A look at what – and who – is pushing the future in new directions


Breathtaking photos submitted in National Geographic’s Photography Contest 2010

My top 22 (below):
For the rest, go to National Geographic to see view all the galleries and vote for your favorites!

A supercell thunderstorm rolls across the Montana prairie at sunset. (Photo and caption by Sean Heavey) #

Salvation. Appreciate life to save the world. (Photo and caption by Hongsik Kim) #
The Music Of Love. This picture was taken in Tenganan Village, Bali (2010). Tenganan is the most famous Bali Aga (original Balinese) village and is located close to Candi Dasa in East Bali. A man was playing bamboo music to entertain a disabled child which is not his son, but he loves this child likes he loves his own son. (Photo and caption by Ario Wibisono) #
Liquid Planet. Another picture from the Liquid Vision Series, which shows a different point of view of waves. An angle that people are not used to seeing. (Photo and caption by Freddy Cerdeira) #

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) #

The archipelago of Fernando de Noronha, Brazil is considered a wildlife sanctuary, but today, even in this isolated archipelago dolphins are victims of the bad habits of consumption. (Photo and caption by João Vianna) #
Cosmic. Mother nature doing what she does best. (Photo and caption by Patrick John O’Doherty) #
The child in us. Traveling from Zhangmu (Nepal-Tibet border) to the Tibetan capital – Lhasa you can see road workers all along the Friendship Highway. The Chinese industrialization has affected Tibet a great deal. But despite the Chinese government’s attempts to settle Chinese population across the Tibetan Plateau, the Roof of the World still remains a place where only the Tibetans can survive its harsh climate conditions. A Tibetan boy holding the hand of his father who works on the road construction, Tibet. (Photo and caption by Sergi Barisashvili) #

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 Strike NY Harbor. This shot was captured during a major electrical storm. There was little wind and no rain which allowed me to stay safely inside and shoot from an open window. This was the 82nd exposure out of 150 made that night. The camera was mounted on a tripod, exposures made with a cable release for 5 seconds at f10. Except for a some minor level adjustments and a square crop this was what came out of the camera. (Photo and caption by Jay Fine) #
Against the windstorm on Mont Blanc. My friend Laszlo Varkonyi is leading a group on Mont Blanc, he died on Everest this April in a fatal accident: a big serac fell down. (Photo and caption by Aniko Molnar) #
Pure Elements. I drove my 4×4 over rivers to get a view of the Volcano eruption at “Fimmvorduhals” in Iceland. It was a full moon and strong winds gave me problems standing still outside the truck. I had my camera with me and zoom lens but no tripod, suddenly there was a magical moment, I was experiencing a display of nature rarely seen by man. I found my camera with the zoom lens, rushed out of the truck, trying to fight the strong wind. I pushed the camera on to the hood of the truck trying to stand still, holding my breath, I shot 30 frames, and only one shot was good. (Photo and caption by Olafur Ragnarsson) #

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) #

Me’enit Boy, Southwestern Ethiopia. One of our neighborhood friends, Sintiyu, looking on. A rare opportunity to see him undistracted by the camera, and absorbed in his family. (Photo and caption by Stephen Murdoch) #

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) #

A walk along the river bank. This photo was taken in Zhenyuan, Guizhou Province, China this summer. I was taking a walk along the river bank of Wuyang in the mist of a late afternoon shower. Refreshing smell after rain was mixed with the aroma from nearby food stands. In the distance, kids were playing and laughing. The tranquil and harmonious life of the local people reminds me of the joyful time I grew up in a similar small town in Southwest China. (Photo and caption by Fred Wang) #

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) #

Theater upstages fashion, but who’s complaining? The Official Ralph Lauren 4D Experience

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.

TV shows situated in each of the 50 states produces a map of American culture (by Andrew Shears)

From Baywatch (CA), Billy the Exterminator (LA), and Rosanne (IL) to The Office (PA), Murder She Wrote (ME), and The Wire (MD) this map gives us a lot to chuckle (or heckle) over.

Is it a mirror, or an insult? But, more importantly, why isn’t South Park representing CO?

Brain Food: Twin Peaks, Decisive Slime and Music in a Heartbeat

Twin Peaks - Sherilyn FennWelcome to the second week of our Brain Food roundup! We’ve got everything from David Lynch to vintage industrial expo posters this week. Enjoy!

Never-Before-Seen Twin Peaks Photos Go Behind the Scenes of Surreal Show (Underwire)
If any television show pushed the future of entertainment, it was “Twin Peaks.” Combining David Lynch’s undying weirdness and Mark Frost’s storytelling smarts, “Twin Peaks” was the perfect blend of murder mystery and sideshow. Paula K. Shimatsu-U worked as a publicist for the short-lived series and now, nearly two decades after the finale, she is preparing to release a book of never-seen images from the show.

The Universe: Beyond The Big Bang – Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson, Who Are We? (The History Channel)
Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson briefly discusses humanity’s origins and its connection to the stars. It’s a short, but fascinating bit of possibility and a humbling look at our place in the cosmos.

Heart Chamber Orchestra (We Make Money, Not Art)
With ECG monitors hooked up to their hearts, this 12-person ensemble not only plays music – they visualize it. Their hearts beat during the performance (we hope) and this information feeds into a computer, which uses algorithms to visualize the heartbeats in time with the music.


‘Before I Die I Want To’: A Project on Dreams and Desires

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).

What do you want to do before you die? Personally, I’d like to teach every child in the world how to read and learn how to walk in high heels.

Paternalism, Pandering, or Propaganda? What’s Not Reported in the News

You may have heard murmurs two weeks ago of just-released footage showing U.S. helicopter crews gunning down a number of Iraqis, including two Reuters journalists. The footage, from 2007, shows the death of 12 men. What you can’t see are the two small children who were severely injured when the van they were in was fired upon when its driver stopped to help the wounded.

Even without close-ups or details, the video and accompanying audio are chilling enough. The news was broken by WikiLeaks on April 5 – nearly three years after the event. You can watch the full video, with audio, on the WikiLeaks Web site.

However, if you were looking for news or information on news sources like CNN, you would have been left empty-handed. In fact, this is what CNN was covering on April 5 – notice the difference in focus on Al Jazeera.

CNN vs. Al Jazeera Coverage of Killed Journalists

This isn’t meant as a protest against the United States, our soldiers or their conduct. However, is this something that I feel should be reported on and investigated – offered up to public opinion?

Yes, I do.

Do I think that it should be the job of organizations like CNN to perform for us this service?

Yes, I do.

iPads and Tiger Woods may get the click-throughs and backlinks, but when I was a journalism student (not that long ago), we were told that journalism meant something more. We were told that the power to expose wrongdoing, propogate discussion and inform the public were the tenets our industry was built on. But it doesn’t seem to be that way anymore. In journalism school, the fore-bearers of  modern journalists are painted as revolutionaries, fighting to spark change. Today, a run through the headlines on CNN, Fox, MSN, etc. reveals a lot intriguing junk – human emotion and cheap thrills.

It’s easy to say that the Internet has introduced a free market in regards to news dissemination, but who has time to go looking for news of importance? It’s easy to look past the things that we have to find. It’s harder to ignore the front page of a powerhouse like CNN.

CNN is the third most popular news source in the world. Millions of people get their news from the Web site and, I imagine, many more from the television station. Still, on April 5, when video was released of American helicopter crews gunning down Iraqi “militants” and two Reuters cameramen, CNN thought it was more important to tell us that Jessica Alba was considering adoption. Tiger Woods’ reception at the Master was the “breaking news” of choice.

Let’s assume that the basis of every good decision, every positive step forward and every piece of common ground we land on is a by-product of the input we receive. If the information is good – if it inspires us to push for positive change, then it is news worth knowing.

I’m not saying there’s no room for casual human interest, but the death of two Reuters employees and 10 Iraqis – this is news we need. We can draw our own conclusions, but without reporters who are willing to break these stories, most of us won’t draw any conclusions.

(image via i am bored)

Brick Valentines

“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.

Project the Future: SENSEable City's Flyfire and the End of Interface

MIT's SENSEable City - Flyfire Project

SENSEable City’s Flyfire project, a collaboration with the Aerospace Robotics and Embedded Systems Laboratory (ARES Lab) at MIT, is about to make it possible for any empty space to become a fully interactive display environment. It does this by way of hundreds (maybe thousands) of tiny, “self-organized micro helicopters” – each with an LED light.

Think of these mini-copters as pixels in the sky. From here on, let’s refer to them as the “pixel swarm.” A remote controller is able to designate the desired shape from the ground, or wherever, and the pixel swarm creates the desired shape.

The pixel swarm is self-organizing, which means that they’re smart and can adapt to directed changes in real time. As the team behind Flyfire points out, this allows viewers to experience an animated display – with the pixel swarm moving fluidly from one shape to another.

To better understand what such a demonstration might look like, watch this brief video on Flyfire from the SENSEable City Lab.

Could projects like this spell the end of a fixed interface?

It’s certainly feasible that such technology could be developed to the point where it was possible to watch almost anything using the pixel swarm. Sure, it’s a long way off, but until then, it’s probably more realistic to imagine such technology being used at events to sex-up the user experience.

The potential for advertising is immense – for example, “mobile billboards” or other sponsored messages. Imagine being at a football game and watching an advertisement for an electric, turbo-charged sports car that zooms through the air, much like the Golden Snitch of the Quidditch game played in the Harry Potter stories. Perhaps the ‘Golden Snitch’-like pixel swarm would be a part of the half-time show, or programmed to hover over the seat of someone who just won the car….    the possibilities seem endless.

Pattie Maes’ Sixth Sense, featuring Pranav Mistry

Last year at TED, Pattie Maes premiered a new technology developed by Pranav Mistry in her MIT Fluid Interfaces Group. The physical hardware consisted of little more than a camera and projector, worn around the user’s neck. Functionally, it was a little bit Minority Report and a little bit RoboCop.

Say you’re looking for a book on CSS at Barnes & Noble. Having done this myself, I can safely say that there are about a dozen and, from what I can tell, each looks as good as the next. How do you decide which book is the best one for your needs?

If you have a smartphone, you can just look it up. If you don’t, you can ask one of the bookstore employees and hope they have a design background.

What if you could just pick up the book and have its Amazon rating projected right onto the cover? This would be much more efficient, no?

That’s just a start.

The goal of the Sixth Sense project is to allow any user to access relevant information wherever he or she happens to be. This is similar to augmented reality, save for the fact that it would be accomplished without a cellphone and, therefore, be much more seamless in regards to information gathering.

After consumer devices such as these are developed, our next step is surely embedded discovery tools, we we discussed in our post on augmented reality contact lenses last year.

It’s all terribly exciting, a little terrifying, and very promising. Stay tuned!

Children's Brains 2.0

As the lives of younger generations become increasingly digitalized (the average 8-18 year-old spends 7 hours and 38 minutes using entertainment technology throughout a typical day), companies and older generations are desperately trying to keep up and understand this way of life.

The Disney Channel recently announced a brand new movie titled Harriet the Spy: Blog Wars. No longer content with her old-school secret notebook, Harriet is forging boldly into 2010 and competing against the most popular girl in school to become the official blogger of their high school class. Jezebel poked fun of the update by re-naming other classic children’s books for the MySpace generation. Instead of abiding by “the only book I read is Facebook” mindset, they suggested titles such as “margaret 48267: are you there god?”, “Little Blog on the Prairie”, “From the Mixed-Up Tweets of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler” and “Wikipedia Brown, Boy E-tective” for the digital generation. Along with making me laugh, these updates to pop culture of yesteryear made me wonder exactly what sort of impact this constant exposure to technology and social media sites is having on children’s brains.

Search results revealed that almost every article on the negative effects of social media on developing brains referred back to an article written by Baroness Susan Greenfield. (No, I didn’t know that baronesses still existed either.) With the straightforward title of “Social Websites Harm Children’s Brains,” Greenfield argues that sites such as Facebook and Twitter shorten attention spans, encourage instant gratification and make young people more self-centered. Backing that up, a different study found out that 30% more college students scored high on the Narcissistic Personality Inventory in 2006 than in 1982. (A fact that could potentially be proven just by looking at the sheer number of tagged photos on Facebook some individuals have of themselves.)

Anyway. The large majority of the baroness’s research seemed to be rather subjective, considering that one of her main points was that social interactions conducted through computer screens are fundamentally different from spoken conversations — which are “far more perilous” than electronic interactions because they “occur in real time, with no opportunity to think up clever or witty responses.” (I hate when that happens!)

On the opposite end of the spectrum are scientists who are studying brain plasticity – how the brain continues to dramatically change its wiring and function long after early development. Scientists are realizing that the brain never stops reorganizing itself in response to the world and that kids today need to learn new digital skills to survive and thrive in our fast-evolving society.

Research on young people shows that use of the sites is associated with a better social life in the real world because they use the services to enhance their existing relationships — just as anyone would do with the telephone. When researchers at the University of Minnesota  asked 16- to 18-year-olds what they learn from using social networking sites, the students listed technology skills as the top lesson, followed by creativity, and being open to new or diverse views and communication skills. Being a technophile, I could rave about the wonders of the Internet all day, but there are a lot of people who are genuinely concerned that this constant exposure to technology and social media sites is having a negative impact on children today.

Every generation is afraid of the effects of brand new technology on the next. An article on Neuroanthroplogy.net sums it up best:

If we search for analogies, we can think of countless previous techno-moral panics that now seem positively quaint: the dangerous effects of rock ‘n’ roll, comic books, music videos, television, the wireless, air conditioning, trains… Mesopotamian parents were probably fearful of the impact of the newfangled chariot, and German parents no doubt fretted about what horrors Gutenberg’s movable type was about to introduce into their homes.

Cecily brought up the point that adults solidify what they know instead of taking new in. (I like what I know and I know what I like.) It’s easier to stay inside comfort zones than it is to reinvent our notions of the world and the way it works. Younger generations, however, don’t have to reinvent their worldview — this much constant access to technology is all they’ve ever known. Youth today reference communicating online with the same terminology and naturalness as real life. They “talk” to each other when they are on online messenger systems. There is no real life or digital life, it’s the same place.

Baroness Greenfield said that “it is hard to see how living this way on a daily basis will not result in brains, or rather minds, different from those of previous generations.”

And maybe, that’s the point.

An Almanac of Human Emotion

wefeelfine_top2500“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.


Taking Your Life on the Road

Designing for reality: people won’t be hanging up their cell/smartphones anytime soon inside (what I refer to as) their traveling telephone booths. Microvision is working on ways to integrate social interactions while keeping your eyes on the road. It doesn’t help to focus attention, just your sight lines.

The Stuff of Life

The ElementsWhere was this book when I was studying chemistry?!

There wasn’t an easy way around rote, brain-numbing memorization of the Periodic Table of Elements when I was in school. I’d practice filling them in like a crossword puzzle, putting abbreviations and atomic weights of each element in the right square. There was absolutely nothing engaging about it, it was just a grind.

To transform a string of memorized data into something meaningful — the stuff of knowledge — is to give that data a context. Tell a story, show its utility, demonstrate something remarkable.  Which is what Theodore Gray’s new coffee table book, “The Elements: A Visual Exploration of Every Known Atom in the Universe” has done for the Periodic Table. Suddenly elements are sexy little beasts, each with its own history and a glossy two-page spread.

You’ll recognized some, of course, like Calcium (Ca)  and Sodium (Na), but have you ever gotten a close look at Promethium (glow-in-the-dark paint on diving watches), Tellurium (even tiny amounts will leave you reeking of garlic for months), or how ’bout the honorific Einsteinium (which, unlike the man, has little utility). Beautiful photos and interesting tidbits make the world, at the atomic level, interesting and comprehensible….and memorable.

[via Boing Boing]

Physicists Kept Awake by Seven Wonders

Stress, excitement, and indigestion are common causes of interrupted sleep — for most of us, that is. Not so for physicists, whose insomnia stirs for far less pedestrian concerns, as cataloged in this month’s New Scientist as the Seven Questions that Keep Physicists Awake at Night.

Number One: Why this universe?

“In their pursuit of nature’s fundamental laws, physicists have essentially been working under a long standing paradigm: demonstrating why the universe must be as we see it. But if other laws can be thought of, why can’t the universes they describe exist in some other place?”

I’ll be honest, I double-majored in philosophy because I was pumped up on French existentialist novels. Ironically, they were the last novels I ever read in a philosophy class. Instead, I ended up reading essays on multiple worlds and van Inwagen‘s Doctrine of Arbitrary Undetached Parts. While I’m flattered to have spent so many sleepless nights mulling over the same topics as professional physicists, I feel they may have been confused on a slightly higher level.

DONNIE DARKOThe question is this – if I postulate a set of laws for a world (other than this one), and I’m able to imagine/reason how things work in that world without contradicting those laws, then who’s to say that this world could not exist?

Though the scenario is rather complex, the exercise is as simple as imagining a world in which I start my day at 4:30 instead of 6:30(oops)….  Meaning that, though the concepts are over most of our heads, it’s a reminder that the ability to imagine different worlds is available to us all.

For a lighter look at parallel worlds, check out this Nova special “Parallel World, Parallel Lives,” featuring Eels frontman Mark Everett. (The rest of the show is available on YouTube.)

Number Two: What is everything made of?

“Ordinary matter” is classified here as “atoms, galaxies and stars.”

Ponder this: if ‘ordinary matter’ only accounts for four percent of the universe’s total energy, what’s the other 96 percent?

As evil as it sounds, dark matter simply designates matter whose light either does not reach us, or particles which are not emitting light to begin with. We know dark matter is out there because we can see its effects, such as the continued expansion of the universe. It’s not the stuff from the X-Files that lets aliens take control of you body … or scientists are keeping that part on the low.

So what else keeps physicists up at night?

3. How does complexity happen?
4. Will string theory ever be proved correct?
5. What is singularity?
6. What is reality, really? (see also: The Sixth Sense, The Machinist, Identity, The Fountain and others of
the “it was all a dream, or was it” ilk)
7. How far can physics take us?

This last question is the wildest one of all. What it suggests is that physics, the (scientific) language by which we make sense of our world, may have its own limits. I think I’ll mull that one over the next time I can’t get to sleep…

3D TVs: Coming to a Living Room Near You

I remember waiting for an episode of “Family Matters” (long ago) that was going to be in 3D. We’re talking paper glasses with one red lens, one blue lens. You know what I mean — the type of 3D where, if you watch it without the glasses, it looks like you slipped and fell through the cracks in a table of RGB variants.

The good news is, the 3D TV of the future will be smoother, more efficient and come with cooler glasses. Better yet, it could be here by 2010!

Then again, maybe it shouldn’t be so surprising. Hollywood has been steadily releasing an increasing amount of films formatted for 3D. Think Coraline, Up, the U2 concert film and James Cameron’s upcoming Avatar. While Beowulf may not have been strong support for the need of 3D in the home, one has to imagine that film companies are hungry for the DVD market these films could bring.

Whether or not consumers will be able to afford 3D-enabled televisions just after upgrading to HD and plasma TVs is another question entirely.

NASA Helps Farmers Dig Healthy Crops

Managing Crops from the Heavens

Farmers are using satellite views of their land for strategic management of their crops, marketing, and soil.  Strategy, no matter what you’re ‘field’, is a always a matter of perspective.

From National Geographic:

The images help the Thomases root out problems caused by Canadian thistle and other weeds, NASA adds. “They help confirm that their crops are growing at least 10 feet from the borders of a neighboring farm–required to maintain organic certification. They can also spot the telltale signs of bottlenecking in the fields—where flooding is over-saturating crops–and monitor the impact of hail storms.”

Said Thomas, “We’d have to walk our entire 1,200 hundred-plus acres on a regular basis to see the same things we can see by just downloading satellite images.”

Thomas recently began providing her farm’s coordinates to her buyers in Japan. “There’s no more ideal way I know to show how healthy our crops are to someone thousands of miles away,” she said.

Michigan Looks Through the Future to the Past


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.

[via Time]

Now You See Outside

dalifigurewindow There’s no question that the input we receive affects the world we see. I mean, how can you see it if you don’t … well, see it? The fact that I spent 6th grade through junior year of high school reading Stephen King’s entire library probably has something to do with the fact that I now seem to pick up terrible horror films as if I were trying to physically manifest BadMovies.org.

You’ve been warned.

Luckily for all of us, there are people out there enlightening those around them with more than the special edition of C.H.U.D.

One of them is George Ayittey, champion of Radio Free Africa – a non-profit organization with the goal of facilitating the flow of information on the continent. Specifically, the group is most interested in the sharing of ideas and supporting public watchdogs to expose criminal and political wrongdoing. Though an equally large undertaking is the creation of a viable network for spreading said information.

Knowledge is the ability to create change – voice is the ability to share it. Opening the lines of communication leads to the ultimate open source community. Only, instead of building iPhone apps, it’s building the future. The iPhone app store is a good example, though, in the sense that it shows how the empowered masses will always move things forward more quickly than the entrusted few.

I remember taking “The History of Mass Communication” in college (almost as stuffy as it sounds) and discussing the role of the colonial press in the birth of the nation. It’s hard to imagine this rebel press as a very big deal because we already have things like Consumerist.com and FactCheck.org. At this point, we truly seem to live in a country where the watchdog is thriving.

In fact, I can barely picture a world where I don’t have access to the outside through my computer, iPhone, coworker … etc. I am empowered and the fact that I’m even writing this post is proof that I have the potential to spark change, or at least Diggs, outside of my own, immediate sphere.

Radio Free Africa is picking things up at a different stage because this freedom of information – this flow of ideas – does not exist in Africa, or at least not to the extent that it does here.

ayitteyspeakingRadio Free Africa is currently focused on:

  • collecting current events and news articles relating to free press and violations against it
  • collecting information on similar grassroots programs
  • academic and policy review
  • legislative outreach
  • technology outreach – penetrating hard-to-reach locales through the use of tools like mobile phones and services like SMS, in order to create a framework for engagement and free media
  • identifying areas where free speech is under attack and developing plans to intervene

In short, the visionaries at Radio Free Africa are building the reservoir, developing the pipeline and determining where to plant wells.

Meanwhile, across the pond, Luis Soriano Bohorquez and his donkey have worked out a system that – while not quite as expansive – is no less inspiring. Instead of connecting a continent through free media, Luis gets on his “biblioburro” every weekend in order to deliver books to the surrounding towns and villages.

With a few thousand books haphazardly piled in his home and at friends’ houses, it’s a little hard fill requests. And to think I groaned at having to use a card catalog once!

But, in the same way Radio Free Africa is seeking to open the lines of communication to and build community, Luis is broadening the horizons of the children around him. The children are becoming stronger readers – developing the tools to communicate on a much broader level.

Said one child, “It’s important because, when your parents ask you to read them a letter that they don’t understand, you can read it to them.”

Not only are they developing technical skills, but they are learning how to dream bigger, and through these books, they are allowed to step outside of their own worlds.

There’s a good chance that I’ll never see half the places I’ve visited in books. But I’m certainly better for all the places I’ve dreamed. It’s a question of scope. It allows me to dream bigger in the world I do exist in.

If we believe that change literacy is written in the language of dreams, then both Luis Soriano Bohorquez and George Ayittey should be thanked in the dedication.

Without their faith and support, this [insert dream/change/invention/cure/work of art/etc.] would not have been possible.

The Human Life Experience

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.

Doing the Doggy Dance: The Next Nightclub Sensation?

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.]

The Carpet Kings of Invention

When I was younger, my mother used to stand on our back porch and survey the collection of building scraps that had somehow found a way into our backyard. She would complain, “I should have never married a carpenter” and I would  secretly disagree with her. That pile of junk was the root of my imagination. My childhood was incredibly rich and inventive precisely because my dad was a carpenter.

With spare sheet metal, rebar, paint, nails, plywood, window frames, you name it – always within our grasp – my brothers and I were able to build elaborate forts, extreme bicycle courses, flying machines, or whatever we put our minds to. We were the envy of the neighborhood kids and today, I am still gifted with a knack for fashioning all kinds of things. Over the years, I’ve had cigar box purses, skirts made from sacks, a bird feeder made from a lamp shade, and even a small bottle cap necklace business. None of these ventures would have been possible without the help of my dad, his tool belt, and his habit of bringing home leftover materials from the jobsite rather than just throwing them away. I am reminded of the words mounted on the side of the Walker Art Museum in Minneapolis: “Bits and pieces put together to present a semblance of a whole.” I don’t think I ever would’ve known what that meant had I not started my life with a pile of junk to play with.

Even luckier still, it wasn’t even fake junk – K-nex or Lincoln Logs or any number of those lame building blocks that you buy at the store to trick your kids into being civil engineers or what not. I had real bricks! Firewood straight from the woods! Nails! Tools! And much to my mother’s dismay, lots of slivers, blue thumbs, and dirty, dirty hands.

So when I stumbled across the Ample Sample Contest, I was filled with a sense of nostalgia for my youth. The Ample Sample Contest encourages idea submissions on what you can create for the household using carpet samples. Anyone from students to design professionals can submit their ideas. The entries tend to lean more towards practical rather than decorative – I actually appreciate that more. Anything that is hand-made and carries a use value is not only clever, but it serves as an exceptional conversation piece. I know this all too well.

Last year, I purchased a wallet made entirely out of chip bag wrappers at a sustainability fair in St. Paul and began to receive an insane amount of compliments on it. It became so many that, I now frequently run an experiment with my friends just for fun. We’ll go into a coffee shop and make bets on how many minutes it will take (and who) will comment on my purse. My predictions have rarely failed. After about six months of ownership, the compliments still did not desist so I started to take a tally, which I keep in my purse. Today’s number: 714.

See for yourself for yourself how cool it is to be  green. :)


2009 Winner – The Shoekeeper


2009 Finalist – Magic Carpet Ride


2008 People’s Choice – Green Screen


2007 Winner – Care-E Purse

sqrdfinal2008 People’s Choice – Carpet Sqr’d Chair

Give me your chocolate, your plants, and your Prius

If we erected a Statue of Sustainability today, her placard would undoubtedly read: give me your chocolate, your plant-based products, and your people-powered Priuses; at least, that’s what the latest innovations from Toyota, Coca-Cola, and the NASCAR racing industry would imply…

* Toyota released a behind-the-scenes preview of their 2010 Prius commercial that is choreographed and constructed entirely out of people. It looks like a scene straight out of a Dr. Suess book made for TV! Love it. Have a look at the video below where the production team describes the innovation and logistical challenges behind its debut.

* Despite Coca-Cola‘s tarnished human rights image abroad, they are making important strides in sustainability at home with their partnership with the World Wildlife Fund. The Atlanta Coca-Cola headquarters has put out a fully-recyclable bottle prototype that is made entirely out of plant-based plastic. Traditional PET bottles are made from petroleum, a non-renewable resource, but the new plant bottle is made with  up to 30 percent plant-based materials.

“The Coca-Cola Company is a company with the power to transform the marketplace, and the introduction of the PlantBottle(TM) is yet another great example of their leadership on environmental issues,” said Carter Roberts, President and CEO of World Wildlife Fund, U.S. “We are pleased to be working with Coke to tackle sustainability issues and drive innovations like this through their supply chain, the broader industry and the world.”

*Last, but obviously never least – race cars are always in the lead – is the introduction of a plant-powered Formula 1 race car from the Warwick Innovative Manufacturing Research Centre as a part of their WorldFirst project. The Vegetable Car boasts a carrot-based polymer steering wheel, wing mirrors made of potatoes, and a bio diesel engine that – I kid you not – runs on “waste chocolate.” And the sustainability measures do nothing to compromise speed, the Vegetable Car can still hit upwards of 125 miles on hour!

“Following the recent turmoil in Formula 1 arising from the high costs of running competitive motor racing teams, and doubts in sponsors’ minds over the commercial value of their involvement, the viability of motor racing is being critically questioned,” the WorldFirst website explains. ” We are seeking to prove to  the motor industry that it is possible to build a competitive racing car using environmentally sustainable components.”

Move over Mother Liberty, the call for sustainability is getting louder and more creative every day.

Under Stars and Gutters Debuts in Rotoscope

Here is a sweet, new rotoscope animation for the latest Under Stars and Gutters video, 3,167. These guys are all my friends from Northern Ireland: an art student and three musicians collaborating in the mediums that they love. The animation was created by Brendan McCarey, a Design and Communications student at the University of Ulster-Magee in Derry, Northern Ireland. McCarey printed out all 1,831 frames and proceeded to hand-draw them, adding additional effects in pencil as he felt inspired.

“I used this style because it is simple,” McCarey explains. “It goes back to the basics and I think that represents the band and the music best: punk music is a return to the basics…I’m not trying to make them look like Hollywood stars because I want to show that the band doesn’t take themselves too seriously. Like the drummer, I just drew his arms and his head so you could just focus on his energy.”  McCarey took about a full semester of study to complete the animation, but the drawings themselves took just over two and a half weeks. Below, I have posted the original video so that you can see what elements of the original McCarey chose to keep.

Under Stars and Gutters is a three-piece punk band from the northern coast of Ireland, comprised of Adam Carroll, Johnny Lowe, and Mark Easton. All three of them have been involved in many musical endeavors over the years and their popularity continues to grow. Like McCarey’s art, the music of Under Stars and Gutters is honest and energetic. However, bias be known: aside from their awesome creativity, the main reason why I like these videos so much is that it’s proof my boys have come a long way from the Irish drinking fiends I knew over two years ago! Cheers to that!

A Picture of Sustainability

This is John Paget‘s award-winning video for the Congress for New Urbanism. Paget lays out his argument that while urban sprawl is designed to fail, new urbanism is a model that is built to last. In addition to his suggestion to keep our personal living spaces condensed, Paget should also recognize that it is important to look at our building methods on a large scale. Aside from the housing market,  businesses can begin to set the example by requesting sustainably designed structures for their companies. They may not be able to cut corners on the size of their manufacturing plants, but they can definitely cut social and environmental costs.

My dad is the owner of Sage Structures, a sustainable construction company in Madison, WI, and he has made a career  in tilt-up concrete construction. Consequently, I have been receiving environmental build lectures since I was a little kid. Especially in a climate like the Midwest, where winters can reign brutally cold and summers are unbearably humid, the quick heating and cooling capabilities of a concrete building can make a huge difference for a large building. Green Concrete, a division of the National Ready Mixed Concrete Association, also highlights the many other sustainable aspects of concrete buildings. They are much more durable than metal manufacturing buildings, they reduce energy costs by as much as forty percent, and concrete is made of air, cement, water, sand, and gravel – elements that are available locally most everywhere.

Due to its accessibility in the construction realm, a push towards concrete builds seems would be an easy first step in sustainability for larger businesses. For even more architectural ideas, check out Blaine Brownell’s publication, Transmaterial: A Catalog of Materials That Redefine Our Physical Environment. He takes an innovative approach to design-build by using an array of unorthodox materials from coconut palm to” sonic fabric.” Pretty cool stuff!