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A blend of cool projects, great gadgets and awesomellany from Word of Mouth Internet Sherpa Brady Carlson
Looking for holiday gift ideas? How about a subscription to a set of links to the unusual, unique and occasionally mind-blowing? Give Here's What's Awesome to a friend this holiday season. It's free, it's fun for all ages... it's the gift that keeps on giving.
Who could imagine.. they would freak out on Main Street
Street artists and architects are finding some pretty ingenious ways to make a trek downtown a little more fun. Architectural optical illusions like the one on the right (the "hole" in this sidewalk purports to let you look all the way to China) play with the senses to fool you into seeing something that isn't there, or at least look at your surroundings differently. The link includes 20 popular illusions, including a "tunnel" painted into a wall in Montreal, just like in the old Roadrunner cartoons. [WebUrbanist]
New letters in "God's great alphabet"
Arborsculpture is the art of nudging trees and plants to grow in certain directions to create unusual shapes and patterns. Keep in mind that this is somewhat different than topiary, where you're mostly shaping greenery; the art is in teaching the woody part of the tree to grow into a shape. It appears you can indeed grow two trees and tie them together in a knot. [Webphemera]
Where all the heat went
Energy efficiency is all about making the most of your energy use - except that most houses have at least a few places where insulation, windows or other materials aren't keeping in the heat as well as they should. A new thermal leak detector lets consumers find the spots where their homes are sharing energy with the great outdoors. It looks like a stud-finder; you point it at the wall and it shines a special light on spots where there's a temperature difference. The bad news? It won't go on sale until March, so if you want to save energy this winter, you're on your own. [CleanTechnica]
Now it's your turn - in this season of sharing, we'd be as happy as a kid with a new arborsculpture if you posted an awesome link of your own in the comments field.
(Photo by Lee Jordan)
Despite the downturn in other areas of the market, awesome link futures remain high, as investors try to shed themselves of declining non-awesome links. Meanwhile, rubber hardened and string remained confident. Here are today's top gainers on the Here's What's Awesome link index:
No one I think is in my tree (click for driving directions to the tree)
They say there's a story behind the writing of every song, but often there's a place behind the song as well Music Pilgrimages takes some of these places and puts them on a Google Map, along with photos and tales. So far the site features only places in the UK, but there are plenty - along with song-specific places like Strawberry Fields in Liverpool, the site also features places where music history took place, from the birthplace of Pink Floyd's Syd Barrett to where Keith Richards spent a night in jail. [Google Maps Mania]
Or you can trade it all for what's inside those 74 boxes
Amazon.com is testing out Frustration Free Packaging - meaning a single product is delivered in a single, eco-friendly box instead of a large shipping box holding a plastic container that can't be opened without power tools and loud cussing. Amazon is also asking customers to upload videos of their horrible packaging experiences, which I suppose you watch on computers or TV screens that you ordered frustration-free. [Inhabitat]
They have the Internet on computers now?
For computer-savvy people, the only thing more frustrating than opening unnecessarily complex packages is answering tech questions from people like me, who call or drop by with a constant barrage of questions we could easily look up the information ourselves. Now you can fight back with Let Me Google That For You, which sets up a fun and very passive-aggressive link to send to your computer-illiterate shadow. Here's a demonstration. [Los Angeles Times Technology]
Now it's your turn - share an awesome link of your own in the comments field. We will, however, turn away any awesome links that come wrapped in 20 twist-ties inside their plastic containers.
(Photo by xgravity23)
Last week Word of Mouth gave us a lot to think about - I'm sure I'm not the only WoM fan who's currently listening to world music after serving a delectable virtual dinner in my missile silo house. Since we now have so much in common, let us share some awesome links and make this coming week as exciting as last week:
That umbrella, we employed it
Inventors in Japan have outdone Gene Kelly in the singing in the rain department with a new umbrella-based speaker system. The four speaker system is set up so the sound stays under the umbrella, so that rainy, umbrella-filled days in the city don't end up sounding like a Sonic Youth album. [Gizmodo]
Saving lives with sound?
Scientists, environmentalists, even second grade classes have been trying to find ways to keep manatees from being killed off by powerboats. In Florida, scientist Edmund Gerstein proposes that manatees get hit by the boats because they can't hear the low sound frequencies that mark their approach. He's invented an underwater sound alarm that would alert manatees to a nearby boat. And if that doesn't work, we'll buy them umbrella-speakers. [Scientific American]
A wall that just lights up the room
Luminescent fiber optic wallpaper may be the best phrase Here's What's Awesome has seen since "crime-solving bees". Camilla Dietrich, a designer in Sweden, says she was looking to develop "light without light" and ended up creating energy-efficient floral wall patterns that can serve as ambient lighting. [Inhabitat]
Now it's your turn - share an awesome link of your own in the comments field. I'll hang the best links up on the walls of my missile silo house. At least until I put up my floral light wallpaper, that is.
(Photo by Special)
It's the Sunday after the presidential election. You've clicked on Facebook to say that you've voted, you got the thank-you text message from your candidate, you've updated your Twitter with a link to your favorite centenarian voter story... and you're thinking "now what?" Don't worry, friend, Here's What's Awesome is here to help you through the post-election malaise with awesome links that will have you chanting "U-S-A! U-S-A!" til you're hoarse
And flowers let violins shoot fireballs!
It must rankle today's violin makers that the most well-known of their kind is Stradivarius - who last worked in the 18th century. And that's not likely to change, so long as today's violin players and lovers continue to prefer a vintage, "played-in" instrument over a new one. It's not always clear why we believe a veteran violin sounds better than a rookie, but a scientist in Zurich claims he can make a new violin sound like a Stradivarius by applying mushrooms to the wood. Lest you think this is some sort of mythical Super Mario Brothers power-up, the scientist says this particular type of mushroom ages the violin's maple wood to recreate the feel of a classic instrument. [Noise Addicts]
Getting the LED in
Compact flourescent lightbulbs are greener and more energy-efficient than their incandescent predecessors. And LED lightbulbs are even greener and energy-efficient than CFL's. But while saving money and lowering your carbon footprint are all well and good, it looks like LED lighting has one additional benefit: they smooth out your wrinkles. So it's possible that celebrities will dispel rumors of plastic surgery by saying "It's just my lightbulbs, honest!" [Clean Technica]
Never mind the key, unlock the door!
Not so long ago I caught an episode of the new Knight Rider series, and learned that, among other things, the new version of KITT, the crime-solving sports car, could rearrange matter. Specifically, KITT was able to make a visual scan of a nearby car and create a duplicate key, with which his human colleague stole said car from a ne'er-do-well. This puzzling and completely unrealistic scene convinced me that it was indeed possible for a TV show to jump the shark before its first commercial break. But the joke's on me, because computer scientists really can make a car key with just a digital image of the original. Digital images are now so advanced that a cellphone camera can take a photo good enough for a computer to recognize and replicate the pattern of a car key. Their advice, of course, is to "leave your keys in your pocket" wherever possible. Still no word on when the matter rearranger will be ready, but we figure it won't be too much longer. [ReadWriteWeb]
Now it's your turn - share an awesome link of your own in the comments field. By doing so, we promise not to speculate on whether or not you'll run in the 2012 election.
(Photo by arquera)
Welcome to the Here's What's Awesome Halloween Special! Ring our doorbell by reading below - your treat is a set of awesome links.
Cloud... or Colossus?
One of the creepier images Hollywood's given us is the evil computer that uses its massive computational power against its creators about a nanosecond after becoming sentient. Take Colossus: The Forbin Project, where an American supercomputer is charged with protecting the US from threats and decides the most efficient way to do that is to rule the country itself! We're not at that point, but some web thinkers say the new style of web-based "cloud" computing is evolving into a "global superorganism" (though not necessarily an evil one). Sound far-fetched? Consider that Web 2.0 is about users sharing information across a wide spectrum of web platforms, from Amazon.com to Facebook to Wikipedia. And then consider that Web 3.0 - the "semantic web" - is about having keywords and other data that explains to computers what the Web 2.0 data means, so that a computer can rapidly find information on a particular topic across millions of web platforms. At a certain point, the theory goes, the computing "cloud" may have a broad enough understanding of particular topics to take on some characteristics of an autonomous "being". The author here doesn't say that a Global Superorganism would be a blessing or a curse to humankind, but if true it would be no small change. Nonetheless, here's hoping the "One Machine," as Kevin Kelly calls it, hasn't seen Colossus. [The Technium]
Inhabitat writes that "as we weave our way through our most serious ‘global energy crisis’ to date, it’s easy to forget that everything is energy." An inventor in India hasn't forgotten that, and he's come up with a device to make energy out of the charkha, or spinning wheel used to create thread or yarn. The energy isn't huge - just a few watts - but it's enough to power an LED lamp, which could give spinners the chance to work at night (and, thus, make more money) while powering their own lighting sources. (This way, they wouldn't have to inhale fumes from oil lamps.) [inhabitat]
Sundays will never be the same
If you caught Avishay's post on Tuesday about the decline of newspaper circulation, you probably spent some time thinking about the big questions that come with that decline - questions about staff layoffs, quality of coverage and consolidation of voices. Criggo, on the other hand, looks at the little questions around newspaper culture - like "how the heck did something like this end up in the paper?"
Some parts of newspaper culture may not survive the transition to web-only. If so, Criggo aims to keep their spirit alive. [Criggo]
Now it's your turn. Drop off an awesome link, be it a trick or a treat, in the comments. Then we'll bob for awesome links at our Halloween party.
(Photo by catcubed)
Let's just make this short and sweet: weekend + great links + Word of Mouth = Here's What's Awesome. Pretty simple, and pretty fun, at that.
Listen To the Flower People's RSS Feed
Midori-san is a plant at a Japanese internet cafe that happens to keep a blog. Well, sort of - sensors attached to the plant measure light levels, temperature, etc and the data gets fed through a computer algorithm that generates blog posts ("It's really bright today"). Sounds simple, but sometimes simple is enough, as Midori-san is building a pretty solid following in Japan. [Presurfer]
CO2 Saves Us From Itself?
Most efforts at lowering our output of carbon dioxide are aimed at alternative fuels that don't create CO2 when used. But the alternative to these alternatives is recapturing the carbon byproducts from fossil fuels and recycling them back into fuels. Until now that process required too much energy to make it feasible, but a startup called Carbon Sciences says it's figured out a way. The potential is huge - one process makes more fuel and lowers carbon emissions - but I don't think it will stop chicken power from going forward. At least not right away.
Continuing Our Carbon Theme
A tech-heavy friend of mine once yelled "PAPER IS DEAD" in between clicks of his Palm Pilot, but I don't think he knew about "buckypaper," the carbon-based nanotechnology super-paper that researchers say could be 500 times stronger (and ten times lighter) than steel. You'll want to read the article to get a handle on how unusual this stuff is, but I'll start you off by saying it's named after the one-of-a-kind futurist and inventor Buckminster Fuller, and that scientists in Florida have found a less cost-prohibitive way to make buckypaper. They call it a potential "game-changer," especially for the aerospace industry. Is it? We may find out soon. [Physorg]
What's more awesome than Here's What's Awesome? Weekend + great links + Word of Mouth + your awesome links in the comment field. So have at it like the page was a large supply of carbon dioxide and you were a chemical procedure aimed at taking CO2 out of the air and back into the gas tank.
(Photo by keltickelton)
If Loverboy is right and everybody is working for the weekend, perhaps it's because the weekend is when Word of Mouth scours the web for unique, fascinating and unusual links. So, without further adieu, let us start from start...
Intel Inside... Your Liver
"DNA shares its essential features with computers – it stores, processes and communicates information" That's the premise behind living computers, which are computing systems designed to work in biological environments like living cells. In theory, a living computer could be set to monitor body processes for diseases or injury, and then trigger a medical response if needed.
The problem? Living computers haven't been complex enough to serve as logic gates - essentially, to answer questions about whether a cell might be showing signs of disease or injury. Scientists at Caltech have just crossed that important milestone and made a living computer that can act as a logic gate. And, so the theory goes, using living computers to monitor body activity could lead to remarkable new medical treatments:
Test-tube experiments in 2004 demonstrated how such a DNA computer doctor might work. Ehud Shapiro at the Weizmann Institute of Science created a system that could detect a marker molecule associated with prostate cancer and release an anti-cancer drug.
Using strings of logic gates, a similar system could combine signals from several different biomarkers to produce more complex responses, for example, cocktails of drugs or hormones.
You can survive without a job for ____ days
If your economic fortunes are being hit hard by the financial crisis, the web wants to help. Mashable.com has put together 200+ Tools for Surviving the Economic Crisis, from online accounting tools to job search engines to sites that help you find shopping discounts. A new tool in a similar vein is called Thrive, which not only pulls together your personal financial advice but turns it into actionable items to help you save more money. Thrive takes a look at your budget and suggests places where you could spend less or save more, from cutting back on driving to transferring your credit balance to a card with a lower interest rate. It even tells you how many days you can survive without a job - which may or may not be information you'd like to know. [CNet]
Online music sharing services like MySpace Music, iMeem and Last.fm get plenty of attention, but there's a growing online community for karaoke enthusiasts to sing to and with each other. MySpace Karaoke claims more than 4 million user visits and more than a half million karaoke performances, while the video-on-demand Karaoke Channel is launching an online service. This obviously isn't for everybody, but for enthusiasts it's a new and fairly tech-free way to sing to an audience that's not limited to the Wednesday night crowd at your local TGI Friday's. [TechCrunch]
As the above video suggests, hit us with your best shot - not your best karaoke performance, but an awesome link in the comments field.
(Photo by mknowles)
Welcome back to Here's What's Awesome! Each week we toss a few links your way to go just that much further into the world of the new. Get someplace comfortable, sit back, and join us:
GTR, elephant coming
If you're looking for innovation in mobile communication, Kenya's not a bad place to look - I often see stories of new media experiments there using mobile phones On the other hand, keeping your subsistence farm safe from raids by hungry elephants in Kenya is still tricky. So how can the former help the latter? By using elephant text messages - that is, attaching devices to elephant collars that send text message warnings to nearby farmers that an elephant is heading their way. Rangers also receive the message and they head the elephants off, encouraging them to look elsewhere for food. This appears to be working well for both farmers and elephants, who have been on a collision course as human population grows and elephant habitat shrinks - over time the elephants avoid the farms, keeping them from being shot by farmers, while people have a lower risk of their crops being wiped out. No word on whether the two sides will share ringtones, though. [SFGate]
Crowdsourcing Becomes Crimesourcing
Craigslist makes a pretty constant effort to warn people against scams in their online classifieds, but I think even they couldn't have imagined a robber using the web's "power of crowds" to mask his getaway:
a Craigslist ad was placed last week, offering road construction work at $28.50 per hour in Monroe, WA, a city northeast of Seattle. About a dozen men replied to the ad, and all received instructions to show up outside a Bank of America wearing a yellow vest, safety goggles, a respirator mask, and a blue shirt.
As the men gathered outside the bank within the proper attire, however, another man wearing the same getup used pepper spray on a guard transporting cash from an armored truck into the bank. The suspect grabbed the duffel bag, ran 100 yards to Wood Creek, and made his getaway (floataway?) on what police believe to be an inner tube.
As new technologies grow and mature, so do the ways that people attempt to use them for less-than-honest purposes - which is why, for example, we're now seeing attempts to send spam to iPhone users. As the web gets deeper into crowdsourcing, we can expect to see more of this activity - not necessarily ending with an innertube getaway, though. [ArsTechnica]
The V-Chip for Cars?
At age 16 the state gave most of us licenses to drive, but our parents added a few extra conditions to that newfound freedom. In my case, I had to say exactly where I was going and with who, and I had to be back by curfew. Now whether you're parent or child, everyone realizes these deals are really bound by the honor system, that once a teen gets those car keys, Mom and Dad can't make him or her drive safely or avoid untoward destinations.
Until now. Ford is now offering MyKey, a system that acts sort of like a V-Chip parental control that blocks certain TV channels and shows. When a teen driver uses a MyKey, the car has limits on both speed and stereo volume, and bugs the driver if he/she isn't using a seatbelt. It's unclear if MyKey will really help younger drivers stay safe, but some of them seem ready to try - polls show teen drivers were willing to accept MyKey's limitations if it meant they could use the car more often. [Autoblog]
Now it's your turn. Share an awesome link in the comments, or at least share a story about a time you took the car somewhere your parents didn't approve. We won't activate the Word of Mouth MyKey until you post.
(Photo by iaindc)
TGIHWA! Being Friday, I'm sure you know that means "Thank goodness it's Here's What's Awesome," and we've got another roundup of links that will have you saying TG for sure:
Behold the power of cheese, indeed
When I first mentioned chicken power, I didn't expect to make the use of really unusual energy sources a regular part of this column But then last week we found out about trees generating energy. And this week, it's... cheese? Yes, the "power of cheese" is more than a marketing slogan after all. Kraft will be taking the used whey from some of its cheese plants and turning it into biogas, which can be used to power thousands of homes. I'm almost afraid of what power source we'll discover for next week - maybe Huey Lewis's "Power of Love" is more than a song, too. [CleanTechnica]
A very mathy friend of mine once designed her bathroom tile pattern on the Fibonacci sequence. The first time I saw the pattern I was so mesmerized that I momentarily forgot why I'd gone in the bathroom in the first place. Had this friend been a musician instead of a sculptor, I suspect she might have developed something like Paul Slocum's Pi House Generator, which generates house music based on the ever-changing irrational number pi. As the computer calculates more and more of pi's digits, the elements of the music change - not hugely, but enough to keep you interested (and maybe to keep you dancing.) NoiseAddicts has a sample of the music here; I suspect it's only a matter of time before someone takes that music and adding in the voices of Pi reciters to the beat. [Noise Addicts]
Cars and trucks and things that go on rails and roads
It's a bus! It's a train! It's the Blade Runner, a British prototype for a mass transit vehicle that can use railways whenever possible, but can hit the highway when rails don't reach the destination. [Plenty]
Now it's your turn. What ideas, inventions or installations have caught your eye this week? Share a link or two in the comments. I'll be here listening to the Pi music while you do.
(Photo by ulterior epicure)
It's a Friday Here's What's Awesome potluck! Have a seat at the table and take a plate full of awesome links. Plenty for everybody.
A Photo Tour of The "Hermit Kingdom"
Another example of the internet doing what it does best: North Korea is an isolated country about which most of us know very little. But the web is good at pulling together what we do know and broadening our understanding Boston.com pulled together photos from news agencies, freelance photographers and even the North Korean government into an online image gallery. The many limits on what information leaves the country means this online tour isn't going to answer every question we may have about the country, but maybe we know a little more than we did. [via Presurfer]
The Light Was Yellow, Sir
Anyone who's ever been behind the wheel has been in "the dilemma zone," that moment where the traffic light ahead turns yellow and we have to decide whether we can make it through the light or better hit the brake. Audi is testing a system that will tell you how much time you have before the light turns red. The inventors say it could save drivers gas as well as patience, though if you do get pulled over for running the light, "My car told me I had time" probably won't beat the ticket. [Wired]
Only you (and trees) can prevent forest fires
Last time chicken power was our Completely Unexpected Energy Source of the Week; today it's tree power - specifically, using the "ambient" electric charge trees generate while, well, being trees. These charges aren't going to power neighborhoods like the chickens, but a company called Voltree Power says trees could power a network of early warning sensors that could monitor conditions and alert the Forest Service if a fire is breaking out. [Plenty]
Now that you've tried our links, take a moment to share some awesome stories that have caught your eye in the comments field below. A potluck is all about sharing, right?
(Photo by yeogigeogi)
Banner illustration courtesy hartboy via Flickr/Creative Commons