Brain Pickings

LED The Way

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How to stop global warming and hackers with the flip of a light switch.

THE REAL IDEA LIGHT BULB

LED lights have spent some time in the spotlight lately — be it as eco alternatives to Christmas lights or as cool little sidekicks in wow-projects like the Chronophage Clock. Turns out, however, that they could be the springboard for the next big leap in wireless technology.

Engineers at Boston University have just launched Smart Lighting, a program using low-power LED’s to develop the next generation of data communications and network technology — basically, making LED light the equivalent of a WiFi hot spot. And it would all be done over existing power lines with low power consumption, high reliability and no electromagnetic interference.

This technology would enable you to come home, flip a light switch, and have your iPod, thermostat, TiVo, Sirius and Wii instantly start communicating with you. No wires, no plugs, no routers.

The project is taking advantage of our inevitable switch from incandescent to CFL to LED light bulbs over the next few years as we try to, you know, not drown in the melting ice caps. Once enough LED’s are in place, they’d provide the infrastructure for this next-generation communication infrastructure.

Plus, since white light can’t penetrate opaque surfaces like walls, the technology would be much more secure than today’s radio-frequency-based WiFi — this means no “eavesdroppers,” no hackers, no pesky neighbors leeching onto your already feeble open wireless.

The technology relies on LED’s ability to be rapidly switched on and off with no detection by the human eye. Because data transmission comes down to patterns of 1’s and 0’s, flickering an LED light in such patterns won’t cause any noticeable change in room lighting.

We’re anxious to see where all this goes — with today’s increasing fragmentation of technology, it seems like more is invested in developing things to mediate the effects of other things (like your $300 noise-cancellation earphones to silence your roommate’s $1,000 Bose, which he uses to unwind after 15 hours in front of his $2,500 MacBook Pro), so we’re glad to see technology that focuses on cross-functionality and efficiency, utilizing what’s already there to minimize peripherals and maximize data communication.

You go, geeks.

(Thanks, @jowyang.)

Breaking: YouTube Clicks Into Retail

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What peer pressure has to do with revolutionizing social media monetization.

THIS JUST IN

YouTubeYouTube just announced its first move into retail land: click-to-buy links in music videos. Like most Google initiatives, the move is informed by pure organic consumer demand — Google folks noticed that the comment area below vides is fertile ground for consumer discussion of the music used in a video, so they jumped on the opportunity with an e-commerce platform that provides the answer in a direct click-to-buy format.

Currently available to U.S. users only, the platform links to iTunes and Amazon downloads from the EMI Music catalog, but is said to eventually expand into other media like TV, film and print.

We, of course, are not surprised — if it were any other company, Google would be doing this mainly as a reaction to the monetize-YouTube-already peer pressure, but because it’s Google, we know that no action is ever a reaction. There are greater forces at play, and we’re here to tug at their toys.

>>> More at the Official Google Blog

She, Him & Us

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What 1962 and a perfectly timed violin have in common.

SXSW-RATED, HIPSTER-APPROVED

It’s hard these days to spot talented up-and-coming indie acts before they’ve, well, come. And most come big-time — we’re looking at you, Feist on the Apple commercials, Ingrid Michaelson on the Grey’s Anatomy finale and Regina Spektor soundtracking for JC Penny.

She & Him Lately, we’ve been obsessed with folk-rock-pop-blues (yeah…) band She & Him — a duo composed of guitarist M. Ward and ultra-talented indie actor Zooey Deschanel, who’s been in just about every good indie movie and made a cameo in just about every progressive TV show over the past several years.

Their sound is distinctly theirs, lingering in that nowhere land where vintage 60’s pop meets today’s most somber-sweet acoustic sets and swells with smooth, hypnotic vocals that take you from childhood carelessness to the melancholic complexity of adulthood.  Throw in some interesting instrumentals, like the rock-orchestra drums in Sweet Darlin’, the ukulele in Change Is Hard and the perfectly timed violin in Sentimental Heart, plus the intense lyrical sensibility of tracks like This Is Not a Test, and you’ve got something truly rare.

Our favorite — She & Him’s take on The Miracles’ 1962 chart-topper You’ve Really Got a Hold on Me, a duet vocally and melodically reminiscent of the divine Feist + Constantines cover of Islands In The Stream. She & Him: Volume One

Snag the duo’s debut album, Volume One, to stick in your collection between your A Fine Frenzy and The Bird & the Bee records and play on those eerie October mornings when 8AM and 4PM feel all too much alike.

Image Search Redefined

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How to hunt down interestingness by its hexadecimal color.

It’s been a while since we’ve stumbled across something along the lines of PicLens, retrievr and the Flickr Related Tag Browser.

Today, we bring you another inspired algorithm that revolutionizes the image search experience.

The Multicolr Search Lab, offers color-based search, spitting out images in up to 10 colors you’ve specified. Out of the equally inspired Idée Labs, a self-proclaimed “technology playground for visual search,” Multicolr utilizes the proprietary Piximilar visual similarity search technology that scours large collections of images without using keywords or metadata.

The Multicolr Search Lab is currently available for Flickr and Alamy Stock Photography. The Flickr version extracts the colors from over 10 million of Flickr’s most interesting Creative Commons images. The notion of “interesting” is actually one of Flickr’s own cool algorithms that assesses an image’s “interestingness” based on various meta elements like where the clickthroughs are coming from, who comments on it and when, who marks it as a favorite, its tags and more.

Because these factors are in constant flux, so is the “interestingness” of any given image — something meant to inspire more exploration and discovery inside Flickr.

And while our 8th-grade English Lit teacher used to say that “interesting is what you call an ugly baby,” we have to admit this brand of interestingness falls squarely on the baby pagent side.

(P)hilly PARK(ing)

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You heard it here first. And now you hear it here second.

GREENLIGHTING THE TRAFFIC PROBLEM

Remember The PARK(ing) Project? On September 18, Philly finally joined the 50+ cities that partake in the annual phenomenon of National PARK(ing) Day, and now we’ve got the pics to prove it.

PARK(ing) Day Poster

Philly PARK(ing): Setting Up

All throughout Philly, those mythological entities known as parking spots were transformed into mini-parks, complete with grass, benches, and random hipster types hanging out.

PARK(ing) Day: Philly-style

Over 30 local groups took part in this global event, with art exhibits and educational displays giving the whole thing a distinct Philly-culture twist.

PARK(ing) Day: Political Park

There’s even a Google Group — we’ve been drinking the Gool-Aid long enough to know this only bosts street cred. And now that Philly has officially put itself on the proverbial map with a solid urban greenification statement, we would’ve liked to see the Google vans and satellites swing by that day to put it on the digital one as well.

Because, while street cred is great when it comes to activism and cultural statements, Street View is always better — nothing gets the word out better than some 1’s-and-0’s help from the Big G.

>>> via Bicycle Coalition