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I remember when virtual reality tried to go mainstream in the mid-80s, big, heavy headsets and poor computer graphics let you walk around a world that looked like a big pixel. It was interesting but even the teenage me was unimpressed. Jump forward to now and virtual reality has become cheap and nimble.

Enter Google Cardboard. For about $15 you can have a virtual reality headset sent to you. Slide your smartphone in, put your headphones on and you’re off.

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Sure there are more expensive headsets from Samsung or Facebook, but why bother? The experience on Google Cardboard is excellent enough to make you lose your balance or walk into chairs.

The New York Times sent its subscribers a free headset a while back and has been putting excellent content on its VR app: NYT VR. For now it’s just a cool toy, but I can see how the marriage of cheap headsets, smartphones, and apps, will lead to new ways to communicate, learn, get the news, etc.

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A bit back I was made aware by the ever-curious Grant McCracken of his latest project on culture entitled “Culturematics.” Culturematics are “little machines for making culture.” And while not actually small industrial devices, culturematics are nevertheless “ingenuity engines.”

Grant had developed a blog for people to post their newly minted culturematics: quick, inexpensive prototypes of ideas that are likely to fail, but that just might take off and get picked up by people and become part of our cultural milieu. By sharing ideas, the jist is that these ideas will evolve quickly. Many ideas will not be picked up and die off. But a few are likely to be adopted, and transformed in the process through iterative innovation into something that has the possibility of making its mark, or better still, transforming society, i.e., an “app for creating the world anew.”

In today’s fast and furious world, culturematics give one the opportunity to either take the reins and lead the charge in the creation of their own culturematic or at least participate in the process and contribute to one’s development.

In the end, while you may not create the next Google or Starbucks, Grant allows us to participate in the mysterious process of innovation. If nothing else, it will stir one’s curiosity and allow you to dip into a creative pool of interesting people. Fun and relevant.

ImageThis is the week where Apple makes its big product and software announcements. As usual, I’m sure there will be a mix of surprises, disappointments, and big changes that will generate a buzz on the internet. One interesting thing I saw leaked this morning was that Apple will stop giving away printers with new computer purchases. Instead, it is rumored they will give away content in the form of iTunes gift cards. 

I realize that this seems like a very subtle change on the surface, but it may be remembered as one of the first things that signaled the death of home printing. Many things have gone either ticketless (airlines) or paperless/scanable (events). Our mobile devices keep our correspondence, directions, coupons, etc. when we’re away from home so we don’t need to print those things out anymore. Documents are largely shared via e-mail or other cloud sources. Reading/notes are quickly moving to screens.

Beyond the scanning capabilities, is the home printer moving from necessity to relic?

 

2am and you’re hungry for some sweets? Up until now, you’ve been out of luck. That might change, however, with the cupcake-dispensing ATM. Sprinkles Cupcakes is planning them. Looks like the idea is coming to Washington DC soon

An article in the Atlantic has been making the rounds on the Internet today (at least here in North Carolina) as it highlights local entrepreneurs. Durham’s Kickstarter Kids highlights a trend in the Triangle, typically known for big IT and pharma. With one of the most educated populaces in the nation, the Triangle (the NC region encompassing Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill) is becoming a hotbed for small start ups and creative ideas. Durham in particular has undergone a renaissance in the past five to ten years, attracting residents and businesses to a downtown that faded as the tobacco industry moved away.

So what are they doing? They’re making custom bound journals by marrying technology with just-in-time printing capabilities, using technology to create custom clothing, and making doughnuts (hey innovation needs fuel).

Durham is a great example of how a once industrial town can reinvent itself through an educated populace, creative thinking, and technology/innovation.

Forget the aesthetic of 180-gram vinyl. So yesterday on yesteryear. And nevermind the Internet when it comes to co-creation and consumer ownership of the creative process. The ultimate music aficionado and audio cultural curator is (still) the master of the mix tape. Yup, the cassette. Never has there been a sign of personal affection and affinity for one’s friends and loved ones than taking the time to blend them a mix tape. It take a lot of thought and even more time. It’s a creative pursuit that aurally profiles one’s persona.

And never has there been more of a resurgence of casette-focused labels than today. Just check out: GoldTimers, Hyperdelic, and Retrograde Tapes to start. And of course the granddaddy of them all, ROIR, who’s been issuing cassettes for over thirty years.

Where unfettered creativity still percolates two standard deviations out, and out of view from most. Personal creativity, created alone, shared with another, small group of friends, or like-minded aficionados.

Yesteryear’s castoffs become our cheap tools to craft new and evocative expression. The personal. The building blocks of aural culture. Like today’s fashion designers surreptitiously trolling vintage stores, picking over yesterday for tomorrow’s haute couture, later reconstituted for the H&M and Target racks.

They never left us, we just think we keep leaving them.

The U.S. Census Bureau Center for Economic Studies has long supported (for the past ~5 years) an online system for pulling area-based employment and residence data using a visual map-based selection tool called OnTheMap.  This software is fairly intuitive and fun to use, but can also be quite useful in exploring a specific market or region to understand where workers live and work, and how that has changed over time.

OnTheMap is useful for more than work location, however.  It’s a multi-layered mapping tool, with companion data on demographics, earnings, industry characteristics.  We’ve also used it to identify exact metropolitan statistical areas and radius ranges, to find transportation routes, greenspace, and tribal and military lands, and to simply better understand a physical marketplace.

For years, organizations like the Census Bureau relied heavily on point-in-time estimates, tables of statistics and physical and static maps for data exploration like this. As new systems come online, are developed further, and improved over successive versions, our ability to access information from our desktops is not only facilitated but empowered.

Indie rock band Kaiser Chiefs have put an spin on their latest album release that makes innovative and resourceful use of social networking to drive CD sales.

The band is selling a customizable CD: Buyers can select 10 tracks from an available 20 to include in their CD, and then choose combinations of and adjust several available graphic components to create their own cover art. Once completed, a buyer’s customized CD is made available on the band’s site, where other buyers can opt to select your production (plus, you get royalties for every purchase of your produced version). The site even tracks purchases made of each version produced, allowing buyers to track how their version is faring against other buyers’ productions.

It’s not only a great idea, but a well executed one – This process, if cumbersome, wouldn’t provide any type of incentive for fans to engage with it. But putting together the CD is simple and fun. Check it out here.