Digital Fabrications (…) celebrates the design ingenuity made possible by digital fabrication techniques. Author Lisa Iwamoto explores the methods architects use to calibrate digital designs with physical forms. The book is organized according to five types of digital fabrication techniques: tessellating, sectioning, folding, contouring, and forming. Projects are shown both in their finished forms and in working drawings, templates, and prototypes, allowing the reader to watch the process of each fantastic construction unfold. Digital Fabrications presents projects designed and built by emerging practices that pioneer techniques and experiment with fabrication processes on a small scale with a do-it-yourself attitude.
But new analytical techniques and observational satellites may soon open a more rigorous frontier for measuring economic activity from space. Brown University economists J. Vernon Henderson and David Weil, along with their graduate student Adam Storeygard, recently released an analysis of a decade’s worth of global night-light data from DMSP. Their research shows a link between changes in a country’s gross domestic product and the intensity of its electric lighting: On average, as a country’s GDP increases, its nighttime light emission becomes more intense. The work is particularly promising for measuring growth in the developing world, where the quality of collected economic data is notoriously poor.
“A lot of activity in these developing countries is in the untaxed, off-the-books informal sector, but very little information is gathered about it,” Henderson says. “So when [statistical agencies] estimate total economic activity, they don’t really know the size of that sector even though it may account for a majority of the employment in the country. When you get another metric to compare the numbers to, you can be shocked by how much they are off.”
Henderson cites the Democratic Republic of Congo as an example of where data quality is poor. According to the Penn World Table, a standard source used to measure economic growth across countries, during the period from 1992 to 2003 the country had negative GDP growth. In that same period, the satellite data shows a marked increase in nighttime light intensity, suggestive of positive growth, likely in the informal sector. Henderson says Myanmar’s numbers, on the other hand, may show political manipulation: Nocturnal lights indicate significantly lower GDP growth than that stated by the ruling military junta.
Henderson and his colleagues also used the DMSP data to examine economic activity on sub-national scales, investigating the relationship of African cities to nearby agricultural regions. They found that years of crop-boosting high rainfall in a city’s hinterlands significantly correlated with increased growth and development in the urban center as measured by artificial lighting intensity.
“There’s a lot of literature assuming hinterlands aren’t relevant to urban growth and development, but that’s not really the case,” Henderson says. “Farmers demand a bunch of products, they demand services, they demand inputs into agricultural production—this makes a lot of difference to a nearby city. In some sense it’s an academic debate, but this really is a fundamental matter of development and policymaking that can change people’s lives.”
Of course, there are dangers in using nighttime lights as an indicator for economic growth.
One hundred and fifty years ago today, Isambard Kingdom Brunel, one of the greatest engineers in history, died at the age of just 53. His funeral in Kensal Green cemetery was attended by several hundred people, including Joseph Locke who, with Brunel, had opened up Britain to the railway. He was buried a year later, also in Kensal Green.
There was another mourner, that day, however: Robert Stephenson, a household name who had risen from humble origins in the Northumberland coalfield to the highest echelons of London society. Although of a similar age to Brunel, Stephenson was already very frail. His death, a few weeks later, prompted a national outpouring of grief: his body was committed to Westminster Abbey, with the cortège watched by thousands of people as it made its way through Hyde Park by express permission of Queen Victoria. Stephenson’s hometown of Newcastle-upon-Tyne, meanwhile, was plunged into mourning at the loss of its heroic son.
The passing of these three extraordinary men, so close together, robbed the country of an astonishing source of talent, energy and influence. The trio, who had done so much to accelerate the Industrial Revolution, were often portrayed by the press as rivals clambering to pursue their own agendas, but were in fact close colleagues and friends. Moreover, they were much more than engineers: they were consulted by (or sat in) Parliament and boardrooms, and advised foreign and colonial governments on railways, water supply and sanitation, dock and harbour improvements, land reclamation schemes and much more. They were titans of the Victorian age.
The Harwell WITCH is a relay-based machine that used 900 Dekatron gas-filled tubes, each of which could hold a single digit in memory. It has paper tape for both data input and program storage. The computer was used in the design of Britain’s first nuclear reactors. (Read more about the computers used at Harwell in the 1940s and 1950s.)
“Its promises for reliability over speed were certainly met – it was definitely the tortoise in the tortoise and the hare fable,” says Kevin Murrell, a director and trustee of the National Museum of Computing. “In a race with a human mathematician using a mechanical calculator, the human kept pace for 30 minutes, but then had to retire exhausted as the machine carried on remorselessly. The machine once ran for ten days unattended over a Christmas and New Year holiday period.”
I wonder if someone somewhere’s thought of how to dispose of those things.
In the latest example of finding media innovation where you’d least expect it, CBS is embedding a video player in a print ad in Entertainment Weekly that will serve up a buffet of its fall TV lineup.
The CBS foray into a print-digital alliance plays full-motion video at a crisp resolution. The ad, dubbed by CBS and partner Pepsi Max “the first-ever VIP (video-in-print) promotion,” works like one of those audio greeting cards. Opening the page activates the player, which is a quarter-inch–thick screen seen through a cutaway between two pages concealing the larger circuit board underneath.
The audio quality is equally good (extremely poor video shot by this reporter notwithstanding), but beware: There are no volume controls, and in a quiet environment, it’s quite loud. This is surely a intentional design feature, aimed at getting the attention of people nearby.
Read the story in WIRED
I just caught a demo of the Tactable multitouch surface, which grew out of an MIT Media Lab project. It’s an impressive product, a mid-sized table with a sharp projector set underneath the glass. It uses an array of moderate-resolution optical sensors to tell where it’s being touched, and the sensors have variable focus, so they can sense 3D gestures over the surface as well as contact with the surface itself. The projector’s good and bright, and the picture looked good in a well-lit room (albeit a darker corner of same). And being optical, the sensors can also recognize objects laid on the surface, reading bar-codes, text, shapes, etc.
P. W. Singer of the Brookings Institution labors at the intersection of the military, defense contractors, and the world of high tech. In his latest work, Wired for War, Singer confesses his passion for science fiction as he introduces us to a glimpse of things to come–the new technologies that will shape wars of the future. His new book addresses some ominous and little-discussed questions about the military, technology, and machinery. (Subscribers may also be interested to read “The Coming Robot Army,” by Steve Featherstone from the February 2007 issue.)