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Thursday, April 15, 2010

Apple's iPad: Rethinking Comics

By: Brian Heater


In the lead up to the iPhone's release in June 2007, the blogosphere half-jokingly referred to the handset as the "Jesus Phone." Mind you, all of that white-knuckled hyperbole played out well before anyone had any concept of the device's true potential. A year later, Apple would completely change the smartphone model, with the release of the iTunes App Store. With that in mind, it should come as no surprise that a number of industries are looking toward the iPhone's second coming—the Apple iPad—for their salvation.

When the iPad launched, media partners couldn't embrace team Apple quickly enough. Magazine and newspaper publishers saw the device as the savior of a dying industry. Even the most established papers and magazines have been hemorrhaging money by the boatload. The inability to sell physical copies of their product and monetize the online content that has replaced it has caused an ever-enlarging number of publications to fold. If you've seen Rupert Murdoch on television in the past year, chances are pretty good that he was decrying the "thievery" of his newspaper content by search engines like Google.

The last several years haven't been great for the comics industry, either. While comic books aren't quite as immune to recessions as, say, gaming or film, comic publishers seem to have fared better than their newspaper brethren. Like record labels before them, however, comic book companies were largely late to the Internet party.

While most comic publishers continued to focus the lion's share of their attention on print, a Web comic revolution exploded around them. The list of successful Web comic artists is long, but a few spring immediately to mind, including Jerry Holkins and Mike Krahulik, whose strip Penny Arcade has blossomed into its own cottage industry. The series has spawned several books, an episodic video game series, a Web video show, and a twice-yearly gaming expo.

XKCD, Achewood, and Diesel Sweeties all achieved a considerable level success on the Web independent of more traditional publishing channels (Achewood has subsequently released books through Dark Horse Comics, Diesel Sweeties was picked up by United Features Syndicate, and an XKCD book was released by breadpig). Hark! a Vagrant author Kate Beaton made some waves late year by eschewing offers from larger publishers in order to self-release her book Never Learn Anything From History.

Publishing houses have since turned more of their attention toward the Web. Both of the majors—Marvel and DC—have launched large Web initiatives. Marvel is focusing its attention toward back issues. Meanwhile, DC opted to foster the creation of serialized Web comics, launching Zuda Comics, which allows artists to submit their comics in the hopes of winning a DC book deal. And then there are the independent publishers, like Top Shelf Productions and Dark Horse Comics (who, in 2007, struck up a content partnership with MySpace).

PCs and Smartphones
For a long time, the Internet seemed like the next logical step in the evolution of sequential art. With his seminal 2000 book, Reinventing Comics, cartoonist and theorist Scott McCloud helped popularize the term "infinite canvas," predicting that the unlimited bits provided by the Internet marked the end of the special limitations imposed by traditional publishing.

It's no coincidence that the most popular comics properties on the Internet are almost all newspaper-style strips, rather than online graphic novels. I really can't sum up the matter any better than McCloud did during a recent conversation we had on the subject of the iPad. "Comic strips made an easy leap onto the Web," the writer explained. "They got a little bigger, so they're easier to read. God created Web comic strips in a day and took the other six off. There was no design challenge. It fit."

When he says "it fit," he means it literally. Click on a link and there's the strip—no advancing or scrolling required. Comic books, on the other hand, are an entirely different story. They don't fit—not at all. I receive a lot of comics for review in PDF form, and I just can't do it. Flipping through pages with a mouse isn't natural. And then there's the whole lean back/lean forward paradigm that's been discussed of late, in the wake of the new generation of tablet computers. Have you ever attempted to read a full-length graphic novel while hunched over your keyboard? I don't recommend it.

As consumers began to shift their attention toward the smartphone space, so, too, did the comics industry. A new generation of handsets, led by the iPhone, offered yet another opportunity to re-think the medium. Phones offer comics in your pocket, comics on the go. And, unlike electronic ink-powered devices like the Kindle, the iPhone and its ilk have bright, beautiful color screens. Unfortunately, the special issues that befall comic books on the Web are all the more pronounced on the phone. For obvious reasons, the comic strip is, once again, the ideal size for consumption.

If only there were a device that was like the iPhone but, you know, bigger…

Click here for the full article.....

Researchers Find Electrical Current Stemming From Plants


In an electrifying first, Stanford scientists have plugged in to algae cells and harnessed a tiny electric current. They found it at the very source of energy production – photosynthesis, a plant’s method of converting sunlight to chemical energy. It may be a first step toward generating “high efficiency” bioelectricity that doesn’t give off carbon dioxide as a byproduct, the researchers say.

“We believe we are the first to extract electrons out of living plant cells,” said WonHyoung Ryu, the lead author of the paper published in the March issue of Nano Letters. Ryu conducted the experiments while he was a research associate for mechanical engineering professor Fritz Prinz.

[photo via InfraNet Lab]

The Stanford research team developed a unique, ultra-sharp nanoelectrode made of gold, specially designed for probing inside cells. They gently pushed it through the algal cell membranes, which sealed around it, and the cell stayed alive. From the photosynthesizing cells, the electrode collected electrons that had been energized by light and the researchers generated a tiny electric current.

“We’re still in the scientific stages of the research,” said Ryu. “We were dealing with single cells to prove we can harvest the electrons.”

Plants use photosynthesis to convert light energy to chemical energy, which is stored in the bonds of sugars they use for food. The process takes place in chloroplasts, the cellular powerhouses that make sugars and give leaves and algae their green color. In the chloroplasts, water is split into oxygen, protons and electrons. Sunlight penetrates the chloroplast and zaps the electrons to a high energy level, and a protein promptly grabs them. The electrons are passed down a series of proteins, which successively capture more and more of the electrons’ energy to synthesize sugars until all the electron’s energy is spent.

[photo via Ohio State Lima]

In this experiment, the researchers intercepted the electrons just after they had been excited by light and were at their highest energy levels. They placed the gold electrodes in the chloroplasts of algae cells, and siphoned off the electrons to generate the tiny electrical current.

The result, the researchers say, is electricity production that doesn’t release carbon into the atmosphere. The only byproducts of photosynthesis are protons and oxygen.

“This is potentially one of the cleanest energy sources for energy generation,” Ryu said. “But the question is, is it economically feasible?”

Ryu said they were able to draw from each cell just one picoampere, an amount of electricity so tiny that they would need a trillion cells photosynthesizing for one hour just to equal the amount of energy stored in a AA battery. In addition, the cells die after an hour. Ryu said tiny leaks in the membrane around the electrode could be killing the cells, or they may be dying because they’re losing out on energy they would normally use for their own life processes. One of the next steps would be to tweak the design of the electrode to extend the life of the cell, Ryu said.

Harvesting electrons this way would be more efficient than burning biofuels, as most plants that are burned for fuel ultimately store only about 3 to 6 percent of available solar energy, Ryu said. His process bypasses the need for combustion, which only harnesses a portion of a plant’s stored energy. Electron harvesting in this study was about 20 percent efficient. Ryu said it could theoretically reach 100 percent efficiency one day. (Photovoltaic solar cells are currently about 20-40-percent efficient.)

Possible next steps would be to use a plant with larger chloroplasts for a larger collecting area, and a bigger electrode that could capture more electrons. With a longer-lived plant and better collecting ability, they could scale up the process, Ryu said. Ryu is now a professor at Yonsei University in Seoul, South Korea.


Other authors of the paper are Prinz, the senior author,; Seoung-Jai Bai, Tibor Fabian, Rainer J. Fasching, Joong Sun Park, and Zubin Huang, all researchers in the Rapid Protoyping Laboratory at Stanford University; and Jeffrey Moseley and Arthur Grossman, both researchers in the Department of Plant Biology at the Carnegie Institution and Department of Biological Sciences.

Source: Stanford University

Microsoft’s 'Manual Deskterity' Enhances User Touchscreen Experience (w/ Video)

by John Messina

Microsoft’s 'Manual Deskterity' Enhances User Touchscreen  Experience (w/ Video)


Microsoft’s “Manual Deskterity” adds power and a more natural user experience to the tablet PC.

( -- Microsoft's "Manual Deskterity" combines touch and pen for a more natural user experience working with Microsoft Surface (tabletop touchscreen) and newer versions of Windows 7 tablet.

Microsoft’s aims are to combine pen and multi-touch input into a more natural . For example, moving papers around on your desk and jotting notes on them, and then dropping them into folders for filing. The pen input is great for certain tasks, but not others; the same holds true for touch.

’s new exhibits many interesting features when combining the pen and touch interaction on the . Take for instance, if a user wanted to copy an object, they can do so by holding it down with one hand and dragging the pen across the image to peel off a new one and place it anywhere on the desk.

The above video demonstrates many user interface techniques that would have to be learned to fully utilize all the features incorporated into “Manual Deskterity”. Microsoft believes that the natural user interface will ease the learning process and prevent users from trying to remember a sequence of commands or menu operations.

Microsoft’s Bill Buxton explains what the Natural User Interface is all about, in the above video.

Microsoft’s researchers have arrived at the following perspective: the pen writes, touch manipulates, and the combination of both yields new tools.

Microsoft’s 'Manual Deskterity' Enhances User Touchscreen  Experience (w/ Video)

Pen writes, touch manipulates.

Microsoft’s 'Manual Deskterity' Enhances User Touchscreen  Experience (w/ Video)

Pen plus touch equals new set of tools.

By combining the two, Microsoft researchers are working on a whole new variety of tools for interacting with your computer. There are also plans to adapt this user interface to work on .
© 2010

10 Amazing Sculptures Made of Playing Cards

See what one artist can do with the hand he was dealt

By Brynn Mannino


Artist Bryan Berg is the only known person who makes a living by building playing card sculptures. Although he’s a Harvard-educated architect, Berg claims he learned all his techniques the old-fashioned way—through trial and error. "I never knew a career in card stacking was something that could exist,” Berg says. “Even after all these years, I'm still learning how to be better at what I do." Check out his life's work below.

Disney’s Cinderella Castle

In 2004, Berg created a 15-foot replica of Disney World's Cinderella Castle. Over the course of 30 days, he used 3,000 decks to build this Magical Kingdom of cards, which set the Guinness World Record for the World's Largest House of Freestanding Playing Cards. Photo courtesy of

New York City Skyline

In February 2005, Berg joined forces with “Decked Out in Times Square,” an on-air tsunami relief fundraiser, for which he spent 10 days at the ABC Studios in New York’s Times Square to build this structure. The piece, which is made up of 178,000 cards, features landmarks including the Flatiron Building, the Chrysler Building and the Empire State Building. Photo courtesy of

Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas

Though Berg doesn't typically use any "trickery" (adhesives), he did in 2006 to recreate this famous sign, which was commissioned by Loctite and displayed at the 2006 World Series of Poker. The materials he used include playing cards, dice, poker chips, wood and Loctite Control Gel Super Glue. The completed project weighed over 600 pounds. Photo courtesy of

Rhode Island State House

In 2007, Berg—who was introduced to "cardstacking" by his grandfather—created this piece in three days using 22,000 cards (that’s more than 407 decks). Watch this video to see Berg build the structure in fast-forward. Photo courtesy of

The Bravery

In 2007, Berg appeared with The Bravery in their music video for the song "Time Won't Let Me Go.” He built several freestanding elements of the "card world" featured in the clip. Photo courtesy of

Dallas Art Museum

In 2007, using 1,000 decks of cards, Berg broke his own Guinness World Record for The World's Tallest House of Freestanding Playing Cards by building this tower, which stands over 25 feet tall. See him in action here. Photo courtesy of

Beijing Olympic Village

In 2008, Berg—who uses a strategic four-card cell structure he calls "grids" to arrange his cards—built a replica of the Beijing Olympic Village in 20 days using 140,000 playing cards. Watch Berg build the village replica. Photo courtesy of

Keycard Hotel

In 2009, the Holiday Inn completed its twelve-hundredth hotel as part of a $1 billion relaunch. To celebrate, they commissioned Berg to construct a life-size hotel room, lobby and furniture, for which he used 200,000 cards. This was the second project of Berg's career for which he used glue. He was also featured in this Holiday Inn commercial. Photo courtesy of

Lexus City

In 2009, Lexus commissioned Berg to build an "any-city skyline" on the roof and surrounding a running Lexus ES to demonstrate the smoothness of the new model's engine. Berg worked on the project for three weeks and used 64,800 cards. Watch the commercial. Photo courtesy of

Venetian Macao

In 2010, this 33' x 10', 218,792-card replica of the Macao, China, luxury resort—which Berg built in 44 days—beat out his own Cinderella Castle as the World's Largest House of Freestanding Playing Cards. Photo courtesy of

Iowan ready for prom with gum wrapper dress


In this Sunday April 11, 2010 image made from video provided by KMIT-TV, Elizabeth Rasmuson and boyfriend, Jordan Weaver wear a dress and vest made of gum wrappers from Wrigley's "5 gum" in shades of blue and white in Garner, Iowa. They will wearing them at their high school prom on Saturday. (AP Photo/KMIT-TV)

GARNER, Iowa - An Iowa teen is all bubbly over her one-of-a-kind high school prom dress she made out of gum wrappers. Elizabeth Rasmuson made her dress — and matching vest for her date — out of blue and white wrappers from Wrigley's "5 gum." The high school junior says she got the idea after hearing about someone making a dress out of duct tape.

She and her boyfriend began collecting gum wrappers last August. Rasmuson says she quit counting after 200.

Since the wrappers break easily, Rasmuson finished her dress with a vinyl top coat.

Information from: KIMT-TV,

'Among the Righteous:' Arabs Saving Jews in the Holocaust

Posted By Robert Satloff


"Among the Righteous: Lost Stories from the Holocaust in Arab lands," is a new documentary I made in partnership with MacNeil-Lehrer Productions, airing tonight on PBS. It retells largely forgotten stories from World War II in North Africa of Arabs who saved their Jewish neighbors from the Holocaust -- a story which Holocaust historiography has largely left untouched. The documentary digs into history to uncover not only cases of Jewish persecution in North Africa similar to the Jewish experience in Europe, but also stories of the "righteous" Arabs that protected Jews. Filmed in eight different countries stretching from Morocco to Israel, the documentary reveals surprising discoveries about the past that can help challenge how Arabs and Jews alike view this part of Holocaust history.

The documentary airs tonight on PBS at 10 p.m. eastern time.

Robert Satloff is executive director of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

New York City 3D in Google Earth

YourWorldIn3D April 09, 2010See New York City, NY in Google Earth with new, high-quality 3D imagery (street level detail). Download Google Earth at

Volcanic ash cloud from Iceland grounds all UK flights

By: Press Association


Spectacular pictures taken from a helicopter at sunset on April  14, 2010 show how ash from an Icelandic volcano is severely disrupting  travel plans for British air passengers


Spectacular pictures taken from a helicopter at sunset on April 14, 2010 show how ash from an Icelandic volcano is severely disrupting travel plans for British air passengers

    The Most Colourful Tree on Earth

    Rainbow Eucalyptus

    Photo: Jeff Kubina
    Rainbow Eucalyptus (Eucalyptus deglupta)

    The Rainbow Eucalyptus (Eucalyptus deglupta) or Mindanao Gum is the only species of Eucalyptus tree found in the northern hemisphere. As if that weren’t extraordinary enough, the up to 70-m tall tree also shines in the colours of the rainbow: its bark can take on a yellow, green, orange and even purple shading!

    Nope, no crazy abstract painter has put a paint brush to this tree:
    Rainbow Eucalyptus

    Photo: Lisa Jacobs

    The unusual phenomenon is caused by patches of bark shedding at different times. The different colours are therefore indicators of the age of the bark: Freshly shed outer bark will reveal the bright green inner bark. This darkens over time and changes from blue to purple and then reaches orange and maroon tones.

    Like a natural camouflage pattern:
    Rainbow Eucalyptus bark

    Photo: carvalho

    One would think that a tree this pretty and unusual should, well, if not be worshipped, at least be put on public display in parks and forests. Sadly, that is not the case. Rainbow Eucalyptus trees are cultivated around the world mainly for pulpwood creation purposes. Wood pulp is the most common ingredient when making paper, white paper that is. The pulp can be chemically or mechanically separated from the wood. It is a dry, fibrous material whose fibres disperse and become more pliable when suspended in water.

    Rainbow Eucalyptus trees at the side of Hana Highway in Maui, Hawaii:
    Rainbow eucalyptus trees

    Photo: Forest & Kim Starr

    Pulpwood’s here to stay though as it is considered a source of green energy, and demand has increased over the last few years. Currently though, trees cultivated specifically for pulp production account for only 16% of world pulp production. About 9% comes from old growth forests and the remaining 75% from second-, third- and more generation forests. That’s a lot of tree years wasted for a bit of pulpwood! However, reforestation and specific cultivation for pulp wood purposes are on the rise, making the trees a renewable energy.

    Colourful wonder:
    Rainbow eucalyptus

    Photo: Amelia

    If you want to spot a Rainbow Eucalyptus tree live and in all its glory, you’ll have to travel to Indonesia, Papua New Guinea or the Philippines, the tree’s only native places. However, it has been introduced worldwide as an exotic wood in South America, Malaysia, Sri Lanka, China and other countries.

    Sources: 1, 2, 3, 4

    © Simone Preuss

    The World Would Be Better If Everyone Watched This Video


    If every person on our blue Earth watched this video, the world would be a much better place. At least for a few minutes. Listen closely to Carl Sagan's words till the end. It won't fail to get you teary.-JD

    The spacecraft was a long way from home.

    I thought it would be a good idea, just after Saturn, to have them take one last glance homeward. From Saturn, the Earth would appear too small for Voyager to make out any detail. Our planet would be just a point of light, a lonely pixel hardly distinguishable from the other points of light Voyager would see: nearby planets, far off suns. But precisely because of the obscurity of our world thus revealed, such a picture might be worth having.

    It had been well understood by the scientists and philosophers of classical antiquity that the Earth was a mere point in a vast, encompassing cosmos—but no one had ever seen it as such. Here was our first chance, and perhaps also our last for decades to come.

    So, here they are: a mosaic of squares laid down on top of the planets in a background smattering of more distant stars. Because of the reflection of sunlight off the spacecraft, the Earth seems to be sitting in a beam of light, as if there were some special significance to this small world; but it's just an accident of geometry and optics. There is no sign of humans in this picture: not our reworking of the Earth's surface; not our machines; not ourselves. From this vantage point, our obsession with nationalisms is nowhere in evidence. We are too small. On the scale of worlds, humans are inconsequential: a thin film of life on an obscure and solitary lump of rock and metal.

    Consider again that dot. That's here. That's home. That's us. On it, everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you've ever heard of, every human being who ever was lived out their lives. The aggregate of all our joys and sufferings; thousands of confident religions, ideologies and economic doctrines; every hunter and forager; every hero and coward; every creator and destroyer of civilizations; every king and peasant, every young couple in love; every mother and father; hopeful child; inventor and explorer; every teacher of morals; every corrupt politician; every supreme leader; every superstar; every saint and sinner in the history of our species, lived there—on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.

    The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena.

    Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of this pixel on the scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner. How frequent their misunderstandings; how eager they are to kill one another; how fervent their hatreds. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that in glory and triumph they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot. Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the universe, are challenged by this point of pale light.

    Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity—in all this vastness—there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves. Like it or not, for the moment, the Earth is where we make our stand.

    It has been said that astronomy is a humbling and character-building experience. There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. It underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another, and to preserve and cherish the only home we've ever known.

    The pale blue dot.

    This is an excerpt from Carl Sagan's Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space. It talks about the photo of the same name, Pale Blue Dot, taken by Voyager I on February 14, 1990.

    The short film was produced by David Fu. Thanks to our friend Alex Pasternack—from Motherboard—for pointing us to this amazing video.

    The Miniatur Wunderland Hamburg – The World’s Biggest Model Train Set


    Model Train Set

    Frederik Braun and his then-girlfriend and today’s wife were visiting the alpine city of Zurich in July 2000. Sauntering together through the alleys of Zurich’s center, they came across a railway model shop, which at once evoked childhood memories in Frederik.

    Model Train Set

    During the following hours, the idea of realizing the long forgotten childhood dream became more and more mature. On the very same day he called his twin brother Gerrit and surprised him with the following words: „We are going to build the largest model railway in the world“.

    Model Train Set

    Gerrit, who is more rational and sceptical by nature, doubted Frederik’s state of mind and didn’t take the idea too seriously. However, after having received about six more calls from Frederik enthusiastically presenting new ideas about this topic, Gerrit realized that his brother was very serious about it. So, he started thinking about the project from an economical and technical point of view.

    Model Train Set

    The result was that the project is technically demanding, the economic aspect is very risky and from an entrepreneurial view it is crazy – but, still possible. Gerrit had been infected by this idea as well. The two brothers passed the coming days intensely planning their dream despite many doubts and misgivings from their environment.

    Model Train Set

    Only a few days after Zurich’s enlightenment both of them were sure that they would engage in this adventure.

    Model Train Set

    The world’s largest model railway and one of the most popular tourist attractions in Germany is located next to the Elbe in Hamburg’s Speicherstadt.

    Model Train Set

    On more than 1,150 m² model area the Miniatur Wunderland ranges from Scandinavia to the USA, from the coast to the high mountains.

    Model Train Set

    After final construction phase in 2015 model area will have more than 2.300 m² in 12 Construction Areas.

    Model Train Set

    The Miniatur Wunderland has been constantly growing since the year 2001. Having started with two layout areas, Harz and Southern Germany, the Wunderland has openend the seventh area, Switzerland, in November 2007.

    Model Train Set

    More layout areas have already been planned until the year 2014.

    Model Train Set

    The Miniatur Wunderland have pursued the principle of open workshops since the beginning, which means that you can actually see his modellers and technicians working in the Wunderland and observe how landscapes emerge.

    Model Train Set

    Up till now approx. 500,000 working hours and 8.7 Million Euros(11.7M $) they have put into the Miniatur Wunderland.

    Model Train Set

    The Harz is one of the oldest landscapes in Miniatur Wunderland. It was built together with Austria and Knuffingen during the first construction phase (December 2000 – August 2001) and has become an important milestone in the renaissance of modelling.

    Model Train Set

    Model Train Set

    Model Train Set

    Click here for many more pics!!!