Computing in your fingernails and other weird wearables

Computers in your fingernails. Temporary tattoos laden with sensors. These are some of the new wearable technologies that UC Berkeley engineer and artist Eric Paulos is developing with his colleagues in the Hybrid Ecologies Laboratory. Mark Frauenfelder and I interviewed Eric about Cosmetic Computing in this episode of For Future Reference, a new podcast from Institute for the Future:

Please subscribe to For Future Reference: iTunes, RSS, Soundcloud

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Watch the '60 Minutes' episode "The Rastafarians" (1980) with Bob Marley

Not long after Bob Marley's death, Dan Rather heads to Jamaica, bringing with him the misinformed view of Rastafari that was common in the United States then (and, well, now).

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Watching synchronized swimmers upside down is very trippy

In the Olympics, there should be a medal for how impressive a synchronized swimming routine looks upside down and underwater. (via @ziyatong, thanks UPSO!)

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"Mindreading" robots and tech-art insanity in San Francisco this Friday-Sunday

This Friday through Sunday in San Francisco, my extreme maker pals Kal Spelletich (Survival Research Labs, Seemen) and Mitch Altman (Noisebridge, TV-B-Gone) invite you to what's sure to be a mind-bending experience of neuro-robotic weirdness and art at The Lab. From the description of the installation:
Split-Brain Robotics: Harvesting Brain Data for Robotic Mayhem and Enlightenment

An interactive audience participatory performance with two custom built 16’ tall robots, each identical, each controlled by the left and right side brainwaves of audience participants.

A hacked and customized brainwave monitor reads audience participants' right side and left side brainwaves to make the two robots move, collaborate, interact, fight, and even "kiss". Their live streaming brain data runs the two robots! Volunteers’ (your!) thoughts are brought to life through robotic actions.

When they do “correctly” interact, symbolic and metaphoric events will happen, activating, lasers, lights, fog, robotic eye views projections, sounds, chaos.

Split-Brain Robotics: Harvesting Brain Data for Robotic Mayhem and Enlightenment Read the rest

New podcast about the future from Mark Frauenfelder and David Pescovitz

Mark Frauenfelder and I are researchers at the non-profit Institute for the Future. During the course of our work, we frequently meet fascinating scientists, engineers, and big thinkers who are shaping the future through their groundbreaking work in the present. For Future Reference is IFTF's new podcast where we share those conversations about the expanding horizons of science, technology, and culture over the next decade. Listen below and please subscribe now: iTunes, RSS, Soundcloud

We hope you enjoy it!

Episode 1: Teaching Robots Teamwork

Institute for the Future researchers Mark Frauenfelder and David Pescovitz talk with University of Southern California roboticist Nora Ayanian about what robots can learn from humans working together, and vice versa.

Episode 2: Alien Hunting

Institute for the Future researchers Mark Frauenfelder and David Pescovitz talk with Seth Shostak, senior astronomer at the SETI Institute, about the search for extraterrestrial intelligence.

Episode 3: Hacking Your Biology

Institute for the Future researchers Mark Frauenfelder and David Pescovitz talk with rogue biophysicist Josiah Zayner about affordable tools for DIY genetic engineering and how to hack your biome.

Episode 4: Fueling Greener Fuels

Institute for the Future researchers Mark Frauenfelder and David Pescovitz talk with chemist Kendra Kuhl, CEO of Opus 12, about her technology for recycling carbon dioxide into useful fuels and chemicals.

Episode 5: Mind Melding

Institute for the Future researchers Mark Frauenfelder and David Pescovitz talk with neuroscientist and IFTF fellow Melina Uncapher, CEO and co-founder of the Institute for Applied Neuroscience that brings scientific research about our brains to critical social issues. Read the rest

The Sounds of the Junk Yard, a 1964 vinyl record

Last week, I posted about The Sounds of the Office, a 1964 vinyl record released by Folkways Records of field recordings by Michael Siegel. This week, it's The Sounds of the Junk Yard, another 1964 Folkways collection of Siegel's field recordings, ranging from an Acetylene Torch to Alligator Shears to a Paper Baler.

Moses Asch founded the incredibly influential Folkways Records label in 1948 to record and share music and sounds from around the world. Along with bringing the music of Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger, Lead Belly, and Elizabeth Cotten to wider audiences, Folkways, acquired in 1987 by Smithsonian, also issued incredible sound recordings from the Ituri rainforest, Navajo Nation, Peru, and many other locations and indigenous peoples across the globe. (In fact, the label provided several tracks for the Voyager Golden Record, now 12+ billion miles from Earth! Researching that project with my partner Tim Daly, a DIY musicologist himself, I've become absolutely enchanted by Folkways. If any of you dear readers have Folkways LPs collecting dust, I'd give them a wonderful home.) Along with music, Folkways released LPs with poetry, language instruction, nature sounds (frogs! insects), and other field recordings. The Sounds of the Junk Yard reminds me of an Einstürzende Neubauten album but was issued a decade before the birth of "Industrial Music" was born.

"Some junk yard equipment is common to all of them, some is more specialized," wrote Siegel in the album liner notes. "All these sounds were recorded in yards in Warren, Pennsylvania."

Hear more samples at the Smithsonian Folkways page here. Read the rest

Burt Ward's "Boy Wonder" song, a collaboration with Frank Zappa

In 1966, Burt "Robin" Ward recorded with the Mothers of Invention under the direction of Frank Zappa. The result is really something.

From Burt Ward's autobiography Boy Wonder: My Life in Tights:

The image of the Boy Wonder is all American and apple pie, while the image of the Mothers of Invention was so revolutionary that they made the Hell’s Angels look like the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. Even I had to laugh seeing a photo of myself with those animals.

Their fearless leader and king of grubbiness was the late Frank Zappa. (The full name of the band was Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention.) After recording with me, Frank became an internationally recognized cult superstar, which was understandable; after working with me, the only place Frank could go was up.

Although he looked like the others, Frank had an intelligence and education that elevated him beyond brilliance to sheer genius. I spent a considerable amount of time talking with him, and his rough, abrupt exterior concealed an intellectual, creative and sensitive interior...

In an attempt at self-preservation, the record company had me just talk on the second two sides I recorded. That I could do very well! The material for the song was a group of fan letters that had been sent to me. Frank and I edited them together to make one letter, which became the lyrics for the recording. Frank wrote a melody and an arrangement, and we titled the song, “Boy Wonder, I Love You!”

Among the lyrics was an invitation for me to come and visit an adoring pubescent fan and stay with her for the entire summer.

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William Powell, author of The Anarchist Cookbook, RIP

William Powell, author of the iconic counterculture how-to guide The Anarchist Cookbook, died last year of a heart attack. His death was just made public. As a teen, I learned many important things from The Anarchist Cookbook: mixing iodine crystals with ammonia is indeed explosive, smoking banana peels won't get you high (contrary to the book), and Rikers Island is to be avoided. Powell wrote the book when he was 19 and disavowed it later in life after becoming a Christian. The Anarchist Cookbook remained in print, much to his chagrin. “The central idea to the book was that violence is an acceptable means to bring about political change,” he wrote on the book's Amazon page. “I no longer agree with this.” From the Los Angeles Times:

“The Anarchist Cookbook,” which has sold at least 2 million copies — printed, downloaded or otherwise — and remains in publication, was originally a 160-page book that offered a nuts-and-bolts overview of weaponry, sabotage, explosives, booby traps, lethal poisons and drug making. Illustrated with crude drawings, it informed readers how to make TNT and Molotov cocktails, convert shotguns to rocket launchers, destroy bridges, behead someone with piano wire and brew LSD.

The book came with a warning: “Not for children or morons.”

In a foreword, Powell advised that he hadn’t written the book for fringe militant groups of the era like the Weathermen or Minutemen, but for the “silent majority” in America, those he said needed to learn the tools for survival in an uncertain time.

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Incredible giant chocolate geodes

Alex Yeatts, a student at the Culinary Institute of America, worked for six months to cook up amazing chocolate geode cakes. Crack one open to reveal the dazzling sugar crystals. Stunning work.

A post shared by Alex Yeatts (@alex.yeatts) on Mar 11, 2017 at 10:18am PST

A post shared by Alex Yeatts (@alex.yeatts) on Mar 20, 2017 at 6:59am PDT

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Quiz: Was this painting made by a human artist or ape?

Which of the paintings above is by a respected abstract painter who is human and which was painted by a non-human ape in the Congo?

The answer is in the comments.

Take the full quiz here: "An artist or an ape?"

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DJI proposing "electronic license plates" for drones

Drone manufacturer DJI published a white paper proposing a kind of license plate for drones in the form of a wireless identifier that the buzzing UAVs would be required to broadcast. The paper describes a possible way to balance the privacy of drone operators with perceived public concern about whose controlling the bots buzzing overhead. You can read the full paper as a PDF here. From David Schneider's column in IEEE Spectrum:

As the company points out in its whitepaper, drone operators might want to maintain anonymity even if there were people around to witness their flights. Suppose, for example, that a company were surveying land in anticipation of purchasing and developing it. That company might not want to clue in competitors. Or perhaps the drone is being flown for the purposes of investigative journalism, in which case the journalists involved might not want others to know about their investigations.

DJI proposes that drones be required to broadcast an identifying code by radio . . . That code would not include the name and address of the owner, but authorities would be able to use it to look that information up in a non-public database—a kind of electronic license plates for drones.

At the same time, it’s easy to understand why law-enforcement or regulatory authorities would sometimes want to identify the owner or operator of a drone, say, if somebody felt the drone were invading their privacy or if a drone were being flown close to a nuclear power plant.

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How new emojis are born, a comic

Over at The Nib, excellent historical cartoonist Andy Warner, author of the wonderful Brief Histories of Everyday Objects, tells the story of how the Unicode Consortium brings new emoji into our online lives. From The Nib:

Read the full comic: "Want a New Emoji? Good Luck." Read the rest

The man who literally sniffed out the problems in NYC's subway

In the early 20th century, James "Smelly" Kelly used his legendary sense of smell and DIY inventions to find hazards, leaks, elephant poop, and eels that were causing problems in the New York City subway system. Atlas Obscura's Eric Grundhauser profiles the the man known as The Sniffer:

In addition to finding water leaks and plumbing issues, Kelly was also responsible for detecting dangerous gas and chemical leaks. From invisible gas fumes that could be ignited by a random spark, to gasoline draining into the system from above-ground garages, Kelly was there to find them out using his allegedly hypersensitive nose.

The most sensational tale of Kelly’s sense of smell was the time he was called to a 42nd Street station to suss out a stench that had overtaken the platforms. According to Kelly’s own account, the smell was so bad it almost bowled him over, but as he got his head back in the game, he pinpointed the source of the reek as… elephants. Amazingly, he was correct. The station in question had been built beneath the location of the old New York Hippodrome, which had been torn down in 1939. The Hippodrome had often featured a circus, and layers of elephant dung had ended up buried at the site. A broken water main had rehydrated the fossilized dung and subsequently leaked into the subway. Until, that is, Smelly Kelly was able to identify it.

"The Man Who Used His Nose to Keep New York’s Subways Safe" (Atlas Obscura) Read the rest

What is the fastest music that humans can play and appreciate?

Bass player/instructor Adam Neely explores the fastest "useful" music that humans can play. It's a fascinating topic, really, especially how he, and scientists/musicologists, frame the question around what's musically "useful." And yes, speed metal is considered "useful."

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Watch MC Escher make art in this short documentary

M.C. Escher: Adventures in Perception (1971) is a 20-minute Dutch documentary about the artist and includes scenes of him working in his studio. From Open Culture:

Obsessed with perspective, geometry, and pattern (Escher described tessellation as “a real mania to which I have become addicted”), his images have, by the count of mathematician and Escher scholar Doris Schattschneider, led so far to eleven separate strands of mathematical and scientific research.

The twenty-minute Adventures in Perception, originally commissioned by the Netherlands’ Ministry of Foreign Affairs, offers in its first half a meditation on the mesmerizing, often impossible world Escher had created with his art to date. Its second half captures Escher in the last years of his life, still at work in his Laren, North Holland studio. It even shows him printing one of the three titular serpents, threaded through a set of elaborately interlocking circles, of his very last print Snakes. He never actually finished Snakes, whose patterns would have continued on to the effect of infinity, and even says here of his officially complete works that none succeed, “because it’s the dream I tried for that can’t be realized.”

(via Neatorama)

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The Doors' Ray Manzarek tells, and plays, the history of "Riders on the Storm"

The great Ray Manzarek makes magic on the Fender Rhodes as he reveals the musical evolution of the classic Doors song. (Don't blink or you'll miss guitarist Robby Krieger.)

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Video from camera falling from airplane and landing in pig pen

An oldie but goodie. I was expecting the GoPro logo to pop up at the end.

"Camera falls from a sky diving airplane and lands on my property in my pig pen. I found the camera 8 months later and viewed this video."

(via Kottke)

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