Scissor mobile


Lisa Congdon turned her scissor collection into a gorgeous mobile -- think of the incredible mental scars you could leave on your child by hanging this over her crib! Link (via Craft)

West Virginia railroad culture: photos by Kevin Scanlon


My uncle Kevin Scanlon has snapping photos of Appalachian life for as long as I could form sentences -- actually, no, longer. When I was young, his photos taught me to appreciate the modest, mostly overlooked beauty surrounding the old railroads that snake through West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and neighboring states. His photographs document what is now a dying culture.

His first-ever solo exhibit opens tomorrow in Grafton, West Virginia. It's probably safe to guess that most of the people who read this blog post aren't in easy driving distance of Grafton, West Virginia, but you can see some of the images online, and buy prints if you're so inclined. If you do go to the opening on Saturday, please give him a hug for me.

Shown above: Morning Coal Train, Coopers, WV, 2005. Here's another one of my favorites from his railroad series. (high five, uncle Kev!)

Previously on BB: Kevin Scanlon's heavy industry photography

Update: Here's a snip from an interview with Kevin:

West Virginia reveals itself much like a book, one page at a time. The mountainous terrain and twisting valleys force you in close. Every page of the state has an interesting story to tell and another surprising view. The railroad is the thread that ties it all together. There are two themes that define my approach to photography: context and light. I am drawn to industrial subjects because of their influence on the culture of an area. Railroads are iconic in West Virginia. They were the key in developing the state, they were one of the defining factors when the state's borders were laid out and they literally carry the state away every day, one carload at a time. This series of photographs attempts to depict the railroad as an element of the landscape.
(thanks Aunt Dory!)

Secret museum on the moon's surface

In November, 1969, the New York Times reported on the existence of a secret, miniature art museum that had been smuggled onto the surface of the moon on Apollo 12:

...according to Frosty Myers, the artist who initiated the project, the Moon Museum was secretly installed on a hatch on a leg of the Intrepid landing module with the help of an unnamed engineer at the Grumman Corporation after attempts to move the project forward through NASA's official channels were unsuccessful.

According to the Times, the artworks are, clockwise from the top center: Rauschenberg's wavy line; Novros' black square bisected by thin white lines [in 1969, Novros also created the incredibly rich, minimalist fresco on the second floor of Judd's 101 Spring St]; a computer-generated drawing by Myers; a geometric mouse by Oldenburg, "the subject of a sculpture in his current show at the Museum of Modern Art" [a sculpture which is in MoMA's permanent collection, btw]; and a template pattern by Chamberlain, "similar to one he used to produce paintings done with automobile lacquer." Warhol's contribution, which is obscured by the thumb above, is described as "a calligraphic squiggle made up of the initials of his signature."

Link (via Kottke)

TED 2008: Crow vending machine maker Joshua Klein

(I'm liveblogging from TED 2008, in Monterey, CA)

Presenter: Img 0309


Technology hacker Joshua Klein built a vending machine that teaches crows to deposit coins they find into a special vending machine that dispenses peanuts. He has been studying crows for over ten years and has learned that they are very intelligent. Their brain/body weight ratios are similar to chimpanzees. He's showing a video of how a crow learned to use a tool to pull an object out of of a tube. It's impressive.

Crows are smart and adaptable. For example, they drop nuts on streets so cars run over them, then wait for the traffic signal to change so they can pick up the food. Other crows who see this happen quickly learn how to do this for themselves.

His machine uses Skinnerian training. He put coins and peanuts around the machine. The crows eat the peanut on the feeder tray. Then Joshua took away the nuts and left coins in the feeder tray. It pisses off the crows. They sweep the coins around with their beaks, looking for food. When a coin accidentally drops into the slot, it dispenses a peanut. Next, Joshua took away the coins. The crows learned to find coins elsewhere and deposit them.

So now he wants to train crows for search and rescue, picking up trash, and other mutually beneficial tasks.

TED 2008: Paul Stamets on how mushrooms can help the world

(I'm liveblogging from TED 2008, in Monterey, CA)

Chris Anderson: If someone takes an obscure area of nature and spends a lifetime studying it, it can be applied to the world at large in interesting ways. Case in point, mycologist and author Paul Stamets, who believes mushrooms can save the world.

Img 0308

1.3 billion years ago, fungi were the first plants organisms to come on land, other plants followed hundreds of millions years later. We have more in common with fungi than other plants. Mycelium breathes oxygen like us.

Stamets says he loves a challenge and saving the Earth is a good one. He will present a suite of six mycological solutions.

Mycelium holds 30x 30,000 times its mass. They are soil magicians. Creates a spongey soil. It is earth's natural internet, a biologically successful model. It's highly branched. If a path gets broken, their are redundant paths. It is sentient, leaping up in aftermath of your footprints, trying to grab debris. They generate humus soils, and provide a multi-directional transfer of nutrients to trees. The sequence of microbes that occur of rotting mushrooms are an important part of natural cycle of the forest. I'm in love with old growth forests and I'm a patriotic American because of them.

Fungi uses radiation as a source of energy, so the possibility of fungi existing on other planets is a "forgone conclusion."

Mushrooms produce strong antibiotics. Work well against flu. We should save the old growth forests as a mater of national defense.

Here's a Salon article from 2002 about Stamets, titled "How Mushrooms can Save the World."

TED 2008: Robert Ballard on exploring the ocean

(I'm liveblogging from TED 2008, in Monterey, CA)

Presenter: Geophysicist and shipwreck explorer Robert Ballard unearth's lost histories in the ocean.

Img 0296

Why are people interested in going into space, but not in exploring the ocean? Most of the Southern Hemisphere is unexplored. It's naive to think that the easter bunny put all the resources on the continents. We are leaving so much of the table. 71% of Earth is ocean.

Ballard's gone on over 150 expeditions. On a good day we might have four people at the average depth of the Earth. 1/4 of our planet is a single mountain range, but we went to the moon before we went to the largest feature of our own planet. Tens of thousands of active volcanoes are down there. It's a very alive place.

No one had gone into that boundary of creation until 1974 when we went in a little submarine and went into the rift valley. No light can penetrate, no photosynthesis. We thought there'd be no life down there. Lots of tube worms, clam beds sitting on barren rock but when we opened them their body had taken over by a bacteria that uses chemosynthesis, not photosynthesis.

Img 0302 Img 0300

Ballard designed robotic subs to continue to search the bottom of the ocean (I would not let an adult drive my robot sub, because they don't have enough gaming experience, but I'l let a kid do it because they know how to control it). Found upside-down pools of water with the pH of Drano but it harbored life. Methane volcanoes. Also finding ships -- Titanic, the Bismarck, and many of the estimated 1,000,000 ships that have sunk.

NOAA's Office of Exploration is a ship that will explore unknown America - the 50% of US territory that's underwater.

Chris Anderson, who runs TED, asks Ballard whether or not we should learn about sustainability on the surface before we start harvesting what the "Easter Bunny" left for us in the Ocean. Ballard isn't really answering the question, he just says he didn't take artifacts from the Titanic or belt buckles from sunken Navy ship.

TED 2008: Brian Cox of Large Hadron Collider at CERN

(I'm liveblogging from TED 2008, in Monterey, CA)

Presenter: Brain Cox works on the Large Hadron Collider that's about to become operational at CERN.

Img 0289

Aim of particle physics is to find out what everything is made of. As you get back to the early times of the universe, things were simpler. In the 1st billionth of a second it was very simple. Everything was made from 12 particles of matter stuck together by four forces. "All science is either physics or stamp collecting." - Ernest Rutherford

Large Hadron collider is 27 Km in circumference and will accelerates protons to 99.99999% the speed of light (I might not have gotten the right number of 9s, sorry if this spoils your calculations if you are trying this at home). These will collide with another beam of protons going in the opposite direction.

Img 0292


Img 0294 Img 0295

Higgs gives mass to fundamental particles. Particles are massive because they are surrounded by Higgs particles. (Maggie Thatcher shown here surround by a Higgs field). The LHC will hopefully verify the existence of Higgs particles. If not, it'll find whatever is responsible for giving mass to stuff.

What particle physics means to me: gives modern science a creation story. We know universe beAgn 13.7 billion years ago as a dot smaller than an atom. Universe underwent exponential expansion in a billionth of a second and continues to expand. AFter 400 million years, the first stars formed and other elements were cooked in them. On some planets oxygen and hydrogen formed into water, liquid water on some planets. On at least one planet, life formed.

Video about quest to get Dalai Lama to carry Olympic torch


Here at TED, I met a man named Steve Varon. He's a warm and gregarious man who runs a successful children's underwear company on the East Coast. For the last year or so, he's been working very hard to make his dream possible: to see the Dalai Lama carry the torch in the Chinese Olympics. He made a short video about it, which he submitted to Pangea Day, but you can see it now on YouTube. I wish him luck in his quest.

TED 2008: Todd Machover

(I'm liveblogging from TED 2008, in Monterey, CA)

Presenter: MIT Media Lab's Todd Machover, who talks about how music has a special power in our lives.

Img 0287 We all love music, but it's even more powerful if you don't just listen to it -- you must make it yourself. Mozart Effect (increasing IQ in babies by subjecting them to music) doesn't work, you can't just listen to music to become smarter, you have to make it.

He created Brain Opera, which is 100 instruments anyone can play using natural skills -- you don't need to know how to play a traditional instrument. The Brain Opera led to Guitar Hero, which also came out of MIT Media Lab.

Music can change your life and the way you communicate with others and change your mind. What's after Guitar Hero? We are making toys for little kids like squeezie instruments. Software to help kids make music, called Hyperscore, allows anyone to compose music.

Music is one of the only things that people with advanced Alheimer's can respond to. It's also good for people with schizophrenia and other metal illnesses. Music is accelerating treatment in hospitals.

Music shows you who you really are. He says he's more nervous talking on stage than playing music. He's working on an opera called Death and the Powers. It will premiere in Monaco in September 2009. It's about a rich guy who wants to live forever, so he downloads himself into the environment. The stage becomes a character. The stage is a giant stringed instrument. There's also an army of robots on stage, a Greek chorus that observes the action. They are cubes, but they have a lot of personality. Stage also has a library with robotic books, each of which have high packed LEDs on the spines.

Machover wants to make personal opera and personal instruments, that can be adapted to the way you personally behave. It's the future of interfaces. He invites a young man on stage. His name is Dan Ellsey and he's in a wheelchair. He has cerebral palsy. He was flown in from the hospital where he lives in a special jet. He hardly ever travels -- this is the second time he's been out of Massachusetts in his life. He's using a text-to-speech to talk the audience. He just said he loves musics, and is using this personal instrument to compose and perform music.

Dan says he is going to perform a song called, "My Eagle Song." They are showing his Hyperscore composition. Now the music is playing. I'm not sure if Dan is controlling the playing of the music or not: he has a headband with some LEDs on it, and an iSight camera trained on him, so I think he is controlling the playback of his composition in some way.

Here's an article about Dan with a link to his music. Link

TED 2008 -- author Amy Tan

(I'm liveblogging from TED 2008, in Monterey, CA)

Presenter: author Amy Tan

Img 0280 She walks on stage and sets a bag on the ground. In every story something unknown is revealed. She says she will open the bag at the end of the talk.

Her creative process is nature, nurture, and nightmares, each word at one vertex on a triangle. One definition of creative is an inability to repress looking at associations.

She got some B minuses in school for her creative writing. Parents pushed her to be a doctor, or to be a pianist on Ed Sullivan show. Her father and brother were both diagnosed with brain tumors. Her father was a baptist minister and said God would take care of them. He died soon after and so did her brother. Her mother believed that she and Amy would be next. She then became very creative "in a survival sense." (This could be why she is so interested in "luck and fate and coincidences and the synchrony of mysterious forces.")

On writing a book: In that framework between page 1 and 300, I have to develop a cosmology as the creator of that universe. It can often take years and years to do that.

Dark energy and dark matter apply to creativity, too -- you sometimes find out what matters by what's missing. Sometimes what you hope to find is no longer there.

Moral ambiguity -- it is constantly there. "Save a man from drowning, you are responsible to him for life." We all hate moral ambiguity, but it is absolutely necessary in writing a story. It is the place where I begin.

"I will reveal what is in the bag - it's the muse that transforms our lives." It's little doggy that hops out and follows her offstage, where she puts the dog back in the bag.

TED 2008: Robert Lang, origami expert

(I'm liveblogging from TED 2008, in Monterey, CA)

Presenter: Robert Lang, origami expert

Img 0273

Origami has been around for 100s of years. It didn't change until 1970s when it experienced a Cambrian explosion in variety and techniques. It got richer and more interesting because people started applying math.

Img 0274

The secret to origami, and so many other things, is to let dead people do your work for you, like looking at the geometry of disk packing.

Four simple laws can give rise to very rich complexity in origami. They have to do with properties of crease patterns, angles around a vertex, layer orders, and valleys and ridges. If you obey these laws you can make anything. He has a program on his website that will show you the fold patterns needed to make anything. (You give it a stick figure, it shows you the folds.)

Img 0277

He shows how he uses these mathematical ideas to fold a square sheet of paper into anything.

Origami has applications in other areas, like a solar array that flew in a Japanese satellite telescope, umbrella telescope, solar sail, airbag, heart stent (origami may save a life).

TED 2008: designer Yves Behar

(I'm liveblogging from TED 2008, in Monterey, CA) Presenter: designer Yves Behar, of Fuse Project. He designed the XO laptop, and the Jawbone Bluteooth headset.

Img 0271

The Jawbone: It has a humanistic technology. It feels your skin, and knows when you're talking and it gets rid of the environmental noise. We wanted to take out the techie and nerdy stuff and make it as beautiful as possible. If it isn't beautiful it doesn't belong on your face. We bring values and these values create a soul for the company we work with.

The XO laptop: (the $100 One Laptop Per Child). Nicholas Negroponte told Behar the design is why kids will want the laptop. He designed it to be iconic, too look like it was for a kid, but not a toy.

A couple of weeks ago I was in Palo Alto at a seminar, and I shot a short video clip of three people, who are a lot smarter than I am, struggling to open an XO laptop: Link

TED 2008: John Knoll on movie visual effects

(I'm liveblogging from TED 2008, in Monterey, CA. This morning's session is "How Do We Create?") Presenter: John Knoll, inventor of Photoshop and visual effects supervisor at Industrial Light and Magic.

Img 0267

John compared how visual effects were made for movies from the 1950s with contemporary movies. He showed clips from Disney's 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and clips from Pirates of the Caribbean.

The process hasn't changed that much. You start off looking at the script, have discussions with director, and decide what needs to be shot using visual effects: anything you can't just go out and shoot, anything that doesn't exist, anything that's too expensive, too dangerous, or just not possible.

20,000 Leagues Under the Sea used miniature ships in a studio tank (about 200 ' x 200', a few feet deep). The last pictures that used this techniques was Tora! Tora! Tora!. The tank method works pretty well but the scale of the water doesn't work well. Droplet size is wrong.

For Pirates, Knoll also built a tank, but came up with ways to split in full-size water droplets. Adding full scale water in background really helps.

Boing Boing tv: Dead media and living light.


Today on Boing Boing tv, another episode in our ongoing series of experimental animated shorts.

First, regular BBtv contributors monochrom from Austria give us The Void's Foaming Ebb, a hallucinatory retrospective of ancestral media -- from the eight-track to the VCR to long-extinct PDAs -- and a meditation on dead data-forms of the future (created by: Frank Apunkt Schneider, Christoph Sonnleitner, Johannes Grenzfurthner, Stefan Scheder, Roland Gratzer, David Dempsey). German version here.

Next, 198090 by BBtv favorites Peppermelon from Argentina -- a sweet short suggesting new forms of luminous eco-erotica (created by: Fernando Sarmiento & Tomás Garcia).

Link to BBtv post with downloadable video, and discussion.

Loony evangelical claims credit for Canadian film tax-credit changes that will doom edgy indie movies

Dave sez, "New legislation is before the Canadian senate that would deny arts funding for works deemed offensive. The legislation only became public yesterday, but could according to representatives of the film industry in Toronto, shut down many Canadian film productions before they get out the door, because funding would only be confirmed upon review of the finished product. No guarantee of funding means it's unlikely any lender would issue a performance bond."
A well-known evangelical crusader is claiming credit for the federal government's move to deny tax credits to TV and film productions that contain graphic sex and violence or other offensive content.

Charles McVety, president of the Canada Family Action Coalition, said his lobbying efforts included discussions with Public Safety Minister Stockwell Day and Justice Minister Rob Nicholson, and "numerous" meetings with officials in the Prime Minister's Office.

Link (Thanks, Dave!)