Archive for June, 2008

Taipei’s 728-Ton Pendulum– In Motion

Transmitted on Jun 27 2008 to design & architecture

Many (if not all) high-rise buildings are designed to withstand tremendous shock by “flexing” in respond to wind and events on the ground. Newer and much larger buildings, such as those currently going up in Dubai, Beijing and Bangalore, include massive counterweights to re-stabilize afterwards. These are referred to as “tuned mass dampers” or “harmonic absorbers”, and are also used in restabilizing cars and airplanes.

One of the more beautiful of these, linked from the Long Now blog, is the 728-ton mass damper in use in Taiwan’s “Taipei 101″ building. During the recent earthquakes, someone was able to film this massive pendulum in action. Pretty amazing.

“Shapeshifting” Architecture from Dubai

Transmitted on Jun 26 2008 to design & architecture

CNN reports on a phenomenal “shape-shifting” building going up in Dubai known as the Dynamic Tower. The building has independent movement across each of its floors via the use of wind turbines: it can be “moved” constantly throughout the day, and appear essentially unique in every moment. The sheer scale of the project should not be underestimated. Its architect, New York-based architect David Fisher, says that

It’s not a piece of architecture somebody designed today and that’s it. It remains forever. It’s designed by life, shaped by time.

The building boasts a number of innovations, including being entirely prefabricated (which will construct in six days what typically takes nearly six weeks), as well as generating enough wind power to sustain similar-sized buildings (well, maybe not…).
Alternate View/Configuration
There is some (predictable) skepticism, since the architect has never built a skyscraper before, but he claims that a solid team is in place to help work out all the kinks. Either way it’s truly stunning, both conceptually and visually.

A rendering of a future Dynamic Tower going up in Moscow
I am becoming increasingly certain that an arriving movement in art will involve “radical dynamism”, or the alteration of work as it is being displayed, in a way that is not at all performance art. This has certainly been seen before (on some levels) in the form of mobiles and moving sculptures (both of which are, in many ways, still performance art) but I’ve become very interested in the concept of work that has both inalterable (permanent) change as well as unique (non-cylical) motion, perhaps derived in some way from the technological deluge of the Web and our daily lives (ie. in response to memes). This building certainly hits on the latter, but short of the wear and tear of everyday use it does not (yet) accomplish the former. Still, it may help usher in the “dynamic era”… and I would love to see any examples of this kind of work, if they exist.

Dubai ’shape-shifting skyscraper’ unveiled – CNN.com

Alternative Energy Gets a Reality Check

Transmitted on Jun 26 2008 to earth & nature

Physics professor David McKay has been trying to find the best sustainable energy source to power England. Unlike the vast majority of sustainability advocates, however, he brings some pretty cold logic to the table:

If we covered the windiest 10 per cent [of the UK] with windmills, we might be able to generate half of the energy used by driving a car 50 km [31 miles] per day each. Britain’s onshore wind energy resource may be “huge,” but it’s not as huge as our huge consumption. I should emphasize how audacious an assumption I’m making. [...] The windmills required [...] are fifty times the entire wind hardware of Denmark; seven times all the windfarms of Germany; and double the entire fleet of all wind turbines in the world.



Kay moves on to dismantle (or is it dismember?) various alternative energy models, including solar power (which requires obscene amounts of space, especially in a place as sunless as England) and biofuel, which is scarcely better.

The most efficient plants … deliver an average power of 0.5W/m2. Let’s cover 75 per cent of the country with quality green stuff. That’s 3000m2 per person devoted to bio-energy. This is the same as the British land area currently devoted to agriculture. So the maximum energy available, ignoring all the additional costs of growing, harvesting, and processing the greenery, is … 36 kWh/d per person.

Wow. That’s not very much, considering the outrageously generous assumptions we just made [in order] to get a big number.

One interesting suggestion involves using land in North Africa for solar power and routing the current over the sea, counteracting the limited space available for solar panels in Europe. This still doesn’t deliver a whole lot of energy, but it’s feasible.


Part of my respect for Dr. Kay comes from his sheer level of thinking. All of his calculations are based on the assumption that everything is used to its fullest potential– making the results even more scary. In considering hydroelectric power, Kay envisions “millions” of water pumps moving water uphill, poised to create waterfalls-on-demand should the hydro systems fail. Kay’s contribution to the clean-energy discussion is bound to generate some exceptional new ideas–and, perhaps, some much-needed perspective.

Kay’s book, Without the Hot Air, is freely downloadable (still in progress, he claims) here. Well worth a read.

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How to Stop Surviving and Start Living

Transmitted on Jun 18 2008 to living fully

I realize now that living in New York has instilled in me a sense of impending doom.

Not doom in the sense of the world ending (sure, we have those issues with planes blowing up the neighborhood); I mean doom in the context of going somewhere with one’s life. Doom in the very real sense that every second we have is valuable (and, potentially, profitable).


New York breeds some of the most determined and hardest-working people on earth. From the street cleaners to CEOs, everyone is trying to get ahead, and the only way to do that (given that we all live a roughly equal number of days) is to work harder, or faster, or better. Being surrounded by this energy, especially living somewhere like Wall Street, gave me the constant signal that everything should be very very important. Work when you’re on break. Work when you’re on the train. Every second you aren’t working is a second someone else is.

The thing is, far from being neurotic (though my friends might beg to differ), I think this energy helps me prioritize. It’s true, I always claim to be busy. It’s also true that I always claim to be having fun. This is no accident.

In truth, people become more lazy and more unmotivated the more “breaks” they take. Why go back to work at all, after a certain point? If your work requires you to stop so often, it’s probably not something you want to be doing. If it was really tailored to your energy levels and tapped into your real drive, hours would go by before you even considered stopping. The fact is that 99% of what we do is irrelevant to our core motives, detached from our real passions. But this is something you can change. You can choose to move forward towards your goals, or you can choose to have the same day over and over again until you die. Which do you choose?

Next time you’re faced with a decision about what to do next, which “next action” to cover, ask yourself this:

Which choice will put me in a position of greater knowing? Which choice will I look back on and say, ‘that was important’?

You’d be surprised at how much that clears up.

Most of our lives, we’re caught up in an endless loop of consistently choosing the least-useful path, simply because it requires less effort. We’re not just creatures of habit, we’re creatures of laziness. What did you do today that was dramatically different from yesterday? Can you name five things? Three? Even one?


It takes courage to do something unique, something difficult, every single day. But damn, is it worthwhile.

Every morning when I wake up, I ask myself if I’m truly moving forward. If I’m not, I want to know it as soon as my day starts, and address it right then and there–not after 14 hours are wasted on projects I don’t care about, or whose outcomes don’t affect me.

New York may be a hell of a bizarre place to live, but at least it’s been a good teacher.

Are you better prepared today than you were yesterday? Are you closer to the things you want? Are you working, or just surviving?

No matter how overworked you might be, or how tired you feel, or how much you hate the idea of challenging yourself with new directions, there’s still time to learn something new today. This is the internet. Read something worthwhile. Just one new piece of information a day will mean you’ve learned 30 new things in a month. And at least one of those things might completely change your ideas about yourself and your career.

It’s worth the effort.

Image: “Dimensional Shift” by Michael Cook.

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Welcome to the New Design!

Transmitted on Jun 16 2008 to site news

The number-one request I’ve heard from all of you is “MAKE IT WHITE!”– so that’s exactly what I did. I couldn’t resist adding a bunch of nifty Flash and transparency, though. The result is pretty sweet, no?

Thanks to the superb “Futurosity” theme, and with some nice modifications, I’ve formed what I think is the best design yet: more visual, more readable, and more engaging. Let me know what you think!

New features include:

  • A nifty tag browser (to your right, above the main menu)
  • Fully tagged posts (improving navigation without a lot of overhead)
  • Rich visuals accompanying every single post
  • A beautiful new homepage showcasing the most recent posts in a “magazine-style” view
  • A much-improved commenting system– so use it!

I’m still ironing out some small bugs, but the site should work pretty well starting tonight. As always, if there are any kinks, drop me a line!

The Coolest Timelapse Animation Ever

Transmitted on Jun 14 2008 to media & communication

Breathing new life into the medium of timelapse photography, this film (about 7 minutes) is a “timelapse drawing” completed in Baden and Buenos Aires by an Italian artist who goes by the name “Blu”. In it, characters undergo bizarre transformations into and out of 3D space, manipulating objects in their environment to “construct” new bodies. A must-see.


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(via The Long Now)

UK Television Media Bans Product Placement

Transmitted on Jun 14 2008 to media & communication

The British government has elected to ban product placement in their television media, cementing a decision to let the content of the program (or programme) serve as the “selling point”. The UK media minister writes that “product placement would undermine the [integrity] that British TV enjoys internationally” and that its use can “contaminate” programs. No one wants to feel like their shows are written by an ad agency. I’m sure there are mountains of evidence showing that product placement works, though I can’t imagine it having much effect (I’ll always remember an old episode of Alias where product placement was almost laughable–”There! He’s in the Ford F-150!”)…

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Life – The Ultimate Game

Transmitted on Jun 12 2008 to consciousness & Source

Steve Pavlina has an excellent post I somehow missed from way back in 2006, called Life – The Ultimate Game. I’ve often felt that life feels both less severe and more exciting when viewed as a challenging adventure–as a game–since it creates a much deeper motivation to “play” rather than just letting things run their course. Rather than believing that we’re somehow entitled to being here, and that the world exists outside of our control, it helps to adopt the mindset that “if we’re here, we’re playing”– and if we don’t play well, it’s our own damn fault. This “game” of life is so much more complex and fascinating than most anything else we could be doing with our time. That was the main reason I never got very involved with World of WarCraft– ‘why is my character in better shape than I am, and why does he have more skills than I do?’ (Hours of play until this realization: 14)
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