Easy access to detailed information and pro-quality tools means nearly anyone can become expert in nearly anything. The future belongs to these Mass Geeks: global communities joined by obsessive interest, demanding highly tailored experiences.
March 03, 2014
DIYL (Do It Yourself Library)
With Harvard-trained architect Hallie Chen’s help, a group of Bay Area eighth-graders are going to design and build their own school library, called X-Space. (They’d like your help, too, by way of Kickstarter.) Students discussed together what their REALM Charter School needed, facilities-wise, which led to the idea of a flexible area for reading, learning and relaxing. From the programming to the supremely modular design of the bookshelves and furniture, everything about X-Space was designed democratically. The whole project is the result of REALM’s Studio H class, which has a mission to “design and build audacious and socially transformative projects.”
Visit Kickstarter to see the X-space shelves, as well as models of the space, furnishings, bookplates and bookmarks.
February 24, 2014
The Internet by Any Other Name
The internet came from geeks, so it’s no surprise that the system speaks their language…despite its ubiquity, “dot-com” is a suffix only an engineer could love. The top-level domain game got a bit of humanizing love and attention several years ago, when a spate of shorter URL appendages inspired the likes of bit.ly, for example, or art.sy. But things didn’t go so well, and those clever frontrunners eventually recanted, becoming bitly.com and artsy.net. This time, ICANN really means it, and 1,300 new generic domains are imminent: behold “.condos” or (inscrutably) “.fish”. Not only will these new extensions increase choice and customization, they’ll help the internet get a bit less Anglocentric, as lots of non-English words are made available, from “.网络” (Chinese for “network”) to “.tienda” (Spanish for “store”).
See the whole list (and read who’s buying the administration rights to these new marvels) at the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers.
February 17, 2014
Giant Robot Says Stop
“Eight foot tall robot directs traffic in African capital” sounds like a B-movie sci-fi plot, or perhaps an attention-seeking gimmick, but if recent news out of Kinshasa is to be believed, it may in fact be a solution to the city’s long-standing traffic woes. Rather than install a traditional signal, Kinshasa traffic engineer Isaie Therese had an animatronic, vaguely humanoid robot built and installed on an island in the middle of one of the city’s busiest intersections, and it appears to be doing a pretty good job. The robot’s technology is fairly basic—red and green LED indicators, extensible arms and a few traffic cameras—but the form factor gives it a remarkable level of recognition. The robot’s also become a small source of local pride…something that’s rarely said about more traditional signals.
See more on Kinshasa’s traffic automaton, including video of it in action, at The Washington Post.
February 10, 2014
Around the (Digital) Campfire
Telling stories is a fundamental part of what makes us human. Apple UI design-veteran Mark Kawano thinks so, anyway, and that’s why he created Storehouse, a program that lets people tell stories digitally, beautifully, without professional software. It’s not the only contender out there – Medium is a similar web-based tool – but Storehouse is expressly image-driven and itself pretty lovely to look at. It’s also optimized for composing and viewing on tablets and smartphones, with familiar touchscreen input gestures like pinching and swiping.
February 03, 2014
Law & Order & Laptops
The Law & Order TV franchise, with its decades-long run, its “ripped from the headlines” plots, and its rabid, diverse fanbase, makes a fantastic window into the concerns and perspectives of Americans since the early 90s. But a window into technology? One artist has made a compelling argument that it is, by collecting screenshots of every computer ever used by a character in the franchise’s various shows. The result shows a few obvious trends—big CRTs give way to flatscreens, laptops and then smartphones—but far more striking is how much more ubiquitous these screens have become over the past 24 years. As a study in technological advancement, it’s intriguing, but as a clear-cut demonstration of how smart screens have insinuated themselves into the middle of practically every conversation, it’s astonishing.
January 27, 2014
Apple Did/Has Been Doing Something
Apple’s turning 30, and they want to hear from you: a new website lets us all tell ‘em about your first Macintosh, whether it was an XL in 1985 or a Mac Pro hot off the assembly line, last year. To kick off the narrative drive, Cupertino called in some heavy hitters (and a few guaranteed heartstring-tuggers) to wax ecstatic on the brand’s big birthday. Everyone goes uncredited (until the last few seconds) of a two-and-a-half minute video spot, from Moby to John Maeda to an inner-city schoolteacher. Art! Music! Fashion! Democracy! Even a little science, sometimes, so long as it’s sexy-looking. Beautiful, beautiful technology for everybody, in other words. “Nobody had any idea 30 years ago what the world was going to be like, or how these tools were going to be used. They’re interesting precisely because we don’t know how they’re going to used tomorrow,” says Theodore Grey, founder of Wolfram Research.
Get in on the action yourself at Apple.
January 20, 2014
Sales in the Era of BYO Everything
Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) policies in the tech and sales world are increasingly widespread, and with good reason: as our smartphones and laptops become more personalized and powerful, it becomes more and more of a chore to demand a new hire learn the company system. Particularly in sales positions, new hires often come fully equipped with their own business-oriented social networks, collections of apps, and existing data that they rely on to do their work. At ReadWrite.com, Bernard Lunn accepts this BYO-everything future as the new normal, and argues that the challenge for sales managers today isn’t getting everyone on the same platform, but creating a tracking and integration system that lets them all stay on their own.
January 13, 2014
CES: Creator Electronics Show?
In among all the wearable technology, flexible displays and Bluetooth speakers at the 2014 Consumer Electronics Show that just wrapped in Las Vegas were plenty of reminders that consumers are also creators — and they want technology to help them out. 3D printers had a larger presence than ever, with more than a dozen consumer-focused models on display, several with price points below $500. Inspired by the success of the Raspberry Pi module (blogged here last year), companies like Freescale Semiconductor have released low-cost, hackable microprocessor boards for tinkerers who want to build gadgets of their own. Even in the realm of home security, technology can let consumers take matters into their own hands: Canary is an all-in-one video and sensor monitoring system for apartment dwellers, controlled via smartphone and funded by the most successful campaign in the history of crowdfunding site IndieGoGo.
Take a trip through the future of DIY electronics at the links above; Make Magazine has some additional picks for the maker crowd in their recent Highlights and Picks post.
January 06, 2014
Building a Bigger, Better Maker Movement
Mass Geek had a busy year, in 2013; it seems like every other week or so somebody was killing it on Kickstarter, with hardware successes ranging from slick micro-brew-bots to even slicker bespoke gaming consoles. Make offers a nice look back, this week, with a slideshow of widespread geekery from brick-and-mortar makerspaces and “hardware accelerators” popping up hither and yon, to a thorough digest of commercial-scale “Made in USA” developments, to major-brand partnerships with some quirky start-ups.
Read Make’s Twelve Maker Pro trends that expanded the maker movement last year.
December 23, 2013
Every Blog’s a Critic
End of year retrospectives are nothing new, especially in the tech world. What’s changed over the past few years, though, is the willingness of analysts and reviewers from outside the industry to make confident statements about not just what was great from the past year, but what failed. A recent post at ReadWrite does just that, running authoritatively through the Greatest Tech Failures of 2013, from Google’s clumsy attempts to improve YouTube commenting, to the public debacle that’s been healthcare.gov. It’s one of the less celebrated outcomes of an increasingly tech-savvy population (and press): they’re more interested in how stuff works, but also more critical when it doesn’t.
For a healthy dose of “I told you so,” check out ReadWrite’s Greatest Tech Failures post.
December 16, 2013
Here is Today (Visualized)
Infographics had a great year, in 2013, and that’s saying something, given the high bar that’s lately been set. Great-quality infographics are everywhere, and interactive media based on everything from current events (get thee to The New York Times’ Snowfall piece, if you haven’t already) to science are enjoying the fruits of a creative outpouring like the one Super 8 video enabled in the 1960s. Cheap, easy access to top-notch tools means more and more people get in the game, and the creativity goes up and up. Here is Today is a wonderfully simple yet thought-provoking presentation on the nature of time, which makes scientific insight lyrical, a la Bill Bryson’s excellent A Short History of Nearly Everything, as well as appealingly visual, like in Ray and Charles Eames’ canonical Powers of Ten.
Visit Here is Today to see for yourself.
December 09, 2013
(Tiny) Towers in a Park
From basic building blocks to Lincoln Logs, lots of children’s toys encourage spatial play. Legos are no exception, and kids (as well as adults) have been using plastic interlocking bricks to create cottages and castles since the toys’ debut in 1949. Now Lego has teamed up with six design/build firms, including SOM and Sou Fujimoto, to introduce the 1,200 piece Architecture Studio toolkit for budding builders ages 16 and up. Every brick is white, which give the set “a very sketchbook feel,” according to Lego’s brand director Michael McNally. Also included is a 268-page instruction book, which provides a Cliff’s Notes to an architectural education, with diagrams for building models as illustrations.
December 02, 2013
“Wikipedia has become a bloody madhouse.”
Wikipedia is perhaps the world’s greatest example of a Mass Geek endeavor, but that doesn’t mean it’s without problems. After displacing Encarta and Britannica as the go-to information resource for pretty much everyone, Wikipedia has grown (and stagnated) to the point where it’s had to confront some very hard realities. First off, a shrinking body of editors that’s 90% male, with little promise of changing. And second, a system of jargon, cultural insularity and bureaucracy as entrenched as any in the corporate world. A recent analysis on MIT Technology Review asks whether a grassroots organization can stay accessible and vibrant after getting huge, or whether it’s doomed to collapse under its own weight.
November 25, 2013
The DIY PC for You and Me
Geeks have been home-brewing their own computers since the earliest days of computers. The necessary parts have been available at retail for decades, now, and more recent evolutions, like Raspberry Pi modules, which this blog noted in 2012, brought world-class computing power and flexibility to DIYers. The problem? Homemade computers haven’t tended to be especially photogenic. So Edward Barber and Jay Osgerby took the logical next step, and introduced Kano – via Kickstarter, natch – a build-your-own-computer kit that looks very cool. $100 buys everything you’ll need (just add a monitor) and Kano has already demolished its fundraising goal, racking up almost $600k over and above their $100k ask.
November 18, 2013
Click Together, Then Rock Out
Explaining Reggie Watts to the uninitiated can be a little tricky: he is perhaps the only singing stand-up comic who relies on sound looping and DIY synthesizer hacking to entertain his audiences. Yet Watts has built a loyal fanbase over the past few years, presented at the prestigious TED conference, and become a fixture of both comedy clubs and performance art festivals. His most recent venture, though, aims to democratize the technology that helped build his career in the first place. Acting as an advisor and spokesperson for technology startup Little Bits and the venerable Japanese synthesizer company Korg, Watts has helped bring about Synth Kit, the world’s first snap-together modular synthesizer. For $159, would-be musicians receive a kit of magnetic modules that can be connected and re-ordered to create a variety of sounds, allowing anyone to not only explore their musical creativity, but do it on an instrument of their creation.
November 11, 2013
Burgers with a Side of Misogyny
Don’t look at me while I eat this giant burger, you dogs! But if you must, I’m prepared to hide behind a modesty shield emblazoned with a full-bleed photorealistic ladyface. Mass Geek is dedicated to people using technology to create bespoke experiences, and while a novelty printed napkin might not be the highest of high tech, these little gems of cultural bob-and-weave were too weird to resist. Several questions remain to be asked: mightn’t a napkin printed with 50% of a face draw even more attention to these ladies, as they attempt to eat their burgers under the radar of the male gaze? What about heavily bearded men, who suffer the scrutiny of both sexes when eating large, saucy things in public?
Read all about the “Liberation Wrapper” at Japan Daily Press.
November 04, 2013
Meet the New and Improved RoboRoach, now with Bluetooth.
The world’s first commercially available cyborg was designed for compatibility with a common arthropod: cockroaches. Backyard Brains, the company behind this delightful new product, recommends them for their “robustness” and fairly large neural pathways, but notes that the curious can also use crickets, which are commonly available live at pet shops. Developers Greg Gage and Tim Marzullo started messing with the technology in 2009, in the hopes of helping people with neurological disorders, and struck paydirt on Kickstarter in 2010 with a primitive make-your-own-insect-cyborg-legs kit. Their company now offers a variety of fascinating DIY products, and the latest RoboRoach kit allows (wireless!) control of an insect’s left-right movements. The effect only lasts a few days, as the bugs learn to ignore the stimulation, but the kit is reusable, so with a healthy breeding colony, endless remote-controlled roaches could be yours for a $100 start-up cost.
October 28, 2013
Kickstart Your Own Beer
It shouldn’t come as a surprise that people who like to tinker also like to brew beer. They’re both creative acts that combine experimentation and rigor, and they both produce something that can be shared with a community of like-minded friends. So perhaps it was inevitable that an automated homebrewing system would show up on Kickstarter. In fact, two of them have: Brewbot, designed by a group of friends in Belfast, and PicoBrew, by a team of engineers and food scientists in Seattle. They take slightly different approaches to the brewing process, and to aesthetics, but both have already surpassed their funding goals, raising the question of how soon you’ll see one next to the breadmaker on a friend’s kitchen counter.
October 21, 2013
A Tinkering Economy
China’s consumer culture seems to be proceeding along a track similar to the United States’, although radically compressed. Depending on when and where they were born, some Chinese have experienced the entirety of the 20th century’s technological advancement in just the last twenty or so years. This means the year 2013 finds hyperconnected digital denizens and highly enthusiastic analog tinkerers working simultaneously. A recent Quartz article points to a collection of handmade mechanical marvels as evidence of entrepreneurship thriving in China, but it looks more reminiscent of 1950’s Americans reveling in the surplus of a world-leading economy.
Read the article (and check out some more great images) at Quartz.
October 14, 2013
She Thinks You Can Dance
Merry Lynn Morris is a professor of dance at the University of Southern Florida. Over the last 7 years, with $150,000 in grant money, she’s added inventor to her resume. Morris created a mobile platform that allows people with disabilities to experience a freedom of movement previously not possible. Using a Segway as a platform, the Rolling Dance Chair moves in response to postural shifts as well as input from a smartphone’s accelerometer, allowing users burdened with severe disabilities or physical limitations to enjoy dancing. Morris was scheduled to present her invention at the Smithsonian Museum in Washington D.C, but the trip was canceled due to October’s US government shutdown.
The Tampa Bay Times has the article, and a video of the Chair in action.
October 07, 2013
Give it back
A group of advertising creatives put their heads together and made a viscerally simple visualization of taxes that’ve been paid to the United States Federal government since Congress shut it down, last week. Mike Bodge, Tim Geoghegan, Stuart Brown and Imp Kerr combined publically available information from usgovernmentrevenue.com with a timer, resulting in a readout that’s updated once a second. In six days and fourteen hours, as of this morning, the number has risen to over $43B… about $80k per second. As you’d expect from ad men, this information isn’t simply presented for our edification. There’s a message, too: give it back to us. If you divide the big number by the current US population, it amounts to $139 each. (#giveitbacktous)
Visit the website to see it for yourself.
September 30, 2013
When the 141-year-old magazine Popular Science announced last week that it was shutting down comments on its articles, many in the publishing industry nodded a quiet approval. Online comments have been a source of anguish and bickering for years now; Popular Science even suggests they’re fueling an anti-science backlash by lending legitimacy to crackpot theories. By coincidence, just a few days earlier the New York Times Magazine ran a long article debating the value of online comments, and gives a history of their decline from a forum for collecting reader feedback to a platform for bigotry and abuse. Meanwhile, Random House’s “Hazlitt” blog takes a more positive view, seeing comments as a flawed but ultimately valuable way of enriching discussion, especially if they’re properly managed. All three articles have some suggestions on how to raise the level of online debate (like ensuring people actually read the article before commenting), and point to sites that have begun to implement them. In the near future, publications could be defined as much by the way they control feedback as the topics they write about.
September 23, 2013
Bespoke Pedal Pushers
Fashion fit for cycling is coming into its own. Startups like Outlier and Nau brought technical fabrics and functional details for riding to city-centric clothing; now Tracey Neuls has designed handmade women’s dress shoes for tokyobike. The minimal leather oxfords and ankle boots have one-piece rubber soles, for good pedal grip, and incorporate subtle reflective details. When The New York Times published an article in July about street shoes well-suited for taking advantage of Citibikes, sneakers and dressier footwear were both presented as options, but Neuls’s Geek and Fern models combine the best features of the two categories.
Dezeen has the story.
September 16, 2013
Star Wars Geekery Level: Highly Advanced (Coding)
Visit codepen.io to see more.
September 09, 2013
Lego Robot Foils Kindle Security
When you buy a book, you’re free to scan its contents to make a digital backup, should you wish. An ebook, however, can’t be printed – at least not legally, according to Digital Rights Management agreements. Peter Purgathofer, a professor at the Vienna University of Technology, was upset by this; as a Kindle user he felt burned, leasing books he’d already paid for. With a fantastic mashup of low and high tech, Purgathofer solved the problem. A simple Lego MindStorms robot advances his Kindle page by page, and hits the space bar on a laptop, triggering a digital snapshot that’s fed directly into optical character-recognition software. The result? A license-free, plain text digital book.
Visit AllThingsD for the story and a short video of the robot in action.
September 03, 2013
Hot Off the Rotors: Drone Journalism
The FAA has been at work on regulations for the commercial use of drones – or unmanned aerial vehicles – for quite a while, and the guidance is finally set to be released in 2015. Until then, the non-commercial use of drones in public is legal only with a Certificate of Authorization, and this spells trouble for various applications within the burgeoning field. Two Midwestern schools of journalism have been using drones to shoot footage that lets students tell compelling stories about climate and other issues, but the 60 business days required for an Authorization makes timeliness hard to achieve. Depending on the way the regulatory wind blows, we may be faced with a world where drones can deliver pizzas but not help report the news.
August 26, 2013
There, I Hacked It For You
“Sorry for breaking your privacy,” wrote Palestinian programmer Khalil Shreateh earlier this month, before explaining to Facebook that he’d discovered a security breach that allows anyone to post on your timeline, even if they’re not friends. Hackers and developers often point out bugs to online service providers like Facebook, but this particular warning was unusual for its venue. After trying to alert them to the bug twice, with no response, he decided instead to demonstrate its danger directly, by posting a message on CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s own page. The bug has since been fixed, and while the method he used to report it means Shreateh won’t be getting a reward, he’s been inundated with job offers from security companies impressed by his achievement.
August 19, 2013
A Spoon That Cuts Chains
Tedious, time-consuming airport security lines have been the subject of many hacks over the past decade, as frequent travelers trade tips on how to speed things up, or get around irritating limitations. A recent hack, though, actually turns the loathed process into a chance to change lives for the better, through the clever use of…spoons.
Karma Nirvana, a UK-based charity aimed at preventing forced marriages, has started encouraging women who fear such a fate to put a spoon in their underwear before heading to the airport. In theory, this triggers metal detectors in a way that obligates security staff to take the wearer to a separate room for questioning, where she can voice her concerns directly to authorities. And in practice, it appears to work — Karma Nirvana claims that many young women have already used the spoon trick to avoid forced travel.
Read more about this unexpected confluence of wit, technology and activism at The Guardian.
August 12, 2013
Reddit is My Editor
Illustrator Nathan Pyle’s upcoming book, NYC Tips and Etiquette, looks to be a charming and surprisingly useful summary of the dozens of little ways New Yorkers learn to cope with their city. It was also created with a surprising tool for sorting and refining ideas: the entire community of link-sharing site Reddit. Early in his creative process, Pyle (who has no editor in the usual sense) uploads sketches to one of Reddit’s humor sections and asks for feedback, which he gets — sometimes in droves — and incorporates into revisions, earning plenty of buzz in the process. His description of the approach to Wired makes for fascinating reading, and points to a future in which even creative direction can be crowdsourced.
Read the article, and view some great examples of Pyle’s work, at Wired.
August 05, 2013
Kenya’s Silicon Valley?
After spending years teaching himself to code through online tutorials, Wesley Kirinya designed and marketed Kenya’s first videogame, Adventures of Nyangi. To say Africa lacked digital infrastructure at that time is putting it mildly: as of the game’s release in 2006, connection to the internet was only possible via (costly) satellite uplink, and there were no other developers or gaming companies – on the entire continent. Kirinya outsourced character modeling to a programmer in the Czech Republic, which cost $600, but created every other aspect of the Tomb Raider-like game personally. Kenya’s gaming industry has evolved, in the years since, with 2010’s Ma3Racer – which recreates the experience of driving a matutu, the ubiquitous (crazed) minibuses that pass for public transport around Nairobi – racking up 10,000 downloads days after its release.
Visit Polygon for the entire article; it’s in depth and very insightful.
July 29, 2013
How Long ‘til Someone Hacks a Facebook Controller?
In a brilliant new entry to the ‘novel mashup of content and delivery’ category, William Wnekowicz has invented the Karma Controller for Reddit. Heavy users of the internet’s “front page” in particular will appreciate the way it streamlines navigation and upvoting, but with a low, low price (thanks to DIY assembly) and its hackable, Arduino-based platform, the Digispark device could appeal even to casual Reddit browsers. As our computers increasingly migrate toward the living room – why, hello there, Chromecast – it seems flexible, intuitive controllers for browsing may become more common, too.
July 22, 2013
CNC for the Masses
The Handibot is undoubtedly a “why-didn’t-I-think-of-that” development: a portable, user-friendly computer numeric controlled (CNC) milling machine that’s in development by Shopbot, a maker of pro-quality milling tools. They’re pitching the Handibot as a flexible alternative (or complement) to the increasingly affordable 3D printers which are catching on with hobbyists and serious crafters. With the right bit, a CNC machine can work via software-directed subtraction on a wide range of materials, including wood, metal and plastic. Shopbot must know they’re onto something, as their Kickstarter campaign has already more than doubled its $125k funding goal, with nine days still to go.
Quartz has the story.
July 15, 2013
The Apps of Gezi Park
The success of Arab Spring protests has been attributed to social media like Facebook and Twitter so many times—and refuted so many more—that it’s easy to dismiss the role technology’s played in the global growth of people-power in the past few years. Which is why this recent article in Forbes is such a good reminder. Focusing on the massive protests against government-driven development around Istanbul’s Gezi Park, staff reporter Alex Konrad digs deep into their technological enablers. Using existing networks like Instagram and Tumblr to cover what the mainstream media won’t is just the beginning, it turns out: sympathetic developers have also created apps specifically to enable protesters, and even crowdfunding sites like Indiegogo are playing a role in getting the message out.
Read more about the technology that made Gezi Park a global phenomenon at Forbes.com.
July 08, 2013
The creativity found in supercuts has come a long way since 2010’s “Every Arnold Schwarzenegger Scream From Every Arnold Movie,” as the tech chops required to make one have decreased. (Supercuts, recall, are the most obsessive form of video editing, snatching brief related clips from dozens or even hundreds of films, Youtube videos and cellphone footage.) Jordan Laws has been mixing audio and video as a pro DJ/VJ for a while, but his new single Feelin Good’ really shines: it features a brief flash of a dance craze for every one of the last 60 years, with typography jiving alongside. Comedian Judson Laipply accomplished something similar in real time on stage. The routine is no supercut, but very much worth watching, as well… 215 million people can’t be wrong.
July 01, 2013
Quit Looking Over My Shoulder
Recent revelations about NSA surveillance of online communication has provoked a wide range of responses, from articles to protests to demands for congressional inquiry, but none offers the immediate satisfaction of a typeface called ZXX, created last year by 25-year-old graphic design student Sang Mun. By tweaking and embellishing letterforms with Xs, squiggles and extra pixels, ZXX gives anyone—in theory—the ability to write a message that can’t be read by optical character recognition software, rendering the text unreadable by anything but human eyes. Mun is the first to acknowledge that no typeface can insure privacy, but he’s offering it for free download anyway, as a way of raising awareness and sparking conversation.
June 24, 2013
How Low Can Hi-Fi Go?
BoingBoing’s Cory Doctorow likes it when tech is cheap, and he likes to write about audio. In a recent post, he outlined how you can bring home remarkable stereo sound for your computer, phone or tv for under $75. The plan combines a tiny Lepai amplifier with two Dayton Audio bookshelf speakers, and was reviewed and approved by CNet’s Steve Guttenberg, in case you’re dubious. He goes on to essentially one-up the guys from Furni, of DIY Bluetooth speaker kit fame, by telling how to make the whole shebang wireless… kiss that tinny-sounding Jambox goodbye.
June 17, 2013
A Smart Scope
Technology has brought plenty of professional pursuits within the grasp of the amateur, but accurate shooting was, until now, something that required practice. A Texas-based company called Tracking Point is aiming to change that, and if the reviews and videos are any indication, they’ve succeeded. The integrated Linux-based processor on Tracking Point’s video scope allows users to “tag” a target with laser light, then automatically adjusts for distance and wind when they pull the trigger, delaying the shot until it’s dead on. The result is a rifle that empowers novices to hit targets 1000 yards away with minimal training, provided they can afford the system’s $17,000 price tag.
June 10, 2013
But can you check in at Etch’s office?
A startup called Etch is offering quality poster prints of your FourSquare check ins, meaning you can have a lovely, tangible artifact to display your devotion to digital life-tracking. Is this a definitive sign of Foursquare having jumped the shark, or a new indication of the application’s legitimacy? Only Portland, OR, San Francisco, and Manhattan are available, at the moment. Foursquare CEO Dennis Crowley has done some amazing aggregated visualizations of check ins in New York and Tokyo, but they remain digital expressions. Etch’s prints make the aftereffects of using Foursquare into something durable and very, very personal: a vacation souvenir, or visual diary of your time in grad school, perhaps?
June 03, 2013
Selfies in Space
Planetary Resources, which made news recently with its proposals for mining near-Earth asteroids, has another pie-in-sky plan: launching a crowdsourced, user-operated telescope into orbit. For the paltry sum (in terms of putting things into space, at least) of $1M, Planetary Resources founder Chris Lewicki says his company can provide a democratically accessible optical satellite with the capacity to search for potentially hazardous comets and asteroids, peek at fantastically distant galaxies, and inspect our solar system’s neighbors in glorious HD. The satellite, called the Arkyd, also has a display screen in view of a small on-board camera, which makes “selfies in orbit” a possibility for the first time, at the run-don’t-walk price of $39. The project is a slightly over two-thirds funded, with 27 days to go…
It’s a Kickstarter, of course.
May 28, 2013
(Laser) Cut a Record
The analog technology that makes a vinyl record possible is fairly straightforward: sound is picked up by a sensitive diaphragm and transmitted to a stylus, which etches a wax disc in a continuous groove. The wax ‘master’ is used to make a metal mold that stamps out polymer pvc impressions. Amanda Ghassaei has substituted a laser cutter for the stylus, and using digital recordings, is cutting low-fidelity recordings directly into materials like wood, paper and acrylic. She’s even able to measure the sample rate; the laser being used results in a bit depth of 4-5, as opposed to an mp3’s quality of 16. The resulting objects are visually arresting, and straddle a fascinating intersection of digital versus analog audio technology.
Ghassaei provides phenomenal documentation and lots of resources for any interested DIYers at Instructables.
May 20, 2013
MakerBot - Autodesk Edition
Autodesk is putting serious effort these days into becoming the go-to software company for the DIY set, first with its push to make 3D CAD more accessible to the casual user, and now with a strategic partnership with MakerBot. Tinkers and Makers who want to start designing and building their own gadgets now have the option of buying an “official” Autodesk version of the Replicator 2, MakerBot’s premier 3D printer. It ships with a spool of plastic for printing, a copy of Autodesk’s 123D software, and access to thousands of models, ready to print. In the world of home fabrication, technology doesn’t get more plug-and-play than this.
May 13, 2013
A Little Drone of Your Very Own
A week ago, Harvard researchers announced the flight of the world’s smallest drone. The carbon-fiber Robo-fly weighs a tenth of a gram and can precisely mimic a real insect’s flight with piezoelectric “muscles” beating translucent wings 120 times a second. If the idea of a tiny flying drone sounds tempting, you’re in luck: Crazyflie’s Nano Quadcopter is available as an attractively-priced DIY kit. At 19 grams and about the size of the palm of your hand, the ‘copter’s four horizontal props allow wireless hovering, dives and landing in response to input from a remote controller (ie, an Android phone or hacked Playstation handset). The Robo-fly is still tethered, at the moment, due to its voltage demands, and doubtless cost a bit more than $149…
May 06, 2013
Falcon-Cam for Everyone
An enthusiast called Dr. Hodie is taking advantage of increasingly tiny, inexpensive cameras to produce videos from a falcon’s eye-view. The falcon in question is Dora, a trained Peales/Anatum Peregrine, and one of the world’s fastest animals–suffice to say the results are absolutely worth watching. It’s a remarkable adaptation of available technology: the camera, power source, and flash storage are fitted into a plastic enclosure about the size of a electronic car-key fob, and harnessed so as not to impede Dora as she hunts, diving to catch other birds in mid-air at speeds over 200 mph.
April 29, 2013
Repairing Your Own Material World
The next time something in your home breaks, you’ve got an opportunity. You could get frustrated, and trash the offending item, or you could get to know that vacuum a little bit better. Tinkering not in your repertoire? Help awaits, at least in Brooklyn and Wuppertal, at The Fixers Collective and hackerspace /dev/tal. Both groups provide tools and expertise to people interested in taking a stab at fixing their own appliances. Did we mention this is free? Like-minded Meetup groups and DIY collectives exist in many other cities, as well, so before kicking that balky toaster or non-functioning fan to the curb, look into fixing it yourself. Aside from the fascinating people you’re likely to meet, you just might learn something.
April 22, 2013
Armchair quarterbacking may not be losing its appeal, but in the modern era of fast news cycles and ubiquitous video, it’s being joined by a growing interest in armchair detective work. In the wake of Boston’s Marathon bombings, thousands or even millions of interested onlookers poured their efforts into scrutinizing cellphone and security cam footage, forming discussion groups and sub-Reddits to compare theories and marked up photographs. While it’s unlikely that this crowdsourced sleuthing sped up the formal investigation, it does point to a possible future in which improved visual tools enable citizen observers to crack a case before the feds do.
April 15, 2013
FFF versus CNC, You Say?
3Ders.org has compiled a database of 3D printers, ranging from $189 to over $24k in price. So what, you say: Google’s Shopping tab lets me do that, too. Here’s the difference: 3Ders’ detailed information lets you compare models by specs like “build envelope,” which corresponds to how large an object the printer can produce, as well as delivery lead time, which can vary widely. Different modes of production, from the additive FFF (fused filament fabrication) to subtractive CNC (computer numeric controlled) milling are included, as well as the nation of origin for each machine. Core77 poses an interesting question, mulling this list over: given the industry’s explosive growth, lately, will it be shorter or longer, in a year’s time?
April 08, 2013
Reasonably Polite Seattlites are Fixing Your Bike Lanes
If you want a better, safer bike lane, you could write a letter to your city’s Department of Transportation. Or, if you’re the Reasonably Polite Seattlites, you could just make the improvements yourself. For a few hundred dollars, this small group of Seattle transportation advocates bought and installed a series of reflective bollards between a particularly busy, high-speed street and the bike lane next to it, using the same materials the city might have used in an official project. Though technically illegal, the bollards are presented as both a prototype and a protest, in which the group hopes to show not just how effective the improvement could be, but how easy — two points they make clear in the politely-worded letter they sent to Seattle’s DOT just after installation was complete.
See the project and read the polite exchange of emails that followed at Seattle Bike Blog.
April 01, 2013
Tools? Check. Materials? Check. WordPress Site? Check.
Architect Graham Hill designed and built his LifeEdited apartment to show how un-cramped a 420 square-foot studio can feel. The studio is lovely, but what’s more interesting is how supremely well-documented the project has been. It seems lately whenever anyone ambitious – however tech-savvy – starts a project, cracking open a shiny new blog to document the process publicly has become as fundamental as a trip to the hardware store. Mr. Hill recently posted numerous images and explicit technical instructions explaining Voltaic’s installation of solar cells on his window ledge, which charge batteries to power the apartment’s low-voltage lighting system.
March 25, 2013
Geek Out Now, Pay Later
App Academy isn’t the first school designed to turn interested students into highly employable programmers, but it is the first to do it for free. The San Francisco-based school has created an unusual and potentially lucrative payment scheme for its 9-week, 90-hour-a-week boot camp for novice coders, in which they demand no payment upfront, but take 15% of graduates’ first year earnings if they get hired. The high demand for qualified programmers makes this approach less risky than it sounds — a typical coder makes around $80,000 right out of the gate — and may point to an especially DIY-friendly funding model for other training programs.
March 18, 2013
The Glowing Guitar That Kickstarter Didn’t Want
NeckFX is a guitar neck that attaches to any common electric guitar body, then lights up in a rainbow of colors as you play. Visually, it’s lovely; on stage, it’s electrified audiences; but on Kickstarter, it fell flat, failing to earn the funding its creators needed to produce it at scale. In a fascinating post-mortem interview, Make Magazine asks NeckFX’s designer about the true potential of crowdfunding, and gets some surprising answers. Promotion prior to a campaign has become a crucial element in successful Kickstarting, it turns out, meaning that financially successful Mass Geeks may have to add Marketing and Communications to their growing roster of necessary skills.
Read the interview, and see NeckFX in action, at Make.
March 11, 2013
Donkey Kong, the Way My Kid Likes It
One of the great things about hackable technology is that you don’t have to put up with aspects of it that annoy you. Take Donkey Kong, the classic ‘80s Nintendo video game that brought Mario to the gaming world: it’s a great introduction to video games for a kid, but if you’re a young girl, you might wonder why the hero has to be male while the female lead sits there, waiting to be rescued. If your dad has a background in game design, and access to a program called Tile Layer Pro, that can be fixed. Mike Mika, the dad in question, used the software to tweak a copy of Donkey Kong at his daughter’s request. The result, called The Pauline Version, has gained widespread attention, sparking intense conversations about the way pop culture enforces gender roles, and giving his daughter the chance to play as a girl, and let Mario see what it’s like to be rescued for a change.
March 04, 2013
Vegetables as MIDI controllers: The Magic of Arduino
After Eric Rosenbaum and Jay Silver, founders of Makey Makey, realized their Kickstarter dreams recently, they challenged all the happy new owners of their Arduino-based controller to “make something amazing”. Makey Makey allows anything that conducts even a tiny amount of electricity to send instructions to a computer, similar to those it receives from a keyboard or mouse. Even fruits and vegetables can be pressed into service: DJ J. Viewz used grapes, eggplants, carrots and mushrooms as the ‘buttons’ of a MIDI (musical instrument digital interface) board, cueing samples to remix Massive Attack’s “Teardrop.” His short making-of video is remarkably endearing… this is an illustration of the human side of high tech toys.
February 25, 2013
Didn’t Know You Needed: Bespoke Punctuation
Everyone with a computer has the tools necessary to create their own punctuation; the rarified domain of font designers has been democratized like so much else, lately. Our culture-wide shared fascination with condensed digital communication means lots of people might appreciate your creations, too: Mike Trapp of College Humor has designed a new set of marks, including the “andorpersand,” “sarcasticies,” and “sinceriod,” which are things we’ve all wished for in text messages past, even without realizing it.
Read about proper usage and download your own punctuation set at College Humor.
February 18, 2013
Take Me Out To The Ballgame--In Your Browser
Nothing beats a live sporting event. The roar of the crowd, the smell of the hot dogs, the history of a place like Madison Square Garden. Only problem is, attending games across the country isn’t exactly feasible. Google is stepping up to bring at least some of these experiences to bigger audiences by adding detailed ‘Street View’ tours of stadium interiors to the ever-growing Google Maps. First up is Lucas Oil Stadium, home of the NFL’s Indianapolis Colts.
February 11, 2013
Little Distillers Get Big
Small-scale distillers have followed craft breweries and tiny wineries in the push to diversify the adult beverage market, but a recent announcement by Brooklyn-based Kings County Distillery suggests there’s real growth potential in the field. In New York state, the shift began with a 2007 law that loosened restrictions on hard liquor production and sales, and is now entering a new phase in which an established small producer like Kings County has the market and financing to expand production to 30 gallons a day. It’s not quite Jim Beam levels, but for an industry that was in its DIY infancy just a few years ago, that’s a remarkable level of growth.
Read more about Kings County and the micro-distilling boom in the New York Times.
February 04, 2013
Hey Internet, What Should I Say Next?
If you’re the sort who gets nervous on first dates, wouldn’t it be nice to have a friend there to give you ideas on what to say? What about a few hundred friends? For artist and programmer Lauren McCarthy, a combination of curiosity, social anxiety and readily available tools (especially Amazon’s “Mechanical Turk” crowdsourcing service) have made it a reality. Lauren arranged to have an army of remote advisers listen in to her dates via smartphone, and paid them around 25 cents a piece to offer opinions on how the date was going, and suggestions on what to say next. Surprisingly, many of the guys sitting across from her had no clue what she was up to until she clued them in, and yes, it does seem to have helped the conversation go more smoothly. A possible app is in the works.
Read more about Lauren’s unique dating strategy at Fast Company.
January 28, 2013
It Sees You When You’re Sleeping
It’s just an experimental prototype, but a tracking system developed at the University of Washington called the Lullaby may be pointing toward the future of sleep analysis. Unlike popular existing trackers, such as Fitbit, the Lullaby goes beyond accelerometers and temperature sensors by augmenting them with an IR camera and environmental measurements, so that it not only knows if your sleep is disrupted, but what you look like when it happens, and what’s happening in the room to instigate it. Combining all this data, Lullaby’s testers suggest the software they’ve written can help insomniacs pinpoint the sources of their trouble. More intriguing is how willing subjects are to allow themselves to be so surveilled, even in the middle of the night.
Read more about Lullaby at MIT Technology Review.
January 22, 2013
Creative Reuse Gets a Nod From 3M
Cardboard boxes have always been one of the most accessible targets for re-use, and now 3M wants to make it even easier. Rather than create a new kind of box, the manufacturing giant has focused its efforts on helping used boxes to live longer lives, with a kit of tools for reinforcing, re-labeling and re-sealing them. The tools themselves aren’t all that innovative, but the idea of a major manufacturer supporting this kind of repair process in a formal way certainly is.
Core77 has a thorough review.
January 14, 2013
A Light of Free Information Goes Out
Every movement has its heroes, and the information sharing movement just lost one of the brightest. The name Aaron Swartz may not ring a bell to casual browsers, but his efforts and advocacy impact anyone who’s ever sought information online — especially the Mass Geeks out there who’ve come to rely on unimpeded access to high-level knowledge that was once confined to professionals and academics. Swartz’s work laid the foundation for modern day information-sharing stalwarts like RSS and Reddit, and the online protests that helped stop the SOPA act wouldn’t have thrived without his leadership. The details of his legal troubles and shocking death have been a subject of intense coverage over the last few days, but they’re also a chance to reflect on the role that freedom of information has had in the democratization of making, and the need for smart, passionate individuals to keep it free.
January 07, 2013
Why Recycling Sucks
Garth Johnson thinks you should recycle less. The founder of the long-running Extreme Craft blog (whose yarn-bomb logo is shown here) recently went on stage in front of audience and camera at a TEDx event in Eureka, California, to argue that upcycling makes a lot more sense. An honest accounting of how inefficient recycling can be makes up part of the argument, but Johnson—in his blog and his talk—suggests that the thoughtful repurposing of worn out or obsolete objects is a basic human tendency, that we’d all be better off embracing.
December 17, 2012
Meet Up to Hack Meat Up
The Hackathon has become a familiar concept, where groups of developers, hackers and coders get together for 24, 48 or 72 hours with the goal of solving a problem. At the end, sleepless participants present what they’ve created. Hackathons have mostly been digitally focused—usually on new video games, security ideas, web solutions etc. Facebook often holds internal Hackathons to create new features for the site. But what would happen if a Hackathon was focused on something outside the digital realm, say meat? Food enthusiasts, meat producers and butchers got together in New York City recently for the Hack//Meat event.
Click over to Ars Technica to see the solutions Hack//Meat created and how well the Hackathon model translated to a new field.
December 10, 2012
Nike Brings Startups Into the Fold
Nike, with its phenomenally successful Nike+ and FuelBand digital fitness devices, has a knack for integrating technology with athleticism, and now they’re poised to share that expertise with a few lucky partners. The Nike Accelerator is a unique type of startup incubator that provides funding, mentorship and tech support for small companies looking to build apps and products that work with existing Nike technology. Headquartered in downtown Portland, 10 miles from Nike’s headquarters, the program will run through the first half of 2013.
December 03, 2012
The Fixer’s Manifesto
Fixing things is a movement these days, and movements have manifestos — several of them, in fact. In the wake of Make Magazine’s “Maker’s Bill of Rights” (which we featured in this blog here last year), a UK company is taking its own stab, with The Fixer’s Manifesto. Sugru is a formable rubber compound for fixing anything from blown-out sneakers to electronic gadgets, and the company that makes it has created an open source document singing the praises of maintenance and repairability. Getting people excited about repair is certainly in the interest of their business, but the Manifesto’s 12 ideas are written with enough passion and vividness to win over all but the most jaded DIYer.
Read the full text at Sugru.com.
November 26, 2012
Taking the Middle Path on Crowdsourced Design
Crowdsourced design has gotten a lot of negative press over the last five years, called out by critics for devaluing the role of the designer, and often sacrificing high quality results for a brief, gimmicky appeal at social notoriety. So it was with some trepidation that Bruce Mau Design decided to open up the design process for an upcoming Swedish music festival’s identity to the public. But as a recent article discovers, input from the public can be a good thing if managed right. By asking music fans to comment and riff on early concepts, and valuing the quality of their responses over the volume, the studio’s managed a rare crowdsourcing success, as effective at building buzz as it’s been at producing great work.
See how the UXU logo project got crowdsourcing right, at FastCoDesign.
November 19, 2012
A Room With a Side of Local Knowledge
AirBnB’s quest to revolutionize how we go on vacation has taken another step, with the launch of its new Neighborhoods feature. Recognizing that AirBnB clientele tend to seek out less touristed parts of town when they visit major cities, the site has compiled neighborhood-specific recommendations and descriptions from users, and combined them with disarmingly candid images by local photographers. The result is a series of pages that capture the flavor of dozens of different neighborhoods in popular destinations like San Francisco, New York and Berlin, in the hopes of drawing visitors further afield, and giving them an experience no Hilton or Marriott could match.
November 13, 2012
Chris Anderson Leaves WIRED to “Spend More Time With His Robots”
If there has to be a single event signalling the shift toward DIY as a major tech movement, Chris Anderson’s departure from WIRED may just be it. After nearly 12 years as editor in chief of the prominent tech/business/culture magazine, Anderson is stepping down to become CEO of 3D Robotics, an online purveyor of parts and systems for building aerial drones. It’s worth remembering that, even ten years ago, leaving a renowned publication to run a geek-oriented retail site would’ve been unthinkable. But as maker culture goes global, and is broadly embraced as an expression of independence and creativity, the move feels strangely inevitable.
November 05, 2012
After Sandy, Bringing Power to the People
While FEMA and local government agencies scrambled to get major services back online in America’s east coast cities, local residents and small businesses have taken the serious task of recharging everyone’s gadgets into their own hands. An Atlantic Cities article documents how bars and convenience stores with access to power (through luck or generator) are offering free charging to neighbors, and ponders whether access to low-volume power is becoming a basic human right. In the meantime, a local bike advocacy group in lower Manhattan earned some social capital by setting up a charging station of their own, with a twist: everyone who wants electricity for their device has to pedal the bike that generates it.
October 29, 2012
A Platform for DIY Everything
One of the big downsides of Doing It Yourself is that everyone does things differently. An initiative called Open Structures aims to modify that a little, by creating an online repository of simple basic parts, connectors and structural elements that can be copied and combined to create everything from hard-sided luggage to coffee makers. A recent exhibition of Open Structures’ gadgets at the Istanbul Design Biennial shows a wonderland of potential, as contributing designers used various parts from the OS toolkit to design furniture, toys, and even a vacuum cleaner built from an old Thermos.
October 22, 2012
Genome Sequenced, Crisis Averted
While it’s not exactly DIY, recent developments in genome sequencing technology is bringing the once sci-fi level process into the lives of everyday people — especially everyday people with newborns suffering from life-threatening diseases. Commercially available devices like the Illumina HiSeq 2500 can sequence an infant’s entire genome in less than two days, often revealing birth defects at the gene level that would otherwise take months to diagnose, and allowing accurate treatment much earlier. At $13,500, the procedure can be a lifesaving bargain, made all the more remarkable by the fact that it wasn’t even a possibility just a few years ago.
Read how researchers in Kansas are finding powerful uses for this once academic process at MIT Technology Review.
October 15, 2012
We Got So Mad That We Started a Tumblr
Crowdsourced criticism entered a new era with the arrival of Tumblr, with the finest current example probably being “The Amazing iOS6 Maps.” Apple has already publicly apologized for the shortcomings in its new mobile mapping application, but the Tumblr documenting its many missing features and “melting” landscapes is still up, with submissions from irritated users all over the world. A recent Design Observer article puts the blog in a larger context of “crowdcrit”: the growing tendency for annoyed users to voice their concerns through openly accessible and highly visible forums like blogs, comment boards and DIY videos, among others.
October 08, 2012
What if 3D Printing is Bad for the Planet?
In all the breathless talk about the rise of DIY and Maker culture over the past few years, it generally goes without saying that this is a good thing for sustainability. After all, what could be better for the environment than people making things themselves again? As it turns out, one of the most celebrated DIY technologies—3D printing—has plenty of environmental downsides. In a balanced and well-researched article, Autodesk “Sustainability Maker Advocate” Ben Chapman breaks down 3D printing’s implications for the planet, pointing out the wasted material inherent to the process, but also argues for its huge potential in repairing products that might otherwise be thrown out. The net impact is up for debate, but honest assessments like this one are a big step in improving the final outcome.
Read the whole article at Autodesk’s Sustainability Workshop blog.
October 08, 2012
Strangers in Hackerspace
If DARPA funds a hackerspace, can it still produce hackers? That’s a question being asked by the growing tech community, and by an article in last week’s New York Times that profiles several such facilities that have recently received large grants from the Department of Defense. The DOD’s reasoning is solid: many of the “cutting edge ideas in cybersecurity” have come from informal groups that hackerspaces foster, so it’s in their interest to cultivate them. It’s hard to think of an organization more antithetical to the hacker ethic than the military, though, and that’s where the controversy starts.
The New York Times has the story.
October 01, 2012
Building the $4000 Supercomputer
A small team of enterprising engineers at Britain’s University of Southampton have conquered a new frontier in open source manufacturing: they’ve built their own supercomputer, by wiring together an array of $35 Raspberry Pi microcomputers. The explicitly hackable units are a recent addition to the DIY/Maker scene, released earlier this year (and blogged here on Mass Geek) as a way to get interested kids more access to hardware and software design. Together with the requisite connectors, power supplies and a rack structure made out of Legos, the entire parallel processing system cost around $4000 — not bad for a device that was the exclusive domain of universities and the military less than a decade ago.
Read the details at Wired.
September 24, 2012
The Shuttles of San Francisco
This map isn’t depicting a public transit system — it’s showing a private one. In a curious switch of live/work patterns, the startups and tech giants of Silicon Valley are largely populated by young workers who prefer to live in the city, prompting employers like Google and Facebook to create their own networks of comfortable, wi-fi enabled shuttle buses to get everyone to work on time. A recent art/analysis project by local design studio Stamen is giving visible form to the formerly hidden systems, revealing a remarkable level of complexity and volume: together, the major corporate shuttles carry 25% as many passengers as the Caltrain regional rail system. The ability of tech companies to replicate a public transit system is impressive enough, but the way a handful of designers can use freely available resources to accurately map that system puts it solidly in Mass Geek territory.
Learn how Stamen uncovered the Shuttles of San Francisco.
September 17, 2012
When geeks get into gardening, the results are both encouraging and bizarre. Feedback Farms is a project by four tech-friendly collaborators that aims to turn vacant lots in Brooklyn into food-producing gardens. The modern twist is an abundance of soil and plant sensors that allows the gardeners to monitor conditions remotely, in the hopes of improving yields with less of the intense effort and time investment required by traditional gardening.
September 10, 2012
The Life and Times of Super Mario
Mario has likely been in more video games than anyone else, from early Nintendo Game-N-Watch handheld games to Mario Teaches Typing to the recent Super Mario Galaxy 2. Nintendo probably never meant for the high-jumping plumber to have a chronologically-logical life, and almost certainly never created any type of cohesive continuity between the games, but several fans have done extensive research to try to create a timeline of all games in which Mario appears. To do this, they’ve scoured the internet for manuals, box art, and logic that only makes sense in the Mushroom Kingdom. If you’ve ever wondered when Mario went to medical school or why his relationship with Donkey Kong is so complicated, well finally your your questions can be answered.
Click over to Kotaku to read about the surprisingly in-depth process behind this noble and important pursuit.
September 04, 2012
DIY: The Final Frontier
Rocketry is so last century. For the cutting-edge maker, picosatellites are the way to go. As more and more interested amateurs discover that it’s actually possible to put an object into low earth orbit all by themselves, the DIY community is assembling the tools and resources to make it easier. There’s even an instruction book, recently released by Make Magazine publisher O’Reilly Media. For just US$4.99 ($2.99 for the eBook), space enthusiasts can learn how to defend their homebrew satellite from vacuum, radiation and excessive g-forces, and even convert a centrifuge to test its performance before launch.
Buy your own copy of Surviving Orbit the DIY Way at O’Reilly Media.
August 27, 2012
A Better Type of Graph
Infographics are all over these days, used to explain everything from eating habits to political leanings. Unfortunately, the enthusiasm of new infographics makers isn’t always matched by their ability. Designer Travis Kochel is aiming to level the field a little with the introduction of FF Chartwell, a font that automatically turns numbers into charts and graphs within an existing layout program like InDesign. It’s an unusual approach that strips chartmaking down to a simple type-and-convert process, through the clever manipulation of ligature tables that digital fonts already rely on. At $125 for the full package it’s not dirt cheap, but the ability to quickly crank out accurate, credible-looking graphics could be worth a lot more.
Check out the story on FastCoDesign and watch the brief but informative demo video.
August 20, 2012
Beck Hansen’s Song Reader
Now that every possible idea for user involvement in commercial music — from build-your-own albums to collaborative songwriting — has been tried, the only thing left is to let your fans actually perform the songs for you. Which is precisely what Beck is proposing for his next release this December, through a decidedly old school medium. The iconoclastic folk singer is publishing his album as a stack of sheet music, in conjunction with publisher/website McSweeney’s, who will also be hosting renditions of the songs as they’re submitted by fans and followers.
Beck’s website has the details.
August 13, 2012
A Science Project That Learns to Save Lives
Fine Needle Aspirate (FNA) biopsy may not sound particularly thrilling, but coupled with the right analysis, it’s a procedure with the potential to save the lives of thousands of breast cancer victims each year. The right analysis, in this case, comes from a 17 year old Floridian named Brittany Wenger. FNA is a far less painful and invasive procedure than traditional biopsy, but it’s also less conclusive. By running the results of over 7 million trials through a computer program that looks for patterns in various aspects of the test results, Wenger has managed to increase its reliability to over 99% — an achievement that recently earned her top honors at the annual Google Science Fair.
August 06, 2012
Cut, Fold, Ride
Israeli designer Izhar Gafni’s cardboard bike project has been making the rounds of the internet this past week, primarily because of the price — according to the project website, Gafni’s innovative use of materials and construction means the sturdy, waterproof cycle could be manufactured for as little as US$9. The video that he’s used to publicize the project, though, hints at cardboard’s untapped DIY potential, not just as a material for mocking things up, but for durable goods with real design appeal.
July 30, 2012
Kansas City Schools Get Their Fiber
You may already know that Kansas City is getting some of the world’s fastest internet connections, through the new Google Fiber initiative. Yes, it will let subscribers stream high-res videos to their hearts’ content, but to find some truly enthusiastic new customers, look to the city’s cash-starved public school system. Unable to afford extras like field trips and advanced classes, administrators envision using their high-speed connections to have conversations with college professors, or virtual visits to educationally valuable places all over the world.
Read the ups and downs of KC’s digital bounty at The Kansas City Star.
July 23, 2012
Helmetcams are the New Airbags
Any frequent urban cyclist can tell harrowing tales of brushes with inattentive or aggressive motorists, but even when injury results, the lack of clear proof means such incidents rarely come with legal action. Some are now bearing the burden of proof quite literally, strapping helmet cams originally designed for action sports onto their helmets when they ride. The footage recorded this way has already been used to identify and apprehend several drivers, but as a recent New York Times article explains, the greatest impact of this trend may be as a deterrent, prompting better behavior by car and bike operators alike.
Read more about it at NYTimes.com.
July 16, 2012
This Deck Was Made for Hacking
Kickstarter has a new grand champion of crowdfunding, and it’s not a watch, an album or a graphic novel; it’s a gaming console called Ouya. The project, which earned its first million dollars in pledges in a record-breaking eight and a half hours, is considerably more than just an Xbox competitor. Based on the Android operating system, it’s explicitly designed to give independent game developers a high-quality platform to work on, merging the fidelity of a dedicated console with the free-for-all accessibility of mobile gaming apps. Fully hackable and just $99, it’s the equivalent of giving the punk rockers a slot on the main stage.
July 09, 2012
But Can It Light A Cigarette?
The pinnacle in concert-going technology used to be a cool t-shirt and a lighter. Not anymore. Recently, LED equipped wristbands called Xylobands have taken up the mantle as a much techier version of holding your lighter in the air. The performing artist (or their crew) can control the Xylobands—which are given to concertgoers for free—via radio signal to create synchronized displays among the crowd. While the lighter has been updated, the cool t-shirt remains an area ripe for innovation.
Core77 takes an amusing look at some of the issues concertgoers have had with their Xylobands after the music is over.
July 02, 2012
Meet Your Wine and Drink it Too
There are brewpubs, where beers are produced and served on site, and there are wineries, where wine is made and tasted in bucolic rural settings. Here in Oregon there are a lot of both, along with a strong DIY streak, so it was only a matter of time before the two entities merged. Two unusual ventures, one called Sauvage and the other called Southeast Wine Collective, will give winemakers space to make their product in an urban environment, using locally harvested grapes, then serve them on site in a pub-like setting called an “enopub”. It’s an approach that’s worked well for craft brewers, giving them a steady income while building a local following, without having to depend on distributors to get their goods to market. Whether oenophiles are ready to embrace the bar around the corner as they’ve embraced the classic wine country tour remains to be seen.
Read the details at Oregon Live.
June 25, 2012
Skin Care From Scratch
German manufacturer Rowenta has an answer for skin care geeks worried about what’s in their favorite products: make it yourself. The Naturalis kit uses a combination of heat and high-speed agitation to let users cook up their own lip balms, moisturizers and facial peels, and comes with measuring and storage devices to make sure the recipes come out right. At $250, it’s not a cheap way of earning DIY cred, but considering the cost (and mysterious ingredients) of high-end skin care products, it could end up being a wise investment.
June 18, 2012
The Conference That Crowdfunding Built
Kickstarter has helped launch new products, films and online businesses, but recent developments suggests it might also be a powerful platform for creating conferences. The XOXO conference, to be held here in Portland, grew out of a bar chat between two DIY-minded guys named Andy, and has since become the most successful crowdfunded event in Kickstarter history. The model flips typical conferences on their head, by selling tickets first, then organizing the event once attendance is assured. By all accounts it looks to be a fascinating exploration of independent creation and entrepreneurship, but we won’t be able to say for sure: by the time we learned about it, tickets were already sold out.
June 11, 2012
Re-Enter the Dragon
With the demise of NASA’s space shuttle program, hopeful geeks are looking to the private sector to keep our starbound dreams alive, and not without reason. Dragon, the first commercially operated functional space capsule splashed down in the Pacific last week, after successfully delivering a payload of supplies and equipment to the International Space Station. The company in charge of the mission, Long Beach-based SpaceX, already has several more launches scheduled, and brings up the possibility that tomorrow’s astronauts could be entrepreneurs instead of government employees.
The New York Times has the details.
June 04, 2012
Hacker Friend, Hacker Foe
We’ve mentioned Kinect several times in this particular trend blog, paying special attention to the growing ranks of hackers, amateurs and enthusiasts who’ve been using the technology to figure out their own unique applications for gesture-based interaction. Behind the scenes, things are less clear. An article in last Sunday’s New York Times Magazine questions whether the flowering of a thousand Kinect hacks occurred because of Microsoft’s encouragement, or despite its efforts to prevent them.
Read the article in the New York Times.
May 29, 2012
The Maker Faire, in Sketch Form
The great annual festival of Mass Geek-dom just wrapped up in San Mateo, California last week, and if you weren’t fortunate enough to visit Maker Faire 2012, you can get a flavor of what went down by looking through this series of diagrams, drawn live by a group of illustrators called ImageThink. Each image encapsulates a single presentation from the two-day festival’s Center Stage. Highlights include a talk by Arduino inventor Massimo Banzi, author Dave Eggers’ plea for communal space for artists, and an explanation of the science behind record-breaking paper airplane flights.
May 21, 2012
Kids Build Stuff and Let the Whole World See
Kids are pretty amazing at making things, once they’ve got the tools, the permission and, most important, an audience to impress. Recently launched social site DIY.org aims to provide all three, and inspire a new generation of makers in the process. Set up in part by one of Vimeo’s co-founders, DIY.org challenges kids to document and share their constructed explorations, fostering a community that will (hopefully) share ideas, information and encouragment.
May 14, 2012
Fixing the Oldest Cars with the Newest Tools
You may know that stand up comic and Tonight Show host Jay Leno has spent a lot of his hard-earned cash on an extraordinary collection of classic cars, but you might be surprised to learn he’s also spent a bit of it on a 3D printer and 3D scanner. It turns out that one of the hardest parts of maintaining old cars is getting replacement parts — many of the most iconic automobiles use components that haven’t been manufactured in 50 years or more. Leno and his maintenance team use their in-shop equipment to scan damaged parts and 3D print prototype replacements, streamlining what was formerly an expensive, labor-intensive process.
Make Magazine has the details, and a fascinating (but choppy) video.
May 07, 2012
New War, New Media, New Rules
Many news outlets called the upheavals in Libya and Egypt “The Facebook Revolution” owing to the role social media played in their development. But if you want to get the details on how Libyan rebels used of dozens of online informational tools to outsmart the Qaddafi regime, this article in MIT Technology Review is a good place to start. From garnering NATO support to sharing instructions on how to build shelters and operate weapons, there’s hardly any aspect of the revolution that wasn’t touched by social and distributed media, and it makes for a fascinating read.
Take half an hour and digest the whole story at Tech Review.
April 30, 2012
How to Make Your iPhone Significantly Less Convenient
We’ve covered the proliferation of increasingly accessible 3D printing, as well as the newfound speed of nostalgia. Perhaps inevitably, they have collided. The Brickphone is a 3D printed iPhone “case” that turns your iPhone into something Gordon Gekko might have used. Color us at Ziba Trends headquarters officially concerned about a future where memes have made the jump from YouTube and Reddit to the physical world.
If you feel like there’s not enough 1987 in your life, go pick up a suit with extra wide lapels, then download the specs to 3D print your own Brickphone from Free Art & Technology. You’ll be encouraging the virtues of greed before you know it.
April 23, 2012
A Facebook of the Fields
We hear a lot about the growth of social media in the developing world, but Africans embracing Facebook and Twitter is only part of the story. Tech-savvy folks in sub-Saharan Africa are getting quite good at coming up with their own social platforms that adapt better to local realities than the more familiar mega-networks. One such network, called iCow, was created to help Kenyan farmers gather and share information via text message, augmenting Facebook and making it more accessible in the field. It’s just one example of how the idea of social networking is spreading and localizing, spurring some remarkable innovation in unexpected places.
Read more about iCow and other home-grown networks at MIT Technology Review.
April 16, 2012
Making Twitter Do Something Useful
Essentially a disaster-specific set of filters, Twitcident takes advantage of the fact that there are a lot of Twitter users out there these days, and they’re among the first sources on the internet for local information about floods, fires, earthquakes and other calamities. The two minute demo video paints a pretty powerful picture, of a near future when surprisingly detailed on-the-ground details are available to any aid or rescue worker with a WiFi connection.
Learn more about Twitcident at Wired’s Gadget Lab blog.
April 09, 2012
Stickers are the New Spray Paint
Sometimes pixels can be low tech too. The subpixel, recently blogged by Make Magazine, is a simple acrylic frame that holds nine razor blades, letting the itinerant culture jammer turn any subway poster into a pixelated grid with two quick swipes. The resulting field of square stickers can then be peeled back to create a pattern, or—as the instructions suggest—left intact with just one sticker removed, as an invitation for the next passer by.
See the details at the Make blog.
April 02, 2012
Legos Want to Be Free
It’s easy to get excited about the potential of widely available fabrication technologies, but what about the impact on existing business? MIT Technology Review looks at the rapidly falling price of 3D printing and the growing availability of online 3D libraries to ask a very reasonable question: how long until people stop buying Legos and start “pirating” them?
Read the thought-provoking discussion at Tech Review.
March 26, 2012
Bring On the Five Dollar Downloads
Louis C.K. isn’t the only entertainer to bypass the middleman and sell his content directly. As this article in last week’s New York Times points out, the success of the comedian’s “risky” ploy to offer a recent performance at low cost directly from his website has emboldened others to follow suit, putting comics, along with musicians like Jonathan Coulton and Radiohead, firmly in the vanguard of DIY distribution.
Read the article.
March 19, 2012
I Know Your Technology Better Than You Do
Khoi Vinh, author of the excellent tech and design blog Subtraction.com, and former NewYorkTimes.com design director, has a few things to say about the changing way we’re embracing technology. Once upon a time, he argues, companies could be trusted to grasp new technology sooner than the average consumer, since they had the deep pockets to adopt it earlier, and the competitive incentive to figure it out. But with the pace of change accelerating, the moderately engaged tech user is often ahead of the company. Case in point: the flat screen TV, which is de rigeur for most hotel chains, yet none of them seem to know how to set the aspect ratio properly — something most home users figured out an hour after unboxing theirs.
Read the entire post (and supporting commentary) at Subtraction.com.
March 12, 2012
A DIY Superflu?
Greater access to information and tools has its scary side too. A recent article raises concerns about the growing capabilities of DIY biology researchers, especially the 2000+ members of DIYBio.org, as a possible source of new, more deadly viruses. With techniques and resources at their disposal once limited to professional researchers, but without the constraints of an academic or corporate lab, could an enterprising bio-geek accidentally stumble upon the next great epidemic? The article focuses on recent amateur work with the H5N1 bird flu virus, and balances biosecurity concerns with suggestions from the DIY community that it is perfectly capable of policing itself.
Read the article, and decide for yourself.
March 05, 2012
The Overfishing Problem, in Miniature
Bamboo Sushi is a local favorite here in Portland, an excellent restaurant with an oh-so-Portland focus on sustainability. A recent marketing effort has been getting them attention from far beyond this city though. “The Story of Sushi” is a four minute video that explains some of the current problems of unsustainable fishing practices, using miniature figurines and tiny tableaus of fishing boats and warehouses to get its message across. The unbelievably charming result has already attracted nearly 200,000 views on Vimeo and a mention on NPR — not bad for a sushi joint.
February 27, 2012
The New Nike+ Wants to Get to Know You Better
The next incarnation of Nike+ intends to put an army of statisticians in your shoe. A breathless write-up from Gizmodo describes a line of new Nike shoes with embedded sensors so sophisticated, they’ll offer everyday athletes the kind of performance analysis once reserved for the pros. The details are fairly bewildering, but suffice it to say, no matter how much of a numbers nerd you are, the new Nike+ system has you covered, from vertical inches jumped to calories burned.
Check out the details at Gizmodo.
February 20, 2012
A Workstation That Lets You Under the Hood
Leading PC maker Hewlett Packard has decided to embrace, not fight, the makers and hackers of the world. HP’s new Z1 Workstation, set for release this April, pops open like a car hood to allow for easier upgrades, repairs and modifications. It’ll be music to the ears of technological tinkers, but may also signal a near future when even average consumers can expect to see the guts of their new gadgets without voiding the warranty.
February 13, 2012
You Say Brannan, I Say Polaroid SX-70 With Polaroid 600 Film
Instagram has turned everyone into a master photographer with its instant filters that recreate the look of several styles of vintage cameras and film. However, since we all aren’t really master photographers, most people don’t actually know specifically what they are emulating. The developers behind the iPhone app 1000 Memories have reverse engineered the Instagram filters to discover which cameras and film combination each filter recreates. Boost your photographer credibility and learn the ingredients behind the photos you’re making.
Click over to the 1000 Memories blog to see the infographic and also how how they figured all of this out.
February 06, 2012
Art Lovers Who Like Jackson Pollock Also Liked...
Art.Sy hopes to open up the art world to a larger, younger audience by putting it through a process much like the one that powers Pandora or Netflix’s recommendations. Using protocols developed by the Art Genome Project, Art.Sy identifies characteristics in different works of art to recommend other, potentially less famous and less expensive artists to potential buyers. Only a tiny fraction of fine art is bought online these days, but by making discovery and purchase easier and more efficient, Art.Sy aims to bring it into the digital world.
The image on the left is an Andy Warhol. Art.sy used it to recommend the image on the right, a Mark Mulroney.
January 30, 2012
The Only Film Tribute to Make the Kessel Run in Less Than 12 Parsecs
The original Star Wars is perhaps the unifying cultural touchpoint. It’s quite difficult to go through life never having seen it, and thus we all have our own memories of how Star Wars colored our lives. So much so that thousands of internet denizens jumped at the chance to recreate their own slice of the film. Their assignment? Recreate any 15 second chunk of Star Wars in any manner you see fit. The best were stitched into an adorably lo-fi DIY project called Stars Wars Uncut—a shot for shot recreation of the movie.
Throw on your Jedi tunic and enjoy Star Wars Uncut at Vimeo.
January 23, 2012
An Online Protest That (Maybe) Changed the Future
It’s impossible to say whether last week’s blackout protests by Wikipedia, BoingBoing and dozens of other high-traffic websites were directly responsible for dozens of members of Congress withdrawing support for the SOPA and PIPA acts, but the coincidence is remarkable. Through the relatively simple act of taking down their websites for a few hours, these diverse and often grassroots organizations startled media outlets and politicians by wielding far more influence than anyone was prepared to acknowledge. Given their apparent effectiveness, could information or service blackouts become the go-to protest acts of the next decade?
January 16, 2012
Tomorrow’s Market is Black
DIY is more than just making toys in your garage; it’s also an approach to business. And journalist Robert Neuwirth thinks it might just be the approach that’s going to save the global economy. The author of a recent book on black markets throughout the world, Neuwirth recently sat for an interview with Wired magazine, and points out that informal economies now employ half the world’s workers, generate $10 trillion in value annually, and in many countries are the only part of the economy that’s growing.
Read the interview to see why “System D” is the future.
January 10, 2012
D&D Enlists the Masses
When you create something as beloved by geeks as the classic role playing game Dungeons & Dragons, you have to be prepared for some scrutiny. After the game’s fourth edition was released in 2008 to howls of outrage at many of its changes and inconsistencies, publisher Wizards of the Coast is enlisting thousands of fans and die-hard players to help them get the next edition just right. Whether they can all agree on the best way to cast an Invisibility spell is still unknown.
January 03, 2012
From Reading Room to Laboratory
Hackerspaces, where interested DIYers can indulge their maker tendencies in the company of like-minded enthusiasts, are nothing new — we’ve been documenting the spread of these collaborative spaces since the MASS GEEK trend began. But a hackerspace in a public library is worth notice. A recent NPR story talks about two public libraries, in Indiana and upstate New York, that are installing workspaces complete with 3D printers and electronics benches, in hopes of encouraging residents of all economic backgrounds to pursue their projects. In an internet era where information is cheap, perhaps the future of the library is in tools, not pages.
Read more about hackerspaces going public at NPR.
December 19, 2011
Everyone’s a Translator
Two web startups yield two visions for revolutionizing the way languages get translated, not through better technology but better communication. DuoLingo is an effort by the creators of Captcha to link up language learners with translation tasks appropriate to their skill level, translating huge volumes of web pages while “paying” the translators with skill-building exercises.
Babelverse, started by two young Europeans who met at a conference, also employs real-life humans to do its translating, but in real time. They envision a time when a Chinese supplier could IM effortlessly with a Brazilian business owner, via two students or freelancers who might be anywhere on earth. It’s a small world, and with services like these, it could soon be a much more connected one.
December 12, 2011
The Economist Goes to Maker Faire
Wondering what might spark the next Industrial Revolution? No less a publication than The Economist is saying the Maker movement could be the answer. The story is familiar to Mass Geek readers: starting from their hobbyist west coast beginnings, Makers are spreading across the globe, bringing new tools, a new culture and a new way of thinking with them. Spanning the physical and the digital, it depends heavily on open-source sharing and user input, an enthusiastic return to ‘hands-on’, and seeks to change everything from the way science and technology are taught in schools to the way physical designs are shared among creators.
Read about some of the most recent maker innovations here.
Image via Flickr user Jurvetson.
December 05, 2011
A Card-sized Computer That Turns Kids Into Hackers
Lowering the cost of failure is key to fostering creativity, we’re often told, and now there’s a digital device designed to do just that. At just $25, the Raspberry Pi is a credit-card sized mini computer that its creators hope will let parents and teachers stop worrying, and let their kids start hacking. Equipped with a wide array of inputs and outputs, the Raspberry Pi invites kids to actively mess with its operating system, promising that if anything goes wrong, they can just re-install it.
November 28, 2011
Born of Frustration, Guerilla Signage Leads the Way
Here in Portland, the bike commuter crowd is a constant source of DIY ingenuity, whether modifying their rides or the infrastructure they ride on. One anonymous rider, frustrated by the lack of signage for cyclists wishing to ride over the I-5 bridge between Oregon and Washington, took matters into his or her own hands. Almost 30 homemade signs and painted symbols manifested one day, clarifying the route and prompting cheers among the local bike community. The local Department of Transportation’s response was swift: they’re removing the impromptu signage…and replacing it with 29 official signs of their own.
Image by Todd Boulanger via BikePortland.org.
November 21, 2011
Facing the Flood
Navigating shopping cart walkways and commuting via bicycle-powered boats are just a couple of the ways residents of the central Chao Phraya river basin in Thailand are confronting the worst flooding in recent history. Tumblr Thai Flood Hacks captures everything from stilt walking through floodwaters to pet life vests made from old water bottles. Just another reminder that hardship can sometimes provide the catalyst for striking ingenuity.
See more disaster-inspired cleverness on the Thai Flood Hacks Tumblr.
November 14, 2011
Survival in the Wilds of Manhattan
Camouflage, fire-building, rope-making — it’s all part of the curriculum in New York’s Central Park. Survival skill schools have been around for decades, but Mountain Scout Survival School takes the unique step of bringing its classes right into the least wild part of the entire US. Their goal is to give hardcore city dwellers the chance to learn what it takes to survive without food delivery, or even grocery stores.
November 07, 2011
Tech Support for Fixers
At the intersection of the Maker movement and the new austerity lies an army of consumers rediscovering the possibility of repair, rather than replacement, for worn out electronics and appliances. While this might sound like bad news for manufacturers, many are embracing the trend with expert phone support that walks customers through simple repair procedures. The repair experience turns out to be a great brand-building opportunity, and it steers customers away from buying a competitor’s product as replacement.
October 31, 2011
Design, Divide and Conquer
As technology continues to be a key driver in establishing connections, Ideacious is a recent community that links creators and buyers to share roles in bringing new designs into the world. Through the platform, “Creators” get access to networks and support to turn their design ideas into market-ready products. Funding is provided by “Buyers” who get the chance to help their ideas and designs come to life, in exchange for a financial stake in the project.
Pick your next investment at Ideacious.
October 24, 2011
Crooks Hiding in The Clouds
Cloud computing is making all sorts of human enterprises more powerful and less centralized, and that goes for enterprise of the illegal sort too. This recent article outlines the various uses criminals have found for the cloud, both as a source of hackable data and a convenient and anonymous venue for planning their exploits and selling the results.
Read up on the distributed future of crime at MIT Technology Review.
“Identity thief” via Flickr user CarbonNYC
October 17, 2011
Zero to Maker
Anyone with a shred of DIY ability can find something useful in Make Magazine’s information dense magazine and enthusiastic, rapid-fire blog posts. Now even that requirement may fall by the wayside, with the new “Zero to Maker” blog, aimed at taking DIY to the last frontier: the clueless. The blog follows “reluctant maker” David Lang as he learns the basics of plastic casting, machining and electronics from a group of patient experts, told with plenty of reflection and humor.
See what DIY looks like to a newbie at Make.
October 10, 2011
Hackers Gone Good
Presumably tired of being portrayed in every movie as pasty nerds that never leave their apartments and spend all of their time breaking websites, hackers in San Francisco have collaborated with local government to help the city run more smoothly. The Gray Area Foundation For The Arts Summer of Smarts was a series of three hackathons that took place this past summer. Teams created projects that could help solve San Francisco’s biggest problems; now the four winning teams are presenting their projects to the city’s mayoral candidates—to actually be put into use.
Fast Company explains the winning projects and has more about the hackathons.
October 03, 2011
Just Like a Real Leica
With digital “point and shoots” now capturing the majority of the camera market, film cameras are becoming novelty items. For those who appreciate the craft of Leica but can’t drop a thousand dollars for one, London-based designer and photographer Matthew Nicholson has made it possible to afford your very own. His Leica-like paper pinhole camera is fully functional, with 35mm film, and comes with a ten page infographic guide on how to build it. Nicholson’s project allows just about anyone to experience the luxury of the Leica brand in a playful way.
Read more at yatzer.com
Image © Matthew Nicholson
September 26, 2011
Touch-enabled technology has tremendous potential to help autistic kids connect with each other and their communities, and overcome the socialization challenges many of them face. But its best days lie ahead. Hewlett-Packard has begun tapping the wisdom of the crowd and the open source movement with its Hacking Autism initiative, an open forum for submitting ideas and highlighting apps that already make a difference in the lives of autistic kids. The initiative’s Autism Hackathon, coming to Cupertino on October 11, aims to expand on those efforts, by pairing technologists with autism experts for a day and seeing what they can invent.
September 19, 2011
10 Billion Posts Later, Tumblr Hires a Designer
Tumblr didn’t invent blogging, but they did make it so unbelievably easy that literally anyone can do it. What’s more, they did it with a staff of just 45 — among them only five product managers and one designer. Yet Tumblr has a clear, powerful design culture that permeates their brand and has helped them build a fervent following. As of this month, the tiny powerhouse is finally expanding its design capabilities, having already shown that good design depends less on designers than on innovative thinkers with a commitment to getting it right.
Read the story in Fast Company.
September 19, 2011
Interactive Guide to Coding for Beginners
For would-be online entrepreneurs, writing code can be the last great obstacle to turning their vision into reality. Code Academy aims to dismantle even this stumbling block, with an approachable website that uses simple prompts and text boxes to get users writing functioning programs before they realize it. The past decades have seen a trend not just toward more powerful software-building tools, but also toward making those tools faster to learn. With its “come try me!” approach, Code Academy may be the best example yet.
See how fast you can get nerdy at Code Academy.
September 12, 2011
The Crowdsourced Birthday Book
When a world’s worth of crowdsourced creativity is at your fingertips, what do you do? If you’re David Cole, you commission 365 portraits of your friend Tag Savage, and bind them into a book to present to him for his birthday. In addition to using Amazon’s Mechanical Turk service to get the portraits drawn (at varying levels of artistry), Cole and friends took advantage of another web-based DIY resource, micropublisher Blurb, allowing anyone else who wants a copy of the book to buy their own. Put these Mass Geek tools together, and you’ve got the coolest present of the year.
August 29, 2011
The Telecommute Comes to India’s Villages
The popular vision of massive call centers in big Indian cities may be on its way out if a current Xerox initiative succeeds. Along with several other technology companies, Xerox is looking for ways to combine offshoring with telecommuting, granting access to overseas service jobs to millions of rural Indians. With bandwidth and mobile device penetration improving throughout the country, Xerox says, India is ripe for digital solutions that let people make money without having to migrate. The devil is now in the details, as researchers seek to make these system confidential and manageable enough to satisfy the corporations that will use them.
August 22, 2011
Security Specialists to Hackers: Target Your Hacking Victims Better
Anonymous and LulzSec, two hacker/activist groups once dismissed as nerdy pranksters, are starting to gain clout, and with it, attention from security professionals. But not all of the attention is bad: a recent panel of Internet security experts in Las Vegas has gone on the record to ask that these groups start using the power they wield in more constructive ways. Calling on the community to “build a better Anonymous”, the panel suggested they go after more universally reviled targets, such as child-exploitation sites and corrupt officials. The vigilantes, in other words, are being asked to take a step toward legitimacy.
August 08, 2011
Autodesk Buys Instructables
Instructables is a cornerstone of the online DIY community, offering step-by-step instructions on making just about anything to its thousands of devoted users. It’s also, as of last week, a part of Autodesk, the world’s largest 3D software company and maker of pro-level programs like Alias and AutoCAD. This quiet acquisition marks a shift in the relationship between DIY and “real” design communities, as they recognize that the tools they use are rapidly converging, and put their money behind it. Watch this space for some serious Mass Geek advances in the near future.
Read the official announcement on the Instructables website.
August 08, 2011
Using DNA to Sleuth Out Unscrupulous Dogs
Consumer-grade science comes to the aid of frustrated yard owners. Pooprints is a DNA-mapping service that takes samples of dog waste and sequences them to determine the breed of dog that left them behind. Marketed as “the solution for responsible dog owners”, the service aims to throw some scientific certainty into neighborly squabbles.
August 01, 2011
Using Kinect to Make Music and Art Easier
Russ Maschmeyer has taken something many people associate with time wasting and brain rotting—the Microsoft Kinect video game controller—and put it to a use more associated with creative intelligence: music. Maschmeyer has hacked the Kinect to track his body movements, not to move an onscreen character but to create different musical notes. He can even grab notes out of the air. The really impressive part is how accessible it becomes for non-musicians to create challenging music. Suddenly you can use your video game console to give Bach a run for his money.
July 25, 2011
A Trophy for the DIY Enablers
In a Mass Geek world, gadgets are more than just useful and fun, they also bend to your will. Make Magazine recently announced The Makeys, an awards series that recognizes platforms and programs that go the extra mile to encourage people to tinker and hack. The winners, in categories like “Most Hackable Gadget” and “Most Repair Friendly”, will be announced at the New York City Maker Faire in September.
See the nominees at Make.
July 18, 2011
How To Make a “How To”
The recent explosion of online tutorials, with instructions for everything from soldering a circuit board to baking a pie, has advanced the Mass Geek trend immeasurably. Now there’s a platform for making your own. Tildee is a website that makes creating and posting a step-by-step how-to as easy as blogging something on Tumblr — which is to say, effortless. The lightweight interface lets you incorporate images, text and video with a single click, and the resulting assortment of tutorials is searchable, rate-able, and predictably haphazard.
Share your wisdom with the DIY world at Tildee.
July 12, 2011
Astrometry.net Turns Your Photo into Astronomical Gold
In an era where millions of people take pictures of the sky every night, what’s keeping astronomers from using them for research? Accurate location data, that’s what. Fortunately, Astrometry.net’s “astronomy engine” is here to help: simply upload your photo and it identifies the exact portion of the night sky depicted. While that may not sound earth-shattering, it’s already yielding results for astronomers, two of whom recently used the site to process 2500 images from the web, and determine the exact track of a short-lived comet… from 2007.
July 05, 2011
You Can Be the Next Philip Glass...For an Afternoon
Despite maybe lacking the talent, all of us at some point wanted to be a musician. Recently, composer Aaron Siegal and iPhone developer Larry Legend teamed up to create GROUP, an app that, for one afternoon at least, allowed anyone in New York to become part of an original symphonic performance. Working kind of like a scavenger hunt for sound, the app directed users to walk slowly toward a central location, playing a small piece of a multi-part composition as they go. As they converged toward the New York Stock Exchange, the parts built in volume and complexity, until dozens of strangers found themselves bound together in an impromptu orchestra.
The performance is done, but learn more about it at the GROUP website.
June 27, 2011
Focus Frustration No More
We’ve all had a photo or two ruined by our camera thinking it’s smarter than we are and auto-focusing on the wrong part of the picture. That wall looks super sharp, but Uncle Bob’s face is completely blurry. But if Dr. Ren Ng realizes his vision, focusing will never be an issue again. Dr. Ng has created Lytro, the camera that lets you choose your focus after you take a picture. Instead of capturing just the information necessary to recreate a single photo, it takes all of the visual information available. It’s as if with one push of the shutter button, Lytro takes all of the photos possible at that moment, then lets you choose the one you wanted.
June 20, 2011
The Power of the DIY PSA
What began a few years ago with clever video rants about tech support and airlines that damage luggage, has turned into a full-fledged art form. Now that making and distributing video is almost universally accessible, the quality and cleverness of the protest video is reaching new heights. The latest example comes from Casey Neistat, a New York City filmmaker who got ticketed for riding his bike outside of the bike lane, and responded with a hilariously entertaining three minute movie that demonstrates the many obstructions an urban cyclist faces. 3.5 million views later, it’s garnered international attention, and done more to prompt discussion about bike lane conditions than a dozen letter-writing campaigns.
June 20, 2011
On This Album, The Track List is Up to You
Punk/art rock band Kaiser Chiefs are stretching the limits of fan empowerment by releasing their latest album, “The Future is Medieval”, on a pick-and-choose model. Twenty tracks are posted on their website, and listeners are asked to choose ten and assemble them into an album. Critic Stephen McLeod points out that the interface and selection process are as much a part of the album experience as the songs themselves, which helps dispel concerns that the band is sacrificing artistic integrity for a PR stunt. Carefully applied, this approach could revive a hint of the curatorial joy that we lost with the demise of the mixtape.
June 13, 2011
A Little More Botox in Mine, Please
There’s nothing new about a cosmetics company giving you recommendations based on your user profile, but the level of detail and control that French brand MyCodage offers is extraordinary. In addition to the site’s extensive profile worksheet, it offers extremely specific information on ingredients and their effects, and the ability to adjust their ratios directly, including such technical compounds as “botox-like” muscle relaxants and “not over-the-counter” acne medication.
Explore the fantastically detailed MyCodage site.
June 06, 2011
Fighting Crime, One App at a Time
Scroll down to October 4th in this very column, and you’ll see a post about a writer in the Bay Area who recovered her stolen GPS using a clever combination of social media and online research. Just eight months later, there’s now an app for that. Several stories have hit the web recently about people using programs with names like “Hidden” and “Prey” to recover their snatched MacBooks. Both use a combination of triangulation and clandestine photography to determine the thief’s appearance and whereabouts, making the tech-empowered citizen sleuth that much more effective.
June 06, 2011
Turning Astronomy Into a Green Lantern Game
It’s all a bit confusing, but the upcoming Green Lantern movie is taking some unusual steps to build anticipation online, including giving fans the opportunity to help out with some real world astronomy research. The Milky Way Project is an actual crowdsourcing effort, led by a consortium of astronomers and Chicago’s Adler Planetarium, that uses a simplified, game-like interface to let amateurs help identify unusual stellar entities. With a bit of clever phrasing (“please note you are taking part in a confidential project”) and a tie-in from the blog of one of the film’s fictional villains, the promotional team has directed a lot more traffic to the MWP, and added a sheen of credibility to the film’s backstory.
May 31, 2011
Students Answer Your Environmental Questions
Stanford students in environmental science, engineering, business and journalism are doing research with a dual purpose. Rather than look up answers to theoretical questions, the students are fielding queries about sustainability from the public at large, through an online service called SAGE. “No conundrum [is] too picayune” says the SAGE website, and requests have run the gamut, from the environmental impact of paper vs. plastic, to the carbon footprint of bio-fuels. The program puts academic-quality research in the hands of average folks, and educates future environmental leaders in the process.
May 23, 2011
Getting the Straight Political Scoop, via YouTube
Political junkies and civic-minded voters have a new way of getting informed, and politicians have a new way of getting to know their constituents. YouTube recently launched Town Hall, an elegantly designed debate platform that lets viewers browse short, targeted video clips by dozens of American politicians, on issues ranging from Afghanistan to long-term energy policy. The service hopes to cut through the sound bites and attack ads to give voters reliable information about where senators and representatives stand, side-by-side and without external spin. Viewers who hear a stance they like can hit the “support” button; results are tallied and displayed, giving a more nuanced view of voter sentiment than the average telephone poll.
May 16, 2011
Like Google Goggles for Live Events
You’re watching a basketball game, and suddenly wonder what the free throw percentage is for that rookie who just stepped up to the line. A new SF-based company called CrowdOptic plans to make that sci-fi scenario a reality, via (what else?) your iPhone. Matching your phone’s GPS and orientation data with a real-time database of major events, CrowdOptic’s app shows you info and stats on whatever your device camera’s pointing at, be it an athlete, band or actor. Details are still scarce, but the hyper-targeted ad potential could make this the augmented reality app that breaks into the big time.
May 09, 2011
Make Any Product You Want This Weekend
Bug Labs creates separate electronic modules equipped with GPS, cameras or other sensors. Users decide what they want to make, buy the proper modules, and put them together to create a new device, quickly and easily. In other words, say goodbye to waiting for a big tech company to create the product you want. Peter Semmelhack is the founder of Bug Labs, and the man behind many of its ideas and direction. In a recent New York Times interview, he explains how he sees this idea growing, and gives a peek into the mind behind one of Mass Geek’s iconic products.
Read the The New York Times interview with Peter Semmelhack.
May 02, 2011
The Camera For All Your Wildest Camera Dreams
A carpenter that wants to build a never-before-seen type of bookcase still knows where to start: with wood. But where do you start if you want to create a new type of camera? A group of Stanford graduate students hopes that the obvious choice becomes the Frankencamera. They created this easily hackable camera to allow for experimentation and customization that’s not possible with current market consumer or pro cameras. Imagine it as a lump of clay that can take pictures, waiting to be molded into use for whatever purpose you can come up with.
April 25, 2011
Build Your Own Geiger Counter
After the devastation of earthquakes, tsunamis, and related nuclear power problems in Japan, some citizens are taking measures to keep themselves. One of the more recent trends is to create DIY Geiger counters. Enterprising citizens are gathering online to share the best methods to make these radiation detectors and then crowdsourcing maps of problem areas.
April 18, 2011
A Picture Worth 1,000 Calories
Dieters know all too well the effort and attention to detail required to properly count how many calories you eat every day. iPhone app Meal Snap wants to give you one less excuse for eating that second helping of mom’s meatloaf by streamlining the process. Just photograph your meal and the app tells you how many calories it contains. It sounds like something out of a science fiction movie, and the debate about how it actually works is ongoing. TechCrunch speculates that actual humans may be making the magic happen on the other end, looking at the photo and looking up the food’s calorie stats in a database.
April 11, 2011
What To Do When a Snowy Forecast Isn't Enough
How about that weather? That oft-repeated small talk question holds the key to a fun weekend for some people. Skiers, snowboarders, and surfers rely on hyper-specific weather forecasts to make plans — not just whether it’s snowing, but how’s the powder? That need, combined with the accessibility of the internet, has led to a new kind of tailored weather service. However, this isn’t the Weather Channel, or even local news filling the gap. Snowboarders and skiers turned amateur meteorologists are using DIY methods to get and report the weather forecast that they really need.
April 11, 2011
Answers To Your Most Asked Questions
Haven’t you always wondered what makes glass transparent? Or how many satellites are currently in orbit? Armchair researcher Jarret Green let curiosity get the best of him, and created I Always Wondered, a collection of cleverly illustrated answers to the world’s most nagging questions. Memorize this website, and you’ll surely be the life of the next party when you give an authoritative explanation for why curly hair is curly.
Find your answers at I Always Wondered.
April 04, 2011
Comparing DIY and Corporate Innovation, From a Master of Both
From DIY Wii-mote hacking to heavily-funded Microsoft Kinect research, and now at Google, Johnny Lee has innovated up and down the spectrum. Over at Make magazine, he takes a look at where hobbyists have the advantage in creating new ideas, where the money matters, and what stays the same regardless. Start your Dremels and your soldering irons—it’s an earnest and inspiring take on how new technology is made that’ll have you taking apart your expensive gadgets in no time.
March 28, 2011
Sing for Your Supper; Teach for Your Class
Trade School is vocational education with a healthy dash of social innovation. Operating in New York City for just over a year now, the organization invites interested city folks to teach practical skills in a classroom setting. In return, they gain access to a wide array of other classes. A part of “barter network” OurGoods.org, Trade School has already attracted plenty of media attention, and features a jam-packed schedule of lessons on everything from belly dance to felting and online marketing.
March 28, 2011
DIY Biolabs on the Rise
Six months after GenLab opened its doors in Brooklyn, DIY genetics labs are taking the country by storm. A brief post from Discover Magazine’s “Gene Expression” blog mentions several California-based DIY bio labs, as well as linking to some of the proliferating online resources for budding biotech entrepreneurs.
March 21, 2011
Summer Camps for the Tech Set
“Computer Camp” had an irredeemably nerdy connotation in the ’80s, but no longer. As geeky goes mainstream, technology-focused summer camps are popping up all over the country, offering precocious kids and teenagers the chance to immerse themselves in skills like animation, robotics and app design. Swimming and kickball still feature in the schedules, but presumably, the cool kids will all be coding.
March 14, 2011
'War Against Makers' Yields Hackers' Protest
The makers at Make have some grievences to air regarding Sony’s aggressive moves to curtail the whims of tinkerers and inspirational visions of innovators. While Sony may regard its legal roadblocks against software hacking as necessary to the protection of its intellectual property, hackers regard it as an affront to fun . . . and technological progress.
Read more about Phillip Torrone’s top 7 sins of Sony at Make Online.
The BBC takes on Hardware Hacking.
March 08, 2011
Coke, Maroon 5 and a Few Thousand Fans Write a Song
Coca-Cola is embarking on an unusual collaboration in London, by challenging the band Maroon 5 to write a song in 24 hours. Fans who RSVP for the event, scheduled for March 22, will be able to suggest lyrics, melodies and rhythms, and to comment on the progress of the song as it develops. Whether the resulting track makes a dent in the charts remains to be seen, but as a publicity effort it’s likely to be a hit — Coke will be publicizing it through its own Facebook page, which already has over 20 million fans.
February 28, 2011
The Muriel Awards
Fed up with the politics and irrelevance of the Academy Awards, a group of film critics and writers have taken things into their own hands. The Muriel Awards, named after one of the founders’ pet guinea pig, is remarkable for its transparency (votes and runners-up are clearly indicated), and its inclusion of some interesting categories that belie the passion of the folks who put it together: Best Cinematic Moment, Best Body of Work, Best Film From 10 (and 20, and 50) Years Ago, and more.
Turn off the Oscars, and turn on this.
February 28, 2011
Make Your Own Safety
Two stories of guerilla signposting that worked. Recently, a still-unidentified resident of Cranston, Rhode Island got the backing of the town government, when they elected to keep all but 21 of the 600 signs he or she planted at dangerous intersections. This echoes a story from last year, when Good magazine documented the efforts of a Los Angeles artist to paint a much needed off-ramp sign above one of the city’s crowded freeways. This too was finally made official by government decree, though it took considerably longer — it stayed put for nine years before Caltrans finally incorporated his “suggestion” into new signage.
Image via flickr user Wootpeanuts
February 21, 2011
NBC Looks to Tweets for Local News
Occasionally referencing the Twitter feed of a famous politician is commonplace on national news these days, as is mining the American mood through the postings of its citizens. NBC, however, recently announced that they’re taking the trend local with “The 20,” a tightly curated collection of prolific tweeters in New York and Washington DC. Contributers will not only provide 140-character news tidbits to the media giant, but also be introduced as real, actual people through video interviews. A bold step toward granting reporter-level recognition to thoughtful social media users.
Read about The 20, and NBC’s plans for a nationwide roll out, on Media Bistro.
February 14, 2011
Ever been tongue-tied in the confessional? Now, thank gawd, there’s an app for that. Confession: a Roman Catholic App, shepherds penitents through the Confession process and allows them to examine their consciences against the 10 Commandments. Users can create a checklist that details their sins and add new sins. Penitents must still visit a priest for absolution, but the app helps them get a head start.
Read about the app here
February 07, 2011
Make Magazine has been at the heart of the Mass Geek movement for years, first with their print magazine, then with their Maker Faires and DIY wikis. Make:Live takes an obvious and necessary next step for the publication, offering video walkthroughs of basic maker skills like soldering and wiring. Viewers who watch live can pipe up with questions via Twitter or UStream, letting demonstrators fine-tune their presentations for the community in real time.
Warm up your soldering iron and head over to Make:Live for more.
January 31, 2011
Qwiki is a visual-based wikipedia, combining video, imagery, sound and information into easily digestible entries. Employing “storytelling instead of search,” Qwiki hopes that this more experiential presentation of information will inspire users. In the Alpha phase, they are also asking users to suggest additional images, information and videos to bolster and improve entries. One recommendation from us: fix the friendly, but haltingly digital voice.
Brush up on your knowledge of millions of things at Qwiki.
January 24, 2011
YouTube Symphony Orchestra Enters Second Year
When we hear “YouTube Symphony” we think of yet another clever web-enabled collaboration—something that lets a violinist in Helsinki, say, jam with a trombonist in Cape Town. But this is the real deal. Now in its second year, YouTube Symphony uses video sharing to audition members and rehearse parts, but then takes a bold step into the real world: last year’s season culminated in a performance at Carnegie Hall, and this year brings the international musicians together at the Sydney Opera House. The group’s deeper goal is to spread music to the masses: by offering video tutorials, jam sessions, and even some innovative online instruments, the Symphony hopes to make classical as accessible as punk rock.
Read (and watch) Mashable’s video-heavy explanation of the phenomenon.
January 18, 2011
The Science Fair Moves Out of the School Gym
Google, in partnership with CERN, LEGO, National Geographic and Scientific American, is accepting entries for their global online science fair. Kids aged 13 – 18 can submit their project for a chance to win scholarships from Google, a trip to the Galapagos islands with National Geographic Expeditions, and more. This new format gives all kids the opportunity to engage in their passion for science.
January 18, 2011
DIY Dye Kit for Denham's Denim
Dutch denim brand Denham has teamed up with Woad-inc to release a DIY dye kit. Professional quality dye is made from the woad plant, grown on a farm in Norfolk, England. Looking like a cross between spinach and sugar beet, and with origins dating back to ancient times, woad offers a healthy alternative to harmful chemicals that exist in synthetic indigo dyes. If dyeing your own sounds too daunting, Denham is also releasing 75 pairs of hand-dipped Woad-inc dyed jeans available in their Amsterdam, London and Tokyo stores.
Learn more about the collaboration and the history of woad at Denham.
January 10, 2011
Unlock Your Front Door the Extra Nerdy Way
Mass Geek on several different levels. First, there’s the uber-geeky web developers of Apartm.net who hooked up their apartment’s front door to Foursquare, letting guests of their New Year’s party unlock by simply checking in. Then there’s the video they made to publicize the system (with a bit of the new Tron: Legacy soundtrack playing in the background). And now there’s the possibility, according to FastCompany, that they’ll soon put together and sell a kit that lets anyone do the Foursquare thing with their own front door. And then there’s the apartment itself, which has to be seen to be believed.
January 04, 2011
Vimeo Video School Tutorials
Vimeo brings video education to its already active user community. The site describes its purpose as “a fun place for anyone to learn how to make better videos.” Tutorials include a DIY video guide on how to build a camera dolly for $50 and how to “paint with light.”
Learn how to be a better videographer at Vimeo.
January 04, 2011
DIY Biotech Lab opens in NYC
Shared shop spaces like TechShop are gaining popularity all over the country, but now the DIY hobbyist has a new field in which to tinker: biotechnology. GenSpace, recently opened in downtown Brooklyn, is the nation’s first public biotech lab, where homespun investigators can do their own research in a well-equipped, CDC containment level 1 facility.
December 21, 2010
High-end Photos on the Cheap
The sorts of incredibly detailed high-speed photographs that make us stare and gasp are now within reach of the dedicated amateur. Wired Magazine chronicles the efforts of British pharmaceutical developer and talented hobbyist photographer Linden Gledhill, as he pushes his craft into the realm of the astonishing. Using low-cost accessories from small Michigan-based company Cognisys, he captures milk droplets in mid-air and insects in mid-flight, for a fraction of what a professional setup costs.
See more of these incredible amateur shots at Wired
December 13, 2010
Hacktivists, Armchair Pundits, and Other Soldiers of the Infowar
The recent WikiLeaks phenomenon has the potential to make pundits out of millions of observers, but are we up to the challenge? The unfiltered text and dubious quality of this new slew of sources is demanding information literacy skills that were once confined to professional analysts. As media is increasingly placed in the hands of skilled amateurs, there’s no doubt that many will try, but is the non-professional pontificator up to the challenge?
Read the New York Times’ cache of cables and analysis, and decide for yourself.
At the other end of the Mass Geek spectrum, legions of amateur “hacktivists” have taken up the WikiLeaks cause, mounting loosely organized Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks on websites they see as hostile to free electronic speech. Web-enabled activism is nothing new, and DDoS attacks have been around for years, but the ease with which people can participate, using “hacking” tools that are push-button simple, means nearly anyone can be a potential info-warrior.
December 09, 2010
Student Protesters Out-map the Police
Via BoingBoing, some breaking Mass Geek news. A group of students in London protesting proposed educational fee hikes in sub-freezing conditions are using a frequently updated Google Map to report police anti-protest activity, allowing them to avoid being “kettled” (rounded up and detained outdoors) or dispersed. The blogger referenced in the story explains that “…with this, with Wikileaks, and…underground video news outlets like Undercurrents…it does feel a bit as if tools traditionally only available to the state for things like surveillance, evidence gathering, coordination and dissemination are being democratised.”
December 06, 2010
Intelligentsia Brings Coffee Connoisseurship to the Kitchen
Chicago coffee authority Intelligentsia is demystifying and democratizing the science of a perfect cup of joe with a new iPhone app. The beans’ origins and tasting notes are described before next instructing specific directions for whatever your brewing mechanism may be. A brew timer rounds out the app’s directions before connecting to Facebook for larger commentary with your community of fellow coffee connoisseurs.
December 06, 2010
A DIY Camera for Kids
Bigshot camera ships as a kit of parts, challenging kids to assemble it before they can shoot with it. More than just keeping the cost down, this process also teaches a number of lessons about science and photography, and the Bigshot Connect website encourages kids from all over the world to compare how they’re using it.
Read the Bigshot story at Change Observer.
November 30, 2010
Artist's Eye on Google's Street
Google Street View is available to anyone with an internet connection, but to find images like these takes the eyes of an artist. Montreal-based Jon Rafman scours the globe looking for frame-worthy stills from Google’s wandering vans, and the results are now on display at the New Museum in New York City.
November 23, 2010
The Internet of Walls
“Dead Drops” is an ominous sounding name, but the idea is mostly harmless. By permanently affixing USB flash drives into publicly accessible spaces, a group of NYC artists is hoping to take the digital concept of file sharing and make it analog, and therefore more tangible and engaging. Interested participants are urged to grab an unknown file off a drive and leave their own, restoring a bit of fun and mystery to the file sharing experience, but also creating a new (albeit high-effort) opportunity for purveyors of viruses and other malware.
Read the story and watch the video.
November 15, 2010
The Story of Glif
When we hear about DIY-enabling technologies like rapid prototyping, we feel a rush of potential tempered by skepticism: interesting, yes, but can you really get a product to market this way? As recent start-up Glif demonstrates, you really can. The two New Yorkers who came up with the idea to manufacture a small iPhone tripod attachment used new, inexpensive, accessible technology to help every step of the way, from raising capital through Kickstarter, to prototyping with a Dutch service called Shapeways, to getting rapid tooling built inexpensively at Protomold. After raising $70,000 in the first three days, the duo earned attention from no less than The Economist, whose coverage points to the project as a real example of technology dropping the cost of entry to manufacturing in a dramatic way.
November 08, 2010
New Tools Let Hobbyist Investors Trade Like The Pros
The democratization of professional level investing tools continues. A recent BusinessWeek article surveys the growing ranks of analysis and trading tools, including websites like Fidelity and tradeMONSTER that offer “features that online traders couldn’t have dreamed of little more than 10 years ago.”
November 01, 2010
Plastic Recycling on Your Countertop
For the eco-conscious technophile, it’s no longer enough to simply collect your plastic for recycling—the Japanese-built Blest Machine now offers the ability to bring the entire process into your home. Inventor Akinori Ito has simplified and miniaturized plastic recycling, packing an entire factory’s worth of technology into a single home-friendly unit that converts old yogurt containers and detergent bottles into usable oil, with nothing more than a carefully controlled electric heater. The company’s website claims it fits on a tabletop, converts a kilo of plastic into a liter of oil, and costs just under US$10,000.
October 25, 2010
Mass Foraging for the Obscure in Oregon
While the locavore movement is gaining traction in foodie circles around the globe, here in Oregon it’s approaching the level of religion. The New York Times’ T Magazine profiles the growing popularity of gourmet foraging: chefs and experts in local plant lore work together to track down edible plants in the wild, and teach interested food geeks how to do the same.
Learn the difference between pickleweed and wood sorrel on the T Magazine blog.
Image via Flickr user jen_maiser
October 18, 2010
Phone Photography Made Professional
The convenience and ease of camera-phone photography are beyond dispute, but the results aren’t quite the high-quality finish you’d appreciate. Now, fisheye, macro and wide angle lenses for any camera phone make the professional accessible as they snap on magnetically and dramatically improve the quality and variety of shots you can achieve.
Check out which lens (or bundle!) is right for you.
October 18, 2010
McCormick's Flavor Forecast 2010
One of the biggest spice manufacturers in the world gives professionals and consumers their 2010 flavor forecast. For professionals, it inspires products like the next Doritos flavor, but evolving foodie consumers want in on the trends too. This year’s forecast seeks to make holiday entertaining more professional and on-trend than before, targeting and updating specific holiday flavors and pairings.
October 11, 2010
The People's Hackintosh
The Hackintosh has been around for a while, describing what happens when tech-inclined hobbyists do some surgery on a generic laptop to coax it into running the Mac OS, at a fraction of Apple’s price. But recently, California-based Quo Computers has been making this process easier by selling desktops that can be configured to run OS X, Windows, Linux or any combination of the three. It raises the question of how Apple will respond: by acknowledging a broader, geekier audience that wants more control over their hardware, or by suing Quo into oblivion.
October 11, 2010
Family Space Camera is Homeschool for Tomorrow's Inventors
When someone uses balloons to send an HD video camera into space for some high-altitude shots of the earth, that’s geeky. But when it’s a father and his kids doing it, it’s charming, fascinating and maybe even prescient. As attested by the seven minute video they created, this was no small undertaking — eight months of designing, modifying and testing, followed by a launch, GPS-enabled recovery and post-flight evaluation. The fact that it was a technically complex family project takes this beyond the realm of DIY photography and into DIY education of the most creative sort.
Watch the remarkable video, and wish your dad was this cool.
October 04, 2010
On the Internet, Everyone Knows Who Stole Your Stuff
A Bay Area writer uses Craigslist, MySpace, a dating site and a few phone calls to track down the man who stole her GPS, then writes about it on Salon. MASS GEEK is full of stories about engaged and savvy citizens using newly available tools to do professional-level tasks, but in this case, a cop is the professional being emulated.
September 28, 2010
Your New Kitchen is In The Bag
It used to be that a customized selection of swatches and material samples was something you paid an interior designer handsomely to assemble. Now, for a fraction of the cost, “Design In a Bag” will ship you all the tile, wood, paint and trim samples you need to step boldly forward with your kitchen plans. About 50 different “bags” with twee names like ‘Marshfield’ and ‘Windsor’ are sorted into palettes and genres, and come with hand-drawn renderings of a generic kitchen to demonstrate final effect. While we can’t say if the result will be anything spectacular, it’s definitely a page in the ongoing empowerment fable of MASS GEEK, and might even avoid a stylistic train wreck or two.
Warm, cool or neutral? Vintage, classic or modern? Make your pick and order your bag.
September 20, 2010
Outlasting Zombies Using Art and the Internet
Combining know-how from Army and FEMA manuals with his own artistic inclination, Albuquerque resident Chad Person has created the ultimate survival shelter for the upcoming zombie/robot apocalypse. This is more than just a well-stocked bunker: security measures include a video-based sentry wielding a homemade shotgun, and the entire cinder block and concrete affair is concealed by landscaping to disappear once the 300-lb. steel door is closed. What’s even more remarkable is that Person has no formal construction background—he completed the entire project using free information found online.
Read the article and prepare for the coming plague.
September 13, 2010
Code for America
Open source technology projects have been around approximately forever, and often produce phenomenal work, as any user of Linux or OpenOffice will tell you. With its appeal to civic duty and decidedly un-techy aesthetic, however, Code for America is taking open source down the Web 2.0 path. Starting with a video call to action from luminaries at Twitter, Facebook and O’Reilly Media, the project seeks to hook social media-savvy coders up with governmental agencies, in the hopes of making them “more efficient, transparent, and participatory.” If an app could do all that…it’d be worth at least $1.99.
Use your geek superpowers for good, not for evil, at Code for America.
September 13, 2010
AP Begins Officially Crediting Bloggers
In a reversal of its policies of the past decade, the 160-year-old Associated Press has announced that bloggers are to be officially credited as news sources. We’ve heard for years about the democratization of media, but in truth the vast majority of blogs don’t break news; this announcement could help change that. An article at TheNextWeb points out that “it could mean that bloggers are approached with the right information and maybe even given exclusives ahead of traditional publications.” With newspapers and networks relentlessly cutting staff, is this a move toward better journalism, or just lower overhead?
September 13, 2010
OpenBuildings is a beautifully designed, openly editable encyclopedia of buildings from around the world. The site pulls in images, films, plans and commentary from throughout the web and invites its network of contributors to massage it all into a useful reference for architects, historians, tourists and enthusiasts. The interface includes a “completeness bar” to encourage contributions, and makes submitting new building data a snap. Let a thousand architecture geeks bloom!
Visit the site, click the “Submit Building” button, and you’re on your way.
September 07, 2010
“The Micro Grow Project’s LabBox Grower is a small automated hydroponic growing system that uses a microcontroller to automate watering cycles, light schedules, and temperatures. It can be controlled and monitored via the Web or mobile phone, and can tweet about its condition.”
Our favorite comment: “Tweeting your ‘medicine’ growing? What could possibly go wrong?”
September 07, 2010
Inside the Museum Walls
Like the website says, “Museums and galleries not only house fascinating collections, they are also the home to leading experts who love to share their passion…” For one day (last Wednesday in fact), curators from 23 different countries opened themselves up to questions from anyone with a Twitter account. Response was so great that #askacurator became a trending topic, and global experts found themselves awash in questions about paintings, fossils, Van Gogh’s ear…and spam.
August 31, 2010
Gaming the Lawyers
Digital Rights Management has been a topic of hot contention almost forever, it seems, but now one particular group of consumers is taking action. Hardcore gamers, not copyright policy wonks, are the newest thorn in the side of pro-DRM media producers. Their complaints about limits on gameplay, and the ingenious ways they’re circumventing them, are spurring some real policy changes from game companies like Ubisoft.
August 30, 2010
Levi’s Workshops Expand
Levi’s spreads its brand by spreading skills. Pulling in big name creative folks like Bob Mould and Stefan Sagmeister, Levi’s Workshops bring everyday folks into an educational version of a pop-up store, to learn anything from letterpress printing to short filmmaking.
Get schooled (and branded) here.
August 23, 2010
Now that home brewing, home winemaking and home infusing are commonplace, what’s a DIY-minded hipster to take on next? According to this Atlantic article, they’re turning to moonshine. Though still illegal in the US (and most everywhere else), independent distilling is seeing a resurgence in popularity, stretching beyond its rural roots to be embraced by younger, more urban enthusiasts, empowered by online knowledge and the thrill of the vaguely illicit.
August 16, 2010
Hello my Beautiful Makeup Geeks!
While cosmetic tutorials are certainly nothing new, online or otherwise, the level of specificity and complexity that we’re seeing on sites like MakeUpGeek.com is breaking new ground. This recent video (the 187th posted so far) goes for an elaborate Bollywood-inspired look, clocking in at just over seven minutes and going through 21 separate products in the process.
Improve your skills at Makeup Geek.
August 16, 2010
DIY Research: Threat or Opportunity?
The CEO of SurveyMonkey answers some questions on the world’s premier DIY polling tool, starting with an acknowledgement of how commonplace surveys have become, even for everyday activities like planning a family reunion or getting feedback on an office meeting. He also discusses the Monkey’s relationship to traditional market research and how it’s viewed by research professionals: “It’s not a research tool, it’s a decision making tool…It’s not something to be fearful of.”
Watch the video at Research Live.
August 09, 2010
Handcuffs Off iPhone Hacking
Locked devices, turnkey software and digital rights management (DRM) have all lost ground to the growing ranks of geeks and consumer activists demanding full rein and control over their purchases. Even more frightening for mobile phone carriers is the newly legal opportunity to break DRM for switching carriers. The news is the first signaling a change of policy toward consumers and hackers and away from big computer/media companies.
Read more at Fast Company.
August 09, 2010
Molecular Gastronomy Comes Home
For cooks intrigued by the bizarre world of edible foams, gels and popped candies, Cuisine Innovation is a new online shop that offers all the specialized gadgets and ingredients necessary to relive the glory days of El Bulli in their own kitchens.
Visit Cuisine Innovation for more.
August 02, 2010
Build Your Own Engine
For an additional US$5800, Chevy gives fans a chance to travel to one of their factories and assemble their very own Corvette engines—with their bare hands. It may seem a lot to pay for the opportunity to do manual labor, but as the article points out, “for some people, it’s impossible to put a price on the special connection with one’s car.” (We’d call them MASS GEEKS.)
See more at Sub 5 Zero.
August 02, 2010
Make Magazine unveils a wiki where anyone can post step-by-step instructions for their favorite DIY projects, from a $30 micro forge to a batch of bourbon chicken wings. While sites like eHow and Instructables have been doing this sort of thing for a few years now, the fervor and mutual support of Make’s existing online community of makers has us expecting even more.
Find your next project at Make: Project.
July 26, 2010
Drag ‘n’ Drop Invention
Google’s recent release of “App Inventor” for the Android operating system allows just about anyone to create a smartphone application. While the results are rarely iPhone-pristine, the ability for regular users to rapidly generate custom solutions is a bold step toward fulfilling Android’s promise of an open source utopia. Equally important, its accessibility could help inspire a new generation of code writers.
July 20, 2010
This wholesale and retail supplier of natural ingredients and cosmeceuticals for skin care, hair care color, cosmetics and soap allows you to concoct all your beauty products at home. Will future Lauren Lukes also share their own recipes with the world, in addition to makeup tips?
July 12, 2010
iPad Makes Education Couch-Friendly
The iPad provides an attractive platform for highly visual edutainment apps, such as Theodore Gray’s striking “The Elements”.
Read about the making of this app on PopScience.
Image: The Elements
July 12, 2010
Universities Open Up
As more educational institutions begin to place their course materials online for free, the worldwide demand for learning is beginning to increase. iTunes U hosts more than 250,000 courses, including lectures from MIT, Standford, Yale and Oxford — all of them ready to download for free. Recently UK-based Open University boasted 20 million downloads of its courses alone. For those seeking expertise in niche subjects, there has never been more opportunity. You may not be able to get a diploma from MIT by following along online, but you can certainly put your knowledge to good use.
Read more about Open University’s success.
July 12, 2010
Sartorial Splendor, Accessible Anywhere
With over 250,000 hits a day, Scott Schuman’s site The Sartorialist has been described by Time Magazine as a Top 100 Design Influencer. From the comfort of our own homes, we can view the daily wear of the fashion elite in their natural habitats — whether they be in Milan, Paris or New York. The site has introduced these fashion-forward sensibilities to the mass market. GQ magazine now regularly features photos and analysis from Schuman.
Read The Sartorialist.
July 12, 2010
Making Complex Issues Accessible...and Beautiful
Big ideas, issues and complex knowledge domains undoubtably have a lot of data behind them. But the number of facts and figures flooding through our mediasphere today can be overwhelming. The ascending art of infographics holds promise for helping us better visualize and comprehend perplexing problems. Information Is Beautiful is a great example of a site that helps us become better informed by transforming chaos into comprehensible abstractions. The author, David McCandless, even encourages the crowdsourcing of data to help him craft his representations of information.
Behold the drool-worthy infographics at Information is Beautiful.