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February 28, 2007

Say What Again

still from Jarratt Moody's Pulp Fiction

Jarratt Moody is currently a student at the Savannah College of Art and Design. He surely got an "A" for this great bit of motion typography, combining a famous passage from the movie Pulp Fiction with the Rockwell Bold type face. Watch the video (7.5 MB, 58 seconds) and smile.

(Thanks Motionographer).

Posted by Chris Spurgeon at 09:20 PM | Comments (0)

February 27, 2007

Never worry about lost keys again

NewYourKey.com logo

One of the measures of the march of civilization is the increasing number of ways in which civilization covers your ass when you screw up. Get a disease, you've got antibiotics. Get a flat tire, you've got AAA. And now, lose your keys, get new ones anytime day or night.

NewYourKey.com is a new service (so far only available in New York City) that keeps a copy of your keys. When you lose your keys, you give them a call, prove your identity, and they deliver your backup keys to you, wherever you are in the city.

They store your backup keys in a secure facility and they deliberately don't record any location information about the keys, so even if they were stolen, the thieves wouldn't know where to use them.


Posted by Chris Spurgeon at 07:36 PM | Comments (1)

Switchable mirrors

switchable mirror

The great thing about Blaine Bromwell's Product of the Week newsletter is that every seven days I'm pretty much guaranteed of learning about something that will make me go , "Oh man, that is so cool!"

This week's entry is no exception. It's a new mirror design from Japan's National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology that instantly switches from being reflective to transparent. In other words it goes from being a mirror to being clear glass and back again in the blink of an eye.

Switchable mirrors have been around for a while, but this new design will allow ones that are larger, clearer and last longer. I can't wait to see how these will be used in architecture, product design and, of course, magic.


Posted by Chris Spurgeon at 03:54 AM | Comments (0)

February 25, 2007

Retro-future visions of space stations

artist rendering of a space colony

Here's a quick bit of beauty for your weekend. Back in the 70s, NASA commissioned paintings of what future space colonies might look like. Now they've released more than a dozen of these gorgeous paintings into the public domain. While it looks like it's going to be quite a while before we're all living in giant spinning rings gently circling the globe (hell, we still can barely get humans into low earth orbit) but when we *do* get there, it's going to look amazing.

P.S. If you like these images, you may enjoy these images I found from the dawn of the Apollo program.

(Thanks Paleo-future).

Posted by Chris Spurgeon at 08:38 AM | Comments (1)

February 23, 2007

Accomplished people more likely to fail under stress

photo of a kid under stress. Photo by Nick Dimmock/flickr.com. Available at http://www.flickr.com/photos/nickdimmock/37923869/

Are you a highly motivated, highly intelligent, highly accomplished person who... despite all of that... totally screws up at EXACTLY the wrong moment? Well, it turns out there's a reason for that. According to research out of the University of Chicago, when faced with a problem highly accomplished people rely on their memories of past experiences more than less accomplished folks. That makes sense... folks who have a lot of past success probably have more memories of having successfully solved past problems. But here's the rub -- in times of great stress the part of the brain that grabs past memories and uses those experiences as a springboard to solving current problems doesn't work all that well...the feeling of stress can kind of overwhelm the memory recall process. As a result the mechanism that serves you so well most of the time craps out just when you're counting on it the most. Meanwhile, less accomplished people more often use other problem solving techniques, ones that work just as well in times of stress.

Ya gotta love the irony.

There's a write-up of the study on Eureka Alert.

(Photo: Nick Dimmock/flickr.com)


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

February 22, 2007

The sound of the world

wave image by emrld_cicada/flickr.com. Available at http://www.flickr.com/photos/39682836@N00/296584004/

You can't hear it, but the Earth is constantly singing. There is a constant hum right around 10 millihertz that can be heard (with the right instruments) anywhere on Earth, 24 hours a day.

So, the obvious question is, what's making that noise? Scientists have had lots of theories (earthquakes, noise from lightning strikes, wind rushing through mountain passes). Now a couple of researchers at Columbia University in New York have sussed it out.

It turns out the sound is caused by waves hitting shorelines all around the world. As waves rush in and then flow out, there are points where crests of waves coincide. At those points the water slams down against the ocean floor. Ceaselessly repeat that process all around the world's coastlines and you'll build up sound that carries all through the Earth.

There's an article about it on the New Scientist website.

(Thanks BLDGBLOG) (Photo: emrld_cicada/flickr.com).

Posted by Chris Spurgeon at 12:49 PM | Comments (0)

February 21, 2007

Recording the Beatles

Recording the Beatles book

If you are a hard core...and I mean HARD CORE...Beatles fan, then start saving up your dimes. There's a new, $100, book about how the Beatles went about recording and mixing all off their tunes. It's called...cleverly..."Recording the Beatles" and it looks drop-dead gorgeous. It's also chocked full with audio geeky goodness, things like which microphone Paul McCartney used to record &Blackbird" and how they got that cool jangley piano sound in "Rocky Raccoon".

It's not available in stores, but it is for sale online from Curvebender Publishing.

Posted by Chris Spurgeon at 02:14 PM | Comments (0)

Habitat turns 40

photo of Habitat'67

It turns out this is the 40th anniversary of one of North America's coolest bits of architecture, the Habitat'67 housing project in Montreal. The project, created for the Expo '67 World's Fair (hey, whatever happened to World's Fairs anyway? It turns out there's an international organization that sanctions World's Fairs.)

Habitat is built out of pre-cast concrete modules that hook together in a wide variety of combinations. Think of it as LEGO blocks on steroids. Each apartment in the complex is made up of one or more modules (the biggest apartment is an eight-module palace). The modules are cleverly designed, with flooring, cabling and plumbing, etc., cast right in.

The finished structures are surprisingly livable...even the single module apartments have a balcony and a street entrance. And taken as a whole the entire structure has a great, crinkly, look to it.

The official website for Habitat '67 appears to be a truly awful one by McGill University. There's also a write-up about it on Great Buildings Online. Interested in living there? The Habitat '67 management company would love to talk with you.

Posted by Chris Spurgeon at 01:33 PM | Comments (0)

February 19, 2007

Order of the Science Scouts

Some of Science Creative Quarterly's merit badge

Like lots of kids in America, I had a brief, unpleasant stint in the Boy Scouts (I don't mean I got sexually assaulted by a scoutmaster or anything, I just mean I wasn't all that into taking part in fake Indian drumming ceremonies or picking up litter at neighborhood parks, or being hazed by troop members who had a maniacal jones on to get to Eagle Scout).

But I'm completely excited about The Order Of The Science Scouts Of Exemplary Repute And Above Average Physique, a re-imagining of the Boy Scouts created by the folks at The Science Creative Quarterly blog. They've created a funny series of merit badges acknowledging specialized and arcane branches of scientific skill.

Above are some of the merit badges I've qualified for over the years. I'm particularly proud of the level II ice-cube, which means that I've frozen things in dry ice just to see what would happen; and the one in the upper right, indicating that I have laboratory experience extracting semen from more than one species.

Got a suggestion for a science merit badge? Tell Science Creative Quarterly about it.

Posted by Chris Spurgeon at 01:21 PM | Comments (0)

Roll your own winter

image from the www.backyardblizzard.com website

Cool article in today's New York Times about people who have bought their own snow-making equipment and churn out their own big-ass piles of snow. Why? If you have to ask, you just wouldn't understand.


Posted by Chris Spurgeon at 09:15 AM | Comments (0)

February 18, 2007


screenshot from the Washington Post's onBeing feature

The Washington Post has rolled out a beautiful new feature called onBeing. In it. people from all walks of life talk about their lives, their hopes and their dreams. It's well worth a visit.

onBeing is the first new feature rolled out at the Washington Post website since Rob Curley took over as head of the web team there. Curley is a bit of a legend in the world of newspaper websites, having been responsible for some of the most innovative websites around. He's also a great speaker. For instance, check out the podcast of Curley recounting the work he did at the Lawrence Journal.

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

February 17, 2007

Invent the next generation of the wiki

page from wikipedia

The extraordinary success of wikipedia has not been lost on the scientific community. (After all, what is science if not the collaborative writing of knowledge?)

The National Science Foundation has just awarded $200,000 to the University of Colorado looking for someone to invent the next generation of wiki... one that will allow collaboration way beyond the current simple text editing. They'll demo what they come up with a year from now. Could be interesting. There's a write=up about the project on O'Reilly Radar.


Posted by Chris Spurgeon at 10:59 PM | Comments (1)

February 15, 2007

Kamon Design

Image by Keiichi Tanaami from Kamon Design

A thousand years ago Japanese families began adorning their kimonos with stylized geometric shapes called Kamon. These stylized family crests have a timeless beauty...perfect...no need to ever change them in any way.

Well, too bad bucko. Kamon have been ripped into the 21st Century in a new exhibit called Kamon Design. Five contemporary artists have re-imagined Kamon as dazzling, psychedelic super-flat displays. They kind of remind me of the great cartoons of animator Sally Cruikshank.

Kamon Design is currently on display at the CIRCLE culture GALLERY in Berlin.


Posted by Chris Spurgeon at 10:49 PM | Comments (1)

Graffitti for blind people

graffiti for the blind by SpY

Ever since I wrote an article on braille, I've been discovering all sorts of weird and interesting applications of braille text. Case in point...this work by the Spanish artist known as SpY. Using a braille label maker, SpY creates messages and leaves them in places that you can't see, but that blind people can feel. He has a number of interesting art works that play with the bounds of urban graffiti on his website.


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

February 14, 2007

Mecca to get four-level pilgrim bridge

artist rendering of the Jamarat Bridge

A while back I wrote about efforts to control pedestrian traffic at the Muslim Hajj in Mecca. The landscape architecture blog Pruned has some great illustrations of one of the new safety measures being implemented...a massive four-level bridge that will funnel the millions of pilgrims safely through their rounds.


Posted by Chris Spurgeon at 01:10 PM | Comments (0)

February 12, 2007

Make your pantry look like Lost

Lost food labels

For fanatical fans of the TV show "Lost", there's a new way to take your obsession to the next level. The Insanely Great News website offers free PDF replicas of the food labels seen inside Lost's Dharma Initiative bunkers. A bit of printing and pasting, and you can turn all of the food in your pantry into generic-looking Hanso Foundation goodies. Download the PDFs here.


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

Have a slogan!

still from haveaslogan.com

Someone (I don't know who, or anything more about this) has created a widget that you can add to any webpage. Click on it, and the cheery 50s-era ad man combines a random nasty word or phrase ("poop", "Malaria", "Dingle Berries") with a random vintage advertising slogan. Check it out at haveaslogan.com

(Thanks notcot!)

Posted by Chris Spurgeon at 08:44 PM | Comments (1)

February 11, 2007

The return of braille

close-up of a finger moving across braille text

A quick heads up that I have a piece in the Boston Globe today about the decline...and slow revival...of braille. Back in the '60s, fully 60% of blind kids learned to read braille. Now it's about a quarter of all kids. The reason for the decline, and current slow rise, is a mix of good intentions, unintended consequences, over-hyped technology, and hard-won experience.

By the way, did you know that braille has its own set of contractions, different than sighted text? I sure didn't.


Posted by Chris Spurgeon at 02:20 AM | Comments (3)

February 10, 2007

Lighting up Chicago

aerial view of the CNA Center building in Chicago

In the weeks leading up to the Super Bowl, the upper floors of the CNA Center in Chicago were transformed into giant Chicago Bears signs. The Chicago Tribune has a cool article explaining how the building's staff figured out to manipulate the lights and window blinds to create the images. It's a mix of everything from AutoCAD software to Post-it notes.

Posted by Chris Spurgeon at 08:26 AM | Comments (0)

February 09, 2007

James Joyce and Samuel Beckett go golfing

still image from Pitch 'n' Putt with Joyce 'n' Beckett

Thanks to the Boston Globe's Brainiac blog for pointing out this great short film from Ireland, imagining what might happen if writers James Joyce and Samuel Beckett decided to go golfing together. Hilarious in a kind of literary-geek sort of a way.

Here's a link to the short film on YouTube.

Posted by Chris Spurgeon at 01:02 PM | Comments (0)

Forget the film, watch the titles

still image from the opening credits of Moog

I've always thought that often the most visually arresting, most memorable part of a movie is the opening title sequence. It looks like I'm not the only one who feels that way...the Dutch film/video/art site submarine channel has just started an online title repository, called Forget the film, watch the titles!.

Right now the collection only has a dozen or so entries, but they're really nice. For instance, check out the Fizzy Eye/Nexus Production title sequence for the documentary film Moog (Pictured above). You can sign up for their mailing list and receive notification whenever a new title is added.

By the way, Submarine Channel doesn't yet have any titles by the brilliant graphic designer Saul Bass, who created the titles for Veritgo, The Godfather, North by Northwest, and many more. But if you're in the Los Angeles area, you're in luck! There's an exhibit of Bass' movie titles at the Skirball Cultural Center until April 1st.


Posted by Chris Spurgeon at 12:37 AM | Comments (0)

February 08, 2007

Writing a novel by wiki

million penguins logo

Wikipedia proved the power of free-for-all collaboration when it comes to creating an encyclopedia. But will the same process work when it comes to creating a novel? That's the question being answered by A Million Penguins, a wiki-based novel in progress.

Give it a read, tell me what you think. And if you hate it, why not log in and change it?

Posted by Chris Spurgeon at 10:44 PM | Comments (0)

February 06, 2007

Steve Jobs imagines a world without DRM

photo of Steve Jobs

Apple CEO Steve Jobs today made an extraordinary statement today. In an open letter posted on Apple's website, Jobs laid out the reasons why he thinks record companies should stop injecting their online music with anti-piracy digital rights management (DRM) software. Jobs explains how it was the music industry, not Apple, that insisted that music sold via Apple's iTunes music store be treated with DRM.

Jobs talks about the futility of the arms race between companies like Apple creating new DRM schemes and hackers cracking them, and how the music companies make millions by selling CDs...even though CDs don't have DRM.

Most amazing, Jobs says that he would happily rip all DRM out of iTunes if the music companies would agree to it. Music companies have been fighting a losing battle over DRM for years, Jobs missive may just be the first nail in the coffin.


Posted by Chris Spurgeon at 10:35 PM | Comments (0)

February 05, 2007

The man who made the most beautiful money in the world

Dutch 25 Guilder banknote

The British visual design magazine "Creative Review" has a nice little interview with Robert Deodaat Emile Oxenaar, the Dutch graphic artist who, for 20 years, designed the Netherlands' paper currency. Oxenaar's Dutch Guilder banknotes are widely considered the most beautiful paper money ever created. He also sprinkled the bills with Easter eggs...everything from little animals to his own fingerprint to the names of his girlfriends.

CR: Is it right that you included some "personal" touches on some of the notes – like a fingerprint?

Oxenaar: Yes, the fingerprint’s true. In the five guilders note I did, there's a temple in the background where the holy things are – so I hid my name there. On the 1000 guilder note, it became a "sport" for me to put things in the notes that nobody wanted there! I was very proud to have my fingerprint in this note – and it's my middle finger! It was too late when they found out and though the director saw it he said he wouldn’t stop the whole production.

Posted by Chris Spurgeon at 12:22 PM | Comments (2)

February 04, 2007

Welcome to the golden age of robot kits

a typical Pico cricket project

Being the disposable-income-laden adult with a penchant for well designed products that you are (hey, I know my audience) you are no doubt on top of things when it comes to advances in consumer electronics -- your iPhones, your slingboxes, etc. But you may have completely missed the explosion of creativity in one specific area -- electronic robot kids for kids.

A few years ago, if you were a kid who wanted to build a robot or other electronic gizmo your choices were pretty much limited to cardboard boxes and your imagination. Not anymore! Now there are all sorts of powerful electronic and robot kits...easy enough for children to use, but powerful enough for serious hacking.

Kids are already going great things with LEGO Mindstorms and the Vex robotic system).

Now there's another entry in the field, called PicoCricket, a kit specially designed to make it easy for kids to create electro-mechanical art. PicoCricket's design comes out of the Lifelong Kindergarten group at MIT's Media Lab, and they've taken a wonderfully fun, wide-ranging view of the types of things kids will do with the kit. I can't wait to see what kinds of things kids kids armed with a bunch of these things will come up with.

Posted by Chris Spurgeon at 08:39 AM | Comments (0)

February 03, 2007

Berdovsky and Stevens: radicals or posers?

photo of Stevens and Berdovsky

Taking in the gallons of ink and hours of airtime devoted to this week's Boston's Aqua Teen debacle, I note that there was endless discussion of the cultural divide between paranoid straight people who saw a circuit board covered in lights and saw a terrorist device and hip po-mo 20-somethings who immediately recognized the signs as a clever bit of viral marketing, but very little discussion of a more subtle and interesting difference of opinion.

This debate is between those who think the ATHF signs are a great bit of sticking it to the Man, and the sub-sulture of REAL guerilla and illegal artists, who have been risking arrest for years and think the whole ATHF sign-placing prank is just another example of corporate advertising perpetrated by a couple of wanna-be posers.

Props to a couple of sites who have been looking into that side of things...

BoingBoing, who brought that up in their very first post about the signs.

Weekend America's(*) web producer Neille Ilel, who discusses the illegal art vs. poser debate on Weekend America's website.

(*)Full disclosure: I work for American Public Media, which makes Weekend America.

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


screenshot of Typetalk by  Amy Papaelias

Typetalk by Amy Papaelias explores the relationship between speech, handwriting, vocabulary, and meaning. It's also a great way to kill some time at your computer when you're supposed to be doing real work.

Type a phrase into Typetalk and, depending on your settings, your text is transformed into the writing style and vocabulary of a slacker teen, a nine year old girl, a snobbish Francophile (I know, that's redundant) or a cranky kid with a crayon.

(Thanks notcot, thanks Communication Arts)


Posted by Chris Spurgeon at 06:44 AM | Comments (0)

February 02, 2007

Peace on Earth

In 1939, as the world was about to descend into war, animator Hugh Harman crafted a masterpiece. Harman's cartoon "Peace on Earth" tells the story of mankind's last war, seen through the eyes of cute forest animals. The film earned an Oscar nomination for the best animated short of the year. It also -- astonishingly -- was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.

Animator Fred Cline has an appreciation of the film and Hugh Harman's obit on his blog.

You can watch "Peace on Earth" on dailymotion.com.


Posted by Chris Spurgeon at 12:50 AM | Comments (0)

February 01, 2007

Aqua Teen Hunger Force

Aqua Teen Hunger Force sign

It's official, the terrorists have already won.

Posted by Chris Spurgeon at 11:29 PM | Comments (0)