Sunday, September 30, 2007

A City With No Ads

This discover comes at a timely moment, right after a talk from Naomi Klein, author of "No Logo." Sao Paulo recently engaged in an effort to clean up the urban landscape and they've done so by turning the city into an advertising ghost town. Everything has been removed, from graffiti to posters to billboards, leaving tourists and citizens alike to enjoy the purity of a brand free city.

Imagine for a moment that you were able to focus just on the architecture and nature of a city without being forced to consider advertising messages. Branding is about creating a personality in a product, but how do brands compose the personality of a city?

PingMag covered the story and quotes one Brazilian who described the disorientation and then the new identity and culture growing out of the ad free city, "My reference was a big Panasonic billboard. But now my reference is art deco building that was once covered with this Panasonic. So you start getting new references in the city. The city’s got now new language, a new identity.”

Corporations have started painting their buildings in vibrant colors in a effort to distinguish themselves; Tony de Marco has a No Logo scrapbook on Flickr documenting the changes he's seen throughout the city. It shows such a humanitarian trait of brands; their desire to express their individuality.

So if the upside is Sao Paulo shedding a superficial skin and reclaiming its truer self, then the downside is the economic repercussion. The ban started at the beginning of the year, so there aren't any real reports on how it is affecting business, but I can't help wonder how things will change to compensate for the lack of visual aid. Nature has a way of creating balance; negative space can often be the fertilizer for creativity so we might look to Sao Paulo for new ways to brand.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Wall Animations

Pretty fantastic wall animation. Awesome imagination and great use of abandoned space.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

How Shock Therapy Makes Money

Tonight Naomi Klein spoke about her new book, The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism, and discussed the ways governments exploit countries in crisis. She explained her theory in very human terms and used examples of shock treatment to illustrate her point. The premise is that during a time of crisis there is overwhelming opportunity to leveraged the situation to one's advantage in the interest of making a profit. She wasted no time citing Iraq, New Orleans, 9/11, & Sri Lanka as examples of the ways that contractors seize an opportunity to profit from others misfortunes.

Alfonso Cuaron created a short to help Naomi express some of her ideas. The video references CIA torture manuals that explain the use of psychological and physical shock to induce a form of regression to control and manipulate their subjects. Naomi goes on to parallel this effect on an individual to collective traumas experienced by entire countries. The short ends with a type of public service announcement: "The best way to arm yourself is by understanding what is happening and why: 'Information is shock resistance, arm yourself.'"

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Virtual Gets Functional

People continue to express skepticism of virtual environments like Second Life. This KQED mini-documentary changes things a bit and for the first time I feel like there are some practical applications to virtual worlds. With the use of SL, learning and group interaction certainly takes on a new dimension. Second Life is struggling because there aren't compelling reason to visit the environment, but interacting with a simulation of a real life environment makes learning online much more engaging and dynamic. Visualizing the classroom and your fellow classmates makes the educational experience more real. There additional human element lets peers establish relationships and display personality that will make long distance learning more engaging. This makes me feel like SL has just gotten off to a slow start, and now it's potential is getting recognized.

This spoof was dead on because there was seemingly no purpose to floating around Second Life. There were too many opportunities to realize how ridiculous (and boring) the experience was. I think practical applications like this educational program are going to give Second Life a Second Wind.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Future of Weight Loss

A balanced life is a healthier life. The weight loss landscape has changed a lot over the last thirty years. We took Slim Fast, Nutrisystem, Jenny Craig, Weight Watchers, we danced to Richard Simmons workout videos, Tae Bo & Jazzercise, we did Pilates, Yoga, Bikrim Yoga & Thai Chi, we took diet pills had lipo suction, joined Curves, hired nutritionists, did the Atkins, the Master Clense, gained weight, lost weight and used a great deal of trial and error to get a bit closer to figuring out what we're searching for. So what have we learned from all this? Well, we've discovered we aren't looking for a quick fix.

There will always be a need to lose 5 pounds three days before we leave for our spring break vacation, but our overall attitudes towards weight loss are changing. We're looking for sustainable habits that will provide long term health. What does this mean? We're shift towards being healthier individuals. It requires that we maintain a balanced lifestyle that considers, eating healthier, making more time for exercise.

Interestingly we've become a more obese country. The airline industry spends $250 million a year extra in fuel costs to fly the fat packed on by over weight Americans. The thing is, since 2003, around when Atkins died from a heart attack people started moving away from fad diets. Consumer mentality is showing signs of seeing the big picture. People are weighing the risks of heart disease and diabetes and are more willing to consider the long term benefits over instant gratification.

A few trends emerged:
- Diet fatigue
- Eating more reasonably size portions.
- Fat can be fit ( Weight loss is not about image, it's about living longer: Scientific America)
- Skinny is nice but I want to be healthy: At first companies subsidized their employee's work out plans, now they could be charging their employees if they don't stay fit.
- Can we evolve into a more fit race?

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Crowdsourcing / GeoCaching

Crowdsourcing - tapping the wisdom of the masses to improve upon an idea, service or product. The idea has been recently applied to the technology market where a group of online consumers discuss ideas for a new gadget, then investors will throw some money down and build a prototype. Once that's done, the community comes back to test the device, and then will ostensibly buy that product.

Geocaching -
an entertaining adventure game for gps users. Participating in a cache hunt is a good way to take advantage of the wonderful features and capability of a gps unit. The basic idea is to have individuals and organizations set up caches all over the world and share the locations of these caches on the internet. GPS users can then use the location coordinates to find the caches. Once found, a cache may provide the visitor with a wide variety of rewards. All the visitor is asked to do is if they get something they should try to leave something for the cache.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Open Up a Little, Hugs For Everyone

Do we keep to ourselves a bit too much sometimes? Is there an advantage to displacing our tunnel vision mentality when it comes to dealing with the 'would be friends' (or daily strangers, depending on how you look at it,) who surround us? Many of us have this mentality, most easily observed in big cities, that we do our thing, stick to ourselves and everything will be alright. I understand the value of alone time, I like to reflect, it's like sleeping after a day of hard thinking, all your good ideas incubate. But I feel like there's some unspoken aversion to being publicly social.

God Grew Tired of Us was an interesting documentary about the Lost Boys of Sudan who endured harsh persecution followed by a 1,000 mile relocation trek to escape death and then 10 years away from anyone they knew. The film is about the experiences the boys have when they are given the opportunity to relocate to the US. Most fascinating was their observation of the way Americans treat their neighbors. They're surprised to see people ignore one another on the streets and walk straight past people who are crying in a public place. This stood out because these men from Sudan had an objective perspective of our culture and this kind of social behavior really struck them as odd; so I wondered a bit more about why this behavior of walking around with blinders on in our own little bubble has become normal.

The WSJ recently wrote an article about how men will avoid a lost child in a mall for fear of being labeled a predator. I just watched the High Fives video which again gave me the sense that people don't seek contact with strangers and will simply avoid it if approached.

High Five video

This attitude contrasts some other films where people are reluctant but eventually embrace the idea that public behavior might have some benefits and it isn't that bad to engage strangers.

Free Hugs

and Dave Mathew's Everyday video

These examples are an inspiration but certainly exhibit behavior that most people would choose to avoid.
After watching God Grew Tired Of Us I realized how our culture really encourages people to keep to themselves in public and couldn't help to think how our daily lives would be improved if we made the extra effort to be a little more open.

Saturday, September 8, 2007

Robots Are Going To Take Over the World

It's predicted that sometime between 2020 and 2030 civilization will reach a point where technology will become more intelligent than humans. When I attended the singularity conference yesterday I was expecting a bunch of science fiction enthusiasts theorizing about robots taking over the world and turning the human body into a battery, just like we saw in the Matrix. The speakers were surprisingly grounded and talked about their current efforts as engineers and philosophers. Dr. Rodney Brooks of MIT and the founder of iRobot, was the key note speaker and revealed (with a bit of humor too) some of his firms experimentation with artificial intelligence. Most interesting is their work with programming robots to interact with humans and exhibit emotional reaction. Not surprisingly, Rodney explained how research and development on AI has taken off in the last few years since the US Government has funded the design of robots to reduce the numbers of humans in war zones. His company currently responsible for mass producing robots for consumer use.

As the discussion progressed it became clear(er) that there were a few different fields that study the increasing intelligence of technology; which you're probably familiar with if you've seen the Terminator. The premise is, when (not if) will machines become conscious? While much of the discussion here at the Singularity summit centers around theorizing on when this technological moment will come and how it will impact the human race, a few speakers, explained how they are working on robots that interact & converse by understanding and exhibiting human reactions.

Another interesting topic is based around accelerating change and the theory of exponentials. It sounds technical but it's pretty straight forward: technology is advancing at a faster pace. It's based on Moore's law, the principle that computing power doubles every 18 months. Moore's law is the rational being used to explain how the moment of singularity is fast approaching. Throughout the summit the one topic that seemed to get all these scientists hot and bothered was making a prediction about what would happen after Singularity has been achieved. Predicting the future after the moment of singularity is huge, and no one really has any idea what the consequences will be, we just realize it's fast approaching.

I think some of the ways we currently interact with "robots" aren't even realized, take Amazon's Mechanical Turk project for example. One of it's most recent programs allowed users to search satellite images from Google maps to find lost individuals. This is a great way to combine human intelligence with AI, but how do things change when the human component doesn't offer an advantage.

Another interesting topic of debate surrounded the proliferation of robotic rights. One argument centered on the hypocritical nature of humans and how we disregard the rights of others; proving that rights aren’t given, they are earned. At some point, it's argued, Artificial Intelligence will reach a point where it is self conscious and autonomous, at which point robots will seek to claim rights. Scientists are studying human behavior to understand how cognition (
LIDA Cognitive Cycle) develops with the intention of understanding how machines could be moral.

The most public example of an autonomous machine is the success of an unmanned car winning the DARPA challenge by autonomously completing a 132 mile course in just under seven hours. Clearly this is just the beginning, but what if this car hit someone based on a decision it made that was in no way related to the individuals who programmed the car? Who is responsible? Does the car stand trial?

Another study referenced the Joshua Blue Project - a comptuer system patterned after the human mind, capable of autonomously learning to successfully function in a number of environments. It included the study of semantic processing and autonomous common sense knowledge acquisition. IBM has been looking at clues from human development and have been studying synaptic life cycles along with the human brain and eye tracking.

Dr. Barney Pell from Powerset spoke about the importance of robots in the work place. In this clip he explains the characteristics necessary for a robot to be a successful employee; including socialization with humans.

As I left the Summit I realized I was going to have to drive myself home, but at least I wouldn't have to worry about getting run over by some demoniacally possessed robotic car.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

SF New Tech

Today I experienced the front line of web 2.0 and amidst all the great ideas, cool technology and angel investors I couldn't help but wonder if we're building an internet 2.0 bubble. 6 companies pitched their ideas in 5 minutes or less and during the Q&A session that followed each presentation there was someone in the crowd who asked, "so, how will this idea make money?" It seems obvious but despite all the creativity and innovation, the profitability of each business model seemed to be absent.

During SF New Tech a few entrepreneurs did present websites that are worth checking out. Most of them are mash-ups but they are up and running and provide seemingly useful services. Take a look:


" allows consumers to research a metropolitan area before deciding to move. Our Google maps based site shows Cost of living, Income, School, Crime, and unemployment in different cities in a metro. Cities are color coded from green to red depending on their "grade" for a particular category. Once they pick a city, they can run price comparisons for houses / apartments for the properties. In the "property search" mode, users can dra g the map, and retrieve new properties based on their search criteria."

Global Motion

"GlobalMotion aims to be the leading Wiki for locations. GlobalMotion combines the power of geotagged photos, online maps and wikis into a surprisingly easy and fun user experience."


"SezWho aims to be a distributed rating and reputation system for all user generated content."

Crazy Menu

"Crazymenu makes eating lunches easy as pie through a set of applications and patent pending tools and technologies that connects restaurants to office workers, and enables them to make the most of the short lunch hours. Our real-time Pick-A-Place collaboration application and our extensive restaurant management tools are a breeze to use for both restaurants and lunch eaters."

Monday, September 3, 2007

How to Bring a City to Life: Urban Street Art

Julian Beever's been making chalk art for over 10 years now. He travels the world and creates amazing 3D drawings on city streets and sidewalks. He agreed when asked for photograph, but requested one without flash for fear of it creating a migrane. While watching Julian over the three days he crouched over the Embarcadero sidewalk, I admired his patience for passers-by and tourists who assaulted him with questions, rode their bikes through his canvas and even shared the same camera he was using to anamorphically create his drawings. As he finished earlier tonight he wrapped himself with a blue tarp, slouched down on the sidewalk corner and likely contemplated his next gig.
Julian's been adding to the visual stimulus of cities around the world for 10 years now. His art is amazing and trumps the work of taggers and most graffiti artists. He knows each drawing is extremely temporary but still puts his heart into each one. The impact is great, creating interest and inspiration in everyone who passes. Turning the city into a color by number canvas literally brings the city to life. We need to find more artists willing to add this kind of visual stimulation to the concrete canvas.

Julian Beever SF Embarcadero

Julian Beever lines up

Julian at the Embarcadero