November 11, 2008

Moving the Maldives

photo of 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 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

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Posted by Chris Spurgeon at 08:35 PM | 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.

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

December 31, 2007

UK declares War on Terror over

Keep Calm and Carry On poster

A bit of hopeful news to end the year, courtesy of the UK government. According to an article last week in the Daily Mail newspaper, the British government will stop using the term War on Terror...

The words "war on terror" will no longer be used by the British government to describe attacks on the public, the country's chief prosecutor said Dec. 27.

Sir Ken Macdonald said terrorist fanatics were not soldiers fighting a war but simply members of an aimless "death cult."

The Director of Public Prosecutions said: 'We resist the language of warfare, and I think the government has moved on this. It no longer uses this sort of language."

London is not a battlefield, he said.

"The people who were murdered on July 7 were not the victims of war. The men who killed them were not soldiers," Macdonald said. "They were fantasists, narcissists, murderers and criminals and need to be responded to in that way."

His remarks signal a change in emphasis across Whitehall, where the "war on terror" language has officially been ditched.

I see this as a very hopeful sign... a tiny turn away from the Orwellian double-speak in the UK and US that did nothing to make anyone safer, but did engender a sense of fear and dread that was exploited for political gain.

Here's a link to one of the many places that reprinted the article.

(The poster above is a reproduction of posters put up throughout London during the blitz).

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Posted by Chris Spurgeon at 09:34 AM | Comments (0)

November 09, 2006

The best political ad in the history of the world

still image from Lopez Murphy political ad

After the last few months I wouldn't have thought it was possible, but you can create a political ad that is stunning, beautiful, memorable, and that doesn't bash your opponent. Don't believe me? Watch this ad for Argentinean candidate Ricardo López Murphy.

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August 26, 2006

Pocoyo: A little piracy can be a good thing

Pocoyo characters

Pocoyo is a completely charming cartoon series for little kids that airs (or is about to start airing) in about 40 countries around the world. David Cantolla, one of Pocoyo's creators, has been blogging about the show, discussing all sorts of behind the scenes stuff (designing new characters, finding the right marketing deal, discussing whether or not the characters should eat junk food).

In his latest post, Cantolla looks at the issue of piracy (specifically the appearance of Pocoyo cartoons on video sites like YouTube) and how it might effect his creation. He thinks about the issue from several points of view (the creators, the staff, the distributors, the TV networks, the toy marketers) and comes to the conclusion that a bit of illegal distribution... not a huge amount, just a little.. is actually good for the show.

It's refreshing to come across someone in the TV industry who isn't in complete lock-step with the extremist TV industry stance on unauthorized copying. His post is well worth reading. And of course, the show itself is well worth watching, even if you're not three years old. Here's one of the episodes on YouTube. (I'm particularly an fan of Elly, the elephant who's fond of ballet).


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Posted by Chris Spurgeon at 09:49 AM | Comments (1)

August 20, 2006

Get rid of the Hudson River

Image of New York City from Modern Mechanix

Man, I thought Robert Moses was the worst thing that could happen to urban planning in New York City. Thank goodness a guy named Norman Sper never came to power. As outlined in a 1934 issue of Modern Mechanix magazine, Sper's master plan was...wait for it...dam the Hudson River at both ends of Manhattan Island, pump out the water, fill in the entire river channel, and...voila!'ve just doubled the size of New York City!

Never mind that you'd destroy a stretch of a great river, Sper had a city to build. Besides, the evil Soviets were watching...

"When every possible subterranean necessity had been anticipated and built," Sper points out, "a secondary fill would bring the level up to within twenty-five feet of the Manhattan street level.

"Upon this level would rest the foundations and basements of the buildings that would make up the new city above, planned for fresh air, sunshine and beauty. Thus, below the street level would be a subterranean system of streets that would serve a double purpose. All heavy trucking would be confined to it, but primarily it would serve as a great military defense against gas attack in case of war, for in it would be room for practically the entire population of the city.

"If the Russians had the vision and the courage not only to build huge cities from the ground up, but to practically rebuild an empire, surely America should not be frightened at a project as big as this."

Happily, Sper never had the mojo to pull this plan off...or as far as I can tell, any other plan. The article describes Sper as a "noted publicist and engineering scholar." If anyone knows anything more about this guy, let me know.

(Thanks to BLDGBLOG)

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August 19, 2006

Reason #2,432 that Iceland kicks ass

section of New Scientist chart showing acceptance of evolution in different countries

If you know me, you know that I'm a rabid fan of Iceland...the landscape, the location, the people, the music and art scene, the bar scene, the whole vibe of the place. I don't need any further reasons to think Iceland is totally happening. But new reasons keep popping up anyway. The latest is a study by Jon Miller of Michigan State University showing that Iceland leads the way when it comes to the percentage of people who believe we evolved from other forms of animal life. Miller and his colleagues quizzed people in 32 European countries plus Japan and the U.S. Nearly 85% of people in Iceland accepted the scientific explanation of human evolution. Shockingly, only 40% of American in human evolution. Only Turkey had a lower score.

According to Miller and his team, the low number for the U.S. is due to high percentage of fundamentalist Christians in this country. Happily, Iceland is not burdened with that nonsense.

There's a write-up of Miller's study in this week's New Scientist. magazine. The study itself is published in the August 11 issue of Science.

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August 12, 2006

Happy free GIF day!

typical clipart gif image

It's worth noting that at midnight last night the last U.S. patent on the GIF image format expired.(*) If you were around during the early days of the online world, you may remember the brouhaha when Compuserve discovered that both Unisys and IBM held patents over the already hugely popular GIF image format. Unisys in particular was not shy about enforcing their patent, demanding royalties from anyone that displayed GIFs or made software to create GIFs. This led to a flurry of lawsuits and counter-suits, and to a call for a creation of an alternative, royalty-free image format, now known as PNG.

It's also worth noting that even though the GIF patent controversy caused a great deal of Sturm und Drang back in the day, patents do expire (after 20 years in the U.S.), and the innovation protected by the patent becomes free for all. Contrast this with copyright law, which has had a disturbing trend of longer and longer effective periods... long enough to be effectively forever.

(*) The Free Software Foundation knows of one more, foreign, patent on GIF still in effect. That one is scheduled to expire this fall, on October 1st.

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July 23, 2006

Groucho Marx: Copyright Activist!

image of Groucho Marx

It's been around for 60 years, but I've just discovered this brilliant letter that Groucho Marx sent to some dipsh*t lawyers at Warner Brothers, who thought that the Marx Brothers couldn't release a movie called "A Night in Casablanca" because Warner Brothers had released the Humphrey Bogart film "Casablanca" five years earlier. Groucho sends back one of the great replies in legal history. You can read the whole thing on, a brilliant website chronicling the ongoing erosion of all of our personal freedoms when it comes to intellectual property, but here's an excerpt:

Apparently there is more than one way of conquering a city and holding it as your own. For example, up to the time that we contemplated making this picture, I had no idea that the city of Casablanca belonged exclusively to Warner Brothers. However, it was only a few days after our announcement appeared that we received your long, ominous legal document warning us not to use the name Casablanca.  It seems that in 1471, Ferdinand Balboa Warner, your great-great-grandfather, while looking for a shortcut to the city of Burbank, had stumbled on the shores of Africa and, raising his alpenstock (which he later turned in for a hundred shares of common), named it Casablanca.  I just don’t understand your attitude. Even if you plan on releasing your picture, I am sure that the average movie fan could learn in time to distinguish between Ingrid Bergman and Harpo. I don’t know whether I could, but I certainly would like to try.

In the wake of Groucho's letter (you really dowant to read the whole thing), the Warner Brothers legal department demanded that the Marx Brothers at least provide them with an advance copy of the plot of their movies. Groucho responded with a series of insane plots, including one where he said he intended to star in the movie as "Bordello, the sweetheart of Humphrey Bogart." Warner Brothers eventually either came to their senses, or just threw in the towel. "A Night in Casablanca" came out in 1946.

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July 21, 2006

Are cities the new countries?

photo of London from the BBC website

According to some sociologists who study cities, the cultural and political realities of the world's mega-cities are changing so fast that they've reached the point where they have more in common with each other than with the countries in which they happen to be located. Check out this quote from sociologist Richard Sennett:

"The most important place to London is New York and to New York is London and Tokyo," Prof Sennett says. "London belongs to a country composed of itself and New York."

Mega-city leaders are increasingly wondering why they have to put up with the financial burden of dealing with their enclosing state or nation...they provide the lion's share of the jobs, wealth, and culture, why shouldn't they get more political autonomy in return?

Cities like Shanghai already have a huge amount of independence...expect more from places like London, Mumbai, and New York. And a growing sense of outrage from the rural areas, and from national governments faced with their cities acting more and more like recalcitrant teens. The BBC's weekly Magazine program has been covering this issue.

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June 26, 2006

Al Gore takes on Bender

image of Al Gore and Bender

Hopefully by now you've all seen An Inconvenient Truth, the film version of Al Gore's presentation about the terrible consequences of global warming. (If not, get to it).

If the film has left you in need of a little levity, check out this great trailer made by Rough Draft Studios, the folks who draw Futurama.

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