Category Archives: Geek Culture

TEDxBelfast 2012



TEDxBelfastAt TEDxBelfast last night I was inspired by the stories of individuals who passionately believed in an idea and then made that idea a reality. From working with autistic children to building a new arts centre, these people all made a difference. Presented in Titanic Belfast in front of the replica of the famous staircase, it was an unforgettable evening.

Titanic Staircase

As with all TED conferences, the presentations will be posted on-line but that will take a week or two before they are ready. In  the meantime, these are the speakers, their stories and how they made a difference.

David Maxwell of Tyrone Timberframes presented his work with Habitat for Humanity in building highly energy-efficient homes that have no central heating. The significant cost of fossil fuel-based energy can be a big factor in poverty and these homes can save the inhabitants over £1000 per year.

Maureen Murphy, Director of Aurion Learning, grabbed attention with the headline that 70% of training was wasted and proposed an innovative way of providing effective training using the acronym ASSAULT. One of the best bits was that of story-based approach that hooked the learner and got them more emotionally involved.

Fransuer Makula grew up in the slums of Kenya but is now a teacher in a prestigious school in Northern Ireland. Describing the harsh reality of existence as a street child, where death is commonplace, he related how the children dared to dream big. In the midst of utter poverty, these children wanted to grow up as doctors, nurses and lawyers. Fransuer established “Jengana” to help orphans, street children and schools in West Kenya.

Colleen Hardwick, billed as an urban geographer and serial entrepreneur from Vancouver, laid out the loss of personal engagement in democracy. The statistics she presented on the fall of voter turnout over the past few decades were shocking. To counteract the anonymous global nature of the web, she’s developed PlaceSpeak, a community-based website that lets local people be authenticated as stakeholders in local issues without necessarily giving up that anonymity.

Next was an absolute gem…acoustic guitar duo Declan McKerr and Andy Toman, aka Gypsy’s Wish, serenaded TEDxBelfast, equipped with a brand-new George Lowden guitar. His guitars are world-famous with owners such as Eric Clapton and Mike Oldfield. Sublime.

Following a musical theme, Chris Blake, Principal Horn with the Ulster Orchestra, talked about the work he’d done with autistic children and the therapeutic value of music. The results were truly ground-breaking, increasing the evidence between autism and musicality.

Dr Nigel Hart took us all on a trip to the peaks and Mt Everest in particular in his talk on Mountains, Medicine and Mantras. Clearly a keen mountaineer, he combined his medical training with his passion to investigate the effects of hypoxia on humans at altitude. During his climb to the top of the world, he had to rescue another climber who had collapsed. Apt for many shared endeavours, his response to the famous climbing question was not, “Because it’s there” but rather, “It’s not the height or the distance, it’s the people you travel with.”

Anne McReynolds, CEO of the Belfast Metropolitan Arts Centre, had TEDxBelfast captivated by her struggle to get a world-class arts centre built in Belfast. Starting in 1996 and finally opening in 2012, it’s an amazing story of architects and artists (“good clients get good buildings”), buildings and space. If you want to build an arts centre, Anne should be the first person you talk to.

Colin Williams of Sixteen South tackled the “Can’t Do” attitude that has often afflicted Northern Ireland with a great story of “Can Do” success. It’s likely that you’ll never have heard of Sixteen South, a children’s TV production company but if you have kids under five you’ll have heard of Sesame Tree, Big City Park, Pajanimals, and Big & Small. Working with the BBC and The Jim Henson Company, Sixteen South produces these great TV programmes here in Northern Ireland. Fantastic.
Colin’s business plan was pretty clever too. “Do some good, make some money, have some fun.” Good advice for anyone.

Chris Horn completed the speaker line-up with his inspiration for Dublin’s Science Gallery, an exhibition space that takes a creative and artistic approach to the presentation of science and related issues. By taking the traditional remit of a science museum and combining it with the changing presentation of an art gallery, the Science Gallery is an innovation in itself that has proved tremendously successful. So much so that Google recently awarded the Science Gallery $1m to setup other Galleries around the world.

Overall, it was a great evening, with inspirational speakers in a fantastic setting. Thanks also to Davy Sims and Gary Burnett and Mark Finlay for organising #TEDxBelfast.


Fun With the Periodic Table of Elements



Few things could be more geek-centric than finding amusement in playing with the Periodic Table of the Elements. There are tons of ways to take what some might see as a boring part of chemistry class and make it into something fun, interesting, and perhaps even artistic.

A chemistry teacher named Scott Byrum decided to put the entire Periodic Table of the Elements on the ceiling of his classroom. He did this as a way to get the attention of students, fearing that if he didn’t do something to make things more interesting that he would lose their attention to “Xboxes and Nintendos”.

Each element sits on its own acoustic ceiling tile. Each is color coded to represent the element’s state at standard temperature and pressure. He had a company that was local to him cut the vinyl letters for him. It is probably the largest Periodic Table of the Elements that his students have ever seen.

ThinkGeek has put the Periodic Table on everything from t-shirts, to beer glasses, and from shower curtains to refrigerator magnets. Personally, I think that the Periodic Table Building Blocks would be the most fun to play around with. The blocks are solid wood, and designed for use by geeks who are at least 2 years of age.

Have you heard Tom Leher’s song called “The Elements”? A YouTube user by the name of TimwiTerby made a video that animated the lyrics of this song in 2008. He used Visual C# Express, AviSynth, and Virtual Dub in order to make the video.

It is also fun to take the standard Periodic Table of the Elements and alter it to make new ones based on other geek related topics. Check out the Periodic Table of Rock Music, or the Periodic Table of Heavy Metals (that resembles the familiar hand sign so many Metal bands, and Metal fans, use). There is a Periodic Table of Anime Characters. Someone even created a Periodic Table of SEO Ranking!

Image: Periodic table by BigStock


Party With My Friends



As it’s the weekend, and a long one at that in many countries round the world, perhaps Todd will forgive this piece of total brilliance. DJ Duo Hot Problems have taken lip-syncing to a whole new level with the video from “Party With My Friends” in a Star Wars sing-along. Of course, it’s also Star Wars-day today!

Sheer genius, even if you don’t like Star Wars that much.


Tech Writer Prepping For One Year of Internet Abstinence



Goodbye Internet....for a year anyway.

Tech writer Paul Miller (most recently writing for The Verge) – is leaving the Internet for a year  starting tonight at midnight. One of his final indulgences is a Reddit IAmA session (the comments, as usual when you expose yourself to Redditors, are a mixture of hilarious and tauntingly offensive).

Aside from the novelty of a tech writer giving up the Internet for a year – there doesn’t seem to be much substance behind this…uhhh, experiment? Life without the Internet is neat, but a giant chunk of Planet Earth goes without the Internet everyday. With the cultural saturation of challenge-style reality shows on TV, some dude forgoing the Internet for a year doesn’t really deliver much pop anymore. It’s kind of like a really rich person giving up dollar bills for a year. There’s something latently offensive about it.

It’s not so much the experiment itself, but the misplaced gumption Miller wields in his explanation about why he’s doing this and what he hopes to learn or find (see video on link above). For example, here’s a little nugget of daringness – “At midnight tonight I will leave the internet. I’m abandoning one of my “top 5″ technological innovations of all time for a little peace and quiet. If I can survive the separation, I’m going to do this for a year. Yeah, I’m serious.”

The tension – it’s palpable.

What Miller is doing is neither interesting nor unique. Modern day Luddites – by either design or chance – would scoff at Miller’s experimental abstinence (assuming they stole a glance at someone’s laptop or phone long enough to read his parting words). Heck, I quit Facebook four months ago and not only did I not really care, but I betcha Facebook is somehow carrying on without me. I can sum up my learnings from quitting Facebook in one sentence – I am 30% less annoyed/disappointed by humanity. (Full Disclosure – I have supplanted Facebook use with a minor, and already faltering, addiction to Reddit.)

To Paul Miller – explorer and risk-taker that he is – I offer the following: Godspeed. And good luck being a reporter without using e-mail. Oh, and good luck finding a new gig sans Internet should The Verge crumble from the Internet whilst your gone.

On a serious note – the meaning of the Internet in modern day life and its effect on humanity is an important concept that should be studied and learned from. I just don’t think a dramatic, announced exit from the medium is the way to do it. Thoreau didn’t trudge over to Walden Pond with a brass band on his heels. Miller should have just disappeared the Internet from his life without a word to anyone but his editors; kept records of his experience along the way; and reappeared one year later to tell his tale.

Image: Bad Day At The Office from BigStockPhoto.com


What Social Media Really Deserves



Shitter Toilet RollHere at GNC, we pride ourselves on the quality and integrity of our writing, but for one article only, it’s going to go down the pan….literally.

Much of the Internet is full of crap and Twitter is responsible for its fair share. Put the two together and you get Shitter, toilet paper printed with a Twitter feed of your choice. No, really.

It’s a bit pricey to clean up your number twos at $35 for four bog rolls but imagine the satisfaction you’ll get from wiping your arse with the musings of some Z-list celebrity. Alternatively you could view it as a post-modern critique of the “me” culture.

Perhaps “sheeting” will catch on as the verb of the year – remember you heard it here first!


What’s a Geek?



GeekThe OED (@OEDonline) has been tweeting on geeks today.

The word ‘geek’ was first applied to overly diligent students in the 1950s, and to computer obsessives from around 1984.

However, as early as 1876 ‘geek’ was an English regional (northern) term for a foolish, offensive, or worthless fellow…

In 1920’s U.S. slang, ‘geek’ also meant a circus performer with a bizarre or grotesque act, such as biting the head off a live animal.

I never thought of Ozzy as a geek, but there you go. Maybe they’ll do nerds tomorrow.

Image courtesy of BigStock.


I Feel Stupid



Windows Phone 7Over the break, there’s been a bit of discussion by some of the big names regarding the reasons why Windows Phone 7 handsets haven’t been flying off the shelves this holiday season. Charlie Kindel started the debate with “Windows Phone is Superior; Why Hasn’t It Taken Off?” and largely faults the relationship between the OEMs, Microsoft and the carriers.

MG Siegler responded with a fairly weak response largely citing the mantra of “too late and not enough apps” but as can be seen from today’s news of 50,000 apps in the Windows Phone Marketplace, the latter argument really isn’t that valid.

As usual, Robert Scoble hits the nail on the head. People buy Android or iOS because it’s a safe bet and they don’t want to look stupid or uncool by buying something else. Microsoft Windows Phone 7 and RIM’s Blackberries simply don’t have the gold-plated appeal of a sure-thing.

And he’s right. I was a big Palm fan and look how that turned out. I do feel stupid. After spending years waiting for Palm to move from PalmOS to WebOS and then HP promising to do big things. I bought in with a succession of Pre phones and pre-ordered a TouchPad. Maybe I shouldn’t be so shallow and have a less of an ego, because WebOS is a great operating system and even with the smaller app selection, it does 99% of what I need a phone to do. But when everyone else is, “Have you got this app and that app” on their Galaxy S IIs and iPhone 4Ss, you do feel a bit of a chump.

So thanks, HP. I feel stupid.


Angry Birds Christmas Goodies



If you can’t get enough of Rovio‘s Angry Birds (or Angly Birds as my daughter says), then you can satisfy your avian needs over at the Angry Birds on-line store. I’ve seen Angry Birds toys gradually appearing in shops, but I’d no idea there was such a wide range of things, from the expected soft toys to children’s costumes.

Angry Birds Fancy Dress Costume

Anyway, as we’re now officially in the run-up to Christmas, the Angry Birds store has a festive selection from Christmas stockings to tree decorations.

Blue Bird Christmas StockingChristmas Tree Decorations

The Bad Piggies Egg Recipes looks like an eggscellent (sorry) stocking-filler with around 40 egg-based recipes from the classics to the more interesting – the table of contents is shown on the website.

Bad Piggies Egg Recipes

There’s plenty of other merchandise to choose from too, including iPhone cases and flip-flops! Prices feel a little high at times for what are novelty items but the shop does appear to ship worldwide.


Pantone The 20th Century in Color



Pantone The 20th Century in ColorPANTONE The 20th Century in Color looks to me like a great Christmas gift for anyone interested in colour and history: graphic designers, interior decorators, costume designers, website builders, Renaissance geeks. Authored by Leatrice Eiseman and Keith Recker and published last month, it’s a view of the last century with a focus on colour. Of course, it inserts the relevant Pantone colours allowing you to recreate colour schemes from the past to great effect.

The blurb says, “Pantone, the worldwide color authority, invites you on a rich visual tour of 100 transformative years. From the Pale Gold (15-0927 TPX) and Almost Mauve (12-2103 TPX) of the 1900 Universal Exposition in Paris to the Rust (18-1248 TPX) and Midnight Navy (19-4110 TPX) of the countdown to the Millennium, the 20th century brimmed with color. Longtime Pantone collaborators and color gurus Leatrice Eiseman and Keith Recker identify more than 200 touchstone works of art, products, decor, and fashion, and carefully match them with 80 different official Pantone Color palettes to reveal the trends, radical shifts, and resurgences of various hues. This vibrant volume takes the social temperature of our recent history with the panache that is uniquely Pantone.

Hyperbole aside, I think this will be fascinating look back through the past century and will be more than just a coffee table book: it’ll be a source of inspiration for when you want to get that “period feel”. It’s on my Amazon wish list so with luck, I’ll be able to bring you a review in the New Year.

(You’ll just have to forgive the twin spellings of colour and color in this article.)


Britain’s Greatest Codebreaker – Alan Turing



German Enigma MachineGeeks in the UK may be interested in “Britain’s Greatest Codebreaker” on Channel 4 tonight (21 Nov) at 9pm. Described as a drama documentary, the programme follows the life of Alan Turing, the mathematical genius who was instrumental in breaking the German Naval Enigma code during World War II. His achievements were overshadowed by his homosexuality and two years after being convicted for gross indecency he committed suicide in 1954 aged 41.

According to the notes, the programme will feature “contemporary experts from the world of technology and high science, including Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak.

Set your PVR now.

(The notes also say that the programme will be available on 4oD shortly after transmission, but this is usually only available if you are in the UK or Ireland. 4oD is Channel 4’s on-demand Internet streaming service.)