April 19, 2011

Creating TRON:LEGACY's computer displays

Image from TRON: Legacy

If you're making a move that takes place entirely inside of a computer, the computer displays better kick all kinds of ass. For TRON: Legacy digital designer Joshua Nimoy got the call to come up with everything from hacker computer screens to world maps to 3-D virtual hearts.

Nimoy's written a great blog post detailing some of the techniques he used. Among other things he recorded himself using emacs, and built software tools that would let the movie's visual artists generate custom shaped fireworks.

DISCLOSURE: I work at the Walt Disney Company, the company that made TRON:Legacy (but I work in the division that does internet stuff and games, not the part that does movies or videos).

Comments welcome via email to comments-at-spurgeonworld.com

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November 16, 2008

Flickr and collective mapping

a flick image of the US, assembled by geotagging info

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.)


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August 05, 2008


shot of amphibian in use

Kevin Kelly pointed me to this clever hack by some students at the MIT Media Lab called Amphibian.

The idea is that since there are hundreds of common objects in your home or office, all with unique weights, the simple act of putting an object on a scale connected to a computer can act as a unique input (for instance dropping your pen on the scale could automatically launch your word processor). It's a simple yet versatile way to establish a huge number of links between the computing world and everyday objects in the real world.

The Amphibian folks have released their software for free (Windows only right now). USB-enabled scales are available for as little as $10.

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May 11, 2008

Emergency Party Button

photo of the party button

Brian Gaut lives in an average nondescript apartment. The only thing out of the ordinary is the object sitting in the middle of the coffee table -- a metal box adorned with a huge red button... the Emergency Party Button (EPB for short). Slam that button in a moment of extremity and the whole room changes personality. The lights go down, the curtains close, black lights, fog machines and lasers fire up, the stereo starts cranking out "What Is Love" by Haddaway and -- just like that -- your nondescript apartment is transformed into a totally happenin' disco.

The world would be a better place if every room had an emergency party button. You can check out a video of the room in action on Gaut's website. There's also complete instructions in case you want to roll your own EPB.

(Thanks LifeHacker)


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May 04, 2008

Maker Faire 2008

images from the Maker Faire. Left image by Chris Spurgeon/spurgeonworld.com. Right image by cookieevans5/flickr.com http://www.flickr.com/photos/pookieevans/2466430003/ Both images available via Creative Commons license

Maker Faire was this weekend, and it was a truly amazing experience. Hundreds of exhibitors, thousands and thousands of people. My head is still reeling from the whole thing, but a few items stand out in my memory:

Adam Savage
from Mythbusters gave a great talk, simultaneously hilarious and inspiring. Savage ran through his pre-Mythbusters career (which included art, sculpture, theater design, and extensive film special effects work). And he talked at length about the combination of enthusiasm and obsession that drives him to make insanely accurate recreations of movie props.

Speaking of obsession, the folks from ARTOO-DETOO.NET were there in force, with their custom-built R2 droids chirping and scooting around the halls.

I was also blown away by Tim Robinson's recreation of Charles Babbage's Difference Engine. The product of hundreds of hours of building and adjusting. I've always been fascinated by the idea of capturing mathematics in mechanisms, and the Difference Engine was the epitome of that. Here's a video of it in action.

But that's just a few of dozens and dozens of things that were amazing and wonderful. Ya gotta go!

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September 30, 2007

Massive X-wing fighter ready for takeoff

photo of X-wing fighter

For the past few months a group of hard-core amateur rocket builders have been working on a truly bodacious project... a giant flying Star Wars X-wing fighter. With a length of more than 20 feet, a detailed cockpit, and wings that spread into attack formation while in flight, this bad boy is about as far away as you can get from those little Estes rocket kits you made as a kid.

Want to see it actually fly? It's going to take off(*) next Saturday at a big rocket launch called Plaster Blaster in the California desert, about 80 miles east of San Diego.

Want to try building one of these on your own? Can check out a chronicle of the X-wing's construction.

(*) Due to the realities of non-Star Wars aerodynamics this X-wing will take off vertically under the power of four massive amateur rocket engines, and land via parachute.

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August 06, 2007

Happy birthday web!

Photo of Tim Berners-Lee

Take a moment to celebrate the invention you're using right now, the World Wide Web. It was on this date in 1991 that CERN researcher Tim Berners-Lee published his description of his World Wide Web project to the alt.hypertext newsgroup, and made the service publicly available on the Internet.

The rest, as they say, is history.

By the way, if you're interested, here is arguably one of the very first web pages, a bare-bones description of the WWW project.

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June 04, 2007

LOLcode classes now forming at Machine Project

cover of LOLCode book

OMG! Just when you thought the LA-based art space Machine Project couldn't blur the boundaries between art, culture, and the hacker/maker world any further, they announce this... a course on basic computer programming taught in LOLCODE.

LOLCODE is, as I'm sure you all know, a computer language based on the way cats in LOLCATS pictures speak. Here's a typical program...

	UP VAR!!1

...obviously a mastery of this newest computer language is a quick, sure path to that pile of stock options you've been dreaming of. So, don't delay! Machine Project's one day course on June 16th is free, but pre-registration and a 12-pack beer donation are required. Full details on the Machine Project website.

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May 21, 2007

Maker Faire 2007

photo of giant mouse trap game. Photo by image415/flickr.com

Oh. My. God. The Maker Faire is the greatest event in the history of the world. My head is still reeling from all of the amazing home-made inventions, gizmos, and hacks. My personal favorites include the life-sized recreation of the kids game Mouse Trap pictured above (I particularly like how it ends by dropping a 2-ton safe onto a pile of cheese); the giant robotic giraffe that wandered the fairground; the amazing number of contraptions made out of mutated and re-combined bicycles; the audio art installation that detected the Bluetooth signatures of passing cellphones and played unique birdsongs in response; and Theramin Karaoke (an entertainment concept whose time has come).

This edition of the fair was just south of San Francisco, but there's one planned for Austin Texas in October and Make Magazine (who puts on the whole thing) is also planning an east coast edition.

There's lots of coverage, photos, videos, etc., at makezine.com.

(Photo of life-sized mousetrap game by image415/flickr.com)

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May 06, 2007

The Origami Butterfly by Jonathan McCabe

image from Origami Butterfly by Jonathan McCabe

A little bit of beauty for your weekend... assuming you have a decent bandwith connection or a lot of patience. Australian artist Jonathan McCabe makes still image and motion art that uses a variety of generative processes. In his new work, The Origami Butterfly, McCabe uses a computer to simulate a piece of paper with a dot placed on it at a random point. Then the computer imagines the paper being folded many and the location of the dot within the folds determining the color of that point.

Bored and confused by that description? Don't worry about it. There's really only two thing you need to know. One: this process is very similar to the biological method that drives the coloration of some butterfly wings; and Two: McCabe has tossed up a simple web page where you can download still images...and better yet, videos... of some of the works he's made with this process. The videos are particularly great. They have a great multi-color moving flowing feel to them...kinda like slo-mo kaleidoscope images. I recommend downloading one of the larger videos, put your Quicktime player into fullscreen mode, toss some old Pink Floyd on the stereo, and dive in.

(Thanks the teeming void)

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April 26, 2007

Pimp my arm

pimp my arm logo

The open source movement has revolutionized the computer world, so why not apply that same philosophy to some other fields of endeavor? That, in a nutshell, is the reasoning behind The Open Prosthetics Project, a collaborative group working to design better and less expensive artificial limbs. The Project brings together industrial designers, metal prototyping wizards, bio-med experts, roboticists, Lego wizards, you name it, to hash out new designs for prosthetic arms, legs, and other body parts.

Got an idea for a new hand? Post it on the brilliantly named Pimp My Arm section of the site. Want to see the latest in retro-hook design? Check out the new version of the Trautman Hook.(*) Want to help out? Sign up on the site, or just shoot 'em some bucks via Paypal.

(*)My grandfather had a Trautman hook, the result of his being in the wrong place at the wrong time...the wrong place was directly in front of a steam-powered corn combine, and the wrong time was when the combine decided to suddenly lurch forward, blades whirling. I have happy memories of watching the hook open and close as my grandfather flexed a muscle in his shoulder.

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April 06, 2007


foldschool photo

If you're a fan of both math and art (and you know who you are) then by definition you're also a fan of origami. If you're looking for a king sized origami project this weekend, check out Foldschool. It's a series of kids furniture make out of corrugated cardboard. Download the free patterns, trace them onto some cardboard sheets, and then cut and fold away.

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April 05, 2007

The world's biggest sundial

photograph of the sundial at Mont Saint Michel

You only need three things to make a working sundial... the sun of course, some sort of pointer (technically called a gnomon) that casts a shadow, and some sort of dial upon which the shadow falls. Because they are so simple to create, and have been around so long, it's really rare for a sun-dial related record to be broken.

But that's just what happened when a French artist/scientist named Laurent Maget turned the entire island of Mont Saint Michel into a giant sundial. Maget used the spire of the island's famous monastery as the gnomon, and he had 600 one-meter reflective plates forming indicators placed in the tidal flats surrounding the island. (In a nice pacifist touch the French army helped place the panels). The spire cast a shadow as long as three-quarters of a mile. At that size you can actually see the sun's shadow moving as the minutes tick by.

The panels stayed up for several weeks and then were then removed, but you can see a video of the sundial in action.

By the way, if you're a fanatical fan of sundials, why not considering joining the North American Sundial Society? They have a geeky cool newsletter, an annual conference, and a website full of sundial facts.

(Thanks moonriver).


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April 02, 2007

Body hacking

photo of Quinn Norton's finger undergoing magnet insertion surgery

I spent last week at O'Reilly's Emerging Technology Conference in San Diego, and a mind-expanding week it was. There were a number of great presentations(*) but the one that's really stuck with me is Quinn Norton's talk about body hacking.

Body Hacking is kind of a catch-all term for any technique or procedure performed on your body to enhance its function or perceptions. These hacks cover a huge rage when it comes to cost, danger, and societal approval. At one end of the scale are things like getting braces and undergoing laser eye surgery...procedures that have been undergone by millions. At the other end are things like downing powerful prescription drugs for reasons the pharmaceutical companies never dreamt of and having sex change surgery...just because you've spent 30 years as a dude and thought it might be cool to spend the next 30 as a gal.

Norton's talk was a riveting look at what's going on with body hacking right now, and how society and the law are completely unprepared for the explosion in body hacking that's coming. (Are you ready for people covered in fur? For people who have elective brain surgery to tweak their personality?)

I expect that in a few weeks audio of Norton's ETech talk will be available. In the meantime, you can take a look at her presentation slides, and watch a video of her giving this talk at last December's 23C3 hacker conference in Germany. (Watch out! This video is a biggie, 184 MB. But it's worth it).

By the way, Norton knows about this whole body hacking thing first hand. Literally. She had a small rare earth magnet surgically implanted in her ring finger, giving herself the super-natural ability to detect magnetic fields. (That's her hand in the photo). Read her account of the operation and its aftermath. Let's just say everything does not go smoothly.

(*) I'll get around to writing about them soon.

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March 26, 2007

Building something from nothing

photo of a machine shop lathe

Perhaps the only thing I have in common with Issac Newton(*) is that we are both fond of the famous phrase "If I have seen a little further it is by standing on the shoulders of Giants" as a shorthand way of expressing gratitude to the multitude of scholars who have come before, and upon whom all present and future learning and discovery are based.

But that "building upon the past" meme isn't just true of knowledge. Something very similar has happened in the physical world, where early inventions and machines have made it possible to build new inventions and machines, which made possible still other inventions and machines, and so on, all the way from the wheel and spear to the iPod.

On the blog for his forthcoming book The Technium, Kevin Kelly tells the wonderful story of some crazed folks who are recapitulating big parts of that journey, all on their own. For instance, take the story of Dave Gingery...a machinist who started out with nothing but some metal scraps found in an alley, and eventually built himself an entire full-scale machine shop...

Gingery began with a simple backyard foundry. This was a small 5-gallon bucket packed with sand. In its center was a coffee can of smoldering BBQ charcoal. Inside the can of charcoal was a small ceramic crucible into which he threw scrap aluminum – cans, etc. Gingery forced air into this crude furnace via a fan, burning the charcoal with enough heat to melt the aluminum. He poured the molten metal into a mold of wet sand carved out in the shape he wanted. When the cast was cool he had a workable metal holding plate, which became the heart of a homemade lathe. Other lathe parts were cast. He finished these rough parts with hand tools. His one "cheat" was adding a used electric motor – although it is not impossible to imagine a wind or water powered version.

When the rough lathe was up and running he used it to turn out the parts for a drill press. With the drill press and lathe operating he constantly reworked pieces of the lathe itself, replacing parts with improved versions. In this way, his tiny machine shop was an upcreation device, capable of generating higher a machine of precision than itself. He used this upcreation tool to manufacture the pieces needed for a fully functioning milling machine. When the milling machine was completed he could make almost anything.

You can read the full account, as well as Kevin's very interesting thoughts on just how insanely hard it is to really completely recreate a technological world, at www.kk.org/thetechnium/.

(*)I just thought of another thing Newton and I have in common, both of us have visited Newton's tomb in Westminster Abbey. Of course, when he visited he was already dead.

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March 19, 2007

Revenge of the rock paper scissors bot!

photo of the rock paper scissors robotic hand

Posting on this blog was a little light last week, and will be light this week too, all because of an email I received a few weeks ago from Mark Allen, the indefatigable head of Los Angeles' Machine Project gallery...

Machine has been challenged to compete in a rock/scissors/paper competition during the last week of March. As usual, the best course of action seems to be building a dangerous and ramshackle mechanism controlled by some basic pattern matching and predictive algorithms. Who wants to help? We could use some programmers, builder types, enthusiasts, and especially someone with some ideas about mechanisms and animatronics. Email if you're interested.

Of course, who could say no to that? With a bit of luck, and a few more sleepless nights, we should have a gear-grindin', AI-thinking, trash-talking, human-crushing, roshambo-winning arm of fury! In Los Angeles? Come cheer us on at Annual Rock Paper Scissors Rumble at The Explx in the Echo Park section of L.A. Full details at partyscammers.com.

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March 13, 2007

The rise and fall of flash mobs

photo of a typical flash mob

I hadn't thought of this until I read this article on the website for Stay Free! magazine, but you don't hear much about flash mobs anymore. Which is odd, given all of the press and hype they were getting just a couple of years ago.

"Bill", the guy who started the New York flash mob craze, gives a great account of their origin, explosion in popularity, inevitable backlash, and how and why he decided to move on to something else. Well worth reading.

P.S. It's also once again reminding fans of flash mobs and related art genres the debt they owe to the late Allan Kaprow, creator of the '60s "happenings".

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February 19, 2007

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.


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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.

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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.

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January 24, 2007

How to extract your own DNA

instructions on how to extract your own DNA

Looking for a quick Saturday afternoon science experiment? Why not extract your own DNA! It's suprisingly simple, just follow the instructions in this simple brouchure. Don't want to use your own epithelial cells? Some lightly blended raw onion works really well.

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January 23, 2007

State of the Union visualizer

image from the State of the Union visualizer

With President Bush's State of the Union address(*) happening tonight, it's a good time to reming you all of Brad Borevitz's State of the Union visualizer, a cool online tool that lets you browse through every US presidential State of the Union address... from 1790 all the way up to the present. For each address common words are displayed with the size showing how many times they were used in the speech and the height on the graph showing the word's significance as compared to other speeches. The visualizer also tracks speech length (Jimmy Carter had a lot on his mind in 1981) and grade-level of each address.

You can also do A-B comparisons of different words ("freedom" vs. "terrorism" might be interesting). Shortly after tonight's speech is finished, the Visualizer will be updated with that text as well.

(*)Note to foreign readers: The U.S. Constitution requires the President to address the Congress at least once a year with a general report on how things are going in the country. This "State of the Union" address is often where Presidents announce major new policy initiatives.

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January 14, 2007

Walk like a cockroach

still image from cockroach robot

One of the greatest advances in robotics occurred about twenty years ago, when a number of researchers realized it was a colossal waste of time to try making robots look and behave like humans (I'm talking to you, Asimo) and turned to the insect world for inspiration. Here are a couple of great example videos I've recently discovered at Case Western University's Biologically Inspired Robotics Laboratory:

Case Western has a robot that uses simulated cockroach antennae to figure out how to navigate. They use a split screen to show the machine moving the same way as a real-life cockroach. Here's a link to the video (Watch out! It's 29 MB).

They've also built a flying robot called MMALV (Morphing Micro Air-Land Vehicle) that lands and then scuttles across the ground. It's a technique that's common in the insect world, but amazingly difficult for a robot. Check out that video too. (This one is just over 9 MB).

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January 11, 2007

The great TV highjack of 1987

Max Headroom hijack still image

The Damn Interesting blog reminded me of one of the all-time great hacks. On November 22, 1987 person or persons unknown briefly took control of the Chicago public TV station, jamming the regular transmission of an episode of Doctor Who and replacing it with a surreal transmission by someone in a Max Headroom mask. The Max person spoke for a couple of minutes (but not all of it is intelligible). He also dropped trou and submitted himself to a brief bare-assed spanking with a fly swatter.

As quickly as it appeared, the pirate TV show vanished and the regularly scheduled program reappeared.

The FBI and FCC did an exhaustive investigation, but they never figured out who was responsible. It remains one of the great mysteries in the history of pranks.

Fortunately, that fateful broadcast survives, via YouTube.

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December 31, 2006

Daisy chains

photo of daisy-chained locks

Hiking in the mountains around southern California, I often come across access roads barred by gates secured with long chains made up of padlocks, all linked together. These daisy chains of locks are the physical manifestation of a wonderfully complex social system, filled with possibilities of cooperation and betrayal.

The locks themselves are owned by various agencies (fire, sheriff, forest service) and companies (cellphone carriers, radio and TV stations, logging companies) who need access to the road. Opening up any one of the locks breaks the loop of locks chaining the gate, so everyone in the chain has equal power to use the road.

photo of daisy-chained locksBut consider what it takes to get your lock added to the chain. You can't add it unilaterally...someone who already has a lock on the chain has to open it and allow you to connect your lock to theirs, as well as to the lock they were formerly attached to, thereby re-forming the chain. From that moment you are a co-equal member of the chain, able to lock and unlock the gate at will.

If you ever want to quit the chain you can of course just stop using your lock without effecting anyone else... you often see old, rusted, obviously no longer used locks on daisy chains.

But to get your lock back, you again require the aid of a lock neighbor -- this time to reconnect the chain after you've been removed. Unless of course you just take your lock and go home, leaving the gate open.

There's one other bit of social interaction possible with daisy chained locks...one of betrayal and exclusion. It's possible for someone to connect their lock not to the next lock in the chain, but to one further down the line. That action leaves the skipped over locks literally out of the loop and dangling like a pendant. The only way those cut-off locks can get back into the loop is if one of three locks (the lock from which the cut-off pendant lock(s) hang, or one of its immediate neighbors) reconnect it.

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December 09, 2006

Data for the people!

some typical swivel data

There's nothing I like more than a good stiff trend analysis or histogram, so I'm very excited about a new web application called Swivel. Swivel wants to do for data what Flickr has done for images...it lets you upload your data, tag it, share it with friends or the world and, best of all, display it and analyze it. Here are just a few of the bits of infoporn that people have already created...

Temperature vs. solar radiation in Cupertino, CA

Wine consumption vs. violent crime

Bush approval ratings vs. Microsoft stock closing price

The site is in beta (or, as they call it, Preview) so it's not always as fast as it should be right now. But never mind! This is going to be an amazing resource, one that could change how everyday people deal with the world of data.

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December 04, 2006


moodjam screenshot

Let's say Socrates was right, and that "the unexamined life is not worth living". In that case, why not get busy and start keeping track of the ups and downs of your life? Sure, you could keep a diary, but that's just so...verbal. What if you're a visual person? The Human Computer Interaction Institute at Carnegie Mellon University to the rescue!

They've created Moodjam, a web application that lets you record your current mood by assigning one or more colors to your mood(*). As you mark your moods over the ongoing weeks and months, you end up with a complex patchwork of colors chronicling your ever-changing moods.

For extra fun, why not create a Moodjam account for your department at work, and have all of your co-workers use it, thereby building up an anonymous profile of the depression and angst at your personal little cubicle farm hell.

(*)You can assign keywords and colors to your moods too, if you want. But really, it's all about the colors.

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Living on flickr time

flickrtime screenshot

The great thing about opening up your website via APIs is that you never know what kind of weird and wonderful thing someone will make out of your site's data.

Flickr has one of the most complete sets of APIs around, and there are all sorts of personal web experiments that have been built using them. The latest... flicker time, a clock that uses random images from flickr to spell out the numbers of the current time. Clever, and completely hypnotic to watch.


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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!)


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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!

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October 16, 2006

Aaron Koblin's flight paths

still image from one of Aaron Koblin's flight patterns

Beauty is where you find it. In Aaron Koblin's case, beauty lies hidden in the record of commercial air traffic. Check out the amazing, beautiful animations he created showing aircraft in flight.

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October 01, 2006

Design Beck's new CD cover

cover materials for Beck's new CD, The Information

Beck's new CD, The Information, hits the shelves today, and this may be one new release where you want the actual physical artifact, not just the iTunes download(*). That way, you can make your own CD cover. The CD comes with a set of stickers and a sheet of grid paper, letting you create your own one-of-a-kind cover art. You can also upload your designs to one of Beck's websites for a chance to have your design used as the static image for later press runs of the CD.

Dmitri Siegel has a great article on the CD cover, and where it fits in the sweep of modern art, on Design Observer.

(*) Of course, if you're righteously angry about Apple's DRM, you've already passed on iTunes purchases.


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September 19, 2006

Customers get to help design the next generation of digital recorders

image of Neuros OSD Linux Media Recorder

The online store Think Geek has all sorts of wonderful tech gadgets and ephemera... everything from high-tech lava lamps to T-shirts that say "Obey Gravity, it's the law!"

Now they're offering something called the Neuros OSD Linux Media Recorder, a kind of uber-device that will let you grab and play back TV shows, radio programs, music, etc., plus translate audio and video for use on your cellphone, plus all sorts of other things, including some features that have yet to be invented. Which brings us to what's so special about this product.

The Neuros OSD is fully hackable, and Neuros is taking advantage of that, by offering cash bounties for programmers who can figure out how to add new functionality to their product. Figured out how to integrate the device with a USB telephone? Neuros will pay you 500 bucks. Can you come up with a way to have the OSD grab YouTube videos? They'll pay you 1,000 dollars for that. Neuros has full details about the bounty program on their website.

This is taking things to the next level. First there were products that were pretty much unalterable (e.g. televisions). Then there were products that are open to extensive customization (e.g. PCs). Now here's a product that is not only hackable, the company will actually pay you to hack it.


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Posted by Chris Spurgeon at 09:06 PM | Comments (0)

September 18, 2006

How to legally cheat at roulette

roulette wheel

Back in the 80s one of my all-time favorite books was The Eudaemonic Pie, the true story of how a bunch of physics grad students built a hidden electronic gizmo that would let them cheat at roulette (the device would secretly record how fast the wheel was spinning, how fast the ball was whizzing around the track, and how quickly both were slowing down. The device would then quickly determine in which part of the wheel the ball was likely to come to rest. It would cut the odds down from 1 in 38 to about 1 in 10, enough to make betting profitable).

Electronic roulette devices are illegal in Las Vegas and other U.S. casino spots, but a quirk in British law means such devices are not illegal over there. And the devices have gotten smaller and more and more accurate. As a result, according to this fascinating article in the Guardian newspaper, they're selling like hotcakes. I wouldn't be surprised if this is the end of roulette.

[Roulette wheel photo from redune/flickr.com]

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Posted by Chris Spurgeon at 04:08 PM | Comments (3)

July 17, 2006

You sunk my battleship!

image from Julian Bleeker's battleship game

I've run into Julian Bleeker, the director of the mobile and pervasive lab at the University of Southern California's Interactive Media Division a few times, and he always seems to be creating some sort of crazy cool game. This time he's using Google Earth to turn the city of Los Angeles into a giant version of Battleship. To make a move, players go to a specific physical location and then enter their location via a GPS equipped cell phone. (Now if only giant red and white pegs would descend from the clouds).

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Posted by Chris Spurgeon at 07:36 PM | Comments (0)

July 14, 2006

World's largest photo

photo of the world's biggest photo

A group of photographers in Irvine, California, have made the biggest photo in history... an 108 by 28 foot monstrosity. They pulled it off by turning an airplane hanger into a giant camera obscura, and used a huge canvas impregnated with photo-sensitive emulsion as the film. There's an article about it on the MSNBC site.

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Posted by Chris Spurgeon at 04:55 PM | Comments (0)

July 12, 2006

The Most Creative Program on Television

image from season two of Project Runway

...returns tonight. Project Runway, on Bravo TV, begins its 3rd season this evening with a new group of 15 designers. The show is kind of a shoot out for people who work in the fashion industry... each week the designers are given a specific task (redesign the post office uniforms, create a dress using only materials you can find in a grocery store, design an outfit for an Olympic figure skater) and a limited time in which to execute it.

I'm not particularly interested in fashion per se (my couture consists almost entirely of T-shirts from tech conferences, old chinos and blue-jeans, and ratty shoes with no socks) but what I *am* interested in is watching talented people being creative under extreme deadline and budget pressure. You can watch this show with no knowledge or interest in fashion whatsoever, and still be totally impressed with the skill and ingenuity of the participants. Watch an episode or two and see if you don't agree.

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Posted by Chris Spurgeon at 12:31 PM | Comments (0)

June 14, 2006

I just spoke at the Where2.0 conference

Me (Chris Spurgeon) speaking at the Where2.0 conference.  Thanks to James Duncan Davidson/O'Reilly Media for the photo

...and had a great time. The Where2.0 conference brings together folks who are doing all sorts of amazing things with mapping, visualization, and location-based technologies. Got to spend a fun day at Google headquarters hanging with the Google Maps and Google Earth folks, and two fun days having my eyes opened to some of the great mapping-related things going on.

My talk was titled "The Best Geohacks of the Past 3,000 Years" and I got to turn people on to things like Cassini's mapping of the moons of Jupiter and Polynesian navigation. I made a book reading list if you want to learn more about the stuff I was talking about. (Sorry, I don't have my slides online...they don't really make sense without the talk).

(Thanks to James Duncan Davidson/O'Reilly Media for the photo of me speaking).

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May 10, 2006

The Ten Commandments of Egoless Programming

Ten Commandments image

The Coding Horror blog has a wonderful little piece, "The Ten Commandments of Egoless Programming". For example:

7. The only true authority stems from knowledge, not from position. Knowledge engenders authority, and authority engenders respect—so if you want respect in an egoless environment, cultivate knowledge.

The commandments are great advice for any programmer. Or for that matter, any human being.

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March 21, 2006

Hack: Sudoku helper

If you are one of the zillion people who've become obsessed with the number puzzle sudoku, I've got just the thing for you. Check out my free Sudoku Helper...

Sudoku helper screen shot

It won't solve the puzzle for you (that would be too easy) but it makes it easy to see what possible numbers remain for each row, column, and 3x3 sub-area. Check it out!

Comments and suggestions welcome.

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