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Alabama Shakes Live at KCRW on Morning Becomes Eclectic 01.24.12

February 19, 2013 Leave a comment

Alabama Shakes Live at KCRW on Morning Becomes Eclectic 01.24.12.

Wonderful blues/rock, by the Alabama Shakes.  Brittany Howard sounds like Janis, but she’s got a character that is reminiscent of Jimi, too.  The band is tight, with fantastic drumming, electric piano/organ, and searing lead guitars, complemented by a driving, jazzy bass and Brittany’s rhythm guitar.  I’m Shakin’

Categories: Art, People

Life is All About (bi)Cycles

March 13, 2012 Leave a comment
Bill Nye the Science Guy at The UP Experience 2010

photo by Ed Schipul This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license.

It seems that Bill Nye – the Science Guy – is way more well known than I know. Being away from the United States for 25 years and not one to pay attention much to TV in general, I don’t come across TV shows that air in the US – even on PBS – unless they are really popular or become important politically.  Though sustainability and good science are extremely important, they certainly won’t win many popularity contests among the TV viewing public.

Reading about the Science Guy now, I find I’d appreciate his TV program.  I really like his passion for bicycles and for personal health.

“There’s no machine known that is more efficient than a human on a bicycle.  Bowl of oatmeal, 30 miles — you can’t come close to that.”

The first paragraph of Bill Nye’s biography on his personal website says this:

Bill Nye, scientist, engineer, comedian, author, and inventor, is a man with a mission: to help foster a scientifically literate society, to help people everywhere understand and appreciate the science that makes our world work. Making science entertaining and accessible is something Bill has been doing most of his life.

What a fabulous introduction!  Making science entertaining and accessible is something I love doing, too, and hope to do for most of my life.

In the “crazy Bill vision”, Nye predicts that weather-tight “bicycle arterials” will be built.  These, he says, will be cost-efficient when compared to a modern roadway.  I fully agree.  They would be much lighter than roadways and bicycles are unlikely to produce anything near the wear and tear produced by cars, buses, and especially trucks.

But is our society ready to make these commitments to green infrastructure?  Tellingly, Nye says, “You could do that if you were committed.”

I’d love to see a future in which Bill’s vision for bicycles form a critical component in a sustainable transit system.  I’d like if it were not limited to places like Portland Oregon and Seattle Washington, where Nye believes that the commitment is likely to grow.  While I realize that these cities and some areas in and around San Francisco – where I was once a bicycle messenger – have both the political perspective and the occasionally inclement weather that provide an impetus to build ideal infrastructure for cyclists, the need is even more fervent in communities hostile to cyclists such as Los Angeles, Manhattan, Washington D.C., and Tokyo.

I’m hoping that in the wake of the 3.11 disaster, many more Japanese start to awaken to the reality that on the one hand mass transit systems are important, but on the other distributed and local systems are required.  While I look upon Shinkansen with admiration and awe, it is the local streetcar and the bicycle that I look to as critical in the ideal communities of the future.  In this future, the sleek and elegant tubes would be bicycle highways, competing with the Shinkansen for technical prowess and hi-tech coolness.  And bicycle manufacturers would supplant Ferrari and Porsche as the supreme designers of machines for transit. But the biggest winners: you and me!! (and Bill Nye!)

How Avatar reveals secrets about translation and human communication

March 6, 2012 Leave a comment

Being theBlockbuster film of 2009, surpassing Titanic as the top-grossing film in North America and worldwide, then becoming the top-selling Blue-Ray disc of all time, the story underlying Avatar is one known to many people around the world.  It not only solidified its director James Cameron as the paramount director of his time, it won three (of nine) Academy Awards, though it lost the glamorous accolades of Best Picture and Best Director.

One of the most important unanswered questions in the movie is, of course, “Is Jake, in the end, one of them or one of us?”

It is with this in mind that David Bellos, a renowned translator and finalist for the 2012 National Book Critics Circle Award, makes the following observation in an interview for Big Think.

David Bellos on Big Think

In a nutshell, what Bellos raises is a question always raised in translation.  Is it possible to move between two cultures and languages competently and meaningfully?  This is always exacerbated in interpretation.  As an interpreter, you are constantly having to fight through the perception that the true meaning of one is not being conveyed in the other; which, in fact, it isn’t, when the one is something deeply ingrained in its own culture and language.  The interpreter is “making do”, but not “making up”.  Compromise is often the only way of fulfilling the needs of the two parties to understand each other.

For a bilingual person, it is a constant struggle to find peace with the differences of understanding imposed by another language and culture.  The truth, underlying meaning, and wisdom contained in concepts in one language can become false, imperfect, and deceitful in another.  And in this dilemma is a mystery that will remain one of the plights and delights for all time…

Giving the gift of Light

March 5, 2012 Leave a comment

BioLite. The company’s mission is fantastic! – providing reliable, rugged, efficient, and stylish camping equipment to outdoors enthusiasts to incubate self-sustained energy access for the people who need it most.

I am not sure how I stumbled on this, but now I’ve plugged it all over Twitter, Facebook, and Pinterest. It is also on StumbleUpon and Digg. I could go crazy and add it everywhere else I interact socially, but I’ll stop there for now.

This is an amazing find, though. While I am looking forward to seeing this product in Japan, hopefully even playing a part in making that happen, I think its true merit is in bringing electricity and a potential lifeline to places where the grid is off as often as on. Lights, of course, but radios and mobile phones and other communication devices could mean the difference between life and death in an emergency.  But even in the absence of such a situation, the lack of continuous and reliable power often means even greater hardships for many in the developing world than would otherwise be the case.

Already, the BioLite has won recognition and awards for its performance, making cooking with wood safe and easy while also providing electrical charge to power LED lights, mobile phones, and other devices.  The CampStove is $129 (US) and is planned to ship before camping season 2012 (before summer, I assume).

Sales of the CampStove are intended to support the one-time establishment costs of the HomeStove.  The BioLite HomeStove’s efficient process uses less than half the wood of an open fire and reduces smoke emissions by more than 90%. Since around half the wood used in the world is used for fuel – more than 75%  in developing countries – and indoor air pollution is one of the key issues raised by the World Health Organization as a major cause of respiratory diseases, distribution of the HomeStove may be vital in providing clean, safe, and easy heat and an affordable source of electricity.  The company intends to become profitable while making the homes of the 3 billion people who cook on open fires safer.  Now that, is a great reason to build a company!

Introducing the new BioLite CampStove – Reserve now! from BioLite on Vimeo.

First Time Ever: Flying Robots Build 20-Foot-Tall Tower

December 9, 2011 Leave a comment

First Time Ever: Flying Robots Build 20-Foot-Tall Tower [Video] | Co. Design.

This article and video show how two architects/designers/futurists built four flying robots and programmed them to build a 20-foot tall tower. The tower is a 1:100 scale version of a 2,000-foot tall “vertical village” that could house 30,000 people. Rather than just drawing architectural designs, the two, Fabio Gramazio and Matthias Kohler, with help from Zurich roboticist and professor Raffaello D’Andre, have made an effort to re-imagine the role of the architect in the contemporary digital world.

While neither the video, nor the execution of the four quadrocopters, is yet ready for Prime Time (the building blocks in this demonstration are, after all, made of polystyrene foam), it does merit a considerable rethink about how we build our living environments and how to continue the development of sustainable architecture. In terms of the building materials, methodologies, and the scale of construction itself, urban environments will continue to be a conundrum for architects and urban planners in this Century. While the plight of construction workers is, too, an essential consideration, if we can implement some of the ideas postulated here to build more efficient, elegant, and architecturally sound structures (some even incorporating augmented “organic” designs), while also ensuring greater speed and safety in their construction, then there is profound argument that this form of digital architecture is a step forward.

With more than 7 billion people on the planet now (more than twice the number from when I was born), building better places and means for people to live sustainably is the most pressing issue of our era. We are going to welcome the 8th billion person in around 10 years, so we don’t have a whole lot of time to muck around.

Play to Travel Smarter

December 8, 2011 Leave a comment

Chromaroma from Mudlark on Vimeo.

Chromaroma takes your travel data
and makes it into a game where every journey
counts in a competition for the city!

Play with friends or compete
against them. Set records, earn
achievements, go on real missions.
Travel like you mean it!

This video does not, alone, explain the value that Mudlark intends to instill via their game, Chromaroma, but it does hint at its promise. It is also, I think, a very cool video!

Mudlark is a game development company that says about itself, “(We) are building ways to create entertaining games from the data we create and leave behind without noticing. Mudlark believes games are a way to access this information and to make smart decisions about our lives.”

I believe that the technologies we use and the ways in which they are implemented should be designed to enable people to make smart decisions about our lives. The companies that enable people to make smart decisions should be encouraged and rewarded, while the companies that allow or force people to make stupid and dangerous decisions should be discouraged and penalized. It is clear to me that much of contemporary commerce is designed to encourage people to make poor choices, for personal and environmental well being. It is prudent to build economic incentives that discourage companies and individuals from narrowing our choices to those that are poor, insensitive, unhealthful, but highly profitable.

The concept behind Chromaroma is wonderful. It is a location-based game that is focused on the journey, not the destination. Most location-based games, like Foursquare and Gowalla, are centered on the places we go to, like parks, restaurants, offices, and train stations. They enable us to keep track of where we’ve been to, but not how we got there. Some Foursquare-based games are extensions, like Forecast, which shares not where you are, but where you are going to be. But life, as we say, is about the journey, not the destination.

So how is Chromaroma more like life itself?

It connects communities of people who cross paths and routes on a regular basis, and encourages people to make new journeys and use public transport in a different way by exploring new areas and potentially using different modes of public transport.
At its simplest, Chromaroma is about amassing the most points possible. By watching your own travel details you can investigate interesting new ways to travel and exciting new destinations in order to get more points.
Beyond competition and conquest, Chromaroma’s gameplay opens up the beauty in the city’s transport flows and reveals to its most persistent players some of the mysteries of travel, and even the strange characters travelling through the tunnels in the centre of the system, who may hold the secrets to your city.

Rather than merely tracking where we go and what how we spend our money, then trying to encourage us to spend more money at certain venues, the objective of Chromaroma, then, is to encourage people to use smarter travel means – tram, bus, boat, bicycles, etc. – meet and team up with others to travel to destinations that are meaningful, and discover things together in collaboration and competition.

Chromaroma is currently primarily available only in London. It seems that Mudlark is spreading some aspects of the game to other places, though, such as in Birmingham and Amsterdam. But other venues, it seems, are starting to take notice. The Museum of Modern Art in New York City – MoMA – is one such venue. ChromaMOMA was born in an exhibition that opened on July 24, 2011 at MoMA, entitled “Talk to Me”. The exhibition focuses on “the communication between people and objects”, and how “designers write the initial script that enables the two parties to communicate effectively and elegantly and features projects that “establish an emotional, sensual, or intellectual connection with their users.”

I think that these concepts will begin to spread to other places and directions (journey, not destination!), and will accelerate very quickly. Much has already been written about the tremendous growth of Foursquare. But again, I think that the viral growth of games that encourage and reward smart choices will rapidly rewrite this recent history. For I believe that most people are quite smart. We are smart enough to know that if we can play and win in activities that improve our lot, then it is pretty stupid to remain ignorant and dumb.

What would you do as the new President of the United States?

November 17, 2011 Leave a comment

The question was asked to Henry Rollins, the outspoken American singer-songwriter, spoken word artist, writer, comedian, publisher, actor, and radio DJ. He was the former frontman of hardcore punk band, Black Flag, and the lead of his own Rollins Band.

In addition to his prolific career as a musician, artist, actor, and dj, Rollins has also become quite well-known for his political activism. He has campaigned for various political causes in the United States, including promoting LGBT rights, World Hunger Relief, and an end to war in particular, and tours overseas with the United Service Organizations to entertain American troops.

On October 1, 2011, just over one month ago, Rollins published a book, Occupants. The book is about Rollins’ extensive travels around the world, to places such as Afghanistan, Mali, South Africa, Iraq, Thailand, Burma, Northern Ireland, and Saudi Arabia, sharing his photographs and observations about the suffering, anger, and resilience of the people throughout the world.

Rollins’ disappointments with American foreign policy don’t just end there. He is very well voiced in Patriotism, based in careful study and thought about American and world history.

And so when some politicians say when a hurricane comes through Texas New York’s tax dollars shouldn’t be diverted to Texas to help, because Texas is Texas, 10th amendment, I say “No! It’s the United States.” We’re a team, America. I want to help the people in Texas. They are my neighbors. Take my California tax dollars to help these people. I don’t want to see them flooded. I want to see them rescued and that’s where we stick up for each other.

That is what the founding fathers (who some people like to mention so often), that is what they were beating each other up over in un-air-conditioned rooms in sweltering Philadelphia – that we stick together through thick and thin. That, to me, is being patriotic. That is what paying taxes is all about. That is what you see in great American cities. You see people looking out for one another. When we lose that, we lose the whole ball of wax.

It’s pretty obvious that we’re already losing “the whole ball of wax” when the next Presidential election is likely to be between the increasingly unpopular President Obama and the only person left standing on the right, Mitt Romney. Obama has become not only disappointed many of his 2008 supporters who were swept enthusiastically into politics for the first time by his emotionally charged, dramatic, and dynamic campaign, but also angered many of them for his apparent pandering to the political, economic, and military elite in order to secure small advances out of the quagmire that Washington has become. Romney, on the other hand, is most well known for his handsomeness and whose primary strength as he seeks to be the Republican nominee is that he is not crazy, mean, stupid, or lazy. Kind of sad, that the “Supreme Leader of the Free World” in 2012 will be a choice between a guy who has been accused of betraying his commitment to the 99% and another guy who won mostly because he is not pathetic. For many, apathy is more interesting than the alternative.

Apathy, of course, is not the solution. We need to return to the thinking that we can each do our part to change the world. Self reliance and personal responsibility, of course, will enable us to gain control of the things we can change and make better. But it is quite interesting to consider what impact a different leadership would have.

So when the Big Think went to ask Henry Rollins what he would do if he were elected President of the United States, this is what he had to say:

Henry Rollins on Big Think

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