Brain Pickings

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22 APRIL, 2008

Earth Day the Wired Way

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This year, celebrate Earth Day with a simple but tangible touch to your wired ways.

We’re all for sustainable sustainability — the concept of making simple, everyday changes that enormously benefit the environment in the long run.

So, to celebrate Earth Day this year, we’ve created a neat little graphic to put in your email signature, show off your green bone, and remind people to think about the simple things that matter. We call it an eco-signature.

This Brain Pickings original is a digital freebie, and completely open-license and copyright-free. So snag away — download the image here, or just right-click/ctrl-click the image below and save it to your hard drive, then pop it in your email client’s signature preferences.

Got doubts about how much of a difference this little thing will make? Doubt not: The average employee prints 6 unnecessary pages per day, amassing a grand total of 1,410 per year. How many people did YOU email today?

Learn a couple more smart, handy tricks for easily relieving the daily tree-trashing epidemic.

17 APRIL, 2008

7 Ways To Free Yourself

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Mad about folding, the new Radiohead, global ‘zines, the U.K. vs. France, why the next MoMA piece may be found in your closet, how to be even lazier than you already are, and what 1’s and 0’s have to do with art. Welcome to the 7 Ways To Free Yourself issue.

BEND IT LIKE JAFFEE

The one, the only: Mad Magazine. What greater icon of American humor, political satire and pop culture commentary? The cult pub has been making waves since 1952, but some of its most recognized cultural contributions remain Al Jaffee’s infamous fold-ins.

Now, thanks to The New York Times, they’re available in interactive form, from 1960 to the present. And if there ever was a question of whether history repeats itself, this makes the answer loud and clear: most of the fold-ins are just as relevant today as they were decades ago, liberating history from its own confines.

Take the 1968 election year, when Nixon and Humphrey threw it down like there was no tomorrow, in the midst of a highly politicized war. Forty years later, the atrocities of another war are “turning our stomachs,” and a new generation is just as conflicted about a new war in an equally politically charged climate.

The entertainment business doesn’t seem to have changed for the better, either. In the year of the $2.7 million 30-second Super Bowl commercial, Jaffee’s snark resonates all the more powerfully.

See the full collection for a hefty slurp of history’s irony cocktail.

SIBERIAN COOL

Say what you will of the music industry’s demise, but all this commotion has actually propelled the evolution and diversification of the “indie” music scene. No longer is it all garage bands and acoustic pop and stale teen angst.

Case in point: indie up-and-comer Ghost Away. Their unique brand of alternative sound blends brilliantly sombre vocals with electrically charged instrumentals, fusing in beats that will both hypnotize you and make you wanna move. The getup is part Radiohead, part Junior Boys, part Battles, part something else entirely.

GHOST AWAY – SLOWDRIFT

Siberia, their debut album, is out this week. And as if to claim their place in the music business revolution going on these days, they’re launching the album as a free download. Talk about the ultimate self-publishing empowerment of today’s new media freeconomy — it cost the band close to nothing to record, produce and distribute the album (except, of course, hours of sweat and blood in the studio), and now it’s costing you nothing to experience it.

Get it now and get ready to dance the toldja so dance when Ghost Away make that Rolling Stone cover.

POWER TO THE PEOPLE

Speaking of self-publishing empowerment, we love Scribd: the document-sharing online library that takes information exchange and collaboration to a whole new level. It’s simple: you can upload any docs you like — Microsoft Office stuff, PDF’s, PostScript, OpenOffice, and more — and make them available to the world.

Similarly, you can search and access millions of documents other people uploaded.

Besides offering free unlimited storage (seriously?!), Scribd is the ultimate tool for self-publishing and reaching a wide audience. People use it for anything from backing up office documents, to storing and sharing photo albums, to publishing e-books and indie ‘zines, to collaborating on music chords and more.

And just when you think they couldn’t possibly give you more, there’s Scribd iPaper — a platform that lets you quickly integrate files from Scribt into a website, and you don’t even have to know code. Think of it as embeds on steroids.

In our humble opinion, Scribt is just the tip of the collaborative future iceberg, where information becomes the new social currency and the digitization of data builds a tremendously powerful communal pool of knowledge.

So go ahead, free yourself from the confines of static and introverted desktop software.

ALONG FOR THE RIDE

After last week’s French fusion of documentary and raw indie music, the empire strikes back: we’ve got a British sequel.

The Black Cab Sessions, a Just So Films initiative, shares a similar point of view, namely that venues strip music of its essence. So the project employs a simple concept: for each “session,” an indie band or artist hops in the back of a black cab and plays a song filmed in a single shot, which is then uploaded — completely unedited — for the world to see.


Currently on chapter thirty-five, The Black Cab Sessions have sported some of the best of the The’s, and then some — The Ravonettes, The Kooks, The New Pornographers, Cold War Kids, Spoon, and much, much more.

Our only question: where does the cab actually go?

NO HANGUPS

What is art if not the talent of looking at the mundane and seeing the extraordinary? Sculptor David Mach has just this sort of rare gift. He takes everyday objects like coat hangers, matchsticks and Scrabble pieces, turning them into sculptures, collages and installations that speak artistically, socially and politically.

Mach as been crafting his exquisite matchstick head sculptures and signature wire coat-hanger statues since the early 80’s. But, like a true artist, he spends more time concepting and crafting than tinkering with his new website and uploading visuals. Luckily, you can see the full breadth of his work on the archived old website.

We also dig the passion with which he stands behind his creative vision: Mach speaks freely of the great projects that never happened, which you can find in his Proposals section.

A particularly regrettable non-realization: Sound Wave, a gigantic tidal wave sculptured out of 250 upright pianos, which he conceived for the 25th anniversary of London’s Albert Hall. We feel your pain, Dave, we feel your pain.

WORD MEETS IMAGE, THEY MATE

You may recall the super nifty PicLens from a couple of months ago. Now, we bring you the next big thing in image search: the Flickr Related Tag Browser. The ridiculously sleek app does just what the name implies: lets you search Flickr images by tag, but does it visually in a way that halves the process and doubles the joy of it.

When you do a search, you get a collage of images tagged with that word, but you also get a tag cloud of contextually relevant images. It’s like the app thinks one step ahead for you and generating your next related keyword. You can click each tag in the cloud to sample the resulting images with another collage that pops up in the center.

You can keep scrolling through image results right there in the center collage, or you blow up a specific image thumbnail for a closer look. From there, you can either keep browsing the thumbnails if the image is no good, or click straight through to its Flickrs page to snag it.

The app is the work of freelance interactive designer Felix Turner, a Flash whiz who helped build the now-ubiquitous Brightcove video players.

BINARY FREEDOM

This week’s Untrivia is a different take on data, inspired by a new branch of the “found objects” art genre. We like to call these new digital artists “binary sculptors” — because the found “objects” are sets and patterns of mined data that they use much in the way traditional sculptors use mined ore, transforming the raw material into compelling visual art.

One such remarkable binary sculptor is artist and real-time visual performer Paul Prudence, who uses a software called Daub to project the digital data of a video stream onto a “brush” moving in 3D space, creating a neo-surrealist morphing mesh.

And speaking of video streams and data, it seems like Prudence won’t be out of raw material anytime soon. In February alone, Americans viewed 10.1 billion online videos, up 66% from last year. The average time spent watching web video that month? 204 minutes.

That’s a whole lotta cats falling down toilets.

11 APRIL, 2008

B-Sides and Breakaways

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Dancing in the streets, digital Dickens, time retold, LEGO on Times Square, 34841003122 reasons we’re devolving, what Etruscan vases have to do with skin rashes, and how to out-BlackBerry the BlackBerry.

SING IT LIKE IT IS

Independent music is an art all its own, but when you add phenomenal cinematography to it, it becomes a cultural masterpiece. And that’s what French filmmaker Vincent Moon is doing in La Blogotheque: “take-away” impromptu live shows by some of the most iconic indie artists, shot beautifully in some of the world’s most breathtaking cities.

No crowds. No stages. No equipment. Just the musicians and their talent, in the raw.

The project’s About page has nothing but Greek copy — we suspect because the films speak so strongly for themselves, no explanation is necessary. And if you parlez français, you can indulge in even richer content by way of articles, exclusive interviews and other artist- centric digressions. Still, the films themselves are the real indulgence.

Some of our favorites: The Shins on a street corner in Paris, José González outside a torn-down house in Marfa, TX, and Dappled Cities on a San Francisco sidewalk.

But, really, they’re all absolutely brilliant — so do indulge.

UNMAPPED TERRITORY

Down with the old book smell. Penguin, in a brilliant bout of innovation, is fully embracing new media and social collaboration.

As part of the “We Tell Stories” mantra, Penguin is collaborating with 6 authors who tell 6 stories in 6 days, each inspired by a timeless classic.The first one, The 21 Steps (inspired by The 39 Steps), is told entirely on Google Maps, following the main character around the world.

In week 2, Slice (inspired by The Haunted Dolls’ House) was told via tweets. (That’s Twitter messages, for the media geezers.) Next we have the mad-libs-like custom Fairy Tales, a take on the classic genre where readers fill in parts of the story. This week, a married couple of authors live-blogs the story of a relationship: Your Place and Mine, inspired by Émile Zola’s Thérèse Raquin.

Weeks 5 and 6 are yet to happen, but we know the upcoming stories, authored by a DJ-ing media whiz and a Pakistan-born London-based Harvard Law grad, will be inspired by Dickens’ Hard Times and 1001 Nights.

So what’s it gonna be? A Facebook group? Flickr? A YouTube channel? Time shall tell.

NEXT TIME AROUND

Time-keepers. While their price tags can be exorbitant enough to push any budget, there’s an overwhelmingly underwhelming cross-industry sameness that hardly ever pushes the design envelope. Well, no more.

A finalist in the Signity Watch Design Competition 2008, the Orb bracelet watch is the work of young Serbian designer Djordje “Djo:Djo” Zivanovic. It displays time on the ends of three lines of different thickness representing time-size: hours, minutes and seconds.

Watch-averse? The Verbarius clock tells time like no other — literally. It tells it the way people do: with words. It comes pre-loaded with five languages (English, German, Spanish, French and Russian) and has a USB port, which you can use to upload additional languages from your computer.

Available June 15, but you can pre-order now for the ironically down-to-the-digits amount of $184.92.

HISTORICALLY ENLIGHTENED

What are the great classics for if not for great reinterpretations? British photographer Mike Stimson does just that: he takes on the classics…in LEGO.

Henri Cartier-Bresson’s “Behind the Gare Saint Lazare”? He’s got it. Alfred Eisenstaedt’s “V.J. Day Times Square”? Done. And he doesn’t stop at classic photography. Hollywood’s fair game, too — Indiana Jones, Dart Vader, Stormtrooper. Even Rembrandt portraits.

And while we dig the sheer novelty of this concept, we must also admit Stimson’s mastery of lighting is a whole separate art form.

UNTRIVIA

brainiac.gif

Plastic. What a love-hate relationship we have with it. And while the recent badmouthing of plastic bottles has done a bit to raise awareness, it hasn’t done nearly enough. How many bottles have been landfilled in the US so far this year?

34,841,003,122.

Only a fifth of those get recycled, down from a third in 1996. Progress? Not so much. Watching the real-time counter is even more chilling.

And while other materials are doing a bit better, recycling is still declining: 54% of aluminum cans get recycled, down from 59% in 1996. Glass is at 20%, down from 30% in ’96. Let’s hope the new (pseudo) green mass movement results in some face-saving numbers at the next data collection.

The point here? Get with it, son: go ahead and buy that Sigg already.

ITCHING FOR ART

Here’s to taking life’s lemons and making lemonade. Artist Ariana Page Russell has done that, and then some: she has a rare skin condition called dermatographia that causes red, raised lines to appear on skin whenever it’s lightly scratched. Basically, hyper-hypersensitivity with bells and whistles.

So Page Russell is using this unusual condition as a tool in her body-as-canvas art: she draws on her body and takes pictures of the patterns once her skin’s hypersensitivity embosses the artwork. Thirty minutes later, it’s all gone — the body has “[become] an index of passing time.” Her patterns are inspired by anything from Greek and Etruscan vases, to Medieval wall coverings, to Renaissance pottery, to contemporary clothing and wallpaper.

And although the rest of the artist’s body of work is also quite stunning, we can’t deny the sheer category-creating brilliance of her skin art.

SPEAK TO THE HAND

You’re curt. Brusque. Terse. Hell, you’re even rude. At least if you have a BlackBerry. At least that’s how people perceive your one- liner emails. And now there’s a fix.

Remember Jott? The nifty speech transcriber service now has a BlackBerry platform that lets you reply to emails with your voice. The download is seamlessly integrated with the email app you use on your BB. Best of all, it ups the ultimate BlackBerry ante: using your voice is 3-5 times more time-saving than thumbing your way through that Re:. And it’s still free.

So go ahead and be a better person.

04 APRIL, 2008

Concepts Revisited

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Isaac Asimov vs. Rosie, outcreeping taxidermy, design to save China, why your friends and your ZIP code will change the way we do business, how 148 monkeys will deem MySpace moot, and what rivers have to do with music. Welcome to the Concepts Revisited issue.

MODERNITY IN RETROSPECT

robot.pngThe joy! It’s like a bunch of the goodies we’ve been digging lately — steampunk, repurposed stuff, quirky sculpture — have all been rolled into one big ball of coolness. It’s all thanks to artist Gordon Bennett and his delightfully unusual work.

Bennett Robot Works is all about robot sculptures made from objects old and new, found in junkyards, garages, dumpsters, construction sites, basements, sidewalk sales …you get the idea. Bennett uses wood, metal, glass, plastic, bakelite, rubber and paint to make the magic happen.

The Isaac-Asimovesque creations are an endearing allusion to visions of modernity from eras past. All the robots are completely unique, have personal names, and each takes over a month to complete. You know, just so you’re prepared for the sticker shock.

But, really, can you put a price tag on awesomeness? Plus, we always did like Rosie from The Jetsons.

KEEPIN’ IT REAL

What would happen if you mixed photography, anatomy, paper, sculpture, and a dash of creep? Bert Simons would.

The Dutch artist creates photorealistic 3D paper sculptures of human heads. And while we’d think twice about hanging one over our fireplace, the pure craftsmanship is beyond impressive.

He starts with a precise anatomy map of the head, then takes 6 photographs of his subject from different sides, which he projects onto the anatomical model. After some texture-mapping magic, he flattens out the photographic images into printable parts using special software and gets to modeling the head onto the anatomical model.

Simons also shares our fascination with anatomy — his paper anatomy head model is a true hybrid of art and science. Again, it may be a tad too real to add to your living room art collection — but then again, it’s sure to spur quite a bit of conversation at your next dinner party. (And maybe some, um, recycled entrées.)

COOLER THAN NIGHTVISION

Here’s the thing about product design: the best of it is the convergence of visual indulgence and functional utility. Which is why we dig the latest work of nr21 DESIGN (the Japanese duo behind the adidas adilettes and more great stuff): the TONG City Bike.

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It may look all fashion, but it’s all about function: the TONG is an inspired solution to China’s growing urban traffic problem. It provides a nimbler, more eco-sound alternative to the invasion of cars and scooters. At the same time, its unique BikeSafe TONG Lightframe keeps the rider visible at night — and packs an extra design punch: the light tubes are customizable to any color you desire. Then there’s the slick frame: it neatly houses the brake system, the gears, the shock absorbers and the drivetrain.

And while everyone and their mother wants to be the Apple of their category these days, we must say this one is as close as any non- Cupertino product can get.

FRIENDLY LOCALS

There’s a new Facebook app making tsunami waves in the media and business worlds this week. Loladex is vaguely reminiscent of the ever-popular TripAdvisor Facebook app in terms of function, but its subject matter is entirely different.

It’s a local search engine that uses reviews and recommendations from people you actually know, lets you make favorites lists you can share with friends, and throws professional reviews in the mix for comparison.

And here’s why it’ll rock the social networking world:

First, we wrote a while ago that consumer reviews are actually the mother of all social networking, dating back to the early Amazon days. They’re a backbone of credibility based on a shared interest, even when they come from complete strangers. (Hands up: who hasn’t consulted the reviews before buying something on Amazon?)

loladex.pngNext, we think local search is the thing to watch in 2008 and will ultimately redefine the search marketing business model. It’s essentially search customization — and in this day and age of Subservient Chicken culture, customization has become the norm we expect. So combine that with the enormous credibility of recommendations coming from your real-life friends, throw in the social viralization factor of Facebook’s newsfeed feature, and you’ve got something truly revolutionary.

Loladex comes from two ex-AOL execs (including the executive director of AOL’s travel, local and search products) who invested $350,000 in the venture and have solid plans for expanding it onto other social networking platforms. The app will eventually become ad-supported and include additional third-party professional reviews from magazines and other media, but will remain local and empower users to choose whose recommendations to trust: a friend’s or a magazine editor’s.

UNTRIVIA

brainiac.gif Speaking of social networking, the continuing boom of it and the race to out-friend your friends have made us ponder one recurring question: Can you ever have too many friends?

Yes, according to the Dunbar Number. It’s a socio-anthropological theory that argues there’s a cognitive limit to the number of stable social relationships you can maintain. We’re talking about the kind of relationships wherein you know each person as well as that person’s relationship to every other person in the group.

The theory comes from primatology and how primates maintain social contact with each other through grooming. In Homo sapiens terms, Dunbar’s Number includes all the people in your life with whom you plan to maintain a stable long-term relationship — from your current friends and coworkers, to your high school buddies you’ve kept in touch with, all the way down to your best friend from childhood who still calls you every Thursday.

So what’s that number?

148. (But it’s usually rounded up to 150, for convenience.)

Which makes us seriously question all those people with 500 Facebook friends, not to mention the very concept of MySpace “friends” — we’re looking at you, Tila Tequila.

SOUNDTRACK TO GOODNESS

Update: remember the feel good initiative? They’re back with a serious site upgrade that can give Pandora, iTunes iMixes and Last.fm a run for their money. And they’re just getting started.

It’s still the same 1 song / 1 day brilliantly simple framework. But now it’s all about music as social currency. You simply upload one tune every day, building your “channel” — whenever you upload, you can write a short blurb on why you dig the song and add album artwork or an image you feel captures the track’s vibe.

Other users can then tune into your channel, or you can listen to other channels and tag tunes you like by clicking the little heart icon. And if your channel is particularly good, you’ll get a bunch of “followers” — people who subscribe to your daily songs, kinda like a Twitter following.

thefeelgood3.png

The homepage features “The River of Music” — a constant flow of newly uploaded songs from the site’s members, and you can tune in instantly by just hitting the Play button. Although the interface can use some design work, we dig the simplicity of the concept and think the platform has enormous potential to build a social hub around the great human passion that is music.

Rock on, andr + mgPePe.

28 MARCH, 2008

The Nonjudgmental Issue

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3/4 inches of Al Gore, street-walking Mona Lisas, avuncular metrosexuals, off-handed soap, vegan vixens, viral drunken slurs, how Facebook is the new police, what Gmail and the Lochness Monster have in common, and why your brain is more vocal than you ever thought. Welcome to The Nonjudgmental Issue.

ONE WORD: WORD

paperpile_istockphotoemail.jpgPaper: good to save, bad to waste. Which is why we dig the idea of the paperless office, especially since the average employee prints 6 unnecessary pages per day, raking up a grand total of 1,410 per person per year. Um, that’s a lotta trees. So today we give you tips on how to make your office a paperless (or at least paper-minimalist) one.

ChangeTheMargins.com has come up with the simplest, most brilliant paper-saving tip: slightly reduce the default margins in Microsoft Word. (The site also has an ongoing petition to Microsoft to impact change on a much larger scale by reducing the software’s default margins.) Bill Gates has them at 1.25 inches, so even a modest reduction to 0.75 (which still keeps your docs looking spiffy) could save a Rhode-Island’s worth of trees per year if everyone in the country did it.

Here’s how:

  • Mac: Go to File > Page Setup. In the Settings menu, select Microsoft Word and hit Margins. Change top, bottom, left and right to .75 and, if you’re feeling generous, change header and footer to .3, then hit Default and say “YES” when it asks whether you’d like to change the Normal template. Wait for Al Gore to call and congratulate you.
  • PC: Go to File > Page Setup and hit the Default key — it’ll ask you “Do you want to change the default settings for the page set up?” Raise you right fist, say “YES!”, and change it to .75.

pdf.pngAnd now to the even smarter stuff: why use paper at all? Print all the docs you want to save to a PDF — electronic, searchable, easy to send. And just in case you give us some BS about computer crash paranoia, ask yourself this: How many times in your lifetime has your hard drive crashed? And how many times have you “misplaced” a loose sheet of paper? Exactly. So here’s how to do it:

  • Mac: You’ve got it easy: just go to File > Print and instead of hitting the actual Print button, hit the PDF one in the bottom left-hand corner. Choose the destination where you’d like to save the PDF and hit Save. Breezy.
  • PC: Download the free doPDF Windows utility. After it self-installs, you’re all set — just hit Print and select doPDF, then choose where to save. Rejoice in feeling almost Mac-like.

We know people who always go for paper. Whether it’s out of mindless habit or sheer self-absorbed disregard for the environment, we try not to judge — hard as it may be. But these nifty tips are so simple anyone with half a brain and half a heart can do them. And although we suspect someone may have used this phrase before: JUST DO IT (dammit).

CORNER MUSE

Here’s to the beauty of the world: people are different. And so are prostitutes. Regardless of how you may feel about the business of pleasure, it’s hard not to dig Project Prostitute: it started with a few friends drawing illustrations of what they think a prostitute looks like. But the great variation of perspectives and interpretations turned out so funny, fascinating and eye-opening that it just kept going and going and going like a multiple…eh, never mind.

Project ProstituteRight now, you can see hundreds of “escort” illustrations — the current gallery spans across a number of categories, from the disgusting to the puzzling to the beautiful, and more. And you can even submit your own.

And just in case you’re wondering, the project seems to neither glorify nor judge prostitution. It claims to just be an art experiment in perspective. But we also think that, if anything, it’s a sad-clown reminder that dejection and circumstance can push people of so many different walks of life into this business of despair.

And, okay, some of them are pretty funny.

PINK EYE CANDY

While some seemingly bizarre social art experiments may drive a bigger point home, others are just plain bizarre. Say hello to Pink Shirt Guy, who has an entire website — and now a hefty following of pranksters — devoted to “hiding” him.

It all began when a bizarre picture with questionable authenticity was posted on the Internet. The sheer hilarity of that picture and the viral nature of the social web proceeded to sprout hundreds of spoofs, including a YouTube video. Eventually, the site was created as a shrine to the still-anonymous Pink Shirt Guy, offering downloadable cutouts of the cult man and urging users to place them in bizarre locations.

Which they eagerly did, in locations that take the hilarity of the whole thing to barely bearable levels. So we decided to partake.

pinkshirtguy.jpg

HANDS DOWN EERIE

Weird begets weird: we’re on a roll, so might as well embrace it. And why do it with two arms when we can do it with more?

handsoap2.pngOur product pick of the week walks the fine line between cute and creepy. Eh, who are we kidding — there ain’t no fine line, it’s a thick fence, and this one’s knee-deep in the creepy side…but in a sort of cool way. The Handsoapâ„¢ is handmade daily by artist Marie Gardeski, so only 20 sets are available per day.

handsoap1.pngA set consists of at least 10 hands of various sizes and “skin” colors, made from goat milk and vegetable glycerin.

Get yourself a creepy little set for $17 so you can wash your creepy little hands with other creepy little hands.

VEGAN VIXENS

Clearly, we don’t judge here. And with this nonjudgmental attitude we bring you the latest — wait, the first ever — fusion of “adult” entertainment and vegan credo: the Casa Diablo Gentlemen’s Club in Portland, a fully vegan strip club.

casadiablo.jpgAnd by “fully” we mean “fully” — even the “vegan vixens,” as the “dancers” go by, are clad in pleather instead of leather, and the authentic Mexican cuisine fare is made with soy “meat.”

Founded by entrepreneur Johnny Diablo, a vegan himself, the club may actually turn out to be a smart business idea catering to the overlap of two hefty markets — despite its negative reception by some vegans. It also doesn’t hurt that they’ve got free WiFi, a kitchen open until 2AM, and a smoke-free “business environment” for those elusive Big Wig deals. Even the Discovery Channel featured the club in their Planet Green show.

And, for once, we can say an over-the-top MySpace page is just the right vehicle to capture the, um, vibe of this venture. But, again, we don’t judge.

UNTRIVIA

brainiac.gifAnd speaking of firsts, here’s a “Did You Know…” moment brought to you by Untrivia:

The first online banner ad was for Grolsch beer in 1995. It was also the first commercial viral campaign — it promoted the hunt of a character called Shymongrel (which is what get when you rapidly repeat “I’m on Grolsch” in a tipsy slur) hidden across multiple websites.

This factoid and others are why we love .NET magazine.

JUNK CONTROL

We agree with a certain entrepreneur friend that the startup bubble will never burst. Mostly because today’s startups, unlike the money- grubbing ones of the dot-com boom, are all about providing smart solutions to existing needs and problems — so their market is already there.

Case in point: a brand new Facebook app, which just launched this week, is making the virtual world even more of a utilitarian crutch to the real one. Trace is a virtual lost-and-found that allows users to register their can’t-live-withouties (iPods, bikes, computers, etc.) so that when the goodies are lost and subsequently found by a virtuous other, the latter can easily trace them back to their owner and return them.

Normally, we’d scoff with cynicism. But we’ve been fortunate enough to have an iPod returned to us by a string of such virtuous others, after the gadget made its way from a high-traffic 300-person lecture hall to the professor to the building manager to the campus community manager’s desk, where we gleefully picked it up from.

Trace aims to spare people the burden of figuring out whom to pass the lost goodie off to and making the trip to that person’s office. Now, a Facebook login is all you need to do: it’s all 1’s and 0’s, baby. And it also provides a nifty way for reporting stolen property — so when your precious Schwinn Deluxe 7 shows up on the other end of campus, you have the registration proof that it’s yours.

The app was developed at the University of North Texas and is endorsed by the UNT police, who recognize that Trace exponentially increases the chances of lost property being recovered. It is currently being promoted to over 1,000 national universities and we have high faith in its do-gooding capacity.

THIS IS NOT A HOAX

Just in time for April’s Fool, what better way to warm up than a glance at history’s greatest hoaxes?

Enter The Museum of Hoaxes — a hefty collection of hoaxes, curated by historian Alex Boese. The project began when Alex was in grad school and decided to put his research notes online, so he could access them from the library while working on his doctoral dissertation. But then people started finding the link, writing in, commenting, and basically begging for it to evolve into a full-blown museum of hoaxes.

snowball.gifIronically, Alex never finished the dissertation, but the Museum took on a life of its own and even landed Alex an eponymous book deal. Today, the Museum is an all-things- hoax resource. There’s a history of hoaxes, starting with the vegetable lambs of the 1700’s and going all the way up to today’s faux celebrity death reports. A gallery of photo hoaxes from the Civil War to the present. A hoax photo test to assess your gullibility. A collection of the top 10 college pranks of all times. A gallery of tell-tale creatures from the fur-bearing crab to the Lochness monster and everything in between. And a particularly timely one: top 100 April Fool’s hoaxes of all times. Without giving you too much of a spoiler, we’ll say the chart-topping hoax took place in 1957 and has to do with BBC news, Swiss farmers and spaghetti. Genius.

TINFOIL HELMET BEWARE

audeo.gifSpeak your mind much? Well, now you can — literally. In a project that could easily be the greatest technological advancement of the century, a team of biotech scientists developed AUDEO — a human-computer interface that projects the neurological signals of your unvoiced conscious thoughts onto a speech generator.

AUDEO uses a wireless device resting over the vocal cords capable of intercepting neurological information from the brain. A data analysis algorithm then translates this information into synthesized speech. And rest assured — the interface won’t broadcast your subconscious thoughts. It only picks up neurological signals that require much higher levels of awareness, such as formulated thoughts “packaged” for speech but unspoken.

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Clearly, the technology aims to improve the quality of life for people with disabilities, but it goes far beyond the mute. In this unbelievable demonstration, you can see how AUDEO enables a paralyzed man with ALS to control his wheelchair with nothing but his conscious thought. The technology was developed in partnership with the University of Illinois and the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago, with funding from theNational Center for Supercomputing Applications and National Instruments.

Sounds like Sci Fi? It’s real, and we think it’ll redefine the future of medicine, wireless technology and neuroscience. Because every great innovation begins with some intelligent brain-picking.