So, feeling happy? Here’s something to balance that right out… Where children sleep around the world. It’s a series of portraits of children and their beds, and if you don’t end up with mixed feelings from this, then you might not be human.
The future may or may not be here – William Gibson, Google Glass, and wearable computing (Fitbit One review)
William Gibson wearing Google Glass. I’m not sure if this specifically is the future, but something like this is coming to a future near you.
If you look at this year’s CES, wearable computing is possibly the biggest trend of 2013. I thought I’d try some of this recently, to see if it affected my behaviour, so I got myself a Fitbit One (Fitbit One UK/Euro link, Fitbit One US link). In essence, it’s a really fancy pedometer. That’s it. But it’s more – it’s linked to a website so I can see my stats online… But the website is linked back, so if I tell the website I’ve been cycling for twenty minutes, the Fitbit on my waistband updates my calories burnt for that day. That’s quite neat. But there’s also an app on my phone, where it’s easy to add in the food that I’m eating, or the water that I’m drinking (and the alcohol I’m drinking), and it only takes a moment.
This mean that every day, at any time, I can check to see how many calories I have burnt that day, and how many I have put into my body.
Does this, by itself, make me more fit? Of course not. But, when I look down at my waist and see that I have climbed 23 flights of stairs that day, does it make me want to climb a couple more (because 25 is a nice round number)? Yes, it absolutely does. I’ve been using the Fitbit for around a month and I’ve lost about 5lbs (1.5kg). I’ve not been able to shift weight for years, but this feels easy. That is actually incredible to me: a tiny chip on my waist and a bit of networking has made me become more conscious of my health and improved my life.
A few days ago I looked at my waist and saw I had climbed 37 flights of stairs… Well. That’s close to 50 isn’t it? I put a TED talk on my mobile phone, and walked up and down the stairs in my house while I listened to an inspirational talk about technology.
… But when I reached 50 for that day, the talk hadn’t finished, so I kept on walking. But then when the talk did finish, I wasn’t at a nice round number on the Fitbit One anymore, so I put on another talk…
And so, that day, I ended up walking up 100 flights of stairs. This is something I would never normally have done before I got the Fitbit, and the strange thing is that it feels so unconciously natural now. Of course I want to improve my stats: it’s like a real world RPG where I need to grind a little to get to the next level.
I called this post a Fitbit One review, it is (you should get one, it’s fantastic and it has helped me shift stubborn weight in a way that nothing else has, and without any big changes in my life), but it’s also about the future. We see William Gibson, the man who changed the language of the future when he wrote about cyberspace in his short stories and novels in the 1980s (Neuromancer UK, Neuromancer US), and we see him putting on Google Glass, and the strangeness of the present comes crashing home. When he started writing, the idea of a universally accessible data resource was pure fantasy, and how he can have it in his glasses.
Is William Gibson the future? I think he would be the first person to say that the future will now be shaped by people we have never heard of yet, but he is an icon of progress into this weird thing we call modern life.
Google is an icon too, and nothing feels more like the future than what they are doing to us. I’m fairly sure that this version of Google Glass will not be the same form that we are using in a decade, but it seems inevitable that it will be something like it, or like this, or possibly (hopefully) this, or like something we haven’t imagined yet.
When it comes it will feel so obvious and so natural that we will wonder why no-one ever did it before.
Seeing Gibson and Google together is a taste of things to come. Even that phrase ‘things to come’ sounds like the 1950s ray-guns-and-rocket-ships kind of science fiction. We don’t have the language for the current-future yet, but it is here already, quietly walking into our lives in small ways.
I know what you’re thinking: ‘I could really use a paper torso with anatomically correct organs, but I simply have no idea where I could find instructions on making one’. Today is your lucky day!
Manic episodes are the bane of some people’s lives, where almost anything seems like a good idea.
However, not many people think that it is a good idea to moon a biker gang, throw a puppy at them, and then try to escape on a stolen bulldozer. Someone was having a very bad day, that day.
I really should learn how to do this. I don’t know why, but I think it would be handy. This is a brilliant little advert using some cool YouTube tricks that I had no idea existed. The years go into the minus numbers too – have a play, there’s clearly been a lot of effort put into this. This is the kind of advertising that I can live with – warm-hearted, amusing, and not so confrontational that it makes me despise the product on sight!
Moebius was an artist who began drawing a cyberpunk future before punk existed. His ideas illustrated steampunk decades before William Gibson and Bruse Sterling wrote the first authoritative steampunk novel The Difference Engine. In the same way that Gibson’s ideas changed the way that the world relates to technology, Moebius changed the vision of technology and the future. His work influenced Blade Runner, Alien, Tron, and countless other films that are genre masterpieces, and he inspired a generation of comic book writers to try to reach an audience beyond teenagers.
He will be sadly missed, but his influence will live on.
In the first review of school lunches in 15 years, Congress has backed down from insisting that a pizza needs to have half a cup of tomato paste to be called a vegetable (compared to the current two tablespoons):
Corey Henry, a spokesman for the American Frozen Food Institute, said the proposed rules simply did not make sense, especially when it came to pizza.
The industry backs the current rules which say that about a quarter-cup of tomato paste on a slice of pizza can count as a vegetable serving. The Agriculture Department proposal would have required that schools serve more tomato paste per piece of pizza to get a vegetable credit, an idea the industry thought would make pizza unappetizing.
Apparently adding more tomato to a pizza would make it less tasty, and if an impartial judge like the American Frozen Food Institute believes this then who are we to argue?
“It would basically be swimming in tomato sauce,” said Corey Henry, vice president of communications at the American Frozen Food Institute. “No school kid in his right mind would want to eat that.”
We’ll ignore for a second that tomatoes are actually fruit, and that the tomato paste on pizzas has a massive amount of added sugar in it (around one and a half teaspoons of sugar for a pizza’s quarter cup of paste), and just look at the simple truth here: pizza is not a vegetable. It is dough, a thin spread of something vaguely derived from tomatoes, with melted high-fat solidified dairy produce on top. I love pizza, I really do, but I’ve got no illusions about them.
Calling pizza a suitable source of vegetables for growing children is not only a lie, it is harmful to their health, their future wellbeing and relationship with food, and evidence of corruption by politicians bowing to industrial pressures. That’s just one small choice that we know about. At what point is good sense going to kick in and fix this, how long will it take?
Yes, apparently there really is a real life Quidditch World Cup these days. It is run by the International Quidditch Association (which is American, if you hadn’t guessed) and, among the hundreds of teams in the league, there is one from Iran.
I’m all for sport being a unifying activity, but I’m still a bit surprised that Iranians are interested enough to get involved. Nonetheless, there they are.
Sadly, there is no actual flying; instead the players run around with a broom between their legs. There’s a promotional video for the 2011 World Cup here.
Readers with good memories will recall the revelation of the snake fight part of your PhD defence, but a number of PhD students are now learning to express their theses in the form of dance.
Unlike the snake defence, which possibly might not be completely accurate, this actually exists. If you’ve ever thought to yourself ‘I wonder how someone might express Mechanisms for Maintaining Ploidy in Somatic Cells in the form of rhthymic movement’, then you’ve come to the right place.
[Thanks again to Val for the link/]
In the world of strange up-sides, a leukaemia patient has been cured of AIDS. The treatment for the leukaemia patient had undergone radiotherapy, killing a lot of the cells that HIV attacks, and he was given a stem cell transplant from a donor with a genetic mutation that prevented new versions of those attackable cells from regrowing – instead, new healthy cells with the mutation were formed.
There were many complications with the treatment; the consequences of radiotherapy are not trivial, but he is recovering slowly from those with good support and it is likely he will return to a relatively normal life.
This is not the cure for everyone, but it is a major step – curing one person shows that it can be done.
Vancouver has had a riot in the wake of some sporty people doing something better than some other sporty people. In the midst of all of this chaos, some people managed to have a very special moment.
This is either one of the most specific fetishes I’ve seen, or perhaps the most memorable kiss those two people will have in their entire lives. I’m not sure if it can quite be classified as ‘romantic’ but it’s definitely got style (and it’s a superb photo too).
It was predicted that today would be the day that the Rapture occurred. This came from an American preacher from http://www.familyradio.com/ named Harold Camping. He’s a chap who claims to follow the Bible very closely, suggesting that it consistently and explicitly supports his views on things such as liberalism, homosexuality, etc.
For a person who has studied the Bible so closely, you think he might have read the Gospel of Mark. In chapter 13, verse 5, Jesus starts talking:
Jesus said to them: “Watch out that no one deceives you.
In verse 31 to 34 Jesus says:
Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away. But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Be on guard! Be alert! You do not know when that time will come.
So, Harold Camping thought that he could name the day of Rapture when Jesus himself explicitly said he didn’t know it and that certainly no man could. Whether or not you believe in the Bible, this is clearly a case of a person using only the parts of his holy book that agree with his views.
This Rapture fuss has brought him a lot of attention and likely made him a lot of money, but it is also clear evidence that he has ignored the teachings of his own spiritual leader. If he, and others, were content to accept this blatant falsehood as being the truth, it is sad to think of the chances of more controversial subjects being resolved in our lifetimes.
Tim Minchin is stand comedian who also writes poems and songs. Many years ago he wrote a rather epic poem called ‘Storm’. This has now been set to animation and is absolutely brilliant. Go get a cup of tea, and enjoy.
After all the snow this winter, there is a high chance of flooding. Fear not! The web provides answers for all occasions! If you have been thinking to yourself ‘Hmm, it’s about time I gathered up a load of animals in a big wooden boat’ then here’s how to go about it:
Oh, and happy new year!
When you complete your PhD thesis, you have to complete what is called the ‘defence’ of your thesis. This is also sometimes called the ‘viva’. This is where specialists in your field of study who have read your thesis ask you a series of questions to ensure that your argument is both your own and suitably solid. A PhD thesis must be a significant contribution to its field of study, and these people are there to ensure that this is true.
However, many people have been taken by surprise the snake fight part of your thesis defence. As explained clearly in this informative page, the stronger your thesis the smaller the snake that you must defeat in combat. All people with PhDs have done this but many do not speak of it, usually due to feeling that this is an old-fashioned tradition that they would rather not speak about. Check out the link for more information. Personally I can only suggest that you wear very think gloves and a sturdy pair of boots.
[Thanks to Val for the link.]
There really is some pretty random stuff out there in the internet, even on generally serious websites. You will probably have seen the Three Wolves Moon T-shirt reviews on Amazon. You may have seen the reviews for uranium ore on Amazon too (best title for a review ‘I’m so glad I don’t have to buy this from Libyans in the parking lot anymore’). Another slightly obscure one is for the Bic Crystal medium point pen (known to the rest of the world as a completely normal biro), the chief point of the humour there being why would anyone buy a biro online? Even on the less mainstream sites you still get some lovely little flashes of humour. I found this review of a Samsung PS42C450 television – now, for a 42 inch HD TV you’d think not showing full-HD resolution would be the biggest downside, but apparently it’s not. In the pros and cons section of the review, the number one ‘con’ of the TV is ‘doesn’t dust itself’.
Maybe I’m a grammar geek sometimes, but I love the way unordered lists can create something funny.
Over the years I’ve regularly collected links to some of the best photography from the Burning Man. Most of my links come from the Burning Man’s mailing list, so if you enjoy these then you might want to look that up over on their site.
The Burning Man festival happens once a year in Nevada. It’s a crazy mix of performance art, dust, nudity, music, love, more dust, fire, self-revelation, and even more dust. It also is reasonably dangerous in that you are camping in a desert, which is not a friendly habitat. I was over there in 1999 and 2002, and I hope to go again someday.
In the meantime here are some images you might like to browse. Warning: there is some nudity (though not of a sexual nature):
A fun display of how one person’s art can become everyone’s canvas as a ‘Harveywood’ sign gets subverted. (The Burning Man festival was started by a man called Larry Harvey.)
And finally, if you’ve ever wondered what 51,000 people camping in a desert look like from space, here’s the answer!
How cool is this? A bunch of architecture students are getting university credits by going to Burning Man and building a structure there. Frankly, I think that’s pretty damn awesome – it gives them all the design side of the process and then the practical experience of making sure the damn thing stands up when the desert wind blows up. What a great way to get through university!
In other news, Apple released the iPad and were trying to keep it free or ‘adult’ material. Guess how long that lasted? Less than a day. Oops. The internet exploded into popularity as soon as you could put pictures on it, and guess what those pictures were of? The home video camera became popular because people could use it to video themselves in private moments. Why did Apple think that they might be able to keep the iPad smut free? On a more realistic level, a good business model should take a realistic approach to human desires and respond to them, and so tech will only succeed if it can support people’s needs.