November 30, 2008
History's Greatest Conspiracy Theories
Here's a quick supply of rabbit holes to fill out your weekend. The Telegraph newspaper in the UK has an overview of the 30 greatest conspiracy theories of all time. Take your pick...Elvis lives...the moon landings were faked...Jesus was married...AIDS was made in a lab...there's something for everyone.
Is there really a secret supply of government coffins near Atlanta?
November 29, 2008
How to do a X-Prize
Peter Diamandis is the man behind the X-Prize, the 10 million dollar prize that went to the first team to make a 3-person reusable space vehicle that could reach 100 kilometers in altitude twice in two weeks.
To say it was a success would be a tremendous understatement... 26 teams entered the competition, spending more than $100 million dollars in their attempts to win. And the flights of the winning design (by Burt Rutan) captured world-wide media attention.
Diamandis' X-Prize Foundation is building on the success of that first competion, offering X Prizes in lunar exploration, energy conservation, and medicine.
But he's not stopping there. Diamandis wants to launch mega X-Prizes, with purses of up to a billion dollars for solving such seemingly impossible tasks as communicating at speeds faster than light or being able to predict an earthquake.
Diamandis gave a great talk about the future of the X-Prize, as well as what it takes to start your own X-Prize type competition, a couple of months ago at The Long Now Foundation. Read about the talk, watch it, or listen to it.
How to be a designer in Japan
OK, you're a hot-shot designer in LA (you know who you are) and you'd love to make it big in that design-mecca just across the big pond, Tokyo. But how to go about it?
You could do a lot worse than start with this article from pingmag.jp. Parissa Haghirian studies how small companies fare in Japan...why some make it and others crash and burn. In this pingmag article, she lays out what to expect...
Tokyo is a very competitive place, especially for creative people; it is the hub of all business in Japan and there are many opportunities. However, most people need to find a job to make a living first and can only then slowly start to build a career in a creative field. This may take a year or two. Japanese business is extremely relationship oriented, and it therefore takes a while until a young designer has the right contacts and can earn money with his or her ideas.
November 16, 2008
Flickr and collective mapping
Right now there are almost 90-million geotagged photos on Flickr. (Geotagged photos are images with information such as the latitude and longitude where the photograph was taken). Since a huge number of those images also have some sort of geographically related descriptive information associated with them ("Me and Nancy at Independence Hall in Philadelphia", "Sundown at Malibu", "New York City", etc.) it should be theoretically possible to look at all of that data and learn where geographic boundaries are.
Which is exactly what some programmers at Flickr have done. They've generated the shapes of over 150,000 geographic areas. Now these Flickr shapes aren't always perfectly accurate (for instance, look at their shape info for the United States, pictured above) but they will get better as more and more geotagged photos are collected (and given that more and more cameras (particularly cellphone cameras) geo-tag images the number is sure to explode).
They also have shapes for more amorphous geo-designations, such as neighborhoods. (Just where *does* Beverly Hills begin and end, anyway).
Flickr (and their corporate overlords, Yahoo) are making the shapes available. They're also providing APIs to let people generate their own map shapes from image tags or descriptions. I wonder what the map based on the word "butterfly" looks like? Or"party", or "bikini", or "sleepy".
(Thanks to a tweet from mattb for the pointer.)
November 11, 2008
Google Predicts the Flu
There's no end to the cool things waiting to be discovered by analyzing search data. Case in point -- Google can detect when there's a regional outbreak of the flu before the federal government can.
By tracking the rise in users hitting Google with search terms like "flu" and "treating flu" over the past several years, the company demonstrated that the rises and falls in their search stats line up quite accurately with the Centers for Disease Control's statistics for flu cases. But the thing is, Google detects the rise in flu about two weeks before the CDC(*). Spotting a regional flu outbreak earlier can translate into actual lives saved, as health care workers can take extra precautions with at-risk patients.
Google.org, the company's non-profit arm, is making real-time flu search stats available to the public at www.google.org/flutrends . They also have a paper on the subject accepted for publication in Nature. (Here's a PDF manuscript).
Update: Here's a New York Times article on Google Flu Trends.
(*)The lag isn't because of incompetence at the CDC, it's because their flu stats are based on periodic reports from physicians around the country.
Moving the Maldives
The Maldives are a string of 1,200 islands southwest of India. The country has the geographic distinction of being the nation with the lowest high elevation, a mere six feet above sea level. Because of the current and projected rise in sea level due to global warming, combined with predicted stronger monsoons, there's a real possibility that the entire country could simply disappear under the waves. What to do?
Mohamed "Anni" Nasheed, the new president of the Maldives, is considering an extraordinary plan. He wants to move the entire nation...every man, woman, and child...to higher ground.
Nasheed is proposing using a portion of the billion dollars the Maldives takes in each year from tourism, and buying land in India, Sri Lanka, or maybe even Australia. It's unclear how much land will be needed to hold the nation's 270,000 citizens, or whether the host nation will allow another sovereign nation within its boundaries.
What is is that Nasheed take the possibility of his country washing away very seriously. Sixty-nine Maldives islands were completely submerged by a monsoon four years ago, and he thinks things will only get worse. "We do not want to end up in refugee tents if the worst happens," Nasheed says.
Here's a CNN article on the plan.
Maldives...the entire country mind you...is
November 09, 2008
It's no news that the world is one huge, interconnected marketplace, fueled by international trade, global manufacture and global demand, and an almost unimaginably vast transport infrastructure.
This year the BBC undertook a unique project to explore global trade...the took one of the ubiquitous shipping containers that are the basic unit of international commerce, marked it up with the BBC logo, slapped a GPS unit on its roof, and are tracking it as it journeys around the world.
The Box was last spotted being unloaded off a cargo ship in Shanghai. The photo above is from a BBC TV report on the box's arrival.
Fans of The Box can follow its progress on the BBC website. It's expected to hit the high seas again any day now.
Fake food factory
Maiduru spares no effort or expense when it comes to making their artificial food identical to the real thing. They often make molds of the actual dishes they're mimicking, and real ingredients are often embedded in the models.
McNicol has a write-up of his visit to Maiduru (in pdf format) on his blog.