Use what we got.

Cuttlefish are awesome. If you didn’t know how awesome before, I recommend this TED:

As you can see, these aquatic animals are pretty cool.  Not that I wish I was one, or that I have any great desire to change my skin pigmentation at will.  Truthfully, most of my bad hair days come from having only half flathead and half ‘fro. Adding color to the mix doesn’t seem wise. But there are things about my own body I’d like to control better – like my flailing limbs, my ability to stand, and my general athleticism. The cuttlefish is one up on me in this.

He may also be one up on me in big-screen televisions as well.  Evidently the way a cuttlefish changes colors is by membrane distancing.  Think of it like a light table, or a window, where a colored piece of paper covers the glass.  If you put a white piece of paper right on top, you can still see the color through it pretty strongly.  If you lift the white paper slowly, the further you get away, the less color you see, until all you can see is white.  That’s what a cuttlefish does, on a large scale and with multiple layers (and without a light source on the inside).  Eventually such substances will be used in television screens and probably as colored electronic paper, all because of a color-changing swimmer that we might not have learned from in the past, even though we wondered at him.

Another place we might have learned more readily from is our own past.  Take cathedrals – they are pretty awesome, but most of the time we think that we’ve learned all we can from them, technologically speaking.  Most cathedral builders operated on the ‘you broke it, you bought it’ principle.  If the building came crashing down while being constructed, the builder was probably dead inside.  Balanced with that was the constant pressure to make the next one bigger, grander, and better.  There was a constant testing process to see what could withstand nature and the elements, and the price of failure was high.

We don’t have that anymore.  We’ve freed ourselves from the rigor of masonry building materials and the solid facade, and learned to anticipate the vagaries of nature with various codes and rules.  Supposedly this makes our buildings safer, but it may not have made us wiser.  We don’t have to take the surrounding environment into account, so by and large, we don’t.  There’s this highly prevalent view about reflective glass and how it doesn’t intrude into the skyscape of a city – which it might not, visually for some humans.  I’m not so sure what a goose would think about a new glass ‘scraper along a traditional migration route, or how a bat might perceive such a surface.  In general, the environment of such buildings is about control of the surroundings, not adaptation to it.  According to John Ochsendorf, adaptive is something traditional construction had to be.  I think there’s a lesson there, about what we know, or think we know, and how best to truly use it.

Creepy and under my skin.

I’m all for new inventions.  And I know how debilitating conditions like diabetes can be.  Still, the idea of a dime-sized device under my skin freaks me out, especially when that device is in control of monitoring my health.

Maybe I’m old-fashioned or simply unrealistic.  After all, the kind of patient care required for lifelong illnesses must be truly demanding.  The kind of self-monitoring that goes on with certain conditions must be tedious.  I support the right of anyone to live a healthy, happy life.  But part of this whole monitoring idea is about relinquishing control.  Sure, the implanted sensors could give a more accurate reading of your body’s function than any person not hooked up to a machine.  But the idea of that same quick, accurate reading being used to inject me with certain substances is downright frightening.

Maybe it’s all too much movies.  The weird and wired plug-ins in the Matrix also were creepy for me to watch, even though they weren’t real.  I guess it’s just one more step towards the computers taking over, and to be frank, I’m not quite read for that one.

Let’s just give people money…

Ok, Google is pretty cool.  And, they have a sense of humor (unlike Kia).  But the recently announced Project 10^100th is beyond awesome.  Have a good idea?  Lack the technical expertise to implement it?  We’ll give you money to get the job done and hook you up with the appropriate know-how (we are, after all, a search engine).

I, for one, have about a thousand ideas I need to dust off, spruce up, and submit.  I’m not going to list them all here, because then you’d steal them and win the prizes for yourself.  But, that being said, the spirit of this whole competition is about doing good stuff for the world.  So, if you have your own ideas, please submit them here.  The due date for project submission is October 20th, so get cracking.  And if you do end up working on a project of ultimate coolness as a result, remember the humble blogger who sent you on your way to funding.  Heck, I’d even volunteer for a project of ultimate coolness…

Is George Washington Carver turning in his grave?

The man nicknamed ‘Black Leonardo’ is kinda my idol. He’s an exemplar of taking a simple, widespread crop and turning it into 30 gazillion useful products that we still know and love today. As a staff member of an institute of technology, I am a big fan of making simple things industrially and technologically useful. In addition, Carver was a huge proponent of education, focusing on the education of former slaves in agriculture and related areas to make them self-sufficient.

While Carver did not in fact invent peanut butter (the recipe he published for home-made peanut butter was pretty much standard for the time and not really similar to current commercial recipes), he had a close and personal relationship with the un-nut. Which is why he may or may not be disturbed by the current food uses of his nut in the products of Peanut Butter and Co. While some of the peanut butters are interesting and potentially awesomely good – ‘Dark Chocolate Dreams’ and ‘The Heat is On’ to name a few – others leave me wrinkling my nose. Do we really need cinnamon raisin pb? And the honey flavored variety – how is that any different from the pb&j premixed jars that failed to revolutionize the industry?

Still, there are aspects of the marketing and product line that I enjoy. For one, the cartoon monkey mascot holding his little peanut instead of the typical banana is cute. I have no idea what monkeys have to do with peanuts, or if they ever really encounter them in the wild, but it’s still cute. Also, the peanut butter milkshakes available at the sandwich shop in NYC are probably great – if I ever get there. I am intrigued as well by their cookbook, chock-full of pb recipes and with an introduction by Jerry Seinfeld. I have no idea what Seinfeld knows about food, but it’s still an intriguing idea. Finally, they also make raspberry marshmallow fluff. Whoa.

Ultimately, all this has done exactly what it was supposed to – next time I’m in the store, I’ll probably pick up a jar of one of these unique butters for testing without guilt. After all, the company is highly socially motivated, both in New York and in its product line. And even though innovation with widespread application is lacking from this particular company, I definitely think they are moving in the right direction.