Crank it up……..

MIT Laptop

When I first saw Nicholas Negroponte’s one-hundred dollar crank-powered laptop, I didn’t get it. Sure, it was cool, an interesting gadget like those Soviet era crank-powered flashlights at Restoration Hardware. And then I read this:

…Ghana, a western Africa nation in which adolescents represent almost half of the population, provides one example,

Researchers lead by Diana L.G. Borzekowski of John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health surveyed online experiences among 778 teens, ages 15 to 18, in Ghana’s capital, Accra.

Two-thirds of the 600 youngsters who attended high school said they had previously gone online, as did about half of the 178 teens who didn’t attend school. Among all Internet users, the largest proportion-53 percent-had sought online health information on topics including AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases, nutrition, exercise, drug use, and pregnancy. Science News: July 17,2006 Vol. 169, No. 24 pg. 378


AIDS is ravaging Africa and Ghana is no exception. According to The Ghana AIDS Commission, 160,000 children are now orphans due to AIDS. These kids are on their own to figure things out. It seems Nicolas Negroponte’s green machine is poised to make a huge impact.

Crank-powered, outfitted with durable flash memory and a multi-use LED screen, the green machine is ready for inhospitable environments. The machine encourages collaboration between users by running open source software allowing users to independently modify the code and then submit it to the group for approval. One of the most exciting features is the built in mesh networking capability. This allows one machine to share a scarce Internet connection with other green machines allowing each machine to act a hub so more and more machines have access.

UPDATE: I just received the August 2006 issue of Wired which has an article on designer Yves Behar and his latest version of the laptop. The crank is gone, which is too bad. Instead, it is replaced with a battery designed to have a five year life span. Check out this article and if you yearn for more visit One Laptop per Child.

Forgotten Musical Gems…….


Lists are just fun. They are a slick way to present new information in user friendly chunks. With that in mind, I would like to introduce a new category to shiftingheat. I recently read a list of the top albums of the 1990’s and that got me thinking about the CDs I bought during that period. Instead of rehashing the greats, why not latch onto the long tail and give some attention to the remarkable albums which were overlooked.

 I now present for your consideration BongWater’s fantastic work, The Power of Pussy. Have you ever head a song for the first time on the radio and you suddenly have your mission for the day– buy this album now! Well, Folk Song did it for me. I could not believe something so smart and wickedly funny would ever be played on the radio. In fact, I was just as shocked when I heard it again.

BongWater is the creative duo of Ann Magnuson and Mark Kramer. Ann wrote and performed the lyrics. Kramer composed the music. The Power of Pussy is the master work of two artists on the top of their game. These two inventive forces complement the other perfectly on The Power of Pussy.

Together Ann and Kramer have fashioned an album which approaches a work of art. Ann is the lord goddess of the expansive narrative packed with cultural references and outrageous situations from the American fringe. This type of musical monologue is very risky and often comes up short. Generally, these stories are unfocused, lack a larger meaning or worst still are down right boring. Offenses which usually irritate the listener and send the CD off to obscurity without a second listen.

As amazing as it may be, Ann nails it every time with The Power of Pussy. Over time each one of Ann’s many riffs on the album becomes your absolute favorite and you can’t wait for her to deliver the punch line. Kramer is Steve Stevens to Ann’s Billy Idol. He takes lyrics which on their own seem silly and ridiculous and forces you to raise that lighter above your head and sign along. Who else gets a rational person to sing:

she said chimmijangas, chimmijangas, (chimmichangas) chimmijanges, she said chimmijangas, she said, chimmijanges she said, chimmijangas, she said she said she said

In addition to his catchy melody, Kramer strings each of the songs together using found recordings, snippets from answering machines and everything in between put to work in the style of a home tape collage. Each of the bits are funny and stand up to repeat listening. My personal favorite is a recording of an older man hopelessly stuttering over the name of the band. After all of that trouble, he announces, "The name of the band is BongWater."

What I like best about BongWater’s The Power of Pussy is the assumption that music is an important part of our culture and albums could be made to provoke thought and be the topic of adult conversation. Who does that anymore?

An inconvenient truth…….

inconvenient truth

I love my kids too much to sit on my hands and wait for the worst to happen. I know that many of you feel the same way. It may not be kids that motivate you but everyone loves something about this planet that is beautiful and sacred –the beach, a pet, mountain biking, taking a walk to the coffee shop or SpongeBob SquarePants. Life on planet Earth is sweet indeed.

Climate change is difficult to conceptualize. It’s not just about the Earth getting hotter, which of course is happening. It is the changes both subtle and dramatic this temperature increase brings to an already stressed system. There will be stronger hurricanes, disappearing glaciers and a rising sea level. This alone is enough to throw human existence into chaos but what happens when there are major disruptions in food production due to the compounding factors of drought, wild fires and an ocean inhospitable to life?

It’s time to say "no" to the folks who have a vested interest in world wide suicide. Luckily, the technology is available to start making a difference. Here are three things you can do right now. First, switch to compact fluorescent light bulbs. Second, use paper products made from recycled materials. Third, buy a hybrid car. If a new car is not in the financial picture then vow to make you next purchase a hybrid. Instead, buy carbon offsets for the vehicle you are driving.

Go see An Inconvenient Truth and then start to make the world a better place. Remember, The Police had it right when they sang, "One world is enough for all of us".

I, Aggregate…….


There are two businesses that I miss from the dot com days, Kozmo and Home Grocer. Both specialized in home delivery of goods.

Kozmo served the uber-geek niche with speedy home delievery of the nerdy essentials like snacks, solid and liquid, plus movies, music and the critical toiletries. Home Grocer was the supermarket of the future straight out of the propaganda spewed in the 1950’s.

Here is how it worked. You had a standing order for delivery which could be modified anytime from the website. Deliveries were on time and free if you ordered 50 dollars worth of goods. The eager Home Grocer delivery person arrived in a crisp uniform reminiscent of the service stations attire of the golden age of driving. The uniform matched the truck, the bags and the boxes. This wasn’t some subcontractor with your groceries rolling around in the trunk of a 1985 Toyota mixing it up with the greasy spare tire and jumper cables.

The Home Grocer employee carried your order into the kitchen taking care not to make a mess. If there was a problem a friendly customer service representative would call you before the order was filled to work out a solution. This extra care was free of charge. Oh, the produce was excellent. It was one notch below farmer’s market fresh. After all it had avoided sitting on a table at the supermarket getting picked up and poke by numerous hands while waiting to be taken home. Most importantly, you were treated like a god.

Alas, the dream is gone. Instead, we have value and reward cards. A plastic card symbolic of the arrogance of the grocery business.

Mr. Grocer, I know the information you have been gathering about me with your ubiquitous UBC codes has made you extremely powerful. Frankly, this power has gone to your head. Your card is no value to me. In fact, I was more than a little insulted when you tried to force me to sign up. Did you think I would not notice when you jacked up the prices and then required the rewards card to bring them back down to the original level?

Seriously, did you also think I harbored some secret desire to scan my own groceries? Shame on you.

Honey, you have changed. If my personal information is fueling the service economy then I expect to be service when I give it away to you. I want to be treated like a geek diva with time to burn at the Googleplex. That’s right, a free hair cut, manicure, pedicure plus a personal assistant to run up and down the isles gathering my groceries. I will also require a second assistant to take care of my kids. If one child wants to color while singing the songs from Chicken Little then damn it, it shall be done. Oh, if the baby decides to make that face, you will be there to make everything all right. You get the picture.

Here is track seven for the playlist: Fairytale in the Supermarket by The Raincoats

Net neutrality…….

"Today, in the fast-changing, affluent nations, despite all inequities of income and wealth, the coming struggle for power will increasingly turn into a struggle over the distribution of and access to knowledge." –Alvin Toffler, Power Shift series of tubes

Senator Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) likes to do things old school. During the Katrina aftermath, Senator Stevens vowed to hold up recovery funding unless his pet project the infamous Gavina Island Bridge or "Bridge to Nowhere" was promised every pork dollar necessary for construction.

He threw another hissy fit when Senator Marie Cantwell (D-Washington) suggested oil company executives testify under oath while explaining high gas prices before the Senate Commerce Committee.  One guess as to who is pushing to open the ANWR (Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge) to oil drilling.

Now Senator Stevens is playing footsie with the telco industry. One of the most powerful members of the ownership party now wants to help the telcos privatize the Internet by rewriting the Telecommunications Act of 1996.

 Instead of the open platform we have now, the plan is to let the telcos decide what content you have access to. This scheme is roughly based on the cable-tv pay-per-view format. So, the more money you pay the more bandwidth you will be allowed.

 And who has the deepest pockets to purchase bandwidth and dictate the content streaming over the Internet, private citizens or corporate America?

Anyone who decides to overhaul the Telecommunications Act of 1996 must have a deep and rich understanding of the intricacies of the Internet? Well, the hard working people at AlterNet have an answer for you. Listen to Senator Stevens explain how the Internet works with A Series of Tubes. Afterwards, visit Save the Internet and contact your representatives. Demand they support net neutrality.


Happy Fourth of July! Here are a few ways I plan to celebrate my independence during this extended holiday.

  • fly the flag
  • listen to The Who
  • read Harry Potter to my kids
  • play wiffleball
  • eat strawberries
  • watch the World Cup Semifinals
  • have a second iced Americano
  • dig in the dirt
  • find Henry Rollin’s Love Letter to Ann Coulter on YouTube
  • mix Mentos and Diet Coke
  • eat a burger with lots of ketchup and extra pickles
  • walk to the park
  • finish the laundry
  • avoid driving
  • read the headlines on The Huffington Post
  • make Rice Krispy treats
  • finish Alvin Toffler’s Power Shift
  • learn the words to Elton John’s Don’t Go Breaking My Heart

Have a safe and memorable Fourth. Here is track six for the playlist: Won’t Get Fooled Again by The Who

Citizen Science…….

"Either write something worth reading or do something worth writing."  -Benjamin Franklin

ben franklin

Science was once the gentlemanly pursuit of the Enlightenment. This revolutionary philosophy was based on rationalism and the belief, that through careful experimentation using the scientific method, verifiable facts could be discovered.  Facts, which could be harnessed for the public good and the belief in human progress.

This was a direct threat to the older method of explaining the nature of the physical world, which relied on a powerful authority, usually embodied by the church. Above questioning, the church was believed to posses the one truth. Scholars spent their time creating elaborate explanations, which harmonized any troubling natural observations with the official story offered by the church.

One American who embodied the spirit of the Enlightenment was Benjamin Franklin, who conduct experiments to better understand the nature of electricity.  He was the first to suggest that the different behavioral characteristics of electricity could be related to its charge.

Mr. Franklin also introduced the concept of the conservation of charge. This discovery led to the invention of the lightening rod. In fact, Benjamin Franklin’s experiments concerning electricity earn him membership into the elite Royal Society of London.

The motto of this prestigious group illustrates its radical break from the past and its embrace of rationalism. The motto reads, "Nullius in Verba" which translates in Latin to be, "On the words of no one." No longer would citation of authority be accepted as an irrefutable truth.

Instead, the truth of scientific matters would be established through verifiable experimentation. Today, science is under attack by those who feel threatened by facts. Citizen science provides a vehicle for the lay person to support the underpinnings of solid public policy by taking part in rigorous and meaningful research.

Using this model, a group or institution designs an experiment and then recruit members of the public to help gather data. It is the 21st Century blend of the do it yourself (D.I.Y) aesthetic and the people powered open source movement.  Imagine Benjamin Franklin in an anorak.

Playlist track five: Billy Bragg with Waiting For The Great Leap Forwards from Workers Playtime

Daily upgrade…….

Science News ( Feb. 25, 2006 Vol. 169, NO. 8 ) published an article detailing the effects of exercise on brain fitness. Recent research has found exercise to boost brain function. More surprisingly, this benefit extends to brains which have been damaged by disease or injury. What is the cause of this boost? During exercise the brain excretes chemicals know as neurotrophic factors. These proteins produce numerous positive effects on nerve cells. They protect against injury, promote growth and encourage neurons to strengthen their connections which is interpreted as a sign of learning. The most important protein in this class turned out to be brain-derived neurotrophic factor which is commonly referred to as BDNF; not only does BDNF produce growth but also acts as a modulator which stimulates other chemicals to switch on and amplify BDNF’s effects. As one researcher, Fernando Gomez-Pinilla of the University of California in Los Angeles noted, "Locomotion played a very important role in evolution. Animals had to move to find food and run away from predators. Exercise had a direct action on brain regions related to cognition. Normally, when two functions evolve in this way, you can’t separate them."

The Ultimate Anti-Environment…….

"We have now become aware of the possibility of arranging the entire human environment as a work of art, as a teaching machine designed to maximize perception and make everyday learning a process of discovery." –Marshall McLuhan, The Medium is the Massage


I love Pee-Wee’s Playhouse so much that I just might want to marry it. The show, which is now available as a DVD box set, is a creative powerhouse. If you are lacking inspiration or feeling drained of your creative mojo help has arrived.

There is so much to love. The show is bursting with a campy exuberance which unifies all of the other elements. The eye-popping set is a perfect shrine to 50’s Americana. The retro musical sensibility further transports the viewer into the land of play and possibility. Name another tv show which has its credits open to a re-worked Quiet Village courtesy of Mark Mothersbaugh and the theme song belted out by Cyndi Lauper?

Cleverly, the story and characters are a mix of imaginative play. Something you would expect to see if you found a child playing alone with her toys.

The human actors interact with inanimate objects which have feelings, hopes and dreams. The furniture talks. Toys feel left out and at times the puppets seem more real that the humans they share the playhouse with.

If this wasn’t enough, the show is overflowing with talent. Laurence Fishburne plays Cowboy Curtis. Phil Hartman does a terrific job as the crusty Captain Carl. Miss Yvonne done by Lynn Marie Stewart is a perfect blend of naughty and nice. Finally, S. Epatha Merkerson provides the ideal straight woman as Reba the mail lady. What’s not to love?

Playlist track four: Cyndi Lauper with Girls just want to have fun from Twelve Deadly Cyns

Hybrid nation…….

"Today, hardcore has given way to hybrid." –Wired, The New Power Generation: 05/2005 Tokyo is the world’s cultural chop shop. Local ideas are stripped of emotional baggage and jingoism to harvest the underlying pop-culture building blocks. This DNA is crossed with useful parts scavenged from other customs and presto out of the mash-up emerges something truly special. How about your own piece of french domestic life with a miniaturized pocket meal set? You can eat the tiny candy. If movies are more your thing why not try Howl’s Moving Castle or check out the new Prius which is rumored to reach 113 miles per gallon. Back in the West ideology still trumps innovation. Purity is valued over pragmatism. The importance of a cultural advancement seems to lie more in being able to judge who was first or among the early adopts rather than the intrinsic value of the idea. The central question seems to be, "how can we find out who is hardcore and weed out the posers?" Thankfully, times are changing. Napoleon Dynamite has his Liger and the flexitarians are causing the hardcore vegetarians to protest the contamination of the cause. It is time to exploit this country’s most abundant resource –the creativity of each one of its citizens. So suck it up and bridge the gap between the red/blue, straight/gay, black/white, right/wrong and get to work. ‘Cause when the water start to rise it won’t care which side you were on. Track three for the playlist: El Pus with Thing Thing from Hoodlum Rock: Vol.1