Signal-blocking wallpaper stops Wi-Fi stealing (and comes in a snowflake pattern!)
July 18th, 2012
11:35 AM ET

Signal-blocking wallpaper stops Wi-Fi stealing (and comes in a snowflake pattern!)

By Olivia Smith, Special to CNN

New York (CNN) - Imagine wallpaper that does work for you and for your electronics. Wallpaper that doesn’t only protect your walls, but also protects your health, equipment and data.

Researchers at France’s Institut Polytechnique de Grenoble have worked with the Centre Technique du Papier to develop Wi-Fi-blocking wallpaper. The product, also known as metapaper, claims to selectively filter, reduce or reflect electromagnetic waves.

Metapaper not only protects against intruders stealing Wi-Fi from buildings, but also ensures that signals inside a building are more secure and stronger, the group says. Benefits include data security for companies or people that need dependable Wi-Fi. The wallpaper can also be used to create quieter spaces for places like hospitals and movie theaters. FULL POST

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Filed under: Culture • Design • Environment • Innovation • Internet • Tech
The Big Idea: Facebook's minimum age should be 21
June 5th, 2012
11:17 AM ET

The Big Idea: Facebook's minimum age should be 21

By John D. Sutter, CNN

(CNN) - The U.S. legal drinking age is 21. Should Facebook have the same requirement?

Plenty of people light-heartedly say the 900-million-person social network is "addictive," since so many of us spend hours a day checking up on what our Facebook friends are doing.

But following a Monday story about whether Facebook should allow children younger than 13 to join the site - since stats show they're on Facebook anyway and Facebook reportedly is considering implementing parental controls that could allow it to lower the minimum age - some of CNN's commenters fired back, saying that the minimum age should not be lowered.

In fact, they said, it should be raised.

"No. Flying Green Monkeys. No," commenter AnneV99 wrote in response to our question about whether 11-year-olds should be allowed to join Facebook. "In fact, raise the age limit to 21. Why? Because many parents and teachers are already teaching their children to be irresponsible. But what is Facebook - It is all about ME-ME-ME. Facebook = Sickness (but not as bad as that evil-Twitter thing)." FULL POST

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Filed under: Culture • Internet • Tech
June 1st, 2012
08:00 AM ET

Swap-O-Matic: A vending machine for bartering with just about anything

By Laura Ly, Special to CNN

New York (CNN) - On any given day, the vending machine at Ample Hills Creamery in Prospect Heights, Brooklyn, may offer anything from books to original artwork to toys.  If you see something you want, however, no need to take out your wallet.  The ‘Swap-O-Matic’ vending machine allows you to swap and trade items, rather than buy them.

“The Swap-O-Matic recognizes that there is a thrill in getting things.  The vending machine satisfies our desires for instant gratification, but it co-ops it and re-appropriates it to something that is a more sustainable method of acquisition, which is through swapping and trading,” said Lina Fenequito, the creator and primary designer of the ‘Swap-O-Matic.’

Fenequito wanted to call attention to issues of overconsumption and needless waste and aimed to find a creative way to encourage trading and reusing.  For her senior thesis project at Parsons School of Design, she built an earlier, low-tech model.  In August 2011, with the help of visual designer Ray Mancini and electrical engineer Rick Cassidy, Fenequito built upon her thesis project and created a machine with touchscreen capability and digital locks. FULL POST

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Filed under: Art • Crowdsourcing • Culture • Design • Innovation • Tech • The Next List • Thinkers
May 21st, 2012
02:52 PM ET

Should face-detection be used in San Francisco bars?

By John D. Sutter, CNN

Check out this video from CNN affiliate KGO, which profiles an app called SceneTap.

The gist is that the app works with surveillance cameras in bars to report the number of men and women who are at a  watering hole at any given time - and their average ages. The upside: You could go to the bar that has the mix you're interested in. The downside, as an Electronic Frontier Foundation representative tells the station, is that this could cut down on privacy.

The app's creator says he doesn't store face-detection data - only the gender profiles of bar patrons.

Creepy or helpful? Let me know what you think in the comments.

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Filed under: Culture • Innovation • Smartphones • Tech • Video
Why Rube Goldberg machines still matter in 2012
May 7th, 2012
06:48 PM ET

Why Rube Goldberg machines still matter in 2012

By John D. Sutter, CNN

(CNN) - Rube Goldberg machines - those contraptions that, like the board game Mouse Trap, aim to accomplish a simple task in a needlessly complex way - don't really fit in an age obsessed with efficiency and perfection.

Yet, online, these fun-to-watch systems do seem to have incredible currency. Think OK Go music videos, for starters.

The machine below, called Mini-Melvin, caught my eye this week. Housed inside two suitcases, Mini-Melvin employs an alarm clock, a smartphone, a child's xylophone, a toy train and many other trinkets - all to stamp a short message on a postcard.

Check out the video below:


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Filed under: Art • Culture • Design • Tech
May 4th, 2012
03:11 PM ET

Ben Kaufman: Innovation happens outside the boardroom these days

Editor's note: Ben Kaufman is the CEO of, which helps inventors bring their ideas to the market. Kaufman is the subject of Sunday's episode of "The Next List," on CNN at 2 p.m. ET.

By Ben Kaufman, Special to CNN

(CNN) - Ninety-nine percent of consumer product companies are incredibly disconnected from the people that they serve. The process of trying to learn about what those people want only creates more distance.

We used to live in a world in which Big Companies made things, and people bought them, sometimes because they were the right things, sometimes because they were the only things. Before the Internet came along, this kind of worked. Before the Web, people’s expectations of how, where and to whom they could express themselves were very low. FULL POST

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Filed under: Crowdsourcing • Culture • Design • Internet • Tech • The Next List
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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Filed under: Art • Culture • Innovation • Music
5 extra-creative Webby Award winners
May 1st, 2012
02:29 PM ET

5 extra-creative Webby Award winners

By Doug Gross, CNN

(CNN) - The winners of the 2012 Webby Awards were announced on Tuesday.

Established in 1996, the Webby Awards are arguably the Internet's best-known honors.

After starting small, the Webbys now hand out more than 100 awards each year.

Many of each year's honorees tend to be celebrities, big companies or well-known online entities. Among this year's big winners are Pinterest (best social media app), photo-sharing app Instagram (breakout of the year), and the comedian Louis C.K., honored by the Webbys for creating "a new precedent for distribution" by releasing his comedy special through his own website.


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Filed under: Culture • Innovation • Internet • Tech
Meet the huggable, semi-robotic (and semi-creepy) pillow phone
April 30th, 2012
12:07 PM ET

Meet the huggable, semi-robotic (and semi-creepy) pillow phone

By John D. Sutter, CNN

(CNN) - A Japanese roboticist recently showed off a giant, person-shaped pillow that also doubles as a cell phone and vibrates based on the frequency of the voice of the person you're talking to. If you're inclined to give this the benefit of the doubt, think of it as a step forward in "haptic" technology, which aims to bring the largely missing sense of touch into the realm of digital communications.

Or, if you're a skeptic: Just call it creepy.

The "Hugvie" robot reportedly is the work of Japanese roboticist Hiroshi Ishiguro, who, among other things, is known for making a robotic version of himself.  He also created a Telenoid robot that stands in for humans and, as IEEE Spectrum described it, looks like "a supersized fetus." FULL POST

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Filed under: Culture • Design • Innovation • Robots • Tech
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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Filed under: Art • Culture • Design • Fashion • Future • Innovation • Tech
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