May 1st, 2012
02:59 PM ET

The Big Idea: Banjo music connects America and China

By John D. Sutter, CNN

Over in our opinion section, Abigail Washburn writes thoughtfully about the power of music to connect people from different cultures. She has a unique persective from which to make this claim, since she's a banjo-playing bluegrass musician - with curly blonde hair - who sometimes sings in Chinese.

Here's what she has to say about music's cross-cultural powers:

Music is a powerful way to connect cultures. I see it when I'm on a stage at a bluegrass festival in Virginia. When I look out at the sea of people in lawn chairs and bust into a song in Chinese, everybody's eyes pop wide open and they nudge their neighbor: "Is that girl singing in Chinese?" After a show, people would come up to me; everyone seems to have a story about their connection to China. And I see the power of music when I'm on stage in China: I start a Chinese song and the audience roars with delight that the blond, curly-haired girl with the banjo can sing their music.

More importantly, I see how music directly connects people's hearts. Like the time a little Chinese girl came up to me after I performed at a relocation school in Sichuan's earthquake disaster zone and asked: "Big Sister Wang, can I sing you a song that my mom sang before she was swallowed in the earthquake...?" She sat on my lap and I could feel the warmth of her body. She sang me the song, and tears started rolling down her cheeks and tears started rolling down mine. The light shining from her eyes felt like a place I could stay forever.

Check out the full post on CNN Opinion, and watch a video interview above.

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How to hide from face-detection technology
April 29th, 2012
10:25 AM ET

How to hide from face-detection technology

By John D. Sutter, CNN

(CNN) - If you take Adam Harvey's advice, here's what you might wanna wear to a party this weekend: A funny hat, asymmetrical glasses, a tuft of hair that dangles off your nose bridge and, most likely, a black-and-white triangle taped to your cheekbone. Optional: Cubic makeup patterns all around your eyes.

All of these otherworldly fashion accessories - which could leave a person looking kind of like an opulent villain from "The Hunger Games" - have a singular goal: to stop your face from being detected by cameras and computers. Called CV Dazzle (short for "computer vision dazzle;" more on the name later), Harvey's project is a provocative and largely theoretical response to the rise of surveillance cameras on street corners and face-detecting technology that's been incorporated into social networking sites like Facebook and Flickr.

If you employ these techniques, Harvey, 30, hopes computers won't even know you have a face:

I don’t want to be unrealistic about it. It’s a pretty conceptual project but it seems to touch on a subject that people are still trying to figure out, which is how to adapt to living in surveillance societies, where not only are you being watched by government surveillance but by citizen surveillance and social-media-type surveillance. FULL POST

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April 6th, 2012
09:53 PM ET

A history of Hollywood's invented languages

Editor's NoteDavid Peterson is the creator of the Dothraki language used in the HBO show 'Game of Thrones.' Peterson not only created the language but also served as translator/dialect coach for select cast in 'Game of Thrones.' He is also a member of the Language Creation Society.  A 30-minute profile of Peterson will air on The Next List on Sunday at 2 p.m. ET on CNN.

The full history of language creation is a fascinating and varied one, but for now, I want to focus on the use of created languages in television and film. As a starting point, it's useful to examine the usage of "foreign languages" in television and film. Though it's hard to imagine at this point a Russian character speaking something other than authentic and grammatically appropriate Russian in a feature-length film, that hasn't always been the case.

Consider, for example, the film adaptation of Thoroughly Modern Millie (1967). Moviegoers are familiar with the racism inherent in casting the "other" in older films. For the film, if an actor looked "Asian" that was good enough. That same attitude extended to the use of language in the film. Even without knowing Chinese, you can watch Thoroughly Modern Millie and tell that the "Chinese" spoken is complete and utter gobbledygook. That, though, was simply a detail: as long as it sounded "Asian", that was good enough. And mind, this was 1967. FULL POST

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April 6th, 2012
01:35 AM ET

'Game of Thrones' linguist: How to create a language from scratch

Editor's NoteDavid Peterson is the creator of the Dothraki language used in the HBO show 'Game of Thrones.' Peterson also is a member of the Language Creation Society.  A 30-minute profile of Peterson will air on CNN's "The Next List on Sunday at 2 p.m. ET.

By David Peterson, Special to CNN

The work of a language creator is often regarded with skepticism. "What's the big deal?" many ask. "All you have to do is make up words." And, indeed, one could proceed as follows:

a = blork
abandon = glurg
abate = plurfle
abattoir = gluff

And so on until there was a unique form for every word in an English language dictionary (in fact, with a computer program, one could produce dozens of "languages" like this in a matter of minutes). And while the resultant language would look different from English, functionally and semantically, it would be identical-a mere notational variant. FULL POST

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March 29th, 2012
01:18 PM ET

'The Next List': An archive of fascinating people

Every Sunday at 2 p.m. ET the CNN show 'The Next List' profiles a person with a new idea that could change the world. Here's a list of all of the innovators the show has featured since it started in November 2011. Check back for updates.

Hugh Herr, prosthetics developer and bionic man


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March 23rd, 2012
10:06 AM ET

Turning prosthetic limbs into art

Editor's note: Scott Summit is founder and Chief Technology Officer of Bespoke Innovations, a company that designs artful coverings around prosthetic legs to make them unique and express individuality. CNN’s The Next List is celebrating the wonders of prosthetic innovation by profiling Hugh Herr, bionic man, on Sunday at 2 p.m. ET.

By Scott Summit, Special to CNN

I’ve always loved the work of the artists who consider the human form as their inspiration. Henry Moore, Giacometti, Brancusi – all interpret the body into their works. But that is fine art, and it seems that, all too often, there exists an impenetrable divide between the arts and the more utilitarian mindset which often drives the products we surround ourselves with. I have always wondered why it is, however, that certain fields cannot infuse both design and utility and artfully marry them to a more suitable outcome.

Specifically, I feel that any product that is medical or corrective becomes a necessary augment to the body, and therefore, should live up to that role. It should respect the user, and offer to them all the quality of living and self esteem that it is able. Its success should be measured in terms beyond merely the pragmatic, but should aim to enhance the user’s quality of living in every way possible.

I set out to create an option for an amputee that invites an individual personality and taste to play the dominant role in the design process. The goal is to transform a product from something that certain people need into something that they love.

The resulting process is one where the ‘sound side’ leg (or ‘surviving leg’) is three-dimensionally scanned, mirrored, and digitally superimposed over the prosthetic limb to serve as reference geometry for the design process to follow. By doing this, we recreate symmetry to the body and guarantee that no two creations can be identical. We then invite user preference in patterns, design, and materials to drive the form-giving. Finally, we three-dimensionally ‘print’ the parts using a variety of new technologies in this area.

The resulting ‘fairings’ (a word we borrow from the motorcycle world, describing the parts which give it contour and form) relate to the body and mind in ways that a more utilitarian prosthetic leg typically cannot. They express the individuality of the wearer in whatever way they prefer. I like to believe that they connect the prosthetic leg to the user in ways that go beyond mere functionality.

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March 8th, 2012
07:40 PM ET

Dan Busby on creating an 'Electric Triumph'

CNN's "The Next List" recently took a trip to Syyn Labs in Los Angeles. It's a creative and technological collective that we will feature on our weekly show, which airs on Sunday at 2 p.m. ET.  While we were there, we met Dan Busby, a physicist, artist and  tinkerer - who also turned a Triumph Spitfire into an electric car.

We had a quick chat with Busby about his homemade "Electric Triumph." You can see a video of him showing it off above. Below is an edited transcript of our conversation. And don't forget to check Syyn Labs out on CNN this Sunday.

CNN: Where did you find the car?

Busby: I bought the car off of Craigslist for $500. The Triumph Spitfire was a very popular car in its heyday. They sold hundreds of thousands of them from 1962 to 1980. My Spitfire is an early model, which has more chrome and is called a "round-tail" by the aficionados. You don't see many of the cars on the road today because of their relatively finicky components. They are usually somebody's 2nd car, so when they break down they get stuffed inside of a garage, only to resurface decades later at a bargain price.

CNN: How long did it take to complete the project? FULL POST

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February 29th, 2012
01:58 PM ET

Yves Behar: Shooting with CNN

Editor's Note: Yves Behar is a designer, entrepreneur, founder of the design firm Fuseproject and Chief Creative Officer of the wearable technology company Jawbone.  Behar is one of the most foremost industrial designers in the world.  Mostly known for designing MIT Media Lab founder Nicholas Negroponte’s One Laptop Per Child $100 laptop.

By Yves Behar, Special to CNN

CNN’s "Next List" producer Elise Zeiger and three cameramen appeared in my office on the coldest day of the warmest winter in San Francisco’s human memory. The plan was four days of tracking my life, including design brainstorms, riding bicycles on The Embarcadero and even a surf session.

In the morning, I met Dr. Sanjay Gupta, who had just flown from Los Angeles. He was visibly chilly on the banks of San Francisco Bay. We chatted about his recent fire-eating performance, and very quickly a small swarm of Sanjay admirers formed around us. We jumped on the local three-wheeler bikes that my team at Fuseproject recently designed. We did this both to escape the crowd and to get the conversation going. We immediately realized the main advantage of the very stable ride: We could talk, laugh, gesticulate and have an in-depth discussion about design - all while on the lightweight cargo-style bicycles.


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February 21st, 2012
02:32 PM ET

Yves Behar: 'Great design is something that everyone can have'

Even if you've never heard his name, chances are you've come across one of Yves Behar’s extraordinary designs. Maybe you've jammed on some tunes using the sleek-looking wireless speaker Jambox. That's one of Behar's designs which, by the way, was just nominated for 2012’s Designs of the Year Product Award. Or maybe you've take a spin on his “local bike”, designed says Behar, for a “new generation” of bicycle riders, who want to transport their kids and groceries near home. If not you must have seen photographs of children using the iconic green $100 XO laptop. The One Laptop per Child XO (OLPC) Laptop was founded by MIT Media Lab’s Nicholas Negroponte, who worked with Behar, and his San Francisco design firm Fuseproject to make a low-cost laptop specifically for children in developing countries. More than 2.4 million children in 25 countries received the XO Laptop. And now after six years of collaboration with Negroponte, Behar designed the next generation XO-3, the gorgeous laptop in tablet form.

Behar has taken design to a whole new level by devoting a good part of his business to the non-profit world. He says, "Design must tap into the giving element of our profession. It must be deeply in-tune with the needs to create a sustainable future, deeply connected with emotional needs, and deeply self-expressive.”

After dozens of profit-making ventures, Yves and his team devote 10 to 30% of their work every year, and countless hours of their own time, to pro- bono projects like the OLPC laptop. “There is no reason why design can’t be attainable. Great design is something that everyone can have,” says Behar. And after the success of the XO Laptop and tablet, Behar and Fuseproject collaborated with the Mexican Government to design low-cost eyeglasses for children. The “See Better to Learn Better” program provides poor children with free eye exams, and adorable, brightly-colored (and unbreakable) specs, delivered right to their schools. Hundreds of thousands of children are sporting these specs. The kids even get to pick their own frame and color combinations!!

Tune into The Next List on CNN 2 p.m. ET on Sunday to see the full 30-minute profile of design hero Yves Behar.

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February 14th, 2012
12:52 PM ET

NYC’'s newest ❤ throb

Editor's Note: Daniel Kidd and BIG (Bjarke Ingels Group) recently installed a 10-foot tall glowing heart sculpture ("BIG❤NYC") in the middle of Times Square for Valentine's Day. The sculpture is made up of 400 transparent, LED lit, acrylic tubes and is controlled by a heart-shaped sensor nearby. And the sculpture simply works like this: the more people that touch the sensor, the brighter and faster the heart will beat.

To learn more about BIG check out The Next List's profile of Bjarke Ingels.

Below is The Next List's exclusive interview with Daniel Kidd, "BIG❤NYC" project leader, about the installation: 

How did the idea come about?

From the beginning we wanted to do something with light, something that would feel at home in Times Square. The idea evolved from something that makes light to something that uses light from its surroundings. The images on the screens of times square are all made of individual pixels and we had an opportunity to rethink the pixel as a strip of light up to ten feet tall to form the pulsing heart. The heart reflects what Times Square is made of: people and light – the more people, the stronger the light. FULL POST

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