Santa vs. God

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I just saw this at Unreasonable Faith, an atheist blog that’s actually quite fun to read. Since this kind of goes into the Christmas theme, Merry Christmas everyone!

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Beyond the eye

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When you think about what parts of your body you’d give up if you had to, eyes come as just about the last thing anyone would give up. Today if you lose an eye you can replace it with an artificial one, but unfortunately technology hasn’t gotten us yet to a point where an artificial eye could also replace the functions of a natural eye. A bionic eye implant would be a possible solution allowing to return vision to visually impaired people. In a bionic eye, a camera would be used to capture pictures and a processing unit, about the size of a small hand held computer and worn on a belt, would convert the visual information into electrical signals. The idea of a bionic eye has been around for a while, but full recovery of vision won’t be possible at least for the next few years, however rapid technological innovation may be.

Some individuals who have suffered a loss of an eye have still taken their injury beyond the artificial eye replacement and have created initiatives to make innovative post-eye loss development possibilities. Tanya Vlach, a San Francisco based multidisciplinary artist and producer was one of the first  to initiate a movement towards hi-tech camera usage in artificial eyes. She lost her eye in a car accident during the hurricane Katrina and decided to post a call for engineers on her blog one-eyed to transform her artificial eye into a Web-functional digital video camera. The design of the camera would include Bluetooth, a remote trigger, and even blink-responsive sensors for functions such as focusing and zoom. Although Vlach’s project is still in its early days, Rob Spence, a filmmaker has designed a similar prototype.

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I am not restoring vision, I’m just modifying my prosthetic eye into a video camera with the same capabilities as a modern cell phone. I can stream the footage, save it to a hard-drive, or put it in my documentary film called Eye 4 an Eye.

Such devices will bring us closer to lifestyle elements associated with Augmented Reality. Spence is, as he says, “actually in the lab putting an eye together”, with the camera soon to be combined with a battery and wireless capabilites. Spence is working with award winning electrical engineering professor Steve Mann, a pioneer of wearable computer and recording devices like web cams. Spence is planning to use the eye camera to create a documentary exploring issues surrounding how cameras in public places invade privacy.

Explosions of colour

I’ve just found the making-of documentaries of some of my favourite ads by Jonathan Glazer. Besides the effects in his videos for UNKLE, Radiohead, Levis and Guinness among others, I was always quite impressed by how he expressed colour in his Sony Bravia campaign. The ad is shot in Glasgow in 2007 and does not use any special effects – it’s actually thousands of litres of paint exploding all over the place.

And the making of:

The second one is of bouncy balls falling across San Francisco by Nicolai Fuglsig (thanks for the correction, Sarah!) with the lovely song Hearbeats by Jose Gonzales (original by Knife). I haven’t seen many ads as uplifting as this one, I’ll give him that.

And the making of:

Mind the map

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Ever wondered why the London tube map makes no geographical sense? I’ve heard so many stories about people trying to navigate London by using the tube map and being completely confused by the stations’ locations and the distances between them. Many tourists try to do this, as the tube map is probably the best distributed map in the UK and is and obtainable free of charge. The current map, or rather diagram, was first designed by Harry Beck in 1931. The diagram was not intended to be a geographical, but rather a topological relection of the underground network. Beck thought that the locations of the stations were not as importatnt as the relations between them on the map and decided to create a diagram that would allow the maximum clarity of the points of interchange and the borders of the city’s travelling zones. Thus, the diagram consists only of lines that run horizontally, vertically or at 45 degrees. The topological approach to metro systems has been used in many cities around the world and whether for the purposes of its clarity or tradition, it’s probably here to stay.

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What you see above is one of the unofficial geographical London underground maps that can be found online. If you want to see one up-close, there is a project to create the real tube map by Simon Clarke that reflects the distances and routes between the stations of the London underground. I really like that by looking at the unofficial maps you can tell where the actual stations are, but I can’t deny that I do have some sentiment for the old diagram. The mapmania created mostly by Google maps has become somewhat overwhelming. You can now see 3D street shots , highly accurate land shots both on computers and Internet enabled phones or even navigate the city by your mood as in the I Feel London project by Andy Whitlock.

Too close for comfort?

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I just read an interview with Mark Zuckerberg (the CEO of Facebook) on TechCrunch. Alongside my hesitation to use Facebook Connect, I decided to re-visit my privacy settings and saw the following privacy policy on the applications section:

When a friend of yours visits an application or authorizes it, the information that the application can access includes your friend’s friend list and information about the people on that list. Thus it can access some information about you. Please note that applications are obligated only to act upon the request of your friend and must respect all of your existing privacy settings.

For those of us who are on Fb and have friends (it’s supposed to be a social thing, right?) it seems that there is no way of getting around releasing info to applications unless you’re willing to be very selective about what information you release on your Fb profile. This ultimately means that pretty much every application will get its hands on your information unless you highly restrict:

  • your number of friends (though you still can’t control what apps they may authorise without your knowledge)
  • the info you release (though  most of us probably don’t mind sharing my info with people we’re friends with, which doesn’t equal their applications)
  • … or you just get off Facebook!

Otto

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I was first intrigued by octopi when I read ‘The Best American Science and Nature Writing 2004’, which offered a deliciously funny introduction into octopus life. I was recently reminded of how interesting these creatures are by multiple news flashes about Otto the Octopus, which lives at the Sea Star Aquarium in Coburg, Germany. It all started with a series of mysterious blackouts at the aquarium that brought electricians to their knees and resulted in their decision to take turns sleeping at the aquarium to figure out what was happening.  Otto was happening. The aquarium staff think that Otto had been annoyed by the bright light shining into his aquarium or simply bored and started busting the light by climbing onto the rim of his tank and squirting streams of water at it. More recent news claim that Otto’s been so bored by the lack of people at the aquarium (closed for the winter season) that he started juggling crabs in his arms. Otto’s been featured in the Telegraph and numerous blogs as well as being included on YouTube videos and Facebook through a fan group and page. I’m definitely a fan!

The Big Deep

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No, this post isn’t about the credit crunch. I thought a lot of people out there must be feeling the effects of SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) and so I just started randomly browsing the US and the UK statistics for depression, antidepressant drug use and general drug use. If true, then it’s pretty impressive data, especially considering its change over the past few decades. For years now I have been annoyed with the doctors’ relaxed attitude towards handing out medication. I remember once calling a local surgery in Kent, UK, to get advice on treating my flu-like sympthoms.  I was prescribed antibiotics over the phone within minutes and they were to be picked up the next day. I imagine similar handing applies to the distribution of antidepressants both in the UK, US and other developed countries.

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According to HHS, the US Department for Health and Human Services, ‘adult use of antidepressants almost tripled between 1988 and 2000.  Ten percent of women 18 and older and 4 percent of men now take antidepressants.’ In the UK the use of antidepressants increased by 234% in the 10 years up to 2002. Using antidepressants has also spread across age groups and it is now not unusual to hear of preschoolers as young as 3 popping Prozac. Psychiatric medication is banned for children under 3, so perhaps that’s why the still younger ones aren’t on medication. Almost 500 people die every year in the UK from antidepressant drug use and overdose related poisonings. Antidepressants can also cause  or increase suicidal tendencies as a side effect and  perhaps as a result of these side effects over 5000 people have committed suicide in the past decade while using antidepressants.

Drug  ↓ Brand  ↓ Class  ↓ 2007 Prescriptions (in millions)  ↓
Sertraline Zoloft SSRI 29.652
Escitalopram Lexapro SSRI 27.023
Fluoxetine Prozac SSRI 22.266
Bupropion Wellbutrin, Budeprion, Zyban NDRI 20.184
Paroxetine Paxil SSRI 18.141
Venlafaxine Effexor SNRI 17.200
Citalopram Celexa SSRI 16.246
Trazodone Desyrel 15.473
Amitriptyline Elavil TCA 13.462
Duloxetine Cymbalta SNRI 12.551
Mirtazapine Remeron tetracyclic 5.129
Nortriptyline Pamelor TCA 3.105
Imipramine Tofranil TCA 1.524

So is the society indeed suffering from more conditions both psychological and physical alike, or is our knowledge of conditions bringing on a negative placebo effect, or are we just being led by institutions to treat our conditions with chemicals purely for the sake of that creating more profit for pharmaceutical companies and less hassle for the health care system? Almost half of all Americans are on at least one prescription drug at any given time. I think the health care systems need to commit more time to educating the public not just on the conditions they may have, but also to the ways of avoiding them in the first place and stop dispensing medicine as widely. NHS is finally making the first steps in sending out a message about how irrelevant antibiotics are in treating flu and cold. Better late than never, I suppose, but it still a long way to go.

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