Archive for January, 2011

Free Encyclopedia of Interactive Design, Usability and User Experience

31 Jan

The recently released Free Encyclopedia of Interactive Design, Usability and User Experience [] has been developed under the manifesto of "Democratization of Knowledge", as it aims for people from all the far corners of the world to get free access to world-class educational materials. It also deliberately takes the opposite approach of Wikipedia or other crowd-sourcing initiatives, as all entries are written by leading figures who either invented or contributed significantly to a particular topic.

The website contains various topics that relate to data visualization. For instance, one can enjoy an elaborate introduction on visual representation by Alan Blackwell (with additional commentaries by some renowned professors like Ben Shneiderman, Clive Richards and Brad A. Myers), or more specifically dive into the topic of Data Visualization for Human Perception by Stephen Few (including a blog shortlist on which I will refrain commenting).

Be sure to check out the other topics that have been covered in a chapter, and might well be interesting to you.


World Income Inequality

31 Jan

Here, courtesy of Catherine Rampell of Economix, is a remarkable chart from Branko Milanovic's book The Haves and Have Nots. Along the horizontal axis are within-country income percentiles running from the bottom 5% (1st ventile) to the top 5% (20th ventile). Along the vertical axis are world income percentiles.

The graph shows that the bottom 5% of Brazilians are among the poorest people in the world but the top 5% are among the richest. Thus the vertical range of the curve tells us about within-country inequality.

Comparing between countries we see that the poorest 5% of Americans are among the richest people in the world (richer than nearly 70% of other people in the world). The poorest 5% of Americans, for example, are richer than the richest 5% of Indians.


Wireless electricity enables next generation of annoying packaging

28 Jan

Yep, these cereal boxes light up. They’re using a new branded-technology called eCoupling that provides electricity via induction, which means the shelves have a coil with AC power running through it. The “printed coils” on the boxes allow inventory control and data exchange presumably thanks to a low-power microcontroller. But in the video after the break you can see that the printed lighting on the boxes lets them flash parts of the box art as a way to attract customers’ attention. We’d bet that they’re using electroluminescent materials but we weren’t able to get find specifics on how this is done. We just hope advertisers don’t start rolling noise-makers into their packaging.

[Crave via Laughing Squid]

Filed under: wireless hacks


Broccoli Fights Cancer by Clearing Bad Tumor Suppressors

27 Jan

Generations of American children have been told, “Eat your broccoli!” And for decades, researchers have known that broccoli and related vegetables like cauliflower and watercress appeared to lower the risk of some cancers. And that compounds in the vegetables could kill cancer cells. But how the cruciferous veggies worked their medical magic was a mystery. Until now. Because researchers have figured out just what broccoli does that helps keep cancer in check. The work appears in the Journal of Medicinal Chemistry . [Xiantao Wang et al., " Selective Depletion of Mutant p53 by Cancer Chemoprevention Isothiocyanates and Their Structure-Activity Relationships "]

Proteins coded by the gene p53 help keep cancer from starting to grow. But when the p53 gene is mutated, the protection is gone. Mutated p53 is implicated in about half of all human cancers.


Why Facebook (and Your Church) Might Be Making You Sad

27 Jan

We’ve been warned that social media can distract us, shorten our attention spans, disconnect us from real-life relationships. Now a new study suggests that Facebook might also be making us miserable. I suspect there’s something to this, and it’s not just about Facebook. It’s about our churches.

Slate magazine cites a paper in a social psychology journal that started with an observation about how college students felt more dejected after logging on to Facebook. There was something saddening about “scrolling through others’ attractive photos, accomplished bios, and chipper status updates.” The students’ moods were darkened because they believed everyone else was happier than they are.

Journalist Libby Copeland speculates that Facebook might “have a special power to make us sadder and lonelier.” How can this be, though, when Facebook is generally so, well, happy, brimming with smiling faces and beautiful families? Well, that’s just the point.

“By showcasing the most witty, joyful, bullet-pointed versions of people’s lives, and inviting constant comparisons in which we tend to see ourselves as the losers, Facebook appears to exploit an Achilles’ heel of human nature,” Copeland writes. “And women—an especially unhappy bunch of late—may be especially vulnerable to keeping up with what they imagine is the happiness of the Joneses.”

Yes, Copeland writes, Facebook can chronicle cute kids, and warm moments, but that is never the whole, or even most, of the story of anyone’s life. “Tearful falls and tantrums are rarely recorded, nor are the stretches of sheer mind-blowing,” she writes.

Now, in one sense, I want to say, who really cares about Facebook. If you are that absorbed in comparing yourselves to others in this way, shut the computer screen and detox from the blue glow. But, it seems to me, the very same phenomenon is present in the pews of our Christian churches.

Our most “successful” pastors and church leaders know how to smile broadly. Some of them are blow-dried and cuff-linked; some of them are grunged up and scruffy. But they are here to get us “excited” about “what God is doing in our church.”

Our worship songs are typically celebrative, in both lyrical content and musical expression. In the last generation, a mournful song about crucifixion was pepped up with a jingly-sounding chorus, “It was there by faith I received my sight, and now I am happy all the day!”

This isn’t just a Greatest Generation revivalist problem either. Even those ubiquitous contemporary worship songs that come straight out of the Psalms tend to focus on psalms of ascent or psalms of joyful exuberance, not psalms of lament (and certainly not imprecatory psalms!).

We can easily sing with the prophet Jeremiah, “great is thy faithfulness” (Lam. 3:23). But who can imagine singing, in church, with Jeremiah: “You have wrapped yourself with a cloud so that no prayer can pass through. You have made us scum and garbage among all the peoples” (Lam. 3:43-45).

This sense of forced cheeriness is seen in the ad hoc “liturgy” of most evangelical churches in the greeting and the dismissal. As the service begins a grinning pastor or worship leader chirps, “It’s great to see you today!” or “We’re glad you’re here!” As the service closes the same toothy visage says, “See you next Sunday! Have a great week!”

Of course we do. What else could we do? We’re joyful in the Lord, aren’t we? We want to encourage people, don’t we? And yet, what we’re trying to do isn’t working, even on the terms we’ve set for ourselves. I suspect many people in our pews look around them and think the others have the kind of happiness we keep promising, and wonder why it’s passed them by.

By not speaking, where the Bible speaks, to the full range of human emotion—including loneliness, guilt, desolation, anger, fear, desperation—we only leave our people there, wondering why they just can’t be “Christian” enough to smile through it all.

The gospel speaks a different word though. Jesus says, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted” (Matt. 5:4). In the kingdom, we receive comfort in a very different way than we’re taught to in American culture. We receive comfort not by, on the one hand, whining in our sense of entitlement or, on the other hand, pretending as though we’re happy. We are comforted when we see our sin, our brokenness, our desperate circumstances, and we grieve, we weep, we cry out for deliverance.

That’s why James, the brother of our Lord, seems so out of step with the contemporary evangelical ethos. “Be wretched and mourn and weep,” he writes. “Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom” (Jas. 4:9). What would happen to a church leader who ended his service by saying to his people, “Have a wretched day!” or “I hope you all cry your eyes out this week!” It would sound crazy. Jesus always does sound crazy to us, at first (Jn. 7:15, 20).

Nobody is as happy as he seems on Facebook. And no one is as “spiritual” as he seems in what we deem as “spiritual” enough for Christian worship. Maybe what we need in our churches is more tears, more failure, more confession of sin, more prayers of desperation that are too deep for words.

Maybe then the lonely and the guilty and the desperate among us will see that the gospel has come not for the happy, but for the brokenhearted; not for the well, but for the sick; not for the found, but for the lost.

So don’t worry about those shiny, happy people on Facebook. They need comfort, and deliverance, as much as you do. And, more importantly, let’s stop being those shiny, happy people when we gather in worship. Let’s not be embarrassed to shout for joy, and let’s not be embarrassed to weep in sorrow. Let’s train ourselves not for spin control, but for prayer, for repentance, for joy.

Have a wretched day (and a blessed one too).

Image credit.


Making Tidal Waves: A look at 10 ‘whales’ of the creative industry

25 Jan

The world at large is infatuated by micro-economies. You see it in fashion, in the ‘Web 2.0′ startup world of Silicon Valley and in the MASSIVE yet tiny film production world in Los Angeles. The industries of world business have always been followed by a tide, so to speak, of smaller sub groups. These groups contain their own eco systems of big and small ‘fish’ who provide food for (or feed on) each other to grow, evolve and survive.

The online design and creative community is no different. It has its own cultural and financial ecosystems which are even made of several micro groups within themselves. The consumers of Envato’s marketplaces, the attendees at Carsonified events, Behance’s network, Smashing Magazines readership, Buy-Sell Ad’s advertising and Sitepoints Products are all members of different overlapping groups of a vibrant micro-economy.

But even for the ‘sharks’ of these micro-economic oceans, it can be a helpful to gain some perspective every now and then by swimming past a whale.

Screen shot 2011-01-24 at 11.23.57 PMfrom National Geographic Mini-site

Versace, Gucci, Marc Jacobs and the other ‘whales’ in fashion, set the direction year after year for each season’s fashions. Similarly, the creative world as a whole, moves with waves made by the industry giants.

From the mediums you might offer a client (Web, Print, Mobile Apps) or the essential positioning of the latest design style (can anyone say ‘letterpress’), all the way down to where the expected place for a ‘contact us’ link will go. One only has to look at the similarity in campaigns each year at the ‘Webby Awards’ or watch the commercials on TV, Hulu or passing by you on the side of a bus, to see the influence these creative ‘whales’ have on our day to day lives and ultimately our professions.

So for perspective sake, lets take a quick look at 10 ‘whales’ of the creative industry:


Company: TBWA
Principals: Tom Carroll, Jean-Marie Dru, Lee Clow, Denis Streiff, Keith Smith, Laura Coots
Location(s): 100 different countries
Notable clients: Absolut, Jameson, Kahlua, Nissan, Pedigree, Twix, McDonalds, Pfizer, P&G, Apple, Infiniti, Nicorette, Adidas, Alli, Energizer
Est. Number of Employees: 11,000 people operating in 274 agencies
Public/Private: Public
Est. Annual Revenues: $1 Billion+


Company: R/GA
Principals: Chris Colborn, Bob Greenberg, and Nick Law
Location(s): New York, London, San Francisco, Sao Paulo, Singapore, Chicago
Notable clients: NIkeID, NIke Football, Verizon wireless, Ad Council, Nokia, American Eagle,
Est. Number of Employees: 640+
Public/Private: Private
Est. Annual Revenues: Unknown

Company: Saatchi & Saatchi
Principals: Kevin Roberts
Location(s): 140 offices – 80 countries
Notable clients: Bel, Deutsche Telekom/T-Mobile, Diageo/Guinness, Emirates Airline, General Mills, Mead Johnson, Novartis, Procter & Gamble, Sony Ericsson, Toyota/Lexus, Visa Europe.
Est. Number of Employees: 6500+
Public/Private: Unknown
Est. Annual Revenues: Unknown

Company: Razorfish
Principals: Bob Lord, Lee Sherman, Andreas Gahlert
Location(s): Seattle – 20+ offices worldwide
Notable clients: AT&T Audi Ben & Jerry’s Best Buy Capital One Carnival Cruise Lines Choice Hotels Condé Nast MillerCoors Dell Disney EMC Corporation Forest Labs JCPenney Levi Strauss & Co. Kraft Limited Brands
Mattel McDonald’s Mercedes-Benz USA Microsoft/MSN NFL Nike Olympus Oxfam PNC Bank Purina Ralph Lauren Safeco Samsonite Standard Life Bank Starwood Hotels & Resorts Toshiba Travel Channel Victoria’s Secret
Est. Number of Employees: 2000+ worldwide
Public/Private: Unknown
Est. Annual Revenues: Unknown

Company: BBH
Principals: Greg Anderson, Emma Cookson, Joe Da Silva
Location(s): Global: Europe, Asia Pacific, North America, Latin America, China, India
Notable clients: Axe, Google, Johnnie Walker, Lego, NYC & Co., Smirnoff, Sprite, Vaseline, Ally, British Airways, Westin hotels & resorts
Est. Number of Employees: 235+
Public/Private: Private
Est. Annual Revenues: Unknown

Company: AKQA
Principals: Stuart Sproule, Guy Wieynk, Jason Warnes, David Bentley, Leo Chu
Location(s): San Francisco, Amsterdam, Berlin, London, New York, D.C., Shanghai
Notable clients: GAP, Smirnoff, Visa, Volkswagen, Warner Brothers, Unilever, Lipton, Ferrari, Nike, Fiat, USPS, Xbox 360
Est. Number of Employees: 550+
Public/Private: Private
Est. Annual Revenues: Unknown

Company: Crispin Porter + Bogusky | CP+B
Principals: Chuck Porter, Jeff Hicks, Andrew Keller, Rob Reilly, Jeff Steinhour, Eric Lear, Jeff Behjamin, Winston Binch
Location(s): USA, Canada, Europe
Notable clients: Microsoft, Burger King, SAS, Kraft, Baby Carrots, Dominos, Old Navy, Best Buy, Philips, Open, Canadian, Coca Cola Zero, Scania, Telia
Est. Number of Employees: 1,000+
Public/Private: Public
Est. Annual Revenues: $1.6 billion in billings


Company: Smith Harmon – Responsys
Principals: Dan Springer, Scott Olrich, Andrew Priest, Don Smith, Chris Paul
Location(s): San Bruno, San Francisco, Chicago, New york, Denver, Seattle, UK, Melbourne, Sydney, Denkmark, India
Notable clients: Avis Europe, Continental Airlines, Deutsche Lufthansa, Dollar Thrifty, Lands’ End, LEGO, Men’s Wearhouse, PayPal, Qantas, Southwest Airlines, StubHub, and UnitedHealthcare.
Est. Number of Employees: 308
Public/Private: Private
Est. Annual Revenues: Unknown


Company: BBDO
Location(s): 287 offices in 79 countries
Notable clients: Gillette, Braun, P&G/Tide, AT&T, Bank of Ireland, BMW, Bridgestone
Est. Number of Employees: 15,000+
Public/Private: Public
Est. Annual Revenues: $1.1 billion ’09


Company: Goodby Silverstein & Partners
Principals: Rich Silverstein, Jeff Goodby, Mark Rurka, Rich Dizon
Location(s): San Francisco
Notable clients: Netflix, Chevy, Specialized, Logitech, Intuit, Frito Lay, Sprint, Doritos, Adobe, Comcast, NBA, HP., Wii, Cheetos, Yahoo, Kayak, Häagen Dazs, Dickies
Est. Number of Employees: 200+
Public/Private: Private
Est. Annual Revenues: Unknown

A quick disclaimer… although many of the companies listed have their roots in Advertising and may be considered ‘traditional advertising companies’, the emergence of web media has blurred the lines of traditional media, so much so, that there are fine lines and nuanced differences between Advertising, Media production, Design & Marketing companies/firms. Most of these listed do all of the above.

Sponsored by

Made By Tinder

Advertise on Fuel Brand Network.
Fuel Brand Network 2010 cc (creative commons license)

Making Tidal Waves: A look at 10 ‘whales’ of the creative industry


The State of the Union Address 2011: the Infographically ‘Enhanced’ Version

25 Jan

You undoubtedly already know that U.S. President Barack Obama has released his State of the Union Address of the year 2011. What some of you might not be aware of though, is that the televised and streamed address also exists in a "enhanced" version.

The dual-screen version partly resembles a PowerPoint presentation in terms of conveying traditional lists of bullet points, quotes, facts or figures, but partly also tries to show the data-driven evidence behind some of themes that were addressed through different forms of data graphics.

Watch and browse trough the "enhanced" video below.


LinkedIn InMaps Reveals your Professional Network

24 Jan

For anyone blessed with a LinkedIn account, this might be quite interesting: InMaps [] is new service that visualizes the collection of a LinkedIn 'connections' as a single network graph. The work was clearly inspired by the results from the interactive visualization and exploration platform Gephi, as Mathieu Bastian, the driving force behind the Gephi project, now works at LinkedIn Labs.

Each color corresponds to a different group within the professional network, which can be labeled by the user. The graph should allow users to recognize connections that share mutual people, or indentify areas that might be underrepresented.

See also Career Paths.

Thnkx Nicholas and Armando.


The Pope OKs Facebook Use For Catholics

24 Jan

Those of us who have experienced the Catholic guilt have seen it come on at unexpected times (I get it if I even think about short-changing a waiter on a tip), but I must say I've never experienced it while using Facebook. If you have, though, today is your lucky day because Pope Benedict XVI has given social networking his blessing. Officially, he said:

"I would like then to invite Christians, confidently and with an informed and responsible creativity, to join the network of relationships which the digital era has made possible."

Sadly, the pope (unlike Queen Elizabeth) didn't join Facebook, but gave his blessing to millions of Catholics. Of course, it wouldn't be a dictum from the pope without some guidelines. He encourages users to be open and honest with their use, and to not confuse online friendships with lasting, in-person relationships.


Voyager and the Will to Explore

24 Jan

I remember thinking when Voyager 2 flew past Neptune in 1989 that it would be a test case for how long a spacecraft would last. The subject was on my mind because I had been thinking about interstellar probes, and the problem of keeping electronics alive for a century or more even if we did surmount the propulsion problem. The Voyagers weren’t built to test such things, of course, but it’s been fascinating to watch as they just keep racking up the kilometers. As of this morning, Voyager 1 is 17,422,420,736 kilometers from the Earth (16 hours, 8 minutes light time).

Then you start looking at system performance and have to shake your head. As the spacecraft continue their push into interstellar space, only a single instrument on Voyager 1 has broken down. Nine other instruments have been powered down on both craft to save critical power resources, but as this article in the Baltimore Sun pointed out recently, each Voyager has five still-funded experiments and seven that are still delivering data. The article quotes Stamatios “Tom” Krimigis (JHU/APL) as saying “I suspect it’s going to outlast me.”

Deep Space and Human Lifetimes

Krimigis is one of two principal investigators still on the Voyager mission, out of an original eleven, and the only remaining original member of the Voyager instrument team. These days he’s caught up with Cassini work (he’s principal investigator on an APL instrument aboard), but he did find time to report Voyager 1’s findings on the solar wind at the American Geophysical Union meeting in San Francisco. These are major observations, the first time since the beginning of space exploration that we’ve come to a place where the solar wind stops.

But tempering that sense of excitement is the fact that we currently have only one mission following up the Voyagers’ path to the outer system, the New Horizons probe to Pluto/Charon and the Kuiper Belt. The Sun’s article quotes Norman Ness (University of Delaware) as saying that Voyager was the pinnacle of his career. “There is never going to be a mission in anybody’s lifetime, now living, that is ever going to get these observations in hand. So it’s once in a lifetime.” Stephen Pyne makes much the same point in Voyager: Seeking Newer Worlds in the Third Great Age of Discovery (Viking, 2010), leaving us with a reminder that continued expansion into deep space is by no means a given.

But back to the question of mission length and the reliability of parts. What’s fascinating about the Sun’s article is that it covers Krimigis’ work on instruments that could measure the flow of charged particles during the mission. Such instruments — low-energy charged particle (LECP) detectors — would report on the flow of ions, electrons and other charged particles from the solar wind, but because they demanded a 360-degree view, they posed a problem. From the article:

…Voyager needed to keep its antenna pointed at the Earth at all times, so the spacecraft itself couldn’t turn. That meant Krimigis’ instrument needed an electric motor and a swivel mechanism that could swing back and forth for more than a decade without seizing up in the cold vacuum of space.

“They said I was crazy,” Krimigis said. To spacecraft designers, moving parts spell trouble.

Krimigis argued there was less mission risk in moving one component, than in turning the whole spacecraft. The solution was offered by a California company called Schaeffer Magnetics. Krimigis’ team tested the contractor’s four-pound motor, ball bearings and dry lubricant.

“We ran it through about a half a million steps [movements], enough to take us to Saturn and then some. And it didn’t fail,” Krimigis recalled.

And yes, you guessed it, after more than 5 million ‘steps,’ the instruments are still working. These days they’re working in a region where solar particles no longer strike Voyager 1 from behind, and it’s been like that for the last six months. Krimigis says the instruments can still detect a particle flow, evidently a mix of solar and interstellar particles, moving in a flow perpendicular to the spacecraft’s direction of travel, so it appears we’re still not in true interstellar space, but in a place where, as the scientist puts it, “…the solar wind is kind of sloshing around.”

With the spacecraft now expected to keep transmitting for twenty or so more years, we’ll surely see both Voyagers reach into true interstellar space before their power runs out. Then the loss of energy will take its toll. Somewhere around 2015 Voyager 1 will shut down its data tape recorder, just as Voyager 2 shuts down its gyros. As instruments go quiet, all power will be shunted to interstellar wind measurements and communications with the distant Earth. As we reach 2020, the few instruments still able to operate by sharing power will be unable to be supported. We’ll be left with nothing more than a tracking signal that can last perhaps as late as 2025.

The Decision to Explore

It’s hard to think of these splendid machines shutting down, but ponder that if they make 2025, that will mark almost fifty years of continuous operation for some of their components. The thinking here is that if a vehicle can survive such a lengthy journey without being specifically designed to do so, an interstellar probe built from the ground up to last a century or more should be well within our capabilities. No, it’s not systems reliability that’s the Achilles’ heel of interstellar flight. As always, it’s propulsion, and that other great imponderable: The will to explore.

Only the latter will determine whether the Voyagers really were a single, magnificent gesture or part of a continuum along which our species will move. Is Ness right that we won’t see the Voyagers’ like in our lifetimes? Here again I think of Stephen Pyne’s book, and an assumption that infuses his coverage:

Voyager’s visionaries looked to the future. They thought of the Voyagers as instruments, and assumed their journey was simply another incremental moment in what would prove to be an irresistible expansion over the solar system and beyond. The Grand Tour mission would be followed by more and better missions. They could not know that Voyager would culminate a golden age, that its trek would be unique, that it might require a distinctive narrative. Even the most culturally sensitive such as Sagan looked only outward and forward. They imagined, in Emerson’s phrasing, a continued succession of ‘new lands, new men, new ideas.’

Norm Haynes, who was project manager for the Voyager 2 Neptune encounter, said of the event, “It wasn’t a once in a lifetime experience. It was a one-time experience.” Is he right? Is Pyne right that the Voyagers marked not the beginning but the end of a great era of exploration? These are troubling thoughts to those of us who believe that expanding into the Solar System and beyond is crucial not only for the good of the human spirit but for the very survival of our species. But long-term projects are guided by the decisions and the will of those who conceive and nurture them. The question now is whether we have the will to keep pushing, Voyager style, into the dark.