Mainstream news outlets will quickly point out all of the worrisome aspects that happened in the world this year, but at CH HQ, we always try to focus on intelligent ways to move forward. 2014 showed us that there are plenty of people who are wholeheartedly dedicated to making Earth a better place. The inspiring voices of those who passed are sure to prompt new talent, while projects ranging in all sizes and scale have our fingers crossed for a smarter 2015. Below are 20 examples of the power of positivity.
1. Robin Williams: 1951-2014
The world tragically lost one of popular culture’s most beloved icons in actor and comedian Robin Williams. An outpour of articles emerged, offering insights on his inimitable legacy and mental health, as well as a few esoteric thought pieces on suicide awareness. However, TIME Magazine’s commemorative issue is perhaps the most comprehensive collection of accounts on the life of the outwardly happy Academy Award winner. Featuring pieces from Alan Alda, Louis Black and the real-life Patch Adams, the issue provides a broad perspective on Williams and his amazing impact on the world, both in life and death.
2. A Tribute to Elaine Stritch
Broadway legend and all ’round sassy broad Elaine Stritch passed away and in tribute to the icon, Steve Reiss wrote, “She wasn’t traditionally beautiful, she didn’t have a particularly melodious voice, and her sole fashion imitator might be Diane Keaton. But she projected integrity, honesty, vulnerability and charisma with a force that demanded she be seen, heard, noticed.” He outlined how it was her spirit that her friends, family and public loved about her most; she was “irrepressible, impossible to censor, incapable of being embarrassed or ashamed, simultaneously classy and inelegant.” And, in Stritch’s own perfect words, she told him, “I want to be an original.” She certainly was.
3. Farewell, Philip Seymour Hoffman
The devastating passing of Philip Seymour Hoffman was felt hugely by the public. Tom Junod of Esquire explained the character actor’s impact and the reason we all—as complete strangers—felt connected to him. One of Hoffman’s many talents was bringing to life characters that were so real and flawed they were at once brilliant, familiar and heartbreaking. As Junod says, “He held up a mirror to those who could barely stand to look at themselves and invited us not only to take a peek but to see someone we recognized.”
4. Joan Rivers’ 10 Best Jokes
The world of comedy lost another pioneer with the passing of the beloved (and often controversial) Joan Rivers. The Brooklyn-born stand-up artist’s storied career spans over six decades and includes almost every title in the industry, from TV presenter to writer to performer and producer. While arguably paving the way for female comedians of a similar ilk, Rivers remained unapologetic in her comedy—making light of disability, death and any celebrity within arm’s reach. In tribute, Rolling Stone took a look at Rivers’ 10 Best Jokes.
5. The Dawn of Mars Exploration
With NASA’s Orion spacecraft successfully completing a punishing four-and-a-half hour test flight, America entered a new age of space exploration that should one day land astronauts on Mars. After launching 3,600 miles away from Earth at hypersonic speeds, Orion was tasked with orbiting the planet twice and analyzing a radiation-rich cosmic cloud before hurling itself back home in a 20,000 mph, 4,000°F descent flight into the Pacific Ocean. NASA proclaimed the test to be “the most perfect flight you could ever imagine.” See you soon, Mars.
6. Bearer of Good News
When someone showed up at Russian physicist and Stanford University professor Andrei Linde’s doorstep with good news, it wasn’t Publishers Clearing House. Colleague and assistant professor Chao-Lin Kuo surprised Linde with the results of his team’s BICEP2 experiment—new evidence that supports Linde’s cosmic inflation theory of how the universe began, work that he proposed 30 years ago. The video capturing Linde and his wife’s (a fellow scientist) reactions to the news went viral, garnering more than (now) 2.8 million views.
7. Experimental Bionic Hand
In a huge leap forward for individuals with prosthetic limbs, European scientists have created a bionic hand with instantaneous sensory feedback. In a published study, the group detailed their experiment in which a patient was able to distinguish the shape and feel of objects using the experimental bionic device.
8. Seeing Is Hearing
MIT engineers have developed a technique to “listen” to sound without the use of a microphone: audio can be recovered from video alone by analyzing how an inanimate object (such as a bag of chips or a plant’s leaves) responds to sound vibrations. This means combining and filtering movements as small as 1/1000th of a pixel to retrospectively piece back conversations that took place near the object. By simply observing vibrations from a headphone cord connected to a computer, for example, they were able to detect the song playing through the headphones and recover the sound. The surprising discovery is that while the MIT engineers primarily used high-speed cameras, audio could also be recovered from video recorded on consumer-quality digital cameras.
9. Virtual Reality Gender Swap
An art installation aptly titled, “The Machine to be Another” used virtual reality technology to allow people to experience a first-person perspective of another human—in this instance a man and a woman. Participants synchronize their movements to enhance the idea of an identity change. For example, a normally barrel chested man runs his hands down his hairy chest while a svelte woman across the room does the same—each seeing the other’s perspective. For a closer look check out the short video detailing some of the participants’ experiences with a few slightly NSFW moments.
10. Obama Learns to Code
Last year, when President Barack Obama delivered a YouTube speech encouraging young kids to learn to code, he hadn’t actually had any coding experience himself. To kick off this year’s Computer Science Education Week, Obama took on the task. While he didn’t complete the entire tutorial, Obama did build a modest program that drew a square on the screen, making him the first president to ever to write a computer program.
11. JIF vs GIF
CompuServe engineer Steve Wilhite is adamant that GIF is pronounced “jif” and while many believe being the inventor of the format gives him that right, it’s a (sometimes hilarious) subject of contention. Interestingly though, Wilhite isn’t really the inventor of the GIF—his version of a GIF played just once, and it was actually Netscape who added the ability to loop animations, in 1995. In his article for Medium, Andy Baio argues that by now it doesn’t matter who invented the format—as the wondrous GIF has taken on a life of its own and belongs to a culture, not an individual. Long live the GIF! However you pronounce it.
12. The Father of Video Games Dies at 92
Ralph H Baer, “The Father of Video Games,” died on Saturday, 6 December 2014. Baer held various positions within the realm of electronics engineering before coming up with the idea of a home television-based gaming system while sitting at the Port Authority Bus Terminal in Manhattan. He is widely known as the man who sparked the booming $90 billion gaming industry with his invention “The Brown Box”—the likely predecessor to the now ubiquitous Playstation, Xbox and Wii. Baer will forever be remembered for his contributions to the technology and science worlds.
13. Rest in Peace Deborah Sussman
The creative community lost a veteran with the passing of Deborah Sussman, who lost her battle with breast cancer. A longtime environmental designer, talented colorist and supergraphics pioneer, Sussman graduated from Black Mountain College and began her career as an art director in the office of Charles and Ray Eames, before going on to design the 1984 Summer Olympics identity. In 2004 she received an AIGA award for her brilliant contextual approach to graphic design.
14. Golden Flies
Self-taught artist Hubert Duprat found beauty and creativity in a pretty unremarkable insect: the caddisfly. He noticed that in their larval stage, the flies used materials found in their environment (such as wood and stone) to build an outer shell until they were ready to metamorphose into a fully developed (still unremarkable) caddisfly. But see what happens when Duprat adjusts the flies’ environment to include gold leaf, pearls and precious gems—the final product is a natural work of art that would make even King Tut envious.
15. Working Around the World: In Photos
The work day is different for everyone and the results from the 2014 Urban Photographer of the Year competition beautifully, emotionally and informatively illustrated the vast range of working experiences across the world. The contest’s theme, “Cities at Work,” drew over 11,500 submissions covering a wide spectrum of jobs in urban areas. The meticulous arrangement of a display window in Germany sits in jarring contrast alongside a sewer worker in the sprawling Indian city of Kolkata. In light of the wide spectrum of diversity and inequity of working conditions around the world, the result is a collection that captures the unfailing spirit of unification among those of us who clock in each morning—whatever our role.
16. Paper Planes
Designer Luca Iaconi-Stewart has crafted a stunning 1:60 scale replica airplane model of an Air India 777-300ER from bits of manila folders. Over five years he measured, cut and glued tiny pieces together to construct what might be the most advanced paper airplane to date. The detail work, both internally and externally, is extraordinary and elements like doorways and the landing gear are—incredibly—retractable. His obsession even brought him to drop out of school to finish the project, a demonstration of pure talent and dedication.
17. First Kiss
There’s a beautiful, nervous energy surrounding a first kiss. Ten of those moments were captured in a short video, appropriately titled “First Kiss” and directed by Tatia Pilieva, for the fashion brand WREN. In a white room, with cameras rolling, strangers met and locked lips. There’s an undeniable intimacy to this engaging piece of work, and it’s inspiring in its raw look at pure human emotion.
18. Pimp My Cooler
Portland’s Ryan Grepper pleased the masses with Coolest, a 21st century cooler that is the ultimate party on wheels. His rendition—successfully funded on Kickstarter (raising more than $13 million over his initial $50,000 goal)—includes an 18-volt blender for mixing up drinks on the go, a Bluetooth-enabled speaker, a USB port, beach tires, a cutting board, a built-in bottle opener and a bungee cord for strapping more gear to the top. Grepper clearly found a gap in the market in our near universal desire for festive mobile adventures.
19. Dates for Math Lovers
If you ever find yourself making wishes when the clock hits 11:11 or 12:34, take notice that 13 December 2014 (12/13/14) was the last sequential calendar date of the 21st century. We now have to wait another 89 years until we can revel in the nonsensical wonder of the next sequential occurrence on 2 January 2103. Luckily, Smithsonian Magazine compiled a list of other upcoming numerical arrangements to celebrate for those of us who can’t wait (or won’t be here) for 01/02/03.
20. You, Under the Sun
In the carefree glory of a summer season, it’s easy to forget just how powerful the sun is and just how vulnerable we are to it. Artist Thomas Leveritt used a special UV camera to capture our major sensitivity to the sun, with shocking results. The camera has the power to reveal what are essentially future changes in the skin—in other words, how the sun sees you. The camera shows a commonality among skin types: everyone, to some degree, has freckled skin in the sun’s eyes. The kicker comes when Leveritt supplies participants with sunscreen, which shows exactly why you should grab a tube of SPF 50.
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