Brain Pickings

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.

audeo2.png

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.

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