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August 30, 2006

Hey! Something just crashed into the moon!

artist rendering of the SMART-1 spacecraft

Don't get your hopes up, don't get all over-excited and blame me if this whole thing is a bust, but there's a chance you may see something crash into the moon this Saturday night.

The SMART-1 spacecraft has been orbiting the moon since 2004, making lunar observations and testing a new ion-drive propulsion system. Now the spacecraft has used up its fuel supply, so the controllers at the European Space Agency are letting SMART-1 drop down and plow into the lunar surface.

So, how do you see the impact? ESA scientists predict that SMART-1 will plow a shallow crater 3-10 meters wide and 1 meter deep into the Lake of Excellence at 10:41 pm PDT September 2, 2006 (01:41 pm EDT, or 05:41 UT September 3). Impact should occur at the lunar coordinates of 36.44 degrees South and 46.25 degrees West. To those of us who don't deal with lunar longitude and latitude on a daily basis (you know who you are), this translates to the lower left corner of the moon, just inside of the dark part. You can try to see the impact with the naked eye, but using binoculars or even a cheap telescope will vastly improve your chances of seeing something cool. The impact may appear to be a quick flash of an explosion, or a diffuse white glow (caused by lunar dust that gets tossed up and illuminated by sunlight).

That impact time is the current best guess of the navigators at the ESA. But since the spacecraft is falling down to the moon at a very shallow angle (picture a airplane coming in for a landing, as opposed to a rock falling from the sky), and since we don't have perfect topographic maps of the moon, it's possible that the SMART-1 could clip a hill and crash several hours earlier, or that the valley is deeper than expected and SMART-1 could crash a bit later than the predicted time. (The SMART-1 website will be updated with the latest crash predictions as the event gets closer).

The Planetary Society website has a good write-up on the SMART-1 crash.

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Posted by Chris Spurgeon at 08:14 AM | Comments (0)

August 28, 2006

Monument (If It Bleeds, It Leads)

close-up of monument beads

There's a long history of art being used in novel ways to memorialize the dead (for instance, check out Fallen Astronaut elsewhere on this blog).

One of the more interesting recent memorials is Caleb M. Larsen's installation Monument (If It Bleeds, It Leads). A computer continuously scans 4,500 news sources around the world and every time it detects another person has been killed (whether by war, crime, or accident) a ceiling-mounted mechanical device releases a small yellow BB for every person who's died.

As the death count inexorably rises, more and more of the floor becomes colored with yellow. As a viewer, you're left with a swirl of mixed emotions... you'd love to watch one of the little BBs fall, but that means someone has just died and you don't want that... or do you?

Larsen built Monument with a clever mix of PHP and a Lego Mindstorms kit. There are construction details and videos of the work in action on his website.

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Posted by Chris Spurgeon at 08:13 PM | Comments (1)

August 27, 2006

The Frog Museum

still from Frog Museum

When visiting lovely Estavayer-le-Lac, Switzerland, be sure to visit Le Musée Des Grenouilles, or...as it's known in English, The Frog Museum. More than 100 frogs, posed in scenes from 19th century life. What's not to love?

Posted by Chris Spurgeon at 08:13 PM | Comments (0)

238 miles, one song

still images from 238 miles

The folks at the advertising/design firm Coudal Partners have creativity to burn, so they've made a series of very funny short films. Check out Copy Goes Here, one man's strange journey through ad agency; Ten, which proves that you really can break every commandment in just a few minutes; and the hilarious 238 Miles, one man's cruel five-hour car journey trapped with Abba. Great stuff!

Posted by Chris Spurgeon at 06:51 PM | Comments (0)

August 26, 2006

Pocoyo: A little piracy can be a good thing

Pocoyo characters

Pocoyo is a completely charming cartoon series for little kids that airs (or is about to start airing) in about 40 countries around the world. David Cantolla, one of Pocoyo's creators, has been blogging about the show, discussing all sorts of behind the scenes stuff (designing new characters, finding the right marketing deal, discussing whether or not the characters should eat junk food).

In his latest post, Cantolla looks at the issue of piracy (specifically the appearance of Pocoyo cartoons on video sites like YouTube) and how it might effect his creation. He thinks about the issue from several points of view (the creators, the staff, the distributors, the TV networks, the toy marketers) and comes to the conclusion that a bit of illegal distribution... not a huge amount, just a little.. is actually good for the show.

It's refreshing to come across someone in the TV industry who isn't in complete lock-step with the extremist TV industry stance on unauthorized copying. His post is well worth reading. And of course, the show itself is well worth watching, even if you're not three years old. Here's one of the episodes on YouTube. (I'm particularly an fan of Elly, the elephant who's fond of ballet).

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Posted by Chris Spurgeon at 09:49 AM | Comments (1)

Pluto fights back

Honk if Pluto is still a planet bumper sticker

It's been three days since The International Astronomical Union ruled that Pluto is no longer a planet (BBC story on the ruling) and as you might expect there's been a groundswell of protest about the ruling.

I'm mentioned in an Associated Press story about products available online in the wake of the Pluto ruling. As a result, my "Honk if Pluto is still a planet" bumper stickers are selling like hotcakes. If you want to pick one up (only four bucks, all proceeds donated to The Planetary Society), you can order one here.

Posted by Chris Spurgeon at 07:13 AM | Comments (6)

Mental health first aid

Mental Health First Aid logo

Everyone should learn basic first aid of course. But while those classes prepare you to deal with a broken arm or someone who's choking, they teach you little or nothing when it comes to dealing with someone suffering from acute mental illness... things like bi-polar disorder, psychotic episodes, and severe suicidal depression.

An innovative Australian program called Mental Health First Aid is changing that. They've created a 12-hour course that teaches average people what to do if confronted with a wide variety of mental health conditions...

How to help a person having a panic attack

1) If you are unsure whether the person is having a panic attack, a heart attack or an asthma attack, and/or the person is in distress, call an ambulance.
2) If you know the person is having a panic attack and not a heart or asthma attack, move the person to a quiet safe place if possible.
3) Help to calm the person by encouraging slow, relaxed breathing in unison with your own. Encourage the person to breathe in for 3 seconds, hold for 3 seconds and then breathe out for 3 seconds (you can get them to use the second hand on a watch).
4) Be a good listener, without judging.
5) Explain to the person that they are experiencing a panic attack and not something life-threatening such as a heart attack.
6) Explain that the attack will soon stop and they will recover fully.
7) Assure the person that someone will stay with them and keep them safe until the attack stops.

This is a such a great idea on so many levels. Right now the course is offered throughout Australia, and there are plans to offer it worldwide. In the meantime, Mental Health First Aid has a pdf of their course manual, and a webpage of brief advice on what to do in a situation where someone's having mental health difficulties.

(Thanks Mind Hacks)

Posted by Chris Spurgeon at 05:58 AM | Comments (0)

August 24, 2006

The Planet Pluto: 1930 - 2006

Honk if Pluto is still a planet bumper sticker

Well, it's official. The International Astronomical Union has ruled that Pluto is not a planet. They rejected an alternative proposal that would have kept Pluto in the planet club and added several more bodies. (Here's a BBC story on the whole thing).

I'm of two minds about all of this. One the one hand, I like it that there are now standardized rigorous criteria for planet classification...this is SCIENCE after all. But on the other hand, I like the fact that human classification schemes are messy and inconsistent. (For instance, I love the fact that the length of the month is so variable, and that different cultures start their weeks on different days).

But if you're outraged by this decision, assuage your anger by picking up one (or more) of the "Honk if Pluto is still a planet" bumper stickers I just made. All proceeds donated to The Planetary Society.

Posted by Chris Spurgeon at 08:23 AM | Comments (3)

Blogging with Google Earth

screen shot of Gombe Chimpanzee Blog

The Jane Goodall Institute has been studying African chimps for decades. They've recently started blogging about life at their Gombe Stream Research Center in Tanzania. The blog makes clever use of Google Earth, projecting each blog entry onto the spot on the Earth where the entry takes place. Clever!

Posted by Chris Spurgeon at 12:14 AM | Comments (1)

August 23, 2006

Making robots more intelligent

robot from the I, Robot film

Robots have long since left the realm of science fiction and become a part of industry...of medicine...of life(*). But robots still aren't very smart. Robots typically need to be pre-programmed with their operation patterns before they can function properly, so their applications tend to be limited and they tend not to adapt well to changes in their surroundings. Japan’s Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) has just funded a big initiative to come up with a truly intelligent robot in ten years.

METI is putting up $17 million dollars (2 billion Yen) to fund research in areas like image recognition and decision making.

(*)METI says there are an astonishing 840,000 robots in operation around the world...everything from giant industrial machines to little roombas.

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Posted by Chris Spurgeon at 11:01 PM | Comments (0)

August 21, 2006

David Brent visits Microsoft

still from Ricky Gervais Microsoft UK video

If you're like many web-savvy people, you loathe Microsoft but love Ricky Gervais in The Office. If that's you, then prepare for a lumbering bus full o' conflicting emotions as you watch these hilarious videos commissioned by Microsoft UK. Gervais (in his brilliant role as David Brent, the world's worst business executive) visits Microsoft UK to help the company work on their core values. The Office's co-writer/co-director Stephen Merchant is wonderful as the increasingly frustrated Microsoft drone assigned to shepard Brent around. Enjoy!

(Thanks bedazzled)

Posted by Chris Spurgeon at 10:19 AM | Comments (0)

August 20, 2006

Get rid of the Hudson River

Image of New York City from Modern Mechanix

Man, I thought Robert Moses was the worst thing that could happen to urban planning in New York City. Thank goodness a guy named Norman Sper never came to power. As outlined in a 1934 issue of Modern Mechanix magazine, Sper's master plan was...wait for it...dam the Hudson River at both ends of Manhattan Island, pump out the water, fill in the entire river channel, and...voila!...you've just doubled the size of New York City!

Never mind that you'd destroy a stretch of a great river, Sper had a city to build. Besides, the evil Soviets were watching...

"When every possible subterranean necessity had been anticipated and built," Sper points out, "a secondary fill would bring the level up to within twenty-five feet of the Manhattan street level.

"Upon this level would rest the foundations and basements of the buildings that would make up the new city above, planned for fresh air, sunshine and beauty. Thus, below the street level would be a subterranean system of streets that would serve a double purpose. All heavy trucking would be confined to it, but primarily it would serve as a great military defense against gas attack in case of war, for in it would be room for practically the entire population of the city.

"If the Russians had the vision and the courage not only to build huge cities from the ground up, but to practically rebuild an empire, surely America should not be frightened at a project as big as this."

Happily, Sper never had the mojo to pull this plan off...or as far as I can tell, any other plan. The article describes Sper as a "noted publicist and engineering scholar." If anyone knows anything more about this guy, let me know.

(Thanks to BLDGBLOG)

Posted by Chris Spurgeon at 08:30 PM | Comments (0)

August 19, 2006

Best title ever for a flickr photo group

evetsggod photo from flickr.com

The best title ever for a flickr photo group? Why it's Pictures with lots of things in them, but in a specific way!

(Photo by evetsggod/flickr.com)

Posted by Chris Spurgeon at 04:19 PM | Comments (0)

Reason #2,432 that Iceland kicks ass

section of New Scientist chart showing acceptance of evolution in different countries

If you know me, you know that I'm a rabid fan of Iceland...the landscape, the location, the people, the music and art scene, the bar scene, the whole vibe of the place. I don't need any further reasons to think Iceland is totally happening. But new reasons keep popping up anyway. The latest is a study by Jon Miller of Michigan State University showing that Iceland leads the way when it comes to the percentage of people who believe we evolved from other forms of animal life. Miller and his colleagues quizzed people in 32 European countries plus Japan and the U.S. Nearly 85% of people in Iceland accepted the scientific explanation of human evolution. Shockingly, only 40% of American in human evolution. Only Turkey had a lower score.

According to Miller and his team, the low number for the U.S. is due to high percentage of fundamentalist Christians in this country. Happily, Iceland is not burdened with that nonsense.

There's a write-up of Miller's study in this week's New Scientist. magazine. The study itself is published in the August 11 issue of Science.

Posted by Chris Spurgeon at 03:19 PM | Comments (0)

New species discovered on eBay

photo of seashell

No one really has a clue when it comes to how may species there are in the world... some estimates put the number as high as 100 million. Since scientists have only identified about 1.5 million, it's not surprising that new species turn up in on places, even on eBay.

As reported in New Scientist (and picked up by BoingBoing) a new species off sea urchin has shown up for auction on eBay. Collectors didn't recognize the species in any of their books, so they called on Simon Coppard at the International Commission on Zoological Nomenclature in London. He realized that the urchin was a new species. It's been given the name d Coelopleurus exquisitus.

My favorite species discovery has to be the time that ant expert Edward O. Wilson discovered a new species of ant living in the potted plant in the office of the head of the World Wildlife Fund.

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Posted by Chris Spurgeon at 07:08 AM | Comments (0)

August 16, 2006

TO DO in L.A. next month: The World 3-D Film Expo

still from House of Wax

For 3-D junkies, it's almost time to get your fix. Next month, The World 3-D Film Expo hits the big screen in L.A. We're talking nine days, nearly 40 films, (plus lots of shorts), all shown with the Polaroid 3-D system... none of that red and blue glasses nonsense.

The films run the gamut from horror classics like Vincent Price's "House of Wax" to the musical "Kiss Me Kate" to the Alfred Hitchcock's suspense classic "Dial M for Murder" to the 70s camp porn classic "The Stewardesses", there's going to be something for everyone.

Posted by Chris Spurgeon at 09:57 PM | Comments (0)

Voyager sets another distance record

image of Voyager I spacecraft

I don't think I own a single piece of machinery that's continued to run...without repair...for 29 years. But NASA's got one -- the Voyager I spacecraft. Voyager was launched back in 1977 and it's been heading further and further and FURTHER from Earth ever since.

It's long been the furthest man-made object from Earth, but today Voyager sets another record when it reaches a distance of 100 astronomical units (AU) from Earth. An AU is the distance from the Earth to the Sun (about 93 million miles) so that means that Voyager is now more than nine BILLION miles from Earth...so far that the Sun just looks like another star...so far that it takes nearly 14 hours for its signal to reach the Earth.

The Planetary Society's website has a nice little write-up of this extraordinary technical achievement.

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Posted by Chris Spurgeon at 08:07 PM | Comments (0)

August 15, 2006

Come see the glass house!

shot of Philip Johnson's Glass House

Philip Johnson's Glass House, one of the great masterpieces of modern architecture, is going to be open to the public. As laid out in this New York Times article (note: boneheaded registration may be required), the National Trust for Historic Preservation will conduct tours through the house in New Canaan, Connecticut beginning next April.

Like other revolutionary works of modern art (Andy Warhol's brill-o boxes come to mind) Johnson's glass house drew a lot of derision and insult when it was unveiled in 1949. Now of course it's seen as one of the world's great works of art. I am so there the next time I'm in New England.

Want to see the glass house? Send an email to glasshouse@nthp.org for details on reservations.

Posted by Chris Spurgeon at 10:06 PM | Comments (0)

August 14, 2006

Dead planet walking

photo of pluto

Tomorrow is the opening session for the General Assembly of the International Astronomical Union. This meeting is the event for the astronomical community, but this time there's a great deal of lay interest in the Assembly. That's because the IAU is also in charge of the official classification of celestial objects, and this time they're going to decide whether or not Pluto gets to stay a planet.

There are strong arguments for stripping Pluto of its planet status... it's tiny (our moon is bigger than Pluto, so are six moons orbiting other planets) and its orbit isn't very planet-like ( the orbit is severely tilted, more closely matching the orbits of some other Kuiper belt objects than those of the planets). A further blow to Pluto's status happened last year when CalTech's Michael Brown discovered another Kupier Belt object even bigger than Pluto. That object is still awaiting official name designation from the IAU, when Brown first discovered it, he called it "Xena". If Pluto is a planet, shouldn't Xena be one too?

On the other hand, there's a lot to be said for tradition and history, and we've had nine planets since Pluto was discovered back in 1930. And lots of school kids are taking the issue seriously, with letter writing campaigns to local science museums. Finally, who says we have to have consistent designations? Lots of scientific classification schemes are messy and inconsistent (You ever try to learn geologic periods? Or cloud types?).

A third possibility is to toss out the whole urinary "planet" thing, and replace it with a three-tier classification...gas giant planets like Saturn and Jupiter, rocky planets like Earth and Venus, and "mini-planets" like Pluto and Xena. That could raise the number of planets in our solar system from about two dozen to more than 50, depending on the minimum size cutoff.

Whatever happens, there's one thing for sure... the solar system is a much more interesting and varied place than you learned back in grade school.

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Posted by Chris Spurgeon at 04:19 PM | Comments (0)

Houston vs. the bats

photo of bats by Linus Gelber, flickr.com

As reported in today's Los Angeles Times, the people of Houston have declared war on bats. This past spring a 16-year-old Houston boy died from rabies he contracted from a mexican free-tailed bat that flew into his bedroom. This has triggered a bit of a bat hunting frenzy in Houston, with people stomping them, gassing them, whacking them wiht baseball bats. The rabies control lab in Houston has been hit with hundreds of dead bats, brought in by paranoid residents convinced that they've just fought a lethal animal to the death.

Health officials in Houston have pointed out that less than one half of one percent of the bats in Houston have rabies, and that the Houston case is the only rabies death in the entire country this year. That doesn't seem to matter.

Right now the total number of bats killed is quite small, but there's ample president for public opinion toward an animal switching. If the whole "bats are evil" thing really takes off, there could be a significant reduction in the bat population in the region. Given that these bats each eat 2/3 of their weight in mosquitos every night, I hope the people of Houston won't mind lots more cases of West Nile disease.

(Bat photo by Linus Gelber/flickr.com)

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

Michael Jantzen's Wind Shaped Pavillion

image of wind-shaped pavillion

Maybe it's because I've recently developed an interest in the architectural possibilities of Second Life, but I've been taking increased notice of buildings that seem iprobable if not downright impossible.

For instance, check out Michael Jantzen's proposed Wind Shaped Pavillion. It's a six-story tall ampitheater with a stretched fabric outer shell. Each floor acts as a giant wind vane, causing the floor to rotate independently as the breeze changes.

This structure seems eminently doable, I look foward to it being built.

Posted by Chris Spurgeon at 08:55 AM | Comments (0)

August 13, 2006

Disposable cameras part 2: Paris snapshots

france instant camera

Came across this all-to-brief bit on [BB-Blog]... a bunch of artists in France are offering an unusual deal... for $95 bucks you get a disposable camera already pre-loaded with photos of Paris. The shows are taken by one or more young up and coming artist, so each camera is different.

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Posted by Chris Spurgeon at 11:03 PM | Comments (0)

Disposable cameras part 1: The Elvis Cam

image from the Elvis Camera

Every since Matthew Brady mastered the art 150 years ago, all great photographers have agreed on one thing...any photo is better if Elvis is in it.

Now you too can have a kunka kunka of Elvis in every pic you snap, thanks to the amazing Elvis Camera! It's a disposable camera that already has a shot of Elvis on every frame. Line up your subject correctly in the viewfinder and just like that you're sharing a scene with the King. $18.98 from The Lighter Side.

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Posted by Chris Spurgeon at 07:24 AM | Comments (0)

August 12, 2006

Happy free GIF day!

typical clipart gif image

It's worth noting that at midnight last night the last U.S. patent on the GIF image format expired.(*) If you were around during the early days of the online world, you may remember the brouhaha when Compuserve discovered that both Unisys and IBM held patents over the already hugely popular GIF image format. Unisys in particular was not shy about enforcing their patent, demanding royalties from anyone that displayed GIFs or made software to create GIFs. This led to a flurry of lawsuits and counter-suits, and to a call for a creation of an alternative, royalty-free image format, now known as PNG.

It's also worth noting that even though the GIF patent controversy caused a great deal of Sturm und Drang back in the day, patents do expire (after 20 years in the U.S.), and the innovation protected by the patent becomes free for all. Contrast this with copyright law, which has had a disturbing trend of longer and longer effective periods... long enough to be effectively forever.

(*) The Free Software Foundation knows of one more, foreign, patent on GIF still in effect. That one is scheduled to expire this fall, on October 1st.

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

Penlight animations

penlight animation still image

Another little bit 'o beauty for your weekend, the Japanese art group PikaPika creates charming little animations by drawing on time-lapse film with penlights. Very cool. The website is in Japanese, but just go to this page and start clicking on the pictures. Enjoy!

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Posted by Chris Spurgeon at 06:24 AM | Comments (0)

August 11, 2006

TO DO in L. A. Saturday night: Make Magazine party!!!

cover of Make magazine

It's only been around for six issues, but Make Magazine is already causing a revolution. Everywhere people are once again taking things apart, tinkering, hacking things together and generally having a great time while voiding their warranties. Well, issue number 7 is about to hit news stands and mailboxes, and the always cool Machine Project art gallery in Los Angeles is throwing a party to celebrate!

Things get underway at 8 this Saturday night. Mark Allen, the indefatigable director of Machine Project, has a great evening planned, including Jed Berk talking about autonomous flocking behavior in robotic blimps, and Make editor Mark Frauenfelder (who's also one fourth of boing boing) will be there to chat about the new issue and all things Make related. Stop by and say Hi! (Extra style points if you bring some throwies!)

Machine Project is located at:
1200 D North Alvarado Street
Los Angeles, CA 90026
213-483-8761

Here's a map.


Posted by Chris Spurgeon at 12:25 AM | Comments (0)

August 09, 2006

Fallen Astronaut

photo of Fallen Astronaut

Over at The Kircher Society website I was reminded of one of the less well-known events in the manned space program, the placement of Fallen Astronaut.

In July 1971, the crew of Apollo 15 placed on the surface of the Moon a three inch tall metal sculpture of an astronaut, accompanied by a small aluminum sign bearing the names of the 14 astronauts and cosmonauts who had died up to that point in space or in training for space. (*)

Fallen Astronaut was the work of Belgian artist Paul Van Hoeydonck, and it's been labeled as "the only work of art on the Moon". I don't think I buy that, I think the Moon is covered with art... there's the iconic American flag, there's the austere abstract sculptures of the base stages of the lunar modules, hell you could argue that making the first human footprint in the dust of the Moon is one of the greatest works of conceptual art in history.

But Fallen Astronaut may just be the smallest memorial art ever created. I certainly can't think of any other memorial that's only three inches tall. And yet somehow the tiny size strikes me as exactly right. Space is a huge place, and we humans are such a tiny part of it, it seems completely appropriate that this memorial is a tiny thing placed at a tiny spot on a minor planetoid.

You can see a blow-up of the NASA image of Fallen Astronaut here.

(*) The number of astronauts and cosmonauts who have died for the cause of space flight has now risen to 28, due to the Challenger and Columbia disasters.

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

August 08, 2006

Eames film festival, coming to a DWR near you

photo of Charles and Ray Eames

If they did nothing else but create their chair, the husband and wife team of Charles and Ray Eames would still have a secure place in the world of design. But they did so much more...everything from creating custom fabrics to inventing multimedia presentations to designing one of the landmark homes of the 20th century to producing a large selection of brilliant and beautiful short films. It's that film aspect of their work that's being celebrated with a series of free screenings at Design Within Reach furniture stores all across the country.

DWR will be showing seven Eames short films, including their masterpiece, The Powers of Ten. I think The Powers of Ten is the greatest science film ever made, and I know a number of people who count seeing it for the first time as one of the most influential events in their life.. it certainly was for me. (A couple of years ago I did an appreciation of the film for the public radio program Studio360. You can listen to it here).

If you're like me you can't afford to breathe the air in a DWR store, much less actually buy a piece of furniture there, but don't let that stop you, everyone is welcome. Spend an evening watching the Eames films, and leave with a blown mind. (Check this page on their website to see when the screening is happening in your area).

Posted by Chris Spurgeon at 04:38 AM | Comments (0)

August 07, 2006

Helvetica: The Movie!

If this were April 1st, you'd think I was making this up, but they really are making a movie about a font... the documentary film Helvetica is scheduled for release next year.

Actually, this movie sounds really great! Here's a description from the movie's website:

Helvetica is a feature-length independent film about typography, graphic design and global visual culture. It looks at the proliferation of one typeface (which will celebrate its 50th birthday in 2007) as part of a larger conversation about the way type affects our lives. The film is an exploration of urban spaces in major cities and the type that inhabits them, and a fluid discussion with renowned designers about the choices and aesthetics behind their use of type.

Visual design shapes our lives, and this deceptively simple font has been one of the most-used visual design tools in history. (You'll probably see things written in Helvetica a hundred times today). Who wants to come with me opening night?

Posted by Chris Spurgeon at 12:07 PM | Comments (0)

Pictographs for Beijing Olympics unveiled

olympic archery pictograph

The summer Olympics are still a couple of years away, but when it comes to the graphic design of the Games, today marks one of the big milestones. The Beijing Organizing Committee for the Games of the XXIX Olympiad (that's quite a mouthful!), the folks in charge of the 2008 Beijing Olympics, just released the pictographs they'll use to indicate the various sports.

The creation of these pictographs (you can see them all here) is one of the dream gigs in all of graphic design. This time the pictographs are influenced by inscriptions on bones and bronze objects in ancient China.

It's interesting to see how the pictographs of the various Olympics mirror the changes in graphic design in general. You can compare samples from the last 40 years of Olympics here.

Posted by Chris Spurgeon at 09:26 AM | Comments (0)

August 06, 2006

Manhole covers of Japan

Japanese manhole cover

A brief bit o' unexpected beauty for your weekend... check out this photo gallery of Japanese manhole covers.

Posted by Chris Spurgeon at 08:35 AM | Comments (0)

August 05, 2006

Keep your stinking IP laws off my mata olho!

Brazil has a wonderful rep for not just rolling over and accepting the increasingly draconian intellectual property treaties being foisted on developing nations by the first world.(*) Their latest move comes in response to a growing trend. It goes like this:

1) Brazilians spend millennia eating some great tasting Brazilian plant that's also great for your health.
2) Foreign company learns about the plant.
3) Foreign company trademarks the plant name and starts selling the plant (turned into a health drink, or shampoo, or anti-aging cream, or brain-tonic pills, or God knows what else).
4) Some poor guy in Brazil opens up a local business cooking up the plant for the locals. (He uses the plant name in his company's name). He starts a little export business selling his product.
5) He gets the pants sued off of him because some company 5,000 miles away trademarked the plant name. Never mind the fact that folks in Brazil have been calling the plant by that name forever.
6) Repeat over and over.

Brazil has now come up with a wonderfully pragmatic way to break this cycle. They've compiled a list (here's a pdf) of more than 5,000 Portuguese language names of plants, seeds, roots, etc. They've shipped the list off to the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), the World Trade Organization (WTO), and trademark offices around the world. The idea is that if all of these organizations and countries know a term is already in use they will be less likely to grant some company a trademark on it. Clever!

There's an article about all of this on the Intellectual Property Watch website.


(*) I was particularly proud of Brazil last year when they told US drug companies that they had no intention of paying overly high prices for AIDS drugs while many Brazilians were dying of the disease. They gave the drug companies a choice... offer us lower cost (Brazil translation: fairer cost) AIDS drugs or we'll break your patents and just make our own generic versions.

Posted by Chris Spurgeon at 06:16 AM | Comments (2)

August 04, 2006

Does a parasite shape your country's personality?

Toxoplasma gondii parasites. Photo by Ke Hu and John Murray

When it comes to biology, there is nothing...and I mean NOTHING...weirder than parasitology. The latest proof comes from researcher Kevin D. Lafferty, at UC Santa Barbara. According to Lafferty's paper in the Proceedings of the Royal Society, some of the cliché differences between cultures ("You French are so neurotic!"You Japanese work so much." "You Americans are so loud and impolite.") may be partially caused by the parasitic protozoa Toxoplasma gondIii.

Toxoplasma often infects cats and other mammals, including humans. In humans, infection may cause some mild flu-like symptoms (often it causes no symptoms at all), but in small mammals like mice and rats it can cause significant behavioral changes. For instance, infected rats lose their fear of cats, making them easy prey (and thereby allowing the parasite to spread to the cat). There's long been speculation that Toxoplasmosis infection can also alter the brains of humans. For instance, people with Toxoplasma tend to be more self-doubting and insecure.

What Lafferty's done is to look at the rate of Toxoplasma infection in different countries (4% in Korea, 67% in Brazil) and compare it with psychologist's measures of traits like risk-adversion in different countries. And it turns out there is significant correlation.

Want to read more about the study? Seed Magazine writer Carl Zimmer has a great write-up on the study on his blog. By the way, Zimmer's book, Parasite Rex is a great introduction to parasites and their world.

(Toxoplasma photo by Ke Hu and John Murray)

Posted by Chris Spurgeon at 06:07 PM | Comments (0)

Ping Pong Pixel

photo of ping pong pixel

The best money I ever spent was the time I got 500 ping pong balls on eBay for ten bucks (there is no better way to entertain a five year old than to pour 500 ping pong balls down a flight of stairs while they are laying at the bottom).

So I was immediately tickled to death when I saw PingPongPixel, an art installation by a couple of students at the University of Leiden. They built this wonderful Rube Goldberg-esque contraption that uses six different colored ping pong balls as pixels to build giant images. As a new row of balls drops in from the top, the row at the bottom falls away, so the image slowly crawls down the display.

[Thanks information aesthetics]

Posted by Chris Spurgeon at 06:15 AM | Comments (0)

Imaginary worlds part 2

image from Urville

Urville is the extraordinary creation of Gilles Trehin, a 34 year old French man with autism. For more than 20 years, Trehin has been creating Urville out of his imagination...he's made hundreds of meticulously detailed drawings of the city, and developed a full economic, historical, and geographic profile of it:

URVILLE is located in the southern part of the Phoenician Island (3 022 km2), main island of the Insular Province archipelago, which is also constituted of Sloop Island at the north east (306 km2), and Sarrasin Island at the west (103 km2).

(...) The city of URVILLE is watered by the Sea Horse River which takes it's spring at Vaux des Hippocampes (98W), Ecrantes River which takes it's spring at Saint Philippe des Ecrantes (98E), and Fougueyron River which takes it's spring at Valounet (98E), these 3 rivers and ends at Bacrouge's Harbour.

All of this information (and believe me, there's a lot) can be seen on The Urville website. There are also many, many images. If you want a more lasting record, I suggest you pick up a copy of the Urville book.

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Posted by Chris Spurgeon at 01:26 AM | Comments (1)

Imaginary worlds part 1

image from Sean Hillen's Irelantis

I've come across a couple of extraordinary imaginary worlds recently. Sean Hillen uses precise (sometimes using scalpel and tweezers) paper collage to mix postcard scenes of Ireland with photographic images of Greek ruins and Venetian canal life to create a fantasy land he calls Irelantis.

You can see many more images from Irelantis at the Irelantis web site.

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

August 02, 2006

Online gallery of gamers and their avatars

photo of gamer and his avatar

As far back as the New Yorker's famous "On the Internet, nobody knows you're a dog" cartoon, we've been fascinated by the differences between who we are in real life and who we are on-line (MIT's Sherry Turkle has made a brilliant career out of examining those differences).

A German website has added to this area of interest with a fascinating photo gallery of online gamers and their avatars. Amazing to see how we choose to present ourselves when we can look like anything. (Click on the "zuruck" and "weiter" links in the upper right to advance through the gallery).

Thanks to both we-make-money-not-art and Iain Tait for pointing me at this.

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Posted by Chris Spurgeon at 05:13 AM | Comments (0)

August 01, 2006

Steven Johnson's new son sets sights on taking over Google

photograph of Steven Johnson and his new son, Dean

Steven Johnson, the author of several really great books (among them Everything Bad is Good For You and Emergence) became a father for the third time late last month, with the birth of his son, Dean. And now he's using his son's arrival on Earth as the basis for a bit of experimentation with Google.

Johnson has asked bloggers to link to the page announcing his son's birth, in the hopes that if enough people do it a search for "Dean" on Google will return his son's page as the first result. (Click here to see if he's made it yet). I'm happy to take part in the experiment by adding the link in this article. And would also like to say, on behalf of the entire species, thanks for increasing the genetic diversity of the planet!

Posted by Chris Spurgeon at 08:01 PM | Comments (0)

The computer interface of the future

Jeff Han demonstrating his computer interface

For me, one of the highlights of this year's O'Reilly Emerging Technology Conference was Jeff Han's amazing demonstration of his touch-driven computer interface. To see it is to be blown away by its simplicity and elegance.

Now you can see it. In addition to his appearance at ETECH, Han also demoed the interface at this year's TED Conference, and the TED folks have just posted a nine-minute video of the demo. While you're on their site, one of the best things you could do is to subscribe to the TED podcast (thoughtfully available in both audio and video flavors).

Posted by Chris Spurgeon at 05:39 AM | Comments (0)