Mars orbiter catches pic of Curiosity on its way down! | Bad Astronomy | Discover Magazine

The simple and sheer amazingness of this picture cannot be overstated. Here we have a picture taken by a camera on board a space probe that’s been orbiting Mars for six years, reset and re-aimed by programmers hundreds of millions of kilometers away using math and science pioneered centuries ago, so that it could catch the fleeting view of another machine we humans flung across space, traveling hundreds of million of kilometers to another world at mind-bending speeds, only to gently – and perfectly – touch down on the surface mere minutes later.

The news these days is filled with polarization, with hate, with fear, with ignorance. But while these feelings are a part of us, and always will be, they neither dominate nor define us. Not if we don’t let them. When we reach, when we explore, when we’re curious – that’s when we’re at our best. We can learn about the world around us, the Universe around us. It doesn’t divide us, or separate us, or create artificial and wholly made-up barriers between us. As we saw on Twitter, at New York Times Square where hundreds of people watched the landing live, and all over the world: science and exploration bind us together. Science makes the world a better place, and it makes us better people.

via Mars orbiter catches pic of Curiosity on its way down! | Bad Astronomy | Discover Magazine.

Purely awesome.

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On Slowness and the Slow Web

Jack Cheng writes on the idea of a Slow Web, an alternative to the Fast Web, which has taken over much of our internet lives. This is very similar to the Slow Food movement in response to Fast Food. Think for a second about what that might mean, then check out his article — I highly recommend it, and quoted some of my favorite parts below.

For the record, I’ve had a bowl of ramen noodles at Minca in the East Village with a good old friend I hadn’t caught up with in awhile. It’s a calming, slow, and very, very nice experience. And delicious.

Source: The Slow Web

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The Fast Web
What is the Fast Web? It’s the out of control web. The oh my god there’s so much stuff and I can’t possibly keep up web. It’s the spend two dozen times a day checking web. The in one end out the other web. The web designed to appeal to the basest of our intellectual palettes, the salt, sugar and fat of online content web. It’s the scale hard and fast web. The create a destination for billions of people web. The you have two hundred twenty six new updates web. Keep up or be lost. Click me. Like me. Tweet me. Share me. The Fast Web demands that you do things and do them now. The Fast Web is a cruel wonderland of shiny shiny things.

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Rhythm vs. Random
Let’s say I told you there was a new HBO drama that aired for one hour from 9-10pm every Wednesday night. Once you decide it’s a show you’re interested in and can make room for, the act of watching takes over. It becomes about the show. Now let’s say I told you there’s a new HBO drama that’s sometimes times an hour, sometimes half an hour, sometimes two hours, that may or may not air every Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday night, between 6 and 11pm. Suddenly it’s no longer just about the show. It’s about whether or not the show will be on. What next? becomes When next?

In the Fast Web, we’re faced with this proposition numerous times a day. The randomness and frequency of the updates in our inboxes and on our dashboards stimulate the reward mechanisms in our brain. While this can give us a boost when we come across something unexpectedly great, dependency leads to withdrawal, resulting in a roller coaster of positive and negative emotions. The danger of unreliable rhythms is too much reward juice.

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Knowledge vs. Information

Timeliness. Rhythm. Moderation. These things dovetail into what I consider the biggest difference between Slow Web and Fast Web. Fast Web is about information. Slow Web is about knowledge. Information passes through you; knowledge dissolves into you. And timeliness, rhythm, and moderation are all essential for memory and learning.

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The Slow Web
Timely not real-time. Rhythm not random. Moderation not excess. Knowledge not information. These are a few of the many characteristics of the Slow Web. It’s not so much a checklist as a feeling, one of being at greater ease for the web-enabled products and services in our lives.

Like Slow Food, Slow Web is concerned as much with production as it is with consumption. We as individuals can always set our own guidelines and curb the effect of the Fast Web, but as I hope I’ve illustrated, there are a number of considerations the creators of web-connected products can make to help us along. And maybe the Slow Web isn’t quite a movement yet. Maybe it’s still simmering. But I do think there is something distinctly different about the feeling that some of these products impart on their users, and that feeling manifests from the intent of their makers.

Fast Web companies want to be our lovers, they want to be by our sides at all times, want us to spend every moment of our waking lives with them, when sometimes that’s not what we really need. Sometimes what we really need are friends we can meet once every few months for a bowl of ramen noodles at a restaurant in the East Village. Friends with whom we can sit and talk and eat and drink and maybe learn a little about ourselves in the process. And at the end of the night get up and go our separate ways, until next time. Until next time.

1 Hour in Square’s World | Wired.com

Take a look at this infographic published in Wired last week that shows an hour of transactions that were performed through Square. Square is a rapidly-growing payments platform that makes it possible for anyone to accept credit cards, using their main feature, the free (yes, free) little white square credit-card-swiper that you might have seen at small businesses or places where people exchange money that has traditionally been more cash-focused because of temporary or mobile conditions (such as flea or farmer’s markets). Anyone can sign up and get a reader, and the app is free on phones and iPads, so if you lend out a lot of money to your friends and they never have cash to pay you back, here’s an option for you. The reader is free but every transaction gives a 2.75% cut to Square.

Square is also trying to push a mobile payments platform that lets you pay via your phone, without needing any card, at local businesses that you frequent or just want to check out. The businesses must be listed in the Square directory, meaning that they’re all set up to accept money that way, and you can just walk in and add purchases to your tab on your smartphone, which gets confirmed at the register (iPhone and certain Android devices only, at the moment). Not only does it cut out the need for carrying your wallet, as Square emphasizes, it also encourages recognition between local, smaller businesses and their frequent customers. Or even just any customers.

Square is definitely not the only mobile payments platform out there, but they’ve been pushing hard to get their little white block out there, and the map is fascinating to look at. I can’t say it’s a favorite device of mine, because I’ve used and experienced it before and it’s always been finicky and difficult to work with — mostly in problems getting the cards to swipe and register, which seems to be more of the hardware. I’m always scared it’s going to break, because it’s connected to your device through the headphone jack. While it’s great that they’ve worked so hard to get their product and app out, I think that their reader can probably be improved, and it’s interesting that they’re sort of letting everyone test-drive the hardware on such a large scale when it’s not quite reliable yet. But clearly that has been working for them, looking at this map.

1 Hour in Square’s World | Wired Business | Wired.com

What Are Those Circles?

The circles represent single transactions going through the Square payments system during a one-hour period on a recent Thursday afternoon–the larger the circle, the bigger the dollar amount of the sale. These transactions happened around 4 p.m. Eastern. So think happy hour in New York, and lunch hour in San Francisco, where Square is based. A busy period for Square and the merchants who use it.

Genome Compiler is released!

Genome Compiler‘s first public release just came out, as announced by Omri Drory, the founder and CEO of Genome Compiler. It’s a software tool for designing and debugging synthetic DNA, and ordering it, too! Haven’t played around with it yet but I’m excited to (update later after I try it out). Everyone is starting to make big, visible steps towards making synthetic biology more accessible, modular, and highly functional. Hopefully this will lead to many more awesome developments.

Kio Stark at Kickstarter

“Don’t Go Back to School is a handbook based on over 80 interviews with people who have successfully taught themselves a wide variety of skills and subjects outside of school. Some of them are dropouts, some of them went to college, and some even went to grad school, but they all have in common an obsessive passion for the learning that they do independently. The book shares their secrets and strategies, so that anyone with curiosity and a desire to learn can find out how to do it without heading back to class.”

Last night, I got to hear Kio Stark speak at Kickstarter’s headquarters. Kio launched a Kickstarter project last fall, for a nonfiction book called Don’t Go Back to School: A handbook for learning anything. It’s about learning, education, and getting where you need to go without going to (or going back to) traditional school, such as college or grad school. The book hasn’t been finished yet, though you can head to her website to see how you can get a copy if you weren’t a Kickstarter backer. I was interested to hear what she found through interviews for her book, and to hear more about the ideas in the book, but the talk turned out to be centered more on stranger interactions and social dynamics in cities, which was just as fascinating. I think in a lot of ways, while the two topics seemed separate at first, the conversation really brought it all together.

Kio teaches at NYU’s Interactive Telecommunications Program (check out cool stuff from their Spring Show 2012!), where she leads classes in stranger interactions and intimacy and technology, and thinks about how humans relate to their technology and to each other through technology. It might be ironic to think of such a book coming from a grad school professor, but for what it’s worth, ITP definitely doesn’t work like regular grad school, and Kio herself dropped out of a Yale graduate program. I think her personal history and teaching position also just shows that everyone finds their own way to do their own thing, an idea that underlies her book.

Her talk at Kickstarter was sort of a crash course in what she teaches at ITP. She got us thinking about how cities are full of strangers, and how all of those interactions affect us, in person and online. It’s a very relevant concept for crowdfunding platforms like Kickstarter, where strangers often come together and help each other out, whether for personal material gain (rewards) or altruism, or that blurry middle ground where your friend is making something awesome and you want to help your friend out and also get a bit of the awesome. It’s a relevant idea for New York City, which is a liberal island in itself full of a constant interchange of ideas and very social-media-connected people (though Kio pointed out that being a liberal island is often actually very limiting and paints a skewed picture of what the world is or can be). It’s a big idea for the internet overall, which thrives on stranger interactions, and interactions with people you know that wouldn’t otherwise be possible without the internet. She got us thinking about anonymity versus accountability, such as how the culture has moved from using avatars and screen names to connecting all of your various social media accounts, and allowing openness with your name, identity, and personal details.

Interactions with strangers also facilitate learning, particularly on the internet. It’s fairly clear that while it was possible to self-learn and motivate personal education before the internet, it’s been completely revolutionized and entirely accessible with the internet — Wikipedia, open textbooks, Quora, even the Facebook posts that pop up on your feed with current events news articles. People want to share and show what they know, and in doing that, whether as a side or directed effect, they’re helping other people learn.

Overall, all of this thinking just emphasizes that there’s plenty out there to learn, in school or out of school, but doing it out of school opens up a wide variety of methods, on top of the range of topics. Kio received a range of responses from people who have built their own businesses, people who are engaging in biohacking, people who are trying to homeschool their kids, people who studied one thing in school and realized that there was so much more about other things that they wanted to learn. Humans are innately curious, and while school might have developed to nourish and encourage that curiosity, it’s become pretty clear that by trying to meet the needs of everyone as a collective, individual creativity and curiosity suffers. How do we fix the school system to still be a system, but still work for everyone? As more and more people turn to finding their own methods and paths, it makes you wonder — is it even possible?

(Side note: Kio lives with Bre Pettis in Brooklyn with their daughter. Bre is one of the founders of NYC Resistor and MakerBot…speaking of DIY)

NYU ITP Spring Show 2012

My roommate, a graduate student at NYU’s Interactive Telecommunications Program (and computer science / engineering / robots / circuitry / electronics / art&design extraordinaire, and overall awesome person), invited me to the ITP Spring Show this year, where ITP students display and demo their projects from classes, independent research, and theses. It’s a two-day showcase, spread out among the classrooms and lab spaces of the ITP floor within NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts. The students are all intensely innovative and creative, but also skilled in the technical background needed to carry out their ideas, and most importantly, very interested in how to connect to people and how to use technology creatively (ITP has proclaimed itself the “Center for the Recently Possible”). The show happens twice a year, at the end of the fall and spring terms.

There were many, many favorites, but here’s a small sampling:

Descriptive Camera, by Matt Richardson

“The Descriptive Camera works a lot like a regular camera—point it at subject and press the shutter button to capture the scene. However, instead of producing an image, this prototype outputs a text description of the scene. Modern digital cameras capture gobs of parsable metadata about photos such as the camera’s settings, the location of the photo, the date, and time, but they don’t output any information about the content of the photo. The Descriptive Camera only outputs the metadata about the content.

“As we amass an incredible amount of photos, it becomes increasingly difficult to manage our collections. Imagine if descriptive metadata about each photo could be appended to the image on the fly—information about who is in each photo, what they’re doing, and their environment could become incredibly useful in being able to search, filter, and cross-reference our photo collections. Of course, we don’t yet have the technology that makes this a practical proposition, but the Descriptive Camera explores these possibilities.”

Cool new way to approach photography, especially as all of your photographs become digitized and trapped onto your spare hard drives. Even analog photos that get printed on film get digitized, as if to save them in some way that seems more permanent to us (even if it isn’t). The camera works by sending the image to workers who have signed up for Amazon’s Mechanical Turk system, which feeds Human Intelligent Tasks (HITs) to other people over the internet, for a fee. The people who get these tasks send back a short descriptive text about the image. The Descriptive Camera makes it a fascinating study in what we see in images that don’t come with any context, and how people choose to tell stories or color what they see with their personal viewpoints.

Here are some descriptions collected from the show, as posted to Matt’s blog:

A thoughtful gentleman in a pink and baby blue plaid shirt stands next to a lovely woman who appears to be impersonating an orangutan.

A woman in a black top looks terrified by the gentleman in a grey shirt who seems to be telling a story about an enormous fish he once caught.

A woman in a black tank top stands in the foreground. Behind her, it appears as though there is a beard convention taking place.

Two men are fighting over the honor of this lady with bangs who is standing the background. She actually looks really excited about this fight. DRAAAAAAMA!

Added bonus: NPR’s Wait Wait…Don’t Tell Me show featured the Descriptive Camera in a recent limerick.

Chairish, Rocking Chair for Two, by Annelie Berner

The Design for Digital Fabrication class produced some great pieces on display made with laser cutters and 3D printers. This shareable chair was whimsical, functional, and beautiful — sit down with a friend and sway in unison on the carefully cut wood frame, which was made on a CNC router.

Rehuddle, by Philip Groman and Robbie Tilton

Rehuddle is a very simple conference-call site that makes it ridiculously easy to set up group calls. You can invite friends through calls, texts, or emails, and you even get those iconic little Turntable.fm avatars.

“Our target audience is small creative businesses that cannot afford expensive phone systems and are looking for a free, easy and fun solution. Our secondary target market is for anyone looking to speak and share information with two or more people.” – Project Description

BurritoBot, by Marko Manriquez

Laser cutting and 3D printing come together to yield…the evasive perfect burrito. The evasive perfect 3D printed burrito.

“Burritob0t is a platform for rapid prototyping and tracing the source of food in our lives to reveal hidden issues revolving around fast food: labor practices; environmental consequences; nutritional values. Mexican fast food is emblematic of the assembly line, mass produced era of modern consumables – appropriating the authenticity of the ethnic food sensibility it purports to embody while masquerading as an edible like substance.  Because the burrito is a mass market consumable, it lends easily as a way for examining and stimulating discussion on various aspects of the food industry including: how and where our food is grown, methods of production, environmental impact, cultural appropriation and perhaps most importantly – what our food means to us. By parodying the humble burrito’s ingredients and methods of production we can shed light on these exogenous factors and interconnected systems surrounding the simple burrito.”

Galapagos, by Ann Chen and Danne Woo

This is a typeface designed with the help of genetic algorithms. As someone who has worked on evolutionary biology and spent a lot of time looking at these sort of patterns and trees, it was particularly cool to see how people found them both beautiful and inspirational for design, especially as the principles of evolution and feedback were incorporated into each iteration of a font:

“User Scenario: We will have the program set up on an iPad. User approaches iPad, directions on how to begin generating typeface will be clearly presented. When user generates first evolution of the typeface, they have the option of either printing and saving what they’ve created or creating another generation. The characteristics of the next font generation (color, shapes, size, etc.) can be determined by the user depending on how long they hover over each example. The longer they hover over one, the higher ranked that letter’s characteristics will be and the more likely the next generation will look like that character. User saves the print and can email print to themselves.”

Dinosaur Treasures, by Anh Ly and Ji Hyun Lee

Who doesn’t love digging around in a sandbox? Let’s be real. This highly interactive piece encouraged the curious to pretend to be an archaeologist and hunt for dinosaur fossils…yep.

One part that seemed to capture everyone’s interest was how the sensors could tell how deep you were digging — the idea of depth adding a new element to your interactive, 3D space archaeology adventure. The sensors could tell where you were digging and how far down you were going, and dinosaurs (and lobsters) would pop up accordingly. I thought it would be pretty awesome to have an underwater deep-sea explorer version of this, like putting on a suit and floating around in a pool that gets magnified into a giant ocean? And whales and squids come at you? Is that too crazy?

Call Your Sequencer, by Byung Han Lim and Dong Ik Shin

This seemed complicated from far away, but you’re quickly drawn in by the visual/audial mix going on, and a bunch of very concentrated people staring at the screen, bobbing their heads, and poking their cell phones. A group of users calls up a phone number, each on their own cell phone. Once you get into the system, your number shows up on the grid, a whole row of cubes to yourself as your own personal 8-step music sequencer — within the 8-member-maximum band. You can control your beat and rhythm, which cycles automatically, by pressing numbers on your own phone’s keypad, which turns the steps on and off and animates (or stills) the corresponding cube. Once you get more comfortable, you can mix in the ability to change the pitch and instrument with the pound and star keys, and the flashing colors synching with your inner dial-pad-music-genius.