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Topsight, February 25, 2009

794618.jpgQuick hits:

• Cybermermaid: Nadya Vessey lost the lower parts of her legs, so she decided to become a mermaid. Much to her surprise, New Zealand special effects group Weta agreed to help her out.

After seeing Ms Vessey test the tail in Kilbirnie pool then frolic in the harbour, Ms Williams was stoked. "It was absolutely amazing. It's beautiful to watch Nadya swim and to see that dream come true and to be a part of that. I feel quite blessed."

The suit was made mostly of wetsuit fabric and plastic moulds, and was covered in a digitally printed sock. Mermaid-like scales were painted by hand.

Mr Taylor said not only did the tail have to be functional, it was important it looked realistic. "What became apparent was that she actually physically wanted to look like a mermaid."

Okay, not quite cybermermaid, but indicative of what will happen as prosthetic technologies continue to evolve. Not everyone who needs a prosthetic system will decide that they want to be "normal." Expect myth and legend to fill in the morphological blanks at first, but then more wild flights of imagination will take over.

And that will be pretty cool.

• H++: Issue #2 of h+, the futures-focused magazine produced by "Betterhumans" and edited by R.U. Sirius, is now available (Flash). I actually have a couple of articles in this one, both more environmental futurey than posthuman futurey. I can't link directly to them, because of the use of flash rather than real HTML/XML; when the copyright reverts to me in 90 days, I'll go ahead and repost them here.

One piece looks at a biomimetic energy system that generates power from waves by flopping like a fish; the other looks at five 21st century renewable energy technologies. Here's a taste of the latter:

We're at the cusp of a massive transition, from the era of limited, subtractive energy resources to the era of unlimited, renewable energy. For a variety of reasons, we've long relied upon energy resources that have finite quantities, and once used, leave us stuck with (often deadly) waste products. These resources were easy to find and cheap to use, but -- from a long-term perspective -- were never really more than bootstrap technologies, allowing us to get to the point where we could shift to energy resources that are functionally limitless, and entirely renewable. That point is here.

(Pulled from my submitted article file, not from the digital file, because flash means you can't copy text.)

• Hey You Kids, Get Offa My Yardshare!: Words to learn:

    Hyperlocavore: "...a person who tries to eat as much food as locally as possible. Growing your own is as local as it gets!"
    Yardsharing: "... an arrangement between people to share skills and gardening resources in order to grow food as locally as possible!"

These definitions (exclamation points included) come from the new social network "hyperlocavore," which blends bottom-up collaboration with food production. It's an example of peer-to-peer agriculture, and it's a pretty neat concept. Hyperlocavore just started, so you may not find yardsharing pals in your neighborhood -- so be the first.

The founder of hyperlocavore wrote to me, saying that she thought this was a pretty "worldchanging" idea. I agree. Check 'em out.

• Carbon Microcredits: This is smart:

Carbon Manna Unlimited announced yesterday a cell phone-based Carbon Micro Credit system in the country that will allow residents to claim carbon offsets produced by using efficient cooking methods. Instead of using open-pit fires to burn biomass, families are encouraged to experiment with solar cookers and charcoal stoves.

Basically, a switch to low-carbon cooking methods gets subsidized through the use of "carbon offsets" (the degree to which these would be considered actual carbon offsets, and the degree to which carbon credits work in the first place, are beside the point). Biomass cooking isn't a major source of greenhouse gases, but it doesn't help matters, and is both harmful to human health and harmful to the local environment. This is potentially a big win all around.

• Second Death: As a friend to folks who do make use of Second Life for interesting projects, this story saddens me. As a futurist who grew tired of seeing Second Life held up as a Futurological Cliché, the story makes me relieved. In neither case, however, does the story leave me surprised.


Re: Second Death - you do realize you're perpetuating a rumor spread everywhere this week by a couple of disaffected former "embedded SL reporters" right? It's actually Valleywag which is headed for a quick death or absorption into something else. Second Life is actually growing and (reportedly) profitable for the host company. This is just another negative bounce on the Hype Cycle.

Enjoy the "yardsharing" term. We call it "co-gardening" and have been doing it for 19 years now. It's food market, socializing and gym rolled into one. Mental health too.

I really wish there was some kind of virtual world that could be used to simplify telecommuting and collaboration meetings.

It was an odd realization when I noticed I felt a stronger team membership and had better communication with my geographically disbursed world of warcraft guild than my co-workers down the hall.

Though I'm not sure which might happen first, second life develops better ways of keeping people interested in their grid, or blizzard provides a way to show powerpoints in WoW.

Combine the mermaid suit with some of the robotic fish propulsion systems that are out there and you really have something. Now, how about detachable gills to breath underwater?

I've been working with Robert Lange of the International Collaborative for Science, Education, and the Environment (The ICSEE) (http://www.the-icsee.org/index.htm) and its Village Projects (http://www.the-icsee.org/projects/africa/villagesolarlight.htm). He is currently helping the village of Jongowe on the island of Tumbatu about a mile from Unguja, one of the major islands of Zanzibar, install small solar electric systems paid for by the carbon credits generated by improving the efficiency of local cooking stoves. This summer he took 100 solar panels to Jongowe. One of the problems he is encountering is getting certification for the carbon credits. This idea is also being used in Ethiopia and, I believe, Ghana.

For those who are interested, there's a lot more on the mermaid prosthesis, including video footage and some shots of its internal structure on weta's website..


re: second life death: what Ananda said. plus a couple of references: http://www.pbs.org/mediashift/2009/02/reuters-closes-second-life-bureau-but-virtual-life-goes-on050.html and http://dwellonit.blogspot.com/2009/02/goodnight-valleywag.html

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