For the rest, go to National Geographic to see view all the galleries and vote for your favorites!
Praying Mantis – Pseudocreobotra wahlbergii. This beautiful whalbergii evolved through two of its nymph-stages on the Barberton Daisy at left, surviving because of its bright color which blended so well with the flower. Towards the end of its growth into an adult, it became a little more adventurous (but not much more) as pictured here. Once it had shed the layer in this picture, it became a fully-fledged adult, and departed after about two weeks. Total stay in this tiny ecosystem was approximately six weeks. (Photo and caption by Fred Turck) #
Unsafe Journey. A woman is riding between the railway carriages of a local train heading north from Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh. Her luggage is tucked under the carriage in front of her. It is the month of Ramadan, a fast which culminates in Eid-ul-Fitr, a three-day celebration. Tens of thousands of people leave the city to go to their home village and celebrate with their families. Trains are packed and many who fail to get tickets before they sell out or can’t afford buying them at the black market ride on the roof of the train or, like this woman, finds a quiet spot between the carriages. (Photo and caption by Amy Helene Johansson) #
Lightning Crashes. A lightning bolt strikes the antenna of The Center building in Central Hong Kong during a storm on September 13, 2009. (Photo and caption by Michael Siward) #
Oasis. (Photo and caption by Nam In Geun) #
Ki Gompa. This picture was taken when I visited the Buddhist Monastery of Ki. Ki is a tiny village in the middle of the Himalayas, and next to it is Ki Gompa (Ki Monastery). I lived with the monks for about a week, and this picture reflects the peaceful, almost heavenly atmosphere that characterizes this place. The Monastery is almost 4,000 meters high, and I had to climb almost 500 meters more to get this panorama. This place is a touch of heaven. (Photo and caption by Natalia Luzuriaga) #
Suradita Village, West Java, Indonesia. Children playing with their roosters. Actually it was not a real cockfight because the roosters didn’t wear blades on their feet. Children like to play this game because they almost never have toys in their life. (Photo and caption by Ario Wibisono) #
Power of childhood. City: Lençois; Estate: Bahia; Country: Brazil. (Photo and caption by Rodrigo West de Magalhaes) #
Great Blue Heron with fish. The largest and most widespread heron in North America. When foraging, they stand silently along riverbanks, lake shores, or in wet meadows, waiting for prey to come by, which they then strike with their bills. (Photo and caption by Linh Dinh) #
Heavy load. One morning in August, I was on my way to pick up the newspaper. Everything was moist and wet, and I spotted this little fly on a small white flower, just outside my bedroom window. Two hours after I shot this picture I went outside again, and the fly was still sitting on the same flower – still not able to fly. (Photo and caption by Audun Wigen) #
Giraffes at Savannah. Unusual perspective shot depicting two giraffes and a tree in Masai Mara, Kenya. (Photo and caption by Niko Saunio
Cloud and ship. Ukraine, Crimea, Black sea, view from Ai-Petri mountain. (Photo and caption by Yevgen Timashov) #
Virtual reality is soooo last decade (aught-ish)! Now, in 2010, in the new decade we see virtual and physical experiences merge for the next phase of time-and-space bending expressions: Immersive Reality.
And the Ralph Lauren 4D shows are an early indicator of where it’s all headed. This video offers a taste, but for a more complete representation, you’ve got to go to the site: http://4d.ralphlauren.com/
The videos document major shows held last week ‘on’ Ralph Lauren’s flagship stores in NYC and London. They featured 3D holographic projections that bring the building to life, laser light shows, and a 4th dimension: scent. It’s a mash-up of ad, art installation, and fashion show.
Without further ado, your Brain Food round-up for the week, dear readers. (Hi, Mom.)
An Interactive Scale of the Universe (Discover Magazine)
This beautiful, interactive, sliding tool shows the relative sizes of everything in the universe, from the largest galaxies we know of down to quantum foam. We at Push were immensely disappointed to find out that, in fact, we are not the center of the universe.
30 Conversations on Design
Thirty of the world’s greatest design thinkers were asked what one thing inspires them the most and what one problem design needs to solve next. I’m a fan of Erik Spiekermann’s answer that the invention of the alphabet was the most amazing piece of design ever.
What We Can Learn From Procrastination (The New Yorker)
A great article from James Surowiecki on why we procrastinate even though we really don’t want to. (Fun fact: each year, Americans waste hundreds of millions of dollars because they don’t file their taxes on time.)
MIT Media Lab Medical Mirror (Popular Science)
A graduate student in the Harvard-MIT Health Sciences and Technology program recently proved that, by installing a reasonably cheap webcam in a mirror, one could monitor their heart rate simply by standing in front of it. Next steps: respiration, blood pressure … more?
Search for the Obvious
The Search for the Obvious is a global contest that encourages participants to find everyday objects and services that have made life better for people across the world, and then apply the concepts toward eradicating poverty.
Waiting for Superman
If you haven’t watched Davis Guggenheim’s new documentary on the state of the American school system yet, it’s a must-see. Also, by texting “Possible” to 77177, you’ll recieve a $15 credit to donate to a local school. It takes about 10 minutes — at the most — to get online and pick a school and put the code in. (And, really, go see the movie. I only cried approximately eight times during it.)
Instead of simply raging over those statistics like me, leaders, footballers and celebrities worldwide are uniting to promote UNESCO’s global ‘Education for All’ movement, which aims to meet the learning needs of ALL children and adults by 2015.
Using the 2010 FIFA World Cup as a platform, an initiative called 1GOAL was started with the intent of holding the world leaders of 164 different countries to their education promises. International soccer stars, like Thierry Henry and Zinedine Zidane, asked World Cup fans to simply sign their name on a petition to draw attention to the cause, creating a united world voice and encouraging world leaders to place education at the top of their agenda.
Although the World Cup is over now, more than 15 million people have donated signatures to the campaign, with numbers continuing to grow. Hopefully the campaign succeeded in catching the attention of world leaders, as they’re scheduled to convene at a UN Conference next week to discuss development goals.
1GOAL is amazing because it used the star power and media attention surrounding the World Cup as a catalyst for change – to make it into something bigger and more important than just a sporting event. It’s heartening to see so many people support worldwide education, something that should be a basic human right.
Plus, if I wasn’t already on board, Shakira is a 1Goal ambassador, cementing my loyalty to the cause. Let’s all Waka Waka for education.
One Week Job
Like a lot of us, Sean Aiken graduated college and had no idea what he wanted to do with his life. (His childhood goal of being a professional basketball player was about as fruitful as my early figure skating dreams.) Instead of jumping into something, however, he took an epic journey around North America, working 52 jobs in 52 weeks to try to find his passion. Now, he’s trying to help others do the same.
PlayStation Move Could Give 3D Games a Whole New Meaning (Wired)
The upcoming “Move” system from PlayStation looks a lot like the Wii and, in a lot of ways, it is. However, it’s also a totally immersive system with an unprecedented amount of 3D gaming potential. We’re talking about enough potential to turn your entire living room into a videogame, people.
‘Reverse’ Gender Gap Pay Among Young Workers (MPR)
A surprising finding in the latest census data shows that young, single, childless women are out-earning their male counterparts by about eight percent. A fascinating discussion on MPR weighs in on the reasons for this new trend — with women attaining more education than men being the leading answer.
‘Arthur Clarke’s 1964 Predictions for the Future (Coilhouse)
In 1964, Arthur Clarke (author of 2001: A Space Odyssey) appeared on the BBC’s “Horizon” program to offer his predictions for the future. Some are terrifying, like the idea of the entire world turning into one giant suburb. Others, like domed communities on icecaps, holidays under the sea (!), planetary engineering, and recording directly onto the brain, are delightful and will hopefully be realized someday.
“Each year hundreds of words are dropped from the English language. Old words, wise words, hard-working words. Words that once led meaningful lives but now lie unused, unloved and unwanted.”
As means of communication change, the words used to actually communicate change with them. In a far cry from ye olde days of long, scrawled epistles to friends and lovers and epic masterpieces of novels, 90% of everything we write today is communicated by a mere 7,000 different words.
While this may seem sufficient, it’s actually pretty sad, when looked at in the context of the English language as a glorious whole.
The Oxford English Dictionary contains full entries for 171,476 words in current use, 47,156 obsolete words and 9,500 derivative words included as subentries. Over half of these words are nouns, about a quarter adjectives, and about a seventh verbs; the rest is made up of exclamations, conjunctions, prepositions, suffixes, etc. This suggests that there are, at the very least, a quarter of a million distinct English words. And that, sadly, 90% of our communication as human beings is being defined by a paltry 2.8% of the fantastic vocabulary available to us.
Each year, lexicographers track the frequency of word usage in popular culture and media to decide which words will go into the dictionary. (This year, ‘defriend’, ‘tweetup’, ‘bromance’, ‘chillax’ and ‘frenemy’ were some of the lucky winners to make the cut.) Along with the up and comers, though, these professional wordsmiths also track the falling popularity of words and opt to remove them.
Save the Words, a lovable initiative of the Oxford English Dictionary, has set out to ensure that these less-lauded words don’t follow the same path as the dinosaurs. The website allows you to browse a wall of rare words, be given a random word, or search for a word to see if it’s in danger of extinction. Once you find a word to your liking, the fellow word nerds behind the site encourage you to adopt the word, finding room for it in everyday conversations and written communication, and even to say vows regarding your new foster word.
“I hereby promise to use this word, in conversation and correspondence, as frequently as possible to the best of my ability.”
The logic behind this is that every time you use the word, you’re keeping it alive and well in the English language. So don’t be a banal snollygoster – go explore the site, fall in love with a word and use it gaudiloquently.
As Robin Marantz Henig points out in her recent New York Times article, “What Is It About 20-Somethings?”, there is no set definition of responsible adulthood. You can vote at 18, drink (legally) at 21 and rent cars hassle-free at 25. Is this just the way things shook out, or is it illustrative of a certain confusion around those entering conventional adulthood – a confusion born of the need to set the ages of 18-29 apart as a separate developmental stage, complete with its own allowances and expectations?
In the article, psychology professor Jeffry Jensen Arnett references something he likes to call “the age 30 deadline.” One assumes, after reading said article, that this is the final buzzer on some cosmic clock, after which your future begins to calcify at an increasing rate.
This “deadline” is mentioned in passing, an offshoot of a much longer discussion on the much-debated developmental stage Arnett refers to as “emerging adulthood”.
In Arnett’s idea of “emerging adulthood,” the much-ballyhooed “20-somethings” bounce back and forth, collecting life experiences, learning how to make their own decisions and defining themselves in a world that has not only changed since their parents’ time, but continues to change at an increasingly rapid rate. He views the ages between 18 and 29 as a very specific developmental stage, much like adolescence.
This is all played against things like the rising numbers of “emerging adults” moving back in with their parents, the high turnover rate in burgeoning careers and the varied legal definitions of what age one must reach before he or she is determined to have sufficient sensibility.
The question is, do these young adults need room to roam? Is it healthier to take some time to discover at the expense of getting a start on the rest? More importantly, in regards to Arnett’s point, does this decade deserve unique classification?
Personally, I’m ambivalent as to whether or not these things happen, but don’t believe that they can only happen (and count) between 18 and 29-years-old. I can think of plenty of people who have continued to discover themselves past 30, 40, 50, etc. To me, the question is less about whether people change a lot during their 20′s and more about whether or not they continue to evolve past that. If we accept that the 20′s are something special, in need of unique social and psychological amenities and allowances, then it seems as if we must also devalue the time that comes after them.
What do you think? Is there something about those restless 20-somethings, or is it just another attempt to quantify the unquantifiable?
Scientists from the University of Hertfordshire recently unveiled Nao — the first robot allegedly capable of both developing and expressing emotions. This sensitive robot is the result of Feelix Growing (Feel, Interact, Express), a project aimed at socially situating robots in our society. According to Dr. Lola Cañamero, the computer scientist who is running the project, “Emotions foster adaptation to environment, so robots would be better at learning things.”
Nao is the emotional equivalent of a one-year-old child, showing emotion through non-verbal clues like posture and gestures, rather than more advanced facial or verbal expression. Non-verbal clues from actual human beings, body language and distance in particular, are also what guide Nao’s reactions and feelings. The robot learns from human interactions, can remember faces and is programmed to form close bonds with people who treat it (him? Pronoun struggle.) with kindness. This basic understanding of human body language, along with a programmed set of basic rules about what’s “good” and “bad” for it, allow Nao to indicate how it’s feeling.
This originally made me think that Nao is just another basic robot, BUT found out that while the actions used to display each emotion are preprogrammed, Nao decides by itself which feeling to display, and when. (Robot agency!)
Hunching its shoulders when it’s sad and raising its arms for a hug when it’s happy, the robot really does emulate the physical expressions of a very young child. If frightened, Nao will only stop cowering in fear when soothed by gentle strokes on the head. Along with happiness, sadness and fright, Nao can also express anger, guilt, excitement and pride.
Beyond just being a novelty, Nao has several projected practical uses. The FEELIX team members in charge of creating Nao’s emotions believe that robots are absolutely going to act as human companions in the near future, and that responses from the robots will make it easier for humans to interact with them.
“If people can behave naturally around their robot companions, robots will be better-accepted as they become more common in our lives.”
In addition to being an ambassador for the ideal everyday companions of the future, one of the immediate aims of FEELIX’s project is to provide 24-hour companionship for young children and the elderly in hospitals and to provide support for their parents, carers, doctors and nurses. He would be capable of helping out with therapeutic aspects of their treatment, as well as providing companionship and helping their emotional well-being.
I don’t think we’re anywhere close to the point where robots will replace actual human attention, but they could be a great helper, when no one else is available. The public might not be ready for robot companions with a mind of their own, but the technology is here, it’s consistently improving, and it can’t be ignored.
(All seriousness aside, I think my favorite thing about Nao is that he happens to be an awesome dancer, bringing a whole new meaning to ‘The Robot’.)
There’s no question that Facebook has its shortcomings, as many have pointed out. (“Facebook User Satisfaction ‘Abysmal’”) That said, there’s also no question that Facebook operates one of the richest data mines in the world, with more than 500 million users volunteering information every day on things like music taste, athletic shoes (fan pages) and sexual preference.
The sum of all these parts must form close to the largest pivot table in the world, allowing Facebook to mix and match advertisements down to the narrowest niche. Gone are the Bonobos pants ads that used to drive me crazy. The ads for I’m looking at right now for Californication and cupcakes are more my style.
The idea of Facebook as a search destination for consumers, relying in part on the “likes” and preferences of friends and partly on whatever search functions might be around the corner should be a slightly uncomfortable one for Google. (“Facebook to Challenge Search Titans with Open Graph Search Engine”) With the “Like” feature, Facebook offers up a way for companies, brands and individuals to tie themselves to Facebook – eventually giving their outside page a home within Facebook search results.
As of now, Google hasn’t been able to really successfully bridge the gap between search engine/productivity facilitator and online social network. However, you’re be nuts if you think they’ve stopped trying. Google Me, rumored to be just around the corner, is purported to have the best of Facebook and the best of Google – combining both into a functional, useful and sensible social/discovery/productivity tool.
Sure, Google has made some missteps, but this third time could be the charm. There’s no question that Google has the breadth to take on Facebook, with solid footholds in the arenas of mobile OS, browsers, e-mail (still an essential form of communication), picture sharing, video sharing … etc.
Right now, Facebook really does one thing, and does it … well, semi-well. Let’s be honest – there are a lot of Facebook shortcomings. Getting rid of Facebook Light springs to mind. But Facebook is the perfect example of something so close to so much more. Even for its faults, Facebook still does a better job connecting people – comprehensively – than most competitors who have come, and gone.
However, one area where Google continues to thump Facebook is in everyday integration – not in the sense of accessibility, but in the sense of usability and “nowness.” If Google can successfully integrate its capabilities, various properties and current social tools into an easy-to-navigate, easy-to-personalize social network that sets Google as the users home base for everything … Facebook could have a run for its money.
Speaking of Google Me, check out the trailer for the new film of the same name.
As education activists and policymakers desperately try to figure out how to revamp our nation’s (failing) school systems, it might be helpful to take a look at a new public school in New York City — completely based on games.
Quest to Learn is an AWESOME new age school for grades 6-12 that uses digital media and game design as the primary means of education, with video games at the center of all classes and learning experiences. This doesn’t mean that its students sit around playing Farmville all day, with the occasional break to pwn n00bs at Halo 3, however. These are games created to bridge old and new literacies to help students learn about the world as a set of interconnected systems. Design and complex problem-solving are two big ideas of the school, as is immersing students in real life-based situations that help them think like designers, inventors, mathematicians and more. Each student has a laptop and homework is managed on a social networking site called BeingMe, where students can collaborate and critique each other’s work, with support from adult mentors.
A brain child of the Institute of Play, I think this school model is completely brilliant, as it situates learning in a familiar way that compels children to want to do it, versus just going through the motions, which makes all the difference in the world. Katie Salen, the director of the school and a speaker at 2006 PUSH, says that
“The design of Quest to Learn has purposely responded not only to the growing evidence that digital media and games offer powerful models for reconsidering how and where young people learn, but that access for all students to these opportunities is critical.”
As I said in a previous post, the brain never stops reorganizing itself in response to the world. This generation of children are digital natives … video games and digital media are what they grew up with and what they’re interested in. It makes sense that the way we teach them needs to evolve as well. School systems need to catch up with the 21st century and embrace the technologies that are ubiquitous in these kids’ lives instead of avoiding, or even forbidding, them. Quest to Learn might not be a perfect solution to our country’s education problems, but it is an interesting step in the right direction toward turning students into thoughtful, well-informed citizens who are literate in the technologies and skills needed for success in the 21st century.
Katie Salen, the school’s Executive Director, on Kid Culture:
Other than just being one of the most beautiful websites I’ve stumbled across in a long time, Before I Die I Want To… is a project in cultural anthropology that explores the responses of individuals to that oh-so-big question, using Polaroid photos.
The creators of the project snap the photograph while the subject is saying what they want to do before they die, catching them in the act of expressing their desire. They then have the subject write his or her statement on the bottom of the Polaroid, starting with the words “Before I die, I want to ___.”
Follow-up e-mails will be sent out to participants in a certain number of years, asking about the status of their goal. They will then be asked to write a short story next to their photo on the website about fulfilling their expressed want. The creators’ desire is that seeing online that other people are fulfilling their desires will motivate participants to complete their own task and have a story to tell.
While the project aims to encourage subjects to accomplish their dreams, it also initiates a dialogue and analysis around the awareness of mortality, values, motivation to act on personal objectives – and how these may differ across societies and cultures. Originally focusing only on Americans, the project has since branched out to India and has recently started capturing images of Hospice patients as well.
The differences between the different groups included in the project are absolutely fascinating:
- Participants in India expressed a greater comfort level with death as not only an inevitable but integral aspect of life – some had even prepared for it by thinking about what they want to say before dying, such as God’s name. Americans, on the other hand, generally expressed more fear, discomfort and avoidance at the notion of death.
- Americans generally desired that their answers be unique from that of other respondents; Indians were much more comfortable in giving the same response as others (or together with others) – likely stemming from a culture that holds the happiness and comfort of others in dense communities in high regard.
- After noticing that many Indians in shanty towns or slums had a difficult time conceptualizing what it is to “dream”, the photographers started to wonder if the ability to dream big is generally something that comes with financial security. Americans’ dreams of traveling, or owning a second home are in contrast with the more modest dreams of Indians who simply would like to study or own a shop, or maybe can’t even conceptualize the idea of dreaming at all.
- The creators concluded that – no matter whether rich or poor, Indian or American – the vast majority of people still “wanted” more. Very few people said they had done it all, or didn’t feel the need to do anything else before they died but be in the moment.
The project really makes you take a step back and look at the dissonance between what culture tells you is important, and what’s actually meaningful to you at the end of the day (or life).
For those who think the big, bad Internet doesn’t foster enough emotional connections between human beings, a new invention called the iFeel_IM might be exactly what they’re looking for. Developed by a technology professor in Japan, the iFeel_IM is a (only somewhat creepy) virtual hugging vest designed to inject a subtle effect of human touch into online chatting.
By retrieving emotional messages in online text, the device triggers a matching sensation in the vest that the individual is wearing. For example, if I told someone online – who was wearing the iFeel_IM – that I love them, the device would give them a gentle hug. The iFeel_IM can simulate a heartbeat, generate warmth, the tickling sensation of butterflies in the stomach and a spine tingling chill of fear, among others. Imagine trying to ask someone out on a date online (whoo, 21st century!) and having your nervousness magnified tenfold by a vest giving you literal chills of fear and butterflies in your stomach.
The setup resembles the straps of a backpack which contains sensors, motors and speakers. Like I said earlier, the device retrieves emotions from written text and responds accordingly. Professor Dzmitry Tsetserukou, the inventor, says the iFeel_IM can distinguish joy, fear, anger and sadness with 90 percent accuracy, and can parse nine emotions — including shame, guilt, disgust, interest and surprise — nearly four out of five times. It was tested in Second Life, the online 3D virtual world, where the inventor’s predicted accuracy rates rang true.
Presented at the first Augmented Human International Conference in France, Tsetserukou compared the system to the film Avatar, and especially the film Surrogates, set in a future when humans stay at home plugged into a cocoon while their healthier, more handsome doppelgangers venture forth into the real world.
“In a few years, this could be a mobile system integrated into a suit or jacket,” he said. “It’s not that far away.”
While I love that the technology behind this vest exists, the idea in general somewhat depresses me. I don’t think the Internet is inhumane enough that it drains individuals of the ability to experience feelings by themselves, without a digital prompter. (Ok, when this word is said, you’re supposed to feel happy!) Wearing your heart on your virtual sleeve is a little too robot-like for my liking.
But, at the very least, the iFeel_IM could cut down on the overabundance of emoticons littering the Web.
A video demonstrating the iFeel in action:
“Grey is out. Gloom is gone.” is the fitting mantra behind Dulux’s beautiful Let’s Colour project making its way around the globe. Declaring that it’s time for us to live our lives in colour, the international paint company has started a worldwide initiative to transform grey spaces with (their) colourful paint.
(Side note: it’s odd to include a ‘u’ when typing ‘colour,’ but I like it enough to pretend to be British for the rest of this post.)
Dulux has gathered together a team of volunteers who have traveled to London, Rio de Janeiro, Paris and Jodhpur so far this year in search of drab, dreary neighborhoods to rejuvenate with vivid, eye-popping coats of paint. They prioritize local participation and collaboration in shaping communities, as “Mandating things to people feels a bit old fashioned. People want to collaborate, people want to create content to share with the world.”
Rather than being just another lifeless, corporate PR campaign, the Let’s Colour project is absolutely charming, combining a simple, powerful mission, an enthusiastic team and a lasting, beautiful end result. Their YouTube page features videos showing the passion sparked in local communities involved with the metamorphosis of their formerly dull, grey, oppressive public spaces. Two little girls in India declare that their favorite colours are rainbow and pink, and that they are VERY excited to paint their school. Some young men in Aulnay, France say that participating in the project makes them feel like they’re bringing joy to their city.
My favorite video, however, came from Benito Berretta, a marketing director, who shared his thoughts on colour and how it reflects who we are as individuals and communities:
“There is a relationship between the colours and the soul of the community. Colours are the language of the community. They reveal a lot of things about they communicate and interact with life, how they see the future and how they enjoy the present. “
“This language is very important to understand because it will tell you a lot about how to start a dialogue with the communities. It’s about understanding that we are all different, but that at the same time we all have similar things, one of them being that when you paint, there is a future for you. Communities that are painting have a brighter future; they have hope – for improving, for bringing new things.”
Beautiful. To go along with that, I recently stumbled across an infographic that charts the varying symbolism of colours around the world, from purple and flamboyance to brown and loyalty.
Red symbolizes love in American and Japanese culture. Hindus, however, associate that feeling with the colour green, while Native Americans use yellow and African culture ties love in with the colour blue.
This chart just goes to show that while differing from culture to culture, colour really does help us make sense of the world around us. It’s such a powerful, important part of human expression and if Dulux is on a mission to rid communities of grey and gloom, more power to them.
“It’s meant to be a reflection of the community. It’s meant to be a reflection of one person’s love for another person in the community, but at the same time it’s meant to live beyond these distinctions and just be something for everyone, no matter where they’re at. You don’t need to know where Farson Street is, or where Conestoga Street is in relation to Market Street. What you need to know is love exists here, love exists in yourself. The city is a giving, nurturing place if you let it give to you and nurture you.” - Steve Powers
Over the past year, colorful graffiti has slowly, but steadily, started to adorn building facades across Philadelphia. Local hoodlums? Not quite. It’s actually the ambitious project “A Love Letter For You,” dreamed up by Steve Powers, an ex-graffiti artist. Partnering with the Mural Arts Program, Powers has taken it upon himself to create a 20-block long mural in his hometown, Philadelphia. The subject? Love. (Insert bad pun about the City of Brotherly Love here.)
Painted on the walls and rooftops of a neighborhood in West Philly, the murals by 40 local and international artists address words of romance, thoughts of relationships and people’s ideas of what love truly is. Included are the phrases “I miss you too often not to love you”, “I want you like coffee” and “Prepay is on. Let’s talk till all my minutes are gone.”
Along with the 50 anticipated murals, the project is providing art training for youth in the community and free signage for businesses around the area. Community, art and love. So beautiful.
Kopernik is a revolutionary new social platform that connects breakthrough technologies with the individuals and communities that need them the most through crowdsourced financing. The name stems from Nicolaus Copernicus, the first astronomer to embrace a heliocentric model of the universe, completely changing the way people look at the world – a fitting metaphor for Kopernik’s goal of changing the way we approach development and some of the greatest challenges facing the world today.
The platform — founded by a team of ex- World Bank and United Nations workers — connects individual supporters, technology providers and the local organizations worldwide who need those technologies. A humanitarian three-way of sorts, if you will.
Projects like self-adjustable glasses for refugees with zero access to eye care, rollable water containers for women in East Timor and computer skills training programs for rural Ugandans have been amazingly effective and show how well the platform works.
Microfinance, a type of banking service designed to provide low income people with a means of saving money, borrowing money, and insurance is not a new concept by any means. Best known through the Grameen Bank model, microfinance has been extraordinarily successful because it gives people an opportunity to become entrepreneurial and self-sufficient, helping them help themselves. Iqbal Quadir, a speaker at the 2005 PUSH conference and Director of the fantastic Legatum Center for Development and Entrepreneurship, is the founder of the GrameenPhone, a perfect example of the impact that empowering the citizens of poor countries can have.
In a great TEDTalk, Quadir said that he believes far more in the power of individuals, even those whose only resources are their minds and imaginations, than in the power of the state. He charges that foreign aid has failed to improve living standards because “aid empowers authorities, not citizens.” If we can start promoting businesses and connectivity in these areas, it can have a much greater impact on people’s lives than all the aid we can imagine. Quadir had a vision that creating universal access to telephone service in his home country of Bangladesh would greatly improve efficiency, connect villages to the world, create business opportunities and generate a culture of entrepreneurship over time. Quadir used the Grameen Bank model to implement his distribution scheme in which village entrepreneurs, backed by micro-loans, could retail telephone services to their surrounding areas. This model worked and GrameenPhone currently provides telephone access to over 100 million people living in rural Bangladesh, improving economic efficiency immensely.
Iqbal Quadir goes by the motto “Connectivity is productivity,” which is where Kopernik comes in. Kiva took the Grameen Bank model a step further by allowing anyone who wants to participate in microfinance to lend money all over the world. Donors can start a Kiva account and then browse among possible borrowers and causes to figure out whom to lend money to. Kopernik is the next step — it shows that not only can everyone can be involved in microfinance, but that we can do this even more effectively. It provides a model that could potentially fill the disconnect between people who dream up world-changing technologies and the people who actually need them. The team behind Kopernik is planning to eventually expand beyond crowdfunding proposals into developing their own products with DIY and open-source instructions that local communities can use to build technologies on their own. Microfinance is the new tool and philosophy of how change is effective. Kopernik is simply taking that model and adding an organizational piece to it – in effect, shifting the the structure Copernicus-style, while focusing on the idea that connectivity really is productivity.
I want people to feel as though this is the most important issue of our time. It is possible to give every kid a great education and they can do something about it. Driving by and worrying is not enough. Unless each one of us takes a step to make change, our schools won’t get any better.
-Davis Guggenheim, director of Waiting for Superman
A much-anticipated documentary premiered January 22nd at the Sundance Film Festival. Waiting for Superman (incidentally, the name of a Flaming Lips cover I love, but I digress) examines the crisis of public education in the United States through multiple interlocking stories – from a handful of students and their families whose futures hang in the balance, to the educators and reformers trying to find real and lasting solutions within a dysfunctional system. Directed by Oscar-winning Davis Guggenheim (of An Inconvenient Truth fame) and supported by an impressive cast of characters including Bill Gates, Geoffrey Canada (founder of the fantastic Harlem Children’s Zone), John Legend and Michelle Rhee (the chancellor of the D.C. public schools system), the film is meant to be a call to action for public schools the way An Inconvenient Truth was for global warming.
The film examines efforts by innovative educators to turn around failing school systems in Washington, D.C., Harlem, Los Angeles and other places where many schools have come to be known as “dropout factories” and “academic sinkholes”. It isn’t trying to prove that the public school system of the United States is in crisis – that’s been fairly well-documented, despite increased spending and the promise of politicians that no child will be left behind. We spend more money per student than any other nation in the world, but the test scores of American students have fallen from near the top to rock bottom among developed nations. Sure, money is always a problem, but by no means is it the only one. Waiting for Superman argues that teachers are the solution to our country’s education problem. Decades of research and test data indicate that the primary factor determining a school performance is not its budget, physical plant, curriculum, student population or income level of its district. It is teaching.
The main premise of Waiting for Superman is that improvement in our school systems requires major improvement in both our teachers themselves and in the way they are treated. It “requires demanding our teachers get deep in the trenches, be allowed to be flexible and innovative, persist, and to be held accountable.” Some of the main culprits identified as holding schools back are self-interested education bureaucracies and teachers unions, and the ways they prevent administrators from getting rid of poor instructors. One particularly irritating practice brought up is the $65 million-a-year “Rubber Room” in which bad New York teachers draw full salaries while waiting idly for the school district to prove misconduct charges. The film proposes a teacher compensation model based off what Michelle Rhee is already working on in Washington D.C. – a system that evaluates teachers based on a combination of their students’ test scores, academic gains, and classroom observations from third-party evaluators. The system would reward successful teachers with a higher salary while flushing out ineffective ones and weakening tenure. Charter schools (schools that receive public funding but are free from many of the rules and regulations that apply to regular public schools) are identified as the future of our education system. Guggenheim offers hope by looking at education reformers and schools that are already reshaping the culture and refusing to leave children behind.
No matter what your political beliefs, this movie is important because it brings the issue of our country’s education system to a level that everyone can understand — telling them how it works and why they should care. When values become shared, when an issue becomes personal, when a large group of people starts to get it — this is the catalyst for innovative solutions and changes to actually occur. Not having seen the documentary yet (Paramount plans to distribute it in the fall), I can’t offer my opinion on the exact changes that these educators want to make to the system. I can, however, offer my opinion that things need to change and that it needs to be a group movement; it’s impossible for a few revolutionary teachers to change a system on their own that’s been around forever. There are thousands of children in our country who, despite promises that they won’t be, are being left behind and are desperately in need of a Superman (or two or fifty). Hopefully this documentary stirs the souls and the hearts of the people in this country and makes them believe that it is possible to give every kid a great education.
They say, “A picture is worth a thousand words … “ Nowhere is that more true than in the case of the following chalk-talk with renown designer and illustrator Milton Glazer. Here, Glazer, Fulbright Scholar and founding partner of the celebrated Push Pin Studios, discusses the codependent relationship between drawing and thinking while sketching a portrait of William Shakespeare.
In his book, “Drawing is Thinking,” Glaser suggests that all art is a form of meditation and that drawing is “a primary way of encountering reality.” He addresses societal reticence around the arts and the individual’s resistance to drawing (“Oh, I can’t draw … my drawings look like they were done by a 3rd grader … “) as missing the point, asserting that the value in drawing is not about “making things look accurate,” but rather drawing is a way of “becoming more conscious of what one is looking at” and “expressively interpreting the world. “
Comments on Glaser’s theory hearken back to the cave drawings of primitive man,
“ … art started as a way of noticing things, focusing on them, fixing them in our minds, … that when our ancestors drew animals on the walls of caves, it was a kind of sympathetic magic … If they could draw them, they knew them, and they could control them. “
Fast forward to the digital age, where Michale Sankey discusses the effects of changing nature of “visual literacy” as it applies to education and curriculum design,
“In contemporary western culture, particularly the youth culture, visual mediums and genres are becoming increasingly popular at the expense of other mediums, in particular the written word (schirato & Yell 1996). Others suggest that the constant bombardment by visual images from so many quarters is already shaping [the youths] lives, influencing their attitudes and tuning their responses. As media simulations become more popular and persuasive they will increasingly encroach upon life experience to the extent that new senses of reality will be formed and media representations will in fact become our first order reality (Walker & Chaplin, 1997).”
New York Times Weekend columnist Brad Stone (1/10/2010, p. 5) observes that his three-year-old daughter’s world view and life will be shaped by myriad technological advances and gadgets, “ … digital books, Skype video chats, … toddler-friendly video games on the iPhone … she’ll see the world a lot differently from her parents.”
Stone goes on to discuss current research which suggests that “the ever-accelerating pace of technological change may be minting a series of mini-generation gaps, with each group of children uniquely influenced by the tech tools available in their formative stages of development.”
This phenomenon could only raise questions around Glaser‘s dynamics of drawing and foster an increased impact on what our own Cecily Sommers describes as our “associative fluency” – taking in information in multiple ways (seeing, hearing, moving) – a mechanism which serves as the foundation of creativity and innovation. The act of drawing or dancing or interacting with digital media (?) opens new pathways in the brain, shaking things up and creating opportunities for new connections to form. Until the age of eight or so, children are able to learn and absorb large quantities of information, forging extensive neural networks to handle the massive influx.
Conversely, over time, under-trafficked neural connections, thought processes and information that see little action, are unceremoniously closed down. Eventually the adult brain winds up using only the most well-trodden neural pathways as a short-cut default system (read: old people stuck in their ways). It continues to be our challenge then, to maintain ample neural capacity such that we are able to “encounter our reality” with resolution and vigor… lest we find ourselves in the cross-hairs of a virtual Wooly Mammoth with only a sharpened pencil to our name.
“I believe in technology, but I think we need to make it more human. I believe that the internet is becoming a planetary meta-organism, but that it is up to us to guide its evolution, and to shape it into a space we actually want to inhabit—one that can understand and honor both the individual human and the human collective, just like real life does.” – Jonathan Harris
Four years ago, Jonathan Harris and Sep Kamvar set out with a lofty goal – to create a database of human emotions on the Internet. Twelve million feelings later, the two have put together the We Feel Fine project, which includes one of the coolest Web sites I’ve seen in awhile and an extraordinarily beautiful book that was recently released. (Most of which is available to read online!)
The two artists and computer scientists wrote an algorithm that scrobbles the world’s newly posted blog entries for occurrences of the phrases “I feel” and “I am feeling,” essentially harvesting human emotion by recording the full sentence and context in which the phrase occurs and identifying the polarity (happy, sad, giddy, etc.) of the specific “feeling” expressed. Because the blogosphere is full of metadata, it is possible for them to extract rich information about the posts and their authors, from age and gender to geolocation and local weather conditions, adding a new layer of meaning to the feelings. Exploring this huge stockpile of information from the viewpoint of 6 different movements — Madness, Murmurs, Montage, Mobs, Metrics and Mounds — has resulted in an ever growing portrait of our culture’s collective emotional landscape.
Some of the fascinating results? Moods hit rock bottom on the day that Michael Jackson died. The high-water mark was the day President Obama was elected, when the word “proud” was all over the blogosphere. People in New South Wales consistently feel far more awful than the rest of the world. Women are far more likely than men to verbalize their feelings. Human beings get happier as they get older. The most frequently expressed emotion on the Internet is feeling better.
We Feel Fine does a dazzling job of turning the big, bad, cold-feeling World Wide Web into a warm, passionate portrait of the individual human and the human collective. I browsed through the book for approximately 30 seconds before mentally adding it to my Christmas list. It’s beautiful. So here’s to exploring the ups and downs of everyday life in all its color, chaos and candor, and here’s to human beings feeling better than fine.
Ahhh, the romance of old country roads. Wherever you are in America, “The scenic route” takes you through the heart of small towns and main streets with long stretches of country in between.
If you’ve ever been stuck behind a tractor on a 2-lane highway, you already know that this path is not built for speed. Which is precisely why these old heritage highways may be the perfect roadways for electric vehicles. Whether by Smart Car or scooter, the idea is to go slow and enjoy the view.
In the home state of Detroit, Kate Gallagher – project manager for the Southwest Michigan Planning Commission – has a plan for breathing some life into the state’s old country roads and small towns. The idea is to plant charging stations along these roads and establish “green highways.” Gas-powered rides are welcome, just be prepared to go at a more leisurely pace.
For the electric car market to keep growing, the problem of infrastructure (charging stations) for long hauls has to be addressed. If Kate Gallagher has her way, she’ll have succeeded at paving a path to a more sustainable future, while reclaiming a piece of the past.
“If you want someone to do something, I would not begin the sales pitch with, ‘It’s in the middle of the Nevada desert in August.’” – Jon Stewart
As unexcited as my favorite Mr. Stewart was about the prospect of spending a week at the Burning Man festival in Nevada’s Black Rock Desert, about 50,000 people would vehemently disagree with him. Each year, “burners” of every age, class, nationality and profession make the trek to the harsh conditions of the desert to be part of an experimental community, which challenges its members to express themselves creatively and be completely self-reliant. What exactly is Burning Man? That’s the big question that lacks a succinct answer.
It’s been called Las Vegas on acid, a pagan festival, a Woodstock for the 21st century and the largest outdoor art exhibit in the world. In the most primitive of terms, Burning Man is a festival where tens of thousands of people come together to transform the barren desert into a fully functioning city, complete with an infrastructure, post office, movie theater and coffee shop. When the week is over, participants completely dismantle the city, following the festival’s “Leave No Trace” policy; the goal of which is to leave the area around them in better condition than before their arrival to ensure their participation does not have a long term impact on the environment.
Burning Man doesn’t have a single focus, and is instead governed by 10 principles: radical inclusion, gifting, decommodification, radical self-reliance, radical self-expression, communal effort, civic responsibility, leaving no trace, participation and immediacy.
Translated: There is no Internet, no cell phone service, no advertisements and no corporate logos. (An interesting concept for me, the advertising-major-Internet-addict.) There are no cash transactions…everything you need is bartered for. There are, however, bicycles decorated with flowers and bells and sequins and lights. There are huge art installations that range from a 10 foot watch that symbolizes an evolutionary clock to a huge interactive encyclopedia to a bio-tanical garden that harvests human organs and body parts until they’re ready to be “trans-planted.” There are theme camps, psychedelic lights, overall chaos of the best type and for many festival-goers, there is “Burning Man Shock,” a state of happiness, euphoria and freedom which sets in while attending Burning Man, after one has conformed to ‘normal’ life for too long.
While the festival comes across as a week of complete hedonism, what intrigued me was the sense of community among “Burners” that remains intact for the rest of the year, even after the festival is over, the Man has been immolated, and the city has been dismantled. What used to be just a wild, anarchistic week in the desert has evolved into cultural movements, arts celebrations, humanitarian organizations and quite a few businesses. Groups like Burners Without Borders, Black Rock Solar, the Black Rock Arts Foundation and over sixty Regional groups in 7 different countries support and promote community-based interactive art and civic participation year round. These Burners are involved in projects like Hurricane Katrina cleanup, neighborhood beautification, teaching communities how to install low-cost renewable energy and awarding grants to non-traditional artists. Many Burners choose not to go back to the festival to devote more time and energy to instilling the Burning Man principles in their own everyday lives and communities.
Considering Burning Man’s mission is “to generate society that connects each individual to his or her creative powers, to participation in community, to the larger realm of civic life, and to the even greater world of nature that exists beyond society,” they seem to be doing something right. And if dancing around a fire wearing a sparkly orange tutu in the middle of the Nevada desert in August leads you to that state of mind…more power to you. (And where can I sign up?)
24 hours in the lives of 10 invididuals. No, this is not MTV’s version of The Real World…this is the actual real world. The Global Lives Project is an amazing video installation with a mission to reshape how people around the world perceive cultures, nations and people outside their communities by collaboratively building a video library of human life experience. Through a volunteer network of filmmakers, designers, architects, activists and institutions from around the globe, The Global Lives Project aims to take people out of their own realities and put them into the world of people they never would have known with experiences they would never otherwise see.
Participants in the project are carefully chosen by local teams armed with a set of criteria designed to avoid reinforcing existing stereotypes about the world’s regions and people. Through a process of elimination procedure, video subjects are chosen based upon world region, population density, gender, age, religion and income. To date, shoots have taken place in Japan, Lebanon, Brazil, Indonesia, India, China, Malawi, Brazil, Serbia and the US and subjects have ranged from a Brazilian hip-hop singer to an Indian postcard vendor to a San Francisco cable car driver. Each person selected is videotaped for 24 hours straight and selections from each shoot are combined into a constantly evolving, traveling video installation. The exhibit features ten separate screening rooms thatshow the unedited recordings of each subject with another room where visitors can see all ten screens at once. Floor to ceiling high definition screens and wireless headsets that track visitors’ movements through the exhibit, providing them with the corresponding soundtrack for their location, further immerse visitors in the scenes taking place around them.
As cool as the video exhibit is, it’s only a tiny part of what David Evan Harris, the project’s founder, has envisioned for The Global Lives Project. They just put out their first DVD with a photography book in the works. (Check out a few of the striking photos from the various shoots on their Flickr account.) Even more ambitious than that, Mr. Harris is working with educators to develop this project into content for classrooms of all ages around the world. He says that “with the momentum we’ve established, we’re hoping that Global Lives will grow into an online library of human life experiences.” It seems like a lofty goal to attempt to share the huge array of experiences the world has to offer but the momentum continues to build, based upon an apology on the website for server difficulties due to the huge spike in traffic the past week. Here’s to hoping the project continues to transform people’s understanding of the world around them.
Ok, probably not the next nightclub sensation, but you have to admit these puppies got groove! It’s Monday morning and I thought you’d all need a little pick-me-up. This one works for me every time. The hair, the eyes, those big flapping jowls – what’s not to love?!
[No puppies were harmed in the making of this music video.]
Music is an explosive expression of humanity. – Billy Joel
The past few years, veiled by the secrecy of night, street pianos emblazoned with the phrase “Play me, I’m yours.” have been appearing in cities across the world. Located in skate parks, industrial estates, laundromats, precincts, bus shelters and train stations, outside pubs and football grounds, the pianos are for any member of the public to enjoy and claim temporary ownership of. London was the most recent city to be hit with an influx of these mysterious musical instruments and the positive results have been overwhelming.
The 30 brightly decorated pianos scattered across the UK’s capital are part of an art installation by artist Luke Jerram, designed to act as a catalyst for strangers who regularly occupy the same space, to talk and connect with one another. Disrupting people’s negotiation of their city, the pianos are also meant to provoke citizens into engaging, activating and claiming ownership of their urban landscape. Along with creating a sense of unity and whimsy in the street, the installation serves a practical purpose by providing access to musical instruments to those who ordinarily might not have the privilege. When Play Me, I’m Yours was in São Paolo, Brazil, people traveled for hours just to play the pianos that are normally so scarce and precious that they cost a year’s income. After the 3 week installation is up, the pianos are donated to local schools and community centers.
Characteristically of the Web 2.0 world we live in, a website was created that allows people to upload videos and pictures of the various pianos in use across the city. The responses were overwhelming, ranging from a homeless man teaching the son of a street worker how to play to a duo who played 24 of the pianos in 8 hours to a massive crowd singing Hey Jude on Carnaby Street. I spent far too much time looking at these pictures and was amazed by the impact such a simple idea had on the demeanor of complete strangers on the street. Place a few pianos on the street here and there and voila!, detached passerbys normally glued to their technological devices transform into living, breathing human beings who sing and laugh and play piano and connect with both the people and the city around them. I love the idea of the fine arts being moved from private venues such as museums and concert halls to the public space (defined by Wikipedia as an area or place that is open and accessible to all citizens, regardless of gender, race, ethnicity, age or socio-economic level.) where everyone reaps the benefits. What could happen to both urban landscapes and the way strangers interact with each other if there was enough funding to spread this project to hundreds of cities worldwide? Imagine.