Palm founder Jeff Hawkins on neurology, big data, and the future of artificial intelligence
Alexis Madrigal is a senior editor at The Atlantic, where he oversees the Technology channel. He's the author of Powering the Dream: The History and Promise of Green Technology. More
The New York Observer calls Madrigal "for all intents and purposes, the perfect modern reporter." He co-founded Longshot magazine, a high-speed media experiment that garnered attention from The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and the BBC. While at Wired.com, he built Wired Science into one of the most popular blogs in the world. The site was nominated for best magazine blog by the MPA and best science Web site in the 2009 Webby Awards. He also co-founded Haiti ReWired, a groundbreaking community dedicated to the discussion of technology, infrastructure, and the future of Haiti.
He's spoken at Stanford, CalTech, Berkeley, SXSW, E3, and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and his writing was anthologized in Best Technology Writing 2010 (Yale University Press).
Madrigal is a visiting scholar at the University of California at Berkeley's Office for the History of Science and Technology. Born in Mexico City, he grew up in the exurbs north of Portland, Oregon, and now lives in Oakland.
Palm founder Jeff Hawkins on neurology, big data, and the future of artificial intelligence
Dolphins are fascinating. Intelligent and interested in humans, the cetaceans have been part of the entertainment business since long before Sea World. In a strange twist, though, captive dolphins are now being pressed into service as psychological healers through a practice known as "dolphin-assisted therapy."
In an essay published today at Aeon, neuroscientist and dolphin researcher Lori Marino, takes us on a trip into a bizarre world in which desperate parents hope that having their autistic or developmentally delayed children spend time with dolphins will change them.
The idea has its roots in the research of John C. Lilly, a dolphin scientist and countercultural guru, who had some strange ideas about the powers of the species, such as they were telepathic. His methods were equally unorthodox. His team gave LSD to dolphins and, Marino delicately claims, Lilly "encouraged" a research assistant into sexual acts with a dolphin. Here, he describes one research project involving the drug ketamine in an interview gave at 76:
[T]he dolphin's life is probably as complicated as ours. But what about their spiritual life? Can they get out of their bodies and travel? Are they extraterrestrials? I asked those kinds of questions. Most people wouldn't ask them.
So I took ketamine by the tank at Marine World in Redwood City. I got in to the rank and I had a microphone near my head and an underwater speaker that went down into the dolphin tank. My microphone hit their loudspeaker under water. So I waited. Then I began to feel that I was in direct contact with them and as soon as I felt that one of them whistled, a long whistle, and it went from my feet right up to my head. I went straight out of my body. They took me to the dolphin group mind. Boy, that was scary! I shouted and carried on. I said, "I can't even handle one dolphin, much less a group mind of dolphins!"
So instead of that they put me into a whale group mind and when you have an experience like that, you realize that some of the LSD experiences may have been in those group minds, not in outer space at all. Since then I suspect that they're all ready to talk and carry on with us if we were not so blind. So we open up pathways to them with ketamine, with LSD, with swimming with them, with falling in love with them and them falling in love with us. All the non-scientific ways.
While some peer-reviewed studies seemed to show dolphin therapy caused improvements in children, Marino's review of the literature found every single one had severe methodological problems.
While not always promising a cure, DAT facilities clearly market themselves as offering real therapy as opposed to recreation. Under minimal standards, authentic therapy must have some relationship to a specific condition and result in measurable remedial effects. By contrast, DAT proponents cite evidence that is, more accurately, anecdotal, offering a range of explanations for its purported efficacy, from increased concentration to brainwave changes, to the positive physiological effects of echolocation (high-frequency dolphin sonar) on the human body. Parents of autistic children and others who appear to benefit from DAT believe that these explanations are scientifically plausible. The photos of smiling children and the emotional testimonials from once-desperate parents are hard to resist. Even those sceptical of DAT's scientific validity often just shrug and say: 'What's the harm?' In the worst-case scenario a child who typically knows little enjoyment and accomplishment in life can find joy, a little bit of self-efficacy and connection with others for what is sometimes the first time in his life. But amid all the self-justification, the question most often left out is: what about the dolphins?
And the dolphins, Marino argues, are self-aware, intelligent, and generally unhappy about their captivity. They die from "gastric ulcers, infections and other stress and immune-related diseases." All of which delivers the central tragedy of her essay. "I understand that desperate people will continue to visit DAT facilities for help with their own illnesses," she concludes. "Sadly, they may never realise that the dolphins they seek help from are likely to be as psychologically and physically traumatised as they are."
Vine is hard to explain. It's an app that lets you make and share six-second videos, which sounds absurd. But it's kind of fun, and especially since being acquired by Twitter, it has grown in popularity, hitting 13 million users earlier this month, especially among the kids, a technical term meaning "anyone younger than me."
So what are people doing on Vine? John Muellerleile wanted to find out, and he crawled Twitter looking for links to Vines, and then pulled four million of them into a database he calls vinecrawler. (Vine user post 12 million videos a day to Twitter, so this is just a small sample.)
Muellerleile sifted through all these vines in building his tool, and he discovered (to his apparent surprise) that lots of people outside Silicon Valley are using the tool.
A lot of people use Vine. I'm not talking about us dopes here in Silicon Valley, I mean actual people. All different walks of life, geographies, incomes; all genders, ages, races, backgrounds. They use it in all kinds of ways, sometimes hilarious, ridiculous, or strange, but all decidedly human. There is also some kind of fixation with Jay-Z, and I approve...
What I really found was humanity; all shapes, sizes, colors, and places, all things. When I find that, in the way I've found it through Vine, in one place, using one simple thing, I'm reminded that when we get the technology right, top to bottom -- like pointing at something, in the moment, that you want to remember and share-- it spreads everywhere, it's natural, fundamentally intuitive to use, possibly magical in operation, like magnets, or gravity, or maybe even a little bit like life.
The thing that stands out to me, both in my earlier investigations and looking at vinecrawler, is the age of Viners. From what I have seen, Vine's got a higher teenage-to-adult ratio than the mall food court on a summer afternoon. I don't know quite what to make of it yet, but I have a feeling that Vine might be the first form of social media that makes late 20s/early 30s "digital natives" feel like they emigrated.
And while it might feel like Vine is some weird, porny, dadaist mistake of a media form, woe be unto the media analyst who ignores what the kids are into. While not every teenage/college craze goes mainstream, I'll give you three good examples of things that propagated from the kids outwards: Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat. Keep Vine on your radar, that's all I'm saying. Just look at this Vine of a pug doing the "Thriller" dance. Can you deny this genius?
It's been two weeks since the Washington Post and Guardian newspapers began to publish their stories based on leaks and interviews with former NSA contractor, Edward Snowden. The leaks have continued, counterleaks have bubbled up, tech companies have responded, and debate about the man at the center of it all continues to rage.
Three big stories -- one from the AP, one from NPR, and another from the Post -- came out this weekend that mined the details of Snowden's disclosures, refining them with more extensive reporting. The New York Times contributed a deep profile of Snowden himself, who continues to provoke strong reactions, especially after he revealed some details about U.S. spying on China and Russia.
Following, we attempt to bring you up to speed with the most recent disclosures and best reporting on the hurlyburly.
One note before we get to the stories: Snowden's two big disclosures have tended to get conflated. First, Snowden leaked a secret order from the Foreign Intelligence Service Court giving the government broad powers to collect phone call metadata from Verizon Business Services. Senator Dianne Feinstein acknowledged the program and said it had been going on for years. The legal basis for the data collection comes from an interpretation of Section 215 of the Patriot Act, which allows the government to take any "business records" it might want, and because phone calls are considered business transactions between a phone user and a phone network, such information falls under its purview. Civil liberties groups like the ACLU have decried this version of the rules.
Snowden's other big disclosure, published nearly simultaneously in the Guardian and Washington Post, was that the NSA had what was called "direct access" to servers at the big tech companies like Google, Microsoft, Facebook, Apple, and Yahoo through a program called Prism. The tech companies vociferously denied involvement in broad government surveillance of their users. A central problem is that "direct access" could mean a lot of things. Which brings us to our first story.
Putting Snowden's Disclosures in Context
The AP found sources willing to talk about the conception of the Prism program. Tech company sources said that what started as an unstructured mess of information flowing from tech companies to the government after 9/11 turned into a "streamlined, electronic process." That's Prism.
This frenetic, manual process was the forerunner to Prism, the recently revealed highly classified National Security Agency program that seizes records from Internet companies. As laws changed and technology improved, the government and industry moved toward a streamlined, electronic process, which required less time from the companies and provided the government data in a more standard format.
But the report also sought to put Prism's importance in the context of the type of spying that we've known the NSA has done for years: tapping into telecommunications servers that handle a very large percentage of the world's Internet traffic.
In that way, Prism helps justify specific, potentially personal searches. But it's the broader operation on the Internet fiber optics cables that actually captures the data, experts agree.
In other words, the structured data that the NSA gets from searching small numbers of users aids its targeting within the massive amounts of Internet traffic it's hoovering up. And "direct access," in context, was probably intended to mean data from companies themselves as opposed to siphoned from telecom Internet traffic.
The Washington Post had another big story by Barton Gellman documenting how four different NSA programs sprang from the Bush administration's STELLARWIND program. They are called MAINWAY, MARINA, NUCLEON, and PRISM. Gellman spoke with an anonymous "senior intelligence official," who provided some information on what the programs do and what policies regulate their use.
Two of the four collection programs, one each for telephony and the Internet, process trillions of "metadata" records for storage and analysis in systems called MAINWAY and MARINA, respectively. Metadata includes highly revealing information about the times, places, devices and participants in electronic communication, but not its contents. The bulk collection of telephone call records from Verizon Business Services, disclosed this month by the British newspaper the Guardian, is one source of raw intelligence for MAINWAY.
The other two types of collection, which operate on a much smaller scale, are aimed at content. One of them intercepts telephone calls and routes the spoken words to a system called NUCLEON.
For Internet content, the most important source collection is the PRISM project reported on June 6 by The Washington Post and the Guardian. It draws from data held by Google, Yahoo, Microsoft and other Silicon Valley giants, collectively the richest depositories of personal information in history.
So how does PRISM work, technically?
The New York Time's Claire Cain Miller reported that "in some cases, the data is transmitted to the government electronically, using a company's servers." Which makes sense, obviously, but left in question the actual method of transfer. Wired's Kim Zetter reports that, at least at Google, the company transfers files to the government using secure FTP. It's possible that other companies have different ways of getting information to the NSA.
The Tech Companies Respond
The string of events set off by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden has led us to this: Facebook, Microsoft, and Apple have released numbers on how often government officials request their users' data. The companies have released aggregate numbers for how many requests they've received from all levels of government, and the total number of user accounts that has affected.
For the last six months of 2012, Facebook and Microsoft say they've received between 9,000-10,000 and 6,000-7,000 government requests, respectively. Those requests covered 18,000-19,000 Facebook users and 31,000-32,000 Microsoft users. For the six months ended in May, Apple says that it received 4,000-5,000 government requests, which specified 9,000-10,000 accounts or devices.
No matter how you slice them, these numbers show that the data the NSA has requested is relatively limited in scope. For each service, a tiny sliver of users has been targeted.
On the other hand, it's still unclear how many users would ultimately be swept up in these data requests. Imagine that the government wanted to know all a particular users' friends, and then all of those friends' friends. Pew found that the median user's friends of friends network was over 30,000 people strong with some power users reaching over seven million. Go one step farther out and you'd be connecting in massive numbers of users.
Meanwhile, Google and Twitter maintain that the deal their competitors reached with the government on the data releases is a bad one. They want to be able to disaggregate the numbers and release orders differently, including those from the FISA court.
The Details of the NSA's Phone Call Metadata Collection, According to the Government
NPR spoke with a senior administration official who said the Obama administration was mulling declassifying a secret order that spelled out how and when the NSA could collect phone metadata. The key details confirmed in the report were that the NSA only stores metadata for five years and that the NSA says it doesn't use location data, even though it has the legal right to collect it. Procedurally, the administration official said that the standards for reasonable suspicion are approved by a court, but individual queries are not. Rather, there's an auditing program in place.
The senior administration official told NPR that the phone-call records can be kept only for five years and that the NSA does not use that program to keep data that would allow authorities to track where people are located when they're using their phones. The source said even though the NSA may have that power to collect the geolocation data under the law and the secret court's rulings, the NSA does not use it.
To query the huge pools of metadata, authorities say they need to have a reasonable, articulable suspicion of an association with a terrorism organization. That standard is approved by the FISA court but the court does not review each query. Rather, the senior administration official said, the queries are documented and a sample of them is audited by the Justice Department's National Security Division and the Director of National Intelligence.
Who is Edward Snowden?
I can't bring myself to link you to the bloviating about Snowden's position on the hero/"grandiose narcissist"/traitor, but the New York Times had a good, reported profile of Snowden from a friend at his high school, as well as later associates.
His act may have been a spectacular unintended consequence of the leak crackdown itself. It may also have reflected his own considerable ambition, disguised by his early drifting. From Mr. Snowden's friends and his own voluminous Web postings emerges a portrait of a talented young man who did not finish high school but bragged online that employers "fight over me."
Snowden, himself, answered questions in a live chat with The Guardian. Most noteworthy is that he denied having any contact with China, saying he only works with journalists.
Who is General Keith Alexander, the head of the NSA?
James Bamford, perhaps the foremost chronicler of the agency, has a massive Wired cover story out about Alexander, who has become one of the most powerful people in the world, despite his nearly nonexistent public profile.
Inside the government, the general is regarded with a mixture of respect and fear, not unlike J. Edgar Hoover, another security figure whose tenure spanned multiple presidencies. "We jokingly referred to him as Emperor Alexander--with good cause, because whatever Keith wants, Keith gets," says one former senior CIA official who agreed to speak on condition of anonymity. "We would sit back literally in awe of what he was able to get from Congress, from the White House, and at the expense of everybody else."
Could NSA Spying Lead to 'Internet nationalism'?
The Internet is dominated by American companies, who are not operating solely in cybersapce but on American soil. While American citizens may have some protection from NSA spying, the rest of the world's people do not. CNN ran an opinion piece by Canadian political scientist Ronald Deibert, who argued that there will be blowback from the spying revelations. While Google, Facebook, and the rest might have been primarily seen as just Internet companies before, it will be harder to ignore that they're American Internet companies going forward.
The revelations that have emerged will undoubtedly trigger a reaction abroad as policymakers and ordinary users realize the huge disadvantages of their dependence on U.S.-controlled networks in social media, cloud computing, and telecommunications, and of the formidable resources that are deployed by U.S. national security agencies to mine and monitor those networks.
During Apple's keynote at its Worldwide Developers Conference, it was all Apple all the time, except for one quick demo near the beginning of the event. The CEO of a relatively obscure company (as obscure as a company with $50 million in funding can be) came on stage with a plastic track and a bunch of little cars. They proceeded to race each other, controlled by AI running on an iPhone. There was a brief hiccup when one of the cars wouldn't run, but it got fixed and the demo finished well.
It was cool, but it was also a bit confounding. What was Apple trying to tell us about its future plans by showing us this particular company? Right after the keynote, one of the company's PR people emailed me to ask if I wanted to meet with Anki's CEO Boris Sofman, a Carnegie Mellon robotics guy (as are his two cofounders Hanns Tappeiner and Mark Palatucci). I accepted, mostly so I could find out what got Apple so excited about this little toy startup.
Of course, they'd hate to be called a toy startup. For Sofman, entertainment, toys, are merely the quickest way to get robotics into consumers' lives. He argues that their product is doing a lot of the same fundamental things that autonomous vehicles and other types of near-future consumer robots do. And that they're merely taking the bottom-up approach to building out these futuristic capabilities.
What follows is a lightly edited and condensed record of our conversation, which took place in a building on 4th and Market in San Francisco, on a floor high above the Ross department store at ground level.
We don't go into a lot of depth about the demo itself, but if you'd like to see it, go here and skipt to about 11 minutes into the presentation.
So, I saw the demo.
It was probably the longest 20 seconds of my life.
You guys were the only outside company at the keynote.
Only outside company this year. This might be the last time they try a wireless demo at WWDC.
I think it was Marco Arment who was tweeting that it was really interesting and kind of strange that they put you guys in there, given that it was such a packed 2 hours of Apple announcements. What do you think it was that got you onto the stage?
I think a big part of it was that there is a lot of overlap in what we're doing and Apple's motivations. We're a robotics and artificial intelligence company. Our focus is to bring these technologies to consumer products. For Anki Drive, mobile devices play a huge part of that. The phone becomes the brain for everything that's happening. We have a video game happening inside a phone that matches the physical world. For us, the phone is a huge advantage.
From Apple's standpoint, it wasn't just a neat product, but we're using their devices in a way that nobody ever has. What you saw was one phone connected to four simultaneous cars. When we do it on our end, you can have 6 cars and more devices. You'll have a phone that's juggling 5,6,7,8 Bluetooth low-energy connections and no one has ever done that before.
It caught their attention because it highlights what you can do with their product ecosystem in a way that no one's ever done before.
When the super car wouldn't get going during the demo, what was happening there?
What happened, when I was holding the car up, the light was green, that means it had disconnected already. That room had so much wireless interference and signal noise strength. We found out afterwards, it was four times anything they had tested or expected. That had never happened before. Once a Bluetooth low-energy connection is made, it's incredibly robust. It doesn't get dropped.
We really quickly restarted the app and reconnected and it held the second time through.
So when you held the car up, did you know that the connection had been been dropped already?
No, because I was holding it up facing away from me. I would have gasped and not been able to finish my monologue. When I pushed it and it didn't snap on, it was because the connection had been dropped. When I saw the green light, I knew. You can hear me say, "Restart" and then I'm like tapdancing for 10 seconds waiting for it to pick up again. A little drama is perfectly fine as long as it works out. It took me like half the rest of the show to stop shaking. I mentally snapped back into it sometime during the iOS stuff.
Talk to me about the funding.
We closed our Series-A back with Andreesen Horowitz last March. We were 4 people back then. We walked in and Marc Andreesen was like a little kid, flicking the cars on the floor. He fell in love with it. he actually joined our board back then, which was humbling. From then, it's been an insanely crazy year, it's like strapping into a rollercoaster. We're now 35 people.
How'd you guys really get on stage?
Marc was the one who introduced us to Apple early on because that was a retail channel that was a good fit for what we wanted to do. We were just super happy to get the amazing response all the way through the [Apple] organization up to the executive team. I think they saw the great synergy between what we're doing and what they're doing.
What do you need all those people for?
It was three of us for a long time. It wasn't glamorous. We were sitting around a kitchen and hacking on nights and weekends. In the first three years, we were able to get really advanced advanced prototypes. It was the furthest you could go without some serious investment. Once you want to take it from an advanced prototype to an advanced product, it takes a lot of people.
For us, this is the first step of bringing this kind of robotics into people's lives, in this case entertainment. When you look at what goes into Anki Drive, what goes into this is: industrial design, mechanical engineering, electrical engineering, embedded systems, low-level firmware development, control algorithms, dealing with sensors, wireless communications, core robotics, artificial intelligence, mobile development, game development. Just getting the product together is a huge chain. Even with 30 other people, we're really thin. There's only one person in each of those categories. Recently, we brought on a manufacturing team, who is working on sourcing all these parts.
As an artificial intelligence guy, what attracted you to this project?
When we were in grad school, we all worked on really cool projects. I'll give you an example. My project was a huge autonomous vehicle, like wheels up to my shoulders. Completely off-road. We'd go to different parts of the country, plop it down in a forest and give it a destination 10 kilometers away. He [the vehicle] would be using aerial data, GPS sensors on-board, pathfinding algorithms. He'd have 8 quadcore CPUs in his little hull. He'd decide where to go, which bushes to trample, and how to get ditches and trees. He'd be moving pretty quickly. We had a chase Hummer and we couldn't keep up with him sometimes.
That was incredible technology, but it's indicative of a lot of robotics. It's focused on space applications, on DARPA, on industrial, on agricultural, on health care. But nothing has penetrated consumer markets.
When we say robotics, it's not just the mechanical part of it. It's the artificial-intelligence side of it where we're using software to program physical things to be intelligence. And it's not just a remote-controlled object. It's something that understands where it is and reacts to its surroundings and has a purpose to it.
For us, there's a huge gap in consumer applications of these technologies. The problem is that everybody focuses on performance, but it doesn't matter to them if you use a $50,000 sensor to do it. So for us, entertainment was a really great place to start. It's familiar, it's friendly, it's fun. And in the case of cars, there's a cross-generational appeal. Two-year-olds and 92-year-olds like cars. It was a chance to showcase these technologies and bring them to life in a way that is familiar in the form of a racing game, but an entirely different entertainment experience, doing things that have never been possible in the physical world.
This becomes a first step in using these technologies. Internally, these are building blocks to robotics in the more general case. The core problems in robotics -- positioning, knowing where you are, reasoning, using that information to make intelligent decisions, planning searching, deciding what you need to do, and the execution where you need to move precisely in the real world -- those carry over into any application in the real world. So when we build modules for wireless communication or planning, we will reuse those in every product we make.
Were you influenced by the "situated robotics" guys like [MIT professor and iRobot co-founder, now CEO of Heartland robotics] Rodney Brooks? Because at some level, this is just a racing game. The computer's ability to race you is the least interesting part because we've been able to do that since ExciteBike. The interesting thing seems to be what changes when you take the racing game out of the virtual world into the physical world.
Rodney Brooks did some incredible things and I interned at iRobot before graduate school. But for us, we have a lot of influences. Here's how we're approaching it. You could take the top-down approach to robotics or the bottom-up approach... The bottom-up approach is taking the building blocks available today -- the most advanced technologies, components, and technological landscapes -- and making an incredible product and then using that to make products two, three, four, five, and six. And every single time, you're using what you built before, making product three only marginally more difficult than product one. Where, if you started with product three, it'd be an insurmountable challenge.
But what does change when you pull the racing game out of the purely digital world? What's really different going on watching Anki Drive versus watching ExciteBike?
It's a completely different experience. You think about the toy industry. It's been pretty stagnant. In the '60s and '70s, the toys back then are like 90 percent of the toys today. But the real appeal that's made it a lasting element is that there is this appeal to the physical world. There's a built-in desire for people to connect with things they can touch. It's more social. It's not as natural to look at something on the screen. You'll never replicate the connection you can make with something you touch. The reason people are so attached to video games and they are so entertaining is that they take advantage of the fact that there are adaptive rules and structures. There are characters and those characters evolve. The world expands. The game changes over time and gets more challenging. But the biggest thing is that there are many characters and the interactions between characters keeps things fun. Nobody has been able to bring that into the physical world in the right way. So almost all physical entertainment is static or remote-controlled with only one-way feedback. When you close the loop, you can bring physical characters to life. You can give them a purpose, evolve over time, get more challenging, and get more capabilities because it's software driving the whole thing.
Early Nintendo games took a big jump in the sort of entertainment that was possible. To us, this feels like a huge leap forward in what you can do in the physical world and it's only the beginning. It goes way beyond racing games. We're giving physical characters the ability to know where they're located in an environment and what's around them and to be able to come to life and execute a person, intention, a personality. That's a platform in every sense of the word. We can bring characters to life in any context and the racing game happens to be a great place to start.
And the reason you're starting with a racing game is that you've got a track that you can control. This is an easier environment to perceive than an arbitrary environment.
In an arbitrary environment, everything changes. For us, the enabler behind this that typical physical products don't have is awareness of your position. The three fundamental challenges of robotics are positioning, reasoning, and execution. It doesn't matter what robotics problem you have, these are the problems you have to solve. You have to understand your position, think about what you want to do, and you have to do it. And that's really difficult because if you want to make something that is a mass producible product like this, you can't throw a $50,000 sensor on it.
And the reasoning part is the only part that racing games have always done.
If you look at a videogame, positioning is trivial because you know where everything is, execution is trivial because you have full control of the environment, and all that's left is the reasoning part. By solving the real world challenges to a really deep degree with artificial intelligence and unique combinations of components and computation, we are able to turn the physical world into a virtual world. We can take all these physical characters and abstract away everything physical about them and treat them as if they were virtual characters in a videogame on the phone. We have a virtual state in the phone that matches the physical world. If we want this one character to be more aggressive or intelligent, physically nothing changes in him. It's the software.
So what hardware goes into these cars?
There is no component in here that costs more than $1.20. We have cheap motors. A battery. A microcontroller, a 50 Mhz computer, and an optical sensor. Ironically [that sensor] is the front facing camera of an iPhone.
The selfie-cam is how this car senses where it is!
What makes this all possible is the commoditization of all these components has driven the cost down to where you can get more capable components at really low cost. And access to mobile devices -- the iPhone wasn't in the picture -- when we started working on this, you couldn't make an app because there was no such thing as an app. The original idea was to have a little box with a computer. But when the phone started gaining traction, it became obvious this was the way to go because for us, software defines the entire interaction. What we're doing with these cars is that they unlock very robust but basic capabilities. It can go 1.5 meters per second. It can sense its position. It can execute a trajectory. But fundamentally all the gameplay is defined in the app in the software on the phone. That means when we ship Anki Drive, that's just the first step.
Can you change the software on the car?
Yes we can. The phone can flash the software on the car. If you look at physical entertainment, it's always been defined by the physical side. Cheap plastics. Maybe sometimes there's some motion or remote control, but we're bringing software into physical entertainment.
I couldn't see the track well enough on the WWDC livestream, but if you've just got one downward facing camera, the track itself must have to have some kind of Kiva-like navigation tracking system embedded.
The track is very specifically designed to work with the cars. There's a really intricate system between the cars, the track, and the phone. What the cars are doing is sensing down on the track, and there is information embedded that gives them knowledge about where they are.
Just X, Y?
Well, and also which environment, because it's possible to have different types of environments. It tells them where they are, but also how well they're executing a [driving] trajectory. You've seen line following robots? Robots that follow a line to go wherever they want. It's doing the same thing except there is no line -- there's a virtualized line where we have sophisticated software that creates any maneuver we want and turns it into a virtual line that the car can follow as if it was physical line.
There's a lot of logic on the car. Five hundred times a second, it oscillates the motors to do sophisticated control algorithms. If we drive too fast, the car will drift and then recover and go back to following the line. We didn't do any drifting on stage, though. Five hundred items a second we're sensing our position and a subset of those times, we're communicating back to the device hosting the game. And we're doing that with components that cost a handful of dollars.
How do the cars come up with their racing strategies?
Inside the phone, we're doing a really deep search, like a chess game, thinking about what the car is going to do, and what the other cars are going to do forward into the future so that we can analyze thousands of these potential actions and come up with a plan that is more sophisticated than anything you'd come up with if you did an instantaneous gut reaction. In fact, [what we do] is a more rigorous way to think about AI than almost any videogame does. I was the one who worked on the early AI on this and I spent a lot of time talking to friends in the videogame industry and asking how people did AI in videogames and racing games. Surprisingly, most of it is relatively simple. If this, then this. It's a basic logic. If you have very basic logic, you'll never come up with an interesting solution to say, you're boxed in, and the best thing is to actually slow down and then come around, or having to do something sneaky.
So, for us, it's a huge advantage to have a physical videogame because all videogames end up piping a lot of their computation into the graphics. And they have to because that's differentiator. And for us, 90% of our computation goes to the planning side. We can do a much more rigorous approach that's driven by a robotics background. We can come up with really sophisticated actions, thinking forward into the future about what these characters are going to do.
How hard is getting the cars to actually do what you want in the physical world?
Execution should not be underestimated. That is really hard because we have to deal with the real world. There's drift, there's physics, there's high-speed driving, there's dust that settles on the tires, and what we're using is two cheap motors that are less than a dollar each and they all vary slightly and change over time. The tires change over time. You can't control something like this precisely without a lot of intelligence and computation. Five hundred times a second, we're oscillating the speeds of the rear to stick like glue to the virtual line.
It was really complicated development, but we've gotten very precise. We're geeks and we actually did the math to see how precise we are now. Extrapolated out to real-world size, it'd be the equivalent of you taking your car and driving down 101 at 250 miles per hour with a concrete wall on either side within a tenth of an inch of your mirrors and being able to stay inside those boundaries. So, even when you are driving a car, the software is still running and doing the same things for you, so it's able to help you drive well beyond your means. And it makes you feel like you are driving with ridiculous precision and ability, which is a core part of the game. That's what levels the playing field. The entire time you're controlling the car, you're getting assistance. All of this robotics and AI and dealing with uncertainty. All of that is such that at some point we started to forget that it is a physical game and we are really programming a videogame that takes place in the real world.
Facebook has a billion users -- and they're about to start seeing hashtags, you know, #these #things. The practice of putting a pound symbol before a key word or phrase or acronym began on Twitter, when one guy, Chris Messina, suggested that Twitter allow them.
On August 25, 2007, Messina wrote up his proposal and posted it to his blog. Here's how he framed it. "I do think that there is certainly some merit to improving contextualization, content filtering and exploratory serendipity within Twitter," he said. "This is a rather messy proposal to that effect."
While people around him were talking about creating official "groups" on Twitter, Messina said he was "more interested in simply having a better eavesdropping experience on Twitter." So, looking around the web landscape at the time, which was quite different, he came up with a simple system that drew on preexisting conventions to create new functionality within Twitter. He imagined that each hashtag would create a (temporary) channel, analogous to an IRC (Internet Relay Chat) channel. Here's his condensed set of arguments for creating this new convention:
it is easily accessible adapting current Twitter syntax and convention, it's easy to learn and lightweight, it's very flexible and entirely folksonomic and works with people's current behaviors, rather than forcing anyone to learn anything radically new. It also keeps the interface aspects to a minimum (as I'll soon explain), invents little by borrowing from age old IRC conventions also adopted by an existing web application and, from what Britt said so far, actually works consistently on cell phones (whereas, for example, the star key does not).
Now, the rest of his proposal goes into a lot more detail, and what he initially envisioned was more robust than what Twitter actually implemented. But wow, was Messina onto something. Hashtags have gone to become an integral part (perhaps too integral a part) of many people's Twitter experiences. And now Facebook, the largest social network on the planet, is going to adopt them.
The history of any invention is complicated, as Messina's foundational post details, but this is one case in which some individual human being -- in the right place at the right time with the right contacts -- came up with something new and watched the whole (online) world adopt it. That's pretty amazing when you think about it.
Update: Wired's Sonal Chokshi reminded me that Messina didn't actually name the hash tag. The closest he came was, "To join a channel, simply add a tag hash (#)" in his suggested usage. The honor for the name goes to Stowe Boyd, who Tweeted on August 25, "I support the hash tag convention."
Eventually people got rid of the space, and "hashtag" was born. Ben Zimmer has all the details.
Last month, the Navy personnel chief sent out a note on behalf of Fleet CyberCommand with an important message: ALL-CAPS COMMUNIQUES WERE NO LONGER NECESSARY.
Since the middle of the 19th century, Naval messages have been typed in just the upper-case, Navy Times reported, but that era finally, mercifully, came to an end. Though not everybody's happy about it.
"You have a lot of folks that have been around for a long time and are used to uppercase and they just prefer that it stay there because of the standardized look of it," James McCarty, a messaging program manager at Fleet Cyber Command told the Times.
My question was: Why use all-caps text at all? It turns out that it's a vestige of the machines that were once used to create and send messages. The Navy was an early adopter of teletype machines, which used a five-bit character to represent letters. The so-called Baudot code only gave them 32 options (2^5), as you can see here, so each and every character was precious. In those limited circumstances, why would you have two identical libraries of letters differing only in case? Well, you wouldn't, and so they didn't.
Of course, we no longer have those limitations and haven't for decades, but in tech, old habits die hard.
Facebook's future depends on succeeding on mobile phones, as questions about Facebook Home at the company's shareholder meeting once again made clear. Whatever Facebook says about the product now, they sold Home hard, and it has not lived up to its billing.
There's a simple, almost mechanical reason that it's hard for Facebook to be as good and user-satisfying on the phone as it is on the desktop: feedback.
On the desktop, Facebook is a machine designed to make itself better. They hoover up data about how you're using every piece of the service. They A/B (or A/X) test every single part of the user experience. Based on all that feedback, they tweak and tweak and tweak. Then, they do it all over again. Disputes can be settled by simply testing alternatives on a small base of users: may the best data win. And they can do all this quickly because on the web, Facebook can change the code any time they damn well please (although mostly once a week on Tuesdays).
Now, think about the mobile world. Apple and Google control distribution. You have to send your app to them and get it approved. You can't send one app to 0.1 percent of your users and then another app to the other 99.9. You can't iterate on your own schedule. In short, they know less and can do less.
Put it all together: the Facebook innovation machine, the most successful engagement machine the web has ever known, does not work in mobile. Some of the company's key success factors are just missing or not possible within the current corporate and technological constraints. And the numbers show that: on the Google Play store, Instagram rates a 4.6, Twitter rates a 4.0. Facebook's apps: the standard mobile app and Home, come in at 3.6 and 3.0. It's not that Facebook is making bad apps, only that their apps are not -- as the website has been -- dominant.
Facebook has to go by feel now. Before a big product release like Home, they mostly can only test on their own employees. And that's a problem. Facebook employees are essentially required to live on Facebook. Unlike many normal people, who spread their presence across many networks -- Pinterest, Tumblr, Twitter, LinkedIn, G+ -- Facebook's employees tend to concentrate their usage within Facebook. When they try something like Facebook Home out, it may be great for them because they mostly want access to Facebook.
I wonder if Facebook employees have actually done *too much* dogfooding, a artful term that means using one's own product. Just to keep the metaphor going: they've developed a palate that doesn't reflect what normal canines might want.
On the web, that didn't matter as much, intuitions could be tested easily and robustly. On mobile, what feels right to Facebook's designers and engineers does matter because there's less data to win arguments with.
For me, that's the best argument for the Instagram acquisition. Kevin Systrom and his team have a great feel for what people want to do on their phones. Can they successfully transfer that phronesis, that "practical wisdom," to Facebook? And if they do, will they be able to retain their independence?
The last few years have seen an explosion in photo editing. In a pre-digital era, changing the tone and feel of your photographs was for professionals. Photoshop made it easy, and Instagram brought those capabilities to the mainstream, for free.
When it comes to another kind of visual -- geographic data represented as maps -- there hasn't been a tool of similar power and simplicity. It has not been easy to make maps look cool.
Enter Stamen Design, perhaps the leading creator of cool-looking maps. And they've built a new tool they call MapStack to bring their methods to the masses. Building on OpenStreetMap, Stamen had already put out maps.stamen.com, which allowed people to create three types of interesting maps. But MapStack takes that idea to the next level. You can create beautiful, custom maps within minutes, drawing on Stamen's design expertise.
"The idea is to make it radically simpler for people to design their own map styles, without having to know any code, install any software, or do any typing. We provide different parts of the map stack, like backgrounds, roads, labels, and satellite imagery, and straightforward controls for manipulating things like color, opacity, and masking," Stamen's CEO Eric Rodenbeck told me in an email. "So within five minutes you can have, say, a map of anywhere in the world with purple satellite buildings and orange roads, if that's your fancy."
I tested out the proposition that one could make a map "with purple satellite buildings and orange roads" in five minutes. I think the San Francisco map below took me three. It's a simple two layer map. On the bottom is a base layer of downtownish San Francisco in a Stamen-designed style called "Toner." (I also inverted its colors; normally it's black on white as in the top image.) Then, on top of it, I added a layer that's just the buildings and made them purple through the slider interface. I hit export and got a 1920x1020 image out. Voila. Below, you can see the two pieces of the map, as well as the finished product at the bottom.
It's not *quite* Instagram simple, but if you understand the basic principles of how layers work in Photoshop, you will be able to make beautiful maps.
"Basically we can do alot of the things that Photoshop and Instagram do with static images and let people do these to maps," Rodenbeck continued, "and [we] think those applications are good metaphors to apply to maps to push the field forward. We think there are some interesting possibilities for letting regular people and designers, not just developers, make the kinds of design decisions that are usually done by cartographers and programmers."
Rodenbeck will be talking about MapStack publicly for the first time today at an Open Street Map conference in San Francisco. Going forward, Stamen plays to launch more map layers, allowing you to single out more specific types of geodata (like the buildings above).
Tom Lee, director of Sunlight Labs, pointed out on Twitter that other companies are working on map creation tools, too, like MapBox's TileMill.
National security reporter Marc Ambinder, who has long been known for his contacts within the intelligence community (he used to work here at The Atlantic), just tweeted what seems like a plausible explanation for how PRISM might function.
His account resolves what has been a remarkably strange situation: Namely, that the government has basically acknowledged the program, yet the capabilities ascribed to PRISM seem incompatible with the full-throated denials of the technology companies who are supposedly working with the government.
The key sticking point was whether or not the government had "direct access" or, as the Washington Post put it, whether the government was "tapping directly" into servers at Google, Facebook, etc.
On the "no direct access"--[content providers]* push to a separate server the subset of accounts that the FISC order covers; NSA monitors them in real time.
Let's say court order says "all Yahoo accounts in Pakistan" Yahoo would push those accounts to the server; NSA could watch them in real time. They'd try & figure who & where the incoming emails were coming from. US persons data minimized automatically if possible (often it's not).
If they're up on a Pak bad guy email and someone in Denver sends that account an email saying "I need more explosives," NSA notifies FBI via a Guardian tip. Then FBI opens prelim investigation to determine if the Denver person is a bad guy & takes over. Of course, to ID the person sending the email to Pakistan, analysis of US persons email might be required. Incidental targeting happens now. And that's how it works. Basically.
* Ambinder originally tweeted that it was ISPs pushed to a separate server, but corrected himself in this tweet. He has also noted that he assumes the court orders are narrower than "all Yahoo accounts in Pakistan."
Yesterday, the Washington Post and The Guardian reported about the existence of a previously secret NSA/FBI program called PRISM. Working largely from a classified PowerPoint, the stories described a program that allowed the government to pull data from Internet companies. Taken at face value, it appeared that the government had a kind of back door to extract information about users of Google, Facebook, Microsoft, and six other companies. While the Director of National Intelligence James Clapper all but acknowledged the program's existence in a statement, he also said the reports contained "numerous inaccuracies" that he did not detail.
The PowerPoint indicated that "the new tool [was] the most prolific contributor to the President's Daily Brief, which cited PRISM data in 1,477 items last year," making it the "raw material" for "nearly 1 in 7 intelligence reports," according to the Post. Yet it supposedly only costs $20 million a year to operate.
There are some things that are simply confounding about the two original reports, including the named companies' stronger-than-expected denial of their involvement, its low price tag, its supposed effectiveness, and how the whole thing might work.
The $20 million is probably hopeful accounting. It may be that the $20 million just paid for some hardware or software and that the real big costs are on another budget. Or it could be that large-scale surveillance is actually really, really inexpensive. Either way, the combination of the low price and big impact make this a central mystery of the project.
Unclear. Of the large tech companies, Twitter has the best track record of protecting user data from the US government. On the other hand, we don't really know why Twitter or Amazon aren't on the list.
Let's say, for the sake of argument, that Twitter (or other entities, say Amazon or PayPal) has been secretly battling the FBI/NSA. What kind of pressure can the authorities apply? Alternatively, what benefits do these technology companies receive if they cooperate. Did Microsoft get anything by jumping on board first? In essence: how did power do its work in this case?
Apple did not get added to the PRISM network until October 2012, five years after Microsoft became available, according to the PowerPoint obtained by The Guardian and Washington Post. Why? Who knows.
While James Clapper has all but admitted that the program exists, technology company after technology company has issued statements like Google's claiming that their service "does not have a back door for the government to access private user data." Other companies have said that no government has "direct" access to their servers. And yet here we have the NSA saying that they do have direct access to servers. How do we square this? Two possibilities seem likely: 1) that the access is "indirect" in some way, say, via an API or 2) that the direct access comes through some intermediary, say, Palantir, or another government vendor. Or the tech companies are just lying and/or forbidden to acknowledge the program's existence.
The Washington Post suggests that another classified report, says the "arrangement is described as allowing 'collection managers [to send] content tasking instructions directly to equipment installed at company-controlled locations,' rather than directly to company servers." Is this different than a "back door" for the government, which Google chairman Eric Schmidt has specifically said does not exist? It's hard to tell.
We don't know, but I would guessing it's because these companies provide email service to many, many, many people.
Following in the wake of The Guardian's revelation that the National Security Agency had compelled at least one telecom company (Verizon) to hand over its customers' call records, the Washington Post has published a startling report that says nine major Internet companies have been secretly cooperating with the NSA and FBI as well.
The government is "tapping directly" into servers at Microsoft, Yahoo, Google, Facebook, PalTalk, AOL, Skype, YouTube, and Apple, "extracting audio, video, photographs, e-mails, documents and connection logs that enable analysts to track a person's movements and contacts over time."
The program is code-named PRISM. It began in 2007 and has experienced what the Post called "six years of exponential growth." It is now "the number one source of raw intelligence used for NSA analytic reports." Here's how the story's authors, Barton Gellman and Laura Poitras, describe the operation:
The PRISM program is not a dragnet, exactly. From inside a company's data stream the NSA is capable of pulling out anything it likes, but under current rules the agency does not try to collect it all.
Analysts who use the system from a Web portal at Fort Meade key in "selectors," or search terms, that are designed to produce at least 51 percent confidence in a target's "foreignness." That is not a very stringent test. Training materials obtained by the Post instruct new analysts to submit accidentally collected U.S. content for a quarterly report, "but it's nothing to worry about."
Even when the system works just as advertised, with no American singled out for targeting, the NSA routinely collects a great deal of American content. That is described as "incidental," and it is inherent in contact chaining, one of the basic tools of the trade. To collect on a suspected spy or foreign terrorist means, at minimum, that everyone in the suspect's inbox or outbox is swept in. Intelligence analysts are typically taught to chain through contacts two "hops" out from their target, which increases "incidental collection" exponentially.
The Guardian, which ran its own story on PRISM (presumably from the same source), got several tech companies on the record denying "any knowledge of any such program."
Just a quick note for your next PowerPoint deck on megatrends: more than 90 percent of adults now have a cell phone, according to the Pew Research Center's Internet & American Life Project. For people under the age of 44, that number is closer to 97 percent.
Pew calls the cell phone the fastest-adopted device in history. These things are subject to some variability because of when we start the clock, but the cellphone adoption rate is certainly up there with the radio and color TV, and far faster than computers or landline telephones.
Last note: We're not talking smartphones here but cell phones of any kind, even all those old Nokias.
Earlier this week, I wrote about a report that the California Coastal Commission released about its interactions with Sean Parker over his wedding in a Redwood grove in Big Sur. From the language and photographs in the report, I came to some pretty harsh conclusions about the whole affair.
After the post was published, Parker wrote to me with a spirited defense of the wedding. He provided some details, which have reduced the boiling of my blood to a simmer. His whole email is reprinted below, but these are the key new facts, as I see them. One, Parker "consulted informally" with the Save the Redwoods League early in the process, so he wasn't building blindly. Two, according to Parker, the photograph of the gorgeous grove that was included in the CCC report as a "before" photograph was actually taken after Parker's crew had cleaned it up and gotten rid of a lot of the asphalt that had been laid down at the site. Three, his payment of $2.5 million was voluntary and "consistent with the kind of conservation work I'm already doing."
I attempted to reach the CCC to confirm these details, but have not heard back. You can read the staff report they issued here [pdf].
I can't say I agree that there is nothing extravagant about doing $4.5 million in site preparation, but I can say that at least it wasn't quite the know-nothing bigfooting that it appeared to be. Like I said in my original post, I don't really care that rich people spend insane amounts of money on their weddings; I just don't want everyone and everything else to get trampled along the way.
Here's a lightly edited version of the email that Parker sent me presenting his side of the story.
I read your article with a great deal of sadness and dismay.
First and foremost is that nobody goes out of their way to get married in a redwood forest unless they really love redwood forests. Getting married beneath an old growth redwood tree has been a dream shared by me and my wife for a long time. We spent two years hiking redwood groves, both public and private, in order to locate the perfect spot for our wedding. We needed to find private land that had been previously developed ("disturbed land" in CCC vernacular) so that there would be minimal environmental impact. When we found the Ventana campground site it was not exactly in pristine shape -- the natural ground cover was gone and it had been paved over with black asphalt! The pictures in the CCC report probably show what the site looked like after I removed (or covered) all the black asphalt (which I found appalling) using either bulldozers or just by spreading dirt and forest brush around the area. It is also possible that this area had been cleared as a camping "pad" for an RV or mobile home. Regardless, an undisturbed forest would not be dirt or asphalt, it would be covered in vegetation of some sort.
Second, my foundation has only two primary missions, one is cancer research (specifically cancer immunotherapy), and the other is conservation. I have begun a program of "conservation buying" - that is where I locate private land that needs to be protected, buy it with my own funds, and then donate it to someone like state parks or non-profits to maintain it for the public benefit. I spend quite a bit of my foundation's money on conservation related projects. To that end, I had previously been a major donor to the Save the Redwoods League.
I needed help finding a forest to host the event. Finding a forest with some old growth redwood trees that can accommodate 300 people is no easy task. I enlisted the help of Save the Redwoods to identify the site, and they suggested the Ventana campground precisely because it was private property and not public land, and it was owned and operated by a hospitality business (a hotel) and had previously been used for events. You mention that I "privatized the previously public." There is no sense is which this was public land. The only issue with the campground was that it had been closed to campers for several years due to fire and other issues. The Ventana has an active contractual obligation with the CCC to keep the campground open on a for-profit basis. Given that I was just renting the (already closed) campground for a short time, I could not have possibly known about this issue, and my wedding did not prolong the closure of the campground in any way.
The Save the Redwoods League actually consulted informally on the project from Day 1, sending their Director of Science down to the site to educate our naturalist regarding a plan for work that would be minimally environmentally disruptive to the local redwood and riparian habitats. This is something I chose to do entirely of my own volition and without any pressure from government agencies. (This took place winter of last year.) At this point we had no issues with the CCC or any other agency, I just wanted everything to be as authentic as possible and I didn't want to disrupt the natural habitat. I only knew to do this because I had an existing understanding of forest restoration via my conservation work and I also have an appreciation for what a natural redwood forest should look like because of my time spent hiking around redwood forests. We want to crazy lengths to ensure that nothing in the forest was harmed during the construction process. We used fabric liners to protect the ground from our landscaping work. We avoided planting directly in the soil, instead we brought in potted plants. Contrary to media reports, no redwood trees were harmed by the wedding or construction. (At least none that I'm aware of.)
While we made some mistakes, by and large the biologists who were sent out to the site (by the CCC and others) were happy with the measures we'd taken. Of course it's impossible to get everything exactly right at a production of this scale. Keep in mind when we found it, the campground was full of black asphalt roads, picnic tables, and all kinds of other man-made structures.
Everything we built was designed to be dismantled and removed after the wedding. I inquired about the need for permits early in the process and was informed that, due to the temporary nature of the construction, no such permit would be required. The CCC and Monterey County both offer some sort of exemptions for temporary events. Almost all the structures you see were designed to be temporary--they were actually built off-site and then reassembled on the topsoil of the campground. There is no mortar inside them, so they will just come apart like legos and get carried off. My original agreement with Ventana provided for me to restore the property to the condition in which I had found it, which was anything but perfect. The campground was missing all the normal sorrel leaf ground cover and other foliage. All the the greenery that you see in my photographs had to be brought in by me since the campground had been totally stripped of any vegetation when I found it. My goal was to leave the property in much better condition than when I found it.
More importantly, because I was just renting the site from a hotel, my representatives were told by relevant agencies, such as the CCC and Monterey County planning commission, that it was the responsibility of the property owner, not the hotel guest, to obtain any necessary permits.
How can a hotel guest paying a hotel to host their wedding be in a position to legally apply for permits covering a property that they do not own? There was neither an obligation, contractual or otherwise, nor any legal way for me to apply for permits.
You should also be aware that the $2.5 million was not, strictly speaking, a "fine" for any particular violation. We conceded to pay a $1 million into the CCC's conservation fund, and then work together to deploy a minimum of an additional $1.5 million in charitable contributions to help the Monterey/Big Sur area. This is all work that is consistent with the kind of conservation work I'm already doing. We have some great ideas about how to provide affordable (read: free) camping by bussing under-privileged kids and other groups into the Big Sur area for a free camping experience that they would get to have otherwise. Keep in mind, this is a minimum contribution, I am open to giving much more as the conservation projects develop.
The vision behind this wedding was to integrate with nature as much as possible, to bring out the natural beauty of the site while incorporating the kinds of things that one would need at a wedding. We did as much landscaping as possible using native species (ferns, sorrel ground cover, forget-me-not flowers), and everything was placed in potted plants with mulch around them so as not to plant or introduce foreign species into the forest. We used no invasive species.
There were no "ruined castles" built in the forest. The only stonework were walkways for the guests and walls that served as barriers between the different areas. I don't know where all this talk of castles and towers and things came from. The stonework is actually hollow (filled with bird wire) so that it can be removed quickly.
We had a very specific aesthetic vision for this event that was subtle, tasteful, and carefully orchestrated. Everything we did was an homage to nature, to the natural redwood environment which I call "God's cathedral." We wanted the forest to speak for itself, but we had to build the basic minimum features to make the campground safe and viable for a wedding.
Finally, you mention that what we did was "extravagant" yet none of the usual tasteless crap that rich people do at their weddings was present here -- no ice sculptures, no caviar, no pop stars hired to sing their hits songs, etc. This is why your article and so many other articles have been so deeply offensive. Maybe I will be allowed to release some photos of the event at some point so you can see first hand what we created rather than just speculating based on what else has been published in the press. All of the numbers that have been released were total fabrications (this $9 million number of instance) and are WAY off base. I will say, against my better instinct to tell you, that we spent roughly $4.5 million on prepping the site and big part of that was restoring the forest floor (I should say, covering the forest floor with plants) since it had been paved over in black asphalt or cleared by bulldozers before we ever laid eyes on the campground.
Last month's Moore, Oklahoma tornado caused severe damage in many portions of the city. Whole blocks were wiped out, as can be seen in this swipeable, before-and-after map created by the geographic information services company, ESRI.
What's most shocking, though, is how specific the damage was. Completely devastated blocks sit right across the street from neighborhoods that were largely spared. For example, as you scroll horizontally to the east, look at the difference between homes on either side of SW 149th Street. To the north, only rubble remains. To the south, the homes are still intact.
Update 6/6: Sean Parker responded to the criticisms below in an email to The Atlantic, disputing some of the specifics of the CCC report.
Hey, if a billionaire couple wants to spend $10 million on their wedding, it's neither all that surprising nor interesting, as far as I'm concerned. So, when news and statistics started to trickle out about Sean Parker's wedding here in California -- namely that it'd cost millions of dollars to create Kardashian-level over-the-topness -- I was ready to chalk it up to the standard excesses of crazy rich people.
But that was before I read the California Coastal Commission's report on the Parker wedding's destructive, unpermitted buildout in a redwood grove in Big Sur. Parker and Neraida, the LLC he created to run his wedding, ended up paying $2.5 million in penalties for ignoring regulations. (Move fast. Break things.)
Here's what the CCC says happened. Neraida cut a deal with The Ventana Inn, which is a private company that manages both a higher-end inn and a lower-end campground. The campground runs along Post Creek under massive redwood trees. While not wild, it is an ecologically sensitive area: Steelhead run through the creek and the trees are ancient. In 2007, the Inn closed the campground because of septic issues, though it kept all of its high-end units open. Pursuant to a 1980s deal that let the Inn expand, they were also required to maintain a public parking lot at Cadillac Flats, which offers a good jumping off point for hikers and backpackers. But they'd stopped doing so, using the lot as overflow parking for the Inn. You with me so far? Basically, what was supposed to be a facility that people of all incomes -- including the general public -- could visit had become a high-end resort with no camping or public parking. Still, it remained a beautiful place. It looked like this:
Enter Parker. He cut a deal with Ventana to use the previously closed campground exclusively for months. Without a single permit or any real thought about the area's natural components, Parker's crew began to build walls and water effects and fake ruins on the old campground. The CCC describes the changes:
The Parker Respondents proceeded to perform unauthorized development activities within the campground. Existing roads and campsites were graded and contoured to create the appearance of ruins. Stone gateways and walls were constructed. Staircases were crafted around existing habitat and redwood trees. An artificial pond was dug and installed. A stone bridge over the pond was constructed. Several elevated platforms were created, some adjacent to Post Creek (Exhibit 9). Over 100 potted trees and plants were partially planted within the existing road beds and campsites, and lighting was installed in the redwood forest. In addition to the unpermitted development, other items to facilitate the event have also been placed on the site including tents and generators.
Nothing says, "I love the Earth!" quite like bringing bulldozers into an old-growth forest to create a fake ruined castle. And to build this fantasy world on a spot that should have been open to regular old middle-class people: That makes it even better.
But perhaps, you might say, the Parker crew didn't get permits, but at least they knew what they were doing, installing all this stuff in an ecologically sensitive area. But no, you'd be wrong there. The CCC continues:
The Parker Respondents did not install any erosion control measures or any BMPs when they commenced development within the campground. Structures, walls and elevated platforms have been constructed immediately adjacent to Post Creek with no setbacks employed. The Parker Respondents have recently installed temporary fencing in an attempt to reduce potential impacts to Post Creek, but most of the development occurred without any such erosion-control protections in place. Increased erosion resulting from hardscaping and vegetation removal along streams impairs riparian corridors, streams, and, ultimately, shallow marine waters by increased sedimentation. Increased sediment loads in streams and coastal waters can increase turbidity, thereby reducing light transmission necessary for photosynthetic processes, reducing the growth of aquatic plants. Additionally, structures have been built up to and around existing redwoods and vegetation within the campground (Exhibit 10). Beyond immediate physical damage to individual trees, failure to provide adequate development buffers from redwood trees can negatively impact the underground lignotubers by which redwoods clonally reproduce, thus impeding propagation. The unpermitted development has thus impacted the existing redwood forest habitat and has likely caused sedimentation of Post Creek.
Here's what the site looked like during construction (note the stump in the pictures above and below). I think they call this disruption:
Here's a poor old redwood that had to serve as an endpoint for a fake ruin because the most glorious forest in North America was not pretty enough for Sean Parker's wedding:
I'm not a purist: Landscapes can get more beautiful with human intervention sometimes. Most landscapes we know have already been immeasurably altered by human behavior over the centuries. What's rough about this particular situation is how wantonly Parker steamrolled structures, human and not human, legal and aesthetic.
To his credit, Parker paid up for the damage and said in a statement that he and his wife "always dreamed of getting married in Big Sur, one of the most magical places on Earth." And weddings are great and I'm sure it was a good party.
But, of course, that's also part of the new Silicon Valley parable: dream big, privatize the previously public, pay no attention to the rules, build recklessly, enjoy shamelessly, invoke magic, and then pay everybody off.
The old-guard Midwestern transplants like Bob Noyce, Gordon Moore, and Bill Davidow -- not to mention a lot of newbie social entrepreneurs -- would be ashamed of this kind of grandstanding, and rightly so.
Today, Vine rolled out for Android phones, having made it onto 13 million iPhones since the Twitter-owned service launched in January. Vine works like this: Users record up to 6 seconds of video in chunks of any length. Hold a thumb to the screen and it records; release, and it stops. Then, on playback, that video loops.
Whether or not you've ever played with the app, it's reasonable to ask: What the hell is Vine good for, anyway? "Like Tweets, the brevity of videos on Vine inspires creativity," Twitter's VP of Product, Michael Sippey wrote when the service launched. "Now that you can easily capture motion and sound, we look forward to seeing what you create."
But what kind of creativity, exactly, has been inspired? What works on Vine?
The Boston marathon bombing loop of local TV may be the only Vine many non-users have actually seen, but there's a lot more to the genre. Many of the coolest Vines are stop-motion works of art. Then there are the David Lynchian Vines (Lynch himself just joined). And the normal ark full of cat, dog, and other animal videos. For sheer popularity, behind-the-scenes shots of celebrity life dominate the service, in part because of many famous people's already enormous Twitter followings. Also, being a celebrity is kind of awesome and looks fun, relative to sitting in an office or school. In particular, rappers have taken to the service. Tyler the Creator and Wiz Khalifa have two of the biggest fan bases on Vine, which makes sense as they are both popular rappers and regular users of the service.
The mystery, then, is why some guy named Riff Raff, a rapper best known as the inspiration for the character Alien in Harmony Korine's Spring Breakers, is also one of the service's most popular users. He has more than 230,000 followers on the service, even though he's never had a song on any Billboard chart.
In short: He's a six-second-video savant. When you point a camera at most people, they can't think of anything to say. When you point a camera at Riff Raff, he can say anything. He's a case-study in Vine success, and that what he does works so well says a lot about what Vine is.
The first Riff Raff vine that caught my eye came out 34 days ago. The title is, "HEART TO HEART CONVO WiTH SALON SELECTiVES." (This is Riff Raff's spelling quirk: all caps except for i, which is always lower-case.) The video shows a bathroom rug in the foreground. Beyond it, a pink bottle of Salon Selectives shampoo sits on small tan tile. In Riff Raff's creepy-crawly voice, we hear, "Talk to me, object. Tell me everything I need to know." The loop is hypnotic and the narrative questions it raises are many: Where is Riff Raff sitting? (On the toilet, would be my best forensic guess.) Why is he talking to this bottle? (Unclear.) What secrets would a bottle of shampoo in a bathroom have? (Actually, a lot come to think of it.) And why that voice and that slow cadence? Why this particular bottle of shampoo?
Here's how another one goes: Riff Raff stands in front of a wall of tiles in what appears to be a bathroom. He's wearing a black tank top and a black and white hat to the side. His mouth is held stiffly open, one of his incisors clearly visible. The camera cuts several times as we see different close-ups of Riff Raff's mouth. Then he says, "F' real boy," and stares at the camera. The title is, "VAMPiRE TRYiNG TO CONViNCE HiMSELF THAT HE iS A REAL BOY."
And another: he comes spinning through a door in a robe, sneakers, and gold chains as someone behind him appears to do kung fu moves. As he presents himself to the camera, he says, "How can I help you?" in what can only be described as a transylvanian accent. Then, we see a room in a mansion with a spiral stair case against the wood paneled wall. The camera pans right and Riff Raff is dancing with a Louis Vuitton bag on top of a couch to the lyric, "I was born to be a baller."
And finally, sitting in a faux-rock room that may be a recording studio, he says (with a midwestern accent?) into a corded telephone, "Johnny and Smokey, please come to the front office," then hanging up the phone says, "These fucking kids." Smacking his gum, he swings his head from side to side.
While Riff Raff's authenticity as a member of the music world may be in doubt, his Vine account is a xenoglossic, coprolalic trip, a bizarre outpouring of creative energy. I'm not sure that Riff Raff knows what he's doing, but he has a gift for creating microgenres within the six-second video format. He invents voices. He invents characters. He invents scenes. It's like flash improv that's over in less time than it takes to down a bottle of cough syrup. Is it stupid? Yes, most of the time. But it's joyously stupid, and sometimes very clever, and people love it.
He acts like Frankenstein going for Monster energy drinks. He plays basketball in the aisle of a grocery store. He sings along to Madonna. He records cartoons on TV. He pretends to be his uncle buying beer or your old 5th grade teacher or a mom. He uses strange voices and wears strange clothes and shows off his consumer purchasing power. And every few clips, a beautiful young woman, Internet celebrity, or hip hop star appears.
Is it silly to think about these too much? Maybe. But that's what short, looping video clips do! You want to know what's been left out, and what's beyond the frame, and how the clips fit together into something like a life.
It was Riff Raff Vines that sent me searching for a term I knew I'd heard some time in college: "[E]xtra-diegetic elements of a film do not 'exist' or 'take place' in the same plane of reality that the characters inhabit," one glossary helpfully offers. With Riff Raff's Vines, there are so many planes of reality -- Riff Raff the person's story, Riff Raff the persona's story, Riff Raff's many characters stories -- and he mixes them freely within and across Vines.
You're constantly forced to ask: How far does the narrative world extend? Figuring that out is, in fact, a structural part of why Riff Raff is compelling, even if you hate him. A white guy in cornrows with vertical lines shaved into his eyebrows and the BET logo tattooed on his chest. The standard reaction to him is, "Can this guy be serious?"
Some in the hip hop community, like Hot 97's supersmart program director, Ebro Darden, have called Riff Raff out for what they see as a persona that mocks hip hop culture, or performs blackness in a disrespectful way. Is he an artist or is he minstrel? Is his persona a novel recombination of hip hop elements by a crazy person or the same old racist buffoonery?
I can't rule out the latter -- maybe a third of his Vines are offensive in one way or another -- but I tend to think it's mostly the former. The guy is, as one Vice writer put it, a "professional crazy person," and as his Vines show, the level and novelty of his weirdness go beyond any simple performance of racial stereotypes.
But it's not just Riff Raff who we want to understand through social media. We want to know if our friends, colleagues, and acquaintances are authentic, too. "What's this person really like?" Facebook profiles give one answer. Twitter another. Instagram, Tumblr, and YouTube yet others. But it's Vine, new and molten as it is, that gives the most tantalizingly intimate looks at our friends and icons. When we ask, "Who are you?" the accumulation of Vines seems to provide real answers, both intended and unintended. We're right there, after all, and we can see with our own two eyes how these people appear to be.
Google structures so much of life. What we can Google about something is nearly the same thing as what it is.
And it's not just text: With Google Images, you can see what anything or anyone looks like instantly, by algorithmic selection. This is how our children will teach themselves about the world. And yet I wonder. What kinds of warping of the meanings of words takes place in this context? If Google Images is a lens through which to view the world, what is its curvature and focal length? How does it distort what we're looking at?
To figure that out, I took a look at a simple ABC book -- My First Book of ABC and 123 -- the most popular one on Amazon that assigned a single word to each letter. Then I ran each of these words through Google Images to create a Google Alphabet book, the latest in a long line of abecedarians, stretching back hundreds of years.
Some of my findings from this experiment were expected. The Google Alphabet book is more corporate, for example, than any kid's book would be. Apple's logo has replaced the actual apple as the first result for that word. Monster energy drinks has pushed out the fictive beasts of childhood. Wikipedia and Wikimedia make a very strong showing. Google is very dependent on these non-profits for structuring certain types of basic information for the company. The dog image, for example, is simply the photo that appears on Wikipedia's entry for 'dog.' National Geographic's topic pages for animal species also appear high on the list.
But some of Google's choices are bizarre and interesting. Take a look at the entry for violin. The image is from Eofdreams.com, an ad-heavy website purporting to offer dream interpretation that seems to use Google Images as a traffic drift net. Underneath every riff on dreams is a table of random, clearly labeled images on the topic in question. Eofdreams.com appears shockingly high in many a search for common words from violins to hot dogs.
Many of these searches deliver you to the oxbow lakes of the Internet: an out-of-date site for an ice cream company, a Bureau of Labor Statistics page about nurses, a beekeeper in a Cambridgeshire village, the good works of a Swede, a gaming page dedicated to the lions of the game Animal Crossing, a British journalist's military blog.
Making these searches is like taking a road trip through the Internet, trying to avoid the major highways. Sure you end up on I-Wikipedia sometimes, but most of the hours are spent trundling along some forgotten state route finding stories about teenage yo-yo stars and nude portraits of people with octopuses.
Every ABC book is defined by its simplicity, including this one, but nothing is simple when it's embedded in a global network.
A is for apple.
Top Image: Apple's corporate logo.
Appears on: Forbes.com
This image appears in a story entitled, "Debt-Averse Apple Sets 6-part Bond Deal To Establish Funding Yield Curve." The iteration of the logo dates from shortly after Steve Jobs' return to the company in 1997. Welcome to the new alphabet.
B is for bee.
Top Image: A photograph of a common worker honeybee.
Appears on: wmconnolley.org.uk
This image of a honeybee appears on the personal webpage William Connolley, a resident of the village of Coton in Cambridgeshire in the UK. Connolley is a beekeeper, he says, and maintains a very simple (like 1990s simple) webpage with information about the beekeepers in his village and some general information about bees ("Bees are cute furry little creatures and generally quite safe"). It's in that section that we find the honeybee image. It's unclear when it was taken. (The homepage comes with the disclaimer, "Hello, and welcome to my web page. Its sadly out of date, and is likely to stay that way.")
C is for cat.
Top Image: A long-haired cat sitting on a white comforter.
Appears on: Petfinder.com
This is a stock image from Getty Images' Thinkstock, apparently. It appears in an article about how to pick a cat litter and a few dozen other places around the Internet, but I could not track down the source image (despite several searches for "self-satisfied cat"). Perhaps appropriately, the canonical kitty remains mysterious.
D is for dog.
Appears on: Wikipedia.org
This photograph was taken by the Wikipedia user, Elf, who "spent over two intense editing years (Jan 2004-April 2006) here as a Wikipediholic, primarily focusing on dog-related articles." This photography was taken during October 2004 in Turlock, California at the Nunes Agility Field. It's also the top image on Wikipedia's dog page, making this dog one of the more Internet-famous canines in the world.
E is for elephant.
Top Image: An African elephant.
Appears on: NationalGeographic.com
National Geographic maintains an encyclopedia of some animals, including the African elephant represented here. The image was captured by the South African filmmaker and photographer, Beverly Joubert. She and her husband, Dereck, make conservation films in Africa. They are explorers-in-residence at NatGeo.
F is for fruits.
Top Image: Still-life of several fruit varieties on a black background.
Appears on: Wikipedia.org.
Bananas, pears, strawberries, grapes, oranges, and apples all make an appearance in this image, which I must admit screams, "Fruits!" The photograph is the work of Bill Ebbessen, who creates a lot of images for Wikipedia under the username atomicbre. In addition to his work with fruits, Ebbessen has provided photography for many articles in the nuclear field.
G is for guitar.
Top Image: An acoustic guitar.
Appears on: Wikimedia.org
Frankly, this one is a little disappointing. Of all the guitars in the world, we get this folksy number. It's a "'Di Giorgio classic guitar', model 'Amazonia', made in Brazil" according to its photographer, user PJ. PJ is Swedish and one of his other wikihobbies is recording common phrases in Swedish like "God jul och gott nytt år," which means "Merry Christmas and Happy New Year," and uploading them to Wikimedia.
H is for hats.
Top Image: A big, red hat.
Appears on: Fanpop.com
Fanpop is a network of niche fan clubs for everything from Justin Bieber and Arrested Development to ... umm... hats, including this one. The hats club is rather small, 168 members, which makes sense. Not that hats are not loveable -- I have several hats, myself -- but do hats really need a fan club? They don't hand out autographs or scandalize the bourgeoisie. Also, they are inanimate objects.
One fun fact from the Hats fan club: 83 percent of its members like floppy hats, according to a poll on the site.
I is for ice cream.
Top Image: Two scoops of chocolate ice cream with whip cream and a waffle slice in a tall glass
Appears on: Arcticicecream.net
Arctic Ice Cream is an ice cream maker near Trenton, New Jersey. They've been around since 1931 and bring dairy delight down the shore. Why has their ice cream image become the canonical one? This one is more mystifying than the rest of these images. Most of these scream whatever they are, but this one is actually more complex than the other images on the page, like this simple cone in third place.
J is for jack-in-the-box.
Top Image: A plush Jack-in-the-box.
Appears on: Wikipedia.org.
Score another one for Wikipedia (how dependent is Google on Wikipedia? Very, very). But wait! This image actually was created by the US Consumer Product Safety Commission and was released along with a 2003 recall of 63,000 Jacks in boxes. "A spring mechanism attached to the lid can break and detach from the toy, posing a choking hazard to young children," the CPSC wrote, although no injuries were reported.
K is for kangaroo.
Top image: A kangaroo with a joey in the pouch.
Google loves NatGeo's animal summary pages, apparently. But this is definitely the cutest photograph in the list. It was taken by renowned wildlife photographer Nicole Duplaix.
L is for lion.
Top image: A male lion's head.
Appears on: Wikia.com
Well, no arguing here. That's the lioniest lion I've ever seen. But it's embedded on a page for the Nintendo game, Animal Crossing. Why? "Lions are a species of villagers in the Animal Crossing series. They are one of three types of large cat that appear in the games. The Lion characters are all males because they have all a mane( female lions, called lionesses, don't have manes.)," Wikia says. Or at least, this is one of the many pages on which the image appears, none of which appear indicate the provenance of the photograph.
M is for monster.
Top Image: Monster energy drinks logo.
Appears on: http://istandardproducers.com
It's not exactly Where the Wild Things Are. And yes, that breaks my heart. And it doesn't even appear on Monster's own site! iStandard Producers is a company's that purports to help out up-and-coming music producers.
N is for nurse.
Top Image: A nurse with a pen talking to a doctor
Appears on: BLS.gov
This nurse appears on a page maintained by the Bureau of Labor Statistics about the occupational outlook for registered nurses. We find their median pay was $64,690 in 2010, for example. There are several images of nurses on the page, but for whatever reason, Google found this one the nursiest, despite an irrelevant file name.
O is for octopus.
Top Image: An octopus.
Appears on: Howstuffworks.com
This octopus illustrates a story on "How octopuses work," but it's originally a stock image by Corbis. Sadly, I searched through all 1,804 Corbis images labeled octopus, but couldn't find it. Strangely, there's a disturbing number of naked people with octopuses in the Corbis archive. Search at your own risk is all I'm saying.
P is for panda.
Top Image: A panda.
Appears on: Worldwildlife.org
Well, this one makes sense. The panda image appears on a World Wildlife Fund page dedicated to saving the 1,600 that remain in the wild.
Q is for queen.
Top Image: A portrait of Queen Elizabeth (of course)
Can I be faulted for being a little disappointed that Freddie Mercury was not the top result? (Queen, the band, was the #2 image.) In any case, this image appears on military blogger Michael Yon's site. It's embedded in a post that jokingly begins, "In light of your failure in recent years to nominate competent candidates for President of the USA and thus to govern yourselves, we hereby give notice of the revocation of your independence, effective immediately." Fair enough. But it turns out that the text Yon posted has a "long and convoluted" history, including a false attribution to John Cleese, according to the Snopes entry on "Revocation of Independence."
R is for robot.
Top Image: A Sony Qrio Robot 2
Appears on: Wikimedia.org
Congratulations, Sony! Your robot from 2004 remains the canonical representation of the robot in Google Images. This particular photo was taken by a German user at RoboCup 2004 in Portugal. Then another user named Jorge Barrios excised the background, leaving just the robot floating on a transparent background.
S is for sock.
Top Image: Drawing of a white sock with red accents
Appears on: lbrm.org
This sock appears on the website of the Long Beach Rescue Mission, a group that helps the homeless in southern California. It illustrated a post about last summer's "sock drive," sponsored by Disney. The drive ended last September; no word's been posted on how many socks were collected for the needy. The sock drawing is a common, though far from ubiquitous, illustration on the web.
T is for toy.
Top Image: Rubik's cube
Appears on: Wikipedia.org
Nerds always win on the Internet. QED.
U is for unicorn.
Top Image: Beautiful white unicorn with flashing dark eyes in full rear
Appears on: Giantbomb.com
Tell you what: that's a beautiful unicorn right there. It appears with many other unicorn images on a videogame website owned by CBS Interactive called Giant Bomb. It's one of the site's "concept" pages on a wiki; the concept is the unicorn itself. And we learn the following delightful things about the unicorn.
The Unicorn is one of the few magical creatures not meant to inspire fear, unlike dragons, or chimeras. In most video games where Unicorns appear, they are enchanted, tranquil beasts. Their horns commonly have magical properties. In Castle Crashers, for example, a unicorn horn can be employed as a weapon. Conversely, in Viva Pinata, Unicorn horns can be used for healing," someone wrote. "According to Leonardo da Vinci, the ideal method of capturing a Unicorn was to have a virgin in your midst. A Unicorn that sees a "fair maiden" is said to lower its inhibitions, and fall asleep in its lap shortly afterward. This would give you an opportunity to catch the Unicorn."
That's some good unicorn summation, no? Conversely, it could be said that you would not be prepared to deal with a unicorn in real life or a videogame on the basis of this crappy stub.
V is for violin.
Top Image: A violin
Appears on: Eofdreams.com
This is a stock image of a violin. It appears on a *dream interpretation* site. "To see or play the violin in a dream means that your home will always be full of peace and harmony," a content farmer wrote. "For a young woman, to dream of playing the violin promises generous gifts to her. If eerie sounds are produced by a bow signifies that her hopes are not fated to come true. A broken violin portends possible serious losses and separation."
Another interesting thing about this dream interpretation site is that after each description of a particular object's significance, there is a set of ads and then a table of images of the thing described. So, after you learn that eating a hot dog in a dream means "in reality you don't differ with fastidiousness, and you prefer practicality," you can see 10 apparently random images of hot dogs stolen from somewhere all nicely labeled hot-dog-01, hot-dog-02, etc. Why do they do this? Do they think you can dream of hot dogs but not know what they look like? No, my suspicion is that they use Google Images to bring people to the site; this is a dream interpretation site search-engine optimized for Google Images specifically. (Side note: what would dreaming about Google mean?)
W is for watermelon.
Top Image: Three watermelon wedges.
Appears on: Souplantation.com
This image appears on the blog of a restaurant chain called Souplantation. (They must have a less fraught relationship with the word and idea of a plantation than I do?) The post details the local watermelon grower the company uses in Texas, but the image is a stock watermelon photograph.
X is for x-ray.
Top Image: An "x-ray" image of an adult human and child
Appears on: Time.com
This image comes from a gallery that Time.com ran of photographer Nick Veasey's work. It's quite beautiful, but Veasey says he embellishes his images, so it may not be the best representation of an actual x-ray. For that, I'd recommend this image.
Y is for yo-yo.
Top Image: A kid yo-yoing, apparently at a competition.
Appears on: Wikipedia.org
"1A (string tricks) division finalist, Augie Fash, at the 2004 US nationals in Chico, California." If you're wondering, Fash, who was known as El Yo-Yo, is still around. He appears to have quit the yo-yo game with this intensely dramatic YouTube video in 2012. But he's back and *sponsored* by C3YoYoDesign, the "the first Professional Yoyo company in Hong Kong." They "create high-performance yoyo for professional players" like Fash. According to one blog post, Fash is "prepping a new video that will ROCK YOUR FACE OFF!" Here's the damn-near heroic teaser.
Z is for zebra.
Top Image: Several zebras, one braying.
Appears on: NationalGeographic.com
This may appear to be a boring ending to this strange journey through the Internet, BUT it turns out this image was taken by Chris Johns, the editor-in-chief of National Geographic since 2005.
The Guardian has the best article ever about relationships. It was written by one Nancy Featherstone, who describes how she and her husband, Donald, have been wearing matching outfits for the last 35 YEARS.
But as if that was not enough (which it was), we discover that Donald Featherstone created the pink garden flamingo!!! Nancy Featherstone writes:
If we need a new outfit, we go to the fabric shop together and pick out something we both like. Donald is an artist - he designed the now iconic pink plastic flamingos you see in gardens - so has an excellent eye for colour and is comfortable wearing distinctive designs. Whenever I see flamingo fabric, I buy some and make us an outfit; we now have more than 40 in their own special closet.
Don't believe Nancy? Well, check out that image at the top of the post. That's the two of them in the local Leominster, Massachusetts newspaper in matching pink flamingo shirts.
Featherstone, in fact, figures into a classic essay brought to my attention by Eric Gibbons called "The Plastic Pink Flamingo: A Natural History," which describes in delightful and rich detail the cultural context that made the garden flamingo meaningful.Here's just a taste of that glorious essay, which deserves new life now that we know the full extent of Donald Featherstone's eccentricity:
When the pink flamingo splashed into the fifties market, it staked two major claims to boldness. First, it was a flamingo. Since the 1930s, vacationing Americans had been flocking to Florida and returning home with flamingo souvenirs. In the 1910s and 1920s, Miami Beach's first grand hotel, the Flamingo, had made the bird synonymous with wealth and pizzazz. After a 1926 hurricane leveled Millionaire's Row, developers built hundreds of more modest hotels to cater to an eager middle class served by new train lines - and in South Beach, especially, architects employed the playful Art Deco style, replete with bright pinks and flamingo motifs.
This was a little ironic, since Americans had hunted flamingos to extinction in Florida in the late 1800s, for plumes and meat. But no matter. In the 1950s, the new inters tates would draw working-class tourists down, too. Back in New Jersey, the Union Products flamingo inscribed one's lawn emphatically with Florida's cachet of leisure and extravagance The bird acquired an extra fillip of boldness, too, from the direction of Las Vegas - the flamboyant oasis of instant riches that the gangster Benjamin "Bugsy" Siegel had conjured from the desert in 1946 with his Flamingo Hotel. Anyone who has seen Las Vegas knows that a flamingo stands out in a desert even more strikingly than on a lawn. In the 1950s, namesake Flamingo motels, restaurants, and lounges cropped up across the country like a line of semiotic sprouts.
And the flamingo was pink - a second and commensurate claim to boldness. The plastics industries of the fifties favored flashy colors, which Tom Wolfe called "the new electrochemical pastels of the Florida littoral: tangerine, broiling magenta, livid pink, incarnadine, fuchsia demure, Congo ruby, methyl green." The hues were forward-looking rather than old-fashioned, just right for a generation, raised in the Depression, that was ready to celebrate its new affluence. And as Karal Ann Marling has written, the "sassy pinks" were "the hottest color of the decade." Washing machines, cars, and kitchen counters proliferated in passion pink, sunset pink, and Bermuda pink. In 1956, right after he signed his first recording contract, Elvis Presley bought a pink Cadillac.
Why, after all, call the birds "pink flamingos" - as if they could be blue or green? The plastic flamingo is a hotter pink than a real flamingo, and even a real flamingo is brighter than anything else around it.
I'm not a religious man, but I'm going to pray that a documentary filmmaker has some spare time to spend with the Featherstones. It'd be the best romantic comedy since Herb and Dorothy.
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