The following was broadcast on an NPR news report:
In 2002, [Desert Space Foundation Director Josh] Abbey created a design competition to find a permanent warning sign for the proposed nuclear waste site [in Yucca Mountain, Nevada]. The purpose of the competition, he says, is to find a universal warning sign which conveys that the deposit is highly dangerous. One caveat: the symbols have to work even if language or communication breaks down in the future. And the design has to last at least 10,000 years.
Take a moment to consider this design challenge. Then, respond to it in whatever manner you feel is most appropriate.
The Drake Equation is “an attempt to estimate the number of extraterrestrial civilizations in our galaxy with which we might come in contact.” It was theorized by Dr. Frank Drake, who is best known for being the founder of SETI, or the Search for Extra-Terrestrial Inteligence. Drake proposed the equation in 1960, the same year the physicist Enrico Fermi proposed his Fermi Paradox, which asks why “if a multitude of advanced extraterrestrial civilizations exist in the Milky Way galaxy, evidence such as spacecraft or probes are not seen.” One suggestion for the reason for this is called the Zoo Hypothesis, which suggests that aliens may be present but that they might “generally avoid making their presence known to humanity, or avoid exerting an influence on human development, somewhat akin to zookeepers observing animals in a zoo.” Another suggestion is known as The Great Filter, which “acts to reduce the great number of potential sites to the tiny number of intelligent species actually observed (currently just one: ours). It might work either by one or more barriers to the evolution of intelligent life, or a high probability of self-destruction.” While SETI implies a more passive search, METI (Messaging to Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence), is described as follows: “The science known as SETI deals with searching for messages from aliens. METI science deals with the creation of messages to aliens. […] [METI] pursues not a local and lucrative impulse, but a more global and unselfish one—to overcome the Great Silence in the Universe, bringing to our extraterrestrial neighbors the long-expected annunciation ‘You are not alone!’” Attempts at METI include the beautiful Arecibo Message and the highly symbolic Pioneer Plaque, both well worth a look.
More great work from Martin Frostner, here’s a project that converts fleeting SMS messages into permanent rubber stamps for envelopes: “Disappointed by the fact that there’s no way to save the humorous, strange or loving text messages that we send and receive—and that ultimately they have to be erased—we came up with a novel method by which they could be retained. By designing a series of rubber-stamps, we allowed the best messages to be stamped anywhere, perhaps to be used again with the postman as courier this time.” See also: Posts by Post.
From Christopher D. Green’s insanely great archive, “Classics in the History of Psychology” comes George Miller’s famous 1956 paper, “The Magical Number Seven, Plus or Minus Two: Some Limits on our Capacity for Processing Information.” Among many wonderful things, the paper gave us the concept of “chunking.” Since Miller’s paper draws heavily from information theory as an influence, the classic example of chunking is a man trying to learn Morse code. Miller: “A man just beginning to learn radiotelegraphic code hears each dit and dah as a separate chunk. Soon he is able to organize these sounds into letters and then he can deal with the letters as chunks. Then the letters organize themselves as words, which are still larger chunks, and he begins to hear whole phrases. […] I am simply pointing to the obvious fact that the dits and dahs are organized by learning into patterns and that as these larger chunks emerge the amount of message that the operator can remember increases correspondingly. In the terms I am proposing to use, the operator learns to increase the bits per chunk.” Where’s one of the most vivid places to see chunking at work? A game of chess.
Lined & Unlined has been up and running for about a year and a half now, and so far I’ve had the good fortune to hear from a few of you out there in one capacity or another. Everytime I have, I’ve been incredibly grateful for the insight, encouragement, or critique, not to mention a lot of virtual introductions to people from far and wide. The site doesn’t support comments right now (though someday I may reconsider this for certain posts), so other than sending me an email about something specific, there aren’t a lot of ways for all of us to interact.
In that sense, it seems like it’s time for the site to evolve. I’d like to get to know more of you, who you are, what you like, what you don’t, why you’re reading, what you’d want to read more of. And, since you know what a fan I am of gift-giving, I’d like to offer you something in return. Something non-virtual. Something real.
So, in that spirit, I decided it might be fun to take the blog offline for a week and do five “posts by post.” The week of 12 May 2008, I’ll be sending out five postcards to anyone that joins the L&UL mailing list. If you sign up, you’ll get one postcard per day sent right to you, wherever you are, totally free. Sort of a blog by mail, but cooler. Consider it a little dose of nerdy design goodness, and you don’t have to plug anything in to get it.
You can sign up using the form below or head over to the new subscription page anytime you like. You’ll find more details about the mailing list there as well.
Update: Emmet Byrne from the Walker’s Design blog has been kind enough to post all the cards here. Check them out!
Wikipedia on Steganography: “Steganography is the art and science of writing hidden messages in such a way that no one apart from the sender and intended recipient even realizes there is a hidden message. By contrast, cryptography obscures the meaning of a message, but it does not conceal the fact that there is a message. Today, the term steganography includes the concealment of digital information within computer files.” Includes a number of great examples and links for hiding image within images and texts within images.
The law on keys vs. combination locks: “[T]he law has always drawn a distinction between objects and what’s in your brain. And even though the key to a lock and a series of numbers that’s the combination to a combination lock are functionally the same thing, the law draws a distinction and says that under the Fifth Amendment you can’t be compelled to disclose what’s in your brain if it’s going to hurt you.” More on this fascinating segment of “On the Media” with NYT reporter Adam Liptak and host Bob Garfield.
“In 2002, [Desert Space Foundation Director Josh] Abbey created a design competition to find a permanent warning sign for the proposed nuclear waste site [in Yucca Mountain, Nevada]. The purpose of the competition, he says, is to find a universal warning sign which conveys that the deposit is highly dangerous. One caveat: the symbols have to work even if language or communication breaks down in the future. And the design has to last at least 10,000 years.” Wow. That’s quite a challenge. Read on in this thoughtful NPR piece on Yucca Mountain.
Phishing, a form of spamming, is the forging of “official” e-mails in order to gain access to confidential information and enable identity theft. An interesting excercize in design for deception, you can see a breakdown of a sample e-mail here. More here. And, as an aside, how to spot a liar through Graphology, the possibly dubious “science” of handwriting anaylsis.