18th June, 2016


International Day of HappinessDid you know that the 13th June was the International Albinism Awareness Day, that 20th June is World Refugee Day and that the 26th June is the United Nations International Day in Support of Victims of Torture? It seems that almost every other day is a special day commemorating something (generally good causes, mind) and while the UN has a list of official 'international days' (the first was declared for 10th December, 1950, and was Human Rights Day), a growing number of organisations are these days declaring their own international days. These range from the serious, such as the International Day of the Midwife (declared to be 5th May by the International Confederation of Midwives), to the rather more silly International Talk Like A Pirate Day (created in the mid-1990s by a couple of Americans and held on 19th September) while Christians, of course, have their own international days including the World Day of Prayer (3rd March next year) and the International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church (marked on 6th and 13th November this year). While the calendar is becoming cluttered (2013, for example, saw the first UN-declared International Day of Happiness - the day's symbol is pictured while 2012 was the first, again, UN-backed International Day of the Girl Child) and the effectiveness of international days remains hard to prove, there's no doubt that declaring an international or world day of something remains a good way to focus attention on an issue whether it's to a small, interested group or the entire population of the world.






16th April, 2016


SubwayIt's been around for a while but it's only in relatively recent times, thanks to the internet, that the spotlight has been shone upon manspreading, the name (and hashtag) given to describe the situation when a man takes up more than one seat on public transport by sitting with their knees wide open. Public shaming of those engaged in the practice - particularly anyone with celebrity appeal - has been reported breathlessly across social media and in January last year, New York's Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) launched a new campaign tackling subway etiquette which specifically addressed the problem through posters asking men to "stop the spread" (indeed, the practice has reportedly even led to court appearances in the Big Apple). But it's certainly not an issue confined to New York - there's also been campaigns, official and unofficial, to tackle the issue in other US cities, as well as internationally - from Tokyo to Toronto. While there's been a range of arguments put forward as to why men do it - centring around everything from biological design and the need for space through to studies reportedly showing that men who adopted such postures are more likely to appear attractive to those around them, like putting your feet on the seat opposite, manspreading remains unlikely to get accepted as a legitimate form of sitting on public transport. After all, Isn't it, at the end of the argument, just about good manners?

PICTURE: Sitting with care (manspreading not implied)/



6th March, 2016


ZeroIt's gained attention as an approach to address climate change - made famous through a 2010 TED talk given by Microsoft founder Bill Gates in which he promulgated using new technologies to ensure zero carbon emissions by 2050 - but the idea of "innovating to zero" is now finding new life in a whole host of different spheres. So much so that it's been defined as what is called a "mega-trend" - a transformative global size force that will help shape the future world. The concept is simple - using an innovative approach (which may involve the use of new technologies) to bring about a response that reduces something unwanted or unnecessary to zero. And while it remains a well-used approach in the climate change conversation - authorities in Denmark's capital Copenhagen, for example, have announced they want the city to be the first "carbon neutral" capital of the world - it's also being applied in a whole range of other fields. These include everything from factories - where technology and new ways of working are being employed to reduce injuries or fatalities to zero through our roads - where traffic management systems and in-car technologies are aiming to bring about a zero road toll, and even office spaces where companies are adopting smarter systems - such as "zero inbox" policies - to increase efficiencies during the working day. And then there's fields like crime and health in which new, smarter tech is increasingly being thought of as providing answers to age-old problems. And, have no doubt, it won't stop there.

PICTURE: Miguel Saavedra/



18th December, 2015


Google self-driving carsThey're not commonplace yet but they're certainly becoming a more common sight on roads around the world. The concept of the driverless car, also known as the self-driving or (semi) autonomous car, has been the fodder of science fiction for years but an increasing number of companies, everyone from Toyota to Tesla, are now working to turn fiction into fact. The Google Self-Driving Car Project is perhaps the most visible and a variety of test vehicles - including modified cars from major manufacturers and custom-made Google vehicles - have tackled roads in various locations in the US, including taking on San Francisco's twisting Lombard Street (in fact, the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has encouraged the development of driverless cars through offering millions of dollars in prizes to the winners of a series of autonomous vehicle "challenges" in recent years). Driverless cars have also been tested in many other countries - everywhere from Australia to Japan to the UK (it's also worth noting the concept of driverless vehicles is already being implemented in some industries such as in mining where fleets of driverless trucks are already in use). Google say that not only could driverless cars - which use sensors to pinpoint their location and hence avoid any collisions - dramatically reduce deaths from road traffic accidents, they could also free up commuters to do something more productive while driving to work and help the elderly or impaired to maintain their vehicular independence. Driverless cars do pose a number of conundrums - for example, how does a car choose between protecting its occupants and those outside the vehicle when external circumstances mean a choice must be made? - and, while many of these questions as yet remain unresolved, governments around the world are turning their eyes toward the many implications surrounding the use of cars that drive themselves.

PICTURE: Michael Shick/Via Wikipedia



18th October, 2015


PhubbingWe've probably all been victims - and, at some point no doubt, perpetrators - of the disrepectful trend known as 'phubbing'. A combination of the words 'phone' and 'snubbing', the word describes "the act of snubbing someone in a social setting by looking at your phone instead of paying attention". It was invented in 2013 by a team of experts including a lexicographer, a poet and authors who were assembled by Australian ad firm McCann Erickson as part of a campaign to sell the 6th edition of the Macquarie Dictionary. The campaign included the creation of the Stop Phubbing website which describes a future in which couples have lost the art of face-to-face conversation. Along with some rather questionable stats about the prevalence of phubbing, it provides a sample email you can forward to habitual offenders as a means of perhaps putting an end to the habit (along with some posters and other resources). While that may all be a bit of fun, the trend, which garnered worldwide attention with the release of the ad campaign, has already led to some serious studies with one recent US study showing that 46 per cent of respondents reported their partner had 'phubbed' them (a trend they define as 'partner-phubbing' or 'p-phubbing') and 23 per cent said the phenomena had caused conflict in their relationship. One of the study's authors, Dr Meredith David, of Baylor University, said that while "people often assume that momentary distractions by their cell phones are not a big deal", their findings suggested "that the more often a couple’s time spent together is interrupted by one individual attending to his/her cellphone, the less likely it is that the other individual is satisfied in the overall relationship". One suggested way of addressing the problem is, at the start of a shared meal, asking everyone to place their phones face-down on the table. The person who looks at their phone first, pays for the meal.

PICTURE: Michal Zacharzewski/



20th August, 2015


DesksThe office workspace has gone through many changes in the past 20 years ago - remember when IT start-ups were introducing beanbags in the belief that a happy employee is a productive employee? Since then we've seen a number of innovations arrive at the office space, one of the most contentious of which is "hot-desking". Aimed at reducing costs and increasing efficiency, this does away with the idea every employee has their own, private desk and instead sees employees with different work hours sharing a single desk or simply using whichever desk is available when they arrive at work (the term "hotelling" is used for reservation-based systems). The trend is seeing cubicle walls being being torn down in favour of open plan workspaces so it's been goodbye to those private phone calls and no more photos of the kids cluttering up your desktop - one of the policies which often accompanies hot-desking is the "clean desk" policy which means that anything left on a desktop when the cleaners come is simply binned. It also means each employee having a centralised storage space for things that they do need to keep at work - such as their coffee cup. Of course, while some have welcomed the idea, the trend has also provoked fierce criticism with common objections being that while it may reduce the cost of providing a workspace, hot-desking plays havoc with a worker's productivity by reducing focus and increases stress on workers by making them feel less valued (and more likely to be shown the door in the near future). Then there's the objection that hot-desking ensures bugs are passed around offices more easily (after all, you don't necessarily know who was using a desk before you) and the inevitable delays and breaks in work that occurs when someone turns up to work and can't find a desk or find their desk has been double-booked. Introduced as far back as the 1990s, it's fair to say that while the trend of hot-desking may be here to stay, the jury is still out on its effectiveness.

PICTURE: Rob Gonyea/



25th June, 2015


MobilesIt's that awkward moment in a conversation where someone shares too much, telling you something about their personal life that you really didn't need to know. It's called oversharing (a word which was named Chambers Dictionary's word of the year in 2014) and while it's been around since the day dot, the trend does seem to have been exacerbated by the growing use of social media. After all, it's only since the advent of social media that we've been able to share images of our latest, half-eaten meal, before and after pictures showing how much weight we've lost, or the gory details of how our latest illness affected us. While oversharing may generally be harmless (or perhaps in some cases, harmless, but annoying), experts warn that it can lead to real problems - everything from an employer or potential employer seeing a social media post which reveals something you'd rather they didn't know through to you blabbing out something about someone else that wasn't yours to share ("Jenny's pregnant?!?") and, even worse, sharing too much information to a stranger online who is only looking to take advantage. The best advice to control any impulse to overshare online is to simply take a moment to sit back and think before you post. More generally, make sure that when you're talking to someone, the conversation isn't all about you and be aware of your surroundings - talking at the top of your voice on the phone about a highly personal matter in a public space probably isn't the best idea.

PICTURE: Sanja Gjenero/



15th May, 2015


PencilsIt may have once been the case that coloring books were something you left behind in your childhood - much like Matchbox cars or games of hopscotch. Not any more. A growing number of adults are rejoining the ranks of the 'colorer-inners' as publishers rush to release an increasing range of coloring books aimed specifically at a more mature audience. Among them is Scottish illustrator Johanna Basford's much sought-after Secret Garden: An Inky Treasure Hunt and Coloring Book, which, filled with intricate pictures of the natural world just waiting for you to add color, has reportedly sold more than 1.5 million copies around the world (her sequel, Enchanted Forest: An Inky Quest & Coloring Book, is also doing well). Coloring books - and yes, the adult ones tend to be far more intricate than those aimed at kids - are being touted as a way to relieve stress and help people take time out in the midst of a busy world - in particular the ever present demands of 'always on' technology. Proponents say that one of the benefits of coloring in is its simplicity - it doesn't require a lot of materials, just the book and some pencils, and doesn't require taught skills - anyone can do it. And people aren't always doing it alone - inevitably the trend has seen the creation of coloring groups with the concept much the same as any other craft-related group - gather together in someone's home or a coffee shop and get making - except in this case it's not embroidery or macramé that people are engaging in, it's coloring in. So grab your pencils and get coloring!

PICTURE: Ali Taylor/



18th April, 2015


TouchingIt is one of the world's great pleasures to visit a gallery and gaze upon a great work of art - provided, of course, there's no touching involved. But sadly, for the visually impaired, that hasn't always been an experience they've been able to partake in. Until now. The Museo del Prado in Madrid is among galleries around the world which are exploring how to help the blind and visually impaired 'see' the works through the sense of touch. Don't be alarmed. The Prado has utilised a new 3D printing technology known as Didú to recreate remarkably accurate versions of some of the art world's greatest works - including Leonardo da Vinci's Mona Lisa and works by Antonio da Correggio, Diego Velázquez and Francisco Goya - which the visually impaired can then run their fingers over to gain new insights into the pieces. The Prado's exhibition, Touching the Prado, only runs until 28th June but it's not the only institution exploring the possibilities of touch for the visually impaired. The Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and London's National Gallery also offer special tours and "touch" workshops while the Louvre in Paris has opened a "tactile" gallery where visitors - whether visually impaired or not - can touch casts of sculptures.

PICTURE: Dani Simmonds/



1st March, 2015


ClocksPerpetually feel like there's never enough hours in the day? That you don't ever seem to make much of an impact on your endless list of jobs? You may be suffering from what's called "hurry sickness". While the term was originally coined by two cardiologists as far back as 1959, time - and the rise of apparently time-saving technologies - seems to have only exacerbated it. Defined in a blog post on the Psychology Today website as “a behavior pattern characterised by continual rushing and anxiousness; an overwhelming and continual sense of urgency" or “a malaise in which a person feels chronically short of time, and so tends to perform every task faster and to get flustered when encountering any kind of delay", it may be more common than you might think. One UK business school professor and executive coach - Richard Jolly - told Fortune in a recent article that as many as 95 per cent of managers he's come across may have it. But, hang on, isn't greater productivity a good thing? Well, experts say that not only can it negatively affect their health - putting constant stress on the body, and relationships - sufferers can become incredibly self-focused in their ongoing mission to 'get things done', it can also impact their careers: those with the impediment may tend to focus on the minutiae they have to "get done" each day and miss the bigger, strategic picture. “We’re losing the ability to stand back and think, and to work smarter rather than harder,” Jolly said in the same Fortune article. “Technology often gets the blame, but technology isn’t really the culprit. It’s just that being ‘connected’ every minute of the night and day means people are easily distracted by minutiae instead of taking time to slow down a bit and ask the big, important questions.” So what to do? Well, slow down would seem the obvious answer. Experts say to be deliberate about it by building pauses into your daily schedule, planning holiday periods when you can 'switch off' completely and...make sure you take a moment to smell the roses.

PICTURE: Michael Fallows/



23rd January, 2015


CarsThe idea of sharing a ride with someone to cut the costs of travel (not to mention save the environment) has been around for a while. But for the past few years, the idea of not just sharing a ride but sharing a car has fast been gaining momentum. Particularly suited to dense urban areas (especially where parking is an issue and where, thanks to the proximity of amenities, you only need a car every now and again), there's several different models currently at play. One involves a company or organisation parking a car in your local community somewhere that you can access when you need it. Membership fees are usually paid monthly or annually along with an hourly or daily rate when you use the vehicle. Players in the arena include global giant ZipCar (now owned by Avis) and Australian companies GreenShareCar and Flexicar while some of the more traditional car hire companies, like Hertz, have also entered the space. Then, there are organisations that allow you to rent your own car to others - called peer-to-peer car sharing, US-based RelayRides, Getaround and JustShareIt are among those operating in this space. And, finally, there are so-called "taxi-on-demand" services - a twist on more traditional car pooling organisations, the best example of which is Uber which uses apps to connect drivers and passengers and now operates in more than 200 cities across the world (but which has attracted some controversy in Australia recently with regard to vetting of drivers). Part of what's called the "sharing economy", expect these models to continue to evolve as technology continues to allow new ways of operating.

PICTURE: William Picard/



Updated 24th November, 2014


EmojiOriginating from Japan, emoji are "picture characters" used in messaging systems, the use of which has spread to the four corners of the globe. Emerging in the late Nineties, there are hundreds of different emoji ('e', meaning picture in Japanese and 'moji', meaning character) - from cartoon-like faces sporting a variety of expressions to hand signals, popular foods, buildings and more obscure ones like money with wings. The emoji can represent either emotions or activities and interpretation of their meaning isn't always as simple as it may at first appear: as explained in a recent article in New York Magazine an emoji showing a man in a business suite levitating can convey the emotion of 'jumping for joy' or 'mystery'. In other words, context counts. Emoji are not the same as emoticons ('emotions' plus 'icons') which originated as ASCII character combinations designed to depict a facial expression although there does seem to be some crossover between the two. The US-based Unicode Consortium has the role of ensuring standardisation across user platforms - that is, ensuring that when I use an emoji on my iPhone it can be read by someone receiving it on an Android phone (although there can be slight variances in the way emoji are depicted in different operating systems). Having recently introduced some 250 new emoji, the consortium has further announced plans to roll out a series of new emojis in mid-2015 - the candidates include everything from a "nerd face" to a "burrito", "unicorn face" and "cricket bat and ball". Racial diversity has also been promised - soon we'll be able to choose the skin tone of the face we want to send. (PS - Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop recently made headlines when she entertained her 85,000 Twitter followers with a string of emoji messages).



28th September, 2014


BitcoinsAlternative currency systems have been around for centuries, but the growth of the internet has, in more recent times, led to the rise of a new generation of alternative, digitally-based currencies. While among the most often mentioned of thse cryto-currencies is Bitcoin, others include Dogecoin, Litecoin and Ripples. Bitcoin itself was apparently invented by the somewhat mysterious Satoshi Nakamoto in 2009. Used to pay for a range of things - from real estate, both real and virtual, to tickets to musical gigs, restaurant bills and at a range of online businesses (most notoriously Bitcoin has also been connected with black market trading sites on the so-called 'Dark Web'), the price of a Bitcoin has fluctuated from as low as about 30 US cents in 2011 to a peak of $US1242 in late 2013, and, as of August this year, sat at around $US580. Bitcoins can be acquired by being purchased at a Bitcoin exchange, received as a payment for goods and services or earned through "mining". The status of alternative currencies such as Bitcoin remains something of a subject of debate - in some countries, the use of such unregulated digital currencies is restricted or banned - and their widespread acceptance is yet to be seen. But there's no doubt that, drawing on the opportunities the internet offers for digital transactions, interest in such alternatives is growing.

PICTURE: © stevanovicigor/



11th July, 2014


Love locksThe at times controversial concept has been around for at least a century but the past decade has seen a resurgence in "love locks" being placed in public spaces across the globe. An update on the idea of carving the name of yourself and your loved one into a tree truck, the concept of love locks involves people declaring their love for each other by inscribing their names or initials on a padlock and then attaching the padlock to a public fixture – like a bridge railing – before throwing away the key in a symbolic gesture of a love that will never be broken. Viewed variously as vandalism, littering, a blight on public amenity, sappy sentimentalism, a curiosity of city life or a celebration of free expression, love locks - the popularity of which some attribute, at least partly, to Italian writer Federico Moccia mentioning them in his 2006 novel Ho Voglia De Te (I Want You) - can now be found in numerous countries around the world including in Australia. There’s no doubt the trend has caused headaches for local authorities struggling to cope with the aesthetic and safety issues they raise. This has resulted in them being removed from many locations including the Pont des Arts bridge in Paris (depicted here) which only last month buckled under the weight with part of the pedestrian bridge falling into the Seine. Some authorities have responded with creative solutions – such as in Moscow where “iron trees” have been created on a bridge over a canal specifically designed to hold the locks - but the concept remains one which continues to divide communities across the globe.

PICTURES: Disdero/Wikimedia Commons



15th May, 2014


UAVWe're all aware of the controversial military applications for aerial drones but unmanned aerial vehicles or UAVs are also increasingly being used for a range of other applications - from monitoring and protecting wildlife, delivering emergency food supplies and sowing crops through to taking pictures and video for news organisations and even conducting search and rescue operations. Ranging in size from planes to tiny birds, aerial drones offer a number of advantages including going into areas humans can't and performing simple tasks without risking life and limb. While the future uses of drones seem limitless - one idea mooted in the UK last year was using a drone helicopter for pizza delivery - legislators are struggling to playing catch-up with the technology. Privacy and the implications UAVs will have on air traffic are just two of the key areas involved. One organisation promoting the positive use of drones is the Drone User Group Network. Founded in the US in 2012 by Timothy Reuter, the network of "civilian drone users" claims to have more than 4,000 members in North America, Europe, Asia and Australia and has the over-arching mission of promoting "the responsible use of flying robots for the benefit of humanity". Stay tuned for more - there's no doubt that the use of drones for non-military applications is certain to grow.

PICTURES: © Robert Mandel/



23rd January, 2014


Chess and boxing aren't two sports (do you call chess a sport?) that you'd normally put together but an emerging sport - aptly called chess boxing or chessboxing - does just that. Challenging participants both mentally and physically, the sport sees opponents facing off with alternate rounds of chess and boxing. Competitions involve six four minute rounds of chess and five three minute rounds of boxing with a 12 minute respite during the game of chess. Matches can be won in several ways, including by a checkmate or a knockout. The Berlin-based World Chess Boxing Organisation describes the sport as the "ultimate challenge" for body and mind and notes that the sport follows a trend for multi-faceted athletic disciplines such as a biathlon. "Chessboxing is a bit more radical than a biathlon, but through targeted training, the body can be prepared for matches just as well as it can for a biathlon," the organisation says on its website. "The alteration between boxing and playing chess represents the biggest challenge." While the World Chessboxing Association says the first chessboxing club was formed in London as far back as 1978, it wasn't until 2003 that the first official WCBO chessboxing fight ever held was fought out in Amsterdam when Iepe the Joker defeated Luis the Lawyer. WCBO events have since taken place in several countries around the world - everywhere from London to Kalkutta, India, and Shiraz, Iran.

PICTURES: © Dave Edmonds,Jean Scheijen/



21st Novem,ber, 2013


Camera phoneSo established has the trend for 'selfies' – taking photographic self portraits and then posting them on social media – that Oxford Dictionaries has this week declared it the “word of the year” for 2013. While the dictionary says the word reportedly first emerged in 2002 when an Australian uni student posted a picture of his split lip on an online ABC forum, the basic concept – taking a picture of oneself – has been around ever since cameras came into existence (the advent of the camera timer was a great boon). None can argue, however, that the selfie (which, strictly speaking, can only be called such if it is posted to social media) hasn't reached new heights in the digital era thanks in large part to the development of smart phones with reverse cameras and has become de rigeur for everyone from celebrities to politicians (Kevin Rudd, anyone?) and even the Pope. It's spawned countless social media groups and websites, some of which are dedicated to particular types of selfies known by a variety of different names - everything from ‘helfies’ (pictures of one’s hair) and ‘welfies’ (workout selfies). What the trend says about the society in which we live – are selfies simply a reflection of an increasingly narcissistic and individualistic populace? - remains a matter of opinion but what is certain is that the selfie isn’t going away any time soon.

PICTURE: © Ximagination/



11th August, 2013


ScreensEver sat and watched TV while simultaneously sending out tweets on an iPad or updating your Facebook on a mobile phone? You're not alone. Research is showing that the majority of Australians with an internet connection are now engaging in what is being called 'multi-screening' (one recent study put the figure as high as 74 per cent in Australia while in the US, a recent Google study put the figure there as high as 90 per cent). In fact, one recent study - The Multi-Screen Report which is collated from OzTAM, Regional TAM and Nielsen data for the television industry - found that 54 per cent of Australians connected to the internet (and it's worth noting than 80 per cent of Australian households are internet connected) engage in multi-screening everyday. The TV networks have tapped into the trend by encouraging feedback on shows and discussions through tweets or logging into their social media oriented apps such as Channel Ten's Zeebox or the Seven Network's Fango. While some say the new trend is helping to turn what has been a relatively passive, anti-social activity - that is, watching TV - into a more active, socially-oriented activity, concerns have been expressed over our growing obsession with screens. And while some say multi-screening can provide TV networks with detailed information about what viewers are doing as they watch (and hence help with targeting advertising), it has also been suggested it could lead to poorer quality TV programming with viewers already distracted by their second screen less likely to turn off the box. What is certain is that for good or ill, the trend is here to stay. (Disclaimer - this piece was written while your correspondent was multi-screening).

PICTURE: © TPopova/



21st April, 2013


PrintDescribed as a development which is potentially "bigger than the internet", the emerging field of 3D printing (also known as additive manufacturing) potentially promises the creation of everything from food to car components, all at the touch of a button. Unlike traditional manufacturing processes which strip away material to create an object, 3D printers - or 'fabricators' - use an additive process in which material is progressively added to the object being constructed, building it from the ground up, so to speak. The technology is already used in a range of industries for both building prototypes and manufacturing some components but experts say the uses so far are only scratching the surface of what could be built (one project currently on the drawing board is the building of an entire house using a 3D fabricator; another the printing of moon bases). The possibilities are endless provided the right sort of materials can be used with one of the most exciting developments the creation of 3D printers for use in the home (in fact, there are numerous small fabricators, such as MakerBot's products, already on the market). The implications for manufacturing are clearly enormous including being able to build objects on site rather than transporting after creation and being able to customise objects to your own particular needs as well as the dilemmas the technology poses for intellectual property. (And then there's the cost of the cartridges to consider!) For an indepth look at some of the developments in the field, check out

PICTURE: Chance Agrella/



9th November, 2012


KnittingSeen a well-dressed lamp-post recently? Street art is being taken to a new level in cities around the world as 'yarn bombers' take to the streets and 'dress' street furnishings like sign posts, bicycle racks, phone boxes, statues and even trees with their knitting. First apparently emerging in The Netherlands in the mid-Noughties, the trend can now be seen across Europe and in the US and Canada as well as, more recently, in Australia. Aimed at bringing some life and beauty to otherwise sterile or 'cold' outdoor places, the trend - while technically illegal in many places - has led to the development of dedicated groups of yarn bombers, also known as 'ninja knitters' or 'guerilla knitters', such as London's Knit the City (they reportedly prefer the term yarn storming) and the YarnCore collective in Seattle in the US. One of the most interesting examples to occur in Australia so far has reportedly taken place In the New South Wales town of Berri where the Loxton Country Women's Association's Night Knitters and Happy Hookers decorated the town's waterfront under the cover of darkness. Marketers too have picked up on the trend and in the US, some companies have reportedly paid for well-known yarn bombers to wrap up objects, like a latest model car, in knitting as part of a marketing campaign. There's also now an International Yarn Bombing Day - the second annual day was reportedly held on 9th June this year.

PICTURE: Julia Freeman-Woolpert/



30th August, 2012


RIPIt was perhaps inevitable that our penchant for chatting online would eventually see the creation of social networking websites aimed at commemorating the dead. The concept, which is believed to have first emerged in the US, offers people the chance to create a site to commemorate the deceased. While memorial notices are often posted on general social networking sites like Facebook, there are also numerous specialist sites such as Imorial, Virtual Memorials, Forever Missed and Australian sites like Heaven Address and Living Years as well as those being offered by funeral directors and even cemeteries and crematoria. These offer the opportunity, sometimes for a fee (on some sites basic profiles are free while upgrades are charged for), to create an online memorial to someone who has died - whether recently or long ago - and invite family, friends, and, if you wish, the public at large, to share memories of the deceased, upload things like photographs, music and videos and even donate to charities. In what can be seen as part of a broader trend for people to want to express their grief when public figures pass away, memorials have also been created for the famous - everyone from Michael Jackson to Heath Ledger to the infamous Australian bushranger Ned Kelly have been the subject of online memorials - and even for fictional characters and pets ( is one specialist site for the latter). The rise in the use of online memorials over the past few years has led to some emerging issues - the display of inappropriate ads next to a memorial and nasty comments left by 'trolls' are just two examples - and some sites have now adopted codes of practice to prevent such things from happening. But there's no doubt that the use of virtual memorials will continue to grow as we increasingly look for ways to connect not only with each other but with those who have passed away.




1st July, 2012


Access deniedIn this increasingly digital world, it can be hard to keep track of all the passwords and pin numbers you need to access everything from your finances to your email, the hotel safe or even your phone's SIM card. Not to mention the countless websites you may visit. Increasingly so when experts say not only should you not use the same password for more than one thing but you should try and include random letters, numbers and other characters in them. Hence the arrival of the phenomena of 'password overload', a phrase coined to describe what happens when you simply become overwhelmed by the number of codes you need to remember and end up remembering...none (industry experts have reportedly used the term LoPa-phobia to characterise the fear as well as the frustration people encounter in trying to remember passwords). The good news is that realising we are at an impasse - after all, the number of passwords we need to remember is surely only going to grow as we continue to embrace the digital revolution, experts are looking at alternatives to the standard number and letter codes. This can include technologies like biometric scanners but also software which is able to determine that you are who you say you are simply by studying your behaviour - the way in which you enter keystrokes in a computer for example. We can only hope the new technologies arrive sooner rather than later.

PICTURE: © Alex/



22nd April, 2012


Living wallAmid the push for greener buildings and urban spaces in recent years has come an accompanying trend for buildings incorporating living features such as vertical gardens. Sometimes featuring edible plants, 'living walls' - named one of Time magazine's 50 best inventions of 2009 - have become a feature in private homes in both Australia and overseas as well as in public buildings such as office blocks, hotels and restaurants. Examples include French architectural botanist Patrick Blanc's design for the Athenaeum Hotel in Mayfair, London (pictured) which features 12,000 plants spread over eight stories, the 'green shop' of Belgian designer Ann Demeulemeester in Seoul, Korea, and the still being constructed Park Royal Hotel in Singapore which will reportedly boast 15,000 square metres of green space when it's completed later this year. Taking the notion of gardens on buildings a step further is the concept of 'sky farms' - such as those designed by Swedish company Plantagon International - which involve the mass production of vegetables on high rise buildings and are being seen as one possible solution to maintaining a food supply for the burgeoning populations our planet will see in the future. Stay turned for further developments - the greening of our walls is as yet only in its infancy and may one day become an integral feature of environmentally friendly building design. Stranger things have happened.

PICTURE: David Adams



26th November, 2011


Mobile phoneMobile phones have become ubiquitous in many parts of today's world and, alongside those who'll interrupt anyone to answer their phone at the drop of a hat, has come the appearance of those who like to broadcast their conversations - or their music - to the world. They're the people who, rather than keep their phone conversations to themselves, speak into their phone in a voice that makes eavesdropping a mandatory, if involuntary, act. Alongside these 'loudspeakers' are those who delight in using hands free phones while they walk, breaking out in sudden conversation in stentorious tones, with who appears to be no-one mid-stride. And then there's the group known as 'sodcasters', defined as people who play music through their tiny mobile phone speakers in a public place, usually being a bus or a plane. This behaviour is perhaps the most intriguing and has been described by some experts as a bid by the sodcaster to 'mark out their territory'; to define the space around them. And while the idea of people playing music in a public place has been around for longer than mobile phones (just think of cars with speakers pounding out the music cruising through the city on a Friday night), there's no doubt it can be an uncomfortable experience for bystanders (although this can depend on the type of music being played), but maybe making people uncomfortable is what it's all about. And while legislators in various jurisdictions have considered options like making wearing headphones compulsory when travelling on public transport, it seems like for now it's simply a matter of trying to tune out.

PICTURE: Michel Meynsbrughen (



2nd October, 2011


KeyboardIt's the idea of harnessing the power of the internet to drive forward your cause. Known as digital activism or, in what some say is a dismissive term, as clicktivism, the concept of using the web to garner support for a cause has been around almost since the internet began but recent years have seen a proliferation in its use by everyone from political parties and lobby groups through to campaigners on issues ranging from the protection of the environment and eradication of poverty to seeking justice for those oppressed. Methods can range from having people sign-up to an online petition, sending an email to a politician or using social networking sites to advertise an event. Critics, however, say that such methods can discourage people from actually doing something practical - hitting the streets in a real-world protest, for example - and may result in the rise of what are known as 'slacktivists, usually defined as people who support a cause by performing simple actions - like clicking on a website - but who remained largely unengaged with the cause they claim to support. But on the pro side the use of such technologies means activists, particularly those supporting more obscure causes, have the potential to reach a far greater audience - and different demographic - than they may encounter in the real world. The key, it seems, is for organisations to ensure digital activists turn their clicks into real action. And there are a number of groups which are apparently doing so successfully - examples include Christian groups like the Australian Christian Lobby via its Make a Stand website and Christian anti-poverty initiatiive Micah Challenge as well as non-religious affiliated groups like the Get Up! Action for Australia group. Send us an email if you know of others...

PICTURE: Jakub Krechowicz (



25th June, 2011


Two waysIt brings together traditional ideas about trading, sharing, lending, bartering or exchanging your goods with others with the new technologies we are increasingly using to facilitate it. The idea of “collaborative consumption”, named as one of Time magazine’s “10 Ideas That Will Change The World”, is changing the way we consume as more and more people look to alternative models to what former US President George W. Bush described in 2004 as the “ownership society”. Driven by the desire for a greener - and friendlier - approach to the way we do business and increasingly made possible by the rise of new social networking technologies, collaborative consumption – which has been championed by the likes of Rachel Botsman, co-author of the influential text What’s Mine Is Yours: The Rise of Collaborative Consumption (see her website at – includes everything from traditional online marketplaces like eBay to clothes swapping events organised online, garden sharing projects, car clubs like Streetcar, accommodation networks like airbnb and even money lending websites like Zopa. Where this will all ultimately lead remains to be seen – as does whether the consumerism model we’ve become so used to will change for good – but it’s fair to say the impacts of collaborative consumption approaches are already been felt around the world.

PICTURE: © AngelIce (



5th May, 2011


DogSocial networking has gone to the dogs. No longer content with recording the minutiae of their own day-to-day lives, a growing number of people are these days setting up social networking pages for their pets. And while many have simply put up pages on what are largely human-related websites (Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg creating a Facebook page for his dog Beast is one of the most famous examples), there are also a growing number of pet-dedicated social networking sites. Take, for example. Launched in July, 2008, each pet’s page includes a list of their ‘doggy friends’, a brief bio and list of favorites – Pierre, the seven month old French bulldog, for example likes laying out in the sun, peanut butter and chasing balls – as well as the usual plethora of pictures and videos. Other sites include,,, (for rabbits), (for hamsters), and the rather delightfully named Critter ( And while some may be quick to scoff at the frivilousness of it all, the websites do play a role in exchanging information about things like health issues and where the nearest pet-friendly park might be (as well as being a great place to post those photos you have of your pet looking ridiculous while wearing your sunglasses). Still, even as the online menagerie grows apace, we note with disappointment that there is yet to appear a social networking site dedicated to fish.

PICTURE: A dog's life. Growing numbers of pets are appearing online to better network. Clix (



15th February, 2011


Christian fashionIt used to be that Christian fashion for the average person in the street simply involved wearing a cross around your neck. No so anymore. There's a growing range of 'Christian fashion' items and the accessories that go with them - everything from T-shirts emblazoned with slogans like the somewhat confrontational 'Bible Bashing Jesus Freak' through to canvas shoes bearing images of crosses and the ubiquitous 'purity rings'. While the ongoing growth of the internet has seen an explosion in the number of companies selling Christian-oriented fashion items and accessories online, a new breed of Christian fashion shops is also starting to be seen in shopping malls. Among them is the US-based C28 (the name refers to the Bible passage Colossians 2: 8) which sells T-shirts bearing slogans like 'Listen to the voice of God', 'Religion sets rules, Jesus sets free' or simply 'Truth' as well as a host of other clothing items - from jeans and dresses through to shorts and hoodies with many of them bearing similar slogans or Christian-themed designs. As with other companies selling online, C28 sees its role primarily as a 'ministry' and, as well as offering goods which reflect a "clean and positive Christian lifestyle", also donates a proportion of its income to charities. While the trend for Christian fashion is primarily based in the US, there are a growing number of online outlets in countries such as Australia - Trinity Hill and Cool4Christ to name two - and the UK - Christ Appeal - as well. Expect more to come.

PICTURE: Some of the many Christian designs being used in fashion today. The image shows some of the more than 21,000 image results which appear when entering 'Christian apparel' into Google.

Do you wear clothes which carry a Christian message? We’d love to hear what you think! Just click here to leave your comment...



22nd December, 2010


CrowdThe idea of the flash mob has been around for a few years now – you know, where a group of seemingly random people in a public place suddenly break into song, dance or, yes, even pillow-fighting – and Christmas-time is no exception. In what is a new twist on the old idea of carols singers roaming the streets with songsheet in hand, the past couple of years has seen growing numbers of Christmas-related flash mobs popping up all over the world - on public transport, in shopping centres, and on the beach (although it's a stretch to call this Christmas-themed) - with the idea of spreading some Christmas cheer. Not that they always go to plan. The LA Times, reporting on the phenomena, found one in Sacramento which all went wrong when too many people turned up, leading the firebrigade to evacuate the building.  While flash mobs are usually organised via social media – although there are dedicated websites where you can find out where the next one is – it’s increasingly a case of watcher beware. Not all flash mobs are what they seem with PR companies increasingly realising its value as a marketing tool. What may seem a random bit of fun may in fact be part of a cleverly orchestrated ad campaign. Still, as long as you get a laugh, or enjoy the singing, what does it really matter?

Have you ever taken part in a flash mob or witnessed one? We’d love to hear what you think! Just click here to leave your comment...

PICTURE: Bob Smith (



12th November, 2010


3D glasses3D has been the talk of the film and TV industries for the past few years and in recent times we’ve seen the release of a host of 3D films and, more recently, the release of 3D-enabled TVs (now we just need some shows to watch on them). Glasses-free 3D TVs and movies are on the way as well although as director James Cameron noted this week, mass release may be some years off yet. And remember that famous scene in Back to the Future: Part II when a shark launches itself out of a Jaws poster and startles Marty McFly? 3D digital signage is being touted the next big thing in the advertising world and in a glimpse of what’s already possible, just this week in London fashion house Ralph Lauren held a special screening of a giant ‘4D’ movie featuring models and polo players on the exterior wall of its Bond Street store which included not only 3D imagery but filled the air with 'mist' of Ralph Lauren fragrance. Scientists in the US, meanwhile, have just announced that they’ve figured out a way to make 3D holographic projections – of the sort featured in Star Wars when Princess Leia is seen in a message projected by that feisty little droid, R2-D2 – possible, allowing for a projected image to be seen on all sides without the use of special glasses. So expect not only images to be coming out of the screen but to be able to walk around them as well. If, that is, all the hype lives up to expectation.

PICTURE: Bob Smith (



18th September, 2010


GeocachingThink your GPS (Global Positioning System device) is just for helping you navigate while driving? Think again. Growing numbers of people around the world are taking up the hobby of ‘geocaching’ – ‘treasure hunts’ in which participants use GPS' to find ‘caches’, usually no more than a small box containing a notebook in which to record your find and perhaps a small token to exchange for one of your own, hidden around the countryside. The hobby owes its origins to the US Government’s move in May 2000 to remove restrictions limiting non-military GPS receivers to an accuracy of only 100 metres. The much greater accuracy - now usually with a few metres - enabled people to use mapping co-ordinates to locate caches which other geocachers have previously hidden. There are estimated to be more than a million caches now hidden around the world – including in Australia. The hobby reached the country soon after the first caches were hidden in the US with the first Australian cache hidden at Lane Cove in Sydney in 2000. There are now estimated to be at least 20,000 caches hidden around the country with thousands of people taking part in finding them. The coordinates for caches – which are rated depending on how hard they are to find - are accessed on websites – such as or - on which geocachers can also record their finds. While many engage in geocaching as a weekend hobby, there are some who use it to liven up their holiday travel. So, where are you off to this weekend?

PICTURE: © ra-photos (



8th July, 2010


InfographicThe boring name for it is data visualization; the more interesting names include ‘infographics’, ‘visual journalism’ and even ‘charticles’. The rise in the role the internet plays in the way we are informed has led people to look harder for new ways of presenting information. Now we all know a good graphic can sell a concept in a way that a well-written 2,000 words on the subject can’t and it's fair to say the concept of the infographic has been around for centuries (London’s tube map and the nightly news weather charts are well-known examples). Yet it's also true that the internet has led to a surge in the use of the infographics, both among traditional and non-traditional media outlets, resulting in works which include everything from Wired’s chart on ‘How Star Wars changed the world’ to a map of the world’s online communities and an infographic showing where the next volcano will erupt in the world. There are a growing number of websites dedicated to presenting data in graphic form – among the most impressive we’ve seen is that of London-based David McCandless, who describes himself as a ‘data journalist and information designer’, and who is the creative mind behind the Information is Beautiful website. So where to from here? Expect more interactivity, increasing use of animation and, of course, growth in the number of parodies.




20th November, 2009


VoluntourismFor an increasing number of people around the world, going on a holiday no longer just means spending a couple of weeks lazing on a beach. More and more people are opting to combine their time away from home with the idea of doing something good for someone else. The trend, dubbed voluntourism, sees people pay for the privilege of spending some time - short or long term - helping out on a volunteer project and has led to a rise in the number of travel companies - and organisations such as Habitat for Humanity - which have specifically designed trips to help you do something good. In Australia, offerings include everything from monitoring nesting turtles in Cape York, to spending time on an outback station experiencing a little of the life of the jackaroo. The opportunities globally are even more diverse - everything from helping out in an orphanage in India to looking after a coral reef in Aruba, Mexico, or, like a significant number of people have been doing in Samoa recently, helping clean up in the wake of a natural disaster. There are a growing number of websites dedicated to helping you find something that suits - is one - as well as books and other resources - tourist guide company Frommers has recently released a book Frommer’s 500 Places Where You Can Make A Difference which contains numerous possibilities. Next holiday, why not see how you can help others...just one warning - be sure to check out the credentials of any company you’re traveling with before you go!

Have you been a voluntourist? We'd be keen to hear your story - why did you go?, what did you do?. Simply send an email to

PICTURE: © Steven Robertson (



9th September, 2009


WheelbarrowLooking to take some time out from the ratrace? WWOOFing might be just the thing. Standing for 'Willing Workers On Organic Farms' or 'World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms' depending on where you are, the scheme is described, according to the WWOOF Australia official website as “a form of cultural exchange in which WWOOFers live and work as a family with host farms and learn about the skills of organic growing (and) the area they are visiting”. The Australian network is just one of many around the world - the acronym WWOOF traces its origins back to England in the Seventies (it first stood for “Working Weekends On Organic Farms”) and has now spread as far afield as Argentina, Turkey, Kazakhstan and Uganda. WWOOFers generally do not receive any financial payment for their work - the host is expected to provide them with food and accommodation as well as learning opportunities. In return, the WWOOFer offers a pair of willing hands and isn’t afraid to get down and dirty in jobs which range from pulling carrots through to helping to care for alpacas. Connections are made via WWOOF organisations, such as WWOOF Australia, which provide lists of the organic farms that welcome volunteers (the volunteers then contact them directly to arrange a possible stay). As to the typical WWOOFer? There’s no such thing with those taking part apparently ranging across ages and backgrounds, from holidaying students and city dwellers looking for a break from the humdrum through to grey nomads looking for a new adventure.

PICTURE: Linnell Esler (



3rd July, 2009


WSSAOriginating in the US, ‘sport stacking’simply involves stacking plastic cups into different formations, usually pyramids, and then unstacking them - all done as quickly as possible. Played as an individual or as part of a team, sport stacking - also known as ‘cup stacking’ or ‘speed stacking’ - traces its history back to the late Eighties when it appeared in boys and girls clubs in southern California (apparently getting a big boost when it appeared on Johnny Carson’s The Tonight Show). Bob Fox, a teacher from Denver, is credited as one of the game’s early pioneers, introducing the game at his school some years after he first saw it on The Tonight Show. Since 1998, he and his wife Jill have run Speed Stacks Inc which makes the officially sanctioned cups for the sport - they have airholes to make for easier separation - and promotes the sport to phys ed teachers in the US. According to a report in the Wall Street Journal, the company is now turning over some $4 million a year in sales. These days there are tournaments held under the auspices of the World Sport Stacking Association, which was formed in 2001 and since 2005 has officially referred to the game as ‘sport stacking’. This year’s championships in Colorado reportedly attracted almost 700 people from as far afield as Colombia and Taiwan and current world champ, 11-year-old Steven Purugganan, of Massachusetts, set three new records including 2.15 seconds for stacking cups in a 3-6-3 formation (that’s a pyramid of three cups, another of six, and another of three) and then unstacking them again. Among the rules are that each cup should only be handled by one hand (but both hands should be used to stack). Citing the benefits the sport has, such as improving hand-to-eye coordination, some are now pushing for the sport to be introduced into the Olympics.



22nd February, 2009


In a world where much of our lives is now being played out in the virtual sphere - think of everything from managing bank accounts through to booking airline tickets for your next holiday and staying in touch with friends overseas - it’s not surprising to find the idea of online confessions gaining traction. Recent years have seen a growing number of websites offering people the chance to confess their sins anonymously online. Some of the sites - such as and - are being run by churches, largely, it seems, based in the US (although it should be noted that the Catholic Church has reportedly specifically rejected such sites as a means for confessing while other church leaders have warned that such sites will never replace talking to someone you know and trust). Others, meanwhile - including,believed to have been the original confession site having started as an art installation - are purely secular in nature and simply provide a place for people to unburden themselves. But be warned, these sites can make for unpleasant reading with people candidly discussing all manner of sins. And it’s also important to note that the level of anonmity offered may vary from one site to the next. While many sites, which are generally for adults' consumption, simply offer the chance to unburden yourself (and perhaps the chance for others visiting the site to comment on your confession), the church website generally include contact points and links for people looking for someone to talk to or for more resources. (And, remember, always exercise safe surfing!)

PICTURE: Miguel Ugalde (



19th September, 2008


FreeGetting something for nothing may seem an alien concept to people in wealthy Western nations but a new trend is emerging which is all about just that. Dubbed ‘freeconomics’ by Chris Anderson, the editor-in-chief of Wired magazine, it’s based on the principle that the more you give away, the more money you can make. The idea has been around for a while - one only to has to think about the free samples offered by bakeries while waiting to order, for example. The internet, however, has given new impetus to the idea with a broad range of ‘free’ services - everything from free search engines (think Google), through to free encyclopaedias (Wikipedia) and even free IP-based telephone services (Skype). It’s also led to old industries like the music industry to look at new free models - there are any number of bands now offering free downloads of songs and industries like that of the publishing industry and the film industry are exploring the idea, albeit slowly. And then there’s groups like the Freecycle Network which describes itself as a “non-profit gifting movement” in which people are encouraged to gift items to local communities instead of throwing them away so they can reused by someone else. Now numbering more than four million members, the network spans more than 4,000 cities around the world. Where will it all lead? Well, proponents of the freeconomics movement believe its a growing trend and suggest the growing digitalisation of the world may lead to a free-for-all of the likes of which we’ve never seen before.

PICTURE: Billy Alexander (



11th May, 2008


Guerrilla GardeningThey come in the dead of night armed with the implements of their trade; single-minded in their effort to accomplish their illicit mission. They’re the “guerrilla gardeners”, a secret army of people working in cities around the globe to bring a touch of beauty to the lost wastelands of our modern metropolises. “In the case of guerrilla gardening, the soldiers are planters, the weapons are shovels, and the mission is to transform an abandoned lot into a thing of beauty,” writes David Tracey, Canadian-based author of the book Guerrilla Gardening: A Manualfesto. One of the earliest examples of guerilla gardening took place in Britain in the mid-1600s when groups known as the Diggers planted vegetables and crops on public land. The idea was resurrected in the UK in the 1970s and in recent years has again gained impetus. Richard Reynolds has penned a handbook on the practise - On Guerrilla Gardening - and runs a website where he provides details of guerrilla gardening projects aimed at ‘fighting the filth with forks and flowers’. “There is no manifesto,” he says in a recent article in The Sunday Times. “Having some greenery and creating a better environment has many positive benefits.” In another article, Mr Reynolds says that while guerrilla gardening is a crime in Britain - under the law, it’s considered criminal damage - “common sense”, he says, “would suggest it is quite the opposite”. Closer to home, Australian Bob Crombie spends his spare time cleaning up and planting out public green spaces in Sydney. In an article in the Sydney Morning Herald earlier this year, Mr Crombie describes himself as a ‘bewilderer’, an old term which he told the newspaper, meant ‘to be become connected to life, the source, the spirit, God”. "Bewildering is much more than just planting trees, greening and hugging koalas," he tells the newspaper. "It is a very deep human response to our relationship to our world, especially our immediate environment, that recognises our place in it, our dependence upon it and our responsibility to it."



27th March, 2008


LensIt started with the handwritten diary - think of Englishman Samuel Pepys’ famous work from the seventeenth century - but advances in technology have brought about whole new ways in which people can record their lives. Yes, we’ve seen the explosion of blogs and social networking pages like Facebook and MySpace but now comes a trend that takes things to a whole new level. It’s called Lifelogging and it involves recording and storing all of life’s moments - the mundane and the extraordinary - for posterity. Lifeloggers use a range of technologies to achieve their ultimate aim - audio recorders, digital cameras, GPS devices and health-related sensors to name a few. Lifeloggers - and there have been a few including US-based computer scientist Gordon Bell - say that lifelogging has obvious benefits: being able to recall the name of the person you just met and what was discussed, the ability to analyse yourself and your behaviours to, for example, better improve work productivity, and the monitoring of vital statistics to provide better warnings of health troubles. And while some believe lifelogging will one day be ubiquitous, there are some issues which will need to be resolved first, among them how lifelogging connects with the privacy rights of those people you encounter in your day-to-day life as well as social etiquette issues and technologically-related issues such as how to ensure that your life archive can still be read 20 years down the track.

PICTURE: Agata Urbaniak (



18th January, 2008


BusinessmanSo you’ve got your work/rest/play balance in order and have managed to avoid the stress of burn-out. But, if you’re finding you're spending your workdays watching the minutes tick slowly by on the clock, it may be that you’re among the thousands of workers suffering from 'rust-out'. As the term (which apparently first began to be applied in the business world in the Eighties) implies, rust-out is the opposite to burn-out. Those affected don't go down in a blaze of stress-related frenzy; instead they become so bored and apathetic about their unstimulating worklife that they simply ‘rust’ away. The causes are many and varied - perhaps someone missed out on a promotion they were qualified to get; perhaps changes to the workplace have meant their job no longer provides the challenge it once did. But whatever it’s cause, rust-out does have a serious side. It can be expressed through such things as a person’s unkempt appearance and lack of punctuality or productivity, and even, say experts, lead to serious depression or substance abuse if not addressed. And the first step toward doing so is all about simply acknowledging the issue. It may mean taking on new responsibilities, stretching yourself in new ways, setting new goals or simply varying the monotony of routine. In short, looking at how you - and, if you’re an employee, your boss - can work to re-energise your working life.

PICTURE: Jean Scheijen (


A :-) 25 YEARS!

21st September, 2007


EmoticonFeeling :-), :-( or maybe :-o? They’re called emoticons and they’re used in this, the information age, to succinctly illustrate exactly how we’re feeling via our electronic communications. While emoticons have a long and interesting history (the ubiquitous yellow smiley face, for example, was created back in the Sixties as part of a campaign to bolster the employees of an insurance company), Carnegie Mellon University professor Scott E. Fahlman is generally credited with the creating the widely used :-) emoticon 25 years ago. Professor Fahlman posted a message, recovered during an “archaeological” computer exercise back in 2002, onto an electronic bulletin board on 19th September, 1982, during a discussion about how to identify comments meant to be taken lightly. The message apparently read: ‘I propose the following character sequence for joke markers: :-). Read it sideways.” The same message records that he also came up with the idea of using :-( “for things that are NOT jokes”. The use of emoticons exploded with the arrival of the internet, particularly used in forums or instant messaging, as well as the growth in use of mobile phones and these days text-based emoticons are often replaced with small graphic images, sometimes animated. Yet, for some, the challenge of inventing a new emoticon, using just the keys on a standard keyboard, is what it’s all about. One dictionary, Txtr’s A-Z, reportedly includes 16 pages of emoticons including the delightful {:-( which apparently stands for “toupee blowing in the wind”.



29th July, 2007


PaperworkIt’s the idea that by just making small changes in your life, the overall picture will get better. Taking it’s name from the small change or ‘hacks’ software programmers make to improve computer programs, ‘life hacking’ is all about applying the same basic principles to your life. The term was invented by British technology journalist Danny O’Brien after he looked at how super-productive software programmers - what he terms “alpha geeks” - managed to work so fast and found that they tended to use a range of technical shortcuts - known as “hacks” - to get the job done. Popularised through the blogosphere, a plethora of life hack- dedicated blogs and websites appeared - including 43 Folders, LifeHacker and - and the term quickly expanded to refers, according to Wikipedia, to “anything that solves an everyday problem in a clever or non-obvious way” (although doings faster and more efficiently is also important). Examples include everything from shortening the length of meetings by making people stand (they’re less likely to waste time if on their feet) and prioritising the things you need to do the next day on a short list every night through to letting phone calls go through to the answering machine and then replying to them in batches instead of answering every time the phone rings. But beware, life hacking does come with pitfalls. Some life hackers have been known to get so caught up in finding life hacks that they’ve actually decreased their productivity!

PICTURE: Sarah Williams (



1st June, 2007


dumpster“Are you going to eat that?” It’s a common-enough asked question at dinner tables around Australia and, while for some it might simply represent a chance to get hold of another’s tasty treat, for others the phrase can expose their desire to cut down on what might get thrown in the bin. Taking the idea the next step are the ‘freegans’. Described as a reaction to waste and the 'injustices' that go into producing goods, the movement sees people looking for alternative ways to meet their needs in a bid to cut down on waste. This can mean everything from recycling clothes and furniture, squatting in abandoned properties and even rummaging through rubbish bins for food, part of a practice known variously in freegan circles as “urban foraging”, “dumpster diving” or “skip dipping”. The word itself is a combination of ‘free’ and ‘vegan’, though not all are vegans - meat-eaters can apparently be known as “meagans”. According to the website, freeganism represents “a total boycott of an economic system where the profit motive has eclipsed ethical considerations and where massively complex systems of productions ensure that all the products we buy will have detrimental impacts most of which we may never even consider”. This, it goes on to say, means freegans try to avoid buying anything. There’s a growing number of organisations to facilitate this, including the organisation Freecycle where you can pick up goods that others have donated free of charge. Some freegans also hold “freemeets” where they bring goods which others can take and vice versa . Allied to this is the growth of the Really, Really Free Market movement, based on what they call a “gift economy”.

PICTURE: Kenn Kiser (



26th February, 2007


JumpingThose who have seen it will recall the scene close to the start of the latest James Bond film, Casino Royale, in which Bond pursues a man in an incredible chase scene through an urban environment in Madagascar. The scene, which took the chase to incredible heights and dexterity, has its inspiration in “free-running”, a physical discipline which involves navigating the urban landscape using moves which appear more akin to acrobatics, gymnastics or even martial arts than what we typically think of as running. (More than that, the scene actually features Sebastien Foucan, the founder of the sport, as evil bomb-maker Mollaka). A derivative of the similar discipline of parkour (which was founded in the Parisian suburb of Lisses about 15 years ago by athlete and childhood friend of Foucan, David Belle), free-running is all about getting from A to B. However unlike parkour - which is about doing so as quickly as possible - free running is all about doing so with as much flair and pizazz as possible. When it comes to free-running, aesthetics count. “The main difference then between parkour and free running is that parkour is defined by purpose ‘get somewhere quickly and efficiently using the human body’, and free running is defined by the activity or art of moving through your environment however you want, moving your way, following your own path,” explains a statement on the website American Parkour. The ‘sport’ - which Foucan said in a 2003 newspaper article is all about “ being creative in the way you move” - has attracted a considerable following around the world (and its share of criticism - critics complain about the dangers involved in activities such as leaping from rooftop to rooftop although Foucan has said that people don’t need to take risks to be a free-runner). For some practitioners, free running is more than just a sport. “It is not just a game,” Foucan has been quoted as saying. “It is a discipline because it is a way of facing our fears and demons that you can apply to the rest of your life.”

PICTURE: Paul Farmer (



22nd December, 2006


mouseIt’s that time of year - shoppers running amok in a last minute bid to grab Christmas presents or trying to snap up a bargain in the Boxing Day sales. Despite exhortations to remember the true meaning of Christmas and all that it really represents, there are still times when it all gets too much for some. It may simply mean making a snippy comment to an assistant at a retail outlet or, at its worst, completely losing the plot after having waited for half an hour in a queue only to find the shop is now out of the turkey that you wanted to adorn the Christmas table. Well, sadly, those frustrations have now migrated online and with them have come a new syndrome and a term to describe it - “mouse rage”, or MRS as it’s known to insiders. The UK-based Social Issues Research Centre has reportedly identified the syndrome after studying the habits of 2,500 web users and yes, like road rage before it, its symptoms include increased heart rates, teeth clenching, hitting something (in this case, the mouse) and yelling at the screen. The SIRC study identified five different website flaws that can cause the problem - slow-to-load pages, confusing navigational layouts, excessive pop-ups, unnecessary advertising and that old “site unavailable” message. The message here is twofold: while those who create websites need to make sure they do their utmost to provide a simple and smooth web experience, we, the websurfers also need to take a deep breath. As you feel the frustration setting in, stop. Maybe it’s time to take a break from the computer for a moment or two - make yourself a cup of tea, take a walk in the fresh air. And, remember, try and take it easy on your mouse. After all, what did it ever do to you?

PICTURE: Richard S (



19th November, 2006


Rush hourNoticed recently how being busy is the new status symbol? Ask anyone how they’re going these days and the one thing they’re almost certain to say is ‘busy’ or ‘swamped’ as though by admitting that we were any less so would be somehow the equivalent of shamefacedly admitting we’re not living life to the full; that we're somehow missing out. There’s no doubt that many people these days do lead busy lives - long working hours and the many other demands in our lives means many exist at a frenetic pace. But is that all there is to it? Writing in the pages of an Australian newspaper last year, social researcher Hugh Mackay mused whether our increased busyness was, in fact, “the great escape from emotional engagement with the rest of our lives” and quoted the Roman poet Ovid - “You who seek an end of love, love will yield to business: be busy and you will be safe”. So what to do? Well, while many people now talk about getting “balance” in their lives, our apparent busyness has also spawned a plethora of books with titles like Too Busy to Live: The Addiction America Applauds and The Busy Christian’s Guide to Busyness. Then there’s organised movements like that of “slow food”. For those who haven’t heard of it, slow food is all about taking your time - stepping aside from the hustle and bustle of our lives and taking time to enjoy the moment. There’s even an international association - Slow Food International - with chapters in various countries which describes itself as a “non-profit, eco-gastronomic member-supported organisation”. Founded in 1989, it now boasts 80,000 members and has the stated aim of counteracting “fast food and fast life, the disappearance of local food traditions and people’s dwindling interest in the food they eat, where it comes from, how it tastes and how our food choices affect the rest of the world”. It’s all part of what some have termed the “slow revolution” and, somewhat ironically, it seems to be gaining ground fast as more and more people choose to opt out of their busy lifestyles.

PICTURE: Henning Buchholz (



12th August, 2006


Virtual worldWe’ve surely all adjusted to the idea of virtual worlds - places where you can pick up a sword and lead your army against nasty armies or just spend time hanging out in whichever Sims environment you’ve elected to live in. But recent years have seen a new twist. Virtual worlds are becoming real. There’s a growing number of online worlds appearing where people in our offline reality are paying over hard cash to purchase virtual property. Take the Entropia Universe. Originating from Sweden in 1995, it’s a futuristic world in which players or colonists can explore and develop parts of the world of Calypso using a currency called PED which allows players to buy virtual land and equipment. Doesn’t sound too different to SimCity yet? The difference is that in the Entropia Universe there is a real cash economy meaning PED can actually be converted into real US dollars at a rate of 10 PEDs to 1 US dollar and can now even apparently be withdrawn at real world ATMs. Transactions to date include an Asteroid Space Resort bought for $US100,000 by Jon Jacobs aka Neverdie in an auction and a somewhat mysterious egg bought by the same person for $US10,000 just last month. In July alone more than $210,00 worth of real estate was sold at public auction. And the Entropia Universe - which reported a turnover of $US165 million last year - is not alone. Another of the virtual world games called Second Life was recently reported as having more than 200,000 users who in January spent more than $US5 million dollars on virtual world transactions. Characters there are able to spend money on Coke and beer at a virtual bar and listen to music purchased at stores and uploaded to virtual iPods. Expect more to follow. It’s a whole new world out there.

PICTURE: Tom Denham (



6th February, 2006


BusinessmanAlmost everyone who works in an office and has unrestricted access to the internet has probably been guilty of it at some stage. Cyber-slacking, defined as using the work computer to surf the net or email for non-work related reasons, is a trend many companies across the world have been eager to address. Known by various other terms - cyber-bludging to name one - results of a study released by Monash University researchers early this year showed that workers are spending more than a quarter of their time connected to the web for non-work related reasons. Dr James Phillips and Kerryann Wyatt from the university’s School of Psychology, Psychiatry and Psychological Medicine examined the internet use of 83 people and looked at five personality traits - neuroticism, extraversion, openness to experience, agreeableness and conscientiousness - to see what potential each had for predicting internet use. They found that extroverts sent more work and non-work related emails. People with less agreeable personalities were likely to spend more time on the net and those open to experience were more likely to spend time searching on the net for work-related reasons. “Extroverted employees particularly are abusing their internet privileges, spending reduced amounts of time working and so reducing productivity,” says Wyatt. ”Whether this is simply to socialise or procrastinate or to stimulate themselves is not clear, but it is likely to have a significantly negative impact on the workplace.” They suggest that a lack of supervisor awareness or inadequate policies for dealing with internet use are possibly to blame. The term, which the researchers say has been around since 2001, was added to the Oxford Dictionary back in 2003 along with reality TV, SARS and “lovely jubbly”.

PICTURE: Emin Ozkan (



9th December, 2005


Angry manApparently it’s not just old men who are grumpy. Experts are starting to provide evidence which supports what many - particularly women perhaps - have suggested for years: a condition known as irritable male syndrome (IMS). The phrase - which was apparently coined by Gerald Lincoln, an academic at Edinburgh University who used it to refer to a condition he identified in male sheep a few years ago - is the title of a book (The Irritable Male Syndrome) released last year by US-based psychotherapist and author Jed Diamond who told an Australian newspaper earlier this year that perhaps as many as 30 per cent of all men suffer from the problem. According to Diamond, there are as many as 50 common signs to help diagnose the condition including the depression, anger, fatigue, moodiness, anxiety, lethargy, low libido and confusion as well as an increased use of sarcasm, the feeling of being overworked and an urge to drink caffeine. Sound like anyone you know? Diamond told US magazine Newsweek recently that IMS commonly affects men aged between 15 and 28 years and those aged between 40 and 55 years - both periods in a man’s life when they are going through “hormonal changes and changes in their male identity and sexuality and relationships”. So what to do if you do have IMS? Diamond told Newsweek that counselling can be helpful and exercise and diet are also important. He believes testosterone treatment may also be an option. The upshot is that next time you come across an angry man, spare a thought that he may just be suffering from IMS. Go here to see if you suffer from IMS.

PICTURE: Robert Driese (



4th August, 2005


Green globeIt’s called Globish and some are hoping that it will be language of the future. Essentially a stripped down and simplified form of English, it’s the latest bid in a quest for a truly universal language (and, some might argue, a last attempt to stem the tide of English expansion). While at least two versions of the language have been developed, the version which has received the most attention is that promoted by a linguist and former IBM marketing executive, Jean-Paul Nerriere. The Frenchman, who has published a couple of texts on the “language” - Speak Globish and Discover Globish (the former introduced the concept while the latter, published in May, deals with the issue of grammar), has stripped language back to about 1,500 words. Starting with able and ending with zero, it’s apparently all one needs to be able to communicate effectively at a basic level (not bad considering the Oxford English Dictionary contains more than 400 times as many words - 613,000 or so). In a recent interview with the International Herald Tribune newspaper, Nerriere described Globish as a tool and not a language, saying it was simply a “means of communication” and not a cultural vehicle. As well as the 1,500 words, Globish relies on gestures and repetition and has been described as “English-lite”. Nerriere reportedly developed the language after seeing the way people from non-English speaking backgrounds but different countries drew on elements of English to communicate. In an interview earlier this year, he said that unlike previous efforts to develop a global means of spoken communication - such as Esperanto - Globish is “not artificial”. “It derives from the observation that some kind of English is spoken everywhere,” he said.

PICTURE: Murat Cokal (



25th May, 2005


It started in Japan as an alternative to crosswords, has swept across Britain and now has made it’s way to Australia where newspaper publishers are falling over themselves in their efforts to capitalise on the phenomenon. Called Sudoku, it’s a deceptively simple numbers game that some are calling the biggest puzzle craze since the Rubik’s cube of the early Eighties. The game consists of a series of nine-by-nine square grids and requires people to arrange the digits one to nine so that they appear in each row and column. Sounds easy? Think again. The game’s origins have apparently been traced as far back as the 1780s when a blind Swiss mathematician, Leonhard Euler invented a grid puzzle he called Latin Squares. The game then sat on the shelf, so to speak, until the 1980s when it appeared with the new title of the “Number Place“ game in the US. Spotted there by a Japanese puzzle magazine employee, the game was taken back to Japan and modified. Known as Sudoku, SuDoku or Su Doku (all of which can be loosely translated as “single number” - a reference to the fact that the game only uses single figures), the game then made the transition to Britain thanks to a retired New Zealand judge, Wayne Gould, who created a computer program to generate new puzzles and set up a website to publish them (he now supplies puzzles to papers across Britain and around the globe - from New York to Estonia). Aside from the newspapers, there’s dedicated Sudoku websites - is one - as well as books and magazines and talk of national championships (in the UK at least). Versions for mobile phones are also available and even the possibility of dedicated TV shows have been raised. Enthusiasts say that the game’s appeal is in its apparent simplicity not to mention the fact that it doesn’t require maths skills of any sort, just the ability to count to nine - a factor sure to encourage those for whom maths wasn’t a strong suit at school.

PICTURE: Joao Estevao A. de Freitas (



4th February, 2005


We’ve all no doubt heard of the social phenomena which involves older children either remaining at home well into their 20s and, yes, even 30s, or returning home time and again after moving out for brief stints. Now brace yourself for the raft of names being cleverly coined to describe the group. Recent efforts in the United States (where the Census Bureau estimates that as many as 40 per cent of young adults return home after moving out compared with 20 per cent 50 years ago), include “boomerang children” (as in, they come back), and “kidults” (adults who enjoy activities, such as playing computer games, which are typically seen as being for kids). Time magazine recently ran a cover story about the phenomena in which it referred to the demographic group as “twixters” (apparently from being “betwixt and between”), describing them as “young adults who live with their parents, bounce from job to job and hop from mate to mate”. “They’re not lazy, they just won’t grow up,” the magazine quipped in a recent cover line. Other names doing the rounds in cyberspace include “rejuveniles”, “youthhood” and “adultescence”. In England the group is apparently referred to as “kippers” (which stands for the rather long-winded “kids in parents’ pockets eroding retirement savings”) while according to Time, in France they are referred to as if suffering a disease - the “Tanguy syndrome” (apparently referring to a 2001 film about a bloke who refuses to move out of home despite his parent’s best efforts). Which name eventually sticks remains to be seen.

PICTURE: Joshua Blake,



12th November, 2004


Standby buttonSlash/slash: for many this new term may hark back to a saying about...erm...going to the toilet that was coined somewhere in the Eighties. In fact it has nothing to do with that. You are most likely to fall into the shadow of a slash/slash at a social occasion when the old corker "so what do you do?" falls from your lips. The slash/slash will reply "Oh I am a computer program designer/reclaim the night campaigner/occupational health and safety rep/sessional at blah blah university". Each slash differentiates another of the roles your new friend carries out. Living in the Noughties where job and business equals status, a slash/slash seems to be a very valuable commodity indeed. They also make discussion easier: the more slashes they and you have, the easier it will be to find common ground for a discussion. Praxis: write down all your responsibilities and count the amount of slashes. If it's less than five then maybe it's time to start bustin' out some new roles.

PICTURE: Anssi Ruuska,


2nd November, 2004


Blurred vision? Hmm, things aren’t as sharp as they should be. Fatigue? Yawn...yes. Headaches? Uh huh. Dizziness? Woah, is the room spinning? Chills? Brrrr, yes. Anxiety? Well yes, and increasing as I work through this list I found on the internet and realise that I seem to have a number of the symptoms of hepatitis. As far as I know I’ve got nothing of the sort but maybe I’m one of those people who a recent study identified as suffering from ‘cyberchondria’. British researchers believe there are people who are incorrectly self-diagnosing themselves with a range of conditions after reading about the symptoms on the web in the same way people once did after reading medical books. “We found that people using these sites can take on board medical advice which is incorrect - an obvious concern,” says Dr Neil Coulson, who led the research team at the University of Derby. “Indeed, the health profession has coined the phrase ‘cyberchondria’ for people using the internet for self diagnosis and presenting this misinformation to their GP.” While noting the net can be a great source of comfort for people looking for support - particularly for carers - the researchers have recommended that health professionals need to post corrective information when they come across something they believe is incorrect. Meantime, I’d better go and lie down. This cyberchondria might just be catching.

PICTURE: Mark Strozier,

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