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November 30, 2006

Train station legally declared work of art

Berlin station

Berlin's massive new train station may have to be partially rebuilt, in the wake of a judge's ruling that the building is a work of art that has been "defaced" by its owner.

The station's architect, Meinhard von Gerkan, designed a cathedral-like vaulted ceiling for the station. The railway company that owns the station decided that ceiling cost too much, so they stuck in a dull, crappy looking flat metal ceiling instead. von Gerkan sued and the judge ruled in his favor, saying the building's design constituted a work of art that had suffered defacement at the hands of the railroad. Take that, all of you rich clients who think that paying the bills automatically makes you know what looks good.

There's an article about the ruling on the Guardian's website.

Posted by Chris Spurgeon at 06:46 PM | Comments (0)

Sculptor Stacy Levy

image from Stacy Levy's Blue Lake

I'm delighted to discover that my dear friend Stacy Levy has made the cover of Sculpture magazine! This is some well-deserved acknowledgment for a superbly talented artist.

Levy's work explores the natural world, taking phenomena that that are normally invisible to we humans and showing them to us with scientific clarity and artistic beauty...not surprising for someone who studied both art and forestry in college and then went on to run her own environmental restoration business.

Sculpture Magazine has the first couple of paragraphs of their cover article on their website, but you'll have to spring for the magazine for the full thing. You can see many photos of Levy's work on her website, stacylevy.com.

Posted by Chris Spurgeon at 06:02 PM | Comments (1)

November 28, 2006

The coolest night school class in the solar system

artist rendering of the Cassini spacecraft orbiting Saturn

If you happen to live in the Southern California, you have the opportunity to take the single coolest continuing ed class in the solar system, the Art Center College of Design's Basics of Interplanetary Flight.

JPL engineer Dave Doody, whose day job is being in charge of communicating with the Cassini spacecraft, teaches the class. (I don't care how cool your job is, talking to a spaceship that's orbiting Saturn is cooler). Doody walks you through what it actually takes to design, build, and fly a spacecraft to another planet. I took the course last year, and it was a total blast! (And don't worry, the class is for general audiences, no need to be a science or math major).

The class is being put on my the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, CA, and begins January 18th. Full details here.

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

Adobe's kuler color picker

Adobe kuler screenshot

Adobe has created a very elegant free online tool designed to help you create color themes. There's a full set of easy to use controls that let you create themes based on standard color rules (triad, analogous, etc.) or completely free-form. Once you've created a color theme you can download it as an Adobe swatch, save them online, and email them to friends. Play with it at kuler.adobe.com.


Posted by Chris Spurgeon at 06:35 PM | Comments (0)

November 26, 2006

Daily monster

still image from Stefan Bucher's Daily Monster series

There are lots of daily online video obsessives out there...people who can't survive a day without a dose of ZeFrank or Rocketboom.

Me, I'm obsessed with Daily Monster. Each day L.A. based graphic designer Stefan G. Bucher films himself drawing a pen and ink monster, and posts a time-lapse video of the process.

Posted by Chris Spurgeon at 08:47 AM | Comments (0)

Hello Boston Globe readers!

Boston Globe logo

A quick "Hello!" to those of you who have reached this blog via my piece in the Ideas section of The Boston Globe.

I'll be writing from time to time for the Globe, presenting trends in the worlds of technology and design that I find particularly significant or interesting. (Today's piece is on the rise of Intelligence Augmentation...computer programs that use actual human intelligence).

Here on my blog, I discuss many of the same types of issues, plus point out art, design and science items that just strike my fancy. Hope you enjoy it!

Posted by Chris Spurgeon at 12:04 AM | Comments (4)

November 25, 2006

Dekotora my ride

dekotora image

Forget West Coast Customs and Pimp My Ride, the most tricked out vehicles on earth are the Japanese trucks known as dekotora ("decoration trucks"). These things have more lights and colors than a pachinko machine in the middle of the Ginza...they have to be seen to be believed.

The Pink Tentacle blog has just posted links to several on-line Dekotora photo galleries. (Some of the links are in Japanese, but hey, that's part of the fun!)


Posted by Chris Spurgeon at 11:44 PM | Comments (0)

No more misplacing your flash drive

photo of flash drive bowling ball

close-up of flash drive bowling ballFlash drives are getting smaller and smaller, and at the same time their capacity keeps getting bigger and bigger. All of this means the chances of losing your flash drive, and of that loss being disastrous, keeps rising.

To guard against that, I've taken the clever step of embedding my flash drive into a regulation sixteen pound bowling ball. Let's see if I send that through the laundry by mistake!

Posted by Chris Spurgeon at 05:28 PM | Comments (88)

November 24, 2006

Bert Simons' head

Bert Simons self-portrait in paper

Dutch artist Bert Simons decided to do a self-portrait. So he covered his face with reference dots, photographed his face from various angles, did a lot of headache-inducing calculations, created more than 100 images of various facets of his face, printed them out, and finally glued them all together to come up with the bust you see above. See his website for the full process.

If you want your own Bert Simons head, he's created this pdf of all the parts. Print it out, then grab your scissors and glue and get to work.

Posted by Chris Spurgeon at 11:07 PM | Comments (0)

Time for another revolution

teamaware jersey

Remember how starting about 25 years ago the rise of the personal computer changed our lives, altering and effecting almost every aspect of, well, everything?

Well, buckle your seat-belt, Dorothy, 'cause Kansas is going bye-bye. Again. This next revolution is coming in the field of clothing & garments. It's being driven by simultaneous innovation in three different fields...polymer chemistry, which is making it easier to design materials like fabrics to order with exactly the traits you want...nanotechnology, which is opening up the possibility of endowing fabrics with weird and wonderful characteristics (check out this umbrella that never gets wet or dirty)...and embedded electronic systems which can be comfortably and reliably integrated with clothing (Lumalive fabric is just one example).

Independent designers and academic researchers are having a field day playing with all of this stuff (pictured above is the TeamAware basketball uniform with built-in player stats.) Right now these innovations are showing up in term projects and avant-garde fashion shows. Give things another few years and your local mall will be filled with them.


Posted by Chris Spurgeon at 08:31 AM | Comments (0)

Mystery of the Antikythera solved! (so they say)

photo of the Antikythera Mechanism

In another week or so, there's going to be a conference in Greece about one of the most mysterious machines in all of human history... the Antikythera Mechanism. The Mechanism is a heavily encrusted collection of gears found a century ago off the coast of Greece at the site of an ancient shipwreck. With a creation date of approximately 80 B.C., it's one of the world's oldest known geared devices. It appears to be some sort of astronomical calculator, used for figuring out the position of the planets, but there's no definitive proof of that.

CT scan of the Antikythera MechanismBut now researchers say they've sussed out the purpose of the Mechanism! They're keeping mum about their findings, waiting for the conference to unveil their conclusions. But there is a bit of a preview contained in an article in Network World.

If you want to get the latest on the Mechanism (and you aren't planning on a trip to Greece at the end of November) you can sign up for the Antikythera Mechanism Research Project's mailing list.

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

November 20, 2006

Is driving safer without traffic signs?

traffic signs

Right now in Europe, several cities are testing a counter-intuitive idea...that removing all of a town's traffic signs can actually make driving safer. The theory is that the thicket of traffic signs lulls drivers into a false sense of security...you don't check for oncoming traffic if oncoming traffic has a stop sign, you trust that they'll see the sign and obey it. But if you don't know what the hell might happen at the intersection, you'll proceed with caution.

So the European Union is trying out the theory in 7 cities, towns and rural areas, pulling out traffic signs and stop lights, erasing highway lines, even removing no parking zones. Proponents of the plan attending a conference called "Unsafe is Safe" in Frankfurt last month say things are going well...drivers are both safer and more courteous.

But not everyone is convinced. Detractors worry that removing traffic signs could turn well-ordered western European driving into something like this intersection in India.

There's an article about the idea (in English) in the German Spiegel magazine.


Posted by Chris Spurgeon at 11:16 PM | Comments (1)

Inventing by sketching

early sketch of the Brannock shoe fitting device

The Smithsonian's National Museum of American History has a great on-line mini-exhibit showing the original sketches and doodles that eventually led to commercial products. Pictured above, Charles Brannock's early design sketch for the foot measuring device that is part of every kid's shoe store in the universe.

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

November 19, 2006

Sprouting business card

Tur & Partner business card

The business card for the Swiss landscape architecture firm Tur & Partner is an example of their practice writ small. Water the card and in a few days seeds embedded within the card begin to sprout. (I wonder if they have to always give clients two cards... one to water and one to keep.

Thanks once again to Geoff Manaugh's BLDGBLOG, which is constant source of interest.

My business cards don't grow or glow or change color or anything, but they are clever and clear and beautiful. They're the work of L.A. designer/photographer Nicholas Ashbaugh.

Posted by Chris Spurgeon at 08:18 AM | Comments (1)

November 18, 2006

The beginning of the long end of the wristwatch

photo of Kienzle watch

The 20th century was the century in which the wristwatch was born(*), but it looks like the 21st century may be the century in which the wristwatch dies. According to a survey by watchmaker Seiko, only 46% of people wear wristwatches today, down from 70% only a decade ago. They say the drop is because of more and more people using the clocks on their cellphones as their primary personal timekeeper.

That makes sense I guess, but I'll miss the wild and wonderful variation in wristwatch design. Want to see what I mean? Take a look at The Watchismo Times.

(*) Actually, the first commercial wristwatches hit the market just before the end of the 19th century, but wristwatches really took off a decade later during World War I.

Posted by Chris Spurgeon at 10:24 PM | Comments (1)

Coming in December: UGLYCON!

uglydoll image

L.A.'s known for lots of inventions..the freeway, talkies, the Eames chair, the artificial breast...but I say the best L.A. invention is Sun-Min Kim and David Horvath's creation, the Uglydoll. Since the pair made the first Uglydoll back in 2001 they've become a bona-fide phenomenon. The next stage in Uglydoll world domination happens on December 9th, when L.A.'s Giant Robot store sponsors UGLYCON. Uglydoll costume contest, Uglydoll slideshow, one of a kind Uglydolls, and lots more!

Complete details here.


Posted by Chris Spurgeon at 09:34 PM | Comments (0)

November 17, 2006

The amazinng multi-colored solar system

planetary image from USGS

A little bit of beauty for your weekend. This image looks like an abstract mosaic, maybe a Peter Max print, but it's actually a serious bit of science. It's a geologic map of the Southern hemisphere of Mars, with the different colors representing the different rock types.

This image is just one of a series of renderings of the planets by the USGS Astrogeology Research Program. Their website has high resolution images of several planets and satellites. They are drop-dead gorgeous, with dazzling colors and amazing patterns.

Don't want to download the large-format inches right away? The Pruned blog has a collection of the images online.

Posted by Chris Spurgeon at 08:10 PM | Comments (0)

November 15, 2006

Animals on the Underground

image from animals on the underground

Since its creation by Harry Beck in 1933, the London Underground map has become an icon of graphic design, and an invaluable aide to millions of London commuters. But who knew it also contained hidden symbols? Paul Middlewick knew.

Seventeen years ago, he spotted the outline of a cartoon elephant amid the lines of the Underground Map. Several more animals have been found since, and they're all collected on a sweet little website called Animals on the Underground.

Posted by Chris Spurgeon at 06:16 AM | Comments (0)

November 13, 2006

Transistor radio museum

image from Sarah Lowrey's transistor radio collection

Sure, these days you're all into your iPod, but a generation or so you would have been all agog about your new, state of the art transistor radio. These days it's hard to even find a transistor radio, but they used to be the pinnacle of consumer design and electronics.

Sarah Lowrey is keeping the memory of the transistor radio alive, with an astonishing collection of more than 1,000 models, all photographed and catalogued on her website. It's a tremendous window into mid-century industrial design. Check it out at transistor.org.


Posted by Chris Spurgeon at 09:53 PM | Comments (1)

Customized chocolate

cocoalocoa chocolate

Dying to know what to get me for Christmas?(*) You could do a lot worse than the ultra-high end Cocoa Locoa Bespoke Chocolate Service. For a $250 to $450 fee, master chocolatier Karalee LaRochelle meets with you to learn about your personal chocolate preferences, and then designs and creates a selection of custom chocolates that precisely match your needs and desires. (The finished chocolates themselves cost $1.50 each).

[Thanks Cool Hunting]

(*) Not bloody likely, but worth a try.


Posted by Chris Spurgeon at 09:11 PM | Comments (0)

November 12, 2006

Every channel on TV

Russell Davies shot of a TV screen

Trapped in the nether-world of a strange hotel in a strange city? It's a perfect opportunity to do a little post-modern chronicling of your condition by photographing every channel on your hotel room TV.

Post them on flickr with the tags TV and hotel and in no time you'll have an alternative diary of your life on the road.

[Thanks to Russell Davies for the idea.]


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

November 11, 2006

Need an extra hand?

image of Shadow Robot's shadow hand

OK, bad joke. But if you do need an extra hand, you gotta check out the Shadow Hand, by the UK-based Shadow Robot Company. It's an amazingly sophisticated device, with 24 different degrees of freedom, just like a real human hand. It also has pressure feedback (so the robot hand knows how hard it's squeezing something) and enough sensitivity to pick up a single coin.

And it's just so damn cool to watch in action. The site has several videos.

Can't afford a robot hand? (And believe me, if you have to ask how much this hand costs, you can't afford it). Shadow Robot also sells an individual robotic finger, as well as the very cleverly designed (and quite inexpensive) air-powered muscles that drive the devices.


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

November 10, 2006

International symbol for breastfeeding

finalist for the breastfeeding icon contest

AIGA elevator symbolEver since the AIGA designed 50 universal travel icons (like this elevator symbol) back in the 70s, they've become part of the venacular of modern life.

But those symbols don't cover every situation. Recently Mothering magazine sponsored a contest to design a universal symbol for a breastfeeding area. Check out the 12 semi-finalists in the competition, as well as some also-rans.

The magazine will announce the winner on November 13, and release the winning image into the public domain for free worldwide use.

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

November 09, 2006

The best political ad in the history of the world

still image from Lopez Murphy political ad

After the last few months I wouldn't have thought it was possible, but you can create a political ad that is stunning, beautiful, memorable, and that doesn't bash your opponent. Don't believe me? Watch this ad for Argentinean candidate Ricardo López Murphy.

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

November 08, 2006

The Complaint Choir of Helsinki

The Complaints Choir of Helsinki

This is one performance I would definitely pay to see. Finnish artists Tellervo Kalleinen and Oliver Kochta-Kalleinen asked residents of Helsinki for their pet peeves (everything from annoying ring tones to people on the bus who smell). The work was then performed by the aptly named Complaint Choir of Helsinki. Check them out on this YouTube video.

Posted by Chris Spurgeon at 10:27 PM | Comments (2)

November 07, 2006

How to be interesting

coffee cup from Russell Davies blog

Russell Davies is an English advertising account planner with a great blog that often touches on the areas of inovation and creativity. Case in point, Russell's great post titled "How to be interesting". You too can become interesting, in just 10 simple steps:

4. Every week, read a magazine you’ve never read before

Interesting people are interested in all sorts of things. That means they explore all kinds of worlds, they go places they wouldn’t expect to like and work out what’s good and interesting there. An easy way to do this is with magazines. Specialist magazines let you explore the solar system of human activities from your armchair. Try it, it’s fantastic.

The whole set of suggestions is fantastic. Check it out!

Posted by Chris Spurgeon at 11:14 PM | Comments (2)

Prepare for another round of red vs. blue horror

red and blue voting districts

Today is election day in the U.S., and for graphic designers and cartographers all over the country it's a day of horror and revulsion as...just like cockroaches crawling out of a drain pipe...thousands of hideously ugly Red vs Blue maps begin to appear.

They will be everywhere in the next few days...on our TV screens, our websites, in magazines and newspapers. Each and every one of them further proof (as if further proof is needed) of why red and blue should never be used side by side.

But then it gets even worse. Many map makers decided to mix red and blue together in different proportions to represent the degree to which a voting district sways Democrat of Republican. A clever idea in theory, but one that leads to horrible crappy messes of red, blue, and purple like the one above (*). Why, on the one day when all Americans could really use great information graphics, are we subjected to this garbage?

I bet up in heaven Josef Albers spends every election day with his eyes closed.

(*) The thing that pisses me off about this so much is that there are many red-to-blue gradients that can be quite lovely, if you just pick a different intermediate color. Want to experiment? I made a gradient picker tool for you to play with.

Posted by Chris Spurgeon at 06:36 AM | Comments (4)

November 06, 2006

All hail Schott’s Almanac

images from Schott’s Almanac

Looking for the perfect way to remember 2006? Look no further than the strange and wonderful Schott’s Almanac. It's wonderfully quirky summation of 2006 (*), with straight-ahead stuff like the members of the Cabinet and who won the Stanley Cup, but also vital facts like when Fashion Week is and Seven Things Not To Be Trusted ("A strong dog" "The flattery of an enemy"). It's like an almanac meets The Museum Of Jurassic Technology.

(*) Yes, I know there's almost two months left to 2006, but don't worry, nothing much will happen.

Posted by Chris Spurgeon at 04:11 PM | Comments (0)

Ontario considers default organ donation

organ donation diagram

Many of the biggest advances in public health are the result of government legislation. For instance the 1906 creation of the Food and Drug Administration vastly reduced the flood of useless or actually harmful substances being passed off as medicines. And laws mandating vaccination of children before they could attend school has saved untold thousands of lives. (Don't believe me? Next time you meet a centigenarian, ask them about the childhood friends they lost to Typhus. Or diphtheria. Or yellow fever. Or polio.)

Now the Canadian provence of Ontario is considering legislation that would be another milestone in public health, one that would establish a "presumed consent" organ donation system. In other words, all adults in Ontario would be considered organ donors unless they specifically opt out of the program. This is the exact opposite of the current system in Canada and the U.S., where you have to specifically agree to be an organ donor. Because of that, a huge number of organs go unused after death, and a too many people die waiting for a donated organ that could save their life.

If this legislation passes it could be a real sea change event, leading to similar laws throughout Canada and even in the U.S.

There's a brief article about the legislation in the Bodyhack section of wired.com, and a longer article in the Canadian Press.

Posted by Chris Spurgeon at 12:20 PM | Comments (0)

November 05, 2006

Ads in space

MIT's Mars Gravity Biosatellite

As reported Friday in the Boston Globe, a group at MIT trying to raise funds for their satellite has decided to offer ad space on the spacecraft. They've set up a website, yournameintospace.org, where you can buy ad space for as little as 35 bucks for a one centimeter patch. (Prices depend on ad size and location on the satellite. Areas that are visible to the spacecraft's on-board camera cost more, but you get a photograph of your logo floating in space). They've also set up an area on Facebook.

This isn't the first advertising in space of course, back in 2000 Pizza Hut placed a 30-foot logo on the side of a Russian spacecraft, but this is the first time relatively low-cost, mass market advertising has been tried. Peter Barnes, writing on onthecommons.org, sees this as a disturbing harbinger of evil things to come... a not-to-distant day when space is filled with logos.

Nonsense. Earth orbit is a big place, way bigger than the entire surface of the Earth, and if slapping some "Eat at Joe's" stickers on the side of a metal box helps get that box into orbit I'm all in favor. Hell, I may even spring for an ad myself!

Posted by Chris Spurgeon at 08:03 AM | Comments (0)

November 03, 2006

Visualizing energy with STATIC!

power aware cord

What if energy was a design material, just like plastic and steel and wood? That's the premise behind STATIC!, a design project funded by the Swedish Energy Agency. They've come up with a number of interesting prototypes of ways to help consumers become more aware of their energy use. Among their ideas...

Some of these items are just prototypes, others are on the way to market. As pointed out on the Inhabitat blog, they are all indicative of a growing trend of bringing our energy use front and center in our conscious thought.

Posted by Chris Spurgeon at 10:52 PM | Comments (0)

November 02, 2006

Images from the dawn of the Apollo program

early artist rendering of the lunar module

Each month at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, CA, just down the road from where I live, there's a huge flea market. Last month I made a major score...twenty large glass slides from the dawn of the manned space program.

The slides (back then there was no Microsoft PowerPoint of course, talks were often accompanied by slides) appear to be from a presentation outlining how the U.S. could get a man on the moon. The best I can tell, the slides are from 1962 or 1963, just a year or two after President Kennedy set the goal of getting to the moon by the end of the decade.

There's some great stuff here, if I do say so myself...artist illustrations of what landing on the moon might look like, models of the lunar module prototypes, and some great weird graphs of the rise in transportation speeds and weapon destructiveness over the centuries.

I've put the slides up on flickr. Enjoy!

P.S. If you happen to be a NASA historian, I'd love it if you could shed any light on this little bit of science history.

Posted by Chris Spurgeon at 08:27 PM | Comments (5)

November 01, 2006

Mozes mob and the rise of intelligence augmentation

Mozes mob logo

Artificial intelligence... the real, hard-core type of artificial intelligence that was supposed to lead to super smart computers like HAL in 2001 or KITT on the 80s TV show Knight Rider...never quite happened the way we all thought itt would back in the 60s when A.I. was lauded as the next big thing.

A.I. may have been a dud, but I.A. is going great guns. I.A. stands for intelligence augmentation, a catch-all term for a wide variety of techniques that use actual human beings, with actual human brains, as part of computer programs. The idea is that by having a human deal with the specific parts of a problem that are difficult or impossible for a computer, but trivial for you or me, you can have a program that seems to possess real artificial intelligence.

A great example is Mozes Mob, a cell-phone based service that lets you pose free-form questions. Try it yourself! Text message a question that a human could answer easily but an autonomous computer program would have a hard time figuring out (such as "Is the weather nicer in Miami or Buffalo?" or "What was Carlton Fisk's most famous home run?&uqot;) to 66937. Behind the scenes your question is sent to a swarm of Mozes mob volunteers. One of them answers, and their response is bounced back to your cell phone, usually all in a just a few seconds.

I. A. has a lot in common with what publisher Tim O’Reilly calls the "architecture of participation". Examples of that include thousands of people coming together to create the Wikipedia, or the popular trend of tagging online articles and photos. But I.A. takes things one step further. Here the human knowledge isn’t front and center the way it is in Wikipedia, it’s automated away behind the face of the computer program... a tiny human cog, deep inside the machine.

Posted by Chris Spurgeon at 11:57 PM | Comments (1)

Wanna get married at the airport?

Say Yes and Go poster

It's tough to make a profit in the air travel business these days, but it's not just airlines that are feeling the squeeze of higher fuel prices and increased security costs, airports are too.

In an effort to bring in a bit more cash, Amsterdam's Schiphol Airport has offered a novel new service...airport based wedding packages. They offer four different wedding plans, from the quick "Say Yes and Go" where you tie the knot and then dash to catch a departing flight, to "Ticket to Paradise", where your nuptials can include your own chartered jet.

If you're ready to tie the knot airport style, check out the main Schiphol wedding website. It's in Dutch, but they also have an English summary page.

Posted by Chris Spurgeon at 11:16 PM | Comments (0)