Saturday, 23 February 2008

Cloud Music

The web's a bit like a vacuum: it is sucking up all sorts of things off desktops, start bars and docks. Outlook and Thunderbird aren't really needed what with Gmail et al.. Microsoft Office is under threat from Google Docs and things like Empressr. Photo software is being supplanted with things like Flauntr, Flickr and Photoshop Express. Skype isn't really required if you use web-based Gmail chat. The list goes on....

This is so-called cloud computing, which as Google's head honcho says, "starts with the premise that the data services and architecture should be on servers" and not computer hard drives (source). In other words, all you may need in the future is a browser; everything else will be accessible via the net.

Music is the latest addition to the list. With a number of websites offering it free (chiefly LastFM from my usage but also Songza, BoomShuffle, Imeem, SpiralFrog, Qtrax and Pandora), iTunes may even become redundant and the idea of owning a track may be history. Instead, all your music would be within the LastFM (or equivalent) cloud, accessible and streamable on whatever your hardware, whenever you want, as long as you are plugged in.

Artists receive a share of the advertising revenue for having their tracks played, which as the LastFMers say is "redesigning the music economy".

As it stands LastFM is limited in its features with music streaming. For example, you can only build one playlist. But it will probably start getting as sophisticated as iTunes. At least, I hope it does.

I think 'cloud music' spearheaded by LastFM and others amounts to nothing less than a quiet revolution in the way we consume music and lays down a first draft for the future of music. I just hope it works.

Polarized journalism

Two screen grabs from the Daily Mail and Mirror. Headlines have been highlighted.

Sometimes two different stories will give an insight into the cogs of journalism. Here, this total contradiction just shows the amount of empty speculation at work.

Friday, 22 February 2008

Design and the Elastic Mind

Wish I could get to this exhibition in the MoMA which looks fascinating. There's about 3000km of water stopping me though. When will museums have online exhibitions?

Great opening credits

Often the opening credits get forgotten, what with the focus on the show's content. Yet the best have a way of immediately transporting you into the show's world. Here are a few of my favourites, in no particular order...

Beautiful mix of Da Vinci-style medical drawings, flyovers and human body CG set against Massive Attack's brilliant Teardrop.

The morning routine suffused with graphic and chilling homicide allusions.

Suburban conformity set against Malvina Reynold's Little Boxes (after Season One each new episode uses a different cover).

Six Feet Under
I have no idea what the proper name for that first musical 'strike' is, but it alone can take me into the world of one of the best shows in history. This opening sequence is just beautiful.

Few people have heard of Darkplace. Even fewer get it. But this opening sequence is the paragon of parody and a great snapshot of the deluded, troubled genius that is Garth Marenghi.

The sweeping and unusual epic that should never have been axed.

The Office (UK)
Grey Slough.

Just like the show and its characters this sequence is eminently likeable and upbeat.

Plastic and sterile visuals coupled with The Engine Room's icy A Perfect Lie.

So this isn't the full sequence but the frazzled visuals and screechy, electronic sound are great.


Sputtr is great. Search multiple sites from one page and customise it too.Would be nice if the ugly banner ad weren't there and they put search-relevent text ads (like AdWords) in a box at the top of the ads. I think they would make revenue from this setup. Nevertheless, a super site.

Thursday, 21 February 2008

What is interesting?

The Curious Italian Goat - Photo taken in the Dolomites, 2004

What makes something interesting? Paul Silvia, a cognitive scientist has some answers. From his and others' research he reckons there are two things. The first is unsurprising, the second is less so.
  1. "an event’s novelty–complexity, which refers to evaluating an event as new, unexpected, complex, hard to process, surprising, mysterious, or obscure" (Silvia's 2008 CDIPS paper, p.58)
  2. "people feel able to comprehend them and master the challenges that they [the novelty-complexity] pose (Csikszentmihalyi, 1990)." (p.58)
This second point means that experts can be interested in things that cause novices to turn off because they have the knowledge to comprehend them.

This creates a self-fulfilling cycle: the more you are interested, the more you learn about something, the more interesting stuff there is.

Interesting things should then be novel and sufficiently complex to engender curiosity but comprehensible enough not to deflate that inquisitiveness.

Wednesday, 20 February 2008

For great ideas, keep secrets

(from Auntie P)

What is the best way of getting a group to solve complex problems? According to this study published in the Jan/Feb edition of Current Directions in Psychological Science, some members should be kept in the dark because if the whole group is flooded with good ideas people will settle for them instead of continuing searching for a potentially better idea. In other words, all the brains working on a problem get into single-file when they share information; when they come at the problem unaligned they are hunting the solution territory more effectively.

Work alone

This paper shows that it may be best to work with others out of sight, at least for manual jobs. This is because you involuntarily model other people's behaviour (probably something to do with mirror neurons) and this affects your own performance negatively. The study is concerned with manual tasks so it would be interesting to see what happens at a higher cognitive level.

Data made lovely

Tables, charts, numbers and all that prompt me to embark on completely unrelated journeys of imagination into other more interesting things. Data is boring. However, the Trendalyzer - a vast pot of data - is not. It is magnificent.

Set up by the Gapminder Foundation and acquired by Google last year (there was something Google-like about the simplicity, look and spirit of the software even before they got involved), this software “unveils the beauty of statistics by converting boring numbers into enjoyable interactive animations” (source).

I love it for its central idea (pooling lots of data and making it beautiful) and the execution (a simple, powerful and playful interface).

Better email

Big String gives you more control over email, including features like self-destruction, recall (it will bounce back out of their inbox), and prohibiting forwarding and printing. Might be handy...

Tuesday, 19 February 2008

Fatties eat until the credits

A new(ish) study out in Obesity interestingly shows that healthier people use internal cues - like not feeling hungry any more - to stop eating. Heavier people eschew these inner signals preferring to rely on external factors to stop eating. These include things like an empty plate or the end of the TV show they are watching.

No sweat

According to this study, air conditioning may exacerbate global warming by creating a feedback loop: the hotter it gets, the more AC is used, and the hotter it gets.

Solution to this problem has been put forward in the newly established International Journal of Sustainable Design. The paper suggests a natural way of cooling buildings through nifty architecture instead of energy hungry machines.

Monday, 18 February 2008

VW website

The brilliant new site from VW has a warming simplicity but a ferocious power. Well done Tribal DDB.

Phillip Toledano

Car salesmen, people's faces whilst they play video games, recently occupied offices, the anonymous, marks left on skin from objects and clothes, the artic and the internal desires and paranoia floating about in American life (pictured here) are just a few places Mr Toledano has pointed his lens. His often bleak compositions are quick to grab you visually (he was an art director in advertising for ten years) and force all sorts of questions on you. See more on his slick site.

Flock: a new browser

Flock isn't really all that new, but it is now stable. Based on Firefox's code it is perhaps the best example of Browser 2.0, kitting up users to deal more effectively with all sorts of Web 2.0 things.

It's chief advantage has been to take the staples of people's digital lives and sew them into the fabric of the browser itself.

Things I particularly like are the in-house blog editor; integration with Flickr, YouTube, Facebook et al; nice RSS feed reading (doing Google Reader's job); the My World homepage (doing what iGoogle does but better); and the media bar, where all sorts of web goodies are a few clicks closer than previously.

For me the best feature of all is the Web Clipboard, a shelf where things acquired on digital travels can be stored for a later time. That is going to be very useful to the sort of non-linear, 'ooh, that looks interesting' kind of browsing I do and will take the heat off my bursting bookmarks toolbar. Let's hope Firefox 3 has some of its features.

Capturing Lightning

These beautiful dendritic patterns are made by injecting a piece of insulating material with a high speed beam of electrons. The fractals are thought to extend right down to the molecular level. Here's a vid of a Litchenberg figure being created and the subsequent light fizz:

Thursday, 14 February 2008

Internet of Things

I blogged here about 2008 being the year the web breaks free from its constraints behind the screen. Chiming with this is an interesting pilot study going on at the University of Washington as part of the RFID Ecosystem project.

Wednesday, 13 February 2008

3D from 2D

The clever people at Stanford are developing a way of getting 3D out of 2D. This is interesting in its own right but also because it is precisely the same job that the visual system performs on the retinal image.

The Stanford team seem to have come up with something much better than any other algorithm out there. I wonder whether similar algorithms are deployed in our visual system?

You can upload your own image and have their software work its extra-dimension-adding magic.

Light played by key

Scan of a the front cover, digitally unmodified

Was digging around in a box today and came across this little book of postcards purchased at the New York's Museum of Modern Art in 1963 when it was running Thomas Wilfred's Lumia Suite, Op.168. First, I love the idea of a little book of postcards. I have only ever seen postcards sold separately.

Secondly, the work is exciting and fantastic. Wilfred was a pioneer in 'art from light' - Lumia. To do this he used a machine that he called the Clavilux, which translates as 'light played by key'. His music would literally take shape in light form. He first showed off these 'light sculptures' (see my other blog for something similar) in 1922 in New York. After this he gave performances all over the world.

This, off the back of the book of postcards, explains Lumia Suite, Op. 158 in some more detail:

I have scanned in a few stills below, tried to remove the dust and scratches digitally and restored a bit of the colour vibrancy lost in the scan.

There is a little bit more of his work here. I think he would have liked the current light exhibition in London at the moment, Switched On London. Also, I think he would have liked BMW's 'See How it Feels' ad. (Or rather the creatives over at WCRS liked his work!). Here it is with UNKLE's sensational remix of Beethoven's 9th Symphony:

Monday, 11 February 2008

Endless Numbered Days

Endless Numbered Days (2007)

If Turner had painted Hubble images they might look something like Dee Ferris's dreamy and iridescent work, such as Endless Numbered Days (2007, oil and glitter) currently at Tate Britain. Much of the work is said to be developed from advertising messages, which apparently is supposed to be something about the language of commodity culture. I just like the painting.

Sunday, 10 February 2008


Microsoft's pernickety web site treats you like a naughty child for using Firefox, suspending all the treats with a message like the one above. What are they expecting from this? For me to grudgingly open up IE, use their site and think "Wow this browser is amazing, I'll switch", when all my bookmarks, customisation and experience - not to mention loyalty because it is a superior program - lies with Firefox. This is so babyish of Microsoft and I can't see it having any practical business benefits.

Saturday, 9 February 2008

Ants and Colour

Went to the Tate Modern today and was surprised at how unexciting the work was. Standing out in the mediocrity was this sweet little video called Quarta-Feira de Cinzas/Epilogue by filmmaker Cao Guimaraes and artist Rivane Neuenschwander. Following the Carnival, the colourful confetti become the ants' treasure and we can watch them as they go about their labour (a little help was needed to get them excited by soaking the paper in either pork-fat or honey). There is also some nice tinkling added to the soundtrack.

Friday, 8 February 2008

Alternative is mainstream

Just noticed on LastFM how 'alternative' is ironically one of the most popular tags, at least for LastFM users.

Thursday, 7 February 2008

Scientifically proven

This is the most annoying phrase in advertising because it is totally meaningless. For one, science doesn't prove anything; it supports or rejects a theory. Two, even if we relax and say that prove can mean ‘demonstrated’ or ‘supported by’, how can anything be unscientifically proven?

Obama Style

Obama's web background image

Was just flitting about the US Presidential candidates' websites and noticed that a lot of effort has gone into Obama's site. Much more than Clinton's or McCain's. Gives a nice flavour for where the different candidates are focussing their energies. Obama's with its clean design, open spaces, lens flare and misty ocean spray effect speaks to a more design-savvy younger type. The others are just busier and clunkier, like an e-commerce site from a few years back. In fact, just found the New York Times have gone so/too far as to voice this difference with that increasingly popular personality assay, your computer orientation. Obama as Mac, Hillary as PC.

Magnetic Curtains

What a great idea. Lots of little magnets allow you to manipulate the curtain. More here.

Cool Coffee Table

(Photo from here)

Shawn Lani swirls art and science in this mesmerising installation. Shards of frozen dry ice sublimate as they are released into a satisfyingly large and dark basin. The gas then propels them, leaving little wakes at they snake about. It's like watching from a plane lots of crewless boats with their engines left on randomly exploring the moonlit night ocean.

(Photo from here)

Cracking Open Microsoft Office

Nope, sorry Microsoft lawyers you aren't going to find a way of cracking Office software here. Just please pass the message on to your packaging people so Office can be opened without having to Google for instructions.

Downloading real objects

Went to the Science Museum yesterday and saw this. I had read a few years back about 3D printers but rapidly forgot it. There's a vid here on how it works.

It's interesting because it could mean that physical objects, as well as information, could be downloaded off the Internet.

Added to that manufacturing could ping back from it's location on the other side of the world to the place where it first started: the desktop.

Taking it a step further the RepRap project promises to produce a printer that can print the parts needed to build it, bestowing engineering with the fundamental biological principle of replication.

The latest on this area can be found on the Fabbaloo blog.

When do people use sunbeds?

I love Google Trends for things like this graph, where the numbers carve out a picture of people's otherwise unknown behaviour, like hitting the sunbeds in the first few months of the year. This makes perfect sense but would have otherwise remained a secret had I not decided, on a whim, to search for "tanning bed" (not that I was looking for one or anything, even though now would be the time to search for one!)

I suppose this sort of information could be factored into AdSense to make things more seasonally relevant.