Pumpktris: Fully Playable Tetris in a Jack-o-Lantern

Today is Halloween, and in the spirit of the holiday, I wanted to showcase the coolest thing I’ve seen this week: jack-o-lantern Tetris. It’s fully playable! Just watch the video below.

 

Nathan Pryor describes the elaborate process of putting the whole thing together on his blog:

What do you get when you combine a pumpkin with the classic video game Tetris? Pumpktris! Fully playable, embedded in a pumpkin, and with the stem serving as a controller. Watch the video below to see it in action, then read on for the development story.

Absolutely amazing. Highly recommended reading the details if the inner nerd in you is interested in how the whole thing was assembled.

Geoff Manaugh’s Tribute to Architect Lebbeus Woods

Geoff Manaugh pens a beautiful tribute to Lebbeus Woods, who died on October 30, 2012. I hadn’t heard of Lebbeus before, but Geoff’s remembrance of the man is spectacular, and made me curious to find out more:

Architecture, for Lebbeus, was a kind of counter-balance, a—I’m going to use the word—religious accounting for this lack of center elsewhere, this lack of world. It was a kind of factoring of the zero, to throw out a meaningless phrase: it was the realization that there is nothing on offer for us here, the realization that the instant we trust something it will be shaken loose in great convulsions of seismicity, that cities will fall—to war or to hurricanes—that subways will flood, that entire continents will be unmoored, split in two, terribly and irreversibly, as something maddeningly and wildly, in every possible sense outside of human knowledge, something older and immeasurable, violently shudders and wakes up, leaps again into the foreground and throws us from its back in order to walk on impatiently and destructively without us. 

Something ancient and out of view will rapidly come back into focus and destroy all the cameras we use to film it. This is the premise of Lebbeus’s earthquake, Lebbeus’s terrestrial event outside measured comprehensibility, Lebbeus’s state of war.

Because what I like about Lebbeus’s work is its nearly insane honesty, its straight-ahead declaration that nothing—genuinely and absolutely nothing—is here to welcome us or accept us or say yes to us. That there is no solid or lasting ground to build anything on, let alone anything out there other than ourselves expecting us to build it. 

Architecture is thus an act—a delirious and amazing act—of construction for no reason at all in the literal sense that architecture is outside rational calculation. That is, architecture—capital-A architecture, sure—must be seen, in this context, as something more than just supplying housing or emergency shelter; architecture becomes a nearly astronomical gesture, in the sense that architecture literally augments the planetary surface. Architecture increases (or decreases) a planet’s base habitability. It adds something new to—or, rather, it complexifies—the mass and volume of the universe. It even adds time: B is separated from C by nothing, until you add a series of obstacles, lengthening the distance between them. That series of obstacles—that elongated and previously non-existent sequence of space-time—is architecture.

For the pointer, I thank Steve Silberman, who described the eulogy as stunning and majestic. A must-read in its entirety, even if you don’t care whatsoever for architecture.

Geoff Manaugh’s eulogy is one of those pieces which you must read for the writing. The first time I profiled something like this was Brian Phillips’s “Pelé as a Comedian.”

Jack Dorsey, Charlie Chaplin of Technologists

I love this Wall Street Journal profile of Jack Dorsey, co-founder of Twitter and Square. The Journal likens him to Charlie Chaplin of technologists, and based on what I’ve read about him, the analogy seems apt:

[Jack Dorsey] works standing up at an immaculate, clutter-free table in the center of the wide-open office, typing alone on his iPad, easily accessible to colleagues who can informally sidle up and ask him questions. His daily uniform includes dainty Repetto shoes from France (because, as he recently tweeted, they are “light” and “graceful”) and special open-collared shirts, the provenance of which he refuses to identify (“halfway between a Nehru and a priest’s collar,” as he describes them). This allows him to convey enough formality for meetings, yet frees him from the constriction of wearing ties. He encourages midday strolls outside Square’s offices as a means of inspiration. He leads groups of employees on exploratory excursions to museums or across the Golden Gate Bridge.

A man of widely varied interests, Dorsey is a genuine eccentric—not a mere collector of affectations. He treats his obsessions more as callings than as hobbies. When young, he studied botanical illustration under the tutelage of a master at the Missouri Botanical Garden, gazing for hours at the contours of gingko leaves. He later became fascinated by bespoke denim and enrolled in fashion design classes. Perhaps most bizarrely, he devoted himself for a solid year to the art of massage therapy, after dealing with sore wrists from too much coding. “I was ready to do massage for the rest of my life,” he says. “I tried to convince a nightclub owner in St. Louis to let me give people chair massages at the edge of the dance floor, wearing all white clothes and white clogs. He thought it was a terrible idea, so I went back to programming.” To protect his wrists, he trained himself to type in Dvorak—a keyboard alignment that is ergonomically superior to Qwerty.

Dorsey delves deeply and intensely into whatever piques his curiosity, on the theory that innovation happens when disparate thoughts mesh. “It’s important to demystify the term. Innovation is just reinvention and rethinking. I don’t think there’s anything truly, organically new in this world. It’s just mash-ups of all these things that provide different perspectives—that allow you to think in a completely different way, which allows you to work in a different way.”

One of the most fascinating men in Tech, I appreciate Dorsey’s curatorial ability:

Thus he carefully curates the cultural intake of his employees, in hopes that unfamiliar concepts might be distilled into something new. It’s why he screens films: Modern Times for its economy of expression; Bullitt for its stark, empty compositions; Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory for its depiction of a company that packages delight and surprise.

In a prominent spot near Square’s welcome lobby stands a communal bookshelf where employees place reading material for their colleagues to peruse and borrow. Most titles lining the shelves cover subjects you might expect at a high-flying tech startup: inspirational CEO biographies, trend-gazing futurist tomes and guides to effective management technique. And then there are books placed on the shelf by Dorsey. He offers up Wabi-Sabi for Artists, Designers, Poets & Philosophers—an explication of the Japanese concept of serendipitous beauty. He suggests Ernest Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea for its concision. (Papa Hemingway might have thrived under Twitter’s 140-character constraint.)

Read the whole thing.

Jack Dorsey

Having redefined the communications and payments industries, Dorsey wants to tackle health next. I can’t wait to see what he comes up with. It’s bound to be brilliant.

How Wall Street Bankers Handled Sandy

This Bloomberg piece details how those on Wall Street handled Hurricane (Superstorm) Sandy. It’s slightly (perhaps very) disconcerting, as these people turned to $1,000 wine, delivered sushi, and Monopoly games:

“I had to go to the wine cellar and find a good bottle of wine and drink it before it goes bad,” Murry Stegelmann, 50, a founder of investment-management firm Kilimanjaro Advisors LLC, wrote in an e-mail after he lost power at 6 p.m. on Oct. 29 in Darien, Connecticut.

The bottle he chose, a 2005 Chateau Margaux, was given 98 points by wine critic Robert Parker and is on sale at the Westchester Wine Warehouse for $999.99.

“Outstanding,” Stegelmann said. He started the day with green tea at Starbucks, talking with neighbors about the New York Yankees’ future and moving boats to the parking lot of Darien’s Middlesex Middle School.

You have to click to read the rest. Using fax machines? No dumpling bar at JP Morgan? Wall Street had it rough.

State of the Blogosphere: Not for You, But for Google

Michael Robinson thinks the Web is a mess. I don’t disagree with him:

Go back to that favorite blog you abandoned when you realized you couldn’t keep up. You’ll find that it posts between 40 and 100 things a day. It’s no coincidence. Let’s face it: no person can keep up with that kind of volume on more than one blog and stay sane. You might be able to follow one or two, but not much more than that if you have anything else to do during the day.

These blogs don’t do it for you.  They do it for Google. They flood every keyword you might put into a search engine to deny that traffic to any blog that dares to compete with a low volume of high quality content.

I’m going to let you in on the dirty little secret: digital publishing lost its mind. The mind that kept the quality high and the volume low. The mind that cared about your time, and only shared the best with you. That mind is gone, lost in the mad dash for advertising dollars, trampled under diminishing CPMs and acquisitions that ripped editorial control away from the people who built your favorite sites.

Most top blogs don’t deserve the top slot anymore. All they do is generate a flood of shallow writing, hoping to collect all the traffic from people searching for news. I’ve seen this effect on a smaller scale when I write posts on events in the news. I’ll instantly get 20-100 hits on the topic, and enjoy a small spike in traffic over the following few days as the story runs its course. Now imagine you’re running a huge website with plenty of poorly or unpaid writers to flood every news topic with content.

I’ve once tried using an RSS reader but quit after a few days because my stream was flooded with hundreds of new posts. How do I sift through all that content?

The answer was simple for me: compile a list of twenty to thirty blogs/sites I consistently rely upon and check in on them every so often by loading them in my browser. But the best sifter of quality content over the past year has been via my curated Twitter feed.

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Question for the reader: How do you deal with information overload these days?

The Dueling Analytical and Empathetic Networks in the Brain

A new paper in NeuroImage by Anthony Jack, Abigal Dawson, et al. suggests that there are two dueling (reciprocal) pathways in the brain: social vs. physical. From the abstract:

Two lines of evidence indicate that there exists a reciprocal inhibitory relationship between opposed brain networks. First, most attention-demanding cognitive tasks activate a stereotypical set of brain areas, known as the task-positive network and simultaneously deactivate a different set of brain regions, commonly referred to as the task negative or default mode network. Second, functional connectivity analyses show that these same opposed networks are anti-correlated in the resting state. We hypothesize that these reciprocally inhibitory effects reflect two incompatible cognitive modes, each of which is directed towards understanding the external world. Thus, engaging one mode activates one set of regions and suppresses activity in the other. We test this hypothesis by identifying two types of problem-solving task which, on the basis of prior work, have been consistently associated with the task positive and task negative regions: tasks requiring social cognition, i.e., reasoning about the mental states of other persons, and tasks requiring physical cognition, i.e., reasoning about the causal/mechanical properties of inanimate objects. Social and mechanical reasoning tasks were presented to neurologically normal participants during fMRI. Each task type was presented using both text and video clips. Regardless of presentation modality, we observed clear evidence of reciprocal suppression: social tasks deactivated regions associated with mechanical reasoning and mechanical tasks deactivated regions associated with social reasoning. These findings are not explained by self-referential processes, task engagement, mental simulation, mental time travel or external vs. internal attention, all factors previously hypothesized to explain default mode network activity. Analyses of resting state data revealed a close match between the regions our tasks identified as reciprocally inhibitory and regions of maximal anti-correlation in the resting state. These results indicate the reciprocal inhibition is not attributable to constraints inherent in the tasks, but is neural in origin. Hence, there is a physiological constraint on our ability to simultaneously engage two distinct cognitive modes.

Basically: being (overly) empathetic represses analytic thought, and vise versa. Science Daily summarizes:

When the analytic network is engaged, our ability to appreciate the human cost of our action is repressed.

At rest, our brains cycle between the social and analytical networks. But when presented with a task, healthy adults engage the appropriate neural pathway, the researchers found.

The study shows for the first time that we have a built-in neural constraint on our ability to be both empathetic and analytic at the same time.

The work suggests that established theories about two competing networks within the brain must be revised. More, it provides insights into the operation of a healthy mind versus those of the mentally ill or developmentally disabled.

This is quite fascinating. Clearly, more research on this topic is warranted and will continue, but for now, this is preliminary food for thought.

The Most Cheerful Story from the Hurricane Sandy Aftermath

When I first read the story about Mitik, an orphaned baby walrus transplanted to the New York Aquarium, I couldn’t resist saying: “Aww, how cute.” Just look at him:

How adorable is this guy?

So after reading all the devastating news about Hurricane Sandy, this was the most cheerful news I’ve come across today, courtesy of The New York World:

The entire 14 acres of the New York Aquarium in Coney Island was underwater after Hurricane Sandy hit on Monday evening — soaking human staff and one very large baby under their care.

Aquarium employees remained onsite when the storm made landfall Monday evening and stayed through the night. There they were able watch over the aquarium’s newest inhabitant, the 236-pound walrus baby Mitik. The calf arrived earlier in the month from Alaska, and Jim Breheny, executive vice president of the aquarium, said his care hadn’t been interrupted by the flooding.

Remarkable perseverance by the New York Aquarium employees and what a great story!

Instagram, Foursquare, Facebook: Ten Nyman on Packaged Lives

Ted Nyman hypothesizes in his post “The Horrible Future of Social” that our obsession with digital services is cheapening our lives:

We have begun to pollute and desecrate and cheapen all of our experiences. We are creating neat little life-boxes for everything, all tied up with a geo-tag, a photo, a check-in; our daily existence transformed into database entries in some NoSQL database on some spinning disk in some rack in suburban Virginia.

The end-game is this. Slowly, gradually, without realizing: we stop participating in our own lives. We become spectators, checking off life achievements for reasons we do not know. At some point, everything we do is done soley to broadcast these things to casual friends, stalkers, and sycophants.

It’s a profound observation.

Today, I got my first Mayorship badge on FourSquare. But I didn’t know how to feel about it. Was it an actual accomplishment? A momentary boost of ego, sure, but what does it matter a week from now? A month? A year?

On Oysters and Hurricanes

Paul Greenberg, writing for The New York Times op-ed, explains how oysters could have protected the New York harbor from the devastating storm surge caused by Hurricane (tropical storm) Sandy:

Until European colonists arrived, oysters took advantage of the spectacular estuarine algae blooms that resulted from all these nutrients and built themselves a kingdom. Generation after generation of oyster larvae rooted themselves on layers of mature oyster shells for more than 7,000 years until enormous underwater reefs were built up around nearly every shore of greater New York.

Just as corals protect tropical islands, these oyster beds created undulation and contour on the harbor bottom that broke up wave action before it could pound the shore with its full force. Beds closer to shore clarified the water through their assiduous filtration (a single oyster can filter as much as 50 gallons of water a day); this allowed marsh grasses to grow, which in turn held the shores together with their extensive root structure.

But 400 years of poor behavior on the part of humans have ruined all that. As Mark Kurlansky details in his fine book The Big Oyster, during their first 300 years on these shores colonists nearly ate the wild creatures out of existence. We mined the natural beds throughout the waterways of greater New York and burned them down for lime or crushed them up for road beds.

Interesting.

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Did you know the expression “The world is your oyster” derives from Shakespeare’s The Merry Wives of Windsor?

Profiting from Hurricane Sandy

Mark Gimein has a short post on Bloomberg, explaining that a typical investor doesn’t really have a chance to profit on Hurricane Sandy:

Another way to take advantage of the downside risk might be to put buy put options on the S&P 500 index. If a lot of folks were doing that, you might expect November put options with a strike price of 1350 or 1375 — that would represent a three or four percent decline in the S&P 500 — to spike upwards. They haven’t.

Recent years have been blockbusters for catastrophically deadly and expensive extreme weather events; Munich Re has some very useful data on this, which show 2011 as a record-setting year for costs of natural disasters (this includes Japan’s Tohoku quake). While a lot of ink has been spilled about the possibility of hedge funds betting on high-impact, low-but-meaningful-probability events like the storm, that’s easier said than done. It’s possible to make a fairly general bet against the insurance industry, or to bet on a sharp drop in the markets.

In practice, however, making a specific bet that would hedge against — or profit from — a weather disaster, is a lot more difficult. There’s not a substantial market for, say, put options on the insurance companies with exposure to Sandy.

If you want to hedge the financial risks of a hurricane, there are not a lot of market tools at your disposal. The main hurricane option for investors, whether ordinary stock pickers or hedge fund traders is the same as for other New Yorkers: shut the windows, turn on the news, and watch the storm’s progress on TV.

Not mentioned: even if you wanted to trade stocks or options, the entire stock market (NYSE, NASDAQ) is closed today and tomorrow. Good luck with that.