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It should come as no surprise that I hate going to the dentist.  Everyone does.  That’s why I was so excited last year to learn about the potential for using stem cells to regrow damaged teeth.  And it’s why I’m even more excited today to learn about a potential vaccine for tooth decay.

Interestingly, and somewhat surprisingly, this latest scientific breakthrough isn’t the first time that research has been conducted to explore the idea of a tooth decay vaccine.  What’s surprising is that the first time it occurred, in the 1970’s, the research was carried out by the sugar industry in an attempt it would seem, to tie a health-benefit to eating sugar so that people would naturally want to consume more of it.

According to NPR, “Another goal of the research was to develop an application — perhaps a powder — that people could mix into or take with sugary foods. In theory, the application would render a bacterium called Streptococcus mutans (which is commonly found in our mouths) ‘less destructive to teeth after sugar was consumed’…”

The current research, currently being developed by Chinese researchers aims to achieve the same effect, albeit with far more altruistic motivations.  And for good reason.

As Futurism reports, “According to the World Health Organization (WHO), dental carries remains a major health problem in most industrialized countries despite recent advances in oral healthcare. Some 60 to 90 percent of schoolchildren, as well as adults, are known to suffer from dental caries, so clearly, a huge number of people could benefit from a vaccine that prevents their formation.”

To be clear, such as vaccine wouldn’t replace the need to brush your teeth.  You’d still need to maintain a healthy routine and continue to go to the dental for regular checkups.  But considering how widespread of an issue tooth decay is, a vaccine designed to combat it, could become an important weapon in our arsenal in the on-going fight against the bacteria in our mouths that is constantly seeking to do us harm.

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Is a tooth decay vaccine the Greatest Idea Ever?

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#1,161 – Swiipe

Where do you get your news from? Your Facebook feed? Via the Daily Show on Comedy Central or HBO’s Last Week Tonight with John Oliver?  From your loud-mouthed co-worked or neighbor?  From the crazy lady on the subway shouting about the end of days? Or dare I ask, from an actual newspaper or nightly news program?

In the future, your answer might be none of the above.  It might be Swiipe, a new Tinder style app that lets you swipe your way to information overload.  Simply swipe left to bypass a story, swipe right to save it for later, or click on it to read it now.

To help you find stories that may interest you the app will let either swipe through entire categories, say business or sports, or select from a collection of various sources. 50 for now, but another 300 on the way.

As Tech PP puts it:

“’Swiipe News’ certainly seems like an app worth trying out as it eliminates all the clutter you usually encounter on a run-in-the-mill news platform with a straightforward and minimalistic design.”

For today’s youth, who have grown accustomed to the act of swiping and of the practice of using their phones for everything, Swiipe could become the portal through which they enter the real world.  In lieu of water cooler talk and newsstands they’ll have swipes and shares.  The fact that the app was created by one of their own, Alex Goodison, a 14 year old from Ireland, who shouldn’t even know what Tinder is, speaks to that.

For now the app is only available on iOS but it should be coming to Android in the near future.

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Changes are coming to the newspaper industry.  In the future you may get your news from a Tinder style app.

Previously, I wrote about one touch healing, a new method developed by The Ohio State to heal wounds in a manner of seconds by applying vascular cells to the affected skin cells to kick-start the molecular rebuilding process.  Now there’s another lightning fast device on the horizon, a pen capable of detecting cancer in under ten seconds.

As New Atlas puts it:

“Distinguishing cancerous tissue from healthy tissue is a chief concern when it comes to surgery, which is why medical scientists are continually looking at new technologies to help surgeons sort the good from the bad. Over the years, we’ve seen research advances in the form of glowing compounds that light up cancerous cells and smart scalpels that offer visual and audio guidance. Now researchers at the University of Texas (UT) at Austin have developed a pen-like device that identifies cancerous tissue during surgery, boosting the chances of a successful procedure.”

So how does this amazing new technology work?!

“The pen simply needs to be held against the tissue while a foot pedal is used to kick off the process. This sees a drop of water fall onto the tissue, allowing small molecules to be absorbed into the liquid. This water is then fed into a mass spectrometer, an instrument with the ability to detect thousands of molecules and interpret the molecular fingerprints of various cancers.

Once this analysis is completed, a connected computer screen will automatically display ‘Normal’ or ‘Cancer’ within about 10 seconds, and for certain cancers, will even name the subtype, such as ‘lung cancer,’ for example. When testing the MasSpec Pen on 253 tissue samples taken from cancer patients, it proved more than 96 percent accurate and was also able to detect cancer in marginal areas between normal and cancerous tissue.”

Considering how pivotal early stage detection is for all types of cancer, this pen could be responsible for saving millions of lives.  And considering how quick and easy it is to use, it’s the kind of thing that should be readily available in every doctor’s office.  Hopefully, further testing will continue to show the same promising results and the device will be commercialized in short order.

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Is a cancer detecting pen the Greatest Idea Ever?

As the world anxiously awaits the completion of the first Hyperloop track and the dawn of a new era of transportation, China is moving forward with plans for something even bigger and better than a high speed vacuum tube: a flying train!

That’s right.  China is planning to build a bullet train/Hyperloop/supersonic jet hybrid, known as the T-Train, that would be capable of traveling over 3x faster than a Hyperloop.

According to CNET,

“China Aerospace Science and Industry Corp. (CASIC) is working on a transit system that neither really flies nor looks like a conventional train, but could travel at up to 2,485 miles per hour (4,000 kilometers per hour)…By comparison, Hyperloop promises just barely sub-supersonic speeds closer to 760 mph (1,200 kph).”

Such a flying train would be capable of making its way from L.A. to San Francisco in less than ten minutes.  Overall, traveling on a flying train would be about five times faster than traveling via a conventional commercial plane.  It would, in essence, be supersonic ground transportation and it would absolutely, positively blow the Hyperloop out of the water.

It’s an audacious plan to be sure but would it work? Is it even physically possible?  Only time will tell.  But if anyone is poised to find out, its China.  A massively expansive country that has long been determined to revolutionize transportation, whether that means pushing the envelope on mass speed for a bullet train or inventing clever ways to beat traffic congestion, as their elevated bus concept last year attested to.

Hopefully, they’ll be able to figure out how to make a train fly.  If for no other reason than the mere fact that a flying train is just about the coolest thing I’ve ever heard of.

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Is T-Flight the Greatest Idea Ever?

Aren’t we getting to the point where we care more about our health and well-being than about trivial things? We count calories, put warning labels on almost every product, rate everything from books to movies, check Yelp for the latest reviews before we do anything, and make a dedicated effort to eat more kale, whatever that is.  Even football is valuing player safety more as the truth about traumatic brain injuries comes to light.

So why is it that we are so cavalier about the safety of weather channel correspondents, storm chasers, and CNN anchors? I get that there’s a certain voyeuristic aspect to watching massive destruction during hurricane coverage and that these reporters are essential to telling the story of a storm.  I’m sure the ratings for cable news networks is higher during natural disasters than during any other time.  But let’s be honest.  There is absolutely no need for people to be standing outside during a hurricane to report about said hurricane.  Ratings be damned.

I mean, let’s think about this logically for a second.  It’s a hurricane.  I can tell that it’s raining and that it’s really windy just by looking at the feed coming from a traffic cam.  I don’t need a reporter torturing themselves for hours on end as the wind and driving rain beats down on them just to get Pulitzer prize award-winning commentary like, “it feels like you’re standing next to a jet engine”, or “it feels like you’re going through a car wash, which by the way, I’ve done, so I know that’s what it feels like.”  A duh.  Of course it feels like you’re going through a car wash or standing next to a jet engine.  It’s a freaking hurricane!

Other reporters this past weekend complained about getting pelted in the face with sand from Miami Beach, about being able to taste salt water in their mouth, about not being able to breathe, about having zero visibility, about standing in the cold rain for so long that they could feel the chill down to their bones and about being at risk of getting hit by projectiles while (I should point out) examining a projectile (a roof tile with a pointed edge that looked like it could have impaled somebody).  Tell me again why this is normal behavior?

Is it because it’s tradition?  Because this is the way it’s always been done?  As the New York Times puts it, “the tradition of television crews standing in the middle of a dangerous storm goes back decades, reflecting the hunger to be on the scene for a nationally significant event.  But the news value of dangerous stand-ups – in which a correspondent is seen in the field talking to the camera – is increasingly being questioned, particularly with the rise of social media.  Some critics wondered whether they are unnecessary and overly sensational spectacles, especially in cases where correspondents are struggling to deliver information.”

The reporters themselves seem to think it’s important work though.  That by surveying the damage as it’s occurring they are better positioned to help first responders figure out which areas to address first.  That if they are out there, braving the elements, nobody else has to.  That in a way, they are eliminating everyone else’s sense of curiosity, saving lives in the process.  And to be sure, there is value to be gleamed from their efforts. But there’s just one problem.  We don’t need them to do that anymore.  It’s the year 2017.  We now have cameras, sensors, and robots that can do that same job.  Want a killer live shot of a reporter getting blown away?  Stick a Go Pro on a mannequin.  Want to know how widespread the damage is?  Check the feed from the thousands of sensors you could have installed around the city before the storm hit.

I can’t possibly be the only person who thinks live hurricane reporting is an outdated practice, can I?!?! Is everyone else really okay with watching somebody risk their life to report, “I’m standing here in the middle of the evacuation zone and you can’t believe how eerily quiet it is down here.  It’s like a ghost town.”  No shit, Sherlock.  Everyone else evacuated!  What the hell are you still doing there!?

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Is banning hurricane reporting the Greatest Idea Ever?

 

It’s been a couple of weeks since the seventh season of HBO’s Game of Thrones came to an end and there has been nothing that has been able to quench my thirst for more episodes.  With the fate of Westeros hanging in the balance I anxiously devour every new thread on Reddit in hopes of tracking down an important clue.  As if I was a real world version of Samwell Tarly in the bowels of the Citadel.  Is Bran the Night King?  Is Jon the Prince Who Was Promised?  Is Arya’s shape shifting going to play a key role in the end game?  Is any of the travel next season going to make sense?  I need answers and I need them now.  Unfortunately, I’m probably going to have to wait over 500 days, until the spring of 2019 before I can watch my beloved thrones again.

If you’re me, you find this to be unacceptable.  If you’re software engineer Zack Thoutt, you do something about it.  Using an artificial intelligence program known as a Recurrent Neural Network, Thoutt set out to write the sixth book of the series on his own.  Which was probably a wise move since we all know that George R.R. Martin is never going to finish it.

The resulting effort is wildly entertaining as the AI program takes a stab at trying to write in Martin’s style, while also trying to make sense of over 5,000 prior pages of complex world building.  It even tries to advance the plot in what could be a sneak peak of the future of fiction writing.

According to I Fucking Love Science:

“It goes on to take its own direction with the story, introducing a new character called Greenbeard. It predicts Jamie Lannister will *gasp* kill his sister Cersei, and that dragon queen Daenerys will be poisoned by her advisor Varys.

Of course, Martin’s actual storyline is likely to differ wildly. But it’s fun nonetheless to see AI learn his language and style, and then attempt to recreate it. Here’s another excerpt:

‘Jaime yelped, in the dirt, and came to climb off beside his bedchamber, and we could almost find the tunnel at once, but we’d shut it without battle if she sings, then, and you may storm woods for fire to the west, where we feed the others. The rats come home to their lives!’”

If that’s anything like how George R.R. Martin’s actual prose would sound then I won’t be reading the books anytime soon.  Watching the visual stunning hit HBO series is enough for me.  But then again my thirst for more thrones is such that I may have to reconsider my stance, whether it’s reading the original works or the neural network’s take.  Because when it comes to Game of Thrones, something is always better than nothing.

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Is turning over the writing of the Game of Thrones books to AI the Greatest Idea Ever?

Climate change is real.  There’s no denying it.  Hurricane Harvey, a devastating 1 in 500 year event, just dumped so much water onto Houston that it actually lowered the crust of the Earth in the region by 2 cm.  Less than two weeks later, Hurricane Irma, the most powerful Atlantic hurricane ever recorded, with sustained winds of over 185 mph for a record thirty consecutive hours, barrels towards South Florida after wrecking havoc in the Caribbean.  Hurricane Andrew which destroyed Homestead, Florida back in 1992 was about half the size of Irma.  The historic storm heading towards Key West right now is so large that it could literally engulf the entire state of Florida.  East Coast.  West Coast.  It doesn’t matter.  There’s no where to hide from Irma.

But that’s not all.  Irma is just one of three active hurricanes in the Atlantic right now with Katia forming in the Gulf and Jose, now a Category 3 with sustained winds of over 150 mph, coming on strong right behind it in the Atlantic.  And oh by the way, we haven’t even entered peak Hurricane season yet.  More storms could be forth coming over the next three months.  Welcome to our new normal where historic once in a generation storms occur every year, forever testing our resolve as a nation.

So is there anything we can do about it?  We are increasingly becoming more adept at playing God, at controlling our own destiny.  We create artificial intelligence, genetically modify crops, grow meat in a lab, use the CRISPR gene editing technique to alter our DNA and eradicate diseases.  We’re getting closing to curing cancer, reversing the aging process, finding life on other planets, and figuring out the secrets of the Universe from determining what dark matter is to understanding consciousness.  We can do anything we put our minds to.

It’s with that in mind that I’m confident that we could engineer a solution to climate change.  To figure out a way to stop hurricanes from ever forming in the first place.  And thankfully there’s a group of scientists working on doing just that.

The team of Chinese researchers is currently studying the feasibility of injecting sulfate into the atmosphere in an attempt to cool the planet and counteract the effects of climate change.  In theory, the sulfate aerosol particles would reflect sunlight back into space and thereby lower the temperature of water in the ocean.  Without warmer waters to serve as fuel, the quantity and intensity of hurricanes would decrease over time.  In fact, the plan would be to reduce the impact of hurricanes by 50% over 50 years.

As Futurism notes:

“In their current research model, in which the scientists tested a scenario where the sulfate injection is doubled over time, the team found that incidences of Katrina-level hurricanes could be maintained (they would be kept at the same rate that we currently see) and that storm surges, which is the rise in seawater level that is caused solely by a storm, could be mitigated by half. The researchers noted that  the volcanic eruption in 1912 of Katmai in Alaska ‘loaded the Northern Hemisphere with aerosol [sulfates], and [was] followed by the least active hurricane season on record.’”

Obviously, this plan isn’t full proof.  By trying to protect ourselves against hurricanes we could inadvertently cause other environmental impacts such as a weakening of Earth’s atmosphere.  Further research is going to be required.  New materials are going to have to be invented.  But despite the challenges it’s abundantly clear that we’re going to have to do something and soon.  Because the alternative, doing nothing, isn’t a viable option either.  This is our new normal and we have to do something about it.  The sooner we accept that, the better.

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Is a plan to prevent the formation of hurricanes the Greatest Idea Ever?