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March 30, 2006

Mighty optical illusions

optical illusion

There are a zillion blogs, but only one Mighty Optical Illusions, a site fanatically devoted to images that mess with your mind. Great to poke around the site, even better to subscribe to the RSS feed and be confronted with a new illusion at random intervals.


Posted by Chris Spurgeon at 09:35 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Bruce Sterling on life at the Art Center College of Design

Bruce Sterling spent the last year as "Visionary in Residence" at the Art Center College of Design, a wonderful little design school in Pasadena.

Sterling wrote a touching essay about his year at Art Center, and about the place's power to transform and inspire:

Those students work harder than oxen. By show time at the end of the term, they're physically collapsing from their own ambitions. They grieve. They tremble with burnout. They slumber on the library carpets. They change a lot. Designerhood steals over them. It's like character transformation in a novel. That ditzy illustration chick, who shambled in wearing her Goodwill dresses, somehow develops her own look; she's still a freak, but now she's all together about it. That digital-arts kid, twitchy from his misspent youth of computer games, somehow learns to exude geek chic. He once had a thousand-yard stare. Now he's got the polished arched-eyebrow look of the cell-phone techie on Verizon billboards. You can't teach that to anyone--it's self-inflicted. What happened to them? They have recognized certain aspects of their pre-designer selves that, to their newly trained eyes, are no longer apt and fitting. So they prune those parts off. They take the gum eraser to it. They X-acto it. They mill it down to sawdust over in the machine shop. It's spooky. Even their parents can tell

The full essay is in the current issue of Metropolis magazine.

Posted by Chris Spurgeon at 08:59 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Wanted: Aircraft designers for Mars

drawing of UAV

How's this for a challange? Design a reliable, ultra light-weight robotic flying machine. And as a needs to work on Mars.

The European Space Agency is kicking off a student competition, looking for the most practical and innovative Martian Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) designs. If you're a European aerospace student, check out the contest website.


Posted by Chris Spurgeon at 08:21 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

March 29, 2006

Architecture's Scientific Revolution

The Phaeno Science Center in Wolfsburg, Germany. Credit: Zaha Hadid Architects

From Sweden to Botswana, Germany to Japan, master builders are incorporating recent developments in math and physics, as well as elements of biology and other fields, into their designs. The result has been some of the most innovative and interesting constructions of the last several decades. Seed presents five examples of contemporary architecture that have been influenced by science. Welcome to the new architectural revolution.

No shift in architectural practice in recent times has been more fruitful or astonishing than the profession's current embrace of scientific models and ideas. While the Modern movement of the last century famously incorporated the latest advances in technology and industry, there were remarkably few attempts to come to terms with the more radical scientific developments of the era, such as relativity or quantum mechanics.

Read the entire article

(Via Seed Magazine.)

Posted by Chris Spurgeon at 10:15 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Treehouse building workshop

Tim writes - 'We will be sponsoring a treehouse building workshop in Santa Cruz, CA (about an hour south of San Francisco) on May 5,6 and 7th. The world famous treehouse builder and innovator Michael Garnier will be teaching the workshop. He owns Treesort treehouse resort in Takilma, OR and has built a treehouse for the Discovery Channel.' - Link.

Pictured here, Shawn's tree house! A big old-growth redwood stump had steps carved into it when we bought the place. Visions of a fabulous tree deck danced in our heads... - Link.


[Read this article]

(Via MAKE Magazine.)

Posted by Chris Spurgeon at 09:43 PM

First Conference on Virtual Globes

There's a call for abstracts and registration for the first Virtual Globes Scientific Users Conference. The three-day conference and workshop will be held at the University of Colorado, Boulder, July 10-12, 2006.

The conference hopes to foster community-building among earth scientists and educators interested in virtual globes technology--including the compilation and dissemination of associated expertise and resources.

The conference website, including a link for abstract submission, is:

(Via Geography 2.0: Virtual Globes.)

Posted by Chris Spurgeon at 09:01 AM

March 28, 2006

Cassini spacecraft continues to kick all kinds of ass

Cassini image of Janus, Titan, and the rings of Saturn

The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter may be getting all of the press this month, but the Cassini probe waaaay out there at Saturn continues to send back astonishingly cool photos. This one shows Saturn's moon Janus in front of the rings and Titan beyond – Saturn itself is beyond the picture to the right.

[Link to larger version]

[Cassini home page]


Posted by Chris Spurgeon at 12:42 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

March 25, 2006

Frogs critique

the frogs from Frog Review

The web's best-known usability amphibians are back! Check out the Frog Review frogs tearing apart Home Depot's website.

Link to Frog Review


Posted by Chris Spurgeon at 07:53 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Is there a better way to draw?

IDSA logo

The Industrial Designers Society of America wants you to come up with a better way to teach people to draw. They want to create a course that emphases "visually communicating ideas," rather than simply improving drawing techniques. The IDSA has put out a call for proposals for curricula. Want to design a kick-ass drawing course? Check out the details.


Posted by Chris Spurgeon at 06:47 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

March 23, 2006

Google tech talks available online

At the Google headquarters campus in Mountain View, Calirnia (known by everyone who works there as the "'Googleplex") there's a regular series of "tech Talks"...presentations by Google staffers and guests on a wide variety of subjects.

Google is making videos of the Tech Talks available via the Google Video website. Many of the talks focus on the types of high-end search and intenet technology that are Google's bread and butter ("Internet Advertising and the Generalized Second Price Auction" is a typical subject) but there are also lots of more far-ranging talks. My favorite: geologist Monika Kress' account of her summer spent scouring the plains of Antarctica looking for meteorites.

To see the currently available talks, just go to

Posted by Chris Spurgeon at 07:09 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

March 22, 2006

They call me Mister Fly

This isn't a photoshop collage of a fly and a pair of bad-ass shades. It's an actual fly, wearing an actual pair of teeny tiny bad-ass shades:

photo of fly wearing shades

Make Magazine's web site has the photo, along with this translated caption from the Japanese website where they found the image...
"Scientists using special laser technology have crafted a pair of mini-spectacles (2 mm) and placed them on the head of a housefly."


Posted by Chris Spurgeon at 09:38 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Day of the Dolphin

Last Sunday the kids and I and some friends spent the afternoon at Point Dume State Park in Malibu. As the kids dashed around at the ocean's edge, we noticed a dolphin swimming along amid the waves. The dolphin cruised along parallel to the beach for a few seconds. Then it made a 90 degree turn and headed directly for shore.

It kept coming and *kept coming* and KEPT COMING, right through the waves, all the way onto the beach. Where it began to thrash, flop, roll about, quiver, and where -- less than five minutes later -- it died.

photo of recently died dolphin at Point Dume park in Malibu

I missed the animal's final moments, having run up the beach to the nearest lifeguard station once it was apparent that we were dealing with one *very* sick creature. I called a local marine mammal rescue group, and they got there within 15 minutes or so, but I think they could have shown up in 15 seconds and it would have made no difference whatsoever.

This is perhaps one of the oddest, most surrealistic events that any of us there have ever experienced. It's not every day that a large alien creature appears out of nowhere, silently heads directly for you, and then dies at your feet. I'm not quite sure what to make of it symbolically, or how to feel about it.

The marine rescue folks say it was a long beaked common dolphin (Delphinus capensis). They're found along the California and Baja coasts, as well as off the east coast of South America, near the south African cape, and a number of other places. Here in California they're a little uncommon but not really rare, with about 30,000 of them between Baja and Canada.

This one almost certainly died by eating sardines or other small fish laced with domoic acid... a toxin produced by algal blooms off the California coast.


Posted by Chris Spurgeon at 12:56 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

March 21, 2006

Hack: Sudoku helper

If you are one of the zillion people who've become obsessed with the number puzzle sudoku, I've got just the thing for you. Check out my free Sudoku Helper...

Sudoku helper screen shot

It won't solve the puzzle for you (that would be too easy) but it makes it easy to see what possible numbers remain for each row, column, and 3x3 sub-area. Check it out!

Comments and suggestions welcome.

Posted by Chris Spurgeon at 06:28 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

March 20, 2006

Yikes! Billy spoke too soon!

Oh no!

Billy West, the voice of Fry on Futurama, now says he mis-spoke. Futurama *is* going to go back into production, but *not* for 26 new episodes. It's gonna be a smaller number, and perhaps directly to DVD.

Drawing of Dr. Zoidberg fom Futurama

Still, it's better than nothing.

Here's a link to Billy West's correction.

Posted by Chris Spurgeon at 05:46 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

March 19, 2006

Futurama returns!

Good News Everyone!

The world's greatest cartoon series, Futurama, is back from the dead! Voice-over actor Billy West (the voice of Fry and a zillion other creatures) says that he's been hired to work on at least 26 new episodes. Woo Hoo!

Drawing of Professor Farnsworth fom Futurama

Here's a link to Billy West's messageboard

Posted by Chris Spurgeon at 06:27 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

March 18, 2006

Mark Morford's thoughts on Kiwa hirsuta

SF Chronicle writer Mark Morford recently had a wonderful column about Kiwa hirsuta, that just-discoverd weird and wonderful deep-sea crustacean...

photo of crab species Kiwa hirsuta

In it Morford talks about the long march of we are constantly learning, sure, but (more poignantly) also constantly forgetting:

Knowledge, we have to realize, is not fixed in stone. It is transitory and ephemeral and exists only so long as we pump it with meaning. It is merely part of the mad vaporous wheel of existence, an ongoing cycle of discovering and forgetting, of lurching forward and then stumbling back and standing up again and taking everything we think we know and packing it into a little puffy snowball and hurling it at the head of the Future in the hopes that the Future will turn around and unbutton its liquid trench coat and show us something surprising. Or maybe just laugh and return fire. It's pretty much all we can do.

I thought it was a wonderful bit of writing. Check it out.

Posted by Chris Spurgeon at 06:39 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Is there a better way to learn math?

A guy named Steve Yegge has an interesting rant against the way that math is taught. He proposes an alternative way to re-learn all of that math that you learned in college and then forgot:

I think the best way to start learning math is to spend 15 to 30 minutes a day surfing in Wikipedia. It's filled with articles about thousands of little branches of mathematics. You start with pretty much any article that seems interesting (e.g. String theory, say, or the Fourier transform, or Tensors, anything that strikes your fancy. Start reading. If there's something you don't understand, click the link and read about it. Do this recursively until you get bored or tired.

OK, what the hell, I can scam 15 minutes somewhere each day. Off to start re-learning matricies...

Link to Steve Yegge's article

Posted by Chris Spurgeon at 07:14 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

March 17, 2006

Something every teenage boy could use

Some student designers came up with this brilliantly clever design...a bedroom shelf with a secret compartment underneath designed to hold your porno mags. Find a need and fill it!


Posted by Chris Spurgeon at 07:01 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Reading 2.0

DAMN I hate hearing about cool meetings right after they've ended. Case in point: the small but brillantly named "Reading 2.0" summit held earlier this week in San Francisco. What opportunities do the growth in digitized books and digitized libraries enable? How can we improve book location? How could we link bibligraphic citations to the physical objects being referenced? Sounds like some smart people thinking about some tricky interesting issues.

A few Reading 2.0 links:

Tim O'Reilly's reading list (ironic, I know) from the Reading 2.0 summit

Organizer Peter Brantley's Reading 2.0 agenda

Posted by Chris Spurgeon at 06:17 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack