Archive for September, 2009

Mapping The Future

Tuesday, September 29th, 2009

The title of this post is deceptive because I’m in a rush to get the fuck out of here and I couldn’t think of anything else to call it.

My son is working on a project for school – he has to give a presentation on a country and his assigned country was France. First thing we do is haul out the globe and see where France is in relation to where we are on this ball in space. Start big – work inward toward the details.

Parag Khanna gave a talk at TED about maps and borders and how we should observe the past while planning for the future. He used a favourite quote of mine from Mark Twain:

History doesn’t repeat itself but it does rhyme.

Khanna shows how maps are not just a product of where politicians and armies decide to draw lines in the sand. The influences that carved the myriad of coloured patches on our globe – always shifting – can be observed and predicted.

Apropos of nothing to do with this post really, other than the title, is a book by Michael Chabon Maps & Legends. It’s about entertaining storytelling. It is fucking brilliant. Read it.

We tell stories about ourselves all the time. That’s how define who we are. Our maps upon the globe and tucked within the pages of countless dusty and outdated atlases are a vestigial layer of our story. Who we are or were. Where we are or were. How and why is also concealed within those geopolitical quilts – if we know how to look.

The stories we tell to our children and to each other are maps of our journey through life. The borders shift and change. The colours alter their hue or fade with time. Fact or fiction they are all stories, they are all maps and they all change.

The project on France is doing very nicely, thank you. By the time my son makes his presentation in class he will know as much as he can about the history of France, the culture, the language, the food, and the geography of that sectioned off surface chunk of this spinning globe in the black of our solar system. I’m already very proud of him because when we first looked at the globe he said:

The world isn’t really like this – we could draw lines anywhere we want – and you still can’t see them from space. I think we just decide to make them because we want to be different.

Smart kid.

I have no idea where my future map will take me or what the lay of the land may be – but I do know I my borders have been expanded because my story now includes my son and his view of the world.

I’m out of here.


Beethoven’s 5th Graphical Score – or – “Listen – you smell that?”

Friday, September 25th, 2009

I stumbled across this animated video set to Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5 at the AdaFruit Industries blog where the amazing Limor Fried and company design, make and share a relentless supply of inspirational DIY tech projects and other things that capture the imagination.

This animation has been described as being sort of like an orchestral Guitar Hero version of Ludwig’s big number 5. I’m reminded of Norman McLaren‘s work as well as Disney’s Fantasia and some of Chuck Jones‘ more graphic experiments. For those who don’t read music notation it’s an interesting new way to perceive sound – akin to player piano rolls but with colours and blinky lights and shit.

Like any of the insane monkeys that inhabit this planet I am moved by music and there are favourite tunes and genres that get my body shifting in an overweight white man’s simulation of what might perhaps charitably be referred to as dancing. I don’t really dance. I used to and I used to be a very physical performer in my theatre days. Now I mostly just tap my fingers and bob my head – unless I’m cooking in the kitchen and no one is watching – then I become Gene Kelly in my mind and I’m sure if I ever saw video of those culinary terpsichorean antics I’d make like Brian Wilson and take to my bed forever.

Beethoven’s 5th has a lot of resonance for me – it’s impossible for anyone not to be moved by this piece. It reaches into our chests and commands us to beat our hearts together as connected beings. The opening notes were used as code to signify the beginning of the Normandy invasion of World War Two because they matched the morse code for the letter V – for victory. The 5th was also used and figured stunningly in Martin Ritt’s film Conrack. I’d love to post a clip of the pertinent scene here but damned if I can find one online. Find the film – watch the whole thing.

And just to fill out more of the page – here’s a taste of what Norman McLaren could do with music and moving pictures:

If you want to know more about him be sure to watch the NFB documentary Creative process: Norman McLaren – which isn’t available for viewing online (it had been posted on YouTube but was taken down) which is just plain bullshit. There’s a lot more to the man than anything we ever saw when they’d show these things in our classrooms.

And here’s my favourite of Chuck Jones’ musical pieces – after One Froggy Evening and Rabbit Of Seville, of course:

Now this kind of web-surf-musing brings me to thinking of Synesthesia, where the sensory pathways in our brain are linked so as to allow us to see music and taste sound – so naturally I have to include this TED Talk by Oliver Sacks about hallucinations experienced by visually impaired people – some of which are directly related to the perception of animated cartoons. As with anything Sacks has to offer it is truly fascinating shit.

No matter what you hear, see, touch or taste today, make an effort to experience it in a different way. Practice makes perfect, of course, so maybe if we all do this sort of thing every day we might gain the ability to experience each other in different ways too – and that’s the sort of music I could dance to.

And now – with the last word – here’s Chuck:


Hi-Def Home Video From Edge Of Space

Thursday, September 24th, 2009

Here’s another one for the Home Made Future department: I found this over on Gizmodo – back in August some amateur radio enthusiasts sent up a balloon with a tracking package and an HD video cam.

The footage they captured – the first successful amateur hi-def video from the edge of space – is extraordinary.

Pay attention around the 6:20 mark – that’s when the balloon pops.

These aren’t the only folks who have been doing this sort of thing. makers and amateur scientists have been sending up an increasing number of near-space expeditions.

It won’t be long before more fucking insane inspired dudes in lawn chairs start aiming to attain orbit.


Old tech re-purposed – new tech applied in unexpected ways – limited only by human imagination and passionate souls with way too much time on their hands – all of it is a recipe for a very interesting future indeed.

Fuck the jet packs, baby, I’m fillin’ the RV with helium and goin’ on a real vacation. Yee haw!


The Future Will Be Hand-Made – William Kamkwamba – TED Talk

Wednesday, September 23rd, 2009

William Kamkwamba is a young Malawian innovator who gained attention through the simple act of crafting a windmill to help irrigate his family farm and to generate a basic supply of electricity – at the age of 14.

I’ve posted before about how the future is being invented in garage laboratories and there is plenty of talk flowing through the interwebs about shit like steampunk, makers, hackerlabs and other cultural shifts that are seeing people become more than mere consumers of technology. The tech has become so ubiquitous in our lives we are now dissembling it, re-arranging it, renovating it, re-purposing and innovating tech products and tech knowledge to build the world we choose to live in.

DNA sequencing in the basement – next to the home brew kit – is not only inevitable, it’s already happening. Robotics, tesla coils, hovercraft, solar arrays, radio astonomy observatories, high altitude photography experiments – you name it and someone is yanking apart an old appliance and building something that is righteous, bizarre and absolutely necessary.

Kamkwamba built his windmills from necessity – he needed water to grow food – he needed electricity to communicate and see within the darkness. The materials he used were cobbled together from a junkyard. The most valuable resource he had at his disposal was knowledge.

We do well to remember we are not just living in a knowledge economy but also a knowledge culture. As the economic shit continues to hit the fan – and it will – and empires collapse in upon themselves and the comforts of consumer culture wane it will be replaced with knowledge – the knowledge that we can make whatever we need in order to survive and thrive and keep in touch with each other. Knowledge can cure hunger – that’s a cool concept – and if we stay connected with each other we will always have access to knowledge – we shall never be ignorant, unless willfully so.


Quick Augmented Reality Update

Wednesday, September 23rd, 2009

Just a brief info blast as an addendum to my earlier post on Augmented Reality.

Bruce Sterling continues his obsession with AR (and other cool shit) in his Beyond The Beyond blog – you must read it – everyday.

Gary Hayes twittered a couple of good links yesterday – the first was an article in which referenced Hayes’ own extensive post over at

Hayes also posted a lot of cool videos to illustrate his points – here’s one of them:

The very near future is starting to look like a Harry Potter movie – on acid. You think I jest? Check this out.

The possible uses of AR is mind boggling – everything from education, art, entertainment, military, porn, medicine, research, and – yes – business. In his post Hayes is focusing on the potential business models which are likely to erupt from the widespread adoption of AR and even in that limited context he paints an extremely interesting image of what our world is going to look like.

Picture downtown Tokyo – all around you – all the time.

Its not all bleak though – as Sibylle Hermann points out there will be art.

How will our flabby monkey brains handle all this shit?

In my opinion the legalization of cannabis is no longer inevitable – it’s fucking essential.


Dr. Horrible On The Emmys

Monday, September 21st, 2009

Neil Patrick Harris did a great job as host of last night’s Emmy Awards broadcast but the highlight was clearly the appearance of Dr. Horrible.

Update: The folks at YouTube pulled the original posting of the video so I’m providing my own copy here – which is a legitimate fair use of the material since it’s being presented as a cultural critique of the event. That’s my fancy way of saying that any brown-nosing legal interns should just fuck off and leave this alone unless you want to get counter-sued for abusing the DMCA.

There were a number of cracks made about the death of broadcast television and while the whole event was obviously a cheer leading session in defence of a dying industry – including this clip mocking the net – it was clear that what was happening to television had to be acknowledged.

Television has followed the course proscribed by McLuhan when he said old media would become the content of new media. The best television programs now are comprised of film content which no longer gets made for theatrical release – cinema, true cinema, is now the content of television. Television itself is being subsumed within the growing influence of the net. The broadcast industry (which includes the caretakers of the pipes – the telco & cable industries) are actively seeking to control and restrain the net to become merely another form of television but that denies the obvious. The internet is not television – but television can, and will, be contained within the internet.

The internet, as a medium, far surpasses the limited abilities of broadcast television.

As for reality television, which had it’s own full category last night, I made the comment on Twitter that reality tv used to be called “The News”. This explains why the nation has such a tenuous and slender grasp on reality itself.

Enjoy how the story of our disrupted culture unfolds. If it’s too much to bear – hide in the basement, sofa monkeys, and make a freeze ray.


P. S. If the audience numbers for last night’s show are any indication – only 12 million viewers, the lowest ever for an Emmy broadcast – the industry is indeed undergoing a significant seachange. Even taking into account Tivo or other time-shifting measures we’ll soon see the day when a simple clip like this garners a larger number of views than the entire audience for broadcast itself. Thanks for watching.

Rebecca Saxe – TED Talk – Understanding Other Minds

Thursday, September 10th, 2009

Rebecca Saxe is a neuroscientist at MIT’s Saxelab and she is making remarkable discoveries about how our brains function when regarding other minds. While still an undergrad at MIT, Saxe identified a very specific portion of the brain which is wholly devoted to thinking about other people’s minds and thought processes. Her subsequent research has been focusing on the development of this brain region, how humans form moral judgements and how to influence this process.

Be sure to watch the whole thing. Around the 11 minute mark Saxe starts discussing Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation where a magnetic pulse is used to disrupt the functions of that part of the brain, causing it to reorganize itself – sort of like rebooting a computer. To her credit she shows herself first testing the butterfly coil apparatus on her own remarkable cranium.

It’s funny and spooky all at the same time.

As with all things that have the potential to change how people think and behave the Pentagon has expressed interest in her work. I love her at the 14 minute mark where she says: “They’re calling – but I’m not taking the call.” Pentagon wankers will still find a way to play with this shit but it’s important we all pay attention to developments like this and not just from a tin foil hat conspiracy perspective – although one has to wonder if a chapeau d’aluminium would thwart such a device.

Tech like this is worthy of our attention because it affects us directly – for good and for bad – and it behooves us to be aware of the consequences of applying technologies which affect our thinking. The light bulb, automobiles, radio, telephone and television are but a few examples of ubiquitous technologies which have profoundly affected our society, our culture, our economy, our politics and our minds. We’re still discovering all the ways movies and televised information have changed us and continue to shape our world even as we pick up speed with our use of the internet and absorb those media as content within the disruptive frontier of the world wide web.

I wrote earlier about the emerging tech and culture of Augmented Reality and how it will likely change how we see the world, change how we think and change how we behave. Discoveries like those of Rebecca Saxe will also play a role in this merging world of humanity and technology. As we explore ways to extend our senses through our tech we will also find ways to implement these embellishments more directly with our bodies and our minds.

Setting aside thoughts of mind control by some uber-authority (political or corporate) – which is not beyond contemplation and certainly something to be watchful for – it’s just really fucking cool to consider how deep inside our individual minds we will be able to reach as we simultaneously reach out with our minds to each other.

Kevin Kelly’s A New Kind Of Mind seems downright tangible now – and it makes this Nokia promo video, which I found over on Bruce Sterling’s blog seem positively quaint by comparison.

I think the future is coming to us – and out of us – faster and faster and that it will be extremely cool.

What do you think?


The Kisses, The Kisses

Thursday, September 3rd, 2009

I watched Giuseppe Tornatore’s Cinema Paradiso – again – with my wife and son tonight. I love that film and it never fails to reduce me to tears at the very end.

This film is a love letter to cinema and to the passions which drive our lives.

If you haven’t yet seen the film don’t play this video. Go find the movie and watch it. If you have seen the film – this is the very end sequence – enjoy.


Drawing Toronto With GPS

Tuesday, September 1st, 2009

Here’s a really cool video of a cyclist traveling (on a recumbent bike) through the city of Toronto from 2004 to 2009, creating a map comprised of experienced space.

Sports Videos, News, Blogs

There’s a lot of neat shit being talked about Augmented Reality – or AR – and while everyone likes to focus on the most recent and most sexy bit of techno-buzz — like a massive bionic strap-on penis that can slice bread, pick locks and negotiate middle peace treaties (and if we’re waiting on this for the middle east thing, we’re really fucked) — it’s the little advances, use and implementations (like a self-made GPS map) that will make the massive difference.

The ability to manipulate the data of our lives will help us define our lives. As our online existence overlaps with our real world existence we will find it increasingly beneficial to share with the world the details of our lives in ways we never thought possible, plausible nor desirable.

We worry about our privacy – with good cause – and at the same time there is a benefit to revealing our lives, our actions, and – yes – even our motives to the wider world.

Pretty pictures of Toronto culled from the travels of a bike are a minor thing. Add everyone’s information to that map. The levels of meaning to those pretty pictures run as deep as the oceans themselves. This ocean of information about ourselves will help us to create not just one or two or more pretty map-like pictures. It will, if we allow it, build an informational sculpture of our world, our lives, our past and our future.

Let us make the world.

In the fight against whatever tyranny may seek to own and control us, there has always been the model of The Underground. Those valiant fighters who lurk in the shadows against tyranny and inspire us all to keep up the good fight for freedom and all that is human in the world.

Fuck hiding in the shadows.

Stand up and make noise. Shine a light on your face. Leave a trail. Make a map.

Our world has been turned upside down by our emerging technologies which allow us to communicate with one another at a depth, breadth and speed that mimics our our own thoughts. The remedy to any who seek to impose control over those shared experiences is transparency and light.

Don’t hide it.

Can this revealed information be used against us? Yes – and it will. And we will use it against those who seek to intimidate and oppress. Do we need our privacy? Damn straight. And we will fight for that right even as we fight for the right eliminate secrets from the operation of our democratically elected governments. It’s not going to be simple nor easy because the enemy is – ultimately – ourselves – and we are all really just a bunch of fucked up monkeys. But that doesn’t mean we can’t figure this shit out.

Naive? Fuck yeah! And worth dying for.

So there.