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April 29, 2006

Richard Sweeney, origami master

photo of Richard Sweeney sculpture

When it comes to origami-based sculpture, Richard Sweeney owns.

Check out his website at www.richardsweeney.co.uk/ and his photos on Flickr.


Posted by Chris Spurgeon at 09:27 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Starlings understand basic grammar

photo of singing starling

For a bird vocalization geek like myself, this is big news...

Scientists at the University of California in San Diego have demonstrated that European Starlings understand simple grammar. As described on the CBC website...

European starlings were trained to tell the difference between a regular "sentence" of birdsong and one with a clause embedded in it.

The findings by psychologist Timothy Gentner of the University of California at San Diego challenge a finding by linguist Noam Chomsky.

Chomsky theorized humans are unique in the animal world in their ability to use recursive grammar – that is, inserting an explanatory clause such as this one – in sentences.

Gentner's team showed starlings could recognize a recursive type of grammar involving warbles and rattles instead of words.

This is the first time a species other than humans have been shown to possess this ability. The paper is published in this week's edition of Nature.

Posted by Chris Spurgeon at 08:38 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

The funniest podcast you'll be ashamed of yourself for enjoying

Ouch logo

I have just discovered, and am now addicted to, Ouch!, a podcast from the BBC dealing with disability. The thing is hilarious, with some of the darkest humor to be found anywhere on the net. A few examples...

The regular episodes of "Vegetable, Vegetable, or Vegetable", where the hosts have 90 seconds to figure out the mystery caller's disability ("Do you have flippers for hands? Can you control your bladder?")

The saccharine sweet theme song, designed to make disabled people "just feel good about being themselves"

The way the program IDs are all voiced by people with speech impediments.

The program is hosted by actor Mat Fraser and comedian Liz Carr (who, yes, are both disabled, as are virtually the entire Ouch! staff) and the overall style of the show (and the accompanying website) is described by one listener as 'post rant'... by, for, and about people that have passed through the "Oh God, why me?" phase of their disability and are now just living their lives.

"But", I hear you ask "is it alright for me to listen to this, and laugh?" I think the folks at Ouch! would be delighted if that question didn't even occur to you.


Posted by Chris Spurgeon at 02:47 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

April 26, 2006

Runway for extraterrestrials

photo of UFO landing marker in the Netherlands

Notice a bit of extra traffic on the A27 highway near Houten in the Netherlands? Maybe it's a visiting UFO. Dutch artist Martin Riebeek has turned a Dutch highway roundabout into a landing platform for extraterrestrial spacecraft.


Posted by Chris Spurgeon at 10:32 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

April 25, 2006

R.I.P. Jane Jacobs

1963 photo of Jane Jacobs walking the streets of New York City

Jane Jacobs, one of the most important figures in the history of urban planning, has passed away at the age of 89.

Her famous 1961 book, "The Death and Live of American Cities" took on the central-control-master-plan school of urban renewal... the type of planning that left many cities split apart by huge freeways and monolithic decaying high-rise housing projects. She was perhaps the first critic to argue the importance of small neighborhoods within cities...places where stores, restaurants, parks, schools, and housing for all levels of income can all co-exist.

There are rememberences of her on Treehugger and The Globe and Mail. There are sure to be more in the coming hours and days. You can google for the latest.

Posted by Chris Spurgeon at 10:38 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

April 24, 2006

More on sheep-based advertising

photo of ad-waring sheep

A week or so ago I blogged about sheep-based advertising (thanks to the folks at We Make Money Not Art for turning me on to this). Now the International Herald Tribune has an article on the phenomenon, which has also been picked up by the New York Times. From the article:

The latest low-technology billboards along highways in the Netherlands are startling enough to prompt motorists to indulge in U-turns.

Or make that ewe-turns. These ads are walking, woolly flocks of bleating sheep. Early this month, Hotels.nl, a Dutch online reservations company, began displaying its corporate logo on royal blue waterproof blankets worn by sheep.

The company spends 1 euro, or about $1.23 a day, per sheep and sponsors about 144 sheep in flocks throughout the Netherlands. But commercially branded sheep roaming the bucolic meadows of the northern Netherlands have prompted a reaction.

On Saturday, the town of Skarsterlan began fining Hotels.nl 1,000 euros a day for putting branded blankets on sheep. Advertising on livestock violates the town's ban on advertising along the highways.

You can see the full article on the International Herald Tribune website.

Posted by Chris Spurgeon at 08:02 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

April 23, 2006

The Cartoon Laws of Physics

Wile E. Coyote.

You know all of this of course, but it's always good to see it written down in one place... The Cartoon Laws of Physics.

Cartoon Law 3

Any body passing through solid matter will leave a perforation conforming to its perimeter.

Also called the silhouette of passage, this phenomenon is the speciality of victims of directed-pressure explosions and of reckless cowards who are so eager to escape that they exit directly through the wall of a house, leaving a cookie-cutout-perfect hole. The threat of skunks or matrimony often catalyzes this reaction.

The full set of laws is online at Digital Digressions.

Posted by Chris Spurgeon at 08:28 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

April 22, 2006

Never say "There's nothing on TV" ever again

photo of groovetube

Groovetube turns your TV into a pulsating disco light. Besides being a riveting visual display, and an interesting conversation piece the blurring of the image can be just the thing to take the edge off of the latest TV news horror show.


Posted by Chris Spurgeon at 06:04 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Looking for God radio

god radio photo

Looking for something to do in Milan, Italy? Check out Fernando Orellana's art piece, "Looking for God". As described on We Make Money Not Art...

The mechanism turns the dial of the radio either to the left or right. The microphone then captures a three-second sample of the audio signal. This signal is compared to a signal saved in the microprocessor's memory of the word "god." If the new signal is not equal to the signal in memory, the mechanism turns the dial again and the process is repeated. If the signal captured is equal to the signal in memory, the piece deduces that it has found the word "god". It then triggers an electronic bell and marks one unit on an electronic odometer. In this way, "Looking for God" tries to metaphorically replicate humanity's own pursuit of understanding the world.

For an obsessive station scanner like myself, this seems like the coolest thing ever.

Posted by Chris Spurgeon at 05:17 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

April 18, 2006

I'll be speaking at Where 2.0

Where 2.0 logo

Woo Hoo! I'll be speaking June 14th in San Jose at this year's O'Reilly Where 2.0 Conference. My talk is titled "The Best Geo Hacks of the Last 3,000 Years". I'm looking forward to blowing folks minds by showing some of the amazing things people were doing with maps, surveying, and navigation waaay before the internet.

I'll be giving a rough-draft, dress-rehersal version of the talk at the great Machine Project art space in Los Angeles in late May or early June. Why not subscribe to their mailing list to learn about all of the great stuff going on there?


Posted by Chris Spurgeon at 07:49 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

April 17, 2006

Happy Apollo 13 "Failure is not an option" Day

Mission Control in Houston after the safe return of Apollo 13

Today is the 36th anniversary of the day the crew of Apollo 13 made it safely back to Earth. As fictionalized in the movie "Apollo 13", this is one of the all-time great bits of hacking...bringing a crippled spacecraft a quarter of a million miles back to Earth. The NASA website has a number of cool photos of the mission. The photo above is of the celebration in Mission Control after the safe recovery of the Apollo 13 astronauts. (That's Gene Kranz, the head of mission control, smoking the cigar). Here are some other faves:

Mission Control during the final 24 hours of the Apollo 13 flight
Mission Control during the final 24 hours of the Apollo 13 mission.

Photo of the damaged Apollo 13 Service Module
Photo of the damaged Apollo 13 Service Module.

Apollo 13 astronaut John L. Swigert holds the jury-rigged lithium hydroxide scrubber used to remove excess carbon dioxide from the damaged Apollo 13 spacecraft.
Astronaut John L. Swigert holds the jury-rigged lithium hydroxide scrubber used to remove excess carbon dioxide from the damaged Apollo 13 spacecraft.


Posted by Chris Spurgeon at 09:02 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

April 16, 2006

Coming soon to a sheep near you

photo of ad-waring sheep

The folks at We Make Money Not Art have this great photo of sheep wearing ads. I'd love to know if this is a common thing in Europe.

Posted by Chris Spurgeon at 06:52 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

April 08, 2006

R.I.P. Allan Kaprow

I see from a post over at boingboing that Allan Kaprow, the creator of the genre of performance art known as "happenings" has passed away at age 78.

It's easy to dismiss happenings as just another quirky pop item from the 60s, but that misses the importance of Kaprow's concept of holding art events at unexpected times in unexpected places, while bluring the lines between participant and audience.

Today's flash mobs are direct descendents of Kaprow's happenings.

There's an AP obit of Allan Kaprow here.

Posted by Chris Spurgeon at 03:20 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

April 07, 2006

Welcome to the end of North America

rift at the junction of the North American and European plates in Iceland

This is pretty much as far as you can travel in North America, the point in west central Iceland where the North American and European tectonic plates meet. The plates are spreading apart at a rate of about 15 to 20 feet every 1,000 years, causing the fissures like the one I'm standing in here. The European plate is to my left side, North America to my right.


Posted by Chris Spurgeon at 01:32 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

April 03, 2006

Random product: Leak Diverter

photo of a leak diverter bag at the Dallas Airport

Spotted at the Dallas Airport: A mini plastic tarp with built in hose-connection, designed to catch drips from the ceiling and funnel the water down to a bucket below. On the one hand, I'm impressed that some company saw the need for a product like this and came up with this simple, versatile design solution. On the other hand, it's a little sad to think that there are so many poorly built structures out there that there'd be a thriving market for something like this.

Posted by Chris Spurgeon at 04:02 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

April 01, 2006

Off to Iceland!

The family and I head off on vacation starting this weekend... Los Angeles to Washington and then on to Reykjavík, Iceland! A week there, then a week in New York, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C.


Posted by Chris Spurgeon at 04:35 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Seth Godin on how The Beatles became The Beatles


Marketing guru Seth Godin has a fascinating essay on how The Beatles achieved their explosion of popularity in the early 60s. According to Godin, it didn't "just happen", it was the result of talent, a bit of luck, and relentless marketing:

The next stage was brief but essential. That's when people started noticing them, started showing up, started screaming. At this moment, the Beatles didn't stop marketing. They didn't stop doing radio shows at the BBC or flying all night to play a concert in Denver (empty seats) or Kansas. During the transition stage, in fact, the Beatles and their management really poured it on.

Read the full essay on Seth Godin's blog.

Posted by Chris Spurgeon at 08:49 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack


photo of hektor in action

Hektor is an amazing robotic graffiti output device. It's driven by a software plugin to Adobe Illustrator, and uses a bunch of cables and pullies to precisely position a spray can. The www.hektor.ch website has a bunch of great videos of Hektor in action.


Posted by Chris Spurgeon at 07:27 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack