Monday, April 21, 2008

10 Ideas You Can't Live Without

Bet you thought I'd forgotten about my continued list of 10 Ideas that may change the world. Sometimes in this blogging business, intervening forces create news that needs covering, such as occurred last week with the Dalai Lama and the Pope. But, alas, we are past that now. So, on to future thinking.

So far we've revealed that growing and eating bugs may be the next agriculture boom, and the Wesak Festival may take over Christmas as the year's biggest holiday. No surprisingly, neither of these concepts were highlighted at the Technology, Entertainment and Design conference held recently in Monterey, California, otherwise known affectionately as TED ( For $6,000 a pop an eclectic audience of 1,200 listened attentively to futuristic, need I say cutting-edge, ideas. Some of these made my list because of their far-reaching and potentially Earth-changing nature. See if you agree.

TED attendees were enamored with Microsoft's new Worldwide Telescope that can be accessed at So was I. This virtual telescope "combines feeds from satellites and the best space-and ground-based telescopes around the world" and can be downloaded as a free desktop. It will allow anyone with a computer to zoom in, pan across and otherwise participate in the universe in a way not possible before. Roy Gould, the science educator from Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics proclaimed unabashedly:
"It's going to change the way we do astronomy. It's going to change the way we teach astronomy. And most importantly, I think, it's going to change the way we see ourselves in the universe."
Few would disagree that to conceptualize the future requires a step into infinity. This virtual sky-looker may make that possible.

Another TED presenter, Tod Machover, helps physically and mentally disabled persons perform music. In my mind, that would include many of us who have always wanted to participate in music but were held back by their body and brains in one way or another. Machover, who leads MIT Media Lab's Hyperinstruments/Opera of the Future group,
intends to fix all of that through various technological means.

One of the groups creations was the Brain Opera. No it's not like surgery. Rather, "it lets the audience, live and via the internet, be involved in creating and performing a piece of music"--even for the previous unmusical. This is accomplished through the use of software developed by the group that "uses colors and lines to compose music that is then converted into musical notation." One of the composers highlighted at TED sufferers from severe cerebral palsy, yet created a beautiful score called "My Eagle Song."

Why does this make my list? Machover
believes that people get more from making music than just listening to it. Some have called music a direct connection between mind and heart. Thus, it might be that music-making by the masses could meld the collective mind and heart, creating a bearer to violence and war. Pope Benedict, a great music lover and pianist, said last week:
"Recognition of the transcendent value of every man and woman favors conversion of heart, which then leads to a commitment to resist violence, terrorism and war, and to promote peace and justice" (WSJ, 4-20-08.)
Maybe Machover and the Pope should get together to create a Peace Movement through music-making by the masses. After all, at some level, harmonic music-making is the definition of peace itself.

Moving from TED, another far-reaching concept was presented recently through the Cliburn YouTube Contest. Actually, it's a bit of a gimmick by the Cliburn Foundation to publicize its International Piano Competition for Outstanding Amateurs in 2011, but has merit none-the-less. Listen to this. Amateur pianists over the age of 35 have been given the opportunity of a lifetime to shoot a 10-minute video of their piano playing, download it into YouTube by April 30, then wait for YouTube viewers to chose the winner by May 30.
The prize? $2,000 and an entry into the 2011 competition. Not a bad deal for a talented, middle-aged amateur pianist. Go to for more details (WSJ, 3-15/16-08.)

This idea was a first in the amateur music world and may foretell other innovative ways that YouTube and other video sites will be used for the good of mankind. As an example, already we can credit such videos with outing corrupt politicians by proving inconsistencies in their rhetoric. There are no secrets is a universal dictum, and YouTube has been influential in bringing that apparently little known principle to light, even if unintentionally. When this concept is more widely accepted, a new age of honesty will necessarily prevail.

Another great idea for the future are new limb prosthetics that are implanted in the bone and attached to the nerves. Consequently, the body grows around the stub and eventually, the amputee begins to think of the prosthetic as part and parcel of his own body. Germany is on the cutting edge of this technology, but infections of bone and tissue have prevented the concept from moving forward. Growing new limbs like a salamander may beat the prosthetics out, however. Researchers have recently discovered why salamanders do what they do. They say it is only a matter of time before humans will be able to do the same.

Then, there are the British scientists who are attempting to save the rare white rhino by an innovative technique that will "mix its skin cells with that of its close cousin, the southern white rhino, that is not so endangered. The resulting offspring will be 'chimeras' with a mixture of cells from both species, but it is hoped that some will grow up to have the sperm and eggs of the northern white rhino and so boost the animal's dwindling gene pool" (The Independent, London, 4-18-08.) One scientist went on to warn that the same technique, which may prove life-saving in conservation biology, could be used in human reproduction as well. In fact, it has proved to be an easy technique with few apparent side-effects.

Anyone see I am Legend? Ideas that can change the future can have negative consequences as well as positive. With the plethora of genetic engineering techniques making their way to practical usage, consideration of the ethics of such experiments have not kept pace, nor may it be possible in the current environment. However, in the future, ethical answers must be found to bring some order to what may be a bizarre genetic zoo, potentially including genetically altered humans.

On a more positive note comes a cure for cancer. Yes, that's what I said. CBS 60 Minutes recently interviewed the humble man whose innovation may have found the elusive cure for the often fatal disease. His name is John Kanzius, a retired former radio and television executive who holds no college degree. Six years ago he was diagnosed with terminal leukemia and underwent countless rounds of chemotherapy during which he was deeply moved by the dying children around him. Their pained eyes haunted him.

During one sleepless night, the light bulb went off.
Kanzius revealed to his interviewer that "when he was young, he was one of those kids who built radios from scratch, so he knew the power of radio waves. Sick from chemo, he got out of bed, went to the kitchen and started to build a radio wave machine." The elderly cancer victim started pulling things like pie pans out of the cabinets. When his wife saw this, she thought he'd lost his mind. In a way, maybe he had. Sometimes it might take that.

Fast forwarding, Kanzius indeed created his radio wave machine and got the attention of a MD Anderson Cancer Center doctor-researcher, who pronounced it the most exciting thing he'd every encountered in his 20-year career. The story did not stop there.

Serendipitously, the Nobel Prize winner for the discovery of carbon nanoparticles was being treated at MD Anderson by the self-same doctor-researcher. This innovative physician asked his patient for a vial of carbon nanoparticles to further the experiments he'd undertaken with Kanzius. Even though the Nobel prize winner was incredulous, he gave Kanzius a test tube of the stuff. To the amazement of the dying Nobel Laureate, the researchers found that when the prepared nanoparticles were injected into a tumor, heated and then exposed to the radio waves, the tumor started to disintegrate--without harming the surrounding tissue at all.

Human trials are at least four years away. But if he lives that long, Kanzius hopes to see the first patient being treated. He said that will make him smile. As a side note, it will definitely not be in time for the author of the phenomenal best seller The Last Lecture, based on an actual lecture about life's lessons given by a university professor who is dying of pancreatic cancer.

The insightful, but humble professor's daily activities can be followed on his Website for anyone brave enough to watch his life to the end. A video of the Last Lecture can be found there also. Be prepared to be touched:

Both of these men could benefit from the last good idea for the future, home funerals. With recent exposure to hospice services and the hefty price of regular funerals, many folks nationwide have turned to this new concept. This innovative service provided by a former hospice chaplain is now available in northern Wisconsin and includes "completing and filing all legal documents, transporting the body home, washing and clothing the body, holding a wake and transporting the body to a cemetery or crematorium." Also thrown in are complementary plans for a home-made casket, if requested. While not for everyone, home funerals open a new avenue for those interested in a more natural progression from life to death.

Needless to say, funeral homes will not be happy to relinquish their monopoly. But, in the future, Americans will most likely join the global multitudes, who know that death is a part of life. For centuries worldwide mourners have prepared the dead body in an accepting, natural way and in the process provided the outgoing soul with a more appropriate, exiting atmosphere. This innovative concept may take decades to catch on, but home funerals have arrived and have paradigm-shifting potential.
For more information go to

And finally, this photo of my Dad was snapped almost thirty years ago as he read to his two grandsons. My son on the left just turned 31, and my nephew Daniel is on the right. Reading was Dad's most beloved past-time but he lost that ability when he got Alzheimer's Disease, which took his life 8 years later. Someday, I'd like to be able to report in my 10 Best Ideas for the year that a cure for this mind-altering disease has been uncovered. Maybe we should get John Kanzius on it. Radio waves, anyone?

Today's Weather Report: Haven't been out so don't know truthfully what temp it is today. The sunshine has been keeping the room warm without additional heat, though, so I'd guess it's in the fifties. Only a few, small patches of snow remain, and Jim is grilling chicken outside.

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