Brain Pickings

Posts Tagged ‘technology’

12 MAY, 2009

What NASA Can Learn from X Prize (And Vise Versa)


A human story worth $10 million, or why imagination will always remain the next frontier of technology.

NASA, a longtime flag-bearer for America, is in trouble. A struggle that began with the tragic 2003 Columbia disaster now extends to an expensive and disappointing space shuttle program (due to retire in 2010) and the likely postponement of a scheduled 2020 moon landing due to problems with the Ares 1 rocket. Meanwhile, it suffers the absence of a new permanent chief and a shrinking budget yet to be addressed by President Obama.

NASA needs superior technical vision, which is where the Ansari X Prize has triumphed. By enlisting private sector competition in the service of technical expertise, the Ansari X Prize inspired the world’s best thinkers and doers to successfully launch the first-ever commercial spacecraft. Twenty-six teams from seven nations competed for the $10 million jackpot, and like the Orteig Prize before it that ignited to $300 billion commercial aviation industry, the competition went on to generate more than $1.5 billion dollars — solid funding for the private spacecraft industry, spearheaded by Virgin Galactic.

Still, NASA has something that X Prize is yet to master: The ability to capture the world’s imagination.

Its amazing astronauts inspired generations, filled a nation with pride, and had entire countries holding their breath. X Prize, by contrast, is little-known or misunderstood as elitist. While a $10-million jackpot is certainly stride-stopping, what truly captures the imagination is the flight of the human spirit. It was the cultural and emotional journey of Charles Lindbergh, Neil Armstrong and the crew of Apollo 13 that people followed, even as they vanished across the Atlantic or behind the moon.

The stories of the unique men and women participating in today’s X Prize are yet to be told. These competitors possess the same willingness to put their hearts, minds and bodies into a seemingly impossible idea. The X-factor they have in common is not the pursuit of a technological breakthrough — it’s the very character trait of those willing to try.

As both NASA and X Prize move forward, their future and success depend on the ability to rally the world around the stories of these men and women, around the technological feat wrapped in the relatable, riveting human element.

Simon Mainwaring is a former Nike creative, worldwide creative director for Ogilvy, author, speaker and general idea junkie. For more of and about him, check out his blog and follow him on Twitter.

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11 MAY, 2009

We Got Time: Hand-Illustration Meets In-Camera Animation Magic


What a French invention from 1877 has to do with superb modern animation.

A couple of weeks ago, a fantastic video for Moray McLaren‘s We Got Time made waves with its brilliant in-camera animation magic. It’s pure creative genius — despite the utter visual indulgence, it isn’t stop-motion, no computer super-imposing was used, and everything you see is exactly what rolled off the camera.

The animations in the side-on views were produced by the camera capturing the moving reflections from the mirrored carousels, and the animations in the top-down views were created by matching the cameras frame rate to that of spinning record.

Now, we go behind the scenes with London-based animator David Wilson, who directed it and hand-drew all the illustration.

Beyond being a pure joy to watch, We Got Time is a testament to our belief that creativity is simply the genius of combining existing resources — knowledge, ideas, inspiration — in completely revolutionary ways: In this case, a vintage Praxinoscope device and old-school hand-drawn illustration.


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08 APRIL, 2009

Bicycle Built for 2,000


Why 2,088 people are singing Stanley Kubrick’s praises for $0.06 each.

Here’s a blast from the Brain Pickings past — remember Amazon’s Mechanical Turk? What about data artist extraordinaire Aaron Koblin? After his brilliant Sheep Market project, Koblin is back with another fantastic crowdsourced art effort.

Bicycle Built for 2,000 is an audio-visual collage of 2,088 voice recordings collected via Mechanical Turk. Each person is asked to listen to a tiny sound clip, then imitate what they heard, without any knowledge of the full context of the clip. The voices are stitched together to sing “Daisy Bell” — a symbolic choice, as this is the first example of musical speech synthesis in history. (It also happens to be the song HAL is singing at the end of 2001: A Space Odyssey.)

You can click on each note to view the waveform of its various iterations and hear how different people “sang” it.

Participants came from 71 different countries. Each singer was paid $0.06 — not quite the Broadway gig, but we find it utterly MoMA-worthy, so it more than pays in street cred.