Brain Pickings

Posts Tagged ‘bizarre’

12 MAY, 2008

Incredible Edibles

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What Skoda has to do with Chinese monkeys and Salvador Dalí.

Apart from air, there’s hardly anything more integral to our existence than food. Which makes it easy to overlook as utilitarian fuel for ordinary life. But there’s a whole crazy world of extraordinary food-related coolness out there, and we’ve gone and digested it all for you: Here are our top 5 picks for goodies that satisfy both stomach and brain.

EDIBLE.

Rarely would a company have trouble doing business under any other name. But sometimes the need to convey the nature of your product with utter conviction has such a sense of urgency that it has to start as early as possible: at the name.

This seems to be the case for Edible. — an uber-gourmet virtual shop that caters to the most gastronomically adventurous of us. A delicacy heaven for the foodiest of foodies and a Fear-Factoresque hell for the mere mortals, the online store offers unusual edibles from around the world, all falling outside the realm of ordinary, everyday food and all likely to elicit anything from a raised eyebrow to an uncontrollable gag reflex.

Edible. (whose name actually includes the period that follows it, as in “Trust us, this is edible, period.”) includes an array of foods rarely seen in the Western world but regarded for centuries as delicacies in more exotic cultures.

Chocoholic? They’ve got you covered — with chocolate- covered giant ants from Colombia. Party animal? Scorpion vodka is your thing. Snack junkie? Salted and read-to-eat mopani worms from Africa are calling your name. An all-natural, organic-only eco-nut? It doesn’t get better than monkey-picked tea from China.

And if you feel your confidence in the whole thing begin to shake at any given moment, remind yourself they’ve got that all-convincing period.

EUGENE & LOUISE BAKERY

Oh, the ways in which food can seem inedible. Just like you may have reservations about eating stuff that looks gross, you could have just as hard a time eating something that looks so perfect it might as well belong in a museum.

That’s exactly how we feel about the edibles of Eugene and Louise Bakery. Their cute-as-a-button marzipan treats look like the adorable lovechild of LEGO figurines and those trendy anime-inspired vinyl toys.

The sweet enterprise is the brainchild of three Belgian friends: Glenn D’Hondt and Sylvia Meert (a.k.a. Eugene and Louise) and Tinne Mermans. From the too-sweet-to-eat marzipan treats, to the in-your-face,-Charlie chocolate factory, to their fairytale-like journal, the entire thing tickles our inner child and takes us back to those precious Hansel-and-Gretelesque times when food was full of magic and fun.

LES DINERS DE GALA

There’s long been an intersection between food and art — heck, most chefs would be offended if regarded as anything less than artists. But when one of history’s greatest surrealists lays his art on food, it’s something else entirely.

Melting clocks and table-dripping eggs notwithstanding, Salvador Dali actually illustrated the complex relationship between art and food — literally. In between redefining modern art and stirring up political controversy, the mustached Spaniard wrote and illustrated Les Diners de Gala — a spectacular cookbook that features 136 recipes across 12 categories of supreme European deliciousness, stunningly illustrated and bound with color-illustrated cloth boards in a dustjacket embossed with gold foil.

To our utter befuddlement, the book is now out of print. But you can get your art-hungry hands on a copy for a few hundred bucks and serve a piece of art history at your next dinner party.

>>> via GOOD Magazine

POLYFACE FARMS

The real art of food starts at the production level. We’re not talking about your basic eat-organic, buy-local, humane-farming credo. We’re talking about the deeper, incredibly complex agricultural ecosystem that feeds our food supply.

And no one understands, or utilizes, that ecosystem better than Polyface Farms — a revolutionary Virginia-based farm that works with the ecological, economical and emotional aspects of agriculture, truly brightening our relationship to nature. Founder Joel Salatin says the farm is “in the redemption business: healing the land, healing the food, healing the economy, and healing the culture.”

Polyface has six different species of animals growing in an elaborate symbiotic ecosystem of sustainable agriculture, or permaculture. They’re all engaged in a fascinating bio-ecological dance where they keep each other free of parasites and the manure of one species makes for the grub of another. (Oh man up, this is world-changing stuff here, save the “poop” giggles for 30 Rock.)

Here’s one in-action example: a heard of cows spends a full day grazing a grass area clean. Salatin waits 3 days, then takes the “eggmobile” — a dingy cart full of 350 chickens — onto the grazed land. The hens then cluck their way straight to the cow manure and start digging for their favorite food: maggots. These are the larvae of flies, which would’ve hatched on the 4th day, creating a huge fly problem. (Salatin has waited until they’re as juicy and nutritious as possible to give the chickens maximum protein.)

Meanwhile, the hens are not only spreading the cow manure onto the field, but also contributing their own highly nitrogenous kind. The result? The entire cycle has both the cows and the chickens all happy and full, but it’s also fed the grass: thanks to the brilliant fertilization mechanism, it starts growing madly — 4 weeks later, the entire cycle can repeat itself.

And the only man-made equipment involved in the whole process is the fence surrounding the grass area.

To truly appreciate the incredible importance of such permaculture, check out food ecologist Michael Pollan’s brilliant TED talk and read his eye-opening book, The Omnivore’s Dilemma. Now that’s food for thought.

SKODA FABIA CAKE

Sure, food is a serious thing these days. But that doesn’t mean we can’t have some fun with it. And it’s all the more indulgent when it’s scored to one of the most classically elating and playful songs of all time.

Plus, the word “schnitzel” just makes anything exponentially more fun.

Courtesy of Fallon, London. Yum.

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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.

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.

30 NOVEMBER, 2007

Eye Wonder

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Hold on to your belt, hotel room “presents” that rock, visions from another world, a YouTube David, why we’re buying our own hyperboles, how 10,000 books will take over Cannes, and what a python and a kitchen appliance have in common.

BELT-HOLDER BEWARE

befuddlr.pngIf you were ever the kid who begged mom for a box of cereal solely because of the plastic scramble puzzle inside, then you’ll get a kick out of Befuddlr: a place for hyper-customized time-killing that lets you create a digital photo scrambler out of any photo you upload, send it to your friends, and even time your quest to break the world photo unscrambling record.

Once you get the “befuddle it!” bookmarklet on your bookmark bar (just drag it off the website onto your bar), you can befuddle any Flikr photo or upload your own album and do an original.

We managed this one…

taco_befuddlr.jpg

…in an impressive 36.1 seconds.

Do we have a new challenge for the belt-holder? Give it a shot if you dare.

WHAT LIVES UNDER YOUR HOTEL BED

We never thought it possible to find a little something from a past guest in a hotel room and actually enjoy it, but we were wrong. Turns out, there’s a new underground movement afoot where the artistically inclined and mischievous leave “secret wall tattoos” — artwork done in spaces normally covered by hotel furniture that is only revealed when said furniture is moved.

secretwalltattoos.jpg

Rumor has it, Queens of the Stone Age vocalist Josh Homme started it all. He’s been quoted to compare the concept to a box of Cracker Jacks, in which you find a hidden toy. Turns out, artists are actually getting paid by (smart) hoteliers to do this kinda thing, which is okay since it’s still cool as hell in the context of the bland, visionless herd of mainstream hotel interiors.

Check out the photo collection so far, or watch this video tour of the secret world. And pack a Sharpie for that skiing getaway next month.

5,066-MILE CULTURAL BRIDGE

So while we’re bemusing the eye, why not amuse it.

Bulgarian English teacher and multi-talented artist Denitsa Boyadzhieva has a blog so humble yet visually compelling you’ll come to appreciate it without ever needing to understand the text: it’s artwork that truly speaks.

bgblog.jpg

We love the phenomenal play of color and light in her photographs, and the childlike simplicity intertwined with complex adult emotion oozing from her illustrations.

Plus, we’re all for exposing people to culturally different art visions. Go, get exposed.

AIN’T IT COULL

Weighty YouTube hasn’t stopped the proliferation of other video- sharing sites. Granted, most of them range from poor-man’s ripoffs of the Goliath to portfolio vaults for porn school drop-outs. But one newcomer, coull.tv, is taking the video-sharing experience to a new, highly interactive level: one they dubbed “reactive video.”

The basic concept: not only can you search, share, comment and vote on video, but you can also use the proprietary Video Activator Tool to specify and tag different parts of a video, making various elements of it (people, objects, whatever) clickable. This results in a fully searchable vid, allowing other users to rate and comment on just specific parts of it.

The service is pretty new, so we’ll cut them some slack for the unclickable tags and other glitches we experienced. (Plus, we saw from the screenshots on their about page they seem to be pulling a John Hodgman — whose popular incarnation is, by the way, unsurprisingly absent from their collection of videos.)

But we see great potential: imagine being able to click an object in a video and instantly access a multimedia library of information available on it across the web, from news articles, to blog mentions, to Wikipedia entries, to music, to related social network groups, to images and more. In the great words of Tim Gunn, “Make it work!”

JU-YES-YES-YES

And while we’re on the topic of great video, let’s take it up a notch and consider great film, the notion of which should now be in the Endangered Species book in light of the devastating blockbuster attempts, cheap comedies, corny horror flicks and other mainstream horrors flooding pop culture in recent years.

juno.pngSo we’re ecstatic to hear about Juno, a new Fox Searchlight film by director Jason Reitman (remember Thank You For Smoking?), sporting the most brilliant cast we’ve ever seen (really) and a promising Garden-Statesque soundtrack. And given that all this comes with our usual utmost aversion to hyperbole, take our word: it’s just that good.

On to said brilliant cast: excuse the bias, but we can’t help mentioning the talent behind our all-time favorite TV character, C. J. Cregg of The West Wing: Allison Janney. Then there are Arrested Development co-stars Michael Cera, fresh out of Superbad, and Jason Bateman, fresh out of The Kingdom. (Fox, thanks to your indie arm, you’ve made a small chip at redeeming yourselves from eternal damnation on grounds of canceling the cult primetime hilarity.)

Also in the posse: prolific Hollywooders J. K. Simmons and Jennifer Garner, whose obvious effort to step away from mainstream cheese we can’t help applauding. (Or, they got enough of the big bucks to carry them through years of indiesque income in pursuit of critical acclaim.)

Finally, we have off-to-an-impressive start debutante Ellen Page, who just won the Hollywood Film Festival award for Breakthrough Actress (Don’t we say “actor” for both genders these days?) of the Year and the Gotham Award for Breakthrough Actor. (See, the East Coast is rocking the PC thang.) And, speaking of awards, the Palm Springs International Film festival and the SAG Foundation honored Juno with the Chairman’s Vanguard award, which Little Miss Sunshine snagged last year. Shortcut to the Oscars?

Be your own judge:

The film opens next week, but still no word on when/whether it’ll be showing in Philly. Well, if not, it’s looking so good we may even suck up the wonderful experience that is the Chinatown Bus to New York.

PLEASURE-DELAYER SPECIAL

Okay, so it’s clear we can’t keep our hands off the visual media this week. Might as well embrace it: 2007 certainly has. At least when it comes to commercial work, we can safely call this year the year of gargantuan productions. After the Sony Bravia Play-Doh spot from Fallon London, we got the Guinness “Tipping Point” from Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO, London — which, if you haven’t already, you should absolutely see. For the laggards:

This sort of work is certain to give some the “Okay, but will it sell beer?” furrows, but we can’t deny it steals the word “awesome” back from gum-chewing teens and brings it to its roots of awe-inspiring marvel.

And, to be sure, this sort of awe doesn’t come easily. Genius MJZ director Nicolai Fuglsig admits it was the toughest shoot of his life. (And, yep, he’s the one that directed the Sony Bravia “Balls” spot.)

Not hard to believe: it all took place in a small Argentinian village at 3,000 feet altitude. To get there, the crew had to drive 30 miles on dirt roads and cross 12 rivers. Then they took over the 1000-person village for 2 months with 140 crew and 130 extras. Speaking of extras, these were all completely untrained and non-English-speaking locals, so casting took 18 days. When all was finally ready to go, 26 trucks rolled into the tiny village carrying 6 cars, 50 fridges, 70 wardrobes, 400 truck tires and 10,000 books.

See the $20-million magic happen:

Awesome, no?

SPOILER: YES, IT WILL

And, finally, let’s sign off with our good friend from Will It Blend. This time, the Blendtec beast takes on a Guitar Hero III guitar. Reminds us of those Discovery-Channel-style “snake swallows something 10 times its intestinal width” scenarios.

Ooh! Ooh! Can we do an elevator next?

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