Simone Giertz on why we all should be making useless things

Donning a rad vest made with googly eyes, Shitty Robots' inventor extraordinaire Simone Giertz (who recently announced she has a brain tumor) makes a solid case for creating "useless" things in a TED Talk (!) she gave in April.

In this joyful, heartfelt talk featuring demos of her wonderfully wacky creations, Simone Giertz shares her craft: making useless robots. Her inventions -- designed to chop vegetables, cut hair, apply lipstick and more -- rarely (if ever) succeed, and that's the point. "The true beauty of making useless things [is] this acknowledgment that you don't always know what the best answer is," Giertz says. "It turns off that voice in your head that tells you that you know exactly how the world works. Maybe a toothbrush helmet isn't the answer, but at least you're asking the question."

Bonus: In her behind-the-TED-Talk-scenes video, she shares how she made that googly eyes vest (because you do need to know):

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Playful guerrilla group hang 'swing bombs' around San Francisco

Many locals whine that tech has killed the creative vibe in San Francisco but don't bury it just yet. A merry group of urban pranksters -- who call themselves Swing Bomb SF -- have surreptitiously placed over 50 swings around the city, as a way of turning it into an all-ages "pop-up playground"!

They've marked the bottom of each of these "swing bombs" with both the #SwingBombSF hashtag and a number from one to ??. They encourage folks to try and find all of their swings. However, since the project started a few weeks ago, some have already been removed. But don't let that stop you from searching them out.

Head to their Instagram for clues:

#swingbombsf . #randomactsofkindness #rakday #sanfrancisco #igerssf

A post shared by Swing Bomb SF (@swingbombsf) on Feb 17, 2018 at 9:49am PST

#swingbombsf . #sanfrancisco #embarcadero

A post shared by Swing Bomb SF (@swingbombsf) on Feb 17, 2018 at 3:17pm PST

#swingbombsf

A post shared by Swing Bomb SF (@swingbombsf) on Feb 17, 2018 at 1:33pm PST

photo by Christie Aurélio

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Ferdinando Buscema on the power of play

It is common in industrial and post-industrial societies to suppose a rigid, almost antagonistic division between work and play. We work in order to earn enough money to afford us time for something called fun or play—the antidote for work. Moreover, "play" is most often associated with children's pastimes, geeky video games, or other unproductive activities considered the opposite of seriousness. Maybe there is more to play than meets the eye?

In the classic study Homo Ludens, the great scholar Johan Huizinga pointed out the anthropological relevance and the profound evolutionary implications of the human activity called play. Huizinga saw the instinct for play as the central force of civilized life: "Law and order, commerce and profit, craft and art, poetry, wisdom and science. All are rooted in the primeval soil of play." Five hundred years before LEGO registered the trademark, Renaissance magus Marsilio Ficino used "Serious Play" (Serio Ludere) to describe the way the fathers of Western thought operated: “Pythagoras, Socrates, and Plato had the habit of hiding all divine mysteries behind the veil of (...) serious play". And speaking of divine mysteries, in the Hindu mythology the god Brahman creates the world itself, as it were, through Lila — "divine play." Play seems to be serious business after all.

Play is a state of mind, a highly sophisticated approach to life and work. Play is a fun, flow-inducing experience, among the most enjoyable states of consciousness available to humans. Play is a space for experimentation—a primal learning environment that allows one to take controlled risks without dangers. Read the rest

'Weird Box' is a cool interactive film starring your Instagram photos

This. is. awesome.

Go to Noah Levenson's Weird Box site and enter your Instagram handle. Then sit back and enjoy the ride.

Mr. Levenson, respect.

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Tinker Crate

Tinker Crate is a monthly subscription service, delivering cool toys to encourage engineering-style skills in kids aged 9 to 14. Instructions are included, but they also produce slick videos like the one above to further engage little minds. Project kits include parts and diagrams to make a trebuchet in one month, and a simple motor the next.

The site doesn't list more projects than that, but since they're offering subscriptions up to 12 months, we'll just have to sign up and be surprised. Read the rest

Playground removes "safety" rules; fun, development and injuries ensue

The Swanson School in Auckland, NZ, quietly eliminated all the rules against "unsafe play," allowing kids to play swordfight with sticks, ride scooters, and climb trees. It started when the playground structures were torn down to make way for new ones, and the school principal, Bruce McLachlan, noticed that kids were building their own structures out of the construction rubble. The "unsafe" playground has resulted in some injuries, including at least one broken arm, but the parents are very supportive of the initiative. In particular, the parents of the kid with the broken arm made a point of visiting the principal to ask him not to change the playground just because their kid got hurt.

The article in the Canadian National Post notes that Kiwis are less litigious, by and large, than Americans, and that they enjoy an excellent national health service, and says that these two factors are a large contributor to the realpolitik that makes the playground possible. But this is still rather daring by Kiwi standards. Read the rest

A More Resilient Species

“A playful brain is a more adaptive brain,” writes ethologist Sergio Pellis in The Playful Brain: Venturing to the Limits of Neuroscience. In his studies, he found that play-deprived rats fared worse in stressful situations.

In our own world filled with challenges ranging from cyber-warfare to infrastructure failure, could self-directed play be the best way to prepare ourselves to face them?

In self-directed play, one structures and drives one’s own play. Self-directed play is experiential, voluntary, and guided by one’s curiosity. This is different from play that is guided by an adult or otherwise externally directed.

A MacArthur Fellow told me that, when he was a teenager, his single mother would drop him off at an industrial supply store on Saturdays while she ran errands. Using library books as his primary resource, he built a linear accelerator in the garage. It wasn’t until neighbors complained about scrambled television and radio signals in the hours just after school and after dinner that his “playful” invention was discovered. Read the rest

Kathe Koja's "Under the Poppy": farewell stage performances in Detroit this April

Kathe Koja's brilliant novel Under the Poppy -- a dark, romantic, swirling wartime intrigue -- was adapted for stage in her hometown of Detroit.

Good news: Whale and dolphins are friends

Sometimes, you need to start off your week with a dose of happy news. For instance, this video from the American Museum of Natural History details two recent instances where scientists have observed a whale and several dolphins interacting in ways that are something we might classify as "play".

It's hard to talk about animal behavior without getting too anthropomorphizing, but think about it this way: In both instances, the whale and dolphins did not appear to be competing with other, they did not appear to be fighting, nor were they cooperating in a goal-oriented way. When scientists say "animals are playing" they don't necessarily mean "play" the way human children play, but they do mean behaviors that go beyond simple eat/sleep/defend/breed necessities. Play might be learning. Play might be about forming social bonds that help an individual later on. And however you interpret it, spotting examples of spontaneous, inter-species play in the wild is kind of a big deal.

And now, with those caveats out of the way, I'd like to highlight the top comment on YouTube, by one Bill Kiernan: "We both used to be land animals, isn't that crazy? clearly we need to hang out."

Video Link

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Little Brother stage-play in San Francisco

There's a new stage adaptation of my novel Little Brother opening in San Francisco. Charlie Jane Anders from IO9 got to go to the preview and loved it, which is incredibly heartening, since I won't get to see it!

So I'll just say that the version I saw was powerful and brilliant, and the cast was note-perfect, especially Daniel Petzold as Marcus Yallow. (The other two castmembers, Marissa Keltie and Cory Censoprano, have a harder task in some ways, since they play a variety of roles throughout the show. And they're both great as well.) The stage play uses a lot of pre-recorded video and some very clever sets to create a lot of different settings, as well as giving a primer in topics like the futility of using data-mining to catch terrorists.

Cory Doctorow’s Little Brother becomes a must-see stage play Read the rest