Blog Archive for the year 02012

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Decelerator Helmet

Posted on Thursday, December 27th, 02012 by Charlotte Hajer
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Our increasingly digital culture seems to be following Moore’s law of exponential acceleration – but sometimes you need to slow things down to understand them a little better.

To that end, German artist Lorenz Potthast has built what he calls a Decelerator Helmet. It is what it sounds like: a helmet that allows you to experience the world in slow motion. It’s an aluminum sphere that fits snugly over your head; your only visual connection to the outside world is a small camera, mounted to its exterior, that transmits live, but slow-motion video to an interior display.

Potthast explains that the helmet is meant to “decouple … personal perception from … natural timing:” it’s an experiment in engaging differently with our fast-paced world. Playing around with the flow of time, the artist suggests, exposes its important role in mediating the relationship between our inner experience and the outside world:

The decelerator gives the user the possibility to reflect about the flow of time in general, and about the relation between sensory perception, environment, and corporality in particular. Also, it dramatically visualize[s] how slowing down can potentially cause a loss of presen[ce].

For more information about this and other projects, visit Potthast’s (German-language) website here.

The Decelerator Helmet – A slow motion for Real Life from Lorenz Potthast on Vimeo.

A taste of the mountain: The Interval’s Craft Gin made by St George Spirits

Posted on Tuesday, December 18th, 02012 by Alexander Rose - Twitter: @zander
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Gin Bottle

Please join us for a special tasting of the Bristlecone Gin and help support The Interval at the same time.  We have just received the first bottles of the hand crafted Bristlecone Gin from St George Spirits, and it is incredible.  My favorite quote from an early taster: “It tastes like I’m drinking the mountain.”

If you are looking for a great last minute holiday gift, please consider a couple tickets to what should be a really fun evening.

The evening will consist of a little education about gin, our new space, as well as several unique tastings that include the gin and a tasting of the pure bristlecone distillate itself.  We will also be doing tastings of one of the whiskeys from St George, as well as the Long Now wine. And to cleanse the palate there will be wine, beer, cheese and snacks available all evening.  Each guest will also get to take home a specially etched shotglass to remember the evening.

If you do choose to make a further donation by becoming a member of the bottle club, you can deduct the price of your tasting ticket from the bottle donation.  So if you are considering donating at a higher level, this is a great chance to come check out the gin.

All proceeds from these tastings go to The Interval, so please let your friends know about it.  If there is enough interest we will open up more tasting dates.  The evening runs from 5:30-8:30 on Tuesday January 22nd at Long Now and you are welcome to show up anytime before 8pm as we do the tastings in small groups.  But the earlier you arrive, the longer we have to spend with you, so please come early and hang out!

If you are already a bottle donor, or would like to become one before this event, please contact us at and you will not have to purchase tickets.

Learn more about The Interval and check out our friends at St George Spirits.


Peter Warshall Seminar Media

Posted on Monday, December 17th, 02012 by Austin Brown
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This lecture was presented as part of The Long Now Foundation’s monthly Seminars About Long-term Thinking.

Enchanted by the Sun: The CoEvolution of Light, Life, and Color on Earth

Wednesday November 28, 02012 – San Francisco

Video is up on the Warshall Seminar page for Members.


Audio is up on the Warshall Seminar page, or you can subscribe to our podcast.


Light and beauty – a summary by Stewart Brand

“The naturalist’s task,” Warshall began, “is to observe without human-centered thoughts and human-centered agendas, to observe with a Gaian perspective and with the perspective of the organisms you’re watching. The naturalist considers all species in space/time as equally beautiful.” There’s a connection between art and science—between the poetic organization of thought and the pragmatic organization of thought. Light operates at a distance. That inspires anticipation, which becomes yearning, which becomes desire, which becomes hope, which generates transcendence. When an image becomes transcendent for you, it becomes part of how you perceive. “The Sun is the initiator of all sugars.”

Starting 250 million years ago, life rebelled and began generating its own light. There are 40 different kinds of bioluminescence, used for mate attraction, for baiting prey, for deceit. “Danger and beauty always go together. Deceit—not truth—is beauty. A term some art critics use is ‘abject beauty.’” Humans began the second light rebellion by harnessing fire a million years ago. Then came electric lights in the 1880s, and we transformed the light regime and hence behavior of many species. Artists like James Turrell shifted art from reflected light to emitted light, and that is increasingly the norm as we spend our days with screens radiating information into our eyes.

Our eyes are pockets of ocean that let us perceive only a portion of the Sun’s spectrum of light. Bees, with their crystal eyes, see in the ultraviolet. Snakes perceive infrared, and so do some insects that can detect the heat of a forest fire from 40 miles away.

Bowerbird males create elaborate art galleries, even devising forced perspective, to impress females. Young male bowerbirds watch the process for four years to learn the art. Throughout nature, watch for bold patterns of white, black, and red, which usually signal danger.

Every day there is a brief time without danger. At twilight—as daylight shifts to night—all life pauses. “That moment has a contemplative beauty that we cherish. It is a moment of Gaian aesthetic.”

Warshall’s talk, and his life, have been a convergence of art and science. Asked about how scientists could learn more about art, Warshall suggested they go to an art class and learn how to draw. As for how artists can learn more of science, he had two words:

“Outdoors. Look.”

Subscribe to our Seminar email list for updates and summaries.

Aspirin: A 3,500-Year Old Remedy

Posted on Friday, December 14th, 02012 by Charlotte Hajer
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Aspirin is not only a miraculous cure-all; it’s also an ancient one.

In its purified chemical form, aspirin (or salicylic acid) is only a little over 100 years old. But the compound is also found in several plants – and in this form, it has been used for over 3,500 years.

Its pain-reducing and anti-inflammatory properties were already known to Hippocrates, who found salicylic acid in the leaves and bark of willow trees and used it, among other things, to ease the pain of childbirth. He most likely learned of this medicine from ancient Egyptian and Sumerian medical texts, which recommend the use of willow leaves for treating inflammation (Mackowiak 2000).

The healing potential of willows was recognized the world over – from the Roman Empire to ancient China, and, in the new world, among Native American tribes as well. In Europe, too, willow leaves were used medicinally, until, in the late nineteenth century, the Bayer pharmaceutical company figured out how to manufacture salicylic acid in a laboratory and market it for mass consumption (The Naked Scientist).

Today, modern medical research may have given us renewed insight into the workings and benefits of this over-the-counter pill, but aspirin is ultimately the product of a history that spans several millennia.

The Lunar 02013

Posted on Thursday, December 13th, 02012 by Charlotte Hajer
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The universe may be governed by quantum probability and uncertainty, but we can nevertheless predict the movements of bodies in our solar system with relative accuracy. For a preview of how the Moon will behave in 02013, this video offers an animated choreography of its phases and libration as it ellipses around our planet.

And for detailed information about specific dates of your choosing, NASA offers this handy tool.

How to Win at Forecasting – an Edge conversation with Philip Tetlock

Posted on Monday, December 10th, 02012 by Austin Brown
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Former SALT speaker Philip Tetlock spoke with Edge recently about his research into forecasting. In 02005, he published Expert Political Judgement: How Good is it? How Can We Know?, for which he spent over a decade recording and assessing the predictions made by public policy experts. He found them to be not much better than coin-flipping, but was also able to specify that “Hedgehogs” (those holding a single grand theory and fitting events into its framework) did much worse than “Foxes” (skeptical, flexible thinkers).

In his conversation with Edge, he expands on what makes Foxes better predictors, using Nate Silver as a jumping off point, and offers an update on his work since Expert Political Judgement:

Perhaps the most important consequence of publishing the book is that it encouraged some people within the US intelligence community to start thinking seriously about the challenge of creating accuracy metrics and for monitoring how accurate analysts are–which has led to the major project that we’re involved in now, sponsored by the Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activities (IARPA). It extends from 2011 to 2015, and involves thousands of forecasters making predictions on hundreds of questions over time and tracking in accuracy.

Exercises like this are really important for a democracy. The Nate Silver episode illustrates in a small way what I hope will happen over and over again over the next several decades, which is, there are ways of benchmarking the accuracy of pundits. If pundits feel that their accuracy is benchmarked they will be more careful about what they say, they’ll be more thoughtful about what they say, and it will elevate the quality of public debate.

By the way, the forecasting contest he mentions is accepting submissions.

The Cambridge Project for Existential Risk

Posted on Wednesday, December 5th, 02012 by Alex Mensing
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Human technology is undoubtedly getting more powerful every year, and our destructive potential is no exception. The Cold War notion of ‘mutually assured destruction‘ was unthinkable for most of human history, as was the ability to fundamentally alter the climate of the planet on which we rely. As the capabilities of our technologies continue to grow, what are the ways in which we become increasingly able to bring about our own demise as a species?

Martin Rees and Huw Price of the University of Cambridge and the Skype founder Jaan Tallinn teamed up to investigate and mitigate that very possibility. In founding the Centre for the Study of Existential Risk at Cambridge University, they explain their motivation:

Many scientists are concerned that developments in human technology may soon pose new, extinction-level risks to our species as a whole. Such dangers have been suggested from progress in AI, from developments in biotechnology and artificial life, from nanotechnology, and from possible extreme effects of anthropogenic climate change. The seriousness of these risks is difficult to assess, but that in itself seems a cause for concern, given how much is at stake.

Rees, Huw and Tallinn agree that scientists need to pay more attention to this issue. The long-term future of humanity is at stake, and we need to understand more clearly the power that we wield in the modern world, and how to avoid using it destructively. The issue can, in fact, be extended beyond our own species. As Stewart Brand concluded his summary of co-founder Martin Rees’ SALT talk:

Now that we are stewards of this planet, we are responsible for maintaining life’s possibilities in this cosmic neighborhood.

Rick Prelinger Seminar Primer

Posted on Tuesday, December 4th, 02012 by Charlotte Hajer
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“Lost Landscapes of San Francisco, 7”

Tuesday December 11, 02012 at the Castro Theater, San Francisco

Guerrilla archivist and “media archaeologist” Rick Prelinger has built his career on uncovering, preserving, and sharing alternative takes on American cultural history. He is the founder of the Prelinger Archives , a massive collection of “ephemeral films”: non-fiction video made for educational, industrial, or promotional purposes. Though these films are typically made for short-term usage with a very specific intent, Prelinger sees in this material a window into “secret histories” and untold perspectives on American life.

“I was amazed by these films’ dual character … How they both recorded appearances and sold persuasion – how to behave, what to buy and do. They showed the way things were and the way things were supposed to be. Quite unlike feature (commercial narrative) films, which tended to have a much more synthetic, artificially-constructed world.” –

In 02002, when the collection had amassed upwards of 60,000 films, Prelinger sold the Archives to the Library of Congress. Yet his goal is not just to preserve these films: he seeks to share them with the public, in hopes that these arcane “celluloid fossils” become part of our collective cultural history and seed the growth of new stories.

“Art, culture and science are almost always built upon work that’s come before, and we want to provide access to historical materials so as to enable new authorship.” –

Prelinger provides stock footage to filmmakers and companies, but is also dedicated to making his collection freely available in the public domain. To that end, Prelinger opened an “acquisition-friendly” library in San Francisco’s South of Market district in 02004. Open to the public on Wednesdays, it houses a collection of ephemera in both print and video, and encourages creative re-use of the materials in its collection.

Prelinger’s work is available online, as well. He has collaborated with the Internet Archive to provide public access to over 2000 films from his collection. Take a look, for example, at A Trip Down Market Street, filmed from the front of a San Francisco street car, just days before the earthquake of 01906:

Also available is Panorama Ephemera, a feature-length film that Prelinger released in 02004, made with footage from his collection. More recently, he has been working on a series of archival compilation films about San Francisco. Comprising seven annual installments, the Lost Landscapes of San Francisco tell a cultural history of the city through the eyes of home-video makers and ephemeral film footage. In collaboration with The Long Now Foundation, Prelinger has screened installments of the Lost Landscapes at theaters in San Francisco for four consecutive Decembers.

Rick Prelinger shows the 7th installment of his Lost in San Francisco series on December 11th at the Castro Theater in San Francisco. You can reserve tickets, get directions and sign up for the podcast on the Seminar page.

Subscribe to the Seminars About Long-term Thinking podcast for more thought-provoking programs.

The Interval at Long Now: the Juniper Makes the Gin

Posted on Monday, December 3rd, 02012 by Mikl Em
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For the Long Now Salon project artisan distillers St George Spirits helped us create a pair of distinctive spirits inspired by long-term thinking. Our gin features juniper berries we harvested from the peaks of our property on Mount Washington in eastern Nevada. In this video Lance Winters, St. George’s Master Distiller, extolls the myriad flavors that our juniper brings to the gin. Here, he and distiller Dave Smith are in the middle of preparing the berries for exposure to the vapors of the nascent gin.

Juniperus communis grows wild in sprawling, low bushes at a height of about 10,000 feet on our Nevada land, interwoven with multi-thousand year old bristlecone pines. The “berries” are not technically fruit but tiny pine cones. From Wikipedia:

The female seed cones are very distinctive, with fleshy, fruit-like coalescing scales which fuse together to form a “berry”-like structure, 4–27 mm long, with 1-12 unwinged, hard-shelled seeds. In some species these “berries” are red-brown or orange but in most they are blue; they are often aromatic and can be used as a spice.

Juniper berries from the Long Now property

Juniper is the key ingredient in gin from which it takes its name. Lance tasted a sample of our juniper and told us we had something special. Lance found notes of huckleberry, tart blueberry, pine resin, hops aromatics, chocolate, and Chinese long pepper. Imagine our excitement at having impressed Lance’s experienced and discerning palate.

Long Now staff gathered the wild juniper by hand in Nevada while Lance assembled a recipe of botanicals including coriander and cedar that complement the berries and results in a gin we are proud to pair with the launch of our new space. The Salon is designed to be a social hub that fosters long-term thinking and inspires conversation. Remarkable spirits, in every sense, are required.

The still of St. George Spirits -- photo by St. George Spirits

St George Spirits are famous for their eaux de vies, vodkas, gins, whiskeys and other hand-crafted spirits. Their delicious, inventive products come from a scientific and artistic approach to distillation. They marry cutting edge techniques with an extensive knowledge of the centuries old tradition of distilling eaux de vies. And like the best artists and scientists, they are always up for a new challenge.

It is auspicious that we launch this project as St George reaches an impressive anniversary:

When Jörg Rupf founded St. George Spirits in 01982, he was a lone wolf making elegant eaux de vie in a wine cooler world. In those days absinthe was illegal, craft-produced American gins were unheard of, and there was no such thing as an American single malt whiskey.

We want to congratulate everyone at St George Spirits as they celebrate 30 years in business. To think they’ve accomplished so much and aren’t even a century old.

Our collaboration with them has been fun, inspiring and educational. Their care and expertise helps make our Salon and Founder’s Club bottle keep truly special. Their headquarters is close by to us in Alameda, California and they are open for tours and tastings.

See more videos on The Long Now Foundation Vimeo page.

Long Now Salon: Not A Typical Bar

Posted on Thursday, November 29th, 02012 by Mikl Em
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Jillian Northrup is one half of the design-build team Because We Can who are leading the design for the Long Now Salon. She told us how designing the Salon for Long Now is different from a typical commercial bar project. See more of their design on the Because We Can site (links below).

Jillian mentions the unique design solution they devised for storing our Long Now Bottle Club bottles: raising them into the rafters of the space like chandeliers. In the image of the new design below you can see them in the ceiling above the bar. Here’s how you can reserve your own bottle.

Long Now bar design perspective with bottle keep bottles by Because We Can

The above video and the rest on the Long Now Vimeo page were produced by Sustainability Media who do our seminar videos. In the future we’ll share a longer documentary including these interviews and more on the whole Salon design project. We hope you enjoy these clips as a sneak peek.

Long Now Salon bottle chandelier close up from Because We Can

If you’ve been in the Long Now space at Fort Mason you may have noticed our witty etched aluminum signs with phrases like “Carpe Millenium” and the great great great great sign below. Those were also designed by Because We Can. A reminder that long-term thinking goes well with a sense of humor.

Long Now's Great Great Great Great Signage photo by Because We Can