The future is fast approaching

Caught up in an information culture.

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Paper sculpture maps reveal the history of cities

Detail of Matthew Picton's map of Dallas, showing the route of the Kennedy assassination.

Detail of Matthew Picton’s map of Dallas, showing the route of the Kennedy assassination.

The Atlantic Cities takes a pictorial stroll through Matthew Picton’s paper sculptures of cities, combining their streetmaps and their history in a way that quickly conveys geolocated information about major events.  The Atlantic’s Mark Byrnes says:

“In his series “Paper Sculptures,” Picton creates hand-cut and folded paper 3D street grids. He also incorporates art, text, or even special paper to evoke something specific about the city (often, a historical event or time period). So, for example, Picton’s London “Great Fire” of 1666 map depicts burned illustrations of 17th century street life. In the case of Las Vegas, Picton uses neon green paper decorated solely by the words from Hunter S. Thompson’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.”

While these are primarily positioned as art, and deservedly so, I like the concise and subtle information design, communicating the damage done by the French invasion of Moscow or the progress of the Kennedy motorcade in Dallas with tremendous economy.


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Around Saturn (2013)

NASA footage of Saturn's rings, used in Fabio di Donato's "Around Saturn" (2013).

NASA footage of Saturn’s rings, used in Fabio di Donato’s “Around Saturn” (2013).

Méliès-esque is precisely the word.  Fabio di Donato edited together thousands of photographs takenof Saturn by the Cassini probe, and turned them into a beautiful flickering silent movie of space, an early experimental documentary of light and pattern, a waltz between planet and spacecraft where the viewer races around the rings of Saturn and falls into the dark of space.  It’s a wonderfully compelling way to present NASA’s scientific images.

Warning: video may not be suitable for people with photosensitive epilepsy. Continue reading

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Visualization of the Beach Boys’ Harmonies (2013)

Still from Alexander Chen's graphical visualization of the Beach Boys' Harmonies.

Still from Alexander Chen’s graphical visualization of the Beach Boys’ Harmonies.

Alexander Chen is a New-York-based designer for Google and a musician.  While experimenting with visually representing notes, he was inspired by the relationship between the diameter of a church bell and its pitch, and transcribed the harmonies of a Beach Boys tune to create a visualization that represents each pitch by a circle with related diameter.  It’s a lovely, minimalist representation of complex harmonies.

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One-Second Per Day Video Diaries, and Disobeying Editing Wisdom

A one-second-per-day video record from Seth‘s 29th to 30th birthdays:

I like the complete mundanity of Seth’s images and how they’re transformed by the way they’re edited, but I was even more impressed when I saw him agree to the statement that there was, “Something strangely familiar and banal about this. A year with the fear, anxiety, and alienation of modern life air-brushed out,” because there is something about this that’s right on the borderline of being completely relatable and real, and feeling like I’m about to see a Google Hangouts logo.  The interpretation of a video like this is incredibly dependent on the audio that ties it together, and at the same time, the audio here contributes to the sense of something being airbrushed out, in a way that, say, the ambient audio wouldn’t, or even some spoken interview audio would not.  But the audio track tying it together is unquestionably good editing, in the sense that it brings all the disparate clips together into a single document with a flow from beginning to end.  This is a complete story.

As a side note, I think that I enjoy this form of rapid-fire time-lapse documentary.  Compressing the memories of a year to one second per day, viewed all at once, brings out interesting patterns.

Kevin Kelly’s one-second-per-day trip in Asia:

This, on the other hand, does use the ambient sound, and feels more like a document – but not like a story.  There are moments, but they’re not ordered, and they transition abruptly.  There isn’t a climax and resolution of events.  But the ambient audio gives an incredible sense of place, which seems to be part of what’s missing from Seth’s.  (Gorgeous images and colors, too.  It’s much less of a day-in-the-life, but it’s still an interesting slice of real time.)

For all the editing advice to not cut together the audio in rapid montage, I suspect that when the montage is the full story, that strips away too much of the identifiable and specific elements of the story, and leaves that “air-brushed” feel that’s frequently associated with commercials and trailers.  Montage feels slightly anonymous, even in the center of a narrative.  There’s a middle ground here: tie together the footage with music, but also edit in a few moments of your ambient sound to round out the portrayals of the people and places.  In truth, I think that might be a description of virtually the entirety of Terence Malick’s Days of Heaven – a long, glorious montage of images and events tied together by voiceover, and punctuated periodically by ambient sound and dialog.  (Although that is slightly glib: it’s certainly not rapid, it flows at quite a traditional narrative pace.)

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So you’re making your weekend plans in New York, and you can’t decide between taking in some art or going to an open-source hackathon.  Dear reader, I sympathize; we all have these dilemmas.  Art and technology center Eyebeam have teamed up with internet technology giant Mozilla, and they have you covered.  From Eyebeam: “Open(Art) is a joint initiative launched by Eyebeam and Mozilla to support creativity at the intersection of art and the open web.”  Their exhibit runs from July 12 – August 10, 2013, with an opening reception on Friday, July 12 from 6-8pm and workshops on Saturday, July 13 from 12-3pm.  The workshops are free, but registration is required.  (Want more?  There’s a Mozilla Maker Party for teens on July 15th from 10am-3pm.  The Moving <img> Storytelling workshop  will cover stop-motion animation, rotoscoping, pixilation, and several types of animated GIF.)

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Intellectual property and physical objects

Johanna Blakely giving her TED talk on intellectual property in the fashion industry.

Johanna Blakely giving her TED talk on intellectual property in the fashion industry.

Johanna Blakely’s TED talk on the lack of intellectual property protections in the fashion industry, and why it thrives regardless, is an interesting watch for those interested in industries where copyright seems less enforceable than in pre-digital days.

The key quote, to my mind: “We don’t really recognize a book as something that sits on our shelf, or music as a physical object we can hold. It’s a digital file, it’s barely tethered to any sort of physical reality in our minds, and these things, because we can copy and transmit them so easily, actually circulate in our culture a lot more like ideas than like physically instantiated objects.”  Which is tricky; that’s a little unlike most of the industries she discusses like fashion, cars, and furniture, where the copying of objects isn’t done at the consumer level.  She’s discussing, in almost every case, industries that don’t protect creators from copying by other creators – designer versus designer, comedian versus comedian, musician versus musician – and how that spurs innovation, rather than industries that don’t protect creators from copying by consumers.  While her points are good ones – I certainly support them, as a supporter of open source, of remixing, and of the artistic and scientific leaps that happen in open environments – very few of her examples are discussing a creator-consumer relationship.  The bar to entry is different, for one thing.  Downloading a movie is very different than making a knockoff jacket.

Open source was a good call, though, because that is a case of consumers freely copying something provided by the creator.  Panera’s “pay what you want” restaurant experiment is another interesting data point, of a creator making their product freely available to the consumer.  I think there are very good reasons to rethink the role of intellectual property control in the creator-audience relationship, but I don’t view it as the same issue as protecting your creative work from copying by other creators. Continue reading

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Stereopublic, an app to find oases of quiet in the city

Australian sound artist Jason Sweeney created Stereopublic as “a participatory art project” and “a sonic health service”, and a way of sharing geolocated quiet places in the cacophony of urban environments.  Emma Quayle, a UK sound artist, has helped make custom version of the app for Edinburgh, making a map of sounds “charting the quiet crooks and bends of Edinburgh”.  Wonderful combination of collaged ambient sound and the awareness of sound levels as a health issue in cities.

(via TED)

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Infographic: How big will your apartment be in 2050?

Graphic by BBC Future

Graphic by BBC Future

Two types of people are obsessed with the apartment of the future: science fiction fans and anyone who’s lived in a city.  Both those groups know that Korben Dallas’s apartment in The Fifth Element is somewhere between near-certain prediction and inspirational.

If you’re one of those two types of people (or, let’s be honest, both), BBC Future’s got the infographic for you: city by city, they depict how big your individual shoebox will be and how many of your fellow citizens will be stacked on top of you.  And for good measure, they’ve added in what your quality of life will be, based on things like health care, culture, infrastructure, and political stability.

Life in 2050: How much space will you have to live in?

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Weekend Longform Video: Media for Thinking the Unthinkable

Bret Victor creates a camera path from a dataset.

Bret Victor creates a camera path from a dataset.

It’s time for the weekend longform video, something that’s a bit too lengthy or too chewy for a weekday, and really needs a cup of coffee and time to sit down with it over a couple of days.

This week’s is a talk Bret Victor gave in April at the MIT Media Lab on the design of graphical forms of scientific ideas.  It covers a lot of ground, from the mental need for mathematical notation, to the invention of infographics, to improvising physical models of your data, to new interactive graphical communication in scientific papers.  There’s some rich stuff in here for thinking about communicating understanding and intuition, particularly for interface designers, educators, coders, and researchers.

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Ben & Jerry’s crowdsources you, your subway, your cabs, your bikes…


This is nominally about cities.  But really it’s about ice cream.  Sweet, sweet ice cream.  (Oh, wait.  Ice cream really is sweet.  Never mind.)  Ben & Jerry’s is devising city-specific flavors, and to determine the ingredients they’re polling you, the number of subways running on time, the cloud cover in the Pacific Northwest, the number of startups and food trucks in San Francisco, whether the cabs are going uptown or downtown, visitors to the Washington monument, and which water bowl your dog prefers.

This is demographic brilliance: survey a bizarre segment of quality-of-life and local identity issues in cities across the country, and display the results in ice cream. What mad genius thought of this, and why hasn’t Gallup joined up?

The money quote for me: “The result of all this is likely to be some civic hodgepodge of ice cream.” (Thanks, Atlantic: Cities!  Happy Friday.)