Boing Boing 

Giant DRM-free jazz download store launches

Mike sez, "AllAboutJazz.com has just launched a music download store that's 100% DRM-free. AllAboutJazz.com is the largest and most popular jazz site on the web. Every month we get over a million unique visitors and publish over 100 reviews, articles, and interviews." Link (Thanks, Mike!)

Call Warner Music and complain about lawsuits and DRM

Jason sez, "Defective by Design launched a 'Wake up Call' campaign against Warner Music today. They've given us the names and numbers of many top execs at Warner--it's up to us to call them and ask them to drop DRM and stop suing their customers. I was able to speak to one exec and left messages for two others." Link

Sony sacrifices goat for Playstation game

200704300705 Sony recently staged a goat sacrifice in honor of their PlayStation 2 game, God Of War II, complete with fur outfits, topless women, blood, and entrails. Link to Daily Mail article | Link to Gizmodo article (Thanks, Jim!)

Reader comment:

Sony representatives did not decapitate the goat at the party. Instead, they purchased a pre-decapitated goat for the event.

Portable Childhoods, sf stories by Ellen Klages - beautiful nostalgia

Ellen Klages is the kind of sf writer that comes along about once a decade -- a short-story-centered writer who produces just one or two brilliant stories a year, stories that end up on practically every awards-ballot in the field. Another in this mould is Ted Chiang, and, like Ted, Ellen is also such an all-fired mensch that it shines through in her work.

Portable Childhoods is Ellen's first book-length collection of short stories, a book that was a decade in the making. I remember many of these stories' initial publications, because Ellen Klages stories make an impression when you read them. They're the kind of stories that make you remember where you first encountered them, little life-changing events, like a Shuttle disaster or a major promotion.

Klages's stories are infused with Bradbury-like nostalgia, and her recurring young girl character is clearly some version of her own childhood, studious and funny, a little introverted and enchanted with the world. This is a Madeline L'Engle heroine, a Philip Pullman heroine, utterly likable, but also drawn with enough honesty that she's anything but a benign cherub.

These stories are mostly very short -- half the stories in the book run just a few pages -- and the very short ones have the feel of the best of the golden age of science fiction, like stories from Avram Davidson. They're funny and witty and have great skiffy conceits that'll turn your head around.

But the real treasures are the handful of longer stories. "In the House of the Seven Librarians," an arch little fairy-tale about feral librarians. "Time Gypsy," a bit of gender-bent time-travel that'll wrench your heart. "Guys Day Out," a story about bringing up a Down's Syndrome child (Ellen's has a sister with Down's) that'll do more than wrench your heart. And "A Taste of Summer," a story so sweet and perfect that I want to read it again this summer, the way I sometimes read Bradbury's Dandelion Wine on a beach in the summer, just to cement the fine day and the finest season. Link

See also: Sf story of great note: Klages's "Green Glass Sea"

Kitchen of Tomorrow, from 1967


1999 AD is a short film produced in 1967 by the Philco-Ford Corporation about the world of 1999. In this short clip, they introduce the creeptacular kitchen of the future, in which drunken fathers and obnoxious sons harass mothers to push buttons fast to irradiate frozen, computer-inventoried pre-fab meals: "Split second lunches, color-keyed disposable dishes, all part of the instant society of tomorrow. A society rich in leisure and taken-for-granted comforts." Link

London 2012 Olympics: We only buy security tech from sponsors

The London 2012 Olympics won't use security technology unless it's being provided by a major sponsor of the event. No matter how much safety your product would contribute to Londoners, there's no chance of it being used unless your company bribes the International Olympic Committee.
So who has bought their way into being the security experts of choice, and with whom our security and that of the visiting millions will rest? Visa. Oh whoopy-doo, I admit to feeling much more reassured now, after all these are the same people who do not suffer from any problems with identity and authentication and fraud and crime on a huge scale within their own business sector after all. Not...

Personally I find it beyond contempt that security decisions that will impact upon the whole country, and the billions watching around the world, come down to a money making opportunity for a sponsor rather than being a Government controlled process. Wyatt readily admits it is nothing to do with him, his committee or indeed the Government as the deals arrangements are between the IOC and their sponsors. He also readily admits he doesn’t see why the UK should have to foot the £1billion cost of security in that case.

Link (via Schneier)

Hugo Gernsback explains gadgets, 1935

In February, 1935, Hugo Gernsback (who coined the term "science fiction," and for whom the Hugo Awards are named) published this Science and Mechanics article about the hot new phenomenon of "gadgets." Gernsback explains what a gadget is, and why you might want to get into business designing them.

YOU will not find the word “gadget” in many dictionaries; perhaps for the reason that most dictionary compilers consider the word to be slang. Yet, the word “gadget” is well known to everyone, and is used in everyday language in connection with some article that has a practical use and, usually, can be bought at a low price...

As I have said before, the market for gadgets in this country is really tremendous. There is constantly room for these novelties, and the public is always willing to buy them. There is, in fact, a sort of craze, that many people have, to be the first to have this or that new gadget to parade it proudly among their friends...

And let no one think that the gadget market in this country is apt to decline. With our advance in civilization, the chances are overwhelmingly in the opposite direction; since the more mechanized we become, the greater the demand for gadgets. We probably have not even scratched the surface, and in the years to come we may expect to see a flood of gadgets on the market that will dwarf anything we have seen so far.

Link

Propellor-driven monorail from 1933

The June, 1933 issue of Popular Science covered this gorgeous "propeller-driven cars" that "hang from a monorail." This is what the future was supposed to be.

An improved airline cab, capable of 155 miles an hour, is the latest invention of the French engineer who developed the trench mortar used during the World War. Suspended on monorails, the cabs resemble airplane fuselages.
Link

Update: Toby sez, "Here's some proper engineering from Scotland. It's some lovely footage of the Bennie Railplane, a glorious 'Metropolis'-style bullet which sped (briefly) through a twee bit of the Glasgow suburbs in 1930. It was designed to do 120mph, and to use adjustable aerodynamic 'planes' at each end to trim its lift/downforce. It's well-described here and here. Wouldn't it be fantastic to drive to the railplane terminal in your Leyat Helica?"

Anti-piracy group pirates anti-piracy report

A reader writes, "The International Chamber of Commerce 'Business Action to Stop Counterfeiting And Piracy' initiative has been accused of pirating thousands of documents from anti-piracy tracking service Gieschen Consultancy. The documents apparently later reappeared in a slightly different format under the ICC's own brandname. Statement from the consultancy:"
"The ICC and BASCAP misrepresented themselves as a partner in 2006 and 2007, gained access to proprietary information and then took what they learned and incorporated it into their own product offerings.

Its functionality, user interface, presentation, method of classification, and delivery is clearly based on our designs and existing products. It is extraordinary that an organization committed to fighting counterfeiting and piracy would steal the intellectual property of another organization."

Link

Coachella, pt. 3: plastic crunch, raver cruft, ghosts of desert past.


(Photos: crowd above, security chart below, by eecue of blogging.la, more here, cc-licensed).

I've been posting Coachella notes (one, two) to BoingBoing between band sets, from inside my buddy Wayne's biodiesel tour bus.

I hear there are several temporary cell towers on-site while the event lasts, to keep the voice, data, and SMS service moving. So unlike other desert events (say, Burning Man), phones are everywhere at Coachella, in-hand.

People walk while txting, wandering from stage to stage with eyes fixed on display. Fans hold them up during night performances, to snap photos or video or pay tribute by beaming display-light back at the band.

Stepping between tight rows of cross-legged attendees, waiting for one act to go on, I smell weed. I glance down, looking for the source glow. But all I can make out are luminous Sidekicks, fingers punching out txts, blotting out glow in staccato code.

We watched one superstar techno headliner play earlier tonight, to a packed field under black sky. When the music ended and those tens of thousands of fans exited, a chorus of crinkly, plasticky sound rose from beneath all those feet. Stomp, crunch, crackle; flattened water bottles and brittle glowsticks on the grass.

"Raver cruft," said Wayne. "That's what we used to call this smushed-up trash carpet back in the day."

Hard to remember to pick up your junk when you're rolling on all that E.

Coachella organizers came up with a crafty way to encourage attendees to help recycle, though, and it does minimize the mess: Turn in 10 empty watter bottles, get a cold, fresh bottle of water, free.


(Photo: Willie Nelson performing Sunday at Coachella. Shot by eecue, cc-licensed).

Peel away the art, the crowds, the stages, the taco and t-shirt vendors, pull up the turf -- and you got desert here. Beyond Coachella the event, the same is true in the greater Coachella Valley. Virtual reality, as long as the water lasts. Suburban lawns where only a creosote shrub might have managed to choke out a living before.


(Photo: ?uestlove of The Roots, performing Sunday at Coachella. Shot by eecue, cc-licensed).

Old date palm plantations are disappearing, giving way to new housing developments. The wild desert still pops up here and there, a cactus peeking out between planned, rectagonal community plots.

But the unplanned community plots are what make events like Coachella fun. Late last night, we wandered into the parking lot where all the artists and vendors camp. Hobo land, some were calling it.

One guy scavenged scrap wood to ignite in a burn barrel. "Burn first, ask questions later!" someone whispered at him. Someone else deejayed, dozens danced, others did somersaults and stiltwalking.

A guy from Reno named Chris, whose card I lost, set up this wild infrared light projection system on a sheet, with software he'd written -- people dance in front of the infrared lamp, some kind of crazy command-line magic happens, and their moving silhouettes end up projected on that flat sheet, with retro video trail effects lagging behind the outlines. Imagine an iPod TV ad mashed up with the sfx from a 1972 Deep Purple video.

Then, that robot showed up again, trash talking and trying to pick up all the chicks.

Goodnight, Coachella.

Coachella: Impromptu dance in Hobo camp

(Photo above: Dancing with the infrared video display thing at "Hobo Land," in the small hours between days. Shot by Xeni, cc-licensed).

- - - - - - - - - -

PREVIOUSLY ON BOINGBOING:

  • Coachella 2007 liveblogging part 2
  • Coachella 2007 liveblogging part 1.

  • More around the web:

    Live (time-delayed) webcast, YouTube uploads, Flickr "coachella" tagged photos, technorati, LA Times coverage, band lineup, Wikipedia entry, blogging.la.

  • Update: Rage Against the Machine played together at Coachella for the first time in 7 years Sunday night -- Brooklyn Vegan has a great post up about that set, with photos, here. And Rolling Stone has a review of the RATM set here: Link.
  • Richard Evans Schultes's Golden Guide to Hallucinogenic Plants

    BB pal Vann Hall surprised me with news that in 1976, pioneering Harvard ethnobotanist Richard Evans Schultes wrote a Golden Guide. Appropriately, the subject of Schultes' Golden Guide was Hallucinogenic Plants. For those who don't know, the original Golden Guides were a fantastic series of profusely-illustrated educational books for elementary and high-school age students. Usually about nature or science, the books were most popular in the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s and are now collectables, depending on the title. Copies of Hallucinogenic Plants are available on AbeBooks from around $50 for a paperback in fair condition to $500 for a scarce hardcover. Fortunately, Erowid has a scan of the entire book online. From Schultes's introduction:
    Coverschutes Hallucinogenic plants have been used by man for thousands of years, probably since he began gathering plants for food. The hallucinogens have continued to receive the attention of civilized man through the ages. Recently, we have gone through a period during which sophisticated Western society has "discovered" hallucinogens, and some sectors of that society have taken up, for one reason or another, the use of such plants. This trend may be destined to continue.

    It is, therefore, important for us to learn as much as we can about hallucinogenic plants. A great body of scientific literature has been published about their uses and their effects, but the information is often locked away in technical journals. The interested layman has a right to sound information on which to base his opinions. This book has been written partly to provide that kind of information.

    No matter whether we believe that men's intake of hallucinogens in primitive or sophisticated societies constitutes use, misuse, or abuse, hallucinogenic plants have undeniably played an extensive role in human culture and probably shall continue to do so. It follows that a clear understanding of these physically and socially potent agents should be a part of man's general education.
    Link

    Coachella pt. 2: hipsters, robots, ravers, steampunk, 122 bands.


    Photo: A child meets "Hotshot the Robot" at Coachella (Shot by Xeni, cc-licensed).


    Above and below, two performances at the event. Photo above: Wu Tang Clan member Ghostface Killah. Photo below: DJ XXXL, MC Dino, and DJ Question Mark. (Shot by eecue of blogging.la, more here, cc-licensed).


    - - - - - - - - - -

    I'm writing this post from the Coachella Valley Music and Arts festival in Indio, California. Specifically, from a pimped-out, wired-up, biodiesel tour bus driven by my friend Wayne Correia.

    The gear you see further below at left is the guts of "Renegade Radio," a pirate station broadcasting on-site at the event. Between the deep house and experimental trance sets, we're hearing important public service announcements, like, "Things not okay to bring in to Coachella site: drugs, weapons, video cameras, bad vibes and DRAMA."

    Some of the performances we caught bits of yesterday: Red Hot Chili Peppers, Gotan Project, The Rapture, LCD Soundsystem, Ghostface Killah, and Blonde Redhead. I missed !!! (say: "chik chik chik") yesterday, but a friend says they destroyed.

    Photo below: Wayne's pal Alfred Martinez stuck a Wintec GPS tracking device (Amazon product link) in his pocket when he, Wayne, and I walked around the Coachella grounds together on Saturday. This is the resulting tracking map, via Google Earth.


    Alfred says, "There are some errors in the trail, since there were times when the we lost contact with the sat -- remember, that tiny unit was in my pocket -- but this should give you an idea of our walking tour."

    Photo Below (Shot by Xeni): That same Wintec GPS device (in Alfred's hand), shown with cold bevvie, tortilla chips (in my hand), laptop, and seven-layer dip, for social context and physical attribute evaluation.



    Photo above: The inner workings of "Hotshot the Robot, the World's Only Living robot." Shot by eecue, who explains:

    When I shot that photo of the robot with his guts hanging out, I had a few drinks in me and asked if he was autonomous. The operators told me he was the singularity. A few minutes later I actually listened to the voice coming out, and it was a guy 10 feet away on a walkie-talkie.
    Photo below (Shot by Xeni), Hotshot, up close. Videos of the robot at Coachella are here.


    Hotshot behaved pretty well around children and most other carbon-based life forms earlier in the day, but he demonstrated a darker personality in the wee hours, when in the proximity of adult females -- let's just say there were surprise appearances by a certain hydraulic part. Here's a video of him kissing a girl.


    Photo above, the Fire-Pod at Coachella. Below, the pyro sculpture's controlling interface. (Shot by eecue). More about the creation, from its makers:

    Fire-Pod is a steel sculpture standing 11’ high with a 20’ diameter footprint. Six claw-like tendrils jut out of the ground to define a spherical negative space from which fire performers emerge. Each tendril hosts two propane cannons; one at the top facing upward/outward, and another at the bottom facing inward, for a total of 12 firing points controlled through a midi interface.


    I learned more about that cool steam train mentioned here yesterday, and shown below (shot by eecue).


    It's called "A Clockwork Menagerie," and it's a project from Kinetic Steam Works (KSW), a Bay Area-based collective that aims "to bring steam power and kinetic art together."

    The coal and wood-powered train engine doesn't move here at Coachella, but it does produce steam that powers a wild little merry-go-round that carried many candy-ravers to ecstasy last night when Tiësto's crowd overflowed.

    The KSW crew here at Coachella included Zachary Ruckstella, Sean Orlando, Greg Jones, and Stephen Rademaker, some of whom are also involved in the Crucible industrial arts school in Oakland, CA.

    KSW project member Jeremy Crandall uploaded a bunch of great photos, including the night shot at left: Link to more, alternate link, alternate link.

    Photo below, KSW's Zachary Ruckstella. (Shot by Xeni)


    The one photo I can't post, but encourage you to visualize:

    An unknown, beautiful girl-stranger in a diaphanous floral minidress found her way in to the bus and passed out on our sofa last night while checking email on her Blackberry. Just frozen there, head facing the PDA in her outstretched, manicured hand, mid-download. We'd walked in after a late afterparty and found her, still and silent, eyes closed. We poked and talked at her, but she wouldn't wake up. We checked her pulse and made sure she hadn't OD'd or anything. When it was clear she was not dead or in danger, I threw a blanket on her and her Blackberry, and crawled off elsewhere to sleep.

    She did wake up eventually, and turned out to be a pretty nice person.

    - - - - - - - - - -

  • PREVIOUSLY ON BOINGBOING:
    Coachella 2007 liveblogging part 1.

  • More around the web:

    Live (time-delayed) webcast, YouTube uploads, Flickr "coachella" tagged photos, technorati, LA Times coverage, band lineup, Wikipedia entry, blogging.la.

  • Last Gasp's Ron Turner's tour of San Francisco

    In today's San Francisco Chronicle, Ron Turner, founder of amazing and influential underground book publisher/distributor Last Gasp, provides a short tour of his favorite San Francisco spots. I've lived here for more than a dozen years and hadn't heard of a couple of these places. Fantastic! From the SF Chronicle:
    Magical road trip. "Drive over to Potrero Hill and go down Vermont Street, the real crookedest street in the world, and then to Golden Gate Park, past 25th on JFK Drive. Park and walk next to the little brook. As you walk uphill, you will notice the water is also going uphill! Impossible, but follow it to a small waterfall that empties into the portals of the past."

    Tommy's Mexican Restaurant, 5929 Geary Blvd. "As long as you're near the Richmond District, go over to Tommy's Mexican Restaurant and pray that Julio, the world's greatest Tequilaologist, is in. He has 5,000 followers in his tequila school. Classes held nightly."
    Link

    Cory's Little Brother reading

    I've just podcasted a reading from my forthcoming young adult novel, "Little Brother," about San Francisco hacker kids who fight back against the Department of Homeland Security. Tor will publish it in May, 2008.

    I really went to town on the samples and mixing in this one, hauling out Audacity, the free/open sound-editing program, and grabbing a boatload of samples from the Freesound project, and a little punk guitar from the Anchormen, a great Boston act.

    As soon as we sat down, she unrolled her burrito and took a little bottle out of her purse. It was a little stainless-steel aerosol canister that looked for all the world like a pepper-spray self-defense unit. She aimed it at her burrito's exposed guts and misted them with a fine red oily spray. I caught a whiff of it and my throat closed and my eyes watered.

    "What the hell are you doing to that poor, defenseless burrito?"

    She gave me a wicked smile. "I'm a spicy food addict," she said. "This is capsaicin oil in a mister."

    "Capsaicin --"

    "Yeah, the stuff in pepper spray. This is like pepper spray but slightly more dilute. And way more delicious. Think of it as Spicy Cajun Visine if it helps."

    My eyes burned just thinking of it.

    "You're kidding," I said. "You are so not going to eat that."

    Her eyebrows shot up. "That sounds like a challenge, sonny. You just watch me."

    She rolled the burrito up as carefully as a stoner rolling up a joint, tucking the ends in, then re-wrapping it in tinfoil. She peeled off one end and brought it up to her mouth, poised with it just before her lips.

    Link, Link to podcast feed

    Coachella: Björk's wild sound machines, and report from the turf


    (Photos, top image and first two in post, by eecue of blogging.la, cc-licensed).

    I'm at the Coachella Valley Music and Arts festival in Indio, California this weekend.

    More around the web: Flickr "coachella" tagged photos, technorati, LA Times coverage, band lineup, Wikipedia entry.

    I haven't been out here in a couple years. The event seems much larger now. The desert town where this takes place only has a population of about 70,000, but they're expecting another 60 - 70,000 200,000 to show up for the event this weekend. Profit estimates I'm hearing for the event's organizers are around $50 million.

    I'm crashing on an airconditioned couch in my friend Wayne Correia's world-famous, geek-pimped, beWiFi'd bus on the event grounds. He has a better satellite 'net connection on this thing than my broadband in urban LA.

    I'm listening to a low-power FM pirate radio station here at the event site: "Renegade Radio," at 103.3 FM if you're nearby. Paynie put the tracks together.

    It's 108° F. outside, according to the gauge on Wayne's bus. When I drove in yesterday afternoon, there were mobile sprinklers all over the place to keep dust down. RVs, tour buses, and tent encampments stretch out as far as I can see in either direction right now.

    More than 120 bands are on the lineup this year, and lots of robots, flamey stuff, and software-driven art installations, some of which might look familiar from Burning Man.

    Coolest thing that isn't a band so far is the fully functional, but stationary, steam engine. Coal and everything. I'll try to upload video later (or post links to someone else's), but here's a still photo from eecue below.



    (At left, Coachella Tesla Coil photo from Flickr user omarr, cc-licensed).

    We wandered around from stage to stage Friday night. Interpol, Peaches, Charles Feelgood, Marques Wyatt, Jarvis Cocker, Amy Winehouse, and Sonic Youth all played, among others.

    The biggest draw last night seemed to be Björk, performing material from her new album, Volta. The set was great, but what made really my jaw drop (and those of the two nerd pals I was with) was the Mac-based hardware and software system used in her set for live sound manipulation.

    Flat video displays flanked the stage, and the camera lingered on closeups of that equipment inbetween shots of Björk, her horn and chorus ensemble, and the live drummer. My friends and I squinted when close-up shots of the gear came up, then googled the brand names we saw on our phones, to figure out what the components were. Here's what we found.


    First: JazzMutant's multitouch control surface for live performance called Lemur, built in Bordeaux, France. Snip from manufacturer's description:

    At first glance, the Lemur looks like a high-fashion etch-a-sketch. As a performance interface, the Lemur is immediately appealing. You touch colorful rounded interface objects on the 12" LCD display to control your computer in any way you can imagine. The Lemur's elegant simplicity is made possible by its sophisticated graphics processor and proprietary touchscreen interface that tracks multiple fingers simultaneously.

    Using the JazzEditor application running on your choice of Mac or Windows, you drag and drop switches, faders, and other objects into an exact simulation of the Lemur's screen. Make any number of interfaces, store them in an XML-based project file, then upload them to the Lemur and it's ready to go. You can reuse them with the Import/Export feature.

    The other electronic music instrument that made us drool in in Björk's show was the reactable (think: react + table), which boasts a "tangible user interface." Image below.


    I'm seeing reports online that she/they used it for the first time in their show earlier this week, during the SNL performance (Video Link).

    The reactable was developed over the last few years by a team led by Sergi Jordà, Martin Kaltenbrunner, Günter Geiger, and Marcos Alonso in Pompeu Fabra University's Music Technology Group, in Barcelona, Spain. Snip from description:

    reactable is a multi-user electronic music instrument with a tabletop tangible user interface. Several simultaneous performers share complete control over the instrument by moving physical objects on a luminous table surface. By moving and relating these objects, representing components of a classic modular synthesizer, users can create complex and dynamic sonic topologies, with generators, filters and modulators, in a kind of tangible modular synthesizer or graspable flow-controlled programming language.
    (Photo of baby on reactable: diemo schwarz).

    Videos of the reactable in action: 1, 2, 3 (or on google video: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5)

    Electronic music godfather Robert Moog playing an early prototype of the reactable at the NIME conference 2004 in Hamamatsu, Japan. Here's a Video Link.

    More about the Björk show from bandmate Jónas Sen's Volta tour blog: Link. Excerpt:

    I must confess I felt I was about to faint when we walked on stage. Such an enormous audience! Almost the entire population of Reykjavik.

    (...) We have “ear monitors” with a metronomic click sounding in our ears to keep the band’s playing together, plus everything else we need to hear. In some songs I want to hear as little from the drums as possible (even though Chris’ playing is damn good!). In other songs I want to hear the drums clearly but less of the brass. This is so unreal… yet amazing that it is possible.


    (Björk photo from Friday night's Coachella set by Flickr user mediaeater, cc-licensed, more here.)

    Big ups to all the BoingBoing readers out here! It's been great meeting so many fellow happy mutants here at Coachella. Thanks for saying hello. <throws internet freak sign>.

    (Thanks, Wayne Correia!)

  • Update: eecue has more photos up: 1, 2.

  • Update 2: Best botched press coverage so far surrounds a police raid at a Mexican Mafia meth lab yesterday in the Coachella Valley. Again, the Coachella Valley, but not *at* the Coachella Festival site itself. During the raid, officers found 50 guns, live pipe bombs, tonza tina, tens of thousands of dollars in cash, and evidence linking the activity to "La Eme." But an Austrian publication misreports that the bust took place on-site at the festival, while Björk and Sonic Youth played: Link. There have been minor drug arrests at the festival, 25 of them according to Indio police as of mid-day Saturday, but far more low-profile than the big bust referenced above.

  • Reader comment: Kasey says,
    Saw that you have a photo of the coils that Syd Klinge built and took out to Coachella. It'd be awesome if you could throw his name in there. I don't have more details on the coils, but I believe they're the largest dueling coils ever run. Here's his site: Link.
    Update: Here's more video of the Reactable device used in the Bjork show: Link (thanks, Nicholas Mir Chaikin!)
  • Stumbling on Happiness: why we suck at being happy

    Daniel Gilbert's Stumbling on Happiness is one of those pop-science books that delivers a serious a-ha punch at least once a chapter, a little insight into the way that the world works that stops you right where you are and makes you go back and reevaluate how you got there.

    Gilbert is a Harvard Psych prof, and in this book, he doesn't seek to explain how to be happy -- in fact, the introduction specifically disclaims this intention -- but rather, how happiness happens. And why happiness is so elusive.

    Happiness is certainly elusive. How many times have we chased some goal, some purchase, some strategy, sure that we needed it to be complete, only to discover later that we're no happier than we were when the whole steeplechase started? This is the crux of Gilbert's thesis: why are we so consistently bad at estimating how happy some course of action will make us?

    For Gilbert, the answer lies in our faulty perceptions. We misremember how happy we've been in the past, we mispredict how happy we'll be in the future (his section on futurism should be mandatory reading for every science fiction writer and tech journalist). Citing study after study, Gilbert lays out the lucid and funny case for the idea that our brains aren't very good at measuring what's going on in our brains.

    Gilbert's funny, conversational style reminds me of Freakonomics, as does his subject-matter. For happiness is at the core of more than psychology -- it's also at the heart of justice, economics, political science, ethics, and many other key organizing disciplines that set the Earth in motion. This was the kind of book that made me reexamine more than my life's goals -- it made me re-think my politics and economic activity, too.

    I listened to an unabridged edition read by the author, and it was very fine. Gilbert has the timing of a stand-up comic, and the book itself is just so funny to begin with. Highly recommended.

    Link to book, Link to audiobook

    Update: Louis sends in this video of the author speaking at the TED Conference

    Coke skin-cream

    Coca-Cola has teamed up with L'Oreal to make a skin cream neutraceutical beverage. Nice -- working both sides of the street. First they ruin your skin and health with toxic sludge, then they sell you medicated mayonnaise to make it all better again. Link

    Update: Meg sez, "Coke's not making a skin cream, it is a 'nutraceutical' beverage to be called Lumae. They want to sell it at places like Saks apparently. "