brags, and hey look at me antics would all be devalued.  Instead of coming across like we’re trying too hard we’d all become genuine versions of ourselves, our true essence boiled down to a series of ones and zeros by an emotionless algorithm that knows us better than we know ourselves.

That may not sound like fun but perhaps it’s the approach that we need.  The one that will help us change our fate.  Because clearly what we’ve been doing so far hasn’t been working.  As they say in the 40 Year Old Virgin perhaps what’s felt right isn’t the right way to go about it.  Perhaps it’s time to try some wrong.

On the other hand, such an approach might raise other, more pressing concerns.  Such as: if everyone has the same cookie cutter profile how would the truly great person stand out?!?  And to be fair they probably wouldn’t.  But that’s where the dating part comes in.  It would be up to us to make that final determination of who is worth spending our time on.  After all, algorithms can’t do everything for us.  Or can they…

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Is an automated dating profile service the Greatest Idea Ever?

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