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The Future is Now

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Colbert Nation launches into orbit

Wednesday, April 15th, 2009

As disturbing as my last TV-related post was, this one really makes me smile.

Stephen Colbert, host of Comedy Central’s hilarious Colbert Report, has made a habit of asking his viewers to write in his name in a variety of public naming contests. To date, he’s managed to get a Hungarian bridge, a San Francisco Zoo-born eagle, a hockey team mascot, a species of trapdoor spider and a Ben & Jerry’s ice cream flavor named after him.

His most recent target was the new node (i.e., room) on the International Space Station, which NASA has asked the public to name via on online poll. NASA’s suggestions were “Serenity,” “Legacy,” “Earthrise,” “Venture,” and the dreaded write-in vote. So enthusiastic are Colbert’s fans (which he has dubbed the “Colbert Nation”) that as of a few weeks ago, the write-in suggestion “Colbert” was beating it’s closest competitor (“Serenity”) by nearly 20,000 votes. NASA wisely reserved the right to ignore the poll results and pick an “appropriate” name, should they be unhappy with the public’s selection.

Well, as it turns out, after 1.2 million votes were cast, NASA went with “Tranquility,” one of the Top Ten suggestions in the poll, in honor of the upcoming 40th anniversary of Apollo 11′s historic moon landing at the Sea of Tranquility.

In a nod to Colbert Nation, though, NASA has dubbed a treadmill that will eventually reside in the new node the “‘Combined Operational Load Bearing External Resistance Treadmill,” or C.O.L.B.E.R.T. for short. Astronaut Suni Williams made the announcement on “The Colbert Report,” two years after running the Boston Marathon in space on a station treadmill similar to COLBERT.

Incidentally, the logo on the left is the actual image posted on the actual NASA page announcing the name of the new space station node.

Kudos to Steven Colbert for keeping the public enthusiastic about the space program, and kudos to NASA for not taking itself so seriously as to ignore the taxpayers that fund their important research.

Categories: Primetime TV, The Future is Now, The World Wide Weird | 1 Comment »

Life Finds a Way

Tuesday, March 17th, 2009

An interesting juxtaposition of news articles over at The Speculist:

At this point, just about everyone knows that President Obama lifted the Stem Cell research ban imposed by George W. Bush at the beginning of his presidency. Less reported, though equally exciting is this story about a breakthrough in the use of induced pluripotent stem cells (iSPC’s), which are stem cells derived from somatic cells in adults.

Stem cells derived from adults are attractive for several reasons: they’re far easier to collect, they avoid the moral objections held by some about embryonic stem cells, and perhaps most importantly, they represent stem cells that exactly match the genes of the person in need of treatment.

So, good news all around. But here’s the part that really bends the mind:

What role did [George W. Bush's] restrictions play in inducing some researchers to begin working on iPSCs? Seeing as the work described [in the linked article] comes from Canada and the UK, it would be difficult to draw a direct line. But it would be, to say the very least, ironic if the much-hated stem cell research funding ban actually played a positive role in moving us towards a better solution.

This is another case of unintended consequences from government incentive programs. Those who oppose embryonic stem-cell research were generally seeking a ban on the this type of research altogether. The lack of funding in that area, though, has led (some) scientists to focus on ways to achieve the same results a different way. Would we have seen the benefits of stem-cell research sooner without the ban? Perhaps. But would anyone have ever focused on adult stem-cells if the ban hadn’t existed?

Categories: The Future is Now | 9 Comments »

Yet another step toward iPod gold…

Thursday, January 15th, 2009

Back in July, I blogged about the Last.FM AppStore app for the iPhone, and how it moved digital music toward it’s holy grail – the impulse buy of a song when one hears it ambiently – such as on the radio or from some other streaming service.

I call this the holy grail because a person’s reaction to a good song on the radio is powerful, instant and short-lived. If a music vendor can provide the consumer with a “Buy it now” button while his/her toe is still tapping, the impulse purchase rate would likely be very high. And if it’s on a mobile device, which is often used in a group setting, there’s a “network effect” possibility (think a group of teens on a bus or at a party, and one says, “hey – check out this song!” and before you know it, a dozen kids have all clicked “Buy it now.”

If that button isn’t there at that exact moment, the person likely forgets about the song minutes after hearing it, and even if they have the opportunity to buy it soon afterwards, they probably don’t think to do so.

Today comes news of another AppStore app from Slacker Radio, which can access over 100 Internet radio stations, as well as custom stations derived from user preferences (genre, decade, popularity, etc.). While a given song is playing, the interface has a nice big “Buy on iTunes” button at the bottom of the screen (click the image to enlarge it). This, combined with the iPhone’s ITMS purchasing capability is pretty close to the situation described above. My only pie-in-the-sky request, at this point, is to make the “Buy” button 1-click, rather than opening the iTunes app. But then again, I’m picky that way.

Categories: The Future is Now | 2 Comments »

Shalom, readers!

Tuesday, December 9th, 2008

I haven’t posted one of my “monthly” health-checks or “How People Found Me” entries in quite some time (bad blogger….bad, bad blogger), but this one caught my eye. And since I no longer trust myself to wait for the monthly posts, here it is:

According to my Google Analytics logs, someone from Givatayim, Tel Aviv, Israel came to my blog using this link over the weekend.

So first, it’s really cool that someone can read something I wrote in a different language that uses a different character set, and I don’t have to do anything to make it happen. Second, it’s meta-cool that I’m able to find out about it the very next day and narrow him/her down to a town halfway around the world.

Categories: The Future is Now | No Comments »

Oops, I’m Late!

Monday, November 10th, 2008

As the iPhone has proven to us, any application that makes use of an internal GPS or gyroscope is inherently cool. LifeHacker provides us with one called Oops, I’m Late that isn’t for the iPhone, but it’s cool anyway.

Oops, I’m Late checks the calendar on your phone for meetings and their locations. It then uses the GPS device in your phone to determine how far away from the location you are and your current speed, in order to determine an estimated time of arrival (ETA). It can then send an e-mail, twitter, SMS, or Facebook message to each scheduled attendee in the meeting saying, “I’m running late, I’ll be there in X minutes.”

That’s pretty good use of multiple datasets in one device to create something inherently useful. Bravo…

Categories: Tech Talk, The Future is Now | No Comments »

World Fails to End; Scientists Prepared to Try Again

Wednesday, September 10th, 2008

Scientists at Conseil Européen pour la Recherche Nucléaire, or CERN, tested their Large Hadron Collider yesterday, sending a beam of protons around a 17-mile underground ring in 51 minutes, achieving a blinding speed of 20 miles per hour.

The experiment caused concerns in just about everyone who has no idea what they’re talking about (read: the media, the blogosphere, etc.) that this experiment could generate one or more black holes, which would destroy the earth in an obvious, last-ditch attempt by the Yankees to keep the Red Sox from winning another World Series. Other, more qualified observers, like Britain’s famed Stephen Hawking, called the experiment absolutely safe. James Gillies, chief spokesman for CERN, used a technical term for the concern: “nonsense.”

But the folks at CERN aren’t done. For their next trick, they will attempt to send protons around the ring backwards. Once that’s accomplished, they’ll try it in both directions, but much faster – up to 11,000 revolutions per second (or 673,200,000 miles per hour – roughly the speed of light). Then, in a trick worthy of the best kid’s birthday party magician, they’ll try it in both directions at the same time, forcing the protons to collide at that speed, recreating elements of The Big Bang, generally recognized to be the home run that Aaron Boone hit off of Tim Wakefield to win Game 6 of the 2003 American League Playoffs the event that created the universe.

All of this is expected in the next few months, according to Lyn Evans, the project’s director. So, on the off chance that Hawking and Gillies are wrong and the tabloid press is correct, you might want to consider finishing off that bucket list before New Years.

If all of this sounds a bit like science fiction to you, then you’re not all that off. The following is from a book summary of Angels and Demons by Dan Brown (subsequently of The Da Vinci Code fame):

Langdon lands in Geneva with a mild case of altitude sickness, and an even more intense case of confusion. He finds himself located at Conseil Européen pour la Recherche Nucléaire (CERN), and receives a personal greeting from the wheelchair-riding director general himself, Maximilian Kohler. [...]

The CERN campus houses more than three thousand physicists of various nationalities and academic backgrounds. Langdon is escorted to “The Penthouse” where Leonardo Vetra, a brilliant scientist, was murdered only hours before, and he discovers the uncomfortable truth that only Kohler, Vetra’s adopted daughter, and himself are aware of the homicide. The discretion is to allow Ms. Vetra time to return from her field work and assess the private nature of the lab she and her father shares before a formal investigation takes place. [...]

The three individuals approach Dr. Vetra’s subterranean lab. Vetra explains that the lab contains the world’s largest particle accelerator (the LHC); over twenty-eight kilometers long and eight kilometers in diameter. [...]

Langdon, Kohler, and Vetra find the subterranean lab deserted. Vetra describes how her father sought to prove that science supported the concept of God, most specifically in describing the moment of singularity, or Genesis, in regards to the Big Bang. Leonardo Vetra had developed a way to create matter out of nothing using the accelerator tube. Not only did he succeed in creating miniature universes, but he also created the dark matter which comes hand in hand with the known matter here on earth. Several specimens of anti-matter are contained in canisters in the lab.

Note that the book was written in 2000. Work on the actual CERN LHC began in 2003, although the project that eventually built it has been in the works since 1984.

So, to sum up: when seeking scientific information, the two best sources of information are Stephen Hawking and Dan Brown.

UPDATE: If you’re still concerned about the LHC, you can visit http://www.hasthelargehadroncolliderdestroyedtheworldyet.com/ for real-time updates.

(Hat tip: Willow Gross)

Categories: Random Acts of Blogging, The Future is Now | 2 Comments »

Quarters for Laundry? Thing of the Past…

Monday, September 8th, 2008

The University of Pennsylvania has signed a deal with a laundry equipment manufacturer that will allow them to put laundry machines in their College House dorms and offer them free to students for two years.  After that, school officials say, they will work out a “general laundry use fee.”  Details are not decided yet, but the general idea would be that you pay for your laundry on your regular tuition bill, rather than shelling out quarters every time you need to run a machine.

First the slot machines, now this…

To be expected, I guess.  But here’s the part the geek in me found most fascinating:

Housing Services is also installing a “Laundry Alert System” by the end of October, [Penn spokeswoman Barbara] Lea-Kruger wrote. The system will allow residents to choose a laundry room based on availability of machines and will send out an alert when the laundry is completed.

I can see it now:  ”Hold on, Mom – I’ve got another call.  <Click> <Pause> <Click> That was the laundry machine – my whites are done.  I’ll call you later…”

 

Categories: The Future is Now, University of Pennsylvania | 1 Comment »

Random Acts of Blogging – 4/27/08

Sunday, April 27th, 2008

OK, so I’ve been away a while, and the list of things I’ve wanted to blog about has grown steadily. So away we go:

1) If you don’t watch The Daily Show with John Stewart, you really should. It’s funny every single night. But this past week or two, Stewart has been on fire! Here he is after Barack Obama was called an elitist:


The whole thing is funny, but the best part is around 7:25 or so. Here’s the money quote:

Doesn’t elite mean good? Is that not something we’re looking for in a president anymore? You know what candidates, come with me (to a different camera:) I know elite is a bad word in politics; you want to go bowling and throw back a few beers, but the job you’re applying for, if you get it and it goes well, they might carve your head into a mountain! If you don’t actually think you’re better than us, then what the &%*#&@ are you doing?

2) If someone from 1984, having just read Orwell’s book, time travelled to 2008 and took a New York commuter train one morning, they’d see more than half of the people with their eyes closed, in various degrees of consciousness, wearing the same white ear phones in their ears, and probably assume we were all being fed the same government-issued doublespeak. What’s funny is how wrong they’d be. Sitting on a train with 100 iPods, I wonder what the odds are that any two of them are playing the same song? I’m guessing it’s close to zero.

3) A colleague of mine pointed out to me the other day that MIT disproved time travel in 2005 by holding a time traveller’s convention, to which no one from the future showed up. Pretty convincing evidence on the face of it. If time travel is to ever be invented, you’d think someone would pop in to say hello, no? Famed scientist Tina Fey, formerly of Saturday Night Live had the perfect rebuttal:

A student at MIT is hosting a Time Traveler Party this week with the hope that people from the future will show up…too bad people from the future already know the party sucked!”

The only thing I know for sure after reading about this is that if anyone does invent time travel in my lifetime, something will almost instantly occur that will give me a killer headache.

4) SamuriFrog, the excellent blogger over at Electronic Cerebrectomy (WARNING: Link is typically not safe for work), recently posted two pictures that sum up the sad state of intelligence in our country today:

Man…there oughta be a test you need to pass before you can write protest signs…

5) Pope Benedict XVI’s visit to New York City was capped off by a mass held at Yankee Stadium. First, a quick conversation between my wife and I:

My wife: Wow, the stadium looks beautiful. I bet the Pope is impressed.
Me: Honey, he practically lives in St. Peter’s Basillica!
My wife: Good point

Then, of course, there are the New York Post and the New York Daily News, who could not resist the ironic headline:

The Post: “Communion Vendors Bring the Host to the Most.”
Daily News: “The Sermon on the Mound.”

Gotta love New York…

6) And finally, Britain’s Office of Government Commerce, or OGC, recently unveiled it’s new logo:

Seems harmless enough, right? But then they started putting it on mousepads, pens, and the like, and people got a chance to see it rotated 90 degrees:

Wow…that’s quite the, er…um…well…what’s the word I’m looking for? Well, I guess you’d have to say it’s quite a boner, now wouldn’t you???

Categories: Political Rantings, Random Acts of Blogging, The Future is Now, The World Wide Weird | No Comments »

Mysteries of the Universe – Solved.

Wednesday, January 16th, 2008

Both of these stories seem like they should be bigger news:

1) Scientists have discovered the source of antimatter. No word yet on what this means for Star Trek-inspired inventions.

2) Experts at Germany’s Heidelberg University have discovered the true identity of the Mona Lisa. The painting, which is also known as “La Gioconda” (Italian for “joyful woman”), is a portrait of a woman named Lisa del Giocondo. Lisa? Giocondo? Go figure…

Categories: The Future is Now | No Comments »

I’m Sure Someone Else is Curing Cancer – Part Three

Friday, August 24th, 2007

Scientists at the Karolinska Institute in Sweden found a way to induce an out-of-body experience in people without using drugs.

Now, first of all, thank God they didn’t use drugs, because we all remember those scientist doping scandals in the 1990′s. Heck, there are still those out there who think the whole Viagra discovery should have an asterisk.

But beyond that, the two main questions here are 1) What exactly have they done here, and 2) For the love of everything holy, WHY?!?!?

Taking the first question first:

Using virtual reality goggles to mix up the sensory signals reaching the brain, they induced the volunteers into projecting their awareness into a virtual body. Participants confirmed they had experienced sitting behind their physical body and looking at it. The illusion was so strong that the volunteers reacted with a palpable sense of fear when their virtual selves were threatened with physical force.

So they’re temporarily re-wiring your brain in order to give you a hallucination that you’re outside of your body. OK, moving on to question #2:

Inducing people to have out-of-body experiences could have wide-ranging uses, [says Henrik Ehrsson, a neuroscientist formerly of University College London, and now at the Karolinska Institute].

“This is essentially a means of projecting yourself, a form of teleportation. If we can project people into a virtual character, so they feel and respond as if they were really in a virtual version of themselves, just imagine the implications.

The experience of video games could reach a whole new level, but it could go much beyond that. For example, a surgeon could perform remote surgery, by controlling their virtual self from a different location.”

Say what?!?

OK, granted, I should have seen the video game thing coming, but surgery? First of all, we understand that the surgeon would only think he were somewhere else, but not actually be somewhere else, right? Second, anyone want their surgeon operating on them while experiencing a scientifically induced delusion?

Categories: The Future is Now, The World Wide Weird | No Comments »

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