There is no way for reasonable adults to argue that the most awesome car on the planet is the Eliica.
It’s an all-electric car developed by Tokyo’s Keio University — and it goes from zero to 60 in 4.2 seconds, has a top speed of 230 miles an hour, sports gull-style wings, and has EIGHT WHEELS. As SpaceMart reports:
“We will initially target the wealthy clientele usually using chauffeured cars as well as rich company owners for their private use,” said Hiroichi Yoshida, Keio professor for media and governance in the Eliica project.
“We are talking about something like watches — a machine combining motors and batteries. As its price can fall quickly in the future, we think it’s important to establish a superb brand image first,” he told AFP.
Apparently it’ll cost $260,000 US. For those of us proles who can’t afford that sort of bling — though can anyone afford NOT to have AN EIGHT WHEELED CAR?? — here’s the alternative: A papercraft Eliica! Click here to get the full-color PDF you can print out, cut up, then fold into your own tiny approximation of what the future ought to look like.
(Thanks to Wired for this one!)
Dig this: The physicist Richard Taylor has developed a technique for authenticating Jackson Pollock “poured” paintings — by analyzing their fractal dimensions.
Taylor, who also has a degree in art theory, got interested in Pollock’s work back in the 1990s. He suspected that Pollock’s famously chaotic paintings — created by the artist standing over the canvases and dripping paint — displayed fractal mathematics: They had self-replicating geometry, such that the larger shapes in the picture were similar to the tiny shapes you’d see if you looked at closely the edges of the splatters. He put computer-generated grids over images of five Pollock splatter paintings and, sure enough, there they were: Two sets of fractal patterns, one that resolved on a 5 mm scale, and another on a 1 mm scale.
There were two reasons to suspect that Pollock’s paintings might obey fractal geometry. Moving around a large canvas laid on the ground, the artist let paint fly from all angles, using his whole body. Human motion is known to display fractal properties when people restore their balance, says Taylor, and films of Pollock seem to show him painting in a state of ‘controlled off-balance’. Second, the dripping and pouring itself could be a chaotic process. [snip]
“Pollock was in control,” says Taylor. The large-scale fractals are a fingerprint of the artist’s body motion, he notes. “But the small-scale fractals are also to do with his choices — his height over the canvas, the fluidity of his paint, angle and force behind the trajectory, and so on.”
Cool enough, eh? Now dig this: Last year, 32 new “poured” paintings — purportedly by Pollock — were uncovered for the first time. Art historians have been arguing heatedly over whether they’re real Pollocks, because the official Pollock authentication board was disbanded in 1995 when it was assumed there were no new Pollocks to find. One of the former members of the board is launching a new show of Pollock’s work that includes some the new-found paintings; after seeing one of Taylor’s papers on his Pollock-fractal work (in Pattern Recognition Letters, a just awesomely-titled academic journal), the art expert sent Taylor six of the new paintings to analyze.
His verdict? They didn’t display Pollock’s distinctive fractal patterns. While Taylor says his technique shouldn’t be regarded as a final word on Pollock authenticity, it’s a pretty nifty use of fractal math.
(Thanks to Erik Weissengruber for this one!)
Three years ago (jesus, I’ve been blogging for three years?) I had a suggestion for TV advertisers who were worried about the threat of Tivo: Try steganography. If Tivo users were fast-forwarding through ads, then why not create ads that are optimized for this behavior? Create ads that produce one coherent visual when viewed at normal speed, and another coherent effect — an entirely different one — when viewed in fast-forward. Sure, that’d be hard to do, but hey: Life’s hard.
So I was intrigued this weekend to learn that KFC is the first company to tweak an ad specifically for Tivo. They’ve released a TV spot that contains a subliminal message that can be seen only when you scroll through the entire ad on slow-motion. Go frame-by-frame through their new “Buffalo KFC Snacker” ad (pictured above), and you’ll encounter a single frame that lists a secret code you can use to get one free!
I love it. Phil Swann of TVPredictions.com has written a short commentary about the ad, echoing my original point:
There’s no question that the DVR makes it easier to skip commercials, but the KFC ad demonstrates that the advertising industry will adjust to the change. Future TV commercials will include more DVR gimmicks and other techniques to stop viewers before they skip.
Wired News has just published my latest video-game column, and this one points out an interesting trend: While George Lucas’ movies have declined drastically in quality, his video-games have begun to rock with voluminous force. Why? I think it’s because video-games have begun to siphon off most of the cultural juice of sci-fi.
Forget Film, Games Do Sci-Fi Best
by Clive Thompson
Ah, the subtle pleasures of intergalactic fascism. My flotilla of TIE fighters swarmed through space like locusts, picking off rebel troops at will. My mammoth Star Destroyers had reduced a rebel base to a smoldering hulk, and Darth Vader had personally blown up the Millennium Falcon and killed that jackass Han Solo — twice.
As you might have guessed, I was playing Star Wars: Empire at War, the latest strategy title from Lucas Games. And something quite rare was happening: Even though I was deep inside a George Lucas creation, I was having a total blast.
I blogged a while back about “why conservatives hate MP3 players” — the folks on the cultural right who think personal audio-players seal young people into self-involved bubbles of existential onanism, in which they pay no attention to the world around them.
Now it turns out this debate has arisen in the winter Olympics! Apparently, this year’s young Olympians love their iPods so much that many listen to them while they’re competing. The US snowboard team has even wired their uniforms to accomodate iPods, with iPod-sized pockets, speakers in their hoods, and control panels on their left sleeves. The music, says snowboarder Dustin Majewski, helps him stay in the zone: “It enables you to focus on what you’re doing without actually focusing, if that makes any sense,” he told the Baltimore Sun. “You’re not over-thinking, and that’s the best way to perform the harder tricks and maneuvers.”
That description is both hilariously incoherent and oddly spot-on. I think he’s trying to describe the sense of “flow” — being so joyously immersed in a task that the rest of the world seems to drop away: Perfect concentration without any sense of effort. But as it turns out, not all trainers and athletes think music has this sort of effect, as the Sun story goes on to report:
“I’m not certain it’s such a good idea” to listen to a music player during events, said Mike Jones of Dundalk, the president of the Baltimore Ski Club. “When you’re doing aerials and everything, you have to concentrate and focus on positions. On a day when it’s cloudy, you don’t know whether you’re looking at snow or sky, and distractions can be very dangerous.”
In fact, Spyder — the company that sponsors the alpine ski team — didn’t rig its Olympic uniforms with iPod-ready wires in part because of safety concerns.
“The skiers are racing down at 40 miles an hour,” said Laura Wisner, a company spokeswoman. “You are in a completely different realm. It would not be a good time to listen to your iPod.”
(Thanks to Yishay Mor for this one!)
Complex mathematical concepts are difficult to teach, so textbooks frequently try to explain things by referring to everyday phenomenon. But textbooks are often pretty culturally specific, so it’s hard to translate them from one country to another — or even from one cultural group to another. A textbook written using farm examples from rural Idaho ain’t gonna cut it with kids in New York who’ve never even seen a tree, and vice versa. So the trick is to find relevant culture that also represents high-end math.
Such as … cornrow hair braids. Some educators realized that cornrows were a great example of fractal geometry, and developed some software that illustrates how it works. Ron Eglash of the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute wrote about it on his web site:
Each braid is represented as multiple copies of a “Y” shaped plait. In each iteration, the plait is copied, and a transformation is applied. The series of transformed copies creates the braid. In the above example, we can see the original style at top right, and a series of braid simulations, each composed of plait copies that are successively scaled down, rotated, and translated (reflection is only applied to whole braids, as in the case where one side of the head is a mirror image of the other). One of the interesting research outcomes was that our students discovered which parameters need to remain the same and which would be changed in order to produce the entire series of braids (that is, how to iterate the iterations).
(Thanks to Yishay Mor for this one!)
You may have heard of the Realdoll corporation — makers of the highest-quality, full-sized, photorealistic artificial love companions on the planet. If you haven’t, do not click on that link if you’re at work, comrade. Suffice to say that Realdolls are very expensive ($6,000), highly customizable, available with a stiff internal skeleton rendering them “posable”, and thus, in summary, creepy as all get out. For years I’d snickered about Realdolls and assumed they were a toy for people who actually preferred the landscape at the inky bottom of the Uncanny Valley.
But photographer Ellen Dorfman took a different view of it. She called up dozens of Realdoll owners and convinced them to let her take intimate pictures of them to illustrate their relationships with the dolls. Dorfman ran the photos as an exhibit, published them in a book, and has a web site devoted to the project: “Still Lovers”. (The photos on her site are mostly safe for work, but a few aren’t, so be careful what you click.) As she writes:
My introduction to this world began on a suburban, tree-lined, mid-western street, but ultimately took me throughout the U.S. and the U.K. Jerry and Adriana had not one doll — but five — and at that time they kept them hidden from their children and visitors in a secret closet built into a wall. This closet was cushioned and climate controlled, with the girls’ shoes lined up neatly beneath their dangling feet. Adriana was the collector of the dolls, not her husband. She was convinced that each girl represented a different part of herself: lover, child, friend, toy and intellectual partner.
Man, Carlo Collodi is spinning in his grave.
(Thanks to Chris Foley for this one!)
A year ago, I blogged about a question that Daniel Luke, a Collision Detection reader, emailed to me: Why isn’t there a tool that lets blog commenters keep track of all their comments at various blogs? After all, many people who aren’t themselves bloggers are prolific commenters, and those “commentosphere” conversations are often as rich — or richer — than the original posts from which they spawn. Being able to quickly collect together and parse your comments would be a very cool way of reviewing your thought processes of the few years — much the same way a blog functions as an “outboard brain”, in Cory Doctorow’s formulation.
Anyway, in a nicely recursive fashion, that posting of mine was heavily commented upon, and several people pointed out various elegant hacks that commenters had used to collate their comments. But I still hadn’t seen a specific tool that existed solely for doing this …
coComment is free, and will help you keep track of the comments and conversations you and others are making on blogs.
Did you ever lose track of a conversation because you lost the URL of the post you’ve commented on? Have you ever wished to be informed when someone responds to your comment, rather than frantically refreshing the page looking for a reaction to your latest comment? How much would it improve your life if you could see all our conversations in one easy and simple page?
coComment will address these issues by giving you an easy and seamless way to track and follow your online comments and conversations.
I’ve no idea how well it works, but the evidently the designers have been absorbing the Web 2.0 mojo: Their page listing the most-frequently-commented-upon blogs and postings uses the classic Flickr style, where point size increases with popularity.
(Thanks to Daniel Luke for this one!)
A few weeks ago, I blogged about a web page, purportedly written by two college students, discussing how to cook an egg using two mobile phones. The page had been slowly wending its way through the blogosphere, and a few days after my posting it hit Boing Boing and Slashdot, whereupon it totally blew up.
But as several commenters on my posting noted, the story seemed like a hoax. Having guilelessly posted it, I gamely attempted a few half-hearted defenses of my gullibility … until the actual hoaxster himself arrived to explain that indeed, it was all a joke, and I was simpy too gormless to have seen through it. Winner.
Anyway, the folks at Gelf Magazine actually interviewed the hoaxster, and discovered that it is Charlie Ivermee, a 60-year-old British man. Ivermee confirmed that the hoax has enjoyed several epidemiological outbreaks of success: It got 50,000 hits last September, and the week Boing Boing and Slashdot wrote about it, another 18,500 visitors came by:
“I really underestimated how many people would take it seriously,” he tells Gelf over email. “No other page on the site has grabbed people’s attention and ire button as much as this one. What seems to be happening is that it ‘travels’ from blog to blog, forum to forum. It was big in Australia last year and seems to be big in the US right now.” [snip]
Why did he write the piece? “It was 6 years ago but I seem to recall that there was a lot of concern about people’s brains getting fried and being from a radio/electronics background I found it all rather silly,” he writes. “So I thought I’d add to the silliness.”
(Thanks to David Goldenberg for this one!)
Dig this: The Department of Defense is developing a ship that can travel at high speeds while producing virtually no wake. It’s called the “M Hull” ship, because its hull is composed of four arches laid sidelong, like two Ms. According to the manufacturers — the M Ship Co. — the arches channel the water into spirals, which reduce drag, improve efficiency, and ease the transition from slow to high speeds. But they also impart an element of stealth, as their press release notes:
The M-hull geometry is designed to capture the bow wave, which is a significant component of the wave pattern around a ship. By capturing the bow wave, the vapour/fluid flow field passively dampens the visible and acoustic signature of the vessel. The stern wake energy that moves away from the ship through the momentum transfer process of water molecules is inhibited by the presence of millions of captured air bubbles under and trailing the ship. In the same way, noise from the vessel’s passage and its machinery is reduced.
Here’s a story about it with a cool graphic illustrating the water spirals.
New York magazine asked me to write a piece on the blog economy, and it’s finally online! A copy of the piece is online at their site, but here’s an archived copy below too. I also wrote a sidebar on Chris Anderson’s “Long Tail” theory as it applies to blog popularity.
(Sorry postings have been light lately; I’ve been pounded by work. I’m hoping to do more this week.)
Two years ago, David Hauslaib was a junior at Syracuse University who was, as he confesses, “totally obsessed with who Paris Hilton was sleeping with.” So he did what any college student would do these days: He blogged about it. Hauslaib began scouring the Web for paparazzi photos of Hilton and news items about her, then posting them on his Website, Jossip.com. (Sample headline: PARIS HILTON SPREADS IT IN THE HAMPTONS.) “My friends got a chuckle out of it, but it didn’t get really big or anything — maybe a few hundred visitors a day,” he says.
Then one day Hauslaib took a good look at Gawker, a gossip site owned by the high-tech publisher Nick Denton. Gawker’s founding writer, Elizabeth Spiers, had pioneered a distinctive online literary style and earned a large following in the Manhattan media world. What really got Hauslaib’s attention, though, was Gawker’s advertising-rate sheet. According to Denton, the site received about 200,000 “page views” a day from readers. The site ran roughly two big ads on each page, and Gawker said that it charged advertisers $6 to $10 for every 1,000 page views — almost the same as a midsize newspaper. There was also a smattering of smaller, one-line text ads bringing in a few hundred bucks daily. Doing a quick bit of math, he figured that the income from Gawker’s ads could top $4,000 a day. The upshot? Nick Denton’s revenues from Gawker were probably at least $1 million a year and might well be cracking $2 million.
Today’s top video-game designer are masters at visualizing information. Every time I buy a new piece of software or use a new website and discover that it’s got a horrid, horrid user interface, I always think — why didn’t they hire a good game designer to do this? The best games are superb at collating massive amounts of information and quickly displaying them in psychologically nuanced ways, rendering rapidly-changing streams of data — your health, your speed, your location, dialogue — as twinkling, glanceable ambient icons. Much like a superbly designed car dashboard, a good video-game display brings Edward Tuftean concision to the art of visualizing information.
Thus I was intrigued to hear about Visitorville — an application that takes a website’s traffic information and renders it as a Sim-City-like world, where each page in a site is a building, and visitors appear as human avatars that travel to and fro. As the Visitorville site describes it:
Buses deliver your visitors to their landing pages. There’s a bus for every major search engine; plus, you can create your own custom buses for any other referrer!
Watch realistic-looking people move around your page. Different avatars exist depending on the type of visitor (commercial, academic, military, etc.).
To move between pages, your visitors take taxis, ambulances, fire trucks — or any other vehicle you like. They each have their own distinctive sound, so you can alert yourself when a particular page is accessed (or even a particular person accessing a page!)
Pretty cool. Though it’d be even cooler to have the reverse: A java application that takes your web site and renders it as a 3D city, so that visitors navigate it like a game inside their web browsers.
(Thanks to Roger Spence for this one!)
Heh. A website called House of Tartan has an automatic tartan generator: Just enter your favorite colors, pick the order and density of each thread count, and voila — your own personal clan cloth. That one above? I generated it using the traditional heraldic colors of the House of Collision Detection: Dark blue, light blue, white and grey. Even cooler, House of Tartan actually has an option that lets you order bolts of cloth of your custom tartan, so I could make my own kilt!
As the site’s history FAQ notes:
References to tartans occur in various historic documents, paintings and illustrations. A charter granted to Hector MacLean of Duart in 1587 for lands in Islay details a feu duty payable in the form of 60 ells cloth of white, black and green colours (the colours of Hunting MacLean of Duart tartan), and an eyewitness account of the Battle of Killecrankie in 1689 describes “McDonells men in their triple stripe”. It is reasonable to assume that any tight knit community would wear the cloth produced by the local weaver in quantities that would limit the variety of patterns, and that when they went to war, many would be dressed in the same material.
I envision an enormous army of robots, all wearing my tartan as they fight bravely in the great squid uprising.
(Thanks to Simon Munro for this one!)
On Feb. 8, the best play in the history of the universe will open in Manhattan: Heddatron. It’s an adaptation of Hedda Gabler in which half the parts are played by live robots onstage. The description of the plot, from the theater group’s web site:
Les Freres Corbuser continues its irreverent massacre of historical icons and academic esoterica by taking on famed playwright Henrik Ibsen, the well-made play, and contemporary issues in robotics. Ibsen is thwarted by August Stringberg and his kitchen slut
throughout his fevered struggle to write the great feminist drama, Hedda Gabler, while a contemporary housewife in Michigan is abducted by robots and forced to perform Ibsen’s masterpiece over and over again.
According to a little profile group in the last issue of Wired, the robots will deliver their lines using prerecoreded text-to speech. The play opens up mostly with humans onstage, but the robots gradually take over — such that by the end the only human onstage is Hedda herself.
I. Am. So. There.
Apparently some Australian scientists have discovered a new species of flatworm that fences with its penis. Okay, “fencing” may be a slight anthropomorphism — perhaps a more accurate phrasing would be “a species of flatworm that does incredibly weird things with its penis.”
The new flatworms are all hermaphrodites, meaning they have both male and female parts. To reproduce they try to stab each other with their genitals. The first to penetrate inserts sperm and then goes on to spar with another flatworm, while the “loser” lays and broods the eggs.
Heh. Ah, the “loser” in the sexual conquest — talk about your anthropomorphizations.
(Thanks to John T. Unger for this one!)
A couple of students in the UK have just developed an innovative new kitchen technique: They’ve used two mobile phones to cook an egg. The instructions are online here, and the concept is basically that you prop up the phones so their antennae are about a half an inch from either side of the egg. Initiate a call from one phone to the other, leave ‘em running for a few minutes, and pretty soon lunch is ready. As the instructions on their site note:
Cooking time: This very much depends on the power output of your mobile phone. For instance, a pair of mobiles each with 2 Watts of transmitter output will take three minutes to boil a large free range egg. Check your user manual and remember that cooking time will be proportional to the inverse square of the output power for a given distance from egg to phone.
Of course, it makes sense that this idea would come from the UK — a country that is simply addled with fear that mobile phones cause brain cancer. While that worry has never really taken off in the US, it’s a staple of British newspaper health coverage. The reality is that the health effects of non-ionizing radiation — the stuff emitted by mobile phones — has been not been closely studied in any longitudinal way, so while we’re probably okay, who knows? Maybe we’ll all grow third eyes. One thing is sure: Power usage alone causes mobile phones to heat up a lot during a prolonged phone call — which is why I suspect this egg trick might actually work.
If you wanted to worry about mobile phones at all, that’d be the concern: Not that radiation will harm your brain, but that the heat will scramble your noggin like a mess of lovely eggs.
(Thanks to William Braine for this one!)
Everyone knows the USSR lost the race to put a man on the moon. But in other ways, they totally kicked the US’s butt — because the Soviets sent the first probes that orbited the moon and sent back photos of its hidden dark side. That’s one above! It comes from the Mental Landscape blog, where there’s a terrific writeup of this mission, as well as the Soviets’ many other pioneering lunar shots:
Using a phototelevision camera, pairs of images were simultaneously exposed through 200mm and 500mm lenses. [snip] The camera held 40 frames of film, and 12 images were received via frequency-modulated analog video (some reports claim 17 images were received). The full moon appears to have very little detailed texture, because the lunar mountains and terrain casts no shadows when lit from overhead.
Check out the rest of the site for dozens of increasingly cool shots of the missions — including wild panoramic vistas assembled from Soviet lunar landers. They’re quite reminiscent of the panoramic shots from NASA’s recent Mars probes. Indeed, I’m sure those moon pix seemed even more weird and eerie than the Mars ones do today, because the moon is visible to the naked eye. When people gazed on photos of the lunar soil, it must have felt more sensually, proximally tangible, and thus more uncanny, than you-are-there pictures of a faraway planet like Mars — a planet that exists almost purely in our imagination.
(Thanks to the Cynical-C blog for this one!)
My sister’s husband says Michael Landon refused to cut his hair because his father’s name was Sam, and he felt this literally made him “Sam’s son.”
It’s already sold, unfortunately.
(Thanks to Brian Corcoran for this one!)
A few years ago, the Japanese educational theorist Fumia Kayo discovered that nursery-school children were obsessed with creating hikaru dorodango — balls of mud polished to such smoothness that they shine. Kayo started using an electron microscope to figure out precisely how mud could be made to shine best, and, as Web Japan reports, came up with the following technique:
1. Pack some mud into your hand, and squeeze out the water while forming a sphere.
2. Add some dry dirt to the outside and continue to gently shape the mud into a sphere.
3. When the mass dries, pack it solid with your hands, and rub the surface until a smooth film begins to appear.
4. Rub your hands against the ground, patting and rubbing the fine, powdery dirt onto the sphere. Continue this for two hours.
5. Seal the ball in a plastic bag for three or four hours. Upon removing the sphere, repeat step 4, and then once again seal the sphere in a plastic bag.
6. Remove the ball from the bag, and if it is no longer wet, polish it with a cloth until it shines.
Apparently this is now a national trend, and preschool children in Japan are busily making dorodango as we speak. Which is to say, preschool Japanese children are spending two hours polishing balls of mud! I love it.
Kayo has developed a 5-star rating system for the luster of the balls; that one pictured above rates a “4”. He’s got a “5” at home, and damned would I love to see it.
(Thanks to Ian Daly for this one!)
Wired News just published my latest column, and this one is about how free, indie games are breaking out of gaming’s rigid genres — by innovating odd new mechanics for play. You can read it online here for free, and a permanent copy is archived below:
Sometimes there is a free lunch
Aching to see the weird new forms of gameplay? Check out the burgeoning world of free indie titles lurking online.
by Clive Thompson
Has gameplay innovation ground to a halt? Surf the aisles of your local game store, and you’d suspect that game publishers have have kinda given up. It’s always the same tired play mechanics, over and over. Shoot the bad guys while avoiding flying lead. Level up your character in an online world. Drive like hell in a souped-up rig. Match the pretty colors in a puzzle.
Obviously, part of this endless looping is that success works: Like backgammon or baseball, these tropes appear to stand the test of time. But it’s also the curse of genre. With games costing millions to develop these days, few publishers are willing to risk serious bling on some weird new style of play that might fail.
If you really want to see innovation, there’s only one place to go: Off the grid. You have to find game designers who actively opt out of the market — by producing indie games they give away for free online. These days, this subculture is happily thriving, fed by game-school grads and underemployed programmers who, like indie musicians, crave to break out of old boxes and want to get as huge an audience as possible.
I'm Clive Thompson, the author of Smarter Than You Think: How Technology is Changing Our Minds for the Better (Penguin Press). You can order the book now at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Powells, Indiebound, or through your local bookstore! I'm also a contributing writer for the New York Times Magazine and a columnist for Wired magazine. Email is here or ping me via the antiquated form of AOL IM (pomeranian99).
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