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June 29, 2006

Hacking Ikea

image of some hacked Ikea objects

University of Brighton (UK) student Kieren Jones came up with a brilliant design concept for The British Council’s annual student design competition... a DIY Ikea project called "Flat-pack re-arranged". Using Ikea self-assemble furniture and Jones' instructions, anyone can make objects that Ikea never dreamed of. Pictured above, the parts from Ikea's Bumerang clothes hangers rearranged to create a deer head and crossbow that shoots Ikea pencils.

No word yet if Jones will sell the instruction manuals.

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

June 28, 2006

Tonight in LA: What Is It Like To Be A Spider?

photo of spider attacking TV image

Jumping spiders have one of the most advanced vision systems in the whole animal world...they see better than any other invertabrate and better than many mammals. For example, the photo above is of a jumping spider recognizing and attacking a cartoon spider on TV...a feat beyond the ability of any other invertabrate. How do they pull this all off with a brain that consists of just a few thousand neurons? Spider expert Dr Simon Pollard lays out how a spider sees the world tonight at 7:30 at the Telic Arts Exchange gallery. His talk is part of the Insect Trilogy of talks, put on by the wonderful Institute for Figuring.

Here's more info about the talk.

The Telic Arts Exchange is located at 975 Chung King Road, in the heart of the Chinatown section of Los Angeles.
Here's a map.


Posted by Chris Spurgeon at 08:04 AM | Comments (0)

Asteroid hunting telescope gets ready to save us all


This new telescope designed to spot potentially dangerous asteroids has taken its first test images. When it is upgraded with the world's largest camera in 2007, it will be able to find space rocks as small as a few hundred metres wide. Four of these 'scopes will be built in Hawaii. When they're all on line (in 2010) they'll scan the entire visible sky three times every month. There's a good news article about the telescopes in New Scientist magazine.

Of course, once we spot a space object about to smash into earth what we do about it is a completely different matter. Astronaut Rusty Schweickart gave a great talk on just that subject a couple of years ago (Did you know there is a substantial percentage of the population that wants an asteroid to hit the earth? Yow!). It was one of the many mind-expanding talks presented by the Long Now Foundation. There's audio of the talk on their seminar archive page (it's down near the bottom).

Posted by Chris Spurgeon at 07:20 AM | Comments (0)

June 27, 2006

Run Motherfucker Run

image from run motherfucker run

Remember when a trip to an art gallery was a quiet, sedate, contemplative experience? Yeah, well, that was before Run Motherfucker Run, Dutch artist Marnix de Nijs' interactive installation. The viewer (participant? competitor? victim?) stands on a large treadmill before a film and 3-D graphic projection of an dark and spooky industrial landscape. As you begin to run, the film begins to play, your movement on the treadmill directly matching the changes on the screen. To keep things interesting it's not clear what path you must navigate, and if you slow down the image on the screen begins to fade away.

Run Motherfucker Run just ended a... um... run at the Urban Explorers Festival in the Netherlands. There are stills and some large videos on the RMR website.


Posted by Chris Spurgeon at 06:50 PM | Comments (0)

Talks from the TED Conference now online

TED talks logo

Like many people, I've wished I could attend one of the mind-bending TED Conferences. But like most people, I can't afford the $4400 US registration, and have had to make due with reading their excellent blog. But now the TED folks have started both video and audio podcasts of selected TED conference presentations. Up so far, Al Gore, Tony Robbins, David Pogue, Majora Carter, Hans Rosling and Ken Robinson.

Posted by Chris Spurgeon at 05:47 AM | Comments (0)

June 26, 2006

Lightning hot spots

map of global lightning hot spots

You think lightning never strikes twice in the same spot? Don't try telling that to residents of the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of Congo. That part of the earth gets more lightning strikes per year than anywhere else, according to the NASA Lightning & Atmospheric Research Center. The geology.com blog pointed me at this website, which has an insane amount of data about lightning flashes, thanks to some satellites that spend all of their time looking down at the earth, watching for telltale lightning flashes. geology.com also has a larger version of the global lightning map.


Posted by Chris Spurgeon at 07:33 PM | Comments (0)

Al Gore takes on Bender

image of Al Gore and Bender

Hopefully by now you've all seen An Inconvenient Truth, the film version of Al Gore's presentation about the terrible consequences of global warming. (If not, get to it).

If the film has left you in need of a little levity, check out this great trailer made by Rough Draft Studios, the folks who draw Futurama.

Posted by Chris Spurgeon at 05:03 PM | Comments (0)

June 24, 2006

Hitler cats!

photo of Adolf Hitler photo of cat that looks like Hitler

This is the type of thing the Internet was born for...a blog devoted to cats that look like Adolph Hitler.

Posted by Chris Spurgeon at 10:13 PM | Comments (0)

Billboard that comes and goes with the sun

billboard on a sunny day
billboard on a cloudy day

The Mighty Optical Illusions website has come up with another amazing bit of trickery...this time a billboard that only appears when the sun is shining. The billboard consists of 12,148 aluminum pegs of different lengths. The difference in length causes each peg to cast a different size shadow, turning the whole billboard into a greyscale image. Brilliant!

Posted by Chris Spurgeon at 06:23 PM | Comments (0)

Craigslist adds another 100 cities

According to a post over on steveouting.com, craigslist has added another 100 cities to its service, upping the total to 300. As Steve points out, this gives a whole new group of newspapers reason to be very worried about the future of their classified sections.

Bonus for any geographers or demographers out there: Based on the U.S. cities listed on craigslist here, what percentage of the U.S. population is now covered?

Posted by Chris Spurgeon at 05:44 PM | Comments (0)

Presentation Zen on the rule of thirds

screen shot from New Zealand video, as shown on presentationzen.com screen shot from Australian video, as shown on presentationzen.com

I'm a big fan(*) of Presentation Zen, a great blog by Garr Reynolds devoted to teaching people how to improve their talks and presentations (how many poorly executed PowerPoint talks have I dozed through? It feels like thousands). The latest posting examines The Rule of Thirds... a visual technique that can improve the power of your images by moving the subject off center. Reynolds dissects recent travel videos from Australia and New Zealand to show how they use the technique to great effect.

(*) I used a number of the techniques outlined in Presentation Zen for my recent talk at the Where2.0 conference, and it was very well received. Thanks Garr!

Posted by Chris Spurgeon at 08:09 AM | Comments (0)

June 23, 2006

This time I mean it! Futurama returns!

Prof. Farnsworth from Futurama

First it was on again. Then it was off again. But now it looks like things really are set, and Futurama is coming back, with at least 13 new episodes scheduled to air on Comedy Central starting by 2008. Woo Hoo!!!

The New York Post has an news story on the announcement.


Posted by Chris Spurgeon at 09:22 PM | Comments (0)

Measles at World Cup

OK, so it's not as catchy a title as Snakes on a Plane, but New Scientist Magazine reports that Measles has broken out in the North Rhine-Westphalia region of Germany, which has three cities hosting World Cup games. It'll be interesting to see if all of the international travel to and from that region leads to a quicker spread to other countries, particularily in the Western Hemisphere. Six of the eight World Cup teams from the Western Hemisphere -- Argentina, Brazil, Ecuador, Mexico, the US and Trinidad and Tobago -- are playing games in the affected area.

Posted by Chris Spurgeon at 07:07 AM

June 22, 2006

Stamp mugs

stamp mug

A quick bit of praise for these clever coffee mugs... given that coffee mugs always leave marks on the table, why not make patterns prettier than the regular old rings? These mugs make neat little floral patterns that interlink. They're not cheap ($59!!) but they're very clever. You can get them from Generate.

Posted by Chris Spurgeon at 09:28 PM | Comments (0)

June 21, 2006

Excellent interview on the global youth market

Guy Kawasaki has posted an absolutely excellent interview on his blog with Kathleen Gasperini of Label Networks. Label Networks specializes are the quintesential "cool hunters", investigating what interests young people all around the world. They do first-hand observation and interviews in coffee shops, at music festivals, at the mall, any place that has a critical mass of 13 to 25 year olds. All of this research has given them great insight into what appeals to...and what offends...young people. Here's Gasperini on clueless marketing by big companies:

Young people don’t care about sweating and being hot, say, at an outdoor festival. Older people do. Success can truly smell! And young people can smell anything that smacks of insincerity a mile away. To them, some companies just stink. They are so removed from their reality. The reason so many companies try to do top-down trending is because they don’t know how to do bottom-up marketing or are afraid of change. Or of getting sweaty.

...and on some of the differences among young people in different countries...

The London kid right now isn’t as hopeful but thinks he’s trendsetting in his own head. The Munich kid is more philosophical, but socially “younger” than the 15-year-old in LA or Palo Alto, mainly because he’s not online as much and this isn’t encouraged by parents. For the Addis Ababa kid it depends on their socioeconomic level, but like the others, this kid is heavily influenced by music. Music is the common thread because it’s emotional and personal and taps into that mammalian cortex.

Completely fascinating stuff from someone who actually does first-hand research, instead of just spouting a bunch of marketing consultant-speak.

Posted by Chris Spurgeon at 12:23 PM | Comments (0)

June 20, 2006

American Apparel opens a store in Second Life

image of American Apparel store inside of Second Life

If you're looking for further evidence of the growing influence and importance of Second Life, check this out -- L.A. based clothing manufacturer American Apparel has now opened a store in Second Life. Second Life citizens can buy American Apparel clothing for themselves in the "real world" as well as for their avatars in Second Life. FutureLab's blog has a posting about it.

(P.S. I've bitten the bullet and got myself a Second Life account. Look for me as the suavely-named "Ralph Beeper").

Posted by Chris Spurgeon at 12:29 PM | Comments (0)

June 17, 2006

Donald Norman sez: Maybe we're doing user observation all wrong

still image from Franklin Institute video of Don Norman

Human-based design pioneer Donald Norman has posted a provocative essay on his website about how we study the way people use the things we create. Norman and others have long proposed that we study our users in order to gain insight into how they could best use our product (be it a website, a kitchen appliance, or a weapons system) and then go ahead and build the product. Now he's not so sure:

Most projects are enhancements of already existing projects. Why do we have to start studying the users all over again? Haven’t we already learned a lot about them? Shouldn’t we be studying them all throughout the adoption period? Once a project starts, it is too late.

Norman talks about adopting the same type of iterative approach used in programming to HCI...an endless weaving together of design, observation, and manufacture. The full essay is here.

In other Donald Norman news, earlier this spring my old stmping grounds, The Franklin Institute in Philadelphia, awarded Norman the 2006 Benjamin Franklin Medal in Computer & Cognitive Science (press release). They made a nice little video (5:05, 17MB, mp4 format) talking about Norman's life and the influence of his work.

Posted by Chris Spurgeon at 09:55 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Michael Jackson's patent

Michael Jackson's patent

Musical innovator? Brilliant dancer? Sexual predator? Victim of multiple personality disorders? All of the above?

Whatever label you apply to Michael Jackson, I bet you it isn't "patent holding inventor". But it turns out Jacko holds U.S. patent 5,255,452, for a shoe system that allows the wearer to lean forward at an impossible angle without falling over.

Posted by Chris Spurgeon at 06:09 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

June 16, 2006

List of problems solved by MacGyver

MacGyver opening credits image

So, how does your resume stack up? Wikipedia has a list of all of the problems MacGyver solved. Now that's a resume!

MacGyver distracts some goons by creating a smoke cloud out of carbon black (commonly known as soot), a helium tank, a latex lab glove, duct tape, and his pocket knife. The powder is stuffed in the glove, the glove has a slit and is inflated with the helium gas. MacGyver duct tapes the glove to the top and bottom of a food serving tray so that when it is opened, the glove will burst and the powder will be released.


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

June 14, 2006

I just spoke at the Where2.0 conference

Me (Chris Spurgeon) speaking at the Where2.0 conference.  Thanks to James Duncan Davidson/O'Reilly Media for the photo

...and had a great time. The Where2.0 conference brings together folks who are doing all sorts of amazing things with mapping, visualization, and location-based technologies. Got to spend a fun day at Google headquarters hanging with the Google Maps and Google Earth folks, and two fun days having my eyes opened to some of the great mapping-related things going on.

My talk was titled "The Best Geohacks of the Past 3,000 Years" and I got to turn people on to things like Cassini's mapping of the moons of Jupiter and Polynesian navigation. I made a book reading list if you want to learn more about the stuff I was talking about. (Sorry, I don't have my slides online...they don't really make sense without the talk).

(Thanks to James Duncan Davidson/O'Reilly Media for the photo of me speaking).

Posted by Chris Spurgeon at 01:05 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

June 13, 2006

Does this sound like where you work?

The slow leadership blog has a great essay called How to Kill Creativity. Recommended reading for all afflicted with clueless management. Quick excerpt:

In pressure-based cultures, old ideas are continually re-hashed, new ones tested to destruction, and any spark of innovation drowned in consensus-building. An idea that can't be grasped in under five minutes by executives so distracted they can't recall the next meeting on today's schedule—or what was agreed at the last—is dead meat. There's no time to be wrong, so there's no time to be right either. Stick to what you've done before and get a move on. With such penalties for trying anything new, is it any wonder everyone quickly gets the message that, whatever fine words executives use, innovation isn't wanted or valued?

Posted by Chris Spurgeon at 01:06 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Substations as houses

transformer house

The new issue of Cabinet Magazine is devoted to electricity (my second favorite utility-supplied substance (after water, but before natural gas, cable TV, and telephone)) and there's an interesting photo essay by Robin Collyer on Toronto's transformer houses.

Back in the 1950s and '60s the electric utility in Toronto built their substations so they would blend into the surrounding neighborhoods. No concrete block buildings with a chain-link fence around it...instead houses complete with windows, front doors, and landscaping. But no one inside, just lots of big-ass humming transformers.

You can see more photos on BLDGBLOG.

Posted by Chris Spurgeon at 09:47 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

June 12, 2006

Soccer ball dispenser

Call A Ball image 1 Call A Ball image 2

As part of the lead up to the World Cup, Nike's Play Award site sponsored a contest for innovation in soccer. The third prize winner is a really clever proposed public ball dispenser called CALL A BALL.

Just walk over to CALL A BALL and send an SMS detailing the kiosk's number to CALL A BALLs communication center. It then dispenses. Thanks to the RFID chip embedded in the ball, the center knows at all times where the ball is. When you're done, just drop the ball into the receiving hole at the top of the kiosk. (Keep the ball, and you get charged for it on phone bill).


Posted by Chris Spurgeon at 01:19 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

June 10, 2006

Eternal sunset

sunset in Antarctica

There's nothing more lovely than a sunset, so why not have sunset all the time? That's the idea behind Eternal Sunset, a website that automatically switches among dozens of webcams scattered around the world, to provide you with a never-ending gallery of images of the setting sun, such as this cool shot of a German communication antenna near the South Pole.


Posted by Chris Spurgeon at 06:40 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

June 07, 2006

Martin Kippenberger's Metro-Net

subway entrance in Kassel

I've just discovered the work of the late German artist Martin Kippenberger. Kippenberger was partway through work on a wonderful, ambitious global art project called Metro-Net. The idea was to scatter all around the world entrances to an imaginary subway system. Only a few were ever built, but some of them, like this one in Kassel, were totally cool looking.

Here's a brief write-up on Kippenberger and Metro-Net.

Posted by Chris Spurgeon at 12:06 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Hear me talk this Saturday afternoon

Another beautiful Southern California Saturday afternoon and you have nothing to do? Why not come to Machine Project and listen to me talk for an hour? I'll be giving a talk titled The Best Geohacks of the Last 3,000 Years. Come find out how we figured out the Earth is round, how we used Jupiter as a giant clock, how we covered the entire sky with a map, all sorts of cool, geeky stuff. Mark Allen, the indefatigable director of Machine Project, promises popsicles for all!

Machine Project is located at:
1200 D North Alvarado Street
Los Angeles, CA 90026

Here's a map.

Posted by Chris Spurgeon at 09:49 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

June 04, 2006

What the HELL is that woman drinking?

photo of woman from Rosetta Stone ad

I read a lot of science related magazines (Scientific American, Discover, Technology Review and the like) and they all carry ads for a company called Rosetta Stone that sells foreign language software. Those ads always feature this photo of a woman sitting at an outdoor cafe, laptop at the ready, drink on the table.

After having glanced at this ad perhaps hundreds of times (it really *is* in every science mag every single month) I've become obsessed with wondering just what the hell she's drinking...

close up of drink

...I assume it's not lime Kool-Aid or some mutant strain of Gatoraide, and other than that there just AREN'T that many bright green drinks in the world, and certainly not ones you'd want in a 10 oz tumbler.

Any ideas? Let me know.

Posted by Chris Spurgeon at 10:37 AM | Comments (8) | TrackBack