Hipster snake sports mustache and sunglasses


The Texas Park and Wildlife Department recently posted this photo of a particularly stylish Western rat snake.

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Artificial intelligence won't destroy the human race anytime soon


The Allen Institute for Artificial Intelligence (AI2), funded by billionaire Paul Allen's, is developing projects like an AI-based search engine for scientific papers and a system to extract "visual knowledge" from images and videos. According to Scientific American, another goal of AI2 is "to counter messages perpetuated by Hollywood and even other researchers that AI could menace the human race." SciAm's Larry Greenemeier interviewed AI2 CEO and computer scientist Oren Etzioni:

Why do so many well-respected scientists and engineers warn that AI is out to get us?

It’s hard for me to speculate about what motivates somebody like Stephen Hawking or Elon Musk to talk so extensively about AI. I’d have to guess that talking about black holes gets boring after awhile—it’s a slowly developing topic. The one thing that I would say is that when they and Bill Gates—someone I respect enormously—talk about AI turning evil or potential cataclysmic consequences, they always insert a qualifier that says “eventually” or this “could” happen. And I agree with that. If we talk about a thousand-year horizon or the indefinite future, is it possible that AI could spell out doom for the human race? Absolutely it’s possible, but I don’t think this long-term discussion should distract us from the real issues like AI and jobs and AI and weapons systems. And that qualifier about “eventually” or “conceptually” is what gets lost in translation...

How do you ensure that an AI program will behave legally and ethically?

If you’re a bank and you have a software program that’s processing loans, for example, you can’t hide behind it.

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How to cut heavy duty string with your hand

"With the right tension, and the right distance of "travel" it doesn't even hurt your hand...much." (Essential Craftsman)

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Woman with skull on stick leads police to corpse


A woman walking around Sacramento with a skull on a stick led police to a homeless encampment where she found the cranium. Apparently someone spotted the woman marching around with the skull and called police. After police found the woman at an abandoned house, she took them to the area where they located the body.

"A call like this is not something that happens every day," Sacramento police Sgt. Bryce Heinlein told Fox 40. "We hope we can get down to the bottom of what caused this person to become deceased." Read the rest

Maserati Hearse


People are dying for a ride in Ellena Funeral Car's Maserati Hearse:

Multifunctional steering wheel - Dual-zone automatic climate control - Windshield wiper with rain sensor - Body in fiberglass - Hydraulic Alzabara - Interior lighting LED - Stainless steel cladding and imitation leather boating - Cross removable stainless steel - Hooks door wreaths - Audio engineer - Metallic paint choice

Optional accessories: - Opening the tailgate automatic - Platform Automatic - Parking sensors - Tinted windows

Maserati Hearse (via Uncrate)

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I'm Bored: surreal and weirdly touching comics by Jess Rotter


If the Zap Comix collective hung out in Gary Larson's basement rolling numbers on psychedelic record covers while giggling about those motivational calendars where you tear off one earnest aphorism each day, and the internal awkwardness that all of us experience, the comix that emerge would likely fit into I'm Bored, the surreal and wonderful new book by illustrator Jess Rotter with a foreword by Kate and Laura Mulleavy of Rodarte. Below are a few pages for your pleasure. You likely recognize Jess's art from her inspired illustrations for vinyl and apparel projects from Rodriguez, the Grateful Dead, Yusuf/Cat Stevens, Best Coast, Light in the Attic Records, and her bimonthly "Songbird Stories" column for Lena Dunham's Lenny Letter. I'm Bored is Jess's first book and I'm already ready for the next trip.

Visit Hat & Beard Press to order the hardback of I'm Bored, a special lenticular-cover edition, or bundles including a variety of delightful patches, postcards, and apparel.

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Participate in a Silicon Valley design jam to make the future of work more equitable for everyone


My colleagues at Institute for the Future are hosting a "Positive Platform Design Jam" November 30-December 1 at our Palo Alto, California gallery and offices. The goal is to hack on software or conceptual frameworks for on-demand platforms that not only maximize profits for their owners but also provide dignified and sustainable livelihoods for those who work on them. Are you a creative technologist, social inventor, policy expert, labor activist? IFTF hopes you'll apply to participate!

From IFTF:

Why are we doing this?

A host of technologies—from automation to digital platforms for coordination of tasks — are reinventing not just what people do to earn a living but at a much deeper level how we organize to create value. The landscape of labor economics is in upheaval. In the process, new platforms, algorithms, and attitudes are undermining many established institutions, regulatory regimes, and work practices, challenging some of the basic tenets of the social safety net established in the 20th century. But what of the workers? How can we ensure dignified and sustainable livelihoods for everyone?

Solutions won’t come from any one agency, discipline, or company. It will take collaboration, broad public engagement, smart policy, and an openness to reinventing old economic models. And while we can’t put the technologies enabling on-demand platforms back in the box, the algorithms we embed in them, the platform design choices we make, the policy and regulatory solutions we create can be shaped by all of us. It is one of the more urgent tasks that we face today.

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Support Radiotopia, home to 99% Invisible, Song Exploder, and many of the best podcasts

The Radiotopia podcasting collective is home to most of my absolute favorite podcasts: 99% Invisible, The Memory Palace, and Song Exploder. Roman Mars, founder of Radiotopia and 99% Invisible, and the other podcasters have created something truly wonderful with this network. And once every year they ask for our support to keep the network going. Count me in. From their fundraising page:

Back in the day, homemade mixtapes helped convey feelings words could not. Songs were meticulously arranged in a particular order, and each track told a different story. Decorating the tape case was as important as curating the content. Every detail counted, and sharing a mixtape with someone meant the world.

Radiotopia embodies the mixtape tradition. Our shows explore life, society and culture through illuminating and unforgettable stories. We focus on craft, value process, and champion good design—from the sounds in every episode, to each show’s logo and custom artwork. And we’re big fans of sharing what we love with you.

Once a year, we ask you to think about how much Radiotopia podcasts mean to you, and to make a donation to help keep the network strong. Here’s your chance to support the original, independent and wildly creative Radiotopians you love, so they can continue to create amazing audio experiences for you.

Support Radiotopia!

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"Self-control" can be switched off with electromagnetic brain stimulation


University of Zurich researchers used transcranial magnetic stimulation, a noninvasive method of inhibiting activity in parts of the brain, to "turn off" people's ability to control their impulses. They focused on the temporoparietal junction, an area of the brain thought to play an important role in moral decisions, empathy, and other social interactions. They hope their research could help inform our understanding of addiction and self-discipline. From Scientific American:

In their study, subjects underwent 40 seconds of disruptive transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS)—in which a magnetic coil placed near the skull produced small electric currents in the brain that inhibited activity of the posterior TPJ—then spent 30 minutes completing a task. To rule out a placebo effect, a control group received TMS in a different area of the brain. In one task, subjects made a choice between a reward (ranging between 75 and 155 Swiss francs) for themselves or one that was shared equally between themselves and another person, who ranged from their closest confidante to a stranger on the street. In another task subjects were offered an immediate reward of between zero and 160 Swiss francs or a guarantee of 160 Swiss francs after waiting three to 18 months. In a final task, subjects were instructed to take the perspective of an avatar and indicate the number of red dots on a ball that the avatar would see.

Subjects with an inhibited TPJ were less likely to share the money and were more likely to take the money up front rather than delay gratification and wait for a larger prize.

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Last call for the Voyager Golden Record: 40th Anniversary Edition!


Are you jonesing for a dose of optimism and possibility? In the mood to contemplate the cosmos? Want to experience a musical message for extraterrestrials the way it was meant to be played? The Voyager Golden Record: 40th Anniversary Edition, a project I launched with Timothy Daly and Lawrence Azerrad, is a lavish vinyl box set containing the contents of the phonograph record launched into space in 1977 and now 13 billion miles from Earth.

Our Kickstarter ends at 8pm PDT tonight (Thursday). Once we fulfill the rewards from this campaign, we'll never produce this deluxe 40th Anniversary Edition again.

We are so thankful enthusiasm and excitement about our project and the incredible Voyager interstellar mission. The curiosity and support is infectious. We're deeply grateful that a project that has been on our minds for so long has resonated with so many people around the world. Ad astra!

For more on the Voyager Golden Record: 40th Anniversary Edition, please visit our Kickstarter page here.

And here's an excerpt from an interview with me about the project, from The Vinyl Factory:

Ultimately it was a utopian vision for Earth as much as an actual attempt to communicate with extra terrestrials… Wasn’t it?

Yeah I think the idea is that if there is a civilisation that is intelligent enough to actually intercept it, they’ll be able to follow the instructions on how to play it. And I think that’s true. In some ways though, it doesn’t even really matter if it’s ever played or not by an extra-terrestrial civilisation.

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This single potato chip costs $11


Swedish brewery S:t Eriks created a box of fancy potato chips that costs 499 kr (~$56). There are five chips in each box. Obviously a marketing/fundraising gimmick, but they certainly sound like quite the artisanal chip. Ingredients include: matsutake, truffle seaweed, crown dill, Leksand onion, India Pale Ale wort, and potatoes gathered from a "hillside in Ammarnäs, a steep, stony slope in a south-facing location where almond potatoes are cultivated in very limited numbers."

They made just 100 boxes and sadly they have all sold out (with proceeds going to charity). Oh well, there are always Pringles.

S:t Eriks Chips (via Weird Universe)

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The story of Snopes


All lies lead to the truth. For over 20 years, Snopes.com has been the Web's primary bullshit detector and debunker, from death by Pop Rocks to political lies. We need Snopes more than ever. For a Webby Awards exclusive feature, I commissioned talented journalist Rob Walker to explore the history of Snopes and founder David Mikkelson's relentless obsession with, of all things, the truth. From the article:

In the heat of the Republican presidential primary, Jerry Falwell Jr. appeared on The Sean Hannity Show to talk about the Donald Trump he has gotten to know—a man defined by “stuff the public never hears.” So he shared an anecdote about the time the billionaire’s limousine broke down, and a random passing couple stopped to help. Later, these Good Samaritans got some surprising news: As a gesture of thanks, Trump had paid off the their home mortgage. “Pretty impressive,” Hannity declared.

But wait a second. Who exactly were these people, and why couldn’t the limo driver just call AAA? Impressive as this anecdote sounds, is it true? Well, what does Snopes say? Founded more than two decades ago, Snopes.com was originally devoted to researching all manner of just-so tales and urban folklore sourced to a friend of a friend, or to no source at all. These days, when readers “submit a rumor” they’d like confirmed or debunked, it’s likely to be a tale tied to current events. And yes, Snopes founder David Mikkelson recognized that “impressive” Trump anecdote immediately.

“That same story had been told for years,” he says.

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Vintage snapshots of people with their record albums


Esteemed vernacular photography collector Robert Jackson shares his favorite snapshots of people with their record albums. According to Mashable, "These faded prints and Polaroids recall a time when a new record was a physical work of art to be admired and cherished." I got news for you: That time is still now.

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Blade Runner drawn in Microsoft Paint


David MacGowan is recreating Blade Runner shot-by-shot as Microsoft Paint illustrations. He tells Motherboard:

I like the idea of having a blog but basically feel as if I have very little to say about things, at least things that are original or interesting. I gravitated to Tumblr with some idea of just posting pictures, but still felt I needed to be posting something I'd actually made myself... [Y]ears ago I used to draw really crappy basic MS Paint pics for a favourite pop group's fan site, and they always seemed to raise a smile. The idea of doing something else with MS Paint, a kind of celebration of my not being deterred by lack of artistic talent, never really went away....

I don't really think about giving up. The idea of actually completing something I start out to do (for once in my life) is very appealing,And it's fun, it's not a chore.

MSP Blade Runner

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Animation about solar sailing to the nearest star

In this wonderful animation, billionaire Russian physicist and investor Yuri Milner explains his effort to launch tiny probes, powered by 12 foot solar sails, on an interstellar mission to the nearest star, Alpha Centauri, within two decades. Cosmologist Stephen Hawking and Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg are on the board of Milner's group, called Breakthrough Initiatives. The project builds on decades of work by scientists Carl Sagan, Louis Friedman, and Bruce Murray who pioneered solar sail technology through the Planetary Society, the fantastic citizen-funded space advocacy and research organization they co-founded in 1980. Indeed, Friedman is an advisor to Milner's Starshot effort.

For more on solar sailing, check out the Planetary Society's LightSail project and their blog post earlier this year about Milner's far out project.

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Man blind since birth asked if he knows what he looks like

Tommy Edison, the very funny "Blind Film Critic," who has been without sight since birth, answers the question: "Does it bother you that you don't know what you look like?"

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Sylvan Esso: folktronica you can dance to

At last weekend's rainy and wonderful Treasure Island Music Festival on the San Francisco Bay, there were myriad sublime moments on and off the stages. My highlight was the evening set by Sylvan Esso, the indie pop/electronica/folk duo of Amelia Meath and producer Nick Sanborn. While Sylvan Esso's self-titled 2014 release is still attracting new fans (like me), they're prepping a new album for next year. The above track, "Radio," released in August, is a fantastic glimpse of what's to come.

Once again, Treasure Island served as a visceral stream of music discovery for me. It was the festival's final year on the island and I look forward to wherever our friends who curate and produce the festival, Noise Pop and Another Planet Entertainment, drop their anchor next year.

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