What getting lost in Eindhoven has to do with a nice pit bull and a shovel.
By Maria Popova
PEN & PAPER: 1, GPS: 0
It’s no secret we’ve been obsessed with maps for a while now. Which is why we’re all over the Hand Drawn Map Association — a quirky, relentlessly amusing archive of user-submitted maps and other interesting diagrams, all drawn, of course, by hand.
Why paleoanthropology is cooler than you think and how to find the missing link with a Q-tip.
By Maria Popova
GENEALOGY ON STEROIDS
We’re all African.
No, seriously — this isn’t some charity slogan, it’s an evolutionary fact. And our DNA — yours, ours, Chuck Norris’s — contains a historical record of it. The big question, really, is how we ended up so scattered across the globe and so incredibly diverse as a species — 6.5 billion of us, speaking 6,000 languages, sporting all sorts of shapes, sizes and colors.
Now, genographer Spencer Wells is closer than ever to building a family tree for all of humanity. For the past couple of years, he’s toured dozens of countries tackling that great big question of origins in order to explain our amazing diversity.
And it all comes down to mitochonodrial DNA — the maternal ancestry component you get from your mother and your grandmother and so forth. Turns out, a single African woman, “Mitochondrial Eve,” gave rise to all of today’s mitochondrial diversity about 200,000 years ago. And just to prove your mother right when she told you boys were “late bloomers,” turns out “Y-Chromosome Adam” — the source of the Y-chromosome, the male side of the ancestry story — only lived about 60,000 years ago, a mere 2,000 human generations ago. Which, of course, is measely in evolutionary terms.
Watch Wells’ fascinating yet easily digestible TED Talk on it all.
In 2005, Spencer Wells partnered with National Geographic on a film version of his book, The Journey of Man. The NG folks became so interested in the concept that they offered Wells a 5-year partnership, dubbed The Genographic Project, with the goal of studying millions of people’s DNA in order to trace humanity’s migration patterns over history.
Here comes the cool part: You can order a kit and test your own DNA. At home. Then submit the results to the National Geographic database for analysis, not only finding out your own geneticgenetic journey but also becoming a little flag on the great big map of human geneaology.
So far, they’ve received results from nearly 300,000 people and raised over $8 million.
The whole thing is, of course, a non-profit and any money they raise, after covering the cost of the kit and the data processing, gets funnelled back into the project, mostly into The Legacy Fund — a grant-giving charity that gives money to indigenous groups around the world for various sustainability, educational, philanthropic and otherwise awesome projects they’ve applied for.
So go ahead, order the kit — it costs less than our college Biology textbook back in the day, and it goes towards greater things than the Barnes & Noble bottom line.
Inspired by the ever-amusing Indexed blog — if you’re not already familiar, we strongly suggest you fix that cultural mistake ASAP.
I’M A MAC, AND I’M A MAC POSING AS A PC
The horror! The scandal! You know those annoying new “PC Pride” TV spots for Microsoft that attempted to shove the Seinfeld fiasco under the carpet? Well, an overzealous conspiracy theorist decided to look at the EXIF information of the campaign photos sent to the media — that’s the little piece of file information that shows what program the file was created in.
Guess what — those Microsoft ads were made on…gasp…a Mac. And if you think Microsoft and Crispin, their ad agency, have the relationship equivalent of a Catholic priest caught with his pants down at a gay bar, it gets worse. Turns out, Dell’s agency, Enfatico, did the exact same thing with their client’s campaign. Except in their case, those Macs were actually bought on the Dell dollar.
And just when we thought no one could out-whore-out the ever-irreverent Improv Everywhere…who actually revered quite quickly at the sight of corporate bling.
Speaking of Seinfeld, here’s something that sounds like one of Kramer’s ideas but is, in fact, completely real:
One of our heroes, brilliant physicist Stephen Hawking, has just unveiled the world’s strangest clock. Called
Chronophage, which means “time-eater,” the beastly time-keeper cost $2 million and was developed over 5 years in Cambridge’s Corpus Christi College by Dr. John Taylor, a renowned inventor and horologist.
Its shtick: It has no hands — time is displayed by a series of blue LED lights illuminating the 24-carat gold surface through various slits and lenses. The design itself was inspired by the work of legendary innovator John Harrison, who came up with the “grasshopper escapement” mechanism almost 300 years ago.
The clock is only accurate every five minutes, but is wired up to an electric motor that will keep it running for the next 25 years.
We’re fascinated by the idea of a device that captures the relativity of time and how its passage mercilessly eats away at our lives. That, and we like shiny things.
On the cool-LED-stuff note, we’re obsessed with chronophage art collective PIKA PIKA. They make abstract animation using LED flashlights, which “draw” an image by tracing its outline over and over. Their movement is recorded in a series of photographs using long exposures, which are then spliced together into an animated sequence.
In 2005, the team was invited to a conference, where they presented the back-end of how the animation worked. They noticed that the audience of people interested in the concept was incredibly diverse, so they came up with a way to make the animation more interactive and inclusive, recruiting audience members in its production.
Today, PIKA PIKA films are made by that audience: Each person gets a flashlight and becomes a part of the animation. The films have since traveled the world and won various awards across a number of art and film festivals.
From one cool audience-made light-employing video to another: After Radiohead’s In Rainbows fan-made video contest, a Goldfrapp fan got inspired to animate the track “Lovely Head” from their first album.
It’s essentially a visualization of the sound data, with the lyrics superimposed, producing the visual equivalent of what we’d imagine goes on in one’s brain when listening to the track on psychedelic drugs.
It was made through a process that’s way over our head, which makes us dig it all the more. It also reminds us of binary data sculptor Paul Prudence his video stream data visualizations.
And since we’re getting into things way over our head, here’s something that blows everything else out of the water. Or, as it just so happens, out of the oil.
Scientists have developed a new strain of that same pant-pooping E. coli bacterium that can make butanediol (BDO), the material used in stuff like spandex, car bumpers and plastic cups, from scratch. Which basically means they can make plastic without using oil or natural gas, taking a huge energy load off the current plastic production methods.
That’s what we call research-grant-justifying progress. (Unlike, say, the one that measured methane emissions from farting cows.)
Why P2P file-sharing can spell the demise of the Bush administration and how not to let American Idol take over the White House.
By Maria Popova
MOORE VS. BUSH, ROUND 2
We’re doing something a little different today — because today is the day filmmaker-slash-activist Michael Moore’s latest movie,Slacker Uprising, comes out. (Plus, it’s a nice transition from last week’s themes of P2P revolutions and the current White House being easily mistaken for a potato.)
And just like us today, Moore is doing something different with this himself: He’s giving the movie away as a free download, making it the first major feature-length film to debut legally as a free internet download. In his typical convention-defying, sticking-it-to-the-man style, he’s offering not one but five ways to snag it — from iTunes and Amazon Digital downloads to a number of live streaming options.
He’s doing it for two reasons: To get the word out and thus further the film’s ultimate goal of getting more young voters out on November 4, and to thank all his supporters over the years with a free gift on the 20th anniversary of his first film, Roger & Me.
The film was shot over 42 days leading up to the 2004 election, when Moore toured 62 cities across America with the same mission: Turning out a record number of young voters, which he considers a success given young adults voted in greater numbers than they ever had historically, and the youth segment was the only demographic group Kerry won.
(We, on the other hand, are less generous with the acclaim for a year in which American Idol still received more votes than the presidential election — quite the eye-opener when the American public finds a marginally talented popster to be a better idol than the nation’s leader.)
So go download the movie or find a screening near you so you can rub elbows with like-minded potato-haters. (Heck, host one, even.)