Vol. 1 | #29 | 12.14.18

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It’s Not Quite the Delta Quadrant, but Still…

On August 20, 1977, the counter-intuitively named Voyager 2 was the first of the twin Voyager probes to launch (Voyager 1 launched 16 days later). This week, after 41+ years and over 11 billion miles traveled, Voyager 2 joins its sister beyond the reaches of our sun’s solar wind in interstellar space.

Voyager 2 took the scenic route out of town, visiting all four of our solar system’s gas giants, and racking up an impressive list of mission accomplishments in the process. Now, it’s final mission is to send back data about the forces of interstellar wind — something Voyager 1 couldn’t do after its plasma-measuring instruments failed way back in 1980.

(No idea what the Delta Quadrant is? I have some sci-fi for you to watch…)


2The App Will See You Now

Anemia is a blood disorder afflicting roughly 30% of the people on Earth. Diagnosing the condition that leaves its sufferers perpetually weakened due to an insufficient supply of oxygen-carrying red blood cells requires a visit to a doctor and a confirmatory blood test.

No longer. We now live in a time where a camera phone and attendant app can diagnose this condition in seconds, at higher rates of accuracy than your doctor.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=3&v=O0p1YndaZQI

 


3A New Recipe for Batteries

What do Honda, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory at CalTech and toothpaste have in common? — fluoride. (Obvious, right?) Besides being a killer Tribond answer, fluoride may be the answer to lighter, more stable, cooler-running and longer-lasting battery technology than the current standard of Lithium-Ion.


4The Golden Spider’s Web

Did you know that spider’s silk is “as strong as steel and light as a feather”? I must confess that I did not until coming across this JSTOR “Cabinet of Curiosities” piece about everyone’s least favorite weaver. (Honestly, I thought such references were just the product of the Spider-Man comic book lore.) If you aren’t wigged out by the prospect of working closely with 1.2 million large spiders, have 79 friends willing to help, and 8 years to spend on the project, you too can turn out a museum-quality garment like this cape here:


5Tips on Generating Creative Ideas

Cloud-based file-sharing company WeTransfer asked their over 10,000 users a handful of questions about how their new ideas get found. The results yield four insights, displayed in a really slick, visual way.

Vol. 1 | #28 | 12.07.18

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Another Week, Another Data Hack

This past week we found out the personal identifying information of a half-billion people was stolen from the guest record database of Starwood Hotels, now owned by Marriott. While the Yahoo! hack in 2013 involved the records of more users — 3 BILLION! — Yahoo! didn’t cough up people’s passport numbers in their data breach.

I think the push to make user data more secure and harder to steal is a fool’s errand. With each new breach of this nature, the need to get off that treadmill of failure and shift the paradigm to a system of authenticity instead of security is more and more evident. Forget trying to prevent personal identifying data theft, and instead build a system where it’s impossible to use the data of someone that isn’t actually you.


2Is Breaching Someone’s Privacy “Art”?

Online art platform Artsy has a thought-provoking article about how bending the rules of civility in the name of “art” works when other people’s privacy and dignity are at issue. (NOTE: there’s a NSFW photo in this piece.) Consider the work of Arne Svenson: surreptitiously photographing unsuspecting people who have no idea their private moments are being presented to a mass audience. Is that really all that different from live-tweeting the conversation of an unsuspecting couple in the row in front of you on a flight? Is the publicly distributed voyeurism of Rosey Blair really different from Svenson’s merely because her’s went viral using Twitter and wasn’t packaged as collection-quality “art”?


3CRISPR Babies

Speaking of breaking the conventions of modern society because one is pursuing a believed higher, nobler pursuit …  Last week the world was stunned by the news that Chinese geneticist Dr. He Jiankui had used the CRISPR gene editing technology to genetically engineer twin babies who were born recently. The ostensible purpose of this use of the CRISPR gene editing technology was to enable a couple to reproduce while insuring the children were genetically innoculated from their father’s HIV.

In classic 2018 fashion, Dr. He announced his historic, groundbreaking and extremely controversial breakthrough via a video posted to YouTube:

After appearing at a summit on human genome editing in Hong Kong to face the criticism and defend his work last week, Dr. He has now been missing for over a week.


4New Life Form Found

This just may be one of the most surprising things I’ve read in quite awhile. This isn’t the discovery of a new species, but instead an entirely new kingdom of life here on Earth. Two quotes from the CBC article illustrate why:

  1. “A genetic analysis shows they’re more different from other organisms than animals and fungi (which are in different kingdoms) are from each other, representing a completely new part of the tree of life.” — think about that: as different as cats are from mushrooms, these organisms are *more different* from either cats or mushrooms.
  2. “Two species of the microscopic organisms, called hemimastigotes, were found in dirt collected on a whim during a hike in Nova Scotia by Dalhousie University graduate student Yana Eglit.” — this historical discovery was made by a student on a walk in the woods.

“on a whim” = serendipity at work


5Elon’s Big Cyborg Idea

Admittedly, it’s a bit unsettling to hear Elon Musk talk nonchalantly about designing a “electrode to neuron interface at a micro level” that is implanted surgically into people’s brains. His purpose? — “to achieve a symbiosis with artificial intelligence [in order] to achieve a sort of democratization of intelligence.”

Sounds looney tunes crazy, right?

Now, pull out your smartphone, open up Google, and pull up your search history. With the world’s combined historical knowledge literally at your fingertips now being a perfectly unremarkable thing, understand that you’re already a good deal down the road toward Borg Town. Your intelligence, memory capacity, information processing capability, spatial awareness across distances, and a host of other abilities have already been enhanced through the omniscience of the internet, the omnipresence of our phones, and the omnipotence of cloud computing.

Elon and Neuralink just want to get your thumbs out of the equation.

 

Vol. 1 | #27 | 11.30.18

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Landing on Mars, Part 8

This week saw NASA’s InSight probe touch down safely on the flat plains of Mars known as Elysium Planitia, making it the 8th probe to successfully land. (The loss of the Polar Lander/Deep Space 2 lander in 1999 remains the only mission failure.)

InSight’s perfect 3-point landing was engineering precision at its finest. After launching from Earth on May 5 and traveling over 300 million miles, InSight broke into the Martian atmosphere on November 26 at the breakneck speed of 12,300 miles per hour. A mere six and a half minutes later, a combination of a parachute and retro-rockets decelerated the craft and set it down on the red planet flawlessly. Soon thereafter, InSight got to work doing what any human astronaut would do in the same situation: take a selfie and share it.

And because this is just too cool to not include: NASA’s Explore Mars Trek site is like Google Earth but for Mars, with bookmarks full of info on the other landers on Martian soil.


23D Printing the Keys to Mars

Imagine it is 2028, and a SpaceX BFR has begun ferrying colonists to Mars. Transporting the materials needed to build habitats and the like are an expensive necessity where weight at launch is concerned: more cargo weight requires more fuel needed to carry that weight and more fuel adds even more weight, etc.

Want to take a big bite out of that engineering puzzle? Figure out how to use 3D printing technology to turn the raw materials available on Mars into building materials and equipment parts. The European Space Agency is on it.

Next: figure out how to maintain a well-ventilated workspace in a sealed environment on a planet without breathable air, because it appears 3D printing throws toxic nanoparticles into the air. That’s no bueno for the lungs of future Martians…


3Chinese AI Taking Newsreading to a New Level

Is it more creepy or less that this AI-built digital news anchor is modeled after a real, human news anchor? Because I can’t decide.


4Minority Report in Real Life

The 2002 film starring Tom Cruise and based off the short story by Philip K. Dick was not supposed to be a playbook to follow. Nevertheless, a metro police department in central England is testing a program to do just that: use AI-powered analysis and statistical data to identify individuals who are deemed a high-risk to either commit a violent crime or be the victim of one and intervene before those crimes can occur. The intervention consists of “pre-emptive counselling” and visits from local social workers.

As the bloggers used to say: what could possibly go wrong?

 


5$92M Worth of Chop Suey

It is hard to wrap my brain around the idea that a single painting could fetch such an astronomical sum at auction. Yes, Chop Suey (below, left) is a gorgeous piece of American art and was the last of Edward Hopper’s paintings still in private hands, but still.
If you don’t recognize the name Edward Hopper (I certainly didn’t!), you probably recognize his most famous work, Nighthawks (below, right), which is one of the most recognizably iconic images of 20th Century art.

 

By way of perspective, the operating budget for the entire Beavercreek City School District out here in SW Ohio — an excellent performing district comprised of 10 schools, nearly 8,000 students, serving many military families from nearby Wright-Patt AFB, and employer of my wife — is only $94M.

Vol. 1 | #26 | 11.23.18

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Sweet Talking You Into (a) Bed

There’s a lot of money to be made disrupting the ripe-for-the-picking mattress industry by using the internet to by-pass the normal marketing, sales and distribution hurdles. Which means there’s evidently a lot of money to be made becoming a trusted source of mattress reviews for the growing number of internet mattress shoppers. This story is a revealing peek behind the curtain to the conflicts of interest and financial incentives hiding behind those “trusted” review sites.


2Unlocking Your Genome for $200

Because Moore’s Law applies to more than just computer processing power, things that were once the domain of massive government investment can now be had as a moderately priced consumer product. Case in point: the original project that sequenced the human genome (officially completed in 2003) took 13 years and cost $2.7 Billion.


3It’s Like Facebook for Cars

Imagine looking at Facebook — with its 2-years-running series of data privacy scandals and public relations crisis — and thinking “let’s use them as the model to reshape our century-old business after.”

Yet, that appears to be what the braintrust running Ford Motor Company is planning to do. Peering into the mists of the future and seeing autonomous cars that more people pay for access to and fewer people own, Ford’s ability to keep earning billions in profits is not a foregone conclusion. Evidently converting from a company that builds, sells and finances cars into one that uses cars to collect data to sell about the drivers/users is going to be Ford’s answer.


4The DaVinci of Silicon Valley

Really cool story about Alexander Weygers, a mid-20th-century renaissance man who lived as a radical conservationist, forged his own utensils in his blacksmith shop, created sculpture artwork and … patented a flying saucer design. In 1945.


5Becoming Carrie Fisher

It was quite an interesting experience seeing a young Carrie Fisher playing Princess Leia at the end of the standalone Star Wars film Rogue One. Here’s the story behind the technology that brought the 19-year-old Fisher back to life in her signature role.

Vol. 1 | #25 | 11.16.18

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The 11th Hour of the 11th Day of the 11th Month…

… is when the first modern, armageddon-style atrocity officially ended, 100 years ago this week. Using the visual record of the sounds of the guns falling silent at the appointed time, sound engineers working with Britain’s Imperial War Museum recreated what that moment would’ve sounded like.

How that graphic record of the sounds of artillery fire was made is itself an interesting read. If you don’t know what “sound ranging” is or how it was used to locate and destroy those guns, the IWF has a great explainer.


2The Tragedy of Armistice Day

There is lots of gut wrenching awfulness to go around when studying what was then known as The Great War:

  • the mindless machinery of the interlocking alliances that turned the assassination of the heir to the Austro-Hungarian Empire and his wife — the Archduke Franz Ferdinand and the Duchess Sophie Chotek — by a Yugoslavic nationalist into a Europe-devouring apocalypse; or
  • the banal meat grinder strategy of places like Verdun (~300,000 dead, ~400,000 more injured over 10 months) and the Somme (over a million combined casualties among the British, French and German armies in less than 5 months).

But there is a special place in infamy for the commanding officers who ordered their troops to continue fighting up until the literal last minute. Men like Maj. Gen. William H. Wright, who sacrificed the lives of 61 of his men (another 304 were wounded) retaking control of the little town of Stenay in northeastern France on the morning of November 11, 1918. Why was recapturing Stenay on the 11th so important when the American troops could’ve entered it peacefully on the 12th? According to Maj. Gen. Wright, “it was realized that if the enemy were permitted to stay in Stenay, our troops would be deprived of the probable bathing facilities there.”

All told, the pointless fighting on Armistice Day itself resulted in nearly 11,000 total casualties, including ~6,600 lives lost on all sides. Those dead included Henry Gunther, America’s last KIA of World War 1: Gunther was killed by machine gun fire at 10:59 am, one minute before the armistice was to take effect, as he attempted to storm a German roadblock.

(By comparison, total Allied casualties on D-Day were approximately 10,000, with just over 4,400 confirmed dead.)


3The Amazon-ization of Everything

As more and more people buy more and more things online from Amazon, the companies making those things will start adopting their product designs and marketing to how Amazon wants them vs how the end customer does. Case in point, retail giant P&G’s new packaging design for Tide laundry detergent. Think the author of the above-linked article is overstating things? P&G’s own press release unabashedly announces that the Tide Eco-Box is the first product packaging designed to maximize ecommerce shipping appeal.


Of course, as we’ve seen in recent days Amazon’s gravity well is pulling more than just consumer behavior and product design practices into its orbit. The astronomical prices paid by New York City and Arlington, Virginia to be the home of Amazon’s HQ2 sites are well documented. But the shameless way cities threw themselves at Bezos & Co. goes well beyond tax incentives. Witness the special perks Atlanta, Georgia was promising Amazon…

 


4The State Calls Alexa to the Stand

You might recall the brouhaha back in 2016 between the FBI and Apple over gaining access to the locked iPhone 5C of Syed Rizwan Farook, the primary actor in the San Bernardino terrorist mass shooting attack. Apple never relented in its refusal to build software to do the job, so the FBI had to go hacker shopping to get it done (to the tune of ~$900K).

Getting a corporation to help law enforcement gain access to user data is nothing new — judges have been signing search warrants to enable the government to invade the private spaces of its citizens since the founding of the republic. The only difference now is *what* can be obtained through that legal process.

In this case out of New Hampshire, it is believed that the sounds of the fight that culminated into a double homicide may have been captured and preserved by the victim’s Amazon Alexa connected smart speaker. If this had been a simple audio recording device that had been passively recording the ambient noise in the home on that night, getting access to those recordings wouldn’t be an issue. But, it’s Alexa, and making her talk could peel back the curtain on jhow Amazon’s prized AI assistant works, and just how much she is capturing in the background. So, this will be a giant legal food fight, painted in the media as Amazon fighting to protect user privacy against Big Brother Government.

How quaint.

Ask Will Smith how having a robot as a witness to a murder turned out…

 


5Is This Gonna Be a Thing?

For the life of me, I can’t believe a smartphone with a foldable screen is a technological advance that consumers will adopt. As Google proved with their ill-fated Google Glass, just because something is a technological advance doesn’t mean it is a marketable product. Of course, I also remember remarking back in 2006 that I didn’t see the point of the new trend of cell phones with embedded digital cameras in them.