Archive for the 'technology' Category

The First Skyscraper to Generate Its Own Energy is Now Under Construction

We’ve been building skyscrapers for more than a century now and for past few decades cities all over the world were engaged in an arms race to try and be home to the world’s tallest building. Ever since the current record holder, the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, was completed in 2009, that race seems to have died down. That is one of the many consequences of a global recession caused by a crash in the real estate market. However, it was recently announced that there will be a new skyscraper completed by 2020 that will be the first of it’s kind. Instead of trying build the world’s tallest building, Indonesia’s state-owned energy company Pertamina will be building a skyscraper that is designed to generate it’s own electricity. The tower is designed to open up at the top which will create a wind tunnel. Those winds will power turbines and generators and it is estimated that those generators will satisfy about 25 percent of the building’s energy demand. It’s not entirely self-sufficient but it will significantly reduce the demand it places on the city’s power grid which is far more than any other skyscraper can claim. I think that this skyscraper is going to be the first of its kind and future buildings are only going to emulate and improve upon this model.

Jakarta’s future skyline.

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Video Games Have Surpassed Hollywood

For the past decade we have been in the middle of a sea change in how we get our entertainment. Gone are the days of the 1980s when television and movies are the heavy hitters in screen-based entertainment. As computer hardware has improved video games have become more and more entertaining and life-like. The other thing that’s come with that is cold hard cash. The biggest video game publishers now bring in tens of billions of dollars per year and they money the industry is making is now eclipsing Hollywood. I think that this infographic I found really drives this point home. Compared to a Hollywood movie, video games usually cost less to make, sell for much more money per unit, and entertain us for a much longer period of time.

To use a personal example, I watched all three Lord of the Rings movies in theaters, paid about $24 to see them, and was blown away on the journey they too me on for the roughly 10 hours those movies lasted. I paid $60 for Skyrim and spent about 250 hours of my life exploring that incredible fantasy-themed world and doing generally whatever I wanted whenever I wanted. Guess which gave me far more for my money? The 21st century is upon us and more and more of us are now taking a more active role in our own entertainment. If you don’t believe that just follow the money.

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Scientist Invents a Safer Version of Alcohol

Many of us are well aware of the consequences of drinking too much too fast. It’s one of those lessons in life that are best learned the hard way by spending a rather unpleasant night in the bathroom. Of course such disastrous effects can be avoided by not consuming alcohol at all but that would mean giving up the buzz of moderated, responsible drinking that many of us enjoy. Wouldn’t it be nice if there were a way to enjoy the effects of our favorite hard drinks while not having to suffer the negative consequences and being able to sober up within minutes if you want to?

Well it turns out that we are very close to that being a reality. British neuroscientist David Nutt has developed several chemical compounds that will produce the same effect of an alcoholic buzz if consumed with a corresponding antidote that can reverse the effects in minutes. The goal was to create an alcohol substitute that can make you more sociable and relaxed without the undesirable side effects of addiction and aggressiveness that occur with regular alcohol. By developing this he hopes to make drinking healthier and its effects more controllable. Something exactly like this called synthehol was invented in the Star Trek TV shows and this is yet another example of how what used to be science fiction decades ago is now becoming reality today. Don’t expect Nutt’s inventions to be on the market anytime soon though. The day when you can get one of his inventions at your local liquor store is at least several years away.

Even with the advent of syntheol, that’s not how Scotty rolled.

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How to Ace Winter Air Travel

I really hate the trend that has become known as the “Christmas Creep” Every year it seems like businesses across the country start their marketing for the holiday season earlier and earlier in the year. This year I saw my first holiday-themed ad in September and it made me want to cry. All that being said I’m going to be writing about holiday travel before Halloween today but there’s a very good reason for that. If you anticipate that you’re going to be traveling for the winter holidays now is probably the best time to start looking at your options. With winter approaching, Conde Nast has a great article sharing some excellent air travel advice for the coming winter months. Here are some of the highlights:

The cheapest days of the year to fly. Early December and late January are typically when you’ll find some of the cheapest airfares of the year.

Book Presidents’ Day weekend in early December. Prices probably won’t come down much before then.

Try going to a cooler big city instead of a resort.
You can get some great deals in the winter by opting to go to a city like New York, Washington DC or San Francisco because there is less business travel there in the winter.

Consider alternate airports. For example, Tampa and Fort Lauderdale are good substitutes for Orlando and Miami respectively in Florida. You may have a longer drive to your final destination but you’ll save a lot on airfare.

Schedule connecting flights out of Southern airports.
Those airports are far less likely to experience weather related problems in the winter.

Fly early. Early morning flights are cheaper and have the best chance of going out on time.

If your flight is cancelled:

Be the first to find out. This increases your chances of getting an alternate flight that works for you. is a good tool to use to get the most up-to-date information.

Have an alternate flight in mind before contacting your airline. You don’t want to depend on just the airline to find you the flight you want. Besides, telling them the exact flight you want will insure you get it faster and save everyone a lot of time.

When all else fails consider going to Vegas. If you know you’re not going to be getting to your destination for a while, Las Vegas is a pretty good place to wait it out. It has a huge airport with lots of flights, cheap hotels, and clear weather. Besides it’s better to be stuck in Las Vegas than the frozen tundra of Chicago, Detroit, or Minneapolis.

You want to avoid this fate at all costs.

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NASA’s First Deep Space Craft is Powered Up for the First Time

This week NASA just accomplished a major milestone in its continuing mission of space exploration. For the past few years NASA has been developing a deep-space spacecraft named Orion that is designed to take humans beyond Earth’s orbit. Well NASA just powered parts of that spacecraft up for the first time. While much has been made about the retirement of the space shuttle without anything else ready to replace it, this is what NASA has been working on. NASA has been shooting people into orbit for over 50 years and the furthest away from Earth a human has ever gone was to the Moon. This spacecraft is designed to try to send people far beyond the Moon towards asteroids and Mars and progress is being made towards that endeavor.

The Orion test module is scheduled to be launched into space without a crew next year for two Earth orbits at 20,000 miles per hour about 3700 miles above the Earth’s surface. The mission of that flight is to gather data regarding how well the ship’s systems work in space in preparation for a manned flight in 2020. Though most of us are destined to spend our whole lives on the Earth’s surface, the idea of humanity traveling into deep space beyond the Earth’s gravity really excites me. It is also the only way humanity can survive for the long haul tens of millions of years from now because the sun will eventually make the Earth too hot to support life. These may be baby steps into the cosmos but it is progress that that future generations will be able to build upon to do extraordinary things that science fiction writers only dreamed about. Besides I’d love to be a shareholder in a potential Martian real estate market.

That’s what it will look like in space.

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9 Great Apps for Business Travel

It is truly amazing how much travel has improved over the years. A whole industry used to exist just to navigate through the complicated logistics of making travel plans which has since been made obsolete by the Internet. I seriously doubt that anyone born after 1990 could tell you what a travel agency was. Now with the invention and proliferation of smartphones and data plans, many travel apps are making business travel simpler than ever. CNN Money has a great article on the some of the best new apps that are out right now that can further simplify your travel experience:

1. Hipmunk – Helps you find lodging accommodation as close as possible to where you will be working.

2. Mynd Calendar – Calculates travel times based on real-time traffic data and lets people know you’ll be late with one button.

3. Refresh – Pulls information on the people you will be meeting from their various social media profiles.

4. Traxo – Organizes your whole itinerary into a “travel wallet”

5. FlightTrack Pro – Shows you real-time flight information, weather conditions, and terminal maps.

6. Taxi Magic – Allows you to reserve a taxi at the airport ahead of time before you land.

7. Silvercar – Use this to rent an Audi A4 minutes after you get off the plane.

8. Urban Daddy – Offers specialized restaurant recommendations based on your situation.

9. MyCityWay – The ultimate mobile guidebook for 110 cities across the country.

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The Man Who Found The Titanic is Now Finding Much More

Most people have a rudimentary knowledge of the Titanic. 101 years ago the unsinkable RMS Titanic sunk off the coast of Canada after crashing into an iceberg on its maiden voyage. 85 years later James Cameron would make an incredibly successful and sappy movie about it and jump-started the acting career of Leonardo DiCaprio. Here’s something you probably didn’t know about the Titanic though. Prior to 1985, we didn’t know exactly where the ship sank and we had no idea what the Titanic looked like at the bottom of the ocean until the wreck was found by a man named Robert Ballard.

It turns out that finding the Titanic was only the tip of the iceberg for Ballard though. National Geographic has a great article on what he’s done since then and it is far cooler than just finding an old shipwreck. Since 1983 the national borders of the United States have included not just the 50 states and various islands like Puerto Rico and Guam, but all ocean 200 miles offshore (provided there’s not another country’s territorial waters in those 200 miles.) Robert Ballard’s mission is to try and map all of that underwater territory in detail. According to him when America’s land area doubled in 1803 with the Louisiana Purchase Thomas Jefferson sent Lewis and Clark out to explore and map it all. When America’s size doubled again in 1983, there was no accompanying exploration effort until Ballard took up that mission on his own.

Granted the practical use of this knowledge is irrelevant to many people’s lives but it is important to science. There is still much we don’t really know about the deepest depths of the ocean and this effort is an attempt to learn more about it and the creatures that live down there. Simply observing the ocean floor is notoriously difficult due to the extreme water pressure and in some ways it is easier to map outer space because there is nothing standing between our telescopes and the stars beyond. Still I find it fascinating that there are still parts of our country beneath the ocean waves that have yet to even be fully explored and that there is a real effort to change that.

That’s what the ocean floor looks like from far away. Ballard is filling in the details.

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A La Carte Cable is Coming… to Canada

It has long been a source of frustration for people with cable in America. Many cable customers pay a lot of money to access hundreds of channels just to get those few channels that they actually want to watch. Wouldn’t it be nice if you could just pay for what you actually watch. I’d love to be able to pay just to get ESPN, ESPN2, TBS, Comedy Central, and SNY which are the only cable channels I watch (Yes I’m a Mets fan, and yes the past few seasons have taken years off my life).

Well it turns out that the dream of a-la-carte cable is becoming a reality… in Canada. Since 2011 the Canadian government has been pushing the telecom industry to unbundle their services and many Canadians have been happy with the results. In the province of Quebec about 70 percent of cable customers now get a very basic broadcast package and pick a few individual channels that they actually want to watch. Most cable companies in Canada now offer some kind of a-la-carte service if the customer also uses them as a phone or internet provider as well. While Canadian cable companies have lost some revenue, a-la-carte cable has helped them salvage the business of customers who might have just cut the cord entirely by completely ditching cable. That is a trend which is growing worldwide thanks to the rise of services like Netflix.

So when will we see this coming to America? Not very soon if ever. Both cable providers and content producers have been viciously fighting any legislative attempt to unbundle cable offerings because they have a lot to lose financially. It is estimated that a-la-carte cable would reduce the total industry revenue by about $70 billion which is about half of the total revenue the Cable TV industry currently brings in. They also argue that the price customers currently pay to get the most watched cable networks like ESPN would go up and that many of the less watched channels would not be able to survive such a change. Bundling is how the popular and profitable shows and channels subsidize everything else and that would mark a sea change to the whole television industry.

Personally though, I like the consumer choice of paying only for what you want and not anything more and I would be willing to accept the unintended consequences of such a change. A-la-carte pricing options would make channels have to more directly compete against one another to get more viewers and direct, ruthless competition often produces a better product at a better price for customers. Imagine applying the philosophy behind cable bundling to just about any other product or service and you would find it ridiculous. Saving money by being able to buy only what you want without having to buy many other things you don’t want is something that would be very good for everyone who enjoys watching television.

Sadly that’s only a fantasy here.

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The Cell Phone Turns 30

Currently about 90 percent of all American adults own a cell phone and an increasing percentage of American households are ditching landlines altogether. Today marks the 30th anniversary of the launch of the first commercial handheld cellular phone, the Motorola DynaTAC. Though this phone’s prototype made the first ever handheld cell phone call in 1973, it took about ten years to sell the phone to the general public because few parts of the world even had the necessary wireless infrastructure to support cell phones at the time. The phone was about the size of a brick, weighed two pounds, had a battery life that could only support a 30 minute phone call, and took 10 hours to recharge.

Despite all of that, the phone sold incredibly well when it was on the commercial market from 1983-1993. While we may find those technical specifications to be laughable today, the phone itself was revolutionary because it was the first handheld product that could do what it did. Since then other companies have entered the market making our phones smaller, more powerful, and capable of doing more things. But companies like Verizon, AT&T, Samsung, HTC, and Apple that make billions of dollars from mobile phones today owe much of their success to their ability to improve upon the DynaTAC. Mobile phones have become one of the biggest things that have shaped our culture in the past twenty years. We should recognize the phone that started it all off.

Try fitting that in your pocket.

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FAA to Ease Restrictions on Using your Gadgets

In an announcement that all airplane passengers will love, a FAA panel endorsed the easing of restrictions on the use of personal electronics during flights even when planes are on the ground or below 10,000 feet in altitude. More specifically, they want to ease restrictions on using electronics in a way that doesn’t communicate outside the plane below 10,000 feet. So you will soon be free to use your kindle, listen to music, watch movies, and play video games at all times during your flight. You still won’t be allowed to access the internet below 10,000 feet nor will you be allowed to send or receive phone calls or text messages at any point during your flight.

The FAA’s restrictions on personal electronics use originated in the 1950s when it was discovered that passengers bringing radios on their flights interfered with the navigation equipment in the cockpit. The same thing happened when the use of cell phones became widespread and using them on planes is still banned to this day. The FAA though has been gradually easing off restrictions on electronics use especially since both plane and electronics manufacturers have been designing their products so that they don’t interfere with one another. Planes today now have in-flight wi-fi while tablets and smartphones have airplane modes. In a recent stunt Amazon loaded up a passenger airliner full of kindles turned on to see if it affected the flight instruments, which it didn’t.

It turns out that airlines are welcoming this news too. Part of a flight attendant’s job is enforcing the rules and the current rules about personal electronics are difficult to enforce. A rule that has very little scientific backing and is difficult to justify that is openly broken by many travelers leads to unnecessary tensions between airlines and customers that both would like to avoid. Airlines would much rather have their flight attendants spend their time enhancing the customer experience rather than confronting passengers for breaking a silly rule. Also when you have a rule about safety that is widely ignored it undermines all of the other important rules about safety. For all of these reasons the FAA panel recommended easing restrictions and everyone involved will be happy when they’re all finally gone.

That is the only business I can think of that will be disappointed by this news.

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