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February 29, 2008

Email apnea

photo of woman reading email by maloukh. Available under CC license at http://www.flickr.com/photos/75636517@N00/339062727/

Every time I open my email, I hold my breath. It's a mix of apprehension (Is there something in there from a boss? An ex-girlfriend? A bill collector?), curiosity (Is thinkgeek having a sale?), and the disorder that's about to be injected into my life (Which email to answer first? Which emails can be answered later or ignored entirely?). It turns out I'm not alone.

Linda Stone, who spends a lot of time thinking about how computers effect our lives, has noticed this same breath-holding behavior in lots of people when they first fire up their email clients. She calls it email apnea, and after speaking with a number of physiologists, she worries that it can have significant physical consequences.

I called Dr. Margaret Chesney, at the National Institute of Health (NIH). Research conducted by Dr. Margaret Chesney and NIH research scientist Dr. David Anderson demonstrated that breath-holding contributes significantly to stress-related diseases. The body becomes acidic, the kidneys begin to re-absorb sodium, and as the oxygen (O2), carbon dioxide (CO2), and nitric oxide (NO) balance is undermined, our biochemistry is thrown off.

Stone says there's strong evidence that these effects can directly lead to problems like obesity, high cholesterol, and diabetes. She also predicts that while controlled breathing exercises have long been a part of &auot;alternative" health techniques like yoga, we're about to see breathing exercises hit the mainstream fitness world.

Read her thoughts about it on O'Reilly Radar.

Posted by Chris Spurgeon at 06:27 AM | Comments (0)

February 28, 2008

Why Americans don't care about other countries

screenshot from Alisa Miller's TED talk

The uber-exclusive and influential TED Conference is underway in Monterey, California with once again a cavalcade of brilliant thinkers from the worlds of art, science, culture, business and politics.

Among this morning's speakers was Alisa Miller, the head of Public Radio International, one of the companies that makes shows for public radio stations.(*) She laid out some of the reasons behind the huge drop of foreign news coverage in the US, a trend with profound ethical, economic, and even security implications. Miller's put the talk online. Watch it and weep for the future of our country.

Interested in more TED coverage? Lots of people are live blogging the event.

(*)Disclaimer: I worked for many years in public radio (though never for PRI) before leaving in disgust, having decided that an industry whose business model depends largely on seducing people into believing you're more idealistic and innovative than you really are is an industry I'm well rid of).

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Posted by Chris Spurgeon at 01:14 PM | Comments (0)

February 26, 2008

The (type) face of Barack Obama

Barack Obama

As viewers of the brilliant documentary Helvetica know, typographic design choices can have a powerful influence on our perceptions, and even our emotions. Barack Obama's campaign knows this, as evidenced in the thought they put into the design of the large "Change We Can Believe In" signs at Obama rallies.

Those signs are written in a font called Gotham, designed by Jonathan Hoefler and Tobias Frere-Jones for GQ Magazine (look at the cover of GQ, and you'll recognize it right away).

The DVD version of Helvetica has an interview with Hoefler and Frere-Jones where they talk about some of the design decisions that went into the creation of Gotham. In their words, "GQ had a dual agenda of wanting something that would look very fresh, yet very established, to have a credible voice to it."

There's a video excerpt of the interview on the Helvetica website.

Posted by Chris Spurgeon at 10:56 PM | Comments (0)

February 12, 2008

Top 10 off switches

off switch

Let us now praise simple devices... the little, ubiquitous objects that underly our technological lives. Case in point: The UK version of CNET has a has a sweet little piece titled The Top Ten Off Switches...

In the last ten years, the off switch has seen something of a decline, being replaced by its trendier sibling, the standby button. But we miss good old offy -- his sturdy construction and good humour were a welcome break from the monotony of day-to-day life.

Check out the article and see if your favorite off switch makes their list.

Posted by Chris Spurgeon at 11:53 PM | Comments (0)

February 07, 2008

Oh Noes! No more Polaroid film!

photo of an SX-70 camera

Maybe I'm just getting old, but these days it just seems like the the end of one era after another. The latest change to cut me to the quick is Polaroid's announcement that they're going to stop making instant film. Once upon a time, Polaroid camera were THE BOMB. "You mean you can see the picture right away, without having to have the film developed? It's a miracle!"

And then, in the early 1970s when the SX-70 camera came out, it was hailed as a stunning technical achievement. But the rise of digital photography has made instant developing chemical-based film an anachronism. Nothing lasts forever I guess. Meanwhile, I'll be scrambling to buy up a bunch of film for my vintage SX-70.

By the way, all of this is a perfect excuse to watch this mashed up SX-70 video. It's from a demo film of the camera made in the early 70s by the great design team of Charles and Ray Eames. But here the original soundtrack has been stripped out and replaced by the punk band The Cramps performing "Garbageman". Why? I have no idea. But it works.

Posted by Chris Spurgeon at 04:25 PM | Comments (0)

February 06, 2008

How do you say goodbye in Eyak?

native Eyak speaker Marie Smith Jones

The world got a little bit less interesting last month, with the passing of an 89 year old Alaskan woman named Marie Smith Jones. Smith Jones was the last full-blooded member of the Eyak tribe, and the last native speaker of the Eyak language. And as such, she was a living example of a global concern.

All around the world, languages are dying out, falling victim to the forces of globalization. According to some estimates another language disappears every two weeks.

Why care? Well, according to the National Science Foundation there are plenty of reasons. For instance, by studying the variation in human language we gain valuable insight into the workings of the brain. But perhaps more profoundly, individual languages are repositories for the values and world-views of the cultures that speak them. Don't believe me? Check out this talk by National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence Wade Davis.

The BBC website has this obit of Marie Smith Jones. Also, National Public Radio aired a brief obit of Smith Jones last month that features of few seconds of her speaking Eyak.

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

February 05, 2008

Senz umbrellas

Senz umbrella

The umbrella is thousands of years old. Which means thousands of years of people cursing in frustration and throwing their umbrellas in the trash in disgust when they flip inside out or rip apart in the wind.

Now it looks like someone's finally come up with an umbrella that not only survives a strong breeze, but delights in it. The Senz Umbrella has an asymetrical airfoil shape that causes it to automatically lean into the wind, instead of flipping backwards when hit with a gust.

They're available in Europe, and in the US via the Totes website. They ain't cheap (about $55) but it may just be the last umbrella you ever buy.

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

February 04, 2008

Making A Better Erotic Movie

photo of Jennifer Lyon Bell

Earlier this year British marketing strategist Russell Davies was all set to attend the uber-exclusive TED Conference in California. But then he realized that for the cost of attending TED, he could stage his own mini-TED type conference, filled with all sorts of interesting people.

The conference, called Interesting 2007, happened last June in London, and now Russell has put videos of lots of the presentations online.

Which brings me to my favorite talk of Interesting2007, Jennifer Lyon Bell's 9 Tips For Making A Better Erotic Movie. Bell's a film-maker based in Amsterdam who specializes in erotic films. It's a business with an amazing assortment of special considerations and requirements... everything from do you call your film "porn" or not to how to deal with cast-members' tattoos and pubic hair preferences. It's fascinating to hear how Bell and her partner deal with it all.

Here's a link to Davies pretty much safe for work video of the talk.

Posted by Chris Spurgeon at 11:18 PM | Comments (0)

February 03, 2008

The year of Solastalgia

photo under CC license. Available at http://www.flickr.com/photos/livingourdream/460109557/

It's only been a few weeks since 2007's word of the year was announced (in case your forget, the word was "w00t"), but I'm making an early prediction for this year's winner.

I think 2008's word of the year will be Solastalgia.

So what is Solastalgia? It's defined as a sense of homesickness or nostalgia one gets when still at home, because the home environment has been altered by climate change. Picture how a Swiss shepherd feels when he stares up at the Alps and remembers how... when he was a kid... the peaks were all covered with snow. What that shepherd is feeling is solastalgia.

The word was coined by Glenn Albrecht, a philosopher and professor in environmental studies at the University of Newcastle in Australia. He spends a lot of time talking to people whose homelands have been devastated by things like strip mining, and he found himself searching for a word to capture the mix of nostalgia and despair that his interview subjects felt. Read about the creation of his word here.

As more and more stories are told about the human impact of climate change, expect to see the word solastalgia more and more.

(Thanks Geoff!)

Posted by Chris Spurgeon at 12:57 PM | Comments (0)

February 01, 2008

Become a polar lawyer!

photo of arctic circle

With the melting of the northern polar ice cap, the coming decades are sure to see a mad dash to claim the territories (and natural resources) of the far north. But since the laws governing the polar regions are a crazy mish-mash of international treaties, centuries-old customs, indigenous tradition, and conflicting national claims figuring out who has rights to what is no easy chore.

Iceland's University of Akureyri is taking on the task, offering the world's first graduate program in Polar Law. Graduates will gain expertise in everything from the Law of the Sea to climate change to Inuit legal customs. Could be a smart career move for a budding attorney looking for some legal adventure.

Posted by Chris Spurgeon at 12:40 AM | Comments (0)