August 24, 2009
Time Travel Posters
The coolest store in Los Angeles is a small storefront on Sunset Blvd. called The Echo Park Time Travel Mart. The Mart is fully stocked with all of those sundries that your well-equipped time skipper covets...robot milk, caveman translation books, 10,000 year calendars, you name it.
Their latest addition is a great series of time travel posters...among them the one excerpted above that reminds us that fire is both good AND bad. I'm also partial to a great poster on unintended consequences with the adage "Let's work together to keep the future INEVITABLE!"
You can see (and order) all of the posters here.
And if you're in the neighborhood, drop in. But remember, like it says on the door, if you were born on this day after 7,021, they won't sell you fire-generating products. You know why.
August 21, 2009
Join Or Die
OK, no middle of the road on this one, you're either gonna love it or you're gonna hate it.
San Francisco artist Justine Lai is in the midst of creating a series of oil paintings called "Join or Die". The series consists of self-portraits of Lai imagining herself having sex with each of the US Presidents, in chronological order. (Pictured above is Lai's tryst with the 6th President of the United States, John Quincy Adams).
Lai says she hopes the paintings will help humanize the presidency, and that the images will be seen as "playful and tender and maybe a little ambiguous".
You can judge for yourself on her website, where her first 18 paintings (Washington to Grant) are on view. (NOTE: Many of the images are not safe for work).
10 Questions for Ken Robinson
Sir Ken Robinson's life work is telling anyone who will listen how traditional educational systems all too often stifle creativity and personal growth, and how we can change that.
It's a message that resonates with a huge number of people (the video of Robinson's talk a few years ago at the TED conference is hugely popular). Recently users of the online community reddit.com had the opportunity to put questions to Sir Ken Robinson. Here's the transcript of the ten most popular questions, with his answers.
As always, Robinson's insights are profound, and his suggestions are both audacious and inspiring:
The real place to focus, initially, is on the work you do yourself. I'm always keen to say this: Education doesn't happen in the committee rooms of Washington, or London, or Paris or Berlin. It doesn't happen in government buildings. It happens in the minds of students and learners. It happens in the classroom.
If you've got a child, education then is not what's happening in the Beltway; it's what's happening in their head and body, today, in their classroom, or wherever they're being held to learn. So what I would say to teachers is: Change your own practice, today. The education your children are getting is a result of what you're doing with them.
August 20, 2009
The micro sculptures of Willard Wigan
Here's a tiny bit of astonishing beauty to get you to the weekend. British sculpture Willard Wigan has creates of works of art that are so astonishingly small that they defy belief. To Wigan, the head of a pin is a full-sized pediment, and one of his works has not one, but nine, meticulously crafted camels passing through the eye of a needle.
Wigan works with tiny hand made knives, fly hair paint brushes, and microscopes for his tools, and pieces of fluff plucked out of the air, tiny shards of glass and plastic, and spiders webbing for his materials. He typically spends weeks...sometimes months...crafting each piece, working in the space between heartbeats when his hand is steadier, and holding his breath lest he accidentally inhale one of his creations.
In a surprisingly moving talk at a TED conference this summer, Wigan recounts the difficulties he had in school, how he began spending his time making tiny houses for the ants in his yard, and how that led him to a realization of the infinite possibility of the infinitesimally small. Here's a video of his TED talk.
There's almost certainly no way you could afford one of Wigan's sculptures (he can only make a few a year, and the waiting list is a mile long) but his website does offer beautiful prints of his works for sale, such as the statue of David perched on a pin (with an aphid fly for scale).
August 18, 2009
The N-Prize dreams the (nearly) impossible dream
It's hard to get into orbit. You need to be moving really fast (typically over 17,000 miles per hour) and be really high up (at least 75 miles or so) to achieve anything approaching a stable earth orbit. Not surprisingly therefore, putting something into orbit tends to be a very expensive proposition (A typical satellite launch costs millions).
But what if it was possible to put something into orbit for a tiny fraction of the typical cost? Say...the cost of a typical laptop?
The N-Prize organizers think it may just be do-able...if the satellite is really tiny. They're running a contest to see who can put a sub-one-ounce satellite into orbit for less than about $1,500. In their words...
The N-Prize is a challenge to launch an impossibly small satellite into orbit on a ludicrously small budget, for a pitifully small cash prize.
That cash prize is £9,999.99 (about $15,000 US). But that paltry amount hasn't stopped nearly 20 teams from taking up the challenge.
Popular Mechanics has profiles of three of the teams' designs. Pictured above, Cambridge University's mad plan to get teddy bears into space.
August 16, 2009
The Center for PostNatural History
We humans have come up with lots of places to see the planet's life. There are aquaria for fish, aviaries for birds, arboretums for plants, wildlife refuges for, well, wildlife.
But what about the rapidly growing number of organisms that have been deliberately altered...and in some cases created...by humans. Welcome to The Center for PostNatural History.
The CPNH (as they like to be known) seeks to document, display, and explain the story of life after man got involved. Their mandate includes genetic manipulation that we humans have done for centuries -- such as selective breeding of farm animals -- as well as more recent phenomena such as gene splicing and synthetic biology.
Their website has a nice short video explaining what they're into.
The CPNH doesn't yet have a permanent home, but they have had several exhibits on display at cooperating art galleries. Their website also features their PostNatural Organism of the Month. Roll up and learn the true story of the military goat modified to make spider's silk in its milk!
August 14, 2009
You need to know more about biomimicry. Not just because it's so fuckin' cool, (which it is, in a mind-blowing "hey that is sooooo fuckin' cool" kind of a way), but because it may just help us engineer our way out of many of the messes we've engineered ourselves into.
Briefly, biomimicy is the concept of studying how nature solves fundamental design and engineering problems (energy storage, maximum strength with minimum mass, filtration, reduction of drag, you name it) and then figuring out how to apply those same techniques to man-made products and systems.
In coming posts I'll be pointing out several companies that are taking the biomimicry ball and running with it. But to start there's no better way to get up to speed on biomimicry than to watch this great TED conference talk by biomimicry pioneer Janine Benyus.
August 13, 2009
3.16 Billion Cycles
My obsession with clockwork movements shows no sign of abating. The latest to catch my eye is artist Che-Wei Wang's 3.16 Billion Cycles. It's a clock movement driven by a motor that rotates once a second. The following pulley rotates once every 5 seconds (1:5 ratio). The next rotates once every 60 seconds or 1 minute. Then 5 minutes, 1 hour, 1 day, 1 month, 1 year, and 1 decade. The decade wheel carries the load of the large arc. The large arc rotates once every century. The final ratio between the 60 rpm motor and the large arc is approximately 1:31.6 billion.
Of course, there's every possibility that Che-Wei is a few months away from getting a practical lesson in power train torque and that the motor may not be able to send enough power to move the outer arc. (And of course simple problems like that are NOTHING compared to what the Clock of the Long Now team is up against) but it's still a fascinating piece, one that gets better over time.
August 10, 2009
Species named after famous people
Thousands of new species are identified each year, and each and every one of them needs a name. As a general rule, the scientist who discovers a new species gets to name it, and the names are often inspired by someone the scientist knows...a spouse or lover, an influential teacher, a relative, and sometimes a celebrity.
That's why we've ended up with a lichen named after Barack Obama, a slime-mold beetle named after George Bush, a lemur named after John Cleese, and...wait for it...a sub-species of bunny named for Hugh Hefner. Pictured above is Agra katewinsletae, a ground beetle named for actress Kate Winslet.
Popular Mechanics' website has a bunch more.
The newest pictures of Neptune
This is why you never throw out scientific data. Nearly 20 years ago the Voyager II spacecraft zipped past Neptune, snapping images as it went. Planetary scientists pored over the pictures for a goodly number of years, and then went on to other things. But amateur space geek Ted Stryk got his mitts on the original digital data, did his own image analysis, and discovered several hitherto unnoticed images of the tiny (only 146 miles across) moon Despina passing in front of Neptune and casting its shadow on it. From those images Styrk stitched together this beautiful composite image.
See more images and read the details of how Styrk spotted Despina on the website of the Planetary Society.
Maps in Space
In the last year or two I've become more and more interested in subjects that brush up against celestial mechanics...the movements of the planets, the math behind sundials, the intricacies of orreries, the libration of the Moon, that kind of thing.
One of the things that I find most fascinating is how we humans came up with mapping and navigation systems to use in space...how we decided where to place the Prime Meridian on Mars, how we can accurately describe the orbits of satellites, etc.
I was delighted to be able to give a talk on this subject at this Spring's Where 2.0 Conference in San Jose.