Brain Pickings

Geography, Topography, and Everythingography

by

Google vs. Hitler, underwear peninsulas, Hansel and Gretel, global black holes, 18th century German lovescapes, how Holland’s streets are finally becoming rivers, why Philly is reinventing the wheel, and what Joan Miró has to do with NASA. We’re exorcising our maps obsession.

MOUNTAIN VIEW TIMES

conspiracy.gifAlright, folks. It’s happening: Google has officially begun its world conquest. Starting with New York City.  Or so venture capitalist John Ellis of Real Clear Markets thinks as he speculates that it’s only a matter of time until Google buys The New York Times. And it makes a lot of sense — it’s no secret that NYT has been on a steady decline of value (down 70% over the past 5 years, actually) and, if the New England properties got sold off, it would only be worth under $3 billion. Which is lunch money for the big G. It’s also no secret that Google is going hard after the mobile market, readying to launch Google Mobile. The only trouble: Washington. And owning a major media outlet is bound to score them major points in the lobbying game.

We’ll leave it to the pros to elaborate on the details, but we’ll just say that if the Nazis were able to re-imagine New York in their own world domination schemes…

…why shouldn’t Google? At least this time there’s a do-no-evil take on it.

WORLDWIDE RUNWAY

Fashion: it’s a global thing. Dutch artist Coriette Schoenaerts seems to be feeling our little maps theme here with her fashion cartography: high-end clothing laid out to represent the geographic and political maps of various regions. Check out South America, The Netherlands, and Europe.

South America

The work was commissioned by Rails Magazine and aims to boycott the human body ideal traditionally used to sell fashion.

Meanwhile, global fashion is taking it to the streets: literally. Street Clash is an innovative contest that recruits bloggers and photographers to stage a virtual face-off between the street styles of cities from Paris to Perth.

Last year, 118 fashion “fights” ensued brackets- elimination-style, finally yielding the best-dressed city of 2007: Tel Aviv.

A retrospective of the catwalk catfight is taking place as we speak at Berlin Fashion Week.

NEW YORK CITY FAIRY TALE

It started without a name. Kind of: some poking around the East Village and the blogasphere would reveal it had a codename: “Birdbath.” Which sounds more creepy than crepe — not a surprising approach given the operation is the doing of legendary New York chef and prankster Maury Rubin. What is it?

Today, the revolutionary neighborhood “green” bakery has fully embraced its codename and, after Rubin’s City Bakery success, Birdbath is taking the love of sugar and dough to new levels. It features Rubin’s famed gigantic cookies. But this one is as green as it gets, using top-notch organic ingredients in both the food itself and the shop’s marvelous architecture, making for a bakery Hansel and Gretel would love. We’re pretty sure you can even eat the whole place, including — and we mean this in the least cannibalistic way possible — the staff: Birdbath‘s walls are made of wheat and sunflower seeds, covered with milk-based beets-pigmented paint, the floor comes from a cork by-product, the counter from bamboo, and the baristas’ vests from linen and hemp. Yum.

Rubin’s idea is to inspire people to make the connection between organic foods (which, by the way, more than half of Americans buy regularly these days, spending over $14 billion annually) and a broader appreciation of organic, sustainable materials.

No green bakery in your ‘hood? No problem. Now you can get delish, do-good foods wherever you are. (Plus, we’re big proponents of locally grown over organic.) And the fine folks at LocalHarvest, the online community for farmers and foodies alike, are making it super easy with their nifty map-based search feature.

localharvest.png

Go ahead, trade a Whole Foods trip or two for a farmers market one — it’s an experience of its very own.

UNDERDOG AND FRIENDS

You may remember the heads-up from a while ago to keep an eye out for Nokia because the progressive underdog is creeping up on everyone from Apple to Google to MySpace. Well, turns out we were on to something.

Nokia + FacebookThe guys at Paid Content report Nokia is now foraging big-time into the world of social networking via a hush-hush pact with Facebook. Seems like the idea is to make Facebook the default social net of Nokia headsets (much like YouTube is for iPhone video) in exchange for a Nokia stake in the Zuckerberg empire. Not a bad idea for a mobile company in the business of “Connecting People.”

If you’re getting the so-what shrugs, consider the deal in light of Nokia’s aforementioned recent acquisitions — especially the Universal-catalog- backed music store, the Ticket Rush concert ticketing partnership with Live Nation and the Enpocket mobile advertising platform. (Plus the steady 58% stock increase over the past year.) And while social networking as a way to relate to friends is great and all, these powerful tools have the potential to make it much bigger — it can be a way, a monetizable way, for people not just to list their interests and connect with friends, but to act on those interests and relate to products they’re passionate about.

This underdog is barking loud and clear.

Meanwhile, and because this is the maps issue, we feel compelled to point out where the Nokia/Facebook partnership just won’t happen: in the international “black holes” of the Internet.

That’s right, these 15 countries are all Big-Brother-on-steroids about their citizens’ access to and use of the Internet. Doesn’t it just make you rejoice in democracy and the ability to Facebook away any time of day?

DATING JUNGLE

It’s a crazy world out there on the singles scene. You’ve got blind dates, pity dates, online dating, speed dating…it all makes us wanna say “Oy!” (But we won’t. Because we’re not 60 or Canadian.) Well, you can now multitask your way around that jungle with a new hybrid: online speed dating.

WooMe, the online speed introduction platform cooked up by the folks behind PayPal, has finally launched in alpha.

It takes 30 seconds to register, then you’re on your way to all the 5-minute video chat sessions your heart desires. After each, you’re asked (thankfully, not by the datee) whether or not the person wooed you.

If the answer is yes, you chip in $1 to get each other’s real contact info. Which seems to us like a much better deal than the traditional dinner-movie-drinks scenarios that often have thanks-but-no-thanks endings. (Plus, it makes it so much easier to “go to the restroom” if things start going awry.)

And if things do go right, perhaps you’ll get to move your personal pin on this 1777 German map of the Empire of Love.

If you don’t sprechen Sie Deutch, here’s the gist:

  • GEBIET DER JUGEND = Land of Youth (Forest of Love, Kiss Field, Flirting Game, Charm Castle, Stream of Wishes, Worry-Free, Joy’s Home, Beautiful House, Source of Joy, Sweet Look, Wisecrack Place, Rich River, Warning Castle)
  • GEBIET DER RUHE = Land of Rest (Nightcap, Grandfather City, Equanimity, Manly Place)
  • GEBIET DER TRAURENDEN LIEBE = Land of Mourning Love (Anger’s Home, Flood of Tears, Whim Mountain,  Complaint Place, Hopeless Mountains, Loathing, Strict Place, Swamp of Profanity,  Desert of Melancholy)
  • GEBIET DER LUSTE = Land of Lust (Illness Valley, Weak Home, Intoxication Field, Lechery, Hospital)
  • GEBIET DER GLUCKLICHEN LIEBE = Land of Happy Love (Lust Wood, Answered Prayers, Pleasant View, Enjoyment, Tenderness, Good Times, Affection Farm, Satisfaction, Compliance Mountain, Fountain of Joy, Marriage Harbor, Reward City, Peace of Mind, Bliss Town)
  • GEBIET DER HAGESTOLZE = Bachelor Country (Stupidity Town, Rejection Place, Irritation, Indifference, Place of Contempt, Reprehensibility, Old Age Mountains, Separation, Hat, Obstinacy, Wrangler Hall, Exasperation Heath, Hamlet of Death, Sea of Doubt)
  • GEBIET DER FIXEN IDEEN = Land of Obsessions (Place of Sighs, Desire Town, Unrest, City of Dreams, Bridge of Hope, Disloyalty, Sweet River of Tears, Little Town of Instincts)
STREET BLUES

And while we’re dealing with all sorts of cartographic representations of stuff, let us pay tribute to a brave effort to change the stuff in order to change the reprsentation. Dutch artist Henk Hoftstra‘s latest outdoor art project takes Google Earth head-on with 4000 liters of blue paint poured onto the streets of Drachten, Holland. The goal: an “urban river” visible from Google Earth, with the words “WATER IS LIFE” stretched across it.

urbanriver.jpg

Although the installation hasn’t shown up on Google Earth yet, the current Drachten view seems to have been snapped earlier in 2007, so it’s a matter of waiting for the satellites to come ’round — because we know Google stuff always does.

REINVENTING THE WHEEL

bikeshare.pngAnd while checking out other people’s streets is cool, why don’t we selfishly turn focus inwards and talk about the streets of Philadelphia for a second. Namely, about the amazingly bikeable streets of Philadelphia. Which is why an ambitious new collective, the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia, is trying to break Philly’s car habit and take urban sustainability to new heights.

Enter Philly Bike Share — a public use bicycle program that aims to do for Philly what similar efforts have already done for many European cities: provide low-cost alternative transportation, reduce traffic congestion and increase the overall livability of the city. Which jives rather nicely with a few of our big urban gripes: people who live 15 minutes from work but choose to drive, foot-wide cobblestone Old City alleys clogged with SUV’s, and $20 cab rides. Hey, it may even help with our standing on the 25 Fattest Cities in America ranking.

But, in all seriousness, it’s a great idea — not only do we have the largest connected park trail system in the country, but we also have a highly sophisticated urban biking system (download the map here) with over 150 miles of bike lanes, a ton more off-road routes, 1,800 street-side parking racks and even buses equipped with bike racks.

philly-bike-lanes.png

Turns out, if we only replaced 5% of Philly’s short-distance car trips (under 5 miles) with bikes, we’d be reducing our carbon footprint by 98 tons of emissions per year. Clearly, we could say that’s a ton — but it would be an obvious understatement. So even if you’re not quite ready to commit for some reason (or if you already have a two-wheeler of your very own), you can help simply by dropping Mayor Nutter this quick email asking him to authorize and fund the program.

Besides, there’s the Dasani Blue Bike program in Pittsburgh — and if Pittsburgh can do something, what exactly are we waiting for?

BRIGHT SIDE OF THE MOON

We’ll sign off with one of our absolute favorite maps — which looks more like Joan Miró on psychedelic drugs than a real map. (Nice find, Wired.) Except it is an honest-to-NASA map of the dark side of the moon, with the different colors corresponding to geological materials and phenomena.

It’s part of a series done under the Astrological Research Program, a 1971-1998 partnership between NASA and the United States Geological Survey. And we think it’s geeky-artsy-cool — our kinda stuff.

Way to go downhill, NASA.

(Finally, special thanks to our new favorite blog, Strange Maps, for further inspiring and fueling our pre-existing map obsession.)

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